TingPod or TP Audio... "Who?" I hear you ask. Yes, that was my reaction too when I was asked if I wanted to have a closer look at the Aurora IEMs made by TP Audio. The Chinese company based in Shanghai is a very new company, so new in fact that I could not even get their website to work for me and as far as I was aware they only had the one IEM available in a universal form. However, I soon learned that TP Audio would be making the Aurora available as CIEMs through the Singapore-based store Euphoria Audio. Knowing Euphoria as a store with a very high standard and equally high-end gear, I naturally became curious how this brand new company had been able to convince them with a US$350 single BA IEM. Not that I doubted that single BA IEMs at a reasonably affordable price could be really, really good because I had just reviewed the Custom Art FIBAE Black. Still, could the new kid on the block make an entry for itself that would leave a lasting impression?
I got in touch with TP Audio's Alvins Chi, who kindly sent me over some promotional material that provided more details on the company and the Aurora IEMs. As I understand it TP Audio combines the skills of a number of different experts with the aim of developing high-end IEMs that can compete on the global market, with the Aurora being their first entry. It was not until I received the Aurora and gave them a quick listen that I appreciated just how serious these guys must be because, spoiler alert, it is one heck of a first entry. In my honest opinion, the Aurora offer the complete package from great sound to a great fit to a great selection of accessories... Well, review done. Can I get back to listening now? Oh okay, I will do it properly. *sigh*
Joking aside, I have genuinely been enjoying these and they sit firmly in the 'outstanding value' category. So for the more sensible audiophiles among us (read: those who prefer the use of both their kidneys over new audio gear) the Aurora are another very interesting option to consider, so read on to find out why.
The Aurora come in a big box with the sort of styling that has been adopted quite widely in the industry these days. The box has a sleeve with the Aurora prominently displayed on the front. On the back are listed the specifications of the IEMs and images of six other colour options (a combination of shell and faceplate colour), making seven in total. Generally the colours have clear names such as "Mango" for yellow and "Lime" for bright green, but I did get a bit confused by the distinctly blue colour of "Cabbage". Can cabbages be blue? I should probably know this being a biologist and all, but I spent more time in the lab than I ever did in the field. In any case, it is a very nice and fresh (Sea?) blue colour. Not on the box, but in the promotional image I received were also shown the three colour options for the cable: black, white and blue, the latter matching the "Cabbage" IEMs to perfection. (Okay, I'll shut up about the vegetables now.)
Opening up the box reveals the IEMs displayed very handsomely above the included grey leather case. Inside the case was a bag of tips (3 sets of silicone and 3 sets of foam tips in total, a microfiber cloth, and a cleaning tool with a magnet that attaches it simply to the top of the lid. The case itself is great. I have seen these types of cases floating around a lot more these days and they are very convenient. Finally the box contained a user guide and TP Audio logo.
Build quality and fit
The promotional material states proudly that the shells were formed based on data collected from 4,000 individuals with 600 hours of comparative data analysis. So naturally I was highly sceptical because marketing materials are, well, marketing materials. It all has to sound flashy and deeply impressive, but my ears are ruthlessly critical... I often spend the first week just trying to find the right tips for a secure fit. Well, not this time. I popped them in with the medium silicone tips that were already installed and I have not changed anything since. For me these have pretty much the best fit I have experienced outside of my CIEMs. It is so incredibly comfortable. No doubt that it varies from person to person, but for me this is a superb fit.
The build quality feels very good, it is a solid feeling shell that is very smooth and the clear acrylic used for the shells is really clear so it gives a great view of the single driver and wiring. The Aurora use MMCX connectors and the cable is a very nice and supple one based on a thin gauge 8-wire configuration with solid feeling aluminium parts. The cable does have ear guides, but thankfully no memory wire. I am not sure what material the guides are made of, but I have not had many problems with it, even though I can get quite painful skin reactions from some PVC-based ear guides.
Overall the Aurora have been a joy to use and I have worn them for very long listening sessions without any issues to speak of.
Usually I stick to one main source for reviewing and maybe a few other sources to provide some insight into how the IEMs scale, but with the Aurora I ended up using three different sources quite extensively. My main review DAP these days is the Cowon Plenue 2, a neutral and detail-oriented DAP with outstanding technical strengths, with which the Aurora sounded incredibly good. However, I also spent a lot of time with a more affordable (but still high quality) DAP, the FiiO M11, which has a slight brightness to the tone. With this pairing the Aurora sounded a hint less natural and lacked some of the transparency they got with the P2, but ultimately I greatly enjoyed this pairing. The most musical pairing was with my "old" Astell&Kern AK70, which is a slightly warm/natural DAP and I really loved this pairing. A bit smoother and better transparency than with the M11 (though not at the level of transparency of the P2), and a hint more warmth than with the P2. All listening was done with the stock cable from the Single Ended (SE) out.
Often when I review items I will end up with a single term that captures the key characteristic of that item and if I would use one word to describe the Aurora it would be "faithful". The overall signature is what I would call neutral in the most faithful way possible. It is neither dry or technical like with reference IEMs, nor the type of warm-natural sound of my Phantom that is tailored towards timbre accuracy, and yet the Aurora seem to still do it all. I often read reviews where the reviewer states that those IEMs make it sound like they were sitting in the studio with the band. I have never had that with any of the IEMs I have heard, some gave a sense of a live performance, but none felt like I was sitting in the studio. The Aurora are the first to give me that sense and I will admit that I can't put my finger on why that is. I think it has to do with how every aspect of the presentation works together.
The stage is not the biggest I have heard, but certainly a good size. Moreover, the Aurora have an airy stage with excellent separation and detail retrieval, through which the stage is populated by instruments and vocals in a very natural way. I can easily pick out any instrument and even with highly complex classical pieces such as Brahms' Symphony No.4 the Aurora perform very well. Not quite at the level of some TOTL IEMs I have tried, but they get surprisingly close for their price point. Especially for band-based music the stage is populated extremely well and that is one aspect that gives the feeling of sitting there with the band. Another aspect is the tonality and timbre. It is so faithful that at times I find the instruments are almost tangible, something I feel especially with jazz music. Jazz Battle by Tuba Skinny is insanely good with these, as each instrument sounds spot on and they are separated perfectly, yet work together in the most musical way. And yes, the Aurora are extremely musical. For me these compete with the Custom Art FIBAE Black as the most musical IEMs I have heard.
The Aurora have, in my opinion, a very neutral bass response. The bass is not lacking, but neither does it present itself as the star of the show. Bass instruments sit at the back of the stage and yet still maintain a natural response to them. Indeed, if I listen to Bach's Cello Suites I hear a very natural and accurate sounding cello that does not have the fullness I often prefer, but sounds far from lean either. It is detailed and textured and I can hear both the specific playing techniques and the resonance inside the body of the cello. It sounds 'faithful'. The warmth is certainly less than I am used to with the Phantom, but when listening to Beethoven's 5th symphony I do not at any time find anything lacking in bass section. The tympani sounds full and impactful and its positioning feel really good, it is in the back, but never losing its impact on the piece.
Where I might feel the bass leaves me wanting a little more is when I listen to EDM or anything where I love a bit of rumble and weight to the bass response. The Aurora's bass does not dig very deep and there is hardly anything I would call a rumble. Now, I will admit that I am spoiled in this department and I can still very much enjoy the EDM, the bass is quick and agile enough to give it pace, it just lacks the depth and weight to feed my inner bass head.
There is a lot going on in the mids of the Aurora and as a lover of good mids these fill my heart with joy. The Aurora have a bit of a tilt towards the upper-mids, which puts more emphasis on violins and other brighter instruments. Going back to Beethoven's 5th this adds a sense of speed and excitement to it, while reducing some of the drama that is added by the warmer instruments. That is however compared to the warm IEMs I usually listen to, as I feel the balance with the Aurora is really good. Brighter than I would have previously thought I would find natural sounding, and yet that is exactly what I feel it sounds like, very natural. In this sense the Aurora remind of the Rhapsodio Eden, where I felt those challenged my idea of how a natural sound should be built up. The Aurora do not have the warmth to give instruments a natural fullness and yet they still sound very accurate. Moreover, because there is not a lot of warmth to the mids, separation and layering of the instruments is excellent, so each instrument's distinct tone comes through very clearly.
Vocals with the Aurora are also a real joy to listen to. They are quite forward and the Aurora definitely have an emphasis on vocals, but for my preferences it balances out really well with accompanying instruments. For the vocals themselves there is a good balance between male and female vocals, although male vocals do miss a little of the throatiness that is especially important for baritone and bass voices. At the same time, I did not feel like Eric Clapton's voice was lacking when listening to his acclaimed Unplugged album (which was an absolute joy to listen to). However, female vocals do feel like the star of the show in every way. Those are very clear and come through with great realism, again that faithfulness I keep mentioning. At times it is like sitting in the same room with the female performer.
The treble of the Aurora is a bit rolled off and not the most sparkling I have heard, but also not offensive in any way. It is a pleasant bit of sparkle, but I can imagine that some people might be left wanting by it. I am quite treble sensitive so I am generally easy to please, yet I will admit that I was a little disappointed by the sparkle I got when listening to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. It was a joy to listen to because of the wonderful mid-range, but did not quite get the Christmassy sparkle I love with this piece. In terms of the treble it was even quite dark sounding, a bit too far back and too quickly rolled off. Another example from the opposite end of the music spectrum (metal) might be Disturbed's A Welcome Burden, which has a lot of cymbals in it that with the Aurora are barely perceptible. It is a bit of a shame because I do not often find myself wanting more sparkle in the treble, but do with the Aurora.
-Custom Art FIBAE Black-
This is a really interesting comparison, as these are both single BA driver IEMs at around about the same price point (the Black are a bit more expensive at €450), both offer excellent value for money and both are incredibly musical. The Aurora are the more neutral of the two and the Black have a lift in the bass region to add a little warmth. The Black extend better at both ends and can give both a bit more of a rumble in the bass, as well as more sparkle in the treble. The soundstage of the Black feels slightly bigger, but the stage of the Aurora is cleaner. Where in my opinion the Aurora have a real edge is in that faithful reproduction of instruments and vocals, especially female. Male vocals have more throatiness with the Black, but with the Aurora vocals feel cleaner and clearer. The Aurora are also more detailed overall, while the Black exchange some detail in favour of a smoother, more organic sound. While both are very musical, I personally prefer the Black a little in that department because I like the extra bit of colouration to the sound. However, when it comes to jazz I just absolutely adore the Aurora. Is there a clear winner between these two? Let's just say that I feel very fortunate to have both available to me and do not have to make a choice.
The TP Audio Aurora have impressed me straight out of the box and continue to do so every time I listen to them. They are neutral with a very faithful reproduction of instruments and vocals. The stage is a good size, airy and feels very natural. The treble might be a little too rolled off though and so they lack some sparkle up top. Build quality feels top notch and the Aurora come with a very nice selection of accessories. Overall I feel the Aurora sit with IEMs like the Final E5000 and Custom Art FIBAE Black as great value IEMs that will make you love your music all over again. Definitely worth a (much) closer look!