Reviews by money4me247


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: tweakable sound signature with six different filters, great detail retrieval, vivid treble tuning
Cons: weight, non-detachable cable, straight-down wear-style only
Torque Audio t096z IEM Review
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Intro: Founded in 2012, Torque’s first product releases hit the market this year, releasing a variety of interesting premium customizable headphones. Their three new exciting modular products, the $179.95 t103z IEMs, the $329.95 t096z IEMs, and the $399.95 t402v full-sized headphones that can swap between on-ear and over-ear fits.
Disclaimer: I received a touring review unit from Torque. Details can be found HERE.
These are just my personal subjective opinions. Your experience may vary!
To get a relative guage of my personal preferences for sound signature, I will list my favorite headphones. For IEMs, I use the Flare Audio R2Pro and Hifiman RE-400a, and I do consider them to both be quite well-balanced, linear, and neutral-orientated based on my tastes. My personal favorite mid-tier over-ear headphones are the Hifiman HE-400i. Other really competitive mid-tier options I greatly appreciate include the AKG K7xx, Hifiman HE-400S, and Sennheiser HD600/HD650. My personal favorite flagship over-ear headphones are the Hifiman HE-1000. I also really like the Dharma, HD800, Ether, HE-560, and LCD-X. I consider these headphones all to fall within the spectrum of well-balanced neutral-oriented gear that do have a bit of variety in overall sound signature that is dependant on personal taste. I primarily use the Schiit Gungnir Multibit dac > Schiit Mjolnir 2 hybrid tube amplifier at home and the Oppo HA-2 portable dac/amp on the go. I also own the Oppo PM-3 closed portable headphones for on-the-go usage and situations that require noise isolation. More extensive view of the gear I have owned can be found on my profile [u][b]HERE[/b][/u].
Tech: The Torque Audio t096z is a single dynamic driver IEM with adjustable tuning filters to alter the sound signature that will be released at MSRP of $329.95.
The TorqueValves (Passive Acoustic Valve Technology) are the screw-in filters with the earbud nozzle that can customize the sound signature of the IEMs. There will be 6 TorqueValves bundled with the t096z, named Red (reference), Yellow (deep), Black (clear), Green (balanced), Blue (smooth), and Purple (bliss). TorqueValves are sold separately for $20/pair.
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Picture of the two TorqueValet metal filter holders with x6 sets of TorqueValves screwed on
Official Specifications:
Rated Impedance: 16 ohms
Sensitivity: 90 dB
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Design & Build Quality: The Torque t096z feels premium and sturdy. It features a protective rubber insert to place into the screw-in section when no filters are attached. The cable is a premium-type 6 foot oxygen free copper cable with an one-button iOS remote. I tested the remote to work with the Samsung Galaxy S5 as well. The cable is non-detachable and terminates in a 3.5mm right-angle plug. The cable also features a neck cinch. Their cable design only realistically allows for straight-down cable wear-style rather than the upwards around-the-ear wear-style that some people prefer to help with cable microphonics. I did not find any excessive cable noise when using these IEMs in portable situations with that wear-style.
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Picture of One-button Remote on Cable
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Left: Neck Cinche; Right: 3.5mm R angled plug
The driver shell is made of brass for a weighty solid feel with a slightly reflective black and brass-colored styling. The screw-mechanism for filters is well-made and I never ran into any issues while swapping between filters. Weight is definitely on the heavier side for IEMs, clocking in at 26 grams. The t096z gives a very premium feel with its usage of sturdy metal parts.
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Left: Reflective Backplate of the t096z; Right: Bottom of the t096z
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Picture of Protective Cover over the Screw-in Design for Filters
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Left: Red Filter just placed initially; Right: Red Filter screwed into place
Weight Comparisons of some IEMs:
12g: Flare Audio R2Pro
14g: Xiaomi Piston 3
15g: Hifiman RE-400
18g: Bose Soundtrue
26g: Torque t096z
30g: Final Audio Heaven VII
I hope my provided comparison chart of weights will help with those looking to research what range of IEM weights are personally suitable. I would highly recommend doing your own research and demos here to see at what point is does weight become a dealbreaker. The t096z is a bit lighter than the Final Heaven VII which is the heaviest IEM I have personally auditioned, and t096z does offer better overall comfort due to the compactness of its canal design as the Final Heaven VII does seem to stick out quite a bit more causing those IEMs to feel even heavier due to the weight distribution.
Personal thoughts about weight. For the 15g or less options, the IEMs disappear weight-wise into my ears and I do not notice their weight even over extremely long listening sessions. For the 25g+ options, their weight is very noticeable when worn and I personally need to take breaks if using them extensively. I do think that comfort of IEMs is greatly influenced by their weight. The Torque t096z is not uncomfortable, but their weight can detract from comfort over longer listening sessions. Whether this weight is comfortable/tolerable for individuals would be a personal call. Just an important factor to keep in mind.
To stand behind their build quality, Torque Audio products come with a 2 year warranty. If the product fails after the 2 year warranty period expires, you can purchase the same or equivalent product for 50% off retail.
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Picture of the Red filter + t096z without filters attached
Comfort: With the wide variety of eartips provided, it should be relatively easy to find the right fit on these in-ear headphones. Using premium metal pairs and equipped with the swappable tuning filters, the t096z will be a bit on the heftier side for a pair of IEMs. Should not be uncomfortable for daily usage, but you will not forget that you are wearing these headphones due to its substantial weight. Not the most ideal option I would personally choose to work-out with or spend extremely long listening sessions with as I prefer options that I forget that I am wearing for those situations. No other major concerns with comfort beyond the weight, so for those used to a variety of heavier IEMs, these should work fine. I personally had the best luck with the included Medium silicone eartips. I also enjoyed using the t096z with my own Comply foam eartips, and Medium SpinFit eartips. Different eartips can alter the sound signature or sound quality dependant on how well they fit and seal for your individual ears.
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Left: Size comparison of the filter by themselves; Right: Size comparison of the t096z with filter attached.
Accessories: Torque Audio generously bundles a multitude of accessories with the t096z. Outstanding array of extras that is very befitting for its price point. I greatly appreciate the wide range of eartips and the inclusion of a sturdy hard case and metal placeholders for the different tuning filters. The TorqueValet helps prevent misplacing the tiny TorqueValves.
  1. x1 Hard-case
  2. x3 sets of silicone olive eartips (S/M/L)
  3. x1 sets of silicone double-flange eartips
  4. x1 sets of silicone triple-flange eartips
  5. x1 silicone stabilizer ring
  6. x1 Comply S-200 foam eartips
  7. x6 different sets of TorqueValves
  8. x2 TorqueValet metal valve holders
Sound Quality:
Resource for audiophile terminology can be found HERE.
Resource for corresponding frequency response curves and audiophile terminology can be found HERE.
Torque Audio’s filter descriptions:
  1. Red (“reference”) = neutral sound signature
  2. Yellow (“deep”) = bass-focused sound signature
  3. Black (“clear”) = treble-focused sound signature
  4. Green (“balanced”) = v-shaped sound signature
  5. Blue (“smooth”) = linear bass-orientated tilt (warm)
  6. Purple (“bliss”) = mid-focused sound signature
**Note: the name in quotes is simply Torque Audio's naming scheme. I actually personally disagree with some of those characterizations.
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I will not delve too deeply into the sound signature of the t096z here as the different filter options do dramatically alter the perceived frequency response. I will focus on some more interesting technical attributes of the various frequency regions.
Treble Tuning: The treble is where I see the Torque t096z shines the most. There is a great sense of treble detail on all models, picking up a lot of low-level breath and air sounds that I typically do not expect to hear from a pair of IEMs. Treble notes are sharply defined and extremely clear. The t096z does always seem to impart a bit of a high-energy crispness to its treble tuning with its sound often having an underlying hint of piercingness underlying the definition of its notes. The t906z features an extremely clear treble with a good hint of air. There is also an extra flourish to the treble tuning that many will find to give the sound a fun sparkling effect. Even with all the different filter changes (with the noticeable exception of the Purple filters), the t906z consistently features three noticeable peaks in their treble response which does result in this consistently crisp edge to the definition of its treble notes. The treble emphasis of the t906z is typically in 2kHz, 5kHz, and 10kHz regions though with different filters it does shift around a bit. The treble is quite clear and prominently emphasized to my ears for a very nice airy and bright presentation. I do feel that there is a hint of this phenonem even with the more bass-focused filters, though to a much lesser extent as the the strength of lower frequencies on the more bass-focused filters does make the treble does sound relatively less emphasized. Treble detail and clarity remains extremely competitive on all filter options.
Midrange Tuning: The midrange of the t096z is clean and well-done. It is the mostly consistent in performance though I did note that there appears to be a shift between an upper midrange focus on the brighter filters (red, purple, black) compared to a lower midrange focus on the darker filters (blue, yellow, and green). The purple filters do indeed have the most linear and well-done overall midrange tuning. The midrange is extremely detailed and capable of picking up textural shifts and micro-details. The midrange is consistently good, but will appear emphasized or decreased based on the different filters used.
Bass Tuning: The bass tuning of the Torque t096z is the most variable aspect that alters with the different filter tips. This frequency response region features the most dramatic and easily noticeable change when switching filters. Bass overall does have a strong sense of impact. Bass notes are relatively tight, though I have heard tighter performance. Sub-bass extension is acceptable, but typically more of a mid-bass focus on the t096z regardless of filter type. The peak of the bass response is usually centered somewhere between 50Hz to 100Hz. The notable exception is the purple filter that does not display any detectable emphasis in the bass region, but rather just a small tapering in the lowest sub-bass registers. So with the exception of the purple filters, there will always be a bit of varying degree of bass emphasis on all the other filters. The Blue, Red, and Black filters have a mid-bass focus, while the Green and Yellow filters have a more of a lower mid-bass focus. This contributes to the punchy and impactful overall sound of the t096z though the degree of warmth and fullness and the amount of lower midrange bleed is variable between filter options.
Other Sonic Attributes: While the t096z does have solid speed, soundstage, and imaging, its most standout trait is definitely its detail retrieval and overall clarity. It provides very clean resolution of low-level micro-details with great portrayal of textural detail. Soundstage is good for a pair of IEMs with relatively precise imaging, but I do feel that there are some other options in this price range that may have more impressive soundstage dimensions. Speed further improves with the addition of extra power and I do feel that these IEMs do shine their best with some additional amplification. Noise isolation of the t096z is extremely good, blocking out the majority of background noise. As with all nice passive noise isolating gear, I would advise taking care with using these during on-foot commutes as you may not always hear warning noises around you on busy streets.
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Comparisons of the Different Filter Tips:
**Note: the name in quotes is simply Torque Audio's naming scheme. I actually personally disagree with some of those characterizations.
:headphones: Red Filter: (“reference”) = neutral sound signature
The Reds displays a well-done but slightly unique tuning to my ears that I would personally hesitant to classify as purely neutral or reference. Its overall sound signature is relatively well-balanced and sounds mostly flat, but there are a few subtle nuances that make it sound less neutral than the Purple filters to my ears. In the bass region, the Red features a very small and subtle mid-bass focus from 50-100Hz with a slight sub-bass tapering. This is a very natural sounding bass response tuning and does not sound overtly colored. Its tuning from the sub-bass to the mids actually is remarkably similar to the Purple filters, though I did feel the Purple filters displayed a more linearity across that region as the Red filters have a subtle bit more bass and slightly less upper mids for a thicker sensation. There is a bit more of a mid emphasis on both the Purple and Red filters compared to their bass response which also is what I would expect from a natural sounding tuning. The primarily difference is that the Red filters have a bit of an noticeable upper mid and lower treble emphasis at approximately 2kHz-3kHz and 5kHz which gives it a crispier and edgier treble presentation and contributes to a sharper overall sound. The Red filters are basically a brighter and more high-energy version of the Purple filters. Considering how much I enjoy the Purple filters, I think that it is a perfectly acceptable tuning choice and should be greatly appealing to those who enjoy that crisp sparkle to their treble notes. The Red filters are solid all-around filters that work well with any genre. A slightly leaner bass response may cause one of the bassier filter options to be preferable for bass-lovers who crave a strong bass boost, but the Red filters definitely provide plenty of treble sharpness and detail to satisfy treble-heads. The Red filters offer a subtle sense of fullness for an organic sensation to its bass and lower mids coupled with a brighter more analytical treble tuning.
:headphones: Yellow Filter: (“deep”) = bass-focused sound signature
The Yellow filters feature a strongly bass emphasized sound signature. I would estimate approximately a 10-15dB bass boost over the reds. Very prominent sub-bass emphasis and a strong emphasis to the lower mids. Its bass signature features the lowest subbass most prominently for that vibrational rumbling type of presentation. A bit excessively weighty in its bass response for my personal tastes and I felt that it did sound a bit slower and fuller than the other options with a bit of noticeable bleed into the lower midrange. When looking for that hard-hitting thump and boomy sound of a strong bass boost, this tuning filter will deliver a strong sense of slam and warmth to the body of notes. Very strong sense of reverb to its lower frequencies for that rumbling seismic sensation. The Yellow filters display a noticeable lower treble emphasis centered at approximately 2kHz for a bit of an extra edginess to its sound and tapers off a bit earlier for a relatively less airy sound. Electronica and hip hop fans should greatly enjoy this tuning. Works relatively well for pop as well.
:headphones: Black Filter: (“clear”) = treble-focused sound signature
The Black filters features an extremely bright and high-energy sound signature. I would estimate ~10 dB treble boost over the bass response and lower midrange. The upper mids are also ~5dB emphasized over the lower mids. Extremely crispy and bright sound signature with a highly emphasized sense of air. The emphasis of the treble region was centered ~3-5kHz from my testing tests with giving off a very clear sense of upper treble extension and air. A bit of sharp energetic edginess to its sound signature that should be well-suited for upbeat rock and metal tracks.
Despite having an overall sharper and brighter sound signature, I did not feel that the bass presence and lower frequency response of the black filter was lacking. Relatively in-line with the lower midrange with the most easily appreciable taper occurring right before 60Hz for a bit more of a midbass and upper bass emphasis over the subbass. This gives the bass response of the black filters a very nice tight punchy sensation, though they will not appear as weighty in sound with the other tuning filter options. The upper midrange of the black filters was quite strongly emphasized as well with a bit of an upward hill after 500Hz which culminates at a ~8-9kHz peak. Its upper midrange focus along with its accentuated treble provide an extremely energetic and vivid sound that trebleheads will greatly enjoy.
Overall, the black filters were a bit too bright in presentation for my personal tastes and I personally did not enjoy this filter for classical music as the string instruments could appear a bit too piercing and strident at times, though that is reflective of real life. I see this filter working best for rock, metal, and other genres featuring heavy usage of electric guitars and vibrant distortion effects. Cymbal clashes are slice extremely clearly into the forefront with this tuning.
:headphones: Green Filter: (“balanced”) = v-shaped sound signature
The Green filters features v-shaped sound signature with a strongly emphasized overall bass response centered with a prominent mid-bass focus and a mildly emphasized overall treble response that centers with a lower treble focus. Its midrange recession dips down the greatest at the upper mids around 900Hz to 2kHz. Lower mids are much more in focus with its tuning, giving this v-shaped option a weightier, fuller sound. Its treble response seems on par in emphasis with the Red filters, but the greater emphasis of its bass response does contribute to an underlying sense of darkness and warmth with the Green filters. Overall, I view this to be a darker v-shaped tuning.
This is likely the most genre-dependent tuning filter. Works exceptionally well for EDM, Hip Hop, and Pop, but the scooped out recession to its mid-range limits its versatility. Overall, a very well-done v-shaped sound signature and engaging, high-impact bass response along with its vivid high-energy treble tuning should be greatly appreciated for those looking for a dash of extra excitement to their music.
:headphones: Blue Filter: (“smooth”) = linear bass-orientated tilt (warm)
The Blue filters are very well-done for my tastes, sounding to be a bit of a hybrid filter sitting in-between the all the other filter options. Its overall sound can be most easily described as adding a hint of relative warmth to the Red filters. In relative comparison to the V-shaped Green filters, bass-focused Yellow filter, and treble-focused Black filter, the Blue filters straddles the delicate line of offering a satisfying bass boost and enough treble brightness without going too overboard in either direction. Its bass boost is a modest ~5dB boost from Red filters and a 5dB drop from the Green/Yellow filters with its lower frequency presentation centered at the approximately 70-80Hz for a punchy tight mid-bass-focused warmth underlying its notes. It has a good sense of fullness without bleeding into the midrange, though its upper midrange does sound relatively recessed compared to the subtle additional focus on the lower mids. The Blue filter is able to maintain a remarkably similar treble tuning akin to the Red filter. The transition from midrange to treble is more pronounced as the Blue filter offers a bit less upper midrange emphasis compared to the Red filters and the Blue filters does still display that 2kHz-3kHz emphasis in its treble region. However, to my ears, the Blue filters did sound relatively less edgy due to the underlying warmth from its lower frequencies that nicely complimented the crispness of the treble response. The decreased upper midrange does give the Blue filters a more distant wider presentation with a perceivable larger sense of space rather than a more intimate or in-your-face-type presentation. I do greatly enjoy Blue filter’s particular tuning, offering a great balance between a punchy impactful and tight bass and crisp clean sense of treble detail with a very large sense of space and a bit extra fullness and richness to its undertones.
In terms of sound signatures comparisons, the Blue filter offers less bass emphasis compared to the Yellow (bass) and Green (v-shaped) filters but relatively more bass than the Red (reference), Black (treble), and Purple (mid) filters. Its treble is also more prominent compared to the Yellow filters, but less emphasized compared to the Black and Green filters. Its lower and upper frequency emphasis is not as extremely as the Green filters. Does not sound has sharp and biting as the Red filters with its underlying warm tonality.
:headphones: Purple Filter: (“bliss”) = mid-focused sound signature
I personally view the Purple filter to actually be the closest representation of a neutral orientated linear sound signature and I see the purple tuning to be the reference filter. Easily the most balanced and linear sound signature from frequency response sweeps with the least amount of peakiness or recessions. No particular frequency response stood out prominently to me though there was a subtle small roll-off in both bass and treble extension which I think is why they labeled the Purple to be mid-focused. The transitions between frequency regions sounds quite natural without any strong dips or hills.
The midrange is exceptionally smooth with just a hint of upper mid focus over the lower mid to give it a very fast, clean, and clear sound rather than that thick and full sound of more lower-mid-focused headphones. This gives its midrange just a hint of ‘analytical-ness’ for very highly resolving, micro-detailed-orientated presentation. I greatly enjoy this type of tuning choice. The treble of the Purple filters were exceptionally well-done in my estimation with minimal peakiness for a very smooth and well-refined sound. It blends a fast clinically-detailed upper-mid-focused midrange with a smooth and organic treble for well-balanced but unique sonic presentation for stellar results! My FR measurements also demonstrated that the Purple is closest to my own ideal sound signature for a neutral-orientated IEM.
The Purple filters are extremely well-suited for vocals ranging from pop to indie or rock to pure acoustic music to folk and bluegrass to even melodic trance featuring female singers. It is also a very nice tuning for classical music. An amazingly versatile option in my opinion that will work work very well as an all-arounder.
Personal Picks of the Different Filters
My favorite filters are the Blue, Purple and Red. I felt like those three tuning choices were the most versatile for my varied music tastes.
I personally felt that the Blue tuning is the my personal favorite tuning out of their line-up with a hint of underlying warmth and great weighty sub-bass presence that did not bleed into the midrange. Perfect choice for EDM and still well-balanced enough to work with all other genres. The Blue filter would be what I consider to be a “fun” and “organic” tuning.
The Purple filter excelled at everything I threw at it, and I would would actually consider it to be the most reference neutral tuning. Least amount of bass quantity out of all the filters, but I felt like it provided the best linearity to its sound signature balance. It sounded exceptionally linear to my ears from the mid-bass through the treble and I would estimate that there is just a bit of additional prominence to the upper midrange. There is a subtle roll-off at both the top and bottom ends of the frequency response, but an extremely well-done subtle taper. Treble of the Purple was also not as heavily emphasized as with the Red (flat) or Black (treble-boosted) which I thought to be a bit too much for my personal tastes, but did give an airier sensation over the Blue (warm) and Yellow (bass-boosted).
The Red was just a barely edging into a brighter sound signature than what I am typically used to, but was not excessively bright for my tastes. While relatively linear tuning, the Reds does appear to have have a bit of a lower treble emphasis centered at 2kHz, which can sometimes be a love-it-or-hate-it type tuning. Solid brighter-sounding option as long as using tracks that are well-mastered as I found they could sometimes be a bit fatiguing for me after long listening sessions. Good choice for high-energy music and very vivid display of detail for a clean and sharp presentation. I would consider the Red filters to be the crispy analytical option when looking to really focus in on the treble detail and wanting an extra sense of edginess for very sharp well-defined note spacing.
This is how I would personally characterize the different filters:
  1. Red (“analytical” or “sharp”) = analytical crispy sound signature; low treble focus
  2. Yellow (“deep”) = dark low sub-bass-focused sound signature; rumbling bass impact
  3. Black (“vivid”) = strongly treble-emphasized sound signature; very high energy; very bright
  4. Green (“excite” or “fun”) = v-shaped sound signature; a bit more emphasis in bass over treble; strong mid recession
  5. Blue (“organic” or “warm” or “rich”) = mid-bass focused warmth with crispy treble; subtle upper mid recession
  6. Purple (“reference”) = neutral orientated tuning with an upper mid focus, very subtle roll-off in the most extreme registers of treble and bass
Do note that there is an inherent time-delay when comparing the different filters as it takes a few seconds to unscrew and swap out the filters. I did do some testing with two different filters in place on different sides to more accurate discern the nuances between the filters. The different filter options do provide a relatively large sonic difference that I view to be significantly noticeable.
Direct Comparisons:
Against the Xiami Piston III (single dynamic driver on sale for <$20)
The Xiami Piston is an amazing budget IEM that delivers a punchy and warm bass-focused sound signature. Exceptional sonic performance at its extremely affordable price point, the Piston 3 definitely outperforms its price point, but it is easy to find other options that provide some technical performance improvements. The t096z does offer wider note spacing, larger soundstage, more precise imaging, better clarity, and improved detail retrieval.
Closest to the t096z blue tuning filter with the Piston III sounding overall bassier to my ears. Overall sound signature is actually quite comparable with slightly more lower treble presence and more treble sparkle on the t096z blue filters while the Piston III has a much heavier emphasized mid-bass peak that contributes to a slower and relatively more bloated/fuller sensation. I personally do prefer the t096z blue filter for this type of warmer sound as it provides noticeable improvements in note spacing & speed with tighter bass notes, a deeper more precise soundstage localization, and better sense of clarity & low-level details.
Against the Bose SoundTrue In-Ear Headphones (earbud design currently on sale at $79.99)
The SoundTrue is a consumer-orientated warm sound signature with a bit of treble roll-off for a non-fatiguing sound signature. Its technical performance is noticeably lacking in direct comparisons against many more audiophile-geared products, but it offers an unique fit that can be very nice for users who have comfort issues with traditional in-the-ear-canal insertions. Its earbud-style fit contributes to very low noise isolation. Not going to have as clear overall sound or technical performance compared to something like the t096z.
The Bose SoundTrue sound signature does not really match up will with any other audiophile IEM in terms of overall tuning. There is significant loss of treble response and a very warm mid-bass boost for a very warmly colored and dulled-off treble sound for a non-fatiguing consumer-orientated sound.
Against the Hifiman RE-400 (single dynamic driver currently on sale for $79)
I consider the RE-400 to be a price point standard for a well-balanced neutral orientated pair of budget in-ears. It offers a relatively linear sound signature that I would say is just a touch warmer than ‘neutral’ with an excellent sense of treble extension and detail.
The RE-400 would be characterized as an interesting mix of Torque filters. I would characterize the RE-400 as most similar to the Purple Filter with a bit less overall treble emphasis and better bass extension. It has the sub-bass extension of the Yellow filters without such a heavy bass boost while being tonally reminiscent of the Blue filters with that subtle degree of underlying warmth over the treble response. The Blue filters feature a stronger mid-bass emphasis and more overall warmth to its sound while the RE-400 offers a more linear sounding bass to midrange response that digs a bit deeper in the subbass. The Red filters offer much greater lower treble emphasis over the RE-400 while the RE-400 has a bit more upper treble emphasis. Overall, the RE-400 is not as bright as the Torque Purple and Red filters and treble falls just a bit short in performance when compared to the t096z’s exceptionally detailed treble presentation. I do think the RE-400 has stronger, tighter, and more linear bass performance with better bass extension compared to the darker filter options provided by Torque in their Blue, Yellow, and Green filters.
Against the Flare Audio R2Pro (single dynamic driver at ~$270 USD or £175)
The Flare Audio R2Pro is an interesting headphone with a relatively neutral-orientated sound signature, but a lot less treble emphasis compared to the Torque headphones. The R2Pro’s greatest strength is its bass speed and tightness while maintaining a clean and airy treble.
The R2Pro does seem bassier than the Torque options with the sense of overall impact and weight and sub-bass rumbling presence. That makes it most comparable to the weighty sensation offered by Yellow Filters in my mind, but the R2Pro does not have as strong of a bass boost as the Yellow filters and the R2Pro does sound more linear with much more treble presence. The R2Pro sound very different than the Torque options and there is not really a filter that matches up well with the R2Pro’s sound. It is bassier than the Red filters but offers more treble than the Blue filters. Perhaps it can be characterized as a bassier version of the Purple filters with less roll-off on both ends of the frequency response for more bass and treble extension. However, the Purple does have a hint of upper midrange focus while the R2Pro is really more lower mid-orientated. I do really enjoy the R2Pro’s sound and performance, but they are very different sounding for the Torque options. The R2Pro is interesting as it has a very hard-hitting and strong bass response that is more focused in the sub-bass region, but it is still sounds extremely clean and tight. Typically, that type of tuning would be quite bloated and bleed heavily into the midrange, but the R2Pro does manage to keep a very good balance of reverb and speed in its signature. Overall, I would say that the R2Pro seems to have a darker overall tonality compared to the Torque Audio options though it does not sound to be overtly bass-boosted. The speed of the R2Pro’s bass response is its defining strength over the Torque t096z, but the Torque t096z does offer a bit extra treble detail and clarity that is difficult to match.
Summary of Comparison Thoughts:
The Torque t096z tends to be a tad bit brighter and more highly resolving in the treble region than all the other in-ear headphones in my collection. Other strengths and weaknesses quite variable.
Measurements: I do typically like to include measurements in my reviews as another objective set of data for those interested, but I had great difficulty getting FR measurements that correlated well to my own critical listening impressions and frequency response sweeps. I tried using the Veritas Vibro with my Steinburg UR22 Audio interface and the recommended Startech USB audio adapter, but was unable to get an accurate FR measurement that I felt was reflective of the sound signature. So here, I will defer here to more professional hobbyists and I would recommend checking out Tyll Hertsens’ in-depth measurements of these IEMs. Content can be found HERE in this update post as well as HERE in his headphone database. Credit @Tyll Hertsens and
I will note that there are a few aspects of those graphs that I disagree with from my personal listening impressions. The most glaring thing that I would note is that I felt that the “flat” (Red Filters) were much brighter than both the “bass boost” (Yellow Filters) and “warm” (Blue Filters), but I do think it is important to have some set of objective data to help with the relatability of sharing different impressions and understanding different perspectives. It is always interesting to see where listening impressions differ from measurements as well as we all know how variable our opinions can be over the same pair of headphones.
Amplification: The t096z is officially quoted to have a rated impedance of 16 ohms and a sensitivity of 90 dB/mW. Its sensitivity is relatively low compared to many other audiophile geared IEMs which typically have an sensitivity in the high 90s or 100+ region. This means that the volume control may needs to be stepped up a bit more on the t096z to achieve the same listening volumes. It is still a very easy to drive pair of IEMs that work well out of portable devices without an amplifier for normal listening.
  1. Requires 3mW of power reach 95dB (typical upper range of normal listening volumes and the volume level where long-term exposure will result in gradual hearing loss)
  2. Requires 316 mW to reach 115dB (volume of a loud concert)
Link HERE for a great resource for calculating power requirements.
I do actually think that the t096z benefits from additional power and scales up well with nicer gear. I would recommend strongly considering using a portable amplifier with this pair of IEMs. I found that I personally detected noticeable improvements in speed and note spacing when running it through gear like the Aune B1 or Oppo HA-2. It also does slightly widens the perceived soundstage to my ears.
Value Judgement: While the $300+ price point is a bit on the pricier side of the IEM market, the t096z is basically 6 different headphones in one package, which makes it a phenomenal value if you will be utilizing all the different filters.
The first important consideration to note is how many of those filters will you realistically be using. For me, I think I would only use three or four of those filters (purple, blue, red, and yellow) initially and over time probably end up sticking to one or two (likely just purple and blue). I am the type of person who likes to experiment a lot in the beginning, but do end up settling for an overall favorite.
Another key thing to note is that many of the filters do share similarities in overall “house sound signature” with great similarity in the placement of different peaks and dips throughout the frequency response. To me, the Purple filters offered the most dramatically different overall tuning with a much better overall sense of linearity whereas the other filters do sound like adding bass and treble boosts/cuts to different areas of the overall same tuning. This is not unexpected as the driver remains constant through the filter swapping process. It may be worthwhile considering multiple separate IEMs to achieve a larger variety in overall sound signature for complementary usage.
For those who are interested in experimenting and tinkering, I do think that the t096z offers quite an amazing experience just trying and comparing all the different filter options to get a better sense of your sonic analytical abilities and personal preferences.
Rating: (the green bar ratings on the side seem to be an average of all review scores, this is my actual scoring)
Value: 8/10
Audio Quality: 9/10
Design: 9/10
Comfort: 7/10
Isolation: 8/10
Overall Rating: 8/10
The Torque Audio t096z offers an unique approach to the current market of IEMs, giving users a wide array option sound signature options with their headphones for maximum flexibility. I know there are many audiophiles do appreciate analog or material tuning options over digital EQ, so this approach is a great thing to see in this hobby where many modders and tweakers try to find options for sonic tweaks.
The greatest overall pro for the t096z is its versatility and customizability. Not only offering a wide selection of eartips, the different filter options should be able to cover a range of preferences in sound signature. In terms of sonic performance, I personally feel that the detail retrieval and treble clarity of the t096z with any filter performs at a very high level. Speed is also well-done and relatively competitive for its price range.
Important considerations include its weight, non-replaceable cable, and only straight-down cable wear-style. Swapping out filters or playing with different sound signature may not be something that interests every audiophile. Weight and comfort would be my personal biggest concern with these IEMs as some people do not tolerate heavier IEMs very well. The t096z does use plenty of metal for its swappable filters and earphones for a premium-feeling and sturdy design which contributes to its heft over other non-customizable, non-metal IEMs.
For my two favorite filters, I find that the purple filter offers me a tuning that I would be happy to use as a reference neutral for critical listening while the blue filter offers a fun and enjoyable sense of warmth that I greatly appreciate for just rocking out. The other filter choices were quite interesting to experiment with and I am sure many people who find different favorites than me. It is always great to see the diversity of opinions and preferences in this hobby, and I feel like Torque does a very good job catering to this with their new customizable products.
For those who are looking to experiment with a few different sound signatures and see how dramatic of a difference filter options makes for IEMs, these versatile IEMs offer an eye-opening and fun experience for newcomers still trying to figure out their sound signature preferences to long-time members chasing small tweaks in their quest for their ideal sound.
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Official Product Link:
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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: price point, comfort, well-balanced tuning, very smooth presentation, stellar speed and note spacing, tight bass notes, easy to drive
Cons: softer presentation style, thinner presentation, dynamic driver-like tuning for a planar magnetic
HE-400S Review
  1. I received a review loaner unit of the HE-400S from Hifiman.
  2. Extensively tested the HE-400S over more than one month.
  3. Primary source files consists of Spotify Premium, Tidal Hi-Fi, FLAC files
  4. My main external component set-up has upgraded during this time from the Schiit Bifrost Uber > Schiit Lyr 2 to the Schiit Gungnir Multibit > Schiit Mjolnir
  5. My full gear profile and musical tastes can be found [u]HERE[/u].
  6. These are my personal sonic impressions. I am NOT a professional reviewer. I am not associated with Hifiman and I have no financial stake in the HE-400S. As always, YMMV & I hope you enjoy my review!! :)
Intro: Founded in 2007 by Dr. Fang, Hifiman is a Chinese audio company with products ranging from headphones, IEMs, dedicated audio players, amplifiers, and dacs. Particularly renowned for their planar magnetic headphones, Hifiman was responsible for the planar magnetic revival with their HE-5 release in 2009 jump-starting a renewed interest in this technology. They have quite a lot of expertise with planar magnetic transducers with their discontinued planar magnetic models (HE-5, HE-5LE, HE-4, HE-400, and HE-500) still drawing many fans. Their current planar magnetic headphone line-up includes the HE-400S ($299), HE-400i ($499), HE-560 ($899), HE-6 ($1299), and HE-1000 ($2999). Upcoming models gathering great interest in the community include the HE-X (open summit-fi estimated at $1,799) and HE-S (convertible open/closed on-ear dynamic, price point not determined, but estimated $199)
One of their most recent release is the HE-400S, which is among the most affordable open planar magnetic headphones currently on the market.
Double-sided magnets are found on the HE-5 (2009), HE-5LE (2010), HE-6 (2010), HE-500 (2011), and HE-400 (2012) contributing to their higher weight and higher power requirements. HE-4 (2010) was the first Hifiman headphone to use a driver with single-sided magnets (based on the HE-5LE’s driver). The HE-400i (2014) uses single-sided magnets based on the old HE-400, but tuned the driver to sound more akin to the HE-500. The HE-560 (2014) used the single-sided magnets on the HE-500 driver, tuned towards the performance of the HE-6. The HE-1000 (2015) is Hifiman’s current flagship with new asymmetrical double-sided magnets. The HE-400S (2015) uses the same driver as the HE-400i but stripped-down to be able to achieve a lower price point. In 2011, Hifiman also released a dynamic-driver budget headphone called the HE-300 at $299.
Tech: Released in 2015, the HE-400S is an open-back planar magnetic pair of headphones priced at $299 MSRP. It uses a stripped-down set of drivers from HE-400i with single-sided magnets. The idea was to offer high quality sound at a reduced price point and a high emphasis on efficiency and ease to drive. No revolutionary technology found in these headphones, but emphasis on improving performance achievable at lower price points. Incorporates many of the recent updates in the Hifiman line-up including the suspension design and updated its earcup connectors from the “screw-on” SMC design to 2.5mm ports. Its frequency response range is quoted at 20Hz – 35KHz.
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Design: The HE-400S features the new suspension style design of Hifiman headphones that was introduced with the HE-400i and HE-560. This makes the light-weight of their headphones feel even more comfortable due to better weight distribution. Plastic is used in earcup construction and headband is comprised of synthetic leather. There are six size settings on the adjustable headband.

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The HE-400S also followed in the footsteps of the HE-1000 by utilizing 2.5mm mini-jack headphone connectors at the earcups rather than the old Hifiman SMC “screw-on” type connectors that many people complained about. The last Hifiman headphones that used the old-school connectors are the HE-400i and HE-560, and newer versions of those headphones will reportedly be made available with the new 2.5mm mini jack plugs at the earcups.
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The cable of the HE-400S terminates in a right-angled 3.5mm jack as it is intended to be able to play straight out of a source device without additional amplification. A standard 3.5mm to quarter-inch adapter is included.
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Comfort: The new suspension design that Hifiman has adopted is extremely comfortable. Earpads are angled velour with inner dimensions measuring ~2 ¼ inches diameter with ~0.5 inch depth in the front and ~0.75 inch depth in the back.
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Total weight of the headphones is extremely light-weight and in-line with the offerings by competitors.
Sennheiser HD650: 259 grams
AKG K7xx: 290 grams (suspension design)
Beyerdynamic DT880: 293 grams
Oppo PM-3: 331 grams
Hifiman HE-400S: 357 grams (suspension design); official weight of 350g*
Hifiman HE-400i: 360 grams* (suspension design)
MrSpeakers Ether: 361 grams (suspension design)
Phillips X2: 380 grams* (suspension design)
HE-560 = 383 grams (suspension design)
MrSpeakers Alpha Prime = 451 grams (suspension design)
HE-1000 = 486 grams (suspension design)
Audeze EL-8C = 504 grams
Audeze LCD-X = 682 grams
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  1. (x1) Headphone Cable (1.5 meter or 4.9 Feet; 3.5mm plug)
  2. (x1) ¼” (6.35 mm) headphone adapter
  3. (x1) pair of removable angled velour earpads (attached to headphones)
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Portable Usage:
The HE-400S has an open-back design, which results in noise leakage. This makes it less suitable for portable usage. However, it is quite easy to drive and does not require an amplifier. Sound quality will still shine when paired with smartphones, laptops, portable dac/amps, and dedicated audio devices.
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Sound Quality:
For more information on audiophile terminology, use the guide HERE.
Treble Tuning: I would characterize the treble region of the HE-400S to have a very smooth presentation without being overly bright while maintaining competitive detail resolution. Will not get any additional sparkling effects or crispiness to notes, but also will not get excessive edginess or piericingness to notes. Relatively linear with minimal peakiness for a very enjoyable listening experience. Solid overall performance for a mid-tier offering.
There is a slight bump in the 4 kHz region which adds a nice bite to cymbal crashes and helps with the kick of the bass drums and the snappiness of snares. This is very subtle tuning change that does not detract from the smooth presentation of the HE-400S and does not add that extra crispy or sparkly sensation to the treble tuning. There can sometimes be a bit of subtle low-level coarseness to the texture in this region dependent on source material.
There is an extremely good sense of definition to notes for a very clear and clean treble presentation. The HE-400S can display lively treble energy and a vividness to notes without leaning into the overly bright or sharp territory. These headphones will never spit out sibilance or crispiness as there is a gentle valley in 5-7kHz region. This tuning helps with the smooth presentation of the HE-400S and gives it a more forgiving nature. Upper edge of guitars, drums, and organs are relaxed and smooth here without any additional crispy ring. Will not get that additional shimmering effect with cymbals either with this type of tuning, but I did find that cymbals would sometimes appear in the foreground on the HE-400S with its 9-10 kHz emphasis. It is possible to detect some track-dependent roughness at times due to the 9-10 kHz emphasis, but overall very minimal graininess to the treble presentation of the HE-400S.
The HE-400S does have adequate treble extension going up to 18kHz (which is the upper limit of my treble hearing). The 12kHz to 18kHz region is not strongly emphasized. This is helpful for preventing any brittleness to its sound, which can often to an issue with headphones with an overall thinner presentation (meaning no additional emphasis on the lower midrange). The upper registers will also not display any piercingness. While the HE-400S has good treble extension, there is no emphasis on the upper treble, so the HE-400S will not provide the airiest sound. Low-level hiss and noise will be hard to hear on these headphones and it will miss out a bit on some of the subtle micro-details as well as the low-level textural shifts in breath and wind sounds that flagship-level headphones will resolve more prominently. There is no extra upper register sparkle to certain notes and the HE-400S also will not display any stridency on well-recorded tracks.
From my high frequency response sweeps, I could hear the treble response up to 18kHz (which is the limit of my hearing) with a subtle bump at 1kHz, a hill starting at 3kHz that peaks at 4kHz and tapers into gentle valley at 5-7kHz, a peak at 9-10kHz, a small bump at 12-13kHz, and relatively small dip at 15-16kHz.
Mid-range Tuning: The midrange of the HE-400S is its strongest suit. Immaculately articulate while maintaining a fluid sense of smoothness for very well-done linear midrange presentation.
The lower midrange smoothly transitions from the mid-bass maintaining an ample sensation of body to notes without sounding overtly warm or muddy. The HE-400S does have a thinner and cleaner presentation relative to the thicker rich sound provided by headphones that emphasis the lower midrange. It maintains a smooth liquid flow to its texture while displaying clean and clear transient attacks with generous note spacing and well-trimmed note edges. There is only the most subtle sense of coloration that can appear at times due to the slight emphasis at approximately 1kHz. This can appear to be a bit of thwacking emphasis to certain vocal intonations, but also allows for a bit more weight and emphasis to the vocal presentation. This type of tuning does help bring vocals more into the forefront of the sound. I would estimate a touch more emphasis towards the upper midrange over the lower midrange to my ears.
To my ears, there is a subtle an emphasis to the lower presence range (spanning from 2-5 kHz or 4-6 kHz depending on instruments) and I would say the HE-400S does have a faint sense of intimacy to its presentation with a bit more closeness to the presence of instruments. Very well-defined sense of clarity throughout the midrange.
Bass Tuning: The bass of the HE-400S is tuned very similar to typical mid-tier audiophile-oriented dynamic headphones with a roll-off on the lower sub-bass relative to the mid-bass. Overall sound signature is extremely similar to the HD600/HD650, but the HE-400S provides a relatively thinner overall presentation with a faster sensation to notes and tighter bass response while the Sennheiser headphones have a lusher, slower, and more relaxed presentation. The HE-400S has a mid-bass emphasis over the sub-bass, providing a punchy sensation to its bass response. Not bass light, but can be less full-sounding without that underlying sensation of warmth/darkness when compared to other planar magnetic options that may present more sub-bass presence. There will be no chesty rumbling sensation on the HE-400S, but the HE-400S will present very clean and tight bass notes with adequate weight. The thumping lower end of the bass will not be emphasized and there will be no excess fullness or muddiness in the upper bass notes. These are not a pair of headphones for bassheads, but rather for folks looking for a more well-balanced sound signature.
The HE-400S is not the hardest-hitting pair of headphone and does not have that extra kick or low-end reverb traditionally found in planar magnetic headphones. However, the tapering sub-bass tuning prior to 100Hz does provide the perception of improved overall clarity. There is enough emphasis at the 100-200Hz region to provide a solid sense of clout to the bass response. While there is no underlying ripping sense of power to behind notes, but there adequate weight and impact that gives the bass notes a realistic sense of heft.
The tightest of bass notes on the HE-400S is one of its exemplary strengths. Displaying extremely fast-sounding bass with very clean edges, the HE-400S will handle to most complex percussion tracks with effortless ease. Planar magnetic fans who enjoy a high quality fast bass response with clean attack and decay transients should be quite happy with the HE-400S in this department.
From my lower frequency response sweeps, I could hear the bass response starting at 20-30 kHz, rises rapidly to about 70-80 kHz to peak 100kHz before subtly tapering down to 200 kHz.
Other Sonic Attributes: It is difficult to talk about these technical performance attributes without direct comparisons. I will be speaking in broad relative terms against the current mid-tier audiophile market. For more detailed analysis against specific headphones, refer to the direct comparison section.
Overall, the strongest technical performance strength of the HE-400S is its speed and note spacing. Among the best in the mid-tier category, HE-400S will only be surpassed by other planar magnetic headphones such as the HE-400i in the speed and note spacing. The HE-400S beats out the Oppo PM-3 and Alpha Prime in this aspect to my ears with their underlying hint of organic warmth subtly prolonging the sense of perceived decay. Among planar magnetics, relative performance in this aspect will overall be close as the HE-400S already reaches quite a high level of performance in this area. Will need to jump to the flagship level to really get a find headphones with a noticeably better speed and note spacing, but the HE-400S will likely to still beat out some flagships-priced headphones in this area. Options like the HD800 and HE-560 are the flagship options will provide a noticeable improvement with relatively faster with larger note spacing.
Soundstage is above average for the mid-tier category. About on par with the HD600 and HD650, but will lose out against some of the AKG offerings which are well-known for their spaciousness. Imaging of the HE-400S is highly competitive and on par with the best of the mid-tier category.
Very solid clarity and detail resolution for a mid-tier competitor. I do think that it is possible to find some more highly resolving headphones in the mid-tier and flagship categories, but the HE-400S is quite competitive among mid-tier offerings and well above average in this department. Detail resolution shockingly good for its price point and can compete against many pricier options. Many more expensive options will lack the linear and well-balanced tuning of the HE-400S, though it is important to keep in mind the subject nature of personal preferences in sound signature.
For its overall presentation, the HE-400S has nice smooth softness to its sonic character. Attack transients still have adequate impact and decay transients are extremely tight. There is a good sense of hard-hitting attack that is very competitive or excels against other mid-tier dynamic headphone headphones. The HE-400S will sound a bit softer than the old HE-400 and is likely a touch on the softer side overall when compared to other mid-tier planar magnetics. The HE-400S’s bass extension will not be as linear as pricier other planar magnetic options, but bass extension and impact will be quite competitive against the current mid-tier dynamic headphones offerings.
Overall, the HE-400S technical prowess is unmatched at its price point and will be extremely competitive against the majority of sub-$1,000 mid-tier offerings. My direct comparisons will highlight comparative performance in more depth.
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  1. Sonic impressions written prior to measurements/frequency response sweeps.
  2. I am NOT a professional, so my personal measurements may not be as accurate as other sources. Any feedback or suggestions for improvement appreciated.
  3. Measurement chain: PC with Windows 10 > ARTA Generates Sine Sweeps > Steinberg UR-22 USB Interface with Yamaha ASIO > Line Out > Oppo HA-2 Amplifier > headphones placed upon my own head (left ear being measured) > Pannasonic WM61-A Microphone > Steinberg UR-22 > Laptop > ARTA analysis
  4. I used a Panasonic WM61-A microphone in my measurement set-up. The WM61-A does actually measure very flat until the upper treble range when calibrated. Its unequalized response should be flat within +/- 1.5 dB to 20 kHz. Frequency response curves are smoothed to 1/24 octave.
  5. Do NOT directly compare my personal measurements to FR curves made by others!!! There will be inherent discrepancies due to differences in measurement set-up, so comparing measurements from different sources is not reliable!!
  6. For frequency response curve comparisons, I would recommend Tyll’s extensive database. Full list of his measurements found HERE. (credit: Tyll Hertsens at Innerfidelity)
  7. Reference HERE for frequency response correlations to instruments and audiophile terms. (credit: Independent Recording Network)
***Important Note: The dip in the 6kHz region is a measurement artifact from the interaction from the mic placement with the shape of the ear folds. This artifact appears in all my measured frequency response curves via my current personal measurement set-up and is not audible.***
I was able to get some varying FR measurements based on how well I had the headphones sealing. The swiveling hinge on the gimbals is a bit stiff, so some measurements did not have the ideal seal. You can see the variations that different positioning and different seals can give you on this pair of headphones. Note this range of variation can be quite typical when measuring headphones without certified professional equipment.
Exhaustive Comprehensive Comparisons:
Comparisons were too long to include in the review. Wrote on exhaustive comparisons against other mid-tier offerings and many planar magnetic headphones. Please follow the link HERE.
Value Judgement:
The HE-400S is extremely competitive compared to all other mid-tier offerings currently on the market. One of the best price:performance values currently out there. Compounding its overall value for those on a limited budget, the HE-400S is able to achieve high performance without an amplifier. With its easy-to-drive nature, the HE-400S excels even directly plugged into the source audio device or with just an entry-level amplifier.
Alternatives I would consider would include HE-400i for a subtly darker sound signature with more of that linear planar bass extension and/or Sennheiser HD600/HD650 for an overall very similar sound signature but greater scaling potential with external components. The HD600/HD650 would require a more expensive amplifier to really hit their stride (at least something like the $300 Bottlehead Crack or $350 Schiit Valhalla 2), but does have a greater scaling potential in terms of sound quality.
I have personally found that mid-tier options above $500 are typically overpriced for the sonic differences achieved. I feel that it would be wiser to jump directly into flagship options if considering spending more than $500 on your headphones (unless there is a specific headphone’s sound signature that really captures your attention). To really get any further significant sonic improvements, will likely have to consider making the jump over to a flagship pair of headphones with at least a mid-tier amplifier. Will be looking at spending at least $900-$1700 on headphones and $200-$1000 on external components). Do note I do personally think some flagship-priced headphones are overvalued and will not offer too significant improvement in technical proficiency, but may have a more enjoyable sound signature depending on user preference.
For those with higher budget restrictions, I would consider the AKG K7xx or the new budget offerings from Fostex (their T20RP, T40RP, T50RP mk3 line-up at approximately $159). I’ve briefly heard them at RMAF 2015 and I was quite impressed with their performance for their price point. Will likely want to consider a nice entry-level amplifier for both these alternatives as well, so will be looking at spending at least an additional $99 for something like the Schiit Magni 2 or JDS O2.
At the end of the day, everyone will have different criteria and values when judging headphones. While it is hard to say exactly which mid-tier option will be the best fit for individual sonic priorities and budget restrictions, the HE-400S does offer extremely competitive performance and a very well-done balanced tuning at almost unheard price points for a planar magnetic pair of headphones. Barely one year ago, the idea of a new sub-$500 planar magnetic headphone was almost out of the question with current headphone pricing in general trending upwards with few real sonic improvements or innovations against classic staples. With the recent trends of some more budget-friendly offerings (such as the Oppo’s PM-3, Hifiman’s HE-400i and HE-400S, and Fostex’s new MK3 line-up), the planar magnetic enthusiasts again have a reason to celebrate and many newcomers to this hobby will be welcomed with quite a few affordable high-quality choices.
Only a few years ago, the most affordable current-production audiophile-geared planar magnetic, the old HE-400, was at the $400 price point with notable coloration and comfort issues and Hifiman’s most affordable entry was a budget dynamic at $300. The landscape for affordable gear has historically changed for the better with the new release of the HE-400S. As a planar magnetic headphone with competitive performance against some of my favorite mid-tier performers on the market (which includes the HE-400i, HD600, and HD650) at a fraction of their cost, the HE-400S is one of the most exciting new releases in the headphone market, shaking up some of the recent pricing trends and preconceived notions on the amount of money required to achieve excellent sound.
Amplification: With an officially quoted sensitivity of 98dB/V and impedance of 22 Ohms, these headphones are very easy to drive without requiring an amplifier from a technical standpoint.
  1. Requires 23 mW to reach 95 dB (typical upper range of normal listening volumes and the volume level where long-term exposure will result in gradual hearing loss)
  2. Requires 2.278 W to reach 115 dB (volume of a loud concert)
Link HERE for a great resource for calculating power requirements.
I’ve had the opportunity to use the HE-400S on the Lyr 2 + Bifrost set-up and my new main Mjolnir 2 + Gungnir set-up with balanced cables. There is scaling potential with the HE-400S but will not be as dramatic as some of the other headphones that are pickier with external component matching or have more demanding power requirements. For me personally, I would say that it would be wiser to save the money for a true flagship headphone upgrade rather than fiddling around too much with external components swaps on the HE-400S. Amplifier not essential from my experience and portable gear like the Aune B1 or Oppo HA-2 will be more than adequate to drive the HE-400S to achieve stellar sound quality.
With the first generation T50RP and many of the Hifiman headphones, the modding community have been quite actively involved in trying to find ways to improve sonic performance. Some of the most comprehensive modding guides are provided by @jerg and @bluemonkeyflyer. They have some great resources and information for anyone interested in this endeavour. Hifiman has adopted some of jerg’s earpad findings with their Focuspad release and Fostex’s new mk3 series actually has incorporated many of the findings of the modding community.
In-Depth Guide on How to Started into mods & measuring changes: credit @bluemonkeyflyer
Outline of Some of Jerg’s Mod Recommendations: credit @jerg
Reportedly possible to improve bass presentation, add a punchier mid-bass response, increased sub-bass extension, improve treble cohesion, increase airiness of treble extension, more precise imaging, increased spaciousness.
  1. Add trimmed shelf liner disc underneath baffles onto the driver
  2. Add foam to earpads for a larger earpad angle or replace with Focuspads
  3. Sealing the earpads permanently to the earcups
  4. Regrilling mod
Link for detailed outlining of some of his modifications:
Sorbothane Mods
Some members in the old HE-400 thread have been exploring Sorbothane-based modifications for the old HE-400. I haven’t seen any measurements for their work yet, but this seems like a very interesting avenue to explore for those who like to tinker with their headphones. May be interesting to try on the HE-400S.
Sporadic discussion on starting from this first post: Link HERE.
Original post on sorbothane modifications for Stax headphones: Link HERE.
I did not attempt the more labor intensive options, but two easy modifications that can be attempted with minimal effort and complete reversibility include swapping the stock velour earpads for the Focuspad or Focuspad A as well as the regrilling mod.
I didn’t personally measure or hear too significant of a difference in the FR and CSD graph from those two modifications in my experiences, but some other people have. If interested, I think these are fun avenues to explore for those enthusiastic in this hobby.
With the HE-400S, I personally would even go as far to say modifications are not really required as there is no glaring flaws on the headphones stock that need to be specifically addressed. The bass extension of the HE-400S measures in-line with the well-regarded performance of the HD600/HD650. From my own critical listening impressions, I don’t see its bass performance to be significantly lacking for most tastes. For the old school HE-400 and the HE-560, I can see where modding has great appeal as there were one or two areas on those headphones that had great potential for improvement in terms of overall frequency response measurements and hotspots in the sound signature that certain people could find to be very problematic based on personal preferences. The HE-400S’s smooth and easy-going overall well-balanced sound signature does not really present any noticeable glaring areas to my ears that require fixing.
As always, EQ is an option for those interested increasing the amount of sub-bass. Will not be able to go above 5dB. I played with the parametric equalizer add-on Equalify.Me for Spotify ( and the built-in EQ for Foobar2000, and found quite a few fun and interesting settings, but ended up primarily just using the HE-400S unequalized.
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My Scoring: (the green bar ratings on the side seem to be an average of all review scores, this is my personal scoring)
Note: I do not typically give out full scores unless the product achieves a new ground-breaking high standard for its price bracket
Audio Quality: 9/10 (extremely competitive sound quality among mid-tier offerings)
Comfort: 10/10
Design: 9/10
Value: 10/10 (at time of release, new price point standard for planar magnetics)
Overall Rating: 4.5/5; Highly competitive entry in the mid-tier market that greatly outperforms its price point. Stellar value for those who emphasize performance:price ratio.
As one of the most inexpensive modern-day planar magnetic headphones, the HE-400S is a phenomenal value for anyone interested in trying out planar magnetic technology. Displaying a smooth well-defined treble, an extremely articulate midrange, and tight punchy bass, the HE-400S has stellar overall sound signature balance with a technical proficiency that greatly outperforms its price point. With the HE-400S delivering a superb sense of agile fluidity, the “S” in its moniker may very well stand for Speed and Smoothness.
The sonic strength of the HE-400S is definitely its mid-range tuning to my ears, displaying an agile smooth clarity throughout its well-balanced presentation. Bass is extremely tight and treble is enjoyably detailed without being overtly sharp. The HE-400S is extremely proficient with its technical attributes, providing an extremely fast transient response and exceptionally precise imaging. Soundstage and detail resolution is solid for its product category. Weakness will be that some low-level treble detail may not be as well-resolved compared against some other options, but it does help with the forgiving and enjoyable listening experience as this avoids picking up excessive hiss or distortion noises of source tracks. Considerations will include a softer and thinner overall presentation style. Also, the HE-400S has a more dynamic-driver type tuning rather than that really linear sub-bass extension typical of planar magnetic headphones. While its lowest frequencies will not be as present when compared to some of the high-end planars currently on the market, the HE-400S will not lack any sub-bass compared to the majority of dynamic drivers. The leaner more upper-bass focused tuning of the HE-400S does not negatively affect the overall sound signature balance, providing a nimble sense of agility and pop to the undertones of notes.
Another consideration is that many mid-tier options require expensive external component upgrades to really maximize their performance capabilities. One of the key selling points of the HE-400S in my mind is its ability to sound excellent without any expensive or specific component matching to achieve its full potential. This makes the HE-400S a very appealing option for those who are more limited in budget or do not want to overspend on external components.
The mid-tier audiophile headphone market has become extremely competitive with tons of extremely solid options. I generally consider the mid-tier options to span from $200-$800. However, the sweet spot for performance:price is definitely in the $300-$400 price range and the HE-400S delivers among the best performance:price values I have seen in recent memory.
For those looking for a first pair of audiophile quality headphones or long-term audiophiles looking to add a relatively inexpensive but highly performing and well-balanced headphone to their collection, I would highly recommend the HE-400S and I do personally view it as one of the best value-orientated options currently on the market.
Official Product Link:
Thanks for a great in depth, informative review!!
Great review. I am looking for a mid-fi open back headphone to compliment my ZMF Blackwoods. (Most of my time is spent in an environment where I need closed phones, so I spent more on those than I can currently afford for an open set) I have been looking at the: Hifiman 400S, Sennheiser 650 or 600 and Beyerdynamic 880. My main sonic priorities are midrange (male & female vocals) and dynamics. Also, I already have very nice equipment (Decware Taboo MKIII amp and Schiit multistream Bifrost dac). I know you said that might incline you toward the 650/600. I'm wondering how my specific sonic priorities impact your thoughts. Also, do you have much experience on the Senn 600 vs. 650? ... Thanks for any input.
I've heard many times and places that upgrading to the Focal pads significantly improves bass extension and impact. Any experience with that?


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: affordable price, dsd support, sleek sturdy design w/ small footprint, lots of inputs (coax/opt/usb/rca) & outputs (coax/rca/1/4”), transparent sound
Cons: no gain switch, amplifier power ratings not very detailed & seems a bit on the low side, large power brick w/ long non-detachable cables on both ends
Aune X1S desktop dac/amplifier Review
  1. These impressions are based on the X1S review unit provided by Aune Audio for their head-fi reviewer tour. Thread link HERE.
  2. Do note there is an opportunity for 5 reviewers to be selected to win a X1S. However, I am not censoring my thoughts about the product and hope to provide an objective review of the pros and cons.
  3. Extensively tested the X1S over a period of about one week.
  4. Primary source files consists of Spotify Premium, Tidal Hi-Fi, FLAC files
  5. My normal main set-up is Schiit Bifrost Uber > Schiit Lyr 2 > HE-1000
  6. My full gear profile is available [u]HERE[/u].
  7. Favorite musical genres include everything from electronic, edm, house, trance, hip hop, r&b, rock, female vocals, pop, alternative, metal, classical, instrumental, piano, acoustic music, soundtracks. I have very wide & varied listening habits depending on my mood.
  8. These are just personal subjective sonic impressions. I am NOT a professional reviewer. I am not associated with Aune Audio and I have no financial stake in this product. As always, YMMV and I hope you enjoy my review!! :)
Intro: Established in 2004, Aune is a Chinese company based in Wuhan that focuses on audiophile external components. Aune is part of, which is one of the largest Chinese audiophile communities (similar to community with enthusiasts chatting on forums). Their focus is crafting feature-packed products with high-end sound and unique designs at an affordable price point. They have an unorthodox vision, making unique products such as the newly released B1 ($199 fully discrete “Class A” portable amplifier - my review HERE), and the T1 MK2 (a $229 tube dac + solid state amplifier). Other products in their current lineup includes the S18 (digital transport at $499), the S16 (desktop usb-powered dac at $699), and the upcoming X1S (desktop dac/amplifier).
The X1S is the newest evolution of their long-running X1-series desktop dac/amplifier that began in 2008. Featuring a completely redesigned chassis and improved feature set compared to the older X1 Pro of 2014, the X1S is the fifth generation update to an already well-received product that offered a great sonic package at an affordable value.
Tech: The X1S is a desktop digital-analog convertor and headphone amplifier released by Aune in 2015. Price point on Amazon is currently listed at $289.98 with a MSRP of $369.99. Lowest price point I saw was at
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  1. x3 outputs: digital coaxial, analog RCA, 1/4" headphone out
  2. x3 digital inputs: USB, coaxial, optical
  3. x1 analog input: RCA analog
  4. USB dac supports 32 bit depth, 384kHz sampling rate, and DSD128 formats
  5. Coax and optical supports up to 24 bit depth and 192 kHz sampling rate
  6. Low-jitter master clock with a jitter measurement of 1 picosecond maximum
  7. No measurable jitter-induced distortion above -135 dBFS
  8. Works as a standalone dac or standalone amplifier
  9. Can be used as a preamp for active speakers
Official Technical Parameters:
  1. Output voltage level @ 0dB: 2.1 V RMS
  2. Headphone output power:
    1. 80 mW at 300 ohms
  3. Dynamic Range: 127 dB
  4. THD+N @ 1kHz: -100 dB
  5. IMD+N @ 192 kHz, 20 kHz: -100dB
  6. Stereo Crosstalk: -112 dB
  7. Bit Resolution: up to 32 bit depth via USB, up to 24 bit via coax or optical
  8. Sampling rate: up to 384 kHz via USB, up to 192 kHz via coax or optical
  9. Dimensions: 145mm width x 171mm depth x 45 mm height
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Design: The X1S features a sleek compact rectangular design with a curved top. The front panel features a selectable input button on the left that toggles between USB, optical, coax, and line in. There is a 6.35mm headphone jack located in the center. A large (30mm diameter) volume knob with a nice sculpted cut-out with an engraved volume indicator line that allows for easy identification of the volume level sits on the right hand side. On the back, there is the power switch, USB B connector, coax in, coax out, rca in, rca out, and power connection. There is four round clear rubber feet on the bottom on the unit. I measured its weight to be at 887 grams. It is a very practical and industrial design that has a very small footprint for those tight on desktop space.
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Accessories: The X1S includes all the accessories required for usage right out of the box, a very welcome inclusion as many audiophile companies omit key accessories.
  1. USB drive with X1S drivers, DSD drivers, and different filter options
  2. 6.35mm male to 3.5mm female headphone adapter
  3. Power supply
    1. Dimensions: 10cm depth x 6.5cm width x 5.75cm height
    2. Non-detachable cables on both sides measuring 2ft 10in on the amplifier end and 3ft 3in on the electrical outlet side
  4. USB A to USB B cable (about 5ft long)
The issue I had with the accessories was the included power brick. It is a quite large with non-detachable cables coming out of both sides. I found that the cable that attached to the amplifier was not quite long enough for the power brick to sit comfortably on the floor from the ideal placement of the X1S on my desk. Will either need to have the X1S on the edge of the desk for the power adapter to sit on the floor or have the brick on the desk.
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The X1S has quite a few different filter options bundled on the USB drive included, and I briefly explored those options as well, though it was difficult for me to ascertain which one I preferred as there is a few steps required to switch back and forth, so hard to do rapid A/B testing. Would have been something that would be neat to further explore.
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Sound Quality:
  1. Windows 10 PC > Tidal HiFi lossless primarily and some Spotify Premium Ogg Vorbis
  2. Tested FLAC and DSD files primarily through foobar2000 v1.3.8
  3. Please use this resource for the definitions of the audiophile terms I am using:
Overall, the X1S has a very clear and detailed sound that does not add any additional coloration to the source. The X1S has an extremely transparent sound that really allows the different nuances of each of my headphones to really shine through. The X1S has a delicate, clean, and precise delivery that is extremely resolving of subtle details.
Treble Tuning: Very smooth treble response. Not peaky nor excessively sharp. Does not get fatiguing at all. Very clean note spacing without any excessive edginess in the treble region. Great treble extension with a good sense of airiness. Does not add extra treble energy to the sound.
Midrange Tuning: Articulate linear midrange response. I did not get the sensation that there was any particular region of the midrange that was emphasized. Extremely clear depiction of the instrumental micro-details, textural shifts, and subtle vocal intonations. Does not add any ‘liquid’ smoothing or clinical sharpness to my different headphones, but depicts the headphone’s inherent presentational style very accurately. Extremely spacious sound with a subtle distant feeling to sound for very expansive performances.
Bass Tuning: Clean, fast bass response. Each bass note presented is extremely tight without any excess weight or fullness added. The X1S very noticeably cuts down on the bass bloat of darker headphones and tightens up decay transients of the low frequencies. Good sense of punchiness, but may be a tad lacking in impact and weight on my more difficult to drive Hifiman headphones. Not lacking in the visceral slam on any of the rest of my headphones. Does not add any extra underlying warmth to the notes, which I greatly appreciate. Very excellent sub-bass extension into the lowest registers for a seismic sensation when called upon by the source file.
Other Sonic Attributes: The X1S excels at maximizes the technical attributes of individual headphones adding a laser-like precision to imaging, stretching out a more cavernous soundstage, tautening each individual note for a faster perceived speed and better defined note spacing, and extracting very subtle microscopic nuances of detail. The X1S noticeably condenses down decay transients for a cleaner and clearer sound. The attack of notes stay very well-defined with a solid kick.
I do feel like it is difficult to truly describe and capture the “sound” of the X1S as it is a chameleon with each one of my different headphones. Extremely transparent to the wide variety of different personalities displayed by each individual headphone that I own while augmenting the overall polish and technical performance.
Test Tracks: Primarily tested with a wide variety of classical music. Please see some of my other reviews for some of my favorite classical tracks. Also, added some fun Star Wars soundtrack music with the recent Force Awakens buzz.
DSD testing: I found a website that offered high-quality classical tracks encoded in various DSD formats (including 256, 128, 64) and some 24 bit depth/96 kHz sampling rate Flac files to do some comparisons. The test track I ended up using the most was Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 4 in D major KV 218 performed by Marianne Thorsen and the Trondheim Soloists as it was available on both Spotify Premium and Tidal in the same master. Setting up foobar to play DSD files requires quite a few steps, but Aune thoughtfully included a walk-through and all the necessary files to make it work flawlessly.
To be perfectly honest, I personally had quite a bit of difficulty reliably hearing the differences between all the various formats, especially between the well-encoded FLAC files against the DSD files even on the HE-1000. Definitely something I am interested in further testing out myself to see what specific cues will result in reliable identification of each file format. For those who have a collection of DSD files requiring an affordable desktop dac/amp capable of playing back those file formats, the Aune X1S is the most affordable desktop dac/amplifier supporting DSD formats currently (to my knowledge).
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Headphone Pairings:
*******Important Notes*******
Tested with my source volume maxed, only controlling volume via the X1S pot
Tested each headphone listed on the X1S against the same headphone with:
  1. no amplification
  2. the Oppo HA-2
IEMs tested: Flare Audio R2PRO, Samsung Galaxy S5 OEM wired stereo headset, Xiaomi Piston III, Creative EP-630, Bose SoundTrue
Over-ear Headphones tested: AKG K553, AKG K7xx, Audeze LCD-X, MrSpeakers Alpha Prime, MrSpeakers Ether, Oppo PM-3, Hifiman HE-400s, Hifiman HE-560, Hifiman HE-1000.
Overall thoughts on headphone pairings: Comparative findings showed a noticeable amount of improvement over unamplified set-up using my computer’s stock sound card. Increased technical improvement with a more expansive soundstage, more precise imaging, increased clarity and detail resolution, and cleaner edges to the notes with the perception of quicker attack and decay times (more noticeable with the decay). The amount of scaling was dependent on the headphones being tested, but all the headphones maintained their overall sound signature with very minimal coloration.
For IEMs, I did notice that if the source player’s digital volume was maxed out, there was very little playroom for volume adjustment with the volume being too loud for my personal preferences at the 10 o’clock position on the volume knob. For sensitive IEMs, digital volume adjustment will likely also be required to more precise volume settings. The X1S did offer the immediately perceivable benefit of tightening of the bass bloat of the Bose SoundTrue headphones and Piston XIII, but the additional bass coloration of those IEMs were not altered. The Flare R2Pro sounded very gorgeous with additional power scaling up its detail retrieval and treble clarity quite nicely, though bass weight seems a touch lighter compared to my other amplification options. No background hiss or noise detected on any of my IEMs at normal listening volumes.
For headphone pairings, the Hifiman HE-560 and HE-1000 seem to be a tad bit lacking in bass weight and impact for my personal preferences and I do think that a more powerful amplifier would be more ideal to reach those headphone’s full potential. More likely due to requiring more specific amplifier synergy for those headphones to really shine rather than any deficiency with the X1S.
For the other headphones, the combination was pleasant without any noticeable clipping. The X1S was able to work very well with the AKG K553 Pro (32 ohms, 114 dB/V) and the AKG K7xx (one of the harder-to-drive dynamic headphones I have with sensitivity of 105 dB/V and rated impedance of 62 ohms). I am unsure how well the X1S will work for the really high impedance options that go from 100-600 ohms as I currently don’t have any of those types of headphones in my collection. The X1S also works well with plenty of headroom for the easy-to-drive efficient planar magnetics such as the Audeze LCD-X (20 ohms, 103dB/mW), Hifiman HE-400S (22 ohm, 93dB/mW), Oppo PM-3 (26 ohm, 102dB/mW), and MrSpeakers Ether (23 ohms, 96dB/mW).
The X1S proved to be a very clean addition to my chain with each headphone still maintaining their characteristic sound signature with minimal coloration. Really does improve the subtle technical attributes of their performance compared to unamplified. The most noticeable overall improvements for all the headphones is the improved detail resolution and better sense of note spacing with tighter individual notes. The X1S will work very well if already satisfied with the headphones sound signature, but will not work for those who are trying to ‘tune’ their headphones’ sound signature. Subtle but very noticeable improvements even for headphones that can be easily driven without an amplifier.
Direct External Component Comparisons:
*******Important Notes*******
  1. Primarily used the Flare R2Pro IEMs, PM-3 (closed), AKG K7xx (open), and HE-1000 in comparisons
  2. I believe the K7xx and PM-3 are both highly-resolving, very transparent mid-tier headphones. The R2Pro is the nicest IEMs I own. The HE-1000 is the most resolving headphones with the greatest scaling potential that I own.
  3. The differences being described below are extremely subtle variations that are extremely difficult to tease out in blinded comparisons. May sound more exaggerated in writing than in real-life.
  4. Please remember these are my own personal subjective impressions. YMMV!!!
Against the Oppo HA-2 portable dac/amplifier: Portable Class A/B amplifier with ES9018-K2M dac at $299
Overall, these two external components are quite close, but I do think that the X1S offers a subtle improvements in technical performance. The Oppo HA-2 has harder-hitting bass, but a bit more decay to the bass notes for the perception of some slight additional reverb.  The X1S has a subtly tighter bass presentation. Treble on the HA-2 is a touch sharper and crisper. Very subtle flavor differences between these two amplifiers. They both measure the FR curves of my headphones extremely well.
AKG K7xx MeasurementsAune X1SOppo HA-2
Impulse ResponseScreenshot2015-09-1402.19.34AKGK7xxIRonX1S.pngScreenshot2015-09-1402.21.14AKGK7xxIRonHA-2.png
Frequency ResponseScreenshot2015-09-1402.19.54AKGK7xxFRonX1S.pngScreenshot2015-09-1402.21.29AKGK7xxFRonHA-2.png
The above are the measurements I did using the X1S and HA-2. The graphs are extremely close.
Comparative sonic differences heard during audition can sometimes not show up in measurements. The differences in performance between these two external components does vary a bit depending on the different headphones that were used for testing. I do personally think that the differences between well-designed solid-state amplifiers can often be quite difficult to reliably discern in blind testing. Both these amplifiers are quite good, providing extremely solid sound quality for their intended usage. I would give the subtle performance edge to the X1S from my subjective side-by-side direct comparisons.
Against the Aune B1: Portable discrete Class A amplifier at $199
***Note: Comparisons were done with the X1S as the dac and the B1 as the amplifier vs the X1S dac/amp combo. Without a dac, the B1 falls behind in detail retrieval and overall clarity with a subtle fuzziness to its sound.***
The B1 has a bit more underlying warmth than the X1S and a stronger sense of bass impact. The B1 has a bit harder bite to its attack as well. A slightly more present bass response response on the B1. The B1 has a subtly more intimate presentation, while the X1S has a larger soundstage and more precise imaging. The X1S sounds a bit more delicate and light on its feet with shorter decay times and no additional fullness. The X1S has better treble detail and tighter bass response without as weighty a bass sensation, which improves the perception of detail and clarity. The X1S sounds faster and more precise while the B1 sounds heavier with a closer, more intimate presentation. The X1S sounds a bit smoother with a slightly relaxed, non-fatiguing presentation while the B1 sounds more energetic and edgier with a touch of extra crispiness to its treble response. Both devices are quite capable with very subtle sonic differences in their presentations. I do feel like the X1S is the more transparent device.
Against the Schiit Lyr 2 + Bifrost Uber Gen2: Desktop Dynamically Adaptive Class A/AB tube hybrid amplifier and AKM4399 desktop dac at $986 ($449+$519).
The Lyr 2 has a bit of underlying warmth and fullness to its sound with its slight tube distortion. Very strong sense of impact and body to its notes. Still maintains extremely good detail resolution, soundstage, and imaging. Very energetic presentation with good textural detail. The Bifrost Uber balances out the warmth of the Lyr 2 very well with its clean and highly detailed performance. My personal favorite external component set-up in the sub-$1000 price point, but the X1S does not fall too far behind despite the vast difference in price point (illustrating the concept of diminishing returns with external components when doing volume-matched comparisons). The Schiit combo does add some additional flavoring to the chain.
From Memory External Component Comparisons:
*******Important Notes*******
  1. These comparisons are of gear that I have owned/demoed extensively
  2. Since these comparisons are by audio memory, the impressions here are not as reliable as insights gained through direct comparisons
Against the Cozoy Astrapi: USB-stick dac/amp at $129.99
Overall, I feel like the Astrapi and the X1S shares similar overall presentation style and sound signature. Very close to neutral with very minimal coloration. The Astrapi does have quite a bit more smoothing effect to the edges of its notes for a relaxing laid-back presentation. The X1S also displays this trait, but to a lesser extent. The Astrapi may be subtly warmer than the X1S, but overall sound signature to so close that it is hard for me to say from memory. The X1S easily beats the Astrapi in overall technical performance though.
Against Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2: USB-stick Sabre dac/amp at $149
The Dragonfly has a much more energetic and lively sound with a bit of heightened treble and bass response for a bright sense of clarity and impactful bass. I do view the Dragonfly to have a bit more coloration than the other dac/amp options I’ve personally tried with its sound signature seeming very subtly v-shaped. However, it does add a dramatic flair to the sound and is a quite enjoyable addition. Very high performance:price ratio.
Against the Cayin C5Dac: Portable TI BB PCM1795 dac with Class A/B SS amp at $199
Cayin C5Dac has a very high energy presentation with a subtle focus on the upper mid and treble response without the bass boost activated. It has a very crispy sound signature with great definition to the edges of the notes. The C5Dac is not a very forgiving and has a very clinically-orientated presentation. Strong emphasis on the attack of notes. I personally find the C5Dac to sometimes get a bit fatiguing for my tastes. A very zealous presentation.
Against the Resonessence Labs Herus: USB-stick ES9010-2M dac with DSD support and a Class A/B SS amp at $350
The Herus should have a brighter overall sound with a bit of extra crispy treble kick. Very clinically-oriented presentation and picks up a lot of subtle micro-detail that can be unforgiving with poor source files. A very sharp bite with very clean edges. The X1S is relatively more forgiving with a smoother sound. I consider both these options to be quite close to neutral and just subtle preferences will determine which one is more suitable.
Against the Oppo HA-1: Desktop Discrete Class A balanced SS amplifier with ES9018 Sabre dac at $1,199
The HA-1 has a very clean and transparent overall sound with great deep bass extension. The HA-1 will sound a bit brighter and clearer in relative comparison to the X1S. The HA-1 has an extremely wide sound stage, very precise imaging, and very competitive sonic performance for its price range. The X1S does keep a similar overall clean sound signature, but does have a much softer impact and a bit more rounded off edges to its notes. The HA-1 has very detailed textural presentation and extends very well into both ends of the frequency response. I do view the HA-1 to be an extremely capable performer with many more features at its price point, so if finances can stretch that far, it is a very solid pick. HA-1 offers a fully balanced design for those who have balanced headphone cables to take advantage of that feature. While the X1S may not be as detailed and precise, it does have a tad less brightness for those who find the HA-1 too sharp for their tastes.
Against the Woo WA7+WA7tp desktop tube amplifier: Pure Class A transformer-coupled tube amplifier with TI PCM5102A dac at $1,398
The WA7 has a very warm euphonic distortion for a rich warm sound. I view its sound signature to be noticeably colored, but quite enjoyable. Does shrink the overall soundstage with less precise imaging and note spacing for that very intimate and lush presentation. Has quite a bit more of an ‘organic’ smoothing to the edges of the notes and a much warmer richer tonality. Choosing between the X1S and the WA7 will really depends more on sonic preferences. Fans of a very warm and gooey tube sound or a more organic ‘liquid’ presentation should strongly consider the WA7.
Overall Sound Signature Differences:
Components that sound warmer: Aune B1 < Lyr 2 + Bifrost < WA7+WA7tp (warmest)
Components that sound brighter: HA-1/HA-2 < Dragonfly < C5Dac < Herus (brightest)
Value Judgement: Excellent
The X1S hit an extremely competitive price point of approximately $290 for an desktop combination unit. Its price point beats the popular, commonly recommended entry-level combos while adding on DSD playback capabilities (which is typically unheard of for desktop units at this price point).
The most popular budget-level desktop amp/dac combinations on head-fi are the JDS O2+ODac at $279 and Schiit Magni+Modi from $198 for the standard version and $298 for the Uber version. JDS does not currently have any DSD capable equipment while Schiit offers the $149 Loki to add DSD playback abilities to non-DSD capable equipment. New JDS flagship desktop dac/amplifier combination is the Element at $349 without DSD support. The cheapest desktop DSD-supporting external component that I currently know about is the SMSL M8 at $249-$299 for a standalone DSD-supporting dac. The SoundMagic H100 Serenade Pro at $299, Yulong U200 at $399, Matrix Audio M-Stage HPA-3U at $419.95, Fostex HP-A4 at $499, Matrix mini-i pro at $519, Sony UDA1/S at $525 (from $799 MSRP), and Yulong D200 at $600 (from $799 MSRP) are some of the most affordable desktop dac/amp options currently on the market with DSD support, and cannot be currently found under the extremely competitive price point of the Aune X1S.
It is actually more common to find DSD support on the new portable dac/amp devices rather than entry-level desktop set-ups. Fiio is another popular entry-level option on head-fi, that is pretty renowned for their affordable portable dac/amplifiers. Their flagship portable, the E17K (MSRP $139.99), is the only option that offers DSD support. Some other portable dac/amps with DSD support include the ~$263 iFi iDSD Nano, Onkyo DAC-HA200 at $249.99 (MSRP $399), the Oppo HA-2 at $299, and the Sony PHA-2 at $429 (MSRP $599), and iFi Micro iDSD dac at $499. For the usb-stick-style dac/amp options that draw power directly from the USB port, none of them offer DSD support to my knowledge except for the Herus by Resonessence Labs and GeekOut series by LH Labs.
My Overall Ratings: (ratings displayed on the side of head-fi are averages)
Do note that I hardly ever give out full score ratings even on extremely good products. Reserve that rating for products that I feel far exceed and redefine my previous notions of what is capable
Audio Quality: 9/10
Design: 8/10
Quality: 9/10
Value: 10/10
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Notes: The high rating is awarded as the X1S is the most affordable DSD-capable desktop combination dac/amp unit that I am currently aware of.
Important considerations for potential purchasers:
  1. I was unable to really test this product with high impedance (250 ohms and above) headphones
  2. For certain headphone that are more ‘picky’ with their external component matching, their may be better options out there. The harder-to-drive HE-560 I feel like excels more with the more powerful Lyr 2 pairing and many enthusiasts recommend the Gustard HP10 for those looking at inexpensive powerful solid-state amplification for these headphones.
  3. Combination unit, so more suitable for the user who wants a all-in-one package to keep things simple rather than the user who likes to upgrade/switch between different dac/amp combinations.
There is nothing harder to describe than a well-made solid-state amplifier that sounds essentially transparent. The X1S achieves this description effortless and may be the ideal desktop combination for those looking for true-to-source audio reproduction with DSD support.
The greatest sonic pro of the X1S is its clean transparent sound that is extremely smooth and non-fatiguing without any excessive brightness or additional warmth. Features that make the X1S standout is the inclusion of DSD support at its price point and a plethora of inputs including USB, optical, coax, and RCA. I am not currently aware of many other desktop dac and amplifier combination units with DSD support in this price range. Featuring a sleek minimalistic design and bundling all the accessories needed, the X1S is a breeze to set-up and use.
The biggest sonic con with the X1S can be a bit lacking in weight and impact on some of the harder-to-drive planar magnetics I own, presenting a lighter, more delicate sound. Other considerations is the lack of a gain switch and its amplifier power rating seems to be on the lower side for a desktop unit. May not be the best fit for the picky or hard-to-drive headphones (such as some planar magnetics or really high impedance headphones). The power-brick could also have been better designed.
For the majority of headphones and IEMs, the X1S will provide an extremely detailed, clean, and transparent sound that is extremely competitive for its price point. If I was personally looking at a sub-$500 combination unit, I would view this as an extremely competitive option among my own top picks. For audiophiles looking for a very good value all-in-one desktop dac/amp that supports DSD, the new Aune X1S is a clear-cut winner! Ethereal transparent sound at an extremely affordable price point!
Product link:
@Army-Firedawg, glad to hear that you enjoyed it. A/B comparisons actually is typically the meat of my review. I find that personally that is what I am most interested in reading as we all have different reference points, so I think offering a lot of different points which others may have some experience with can be very helpful. It can be quite time-consuming to do, but I feel like it offers the best way for other people to get perspective on my subjective statements (especially if they have experience with any of the gear that I mention).
@hakushondaimao, thank you! happy to hear that our thoughts matched as I recall you always have very good insights on things I don't always pick up on.
@Billheiser, yes, I did try the RCA out, but only to confirm that it did indeed work. I have a pair of really crappy speakers, so not really even worthwhile mentioning. as @Brooko stated, volume is fixed via rca out. My speakers have volume control on them, so it wasn't an issue for me personally.
@Brooko, thanks for the compliment. means a lot coming from you. always love reading your detailed work. will be reading everyone else's reviews on this item soon to see how our thoughts compare. would always love to see more measurements in reviews so looking forward to seeing how it goes for you next time! :)
Thank you to everyone else who took the time to read my review. Please feel free to PM or post here if you have any additional questions.
Another great review of this fine product.  I now have had one for a couple weeks.  I would caution anyone who wants to run high impedance low sensitivity phones with this unit to test it carefully.  My phones of choice (now) are 250 ohm Beyer 880 Premiums that have a sensitivity rating of 96 db SPL/V.  They do not sound their best with this amp.  For many files the volume knob is at 4:00 or higher.  I just listened to the same digital file on the X1S and then then the Cayin C5 with the 880s.  The difference was considerable - the 880s sounded wonderful with the C5.
On the positive side I am now using a pair of HD555s I dug out with the X1S and they sound great.  They are 50 ohm phones with sensitivity of 112 db, if I recall.  I now have a set of HD598s in the mail - efficiency, comfort and pretty good sound are on the way.
I will keep the X1S.  It works perfectly in my home office setup.  Thanks again for the review.
I have them a couple of month's now together with the HE400s and they are excellent. Bought them after reading your review :wink:


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: well-balanced neutral-orientated tuning, outstanding comfort, extremely lightweight, looks sexy, form-fitting travel case
Cons: less subbass presence, softer impact, proprietary connectors prone to wiggle (can cause cable noise), short stock cable, no headband size markings
MrSpeakers Ether Review
  1. I personally purchased these headphones at full MSRP from MrSpeakers.
  2. [size=1em]Primary testing set-up consists of [/size][size=1em]Spotify/Tidal/assortment of FLAC files [/size][size=1em]> via AmazonBasics USB 2.0 cable > [/size][size=1em]Schiit Bifrost Uber [/size][size=1em]> via Monoprice RCA cables > [/size][size=1em]Schiit Lyr 2 [/size][size=1em]> via stock headphone cable > [/size][size=1em]MrSpeakers Ether[/size]
  3. I do not believe in headphone burn-in, but I refrained from taking critical impressions of the Ether during the first week. I have totaled approximately 7 weeks of listening time on the Ether at the time of first posting this review.
  4. I did critical music listening impressions first. Only after I wrote all my listening impressions did I listen to test tone sweeps. I took measurements last. I did things in that specific order to prevent myself from getting biased.
  5. My headphone collection currently includes: HE-1000, HE-560, LCD-X, K7xx, K553 Pro, Alpha Prime, and the PM-3. Notable favorite headphones previously owned include ATH-M50x, Q701, K545, HE-400, and PM-1. Owned the EL-8 (closed) as well. Notable headphones extensively demoed include HD800, LCD-3, K812 Pro. My current favorite headphone prior to listening to the Ether is the HE-1000. I enjoyed the HE-560 for its great clinical micro-detail retrieval and neutral-oriented sound sig that maintains solid bass quality with great extension and I liked to use the LCD-X as a complimentary genre-specific pair of headphones due to its outstanding bass quality, visceral bass impact, and organic texture-focused presentation.
  6. Favorite musical genres include everything from electronic, edm, house, trance, hip hop, r&b, rock, female vocals, pop, alternative, metal, classical, instrumental, piano, acoustic music, soundtracks. I have very wide & varied listening habits depending on my mood.
  7. These are just personal subjective sonic impression. I am NOT a professional reviewer. I am not associated with MrSpeakers and I have no financial stake in the Ether. As always, YMMV and I hope you enjoy my review!! :)
Intro: Founded by Dan Clark in 2012, MrSpeakers is an American audio company based in San Diego, California. An avid hobbyist always tinkering, Mr. Clark studied electrical engineering at Swarthmore College and gained recognition in the high-end audio industry for his work on commercial loudspeaker designs. MrSpeakers was born during Dan’s personal quest to create his own ideal pair of closed headphones. Specializing in providing modifications to the closed-back planar magnetic Fostex T50RP*, MrSpeakers released four variants that included the Mad Dog ($299.99 MSRP), Mad Dog Pro ($449.99 MSRP), Alpha Dog ($599.99 MSRP), and Alpha Prime ($999.99 MSRP). Considering his Alpha Prime to reach the maximum potential he could achieve with a Fostex T50RP-based headphone, Mr. Clark stated he will no longer be pursuing further T50RP modifications, boldly venturing in a new direction.
The Fostex T50RP is quite popular within the enthusiast community for modding due to and their high sonic potential and low price point (often can be found below $100). ZMF Headphones also currently produces modded variants and @bluemonkeyflyer has a quite in-depth guide for DIY mods on the T50RP. Link HERE. Fostex recently discontinued their beloved T50RP with a new line-up consisting of the T20RPmk3, T40RPmk3, and T50RPmk3 which also factored into MrSpeakers decision to stop offering T50RP-based modified headphones. MrSpeakers is currently having an end-of-life sale for all their entire modified T50RP line-up. MrSpeakers also recently announced the Ether-C, a closed-back variant of the Ether at the same MSRP of $1499.99 (estimated arrival in October-November 2015) to replace their closed T50RP line-up.
Applying their modifying expertise and 3D printing background, Mr. Speakers is now creating their own in-house designed and built headphones from the ground up. Their first product is the MrSpeakers ETHER. (Its official name is in full caps, but I will be referring to it as simply Ether). This ushers in very exciting times for MrSpeakers as they transition from modification-based tuning specialists to gaining full control of every single detail of their headphones.

While well-known and extremely popular within the enthusiast head-fi community, Mrspeakers often remains under the radar for newcomers and non-headphone-geared audio enthusiasts. Currently with just a team of 6, MrSpeakers is a small company that has made some impressive strides over the past three years. The Ether (open) does shine as a crowning moment for what is accomplishable through tireless dedication and a strong passion for this hobby.
Tech: The MrSpeakers Ether is an open-back, over-ear planar magnetic headphone retailing at $1,499.99 MSRP. It uses all new in-house-designed rectangular single-ended planar magnetic drivers (2.75” x 1.75”) with their V-Planar “knurling” diaphragm.
Official Specifications:
Weight: 370g
Impedance: 23 ohms
Efficiency: 96dB/mW
Best source for further explanation of their patented technology can be found at their website under the innovations tab of their Ether product page HERE.
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The outer support structure of the headband is comprised of two thin black curved nitinol rods. Nitinol is a nickel titanium alloy exhibiting pseudoelasticity which allows the metal to retain its original shape even after extreme stress. This headband can be easily flexed outwards and side-to-side to quite extreme degrees without losing its original shape after the force is removed. It should be quite easy to adjust these headphones to find a comfortable fit. Despite low clamping force, the headphones will sit quite securely while worn.
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The headband strap is comprised of Italian leather with microsuede on the inner surface. The outer surface of the leather is embossed with L and R markings and the MrSpeakers brand name. Very nice change from their previous products that were modded and kept the Fostex logo on the headband for practical purposes. The leather strap is attached to a plastic slider that moves up and down the two nitinol rods. Due to the adjustment mechanism attaching directly to the nitinol rods, there are no markings to show the exact headband settings. I’ve personally found the best way to ensure that both sides are adjusted to the exact same height is to use my fingers to measure out the space underneath the slider on both sides. It would be nice to see some size markings on the nitinol band for more exact headband adjustments.
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The earcups feature a glittery red plastic outer rim with black metal earcups. The bottom of the earcups feature the unique MrSpeakers proprietary cable connector, angled forward to prevent the cables from hitting the shoulders even during side-to-side head tilts. It is the same dual-entry designed connector as with Alpha Dog and Alpha Prime and cables made for those headphones will also be compatible with the Ether.
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I did find that the cable connector design has room for further improvement. There is just enough wiggle with this connector style that certain cable noise (especially thudding and rubbing sounds) can be easily transmitted and exaggerated. This is especially noticeable if the cable lightly taps or rubs against any object. This can be remedied thoughtful cable routing and securing excess cable length for desktop setups, but the Ether is more prone to cable noise than my other headphones using mini-XLR or mini-2.5mm or the Hifiman hex-screw connectors as those cables attach securely without room for any movement.
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Featuring a functional and practical light-weight design with nice eye-catching red accents, these headphones look extremely gorgeous and appealing for my tastes. The curved circular suspension design follows the natural contours of the human head for an aesthetically-pleasing look when worn.
Comfort: The comfort and fit is excellent for a planar magnetic headphone. While the lack of headband size markings make precise adjustments a bit more tedious, there should be no problem finding the right settings regardless of your head size and shape. Extremely light-weight with my measured weight of the Ether was 361 grams without the cable, which is lighter than their official weight.
The lamb-skin leather earpads have a non-angled circular design with a rectangular inner space for ears. The inner dimensions of the earpads measure to be 2.5 inches x 1.5 inches x 1 inch (height x width x depth). The earpads fit my ears very comfortably. I do personally prefer velour pads for comfort reasons, so I do hope that accessories like velour pads or hybrid leather pads with velour lining may be something that MrSpeakers explore in the future.
Accessories: The Ether comes bundled with the following:
  1. (x1) 6 feet cable terminating in the termination of your choice
  2. (x1) Brown Form-fitting Hard Case (approximately 9in x 7in x 5in at longest parts)
  3. (x1) Black Draw-String Velvet Bag (11.5 in height x 10in width when lying flat)
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The included velvet bag can be useful to prevent dust or minor scratches if planning on storing these headphones away. The coolest accessory included is definitely the form-fitting hard case. I strongly appreciate the inclusion of a hard carry case. An extremely thoughtful addition that I hope other high-end headphones companies follow. Besides Oppo including a hard travel case for their closed-back portable PM-3, I am not currently aware of any other planar magnetic headphones that come bundled with a nice hard sleek travel case. Audeze does includes a large heavy-duty travel case with their LCD-series, but the large size makes it more of a storage option or put-in-the-trunk type option than a carry-in-a-bag type case. I see this offering being much more practical for transport compared to the travel case bundled with Audeze headphones. With Hifiman headphones, travel-sized hard cases can be purchased from their store.
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Image of stock cable (top & left) vs DUM cable (bottom & right). Only one cable is included. The DUM cable is an additional $110.
I would like to see an additional cable being offered at this price point. The majority of high-end planar magnetic headphones come with at least two cables standard nowadays with Audeze bundling a XLR and ¼” cable and Oppo bundling ¼” and 3.5mm cables with all their models. No additional adapter is included with the Ether either. The Ether’s stock cable length of 6 feet is definitely on the shorter side and may not be able to accommodate certain desktop arrangements. Will likely need to purchase an extension cable or MrSpeakers’ longer 10 feet cable option for an additional $40 if routing the cable behind a desk.
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Sound Quality:
Note: While I wrote the majority of my sonic impressions prior to frequency response sweeps, I felt like the most informative way to approach an objective in-depth sonic analysis was to incorporate my FR sweep findings into this section. For further information on audiophile terminology, use the guide HERE.
With its well-balanced and linear sound signature, I would categorize the Ether to have a neutral-orientated*, clinical presentation. The most interesting thing about the Ether is that it offers that detail-focused clinical tuning while minimizing the peakiness in the treble region that is often common among neutral-orientated clinical/analytical presentations. Its sound signature reminds me very strongly of the HD800 with a more-refined, less peaky treble.
The word “neutral” means various things to various people. I do personally think there is a range of frequency response variations that can be considered “neutral.” The Ether will fall somewhere in the “neutral to brighter-than-neutral” spectrum of “neutrality” depending on preferences in relative comparison against other neutral-orientated flagships. The Ether may sound neutral or bright or bass-light depending on personal taste. Hard to see anyone calling the Ether warm or dark unless coming from an extremely bright headphone background. Extremely similar overall sound signature and stylistic presentation to the HD800 and HE-560 with a few key differences.
Treble Tuning: From multiple high frequency sweeps, I was able to detect treble extension up to 18 kHz (which is typically as far up as I can personally hear) and the treble response was exceptionally smooth and linear to my ears with the smallest of dips around 9-10kHz and two small peaks around 11 kHz and 15kHz. Possible among the least peaky treble presentations I have had the pleasure of hearing.
Treble peaks are often incorporated to highlight the edges of notes, bringing an additional sense of clarity and definition of notes. Certain peaks can often be effectively used to give the treble notes a “sparkling” effect, add additional “crispness,” or present an “airier” sensation to the treble extension. However, depending on personal tastes, those same changes in treble tuning can also be considered too piercing or overly strident, causing sibilance or harsh brittleness. The Ether does not partake in adding any extra treble “sparkle” to its delicate and smooth treble response. Despite having a sense of brilliance and clarity to its treble presentation, its treble is the least aggressive of the treble of the “clinical” family of headphones that I have heard. With less forward treble energy in relative comparison to other similar neutral-to-bright sound signatures, the Ether is not as vivid and sharp compared other clinical-orientated cans. Its treble tonality does lie more on the relaxing side of the spectrum instead of displaying a vivid and sharp bite. There can be a subtle bit of perceived dullness due to the smooth response of the treble depending on sonic preferences, but the Ether’s treble tuning is likely most to be perceived as pretty on-point and a sonic strength by the majority of critical listeners.
Shimmering effects will not be emphasized on the Ether, but will appear if present in the source. A well-done sense of airiness and breathiness without any piercingness shining through the upper registers. There is an extremely good sense of definition and clarity to treble notes. I never experienced any edginess, brittleness, harshness with the Ether’s bright but gentle treble presentation. No additional “sizzle” to my ears that would be caused by peaks in the 5kHz to 10kHz region, so I estimate an extremely even response in that region. The term delicate, sweet, and precise characterize the Ether’s treble presentation quite well and I personally consider the treble to be the Ether’s strongest frequency region.
Mid-range Tuning: The Ether’s overall midrange sounds extremely linear to my ears, not seeming overly emphasized or recessed relative to the bass or treble. Its midrange is quite well-done and articulate with an realistic tonality and timbre to instrumentals and vocals.
Presence range (generally covering 2-5 kHz or 4-6 kHz depending on instruments) is extremely well done for my personal tastes. This region is responsible for the ‘intimacy’ or how close the music sounds. The Ether definitely does not emphasize this region, resulting in an non-intimate presentation which is my personal preference. There is no extra emphasis in the upper midrange, which prevents any hardness to its presentation. The Ether presents that characteristic slight dip from ~1kHz to ~4kHz that is typical of the majority of high-end headphone tunings to compensate for the human ear’s increased sensitivity to the upper mid and low treble region.
I would say that the Ether has a bit more focus on the lower mids over the upper mids for a smallest touch of thickness underlying its notes. This is an extremely subtle effect, creating a small sense of natural “richness” to its sonic presentation. Instruments (such as piano, violin, trumpets that I am more experienced with) and vocals sound exceptionally realistic with a very nature timbre and tone. There is never any raspiness or hardness to female vocals. The underlying roughness of certain male vocals in the lower tessitura is presented accurately with a very full-of-life sensation. Flutes and saxophones have that effortless breathy quality that allows for detection of subtle breathing patterns of musicians. Rather than presenting a liquid smoothness to the sonic profile, the Ether really highlights the low-level micro-details and presents good note spacing without too much abruptness between notes. Subtle textural shifts are sharply defined. I never got the honky or tinny sensation with the Ethers midrange. The midrange of the Ether is quite articulate and clean with very high-fidelity detail resolution. The Ether effortlessly glides through complex passages in the midrange with an exceptional good tonal balance.
Bass Tuning: The Ether’s bass response is generally quite linear during a frequency response sweep. It does lose out quite a bit in bass extension with 20 Hz being quite close to inaudible at normal listening volumes. There is a noticeable but very small increase in volume going from approximately 30 Hz to approximately 60 Hz. This tapering effect of the sub-bass can be preferred as the rumbling of the lower frequencies can sometimes cast a shadow over the frequency response with a perceived sense of diminished clarity. The trade-off is that the Ether has a relatively lower sense of that powerful presence and weighty rumble underlying notes.
At approximately 70 Hz, there is an abrupt jump in emphasis (though still relative subtle overall for a generally linear bass presentation), giving the Ether more of an midbass focus that centers at approximately 120 Hz to my ears. I would characterize the Ether having an almost imperceptible hill from ~70-170 Hz to my ears with a relatively more noticeable tapering down drop-off in the sub-bass region (30-60 Hz) for a subtly more emphasis on the midbass over the lowest bass frequencies.
I would not characterize the Ether as ‘rich’ or ‘lush’ as those terms imply some level of additional coloration to me, but the Ether does present a realistic sense of underlying fullness and body to its notes. There is definitely no additional emphasis of fullness or warmth though. While the Ether does sometimes capture that ‘felt’ low-end sub-bass, there is no sense of visceral weightiness or that seismic sensation provided by the extremely low frequencies, which does give the impression of diminished power behind notes. The Ether is also a bit lacking in impact compared to other flagships. However, the Ether does give a very well-done sense of punchiness to its bass notes. Bass notes are extremely clean and tight without any blurring effect or muddiness. Definitely not blanketed by a warm presentation, the Ether sits more on the bright side of the neutral spectrum to my ears, but presents an adequate quantity of bass to satisfy the majority of non-basshead audiophiles.
Other Sonic Attributes:
Soundstage is large and spacious though not particularly remarkable for an open pair of headphones. Its imaging on the other hand is exceptionally precise. Often can perceive pinpoint sense of height to live recordings with the perception that the music is coming from above on an elevated stage, which is an unique phenomenon not always found even in flagship headphones. While its soundstage width and depth does not seem exceptionally large, the Ether presents a balanced doughnut-shaped sound stage that sounds quite natural. Soundstage size is competitive for an open pair of flagship headphones.
Speed is excellent with the Ether ranking well among some of the faster-sounding planar magnetic headphones. Attack transients of the Ether are not extremely hard-hitting, but do present quite cleanly. There is an extremely subtle thickening to the perceived decay, but not to the extent of Audeze and Oppo headphones. I estimate the Ether to be give the perception of a faster transient response than current Audeze and Oppo offerings due to its clean edges and no extra warmth that can contribute to a sense of bloat to the decay of notes. On the other hand, Audeze and Oppo flagships will provide a stronger sense of impact and a weightier presence. There are some other flagship-quality dynamic and planar magnetic headphones that I view to be faster in relative comparison to the Ethers, but the speed and transient response of the Ether is definitely not be lacking and I consider those sonic attributes to be among its strong suits.
Clarity and detail resolution is quite high-quality and on-par with other flagship offerings. These headphones will easily pick up the low-level micro-details and subtle textural shifts in the tonality of notes that is expected from a summit-fi pair of headphones. Dynamic range is solid with a very good sense of control over the subtle micro-dynamic changes and coherently responds to large abrupt shifts in volume without sounding strained.
The Ether is not missing the “organic” textural element, but definitely more clinically-tuned with the emphasis on subtle micro-detail elements and note spacing. There is minimal additional “richness”, “lushness”, or “liquidness.”** The Ethers can display those elements if that presentation occurs within source tracks, but the focus is accuracy and detail retrieval rather than adding any “smoothening” effect or additional underlying warmth for an increased sense of fullness. The Ether does provide a subtle sense of thickness underlying the body of its notes with a smoothing of the treble response that results in a non-fatiguing sense of ‘musicality.’ With its relatively lighter impact, subtle thickness, and sweet treble tuning, the Ether does give a more relaxed overall presentation (instead of a high-energy approach). The most unique thing about the Ether in my opinion is that they provide that clinical/analytical sound signature without any of that extra treble peakiness that is often associated with that presentation style.
**Due to its softer impact and extremely subtle sense of thickness relative to other clinical headphones, I can see some characterizing its sound as “liquid,” but without that sense of “smoothening” of the edges of notes that results in an unique texture, I personally do not think the Ether has a “liquid” presentation. The Ether’s overall frequency response is quite “smooth” as in there are no offensively glaringly abrupt peaks or dips.
Sonic Considerations: (possible critical areas depending personal sonic values)
These findings were made primarily based on direct comparisons [audio memory will be explicitly stated in brackets]. All gear was volume-matched by ear based on a 500 Hz test tone. When not volume-matched, the Ether will sound louder than the rest of my headphones with all frequency response regions sounding boosted in comparison. The louder sounding headphone will seem inherently better due to the way our brains perceive sound. Do note these are only my personal opinions in an attempt to try to identify all possible relative sonic differences that may sway preferences. People all have different sensitivities and reference points of their ideal, so YMMV!!!
1) Softer presentation-style: I found that the attack edges are not as hard hitting as my other planar magnetics, the LCD-X and HE-560. A bit similar to the PM-3’s attack in sense with a “smoother-feeling” attack to notes. Attack is still quite snappy and clean. Gives the Ether a ‘lighter’ presentation with relatively less weight and power behind its notes. [The HD800 and HE-6 likely to also be harder hitting though unable to do direct comparisons to confirm]
2) Bass Impact: Noticeably less than the LCD-X. Subtly less than the HE-560. [I would predict less than all Audeze headphones in general and less than the HE-400, also likely less than the PM-1 with its underlying tonal warmth and richness]
3) Bass Extension: Not as much of that seismic-type rumbling lower sub-bass. Most noticeable in comparison to the LCD-X. I did find that the lowest bass extension and textures to be more vivid on the HE-560. [There are many other planar magnetics likely to have more linear bass extension, but the Ether is likely to be more competitive against the majority of flagship dynamics, so may can be an improvement depending on comparison point. Note: I do not personally think the bass extension of the Ether is lacking, just noticeable differences in relative comparison]
4) Relatively thinner presentation: I do not feel like the Ether sounds “thin,” but it shares a similar presentation to the body of notes as the HD800 and HE-560. Thicker than the HE-560, but still more thin than thick compared to the broader high-end headphone market. Not as thick as the LCD-X. [Likely will not find that additional warmth/fullness or more liquid-type smoothing to textures on the Ether that is present on the Audeze LCD-series or Oppo PM-1/PM-2 headphones]
5) Relatively brighter presentation compared to the majority of my other current headphones. [I would estimate its sound signature to sit closest to the HD800]. I personally would not call either the HD800 or the Ether to be overly bright pair of headphones. The Ether is sonically very similar to the HE-560 (which the relatively brightest headphone in my current collection). I do feel the Ether gives the perception of a more prominent treble region overall with an upper treble focus while the HE-560 has a more prominent lower treble peak in relative comparison.
6) Possibly light in bass for certain preferences: I am not going to get into what sound signature is most ideal or ‘most reference’ as there is quite a lot of solid headphones with subtle variations in FR that I still consider relatively quite neutral. I think the Ether is quite neutral overall and displays adequate bass for non-bassheads. It does not feel lacking in this department for my preferences. I will note that I have found these have less bass quantity and brighter overall presentation in direct comparison (volume-matched based on a 500 Hz test tone) relative to the rest of my headphone collection.
7) Soundstage is competitive for an open-back flagship [though likely not larger than the HD800]. Comparable to the HE-560 and I can see it being called either way depending on the specific cue and frequency response level that it occurs at. I’ve personally found from rapid switching volume-matched comparisons that the Ether has a better sense of depth while the HE-560 has a larger L-R width.
*****I do want to stress that critical points that I listed above are simply just more flavor and preference considerations. I do think the Ether is an overall very competitive and well-tuned pair of headphones without any glaring sonic weakness.*****
This list comprises many of the songs I typically use for critical listening with a lot of genre variation (arranged by alphabetically by artist). These songs are useful for testing multiple sonic strengths. These are songs I am quite familiar with so I can take requests for more detailed song analysis via PM if interested.
Treble characteristics: “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele, “Skyfall” by Adele, “One Last Time” by Ariana Grande, “Blow Out Your Candles” by Adrian Hollay (interesting combo of warmth with coolness), “Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20” performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “Haru Haru” by Bigbang, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, “Trumpet Voluntary in D Major: The Prince of Denmark’s March” performed by Clerkenwell Baroque String Ensemble, “I Bet” by Ciara, “Titanium” by David Guetta, “Let It Go” by Demi Lovato, “The Look Of Love” by Diana Krall, “May It Be” by Enya,  “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding, “Your Song” by Ellie Goulding, “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence, “Concerning Hobbits” from The Fellowship of the Ring Soundtrack, “When I Grow Up" by Fever Ray (Scandinavian coldness), “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony, “The Glass Menagerie” by Henry Mancini (good example of a cold song), “Manners” by Icona Pop, “Want to Want Me” by Jason Derulo, “Blue Train” by John Coltrane (brass and cymbals), “Your Love” by Jim Brickman, “A Time Before” by John Fluker,“How Long” by Kaskade, “Heartbeat Song” by Kelly Clarkson, “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson, “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Rey, “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis, “My December” by Linkin Park, “Euphoria” by Loreen, “I See the Light” by Mandy Moore & Zachary Levi, “Execute Me” by Medina, “Our Love Is Easy” by Melody Gardot, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Nancy Sinatra, “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones, “Easy To Love” by Patricia Barber, “Lone Ranger” by Rachel Platten, “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, “Elastic Heart” by Sia, “I Knew You Were Trouble,” by Taylor Swift, “Nobody Love” by Tori Kelly, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, “Undercover” by Zara Larsson
Midrange characteristics: “Life Goes On” by 2pac, “All Out of Love” by Air Supply, “Mr. Saxobeat” by Alexandra Stan (brass), “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse, “Honey, I’m Good” by Andy Grammer, “Wild Wild Horses” by Atmosphere, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” by Brand New, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Beegie Adair, “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles, “Atlas” by Coldplay, “Yellow” by Coldplay, “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows, “7 Days” by Craig David, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” by David Hamilton, “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional, “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie, “Vincent” by Don McLean, “Sunrise” by Doug Hammer, “Energy” by Drake, “I Didn’t Know About You” by Duke Ellington, “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “Bright” by Echosmith, “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeren, “Sing for the Moment” by Eminem (hip hop with male vocal recession), “Do You Know? (The Ping Pong Song)” by Enrique Iglesias, “Uma Thurman” by Fall Out Boy, “Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra, “Moon River” by Frank Sinatra, “Shot Caller” by French Montana (hip hop with brass), “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile)” by Gato Barbieri, “Budapest” by George Ezra, “Sweet Child O' Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, “Lips of An Angel” by Hinder, “Take Me To Church” by Hozier,“Better Together” by Jack Johnson, “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin, “Goodbye My Lover” by James Blunt, “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag” by James Brown, “If” by Jamie Conway, “Evening Whispers” by Janie Becker, “Want To Want Me” by Jason Derulo, “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, “Tornado” by Jay Chou, “Lights Off” by Jay Sean, “Show Me What You Got” by Jay-Z, “Naima” by John Coltrane, “Lake Erie Rainfall” by Jim Brickman, “Winter Morning” by Jim Brickman, “The Dreamer” by Jose James, “There Will Never Be Another You” by Lester Young, “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West, “Songbird” by Kenny G, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, “Maps” by Maroon 5, “Sugar” by Maroon 5, “Speed Demon” by Michael Jackson (brass instruments), “The North Sea” by Michele McLaughlin, “So What” by Miles Davis, “Believe” by Mumford & Sons, “So Sick” by Ne-Yo, “Songs I Can’t Listen To” by Neon Trees, “The Godfather Love Theme” by Nino Rota, “Suicidal Thoughts” by The Notorious B.I.G., “Ice Box” by Omarion (cold song), “Let Her Go” by Passenger, “Radioactive” by Pentatonix, “Tears of the East” by Philip Wesley, “The Cello Song” by The Piano Guys (cello), “Canon in D Major” performed by Pimlico Quartet, “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd, “Love Song” by Rain, “Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Savior” by Rise Against, “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones, “Hallelujah” by Rufus Wainwright, “Take Your Time” by Sam Hunt, “I’m Not The Only One” by Sam Smith, “Geronimo” by Sheppard, “Round Midnight” by Sonny Rollins, “Your Man” by Smash Mouth, “So Far Away” by Staind, “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, “Wedding Dress” by Taeyang, “Diamond Rings And Old Barstools” by Tim McGraw, “The Dream of You” by Tim Neumark, “How Do I Say” by Usher, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Riptide” by Vance Joy, “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, “Heartbeat” by Wang Lee Hom, “Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weekend, “Just the Two of Us” by Will Smith, “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth,“Kiss the Rain” by Yiruma, “Renegades” by X Ambassadors 
Bass characteristics: “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin, “Burned With Desire” by Armin van Buuren, “The Nights” by Avicii, “Waiting for Love” by Avicii, “Sail” by AWOLNATION, “Brass Monkey” by Beastie Boys, “Come Together” by The Beatles, “Stand by Me” by Ben E King, “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, “Outside” by Calvin Harris, “Straight To Hell” by The Clash, “Lullaby” by The Cure, “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie, “Tron Legacy (End Title)” by Daft Punk, “Ghosts 'n' Stuff” by deadmau5, “Get Low” by Dillon Francis & DJ Snake, “Monster” by DotEXE, “You Know You Like It” by DJ Snake & AlunaG, “Dubstep Killed Rock n Roll” by Ephixa, “Deviance” by Excision, “Blood Red” by Feed Me, “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap, “GDFR” by Flo Rida & Lookas & Sage, “I Can’t Stop” by Flux Pavilion, “Elements” by Fractal, “Concrete Angel” by Gareth Emery, “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, “Aggressive Expansion” by Hans Zimmer, “Rise” by Hans Zimmer, “Time” by Hans Zimmer, “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons (bass texture), “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5, “Limit to Your Love” by James Blake, “N*ggas in Paris” by Jay-Z, “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix, “Caravan” by John Wasson [Whiplash OST], “Act a Fool” by Ludacris, “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West, “Be Real” by Kid Ink & Dej Loaf, “Alive” Krewella, “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin, “Lean On” by Major Lazer & MO, “Teardrop” by Massive Attack, “Our Story” by Mako, “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson, “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson, “You Made Me Realise” by My Bloody Valentine, “Everybody Talks,” by Neon Trees, “Lonely Girl” by Oceanlab, “Spottieottiedopaliscious” by OutKast, “The Island” by Pendulum, “Money” by Pink Floyd, “Time of Our Lives” by Pitbull & Ne-Yo, “I'm Gonna Be(500 Miles)” by Proclaimers, “Know Your Enemy” by Rage Against the Machine, “Full Force” by Rameses B, “FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna & Kanye West & Paul McCartney, “Children - Dream Version” by Robert Miles, “1812 Overture” performed by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, “Love is Darkness” by Sander Van Doorn, “I Need Your Love” by Shaggy, “All Star” by Smash Mouth, “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz, “No Mercy” by TI, “Secrets” by Tiesto, “Hipsta” by Timmy Trumpet (viscerality of bass yo!), “Slow Motion” by Trey Songz, “Another Bites the Dust” by Queen, “Heartbeat” by Vicetone, “Earned It” by The Weeknd, “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, “On My Level” by Wiz Khalifa, “Stab Me In the Back” by X-Japan, “Min Ojesten” by Xander, “I Want You To Know” by Zedd, “Nuclear” by Zomboy
Imaging/Soundstage: “Back In Black” by AC/DC, “Will Hunting Main Title” by Danny Elfman, “Book of Days” by Enya, “Caribbean Blue” by Enya, “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses, “Spirited Away - One Summer’s Day” by Joe Hisaishi, “Star Wars Main Theme” by John Williams, “The Dreamer” by Jose James, “Somewhere I Belong - Live in Texas” by Linkin Park, “Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer, “The Thin Red Line” by Hans Zimmer, “Time (Live in London 1974)” by Pink Floyd, “Yellow Submarine” by Ringo Starr (Ringo Live At Soundstage), “Whispers In The Dark - Comes Alive Version” by Skillet, “Futile Devices” by Sufjan Stevens, “Words” by Yiruma, Classical music performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded by Abbey Road Studios, Royal Festival Hall, and Henry Wood Hall including: “Adagio for Strings” by Barber, “Bagatelle In A Minor, WoO 59, Für Elise” by Beethoven, “Nocturne No. 2 In E-Flat Major, Op. 9” by Chopin, “Suite bergamasque, L 75: Clair de Lune” by Debussy, “Symphony No. 5: Adagietto” by Mahler, “The Magic Flute, K. 620: Overture” by Mozart, “Canon In D Major” by Pachelbel, “Finlandia, Op. 26” by Sibelius, “The Four Seasons, Op. 8, Spring: Allegro” by Vivaldi, “The Valkyrie: Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner.
Speed and control: “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, “Invincible” by Adelitas Way, “Flower of Life” by Au5, “The Diary of Jane” by Breaking Benjamin, “Can You Keep Up” by Busta Rhymes, “Eurodancer” by DJ Mangoo, “Bitterphobia” by Eminem, “Rap God” by Eminem, “Renegade” by Eminem, “The Might of Rome” by Hans Zimmer, “Point of No Return” by Immortal Technique, “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane, “Faint” by Linkin Park, “Elements” by Lindsey Stirling, “Raver’s Fantasy” by Manian, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, “The Magic Flute, K. 620: Overture” performed by Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, “William Tell Overture” performed by Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, “The Tsar Of Saltan, Op. 57: Flight of the Bumblebee” performed by Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, “Last Resort” by Papa Roach. “Testify” by Rage Against The Machine, “Snow” by Red Hot Chilli Peppers,  “Everything Is Awesome!!” by Tegan & Sara & the Lonely Island, “That’s All She Wrote” by T.I., “Let’s Go” by Travis Barker, “Frum Da Tip Of My Tung” by Twista, “Kill Us All” by Twista, “River Flows In You” by Yiruma, “Silent Jealousy” by X Japan
Dynamics: “Path” by Apocalyptica, “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor I. Moonlight” performed by Bernhard Jarvis, “The People” by Common (very well-balanced male rapper vocals here), “American Pie” by Don McLean, “Everlong” by Foo Fighters, “Estranged” by Guns N’ Roses, “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer, “1973” by James Blunt, “Aspenglow” by Jim Wilson, “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, “Eptesicus” by Hans Zimmer, “Dream Is Collapsing” by Hans Zimmer, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, “In the Closet” by Michael Jackson, “Dying” by Hole, “One Mic” by Nas, “Down By The Water” by PJ Harvey, “Suite No. 3 in D Major” performed by the Pimlico Quartet, “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” Pink Floyd, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Passions” by Rachel Currea, “The Suite Bergamasque: III. Clair de Lune” performed by Robert Einstein, “Angie” by The Rolling Stones, “Je t'aime moi non plus” by Serge Gainsbourg (romantic whispering), “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, “The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz, “Bring Em Out” by TI, “Hooker With A Penis” by Tool, "Art of Life" by X Japan, “Wait (The Whisper Song)” by Ying Yang Twins (low level male vocals)
2015-08-1522.47.14.jpg     2015-08-1522.52.03.jpg

*******Important Notes*******
  • Measurements only done after sonic impression notes were written.
  • Measurement chain: PC with Windows 10 > ARTA Generates Sine Sweeps > Steinberg UR-22 USB Interface with Yamaha ASIO > Line Out > Oppo HA-2 Amplifier > headphones placed upon my own head (left ear being measured) > Pannasonic WM61-A Microphone > Steinberg UR-22 > PC > ARTA analysis
  • I used a Panasonic WM61-A microphone in my measurement set-up. The WM61-A does actually measure very flat until the upper treble range when calibrated. Its unequalized response should be flat within +/- 1.5 dB to 20 kHz. Frequency response curves are smoothed to 1/24 octave.
  • The dip occurring at approximately the 6 kHz region is an artifact from the interaction from the mic placement with the shape of the ear folds. This artifact appears in all my measured frequency response curves via my current personal measurement set-up.
  • You can NOT directly compare my personal measurements to other frequency response curves made by other people!!! There will be inherent discrepancies due to differences in measurement set-up, so comparing measurements from different sources is not reliable!!
  • For frequency response curve comparisons, I would recommend Tyll’s extensive database. Tyll's Ether measurements HERE. Full list of all his headphone measurements found HERE. (credit: Tyll Hertsens at Innerfidelity)
  • Reference HERE for frequency response correlations to instruments and audiophile terms. (credit: Independent Recording Network)
  • I am not a professional, so my personal measurements may not be as accurate as other sources. May update measurements as I run more trials. Any feedback or suggestions for improvement appreciated. Please let me know if you spot any errors.
Screenshot2015-07-1816.45.36etherstockcableIR.png   Screenshot2015-08-0119.19.13EtherStockIR.png
MrSpeakers Ether (stock cables) Impulse Response (x2 different trials 7/18/15 & 8/1/15)
Screenshot2015-07-1816.45.54etherFR.png   Screenshot2015-08-0119.19.53EtherStockFR.png
MrSpeakers Ether (stock cables) Frequency Response Curve (x2 different trials 7/18/15 & 8/1/15)
Screenshot2015-07-1816.46.10ethercsd.png   Screenshot2015-08-0119.20.17EtherStockCSD.png
MrSpeakers Ether (stock cables) Cumulative Spectral Decay Plot (x2 different trials 7/18/15 & 8/1/15)
Direct Comparisons:
*******Important Notes*******
  • There are just some subtle differences between competitors that will really depend on personal preference. Differences written about sound often reads to be more dramatic than the differences heard in real-life (just the nature of writing really detailed comparisons over subtle variations). I would strongly caution against making any snap judgements without a personal audition as people do have different sensitivities to different sonic attributes.
  • Please remember these are my own personal subjective impressions. YMMV!!!
I could not fit my direct comparisons in this review. Link HERE for full comparisons.
Amplification: Basically, these headphones are so easy to drive that an amplifier is unnecessary from a technical standpoint.
  1. Requires 1 mW to reach 95 dB (typical upper range of normal listening volumes and the volume level where long-term exposure will result in gradual hearing loss)
  2. Requires 79 mW to reach 115 dB (volume of a loud concert)
  3. Requires 794 mW to reach 125 dB (threshold for pain)
Link HERE for a great resource for calculating power requirements.
Due to their very neutral overall sound signature, colorations from tube gear should be quite readily apparent and easily revealed. I don’t think there needs to be any worry about source component matching as their sound signature does not require any major adjustments or flavoring to my ears (though I would avoid components that exhibit a bass roll-off). Unlikely to be very picky with source gear (imo). Does not require any expensive components to sound ideal, though likely to ‘scale up’ in a similar manner to other very resolving nice headphones. I do feel like the Ether is quite transparent and will allow for good perception of differences between external components if interested in critically listening for those sorts of variations. I tested the Ether to work quite well with the Oppo HA-2, Aune B1, and Lyr 2 + Bifrost Uber combination.
Cables: I personally could not detect any notable consistent sonic differences switching back-and-forth between the stock cable and DUM cable during blind testing. Do note that I personally never really have been able to hear any difference with various cables that I’ve experimented with. YMMV. I am not interested in a cable debate. Please NO cable debate in the comments section. Remember, YMMV!!! Comparative measurement trial between cables without changing the positioning of these headphones included for those interested below.
MrSpeakers Ether Measurements on 8/1/15 with Stock Cables on Left and DUM cables on Right
Screenshot2015-08-0119.19.13EtherStockIR.png     Screenshot2015-08-0119.15.09EtherDUMIR.png
Impulse Response (Stock Cables vs Dum Cables)
Screenshot2015-08-0119.19.53EtherStockFR.png     Screenshot2015-08-0119.16.31EtherDUMFR.png
Frequency Response Curve (Stock Cables vs Dum Cables)
Screenshot2015-08-0119.20.17EtherStockCSD.png     Screenshot2015-08-0119.17.23EtherDUMCSD.png
Cumulative Spectral Decay Plot: (Stock Cables vs Dum Cables)
Only FR measurement trial with a significant variation between cables occurred on 7/18/15. I ran this measurement trial twice to confirm, but I have been unable to duplicate this result since then.
Screenshot2015-07-1816.45.54etherFR.png      Screenshot2015-07-1816.47.22etherdumcablefr.png
FR Trial #1 on 7/18: Stock on Left, DUM FR on Right
Screenshot2015-07-1816.50.41etherfr.png     Screenshot2015-07-1816.49.15etherdumcablefr.png
FR Trial #2 on 7/18: Stock FR on Left, DUM FR on Right
Value Judgement:
The planar magnetic headphone product category is currently rapidly growing and getting quite crowded. Previously dominated by staples from Audeze and Hifiman, Oppo Digital recently joined the headphone game with three planar magnetic models including the PM-1 at $1,099, the PM-2 at $699, and the PM-3 at $399. Fostex has revitalized their planar magnetic line-up with the TH500RP (currently can be found at $650ish) and their replacement T##RPmk3 series (open, closed, and semi-open designs). A relatively less well-known the Russian company MyST released their IzoPhones line-up ($1,100 to $1,200) and Kennerton Audio recently announced an upcoming planar magnetic called the Odin ($2,250).
With consideration to the $1k+ luxury headphone category, the $1.5k Ether sits right around at the price point standard for flagships set by the Sennheiser HD800 (original MSRP of $1.4k, current MSRP at $1.6k, I’ve seen deal pricing for new HD800 at sub-$1,300 price point). This makes it a relative good overall value compared to the MSRP of other flagship-level headphones. Due to diminishing returns in the luxury headphone product category, I view the Ether to offer a much better overall value than the majority of headphones priced higher for shoppers primarily concerned with overall sound signature balance and enjoy a neutral clinical-orientated tuning. While the Ether is an extremely competitive all-arounder, there are other flagships that outperform it in specific technical areas, so for buyers with very specific sonic desires, there may be more suitable option for their individual tastes.
For value-oriented enthusiasts who are uncomfortable going too high above the $1k price point, there are still many competitive options that may be preferable to the Ether. In terms of performance:price, I do think that the Hifiman HE-560 does achieve a flagship-level sound quality with very close overall sonic presentation at a much cheaper price point of $900 MSRP, making it the overall better sonic value. The classic highly-regarded HE-6 planar magnetic also retails at a lower price point of $1.2k and can often be found cheaper on sale. Oppo offers their PM-1 planar magnetic flagship at $1.1k with the PM-2 achieving similar sound at $699. Upcoming flagship headphones that will sit at a lower price point include the ENIGMAcoustics Dharma D1000 electrostatic-dynamic hybrid at $1.2k (August release date) and the 2nd generation updated version of the dynamic-driver Beyerdynamic T1 at ~$1.1k (estimated end of August release date). Hifiman is also currently developing a HE-6 successor with an unknown price point that be something to consider.
For really money-conscious enthusiasts who really place a heavy emphasis on value and like to avoid diminishing returns, I would recommend staying in the sub-$500 price option as there are currently a multitude of extremely capable mid-tier planar magnetic options out there (the HE-400i and PM-3 are my personal favorite planar magnetic in that price range and Hifiman recently released the new HE-400s at the $299 price point).
For $1k+ flagship option, the Ether is an extremely capable neutral-orientated headphones with extremely minimal coloration to my ears. If looking for that type of sound signature, the Ether will deliver great satisfaction. I find its overall tuning to be extremely competitive compared to the current market offerings by competitors. Its price point is fair considering the current MSRP price trends. With this newest flagship addition, fans of planar magnetic headphone are now faced with an even larger myriad of extremely capable summit-fi choices.
My Scoring: (the green bar ratings on the side seem to be an average of all review scores, this is my personal scoring)
Note: I do not typically give out full scores unless the product achieves a new ground-breaking high standard for its price bracket
Audio Quality: 9/10
Comfort: 9/10
Design: 9/10
Value: 7/10
Overall Rating: 4.5/5; Overall, extremely solid and competitive entry in the flagship market.
The Ether is an outstanding new flagship offering by Mrspeakers to a crowded high-end planar magnetic field. With no significantly notable flaws, the Ether presents an extremely well-balanced overall sound signature that can be described as a tight bass, clean midrange, and smooth treble.
The Ether excels in all non-sonic attributes, engineered with a light-weight, gorgeous-looking design. It is easily apparent that great attention to detail was paid to its styling and comfort. The Ether’s greatest sonic strength in my opinion is how it maintains a clinical presentation while maintaining an even treble response. Offering a hyper detail-focused presentation without falling victim to some of the negative stereotypes associated with the word “clinical,” the Ether never sounds screechingly sharp, edgily harsh, or sibilant on good source material. The midrange of the Ether is quite a joy to listen to as well. I view the Ether’s overall sound signature tuning being the primary reason to choose this pair of headphones specifically.
Flaws on the Ether are few and far between, unlikely to be deal-breakers for the majority of enthusiasts interested in high-end headphones. The cable microphonics due to the connector design is my personal biggest non-audio concern. The bass response of the Ether is its relatively weakest frequency response region, but this can be appealing to more neutral-oriented detail-focused preferences as increased bass extension or emphasized bass can often blur out other aspects of the music. I would estimate that the relative sonic attributes most likely to be commented negatively upon would be the Ether’s bass extension and dampened impact. With less sub-bass presence and a softer impact to its notes, the Ether has a very light touch, delicately floating through the music. There is less weight and power behind the sound of the Ether compared to some of its contemporaries. I honestly don’t think that this difference in sonic style will always be considered a sonic flaw, but depending on what headphone background that the listener is coming from, these sonic differences may be more pronounced and noticeable for certain preferences.
I see the Ether’s overall sound signature tuning being extremely appealing to many audiophiles seeking a neutral-orientated but non-fatiguing reference-level sonic balance that is always pleasurable to listen to. Its technical sonic attributes are competitive enough to satisfy the majority of listeners who are simply looking for overall flagship-level performance rather than focusing on maximizing the performance of a few specific qualities. Extremely solid all-arounder in its performance, the Ether should be appealing to all audiophiles who are looking for reference neutral tuning.
Official Product Link:
Awesome review Money! Thank you. i just have 100 hours on my ETHERs and fully agree with your review and impressions. Exactly what I was looking for in a HP. Your review helped me select the right one for me. Thanks!
This was a very well written, enjoyable, and informative review. I especially like how you talk about other options to other price points and values for other perhaps newer audio lover's. Thanks for taking the time to write this
very good and accurate review. i love my ethers. as for the bass, i find that if the recording itself has alot of bass, the headphone shows it. it doesn't add or exaggerate bass though. thats my two cents. nice review.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: budget price point, tons of accessories, detachable cable, ‘fun’ sound, good sense of warmth & fullness, non-fatiguing treble tuning
Cons: quite a bit of coloration to its sound signature, warm v-shaped sound signature, notes seem to be a bit on the 'slower' side
Alpha & Delta AD01 IEM Review

Intro: Lend Me UR Ears is a Singaporean audio retailer that sells high-quality but affordable budget gear. Offering international shipping to the USA and Canada, they are the official retailer for a wide range of brands and started producing their own in-house products under the Alpha & Delta brand name. The Alpha & Delta brand is the result of Lend Me UR ear collaboration with an unspecified Chinese manufacturer. The Alpha & Delta AD01 in-ear headphones are their first product launch.
The Alpha & Delta AD01 headphones used in this review is a demo unit provided by fellow head-fi member @nmatheis as part of a product tour. I spend a bit more than one week critically listening to these headphones. I am not associated with Lend Me UR ears and have no financial or personal stake in this product. I am NOT a professional reviewer. This review only illustrates my own personal thoughts on the product. YMMV!
My experience in IEM is not as comprehensive as my background with full-sized headphones. I have previously owned the Etymotic Research HF2, Bose IE2, Bower and Wilkins C5, Creative EP-630, Klipsch S4A, and various Sennheiser earbuds (MX560 & other similar models). I currently own the Bose SoundTrue for Galaxy phones, Flare Audio R2A, and Flare Audio R2Pro. I’ve demoed the Final Audio Heaven VII, which is the most high-end and best-sounding IEMs that I have extensively auditioned. I do primarily use full-sized headphones for music listening with IEM usage strictly limited to occasional portable usage. My full gear profile is HERE. My external component set-up is the the Schiit Lyr 2 hybrid tube amplifier + Schiit Bifrost Uber dac for home usage and Oppo HA-2 dac/amplifier for portable usage.
For IEMs, I value comfort and sound quality extremely highly. Personally, I dislike really deep insertions and prefer Comply foam tips. For sound quality, I judge IEMs using a more lenient scale compared to full-sized headphones. I do not care about aesthetics at all, but do take into consideration overall build quality.
Please keep in mind that I am more passionate for full-sized over-ear headphones and my experience with the current IEMs market offerings may not be as extensive as other members here. My perspective may be different than other IEM-focused reviewers, so YMMV! As usual, I hope this is a fun and helpful review.
Tech: The Alpha & Delta AD01 is a dual dynamic driver universal-fit IEM with detachable cables. MSRP is $95.15. Currently being offered at $86.53 from Lend Me UR Ears HERE. Additional promo code “LMUECUST” is currently available for an additional 5% discount.
Official Specifications: (copied directly from lendmeurears)
Driver: 9.8mm and 6.0mm Dual Dynamic Driver
Rated Impedance: 9 Ohm
Sensitivity: 102 dB/mW
Packaging: I do not weight packaging in my review, but included picture for those who are interested.
Design & Build Quality: Modular design of the AD01 is very practical. The driver housing uses an olive-shaped design. It measures ¾” long not including the protruding filter where the eartips attach. Using the grey foam tips, its total length is 1⅛”. Diameter of the oval housing is approximately ½” at its thickest part (this would be its height & width measurements).
The AD01 has a very thoughtful detachable cable design, using a 2mm dc plug connector to attach to the driver housing. R and L labelling is written in black on the cable close to where they plug into the housing. The included cables are extremely well-designed. The sleek cylindrical y-splitter has a sliding portion that can serves as a neck ciche or sit discreetly on top of the y-splitter. The cable terminates in a 3.5mm right-angle plug. I personally really like right-angle plugs for IEMs as I feel it works better with portable devices and relieves cable strain. There is no microphone or remote buttons on the cables.
Comfort: I would estimate the comfort of these IEMs to be good for the majority of users. The inclusion of a large variety of eartips should make it easy to find the perfect individual fit. These are an universal-fit canalphone. I personally ended up using the grey foam eartips for the majority of my testing as I found those to be the most comfortable eartips for me. Sonic impressions will all be based on those tips.
Accessories: This is where the AD01 really shines. It includes:
  1. x2 AD01 Universal Driver
  2. x1 removable cable (black, approximately 4’3” length)
  3. x1 pair of grey foam tips
  4. x3 pairs of bi-flange tips
  5. x6 pairs of silicon tips
  6. x1 hard case (4.5” x 3” x 1.5”)
  7. x1 pair V-sonic ear guides
The AD01 packages a plethora of eartip options. There are two distinct sets of small, medium, large silicon eartips for a total of 6 different sizes for people who enjoy olive-shaped silicon eartips. In addition, three different sized bi-flanged eartips (small, medium, and large) and one pair of medium grey foam eartips were included for a total of 10 different options for eartips. As a fan of foam eartips myself, I would have liked to see a bit more varying foam options instead of so many silicon tips, but silicon eartip fans will rejoice!
Silicon Eartips in L to R order (non-colored bores Large, Medium, Small ~~~ colored bores orange Small, Green Medium, Blue Large)
Eartips in L to R order (Bi-flanged Large, Medium, Small ~~~ Grey medium foam eartips)
The V-Sonic ear guides are planned to be included with the Alpha & Delta AD01. They consist of two black tubes with slits that allow easy attachment and removal onto the cabling to add a more rigid structure for over-ear wear style. Very nice addition for fans of wearing the cables over-the-ears.
The blue zippered hard case does appear quite durable and includes a detachable black lanyard. A nice touch is the case can only open about 45 degrees with elastic straps preventing the case from flopping 360 degrees and spilling out all its contents. Should be a good practical solution for those who want some protection for their IEMs.
My review tour unit also included the 32N oxygen-free copper upgrade cable for testing and I did extensively try both cables. I cannot engage in any sonic descriptions of cables as I personally have never found myself to be able to hear any differences between cables. The copper styling was quite eye-catching while the black one is more discrete. I personally prefer the look with the stock black cables.
I tested out the variety of different eartips and the ear guides prior to personally settling on the grey foam without ear guides for a straight down wear. Numerous eartip options should be sufficient to cover a pretty extensive range of individual fits.

Sound Quality:
  1. Useful resource for audiophile terms:
  2. Useful resource for frequency response correlation to audiophile terms:
  3. Note: It is actually quite difficult for me to write a review on these headphones as its sound signature is quite a bit different from my preferred type of sound signature. I did my best to write as an objective review as I could here. Do note impressions taken using the grey foam tips.
Overall, the AD01 is a warm and fun-sounding pair of headphones. Quite a bit of coloration, but not in an unpleasant manner. The bass is boosted the most significantly with the treble relatively even but still boosted compared to the mid-range. The midrange is recessed with the upper mid-recession more noticeable to my ears as there is a more abrupt transition from the relatively less emphasized in upper mids to relatively more emphasized treble region. I would estimate the point of prominent mid-recession occurs approximately after 500 Hz. The transition from the upper bass to the lower midrange is quite smooth and well-done taper. The low midrange does not sound recessed with a relative elevation compared to the rest of the mid-range as it is still tapering down from the upper bass boost. I would broadly categorize these headphones as having a v-shaped frequency response tuning that would particularly excel with modern pop, rap & hip-hop, and EDM (genres that provide strong bass that you want to feel).
Treble Tuning: The treble region is not as emphasized as the bass, but there is still a bit of emphasis relative to the midrange, which will give these headphones a bit of brightness (or treble sparkle) to its overall warm feel. Typically, v-shaped frequency responses will have a more dramatic treble tuning, so these headphones present more of a warm bass-focused sound signature rather than a prominent “V” with a very sharp treble. There is a hint of edginess and harshness with certain treble notes compared to some of the more neutrally-tuned headphones I’ve tried, but compared to the typical v-shaped sound signature, the treble should be relatively more forgiving and less fatiguing as it does sound quite even overall. Certain treble notes appear duller than what I would expect on a v-shaped presentation, so treble energy is adequate, but not especially pronounced. Likely no strong peak at 10 kHz, whereas more prominent emphasis in that region would contribute to a more vivid piercing presentation. Overall treble clarity is quite nice for this type of sonic presentation.
The upper frequency does extends up to 18 kHz, but there is a subtle roll-off from 16 kHz, which will make these headphones feel less airy compared to other tuning choices that have peaks in that area. The subtle airiness or breathiness of the treble can often be hidden by the AD01’s strong bass presence, so track dependent how much of those types of details will be noticeable. From 13-16 kHz, the treble does sound relatively even without any glaring peaks or dips. I found there was a significant peak at 11-13 kHz and a recognizable dip in 6-8kHz to my ears from high frequency log sweeps and critical listening.
Mid-range Tuning: The lower midrange is more emphasized with an overall mid-recession primarily focused in the middle to upper mid-range. The lower mids do present a very well-balanced sense of fullness without going overboard, so no excessively muddy ‘bleeding’. There is definitely a subtle bit of bleed from the lower frequencies, but not to the point where it completely overpowers the midrange.
Midrange still maintains a nice sense of richness and fullness due to more noticeable drop-off point of the mid-range recession occurring after the lower mids. The lower mids is elevated compared to the rest of the midrange which contributes to the warmer feeling to the overall sound. I would guess that the upper mids from 1-3 kHz is most likely the most ‘recessed’ from a measurement standpoint as we typically hear that region to be emphasized if the frequency response is linear due to increased sensitivity of the human ear to that region. Many ideal target headphone responses incorporate a slight recession in this area to compensate. The upper mids do sound a bit recessed to my ears, which indicates a bit heavier dip in this region. The contrasting relative change from the dip in 1-2 kHz to the more emphasized the low treble region makes this upper-mid region feel perceptually more recessed, though there is likely similar levels of recession from after 500 Hz to 1 kHz. Overall though, the midrange tuning maintains a good sense of smoothness and clarity. Despite its coloration, I do not think that the AD01’s midrange will sound too overly scooped out for users who enjoy v-shaped presentations as there is a gradual taper from the bass emphasis to the mid recession. The coloration do appear to generally be sloping changes rather than any specific abrupt shifts that may detract from the musical enjoyment. The most abrupt change in frequency response will occur between the upper mids and lower treble. The bass emphasis that transitions into the lower mids tapers well enough that the transition area does sound quite natural.
Bass Tuning: There is quite an apparent mid-bass bass boost on these headphones. This sort of tuning choice provides a good sense of warmth and fullness to notes. From lower frequency response sweeps, it sounds to me as the bass response is a gradual upward slope until approximately 90 Hz where the emphasis becomes more noticeable. At approximately 120 Hz, there is a more dramatic elevation until 200 Hz where it begins to subtly taper down. However, this mid-bass boost is relatively well-done and more gradual compared to some other mid-bass boosted or v-shaped headphones I’ve had experience with, so the bass does not sound overly boomy or bloated. Sub-bass is adequately present, though there is a bit of tapering in the extremely low frequency to my ears. This is common among more budget entry or non-planar magnetic headphones. Many highly regarded mid-tier over-ear headphones also exhibit a similar tapering in the sub-bass region, so I estimate will not be an issue for users who do not have experience with planar magnetic headphones or more high-end headphones. Overall, for this type of headphone in this price range, the bass has a good visceral impact and nice deep rumbling sensation.
Bass is relatively clean and tight for this type of warm sound signature, but I have had previous experience with faster and more accurate bass with similar levels of warmth. The AD01 can sound cleaner than other bass-boosted options with a more punchy feel rather than a very thick ‘syrupy’ feel, but will not sound as accurate as more neutral-tuned options. The punchier presentation makes me think that the bass boost is likely mostly predominantly in the 125-200 Hz region, whereas a ‘muddier’ bass boost will primarily focus in the 200-300 Hz region.  Individual bass notes still sound relatively slow compared to other IEMs and headphones I have had experience (though I do not really own many pairs of v-shaped or more significantly bass-boosted headphones). A bit boomy sounding compared to more neutral-orientated or bright presentations, but likely one of the better done bass boosts out there in this price range for warmer sound signatures. For a v-shaped headphone, these headphones do present the bass relatively well. Should be extremely enjoyable for those looking for a warmer sound signature. Its particularly strong sense of warmth and punchiness with a relatively even and non-fatiguing treble would result in a very fun and musical tuning that should be quite pleasant for non-critical listening.
A wide sampling of genres and some of my usual test tracks, but I primarily did testing via a short playlist of current popular hits and EDM as I feel like that is where these headphones truly shine. May update this portion with specific tracks if there is any interest when I have more time. (can refer to the test track spoiler on my Aune B1 review from a sampling of some of my previous billboard test tracks and the variety of genres I try to incorporate during critical listening)
Direct Comparisons:
*******Important Notes*******
While I normally like to write extensive direct comparisons against competing products, I do not really have any other IEMs currently in my possession that fall within the same budget price range. I do think the most relevant comparison here is against the Bose SoundTrue in-ears, which approximately typifies what can be expected of the pricier consumer-orientated IEMs. Comparisons against IEMs primarily done on my HA-2 dac/amplifier or straight from my Samsung S5 to simulate normal usage with some testing done on my Lyr 2 + Bifrost Uber stack.
Against the Bose SoundTrue In-Ear Headphones: consumer-orientated in-ear headphones (more an earbud design than a canal-phone), listed MSRP $129.99
The Bose in-ears actually have a similar overall sound signature as the AD01. Both the AD01 and Bose in-ears have a noticeable addition of warmth and a bit of bloat to their bass presentation compared my current collection of headphones. However, this coloration can be quite enjoyable for non-critical listening. They both sound to have a bit of recession to their midrange, more noticeable on the Bose in-ears. The AD01 has better treble presentation than the Bose in-ears with relatively less harshness and better definition. The AD01 also has better isolation as the Bose headphones are more earbud style headphones.

Against the Flare Audio R2A: single dynamic driver, pressure-balanced IEM with aluminium housing (MSRP: ~$270 USD, listed price point is £175)
The Flare Audio R2A is a noticeable upgrade to the AD01. Much cleaner bass presentation with tighter notes and a less bloat. A subtle touch of warmth on the R2A compared to some other IEMs I’ve used such as the R2Pro and Final Audio Heaven VII, but compared to the AD01, the R2A provides technical improvements in speed, clarity, soundstage, and imaging. Sound signature of the R2A is closer to what I consider to be a neutral-orientated presentation relative to the AD01. Compared to other high-end IEMs I have tried, I would personally categorize the R2A as a “fun” pair of headphones with some coloration more than a reference-tuned pair of IEMs. I do strongly personally prefer the R2A over the AD01, but do note that the R2A does cost three times as much as the AD01, so it is a bit of an unfair comparison. I do think this comparison does illustrates that an increased number of drivers does not always provide sound quality or sound signature more suitable for personal tastes compared to single driver designs.

I tested the AD01 IEMs on the Aune B1 amplifier, Cozoy Astrapi amplifier/dac, Oppo HA-2 amplifier/dac, and Schiit Lyr 2. The AD01 IEMs are extremely easy to drive and does not require any additional amplification. Its extremely low impedance of 9 ohms and high sensitivity of 102 dB/mW makes these IEMs more prone to hiss with certain equipment (though I did not experience hissing at my normal playback volumes). If wanting to pick up an amplifier to pair with the AD01, I would recommend looking at IEM-dedicated amplifiers or an amplifier with an output impedance less than 1 ohm for ideal performance.
I would personally recommend pairing these IEMs with a neutral solid state amplifier as they already currently have quite extensive coloration. If disliking the AD01’s stock sound signature, I would recommend swapping to a different IEM rather than spending time and effort looking for a specific amplifier/dac pairing to adjust its sound signature. There is scaling potential, but not enough to my ears to really justify carrying additional gear in portable situations. I do personally think additional amplification is unnecessary for these IEMs.
Value Judgement:
I am not too familiar with the sub-$100 IEM product category, so difficult for me to say how competitive the AD01’s sound quality for its price point. If considering a “fun” IEM, I think these do offer an enjoyable and well-done v-shaped presentation. I do feel that these IEMs are worth consideration if on a strict budget. I view the AD01 to fulfill a similar niche for IEMs as the ATH-M50 does for over-ear headphones. A solid entry-level pair of headphones priced competitively with an enjoyable v-shaped presentation. Should offer a noticeable upgrade from consumer-orientated IEMs, but probably will not satisfy the enthusiast looking for a neutral-tuned reference pair of IEMs with minimal coloration. While noticeable improvements in overall technical performance can be found if budget can be stretched a bit, I cannot comment on comparative performance of other IEMs in this price range. Should be more competitive than many other consumer-orientated brands that retail at a more expensive MSRP.
Rating: Please note that these are nothing more than my personal rating based on my own personal requirements. I hardly ever give out full score rankings unless I feel like the product reaches a new high standard for its product category and price point.
Audio Quality: 6/10 (probably a competitive sound for a product with this overall sound signature at this price point)
Comfort: 8/10 (likely comfortable for most users)
Design: 9/10 (very good design aspects for this price point)
Isolation: 7/10
Value: 9/10
Overall Rating: Probably somewhere between 3-3.5 stars, though can be higher if your preferences differ from mine (aka if you enjoy a warmer sound signatures). Overall rating is also based on pickier audiophile standards rather than consumer standards. For the general consumer, this product will probably score approximately 4 or higher as sound quality is extremely competitive against consumer brands.
The AD01 are fun and warm pair of IEMs with an even non-fatiguing treble, smooth but recessed midrange, and a hefty lumbering punch behind its bass. Well-designed and extremely affordable, they should offer a good value for buyers looking at this price range.
Greatest overall pro is the AD01’s overall design and extensive amount of accessories. Its cable is extremely well-designed and these IEMs should last quite a long time with all its parts being replaceable. Best tuned region of the frequency response would probably be its bass if looking for a fun warm v-shaped sound signature. These headphones should work well for mobile usage, active usage, and situations that require noise isolation.
Largest consideration is its overall sound signature. These are warm IEMs with a v-shaped sound. While I cannot say how competitive its technical performance (imaging, speed, note spacing, resolution, and soundstage) compares to other options at its price point, it is definitely possible to find significant improvements at higher price points. For me personally, I feel like 'speed' would be the area that would benefit the most from further refinements. I estimate that these will still outperform the pricier consumer-orientated headphones, but there may be other more competitive budget options out there. There also will be better options out there for individuals who engage in critical listening or require neutral-tuning for professional applications.
Recommended for consideration for buyers looking for non-reference sound signature illustrating an enjoyable fun and warm coloration with better technical performance than consumer-oriented brands. Price point is under the $100 mark which would make it a strong contender for buyers on a restricted budget. Good entry-level option for newcomers just starting out on their audiophile journey with non-fatiguing and pleasing tuning. Overall, a nice first entry into the IEM product category with a lot of potential. I look forward to seeing future products developed under the Alpha & Delta banner and I am personally hoping for some neutral-orientated IEMs that will fit my personal sonic tastes better. The AD01's warm sound signature tuning still should be quite appealing for more general tastes and especially popular among the basshead segment within our head-fi community.
Official Product Link:
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Nice, thorough review as always!  I completely agree with you about the bass and hope that LMUE's next product is a more neutral sound signature with tight, quick, punchy bass and more mid presence.  I rely on those attributes for the music I typically listen to.
A great informative review.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: luxurious, fast detailed accurate sound, amazing soundstage for IEM, SQ competitive even against full-sized headphones, premium build quality
Cons: a bit weighty, non-detachable cable, price point may be quite high for average consumers
Final Audio Heaven VII IEM Review
Fully balanced single armature in-ear monitors
Intro: Founded by Kanemori Takai in 1974, Final Audio is a diverse audio company based in Japan with a history of designing products from moving coil cartridges, turntables, amplifiers, speakers, and headphones. Their current headphone product line-up includes the Pandora Hope series (full-sized over-ears using a dynamic driver with a balanced armature driver), Sonorous series (full-sized dynamic driver over-ears) Piano Forte and Adagio series (single dynamic driver IEMs from $39.90 to $2,199), LAB I (~$2,500 dual armature driver IEM), FI-BA-SS (~$1,000 single customized armature driver IEM), and Heaven series headphones (single armature driver IEMs from ~ $89 to $820). There are currently seven distinct Heaven models (II, IV, V, V Aging, VI, VII, and VIII) with entry-level Heaven II starting at $89 and the Heaven VIII ranging between $699-$820 depending on retailer.
My review will be covering the Heaven VII (black model) IEMs which is listed by official dealers from $599 to $705. The headphones that I am reviewing is a review tour loaner unit as part of the head-fi review tour that Final Audio offered to our community. (Thread link HERE). I had the chance to extensively demo the Heaven VII over a period of ~9 days (received the unit the night of 7/18/15). I listened to these headphones extensively during the week in home and mobile settings (while writing notes), did direct comparisons over this weekend, and wrote the majority of my impressions over the weekend from 7/24-7/26.
**Price points based on the current listing from official Final Audio dealer websites (listed below)**
My background in IEM is not as extensive as my experience with full-sized headphones. I used to be very interested in IEM when portability was a very important criteria for me quite a few years ago, but I was never able to really find my perfect pair of IEMs. Models I have owned include Etymotic Research HF2, Bose IE2, Bower and Wilkins C5, Creative EP-630, Klipsch S4A, and various Sennheiser earbuds (MX560 & other similar models). I currently have the Bose SoundTrue for Galaxy phones and the Flare Audio R2A with the R2Pros arriving soon. My personal primary usage for IEM is strictly limited to portable applications when I do not want the hassle of carrying a full-sized pair of headphones or gym usage. I use my full-sized over-ear closed headphones (AKG K553, Mr. Speaker Alpha Prime, and Oppo PM-3) for situations that require noise-isolation and for vacations/travel. My full current gear profile is [u][color=rgb(255, 0, 0)]HERE[/color][/u].
I weigh comfort extremely importantly for IEMs. I personally do not like really deep insertions as my ears are quite sensitive. Do note that my comfort ratings are individual and may not accurately reflect your needs. Sound quality is also quite important to me as well,  but I am more lenient with IEM sound quality compared to full-sized headphones due the limitations of their driver technology and my primarily usage of IEMs in portable situations when I am usually not critically listening. I do not really care about aesthetics at all.
My currently owned external components include the Schiit Lyr 2 + Schiit Bifrost Uber and Oppo HA-2. I primarily test IEMs either directly out of my Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone or through my Oppo HA-2 as I do not really use IEMs for home listening. I did extensively use the Heaven VII in both noisy portable and quiet home listening situations to be able to more accurately assess its sound quality.
With my background more primarily focused on full-sized over-ear headphones, my perspective may be quite a bit different than other reviewers who may prefer IEMs over full-sized headphones Also, I do want to note that my experience with the current IEMs market offerings are not as extensive as some other reviewers. So remember, YMMV! As always, I hope this is an enjoyable and informative read.
Tech: The Final Audio Heaven VII is a single-driver balanced armature universal-fit IEM currently retailing from $599 to $705 from authorized official dealers.
Official Specifications: (copied from Final Audio's website)
  1. Driver Unit: Single Balanced Armature Driver (one driver per ear)
  2. Housing: Stainless Steel using Metal Injection Molding
  3. Sound Pressure Level: 106 dB
  4. Impedance: 24 ohms
Packaging: very luxurious packaging, but note I do NOT factor packaging into my reviews at all. Pictures just included for those interested.
Front View of Heaven VII's box (sealed in plastic, unwrapped, and opened)
Heaven VII's box (close-up of back label)
Design & Build Quality:
The Heaven VII shares an identical stainless steel exterior as the Heaven VIII. While the VIII is only offered in gold finish, there are two color options for the metal driver housing available for the Heaven VII: Polished Silver or Matte Black (also called Noir by some retailers). “Final” is written in silver on the front side of the driver housing for both the black and silver versions with “L/R” written in silver where the housing meetings the flat cable. The eartips and cable are black on both models. Silver metal accent with Final logo on the 3.5mm jack plug on both models. The headphones will be worn with the Final logo on its housing facing forward.
Heaven VII side view (both sides)
Their Japanese direct store website states that matte black is their limited color option and some retailers offer the matte black version as “Noir” at a discounted price point of $599 and the silver option as “stainless steel” for a higher price point. To my knowledge, both models use stainless steel as per the official manufacturer description and instruction manual, and the direct store at Final Audio design sells both models at the same price point (67,000 japanese yen).
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Heaven VII Front and Back views
The long metal housing that protrudes out from the ear canal quite a bit is not just decorative, but designed to achieve ideal resonance dispersion. The housing does protrude out quite a bit, but does not pass the edges of my ears. The total height from the top of the IEM to where the housing meets the cable is ~1 inch tall. The length of the IEM is also approximate 1 inch deep with the medium-sized silicon eartips attached. Each housing contains a single balanced armature driver, stainless mesh filter, and acoustic resistor. The stainless mesh filter can be seen with the removal of the eartips. Eartips are user-removable and replaceable with different options. I measured to Heaven VII to have a 5.0mm diameter sized nozzle, which should be able to fit the majority of different eartips on the market. I was able to get the Comply Tx200 foam eartips that came along with my R2A to fit on the Heaven VII (though I did personally prefer the silicon tips for fit and sound quality for the Heaven VII specifically).
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Heaven VII front and side view with eartips removed to show its stainless steel mesh filters
Tangle-free elastic flat cable is a quite nice touch. It terminates in a straight plug. I do generally prefer angled or right angled terminations for portable applications, but I find the cord to be well-designed. The cord is non-detachable or replaceable, but it does appears to be quite durable and I am not very worried about cable failure with flat cord designs less prone to stress and fraying from my experience.
Do please note that a small bit of sound (rustling/thumping) from the cable movement is generally unavoidable with IEMs and considered normal. Factors that can affect this are the material covering the cable, cable quality, volume of the music (higher volume can mask this effect), how securely the IEMs fit within your ears, inclusion of clothing clips, and how you wear the cable. Wearing cables over the ear can greatly reduce cable noise.
The Heaven VII is designed to be worn with the cables hanging straight down and I could not get an over-ear wire positioning to work with these IEMs. I personally experienced very minimal cable noise (sometimes called microphonics) while using these headphones in portable situations. No rustling or scratchy cable noise, only some subtle thumping which can appear even in the cables of portable over-ears. I do not consider cable noise to really be a problem with these IEMs, and I feel their cable design reasonably prevents excessive microphonics for a straight-down wire approach.
The cable does not include a neck cinch due to its flat design. It also does not have any clothing clips, microphone, or smartphone remote buttons, which is typical of high-end audiophile-geared IEMs.
Heaven VII Earpieces, Y-split, and straight plug
Comfort: These are by no means an uncomfortable pair of headphones, but the Heaven VII is not a pair of IEM headphones that you will forget that you are wearing at their substantial 30 grams weight (measured on my scale). They are definitely heavier than most IEMs and all my friends who also auditioned these headphones noticed the extra weight. However, I did wear these IEMs for multiple hour long listening sessions and I did not personally find the weight too bothersome. Though I generally cannot wear IEMs for too long of a period since by my ear canals are a bit sensitive, but I was able to wear these for >2-3 hours continuously without any marked discomfort. One of my friends who never uses in-ears was able to wear these headphones for over 2 hours without any discomfort. So I do want to emphasize that while heavier than average, these headphones are still comfortable to wear over long periods of time.
The insertion depth of the Heaven VII appears to be typical for IEMs using silicon eartips and I personally felt comfortable with the depth of insertion. I was able to achieve a good fit and seal using the standard tip size that it can with. These headphones come bundled with 4 other size options. I tested all size options and found that I lost the noise isolating seal and bass response with two smaller eartip options, so I went with the middle size. I would personally recommend from my experience to use the smallest size that still provides a noise-isolating seal for the best comfort while achieving ideal sound quality. Too large of a fit will not allow for ideal depth when inserting the IEMs.
Individual comfort with these headphones may vary and please note that these IEMs are heavier than average. Design elements appear to me to pursue the best sound quality, build quality, and aesthetics possible with smaller emphasis on comfort with its weightier design.
Samsung OEM stereo headset: 13 grams
Flare Audio R2A: 17 grams
Bose SoundTrue In-Ear Headphones: 19 grams
Final Audio Heaven VII: 30 grams
Accessories: The Heaven VII includes enough accessories to satisfy my needs, though many competing IEM options on market will offer additional accessories. Below is a list of items included in the packaging of the Heaven VII:
  1. (x1) Mirror-finished slim flat carrying case with padded interior
    1. Dimensions: 3.5 inches height x 3.75 inches wide x 0.75 in depth at highest point)
    2. Weight: 106 grams
  2. (x5) different-sized silicone eartips (middle-size attached out-of-the-box)
  3. (x1) Instruction Manual with warranty card attached
The carrying case is extremely premium, though perhaps a bit on the wide side for daily carry. Extremely flat and compact though, so will not be any issue sliding into tight pockets. There are no specific cutouts for the IEM in the carrying case’s lined interior. Just arrange all the wires to fit within the case and the case snaps closed very securely without any issue. I am uncertain how the mirror finish will hold up over long term usage as I did not perform any durability or scratch tests with the case since this is a review sample. Definitely a more luxurious carrying case than typically included with IEMs and I always view hard cases as more protective and practical than soft carrying cloth options. Very nice addition.
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Images of Heaven VII Carrying Case
I do think that the inclusion of five different sized eartips will accommodate the majority of users. While it would be nice to see some other material eartips included, the Heaven VII were tuned using the silicone eartips and I am satisfied sound achieved with the accessories included. IEM users who enjoy rolling eartips may be a bit disappointed though. It does appear that these IEMs are designed without any customization options beyond color choice. There are no user-swappable tuning filters for adjust the sound signature or eartips comprised of different materials included. I can understand the lack of customization options as I do personally find the Heaven VII’s sound signature to be extremely capable out-of-the-box with its sound signature quite in-line with my own view of a reference-level balance. I personally do not think that any additional tuning is necessary with no glaring flaws found with its sound signature or presentation to my ears.
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Images of the silicone eartips included (middle size option is attached out of the box)
No additional cleaning accessories included, and the instruction manual recommends using a toothpick to clean these IEMs.
Sound Quality:
Useful resource for audiophile terms:
Useful resource for frequency response correlation to audiophile terms:
Overall, I find the Heaven VII to present an extremely well-balanced and very well-tuned reference-level sound signature, an effortless breathtakingly natural sound that is vividly realistic to my ears. I would personally characterize these headphones to illustrate an analytical presentation with exceptional resolution and micro-detail retrieval. Very clear, well-defined, airy sound quality. These headphones are extremely capable for critical listening for minimally coloration in its frequency response. It has an extremely spacious non-intimate presentation with no underlying excessive warmth or extra low-end emphasis. Overall frequency response balance and tuning is very even throughout without any glaring peaks or dips to my ears.
Treble Tuning: Excellent high frequency response and I view this as the Heaven VII’s greatest sonic strength. High sense of energy without ever being fatiguingly bright or unforgiving. Not relatively sharp or bright to my ears, but the Heaven VII hits that sweet spot for treble tuning with a very delicate and precise delivery. No excessive peakiness detected in the treble region. No additional sense of crunchiness, edginess, or piercingness while maintaining high treble energy and vivid treble detail. Slight additional airiness detected and adequate breathy feel to female vocalists which indicates quite solid treble extension and a very nice tuning choice in my opinion. Subtle crispiness detected with notes (particularly nice shimmer to cymbals) which indicates a very well-refined 7.5kHz region to my ears. The presentation of violins does not get overly scratchy or screechy on these headphones, so I highly rate their upper treble tuning from 7-10 kHz. From a high frequency response sweep, I was able to detect treble extension up to 17-18 kHz (which is typically as far up as I can personally hear) and the treble response was exceptionally smooth and linear to my ears with a subtle dip near the 5kHz region and a very slight emphasis in the region around 10kHz and 14kHz. The tuning choice in the 5kHz region likely contributes to the spacious transparent feeling to these IEMs. The region ending at 10kHz contributes to a sense of definition and 14kHz and above is usually responsible for the sense of airiness to the treble response. No roll-off in the upper treble.
Mid-range Tuning: Articulate and clean midrange presentation. Does not appear to be mid-forward or mid-recessed to my ears. No extra intimacy or closeness to vocals that can often be found on IEMs with no additional emphasis in presence region (which I do personally prefer). The presence region is found in the upper mids and lower treble (often categorized from 2-5kHz or 4-6kHz depending on instruments). A subtly more “gentle” presentation without any extra emphasis in the upper mids, but does not sound tinny, laid-back, or “soft.” No real preferential focus on either the upper or lower mid range with no additional underlying warmth or closeness/intimacy in the midrange to my ears. There is a sense of a ‘thinner’ tighter body to notes with no extra lower midrange emphasis. No extra sense of lushness or richness or ‘blur’ to the lower midrange. Very resolving of the timbre, subtle shifts in texture, and micro-detail of instruments and vocals, which provides an effortlessly evenhandedness. Tonal representation of vocals, guitars, violins, and trumpets quite realistic to my ears. Excellent natural sounding midrange tuning that fits my personal preferences quite well.
Bass Tuning: Very impressive for a single armature driver IEM. Has adequate weight and impact to notes. Good bass extension for an IEM. Its signature element with its bass response is the speed and responsiveness that the Heaven VII captures the low frequency notes. Definitely no underlying warmth or additional richness to the lows. Bass never sounds muddy or bloated. Very tight bass notes with an exceptional clean note separation compared to my experiences with other IEMs. Can easily handle intense, fast, and complicated percussion passages. I personally extremely enjoyed its bass tuning as it sounds quite close to linear to my ears. No extra mid-bass hump that is often found on IEMs. While I do think some full-sized orthodynamic headphones do offer a subtly better bass tuning with deeper bass extension and more impact, these IEMs have the one of the most well-balanced bass tunings that I have personally experienced with IEMs. For people who do not want any extra focus to the lower frequencies, but still want to get that a realistic sense of weight and impact, I do think the Heaven VII will fulfill that need. During a lower frequency response sweep, I could begin to hear the bass response at normal listening volumes starting at 20 Hz. Quite linear over all to my ears without the typical mid-bass hump/coloration often found with more consumer-orientated headphones. Bass presentation is neither more ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ to my ears. I really personally enjoy this style of bass presentation, though there are many audiophiles that do prefer a bit of additional warmth added to their low frequency response. No roll-off in the sub-bass, though sub-bass extension is not as pronounced as some of my full-sized orthodynamic headphones.
Other Sonic Attributes: The Heaven VII has extremely strong technical performance for any headphone type. Soundstage was the first thing that immediately stood out to me on the Heaven VIIs. The soundstage on this IEM is extremely impressive!! It gives a remarkably large sense of the room with dimensions that do feel quite well-proportioned with a greater width and depth and a subtly smaller sense of height. Pinpoint precision with its imaging with each individual instrument and vocalist easily located. While there are some notable full-sized headphones that may give the perception of a larger soundstage, I estimate that the soundstage of these IEMs is actually still very competitive in comparison to full-sized headphones, which is quite an impressive feat. I can see its soundstage surpassing many closed full-sized headphones and being on par with some well-recommended full-sized open headphones as well.
The next outstanding technical strength is the perception of its speed. These are fast-sounding headphones with great note spacing. Notes have abrupt edges with a very clean and clear sense of their exact attack and decay timings without any additional reverb or blurring effects. This does contribute to a sense of thinness to the body of notes at times, but there is just enough fullness and weight to each note to give an extremely realistic live-performance illusion. Sound remarkably similar in this aspect to some of my extremely high-end planar magnetic headphones. Great instrument separation and clarity of individual notes. Very highly resolving pair of headphones.
Honestly, when I normally listen to IEMs, I usually judge them with a more lenient set of ears than I use when listening to full-sized headphones. With the Heaven VII, I found that I could be as critical as I liked and still not find any notably glaring flaws. I do think they provide a non-fatiguing and effortless reference-level tuning and balance that can be difficult to find even on very competitive full-sized headphones.
For these headphones, I threw a whole suite of my reference test tracks at them to try to reveal their sonic flaws. These IEMs handled my test tracks very deftly and are quite well-tuned in terms of overall frequency response balance. Particular attention was paid with test tracks for low frequency response as that is an area I feel that IEMs often struggle with.
Treble test tracks (listed by artist): “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele, “Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20” performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, “Trumpet Voluntary in D Major: The Prince of Denmark’s March” performed by Clerkenwell Baroque String Ensemble, “Titanium” by David Guetta, “The Look Of Love” by Diana Krall, “May It Be” by Enya, “Your Song” by Ellie Goulding, “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence, “Concerning Hobbits” from The Fellowship of the Ring Soundtrack, “The Glass Menagerie” by Henry Mancini, “Blue Train” by John Coltrane, “Your Love” by Jim Brickman, “A Time Before” by John Fluker,“How Long” by Kaskade, “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson, “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Rey, “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis, “My December” by Linkin Park, “Euphoria” by Loreen, “Execute Me” by Medina, “Our Love Is Easy” by Melody Gardot, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Nancy Sinatra, “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones, “Easy To Love” by Patricia Barber, “I Knew You Were Trouble,” by Taylor Swift, “Lone Ranger” by Rachel Platten, “Our Love Like This” by Seo In Guk and Jung Eun Ji, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, “Undercover” by Zara Larsson
Midrange test tracks (listed by artist): “Life Goes On” by 2pac, “Dreams” by Beck, “All Out of Love” by Air Supply, “Yellow” by Coldplay, “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, “7 Days” by Craig David, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” by Brand New, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Beegie Adair, “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” by David Hamilton, “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional, “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie, “Vincent” by Don McLean, “Sunrise” by Doug Hammer, “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran, “Sing for the Moment” by Eminem, “Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra, “Moon River” by Frank Sinatra, “Shot Caller” by French Montana, “Our Story” by Graham Colton, “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile)” by Gato Barbieri, “Sweet Child O' Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, “Lips of An Angel” by Hinder, “Better Together” by Jack Johnson, “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin, “Goodbye My Lover” by James Blunt, “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag” by James Brown, “If” by Jamie Conway, “Evening Whispers” by Janie Becker, “Want To Want Me” by Jason Derulo, “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, “Lights Off” by Jay Sean, “Spirited Away - One Summer’s Day” by Joe Hisaishi, “Naima” by John Coltrane, “Lake Erie Rainfall” by Jim Brickman, “Winter Morning” by Jim Brickman, “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West, “Songbird” by Kenny G, “Our Story” by Mako, “The North Sea” by Michele McLaughlin, “So Sick” by Ne-Yo, “Let Her Go” by Passenger, “Radioactive” by Pentatonix, “Tears of the East” by Philip Wesley, “The Cello Song” by the Piano Guys, “Canon in D Major” performed by Pimlico Quartet, “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd, “Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Savior” by Rise Against, “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones, “Hallelujah” by Rufus Wainwright, “I’m Not The Only One” by Sam Smith, “Round Midnight” by Sonny Rollins, “Your Man” by Smash Mouth, “So Far Away” by Staind, “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, “The Dream of You” by Tim Neumark, “How Do I Say” by Usher, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Riptide” by Vance Joy, “Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weekend, “Just the Two of Us” by Will Smith, “Kiss the Rain” by Yiruma
Bass Test Tracks (listed by genre): “Aggressive Expansion” by Hans Zimmer, “Dream Is Collapsing” by Hans Zimmer, “Caravan” by John Wasson, “Teardrop” by Massive Attack, “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin, “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
Classical Bass: “Alpine Symphony OP64 IX Gewitter und Sturm” performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, “Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” performed by Simon Preston, “Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor” performed by Vahan Mardiossian, “Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Op. 67: I. Allegro con brio” performed by the Metropolitain Philharmonic Orchestra, “Carmina Burana: O Fortuna” performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, “Holst's Mars from the Planets Suite” performed by the London Festival Orchestra, “William Tell Overture” by the Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, “Vivaldi's Summer from the Four Seasons Concerto” performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter.
EDM Bass: “Monster” by DotEXE, “Deviance [Dirtyphonics Remix]” by Excision, “Elements” by Fractal, “Alive” by Krewella, “Heartbeat” by Vicetone, “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation, “Nuclear” by Zomboy
Hip Hop Bass: “Ambitionz Az A Ridah” by 2pac, “Party Up” by DMX, “Soldier” by Eminem, “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West, “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, “ASAP” by TI, “Hipsta” by Timmy Trumpet, “On My Level” by Wiz Khalifa
Rock Bass: AC/DC is my favorite to use here (Back in Black, Thunderstruck, and Highway to Hell). I also really like X Japan (Stab Me In The Back and X) for really intense technical percussion solos though most people who haven't lived abroad in Asia are not very familiar this group. Some other notable test tracks include “We Will Rock You” by Queen, and “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.
Metal: “Hope” and “Pray!” by Apocalyptica is good bass test tracks for instrumental metal
Direct Comparisons:
*******Important Notes*******
I do usually like to do extensive direct comparisons against competing products in my reviews. However, I do feel like my current IEMs and earbuds get severely outclassed by the Heaven VII in terms of sound quality attributes and overall balance that it seems a bit of a silly endeavour. I do think the most interesting and relevant comparison would be against the Flare Audio R2Pros, which are supposedly tuned towards a very well-balanced sound signature, but unfortunately, due to a mix-up, I have not received them yet. Since the direct comparison portion would be lacking in useful information with an exclusively IEM-focused comparison, I decided to include some quick thoughts on direct comparisons against sound signature of my collection of full-sized headphones just to help provide context of where the frequency response balance of these IEMs sit. Comparisons against IEMs done on my HA-2 dac/amplifier while comparisons against full-sized headphones were done with my Lyr 2 + Bifrost Uber combination.
Against the Bose SoundTrue In-Ear Headphones: consumer-orientated in-ear headphones (more an earbud design than a canal-phone), listed MSRP $129.99
Severely and noticeably outclassed in terms of sound quality. The Bose headphones sound congested and muddy in comparison. Lacking in speed, imaging, instrument separation, spatial depth, and clarity. Also, noticeably more coloration on the Bose with its prominent mid-bass boost and rolled off treble.
Against the Flare Audio R2A: single dynamic driver, pressure-balanced IEM with aluminium housing (MSRP: ~$270 USD, listed price point is £175)
A bit of an unfair comparison in my mind. The R2A has a warm, mid-bass-boosted sound signature (though markedly better technical performer than the Bose). Not really a relevant comparison against the Heaven VII in my mind with the R2A’s vastly differing sound signature aimed at a different target audience. I am growing quite fond of the R2A’s sound signature and its overall performance, but it is easy to distinguish that the Final VII offers another level of technical sonic performance from speed, soundstage, imaging, instrument separation to overall clarity and definition and frequency response balance. Both of these IEMs do handily beat some of the more subpar or average-sounding full-sized headphones out there.
FR analysis against the Oppo PM-3: full-sized over-ear closed planar magnetic headphones (mid-tier level)
The PM-3 sounds subtly warmer and richer in relative comparison. Technical performance between the two headphones is actually quite close, which is quite an accomplishment for the Heaven VII as the PM-3 are among the most competitive closed portable over-ear headphones currently on the market (imo). I find the frequency response to be very well-balanced on the PM-3 though warmer and richer relatively. Overall smooth nature of the PM-3’s tuning is closely mirrored the Heaven VII. A bit more emphasis in the presence region on the PM-3 and a bit more sub-bass extension and overall bass presence. The Heaven VII has a bit more treble presence and treble energy with an additional sense of airiness and definition. Subtle variations between their midrange as well, but both very well-balanced to my ears. The PM-3 has a bit more intimacy in relative comparison to the Heaven VII. Soundstage can actually sometimes appears larger on the Heaven VII to my ears for certain source material due to their differences in treble presentation which is quite impressive for an IEM’s soundstage to be able to compete with a full-sized pair of headphones. The PM-3 does have an above average soundstage for a closed pair of headphones.
FR analysis against the AKG K7xx: full-sized over-ear open dynamic headphones (mid-tier level)
The AKG K7xx has a larger bass emphasis in relative comparison and a more unforgiving treble that has a little bit of a sharper edge to its notes. The speed of the Heaven VII actually is more competitive against the K7xx which has a little bit a blur to due its small mid-bass boost. The K7xx has relatively more warmth and fullness to its notes, though I do not generally think of the K7xx as a warm pair of headphones. I do view the K7xx as an extremely competitive mid-tier open headphones with one of the best performance:price ratios currently on the market.
FR analysis against the HE-560full-sized over-ear open planar magnetic headphones (flagship level)
The HE-560 is the first pair of headphones in my collection that demonstrates a distinctive and significantly improvement in overall soundstage dimensions. It has a crispier bite with its treble tuning featuring a gradual peak that culminates in the 6kHz region for that extra sense of definition often manifesting in cymbal vividness/brightness that I personally find very enjoyable. The HE-560 has better sub-bass extension and impact. I do feel the Heaven VII’s offer a more refined and smoother treble response over the HE-560 while mimicking the HE-560’s excellent speed and note separation.
FR analysis against the LCD-Xfull-sized over-ear open planar magnetic headphones (flagship level)
The LCD-X has markedly more bass emphasis and weight to notes. Much more bass impact. Sound signature of the LCD-X as a notable darkness with a sense of bass emphasis due to subtle upper mid recession. More of an organic blending of the edges of the notes and the textural elements on the LCD-X. Most significant departure in sound signature and presentation over the Heaven VII in my mind out of my headphone collection with a more bass-orientated punch and rumble underpinning its thick and full notes. The Heaven VII offers what I personally would consider to be a more-balanced well-rounded reference-type tuning for its sound signature, while the LCD-X offers noticeable dark coloration to its high-quality sound that is quite enjoyable.
Overall sonic thoughts: From a purely technical sound-quality standpoint, the Heaven VII easily beats all the IEMs I currently have on-hand for direct comparison. Its sound signature is exceptionally well balanced in relative comparison against the IEMs I have right now. The Heaven VII is sonically capable enough that I do feel comfortable writing direct comparisons on its performance against the extremely competitive full-sized headphones I have in my collection. Its sound quality has exceeded my expectations of what a single balanced armature IEM is capable of, and made me re-evaluate the need of pursuing more complicated driver designs.
I did test these headphones with a variety of different amplifiers including the review tour Cayin C5Dac, my own Oppo HA-2, and my desktop Schiit Lyr 2. For normal listening volumes on the low gain setting, there was no hiss detected with this pair of headphones. On the Lyr 2 on high volume levels (above 9 o’clock), I could hear the background hiss, but that volume level is too high for my normal listening. For the HA-2, I can max out the volume without hearing any hissing. All the amplification pairings worked quite well with the Heaven VII and I can see its sound signature working with a wide variety of different external equipment. The relatively higher 24 ohm impedance for IEMs (which often have impedance levels under 16 ohms) makes these headphones relatively less prone to hissing compared to some other lower impedance IEMs. With their impedance under 35 ohms and sensitivity rating over 100, they are relatively easy to power. One thing to note is that ideally the amplifier being used with these headphones should have an output impedance of 3 ohms or less. A source impedance greater than 3 ohms may cause changes in the sound.
Heaven VII paired with the Oppo HA-2
For external component pairings, the Final Audio Heaven VII is quite revealing of source gear differences. My personal favorite pairing for it was the Schiit Lyr 2 + Schiit Bifrost Uber, but it worked well with all the different pairings I tried with it. Personally, I do think a warm amplifier does really do wonders for these pair of headphones as it presents a very tight clean bass response that really shines with a subtle addition of underlying warmth. Helps with the sub-bass extension and adds a bit of additional weight to notes that I greatly enjoy. Neutral or brighter components still worked extremely well and really highlights these headphones incredibly vivid treble detail. The balance of their frequency response is quite well done with a good sense of overall clarity, so I do think that they would pair well with a wide variation of different external components, more dependant of personal preference withOUT the need to use specific component pairing as a means to “fix” any problem areas with its performance or frequency response.
Value Judgement:
I usually do like to write an in-depth assessment of competing market options, but I feel that I am not really qualified to really make detailed statements in this area as my experience with IEMs at various price points is quite limited. The Final Audio Heaven VII would be among the most expensive IEMs I have had the pleasure of extensively demoing. Sound-quality-wise, it has exceeded my expectations of what IEMs are capable of, but it is difficult for me to say how it compares against other top-flight IEM options without enough background in that area. It actually still stays quite competitive in terms of sound quality against my full-sized headphones.
I would like to note that I did let some of my friends and family members try these IEMs to assess how appreciable the sonic upgrade is for non-enthusiasts. Their background in headphones consist primarily of consumer brands. They were all extremely impressed with its sound quality and could all easily appreciate the improvements in clarity, instrument separation, and soundstage. These IEMs do offer a markedly notable improvement in technical sound quality attributes beyond just improvements in sound signature balance and frequency response tuning that can be appreciated by non-audiophiles.
The Heaven VII is also a bit of an unique approach being an universal-fit pair of single balanced armature IEMs at a price point where many competitors offer custom-fit IEM or multiple driver options. I would strongly caution against making judgements on performance simply based on driver technology or driver quantity or even price point. More drivers does not necessarily correlate to better sonic performance as more drivers brings up crossover and phase issues that requires special care in tuning and design. There is often debate on the best type of technology with differing stereotypical characteristics attached to single drivers, multi-drivers, hybrid drivers, dynamic drivers, and armature drivers (etc etc). Different material housing also can impact the sound, but may not always bring the sound closer to what you are personally looking for. The most important thing to finding the perfect pair of IEMs for you would be how the sound signature matches your tastes and how the IEMs fit you.
I have found the Heaven VII to be quite excellent sounding pair of headphones, showing that extremely high-quality sound can be achieved using an elegant single armature driver design with special attention paid to the housing. For audiophiles looking in this sort of price range for some sonically spectacular reference-geared IEMs, I would highly recommend demoing these headphones to see if they match what you are looking for.
Scoring: (the green bar ratings on the side seem to be an average of all review scores, this is my actual scoring)
Value: 7/10
Audio Quality: 9.5/10
Design: 9/10
Comfort: 7.5/10
Isolation: 8/10
***The scoring per category is basically just ranking of the different categories relative to each other and based on my personal perspective on expected performance per category in this product category. Scoring subject to change as I grow more and more familiar with various other options in a product category. Do NOT take the actual numbers too seriously, but just use these categorical rankings to see how each category fairs against each other relatively in my personal opinion. I generally do not award full scores in any category unless I feel that the headphones mark the golden standard of what is the highest possible achievement in that category at the item's particular price point***
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
***I factor value extremely highly and primarily use price:performance ratio for my overall rating score. My overall star rating score is NOT an average of score per category & it is also not based on sound quality alone, but represents how I personally feel about the product's overall performance in all aspects at its price point compared to competitors. For the Heaven VII, I feel it has outstanding sonic performance, but scored more conservatively as price point is to be what I consider to be along the luxury end of the scale for IEMs. More budget options with not as impressive sonic performance can receive a similar positive rating if I feel like the price point is especially competitive. Options that outperform competitors at their price point will outscore options with superior overall sonic capabilities but a lower performance:price ratio. Since I am not as familiar with the level of performance for this product category at this price point, I am not comfortable scoring too highly without more reference points. Please do note that this scoring is subject to change as I grow more familiar with the product category. Overall sonic performance and build quality is high enough that I am comfort rating the Heaven VII positively with a 4/5 star rating without more specific personal knowledge/experience on value & price:performance at this price point for this product category. I may adjust this value up or down in the future depending on how other options at different price points compete sonically with these IEMs, but right now, they are do offer a clear sonic upgrade that can justify higher costs over the other IEM options I have tried. I dislike ranking items based on random numbers as I find that the more important & relevant thing is making sure that specific features/sonic characteristics/price point matches what the buyer is looking for. Please use my detailed information in my review to guide your decision-making process rather than my arbitrary personal numerical scoring that is subject to change.***
The Heaven VII are very refined reference-level pair of IEMs with a delicate airy treble, realistic midrange, and fast bass featuring quite a vast soundstage and great sense of energy. They effortless step through complicated musical passages with deft precision and quickness with a sense of natural ease.
Greatest overall pro is its sound quality and build quality. Overall sound signature is very well-refined with a smooth balance featuring no glaring peaks or dips. Greatest technical strength is its roomy soundstage, precise imaging, and speed. Best frequency response region for me is its treble tuning. Strikes the perfect balance between high energy and non-fatiguing that can often be quite difficult to achieve. Midrange does have some subtle uniqueness, but very clean and well-balanced overall. Bass presence is surprisingly realistic and weighty for a pair of IEMs that do not feature any bass boost while maintaining fast tight low frequency response.
Greatest con in my opinion would be its weight and non-replaceable cable. Some other important considerations would be that it only accommodates a straight-down cable wear style, does not have have any sonic customization with different user-replaceable filters options, and does not bundle any eartips of differing materials for eartip rollers. I do personally think that sonic customizations is unnecessary given how well these headphones are tuned, but for IEM users who are looking for a variety of bundled customization options, this may not be the best fit.
In terms of real-world applications, I would highly recommended them for home critical listening and portable situations, but I do not think they are ideal for strenuous active usage (at the gym or running). Their fit is secure enough that they have not fallen out of my ears even with vigorous movement, but I would worry about water damage and their weight may be a distracting. I see the Heaven VII working extremely well during light exercise, commutes, air travel, foot travel, and non-mobile listening situations that require active noise isolation.
Recommended for IEM enthusiasts looking for top-tier sound quality for a single balanced armature universal-fit IEM. This pair of headphones is quite a luxurious premium high-end option that does deliver extremely high-end sound quality for IEMs. I view it as a very competitive option for audiophiles pursuing maximum overall sound quality. It is hard for me to make any statements about overall value as I am not as familiar with the expected performance:price ratio for IEMs. I definitely view these IEMs to fall on the premium/luxury side of the market, and they are quite a bit more than I had personally considered spending on IEMs. The Heaven VII do emanate luxury with premium build quality, classy packaging & carrying case, and spectacular sound quality. Their technical sonic performance far exceeded my expectations for what IEMs are capable of, and I do feel comfortable comparing their performance against full-sized headphones. I would be greatly curious to see how Final Audio’s even pricier IEM options would even improve on the Heaven VII. Performance of these IEM is capable enough to replace many full-sized closed headphones options, so audiophiles looking for a single high-end portable noise-isolating solution should consider this as an option. If a high-level of detail with an effortlessly realistic fast and accurate sound is your primary goal, these headphones will be very satisfying. Sonically, these headphones are extremely high-performing (regardless of headphone type, technology, or price point).
This is my first full-length IEM head-fi review, so I hoped that you had as enjoyable time reading it as I had writing it! Please feel free to PM me or leave comments below if you have any questions or critical feedback.
Jeb Listens
Jeb Listens
Well done Money4Me - another exemplary and thorough review.  You're a reviewing machine!
I particularly enjoyed reading the comparisons to your full-size headphones.  Despite them being different beasts I thought it was a different and useful perspective especially for someone who owns any of those and might be looking to buy IEMs (or vice-versa) as well as a nice curiosity for someone like me who doesn't own any of them.  
I find myself comparing my headphones no matter the variety, cost or size and wouldn't mind seeing more of this in other reviews, though I understand the importance of comparing like for like as a general rule. 
Cheers and thanks again for your work and dedication to the cause!
FAD iems were never really my thing, but this is one heck of a review I must say. Reading it was a pleasure. Thanks for sharing.
really enjoy reading your review. I already own heaven IV,
and really, I'm started to become fan of FAD.
and maybe in future, looking forward to get Heaven VII. :D


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Very detailed high energy sound with great note separation, well-done bass boost, long lasting battery, coax out, thoughtful accessories
Cons: Cannot charge while being used as a dac so not suitable for desktop usage, battery indicator only shows 3 levels, long recharge time
Cayin C5DAC Review
  1. These impressions are based on the C5DAC review unit provided by Cayin with their head-fi reviewer tour. Thread Link HERE.
  1. Extensively tested over a period of one week with extensive real-world usage in portable situations
  2. My first review unit had some technical issues, but Cayin’s customer service was extremely helpful in assisting me. I would like to thank John from Cayin (@Cayin) for his individual attention and assistance throughout.
  3. I stopped following the C5DAC thread after receiving my review unit and did not read any other reviews to prevent my thoughts from being biased.
  4. Source used include Spotify Premium, Tidal Hi-fi, Pandora (just for fun to find some new testing music) and an assortment of FLAC files
  5. Primary current chain is the Schiit Bifrost Uber > Schiit Lyr 2 > HE-1000 beta
  6. My full gear profile is available HERE.
  7. This is an unpaid and uncensored review covering my own personal subjective thoughts and opinions. I am NOT a professional reviewer. As always, I hope this is an enjoyable and informative read, and remember YMMV!
Intro: Founded in 1993, Zhuhai Spark Electronics Equipment Company is a high-end audio equipment manufacturer based in Guangdong, China. They release their own gear under the Cayin brand name. Well-versed in amplifier design, they have a large product line-up ranging for a few hundred dollars to the $1,000+ price point.
Their newest product is the Cayin C5DAC, which is based on their popular C5 standalone portable amplifier. The C5 portable amplifier is very popular in among the head-fi community and is currently available for ~$160 from Amazon. This review covers a C5DAC review unit sent by Cayin for their reviewer tour on head-fi (Thread Link HERE).
Tech: The Cayin C5DAC is a portable digital analog convertor with a solid state amplifier released at the MSRP of $215. It can function as a standalone amplifier through its line-out or dac/amp combination through USB out either via the 3.5mm headphone jack or coax out connection. Using the TI Burr Brown PCM1795 dac, it supports up to 96 kHz sampling rate and 24 bit depth decoding. Its amp driver is the TI Burr Brown BUF634U. Works with PC as well as some Android devices that support OTG and iOS devices with the Apple USB camera adapter (not included). Cayin states the C5DAC uses an op amp circuit with a buffer design and high quality parts such as TI headphone power driver IC, WIMA capacitors, and ALPS potentiometer.
Official Specifications: (copied from Cayin’s website)
Frequency Response:20Hz-70kHz(±1dB)
Sensitivity:≤600mV (Gain: H)
Total Harmonic Distortion: ≤0.02% (1kHz)
Battery: 3700mAh / 3.7V
Power Rating: 300mW + 300mW (32Ω load)
SNR: ≥101dB (A-weighted)
Charge Limit Voltage: 4.2V
Battery Life: ~19 hours (AUX input, 32Ω load)
                  ~9 hours (USB input, 32Ω load)
Charging Time: ~4.5 hours (with 2A Charger, power down)
Dimensions: 136x63x15mm
Weight: 185g
Packaging: Very nicely presented, though I do not weigh packaging in my reviews.
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Build Quality & Design: Outfitted with a golden metal casing, the Cayin C5DAC feels quite solid and hefty in hand. It does feature quite a bit of plastic in its build. Build quality does not appear to be lacking. The C5DAC exudes a very luxurious styling due to its color choice.
Front Side of the C5DAC
The top of the C5DAC has an orange indicator light to show on/off status, 3.5mm line-in, and 3.5mm headphone out. There is a translucent black plastic casing at the top of the device that houses the volume knob. This design choice is nice as it makes it quite difficult to accidentally turn the volume knob. There is a little cutout to make it easier to read the volume knob settings (which ranges from OFF to 1 through 9). This allows for pretty precise volume settings that can be easily remembered for different source devices and headphone combinations. With my source device’s volume is maxed out, I found that I generally do not need to go beyond 5/9 on low gain or 4.5/9 on high gain. Anything higher is too loud for me.
Top of the C5DAC
Close-up of the Volume Knob of the C5DAC
The bottom of the device has the coax out, micro usb port for dac usage, round toggle switch for dac or amp/charging mode, L to H battery icon, and the charging micro usb port. The separation of the dac micro usb port and the charging port with a toggle switch means the device cannot operate as a dac while charging, making it less suitable as a desktop dac. The device can still function as a standalone amplifier in charging mode.
Bottom of the C5DAC
Three little orange dot indicator lights on the bottom right of the front side of the amplifier show the battery life remaining. These dots are always on if the device is switched on, which makes for a quick easy way to check whether the device is on or off. When charging, one of the lights blinks constantly even if the device is switched off. The position of the blinking light demonstrates the level of charge on the device as it moves from left to right. The light does not appear to stop blinking after the 4.5 hour estimated charge time provided by Cayin, but does eventually stop blinking when fully charged. Generally takes at least 5 hours for the lights to stop blinking. If the device is immediately unplugged and replugged in when fully charged, the lights will begin blinking again over an extended period of time, which may make it difficult to tell when the unit is really fully charged. There is a thoughtful inclusion of a reset button on the bottom of the back side in case any issues occur with the unit. A thin non-metal object (such as a toothpick) is required to press this button.
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The low/high gain switch and bass boost switch are on the top right hand side of the device. Toggling the switches downwards activates the bass boost and high gain (which seems counterintuitive at first, but easy to get used to). The small discrete triangle-shaped switches are very easy to feel without looking (though it is difficult to tell which setting is toggled just by feel). They also click into place very securely and I have no concerns about accidentally moving the switches even when sliding into tighter fitting pockets.
Right Side of the C5DAC
The bass boost feature is quite interesting. For some headphones (particularly IEMs), it is actually a bit difficult to hear any significant difference with it toggled on. For other headphones, it provides a subtle, clean boost in the very low frequency region that does not bleed into the midrange at all. Its effect is much more subtle and refined than I am used to from bass boost features. To my ears, the effect is more pronounced in the sub-bass region with less noticeable impact on the midbass from my listening tests. There is a slight increase in the impact and punch of the majority of percussive sounds, but still quite similar sounding on both settings. The more noticeable change is there is more sub-bass presence with additional rumble and reverb in the background around each note. I do personally find it to be a tastefully done and subtle bass boost that I personally find very enjoyable.
I do recommend trying the C5DAC with a bass boost (especially with open-back neutral or brighter headphones). With headphones that already have a hint of darkness or extra bass emphasis (many closed headphones or the HD650/HE-400/LCD-X), the usage of the bass boost is too much for my tastes. Despite normally eschewing bass boost features, I actually do prefer having the Cayin C5DAC’s bass boost toggled on for many of my headphones as I find that sound signature is more suitable for my tastes (though also dependent on the genre of music I am listening to).
My Measurements: (Official specs in the above section)
My measured dimensions: 136mm x 67mm x 14mm (wider but thinner than official dimensions)
My measured weight: 179g (lighter than official weight)
Weight Comparison to some competitors: (manufacturer's official weights)
Fiio E17k: 110 grams
JDS Labs C5D: 119 grams (4.2 oz)
Oppo HA-2: 175 grams
Cayin C5DAC: 185 grams
Size Comparison against some relevant competitors: (manufacturer's official dimensions)
JDS Labs C5D: 99.5 x 61.5 x 14 mm
Fiio E17k: 104.1 x 62.2 x 12.8 mm
Cayin C5DAC: 136 x 62 x 15mm
Oppo HA-2: 136 x 68 x 12 mm
Battery Life: I did leave the device playing overnight as an amplifier driving the Mr. Speakers Ethers (23 ohms) with its volume maxed out, bass boost on, and high gain with some intermittent pausing and some settings back and forth changes from 9:34 pm to 3:22 pm which closely matches the official ~18 hour battery life estimate. The battery life of this device is excellent for a portable external component and stands out compared to other market offerings. From my daily usage, I never ran out of juice if I left the house with a fully charged device and I often used the device multiple days in a row prior to recharging.  I do want to note that I experienced some intermittent dropping out while the device was being used as a dac/amp at very low power levels, so I would still recommend daily recharging. Charge time from a fully dead unit often takes more than 5 hours for the battery indicator to stop blinking to indicate full charge.
Battery Life Comparisons against closest relevant competitors:
JDS Labs: ~6-8 hours (unspecified usage)
Oppo HA-2: ~13 hours (as amplifier only)
Fiio E17K: ~15 hours (unspecified usage)
Cayin C5DAC: ~18 hours (as amplifier only)
Pros in Design: Aesthetically pleasing design, luxurious premium feel, well-implemented bass boost feature, coax out option, reset button, very nice standalone amplifier, nice volume pot, well designed switches that will not accidentally move, battery life
Cons in Design: Battery indicator pretty vague with only three levels to show charge, seems a bit unreliable in indicating when charging is complete, a bit heftier than other competitors, dac mode and charging mode are exclusive so cannot function as a dac while being charged, some plastic components used in construction, black translucent plastic may possibly pick up scratches
Things of Note: The unique champagne gold styling is subject to individual taste
Accessories: This is where the Cayin C5Dac really shines compared to competitors. They include all the accessories you could possibly want with such a device.
  1. (x1) USB 2.0 to micro USB cable (for charging and computer dac usage, ~3 feet cable length)
  2. (x1) 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable (for amp usage, dual right angles, ~3.5 inch cable length)
  3. (x1) Micro USB to Micro USB cable (for portable dac usage, flat wire with ~2.5 inch cable length)
  4. (x1) 3.5mm to coaxial cable (~1 ⅜  inch cable length)
  5. (x2) blue rubber bands
  6. (x1) grey carrying pouch
  7. (x4) clear small sticker rubber feet (It is the square sticker with cut-outs in image below, I did not use these as it is a review unit)
The flat micro-usb cable and right angled 3.5mm cable is a thoughtful choice for people desiring a tidier cables in their portable stack. The carrying pouch is a nice extra that is not often included for external dac/amps. Extremely considerate move by Cayin that I hope other companies emulate.
Portable Usage: It achieves a similar form factor and weight compared to other amplifier/dac combination competing in this product category. It is a bit on the heavier side of the scale compared to some of its closest competitors in form factor and price point. The device is very well optimized for portable usage from my real life testing. I would actually recommend only using this device in portable settings as it cannot charge while acting as a dac for a desktop chain. For consumers looking for a portable dac/amplifier that can also function as part of their desktop chain, consider other options. Do note that the styling of the C5DAC is very flashy and will attract attention.
Connected to the iPhone 4S in standalone amplifier mode
Sound Quality:
  1. Primary test set-up: PC > Cayin C5DAC dac/amp > Combination of FLAC files, Tidal HiFi lossless, Pandora, and Spotify Premium Ogg Vorbis (no esoteric cables used)
  2. Also tested the Cayin’s standalone amplifier with the Nexus 7 tablet
  3. Primary headphones used for testing include: AKG K7xx, Oppo PM-3, Hifiman HE-560, Mr. Speaker Ether, and Hifiman HE-1000
  1. I consider all these headphones to be within the range of acceptable neutral-orientated headphones good for testing source equipment and revealing enough to pick up on subtle nuances.
  2. Reliably identifying sonic characteristics of external components can be quite difficult as headphones have a much greater impact on the resulting sound signature heard out of the chain. The headphones I chose to use have a variety of different presentational styles, which allows me to isolate what effects are due to the headphones and what is contributed by the source gear.
  1. Please use this resource for the definitions of the audiophile terms I am using:
I would describe the C5DAC to offer a well-balanced neutral-orientated clinical presentation with a transparent sound signature with subtle addition of warm undertones but a primarily brighter tonality. I do personally feel that it is a very capable and solid device. The sonic characteristics that I describe below are compared against straight from my new PC (Asus X99 motherboard’s onboard Realtek audio chip, unspecified built-in high-fidelity audio op-amp, and dedicated EMI shielding) and against unamplified through my Nexus 7 tablet.
Treble Tuning: I view the treble tuning as the C5DAC’s greatest strength (though the treble tuning is dependant on personal preference). I do actually feel the treble is brighter than my preferred sound signature, but it is a very well-done bright treble response. Treble tuning is not as smooth with some subtle but notable peaks to my ears, but very strategically placed to improve clarity and definition of the sound. I felt that there was some emphasis at the 6-9kHz region which helps with definition and clarity, but also makes the sound quality unforgiving of poor source files. Sibilant tracks or overly bright masters can be problematic. This also gives the C5DAC a very crisp tonality to notes and an extra sense of airiness. There also appears to be an overall subtle emphasis in the 1kHz to 4 kHz region of the upper mid and lower treble response from my listening testing. The lack of any peaks in the 4 kHz to 6 kHz presence range responsible for intimacy gives a very spacious feeling to the overall sound, which I personally greatly enjoy. There is a sharp focus with a vigorous sense of underlying treble energy which makes it a very engaging and dynamic presentation.
Mid-range Tuning: Very spacious feel to the upper mid range with great definition to the edges of notes. I would say that the upper midrange is more highlighted for a relatively sharper and brighter sound on the C5DAC over competitors that emphasis the lower midrange more for a fuller thicker sound. This tuning choice is still overall quite linear and balanced to my ears, just a differing midrange presentation that I am accustomed too. There is a sense of abruptness and sharp definition to the edges of notes with slightly thinner body compared to other external source components I typically use. This also translates into very detail-orientated presentation of the music rather than a more organic lush textural focus on with blending of notes. The edges of notes stand out to me particularly well in the mid-range on the C5DAC. The various positional and separation cues of different instruments are notably easy to appreciate. The consonants have a harder edge to them, but creates a very brilliantly vivid expression to vocals. The midrange is very striking and energetic with its upper mid focus.
Bass Tuning: When using as a standalone amplifier, there is a very subtle increase in detectable warmth to its sound signature to my ears compared to unamplified Nexus 7. Minimal coloration in the bass response. Not as hard-hitting impactful midbass compared to some of my other gear, but very tight and well-defined bass notes. Sub-bass presence is not as emphasized or present either without the bass boost functionality turned on. Less reverberation without any extra rumble and no additional chesty feeling to notes. Small addition in the fullness to the body of individual notes compared to direct from my PC. There was a more noticeable  amount of fullness and warmth observed when using the Nexus 7 as my source. Still I would categorize this device to offer a thinner presentation to the body of the notes in the bass response compared to my other main external component set-ups, but this presentation style provides the perception of extremely stellar note separation. No bloat or muddiness in the bass at all. The C5DAC delivers bass when present in the source track, but does not really provide that much additional richness or coloration to the bass response. I would categorize the bass presentation to be more “cool” with a “drier” reverberation.
Other Sonic Attributes: Improvements in soundstage and imaging is noticeable when adding this device to your set-up. Better resolution of micro-details and textural shifts is also detectable. The greatest sound quality strength of the C5DAC (imo) is its note spacing and instrument separation. It offers great definition and clarity to individual notes and I found could often distinctly hear the various shades of detail at the edges of the notes with its crisp clean presentation. Speed is excellent with clear focus on the attack of notes with a hard snappy delivery. There is no smoothing or lingering on the decay of notes which can translate into a more abrupt feel to the music, but also provides a very sharp insight into each individual nuance of the music. I would liken the Cayin C5DAC’s overall presentation, performance, and sound signature to be quite similar to somewhere in between the AKG Q701 and HE-560 (though of course to a lesser degree as headphones have a much more dramatic impact on sound changes). The C5DAC is a very high energy performer that I view to illustrate an very entertaining analytical/clinical presentation style.
From my personal testing, I found that the tad bit of additional relative brightness of the C5DAC to be attributable to its dac implementation. Using the C5DAC as a standalone amplifier sounds relatively warmer. Both presentations are quite clean, so I think it just depends on personal preference which style is preferred. This does add a bit of versatility for matching components and finding a sweet spot for different headphone pairings.
Connected to the Nexus 7 in dac/amp mode
I primarily use a similar list of test tracks for all my testing for all my reviews (please browse my other reviews for a full list of music I like to run as test tracks).  
Genres I enjoy include Alternative, Classical (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, Orchestral, Modern), Electronic/EDM (Dubstep, Hardstyle, House, Techno, Trance, Trap), Female Vocals, Folk, Hip Hop/Rap, Indie, [size=1em]Jazz,[/size][size=1em] [/size][size=1em]Metal, [/size][size=1em]Pop,[/size][size=1em] [/size][size=1em]R&B, Rock, Solo Piano (Classical, Modern, New Age), and Soundtrack[/size]
Some notable new fun tracks I’ve been listening to quite extensively recently include the Whiplash Soundtrack, “Songs I Can’t Listen To” by Neon Trees, cello music by The Piano Guys, “Our Story” and other electronic music by Mako, “Can’t Feel My Face” and other R&B by the Weekend, “Thinking Out Loud” and other male vocals from Ed Sheeren, “Lone Ranger” and other female vocals from Rachel Platten, “Ripetide” and other indie from Vance Joy, “Undercover” and other female vocals from Zara Larsson, new piano music from the Haiku album by Doug Hammer, “Dreams” and other new male vocals from Beck. I've been having fun discovering new music through Pandora mixes & Spotify curated playlists such as Fresh EDM and RapCaviar.
Direct DAC/Amplifier Comparisons:
  1. Did side-by-side volume-matched comparisons of the performance of each dac/amplifier against the C5DAC using the PM-3 and HE-1000.
  2. I choose those two headphones as the C5DAC is primarily for portable applications so the closed portable PM-3 would be the headphones I would realistically use the most often with this device and I feel that the HE-1000 is my most resolving headphones that makes it easiest to hear source component differences.
  3. Please remember these are my own personal subjective impressions. YMMV!!!
Against the Cozoy Astrapi: portable USB-style dac/amplifier at $129 MSRP
Design: The Cozoy Astrapi features a full metal casing with a much smaller micro-usb drive-type form factor with very high-class build quality. I do not currently know of any smaller dac/amplifier offerings on the market. The Cayin C5DAC offers a more traditional size for a portable dac/amplifier meant to be paired with a smartphone/DAP. The C5DAC also offers a multitude of additional features including an analog volume potentiometer, low/high gain settings, bass boost, coax out, standalone amplifier functionality, internal battery that does not draw charge from the source device.
Sound: I have a detailed sonic analysis of the Astrapi in my review HERE. In terms of relative comparison against the C5DAC, I do think that the C5DAC offers a bit more overall sonic refinement, but also has a brighter sound signature and crispier peakier treble. The Astrapi is relatively warmer and smoother sounding, but does appear to have slightly less clean micro-detail resolution and less precise note spacing with some additional smoothing/blurring effect for an slightly more organic presentation. The Astrapi offers an extremely enjoyable sonic presentation that is easy to listen to with additional sonic refinements over just using the 3.5mm headphone jack, but I do think the C5DAC edges out in overall sonic improvements. I do consider both options to offer generally clean well-balanced sound signature that has minimal coloration, but they do slightly vary in sonic presentation.
Overall Thoughts & Personal Pick: Application specific. For a portability standpoint, the Astrapi offers an unrivaled form factor and weight for an external dac/amp combo. For a more feature laden approach with the traditional “phone-sized” type dac/amp, the Cayin C5DAC offers a very well-rounded practical set of additional functions with a luxurious-looking finish. Both options appear to have a very good performance:price ratio in comparison to the current market offerings. For even more affordable portable offerings, Fiio offers many budget entry level portable combination products. The rest of the USB-stick style entries are higher in price point than the Astrapi unless discontinued or older models.

Against the Oppo HA-2: portable dac/amplifier at $299 MSRP
Design: The Oppo HA-2 has a similar form factor and overall design, but has a lighter in overall weight and features an all metal and real leather design. I do think the build quality and design of the HA-2 is extremely premium and its styling is very tastefully done. Additional features found on the HA-2 not on the C5DAC is smartphone charging capabilities as a mobile power bank, rapid charging, optimization with iOS without needinging any additional camera adapter/kit cables, and DSD support. The Cayin C5DAC has a coax out that the HA-2 does not have. They both share a bass boost function.*
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The C5DAC has a more detailed volume knob ranging for OFF-1-9 while the HA-2 is labeled 0-5. However, the HA-2’s volume knob is actually much easier to read with the device is in a portable stack as the knob is fully exposed. The C5DAC only shows the number in the specified cutout location, which means the C5DAC can only be stacked in one orientation with the volume knob on the right. The battery life lights on the front surface also requires you to stack the C5DAC with that surface facing out. The HA-2 allows for stacking it in either orientation with the volume knob on the left or right according to personal preference.
The HA-2 has more detailed battery life indicators with 4 levels shown while the C5DAC shows only 3 levels. The placement of the battery lights on the C5DAC is more easily visible while the device is charging on a desk or in a stack with its front side facing up. The C5DAC battery lights are always on, while the HA-2’s battery life lights needs to be activated via a button press.
Sound: Both the HA-2 and C5DAC offer a lot of noticeable technical improvements in sound quality. I will attempt to provide my personal thoughts after extensive side-by-side comparisons of the relative differences in sound without letting my personal preference show through in this section. I will talk about my subjective personal preferences in the “Personal Pick” section. Do note that the differences are more subtle than it may appear in writing.
Bass Comparison: The HA-2 has more sub-bass presence and mid-bass punch, making it sound relatively warmer to the C5DAC in comparison. The subtle bass textural shifts are more easily noticed on the HA-2, but also audible on the C5DAC. I do not think the bass is lacking on the C5DAC, but I do personally prefer turning on bass boost feature of the C5DAC for my neutral to bright headphones, while I hardly ever use the bass boost feature the HA-2. The HA-2 presents high quality bass with extremely tight response and great sub-bass extension.
Midrange Comparison: In terms of mid-range comparisons, the C5DAC appears to have a bit of emphasis on the upper midrange while the HA-2 sounds to have a bit more lower midrange relative to each other. High mids from 1 kHz to the treble region seem to be emphasized on the C5DAC in comparison to the HA-2. This can help give additional clarity and definition but can also sometimes make things sound a bit edgier depending on the source material.
Treble Comparison: The C5DAC does seem to have a crisper sound which I attribute to a relatively more emphasized treble region in a direct comparison. I do think the C5DAC has a bit peakier treble response over the smoother treble presentation of the HA-2. The C5DAC adds a bit of extra definition to the edges of notes that I estimate is due to the 6-10 kHz region. The C5DAC is less forgiving of poor or bright source material and can sometimes emphasis the sibilance found in poorly mastered source tracks. No sibilance issues with good quality audio files. C5DAC is relatively sharper and brighter with an even more clinically orientated presentation in comparison. I do personally view the HA-2 to also have a clinical-orientated presentation as well.
Other sonic attributes: Note spacing and instrument separation is extremely vivid and clean on the C5DAC and I view it to be one of the sonic strengths of the Cayin device. Very crisp and clean edges to notes. I found that my focus of the C5DAC is more on the attack of notes while the HA-2 brings my attention more to the decay of notes. The attack of notes and enounced constants sound quite crisp and hard relative compared to the smoother ‘softer’ HA-2. The decay of the notes on HA-2 is more present, possibly due to the strength of its sub-bass portrayal. Sound stage is equally impressive on both devices for an external portable dac/amplifier and outshines some more organic-focused warmer desktop sources such as the Woo Audio WA7+WA7tp that trades in sound stage and clinical detail for a very rich and pleasant tube warmth and euphonic coloration. The HA-2 has a more liquid textural presentation in comparison to the C5DAC.
I do want to emphasize that I think that the C5DAC’s sonic presentation is still very close to a well-balanced neutral sound and I am just describing the extremely subtle nuances from extensive direct comparisons. The differences I am describing are not as large as it may appear in writing and are just the differences between the two devices relatively. While the HA-2 is warmer than the C5DAC in a direct side-by-side comparison, I do not think that the HA-2 is actually a warm-sounding dac/amp. I would categorize the HA-2 as ranging from either neutral or bright depending on personal taste. The C5DAC also falls within a similar spectrum of neutral to bright (depending on preference), but just relatively a bit brighter to my ears when volume-matched. I think of both devices falling under the detail-focused clinical style of presentation with excellent micro-detail retrieval and very highly resolving of source files.
*Bass Boost: I found a bit of audible differences between the bass boost functionality of the two devices from my listening impressions that warrant discussion. Both bass boosts are very linear and clean without any real bloating over the midrange and treble. I do strongly feel that the C5DAC’s bass boost feature is exceptionally well-implemented with its more subtle refined effect. The HA-2’s bass boost still provides a very clean bass emphasis, but its boost extends a bit farther up in the frequency response with a flat boost to through to mid-bass and subtle tapering down additional emphasis that goes into the lower midrange. In comparison to the C5DAC, there is a more prominent increase in impact and punch of the midbass for a little bit more dramatic change relative to their stock sound. I personally do not actually use the HA-2’s bass boost very often since the majority of my headphones I own I already enjoy their original sound signature. I can see the HA-2’s bass boost being extremely enjoyable and ideal for audiophile bassheads who desire a clean but more dramatic bass flair while the C5DAC’s bass boost is subtle enough that I personally found myself having to check to see which mode I was in. I do personally give the edge to the C5DAC’s bass boost implementation, but depends what you are looking for with a bass boost feature which option suits you better. I find myself generally preferring the HA-2’s stock sound while preferring the C5DAC with the bass boost turned on.
Overall Thoughts: I believe that this comparison is the most relevant to prospective shoppers as both devices can be considered to be very good valued portable dac/amplifiers for their respective features and quality. They both strive to provide a bit of premium functionality and build quality over the entry level budget options. I spend a lot of time doing extensive direct side-by-side comparisons of these two devices and tried to describe the relative differences in an objective comparative way rather than stating which sonic presentation is superior or more ideal. I will talk about my own personal preferences below, but please note my personal subjective thoughts may not be the same as what you are looking for.
Personal Pick: I personally prefer my Oppo HA-2, but I am biased as a HA-2 owner. The HA-2 has a more premium overall build quality and design with additional features such as smartphone charging and charging while operating as a dac that I find very useful. The HA-2’s sound signature matches my preferences better and I feel like its sound is closer to what I personally view as a transparent source device. I do want to note as a disclaimer that while I find the HA-2’s presentation to my ideal of a neutral presentation, that is just my personal opinion and not everyone shares that view. The Cayin C5DAC offers similar improvements in overall sound quality with a relatively brighter sound signature in comparison to the HA-2. The C5DAC with the bass boost feature activated works extremely well with its overall sound signature. While I do personally prefer the HA-2’s sound, sonic preference between the C5DAC or HA-2’s presentation is subject to personal taste. I do think the C5DAC offers a better price:performance ratio and value at its price point, so definitely a good option to investigate for more value-conscious audiophiles who do not require the additional features of the HA-2.

Against the Schiit Bifrost Uber + Lyr 2 desktop tube hybrid amplifier
This is my main desktop amplifier and dac unit and my most commonly used gear. I think very highly of this combination at its price point. I personally judge the Bifrost to be just a miniscule amount brighter than my personal ideal of a neutral while the Lyr 2 to be a bit warmer than what I would consider to be neutral. Together they do make a very solid and well-balanced pairing to my ears. The Lyr 2 adds a bit of that euphonic warm tube distortion to my music which I do find very enjoyable. The C5DAC does hold its own without getting embarrassed against my desktop setup, but I do find it to be a bit brighter than my ideal preferences, but definitely not overly bright to an extreme. Just a subtle relative difference. I do think that the Lyr 2 and Bifrost offer significant and noticeable improvements in overall sound quality over the C5DAC, but the degree is not as large as might be expected from the price point and how it may sound in writing. Just wanted to note that this set-up is my reference point for a lot of my observations.

Some quick thoughts against some other relevant options I’ve owned:
These are some quick thoughts on amplifier/dac combinations not currently in my possession, but that I am extensively familiar with (at least a month of possession within the past 3 months). Please do take some of these impressions with a grain of salt as they are not direct side-by-side comparisons.
Against Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2: USB-stick dac/amplifier with $149 MSRP
I feel choosing between these two is more application specific. The Dragonfly really shines more in transportable or desktop usage scenarios as a usb-stick design, but can also function as a portable device drawing power from your smartphone/DAP using either OTG usb cables for Android or camera adapter/kit adapters. The C5DAC is really just geared for primarily portable usage. The Dragonfly v1.2 has a high performance:price ratio for its product category as one of the most affordable USB-stick dac/amplifier options out there (beaten in price point only by the discontinued Dragonfly v1.0 at $99 and the Schiit Fulla at $79 to my knowledge). I am comfortable stating that the Dragonfly v1.2 has more bass quantity than the C5DAC from audio memory. It is considered to be a quite close to neutral option though I personally found it to sound very slightly v-shaped to my ears with some additional treble brightness and bass emphasis.

Against the Aune B1: portable fully discrete Class A amplifier with $199 MSRP
Depends on what you are looking for as the B1 only functions as an amplifier without a dac. For a portable standalone amplifier, the B1 is a very great sounding and excellent performing option using premium parts with good performance:price ratio. The B1’s primary selling point is its unique circuit design and topology with fully discrete components over other competing options. Its size is larger than other traditional portable amplifiers and runs hotter with shorter battery life due to its Class A amplifier design. I would estimate that the B1 has a subtly warmer and richer tonality from audio memory. The Cayin C5DAC and the majority of portable amplifiers use a Class AB amplifier design.

Resonessence Labs Herus: USB-stick dac/amplifier at $350 MSRP
I think the Cayin C5DAC is a better option than the Herus in portable applications. The Herus’ boxy form factor and the battery drain on your source device makes it not as ideal for portable usage IMO. Only go for the Herus if you are looking for a desktop-oriented device. I would estimate that the Herus has a relatively brighter clinical sound signature in comparison from audio memory.

Headphone Pairings with the Cayin C5Dac:
I could not fit my full brief impressions of the C5DAC pairing with each of my headphones, so I added an addendum HERE for brief thoughts on each of my headphones with the C5DAC. Any headphone sound signature impressions are just my personal thoughts of where they fall relatively to my personal ideal of a hypothetical flat 'neutral' line (which no headphone currently achieves). YMMV, so I think this section is more useful as a relative comparison point for your own impressions.
Overall thoughts on headphone pairings: I’ve found that the the Cayin C5DAC does add a subtle bit of an additional brightness and energy to the sound signature of my headphones. The difference in warmth is not as detectable with the majority of my headphones unless using the bass boost. Does offer traditional benefits of adding external source components with tighter note separation and spacing being the most easily noticeable improvement. I can see this being a very good pairing for more laid-back headphones such as the Sennheiser HD600/HD650.
Value Judgement:
With a MSRP price point of $215, the Cayin C5DAC sits right above the entry-level budget orientated options that typically fall below $150 and right below the price point of the more luxurious entries that typically start from $250+. While the C5DAC does not offer the highest performance:price ratio (which is held by the feature-laden budget entry offerings from Fiio and Creative), the C5DAC does offer a very good performance and build quality:price ratio, using a bit more premium parts and adding a more premium style and look. A very good value option for buyers looking for a bit more premium option.
The features that make the Cayin C5DAC more unique compared to competitors are below:
1) Optical Out (very rare for portable dac/amplifiers to have this feature, to my knowledge only the Creative E5 and Fiio E17 have this feature in the sub-$300 category)
2) Bass Boost Feature (more common feature, but not universally found among dac/amps)
3) Analog volume potentiometer (usually found in most portable dac/amps, but not found on the majority of USB-style dac/amp devices)
The C5DAC does require separate camera adapter/kit connector cables for iOS, which is more common than not among the current market offerings (with only the Cozoy Astrapi and Oppo HA-2 having that feature at the sub-$500 price point to my current knowledge).
Some pertinent features that are provided by competitors not found on the C5DAC that might be relative interest for audiophiles include charging while in DAC mode, mobile power bank features, dual headphone output jacks, and DSD support. Charging in DAC mode is pretty universally common among portable dac/amp devices. The other features are only found on certain options.
Key: Red = Cayin C5DAC, Green = dac only, Purple = built-in USB connector staying flash-drive sized, Blue = styled like the USB-stick options but slightly larger (built-in usb connector or no internal battery), Black = larger shape (possible has internal battery), bolded are options I’ve compared against in my review
HiFimeDIY Sabre Android DAC ONLY, no amp ($30)
HiFimeDIY Sabre U2 DAC ONLY, NO no amp ($57)
Stoner Acoustics UD120 DAC ONLY, no amp ($69)
Schiit Fulla (MSRP $79, not well suited for portable usage but as analog volume pot)
Fiio E07k Andes ($89 on Amazon - MSRP $99.95)
Cozoy Astrapi ($129.99, does not require any additional adapter cables for iOS or Android)
Creative Sound Blaster E3 ($129.99 MSRP)
Fiio E17k Alpen 2 ($139.99 on Amazon - MSRP $249.99)
Audioengine D3 ($149 on Amazon; MSRP $189)
Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2 ($149 MSRP)
Meridian Explorer (first generation: $149 on Amazon, MSRP $299)
Fiio E18 Kunlun ($159 on Amazon - MSRP $299.95)
HRT Music Streamer III ($165.95 on Amazon; MSRP $200)
Audioengine D1 ($169 on Amazon, geared more for desktop usage)
HRT Microstreamer ($169.95 on Amazon, MSRP $190)
LH Geek Out 450 (currently sold out, used at $175, MSRP unknown)
Creative Sound Blaster E5 ($199.99)
Leckerton UHA-4 ($199)
LH Geek Out 1000 ( $199 on Amazon)
Cayin C5DAC (MSRP $215)
Beyerdynamic A200p ($219.99 on Amazon, MSRP $349; unique small box shape)
JDS Labs C5D ($249)
HRT Music Streamer II+ ($249 on Amazon; MSRP $349)
HRT Music Streamer Pro ($269.99 on Amazon; MSRP: $499)
Leckerton UHA-6S MKII ($279)
LH Geek Out 100 (MSRP $289, more for IEMs)
Meridian Explorer 2 ($299)
Oppo HA-2 ($299, no adapter cables required for iOS or Android)
Sony PHA-1A ($299)
Resonessence Herus ($350)
HRT Music Streamer HD (379.95 on Amazon, MSRP $499)
Leckerton UHA760 ($399)
Resonessence Herus+ ($425)
Fostex HP-P1 ($449 on Amazon, MSRP $799)
Sony PHA-2 ($449.99 on Amazon, MSRP $599.99)
iFi Audio micro iDSD ($499)
CEntrance Mini-M8 ($599.99)
Meridian Director ($599)
Centrance HiFi-M8 ($699)
***If there are any other notable competitors that I forgot to mention that you think should be added, feel free to PM me & I will update my review***
Its most similar direct competitor (imo from a price-point standpoint that shares a similar form factor) is the JDS C5D portable dac/amplifier (a completely different device that just happens to shares a similar name) at $249.99. Less expensive budget orientated options for a similar form factor and very feature-laden approach would be the offerings from Fiio that can found between the $80-$160ish price point or Creative Sound Blaster line-up that fall from $130-$200. The main premium competitor in my mind would be the Oppo HA-2 at $299.
For me personally, I do find that portable external combination devices over the $300 price point does appear to be bit overkill and too expensive for the average audiophile unless you frequently use a portable set-up or desire a high-end dedicated portable set-up. With constant advancements in dac technology, I do personally feel that it is not wise to spend too much on a portable external source equipment as the money can be better invested in the quality of your headphones for a more dramatically appreciable sonic upgrade. I think price point and feature set should be the main considerations when choosing the right device for you as differences in sound quality with external components are often difficult to distinguish without extensive direct comparisons.
My Overall Scoring: (as the side bar reflects averages)
Audio Quality: 8/10
Design: 8/10
Quality: 8/10
Value: 9/10
Overall: 8/10
Do note that I personally strongly feel that transducers (aka headphones) contribute to the majority of the sound quality improvements, so I always recommend to allocate budget accordingly. So I personally would recommend upgrading your headphones/IEMs until you find one you really love and no longer want to upgrade any further prior to investing too heavily into external components. It’s been my personal experience that the higher up in the price ladder I climb for external components, there is an exponential increase in cost for smaller and smaller sonic improvements. Realistically speaking, it is usually not really “worth” it to spend too much money on external components as many claims of sonic improvement are often exaggerated. The first jump from no external components to adding a dac/amp will be the largest and will generally only offer subtle refinements rather than extremely drastic changes if tuned towards a transparent neutral presentation. I really only estimate a 5-15% appreciable sonic change from external components additions. There are subtle variations between components but more along the lines of personal preference which one will suit you the best. Price point does not always correlate to a better fit for your personal preferences and the rest of your gear. I hope my comparative reviewing style with extensive direct comparisons and price point analysis of relevant competitors is helpful for your search on what fits you the best. I do not like to make statements about what is the “best” in this hobby as I have discovered through my audiophile journey that personal preference of sound signature can vary widely. As always, please do try to demo yourself if possible.
Armed with with a vivid energetic treble, articulate midrange, and tight bass with a very spacious sound and excellent note spacing,  the Cayin C5D provides a very well-tuned bright and analytical presentation with extremely high energy, precise hard attack, and crisp focus on the edges of notes.
Its greatest sonic strength is its precision and clean focus on the edges of the notes, contributing to especially notable note spacing and instrument separation. This also provides very high resolution of micro-detail and textural detail, abrupt and hard attack, and a well-defined soundstage and good imaging capabilities. Best tuned frequency region in my opinion is easily its treble response with a very crispy and airy feeling complimented by sharpened definition and clarity.
Most notable consideration with sound is that when used as a dac/amplifier, the C5DAC lacks warmth, richness, and a liquid smoothness compared to my other setups, presenting a high energy, hyper-detail-focused, edgy clinical style. Personal preference and tastes will play a role in how suitable this device is for you.
The greatest unique features of the C5DAC is the well-refined bass boost and optical out function. Its ~18 hour long battery life is quite exceptional compared to competitors, and can often last multiple days for my typical portable usage prior to requiring recharging. The most notable flaw with the device is the inability for simultaneous dac usage while charging the device. This strictly limits its usability as part of a dedicated desktop chain. I would not recommend this device for audiophiles looking for a single device to use for both portable and desktop usage, but rather I would recommend the C5DAC as a complimentary dedicated portable-usage-only external dac/amplifier combination.
I do think that its amplifier is extremely quite well implemented providing very clean and transparent sound with a nice very subtle addition of warmth. The dac implementation leans on the brighter side of my own personal preferences, but is very well done for those who enjoy that sort of sonic presentation. Not a dramatic sonic signature change, but significantly perceptible tweaking of the sound due to very strategic and thoughtful tuning. Very solid pairing option for warm and neutral headphones from my point of view, but works especially well with crispy airy neutral presentations such as the HE-560 and AKG K7xx if you particularly enjoy the high treble energy style and clinical detail-focused presentations. The variation in sound signature between usage as a standalone amplifier and dac/amplifier does provide some additional versatility when matching components to tune your headphones sound signature.
I would recommend considering this device if looking for an affordable all-in-one external dac/amp device for dedicated portable usage only. While not the most affordable option out there, it offers very nice premium finishing and features at very good value, giving it a very solid performance:price ratio.
Offical Product Link:
Head-fi C5DAC Discussion Thread:
Head-fi C5DAC Review Tour Thread:
Great review. Very helpful comparison too. :thumbsup:
Onny Izwan
Onny Izwan
Complete review. Thank you for doing the hard work for us. Thank you.
I own this unit and I am able to charge while using it. Has there been a revision?  The charging LED blinks and my computer does detect the device.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: light small sexy design, very suitable for portable usage, clean SQ w/ minimal coloration, supports iOS/Android natively, dac/amp or dac only function
Cons: geared toward refining overall SQ aspects rather than drastically altering sound, may need to get shorter cables
Cozoy Astrapi Review
  1. Review unit provided by CTC Audio for loan and touring (
  2. Extensively tested over a period of more than one month with extensive real-world usage in portable situations
  3. Source used include Spotify Premium, Tidal Hi-fi, and an assortment of FLAC files
  4. No special “high-resolution” files above 16 bit depth and 44.1 sample rate used in my testing as I am a strong skeptic and feel confident in Nyquist-Shannon Sampling Theorem after doing my own personal blinded, volume-matched comparisons. Refer to these links here & here for more background on the subject.
  5. Primary current chain is the Schiit Bifrost Uber > Schiit Lyr 2 > HE-1000 beta
  6. My full gear profile is available [u]HERE[/u].
  7. This is an unpaid and uncensored review covering my own personal subjective thoughts and opinions. I am NOT a professional reviewer. As always, I hope this is an enjoyable and informative read, and remember that ymmv!
Intro: Cozoy Ltd. is a relatively new company that was founded in 2014 and based in China. Their current product portfolio only includes their recently released Cozoy Astrapi portable dac/amplifier. CTC Audio is their official distributor for the United States and Canada. Link here:
I was very interested in purchasing a Cozoy Astrapi for my portable needs and contacted CTC Audio with some questions. CTC Audio was kind enough to supply me with a loaner review unit upon request. I am in no way affiliated with Cozoy or CTC Audio and this a non-professional, unpaid, and uncensored review covering my honest thoughts.
Tech: The Cozoy Astrapi is a portable USB digital analog convertor with a solid state amplifier designed to work out-of-the-box with iOS and Android. The Astrapi is powered by the source device with it is connected via the included usb cable. When the volume output is maximized, it functions as a standalone dac, providing a clean line-out output to pair with another amplifier.
It natively supports up to 16 bit depth and 44.1 sample rate decoding and uses Digital Sound Processing tuning algorithms during all playback. Source files higher than 16/44.1 will be played back non-natively (Cozoy recommends Onkyo HF player and Radius NePlayer).
Official Specifications: (Copied from their official website)
Bit rate: DSP engine sampling at 16/44.1, all formats playable with software support
System power current: 10mA - 70mA max.
Power input: 1.8V-3.3V+-10%
Output gain level step: 3dB/step; 16 steps
Native 16/44.1 decoding and implementation of DSP tuning algorithms
Output varies as power input may differ, this situation exists on every kind of OS
Packaging: Packaging is beautiful, but I personally couldn't care less and don’t really place much emphasis on the packaging in my reviews.
Astrapi Box
Astrapi in box with ribbon for easy removal & warranty card
Build Quality & Design: I personally rate the design and build quality of the Astrapi extremely highly. Its body is fully metal and feels quite premium. There is a small clip on the back side. Adorning the two ends is the micro usb port and 3.5mm headphone jack (double as a line-out at maxed volume]. It is easy to see that Cozoy has taken extra care to place an emphasis on aesthetic appeal and build quality, which is a refreshing attitude for the inexpensive portable amp/dac market.
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Weight: 10 grams measured on my kitchen scale (specially calibrated for measuring audiophile-grade equipment… & small non-audiophile edibles.)
Dimensions* [length x width x depth]:
not including clip: 52 mm x 15mm x 6 mm [2 in x ⅝ in x ¼ in]
including clip: depth changes to 9 mm [⅜ inch]
*if you do the metric to imperial conversation, you see that the metric measurements are shorter. well, the Cozy is so small it measures in between the little lines of the inches side on normal non-audiophile approved ruler. My metric measurements more accurate. That should be obvious as all scientists who measure stuff as a profession use the metric scale.
In case you still didn’t understand how minuscule the Astrapi is, the AudioQuest Dragonfly which is often praised for its small form factor looks giant next to the Astrapi. The Dragonfly more than doubles the Astrapi’s weight and body thickness*!!! Let me pause for a moment for that to stick in. You can scroll down look at comparison pictures while I’m pausing. [*Note: body means excluding the metal clip; the Astrapi is still thinner including the clip]
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I did run into a rare issue where my Astrapi would drop out sometimes or fail to recognize upon first connection. This was a scarce occurrence during my month-long audition of the unit and I actually had difficulty duplicating this phenomenon, even under stress testing. May possibly be related to my phone. The connections on both ends do appear to be quite stable. If this was caused by pulling or strain rather than my phone, I do think that usage with a shorter cable or using its clipping feature will easily eliminate that.

The Astrapi has a clip. I am ambivalent about it. Good clipping locations would be either on your belt or pocket or on a bag for convenience. I found the length of the stock cables made clipping to the side of my belt (so my belly isn’t in the way) to be ideal. Cable gives ample length to place the phone into your pocket and take it out without unclipping. Clipping to the inner pocket worked the best with the clip on the exterior either clipped very high or very low on the pocket so it doesn’t get in the way when I reached into my pocket.
Pros in Design: solid build quality, small, lightweight, metal housing, no need to charge an internal battery, does not get hot
Cons in Design: well, it’s small & sexy, so you might lose it or jealous audiophiles may try steal it. if you are anti-clipping, there is a clip. may be possible to try to break it off, but it is quite solidly attached. also, clipping could possibly prevent loss or theft. included cable length may not be suitable for everyone
Accessories: All the accessories you require to use the Astrapi are included. There are three cables all measuring 1 ft in length.
  1. Micro to USB 2.0 connection cable for computers
  2. Micro to micro USB cable for Android
  3. Micro to lightning cable for iOS (the Astrapi works natively with iOS without any additional camera connection kit/adapter)
No carrying case is included, but honestly the minuscule form factor of the Astrapi renders a carrying case unnecessary. Don’t really know of any portable dac/amps that include carrying cases.
I think I would personally prefer much shorter cables for connecting with my smartphone to cut down on excess wire length as most portable headphones already come with ample cable length. Something super short like 3-6 inches would be ideal in my mind for the Android and iOS cables. Of course, with shorter cables, the clipping feature cannot be used at all, so their choice makes a lot of sense. The longer cable allows the phone to be taken out of your pocket without unclipping. I would recommend purchasing an additional short cable for your device of choice just to see what you prefer. With the longer cables, I just rock the clip-onto-belt method to flash my tiny Astrapi implying my corresponding high audiophile pedigree to whatever jealous audiophiles might happen to be wandering the streets.
Portable Usage: Highly rated as it is extremely portable. No other option that rivals its form factor and weight. No need to recharge. Does not get hot. Extremely convenient and easy to bring around with you even when you have very limited pocket space. It is extremely well-designed for portable applications.
Sound Quality:
I posted an addendum HERE on how I approach reviewing external components. In case you skipped the long tedious testing methodology section: The thoughts written here are relative impressions based on extensive direct A/B comparisons between the Cozoy Astrapi against no external components on my laptops or my Samsung Galaxy S5. I do recommend skimming the testing methodology section to get a sense of my background and approach.
  1. Dell XPS m1530 & Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone > Combination of FLAC files, Tidal HiFi lossless, and Spotify Premium Ogg Vorbis > Cozoy Astrapi > Oppo PM-3 & AKG K7xx
  2. Please use this resource for the definitions of the audiophile terms I am using:
I found the Astrapi to have an extremely clean sound. No dramatic sound signature departures from set-ups containing no additional external components. This might ruin my audiophile credibility, but I will be the first to admit that I cannot hear a sonic differences between a Dell XPS M1530 laptop, Samsung Galaxy S5, Nexus 7, iPhone 5, iPad mini, iPad normal, or HP elitebook… so I did comparisons on whatever device was closer atm, mostly on the S5 to stimulate real-world usage.
I did initially think that there was the noticeable addition of warmth. After extensive fast switching A/B direct comparisons of extremely short <10 second segments, I found it was actually not a very drastic change in overall sound signature when volume matched. Tested this further via EQing my unamplified set-up various different ways vs unEQed Astrapi and rapidly switching back and forth to see how well I could detect differences in sound signature. My conclusion was that the Astrapi did not dramatically alter the sound signature of the source or add any significant additional coloration to your chain. I do still feel there is still subtle hint of warmth underlying its sound signature throughout, but not anything dramatic. There were some subtle changes that I felt comfortable talking about after really extensive testing, but do note they are relatively minor in comparison to sound signature changes brought about by different headphones.
Treble Tuning: Slight hint of additional breathiness with the Astrapi which suggests to me a slight emphasis in the upper mids. Decreased sense of edginess/sibilance so no peakiness in the 4kHz to 7kHz region. Good sense of definition to instruments so well tuned 6-10kHz region. No piercingness, so no prominent 10kHz spike. Can hear the airness and wind more prominently.Overall detailed, clean, and smooth treble. Non-fatiguing. More gentle treble tuning.
I wondered if the smoothness was simply the characteristic of my PM-3 so I tested via the AKG K7xx, which I would I personally find to have a sharper and more 'abrupt' feeling to its treble presentation. I did the K7xx to sound relatively less piercing and edgy than normal. Do note that I do not think the K7xx actually sounds piercing or edgy normally, I am just talking about a subtle degree of difference. Still maintains great definition. Sound is not as 'crispy' but still maintains a very good airness. Note that the smoothness does not detract from the resolution. Smoothing of the treble response I am referring to relates to the decreasing the peakiness of the treble (not a treble roll-off) as the Astrapi has a solid sense of air and treble extension.
Mid-range Tuning: While the 250-400 Hz region also does not appear to be particularly emphasized without any drastic addition of fullness to notes, there is a hint of additional body underlying the notes. Slight sense of fullness to notes compared to unamplified, but not as full-sounding as some other set-ups. Slight blur to the edge of notes that subtly enhance a smooth organic presentation. The midrange can appear a bit closer and more intimate at times, but maintains general imaging precision of the headphones. I would guess there may be a slight emphasis in the presence range with hint of intimacy to the sound. The midrange does not very get too “lush” or heavily colored with an emphasized warmth, but balances a nice musical cohesion and detail retrieval. More wet reverberant sound rather than a dry sound signature. Mid-range is has good clarity and a clean sound with realistic timbre and tone. No significant glaring flaws to my ears.
Bass Tuning: Sub-bass extension of the headphones is maintained well without any additional emphasis in that region. How deep the sub-bass goes depended on which headphones I used.  Will not experience any increase in the rumbling low frequency feeling. There does appear to be a subtle addition of punchiness and warmth. I do want to note that the underlying warmth is extremely subtle and not even very noticeable in direct A/B comparisons. The extra punchiness of the bass is a bit more noticeable, but still a very small tuning change. I did think that keeps a clean high quality bass while tightening up the spacing between notes.
Other Sonic Attributes: Against unamplified, the Astrapi has more warmth and additional richness to the textural detail. Notes are better defined while maintaining a good sense of body and fullness. Very good detail resolution and more resolving of low-level micro-details. Improvements in imaging precision and soundstage, most noticeably in L-R width. Nice liquid smoothing effect to the sound, removing raspiness and edginess. Better and more realistic timbre, improved textural detail, and resolves subtle tonal shifts on instruments. I personally really like to test for piano, violin, and trumpet sounds as I have personal experience actually playing those instruments. Better dynamic range with a good sense of control through sudden volume changes.
Overall Sound Quality Thoughts: Very subtle refinement to overall sound signature. Nice sound quality improvements with minimal coloration. Pretty clean and clear amplification.
***Link HERE for list of notable test tracks used and sonic characteristics assessed***
Direct Amplifier Comparisons:
*******Important Notes*******
  1. Compared the performance of each amplifier against the Astrapi using the Oppo PM-3 (and K7xx).
  2. The Astrapi will most likely be primarily used in portable applications, so I feel the PM-3 is a good testing choice with a very well-balanced, highly-resolving portable headphone that is extremely competitive among the mid-tier closed category.
  3. Please remember these are my own personal subjective impressions. YMMV!!!
Against the Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2:
MSRP: $149 - USB dac/amplifier combination (unspecified 24-bit ESS dac chip)
Design: The Dragonfly is relatively larger in all dimensions and twice the Astrapi’s weight. More suitable for computers with its usb-stick design. Requires additional adapter cables to work with smartphones. Still relatively portable dac/amplifier combination. Powered by the source device and gets significantly hot.
Sound: The Dragonfly has a much more dramatic change in sound signature compared to the Astrapi. Dragonfly gives a pronounced v-shaped flavor to the sound signature compared to Astrapi, and can hit with that initial ‘wow’ factor and excitement from its emphasized bass and treble region. Biggest difference is that Dragonfly’s treble sounds noticeably brighter and sharper. Dragonfly has more treble energy and brighter presentation. This will give a sense of additional clarity and definition due to its more heavily emphasized treble region. Treble is peakier on the Dragonfly while Astrapi sounds relatively warmer overall with a smooth texture to its treble. I do find Astrapi’s treble presentation more enjoyable and more linear. The Astrapi’s treble is ‘sweeter’ sounding with that extra smoothness, removing raspiness and edginess from notes. The Dragonfly has a bit of extra hardness to the edges of the notes compared to the Astrapi's smoother presentation. I do think Dragonfly improves the spacing of the notes subtly better than Astrapi. Dragonfly also has more bass impact per note, but Astrapi has a warmer overall sound. The Astrapi does have that sense hint of underlying warmth and richness, but the Dragonfly’s heavier bass emphasis, presence, and impact does also give a sense of richness and body to its notes.
Other aspects of sound quality such as overall detail resolution and soundstage remained competitive with Astrapi presenting very nice sense of left to right soundstage width while Dragonfly seems to have a bit more depth. Imaging remained close as well. Dragonfly does appear to resolve textural detail better as Astrapi tends to present more organically with a subtle smoothing effect to focus on the textural shifts rather than point-by-point detail. Astrapi still has quite solid textural detail on instruments and actually sounds more balanced and realistic in its presentation to my ears. I personally really like to test for piano, violin, and trumpet sounds as I have personal experience actually playing those instruments. Their actual detail resolving abilities are quite similar, but Dragonfly increases the volume of low detail detail and noise while Astrapi keeps those elements still have a low volume level that can sometimes be hidden. Dragonfly appears to have a wider dynamic range as a result with volume peaks further accented.
Overall thoughts: The Dragonfly is traditionally thought as the gold standard for small, affordable, great value dac/amplifier. Well, the Astrapi is smaller and cheaper, while being a much better option for portable usage. Sonically, I think it just depends on what you are looking for with your sound signature. The Dragonfly has a noticeable brighter sound signature and will hit you with an dramatic high energy v-shaped presentation in comparison to the Astrapi. On the other hand, the Astrapi has a smoother, more relaxed presentation that would sound more mid-centric in comparison. Both are quite highly resolving. I do personally think that the Astrapi’s sound signature is more well-balanced with a nice underlying sense of richness and liquid texture in comparison to the Dragonfly’s sharp and more abrupt presentation. Astrapi has competitive performance for its price point and excels as a portable all-in-one amp/dac solution for those requiring the most minimalist slim design. Consider the Astrapi if portability, size, weight, and small form factor as your primary concerns. More suitable for those who enjoy smooth sound that does not particularly emphasize any particular region of frequency response region with a subtle hint of warmth in their sound signature. The Astrapi offers more subtle refinements to sound quality while maintaining a good balance in the frequency response. The Dragonfly seems to focus too heavily on the treble region to give that perception of additional clarity and definition.
The Dragonfly would be suitable for someone looking for something to provide initial excitement out of the box, but I personally feel it can be fatiguing after extending listening. The Dragonfly may also be a good choice for someone with a very warm amplifier or very warm headphones to help tune their sound signature. For me, the Dragonfly represents the audiophile who wants a good value entry-level all-in-one solution for primary non-portable usage with his laptop and never wants to bother upgrading or getting anything else. It is transportable with a laptop, but not as suitable for mobile usage. It is like the entry-level fix, plug it in and be done solution. I would also prefer and recommend getting a true desktop setup (even entry-level) over the Dragonfly if not requiring to be transported with a laptop if your budget can stretch further. If not, then the Dragonfly is a solid transportable pick with acceptable mobile usage if the heat and adapter cables do not bother you.
Personal Pick: Cozoy Astrapi. I think it offers a better value for its price point and more practical as a portable solution. Overall sound quality improvements seem similar to me with the Dragonfly having more of an impact on the tonal presentation of the frequency response. I do want to note that I still think the Dragonfly is a great product with high performance:price ratio and would highly recommend it to those that want drastic easy-to-appreciate sonic change. The Astrapi offers more refinement rather than excitement.
Against the Resonessence Labs Herus usb dac/amplifier:
MSRP: $350 - USB dac with solid state amplifier (ESS Sabre 24 bit ES9010-2M dac chip)
Design: The Herus is much thicker, wider, longer, and heavier. The Herus’ requirement for a special micro-usb-to-usb-B cable in addition to the adapter for Android/iOS makes it less unsuitable for portable usage. Its boxy design also does not stack well. Powered by source device.
Sound: The Herus has an extremely brighter sound signature. Very high in treble energy as well with a crispier, edgier tonality. It is more highly resolving of micro-detail than the Astrapi with better note spacing. I do consider the Herus to stay very well-balanced, but very sharp sound. Extremely clinical-oriented presentation in my personal opinion. Herus’ treble is not as peaky as the Dragonfly with a more linear response throughout its frequency range. The Herus does provide even further refinement to sound quality attributes compared to the Astrapi, though the width of the Astrapi stays competitive. The relatively warmer sound of the Astrapi provides a good sense of presence and richness to the body of the notes, which the Herus trades off for better definition and wider spacing between notes with sharp clean abrupt edges.
Overall thoughts: I do think that the Herus can be considered to be one of the most sonically capable usb stick based dac/amplifier combinations on the market today. The Herus is more suited for desktop usage, but transportable with a laptop. Not really that suitable for mobile usage. Consider the Herus is you require a stand-alone usb dac and amplifier combination and enjoy a brighter clinical presentation. I can see some people using it as their dedicated dac in a desktop chain. I do think the Herus occupies a weird price niche. If your budget stretches that far to get the Herus, I do really think that you should strongly consider a similarly priced desktop setup instead that will give you even more powerful amplification. Quite pricey for what you get though and I think there are many better performance:price options out there. However, the Herus is definitely a very highly resolving product and I can see its appeal as a ‘budget-dac’ from a brand-name company compared to some of the pricer mid-tier dacs out there.
Personal Pick: Cozoy Astrapi. I actually ended up selling the Herus while demoing the Astrapi. I already have a desktop set-up and I don’t see the place for Herus for me. More of a hassle and inconvenience for portable usage and really drains my phone battery too fast for me to really want to even bother using it in that application. I also personally don’t really see why I would purchase the Herus instead of an entry-level desktop stack or cheaper usb-stick option other than brand name appeal. I actually purchased it based on certain reviews I read on the product as I was curious how it performs and I wanted to judge it for myself to see how reliable the reviewer and the website he was affiliated to was. After my experience, I no longer trust big name reviewers or so-called experts unless they do direct comparisons or some sort of measurement-based findings.
I hope I am in no way implying that the Herus is a bad product. It just does not offer the performance:price tag for this type of market category (portable usb dac/amps). It also does not really seem to serve any particular product category well. Even if competing against stand-alone dacs or desktop amp/dac combos, it is hard to say that the Herus is a good deal when I can pick up a non-upgraded Bifrost for the same price point or the Magni/Modi combo for cheaper. Just my uncensored analysis of the item compared to current market offerings.
Against the Oppo HA-2 portable dac/amplifier:
MSRP: $299 - Portable solid state Class A/B amplifier with dac (ESS SABRE32 ES9018-K2M dac chip)
Design: The HA-2 has a larger rectangular form rather than the usb-stick shaped options covered so far. Dimensions are 68*157*12 mm and weighing 175 grams. The HA-2 also is leather-bound with a metal chassis. High-end aesthetics and build quality similar to the Astrapi.
Sound: The HA-2 is actually a bit brighter than the Astrapi, but retains a smooth non-peaky treble. The Astrapi does seem to tilt with a bit of warmth in comparison with dash of richness. The HA-2 has a better defined attack and cleaner decay as well giving wider space between notes with better defined edges. The HA-2 does not sound abrupt though or overly sharp walking that fine line between having enough treble energy and high frequency clarity, but not being fatiguing or shrill. Its frequency response is quite well balanced to my ears with very capable technical performance. Imaging and soundstage is very well done on the HA-2. I do personally feel that the HA-2 is better balanced for my tastes and has higher overall sound quality compared to the Astrapi. The Astrapi does have a bit more organic feeling to its presentation with a relaxing smooth presentation sprinkled with a hint of warmth.
Overall thoughts: The HA-2 is still my personal pick for primary external amplifier/dac solution after extensive research. It has everything that I am looking with other cool add-on features while keeping a very competitive performance at an affordable price point. I’ve done the direct comparison tests against much higher priced and well-recommended options, I still consider the HA-2 to be a ‘premium’ portable amp/dac combo with competitive performance above its price point.
Personal Pick: Application Specific. If just going just by sound quality alone, I would pick the HA-2. However, the Astrapi still offers relatively competitive performance with a similar well-balanced sound signature while being almost one third cheaper. If going out for a few quick errands, or going to meet some friends, or just quickly going to the gym… [hahah!! tricked you, I don’t go to the gym]... I actually grab the Astrapi. It offers that important convenience factor that most audiophile reviewers forget to mention. I don’t have to worry whether I charged its battery or go through the tedious process of strapping on rubber bands and different wires or carry anything additional heft in my pocket. The Astrapi is quick and easy without taking up any noticeable space. Still provides enough refinement to sound quality for me to remember grabbing, but so portable that it is basically invisible. I think your primary intended usage and overall budget will primarily determine which one is more suitable for your. If I was only going to purchase one portable device, I would get the HA-2. However, the Astrapi is actually the portable device I use more often. Easy of usage and convenience actually makes quite a significant large real-world difference that many reviewers never even mention.
Against the Schiit Bifrost Uber + Lyr 2 desktop tube hybrid amplifier:
MSRP: $519 + $449 - Dynamically Adaptive Class A/AB tube hybrid amplifier + (AKM4399 dac)
Design: Desktop solution, not portable at all. Chassis becomes extremely hot!
Sound: Fuller sound with subtle tube coloration and tube warmth with that noticeably second harmonic distortion for a “tubey” sound. I personally find the Lyr 2 to have a very well-refined balance of an engaging euphonic richness while maintaining great detail resolution and technical performance. The Bifrost Uber offers a nice subtle touch of brightness that really balances out the combination very well. Extremely good sound quality attributes including spacious soundstage, precise imaging, tight transient response, vivid sense of energy, sturdy control throughout the dynamic range, and highly resolving of low-level micro-details. Superior overall detail resolution, clarity, and definition without being too bright. Superior technical performance in all categories against the Astrapi. I do feel that the Astrapi does offer a similar overall balance to its sound signature and that is why I enjoy it. There is definitely significant improvements in realism, tonality, richness of textural resolution, fuller body to notes, and more weighty presence to the sound on the Schiit stack that is missing on the Astrapi.
Overall thoughts: Not a direct competitor product. This is my primary personal set-up out of everything that I currently own. The Schiit Bifrost and Lyr 2 is a very strong performer at its price point, among one of the most competitive options in the sub-$1000 market. This combo should and does beat out the Astrapi by a significant margin. While the relative differences were smaller than I expected (since as always most reviewers tend to greatly exaggerate differences, which is actually just inherent to the process of writing about subtle differences), but there was a significant and noticeable difference. I do note similarities with the practical but beautiful design of Schiit products and the Cozoy Astrapi. I do think Schiit overall focus on sound quality over all else will prevent them from designing a similar product with such a small form factor, but the Astrapi has that industrial classiness to its look reminiscent of Schiit design.
Personal Pick: Schiit Bifrost Uber + Lyr 2 in desktop applications. Cannot use in portable situations. Will probably burn a hole in your pocket and give you 1st degree burns if you tried to carry it in a custom-crafted giant-sized audiophile pocket™, but I would still totally be down to do that.
Against the Woo WA7+WA7tp desktop tube amplifier:
MSRP: $1,398 - Pure Class A transformer-coupled tube amplifier (TI PCM5102A dac)
Design: Desktop solution, not portable at all. Can get quite hot. Very engaging unique design.
Sound: WA7 has a significant additional warmth added to its sound signature with quite apparent but not unpleasant coloration. Often called characterized as a “rich warm gooey” or “tubey” euphonic distortion. The Astrapi does not add that extra emphasis of warmth, richness, coloration to the extreme that the WA7 does with the WA7’s euphonic distortion. Soundstage differences were difficult to ascertain. I did feel like the Astrapi had a noticeably larger L-R width, the height and depth too close to call. The more intimate presentation of the WA7 did appear to give a closer front row seat feeling to the music. Imaging more precise on the Astrapi. While the WA7 did have less note separation with a greater ‘blurring effect’ to the edges of notes, the Astrapi did also have a subtle roundness to its notes to a lesser degree. The WA7 definitely presents an extremely organic presentation with that ‘liquid’ smoothness to changes in textural patterns, but the Astrapi also captures a bit of that ‘liquid-smooth’ organic element with its presentation. The Astrapi is definitely more clinical than the WA7 though with relatively clean resolution of low-level micro-details. The WA7 does have a very good sense of micro-detail retrieval though. The WA7 still captured the micro-details, but sounded more faded into the background and swirled into the rest of the music in comparison, whereas low-level micro-details were easily to pick out on the Astrapi but still quite faint in volume.
Overall thoughts: Not a direct competitor product. I find that the WA7 is a more geared for people looking for engagement and richness rather than transparency and lack of coloration. It does excel at delivering on those fronts with its heavy warm emphasis, additional liquid smoothness throughout the entire frequency response, and pleasantly colored sound signature.
Personal Pick: Headphone pairing specific. I would actually generally lean more towards the Cozoy Astrapi for its cleaner presentation over the rich coloration of the WA7. The one exception is that the LCD-X sounds extremely engaging and fun on the WA7.
Against the Oppo HA-1 (demo unit):
MSRP: $1,119 - Discrete Class A solid state amplifier (ESS SABRE32 ES9018 dac)
Design: Desktop solution, not portable at all. Can get slightly hot. Very appealing practical design
Sound: The HA-1 does offer a significant improvement in overall sound quality. Most noticeable aspects is deeper sub-bass extension, stronger bass impact, much better note spacing, better sense of definition to notes, improved clarity, and better dynamic control with a greater dynamic range. More subtle improvements include the soundstage is wider in all directions with more precise imaging. There is also improved textural detail retrieval, improved micro-detail retrieval. The HA-1 can pick up low-level detail that the Astrapi misses. The HA-1 provides a more realistic tonality to my ears with more subtle textural details and more natural fullness, but I do still think the Astrapi offers a similar well-balanced sound signature.
Overall thoughts: Not a direct competitor product. However, both products do offer a similar further refinement in sound quality while maintaining the overall sound signature of the headphones being used. The largest difference is the relative degree of difference. The increased depth of sub-bass extension and better bass quality is the most easily to notice sound quality improvements.
Personal Pick: Oppo HA-1 for desktop application. Cannot use the HA-1 in portable situations (but that is why I own the HA-2 hahah)
***possible future additional external component comparisons (including the Liquid Carbon)***
Headphone Pairings with the Cozoy Astrapi:
*******Important Notes*******
Tested each headphone listed on the Astrapi against the same headphone with:
  1. no amplification
  2. the Oppo HA-2 dac/amplifier
  3. the Schiit Bifrost Uber > Schiit Lyr 2 desktop tube hybrid amplifier (my personal preferred set-up for desktop usage)
Also tested on the Samsung Galaxy S5 as the source to simulate probably real-world usage
***Added pairing analysis on Flare Audio R2A & R2A pro IEMs and Ether on 8/13/15***
Since I view the Astrapi’s to actually provide quite a clean well-balanced sound that is true to the headphone’s original character, I will be focusing more on whether or not I can detect clipping with the different headphones I try or if there is anything missing when I am using the Astrapi.
With Bose SoundTrue In-Ear Headphones: consumer-orientated in-ear headphones
Does not require amplification. Does not scale significantly with external components.
+Very enjoyable pairing; no clipping; highly recommended
With the Flare Audio R2A & R2Pro: single dynamic IEM
Does not require amplification. Does scale with external components
+Good pairing! Works quite well with no hiss
This is actually my new favorite portable pairing when I am on-the-go wanting to minimize bulk. Increases resolution and adds "liquid" sense of smooth refinement to the R2A/R2Pro while keeping its quickness and overall sound signature.
With Oppo PM-3: portable closed over-ear planar magnetic
Does not require amplification. Does noticeable scale with different external components.
+Very enjoyable pairing; no clipping; highly recommended and my most often used pairing.
The Astrapi adds a bit of refinement in technical sonic attributes while maintaining the PM-3’s well-balanced sound signature.
Audeze EL-8 closed: portable closed over-ear planar magnetic
Does not require amplification. Does slightly scale with different external components.
~Not the best pairing (mainly due to my dislike for the EL-8’s sound signature); no clipping
The EL-8 does benefit from the Astrapi’s smoothness which nicely polishes the noticeable coloration at the edges of notes in the upper-midrange and lower treble. Also helps a bit with the raspiness of male vocals and sibilance for certain female singers. For the EL-8, I personally prefer to pair it with external components with an extremely warm coloration, like the WA7. I view the EL-8 requiring extensive “tuning” to be enjoyable by me, so the Astrapi’s clean refinements is not as good a match.
AKG K553 Pro: full-sized closed over-ear dynamic headphones
Does not require amplification. Does scale with different external components.
+Enjoyable pairing for stock earpads, +Acceptable pairing with Brainwavz earpads; no clipping; recommended
The K553’s subtly emphasized brightness combined with a solid bass presence was not altered with this dac/amp. Great soundstaging and imaging kept. ***Update 6/21/15: Removed impressions based on Brainwavz velour earpads as measured to change K553 sound signature. Link HERE.*** With the stock pleather earpads, the K553 sounds very well-balanced to my ears, measures extremely well, and the Astrapi's revealing presentation very works well with it.
Mr. Speakers Alpha Prime: full-sized closed over-ear planar magnetic
Benefits from amplification. Does significantly scale with different external components.
+Surprisingly good pairing; no clipping detected at normal listening volumes; recommended
While planar magnetic headphones generally benefit from additional power, the Astrapi actually works surprisingly quite well with the Primes. Most noticeable difference is that there is a more intimate presentation on the Astrapi compared to the Lyr 2. The intimate presentation actually works quite well bringing the midrange into closer focus. The Lyr 2 has cleaner note spacing and better definition between notes. Imaging, speed, and soundstage also noticeably improved on the Lyr 2. A bit more “blurriness” to the edges of the notes of the Astrapi, but it does contribute to a very enjoyable smoothness to the sound. More mid-bass emphasis on the Astrapi compared to the Lyr 2. The Primes do noticeably scale up with nicer external components, but the Astrapi performs quite adequately.
AKG K7xx (1st edition from Massdrop): full-sized open over-ear dynamic
Benefits from amplification. Does significantly scale with different external components.
+Enjoyable pairing; no clipping; recommended
I personally think the K7xx is among the most competitive mid-tier open headphones. It does have an extremely revealing and unforgiving sound. The K7xx is highly resolving of the characteristics of external components used in the chain and requires high quality source files. I personally think that too overly warm/colored external components take away from the K7xx’s strengths. The Astrapi keeps the well-balanced sound signature off the K7xx and is a good match. The K7xx does scale up quite a bit with nicer components though.
Hifiman HE-560: full-sized open over-ear planar magnetic
Definitely requires amplification. Does very significantly scale with different external components. Able to reach listenable volumes. Acceptable pairing, but better amplifier options out there. Did not test extensively using this set-up as I feel like the HE-560 needs a dedicated amplifier to truly shine.
MrSpeakers Ether: full-sized open over-ear planar magnetic headphones
Does not require amplification. Does very significantly scale with different external components
+Very nice pairing for portable usage. No clipping detected.
The Ether is quite easy to drive. While I would recommend a nice dedicated desktop amplifier for the Ether, the Astrapi works well with the Ether adding a bit of an additional treble sparkle to my ears which is quite enjoyable.
With the Audeze LCD-X: full-sized open over-ear planar magnetic headphones
Does not require amplification. Does noticeable scale with different external components.
+Enjoyable pairing; no clipping at normal listening volumes
The Astrapi can drive the LCD-X and works very well. Noticeable improvement in detail resolution. On nicer components, there will be more bass impact and a more realistic tonality with better speed and improved dynamic range. I've also personally found improvements in treble presentation on the Schiit stack. However, the Astrapi quite a good entry-level pick for the LCD-X.The LCD-X has a very good scaling capabilities, so can possibly think about investing further on external components for it.
With the Hifiman HE-1000 beta unit: full-sized open over-ear planar magnetic
Require amplification and scales very well.
+Can reach acceptable volume levels and sounds acceptable, would recommend investing in a nicer external component set-up for the HE-1k
Overall thoughts on headphone pairings: The Astrapi maintains the sound signature of each headphone while adding some technical improvements over running directing out of the source device. Nicer external components will add further refinement, but the Astrapi is a very well-balanced dac/amp combo that should work well with any headphone as long as you already enjoy that headphone’s sound signature.
Value Judgement:
The Cozoy Astrapi currently retails for $129.99. As a portable dac/amplifier in the sub-$150 price category, the Astrapi faces a pretty crowded and competitive niche. However, it does have a few qualities that make it very unique from alternative options.
1) The Astrapi holds the exclusive distinction of being the smallest and lightest portable dac/amplifier combination currently on the market (as far as I am currently aware of at time of posting, 6/18/15).
2) The Astrapi is also one of the very few dac options that will work natively with iOS without the need of special wires (the $29 Apple Camera Connection Kit or Apple USB Camera Adapter for usage with 30 pin Connector or Lightning Connector iPhones/iPads respectively). The only other portable dac/amp combo product currently available on the market that also works without any special adapters is the much larger-sized Oppo HA-2 at $299 (which I also own).
While I did initially think that it seemed slightly pricey at $129, but there are actually hardly any other dac/amplifiers combinations priced below it (portable or nonportable). Below is a list of relevant alternative market offerings.
Key: Red = Cozoy Astrapi, Green = dac only, Purple = built-in USB connector staying flash-drive sized, Blue = styled like the USB-stick options but slightly larger (built-in usb connector or no internal battery), Black = larger shape (possible has internal battery)
HiFimeDIY Sabre Android DAC ONLY, no amp ($30)
HiFimeDIY Sabre U2 DAC ONLY, NO no amp ($57)
Stoner Acoustics UD120 DAC ONLY, no amp ($69)
Schiit Fulla (MSRP $79, not well suited for portable usage)
Fiio E07k Andes ($89 on Amazon - MSRP $99.95)
Cozoy Astrapi (current pricing $129.99; to my knowledge never sold at a higher price point, does not require any additional adapter cables for iOS or Android)
Fiio E17k Alpen 2 ($139.99 on Amazon - MSRP $249.99)
Audioengine D3 ($149 on Amazon; MSRP $189)
Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2 ($149 MSRP)
Meridian Explorer (first generation: $149 on Amazon, MSRP $299)
Fiio E18 Kunlun ($159 on Amazon - MSRP $299.95)
HRT Music Streamer III ($165.95 on Amazon; MSRP $200)
Audioengine D1 ($169 on Amazon, geared more for desktop usage)
HRT Microstreamer ($169.95 on Amazon, MSRP $190)
LH Geek Out 450 (currently sold out, used at $175, MSRP unknown)
Creative Sound Blaster E5 ($199.99)
Leckerton UHA-4 ($199)
LH Geek Out 1000 ( $199 on Amazon, MSRP $)
Beyerdynamic A200p ($219.99 on Amazon, MSRP $349; unique small box shape)
JDS Labs C5D ($249)
HRT Music Streamer II+ ($249 on Amazon; MSRP $349)
HRT Music Streamer Pro ($269.99 on Amazon; MSRP: $499)
Leckerton UHA-6S MKII ($279)
LH Geek Out 100 (MSRP $289, more for IEMs)
Meridian Explorer 2 ($299)
Oppo HA-2 ($299, no adapter cables required for iOS or Android)
Sony PHA-1A ($299)
Resonessence Herus ($350)
HRT Music Streamer HD (379.95 on Amazon, MSRP $499)
Leckerton UHA760 ($399)
Resonessence Herus+ ($425)
Fostex HP-P1 ($449 on Amazon, MSRP $799)
Sony PHA-2 ($449.99 on Amazon, MSRP $599.99)
iFi Audio micro iDSD ($499)
CEntrance Mini-M8 ($599.99)
Meridian Director ($599)
Centrance HiFi-M8 ($699)
My Overall Scoring: (as the side bar reflects averages)
Audio Quality: 8/10
Design: 10/10
Quality: 10/10
Value: 9/10
Do note that I personally feel that headphones contribute to the majority of the sound quality improvements, so I always recommend to allocate budget accordingly. So I personally would recommend upgrading your headphones/IEMs until you find one you really love and no longer want to upgrade any further prior to investing too heavily into external components. It’s been my personal experience that the higher up in the price ladder I climb for external components, there is an exponential increase in cost for smaller and smaller sonic improvements. Realistically speaking, it is usually not really “worth” it to spend too much money on external components as many claims of sonic improvement are often exaggerated. The first jump from no external components to adding a dac/amp will be the largest and will generally only offer subtle refinements rather than extremely drastic changes if tuned towards a transparent neutral presentation. The Cozoy Astrapi is relatively inexpensive and delivers very nice sonic refinements while being extremely convenient. Good choice for those people who consider the performance:price ratio and want to avoid diminishing returns.
Ounce-for-ounce, the Cozoy Astrapi delivers extremely high sonic performance in a tiny package and punches well for its category. It offers noticeable refinements to overall sound quality without altering the sound signature of each individual headphone. Its smooth presentation works well maintaining an enjoyable, non-fatiguing presentation without skimping on detail resolution.
The Astrapi has an unrivaled design and it is has the best portability compared to all other competitors. Smallest form factor and lightest weight of a dac/amplifier combo that is currently on the market. It is extremely practical and convenient to use on-the-go. Ease of usage is actually quite important factor as it determines how often the device will realistically be used. I have found that my larger audiophile stacks often get left at home as they are too troublesome to carry out and about. Dealing with thick stacks, multiple wires, and rubber bands can be quite inconvenient, so I actually use the Astrapi the most out of all my other portable gear when on-the-go.
This product is an extremely competitive product for audiophiles who desire an extremely small, lightweight, convenient portable option that provides a clean refinement to their portable set-up. Best suited for lower impedance headphones, but can still drive some of the less picky planar magnetic headphones. Will have better results pairing the Astrapi with a more powerful amplifier for planar magnetic headphones.
I would be hesitant to recommend the Astrapi for people who are looking to "tune" their sound signature with additional external components as there is not actually very significant changes to the overall frequency response with the addition of the Astrapi. The Astrapi will not give you a “dramatic change” in sound signature which would lead to that ‘wow factor’ or excitement like the Audioquest Dragonfly. However, it will offer very enjoyable non-offensive sound signature with great refinements in sound quality. There are also higher performance options available if your budget extends higher or portability is not necessary. For audiophiles who do not care about the size of their stack or convenience, there are other options on the market that may be able to squeeze out a subtle bit more performance benefits.
I highly recommend the Astrapi to pair with headphones already have a sound signature you enjoy. The Astrapi works extremely well as an entry-level all-in-one device for newbies or a complementary highly portable device for veteran audiophiles on-the-go.
My testing set-up (can see Dragonfly, HA-2, Astrapi, and numerous headphones)
Product Link:
CTC Audio (the Official Distributor for Cozoy products in USA/Canda):
"My conclusion was that the Astrapi did not dramatically alter the sound signature of the source or add any significant additional coloration to your chain."

I'm a bit surprised. Theoretically I would think Astrapi is completely independent from the source. If you play 16bit/44.1kHz files, these are passed in digital form to the Astrapi which decodes them and then passes through it's own DAC (completely bypassing the source DAC), amp, and then headphone out. I can't see why it would be _altering_ the sound signature of the source...
"The Dragonfly is traditionally thought as the gold standard for small, affordable, great value dac/amplifier. "

What about the Centrance DACport? Even though a slight touch bulkier, I would have thought that in the small size DACs market they were the reference point... Did you ever get the chance to compare Astrapi and DACPort?
I'm a little late here...
Thanks for this wonderful review:thumbsup:


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: great value, stylish design, versatile, clean sound signature & solid SQ, unique topology/design as fully discrete Class A portable amp
Cons: amplifier only, larger & weight size compared to some competing portable amplifiers (Class A/B), lack of accessories, room for design improvements
Aune B1 portable headphone amplifier Review
  1. Review unit provided by Aune during its worldwide review tour. Link to program details here
  2. Extensively tested over a period of more than full week (with an extended out-of-town trip)
  3. Will continue to use the B1 for the remaining one week period allocated for the review sample & will update this review as needed
  4. ***UPDATE 6/10/15: I have shipped out the B1 review unit on a USA demo tour (sign-up here)
  5. This is an unpaid and uncensored review covering my own personal subjective thoughts and opinions. I am NOT a professional reviewer. As always, I hope this is an enjoyable and informative read, and remember that ymmv!
Intro: Focusing on achieving high quality sound at a competitive price point while utilizing premium materials and uniquely eye-catching aesthetics, Aune is a Chinese company based in Wuhan specializing in high-end audio equipment. Founded in 2004, Aune is the brand of the largest Chinese audio technology community, Aune’s current product line-up include the Aune S16 (desktop usb dac at $699), T1 Mk2 (desktop usb tube dac with a solid state amplifier at $229), the X1 Pro (portable dac/amplifier at $249), and the newly released B1 portable headphone amplifier ($199). The B1 embodies Aune’s philosophy and unique approach with its distinctive styling, emphasis on premium components, and unconventional topology for a portable headphone amplifier.
Tech: The B1 is a fully discrete Class A portable headphone amplifier with its main amplifying circuit comprised of individual triode components. MSRP $199.
  1. Pure Class A output
  2. Fully discrete design with no opamps in its entire amplifying circuit
  1. Adjustable Current Output Control (two settings): 40mA and 20mA of static current at 32 ohms, both operating as Class A
  2. Adjustable Gain (two settings): low (5dB) and high (15dB)
Official Technical Parameters:
  1. Impedance: 16-200R
  2. Size: 65*110*18 (mm)
  3. Weight: 230g
  4. typ THD+n <0.0008% @ 1kHz 600RZ/ -0db
  5. SNR > 124dBA @ 600RZ
  6. Flatness +/- 0.15dB @ 10Hz-20kHz
  7. Crosstalk < 100dB @ 1kHz 600RZ
  8. CLASS A: 25mW/16R, 50mW/32R, 100mW/300R
Official Battery Specifications:
At 32 ohms, the B1’s 4000mA lithium battery provides for 5 hours of continuous current in the high current mode and provides 10 hours continuous current in the low current mode.
***Will update this review with my personal real-world battery life tests***
Design: The Aune B1 is an extremely gorgeous device with a very futuristic and gadgety look. Its styling is serious and stylish enough to draw attention and be appreciated without being too gaudy or garish. It can easily sit unobtrusively in professional settings, especially if placed with the leather side facing up. My geeky side found the view into the insides of the amplifier to be quite exciting and appealing.
The B1 is built with an entirely aluminum chassis bound in synthetic leather covering one side and tempered gorilla glass windows to view the discrete components of the amplifier on the other side. There are two bewitching green LED lights that shine on the circuitry of the amplifier when switched on, drawing your focus towards its premium discrete components. Both sides are well decorated and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Special attention was paid to creating a high quality chassis on the B1 with all six sides of the device finished by CNC (Computer-Numerical Control). Anodic oxidation with brushing treatment is applied to final surface with lettering applied via laser. More information about CNC here. More information about anodic oxidation here. On the window side, the name of the device is written in white above the windows with white labeling inscribed at the bottom edge. The three icons are the FCC label, WEEE symbol, and CE mark. There is the inclusion of an unique individual serial number on each device, giving it a premium touch. The leather on the other side also enhances the premium feeling of the device.
Aune B1 Leather Side
Viewing from the ‘front side,’ the volume knob is placed at the center top with line-in jack on the left and headphone out jack on right. The American-made conductive plastic volume potentiometer functions without any flaws, turning quite smoothly throughout its range with appropriate sense of resistance. The placement of the volume control is very thoughtful. I found it was very unlikely to accidentally adjust the volume even when taking it in and out of my pockets or carrying it in a bag. It is extremely convenient to adjust the volume while it is in your pocket without taking the device out.
Top View of the B1 (minus sign obscured by the glare)
One con noted about the volume pot is that its entire surface is monocolor without any indicator bar to dedicate what volume level is currently used. It is difficult to gauge what volume settings are currently applied or which volume settings are commonly used with different headphones. This can result in accidentally blasting the volume of the amplifier when switching between different headphones or different source devices. I recommend getting into the habit of just always turning down the volume knob prior to usage.
The bottom of the B1 has the micro-usb input for charging located closer to the left side. Left side (going from top to bottom) has a gain switch, adjustable current switch, green LED power-on indicator light, and a power on switch. The right side only has a single LED indicator light for battery/charging along with a small push button to trigger the light.
After pressing the button the the right side, the green battery/charging life indicator will flash a different number of times (1-5) to indicate the percentage of battery life remaining. While charging, the indicator light will continuously blink. Upon reaching full charge, the indicator light will be steadily on. Do note that pressing the button while charging does not do anything.
   B1's Left Side with switches                   B1's Top Side with volume control        B1's Right Side with battery indicator
I do believe that you will not get any additional battery saving with no music playing or lower volume level on your source since the B1 amplifier will supplies a steady continuous current at all times when it is on. I did find that the battery life per current mode seemed to average pretty consistent times quite close to the official estimates. I found it has difficult to catch exactly how long it takes for the battery life to fully charge in my tests, but I estimated that it takes at most 4 hours. In real-world usage, I do not always actively check the battery life, so the device does sometimes suddenly run out of power on me.
My suggestion for improvement on the battery life/charging indicator would be offering another color (such as red) to indicate when the battery life is extremely low. The inclusion of a red color can also be used to indicate charging instead of the current blinking green LED. This would make it much more noticeable when the device becomes fully charged or low on battery with the obvious color change.
Accessories: A bit lacking. Comes with a 24 inch total length usb to micro usb cable for charging and a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable with straight plugs measuring 6.5 inches when plugged in. Below I list the items I feel needs to be bundled as well as items that would be nice to have.
Things NOT currently included, but I think should definitely be included:
  1. Short right-angle cable (3.5mm to 3.5mm) for portable usage
  2. x2 rubber bands for stacking purposes
  3. Longer straight-angle cable (3.5mm to 3.5mm) for desktop usage
Things NOT currently included, but would be nice additions (not as necessary):
  1. Wall charger
  2. Some type of carrying case
I personally found (for my needs) I would need to use two additional 3rd party 3.5mm to 3.5mm cables. The included cable was just a bit too short for desktop usage and just a bit too long for portable use. I would recommend purchasing an additional short right-angle to right angle cable for portable usage and a long straight connector cable for desktop usage.
2015-06-0219.05.31blackwires.jpg      2015-06-0219.05.54blackwindowswires.jpg
B1's leather side while connected to source                             
B1's window side while connected to source​

Portable Usage: I rate the B1’s portability ranging from acceptable to great, dependent on user preferences. I personally found to B1 to work well for my needs in the portable setting.
The B1 has larger dimensions and a heftier weight than many other competing portable headphone amplifier designs that commonly employ Class A/B designs rather than Class A. At the same time, the B1 is smaller and lighter than the only other pure Class A portable amplifier using discrete components that I am personally aware of: the now-discontinued Just Audio AHA-120 (80*126*26mm with a weight of 332 grams). I do personally feel that its size and weight is quite manageable as a portable device in real-life usage. My personal measurements for the B1 was 65mm*119mm*18mm.
Size Comparison between the Aune B1 vs Oppo HA-2
There are no rubber bands or other materials included to use in creating a portable stack. Options for stacking will likely include purchasing third-party thick ‘audiophile’ rubber bands designed for stacking portable audio equipment. I personally prefer using third-party velcro-type solutions like the 3m dual lock over rubber bands for stacking equipment, but I was unable to try this option since my B1 is a review unit. The 3M dual lock gives a stronger-than-velcro attachment between devices with an adhesive backing to attach the dual lock strips onto the devices. I can see possibilities for placement of velcro-type strips on the window side of the device above and below the windows for a secure fit.
I would personally recommend stacking the device with the window against the back of your portable player/smartphone as the leather material makes for a very nice grip. At home usage, I like to leave the windows face up to see the cool lights and discrete circuit design. If the light becomes bothersome, simply flip the device over.
One other note for portable usage: this product can get a bit warm on high gain 40mA operation. On the lower setting, I had no concerns about the heat generated by this amplifier and feel comfortable leaving it in my pocket. I personally also felt comfortable with the heat generated during high current operation, but this can be a subjective thing.
I think that the B1 is well-suited for portable usage as long as you do not mind its slightly larger size and weight, and the generation of a bit of heat. Despite lacking a carrying case, the B1 is extremely transportable with a very durable and rugged feeling to its design.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The current adjustment switch should NOT be toggled while the amplifier is on and headphones are connected. This can damage your headphones!! During my extended usage of the B1, I never accidentally toggled of the current mode switch. However, this is quite an important thing to be aware of. I highly recommend testing whether you experience any switch toggling when placing and removing the B1 from your pocket without any headphones connected. I would recommend covering this switch with a small piece of black electrical tape if you have any concerns of accidentally flipping this switch. I do think that a different switch design for the current adjustment that makes it harder to change settings is an area for improvement.
***Update 6/5/15: I have experienced toggling on the power switch accidentally while the B1 was in my bag. Would recommend placing it in the bag with the switch side facing up to prevent this***
Sound Quality:
  1. Dell XPS m1530 & Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone > Combination of FLAC files, Tidal HiFi lossless, and Spotify Premium Ogg Vorbis
  2. Please use this resource for the definitions of the audiophile terms I am using:
I found it was possible to experience a dramatic improvement in sound quality by adding the B1 for headphones that require additional amplification (especially if the previous set-up was underpowered). The relative differences between different amplifiers are much more subtle. The B1 still remained quite competitive among my personal collection of amplifiers.
The first thing noticeable about the B1’s sound is that it presents a very full bodied sound, but the sound signature remains extremely clear. The B1 can initially appear a bit tonally warm due to better sense of fullness and body presented, but there does not appear to be an overemphasis of warmth (especially apparent in a direct comparison against the warmer-sounding Woo Audio WA7 tube amplifier). The B1 does strongly present a sense of richness and fullness to notes. The instrumental “presence” is very realistic, providing a very lively and engaging sound that seems to be dancing in the room with you.
The B1 never sounds extremely sharp or bright, but still maintains an highly accurate and detailed sound. Do note that I do not possess any pair of headphones that I find to be overly bright in their presentation. I do imagine that if paired with an extremely bright sounding headphone, the B1 will retain that tonal presentation. There did seem to be a bit of an additional sense of clarity and air for headphones that originally possessed that sonic attribute. However, the B1 would not add airiness or crispiness to headphones that did not originally have that kind of presentation.
I found that there appeared to a bit of softening to the transition of the notes due to the nice smoothness at the end of the notes rather than a more abrupt edgier shift between notes. The spacing between notes remained adequate, but very dependent on the headphones used to test. However, the B1 was still very capable at producing clean hard-hitting attack transients with very realistic weight and power behind each note. The bass attack was extremely realistic and punchy. The rich full body and presence underlying the tones was still kept in check with a great sense of control over the bass speed. Attack transients very well represented and extremely tight. A barely audible lengthening of the decay could be detected in comparison. This does provide a bit of a nice smoothness to the sound signature, allowing the music flows very cohesively without ever sounding too abrupt. The B1 helped tighten up the bass notes on headphones with a boomier or flabbier bass response.
The B1 adds a really engaging vibrant element about the bass. There may be a hint of extra mid-bass impact that really brings out a more visceral presence to the bass notes. The B1 also presents a subtly tighter bass and subtle sharpening of treble detail with switching between current modes for certain headphones (most noticeably the orthodynamic headphones in my collection). I felt like there was a noticeable improvement on the HE-560 and HE-1000 using the higher current mode. For the PM-3 and LCD-X, the differences between modes was harder to detect.
The texture and micro-detail of the notes within the midrange was smoothly rendered. The sonic improvements found within the mid-range varied depending on the headphones tested. Do note that changes that I will discuss in this paragraph are quite subtle adjustments. Headphones with a more organic-focused presentation such as the LCD-X became even smoother and more liquid with very fluid changes in tone. While the HE-560 already has a stellar midrange presentation with a high resolution for revealing micro-details, I did feel that the HE-560 greatly benefited from the extra sense of fullness to the body of its notes as its clinical nature sometimes gave the feeling of a bit of thinness throughout the frequency response. The AKG K553 and K7xx maintained a very good balance between an analytical presentation and an organic focus with the pairing of the B1. The PM-3 experienced a notable improvement in its overall sound quality with its smooth articulate midrange further refined. While there were variable amounts of improvements for the mid-range depending on the headphones, I found the B1 to continue to emphasis the sonic characteristics of the midrange each headphone. It did not greatly alter the overall presentation or tuning of different headphones, but presented additional polish to their respective differing sonic characteristics. I did find that the B1 to be a quite transparent and clean sounding amplifier.
I would not characterize the presentation as more intimate or more spacious, but the B1 accurately reflects the presence range and soundstage of the headphones and source tracks being used. It do get a very realistic sense of the instruments being in the room around me. Imaging qualities of the headphones are maintained or even improved. The sound stage significantly improved on the PM-3 as it was easy to hear the difference with the PM-3 slightly intimate presentation. For the other headphones, there was variable subtle improvements to the sound stage, but could be very difficult to detect.
Overall, the B1 provides a highly resolving, rich, articulate sound that stays true to the headphones’ sound signature.
I decided to use a sampling of currently popular songs from the Billboard top charts as test tracks in addition to my usual test tracks. Covers a wide variety of genres. My list of usual test tracks can be found in my other reviews. List split by genre and ordered alphabetically by artist
Alternative: “Uma Thurman” by Fall Out Boy, “Renegades” by X Ambassadors
Asian Pop: “Haru Haru” by Bigbang, “Adoration” by David Tao, “Tornado” by Jay Chou, “If Only” by JJ Lin, “The Third Person And I” by Jolin Tsai, “Love Song” by Rain, “Wedding Dress”“by Taeyang, “Heartbeat” by Wang Lee Hom
Classical: The following is all performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded by Abbey Road Studios, Royal Festival Hall, and Henry Wood Hall. “Adagio for Strings” by Barber, “Bagatelle In A Minor, WoO 59, Für Elise” by Beethoven, “Nocturne No. 2 In E-Flat Major, Op. 9” by Chopin, “Suite bergamasque, L 75: Clair de Lune” by Debussy, “Symphony No. 5: Adagietto” by Mahler, “The Magic Flute, K. 620: Overture” by Mozart, “Canon In D Major” by Pachelbel, “Finlandia, Op. 26” by Sibelius, “The Four Seasons, Op. 8, Spring: Allegro” by Vivaldi, “The Valkyrie: Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner
Country: “Smoke” by A Thousand Horses, “Little Toy Guns” by Carrie Underwood, “Say You Do” by Dierks Bentley, “Sippin’ On Fire” by Florida Georgia Line, “Wild Child” by Kenny Chesney, “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town, “Take Your Time” by Sam Hunt, “Diamond Rings And Old Barstools” by Tim McGraw
Electronic: “Waiting for Love” by Avicii, “Outside” by Calvin Harris, “Get Low” by Dillon Francis & DJ Snake, “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding, “Lean On” by Major Lazer & MO, “I Want You To Know” by Zedd
Jazz: “I Didn’t Know About You” by Duke Ellington, “Blue Train” by John Coltrane, “The Dreamer” by Jose James, “Songbird” by Kenny G, “There WIll Never Be Another You” by Lester Young, “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “So What” by Miles Davis
Folk: “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran, “Budapest” by George Ezra
Funk: “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars
Indie Rock: “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, “Geronimo” by Sheppard
Pop: “I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen, “Heartbeat Song” by Kelly Clarkson, “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, “American Oxygen” by Rihanna, “Elastic Heart” by Sia, “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift
R&B: “One Last Time” by Ariana Grande, “I Bet” by Ciara, “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony, “Want to Want Me” by Jason Derulo, “Nobody Love” by Tori Kelly, “Slow Motion” by Trey Songz, “Earned It” by The Weeknd
Reggae: “I Need Your Love” by Shaggy
Rap & Hip Hop: “Energy” by Drake, “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap, “GDFR” by Flo Rida & Lookas & Sage, “Be Real” by Kid Ink & Dej Loaf, “Time of Our Lives” by Pitbull & Ne-Yo, “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth
Rock: “Bright” by Echosmith, “Sugar” by Maroon 5, “Believe” by Mumford & Sons
Trap: “You Know You Like It” by DJ Snake & AlunaG
Soul: “Honey, I’m Good” by Andy Grammer, “Take Me To Church” by Hozier, “FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna & Kanye West & Paul McCartney
Soundtrack: “Skyfall” by Adele, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, “Atlas” by Coldplay, “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows, “Tron Legacy” by Daft Punk, “Will Hunting Main Title” by Danny Elfman, “Let It Go” by Demi Lovato, “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, “May It Be” by Enya, “Aggressive Expansion” by Hans Zimmer, “Concerning Hobbits” by Howard Shore, “Spirited Away - One Summer Day” by Joe Hisaishi, “Star Wars Main Theme” by John Williams, “I See the Light” by Mandy Moore & Zachary Levi, “The Godfather Love Theme” by Nino Rota, “Everything Is Awesome!!” by Tegan & Sara & the Lonely Island, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

Headphone Pairings:
*******Important Notes*******
Tested with my source volume maxed, only controlling volume via the B1's pot
Tested each headphone listed on the B1 against the same headphone with:
  1. no amplification
  2. the Oppo HA-2 lineout to amplifier only
  3. the Schiit Lyr 2 desktop tube hybrid amplifier (best amplifier in my collection imo)
I could not fit my thoughts on how my entire collection of headphone pairs with the Aune B1 in this review.
Link HERE for further detailed impressions on specific headphone pairings with the Aune B1.
Overall thoughts on headphone pairings: I do want to note that some of my comparative findings were quite extremely subtle changes that required very extensive direct comparisons and even then, I am still a bit hesitant about certain aspects of my findings. Please note that you may have different experiences due to differences in our headphone and amplifier background.
The B1 had minimal coloration to each headphones unique sound signature. Improves different aspects of sound quality on each headphone while maintaining the headphones’ original tuning and frequency response. Suitable pairing for headphones that you are already satisfied with its sound signature. Not suitable as a method for trying to ‘tune’ or adjust to the headphones’ sound signature, and will not ‘fix’ frequency response flaws of your headphones. Can cause a dramatic improvement for headphones that benefit or require additional power. More subtle degree of improvements for headphones that can be driven without an amplifier.
Direct Amplifier Comparisons:
*******Important Notes*******
  1. Compared the performance of each amplifier against the B1 using the AKG K7xx, PM-3, and HE-1000
  2. I believe the K7xx and PM-3 are very highly resolving neutral-orientated headphones that are strong representatives of high quality mid-tier open and closed categories. I also used the HE-1000 as it is the most resolving headphones in my collection with the greatest scaling potential.
  3. Please remember these are my own personal subjective impressions. YMMV!!!
Against the Cozoy Astrapi portable dac/amplifier:
MSRP: $139.99 (can be found for $129.99) - Portable usb dac with solid state amplifier (unspecified, but most likely Class A/B)
**Cannot compare against the amplifier portion only as it has no line-in**
Design: The Astrapi is much smaller, more compact in all dimensions, and much lighter. Very portable dac/amplifier combination. No internal battery and is powered by the connected smartphone.
Sound: Astrapi has bit warmer overall sound signature with a smoothed-over treble. While the Astrapi has very competitive sound quality at its price point, it is not as resolving and technically proficient as the B1. The most noticeable differences is that the B1 has a larger soundstage with better sense of imaging, a cleaner more neutral-oriented sound signature, more revealing of micro-details and subtle textural variations, more realistic sense of presence to the body of notes, and a better defined quicker transient response.
Overall thoughts: Astrapi has competitive performance for its price point and excels as a portable all-in-one amp/dac solution for those requiring the most minimalist slim design. Consider the Astrapi if portability, size, weight, and small form factor as your primary concerns. More suitable for those who enjoy a subtle hint of warmth in their sound signature.
Personal Pick: Application specific. I use the Cozoy Astrapi when extremely limited pocket space or when I do not want to carry a lot of extra stuff with me. The Astrapi is extremely portable and very convenient. The Astrapi does not require recharging as it draws power through the usb from the source device. I use the B1 during travel (vacations, airplane flights), commutes (subway, driving), or on-the-go when I don’t care about pocket space. Also, I would use the B1 if concerned about smartphone battery life as the B1 does not drain any power from your smartphone.
Against the Oppo HA-2 portable dac/amplifier:
MSRP: $299 - Portable solid state Class A/B amplifier with dac (ES9018-K2M dac chip)
**Compared against the HA-2’s amplifier section only via the line-in**
Design: The HA-2 is thinner, taller, and lighter with the dimension of 68*157*12 mm and weighing 175 grams. The HA-2 also is leather-bound with a metal chassis.
Sound: The sound quality between these two amplifiers was extremely difficult for me to personally detect even after very extensive direct comparisons. Only when using the HE-1000 could I really even begin to really pick what exact differences consistently. The only comments I am comfortable making is that there appears to be a bit extra sense of fullness and body on the B1. There may also be a subtle underlying richness on the B1 that is harder to detect on the HA-2. The B1 seems to have a harder hitting attack and a bit more texture to its bass notes. Perhaps a bit more cleanly defined bass and a subtle mid-bass emphasis compared to the HA-2. The B1 has a bit more breathiness. I do think the comparative differences is also dependant on the headphones that are being tested, so don’t take this comparison too seriously as ymmv! I do personally think that the differences between well-designed solid-state amplifiers can sometimes be extremely hard to pick out in a blind test. I view significant differences as sonic aspects that can be easily picked up within one or two quick direct comparisons. I had to do much more testing to find differences in performance between these two amplifiers. Overall, it appears that both these amplifiers are quite well-designed and provide extremely solid sound quality.
Overall thoughts: The HA-2 was my personal pick as an external amplifier/dac solution after extensive research, and I do personally find it well suited for my needs with very competitive performance at its price point. I consider it to be a ‘premium’ portable amp/dac combo while staying within the affordable price range. I used the HA-2’s amplifier via line-out to extensively compare against the B1.
Personal Pick: Tied. I think the different design characteristics of these two devices will primarily determine which one is more suitable for your intended application. The sound quality between the two devices are both extremely competitive and it was extremely difficult for me to consistently isolate the exact differences in sonic characteristics.
2015-06-0220.03.48b1vha2side.jpg        2015-06-0220.05.05ha-2vb1top.jpg
Oppo HA-2 vs Aune B1 Side View                                                 Oppo HA-2 vs Aune B1 Top View

Against the Resonessence Labs Herus usb dac/amplifier:
MSRP: $350 - USB dac with solid state amplifier (ES9010-2M dac chip)
**Cannot compare against only the amplifier section as no line-out**
Design: The Herus is thicker but much shorter in width and length. It also weighs less. The Herus’ boxy design makes it less unsuitable for portable usage (in my personal opinion) as it does not stack well. No internal battery, so will be powered by your smartphone or computer.
Sound: The Herus has an overall brighter sound signature and sounds ‘crispier.’ Extremely clinical-oriented presentation in my personal opinion. May sound sharp depending on your treble preferences.
Overall thoughts: The Herus is more suited for desktop usage, but extremely transportable. Can possibly use portably, but not the best choice for that application in my personal option. Consider the Herus is you require a stand-alone usb dac and amplifier combination and enjoy a brighter presentation.
Personal Pick: Aune B1 (especially B1 paired with a dac of my choosing)
Against the Schiit Lyr 2 desktop tube hybrid amplifier:
MSRP: $449 - Dynamically Adaptive Class A/AB tube hybrid amplifier
Design: Desktop solution, not portable at all. Chassis becomes extremely hot!
Sound: Slightly warmer and fuller sound with subtle tube coloration. Noticeably second harmonic distortion for a “tubey” sound. I personally find the Lyr 2 to have a very well-refined balance of an engaging euphonic richness while maintaining great detail resolution and technical performance. Extremely good sound quality attributes including spacious soundstage, precise imaging, tight transient response, vivid sense of energy, sturdy control throughout the dynamic range, and highly resolving micro-detail retrieval. I do think that the Lyr 2 is a superior technical performer though the B1 remains relatively competitive and close in overall performance.
Overall thoughts: Not a direct competitor product. This is my personal favorite amplifier out of my collection and I believe it is a strong performer at its price point. The relative difference in performance was much smaller and more subtle than I expected from my direct comparisons. I was really surprised by the relative closeness in performance of the B1 to the Lyr 2 despite the Lyr being one of the most competitive options in the sub-$1000 category. While I still think that the Lyr 2 offers the best overall sound for my tastes out of my amplifier collection, the B1 is quite technically capable amplifier and stays extremely competitive. The B1 may even be preferable for audiophiles do not enjoy the slight euphonic coloration provided by tube amplifiers and are looking for minimal coloration in their amplifier.
Personal Pick: Schiit Lyr 2 in desktop applications
Against the Woo WA7+WA7tp desktop tube amplifier:
MSRP: $1,398 - Pure Class A transformer-coupled tube amplifier
Design: Desktop solution, not portable at all. Can get a bit hot.
Sound: WA7 has a much warmer sound. Very noticeable coloration in direct comparison. Pleasant euphonic distortion, “richer sound.” Soundstage and imaging not quite as large or precise with a more intimate presentation and subtle emphasis in the presence range. A subtle rounding and smoothing of notes with a blurring effect in the transient response. Spacing between notes not as tight. A bit longer decay times. Focuses more on presenting a ‘liquid’ smoothness to the textural shifts rather than highlighting the micro-details.
Overall thoughts: Not a direct competitor product. The WA7 may be suitable for people looking for an all-in-one desktop pure tube amplifier solution with a dac. I feel that the WA7 is better for people who enjoy a very warm, smoothed-over, pleasantly colored sound signature, and strongly appreciate the aesthetic design of their products.
Personal Pick: Aune B1 in both portable and desktop applications (especially with a dac of my choosing over the WA7’s built-in dac)
***Update 6/5/15: I have done direct sighted comparisons of the B1 against a few other desktop amplifiers using the HE-1000. Not a fair comparison I know, but I have found that I could hear a subtle differences in sound quality against the Hifiman EF100. It was more difficult to hear the difference against the Audeze Deckard. There was a significant upgrade in sound quality in a sighted test (specifically with the Auralic Taurus MKII, Beyerdynamic A2, and McIntosh MHA1000). Differences were most pronounced in the MHA1000 which I found to be the best sounding amplifier out of all the ones I tried. Extremely life-like and gorgeous sound! The direct comparision with the MHA1000 is the first time I noticed extremely significant scaling with external components. A direct comparison against Chord Hugo did not yield that much of a sonic improvement to my ears. The sonic upgrade was significantly more easily noticeable on the MHA1000 over the Chord Hugo in my opinion. The Chord Hugo alone definitely does not drive the HE-1000 to its full potential. Using these amplifiers and dacs, I could definitely see how the HE-1000 scales up greatly with different components and would recommend investing in a more high-end amplifier for the HE-1000 to maximize its potential.***
***possible additional amplifier comparisons (including the Liquid Carbon and the Oppo HA-1)***
Value Judgement: Excellent
I would personally always recommend an external portable amplifier or external portable dac/amplifier combination over an audiophile-targeted dedicated audio player. You can normally get more competitive amplifier and dac components at the similar price point and you have more versatility as you are not tied down to the player’s UI and can use your smartphone/laptop as a source as well.
Considering that many smartphones and computers have quite capable dac chips nowadays, I do believe it is quite reasonable to skip an external dac (especially for a portable set-up). The nice thing about a standalone amplifier is you can choose your own dac pairing, ranging from inexpensive budget dacs such as offerings from Hifimediy or Stoner Acoustics or more expensive options like the Cypher Labs Algorhythm Solo.
Fiio E6 ($27.99)
JAD Labs cMoyBB v2.03 ($59)
Fiio E10k ($75)
Creative Sound Blaster ($49.99)
Fiio E11k 2 ($59)
Fiio E12 ($129)
Cayin C5 ($159.99 on Amazon, MSRP $239)
JDS Labs C5 ($189)
HeadAmp Pico ($349)
Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline P-51 Mustang ($375)
Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline Hornet ($370)
HeadAmp Pico Slim ($399)
Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline SR-71A ($450)
HeadAmp Pico Power ($475)
**Just Audio AHA-120 (~$535 in 2013, discontinued): fully discrete Class A portable amplifier
Fostex HP-V1 tube amplifier ($549)
Cypher Labs Algorhythm Duet ($599)
iQube V5 ($699)
**Note: Just Audio AHA-120 is a discontinued portable Class A amplifier using fully discrete components with a slightly different feature set that retailed at the $500+ price point.
Do note that if you are looking for a compact external amplifier/dac, the B1 will not suit your application.
Fiio E07k Andes ($89 on Amazon - MSRP $99.95,)
Fiio E17k Alpen 2 ($139.99 on Amazon - MSRP: $249.99,)
Fiio E18 Kunlun ($159 on Amazon - MSRP: $299.95)
Creative Sound Blaster E5 ($199.99)
Leckerton UHA-4 ($199)
Beyerdynamic A200p ($219.99 on Amazon - MSRP $349)
JDS Labs C5D ($249)
Leckerton UHA-6S MKII ($279)
Oppo HA-2 ($299)
Sony PHA-1A ($299)
Leckerton UHA760 ($399)
Fostex HP-P1 ($449 on Amazon - MSRP $799)
Sony PHA-2 ($449.99 on Amazon - MSRP $599.99)
iFi Audio micro iDSD ($499)
CEntrance Mini-M8 ($599.99)
Centrance HiFi-M8 ($699)
There are also usb stick-sized dacs with built-in amplifiers that can feature a much more compact design, but will generally not have as nice quality or powerful amplifier. Majority of these options also requires special OTG adapter for Android devices or a lightning camera connection kit for iPhones to utilize the dac. Some examples include the Audioengine D1/D3, Audioquest Dragonflyv1.2, CEntrance Dacport, HRT Music Streamer line-up, LH Geek Out, Meridian Explorer 2/Director, Resonessence Labs Herus/Herus+, and Schiit Fulla.
For people looking for an high-performing dedicated portable amplifier, the B1 is a very appealing high performing option with an affordable price point. From my research, I do think the B1’s price point is quite competitive for its unique topology and design even among the current market offerings.
Considerations for Prospective Buyers:
My Overall Ratings (as I believe the side-ratings on head-fi are averages):
Do note that I hardly ever give out full score ratings even on extremely good products. Reserve that rating for products that I feel far exceed and redefine my previous notions of what is capable
Audio Quality: 9/10
Design: 8/10
Quality: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Overall Score: 4/5
The greatest sonic pro of the B1 in my mind is its full, rich, detailed sound with minimal coloration. The B1 has extremely competitive high-quality sonic performance even above its price point with the versatility to work with a wide range of headphones from sensitive low impedance IEMs to high-impedance dynamics and hard-to-drive orthodynamics. It also features a stylish design and a very competitive price point.
The biggest con in my mind with the B1 is the lack of accessories (especially the lack of a short right-angle connector often provided by competitors even at lower price points). I do strongly feel that those accessories should be included at this price point. There is also room for improvement to its design (marking the volume pot, indicator light improvements, possible concerns of accidentally switching the current switch). Other important properties of the B1 that warrant individual consideration are listed below.
Important considerations for potential purchasers:
  1. A dedicated amplifier only. May not suitable for those looking for an all-in-one dac/amplifier combination. Does give the flexibility of pairing with personally preferred portable or desktop dacs (especially helpful if you have different dac preferences for different headphones). This can be a pro or con depending on your requirements.
  2. Class A design will generate heat and requires a larger footprint/weight compared to some of the other portable amplifiers on the market (especially compared to traditional Class A/B designs). My personal experience with the B1 was not really affected by those factors, but how those qualities of the B1 affect you will be a personal subjective call.
  3. Battery life ranges from 5-10 hours. May not suitable for those looking for an portable amplifier that can last multiple days without charging (though do note whether its battery life is sufficient for your needs will be dependent on your usage habits).
  4. Should work with the majority of headphones on the market as I was able to test it with high impedance headphones (DT880 600 ohms) and some orthodynamics. Do note that all Audeze and Mr. Speaker headphones are easier to drive than the HE-560 from a technical specification standpoint. However, the older Hifiman headphones such as the HE-4, HE-400, HE-500, HE-5, and especially the HE-6 are harder to drive than the HE-560 from the calculated power requirements and I was not able to test the B1 with any of those headphones. Pairing the B1 with the old Hifiman headphones will require additional research (ask for impressions from owners).
  5. Does not drastically ‘tune’ your headphones’ sound signature by adding excessive coloration. Not suitable for those trying to find an amplifier to significantly alter their headphone’s sound signature.
  6. Does NOT have a bass boost feature. Not suitable for those who are looking for that specific feature or are looking for a heavy bass quantity emphasis. Do note that the B1 does offer sonic improvements to the bass quality.
The B1 provides ample power for all the headphones I tested with a clean black background. It adds minimal coloration to the sound signature, so the source and headphones can be heard accurately. Providing sonic improvements to the weight, fullness, and richness of notes throughout the frequency response, the B1 is extremely detailed, highly resolving, and true to source.
A quite strong application of the B1 that may be overlooked is using the B1 as a stand-alone ‘transportable’ amplifier. I personally found this to be the B1’s best strength. It’s small size in comparison to other ‘transportable amplifiers’ allows for a very easy carry from one location to another. Whether going to work/school, travelling between hotels, or moving between rooms in the house, I found the B1 to really shine in that setting. Plugged into a laptop, there is no need to worry about checking the battery indicator lights for battery life.
I personally found packing the B1 while travelling on vacations or business trips added a great deal of convenience as one piece of nice audio setup. Not only can it be used while on-the-move (flying in airplanes, sitting in subways, walking on the street), but it can be used while working at Starbucks or chilling in the park. I do strongly feel the B1’s sound is extremely competitive even beyond other portable amplifiers with performance that allows it to be used as a viable alternative to traditional desktop amplifiers. I have personally been utilizing the B1 the most often as a "transportable desktop amplifier."
While it is possible to use the B1 purely on-the-move in your pocket as well, the B1’s larger size and weight compared to the competition makes it bit less suitable for that specific application for the general consumer audience (in my personal opinion). I would personally recommend the B1 more for the really serious audiophile who emphasize sound quality over convenience and the portability of their audio stack. Other audiophiles I think this product would greatly appeal to are audiophiles with multiple different listening locations who would benefit from an easily relocatable  “transportable” amplifier solution. Finally, audiophiles requiring portability with multiple dacs and various headphones may appreciate the standalone approach to an external amplifier providing clean power for dac and headphone synergies to truly shine.
While I do personally think that Class A topology does not inherently mean a superior sounding amplifier, I found the B1 to be an good example of well-designed, well-implemented Class A amplifier with solid sonic performance. I am not aware of any other currently in production fully discrete Class A portable amplifier, so this device seems quite unique. While this device may not be for everyone, I would highly recommend audiophiles interested in high performance affordable portable amplifier to audition the B1 as it has very compelling sonic performance for its price point.
***UPDATE 6/5/15: Please check out this post HERE if interested in signing up for a home audition of my review unit. My demo tour will last as long as there are interested people wanting to try this item. Please post on that thread or PM me directly***
***UPDATE 6/10/15: My US tour of the B1 has officially started & has been shipped out***
Product link:

I had never even heard of this, when did it come out?
@WhiskeyJacks, I am not 100% sure the exact release date, but it came out this year. Earliest thread discovering the B1 on head-fi is here (1/21/15). First head-fi review written by @cleg (2/14/15). Aune's official sponsored thread posting on the B1 here (4/8/15). Aune's head-fi review tour announced here (5/10/15) with an impression thread created here on 5/21/15.
excellent review!


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: very competitive pricing, extremely large soundstage, natural-sounding sound signature, great overall SQ and resolution, extremely revealing
Cons: not widely available, earcups a bit shallow, unforgiving on poor source files
AKG K7xx Massdrop 1st Edition Headphone Review:
I purchased these headphones at full price during the first drop. I am not affiliated with AKG or Massdrop. I was not solicited or paid for this review, and I have no financial stake/interest with this item. This is not a professional review! This is just detailed personal impressions made by a hobbyist during free time. As always, YMMV and feel free to disagree with any of my subjective impressions. Hope this is an enjoyable & informative read! :)
Manufacturing headphones since 1949 and responsible for many innovations such as the world’s first supra-aural open-back headphones (the K50 in 1959), AKG Acoustics is an Austrian company producing high quality audio gear including microphones and headphones.
Released in 2005 with an official MSRP of $539, the original AKG K701 quickly replaced for their previous flagship, the K1000 (now discontinued). Prior to age of $1,000+ headphones heralded by the release of the Sennheiser HD800 in 2009, the AKG K701 ruled the headphone scene as a “flagship” pair of headphones, one of the best non-exotic dynamic headphones that money could buy. The ‘old school trio’ of flagship dynamic headphones consisted of the best offerings from AKG, Beyerdynamic, and Sennheiser.
AKG has followed up the K701’s success with revised versions that include the K702, Q701, K702 65th Anniversary edition (MSRP $650), and K712 pro. AKG’s K7-series headphones have always included their most premium reference headphones, offering the best of AKG technology until the recent release of their current flagship, the K812 pro in 2013.
Despite being downgraded to a ‘mid-level/mid-fi’ pair of headphones with the new crop of $1,000+ flagships, the AKG K7-series still has an extremely loyal following among headphone enthusiasts, providing very high-end performance at attainable price points.
Interesting video link on how the AKG K702 are made here.
Massdrop is community-driven commerce website founded in 2012 that organizes bulk orders for popular products based on discussion and polling to achieve nice group discounts. [size=1em]The Massdrop community currently has over 1 million active users every month. Official Massdrop website here.[/size]
[size=1em]How Massdrop Works[/size][size=1em]: Community members can create and vote through polls on desired products. For popular polls, the Massdrop team will contact vendors to procure the item in bulk at discount prices. The item is then "dropped" on the website for a limited time allowing members to join the 'drop.' If enough people join the drop within the time frame, the drop will be successful and the bulk order will be placed. There are often lower pricing tiers that get unlocked as more people join a drop. Use 'Join Now' to reserve a spot in the drop regardless of whether the lowest pricing tier is unlocked. Use 'Commit to join' to only reserve a spot for the lowest pricing tier. After the drop ends, the product page will still be available for 'requests'. If enough requests are reached, the Massdrop will try to organize another drop. Typically, a minimum of 200 requests are required before a new drop on a previously dropped item. Please note shipping times will be longer than traditional retailers as the item gets shipped from the vendor to Massdrop then to the consumer.[/size]
[size=1em]more information here: [/size][size=1em][/size]
The new AKG K7xx is the result of a joint venture between AKG and Massdrop. Based on the limited 65th anniversary edition of the K702 released in 2012, the AKG K7xx is made by AKG and specially configured by Massdrop. They are a Massdrop-exclusive item and not currently available from AKG.
Fun Fact: A total of 6,000 AKG K7xx 1st Edition headphones were produced. All the 1st Edition models have been already sold, and no more 1st Edition drops will occur. No official word on subsequent non-1st edition releases, but click “Request” at this link to vote on bringing it back. Credit to Danny, Will, and the rest of the Massdrop team for organizing the first drop.
***Update on 5/25/15: A second production run of Limited Edition K7xx (non-1st edition) is currently available on Massdrop and will ship 6/26/15***
Image of the packaging (Front View)
Image of the packaging (Side View)
Tech: The AKG K7xx is an open-back, over-ear pair of headphones with 45mm diameter dynamic transducers. It uses AKG’s patented varimotion two-layer diaphragm and unique flat-wire voice coil. Its frequency response ranges from 10 Hz to 39.8 kHz. The Massdrop price for the K7xx was $199.99 with free domestic shipping and a 2-year warranty included.
AKG K7xx (Side View)
AKG K7xx (Front View)
Design & Comfort:

The K7xx has the traditional AKG design and styling with their patented self-adjusting suspension system to ensure a comfortable fit. It features a new all-black stealth color scheme with grey and white lettering. I really appreciate the new subtle professional look without any color accents. Left and right sides are labelled on the outside curvature where the headband connects. The unique 6-digit serial number denoting the first edition headphones is discretely located on the interior left-side near the headband while the right side features the Massdrop logo. Like the majority of other AKG headphones, the K7xx is manufactured in China. Primarily constructed with plastic, the headphones are extremely light-weight with the official weight is quoted at 235 grams. I measured my pair without the cable to be 290 grams on my small kitchen scale. Included accessories are a straight 9.8 ft detachable cable (mini-xlr to 1/8" terminations) and an included screw-on 1/4" adapter.
Thoughtful upgrades (from the first generation AKG 7-series) include the usage of genuine leather headband without any annoying bumps on the bottom surface and velour-covered memory foam earpads. I measured the interior of the earpads to have a 70mm diameter with 24mm depth. The depth of the earpads does compress down quite a bit when worn, so it is possible to experience slight discomfort from the tips of your ears touching the inside of the driver after prolonged usage. The earcups have a ball-in-socket type swivel mechanism that allow for subtle adjustments to accommodate various head shapes. The earcups can swivel 20 degrees in any direction. Similar to many other open over-ear headphones currently on the market, the K7xx earcups do not fold flat as they are designed for non-portable usage. The low weight, large earcup diameter, and premium materials where your head touches the headphone makes for an extremely comfortable experience even for multiple-hour long listening sessions.
While the K7xx does not have an particularly exotric or luxurious feel, the overall build quality and design is very competitive for its price point. Very beautiful professional-looking pair of headphones with quite durable construction and universal appeal.
Sound Quality:
The K7xx’s overall sound signature is exceptionally well-balanced sound signature without any noticeable emphasis or recession throughout its frequency response. From extensive listening tests with music and test tones, I did detected an extremely subtle midbass emphasis along with slight upper midrange and treble accentuation. The word emphasis is actually a bit of an overstatement as the subtleties to the tuning was barely detectable with frequency response sweeps. I do feel that the K7xx’s overall presentation appears very realistic and natural with recordings of live music. I would personally consider this sound signature to be a very close-to-perfect representation of neutral. The pre-recorded changes in frequency response emphasis of the musical tracks dedicates where your focus goes, not the K7xx’s sound signature. To my ears, the K7xx has an extremely life-like representation of music. With an accurate tonal balance and authentic timbre, the K7xx sounds to be the definition of a transparent pair of headphones to my ears.
Treble has enough brightness to give a nice brilliant sheen to the notes without being too aggressive. Extremely extended treble frequency response into the upper register. Do note that my hearing only goes up to 18kHz. During a treble frequency sweep, the entire treble response was extremely linear to my ears. This type of linear treble presentation is often called ‘delicate.’ Very clear, airy, and crisp treble presentation. Its highly-resolving abilities are capable of picking up extremely low-level micro-detail. Adds a very nice breathy touch in the upper mids and treble. I could easily catch the almost imperceptible breath sounds of the woodwind musicians inhaling and exhaling within the composition. I could also regularly recognize the complete breathing patterns and appreciate the breath control of female vocalists. The presence range of 4 kHz to 6 kHz responsible for intimacy is not artificially over-emphasized or recessed, but inline with the rest of the treble response. The K7xx does not have an overly intimate presentation at all, favoring an analytical detail-focused approach instead. Great sense of treble energy allows for these headphones to really shine at accurately portraying the high registers without any excessive edginess.
The midrange is exceptionally well-defined and articulate. The subtle nuances between the vocals and instrumental interactions are revealed. No extra sense of richness or lushness to the sound signature caused by euphonic distortion. No tinniness or thinness either, but a good sense of fullness without any bloat. Instrumental timbre and tone exceptionally well-represented. Subtle deviations in pitch and texture is also quite clear. Very satisfying sense of balance in this region. The quiet low level detail is easily audible to the point that even minute distortions with some of the older classical tracks due to poor mastering can be quickly identified. These headphones are not as forgiving with poor source files as they are extremely revealing. If there is sibilance, distortion, or noise in your source files, these headphones will not glaze over source flaws and try to hide them. This can cause a shockingly obvious discrepancy between the quality of lower bitrate files compared against 320kbps lossy, lossless compression, or CDs.
The K7xx has a gripping bass with a strong sense of control and sturdiness. No excessive bass reverb on the K7xx. The bass extension are excellent for a pair of dynamic headphones, but there is a subtle low sub-bass roll-off compared to high-quality orthodynamic headphones. The subtle linear mid-bass emphasis adds a pleasant touch of fullness to the sound signature. There is weight to the bass response, but it never feels overemphasized. There is enough impact to feel the rhythm, but it’s never stomping for your attention at the expensive of the mids and treble. The bass presentation is definitely not overly warm. It seems more akin to a moderately ‘cool’ presentation with the long curving subtly downward slope after 120 Hz. Very enjoyable bass response, but not an exciting seismic or visceral bass. Very even-tempered and even-keeled.
The soundstage and imaging of the K7xx is its most outstanding sound quality attribute. The instruments is presented with great focus. Exceptionally spacious with a very large equally-balanced sense of width and depth. Very good sense of height as well. Its soundstage can be spatially represented as a donut-shaped concert hall. This presentation with the horizontal plane being much taller than the vertical plane allows for an extremely realistic portrayal of sound stage. Imaging has a high level of precision that gives the distinctive feeling that every sound can be deftly localized within a few inches of its source. The hyperrealistic portrayal of soundstage and imaging of the K7xx caused me to instinctively turn my head to look at an exact position within the room whenever I got startled by an unexpected sound.
The K7xx has very excellent speed and control for a dynamic pair of headphones. Notes are presented tightly with a good sense of spacing. Transient response is excellent with short attack and decay times. The K7xx is not as fast as a few of the top tier orthodynamic headphones, but this is not noticeable until I did extensive direct side-by-side comparisons. Control over the micro and macro dynamics is top-notch with tiny or sudden changes in volume rendered flawlessly. The micro-detail and noise within the source are revealed with clarity and agility on the K7xx.
There is a good balance between an analytical/clinical presentation with organic presentation. I would be hesitant to characterize the K7xx as one or the other. If forced to choose, I would deem the K7xx to be more on the analytical spectrum with its presentation, but it does still capture strong sense of musical coherency throughout its frequency response that is very revealing of the textural changes. The defined hyper-detail retrieval coexists with a strong sense of musicality on the K7xx.
***Note: Please use this guide here if you are unfamiliar with any of the audiophile terms I used.***
<> (Credit: miceblue, warrenpchi, autoexec, ClieOS, and Gorthon)
This list arranged by alphabetically by artist. Obviously, many of these songs are useful for testing multiple sonic strengths.
[size=1em]Treble characteristics: [/size]“Concerning Hobbits” from The Fellowship of the Ring Soundtrack, “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele, “Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20” performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, “Trumpet Voluntary in D Major: The Prince of Denmark’s March” performed by Clerkenwell Baroque String Ensemble, “Titanium” by David Guetta, “May It Be” by Enya, “Your Song” by Ellie Goulding, “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence, “Blue Train” by John Coltrane, “How Long” by Kaskade, “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson, “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis, “Euphoria” by Loreen, “Execute Me” by Medina, “Our Love Is Easy” by Melody Gardot, “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Midrange characteristics: “Life Goes On” by 2pac, “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” by Brand New, “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional, “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra, “Moon River” by Frank Sinatra, “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, “Lips of An Angel” by Hinder, “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin, “Want To Want Me” by Jason Derulo, “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Suicidal Thoughts” by The Notorious B.I.G., “Radioactive” by Pentatonix, “Tears of the East” by Philip Wesley, “Canon in D Major” performed by Pimlico Quartet, “Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Savior” by Rise Against, “Hallelujah” by Rufus Wainwright, “So Far Away” by Staind, “The Dream of You” by Tim Neumark, “River Flows In You” by Yiruma
Bass characteristics: “Sail” by AWOLNATION, “Brass Monkey” by Beastie Boys, “Monster” by DotEXE, “Dubstep Killed Rock n Roll” by Ephixa, “Deviance” by Excision, “Blood Red” by Feed Me, “I Can’t Stop” by Flux Pavilion, “Elements” by Fractal,“Concrete Angel” by Gareth Emery, “Aggressive Expansion” by Hans Zimmer, “Rise” by Hans Zimmer, “Time” by Hans Zimmer, “Limit to Your Love” by James Blake, “N*ggas in Paris” by Jay-Z, “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West, “Alive” Krewella, “Teardrop” by Massive Attack, “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson, “The Island” by Pendulum, “Know Your Enemy” by Rage Against the Machine, “Full Force” by Rameses B, “1812 Overture” performed by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, “Love is Darkness” by Sander Van Doorn, “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz, “Heartbeat” by Vicetone, “On My Level” by Wiz Khalifa, “Nuclear” by Zomboy
Imaging/Soundstage: “Book of Days” by Enya, “Caribbean Blue” by Enya, “Spirited Away - One Summer’s Day” by Joe Hisaishi, “Somewhere I Belong - Live in Texas” by Linkin Park, Hans Zimmer, “Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer, “The Thin Red Line” by Hans Zimmer, "Whispers In The Dark - Comes Alive Version" by Skillet, “Futile Devices” by Sufjan Stevens, “Words” by Yiruma
Speed and control: “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, “Invincible” by Adelitas Way, “Flower of Life” by Au5, “The Diary of Jane” by Breaking Benjamin,  “Can You Keep Up” by Busta Rhymes, “Bitterphobia” by Eminem, “Rap God” by Eminem, “Renegade” by Eminem, “The Might of Rome” by Hans Zimmer, “Elements” by Lindsey Stirling, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, “The Magic Flute, K. 620: Overture” performed by Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, “William Tell Overture” performed by Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, “The Tsar Of Saltan, Op. 57: Flight of the Bumblebee” performed by Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, “Last Resort” by Papa Roach. “Testify” by Rage Against The Machine, “That’s All She Wrote” by T.I., “Let’s Go” by Travis Barker, “Frum Da Tip Of My Tung” by Twista, “Kill Us All” by Twista, "Silent Jealousy" by X Japan
Dynamics: “Suite No. 3 in D Major” performed by the Pimlico Quartet, “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor I. Moonlight” performed by Bernhard Jarvis, “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer, “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, “Eptesicus” by Hans Zimmer, “Dream Is Collapsing” by Hans Zimmer, “One Mic” by Nas, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “The Suite Bergamasque: III. Clair de Lune” performed by Robert Einstein, "Art of Life" by X Japan
Low-level detail: too many great examples, will update if I notice an example that is especially nice
K7xx on EBA-01 headphone stand (Front View)
K7xx on EBA-01 headphone stand (Angled View)
K7xx on EBA-01 headphone stand (Close-Up 1)
K7xx on EBA-01 headphone stand (Close-Up 2)

K7xx on EBA-01 headphone stand (Side View)
*******Important Notes*******
  1. I wrote my sonic impressions prior to doing personal measurements.
  2. Please note I am a relative amateur at measuring headphones. My personal measurements may not be as accurate as other sources. May update measurements as I run more trials. Any feedback or suggestions for improvement appreciated. Let me know if you spot any errors.
  3. Measurement chain: Dell XPS m1530 with Windows 7 > ARTA Generates Sine Sweeps > Steinberg UR-22 USB Interface with Yamaha ASIO > Line Out > Oppo HA-2 Amplifier > headphones placed upon my own head (left ear being measured) > Pannasonic WM61-A Microphone > Steinberg UR-22 > Laptop > ARTA analysis
  4. I used a Panasonic WM61-A microphone in my measurement set-up. The WM61-A does actually measure very flat until the upper treble range when calibrated. Its unequalized response should be flat within +/- 1.5 dB to 20 kHz. Frequency response curves are smoothed to 1/24 octave.
  5. The dip in the 6kHz region is an artifact from the interaction from the mic placement with the shape of the ear folds. This artifact appears in all my measured frequency response curves via my current personal measurement set-up. The dip at 3 kHz in my measurements also appears in the Massdrop official measurements. The 3 kHz dip is not audible from my personal listening tests, most likely just the way an uncompensated raw graph will look.
  6. You can NOT directly compare my personal measurements to other frequency response curves made by other people!!! There will be inherent discrepancies due to differences in measurement set-up, so comparing measurements from different sources is not reliable!!
  7. For frequency response curve comparisons, I would recommend Tyll’s extensive database. Full list of his measurements found here. (credit: Tyll Hertsens at Innerfidelity)
  8. Reference here for frequency response correlations to instruments and audiophile terms. (credit: Independent Recording Network)
FR measurements by Other Sources (Remember not to directly compare measurements from different sources)
Above: The Official K7xx's Frequency Graph on Massdrop (link here)
Above: Tyll's AKG K7xx Measurements: source here
*****My Measurements*****
My Measurements, Trial #1: Pink Noise, Smoothing 1/24th
My Measurements, Trial #2: Pink Noise, Smoothing 1/24th
My Measurements, Trial #3: White Noise, Smoothing 1/24th
Personal comments on the my measured FR: While there is a slight 3dB bass boost measured (most prominent in the mid-bass region), I do not hear a significant bass emphasis when doing a test tone sweep. For open headphones, it is often desirable to have a subtle boost to the low end response to achieve a natural sound and hit the ideal target headphone response (which is not a flat line on the raw curve). I did not hear the dip at 3 kHz, most likely just the shape of uncompensated graphs. The 6 kHz dip is an artifact of my measuring set-up. Also, you can see the variation in the upper treble region from my repeated measurements; This is a common occurrence among all headphone measurements. The upper treble region is usually measured by taking the average of multiple trials with smoothing applied. The raw single trial data on the upper treble is not indicative of the headphone's performance.
Impulse Response
Frequency Response Curve Generated from the Impulse Response
Cumulative Spectrum Decay Plot Generated from the Impulse Response
Note: Feedback or suggestions on how to improve my measurements are welcome!
***Special thanks to hans030390 and Bluemonkeyflyer for all their helpful advice and tips when I was just starting out & learning about the measurement aspect of this hobby!!***
Direct Comparisons: (links take you to the head-fi product page of each model)
*******Important Notes*******
  1. I am defining “mid-fi” as headphones that are not considered entry-level or flagships. Does not mean that its actual sonic performance is not high-fidelity. The overall mid-fi open over-ear headphone category usually ranges from $300-$700.
  2. Please remember these are my own personal subjective impressions. YMMV!!!
Against the ATH-M50x: Good reference point for a closed entry-level v-shaped portable.
The ATH-M50x sounds congested and suffocatingly closed-in during a direct comparison against the K7xx. Very prominent bass and treble emphasis with a recessed midrange on the M50x in comparison to the K7xx’s frequency response curve. Noticeable faster and tighter notes with better instrument separation on the K7xx. Much better imaging on the K7xx as well.
Against the PM-3: Mid-fi closed, portable planar magnetic with balanced tuning & outstanding performance, one of my personal favorites in this category
Biggest difference is that the K7xx has a much larger and spacious presentation compared to the PM-3's intimate presentation. The K7xx has a crisper, airy treble presence compared to the smooth treble presentation of the PM-3. Bass quantity is approximately the same. The PM-3’s have a subtle bit more sub-bass emphasis compared to the K7xx’s more mid-bass emphasis. Imaging is quite precise on the PM-3, but even better on the K7xx. The K7xx is less forgiving with poor sources than the PM-3.
Against the AKG K553 pro: Very capable mid-fi closed full-size pair of headphones based on the K550.
Similar tuning between the two models. The K553 has a warmer bass presence and more bass reverb due to its closed design. The K553 has a non-fatiguing treble tuning while the K7xx has more crispiness and airiness to the treble region. The K7xx also has sharper, better defined treble and improved overall clarity. Soundstage is larger and imaging more precise on the K7xx. The K7xx is less forgiving with poor sources than the K553.
Against the AKG Q701: Mid-fi dynamic open
The Q701 had a wider L-R soundstage but less depth and height. The Q701’s lateral soundstage seemed a bit too wide to my ears which detracted a bit from its realism. The K7xx’s soundstage is more akin to a donut with the same width and depth to its soundstage. The K7xx’s soundstage height is larger than the Q701. Note, I personally did not experience the ‘center hole’ phenomena with the Q701’s sound stage, but I can understand where those impressions come from. In terms of sound signature, the Q701 had a very sharp and bright treble-oriented sound signature while lacking in its bass response and presence. I considered the Q701 to be colored on the bright side of neutral. The Q701 sounded a bit artificial at times and can be a bit thin and tinny. I personally strongly prefer the K7xx’s sound signature and find it to sound more natural and realistic to my ear.
Against the Beyerdynamic DT880: Mid-fi dynamic semi-open (demo only, not direct comparison)
I don’t want to comment too in-depth here as I have only demoed these headphones and not owned them for significantly long periods of time. The DT880 is generally considered to be quite close to neutral, but I personally thought the DT880 had a tad bit of a subtly v-shaped interpretation of neutral. I found the DT880 to have a bit excessive brightness and treble energy for my tastes. I do remember being impressed by the DT880’s bass extension and bass quality. Still an outstanding pair of headphones with extremely high sound quality, especially at its price point. Most likely very similar overall technical abilities though I know that the Q701 had a larger soundstage than the DT880 from a direct comparison. I have a feeling that the K7xx also has a larger soundstage compared to the DT880, but cannot be sure without a direct comparison.
Against the Sennheiser HD600/HD650: Mid-fi dynamic open (demo only, not direct comparison)
Again I don’t want to comment too in-depth here as I have only demoed these headphones and not owned them for significantly long periods of time. In terms of overall obvious sound signature differences, I am comfortable saying that the HD600 does appear to have slightly less bass presence and treble energy compared to the K7xx while the HD650 also appears to have less treble with about the same or a bit more bass presence against the K7xx. Hard to specify exactly without a direct comparison. I did think the HD650 has a warm presentation, while I don’t get that feeling with the K7xx. I never had any issue with a Sennheiser veil, but the K7xx definitely does not have veiling of treble energy. K7xx is extremely airy without any inherent graininess or harshness. I do think all three of these headphones do provide a very close to neutral overall presentation and personal preference will determine which you will like the best. The most obvious sound quality difference beyond the differences in sound signature is that the K7xx has a faster transient response while the HD600 and HD650 are more laid-back and sound more relaxed. Soundstage and imaging also appears to better on the K7xx in my subjective estimation.
Against the HE-400 (rev4): Mid-fi orthodynamic open
The K7xx has a larger soundstage and more precise imaging. The HE-400 has faster transient response and more spacing between notes. The bass is more linear and extends deeper on the HE-400 for a weightier, more visceral bass presence. The K7xx has a subtle mid-bass emphasis and the K7xx’s sub-bass presence is not as noticeable compared to the HE-400. The HE-400 had an unique coloration consisting of an upper-mid recession with a treble spike. I personally greatly enjoyed the HE-400’s sound signature, but its overall tuning is not as neutral and balanced as the K7xx. IMO, the K7xx has better mids and treble while the HE-400’s greatest strength was its bass quality. The K7xx’s tuning is much more versatile with a wider range of genres than the HE-400 that can sometimes sound unnatural on certain tracks.
Against the Hifiman HE-560: Good reference point for flagship w/ a neutral clinical presentation.
The K7xx has a very similar neutral-oriented more clinical sound signature presentation as the HE-560. The HE-560 is a bit brighter with a deeper and more linear bass response. Bass notes do seem tighter than the HE-560 and better defined. Faster transient response on the HE-560. Soundstage is very close to call. I give the edge the the HE-560, but it is not by too much. Better detail retrieval and clarity on the HE-560.
Against the Audeze LCD-X: Another good flagship reference point (darker-presentation).
The K7xx does not share the darkness and specific colorations associated with the Audeze house sound. The LCD-X’s bass performance is a lot more satisfying than the K7xx with a more visceral presence and stronger weighty impact. Bass notes do not seem that much significantly tighter, I do think the bass texture and definition on the LCD-X is among the best within flagships and easily beats the K7xx. A bit faster transient response on the LCD-X, but very close to call. Soundstage is even harder to call here and it may be about even in my estimation. Differences in soundstage and imaging would be in inches, not feet.
More Comparisons: (links to my posts within head-fi threads)
  1. The HE-560 vs LCD-X vs K7xx
  2. Specific Song Analysis of differences between the HE-560 vs LCD-X vs K7xx (test track: Whispers In The Dark)
The AKG K7xx has a sensitivity of 105 dB/V and rated impedance of 62 ohms. This means to reach a 115dB (the volume of a loud rock concert), only 161 mW of power is required. Normal listening levels for headphones typically range from 60 dB to 95 dB. It is possible to reach normal listening volumes without any additional amplification with these headphones and I was able to reach more than adequate listening volumes with the K7xx driven directly out of the 3.5mm headphone jack on my Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone.
I would personally recommend adding an amplifier capable of 50-200 mW RMS at 64 ohms to guarantee enough headroom for clean controlled performance during dynamic peaks. Do note that 200 mW is very excessive as the maximum input power for the AKG K7xx is 200 mW. That range will give more power than the required calculated amount. Keep in mind that there are many other factors beyond power ratings that determine an amplifier’s performance and pairing. The majority of dedicated headphone amplifiers on the market should be more than technically sufficient for the K7xx.
Reference for calculating power requirements:
Reference chart for the volume levels:
I tested the K7xx with quite a variety of amplifiers and dacs including the Resonessence Herus, Oppo HA-2, Schiit Lyr 2, Schiit Bifrost Uber, and Woo Audio WA7 with WA7tp. I would characterize the K7xx as quite transparent to external components, meaning they can pick up the subtle sonic characteristics of your external components. My personal favorite pairing out of my collection for the K7xx was the Lyr 2 hybrid tube amplifier and Bifrost dac for a warmer presentation but still very detailed sound. The HA-2 also was a good choice for providing a clean interpretation of the K7xx’s sound signature with minimal additional coloration.
Generally, the addition of an amplifier will provide improvements in soundstage, detail resolution, dynamic range, and speed for a cleaner, better controlled sound. There can be subtle sound signature changes with different amplifiers as well. I personally do think the sonic improvements with different amplifiers are generally quite subtle as long as the headphones are being adequately powered. I did notice the sonic performance of the K7xx scaling up with different components with its best technical performance out of my Schiit Lyr 2 + Bifrost stack.
I would recommend using an amplifier with the K7xx, but I do think most any amplifier will be sufficient. For people who enjoy a warmer, more relaxed sound, hybrid tube amplifiers can be a good choice. The budget entry option I used in the past was the Bravo V3. For people looking to keep the original sound signature of the K7xx, there are a variety of well-recommended solid-state amplifiers at various price points. Two popularly recommended entry-level solid state amplifier and dac combos are the JDS ODac+O2 amplifier and the Schiit Modi dac + Magni amplifier. I have found the HA-2 to be a great choice if you require the versatility of portable device that has multiple gain settings, bass boost feature, and smartphone battery charging features.
Value Judgment:
The K7xx offers an extremely competitive price point for the sound quality they provide. I personally cannot think of another $200 pair of headphones that match their technical prowess and has a such a well-balanced natural-sounding sound signature.
The K7xx competes directly against the classic well-respected $300-$700 mid-fi headphones from Sennheiser (HD600/HD650), Beyerdynamic (DT770/DT880/DT990), and from within AKG’s own line-up (K702 65th Anniversary Edition, K712 pro). The K7xx has among the best soundstaging abilities out of open headphones and should easy outperforms the majority of closed-back headphones currently available on the market up to the $700 price point in that department. Upgrading from an entry-level open or closed headphone to the K7xx will give you a quite noticeable improvement in sound quality that should relatively easy to appreciate (even without a direct comparison). The sound quality improvements jumping from the K7xx to the flagship headphones are much more subtle and you will be diving into the area of diminishing returns. Without a direct side-by-side comparison, it can be difficult to precisely pick out the exact technical performance differences between the K7xx against superior flagship models. The most obvious sonic improvements that flagships possess over the K7xx are faster transient response times, the removal of subtle graininess to the texture, and slight improvements to the overall clarity/detail resolution.
To put it into relative perspective, I am comfortable giving a personal relative estimate that the K7xx will give you at least 70-90% of the performance of the flagship models, while the K7xx can provide a 50-300% improvement in performance compared to entry-level headphones (all depending on the specific model of course). The K7xx still stays extremely competitive and evenly-matched against the best mid-fi offerings even up to the price range of $700.
These headphones are my personal top pick for the mid-fi open-back over-ear category not only in terms of performance/price ratio, but also overall sonic performance. Sound signature preferences can sway your personal pick among these headphones, but there is no denying the K7xx’s strong sonic capabilities.
Scoring: (the green bar ratings on the side seem to be an average of all review scores, this is my actual scoring)
Audio Quality: 9/10
Comfort: 8/10
Design: 9/10
Value: 10/10
Overall Rating: 5/5 - I do not give a 5/5 overall rating lightly. This is the only gear I own that I view to warrant a full score rating. The AKG K7xx's overall performance is extremely competitive without any significant flaws. The K7xx's performance per price point and overall value is unbeatable (in my experience, compared to all the headphones I have owned and demoed).
Sound signature is very close to “audiophile-neutral” with a subtle linear bass elevation in the frequency response curve for a more natural sounding presentation. Soundstage and imaging capabilities are among the best in this category. Extremely fast speed for a dynamic headphone with great instrument separation. Extremely detailed and precise sound with a crispy airy treble, natural-bodied bass, and clean articulate midrange.
Greatest overall strength is its sonic performance per price value. Amazing audio performance that can go into the ring against flagships without being embarrassed for only $200. Greatest specific sonic strength is its soundstage and imaging abilities, which are among the best for open headphones. Detail retrieval is extremely excellent, picking up the most subtle changes in texture and very minute background sounds. Its frequency response tuning is very well-balanced and natural to my ears. Very versatile and will perform well with all genres of music. Will respond to EQ very well due to its balanced tuning.
Greatest con that I could find was the depth of the earpads. I do think a bit thicker earpads may nice as the memory foam compresses down after usage. This is an extreme minor fault. At their price point, there is really no other options that offer their combination of affordability and high-end sound quality. Second con is that they are not widely available and only available via time-limited drops from Massdrop. Final factors in determining if these headphones are suitable for you would be if you require noise isolation or if your music collection only consists of extremely low bitrate lossy files. The open-backed K7xx will leak sound in and out, and they are very highly resolving of micro-details, so they can be unforgiving with poor source files.
For aspiring audiophiles trying to find their first pair of ‘audiophile-oriented’ headphones with a clean uncolored sound signature as well as veteran audiophiles searching for a pair of reference-quality headphones with a high performance/price ratio to complement their existing collection, I would highly recommend the AKG K7xx.
Definitely an extremely competitive offering against everything else currently on the market from a sound quality to price perspective! A well-balanced, clean, uncolored sound signature with precise micro-detail resolution and best-in-class sound stage!!
I deem the AKG K7xx to be "Stealthy Cold-Blooded Giant Killers" as they currently are a difficult-to-acquire pair of headphones. Cloaked with a sleek black look that blends into the shadows and armed with a 'cold-blooded' unforgiving hyper-detailed presentation, the K7xx can battle against the 'giants' of the headphone world without being embarrassed.
Picture of my testing set-up
Massdrop Product link:
***please note, the First Edition drop has currently ended, non-serialized models may possibly be available in the future if enough requests.***
***Update on 5/25/15: A second production run of Limited Edition K7xx is currently available on Massdrop and will ship 6/26/15***
So, Money, a question for someone that has owned He-560 and and experienced the AKG K7xx would you say that the K7xx would potentially be a good buy for someone who cannot afford the HE-560 and wants a similar presentation?
Yep. Absolutely spot on in this review! You actually made a more enlightening review than any I've read on these. I have to agree on your findings here 100%. You could do this for a living!
Brilliantly written review with great detail and voice. I just bought a pair on the last drop and I eagerly await their arrival. 


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Amazing budget price for solid performance, small size & cool design, works w/ Android devices supporting OTG usb for mobile use
Cons: No longer available, no hard casing, my other mid-fi desktop dacs from $350-$550 have noticeably better detail resolution
Stoner Acoutics UD110v2 Review
***Note: this product is no longer available for purchase from Stoner Acoustics and has been replaced by the UD120***
Recently just sold my UD110v2, so I wanted to post my overall impressions and experiences. I wrote this review while the UD110v2 was in my possession, but did not publish this review until after the sale. This is a personal subjective review and your experiences may vary. I purchased the UD110v2 at full retail price and was not solicited for this review. I did really like the UD110v2, so my review is a bit biased, but I tried to be as objective as possible. Hope this is an enjoyable read! :)
Stoner Acoutics was started by a Malaysian audiophile/engineer who designs and builds his own dacs. His products chronologically were the UD100, UD110, UD110v2, and now currently the UD120.
The UD110v2 is one the of most inexpensive stand-alone asynchronous USB dacs you can find at only $59 (including S&H to the United States). It uses the highly rated PCM5102A dac chip, which is the same one found in the $1,000+ desktop WA7 "Fireflies" Amplifier/Dac combo. The other primary alternative budget brand stand-alone enthusiast-designed dacs on the market that I know about is Hifimediy. I choose the UD110v2 based on its price, positive reviews on its appreciation thread, and its dac chip as I really wanted the "Fireflies" at that time, but could not afford it. The UD110v2 was my first audiophile dac product! I've owned the product since 2013 and used this dac with all types of headphones (including the AKG Q701, K545, K550, K7xx, ATH M50x, Audeze LCD-X, Hifiman HE-400, HE-560, Oppo PM1, Sennheiser Momentum, Sony MDR-1R, V-moda LP and M100, and all types of budget earbuds & MIE2).

Full Tech Specs:
  1. RECEIVER : SA9027
  2. LDO : LP5907
  3. CLOCK: AK8133E
  4. DAC : PCM5102A
  5. OUTPUT : 2Vrms @ 10kohm load
  6. RESOLUTION : 16/32bit @ 32/44.1/48/88.2/96Khz (note: update states the lowest 32 kHz sampling support removed)
  7. SPECIAL FEATURES : Comes with ASIO driver for windows.
  8. Works with Windows 32/64 with native driver. (Plug and Play)
  9. Works with Mac Os supporting Playback @ 16/32bit:44.1/48/88.2/96kHz
  10. Works with Android devices that support OTG USB
  11. WARRANTY : 1 Year

Build Quality & Design: The unit has a very minimalist bare-bones geeky style. The circuit board, dac chip, usb receiver is all fully visible and wrapped in a transparent heat-shrink. It features a male USB 2.0 on one end and a 3.5mm headphone out coming towards you if you plug the device into the left-side of your laptop. Its total length is only 5cm. I personally found its aesthetics to be quite appealing as a gadget geek. I have used it on-the-go with my Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S5) connected by a OTG usb cable without any issues. It is extremely small & light-weight with an unobtrusive design that easily fits into your pocket along with your phone. My only concern was that there was no hard protective case (though I've heard of people modding usb flash drive cases over it), so you just need to be careful when using it portably. For desktop usage, its minimally-protected design is not an issue at all. It does get a little bit warm after extended usage, but never to a point where I was worried about it.

Sonic Performance:
The UD110v2 performs very well. I would describe its overall sound signature as generally very neutral and transparent with a subtly warm tone. It is pretty laid-back and forgiving compared to forward brightness of the ESS Sabre chip-based dacs I have tried. The biggest noticeable sonic improvements of the UD110v2 will be improved detail retrieval and resolution, improved treble clarity, and increased bass presence and body. You can also notice a subtle improvement in slightly wider sound stage and more precise imaging. There was a very small touch of smoothness added to the treble which made poor source files sound much better along with an extra sense of warmth throughout the mid range. You can better detect subtle textures in your music that you did not hear previously. It also gives your music better sense of control over the dynamic range (the changes between volume levels within a song is more noticeable). The amount of sonic improvements vary depending on the headphones being used and the previous sound card/dac used. Did noticeably improve the sound quality from all my devices: my Dell XPS m1530, Samsung Galaxy S5, and Nexus 7 tablet (gen 1).
Overall Comparisons to Other Gear I've Owned: The UD110v2 has a warmer sound signature compared to the Schiit Bifrost Uber with USB gen 2 and the Resonessence Herus. The biggest difference in sound signature was that the Bifrost and Herus both had crisper, sharper, and more detailed treble over the UD110v2's smooth treble presentation. The Bifrost and Herus both provided a larger overall improvement in spatial effects like sound stage, imaging, and instrument separation. They were both clearly more resolving and detailed than the UD110v2 with a telling superior technical prowess over Stoner Acoustic's budget dac. However, they are also almost x7-10 times to price. During direct side-by-side blinded comparisons against the Woo Audio WA7+WA7tp dac/amp combo which utilizes the same dac chip, I honestly had difficulty reliable picking the correct dac. The UD110v2 offers a staggering good value for its sonic performance, though it is noticeably technically outclassed by the $350-520 mid-range dac options. However, I do feel like the most noticeable difference between them was simply sound signature variations with the brighter presentation of the Bifrost and Herus vs the warmer presentation of the WA7 and the UD110v2. I could see people personally preferring one implementation over another regardless of price point or sound quality improvements simply due to the listener's preferred presentation, tone, and sound signature.
Value Judgement:
The Stoner Acoustic UD110v2 is a great option for people looking to spend the least amount of money possible for a stand-alone async USB dac. Only options I know of that can compete with its price was the old Dac Destroyer (~$50, no async, AD1955 chip) and some products from Hifimediy's line-up ($35-60: async, ES9023 sabre at the time).
While researching budget dacs in 2013, I compiled a giant list of sub-$200 portable dacs with their chips & prices as a reference guide and personally felt that there was no other portable standalone async USB dac that provided a better value. Do note that the spoiler information about flagship dacs had some errors & is definitely out of date by now. There are also a lot of new options currently out on the market.
With the flood of new usb dacs following the Audioquest Dragonfly's popularity, there are more options than ever for the budget-conscious audiophile. Hifimediy has updated their line-up with more dac chip options & styles. Besides Hifimediy, I am not currently aware of any newly released USB dac sticks that beats the UD110v2's price point. The cheapest alternative that I know of is the AQ Dragonfly v1.0 at $99. The new Dragonfly v1.2 goes for ~$150 and other USB dac sticks provided by Audioengine (D1, D3), HRT (micro streamer & music stream I, II, II+, III, HD), LH Geek Out (100/450/1000), and Meridan (Explorer 1 & 2) all are at least $150-$400. Schiit has released their Fulla, which is a usb dac/amp combo at $79. Fiio provides great prices for their line of portable stand-alone dac, stand-alone portable amps, and portable dac/amp combos (all sub-$200). The Resonessence Herus and Herus+ at $350 and $425 respective would be among the most expensive compact portable standalone usb dacs currently on the market. 
Even amid all this new competition, the UD110v2 provides a package that cannot be beaten in terms of price for sound quality. This entry-level dac will give you a noticeable improvement to your sound for a minimal investment. There are obviously dacs out there that beat this in terms of overall sonic performance and technical ability, but very few other dac options out there that can beat it in terms of performance:price ratio. One of the best hidden gem values out there for stand-alone dacs. For people on a fixed budget who agree with my philosophy that you can always get more sound quality improvements by allocating the majority of funds into headphones & improving their source files, this inexpensive option is a great way to maximize sonic improvements per dollar spent. The UD110v2 brings a noticeable improvement to sound quality for desktop or portable usage. Highly recommended for budget-oriented audiophiles who want to get the best value for their money and dislike the idea of spending more for high diminishing sonic returns per dollar. For audiophiles simply looking for the best possible sound without budget restrictions, there are more technically capable options out there that should warrant consideration.
Update: the UD110v2 has been discontinued by Stoner Acoustics and replaced by their new UD120 (MSRP $79 including shipping). The UD120 has a proper casing & an extension cable tail for the 3.5mm input along with higher playback resolution support.
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Nice review! Loving your UD110V2 so far


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: balanced neutral sound sig, great SQ, optimized for portable use, stylish premium design, comfy, great noise isolation, included hard case & remote
Cons: price on the luxury end for closed portable mid-fi headphones, sound stage not as good as open headphones
Oppo PM-3 Review:
Got seriously into the headphone game a few years ago. Owned and demoed an extensive list of closed portable mid-fi headphones before jumping over to open headphones. First high-end open pair was the Hifiman HE-400 as my main with the later addition of the AKG Q701 to complement. Moved onto the HE-560 as my main for the past year. Recently owned the ATH-M50x & K545. Currently also own the K7xx & LCD-X. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to demo all the current flagships including the Oppo PM1 for two weeks during its US tour.
I listen to a wide variety of genres. Favorites include EDM, Electronic, Rap & Hip Hop, R&B, and good female vocals. Enjoy listening to classical, solo piano, new age, and trance while studying.
Wide range of music used during testing from most genres. Ran through the Billboard Top 100s, Top 100 tracks on Spotify, a variety of classical music, Piano music from Yiruma, Philip Wesley, and Tim Neumark, EDM top 100 charts, some Monstercat mixs, DJ Hercio Mixs, Red Lights by Tiesto, and a ton more EDM hits, Lindsey Stirling, female vocals (Adele/Celine Dion/Enya/Evanescence/Norah Jones), male vocals (Jason Mraz/Bruno Mars/Jack Johnson/Train/Enrique/Death Cab For Cutie), legit hip hop (Tupac/Eminim/Jay-Z/Nas/Luda/Lupe/TI), current mainstream popified hip hop (Kanye West/Kendrick Lammar/Nicki/Iggy/Wiz Khalifia), R&B (Whitney Houston/Riri/Chris Brown/Beyonce/Taio Cruz/Jason Derulo/Neyo), some random J-Pop and Asian Pop songs (Jay Chou, Wang Leehom), party mixes (DJ Earworm/Girl Talk/Super Mash Bros), some T-Swift for 'country' hahah, Hotel California by Eagles, Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Forever Young, Hallelujah...
Source: Combination of FLAC files and Spotify Premium tracks
Amp/Dac: Schiit Lyr 2 & Bifrost Uber w/ Gen2 USB. Also own the WA7+WA7tp, but the majority of my testing for the PM-3 were done with my Schiit stack as I am more intimately familiar with it or unamped & undac-ed through my Samsung Galaxy S5 to stimulate portable listening conditions. Update 4/9/15: I recently acquired the Resonessence Herus and Oppo HA-2.
There is no pair of headphones that I hate, but I do have specific preferences.  I realize what matches my tastes may not match everyone's, so I always try to describe all the strengths and flaws of the gear I review. I primarily judge headphones based on their price:performance ratio and how they compare against similar offerings at, below, and above their value.
***Just want to add that I purchased the Oppo PM-3 at full retail price and wrote the review while within their return period. I am personally really happy with them, so a bit of bias there though I tried to be as objective as possible. :)***

Specializing in high end blu-ray players, Oppo Digital is a relatively new player in the planar magnetic headphone niche, comprised mainly of Audeze and Hifiman (along with some Fostex T50RP modders & Fostex reexploring the tech with their new open TH500). In 2014, Oppo released the PM-1 as their flagship and the more affordable PM-2 with the same sound but less premium materials to much acclaim in this community. Their focus on a stylish design built with luxurious premium materials with an easy to enjoy, easy to drive, forgiving warm rich sound found many fans. I had the chance to demo the PM-1s which I was greatly impressed with, but ended up choosing the HE-560 for my primary pair of headphones.
With the recent trend to lighter orthodynamic headphones, the possibility of truly portable orthodynamic headphones seemed ever closer. Finally, amidst much excitement, Oppo has released the first pair of truly portable planar magnetic headphones in the modern era: the PM-3 at $399. I am personally a big fan of planar magnetic headphones and I am really excited about the recent advances & developments made in this field.
Image of the packaging
Tech: The Oppo PM-3 is a closed over-ear pair of headphones with a 55mm diameter planar magnetic driver using a FEM-optimized symmetric push-pull neodymium magnet system. It has a 7-layer diaphragm with double-sided spiraling coils. The frequency response ranges from 10 Hz to 50 kHz.
Design: Build quality is excellent following Oppo's track record. The headphones are made up of metal, high-quality plastic, and synthetic leather. Has an extremely premium feel to it. The headphones can swivel either direction to fold flat. The swiveling action of the earcups are buttery smooth and the sliding action of the adjustable headband feels quite solid as well when you click it into place. The Left and Right channels are labeled above the swivel mechanism with a L & R. A thoughtful touch is a tactile bump under the L label, so you can tell whether you are wearing the headphones correctly without removing them. The single 3.5mm input socket located on the left earcup has a very thoughtful gasket design that gives you very solid click when you connect the cable all the way in. The connection is quite solid and the cable will not be pulled out of the headphones accidentally. Do note that the sound quality suffers if the cable is not fully properly connected. The headphones do look quite stylish in both black and white color options with the metal accents. Extremely beautiful pair of headphones. Overall, a very premium finish and gorgeous design that is typical of Oppo headphones.
One thing of note is that many of the other competing headphones in the $400 price range do use real leather as opposed to synthetic leather. The synthetic leather used in the PM-3 do seem a lot nicer than the pleather used in most competing headphones. If I did not read that they were synthetic leather, I honestly would not have known it wasn't real leather. Also, the earpads are non-user removeable, but can be replaced by Oppo.

Comfort: Comfort is extremely excellent. Clamping pressure is firm, but not tight. Enough force that the headphones feel very snug on your head and will not fall off even with some extreme movements. Very comfortable fit for me. Oppo rates the clamping pressure at 5 Newtons. The headband has adequate synthetic leather padding so I felt no discomfort or pressure on the top of my head. Due to the extremely light weight of the headphones at 320g, I could wear them for really extended periods of time without any neck discomfort (unlike heavier ortho headphones like the old Hifiman HE-400 or the Audeze LCD-X). The headband is adjustable & I wear mine at 3 notches up. The headband adjusts out to 12 notches. There isn't any markings for the notches, but the headband clicks solidly into place as you adjust it, so your fit setting will not randomly change while in use. I initially had some reservations about the depth of the earpads as my ears are extremely sensitive. However, the depth and dimensions of the earpads at approximately (H:57mm x W:35mm x D:17mm with my measurements) was adequately deep & large enough for me to prevent my ears from brushing up against the interior of the earpads or the driver housing. The lining of the earpad over the driver is quite soft with foam rings circling the driver, so even when I pushed the earcups against my head to simulate too shallow of a fit, my ears did not hit any hard surfaces and the fit was still quite comfortable. The earpads are made of synthetic leather and are quite soft and plushy but do not compress down too much when worn, so the earpads still gave a lot of clearance for the tips of my ears. The breathability of the earpads are much better than most other synthetic earpads and my ears never felt too hot or sweaty with them on. I do live in a hot climate as well. I've had problems in the past with sweaty ears & a stuffy feeling with the pleather of headphones such as the ATH-M50x and the Sony MDR-1R, but I have not experienced this issue with the PM-3.
Do note that comfort judgments are quite personal, so ymmv. However, the PM-3 is among one of the most comfortable closed portable headphones I have tried. Should be extremely comfortable for the vast majority of people. As a point of reference, the most comfortable closed portable headphones out of the ones I have tried (imo) are the Sony MDR-1A/MDR-1R. The PM-3 are significantly more comfortable for me than the ATH-M50x due to the nicer soft & breathable synthetic leather used and the deeper earpads.
Accessories: The Oppo PM-3 comes bundled with two cables: one 3m cable and one 1.2m portable cable (available as a 3-button Apple remote/mic or 1-button Android/Windows phone remote/mic or a plain cable with no remote). There are extremely few over-ear headphones that offer 1-button Android remotes (I can only think of the V-Moda M100), so that is a really nice plus for Android users. Both cables terminate on both sides in straight 3.5mm jacks. The longer cable has a screw-on terminal to attach to the included screw-on 3.5mm-to-1/4 adapter. The cables are well-built and not prone to tangling. There is a Oppo-logo velcro wrap for the long cable that can serve as cable management. There is a small microfiber cloth bag included that can fit the cable and adapter. A sleek flat denim hard carrying case is also included. The headphones can fit into the case with the cable attached, but the cable needs to bend at a sharp angle that may put undue stress onto the connectors. I would recommend removing the cables when placing into the case.
1.2m Cable with Android One-Button Remote/Mic Cable
3m cable with adapter attached & velcro cable wrap
Microfiber small carrying bag

I feel like the included travel case is a huge plus for these headphones! It is a extremely useful accessory to protect and store your headphones during portable usage. The majority of portable closed headphones even up to the $400+ range do not include hard carrying case. Even the new recently released $400 premium closed portable headphones (MH40 Over Ear & BO H6) only come with a soft cloth case. I do strongly feel at the $300+ price point, a hard case should definitely be included. This is a very thoughtful and welcome addition by Oppo.
Images of the included denim hard case

Portable usage: These headphones are extremely well optimized for portable usage!! Easy to drive with an impedance of 26 ohms and a sensitivity of 102db. Very comfortable to wear with a very light weight of 320g. The design is very streamlined and stylish with sleek earcups that do not protrude out at all. They are stylish enough to wear outdoors and in public. The headphones fold flat in both directions which allows for comfortable fit when worn around the neck and fits snugly into the included hard case. Excellent passive noise isolation and no sound leakage at all during normal listening volumes. There is hardly any sound leakage up to painful listening volumes.
Noise Isolation Tests:
  1. Sound Leakage: From a 10 feet distance, the PM-3 is still totally silent up to 11/15 volume on the Samsung Galaxy S5. You begin hearing some noise leakage at 13/15. My normal listening volumes on the S5 is 8-10/15. From a 10 feet distance, I could turn the Lyr 2 volume pot up to the 1 o'clock  position before hearing any noise leakage. My normal listening volume on the Lyr 2 is 9 o'clock for the PM-3. For my hardest to drive headphones, the HE-560, I never go beyond 11-12 o'clock for normal listening volumes.
  2. External Noise Isolation: While playing music through the PM-3 at normal listening volumes, I could not hear any external music playing from my Samsung Galaxy S5 at full 15/15 volume from a 10 feet distance. With music playing on the PM-3, it completely masks background noises like the A/C unit fan, the stove vent fan set on high & microwave at a 15 foot distance, and my S5 playing a youtube clip of an airplane jet engine at full volume (link). Voices are also muffled and indistinct. Without any music playing, the PM-3 muffles outside noise approximately 30-50%.
Sound Quality:
The PM-3's sound signature sits nicely right in between the HE-560's extremely neutral presentation (I consider the HE-560's sound signature to be almost perfectly neutral, though some may consider a tad bright) and the LCD-X's darker bassier version of neutral. Very balanced and well-rounded. I would say perhaps a tad bit emphasis on the mid-range and a subtle smoothness over the treble to prevent too much brightness. Treble is not as crisp and airy as the HE-560, which makes the PM-3's treble sound much smoother and not as sharp. This does make the PM-3 quite forgiving and it does not display any hint of sibilance even on my poorly mastered tracks. The sound signature is actually quite close to the Massdrop AKG K7xx**, which I personally consider to be a very close-to-perfect representation of neutral and an amazing value for its sonics at the $200 price point. I think the PM-3 could pass off as a closed version of the K7xx. Overall sound is quite natural to my ear.
The mid-range of the PM-3 is definitely one of its greatest strengths. Very articulate and clean with a good sense of tonality. Piano notes are quite realistic and classical music really excels on these headphones. Female vocals, male vocals, guitars, violins, and trumpets all sound extremely realistic. (Those are the sounds that I have heard live the most so can assess realism better). I really enjoy the way strings are presented on these headphones, you can often even hear the subtle details of the musician's fingers plucking the strings. 
The bass is quite tight and clean (no excess bloat or over-emphasis). It is well-balanced to the rest of the sound signature. I would estimate a very subtle bass bump over the "technical ruler flat neutral measurement" as typical of most headphones (in a similar vein to the bass boost of the K7xx - I do believe it to be approximately by the same amount, maybe subtly more due to the additional bass reverb from its closed design). I do think this results in a very natural sounding sound signature and I personally view this sound signature to exemplify neutral. Bass notes are adequately tight with the characteristic planar speed and linear extension. Very linear bass extension that goes quite deep into the lower frequency range, picking up the low frequency rumbles and textures very well. Bass is strong and visceral when the recording calls for it, but never over-emphasized or over-powering. The bass does not bleed into the rest of the frequency response at all. Bass does have enough weight and impact for my listening pleasure. 
The treble has the characteristic Oppo house sound. It is a very smooth non-fatiguing treble (that I imagine Tyll would probably immensely enjoy). Not as sharp, crisp, and airy as my HE-560 or K7xx, but it is a very enjoyable presentation of treble. You do lose that extra sparkle or micro-treble detail of the HD800 has with the PM-3's presentation, but considering the numerous complaints for the unnatural brightness of the HD800, I can't disagree with the tuning choice for the treble. (note I personally don't find any issue with the HD800's brightness, but I do think that it is too bright to be a true neutral realistic portrayal of instruments). The tuning of the treble of the PM-3 is very safe and is definitely not overtly bright. Maintains a good level of clarity and detail. I do think the treble of the PM-3 do sound very "sweet" (never get any strident or piercing notes).
The overall speed and control of the PM-3 is one of its greatest sound quality assets. The PM-3 is very fast with every note presented quite tightly with adequate spacing. Great transient response with a clean attack and decay. It also presents a well-balanced sense of control over the macro and micro dynamics over the whole dynamic range. The subtle and acute changes in volume levels are quite perceptible but maintain a smooth coherency throughout. The PM-3 definitely lean more towards an organic presentation rather than an analytical/clinical delivery due to the subtle smoothness of its treble, the hint of richness in the midrange, and its full-bodied sound. The overall resolution of the PM3 is quite good with a high level of detail retrieval and great sense of clarity.
Of course, the sound stage of all my open headphones (k7xx, he-560, lcd-x) are better the closed portable PM-3, but I think that is the trade off for sleek closed earcup design & great noise isolation. The passive noise isolation of the PM-3 are extremely good. The PM-3 does still have good imaging and instrument separation, just a smaller sound stage compared to open headphones (typical of closed headphones). I would say the sound stage of the PM-3 would probably not be lacking in comparison to other closed headphones (perhaps the k550 will beat it in terms of sound stage, but I categorize the K550 of having the best sound stage of any closed headphones I have ever heard). I would categorize the PM-3 as having a more intimate presentation. However, this does not mean that the PM-3 is lacking in focus, instrument separation, or imaging. The PM-3 actually images very well and you can distinctly place the location of each instrument and singer. The imaging is quite realistic throughout as during a Yiruma piano track when he began to speak, I could place exactly where he was in the room. During orchestral pieces as well, I could distinctly hear where each instrument was. I would say that primary distinction in sound stage is that the PM-3 does give you the feel of listening in a smaller room or crowded club as opposed to a concert hall or outdoors concert. The stage seems a bit smaller and you feel like you are sitting closer to the music in comparison to my open headphones. Do remember that my comparison of sound stage of the PM-3 is against open headphones (K7xx, HE-560, LCD-X) that have the best-in-class sound stage out of any open headphones! A more fair comparison would be against other closed portable headphones, but unfortunately, I do not have any on hand to do a direct comparison against.
Measurements: (credit: Tyll Hertserns)
***Added onto my review on April 9th, 2015. I have not edited my sonic impressions after viewing these measurements***
Reference here for frequency response correlations to instruments and audiophile terms. (credit: Independent Recording Network)
***Please note that comparing measurements from different sources is not as reliable due to differences in measurement set-up. Compare frequency response curves from the same source for the best results. Full list of all headphones measured by Tyll:***
Direct Comparisons: (the links take you to the head-fi review page for each product)
Against the Massdrop AKG K7xx: Biggest difference is that the K7xx has a more spacious presentation compared to the PM-3's more intimate presentation. The K7xx has excellent sound stage for open headphones, so it is not too fair to do a comparison in that aspect. The K7xx does indeed win in the sound stage department hahah. The treble is the next difference. A smoother treble on the PM-3 compared to the airy treble of the K7xx. Approximately the same amount of bass quantity, though perhaps a subtle bit more on the PM-3.
**Note: The AKG K7xx is a special edition headphone based on the AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition offered by Massdrop.
Against the Hifiman HE-560: Similar differences as with the K7xx vs PM-3 comparison. The HE-560 does have a lot better detail retrieval, speed, resolution, and much larger sound stage. Spacing between notes is more pronounced on the HE-560. Much crisper, airy sound on the HE-560. Less bass quantity on the HE-560.
Against the Audeze LCD-X: LCD-X has more bass presence, impact, and quantity (more bass emphasis compared to the PM-3) & perhaps a subtly more 'sparkly' treble, but the PM-3 do hold their own in terms of sound quality. Quality of mid-range is quite similar as the PM-3 really excels in the mid-range and provides a similar richness to the texture here. The PM-3 do share the organic tonality of the Audeze headphones while sounding more neutral to my ear. The speed of the PM-3 is quite comparable to the LCD-X. 
From memory against the PM-1: I do believe that the PM-3 are actually tuned to be more neutral than the PM-1s. I remember that the PM-1s had a lush, smooth, rich texture and a lot of added warmth with very full bass notes with longer decay times (not exactly bloated, but much fuller presentation than the tight distinct lean presentation of bass notes of my HE-560s). This trait on the PM-1s was quite enjoyable, but did make it seem like you threw a warm fuzzy blanket over the recording. The PM-1s seemed to lose a bit of detail, crispness, airiness, and resolution in comparison to the other planar magnetic flagships. The resolution of the PM-1 was excellent, but the warm presentation shifted to focus more to the texture of notes rather than the individual notes and micro-details. The PM-3 do not share the PM-1's warm presentation, but rather has a cleaner, more neutral presentation. The PM-3 also does not have that extra warm texture added to their sound signature, which I personally prefer. It seems like a trade-off with that fuzzy warm rich feeling to the texture but gain a bit more spacing between notes (better attack/decay) & a better sense of detail. Hard to really comment on the exact differences in detail retrieval, micro-detail, and resolution without a direct comparison. Oppo headphones have not been known for their sound stage, and I would approximate that the sound stage of the PM-1s and PM-3 are quite close and comparable. I do remember the PM1s sounding quite intimate, and I do think the PM-3 have a similar presentation. The Oppo house sound also has a very smooth treble rather than a sharp and crisp presentation, so the PM-3 is akin to the PM-1 in that aspect as well.
***Update 4/9/15: comparisons against the Alpha Prime, Closed EL-8, and AKG K553 coming soon***
Amplification: I tested the PM-3 unamplified through my Dell XPS m1530 & Samsung Galaxy S5 against the Schiit Bifrost+Lyr 2 combo & Bifrost+Woo Audio WA7+WA7tp. Did direct by-ear-volume-matched non-blinded comparisons of short segments of songs that I am intimately familiar with (spent the most time using Heartbeat by Vincetone & Canon in D Major). Switching between different set-ups took less than 5 seconds.
I found that the PM-3 performed the worse from my 2007 Dell laptop with a little bit of roughness to the details, a slightly grainy edge to notes, and a looser bass response. (could possibly be due to an issue with my laptop's headphone out or sound card though). Sound was noticeably improved on the S5 with a better overall balance of the frequency response, cleaner details, faster articulation of notes, and a tighter bass response. I do strongly believe that the PM-3 will perform well using most modern day portable devices. The PM-3 do scale up nicely with the addition of a mid-entry amplifier and dac. (unfortunately, I no longer have any entry-level budget equipment to test with). I would say the most noticeable difference was increased bass presence/impact, wider sound stage, richer texture, and a higher level of resolution for micro-details. I had difficulty confirming the exact subtle technical performance differences between the Lyr 2 and WA7, though the WA7 does have an overall warmer presentation. With the refined smooth tuning of the PM-3, I doubt that they will be very picky with external components.
***Update (4/9/15)***
Portable Amp/Dacs: I tested the PM-3 with the Resonessence Herus and Oppo HA-2 individually on my S5 and laptop. Greatly enjoyed both pairings and they were adequate to drive the PM-3 without any noticeable clipping. Improved detail resolution and sound stage with both the Herus and HA-2. Precision of the imaging is stellar on both portable devices. The Herus has a brighter presentation than the rest of the dacs I own. This pairing can help improve the treble clarity and sharpness of the PM-3 without any excessive edginess. The Herus would be a good match if the treble presentation is too smooth or recessed for your personal tastes or if you like to subtly dial down the warmth in the sound signature. The PM-3's tuning and presentation prevents the sound from ever getting piercing or strident even with a bright dac. Link to the head-fi Herus thread here. I am still getting familiar with the HA-2; may comment in more detail on its sound later. Initial impressions are extremely positive and I feel that it is a great pairing for the PM-3. So far, the HA-2 does not appear to significantly alter the PM-3's overall sound signature to my ears, but it does improved the overall clarity throughout the frequency response. I immediately noticed improved sub-bass quality, deeper lower frequency extension, and better defined solid bass impact with the HA-2. The HA-2 is more revealing of subtle micro-details in the texture and improved the overall tonality with a realistic weight and presence to the notes. The bass boost feature provides an extremely clean bass 5dB boost frequencies below 100 Hz that tapers to 500 Hz. There is no muddiness or bleeding into the rest of the frequency response. You actually cannot hear a difference in the sound at all with bass boost on/off if you play music that does not have any notes below 500 Hz. I normally have the HA-2 set on low gain, no bass boost, volume pot at 1-2 out of 5 with the S5's volume maxed out. The HA-2 can even drive my HE-560 without any clipping to my preferred listening levels (maxed out volume on the S5 with analog volume pot at 2-3 out of 5 on high gain). Do note that precise volume-matching was a lot harder to do here with the Herus on the S5 having large volume steps, while the HA-2 allows extremely precise fine-tuning of volume levels with the combination of the Sabre dac chip's bit-perfect internal digital volume control and analog volume pot. There is no digital signal processor in the HA-2 and the bass boost is performed by pure analog audio circuits for a clean signal path. Link for HA-2 head-fi thread here.
***End of Update***
I will refrain from estimating the exact percentile of improvements in this section as I know that different people have different sensitivities to the sonic changes from different equipment. I am comfortable saying that there is a noticeable difference adding an mid-fi amplifier and dac during a direct back and forth comparison, but they do perform admirably unamped from my smartphone. Additional gear not required to thoroughly enjoy the PM-3 (imo).
From my personal experience, I do personally feel like even the best most resolving headphones only scale up to maybe 5-15% with the addition of external components generally. The overall sound signature and technical performance of the PM-3 was largely consistent in a broad sense throughout different set-ups. I never felt like there was anything lacking in terms of sound quality regardless of set-up, but I did eventually notice variations, subtleties, and improvements after extended direct comparisons. I always recommend people unhappy with their sound to switch headphones rather than fiddle with external components. However, if you are generally happy with their sound signature and performance, the PM-3 will go that extra mile with additional investments in your overall set-up.
Value Judgment:
You will be paying a premium for these headphones and these headphones do indeed offer premium build quality, design, and sound. I consider these to be in the upper mid-fi portable closed headphone category. The overall mid-fi portable closed over-ear headphone category ranges from $200-$500.
I consider well-reviewed $200-$300 options to generally be satisfactory for portable usage and provide a great value for sound. There are indeed other options that offer a more competitive value if purely looking at it from a dollar per sound quality perspective. Examples include the K545 (sub-$200 on sale), K551 ($200ish), Momentum Over-Ears 1st generation (can be found on sale for $150-$200 nowadays), and HP50 ($300) for great high quality sound with a neutral sound signature. 
I generally think that $400 headphones are often simply over-priced for their sonics in comparisons to competitors. The more expensive $400 headphones often do not have that much of a sonic improvement over their less expensive brethren, and I do feel like you are simply paying more for the brand name, build quality, and difference in sound signature, rather than sound quality. I do personally feel that way about the B&W P7 and Masters MH40 from my demoing experience with them. I have not had the chance to listen to the new BO H6 yet.
From my audio memory (so take with a grain of salt), I will say the PM-3 definitely greatly technically outperform the ATH-M50x, V-Moda LP/M80/XS/M100, Sony MDR-1R/MDR-1A, Ultrasone Pro900, Yamaha Pro500, and P7 (though those headphones may be preferable for some people looking for their specific coloration of the sound signature). The PM-3 significantly outperform the ATH-M50x (a classic reference point for good-valued headphones) in terms of comfort, design, and sound quality. The PM-3 have a more neutral well-balanced sound signature, better imaging/sound stage, quicker transient response, and greater detail resolution, though the ATH-M50/M50x does have a fun v-shaped sound signature that I greatly enjoyed. I do also personally believe the PM-3 also outperform the K545, Momentums gen1, and MH40 (specifically in terms of realism, overall balance, speed, detail retrieval, and resolution). I do feel like the sound stage of the AKG K550/K551 does best the Oppo PM-3 though. The K550/K551 have the best sound stage for a closed headphone that I have heard, though they are unsuitable for true portable usage. I have not gotten a chance to run direct blinded volume-matched comparisons against other closed portable headphones yet, so it is hard for me to say talk about the definite amount of sonic improvements in comparison to the other strong offerings in this category. (note: all the headphones mentioned above I have either owned or extensively demoed & these are my personal impressions so ymmv)
The PM-3 does offer significant sonic improvements over the more value-oriented options, but you are now definitely in the area of diminishing returns. I do personally find these headphones to be worth the premium price for me, but I would recommend you to do your own listening evaluations.
For shoppers interested in planar magnetic headphones at this price point that do not require noise isolation/portable usage, I would highly recommend checking out the Hifiman HE-400i ($499 msrp, $425 open box at razordog). I greatly enjoyed the HE-400i and feel like they offer a tremendous performance:price value. The other open planar magnetic options in this price range include the HE-400, HE-500, Fostex TH500, and PM-2. For people interested in a closed-back planar magnetic for non-portable home usage and require noise isolation, there is the $1.8k Audeze LCD-XC and Mr. Speaker offers modded Fostex T50RP ($299 Mad Dog, $449 Mad Dog Pro, $599 Alpha Dog, $999 Alpha Prime) that receive a lot of positive feedback around here. Audeze has also recently released the $699 EL-8, available in open-back or close-back configurations, that will be a good option to consider for at home usage. The extreme weight (460-480 grams) and bulky larger size of the EL-8 would make me hesitant to recommend them for true portable on-the-go usage. I will hopefully get the chance to demo them in a few weeks and run some direct comparisons, so I will update this review after that. After that, the only planar magnetic headphones currently available on the market are the premium flagship-type options from Audeze (LCD-2/LCD-X/LCD-XC/LCD-3), Hifiman (HE-560/HE-6/upcoming HE-1000), Oppo (PM-1).
For people just looking for a closed portable pair of headphones regardless of technology, my personal favorite mid-fi pick is the AKG K545 for the best sound quality per dollar value. I am also personally greatly interested in trying out the new Momentum Over-Ears Gen2, Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7, and BO H6. For people looking for home usage and do not require portable usage at all nor noise isolation, I would recommend looking into the multitude of stellar open headphones available on the market.

Sound signature is quite close to neutral with a full bodied and well-balanced sound comprising of 'sweet' smooth treble, deep fast bass, and an excellently rich articulate midrange. Sound quality maintains a high level of detail retrieval, resolution, clarity, speed, and imaging.
Greatest strength is the attention to detail paid to its portability function: very light-weight & comfy, sleek stylish design, easy to drive, great passive noise isolation, and included hard travel case & bundled remote/mic for your choice of device. Very solid option for people who require portability or noise isolation.
Greatest con is that its sound stage does not match the performance of open headphones. I would approximate that its sound stage is at least better than average among the majority of closed backs if not better than most closed headphones. Would require more in-depth direct comparisons though to really rank its sound stage among its closed back peers.
A great & very competitive offering even among the extremely crowded $200-$500 closed portable mid-fi headphones niche. One of the most inexpensive planar magnetic options out there for people interested in trying out orthodynamic headphones (prices for planar magnetic headphones start at $300 for the old Hifiman HE-400 and goes up to $2,000 for the Audeze LCD-3). One of the few closed planar magnetic headphones options out there (only others are the upcoming Audeze EL-8, Audeze LCD-XC and modded Fostex T50RPs like Mr. Speaker's line-up). Currently, the PM-3 is the only truly portable modern planar magnetic on the market.
Highly recommended for anyone looking for a closed portable pair of orthodynamic headphones with a well-balanced neutral sound signature and excellent overall sound quality!!! 
product link:
Image of all my gear used during testing
@DavidA I've owned both the L1 and the PM-3 - the PM-3 is a lot better to these ears. More detailed, faster, better imaging and better soundstage. The L1 at $103 is an amazing value, I'd be very happy to get a pair at that price if I didn't own higher end cans. The PM-3 has less bass than the L1, more treble and a lot more resolving and involved mids. Not saying they are bass light though, they have plenty of presence and extension - just not thick and dark like I felt the L1 were. The Oppo and L1 are a similar size, and both are comfortable - the PM-3 earpads are more roomy though.
oh bro
I'm just like ALL OF US.
I just happened to fall into audio and then the music biz at a young age.
Brought my PM-3s to Canjam!!  Seriously though - haven't been able to scribe my PM-3 review (finishing the final EL-8 review though)
so I just recommended your review to a few readers - 
Audio addict19
Audio addict19
Damn good review! Very in-depth. Think I will be purchasing a pair since i hate the fit of the HP50. Can't wait to see how well the PM-3 scales on my CD player vs. my mobile sources.