LZ Big Dipper 7BA IEM with 2-Pin replaceable cable and tuning options

LZ Big Dipper

Average User Rating:
5/5,
  • LZ Big Dipper 7BA IEM with 2-Pin replaceable cable and tuning options

    Tuning options

    • No Switch - Cannot tune the bass, middle and treble
    • 1 Switch - can tune any one of the bass, middle or treble.
    • 2 Switches - can tune any two of the bass, middle or treble.
    • 3 Switches - can tune bass, middle and treble.
    Specifications:
    • Brand: LZ
    • Model: Big Dipper
    • Driver configuration : 7BA drivers
    • Impedance: 25Ω
    • Frequency Response Range: 15-25000Hz
    • Earphone sensitivity: 115db/mW
    • Earphone plug: 0.78mm 2-Pin
    • Jack : 3.5mm gold-plated plug
    • Cable Length: 1.2m±5cm
    • THD/Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.2
    • Power output: 5mW dipper 09.jpg

Recent User Reviews

  1. Brooko
    5.0/5,
    "LZ Big Dipper - Does Everything Right"
    Pros - Sound quality, build quality, versatility, fit, comfort, value,
    Cons - Struggling to find any at the price point - would have liked inclusion of foam tips, and would have preferred slightly less lower mid-range recession.
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    Picture are default 1200 x 800 resolution - click (photos in tables) to view larger images.

    INTRODUCTION

    The search for the holy grail, for our personal end-game earphones. For many it will be a “pipe dream” – there is always something better. For others it can be simply a matter of gaining enough experience to really understand what our own personal triggers are, and then getting as close as possible within an affordable budget. For the lucky ones, what awaits is the chance to forget about the excitement of new gear, and enjoy the much more fulfilling (for me anyway) experience of reconnecting with music you know, and discovering new music you’ve not had the pleasure of hearing. For me, ultimately its always been about the music. The HD800S has been the full sized headphone which delivered my affordable end-game for at home listening. Combined with my iDSD and whatever source I choose to use, it never ceases to envelope me in the music, and forget about the medium I’m listening through. Finding the perfect IEM has been somewhat harder.

    One of the issues with finding our “affordable end-game” is that often we are in the mood for subtle change in presentation. It could be that you want more bass to really “jam out”, or you’d like to have the mid-range heightened so you are closer to the vocalist, or the treble softened if the recording is a little hot. The problem is that to satisfy this we either have to be adept at using EQ (its not hard once you learn), have reasonably deep pockets (for multiple earphones), or be prepared to use hardware EQ like bass boost or tone controls. Strangely I don’t have the same wants with my full sized set-up, but I can understand those who like variety with their portables.

    There have been many tunable earphones released over the last few years. RHA, RockJaw and then Trinity were all early adopters. Some products were pretty well presented with some very good tuning options. Others unfortunately left me scratching my head a little. Then FLC arrived with their ground breaking FLC8S triple hybrid. Suddenly you could have more control of your IEM – albeit with limitations. RHA and Trinity designs were good but somewhat limited in their application. The FLC8S was really versatile, but changing the filters could be an exercise. And then recently a small Chinese company LZ (Lao Zhong) HiFi Audio appeared with a new tunable hybrid coming in at under $200. I reviewed it recently, and found it to have some extremely good tuning options – but still wasn’t quite there in terms of the overall package (including fit and comfort). This year they released a new model – their “Big Dipper”, and at a price point of US 620 (no tuning options) to $860 (3 switches giving 6 options), this 7 BA IEM certainly was taking things to a different price point, but also a different level. But was it any good? Read on to see my thoughts on this new earphone from LZ.


    ABOUT LZ

    LZ Hi-Fi Audio is a difficult company to get to know. Check their website – virtually nothing to give insight to the company. Facebook – and its similar. I was extremely lucky, in that I had Head-Fi's own duyu (Frank) who was able to get me a little inside knowledge.

    LZ (Lao Zhong) was originally a technician repairing home appliances. But he's always had a love for, and a fascination with, audio – stretching back for more than 20 years. This led to him actually making his own speakers, and then eventually to playing around with IEMs. He bought an expensive pair of big name brand IEMs (and no I won't mention them), but was not impressed with them. So he borrowed some money, started DIYing his own IEMs and listing them on Taobao. Little did he know how popular the LZ-02 would become, and he wasn't expecting the interest outside China that it garnered.

    In 2015, LZ products appeared on Head-Fi for the first time, and their customer base has grown as they got more exposure. They're located in Shenzhen China, with the factory located in Dongguan. The company is surprising small – with just 7 staff in their main office. They now have a product range of more than a half dozen items – mainly IEMs, but also including a very reasonably priced after-market cable.

    LZ's message is a simple one – he just wants to make affordable IEMs for the public. And I really love the way he states it. He simply says that “we want to deliver our music to the world”. Not our products. Not our sound. Our music. I kind of like that philosophy.

    I also thought that this might be interesting for those who are both already fans of LZ HiFi and also potential fans – a series of photos of their operation. I always find it pretty cool to think of the care that goes into truly hand-made products. Special thanks to both LZ for allowing me to display them, and also duyu for sourcing them for me. Click the photos for larger images.


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    DISCLAIMER

    The LZ Big Dipper that I’m reviewing today is the $860 3 switch option, and was provided to me freely as a review sample. LZ HiFi have asked me to keep it for my personal use, or for follow up comparisons, and I thank them for this. I'd also like to thank duyu (Frank) for acting as the go between and facilitating the review sample. I do not make any financial gain from this review – it is has been written simply as my way of providing feedback both to the Head-Fi community and also LZ HiFi.

    I have now had the LZ Big Dipper for 3 weeks. The retail price at time of review for the 3 switch option is USD 860 (Penon Audio).

    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)

    I'm a 50 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (mostly now from the FiiO X5iii, X7ii and iPhone SE) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD800S, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and it has mainly been with my own personally owned IEMs - the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not overly treble sensitive, and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.


    I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be skeptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables (unless it was volume or impedance related), and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 50, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays). My usual listening level is around 65-75 dB.

    For the purposes of this review - I used the LZ Big Dipper from various sources at my disposal – both straight from the headphone-out socket, and also with further amplification. In the time I have spent with the LZ-BD, I have personally noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (break-in), although I note that LZ recommends it (I'm not sure why).

    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.


    THE REVIEW

    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

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    The full package (courtesy Penon Audio)Aluminum case (courtesy greg7575)

    To cut down on postage, and because I live out in the wop-wops (New Zealand is after all just a group of 3 islands in the South Pacific), LZ simply sent me the small carry case (including some tips) and the IEMs. So I haven't actually had a chance to review the full package – but I have included a couple of photos shamelessly taken from other sources so you know what you can expect. The first four photos aren't mine, and credit instead goes to Penon Audio and our own greg7575.

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    First look at the dipper and carry case (courtesy greg7575)Closer look at Greg's set-up (courtesy greg7575)

    What you appear to get is an aluminum case which is sort of a miniature version of the one the Beyer T1 headphones used to come in. The case actually looks pretty nice from what I've seen, and befits a flagship. Inside it you get the accessories shown (and listed below). In the courier parcel I received was just the round carry case, selection of tips, and of course the Big Dipper and cable.

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    The Dipper contents I was sentTips which were included

    The round storage case is moderately large, and realistically won't be used as a carry case – unless in a larger jacket pocket or carry bag. It is 80mm in diameter, 35mm in height, with a lift-off lid, and internally lined with a soft felt like padded material. The case works well and is ideal for safe storage on a desk top, or protection when on the go.

    The total accessory package appears to include:
    • 3 pairs of black silicone single flange tips
    • 3 pairs of black silicone “Sony Hybrid” type
    • 1 3.5 to 6.3mm adapter
    • 1 round metallic carry case
    • LZ instruction manual
    • 1 pair of LZ-Big Dipper IEMs
    • 1 x 3.5 mm single ended to 2 pin earphone cable
    • 1 x large aluminum storage case

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    Carry case ….…. Which fits the Dipper nicely

    I think the only thing I'd personally like to see is maybe an airline adapter (because the isolation on these is excellent), and the inclusion of some foam tips (preferably Comply, but even Crystal would be good). Otherwise, a good start.

    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
    (From LZ's packaging / website)
    ModelBig Dipper
    Approx price$620 - 860 USD (depends on tuning options)
    Type7 x BA drivers IEM
    Drivers7 Balanced Armature
    Freq Range15Hz – 25kHz
    Impedance25Ω
    Sensitivity115 dB/mW
    Cable Type1.3m, SPC 6N 8 core (2 pin 0.78mm)
    Jack3.5mm gold plated single ended, straight
    Weight (Cable only)25g
    Weight (IEMs only)9g
    Casing materialUV Curable Resin


    FREQUENCY GRAPH

    The graph below is generated using the Vibro Veritas coupler and ARTA software. Ken Ball (ALO/Campfire) graciously provided me with measurement data which I have used to recalibrate my Veritas so that it mimics an IEC 711 measurement standard (Ken uses two separate BK ear simulators, we measured the same set of IEMs, and I built my calibration curve from shared data). I do not claim that this data is 100% accurate, but it is very consistent, and is as close as I can get to the IEC 711 standard on my budget.

    I do not claim that the measurements are in any way more accurate than anyone else's, but they have been proven to be consistent and I think they should be enough to give a reasonable idea of response - especially if you've followed any of my other reviews. When measuring I always use crystal foam tips (so medium bore opening) - and the reason I use them is for very consistent seal and placement depth in the coupler. I use the same amp (E11K) for all my measurements - and output is under 1 ohm.

    Any graphs are provided merely as a point of discussion, and later in the review I've included comparisons to other IEMs for similar reference.


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    I’ll go through the full range of tuning options later in the review, but as you can see from the frequency response chart, the driver matching is very good. The Dipper appears to have an extremely well balanced frequency response with good extension from sub-bass through to lower treble. It has a classical / traditional mid-bass hump, a little recession in the lower mids, and rise through to upper mid-range which is necessary (IMO anyway) for cohesion. The treble is very well extended and there is a peak at around 9 kHz.

    The other thing which is easy to see (once you make the connection) is the frequency plot’s relation to its name. The Big Dipper (or Ursa Major constellation – also commonly known as the “Big Bear”) is a constellation of 7 major stars (refers to the 7BA set-up) which when viewed on the correct angle somewhat reflects the frequency response plot you can see in the graphs.


    BUILD AND DESIGN

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    External face of the shellSide view

    The LZ Big Dipper has what I would call a half circular shape – and one which is very akin to fully customised moulds. The body is made (by hand) using UC Curable Resin. It is 26mm across at its widest point, approx 20mm high and the main body is approximately 12mm deep. There are no sharp surfaces anywhere on the IEM, everything is well rounded, and beautifully form fitting. The shell on my pair has a carbon fibre look to the outer face plate, and is slightly translucent, allowing viewing of some of the BAs and their crossovers.

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    Rear view and tuning switchesInternal face

    The internal side is well rounded with gentle ridges and valleys designed to perfectly fit with the main contours of your ear. The nozzle is set toward the front, and has a slight angle up and forward (which aids the fit even more perfectly). It starts with a gentle flare of around 5mm in height away from the body, and this further extends by another 5mm being the nozzle itself. The nozzle is 6mm in diameter, is mesh covered, and has an excellent lip which greatly aids possible tip choices.

    On the rear side of the Dipper is a serial number, and also (if you've taken the tunable option) a series of switches. Mine has 3 small micro switches marker 1,2,3 and the top marked “On”. The switches are pretty small and to successfully engage them, you may need to use a pen or paper clip.


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    Beautifully formed to fit the ear2 pin 0.78mm connectors

    At the top of the Dipper shell is a recessed 2 pin (0.78mm) socket. The socket is firm and fits well with the cable. The cable is a braided 4 wire on each side (ear-piece to y-split) then braided 8 wire to the jack. The wire is silver plated 6N copper wire, and the sheath is a very flexible plastic compound. Whilst the cable is somewhat on the bulky side, it is also very pliable, and the added weight actually helps it hang properly without the need for over-ear loops. There is a short relief at the ear-phones, none at the y-split (which looks to be just a plastic or resin tube), but good relief at the 3.5mm gold plated jack. I'm not to worried abut the relief at the y-split, as it is essentially just a split of the cable and unlikely to see any wear (and also the cable just looks and feels really strong). At the y-split is a very good and well designed rubber cinch. And at the jack end is a simply Velcro cable tie (affixed to the cable). It works pretty well, but long term I may remove it. I do get some minor cable noise (microphonics), however once the cinch is in place, and cable secured under clothes, this is eliminated completely.

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    Y-split and cinch3.5mm SE jack and cable tie

    Internally the LZ Bid Dipper uses a 7 BA set-up, configured 1 low/sub, 2mid-low, 2 mid and 2 high. I'm pretty sure they are Knowles. LZ does use crossovers, and I think that for the models including the switches, they are also configuring where the crossovers occur for the overall tuning.

    All in all, I would say that the design and build quality is excellent (absolutely no issues), and looks very durable.


    FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION
    Isolation is extremely good with the Dipper but ultimately will depend on the tips you use and how good the seal is. I've already used these on a couple of flights, and can definitely say that with a pair of Comply Comfort (Ts series), they were brilliant – eliminating most cabin noise and easily achieving the same sort of isolation as well fitting Shure IEMs.

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    Worn over ear – housing is extremely comfortableComply Ts and Shure Olives

    Turning to fit and comfort, and these thoughts are more subjective, and will vary from person to person, my experience has been one of complete satisfaction. As I mentioned earlier, the Dipper has been designed very similar to a custom IEM, and it shows with the overall fit. Saying these are ergonomic is a bit of an understatement. For me they are a perfect fit, fit flush with my outer ear, and basically disappear within a few minutes of wearing (I could forget they are in). I have slept with them intact, and woken hours later with them still there and no discomfort. The lack of hard edges, the super-smooth finish, and the gentle moulding around the contours of the ear all contribute to an extremely positive experience. The LZ Big Dipper is designed to only be used cable over ear.

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    Spiral Dots and Ostry Tuning tipsSony Isolation and Spinfit tips

    The LZ-BD has an excellent lip on the nozzle, and because of this you can have a reasonable variety of tip choices. I tried Spiral Dots, Spin-fits, Ostry tuning tips (which gave me quite a good seal), and Sony Isolation tips, and all fit pretty well. I did find foam tips tended to give me a little more overall comfort and better seal – but that is principally because I have one wider ear canal (left) than the other – so often getting perfect fit for me can be problematic. Because the BD isn't a vented design, I did find that if I got a full seal with a silicone tip (eg Sony Isolation) it could cause some pressure issues – so I stuck with Comply Ts series foams.

    So the general build is extremely good, and the shape is (for me anyway) perfect. What about the filter options if you go for the tunable model?


    FILTER / TUNING SYSTEM

    This always a tough one – as there are so many options, and without measurements, it is very easy for our brains to throw a filter over everything we hear. Because of this, we can grow quickly accustomed to its tonality and lose sight of its performance against the other options. Hopefully this summary will allow people to dial into their preferred curve early – and then experiment from there.

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    The filter system is controlled by a series of switches on the rear of the Dipper shell. Depending on the model you bought, it will come with no, 1, 2 or all 3 switches. The switches are simply on-off, and if looking into the three option model, control:
    • lower mid-range, mid bass and sub-bass
    • lower mid-range and upper mids
    • lower and upper treble
    As I understand it, the switches control the crossovers – which in turn gives you fundamental shifts in the overall tuning. They are very tiny, and I found best way to move them was with either a fine-tipped pen, paper clip – or for me, A FiiO tray popper (for their DAPs).

    Looking at the bass switch first, it raises everything from sub-bass to approximately 1.5 kHz, but in different increments. Sub and mid-bass are raised by approximately 5-6 dB fairly evenly from 20 Hz to around 300 Hz, and from that point it diminishes down to about 2-3 dB at 1 kHz and tapers off after that. It definitely gives a nice bass boost – but it is quite evenly applied. I like – but would imagine that some bass lovers will possibly get more satisfaction from a hardware or software targeted EQ boost.


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    Bass adjustmentMid-range adjustmentTreble adjustment

    The mid-range switch is quit subtle and is the switch with more changes to shape than quantity. With the switch off, there is quite a sharp rise from 1.5-2.5 kHz. Turning the mid-range switch on slightly rises the lower mid-range by 2-3 dB at 1 kHz, goes slightly higher (not much more than 1 dB) at just over 2 kHz, and softens the peak. It really doesn't touch the lower treble or sub/mid-bass at all. The effects are definitely audible, but very subtle.

    The treble switch really doesn't have any effect except above 5 kHz, where it raises everything by around 3-5 dB including the already existing 9 kHz peak. Treble heads will possibly really like this switch (depending on their other choices), but I found that I didn't want any more treble than what was there originally, and kept this one turned off.

    Because the biggest change over all comes from the bass switch, I'd imagine this may be the best switch to target for those who cannot afford the 3 switch option. I have shown below all possible options. I found the switches really quite good, although my personal preference would have been to have more control (split) with sub and mid-bass, and possible an option of lowering both treble and mid-range below their current “off” designations though. This is probably nit-picking because I find the bass on, mid off and treble off combo extremely good, and as a default tuning (if there was only one), I find it a very well balanced signature overall.

    I've shown below all 8 possible combinations / filter choices – click for larger images


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    All switches off-bass, - mids, + treble-bass, + mids, - treble-bass, + mids, + treble


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    +bass, - mids, - treble+bass, - mids, + treble+bass, + mids, - trebleAll switches on


    SOUND QUALITY

    The following is what I hear from the LZ Big Dipper. YMMV – and probably will (also because we are talking about an earphone with many tuning options) – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my FiiO X5iii (single ended) no EQ, bass filter on, and both mid and treble filter off, and Comply Ts Comfort tips. I used the FiiO X5iii simply because it gives me a transparent window to the music with low impedance, and more than enough power. There was no DSP engaged.

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    My trusty FiiO X5iiiNew FiiO X7ii was equally impressive

    For the record – on most tracks, the volume on X5iii was around the 40/120 level which was giving me an average SPL around 65-75 dB. I did lift this to 45/120 at times especially with male based vocal tracks. Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.17556


    Relativities
    • Sub-bass – has good extension and even at my lower listening levels the rumble is clearly audible, but is not really visceral (I often find BA bass does not have the same impact as dynamic). Does not dominate at all with tracks like Lorde's Royals, but does give enough thump to give a sense of impact without overshadowing vocals, and there is no bleed (or masking) into the lower mid-range. Balanced and quick rather than slamming.
    • Mid-bass – has a natural mid-bass hump – providing good impact, and sitting nicely balanced with the actual sub-bass. Mid-bass is elevated over lower mids, but roughly equal with upper mids with this filter combination.
    • Lower mid-range – there is a recession compared to sub and mid-bass, and also the upper mid-range, but does not sound overly recessed or distant (there is a sense of distance there though). Male vocals do not quite have the same presence as female vocals (and I sometimes have an urge to turn the volume up slightly), but they do have enough body to be enjoyable.
    • Upper mid-range – elevated compared to lower mid-range, and there is a rise from 1 kHz to a first peak at just over 2 kHz. The result is a clean and clear vocal range, with very good cohesion and some euphony for female vocals to sound sweet and elevated. There is also good sense of bite with guitars.
    • Lower treble has very good extension, and really is quite sustained 2 kHz through to 10kHz with just some minor dips in the 6, 8 and 10 kHz areas. But it isn't over-emphasised with this filter combination, remaining at about the same amplitude as the upper mid-range and bass. This presents a lot of clarity and detail, but without any sign of harshness.
    • Upper treble – rolls off with this filter combination, but I don't feel as though I am missing anything. It could be simply my measuring equipment – it tends to struggle with accuracy over 10 kHz
    Resolution / Detail / Clarity
    • Clarity is excellent – its something BA's tend to do extremely well, and the Dipper is fantastic in this area. Cymbals are crystal clear and show good decay without over-doing things with too much upper harmonics in the 7 kHz area. Tracks like Pink Floyd's “Money” display a tremendous amount of detail without any sign of smearing.
    • Breaking Benjamin's “Diary of Jayne” is a really good track because there is plenty of high-hat action, but over the top are the vocals and a lot of guitar. The Dipper handles it all with ease, and there is never any sign of confusion or missing / masked micro detail.
    • Seether's live version of “Immortality” from their “One Cold Night” live album was a good track for checking the ability of cymbal decay to come through clearly despite the amount of acoustic guitar presence, and the ensuing mix in this track alone was simply addictive.
    • Overall I feel as though I'm hearing everything in the recordings – and this is even at my lower listening levels. Older rock recordings are pleasantly easy to get every nuance. The balance is really good.
    Sound-stage and Imaging
    • Directional queues are excellent – very clean and clear, and presentation of stage is just outside the periphery of my head space with binaural tracks. The LZ Dipper is nicely expansive and does present a bigger stage than their LZ-A4.
    • Separation of instruments and imaging is fantastic, and I would say it is one of the strengths of this earphone.
    • One of the more spherically presented sound-stages I've had with an IEM – with virtually no L/R dominance, and good sense of depth.
    • The applause section of “Dante's Prayer” was extremely well presented with a realistic of flow around me. Does not quite come to the level of the RE2000, but at half the price it is in the same league. Impressive.
    • “Let it Rain” had a wonderfully three-dimensional sense of spatial presentation – it is the way the track was miked. There was a slight hint of sibilance with Amanda's vocal – and I know its present in the recording – so not unexpected. What was great is that the sibilance was not overly highlighted, and the overall detail was still in abundance.
    Sonic Strengths
    • Overall tonal balance and clarity – while retaining a smoothness in the lower treble
    • Imaging, separation and sense of space in the staging.
    • Both sub and mid-bass have good impact with the filter turned on (enough for me anyway) but do not dominate otherwise
    • Very good portrayal of both male and female vocals, although male vocals are not as full or rich as their female counterparts.
    • Very detailed at low listening levels
    • Extremely good transition between lower and upper mid-range
    Sonic Weaknesses
    • A little sense of distance with male vocals particularly, leading me to tend to push volume up a little.
    • Inability of filter combos to flatten out amplitude frequency response – basically to bring the 1 kHz area a little closer to bass and treble peaks.
    AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

    The LZ Big Dipper is not a hard IEM to drive with its 25ohm impedance and 115 dB sensitivity. It was easily driven with all the sources I tried, and this included my iPhone SE and players like FiiO's X1ii (neither are power houses). My iPhone SE only needed about one third of its volume for a comfortable 65-75dB and going to 50% volume was simply to loud for me on most tracks (pushing into the 80-85dB range).

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    iPhone SE and IMS HybridX5iii and FiiO A5

    But I went back and forth (volume matching with test tones and fixed volumes using a few different combos – iPhone SE & IMS portable valve amp, X3ii & E17K, and X5iii & A5, and did not notice any appreciable difference between amped and straight out of a DAP. My advice would be to further amp if you prefer it – but its definitely not needed. One of the interesting things was using the A5, and you could really push the sub-bass with its targeted bass boost. Not my “cup of tea”, but I could see some enjoying it. I did really enjoy the IMS Hybrid (digital out from iPhone to the IMS DAC and amp), and I'm looking forward to trying the new Q1ii when it is eventually released.


    EQ / BALANCED PERFORMANCE

    I'm still waiting for my balanced 2 pin cable, so might add to this section once it arrives. My interest here is more in trying to see how differing impedance would affect frequency response.

    As far as EQ goes, that is ultimately what the tuning filters are there for, but I did use hardware EQ in the form of the E17K and A5 bass boost and both times the LZ Big Dipper responded well with no clipping issues. There seems to be no real issues with EQ if applied properly, but for me personally its not something I need with the tuning options I've settled with.


    COMPARISON WITH OTHER IEMS

    A hard one to try and compare – mainly because of the filters (there are not a lot in this price range). So for this one I looked simply to show the overall performance compared to some IEMs in a similar price bracket.

    For the source, I wanted something very neutral, but with a good digital control, to make sure I could volume match. So I chose to use my old work-horse combo – the FiiO X3ii and E17K. No DSP or EQ was used. Gain was low (I didn't need any more). I volume matched using a calibrated SPL meter and fixed 1kHz test tone first. My listening level was set to an average of 75dB.

    I chose to compare Dunu's DK-3001 (~$500), HiFiMan's RE800 (~$700), 64 Audio's U6 and U10 ($900 and $1300 respectively), and finally HiFiMan's USD 2000 RE2000 – simply because I could.


    LZ Big Dipper (~USD 860) vs Dunu DK-3001 (~USD 500)
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    LZ Big Dipper and Dunu Dk-3001Frequency comparisons

    Dunu's DK-3001 sonically would be one of the best IEMs I've heard this year, and especially when price is taken into account. Putting it up against the Big Dipper was an interesting exercise, as there were many similarities, but also many differences. Physically, both are incredibly well built, with the Dunu having a slight edge on permanent materials, but the Dipper having a landslide win on ergonomics and comfort. The DK-3001 has a pretty good accessory package and that includes the SE and balanced cable options. But the Dipper has the tuning options, and the cable which is included is definitely quality. Overall on build, fit and overall design, the Dipper is definitely worth the extra outlay IMO.

    Moving to sonics, we're comparing the Dippers 7BA set-up vs Dunu's quad hybrid design. And the two are incredibly close with the mid-range and lower treble sounding practically the same. The big (or not so big) difference is in the bass, where despite the graph telling me the Dipper's bass should be more pronounced, the dynamic driver of the DK-3001 does seem to give a similar overall amount of bass (to my ears anyway). The DK-3001 sounds a little fuller and more robust, where the Dipper is quicker and more refined. Staging and imaging is definitely superior on the Dipper, and the upper mid-range and lower treble does actually seem a little more refined too – despite being so similar on the graph.

    Ultimately this one is a really hard one to call, because both sound fantastic. My preference would be for the Dipper though, simply because they both sound fantastic, but the Dipper is night and day more comfortable.


    LZ Big Dipper (~USD 860) vs HiFiMan RE-800 (~USD 699)
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    LZ Big Dipper and HiFiMan RE800Frequency comparisons

    The RE800 is one of those IEMs where HiFiMan got just about everything right and stumbled at the last hurdle. And its really apparent when you compare the RE800 with the Dipper. In build quality, the two will end up being very close, especially with the change to a replaceable cable in the final RE800 iteration. The Dipper does feel more sturdy to me though, but I'd say they are pretty evenly matched with fit and comfort.

    Sonically the RE800 is actually closer to what I would call true reference (as long as you ignore the 7 kHz spike). Its flatter (leaner) overall, and the transition from lower mid-range to upper-mids is delightful. The Dipper comparatively (in the configuration I have) has more pronounced bass, but a lot smoother and more articulate upper mid-range and lower treble. If the 7 kHz peak in the RE800 is taken away, then these two are pretty close in overall performance. But the fact that I can mimic the RE800s bass response with the Dipper (if I so chose), and that I don't have to EQ an obvious fault (RE800 treble peak), leave me with the obvious choice. For me the Dipper is simply the better overall option.


    LZ Big Dipper (~USD 860) vs 64 Audio U6 with ADEL G1 (~USD 899)[/SIZE]
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    LZ Big Dipper and 64 Audio U6Frequency comparisons

    This is a good comparison – 6 BA vs 7 BA. Both tunable using different methods (the U6 via different ADEL modules. In terms of build, fit and comfort – both are pretty good, but I'd give the nod slightly to the Dipper in terms of overall build quality and also ergonomic fit. The tunable options are pretty good on both – and you can change both bass and mid-range with different ADEL modules. The downside of course is cost of the modules themselves being add-ons. ADEL does give the benefit of reduced pneumatic pressure and does actively help with my permanent tinnitus.

    Sonically (in the configurations I've chosen), the Dipper does have more bass presence, but on both, it is nicely balanced with the rest of the frequency, so I think the matching is pretty good. The main change is in the mid-range, where the U6 is a lot flatter and closer to a reference tuning, where the Dipper is a little more vivid and fun. Both have excellent detail. Imaging is also very closely matched, but with the ADEL modules, the U6 has a natural advantage in openness and stage size. The U6 does have a 7 kHz peak but its nicely balanced with the rest of the signature, so not an issue like the RE800. This one is very tough to call, as I both really like both. If I was forced to make a call, I may slightly lean toward the Dipper due to the tuning versatility (no need to carry modules with me), and the slightly better ergonomics – but its hard to compare it with the benefits that ADEL brings to me personally. I'm calling this one a tie. Both are excellent IEMs and although slightly differently tuned, both are very easy to get used to. Both could easily be end-game at around the $900 budget.


    LZ Big Dipper (~USD 860) vs 64 Audio U10 with ADEL G1 (~USD 899)[/SIZE]
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    LZ Big Dipper and 64 Audio U10Frequency comparisons

    This is going to be largely a repeat of the U6 comparison – as the U6 and U10 are very close in overall design. The U10 is of course much more expensive and has 10 drivers to the Dipper's 7. I won't go over things like ergonomics again as it would simply be a repeat of the U6 observations.

    Sonically the U10 and Dipper are again similar, great treble extension, very well balanced between bass, mids and treble – and again the main change is that the U10 is more reference (flatter) while the Dipper tends to be a little more v shaped, and a little more vivid. It is also more euphonic for female vocals (which make up a large part of my library). I can't deny that the U10 has steadily grown on me over time though, and nowadays I find myself listening more to it than my U6. The Dipper isn't embarrassed at all in this company, and I know some will find it superior to the U10 (those liking a little more colour). Again – both could be considered end-game, and at the Dipper's price point, it would win on pure value. This would be another toss up if someone asked me to choose, and I could see myself possible going with the U10 purely for the ADEL module. But if my budget was being stretched, I'd take the Dipper (in fact I'd probably take it over the Andromeda as well).


    LZ Big Dipper (~USD 860) vs HiFiMan RE2000 (~USD 2000)[/SIZE]
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    LZ Big Dipper and HiFiMan RE2000Frequency comparisons

    Whilst the RE2000 has the better specification regarding permanent materials, the actual build quality on both IEMs is extremely good. Aesthetically the RE2000 probably has the edge in terms of looks – but for actual fit and ergonomics, the Dipper wins on both fit and comfort. The RE2000's power requirements is higher due to its lower sensitivity and higher impedance.

    Sonically these two are somewhat similar. Both have a similar transition from sub and mid bass to lower mids and even somewhat similar in upper mid-range. The Dipper has a little more bump at 2 kHz, but it is minor. Both have very similar treble disposition and extension. In direct comparison, the difference is not so much in terms of tonality – but in terms of presentation. The Dipper is a little more clinical, reference, and cleanly defined – where the RE2000 is smoother, bass has a little more richness, and that term musicality comes to mind. The RE2000 has a more romantic, less clinical overall presentation – the sort that allows you to easily get lost in the music. The Dipper can do the same but its only in direct comparison that you listen to the Dipper and go “wow the RE2000 does this with a richness that I actually like a little better”. The Dipper is an IEM I could easily live with as end-game, as long as I'm not directly comparing. Sonically I like the RE2000 more – but the question is whether the difference is worth more than double the price.


    VALUE

    So how do I see the overall value of the Big Dipper? Quite simply, it reaches that performance which has me definitely recommending it at its current price point. Although many will find this on the expensive side of things, its versatility and base tuning are extremely well thought out. Add to that the practically perfect ergonomics and you have an overall package which (for me anyway) is absolutely worth the asking price. In fact I'm already wondering what I can sell amongst the products I actually own – as I'm tempted to buy it – despite the fact that I can hang onto this sample. The reason is easy. I want to own this one. The more I listen, the more I realise that if I had to call any single IEM as my end-game, and forsake all others, the Big Dipper would easily sit in the top three.

    LZ BIG DIPPER – SUMMARY

    Before I start, I really want to thank LZ and duyu again for allowing me to review this wonderful little IEM. I fear I will be contacting you again soon to see about buying this pair. I'm going to be using it a lot I think, and right now I'd be uncomfortable with the thought of parting with it. If thats not recommendation enough – I don't know what is.

    The Big Dipper is an incredibly well designed and well built 7 driver BA IEM, and I know a lot of thought has gone into the overall build quality and ergonomics. It fits like a custom IEM, and is easily one of the most comfortable IEMs I've ever worn.

    Sonically the Big Dipper could be described as a well balanced, but slightly V or U shaped signature, with an excellent sense of stage, imaging, and resolution. The tuning switches are quite well implemented and my only wish (maybe a future model LZ?) would be to see if they could bring up the lower mid-range just a little (ie flatten the overall signature) without ruining the balance and overall extension.

    In terms of value, I personally think the Big Dipper hits a sweet spot for those who may be considering an end-game IEM but not having the funds to chase some of the TOTL offerings out there. I know on my budget, the Dipper represents the same sort of “bargain” (and I use that term loosely) that my purchase of the HD800S represented. There may be better out there – but the Dipper would be able to satisfy my requirements enough so that I wouldn't be asking “what else”.

    I just want to close with thanking Lao Zhong and duyu (Frank) once again for arranging the review sample.


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