Renowned South Korean custom earphone specialist, Hidition, has been around a long time, with their scarcity and elusiveness adding to the mystique. We see if their pièce de résistance, the 11-driver Violet, is a unicorn worth seeking out.
The search for the exotic has been chaotic, hypnotic, quixotic, and even borderline erotic. The exhaustive pursuit of endgame in-ear monitors (IEMs) have bled and healed me, blessed and cursed me. Deluded by thoughts that “the one” awaits at the furthest possible location (or “our princess is in another castle” syndrome), my eternally thankful ears have sampled IEMs more diverse than a UCOB
We follow a trail of footprints to South Korea, where Hidition
resides. Hidition is a well-established custom IEM brand with a storied history dating back to 2002. Their claim to fame is the NT6
, a legend-status IEM from 2011 still available today, known for its utmost clarity and resolution. NT, as in “New Tears”, probably implies you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly make a grown man cry new tears.
Today, we take a long, alluring gaze at Violet, their new queen supreme atop the throne. The successor to the NT8
and only their fourth flagship since 2011, the gap between statement pieces highlight their commitment to perfection. Hidition are not out to make a quick buck, and take their time to release truly finished products.
The Violet is crafted from 11 balanced armature drivers, a 4-way crossover unit and 4 sound bores. While vanilla-sounding in the realm of flagships, what sets Hidition apart from other high-end IEM brands are their artisan designs which have to be seen to be believed. Hidition’s final products not only sound exquisite, every earpiece is a bespoke, unique work of art. A true delight to the senses.
Hidition’s unicorn status is well fabled. For the longest time, it was hard to obtain anything from them. Their website is in Korean, and ordering directly would mean crossing a massive language barrier. And even before that, you have no idea what they sound like because there are barely any dealers to audition from.
Thankfully, my Violets were ordered through Singapore-based dealers Zeppelin & Co.
They have demo units in-house, and moreover assisted me throughout the ordering process in plain English. If you have any questions for Hidition they will help via interpreters. To put a cherry on top, the Zepp team are friendly and easily contactable, with a worldwide customer base. Hopefully Hidition’s unobtanium status will be a thing of the past.
The Violet is available in universal
form. Both have customizable options, and while the universal retails at SGD4199 (~$3015), the custom is pricier at SGD4399 (~$3160). An extravagant price for an extravagant product. Blame 64 Audio, they started it. I would like to thank Zeppelin & Co. for the discount provided and making this review possible.
This review was first published in Headphonesty
- FiiO M15
- Hidition Violet
- Vision Ears VE8
- Sony IER-Z1R
- Amber Rubarth – Sessions from the 17th Ward
- Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
- Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
- Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
- Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
- Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
- Melissa Menago – Little Crimes
- The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over
- The Weeknd – After Hours
Get up, come on get down with the Dignis.
Packaging and Accessories
- Drivers: 11 Balanced Armatures
- Configuration: Super tweeter 4BA, tweeter 1BA, mids 2BA, lows 4BA
- Crossover: 4-Way
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 19500Hz
- Sensitivity: 106dB
- Impedance: 32.5Ω
- Isolation: -26dB
But first, a touch of luxury. Violet comes in a veritably stunning zippered leather case with its own name. Made in collaboration with Dignis
, a fellow Korean company that specializes in leather cases for portable audio, the Armin
looks distinctive and sharp while remaining roomy and practical. The Armin has soft inner lining and special compartments for IEMs to confer maximum protection while on the go.
However, being leather, expect it to be subjected to wear and tear after prolonged use. After a few months, I couldn’t take the blemishes anymore, and changed to a hard case to transport my Violets. The other accessories are more commonplace especially for custom IEMs which traditionally don’t provide many goodies to start with. You get a cable, cleaning tool, cleaning cloth, manual and warranty information. Boring but yeah.
The stock cable is made of 8 wires of 5N pure copper, with each wire containing 28 strands of hair-thin copper, bundled together with strings normally used in parachutes to increase tensile strength. Sheathed in all-black PVC, the cable is subtly elegant and handles superbly, being soft, supple and malleable with very little memory effect. It’s substantially better than your average Plastics One
, so good you might even hold off on that cable upgrade.
Another thing of note is the inclusion of your Violet’s very own frequency graph, complete with channel matching. It might go unnoticed to the casual listener (in which case, what are you doing here?), especially if you don’t read graphs that much, but it’s great to know they did some meticulous QC before shipping off your precious IEMs.
The individual compartments improve separation and layering.
Design and Build Quality
I have a lingering suspicion that Hidition headquarters are staffed full of artists and designers, leaving little wiggle room for one or two engineers and marketers. Otherwise I can’t fathom nor explain their incredibly varied and jaw-dropping designs, limited only by imagination and the size of the earpieces. Hidition continually pushes and resets the boundaries of custom IEM design, churning out masterpieces at will.
You can choose from their extensive collection of shell colors and faceplate designs
, sure, but that’d be selling yourself short. To see the extent of what Hidition is really capable of, you’ll have to do your homework. First, inspire yourself with Hidition’s past creations, either from Instagram
or Zeppelin’s own Facebook album
. Then, collaborate with Zeppelin staff to create a design that is uniquely yours. They will do the hard work of communicating with Hidition for you.
Lastly, allow creative license to the makers, give them free reign. They have the expertise and experience to craft absolute beauties for you. My broad instructions were full-shell swirls, with purple/white/gold on the right, and pink/white/navy on the left. After two months’ wait, my Violets finally arrived, and the heart-stopping end product exceeded all expectations. To this day, they continue to be conversation pieces wherever I bring them. It can happen to you too lol.
The earpieces are lovingly, fastidiously built, with polished and curved edges. They are a delight to hold and admire. The faceplates and shells are congruent with the seams not seen nor felt at all, as if molded from a single block of acrylic. As well-built as they are though, the earpieces are on the larger side, compared to, say Empire Ears’ more compact offerings, and stick out the ears some, affecting fit.
Four bores to set off your trypophobia, or fear of holes.
Fit, Comfort and Isolation
As mentioned, Violet’s a voluptuous girl, persuading a tight fit, akin to choosing between Freddie Mercury spandex or Bon Jovi skinny jeans. The initial fit might be uneasy, but give it some time and wear it often. However unsavory it sounds, your ear wax will lubricate the IEMs, give them a waxy sheen, and enable you to slide them in effortlessly in due time. When the fit is finally right you’ll go “noice!” and “toit!” Andy Samberg-style.
With the size hurdle out of the way, Violet becomes a relaxed fit, giving hours of listening pleasure. The grooves, crevices and curves adhere nicely to my external ears and canals, just more filled-in compared to my other custom IEMs. As for isolation, you’d expect near-total blockage of external noise owing to the snug fit, and you’d be right. Violet provides ample time for privacy and to be alone with your music unperturbed. Talk to the hand.
The wolf replies “The better to hear you with!”
World-famous hairstylist Vidal Sassoon famously stood behind his products, declaring “if you don’t look good, we don’t look good.” I can imagine Hidition doing the same. The Violets look beautiful as ever, but how do they sound?
Overall Sound Signature
I’ve likened the Violet to a ballerina
before, and not by accident. Violet’s forte is her strong foundation in technical ability. Her movement is disciplined and focused, every move en point and measured, yet finished with a graceful bloom. Violet conducts music with confidence, as if performing her favourite routine at a recital, brimming with panache and style while steadfastly maintaining her skillset.
Now, back to sound. Resembling the elegant yet composed Arabesque
(not the groundbreaking Coldplay song, but here it is
anyway) ballet pose, Violet is a gentle U-shape, featuring elevated sub-bass and treble, while retaining evenness in-between. The deviation from neutral is deliberate, imbuing the soundscape with added warmth and energy, a yin/yang balance handled superbly by the deft, delicate hands of Violet.
What struck me at each listen was Violet’s innate ability to extract unholy amounts of information, combined with an addictive, toe-tapping fun factor, and wrapped in resounding musicality and tunefulness. She is an adaptable and affable all-rounder that delivers coherence and captivation, balancing the potent bass, luscious mids and transcendent treble in a sublime signature. This is the flagship you’ve been waiting for.
Critical listening was done after 100 hours of burn-in, all the more time to admire the Violets with. After the burn-in period I could not hear any obvious sonic changes, meaning to say Violet is splendid from the get-go, and rightfully so. The main review setup is FiiO’s M15 player with the stock cable.
Subtly telling you she’s taken and not seeing any potential suitors.
Kanye West once rapped, “No one man should have all that power
”. Well Violet is female, and she possesses one of the most thunderous and rip-roaring sub-bass responses I’ve ever put into my ears. Unapologetically physical and head-rattling, the mighty sub-bass thumps away at your subconscious, willing you to do its bidding, ie. shake what your mama gave.
The sub-bass authority beguiles and beleaguers listeners into believing they are driven by dynamic drivers (DD), but I assure you they are BA all the way. From the boisterously elevated, we move to the regularly elevated mid-bass. It exudes warmth and fullness, you will not be left wanting for more punch and slam. Yet the midbass extracts so much detail, you marvel at each sculpted note and carefully-placed layer as Violet invites you to both listen and feel.
Approaching upwards, the upper bass leans out. In exchange for the note body we receive air, dynamics and even more resolving detail. Like a check-and-balance system, the upper bass is the vestige of normalcy after the pummelling of the sub-bass. It is swift, incisive, and decays tidily, rounding off a well-balanced bass that thrills and excites, while remaining technically astute.
While one of the most impressive BA basses I’ve heard, Violet is without its weaknesses. The sub-bass is aggressive to the point of bleeding into the midbass at times. It gets distracting even for a part-time basshead like me, especially in more refined genres like classical and jazz. Also, Violet lacks the intricate texture and natural, bloomy decay of the best dynamic drivers, proving we can’t really have it all.
Children’s books, make the perfect camouflage.
Imagine cuddling up to the smoothest, velvetiest drink possible, composed with generous gobs of honey, cream and aged cognac. Every transducer’s mids aspire to be just that. Creamy, buttery, relaxing, and engrossing, drenched in emotion sickness. But the final ingredient in Violet’s nightcap springs a surprise, adding a dash of sparkling water for playfulness and bubbly excitement.
Violet’s mids cocktail faces a daunting task, anchoring the throbby bass and primadonna treble on either side, while carving an identity of its own. But I daresay it’s mission accomplished. Positionally, they are neutrally located, providing breathing space to the signature. Notes possess a smooth liquidity, a sweet hue, and a luscious, natural tone, finished with a subtle lustre of brightness and effervescence.
It is this subtle brightness, however, that prevents the Violet from being 100% timbrally-accurate and easygoing. The airy, vivacious undercurrent is there, lending urgency and dynamism that gratifies speedier tracks. I will say though, that Violet captures the balance between clarity and smoothness exceptionally well. You can sink into velvety vocal delights or bop your head to hip-hop. There’s no shame in either.
Besides being an engaging, musical listen, Violet’s mids showcase brilliant technical prowess and layering ability, defining and delineating every note with graceful ease. The only weakness I can hear is the dip in the lower mids, producing thinner male vocals and less grunt in bass guitars and cellos. But from there, going to the neutral centre mids and finally the prominent upper mids, it’s nothing short of an ascent to greatness.
This is how I imagine awards night for IEMs to be.
Hidition, thy reputation precedes thee. Roll out the red carpet for treble royalty, for they have rarely misstepped in this region. Their famed IEMs are known to have gloriously transparent and resolving treble, but here, the Violet manages to flaunt another aspect of its vaunted, multifaceted treble tuning.
What am I going on about? The Violet is of course, adept at rendering ridiculous amounts of detail, upturning notes and shining a sparkling light to tones and textures not often treaded on. But here it does so with remarkable finesse and delicacy, providing a softness where other uncouth detail-mongers would overlook and say “more treble” like a dunk of cold water.
Violet treats each note like a grain of sand, observing intricately its surface and texture. But more than just raw detail, Violet preserves musicality and coherency by maintaining a smooth flow as if through an hourglass. What’s more, this scarlet starlet extends towards the heavens, featuring rises in the lower and upper treble, but dipping the mid-treble expertly for that gentle, dainty flourish.
Cymbals and hi-hats crash and decay with utmost realism, playfully tickling the ear but never harsh nor invasive. The skyward extension imparts wispy, wondrous air throughout the signature, while notes float in and out highlighted by clarity and a fluttery, rounded finish. Violet’s rebel treble is mischievous, whimsical, and utterly spellbinding, fit for your lofty ambitions.
Oh dandy, it’s swirly candy.
Soundstage and Imaging
A kiddie song about boats once proclaimed, life is but a dream. Violet philosophizes that life is, in fact, a stage. A space to perform and bask in the limelight, before ultimately fading away. Violet presents forth a grand musical playground worthy of a virtuoso performance. Stage width leads the way most apparently, while height and depth are definitely no slouches either. The dimensions are vast, and certainly flagship-worthy.
With such an effortlessly wide sound field, left to right imaging is placed among the elite. Nothing escapes the ear as each minute detail is tidily separated and given its own space. If I chose to, I could easily focus onto a voice or instrument via the precision of this audio scalpel. Similarly, depth, height and layering are superbly executed. Positional cues are vividly, realistically captured from all angles, via Violet’s assured, microsonic lens. The ease of imaging translates to an encompassing, evocative, and even spiritual experience. Violet’s technical ability remains its showpiece.
Roses are red, Violets are uh, purple.
Vision Ears VE8
I once bestowed Vision Ears’ VE8 the title of “best tuning ever”, so that’ll be hard to shake off. Truth be told, even today they still spellbind me with their blend of lush, warm musicality and top-end resolution, not to mention having the best mids in the business. In a contest of “who can make you tear up more”, VE8 has no equal.
Boasting a liquid, organic tone, VE8’s mids sound richer, more forward and natural, especially in vocals, they’re practically the masterclass. Violet’s mids, however airy and detailed they are, sound grainier and thinner in comparison. That isn’t to say Violet didn’t come unarmed and unprepared though, as she is a class above in technical ability.
Throughout the spectrum, VE8 is rounder and weightier, like a dip in a milkshake pool. Violet however, is airier, more open and infinitely more dynamic. Violet’s higher resolving ability results in better note definition and texture, and more extension at both ends. When pitting VE8’s unmatchable quality with Violet’s, it’s a question of whether you prefer raw emotion or sweet, sweet transparency.
Elsewhere, Violet has a thumpier, more physical sub-bass, while VE8 has a fuller midbass with a sub-bass roll-off. At the upper end, Violet’s treble is crisper and better-defined, although VE8 is just a step behind. VE8 possesses a wider soundstage, yet feels ever-so-slightly congested due to the syrupy thick notes, while Violet has a deeper stage with more accurate imaging.
When the dust clears and the tit-for-tat ends, there is no outright winner, only your ears. Both IEMs perform at the summit tier, and you could do no wrong with either one. I am lucky to have heard two of the most mesmerizing, enchantingly-tuned all-BA IEMs available today.
One member short of Maroon 5.
Opinion disguised as fact: Sony’s flagship is the finest hybrid in existence. No other IEM I know combines fluid coherence, obsessive levels of detail, and pulse-pounding bass as effortlessly as the Z1R, and stands on its own as the ultimate V-shaped IEM. But then again, he’s never danced with Violet yet.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There is no way Violet’s bass, however agile and physical, can compete with Sony’s utter realism. Driven by a DD, Z1R’s bass is airier and more dynamic, with a gut-busting punch followed by a simply natural, gorgeous decay that resembles speaker setups.
The Z1R’s bass detail and layering are intricate and pinpoint, while maintaining an admirable balance between rumble and slam. Violet is cleaner and leaner, and in fact, displays excess authority in the sub-bass while remaining stunningly detailed. While one of the most accomplished BA basses I’ve heard, Sony is head and shoulders above.
Violet stands proud and tall in the mids and treble though, rendering notes with more precise timbre. Vocals, in particular, are lusher and more realistic. The Sony is caught out with digital glare sometimes, while male vocals, its Achilles’ heel, sound thin and reedy. Up top, the Z1R tends to be bright and peaky at spots, while Violet conveys excellent treble detail with a smoother finish. Extension is similar but Violet sounds more resolved and refined.
For soundstage, it’s hard to imagine any other word to describe Sony’s other than epic. It’s absolutely massive, like pondering the infinite reaches of space, and positively dwarfs the Violet, despite her own grand dimensions. Violet has better imaging capabilities, but you might be too awestruck by the Z1R’s sheer scope to notice.
At the end of the day, if you’re seeking a fun, dynamic and exciting signature, nothing comes close to the Sonys, but you’ll need breaks from the incessant bass assault. Violet is altogether a more technically proficient, pleasant and refined all-rounder, classy and proper.
The petite elite.
That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight… losing my religion. High fidelity is a temple (or maybe just some good vibrations) and my ears are praying hard. At the apex of this hobby, the Violet offers nothing new, technologically-speaking. It’s not a fancy-schmancy hybrid made out of four types of transducers and a crossover design complex enough to defibrillate a racing heart.
But it is, at heart, a well-tuned IEM that floors me with every listen. Violet possesses an arresting, chameleon-like tone that dazzles and sizzles as convincingly as it is pensive and introspective. Never have I encountered another earphone so profoundly, profusely enjoyable, irresistibly fun and lively, yet sweeps me off my feet on swelling, emotional tracks.
The Violet deserves more love than it has now, owing to its prohibitive price and limited availability. As of writing, no other English-language reviews exist, but I’m proud to declare that Violet is the crown jewel of my collection. I would shout it from rooftops, or whisper to people waiting at the cash register. Violet is a phenomenal, monumental listen, if only you dare take the leap (or plunge) of faith with me.