The Headphone List Find the best portable audio for your needs Mon, 18 Jun 2018 19:35:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Protected: Aedle Announces A New BT ANC Headphone – The VK-X Mon, 18 Jun 2018 12:57:18 +0000

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Without Walls or Ceiling – A Review of the DHC Molecule 19 Elite Fusion Sat, 16 Jun 2018 22:59:47 +0000

DHC provided the Fusion free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The Molecule 19 Elite Fusion 6ft sells for $999

I contacted Peter Bradstock in search of something special for my HD800. His Fusion line just launched, and there were no reviews of this particular cable. He thought it would be perfect.

For those who don’t know, Peter is a pioneer of this field. He was first to many innovations, such as carbon cores, ultrashort adapters, and let’s not forget the most famous of all, Type 4 and 6 Litz. He is a practical, down-to-earth fellow, with not a little amount of cynicism for his contemporaries. There are quite a few bold claims and popular practices Peter calls bullshit on. Curious? Ask him about it. He’s happy to chat.

I offer up my deepest gratitude and thanks to Peter for a remarkable cable to review and enjoy: The Double Helix Cables Molecule 19 Elite Fusion.

The Molecule Elite 19 is actually just shy of 19AWG. The site calls it 18.8AWG, but you can understand why they’d round up. What makes it Fusion is an equal number of OCC Copper strands alongside the OCC Silver, all in a class-leading Type 6 Litz configuration. It’s designed as a more affordable option to the standard Molecule Elite 19, which is just as thick, but 100% silver.

It is a hefty, thick cable, which does not flex easy. Absolutely not ideal for IEMs. But for full-size cans, ergonomics loses its importance. The Fusion is the biggest cable I own, and I find it suited well to this use.

As for aesthetics, DHC is right up there with the best of them. Hell, he might even have pioneered some of the popular styles going around, but don’t quote me on that. Regardless, the Fusion is a lovely creature, and the sturdiest construction I’ve seen to date: Gunmetal aluminium plug and connectors, and a titanium y-split. These beefy 18.8AWG wires proudly proclaim the quality of the minerals within. The braid is flawless, the connectors ever so handsome. DHC fashions a thing worth treasuring.

So… I am not comparing the Fusion to the stock cable. I bought the HD800 used. Heavily used. It had at least two owners before me. No packaging. Pads were worn thin (hence the Dekoni leather), and no stock cable. Instead, the fellow included an old 6ft Cardas cable, which was part of a much longer cord he had Norne break into three separate cables. Oh yes, I should mention I also had to put on new connectors, because the wires were frayed and losing signal. So… that’s the cable I’m comparing this to. Both are terminated for XLR Balanced, to run off my Audio-GD NFB-28. And despite my early troubles, this Cardas cable sounds very good now.

How, then, does the Molecule 19 Elite Fusion compare?

First of all, the Fusion is a seductive blend of clarity and fullness. It lacks for nothing, possessing insane amounts of air and transparency, all while delivering a rich, dynamic low-end. The HD800 has more headroom, both up top and below. Music breathes easier. Thanks to a fuller bass-response, the mids gain a hint of warmth. Vocals, however, remain phenomenally detailed and vibrant. Micro dynamics are accentuated further, bringing out those subtle background quirks.

This is not a cold or lifeless cable. In fact, it’s imbued with more energy than I’m used to. That’s not to say the Fusion is bright or peaky. This energy doesn’t focus on any specific frequencies. It’s everywhere, all the time. A clean, smooth render best characterizes Fusion’s portrayal. Soundstage is enormous, pushing the HD800 to new extremes. Separation of elements has greater contrast due to a blacker background. A more holographic image is created, achieving wondrous depth and layering.

One caveat to consider… the Fusion holds nothing back. So in the case of the Sennheiser HD800, this is not the cable to tame its predilections for treble brightness. While it does not make those highs any worse, it also does not add warmth. Fusion allows for better extension, without aggravating an already delicate region.

There’s no doubt, the DHC Molecule Elite 19 Fusion raises the bar for the HD800. If you want to push clarity, detail, soundstage, and fullness, you cannot go wrong with the Fusion. Even for colorless transparency, it’s the best I’ve tested for cans. I wish I could plug it into my LCD-3 and discover what it does there. Based on what I’m hearing now, I suspect it would pair beautifully. It’s a cable which bears few prejudices, and ought to serve as a perfect upgrade choice for most headphones. Particularly if they are headphones you are already happy with. The Molecule Elite 19 Fusion will simply make them better.


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The Breadth of Existence – A Review of the Effect Audio Thor Silver II Bespoke Wed, 13 Jun 2018 01:19:57 +0000

Effect Audio provided the Bespoke 8-wire free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

Thor II Bespoke 8-Wire sells for $850

What is Bespoke? The word used to mean “to speak for” a person or thing. In modernity, it usually means “custom made”. In Effect Audio’s case, it’s what they call customized versions of their standard line of cables. For instance, if you want to take the Thor Silver II and double the wire count, simply contact EA and let them know you’re interested in their Bespoke service.

You’ll end up with something very much like this: The Thor Silver II Bespoke 8-Wire.

Effect Audio crafts some of the most elegant pieces you will lay eyes upon. Each time they send me a new one, I am spellbound by its beauty. Thor Bespoke tops the list for me. It brings to mind a secret pool, deep in a forest glade, found glinting beneath a bright moon. Or rivulets of clean water trickling over ice. This eight-strand weave of shimmering silver surmounts the standard braid, gaining new boundaries of grace.

I feared the 8-Wire. Ergonomics is important to me, for I swiftly grow wroth with discomfort. Indeed, I had a poor experience with a particular 6-Wire in the past. So when Eric Chong suggested I tackle their Bespoke offering, I reluctantly agreed.

Turns out, I had little reason to worry. Yes, 8 wires are thicker and heavier than 4. But thanks to EA’s outstandingly supple insolation, Thor Bespoke feels nearly as soft and pliable as the basic model. After the Y-Split, it becomes two 4-strand round braids, but once it nears the IEM connector, the braid turns into a tight coil. Which helps tremendously with comfort and in keeping the cable in a proper ear-loop shape. One of my biggest complaints with any cable is when the wire won’t stay tucked behind my ear. This one does a fairly good job of that.

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Brief Review: Various Headphone Impressions Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:59:42 +0000 After my recent foray into headphones with the Focal Utopia, I went down to the local store to try out various headphones.

Focal Utopia
To get a feel for the properties of the Burson V2 amp I would be listening with, I started with the familiar Utopia as baseline for my impressions. I already enjoyed Utopia when listening from my SP1000 Cu, so was curious to see how feeding it more power would affect its performance. Indeed, increasing the power improved the control of the mid-bass, which benefits the airiness of the stage, and accordingly, its separation. The quicker decay of the mid-bass results in a more neutral tone, and cleaner sound. As a result, Utopia sounds tighter, but also starts to predominantly lean towards the technical over the musical, gaining a more analytical character.

The combo sounds stimulating and highly detailed, but also somewhat clinical in tone. The 10 KHz peak that was initially somewhat smoothed out by the A&K, starts to pop its head out more frequently. So while there is a noticeable improvement in performance, I still prefer the synergy with the A&K despite its lack of power. The blend of warm and bright results in a more euphoric character, compared to when mixing neutral with bright. Overall, the Burson V2 can be characterised by an especially neutral tone and clean sound, where my preference would require an additional touch of warmth as prerequisite for a more natural tonality.

Audeze LCD-XC
My initial plan to head over was to try the Audeze LCD-3, as multiple people had told me I should try or even own it once in my lifetime. But when I arrived I was tragically informed it had just been sold a few days earlier. Yearning for that trademark Audeze naturalness, I settled for the ‘next best thing’; the closed LCD-XC. The Audeze instantly greets with you with its forward mid-bass, the power down low driving the sound. When called upon, its emphasis is on mid- over sub-bass. However, the bass extension is good, with a natural decay. At times I pondered if it leaned towards boominess, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

Much like Utopia, the XC has a neutral vocal position with average density, although its vocal size is a bit larger. In terms of tone, the XC is surprisingly neutral, despite the enhanced mid-bass – a lower treble peak serves to counter the warmth, and balance the tone. So overall, the emphasis remains closer to neutral than natural. The lower treble provides an articulated presentation of its notes, that remains on the right side of smoothness, albeit by a marginal amount – with this pairing at least. And as it has less upper treble emphasis than Utopia, its timbre is slightly more accurate. That being said, I wouldn’t classify it as particularly accurate in timbre or natural. Both the enhanced bass and lower treble peak are defining characteristics, that demand most of the attention. Overall, it left me with mixed feelings as I was hoping to get a taste of the renowned Audeze naturalness, but was left wanting.

Mr. Speakers Ether-C
Next, I moved on to its primary in-store competitor, the Ether closed. Again, one of the first things to jump out is the bass. The Ether provides a solid ‘thump’ down low, and is clearly boosted within the presentation. It’s an ever-present bass, although I didn’t find it particularly bothersome. Nevertheless, it isn’t the bass that impresses – it’s its vocals. The Ether has a nice bump in its midrange, resulting in slightly forward and solidified vocals. This is a truly captivating vocal presentation; bodied, and lightly warm in tone.

The bass is again matched by a slight lower treble peak, although it is executed in a more sophisticated manner. It improves the articulation of its notes, but refrains from being dominant within the sound. And just as with the XC, it balances the warmth of the bass, resulting in a fairly neutral tone. I would say the treble integration is better in the signature, resulting in a smoother and more coherent signature. The downside is that its stage feels significantly smaller compared to the LCD-XC. The LCD-XC has a more treble-oriented signature, which helps to create a wider stage. The Ether-C in turn is not only smoother, but relatively more accurate in tone. In addition, its vocals are greater in presence, with those of the LCD-XC sounding more laid-back.

Audeze LCD-2C*
Ah, there it is. A fine moment to drench in all the good stuff that made Audeze famous. Smooth, and lightly warm in tone. And what instantly struck me most, was the coherency of the sound: the LCD-2 really manages to present a unified sound, that wonderfully blends together. The bass, midrange, and treble, all working together in perfect harmony. Its bass is tight, quick, yet sufficiently impactful, and I much preferred it over the XC. Its notes are less articulated than the previous two, so therefore might be viewed as less exciting perhaps. But it just fits within what it’s trying to achieve.

Its vocal presentation is slightly forward, creating both denser and more bodied vocals compared to its peers. And as some of you may know, putting the midrange in the spotlight is the key to this reviewer’s heart. Even so, all of the LCD-2 pleasantness comes with a drop in transparency. It’s a pleasing sound, smooth, and engaging. But it is veiled. Nevertheless, the pleasure of making my acquaintance with such a classic was all mine.

*The LCD-2 is currently being offered as a sort of budget edition, that excludes the fazor tech, large carrying case, and has regular plastic cups instead of bamboo. I have no idea how the original version sounds, but suspect there will be differences here and there.

Mr. Speakers Ether Open
The open Ether has a lightly warm tone, and seems to be a nice execution of neutral/natural. There is a slight lift in its lower treble, but again more successfully incorporated than the LCD-XC, being more similar to its closed counterpart. As a result, its note articulation is slightly clearer than the LCD-2C, though not to the extent of the LCD-XC, effectively placing it between the two Audeze’s. The Ether again has a neutral vocal placement in terms of forwardness and size, although its density seemed to be a bit better than the Utopia and XC.

However, I preferred the meatier vocal presentation of the LCD-2, as well as its bass, as its mid-bass was higher in definition. Even so, I found the Ether overall a step up from the LCD-2. They both strive for a similar type of sound, but the Ether is more transparent and technically capable. As it is neither particularly warm nor bright, it functions as a versatile allrounder that works well for instrument-based music, due to its relatively accurate timbre. Add a nice open stage and coherent signature, and it sums up to a complete package.

Grado GS2000e
To be completely honest, I was under the impression you had to be over 60 years to appreciate Grado. Chalk it up to stereotypes and ignorance. So imagine my surprise when I found the Grado one of the best sounding HPs. Don’t get me wrong, I see how people can find the bass lacking. In terms of quantity and impact, this isn’t going to impress anybody. It’s a neutral bass by any definition, resulting in a somewhat nimble size of its instruments. Its notes don’t seem to carry a lot of weight, and are placed airily within the stage.

But dear god, that instant smoothness that welcomes you. The perfectly coherent signature, and more than anything, the exceedingly natural tone. And despite its warmer tone, a transparent midrange – the advantage of an attenuated bass. Even so, the Grado lacks a bit of upper mid presence. So it doesn’t achieve a similar level of vocal naturalness and engagement as say, an LCD-2. But even though it’s a lighter and somewhat delicate presentation, it’s well thought out and just seems to work by relying on naturalness and coherency. Overall, it does have a bit of an ‘old man vibe’ to it, which I seem to like more than the flinkenick of three years ago would have been comfortable to admit.

Sennheiser HD800s
Another first meet with a modern classic – or, again, revised version thereof. I braced myself for a brighter, more clarity-oriented signature that the original seemed to be known for, but there seemed to be hardly any of trace brightness to be found. So upon first listen, I instantly liked it. My first thought was good stuff, this headphone is going places. A coherent signature, with a near-perfect execution of neutral. This is pretty much how I would expect a prototypical solid headphone should sound – close to neutral, inoffensive, and an all-round signature.

But upon further listen, it failed to get me completely hooked. The main issue was the somewhat laid-back vocals. They’re not necessarily thin, but are positioned too distant to get me captivated. It feels they’re right at the rear of the stage, calling out from the back. In addition, the bass seemed a bit shy. In fact, I didn’t really notice it while listening, so I only later realised I didn’t get to analyze its qualities. And while the signature is versatile, it doesn’t necessarily excel in any particular direction. With the sidenote that this is undoubtedly also at least partially due to the specific pairing with the Burson V2. I imagine the HD800s serves as a blank slate, to be configured with dac/amps to one’s liking. is a registered Dutch dealer for brands as Focal, Audeze, 64 Audio, Empire Ears, EarSonics, Campfire, and Effect Audio. However, where applicable they ship throughout Europe. 

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Brief Review – 64 Audio Fourté Thu, 07 Jun 2018 15:20:57 +0000 The 64 Audio Fourté was received on loan from

A little over a year ago, 64 Audio made waves by announcing two new flagships: the Fourté and A18. While both iems seemed to raise the boundaries of pricing to new levels, they were bolstered by the implementation of new tech: the TIA drivers. By removing the roof of balanced armature drivers and using a tubeless design, the TIA drivers offer an impressive top-end extension, albeit it with a brighter treble tone.

Sound Impressions

The Fourté’s specs inform us of a rather unique design; a hybrid between a traditional dynamic driver, and 64’s advanced TIA drivers. A disparate technology, that, maybe unsurprisingly, returns in its sound: where its bright treble notes are screaming ‘go faster!’, the bass keeps urging everyone to calm down. It’s a contrast that returns throughout its a presentation, a ying and yang of opposing forces, which provide a measured balance between bright and warm, quick and slow, and advanced versus contemporary.

Down low, the Fourté’s bass displays several revered characteristics of a dynamic driver: an analogue quality compared to BA drivers, with a more realistic texture. It’s a bass that’s primarily centered on mid- over sub-bass.  Fourté’s low end isn’t bassy, but I would equally be hesitant to describe it as lean; it outputs a sufficient quantity to let its presence be felt, while providing a warmer tone. As its bottom-end extension is only average at best, it’s not necessarily visceral in terms of impact, especially when compared to dynamic drivers as the Galaxy or Dream. And as the definition of the mid-bass is only moderate, it doesn’t present itself as a particularly technically bass – especially since its somewhat lengthy decay relaxes the pace of the music, and warms the stage. So quite frankly, there isn’t much going on here to suggest this is an above average bass in its overall performance.

However, this can be in part attributed to the cable pairing. Switching Fourté’s stock cable to a quality silver-alloy like the HSA Venom or EA Horus noticeably improves the control of the bass, resulting in a tighter bass response. Accordingly, Fourté creates an airier stage, as well as more transparent, albeit leaner midrange. Even so, tightening the bass loosens the restraint of the treble, resulting in sharper treble notes. In that sense, Fourté’s bass also provides a rather practical functionality, by balancing the brightness of the treble tones, as well as adding body to its midrange notes. The midrange itself consists of a subtle bump around 1-2 KHz, followed by a dip throughout its upper midrange. Accordingly, the instrument notes are primarily constructed by of a thickness from the bass, rather than density from the midrange frequencies.

This returns in its vocal presentation. Fourté creates neutral vocals in terms of forwardness, which are centered within its spacious, three-dimensional stage. As a result of the midrange bump, they are sufficiently grounded within the stage. At the same time, the lack of upper midrange presence prevents them from sounding completely captivating – there isn’t a great deal of power behind the vocal. Even so, they don’t feel amiss either; Fourté’s midrange has sufficient size to sound engaging, so it doesn’t sound lean. It’s a rather neutral midrange in size and forwardness, which seems to work in unison with the bass. And importantly, it has a lightly warm tone.

But Fourté’s magic resides in its treble. Fourté’s treble is without a doubt, the most revealing of its kind – and accordingly, its unique selling point. Relying on a combination of excellent extension and sheer brightness, it is quick, high in definition, and hyper-detailed. But Fourté’s treble is a double-edged blade: the improved extension boosts its resolution, and opens up its stage. But suffice to say, it is equally one of the brightest trebles in the top-tier range, if not the brightest of all. Make no mistake, Fourté is not for the faint-hearted; it provides a stunning amount of detail, but there can be a price to pay – especially for the treble-sensitive listeners among us. With the wrong pairing, its 10 KHz peak can result in a more aggressive attack of its treble notes.


64 Audio A18
The most requested comparison is probably with its sibling and co-flagship, the A18. Fourté and A18 share some general characteristics due to their TIA treble driver, but are overall more different than similar. For starters, fans of dynamic bass will be served by Fourté; Fourté has the more analogue bass, with its characteristics dynamic qualities. Even so, the A18’s bass is greater in mid-bass quantity (with M20 module), but significantly quicker in decay. So overall, the A18 sounds faster, where the Fourté’s slower decay relaxes the pace. Furthermore, while the A18’s lower midrange is slightly laidback, its upper mids are relatively more forward. As a result, the A18 has a more forward vocal presentation, positioned in a primarily wide stage. Fourté’s midrange is relatively neutral in size, and centered within a three-dimensional stage with even proportions.

Overall, the A18 has the more linear signature, which I personally prefer in terms of tonality and presentation. And where the Fourté’s treble actively probes the limits of my tolerance, the A18 has never given me issues. That being said, the Fourté is the more detailed of the two, revealing every micro-detail the music has to offer – this is where the Fourté truly excels. So for music fans in pursuit of a sense of ‘hyper-realism’, the Fourté will be the easier choice.

Empire Ears Legend-X
The two flagships make for a compelling comparison, due to their hybrid configurations: the Fourté with its single dynamic driver and TIA balanced armatures, and the Legend-X with its double dynamic bass supported by five balanced armatures. In terms of bass, the Legend-X has the greater bottom-end extension, with its emphasis leaning on sub- over mid-bass, although it is full-bodied in its presence. Accordingly, the Legend’s bass is tighter, is higher in definition, while being more impactful. By comparison, the Fourté’s bass is warmer, and a bit more natural in tone. Even so, most points go to the Legend-X.

Their midrange’s are again very different. Fourté’s midrange is warmer, with slightly thicker notes pursuant to its mid-bass tuning. By comparison, the Legend’s midrange is positioned slightly more laidback, but it is significantly denser, due to a lift in its upper midrange frequencies. In addition, it is more neutral in tone. Accordingly, the Legend’s midrange sounds clearer and more solidified, albeit in a slightly more distant position. The Fourté’s midrange is warmer, and a bit thicker. Both iems can be considered bright for sensitive listeners; the Legend due to its prominent lower treble peak, and the Fourté due it its 10 KHz peak. Overall, the Legend can be considered neutral with a slight touch of brightness. The Fourté in turn has the warmer stage structure, from which brighter treble notes arise.

Concluding thoughts

64 Audio’s Fourté is a unique hybrid, with the implementation of two types of drivers serving as a counterweight to balance its tone: the warm undertone of the dynamic drivers, versus the brighter TIA drivers up top. It’s a rather precarious balance that allows a certain versatility for the user, as different setups lead to different paths. However, even with the warm and smooth SP1000 Cu, the Fourté’s treble continuously dazzles me, but probes the limits of my tolerance. It’s like when your body is all knotted up, so you tell a masseuse to dig in and give you her best. Most of the time you’re thinking “ah, that hits the spot”, but occasionally you cry out “dear lord woman, are you trying to murder me??” – Fourté’s treble in a nutshell.

An often heard question considering its price and novel technology, is ‘is Fourté the best?’. The answer is quite simple: the Fourté is the best in what it does. That is, providing a detailed sound, with an extraordinary ability to uncover micro-detail. Many of us dove into this hobby after the first time an earphone managed to provide a new level of experience, the proverbial ‘lifting a curtain’, offering a new insight to our music. Fourté won’t be considered the smoothest iem any time soon, or have the most natural treble tone – but its most profound quality is its ability to provide a similar experience, even for seasoned listeners.

64 Audio Fourté
Configuration: 3 + 1 Hybrid
MRSP: $3599 is a registered Dutch dealer for brands as Focal, Audeze, 64 Audio, Empire Ears, EarSonics, Campfire, and Effect Audio. However, where applicable they ship throughout Europe. 

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Jomo Audio Haka – The Boy Wonder Tue, 05 Jun 2018 07:24:08 +0000 DISCLAIMER: Jomo Audio provided me with the Haka in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. The review is as follows.

Jomo Audio is a Singaporean manufacturer specialising in universal and custom IEMs. Broadcasting engineer Joseph Mou started the company in 2015, after his efforts in the DIY space rapidly found success throughout the audiophile community. Now a staple of cosmetic flair and excellent sonic performance, Jomo Audio has become one of the largest monitor brands in Asia. Today, we’ll be looking at Joseph’s single-driver unit: The Haka. Although it is the company’s entry-level piece, Haka is probably its most unique; boasting a fully-proprietary balanced-armature driver custom-voiced by Jomo Audio themselves. Truly bespoke from the inside out, the Haka is Joseph Mou’s attempt at the less-is-more mentality: Maximum yield through minimal means; a true test of technical ingenuity and relentless innovation.

Jomo Audio Haka

  • Driver count: One balanced-armature driver
  • Impedance: 18Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 107dB
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Fully-proprietary balanced-armature driver; 3D-printed shells (universal variant only)
  • Available form factor(s): Universal and custom acrylic IEM
  • Price: S$599
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

The Haka arrives in a laser-embossed, navy blue clamshell box. Inside, you’ll find 1/4-inch and airline adapters, an owner’s card (not included in my review sample), a cleaning tool and a UE-esque, billet aluminium case with the IEMs nestled inside – all within the package’s velvet-lined cut-outs. Visually, the Haka makes a strong first impression. Accessories are modest, but the efforts that went into presentation definitely boost the unboxing experience. Despite their humble beginnings, the Jomo Audio team have effectively shed the rusticity associated with home-grown, DIY start-ups. Fully abandoning the ubiquitous Peli 1010 case as a form of packaging placebo, this is both maturity and attention to detail I’d love to see more of throughout 2018, lest I continue my hard case collection into the high 20s.

Contrary to companies of their relatively young age, build quality and aesthetic finesse are things the Jomo Audio team struggle to get wrong. Defying the stereotypes that plague every Asian nation (but Japan), the born-and-raised Singaporean firm has produced some of the most stunning in-ears I have ever seen. Whether it’s multi-coloured swirls, genuinely-textured stone faceplates or full carbon-fibre shells, they can truly do it all. And, as you can see, my Haka is no exception. I gave Joseph full creative control over the monitor’s visual theme, and the blue-silver swirl he came up with exudes reserved glamour. From the shimmer of the shells and the vortex-like faceplate design, to the gold metallic accents, my personal Haka exemplifies simplicity and detail. Additionally, the unit boasts some of the best fit and comfort I’ve ever experienced, topped of with an outstanding lacquer coat; smooth and illustrious all throughout.


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Strong of Arm and Fist – A Review of the iBasso DX150 Mon, 04 Jun 2018 01:41:39 +0000

iBasso provided the DX150 free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The DX150 sells for $499
iBasso on Amazon

After my experience with the DX200, which has since become my primary reference digital audio player, I knew I had to keep an eye on future developments from iBasso. They have a pesky habit of creating superior products at reasonable prices. Even their IT01 dynamic driver IEM shoots WAY above its market value.

So I contacted Paul to let him know of my interest. In short order, my new DAP arrived.

The DX150 is an evolution of the iBasso philosophy. In many ways it improves upon the DX200. For starters, it is attractive. Seriously attractive. There’s an elegance which does not exist in big brother’s tank-like build. The artistry DX150 embodies is charming, and something you want to show off.

The volume wheel is more easily accessible. No longer is it locked behind a thick piece of aluminium. Does this make it less secure? I guess. But I find it sturdy enough not to warrant concern. The buttons feel a little wobbly, however. I can hear a slight rattling when I shake the device. Fortunately, they are nearly flush with the chassis, so there is no real chance of them catching on anything or being damaged. Still, I prefer a solider feel when I interact with my players.

The screen, also, sits flush with the body of the device. Whereas on the DX200 it had this raised look. It’s rather sleek now. Color richness and resolution is perfect for displaying album art in an accurate way, but don’t expect smartphone-level crispness.

iBasso continues its brilliant use of Amp Modules. What’s more, they are interchangeable between players. Any of the Amps iBasso released for the DX200 work with the DX150. And vice versa. AMP6, which comes preinstalled on the DX150, can be connected to the DX200, if you happen to fancy that pairing.

It’s a fantastic ecosystem they’re building, and one which will grow in curious ways, I suspect.

Android 6 is implemented for the OS, with the ability to side-load the Apps of your choosing. Don’t ask me how to do that, since I don’t like Apps on my players. So while I understand the DX150 is capable of streaming TIDAL and Spotify, since it also has WiFi, I never tested those claims. I’m a bad reviewer. I only care about the features that effect how I use my DAPs. I don’t have the patience or discipline for anything else. What does that mean? SD Cards, loaded with FLAC and DSD files. How does it handle that, most basic function?

Quite well. Though not perfect.

I have experienced some slow-down with high-res tracks and DSD. Early on, when playing a 24/96 FLAC file, the system fell to a crawl. Even changing the volume presented significant lag. But after breaking the device in, I never saw it that severe again. I can switch back and forth between 64DSD and HD FLAC with only a little bit of buffering. Using current firmware, DSD exhibits delay with play and pause functions, but it’s still perfectly usable. Hopefully with later updates, these will get reduced further and further.

Since I always play through entire albums at a time, this doesn’t bug me very much at all. Once the first track begins, Gapless playback delivers a seamless session.

I did test out Bluetooth functionality. My Klipsch X12 Neckband paired up with ease. Playback of standard FLAC Redbook files was perfect. No glitches or hiccups. But any HD or DSD files is a no-go. Same with DX200. Not enough bandwidth. I would like to see Firmware smart enough to downsample files too robust for wireless playback, instead of foolishly trying to play them, and failing. Hell, even an error message saying “Format too big for BT” would be nice. As it stands now, you have to guess why your music isn’t running.

AMP6 Module, which comes pre-installed, is fairly powerful in Balanced output, and decently powerful in single-ended, as well. This may be the best multifunction amp they’ve released yet.

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Campfire Audio Comet Review – Luminous Sun, 27 May 2018 02:38:26 +0000 Pros – 

Flawless build quality, Great clarity while maintaining natural voicing, Warm, textured low-end

Cons – 

Mediocre layering, Not for those prioritising timbre, average soundstage expansion

Verdict – 

The Comet best suits those searching for an engaging yet versatile earphone with superb build quality and excellent passive noise isolation.

Introduction – 

It only takes a couple of minutes online to see the prominence of Campfire Audio and their presence in seemingly every conversation. From their newly released over-ear headphone, the Cascade, to the almost universally adored Andromeda, you would be hard-pressed to find an instance where Campfire Audio’s high-end products aren’t recommended. However, though respected, their lower-end models haven’t achieved the same unconditional love and Campfire have been quick to react.

Follwing in the footsteps of the Polaris, the Comet is their response; a single BA earphone that promises great range through its implementation of a vented armature and Campfire’s proprietary T.A.E.C 3D printed sound chamber. It similarly carries a more engaging tuning, especially compared to the Orion and Nova before it, in addition to a complete redesign to permit cable-down wear in addition to over-ear. Perhaps most impressively, Campfire Audio are offering the Comet at an attainable $200 USD, all aspects that make this their most accessible earphone yet. You can read more about the Comet and treat yourself to one here.


Disclaimer – 

I would like to thank Campfire Audio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Comet for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.


Accessories – 


The Comet comes packaged similarly to Campfire’s past in-ears with the same compact box. Opening the box reveals the earphones within Campfire’s legendary leather carry cases similar to that included with their dynamic earphones and the Orion. The case has faux shearling that prevents scratches during transportation and Campfire house each earpiece in a separate fabric pouch so they’re kept pristine during shipping, very thoughtful.


Campfire has also switched to a more compact zipper design with their logo. Underneath are the accessories, a CA pin, 3 pairs of silicone tips, 3 pairs of foams and 5 pairs of Final Audio E-tips. The Final tips are a great addition and I much prefer them to both the stock and Spinfit tips that were previously included. Chiefly, they sound more transparent while providing similar ergonomic benefits. It’s great to see Campfire including these tips from factory.


Design –

Campfire’s redesigned earphones have been met with a polarising response but, to my eye, the Comet looks a lot better in person and its design has grown on me during my months of testing. This is reaffirmed by their dense, unrelenting construction, employing a solid 3-piece stainless steel design with striking chrome finish. There’s no give, rattle or creak to be found here and the level of finish is immaculate with even seams, perfect joins and smoothly formed edges; you would be hard-pressed to find a better-built earphone at any price point. I’ve also found the Comet to age well, picking up no dents or scratches over my past months of testing; just be sure to wind them up from the earpieces and store in the included case after use.


The Comet fits similarly to earphones like the Etymotic ER4 and Klipsch X10, and its slender design offers flawless comfort with no sharp edges and minimal ear contact. It should also be noted that though the driver in the Comet is vented, the external housing is fully-sealed. Combined with a slightly deeper fit than Campfire’s previous BA housing, isolation is terrific, a dream for portable use, especially with foam tips. In addition, its bullet-shaped housings enable comfortable wear both cable-down and over the ear, and it remains very stable in both configurations. As the MMCX connectors angle away from the face, microphonic noise during cable-down wear is minimized and absent entirely when worn over-ear.


Campfire is using the same cable as the Polaris, with an additional 3-button remote/mic and no cable guides to permit cable-down wear. It employs Litz copper internals and a twisted braid that’s supple and smooth, effectively avoiding tangles. It has a well-reinforced, case-friendly right angle plug and custom beryllium MMCX connectors that promise greater longevity. In short, the included cable is as liveable as we’ve come to expect from Campfire, a former cable manufacturer. It feels well-constructed and suitable for portable use. The added functionality provided by the inline remote/mic will surely be welcome to many smartphone users.

Next Page: Sound, Comparisons & Verdict

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Earnine EN210 Review – Profound Thu, 24 May 2018 04:42:51 +0000 Pros – 

Rich sound, Clean background, Compact housings

Cons – 

Sharp orientation markers, Intimate soundstage, Congested bass, Fixed cable

Verdict –

Earnine’s EN210 suites those preferring a super clean background, voluminous bass and dense, full-bodied midrange.

Introduction – 

A few years ago, the majority of leading balanced armature earphones were using almost identical internals; Knowles TWFK dual driver. In fact, that speaker unit is still widely employed today in earphones such as the Fiio F9 Pro. Sonion is another driver manufacturer to achieve acclaim with essentially every earphone on the market using one or a combination of drivers from each manufacturer. Though the driver only tells a part of the story when it comes to the final sound, there is a definite character to each and those who have experienced many IEMs can even point them out by ear. Hailing from Korea, Earnine are one of the few to use completely proprietary balanced armature drivers made in-house by TSST. The EN210 is one of their latest IEMs featuring a dual woofer + full-range setup that, due to its in-house components, substantially different to almost every dual driver I’ve heard. You can read more about Earnine and purchase the EN210 here.


Disclaimer – 

I would like to thank Earnine very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the EN210 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.


Accessories – 


The EN210 has a pleasing unboxing experience. Sliding off the decorative top cover reveals the earphones and zippered hard case within foam. Inside the case are 2 pairs of silicone ear tips (in addition to the pair pre-installed on the earphones themselves.


Earnine also provides a pair of memory foam tips that offer a more personalised fit and greater noise isolation. The included case is a little large, but its internal pocket enables the user to carry accessories and perhaps a small DAP alongside the earphones themselves.


Design – 

The EN210 employs sleek, low-profile housings to enable an ergonomic fit. They have a plastic construction that feels fairly dense and well-joined with no visible glue or uneven seam as is apparent on some budget Chinese in-ears. Subjectively, this is a step down from the metal EN120 and EN1/2J earphones, but the EN210’s smoked housings do provide some additional visual intrigue, showcasing the custom driver setup inside.


As they barely protrude from the ear, wind noise is minimised when listening outdoors and the earphones are comfortable when sleeping. My only gripe with comfort are the coloured orientation markers that lie at the rear of each housing. The way they’ve been attached to the body leaves a sharp protruding edge that wears on the ear after a few hours.


The earphone has a solid metal sound tube with metal grill. They accept medium bore tips and, due to their flatter inner face, produce a fairly shallow fit depth. Still, as they’re fully sealed and tuned in a warm, full fashion, they well-suit portable use, delivering easily adequate isolation on public transport and general commute.


Up top is a fixed cable which is frankly disappointing to see considering that most competitors offer a removable unit. That said, all terminations are nicely relieved with well-reinforced strain relief. The cable itself is also very easy to live with, slightly thinner than average but supple and compliant with minimal microphonic noise. Its right angle plug is perfect for pocket use and slim enough to fit into a smartphone case.

Next Page: Sound, Comaprisons & Verdict

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Weapons of Power and Myth – A Review of the Empire Ears Legend X Sun, 20 May 2018 05:08:10 +0000

Empire Ears provided the Legend X for the discounted price, for a purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

Legend X sells for $2,299

The first EE product I heard was my Spartan Custom. Since then, I’ve also heard Zeus XR, and you know, it’s just impossible not to love these in-ears. They are phenomenally tuned, with state of the art tech and crossovers. The result is a sonic delight. I’ll not be content until I hear everything Jack and his team come up with.

I knew Jack was working on something new back when I turned in my design for Spartan’s shells. I understood it would replace a large portion of the old line-up. As is the way with these sorts of things, R&D lasted much longer than he anticipated, and the project evolved into something far grander.

Two entirely new lines of IEMs emerged:

The Empire Professional Series (EP), with EVR, ESR, and Phantom.

And the Empire X Series, representing the company’s foray into Dynamic Driver hybrids, with Bravado, Vantage, Nemesis, and Legend X.

Of course, before any of that, there were just two prototypes showing up at shows here and there. One was an all Balanced Armature design, and the other, a Hybrid. Jack knew my lust for bass, and had me slated for the hybrid. There was even talk, way back in August, of me helping with the R&D/tuning. Sadly, that fell apart before it began. Empire Ears was besieged by the workload. So I waited… like everyone else.

Then Nic (Flinkenick) laid out the whole grand plan, giving a breakdown of each IEM in the line-up. Turns out, the hybrid I was slated for became a mid-range item, and a new flagship sprung into existence during the preceding months. Nic talked me into upgrading my order for the flagship, swearing it would not disappoint. So I sent my designs, which he passed on to Jack.

The grueling wait began. A wait which seemed much longer due to my early knowledge of EE’s development. In reality, after the order went through, it was only a few weeks. But f**k reality! Pinky had been starved for months and months, feeding vicariously off the morsels Nic let fall during his time with the prototypes.

Finally, at long last, this happened:

The Empire Ears Legend X is a 7-driver hybrid. That’s right. A flagship with less than 10 drivers! Shit, we’re talking half the drivers of their last flagship. What is the industry coming to?! Well, I’ve spoken with a number of the major companies innovating today, and most express dissatisfaction with the Driver War they’ve found themselves fighting these last few years. Even those who’ve done well in the fight understand the futility of it. They’ve begun looking for ways to deliver more for less.

EE, for example, has achieved true greatness with its 7 drivers. 5 Balanced Armatures: 2x for Mids, 2x for Highs, and 1x for Super High. And a bad motherf**king twin dynamic driver setup for bass response called Weapon IX (W9). To complicate things further, LX utilizes a 10-way crossover system called SynX. Just how 7 drivers can have a 10-way crossover is beyond me. I’ve heard it explained, how each driver can have more than one crossover, and I still can’t quite grasp the logistics.

Needless to say, Legend X is an elaborate sonofabitch.

Empire’s build quality is top shelf all the way. I’ve had my hands on three of their IEMs now, and always feel impressed by the immaculate craftsmanship. Though I must say, they’ve outdone themselves here. My LX is gorgeous! Even lovelier than the version I built with the IEM Maker on their website.

Fit took some getting used to. Empire used the same molds which produced my perfect-fitting Spartan CIEM, so I was confused when Legend X didn’t seat in the same fashion. LX is bigger, to accommodate more internals, but I figured it should fit more or less the same. Eventually I figured out how this particular Custom wanted to be inserted. I guess it’s different for every IEM. Since then, I’ve enjoyed perfect seal and wondrous comfort.

The new X and EP Series come equipped with the Effect Audio Ares II cable. A particularly liquid, clean, and robust OCC Copper Litz, which serves as a fine upgrade over any ordinary stock offering.

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