Scuba Devils

Headphoneus Supremus
Oriolus Szalayi - Pump up the volume...
Pros: > Deep powerful bass - a subwoofer in your head / excellent mid and sub distinction
> Glorious emotive mids
> Large, holographic stage
> Crisp, and not-too-sharp treble
> Incredibly cohesive for a tribrid
> Works with any genre I've tested
> A highly addictive, engaging, fun, set
> Beautiful stock cable
Cons: > Do I have to?!
> A case would be nice (but it looks like they are included now on Musicteck...)
> They take some adjusting, but don't give up as Kate Bush once sang
> Subjective, but I'm not a fan of the appearance of the shells - I prefer more minimal styling
Oriolus Szalayi - Pump up the volume...

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Introduction & Caveats


Amazed there are no reviews up for Szalayi (SZA) yet - I guess for many, to include myself, far too busy enjoying them... which gives a hint as to the gushing praise that is to come in this review. Get some caveats out of the way first.

I purchased SZA pretty much on day of release from Musicteck at a reduced price in exchange for a review - always a risk when a new product on the market and no impressions to go on, but being Oriolus, I was pretty confident they will have done a good job and took the plunge. I would like to thank Andrew at @MusicTeck and as always, all impressions are entirely mine.

I am not a professional reviewer, it's my hobby and my passion - I enjoy exploring new IEMs across the price spectrum and sharing my impressions with the community. I lack the technical skills to go deep on some components, but do my best to convey what I hear in a way that I hope is useful.

SZA has a retail price of $919 and is available from @MusicTeck HERE and at the time of writing, there is also a free case available.

SZA Preamble

When SZA first arrived, I was little peplexed to say the least - out of the box, they sounded rather dark and somewhat muddy - I was very surprised, and wondered how a set could be launched sounding like this. I'm increasingly aware of the need to allow drivers to burn-in, and from what I understand, planar need even more time to mature. With that in mind, I hooked them up to my trusty Sony ZX300 which is mostly my burn-in DAP due to the fantastic battery, and left them run for about a week 24/7 - dipping in and out to have a listen and hear how they were getting on. There was a dramatic change over the course of the first few days, and I would argue it still continues a few weeks later... so my advice if you do go ahead and purchase these. 'Please Don't Give Up' at first - they need time to mature, and I think their signature needs time for mental adjustment too.

A nighttime analogy...

You know when you are indoors at night, with artificial light - you can see everything in the building around you - you then step outdoors, and it's a clear night but very dark and no outdoor lighting... your eyes take a bit to adjust, and then you can see stars all over the sky, the longer you look, the more that pop out. That's what my experience with SZA has been like at times as it has opened up - going from that initial 'darkness' to one of great clarity, revealing all of the most subtle details in the recording. This analogy occured to me in the first week or so, and felt it might be useful to note here.

Specifications

SZA is a tribrid IEM, i.e. it has a three-driver configuration which in short are: a dynamic driver for lows, a planar for mids, and a balanced armature for highs.

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Unboxing

Anyone who has had an Oriolus IEM before will know they don't go for fancy packaging or lots of accessories - always a fairly minimal affair, even the top-tier Traillii arrives in a plain brown cardboard box! SZA comes in exactly the same packaging as the wonderful single DD 'Isabellae'. I like the packaging ethos they seem to display, no BS and to the point. I do think a case would be nice though and shouldn't break the bank, especially for a set not too far south of $1,000... as noted above, I see there is now a 'free' case supplied via Musicteck, hopefully this becomes a standard.

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Upon opening the outer sleeve and box, you are greeted with the SZA nestling in a foam bed -

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Underneath the foam layer, you find a selection of accessories: tips (silione in S/M,L / flange M / foam S/M), shirt-clip, cleaning brush, and warranty card.

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Cable

The supplied cable is silver-plated OFC terminated with 4.4mm as standard and with a 2-pin configuration. It's a really nice cable, very soft and easy to fold and store. It looks and feels premium. I really love the branded Y-splitter.

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Design & Fit

The shells are rather large and at first sight, I thought they might pose a problem for me as I don't tend to get on too well with larger shells. The contours of the shell actually sit very well in my ears without any discomfort - they are very smooth and quite light, with no potentially obtrusive edges or corners. Like Traillii and Isa, the stem are rather short and quite wide which in my experience means I need to take a step down in tip size, allowing for the larger stem diameter - I've tried a number of different tips, but settled for now with Azla Short Standard.

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The shells are vented, which means certainly in my case, there is none of the pressure build that can occur with IEMs that do not have a vent - this can be incredibly unpleasant, and I'm happy to report that the vent in this case does it's job.

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Also, I love that Oriolus choose a recessed 2-pin connection - it always feels much more secure versus a flat 2-pin. I wish more brands would do this. The below picture should give a sense for the previously mentioned soft contours, with no offensive edges that might cause discomfort.

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Sources & Cables

I have mostly used the Lotoo Paw Gold Touch (LPGT) with SZA, Shanling M9 at times too. I have tried a few cables with SZA and have decided on the Penon GS849 for the moment - while the stock cable is nicer looking and more ergonomic, I find the GS849 tightens up the bass with more control, and injects some more clarity in the mids. I've tried a pure silver cable too but found that was too bright and harsh, especially with the LPGT. As a related aside, I've been a bit of cable sceptic - I emphasise 'bit' as I have had a few scenarios where I noted differences, and these are becoming more frequent I guess as I fine-tune my own ability to listen out for specific changes - the silver cable test was night and day vs the GS849, upon switching back to the latter, the brighter/harsh sound was immediately resolved.

SZA pictured below with the Penon GS849 and LPGT DAP.

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Listening Impressions - Pump up the volume...

SZA loves a good bit of power - they play perfectly well at lower volumes, but scale wonderfully as you put more power in. Think of them like a sports car on an open road, the more you push the pedal, the more the engine roars and the bigger smile on your face as you feel the surge of power - this is SZA - as you increase the volume, the sub bass becomes even more encapsulating, the lush mids grab hold of you in a visceral and emotive way, treble bites but without hurting...

Overall, the sound profile I would say is somewhat geared towards the lows, but absolutely not to the detriment of mids or highs. While they are technically capable, they certainly lean more towards the emotive engagement by quite a bit - that's not to say they don't deliver good macro/micro details, they do - but not in a reference tuned way, they are not a 'relaxed' or neutral set by any means. For me, it's the sort of set I can reach for and just enjoy my music - not thinking too much about imaging, or pinpointing specific details - just getting lost in the music, and in some cases, for many hours on end.

Bass - Dynamic Driver

SZA has a 10mm dynamic driver to deliver the low end frequencies, and boy does it make it's presence known when called upon. It has a huge, deep sub bass that you can feel throughout your skull and almost down into your body, that visceral delivery that anyone who appreciates bass will seek. It's like a separate sub-woofer, sufficiently distinct also from mid-bass and without any bleed to mids. Mid-bass is has excellent definition and slams with a pounding authority - it has excellent clarity, without any sense of being boomy or overextending itself.

Mids - Planar

The mids are clear, emotive, lush and super-engaging. They have the effortless delivery associated with planar drivers, and handle complexity with great ease - never congested, and well able to deal with faster passages of music. There is a great sense of dimension in the mids, allowing tracks with multiple instruments to play respectfully and yet with great cohesion.

Treble - BA

Treble has good reach and is somewhat 'polite' - it doesn't extend to the furthest reaches in terms of the most distinct 'sparkle' but has good energy and air which again allows good detail retrieval up top, and enough bite to allow cymbals for example to be well rendered and distinct. As always with treble, too much up top can be risky as it can lead to sibilance or harshness - certainly not the case here, I've yet to find a track where that occurs in any shape or form.

Technicalities

The bass emphasis and lush mids probably pull back on the extent to which the micro details are presented - as noted earlier, this is not a reference tuned IEM with a focus on analysing the details - they are there, but they don't scream at you to pay attention, the overall theme is definitely more emotive to my ears - and ultimately, pure enjoyment of music is key, which SZA has in spades. That said - imaging and layering are excellent, if you choose to zoom in, it's very easy to pinpoint specific components of a track, and they all feel 'correct' in terms of their positioning. There is a large stage, which has a real sense of starting in the centre of your head, and emanating out quite a distance.

Track by Track Analysis

I listened last night for about 3 hours straight, and took 6x A4 pages of notes - along with downing most of a bottle of wine. Sounds like hard work?! - Not with SZA, and of course the wine... plus I managed to dispel my own 'myth' with SZA where I felt it was only really suited to electronic music, absolutely not the case - as will be evident here.

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Idles - I'm Scum

This is a tough track to crack, and one I now choose in all of my IEM tests. SZA is one of the best I've heard - a high-energy, in-your-face slice of modern punk that during busy passages, can sound very harsh on some IEMs, especially those with a heavy treble emphasis in my experience. At various peaks in the track, there are almost frenetic moments with percussion going full-pelt, guitars and vocals screaming, and bass booming - SZA absolutely nails it - everything is clear, nothing cluttered, harsh or congested. I can pick out each instrument on the large holographic stage, or just listen to them in full cohesive unison.



Julia Jacklin - Don't Know How to Keep Loving You

The song kicks off with drumming and guitars, which sound wonderfully rendered with excellent realism. Julia's vocals are centre, and tipped slightly forward, displaying excellent body and an engaging sense of warmth. Percussion and vocals sit mostly central, with guitars out to the right on stage - bass guitar is more central again, and rumbles with great depth and beauty. Again, instrument positioning is excellent in terms of imaging and layering.



Radiohead - Everything in it's Right Place

I couldn't resist choosing this as my next track as with my various test tracks so far, everything does indeed sound 'in it's right place'. SZA has this fantasic ability to drop you right in the middle of the music - everything playing both inside, and outside your head - plenty of air between each component... lots of space for each instrument to shine. Vocals here are wonderfully rendered, I'm finding Szalayi 'slays' (sorry...) with both male and female vocals, which can be hard to pull off. I've loved this song for many years, adore the full album and heard it countless times - it sounds absolutely excellent here, top marks.

https://radiohead.bandcamp.com/track/everything-in-its-right-place

Max Richter - Summer 1

I'll start with one word in block capitals and in bold - WOW
The planar here executes with perfection: strings rise and fall with wonderful authenticity and authority - my heart literally racing with anticipation as it all unfolds on stage... the lower depths of the orchestra call upon the 10mm DD to do it's job, allowing an excellent sense of depth and subdued rumble.



A Winged Victory for the Sullen - Requiem for the Static King Part 2

I keep wondering what track might come along and derail the SZA steam train... so far nothing, and this gem is no exception. Utterly captivating, spellbinding and gut-wrenchingly beautiful - the instruments spread tall and wide, with such wonderful clarity and emotion - honestly stuff that could reduce me to tears. I've loved this album for many years, and SZA again scores top marks for allowing it shine to it's full potential.



GCOM - Anthropocene

This track kicks off with the sound of rain and thunder - hugely visceral and lifelike. Melodic synths roll-in, displaying that wonderful SZA midrange magic, then our friend the 10mm DD makes itself known as the powerful kickdrum makes an appearance. There is a holographic sound which sounds a bit like a clock ticking, which pans around the stage, hard not to almost roll your eyes while trying to follow it, as if you'll be able to both hear and see it - the track ultimately hits a dramatic climax, which is really quite breathtaking, before winding back down with the same thunder and rainfall as the intro. A very powerful experience, and takes a set like SZA to really capture that sensation.



Matthew Halsall - Life

Yet again, wow. I wouldn't have associated SZA in the last few weeks that would do a good job with chilled jazz like this but I have been very much proven wrong. Such an effortless, and unbelievably engaging and effortless presentation of this wonderful track. All of the instruments are crystal clear, with again that stunning realism - ample room to breathe, and all so utterly captivating (another recurring SZA theme!). Throughout this test, I just want to stop taking notes and just sit back and listen. The strings are forward, sax somewhat behind but this feels like where the musician is positioned on stage - maybe a more intimate venue, a small smokey jazz club. Percussion is somewhat off to the back and again, sounding perfectly lifelike and realistic.



Androcell - Under the Sun

This is an example of music I've been playing the most on SZA, something I discovered early on that really does sound utterly spectacular. The deep reaching sub-bass really works wonders with this genre, and I sort of fell into a bit of a pigeon-hole trap with SZA for a while, telling myself this was it's only superpower - now it's definitely an area where it really does excel, likewise any very well produced electronic music with lots of layers and deep sub bass. The melodic synths, and vast amount of layers sound truly spectacular, it's no wonder I keep reaching for albums in this genre with SZA. I honestly don't think I've heard any other IEM sound as good as with this music - not even top tier IEMs such as Jewel or Traillii.



Tosca - Osam

This is a +10 minute track that features on the latest (excellent) album from Tosca. I love the entire album and it's been on repeat lately, very suited to the summer weather - the sort of album I can imagine playing at a beach bar in somewhere like Ibiza. Anyway, the kickdrums hit with excellent authority and impact - a nice heavy 'thud' which I can feel resonate through my head - a bit of a broken record now but I do have to use that 'WOW' word again here, it sounds bloody incredible... SZA has this wonderful ability to sound detailed, yet fun, emotive and highly engaging.



Conclusion

I guess my enthusiam for this set is pretty obvious if you've read as far as here. It's probably the most unique, and absolutely addictive IEM I've ever heard... but in my experience, it needs a bit of time to settle - as the old adage goes, "good things come to those who wait..." - well let me rephrase that for SZA >>> Great things come to those who persevere. If you buy SZA, and wonder what-the-heck was that guy Scuba waffling on about - please persevere - and btw, this is of course my own individual experience, many seem to love it right out of the box, and I suspect in my case it could be as I'm coming from a lot of listening lately to Aroma Jewel which is more reference and highly-resolving in comparison, and also far less 'fun' - but it depends on what you are seeking. Sometimes reviews can be hard to write, I've actually enjoyed this immensly as I've such huge appreciation for this wonderful IEM... well done Oriolus!

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Death_Block
Death_Block
I'd love to give these a listen. But that blue! It's so gaudy! Looks cheap.
szore
szore
The blue I think is better in person, it's actually rather classy looking to me...
MonsterArms
MonsterArms
Just bought this from Jaben yesterday. I came from westone w40 and beyerdynamic xelento. My source is ifi hip-dac from iphone. Before pulled the trigger, I auditioned campfire andromeda, vision ear VE7, and this oriolus szalayi. This SZA is my endgame for IEM, has wide soundstage and separation like westone and good punchy bass without muddled the middle like xelento. Overall I recommend this IEM a try for everyone.
Cheers!
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