Oriolus Isabellae

Rockwell75

Headphoneus Supremus
Oriolus Isabellae – Tuneful Little Bird of Paradise
Pros: Inspired, open, engaging tuning
Impeccably balanced and even keeled across the FR
No weird peaks or dips
Rich natural timbre
Single DD magic
Seductively coherent
Clear, open, midrange
Nuanced, well extended commanding yet highly disciplined bass
Nice mid-bass presence
Upper mids forward and present with zero shoutiness
Emotionally expressive & evocative vocals
Decently technical
Intimate staging
Downward sloping, sufficiently airy, non peaky, non-fatiguing highs
Shoots well above price tier
Stock 4.4 cable
Cons: Not the most isolating
Not a technical powerhouse
Intimate staging (both a pro and a con depending on who you ask)
“It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” ~ Steve Jobs

Following is a reflective summary of my experience with the Oriolus Isabellae. This will consist of a consolidation of my thoughts & impressions of Isa in the roughly six weeks I’ve had it, as well as some follow-up thoughts including discussion on how this IEM and concomitant exposure to Oriolus, their tuning & IEMs and overall wizardry of "The Old Man" has helped redefine & sharpen my own approach to & understanding of this hobby and what it is all about for me.

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TLDR: Isa can be described as very well balanced, decently technical, perfectly coherent and possessing a rich, pleasingly weighty sound with a beautiful natural timbre and a top tier bass response. However what sets it apart for me is the inspired tuning, especially the mids, the vocals and such an immaculate balance across the whole soundscape that one can always zone in on any one element of the sound without losing sight of the whole. The Isabellae to my ears can be approximated alternately as a baby Elysium or in the spirit of what I’ve always imagined a single DD tuned like Andromeda to sound like. If either of those sound appealing or if you are someone who is after perfect balance across the FR, who places a lot of stock in a natural, forward, seductive midrange with a superbly intimate vocal presentation... the Oriolus Isabellae imho are worth a serious look.

For those who want to dig into this a little more...

Personal Caveats:

1) What I am after, with the listening experience, is emotional involvement. All other factors-- technical proficiency, perceived tonal accuracy, neutrality etc.-- are secondary for me. That’s not to say that those factors don’t play a role—but for me they are simply the means to the desired end of emotional engagement.

2) The more time I spend in this hobby and the more IEMs I hear the less I feel inclined to break an IEM down into its constituent parts—bass, mids, treble, technicalities etc. More important to me than individual factors are how they all play together and coalesce into the overall gestalt of an IEM’s presentation.

3) I'm running the Isabellae, and everything else I’ve listened to in 2021, through the Shanling M8 a player which is far from neutral and in my experience has a magical effect on everything I plug into it.

4) Fundamentally to me this hobby is a form of self-discovery. This is my personal review and as such it will be expressed in such a way as is meaningful and authentic to me. Some will find my approach too subjective/wishy-washy/starry-eyed to be useful—to them I say that there are plenty of other sources of information out there that will better suit your needs. This is fundamentally a hobby for me and one of the ways I derive joy out of it is to share my personal experiences in writing. If this is at all useful/helpful/informative/entertaining to anyone, then great! If not, oh well.

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Background & Preamble:

I’ve had a fixation on good music and good sound for much of my life since spending hours as a child fiddling with my dad’s-- what was in the early 70s-- pretty solid 2-channel setup and later as an adolescent saving for the latest Sony Sport Walkman I could use to play all the mix tapes I lovingly crafted on my CD player at home.

The Campfire Audio Solaris was my first real love in IEMs. This was partly because of Campfire's whole aesthetic and philosophy, which I just vibe with, but also because Solaris set the first standard for me of a mature version of my personal target, which could be described essentially as balanced with a musical mid-bass emphasis. I tried for a long time to find an IEM which for me constituted a wholesale upgrade to Solaris but for some time I never came across anything that I felt really one upped it across the board (though many came close). The Elysium was the IEM to finally pull me away from Solaris, but even then concessions were made as I had to go without dynamic bass. It seems to me now in retrospect that Oriolus and their IEMs are what I was really searching for back then but, due to a variety of factors not the least of which is Oriolus’ comparative lack of marketing and publicity, it's taken me until now to get some real exposure to them.

Oriolus is one of those brands with a unique & cool mystique to them. Every hobby has its brands that are super hyped and everybody knows and others that are more low key that you only really discover after immersing yourself in the community for a time. Oriolus is just such a brand-- they seem less concerned with fanfare and almost entirely focused on the integrity of their art. It helps that the Old Man is arguably the Masamune of tuning IEMs...without an equal perhaps anywhere in the world. Say what you will about the Traillii but there is no denying it is a masterwork of tuning, with arguably no equal right now. There's a certain satisfaction in discovering Oriolus and their unparalleled tuning despite the lack of hype and publicity as it feels like I've earned and accomplished something worthwhile after a lengthy effort-laden search.

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While their overall approaches and aesthetic are distinctly & uniquely their own the more I read about Rao (IE., “The Old Man” or should I say “The Old Master”) and his approach-- which sees him eschewing industry & market norms and forging a path rooted in his own vision, with his products often generating controversy among those of a more traditional caste of mind -- the more I get the sense that he and Ken Ball are kindred spirits in a way, which is perhaps why I am so drawn to both of their respective companies. Oriolus & Campfire Audio are the Yin & Yang of my portable audio life. When I’m after stillness, connection and bliss I turn to Isa or Reborn. Incidentally I listen to my Oriolus IEMS more often while I’m at home. Conversely when I’m more active, out and about, or generally want to have a little fire & thump added to my step I invariably seek out the Dorado or Honeydew. Orilolus, Campfire and Vision Ears all seem to embody different shades of similar ideals reflected through their respective cultures. Each company uniquely embodies and reflects the ideal of visionary devoted craftsmen and each are equally dear to me.

Something I've been thinking about a lot in this latest chapter of my hobby life, in particular my decision to part ways with Elysium largely in light of Isa, is use case. Most of my listening, as in over 95% of it, is done out and about, on the go, or otherwise preoccupied with something like marking or working on the computer. When I sit right down and listen critically it's very clear all the ways that an IEM like the VE Elysium excels Isa (and absolutely everything else I've ever heard for that matter) in terms of subtle creation of an almost living breathing atmosphere, nuance in detail and naturalness, and overall technical skill. The thing is that most of the time I'm too preoccupied with whatever else is in my sphere of activity to give Elysium the attention it deserves to really do it justice.

More important to me is an IEM that can draw me in and keep the back of my mind constantly entertained and engaged in a little bubble of musical bliss whilst I go about my day. For this the thump and overall timbre of a DD is irreplaceable, even in the context of a more balanced presentation like the Isa. I took Dorado on the road with me yesterday and even with the ever-present ambient noise of worldly activity I had its nice, meaty thumping bass & rich timbre keeping me moving and engaged all day. I have done this with Elysium before too and while great it's not the same. Whereas Dorado & Isa provide a backdrop to whatever else I'm doing-- Elysium commands that I stop everything and give it all my attention so it can pull me in to the proverbial palace of Elysium and entice me with its effervescent charms. As much as I enjoy this when it happens it's not something I get to do very often due to my life and listening habits...or at least often enough that really feel I'm getting the most out of it.

All of that said let’s take a look at the Oriolus Isabellae…

Oriolus is a company I first became aware of a few years ago when @twister6 listed the Mellianus as one of his favorite IEMs. I’ve been tangentially aware of them in the time since but, given their comparative lack of marketing, hype and availability in the North American market they’ve pretty much flown under my radar…and I think a lot of people’s radar…until the of the Traillii rocked the portable audio world this year with its exorbitant cost and reputation for weaving a sufficiently potent spell that many “came to scoff but stayed to pray”.

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By the time the Isabellae was announced I had become sufficiently interested in the company because of the continued astonished admiration the Traillii was commanding that dropping $600 on an entry level single DD by the company just to see what they were all about seemed like a no-brainer. Initially I had some fears that the tuning was going to be of that variety that has too much upper mids and not enough mid-bass for my liking, to the point that I even cancelled my original pre-order. Fortunately, due to the munificence of @tgx I was able to get my hands on his personal Isabellae early on to hear it for myself. Right from the moment I first heard it I was swept off my feet and won over by the graceful, inspired, alluring human tones of the Isabella.

Suffice to say all my fears proved to be unfounded and I immediately purchased one for myself. Because of my initial reticence about the tuning I went straight to some Creedence Clearwater Revival as their music is typically intolerable to me on IEMs with overloaded upper mids and not enough mid-bass. Suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of clarity & definition up top as well as sufficient air and energy-- without ever veering into anything shouty, overly vibrant, peaky, piercing or otherwise fatiguing. I could see these being described as bright leaning but it's brightness done right imho-- silky smooth, airy and well extended. These are by no means a bass dominant signature but the bass is very present, thick, well defined and extended with a smooth, natural and clean timbre. Mid-bass oomph seems to dominate a little over sub-bass and lower mid presence is bang on as far as my preferences are concerned. Bass quantity seems about on par with something like the Solaris or Andromeda...but single DD coherence & magic allows Isa to get “more with less” in terms of bass my suspicion is that most people who feel that Andro and Solaris are “bass lite” should be totally fine with the level of bass in the Isabellae.

The Isabellae are a wonderfully smooth, clear, balanced and engaging listen...I often find myself excitedly flipping through my library and liking what I find each time. Standouts for me are vocals and midrange timbre in general-- I'm not usually a "vocal" guy but the texture & delivery seems totally natural, full, seductive and organic. Staging, resolution, layering etc. is good to above average but all of that stuff is secondary to me if the IEM is able to muster that "je ne sais quoi" romantic factor and sweep me off my feet. And the coherence is off the charts good...which I guess is to be expected from a single DD IEM. And just to illustrate a point-- I plugged these in for the first time thinking I'd just get a quick sense of them but they impressed me so much I was sucked in and ended up wiling away my whole lunch hour without getting around to eating lunch. Consequently I spent the whole afternoon hungry, but it was worth it.

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Tuning

TLDR: Encountering Oriolus and their products has opened my eyes to the depth of the craft involved in producing & tuning IEMs and further they have imho set the bar in terms of the degree of artistic expression & mastery it is possible to express through tuning. This experience has had a catalyzing effect in various elements of my approach to and understanding of this hobby. In particular it has solidified in my mind the notion of tuning as a mode of artistic expression vs. merely as utilitarian process aimed at shaping a target curve according to some algorithm. Thus far there have been many IEMs whose tuning I’ve loved and appreciated but Rao’s peerless affinity for extracting nuance, emotion and subtle textures out of vocals; of bringing the whole upper mid-range forward without overshadowing the lower mids, sacrificing weight and body in the mid-bass, sweetness in the highs or veering into anything too shouty; of coaxing out the most subtle, dense and satisfying textures from all levels of a bass response—and all the while conjuring a signature in which one is able to fixate on any individual element of it while never losing sense an overarching gestalt and unity…has, in my mind, elevated his best work to a level approaching transcendent perfection. The quality of the tuning in Oriolus' IEMs shines through whether we’re talking about the modest $600 Isabellae or the $6K titan Traillii which presently stands unchallenged as the preeminent example of IEM sound engineering craft available anywhere on the market.

Isabellae certainly isn't the technical marvel that Traillii is...but it shares the same tuning DNA and it was only after hearing Isa for the first time that I finally felt I had some sense of the spell that had been cast upon so many Traillii users since it hit the scene in January. Technicalities alone have never had an emotional impact on me...but good tuning does. Prior to hearing Traillii for myself I would imagine how Isa-like tuning bolstered by summit fi technicalities could have the sort of effect on people that Trailli has had...in fact until actually hearing it this was the easiest way for me to make sense to myself of the whole Trailli phenomenon.

Isabellae also provides me with another example of why I shouldn't read too much into FR graphs. Prior to demoing I was worried about too much upper mid presence. In retrospect I think the excellent mid-bass presence in this IEM serves to balance out the upper mid/lower treble region...which is so deftly tuned as to offer wonderful clarity, body and air without ever being shouty, peaky, metallic or anything. Highs are usually the deal breaker for me on single DD IEMs and the highs here are wonderful. I am coming to understand that regions of the FR shouldn’t be looked at in isolation as it is how they play and interact together, along with other factors, that will determine the quality of the overall sound.

Considering how Isa is able to maintain such clarity and forwardess in the upper mids & highs without ever being (to my ears) too much, I thought about the following possibilities:

a) where and how the FR slopes into the highs

In Isa the FR has a local max in the upper mids and then slopes downward into the highs. I am wondering if it is because there is not a lot of extra energy in the highs, in the form of upward slopes and peaks that I think the mids can be as forward and energetic as they are without becoming shouty or fatiguing. Compare this to an IEM like the Cayin Fantasy that slopes upward into the highs, manifesting ultimately in a few peaks and a more inconsistent midrange presentation.

b) the type of driver

I think the natural, rich and comparatively blunt character of DD timbre allows you to get away with a degree of upper mid presence that would have a greater chance of being fatiguing through BAs.

c) how much mid-bass energy there is.

In the Isabellae the FR has its two highest points at identical local maximums in the upper mids and in the mid bass. I think there is something of a synergistic parity here as the mid-bass presence helps balance out the upper mid presence. Usually in “eastern” tuned IEMs there is more of an emphasis on sub-bass than mid-bass, which is often a lot thinner and, I suspect, leaves the upper mids standing out a bit more. The Isabellae has full bodied lower mids and the bass emphasis is skewed towards mid-bass oomph over sub-bass rumble. While the bass on the Isa extends rather well there is less presence in the sub-bass region. There is lots of upper mid presence on the Isabellae however coupled with the aforementioned mid-bass presence and the downward sloping peak free highs Isa's upper mids serve to add a nice layer of clarity and air to the sound without ever becoming shouty or overly dominant.

Tuning wise Campfire Audio IEMs at their best derive no small amount of their charm by being a little rough around the edges. They remind me a little of Jimmy Page's guitar playing-- a little wild but soooo bloody soulful. They're bombastic, dynamic, in your face and I wouldn't change a thing about them. The Isabellae, expressed in terms I am familiar with, can be described as a Campfre-like tuning but polished to perfection with many of the personality quirks ironed out. Similar in character, but less bombastic, more even keeled, but slightly less distinct-- and no less engaging or enthralling to me.

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My experiences with Isabellae have gotten me thinking a lot about different tuning styles and approaches. Different people have different needs and wants when it comes to sound signatures. I have often noted that there are, very broadly speaking, two general paths along which one may approach this hobby—either via the intellect (the head) or via emotional connection (the heart). I understand that most people fall somewhere in the middle, manifesting elements of both in their preferences—but in my experience most people, ultimately, tend to fall more on one side or the other. Approaching sound reproduction from an intellectual standpoint and one tends to focus primarily on technicalities, measurable factors and making sure everything is properly represented in a magnificently consistent order. Approaching from an emotional standpoint and the focus is more on tone, timbre and how one feels when listening to the sound.

In general in this hobby I find there is a lot of overlap around how we approach listening to music and our favorite gear and how we approach food. Imagine if I were to tour the world, taking in all the different sorts of food people ate and liked and subsequently came up with a sort of generic superfood that optimized nutritional needs with people’s preferences so that it was optimally nutritious and minimally offensive. From an entirely intellectual perspective this makes total sense and seems like an optimal, sensible and efficient thing to do. However to those who approach eating from an emotional standpoint, and who want to experience food that inspires and is inspired, food that has flavor, variety, soul and substance—the idea of the act of eating food to a mere utilitarian exercise, while not without its validity, is an anathema, or at the very least somewhat dull and uninspiring.

It seems to me there are parallels with the above to tuning IEMs. IEMs, for example, that are tuned to some variant of a Harman curve are not unlike the “superfood” described in the previous example—they are designed to hit some sort of common average and be minimally offensive but by necessity they are lacking a degree of passion, individuality, inspiration and, I would argue, humanity. The genius in Oriolus’ tuning at its best in that it straddles the best of both worlds—it gives us a tuning that is instantly accessible, highly technical, minimally offensive…yet at the same time sublime and inspired. It actually got me thinking of the idea of a “single perfect tuning”…I have long thought that such a thing is not possible, but my experience with Oriolus and the inspired tuning of their IEMs…has be wondering if that conclusion was premature. If I were permitted to make a bold conjecture I would propose that the u12t is the Traillii equivalent for those whose tastes are more squarely on the “intellectual” side of the spectrum I referred to earlier.

COMPARISONS

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Vs Campfire Dorado 2020

I took the Dorado 2020 on the road with me for a few hours one afternoon and listened to it for the first time after close to a week straight with Isabellae. Gone was the tonal perfection, tuneful sweetness and intimate reverie that I have come to love about the Isa-- but to make up for it the Dorado ushered me into a world more primitive and wild but addictively engaging, muscular, bombastic, soulful and fun...and ultimately no less satisfying.

Ultimately, Dorado & Isabellae are nothing alike. Isabellae is about balance, tonal & tuneful sweetness, and vocal intimacy-- Dorado is about big bass, high contrast and bombastic sound. If I had to pick a “Dynamic Duo” of my IEMs that were complimentary and spanned the greatest stretch of my tastes Dorado & Isa would be it.

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Vs. Oriolus Reborn

As with Isa & Traillii there are many similarities—and a few key differences between the two Oriolus models Isa and Reborn.

Isa: more balanced, slight mid-bass emphasis over sub-bass, less technical, more romantic, intimate & coherent, a smoother listen overall, more natural timbre in the highs & mids, single DD charm.

Reborn: Maintains a nice balance but is a more fun & musical sound, sub-bass monster, less mid-bass emphasis, which allows it to get away with more bass without sacrificing mids anywhere, more technical (layering, separation & resolution is better), can be a little sharper up top

Both: Bright leaning, open seductive midrange, enticing vocals, Oriolus magic.

Vs. Oriolus Traillii

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The idea of a Traillii being simply Isa on steroids is a bit trite and doesn’t come really come close to conveying the epic grandeur and experience of something near transcendent bliss that listening to the Traillii can offer…but imho it’s presently the best way to roughly approximate it. I was as perplexed as anyone come January at the onset of the Age of the Bird when people—and not just people, experienced, reliable level headed Head Fi’ers-- were throwing $6K at this thing like there was no tomorrow. Is there something to this, I often wondered, or is it simply a case of mass hysteria and purchase justification? Lacking a direct frame of reference for myself it was impossible to say. It wasn’t until I heard Isa, and its deceptively alluring, emotionally evocative and balanced tuning, that I finally got some sense of what the Bird was all about—and when I finally got to hear one it did not disappoint.

The power of the Traillii is the gentle urgency with which it pulls you into a fully realized emotionally connected 3-d soundscape-- and on that level the Isabellae falls well short. That said it’s not a pure win for the illustrious Bird. While Traillii is unquestionably the better IEM there humble Isa still has a few aces up her sleeve—including superior mid-range timbre, single driver coherence, alluring intimacy and dynamic bass.

Vs. Vision Ears Elysium

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In terms of midrange openness and clarity the Isa is second only to Elysium for me. Vocals on both IEMs are a thing to behold. Both male and female vocals sound fantastic-- always in the spotlight, crystal clear and with a sweet, bodied, and lifelike timbre. Male vocals on Isa are as intimate and natural as any IEM I've heard, surpassing even VE8 for me in terms of overall presentation and I would put Isa behind only Elysium for female vocals.

On the whole Ely has a number of things going for it over Isa—and most of them are in the realm of technicalities. The 1-2 punch of the mids & highs on Elysium are, (or were, now that I’ve heard Traillii) peerless in their capacity to bring a sense of air, naturalness, clarity and breathable space to vocals & instruments. If you listen to music that really benefits from this then I’m not sure anything can really compete with Ely here until you get to the Bird.

All of that said, and as with Traillii, Isa does bring some notable strengths to the table, namely (again) single driver coherence and DD timbre. Modest Isa has a decided edge over Ely for a lot of the music I listen to.

Vs. Campfire Andromeda 2020

My best and most concise description relative to what I've heard before would be to say that Isabellae is a single DD with Andromeda like tuning filtered through the genius & inspiration of a master craftsman. Isa takes a similar "mid/vocal centric & bright leaning with a mid-bass emphasis" and, sacrifices a bit of the raw resolution and staging and adds a healthy dose of DD secret sauce. To my ears Andro, Ely and Isa all share the same central tuning philosophy expressed through different driver configurations.

Vs. Campfire Honeydew

Honeydew and Isa are like an Odd Couple of single DD IEMs. If someone had remotely similar tastes and preferences as me and wanted my rec for a perfect covering-as-many-bases-as-possible one balanced one bassy complimentary pair of IEMs for less than $1K Isa & Honeydew would be my strong rec.

Vs. KBEAR Believe

I was loaned this IEM by @tgx78 because modded it has an FR curve that looks a lot like Isa. There are indeed a lot of similarities with the sound and someone who wanted something approximating Isa at a lower cost would be well advised to take a look at these. But to my ears the tuning lacks, as ___ put it the “grace and refinement” of Isa. The vocals aren’t quite as seductive and the highs seem less finessed and controlled—I found myself reaching for the the skip button sometimes due to fatigue in the highs, which doesn’t really happen with Isa. Also I think the parity between upper and lower mids isn’t as good as the latter sometimes came off a little hollow sounding to me. All in all though the Believe are a great set of IEMs and would get a strong rec from me at their tier.

Vs. UM 3DT

I never compared these two back to back but the Isabellae from memory has much more coherent overall presentation. Both have great mid-range timbre but Isa is much more nuanced and open, especially with vocals. 3DT requires a mod without which it lacks mid-bass and tends towards shoutiness in the upper mids. Isa is perfect out of the box.

Vs. Tansio Spark

Apples and oranges. Spark has more vast and open 3-d staging, more vivid, bodied and resonant highs and is much more of a technical powerhouse. It also has a weak-sauce bass response and lacks Isa's end-end coherence, natural timbre and seductive midrange tuning.

Vs. Cayin Fantasy

The Fantasy has a lot in common with the Isa from the bass to upper mids. Fantasy has a slight sub-bass emphasis so you get better perception of extension down low but you miss a bit of oomph and body in the mid-bass and lower mids. Female vocals are nice and sweet on the Fantasy and the mid-range has decent speed and texture. I found the mids to be reasonably forward, however on the whole not quite as clean, refined and polished they are on the Isabellae-- in particular with vocals. Male vocals are fuller and more natural on the Isa whereas on the Fantasy they seem a little...chesty or something sometimes. On the whole though the bass & mids of the Fantasy and the Isabellae are way more similar than different...it's the highs where the two IEMs are the most different. Isbella feels much more even keeled across the FR and the graphs of Isabellae confirm this-- the highest point of Isa's FR is in the upper mids with the trend being generally downward through the highs. This maintains balance keeps Isa free from peakiness, disjointedness, sibilance, and other issues stemming from overloaded treble.

I haven't seen graphs of Fantasy yet but if I had to guess based on what I've heard I would say that the highs, instead of sloping gradually downward following the elevated upper mids as they do in the Isa, instead slope upward. It wouldn't surprise me if there was an 8K or so peak in there somewhere. For my music I would say like 70% of the time the Fantasy sounds great, and notwithstanding Isa's cleaner mids and more seductive vocals, it stands neck and neck with Isabellae for the most part. A big difference I think is that the aim of Cayin's tuning seems to be more towards a clean and airy sound whereas Isabellae seems more about intimacy and emotional connection

In Summary

The Oriolus Isabellae is the IEM that currently owns my heart. Sublime coherence and timbre across the board, summit fi bass response and along with the Traillii about as close to a perfect tuning overall as my ears have ever beheld.

Most of my IEM experience so far has been with hybrids or IEMs with multiple drivers. I think at least some of the magic in this IEM derives from its single DD coherence-- it gives the whole signature an underlying cohesiveness, completeness & unity that is simply not possible with hybrid or even multiple BA setups. And there is the tuning...so tuneful, so seductive, balanced, well tempered and sweet...it really is like being charmed by a little bird on a tree outside, capturing your attention with its simple yet sweet and melodious musings.

The Isabellae has really impressed me with its masterful tuning-- from bass to highs the signature is wonderfully balanced and oh so refined. When you're listening to it your mind is drawn to the signature as a whole but your heart is drawn into the midrange...not since Elysium have I heard an IEM that so easily draws me in to the heart and soul of what I'm listening to. Further,

In a world that has seemingly gone insane, and in a hobby where more and more IEMs are coming out that push the price to quite frankly ludicrous levels I am quite I relieved that I can derive seemingly total and indefinite satisfaction from such a modestly priced and masterful creation as the Oriolus Isabellea. I've said it before but here is conclusive proof you don't need to break $1K to attain TOTL sound. I could take this as my only IEM and be totally happy for a very long time.

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Epilogue

For reference here are my current 5 faves and most recent attempt at a tiering:

Satya Loka (Divine Realm)
1) Oriolus Traillii

Tapa Loka (Enlightened Realm)
2) Oriolus Isabellae
3) Vision Ears Elysium

Jana Loka (Earthly Realm)
4) Oriolus Reborn
5) Campfire Dorado 2020
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KutuzovGambit

500+ Head-Fier
Bathed in Gentle Refinement
Pros: Rich timbre
Cohesive and organic tapestry of sound
Textured, articulate, astonishingly high-quality bass
Full, rich, yet natural and open midrange
Stunning vocals
Bright yet buttery-smooth and tremendously even treble
Excellent resolution and detail
Highly competent technicalities
Solid built quality and impeccable comfort
High-quality stock cable and tips
Cons: Mediocre isolation
The treble-sensitive might find brightness fatiguing
Nozzles may be too big for small ear canals
No choice of cable termination
No included storage/carry case
Introduction: Oriolus is a company with an interesting history. It operates out of Japan where it has a substantial customer base, but the founder Rao You Liang, — a.k.a. the “Old Man” — is based out of Shenzhen where his studio is known by actually a variety of names. In any case the brand was relatively little-known in Western markets until recently, when their flagship Oriolus Traillii burst onto the scene with its unparalleled price tag of $5,999 (since increased to $6,599) followed by its unparalleled glowing reviews from nearly everyone who has ever heard it.

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But of course the Traillii is not our subject today, but rather its little sister the Isabellae. Coming in at a mere 1/10th of the Traillii’s price tag, it trades the 8 BA/4 EST driver configuration of its big brother for a single 9.8mm dynamic. Regardless of the simplicity of the engineering, nevertheless the Isabellae has reportedly been under development for no less than seven years. For a fanatical lover of single-DDs such as myself, the opportunity to hear such an IEM boasting the venerable tuning of the “Old Man” at a more feasible price point was well-nigh irresistible.

I would like to thank Andrew at Musicteck for arranging a discount in exchange for my honest review, as well as for his continually excellent customer service.

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The specifications are below:
  • Impedance: 30 Ohm
  • Sensitivity: 113dB
  • Frequency response: 10Hz - 40kHz
  • Plug: 4.4mm / 2-pin 0.78mm
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Packaging & Accessories: The packaging of the Isabellae goes for an understated simplicity rather than the glamorous presentation which can sometimes be found in other manufacturers even at much lower price points. I believe this is a deliberate choice, intended to represent to the buyer that they are paying a premium for the sound itself and not for marketing and flashy presentation. The outer slip cover reveals a simple white box, inside of which are the IEMs themselves in black foam preattached to an elegant, supple SPC cable. Underneath the foam is a bag with a shirt clip for the wire, a cleaning brush, two pairs of foam tips, three pairs of silicon tips, one one pair of double-flange tips. And that’s it.

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The stock wide-bore silicon tips are an excellent match sonically for the Isabellae, and the stock cable is extremely comfortable and well-built. I see no need to change either unless one is unable to get a good seal with the stock tips, or one needs a different termination for the cable. It would have been nice to see a storage/carry case included as well as a choice of cable terminations, but given that these are quite literally the only complaints I can find to make about the Isabellae in this entire review, I am more than willing to overlook such minor omissions.

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Build & Comfort: The beautiful amber shells of the Isabellae are constructed from German medical-grade resin. There is some speculation that they are 3D-printed, but I cannot speak to that myself. What I can say without any doubt is that they are as comfortable as they are solidly-built and aesthetically pleasing. Though they do have the widest nozzles I have ever encountered on an IEM (with a diameter of approximately 6.5mm), nevertheless their light weight and ergonomic shape meant that they fit my medium-small ear absolutely perfectly and did not induce any fatigue even over extremely long listening sessions.

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There was also no driver flex whatsoever — the Isabellae has one vent directly over the DD near the nozzle, while it is unclear whether the small holes on the brass faceplate also serve as vents or are merely aesthetic. However, the lack of driver flex does as usual come at a cost — isolation was merely average.

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Initial Impressions: In addition to being a lover of DDs, I am also a lover of the midrange. Therefore it was the early reports of the Isabellae as a superbly well-tuned mid-centric single DD that lead me to placing my own order. And while the mids are indeed exquisite, nevertheless it was instead each of the other two frequency ranges that first struck me when I put the Isabellae into my ears: the treble is definitely brighter than I expected, while the bass is significantly more substantial than the somewhat rolled-off graph might lead one to believe. Yet all three regions are tuned to perfection not only in and of themselves, but more importantly in reference to one another as well, forming the most cohesive and organic tapestry of sound that I have ever experienced in an IEM.

Some of this is of course due to the inherent simplicity of a good single dynamic driver, but there can be absolutely no doubt that the seven years spent by the “Old Man” laboring meticulously over the Isabellae were by no means spent in vain. The tuning of the Isabellae is without any exaggeration a masterpiece.

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Signature: In my opinion the Isabellae has a mid-centric, mild U-shape tuning, with accented mid-bass and treble that nevertheless serve precisely as accents to the full and expressive midrange — especially vocals, both male and female. Due to the midrange focus the presentation is more intimate than expansive, though there is never any sense of congestion or claustrophobia. To me the Isabellae is TOTL tuning for acoustic and vocal genres, while remaining more than competent for any other type of music I tried with it.

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Bass: As mentioned above, the graph of the Isabellae might cause one to believe that the sub-bass is somewhat lacking. This is not at all the case: the reach and extension of the Isabellae’s bass is quite good, and my non-basshead sensibilities never felt that there was any lack of rumble or impact — and indeed, if there was more of a sub-bass emphasis I suspect this would detract from the delicate softness of the Isabellae’s character.

Yes, undeniably the focus here is on the mid-bass, which is potent, superbly full-bodied, and has the highest quality and especially texture that I have ever heard. When listening to recordings with a standing bass or cello, such instruments seem to be right there in the room — the microdetails are simply amazing.

Overall this is perhaps the most articulate low end I have yet heard. And the upper bass segues with absolutely effortless cohesion into the lower mids.


Mids: Though the Isabellae is superbly balanced tonally, we come here to the star of the show. The mids here are full, somewhat warm, and astonishingly textured... yet stopping short of what I would call lush, choosing instead to craft an exquisitely natural presentation which remains clear, open, detailed. Note weight is absolutely perfect.

One of the potential pitfalls of mid-centric IEMs is the tendency to across as boring, and indeed it is usually easier to highlight the bass and/or the treble in a bold or even bombastic manner in order to attract our attention and excite our listening pleasure than it is craft a rich and inviting midrange. Yet the midrange is the heart of the music, and the Isabellae deftly lays that heart open to us. There are no tricks here, only honesty: and the Isabellae has the “grace and refinement” (to quote a certain scholar and gentleman) to lay aside all artifice and simply bring us into the heart of the music.

One of my favorite things about the Isabellae is that — like with so many other things — it effortlessly balances instrumentation and vocals, whereas so many other mid-centric IEMs tend to push the vocals significantly to the fore. I think this is due to the extremely judicious pinna gain, and to my ear the “Old Man” has here achieved another of the remarkable triumphs of this IEM.


Treble: The upper region of the Isabellae definitely leans bright. Yet this is brightness executed (please pardon the pun) more brilliantly than I have ever heard before — it is absolutely silky-smooth, with no peakiness, no harshness, no artificiality. This is not upper-range emphasis done in order to accomplish some sort of trick, to create any illusion of technical capabilities that that IEM does not truly possess. It is simply a shimmery layer of brightness, accenting the sound in an absolutely smooth and cohesive manner. For myself, after I became accustomed to the sound I never once found it piercing or offensive (though for the treble-sensitive it might eventually lead to some fatigue). And the extension and air provide the perfect complements to the more intimate staging that the Isabellae as a mid-centric IEM portrays.


Soundstage & Technicalities: I would definitely classify the Isabellae as a musical IEM rather than an analytical one, and I am quite sure the Traillii has no problem surpassing its younger sister in technicalities. Yet despite its musical nature and despite its possession of only a single dynamic driver, the Isabellae never once falls short in technicalities to my ear. Even given its more intimate staging (with good width and height and decent depth), nevertheless it always handles imaging, layering, and separation with absolute aplomb. Every range of the Isabellae has abundant resolution and details, never in a flashy or boastful fashion, but rather in service of its supreme realism, drawing one ever deeper into the richness of the musical tapestry on offer. And by this time it should go without saying that its timbre and cohesion are quite simply unsurpassed.


Conclusion: The “Old Man” in his follow-up to the Traillii has proved beyond any doubt that his success thus far has been no fluke. Even amidst the recent renaissance in single-DD IEMs, the Isabellae stands as a shining jewel illuminating what a single driver can do in the hands of a master craftsman. For those who are searching for a balanced and musical sound — and especially those who prize richness of timbre as the crème de la crème of truly outstanding transducers — the Isabellae must surely be amongst the most pre-eminent choices even in this Golden Age of IEMs.

This is the first 5/5 I have yet awarded.

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blotmouse
blotmouse
Photos are extra tasty friend. Good job!
rattlingblanketwoman
rattlingblanketwoman
Really great read. I liked learning about the "Old man", and feel I get a very good idea of its sound from the descriptions and notes. Helpfully qualified with your own preferences.

Paired with fantastic photos too. Perhaps an end-game choice for me one day!
drbluenewmexico
drbluenewmexico
GREAT REVIEW agree with almost all of your observations, and LP dac dongle plays these with wonderful sound, as does Cayin S3pro in linear tube mode!!!

ranfan

Headphoneus Supremus
One Punch DD
Pros: Natural sound
Organic timbre
Smooth treble
Lush vocals
High coherency
Supple cable
Easy to drive
Cons: No adapter (for 3.5mm)
Nozzle diameter
No carrying case included
Oriolus Isabellae ($659)

Configuration


Driver(s): 1 x 9.8mm DD
Connector: 2-pin (with 4.4mm default plug)

Specification

Impedance: 30 Ohm
Sensitivity: 113dB
Frequency response: 10Hz~40kHz
Weight: 13g per side

Model

(1)Amber transparent shell + Brass faceplate

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Accessories

・Double-flange tips
・Foam tips
・Silicone tips
・Cable tie
・Cable clip
・Cleaning tool (brush, pick)

Disclaimer

Oriolus Isabellae was purchased by me for my own personal use and collection. All sound impressions were obtained based on what I hear, using the stock cable, PEE51 USB-C dongle, and Azla SednaEarfit Light tips. I am not affiliated with Oriolus nor any brands mentioned in this review

Packaging

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The Oriolus Isabellae came in a simple white box ensleeved with a silver-gray carton with a red 'Oriolus' text and bird logo. Or at least what seems to be a bird drawn from a simple line

Opening the box, inside you can find the pair of IEMs perched comfortably in a foam cushion with its cable attached

Beneath the first layer of the foam cushion, is a box-shaped portion of space allocated for Isabellae's accessories and warranty card

The accessories included include some pairs of eartips, cable clip, and cleaning tool. All of which I left in peace. Except for that one pair of silicone tips which came already attached

One thing I wish could be added along with the accessories though, an adapter/converter for the cable's default balanced plug into 3.5mm unbalanced output. You may need to have an adapter ready if you don't have a native 4.4mm balanced input built with your source

All in all, the Isabellae came packaged in a relatively minimalistic style

Build

The Isabellae was built with an acrylic material shell encasing its 9.8mm dynamic driver. Its transparent amber shell blends well with its brass faceplate in color

The transparent shell also has this lovely opacity to it, that is not too light nor dark in hue. It seems to me resembling of an amber fossil. Fun fact, the Isabellae itself was named after an elusive bird (Isabela Oriole) which was once believed/presumed to be extinct for many years. But was rediscovered in the early 90s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabela_oriole)

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The faceplate has this round embossing, with six small vent ports encircling it. And at the center an engraved 'Oriolus' text

Its nozzle diameter is slightly on the bigger side, above average in size. Around 0.2~0.3mm bigger than that on the Elysium

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The monitor is connected via a standard 0.78mm recessed 2-pin sockets. And at the opposite end of the pathway, its bore is installed with metallic mesh. The cable is terminated with 4.4mm balanced plug by default. Very supple and flexible to wear, it has also this smooth rubber-like quality to its wire shielding

The cable seems to have this durable/lasting build quality to it, that is light and comfortable to wear. It's split in the middle by a small metallic silver splitter with an 'Oriolus' text printed on it. Plus a uniform slider which can be adjusted rather easily up-and-down

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Overall a good ergonomic design, with its preformed ear hooks and high quality heatshrinks minimizing any form of discomfort on the ears

Sound

Firstly, despite the Isabellae being based on a DD design, there was no typical driver flex heard when I insert them. It is also quite easy to drive from any phone. Not very picky and not sensitive to hisses. You can basically use whatever, at the same time it can also scale with higher-powered source

The Isabellae I think was tuned with more focus primarily on upper-mids and treble. Acoustic performances sound especially exceptional, the standout being both male and female vocals. They sound vivid yet smooth, highly textured to resemble its real counterpart. It's lush and natural, with each note having a good organic timbre and sweetness on top. Vocals on Isabellae are a wonder to behold. It is perhaps the most natural and inspiring vocals I've heard

Presentation in general is tilted towards the brighter clearer side, yet with a hint of warmth incorporated within each note. The enveloping air surrounding it felt somewhat surreal. Striking a good balance between glow and shade

The single DD on Isabellae is remarkable for both its reach and finesse. It is well-implemented to showcase each unique sound throughout the frequency range. Bass goes low into the sub region, and is tight as well as controlled without ever becoming muddy. Its quantity is rather neutral, with less rumble and more emphasis on its mid-bass punch. It has this high definition, full-bodied dense quality to it, that is simultaneously delicate in its execution

Bass on these aren't exactly enormous 'canon' or 'monster'-like in overall character. It is a bass I'd describe as tending more towards precision and controlled explosion, rather than a reckless berserk. It embodies DD texture, size and rumble well, but with minimal necessary force so not to ever become overly bassy. It is a deceivingly skillful and potent bass, prioritizing quality over quantity. And it felt very substantial throughout. The upper-bass are as well attenuated slightly to allow better articulation and separation, playing more of a faithful supporting role to its midrange

Stage dimension on the Isabellae I think are more on the intimate side, with highly transparent seamless layering. It is not overly grand or spacious per se, but it makes up for this with its airy open nature. It has a good depth and an average height, complemented with a slightly above average width

The Isa has this lifelike imaging that impressed me so. Not for its excess of microdetails, but more primarily of its natural and coherent representation/mimicry of the real primal sound. Especially whispers, hum, breath and such are captured and recreated nicely, making them sound quite 'alive' in a sense

Midrange positioning is forward-centered, with its treble supporting it, and next bass. They're all neatly arranged and close-knit. They synergise well to enhance the mids (especially upper-mids), and as a result capable of creating a highly immersive listening experience

Resolution in particular is also one of Isa's highlight. While being relatively high, it doesn't try to show it off too much. Preferring a more reserved style through mixing it with some warmth, and with less analytical more laidback approach. Instruments and vocals largely are well-defined and pretty tonally accurate

Its treble I think is also one of its stronger points. It extends far into the upper-end whilst remaining smooth, gentle and lucid throughout. It avoids any sharpness or peaky sibilance. Unlike some IEMs with more eclectic treble, the tuning on the Isabellae reflects a more elegant projection. It has this far-reaching extension and smooth downward slope after the 7~8kHz area. This allows for instruments to have enough radiance to them, while giving that velvety caressing touch to tail its rendition

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*All listening was done at night when everything was quieter

Comparison

Vision Ears Elysium ($2563)

Configuration


Driver(s): 1 BA x Low, 1 DD x Mid, 2 EST x High
 + HALC (High-precision Acoustic Levelling Chamber)
Connector: 2-pin (with 2.5mm default plug)

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The Elysium is an IEM which I think have somewhat similar tuning to the Isabellae. It focuses its highlight in producing one of the most natural, vibrant and lifelike sound emulatable

They both are brimming with this vivacious midrange and treble. With the Elysium executing this through its hybrid EST configuration, and Isabellae through its single DD. Each endowed with their own unique vision and way to demonstrate their prowess

Vision Ears to me have always this neat and clean signature sound that I admire. It's a blend of one part surgical precision details, and another serene captivating musicality

Oriolus on the other hand, with their knack for reproducing lush organic vocals, capable of educing that raw human emotion, leaving the listener spellbound with the entire sound

Both of which appeal to me, and I personally enjoy them very much. Starting from the base, their timbre; the Elysium has what I'd describe as having this crystalline tender and clear sound. It has this superb shimmering clarity that is more delicate in the upper end. The Isabellae diversely sounded calmer, and its timbre have a more liquid quality to it. It's warmer in tone and overall much more coherent particularly in the lower end

Bass felt slightly less substantial, with less deeper reach on the Elysium. It also has a quicker attack and decay, as well as a smaller imaging size. The sound felt more like 'thump', whereas on the Isa it sounded closer to a 'boom'. Mind you, this was derived from listening to the universal Elysium model. The bass was said to improve as you get a better seal on the custom version. But overall I feel the Elysium has this lighter quicker bass, and not as voluminous relative to the Isabellae

Note size felt leaner and lighter on the Elysium. It has this gleaming quality to each note, that is accentuated together with its cooler more refreshing tone. Electric guitars has more bite and sounded better on the Elysium. It's more agile, yet at the same time capable of evincing more details with the higher resolution it possesses

Both have each uniquely vivid imaging. With the Elysium rendering it in a more accurate and precise manner. It has more sparkle and shimmer up top. But at the same time, have less presence in the lower midrange. The Isabellae sounded more dynamic and composed in that area. Its midrange just sounds more solid/weighty and well put together from bottom up

The stage presentation on the Ely felt slightly narrower with taller height. Both have similar average stage size and an open airy feel. It's slightly warmer on the Isa. And airier as well as brighter on the Ely. Both have excellent extension in their treble, the Elysium having more presence and consequently giving its presentation more clarity and clean atmospheric feel to it

String and brass instruments are especially good on the Ely. It's capable of portraying them with such svelte and grace. Relatively thinner and crisper in its sound. Treble notes have slightly less warmth, and more energy to them. Isabellae's treble on the other hand sounded more mellow, and less prone to showing sharpness or peaks in some tracks. This is more apparent, with the Elysium showing more pronounced 'ts', 'ch' or 'sh' sound, which I'm quite sensitive of. In general, the Elysium I hear has relatively more prominence in its upper-mids and treble display

Vocals sounded thicker, more lush and organic on the Isabellae. More laidback and natural. It emanate and melts in your ears the more you listen. It sounded less clinical, with more spread imaging and fuller note consistency. Albeit at the expense of some speed, agility, and details. Lower vocal registers in particular sounded notable on the Isa. And I found it really enjoyable to listen to and feel, as it imparts its reverberation throughout the stage

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ranfan
ranfan
@Onik It is co-produced by Jaben China, and I think it's assembled there as well
Stuff Jones
Stuff Jones
Nice review.

Is isolation as poor is it looks like it will be with the vents?
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ranfan
ranfan
@Stuff Jones Thanks! :) Not at all. They isolate as well as any other universal IEMs. Provided you can get a good seal. They're not prone to leak sound like planar open-back models do
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