Details: HiSound’s first Balanced Armature earphone with a driver of their own design
MSRP: $99 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $63 from mp4nation.net / $69 from ebay.com
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 36Ω | Sens: 109 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4’ 45°-degree plug with mic & 1-button remote
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges, MEElec M6 single & bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), cable winder, shirt clip, and zippered carrying case
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The design of the BA100 seems similar to that of the aging HiSound Crystal, yet is different in a couple of ways. First, it uses two-step nozzles – a solution I haven’t seen for a while which allows two different positions for the eartips. The nozzles are flared at the front and show off the copper construction of the earphone housings. The BA100 also has a different cable compared to the Crystal, which feels a bit less durable but is holding up admirably so far. There is no cable cinch
Isolation (4/5) – Can be very good but varies depending on where the eartips are positioned as well as how deep the earphones are inserted
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Can be bothersome, but greatly reduced with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (4.5/5) – As noted above, the BA100 allows eartips to be either pulled all the way on to the nozzle, or positioned further out using the additional lip. I ended up preferring to keep the tips on the outer notch, but the difference it made wasn’t huge. I quite like the BA100 for comfort – the housings are very light and slim, kept entirely away from the outer ear. They are easy to wear over-the-ear and can be very comfortable with the right eartip configuration
Sound (7.9/10) – The BA100 is HiSoundAudio’s first balanced armature earphone and its drivers are said to be designed by, or at least built to specification from, HiSound themselves. For those not intimately familiar with balanced armatures, this is a pretty big deal as most balanced armatures, especially those used by Western brands, come pre-tuned from one of two major balanced armature OEMs – Knowles or Sonion. This is why, for example, it can be said that the Ultimate Ears 700, Brainwavz B2, and VSonic VC1000 (among many others) “share” a driver – they all use the Knowles TWFK armature, although potentially different variants of it.
The driver in the BA100 has a rather unique voicing and most likely does not come from either Knowles or Sonion. What surprised me most at the outset, however, was its low efficiency. For a BA it’s really not very efficient despite the rather high stated sensitivity. This is not an issue other than making volume-matched comparisons against other earphones a bit more difficult, and of course requiring a notch or two of extra volume from the source.
On to the sound – what HiSound has created here is a balanced-sounding earphone with a rather neutral tonal character. Bass quantity is low-to-medium – it is not the most impactful, but certainly good for a single balanced armature. The extension is there but the earphone just lacks the rumble and air movement at the lowest lows compared to many dynamic-driver and multi-BA sets. Bass control is quite good – for example the VSonic VSD1S and Astrotec AM-800, two of my favorite sub-$100 dynamic-driver earphones, sound bassier – but also more boomy – compared to the BA100.
The mids of the BA100 are not very prominent but the earphone can’t be accused of having a recessed midrange, either. The VSD1S, for example, sounds noticeably v-shaped in comparison. The BA100 has similar clarity to the VSD1S and lags just behind the brighter AM-800 and VSonic VC02. Compared to the BA100, the Ultimate Ears 600, another solid sub-$100 BA earphone, sounds more forward in the midrange and also a touch cleaner, as if lifting a slight veil or bit of distortion that’s present over the BA100. This is not at all noticeable on EDM tracks, for example, but rather with rock and metal, especially with the presence of distorted guitars.
At the top, the BA100 has strong enough treble presence, albeit with only moderate extension. Its treble is not particularly peaky, but with an “edgy” character that on occasion manifests in a bit of harshness, especially since the neutral bass quantity and lack of brightness make it easy to inadvertently raise the volume. The VSD1S, AM-800, and VC02 all have more sibilance compared to the BA100 while the UE600 is smoother than the HiSound unit.
The presentation of the BA100 is good – more spacious compared to the majority of sub-$100 BA sets, especially those based on the Knowles SR driver. The BA100 doesn’t have great dynamics but definitely doesn’t sound as small as the SR-based earphones. It lacks some air compared to the UE600 and some width compared to Astrotec’s rather spacious-sounding AM-800 but overall puts up a good performance for the price.
Seeking a good example of Knowles’ entry-level SR armature, better known as the “Siren”, to compare to HiSound’s freshman BA effort, I selected the Astrotec AM-90, one of the best SR implementations I’ve tried alongside the MEElectronics A151 and Rock-It Sounds R-20. SR-based earphones tend to struggle a little at the bottom and up top but generally produce nice mids with a warmer tone compared to many other BA earphones. Indeed, the AM-90 sounds mid-centric next to the HiSoundAudio set, with a more intimate midrange and a touch more mid-bass presence for a warmer overall tone. The BA100 has more capable subbass and less forward mids with no loss in clarity. The AM-90 has smoother, more relaxed treble whereas the BA100 is a little brighter and more balanced overall. It also has a more spacious presentation than the somewhat intimate-sounding Astrotec unit.
The MOE-SS01 is a very unique earphone in its price bracket, utilizing twin 5.8mm dynamic drivers to deliver a crisp, bright, and somewhat v-shaped sound. Compared to the BA100, the SS01 has greater deep bass emphasis and sounds more effortless when it comes to subbass rumble and slam. Its dynamic drivers produce a more natural bass presentation. Despite its bass presence, however, the SS01 has excellent clarity. Both earphones have strong presence in the upper midrange and lower treble and can sound a bit edgy, even approaching harsh, but the SS01 has a little more energy overall, which gets it in more trouble on occasion. However, the greater treble energy and extension of the SS01 also give it a more open and clear sound overall.
One of my most-used benchmarks in the sub-$100 range, the RE-400 is an accuracy-oriented dynamic-driver earphone with a near-neutral sound signature. To the BA100’s credit, it can keep up with the RE-400 in bass depth but the dynamic-driver HiFiMan unit provides greater bass impact. The midrange is the focus of the presentation with the RE-400, and the HiFiMan sounds stronger and a touch clearer than the BA100 there. At the top, the RE-400 is extremely smooth and slightly relaxed while the BA100 has a more prominent – and harsher – upper midrange and lower treble region. The RE-400 also has excellent treble refinement and extension, and sounds more natural to me on the whole as a result.
The A161P utilizes a different balanced armature driver from Knowles than the Astrotec AM-90 – the ED. Compared to the BA100, the A161P offers up punchier bass and mids that are stronger and clearer. The BA100 lacks some of the midrange forwardness and clarity, appearing to have a slight veil, or perhaps even a bit of barely-audible distortion – in the midrange. In the upper midrange the A161P begins to appear a little grainy while the BA100 is a touch harsher, likely in the 3-5k range, and neither has a major advantage over the other in treble quality. Neither earphone has a very large soundstage, either. Worth noting also is the enormous difference in efficiency between these two earphones, the A161P reaching ear-splitting volumes almost too easily, and the BA100 requiring quite a push.
Value (7.5/10) – HiSoundAudio’s first BA-based earphone is a solid entrant in the sub-$100 price bracket. I love the small size, light weight, and comfortable fit of the earphones, as well as the solid noise isolation. I like the balanced and neutral sound, too, though there is a bit of room to grow and the overall performance can be somewhat genre-dependent. It is a step above most entry-level BA-based earphones but also requires more power than much of the competition. Still, the BA100 is a compelling buy at current pricing, especially for those outside the US.
Pros: small and lightweight form factor; good noise isolation; balanced sound signature
Cons: less sensitive than most BA earphones; treble quality could be better