Originally posted on my German audio review site, the "Kopfhörer-Lounge", here comes my review of HiSoundAudio's first ever commercially available single-BA in-ear.
A couple years ago, the HSA-BA100 was HiSoundAudio’s first in-ear to use Balanced Armature drivers. Then some time passed and the Chinese in-ear and audio manufacturer introduced another single-BA in-ear, the HA-2 that I reviewed as well.
According to some sources, just like for the HA-2, HiSoundAudio developed the Balanced Armature driver used in the HSA-BA100 in-house instead of adopting drivers that already existed from companies such as Knowles or Sonion.
What the small and affordable single-BA in-ear sounds like and how it performs is the main subject of this review.
Thanks to Penon Audio who helped with obtaining a sample of the HiSoundAudio HSA-BA100 for this review.
Drivers: Balanced Armature (1x per side)
Impedance: 36 Ohms
Sensitivity: 109 dB
Frequency Range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Cable Length: 124 cm
Microphone/Remote: yes; single-button remote
The in-ear arrives in a fairly standard package with a see-through plastic window.
Inside, one can find the HSA-BA100, four pairs of silicone tips, a warranty card, a shirt clip and last but not least a fishbone-like cable wrapper that I would however not recommend to use because of the small radius it forces the cable to be wrapped which is not good for it on the long run.
What I am missing is a carrying case, but at this price point it certainly is not standard must-have accessory and can be bought separately from various sources and sellers for few dollars. (Strangely most sources list the HSA-BA100 with a case, but the set I received did not came with it. #Aliens.)
Looks, Feels, Build Quality:
The in-ear shells are made of metal and appear very sturdy and well-built. They are on the somewhat smaller size and visually remind me of various in-ears from the manufacturer Zero Audio.
A small side-indicator is present on each shell in form of a small R/L letter.
The cable, while quite standard in appearance, is one of the better kind and reasonably soft and flexible. It also seems to have some air canals incorporated just like some of DUNU’s in-ears, to increase durability.
What I am however somewhat missing is a chin-slider along with some better strain relief above the y-splitter.
The microphone/remote unit is a standard one with a single-button remote that works with the vast majority of portable devices that support a 4-pole plug with a microphone/remote channel, such as smartphones and Apple’s iPods.
The in-ears’ nozzles are horn-shaped and non-standard in terms of length and shape. Therefore it is a bit of a guessing game to get the proper position of the silicone tips – should they be placed just at the top of the nozzle? Or in the middle? Or should they be put all the way onto the nozzle?
The first seems to be the intended position given the sound (getting the tip all the way onto the nozzle kills some of the treble extension), however the tip won’t stay on as securely.
If you put the tips all the way onto the nozzle, be careful when removing them else it might happen that you accidentally end up with half of the nozzle being pulled out of the metal tube.
Due to their small housings, the in-ears should also fit people with really small ears extremely well. I with my large ear canals don’t have problems with that anyway.
The cable can be worn both around the ears as well as down. The first is the more professional way that increases fit and reduces cable noise.
As with the vast majority of in-ears that allow this, I am also using the HSA-BA100 with the cables guided around my ears. Even though there is no chin-slider, microphonics are close to being inexistent and only appear slightly when I turn my head.
The HSA-BA100 is a closed single-BA in-ear wherefore noise isolation is very good.
I used the largest included silicone tips for personal and critical listening. The tips were placed at the top of the nozzle.
My two main sources for listening were the iBasso DX200 (AMP1 module) as well as HiFime 9018d.
Those seeking a neutral to slightly (upper) midrange-forward tonal presentation should be pleasantly satisfied with the HSA-BA100.
The bass the HSA-BA100 puts out is flat – flat as in “really flat”, Etymotic-like flat. And here I’m not referring to the ER-4XR with its moderate bass elevation but to the ER-4S and ER-4SR. The HiSoundAudio has only got 1.5 dB more in quantity than those two in-ears (according to what I hear when doing equalised cross-comparisons by lowering one in-ear’s specific frequency band until it matches the other’s) in the upper bass and lower root – which is certainly not much at all. So everyone who isn’t looking for a really flat and neutral bass response without any emphasise does definitely not belong to this in-ear’s target group.
Extension into the sub-bass is good however it won’t give you the perceived impact as some of the other few in-ears that are comparably flat in the bass can give you wherefore most people will probably find the HSA-BA100 to be a tad light in the sub-bass while it actually doesn’t really lack quantity here but just loses a little level in its lowest registers close to 20 Hz.
While the lower and central midrange remains flat, there is some lift between 3 and 4 kHz in the upper mids that can bring vocals more forward (make them appear a bit more “in your face”), increase the perceived clarity, or make vocals appear somewhat more on the brighter and leaner side (however this can also help to make female vocals stand out more).
As long as you are not extremely “allergic” to a lift in the lower treble/upper midrange/presence area, it will be no problem though since it is done rather evenly and not overdone in quantity.
Above that, the highs are fairly neutral and even except for an ever so slight 5 kHz lift and keep their presence until around 12 kHz where they start rolling off – so you still get a fairly good extension, especially for a single-BA in-ear, however should not expect to hear much subtle sparkle in the super treble.
So to wrap it up in this section of my review, the HSA-BA100 has got an overall pretty neutral and flat tonality and sounds reasonably even wherefore it also sounds mostly realistic and authentic what definitely a large number of in-ears in this price range fail to achieve. The only things that can sound a bit off are artificial or sampled drums and artificial or sampled cymbals that can have a bit of an edge to them.
Nothing unexpected is happening here and HiSoundAudio’s HSA-BA100 sounds as quick, detailed, nimble and detailed as you would expect from a solid to good single-BA in-ear.
The bass is well-controlled and fast, and while it is not the tightest for Balanced Armature standards and is heading somewhat more into the softer direction, it is by no means slow. Fast and more complex genres for example certainly do not represent a problem for the HSA-BA100’s lows at all and notes as well as instruments remain well-distinguishable from each other.
The overall resolution is good and details are surely not missing.
With more complex recordings where a lot is going on at the same time and where many instruments or tonal elements are present, the presentation becomes a bit less focussed though, which I think is because the HiSoundAudio HSA-BA100 might have somewhat elevated distortion levels, making it then sound somewhat less clean compared to some of the better single-BA in-ears on the market such as Etymotic’s models or HiSoundAudio’s own HA-2. To my ears, this is mainly happening in the lower midrange.
High notes are reasonably well separated and detailed as well, with a decay that is neither too quick nor too slow although notes seem to stay a split second longer than they could.
When I first heard the HA-2, I was rather impressed with its soundstage reproduction for a single-BA in-ear below $100: it was quite spacious, wide and not as small as most single-BA in-ears’ I have heard.
The HSA-BA100 is a convincing in-ear, too, when it comes to the soundstage department. It doesn’t only stand out with a somewhat larger than average soundstage, but also features a quite excellent spatial reproduction with a three-dimensional, spherical and surprisingly precise sense of space and imaging as well as good layering.
The air and borders around and between instruments feel nice but don’t stay as precise when faster or more complex tracks (or those with many things happening on the soundstage at the same times) are being played. Nonetheless, instruments still don’t bleed into each other then, even though the borders don’t remain as clear and precise as with some other more capable single-BA in-ears.
In Comparison with other Single-BA In-Ears:
The Brainwavz is the bassier and warmer in-ear out of the two in comparison. It has got the more (but not much more) forward upper bass and root, no lift in the upper midrange, a dip in the middle highs (around 5 kHz) and comes back in the upper treble.
Overall, I would consider the Brainwavz’ upper end tuning to be a bit more natural/authentic even though it is also more relaxed.
When it comes to bass quality, I hear the HSA-BA100 as being somewhat ahead in terms of speed and resolution. The B100, in comparison, sounds less well separated in the lows, and also appears more focussed down there.
In the midrange and treble however, it is the Brainwavz that I would say resolves somewhat better and manages to separate notes with the higher precision.
When it comes to soundstage size, both in-ears share about the same width (small advantage for the Brainwavz) while the HSA-BA100 has got the deeper presentation with more spatial depth. Instruments are separated more precisely on the HSA-BA100’s side.
The HA-2, while overall relatively balanced as well, has got a bit more warmth in the bass and lower root and also in the lower midrange. Not that much, but certainly already enough to make it sound a little warmer in comparison.
The HA-2 has got the more linear/neutral midrange, the more relaxed middle treble, and a moderate emphasis between 7 and 8 kHz.
When it comes to detail retrieval, the HA-2 is ahead in the midrange and treble and resolves and separates the acoustic elements just better.
Bass speed is about comparable while the HA-2 is a bit tighter. In terms of layering and detail retrieval in the lows however, it is also the more expensive HA-2 that is somewhat superior again.
The HSA-BA100 doesn’t have the same spatial width as the HA-2 but comes reasonably close to not sound small. It features the more pronounced spatial depth though.
In terms of separation and layering however, it is also the HA-2 that is more precise.
The HiSoundAudio HSA-BA100 is an inexpensive single-BA in-ear with a pretty neutral/flat sound signature and a soundstage that is larger and more spherical than many other single-BA in-ears’ in this price range.
People who want a more sounded in-ear should definitely look away, but those who want an overall pretty flat and neutral sounding in-ear in the sub $100 price range should definitely have an eye on the HSA-BA100.