The Headphone List Find the best portable audio for your needs Fri, 20 Apr 2018 02:49:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Hansound Redcore Review – Mesmerising Fri, 20 Apr 2018 02:49:10 +0000 Pros –

Distinct design with excellent build quality, Excellent clarity, Very composed presentation

Cons –

Fairly thick and heavy, Loose chin slider

Verdict –

The Redcore suits buyers looking to augment their IEM with vocal presence and clarity, enhanced detail and higher resolution.

Introduction –

Though Hansound may be a new brand relative to veterans in the custom cable field, their team is not to be considered inexperienced. In a similar vein, their designs are nothing less than leading manufacturers. The Redcore represents one of their latest efforts; a Music Sanctuary exclusive that features double insulation and a combination of OCC copper and OCC silver conductions all wrapped inside a gorgeous scarlet jacket. With a $650 SGD asking price (~$500 USD), the Redcore occupies a fairly premium position within the market and Hansound’s own cable lineup. It should also be noted that though the cable is easily one of sturdiest I’ve handled, the inclusion of a 6-month manufacturer warranty inspires additional confidence. You can read more about the Redcore and purchase one for yourself here.


Disclaimer – 

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


Design –

It takes a lot to stand out within a market of jewellery-like lustre though the Redcore has quickly established itself through its distinct and visually arresting design. A lot of its intrigue is derived from its rich scarlet colour scheme, custom-ordered Hansound connectors and handwoven fabric sheath that all culminate to produce a striking aesthetic that compliments a surprisingly wide range of IEMs. This is a Music Sanctuary exclusive model that can be tailored for the buyer through their online drop menu customizer.


The cable demonstrates a high level of finish and a very professional construction with uniform braid and weave along its entirety. It remains continuous through Hansound’s signature aluminium y-split and terminates with a well-relieved rhodium plated Futrutech 3.5mm plug (customizable). This brings me to my only gripe with the cable, which is the loose chin slider. It doesn’t affect function too much and holds its place when under tension, though it can irk during daily use.


The Redcore is one of the thicker cables on the market, with a similar gauge to Effect Audio’s plus series cables. Despite this, Hansound’s use of a looser weave and supple cloth jacket make it surprisingly compliant, lacking any kind of memory with minimal stiffness. Microphonic noise is also kept to a minimum and though the cable has no ear guides, it routes comfortably over the ear, retaining a stable fit. This also enables the Redcore to be used with cable down earphones or those with reverse polarity 2-pin connectors.


Sound –

The Redcore carries a brighter signature with a slightly fuller, warmer low-end to compensate. Much of this stems from its accentuated centre and upper-midrange that both prevent vocals from becoming lost in the mix while enhancing clarity. As the Redcore’s treble pursues a more neutral, even slightly smoother presentation, it’s naturally voiced with a very composed background. I don’t claim any changes, but the cable has undergone over 150hrs of burn-in to ensure optimal performance.


Bass –

The Redcore doesn’t have a huge impact on bass signature but does clearly alter its qualities. Most notable is its swift transience set to impressive control, demonstrating an immediate improvement in bass speed. Bass notes sound more focused with quicker decay and, by correlation, greater separation. Bass definition is improved and lows sound more articulate with improved dynamics, a by-product of the Redcore’s greater control. Tonally, the cable is fairly transparent with only light mid-bass emphasis imbuing a hint of additional warmth and fullness.

Bass isn’t enhanced nearly to the extent of bloat or congestion; in fact, the Redcore has quite the opposite effect due to its quicker decay. The most polarising aspect of the Redcore will likely be its sub-bass presentation that assumes a slightly laid-back position relative to most stock copper cables. Extension is actually slightly improved and rumble is more defined, but bass slam is reduced in most instances. This is topped with a slight upper-bass emphasis that retains body and aids the retention of natural midrange voicing and tone despite additional brightness.


Mids –

Vocals are the Redcore’s speciality, both in terms of presence and quality. The cable is characterised by its forward upper midrange that serves to improve clarity, instigating an expression that’s more revealing over organic. Accordingly, the Redcore immediately compliments darker IEMs such as Empire Ear’s Phantom. On the contrary, I didn’t find it to overstep any boundaries when paired with the brighter Noble Katana that represents a more typical IEM/Diffuse field neutral. This mostly comes down to the nature of the Redcore’s vocal forwardness which stems equally from its elevated centre midrange.


In conjunction with a fairly untouched lower-midrange and warmer bass, both male and female vocals are brought forward while retaining accurate body on a whole. The Redcore therefore provides a large increase in midrange clarity while avoiding harshness and over-articulation. It isn’t a cable that prioritises timbre like PWAudio’s copper units, but it does sound immediately more natural than most bright cables while offering the same sense of clarity. Furthermore, the cable presents through very high resolution set to an especially clean background. So though it is very clear, the Redcore is in no way lean or unengaging, but composed, nuanced and revealing.


Highs –

Highs are strikingly balanced and extended, which is especially surprising considering that most silver cables tend to have some form of treble emphasis. This contributes to the Redcore’s natural midrange, keeping sibilance and articulation in check while maintaining plenty of crispness and clarity. In turn, the Redcore cannot be considered smooth as its lower treble is neutral while demonstrating strict control; it simply has appropriate crispness and accurate detail presence. In combination with the cable’s elevated upper-midrange, instruments are nicely bodied and clear. Highs also avoid becoming brittle or thin which greatly enhances its retrieval of finer details.

Middle treble also remains fairly neutral, with a hair of emphasis supplementing its presentation with a little more air while avoiding excessive brightening of its background. I would actually consider the Redcore to sound cleaner than neutral as its high-end is so even, relying on its technical resolving power over superficial clarity. Accordingly, treble instruments are reproduced with realistic timbre, decay and shimmer, and the Redcore is very detailed. Extension is also superb, a highlight of the Redcore, accentuated by greater final octave energy and sparkle. The cable, therefore, achieves great resolution and enhanced staging properties (expansion, layering and separation), presenting an intricate reconstruction in a refined manner.


Soundstage –

The Redcore compliments the attached IEM with great lateral expansion, a trait achieved through its excellent extension and air. As vocals are brought forward, depth can appear to be reduced, though the Redcore doesn’t present as explicitly intimate or claustrophobic and this quality tends to vary between tracks. On the contrary, I have no complaints about the Redcore’s imaging, with excellent layering, accurate instrument placement and enhanced directional cues on behalf of its agile note decay. The Redcore lacks the exaggerated sense of separation offered by brighter cables on account of its balanced treble and naturally bodied presentation. Its stage is spacious, but its image is densely populated with detail and texture, qualities that thinner sounding cables lack. In return, the Redcore doesn’t sound as immediately delineated though it always upholds a very clean and composed presentation that enables the listener to pick out the finer details.


Pairings –


Empire Ears Phantom ($1800): Improved sub-bass extension, more physical but slightly pulled back. Fuller bass, but also faster and more controlled, retains pleasing separation while improving definition. Slightly denser midrange with greater vocal presence and improved clarity. Treble is slightly less crisp but airier with more detail. Improved extension with higher resolution throughout. More composed soundstage, greater width. Cleaner background.

Noble Katana ($1850): Reduced sub-bass kick. Fuller, more naturally bodied bass notes. Greater texture with large increase in speed. Appreciably improved bass definition. Vocals are brought forward with slightly greater body, a touch bright within the upper-midrange. Immense midrange clarity without over-articulation, raspiness and loss of body. Greater treble detail, less peaky. Retained air, slightly improved extension and sparkle. Larger soundstage in all axis, more layered presentation with greater resolution.

Noble Django ($999): Greater overall balance. Enhanced sub-bass extension and kick. Increased mid-bass impact with a large increase in bass control, definition and articulation. Noticeably more forward midrange, brighter tilt. Increased clarity, slightly more vocal body. Treble is slightly crisper and more detailed. Greater micro-detail retrieval, higher final octave energy. Extension is improved, considerably increased resolution. Larger soundstage, a lot more layered. Separation is slightly improved, especially within its midrange.

Cleartune VS-4 ($600): Fairly significant jump in sub-bass extension and slam. Slightly fuller mid-bass with increased impact. More articulate bass. The VS-4 is quite dark stock so by bringing up the upper-midrange it sounds considerably more balanced. Vocals sound clearer and more natural with greater body. Treble is smoother and more bodied with greater detail. Extension is slightly improved, delivering higher resolution. Soundstage is slightly improved, though extension and soundstage seem more limited by the IEM itself. At the very least, layering and separation are much improved.

64Audio U3 ($500): Greatly improved sub-bass extension and slam. Enhanced mid-bass impact and control, greater definition throughout. Slightly more lower-midrange body, more natural vocals. Vocals are also brought forward and clarity throughout is improved. Slightly less peaky treble, more refined with greater instrument body and detail retrieval. Slightly improved extension, higher resolution. Cleaner, more composed background. Enlarged soundstage in all axis. Greatly improved layering and separation, especially bass.

Jomo Haka ($400): Greater overall balance, more neutral tone. Sub-bass extension is improved but sub-bass quantity is reduced. Mid-bass becomes a lot cleaner and more defined due to increased speed and articulation. Brighter midrange, clearer vocals with less veil. Not as warm, vocals are brought to the fore. Greater detail presence, greater detail retrieval. Slightly enhanced air and extension. Larger soundstage, especially depth. A lot more layered and separated due to more natural note size.


Comparisons –


Noble Gold X Silver ($300): The Redcore has a more balanced overall sound, its treble is more composed, its midrange more natural and bass more robust. The Hansound cable has much better bass extension and its speed enables greater separation. It’s noticeably fuller within its mid-bass, where the Gold X Silver is more high-frequency focussed. The Redcore has more forward vocals but they also have more natural body. The Gold X Silver is rather slightly laid-back with a more neutral upper-midrange, sounding slightly smoother but also not as clear. Treble is notably boosted on the Gold X Silver, making it sound quite aggressive but also very detailed.

In actuality, the Redcore retrieves more detail, especially finer micro-detail by a fair margin, but the Noble cable’s more forward lower-treble brings intricacies more to the fore. Both extend very well, the Redcore has a little more resolution and a much cleaner, more composed background at the cost of the energy and sparkle of the Gold X Silver. The Redcore has a large advantage when it comes to separation due to its greater overall balance. The Gold X Silver is slightly less expansive, its midrange is slightly more layered and imaging is strong. That said, overall the Redcore’s presentation is more accurate and controlled, it has stronger technical ability.

Plussound EXO T-Metal ($450): The T-Metal is more articulate at the cost of body, carrying a more typical hi-fi signature. The Redcore has less sub-bass kick, but extends just as far. The T-Metal has the cleaner mid-bass presentation with more neutrally sized notes. However, as the Redcore is a little faster, both are similarly defined overall. The Redcore has more upper-bass, leading into a more accurately bodied midrange. The T-Metal is slightly less vocal forward and its lower-midrange is slightly laid-back. Both are very clear, the T-Metal to a lesser extent. The Plussound cable is more even through its midrange, but its treble is more emphasized. As such, its midrange is more articulated and highs are more aggressively detailed. The Redcore sounds more refined as a result, despite being more mid-forward.

Moreover, as the Redcore is more linear between its midrange/treble transition, treble instruments have more realistic instrument body and detail retrieval is higher. Both extend very well, the Redcore slightly more so producing higher resolution. In terms of soundstage, the T-Metal has a more rounded presentation where the Redcore is more width-biased. Both have similar overall expansion though the T-Metal has a slight edge when it comes to imaging due to its more even midrange. The more neutrally bodied T-Metal also has more obvious separation though the Redcore is appreciably more controlled, it sounds more composed due to its cleaner background and greater resolution.


Verdict –

The Redcore may be priced in a very competitive segment, though it is no less distinct than other models from more established manufacturers. Hansound ultimately rewards the buyer with a striking cable with an insightful sound to match. Its scarlet jacket is mesmerising and Hansound demonstrate great skill through their professional build quality and uniform finish. Sonically, the Redcore presents with great refinement and technical ability if not absolute transparency so synergy remains just as important as usual.


Chiefly, by combining an emphasized upper-midrange with a more neutral treble, Hansound achieves a sound that is simultaneously clear and composed. Despite its brightness, the Redcore remains well-bodied, retaining natural voicing and a coherent overall presentation. It can sound over-bright on certain earphones, though its smooth treble does prevent contamination of the background. The Redcore, therefore, suits buyers looking to augment their current IEM with greater vocal presence and clarity, enhanced detail and higher resolution.

The Redcore can be purchased from Music Sanctuary for $650 SGD. I am not affiliated with Music Sanctuary and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

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The Substance of the Gods – A Review of the Periodic Audio Be Sun, 15 Apr 2018 17:09:00 +0000

Periodic provided the Be free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The Beryllium sells for $299 USD MSRP
Periodic on Amazon

I like to start my reviews with a little story. Since I’m first and foremost a creative writer, finding the story helps me get started.

Well, there’s no story here. I found Periodic Audio by looking through the forums for my next article. I contacted them, and they sent out their top model, the Be (Beryllium).


Why Be? It looks like Periodic Audio uses the Periodic Table as a naming scheme. Be is the official designation for the element known as Beryllium, which makes up the diaphragm of the dynamic driver. They manufacture all this in-house, and sweet god are the results impressive.

Taken from their website:

Frequency Response
12 Hz to 45 kHz
32 Ohms nominal
100 dB SPL at 1mW in ear
Power Handling
200 mW continuous
Peak SPL
123 dB
Less that 1% THD at 1mW

The shell is a light and sturdy polycarbonate. The cable is thin and flexible, with very little memory. Cable-down is a bit awkward, but if I wear it looped over the ear, I’ve had good experience. Just add a few twists, and it serves as a chin cinch to keep the wire from flopping over your ear. In this fashion, the Be wears fairly transparent and transmits practically no microphonics.

Periodic is a weird company. They don’t care whether you reverse the Left and Right signals. You know this to be true, as there is no L and R markings anywhere. Not on the IEM, nor the cable. However, the nozzle seems to be at a subtle angle. Very subtle. I think. It’s terribly hard to tell. And you can try… try… and figure out which goes in which ear based on that. But of course, this goes out the window if you wear the IEM upside-down, which is how I do it for the over-the-ear style.

Other than that, and my eternal wish for replaceable cables, I have no complaint about the build. This is a solid product.

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Fidue Virgo (A85) Review – Pure Polish Fri, 13 Apr 2018 06:42:13 +0000 Pros –

Excellent ergonomics and build, Terrific clarity, Huge soundstage

Cons –

Subpar isolation, Lean midrange, Stiff cable

Verdict –

The Virgo is a visually arresting earphone with a sound that’s smooth, spacious and revealing.

Introduction –

The early 2010’s were formative years for the less established Chinese audio manufacturers that have since achieved international renown in the modern market. This came along with the hybrid boom that enabled new and daring manufacturers to try their hand at a cutting-edge technology with huge customer interest. Fidue were one of the most successful among them, their triple driver A83 garnering a great user and critic response. The new Virgo (A85) replaces Fidue’s timeless hybrid, carrying the same triple hybrid driver setup and occupying a similar midrange position in their line-up.

However, Fidue haven’t rested on their laurels, using their increased experience to enhance their realisation of the same formula. Assuming the same separated acoustic chambers as their flagship A91 combined with custom ordered armature drivers and an in-house dynamic, Fidue promise a more balanced sound while retains the same $399 USD asking price. Moreover, Fidue have worked hard to improve the ergonomics of their earphones while providing more robust build quality suited towards the rigours of portable use. You can read more about the Virgo here.


Disclaimer –

I would like to thank both Michael Lin and Chi Kong Hui for making this review possible. 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 Virgo is a nicely packaged earphone, its clean box showcasing the design of the earphones through a windowed cutout. Opening up the box reveals the earphones and case within foam in addition to the other accessories.


Fidue includes an array of ear tips to ensure a strong seal, 4 pairs of silicone tips, two pairs of dual flange, 1 pair of generic foams and 1 pair of Comply T500’s. In addition, the Virgo is packaged with a ¼” and aeroplane adapter. The included hard case is very nice, slim and pocketable with a brushed metal faceplate, classy.


Design –

The Virgo stuns on first glance and, as is the case with many products, the stock photos online don’t do their fantastic build justice. The Virgo’s housings are entirely constructed from aluminium with an impeccable bead-blasted finish and a fascinating satin silver sheen. They’re on the larger side however, their low-profile dimensions enable a sleek fit. Moreover, they’re very smoothly formed, promoting long-term comfort while retaining visual intrigue via the ridged chevron exterior.


Ergonomics are very respectable. The Virgo does not pursue a deep fit, rather, they sit fairly loosely in the ear with their housings angled outwards to minimise contact with the ear and therefore, minimise hotspot formation. The rears have 3 vents that can become covered, muffling the sound, so a proper fit and seal is imperative. Otherwise, they are smoothly formed, creating a very comfortable experience.


As they’re fairly shallow-fitting and quite open in design, isolation is not a strength of the Virgo. Even with foam tips, they’re noise attenuating abilities are subpar with bass easily becoming drowned out in noisier environments. They just suffice for commute but are hardly ideal.


The Virgo utilises a removable MMCX cable that is very sturdy and well-relieved. It’s disappointing how tacky and stiff its jacket is, and it’s more microphonic than most as a result. However, the cable has no memory and pre-moulded ear guides that aid fit stability. It has pleasing metal connectors and a case-friendly straight plug.

Next Page: Sound, Comparisons & Verdict 

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CanJam Singapore 2018 – A Study in Portable Audio Mon, 09 Apr 2018 09:49:22 +0000 A week-and-a-half ago, I was fortunate enough to attend arguably the largest portable audio festival the world has seen yet: CanJam Singapore 2018. I’ve been a regular attendee of the event ever since Singapore’s inclusion into the CanJam Global roadmap in 2016. Obviously, the show has matured tremendously in both manufacturer inclusion and fan participation – which has made it all the more fun to attend, yet all the more exhausting to properly cover. As per usual, I made IEMs (both custom and universal) my #1 focus – due to the sheer diversity and ease of the form factor – with the inclusion of a couple cable manufacturers for good measure. So now, without further adieu, I present to you my earnest in-ear coverage of CanJam Singapore 2018!

Photo courtesy of Head-Fi

Page 2: Advanced Acousticwerkes and DITA Audio
Page 3: 64Audio and Music Sanctuary’s Project K
Page 4: Custom Art and Lime Ears
Page 5: Jomo Audio and Vision Ears
Page 6: Effect Audio and PWAudio
Page 7: Verdict

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Audeze LCD-i4 Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:55:10 +0000 I would like to thank Audeze for providing the LCDi4 in exchange for my honest opinion.


Audeze has claimed their position in the upper echelon of the headphone industry, which is quite remarkable considering the relatively brief timespan in which they forged their reputation. Their landmark LCD-2 headphone not only swiftly stole the hearts of a large following, but managed to evolve into a universal reference point for smooth, natural sound. When asked what kind of sound you like, “I’m an Audeze kind of guy” is considered an appropriate response, especially when used as counterpart for the brighter, more analytically-oriented HD800.

All of their headphones of course solely uses planar technology, which comes with its own set of advantages. For instance, as their drivers consist of an ultra-thin diaphragm, it allows them to provide a rapidly quick transient response; i.e., the ability to follow dynamic changes in the music with high precision, as well as offering high transparency. And of course, the renowned planar bass by itself has become a primary reason for Audeze’s loyal fanbase.

Audeze’s increasing experience with planar technology drove them to a new challenge: fitting a planar driver into an in-ear format – an LCD headphone in ‘fun-size’, if you will. An ambitious project, resulting in some long overdue innovation in the in-ear market. Even so, resizing the driver came with challenges of its own, especially when tuning the sound. Traditional BA designs consist of specific drivers that are chosen for their sonic properties, and subsequently linked together with a crossover to achieve the desired sound.

But due to the i4’s novel technology, the tuning process, and following end result, was a little bit different. Specifically, the i4 wasn’t tuned for either low distortion or a certain signature, but to simply optimize the performance of the driver. For instance, by varying the width of the traces in the diaphragm, Audeze managed to achieve a uniform electro-magnetic force across the diaphragm, which is deemed important for absolute control and a linear response.

So in a way, the signature followed from its physical design, rather than the other way around. In addition, an over-ear headphone uses human anatomy (the curvature of the outer ear) to boost the midrange frequencies, which is not possible with an in-ear design. Therefore, Audeze experimented with the shape of the ear port and size of the opening, as well as different materials for the golden mesh, while using using wave guides inside the sound port to fine tune the sound. But they also sought out an alternative angle: providing DSP correction via plugin or their Cipher cable to modify the frequency response without using EQ.


The i4 is a unique piece of equipment; not only due to its planar driver, but its open-back design. One could argue it’s equal parts ‘clip-on headphone’, in-ear monitor, and more generally speaking: technological gadget. Its quirky over-ear design and matte black plastic with golden indents has a retro look, which seems to resemble an ode to how people in the 80’s imagined products in the future would look like; at least, that’s my personal interpretation of it. The design certainly has its appeal, although it might not be universally acclaimed.

This returns in its usability. While the i4’s project the sound in the inner ear, the outer shells containing the driver are placed against the ear. Audeze provides a selection of different hooks to keep them in place, which are easy and practical to use. Despite their size, the overall body does not feel heavy while wearing, although it might take some time to adjust the angle of the nozzle. But the most striking difference with a contemporary in-ear follows from its open-back design, which allows ambient sound to flow freely through its open port.

As a result, the i4 is exceptionally susceptible to outside noise, especially when compared to the tight seal of custom in-ears. Admittedly, I was initially taken aback when walking outside while listening, although I later started to appreciate the way the ambient sound grounds you in the surrounding. However, it should be noted that the i4 is probably best used indoors to fully be enveloped in the music.

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From the Chrysalis it Emerges – A Review of the Opus#1S Sat, 31 Mar 2018 00:17:17 +0000

MusicTeck provided the 1S free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The Opus#1S sells for $399.00 MSRP
Opus on Amazon

I’ve been a staunch supporter of Audio-Opus/theBit since I borrowed a Head-Fier’s Opus#1 for a short stretch back in 2016. It blew me away, coming very close to matching the sound quality of my then reference player, the AK120II. The price disparity between these two devices is no small matter. And it’s not like I hadn’t put other players against the Astell&Kern. I had, and none gave the AK this kind of run. I knew then Opus was a special breed.

I even finagled a good deal on a unit of my own, just so I’d have one on-hand for reviews.

When I decided I was ready to upgrade my reference player, I replaced the AK with the Opus#2. It’s a DAP so robust of resolution, and true of tone, that I have a hard time distinguishing between it and my desktop DAC, the NFB-28 by Audio-GD. theBit is one of the few companies that has utterly mastered the SABRE DAC, removing all coldness, and achieving a profoundly natural disposition.

So when Andrew over at MusicTeck asked if I wanted to review the shiny new Opus#1S, there was clearly only one response in keeping with my doctrine.

For fans of the original #1, the 1S will be like fingering an old friend for the first time; familiar, yet weirdly novel. Build, shape, and chassis dimensions are identical. As is button layout. It comes in two color choices: blue and purple. Andrew sent me the purple, and I’m rather smitten with the pigment. DAPs these days tend to be either black or silver, or some alarming member of the primary hues. The purple 1S is dark, subdued, with but a hint of its royal shade. Precisely the way I would have made it.

Then there’s the case. I have the burgundy leather. Again, this is a refreshing deviation from the norm, and marries handsomely with the purple chassis. Opus cases have always been very good. Genuine leather. Well-dyed. Protective, without interfering with any device function… save for covering up the SD slot. It seems theBit has lost none of its skill. This case is as good as ever, and I’m a big fan.

Software is also mostly the same, though updated to be in line with how the #2 and #3 work. For instance, with the original #1, you had to manually turn on Balanced Output, and then turn it off again before you could use Single-Ended. Now the DAP recognizes when you’ve plugged into the 2.5mm port, and switches over automatically, then back again when you connect to 3.5mm. In other words, like every other balanced DAP on the planet. Way to go, theBit, stepping into the modern era!

The Opus#1S remains steadfast in its predecessor’s mission: Be a DAP, not a Smartphone. You’ll find no Bluetooth output or WiFi connectivity. You have no access to apps, streaming, video, or the internet in general. This is a music player, and nothing more. Pinky appreciates such singular focus. It can’t help but strengthen the final product.

Although perhaps not the highest pixel-count, this 4” IPS is crisp, and with better color reproduction than most DAPs I’ve tested. Out of this lot, the only one that surpasses it is the DX200, which not only has more realistic colors, but also perfect resolution for the size, with no visible pixilation.

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Fiio Q5 Review – A New Challenger Thu, 29 Mar 2018 15:16:47 +0000 Pros – 

Solid build, Clean Bluetooth implementation, Refined sound

Cons – 

Slightly more laid-back high-end, Design isn’t especially sleek

Verdict – 

The Q5 is an absolute bargain for those searching for a mature, tonally transparent DAC/AMP.

Introduction –

Like many, my first DAC was from Fiio, the humble but mighty Q1. It illuminated to me just how significant a source can be in the audio chain, inevitably leading to subsequent upgrades. It felt like yesterday when I first saw the idea of an exciting flagship Q5 floating around on the forums. In turn, an elusive feature-packed DAC/AMP was teased and now before me, the finished product. It may have been almost 2 years since then, but the wait was well worth it. The Q5 is a highly competitive portable DAC/AMP featuring dual AKM DACs, the same interchangeable amp system as Fiio’s flagship X7 DAPs and the introduction of a very intriguing Bluetooth implementation. The Q5 represents ambition in design and thought in execution.

For instance, each integral component is driven by a separate power supply, Fiio have cherry-picked a high-end USB interface chip and selected Panasonic film capacitors, all to maximise sound quality. This is engineering that people were gawking at just a few years ago on Chord’s venerable, but also considerably more expensive, Mojo. Of course, these features aren’t unique to the Q5, but Fiio’s $350 USD asking price is very palatable. It’s not insubstantial but far from premium, especially considering the internals on offer. Though it doesn’t challenge flagship devices, perhaps Fiio’s latest DAC/AMP is an example of truly positive return in a market of inflation set to diminishing performance gains. You can read all about the Q5 on Fiio’s website here.


Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Lily from Fiio very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the Q5 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the DAC free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.


Accessories –


The Q5 is packaged similarly to Fiio’s other devices with an attractive two-tone box adorned with punchy renders. Inside is a hard box containing the Q5 within a plastic sleeve well-protected within laser-cut foam. Removing the DAC reveals the accessories below. Fiio provide almost all of the cables buyers could need, a 3.5mm to coax adapter, 3.5mm interconnect, micro-usb charge+data cable and a lightning otg cable.


It would have been great to see Fiio include some OTG cables for Android devices though they are widely available online for just a few dollars. In addition, the Q5 comes with stacking bands, a padded pouch similar to the Q1 MKII and a T5 screwdriver should users want to swap the included amp module for another.


Design –

The Q5 has a terrific design that harmoniously balances luxury and practicality. Its flexible inputs and control well suit home use while its rigid build and smartphone-like form factor are well-equipped to survive the rigours of daily life. Its edges may not be as smoothly formed as Hiby’s R6, but its design feels congruent with other high-end devices such as the X7 II; a notion reinforced by its use of the same amp modules. It’s precisely machined and sharply styled while maintaining a tapered back that sits comfortably in the hand.


The Q5 is more compact than the X7 II but identical in width and depth. As a result, the Q5 can be a little cumbersome when stacked with a smartphone. Its housing is solid aluminium with zero flex, and the contrast between its brushed front, bead-blasted sides and polished edges catch the eye like few others. I’m personally a fan of the Q5’s faux leather rear. It isn’t supple like the genuine leather on Oppo’s HA-2, but is harder wearing and prevents scratches with similar aplomb.


The bottom of the player houses the main audio interfaces. As aforementioned, it uses the same interchangeable amp modules as Fiio’s flagship DAP, enabling more flexible driving power and outputs. Fiio include the AM3A from factory which is my personal favourite for IEMs. It has both 3.5mm and 2.5mm balanced outputs and attaches via two T5 Torx screws. As always, I find Fiio’s amps to provide reliable audio, I didn’t experience any issues with the connectors or sound cutout.


What makes the Q5 quite outstanding is Fiio’s attention to detail. For instance, the left side houses a second micro-usb port that exclusively charges the device, in addition to the port on the bottom. The Q5 will still charge from the bottom port, and it does so automatically depending on the connected device; drawing from its internal cell when connected to a smartphone for instance. By separating the charge and data circuitry, Fiio promise superior sound quality and lower interference when charging during use.


The right of the player houses the power button identical to that on the X7 MKII in addition to a large chamfered analogue volume wheel. It provides smooth, fine grain volume adjustment while retaining enough friction to avoid accidental adjustment. The left side houses the Bluetooth controls with 3 media buttons; play/pause, skip forward and skip back. The buttons are all clicky and well delineated ensuring convenient pocket use.


Usability –

Windows users will have to install a driver from Fiio, after which the Q5 is plug and play. The DAC is easily operated, attempting to establish connection after power-on. It has a pulsar status light just like the X7/MKII, however, unlike the X7, the Q5 signifies the type of source it’s connected to via an RGB LED. It brings the same analogue/digital hybrid volume control from the Q1 MKII, digitally compensating for channel imbalance at lower volumes. This provides greater flexibility at low-volumes and helps to retain bit-perfect audio as volume doesn’t need to be digitally reduce on the source. Fiio promise over 10 hours of battery life when used as a DAC/AMP, a figure I was reliably able to meet.


The Bluetooth feature is undoubtedly a highlight of the Q5, one of the first devices I’ve seen to implement this method of connectivity and easily the best sounding. Once powered on, holding the play/pause button on the left side enters BT mode, signified by a blue pulsar light. The Q5 pairs just like any BT device and delivered impressive range similar to an over-ear headphone and hugely improved over Fiio’s BTR1. I experienced no cut-outs at all, phone in hand, Q5 pocketed, even within the city at peak hour. What surprises most is the quality of that audio. Where I had previously assumed Bluetooth to be the most limiting factor of wireless gear, the Q5 disproves a lot of my beliefs, demonstrating that there is hope after all.


The Q5 doesn’t apply any DSP, delivering unadulterated sound and a balanced signature. Its analogue volume control eliminates noise, with none of the hiss and buzz that the majority of BT implementations are prone to. The Q5 is also very EMI resistant, I didn’t notice any interference over either a wired or wireless connection, something that bothered on the HA-2. Though the Q5 does sound compressed and lacks treble extension over Bluetooth, it still sounds a lot better than a lower-end wired source and I can see this as a perfectly feasible on-the-go solution for those that dislike stacking and have a pocket to spare. Colour me very impressed, the differences are there but they’re nowhere near as large as one would think.

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Sennheiser ie800S Review – Exercise in Restraint Mon, 26 Mar 2018 04:28:23 +0000 Pros – 

Terrific end to end extension, Engaging yet coherent tuning, Flawless comfort

Cons – 

Still unstable with silicone tips, shorter, semi-removable cable, Not especially linear

Verdict – 

The ie800S is a fine update that executes its incredibly crisp, clear tuning with great refinement and remarkable technical aptitude.

Introduction –

At its time of release, the ie800 was considered by many to be the pinnacle of portable audio. In its time, 4-digit in-ears were an absurd proposition, making the ie800 and competing SE846 from Shure immediate talking points. Years later, this is no longer the case. One can expect to pay upwards of $1000 for a midrange IEM and several times more for a flagship. Still, though it may no longer represent a TOTL model in price or driver configuration, many still consider the ie800 to be a very capable dynamic driver in-ear. Of course, the ie800 was not an earphone without its quirks with an especially polarising design. Additionally, their sound, though undoubtedly clear and resolving, also suffered from a lack of linearity, especially with regards to treble.

These are all areas where modern flagship earphones pull ahead, providing similar resolution with greater realism and within a more practical form factor. In accordance, Sennheiser unleashed the all-new ie800S; boasting a retuned driver, improved cable and more extensive connectivity. Much remains the same, retaining an identical design and the same $999 USD asking price as the original at its time of release (now discounted to $800). However, with such extensive competition, one can’t help but wonder whether the ie800S still has a place within the modern market. You can read all about the ie800S here.


Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Heather from Sennheiser very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the ie800S 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 ie800S is packaged similarly to the original however the renders are no longer printed onto the hard box, but an external sleeve. Inside, the unboxing experience is very much the same.


Removing the lid reveals the earphones within laser cut foam and a genuine leather carry case below. The case is nicely textured and engraved with the specific earphone’s serial number. However, it’s also bulky with questionable portability.


Underneath, buyers are greeted by a new second row of accessories. Senneiser now include an altered ear tip selection, swapping the oval tips of the original for Comply foam tips that conform to the individual’s ear. They offer greater isolation and a smoother high-end. In my experience, they should also greatly aid users that struggled with fit in the past.


Sennheiser provide 3 cables in the box, a regular 3.5mm cable as on the original in addition to 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced cables. They all attach via a female 2.5mm port at the y-split of the ie800S.


Design –


The ie800S very much resembles Sennheiser’s preceding flagship in-ear with an identical earpiece design. Some may be disappointed, but like the ie800, the S is stunningly compact and formed in an ergonomic fashion. They assume a traditional cable down design that will be familiar to every user and have a comfortable, albeit shallow fit. The housings are sculpted from a ceramic alloy that’s incredibly hard; for reference, my original ie800’s have remained pristine even after years of daily use.


The S does differ in finish, assuming a svelte matte black colour scheme over the Giger-esque grey of the original. Sennheiser has also added colour coded strain reliefs for easier orientation. Besides the aesthetic changes, the ie800S provides an identical ergonomic experience to its predecessor. Its minute housings disappear in the ear, delivering faultless long-term comfort matched by few competitors.


As they’re shallow-fitting and vented, fit stability heavily relies on individual ear anatomy, though in general, they’re best suited for stationary use. With a shirt clip, they suffice for commute during which they offer adequate isolation. The newly included foam ear tips appreciably bolster both noise attenuation and fit stability, a simple but effective remedy. I also noted reduced wind noise compared to the original that was practically unlistenable outdoors. Somehow, the ie800S produces barely any noise at all.


The cable on the original ie800 further compounded upon its unstable fit, garnering complaints of hardening and excessive microphonics. Luckily, the cable on the ie800S is hugely improved. Not only is it immediately softer and more compliant, it’s slightly thicker and sturdier while retaining the same smooth texture of the original. It’s also noticeably less microphonic, though cable noise is still present by nature of their cable-down fit.


As before, the cable is fixed to the earpieces with a 2.5mm connector enabling replacement from the y-split down. The length of the cable remains the same as the original which can make the portion above the y-split a little short for inverted over-ear wear. Sennheiser now includes 2 additional balanced cables in the box to take advantage of balanced sources. All terminations and connectors are also slightly beefier than the originals.

Next Page: Sound

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Introducing the Project K Soundwriter Fri, 23 Mar 2018 17:59:46 +0000 Music Sanctuary is a Singaporean dealer, which has gained fame for their specialized know-how of custom in-ears and upgrade cables – a store with its own identity, and philosophy on sound. But despite their local roots, their ambition reaches further than the grounds that hold them. Over the course of the last few months, their vision has started to translate to their own line of products, which will consist of modifications of existing ones – all tied by their ultimate pursuit for resolution. The tweaks generally include two products, returning in various forms: the Mitsubishi Precious Metals ‘K’ solder, and the PWAudio 1960’s cable.

The first product to (unofficially) launch under their own Project K brand name, was their modification service of the Sony WM1Z. By rewiring the internal cable to 1960’s wire, and applying the ‘K’ solder along with improved shielding and isolation of inductor coils, the modification not only increases the treble extension, but elevates the upper treble region. As a result, the WM1Z improves in resolution and stage, but also changes in signature: while it retains the Sony’s characteristic warm and darker ambiance powered by its enhanced bass, the midrange becomes more neutral in tone, as well adding a touch of sparkle to its treble. While there is a significant improvement in performance, it’s equally fair to say the modification results in a more analytical character when compared to the original. But this again, provides a peek into the Music Sanctuary ‘house sound’: powerful bass, high resolution, and detailed treble. And by doing so, reveals a glance of what’s to come.

Project K Soundwriter
Project K’s official debut comes now with the Soundwriter: a collaboration with PWAudio and 64 Audio, orchestrated by Music Sanctuary. The center piece is a modified A18, which has been rewired with single crystal core PWAudio wires; specifically, silver wires for the signal, and copper for the ground. And of course, the hallmark ‘K’ solder is applied as finishing touch. In addition, the Soundwriter foregoes APEX in favor of focus and resolution.

But the Soundwriter is designed as a statement piece, an exclusive offering delivered as full package – Music Sanctuary’s very own version of ‘the best’. Therefore, it comes stock with the PWAudio 1960 cable, offered either in 2- or 4-Wire form. However, the cable has equally undergone several modifications for this occasion, such as added shielding to both connectors, a Furutech plug, and you might have guessed it – the ‘K’ solder. Mine has been reterminated to 4.4, resulting in a fully Music Sanctuary-sanctioned setup: the Soundwriter, Project K 1960 4-Wire, and modded WM1Z.

Brief Impressions 

Building forth on the A18, the Soundwriter naturally shares some general traits. But equally, the differences are larger than one might expect beforehand. For instance, although the A18 and Soundwriter can both be characterized as variations of neutral, there is a shift in their tonality, resulting from variations throughout their signature. Therefore, the Soundwriter isn’t so much a direct upgrade, but a ‘diagonal’ one; improving in performance, while simultaneously offering its own character.

Starting with its bass; the Soundwriter’s bass extends particularly deep, refocusing the emphasis to the sub- and lower portions of the mid-bass, in comparison to the A18. The result is a tight, but impactful bass, with the relative reduction in upper-bass serving its transparency, as well as airiness. Even so, the Soundwriter doesn’t offer an airier sound in an absolute sense. The loss of APEX narrows the stage, which seems to confine its space. In return, it creates a more three-dimensional stage, while maintaining a focused image despite its low-end power.

Similarly, the Soundwriter’s midrange behaves accordingly – a clear sounding midrange, that shines through performance: transparent, though pursuant to its mid- and upper-bass tuning, not particularly warm in tone. Rather, it offers a clean sound with a neutral stage positioning; neither overly forward, nor laidback. Even so, it doesn’t necessarily come across as analytical, or lean for that matter. Although it wouldn’t classify as ‘thick’, the lower midrange isn’t laidback, ensuring a sufficiently bodied vocal presentation. More importantly, it’s a dynamic-sounding midrange, by virtue of its tempo. Its midrange notes are not only resolved, but quick in pace.

But the highlight of its signature, is undoubtedly its treble; a treble that draws attention from the listener, in an appreciative, rather than offensive manner. It’s not necessarily a warmer, romantic treble in timbre, but it is especially realistic. Treble notes are defined by a 5 KHz peak, while keeping the upper treble region relatively linear, in comparison to the A18. Consequentially, the treble isn’t colored by an additional touch of sparkle, which benefits the trueness of its tone. It’s a treble completed by a full representation of the overtones, resulting in a well-timed and natural decay. In sum, a very complete treble presentation. And due to the equally clear tone of the midrange, one that remains perfectly coherent within the signature.

Taken together, the Soundwriter offers a distinct variation of the A18. In terms of general tone, it creeps closest to the A18 with M15 module, while deviating in its midrange body and treble presentation, with the Soundwriter offering a slightly fuller sound. By comparison, the A18’s stage is wider, although the Soundwriter’s is more focused. While it offers impressive performance, the Soundwriter’s forte is its treble, at least for me: one that presents micro-detail in a coherent manner, but remains smooth in its delivery. And most importantly perhaps, realistic in tone. Just as listening to the Legend-X makes me question whether there’s an inner basshead in me, listening to the Soundwriter in turn redefines my appreciation for the quality of treble.

The Project K Soundwriter is available for order from Music Sanctuary, and is offered with either the PWAudio 1960’s ‘K’ 2- or 4-wire. Price is on application.

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Master and Dynamic MW60 Review – Industrial Revolution Mon, 19 Mar 2018 23:24:05 +0000 Pros –

Bulletproof build, Fashionable industrial design, Full yet well-controlled sound

Cons –

Bass may be overwhelming for some, Thin headband produces some comfort issues, Premium pricing

Verdict –

With the MW60, Master & Dynamic successfully provide a similar, if not superior experience to their wired model with the added liberation of a stable wireless implementation.

Introduction –

Master and Dynamic are a US-based audio manufacturer that pride themselves on their flawless industrial designs and well-realised tuning. Shortly following the success of their portable over-ear MH40, they promptly released the MW60, its wireless, closed-back counterpart. Alongside wireless connectivity, the MW60 brings a completely redesigned chassis that is more suitable for portable use, but also one that carries the same rigidity and flawless level of finish.

Furthermore, though it uses the same drivers as the MH40, the MW60 sounds different due to a well-considered retune in addition to differing acoustics between their respective semi-open and closed-back designs. At $550 USD, the MW60 does represent a sizable price jump from the already premium MH40, though its exceptionally premium construction and lush sound will surely win buyers over. You can read all about the MW60 here.


Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Andrew from Master & Dynamic very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the MW60 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.


Accessories –


The MW60 is packaged much like the MH40, presenting very professionally. Upon opening the box, buyers are greeted by a quick start guide, leather accessory box and the headphones themselves.


The leather box contains a 1.25m audio cable should you want to run the headphones from a wired source in addition to a micro-usb charging cable and ¼” adapter. Underneath are the manuals, a small canvas cable pouch and larger zippered case.


Though the case presents well and is impressively compact, the earpads do become indented when the headphones are stored within it. The headphones also no longer fold flat.


Design –

Master & Dynamic have achieved universal notoriety for their expertise in design and manufacturing. Unsurprisingly, the MW60 maintains this tradition as a headphone that feels exceptionally sturdy while managing to be just as visually captivates as prior models. Though fashion cans may carry negative connotations in the scrutinising world of audio, the MW60 executes stylish design through premium materials, precise finish and eminent engineering.


Utilising similar innards, the MW60 very much resembles the MH40 in dimension and ergonomics. It shares the same class-leading stainless steel frame and combination of hard-wearing cowhide leather on its exterior faces and ultra-supple lambskin leather on the pads and headband. Resultantly, the headphones feel as solid as they come, a triumph in industrial design. This impression is garnished with tight tolerances and quality control; clips engage with an affirming thud, hinges swivel with fluidity and M&D’s machining work is nothing short of jaw-dropping.


During wear, the MW60 suffers from the same ergonomic niggles as the MH40, even though it’s actually a little lighter at 345g vs 360g. Chiefly, though nicely padded, its thin headband and heavy steel construction tend to form a hotspot after just a few hours of listening. And as with the MH40, I found the MW60 to have quite a narrow range of headband adjustment. I still found a strong seal and the sliders are smooth with unlimited adjustment points, though I just fit the maximum setting (I use a medium setting on most headphones). In return, the headphones fold for storage, becoming considerably more compact.


And on the flipside, I’m just as fond of M&D’s lambskin memory foam ear pads that are deep and spacious. They create a strong seal and have a fabric interior that breathes a little more during longer listening sessions. Due to the MW60’s closed-back design, they also isolate brilliantly, appreciably better than the MH40 before and most other portable headphones I’ve used. Some driver flex is present but it isn’t nearly as pronounced as on the MH40.


Usability –

The MW60 functions similarly to most Bluetooth headphones. They will be familiar to past owners and easy to navigate for new users. The main controls are located on the bottoms of each earcup,  a 3-position sliding switch operating power and paring on the left cup and media controls on the right cup. Holding the power button enters pairing mode and as the MW60 support Bluetooth V4.1, it can pair with two devices simultaneously. The headphones also support Apt-X which brings higher quality audio when paired with a compatible device – and most modern smartphones are.


Master and Dynamic are also quick to note the external aluminium antenna sveltely integrated into the frame of the headphones that promises 4x the range of conventional wireless implementations. Though connection was rock solid over my months of testing, the MW60 didn’t provide extraordinary range. Signal is still more stable than the vast majority of headphones, without a single cutout when listening in crowded environments with rampant interference. That said, a few headphones such as the V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless hold stable audio a little longer at their periphery.


The MW60 retaliates with impressive battery life that fell just short of Master and Dynamic’s 16hr claim on low-medium volume. Still, it’s a very respectable figure in-between the 20hrs offered by models such as the Bose QC35 and the shorter 14hrs provided by V-Moda’s Crossfade 2 Wireless. Of note, the left earcup has two LED indicators, one for connection and power status, the other for power. The headphones also produce loud audio cues to denote status that I found to be a little intrusive. That said, in listening, the headphones have zero background noise enabling listeners to focus more on their music.


The headphones charge via a micro-usb port on the right ear cup and can be run from a wired source using the 3.5mm port on its left ear cup. Thankfully, the headphones don’t require power to relay audio and they do scale nicely when powered by a dedicated source (more in the sound section). When powered on, they automatically turn-off when a 3.5mm cable is inserted and power back on when the cable is removed.

Next Page: Sound

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