Xiaomi Piston 3 In-Ear Earphones Review


Xiaomi Piston 3

Brief: Third generation of Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi’s hit in-ear

MSRP: 99 RMB (approx. $16) (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $16 from geekbuying.com; $15 from gearbest.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 98 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.1′ I-plug w/mic & 3-button Android remote
Nozzle Size: 4.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (4 sizes); plastic box doubles as storage case with integrated cable wrap
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The Piston 3 uses more plastic in its construction than the Piston 2 but still feels very solid and boasts various small usability improvements such as easier-to-see L/R markings and lower driver flex. The cable is similar to that of the older model – rubbery above the y-split and sheathed in nylon below to provide some resistance to tangling. The new remote is nice-looking but the narrow buttons are actually bit harder to use without looking compared to the previous version’s
Isolation (2.5/5) – Isolation is average thanks to the shallow fit of the earphones
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Audible, but not bothersome when music is playing
Comfort (4.5/5) – The Piston 3 is a large step forward in ergonomics over the older model, moving to a compact angled-nozzle design with strain reliefs that fully clear the outer ear, leading to a very comfortable fit

Sound (8.2/10) – The Xiaomi Piston 2 quickly became one of my favorite budget in-ears thanks to its ability to deliver good clarity, soundstaging, and overall refinement despite its plentiful bass. Combined with an extensive feature set (especially for Android users) and a very low price, this made the previous-gen Piston an unbeatable value.

The jump in sound quality from the original Piston to the Piston 2 was sizable – the first-gen model was bassier and had significantly poorer fidelity. Though the gap in overall sound quality between the 2nd and 3rd-gen Pistons is not as great, the new model maintains the trend toward a more balanced, less consumer-oriented sound. You will notice that aside from the Piston 2, the sets I compare the Piston 3 with are mostly in the $50-100 range – a fact that is itself a testament to the performance of the Xiaomi in-ears.

The bass of the Piston 3, while less enhanced than that of the Piston 2, remains quite punchy. Mid-bass impact is slightly lower than with some of the other not-quite-reference-flat earphones such as the VSonic VSD3S and Ostry KC06, but enhanced compared to flatter-sounding sets like the HiFiMan RE-400 and Etymotic MC5. Bass depth is pretty good as well, though sub-bass reach and presence lag a bit behind the VSD3S and VSonic’s higher-end GR07.

Like the previous model, the 3rd-gen Piston is tuned for a v-shaped sound. However, thanks to the tighter, less bloated bass, its mids are clearer despite not being very forward. With that said, they are still somewhat recessed and a touch muffled compared to higher-end, less v-shaped sets such as the KC06, RE-400, and GR07.

The Piston 3 picks up presence in the upper midrange and lower treble, giving it a cooler tone. It is a little less bright than the KC06, but more so than the RE-400, which tends to be very smooth and laid-back. Harshness and sibilance are generally not a problem – the Piston 3 is not as forgiving as the warmer-sounding models that preceded it, but it’s not as sibilant as any of the popular VSonic earphones, either.

The spaciousness of the Piston 2 is also preserved, though the lower bass quantity and cleaner, brighter sound of the Piston 3 makes its capable and precise presentation less surprising.

Mini Comparisons

Xiaomi Piston 2 ($20)

The Piston 3 offers a more balanced, less consumer-oriented sound than the model it supersedes. Its bass is significantly less enhanced and much tighter. In comparison, the bass of the Piston 2 is deeper and has more rumble and slam, but also sounds boomier. Cleaner bass with almost no bloat is actually the Piston 3’s biggest asset, though with the loss of bass quantity it also sacrifices some of the Piston 2’s appeal to the average listener.

On the whole, the sound of the Piston 3 is less colored than that of the older model. The upper midrange and treble are smoother. Clarity is better due to the tighter, less bloated bass, though it is still limited by the not-too-forward midrange positioning. The Piston 3 is also less sensitive than the older model, which fits with its less consumer-oriented sound because a non-audiophile listener is more prone to put value in both emphasized bass and the ability reach higher volumes more easily.

Technically, the Piston 3 is the better earphone – it is clearer, tighter, and more neutral. The Piston 2 is warmer and boasts bass that is deeper and more powerful which, admittedly, also helps it sound very dynamic and delivers a “wow” factor. As a result, it’s hard to call the Piston 3 a straight upgrade from the Piston 2 – it’s a more Hi-Fi earphone for sure, but I will still be recommending the Piston 2 in many situations and for certain genres. There are parallels here to the DUNU DN-1000 / DN-2000 situation, albeit with a greater magnitude of difference. There, the older DN-1000 model also provides a bassier sound and in many cases remains recommendable over the more expensive DN-2000.

Zipbuds PRO ($35)

The Zipbuds PRO are a surprisingly capable consumer-class earphone with a v-shaped sound profile. The main thing they do well is balance high bass quantity and good overall clarity. Indeed, the Piston 3 has significantly less bass but doesn’t gain any clarity over the Zipbuds. Its bass is tighter, however, and its highs are less bright and more smooth, making the Zipbuds appear overly harsh in comparison. On the whole, the Piston 3 is the more balanced and accurate-sounding earphone.

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear ($50)

The Flux In-Ear is the closest match I could find for the Piston 3 when balancing sound quality and sound signature. The SteelSeries unit is warmer and has smoother treble and a slightly wider presentation. It’s more sensitive, too. The Piston 3 is a bit more v-shaped and has a cooler, brighter tonal character. It sounds thinner, but also a little clearer. It’s hard to say one outperforms the other, but that in itself is a big win for the Xiaomi – only two years ago the Flux was one of the absolute best in-ears one could get for $50. Now, the Piston 3 offers the same level of performance – albeit with a slightly brighter tonal tilt – for 1/3 of that, with better build quality and a 3-button remote to boot.

Havi B3 Pro I ($60)

The dual-driver B3 Pro I is notable for having an even less consumer-friendly sound signature than the Piston 3, with lower bass impact and much lower sensitivity. The overall sound of the B3 is more balanced compared to the v-shaped Piston 3. The Piston is bassier, but the low end of the B3 is tighter and cleaner. The midrange of the Havi is clearer and more prominent while its upper midrange and treble are a bit more forgiving. The presentation is a bit more well-rounded on the B3 as well. Especially for those in search of balanced sound, the Havi is better than the Piston 3, but its low sensitivity and lack of bass enhancement limit its appeal in the mainstream.

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear ($100)

The Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear is one the few earphones with 3-button Android remotes on the market besides the Piston line. It is also fairly similar to the Piston in how it fits in the ear, albeit with a slimmer profile and longer nozzles providing slightly better noise isolation. In terms of sound, the Momentum has a more colored, arguably more “fun” tuning than the Piston 3 but isn’t too far ahead in technical ability.

Both earphones have sound signatures on the v-shaped side of “flat” but the Momentum In-Ear unit offers up a warmer tone with better bass. Its bass delivers more depth and resolution while also making the Piston 3 seem a touch boomier in comparison. The mids of the Sennheiser unit are slightly clearer but it is a little more prone to sibilance and less forgiving on the whole. The Momentum’s presentation is slightly wider and more spacious.

The Headphone List Recommended EarphoneValue (10/10) – The latest evolution of Xiaomi’s venerable Piston line once again succeeds in delivering outstanding sound quality with a solid construction and 3-button Android remote, all at a very low price. The biggest improvement this time around is in ergonomics – the new model is significantly more comfortable and unobtrusive than the previous Pistons.

Xiaomi has come a very long way since the original piston in terms of fidelity, too – while not a direct upgrade from the Piston 2 due to how different the tuning of the two earphones is, the Piston 3 provides a clearer, tighter, more balanced audio experience for those willing to trade away some of the previous model’s warmth and bass power. Going forward I can see myself recommending either of the two Piston variants, depending on the situation.

Pros: Very comfortable fit; fantastic sound quality for the price; 3-button Android remote
Cons: Remote is a bit less user-friendly than previous generation; mediocre noise isolation


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.


  1. I don’t know you have rated piston 3 so high.Sound is very tinny and unnatural.Sounstage is very narrow my VE monk sounds much better even though they are cheaper.

  2. Hello Joker !
    Thanks for your awesome works such a great guide you made here
    Do you plan to review the new Mi Capsule Air in a near future ?

  3. Hey, ljokerl!

    Thanks for the reply earlier. I’m about an hour into the Xiaomi Hybrids. I can already tell the bass is its defining aspect. I’m hoping burn-in will improve the performance even more. Will try to get the Piston 2 and 3 so I can tell apart their sound signatures. I’m not really an audiophile, but what are the common sound signatures (V, flat, etc.) and what types of music will they work best with?

  4. @ljokerl, I posted this in your thread at Headfi, I am doing it here again hoping you will see it. I am looking for a cheap pair of earphones for casual use, my priorities are good sub bass (can do with minimal mid bass), decent detail retrieval and soundstage. I know it is nearly impossible to get them all in a pair of cheap earphones, but between the Piston 3s and Xiaomi Hybrids which one do you think is a better choice?

  5. First of all I really like this site, many thanks you for your effort. I am not sure which sound signature I should choose to fit my music since it´s very various, there’s a lot of synths, hard beats, guitars but also softer instrumentals and vocals – few examples:
    My budget is $50 and I really don’t know which one will be the most fun in my case, all I know is I don’t like piercing sibilance and muddy bass. I’ve come across Sony MDR-EX450 and Marshall Mode. How do they compare to Pistons 2/3/Hybrid, Soundmagic E10/30, Vsonic or RHA? What would you suggest me?

      • Sorry, I don’t have those two IEMs. I would probably stay away from VSonic products and the RHA S500 (the only sub-$50 RHA) if you’re worried about piercing treble. The Soundmagic E30 can be a little dull for music like this and the Piston 3 – a little analytical. I recommend the Piston 2 if you’d rather have a little more bass of the Soundmagic E10 if you’d rather have a little more balance and smoothness, but either would be a solid buy.

        • Thank you for your advice. I own Superlux HD-681B, which to me sometimes have lack of energy in synthesizers and lower tones and in few songs harsh trebles. Although 681B have quite impressive separation and sound stage so instrumental music sounds great.

          That being said I’d indeed prefer more energetic and a bit bassier option this time with relatively clean trebles. So I guess Piston 2 would be good option or do you know another alternative worth considering ?

          PS: Can you recommend any reliable seller of original Piston 2 ?

          All best
          and thank you

          • Don’t think I’ve tried that particular Superlux so I couldn’t tell you if the Piston 2 or any of the others will sound smoother. Piston 2 is indeed pretty high-energy and not harsh, but I don’t know where to get a genuine one these days – the sellers I used to recommend are out of stock. Figured you might have had a source for it already if you were asking about it.

            In this case the Soundmagic E10 may be the safer choice – much better than potentially getting a counterfeit Piston 2. It’s a little more accurate, but not to the extent of potentially being boring.

            • I couldn’t resist picking up a set of Hybrids as my beater earphones (from the LA warehouse of gearbest) , and on the Mi box they also have a logo for 1More Design with the url 1more.com listed in the non-English instruction booklet. They appear to be in San Diego and are affiliated with Xiaomi according to the WSJ. They have a reissue of the Piston classic in some new colors, though I have not ordered from them. I was looking into the Piston 2 before I picked up the Hybrids but noticed they were sold out everywhere as well, so it caught my attention. Interestingly, they also have some other earphones based on the mainstream Xiaomi designs.

              • As far as I know 1MORE was responsible for the design of previous Piston earphones as well, and they do have their own models. Their triple-driver hybrid is actually quite good. And their Crystal model is closely related to the Piston 2.

  6. Hi Joker!
    Some over-ear (open or closed, anyway) headphones with a similar sound of Philips SHE3580 / Xiaomi Piston 3?
    Thanks a lot!

    • Its pretty tough to compare cans to IEMs in sound signature – there’s some innate differences in sound that are hard to account for. If I had to pick something I’d probably go with a balanced/mildly v-shaped set with good clarity – for example the Beyer DT770/250 (or DT880/600 if you prefer a bit more balanced).


    if these piston 3 are 8.3/10 in sound then approximately hw much will be xiaomi hybrid IEMS, i have only hybrids but i find them better than fiio x1 and soundmagic e50s which are more pricier almost double..

  8. I recently bought my xiaomi pistons v3 thanks to you 🙂 Do you recommend any comply tips? the ear tips included seem to fall out of my ears easily.

    • I didn’t think it made sense to add a $15 pack of Comply tips to these from a performance/sound quality standpoint, but if it’s a question of getting them to stay in your ears securely then it definitely would be worth it. If you don’t know the right Comply size I believe it’s the T200 but I can double-check later if needed. The confirmed size is probably also floating around on Head-Fi somewhere.

  9. Usefull review but i wanted to know out of the priston 3 the skullcandy ink’d 2.0 and iluv city lights which is good,better,best.

    • Sorry, I haven’t tried the Ink’d 2.0 and I didn’t really like the City Lights. I should probably go out of my way to try more inexpensive mainstream IEMs, but they’re just so difficult to get excited about. It’s like a 50/50 chance to end up with something that sounds like crap.

  10. Hi Joker,

    my Sony MH1 stopped working in one ear few weeks ago. I bought these Xiaomi Piston 3, but I’m not happy with them. Bass is ok to me, but i find in mid/treble sibilance and harshness. I know that my past Sony MH1 are considered as a ”smooth with rolled off” highs headphone, but still, the Xiaomi are very bright to me. I have also other IEM’s to compare – Klipsch S4 and they still sound bright and unpleasant. Do these Pistons have really ”balanced” sound signature?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • The Piston 3 signature is somewhat “v-shaped” overall, much like the S4, so it makes sense that both sound bright coming from the MH1. A balanced signature would be something like a HiFiMan RE-400 or Philips Fidelio S2 – much flatter earphones than both the MH1 and the Piston 3.

      If you want a balanced earphone with much smoother highs compared to the Piston 3/Klipsch S4, the RE-400 is pretty much your best bet under $100.

      • Thanks for reply Joker. I think I explained it poorly, I meant that even Klipsch S4 sound much less bright/harsh than Xiaomi. What would you recommend me for IEM to 100$? I like Sony MH1 sound signature, but I don’t mind of less bass. What I really want is neutral or smooth/rolled of highs. HiFIMan Re-400, Sennheiser Momentum In Ears…? 🙂 (Sony MH1 is unavailable now for me)

        • Definitely RE-400 over Momentum In-Ear. Momentum is tuned more like the Piston 3 whereas the RE-400 is a lot smoother.

          Closest alternatives would be the Brainwavz R3 or something like the Klipsch X10/X11/X12 if you can find one in the price range.

  11. After this month, can we say that Xiaomi Hybrid is an allround improved Piston 3 ?
    Are there some point where Piston 3 are unbeaten ?

    • I still like the Piston 3 better. The Hybrid is better for some things, for example it has more bass overall, slightly better bass depth, and is louder/more efficient. However, the Piston 3 has better bass control/tightness and sounds more clean and coherent to me. That’s more important for my listening, though that may not necessarily be true for you.

      • Thanks for your reply!
        What do you think about highs in Piston 3 and Hybrid?
        I read that in Piston 3 highs are very clean but not very pronunced like in Piston 2;
        I read also that in Hybrid highs are poor, cause they’re covered by the strong, maybe excessive bass…however Hybrid should be V-shaped!!
        In the end, I’ll buy them all because I’m too curious to try them ehehehe.

        • I don’t think the Piston 3 lacks highs by any measure, and the Hybrid does have more intrusive bass for sure.

          Objectively, the Pistons are all v-shaped earphones. The shape of the “v” just varies between them, depending on the bass-mid-treble balance of each.

          • Hello, I’m some one who’s coming from a cx-300 ii. Turns out the enhanced bass was way too much for me. It (i don’t know) “muddled” the vocals and piano sometimes when the bass is too strong in rock/pop songs. I’m searching for something with bass but not to the extent of ‘enhanced’. How do the bass of the 3 pistons compare to the cx-300 ii? Thanks

  12. I’ve the Piston 3s and want to upgrade. I prefer an iem with clarity, resolution and flat, neutral response. I’m thinking of about $100 or lower range and have found Soundmagic E80s quite lucrative. What are your suggestions and thoughts?

    • Not familiar with the E80’s sound in any great depth but there are certainly many ways to get more balanced sound (compared to the Piston 3) under $100 – everything from classics like the HiFiMan RE-400, Ultimate Ears 600, Etymotic MC5, to newer models such as the Final Audio Heaven II and Phiaton MS100BA. These will all give you significantly flatter, more neutral sound compared to the Piston 3.

  13. priyesh jaiswal on

    hi ijokerl,
    only yday i came to know of this site and i become fan of u, thanks for these reviews..
    1)my que is should i go for piston 3, of xaomi hybrid or brainwavz s1? i hv mild preference for base but not much..
    2) in ur review u gave piston 3, 8/10 on sound quality and brainwavz s1 7.8/10 does this mean that much cheaper piston is better than brainwvz s1 in terms of sound quality?
    3) also i hv seen many pricey ear phones are rated less than 8, does that mean that piston 3 in better than all those
    thanks in advance..

  14. Hi joker I bought piston 3 from gearbest while they do seem original but I still want to confirm.I already scanned the QR code attached to the headphones and it shows xiaomis website.Does that mean they are original?

    • The QR code working certainly doesn’t mean much – you can photocopy a QR code and it’ll still scan fine.

      However, I bought one of my Xiaomis from gearbest and they’re definitely legit, so I’d say you are safe on that basis rather than the QR code.

  15. Okay so I need some advice.
    My second pair of Phlips she 3595 (legendary series) just broke on me after a year of use. I loved it to bits. Except the pretty bad cable noise and tangle. But overall I was amazed again and again, though I would say sometimes on very complicated (mostly alternative songs) I was feeling that that little thing was loosing it with 10 instruments and 5 vocals….though sometimes I was not sure it was my ears that could not percieve everything or the little buds. What I liked about them was that they were easily driven. Used mainly directly with my macbook pro and ipod touch 5th with sporify extreme. It was enough for me, but still I was looking around what I would get as a little upgrade if these broke….and they just did today.

    I was reading your reviews and recommendations many times. The pistons seem what I am looking for. As I read a lot I am leaning towards the newest model the Hybrid. They say it is a better version of the Piston 2 with its plentiful bass. So the philips is the sound that I am looking for…maybe a bit more detail separation with complex tracks. Do you think that the Hybrid is the closest in sound?

    (Just a side note. I am amazed how good these little cheapo earbuds can outperform like my old beloved Sennheiser hd 212pro. I used to love that with it’s v shaped “fun” sound signature and amazing bass. But today as I tried them again after only using the Philips. There is no competition. It was like listening to a muffled no fun, no bass, no midrange headphone that is just not fun to listen to. Not sure what this says about my taste or hearing or understanding of good sound and all the words you guys use for it, but it was quite shocking to be honest.)

    So would you recommend the xiaomi hybrids for me? 🙂

    • Not sure I would recommend the Hybrid. I like it fine for what it costs but it’s not a spiritual successor to the Piston 2 – to me it’s more like a Piston 3 with better bass depth. The Piston2 still has a smoother, thicker, more full-bodied sound than both.

      The bigger issue is that the Pistons don’t really remind me of the SHE3590, which has a more sub-bass focused low end (the Pistons, especially the Piston2, have more mid-bass) midrange and upper midrange tuning that’s somewhere between the Piston2 and Piston3, and slightly darker highs.

      I’m not saying that it’s possible to find a better-sounding IEM that the Xiaomi Hybrid for $25, just that if I was looking for a direct SHE3595 replacement in that price range I’d probably buy another 3595, not a Xiaomi product.

      • I see. I am a confused now as what to buy. I think I might go higher with the price range if a get better construction (esp cable) and overall same or very similar sound as the 3595. The remote button is a must so this also limits my choices. I also looked around what philips has to offer that is close to these as sound and price. So then I came across your review of the tx1/tx2 on innerfidelity….I kind of rejoicing that finally I found my new babies….but I looked around and they are basically inexistent here in europe(esp where I live)…..which is a shame 🙁 But it seemed like a really close she3590 successor 🙁 Do you agree?

        Side note: I do not use any eq on my macbook pro and if possible I am not planning to. Maybe a cheap but good mini dac+amp in the future (to avoid the slight hissing from the macbook headphone out) I just plugged the philips (and senns) straight in and it sounded pretty good always. On my ipod touch 5g I did slightly boosted the lows and the mids (to compensate for the noise when using outside) I also upgraded to sony hybrid tips. It was not a huge “upgrade” because the philips came with good tips anyway but I think the sony tips stay in my ear better.)

        Not sure now….maybe I jump and still get one Xiaomi to try it out..I can still give it away to some friend or relative if I dont like it and go back to my ol’ good friend (she3595) 😛 I since read bad stuff about the hybrids. Not sure now. I would love to read a full review from you on them though. I was so hyped about the dual driver thing, the stunning build and design, but to be honest I have absolutely no idea if I would like the sound of them….. Do you think that is possible to eq the xiaomi to sound similar to the philips? Does it responds well to eq-ing? (In the case if I don’t like everything about it’s sound)

        Thx for your advice 😉

        • TX1/TX2 is probably too bright compared to the SHE3590, but they are very clear. You’d have an easier time EQing these to sound like the SHE than you would the Xiaomi Hybrids. But if the TX1/TX2 are harder to get and/or significantly more expensive then it’s not worth the trouble since they’re not the ideal upgrade either.

          Most other competitors won’t give you the remote control button, so I guess you might as well try the Hybrids. If you approach them with an open mind and don’t expect them to sound too much like the Philips, it’s very possible you will like them. You will be able to EQ them some as well.

          • Hi, Just to state it, I am a long time follower of your reviews, since the Head-Fi days, so believe me I take your reviews very seriously. Now, that is out, I am waiting for a review of Xiaomi Mi Headphone Pro, I would like to know if it is as good as they are saying, I was using Mi Piston 2 and Soundmagic E10 until a week ago when they decided to die, guess it was their time. Anyways, can you just simply state are they as good as Piston 2, I loved them for their sound, although they were a bit uncomfortable on the ears. Also, Would you be kind enough to recommend me a good pair of earphones around 30$. I am cut short on my budget, but I can live with a good enough pair of earphones until summer, when I will be buying better buds.

            Thanks in advance.

            • Awesome to hear, thanks for reading!

              The Xiaomi Pro is good but it’s tuned for a very specific type of sound. If you like v-shaped, bright sound signatures and don’t mind slightly recessed mids, that’s as good as it’s going to get for the price. If you’re looking for something warm and full-bodied like the Piston 2, the Xiaomi Pro is not a great upgrade. Something like the Sony MH1C (if you can find one… and live with its cable) would be better.

              The Piston2 is not exactly outdated, so it’s still quite difficult to upgrade from (or even match) without spending a whole lot more.

  16. Can anyone compare these with any of the below mentioned IEMs?
    Sony XB30EX ( $25),
    Sony XB50AP ($40)
    Sennheiser CX180 Street II ($15)
    Sennheiser CX275 ($25).

  17. Hi Joker,

    I ordered the piston 3’s and they aren’t bad. They fit a little better than the Piston 2’s but I am still having trouble getting a good seal and insertion seems to be quite shallow with stock tips.

    Can you recommend any tips that would fit these?

    I love sennheiser tips but they are too big for the nozzle on the P3’s.


    • If you want deeper sealing tips the double-flanges and triple-flanges from a meelectronics m6 work. I think you can pick them up as a full set on their website or ebay.

      If you have very wide ear canals (largest stock tips aren’t wide enough to seal) then you might have to go with the HiFiMan double-flanges (available on their website with a filter replacement kit)

    • I don’t think there’s any intended difference but it’s possible that the quality control is not as tight on the youth model. My unit has some imbalance between the left and right channels. Together with the nicer materials on the regular Piston 3, I’d try to spring the few extra bucks.

  18. Hey Joker.

    So, I really like the design of the Piston 3s, but I want a more premium headphone. Do you know of any IEMs that keep the simple, small, lightweight design of the pistons but is more of a premium product (better sound quality, higher price, better build quality)?


    • The closest I’ve seen to this form factor among higher-end IEMs is the Fujisan Telos: http://www.telosacoustics.com/ . Its sound is a little different – more smooth and balanced than a Piston 3, but with a slight warm tilt. Good sound quality overall and a nice-looking design, too. Other earphones that have this form factor tend to be larger – for example the Philips Fidelio S1/S2, Audio-Technica ATH-CKM99, and so on.

      • Thanks for the reply! It seems that the Telo is a bit out of my price range and the others are hard to find and/or come from shady Amazon sellers. I may just get a pair of Sennheiser Momentums since they sound decent and look nice. I think I’ll look further into finding a good, reliable seller and then if I can’t find something that works, I’ll go with the momentums. Once again, thanks so much for the advice.

    • Clarity – yes, partly because the Piston is brighter. Bass – depends on what you’re after. The E10 has more linear and balanced bass. The Piston has punchier and more “immediate” bass, but the subbass is less prominent. Neither is really better, just different approaches.

  19. Hello ljokerl! Thanks for all these reviews!

    Just out of curiosity, how would these compare to the stock Apple Earpods? Would you consider these an upgrade from them? Mny people say these completely kill stock Apple earpods, but I’m a little skeptical about that. It sounds a little over hyped. 😛

    Also, what IEM would you recommend that has good clarity and is under 50 dollars? I’ll try to explain what I am looking for, but I am new to the world of audio equipment so I apologize if I can’t find the right words. I enjoy bright sound signatures with good treble, but I can’t stand treble that causes fatigue. i don’t like emphasized bass either. I like good quality bass, but I get annoyed by bass that is simply loud. The best I can explain is how I always hear…a buzzing sound that distracts me from vocals or brighter sounds. V-shaped, “fun” earphones just seem more distracting than fun for me, and I really prefer crisp, clear sound as I listen to piano tracks a lot.

    Again, sorry if I’m not using the right terminology. I can’t really express it is that I am searching for and really want some advice. : (

    Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

      • EarPods are not real in-ear headphones so they have one huge disadvantage right off the bat – they can’t really reproduce deep bass. That’s going to be the Piston’s biggest advantage – it’s not a bass-heavy earphone by any means but its bass depth is very good. The shift in the bass curve also allows the Piston better slightly clarity and crispness across the rest of the range, and of course it has a slight advantage in imaging over an earbud. In pretty much all other ways the Piston 3 and EarPods are just tuned differently more so than one being better than the other. The EarPods are the opposite of v-shaped as they tend to push the mids forward a bit.

        The Piston 3 should be a pretty good choice, especially for <$20 - it's not too v-shaped to the point that it detracts from the overall experience. However, for the sort of thing you're describing I'd try for an Ostry KC06. It's less v-shaped but still bright and has very forward vocals. Just for completeness, the Soundmagic E10 and LG Quadbeat F420 are decent Piston 3 alternatives for what you are describing as well. Not as good as the KC06, but they also cost less.

  20. Does the piston 3 youth edition sound exactly similarly to the piston 3? In buying guide, you have mentioned it “loses the premium materials and build quality”, so sound is intact?

    • They sound very similar but I think as part of the more loose quality standards the channel matching in the Youth Edition is less tight – mine has a slight imbalance between left and right. So if you can afford it, just get the regular Piston 3.

      • I’ve already got both. I couldn’t find difference and hence I posted that question to the expert 😉

        Anyways, waiting for your Sound Rating for the Hybrid drivers.

  21. Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro (Dynamic + balanced armature drivers) is out. Will you guys able to do a review on it? Some may call it Xiaomi Piston 4th Gen or Xiaomi Hybrid.

  22. Getsuga_10shou on

    Hey ljokerl, I’m coming from cx-300ii and vsonic gr06, does the xiaomi piston 3 have the same level of comfort/seal as the cx-300ii as well as the sound quality of vsonic gr06? I’m looking to get a pair of these to replace the aforementioned iems, which have broken. I plan to use these mainly for commuting, and basically my main concern is just comfort and proper sealing since I never got a good seal with the vsonics, but the cx-300ii were amazing for comfort and the seal was perfect for me. Thanks in advance!

    • The comfort is very good, easily as good as the CX300 – they just fit in the ear a little differently (angled fit vs straight fit). Seal is mostly a matter of finding the right eartips, there’s really no tricks with these – no adjustable nozzles like the GR06 or anything.

      Sound quality vs the GR06 is a little tougher because the GR06 has a more balanced and full-bodied sound than these, but clarity is about on-par and the sound is very crisp. Considering they’re about 1/4 what the GR06 used to go for, the value is very good.

        • Getsuga_10shou on

          Just reporting back after purchasing a pair, these earbuds are unbelievable for their price. They are easily just as comfortable as the cx300ii, if not better, to the point where you might not realise they are there! Compared to the vsonic gr06, they are similar; the Xiaomi’s have tighter bass, whereas the gr06 have fuller sound. Clarity and cleanliness are around the same. ljokerl is on point with his remarks.

          Overall an excellent purchas – to anyone contemplating, they are a steal for their price – I got them for $28 AUD, and they were genuine. Be wary of fakes.

  23. Pistons 3 are close to a miracle for the price I paid. For 13 EUR they are a match for the Shure se 215 that costs 9 times the price. A must have in any collection, and a great introduction to iem world.

    One small critic I have:
    – the midrange, vocals, they seems a bit muffled
    – the sound signature is a bit too polite sounding

    Of course this is comparing them to iems in the 100 $ range.

    Maybe the new dual driver is better?


    • Piston 2.0 is good at bass, but the mid and high pitch are glitch, and now the new hybrid headphone is released, it has dual drivers, the dynamic and armature driver, tinydeal/gadget-px347wp-phone.com

    • The midrange being recessed is a property of the v-shaped sound signature. The new (hybrid) model is tuned similarly and I still don’t find the vocals to be prominent on it. The slightly compressed dynamics could be helped by increasing the bass quantity. This is something I think the new hybrid/dual-driver model does a little better than the Piston 3.

      Crazy that we’re getting all this excellent sound performance for the price of a good lunch. You can have an excellent IEM collection with the Piston dual-driver hybrid, Piston 3, and Piston 2, all for well under $100.

      • People on head-fi are saying that the sound signature changes quite drastically with burn in. Have you experienced this?

            • Yes, I have concluded that I still like the Piston 3 better than the Hybrids but ultimately they fill different needs. The Piston 3 has better overall fidelity with its tighter, less emphasized bass and more neutral tone. It is a little more refined and nuanced, whereas the Hybrid is much less subtle.

              The Piston 3 is a better earphone for someone who wants to maximize sound quality per dollar and get the closest to a high-end set. The Hybrid is best for someone who wants an inexpensive enhanced-bass earphone without giving up too much in the way of clarity, detail, etc.

  24. Hi,
    Are you going to review and compare these with the Xiaomi Circle iron in-ear headphones, when they come out later this year?

  25. Hey, I really liked your review on the Piston 3…the detail and work you put into being both critical and fair in the review and comparisons were spot on! I have a question regarding the difference in sound quality between the Dunu Titan 1 and the Piston 3. I recognize that the Dunu Titan 1 might be a completely different animal and potentially resides and a different level in sound quality. However, due to the Piston 3’s ability to keep up with earbuds I’ve used that are in the $70-90 range, I’ve been left skeptical in getting “higher-end” earbuds/earphones and really want someone to give me a legitimate comparison on the two so I can decide if it would be a rational choice to invest into the Titan 1s.

    • Both of these earphones are very hard to beat for their respective price/performance ratios. While they’re generally similar in the sense of being clarity-oriented in-ears with way more balanced sound than something like a Beats in-ear, the Pistons have a more conventionally v-shaped sound signature while the Titan 1 is more colored and “fun”.

      The immediately noticeable difference is the more veiled midrange of the Piston3 and its lower clarity. The Titan 1 is clearer, brighter, has a little more bass impact and depth. The upper mids and lower treble are quite boosted on the Titan 1, but without additional harshness. They do make it sound relatively bright – the DUNU is the more tonally colored earphone of the two with that bright treble and deep bass. It also has a wider soundstage.

  26. Ehtesham Shareef on

    Which one is better in terms of sound quality for progressive rock and instrumentals,Xiaomi P3 or Brainwavz S1?
    Is there a considerable difference in the sound quality between the two as compared to their cost ?

    • While they are on a similar tier in terms of sound quality, the tuning is very different. The S1 is deeply v-shaped and quite bass-heavy. The Piston3 is more balanced and accurate, but lacks the bass depth and impact of the S1 and has a colder tone. I tend to prefer more neutral sound signatures for rock so I’d choose the Piston 3, but it really depends on your listening preference.

  27. Hey joker thanks for all your reviews and stuff really appreciate people like you. Always check with your site before buying an new earphone. I own the Razer hammerhead, Logitech ue, and pistons 2. I really enjoyed the pistons 2. I was wondering if you can somehow compare the piston 3 to bose soundtrue earphones in terms of sound quality. I know there is a large gap in terms of price between both but was wondering if you can do your best to somehow compare both of them. I really appreciate any help possible. Also I usually listen to rock, electro, synth, acoustic, pop sometimes classical. I was also wondering if piston3 would out perform the bose soundtrue and pistons 2 in sound quality. Thanks joker, love your site keep up the good work bruh.

  28. Hey Joker!
    Do the volume controls and the center button work with Samsung Phones , especially Note 3 Neo or anything similar ?

  29. Hey joker,
    A month or two ago I asked you on what to buy within 50 or sth. I ended up buying the steel series flux in ear mobile because I got a good deal on em. Unfortunately they died and now I’m thinking of these. What amp would you suggest to increase the bass punch? My phone has a very good eq as well. Would a TOPPING nx2 or fiio e6 be enough or should I get a fiio e11k?

    • They don’t really benefit from an amp so if you want to increase the bass punch you need one that has a bass boost function. The Fiio ones do, not sure about the Topping. I wasn’t too impressed with the bass boost function in the E6 but I like the one my E7. E11k is probably similarly good.

  30. Hi Joker.. How u doin?
    You planing to review Soundmagic E80 anytime soon? I’m thinking of getting a new earphones(70$) and there are some great reviews on head-fi for E80. I already have VSD3, T-peos popular, Piston-3, VSD1S and i wish to have one with good mid-range/neutral sound. Hifiman re 400, Ostry KC-06A and Fidue A63 are good options (comfort issue in Fidue). Which one you’d prefer?

    • Sorry, no plans to review the E80 in the near future.

      I think the KC06 would be a good “fun” addition to the collection and the RE-400 a good “neutral” one. Both are way more mid-focused than the rest of your earphones but the KC06 is bright and sparkly (as are most in your current collection) while the RE-400 is flat and very smooth (and perhaps a little dull-sounding coming from your current sets). Fidue would be in third place for me, though there’s an updated one coming out soon (the A65).

      • Thanx Joker..
        Ordered KC06A (heard it has a lil more bass than KC06 and a slight smooth treble).
        One more thing, what phone/dap do you use while reviewing all these iems?? Does the source make huge differences for iems like KC06, hifiman or any other vsonic earphone?? Sometimes i think of buying a portable amplifier to get the most out of my iems. You think i should (i have a cowon X9 media player)??
        Sorry to trouble you but i wanted to ask this from a very long time 😐

        • For critical listening I typically use the HiFiMan HM-901 or an OPPO DAC (HA-1 or HA-2) just so I can use the same sources with both high-end and low-end IEMs. However, with most IEMs, especially relatively inexpensive dynamic-driver ones like those you listed, you don’t need anything fancy. Even for higher-end BA earphones all you need is a neutral DAP or DAC with low output impedance (otherwise the sound of some IEMs with non-flat impedance curves will change) and no background hiss (which sensitive IEMs will amplify).

        • They are not too different in sound tuning, E10 has a little more focus on sounding wide and airy while the Piston is better for crispness/resolution (though still not great compared to higher-end sets), perhaps a little more v-shaped overall, and has a bit more extension. I wouldn’t recommend moving from one to the other, though, as you’re getting two similar-sounding IEMs.

  31. Hey joker,
    How does it compare to the philips she 3590? I had bought them on your advice from your reply on the earphone buying guide and they have been really wonderful, they still are but the wire has been starting to tear around the buds. I use them everyday (my work requires to have earphones of some sort)and as a result of this, I am thinking of buying something with a similar sound signature but a bit more durable. I absolutely love the sound coming from the philips after the equalizer is tuned, so I will still keep them for my music listening at home. Thus, needing a similar IEM so that not much tuning would be required. Or are there any other IEMs you recommend?

    • Not too similar, the SHE3590 tends to be bassier (especially in terms of deep bass) but also has a less thick, more crisp (and harsh) sound. On the whole, it’s more of a conventional “v-shaped” sound signature than the Piston 3. If you’ve wanted something less crisp and bassy but more smooth than the Philips, the Piston 3 would be a viable alternative. If not, then you may end up EQing it more.

      • Is the piston more versatile than the 3590? What sort of genres would the piston be best suited for? My SoundCloud stream has mix of many genres so I need something that is a bit versatile.
        Are there any other IEMs that have a similar sound signature to philips, even for a slightly more price.

          • They’re equally versatile. Once you get down to this level (with two earphones that are not night-and-day different) your personal sound signature preferences matter more than the genres you’re listening to anyway.

            CKX5 is a little more similar to the SHE3590. It’s a little harsh and edgy, but very crisp and has plenty of bass. I can’t say it’s actually better than the SHE3590 though. Piston 2 probably is more similar also because of its extra bass (it actually has more bass than the Philips, rather than less like the Piston 3) but it also isn’t as tight/controlled as the SHE3590.

            Still, nothing is more similar to a SHE3590 than an SHE3590, and nothing I’d consider a significant upgrade near this price level.

          • So, the situation is like this..
            The wires around my SHE3590 have become naked. The outer covering is torn. I need to get another set of IEMs with better build quality. My options are Xiaomi Piston 2 and ATH CKX5

            Out of these, I have tried my firend’s pistons and I’m not a fan of their comfort, even though the sound quality is good. The CKX5, having a similar sound to the SHE3590, seems to be better made than philps and may last long.

            Now, should I get another set of SHE3590 (One for work, One for home) or should I go for a slightly well built, somewhat similar sounding CKX5?

            Besides these, what do you think would be a decent upgrade to the SHE3590s?

          • Yes, the SHE3590 is sleeker and more comfortable in the ear than the Piston 2 for me as well. CKX5 is comfortable, but still larger and bulkier than the SHE3590.

            If you can get a CKX5 for close to the same price as the SHE3590, by all means go for it. But if it’s significantly more expensive like it is here in the US, I’d say it’s not worth it. It doesn’t sound better than the SHE3590, not really.

            For an upgrade, I’d look at something like the new Alpha & Delta AD01: https://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/alpha-delta-ad01-in-ear-earphone-review/

          • Any thoughts on the ATH CKS77….similar price to AD01. Sadly, the AD01 isn’t available in my country so if you could suggest some IEMs from a bit more known brands? If there aren’t any, I guess I’ll buy another pair of SHE3590s.
            Thanks so much for your help..

          • Also the beyerdynamic dtx 102ie seems to get fairly good reviews for the type of music I listen to..and I am getting them for about 45-50$.

          • Not familiar with the CKS77. I’ve only tried the DTX 102 briefly and it strongly reminded me of the DTX101, which is a pretty decent earphone with a warm, bassy sound signature. Wouldn’t call it an upgrade over the Philips, though. Personally I’d rather listen to the SHE3590.

            AD01 ships worldwide from lendmeurears.com. Closest alternative is probably the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear but that might sound a little too recessed in the midrange coming from the SHE3590. JVC HA-FXT90 might be another option, though that tends to be a little more mid-bassy.

          • I am really liking the KZ ED9 as per the reviews (they’ve got interchangeable filters) and they are very cheap. They seem to be better than the pistons? Any thoughts?

          • I wouldn’t recommend anything from the Astrotec or HiFiMan sets I’ve reviewed over the VSD3S in this case.

            The VSD3S is one of my favorite $50 earphones so I always think it’s worth it, but the Philips SHE3590 is one of my favorite way-under-$50 earphones so just keep your expectations realistic. It will give you a more accurate sound. It won’t completely blow the Philips out of the water.

            No experience with KZ, sorry.

          • That’s the problem. With the SHE3950s sounding so good, I don’t want to spent more than 6 times for the VS3DS. Plus, the VSD3S has an over the ear design, which I don’t prefer.
            I am gonna go with the KZ. Seems to be getting excellent reviews so far (specially for the ED9 and ATE). It’s build quality also seems to be really good and the interchangeable filters adds to its versatility.

            Thanks a lot, joker. You’ve been immense.

      • Maybe I’m not getting the best seal, but I found the Piston 3 to be more than the SHE3590. The midbass can be a bit bloated and fatiguing at times. Although the sub-bass is decent, I don’t think it really stands out as many reviewers have stated. I do agree that the SHE3590 is more crisp and less thick. Personally I prefer the 3590’s sound, even though the mids sound a tad thin. The only thing about the SHE3590 is while it sounds beyond 10$ its build quality is worth 10$.

        And recently I removed the filters from my Piston 3 as I thought the highs were a bit too hazy and distant to my liking. Unfortunately this mod does not improve the highs much, but now the uppermost midrange is peaked, and things can sound sibilant. Unfortunately this mod seems to be irreversible as I’m not entirely sure how the mesh filters were attached to the nozzle.

        I’m wondering what the SHE3900 sounds like. Some users say it’s better than the 3590 while others say it’s a slightly worse.

        • I”d rather listen to the SHE 3590 as well, just fits my preferred sound better, and of course is an unbeatable value. Just one of several reasons an SHE3590 upgrade is a very hard recommendation to make.

          • sorry I should have clarified that I thought the P3s were more bassy than the SHE3590 and that the P3s have a more bloated bass while I didn’t think the SHE3590 had much sub-bass as some reviewers noted. Unfortunately my phone’s headphone jack got wrecked so the Piston 3 is one of the only IEMs that works fine. Other headphones buzz as if the plug is too deep and it needs to be pulled out slightly (so I can’t move around); the SHE3590 is probably the worst offender for that as its plug is long and skinny.

            I too am curious as to what is a good upgrade for the Philips, preferably something with less sibilance and a bit more mids. Currently I’m awaiting the arrival of a second Audio-Technica IM70 as my old one broke some time ago. Really enjoyed its sound though it’s more of a W-shaped, mid-forward sound than a V-shape. Hope you review them some time.

  32. Hi joker, Currently the piston 3 and Brainwavz s1 are similar prices.If I listen to hip hop instrumentals with pianos, drums, high hats etc. which is more suitable. I read your reviews and it seems the s1 has better bass, not sure if bass is what I should make my decision on.

    • Right, I would say bass is the biggest difference between them, and it’s really up to you if you need that emphasized bass or not. Typically listeners of that type of music do want the extra bass that comes with the S1, and if it’s down to this price range it’s a good deal.

    • It will reduce the noise somewhat; add music playing at a moderate-to-high and that volume should make it usable in the situations you described. If you’re looking specifically for isolation there’s other options, of course. Just that most of them are either more expensive or don’t sound as good. Or both.

  33. How would this compare to MH1C? I have a dilema between these two which one to pick. Compare their sound please

    • About on par, but it really depends on what you’re looking for. In some cases the VSD1S would be better than these, for example if you want more bass enhancement or a warmer tonal character. In other situations, for example if you are sensitive to sibilance or prefer bass quality over quantity, the Piston 3 would be clearly better.

  34. I have both, and I prefer the 2 in noisy environments where noise will mask the bass and the 3 in quiet ones.

  35. You really have a thing against bass, don’t you? The bass of the Xiaomi Piston 2 was not “bloated,” “boomy” or overly boosted. Listening from an accurate, high-end source, it sounded very well-controlled and well-proportioned. Listening to classical music, such as the Philip Glass 2nd symphony, the balance was overall very natural, and the same was true with all other music that I listened to–EDM, etc. The problem of the Piston 2 was not its bass, but instead was the overly dry quality of its midrange and treble. Otherwise it would have been fantastic (and it was for the price).

    Nevertheless, your review is useful, and tells me what I need to know to avoid buying the Piston 3.

    • “The Piston 3 picks up presence in the upper midrange and lower treble, giving it a cooler tone.”

      How on earth would that be? Extra presence in the upper midrange and lower treble, in any other IEM, would produce a hotter, brighter sound, not a cooler one. If you say its sound is cooler, I accept that–but it cannot be because of extra presence in the upper midrange and lower treble.

    • It’s important to note that Piston V2’s bass is boomy with low-end source as people who consider buying earphone in this price range wouldn’t have hi-end gear like you. This is an earphone for folks that use their smartphone as a music player.

      While I agree with you about its dry presentation, I think its bass is also its weakness. In not-so-well-recorded songs, the bass sounds muddy and overwhelming — even paired with my Geek Out 450. The source that can make it sound well-controlled would be my Chord Hugo, but who would buy Chord Hugo to pair with the Piston?

      And you have to admit that, at about $9 more than the Piston’s price(3090 yen compared to $16 of the Piston), there is Zero Audio Tennore whose bass is better-controlled and more balance even using it with my smartphone.

      For me the Piston v3 which improve its bass quality is an overall better earphone which I can recommend to anyone. It’s definitely an improvement.

      • Your point that the “Piston V2’s bass is boomy with low-end source” is well taken (yet measurements at Inner Fidelity indicate that the bass is well-controlled). But the performance of speakers or headphones can’t be accurately judged without connecting them to a high-end source, since as you note, they will sound different with different sources.

        I, for one, get very very satisfying sound by using a lower-priced dynamic IEM with high-end portable stuff. We shouldn’t assume that people will only pair low-priced stuff with low-priced stuff.

        So to write an informative review, high-end sources must be used, since only they fully reveal the strengths and limitations of the IEM or headphone. But the review should also include a description of how the IEM sounds with equipment in the same price tier.

      • What I’m trying to say, not very effectively, is that if the Piston 2 sounds “boomy” with a low-end source, that it’s the source which is the problem, and it’s not accurate to describe the Piston as “boomy” — only that it will sound that way with poorer quality sources.

  36. I found the Piston v3 to have really, really weak and recessed treble. It tries to hide it via enhanced upper mids and (very) low treble, but to me the lack of air was very obvious. The upper midrange boost also made it sound shouty, uneven and confused.

    • For the most part I agree with you. The treble lacks sharpness. I liked the instrument separation on the Piston 3 but the actual “detail” is confusing and hazy. I thought the midrange was fairly balanced but not “rich” like that of the Audio-Technica IM70, and can be a tad thin. The soundstage is good but it feels congested at times. The Phillips SHE3590 is much sharper, but can be more sibilant and is lacking in the midrange in comparison.

  37. Thanks for your reviews! I’ve read a lot of your reviews and articles and I’m always super appreciative of all the great work you do!

    One concern I had was fit with the tips. Would you be able to recommend any potential replacement tips that would fit these headphones? Anyway, thanks again, and I’m definitely considering these as my next purchase haha.

    • Nozzle size is pretty standard so many generic tips will fit these earphones, probably including whichever ones you have sitting around from past earphones. Many brand-name tips will fit as well – e.g. Sony Hybrids. I don’t believe those benefit these earphones, though. I would just grab the generic tips from ebay (lostearbuds) or the MEElec M6 tips from their website in whatever single-flange size I needed.

  38. It’s finally out! Been waiting for this review.

    I liked the 3 better than the 2 sound and comfort wise but found the stock tips on the 3 terrible while the ones that came with the 2 seemed to fit great for me. Also couldn’t get a good insertion depth unlike the 2. Overall though, a good improvement and I liked that the interior was plastic rather than metal; the piston 2’s would constantly discharge painful static into my ear.

    • The static shocks usually indicate poor grounding in the unit. I’ve had a few cheap metal IEMs that did that. Had to get them replaced each time.

      • Yeah I was worried about that the whole time. Was quite painful and annoying. I know for a fact they weren’t fakes though; I bought them off iBuyGou and the sound quality was great for the price.

  39. How would this compare with vsd3s,mh1c? Listening to classical mainly and choosing between the 3 durable is nice that can be used when hiking.

    • The MH1C is just a very different earphone with that big bass, warm tone, and very smooth treble. The Piston 2 is more comparable to it than the Piston 3 so if you want that type of sound your choice should be MH1C vs Piston 2 IMO.

      The VSD3S makes for a much better Piston 3 competitor – it’s only a little warmer, has a touch more bass impact, and slightly fuller mids. Unfortunately it’s also a little more sibilant – if not for that, I would say it sounds more natural than the Piston 3. With the sibilance it’s a toss-up. If you prefer want to err on the safe side with the treble, I’d go Piston 3. Otherwise, VSD3S.

      • One thing that I believe MH1C has over the Piston is treble extension. Piston has the V shape, but it seems like it quickly drops off…

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