dooxty's In-Ear World
Sep 9, 2021 at 9:09 AM Post #31 of 43

dooxtypoox

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Tanchjim Tanya


Things to like
  • From a big picture perspective, a very pleasing sound that won't offend
  • Mids have a safe level of forwardness in the centre-mids (neither too forward or recessed)
  • Upper-mids have a good level of vibrancy for a laidback IEM - sounds natural and strays far away from shouty territory
  • Ideal for casual listening - very easy-going
  • Very affordable safe gift for non-audiophile friends who'll probably love them to bits (safe tuning and bullet-shaped wearing style)

What could be better?
  • Prominent mid-bass is markedly one-note
  • Upper-bass bleed creates a slight veil
  • Classic single DD lower-treble dominance
  • Resolution and imaging could be better even for twenty dollars, as the sub ten dollar TRN MT1 and CS1 have these beat in that aspect
  • Inoffensive sound could leave some people wanting more (e.g. bass rumble and slam, cleaner mids, more vocal clarity, better treble extension, better technicalities…)
  • Very safe tuning plants it in the category of "nothing special"

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Sep 16, 2021 at 10:12 AM Post #32 of 43

dooxtypoox

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KB EAR Robin


THINGS TO LIKE
  • I'm quite into the faceplate design and blue-copper complementary colour combination with the cable.
  • Warm and laidback sound that doesn't sound veiled with just enough energy in the higher registers
  • Midrange timbre resembles that of the Lark without the shoutiness or sibilance. I liked the Lark but this is definitely nowhere close to how intense the Lark sounds

WHAT COULD BE BETTER?
  • The treble only brings out surface level details to an adequate standard but doesn't do anything that makes cymbals and hats enjoyable to listen to.
  • Doesn't sound dark but with this "big warmth" tuning, the mild bass bleed will always be audible especially when listening to something very vocal centric with single or dual instruments.
  • Strings and higher pitched vocals sound a little blunt

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Dec 27, 2021 at 6:49 AM Post #33 of 43

dooxtypoox

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Audiosense DT600 Review
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The Audiosense DT600 (6BA) was provided by Audiosense at a 60% discount.
Price: USD248 from Audiosense Aliexpress

Audiosense is one of those companies that don't release products all too often… but when they do, I daresay that they're normally something worth a little more attention than say… the hyper budget 10-$20 monthly releases from some chi-fi companies which tend to throw different iterations of the same product at us consumers, and seeing what sticks.

Accessories
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The box comes loaded with plenty of accessories worthy of its price tag. This whole set can easily be someone's new stage monitoring kit as it is out of the box. They've provided:
  • A sturdy pelican style carrying case; it's got a transparent lid which is pretty neat.
  • 3 x foamies
  • 3 x standard black silicone tips
  • 3 x coloured bore tips with grippy texture
  • 3 x green bore "spinfits"
  • 80 ohm impedance adaptor
  • Wax cleaning tool
  • MMCX connector tool for removal (SO USEFUL)
They come with way more tips than what anyone needs but hey, if I were to be paying $248 I wouldn't complain. I'm not one to tip roll that much for an ideal sound so I tend to do so only from a comfort perspective. The standard round black silicone ones are fine, if these were the only ones provided I would've had no complaints. The ones that look a bit like final audio type E/Sony tips have got a bit of a grippy texture which causes a suction effect when sitting in the ear. I don't like them very much. I don't think they're official Spinfit tips but the green stem ones have got the Spinfit style rotating stems which I find works really well with the semi-custom fit.

Fit & comfort
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These fit… really snug, they feel 70% of what a CIEM feels like just because the nozzle attempts to model after the 1st bend in the ear canal, for my ears at least. Here's a comparison with my CIEMs which may indicate why the DT600 fit my ears SUPER well. I might add that these have a somewhat similar fit to Vision Ears "VE Line" UIEMs, which I consider to be the best fitting UIEMs on the market (for my ears, again).

On the cable...
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They've got an MMCX connector, love it or hate it. I'm not one to cable roll that much unless the stock cable is uncomfortable so that's fine to me as well. I just don't like that the ear hooks are stiff and float in place. It doesn't have the same sense of security where the cable rests on my ear but this could be good thing for some people since it doesn't place any pressure on the ear and it gives room for the spectacle frame to sit.

Build & look
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Audiosense uses 3D printing to create this solid hunk of resin where the 3 sets of twin BAs can be clearly seen. With such an awesome fit and the accompanying high levels of passive noise isolation, I don’t have much to complain about except for the fact that purple just isn't my colour and I would have preferred to see some other design options.

Sound
Sound testing was primarily done via my Schiit IEMagni X Modi 3+ stack with Spotify desktop. These are fairly easy to drive, comfortably reaching about 10 o clock on my IEMagni's volume pot on negative gain.

Tuning wise, the DT600 is a warm IEM that focuses on delivering a natural, pleasing presentation. Bass extension is excellent into the sub-bass with fairly clean mid-bass impact. Since it uses double BA bass woofers don't expect too much rumble. But FOR a tubed all BA setup, I think many will like that it is just a tad bit more physical and satisfying than what they may expect. With more time spent with the DT600, I find that the bass tends to fall more toward the realistic decay side of things as compared to the weightless plasticky bass of something like the KZ AS10. The bass decay is a little quicker than I'd like (when pit against proprietary Sony BAs used in IER M7/9) but this plays into one of its strengths which is coherency in the decay across the spectrum.

The lower midrange seems very mildly elevated which lends the DT600 its warm, but not overly syrupy character. The upper mids then have just a bit more of a bump to it but it is very conservative. As a result, the midrange is very smooth but some may find it too liquid (textureless) in nature. The DT600 does sound fairly natural which is amazing for its price but that mild lower mid thickness focuses holds it back from absolute midrange transparency. To sum up, the DT600's mids focuses more on a pleasing tonal quality at the expense of raw detail.

The treble is the DT600's biggest weakness. Feedback from two out of three non-audiophile friends indicated that these seemed to be lacking that extra zing on top - and I agree with them. The DT600 isn't a dark set but… I feel that there is certainly room for a little more attention to be given to the treble. I like that the lower treble is at a safe, non-shouty level that adequately brings forth surface level detail but the DT600 seems to be missing everything from the mid-treble and upwards. It's missing all the sparkle and air… and speaking of air, the lack of treble extension up top is normal for a relatively inexpensive all BA setup but it adds to the feeling of being closed-in and claustrophobic. There is a tiny vent just below the MMCX port but the DT600 still feels like an unvented IEM. The combination of the ultra-snug fit and lack of perceived air makes this worse and causes listener fatigue to set in early.

Again, as expected of a tubed sonic design, the sound feels closed-in and well within the head. But within this stage, the DT600 does an "okay" job of imaging - not bad but not great either, nothing outstanding about imaging and it strictly does not perform beyond its price tag. Layering is just "not bad" for the price. The smearing of notes can be heard as indicated by the slight thickness in the lower mid tuning. This is another aspect where the DT600 focuses on the more pleasing aspect of tonal quality, which is does well, but at the expense of highly refined technicalities.

All this "at the expense of…" talk doesn’t sound good from a value POV? Well I agree. The USD99 I paid for this discounted sample is perfectly reasonable because it's still a well-tuned set in the bass and mids. However, the DT600 hasn't got that Audiophile "Wow!" factor in its staging and imaging which are my top priorities. Not that its utterly lacking on the technical aspect… but this, coupled with the fact that there could be more attention to the treble in its stock tuning without the 80 ohm impedance adaptor leads me to conclude that I'd be hard-pressed to fork out the full USD248 for its sonic qualities alone.
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Oh what's that? The 80 ohm impedance adaptor? Alright SO - with the adaptor the DT600 becomes a completely different IEM. If the DT600 without the adaptor has an L shape response, the DT600 with the adaptor is a reverse L shape one. Just imagine a one way tuning switch that is just… more inconvenient. With the adaptor, I can comfortably reach 1 o clock on my IEMagni's volume pot on negative gain. The bass shifts its focus to be only in the sub-bass. It is now more clean and concentrated, adding a spice of fun to the mix. The mid-bass extending through to the lower mids becomes super lean which effectively "cleans up" any of the slight bloatiness previously lying around.

The upper mid presentation is now more assertive which makes previously textureless vocals and strings now well textured. BUT… *sigh* the mids hop over to the thin side of things aaand they also manage to sound nasal. The treble also sees a big change, it is now way more aggressive which renders the soft cymbals in their full detail. The upper mids and treble may be more aggressive but I feel that it is still well within tolerable margins, and the feeling of claustrophobia is alleviated too.

To add on to that, the impression of technicalities is better, notes aren't as thick so they have more room to breathe. In that new breathing room, it is almost as if a fog has lifted and imaging sounds way more precise. I like the way the DT600 sounds with the adaptor from an analytical point of view but the mids… they just lose their organic natural sound which was what I liked most about the stock DT600. Everything else is great but those mids are the dealbreaker of the sound with the impedance adaptor. If you're considering the DT600, consider your purchase decision based on its organic stock form, WITH the option to go a bit more technical once in a while. There are so many options out there - I haven't had the chance to audition the latest Moondrop Aria or KATO but based on what others have been saying, you probably don't have to spend USD248 just to get a slightly more technical tuning with a clunky adaptor.

So pros:
  • All the accessories you'll ever need
  • Snug semi-custom fit
  • Coherent warm organic sound (highly easygoing yet engaging)
  • Can go from warm easygoing to technical with the adaptor
And cons:
  • Hint of BA timbre (cos I've been spoilt by what is possible by the SONY's proprietary BAs)
  • Lacking treble extension in stock form without adaptor
  • Requires clunky adaptor (and subsequently an adequate source) to sound more technical, which ends up sounding more thin and nasal :frowning2:
The thin and nasal mids with the adaptor is truly a waste given how competitive the DT600 can sound. It becomes more technical but loses out on its charm of relaxed, natural-sounding mids. Regardless, I still enjoy having the DT600 in my rotation and it has become my benchmark when looking out for my next big purchase. Alright, that's it folks.
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Dec 29, 2021 at 10:05 AM Post #34 of 43

dooxtypoox

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In-store demo: Campfire Holocene & Mammoth
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Holocene (3BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Addicted To Audio demo unit, AUD949
When given a tiny space to work with, one of my favourite IEM innovations in recent years is the use of acoustic chambers within the IEM chassis. In the Holocene's case, I love the implementation of the "3D Printed Interior" acoustic sound chamber. It gives a fairly spacious sound-field which is supplemented by its clean bass tuning. A tight wide-band bass bump for warmth, yet pristine enough to give some breathing room for instruments in the mix. But to address the "elephant in the room" - the Holocene did sound a little "off" on first listen due to the lack of the usual pinna compensation that my ears are accustomed to. To better describe my experience with the Holocene's mids, humour me as I use this analogy: Imagine staring a beautiful portrait of Mona Lisa… but someone erased her forehead. There's no other way for me to put it. As we try to imagine what the "erased" portion of the painting looks like, trying to listen through that gap in frequencies felt very similar.
mona lisa.jpg
I often felt tempted to turn up the volume just to "hear through" that gap because the Holocene painted everything else wonderfully. Seriously, the Holocene was very very close to achieving a near spot on tonal balance but that was how my ears initially perceived that upper mid and lower treble "suck out". Snare drums sounded wonderful but the violin just lacked that breathy quality and vibrancy. I can't help but wonder the motive behind CA's intentions for tuning the Holocene as such, without a proper pinna gain. Whether it was done to prevent the "safer sounding" Andro 2020 from getting "upstaged" by a lower end model… or just to offer a distinctly different flavours in their lineup... or both hahaha. Regardless, I still liked the Holocene a lot (as a whole) based off first impression and it'll compete with other IEMs on my wishlist. Keep in mind that these are just my first impressions from a 30 minute audition. It would be interesting to hear how the Holocene performs with brain burn in.

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Mammoth (1DD 2BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Addicted To Audio demo unit, AUD799
I really, really wanted to like these (knowing they are a hybrid configuration) after giving the Holocene a go. I love a well-executed V-shape response; hard-hitting DD bass, natural mids and crispy highs… But the Mammoth's tuning is just… highly generic. The bass doesn't really hit that hard and sounds kinda "pillow-ey". The mids also sound honky (as if someone is singing through a cupped mouth). I personally don't mind a tad bit of honk as it can give that coloured, big room ambience as demonstrated by my VE Asura 3.0 earbuds (writeup for another time). But the honkiness is a little overcooked in the Mammoth which, at the same time, also happens to sound tonally masked by a soft middle to upper bass bleed. The presence of the "3D Printed Interior" acoustic chamber is there on paper but the stage felt constrained and didn't sound anywhere close to the Holocene. This, combined with the bass bleed, thickened notes and exacerbated the feeling of congestion.

Lastly, surface level detailing seemed to be lacking - possibly due to the highs from the lower treble and up sounding rolled off. The mids were already taking the backseat in this V-shaped IEM; without the fundamentals in the mids giving cymbals their body, there's just a semblence of crashing… which leads to poor imaging when there is much nothing to image… and so on. The Mammoth isn't a complete ear-sore but I strongly feel that its lacking value in its performance to justify its price tag as someone shopping for a new IEM. I didn't mean for this to be an attack on "overpriced boutique products" but the Mammoths simply just aren't to my liking based off my 20 minutes with them. Some reviewers who have spent way more time with their review samples seem to love the Mammoth to bits so it may be worth seeing what others say too.
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Jan 5, 2022 at 8:11 AM Post #35 of 43

dooxtypoox

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Venture Electronics (Part 1/2): Monk Plus MP5 VS SPC
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Monk+ MP5 (smoke): USD5 from Venture Electronics
Monk+ SPC (clear): USD20 from Venture Electronics

Got my first Monk+ SPC last year and fell down the Venture Electronics rabbit hole. Needless to say, I would like to share a two part series of impressions of their products to kick off the new year. Following a recent revision, all Monk+ orders shipped from 6th November have been the MP5 version. The MP5 variant can be distinguished from the original with a VE logo on the earbud cap as pictured above. I don’t have the original Monk+ but I do have the SPC version for comparison.

For the Monk+ MP5's sound as a whole, it's got a very warm wide bass bump with a larger focus on the mid and upper bass. The open nature of the earbud makes this "bass bleed" more forgivable without a proper seal. In fact, I'd say it benefits the Monk+ by "compensating" for the lack of seal to still provide a pleasing audible warmth with the buds. The warmth applies a tinge of colouration to vocals but they're still highly on the natural side of things and pleasant to the ear. The treble is just nicely laid out and inoffensive.

MP5 VS SPC
Keep in mind that both sound very similar, but audible differences with A/B testing are as follows:
MP5's bass presence is slightly more prominent and boomy. SPC sounds a little more lean and tight, but just as hard hitting.
MP5's warm mids are more intimate and organic. SPC is more "V-shaped", with more clarity in the upper-mids.
Almost no difference between the SPC and MP5 treble.

Differences in stage size and imaging capability are negligible but… I had to go back and forth at least 10 times just to make sure I was hearing the following aspect correctly. My conclusion was that the MP5 is one (small) step up over the SPC in the articulation of micro details.

This could be due to the MP5 being more forward in the lower and centre-mids as compared to the SPC's larger focus on upper-mids, allowing the MP5 to bring most instrumental fundamental frequencies out to a greater extent. For instance, both earbuds have almost no difference in the treble tuning alone so surface level details are the same; but within these surface level detail, the tinier details of cymbals and hats is more apparent in the MP5 as compared to the SPC solely because the midrange fleshes out these tiny nuances even more.

Conclusion
To conclude, I prefer the MP5 over the SPC. The SPC does not reach shouty or sibilant levels but I can still see myself using the MP5 for a little longer due to its warmer laidback tuning. Also, the MP5 is slightly more detailed than the SPC possibly because of the midrange tuning difference (and maybe the use of an updated newer driver).

However, the SPC's ability to cut through more of the bass warmth with better upper mid presence between the Monk+ variants is refreshing… so the SPC would be a nice "different flavour" to have if you absolutely love the Monk+ sound. But at USD20, the SPC isn't an upgrade but more of a side grade to the USD5 MP5. If you don't have either of the two, I think the USD5 MP5 would do just fine over the USD20 SPC.
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Jan 6, 2022 at 9:39 PM Post #36 of 43

dooxtypoox

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Venture Electronics (Part 2/2): Asura 3.0FE (ft. Monk SM, Plus & Lite)
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Asura 3.0: USD148 from Venture Electronics
The Asura 3.0 is Venture Electronic's (VE) new 3rd generation of a mid-tier earbuds, which aims to combine the "big headphone-esque" experience into a tiny earbud (that VE achieved in their 2nd generation of buds), with the level of detail we can find from IEMs.

Tl;dr
Asura 3.0 is highly mid-centric with a "big sound". More spacious, more fun and safer sounding than the Monk SM but does not do the technical aspect like layering that much better.

Build and Fit
Absolutely loving the cable, it reminds me of the Plussound Apollonian Series and feels highly premium. The buds fit nicely, just like the Monk SM. But these earbuds feel kind of heavy being weighed down by that Y-split and cable sleeving especially since there isn't a proper fit like an IEM. I use the provided ear-hook in the included "Ex-Pack" to keep these in place.

Sound
Sound testing for all earbuds was primarily done without foam covers, and they were driven via my Schiit IEMagni X Modi 3+ stack with Spotify desktop. At comfortable listening levels, I could get to about 11 o clock on my IEMagni's volume pot on medium gain for the Asura 3.0.

I've never had the chance to listen to their Zen 2.0 buds, and I was certainly excited to give these a shot after Lee mentioned that they are on the same tier as Zen 2.0. On first impression - these had a large instrumental presentation which attributes to its huge initial wow factor. New toy syndrome was strong with this one so I gave the Asura 3.0 plenty of time to ease into my gear rotation.

How can such a tiny piece of equipment produce such a big sound? Although IEMs and earbuds don’t have the same kind of space to play with as with near-field monitors, these tiny things can make use of clever "tuning tricks" to create the illusion of space. Though this may impact the product's tonal balance, for better or for worse. After gaining an understanding of what makes these earbuds tick for me, I feel that two of the biggest factors which played into its "spatial presentation" is the combination of a so-called "tuning trick", and the fact that these have an open housing for much airflow to occur. I'm not an acoustic engineer of any sorts but that boundless, unrestricted soundstage that some IEMs achieve with acoustic chambers might be less tricky to achieve with earbuds due to its open-ear design.

With the Asura 3.0, the perceived soundstage extends just beyond the peripheries of the earbud shell when listening out for lateral images. The centre image is also well defined and quite a bit upfront/intimate. Not in the same way as its younger brother, the Monk SM, which forces a sharp centre image forth with an assertive upper mid presence. Instead, the Asura 3.0 concentrates more energy in the centre-mids, just between the upper and lower mids. Neither quite full from a bold lower mid presence nor sharpened from an upper mid dominance - right in between and hence a good balance between bodied mids and adequate upper mids for the articulation. Also, one of the things I heard which solidified my opinion was the slight hint of honkiness (as if the singer is singing through cupped hands) to the mids which stems from a sprinkle of extra energy in that centre-midrange.

The "honk effect" has a negative connotation in audio since it disrupts tonal balance and pulls the music away from outright realism. This, again, hint of honk on the Asura 3.0's does two things.
1. Positions the mids closer to the ear.
2. Adds some colouration to the music which gives somewhat of a "big room ambience" effect.
This is not an attempt to justify a "bad tuning" but when judged with the big picture in mind, this colouration is precisely what gives the Asura 3.0 its unique character. It artificially widens and enlarges the notes which plays in very well with the Asura 3.0's excellent staging and imaging to add to the immersion. This is one of those products that make me go beyond my usual test tracks and relisten to many songs which are dear to me. Indeed, "VaRiEtY iS THe spIcE oF LifE". Not everything in my collection needs to be drop dead neutral and this is exactly where variety can be appreciated.
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The bass and treble? Oh boi I really did get carried away didn't I. The sweet mids and big notes are the main attractions and make up the bulk of the Asura 3.0's presentation. The overall mid-centric sound is just so cohesive that I often get lost in the music and forget that I'm trying to do a thorough analysis of this piece of gear. With that I might add that background instruments tend to sound a little softer than the mids. I'm getting carried away talking about the mids again aren't I? Alright so -

Surprisingly, an even sounding treble response can be heard with adequate top end extension, probably due to open nature of the buds. It isn't the standout feature of the buds since they are projected behind, and softer than the mids at the forefront.

But is there anything the Asura 3.0 could do better? Yea for sure, it has a warm wide band boost that doesn't offer low end instruments much definition. Putting on foams only serves to increase the quantity of bass but not the quality. While cymbals and hats are rendered well to my preference with its even treble response, the opposing end with drums… not quite. Snares and the kick drum are blunted and don't give a satisfying snap or thump. The same thing applies to the orchestral double bass or the hip-hop bass rumble where it sounds diffuse and lacking authority. In essence, the Asura 3.0 lacking definition in its bass, relative to its mids and highs. While layering ability is not lacking, the Asura 3.0 did not impress as much as I hoped in that department.

Did I ramble too much? Here's a summary:
Pros:

Large notes and big "headphone-esque" stage for such tiny buds
Good balance between fun and articulate in the mids
Even-sounding treble response rendering cymbals and hi-hats with good tonal quality and detail

And cons:
Bass lacking the same definition as mids and highs
Bass just offers some warmth but not anything special like the mids which are the main attraction
Slight honky nature of the mids may deter those chasing outright realism
Layering not much of a step up from the Monk SM

I do not have the similarly priced Zen 2.0 but here are some comparisons with all the affordable VE buds I have access to before finishing off.
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(Pictured from left) -
Asura 3.0: USD148 from
Venture Electronics
Monk SM: USD20 from Venture Electronics
Monk Lite SPC: USD20 from Venture Electronics
Monk Plus Standard: USD5 from Venture Electronics
Monk Plus SPC: USD20 from Venture Electronics
Monk SM
How does the Asura 3.0's younger sibling stack up? For starters, the shell and hence the fit is exactly the same. Both Asura 3.0 and Monk SM are mid-centric buds to my ears, but in different ways:
  • Asura 3.0 - More focus on centre-mids, with equal balance between lower and upper mids (upside down V-shape signature)
  • Monk SM - Bright mid-centric sound with mildly boosted mid-bass, lean lower mids, boosted centre mids and upper mids, accompanied with a highly energetic middle to upper treble boost. (W-shape signature)
The SM immediately sounds a little less "rich" than the Asura 3.0 with its brighter tuning with lesser lower mids but it doesn't quite sound thin as some may expect. This stems from the fact that the SM focuses on both centre and upper mids which collectively brings forward and sharpens the overall image to a greater degree than the Asura 3.0. That upper treble boost does wonders for making this sound EXTREMELY detailed (surface level), sharp and sparkly but this also makes the SM more fatiguing to listen to over extended periods depending on your listening volume. YMMV. This in turn reduces dynamics since all the tiniest sounds in the recording are blasted in your face, not natural but very fun!

When accustomed to the SM on lower listening levels for longer listening, these are a blast. My favourite aspect is how the SM avoids sounding tinny (despite its tuning) and can sound highly transparent; the mids are still genuinely good and it scratches that "clarity-itch" with its textured mids. Lastly, it's interesting to note that the SM does seem to have a clearly boosted bassline over the Asura 3.0 which offers just a bit more definition in the low end.

The SM's shares almost the same stage size, with the SM's lateral imaging extending just beyond the earbud shells like the Asura 3.0 although the Asura 3.0 still has a larger note size filling up the stage. On further listen, differences in micro detail aren't very noticeable. It seems that the Asura 3.0 just offers an upgrade in a very specialised big-sounding mid-centric tuning over the SM, but not so much on the technical aspect.

Considering how VE always pushes the standards for products in the budget segment, is it fair for me to expect the Asura 3.0 to outdo everything within its mid-tier price bracket? Its instrument separation is almost equal to that of the Monk SM - adequate separation but little space between layers. I was initially disappointed since I was hoping for a significant upgrade but that in itself is hardly a dealbreaker at all, both sound great. And this doesn't stop me from reaching for the Asura 3.0 over the SM on most days.

I personally like the SM with Pop, rock and metal with its high-clarity, fast paced energetic tuning but not so much for orchestral where tonal accuracy is the main priority (e.g. brass and strings can sound borderline strident on the SM). On the other hand, the Asura 3.0's unique tuning sounds AMAZING with pretty much everything I threw at it. USD148 is quite a big price to pay for a blind buy and if you want something that plays most things well, the Monk+ MP5 version is a very impressive, affordable, safer sounding alternative to your exciting Monk SM for USD5, and it seriously doesn't cut corners.

Monk+ SPC/MP5
SPC and MP5 are similar so I will treat them as a whole. Please look at my post history for part 1/2 of this series for an in-depth comparison between the two. Bass is boomier on the Monk+ even without foams on. Mids sound more conventional with the energy evenly distributed between the centre and upper-mids. Surface details are rendered the same but microdetails are clearly a step below the Asura 3.0. At the same listening volume, stage is comparable and only slightly smaller than the Asura 3.0 - Asura 3.0 extending just beyond the earbud shells while Monk+ extending to the driver itself. Presentation wise, the biggest difference lies in the note size where Asura 3.0 towers over the Monk+ at the expense of a slightly honkier tonal quality.

Monk Lite SPC 120 ohm
The smallest stage relative to the other VE earbuds, with the stage being well within the head and not even extending to the edge of the earbud shell like the Monk+. The Monk lite is also the most congested sounding. It just sounds… alright for the price. It's like a less intense version of the Monk+ in literally every aspect, less boomy bass, less forward mids, less bite in the treble, smaller soundstage… a lite version lol. There's nothing special yet nothing offensive with its conventional V-shape sound. However it does have the most comfortable fit amongst all the earbuds. Like these are literally the best things to grace my ears in all of 2021. I don't have the 40 ohm version to compare but I'd probably take the cheaper version purely from a comfort standpoint since the 120 ohm version already doesn't compete sonically with the Monk+ and Monk SM. The comfort makes these extremely functional, they would make excellent sleeping/chill buds for non-critical listening.

In conclusion, the Asura 3.0 has a unique flavour that will serve well in a collection. Personally, its coloured tuning leads me to use something else for video editing and work-related stuff but it sure makes for a hella fun listen all the time. I'm a big fan of VE's products and I'm totally looking forward to Zen 3.0 possibly coming in 2022.
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Jan 7, 2022 at 5:23 AM Post #37 of 43

dooxtypoox

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TRI Meteor Review (ft. BQEYZ Summer)
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The TRI Meteor (1DD 1BA) was kindly provided by Keep Hi-Fi
Price: USD109 from Keep Hi-Fi

This is my first experience with TRI products. Had my eye on the Starsea and Starlight for a while but didn't have a chance to listen to them. I am really excited to see how it goes with the Meteor.

Accessories:
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  • Carrying case
  • 3 pairs of black silicone tips
  • 5 pairs of tips with coloured stems
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Cleaning tool (not pictured because it was hiding in the case, oops)
That cable
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"Soft and pliable" are words that are often thrown around when people are happy with the cable. This is not about the words being overused because it does get the message across, my point is - these are "soft-er and SUPER pliable", even for an 8-wire braid. Almost to the point where it kinda feels cheap but that may be just me preferring a balance between rigidity and softness.

Fit and Look
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The semi-custom body seems to model after the first bend but it's got too conservative of an angle and a shallow nozzle which leads to just a slightly above average sort of fitting; not anywhere near the wonderful fit the Audiosense DT600 provides. But the lack of specificity to my ears means that it could potentially be more universal fitting to a wider variety of ears.

Sound
Bass response is just slightly north of neutral. The bass energy is concentrated mostly in the sub with a much milder mid-bass authority. The DD does this conservative bass boost in the sub and tapers off all the way down to a nadir in the lower-mids. If having a clean presentation is your priority then these do a great job at that. Personally, it's just a clean boost and I feel… neutral about it - more on that in a bit.

Having a clean signature leaves space for the mids and highs to take centre stage and captivate the listener… only that the Meteor is just mediocre in those regions. The single BA then seems to pick up from the higher end of the centre-mids and above. The relative lack of energy in the lower, and bulk of the centre-midrange causes both male and female vocals tread on the thin side of things. That single BA then focuses the bulk of its energy in the upper-mids and thankfully in a non-shouty way. Instead, there is just enough upper-mids to give that grainy texture and presence.

Since this BA fundamentally works on the upper end of the-midrange. It tapers down into a moderate, non-fatiguing lower-treble bump, followed by an acceptable level of extension into the mid-treble. Nothing spectacular but I'm not expecting more from a USD109 IEM. Possibly aided by the treble extension and use of double venting under the 2-pin connector, the only notable praise I can give is that there is a surprisingly larger than expected headroom for its tubed design.
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There's not much else to discuss, so the Pros we've gathered so far are:
  • Cleanly boosted bass
  • Acceptable treble extension despite a single BA handling the mids and highs
  • Surprisingly larger than expected headroom for a tubed design
Cons + technical aspect:
But the "Pros" listed above are merely good traits when judged on their own. As a whole, the TRI Meteor's signature is unengaging. Sure, there is an uneven skew away from the lower and bulk of the centre-mids which sucks the life out of music - totally not to my liking. But this isn't because neutral (neutral-ish for the Meteor) tuned IEMs are always unengaging without a fat bass and boosted treble… but because the "unfiltered" sound gives plenty of room for the flaws in the Meteor's technical chops to heard as clear as day. The Meteor suffers from the usual hybrid "bass slower than the mids & highs" incoherence despite its conservative bass boost. Perhaps this was exacerbated by the blatant BA timbre highlighting the difference in speed.

Although the single BA admirably covers a decent portion of the upper harmonics, the single BA struggles to perform any layering at all. Finally, that larger headroom is not an indicator for skill in imaging - you can give a band a great venue to perform in but that's not going to save the show if their skill is trash. Likewise, the Meteor's clustered layers make it difficult to discern any where things are coming from at all. Even my Venture Electronics USD20 BIE (not the pro version) does a way better job at imaging.

If the Meteor's was priced at USD50 or under, it would've done a good job for achieving a balanced tuning in that price segment, and also for its isolated tuning "pros" as described above. All the cons would've been forgivable since it still performs just slightly better with its relatively clean tuning as compared to products like the USD20 KB EAR KS1 (1DD) or the USD24 CCZ Emerald (1DD 1BA).

I'm not trying to be "hard to please" and dissing everything that doesn't live up to the very best products I have tried and been mind-blown over. But the Meteor simply doesn't compare well with what we can expect from its USD109 price bracket.

BQEYZ Summer comparison
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BQEYZ Summer, USD129 from BQEYZ Aliexpress

While the Meteor's bass response seemed like it wanted to be neutral with a tinge of fun at the same time, the Summer instantly had a more distinct, purposeful bass presence. Admittedly, the Summer has a distinctly V-shaped response which can immediately seem more appealing on first listen. However, the Summer uses its stage to the fullest extent with great imaging and layering - excellent value for USD129. While I'm here singing praises on why the BQEYZ Summer is a way better IEM than the Meteor, I might as well give you the full picture.

Pros:
  • "Alright" imaging and layering
  • Punchy mid-bass
  • Highly energetic mid-treble from the piezoelectric driver fleshes out the tiniest surface level details
Cons:
Mid treble can be sibilant at times, it has a nice control to it but those sensitive to a mid-treble peak may find these piercing. I'm sensitive to the lower treble instead so it's like enjoying hot chilies (treble) without the actual spice (ear fatigue).
That hyper boosted mid treble is not realistic at all. It lends an artificial colouration to sound by skewing the upper harmonics of all vocals and instruments (basically anything that's not bass). It's distinctly different from everything else I have so it functions as a form of a "palette cleanser". Not for my main everyday use.

Conclusion
I really wanted the Meteor to be great - I dig its looks and you get a decent overall package. It's is a miss in my books purely from a technical standpoint so I just thought to throw in the Summer which performs well (although its flavour can be too niche to be an EDC).
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Feb 11, 2022 at 2:43 AM Post #38 of 43

dooxtypoox

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In-store demo: 64 Audio Nio and Fourte
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64 Audio Nio (1DD 8BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Addicted To Audio demo unit, AUD2499
L-shape sound signature. Incoherence in the form of a bloomy bass over the BAs can be heard instantly but that aside, I enjoy the warmth heaps. It isn't boomy and has a mellow, bloomy quality instead; acting like a pleasant warm filter. Beyond the bass, mids are fairly spot on. The thickness of notes especially with the big bass normally gives rise to congestion but it's not quite the case here, notes are evenly layered out. Otherwise, layering isn't particularly remarkable. The treble seems neutral. On busy mixes, crash cymbals are rightly "crashy" and not "splashy". However, the rather big bass emphasis (with the m15 module) does cloud over the highs quite a bit. I found myself having to listen hard beyond the bass to hear these crashes whenever the percussion are cast to the background of the mix.

Heavy and highly dynamic bass is what the Nio is all about, with guitars and drums brought to the forefront. On the m15 module, the bass reaches a "feel good" level. Whether USD1699 is worth spending for this bass response alone is a different story. The multi-BA setup already does an acceptable job with the mids so I'm especially curious to hear how the mX module pairing is like - to tame that low end and give the highs space to breathe.

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64 Audio Fourte (1DD 3BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Addicted To Audio demo unit, AUD5299
I was immediately struck by an immense sense of space (for an IEM) achieved with its well implemented tubeless design and (possibly) midrange "tuning trick". The last time I remember being hit by this sense of awe was when I heard the early prototypes of Fir Audio's M-series back in mid-2019. The whole lineup (early prototypes only), from the M2 to M5 blew my mind at that time.

But anyway, onto the Fourte - it takes the form of a rough W-shape signature. The mid-bass doesn't give the impression of much bleed and possibly with the use of the mid TIA drivers, helps with a sense of a coherence. The mids seem to sit very close to the ear - an intimate sound is fine but this was characterised by a highly energetic upper-mid bump. They did balance it out with some lower-mids but the weird part was how they topped it off with a centre-mid recession which stripped vocals of their "body". Perhaps this was done to add to the impression of space.

It was strange at first, kinda like a V-shape midrange within its W-shape sound. How does that impact the listening experience? Vocals and strings had a really hard, edgy texture to them. Almost kind of like looking at a grainy, over-sharpened photograph - this contributes to the perception of immense detail the Fourte offers. Unlike the mids, the treble response is even-sounding between the lower and mid-treble though the overall quantity could be a little too much for some. That said, while surface level details and textures were rendered out fully, the Fourte's uconventional tuning holds it back from extracting the tiny nuances in timbre. On its overall presentation, imaging is fairly precise within this spacious headstage.

I'm hoping to give the new FIR Audio goods a try one day to see what their tubeless technology has to offer.
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Feb 12, 2022 at 11:52 AM Post #39 of 43

dooxtypoox

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BQEYZ Autumn Review
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The BQEYZ Autumn was kindly provided by BQEYZ
Price: USD199 from
BQEYZ Aliexpress
The Autumn was primarily tested on:
  • Normal filter. Differences with various filters are discussed towards the end of the review.
  • Stock L tips. I'm normally M but insertion depth is shallow so larger tips were needed to compensate.
  • Schiit IEMagni & Modi 3+ as a source.
The BQEYZ Autumn has a bright V-shape sound signature. Bass follows a wideband boost similar with prominence on the mid-bass with tapering down into the upper-bass. Upper-bass bleed can still be heard but this is slightly toned down to just some mild warmth as compared to the Summer which was distinctly warm in its upper-bass bleed.

The BQEYZ Autumn is still faithful to their house sound, that is, a highly textured upper-midrange and lower-treble response with a spike in the mid-treble. This varies from the BQEYZ Summer in 2 ways:
  1. The upper-mid/lower-treble region is brighter so for me, listening levels are lower than that of the Summer.
  2. The large mid-treble spike in the Summer is way more toned down in the Autumn, reaching an acceptable level to deem the Autumn an "alright" bright set. The Summer was sibilant at times and the hyper-boosted 8k region added significant artificial colouration to the sound by skewing the upper harmonics of various vocals and instruments. The Autumn sounds way less "forced" and more "natural" than the Summer (considering V-shape sound).
As a general rule of thumb, I would still classify the Autumn to be warmer and less bright in the highs than the Final Audio A4000.

Beyond that, the treble isn't all that well extended in the upper-treble. The high energy in the lower to mid-treble peaks already snatch up quite a bit of attention. Coupled with the presence of a hint of metallic timbre previously unfound in the Summer, I feel that regardless of its extension, listening pleasure wouldn't vary all too much. Those sensitive to an over-abundance of upper-mid/lower-treble frequencies should be wary of forking out USD199 for this.

The mild warmth in the low end prevents the Autumn from sounding thin. The mids have sufficient body to benefit from the upper-mid/lower-treble energy - it doesn't translate into pure shout but instead:
  1. Adds an element of artificial note sharpening and-
  2. A thin layer of grainy texture to give the impression of greater surface level detail
While the headstage remains solely within the head as with the Summer, I find the above 2 points to aid in the distinction of layers, to cut through the warmth. The Autumn has got passable layering and imaging even for USD199, which is a good thing but just don't expect anything too mind-blowing. I prefer the Autumn's tuning over the Summer's but overall technical ability isn't that big of a step-up to justify the USD70 price gap between the Summer and Autumn. This may bode well for the Summer's USD129 price tag but the Autumn's tuning is ultimately way more safe and agreeable.

Instead, the price jump probably stems from the use of a CNC metal shell and the implementation of the unique magnetic filter system (which works really well!). It definitely seems more durable and easy-to-use over tiny tuning switches which may rust into a certain configuration after some time.

Magnetic Tuning Filter System
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Bass filter
The middle to upper-bass becomes more audible, making the Autumn go from "mildly warm" to "warm". The bass response sounds similar to that of the Summer now. Upper-mids/lower-treble are now not as harsh when adjusting the balance with this small bass boost. However, this lends a bit of "bloat" to the Autumn. The "passable" technicals are now "barely passable" with the increased note thickness. Couple this with the fact that the Autumn with bass filter sounds like a very conventional V-shape, one may question its value if you're going to only use the bass filter just to avoid the potential harshness.

Treble filter
Bass response cleans up just a bit in just the upper-bass regions. Warmth from the mid-bass on the normal filter remains but the upper-bass is not as audible anymore. Upper-mids/lower-treble are still at the same intensity. Given that those who purchase this in favour of bright sounding signatures would have been alright with the normal filter's highs, I can see how the treble filter would be their favourite - it effectively cleans up the little bit of bloat present on the normal filter while the mids and highs remain the same.

Other relevant thoughts
  • Changes in tuning with the filters are not super drastic but just enough for an audible difference when blind testing.
  • Treble filter is my favourite as it showcases the Autumn's strengths best while still retaining a fair bit of warmth.
  • The provided ear tips help achieve a seal via shallow insertion only. This may exacerbate the higher frequencies to intolerable ranges for some.
  • Shallow insertion doesn’t feel very secure in my ears during active movement. I never use these when out and about so not quite a problem for me but YMMV.
  • Using tips that increase bore length to facilitate a deeper insertion does help slightly accentuate bass and attuenuate the highs (e.g. Spinfit CP100, Azla Sedna Earfit). But more importantly, the deeper insertion helped improve the Autumn's imaging by a little over the stock shallow fit.
In conclusion, my main takeaway for you is that the Autumn is a proficient bright V-shaped set with an awesome filter system. The upper-bass warmth can be adjusted to taste between the normal and treble filters. But the bass filter is mainly there… for taste. There is no need to consider it for purchase at all if you're into neutral or warm sets.
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Feb 14, 2022 at 1:56 AM Post #40 of 43

dooxtypoox

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In-store demo: Craft Ears BA lineup
Craft SIX
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Craft SIX (6BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Zeppelin & Co. demo unit, UIEM SGD1499, CIEM SGD1599
The CE6 has a very strict reverse L-shape response. Pretty neutral in the bass and mids with the only deviation (from neutral) being in the treble. I find myself turning the volume down quite a bit to make these tolerable which indicates its peakiness in the treble. This influences the vocals which have a bit of a graty texture to them. Its zealous upper-treble energy does more to lend an artificial raw timbre than to boost airiness.

The CE6 refrains itself from sounding "overly cold" with some sub-bass to boot. Basslines are very clean and it doesn't sound like there is even a bass boost at all on some songs. The overall signature may sit better in a custom format to increase sub-bass quantities from a perfect seal and to reduce treble peakiness with deeper insertion.

Imaging is pretty good but layering is "well separated but close together". Maybe it's because the CE6 is pretty unique from everything I've tried before but… I kind of like it. Kind of similar to the higher frequencies of my 64 Audio TIA Fourte impression writeup, the hard upper treble energy holds the CE6 back from showcasing the true details and nuances in the timbre. This is the only factor keeping me on the fence with this one. It would be interesting to see if my opinion changes with a dedicated long listening session for brain burn-in.

Definitely a must-try before considering if you have a strict budget. On a final note, I must add that I only enjoy the CE6 when I audition it as the VERY FIRST product. The CE6 sounds thin and overly-trebly in a direct A/B comparison with any of the other IEMs from the rest of the Craft Ears lineup, including the Aurum (writeup in next post).
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Craft FOUR
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Craft FOUR (4BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Zeppelin & Co. demo unit, UIEM SGD899, CIEM SGD999
This will be a relatively shorter writeup since I think it'll be easier to compare it with the CE2 that I have on hand. Being the predecessor to the Argentum, it follows the V-shape tuning but is markedly sharper and brighter than the Argentum (writeup in next post). The headstage isn't as well expanded as the CE6 probably because layering and imaging aren't spectacular. Next to the CE6, components of the mix sound "barely separated and clustered together" despite the artificial upper-mid and lower-treble sharpening which I normally find to improve instrument localisation to varying degrees.

However in the context of bright V-shape tunings, the CE4 does strike a nice counterweight with the mid-bass presence which makes the CE4 a pleasing listen purely from a tuning perspective. Perhaps it stands out from its fine balance of bass and treble, and/or maybe because of its upper-treble boost adding a somewhat unique colour onto its already coloured sound… I find that Craft Ears' very own V-shape variant is still a refreshing listen after coming from several V-shaped chi-fi IEMs. As with the CE6, I would expect the tuning to sound even better as a custom… though the technicals highlighted above would make me consider a different Craft Ears IEM for the money.
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Craft TWO
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Craft TWO (2BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Loaned from a friend, UIEM SGD599, CIEM SGD799
These were borrowed from a friend so they had plenty more ear-time than the other 2 models.

A V-shape like the CE4, but much warmer. The bass BA creates lots of warmth in the middle to upper-bass, lending chestiness and bloat to the mids. My non-audiophile friend commented "the singer sounds very far away, like there is something between me and the music". This is not balanced out by much upper-mids, but instead by some mid-treble energy which I find to create a bit of disjointedness in the sound.

It's like the bass and lower-mids dominate the signature but there is an unconventional bump in clarity in the mid-treble only, courtesy of the high BA. The mids don't get any vibrancy in the upper-mids or lower-treble to balance out the heavy low-end. Instead, I feel that the intended appeal here is the ability to discern the presence of cymbals and hats much better than expected for its dual BA design. I guess you could say this is sort of "fixed" in the CE4, which has no issues with its cohesive sound (though both CE2 & CE4 clearly aim for a distinctly different sound).

I think Craft Ears was aiming for a vastly different dual BA driver sound, since most dual BA setups I've heard follow a very conventional V-shape… actually somewhat similar to the CE4 (without the signature Craft Ears upper-treble energy). It sounds like those BAs in the CE2 were tuned to be more concentrated in their respective categories rather than to take on a more diverse range for cohesion. This seemed rather intentional to paint that thick sound that also brings forth most surface level details.

Having the pleasure to use these from day to day, these do offer something fairly unique for a CIEM, only from a tuning standpoint. Technicals aren't competitive at all if you're only considering these as a UIEM. Layering and imaging of the CE2 is somewhat similar to the CE4, but is unavoidably more sluggish by nature of its tuning.

Overall, the Craft 4 is the safest option, with Craft 2 being on the funky side. I find value in the Craft 2 and 4 being available as relatively affordable CIEMs only. I like the Craft 6 the most out of the 3 - it seems pretty niche with its raw sound but I can still see the appeal in its unique "clinical-ish" tuning and acceptable technical performance.
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Feb 15, 2022 at 6:02 AM Post #41 of 43

dooxtypoox

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In-store demo: Craft Ears Genesis Series
Craft Ears Argentum
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Craft Ears Argentum (1DD 2BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Zeppelin & Co. demo unit, UIEM SGD , SGD1149
In terms of price-to-performance, I think the Argentum offers the best deal in the whole lineup of Craft Ears' 6 IEMs. This is a V-shape signature done right imo. The carbon fibre DD offers highly impactful sub and mid bass with plenty of lotsa clarity for balance. Notably, drums brought forth and slam real hard. The mid-bass blooms a tad, adding warmth to the vocals. This is accompanied by some nice non-shouty texture in the upper-midrange. Compared to the CE4 which could get sharp, the Argentum has a way more natural tonal quality in the midrange. This could be due to the relative lack of lower-treble energy which works in tandem with the Argentum's sweet midrange.

As per Craft Ears' house sound, the middle to upper-treble are bumped up such that the softest sounds in the recording are forced right forward to the frontline with the drums. Not a very natural presentation, but an intentional one in the name of fun or to achieve an "analytical, I can hear everything" sound. This feature was higher in magnitude on the CE6 which made it quite iffy on whether I would sustain listening to it in the long term. I don't find the artificial boost to be piercing in the case of the Argentum.

Knowing that this is a hybrid with some bass bloom, the issue on DD & BA incoherence doesn't usually need to be spelled out. However, the Argentum has a double layer of incoherence that I've never quite experienced before. On top of the bloomy bass which can be slower than the mids, the treble sounds much faster than the mids. Cymbals attack way faster and sound overly thin compared to the mids, let alone the thunderous drums. This mids-&-treble incoherence can be heard on top of that of the conventional mids-&-bass incoherence. This may be a dealbreaker for studio accuracy but it's "forced" sound is still acceptable for musical enjoyment and stage monitoring. I think the CE6 is similar in imaging and layering - no "special sauce" but generally "well separated but close together".
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Craft Ears Aurum
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Craft Ears Aurum (1DD 4BA 2EST), tested on Sony ZX300
Zeppelin & Co. demo unit, SGD1999
Mids are rendered very similar to Argentum with that pleasing organic vibe but wow Craft Ears is relentless in that upper-treble boost. The dual ESTs deliver a treble response that sounds like a step up in intensity from the Argentum likely due to the relative lack of audible bass bleed. Although vocals on the Aurum don't have the same graty texture as the CE6, treble is still very intense. Some higher pitched strings and woodwinds included, cymbals in particular sizzle very aggressively over other instruments.

Like the Argentum, this takes away from the "natural" side of things, and displaces it into "intentional". A little domineering but at least other components of the mix can be heard through all the texture. Imaging is precise like the CE6 and Argentum but the sizzling treble pushes layers together so things don't seem as well separated as they could potentially be. It falls into the same "no-frills" category as the Argentum and CE6, "well separated but close together".

I do have to commend the Aurum's bass for punching deeply and cleanly. Rock tracks can sound lean from that skinny mid-bass but the PEN DD can certainly kick with songs that have a purposeful bass beat. The CE6 also has a concentration of energy in the sub-bass but it is barely audible (on my library) despite Craft Ears' RASEN Bass technology. Perhaps the difference lies in the method of delivery via a BA woofer VS the new PEN DD… or the Aurum just had more sheer quantity in the amplitude of the sub-bass bump.

To drop the truth bomb, the reason may lie in the similar midrange tonal quality but… the Aurum sounds highly similar to the Argentum with a much cleaner and concentrated sub-bass boost, and subsequently slightly more perceived middle and upper-treble.
  • On the plus side, the Aurum adopts my favourite feature of the Argentum - the organic midrange, and "cleans" it up. As a result, the tribrid Aurum ends up delivering a way more coherent sound than the hybrid Argentum.
  • On the minus, on top of the similar midrange DNA, the Aurum legitimately sounds like a technical side grade to the Argentum. Imaging and layering didn't strike me as particularly different between the Aurum, Argentum and CE6. The Aurum essentially almost sounds like an Argentum with a different EQ setting in the bass and treble… for almost twice the price.
This either spells good news for the Argentum's relative value… or the opposite for the Aurum. It's tricky for me to give a definitive comment on value since Aurum is indeed a competently tuned tribrid (albeit a little niche in the upper-treble). While the technical aspect isn't mind-blowing, it isn't lacking as described a couple of times above… just "good". At the same time, I have grown a soft spot for these 3 unique IEMs from Craft Ears. I don't think that there is anything that sounds quite like the Aurum, Argentum and CE6, that is also available in CIEM format.

After all, this isn't a "Buyers Guide" but just impressions from my relatively short time with them. Perhaps this may pique your interest and land Craft Ears on your audition list at best.
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Craft Ears Cuprum
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Craft Ears Aurum (1DD 2BA), tested on Sony ZX300
Zeppelin & Co. demo unit, SGD1049
Demo unit had a significant audible channel imbalance. Checked if polarity was correct on both sides and if the nozzle was clogged. Might update with details if anyone requests but here are some snaps in the meantime.
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Feb 16, 2022 at 12:26 AM Post #42 of 43

dooxtypoox

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Budget IEM roundup: CCA CA10, KZ CRN (ZEX Pro), KZ ZEX, CCA NRA

I used to delve into the ins and outs of every single little thing felt about budget IEMs. As a consumer myself, I asked myself: "What do people REALLY want to know?" I've grown to feel that in this category, paying buyers only really want to know if something is even worth their attention. Hence, I will only go into as much detail as I see fit with the goal to help with purchase decisions. If I skimp over details (e.g. imaging, layering etc…) it only is because it is truly, undeniably, unremarkable.

CCA CA10 & KZ CRN (ZEX Pro) were kindly provided by Doris from KZ, KZ Aliexpress
KZ ZEX was kindly provided by Jeff from KZ
CCA NRA was kindly provided by
Keep Hi-Fi

CCA CA10
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CCA CA10 (5BA, USD47)
I'm always eager to try out budget multi-BA setups. Budget hybrids don't often excite me as much because they normally take on a standard V-shape response with bloated bass and significant incoherence. They tend to sound fairly similar and I personally believe that budget hybrid configurations limit the tuning possibilities in the budget range. Instead, I find pure BA setups give the tuner more freedom to intentionally paint the sound signature they would like to go for. It opens up the possibilities for experimentation (for better or for worse).

The CCA CA10 has somewhat of a W-shape sound signature. The bass follows a mild wideband boost that mostly delivers a layer of warmth to the tunes. No sub-bass rumble, no mid-bass punch, just a layer of… warmth. I wouldn't say its veiled since the mids do cut through with quite a surprisingly well-controlled centre-midrange.

This is likely the only appeal of the CA10. Too much energy in the centre-mids can cause tinniness (singing through tin-can) but the energy here helps position the vocals forward for a more intimate midrange. Apart from a lack of vibrancy in the upper-mids, there isn't anything glaringly offensive about the midrange.

The lower-treble sounds subdued and the CA10 seems to just gently roll off after that. You could say that the CA10 is mid-centric but it doesn't do a particularly good job at any area in particular.

Other relevant opinions
  • Body is big and the included ear tips only allow for extremely shallow insertion.
  • Had to resort to 3rd party tips to achieve a good seal. I can't see how many people can get a good seal (if the body even fits their ear in the first place).
  • Back vent provides some nice pressure relief which is always welcome. Too bad the fit isn't safe for most ears - my ears which have a good track record with IEM comfort can barely wear these for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
Verdict: Not worth USD47
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KZ CRN (ZEX Pro)
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KZ CRN (ZEX Pro) (1DD 1BA 1MST, USD34)
I would have liked to see how I felt about this IEM before learning that the man himself collaborated with KZ. The bass hits with a light amount of sub-bass and hint of mid-bass. No bleeding into the mids which sit a little further forward with a tinge of body in the centre-midrange. Otherwise, the mids are fairly neutral up to the upper-mids and lower-treble which lack vibrancy. Not in a sense where I'm like "where's my upper-mid boost??", but more of "it's alright but noticeably dull sounding". The main difference between the CA10 and CRN is that the CA10 has a way more intimate and well-rounded midrange, perhaps because the CA10 has more lower-mids to give a sense of body.

I think the quantity of lower-treble is acceptable given that the absence of bass bleed doesn't warrant any bump in the presence range of the lower-treble to cut through any veil. All that's left is a neutral lower to centre-midrange which are well within safe limits… and a mid-treble spike. I'm not talking about misinterpreting the resonance peak from graphs, there is audibly some peaky energy in the mid-treble that keeps me from turning the volume up. It doesn't exert a negative influence on the IEF-neutral mids or make the CRN more sparkly; just keeps my listening volume at lower levels than normal to reduce listener fatigue.

The CRN sounds unlike all previous KZ models but it does fall on the side of "boring" to me. I don't think an IEM always needs to have slamming bass and ultra-sparkly treble to engage the listener. An IEM can also engage me in other ways such as:
  • High levels of layering and imaging - the CRN blends in with the rest of the budget chi-fi, at USD34 there is nothing to commend or complain about.
  • "True to life" presentation with highly accurate playback - this may very well be my perception of "accurate" varying from that of the IEF-neutral target itself.
I think the appeal lies in the CRN being one of the most relatively uncoloured IEM for USD34. I feel that the USD50 KB EAR Neon sits in the "uncoloured" category too but its warm single BA is just way too mushy for any enjoyment. I'd take the CRN over the Neon any day.

Other relevant opinions
  • Aggressive cymba protrusion gets uncomfortable for my right ear within ~30min, YMMV.
Verdict: At best, the CRN is a breath of fresh air from conventional V-shapes if you don't really wanna spend more than USD34, or even USD50 for the matter. At worst... it serves as support for our favourite YouTuber :wink:
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Quickie: KZ ZEX & CCA NRA
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KZ ZEX (1DD 1MST, USD22)
Sounds very similar. They're both V-shaped with a bloaty middle to upper-bass response, adding a veil upon the mids. The mids gain most of their energy from the centre-midrange due to the distinct lack of shout in the upper-mids and lower-treble. However, like the CRN, both have got a high frequency peakiness that does little to impact the sound signature itself and only serves to keep listening volumes at bay. Both the KZ ZEX and CCA NRA might have been a little more "fun" sounding had the fatiguing mid-treble area been slightly smoothed over.

Any difference at all? KZ ZEX bass response has more upper-bass bloat even on the same ear tips.

Other relevant opinions
  • The NRA comes with the same short stem tips as the CCA CA10 described above. However, the NRA's fit is very standard and these tips still make for an acceptable fit.
  • Without tip rolling, the NRA with short tips is a lot less bloaty in the bass than the ZEX.
Verdict: Both not worth USD22
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CCA NRA (1DD 1MST, USD22)
 
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Feb 17, 2022 at 1:18 AM Post #43 of 43

dooxtypoox

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Budget IEM roundup: CCA CRA, KZ ZES (ft. CCA BTX)

I used to delve into the ins and outs of every single little thing felt about budget IEMs. As a consumer myself, I asked myself: "What do people REALLY want to know?" I've grown to feel that in this category, paying buyers only really want to know if something is even worth their attention. Hence, I will only go into as much detail as I see fit with the goal to help with purchase decisions. If I skimp over details (e.g. imaging, layering etc…) it only is because it is truly, undeniably, unremarkable.

CCA CRA, KZ ZES & CCA BTX were kindly provided by Doris from KZ, KZ Aliexpress

KZ CRA
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KZ CRA (1DD, USD14)
Instantly reminded me of the EE Valkyrie Mk1 (from a very distant memory) with its deep V-shape sound which features a thin-ish midrange but bombastic bass and treble. I liked the EDX Pro back then for its big bass but it could get shouty in the lower-treble. This totally wipes the EDX Pro for the same type of sound signature - the CRA now encompasses this big bass and removes the shouty aspect. Essentially a very good, deep budget V-shape.

Bass is concentrated in the sub and mid-bass with little upper-bass/lower-mid bleed which contributes to the thin quality. Mids are notably softer and thin-sounding as compared to the bass and treble. The overall sound isn't thin as a whole and is still tolerable with the audible and tactile bass bump "filling in the thin gaps" in songs that have good bass going on for it. More specifically for the midrange, it derives most of its energy from the lower-treble region which gives plenty of definition/sharpening of notes.

The CRA also has a surprisingly good treble response. Fantastic even. Upper-mid shoutiness isn't bound to be an issue with the CRA but will the lower-treble's "cutting" presence be a problem? Thankfully not (phew). This might stem from a good balance on the bass-treble see-saw, with the bass taking slight precedence over the lower-treble. I'm normally sensitive to an overly sharp lower-treble but they nailed its level of presence here. I don't feel any high frequency fatigue with higher volumes likely because the CRA doesn't spike again in the higher registers but gradually tapers down into the middle and upper-treble. The result is an aggressive but safe treble response that benefits the CRA in a variety of ways:
  • Gives plenty of definition to notes (artificial but kinda fun)
  • Drags out tiny surface level details
  • Delivers a treble kick with loud and aggressive cymbals hits… without piercing the eardrums. Kind of like enjoying a good curry without too much spice.
  • Probably the most enjoyable cymbal presentation I've heard in the budget realm. Good lower-treble attack and a nice decay that isn't distractingly harsh and metallic.
The CRA is also fairly well extended into the air frequencies without any harshness which is the cherry on top. No closed-in claustrophobia with this bad boi. Left-right stereo imaging is very good. Perhaps this is because instruments sound way louder than vocals which amplifies this trait. Imaging is also aided by the highly defined notes which increases precision of localisation. For layering, the lack of much bass bleed and tasteful sharpening of notes gives adequate space between layers.

I wasn't intending to write much but the CRA sure as hell deserves it. My main complaint would be that the thin mids are far from accurate sounding and suck the life out of any songs without core band instruments. I hope the CRA is consistent between units because I was extremely pleased to hear what it had to offer. Sure, it isn't "true to life" but it sure is a hella fun IEM for the money. They may come out with the KZ variant eventually but I honestly don't feel the need to change much for the sound signature they were going for.

Verdict: The CRA still impresses me 2 weeks down the track so I'm joining the hype train. Instant recommend for a USD14 (deep) V-shape.
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KZ ZES
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KZ ZES (1DD, USD??)
The KZ ZES is an unreleased product without an official price tag. Follows a regular V-shape sound signature. The massive sub and mid-bass bump of the NRA is now much more tame though a slight hump is still there. More of that mild "lending warmth" vibe than something to give slam. The midrange is also more slightly bodied with more centre-mids accompanied by a non-shouty upper-mid boost to give a bit of an edge.

The ZES is not as prominent in the lower-treble and instead gets most energy from the mid-treble and this is the ZES's biggest problem. Cymbal hits don't have much impact and make themselves audible through their decay with some shimmer from the mid-treble. I suspect this was done in a peaky manner overshadowing the bass and mids as the overall signature is not enjoyable - there is a "cloud" of metallic harshness which ruins the timbre. Oh, and imaging and layering are abysmal.

The treble also isn't as well extended into the air frequencies as the CRA but… it wouldn't make a difference with that annoying treble energy anyway.

Other relevant opinions
  • It has been a while since the ZES was sent out to reviewers but it still hasn't been released at the time of writing. Hopefully they can listen to feedback and get by with a retune before the official release.
  • Look pretty cool and well built.
  • Would look absolutely sick with red accents in place of green for that robocop vibe.
Verdict: Not worth at any price point. Get the CRA instead.
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Special feature: CCA BTX true wireless adaptor
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CCA BTX, USD43
Doris also sent this true wireless adaptor which seems pretty cool.

Controls
  • Single press either button to play/pause
  • Double tap left side for previous track
  • Double tap right side for next track
  • Triple tap right side for low-latency high performance mode
Relevant opinions
  • Charges via USB-C, short 13cm USB-A to USB-C cable provided.
  • Charging case is roomy to safely fit most IEMs but takes up way more space than a regular TWS case.
  • IEMs may slap against the inside of the case with some shaking.
  • Aggressive ear curve fits securely but a little finnicky to get it to wrap around the ear at the start.
  • Latency good for videos but not for video editing even on low-latency high performance mode. But then again, nothing on the market truly is (to my knowledge).
  • No volume control
Sound testing
Since I did most listening for my reviews above through the Schiit IEMagni and Modi 3+, I can draw some sonic comparisons here. On the same chi-fi IEMs, the BTX is neutral with some high frequency hardness. I feel a warm signature would suit better if you're going to be out and about with this to compensate for the loss of lower frequencies when out-and-about. An easy way around it would be to pair warmer IEMs with this.

The bass on the same IEMs will hit less hard and sound more mushy and compressed. Nothing game-changing with regard to micro-details and dynamics either. It goes without saying that the BTX doesn't perform anywhere close to a proper wired desktop setup and its sole purpose is a wireless portable solution with the flexibility to pair it with any budget IEMs of your liking (with a QDC style protruding 2-pin connector).

However, the BTX will set you back $43 without accounting for the added cost of the IEM(s) you purchase to pair with it. At the level it performs for sound quality, it's hard for me to justify its value when you can just get a regular cheaper TWS that probably won't significantly differ in quality (and fit in your pocket better).

Verdict: Save the wired IEMs for use with your main setup and get a cheap true wireless for the same function as the BTX instead.
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