Xiaomi Pistons 3.0 in-ear headphones

Pros: Bass is epically scaled. Mids are luscious. Sound staging is amazing.
Cons: Bass moves so much air it wears me out. Treble is kinda so so in comparison.

Xiaomi Piston 3 Quick Review
 
Thanks to GearBest for the sample.
 
Full review here http://www.head-fi.org/t/775172/xiaomi-piston-3-review-by-mark2410
 
Brief:  3rd times the charm.
 
Price:  US$15 or £10 (roughly)
 
Specification:  Connectivity : Wired, Connecting interface : 3.5mm, Application : Portable Media Player, Computer, Mobile Phone, Plug interface: Full-sized, Cable length : 1.25m, Frequency response : 20~20KHz, Impedance : 32ohms, Sensitivity : 98 dB, Output power: 5mW
 
Accessories:  4 pairs of tips.  Plus the case and cable wrap thing if you wish to count them.
 
Build Quality:  Par excellence.  As good a quality as you’d find on things ten times the price.
 
Isolation:  Meh.  It’s passable but I’d worry about being that guy on the bus blasting music out.  Sure it’s an IEM so it’s vastly better than buds but it’s not a big isolator.  Obviously it’s more than enough to get yourself run over if you don’t use your eyes though.
 
Comfort/Fit:  Great.  Wore them up mostly and had zero issues.  As they are well vented that wasn’t a surprise.  Plus I slapped olives on them, which I love.
 
Aesthetics:  A little plain.  The 2 was in some colours so blingy, this feels much more mature looking, maybe a bit more sophisticated.  Mostly it’s not very eye catching.
 
Sound:  I’m a bit lost for words.  Sure it’s bassy, too bassy for me but not crazily so.  Its mids are good, god they really are good, the instrument separation here is a bit of a jaw dropper.  They have a bit of a W shaped sound (slanted to the bass obv.) but there is no mid/bass bleeding together.  Vocals are so cleanly separate and distinct.  The sound staging is just superb.  Real scale and space for things to be displayed before you.  The vocals so centre place and unencumbered.  Gosh, vocal centric, soft bassy lingering bass lines and vocals cling on to the very end.  It’s a bit over sumptuous and dark but god, for a tenner, bugger me!  Laura Michelle Kelly’s “The Storm Inside” album is a stunner, showy, achingly longing and lingering, draped over a chaise longue.  She’s no world class vocalist, very musical theatre and a touch hammy but the Piston 3’s make her a wondrously captivating listen.  Flicking to popy bass centric stuff and the bass comes rip roaringly out to play.  That scale and space, the sound staging throws so much air movement at you.  The bass is in strict terms big but not stupidly so however the air moment means your ears are as much feeling as “hearing” it.  So they have so much more convincing bass to those not used to IEM’s.  There is a master tuner behind these.
 
Value:  I have had to check the price a few times because I thought there must be a mistake.  I don’t know how these can be paid for and shipped for a tenner (£10) I just don’t.  Oh btw that’s US$15.  Is Xiaomi selling these things as a loss leader for their phones?
 
Pro’s:   Bass is epically scaled.  Mids are luscious.  Sound staging is amazing.
 
Con’s:  Bass moves so much air it wears me out.  Treble is kinda so so in comparison.
Badfish5446
Badfish5446
Nice review, I picked these up as well.  I haven't given them much time as I picked up the Zero-Audio Carbo Tenore at the same time.  What limited time I have spent with the 3.0's I find them to punch way above their weight class.  Same story with the Tenore's, if the build quality was better on those they could easily fetch $100.  I paid $20 for the 3.0's and $31 (USD) for the Tenore's.  Both certified bang for your buck audio.

grahamnp

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sound, price
Cons: Isolation, poor stock tips
They have a nice looking design with materials that suit the asking price but they appear to be a step down from previous models.  Still, I can't really complain about the build as it's still superior to many earphones in this price range, many of which sound much worse.  There is now more plastic than metal, even on the metallic looking bits like the microphone pod and jack but for the price, these concessions can be forgiven.  The lack of strain reliefs anywhere on the earphone are of concern to me but time will tell if they are really worth worrying about.
 
The fit is reasonably comfortable and this is coming from somebody who has not worn a cable-down earphone for years.  Thankfully, the design keeps the cables off the side of my face which is my main annoyance with cable-down designs.  Unfortunately, microphonic noise is very present on both the cable and the earpiece itself (when you lie on your side) and the cable-down design does nothing to alleviate this.
 
Isolation is poor to average and not helped by the stock tips which have very thin walls.  I've replaced them with the tips that came with my RHA MA750s and they are giving a much more secure fit and a boost in isolation.
 
The sound is the real surprise given the price.  It's a bass dominated sound but it doesn't completely overpower the lower mids and that's commendable for an earphone of this class.  However there is some serious thump and it's a bit fatiguing at first, I'm still not sure if I'm completely used to it.  Detail levels are high for this price point and I'm surprised by the open and spacious sound given the bass heavy signature.  Imaging is mediocre but because of the spacious sound, I still quite enjoying watching videos with this earphone on in bed. I find myself turning to this one and ignoring my better sounding pairs for this alone.  The mids sound a bit distant thanks to the large bass and the earphone generally doesn't call much attention to the treble region which is how I like it if the earphone isn't going to do it well.  Many cheaper earphones fail in that regard, I feel like the right compromises were made with the overall sound presentation of this pair.
 
To sum up, the bass is a bit boomy but it's a generally inoffensive sound.  The rate at which Xiaomi is improving the quality of their cheap earphones year on year is staggering.  I would have paid over a 100 dollars for this sound quality 5 years ago.

Redcarmoose

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Enjoyable sound, amazing build quality, they actually fit well.
Cons: At this price?
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The Piston 3 IEM Manufactured in China by Xiaomi

When buyers here at Head-Fi get group momentum on a product, the buzz can get away from reality. The Piston headphones have reached a phenomena of size and hype. So let me place another log into that fire. Why? Because there is hype for good reasons and hype misleading. Over the years many of us have succumbed to the pressure of sonic happiness.
The issue gets multiplied if the product is low cost. If you were asking how and questioning the reasoning of the cost to sound-quality ratio here, I have a simple answer. Xiaomi is the largest manufacture of cellphones in China. The cellphone sales bypass both Apple and Samsung phones in China. Such a company as Xiaomi can mass produce and market an IEM. Due to the design and production scale we witness an audio bargain which is out of the ordinary.

Let's get down to it. Everyone is game for great sounding, low cost IEMs, right? The only detriment here is making sure you actually get your hands on the real Piston 3s and not a cheap fake set. I'm not going to list how the Piston 3s are a world class sounding IEM for $20. What they really are is an enjoyable sound, and really well built.


Build Quality:

Our best of effort still leads us into product failure. We as audiophiles just put up with the fact that stuff is delicate and does not last forever. Audiophiles in general are easy going consumers. Much of the time we feel like a special group who will make compromises for design or service shortcomings as long is the sound is good. There is no worry in build regard here. I have never seen such build quality at even five times the price.

The plug is gold plated and is fit into a sold chunk of aluminum. The plug is rock solid as well as connected to a thin rubber stress relief upon finding the cable exiting the plug. Many are confused as to where the Kevlar is in regards to the braided cable. As far as I can determine it is actually strands of Kevlar which are then wrapped with the enameled copper wire. This completely makes sense as you can feel the sturdy character of the cable. I write this after keeping one of my pairs of Piston 3s in my pocket for two months without issue. They have been knocking around in my pocket between uses so much that the driver housings even have thousands of scratches like a 1950 copper penny, yet they fail to fail. Go guess?

As we make our way up the copper wrapped Kevlar we reach a Y split. This aluminum Y area can be a real issue for many builds as you have pulling and stress coming from three directions. I'm not going to mention names, but remember your IEM is only as strong as the weakest point. Right before the braided cable goes up to the Y you also have a nice rubber stress relief ring. Exiting the Y the cable ends up being rubber coated, the right side contains the Android control wand and they end at another nice stress relief part at the individual ear drivers. Each aluminum part is anodized grey and contain a series of super-small micro-burnished lines traveling the circumference of each piece. This, so fine as invisible machined score adds a tactile grip as well as seem to verify the originality of the product. Many have issues with the control wand being too high up on the cord and the buttons being too small. I don't use it, so it is fine.

The monitor pieces themselves are fairly lightweight and ergonomic. Ergonomic as you actually have a place to mount your finger when pushing them into your ear. This aluminum backside offers a nice accent as well holding the "ring" air-port. If there was one issue here it would be the quality of the rubber tips they give you in the package. Even if you end up finding the tip that fits you, the stiffness of the rubber tip will be lacking due to thinness of material, not letting you get a correct seal at any place. It seems these IEM tips need to produce an outer pressure to enable air-tight fit. With a loss of fit, bass detail and amount will suffer. Even though you have small right and left symbols on each driver, the asymmetrical shape of each driver allow a fast right and left choice for each ear. Taking note of the in-line remote also aids in discovery of the right IEM driver. With the correct tip addition, ear placement should be easy. Due to the size and weight of the Piston 3s, they just stay placed in your ears. Simple and easy adjustments can be made if you feel you need better tip placement. Still it is just a simple single finger push on the aluminum outside disk which allows for perfect placement in adjustment.


My suggestion is try a number of tips from your collection to land on a good combination of size and fit. If needed, these IEMs would benefit from an aftermarket set of tips just to find the perfect fit.





Test Music Used:
Classical, Dance, Classic Rock, New Age, Extreme Heavy Metal, Industrial.




Equipment Used:
Apple IPhone 4
Apple MacBook Pro
Apple IPod Touch 5th Generation with FLAC Player and 320kbps MP3 files
JDS Laps c420 Op-amp
Cambridge Audio DAC Magic Plus (In direct out and headphone amp mode)
Schiit Audio Asgard One Home Headphone Amp


Formats Used:
High Resolution 24 bit 96kHz
16 bit 44.1kHz Redbook Audio via Compact Disk
320kbps MP3 files



The Sound:
They need burn in to get to a tone where the bass has both detail and depth. There is also a substantial increase in bass after both psychological burn in and physical material burn in. Also it may take a while until you have that moment when you discover you actually like the sound signature. Simply speaking there is treble but not a ton of detail treble. There is a receded mid-range which may be just too much for some. They are described as having a slightly V shaped signature but also an increase in bass detail from some IEMs which are considered V shaped. So it's this lower mid bass detail that ends up being the redeeming factor in the signature. This one single element ends up giving the IEMs a great synergy with rock and dance music. They also excel at metal genres and drone music. This is taking place in occurrence with the sound stage of the bass. There is a nice placement and detail which in the end makes up for any harmonic loss in treble detail. It actually makes you wonder if your hearing this lower mid detail due to the lack of upper mid and treble detail. Still these end up being a go to IEM mainly due to their ability to do all the genres and the fact that they do multiple sound qualities well. These are not going to show you much of the recording pitfalls. At the same time they do love to scale with better equipment. Giving them a high quality source and a powerful home amp allows that lower mid and bass sound-stage to bloom out.

The way they scale with better equipment is nothing short of fantastic. After mental and physical burn in, trying them on better equipment will have you questioning if your really listening to $20 IEMs.


If I was to fault the signature it would be a slight loss in over all upper harmonics. The treble just comes off a little one layered. Never too bright or strident but lacking in some detail. The great part is you never seem to hear much distortion in the treble. Not much distortion in the lower bass areas either. This clarity is the overall redeeming factor keeping the enthusiasm going day in and day out, month in and month out. It's just the fact that the signature does not do anything really wrong. It also fails to have any truly outstanding qualities until you factor in the price and the build quality then excellence starts to rise.

As far as lower mids, there is a detail complexity which is a form of real entertainment and fun in place. A warm lower mid-area which has slight nice complex distortions and sound-stage. This I suspect is the factor which lets us enjoy those lower than 320kbps files as well as bad recordings? The ending result is they are just fun and dynamic IEMs to have around. Still that complexity in the lower mids may even have you question the ability of your more expensive headphones once you get addicted to the Piston 3s on a daily basis.

These are open backed IEMs so there is not a whole lot of sound isolation going on. Walking the street though this openness ends up being a nice safe factor. It ends up being a double edged sword giving you the sound-stage but lacking in over all noise reduction in loud public places.

Efficiency:
I would place them somewhere in the middle as far as responsiveness to signal. They are able to reach a more than loud level from an Apple phone or IPod Touch. Still again, getting them a more powerful signal either from a portable amp or home amplifier will suggest just how much your loosing listening straight out of a phone on a daily basis.



To summarize:
A super strong well built pair of low cost IEMs with a fun signature that never gets too boring or stale. They look nice and would make a great gift for folks who like IEMs.

There seems to be a level of quality perception after some time. There are many reports of members describing how the sound-stage just all of a sudden opens-up and transforms slightly into another animal? I have noticed such a phenomena, but have little understanding as to why such a perception would occur. Words of wisdom though suggest these headphones may come off as a little underwhelming upon first listen and require further sonic investigations before opinions can be made.


To Summarize Positives:
Maybe the best value on audio I have ever made before?
Nice detail and over all sonic placement.
The build.
Sound unexpectedly seems to get better with use?
They have a quality look and feel well above the price point.
Daily use is easy and not complicated.
Price,price,price.

To Summarize Drawbacks:
Tips included fail to work in a correct fashion.
Unless purchased from a known dealer, there is a chance of getting fake Piston 3s.
The in-line remote has small buttons and only works fully with Android systems.
There may be a lack of middle tone levels for some listeners.
There may be a lack of treble complexity for some listeners.


Update 04/02/17

So it's been a couple years and finally I stumbled upon the ultimate tweak to get optimal sound from the Piston 3.

The Answer:

Simply switch to Sony Hybrid Tips. The difference between all the different tips is really profound. What I think is happening is the hybrids not only get a bass seal but push the nozzle end way out to the front of the tip. Anyone who knows, knows this type of nozzle placement actually expands out the treble detail into a bigger soundstage. Putting a long narrow tip will actually increase bass and reduce treble detail, which is not the way we want to modify the sound signature. The Sony Hybrids actually take the bass and make it more detailed along with the treble enhancement.
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MakeTotlDestroy

New Head-Fier
Pros: Value for money, Amazing sound especially the mids, Solid build quality
Cons: At this price, None
So i bought the pistons 3 a week ago. The unboxing experience was stellar just like the older version, I was slightly disappointed that the chocolate smell was not present. Oh Well!!
 
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Build Quality:
 
Build Quality is really good in my opinion. The braided cable feels durable and the strain reliefs seem adequete. I know that these are not made of metal, but I'm perfectly happy with the matte black plastic material. It has that understated look that i really like. You get three extra eartips at small, medium and large.
 
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Comfort & Fit:
 
I think this is the most significant improvement from the previous version. It fits a lot better, like a loooot better. The P2 used to graze my ear at times, the P3 are perfect though. The cable does let out some audible wind noise quite a bit though. Isolation is decent, not as good as my RHA MA750i ( which is goes around your ear)
 
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Sound Quality:
 
The sound quality is better in all aspects when compared to the Pistons 2. The Mids are no longer recessed which i really like. The Bass is tighter and punchier and the highs are not sibilant. This results in a really natural sounding and pleasing sound signature which sounds more fuller and neutralish when compares to the P2. The  Soundstage, seperation and details are also higher.
 
When compared to the pricier Sennheiser CX 3, the CX 3 is technically superior with more detail, soundstage and punchier bass, but i prefer the natural sound signature of the pistons 3 over the V shaped signature of the CX 3 the mids of which are quite recessed. The build quality also seems better than the CX 3, so i found myself listening to the pistons 3 more.
 
Conclusion:
 
Overall the new Xiaomi IEM's offer fantastic value which punches way above its price range in sound and build quality. Another Giant Killer, Well done Xiaomi!! 
 
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twister6

twister6 Reviews
Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: great design, balanced sound sig with a mid-forward touch, open airy soundstage, comfortable fitment, full Android support (w/volume control)
Cons: inline remote buttons are too close, not as much bass impact as original Pistons 2
Here is a Review of Xiaomi Pistons 3.0 in-ear headphones.
 
Released last year, Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 took everyone by surprise with their budget priced in-ear headphones that had everything from a unique design and packaging, solid build, full Android controls (including volume), and commercial tuning with an enhanced bass and a clear sound.  It also stirred up a controversy where, after the initial wave of success, eBay and Amazon were flooded with counterfeits sold at nearly the same price as original.  I have a feeling history is going to repeat itself with Pistons 3.0, so please buy only from trusted sources (my pair of Pistons 3.0 is from Penon Audio http://penonaudio.com/xiaomi-piston-3.0).  Another discovery with the original Pistons 2.0 for me was the first time I heard a phrase “giant killer” meaning budget priced headphones that can go head-to-head with others at much higher price.  Despite if Pistons 2.0 sound was or wasn’t  your cup of tea, or like myself you modded Pistons 2.0 by removing a filter to make sound brighter and more detailed – Xiaomi set a high bar with a product for under $30 without too many compromises.  Now, they are back with Pistons 3.0 trying to see if they can hold on to their crown.  So, is Pistons 3.0 (P3) an upgrade to Pistons 2.0 (P2)?  Is this still a great value for under $30?  How does it compare to a slew of other “giant killers” released in the last year?  Let’s take a closer look to find out the answers to these questions.
 
Starting with a packaging, you won’t find anything different by unfolding the crossed flaps of the packaging wrap that contains all the instructions printed on the inner side.  It’s exactly how P2 was wrapped, and I’m glad they are continuing with environmentally safe packaging.  A storage box inside with a clear plastic cover is identical to P2 as well, showcasing P3 sitting inside of a square rubber insert piece.  You can actually refer to this rubber piece as a spool because it has a clever groove around the edge where you wrap around the cable.  The only difference this time - it smells like plastic and not like chocolate (that was rather unique with P2).  Though I do appreciate a neat way of how cable was wrapped around, I wouldn’t keep it like this after headphone use since it takes time and patience to wrap it up correctly, and I’m also afraid of cable memory effect.
 
Unboxing.
 
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Included accessories are just 4 pairs of eartips, XS/S/M/L.  The bottom of the box has 3 pairs of eartip stems so you can organize them easily.  Also, the box itself minus the spool insert can make a decent storage case for these headphones.
 
Accessories.
 
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Aside from packaging and "Pistons" name, that's where all obvious similarities end between P2 and P3.  Starting with a connector, you have a slim 3.5mm headphone jack with a nice strain relief and a fine laser etched housing that has a non-slippery grip.  From the connector, you will find a fine braided cloth sheathing cable going up to the y-splitter that has nice strain relief on a common side and no strain relief after the split.  Splitter here is designed as a small capsule, unlike P2 which has inline remote and mic built into it.  I was never a fan of inline remote being at the splitter level in P2 because I had to bring it up closer to my mouth when using a phone, otherwise it was picking up too much outside noise.
 
Cable going to earpieces is rounded with a soft flexible rubber jacket.  Right side has inline remote which I was pleased to see closer to my mouth.  The remote has a nice slim cylindrical design, but unlike P2 where volume and multi-function control buttons were partitioned on opposite sides, P3 buttons are all in-line.  I find this arrangement a bit hard to feel when sliding your finger (even with a little bump on multi-function button), but did get used to it after awhile remembering to push either in the middle for multi-function control or on the sides for a volume control.  Speaking of controls, it works flawless with my Note 4 and should be the same with most of the other popular Android phones where volume up/down changes the volume, single click on the middle button does Play/Pause/Call, double click to skip next, and triple click to skip back, while long press starts Google Search.  I'm sure multi-function button will work the same for iDevices, just volume up/down will not be supported.  As for built-in mic and quality of phone calls, they were pretty good.
 
Moving up to earpieces, they also have a nice strain relief.  Looking closer you will see that only outer shell plate is aluminum while the rest is made out of a plastic.  Beside pinhole port next to the nozzle, the back has an interesting design suggesting it has an open port which definitely contributes to a great soundstage.  At the same time, sound leakage from the back is also noticeable.  The same goes for sound isolation since you can hear outside noise as well, though attenuated.  One gripe with a design that I do have, even though nozzle is angled and shells are not symmetrical, there is no easy way to distinguish L/R by touch like it was in P2 with a bump on R strain relief.  Here you either have to remember that in-line remote is on a right side or look closer at inside of the shell for a stamped L/R letters.
 
Design.
 
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The headphone fitment doesn't stick out too much outside of the ear, and very comfortable to wear even when you are lying in bed with ear on a pillow.  The default style of wearing them is wire down, but you can also wear them wire up if you switch L/R sides (due to asymmetrical angled nozzle design).
 
Wire up/down wear.
 
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Of course, the biggest difference between P2 and P3 is in sound tuning.  If you “enjoyed” the original bass bloat of P2 with its spillage into lower mids, you will be a bit “disappointed” since P3 has been updated with a nicely balanced sound signature that also has a touch of mid-centric flavor.  Just don't jump into a conclusion right out of the box - 50hr burn-in will show a noticeable change especially when it comes to bass settling down.  My usual advice, run a free-air (just leave it on your desk or somewhere else) burn-in for 2 days in a row playing your favorite tune at above the average volume level.  Extended burn in while listening is good, but you will not notice as drastic change due to a brain burn-in.
 
In more details, low end in P3 is definitely north of neutral and has a nice balance between moderate sub-bass crunch and a little bump in mid-bass (with a fast attack).  Bass is well control, not exaggerated, and doesn't spill into mids.  Mids are sweet, detailed, bright, slightly forward, with warmth from low end giving them a nice support with a full body.  Upper mids strike a perfect balance between bright and smooth.  The same at the top, treble has a nice extension and appears to be bright, but it's not harsh or grainy, and has absolutely no sign of sibilance.  It's not analytical bright, but rather smooth bright, and ear-friendly for extended listening sessions.
 
As I mentioned before, due to their design, soundstage is wide open with a rather airy sound and a decent layering and separation.  Width and depth are definitely above the average, though I hear staging to be a little wider than deeper.  Amping definitely not required, and they are easy to drive from any source, but I do have to note their sensitivity at 98dB is slightly lower than average IEM, so volume needs to be raised a little bit higher.  My Note 4 handled it just like other IEMs, but with X5 and out of laptop while testing I had to raise the volume higher in comparison to other headphones.
 
And speaking of other headphones, I put Pistons 3 against a few other giant killers, and here is how I hear it.
 
- Piston 3 vs Piston 2 (modded w/o filter): P2 bass is more exaggerated and spills into lower mids, P2 mids are more recessed (v-shaped sound), and upper mids/treble sounds harsher and less organic.  P2 staging is narrower.
 
- Piston 3 vs KZ EDSE: KZ has a stronger mid-bass punch where the bass hump is a little more dominant and mids pushed a little more back.  Upper mids/treble in KZ is brighter and a little more detailed, though a bit harsher in comparison to P3.  P3 soundstage is a little wider/deeper.
 
- Piston 3 vs VSD3: VSD3 has more sub-bass and faster/stronger mid-bass, slightly pushed back mids (in comparison to P3), brighter upper mids/treble.  Soundstage is similar.
 
- Piston 3 vs E10: E10 has a little more sub-bass, a similar presentation of mids (though P3 is smoother), and a similar tuning of the treble.  E10 soundstage is a little narrower and feels more intimate.
 
- Piston 3 vs KC06A: KC06A has more mid-bass punch, mids/treble are not as smooth - brighter and a bit more detailed (though less organic).  Also, KC06A has less depth in soundstage.
 
Overall, I think you will not be disappointed with a new version of Pistons 3.0.  Personally, I didn't find P3 to be an upgrade from P2, but rather a side-grade with a whole new look/design and a different sound signature.  I still value Pistons 2.0 and use them quite often when watching Netflix on my Note 4 because I like a wider soundstage and deeper bass with movies (the reason why I also continue using Dolphins to watch tv).  But when it comes to listening to music, Pistons 3.0 would be my choice of preference because of their more balanced sound signature and more organic mid-forward brighter sound that is suited for any music genre (as long as you don't expect a deeper bass).  When Pistons 2.0 were released - people noticed them because of the budget price, standout design, and build quality.  With Pistons 3.0, Xiaomi took this winning formula to another level with a more coherent sound for everyday listening pleasure on the go.
earfonia
earfonia
I was looking for Xiaomi P3 review. Thanks for your review!
Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
Thank-you. Liked your review, purchased a pair.:heart_eyes:
AbdullaSaleh
AbdullaSaleh
nice review, I would like to buy one these low price iem for my phone,
please  compare T3 to piston 3 ?

Opisthenar

New Head-Fier
Pros: Snappy percussion, flavorful bass, crystal highs. Good overall construction.
Cons: Unimpressive earbud-level soundstage, mids quite veiled. Metallic finish can scratch if under abuse.
Oh man, where do I start with these? 
 
TL;DR: For its price, which floats around $20, it's a little hard to beat. 
 
ReviewWhile I gave these earbuds a rather positive review, there's definitely more to the story. 
 
In terms of sound quality, these little guys are pretty nice, and if anything they are fun to listen to. Sporting a deliciously V-shaped sound signature, they offer some crispy crystal highs and deep idiosyncratic bass that is typically unheard of in earbuds at this price. For the purpose of this review, I listened to a couple lossless tracks that I feel prove my point with the Piston 3's connected to a Fiio K1 portable DAC/amp:
 
1. Clozee - Aspara Calling: Clarity of high percussions is evident here and extremely pleasant. The percussion in general is very succinct and fun to listen to. High-mids are powerful and rich. When all layers begin to com together, the narrow soundstage begins to become uncomfortably apparent. The mids are veiled, but due to the nature of this song, it's not very apparent.
2. Alina Baraz & Galimatias - Fantasy: Amazingly rich highs and lows throughout the piece, very fun. Bass can be felt quite much more strongly compared to other earbuds of this price. Soundstage is piss poor and detracts from the wonderful contrast between the highs and lows.
 
Ultimately, a few hours of using these headphones reveal that the biggest problem with the sound quality on these headphones is the sound signature coupled with the poor soundstage. The highs and lows are absolutely clear and accurate, making these headphones very colored and fun to listen to, but these earbuds don't capitalize on its strength by providing a large sound stage.
 
Now, the reason I'm being so critical of the earbuds while I gave it such a high review is due to the fact that I'm grading them as though I would a circumaural open ear pair of cans. Which these are not. So don't go around expect that these will sound like a pair of AKG K7xx, because they won't. The reason I'm giving such a high score is simply because you don't really get earbuds better than this for $20, while I'm certain they exist. 

Bagheera

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Fantastic sound quality for the price. Comfort, materials, and build quality are all top-notch - I wouldn't complain even if these costed $100.
Cons: Tonality isn't as balanced and natural as higher-end sets. Instrument timbre can be a tad unnatural due to recessed mids & overly energetic treble.
A quick background on my purchase: I have been looking to get a decent pair of earphones for on the go. Since I have some decent full-sized cans at home, I can't exactly deal with crappy-sounding earbuds.
 
I did not have a budget in mind, and was willing to spend upward to $200 for a nice pair of in-ears. However, I do not believe expensive = good sound, and was willing to try out a bunch of well-reviewed earphones in different price tiers. After reading an extensive number of reviews, I narrowed down my choices to the following: Xiaomi Piston 3, Yamaha EPH-100, and the Dunu DN-1000
 
Now, the Xiaomi Piston sets (both the Piston 2 and Piston 3) have popped up again and again as recommendations in IEM reviews, but unfortunately I was a bit skeptical because of their price ($20 according to most sites, though I found mine on GearBest for even cheaper - $12). Regardless, the Xiaomi I ordered ended up being the last one to arrive, so I tried the Yamaha and the Dunu first.

The Yamaha EPH-100 I received was a potential counterfeit, since it was an open-box item and has the pronounced grooves on the housing, and I simply don't think they sounded any good - enough to draw suspicion. So I will not include the Yamaha in my comparisons.
 
The Dunu DN-1000 ($160 brand new from Amazon) on the other hand sounded absolutely fantastic, and right off the bat I knew it was a keeper. The Xiaomi Piston 3 had a VERY tough job measuring up to the Dunu for sure - in fact I was quite sure I would give it a few minutes when it arrives, go "Meh..." and put them aside. No big loss for $12, right?
 
Boy, was I wrong.
 
Accessories, Craftsmanship & Comfort
 ​
The packaging is very tasteful and luxurious for this price - the acrylic carrying case with the silicone cord wrapper is very classy and good-looking. The accessories is barebone: 4 pairs of eartips, but that's frankly more than adequate at this price range (and due to the superb comfort level, you really don't need to mess around with the tips like you would on earphones with fit issues).
 
Materials and craftsmanship are all top-notch. The Piston 3 uses a lot of metal - and while the housing has more plastic than the Piston 2, I find the design to be better-looking (and reportedly the Piston 3 is far more comfortable). Plenty of earphones in the sub-$100 category feel more tacky and plasticy than this.
 
Of the three IEMs I tried, the Piston 3 is actually by far the most comfortable and easiest to fit. To be fair, it has the most shallow fit of the three, but it sits very snug in the ears without putting too much pressure. Superb ergonomics.
 
Sound Quality
 
The Piston 3 is reportedly much more balanced than the Piston 2. I haven't heard the Piston 2, though the reviews on Headphonelist kind of gave the impression that Piston 3 may be relatively bass-light (just north of neutral). This was not the case at all: The Piston 3 actually has a LOT of bass (more so than I am used to; to be fair my full-sized cans are not bassy sets), and retains pretty good control over it considering the quantity. I would actually rate its bass quantity to be on-par with the Dunu DN-1000, although tightness and extension is not as good.
 
Mid-range and treble clarity is excellent; these are not muddy-sounding in the least. I simply cannot imagining getting a better sound for this kind of money.
 
Nit-picks? Sure, there are a few issues. My biggest gripe with the Piston 3 is there's too much lower-treble energy relative to the mids, which causes certain instruments to sound too sharp/metallic and unnatural. Depending on the recording, metallic instruments can sound a tad "splashy" while strings (particularly violins) can sound a bit screechy. I also noticed some unnatural artifacts in certain tracks (soundtrack from Gravity for example) that seems to be the result of peaks in the treble. All in all it's not bad, and only surfaces during certain recordings, but it's something worthy of note.
 
Mid-range is a recessed, especially evident when cross-comparing with the Dunu. Voices have real weight and presence on the Dunu, whereas they sound more distant and withdrawn on the Piston 3. It's not a dealbreaker for me, but if you like mid-centric headphones you may find Piston 3's V-shaped profile bothersome.
 
Bass extension on the Piston 3 is good but the emphasis here is definitely on the mid-bass (I tend to prefer headphones with sub-bass emphasis, as they tend to offer a clearer presentation). On tracks that have mostly mid-bass, the perceived bass quantity and quality between the Piston 3 and the Dunu are actually quite similar. But the moment the sub-bass comes in, the Dunu flexes its muscle while the Piston 3 takes a backseat. Bass tightness is more than adequate for this price range, clean with very fast decay. Only on the most challenging tracks does the Piston 3 struggle (Afro Celt Sound System - Big Cat: The Piston 3 clearly runs into trouble at the rapid-fire bass at 5:50, whereas the Dunu DN-1000 and AKG K553 renders this part with no issue).
 
But like I said, these are nitpicks considering the price. Xiaomi could be selling these for $50 and people would still be talking about them - let alone the $12 I paid for them.
 
Are they "giant killers"? Well, depends on how you look at it. The Piston 3 are excellent but if you have experienced good headphones, then they certainly won't replace the good sets you have. But for inexperienced people looking to be introduced to high-fidelity sound in their music, I can't think of a better place to start than the Piston 3 (the excellent packaging makes these excellent gifts for friends who are still using their crappy cellphone earphones).
 
In fact I am ordering another pair of these for a good friend right now. :)
 
The fact that I am keeping these after having heard the Dunu (over 10x more expensive) speaks volumes for the Piston 3.

thatBeatsguy

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: An incredibly versatile package at its price point.
Cons: None considering the price.
 

Intro

 
The successor to the popular Xiaomi Pistons 2.0, the 3.0 offers a remarkably versatile package that is no less than excellent at its price point.
 
Before I begin I would like to thank George at Gearbest.com for providing the review sample of the Xiaomi Pistons 3.0 shown in this review. Please note that I am neither affiliated with Gearbest or any of its staff, nor am I being paid for writing this review. Unless otherwise specified, everything you see written in this review are my own honest opinion, so please take that with a grain of salt. All photos you see in this review are also my own unless otherwise specified. Thanks!
 
Ahh, the Xiaomi Pistons. The first IEM where I wrote a serious review, and the only one to become as popular as it is. Since that Christmas of 2012 the demand for the Pistons 2.0 exploded into a massive craze that lasted a bit over a whole year. Then, sometime around April of 2014, news came about of a successor to the Pistons 2.0, aptly named the Pistons 3. Upon its release, there was some buzz surrounding them, but the hype train never really took off the way the 2.0 did. And, well, for that entire year I never really took the chance to get a pair and review it myself. That is, until now.
 
So here I am, back where it all began. It’s about time for me to write a review on the IEM that started it all. The sands of time have swept across the budget IEM market, with it bringing fierce new contenders. How will the Pistons 3 stand up to some of 2015’s latest and greatest? Let's find out after the jump.
 

== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Accessories

The packaging of the Pistons 3.0 is, well, just like its predecessor – sleek, sharp, and with as small a footprint as ever. The clear plastic cover shows off the silicone carry case of the Pistons 3, its brushed aluminium back showing face up. Now that I think about it, there really is nothing different about the Pistons 3 case. The silicone carry case is similar, the accessories are similar…absolutely nothing has changed in the packaging. Not that I'm complaining.
 
 

Design, Build, Microphonics

One thing is for sure about the Pistons 3.0 – it looks stunning. 1More Design (the team behind the designs of the Pistons 2 and 3) really changed up the look of the new Pistons, trading in flashy gold and brown for a more understated black and silver. Either way, though, I think they're both stunning in their own ways. Along with the change in appearance came several improvements made to the build quality of the 3.0. The strain reliefs have been reinforced and integrated into the main housing, the Android-compatible 3-button remote has been redesigned, and the Kevlar-reinforced cable remains.
 
The 3.0 still employs metal throughout its build, with the gold-plated 3.5mm connector, the Y-split, and the housing of its Android-compatible 3-button remote. As with the Pistons 2.0, the 3.0’s cable causes a considerable amount of cable nose, which can be a bit of a nuisance when walking or running. And unlike the 2.1 (a minor revision of the original 2.0), the Pistons 3.0 does not include a shirt clip, so you're going to have to find a different solution to the cable noise problem.
 
 

Fit, Comfort, Isolation

The new design of the Pistons 3.0 really helped to improve its fit and overall comfort. Their angled, ergonomic housings easily make them one of the most comfortable IEMs I've tried. The fit is just so effortless that the Pistons 3.0 literally just slide into your ears. Oh yeah, and before you start worrying, they also stay quite securely in your ears as well – even though it does feel like they're about to fall off at any given moment.
 
According to the official page of the Pistons 3.0, they still employ a dual dampening system similar to that used in its predecessor. As such, the Pistons 3.0 doesn't really isolate as much as your typical IEMs such as the MEE Audio M9 Classic and the Brainwavz Jive. In fact, it actually isolates about as much as the DUNU Titan 1, an IEM actually marketed as a semi-open IEM. The Pistons 3.0 has trouble drowning out the sounds of the city streets and the interiors of loud malls. Though this isolation (or lack thereof) can be a bit of a nuisance, I personally found them pretty useful as they do give you much better aural awareness when you’re out and about.
 

== Sound ==

Specs

 
Headphone Type
Semi-open (?) in-ear monitor
Driver Type
Unknown
Frequency Response
20 – 20,000 Hz
Rated Input Power
5 mW
Sensitivity
98 dB
Impedance
32 Ω
Weight
14g
Cable
1.25m Kevlar-reinforced cable
Connector
3.5mm (1/8”) straight gold-plated TRRRS connector
Accessories
4x sets black silicone eartips (XS/S/M/L)
 
 

Equipment, Burn-in

The source equipment used in this review is a fifth-generation iPod Touch and an iPad 3 directly running the Pistons 3.0, and a PC running iTunes 12 and Foobar2k powering the Jive through a Schiit Fulla DAC/Amp. The EQ apps used in their respective test is TuneShell on iOS and Electri-Q on the PC. The eartips used on the S3 are the included medium size eartips. The list of the test tracks I listen to while reviewing the Jive can be found here, although I will include links to specific songs in the review for a more direct point of reference.
                                                                                                                                  
I have burned-in the Pistons 3.0 for about 50 hours prior to writing this review, most of that time comprised of direct listening. Over that period I found no changes in the sound of the Pistons 3.0, and I doubt there would be any more from there on out. Anyways, that’s about as far as I could write about everything else; now let’s get to the real reason you guys are here – the sound!
 
 
 

Sound Quality

 
Bass:
Coming from the Pistons 2 – an IEM I hold in very high regard – I had high expectations for its successor. And, well, they didn’t exactly disappoint. Not exactly. The Pistons 2.0 had this big, impactful low-end which became one of its main selling points for a lot of non-audiophiles.
 
The 3.0…well, it’s different. Really different. It’s tighter, faster, and more sedate in comparison to its predecessor. Extension is also pretty good, with the 3.0’s driver capable of reaching down and digging up some of the deeper, more obscure bass notes that are often lost in IEMs in this price range (Spag Heddy - Onvang). But as improved as it is, I feel the low-end still lacks some control and refinement in the low-end, as it doesn’t really pull back as much during recordings that don’t really call for them (Daft Punk - Touch). Keep in mind, however, that the Pistons 3.0 is a $16 IEM, and to be honest, for an IEM at this price point, I don’t think I have any reason to complain.
                                                                                                                                                                  
 
Midrange:
The Pistons 3.0’s midrange is very much improved from its predecessor. So improved that, if I were to pick one quality of the Pistons 3.0 that really sold it for me, it would be the midrange. Their midrange just has this smooth, slick tone that works so effortlessly with just about everything I throw at it. Vocals and instruments alike are given a bit of weight and thickness in the lower registers, but it’s far from excessive. In fact, I could say it’s just about right, given their performance with solo piano recordings (Yiruma – Scene from My Window). Their clarity is also quite remarkable at this price point. However, I did find them to lose their composure in some busier recordings, sounding rather muddled and cloudy to the ears (Adele – I’ll Be Waiting). Overall, it’s pretty impressive for an IEM at this price point, and easily holds its own amongst some of the best IEMs I have below $30.
 
 
Treble:
Moving on, let’s talk about the treble. Quantity-wise, it did not disappoint, with the treble having enough sparkle to be heard clearly, but is far from being fatiguing to my ears. Quality-wise, it’s actually pretty refined, and especially so for a 16-dollar IEM. I can’t really say it’s completely grain-free, but that seems to be what I’m hearing, and it’s definitely better than some of the other IEMs I’ve tried around the price range of the Pistons 3.0.
 
 
Soundstage/Presentation:
Unlike the DUNU Titan 1, the Pistons 3.0 isn’t exactly a “true” semi-open IEM – to clarify, I only likened it as such since they didn’t isolate as much as a regular IEM. And unlike the Titan 1, the Pistons 3.0 also doesn’t have a massive soundstage for an IEM. It’s still remarkably spacious for one, though, and it gives a remarkable sense of space that’s a rarity amongst IEMs at this price. Instrument separation is good, but as I stated earlier, they do tend to sound rather clouded in busier recordings. It isn’t too bad, though, and again, it’s nothing to complain about.

 
Genre Proficiency:
The Pistons 3.0’s smooth, V-shaped sound signature (bass and treble emphasis) allows it to perform decently with just about any genre. Its thumping low-end really fleshes out the bass-heavy beats of EDM, while its surprising midrange clarity grants the 3.0 a level of versatility not many IEMs in this price range offer.
 

Summary:
The Pistons 3.0 is an amazing, capable of performing just about every genre I’ve thrown at it without ever sounding…well, bad. At this price point, there’s very little to find fault with in this IEM – so much that I feel like I’m just picking at straws trying to find something negative to write about them. I mean, from a general standpoint they sound excellent. Sure, they do have their drawbacks, but given their very tight price limitations compromises do have to be made. But otherwise, no, the Pistons’ smooth sound and impressively versatile sound signature is something I find incredibly addicting, and incredible at this price point.
 
 

Other Media

Games:
One can’t really complain much when you’re using an IEM at the very bottom of the price ladder as a gaming tool. That is, beyond complaining about one’s lack of a more capable headphone or IEM. But with the Pistons 3.0, you don’t need to. I found their imaging abilities to be acceptable for gaming purposes, and though the bass does tend to obscure some of the minor details, again, if you want better performance, you might as well shell out a little extra cash.
                                                                                                                             
                                       
Movies:
Okay, I’ll be honest here, the Pistons 3.0 sound great, but they aren’t exactly one of my top picks for watching movies. Why? Because let’s face it, probably the only time one would take the time to watch a full movie outside of the house would be while you’re travelling. And the Pistons’ mediocre isolation has a very hard time drowning out the sounds of airplanes or most loud, droning noises in general. So as good as they sound, they’re not my go-to movie IEMs.
 
 

Amp & EQ Response

With the Schiit Fulla, my IEMs and headphones tend to sound cleaner and slightly brighter in comparison to my portable sources. The low-end becomes tighter, the midrange clearer, and the treble a little more snappy. Well, I found the Pistons 3.0 to react quite differently to a little extra power. Its low-end sounds stronger when given more power – and it’s not the good kind. With the extra power for the Fulla, the 3.0 starts to sound more like the 2.0 with its massive low-end. The rest of the sound signature doesn’t seem to be affected, though, so that’s all I can say about that here.
 
The Pistons 3.0 are also pretty responsive to EQ, making them quite easy to tweak to one’s tastes. Being an IEM that already sounds good from the get-go, I can’t really suggest any tweaks to improve them further, so I’ll just leave it at that.
                                                                                                                                                               
 

Value

The Pistons 3.0 can be acquired from a sea of third-party sellers online, but by far the most reliable source is from Xiaomi themselves, selling it at its retail price of 99 Yuan, or about 16 dollars. However, to buy from Xiaomi directly, you would have to live in one of the few countries where they actually sell directly – China, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, or the Philippines. So basically, those in the West will have to buy the Pistons from elsewhere. And, well, once you go third-party, the prices can vary tremendously, with some matching retail price (Gearbest.com) or some pricing a little bit (by that I mean about 10 bucks) higher (Penonaudio.com).
 
And then you have the issue of dealing with sellers of fake products, which can be quite bewildering to the untrained buyer unless he/she has a lot of experience with purchasing from online marketplaces outside of Amazon or eBay. To save you trouble, both of the links above are reputable sellers of the Pistons 3.0, and if you’re still a bit unsure, you could try asking in the Pistons 3.0 thread.
 
 

Comparison

Versus Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 ($16):
So here we are, at the fated duel. The fun, basshead-friendly Pistons 2.0 against its younger, more matured-sounding successor. To be honest, it’s a pretty subjective fight, with a lot of opinions stating either is better than the other. And, well, the more opinions that arise, the less significant each one becomes, so basically, my own opinion won’t really be anything new.
 
But as it is right now, I feel the 3.0 is a very worthy successor with its major improvements across the board. Throughout the review I’ve made some comparisons of the two, but let me elaborate further. If you have the Pistons 2.0 and loved it, you might be pretty disappointed with the sound signature of this new version, mostly in the bass. The 2.0 was a hit mostly because of its big, fat bass response that clicked with the consumer and bass lover types (myself included). The Pistons 3.0 is significantly more balanced and refined across the board, so if you loved the 2.0’s bass, you will be dismayed with that of the 3.0.
 
 
Versus Brainwavz Jive ($30):
The Brainwavz Jive is (as of this writing) one of Brainwavz’ latest IEMs, having been released only about two months ago. Straight out of the box it impressed me with its unusually-refined sound and its radical change of sound when you put on the included Comply eartips. Against the Jive, the Pistons 3.0 loses out sound-wise – simply put, the Jive makes the Pistons 3.0 sound like a $16 dollar IEM. Not that it’s a bad thing, though – in reality, I found myself reaching for the Pistons more than the Jive. As with all reviews, whether I like it or not, that doesn’t really matter to you, the reader, if you happen to take interest in buying either.
 
 

== Conclusion ==

 
The Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 has always been a consumer-oriented IEM – one of the main reasons a number of audiophile Head-Fi’ers spew hate on them while ironically hyping other products. (The reason why I say audiophile Head-Fi’ers is because not all of the people on Head-Fi are middle-class elitists with three amps and at least twice that many headphones.) The Pistons 3.0 is no different. Granted it has gained a lot of noticeable improvements to the build, fit, and the sound, but at its core it’s still an IEM meant for the people who aren’t as crazy about sound quality as audiophiles are. They don’t really have the sound characteristics that could completely outclass that of IEMs within and above its price point.
 
But all in all, the Pistons 3.0 is an excellent IEM in my opinion, featuring robust construction, a comfortable fit, and a versatile sound signature that bridges the gap between consumer and audiophile. For people like me – the people who can’t (or don’t want to) invest that much into the audio hobby – they’re one of the best entry points into the audiophile world that I can think of. I can’t recommend them enough.
 
 
Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
8/10
The 3.0 has the same packaging and accessories as its predecessor. Not particularly innovative, but still pretty useful.
Design, Build, Microphonics
8/10
The 3.0’s radical redesign gave it a fresh, sleek look and a much more robust build, making it one of its more noticeable and significant improvements.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8/10
The Pistons 3.0 rank amongst the easiest to fit, and the most comfortable, IEMs I have in my collection. However, its isolation can be a bit wanting to those who want more.
Bass
8/10
Punchy, impactful, and a major improvement over its predecessor. However, it still lacks control and refinement.
Midrange
8/10
Smooth, clear, and accommodating enough for just about anything you throw at it. Could one ask for anything more?
Treble
8/10
Crisp, light, and snappy. Nothing too impressive, but there’s not much else to expect at this price point.
Presentation
7/10
The 3.0 provides an excellent sense of space for an IEM of this price.
Gaming, Movies
7/10
The 3.0’s sound signature is quite accommodating for media beyond music, but their isolation prevents them from doing much good as an in-flight movie kind of IEM.
EQ Response
8/10
They’re pretty responsive to EQ and can be easily tweaked to one’s tastes – within the limits of an EQ’s capabilities, of course.
Value
10/10
 
Total
8/10
Sixteen dollars. Sixteen dollars for an extremely versatile budget IEM package. That’s all I have to say.
 

Suggestions for Improvement

Can’t think of any.
 

Shout-Outs, Gallery

I would like to again thank George at Gearbest.com for providing the review sample of the Pistons 3.0 you see in this review. (Apologies for taking so long to post this!) You could check out the rest of the images I took during the shoot here (link currently unavailable), and you could check out some more of my reviews here.
 
This has been thatBeatsguy of DB Headphones; thanks for reading!
 

About the Company

Xiaomi is a Chinese smartphone manufacturer founded around the year 2009, with their products all offering high performance at a low price. This brought the company to be massively popular in China, eventually overtaking both Samsung and Apple in market share in just four short years.
 
Company website: http://www.mi.com
 

Changelog

dclaz
dclaz
I love the Piston 2.0, think it's absolutely incredible given the price. I bought the cheapest 3.0's I could find on eBay ~$5 and they sound awful, which makes me believe they are certainly fake. The packaging looks/feels extremely legitimate though.
DaveLT
DaveLT
There are also cheaper official versions - but they are definitely not 5$
paradoxology
paradoxology
Bought a pair and received them just today. Simply put, the Piston 3 is one the great bargains among IEMs. Outstanding!

BurntToast12

Head-Fier
Pros: Really good sound for a budget.
Cons: Microphonics, Horrible standard tips.
- Packaging -
 
The Xiaomi Pistons comes with a stylish clear case, encased in your standard Xiaomi box.
Inside the case, you'll find the Piston, all neatly placed inside a silicone encasing.
Under the silicone encasing, you'll also find three pair of tips, [XL - S - L] size. (M size tips are already attached to the Pistons.)
 
- Design -
 
The Pistons itself is pretty stylish. With it's brushed aluminium, and the sleek black colour, looks aren't a problem.
Wierdly, only half of the cable is braided, The cable above the Y splitter are just rubber.
The jack is a standard 3.5mm, Gold plated. The jack handle is brushed, making it easier to grip.
It's pretty durable, being able to withstand my constant abuse.
 
It's pretty comfortable to wear, Due to it's slanted design. Wearing it over ear is not recommended, As it seems to reduce the seal for me.
Standard tips is pretty horrible. It easily falls off your ear, due to the fact that it gets slippery. Get some other tips.
Microphone is placed above the Y splitter, making it pretty hard to reach the inline remote, although it makes using microphone easier.
 
Microphonics is rather noticable. Not recommended for jogging use.
 
- Sound -
 
Sound is top notch for an IEM at this price. Seems to be a bit V shaped.
 
Soundstage / Seperation :
Not exactly great, but not bad either.
Soundstage is decent, A bit congested at times, when there's a lot of things going on.
Seperation is also decent, Also gets mixed at times, Also when there's a lot of things going on.
 
Bass:
It's tight and punchy. Can get a bit bloated, but only on certain songs.
 
Mid:
Middle is smooth, and clear. It gets somewhat filled when there's a lot of things going on, though.
 
Treble:
Sparkly, but not too much. Gets a bit noisy at times.
 
- Final Words -
It's a bang for the buck.
Due to inflation, I don't exactly have access to a lot of the mid to high tier audio equipments, so I have tried a lot of budget fi's.
And the Xiaomi Piston nearly trumps them all, except the mighty budget fi, the Knowledge Zeniths.

FYLegend

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Great aesthetics and build quality, excellent instrument separation, balanced mids and highs with no sibilance
Cons: Poor isolation, soundstage a bit congested, highs and mids are hazy and distant lacking sharpness, poor stock eartips
I bought these on Geekbuying after a considerable price drop to about $16 USD. Having missed out on the hype for the Piston 2, I decided to pick up the Piston 3 instead. The other bang-for-buck IEM I own is the Phillips SHE3590.
 

Design

The Piston 3 has a very stylish design, but is more typical of an IEM and unfortunately don’t stand out as much as the bullet-like aluminum housings of the Piston 2. The cable is fairly well built, though from the Y-splitter up they are rubberized and a tad bit microphonic. It doesn’t bother me much, but the inline remote box does worsen microphonics. It is placed too high and sometimes hard to feel where the buttons are. Please note that the in-line remote only fully works on Android devices, while the middle button can be used for iOS devices. On my HTC phone, the side buttons are for next/previous track but on some other devices they are volume buttons. The Kevlar coating from the splitter down is quite durable but are tangle-prone and I think it may splinter over time. That said, I wish the entire cable was Kevlar rather than the bottom section as it seems to be less microphonic down there. With these small issues aside, the build quality is excellent.
9/10

Comfort

The eartips that came with the headphone were of rather poor quality. They have a matte finish and are prone to collecting dust. The stock tips give a bit more edge to the treble and a more intimate soundstage, but while comfortable they feel loose in my ears and I had a hard time getting a good seal. I found both Audio-Technica CK and Phillips SHE3590 tips have a more secure fit. The SHE3590 tips are a bit harder than the AT tips, don't seal as well and a bit less comfortable. Over-ear fit is possible and greatly reduces microphonics, but the fit is a bit uncomfortable and may also prevent a good seal with some eartips.
8.5/10

Isolation

The Piston 2 was not the best headphone for noise isolation, and unfortunately the Piston 3 doesn’t fare any better. It has a few air vents in the housing which give it a semi-open design. Though this is intended to expand the soundstage, it means the isolation is poor and sound leakage is quite high, even if you use different eartips. The leakage isn't noticeable on a loud bus or train but can be quite noticeable in silence. Of all the IEMs I have owned so far (many of which have such air vents), these have leaked the most sound. They aren’t as bad as earbuds in terms of isolation, but for an IEM they are rather poor.
5/10
 

Sound

NOTE: Phillips SHE3590 tips mainly used to evaluate the sound quality. A week of burn-in overnight was given before final impressions. I think the bass is a bit punchier and the mids a bit cleaner after burn-in.
Overall I would consider the Piston 3 to have a warm, laid-back and slightly v-shaped sound signature. The bass is punchy, with an emphasis on the mid-bass, which can be a tad bit bloated, and a bit “detached” from other frequencies. However, the bass is very well-controlled most of the time and you do get a decent thump from the sub-bass. The midrange is relatively clean and flat, but there is a relatively subtle and broad peak from the upper mids to the lower highs. This gives a subtle metallic texture to the mids as well as the treble. However, both the mids and treble sound distant and lack sharpness. Although I get an impression the treble extends with a peak, it just seems confusing at times.
 
With the stock eartips, the soundstage is rather intimate, while Audio-Technica and Phillips SHE3590 tips give a bit more space. The SHE3590 tips give a bit more edge to the treble, though they don't seal as well as Audio-Technica tips. As a result, the soundstage slightly above average.  It has a fair amount of width and depth. However, even though the overall sound signature is by no means aggressive, the soundstage is sometimes congested. It just feels like there’s too much going on. Instrument separation is excellent, so I sometimes pick up something I haven't with other headphones. However, the individual elements tend to lack focus or precision; as noted earlier they can be hazy and distant. They are also quite unforgiving of low bitrates where compression becomes quite obvious.
 
For an IEM designed for portable use, these are a bit harder to drive than other IEMs at the same price as they have 32 ohms of impedance and 98 dB sensitivity. On my phone (HTC Butterfly s) I find myself having to turn up one or two volume steps than my other IEMs for a good listening volume. On the positive side, they don’t hiss as much as most other IEMs.
 
I can see why people who want a more balanced signature will like the Pistons’ sound, especially those sensitive to sibilance. They are quite versatile for different genres, but I found them a bit “hazy” and lacking air. Overall, I don't think the sound is worth the compromise in isolation.
 
Filter mod:
Removing the metal filters increases the edge on the upper-most mids and some sibilance may occur. I would not recommend doing this if you are sensitive to sibilance. Treble, while a tad bit more airy, is still not well-defined. Also note that this mod is irreversible unless you find a way to glue back the filters and fold them back into their original shape.
 
7.9/10
 
vs. Phillips SHE3590
The SHE3590 is the other budget level IEM that I have which has a similar bang-for-buck reputation. Compared to the Pistons, the SHE3590 has a much sharper v-shape signature and a considerably wider, more immersive soundstage. The treble is much brighter and crisp in the highs than the Pistons. Although they are ideal if you are after a detailed sound, they may be too sibilant, and are also lacking in the mids. Their build quality is also quite cheap.
 

Conclusion

The Piston 3 is a great bang-for-buck IEM for those who want balanced mids and highs without sibilance or harshness. However, it is important to note sound signature isn't for everyone. If you are looking for something with more crisp mids and highs or an immersive sound, you will be disappointed. I would also advise looking elsewhere if you want good isolation.
 
8.0/10
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Jeff Y
Jeff Y
Nicely written, but I can't say I agree with all your cons except for the tips and isolation.
The initial "congested sound" or "haziness" and so on clear up greatly after long burn in.
It is a long burn in but once you get there everything clears up so much it's a different iem compared to straight out of the box. You should really give them another shot.
Cheers.
FYLegend
FYLegend
Thanks for the reply. I've given these over a month of use already and they aren't as congested or hazy as they used to be, but I think in the end it still boils down to personal taste - I just think there's something lacking about the texture of the mids and treble over what I'm accustomed to. If I do see a change some time I will update this review.
Jeff Y
Jeff Y
True, if there are people who like the sound of T-Peos and such other IEMs, I would also say that these Pistons relatively lack a little sparkle or the texture. I thought they were fine but I don't have experience at this price range except for these so maybe I should try some more :)
Cheers.

WrxSTI

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Cheap, nice packaging, well designed
Cons: Sound?
I was in need of a decent pair of IEMs to wear on the trail for when I'm cycling, running and what not to use with my phone. Read all the reviews online praising these for the low price. Got them for around 12$ on GearBest so unless GB started shipping fakes, I'm pretty sure they're legit. Took the better part of a month to get them though.
 
Anyways, the packaging is impressive, you get a nice set of tips for them - I only found the mediums - which are on the headphones when you buy them, and the large ones to be usable. The other ones, S and XS do not seal for me at all and all the bass leaks out, I hear nothing below 500 Hz.
 
I prefer the M tips (and they do change the sound quite a bit so experiment with that). However I've found my experience with these phones to be not so in line with the reviews.
"Smooth treble, too much bass?" Hmm, found quite the opposite. When listening at the same volume as on my Superlux 668B, the treble kills my ears. It's not so much that the phones are overly bright, it's that there are what seems to be some really nasty high-Q resonances in the 2-4K range of up to 6 dB or so which I haven't even been able to isolate that well with a good VST EQ. Simply when certain sounds play, especially white noise sweeps in EDM music, some of these frequencies just go so much higher than the rest of the signal that it literally hurts my ears. I have to turn it down, but then at that point, everything is too quiet and the bass disappears even further.
 
Oh and about the bass, it's nice, tight, but it's not really deep enough to be immersive and to really hear the low end. Seems to roll off fast below 60 Hz or so. 60-150 Hz is OK and then the midrange dips quite significantly again, leaving things sounding distant and hollow, lacking depth. They're definitely not warm. Even my Superlux which is generally regarded as a mid-light set of headphones, brings sounds closer to the front than these.
 
So, for the price I don't think I can buy much better (though I have yet to try some of the KZ models), 12$ and I guess they're fairly good for the money, but not really 'giant killers' of any kind and for me they definitely didn't live up to the hype.
 
Would I still recommend them to someone? Probably, simply on the off chance that they're just not compatible with my ears. My brother doesn't seem to complain about them being shrill so I might hand them over to him.
Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
It almost sounds like fake Piston 3s? Have you tried some other aftermarket tips? Much of the time the included tips don't work as they are of a thin material. The after market tips need to be longer so the IEM really sits deep to get the placement. Do your IEMs have super thin burnished lines around the plug and control wand? They are almost too small to see, but can be felt with a finger nail?
FYLegend
FYLegend
There were some claims on Reddit that fakes were being sold on Gearbest along with real ones. One user claiming to be Gearbest was asking people to contact them to settle the problem. I bought mine on Geekbuying and would agree with the other reviews about "Smooth treble, too much bass" -too veiled for my ears.
 
Stock tips are pretty bad - they collect dust and don't stay in my ears. I swapped to Audio-Technica eartips which are more comfy and sound slightly bassier and warmer.

stweb

New Head-Fier
Pros: Beautiful design and well made
Cons: Too much bass
I wanted to replace the tinny OEM headphones for my Moto G Android phone and several reviews on Head-Fi rave about the Xiaomi Piston 3 headphones. I was aware that there could be fake Xiaomi headphones on ebay and other websites. I bought mine from GearBest.com, which has been suggested by others on Head-Fi to be a reliable seller. They cost USD13.
 
Build quality is superb. I love the cable, however a right angle plug would be less accident prone than the straight plug. Presentation is classy but nobody is going to bother with reusing the case: it takes some trial and error to get the phones in, the controller in and wrap the cable.
 
I gave the Piston 3s a quick listen this evening to a variety of classical, pop and rock music and in comparison to Superlux HD681 (full-sized, open), Philips SHE3590 (IEM) and Sennheiser MX365 (ear bud). These are all budget headphones and similarly priced.
 
Wow, the sound was exciting at first and especially for pop music. However, the Piston 3 sound was not true or detailed in comparison to the Superlux HD681. There was way too much bass. For me, the Philips SHE3590 IEM headphones sounded better. The sound of Piston 3s did NOT improve after "burn-in".
 
I think the strong bass is for commercial reasons. As a teenager, I would routinely switch on "MegaBass" on my Sony Walkmans (remember those?).
 
I will give these headphones away to a teenager who listens to pop music and can't live without their smartphone. They will love them.
wafflezz
wafflezz
Hmmmm...Disappointing.
 
I have the SHE3590 and they were not as impressive as I thought they would be. 

afterstory100

New Head-Fier
Pros: great style, looks more expensive than the actual price
Cons: bad SQ
Build & fit :
these iem are gorgeus... truly great looking, like a pair of black expensive earrings..
the fits are so-so.. not really good.. but not really bad either.. 
 
isolation :
i guess they're trying to make them airy.. so yeah it won't really isolate
 
sound :
bass :
a good bass that punch quite fast and deep, but i don't really hear a good control here.. so sometimes it covers the mid... and i never like that...
but maybe it is good for edm
 
mid :
recessed mid with sibilance... not for my ears.. definitely...
 
treble:
i think i'm sensitive to these iems treble.. coz... i hear a lot of sibilance.. it's quite annoying actually.. i cannot wear them for even 1 hour.. simply because of the sibilance
 
separation and soundstage:
bad separation....
the soundstage is actually narrow.. but because of the airy sound it could give a huge soundstage sensation.. width only.. no depth

 
wafflezz
wafflezz
Your paid price is seriously 2 dollars? I don't wanna shout "fakes" immediately but I can't really see you getting a legitimate pair for a price like that.

I'm sorry but you probably have fakes. 

Making fakes of expensive items is one thing but man, the people who make fakes of cheaper stuff like this are real scumbags...
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