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Xiaomi Piston 2 Review

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Xiaomi Piston 2

Details: 2nd generation of China-based Xioami’s popular Piston earphones, called the 2.0 or 2.1 depending on included accessories

MSRP: approx. $16 (manufacturer’s page
Current Price: $25 from Amazon.com; Canada: $33 CDN from Amazon.ca (note: due to abundance of fakes, exercise caution when purchasing the Piston on eBay and Amazon. There are legitimate eBay sellers, such as bigbargainsonline, but if a deal seems too good to be true it probably is. Check the seller’s feedback before placing an order – it’s always better to buy from a seller known for selling genuine Xiaomi units, even if it costs a few bucks more)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: <=16Ω | Sens: 93 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ I-plug with mic & 3-button Android remote (still has limited functionality with other devices)
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: MEElec M6 single-flanges, Generic single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear (preferred)

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes); plastic box doubles as storage case with integrated cable wrap (Note: newer 2.1/IF version comes with updated eartips and adds a shirt clip)
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The finely-ridged aluminum housings of the Piston 2 are a magnet for grime but the build is solid, with ample strain relief all around. There are many design improvements compared to the original Piston – the L/R markings are easier to see, there is virtually no driver flex, and the cable is no longer cloth-sheathed above the y-split, which makes the Piston 2 less tangle-prone and reduces cable noise
Isolation (2.5/5) – Average, about the same as with the original Piston despite the addition of a large rear vent on the Piston 2
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Bothersome when worn cable-down but much better compared to the original Piston; good with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (3/5) – The housings of the Piston are rather wide and remind me of the LG Quadbeat. They have squared-off edges at the front, which may create pressure points for those with small outer ears. The Piston can be worn both cable-down and cable-up, for which the positioning of the microphone/remote at the Y-split is perfect

Sound (8.1/10) – The Xiaomi Piston 2 makes all the right steps forward compared to the first-generation Piston, tightening up the bass response and clearing up the mids. The low end of the Piston 2 is slightly boomy, but without comparing it to a tighter-sounding earphone – which generally means one that is either much more expensive or much lighter in the bass department – it’s really not that noticeable.

The Piston 2 features enhanced bass, delivering both good extension and strong mid-bass presence. It is similar to the Sony MH1C and the pricier RHA MA750 in overall bass quantity, though both of those place a bit less weight on mid-bass. The extra mid-bass emphasis of the Piston 2 – which still pales in comparison to that of the original Piston – gives it a very visceral punch. When comparing the Piston 2 to higher-end earphones, it can be hard to get over the difference in bass control, but against similarly-priced sets it continuously impresses.

The bass of the Piston 2 grants it a warm tone and full-bodied sound. Overall, while the Piston 2 is a v-shaped earphone, the fullness prevents its midrange from sounding overly recessed. Clarity is good considering the bass quantity – even earphones with significantly more forward mids, such as the Fidue A63 and T-Peos D200R, don’t have a clarity advantage over the Piston 2. The only ones that do are brighter, thinner (and also harsher)-sounding sets with more recessed lower mids, for example the Philips TX2, MOE-SS01, and T-Peos Rich200.

The Piston 2 is not your typical v-shaped earphone in one other way – its upper midrange and treble are surprisingly smooth and refined. The top end has some sparkle, but is still sufficiently forgiving. Maybe not as much as the Sony MH1C, Fidue A63, and HiFiMan RE-400, which all have more laid-back treble, but more than a $25 earphone should be. Tonally, the Piston 2 can’t even be called “bright”, though it does have a little more treble energy than the Sony MH1C. Ditto on the T-Peos D200R – the Piston 2 has more of both sparkle and upper treble presence, which gives it an airier sound.

Thanks to its ample treble presence and generally good clarity, the Piston 2 has a wide and open presentation. It is similar in soundstage size to the brighter-sounding MOE-SS01 and superior to sets such as the SteelSeries Flux and T-Peos D200R. At the same time, the presentation has good depth and is capable of sounding quite forward when necessary. The Sony MH1C, for example, has a pretty good soundstage but sounds consistently laid-back compared to the Piston 2.

Select Comparisons

Xiaomi Piston 1.0 (discontinued)

Xiaomi responded to the popularity of the original Piston earphones with a number of improvements. In addition to fixing many of the design issues, the sound was re-tuned and a much larger port was opened up on the back of the Piston 2 in place of the small bottom-facing vent on the old Piston.

The result of the new tuning is significantly less bloated bass – the Piston 2 makes its predecessor sound boomy, and while it is not in any way bass-light, it won’t tickle bassheads’ fancy the way the original might have. Thanks to the tighter bass of the Piston 2, its midrange is nowhere near as muffled and the treble is a little more prominent, though also a touch less forgiving. The presentation is more open, too, although the original Piston already did an excellent job in that regard. All in all, with the exception of having less bass quantity, the Piston 2 is a clear step forward from the outgoing model.

VSonic VSD1S ($50)

In the world of portable Hi-Fi, the VSD1S from VSonic is a budget earphone, but it still costs twice as much as the Piston. It’s also an extremely solid set for the price, so the fact that the Piston 2 can go toe-to-toe in sound quality is a paradigm shift of sorts.

The Piston 2 is bassier and warmer than the VSD1S, thanks in large part to its greater deep bass presence. The two are pretty evenly-matched in mid-bass impact, but the VSD1S can appear punchier at times thanks to the more recessed mids. The bass quality of the Xiaomi lags behind the VSonic unit a bit – while more extended, the low end of the Piston 2 is a little bloated and can appear somewhat intrusive next to the VSD1S.

The midrange of the VSD1S is a little thinner and more recessed compared to the warmer mids of the Piston 2. It is also clearer, however, and does a better job of staying free of bass bleed, especially on complex tracks. Moving up, the VSD1S is more peaky, which makes it brighter and a touch more sibilance-prone. The Piston is smoother and more forgiving, though not by a large margin. In terms of presentation, both sound nice and airy but the VSD1, like VSonic’s higher-end models, tends towards a wider, less intimate soundstage.

RBH EP1 ($149)

Looking for a higher-end earphone to compare to the Piston 2, I came across the RBH EP1, which provides a rather different variant of warm, bassy sound. The EP1 impressed me originally with the prominence and clarity of its midrange, and that certainly hasn’t changed. Compared to the Xiaomi unit, its midrange is much more forward and quite a bit clearer. Its bass is also much more controlled in comparison.

The Piston is bassier than the EP1, but also more bloated and boomy. This makes its midrange – which is already less forward than that of the EP1 – sound veiled. The tone of the Piston is warmer and its sound is more full-bodied, making the EP1 sound thin in comparison. The EP1 also has more presence in the upper midrange and lower treble, but not in a good way – it still isn’t particularly well-balanced, and sounds rather more harsh than the Xiaomi to boot. Impressively, the Piston’s soundstage is as big as that of the EP1, though on tracks with lots of bass it tends to become congested more quickly.

Dunu DN-2000 ($315)

Just for fun, I pitted the Piston 2 against an earphone approximately 12 times more expensive, a flagship in-ear monitor with a hybrid driver setup that utilizes a dynamic driver for bass and two balanced armatures for the midrange and treble. This comparison is highly unfair, but also interesting because it is the only one I  made where the Piston was clearly outclassed – an extremely impressive showing for the $25 Xiaomi.

Next to the DN-2000, with its 3-way crossover and independent subwoofer, the bass of the Pistons sounds boomy and has way too much mid-bass bloat. The DN-2000 has a focus on sub-bass rather than mid-bass and sounds much tighter and more controlled. It is also much clearer – the bass bleed of the Xiaomi makes its mids sound overly thick and muffled. This, in turn, causes it to gloss over a good bit of detail in comparison to the faultlessly resolving DN-2000.

The Piston has a more full-bodied sound, but lacks crispness. Especially in the treble, it seems like parts of the spectrum are so timidly reproduced that they are almost missing. The DN-2000, while much less forgiving, makes for a better reference earphone by far. The soundstage of the Piston seems congested while the DN-2000 has a wider, more open, more out-of-the-head sound.  Tonality, however, is one area where I can see some listeners preferring the warmer Piston 2 to the brighter DN-2000. 

THL Recommended Badge 2014Value (10/10) – Making sizable performance gains over its predecessor, the Xiaomi Piston 2 offers a solid construction, 3-button Android remote, and sound that’s all but flawless for the price and purpose. While higher-end in-ears can point out where the audio quality of the Piston 2 falls slightly short, in the age of internet radio this really may be all the fidelity many users need. With the dearth of choices among full-featured Android headsets at this time, the Xiaomi Piston 2 is a bargain, and a must-have for any Android user.

Pros: Fantastic sound quality for the price; 3-button Android remote; many usability improvements over Piston 1.0
Cons: Wide housings not ideal for small ears; flimsy stock tips; mediocre isolation


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

124 Comments

  1. Nga Mi on

    I have the piston 2 an this is a great upgrade, nice, looks pretty, and excellent voice quality. works very well.

  2. leaffrog on

    I’ve been using the piston 2s for the past couple of months and have been mostly happy with them. However, the bass is a slightly bit overpowering for me and I feel it diminishes higher frequencies (slightly). I’d like to upgrade within the line of the pistons with more clarity. I can also live with the same amount of bass given all other frequencies are clean. I was thinking anything under $100. I prefer clarity with a bit bass enhanced. My list for consideration includes:
    -vsonic vsd3s
    -brainwavz m1/m2
    -soundmagic e30
    -t-peos tank/popular
    -piston 3 (however I’ve read they’re not much of an upgrade)

    I listen to electronic, classical, rock, trip-hop and shoegaze. You can also suggest any other sets. I think that’s all.

    • ljokerl on

      VSD3S fits your requirements the best out of the sets you’re considering, followed by the T-Peos Tank/Popular (though I prefer the Rich200 to these). These have very clear sound with bass that has more punch than neutral but without affecting quality. They are all much more controlled and have brighter, clearer sound than the warmer, bassier, thicker-sounding Piston 2.

      The Piston 3 is also still worth considering – it may not be a straight upgrade from the Piston 2, but Xiaomi did exactly what you want by giving the newer model less bass bias so that other frequencies can cut through better. Of course I still think the VSD3S is better, but it’s 3x more expensive.

      • leaffrog on

        Thanks. Reading the reviews of the vsd3s, the upper frequencies seems clean however I want to know more about the bass reproduction. I have a Sennheiser headphone whose thump and kick drums sounds much cleaner than the pistons. I am more leaning towards that kind of signature. Some reviewers claim that the vsd3s produces significantly less bass as compared to say gr02 be or vsd1s or even vsd3. Also how does the other iems I’ve mentioned compares to the vsd3s. I need to be absolutely sure of my purchase as it’ll be near to impossible to return the sets once received.

        • ljokerl on

          VSD3S bass is very clean in my opinion – for the price it doesn’t get any better unless you go for a flatter/more reference set with even less bass enhancement. As for quantity, it is definitely lower than the GR02 BE and VSD1S – that’s what allows it to be so tight. However, the Brainwavz M1, Soundmagic E30, Piston 3, and T-Peos popular aren’t any bassier.

          The Tank is a little bassier, but the difference is small and not worth the overall drop in sound quality.

          The Brainwavz M2 is a special case because it’s not a v-shaped earphone and instead dips its treble down, which makes it sound like it has more bass. It has good bass, but isn’t punchier than the VSD3S in my opinion.

          • leaffrog on

            Oh thanks for your reply. Can you compare the sound quality of the piston 3s and the vsd3s. I’ve made my mind to get either of these but it seems the vsonics are not available locally.

          • ljokerl on

            The VSD3S has a slightly warmer tone and more full-bodied sound, a bit more bass impact, and sounds more natural, crisp, and resolving overall with the exception of one downside – like most VSonics it’s a little sibilant.

            The Piston 3 has a thinner note presentation, and overall sounds more distant and less dynamic. However, it can be more natural overall on tracks where sibilance is a big issue; otherwise not so much.

  3. xaih on

    Joker, do you mind I ask which would be better to get? I can get piston 2.1s for $14.5 (I happen to have a GC worth about $4.5) from the official Xiaomi Philippines or the Piston 3 for $26 from a third party retailer (as the piston 3s aren’t available locally).

    • xaih on

      I mean the piston 2s were worth $19 originally but I can get them for cheaper.

      • ljokerl on

        The Piston 2 and Piston 3 actually sound quite different. Aside from being more comfortable, I wouldn’t necessarily say the Piston 3 is an upgrade because the tuning is just so different. If we’re talking pure value, $14 is obviously better than $26 but in my opinion it should come down to whether you’d rather have a warm-sounding earphone with enhanced bass (Piston 2) or a more neutral-sounding earphone with balanced bass (Piston 3).

        I compared the sound in depth in my Piston 3 review: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/xiaomi-piston-3-in-ear-earphones-review/

        • Xaiha on

          Yes the name was misspelled last time.

          I guess it’s best I go for piston 2’s for now and then maybe pick up the piston 3s when they’re officially available in my country. Thanks for the advice.

  4. simon on

    Just grabbed them for $20, they’re original and working great on my S6…

  5. az060693 on

    I must be the only one who has no issue with the ear tips haha. The medium size fits my ears perfectly and creates a good tight seal. Then again, I’ve generally had very little issue with most ear tips.

  6. emmarbee on

    Piston 3 released for 99RMB. Waiting for your review

  7. Xeon on

    How is this compared to symphonized nrg? thank u

    • ljokerl on

      Symphonized sounds like crap

      • emmarbee on

        Any update on Piston 3?

          • Khai on

            Yup… We are all impatiently waiting for your glorious review.

          • Mike on

            Have you received them yet? I’m dying to see what you think of them. If you love them I’m buying he, instantly

          • ljokerl on

            Yep, they are very good but I wouldn’t say they blow away everything else I’ve tried. For instance, they provide tighter, less bloated bass compared the Piston 2, as well as clearer mids, but they lose some of that warmth and bass depth that make the Piston 2 a superior Beats by Dre alternative at 1/6 the price. Good choice for those who want a clearer, tighter, more Hi-Fi sound than the Piston 2, but not a direct upgrade in my opinion.

  8. ngs428 on

    I have been using the stock 2.1 ear tips. I purchased a set of MEElec M6 single-flanges. The sounds changed on my Piston 2.1s quite a bit. Much more bass, not to much though. More “fun” to listen to. I would assume the stock tips did not seal in my ear very well.

    Anyone else go to the MEElec M6 single-flanges and see a big change?

  9. Michael on

    In ur opinion do you think the vsonic Vsd1s is better then the pistons

    • ljokerl on

      Yes, slightly, despite the VSD1S having its own faults. The tighter bass and better clarity of the VSonics win it for me.

  10. Lakshya on

    Are these better than senheiser Cx 180 or cx 213 , audio technica clr100 ?

    • ljokerl on

      I prefer these to the CX180. Haven’t tried the others.

  11. rajesh on

    Hi Joker,

    I have been been following your reviews since 4 years. How you compare soundmagic E30 to Piston 2. I had used PL30, hippo pearl, PL21, Brainwave M1, signature acoutics C12. C12 has broken, hence looking for new one. Wanted to buy E30, but stumbled across your review on piston. Kindly let me know your view between both.

    • ljokerl on

      The E30 is a much more balanced earphone. It’s a lot like the PL30 you had in that regard. The Xiaomi is warmer and bassier (not as bassy as the C12 though), with a less prominent midrange and a touch more sparkle in the highs.

      • rajesh on

        Thanks for the reply, I will try Piston 2. I liked the sound signature of both PL30 (more prefered) and CL30. As per your review, it fits the bill in between.

  12. Crave on

    How would you compare the bass, mid, and treble of the GR02 BE and Piston 2?

    In general, between the Piston 2 and MH1C which would you recommend? Or for what reasons would you recommend one over the other?

    • ljokerl on

      The GR02 BE is more v-shaped. It has a little less mid-bass and tighter lows in general but the mids are more recessed and the highs are harsher. I generally prefer the Piston.

      Between the Piston and MH1C it’s a tough call. I like the MH1C a bit better for sound (slightly smoother and slightly tighter bass, but lacking in treble sparkle and maybe a touch too laid back in comparison to the Piston) but as a daily driver I’d probably grab the Piston – just prefer its cable configuration to that of the Sony.

  13. Shashank Jha on

    I’ve been using the pistons for the past few months, and am looking for a upgrade, And i thought it would be best to ask for you a few recommendations. I listen to a lot of indie rock, dream pop, indie-electronica and alterantive r&b. What would you suggest in the 40-60 $ price range?

    • ljokerl on

      These are really good so I’m not aware of anything that could be called an upgrade in that price range assuming you want to maintain a similar sound.

      • Shashank Jha on

        Considering i got these for roughly 13$ ( seems legit, because the e-commerce site Flipkart i bought it from, is the official ditributor of Xiaomi phones), how big a upgrade would be Vsonic R02 or VC02 (currently available for around 50$ from a local seller)? Or even vsd3?

        • ljokerl on

          Mostly just a different sound profile. All of these VSonics have tighter bass and more balanced sound overall, which leads to better clarity. The latter is especially true of the VC02, which has a flat signature with a bright tilt. The VSD3 is the best of the bunch with a nice combination of bass punch and clarity. The only real downside aside from sound tuning differences is more sibilance compared to the R02 and the Piston.

          • Shashank Jha on

            Thanks for the prompt reply. I’m thinking of stretching my budget to 75-90$ and shortlisted these three: vsonic GR06 – 70$, Hifiman RE400- 80$ and GR07 Classic edition – 90$. Which of these three offer the best bang for the buck.

          • ljokerl on

            They’re all great bang per buck. For me the VSD3S is better than the GR06 despite the lower price, though.

            You should make your decision based on your preferred sound and not some arbitrary bang per buck consideration – for instance the GR07 has punchier bass and brighter (but potentially more sibilant) treble than the RE-400. If you like smooth, relaxed earphones, the RE-400 will be a better choice for you. If you like things a little more lively with a bit of enhanced bass and treble, but still relatively balanced, then the GR07 Classic (or VSD3S) would be a better choice.

  14. Mike on

    How do you like the Xiaomi Piston compared to the Philips SHE 3590?

  15. Fernando on

    I got them yesterday.
    They are not bad but I am not surprised! I think they are slightly overrated.
    I prefer the sound of the original headset from my Sony Xperia phone, the Sony MH-EX300AP, which is I think are cheaper

    • Fernando on

      I got them at ibuygou for 18$ and I am pretty sure they are original…

  16. Michael on

    Are the pistons better then th KZ edse and the Kz es?

    Also you rate the sound on the pistons 8.1 are you saying the pistons sound better then the shure 215 that is a 8 kinda confused

    • ljokerl on

      Never heard of KZ.

      And yes, higher number generally means better. The SE215 and Pistons have different tunings, each with its own pros and cons, but I find the shortcomings of the Piston a bit easier to forgive.

  17. Harrison on

    Hey joker! thanks so much for your reviews, they’re always entertaining and insightful.
    A few months ago (around the start of school), I bought a pair of pistons, and I LOVED them. I’m kind of a noob when it comes to mid-upper range headphones, (not to say the piston is midrange, but it sure sounded pretty good to me) but overall I really enjoyed the sound of the piston. As you noted in your review, the bass was a little boomy, but I didn’t really have any upper range headphones to compare it to. Anywho, sadly I lost my beloved pistons a couple of days ago and I’m looking for a worthy replacement…but also something a little different and fun. I listen to primarily electronic music and trap, but most music in general. I’d be looking for a sufficient amount of bass in my new heaphones, and possibly have it a bit more controlled, but definitely still there. A slightly boosted mid-bass as well. Clarity in the treble register certainly wouldn’t hurt ;D Anything you can recommend in the $100 and under range I might be interested in? Thanks, as always, for your amazing dedication and hard work. I certainly appreciate it.

    • ljokerl on

      Ah, that’s a shame about the Pistons. Good excuse to switch things up, though.

      Prices tend to fluctuate but if I were you I’d check out the Yamaha EPH-100, RHA MA750, maybe the JVC HA-FXT90 as well. The EPH-100 is just awesome for EDM IMO and the other two are enhanced-bass models with very good overall sound quality. The FXT90 I’ve seen as low as $70-80, the Yamahas at $105 or so.

  18. reversible on

    Hello again!

    I wasn’t able to pick up a JVC FRD80 so I returned to sitting on the Flux – which is now only $22, cheaper than these at bigbargainsonline! I wasn’t aware of the Xiaomi’s performance but for my preferences (orchestral, alternative) should I give these a shot or just go for the Flux? I like the Xiaomi’s Android remote but would also prefer better isolation.

    • ljokerl on

      The Flux is more balanced and a little less sensitive/efficient, but the isolation is a lot better. If you prefer a bassier, warmer sound, or don’t have any room to up the volume on your device to make up for the Flux having slightly lower sensitivity, I would go for the Piston. Otherwise, I’d go for the Flux.

  19. killmaN on

    Hello Joker!

    I just really want to know this. I have been listening Monoprice 8320 / MEP-933 for a few weeks and I’m blown away by the sound that this cheap IEM can produce. I have never listen to some high-end IEM before, so to me, the midrange on Monoprice so again, mindblowing, compare to my previous Denon C360. So I really want to know, if Pistons 2 can produce the same amount of detail and clarity in midrange, like the Monoprice IEM does?

    Thank you for your answer!

    • ljokerl on

      The C360 happens to be a somewhat below-average earphone so that could be a part of it. The Pistons are bass-heavy earphones so you won’t really be getting the same type of sound as you’re getting from your Monoprice, which is somewhat mid-focused. The Pistons will sound better than the Denons by a good margin but for the Monoprice specifically they might make sense as a compliment, but not as an upgrade.

      • killmaN on

        Thank you so much, I was just about to buy Pistons, but if I don’t gain in sound quality, I would made a mistake.
        As I really don’t want fail at buying a pair of IEM and finding them sound worse than Monoprice, what is your best upgrade for Monoprice in sub-50$ department?
        I’m sorry, I was looking throught your list, but I’m so confused at this point, but I really trust your opinion, since you’re experienced audiophile 😀

        • killmaN on

          Maybe Sony MH1C will do the trick?

          • ljokerl on

            The Pistons don’t sound worse than the Monoprice – in many ways they are better – but they don’t have that midrange focus that you seem to like with your Monoprice. I think your best bet is the Ostry KC06. It costs a little more ($55 or so) but mids are its specialty so it’s more likely to have that same “wow” factor you got from the Monoprice. Review here: http://theheadphonelist.com/brief-impressions-vsonic-vsd3s-ostry-kc06-havi-b3-pro/

  20. Geoff on

    What a huge disappointment. Where did I go wrong?

    I have the Sony SBH80 wireless headset. I bought the Pistons via your Amazon link. Based on the reviews, I thought I would be getting something fairly similar in sound to the Sony’s, or at least sonically on par, if different. I bought the Pistons over the Sony MH1C because I figured the Piston’s were Android centric – just in case I wanted to use them with my LG G3 – and they were significantly cheaper for equivalent performance.

    Wow, what a disappointment.

    The first thing I listened to was Modern Love on the David Bowie Let’s Dance album. No comparison. The Sony’s sound full, clear, and a good sound stage compared to the Pistons. The spoken words at the beginning of the track cannot be understood on Piston’s. They’re clear as a bell on the Sony’s. The drums, piano, even the saxophone sound fabulous on the Sony’s. The Piston’s just sound dull and muddy in every parameter.

    Next I tried the Presentation of the Rose from Der Rosenkavalier. Again, Pistons were dull and muddy. No shimmer. The Sony’s provided the shimmer in all of it’s spine tingling glory. The voices were clear and crisp on the Sony’s and lackluster on the Pistons. Basically the Sony’s delivered a lush, vibrant, and dynamic impact. The Pistons weren’t even a distant 17th.

    Next I tried the opening of Mahler’s Second Symphony. On the Sony’s the texture of the cellos is there. On the Pistons, it’s just muddy string mess with no texture. When the brass kicks in, you know it’s there on the Sony’s. On the Piston’s, well it’s a sad joke.

    Then I went through Dave Brubeck, Jon and Vangelis, Pink Floyd, and Traffic.

    The sound stage on the Sony’s is very good while the Pistons left me trying to figure out which earpiece was the left one and which the right.

    Then I went on to the stuff that audiophile reviewers use to test headphones, listening for what the reviewers tell you to listen for. After awhile I just got bored with how bad the Pistons were compared to the Sony’s. On one cut, the female vocalist was many decibels lower on the Pistons than on the Sony’s.

    I tried the other tips and the Pistons still sounded poor to me, so I don’t think it’s an ear fit problem.

    I do have to thank you: Now that I understand how good the sound is on the SBH80’s, I’m really glad I found a way to make them stay on my neck and kept them. I don’t really use them for music. They’re really for phone calls and I do wear them around my neck all day. Having the earbuds just hang down as opposed to being magnetically attached is bothersome – mostly because I’m afraid I’m going to snag them on something and rip the buds off the cords…

    Since I saved $60 over what I would’ve paid for the LG Infinims, I’m now willing to spend more on this pair which will be used for music and tv at home, so they don’t need any controls. In fact, no controls means less stuff to break. If I have buy one with controls to get the sound, I’d prefer Android or generic.

    I fully understand that the Sony’s are still on the low-end. My question is whether I can do significantly better for a similar or slightly higher price.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    I’m looking at these (from your April 2013 buyers guide):

    Sony MH1C 8.1 49.99
    SteelSeries Flux 8.2 48.99
    Fidue A63 8.2 59.99

    But, I’ve also noticed that some of the newer reviews haven’t made it to your chart yet. The Havi B3, for example (What’s the difference between the Havi B3 I and the Havi B3 II – which are at almos an identical price point?) – Specifically, you mentioned how clear the vocals were on the Havi’s.

    I’d say that I want a Natural or Warm & Smooth. Definitely NOT Basehead and probably not V-Shaped. I’m not concerned about power since I will be using them with my AVR, not with my phone. I’m intrigued by armature and other alternatives to dynamic.

    I note that all of the one’s I listed above are in the Warm and Smooth category only because everything I saw in the Natural category that interested me was significantly more expensive.

    I don’t mind going a bit more on the price, but $100 is stretching it.

    ALTHOUGH, as a point of curiosity, where’s the point of diminishing returns on these headphones – the price point at which any further improvement in sound quality is exponentially more expensive?

    • ljokerl on

      Sounds like a counterfeit Piston – there are certainly plenty. I haven’t tried one myself but your description is similar to what someone who paid $14 for one sent me.

      The Sony SBH80 is not low end at all and is comparable to most wired sets in its price range. You won’t get an in-ear under $50 that is all around better, though you can find something that beats the Sonys here or there (e.g. the VSonic VSD3S would have better clarity and balance, but will sacrifice some treble smoothness in exchange). With the limitation of a warm and smooth signature, you’re probably just better off getting an MH1C because none of the ones I’ve tried lately (not even that Havis) really fall in that category.

      And yes, there are diminishing returns across the board in audio – this is pretty well accepted. There’s another part of it, though – a lot of time reviews set the expectations for sound quality gains higher than they perhaps should be. This is not intentional, but rather a result of the reviewers being used to hearing only minute differences/improvements in audio performance. I try to let my sound quality ratings be a somewhat meaningful gauge – the scale is not perfect but certainly prevents it from sounding like a $500 earphone is 5 times better than a $100 one.

      • Geoff on

        I ordered the Piston from the Amazon link on this website, so unless they’re selling counterfeits, it’s the real thing.

        On the other hand, I tried them this morning watching a movie. The dialog was unintelligible. I thought about them being counterfeit, but it just seemed so odd that I’d get a counterfeit from a known source.

        I do want to clarify one point. I tend to go for a natural / neutral sound because I can always adjust it with the tone controls on my AVR. The reason that all of the units I mentioned were in the warm and smooth category is because when I read your 2014 buyer’s guide, everything that appeared to actually be “better” in your rating and description was over $100.

        While the Sony SBH80 (which, thanks to you, I purchased) is what I needed for a wearable telephone headset. This had nothing to do with the sound quality for music. Just because the SBH80 sounds so much better than the (apparently defective or counterfeit) Pistons, doesn’t mean that the Sony sound signature is my favorite.

        In general, I would prefer a natural/neutral sound signature – especially if the unit will stand up to me adjusting it to my taste via my Yamaha AVR. (I will note that I have very neutral sounding speakers and the tone controls on my AVR are set to the neutral position and I’ve never changed them. In fact, I tend to use the “Direct Mode” which bypasses all sound processing.)

        In my situation, sound isolation, noise-reduction, microphones, and controls have no benefit for my use.

        So, here are a couple further questions:

        1. Given a warm and smooth signature, what would I have to buy to get an improvement over the Sony’s?

        2. Given a natural signature, what would I have to buy to get an improvement over the Sony’s?

        3. I have no objection to an on-ear or over-the-ear, since portability is not an issue. How about the Superlux HD668B or other on/over ear models?

        4. Please also note that I’d happily buy a discontinued model that has a big discount. I’d even buy used if I could buy them from a trusted source.

        I’m patient, so if I have to wait for a particular discontinued or used model to come on the market, I’m happy to watch and wait.

        • Geoff on

          I wanted to clarify further about the sound signature. My preference is to hear what is actually on a recording, not to have speakers or headphones which make it sound better.

          Sibilance really drives me nuts, but if it’s on the recording I want to hear it.

          I keep seeing references to a headphone being more forgiving of low-quality source material. If it’s low quality and sounds bad, I don’t want speakers or headphones that cover it up. I want to hear the crappy sound if that’s what’s actually there.

          Is what I described what people now refer to as “analytical”? It used to be called “accurate”.

        • Geoff on

          And, 1 more item: I purchased this from Amazon, using the link on your website. I bought it Amazon Prime and paid ~ $24,00 for it. The seller has now disappeared from Amazon. Amazon is handling it appropriately, but apparently, even if you buy Amazon Prime, you may get a fake unit. I looked at photos on line and the packaging does seem to indicate a fake unit.

          What you have to do is look at the seller (even if Amazon Prime) and make sure they have a number of reviews over a period of time. Apparently, people are signing up to sell fakes on Amazon for premium prices, but they get caught and weeded out fairly quickly.

          • ljokerl on

            The Pistons listing on Amazon is a mess and Amazon itself doesn’t stock the product. There’s twice as many sellers as there used to be and several different product variations. There are fewer today than there were yesterday, though, so maybe Amazon is cleaning up. I guess it’s quite lucrative to knock off such a popular item. Too bad all the fakes are doing damage to the product’s reputation in the long run.

            You don’t have many options for earphones/headphones that are on-par or better than the SBH80 below $100 but I guess going used might open some up depending on what you find. Top contenders for balanced to slightly warm are probably your Etymotics (used HF5 or new MC5), HiFiMan RE-400 (this one is a touch warmer than neutral, but still very balanced), maybe the Ultimate Ears 600 or SteelSeries Flux Pro (although I’d just spend the extra to get the HiFiMan at this point). You can also go for the new Havi B3 Pro I: http://theheadphonelist.com/brief-impressions-vsonic-vsd3s-ostry-kc06-havi-b3-pro/ which has a warm-ish but clear sound. I don’t find it to be as flat/accurate as the RE-400, though.

            Headphones – I haven’t tried a whole lot of new ones. The HD668 is a little on the bright sound of neutral but otherwise very capable. The Panasonic HTF600 is also very good for the price and has a warmer sound to it.

      • Geoff on

        As mentioned below, I lucked up on a new pair of Sennheiser RS 180’s for $75.00.

        At the moment, I’m listening to them via the Yamaha AVR headphone jack to some Internet “CD Quality” audio. First impressions are: 1) Heavy but clean bass. 2) Clean overall 3) Treble may be a little light. 4) Very lightweight and comfortable, but hot.

        I’m going to do some more serious listening to CD’s and Vinyl to see how they really perform.

        I really like the fact that I can use them anywhere in my house. The range is excellent.

        I’ll have to decide if these are really for me since I have an EXCELLENT pair of Stanton Headphones from the 1970’s for serious listening. The RS 180 may be just too hot to wear for a long time, and simply too clunky.

        Worst case, is that I can easily sell these for well more than I paid and put that towards one of the in-ear models you’ve suggested. I do note that I’m looking a the Philips Fidelios, but I have no good way of comparing them to your reviews.

        I’d love to check out the Senn Kleer earbuds, but they’re $500.

        By the way, what I’ve been doing is reading your reviews for sound signature / performance, making a list of the one’s that sound good to me, then deciding based on your sound quality numeric rating against the price. Does that sound right to you?

        I’ll report back on the Senn’s. If I sell them, I’ll be in the $150 – $200 range for an in-ear instead of $100.

        This is all so odd. I’ve never had to evaluate audio equipment based on reviews without an actual comparison test for myself.

        When I bought my Panasonic Viera Plasma TV, that was easier, even though much more expensive a purchase because you can really go on the ratings and tests because the showrooms have impossible lighting. Even when I bought the Yamaha receiver, that was more spec and test driven. — But, speakers and headphones are much more personal.

        I will say that your evaluation of the Sony SBH80 was spot on. I got them and they sounded almost exactly as I expected.

        Amazon is investigating the real vs fake status of the Pistons I returned to them. They promised to let me know if they were fake, authentic, or defective. I’ll let you know when I find out.

    • Geoff on

      Thank you for your suggestions and all the effort of them. I may buy one of them later.

      Turns out, though, that I’m going in a totally different direction.

      I found a factory-sealed Sennheiser RS 180 on Craigslist about 4 miles from me. I bought it tonight.

      I won’t be able to charge it up and test it out until Wednesday or Thursday because I’m an election judge, which means I operate a voter polling station here in Dallas. That means I have to open up at 6:00AM so the election clerks can get in and setup to open at 7AM and then when I close the polls at 7PM, I have to do all the paperwork and take the ballots to a drop-off point – making a good 15 hour day – followed by election watch parties.

      If you haven’t voted yet, bet sure to do so. This is an important election. You don’t have U. S. Senators up for election in California, but you do have plenty of other important races.

      Here in Texas, I live in heavily Democratic Dallas County. If all the work statewide pays off, we’ll elect Wendy Davis our first Democratic Governor since Ann Richards and win a number of statewide offices which are all held by Republicans who, among other heinous things, think that women who become pregnant as a result of a rape should be forced to give birth to the rapist’s baby.

      I’ll get off my soapbox now. It’s past my bedtime since I have to be up by 5:00AM

      • Geoff on

        I should’ve mentioned that I bought the RS180’s for $70.

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  23. josibarns on

    Hi Joker,

    I have been following your amazing list and various wonderfully detailed tests with attention for about three years now. I started getting in good earphones with a pair of HJE 900 almost by accident and hated them at first until I realized I was mostly listening to 128 kbps mp3 on my ipod. After moving to flac and alac endless to say I realized what I had been mssing out all these years…

    I lost my panasonic 2 years ago and haven’t been able to find them again since they have been discontinued. I got them for $79 and since I am usually on a tight budget for ear-phones I have been trying to find a replacement that sounded as good. Not wanting to be disappoints with a $80 pair I’ve been working my way up, first with the Monoprice 8320, now with the Piston 2.1 and maybe for Christmas with $100 pair. Unfortunately I cannot seem to find earphones with such a nice, detailed, tight and punchy sound (hissing treble excluded) as my pana were.

    You reviewed them a few years ago on head-fi http://www.head-fi.org/t/473075/clash-of-the-titans-hje900-vs-ck10-vs-turbine-pro-gold#post_6409365

    Any recommendation knowing that I find the piston’s bass too prominent and the mid (lower mids?) not detailed enough?

    • ljokerl on

      To be fair the HJE900 was a solid $200 earphone. It was only $80 after it was discontinued. I’m not really surprised you haven’t found anything that competes by trying entry-level sets, but one other cheap earphone you can try is the Philips SHE3580. It won’t have that same lush, rich sound, but it has tighter bass/less mid-bass than the Pistons and that leaves the midrange detail easier to hear. It’s <$10, so maybe worth a shot as it is definitely closer to the HJE900's sound sig than the similarly-priced Monoprice.

      • josibarns on

        Fair enough. I will give the SHE3580 a try and will look into high end discounted earphones such as the JVC FTX90

        Many thanks again for your advice.

  24. mbohupa on

    Hi ljokerl!! I’ve just received a pair of these IEM. Amazing sound, terrific value! Works great with my Samsung S5. I bought this to replace a broken Steelseries Flux. Thanks again for your hard work and precise recommendations!

    • ljokerl on

      Glad you like them!

    • FABIAN on

      I got 2 pairs of steel series flux and I will never buy them again, both broke within 2-3 months of use. Will buy the xiaomi 2, if these dont last too long then I will go back to the shure se 215.

      • jokd on

        Glad it wasn’t just me. I bought from Amazon and the first broke within a month, the replacement within 3 weeks. They were excellent for the price when they were working, but seriously needs better durability.

  25. sssand2 on

    Joker,
    As others have stated, thanks for all of your efforts reviewing various phones. I currently have a pair of Thinksound Rains and a pair of Monster Turbines. The Turbines are my favorites though not due to the extra bass. They seem to me to be more natural sounding across the spectrum. However, they do get bass heavy at times. I’m wondering how the Piston 2 would sound in comparison. Would you consider it a step up from the Turbine? I listen to classical, jazz, and classic rock and tend to like a more neutral sound. If I were to spend a bit more, would I be happier with something like the Flux, A63, VSD1(S), or ??? I like detail, but I am not ready to make the leap to $100+ phones. Thanks

    • ljokerl on

      The Pistons and Turbines aren’t really all that different. You won’t get signifnicantly less bass with the Pistons and their bass can still be a little intrusive at times so it doesn’t solve the problems you are having. The VSD1S might be a good option but it has brighter treble than the Pistons/Turbines. This (the brighter treble) might be what makes you not like the Rains as much as the Turbine so I don’t know if you want to risk it.

      If I were you I’d consider the Sony MH1C (crap cable, but only costs about $30 on eBay and sounds excellent) and the SteelSeries Flux (again, same level of performance but a more level sound signature with very controlled bass). The Flux is a little less sensitive but unless you’re already maxing out your source with your current earphones, you should be able to compensate for the volume drop.

      • sssand2 on

        Thank you for the suggestions. I’m thinking of giving the VSD1S a try but also was considering the VC02. Do you think the VC02 would be a good choice?

        • ljokerl on

          I don’t think so – they sound a lot more flat and analytical than all of your current sets. I feel like they would be too radical of a departure from what you’re used to compared to all of the other sets you’re considering.

          • sssand2 on

            I decided to try the Ultimate Ears 600vi which is another flat and analytical iem if I’m not mistaken. I just received them and so far I believe they are closer to the sound I was looking for. Unfortunately, they appear to have an impedance mismatch with my Samsung S3 which has been my primary player. I also have a Sansa Clip+ which I haven’t been using but which can handle the 600vi’s better. Keep up the great reviews to help people like myself find potential sets.

          • ljokerl on

            Yep, the UE600 is pretty flat. Low impedance is the other side of the coin vs something like the SteelSeries Flux, which is extremely stable but requires more power.

            Android Phones seem to be getting better but still not quite there. My old HTC phone was something like 56 ohms at the headphone jack, which is pretty bad. Galaxy S3 is probably better than that.

  26. theeta357 on

    Great review as usual, after reading your review went ahead and bought this and was not disappointed at all.
    But the stock ear-tips don’t provide proper isolation at all.
    can you please suggest proper tips to go with..

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  28. Mushfikus Salehin on

    Hey Joker! Thank you very much for this awesome and detailed review!

    I had a question. hope you will answer me in details. Currently I own a JVC Xtreme Xplosives FX1X. It has a good amount of bass and I’m using a xperia Z1. As a bass lover this pair of headphone should be enough for me but lately I feel like the JVC is lacking in details. It’s producing punchier bass but the sound seems too harsh in highs and the mids are not clear enough. So I was thinking of buying a new pair of headphone. So, would this xiaomi Piston 2 be able to satisfy my need? I mean will it be able to produce punchy bass with warm and clear sound? And what about sound magic E10 and Faux steel series gaming headphone? Any reply will be greatly appreciated. And If there are other headphones below $50 which can satisfy my need properly then please do mention them too.

    • ljokerl on

      I’ve tried the FX1X briefly and that sounds right – really powerful bass, somewhat recessed mids, and harsh treble. The Piston2 won’t match the enormous bass of the JVCs but it still has a good amount – more than the E10 and SteelSeries Flux by a good margin. It also has good clarity and treble quality. As far as moving forward from the FX1X goes, I think it is your best bet under $50.

  29. murray on

    How do these compare to the RHA MA750s?

    • ljokerl on

      The MA750 has similar bass qty but with a little more emphasis on deep bass and a little less on mid-bass, which makes its low end tighter and more controlled overall. The Pistons have more mid-bass impact and more bleed. They sound warmer and less clear than the RHAs. Up top, the RHA is surprisingly even more forgiving than the Piston, but its treble is still good quality – present and crisp.

      Honestly, it’s not a very big gap in sound signature with only little tuning differences here and there adding up to a win for the MA750

  30. Abhishek Gupta on

    Well, I generally do not post reviews or ask questions, but the work you have done is remarkable, i respect you man! truly, hats off! thanks for all the hard work you put in consistently.
    To say frankly I am a NOOB in audiophile scene, never had the budget, nor availability of these IEMs in India. My Vsonic VC02 broke today, these were really a good pair of IEMs, some wire got stretched i think in the left ear, i can’t seem to find a replacement cable anywhere, googled it quite a few times. Can you recommend something cheap?
    Also, what would you recommend under 100$ which sounds analytical, neutral and clear like VC02 but has a little more bass and a better soundstage and is reliable..

    • ljokerl on

      Thanks!

      For analytical sound the VC02 is simply one of the best performers (for sound, not durability) so it will be hard to beat. Certainly not on the cheap, and certainly not the Piston. If available to you, the sets I would recommend under $100 with balanced sound and a good soundstage are the Ultimate Ears UE600 (downside: average build quality) and Dunu I3C-S (downside: while more spacious, it doesn’t really sound better than VC02 overall)

      P.S. You might want to see if your VSonics carry a warranty – maybe you can get a new cable from the manufacturer or distributor.

      • Abhishek Gupta on

        Thanks man,

        Regarding warranty, I had it but couldn’t find any distributor near my place. I fixed it but somehow, but it broke again, this time from the 3.5mm jack side. so, I think I am done with these.

        One of friend is coming to India from the States and I am planning to get hifiMan RE 400, how would you compare it to Vsonic VCO2 in terms of sound and durability? Is it a better choice from what you have suggested above?

        • ljokerl on

          Neither the VC02 or the RE-400 have amazing reputations for durability, but the RE-400 is probably more reliable, especially if you’re fairly careful with it.

          As for sound, the RE-400 tends to be warmer and more full-bodied thanks to a bit more mid-bass presence. It also has slightly better soundstage depth and just tends to be a little more natural overall. The VC02 is thinner and brighter, with more treble sparkle and a slightly more “analytical” overall presentation.

  31. chalimoja on

    hi ljokerl,
    I currently own the wooduo 2 which have superb bass but unfortunately dont have a remote. which one between the piston 2 or the wooduo 2 in your opinion has better sound overall plus value for money between the two as the price difference is over $60. Would the pistons be an upgrade or downgrade. Or should i just stick to my trusted wooduo 2s

    • ljokerl on

      The Piston 2 is an upgrade except in bass, which the Wooduo has more of (especially subbass) with less bloat, and clarity, which again is not a strong suit of the Piston. In value for money obviously the Piston wins hands down.

      • Andrew on

        I find that incredibly misleading, to say that wooduo 2s are only better in bass.. The frequency range of wooduo 2s blows these out of the water. I agree that Piston 2s are far more cost efficient, but it’s unfair to say the wooduo is only better with bass response.

  32. peter johnstone on

    Hi. I’ve stumbled onto this website after looking at the pistons and have been blown away by the detail and passion that you put into your work…. it’s really quite unbelievable – and very much appreciated. I currently have a set of klipsch S4a, which i’ve been very happy with (except the app and buttons dont work very well). I recently magaged to get a hold of a new phone, the oneplus one…. and many other owners have been commenting on the pistons. As such my interest has been aroused. I’d love to know your opinion about the klipsch vs pistons. I’m new to the audiophile class of IEMs, however it’s highly addictive and am tempted to get a pair based on the price and reviews alone! . Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
    Cheers.
    Pete. J
    p.s can you recomned a retailer for the pistons? i’ve heard there are a lot of fakes getting around…

    • ljokerl on

      Pistons should be a good way to go from an S4. Not too different, but more capable overall with thicker, more fleshed-out mids and more refined treble.

      The $24-25 ones in the Amazon link up in the review are genuine (just bought one recently for a friend), as well as in the bigbargains eBay link.

      • peter johnstone on

        Cheers mate. appreciated.

  33. Harijs on

    Joker, how do these compare to the TF10?
    Thanks.

    • ljokerl on

      Biggest differences are the bass (Piston 2 has more of it, especially mid-bass, and sounds less tight/clean/controlled) and the mids, which are clearer on the TF10 by a good amount. Imaging is also better on the TF10.

  34. Lord Sinister on

    Hello ljokerl,

    First, you are an inspiration and your outstanding work is truely one of the best I’ve seen. I’ve read most of your reviews which is a tremendous help in my search for the perfect IEM. I primarily listen to EDM on a daily basis, mostly underground/pure techno, trance & goa/psyc and dubstep but depending on the mood might switch to some alternative, classical or Spanish guitar. I love beautiful, deep and impactly bass but I’m not a diehard basshead. I own several Skullcandy models but didn’t like the lack in overall quality and quantity of the 3 regions. Purchased a Sony MDR-V55 and fell in love but wanted the same or better SQ in an IEM. I brieftly owned the JVC JA-FXT90 but at the time didn’t love it, probably should have kept it. After reading your reviews, among others, I purchased the SteelSeries Gaming Flux then the HiSound Woodoo 2 and enjoyed both for months but wish I had 1 device that was a merge of the Flux and Woodoo. For the last 6 months I’ve been using the Piston 2 and it’s the closest I’ve found to the signature I’m looking for. Love it so much I bought 2 pairs, 1 modified and 1 in original state. I’m now looking for something better without losing any of the bass quality, quantity, impact and punch in both the lower and midrange and have my eyes on the Yamaha EPH-100, Dunu DN-1000. Based on this life story I just wrote, which of these is a better replacement or what else would be appropriate? The absolute max I would consider spending is $300

    • Lord Sinister on

      Sorry, 1 more thing. In addition to the bass, the more details, clarity, sparkle, separation and wider sound stage the better. I’m a bit of a freak for details.

      Thanks in advance ljokerl and anyone else responding. Your input will be greatly appreciated!! 🙂

      • ljokerl on

        The Xiaomis are pretty special, I can totally see it being a mix of the Wooduo and Flux.

        It sounds like the EPH-100 will be more your speed based on two things – one, wanting bass impact at least on-par with the Piston. The Piston simply has more prominent mid-bass than the DN-1000. It’s more bloated, too, which comes with the territory, but if we’re talking mid-bass quantity the DN-1000 just isn’t there.

        Two, the midrange – the DN-1000 is a slightly v-shaped sounding earphone, a little more so than the Piston. That means its mids, while clear and detailed, are a little more withdrawn and definitely not as warm.

        The EPH-100 has both the bass and mids. What it lacks in compared to the DN-1000 is some of the treble sparkle and some of the clarity. Plus, it’s soundstage isn’t all that wide, but it is nicely imaged and three-dimensional.

        You might consider the Sony XBA-H3 if you are willing to spend more. It’s not perfect but it’s a very smooth-sounding earphone with strong bass, and was recently less than $300. I covered it in brief here just a week or so ago: http://theheadphonelist.com/brief-review-dunu-dn-2000-fidue-a83-t-peos-altone200-sony-xba-h3-triple-driver-hybrids-compared/ . It has an advantage over the EPH-100 in detail and has more level and refined treble, but still suffers as a result of its heavy bass from a bit of bloat and veiling (a-la the Piston). Still an upgrade option, though.

        • Lord Sinister on

          This is very helpful and I appreciate your quick response. Thank you very much!

        • Mr. Will on

          I’d like to respectfully register some disagreement with Ljokerl on the Sony XBA-H3. He says, “It has an advantage over the EPH-100 in detail and has more level and refined treble, but still suffers as a result of its heavy bass from a bit of bloat and veiling (a-la the Piston).” “Bass bloat” and “veiling” are two terms frequently used by Ljokerl, but I’d like to suggest that what he’s referring to often falls within the realm of preference, not objective fact, and also that the terms aren’t very accurate.

          To me, the Sony H3 has very good bass, and it’s not too heavy. In terms of actual fact, it’s not possible for bass to “veil” or “bleed into” the midrange or anything else, since they are completely different parts of the sound spectrum. What is possible is that the H3 may have just a little too much upper bass or lower midrange. I’m not sure about that yet, though. When it was new, I thought the bass might be just a bit “tubby” or “thumpy,” which would be the result of too much upper bass. After they were broken in, however, I didn’t hear as much of that.

          I think the only real drawback to the H3, and it’s a minor one, is that it’s upper midrange is just a shade cool or withdrawn. So, for example, the upper registers of a piano won’t quite ring out as strongly as they might. But it has nothing to do with the bass, which I think is well-proportioned.

          Thank you

          • Lord Sinister on

            Thank you Mr. Will! This is very helpful as I’ve been trying to decide between the EPH-100 and H3, and thanks to you and ljokerl I’ll probably get the H3 but after tax in Canada, $350 is quit a lot considering. According to ljokerl the DN-2000 is 1 IEM that clearly out classed the Piston and cost 12x more (about the same as H3) which makes the Piston 2 very special at $30. I’m hoping to find another special beast that can deliver the SQ of the H3 at fraction of the cost or well under $300…..but I fear old age might find me first. 🙂

          • ljokerl on

            I totally welcome this type of post – lack of censorship is what separates us from the beasts.

            My two cents – I think the terms “bloat” and “veil” are pretty well defined and commonly used on the audio scene. While they have a certain negative connotation, like all things audio they can (and often do) fall within some listeners’ preference. The NarMoo S1 unit that I reviewed just last week and placed in my buyer’s guide sounds quite bloated in my use of the term, and that’s fine with me. I would also suggest that this phenomenon, like many others, is possible to get used to and even grow to like (“brain burn-in”).

            See some mild-mannered discussion of the so-called “Sennheiser veil” on InnerFidelity here: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/very-important-sennheiser-hd-580-hd-600-and-hd-650

            Moving on, the “correct” amount of bass quantity is something that’s extremely difficult to agree on, but it’s easy to talk about in relation to other sets. For example, if we take the Etymotic ER4S for our comparison, the XBA-H3 has a lot of bass. If we use the NarMoo S1 instead, then the XBA-H3 has a very reasonable, maybe even somewhat light bass response.

            I don’t think it’s correct to say that there is no such thing as “bloat” – there certainly are sets where reducing the bass response makes a huge difference to the clarity and intelligibility of the midrange, and other sets where it makes little or no difference. “Veil” and “bleed” do not mean that bass frequencies literally change into midrange frequencies and crawl up the spectrum – that is impossible, as you have said. Rather, in my understanding, they are used to indicate that – in comparison to some reference standard – the bass enhancement reduces the emphasis on and clarity of the midrange (usually the lower midrange).

            Maybe it’s not ideal to place a negative connotation on this phenomenon because, as you have said, it can totally fall in the realm of preference, but then we are just arguing semantics.

            There is also a matter of degree – is it alright to call something like the Skullcandy Holua veiled and muddy? Because with a set like that the first thing you notice is that the midrange becomes completely muffled every time bass is present on the track. Again, this comes down to semantics and finding a place to draw the line between “the bass might be a little intrusive” (or “thumpy”, “tubby”, or any other such term) and “the bass is bloated”. Admittedly, in comparison to the Holua, the XBA-H3 has very tight and controlled bass.

            I think the XBA-H3 is a great earphone – would not have recommended it otherwise – but my purpose here is to make sure people know exactly what they are getting whether they are spending $20 or $350, to the extent that is realistic. If someone happens to own a more flat/neutral earphone and ends up buying the XBA-H3 and complaining about “surprise” bloat, I will have done that person a disservice no matter what the reasoning.

          • Lord Sinister on

            And this is why so many of us follow and appreciate the wonderful work ljokerl does. Love the explanation/clarification.

            Many thanks to you and Mr. Will.

  35. Travis on

    How do these compare to the soundmagic e10’s, the philips she3580’s, and the sony mh1’s? Have you tried the new zero audio carbo tenores?

    • ljokerl on

      They’re less neutral than the E10s, with more bass and a warmer tone but also better clarity and end-to-end extension. The MH1C is very close in performance, with tighter bass and smoother treble. It lacks some of the bass impact and treble sparkle of the Piston, and has a more distant/laid-back presentation. The SHE3580 comparison is a couple of comments below. Haven’t tried any Zero Audio products.

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  37. wino lopez on

    Wow thanks a lot for the review! Especially for the many comparisons with MH1C, which I have. Waiting for this one for 2 weeks now, which i bought upon your recommendation. BTW does this sound more open and spacious than the “semi-open” Superlux HD 386?

    • wino lopez on

      Omg i just got it and it sounds sooooo GOOOOOD. Im a newbie but i guess its safe to say that this is definitely one of the bestest $25 iem ive ever heard. Not to mention it looks beautiful too. Do you think the cloth wire will get damaged by water?

      • ljokerl on

        Glad you like them!

        Cable could go either way. I’ve had some bad experiences with cloth cables becoming kinked and unusable in the past (e.g. Klipsch and Monoprice) but I have confidence that this one will hold up.

  38. Brook on

    Hey Joker, Thanks for the review!

    Can you comment on mee cc51 vs the pistons?

    • ljokerl on

      Yeah, sure. The Piston is bassier and not as tight in the bass region but has better depth/extension. It sounds warmer and more full-bodied whereas the CC51 is tonally brighter and has thin and more recessed mids. The mids of the CC51 are clearer of bass bleed, though. The Piston has smoother treble and a wider/more out-of-the-head presentation. .

      • Brook on

        It sounds like I wont be disappointed then! My second pair of cc51s died due to mee’s notoriously stiff “strain reliefs”. That’s 3 mees over the last 5 years 🙁
        In their defense they have provided me with some pretty good discounts whenever I had issues out of warranty and of course excellent service when I was within the 1yr warranty.

        • ljokerl on

          3 in 5 years isn’t too bad but the cheaper Pistons may beat that as long as the cloth sheathing on the bottom half of the cable holds up.

  39. Peter Jan Icogo on

    Hi joker,

    Good day! I’d just like to ask how do this perform compared to quadbeat 2? Thanks!

    PJ

    • ljokerl on

      Sorry, haven’t tried the second generation QuadBeat yet. The original QuadBeat is brighter and leaner than the Piston 2, with a lot less bass and not nearly as much warmth and fullness.

      • Peter Jan Icogo on

        Thanks joker! More power to you and this wonderful list! Hope you hear QB2 soon too! 🙂

  40. LuluDaDino on

    Wow fantastic showing for these. With your review and Tyll’s measurements it’s good to finally get some more concrete and objective info on this. I’m deciding between these, the Philips 3580 and the Philips TX1/2. Which would you recommend for beater headphone listening to Spotify?

    • ljokerl on

      If you use a modern Android phone you might want to go for the Pistons just for the remote. Otherwise it’s really a toss-up but for casual use I’d pick between the 3580 and Piston.

      The 3580 has similar clarity to the Piston but sounds less full-bodied and a little darker overall (the Piston is bassier and smoother/more reined in the treble, with a slightly wider presentation).

      The TX2 is a little clearer but also thinner and has more withdrawn (recessed) mids and harsher upper mids/treble (the Piston is warmer, smoother, and has more midrange presence).

      • Michae on

        Joker, thanks for this and your other fine reviews.

        But beware — I gave my friend the Pistons for her new Amazon Fire Phone. Sadly, the Piston’s remote doesn’t work with the Android Fire Phone.

        • ljokerl on

          Good to know. I guess there’s several things Amazon left out of the Fire phone compared to other high-end Android devices.

          • Michae on

            Thanks, Joker. Do you know of another decently-priced IEM that are compatible with the Amazon Fire Phone?

          • ljokerl on

            I don’t have a Fire phone to try but my guess is that a basic 1-button remote should work. A good inexpensive one is the Philips SHE3595.

            If you also want a volume control you can get a 1-button remote with analog volume control – e.g. the MEElec M6P or Audio-Technica CKX5iS. Unless Amazon did something to make the Fire phone proprietary, these remotes are universally compatible with modern smartphones in the US.

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