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HiSoundAudio Living

  1. Brooko
    HiSound Audio Living – Detailed & Vibrant
    Written by Brooko
    Published Sep 21, 2013
    Pros - Build quality, looks, cable (good), clarity, carry case, accessories, well extended, flat and quick bass, responds well to EQ
    Cons - Size, no chin slider, L/R markings are hard to see, can be sibilant, large ear pieces (hard to fit), fatiguing (too bright over long periods)
    Introducing HiSound Audio's Living Earbuds

    living13.jpg living12.jpg

    After reviewing HSA's E212 and PAA-1Pro recently, Jack approached me and asked if I'd like a review sample of the Crystal (IEM) and Living (Earbuds). I jumped at the chance, and after paying for the freight - they duly arrived a couple of weeks ago. I’ve listed price at the RRP of ~ USD $149 – this is not what I paid for them (they are a review sample which I only paid the freight cost)

    I was provided the HSA Living for just the cost of shipping. I am in no way affiliated with HiSound Audio - and this review is my subjective opinion of the Living. I would like to thank Jack and the HiSound Audio team for making this opportunity available.

    Preamble - 'about me'. (This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).
    I'm a 46 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile - just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current mid-fi set-up. I vary my listening from portable (i-devices) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main headphones at the time of writing are the Shure SRH1840, Senn HD600, AKG K702, Shure SRH840 and Shure SE535 Ltd Ed. IEMs. I have auditioned quite a few entry and mid-tier cans, but have yet to hear/own any flagships other than the SRH1840 (at current time of writing this review).

    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz to grunge and hard-rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced - with a slight emphasis on the mid-range. I am neither a bass or treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though). Current amps = NFB12 and LD MKIV. I also formerly owned several portable amps - the most notable being an Arrow 4G and GoVibe PortaTube.
    For the purposes of this review - I used the HSA Living straight from the headphone out socket of both my iPhone 4 and iPod Touch G4. Most of the time I did not bother with amping them, as IMO they do not require an amp. By now I have probably notched up around 30-40 hours listening on the Living. In that time I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in).
    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.


    Packaging and Accessories
    The packaging is ideal for a retail presentation - an easy to display rectangular retail box - with an 'average' footprint. The specific sales blurbs / description on the box are interesting. The Living’s claim is "the most accurate sound reproduction". It also claims to be “audiophile grade earphones” with “unbeatable sound quality”. We shall see (keep reading).

    living01.jpg living02.jpg

    For accessories, included is an excellent semi-rigid soft-shell case (dimensions approx 75x75x30mm). It is an ideal size for the Living earbuds - and has inner pouches for spare foams etc.
    It also comes with a rubbery 'fish' cable management tool. As per my other HSA reviews, I'm not really too sure what to make of this. I have tried it - but it's terribly cumbersome. I can't really see anyone actually using this.

    living03.jpg living05.jpg

    The Living comes with 2 spare sets of foam covers (a well thought out addition actually), an alligator type shirt clip for cable management, and a 3.5-6.3mm adaptor. There is also the HSA warranty written entirely in Chinese.

    Technical Specifications
    (From HiSound Audio)

    Type : Dynamic, Earbud (open)
    Driver size: ~16mm
    impedance : 32 Ω
    sensitivity : 107db
    Maximum SPL : 125db(1khz,1 Vrms)
    Frequency response : 16-23 khz
    Jack / cable : 3.5mm straight, 119 cm

    Build / Fit / Comfort / Isolation / 'Style'

    The Living is a very stylish looking ear-bud. The housings appear quite solid, and appear to be made of a metal alloy. The colour scheme of silver and black is classy. They have a long straight “arm” extension which is relatively easy to get used to.

    living10.jpg living11.jpg

    R & L are only marked in very small text on the arms. Other than that – each arm is identical and there is no other easily seen identifiers of which side is which. Note to Jack – a strategically placed blue and red dot would have really helped. With my old eyes I have to look very closely just to make sure I have the correct earpiece for each ear.

    The shells themselves are very solid (metallic) and look built to last. There is no real strain relief at the shells though (apart from the long arms) – which would normally make me wonder about the longevity of the cable. The 3.5mm plug is straight, looks relatively sturdy, and includes strain relief. The cable split has strain relief at the apex of the V. The cable is the same type as the E212 and Crystal. The cable is wound in a circular motion, and covered by a smooth sheath which is shiny, very malleable, and has low micro-phonics. It’s mostly tangle free, and is really well executed. Bravo HSA. Please include this on all of your models (get rid of any rubbery ones).

    living08.jpg living07.jpg

    There is no chin slider. The Living are designed to be worn straight down.

    These are a largish ear-bud. For me (and I’m a reasonably sized bloke – 6ft tall, average head size, proportionate ear size), the buds fit OK but did initially cause some discomfort – especially around the back of the concha – after prolonged use. Over time this has diminished. My wish would be that someone could come up with a more ergonomically designed (smooth and oval) fit for increased comfort. The new Apple Earpods are a perfect example of what can be achieved – food for thought HSA? As with most buds – the positioning can sometimes be quite difficult to get consistent – and this greatly affects the sound. If it’s possible to take a leaf out of Apple’s book. Their new Earpods fit me perfectly – and pretty much every time.

    There is no real isolation – they’re ear-buds – there is not supposed to be! But inclusion of the foam covers helps fit, comfort, and does give a measure of ‘seal’ which does help the bass impact.

    living06.jpg living09.jpg

    All-in-all, classy look and build, but difficult to get consistent fit (and therefore some seal), but helped by the addition of the foam covers.

    The following is what I hear from the Living. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline).

    For this I’m using Dire Strait’s “Sultan’s Of Swing” as there is a lot of micro detail in the track, and it is pretty well recorded

    The Living displays a lot of detail with a very bright signature. In a lot of ways it reminds me a little of my Beyer DT880s – in that often the detail is shown as if a spot light was being shone on a particular part of the spectrum.

    Sound-stage & Imaging
    For this I’m using a binaural recording – Amber Rubarth “Sessions Form The 17th Ward” - “Tundra”. I use this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage. I also used some other live performances (Loreena McKennit’s “Dante’s Prayer” and others).

    The Living’s cues are very good (especially for an earbud). It may be because of the bright nature of the Living – but sense of space is very good, and imaging within that space is quite excellent. There is never any overlapping, or smearing. Separation and positioning/imaging is very good. On LMcK’s D-P the stage is closer than for my open headphones – but the presentation overall is quite pleasant with good separation and clarity. The applause following LMcK’s D-P is a good test of the earphone’s ability to convey sense of space and atmosphere. The Living did convey some of the space of the auditorium.

    Rather than referencing tracks – I’m going to give general impressions – as I’ve tried to listen to as many varied genres as I can.

    The Living’s strengths are in its clarity and extension – and lovers of a brighter sound signature will really like these. I do enjoy a brighter signature than most – loved my SR325i when I had them - but even for me the upper mids and treble can occasionally be a little too bright and fatiguing. On bright recordings there can be a touch of sibilance present – but thankfully this does not happen with a lot of my recordings.

    The mid-range is mildly dominated by the upper mids, and this lends bite – especially to guitar. Nils Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” from his Acoustic Live album left me with goose bumps. The mid-range and treble work nicely together – but again remain on the brighter side of neutral.

    EDIT : I listened to Joe Bonamassa's album "An Acoustic Evening At the Vienna Opera House" tonight. If you don't know Joe - but enjoy blues (especially blues guitar) - go check him out - he's amazing. Anyway - this was just a perfect album to showcase the strengths of the Living earbuds. Thoroughly enjoyable. They remind me a lot of my old SR325is.

    Bass (specifically)
    The Living surprised me. I knew these were the earbud that HSA targets more toward their ‘audiophile’ customers – so I was expecting something that was going to be very bass light (especially when you’re talking earbuds). There is no doubt that the bass is light compared to HSA’s normal house sound (which tends to be a touch warm and bassy). But the bass is definitely there – it is just very flat (no mid-bass hump), and as a result is very quick.

    Bass texture is very good – with no bloated boom – and most definitely does not overpower the lower mids. One of my new tracks for testing bass is “Royals” by Lorde (I know – a bit poppy – but she’s a local Kiwi girl and has heaps of talent). The Livings handle the bass really well and surprised me with the amount of low bass they exhibited. Bass is not the focus of these earbuds – but where it is present, the Livings convey it quickly and accurately. If anything – they could use just a slight touch of mid-bass EQ.

    Power Requirements / Amping
    The Living is easily powered out of an iPod Touch G4 or iPhone4, and on most tracks I am well under 50% on the volume slider. However – they did include a 3.5-6.3 mm adaptor – so I tried them with my NFB-12. Whilst I don’t personally didn’t think the additional amping did much if anything – the NFB-12 is slightly on the warm side, and the added warmth and bass emphasis did help the overall signature (for my preferences anayway)

    What About Response To EQ?
    The Living responded really well to EQ. I EQ’d the upper mids and highs down a little – especially around 5kHz, whilst giving a very slight boost to the mid-bass and the resultant change was really quite good to my ears. No drop in clarity – but definitely balanced out the spectrum a little more, and took the glare off the Living’s naturally bright signature

    The Living is a really capable earbud – nicely built, but unfortunately a little on the large side, and consequently hard to get a consistent fit. They are unnaturally bright – so I don’t really think they are quite “the most accurate sound reproduction” they claim on the packaging. But if you tend toward a brighter headphone, and crave clarity and imaging – these are a pretty good earbud – especially if you don’t mind applying a little EQ to calm some of the glare.

    They are reasonably pricy – but for that you get a pretty nice build quality, accessories, and a lot of detail sonically.

    Recommendations to HiSound Audio
    Here is a short list of what I’d change if I could. Hopefully this may be helpful to you Jack.

    1. Lose the fish
    2. If possible make them very slightly smaller – and maybe more ergonomic
    3. Add a chin slider – please.
    4. Add easy to see L & R markers.

    Once again Jack – thanks for the opportunity with these. Loved the experience.
  2. White Lotus
    HiSoundAudio Living - an "audiophile ear-bud". Yes, you read that correctly.
    Written by White Lotus
    Published Aug 9, 2013
    Pros - Mids, highs, extension, cable, build quality, aesthetics, portability
    Cons - Comfort issues
    I'm a production manager, but mainly focus on live sound engineering and lighting. I install and tune P.A equipment, and mix live acts in:

    - live venues,
    - concert halls,
    - bars, and
    - nightclubs.

    I've taken a huge liking to headphones - IEMs in particular. I like the idea of having my own personal PA system that I can take with me anywhere. With Rockbox being in such advanced stages, and great low-impedance portable amps becoming available, you can really seem to get any sound signature you wish out of a portable rig.

    Enter, the HiSoundAudio “Living”.
    HiSoundAudio is a Chinese based company, responsible for products such as the Studio V portable DAP, which gets a pretty good wrap around forums such as head-fi. I've done a review of another product of theirs, the Wooduo 2.

    I was surprised that such a product like "Living" even exists. My initial thoughts were along the lines of: "An audiophile ear-bud? Really? The only other ear-buds I've ever had experience with were the original stock Apple ones."
    I've done a comparison later on in the review, for those who are interested.

    Packaging and accessories:

    They came with three different sets of ear-bud covers. Three! Two sets seem identical, the usual expected ear-bud covering:
    The other, interestingly, has an “open” design. It seems like the design principle here was to let more sound through unfiltered, but I did not notice any audible differences. I think this is a great idea for those who want to further tweak their audio experience.

    Also, a great little hard case with a storage pocket, and, in true HiSoundAudio style, a fish. A little reminder for us to keep those cables tidy!

    Build quality:

    True to the usual HiSoundAudio style, build quality is impeccable. I haven't honestly had much experience with ear-buds before, but these things actually look stunning. They look like a top-notch piece of stereo equipment.

    The cable is interesting, and doesn't tangle too easily. It's the HiSoundAudio signature "Blast" cable: Silver plated, twisted, and shielded. It's strong, and effectively eliminates microphonics.

    Everything is nicely put together at the points that it matters most:
    This is some of the nicest looking portable audio gear that I own.


    This, unfortunately, is where I had some troubles. However, just like with IEMs, everyone is different. They are largely unnoticeable in my ears for the first hour, due to their light weight, but after that, my ears start to feel a little tender.
    I think this is mostly down to their size. They are BIG. I'm curious as to the design principle here. Why are they so big?
    I'm also not 100% sure exactly HOW I'm supposed to wear them. I may be the one at fault here, but I always seem to have two or three different “options” for how I would like them to sit in my ears:
    1. Straight in my ears
    2. Slightly angled downwards
    3. Slightly angled upwards
    I'm not sure if this is normal for ear-buds, or if my ears are just unusually shaped.
    If I press them right into my ears, the sound dramatically changes. I found this a little worrying. I've noticed the same with all earbuds. I will be giving my impressions of the sound based on the most comfortable “straight in” wearing position. Not the “pressed in” position, or with any angle.
    For reference, when I use IEMs, I pretty much always use the “Medium” tips with no problems.

    Isolation was an interesting and difficult point for me to analytically cover, as I've never really heard of an ear-bud that isolates well.
    I can, interestingly, still converse with other people whilst I have these playing at lower volume in my ears. Perhaps this is good for low-level listening on public transport, or in public, for those who are uncomfortable with the complete isolation offered by IEMs.
    When I was unwrapping this product, I thought to myself, “oh boy, here we go. Strap yourself in, we're going for another HiSoundAudio bass slam adventure.” Last time I reviewed a product from this company, I fell in love with the bass. It was so heavy, slamming, in-your-face, unavoidable.
    But, to my surprise – not this time around. Bass-heads: look elsewhere. These buds make bass take a back seat.
    My test tones indicate that audible bass roll-off is heard around 60-80Hz mark – this is greatly altered by pushing the buds into my ears, so it might be different for everyone.
    Regardless, the bass is still present. It's still audible and has a good amount of detail to it. If you're into your more refined, acoustic recordings, and prefer your bass in smaller doses – this might be the bud for you. I would not recommend it for electronic or bass-heavy music.
    With a wide sound-stage, I'm going to harp on the idea of this being the “Open” can, whilst an IEM is a “closed” one - but more on that later. Just like a good open full size headphone should, these have less bass impact, but an arguably higher sound stage, and have a more “airy” feel.
    The mids do feel very coloured, and details do tend to get lost through the mix a little. 
    These buds are hitting up to 16.5kHz mark for me – which is the limit of my hearing. I know a lot of headphones that can’t reach this level, or if they can, not as accurately. They resonate accurately with anything above 10 KHz – so some may find them to be a little sibilant, but you won't be finding any high roll-off up here.

    I personally found them to be quite sibilant, and it became quite uncomfortable over long periods of listening. 
    Overall opinion of sound:
    Honestly, I would have to disagree with what's written on the box. HiSoundAudio advertise them to be a good, flat response partner in the studio, where as I wouldn't personally go down that route. I feel that based on the way they look, and their sound signature, they are best suited for home use, or office use - a more casual, relaxed atmosphere, where one might want to listen to their favourite pieces, but still would want to be aware of their surroundings. 

    Here is an interesting comparison that I found in my notes, whilst listening analytically to this ear-bud for the review:

    By comparison, IEMs feel like a “closed” can, whilst this ear-bud feels more like an “open” one.
    However, the mids and highs were a little too strong for my tastes, and I found them to be quite piercing. 

    Comparison to Apple iBud:
    You would be surprised at just how large the differences are here. It's almost unfair to compare the two.
    Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Size. By comparison, “Living” ear-buds are huge.
    Secondly: Material. The Living ear-buds are of a much better build quality, and are (in my opinion) far more aesthetically pleasing. The cable on the iBuds is cheap and rubbery, whereas the silver twisted “Blast” audio cable of the HiSoundAudio offers far less micro-phonics, less tangling, more strength, and is more pleasing to my eyes. The Apple cable also offers a remote that the HiSoundAudio does not. But then again, they aren't exactly marketed to the same demographic. For what it's worth, the Living unit also is also terminated via a gold plated jack, whereas the Apple one is silver coloured.
    Sound comparison:
    Bass: The iBuds have a higher quantity of bass, and to my ears, sound a bit more detailed. 
    Mids: The Living ear-buds have a more mid-focused signature. The Living feel more “coloured”, probably by the mild mid-bass emphasis, where as the “iBuds” feel a little more detailed and realistic.
    Highs: Far more piercing and forward on the "Living" e
    Isolation: roughly the same.
    Comfort: Unfortunately, as the iBuds are smaller, for my ears, they fit a little better. Again, I'm not sure if this is the same for everyone or not. On that note, they are also more prone to falling out of my ears.


    Overall conclusion of the HiSoundAudio "Living":
    Due to my limited experience with ear-buds, this was a very interesting experiment for me. Lovers of classical, acoustic, vocal, orchestral pieces, who would rather not have the isolated feel of an IEM, this is for you.
    These definitely sound like an "open" version of a dynamic IEM, in all senses of the comparison.
    However, the piercing treble and oversize fit were not a good mix for my tastes.

    Thanks for reading guys - a big thanks to Jack from HiSoundAudio for the demo pair. 
    Price and Specifications:
    Price: $149
    Type: Dynamic, open
    Driver size: 16mm
    Impedance: 32Ohms
    Sensitivity: 107db
    Maximum SPL: 125db
    Rated frequency response: 18-22khz
    Earphone jack: 3.5mm
    Cable length: 126cm
    Chamber: Aluminium alloy
    Update: These buds fell apart after around 8-10 months of use. 
      Gnawbert likes this.
    1. Gnawbert
      Thank you for the great review. I'm actually looking to upgrade my Beyer Dynamic DTX 101ies, and these seem like quite the worthy candidate.
      Gnawbert, Aug 9, 2013
    2. Posmentis
      Great review!
      Posmentis, Sep 30, 2013