Xiaomi Active Noise Canceling Headphones

Rating:
4.5/5,
  1. bait oven
    Excellent sound with ANC at insanely low price
    Written by bait oven
    Published Jul 3, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - -Good clarity and detail
    -Good mids and highs
    -Good soundstage and imaging for an iem
    -Durable metal design
    -Active noise Cancellation
    -Very cheap, excellent value for a great sounding ANC iem
    Cons - -Mid-bass lacks a bit of power
    -Noise cancelling only cancels out bass-mid frequencies.
    Disclaimer: All my reviews are based on my own opinion and are not and will never be corporately biased, even if companies sent me products (someday this dream will come true i hope haha).

    Note: This is a review of the 3.5mm jack version and NOT the USB C version which is built differently by another company (affiliated with Xiaomi), and apparently sounds bad according to OTHER reviews.
    I bought this iem with my own money, no company affiliated discounts.

    Specs:
    - Drivers (per side): 2 Balanced armatures + 2 Dynamic drivers??
    Xiaomi’s spec says ‘Dual moving coil + dual moving iron’ but I doubt there are 2 proper dynamic drivers since the housing is quite small. I reckon they meant dual layer diaphragm? On the other hand, it looks like it could fit 2 micro drivers inside or have a large dynamic driver at the front of the housing (near the nozzle) and one micro driver at the back. I will be dissecting the iem once they stop working and post my findings on here.​

    - Frequency range: 20Hz - 40kHz. ‘Hi-Res’ certified
    - Active noise cancelling
    - Battery life: 12 hrs
    - Cost: $42USD
    Which is the current price on Ali-Express, but you can get a $5 discount when you first sign up to Ali-Express. I’m quite sure this is the cheapest site to get the iem from though feel free to reply to let everyone else know if you find a cheaper site.​

    Packaging:
    Nothing fancy, rather minimalist but does the main job of protecting the iem as it is encased in clear plastic. Packaging is the same as Xiaomi's other iem's. Personally, I like the minimalist look.



    Accessories:

    Other than the tip already on the iem (a medium tip), there are 3 other tips (XS, S, L). All tips are silicon and have this oval shape which I have never seen before but fits nicely as I will describe later. A bag for storing the iem is also included. It's a nice feeling suede bag but is just too small to safely and quickly store the iem, you'd need to fold/coil the iem quite nicely to be able to fit it in the bag. Alternatively, you could get a KZ earphone hardcase for around $2 which would be worthier for an iem this nice to be stored in. The grey plastic mould that the iem is originally wrapped to which by the way has a very premium feeling silicone coat over it could technically be used as a storage for the iem but would be quite a hassle as you'd need to carefully wrap the cord around the mould every time.



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    Design and Build:

    The iem is built very well. The drivers housing is made predominantly of perfectly machined metal which gives it a weighty premium feel. I see quite a few people complain about metal housing in other iem's since they don't like the cold feel but i honestly find it cool and refreshing when initially inserting the iem, it does warm up to body temp after a few seconds anyways. After all, metal housing = durability. Plastic is used for the front part which attaches to the nozzle, a nice touch for those who dislike the cold metal feel. Looking from the bottom of the housing, there is a long vent slit. Despite this the isolation in passive mode is still decent, I’d say average or just below average. The nozzle itself is oval shaped which I assume is where the 2 BA’s are placed and stacked on top of one another.

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    The cable is fabric braided from the jack to the volume/play/pause unit and from then on its a silicone cable. I assume silicone was chosen to reduce cable noise (microphonics) while the rest was fabric braided to eliminate tangling. The Jack is gold plated and is attached to a nicely machined metal L shaped plug. The tag you see in the picture below has a QR code on the back which you can scan to verify that it's an authentic Xiaomi product.

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    The unit which houses the ANC circuit and the play/pause/volume buttons is also made of nicely machined metal and has a spring assisted clip on the back to attach to your collar or shirt pocket as the unit is a bit too weighty to hang free. There is a switch on the side of the unit where you can control 2 levels of ANC. Although I don't find any use for the intermediate level ANC function it is a very nice addition which i don't think you can find on any other ANC phones. Hats off to Xiaomi for their ability to somehow place the ANC circuit and a battery which last 12 hours into the volume/play/pause unit. All other ANC iem’s I’ve seen and even some ANC headphones have a bulky ANC circuit and battery unit located on the cord near the jack which is very inconvenient. Even Bose’s QC20 iem which cost 7 times more have this bulky design. There is also a small green light which turns on when ANC is on. It flashes red when power is low. You can use the ANC while charging its battery.

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    The only things i can fault is the cover of the charging port which is very hard if not impossible to open unless you have very long nails. I would have also liked the charging port to be USB C or Lightning or even better, a magnetic charge port (like the mac books). I find Micro USB very flimsy and for something this small, constant plugging and unplugging can increase the risk of damage and failure. Nevertheless, you can buy a cheap magnetic charger adapter for micro USB to overcome this like I did. Another flaw is the cable from the volume unit to the drivers housing is too long when the unit is clipped to the collar making the cable puff out which can look a bit funny? This does eliminate the cable rubbing against your shirt thus reduces cable noise (microphonics) so I’m pretty cool with that. In a way it also supports the weight of the driver + housing. On the other hand, the cable length is perfect when the unit is clipped to my shirts pocket. Did Xiaomi just assume we all wear shirts with pockets or am I just behind on fashion???

    Comfort and fit:
    Personally, I find these earphones very comfortable. The slightly angled nozzle prevents the housing from touching the auricle (outer ear) though I find all other non 'over the ear hooked' iems which doesn't have an angled nozzle fits perfectly anyways. I have relatively small ears so i personally find all 'over the ear hooked' iems uncomfortable as the housing sits 'inside' or against the auricle. Thankfully the Xiaomi is not an over ear iem.

    The oval ear tips fit very well. Initially it felt a bit weird but after a while it felt comfortable. I have tested them on my Remax S1 Pro iem's which does not have any vents and concluded that i was able to get a complete seal with the ear tips as the driver was not able to produce any sound when i deeply inserted the ear tips.

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    Sound:
    Before you continue reading, you can and should read my ‘about author’ page on head-fi to get a taste of my sound preference. You’ll also find the test tracks there. I have owned these for over a month now and have probably amassed at least 100+ hours listening to it. I initially burned them in for a day. Listening and tests was mainly done with my Xiaomi 4X phone using Spotify's extreme quality (320Kbps, 24bit, 48Khz?).

    According to TechManZ (a YouTube tech reviewer) these sound exactly like the Xiaomi Pro HD's? I haven't heard the Pro HD's but I have to say that the Xiaomi ANC iem's sound very nice. I’ve always had that preconceived notion that earphones would never sound as good as headphones, even when comparing a $100 iem to a decent $50 headphone due to iem’s small drivers and in ear insertion meaning zero soundstage. Well this is the first iem that changed my mind. Not saying these can sonically beat headphones but it is close and due to its portability, headphones weightiness, and the uncomfortable pressure headphones apply on/around my headphone, I find that I reach for the Xiaomi's more often than headphones.

    The Xiaomi ANC have exceptional detail and clarity thanks to the excellent mids and highs. There is plenty of detail thanks to the very good, prominent and far extending highs, yet Xiaomi has managed to keep the highs just below the point of sounding harsh. Cymbals and high hats have very good detail and do not sound splashy, sibilant, or harsh at all. Personally, I think vocals are the biggest star here. The vocals are well balanced amongst the rest of the frequencies and sound very clear yet natural. Acoustic guitars sound very clean and clear. Every sound can be heard such as the fret sound, the initial pluck sound, and fingers rubbing/hitting the strings.

    I was initially disappointed by the bass though. It sounded quite soft, especially the mid-bass which sounded like it had no power. Kick drums sounded damp, as if someone draped a dense piece of cloth over the front and back of the drum and barely put any pressure on the pedals. BUT I have now (after 1 month) realised why it sounded so bad. I did not insert the ear tips in deep enough to get a proper seal as the oval tips felt kind of weird at first.

    My ears are now fully accustomed to the ear tips shape, so I find them very comfortable and can 100% seal. I think burn-in both physical and mental burn-in might have also helped the bass. The bass sound exceptional now according to my taste. Sub bass extends deep and mid bass has a good balance between punchiness/tightness and boominess. I have recently compared the bass with my Sony mdr1A and Sony mdrzx600 headphones and found that the bass in the Xiaomi’s are just as good (in both quantity and quality) as that in the two headphones. However, the bass does not affect the mids or highs i.e. no bleeding. This means mental burn-in most likely did not play a role in enhancing the bass. Physical burn in of the driver may have enhanced the bass but I still think the fit/seal played the biggest roll. As the Sony headphones are a bit bass heavy (my preference) compared to neutral headphones, the Xiaomi’s could be considered bass heavy but overall, I’d say the Xiaomi’s sound natural and very fun/enjoying listening to. The Xiaomi really are an all-rounder which excels in everything I’ve listened to whether it be EDM, jazz, rock or classical music. Personally, I detest neutral sounding phones, it just sounds so sterile plus I believe the definition for neutral phones has now morphed into a cult of ‘crank up the mids + highs and banish the bass’ (look out for an upcoming rant thread).

    Now getting back on track, the Xiaomi’s sound airy where every instrument and vocal has lots of room to ‘breathe’ and imaging is very good. It’s as though you’re being surrounded by drawers and every instrument has its own compartment. Left/right separation and width is great, but depth and height is not that great as expected from iem’s.

    One of the best thing about the Xiaomi’s is that they sound exactly the same regardless if ANC is on or off. Deterioration of sound when ANC is turned on/off is a big problem with pretty much all ANC headphones/earphones so hats off to Xiaomi.

    Overall, I would give the iem an 8.75-9 out of 10. These have the potential to be a 10 by further improving the soundstage, instrumental separation, and maybe bringing out the midbass just a tiny bit more. I am satisfied with the current mid-bass, but it just ever so slightly feels like they lack power, like the dynamic driver can’t drive it to its full potential. It’s like a piano, the tone sounds best when you press the key deeply and at a moderate-moderately loud volume. If you press shallow or too soft or too loud the tonality will not sound as good. This is how I feel about the mid-bass, the Xiaomi’s slightly lack that drive.


    Isolation and noise cancellation:

    Isolation is average or just below average due to the long vent slit at the bottom of the drivers housing. Noise cancelling only blocks out the bass-low mid-range frequencies from 50-1500Hz as specified by Xiaomi. Xiaomi claim a >20db reduction of noise which I find true. They won’t be as good as the Bose QC series but the noise cancelling is definitely noticeable and worthy of use. I find it very useful on trains and buses where the ANC really help reduce the low frequency grumbling engine and air conditioner noise. This way I could maintain the same volume yet hear the bass which would usually be drowned out by the low frequency noises. I have also blasted airplane cabin noise on my sound system and found that the ANC performed quite well. There are 2 levels of noise cancelling (low, high) but I don’t see any use for it as the high-level ANC is already not that great anyways. The ANC barely blocks out any human voice or high frequency noises but the passive isolation does a decent job at that anyways. Xiaomi claims the battery life lasts 12 hours, but the longest I’ve used them for is 7 hours so I cannot verify this. To sum up, if the Bose QC’s block out 90% of noise, these block out 40-70% since it cannot block out the high frequencies. Though I have tested it on bass heavy music and can confirm that it can cancel around 80-90% of the bass.

    Comparisons:

    - Remax S1 Pro ($10 USD):
    The Xiaomi’s sound more refined than the Remax which cost 5 times less though perform similarly to the Xiaomi’s and very well for the price. Note that that the Remax only has one dynamic driver while Xiaomi has 2BA+2DD. The biggest differences is the airiness, separation and soundstage which the Xiaomi’s excel at while with the Remax everything sounds like it’s in your head. Left/right separation is also notably better with the Xiaomi’s. Tuning is like the Xiaomi’s with good balance of bass, mids, and highs where the latter 2 are not recessed at all. The high’s especially cymbals and high hats sound splashy, a little too forward, and harsh compared to the Xiaomi’s. Vocals on the Remax do not have as much airiness or room to breathe and sound a tad more grainy and unrefined. Bass wise they both perform very similarly with roughly the same quantity of bass though Remax’s bass esp. sub-bass sounds a bit unrefined, loose, and lacks that punch when compare to the Xiaomi. The Remax also overwhelms or bleeds into the mids by a tiny amount. I personally find its mid-bass a bit more punchy and likeable than the Xiaomi’s. Remax also has a wearing style that hooks over the ear so has a more stable fit. Its profile is also much smaller than the Xiaomi allowing it to rest in the ear thus you can sleep sideways with it. The biggest downside of the Remax is that when using it with my phone (Xiaomi 4x), it hisses whenever something is being played which ruins soft recordings such as classical music. I suspect this may be a source error as the hissing does not occur when playing music from my computer.

    Unless you are very short on money and/or want something that you can work out with due to its stability and cheap replaceability as you’ll be bashing these around, then get the Remax. Or you listen to music while sleeping which I don’t recommend unless you have some condition where music may help you sleep.

    Overall the sound quality differences are quite small, but I would highly recommend the Xiaomi’s. Not only do you have a more refined sound with better soundstage/imaging, but also a good noise cancelling iem for commuting.


    - Xiaomi Piston Fresh version ($5 USD):

    The Piston fresh sounds like it has a stronger bass quantity than the Xiaomi ANC’s. Though I suspect the two have the same amount of bass, just the Pistons highs and especially mids are quite recessed compared to the Xiaomi ANC thus giving an illusion of more bass. When compared to the Xiaomi ANC’s, the Pistons are definitely ‘V’ or ‘L’ shaped sounding with strong bass and recessed highs and especially mids. This makes it sound very fun with electronic and other bass heavy music. It can also be less fatiguing thanks to the recessed mids and highs though I do not find the Xiaomi ANC’s fatiguing at all. Unlike other dirt cheap iem’s that also suffer from recessed mids and highs, the Pistons highs and mids sound smooth and rather refined. In the end it is still recessed so micro details will be missing. Like the Xiaomi ANC’s, the Pistons are also well built with a nice silicon cable and a machined metal driver housing.

    If you’re on a tight budget and are looking for something that you can thrash around yet sound smooth, un-fatiguing and has a good amount of bass then get the Pistons.

    Otherwise I would highly recommend the Xiaomi ANC’s which have much better mids and highs plus you get active noise cancelling. For those on a budget who appreciate their mids and highs, get the Remax S1 Pro.


    Possible improvements:

    - Reducing the cable length which runs from the volume/ANC unit to the driver.
    - Reducing the weight of the volume/ANC unit by using plastic or lighter metal instead. This could eliminate the need for a clip as I find the weight of the current unit just a little to heavy to hang free. If it was a few grams lighter, it would be comfortable enough to hang free.
    - Sound wise although it is nearly perfect (for this price it is more than perfect), if the instrumental separation, soundstage, and mid-bass could be even better, these can be one of the best earphones to exist (of course this could be said for every other earphone)
    - Removable cable! At this price that would be impossible plus I don’t know if that can be done with ANC earphones but I would love removable cables in case it breaks so that I can use these forever. But hey Xiaomi, you were able to fit the ANC circuit plus a 12-hour battery in the tiny volume unit so anything’s possible right? I wouldn’t mind paying a few more bucks.​

    Summary:
    Would I recommend these? Most definitely!!! This thing just oozes value. For $42 the drivers don’t spit out sound, they spit out dollar bills. Even if you don’t commute these would be worth it just for the sound, especially for those who love clear mids and highs. Unlike the BOSE QC series which deteriorates in sound when used in passive mode, the Xiaomi’s still sound great when used passively. As a commuter I find it a big safety feature as I can listen in passive mode to increase my awareness when on night trains or walking on busy streets. Yet I don’t need to sacrifice sound quality.
    Finally hats off to Xiaomi for creating such a fine ANC iem at an insanely low price!