ISN H40

Redcarmoose

Headphoneus Supremus
A Tiger About
Pros: Wide and tall soundstage
Great bass definition and authority
Does vocals with ease, even though not an ounce of Pinna Gain heat
Big sound exclusively belonging to the ISN H40
Treble and midrange have pace through dynamic contrast
Such gifts normally found in an entirely different pay-grade
Fantastic attention to build detail
Well-rounded, optimized from any source, playing any file quality or music genre
Included is the same S8 cable as the ISN Flagship TOTL
Cons: Not the last word in ultra-high treble physicality
Such a sound character should be avoided by those into linear old-school audiophile playback
It's a new day, wake-up and smell the coffee
 12 cover.jpeg2 .jpeg3456.jpeg


Remember that time you upgraded to a bigger TV? Well, that is the feeling you will get when first listening to the ISN H40 IEM. More intensity, more vibrant colors, more clarity and higher image resolution. It’s just a fact of life that technology evolves and gives you more immersion at a cheaper price. The down side you ask? ................there is none? Now is the H40 perfect? No, but way closer to perfect than you would expect for $195.00.

Let’s add this all up, shall we?
  1. Zero pinna gain heat ever......none to be found ever
  2. Big, super-big soundstage, populated with correct tone
  3. Dynamic and full-bass response that’s doesn’t mess with the mids
  4. Clarity and well-done treble engagement
  5. Big polished and pushed-out mids
  6. Build quality and looks that seem way above its price point
  7. The S8 cable, the same premium cable that comes with ISN’s flagship IEM
Wellcome my friends to another review. Typically the IEMs I cover are brand-new and only out-in-the-wild a week. And while new-stuff is super exciting, prior IEM fame can also be enjoyed and reiterated upon, especially when its a creation like the $195.00 ISN H40. ISN is a very successful cable manufacture, yet in December of 2019 they released their baby, a 1DD/3BA Hybrid that incorporated the ISN house sound. The ISN H40 was so popular that in July of 2021 they expounded on it with the flagship $459.00 EST50! So sit back for a second and take that all in…….ISN builds lots and lots of cables, they then get a dream to become an IEM maker and release the H40. The H40 does so good they enhance technicalities to create the EST50 with identical H40 tunning. I mean why spoil a good thing, right? Right up-front I will reveal the H40 sound is 90% of the EST50’s. For the new EST50 they kept the H40 the soundstage/frequency response the same but moved the EST50 instruments backwards to make room for added imaging/texture and timbre. Due to the H40 being such a forgiving and well-rounded performer, many have cited it as their single deserted island set. That means if they were to go off to a deserted island and could only bring one IEM, the H40 would be their choice. And I now see why, the H40 is the quintessential Hybrid, offering all those sonic extras a Hybrid brings to the table. The one thing the H40 doesn’t bring along is steely metallic-off-tone normally associated with Hybrids. That’s the excitement in a nutshell! Big and clear bass response, authoritative soundstage, and immersive involvement is what makes the H40 click!

new 37.jpeg six.jpeg


Shell-construction:
Upon construction of the H40 ISN introduced the ultimate form-factor feature in the one-piece build. How else can you view the silky, sexy one piece finish? It’s easy to pigeon-hole all the acrylic shells into one category. But here at $195.00, we seem to be holding somehow more in our hands? It starts with running your fingers across the finish, how the H40 is ergonomic through and through. This finish business extends to how the MMCX mount is flush, how the nozzle-end seamlessly joins the body. The way the semi-custom form has all those angles so it fits closer inside your outer-ear. The resulting external sound occlusion, the actual warm feeling of the shells in your ears………all these things, all these little things add-up. Upon a shift from tactile to visual inspection, we are now viewing how the faceplate joins the shell. Wait? There is only a single flowing object? Besides the MMCX and the nozzle-adds, there is nothing but smooth acrylic, not only is it smooth but one-piece. I mean yes, you can kinda see that a faceplate was used in studying the reflections, but eveything has been filled in and buffed-out to perfection. Such a device ultimately becomes a part of the wearer upon placement, with the semi-custom shape going to the next level to also make that happen. A single almost unnoticeable air-vent can be found centered near the top of one-side, the same place as the EST50. A single symbol, a kind of trademark/monogram sits floating in space at the center of the faceplate. Such a monogram is the only marking to exist on the H40. The removal of any right/left marker or model number goes one step further to enhance this clean singular statement of audio-art. The color looks black upon first inspection by 3 hours later you hold the H40 against something truly black and realize it’s midnight blue. The finish does not show fingerprints, even though you think it would.

Technical Specifications:

  • Driver Configuration : 3 x Balanced Armature + 1 x 9.2mm Diameter Dynamic Driver
  • Impedance : 22 Ω @1kHz
  • Sensitivity : 105 ± 3dB @1khz
  • Frequency response : 20-20kHz
  • Connector : MMCX (Micro Miniature Coaxial)
  • Plug : available in 3.5mm TRS, 2.5mm TRRS or 4.4mm TRRRS variants
  • Cable length : 1.2M

Being an example of the ultimate Hybrid, the H40 offers a 9.2mm Dynamic Driver for the lows. Custom 1 BA for middle frequency and composite 2BA for high frequency.

DSC_0093.jpeg


The S8 cable:
The H40 is fitted with the exact same S8 cable as the flagship ISN, the EST50. With both IEMs sporting the identical FR, I didn’t do too much cable rolling……..didn’t need to. It just so happens the S8 became a legendary cable in the EST50 cable rolling and amplifier tests. Such a cable is introduced by ISN as a substantiated cable manufacture, so why wouldn’t they included a “high-performer” as stock with their very first IEM? In such EST50 tests I found the cable to be well-rounded and spacial............being a hybrid mixture of copper and silver. The cable introduced a brighter more energetic treble into the EST50 from solid OCC experiences. Such a cable also becomes lovable due to its physical softness and pliability. The MMCX fasteners held-up really well with my photographic four (4) cable changes. I did use the MMCX removal tool each time, but upon joining the cable back it was super-firm in placement and offered only rotation when you asked for it. Such a cable also follows a nice theme using four pieces of gold and black hardware. One for the MMCX, one for the cable sider, one for the cable joiner and one for the plug. When you order the ISN H40 be sure and designate the style of plug your into, being 4.4mm, 3.5mm or 2.5mm.

S8 Cable:
Features
  • High purity makes the cable extremely soft, providing the comfort of wearing,
  • Gold-plated plug is more beautiful and durable, using insulation treatment technology.
  • Natural and transparent sound, delicate and smooth; lift medium and high frequency, strengthen high frequency extension

Specification
  • Model: S8
  • Material: Single Crystal Copper Sliver-plated
  • Number of cores: 8 shares, single share is 19 cores, a total of 8 × 19.
  • Connector: 2pin 0.78mm
  • Plug: 3.5mm audio/4.4mm/2.5mm balanced gold-plated plug
  • Cable length: 1.2M

https://penonaudio.com/isn-audio-s8.html?page=2

Even-though priced at $32.50, and the second lowest priced cable in the ISN line-up, I still view the S8 cable as the Toyota Camry of cables. Truthfully, I don’t view/judge cables by price, only performance. Coming into the opportunity to review ISN products, I wasn’t sure what to expect from their included cables, even though before making IEMs they existed as only a cable builder? While other cables I used did offer other tonal and positioning discoveries, the major find was simply how good of a cable the S8 ultimately was/is. Taking the H40 and S8 to my reference (TA) rig left nothing to be desired, showing great timbre, pace, positioning and tonal character. Much like the rest of this package, ISN is offering a lot for a little money spent.

DSC_0094.jpeg


The ISN Company:
ISN current cable offerings:

Silver-Plated IEM Cables: S4, S8, AG8, S16 and one Type-C Silver Plated USB Cable
Copper IEM Cables: C4, CU4, C16
Mixed Cables IEM Cables: Solar, G4, GS4, SC4, H8, H16
Gold-Plated IEM Cables: GC4, GD4
Pure-Silver IEM Cables: AG8

ISN Ear-buds:
Rambo
Rambo 2

ISN IEMs:
H50 10mm Composite DD (bass) 2 BA (mids) 2 BA (highs) $295.00
H40 9.2 DD (bass) 1 custom BA (mids) 1 composite 2BA (highs) $195.00
D02 10mm DD $79.00
D10 9mm DD $169.00
EST50 1 Knowles BA (highs), 1 Sonion BA (mids), 10mm DD (bass), 2 Sonion ESTs (ultra-highs) $459.00


Strangely, even-though making all this complicated stuff, ISN describe themselves only with one sentence.

“We are a wire production and R&D factory.”
ISN found a niche making “sonic-reactive” cables. Such cables infuse genuine character into your IEMs, though at a cost-effective price ranging from $32 to $400 dollars. Making IEMs was the natural next step to take. Offering 5 inner ear monitors, and 2 earbuds, they offer a complete selection. With 17 total cables (each with varying degrees of their own character) they really have ways to enhance or change the sonic profile of your listening experience. Matching an IEM to a cable is in effect tailoring the sound, even at times adding correction. At times this tailoring is simply a way to “EQ” subtle changes to suit the listener. Each metal offers a character reactive to construction with some cables having more copper and other more silver it seems. While I’m under the impression amplifier character does more to change and boost fidelity, cables can still offer a way to fine-tune the listening experience, especially if you already are using you favorite amp. ISN is finding true audio changes and passing those changes from the research and development area directly to the public. My experience is limited in that I have only one ISN cable and two ISN IEMs, though in side-by-side testing, both the cable qualities and IEM qualities have been substantial. Only after investigation and comparisons (first hand) do I truly understand the efforts put forth, because you don’t know what you don’t know…..till you know. This is why reading reviews only goes so far as to plant the seed, with the rest of the effort up to you.

The box opening experience:
For the price point everything included is exactly right. 12 sets of ear-tips go along way to enable a limited struggle to finding art-tight fit. The N8 cable is sexy-as-heck. The shirt-clip, tool and carrying case are a nice touch.

DSC_0085 1.jpeg


The H40 and ISN:
There has always been a slight discrepancy between Chinese made IEMs (with their tuning) and the Western Tuning. Obviously there are all styles of tuning, but speculation has it that the Chinese simply hear music different? I am not about to tackle such questions……but I do know one thing………….I know a Western Tuning when I hear it. And guess what? The ISN H40 sounds like a Western IEM, in fact it is the most Western Tuning I have ever heard from China. So that one thing makes the H40 a novelty. Of course I will get to exactly how it sounds, and also do comparisons, but this arial view of the sound signature serves of purpose.

I like the ISN H40. I probably wouldn’t change a thing.

The H40 can best be described as big sound, big bass, big soundstage and big authority for $195.00. It’s the quintessential Hybrid sound, with one 9.2mm dynamic driver, one balanced armature for the midrange, and a joined composite duel driver for the highs. What Hybrid sound does is offer a specialized style of separation, with the dynamic making bass noises, and the three balanced armature making midrange and treble noises. Because balanced armatures can pinpoint image displays, we are offered such separation of ingredients. It’s true that Hybrids may not offer the cohesiveness of Planar IEM, or the oneness of single full-range driver IEMs. Yet the people who are super into this style of playback pay for Hybrids and know the sound they are getting. Hybrid technology is still advancing forward, with many new examples of Hybrids just this year alone.

I was sent the flagship EST50 and the legend, the H40 for review. The reason they showed-up together was because they are the introduction to the ISN house sound. That’s right, the H40 is the entire genesis of the ISN sound. They came about a self-realization, a teen-identity discovery of exactly what they would be in 2019. Such a solidification that they then carried the same exact tune over into the company flagship in November of 2021. So I’m not sure you could find any better way to give the H40 a tribute, than to make your Flagship/TOTL $459.00 a splitting (frequency range) image of it? They did such a unique gesture due to ISN finding their sonic identity in the H40. And if your on the edge of your seat wondering what improvements can be found, I’ll tell you. They took the forwardness of the sound elements and moved them to the back of the room. What then took place was a kind of forward imaging that found improved instrument texture, and timbre. So the EST50 literally sounds exactly the same.........but brings detail and technicalities into the mix. That’s it, well there is a slight physical-size difference too, with the H40 being a hair smaller. The reason I’m so excited to do this review is there truly is not all that much difference between the two IEMs. It’s uncanny how close to the same they are. In fact it really threw me for a loop in the process of comparing them. No one told me ISN put the two on a test bench and recreated the legend.........just adding more make-up and lipstick. Now I could go all day trying to explain the differences between the two, but that really wouldn’t get us anywhere. You can read my EST50 review here.

https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/isn-est50.25254/reviews#review-28717

Such a review almost goes overboard to explain what style of IEM the EST50 is. And there would be nothing wrong with shifting gears and just getting the EST50, as there is nothing the H40 can do that the EST50 can’t do. Still there is more of a market for $195 IEMs, and even more of a market for what the H40 does for $195.00.

DSC_0059.jpeg
Dneo.jpeg
side step.jpeg
DSC_0049.jpg

ISN H40 .jpeg


Sound generalizations:
Probably the best part is how the separations take place. In that regard they really are the quintessential Hybrid. Everything has it’s own zone in the soundstage. Where it’s not the last word in detail, but somehow everything is jigsawed together, as nothing is left out. Even old-inferior recordings get the double slam of both soundstage expansion and warmth which sonically excavates them from the past. The H40 has that same uncanny way of doing pace, rhythm pushing the song along. So even if it’s not the last word in detail, it offers tight-pace and forwardness in bounce that seems to make it simply entertaining none the less. I’m not going to say it’s making music sound live, but it is going slightly that direction. Where it tree-tops areas, it’s not sloppy, but not getting down to the base of the forrest. This whole tree topping thing isn’t bad, it’s just taking what it needs, and leaving some of the detail out.........just not using it. It was the mission of the EST50 to try and set everything slightly back so that a level of detail could be introduced. Still the midrange has the great second soundstage where things like rhythm guitars flourish and add additional pace on-top of pace. There can be a low thrusting rhythm guitar that’s ultimately connected to the bass and drums.

It’s this back and fourth movement that makes you feel the music and want to play air-guitar if no-one is looking. If that’s not a reason to get an IEM, I don’t know what is? Every song sounds good. You know you have won this game when you go to only hear one song, and you play every song on the album till it ends. Such an acceptable tone that we need not be picky or prudish what we feed the H40, it eats anything.

Music:

The testing takes place with the use of 50 or more individual musical examples. With-in these samples I am attempting to ascertain the presence of all the qualities described in this review. But to clarify and communicate concepts, I always choose a relatively small group of recordings. This occurs for two reasons, one they are good recordings, allowing the full-spectrum of musical playback process to take place. And two, I know them the best after using such examples for years and years. Dark Side of the Moog VII.......I obtained when it was a new release in 1998.

KLAUS SCHULZE
Pete Namlook & K. Schulze: The Dark Side Of The Moog VII
44.1 kHz - 16 bit

http://www.progarchives.com/album.asp?id=11176


Studio Album, released in 1998

Songs / Tracks Listing
1. Obscured By Klaus (Part I) (4:59)
2. Obscured By Klaus (Part II) (7:22)
3. Obscured By Klaus (Part III) (18:58)
4. Obscured By Klaus (Part IV) (6:34)
5. Obscured By Klaus (Part V) (3:42)
6. Obscured By Klaus (Part VI) (8:09)

Total time 49:44
Line-up / Musicians
- Klaus Schulze / composer & performer
- Pete Namlook / composer, performer & producer

With:
- Bill Laswell / composer & performer (3)

Note: The actual instrumentation was not available at this moment
Releases information
Seventh of a series of collaborations under the common title "The Dark Side of the Moog"

CD Fax +49-69/450464- PK 08/143 (1998, Germany) Limited edition
CD Ambient World- aw 032 (2004, Germany)

3F7AF86D-8E85-4A90-8D03-452A23539927.jpeg


Here we are greeted with an Moog synth with another synth dueling it out. Both instruments trading rhythm-splashes until 34 seconds.....when an organ-wash style synth becomes a new backdrop. The very first Moog is continuous and almost without variation, yet it is also the lowest bass component of the song. It’s row-row-row your boat, done on synths. Each element is loosely connected, yet apart. Finally at 3 minutes 24 seconds the synchronization of syncopated synths are added. Then the very first Moog comes to the forefront and takes complete control of the song. The first syncopations were a decoy to the surprise. At 5 minutes 40 seconds a feature synth marks the advancement in the piece! The feature synth a signpost to show all the tracks have been added. Next we have a final add right before tracks start to be taken back away. The reason this works is the first deepest bass notes were shown well and positioned correctly. As the song progressed there are slight adds of almost sound effects that take on a visceral and unexplainable deep meaning tonality. They are fast and fast changing yet the H40 does them and they get out of the way as fast as they arrived. Such musical elements are in-fact momentary and not connected to the song structure. This is the epitome of robots talking at the end. When in fact, if you go to the start once more it is also conversion between synths. Upon first listening you perceive the song structure different, only spellbound by the tone, not realizing that a style of (performer) dialogue is in-fact taking place!

I can’t help but try and understand the songs make-up? Yet when I give up on that, the ISN H40 comforts me and lets me know it’s just musical tones and nothing more.

Somehow we are brought back to the primal elements and relinquish any cerebral strongholds in trying to intellectualize the experience. It’s this giving-up that sets us free to enjoy the music. At one with the tones, they are now abstract and undocumented. There is no way this music can exist on paper. Of course this is two individuals playing-off each other. An intertwining and constantly changing Moog-freak-out taking us to new imaginary places.


Of the two ISN IEMs I have tried, they really seem to like the Sony TA desktop. It may have something to do with the lower midrange or the imaging? Whatever it is it’s noticeable. First-off instruments have better separation, now you might remember I started off elaborating about the wide soundstage and separation at the start. Such deep control makes this all simply fun, the deep control of the bass in the start of The Dark Side Of The Moog VII. Synthetic styles of music isn’t the only thing the H40 is good at, but the vividness and tactile-ness make for quite an evening. The layers of fun are just that. More separation and space between notes than I could have ever guessed beforehand. I know that I’m over emphasizing this one feature, except that is the one feature that stands out. It’s very, very well done separation that makes space for 100% of the rest to breath and gain life. Such elements may be the key to this style of music too? Where there is nothing more than synthesis taking place and floating in space. Everything is directly recorded into the mixing desk, thus nothing lost, nothing to gain a room response. We are left with a pureness of sorts. And the H40 honesty replays that character............it’s connected to the sounds. Such a connection makes us involved and witnessing understanding of the music. The trick here is there is never any pinna heat, yet the midrange seems complete and correct? The EST50 obviously did this better, but the difference is small. It’s the diminishing returns where the H40 is providing 90% of the same sound. It’s just that the EST50 is filling in the H40 sketchbook for it. Like the better equipped EST50 looking over its shoulder to show a next level of detail that the H40 doesn’t know how to approach. Remember they are tuned exactly the same, which means most all of the music sounds the same. I have never had two identical tunes to compare with separate technicalities. And yes, to quantify the difference in one single word, that word would be EST50 smoothness. Still this ends being a selling point for the H40 as you can achieve 90% of what the EST50 does for way less money. If that sounds like a bargain to you, it’s because it is a bargain. The H40 didn’t get the memo that it wasn’t supposed to be able to produce this level of separation and this level of bass. The third factor is that the H40 has the perfect tune. Perfect is a word I almost never use, but in this single case it fits. The additional perfection occurs because this (particular) music doesn’t have real-life musical counterparts. Meaning we can’t judge the timbre because electronic sounds vary more, and don’t have any of the characteristics we judge drums or violins by. No wood resonance or sonic-forms of decay, timbre or actual instrument tone. They are pure electric sound-waves traveling from instrument to tape, so to speak. They are bypassing the recording room reflections and bestowed characteristics from being “in-the-air”. Pure tone. If this sounds fantastic to you, it is because it IS.

$195.00 IEMs that have the ability to scale up with better equipment.

At first I wasn’t that impressed by their scalability performance, but I kept listening and it started to reveal itself. Then later I switched back again to the EST50 to double check my findings. Both using the exact same equipment, the H40 has the same S8 cable, though the EST50 has 2 pin, where the H40 is MMCX. Such equipment equalization is down to using the DUNU wide-bore tips on both IEMs. And strangely the blue tip color is an exact match to the album cover! What more do you want here? :) A matching product box maybe?

At 25 minutes 36 seconds there is this bass texture event which is (in-fact) simply reintroducing the same bass, maybe louder? Such event acts reminder that the H40 is ultimately in its element, right at home. Remember too, this style of music is the original headphone music. There was a time in the 1970s when headphones brought about a new way to hear imaging and soundstage, a distant playback from table-top radio. Such attributes are the very reason we even are interested in the H40 in the first place. To create a musical environment apart from daily life, where we can experience the drama and intensity of music like this. Due to the sounds coming from not space (in-reality) but headspace, those sounds come-off more direct.


Cat Stevens
Teaser and the Firecat
96 kHz - 24 bit (needle drop)

“Moonshadow”

Ahh.......more blue and orange, I choose my review music by album cover colors not music. :)


B6A82613-6985-4D57-9831-FDBB63A3F05A.jpeg


Quote: Cat Stevens on Moonshadow
"I was on a holiday in Spain. I was a kid from the West End [of London] – bright lights, et cetera. I never got to see the moon on its own in the dark, there were always streetlamps. So there I was on the edge of the water on a beautiful night with the moon glowing, and suddenly I looked down and saw my shadow. I thought that was so cool, I'd never seen it before."

It’s really important to include this single song here. As it turns out the H40 does vocals really well. While it is known for having extra bass and a nice treble to balance the bass out, in fact the whole response comes off super well-balanced, if you can deal with the bass additive? Some one asked me if the EST50 was an allrounder or not. I said it was an all-rounder except since I’m not really a vocal (only) listener, I simply didn’t know how they would do with singularly vocal music. Now while Cat Stevens is considered “Singer Songwriter” it falls into the vocal-centric territory. So due to the EST50 and H40 sharing the same basic frequency response, they can be judged accordingly. Such a gift of inner-ear-monitor tuning makes all this happen as almost by magic. As you and I know, so many Chinese made IEMs can exploit that Pinna Gain area to almost miscalculate what is needed for vocal frequencies. They will do vocals well, except they went and tuned those to basically shoot way past the needed vocal frequency. This can result in one of three issues/concepts for the listener. One, they have a high-tolerance for such shenanigans, Two, they simply have to turn it down or three, that playback is intolerable. Really this is a big deal, but it should also be noted that this effect is not an off-on phenomena. There can be a walking in to the threshold, where the Pinna Gain heat is only present in a few areas, or of course the way past trouble effect..............where replay simply becomes a no-go, at almost any volume used.

Interestingly here I am able to listen at any volume. While switching to the EST50 I’m shown loud areas in the recording which are recording volume peak red-line-areas.........causing tape-compression. The tape-compression recording is there with the H40, just not heard as much. This is one of those rare instances where less detail is better.

The H40 is already popular. It is the ultimate deserted island IEM in that it truly does all style of music and file quality..........not only with ease, it does them with passion and ability. The only thing I will add is there are maybe abilities of vocal-centric IEMs to reach a slightly better area of separation. The rendition of vocals could stand out to become simply better? To tell you the truth, I’m not really schooled in such abilities or character…..so I can’t say. But this singer songwriter sub-genre was perfect? Cat Stevens voice has a woody darkness that is unmistakable, while he also does a vocal range, it’s not as often heard. It is his singular sound he is famous for and the H40 gets 100% of the tone across. Even the nice extra guitar-harmonics were found to sound completely natural and pure. Despite the ISN H40 using BA drivers, it is one of those times I can’t really seem to hear any BA off-timbre of metallic character?

The Golden Retriever:
Such nomenclature goes to describe my over-generalization of IEMs. I place all IEMs reviewed as of late in one of three categories Bad, Finicky or Golden Retriever. The H40 gains the Golden Retriever mark as it’s great from any source, obviously getting a larger soundstage and better dynamics from a better source. The second Golden Retriever trait is to be able to play all sound files, which it does. Meaning thin or dated old recordings still sound good, and any genre sounds good. And finally the H40 is open and offers a wide range of experimentation from cables and ear-tips. Such leeway goes miles to offer you both generally good sound and the opportunity to slightly change the sound. Meaning tips or cables are not used in this case to correct a problem, but only used as a way to achieve a wanted variation of playback. So to summarize, Golden Retrievers offer an easy going complement to any DAP/Amp, any use of cable or ear-tip. And finally…….play all sorts of music well, both any genre, or any level of quality.

DSC_0042.jpgqwqw.jpg

sky.jpeg


Comparisons:
I personally maybe get the most out of side-by-side comparisons. Such a set of tests ultimately showcases which values are important and why. At times obviously this set of differences between two IEMs can be subjective, but at times the contrast is just so prominent and real, there is no other way…………than to call-it like it is. While every IEM has a wide range of abilities, I’m still trying to generalize and find truth. There are far greater differences than what is tackled in our comparisons today. The best way to find value is to realize the comparisons are truly only key points. Each comparison has its own prior review (listed) so further details can be obtained. The fact that I can try and describe a character all day long, but put that character along side another IEM that you have heard and communication takes place. Still the use of amplification, cables and ear-tips can surprisingly go to enhance or diminish a character trait…….the H40 was somewhat resilient to any changes, marking the IEM as a Golden Retriever.

BGVP DM6
5BA:
https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/bgvp-dm6.23290/reviews#review-21914

BGVP_DM_6.jpg


This $189.00 IEM ends-up predating the release of the ISN H40, the DM6 was released in September of 2018. Many might argue that its age means it’s not relevant to our discussion today. I believe its relevance still holds simply due to its wide-range popularity at the time. Though keys elements are the H40 major sound improvement at the same price. It’s hard to imagine the H40 arriving a year later but doing everything so much better. At times I just have to laugh to myself. No, I’m not crazy, simply in awe of how much better an IEM that came a year later at almost the exact same price-point can be. It may have actually be some sort of paradigm shift in the industry right around that time? As this is one example of a giant leap forward in terms of real-ness. The DM6 is offering a tone that is less natural, but even if you forget all that the H40 is obviously deeper in the bass department. The H40 is boasting better imaging along with more articulated examples farther out into the soundstage. This thing of buzzy BGVP DM6 (swarm-of-bees) sound rendition.............that’s the DM6 simply doing all it can, yet getting fully defeated at its own game! There is absolutely nothing the DM6 does better, sorry, nothing! The over-all look and feel of the H40 in your hands also tells a tale of quality....the metal-tipped nozzles on the H40, in comparison to the simple beveled edge on the DM6. I hate to say it but even the build materials/fit/finish of the H40 give the impressions of a much better and thoughtful product. I could continue, but I will leave it be. I even have the solid-black DM6, and you would think they (at least) would have the same look and feel, but no.

The black BGVP DM6:
AA0A4385-345A-430B-AFE8-87D24240FA4A.jpeg


The ISN EST50
2EST+2BA+1DD Hybrid:
https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/isn-est50.25254/reviews#review-28717

DSC_0021.jpeg


This is the full comparison from the EST50 review. I just wrote the review a week ago and these thoughts hold true now, so why not include them?
First off I would like to say the H40 deceptively does a lot with a little. Meaning to better it they had to take a step back from the H40s more forward and in-your-face presentation. Such a character can often be tricky in these side-by-sides as forwardness isn’t always better, but just like fast-food can offer that instant gratification only to have you maybe wanting more as time passes. The H40 is a hair more efficient. First noticeable is how the EST50 effortlessly fills in the sketch work done prior with the H40. Such examples of playback start with simple elements in the soundstage sitting farther away with the EST50. As with prior expectation bias, I thought maybe the EST50 bass would be way louder or stronger or something different? When in-fact what takes place is more detail and better controlled/realistic bass-timbre. Such textures exist to be heard somewhat farther away, yet existing because of that distance. Where the H40 is more all-out 100% (in-your-face) with everything, here the EST50 takes a casual step back and creates a more real replay. Such replay takes place with strings with the H40. With the EST50 those same strings fall into a different area of the soundstage while occupying better 3D texture and reverberated nuance. Vocals are also slightly set back yet more clear with the EST50. The important part is the vocal detail in places where the EST just sounds more human. Such detail is what we pay for and are awarded. The H40 has a slight area of midrange congestion where things are just slightly clumped-together, where the EST50 takes that area apart and separates the elements for closer inspection. Now take note, often these differences would not be noted between the two IEMs, as it’s only under close inspection do these variations arise. Musically they are very close, but someone got out the Windex and cleaned the audio glass with the EST50. Meaning they occupy the same tonal arena for the most part. Yet the pace of the EST50 goes miles (off better) to show us there is more over the horizon. Such dimension exists and tells of more truth and clearer stories. The facts are there is nothing the H40 can do that the EST50 can’t. Such is the main goal in development, to bring about a more mature and refined sound. The fact that the EST50 clears off a little of the fog the H40 has, allowing us to see father into the soundstage and partake of slightly deeper timbre. The H40 has the uncanny ability to project a big sound (every instrument) but at the same time those sounds are hollow (hollow in shape, not sound) and without character in direct comparison. I’m actually doing a stand alone H40 review next, and no worries as the sound quality and value are there with the H40. It’s just you get what you pay (additional) for at times in audio. The real kicker is the fact that both IEMs fall under my description of a “golden-retriever”. Such nomenclature goes to name how an IEM acts in relation to source and file quality. Both IEMs don’t need catering to. Both IEMs gain pleasant playback from any source you have. Often at times we are trying to thread a needle by finding the tonal response that is acceptable, either by cables, tips or source choice. Here there are no such fires in existence to put out. So what we are left with is great tonal response and entertaining soundstage and all the rest of both technicalities and FR that make a winner. You just have to decide if this level of bass interaction will be distracting or not. It is distracting for me, but in the best of ways. So to sum up the H40/EST50 comparison, the EST50 comes through by doing the technicalities better therefor becoming a more detailed and real style of playback. With-in that realm of technicalities we witness the formation of actual real-life instruments and vocals. I see H40 usage with EDM outside of the house, due to it’s amazing low-end and natural noise occlusion, and the EST50 being more inside, where a more introspective and contemplative life-role takes place. The thing is, how often do you get to chose the same tonal signature in two separate IEMs? Here you could actually buy both and have the same sound signature, yet one less detailed for the outdoors, and one family heirloom to keep safe at home.

Sony XBA-Z5
1DD+2BA:
https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/so...s-in-ear-headphone.20347/reviews#review-25850

xba_z5 copy.jpg


Even though the XBA-Z5 was released back in 2014...............it remains a force to be reckoned-with. In many ways it’s the genesis for such technological maneuvers as the H40. Probably the one cult IEM reviewed today would be the XBA-Z5. Members climb out of the woodwork all the time to defend this single enigmatic IEM release. What I’m saying is there are people who have never found anything better, and even believe it to better the TOTL Flagship IER-Z1R. Such a reputation precedes the XBA-Z5. Yet it too is not without its issues, with one major thing being fit. Have you ever placed a USB stick in your ear? No.......well I haven’t either, the shape of the XBA-Z5 does wonders to emulate the experience. Such a reach to find fit means that this “USB-stick” is falling from side to side. Though I will say if you by chance get it in place, it’s amazing. Also somehow I’m getting the same wide-bore blue tips that I have used on everything to work. The blue wide-bore are totally refining the bass, that’s normally somewhat too thick. Such a bass spectacle has really dialed the XBA-Z5 in! With the same tips and amplifier the two are close to the same in some ways and divergent in others. The bass is actually more sculpted in the XBA-Z5? Anyone who knows the Z5 may be looking at that comment with suspicion? But that’s how it sounds. I have tried the DUNU blue tips before but always thought the mids were too grainy with the XBA-Z5? The soundstage is equal between the two, with the H40 having more forward elements all across the board. Where parts of the XBA-Z5 playback seem to fall back in imaging slightly. The bass is better with the Z5, better textured and owning of a softer more elegant sound. Though upon even more investigation the H40 is actually more clear in bass and more forward. All and all the H40 has a more robust and dynamic presentation! While there is a hair more detail offered with the XBA-Z5 playback, the H40 playback is bigger and clearer and amazingly the same sound signature! It’s just with the XBA-Z5 the bass is set-off in it’s own area. Also because the bass being upfront with the H40 it’s slightly harder to visualize its individual character. Still the way it works up there in front is respectful and hardworking. But it’s interesting as the more I listen to the H40 the more vivid in comparison to the XBA-Z5 it becomes? If that vividness and contrasting sound is what you’re after, the H40 is the ticket. If you want a more set-back and old-fashion sound, go for the XBA-Z5. Due to the fit and sound character I choose the H40 as the winner, and not by a little, by a lot. When you consider you may need a 4.4mm cable with the XBA-Z5 purchase. Also the XBA-Z5 cable is a rubbery thing that creates even more havoc with fit. So an aftermarket cable is mandatory for the XBA-Z5. The H40 comes with a dynamite cable! The H40 is remarkably more efficient, and of course fits better. Not to mention offers sound occlusion benefits over the XBA-Z5. If I was to give the XBA-Z5 a single difference in sound, it would be it does offer an added level of smoothness to the sound.

super side er.jpeg


Bass:
While not the most defined, it’s potent and authoritative, due to the actual-size of the bass notes. Though the EST50 does put more detail inside of the notes using the same FR, but the positioning of the bass is set back, with that added detail an imaging component forward. The H40 (bass) presence created offers a separated and large spectacle of sound, while always enjoying its place. Despite the definition (compared to more expensive IEMs) the H40 bass response has many tricks up-its-sleeve. Probably most endearing (trick) is the warm round bass “kick” that adds to moving the song forward. Such a bass "kick" also goes to showcase small accents and rhythm fluctuations, adding to foundation of groove. You see my friends, when the groove is catered to any lack of definition becomes secondary.

The way the imaging can take hold of the bass (due to it’s separation and delineation) to work wonders with movement with-in the soundstage. It’s this tautness that enables so much fun, that the bass is not only strong but firm and allocated to a zone. As at times the bass attack can offer a thrill, being you knew it in the song, but the playback was way more potent than guessed. That’s what makes a great bass, an instant realization of it’s presence, it’s like…….Oh-ya, the bass. It is in-fact this living in the moment that is musics true escape.

Midrange:

Critical practicality is arrived at by zero pinna gain heat ever. How many of us have a drawer-full of IEMs that dance around the phenomenon of Pinna Heat? Such a concept arrives by said IEM walking the line. The line exists of either too much or too little, but the H40 is forward (in soundstage positioning) but never goes to that line, not even near. So if you have bought Chinese IEMs and got burned by the hot pinna gain, here is your chance to throw those worries to the wind. The only way I can guess that they achieved this was by moving everything forward, but the EST50 has everything moved back and does not have pinna heat either? So I don’t know how they did it? Obviously they placed the pinna gain area FR, but my curiosity arrises to the perfect quality the vocals contain?

The H40 has a magic that while under its spell all seems correct and better than correct…….enjoyable and almost perfect. Such a place is precious and rare in the confusing world of IEM playback. It’s that everything is super forward, the furniture has been slide into the center of the room. There is not as much walking to find a place to sit, yet you are closer for conversation. And that’s how it is, people are closer talking and their points they are trying to get across come off as more vivid and almost louder. There is less breathing-room in this place, but it’s more personable and more exciting. While always confined in this closeness, epic elements still do make it out of the soundstage to emerge a noticeable musical devices. This of course happens with most renditions of midrange. While the stage is big, it’s close in proximity, but also tall. The tallness adds another dimension to complete the effect. So as noted earlier everything takes place in this big, tall and wide area. The final add is separation, the fact that all sound-features have their place. Not just a place in positioning, but a single transient place in time. Yep........the decay is roughly technical, which brings clarity.

Treble:
Some would actually argue for more. It’s defiantly your call if more upper-treble needs to be included? You can visualize but the upper end sparklers are not brought out for us to play with. We can still hear their existence and their reality known, yet not always experienced to the full-extent. Such cymbal accents are never viewed eye-to-eye. They are further away and their fall-off reverberations even further. Do I give a Schiit? No, I truly don’t care. Remember I’m in paradise here. The amount of included musical information is separated like only a Hybrid could do. So with the included lack of pronunciation, we at least get separation with goes the full-gambit to add what musical information is needed. Any lack of physicality missing in the upper-treble is fully reinforced by the mid-treble and lower-treble. This is why the ISN H40 promotes the illusion of completeness and balance. Such energies are needed also to counteract the bass energy. Where the bass and midrange go overboard for the price, maybe the treble is the place you get exactly what you pay for? Still just like often found in life, the H40 gets heard as the complete package therefor bigger/more vivid/more bold and more real than the price of admission.

contrast .jpg

Conclusion:
Skiing in on new Hybrid Technology, ISN not only shows us what’s possible, but goes way overboard in robust and involving sound reproduction. Such qualities may be a sign-of-the-times, yet the ISN H40 is found to be different and special due to tuning. It all becomes an epic accomplishment of epic proportions, and that's not just describing the soundstage. Such big bass joined with all the rest of the (forward placed) sound doesn’t mess around. While not providing everything, I challenge anyone to try the ISN H40 and not tell me it’s complete and competent. Be it your first step into the world of audiophile IEMs, or the additive to a collection, the results are the same; a unique and valuable single example of the art. Easily a deserted island IEM, due to playing your whole library and mixing with all your gear.


Such sonic findings were a surprise for me, when I made eye contact with "The Tiger". The build being different than other seemingly similar builds, the way the nozzle is polished and fastened. The fit and the daily use. The included (cable-manufacturer’s) S8 cable results in very little if any sound-quality left on the table. The sound of the H40 is truly the sound of an IEM motor firing on-all-cylinders. While it didn’t come out this week, that does not make the H40 lacking any modern advancement. In-fact the introduction of the H40 was the first example of this new wave of value and ability to come along and thrill the market. The profound uniqueness combined with usability make the H40 special in my experience. The H40 is the very definition of a bang-for-the-buck purchase. A stone-cold classic waiting for another listener to find enchantment. If your finding yourself veering away from the old-style audiophile sound and guess that you may like enhancement on all fronts……..if you guessed while reading that this sound described is for you, you truly can’t do any better.

You can purchase the ISN H40 here:
https://penonaudio.com/isn-audio-h40.html


Disclaimer: I would like to thank Penon Audio for the opportunity to review this IEM.
Disclaimer: These thoughts and ideas are of one individual, your results may vary.

Equipment Used:
Sony WM1Z Walkman DAP MrWalkman Firmware 4.4mm/3.5mm
Sony WM1A Walkman DAP MrWalkman Firmware 4.4mm/3.5mm
Sony TA-ZH1ES DAC/AMP Firmware 1.03
Electra Glide Audio Reference Glide-Reference Standard "Fatboy" Power Cord
Sony Walkman Cradle BCR-NWH10
AudioQuest Carbon USB
Apple iPad

h40 one.jpeg
Last edited:
alexandros a
alexandros a
The holly grail of monitors....
Timeless value.......
fiascogarcia
fiascogarcia
Congrats, you covered a lot of ground with this insightful and thorough review!
Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
Thank-you. Yes, somehow there was a bunch of stuff to talk about? I don’t know how there was so much?

ian91

Headphoneus Supremus
Analogue Grandeur
Pros: Excellent bass response
Wide and tall soundstage
Analogue romanticism and musicality
Non-fatiguing tuning
Quality cable included
Competes above price point
Cons: Would prefer more upper treble extension
Unboxing underwhelming
Driver configuration:

1DD + 3BA
1 dynamic driver (9.2mm) – low frequency
1 BA (custom) – middle frequency
2 BA (composite) – high frequency
22ohm impedance, 105dB sensitivity, 20Hz-20kHz
MMCX connectors, ISN S8 silver-plated OCC cable included (3.5/2.5/4.4mm terminations available)

Source: Shanling M8 (4.4mm, turbo gain)
Burn in: 150hrs
Stock cable, stock silicone tips (green bore)
Genres tested: world music, jazz, ambient, electronic, classical


The ISN H40 was provided by Penon for the purposes of review and in exchange for my honest opinion. Penon have no had sight or say on content within this review. This review contains earlier impressions I’ve posted publicly and my opinion is largely unchanged from then. The ISN H40 can be purchased here.

old.jpg


Preamble

Funnily enough, I entered the hobby at around the same time the ISN H40 came onto the market. At the time I had little knowledge of my own preferences and ended up with the Mangird Tea and the Shuoer EJ07, both had their strengths but I ended up moving on quite quickly and further down the tribrid rabbit hole. Most recently, I’ve returned to single dynamic drivers (in the form of earbuds and IEMs) and armed with the knowledge of my preference curve (somewhere between L-shaped and W-shaped) I discovered the Penon house tuning that I’ve grown to love in multiple forms.

Aware of the close working relationship of ISN and Penon, I was encouraged to try the ISN H40. Prior to receiving the H40 a part of me hoped there would be more than just a little Penon inspiration in there (in the way of mid-centric warmth), to keep me interested. There was also plenty of feedback on the forums complimenting the H40’s soundstage and bass response that piqued my interest…

Accessories & Packaging

To be straight to the point here – the packaging was underwhelming. A very thin cardboard box with outer and inner sleeves in a vibrant foil blue. Thankfully the IEMs are cushioned well within the sleeve using foam inserts. There is a functional and sturdy leatherette ISN carry case included that some might find useful. In terms of eartips there is a good selection of silicone tips and foam tips. All have a reasonably large inner diameter to encourage more treble energy through. A useful cleaning brush and cable clip is also included.

The cable – the ISN S8 – is beautifully made. It’s lightweight and has a very clear plastic sheath that reveals the silver plated OCC inside. The cable accessories are solid and well-built and the chin slider functions smoothly as intended. As a cable believer the choice of silver-plated OCC pairs well with the darker than neutral tuning to clean up and enhance the treble definition while retaining the low end extension and detail offered by OCC.

_DSC2485.jpg


_DSC2486.jpg


_DSC2490.jpg


Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The design of the shell is ergonomic and has a form-fitting shape to it. However, it’s also quite tall to the shoulder so it doesn’t sit flat to my ears and occupies all of the concha (plus more) within my smaller than average ears. It’s not uncomfortable and by virtue of the shell size and the solid resin shell the passive isolation is above average. The nozzle width at its tip is 4mm in diameter and fits nicely within the ear canal. As mentioned the shell is solid resin in a dark blue to black colour with gold ISN labelling. There is a single vent to the rear of the shell. The H40 looks sleek and is reasonably understated in its appearance. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the build but would prefer a shorter shell to the shoulder and a slightly narrower neck (before it meets the metal nozzle) to allow for a deeper fit.

_DSC2497.jpg


_DSC2498.jpg


Sound

Tonality

The tonality here is a L-shape to V-shape with upper treble roll off. It’s got a distinctly analogue feel to it. It’s ‘musical’ rather than analytical and makes for emotive listening.

Bass: strong impact, subbass emphasis, deep extension, texture and timbre retained

The bass is the standout feature of this IEM, with some of the best subbass rumble I’ve heard. It has a fine balance of subbass to midbass with emphasis leaning to the subbass. The H40 offers up great quantity in the lower frequencies without losing detail or nuance. Subbass rumbles with authority and fills the stage very well while the midbass impact is satisfying. As the midbass isn’t over emphasised, detail in the lower frequencies are on full display and timbre of instruments is conveyed really well. Listening to stand-up bass and double bass strings is a pleasure. The DD doesn’t display the hardest impact or the quickest transients but its character is perfectly suited to the analogue-inspired sound ISN were clearly aiming for.

The rest of the tuning revolves around this strong low frequency performance.

Midrange: no shout, warm, reasonable resolution, slight recession

The midrange is interesting and not uninspired. It’s definitely not forward – something that became more apparent as I’ve spent more time with it. The large stage (another selling point to be mentioned later) emphasises a slight recession in the mids as does the restrained pinna gain. They don’t feel empty or disembodied but neither do they feel the overwhelming focus of this IEM in busy tracks. I would have preferred some greater upper mid/lower treble presence to add some bite. Tonally the mids are warm and rich and not lacking in detail or clarity. Lower midrange vocals and instruments have some great weight to them that when combined with the bass boost and soundstage gives the impression of listening to larger over-ears.

I personally have a preference for a more forward midrange with greater upper mid presence but on reflection, combining the controlled pinna gain and less aggressive uppermids with the large soundstage and bass enhances the sense of space and analogue warmth. There is an old-school ‘speaker-like’ presentation wherein the bass encompasses and supports with a very engaging atmosphere around the midrange. Thankfully, the midrange never feels cluttered by this bassy embrace and details aren’t obscured in the process.

Treble: good definition, smooth presentation, no sibilance, upper treble roll off, minimal air, some metallic undertones

The treble stays on theme in the H40. It’s smooth and controlled but not subdued. You have definition, but it’s not piercing or shrill. The tuning ensures the overall tonality remains organic, more musical and less analytical. It also allows the listener to increase the volume to bask in the joy of the low end without fear of sibilance. If I could ‘nit-pick’ I would prefer greater ultrahigh extension to balance the tuning slightly and emphasise the space even more.

Technicalities:

Soundstage – The second selling point of this IEM just behind the bass is the soundstage. It’s large in height and width and is closest to ‘concert hall’ I’ve heard at this price range (take this with a pinch of salt as the intangibles like soundstage are very subjective). The width means the bass doesn’t become fatiguing or feel invasive and the height brings a sense of scale to the musical performance that makes it feel grand (especially classical music). It also counteracts the lack of treble air by emphasising space.

Imaging, Instrument Separation & Layering – Imaging is great for the price and the H40 gives a great rendition of many of the Yosi Horikawas tracks. There is great depth that makes layering and three dimensionality stand out.

Timbre – As a self-proclaimed timbre-head I’ve not had issue with the BA implementation here. The tuning ensures things stay warm enough and the defining bass character of the DD keeps things organic. There is the rare occasion when there is metallic timbre in the lower treble but it never put me off reaching for this IEM. I have no issue with the timbre presentation in the bass or mids. Fundamental and harmonic detail feels intact and is sustained well with no BA ‘sputtering’.

Conclusion

From the very first listen out of the box the H40 has flaunted a character that I’ve found quite unique and appealing. For the price (and more) it achieves a level of versatility, character and technicality that is hard to find. It quite easily sits as my choice of hybrid below $200, representing excellent value for money. ISN has created a bold and fun IEM that never becomes abrasive. It presents music with an ‘analogue grandeur’ that is as addictive as it is inviting.

_DSC2499.jpg
Last edited:
alexandros a
alexandros a
Analogue & grandeur presentation are the key words here...
The overall ambiance that H40 is able of creating of, due to it's bombastic and spacious presentation surely can makeup for the lack of air in the upper treble
  • Like
Reactions: ian91
bancanus
bancanus
Thanks for the review! H40 or Penon Globe is better?
PROblemdetected
PROblemdetected
One of the best, easy to Access review I see over here.

Totally agree with ur conclusion, a fun an analogue way to create a unique iem.

The only counterpart is the MMCX conector.

KutuzovGambit

1000+ Head-Fier
Expansive and rich tonality, addictive musicality
Pros: Rich and warm tonality
Ridiculously huge soundstage
Powerful, authoritative, well-controlled and high-quality bass
Full midrange that doesn't lack clarity or openness
Best-in-class male vocals
Smooth and laidback treble
Very good cohesiveness for a hybrid
Excellent layering and separation
Great comfort and build quality
Good accessories for price point
Cons: Some BA timbre in the treble
Treble lacks some sparkle and air for my taste
Not the most resolving or detailed in price range
Bit of driver flex
Introduction: ISN Audio has its origins as a cable company, but in late 2019 they began producing their own IEMs as well. Their freshman entry was the H40, a 1DD+3BA hybrid which is the subject of my review today. The H40 received wide acclaim as an excellent musical hybrid with a very good price/performance ratio. At the time I was quite intrigued by the positive reviews and the value prospect, but was held back from purchasing by two things: the somewhat large shell size (I have medium-small ears), and the colored sound at a time when I was focusing my search on “neutral-ish” monitors.

DSC00994.jpg


However, when Penon Audio offered to send me a review sample I jumped at the chance. Were my initial concerns well-founded, or does the H40 hold up to the hype almost two years later? Read on to find out!

I would like to thank Penon Audio for providing the H40 in exchange for my honest review. You can purchase a set for yourself here. The MSRP is $195, and the specifications are as follows:
  • Driver:3 Balanaced Armature + 1 Dynamic driver
  • Dynamic driver : 9.2mm
  • 3 Balanaced Armature: Custom 1 BA for middle Frequency + composite 2BA for high frequency
  • Impedance : 22 Ω @1khz
  • Sensitivity : 105 ± 3dB @1khz
  • Frequency response : 20-20kHz
  • Connector: MMCX
  • Plug: 3.5mm audio , 2.5mm balanced , 4.4mm balanced
  • Cable length: 1.2M
DSC00962.jpg


Packaging & Accessories: It should be noted that ISN Audio has substantially upgraded the packaging and accessories since the initial product release. The box I received is a metallic glossy blue, and inside the IEMs are encased in foam above a cutout for the new faux-leather hardshell carry case with magnetic closure. Underneath these are the other accessories which are quite generous in quantity. Altogether the accessories are as follows:
  • ISN S8 8-core MMCX silver-plated OCC cable (buyer can choose termination)
  • Blue hardshell carry case with magnetic closure
  • 3 sets of silicon eartips (S/M/L)
  • 1 set of foam eartips (M/L)
  • Cable clip
  • Cleaning brush
I personally really like both the carry case and the cable (the black/gold hardware color scheme is customized for the H40 as opposed to the standalone cable, which is a nice touch and looks quite fetching). The included tips are quite satisfactory as well, although as usual I did some tip-rolling and landed on my expected favorite for bassy IEMs: the JVC Spiral Dots (OG).

DSC00969.jpg


Build & Comfort: As mentioned in the introduction, one of the reasons I didn’t pull the trigger on the H40 initially was concern over fitment, as I have medium-small ears and the H40 was reputed to be a bit on the larger size. However, I am happy to report that the H40 fits me like a glove. The semi-custom resin shells are lightweight and fit snugly and stably in my ears, providing better than average isolation despite the vent for the DD, and retaining good comfort even over longer listening sessions (those with small ears are still advised to audition these if possible before purchase, as for me the H40 is right there on the border of being too large). They do protrude significantly out from my ears, which is not a problem at all for comfort although it does mean that side-sleeping with these is out.

DSC00987.jpg


There can be some driver flex depending on tips and insertion technique, which I am to able to avoid almost entirely when paying attention to the latter. But overall the build quality is more than satisfactory, and I anticipate no problems with durability or longevity. The MMXC connectors are quite solid and tight.

DSC00972.jpg


Initial Impressions: From the very first track I played with the H40 in my ears, I was blown away by both of its two key selling points: the outstanding soundstage, and the intoxicating bass. I expected both of these qualities to be good, but not this good. The soundstage rivals even some open-backs (not something like the AKG K702 mind you, more like the Sennheiser 600 series). And the bass on this IEM is simply fantastic in both quality and quantity.

But I don’t want to give the impression that the H40 is a two-trick pony. It’s an exceptionally cohesive package, especially given that it is a hybrid unit. The overall tonality is so pleasingly rich (without any hint of over-indulgence, to the point of being thick and syrupy for example) that even excellent IEMs can easily begin to sound downright sterile by comparison. For a freshman effort and a sub-$200 price point, ISN has really hit this one out of the park.

DSC00982.jpg


Signature: The H40 is a warm L-shaped IEM, with a visceral and authoritative DD-powered low end that transitions smoothly into a full yet fairly clear midrange. The pinna gain heading into the upper mids is rather laid-back, and the treble is clearly the least-emphasized range of the frequency response — although I never felt like there was anything missing from the top end. The overall presentation is exceptionally musical and engaging, characterized by an inviting warmth in the lower end and an accompanying smooth and relaxed upper end that lends itself to hours upon hours of listening pleasure.


Bass: The bass of the H40 is unquestionably the star of the show. There is absolutely no lack to either extension or quantity, the latter of which is probably capable of satisfying at least some bassheads (yet without overpowering the midrange). The slam is quite intoxicating on this unit, and yet for all its power it does not lack control — especially after proper burn-in. It remains quite agile despite having a bit slower decay, which together with a somewhat softer attack lends a very pleasing atmospheric quality to the overall presentation. Note weight has a good amount of heft to it, but never comes across as overly thick or blunted. Texture is quite good, although not class-leading.


Mids: Although the mids lie somewhat in the shadow of the bass on this IEM, it is not a shadow which obscures the mids but rather which gives them an added character. The lower mids retain a moderate amount of warmth and elevation from the upper bass, leading to some of the most full and pleasing cellos, male vocals, and deeper female vocals that I have heard on any IEM. Yet this fullness does not come at the expense of clarity, and the rich expressiveness is exceptionally well-balanced with overall openness — in keeping with the thematic expansiveness of the soundstage.

The midrange in general has a good amount of resolution throughout, although the focus is much more on tonal richness than analytical detail.

As mentioned above the pinna gain is rather modest (especially by ChiFi standards), so some people might find that female vocals and certain strings occasionally lack a bit of energy, and while not recessed they can take half a step back in the mix at times. This is not so much a shortcoming as a matter of personal preference, however, and there are no doubt others (myself included) who appreciate the fatigue-free quality that results from this tuning decision.


Treble: The treble tuning of the H40 definitely prioritizes smoothness and relaxation over detail and sparkle. Other than a spike around 8khz it remains fairly polite throughout, and it is somewhat rolled off at the very top. Together with the restrained pinna gain this makes the H40 a great option for the treble-sensitive, although those looking for raw clarity and analytical detail should look elsewhere. I do think that the H40 could have used a bit more shimmer and air, but again this is a matter of personal preference rather than being an outright flaw. And I do think that the H40 shows good integrity here in remaining true to its overall ethos of musical warmth and smoothness, rather than trying to artificially augment its technical capabilities through treble trickery as can sometimes happen. Although it leans just a bit dark, as I mentioned above I never felt like there was anything missing up top.


Soundstage & Technicalities: The soundstage on the H40 is nothing short of phenomenal. Width and height are outstanding, and depth is very good as well. The full tonality as well as treble roll-off do mean that there is not a lot of air between the instruments, but layering is nevertheless quite well done, separation does not suffer, and I never experienced any congestion. Imaging is fairly good but not pinpoint-accurate. Cohesiveness is very good for a hybrid, and timbre is fairly good although there is some BA timbre in the treble at times. Resolution and details are quite decent, although again the tonality means that microdetails are not really the focus here.

DSC00992.jpg


Comparisons
vs. Penon Globe: The Penon Globe has often been cited as a direct upgrade to the H40, and while I can see what these people are saying (especially as they do share a quite similar DNA) I do not fully agree. I actually prefer the H40’s bass as I find it to be more refined than on the Globe, where it can sometimes have too thick and overbearing a note weight for some genres. The mids are a toss-up, as the Globe employs a richer and lusher Sonion BA but this comes with a correspondingly more intimate soundstage rather than the expansive feel of the H40. The treble is where I find the Globe to be more clearly superior as it has more shimmer, sparkle and air (even though it uses only a single BA for the region as opposed to the two BAs on the H40). Overall, in my opinion the Globe and H40 are more variations on a theme rather than one being a wholesale upgrade to the other. This is a testament to the value proposition of the H40 as compared to the nearly twice as expensive Penon Globe.

vs. Rose QT-9 MK2: The QT-9 is one of the other quite compelling hybrid options in the price range. While they both share a subwoofer-like low end powered by a dynamic driver, in other respects they are quite different. The H40 has greater bass quantity and a slightly more atmospheric bass presentation, although overall quality is similar. The midrange on the H40 is warmer, fuller, and more laidback, whereas the QT-9 has a more open and airy midrange as well as significantly more energy in the upper mids. The treble is more pronounced and better extended on the QT-9, supporting greater resolution, air, and detail retrieval than on the H40. Imaging is also more precise on the QT-9. However, after becoming accustomed to the H40 the QT-9 on certain tracks could come across as downright thin-sounding, even though objectively I know this is not true. All this is to say that this is a case of “different strokes for different folks,” with the QT-9 being a more balanced and versatile IEM tending towards the analytical side of things, whereas the H40 is a much more musical and full-bodied IEM that prioritizes its rich tonality over detail retrieval and neutrality. The QT-9 does however retain the unique advantage of being able to cram its 1DD+4BAs into one of the smallest and most ergonomic shells I have ever experienced.


Conclusion: The ISN H40 is a superbly well-executed IEM with an expansive, romantic, and full-bodied sound. The rich tonality lays its foundation in the powerful, visceral, yet surprisingly well-controlled bass, segues into a full yet clear and open midrange, and finally finds its fitting complement in a smooth and relaxed treble presentation. The absurdly huge soundstage makes room for every voice and instrument despite the fullness of the tonality, and overall cohesiveness is exemplary for an entry- to mid-range hybrid. Treble fanatics and lovers of neutrality will want to look elsewhere, but those searching for an absolutely addictive musicality at an undeniably compelling price point need look no further than the ISN H40.

DSC00994.jpg
Last edited:
alexandros a
alexandros a
thefallenangelx
thefallenangelx
for anyone looking for more trebles, try to remove the clothed mesh from the nozzle, or replace the clothed mesh entirely with another with more open holes.
I did it and i cant be happier.
alexandros a
alexandros a
@thefallenangelx..... So.... You finally got it man.... And as I can see you love em as well....
For the record... It's really tempting (H40 modified) but I am afraid of destroying this gem as well......

cqtek

500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Fantastic low range.
- Very good clarity and close midrange.
- Very analogical sound, natural, soft, dynamic, fun, but harmonious, suitable for long listening.
- Great cable, good accessories.
- Minimum packaging, for me it's an advantage, I don't need, almost, space for storage.
- Constructive quality.
- Ergonomics.
Cons: The greatness of the low range may not be to everyone's taste.
- Not suitable for those looking for a bright, ultra detailed or analytical profile,
- Slightly large capsules.
- Driver flex may appear with some silicone tip models.
Introduction

ISN Audio is a brand from China, whose products, until now, were very high quality cables. Recently, it took a step forward and put in the market some earbuds, the ISN Rambo, which I already analyzed in this same blog. Now, he has moved on, introducing his first IEMS: none other than mid-range hybrids, with 3BA and 1DD. The dynamic driver is 9.2mm, while the BA are manufactured in-house: one is simple, dedicated to the midrange and the other two are composite and take care of the high frequencies. The capsules are made of black resin. Their connectors are MMCX. The cable that accompanies them is the S8, from ISN itself.

ISN H40 01_resize.jpgISN H40 02_resize.jpg

Specifications

  • Drivers Type: 1DD 9.2mm + Custom 1 BA for middle Frequency + composite 2BA for high frequency
  • Frequency Response: 20-20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 105 ± 3dB @ 1kHz
  • Impedance: 22 Ω @ 1kHz
  • Jack: 3.5mm Audio, 2.5mm/4.4mm Balanced gold-plated plug
  • Capsule Connection Type: MMCX
  • Cable length: 1.2m

ISN H40 03_resize.jpgISN H40 04_resize.jpg

Packaging

ISN usually uses the same packaging: a simple blue box, dimensions 124x78x42mm. It is covered with a simply decorated cardboard, with a photo of the model in question on the front, as well as its name and description. On the back, only the specifications come. After removing the cardboard and opening the box, there is a classic, but very functional, transport box, with a zipper and in black. This box has a good rigidity, more than enough to protect the IEMS and the content. And speaking of the contents, the box comes completely full of accessories. I will now list them:

  • The two capsules.
  • ISN Audio S8 cable.
  • 5 pairs of grey silicone tips, with red core, sizes XSxSxMxLxXL
  • 3 pairs of white silicone tips, with green core, sizes SxMxL
  • 2 pairs of Marshmallow foam tips
  • 1 pair of black silicone tips, with green core, medium size (comes in the capsules)
  • A brush/cleaning kit.
  • A small golden musket.

The presentation is totally plain, but the accessories are very useful. Based on the good collection of tips, only some bi-flange or tri-flange are missing. Although, on the other hand, they may not be suitable for use with these IEMS, whose insertion is medium or, rather, superficial.

On the one hand, the fact that the packaging is very generic and of practically no design could be criticised. But, on the other hand, I don't find it crazy that the brand has chosen to use the money, which it could have invested in it, to incorporate a very good cable and a multitude of tips. If it were up to me, I would opt for this second option. As long as, this philosophy, means maximizing the audio quality. Which, in fact, it seems to be the case.

ISN H40 05_resize.jpgISN H40 06_resize.jpg

Construction and Design

The capsules are completely black, built in resin, almost in one piece. Their shape is semi-custom. Its lines are smooth, very rounded. The external face has the golden logo of the brand, under its transparent surface. The contour of this face reminds the African continent. The lower vertex is thin, but its interior projection is widened until it reaches the foot of the nozzles. The inside has the typical upper vertex, which fits in the upper part of the shell, in a very appropriate way. The depth of the capsules is great, there is no doubt that they are fat, stubby. Their overall size is not excessive, but it must be taken into account, for those people, whose auditory cavity is not very large. On the back side, there is a small hole. The connection is MMCX and is completely embedded in the body of the IEM.

Finally, the nozzles are golden pieces. They have two diameters: in its lower, narrower part, its diameter is 4.35mm; in its upper, more external part, the diameter is 5mm. The length is approximately 4.5mm. Its interior is protected by a micro-perforated metal grid.

The cable that comes with the IEMS is the ISN Audio S8. It has 8 strands of 19-core OCC silver-plated (Single Crystal Copper). The connectors are MMCX, gold plated. Its sleeves are two black cylinders, with two slots around them, which have been painted in red and blue, to identify the channel. The pin is a black metallic sphere, with a blue notch on its equator.The dividing piece is another metallic and black piece, with a flattened oval shape. The connector is a generous cylinder, the external part of which has a textured surface. It is followed by a blue groove and the smooth majority body with "ISN Hi-Fi" inscribed in pale gold.

The cable does not have a hardened coating, which gives it an ear shape. It only has a plastic coating, which serves as protection, at the entrance to the connecting cylinders.

The design is very elegant, with that almost black resin, the mark in gold letters and the rounded and ergonomic shapes. The construction offers no weak points. Both the connectors and the nozzles are well assembled. The resin used is very hard and rigid and does not weigh much, although they are not ultra-light, their weight is not representative in the ears. They are not excessively large, but they are thick, overhanging the ears.

The cable that comes is totally at the height of the IEMS, also sold separately, at a cost of approximately $30.

ISN H40 07_resize.jpgISN H40 08_resize.jpg

Adjustment and Ergonomics

The adjustment of most IEMS can be as particular as the morphology of each one. In my case, the ISN H40 fits me perfectly, it seems that they have been made to my measure. All the contours fit like a glove and there is no movement. It's true that they are quite overgrown, due to their thick body size.

The insertion, in my case, is superficial, using smaller tips, I could make a slightly deeper insertion. But the best adjustment and the best sound, I have obtained with the bigger tips, getting a very high sealing sensation, a quite high soundproofing and a very full sound sensation.

The only drawback was the "driver flex" effect in the left ear: due to the perfect fit I get, a kind of vacuum is created, which facilitates the appearance of this effect.

ISN H40 09_resize.jpgISN H40 10_resize.jpg

Sound

Profile

The profile of the ISN is warm/low profile, it could be considered in L. But its quality has a tendency towards naturalness and a very analogical sound.

I must clarify that, with the tips provided, the sound achieved is very good. But, particularly, I have found that the association with JVC's Spiral Dot tips has given me a higher level of clarity and detail, without losing any bass.

ISN H40 11_resize.jpg

Bass

All the fans in the lower area should bring their chairs and surround the H40, listen to them carefully and, why not, with admiration. Well, it's a way like any other, to open up the comments about the bass. Exaggerated? Maybe, but these IEMS have totally satisfied my bass needs, both in quality and quantity. I'm sure there will be better ones and I will have to compare many to find them. But you must always take into account the price range where these IEMS are moving.

The ISN H40 are bass IEMS, no doubt about it. I don't agree that they have a balanced or neutral profile. A low quantity like the one produced by these IEMS, cannot be considered trivial. But, neither does it produce a bloody imbalance, nor do they embed the voices, or drown out the highs, far from it. Their deep, clean and fast approach gives them a special sonority. In conjunction with the excellent punch control, its authority in the sub-bass (also in the rest) and the dynamic ability, makes the lower zone of the ISN, a true festival of quality and quantity. The punch is very contained and of good speed, tight and dry, it is practically colorless. It feels like a perception, giving the sensation of moving a lot of air, as if it were a studio monitor, but high-end. It surprises the technical ability that it has, to reproduce complex passages, without losing control, boasting agility. In addition, and in spite of the authority that he treasures, the bass are very benevolent with the middle zone. Perhaps that's why you can think of a certain balance or neutrality.

Lately, I have been thinking that there is a tendency among IEMS with very good performance in the low zone, to cement their power at the deepest end: in the sub-bass. The H40 is no exception in this respect and that detail does not go unnoticed. The bass never feels swollen, nor does it dominate beyond its limit, but runs with analog precision, lots of definition and great cleanliness. It's like describing the bass I was looking for...

ISN H40 12_resize.jpgISN H40 13_resize.jpg

Mids

My compliments to the lower zone increase, when it is time to talk about the central zone. Because, it is praiseworthy how, a lower zone full of authority, is able to have so much respect for the midrange. In my opinion, another key is the excellent location ability of the H40. This virtue allows the ranges and frequencies to be distributed spatially, without them overlapping or getting in the way. Thus, the bass can sound hard, while the voices are recreated free and close, or rather, in their place, with total naturalness. In this way, it is easy to distinguish how the singers move through the composition, approaching, moving away or moving horizontally around the scene. Continuing with the voices, I think their favor falls on the side of the female ones, as they feel gently emphasized. Their brightness is very light, as their tendency is warm, a quality that gives them a wide, sweet and velvety body. The projection of light is quite neutral, there is not a great amount of brightness, but neither is there darkness, giving way to a very realistic air and a very analogical look. What they do produce, the H40, is an enormous clarity and cleanliness in the reproduction. In addition, its definition and resolution is very good, but not analytical, reinforcing the natural and, again, analog feel of the playback.

The instrumentation blends perfectly into the scene, with a remarkable feeling of fullness, except in the highest area, where there is a slight thinness, due to its great smoothness. Its location is excellent, with great distance and air, remarkable resolution, but the detail is not excellent, despite being very good. I appreciate that the micro detail is slightly limited by the smoothness of the profile and its non-analytical and analogical aspect.

ISN H40 14_resize.jpgISN H40 15_resize.jpg

Treble

The upper zone brings up a difference between the warm IEMS I have previously heard or analyzed. In order not to fall into a V-profile, the highs are presented in a smooth and gentle way. Thus, the profile remains warm, but clear, very natural, with that analogical sparkle. Hence, the sibilance tends to zero. But, on the other hand, its quantity and extension is such, as to avoid that its sound provides some hint of darkness or lack of detail. First, you must forget to look for an analytical character in the H40, despite its 3 BA drivers, its sound is very defined, but conveniently polished and smooth, so as not to stray from the harmonious line of its predecessor ranges. The treble is very safe, not at all penetrating, it has delicacy, but sweetened, without itching or incision. The zone is moderate in its initial part, but it is expressed released and with enough air above 10kHz.

Those looking for a markedly high-pitched sound will not find it on the H40's. ISN has even created IEMS that are capable of playing passages markedly saturated in treble, (like the "Production" album by "Mirwais") with a very pleasant smoothness and realism, giving the sound details and measured, harmonious flashes, but without missing much.

ISN H40 16_resize.jpgISN H40 17_resize.jpg

Soundstage, Separation

The warmth doesn't have to be at odds with the size of the scene. ISNs take advantage of every micron of their enclosure to recreate a large, remarkably airy stage with plenty of separation. As I said before, the location capacity that is able to generate these IEMS, is almost excellent, virtue that helps to widen the scene, giving it, in addition, enough height. The image, in my opinion, is not totally surrounding, but it has a frontal and semi-spherical predominance. Perhaps, it is due to its natural quality or perhaps it is this fact that gives it that dose of realism that H40s possess. Be that as it may, the ISN take advantage of all its potential in the lower zone, to expand the sound in multiple directions, as well as the amount of air they are capable of generating, to locate the elements well separated, defined and located. Possibly, the H40 are one of the best bass IEMS with scene and separation that I have been able to analyze, outstanding, for its price range.

ISN H40 18_resize.jpg

Comparisons

NS Audio NS5 MKII Extra Bass

I'm going to start with a complex but necessary comparison: the NS5 is one of my favourite IEMS, a true single DD delight, with a lot of detail and a realistic profile, but more analytical and brilliant.

The first differences are very clear, the NS5 need power to shine, while the H40 show all their power with much less, and their power is demonstrated in that comparatively low area thundering. On the NS5, the voices are much more in line with the bass, even standing out above it. Likewise, both the details and the highs have a higher presence. The NS5s are more focused on offering a richer sound, based on the mid-high zone, being more explicit and surgical in many aspects, but without losing the naturalness, nor sounding artificial.

If we talk about the lower zone, the differences are very big in quantity, to get an idea: in the NS5 you have to look for the bass line, while in the H40, this one chases you, catches you, drags you, floods you or hits you. The drums sound thinner on the NS5s and, in general, the mid-low zone suffers from this certain lack of body, comparatively speaking. The opposite is true of the upper middle zone. In the NS5 it is much more explicit, offering many more details, something that can be noticed in the voices, which sound richer, more defined, with more light, clarity and ornamentation. In the H40, you can appreciate the fading and a more pronounced smoothness, which hides nuances, like the breathing of the vocalists. Something else is equal in the male voices, although the projection and greater emphasis, falls from the side of the NS5, offering a better technique and constructive ability, in addition to a more prominent presence and greater prominence. Something similar occurs with the instruments, the way in which the NS5 shells the details, is well ahead of what the H40 offers. It is true that the NS5s "bite" much more, since their highs are very fine, and they can penetrate much more than the H40s. The upper zone is approached differently, in both IEMS: in the H40, the highs follow the wake of the mids, offering a smooth and soft presentation. While in the NS5, the treble has a greater presence, finesse, delicacy, complexion, resolution and definition.

The two IEMS have a way of describing naturalness, from opposite points of view. The H40s are based on a colossal and authoritative low range, to set the pace in the rest of the ranges, offering a warm and smooth profile, without darkness, but comparatively duller, without offering so much information in the details and nuances. The NS5's sound is based on an outstanding technical ability, which allows them to extract a great deal of information from the sound offered, as well as a high level of nuance and micro detail.

The scene is also difficult to compare. In the H40, the scene is expanded by the low zone and the large location of the elements. On the NS5, the greatness of the scene is explained by the large amount of information it expresses, as well as by the great separation it has. I personally think that the scene is slightly larger in the H40, while the separation and the amount of air is better in the NS5.

ISN H40 19_resize.jpg

Oriolus Finschi

Other IEMS with a similar profile are the Oriolus Finschi. Perhaps their profile is even more downward, with the mids more distant, relatively speaking. And that's the first thing you feel after comparing them, not so much a difference in the low zone, but the difference in the voices. Another big difference, is the sensitivity: the ISNs move much more easily than the Oriolus.

Starting with the low zone, the pitch of each IEM is different. The H40 has a more natural and analogical color, while the Finschi does not show such an explicit or clear face, its sonority is more dull. Despite the weight of the lower zone of the Oriolus, the hitting that the ISN generate is more forceful, with more dryness and containment, but more authoritarian. The Finschi play the bass in a more rubbery way, they are longer, expansive, and flood the scene more, due to a slower recovery. It could be said that the lower zone of the Oriolus, "stains" more, lasting more in time and sound.

As I said at the beginning, in the middle zone, the differences are bigger. Starting with the voices, you can see a greater depression of them, in the Oriolus. Their body is less full, they feel more veiled, more sifted and more distant. Their tone is not so realistic, it is somewhat darker. There is more light and presence in the voices of the H40, a greater dynamism and tangible beauty, due to the better articulation and skill in reproduction. In the female voices, there is a tendency to match, although the greater imbalance in the Finschi persists. In the ISN, they gain in clarity and closeness, sounding quite complete, with more nuances and a greater descriptive capacity. The instrumentation follows the same pattern, only the lower middle zone excelling in the Finschi.

The treble has a different sonority in both, although, in the two, they are quite softened. But in the Oriolus, some flashes escape that can be a little annoying in some tones. The H40, on the other hand, has a more homogeneous and softened high zone, not so penetrating at times. However, the perception of the treble is more complete in the ISN, showing a higher overall clarity, which generates a sound with more detail and resolution.

The scene is quite good in both, but the greater sense of remoteness in the Oriolus, as well as more precise placement and the greater cleanliness in the sound of the ISN, tips the scales towards them. The H40 scene is more three-dimensional than that offered by the Finschi, which have less height and a less spherical feel.

The separation, for similar reasons, as well as the better resolution and better defined bass, also feels superior in the ISN H40.

ISN H40 20_resize.jpgISN H40 21_resize.jpg

Conclusion

ISN is very clear on how to make earbuds or IEMS. He has already demonstrated this with ISN Rambo earbuds, attacking the weak point of the PK capsule, offering a tailored profile. With the H40, he has created a warm, very natural and analog IEMS, improving those areas of conflict, in this type of profile: the resolution capacity, clarity in the midrange and the level of detail offered. In the lower zone, it is difficult for these IEMS to have a rival, being at the level of TFZ, without a doubt. But, in addition, they have a scene whose size is unattainable, in a headphone of their price range and characteristics. And, of course, the cable that comes with them is a big one, from a brand that is dedicated to it. Perhaps the packaging is not what many people expect, too simple and insipid. But why do I want cardboard or plastic, when they are offering me a great level of sound and more than decent accessories? Well, more sound and less cardboard. Keep it up, please, gentlemen of ISN.



Sources Used During the Analysis

  • Burson Audio Playmate
  • JWD JWM-115
  • Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus
  • Tempotec Serenade iDSD
  • F.Audio FA3
  • xDuoo X3 Mark II

ISN H40 22_resize.jpg

Ratings

  • Construction and Design: 90
  • Adjustment/Ergonomics: 87
  • Accessories: 80
  • Bass: 93
  • Mids: 83
  • Treble: 80
  • Separation: 88
  • Soundstage: 91
  • Quality/Price: 92

ISN H40 23_resize.jpg

Purchase Link

https://penonaudio.com/isn-audio-h40.html

You can read the full review in Spanish here:

https://hiendportable.com/2020/03/23/isn-h40-review/
Last edited:
Santojob
Santojob
Excellent review @cqtek, very well written not to be your native language. People should be more permissive and not go looking for problems where there are none (Lost in translation, like the movie). I also consider it advisable to stress that it is positive to detail in which price range we are moving. I bought this H40 thanks to your review and because I have been following you for a few years and I love your reviews and I know that you do them with total impartiality. Congratulations.
anli
anli
Can you, please, compare subbass with, say, Audeiosense DT600 or 7hz Timeless or Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk? I like subbass, but hate blurred (sub)bass (with long attack and/or decay). Say, Dusk are awful for me :) While DT600 are the first in the list.
cqtek
cqtek
@anli I would really like to be able to make the comparisons you are asking for, but I don't have those models. I am sorry.

Janjohnnn

New Head-Fier
Pros: Balanced matured tuning
Wide soundstage
Excellent bass
Excellent midrange
Excellent Highs
Design is amazing; the gold logo kind of symbolizes how the sound feels like- Liquid gold! (smooth-sounding) lol
Cons: I don't know.

Oh wait, they mixed up the L/R cable channel
ISN H40 Review

Hello, Head-fi people

this will be my final edited review. The original unedited review was so horrible, I wanted to delete it, but I found out that there was no delete option, so now I must at least try to make this review look professional! lol

First of all, I bought this product on Penon with my own money. It was my first ever purchase on Penon. My experience with Penon customer support was easy and effortless; it made me realized they are very trustworthy. Shout out to Penon for their amazing customer support! Now, for the review.

Packaging & Accessories

The packaging is smaller than I thought. It comes with a small rectangular box. Inside the box is a black case with the IEM, that high-quality cable- I believe is called the S8, and a bunch of tips. Mine came with a freebie IEM because I was one of the early buyers.

IMG_20200109_112628.jpg

Source

The source I used for this review is the Fiio BTR3 and Pixel Dongle. My music source is Spotify premium.

A quick review of the sound difference of both sources
-With Pixel Dongle, vocals are more forward with less space and air than BTR3. Overall soundstage is more 3d-like with the Fiio BTR3; more sense of space and air.

IMG_20200109_122550~2.jpg

Sound

From the first listen, I can tell that the sound is neutral and well-balanced in all frequency.

Bass

The first thing I noticed is how clean the bass is. Bass is well defined with highly audible decay on rumbly tracks(I absolutely love it). On some tracks, you can really tell the air and space between bass and midrange; it never bleeds into the mids. It is deep, impactful with good tightness (not the tightest though), and sounds very complete. You can feel how deep the bass on certain songs; in comparison, it is much deeper than my Fiio FH5 and BGVP DM6 v2. The H40 bass is impactful with a little longer decay. What I really like is how huge the bass sounds while maintaining controlled, it is never muddy but very detailed, and the decay is solid and audible which rumbles like a boss. You could really tell the bass sounds truly high quality compared to my other IEMs. The ISN H40 portrays the bass perfectly and deliciously on any songs. It is never lacking and never excessive for my taste; just the perfect amount of high-quality bass.

IMG_20200109_113715.jpg

Midrange

For midrange, I found it the most enveloping of the sound. The midrange details are very audible, and they show a lot of air and space. The vocals sound complete and silky smooth. Vocals sound big with solid weight. Vocals have bigger weight than my Fiio FH5 and DM6 v2 while maintaining its own space with excellent clarity. Vocals are neutral; depends on the song, it may sound forward yet not shouty but increased in clarity instead. Vocals imagery is mostly in the center; though, it can appear just slightly behind on some songs but still exhibit an excellent sense of space and clarity. The awesome thing about the ISN H40 vocals is the timbre sounding closer to real-life for me; I can hear more tone to it which can reveal more emotions to the voices and when you incorporate it by having a good amount of weight, air, and sense of space- you get orgasmic vocals, lol.

IMG_20200109_195033~2.jpg

Treble

Airy, silky smooth and extended. Details are much more audible than my Fiio FH5 and DM6 v2. I have not yet experienced any sharp and piercing treble (FYI, I have perfect hearing, though I am not trebly sensitive); although, if you know your hearing isn’t in its prime anymore and need to increase the volume up a little more, then maybe you might experience a little sharp treble around, I’m guessing, maybe 8k-10kHz. Now. The treble details may sound big and lively while still retaining its sense of space in the stage; and because of that, the treble detail sounds very delightful. Edit: some people may find the treble a little weighty and relaxed.

IMG_20200109_115328~2.jpg

Soundstage

Since bass, vocals, and details sound huge while maintaining its respective space with an excellent amount of air- the soundstage may appear huge and large. ISN H40 portrays the soundstage effortlessly and clean. It is amazing how the ISN H40 presents silky-smooth imagery; although, this IEM is not for pinpointing every instrument freak out there. Overall soundstage does not appear cramped; instead, soundstage presents the sound in an immersive or surround sound quality particularly because of the huge sound and good sense of space. Soundstage isn't the tallest, but is wide and deep.

IMG_20200109_115609~3.jpg

Overall

The ISN H40 is horrible. I don’t recommend it.

I’m joking! This IEM is amazing in every way; build design, build quality, amazing cable, amazing sound. The bass, vocals, and details this IEM produce makes my other IEMs sound fuzzy and lifeless. I definitely recommend the ISN H40 to everyone. That’s all I’m going to say because I’m getting tired of this review lol. dfxlbjkedjasds

Goodbye!

IMG_20200109_113911~2-01~3.jpeg
Last edited:
P
Pascal3366
I just received my ISN H40 and I must say that my first listening impressions don't really line up with the reviews here.

I tested them with the 4.4mm balanced cable from my Ifi Zen DAC.

To me they sound a bit muddy. The resolution is not how I would have imagined it after reading the reviews here.

Bass is pretty strong.

Soundstage sounds pretty small to me and seperation is not that good.

I tested them with the default green tips over the 4.4mm balanced cable through my Ifi Zen DAC.

Maybe I should try different tips.
CT007
CT007
@Pascal3366 Although Orb is equally unique and interesting like the H40 in very different ways, I would suggest to avoid it as well.
P
Pascal3366
Update: I replaced the tips with JVC Spiral Dot ear tips and I am using a Hilidac Beam 2S as my source now and they sound absolutely amazing. Good resolution, clarity awesome huge soundstage and fun.

Dsnuts

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Excellent balancing and refinements in all parts of the sound. Large wider deeper stage for in ears. Solid build with an excellent ISN S8 SPC cable. Crazy value for the cost. Very immersive and detailed sound presentation. Good variety of tips to use. You get 2 earphones if your fast enough to get one early.
Cons: Meager packaging but not a real con, fingerprint magnet on the shells, Will make you think twice about your more expensive in ears you bought that don't sound as good.
ISN H40
DSC06799.JPG

I would like to thank Penon for the review sample which was provided for the purpose of review. These are my thoughts about the first IEM from the company ISN.

DSC06809.JPG

ISN as far as I knew made aftermarket cables. I own several of their cables the C-16 16 core copper cables, C4 cable and now the S8 which comes with the H40. You might recognize some of these on the nets.

DSC06804.JPG

It seems they have decided to dip their toes in the IEM game and out of the gate they have decided to do the tried and true hybrid in a semi custom resin shell. While the technology for the hybrid is not new it does take a good amount of sound know how to tune hybrids to the point of better cohesion and sound balancing. The ISN earphone is just that. Today the market is so filled with hybrids at every cost level I feel the sound quality of yet another hybrid in the market has to stand out. Does the H40 stand out? Let's find out.

DSC06785.JPG

The H40 comes to you in a small rectangular box which houses ISNs tried and true zip up rectangular case. Inside the case is the goods. The H40, 8 pair of silicone tips in various sizes and 2 pair of soft foam tips. A large clip to carry the case. This is a decent variety of tips and I am sure you will find something that will fit your ears in the lot. As far as the packaging goes nothing flashy here. To be honest for an almost $200 earphone I was expecting something a bit more substantial packaging wise but hey you don't stuff the packaging in your ears when listening so not a big deal.
DSC06786.JPG ISN H40 retired version with brown cable shown. Retail version with silver S8 cable.

The H40 comes with an outstanding ISN S8 Silver plated single crystal copper 8 core cable in your choice of either single ended or balanced terminations 2.5mm or 4.4mm. You can buy the H40 here or the S8 cables here. The cable itself is one of the better budget aftermarket cables and a good choice when you want to go balance for your favorite earphones. The cable choice matches the sonic qualities of the H40 perfectly so it was a good choice on ISN to choose this particular cable. What is interesting is on the sales page you can choose also what is called a “retired H40” when buying an H40. What is that you ask? Well it happens to be a free early version of the H40. Long story short the ISN folks was not happy with the first version of the H40 so they are now giving them away as a free bee to those who buy a retail version of the H40.


So that means you get 2 versions of the H40. They do only have a limited amount of them so if you plan on giving these a go. Why not get another version of the H40 and the cable it comes with for free. Now onto the review
DSC06806.JPG

The H40 build wise is very familiar to me. It is made of resin in a semi custom conch shell shaped solid piece of plastic. Inside houses a single 9.2mm dynamic for bass with 3 BAs. One BA for the mids and 1 composite dual BA for treble duties. All housed in a black onyx shell with a gold colored nozzle. The look is clean and the universal shell design means. These will fit most ears with good snug comfort and isolation. Due to venting of the bass the isolation itself is only average here but makes up for it in the way of the sonic ability of the H40.

DSC06807.JPG

Sound wise. Wow where to start. The overall sound balancing has a good fundamental balanced Frequency with something what I call an IT factor. Yes ladies and gents. These have “IT”. Even on open listen I realized I was dealing with a sound quality that I was not expecting out of the box. Having listened to 100s of earphones in just about all price ranges. I have a certain expectation of sound quality at the given price point. The H40 my friends don't sound anything like your $200 earphone. It sounds more closer to what you hear from flagship earphones from much more established manufacturers. To hear this type of sound quality come from a first time effort. My mind was officially blown!
DSC06800.JPG

The H40 is one of the most complete full blown high quality sounds I have heard for in ears that incorporates excellent balancing, great imaging, airy extended detailed treble with a full blown punchy bass that rumbles your ear off when called for. All in a roomy spacious large deep sound. It does have a surround sound type of quality to the tuning that just immerses your hearing. It is hard to listen to these critically as you get so lost in your tunes you forget your trying to analyse the tuning. It is a good problem to have.


The treble end incorporates a silky smooth extended shimmery and slightly airy quality to it that is not too common in this price range. It is the type of treble I heard on my Ibasso It04 and more closer to the Sony Z5 both of which cost more than double the price of these. But then it doesn't stop there. The mids, the lush and rich full on mid range.
DSC06801.JPG

Mids have a fullness and depth that has a SQ unto its own. Vocals be it male or female sounds stupendous. Slightly forward sounding yet the mids range is astounding in how it focuses the sound to your ears. It sounds like I am surrounded by the mids with excellent detailed imagery and that is the most enveloping aspect of the mids. It is so good on the H40 it is now my bench mark for hybrids. Folks you don't get mids like this until you are willing to spend much much more. The mids on the H40 can hang with the mids on my Andromeda S easily.


Then you incorporate a crazy bass end with the truest meaning of dynamism. Bass is outstanding here. This is no gimpy neutral bass we are talking about here. It has a good amount of healthy high quality bass. It is the type of bass your mom warned you about. Quality in the punchiness and a low reaching rumble in the region. Bass has a roundness to it again that is not too common in the price range. Bass has excellent control and comes to play when there is bass emphasis in the tune. It will and does make your rump shake, prat is off the charts good on these. It does justice to orchestral tracks as well as your favorite hip hop tracks. Don’t mistake this punchiness to something sloppy for the sake of beef. Not on the H40 folks. It has emphasis but don’t step out of bounds. It goes toe to toe with any high end bass I have heard and that again is a testament to how excellent the tuning is in all regions of sound on the H40
DSC06802.JPG

The H40 actually maximizes tuning of each driver to full potential then you incorporate a larger than average sound stage width with excellent depth and what you get? One of the best in ears I have heard easily this year at any price.


This earphone is the only earphone I will gladly give 5 stars to this year as it deserves it. I honestly feel these have to be a bench mark meaning it has to be one of the best if not the best you can possibly get for the price range and for a small company like ISN to pull this feat out of nowhere? Remarkable absolutely Stunning achievement.. Bravo. As a part time reviewer it is earphones like this from a small upstart companies that drives this hobby of ours. It is earphones like the H40 that will put a statement to much more established companies and they should take note. This is now the new type of sound you can get at the price point. Don’t mistake this with your garden variety decent hybrid. This is a statement piece if there ever was one.
DSC06803.JPG

The H40 is no joke my friends. It is serious about sound quality and for that I give it the highest rating I can possibly give. To say I was a little impressed with the H40 is an understatement. It is one of those earphones that again has that IT factor. In earphonedom there is so much you can choose from now a days. Why choose an ok or a good phone. How about a phone that will blow your mind. That my friends is the H40..Thanks again for reading and as always happy listening.
Dill
Dill
Thanks to this thread, I bought a pair with stock s8 cable. Wow. Just wow. Everything already stated above. They are the most magical phones I personally have heard. Soundstage...bass...highs. All beautifully presented in a very analogue-y way.

What is the best way you guys wear them? After much messing, at the moment I have them with the pole attachment to cable at a "pointed up by ears" angle. Am I doing it correctly?
Dsnuts
Dsnuts
  • Like
Reactions: Dill
Dill
Dill
Thanks Dsnuts! You're a star.
  • Like
Reactions: Dsnuts
Top