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Horizon Doom Basic – An Enigma

Disclaimer: Praesto Audio HK has loaned me the Horizoon Doom Basic in exchange for an honest review.

Pros:

  • Luxurious all-silver chassis with easy-to-grip coarse finish.
  • Eccentric package with ‘interesting’ inclusions such as a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Energetic treble region with prominent sparkle.
  • Deep, enveloping dynamic-driver bass with good textural contrast between instruments.
  • A masterclass in lateral staging and excellent Z-axis height.

Cons:

  • The spartan package (without a carry case) is not adequately commensurate to the Basic’s exorbitant price tag.
  • Ultra-heavy ‘jewellery-like’ shells are unfavourable to long-listening sessions.
  • The shells’ coarse surfaces can generate discomfort against the skin of the inner ear.
  • A shortened stem/spout compromises how well it fits.
  • Heavily recessed lower-midrange detracts from even-harmonic timbre presentation, resulting in a dry and metallic tone.
  • Moderate artificiality permeates female vocals amidst the Soprano range.
  • Good imaging, but uncharacteristic of an IEM in the $2k price bracket.

Introduction:

The audiophile-verse is not exclusive to the thousands of finite threads comprising Head-fi or Reddit. In the Anglo-sphere, spirited back-and-forths are conducted in lingua franca. But what about Asia? Apart from English-speaking Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan are enigmatic markets with diverse sonic preferences running counter to the ‘Harman-response curve’ craze monopolising our beloved hobby.

Hong Kong’s intersection between luxury and high-fidelity audio is a harmonious confluence where two rivers meet, like the watershed moment Yum Cha was born. Hong Kong audiophiles are cut from a different cloth. Forking out a wad of cash for a kilo-buck IEM or audio peripheral are common sight. Their eclectic sense of style and substance demands an unwavering commitment towards grasping their domestic norms.

The early-2000s eminence of luxury audio brands has started to diminish across the globe. Blame it on a cost-of-living crisis or loss of relevance from an unstoppable Chi-Fi industry, emergent luxury audio ateliers are an elusive sight amidst the weeds. Mr Kagehiko, a former key member of Japan’s Ankyo Company’s technical research and development department, staunchly romanticises ‘the soul and spirit’ of digital music representation.

Cost notwithstanding, Mr Kagehiko proudly opines that IEMs are material vessels for transporting sound from transducer to listener; a physical conduit for conveying atmosphere and human emotion. Life-like portrayals of music bridge the psychoacoustic valley between artist and listener. Working alongside a talented team of professional acoustic developers, Mr Kagehiko’s newest venture, Horizon Doom, encapsulates his poetic stance on acoustic reproduction.

The ‘Basic’ is their virgin debut from the fledgling atelier. Within its ornate-silver chassis, lies a single diamond-like carbon driver with a complex matrix of resonance chambers designed to ameliorate internal reflections. Priced at 12,8000 HKD, the Basic is a halo product that doesn’t shy away from $$$ price tags. Superlatives in the accompanying copy come with the territory, but how does the Basic perform in the wild? The Basic can be purchased from Praesto HK.

Technology

The Basic is an IEM stripped down to its fundamentals. A custom-developed Diamond-like carbon dynamic driver is the piston promulgating air and sound. The Basic’s internal and external cavity consists of an intricately designed ‘triple standing wave suppression system’ that (allegedly) heightens its acoustic performance. Instead of fumbling over how many drivers the Basic should contain, Mr Kagehiko has thoughtfully constructed around the driver as the critical centrepiece of the Basic.

However, the stand-out feature of the Basic is its ornate silver shells, fashioned from pure silver. Akin to a piece of expensive jewellery, the Basic oozes Maison-like class: a feeling that is difficult to evoke in sceptics like myself, let alone in an earphone. This is by no means, an ordinary earphone.

Unboxing

As the namesake implies, the Horizon Doom Basic comes shipped in a basic package. The Basic comes in a cube-shaped box with a top lid. The lid itself features a quirky image custom-designed by Gary and Wonka (as indicated by their cursive signature), an art studio based in Spain. A novel design flourishes, but a welcome one. Inside, you’ll find the Basic’s carefully sheathed-in jewellery bags, a 4.4mm stock cable, jigsaw puzzle pieces based on Gary and Wonka’s custom artwork, and Spinfit-style silicon tips in S, M and L.

While I laud the creative licensing taken by Mr Kagehiko’s team, the unimpressive package and noted lack of a premium carry case is disappointing. At 12,800 HDK, consumers expect to be swept off their feet. Given the generosity of Chi-Fi companies in even the most accessible products, Horizon Doom needs to up the ante and rethink its overarching branding strategy in foreseeable releases.

Design, Build and Comfort

The Basic’s milled silver shells boast a grained finish with a pitted surface. Physically, it is coarse to the touch, reminiscent of a mortar-and-pestle. Silver has a unique lustre and shimmer that is difficult to emulate with alternative metals. Visually, there is an apparent ‘brutalist’ design language, with a monolithic appearance, unlike competing IEMs in the marketplace.

Unsurprisingly, the Basic is built like a brick sh*thouse. It is virtually impossible to wreck these IEMs in any scenario. I would happily describe the Basic as bombproof. The foil to its immaculate build quality lies in its wearability and comfort. The weight distribution of the Basics in the inner ear is poor, leading to physical fatigue that compounds over time. Moreover, the stems/spouts are stout, resulting in a shallow fit. The sub-par fit, combined with the inescapable force of gravity, results in an IEM that is untenable for mobile usage outdoors. The Basic is well-suited to sedentary lifestyles, where listeners remain in a stationary position for prolonged periods.

There are strategically placed vents on the nozzle side of each chamber (I’d wager those vents comprise the ‘triple standing wave suppression system’ mentioned above). The existence of vents tends to limit the IEM’s ability to eliminate extraneous noise. Thankfully, the Basics don’t seem to suffer from excessive noise ingress in moderately loud settings (coffee shops etc.).

Cable Quality

Praesto does not disclose the specifications of the stock cable accompanying the Basic. If I had to guess, my money would be on ‘pure silver’ as the conductive material of choice. Visually, I can infer that the cable has a low braid count, with extra-wide diameters on each core. Each braid is generously shielded in an impregnable heat shrink. Mirror-polished hardware adorns the cable at the Y-split and the 4.4mm non-removable termination; a nice contrast to the unfinished appearance of the Basic’s chassis.

The chunky sizing of the stock cable isn’t the most ergonomic design for mobile use, but it still retains excellent and malleability, providing adequate flexibility for stowing away after use (you’ll have to find a case large enough to contain this snaking behemoth). Having said that, it would be dishonest of me to deny the satisfying hand-feel of the Basic’s stock cable.

Onto the next page for details on sound…

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Kevin Goh

Kevin Goh

Raised in Southeast Asia’s largest portable-audio market, Kevin’s interest in high-end audio has grown alongside it as the industry flourishes. His pursuit of “perfect sound” began in the heydays of Jaben in Singapore at the age of just 10 years old. Kevin believes that we live in a golden age of readily accessible, quality audio.

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