Reviews, Impressions, Rants, and More from darmanastartes

About the Reviewer:

I am a U.S.-based audiophile focused on the in-ear monitor (IEM) scene. I go by darmanastartes on Head-Fi, Reddit, and most other audio forums. I am also the editor and sole-contributor to Bedrock Reviews. Since joining Head-Fi in 2016, I have published close to 100 reviews in various categories. I also occasionally publish impressions taken at Head-Fi meets and audio conventions held in the Washington D.C. area.

My review style:

While I am employed outside of the science, technology, engineering, and math arena, I have several years of post-secondary training in the physical sciences. I believe my writing style reflect this background. I have been accused of sounding robotic at times (I have also been accused of being an alt for Crinacle), but I find this description more flattering than insulting. I find that many audio reviews obfuscate as much as they illuminate. My goal is to be clear. I try to avoid flowery verbiage and describe what I hear as plainly and concisely as I can. In addition, keeping my lexicon internally consistent between reviews is very important to me. Finally, full transparency as to how the item being reviewed came into my possession is something I feel deserves to be put at the beginning of my reviews, not a postscript.

My review process:

I try to use the device being reviewed for at least two weeks before sitting down to write structured impressions. During this time, I do not go out of my way to either seek out or avoid specific genres of music. Once I have gotten a feel for the device being reviewed, I use a specific set of test tracks which spans the range of my musical interests to evaluate different aspects of the device’s performance.

Gear Frequently Used in Reviews:

I primarily use the Hidizs S9 as my desktop source for IEMs. My primary source for portable listening is the Qudelix 5K. I prefer to use the balanced 2.5mm outputs of these devices when possible. I also have an early-model JDS Labs The Element which I use for certain harder-to-drive full-size headphones.

Measurements:

Squiglink - IEM frequency response database by Bedrock Reviews

My measurements are conducted with a Dayton iMM-6 microphone using a vinyl tubing coupler and a calibrated USB sound interface. The measurements use a compensation file derived from relating my raw measurements to published measurements from Crinacle and Antdroid. There is a resonant peak around 8k. Measurements above 10 kHz are not reliable.

Tuning Preferences:
I generally like Harman-ish targets. I like some more than others. I am very partial to Toranku’s target curve.

My musical taste:

I like heavy metal, a wide variety of electronic music, hip-hop, video game and motion picture soundtracks, and female fronted electro-pop from the early 2010s. Please visit my last.fm profile if you are interested in learning more.

Reviews and Impressions:

7Hz Eternal

Tanchjim Ola

Ikko Zerda ITM01

Dunu Titan S

BQEYZ Autumn

Audirect Beam 3 Pro

KZ CRN

TinHiFi T3 Plus

Hidizs S3 Pro

Reiyin DA-Plus

Seeaudio Bravery

Symphonium Audio Helios

Dunu Falcon Pro

Ambient Dynamics AD-006 Lyndale

Seeaudio Neo

Audirect Atom 2

CSA CSN

Moondrop Variations

Tanchjim Tanya

Cayin Fantasy

Thieaudio Legacy 2

Kinera BD005

TinHiFi T5

Softears RSV

Hidizs H2

Moondrop Aria

Hiby FC3

Seeaudio Yume

Hidizs S9

Moondrop Illumination

E1DA 9038D

ADV Eartune Fidelity U

Moondrop SSP

TRN V90S

Dunu Luna

V-Moda M-200

Blon BL-05S

KZ ZAX

CVJ CSA

Kbear KB04

E1DA 9038S

TinHiFi T2 Plus

Moondrop SSR

TRN VX

Smabat ST-10S

Thieaudio Voyager 3

Moondrop S8

Jade Audio EA3

Audiofly AF1120 Mk2

Radsone Earstudio HUD100

HiFiMan Jade II

Moondrop Starfield

Kinera Tyr

Meizu HiFi Pro

Dunu DM-480

Kbear Diamond

iBasso IT04

Kbear Knight

Shozy Form 1.1

xDuoo Link

Yinyoo Ash

Nicehck DB3

TFZ S2 Pro

TRN V90

KZ ZSX

Blon BL-03

Nicehck ME80

Tripowin TP10

Tanchjim Oxygen

Smabat ST-10

Simgot EM1

KZ AS10

Fiio M9

Nicehck N3

CCA C10

Yinyoo V2

Nicehck M6

Nicehck EB2

Meeture MT3

EZAudio D4

Fiio FH5

iFi xDSD

Rose North Forest

UiiSii CM5

Cayin N5ii

Mixcder X5

Archeer AH07

Yersen FEN-2000

Meze 99 Neo

Fiio Q1 MkII

Shanling M1, M2s and M3s

Hidizs AP60II

Archeer A225

KZ ATE

Cayin N3

Tutorials:

UAPP Hardware Volume Workaround

Round-Ups:

IEM Round-Up: The Worst of 2020

Meet and Convention Impressions:

Capital Audio Festival 2019 — Quick Takes

6 Likes

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The Moondrop Chu is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a single dynamic driver. The Chu was provided to me by Shenzhen Audio in exchange for my evaluation. The Chu retails for $19.99.

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The Moondrop Chu comes in a square black box that features Moondrop’s infamous waifu on the front face. Technical specifications for the Chu are provided on the rear of the slipcover in English and Chinese. A frequency response measurement is also pictured.

In addition to the IEMs, the package includes a black felt carry pouch with a snap closure. The Moondrop logo is printed on the pouch in white. The Chu also includes three pairs (S, M, L) of Moondrop’s Spring eartips. As has been pointed out by many observers, the Spring eartips by themselves retail for more than half the Chu’s list price. In terms of documentation, a manual, a contact card, and a quality control chit are included with the Chu. Of these, only the manual includes English text in addition to Chinese.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The Chu features all-metal construction. Contrary to what other reviewers have stated, the Chu does not have the same finish as the Aria. The Chu’s finish is smooth with a shiny luster, whereas the Aria’s finish was slightly textured and matte. The faceplates are oval-shaped and feature a copper fanned-leaf illustration that radiates forward along the X-axis. “L” and “R” indicators are also printed in copper adjacent to the cable entry sites. The nozzles have a lip to secure eartips, which is relatively novel for Moondrop IEMs and is greatly appreciated. The nozzles have saucer plate-style mesh coverings. There are two pinprick circular vents on the interior face of the IEM body.

The fixed cables are forward-swept and have hard rubber strain relief at the base. The cable is unbraided and uses a soft rubber sheath. The Y-split hardware is a hard rubber disk embossed with Moondrop logos on both sides. The L-shaped 3.5mm jack hardware is hard black rubber with substantial strain relief. There is no chin-adjustment choker and the cable is moderately tangle-prone. The cable does not have preformed earguides but the Chu comes with two optional soft plastic earguide attachments.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The Moondrop Chu is intended to be worn cable-up. The nozzles have a shallow insertion depth. Given the relatively small size of the earpieces, the Chu is very comfortable to wear for extended periods, but secureness of fit and isolation are slightly below average. The Chu has minor driver flex.

MEASUREMENTS:​

Measurements of the Moondrop Chu can be found on my expanding squig.link database:

Squiglink — IEM frequency response database by Bedrock Reviews

My measurements are conducted with a Dayton iMM-6 microphone using a vinyl tubing coupler and a calibrated USB sound interface. The measurements use a compensation file derived from relating my raw measurements to published measurements from Crinacle and Antdroid. There is a resonant peak around 8k. Measurements above 10 kHz are not reliable.

SOUND:​

Moondrop Chu — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

The Moondrop Chu is tuned to the same Virtual Diffusion Sound Field target as many of Moondrop’s other IEMs. This is a Harman-ish sound that emphasizes sub-bass over mid-bass, features a robust pinna gain region centered around 3 kHz, and slopes downward from the pinna gain region through the upper treble.

The Chu’s sub-bass shelf is mild in its amplitude, just a hair north of neutral to my ears. Sub-bass extension is average. Bass articulation and resolution are very good. The bass is decently textured but is lacking in impact. While the level of restraint on display here is admirable, the Chu would have benefitted from a bit more bass quantity. The bass does not bleed into the lower mids.

The Chu’s midrange is on the cooler side and puts vocals front and center. Male and female vocals are roughly even with each other. Male vocals have body, warmth, and grit while still being very intelligible. Female vocals are vibrant without sounding oversaturated or breathy. Each budget single dynamic driver IEM Moondrop releases seems to strike a slightly better balance between vocals and midrange instrumentation. Where vocals once tended to disappear beneath male vocals on the now-venerable Starfield, the Chu’s midrange balances the two more successfully. There is a tasteful amount of presence that does not stray into sibilance. Timbre is very natural sounding.

The Chu’s treble is the most uneven element of its frequency response. It is front-loaded with lower treble energy. While not harsh, the lower-treble emphasis is followed by a noticeable drop-off in the mid-treble which deprives cymbal hits of sparkle. On the other hand, the Chu has a surprising amount of upper treble air for a product at this price point. While treble transient delivery is slightly smeared, the overall level of detail retrieval is excellent for $20. Instrument separation and imaging are also quite competent, and the soundstage is comparable to the Chu’s more expensive elder siblings.

SOURCE PAIRING:​

The Moondrop Chu is harder to drive than many comparably priced IEMs and requires a quality source device. I did not notice any hiss during my listening on any of my source devices.

CLOSING WORDS:​

The Moondrop Chu is the best IEM $20 can buy. Every other IEM at this price point comes with at least one major tuning shortfall. The Chu does not.

The Moondrop Chu can be purchased here:

MOONDROP CHU Headphone Titanium IEMS Wired Dynamic Driver HiFi In-ear (shenzhenaudio.com)

3 Likes

yeh…while I think your intentions are good, this is spam. for the next forum you introduce yourself too, don’t come on so strong. join…make some comments on threads people have made asking about IEM’s you’ve tested and then reveal your CV :wink:

Symphonium Audio Triton Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The Symphonium Audio Triton is a hybrid in-ear monitor (IEM) using one dynamic driver and two balanced armatures per housing. The Triton retails for $899. I received the Triton through a review tour organized by Symphonium Audio. I had the Triton for a little more than two weeks before writing my review. I was responsible for shipping costs to the next reviewer on the tour, and I am not being otherwise compensated for writing this review.
The Triton shares many physical characteristics with the Helios, and this review will present quotations from my Helios review where appropriate.

SOURCES:​

I used the Symphonium Audio Triton with the Hidizs S9.

MUSIC:​

I have tested these headphones with local FLAC and Spotify Premium. Visit my last.fm page to get an idea of what I listen to:
XenosBroodLord’s Library | Last.fm

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

Like the Symphonium Audio Helios, the Triton comes in plain black cardboard packaging with minimal branding. The package includes a weighty polished metal circular carry tin embossed with the Symphonium Audio logo.

The top and bottom of the case are lined with black felt. This case is too small in my opinion. Trying to fit the IEM in the case with the cable attached is a surefire way to bend the extruded 2-pin connectors. In addition, the threading for the screw-on lid is occasionally frustrating to properly orient and is very noisy.
The Triton also includes a semi-rigid zippered leather carry case embossed with the Symphonium Audio logo. The case is very compact but seemed to accommodate the Triton. The case has a soft, fuzzy grey fabric lining.
The Triton review unit I received included two balanced cables (2.5mm and 4.4mm), three pairs of generic silicone eartips (S, M, L), four pairs of Azla Sedna Earfit eartips (S, M [2x], L), a credit card-sized metal plaque etched with the unit serial number, and a logo sticker.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The Symphonium Audio Triton is nearly identical in design and build to the Helios. The sole external difference is that “Triton” is printed on the left faceplate instead of “Helios.”

The IEM has bulky aluminum housings with triangular faceplates. There is a faint seam between the faceplate and the housing body. “Symphonium” is printed on the right faceplate in the same bold white font seen on the packaging. There is a single pinhole vent on each shell adjacent to the 2-pin connector. The nozzles do not have a lip to secure eartips but are thick enough that I did not encounter any issues with eartips getting stuck in my ears when removing the IEMs.
The more time I’ve thought about this industrial and bulky design, the less I am inclined to own an IEM exhibiting it. I would prefer a sleeker, smaller shell with a pseudo-custom fit and a more elegant aesthetic.

The included cable is different. Whereas the Helios came with a copper cable, the Triton comes with a silver-plated copper cable. The cables do share 2-pin housing, jack housing, Y-split, and chin adjustment choker hardware.

The 2-pin connector housings extrude slightly from the body of the housing, but the actual plastic surface of the 2-pin host connector is nearly flush with the surrounding metal enclosure. This is confusing given that the included 2-pin cables seem to be designed for use with a much more recessed 2-pin host connector. This contributes to the likelihood of the 2-pin connectors being bent in use or in storage. The 2–pin cable juts away from the ears at a pronounced angle rather than falling closer to the skull as is seen on most IEMs, an issue exacerbated by the extended 2-pin connectors. Perhaps because of this, there are no earguides on the included cables.
The cables themselves are very attractive, with high-quality wire and matching polished black metal hardware for the jack housings, Y-split, chin-adjustment slider, and 2-pin housings. There is minimal strain relief above the jack, but none at the Y-split.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The insertion depth is on the deeper side. This is far from the most comfortable high-end IEM I have used but is tolerable for extended periods. Secureness of fit and isolation are above average.

MEASUREMENTS:​

My measurements of the Symphonium Audio Triton can be found on my expanding squig.link database:
Symphonium Audio Triton — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews
My measurements are conducted with a Dayton iMM-6 microphone using a vinyl tubing coupler and a calibrated USB sound interface. The measurements use a compensation file derived from relating my raw measurements to published measurements from Crinacle and Antdroid. These measurements should not be directly compared to IEC-compliant measurements, particularly above 6 kHz.

SOUND:​

The Symphonium Audio Triton is a sub-bass-heavy IEM with a subdued midrange.
The sub-bass elevation is substantial and sub-bass extension is superb. The bass has weight, but I found myself longing for a greater sense of impact. For the amount of bass on display here, the Triton does not come across as aggressively as it ought to. Bass texture is good enough for the price point but not exceptional to my ears. Bass articulation exhibits a similar level of bare competence. The level of speed and precision in bass articulation is noticeably inferior to the Helios to the best of my memory. There is a degree of bass bleed into the midrange which I find slightly distracting.
The Triton’s midrange is quite dark for my taste. There is a defined pinna gain region centered between 2 kHz and 3kHz, but its magnitude is limited. The overall presentation seems excessively smoothed. I do not feel there is enough contrast between the midrange and bass regions. Harsh male vocals do not stand out enough from distorted and down-tuned electric guitars and densely arranged percussion. On the other hand, the level of presence is appropriately calibrated for the amount of pinna gain. There is no harshness or sibilance.
The Triton’s treble region is slightly more engaging, but still not as exciting as I would like. I would prefer more sparkle and air. Upper treble extension is good but not class-leading. Transient delivery is well-defined. Resolution and detail retrieval are very good but not jaw-droppingly impressive in the same way as the Helios. While not cramped, the soundstage is not particularly expansive, and layering is so-so. Instrument separation is good but not great.

AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS AND SOURCE PAIRING:​

Like the Symphonium Audio Helios, the Triton is a power-hungry IEM and requires a balanced source device or a very powerful single-ended source device to reach a usable volume. I did not detect hiss with my source device.

CLOSING WORDS:​

While fairly competitive at its price point in terms of technical performance, Triton does not demonstrate any clear advantages over similarly priced IEMs and does not appeal to my personal tonal preferences.
The Symphonium Audio Triton can be purchased below:
Triton — Symphonium Audio

2 Likes

HZSound Waist Drum Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The HZSound Waist Drum is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a single 6mm micro dynamic driver. The Waist Drum was provided to me by HiFiGo in exchange for my evaluation. The Waist Drum retails for $33.99.

SOURCES:​

I have used the HZSound Waist Drum with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Hidizs S9
  • Reiyin DA-Plus

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The HZSound Waist Drum comes in a rectangular black box with a black slipcover. Technical specifications for the Waist Drum are provided on the rear of the slipcover in English and Chinese. In addition to the IEMs and the detachable 2-pin cable, the package includes a cloth drawstring pouch with a branded tag. The Waist Drum also includes three pairs (S, M, L) of generic eartips, three pairs (S, M, L) of conical eartips, and three pairs (S, M, L) of Sony Hybrid-style eartips. Two pairs of replacement nozzle filters and a manual written in Chinese and English are also provided, along with a card featuring anime waifu illustrations.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The HZSound Waist Drum features all-metal construction in a bullet form factor. Each IEM features an embossed “L” or “R” indicator on the bottom of the shell in line with the protruding 2-pin connector, as well as a pinprick vent just below the nozzle. The Waist Drum is advertised as having a semi-open design, and the back of each IEM has a mesh grill. Covering the rear mesh grill changes the Waist Drum’s frequency response. The nozzles have a lip to secure eartips. The nozzles have paper filters.

The included 2-pin cable is simple in design, with an L-shaped 3.5mm single-ended termination. The cable is unbraided and uses a soft clear rubber sheath. There is strain relief above the 3.5mm jack, below the Y-split, and below the 2-pin connectors. The 3.5mm jack and the Y-split use metal hardware. There is a chin-adjustment choker. The cable does not have pre-formed earguides.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The HZSound Waist Drum can be worn either cable-up or cable-down. I wore the Waist Drum cable-up for a deeper insertion depth. Worn cable-down, the nozzles have a very shallow insertion depth, and I would not trust them to stay in my ears. Worn cable-up, the Waist Drum is very comfortable to wear for extended periods, and secureness of fit and isolation are above average. The Waist Drum does not have driver flex.

MEASUREMENTS:​

Measurements of the HZSound Waist Drum can be found on my expanding squig.link database:

HZSound Waist Drum — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

My measurements are conducted with a Dayton iMM-6 microphone using a vinyl tubing coupler and a calibrated USB sound interface. The measurements use a compensation file derived from relating my raw measurements to published measurements from Crinacle and Antdroid. These measurements should not be directly compared to IEC-compliant measurements, particularly above 6 kHz.

SOUND:​

The HZSound Waist Drum has a V-shaped sound signature, with more emphasis on the upper midrange and lower treble than on the bass region.

The bass region is mid-bass focused, and sub-bass extension is average. Bass articulation and resolution are excellent. There is good note weight and a moderate sense of impact and texture, but little rumble. There is a small amount of bass bleed into the lower mids, which introduces some congestion.

The Waist Drum’s midrange is very forward. Midrange instrumentation often comes across as competing with vocals for attention rather than being complementary. Female vocals are slightly forward of male vocals. Male vocals have grit but can come across as dry. Male vocal intelligibility is generally average but varies from vocalist to vocalist more than most IEMs I have heard recently. Female vocals are more uniformly intelligible but are breathy and husky-sounding. Distorted electric guitars have too much energy in the presence region, and female vocals can sometimes stray into sibilance. The timbre is mostly natural-sounding, with a hint of percussion compression.

The Waist Drum has a strong lower-treble emphasis, and there are hints of harshness to cymbal hits and treble-heavy synthesizer leads. While immediate detail retrieval is very good, the treble rolls off sharply, and there is limited air in the frequency response. However, the Waist Drum has a fairly open soundstage and good instrument separation. The Waist Drum’s semi-open design likely deserves credit for making the soundstage as expansive-sounding as it is. Imaging is average, and the crispness of treble transient delivery is acceptable for the price.

SOURCE PAIRING:​

The HZSound Waist Drum is easy to drive. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.

CLOSING WORDS:​

The HZSound Waist Drum is a fairly priced V-shaped IEM, but I would not purchase it expecting it to be anything more than that.

The HZSound Waist Drum can be purchased here:

HZSOUND Waist Drum Dynamic Driver HiFi IEM — HiFiGo

3 Likes

Meze Audio Advar Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The Meze Audio Advar is an in-ear monitor (IEM) using a single 10.2 mm dynamic driver. The Advar retails for $699. I received the Advar through a review tour organized by Meze Audio. I had the Advar for a little more than a week before writing my review. I am responsible for shipping costs to the next reviewer on the tour, and I am not being otherwise compensated for writing this review.
I previously published brief impressions of the Advar here.

SOURCES:​

I evaluated the Meze Audio Advar with the Hidizs S9, the Xumee dongle, and the Qudelix 5K.

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The Meze Audio Advar comes in a tall square black box. In addition to the IEMs and a removable MMCX cable, the package includes a rigid zippered clamshell carry case, an MMCX removal tool, a cleaning tool, a user manual, and 5 pairs (SS, S, M, L, LL sizes) of Final Audio Type-E eartips.
The manual indicates that these tips improve the bass performance and “reduce harsh tones in the high-frequency range,” a claim which is supported by my objective measurements of various eartips in use with the Advar. I recommend sticking with these tips if possible.
The carry case is luxurious, with a metal stamp embossed with the Meze Audio logo on the top face. The case has two large mesh pockets on the interior of each half and a fabric loop on the spine for use with a carabiner.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The design language of the Meze Audio Advar will be familiar to anyone who has seen any of Meze Audio’s higher-end products. It is a mix of matte gold and polished black that screams “premium.” The form factor is more stylized than ergonomic, but the earpieces are small enough that this does not compromise comfort.
There is a circular vent at the bottom of the shallow funnel-shaped faceplate and another at the base of the nozzle. The nozzles have large lips to secure eartips.
The included cable uses a quad-braid below the Y-split and a double-helix braid on each strand above the Y-split. There is strain relief above the 3.5mm jack and both above and below the Y-split. The 3.5mm jack and Y-split hardware are dark chrome with white detailing. The cable has pre-formed earguides. The use of MMCX is noteworthy, as most manufacturers have moved to 2-pin connectors, which seem to enjoy better long-term durability.

USABILITY CONCERNS:​

Covering the circular vent at the base of the Meze Audio Advar’s nozzle negatively affects bass response. This is an issue with certain aftermarket eartips with long stems, such as the Azla SednaEarFitLight.
In addition, it is possible for the diaphragm of the Advar’s dynamic driver to pop out of place during insertion into the ear canal, which compromises the Advar’s bass response. If this occurs, one has to pop the diaphragm back into place by pushing the Advar deeper into the ear canal, ideally with large or double-flange eartips. This was also an issue with the Dunu Luna, albeit to a lesser extent, and is likely related to just how thin the diaphragm on the Advar is. This thinness is important to the Advar’s technical performance, but manufacturers ought to work to mitigate this issue in future high-end single dynamic driver designs.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The Meze Audio Advar is intended to be worn cable-up. It has a moderate insertion depth. Comfort for long-term wear is average. Secureness of fit is above average, and isolation is excellent. The included cable is not very microphonic.

MEASUREMENTS:​

My measurements are conducted with a Dayton iMM-6 microphone using a vinyl tubing coupler and a calibrated USB sound interface. The measurements use a compensation file derived from relating my raw measurements to published measurements from Crinacle and Antdroid. These measurements should not be directly compared to IEC-compliant measurements, particularly above 6 kHz.
Please note that the substantial elevation around 7 kHz is the combination of an actual lower treble peak with the resonance peak created by the coupler.
I will be receiving an IEC-711-compliant microphone soon, but I will no longer have the Advar in my possession by the time it arrives.

SOUND:​

The Meze Audio Advar has a bass-heavy tuning offset by a lower-treble emphasis.
Though the bass is most elevated in the sub-bass region, there is a tremendous amount of slam and impact in addition to rumble. This has the potential to be fatiguing but is a good fit for most of the music I listen to. Bass articulation is very good for a dynamic driver, and the presentation is fittingly kinetic. There is very good note weight and bass texture. Bass detail leaves a little to be desired. The bass does not bleed so much as overshadow the lower midrange.
The Advar has moderate pinna gain compensation centered between 2–3 kHz. Vocal intelligibility is generally good, but I would like more separation between vocals and midrange instrumentation. Male vocals have body but could use a little more grit, and I would prefer slightly more presence and midrange clarity overall. In general, though, the tuning works for hard rock and heavy metal. Downtuned and distorted electric guitars have an appropriate degree of bite without taking on the attributes of buzzsaws. Female vocals are vibrant without coming across as strident. Female vocals tiptoe to the edge of sibilance but do not cross over into it. The Advar has a very natural timbre.
The Advar has a distinct lower treble peak which has the effect of counterbalancing the strong sub-bass elevation. The treble presentation is engaging but can be harsh depending on the track. Upper treble extension is moderate. Transient delivery is clear and not too splashy or diffuse. Detail retrieval is adequate but inferior to peers at this price point that specialize in this attribute, such as the Moondrop S8. Soundstage width is above average, but instrument separation and imaging are average.

AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS AND SOURCE PAIRING:​

The Meze Audio Advar is surprisingly easy to drive. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.

CLOSING WORDS:​

The Meze Audio Advar is an IEM that begs to be played loudly. Anyone familiar with the Meze Audio house sound should have a good sense of what the Advar brings to the table. If you’re looking for a fun and physical IEM at the $700 mark, the Advar is a great choice if you can get over the design quirks.

1 Like

TinHiFi T1S Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The TinHiFi T1S is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a single beryllium-plated dynamic driver per housing. The T1S was provided to me by Zoe at TinHiFi in exchange for my evaluation. The T1S is available for $18 directly from TinHiFi at the time of this review.

SOURCES:​

I have used the TinHiFi T1S with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Hidizs S9

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The TinHiFi T1S comes in a square white box with a white slipcover. The packaging is covered in QR codes that link to TinHiFi’s social media profiles. In addition to the IEMs and the detachable 2-pin cable, the package includes three pairs (S, M, L) of short and wide eartips, a user manual, and a card with even more QR code links.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The TinHiFi T1S features acrylic housings with a pseudo-custom form factor. The design features unadorned but brightly colored faceplates and colored transparent interior housings. The interior housing of each earpiece features an “L” or “R” indicator printed in silver along with two circular vents, one above the dynamic driver, and one in line with the 2-pin connector. The nozzles have lips to secure eartips and ultrafine metal mesh filters.

The included 2-pin cable uses a quad-braid pattern below the Y-split and a double-helix pattern above the Y-split. There is strain relief above the 3.5mm jack but none at the Y-split. The cable has pre-formed earguides. There is a plastic bead chin-adjustment choker, but the cable is extremely tangle-prone even if one fully chokes up the bead when the headphones are not in use. The 3.5mm jack and the Y-split use metal hardware. The 2-pin connectors are the extruded QDC-style. There are raised “L” and “R” markings on each 2-pin connector.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The TinHiFi T1S is intended to be worn cable-up. The T1S is small, light, and very comfortable to wear for extended periods. Secureness of fit is average, and isolation is below average. The T1S does not have driver flex.

MEASUREMENTS:​

Measurements of the TinHiFi T1S can be found on my expanding squig.link database:

TinHiFi T1S — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

SOUND:​

The TinHiFi T1S is a mostly neutral-sounding headphone with a moderate mid-bass boost

There is a good amount of impact to percussion, but the average sub-bass extension combined with limited bass texture results in a one-dimensional bass presentation. Internal resolution is fairly poor. Bass articulation is quite good for the price, however. There is a decent amount of bass bleed into the lower mids, which introduces some congestion.

The midrange is quite balanced and natural-sounding. Vocals and midrange instrumentation are complementary and appropriately distinct. Vocals have an appropriate level of emphasis and are not too forward. Female vocals are a bit more prominent and energetic-sounding than male vocals and enjoy a greater level of intelligibility, however. Male vocals have body but lack edge. There is an appropriate level of presence from a tonal standpoint but midrange detail retrieval is lacking. Timbre is mostly realistic but analog percussion suffers from plasticity and compression.

The biggest problem with the tuning of the T1S is the seemingly complete absence of lower treble. There is some air in the upper treble but no sparkle. Moreover, detail retrieval is simply poor across the board. The level of technical performance or lack thereof is unacceptable in comparison to contemporary alternatives on the market. The soundstage is below average in width and height, and both imaging and instrument separation are middling. The realism of treble transient delivery is respectable. Interestingly, a simple 10 dB boost to 8 kHz fixes nearly all the issues I have described with the T1S, including not only the issues with detail retrieval but the cramped soundstage and sub-par instrument separation as well. With that said, the target audience for an $18 IEM is likely not going to want to have to use such drastic if uncomplicated EQ to achieve a level of technical performance that other sets at this price point achieve straight out of the box.

SOURCE PAIRING:​

The TinHiFi T1S is easy to drive. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.

CLOSING WORDS:​

It is difficult to recommend the TinHiFi T1S given the current market landscape at the sub-$20 price point. The Moondrop Chu is better in every respect other than perhaps bass impact and articulation. For someone who wants to grab a pair of inexpensive wired IEMs and listen to music on the go with minimal fuss, the T1S is not the way to go.

The TinHiFi T1S can be purchased here:

TINHIFI T1S

Thanks bro for joining. Every review counts.
Regarding Meze IEMs: opinions are opinions but as long as there is the fact in the air that Meze is selling cheap Chinese IEM builds which are 100s of years old I wont spend a penny. That has nothing to do with you…just saying.

Topping D90SE Impressions

The Topping D90SE is a flagship digital-to-analog converter (DAC) using an ESS SABRE ES9038 PRO DAC chip. The D90SE retails for $899. I had the opportunity to listen to the D90SE as part of a tour organized by AudioTiers.com. The unit was provided by Apos Audio. I was responsible for covering shipping costs to the next reviewer and am not being compensated monetarily or otherwise for writing these impressions.

LISTENING SETUP:

I used the Topping D90SE in a home theater setup during my evaluation. I used the TOSLINK output of my television to feed the D90SE, and then used the D90SE’s XLR outputs to feed a pair of Kali Audio LP-6 powered monitors.

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:

The Topping D90SE Pro comes in a large rectangular black box. The lid of the box is embossed with the Topping logo, and a large “Hi-Res Audio” sticker is featured on the bottom left corner of the lid. On the right face of the lid is a sticker which provides the model number, voltage information, and the unit serial number. The top face of the lid is marked with Topping’s corporate contact information. The D90SE includes an AC cable, a USB-A to USB-B cable and an antenna to enable the device’s Bluetooth functionality. The included documentation consists of a manual and a warranty card. The D90SE includes the same remote included with more inexpensive Topping products, such as the D30 Pro and E30.

DESIGN AND AESTHETICS:

The Topping logo is printed in white in the top left corner of the front face. “D90SE” is printed in the bottom left corner, and the MQA logo is featured in the top right corner. On the left side of the device’s front face is a small square power / select button, which cycles through inputs by default. On the right side of the front face are similarly shaped and sized plus and minus volume controls.

The center of the front face features a large display. The front display of the unit uses the same familiar font seen on other Topping products but uses white text rather than orange. The selected input and output as well as the current sample rate are shown on the left of the display. The current volume setting is shown in the center of the display, and the playback format, whether PCM or MQA, is shown in the top right corner.

CONNECTIVITY AND FUNCTIONALITY:

During my initial evaluation of the Topping D90SE, I experienced intermittent popping noises when initiating music playback. This would occur immediately after the television and the D90SE first powered up. This may be related to documented issues with the D90SE’s TOSLINK connection interfacing with some televisions and other devices. In my case, it seemed to be an interaction between the D90SE’s sleep mode and the TV. I have since disabled the D90SE’s sleep mode. I have not noticed the issue during the last several months of my evaluation.

SOUND:

The following impressions were made using the high output (5 Vrms) setting with the RCA outputs disabled and the default digital filter (#3). These impressions should be treated as ephemeral and non-definitive.

Two major benefits of the D90SE were improved layering and dynamics. Following secondary instrumental lines was easier, and I noticed several details, including subtle choral notes in the background of the chorus of Kate Boy’s “Northern Lights,” which I had not before. Percussion benefited the most from the D90SE’s improved dynamics, having a punchier overall delivery than I am used to. Certain midrange instruments also seemed more confident in their attack, such as the lower pitched synth line in Celldweller’s “Unshakeable,” which comes in at 0:53. The improvements to layering and dynamics were frequently mutually reinforcing, such as with respect to the writhing pull and tug dynamics in the bass line in Deadmau5’s “Seeya,” as well as the separation between the simultaneous bass notes and kick drum hits in that song. A third benefit to the D90SE was that it seemed to enable louder listening volumes without the soundstage collapsing in on itself than possible with other devices.

A NOTE ON DEVICE COMPARISONS:

While I attempted to conduct a listening comparison between the Topping D90SE and my personal Topping D30 Pro unit, doing so in a manner I consider valid would have required more precise volume matching than I could reliably produce given the effects of my body’s position and posture on measured SPL in my listening environment. Even if I were able to discern the correct volume settings on my monitors to volume match the D90SE and the D30 Pro, the process of leaving my listening position to go up to the television, unplug the TOSLINK and XLR cables from one device, plug them back into the other, adjust the volume knobs on the rear faces of each monitor precisely, and then return to my exact same previous seated listening position would require a greater delay between impressions than I feel comfortable with given the limits of my auditory memory.

CLOSING WORDS:

The Topping D90SE is likely overkill for my needs given my modest speaker setup. That said, I have enjoyed my time with the D90SE and was sorry to see it go. If you are looking for absolute transparency and peace of mind with respect to objective measurements, the D90SE is a great option.

The Topping D90SE can be purchased below:

TOPPING D90SE DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) — Apos Audio

2 Likes

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The Dunu Vulkan is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a hybrid (2 dynamic drivers + 4 balanced armatures) driver configuration. Dunu sent me the Vulkan in exchange for my evaluation. The Vulkan retails for $379.99.

SOURCES:​

I used the Dunu Vulkan with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Hidizs S9
  • Moondrop Dawn

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The Dunu Vulkan comes in a rectangular black box with a black slipcover. A magnet secures the lid of the box. One foam mounting tray holds the IEM and modular MMCX cable, and a second holds the swappable cable terminations and a plastic storage container for two of the three sets of eartips (2S, 2M, 2L in total). The cable uses Dunu’s Q-Lock PLUS swappable termination system. A small box contains the third set of eartips (S, M, L), which are squatter with a wider nozzle than the first two sets. Also inside the box are an airplane adapter, a cleaning brush, a 3.5mm to 1/4" jack adapter, a microfiber cleaning cloth with Dunu branding, and a small booklet featuring instructions for Dunu’s cable system in Chinese.

The level of attention to detail in the unboxing experience is impressive. Dunu consistently provides packaging that befits the price tag of its products. However, I continue to hope that Dunu will include at least one set of foam eartips in future products rather than the borderline redundant amount of silicone eartips they often include with their IEMs.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The Dunu Vulkan has black anodized metal housings with metal faceplates. The faceplates have a mixed matte and reflective finish which is reminiscent of Damascus steel knives. There is a thin vertical mesh-covered vent centered along the bottom tip of the faceplate, and a pinprick vent in the center of the inside of the shell housing. On the left earpiece, “DUNU, ESTABLISHED 2003” is etched above the vent, while “VULKAN, DK-X6 HYBRID” is etched on the right earpiece. Each earpiece also has a directional indicator. The nozzles have metal mesh filters and lips to secure eartips.

The included MMCX cable uses a quad-braid pattern below the Y-split and a double-helix pattern above the Y-split. The cable uses gunmetal grey There is strain relief above the 3.5mm jack but none at the Y-split. The cable has pre-formed earguides. There is a chin-adjustment choker. The 3.5mm jack and the Y-split use metal hardware. There are raised “L” and “R” markings on each 2-pin connector.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The Dunu Vulkan should be worn cable-up. I found the Vulkan very comfortable. Secureness of fit is tip-dependent. I had the best luck with the short and wide set of included silicone eartips. I found secureness of fit with large-sized Moondrop Spring tips lacking. Isolation is above average. The Vulkan does not have driver flex.

MEASUREMENTS:​

You can find measurements of the Dunu Vulkan on my expanding squig.link database:

Squiglink — IEM frequency response database by Bedrock Reviews

SOUND:​

The Dunu Vulkan is a neutralish sounding headphone with a moderate sub-bass boost and a substantial lower-treble boost.

Sub-bass extension is excellent. There is a fair amount of impact to percussion, but I found myself craving a more intense sub-bass boost than what the Vulkan has out of the box. Bass texture is quite good, as is the speed of bass articulation. Bass resolution is fair. There is enough mid-bass to provide body and warmth, but not so much that the bass overshadows or muddies the midrange.

The Vulkan’s midrange favors vocals over instrumentation. Vocal intelligibility is excellent, and the Vulkan renders harsher male vocals with both grit and power. There are moments when both male and female vocals stray into sibilance, though female vocals are more at risk of this. While vocals are most prominent, midrange instrumentation is well-represented as well. Distorted and downtuned electric guitars have a satisfying growl without coming across as underemphasized or overdriven. Organic percussion is crisp-sounding with excellent timbre. The level of presence is appropriate, but as with the bass region, internal resolution and midrange detail retrieval are average.

As mentioned before, there is a pointed elevation in the lower treble region. This did not pose a problem for most of my listening with the exception of certain electronic music tracks. Still, I cannot help but feel the lower treble emphasis is intended to compensate for the middling detail retrieval elsewhere in the Vulkan’s frequency response. Upper treble extension is excellent, and the soundstage is both wide and tall. Instrument separation is very good, while imaging is just good. Treble transient delivery is slightly hazy.

SOURCE PAIRING:​

The Dunu Vulkan is surprisingly easy to drive. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.

CLOSING WORDS:​

I have reviewed a significant number of IEMs at the sub-$100 price point, and a fair number of IEMs retailing for $700 and up. The $400 price bracket is new territory for me, so my value judgment of the Dunu Vulkan is at best an educated guess. With that said, if I were making my first jump up from budget territory and had $400 blowing a hole in my pocket, I would be quite happy putting it towards the Dunu Vulkan.

3 Likes

Moondrop Dawn Review​

The Moondrop Dawn is a compact DAC/AMP combination unit with a 4.4.mm balanced output and a fixed USB-C termination. ShenzhenAudio sent me the Moondrop Dawn in exchange for my impressions. The Moondrop Dawn retails for 69.99.

HEADPHONES:​

I have used the Moondrop Dawn with the following headphones:

  • Moondrop S8
  • Dunu Vulkan
  • Raptgo Hook-X

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The Moondrop Dawn comes in a round metal tin. Technical specifications for the Dawn are provided in English and Chinese on the rear of the box. The Dawn is held in a foam mounting sheet inside the tin. In addition to the Dawn itself, the box contains a quality control pass chit and what appears to be an unbranded Baseus USB-C female to USB-A male adapter. This adapter does not have active circuitry to prevent backpower and I do not recommend using this adapter. If you must use an adapter like this with the Dawn or any other DAC/AMP with a fixed USB-C termination, I recommend the ones from CableCreation. There is an additional slot in the foam mounting tray seemingly sized for an additional adapter, but my review sample did not include anything in this slot.

DESIGN, BUILD QUALITY, AND AESTHETICS:​

The Moondrop Dawn has a stout yet sleek matte white and translucent grey build. The round housing has a small orange power LED. In line with the LED is a subtle logo with the text “Moondrop DAWN Micro DAC.” The Dawn is otherwise unbranded. The Dawn’s USB-C termination is not gold-plated. The wires leading from the housing to the USB-C termination as well as the USB-C termination’s internal components are visible through the protective sheath. There is strain relief at both ends of the cable portion of the Dawn.

STANDARDS COMPLIANCE AND FUNCTIONALITY:​

I do not own any 2.5mm or 4.4mm cables with microphones or in-line controls, if such cables even exist, nor do I own any 4.4mm balanced to 3.5mm single-ended adapters. Therefore, I cannot confirm if the Moondrop Dawn implements Android’s headset button standards. However, I can confirm that the Dawn does not send connector status to the host device or pause on headphone disconnect, which is a shame.

APP FUNCTIONALITY:​

The end-user can control the Moondrop Dawn’s digital filter, output voltage, and LED using the Moondrop Link app, which is a level of extra attention to detail I appreciate.

POWER DELIVERY:​

Note: I made the following observations with a system-wide -4 dB pre-amp setting as suggested here and Spotify volume normalization set to “Normal.” While I recommend using this pre-amp setting to preserve fidelity, it does reduce the headroom of any and all connected source devices.
The Moondrop Dawn is ludicrously powerful. Pairing the Dawn with the Moondrop S8, I reach my typical listening volume at a Windows system volume setting of 8/100. On my Google Pixel 3, I achieve a usable volume at a system volume setting of 6/25.

POWER CONSUMPTION AND HEAT MANAGEMENT:​

I took the following power consumption measurements while the Moondrop Dawn was in use at the above volume settings:

Moondrop Dawn PC In-Use

PC

Moondrop Dawn Android In-Use

Google Pixel 3

This is the most efficient balanced output device I have evaluated and approaches the efficiency of the single-ended Meizu HiFi Pro dongle:
The Dawn can get warm to the touch after a multi-hour listening session, particularly if kept inside a pocket. The Dawn does not appear to have an idle mode. The difference in power consumption between the 2V and 4V outputs to achieve the same volume level is negligible, so I recommend leaving the output voltage at 4V.

SOUND COMPARISON WITH THE HIDIZS S9:​

Note: I made the following observations switching back and forth between the two devices repeatedly under sighted conditions while volume matched to within .3 dB. The Hidizs S9 was .3 dB louder than the Moondrop Dawn. Any perceived differences between the two sources may be a result of this volume difference. There was a delay of several seconds to facilitate source switching. The Moondrop S8 was used as the transducer for this comparison. I set the Dawn to use the fast roll-off, low-latency digital filter and 4V output before my comparison. In most cases, any differences between compentently designed sources are infinitesimal and would not necessarily be apparent under uncontrolled testing conditions.
Transient delivery did seem slightly sharper and more instantaneous on the Moondrop Dawn as compared to the Hidizs S9, particularly for percussion. Otherwise, the Dawn sounded largely identical to the S9, which is not a bad thing given that I use the S9 as my go-to source for IEMs.

CLOSING WORDS:​

The Moondrop Dawn is a powerful and competitively priced opportunity to dive into balanced audio. Moreover, it is noticeably more efficient in terms of power consumption than its peers. Power efficiency is frequently an afterthought in this product space. I hope that future revisions will incorporate pause on headphone disconnect functionality, which is my one major quibble with the Dawn. Otherwise, I am happy to recommend it.
The Moondrop Dawn can be purchased here:
MoonDrop DAWN Dual CS43131 Chip Portable USB DAC/AMP PCM 768khz DSD25 (shenzhenaudio.com)

hmm, have you noticed if sources drain as much power as they can output? Or how much they lose in efficiency?

Would I need to measure that with a multimeter?




What impedance did you test the S9 at? And was it balanced or SE?

If those numbers you got are with SE, then it seems to have lost 1.5x the power it draws from the source device.

Which I guess is converted to heat due to inefficiency.

This is the Hidizs S9 powering the Moondrop S8 over the balanced 2.5mm connector at a Windows volume setting of 55/100 with music playing.
image
This is what my test setup looks like:

2 Likes

CCA CRA+ Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The CCA CRA+ is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a single 10mm dynamic driver per housing. HiFiGo sent me the CRA+ in exchange for my evaluation. The CRA+ retails for $33.

SOURCES:​

I used the CCA CRA+ with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Hidizs S9
  • Apple Dongle

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The CCA CRA+ comes in a small rectangular white box with a white slipcover. The slipcover pictures the CRA+ on the front and provides CCA’s contact information and technical specifications for the CRA+ on the back. Inside the box are the IEMs, a detachable .75mm 2-pin cable, 3 pairs of silicone eartips (S, M, L), and a user manual. The CRA+ does not come with a carry pouch or case.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The CCA CRA+ has dark translucent acrylic housings with gold metal faceplates. The faceplates are fingerprint magnets. The housings have a pseudo-custom fit. There are two pinprick vents on the inner housing, one directly above the dynamic driver and one in line with the 2-pin connector. The acrylic nozzles have small lips for securing eartips.

The included 2-pin cable is typical of a KZ-type IEM. The cable uses QDC-style extruded connectors. “L” and “R” indicators are faintly embossed on the 2-pin connectors. The cable has chunky rubber hardware at the Y-split and 3.5mm jack, with substantial strain relief above the 3.5mm jack. The cable has pre-formed earguides without memory wire. There is no chin adjustment slider.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The CCA CRA+ is worn cable-up. I found the CRA+ to be comfortable. Insertion depth is shallow and secureness of fit is tip-dependent. I had the most secure fit with Tennmak foam eartips. Most aftermarket silicone eartips I tried, including Moondrop Spring tips and Eartune Fidelity tips, did not feel secure even using the largest-sized eartips I had available. Spinfit CP100+ eartips were an exception. Isolation is above average. The CRA+ had moderate driver flex with most silicone eartips.

MEASUREMENTS:​

You can find measurements of the CCA CRA+ on my expanding squig.link database:

CCA CRA+ — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

SOUND:​

The CCA CRA+ has a V-shaped tuning.

The CRA+ has a fun and impactful level of bass. Sub-bass extension is excellent. Bass texture, articulation, and resolution are all great for the price point. There is more mid-bass than I prefer, but the CRA+ largely avoids mid-bass bleed.

The CRA+ has ample lower midrange body. Vocal intelligibility is very good for both male and female vocals. Male and female vocals are roughly equal in their emphasis, but female vocals have a hint of extra energy. The level of presence is appropriate given the overall upper midrange contour. Midrange clarity is adequate for the price point. There is a hint of plasticity and a moderate amount of compression to percussion.

There is a bit of extra sizzle in the lower treble, even with foam eartips. Still, the heightened treble emphasis is complementary to the engaging bass region. Detail retrieval is much better than I would expect from a $30 IEM, and trades blows with $80 IEMs like the Moondrop Aria and Dunu Titan S. Upper treble extension is stellar for an IEM of this price, and treble transient delivery is very crisp. Soundstage size is average, as are instrument separation and imaging.

SOURCE PAIRING:​

The CCA CRA+can be comfortably driven with nearly any dedicated source, including the Apple dongle. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.

CLOSING WORDS:​

While I prefer the tuning of the Moondrop Chu in most areas, the CCA CRA+ offers tangible improvements to bass and treble technicalities for a modest price increase. The CRA+ is perhaps the best IEM to emerge from under the KZ umbrella and is one of the best IEMs at this price point from any manufacturer.

The CCA CRA+ can be purchased here:

CCA CRA+ Sports Game HiFi Noice Cancelling Metal In-ear Earphones — HiFiGo

2 Likes

Truthear Zero Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The Truthear Zero is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a dual dynamic driver setup. A 10mm driver handles low frequencies while a 7.8mm driver handles the remainder of the frequency response. The Zero is a collaboration project between Truthear and Crinacle. The Zero retails for $49.99 at ShenzhenAudio, which sent me a unit in exchange for my impressions.

SOURCES:​

I have used the Truthear Zero with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Hidizs S9
  • Reiyin DA-PLUS
  • Xumee Dongle
  • Apple Dongle
  • E1DA 9038D

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The Truthear Zero comes in a medium-sized rectangular black cardboard box with a white slipcover. The front of the slipcover is illustrated with an anime waifu. The Zero’s technical specifications are listed on the back of the slipcover in both English and Chinese. A frequency response graph is also featured.
The Zero includes six pairs of silicone eartips (2xS, 2xM, 2xL), a single pair of foam eartips, a faux leather carry pouch with snap closures, and a detachable .78mm 2-pin cable. In terms of documentation, the Zero includes a warranty card, an owner’s manual, and a cryptic “Install Guide” of unclear purpose.
My review unit also came with a two-dimensional acrylic waifu figurine named Virgo, who can be added to your Zero purchase for an additional $5 at the time of writing.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The Truthear Zero has dark translucent acrylic shells and glittery blue faceplates. The faceplates have a triangular cross-section and feature a detailed feather-like relief pattern beneath a glossy top layer. The gap between the faceplate and shell is visibly seamless, and the overall build quality of the shell is impressive for the price point. There is a circular vent adjacent to the 2-pin connector, which is slightly recessed. “L” and “R” indicators are printed in gold on the other side of this vent. with the shell. The nozzles are acrylic with metal mesh nozzle filters. The nozzles are thick and have substantial rims to secure eartips.

The cable uses black sheathed wires wrapped in a quad-braid below the Y-split and coiled into double-helix patterns above the Y-split. The cable has pre-formed heat-shrink earguides and a metal chin adjustment choker. The cable is quite microphonic if the chin adjustment choker is not used. The L-shaped 3.5mm jack uses rubber hardware. There is strain relief above the 3.5mm jack but none at the Y-split.

In contrast to the shell, I am not as impressed by the quality of this cable as some other reviewers, who have compared it favorably to the stock cables included with IEMs from high-end Western IEM manufacturers. I think the comparison is spot-on, but I also think that the stock cables I’ve seen from 64 Audio and FiR Audio are embarrassing given the price points of the IEMs they ship with.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The Truthear Zero is intended to be worn cable-up. The earpieces have a fairly deep insertion depth. While I can tolerate the Zero for extended periods, the large size of the nozzles combined with a less than ideal nozzle angle for my ears keeps me from calling the Zero comfortable. Secureness of fit is above average, while isolation is average. There is very mild driver flex with some silicone eartips.

MEASUREMENTS:​

My measurements of the Truthear Zero can be found on my expanding squig.link database:

Truthear Zero — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

SOUND:​

The Truthear Zero hews closely to the Harman In-Ear 2019 (Harman IE)target.

There is a substantial elevation in the sub-bass which is contained entirely below 200 Hz. Despite a bit of measured sub-bass roll-off relative to the overall bump, I find the Zero’s sub-bass extension to be excellent. There is a palpable, subwoofer-like impact to the sub-bass region. There is plenty of both rumble and slam, and electronic dance music is a joy to listen to on the Zero. Bass dynamics, texture, and detail retrieval are excellent for a $50 IEM.

The Zero has a cool and recessed lower midrange followed by a broadly elevated upper midrange. The pinna gain region is centered between 2 and 3 kHz and is closer to 3 Khz than 2 Khz. As a result of its near-textbook adherence to the Harman IE target, vocal delivery is emphasized to the point of overshadowing midrange instrumentation. Vocal intelligibility is excellent for both male and female vocals. However, harsh, aggressive male vocals are a little thin and lack grit and power. Female vocals are noticeably more prominent than male vocals but do not exhibit the oversaturated huskiness that results from grossly overemphasizing female vocals. Female vocals do flirt with sibilance at times. The presence region is well-controlled relative to the overall upper midrange contour. However, I think the level of presence in the Harman IE target is excessive, especially given the fairly recessed lower midrange. There is not enough body and slightly too much top-end energy to distorted electric guitars. There is also a bit of compression to analog percussion, which results in a slightly plastic timbre.

The Zero has neither too much lower treble nor too little upper treble extension, but I do find the measured gap in the Zero’s mid-treble to be audible. The sparkle usually provided by an emphasis in the 10–12 kHz range is missing. As a result, the overall treble presentation is a little dull for my taste. The Zero does avoid any sense of metallic timbre or excessive sizzle to cymbal hits. Treble transient delivery is very crisp, and overall detail retrieval is very good. The soundstage is on the wider side for an IEM not using a multi-balanced armature arrangement, but instrument separation is fairly average, as is imaging.

AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS AND SOURCE PAIRING:​

The Truthear Zero is surprisingly difficult to drive. Reaching a useable volume on Android using the Apple Dongle with Spotify volume normalization set to “Normal” required a system volume setting of at least 23/25. I recommend grabbing a more powerful source for the Zero if you are using an Android device. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.

CLOSING WORDS:​

The Truthear Zero has been a pleasure to listen to, but frustrating to review. The level of scrutiny I have aimed at it in this review is usually reserved for much more expensive IEMs. It is an unqualified recommendation at $50, but it easily could have been even more groundbreaking with some minor tweaks. I sincerely hope that Truthear can realize the Zero’s true potential with future releases.

The Truthear Zero can be purchased below:

Truthear ZERO Earphone Dual Dynamic Drivers PU + LCP Composite Diaphr (shenzhenaudio.com)

1 Like

Raptgo Hook-X Review​

**INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:**​

The Raptgo Hook-X is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a 14.2mm planar-magnetic driver and a piezoelectric driver. The Hook-X retails for $239 at Linsoul, which sent me a unit in exchange for my impressions.

SOURCES:​

I have used the Raptgo Hook-X with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Hidizs S9
  • Reiyin DA-PLUS
  • Moondrop Dawn

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The Raptgo Hook-X comes in a medium-sized square-ish grey cardboard box with a grey slipcover. The front of the slipcover features a blueprint-style illustration of the Hook-X. The rear of the slipcover features an exploded diagram of the Hook-X along with Raptgo’s corporate contact information. The packaging is stylish and the unboxing experience is appropriate for a product of this price point.
The Hook-X includes a grey zippered semi-rigid carry case.
The Hook-X includes nine pairs of silicone eartips (3xS, 3xM, 3xL) in three different colorways. The eartips appear identical other than having different colored bores. Including three sets of the same type of eartips is excessive and I would have preferred a set of foam tips if not just a differently shaped set of silicone eartips.
The Hook-X also includes a detachable .78mm 2-pin cable with swappable terminations. 3.5mm single-ended, 4.4mm balanced, and 2.5mm balanced terminations are included, which I appreciate as opposed to including just one kind of balanced connection or the other.
In terms of documentation, the Zero includes an owner’s manual and a warranty booklet, which are both written in English and Chinese.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The Raptgo Hook-X has gunmetal aluminum housings with perforated black faceplates. The rim of the faceplate contains metallic green accents, a detail which is also found on the detachable 2-pin cable in several spots. The 2-pin connector base is slightly raised from the surface of the shell. There is a single circular vent in the center of the inside face of the housing. “RAPTGO HOOK-X” and the unit serial number are printed in white on the top face of the housing, along with “L” and “R” indicators. The nozzles are made from the same gunmetal aluminum as the rest of the housing and feature metal mesh nozzle covers and extruded rims to secure eartips.

The cable uses fabric-sheathed wires wrapped in a double-helix below the Y-split. The fabric is black with a metallic green accent, in keeping with the overall aesthetic. The cable has pre-formed heat-shrink earguides and a metal chin-adjustment choker. Despite the use of fabric sheathing, the cable is less microphonic than I would have expected, even when the chin-adjustment choker is not used.

The modular jack has a straight form factor. To swap terminations, one simply pulls the lower 2/3rds of the jack away from the upper third. The jack hardware uses a 4-pin connector between the swappable termination and the cable. The design is not locking and relies on friction to stay in place. I did not have any issues with the termination coming loose when I did not wish to detach it during my review process. There is strain relief above the jack but none at the Y-split.

Unfortunately, the cable included with my first unit experienced a quality control failure out of the box. The wiring for the right channel was faulty somewhere above the swappable termination and only outputted at full volume when held in certain orientations. Swapping to another cable fixed the issue. I also obtained a replacement unit, which did not have this issue with the cable. This failure has been reported by other end-users on Head-Fi. It is a shame that this issue exists because I like the Hook-X’s cable from an aesthetic and functional perspective, and I presume that the modular cable design is in large part responsible for the Hook-X’s price premium over similarly-specced planar-magnetic IEMs like the 7Hz Timeless and Letshuoer S12.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The Raptgo Hook-X is intended to be worn cable-up. The earpieces have a shallow insertion depth. While comfortable, secureness of fit is problematic and requires frequent re-adjustment to maintain an optimal seal. As one might expect from a planar-magnetic design, there is no driver flex.

For most external noise, the Hook-X offers better isolation than one would expect from a semi-open design. The foremost exception is the user’s own voice, for which isolation is noticeably worse than other sounds, even compared to other IEMs. This makes the Hook-X a great candidate for gaming use. If one is not using an external mixer or software-based real-time monitoring solution which allows latency-free playback of one’s own voice, playing online games with friends can be disconcerting with highly isolating IEMs. This is even more of an issue if one wants to use their usual audiophile-focused external DAC/AMP solution for gaming rather than a gaming-focused peripheral. The Hook-X has quickly become my go-to IEM for gaming, as it has a better uncorrected tonality than the ancient pair of Sennheiser HD 500A over-ear headphones I typically use.

MEASUREMENTS:​

My measurements of the Raptgo Hook-X can be found on my expanding squig.link database:

Raptgo Hook-X — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

SOUND:​

The Raptgo Hook-X has a warm, relaxed sound signature.

The Hook-X’s bass is most elevated in the sub-bass region, but rather than confining the bass emphasis exclusively to the sub-bass, the Hook-X retains a moderate amount of mid-bass presence. This mid-bass presence rolls off gently into the lower midrange. The Hook-X is a dynamic-sounding and impactful IEM. Sub-bass extension is excellent. Bass texture and detail retrieval are about what I would expect for an IEM of this price.

The approach the Hook-X takes with its mid-bass contour is a compromise that sacrifices a smidge of midrange clarity in order to retain the warmth and body in the lower midrange which more Harman-compliant IEMs frequently lack. As with many Harman-ish IEMs, vocal delivery takes center stage with the Hook-X. However, male vocals are noticeably more forward and present than is common on many contemporary IEMs, and have grit and bite in spades when called for. Female vocals have a bit too much low-end energy and can sound slightly husky. Vocal intelligibility is also mildly superior for male vocals as compared to female vocals. I did not notice any sibilance in the Hook-X’s midrange. The presence region is in line with the relaxed midrange. Overall midrange clarity is middling and there is a sense of graininess where one would expect more midrange detail. The Hook-X has very good midrange timbre and comes across just a smidge on the dry side.

The Hook-X has a pronounced lower treble peak which can create an excessive sizzle to high-frequency percussion like cymbals. This can be mostly tamed with the use of foam eartips. There is a faint but distinct sense of oversharpening to transients in the lower and mid-treble, which is a timbral inaccuracy inherent to piezoelectric drivers. With that said, it is much less severe than on other IEMs with piezoelectric drivers I’ve used in the past. The Hook-X has very good upper treble extension, which combined with the semi-open design, creates a spacious soundstage. The Hook-X also has excellent instrument separation. Imaging is quite good as well, which is useful for gaming.

AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS AND SOURCE PAIRING:​

The Raptgo Hook-X is surprisingly easy to drive even without the use of balanced source devices. I did not notice hiss with any of my devices.

CLOSING WORDS:​

The Raptgo Hook-X is a very good-sounding IEM, but if your sole use-case for an IEM is listening to music, the Hook-X is not the best value for your dollar. As stated earlier, I suspect that the inclusion of a modular cable is responsible for a large part of the higher sticker price relative to contemporary planar-magnetic IEMs. This cable system is nice to have but not strictly necessary given that the Hook-X is easy enough to drive off of a single-ended connection. Further, QC issues with the cable are evidently not uncommon, which should give potential buyers pause. The Hook-X has additional value for use cases where the semi-open design gives unique benefits, such as gaming, but it is up to the individual buyer to decide whether these benefits are worth an additional $40 over the 7Hz Timeless or nearly $90 over the Letshuoer S12.

The Raptgo Hook-X can be purchased below:

RAPTGO HOOK-X Planar + PiezoElectric Drivers Hybrid IEM — Linsoul Audio

Letshuoer D13 Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The Letshuoer D13 is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a 13mm diamond-like carbon dynamic driver. The D13 also features two different sets of swappable tuning nozzles. The D13 retails for $113 at HiFiGo, which sent me a unit in exchange for my impressions.

SOURCES:​

I have used the D13 with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Moondrop Dawn

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The Letshuoer D13 comes in a black cardboard box with a black slipcover. The front of the slipcover features a picture of the D13. The rear of the slipcover features technical specifications for the D13 in what I believe are Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and Japanese. Letshuoer’s corporate contact information is also listed on the back of the slipcover.
The D13 uses a detachable 2-pin cable. My review unit came with a 4.4mm balanced cable, but a 3.5mm single-ended cable is also available.
The D13 includes a faux-leather black zippered semi-rigid carry case with embossed Letshuoer branding and an internal mesh pocket.
The D13 includes two sets of silicone eartips (S, M, L). The clear-and-black set of eartips is shorter and wider in shape than the all-black set.
In terms of documentation, the D13 includes a manual, a warranty registration card, a product catalog, a quality control pass chit, and a card featuring quick response codes that link to Letshuoer’s social media profiles.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The Letshuoer D13 has aluminum alloy housings with a rounded form factor reminiscent of Dunu’s DK series IEMs. The faceplate features a single slim arc-shaped vent and three arc-shaped recessions radiating outwards in a half-circle arrangement. The recessed arcs are filled in with bright yellow paint, which would not have been my first choice to pair with the metallic cobalt housings. “LETSHOUER D13-XXX” is printed in white on the back face of both the left and right housings, where “XXX” is the unit serial number.
There are circular resin plugs on the inner face of the 2-pin connector housing which are embossed with “L” and “R” indicators. The plugs are flush with the surface of the housing. The left side plug is blue and the right side plug is red, matching the resin endcaps of the included 2-pin cable. This is a subtle but impressive example of attention to detail in the D13’s design.
There are three small round vents on the inner face of the housing at the base of the nozzle. The nozzles are forward-swept and feature extruded lips for eartip retention. The two sets of tuning nozzles are distinguished by differently colored mesh covers.
The included 2-pin cable is wrapped in a quad-braid below the Y-split and double-helix patterns above the Y-split. The wire used in the cable’s construction is gorgeous and evokes a comparison to expensive aftermarket cables.
The cable jack has a straight form factor. There is a knurled band on the jack. “LETSHUOER” is printed in white towards the top of the jack housing. There is strain relief above the jack housing but none at the Y-split. The cable has pre-formed earguides without memory wire and an acrylic chin-adjustment choker. The cable microphonics are minor to non-existent even without the use of the choker.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The Letshouer D13 is intended to be worn cable-up. The earpieces have a moderate insertion depth. I found the D13 to be exceptionally comfortable. Secureness of fit is average and the housings required occasional readjustment. I did not experience any driver flex with the D13. Isolation is very poor.

MEASUREMENTS:​

My measurements of the Letshuoer D13 can be found on my expanding squig.link database:
Letshuoer D13 (Silver) — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews
Letshuoer D13 (Gold) — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

SOUND:​

The following sound impressions were taken with the silver nozzle filters.
The Letshuoer D13 has a U-shaped sound signature.
The D13’s bass tuning is highly reminiscent of the Moondrop Aria. Like the Aria, the D13’s bass is most elevated in the sub-bass region and gently decreases in emphasis all the way through the mid-bass region. The D13’s bass is clean and clear-sounding while retaining some mid-bass presence. There are moderate amounts of rumble and impact. Sub-bass extension is very good. Bass texture and detail retrieval are above average for the D13’s price point. I did find myself wanting more bass from the D13. Thankfully, the driver is highly capable and responds well to equalization (EQ).
The D13’s lower midrange is quite recessed. Some midrange instrumentation, such as analog percussion and electric guitars, can come across as a bit thin-sounding as a result. The D13’s pinna gain region is centered just past 2 kHz, which is earlier than I prefer. While not sibilant, both male and female vocals are overly forward and somewhat shouty to my ears. Harsh male vocals are appropriately abrasive and surprisingly intelligible. Female vocals sound realistic if overemphasized. The presence region is well-controlled and overall midrange clarity is excellent. Midrange timbre is very natural-sounding.
The D13 has a prominent lower treble peak. Treble-sensitive listeners may want to consider using foam eartips to dampen this peak, though will come at a cost to upper treble extension. Detail retrieval is average. Treble transient delivery is realistic and not overly splashy. Upper treble extension is fair. Interestingly, the D13 has a more natural-sounding timbre than the Moondrop Aria. The Aria, while having slightly superior detail retrieval, seems to have an overabundance of upper treble, which creates an artificial-sounding sheen. The D13’s soundstage and imaging are average. Instrument separation is slightly above average.

AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS AND SOURCE PAIRING:​

The Letshuoer D13 is easy to drive. I did not notice hiss with either of my devices.

CLOSING WORDS:​

The Letshuoer D13 is a respectable offering at its price point but does little to stand out from the array of comparably priced and similarly competent IEMs on the market today. Bassheads comfortable with EQ and sticklers for timbre may want to take a closer look.
The Letshuoer D13 can be purchased below:
LETSHUOER D13-Custom 13mm DLC Diaphragm Dynamic Driver In-Ear Earphone — HiFiGo

1 Like

7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko Review​

INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:​

The 7Hz Salnotes Dioko is an in-ear monitor (IEM) which uses a 14.6mm planar-magnetic driver. 7Hz created the Dioko in collaboration with Crinacle. Please refer to my previous disclaimer addressing my reviews of Crinacle collaborations. The Dioko retails for $99 on Linsoul’s Amazon shop. Linsoul sent me a unit in exchange for my impressions.

SOURCES:​

I have used the 7Hz Salnotes Dioko with the following sources:

  • Qudelix 5K
  • Hidizs S9
  • E1DA 9038D

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:​

The 7Hz Salnotes Dioko comes in a white cardboard box. The packaging features pictures of the Dioko and lists 7Hz’s corporate address on the back of the box. There is also a large sticker on the side of the box highlighting the collaboration between 7Hz and Crinacle.
Inside the cardboard box is a large zippered carry case which takes up the entire volume of the box. The exterior of the carry case is covered in black synthetic leather and has a red “7” emblazoned across the top lid. The stitching is also red. “SAL♪NOTES” is inlaid in gold text near the bottom of the lid. The bottom of the case is lined with felt and features dedicated cutouts for the IEM housings and cable. The case also has a large mesh pocket on the top lid for storing accessories. The case is exceptional in terms of build quality, especially for the price point. However, the sheer size is excessive and requires the use of a sling or backpack if you intend to bring it with you on your commute.
In addition to the IEMs and detachable 2-pin cable, the Dioko includes seven pairs of silicone eartips in several varieties. The dark grey pair with red cores feels similar to AZLA SednaEarfit Crystal eartips. This pair aggravates my ears less than other non-foam eartips. The red, blue, and orange pairs are squatter and more conical in shape and feature wider nozzles. The light blue and yellow eartips are more round with narrower nozzles. The pink pair is also round but with wider nozzles than the other round eartips. The Dioko includes a product information card and a user manual written in English and Chinese.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:​

The 7Hz Salnotes Dioko has large aluminum housings with purple tempered glass faceplates. The faceplates have an ovular cross-section. “SAL♪NOTES DIOKO” is printed in white at the bottom of each faceplate. There is one circular vent at the base of the nozzle and three more in a line along the outer circumference of the inner housing. “L” and “R” indicators are printed in white on the inner faces of the housings. The nozzles have metal and paper nozzle covers and extruded lips to secure eartips.
The included 2-pin cable is wrapped in a quad-braid below the Y-split and double-helix patterns above the Y-split. Like the cable included with the Letshuoer D13 I recently reviewed, the wire used in the cable’s construction punches above the Dioko’s price point.
The cable uses gunmetal aluminum hardware. The cable jack has a straight form factor. “SAL♪NOTES” is printed in white along the length of the jack housing. There is strain relief above the jack housing but none at the Y-split. The cable has pre-formed earguides without memory wire and a metal chin-adjustment choker. The 2-pin connectors fit flush with the surface of the IEM housing body. The curved 2-pin housings have faintly raised “L” and “R” markings. The cable is moderately microphonic.

COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:​

The 7Hz Salnotes Dioko is intended to be worn cable-up. The earpieces have a very shallow insertion depth. I found the Dioko to be very comfortable. However, secureness of fit is very poor and the housings required frequent readjustment. I had to use the Dioko with the largest Misodiko foam tips I own in order to minimize the housings’ tendency to migrate out of my ear canals. Isolation is also quite poor.

MEASUREMENTS:​

My measurements of the 7Hz Salnotes Dioko can be found on my expanding squig.link database:
7Hz Dioko — Squiglink by Bedrock Reviews

SOUND:​

The 7Hz Salnotes Dioko features a sub-bass boost concentrated entirely below 200 Hz, a midrange tuned to Crinacle’s IEF Netural target, and an extended treble response with a distinct lower treble peak at 8 kHz as well as a noticeable upper treble boost.
The Dioko’s bass is fast, cleanly articulated, and adequately textured, but lacking in sustain and impact. As a result, the bass is somewhat limp in its delivery. There is also less rumble than the Dioko’s frequency response plot would suggest. On the other hand, bass detail retrieval is very good.
The Dioko’s lower midrange is slightly recessed and the overall midrange timbre is on the thin side. I would prefer if male vocals had a bit more body and warmth. The Dioko’s pinna gain region is correctly centered for my preferences, between 2.5 and 3 kHz. There is less pinna gain than I generally prefer, but it works well with the Dioko’s overall tuning. There is not as much separation between vocals and midrange instrumentation as the average Harman-ish IEM, but neither do vocals overshadow midrange instrumentation, as is often the case with such tunings. Vocal intelligibility for both male and female vocals is still excellent despite the restrained amount of pinna gain. The presence region is just emphasized enough to deliver an impressive amount of midrange clarity without straying into harshness or sibilance. Aggressive male vocals could use a bit more bite, but I am happy with the level of presence overall.
Like a lot of other planar-magnetic IEMs released in the last year, the Dioko has a prominent lower treble peak around 8 kHz. While this peak generally did not bother me, this is not an IEM for the treble-sensitive. Overall detail retrieval is excellent. The Dioko’s treble transient delivery is also more realistic than the significantly more expensive Raptgo Hook-X. Upper treble extension is spectacular for the price point, but this region is overemphasized relative to the rest of the Dioko’s frequency response. This creates an artificial-sounding sheen over the rest of the sonic presentation. The Dioko’s soundstage extends just slightly outside of the head. Imaging is very good, and instrument separation is excellent.

AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS AND SOURCE PAIRING:​

The 7Hz Salnotes Dioko needs a moderately powerful source to achieve usable volume levels. I did not notice hiss with any of my devices.

CLOSING WORDS:​

While I take issue with certain aspects of its tuning, from a technical standpoint, the 7Hz Salnotes Dioko is better than any other IEM that I can think of at the $100 dollar price point. For me, the biggest issue with the Dioko is the shallow and insecure fit. My recommendation comes with a warning that buyers should prepare to tip-roll extensively.
The 7Hz Salnotes Dioko can be purchased below:
Amazon.com: 7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko HiFi 14.6mm Planar Diaphragm Driver in Ear Earphone IEMs with CNC Aviation-Grade Aluminum Case, Detachable 4-Core Litz OCC Copper Cable for Audiophile Musician Studio : Electronics

1 Like