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FiiO Balanced Cable For Shure Earphones (RC-SE1B)

Rating:
3/5,

Recent Reviews

  1. Brooko
    FiiO RC-SE1B – Quality build and good value – but microphonic
    Written by Brooko
    Published Jul 16, 2016
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Overall build quality, flexibility, standard connectors, cinch, aesthetics
    Cons - Microphonics, over ear section can initially be uncomfortable, very difficult to see L/R indicators
    RC-SE1B13.jpg
    For larger (1200 x 800) images, click any picture
    (the above photo is one of FiiO's stock images - credit to them for the fine photography)

    INTRODUCTION

     
    I'm pretty much a cable agnostic. I don't believe in magic – I do believe in measurable changes, and do believe they can affect the sound to a certain extent. But the stuff they change can be measured, and as long as we don't try to look for something that's not really there, then I have no issues. I'm usually a sceptic regarding some of the claims that cables can make – and experimenting has helped me a lot with my understanding.
     
    For me – the most important things about a cable are the build, connection/connector quality, flexibility, aesthetics, fit and comfort, level of noise or microphonics. The only real interest I have in sound is that I would prefer it doesn't overly alter the sonics of my earphones. For that I can use EQ, or tip roll. I would never buy a cable because it sounds better. We'll get into that during the review.
     
    You will notice that I've also posted a review on the FiiO RC-UE2B, and that a lot of the review is identical. This is because a lot of the build, packaging etc is also identical. Hopefully you will allow me to reprint same sections in both reviews. In the matter of cables – it is simply not practical to rewrite entire sections when they will contain the same things.
     
    Lastly – my reasons for asking FiiO about the cables was primarily so I could test the new AM3 balanced connection on the X7, and also the Luxury & Precision L3.
     
    ABOUT FIIO
    By now, most Head-Fi members should know about the FiiO Electronics Company. If you don’t, here’s a very short summary. FiiO was first founded in 2007. Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”. But FiiO has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5, X1, X3 2nd Gen (X3ii), X5 2nd Gen (X5ii), M3 and X7. They now have a full range of DAPs, DAC/amps, amps, cables and interconnects, and are even starting to release their own earphones (designed and manufactured in partnership with other OEMs).
     
    FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.
     
    DISCLAIMER
    The RC-SE1B cable was provided to me gratis as a review sample. I had made it clear to FiiO in the past that I did regard any product they sent me as their sole property and available for return any time at their request.
     
    FiiO have told me earlier this year that they will no longer accept any payment from me for gear I'd like to keep for myself - they have insisted any future review models are mine to keep. So I acknowledge now that the RC-SE1B I have is supplied and gifted completely free of any charge or obligation. I thank FiiO for their generosity. I own and have paid for the E7, E9, E11, E11K, X1, and X5 in the past. I get no form of recompense or payment for these reviews, and I have no other affiliation with FiiO other than as an independent reviewer.
     
    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.
    I'm a 49 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5 Pro and L3, and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and of course the Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
     
    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.
     
    I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays).
     
    MY VIEW ON CABLES
    I need to get this up front very quickly. I personally believe that most of the claims out there about cables increasing things like clarity, sound-stage etc are simply the reviewers who claim it not setting up their comparisons correctly. Let me explain. In my tests, practically all the cables I have tested have had one thing in common, the frequency response does not change, or the changes are so small (mostly a lot less than 1dB – and that is across the whole curve) – so the changes claimed about being brighter or increased bass etc simply are unlikely to be true. I don't doubt that proponents of cable change believe what they are hearing. I am just not experiencing it.
     
    What I can say is that when I have measured, I have often noticed volume changes – and some of these would be very noticeable. In the case of a higher impedance earphone like the MEE P1 – the stock silver-copper hybrid cable actually has a slightly higher impedance that other cables – causing a lower volume. This lower volume is across the whole frequency spectrum though. So for anyone comparing the MEE P1 cable against a FiiO cable – the FiiO cable would be louder. We hear louder things (music) as having more vibrancy, more prominent bass, more detail, more clarity, more apparent sound-stage etc. See where I am coming from? In reality (to me anyway) if I volume match the two cables and then compare – they sound exactly the same.
     
    So why would you bother with an after-market cable? That is actually an easy one. My primary reasons are:
    1. For better fit and comfort
    2. For better connectors (an example is my Fidue A83 which has issues with the stock cable – but these are fixed by an ALO Tinsel)
    3. For better usability – more flexibility, less memory, better microphonics
    4. For alternate connections (e.g. balanced)
    5. For aesthetics – don't discount the pleasure a nice looking cable can bring.
     
    But will a cable never change the sound? Not – it actually can. Often for BA drivers which have an impedance curve with a hump (rather than flat) – if the cable has increased impedance, it can change the frequency response. This is not as common as you'd think though. And if the manufacturer has tuned the earphone – why would I be intentionally looking to change that tuning with an expensive after-market cable, when I could do the same thing easily via EQ?
     
    You may not agree with my stance – and this is not the place for a sermon or a debate. I just thought I'd get my view out there so that if you don't agree, you can stop reading now. Lets also not turn the comments section into a massive debate either. If anyone wants to discuss in the Sound Science section though – let me know the thread and I'm more than happy to discuss further.
     
    This is a purely subjective review of the RC-SE1B cable – my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own views.

    THE REVIEW

     
    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
    The RC-SE1B arrived in a small white retail box measuring approximately 80 x 120 x 12mm. On the front is a picture of the RC-SE1B balanced jack, MMCX connectors, and also a list of some of the compatible IEMs. While I didn't have any of the IEMs listed, I did have several pairs of IEMs which take standard MMCX connectors so there was no issue with having enoguh compatible earphones to connect.
     
    RC-SE1B01.jpg RC-SE1B02.jpg RC-SE1B03.jpg
    Front of the box
    Rear of the box
    Contents

     
    On the rear of the box are full specifications as well as a very good pictorial graphic of the MMCX and jack configuration. It is simple but clean, clear and informative.
     
    Opening the box simply reveals the wound cable and a white shirt clip.
     
    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
    The table below lists most of the relevant specifications.
     
     
    FiiO RC-SE1B
    Approx cost
    30-32 USD
    Type
    Balanced MMCX after-market cable
    Connector Type
    Standard MMCX
    Compatibility
    Should fit most IEMs with standard MMCX connection
    Weight
    18g
    Length
    1.2m
    Conductor material
    26 AWG silver plated copper
    Sheathing
    Teflon FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene)
    Impedance
    0.16 Ω
    Individual wires
    8 in 4 x 2 configuration
    Jack
    2.5mm gold plated TRRS
    Jack config (tip to base)
    R-, R+, L+, L-

     
    BUILD
    The RC-SE1B is a really pretty looking cable. Considering it's made of silver plated copper it is surprisingly flexible, and I was keen to try it alongside the ALO Tinsel cables I have, as well as those from Trinity Audio and other manufacturers.
     
    RC-SE1B08.jpg RC-SE1B09.jpg
    Standard MMCX connectors
    If you look really hard you can just make out the letter "R"

     
    If we start at the connector end, the RC-SE1B utilises a standard MMCX configuration with a fairly standard conical connector housing. The connections are gold plated and seem to be a very standard fit – I'm able to use most of my standard IEMs with MMCX connectors (including the Trinity Atlas, Fidue A83 and A91, MEE P1 and Oriveti Primacy. The housing around the connectors conical, 12mm in length and 7mm in diameter, and made of clear hard polycarbonate. One negative here – it is extremely difficult to see the L/R indicators and if there was anything I would change from the build perspective – it would be the simple inclusion of red and blue dots on the connectors to make channel identification easier.
     
    The cable exit from the connectors does not have strain relief, but its unlikely to receive a lot of bending, and given the cable material is so sturdy, should not pose issues. The cable has an 8cm section from the sockets which has a very thin extra layer, and this forms a naturally shaped ear-loop. It's not really a mould-able or form-able ear guide – more of a shaping which naturally loops over your ears.
     
    RC-SE1B07.jpg RC-SE1B04.jpg
    Y-split and cinch
    2.5mm TRRS jack

     
    The Y split is a piece of solid very clear polycarbonate and just above this sits a really well fitted hard plastic cinch. The cinch slides smoothly, but also keeps its place nicely – and as you'll read later, is really essential.
     
    The 2.5mm TRRS jack is gold plated, and a perfect fit for both the X7 and L3's balanced connectors. The jack has very good strain relief and the amazing thing is actually unscrewing the housing. FiiO have encased the wiring in a hard grey plastic mould – I'm guessing this is to further ensure the shielding and separation of the balanced components.
     
    RC-SE1B05.jpg RC-SE1B06.jpg
    Cable unravelled slightly to show 8 separate wires
    The really nice coil to make up main cable

     
    The cable seems to be really well built. FiiO states that the internals consist of:
    1. 11 strands of silver plater copper wire strands (0.08mm each)
    2. these are combined into 8 separate cables which are individually sheathed in Teflon FEP.
    3. These 8 cables then form twisted pairs which have separate L/R channels for each balanced connection
    4. Above the Y-split, each side's cable (2x2 config) is in total <2mm thick.
    5. Below the Y-split, the cable (now 2 sets of 2x2 config) is in total <4mm thick
     
    FiiO's photo showing the cable make-up is imemdiately below - it explains things quite nicely
    RC-UE2B16.jpg
    Apart from the L/R indicators I cannot fault the overall build on this cable. For ~$30 this is really impressive.
     
    DESIGN / FIT / MICROPHONICS
    I'll start with the good. The cable does have slight memory (most silver plated cables do), but its much better than a lot of copper cables I've tried. It is pretty flexible, and is not overly tangly or unmanageable. I did find the first week of using it could cause sore spots on my ears (where the cable rests). This has dissipated pretty well – but I do wonder whether a slightly heavier cover over this 8cm section could further alleviate some of this. Overall though pretty comfortable.
     
    Where there is a major issue is the choice of outer sheath and the resulting microphonics. The cable noise is really quite noticeable. Touching the outer sheath transmits a lot of microphonics, and wearing it loose outside clothing is simply not an option (if you value your sanity anyway). This is the one single area FiiO do need to do some work on for future releases. To be fair, more expensive cables like ALO's Tinsel also have some issues with microphonics so they aren't alone with this issue. ALO's new Litz cable though is an example of how good a quality cable can be – and personally I'd rather pay a little more for a largely microphonic free cable. Fortunately the cinch works very well, and if I tucked the cable under clothing and used the cinch, noise was kept to a bare minimum, and they were even really good for walking.
     
    Some cable management is essential though.
     
    COMPATIBILITY & CONNECTOR FIT
    As outlined above, so far I've been able to use the RC-SE1B with my Trinity Atlas, Fidue A83 and A91, MEE P1 and Oriveti Primacy. I did try it with the Dunu Titan series and 2002, as well as the q-Jays, but as expected there were connector compatibility issues with these earphones. So far I've been impressed with the fit of the connectors – they have snapped together well with the IEMs which have a standard connector, and the connections have been solid with no drop outs.
     
    RC-SE1B11.jpg RC-SE1B10.jpg
    The original Atlas
    The MEE P1

     
    FiiO states that the RC-SE1B will fit most standard connectors, and that will include the Shure family SE215, SE315, SE425, SE846, UE900 and UE900S, JVC HA-FX850 and HA-FX1200.
     
    The connector fit hasn't been quite as solid as the ALO Tinsel cables – but it doesn't seem to be too far away.
     
    GRAPHS
    Dilemma how do you measure a cable (to check for differences) without having the possible differences between balanced and single-ended nullifying what you're trying to measure? The good news is that I received a balanced to single-ended adaptor among the cables included with Fidue's new Sirius hybrid IEM – so I could effectively measure and compare a variety of earphones with:
    1. the stock cable – single ended
    2. the balanced FiiO cable – converted to single ended
    3. the ALO Tinsel cable either balanced or single ended
     
    In the graphs below I measured both the MEE P1 and also the Trinity Atlas. For the Atlas – I used my “special pair” - which have a slightly different tuning to the factory standard release. The graphs are generated using the Vibro Veritas coupler and ARTA software. I must stress that they aren’t calibrated to IEC measurement standards, but the raw data I’m getting has been very consistent, and is actually not too far away from the raw data measured by other systems except for above 4-5 kHz where it shows significantly lower than measurements performed on a properly calibrated rig. So when reading the graphs, don’t take them as gospel – or at least remember that the area above 4-5 kHz will be significantly higher in actuality. It is my aim to get this system calibrated at some stage in the near future.
     
    First up is the Atlas (remember my special pair is not the default sig – this is bass light and mid-range accentuated). The Atlas is a single BA and single dynamic hybrid. In the first graph we see the default Trinity cable (blue) the FiiO RC-SE1B (red) and the ALO Tinsel (yellow). Note how close they are.
     
    Atlas1.png
     
    Now lets see the same graph with the FiiO cable – 0.5 dB and the Tinsel + 0.5 dB. With volume matching they are all now showing essentially the same plot. Listening and I can't really tell a difference between all 3 cables from a single-ended source (using the adaptor). If you had particularly acute hearing you may perceive the volume differences, but as demonstrated, if volume matched – they sound the same.
     
    Atlas2.png
     
    Measuring the MEE P1 was more enlightening. This is single dynamic driver and I know it has a pretty flat impedance curve. The difference with the P1 is that at 50 ohms impedance and 96 dB (1 mW at 1 kHz), it is not the easiest to drive.
     
    If we look at the first graph showing raw unmatched data – this time we can see a bigger discrepancy with the FiiO cable being the loudest, the ALO Tinsel about 0.6dB softer than the FiiO, and the stock cable a whopping 2.2 dB below that. Again after volume matching properly, the similarities are obvious. If you can tell these cables apart in a blind test when properly volume matched, then you may just be superhuman!
     
    MEEP1a.png   MEEP1b.png
     
    Again, when actually listening the stock cable was easy to differentiate (it was much quieter), and the Tinsel and RC-SE1B sounded pretty much the same to me. After volume matching I couldn't tell any of them apart. As I said in the the other review, it could be that my hearing isn't as acute as some people who report such sound variations. All I can do is present you what I hear and what I measure, and leave you to draw your own conclusions.
     
    SINGLE ENDED vs BALANCED WITH THE RC-SE1B
    The MEE P1 was always going to be the IEM to benefit most from a balanced set-up. This is simply because of the added power output. For this test I used the X7 with AM3 – with the X7 in DAC mode. I volume matched and used Fidue's Sirius adaptor, and swapped back and forth. It was a sighted test – so bear that in mind.
     
    RC-SE1B12.jpg
     
    For my hearing I would not be able to tell the two apart in a blind volume matched test. I know the crosstalk is better and distortion is lower in the balanced measurements. But for me personally – the benefit of balanced is the ability to drive harder loads a little more easily. With a harder to drive IEM like the MEE P1, the use of balanced can be really handy.
     
    Now just in case some of you are thinking “Brooko should maybe stop reviewing – his ears are getting shot”, I thought I'd back up the test with a direct comparison of the balanced and single ended output of the FiiO X7 + AM3. For this I used the FiiO cable and also the adaptor from the Sirius. In the graph below you will see the frequency response from the single ended raw output, the balanced raw output and the comparison when you apply ~ 4.5dB of volume adjustment to match them. The reason they look slightly different from the other graphs is that this time the X7 was used as a DAC and it has a noticeable filter roll-off compared to the “flat” sound-card I use for most of my testing. There was also a few days between testing, and it's practically impossible to get the tips on the coupler exactly the same.
     
    MEEP1withX7.png
     
    Anyway – my ears aren't fooling me. The outputs are essentially audibly identical once volume matched.

    SUMMARY FIIO RC-SE1B

     
    For a cable agnostic like me, this was going to be an interesting exercise. I wanted to try this particular cable because it was cheap, had a balanced connection, and I could compare it with the ALO Tinsel and also use it with my MMCX enabled IEMs.
     
    There are a lot of positives with the RC-SE1B. It is extremely well built, looks fantastic, and has pretty low impedance – so its not going to be adding its own flavour. It is also very affordable which is an absolute bonus for those looking for a balanced cable but don't want to spend big bucks. It also has a standard socket connection – so will work well with most MMCX enabled standard connectors.
     
    On the negative side with this one is the high microphonics (can be mitigated through use of the cinch and sensible cable management). However if you are particular about the need for low microphonics and aren't open to use of cable management, my advice is to steer clear of the FiiO cables for now.
     
    Overall though I have no problems giving a 3/5 for the RC-SE1B. The value and build quality is hard to fault. If FiiO could refine it a little more with a different sheath material, and better R/L markings it would make it even better value.
     
    FINAL THANKS
    Once again thanks to Sunny at FiiO for giving me a chance to try the RC-SE1B.
      liquidrats and pedalhead like this.
    1. twister6
      I reviewed Fiio's original RC cable a few years ago and the microphonics issue was as bad and quite irritating. On everything else we agreed to disagree , but I was hoping they are going to address microphonics. I guess it's tolerable when you are sitting still, enjoying music, but definitely not as you move around.
      twister6, Jul 16, 2016
    2. Brooko
      Its actually not bad as long as you are prepared to use the cinch, and tuck the cable under clothes.  I went for a 10k walk a couple of days ago with the Atlas, and never really noticed any noise. I'd love to see them address it though.
      Brooko, Jul 16, 2016

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