[Review] Hisound Earbuds (HiPhone Line, PAA-1, Living)
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tomscy2000

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[size=10.0pt]Hisound Audio is a Chinese audio manufacturer with aspirations of being a leader in the enthusiast/audiophile segment of portable audio. Its products are no stranger to Head-Fi, namely their media players --- the AMP3 and the Studio variants. However, Hisound as a company is still an unknown quantity as they tend to make products that leave people wanting for more.[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]Early last month, Hisound’s Mr. Fu contacted me to review a number of their newer earbud products as well as their budget portable media player, the AMP3-M. While most of my experience has been with IEMs, I accepted Mr. Fu’s offer as he’d been extremely courteous throughout our entire correspondence --- it didn’t feel right to refuse him.[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]I received a total of six different earphones, three iPhone remote-enabled versions, two regular earbuds, and one bundled with the music player. Of these six different earphones, I only really found two to be of any real interest to forum frequenters. Nevertheless, I’ll give a rundown of the other products as well.[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]Living[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]I’ll start with the earbud that showed the most promise. The ‘Living’ is the successor to the ‘Live’, previously reviewed by other Head-Fi members here and here. The two models look very similar with some minor changes for the better, namely that the lettering has changed to an elegant script typeface much more in line with the classy style of the all-metal housing. This simple change of typeface makes all the difference in the world and the ‘Living’ now looks and feels the part of an earbud as good as any I’ve ever seen. Its 16mm drivers are overlaid by a handsome metallic grille, and the wiring is wrapped by a very durable plastic sheen. The Y-split, although missing a neck cinch, was very robust, and the terminating straight plug felt very durable. They even incorporated their ‘hi’ logo on its surface --- very nice attention to detail.[/size]
 
The Hisound Living is a well-built, handsome, and classy looking earbud.​
 
[size=10.0pt]I do wish Hisound had put as much attention to the sound quality, however. They’d obviously intended for the ‘Living’ to be one of their higher end earbuds (if not the flagship earbud product), and put in a driver I thought showed really good potential. From the outset, the closely-voiced midrange sound was very detailed and had very good transparency. While there wasn’t much sub-bass to speak of (not really an issue with earbuds, in my opinion), the bass and mid-bass were punchy, clear, and very well-controlled. The problem --- and a fairly serious one at that --- was that there was a distinct treble spike and abrupt roll-off on both extremes that made the overall sound feel ‘tinny’ and almost hollow. The net effect was one of very colored, artificial-sounding treble that seemed to taint the entire frequency response.[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]I thought that perhaps I was jumping to conclusions with a sample that was not burned-in, so I let it run for 50+ hours. As expected, the general sound signature was the same --- detailed mids, pleasant low end, but very colored highs. Extension improved (low end extension was below 30 Hz, and upper extension was at 16 kHz although rolloff began at 13.5 kHz), and the ‘tinny’ feel was less pronounced but still present, because of a very large bump at 2.5-3.5 kHz, another one at 4.5 kHz, a huge spike around 8.5-9 kHz, and a smaller surge around 11 kHz.[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]In its acquittal, despite the metallic sound, the overall feel of the ‘Living’ was quite pleasant and if I weren’t a listener that preferred the most neutral sound possible I probably would’ve quite liked the sound of the ‘Living’.[/size][size=10.0pt] Despite the hiccup with the treble, this much I know is true --- the drivers inside the ‘Living’ are very capable. I don’t know the price point at which Hisound is planning to sell the ‘Living’, but if they hold off on putting it to market and spend some more time adjusting the tuning of the ‘Living’ to rid it of obvious frequency spikes and bumps, they have themselves a real winner and should be able to compete well against any of the high-end earbuds on the market.[/size]
 
SPECIFICATIONS
[size=10.0pt]Type: Dynamic, Open[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Driver Size: 16 mm[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Impedance: 32​​ ohm[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Sensitivity: 107 dB[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Maximum SPL: 125 dB (1 kHz, 1 V rms)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Frequency Response: 16 – 23,000 Hz[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Earphone Jack: Straight 3.5 mm TRS[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Cable Length: 110 cm[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]PAA-1[/size]
[size=10.0pt](Two Versions: One is included with the AMP3-M and the other is a standalone, augmented version)[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]Since I was sent two different versions of the PAA-1, I will refer to them as the V.1 and the V.2. The V.1 PAA-1 was included with the AMP3-M player I was sent for review, while the PAA-1 V.2 was [/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]If you were sent samples of any of Hisound’s music players, then you’ve heard the PAA-1 before. Taking the original PAA-1 further, the black PAA-1 V.2 has the most balanced, mature sound out of all the earbuds I was sent. It doesn’t quite offer as much detail as the ‘Living’, but has a much flatter, neutral frequency response and as a result is able to play more genres better. Unlike the ‘Living’, which possessed excellent design and build quality but a flawed sound tuning, the PAA-1 V.2’s problems laid within its design. I am personally not a fan of the asymmetrical cord design and found it unnecessarily cumbersome on the PAA-1 V.2. The matte rubber coating on the earbud housings were also scratched out of the box, pointing to sub-par quality control.[/size]
 
The black PAA-1 "V.2" is the standalone version of the PAA-1. The build quality isn't amazing, but is adequate.
 
[size=10.0pt]Once you put the PAA-1 V.2 on, however, almost all is forgiven. At just a hair less than $20 USD, the PAA-1 presents very well-rounded performance in the rapidly shrinking world of earbuds. As mentioned before, its 16mm drivers don’t present as much microdetail as the ones on the ‘Living’, but they are indeed very balanced. Both bass extension and impact are better, and balance well against a relatively clean treble and capable midrange. While the midrange could’ve been more forward, I wouldn’t characterize the PAA-1 V.2 as recessed. Overall, the V.2 is very similar to the V.1, It is indeed a very nicely balanced earbud that definitely outperforms its list price. Interestingly enough, the original version of the PAA-1 came without an asymmetrical neck cord and I would advocate that Hisound return to that design. The matte rubber finish is also an improvement to the overall feel of the product, but Hisound should run a tighter ship when it comes to quality control. [/size]
 
SPECIFICATIONS
[size=10.0pt]Type: Dynamic, Open[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Driver Size: 16mm[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Impedance: 32​​ ohm[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Sensitivity: 105 dB[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Maximum SPL: 120 dB (@1 kHz, 1 Vrms)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Frequency Response: 17 - 22 kHz[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Earphone Jack :Straight [/size]3.5mm TRS
[size=10.0pt]Cable Length: longer cable 127cm, shorter cable 93cm[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]HiPhone Earbud & IEM for Apple Products[/size]
 
Truth be told, I spent most of my time listening to the Living and PAA-1 --- for good reason. The Apple-compatible products that Hisound sent me really were quite forgetable as products.
 
[size=10.0pt]HiPhone-1 & 3 Earbuds (Black & White, respectively)[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]Hisound indicated to me that the black Hiphone-1 earbud was designed for all Apple products (iPhone, iPad, iPod), while the white Hiphone-3 was only designed for the iPod with a more mainstream sound, but I after several hours of A/B-ing, I really couldn’t hear a difference between the two. Yes, the Hiphone-1 was very slightly less bassy and more controlled, but it wasn’t a large difference and could’ve been a variation between [/size]builds. They don't seem to have a different sound signature at all. [size=10.0pt]However, whatever the difference is, it’s not the difference between $19 and $29. I have no idea how Hisound is pricing these things. Overall, both earbuds are a definite improvement over the iBuds, but are fairly average sounding in the grand scheme of things. They present a sound suitable for mainstream music, but I'm nevertheless still confused as to why a company would need to introduce [/size]two different earbud products for iDevices.
 
 
The HiPhone line of iPhone/iPod/iPad compatible earbuds and IEM needs to be rethought.
 
[size=10.0pt]HiPhone-2 IEM[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]While Hisound is capable of creating earphones that produce decent sound, the HiPhone-2 is not one of them. To me, the HiPhone-2 was by far the worst sounding earphone of the bunch. I don’t know whether or not I’ve been listening to high-end IEMs for too long or what, but I absolutely hated the sound of the HiPhone-2 --- mid-recessed, veiled, rolled off, and not very resolving.[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]The HiPhone-2 is without question a bass-driven IEM; on bass heavy hip-hop tracks like Far East Movement’s ‘Girls on the Dance Floor’ and Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’, the HiPhone-2 boomed with a murkiness on par with the most vulgar bass monsters out there --- certainly the most U-shaped IEM I’ve used in a very long time. Unfortunately, the bassy character of the Hiphone IEM isn’t at all satisfying as it doesn’t extend nearly as low as it pretends to.[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]To make matters worse, sound quality was the least of the HiPhone IEM’s problems. Although it was housed in a metal casing akin to that of the V-Moda Vibe, the nozzle had no cloth grille protecting its innards, exposing the driver directly to the outside world. When I first put them on, I noticed severe, annoying driver flex, worse than any random $5 canalphone I’ve ever tried. In addition, the included ear tips really weren’t intended to fit on the HiPhone IEM’s housings. They constantly separated from the housings and stayed inside my ears whenever I put them on. I finally switched to a pair of generic double flange tips I had laying around, and they finally stayed on because of a flanged design on the[/size] neck.
 
[size=10.0pt]All I can say is that for $39, there are much better options out there than the HiPhone-2 IEM. The added iPhone remote is definitely not worth the price hike.[/size]
 
SPECIFICATIONS
[size=10.0pt]HiPhone 1/3[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Type: Dynamic, Open[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Driver Size: 16 mm[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Impedance: 32​​ ohm[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Sensitivity: 105 dB[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Maximum SPL: 120 dB (@[/size]1 kHz, 1 Vrms)
[size=10.0pt]Frequency Response: 17 - 22,000 Hz[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Earphone Jack: Straight 3.5 mm TRRS[/size]
 
 
[size=10.0pt]Conclusion[/size]
 
[size=10.0pt]Hisound as a company is probably at its best as a boutique shop that focuses on value-priced, higher-end products. There are few companies that produce players like the Studio or earbuds like the Living. While the volume [/size]market is one in which most companies strive to make in-roads, Hisound in my assessment miscalculated the appeal of its lower-end products.
 
[size=10.0pt]With the Living, Hisound has produced an earbud with very solid build quality. However, its lower-end products do not hold up to the scrutiny of a reasonable QC process. The build quality on its line of iDevices-enabled earphones were not up to snuff, as every single product showed visible signs of outer coat chipping. In the area of sound quality, Hisound has capable earbuds in the form of the Living and PAA-1 ("V.2"), but dropped the ball when making their Apple-compatible HiPhone line. [/size]If I were to run Hisound, I'd abandon the entire HiPhone line. Apple product users tend to place a premium on looks and build-quality, and the HiPhone line possesses neither. It would be a wiser choice to make iDevice-compatible variants of the Crystal, PAA-1 and Live/Living, as they at least possess sound quality that surpasses the typical consumer earphone. While the prices on these earphones may be higher, the HiPhone line isn't exactly an appealing value alternative to Apple compatible earphones from other brands.
 
[size=10.0pt]Lastly, Hisound has yet to improve on its corporate branding. It had a good start with a logo that doesn’t look horrible, but it has a long way to go regarding its consistency in its brand identity and should begin exploring streamlining its typefaces on all its products. It’s always very disconcerting to see Times New Roman juxtaposed next to Arial on a [/size]music player, or Comic Sans in an instruction manual. The lack of brand identity is a problem I notice with many Chinese companies that have the technical know-how but not the marketing savvy to product truly appealing products for a mass audience. The audio enthusiast on Head-fi may not care about packaging as long as a product delivers quality sound, but the average consumer does.
 
[size=10.0pt]All in all, I applaud Hisound for bravely pushing onward in a portable audio market that has been oversaturated for years. It is, after all, Hisound’s intention to become a leader in this audiophile segment and they bravely endure the criticisms that Head-Fiers dole out. Each time, they come out with a product that is incrementally better, however small (e.g. the Studio-V versus the original Studio), leading me to believe that they do intend on becoming a better company.[/size] It is not my intention to besmirch the Hisound brand with my relatively negative review, but rather I hope it is seen as constructive criticism for Hisound to improve on.
 
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james444

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tomscy2000

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Thanks.. I wish I'd heard some of the high end earbuds e.g. Yuin, 9-Wave, etc. to compare the Living and PAA-1 to though... I have no doubt the Living can measure up to the better earbuds out there, but the treble just doesn't sound at all natural to my ears. If I could compare the Living to something, I'd choose the SR325, but even the Grado has a less colored treble response. The PAA-1 is a much more accurate sounding earbud, but is lower tier in terms of SQ.
 
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fatman

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 Great review.  I have one pair of Living too. I have the similar experience as tomscy2000 
 
 But after about 500 hours burning , the highs is much more smooth and fun. it is totally improved. If you have only 50 hours burn in, it is not enough.
 
 Regard to the bass, maybe it is depend on the personal's taste. to me , the bass of Living is enough. fot the I am not the bass head.
 
I have no the rest earphones of Hisound's.
 
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tomscy2000

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I can understand that people can definitely enjoy the sound of the Living, and I can understand graininess going away and extension improving, but I don't foresee the treble becoming any more natural, even with 1000 hours of burn-in --- sound signatures just don't change that much. The sound signature needs to be controlled initially during the driver design stage or else those treble spikes aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
 
I personally don't mind the bass quantity on the Living either. Its mid-bass is particularly excellent. However, the PAA-1 does offer more impactful and more extended bass at the slight sacrifice of some speed and control.
 
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fatman

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  I would like repeat again. I hope to see your new post on commenting the bass and highs after 500 hours or more  burning in time.  It is unbelievable
that after 500 hours buring, the Living almost become other pair of earphone.
 
 To me, before the first 100 hours of burning  in. I can't tolerate for half an hour to listen it. Just like tomscy2000  said that the sound is thin and harsh with the highs.
 
 After 500 hours burning in, I can listen and enjoy it for hours.
 
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fatman

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 I agree with you that the sound signature will not changed that much by burning.in.
 
But maybe you don't quite understand what I mean after buring in, the highs will be more "smooth", say, not harsh, and not fatigue. So, I describe as fun.
 
Yes, I have very similar experience of yours, maybe worse, for before 100 hours burning, I can't listen to it.

 
Quote:
I can understand that people can definitely enjoy the sound of the Living, and I can understand graininess going away and extension improving, but I don't foresee the treble becoming any more natural, even with 1000 hours of burn-in --- sound signatures just don't change that much. The sound signature needs to be controlled initially during the driver design stage or else those treble spikes aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
 
I personally don't mind the bass quantity on the Living either. Its mid-bass is particularly excellent. However, the PAA-1 does offer more impactful and more extended bass at the slight sacrifice of some speed and control.


 
 
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tomscy2000

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Well, I actually don't think the highs are harsh and didn't even state that they were harsh in the review; perhaps for the first few hours they were, but they're not harsh at all now.
 
I have an issue with the treble coloration. Instruments and voices sound unnatural because of frequency bumps in that spectrum. It felt as though Hisound wanted to emulate the Grado sound but didn't quite do it right. The Living has the potential to be a truly excellent earbud --- it really does. The detail levels are there. The speed and control are there. The dynamic response, however, is not and is limited to a boosted treble that does not sound faithful to source material. The result is an earbud that sounds like it has had dynamic compression limited to the upper midrange to treble. It is perfectly okay to have an earphone with midrange or treble emphasis, but this is taking it a bit too far.
 
I will keep burning them in and let you know if the sound changes after 500 hours. I doubt it will --- I have about 100 hours on it right now, and it doesn't sound any different than it was at 50 hours.

 
Quote:
 
  I would like repeat again. I hope to see your new post on commenting the bass and highs after 500 hours or more  burning in time.  It is unbelievable
that after 500 hours buring, the Living almost become other pair of earphone.
 
 To me, before the first 100 hours of burning  in. I can't tolerate for half an hour to listen it. Just like tomscy2000  said that the sound is thin and harsh with the highs.
 
 After 500 hours burning in, I can listen and enjoy it for hours.


 
 
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Thanks for the well written and helpful review, you said "[size=10pt]At just a hair less than $20 USD, the PAA-1"  I didn't spot a link pointing to where I can pick these up for that.  Can you provide one?[/size]
 
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