This is my first post on Hifiguides, although I have been reading the forum for quite some time.
The reason why I am creating this thread is to hopefully share some of my reviews with you all. There are already some great reviewers on this forum and I don’t feel that my reviews are in any way better that those posted by the reviewers that are already present, I am just of the belief that the more information shared regarding a product the better.
I have a small YouTube channel where I post my reviews in video format, but only in Spanish, and I also have a blog where all my reviews are posted in written form, both in English and Spanish.
To be honest, I am not someone who likes to just drop links to my reviews on forums and websites where I am a guest, therefore I post the full review with only links to the Spanish versions in case anyone is interested. I also refrain from posting direct purchase links, even though I do not use affiliate links, keeping these links limited to the reviews posted on my own site and channel only.
Anyhow, I don’t want to create a mile long first post, so if anyone wants to know more details about how I create my reviews, further information can be found here: About my reviews.
I know that I just said that I don’t like leaving just links to my reviews and will post the full review, I will certainly do so moving forwards, however, I feel that the best way to get to know a reviewer is by reading/watching their reviews to get a feel for what they think of items that we already know.
Therefore, and I promise that this is a one time thing, here is a list of my previous reviews. You can click on any of the reviews and it will take you to the version of the review hosted on www.achoreviews.com or www.youtube.com/achoreviews
Here is my review of the Moondrop Quarks. This review, as with all of my reviews, is also available in Spanish on my blog and on Youtube, links at the end of this post.
The Moondrop Quarks are a new set of budget IEMs from a brand that I am quite fond of. Coming in at around 10€, there is no doubt that these are aimed at the most economical segment of the market, easily inside the sub 50€ category that I like to mention on Acho Reviews and well below the price of the previous budget offerings I have reviewed from the brand, such as the SSR and SSP.
As is to be expected for 10€, the presentation is very basic and the contents are limited, but they are still presented in a way that is superior to many budget IEMs.
Arriving in a simple, small, black cardboard box (without any sign of anime), the contents consist of the IEMs with their fixed cable, a couple of sets of silicone tips in various sizes, a small card explaining how to wear them correctly, a small carrying bag and a small Moondrop branded velcro cable tie.
I really don’t think much more can be expected at this price!
Build and aesthetics…
My first impression of the Quarks was that they are tiny, I think they are the smallest set of IEMs I have ever had, even smaller than the Hifiman RE line and even the Sony MH755. This means that the IEMs fit easily inside the ear, making them comfortable even when lying on one’s side. I have mentioned before that I like to keep a set of small IEMs with me, especially when traveling, in case I want to watch movies or just listen to music while in bed. The Quarks definitely fit the bill.
The build quality is also quite respectable for such a small plastic shell. The shells are transparent, allowing the internals to be seen, and are even colour coded on the backs so that there is no need to search for tiny letters which are usually printed in black on black, almost impossible to read in low light. I like this and congratulate Moondrop on doing something that is so simple but so useful at the same time.
The cable, which is not detachable, is not the highest quality cable in the world, however I don’t really have too many complaints. I do prefer the cloth covered cable of the Hifiman RE series rather than the grey rubberized cable of the Quarks but the amount of tangles seems to be about equal.
I really don’t have any complaints with the build quality for the price and I find them very comfortable, therefore I am quite happy with what I have received for 10€ in this respect.
I have reviewed a few of these style IEMs recently, such as the Tanya, E500 and EM205 (and previously the RE400 and RE600s) of which my favourites have been the Tanya and the RE600s (IEMs that are very different in terms of the sound signature). However, all of these IEMs, while economical, have been priced much higher than the Quarks. I will mention some comparisons in a moment but first I want to focus on the Quarks themselves in my usual procedure.
Starting with subbass, using my usual test tracks, I do find that there is a roll off in the lowest registers which, to be honest, is to be expected in something this size. However, there is enough sub bass to get a bit of a rumble and little tickling of the eardrum when listening to tracks like “Chameleon”, especially if volume is increased over my usual listening levels. I guess that “Chameleon” is a little exaggerated, so listening to something that is a little calmer like “Royals” by Lorde, there is a presence of subbass but not enough to be considered a sub bass heavy set of IEMs.
Moving into the mid and higher bass frequencies, again I find that these are not really bass boosted, or at least not to the level of being considered a bassy tuning. With my usual test tracks like “No Sanctuary Here” by Marian Herzog feat Chris Jones, or “Sun is Shining” by Robin Schultz & Bob Marley, there is enough bass for me to find the tracks enjoyable but those that like a bit of boost in their music may find the Quarks a little below their target.
The transition into the lower mids is fairly clean, with no obvious bass bleed, this is helped by the fact that the bass regions are not overly boosted. As we move through the mids, there is a bit of a dip in the center but the fall and rise that lead in and out of this recess is smooth and does not exaggerate the dip in the mids. In general the mids are clean and well balanced, allowing the presence of both vocals and mid centric instruments to be present without being harsh or seemingly over compensated in any of their frequencies.
Moving from the mids up into the higher ranges, there is a peak around the 3kHz mark that could be a little problematic for some but in my case I find that it brings back some of the presence that would otherwise be lost by the dip in the mids and it does so without seeming to create harshness nor make voices come across as nasal.
Sibilance is avoided for the most part, although it does sometimes seem to be on the verge. It doesn’t present an amount of sibilance that is too uncomfortable but there are occasions when there is too much emphasis on the “S”, mainly in songs that are almost sibilant in their own recordings. If you listen to tracks that are already sibilant in their mastering, then the Quarks will not tame these, but they don’t really make them unlistenable either (unless the song is already beyond the point of being listenable itself, like some of the Marilyn Manson stuff for example).
As far as extension, there is a fair amount there, especially for a single dynamic driver in this budget category. Yes, it could extend more (which is the case with almost all single DD budget IEMs that I try) but in general it is acceptable and there is a reasonable amount of air that helps give the sensation of clarity to the IEMs without overly boosting the lower treble areas.
As far as detail, speed, dynamics and all those kinds of things, well, it is certainly not bad for a 10€ IEM. It is definitely not a set of IEMs that will be used for scrutinizing audio tracks and it is not a detail monster but it is more than capable of keeping up and presenting details that are enough to enjoy the music and not feel that half of the information is missing. This is helped by the fact that the tuning is rather clean and, as I mentioned, the upper treble helps give the sensation of clarity and detail that would not be present if it was more rolled off.
As far as soundstage and image placement, I’m afraid I am just going to say what I say in 95% of my IEM reviews, it’s around average for a set of budget IEMs. In fact, I could probably just copy and paste my impression of soundstage and placement across the majority of IEMs that I try, as there are very few that surprise me in this aspect (and many of those surprise me for the worse). In the case of the Quarks, they are not incredible, you are not going to feel that you are immersed in a musical space, however, they are acceptable enough to enjoy the music.
Comparison to the Tanchjim Tanya…
I find that the Tanya and the Quarks are very comparable overall but are a totally different approach to how the music is presented.
With the Tanya, there is more emphasis on the lower end of the spectrum, adding an overall warmth to the sound that is very pleasurable to many. In the case of the Quarks, the overall tuning is more balanced, more neutral, resulting in a sound that seems to be clearer in general.
Now, the sensation that it is clearer is actually due to the tuning and not necessarily the actual performance. Neither of the two IEMs are highly detailed, in fact, I would say they are about on a par with each other, the overall performance is very similar, it is just that the Quarks can give more of a sensation of detail due to the reduction in the lower frequency emphasis.
I would say that comparing the Tanya to the Quarks is like comparing the Porta-Pro to the KSC75, both are very similar but the overall tuning is what will make someone have a preference towards one or the other. By this I am not saying that these IEMs are similar to the Koss offerings, just that they sort of compare to each other in the same way.
Personally I prefer the tuning of the Quarks but either one is enjoyable as a simple BGM set of IEMs.
Comparison to the Hifiman RE600s…
This is not really a fair comparison as the RE600s have a retail price that is 20x the Quarks but I am mentioning it as I find the overall presentation to be similar. Yes, the RE600s is more detailed, making it something I would prefer if I am focusing on music and wanting to use a set of tiny IEMs such as these, however, for basic background music or a relaxed listen in bed at night, I find that the Quarks perform more than adequately.
I am more than happy with what the Moondrop Quarks offer for the price, in fact, I am happy with the Quarks overall. They are not a set of IEMs that intend to compete with higher range IEMs, nor are they IEMs that attempt to be something they are not. They are a simple set of cheap, comfortable and easy to listen to IEMs.
Personally I have too many IEMs but as I have mentioned in the past (and in this review), I like to have a small set of IEMs that live in my bag and get used at random times for simple, no frills, music (or movie) enjoyment. The Quarks are a set that fit this no problem.
I can also see them being a set that many people will enjoy as their only set of IEMs, offering a great value for money for those who just want a simple set of cheap IEMs for daily use, far superior to those included with cell phones (do they even include earphones with cell phones nowadays?). In fact, both the Quarks and the Tanya fit this use case perfectly, which one someone will enjoy will only depend on their tuning preferences.
I think that this is the 6th set of Moondrop IEMs that I have reviewed and I must say that the relation quality/price always seems to be very fair with the brand. The Quarks are another example.
It is not a review but I have posted a written interview with a reviewer that some of you may know, Precogvision.
You can see the interview here:
I also posted one with Antdroid a few weeks ago, in case you are interested:
I hope to continue to post these now and again, making them a series of interviews. I feel that getting to know some of the reviewers a little better helps understand their tastes and where they are coming from.
As always, this review is also available in Spanish on my blog and YouTube, links at the end of this post.
Review of the Marshall MID ANC
The Marshall MID ANC have been sent to me for review by a subscriber of the Acho Reviews YouTube channel. As a follower of the channel, I hope that it is clear that my reviews are as honest and sincere as possible, independently of who sends me the item. However, as always, it is always good to be clear on the fact that it hasn’t cost me anything to test these headphones.
Marshall is a brand that I have known for many years in the guitar world, anyone who has done live music or played with a band will have heard the brand and anyone who has listened to any music that contains electric guitars will most definitely have heard a Marshall amplifier being used (whether they know it or not).
Although their main focus has always been guitar amplifiers and cabinets, Marshall also makes quite a few other things, some of them focused on the personal audio space, such as bluetooth speakers or, in this case, headphones.
The MID ANC are a set of headphones that are quite commonly found in electronics stores and are a bluetooth (and wired) set of headphones with Active Noise Cancelling.
To be totally honest, although I had briefly tried a couple of Marshall headphones in the past, I have never really spent any time with them (until now) and I really didn’t have any idea of the price of this particular model. I did a quick check online and I have found them to be anywhere between 190€ and 260€ in various places. The price does not affect my opinion of the headphones in general but it is relevant to certain aspects, for example, it is not the same to have issues with a cable at 50€ as it is at 500€ (I am not referring to any issues with the MID ANC here, just making a general observation).
So, the price bracket they sit in is quite a populated segment in the bluetooth headphone world, with or without ANC, but I don’t really have many reference models of BT headphones in general tocompare with. Yes, I have tried quite a few, but that has been mostly in stores and isn’t really enough to be able to compare them directly, therefore I will just give my own general opinion of them.
These headphones have been sent to me with all the original packaging and contents (at least I believe so), therefore I didn’t get to unbox them but I did get to see all the included bits.
They arrive in a square black box with an image of the headphones and the branding on the cover. There are details and specs distributed around the exterior of the box but the important bits are obviously inside.
Inside we get the headphones, a micro-USB charging cable, a headphone cable (for using them wired) that has an inline microphone, a nice carrying case and a user manual. Nothing out of the ordinary but enough to not be missing anything.
I actually like the carrying case quite a bit as it is a simple square shape, with a faux leather finish resembling the Marshall amplifier and cabs, with the Marshall logo in gold. As it is a simple squar, instead of some molded shape, I find it easier to store and carry. The finish of the carrying case also hits a soft spot with me after so many years surrounded by guitar and bass amps.
Build and aesthetics…
The headphones also follow the Marshall aesthetics. The cups are plastic but they are also textured to resemble the Marshall leather look, with the logo again embossed in gold letters, as is to be expected. The yokes are metal, as is the headband, which is covered in faux leather on the top but has a velour type interior to the headband, a nice little touch. The cables that run from the headband to the cups are of the spiral type which adds to the retro-style look of them.
These headphones are on-ear, not over ear, and are rather small and square shaped. I am not overly fond of on-ear headphones (except for some Koss) and the MID ANC are no exception, in fact, I find the square shape of the cups to be rather strange and I am not really keen on how they feel while wearing them. There is a nice extension on the headband, which is good, and they also swivel, so at least they do sit correctly, but I still don’t find them very comfortable. I can still feel that I am wearing them even after long sessions.
The cups fold so that they fit inside the carrying case, making it more compact, but they do not swivel enough for them to lay flat, therefore you won’t be able to lay them flat against your chest if wearing them around your neck.
In general, the quality of the finish and build seems to be decent and look like they should withstand the general day to day abuse. I don’t know how long the person who has sent me these has had them but, other than some slight marks on the gold Marshall lettering, they seem to be in very good condition. Also, being honest, some signs of wear adds to the coolness of Marshall products.
The headphones have a small gold knob on the right cup which serves to control them. It is actually a very simple but functional design which I like. By pressing the knob, it controls play/pause, a long press turns on/off (or enters pairing mode), up or down is volume +/- and backwards or forwards is track +/-.
On the left cup there is a switch to turn ANC on or off, which allows you to use ANC even with bluetooth disconnected (at the risk of depleting the battery if you forget to turn off). Also located on the left cup are the micro-USB charging port and the socket for using them wired.
The connection with my phone was very quick and is instant when turning them on when already paired. The main issue is with the codecs, there is no LDAC on these and the maximum seems to be AptX, something I will discuss more in the sound section.
To be honest, I like the easy functionality of the Marshall’s with the little knob/joystick type control. It makes them very easy to use and there is an audible notification each time a function is performed.
There are a couple of things to consider here, but to get straight to the point, I am not a fan of the sound. The overall sound is very consumer orientated, which is not a bad thing but is not my thing, and could be mistaken with many other headphones of a similar style. Added to that, we need to factor in the AptX codec which, to be honest, is not great. This headphone can be used with a cable, which does improve it a little, but is still not something I would rave about.
As I have mentioned in the past, I am not really a huge Bluetooth fan, I much prefer cable, except for the commodity that it brings. I have various TWS IEMs that I don’t really use, and the only Bluetooth item that sees regular use in my case is the Shanling MW200 because I can just connect any IEMs to it that I want to use wirelessly (although lately it seems to be permanently connected to the Arias). I have used the MID ANC via Bluetooth but I find that the SQ difference between BT and wired is enough for me to just use it with a cable, so I have been using it with the JDS Labs Atom on my desk.
We also need to consider the ANC functionality. There are multiple headphones that improve when ANC is switched on, due to DSP correction being implemented in the DAC stage, and others that actually get worse with ANC on. In the case of the Marshall’s, there is a difference between on or off, but it is not better or worse, at least not across the whole range. I would be inclined to say that I prefer it with the ANC on, but it is also dependent upon what I am listening to.
The ANC itself is not bad. It is not on a level of some of the well known brands in the noise cancelling world, such as Bose or Sony, but it does reduce noise considerably. Another thing that stops it from being great is the fact that they are square on-ear headphones, so they aren’t able to block as much noise passively, making it tougher for them in the first place.
Anyway, let’s get on with the usual sound impressions…
In the subbass department there isn’t a huge amount of subbass. This is something to be expected, again due to the nature of an on-ear headphone. You can feel a little of the rumbling when playing sub bass heavy tracks but I would say that it is not something that will appeal to those looking for the lowest of rumbles.
In the midbass and higher bass regions is where these headphones present a bit of boost that will appeal to lots of consumers. In fact, I would say that the midbass to the lower mids is the best part of these headphones. It is also the part that most seems to come alive when ANC is switched on. There is a noticeable increase in these regions with the ANC activated and I must say that it sounds pretty good. I wouldn’t say that they are excellent, again, on-ears do struggle, and the increase in bass does push the mids back a little, but this frequency range does seem a little more “alive” with ANC. It seems to work well especially with rock and other electric guitar/bass centered tracks. Who would have thought Marshall would tune towards a rock sound?
Moving into the lower mids, the transition is cleaner (in my opinion) with ANC deactivated, mainly because the DSP pushes the center of the mid range further back. Vocals especially seem to take a step backwards when the ANC is on, something that I noticed in tracks like “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin or “Killing in the Name” by RATM, tracks that one would expect to go well with the Marshall tuning.
The higher end of the mid also seems to take a little step back when flipping the switch. Not as pronounced as the center of the mids, but it is enough to seem a little veiled in this aspect. If listening to something like “Crazy” by Daniela Andrade, a very simple acoustic song, I find that the change is something that takes away from the whole presence of her vocals, at least to the level that I prefer, but going back to something in the rock genre is far more acceptable.
The treble suffers from some roll off in the higher regions and doesn’t really provide the extension or sensation of “air” that I would like to hear. The positive side to the treble is that sibilance is pretty much absent, “Code Cool” or “Hope is a Dangerous Thing” are quite tame and do not get harsh at all. However, I would not say that the treble is great.
All of the above is related to tuning more than anything else and will be a case of preference as to whether someone likes or dislikes these headphones, however, it is the detail that I find to be the weakest link of the Marshall MID ANC.
There is no real sensation of detail, things just seem to be smoothed over, leaving me missing many of the details that I enjoy in many of my simple acoustic style tracks. Don’t get me wrong, I have heard much worse, but I find the level of detail to be more inline with what I would expect from a sub 50€ IEM rather than a >200€ set of headphones. There are also times when I feel that there is distortion in the details that are present. This is not continuous but there are times when I will be listening to a track that I have heard a 1000 times and something will just sound dirty, as though the headphones are being pushed too hard, even though I am at my normal listening levels (which are by no means loud).
The soundstage is mediocre, although it is not terrible, we do need to remember that these are on-ear closed backs, but again it is more inline with what I would expect from a set of IEMs. The placement of images is also something that suffers due to the lack of detail itself, making it perform decent enough for simple left to right imaging but there are no real specifics as far as placement of small details, the intro to “All Your Love (Turned to Passion)” by Sara K. just sounds flat.
In my opinion, Marshall has been rather intelligent with these headphones, cashing in on various things that work in their favour. First of all, their brand. The looks and design immediately identify these as a Marshall product, a brand that has been seen everywhere since the 60’s. Second, Bluetooth, something that is certainly popular and gaining more and more popularity as headphones jacks disappear and people also move away from cables. Additionally, they have also opted for a very safe tuning, something that many consumers that are just music listeners and not really interested in reading specs and reviews like this one, will enjoy.
As far as sound, well, they just aren’t for me. Mainly they are not tuned to my preference. They also have faults such as the lack of detail and that slight distortion that appears now and again, but we need to consider that I have been lucky enough to listen to some excellent headphones which, for better or for worse, show me things that can’t be ignored at a later date.
If they were cheaper, let’s say around 100€ or less, then I would probably be more lenient towards their final sound, although that still wouldn’t solve the issues that I found with them. But let’s say that at 190€ (the cheapest I have seen the MID ANC), there are things like the (much cheaper) Hifiman HE400se that run rings around them. Ok, no bluetooth, no ANC, you need an amp, they are open back, so I guess they are two different worlds. But there are also the AKG K371 for less than the Marshall’s, or the K361 for even less, which could be paired with a BT dongle and result in much better sound quality and comfort, although you would still be missing the ANC feature. If we consider the MID ANC for over 200€, you can probably still find a Sony WH1000XM3 for 220€ which is a similar tuning but with better comfort, better ANC and better details.
I think I will end my rant here because I don’t think I am the right person to be giving my opinion on these headphones, or rather, the people who these headphones are aimed at are not really the same people that would be reading a review from someone like me.
Thank you to the subscriber for sending these in, it is much appreciated, and I hope you continue to enjoy them, as that is the most important thing, enjoy what you have and enjoy the music you listen to.
Review - iFi Audio Zen DAC Signature v2 + Zen CAN Signature HFM
As always, this is also available in Spanish on my blog and on Youtube, links at the end of the post.
As a fan of Hifiman headphones, I was interested in trying out the new iFi Audio Zen CAN Signature HFM, so I contacted DeCine, who are the official distributors of iFi Audio in Spain and they kindly sent me not just the Zen CAN but also the the Zen DAC Signature V2, which is available as a full package (more on that in a moment).
As DeCine do not sell the product directly to the public, iFi Audio is sold in Spain by various stores that are supplied by them, I do not have a direct link, so if you would like to know more about the iFi Audio package, you can check out the iFi Audio website directly here: ZEN Signature Set HFM by iFi audio - ZENtastic Trio. Both ZEN Signatures plus 4.4mm Pentaconn cable.
As always, my review and opinions will be as honest and unbiased as possible but it is always good to consider that it has not cost me anything to try out these products.
The Zen Signature set includes the Zen DAC Signature V2, the Zen CAN Signature HFM and a 4.4mm to 4.4mm pentaconn cable to connect them together and make the most of their balanced connections. The same set is also available with the Zen CAN Signature 6XX, which was released previously and is aimed at being used with the Sennheiser HD6XX/650 series.
As this includes two separate devices, which can also be purchased separately, I wasn’t quite sure how to address this review, as I feel it is good to look at the devices separately and together as a set. Therefore, I will comment on the usual build and presentation on both but will divide the functionality into two separate devices.
Obviously there are many ways to combine these devices separately into my system, such as connecting just the DAC to any of my amps, or feeding the amp from any of my DACs, but in order to try and keep this review as short as possible, the sound impressions will be limited to using it as a set.
The presentation of the DAC is rather simple but still well packed. Inside the box, that shows an image of the DAC and various specs on the outside, we find the DAC, the iFi iPower 5v supply and a short RCA to RCA grey cable. Also included are the usual iFi user manuals and warranty cards.
As for the Zen CAN, the packaging is identical, with the contents also being the same except for the additional included 6.35mm to 3.5mm adapter which, by the way, is the same as the adapter included with other iFi products and something that I am quite fond of.
Build and aesthetics…
Again, the build is identical on both units. I have said before that I like the fact that iFi products are different enough in their aesthetics to easily stand out from other brands. This is something that many like and many don’t, obviously depending on personal tastes.
In the case of these two units, they follow the usual and well known shape found on all of the iFi Zen line products. This is again a look that many like and I’m sure there will be many that don’t. I personally like it, and in the case of the Signature series, they are of a dark blue colour which I find very elegant. I am not really one to stack items as all of my equipment lives in a rack, but I would have no issue placing the signature stack on my desk at home or in the office, I feel it looks elegant and modern at the same time.
As far as build quality, well, I have yet to see an iFi product that I didn’t think was great as far as build quality. These are no exception. Completely made of metal, with nice feeling knobs and buttons, they seem to be robust enough to not have to worry about them.
Zen DAC Signature v2 functionality…
The DAC is simple enough to be set and forget while offering the basic needed connections. There are no filters to dive into, no parameters to set, it is just a simple layout with balanced and unbalanced connections available.
On the front of the unit, we have a simple knob with an LED ring behind it. This is for controlling the output level of the DAC (which can also be set to “fixed” by a switch on the back) with the LED ring changing colour depending on the format of audio being fed to the unit. The DAC supports up to 384kHz OCM, 12.4MHz DSD and does MQA, if that is something that interests you.
On the back of the unit, from left to right we have:
Balanced 4.4mm output - For feeding a balanced amplifier of course.
Variable/Fixed switch - Allowing to set the DAC output to fixed and bypassing the front volume control.
RCA unbalanced output - For feeding an amplifier with a single ended connection.
USB input - This is a USB 3.0 Type B plug, for connecting the DAC to a PC (or other USB device).
Power input - This is for the included 5v power supply (the unit can also be powered via USB if preferred).
As you can see, this is a rather simple DAC, it has only one digital input (USB) and offers unbalanced and balanced outputs, although we do get the variable and fixed options which are nice to have, especially if being used to feed powered monitors etc.
I really like the DAC, I will mention more about sound in a moment, but I do have one issue that stops me from making this a part of my system, the lack of more digital inputs, more specifically optical in my case.
I would say that the majority of people just connect the DAC to a PC, which is no problem with this DAC, but in my case I have an audio system that runs via Optical and digital Coax. This means that my DACs are usually connected to my PCs via USB but also receive signals from other devices that run via optical and coaxial. I am sure that I am in a minority in this case but in my personal scenario, this is a feature that I really need on a DAC.
Other than that, I have absolutely no issues with the Zen DAC Signature v2, it is a nice small unit that sounds great (again, more on that in a moment).
Zen CAN Signature HFM functionality…
Now on to the amplifier, which does have a few more features than the DAC and is actually a very interesting little amp. As far as power, the specifications say 1600mW @32Ohms and 98mW @600 Ohms (unbalanced), with 1200mW @32 Ohms and 385mW @600 Ohms (balanced). These are very respectable numbers but are not the thing that makes this amplifier stand out.
Looking at the distributions, on the front panel we have (from left to right):
Power button - Yes, you guessed it, to turn it on and off.
Input button - To cycle through the 3 available inputs.
Power Match - Which is the iFi Audio name for gain, offering a choice of 0dB,+6dB,+12dB and +18dB.
Volume control - A nice knob that matched the DAC volume control.
6.35mm Headphone output - For unbalanced headphones.
4.4mm Headphone output - For balanced headphones.
HFM/XSpace Button - To activate or deactivate the two additional sound profiles.
Moving around to the rear of the unit we have (again from left to right):
4.4mm Balanced input - For feeding a balanced input into the amp.
3.5mm Single ended input - For feeding a single ended signal into the amp.
RCA input - For feeding a second unbalanced signal into the amplifier.
4.4mm Balanced output - For feeding a balanced signal to another external amplifier.
5v Power input - For powering the unit via the included PSU.
I really find the CAN to be simple to use and has plenty of options to tailor it to my needs, the 4 levels of gain are nice, although I really didn’t find the need to use the higher two except on the Arya and HE400se (which were both for commodity and not really necessary), but they are certainly good to have if you have hard to drive headphones.
I will speak more about the HFM and XSpace functions in the sound section next but I will say that when cycling through them (Off - HFM - XSpace - HFM+XSpace), the change from HFM+XSpace to off does cause a bit of a electrical clicking noise through IEMs. It is only an instant but is certainly noticeable. I very much doubt that this will cause any damage but these kinds of noises always make me clench my teeth when I hear them.
Before going on to the part that is probably the most relevant, using these as a stack, I will touch briefly on the individual components.
The DAC I find to be very reminiscent of the other two iFi Audio DACs I have reviewed (the iDSD NEO and the Diablo). Now, it may be expectation bias on my part but I straight away found the sound (when feeding other amps) to be a little smoother than my other AKM and ESS based DACs. Again, it may all be in my mind, I am not about to do a blind test as I don’t listen to music blindly (unless I turn the lights off but then I already know what I am connected to), but I do find it to portray the iFi sound that is so commonly spoken about.
As for the CAN, I like it. In normal mode (without HFM or XSpace activated), which I will call FLAT, I actually find it to sound similar to the Asgard 3. It has a bit of warmth to it when compared to something like the Atom or 789. Again, this could again be my brain, but I find it to be a bit more of a relaxed listen than the more analytical options, making it a nice choice for extended listening periods, especially when listening to brighter headphones or music.
When activating the HFM mode or the XSpace mode, there is a clear change to the frequency response. This can be considered a fixed equalization by iFi and is something that I find works in certain situations and not in others.
The change in frequency response of the amplifier is as follows:
iFi are very proud to announce (on all their products) that they only perform these equalizations in the analog realm, no digital processing, and I am not sure if anything else changes other than the frequency response. I do not have a way of measuring such changes but I do find that the XSpace creates a sensation of openness that could be dependent upon those changes to frequency or something more. If so, it works well (in certain situations)
Now, moving on to using these as a stack and my opinions on sound when using various headphones and IEMs. This setup is obviously aimed at being used with Hifiman headphones, well, at least the Zen CAN Signature HFM is, but that does not mean that it is only to be used with the Hifiman brand, which is why I have played around with the sound using a variation of headphones, hopefully some of the will be relevant to you.
For headphones, I have obviously focused on Hifiman, using the HE400se, Ananda, Arya and HE1000se, but I have also tried out the Sendy Peacock, Beyerdynamic DT1990 Pro, Sennheiser HD6XX and a few other models which, as with some other budget IEMs, which I am not going to go into detail on due to them being just brief general listens (I only have so much time!).
So, starting off with the IEMs, I find that the sound qualities seem to stay consistent, to some extent, independently of the IEMs used, except for the iSine LX. In general, I find that the amp works well with IEMs in the FLAT setting but when activating the XSpace, it opens up the top end and actually gives the IEMs more sensation of space and seems to improve the soundstage.
Now, having looked at the graphs above, we know what the CAN is doing to the treble region and I find that this little extra up top works well with the majority of IEMs I own. This is mainly due to the fact that almost all of the IEMs I have present some roll off in the high end for my tastes, especially the single dynamic driver models. The small boost from the CAN counteracts this slightly and helps those higher regions to stay a little more present. This can obviously be done also with any onboard EQ in your music player of choice, which is something I have done plenty in the past. However, while the onboard EQ does increase the treble, it doesn’t give the sensation of additional space that the CAN manages to provide. I don’t know if this is due to the analog nature of the iFi equalization or if there is something else going on inside. I will say that I own a few analog equalizers and I haven’t really experienced the spaciousness with those either.
Obviously, again looking at the graphs, the additional higher range presence does come at the expense of some low end. Now, as you probably already know if you have followed my reviews, I am a fan of neutral bass and many of the IEMs I have tried do have a little more bass than I really need (although none of them are too boosted for me not to enjoy them). This reduction of bass is something that I found I didn’t miss too much on things like the Dusk or the Aria, however, other more neutral sets like the RE600v2 do start to lack enough bass for my personal tastes, so probably would be considered to be lacking bass for the majority of listeners. This can be overcome on the RE600v2 by adding the HFM button, therefore running the CAN in HFM+XSpace mode, but on the majority of my IEMs, I found this to make them far too V shaped for my liking and the 2kHz bump from the HFM mode just didn’t work great with many of them.
So, my opinion would be that the CAN works well for IEMs, my preference being to run XSpace ON with IEMs that have enough bass to not become anemic, and stick to running FLAT with those that do. All in all, I like the CAN with IEMs.
Moving on to headphones, these seem to vary much more from set to set, some sounding better flat, others better with the HFM engaged, but there are very few moments I actually enjoyed the XSPace ON with headphones, especially open back planars.
As this is a Hifiman related setup, or at least the CAN is, I will focus on the various Hifiman models a little more in depth but first let me mention the other few headphones I used from other brands.
In the case of the DT1990 Pro, I found that I liked to run these with the CAN set to flat. These headphones already have great bass, they don’t need the bass interfering with, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest adding any extra high frequencies to the DT1990. With the amp set to FLAT, the DT1990 Pro did its usual trick of sounding like the DT1990 Pro. I really do think that these are the least amp dependent headphones I own.
With the Sennheiser HD6XX, these are already warm headphones and, although that warmth is located in the lower mids and higher bass regions, I really didn’t feel that the HFM button did anything to help them out, it just made them seem a little bloaty and took away some of the magic in the mid range that these have (when I am in the right mood ). I felt that the XSpace did open them up a little at the top end but not enough for me to actually rave about it, it didn’t do anything that I can’t already do with a little tweaking in any EQ software.
I am not going to mention the Sendy Peacock as I haven’t actually posted a review of it yet (coming soon), so I will keep my impressions of it to myself until then. A couple of other headphones that I tried were nothing that really deserve in depth descriptions, they sounded similar to listening to them on my Asgard 3.
So, on to Hifiman…
First up, let’s start with the HE400se, a very budget orientated planar magnetic headphone that I am quite a fan of. I find that these headphones do get better as the source improves but are not something that needs a huge amplifier and expensive DAC to enjoy. These are actually the only headphones, together with the Arya, that I opted for +12dB gain on.
The FLAT mode works very well for the HE400se but I found that the HFM option did give these headphones a better all round sound. Using my test list and swapping between FLAT and HFM, I just kept preferring the HFM engaged. It added a fullness to the lower end but without seeming to be too much. It also gave the vocals a little push forwards and became a set of headphones that I enjoyed even more than I usually do.
I didn’t really feel that the XSpace added anything that I really noticed as an improvement, with or without HFM mode engaged, so I kept going back to the simple low end and vocal improvement I got with HFM. I would say that the HE400se with the HFM engaged are a great set of headphones to kick back, relax and enjoy many of my favourite tracks, especially in simple acoustic tracks or even electric guitar based tracks like some of the Tracy Chapman stuff etc.
Moving up to the Ananda, a set of headphones that I love the “directness” of and, although I have listened to headphones since that I feel are better for relaxed listening sessions, I could still be quite happy with the Ananda as my main headphone.
I again found that FLAT worked well but I didn’t quite enjoy them as much as I do with the Asgard 3. I also didn’t find that I enjoyed the HFM button on the Ananda, except for a few tracks. With the majority of the music I listen to, I much prefer the Ananda set to FLAT rather than with any of the alternative modes activated.
The tracks where the HFM improved the sound was more due to the actual recording than the headphones, and is something that I would usually just EQ on the fly if listening to those specific albums.
The next set are the Arya, which I like but find are sometimes overly spacious for my personal tastes. Don’t get me wrong these are great headphones, they are just not something I feel like I could listen to all the time. These were another set of headphones that I opted for the 3rd gain setting on.
I actually found that these headphones I enjoyed quite a bit with both the HFM and XSpace activated. Now, I just said that the Arya are a little too spacious at times for my liking, so I would have thought that the XSpace would push this even further away from my preferences but somehow it didn’t. It’s not all positive though, the extra treble brought by the XSpace function does bring some more presence to the higher range but at the same time it increases the harshness that is sometimes found in the Arya with certain tracks.
However, the HFM button for these seems to be perfectly placed, that 2k bump works wonders to bring back the top end of voices that I feel is the strange part of the Arya. It also doesn’t suffer from that bit of extra bass that this setting brings.
I kept swapping between FLAT and HFM+XSpace (I didn’t feel like XSpace brought anything great individually) and I really liked the latter when the music was not harsh. It was strange listening to the Arya with this slight “V” shaped tuning (well, not really “V” shaped) but it grew on me very quickly, I thought “No Sanctuary Here” was great! The problem was when I moved to some of my acoustic music, the vocals could become harsh if the voice and/or recording wasn’t slightly tamed in the upper ranges. This was easily fixed by just going back to HFM mode only.
The good thing is that it is very easy to switch from HFM+XSpace back to FLAT and to HFM whenever a track calls for it. I must say that the Arya are probably the headphones that most surprised me on the Signature stack (with the HE400se being close behind). I think I could spend a lot more time with these headphones using the CAN.
Finally, the HE1000se, the headphones that I drool over when listening to and could quite easily become my only set of headphones, if it wasn’t for the price. Up to this moment, I have to say that the HE1000se are the best sounding headphones I have heard and I think it is very difficult to improve on how good these are.
I’m afraid that my sensation was correct, I didn’t find that either the HFM or the XSpace did anything to improve the sound over running these FLAT. However, running these FLAT did result in the same amazing sound that I hear each time I place these headphones on my head. I did go back and forth between the CAN (set to FLAT) and the Asgard 3 and decided that it was so close that I finally gave up and just listened to music. I see that as a very positive thing for the CAN as I am a big fan of the Asgard and moving over to the CAN did not do anything to detract from the enjoyment I get from these headphones.
Both of the products, both the DAC and the CAN, are very good in my opinion. The DAC itself is simple but the sound quality is great and I think that if you are looking for a DAC and you only need USB inputs, this is a great choice. It certainly has, to me, that iFi sound and is also a great way to experience that iFi sound at a very reasonable price. If you want to be able to play with filters and have plenty of options, then this DAC isn’t for you, but if you want a simple, no frills, good sounding DAC, it is worth a try.
As far as the CAN, or more specifically the Zen CAN Signature HFM, well, it brings quite a lot to the table for its price. It has the inputs and outputs to cover most need, unless you need an unbalanced preamp, in which case it doesn’t fit the bill. As far as sound, it sounds great as it is (FLAT) and reminds me of the Asgard 3 in some ways, it has a relaxed nature to it, although maybe not quite as rounded as the Asgard.
The 4 levels of gain should be enough to cover the needs of most headphones, unless we are talking about very power hungry sets. I personally don’t have anything that needs huge amounts of power, such as the HE6, but I am guessing that +18dB gain is more than enough for most users.
The HFM and the XSpace buttons are something that many may see as a gimmick, but they do allow you to tweak the sound to your preferences with each headphone, at least in general. No, it is not a 10 band PEQ that will allow you to fine tune your headphones, it is a simple boost that can increase the low end, add some extra air, bring vocals forward or just combine all of these, whatever your preferences would be. Would I recommend this over running PEQ, well that depends on how much you actually dedicate yourself to EQ. If you are someone who spends time to get EQ right, then of course not, but if you are like many who don’t understand (or just don’t want to) EQ, then these give you an extra 3 sound signatures at the press of a button. I think of it like the typical presents found on many consumer grade units but with better implementation, more thought and done in the analog realm. This doesn’t mean it will work well for everyone, or for every headphone, or even for every song, but to turn it on or off takes less than a second.
I really enjoyed my time with this iFi set, both because it is good and because I got to spend all week using headphones that I don’t get to listen to as much as I would like to. Although I really don’t like reviewing amps and DACs because I am never sure what is real and what I am imagining I hear, it does give me a chance to pull out headphones and IEMs that I like but don’t get to use very often.
Would I purchase either of them?
Well, yes and no. As far as quality and sound, yes, without a doubt, I feel they are great units at a very reasonable price for an iFi product. However, my personal use case is slightly different to that of the majority and I don’t think they would get the use they deserve in my setup. If I wasn’t reviewing stuff and constantly changing, I would love the Signature set for my desk at work, as it looks good and sounds good.
I am sorry that this review has become such a long one, however, there were many things to try and I wanted to share (most of) them with you.
Thanks for the great reviews .
After reading your reviews of IEMs I have (BL05s and ZSN Pro X) we tend to agree which is great (at least for me). I like your description of how the ZSN fails when track get busy.
Read your review of the DQ6 and I’m excited since it’s on its way… Seems I might like it.
At the risk of sounding repetitive (don’t worry, you’ll get used to it ), this review is also available in Spanish on my blog and on YouTube, links at the end of the post.
These headphones have been very kindly sent for review by Keydis, the official distributor for Sendy Audio, along with Sivga, in Spain. Keydis does not sell directly to the public but I have left a link on my blog and YouTube that shows the various stores that carry these brands in Spain.
I am very grateful to Keydis for sending these in and, as always, I will leave my opinions in the most honest and unbiased way possible but, as I always say, it is good to consider the fact that it has not cost me anything to try these headphones.
Not long ago I reviewed the Phoenix, which is a headphone by Sivga, who are a brand that belongs to the same company, Sendy Audio. While Sivga focuses on more budget orientated models, Sendy Audio is responsible for the higher end models, with the new Peacock being the TOTL planar magnetic headphone which was released quite recently.
It is my first experience with Sendy, however, this headphone is priced similarly to a headphone that is commonly recommended in this price range, the Hifiman Arya, a headphone that I do have quite a bit of experience with. So, although my review will be focused on the Peacock and how it performs in general, I will make a few comparisons to the Arya later in the review.
The headphones arrive in a simple brown box very similar to that of the Phoenix, with contents that are somewhat similar also but with more focus on quality.
Inside the box we find a headphone case that is also very similar to the one supplied with the Phoenix, however, in this case it is of a brown colour, with a gold coloured zipper and hardware, and has the Sendy Audio logo embossed on the top. This case, while mulded to the shape of the headphones, has four feet on the bottom to allow it to stand upright, making it much easier to store.
Inside the case we find the headphones and a drawstring cloth bag. The bag contains the cable that is supplied with the Peacock, a nicely braided two tone cable which ends in a 4.4mm balanced connector. The nice thing is that Sendy also includes two adapter cables, to convert the 4.4mm balanced to either a 4 pin XLR or a 6.35mm TRS, for those who want to use these headphones unbalanced. There is no 3.5mm option but this is to be expected, as these are not really headphones aimed at being used portably.
Build and aesthetics…
Let’s start with the cable. This is an 8 core braided cable, in two tones of brown, with a wooden chin slider and splitter that has Sendy Audio carved on it. The connectors seem to be of good quality, although I am not sure of the brand. The 4.4mm connectors (both male and female) have spring type cable strain relief and in general feel very nice. In fact, I would say that the cable is one of the nicest cables I have received with headphones for quite some time. I also want to say that I am not a fan of proprietary connectors on headphones, or at least ones that are not common, as I like to make my own cables, but the ones used on the Peacock are very nice, they are smooth and easy to connect and remove. I have found that I am quite a fan of them.
Moving on to the headphones… well… they are certainly aimed at looking high quality. I must say that while I love wooden headphones, I am not really one for gold (not just on headphones but in general, I don’t have any bass guitars with gold hardware either) and the cups sport very large gold and black grilles that certainly stand out. However, independently of my personal tastes, I can not say that these headphones do not look and feel like headphones of their price range.
Everything is well matched, well put together, I really can’t see any flaws in either build or aesthetics (again, ignoring my opinion of gold). Everything that should be metal is metal, everything that should be wood is wood, and even the pads feel and look premium (they actually smell of leather, so I am guessing they are real leather, although I may be wrong). The same goes for the headband, which is metal covered in leather and yellow stitching, with a very nicely padded leather comfort strap.
The headphones do have a little weight to them but they are not heavy enough to be uncomfortable, at least I haven’t found them to be tiring on long sessions (and I have certainly had some long sessions with these over the past week). In fact, I find them to be very comfortable in general, with nice openings inside the cups that are plenty large enough for my ears.
When I receive a set of headphones for review, the first thing I do is open them and give them a very brief listen before I put them on another rig for burn in. This is usually only for about a minute, just to make sure that they work correctly and then I put them on the burn in rig for around 150 hours (I am not entering the burn in debate, it just doesn’t cost me anything to do it, so I do and avoid discussions while also avoiding brain burn in). When I did the brief listen of the Peacock, which was just with a Modi3 and Atom, I literally had to force myself to take them off about 30 minutes later.
Admittedly, at the time I was listening to the Marshall MID ANC (preparing for the review), so I guess it wasn’t surprising that the switch to these was very positive, but I just vibed with the music and really enjoyed them. I was actually very sorry to put them on the burn in rig and go back to the MID ANC.
During last week, I did listen to them a few times while I was testing the Zen Signature Stack and found them to be very nice on that set up but I refrained from using them too much until I could dedicate myself to them this week. Now, if you saw my review last week, you know that I finished the week listening to various Hifiman headphones, one of which being my favourite headphones, so normally anything would have been a bit of a let down after those, which is why I usually reset by listening to something else for a couple of days in between. In this case, I just went straight to the Peacock and can’t say that I felt let down but it wasn’t quite as perfect as my first listen may have led me to believe.
Starting with the subbass, as always, these are certainly not a sub bass heavy set of headphones. There is some roll off and I found that the iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM was a very good match for this, giving a little boost in the lowest regions (although the 2kHz boost that came with it wasn’t as much of an improvement as on other sets). This small boost in the lowest regions could be obtained with some very simple equalization but, as you probably know my tastes by now, I really don’t think it needs it because the music that these headphones make me want to listen to really doesn’t have much in the way of subbass anyway.
Moving on to the remaining mid and higher bass frequencies, here the bass is much more balanced and has a very nice warm and rounded sound to it. I have enjoyed listening to lots of blues, rock, simple electric guitar and bass tracks and, of course, my usual acoustic selections. I find the timbre of the bass to be very pleasant and smooth. There is plenty of detail in these lower regions but I don’t find it to have the dryness that I find on other planar offerings, such as the Ananda for example.
To give some examples from my usual test playlist, I basically enjoyed anything with a natural low end, from “No Ordinary Love” by Sade, “Crazy” by Daniela Andrade or “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” by Paul Simon, all sounded great to my ears. Other tracks that were more focused on electronic bass, such as “Sun is Shining” or “No Sanctuary Here” didn’t sound bad but didn’t seem to bring out the natural flavour that these headphones exhibit in these lower ranges. The Peacock doesn’t really inspire me to listen to EDM or even Hip-Hop, although it certainly doesn’t do a bad job of it.
In the transition to the mids, I did find that on some songs there was something that sometimes stood out as strange. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, just on a couple of tracks I found that the bass sort of disconnected from the midrange. Now, this was something that was so slight and so ocasional that I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it or if it was really happening. I noticed it on parts of “Killing in the Name” (although not throughout the whole track) and also in “Hotel California” by the Eagles (the acoustic version), along with a few others.
In the end I cheated and looked for measurements online (usually I don’t look at measurements until after I have listened and come to conclusions) to see if I really was hearing something or if I was just making it up. I found that (according to a couple of graphs) there is a little bit of a dip followed by a slight rise between the 500 to 1000Hz range. It is only slight and I really don’t think it is enough to be noticeable on 99% of the tracks I have listened to (I have listened to a lot of music on the Peacock) but obviously just sometimes coincides with certain frequencies in recordings and makes it seem more apparent. I really don’t think I would have ever been able to find it if it wasn’t for the graphs, in fact, it really isn’t even in the transition between ranges, it is just after the transition, but I thought I would mention it (especially after looking at graphs to make sure I wasn’t going crazy).
In general, the midrange is very nice. It is the sort of midrange that manages to provide plenty of detail while seeming relaxed, not throwing the detail at you. Voices sound rich and smooth, giving them a very intimate feel without feeling close like they do on something like the HD6XX. Voices such as Zella Day in her version of “Seven Nation Army” manage to be present without being overpowering or harsh.
However, moving up towards the top end of the mids and into the treble, here is where I find these headphones differ from what I am used to in planar magnetics. There is the usual dip found around 2kHz that is inherent to the Hifiman line up, however, the following frequencies don’t return quite like they do on said headphones. Rather than 3kHz being higher than the lower and middle of the midrange, the Peacock do not bounce back in the same way. In fact, the frequency response of the higher ranges is at a lower level than the mids all the way up to the highest of ranges.
In fact, the treble range is a little strange, it sort of seems like it is rolling off but in a bit of an intermittent way. This can cause the treble range to sound a little blunt but with certain frequencies cutting through on occasions that are not expected. The positive side to this is that the Peacock does avoid sibilance and harshness in its majority, except for those frequencies that seem to appear on occasions and are sort of unexpected.
I can’t say that I hate the treble, it is not quite as clear as I would like it to be but at the same time does help these to be a bit more of a relaxed listen than other options. I do feel that some EQ could go a long way with these headphones however.
As far as soundstage, it’s also sort of midway. It is not huge and open like on something like the Arya but it does not ever seem to be too closed in either. The image placement is very good, “Bubbles” is very 3D like, but it does it in a way that still feels close though not claustrophobic. For example “Letter”, also by Yosi Horikawa, has great movement but does not really go wide off to the left or right.
Comparison to the Hifiman Arya…
First let me say that these are the Arya 2020 version, not the new Arya with the Stealth Magnets (I will be reviewing those soon but have not yet heard them). If you want to know what I think about the Arya, then you can see my full review of them here. I also want to point out that this is comparing them side by side on the Asgard 3, not on the Zen CAN HFM, which I feel improves the Arya with the HFM+XSpace engaged.
I moved over to the Arya after about 3 hours of constant listening to the Peacock, so obviously things jumped out at me straight away, probably in a more exaggerated fashion at first.
I must point out that, to be at similar listening levels, I kept the same level on the dial of the Asgard and just flipped it to high gain when moving from the Peacock to the Arya (and vice versa), meaning that the Peacock does need less power.
The first thing that struck me straight away was the open soundstage of the Arya. Now, I have mentioned on many occasions that the Arya can sometimes be too open for my preferences, making things sound too far away. However, that is also a very impressive sensation when you first listen to the Arya and coming to them from the Peacock was no exception, the soundstage is huge and does make the Peacock seem very intimate in comparison. I am not saying this as a bad thing, I really like a closer sound on many occasions, but it is certainly something to consider if you are contemplating between these two headphones.
The next thing which is obvious is the treble of the Arya, being more elevated, making for a brighter sound signature but without losing that power of the bass that the Arya can portray when needed. But at the same time, the lower end of the Phoenix is far warmer, even if it is not more elevated in those frequencies than the Arya. It is the reduction in the higher ranges that makes the low end more noticeable on the Peacock.
For example, listening to “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman on both headphones, it is as though the guitar is being played through two completely different amplifiers/cabs. On the Arya it comes across as a rather clean guitar tone, while on the Peacock it comes across as a much warmer tone, as though it is being played through a warm tube amp (if that makes any sense to you non-guitarists, or even to the guitarists out there). Her vocals are pleasant on both headphones, however, the Arya does seem to bring them further forwards.
In fact, the comparison of amps I just made is quite relevant to these two headphones in general. As a bassist, and a lover of both clean tones and warm tubey tones, I would say that the Arya is the clean rig while the Peacock is the warm tube rig. Which one anyone will prefer will depend on their personal tastes.
I really like the Peacock but I like it for reasons that are not usually my main focus when listening to, or chosing, headphones. The Peacock brings a warm and relaxed presentation, which I have found very enjoyable for long listening sessions, especially for a lot of my acoustic and also blues genres.
There is plenty of detail, however, that treble range does make the detail take a bit of a back seat behind the lushness of the lower end. It is certainly something that I have found more enjoyable for a relaxed session rather than a “focus on detail” session.
These are a set of very well built headphones, they look good (if you are into wood and gold) and they perform very well in comparison to so many other headphones. They include accessories that I wish other companies would take note of, especially in the cable department, and are quite easily powered for such a large set of planars (although the answer is no, I don’t suggest connecting them to a smartphone).
The question of whether these are for you or not will depend far more on your taste in sound signature than anything else. If you want a relaxed, warm set of planar magnetics, then the Peacock should certainly be on your list to try. If you are more of a clean and extremely detailed person, then maybe you might prefer some other options.
As always, my reviews can also be found in Spanish on my blog and on YouTube, links at the end of this post.
The T Force Yuan Li were kindly sent to me free of charge by HiFiGo in exchange for this review. The only request they have made is that I also publish my review on Reddit in addition to the usual places I publish my reviews.
They have not requested anything else and my opinions will be, as always, as sincere and unbiased as possible, however, it is always good to consider that these IEMs have been given to me as a gift.
Although I don’t use affiliate links, I still do not post them on websites and forums where I am a guest, therefore, I have left the link to the Yuan Li via HiFiGo in the version of this review posted on my blog.
T Force is a new brand in the IEM world, with the Yuan Li being their first producto, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I received them. The IEMs use a single dynamic driver with a DLC diaphragm, are spec’d with a sensitivity of 103.5dB at 32 Ohms and retail for just over 100€. That is basically all of the information I had about the Yuan Li before I opened the box.
The presentation is actually quite surprising. I mean, 100€ is not a super economic set of IEMs but it is a long way from being expensive in comparison to so many other models.
The box that it arrives in is on the larger side for IEMs, covered by a sleeve that is decorated in a very traditional Chinese way, with classical drawings of a dragon and Chinese letters, more reminiscent of something I would expect in a Chinese restaurant than IEM packaging. The sleeve also states that these are “Trilogy Part 1”, so I am expecting another 2 models from the brand but I have no idea what they will be.
From inside the sleeve slides out a black flip top box, with the T Force logo in Gold, inside of which we find plenty of content. First are the warranty card and a thank you card from the brand, which sit on top of another traditionally decorated sheet of transparent paper, under which the interesting contents are located.
At the top sit the IEMs, in cutouts surrounded by foam and with the IEMs actually being covered with peel off plastic, to make sure they arrive free of fingerprints. Under this tray we find a rather large selection of tips, all laid out in more cutouts and labeled with “Balanced Eartips” above the clear silicone tips, “Bass enhanced Eartips” above the darker silicone tips with a smaller and more rigid core, and “Foams” above the, well, foam tips. We get 3 sets of each of the silicone sets, with an additional “Bass enhanced” set installed, and one set of foam tips.
The bottom half of the box holds a large imitation leather carrying case with a flip up top and magnetic closure. The included cable is found inside the carrying pouch.
Build and aesthetics…
Starting with the IEMs, they are aluminium, small and very light weight. They have a nice mirrored finish to them, with the T Force logo in the center, however, they do collect fingerprints very easily. I guess this is why they came covered in plastic film (a nice touch by the way). I find them to be very comfortable and are small enough to insert quite deep into the ear, allowing me to use smaller tips and even lay on my side without too much discomfort.
The included cable is a simple twisted two core cable, which is not the most exciting cable in the world but is more than adequate for the IEMs. It doesn’t tangle and has nice mirrored hardware to match the IEMs, which of course also matches as far as fingerprints.
The carrying case is very classical, as far as aesthetics, in my opinion. The (faux) leather has a kind of snakeskin effect to it that reminds me of some of the cases my grandfather had for his photography equipment. It seems to be well built and is certainly a nice touch to include it rather than the typical small zippered cases found with many IEMs, not to mention those that don’t include a case at all.
As far as tips, I am not really keen on the clear silicone tips, I find them too soft and thin for my liking, however, the included “Bass enhanced” tips I find rather comfortable. In fact, I have mainly used these IEMs (except for some testing) with the tips that came preinstalled. Although they are smaller than my usual tip size, as the IEMs fit quite deep in my ears, they give me a good seal and are very comfortable.
I really don’t have any complaints about build, comfort or aesthetics, although these last two are obviously very personal.
As I said, I had no idea what to expect when putting these in my ears for the first time. Let me say that I was very pleasantly surprised. My first listen was only for a few minutes (as usual) using the Apple Dongle but I found them to be very pleasant and was looking forward to giving them more time.
After the usual burn-in time, I came back to them and found that they were just as pleasant, in fact, the sound signature (with the stock tips) matches my preferences pretty closely. The following opinions are using the stock tips, the ones that actually came installed on the IEMs.
Starting off with the subbass, there is enough for me not to notice any roll off but at the same time it is not overly boosted, nor in the sub bass nor in the remaining bass. Tracks that have low bass notes are well presented, clean and articulate. If you are looking for a really rumbling low end, I don’t think these are your thing, but if you are someone who, like me, appreciates presence without too much boost and more than anything, cleanliness and articulation, the Yuan Li delivers.
The remaining bass frequencies, mid and higher bass, are also very clean and detailed, again, without putting too much emphasis on them. It is easy to appreciate bass lines, presenting them in a way that allows me to enjoy them but without them taking a front line in the mix. I enjoyed many songs with bass guitar content, however, it may not be the most adequate choice for electronic bass content. Not that it does a bad job of it, hip hop and EDM are very listenable on these IEMs, it is just not something that will draw in those looking for big bass drops. For example, “All Eyez on Me” by Tupac may come across as a little lean in the bass department, as can “Sun is Shining” by Robin Schultz & Bob Marley, which are both tracks where the bass is focused in the high subbass to mid bass regions. However, moving to tracks that are more instrument orientated, the cleanliness of the bass guitar /both electric and upright) is very pleasurable to say the least. Even more pop orientated tracks, such as “Don’t Start Now”, work very well in the low ranges.
While on the subject of bass, I did find that a swap to the Final Audio tips brought the level up slightly without having any negative effect on the performance and cleanliness. Personally I don’t have an issue with the stock tips but I can see the Final Audio tips being more to the liking of the majority (even though it is still not a very prominent bass set, at least not as far as rumble is concerned). My personal choice would depend on the kind of music I am listening to, probably keeping the stock tips for my acoustic and general instrument based music, where I would opt for the Final Audio tips in the case of listening to hip-hop. Please remember that, as I have stated many times before, I am a neutral bass fan, not a huge lover of boosted bass (except when in certain moods).
Moving back to the stock tips, the transition into the mids is very clean, without anything seeming bloated or muddy at all. The lower end of the mids is kept just as clean and articulate as the bass regions. There is a lower presence in the lower mids, which helps keep the transition clean, but it does not come across as recessed and the mids are very smooth in general as they climb towards the peak that is in the higher mids, around the usual 3kHz mark.
The mids are in fact very good in my opinion, they do a good job of giving voices (and instruments) the necessary presence without overdoing it. The peak at 3kHz is plenty to make sure vocals are up front but they do a very good job of avoiding harshness. From Dua Lipa to Daniela Andrade, vocals are kept very clean and detailed. I would say that the mids are definitely one of the highlights of the Yuan Li, doing a great job without stealing the spotlight.
As we move into the high regions, sibilance is avoided without becoming overly dull. “Code Cool”, which is my usual test track of choice, is not offensive and can be listened to without being irritating but you can still tell that Patricia Barber is on the verge of sibilance throughout the track.
The extension of the treble is not spectacular, but when is it ever in a review of a single DD by me? However, the roll off is gradual enough to not make it seem like it is missing a lot in the high treble. There is enough air to make music feel open and clear and even though I wouldn’t say that more extension wouldn’t be great, I don’t really have any complaints about the treble, which is quite an achievement in my book.
The soundstage is actually also above average in my opinion. I find that almost all IEMs are average, with very few being above that average. In the case of the Yuan Li, ok, they are not a set of open back planar magnetic headphones, but I still find them to have a decent spaciousness to them. They also do a good job of working with this space, placing images in a very clear and defined manner, using this to their advantage to make the soundstage seem bigger than it probably is.
I am very surprised by the Yuan Li. I do believe that it is one of the best single dynamic drivers I have heard at this price point and actually much prefer it to the Moondrop Aria or Starfield (which come in at just under or over the Yuan Li in price, respectively). I feel that this is a very coherent set of IEMs that is very fairly priced at 100€. Could it be better? Well of course it could. It also won’t be the correct choice for everyone, especially those looking for more in the bass department, but for me to put it above the Aria (or the Starfield) is quite a bit of praise in my opinion, as the Aria is my daily driver when out and about.
As I said, it is not perfect, there are things that can be improved, but I am not sure I have heard those at this price range, and certainly not without gaining in one factor while losing in another. Things that are easy to improve, such as the tips and cable, are things that I can quite easily live with, I have a drawer full of both.
I am very grateful that HiFiGo sent me this, as I wouldn’t have heard it, or probably even taken a second glance at it, if they hadn’t. As it stands, I think I have found a set of IEMs that is a set to beat for 100€ or less.
As always, this is also available in Spanish on my blog and on YouTube, links at the end of this post.
It has been a while since I tried any of the latest offerings from KZ and I somehow stumbled across the ZEX when it was announced for preorder. As it was a new combination of drivers from the brand and was at a very reasonable price, I placed the preorder and actually forgot about it.
It sat in an unopened box for a while until I saw somebody mention it on a forum and decided to check if I had actually received it or not (I had quite a few unopened boxes laying around). It was indeed there and I decided to give it a quick listen, I must say I was surprised at the first listen, so I put it on the burn-in rig and gave it the usual time before grabbing it again this week to test more.
Not much has changed in the KZ presentation, in fact, I don’t think anything has changed since the last time I opened a normal set of theirs. I mean, there have been a couple of “special” presentations, such as the ZAX, but this is just like any other of the many KZ offerings that have been across my desk.
A simple white box from which slides a tray with a clear plastic cover, showing the IEMs inside. Underneath this we get 3 pairs of silicone tips (including the ones installed), the cable and, well, that’s it.
Build and aesthetics…
While the shape of the ZEX is the same usual shape used by the brand, they are a little smaller than things like the ZSN range (only slightly), being the same size as the ZAX but with a bit more contouring going on. They actually look fairly decent for a set of IEMs that cost around 20€. I am not sure if the faceplate is plastic or metal but if I had to guess, I would say plastic. Overall I like the look of them, fairly discrete but without being too boring.
As far as the cable, well, here KZ have made a huge improvement in my opinion. Ok, it’s not a boutique cable with fancy braiding but it is miles ahead of the thin twisted cables that I was used to receiving from the brand. They haven’t even really done much to improve it, they have just covered a thin cable in a see through rubber coating, but it is enough for me to not want to throw the cable in the KZ pile upon opening the IEMs. My version has an inline mic and I am not sure if I ordered it like that on purpose or by mistake (or maybe that was the only one available for pre-order at the time) but it’s a shame as I wouldn’t mind having this cable mic free for when I use other KZ IEMs.
Let me start by getting straight to the point, the ZEX sound pretty darn good for a set of 20€ IEMs. There are more and more options in this price bracket lately, some of which are very decent IEMs that would make plenty of people happy, and I think that the ZEX should be put straight into the decent category without a doubt. They do have a few issues that I will comment on shortly but these IEMs are a set that are impressive upon first listen.
I say first listen because my first impressions were “wow, these have a lot of bass yet sound very clear!” As I have spent more time with them, there have been a few things that have stood out, making them still impressive but remind me that these are not perfect.
The sound signature is very much the typical KZ “V” shape found on the majority of their IEMs, with few exceptions. Over time, KZ has stuck with a similar tuning on most of their set and just achieved it in different ways, with different driver configurations, some working better than others.
In the case of the ZEX, KZ are using a single Dual Magnetic Dynamic Unit and what they call a Low Voltage Electrostatic Unit. An electrostat is not something found on many IEMs, even if it is not exactly an electrostat, and it does seem to work in favour of these specific IEMs.
I am going to get into the specific frequency ranges and usual steps in just a second but first let me make a note on tips. I have used the included tips (which I wasn’t overly keen on), foam tips (that made them a little dull), Final Audio Tips (which make them more impressive but show a bit of harshness that I am about to comment on) and also Xelastic tips (which fix the harshness but again dull down the clarity a little too much for me). So, my thoughts are based on using the Final Audio tips, tips that do enhance the bass and retain the clarity that I feel these are good at.
Starting with subbass, these have plenty of it. If you are looking for rumble in the low end, the ZEX deliver and manage to do so without losing control too much. As I have stated on many occasions, I am not one for elevated bass unless I am specifically in the mood, well, the ZEX are good candidates for when I am in the mood. “Chameleon” can not be said to be lacking anything at the lowest frequencies and while it is not the most controlled I have ever heard it, it is certainly good enough to be enjoyable. “Nara” is also a very good example of the fullness that the ZEX have all the way down to the lowest notes. Let’s just say that my hearing rolls off before the IEMs seem to.
In the mid and higher bass regions, the bass is still very present and is also clear and articulate. Listening to things like “Forgot About Dre”, where the bass line moves around between 50Hz and 100Hz, it stays present without anything seeming out of place. I listened to quite a bit of Hip Hop and EDM, enjoying the low end presentation of most of it. Moving to things that are less electronically focused, such as “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman, the bass is a little more elevated than I would choose but does a decent job of staying out of the way of the rest of the frequencies. With “Black Muse” by Prince, I did find that I wanted to dial it down a bit though but still listenable.
And I think that is where KZ have made a decent job of these IEMs. I don’t know where the crossover to the electrostat happens but the ZEX manage to keep mids and highs clear and present, even when the low end is boosted.
There is a dip in the mids as I mentioned, but the dip is not overly done, or at least the climb up at the end of the mids is enough to make sure vocals and mid centric instruments are present. I was actually very surprised at how detailed and clear these can be in the higher end of the mids and lower treble frequencies. Even for my typical vocal and acoustic instrument focused tracks, they do a good job of keeping everything clear and well presented.
The negative side, there is always a negative side, is that sometimes vocals and other parts of the higher mids can come across as harsh. They are actually not sibilant, at least they don’t add sibilance, but certain parts can be a little brutal at times. This is not all the time, just on occasions, but that can actually be worse at times, as EQ (or tip changes) to remove these harsh appearances seem to dull down the overall signature in general, becoming a little too blunt for my tastes.
Don’t get me wrong, I still feel that these are excellent value for their price, and would still be good value at a much higher price, but those peaks do take the enjoyment away now and again.
As far as soundstage, well, we are back in the average camp here. They are not bad but are nothing worth noting in this regard. Image placement is also acceptable, maybe a little over average, but again nothing out of this world.
I think the last set of KZ IEMs I reviewed were the ZAX, a more classic hybrid set up from KZ, and I must say that these are more impressive than the ZAX. By this I don’t mean they are better, I mean that they are more impressive in what they can do. I think that I can dial the ZAX more towards my tastes with my usual selection of music (not just the stuff on my test list) but they are not IEMs that I usually reach for, I have others that I prefer much more.
However, the ZEX are sort of a “Here, take that!” set of IEMs. I was literally surprised when I first heard them and I still am when I pick them up after listening to other stuff, especially with hip hop and EDM.
I would not put them at the top of my recommended list for my personal tastes but I certainly think they are worth (more than) their price. I would have no problem recommending them to people who want to party inside their head. They sort of remind me of some car systems that people spend a lot of time (and money) perfecting to get that Saturday night parking lot EDM party set up, and these only cost 20€.
As always, this review is also available in Spanish on my blog and on YouTube, links at the end of the post.
The CCZ Emerald and the CCZ Melody were sent to me free of charge by KeepHiFi in exchange for this review. They have not requested anything, therefore my review will be as honest and sincere as possible, as they always are, but it is always good to consider the fact that these IEMs have not cost me anything.
As mentioned before, I don’t share links on websites, even if they are unaffiliated, so to see these products direct from KeepHiFi (or on the Aliexpress store), please visit the version of this review published on my blog.
This is the first time I have tried any CCZ IEMs and I decided to review them both together. My main reason for this is that they are so similar that if it wasn’t for the colour (and a few sound differences), I would not be able to tell them apart. Therefore, I will discuss both of these and also compare them against themselves as I go.
Before getting on with the usual parts of my review, I will mention the specs so you can see what I mean about being similar:
The Emerald uses a single 10mm DD together with a custom CCZ BA driver. It states an impedance of 16 Ohms and a sensibility of 110dB.
The Melody uses a single 10mm DD together with a custom CCZ BA driver. It states an impedance of 16 Ohms and a sensibility of 110dB.
No, I didn’t just copy and paste that paragraph, maybe you are starting to get my point.
They are even the same price, well, the Emerald is actually about 1€ more expensive, both coming in at under 20€.
It’s no surprise that both sets of IEMs come packaged in exactly the same way. A simple white box with an image of the product on the front, with a few specs on the back and features on the sides of the boxes. Apart from the difference in image on the front of the box, the only other difference I can find is that the Melody mentions “Lightweight design” as a feature whereas the Emerald states “Selected Dynamic Driver” in the same place on the box.
Also, on the front of the box of the Melody it states that the are “Stunning New Sound from Inside Out”, while the Emerald just says “DD and BA Hybrid In-Ear HIFI Earphones”.
Inside the box we again find everything is identical except for the actual IEMs. Both contain the exact same cable and two extra sets of silicone tips along with the ones that are installed.
Build and aesthetics…
First, as both are the same, the cable. The cable is a thin black cable that is reminiscent of those that were included with earlier KZ models. There is nothing really wrong with the cable, it is a basic cable that serves it’s purpose but won’t be winning any prizes.
Now the IEMs, which are actually different, well… sort of. The shapes are identical, the size is identical and the only difference (apart from colour) is a small slope on the faceplate of the Emerald, which you can probably see in the photo above.
There is lees than a gram difference in weight, so I would have thought that the lightweight design would have been a feature of the Emerald also but, I guess the selected Dynamic Driver was more appealing.
There seem to be no obvious build issues or flaws, at least at this price point, and I got the Melody in clear so I can actually see the inside. I am certainly not going to pick faults with it as it is a sub 20€ IEM, so as long as it has no obvious flaws, that is fine with me.
I will say that I prefer the look of the Emerald, in my case in blue but also available in green, as I think it looks a little better while hiding the internals (only on the top, the back is still transparent so you can see the driver capsule.
As far as comfort, I have to say that I experienced some issues with these IEMs (remember they are both identical. On the top part of the inside they have something that is kind of like a rubber lip. This actually puts pressure on the inside of my ear and became rather uncomfortable after an hour or so. I found that I couldn’t wear them for longer than that without discomfort, so my sessions have been intermittent. Comfort is obviously a very personal thing and I have no idea if this will affect other people also but I can only speak for myself.
One other thing I noticed was that the tips included have a kind of channel around them, near the tip. I have no idea what this was supposed to do, if anything, but I found the tips to provide a decent sound and comfort that wasn’t bad either, so my sound impressions are with the stock tips.
So, onto the part where things are a little different, with the emphasis being on “little”.
First let me say that I started off with the Emerald and found that the sound signature was quite pleasant. I didn’t immediately pick up any specific flaws and found that I was quite happily listening to my music while working. If it hadn’t been for that hot spot I mentioned in comfort, I would have easily listened to these IEMs all day.
The Melody was also a pleasant enough listen but I found it to lack a bit of body and fullness in comparison to the Emerald. I will mention a little more as I go through the usual frequency groups.
Starting with the subbass, the Emerald has a nice extension with good presence but without being overpowering in any way. Low notes are clear and articulate but do not give the impression of being overly boosted. For example, a song like “Royals” by Lorde proves to have enough in the subbass regions to appreciate what is going on down there but when passing over to something more acoustical, the Emerald don’t suddenly add weight at the low end that shouldn’t be there.
In comparison, the Melody is quite a bit thinner on the low end. There is still a presence of subbass, enough to appreciate the tracks, but it is not as full as the Emerald in this regard. I suppose one could argue that it is cleaner but to be honest, the Emerald is not exactly dirty in its subbass reproduction.
Honestly, I could live with the subbass on either of these two sets but my guess would be that the majority of people would opt for the subbass on the Emerald over the Melody.
Moving into the mid and higher bass territory, the situation is repeated. The Melody is very clean and is by no means overly boosted. It presents bass lines with nice articulation, making it easy to appreciate all kinds of bass lines, from Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” through to “All Eyez on Me” by 2Pac.
However, moving back to the Emerald, the clean and articulated sound of the bass lines is still just as present, with just a little more presence. I mean, there is not a huge dB difference between the bass on the Melody and the Emerald, but it is noticeable and in my opinion, the Emerald makes it seem a little fuller, with more body. Again, as my preferences usually move towards the neutral side of things in the bass regions, one would think that the Melody would have the upper hand, but again I find that both are good, just that the extra body of the Emerald makes music seem a little more lively.
Moving into the mids, these are also quite pleasurable. There is no real recess in the mids, however, as the Emerald does have that little extra in bass, the mids can seem slightly further back. The difference is not huge and this is only really noticeable on tracks with a lot of bass, such as “Chameleon” or “Sun Is Shining” etc. I think I would again choose the Emerald for the mids as I like that little extra roundness of the low end with the majority of my music. Maybe on occasions where bass is very present in a track, again, such as “Chameleon”, then maybe I would opt for the mids from the Melody but the majority of the music I listen to is not overly boosted in the low end.
Vocals come across very nicely on both sets, with enough presence and clarity to make the majority of my music very enjoyable. There is a nice balance throughout the vocal ranges of both male and female singers, with tracks like “Billie Jean” by The Civil Wars being well balanced between both voices and without either becoming overly harsh. In the case of vocals, I think both sets are very similar, except for a little extra weight in the lowest ranges of very deep male vocals. There were a few brief occasions where I noticed a little harshness in some of the higher mids of specific voices but it was a very rare occurrence and very much dependent on a specific note in a specific recording.
Up in the higher ranges, both sets offer a decent amount of air and extension, without being overly sibilant. There is a slight touch of sibilance on my usual “Code Cool” test track, not enough to be painful but certainly a little bit more that I would choose. The Emerald seems to be slightly better in this regard but not by a huge amount. The extension is also very similar on both with the Melody perhaps seeming to be more airy due to that slight touch more presence in these frequency ranges.
As far as stage and image placement, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by these IEMs. Listening to “Strange Fruit” by Dominique Fils-Aimé, the multiple vocals are nicely spaced and the layers are easily identified. Of course these are still IEMs but they are above the averageness I have come to expect from the majority. I think that the Melody gives a sensation of being slightly wider, however the Emerald makes the layers sound a little smoother and more “locked in” with each other, although the differences are minimal.
I have been pleasantly surprised by these offerings from CCZ for their price bracket. They are very coherent and enjoyable IEMs. It is a shame that the comfort doesn’t work for me, meaning that I can’t listen to them for extended periods of time. By the end of the tests and comparisons, my ears really did feel painful.
As far as the actual sound signatures, I think I would choose the Emerald over the melody. I know this sounds strange, me choosing the bassier set of the two, but I feel that it just ties everything in together a little better, giving an overall roundness to the presentation.
To be totally honest, I think that either of these sets is a good buy for the 20€ asking price, but the Emerald is just slightly more refined and a better deal.
Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnets (2021) vs Arya v2 (2020)
As usual, this is also available in Spanish on my blog and on YouTube, links at the end of this post.
Here is my comparison of the Hifiman Arya Stealh Magnet revision vs the Arya v2.
As always, this is also available in Spanish for anyone who “habla español” on both my blog and on YouTube, links at the end of this post.
The Hifiman Arya, 2021 version, has been kindly loaned to me by Hifiman for this review. They have not requested anything and my opinions, as always, will be as sincere and unbiased as possible, always taking into consideration that it hasn’t cost me anything to test these headphones.
The Hifiman Arya 2021, which is just called Hifiman Arya as far as I am aware, is a new revision of these headphones that was released recently by the brand. One of the main factors of this revision is that the Arya now uses Stealth Magnets, something that already made its appearance early on other models such as the HE400se.
The Stealth Magnet system is basically, in broad terms, a change to the structure of the magnets, rounding off the edges and helping avoid unwanted reflections caused inside the cups.
I don’t know if anything else has changed in this new revision other than the magnet structure, but the specs do show a change in the impedance (now 36 Ohms rather than 35 of the previous version) and an increase in sensitivity from 90dB to 94dB.
The price, as shown on the Hifiman website, stays the same.
Presentation, build, aesthetics, etc…
I usually separate these and give a rundown on how the headphones are packaged, what they include, what they look like, are they comfortable, etc.
However, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing has changed in this regard to the previous revision, therefore I am just going to focus on sound and comparisons in this review. If you would like to see details on the presentation, build, etc., you can see my review of the previous Hifiman Arya here.
The grille on the cups has changed slightly, being obvious if you hold them side by side but not something that jumps out at you.
The only other visible change is to the magnet structure which, again, you can only see if you hold them side by side and look through the outside of the cups. This is something that you can only really see if you look at them side by side and with enough light.
Sound and comparisons to the non-stealth version…
First off, I would suggest that you read my complete review of the Hifiman Arya (again, here), so you can see my impressions of these headphones and what I feel about them in detail.
I also mentioned the Arya a fair bit in my recent review of the iFi Audio Signature Stack HFM (which you can read here) and I did a comparison of the Ananda, Arya and HE100se here. The reason that I mention all of these is so you can have relevant background on my reviews of the previous revision before I start the comparisons, as this review will mainly be focused on said comparisons.
For brevity, I will refer to these as 2020 and 2021.
I will start off by referring to the power. As I mentioned above, there is a difference in sensitivity and impedance. These differences are minor but are noticeable when switching from one set to the other. Although I have listened to them on other amplifiers, my comparisons have been made using the Schiit Asgard 3 to power them and to reach the same listening levels, I did need to increase the Asgard level by around 10% when switching to the 2020 version.
With regards to sound, first off, let me say that these headphones do sound different from one another, at least in my opinion, however, the differences are not really in the sound signature, rather the way that the sound is presented, things like details, width, imaging, all those things that never seem to show up on graphs but doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist.
As far as the actual sound signature, I really can’t find a difference that I could guarantee exists. There are times that I feel like certain songs sound different but I am fairly sure that it is just in my mind and most probably dependent upon a slight difference in volume levels when switching between them (I don’t measure the dB level each time I switch, only the first time in order to have a reference point on the volume pot of the amp, so it is not an exact science).
After giving up on trying to spot sound signature differences, which I later saw on a graph (courtesy of Resolve from The Headphone Show) that they do in fact measure very very similar.
There are some slight differences and these seem to be found mainly in the treble but to be totally honest, before I saw this graph and the mention of this slight difference in the treble, I can’t say that I noticed it, or at least it wasn’t something that stood out to me enough for me to say “the treble is different”. Since seeing the graph and a few other people mentioning the treble, now I feel that I can spot it a little more but I really can’t say if this is because my brain is now focusing on that more or because my brain is telling me it is there so I am automatically thinking it is. If I went back to blind testing, which I have actually done a sort of blind test (forgetting which one I had on my head at the time), I am still not certain I can pick up those changes with 90% of my music, and certainly not with confidence, therefore I started to focus on the things that I mentioned above.
Let me point out that the differences that I do notice are so slight that I would never be able to notice them if I didn’t have both models side by side, and even then, I can only really spot them in specific tracks that I have listened to more times that I can remember (i.e: my test list). Even with my test list, there are only a few songs that I feel show me the differences that I am hearing.
Starting off with “All Your Love (Turned to Passion)” by Sara K, the intro of this song is an acoustic guitar intro with some hefty plucks and a few hits on the body of the guitar. This is recorded in a room with a lot of reverb (or a very natural reverb was added in post) and where I notice the difference between the 2020 and 2021 is in the sense of distance that the reverb produces. This is not a huge difference, if we were to compare the difference between the Ananda and the Arya instead of the Arya 2020 vs 2021, the difference would be meters rather than centimeters. But I feel that the Arya 2021 seems just a little closer than the 2020.
Moving on to a binaural recording, “La Luna” by Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, this recording places instruments all around you. Especially noticeable in this track is the distance to the guitar that is placed on the left and towards the rear. Again, my feeling is that said guitar is just that little bit closer, giving a sense of being a little more present in the mix.
Next up is a track that everyone thinks is the audiophiles favourite track, although audiophiles won’t admit to listening to it (you all know you do ), “Hotel California”, the acoustic version. The difference that I noticed on this track was the width of the applause coming from the crowd. Again, it is a minimal difference but I feel that the crowd is not quite as spread out on the 2021 Stealth version.
In the case of “Letter” by Yosi Horikawa, I thought that I would straight away notice less left to right extension based on my listening to other tracks and finding a trend of things being slightly closer on the 2021. However, I was surprised to find that I could not tell the difference. I went back and forth plenty of times but I just couldn’t sense any extra width on the previous model.
However, with “Bubbles”, also by Yosi Horikawa, I did notice the sensation of extra space on the 2020 model. With the Stealth version, the effect of the bouncing balls seemed to be that bit more intimate, just a little closer, with the 2020 model giving more sensation of openness.
The last track I am going to mention from my test list, so that this review doesn’t just go on and on, is “Hallelujah” by Pentatonix. The backing vocals on this track seem to be, again, just a little closer and more intimate on the 2021 Stealth version. I am actually not really sure that I should be using the word intimate as these headphones are by no means an intimate sound, they are open and spacious, I just can’t think of a better description to put it into perspective.
I spent a couple of weeks listening to the Arya Stealth Magnet version before I started to do these direct comparisons. I had listened to the 2020 model not long before I started listening to the 2021 model and when I first started listening, my first impressions were that they were not as open sounding and there were differences.
After listening to them off and on for a week, followed by using them daily for another week, I started to think that maybe the difference was not really there and I had maybe just become acclimatized to the width of the Arya. To be honest, my only gripe with the Arya (2020) was that things could sound too open, making certain images be placed too far away. This resulted in a presentation of sound that was nothing short of amazing upon first listening but after a while made me feel that I had to focus a little too much to appreciate the details, again, everything just seemed a little too far away.
The new Stealth Magnet version seems to keep everything that I enjoyed about the previous Arya model, which I find to be an excellent headphone, and manage to bring everything just a touch closer. It is like when you are in a large room with people spread out and you ask them to just move a little closer, it makes it a little easier to appreciate the input of everyone in that room, I feel that is what the Stealth Version of the Arya has done.
Now, this means that the first listen to the Arya, depending on the music selected of course, may not be such an impressive immersion in sound as the previous model, but after those initial moments, I feel that it is a change that makes (my) music more enjoyable. I am not straining to hear the details that I sometimes missed on the 2020 version unless I paid attention, but they are not pushed in my face either.
According to the literature presented by Hifiman (included in the box), this new magnet design reduces wave diffraction turbulence which degrades the integrity of the sound waves. Now, I have no idea how the physics work behind this but the result on the Arya is something that I find to be very pleasurable.
Before I end this review, I just want to repeat myself and make something clear. ALthough I may have been making this sound like the difference between the 2020 and 2021 models is huge, it is not. For the majority of music genres I have tried, I could not tell the difference in a sighted test, nevermind a blind one. The songs where I have noticed a difference have been where the tracks have a large content of details in the background, making them sound a little more present in the mix, but again, if I wasn’t to compare them side by side, over and over again, I am not sure I would have noticed the majority of things that I did.
Both the 2020 and 2021 models of the Arya are great headphones. Either of them are a great option and I don’t think that the vast majority of listeners should even worry about the differences between them.
However, if you are one of those people that found the Arya 2020 model (known as the v2) a little too spacious for your preferences, I think that the new Stealth Magnet version is something that is well worth a listen, it may just give you that extra little bit that you craved from the previous version.
@Rikudou_Goku has been kind enough to form part of the reviewer interview series I am slowly publishing on my blog.
As with previous interviews, I’m afraid I am not going to copy the interview here (I need to do some spamming now and again ), so please feel free to check out the interview (available in English & Spanish) here:
Hello! Let me start of my saying thank you very much for all your in-depth reviews! I really enjoy reading through them
I wanted to ask: I’m looking for a single DD IEM with excellent tonality, sub 250 USD. I will use them for classical music (instrumental, film scores, orchestral, choral), and I am trying to decide between Yuan Li, Vento Conductor, NF NA2+, and Hana 2021. Which of these have you demoed, and which one would you say would be best for classical music?
Thanks for the kind words and for checking out the reviews.
I’m afraid I am not going to be much use as out of the ones you mention, I have only tried the Yuan Li (although the Hana is supposed to be arriving at some point). I am also not someone who listens to a lot of classical music, only now and again and certainly not enough to pretend to actually know enough about it.
The Yuan Li I really like, I find it matches my tastes very well, but the majority of music I listen to is acoustic instrument and vocal based. I would certainly put it above the other single DD IEMs I have listened to and the small amount of classical I have listened to on it sounds good (mainly just London Philharmonic) but again, I am not versed in classical enough to really give a good opinion, sorry!
I know I have said this already but… this is also available in Spanish on my blog and YouTube, links at the end of the post.
Thieaudio Legacy 2
The Thieaudio Legacy 2 have been kindly donated by Linsoul in exchange for this review. They have not requested anything specific, however, as I always point out, even though my review will be as sincere and unbiased as possible, it is always good to consider the fact that these IEMs have not cost me anything.
As usual, I will refrain from posting purchasing links on external websites, even though they are non-affiliate, but please feel free to visit the version published on my blog for the link to the Legacy 2 via Linsoul.
To be honest, I hadn’t really been keeping up with the Thieaudio product line. I mean, I know Thieaudio, as it is a brand that is mentioned quite a lot in the IEM world and has uite a fame for some of their higher end models, but I really didn’t know much about their price models or price points. I remember the Legacy 3 interesting me at one point but I never actually got to hear it.
After spending time with the Legacy 2 to form my opinion on it, without even knowing its price, I decided to check it out on Linsoul. I was surprised to find that there are also various other models, such as the Legacy 3 I mentioned, along with the 4, 5 and even 9. I thought that maybe the Legacy 2 was an older model but some quick investigation showed that it is actually newer than the other models in the series, so I was somewhat confused by the naming scheme. However, after a bit more reading, I realized that the model number matches the driver count, which now makes sense to me.
The Legacy 2, as I just mentioned, has 2 drivers in each side, a proprietary 10mm beryllium dynamic driver along with a Knowles ED29689 balanced armature, a driver that has been used on some other very well regarded IEMs.
I must say that I was actually surprised to find that the Legacy 2 sells for $89 (less than 80€), as I actually thought the price would be higher. It is slightly above the sub 50€ bracket that I mention in many of my reviews, IEMs that I consider very budget orientated, but at its price it is still a very economical IEM in the scheme of things.
The Legacy 2 arrives in a largish black box covered by a black cardboard sleeve. The sleeve is all black and simply says Thieaudio on the front. Sliding the box out from inside the sleeve surprisingly reveals a box that is identical to the sleeve, simply black with Thieaudio on the lid.
Inside the box we find the IEMs with their 2 Pin cable attached, along with a selection of silicone tips, a rather nice blue (imitation) leather case with magnetic closure and the usual QC card, warranty card and even an instruction manual.
I have absolutely no complaints about the contents included for the price, it is much more than is included with many other models at similar (or more expensive) price points and there is nothing really missing.
Build and aesthetics…
Thieaudio uses a semi transparent blue shell for the Legacy 2, with a faceplate that has a kind of resin marble effect. I must say that I actually like the look. It is colorful enough to be different from so many other brands but at the same time is not overpowering nor does it stand out too much.
The IEMs themselves are very lightweight and are shaped in a way that I find very comfortable. I have been using the stock tips with them and I have been able to listen for hours without any issues in regards to comfort. There is no filter on the outside of the end of the nozzle, which actually has two smaller openings, to which the drivers are routed via their tubes.
The included cable is also pretty nice. It is a 4 core braided cable, with silver coloured connectors and split, which does have a few loose weaves here and there but nothing to complain about. The chin slider is transparent plastic rather than matching metal but it works as it is supposed to and does not seem out of place.
As far as build and aesthetics, I find that they are a nice set of IEMs that seem well built and are certainly comfortable for long sessions, even if this is something that is obviously a very personal thing.
Now, where to start with the sound… My quick description of the sound would be pleasant, not overpowering, just generally a comfortable tuning. There is really nothing that jumps out at me in a bad way from the Legacy 2, although there is nothing that really jumps out at me in a great way either.
I suppose the word mediocre would come to mind but I think that mediocre is more negative than positive and I really don’t think that there is anything really negative about the Legacy 2, it is just not exciting. I have been using these IEMs daily for a week and at no moment did I ever feel that they were doing anything wrong, but I didn’t get any “wow!” moments either.
In the subbass regions, there is quite a bit of extension down to the lower regions, without the lowest notes seeming to roll off but there isn’t any boost either. I didn’t find that songs with deep sub bass came across as powerful in those regions, but they didn’t really come across as lacking either. The usual “Chameleon” work out proved to have enough sound to appreciate the subbass but didn’t really rumble like it does on other sets.
Moving into the mid and higher bass areas, again, presence is correct and bass is as present as it needs to be without being overdone. As you all know (unless this is the first review of mine you read), I am not a bass head, so take that as you will, but I found the bass to be nicely balanced as far as tuning. When I looked at a graph after listening for a few days, I was surprised to find that the bass actually shows to be more elevated than I would have guessed. It is higher than my usual preference in the bass region but it did not give me that impression.
I think that the main reason for it not giving me that impression is that the bass is rather smooth, without really standing out. Listening to “Black Muse” by Prince, I can’t really say that there is any lack of bass presence but once again, it doesn’t really stand out like it does on sets with more exciting bass response (even sets that actually have less bass as far as tuning). As a bass player, I automatically pay attention to bass lines even when I don’t want to, but the Legacy 2 doesn’t make me do that. The bass just doesn’t seem to stand out, but when I actually make an effort to listen to it, there really isn’t anything wrong, it just forms part of the overall music (which is what it should do, but usually doesn’t in my case because I am always unconsciously paying attention to it).
Moving into the mids, I feel I am going to start being repetitive. I listen to a lot of acoustic and vocal music and the mids sound fine but again, not exciting. Listening to “Strange Fruit” by Dominique Fils-Aimé, again her vocals were fine, no harshness, nothing particularly missing or added, but it did not come across as it does on so many IEMs with particularly good mids. Again, I need to stress that it does not do a bad job of the mids at all, in fact it doesn’t make a bad job of any of the frequencies, it just doesn’t excel at them.
Up in the higher regions, this is the area that I usually find most faults on economic IEMs and again, I can’t really fault them. They are clean, they are not harsh, there is no sibilance, there are no weird boosts. Yes, they could extend a little further but I really can’t complain that they roll off too early, or lack air, or any of that. Again, they just don’t stand out.
As far as soundstage and placement of images in that stage, well, the width is typical for an IEM. It is again not bad but is nothing out of the ordinary. The placement of images is decent although not amazing, but I think that this is more due to the fact that everything is sort of coherently balanced, there are no real background details that stand out. It does not give the impression of being a very detailed set of IEMs but if you actually look for a specific detail that you know should be there, it usually is, it just doesn’t amaze with details.
I may have given the impression that the Legacy 2 are not good IEMs but that is a long way from being true. They are good IEMs, there really isn’t anything bad about them, but they are just an overall safe and coherent presentation of music.
I really don’t think anyone could say that they hate the Legacy 2 (well, this is the internet, I’m sure plenty of people can) because there really isn’t anything to hate about them. I think that they are a set of IEMs that you could literally buy for anyone without knowing their preferences and they would be a safe bet.
My conclusion is that the Legacy 2 is a good set of IEMs that is a safe bet, something that doesn’t really excel in anything particular but doesn’t really fall behind in anything particular either. If there is something specific you want from a set of IEMs, then I think that there will always be an option that will be better at that specific task but the Legacy 2 is an all rounder that will just do its job without complaint.
The following, as usual, is also available in Spanish on my blog and on YouTube, links at the end of the post.
The Symphonium Helios have been sent to me on loan from the company Symphonium Audio without a request for anything at all. I am very grateful for the loan of these IEMs as I would not have had a chance to try them out and they are certainly a set that have changed my view on IEMs as a whole, but more on that in a moment.
As always, my review and opinions will be as sincere and honest as possible but you do need to factor in two things, first that it hasn’t cost me anything to try out these IEMs and second, I may have already had some preconceived impressions of these IEMs before I even received them.
I will explain more on why I may have some preconceived impressions in a second but as I am someone who believes in honest and unbiased reviews, along with sharing as much information as possible, I have arranged with Symphonium to allow me to send these on to two other Spanish reviewers who know nothing about them. The Helios will be going to both Vertex, who posts his reviews on the YouTube channel “Auricular ORG” (in Spanish), and to Cqtek, who posts his reviews in English and Spanish on hiendportable.com, so please check out their reviews as well (I have no idea what they will think of them but I do know that they will share their unbiased opinions!).
Anyway, with that cleared up, let’s get on with the Helios!
The Helios is a very recent release from a company called Symphonium Audio that has very few models and I only know about them due to the Helios and the talk of these IEMs in a Discord server that I am part of, along with people who worked on the design of the Helios and some reviewers whose opinions I have a lot of trust in.
This is the reason for the possible preconceived impressions that I mentioned, as I have heard nothing but praise for these IEMs since they started getting heard by those reviewers and by some other non-reviewers who have also had the chance to try them. It was actually quite an experience to see people try them and as soon as they passed them along, place their order for them. This obviously made me expect something great from the Helios, as there is no better positive publicity than people hearing them and then spending 1000€ to own them.
And that is another part of my impressions, I have never experienced a 1000€ set of IEMs before. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I said that 100€ was my limit for a set of IEMs and although I have broken that limit a couple of times, I am still a long way from having spent such an amount on a set of IEMs. The main reason is that I always prefer headphones, however, I have started to realize that I do use IEMs more than headphones, mainly due to the heat here for the majority of the year, so I have been more open to higher priced IEMs lately (although I still haven’t made the commitment).
All this is basically nothing to do with the Helios but I thought I would include this information as it gives you an understanding of where I am coming from with my impressions of the Helios, which I can already say is the best set of IEMs I have ever heard.
I am not 100% sure if what I have received is actually the same as what is received in a retail set of these IEMs, as I said, these are a demo unit, but I think that things like cables can be chosen when purchasing from Symphonium.
This set arrived in a black box, which I understand is the retail box, along with another case containing a second cable, wrapped separately.
The extra case is a very nice travel case which is (imitation) leather on the outside, sporting the Symphonium logo, with a nice furry interior. As I said, I am not sure that this case is included with the retail version but I have seen that it is available on the Symphonium webstore for $10 and it really is nice to have the lined interior. Inside this travel case they included a 2.5mm balanced cable.
Inside the main box we get a rather special aluminum storage case, which is round and has a screw off lid. I say this is a storage case as I don’t think I would personally use it for transporting the IEMs due to the size and weight of it, but again, it is very nice and does make it seem like you are receiving something special. The round case is located at the top of the box and has a metal plaque underneath that reads Symphonium Audio Helios. This presentation is rather simple but elegant, again, making it seem like something special.
Inside the storage case are the IEMs, a 4.4mm balanced cable, a small cleaning brush and tool, along with a few Symphonium Audio stickers.
The bottom end of the box has a small drawer that slides out to reveal another metal plaque with the serial number engraved, under which we find 6 extra sets of silicone tips, 3 sizes of large bore and 3 sizes of small bore. As this is a demo unit and I already have hundreds of tips in different sizes and styles, I haven’t actually used the included tips.
As far as the presentation, that about sums it up. Again, it is rather simple but elegant and includes enough accessories, although an unbalanced cable would have been nice but that will depend on the source that each person is planning on using.
Build and aesthetics…
Starting off with the IEMs themselves, they are very simple rounded triangles, all black, with Helios on one side and Symphonium on the other. To be honest, they are nothing much to look at, they are a simple shape and finish that does not jump out as being anything special, they certainly aren’t something that screams “expensive” to someone who doesn’t know IEMs, which can be a good thing depending on your use case.
They are also quite large and have a fair weight to them, with quite a long nozzle that is also on the larger side (although not to the extent of some nozzled like those of the iSine or Blessing). I found that a lot of tips didn’t slide all the way to the end of the nozzle, making the Helios stick out from my ears a little too much, although they still weren’t uncomfortable in this way. However, they are meant to be used with a deep insertion, meaning that I needed to select tips that are a little longer and also of a smaller size (as the seal happens further inside my ear). To be honest, I am not a great fan of deep insertion but they still weren’t too uncomfortable even when pushed deep.
The rest of the contents are of good quality, the accessories are great, as I mentioned, and the cables are nice. I guess my only complaint, which is not really a complaint, is that the cables do not have preformed memory wire or ear hooks, but that is not my complaint (I actually praise them not being preformed), it is the fact that the 2 pin sockets on the IEMs do not have a guide for the connectors and as the cables are not preformed, it makes connecting them out of phase very easy. This is easily overcome by looking at the channels on the connectors themselves, making sure they are the correct way round, but I can see people making mistakes and ending up with left and right out of phase by accident.
So, I already said these are the best IEMs I have heard. That is obviously enough to know that my impressions of sound are very positive, but that still doesn’t mean that they are perfect for everyone, or that they are even perfect for me.
I am going to go through my usual steps as far as sound but I want to point out beforehand that any negatives are minor and they are relative to what I want from a 1000€ IEM, not because the IEMs have any faults themselves.
As I have said with reviews of headphones, once we reach a certain sound quality, the rest is more about preference. That doesn’t mean that all headphones or IEMs above a certain price point are great, there are some that don’t hit the “certain quality” mark, but that is definitely not the case with the Helios, they surpass the that “certain quality” with ease, so it puts them in a zone where personal preference becomes the main deciding factor.
Starting off with the subbass, it is excellent.
Ok, I guess I better be a little more specific The extension of the subbass is great, reaching far lower than my hearing range, providing plenty of rumble but keeping it very clean and articulate, never seeming to lose control over even the lowest frequencies.
Now, I already knew what the measurements of these IEMs looked like way before I got them, and also heard praise for the subbass, but even so, I was very surprised. As I have mentioned many times, I am not a bass head and the graph of the subbass would place these well over my preferences, but the sound doesn’t. The cleanliness and presentation of the subbass means that the power to rumble is there, but it doesn’t just add it to everything, it just presents what the track needs at each time.
I don’t think I have mentioned yet that the Helios is a 4x BA set up, which is something that doesn’t really attract me on paper. I am a lover of dynamic driver bass, probably due to the fact that I have spent all my life listening to bass from dynamic drivers so it is what I find natural. In the case of headphones, I said that the HE1000se (and now possibly the Arya Stealth Magnet version) were the first headphones to make me feel that I didn’t need a dynamic driver for bass tonality and it seems that the Helios can take that same claim for subbass in IEMs. The rumble, articulation, coherency are all just mixed together perfectly for my tastes in subbass.
I can’t finish the subbass section without mentioning “Chameleon”, which is usually a good stress test for an IEM subbass, however, in this case, it is more of a massage for the eardrum, giving a sensation of power that I have not experienced in an IEM before without it becoming overpowering and uncontrolled.
Moving up to the mid bass ranges, the articulation and speed are again there, making any tracks, no matter how busy in the bass areas, sound clean and never seeming to lack any dynamics in the bass area. However, and this is my first negative (which I repeat, is relevant to what I am looking for, not because it is bad), I feel that the midbass is lacking a little bit of warmth and presence to be totally natural on the majority of music that I listen to.
I listen to a lot of acoustic guitars and basses in my music preferences, some samples of which can be found on my test list, such as “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton, “Free Fallin’” by John Mayer or “Seven Nation Army” by Zella Day, just to name a few. With this kind of music I find that the acoustic guitar (and upright bass in something like “Back it Up” by Caro Emerald), lacks a little bit of body to meet my preferences for these instruments.
I know by looking at the graph that the mid bass is slightly below my preferences as far as presence but even with a little bit of EQ in this area, I still don’t find it to be as natural as I would like, which I think could be due to these frequencies being handled by a BA and not a DD. Again, I must stress that this is some very minor nitpicking on my behalf, it is not that the instruments sound totally off, far from it, they just don’t seem to have the body that I love about the midbass of an acoustic guitar or bass.
When listening to similar styles of music that uses electric guitars rather than acoustic, such as “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman or “Sugar” by Francesco Yates, I do not get this same feeling. I feel that is more relative to the fact that I have been listening to acoustic guitars in a live setting (unamplified) since, well, forever, and it makes it difficult for them to sound the same.
With tracks that move more towards rock, such as “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, then I find the midbass to be great, with great clarity and coherency that makes it possible to even appreciate effects used in dirty tones such as “Bombtrack” by Rage Against The Machine.
Moving out of the bass and into the mids, there is no need to mention the transition as there is absolutely no hint of anything that resembles bleed or bloat. This is obviously helped by that small lack of presence in midbass (in comparison to other sets) but also the fact that these IEMs are so clean and fast that it is not even something to consider.
The mids themselves are very well presented, keeping up with that clarity and speed found throughout the whole of the frequency ranges. Voices are clear and upfront but without becoming harsh or pushing their way too far forwards. From vocals such as Dominque Fils-Aimé on “Strange Fruit”, through to Beth on “Don’t You Worry Child” (who can easily become harsh), I have no complaints about them at all. There is great balance between the male and female vocals on tracks such as “Billie Jean” by the Civil Wars, without either overshadowing the other.
Songs with multiple voices, such as “Hallelujah” by Pentaonix or “These Bones” by The Fairfield Four, are separated perfectly and allow all the layers to be easily identified. I also need to point out that the very deep voice on “These Bones”, which could possibly be affected by the midbass that I mentioned earlier, does not seem to be lacking in warmth at all, which goes to prove even more my point about it being relative to my expectancy of the acoustic guitar rather than the IEMs.
Moving up into the higher regions, I must say that this is by far the best treble I have heard on a set of IEMs. Everything is smooth, articulate, airy, all those words that actually mean nothing but serve to try and explain the sound. There is no issue with sibilance, although it doesn’t tame it either, so if the track is recorded with sibilance, the Helios is not going to hide it. I can see that maybe the treble would be slightly too much (but only slightly) for some people but personally I really can’t pick faults with the treble of the Helios, it is great and, again, by far the best I have heard in an IEM.
The soundstage is also way above the average I have come to expect from IEMs. I mean, it is not an Arya v2 (nothing is really an Arya v2) but it does place itself in the category of being open and spacious, something that is not common on IEMs that I have tried.
Something that helps add to the spaciousness is the detail and placement of images inside the soundstage. This means that it makes the most of the space that is available, placing images in a way that makes it easy to appreciate small changes in placement and making the whole picture seem larger than it actually is. This is by far the most detailed IEM that I have heard also.
I think that I have made it clear that I am very impressed with the sound of the Symphonium Helios, as I have already said a couple of times, it is easily the best sounding IEM I have heard. The details, spaciousness, sound signature, there really isn’t anything that can be called an issue, it is just an amazing set of IEMs.
Now, I guess that thousand euro question is… would I actually spend a thousand euros on the Helios?
Let me say that I am very tempted and just the fact that I am even contemplating spending this kind of money on a set of IEMs is proof that I am really impressed with them.
So, what is stopping me?
Well, apart from the fact that I still feel that 1k is a lot of money for a set of IEMs (it was only a year ago that I thought it was crazy), if I was to spend it, I would want something that is perfect. By this I don’t mean a perfect set of IEMs, I mean something that is perfect for me, and there are really only two things that I don’t find perfect about the Helios for my personal taste.
The first is comfort. While these are not uncomfortable IEMs, they are also not the most comfortable IEMs I have worn. I always notice them in my ears. As I said, I am not a fan of deep insertion and these do go a little deeper than my preference. I can also get a good seal by using tips that sit further away from the shell and they still sound great, but not quite as amazing as when inserted properly. I also find that the back part of the triangle shape rests on my ear and the top sticks out at an angle, causing the cable to be at a weird angle also, which is not terribly uncomfortable but it is something that I notice constantly.
The second thing that has me hesitating is the mid bass / lower mids timbre that I mentioned. With almost all music except for that based on acoustic guitars and basses, this is not even an issue, however, a very large part of my listening is based on music that revolves around these two instruments. Again, this is not bad by any means, far from it, but it is just not the perfection that I would hope to achieve by spending this much on a set of IEMs.
Now, both of those reasons are completely personal. Comfort is a very personal thing and my impression of an acoustic guitar’s natural timbre may not coincide with yours. You may not even listen to any music that involves acoustic instruments at all, in which case I would not be able to point out a fault at all as far as sound. I have listened to all kinds of music throughout the week and there really isn’t any genre that I haven’t enjoyed on the Helios. Even music that is based on acoustic guitars has been thoroughly enjoyable, I really am nitpicking when I talk about that “body” of the instrument.
You might even be someone with plenty of disposable income and think that 1000€ is a very reasonable price, which I guess it is in comparison to other IEMs that are twice as expensive, or even 3, 4 or 5 times more expensive. I obviously haven’t heard any of those more expensive models but based on commentary from people that I trust, I don’t think the Helios has anything to worry about as far as sound quality in comparison.
So, I am still on the fence about the purchase but what I am not on the fence about is the fact that they are an amazing set of IEMs that I am very grateful to Symphonium for sending out to me, giving me the opportunity to get to hear them.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I am sending these on to Vertex and Cqtek for them to share their unbiased opinions of these IEMs as, again, I might have already had a preconceived opinion before starting this review, so I would suggest checking out their reviews once they have had chance to publish them (heck, they might not even like the Helios!). I will update this review with a link to their reviews once they are available.