disclaimer: The TRN v90 was sent for review. I have reviewed several TRN offerings in the past and have found them quite mixed with some like the v80 having definite potential and others like the X6 showing a bit less upside, so I went in with an open but some what skeptical mind regarding the v90.
Unboxing / Packaging:
Packaging on the v90 will be familiar to anyone who has bought anything from KZ, TRN, or several of the Chi-fi brandings. White slip-cover package with the line drawing of the earpiece on the front and specs on the reverse. Sliding the cover off shows the buds in a tray behind a clear shield. Accessories are hiding under the tray and in this case include manual, warranty card, three sets of tips, and cable. A fairly spartan package, but this is a budget model.
If the v90 is the follow-on to the v80 as the number implies, it sure looks like the v80 was the rough-out and the v90 got the finish treatment when it comes to build. About every aspect of build is improved. Gone are the squared edges and over-sized shell and the anodizing that sometimes matched and sometimes didn’t. The v90 is smaller by roughly 15%, nicely shaped with no squared edges save the bi-pin connector, and the anodizing is deep and well mated. Shells are 3 parts with faceplate, inner-shell, and nozzle. faceplate and inner shell are anodized aluminum while the nozzle is black plastic with a lip to hold tips. The basic shape is still the half circle with the nozzle at bottom front and the cable exiting top front. The rake of the nozzle is fairly steep in the forward direction but has no rake vertically. There is a small vent on the inner surface just above the nozzle and two larger vents on the outer shell also in line with the nozzle. One caveat, the small inner vent can be inadvertently sealed if the earpiece is pushed too far into the ear or a large double flanged tip can occlude it. If that vent is blocked, the sound changes significantly for the worse. It is a poor position for the vent as it forces the user to be conscious of it and adjust accordingly. I found the v90 comfortable for extended wear and that it stayed well during exercise. At least in build quality, the v90 is 10 points better than its predecessor (assuming 100 point scale).
The v90 is a 5 driver per side hybrid with a single 10mm dynamic driver with a graphene coated diaphragm handling the bass duties, a pair of 50060 balanced armatures that cover the mids, and a pair of the 30019 balanced armatures handling the treble details. An electronic crossover is built on the back of the dynamic driver and handles the signal distribution tasks to the drivers. Nominal impedance is listed as 22Ω with a sensitivity of 110 dB/mW. I found the v90 was acceptable directly from a phone or tablet, but does scale with better sources are really needs a bit more power than the average phone provides to do its best work. I’d recommend either something like the LG phone on high power output or some form of amplifier to really get the most out of the v90. Having said that, I did find that the noise floor needs to be fairly low or the v90 can show some hiss. it was not a good fit with the Burson Fun for example but did fine with the Euterpe with a 12au7 preamp tube installed.
The provided cable is an oxygen free copper braid with black coating in the double twist design up to the splitter where it leaves as 2 twisted pairs to the earhooks. Earpiece terminations are standard .75mm bi-bin connectors (not the hooded type that has become popular of late). The jack is a straight style with a black metal barrel with the TRN etched. The splitter matches the jack nicely and gives an overall subdued look to the cable. No chin slider or cable management is provided. While nothing out of the ordinary in today’s market, the cable is well put together and should serve nicely.
The v90 has bass emphasis that centers on the sub-bass region and then drops back as you move into the mid-bass with the emphasis fading from view at roughly the 400Hz mark as you move into the lower mids. Sub-bass extension is quite good with good texture, but can get a bit loose as it lacks a bit of speed that would help keep it tighter. The same goes for mid-bass, it has good quantity and reasonable texture, but suffers a bit from lack of speed in both attack and decay and can sound a bit boomy at times when the track tends toward it anyway. The v90 will please those looking for big rumble and slam, but will not please those looking for the most articulate and defined bass. Thankfully, bleed into the mids is very little as the mid-bass has dropped off its peak before the transition.
The drop that starts in the mid-bass continues into the lower mids with the lower-mids being the trough of the V. Once past the mid-point of the V, things start climbing back forward and as a result upper-mids are much more present in the mix than their lower counterparts. Male vocals are markedly behind their female counterparts and can at times seem a bit distant in the mix as a result. Those who prefer that vocals sit in line with the instrumentation will probably like the v90 a bit better than those who prefer a bit of a lift. Guitar has good growl when called upon, and acoustic guitar has good timbre but again can seem slightly distanced from the listener. Strings suffer a little as the recess keeps them from sounding entirely realistic but then again the tuning of the v90 is much more geared to pop/rock than orchestral so this isn’t a surprise.
This is where I was most interested in seeing what TRN had done with the v90. To me the v80 was a fairly good effort ruined by a grainy, over aggressive treble so would the v90 be more of the same? Happily, I can report that while the treble is still energetic, it is no longer overly so, and is much more polite than its ancestor. Lower treble is still pushed a bit forward but not annoyingly so, and above that it falls back and if anything is a bit recessed. This is a big change from the previous generation that had several smaller spikes and gave the treble a grainy nature. The v90 does have a lift at about 10kHz that adds some air back into the top end but has limited sparkle because of the treble tuning. Roll-off is fairly steep immediately after the 10k push so top end extension is average at best. Treble detail is fairly good with a nice clean delivery.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is limited with a bit more width than depth which is not surprising for a small, mostly closed in-ear. This is not helped by instrument separation being average at best due to the previously mentioned lack of speed in the low end dynamic driver. Instruments rendered by the BA drivers fair a little better as they have cleaner definition and a bit better separation as a result. Seating the orchestra has a few anomalies where instruments are more beside than behind each other, but overall is acceptable and spatial cues are well produced with movements around the stage being easily tracked.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Were this 2017, I would be telling you to go buy this earphone. It does a lot right, but in 2019, the Sub-$50 space has become crowded with models that do a lot right. The v90 is certainly better than the v80, and deserves consideration if you are looking for a new in-ear in this price range, but it shares that market with the ZSX and C12 both of which offer a bit more detail than the v90, the v2 which has recently been updated and has a more neutral tuning, and the BQ3 which sports a bit better top end extension. The good news is all of these are good sounding in-ears and any of them should provide hours of enjoyment. The bad news is, without knowing an individuals preferences, I can’t begin to tell them which one should be their choice. For TRN, the v90 is certainly movement in a positive direction and offers the user good value at the price point. End users have a lot of great choices to pick from, and the v90 expands that list.