The Hisenior B8 is a fantastic pair of IEMs for its price, going head to head and holding its own against IEMs costing twice its price. If you are prepared to take a punt on a Chi-Fi brand, you won't be disappointed by these 8BA marvels. What they lack in bass punch and soundstage, they nail in detail, clarity and separation, and you've got to spend an awful lot more money before you start exceeding their capabilities.
Introductions and General Bumf
This is an interesting set of firsts for me. It's my first review of a set of earphones, and those earphones being the first I bought on the HeadFi trading platform (thanks to @menuki). The headphones in questions are the HiSenior B8 (the "B8s") – a Chi-Fi, 8 Knowles BA IEM, available on AliExpress at the link below for around £250.
These are not an especially well represented IEM online, so I set out some key stats below for your perusal, from the website. I haven’t done anything to verify these claims.
Drivers: 8 Knowles balanced armature Drivers per side
Frequency Division: 4 crossover, 3 precise sound bores, 3 Knowles sound filters
Impedance: 16 ohms
Frequency Range: 20Hz-20kHz
Noise Isolation: -24dB
Test Kit: I have tested the B8s with a Samsung Note 8 and Galaxy S8 (using both UAPP and Tidal), an 11" Macbook Air (2012 vintage, running Tidal), an Astell and Kern AK70 mk 1 (both balanced and unbalanced) and an iFi iDSD Nano Black Label.
I have also used a variety of cables with the B8s, and you will see my conclusions on this in the "Other Thoughts" section below.
Preparation: I have given the B8s around 75 hours of burn-in and I did not start any critical listening without giving them and the output source at least an hour to warm up.
Me as a listener: I am not a pro by any stretch of the imagination. I have always enjoyed my music, and my tastes are pretty broad. I go to live music ranging from rock and pop concerts to orchestra and opera. I would not describe myself as having a trained ear, but I am attentive and my ears are in pretty good nick for a 35 year old.
My tastes: neutral to warm, but I do like good punchy bass and I love to hear decent instrument separation.
Test tracks: I've tried to keep it broad and I have cited my music sources below, so (where possible) people can download the tracks themselves.
1) Wiz Kalifah – On My Level (320k MP3, Google Store)
2) Ed Sheeran and Lupe Fiasco – Old School Love (Tidal HiFi)
3) John Williams – Throne Room from Star Wars performed by Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (16/44.1 FLAC, Qobuz)
4) The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (16/44.1 self ripped FLAC)
5) Ed Sheeran – Castle on the Hill (320k MP3, Google Store)
6) Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King (from the Peer Gynt Suite) performed by the Zech National Symphony Orchestra (24/48, Musopen Kickstarter Project)
7) Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay (24/192, HD Tracks)
8) 30 Seconds to Mars – Stronger (Radio 1 Live Lounge Cover) (16/44.1, self-ripped FLAC)
9) Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter (320k MP3, Google Store)
10) Rage Against the Machine – Wake Up (292k m4a, iTunes)
So, on to the main event. [/General Bumf]
As I didn't order this product brand new, I can't honestly comment on what was included in the pack. What I got in my envelope was a plastic case with foam inserts (room for 2 sets of IEMs and 2 cables), a set of silicon tips, ear wax remover, the B8s and a single 3.5mm to mmcx cable (more on that later).
This is the best built set of plastic IEMs I own (and a hard decision to decide between this and my Campfire Audio Polaris as the overall best built set I own). The pair I bought (and would have specced the same way, had I been ordering as brand new) are transparent acrylic, so you can see the innards.
The plastic is thick and solid feeling, but completely transparent and comfortable on the skin. The casing to the IEM itself is fantastically put together and I genuinely cannot see where the joins are! In short, this is a premium feeling IEM, and the attention to detail seems to be mirrored on the inside, with the soldering from the mmcx connector to the crossover and on to the drivers looking neat and tidy. Hisenior decided on green wires, which set off against the silver and copper colours of the other components pleasantly.
Fit and Tips
As you will be able to see from the pictures, this is an ergonomically designed IEM, pseudo custom shaped with raised bumps for the concha and cymba concha. It is all smooth edges in stark contrast to the much more jagged lines of the CA Polaris, or flat backed Shures that I am more used to.
I have pretty average sized and shaped ears so this shape suits me just fine. You will see from the picture below that, despite the earphone being quite deep in profile, it sits quite flush once inserted into my ear. I think if you have particularly large or small ears, you may struggle with fit however.
It took a little time finding the right tips for me. My normal Comply T series tips just didn't seem to secure the B8s in place, as comfortably as with the Shures and Ultimate Ear UE900s I normally use them with. Rotating through some different silicon and foam tips I have knocking around, I eventually settled on the spherical Comply Comfort Plus TSX 400. I wouldn't bother with the wax guard Complys next time I have to order some because the B8s have a built in mesh wax guard. However I use the same tips with the CA Polaris and had some knocking around. Seal does make a difference with the B8s so I think it is worth spending some time finding the most comfortable and best sounding tips.
I have decided to split my review into the standard format of highs, mids, lows and soundstage. I am also going to focus a little on separation, as it is something I enjoy hearing.
Highs, Mids and Lows
Starting with lows, I think I should make it clear that this is not a basshead's IEM. That is not to say, however, that there is no bass. Rather, I would describe the bass as clear, well-articulated and impactful without slamming. The bass is well described and detailed, for example, the bassline of On My Level utterly clear and at the fore of the track. There just is not quite the punch and low bass rumble, the physicality perhaps, that I have got used to hearing from the CA Polaris.
Mids are decent, with both male and female vocals well rendered. Male vocals sound full, with the rasp of Zack de la Rocha in Wake Up, and Eddie Vedder's soulful rendition of Yellow Ledbetter both capable of making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Female vocals are also rich and engaging, my 24/192 copy of Norah Jones' Come Away With Me, for example, silky smooth.
Highs are again clearly presented and airy. Cymbal crashes and ripples are clear and precise, with a realistic shimmer perceptible in certain, particularly orchestral tracks.
Soundstage, Separation and Detail Retrieval
Soundstage is actually quite small with the B8s, the stage flat and narrow, and instrument placement on well recorded orchestral tracks much less clearly described than with some of my other headphones.
Instrument separation and detail retrieval are both brilliant though, especially when the price of the B8s is considered. Standing head to head with the CA Polaris in this regard, and retrieving bags more detail than the SE 425 and UE900s, the B8s express the recordings exceptionally well.
I think the B8s though, are probably a bit recording and source specific here. Generally, this detail retrieval was sympathetic to the tracks I was listening to, but they pick up the crackle and imperfection on some of my older self-recorded vinyl to FLAC. Listening through the AK70 and Nano BL, the B8s sound great, even with lower quality recordings, but some of the detail in layered tracks (like Ed Sheeran) start to sound a bit faded and confused when played through a less capable source like my Note 8.
The stock cable that the B8s come with is crap – lots of microphonics and kinked at the mmcx jack, so I always end up popping out the mmcx connectors (see niggles). I played with lots of different cables and eventually settled on the 3.5mm CA Litz cable that came with the CA Polaris. I also played with my 2.5mm balanced tinsel cable, but the microphonics and slight thinness of sound that these created mean I stuck with the Litz in the end.
I didn't find the B8s monstrously sensitive to output sources from a noise perspective however – they even sounded pretty decent out of the headphone port of my work laptop – Tidal HiFi through a Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon. Sure, you can hear buzz when listening through the Vali 2, but except for my Senny HD600s, everything I've ever listened to buzzes in that little valve amp!
v. Shure 425
Given their similarity in price point this is a no brainer. In every subjective category (except soundstage) and especially detail, clarity, separation and bass, the B8s blow my 425s out of the water.
Another similarly priced IEM, and another win for the B8s. This is a slightly more difficult win to describe, but the B8s simply sound fuller, warmer, more real than the UE900s. On comfort too, they blow the UE900s (which I generally find quite an uncomfortable IEM) away.
v. CA Polaris
Now this is a much more difficult comparison. The Polaris is almost twice the price of the B8s, but side by side the B8s is able to hold its own. Ultimately, I like the sound signature and sheer punch of the CA Polaris above and beyond the B8s. However, I am keeping both in my travel set now – the Polaris better suited to dance, pop, rap and bassy tracks, the B8s my new go to especially for classical, jazz and acoustic.
As described above, fit and tip rolling are a must to get the most from the B8s. Perhaps not a niggle, but something to be aware of.
The mmcx connectors however, are not brilliantly implemented. They don't lock on orientation, and I regularly find myself, when readjusting the B8s, knocking the mmcx connector out of the socket. This is exceptionally annoying, and I worry about them falling off if they are out of my ears and around my neck for any reason.
Five stars then – at this price, the performance of these IEMs is just astounding, and the niggles and issues above pale into insignificance when you think how much more money you need to spend to start seeing improvements. Alongside my CA Polaris, these are my new all day, every day listeners.