Below are a few thoughts on a couple of my new IEMs. These are either noteworthy sets that are not near the top of my queue yet or IEMs that I’ve listened to but don’t plan to review at all for one reason or another. These notes are based on brief listening impressions done over the course of a few evenings.
TDK BA200 ($150)
I’ve long wanted to try TDK’s dual-BA flagship earphone but the opportunity has always gotten away from me, until now. Big thanks to kind fellow Head-Fier ericr for finally making it happen!
First impressions are positive – the packaging is simple and there’s not too many accessories – just two sizes of foam tips and two sizes of bi-flanges, along with a soft pouch, shirt clip, and some replacement filters. The earphones are designed for over-the-ear wear and very comfortable in the ear. The y-split, on the other hand, is quite bulky an occasionally gets caught on things. Not a big deal. So far I am enjoying these with the Shure Olives and the EarSonics double-flange tips.
The sound of the BA200 is as comfortable as the fit. It’s a smooth-sounding earphone with a tonal character slightly on the warm side of neutral. In many ways it reminds me of the HiFiMan RE-400, just less mid-centric (a good thing) and a little warmer due to a greater amount of mid-bass boost. The BA200 is a punchy earphone overall and the clarity is very good. The treble is very smooth but still crisp and resolving. The BA200 a little more revealing of sibilance, which the RE-400 tends to downplay.
Long story short, the BA200 so far seems like a slightly better RE-400, which is not at all a bad place to be as the RE-400 is one of my absolute favorite sets in its price range. The BA200 will definitely get a full review in due time.
Brainwavz R3 ($130)
The design is a straight-nozzle one but the housings are oriented perpendicular to the nozzles. The twin 10mm drivers feed into the nozzle, one from each side. The housings are aluminum and not too heavy but the super heavy-duty cable is somewhat unwieldy. The memory wire section is extremely long, which in a way is a blessing. The only way I can really wear these securely is with the cable exiting down, and then looping over the ear from there.
The earphones come with a nice, spacious case, which makes sense for these with their odd shape and extremely thick cable, and a ton of tips.
The sound quality of the R3 is very impressive – balanced, with level bass and smooth treble. It is not unlike the HiFiMan RE-400 in sound signature and is smoother and much less bright than Brainwavz’ other flagship, the dual-armature B2. Vocals on the R3 sound a little dull in comparison to the HiFiMan RE-400, like there’s more of an upper midrange dip. At the same time, it has a little more treble energy overall. The RE-400 has more midrange emphasis in comparison, slightly better clarity, and smoother highs with less dips and peaks. The R3 has got a very nice sense of space, though. In terms of sheer sound quality, the R3 really can compete with anything in its price range.
However, while it may not necessarily be superior in sound, I like the RE-400 much, much better in terms of form factor. Therefore, the R3 is something I wouldn’t be too likely to recommend and it won’t get a full review.
Fidue A63 ($55) & A81 ($299)
Fidue is a new IEM brand coming out of China, founded by experienced headphone designer Benny Tan. From the company’s about page, Fidue sands for:
F —— Fidelity: Natural original voice of high fidelity.
I —— Inspired: The resonance of soul.
D —— Durable: Long-lived quality.
U —— Unique: The unique design.
E —— Enjoyable: Enjoy happily.
Regardless of the brand story, the company’s two very first earphones are interesting for their sound alone.
When I first started listening to them I wasn’t sure of the pricing, but I remember thinking that the A63 would be very comfortable under $100. Turns out it’ll be priced closer to $50, which makes it look like an excellent value.
The packaging is quite nice on the A63 – not as lavish as with the higher-end model, but rather handsome and understated. Accessories include 5 types of silicone eartips and a soft pouch.
I do have an issue with the housings – I don’t understand why they made the metal edges so tall and sharp. The corners hurt after a while unless I switch to bi-flanges and position the housings farther in the ear. Not quite a deal breaker, but it could definitely have been more comfortable.
Sound-wise I like these a lot – better than the similarly-priced Astrotec AM-800, for example. Nice clarity and detail, not too much bass, but still punchy. Vocal clarity is absolutely fantastic on these – better than with the VSonic VSD1, I think. With the pricing I’m seeing this one appears to be a winner.
The pricier A81 model takes it up several notches in terms of design. The packaging is extravagant – it greatly reminds me of the $1300 AKG K3003. The earphones come with a nice carrying case, gorgeous leather-covered storage case, foam and silicone eartips, shirt clip, and two cables – a headset cable with inline mic and remote, and a higher-quality stereo cable with no headset functionality. Overall the packaging and accessory set are not one bit less impressive than any of the flagships from western brands.
The housing design of the A81 is reminiscent of the Ultimate Ears 900 in the way it fits in the ear. It’s meant for over-the-ear wear and includes two interchangeable cables. The sockets are 2-pin, but unique in the way the connectors are designed. As a result the A81 cables don’t really work with other 2-pin earphones. The housings of the A81 are not small, but the earphones are comfortable. The only issue I’ve found so far is a bit of driver flex on insertion, which can cause a channel imbalance unless corrected.
The 10mm dynamic drivers of the A81 utilize titanium composites. At first I wasn’t too impressed with its sound, but it has grown on me over the past month. It’s got quite a bit of bass but seems to maintain composure pretty well – a touch of mid-bass bloat but nothing drastic. Bass depth is good. Mids and highs appear to be pretty flat and smooth, and the A81 not overly warm or thick despite the bass boost. Soundstage is pretty nice as well – the MOE-SS01, for example, sounds quite congested next to it.
Overall it’s definitely not a bad-sounding set but there are sub-$200 sets that I expect will be stiff competition – the VSonic GR07BE and RHA MA750 for example, so time will tell how well these compete on value.
The two Fidue earphones will be reviewed in full.