There is a small chance that some of you guys might not have heard about this brand, QoA, short for “Queen of Audio”. They are a subsidiary of Kinera and have been making IEMs for the last few years, their most noteworthy IEM being the Mojito. It was a BA based IEM which was received with a mostly positive but a mixed feedback. They introduced a few lower budget IEMs but they did not caught a lot of attention. But now.. They have introduced their Flagship IEM, Margarita. This mid range ESt based IEM houses the exact set of drivers as one of my favorite EST based IEMs, DUNU EST 112 but unlike the DUNU this looks much better and ships with a better looking cable too. Its 7mm DD takes care of the lows, a custom made QA11021 BA driver holds the fort for the midrange while two Sonion EST65DA01 EST drivers take care of the treble region. Unlike the Mojito, Margarita has the potential to bring QoA plenty of critical acclamation. Yes, yes, I should not give spoilers but guess what? I do not like to follow the rules and if you want to buy one of the best IEM around $500, I believe this has to be one of them. Why? Let’s find out!!
Priced at $6549 Margarita ships in two color schemes, Black and gold and goes head on against the Fiio FH9 and DUNU EST112. Thankfully I have both of them for comparison.
Get one for yourself from these places:
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:-
Margarita comes in a small and tidy retail box with a trick under its belt. Up front we are greeted by the earpieces, trio of replaceable plugs and the faux leather carry case stuffed in foam. Unlike most of the leather cases this case feels much sturdier and solid, I find it to be better than the 64audio case because of the extra heft. The cable is placed inside this carry case along with a pair of foam tip but where are the other tips? I expected them to be inside the carry case but lift the upper layer of foam and Voila!! What I like here is the tip organizer, you do not need to struggle at all. There are 2 set of silicone tips in S/M/L sizes (red core, smoked body and black) but it is hard to distinguish their bore sizes but the red core has a slightly wider opening. Some documentation and a Velcro strap end the list of items out of the box.
HOW IS THE CABLE:-
Most of the Chinese brands have been shipping their earphones with good cables these days, both aesthetically and functionally. Most of them have switched from traditional cables and have migrated to modular designs, so has QoA. This 6N high purity silver coated copper cable looks strong and can withstand some abuse. I have to admit, this is one the supplest cable that has ever shipped with an IEM. There is no memory issue and no microphonics to worry about. I am not sure about the aesthetic though, as I find the RUM cable to be a visually better pairing. The biggest USP of this cable are the modular plugs.
All in all a good stock cable which sounds very good and is ready to be used with a variety of sources.
BUILD AND ERGONOMICS :-
Since the beginning QoA has been using resin shells for better quality and weight with a semi custom shell. Its short but ergonomically designed wing provides good traction inside the ear. Ergonomically it is one of the most comfortable earphones in this price bracket. The resin shell is strong enough. It will not survive drops on marble or concrete floors though. Aesthetic highlight of the margarita is its half black and half gold back plate. This sparkling gold design gives it a unique look. In their words:
“Margarit’s Phantom”comes in a warm yellow main tone. Yellow relates to our warm sunlight which brings joy & hope. It signifies us to treasure our present & to love our life. We have decorated the faceplate with yellow optical particles, the salt-like glowing glints hints us as the tears we shed in old times. Our designer outlines subtle line to blend all these into the design.
Thanks to the 3D printed resin shell Margarita is light weight and stays inside the ear effortlessly. The shell size is not as and should fit most ears without much problem. There is a single pressure releasing vent for the lower end drivers. The nozzle is not very wide at 6.23mm and one can fit t400 to t500 size tips without much problem. Tips out of the box are good but I will suggest aftermarket wide bore tips to deliver a better balance and widen the stage a bit. Isolation of stock tips is very good. It blocks most of the ambient noises.
PAIRING WITH SOURCES:-
Margarita looks kind of tricky to drive from its specs. It has a sensitivity of 110db and get reasonably loud without dialing up the volume but has a higher than average impedance of 61 ohm which is not recommended for mobile phones. Driving the Margarita out of a mobile phone must of difficult then, it isn’t thankfully. These values are kind of deceiving. It gets fairly loud with day to day mobile phones, but it does scale better with better sources.
When driven out of my daily driver Redmi Note 10 pro (Compared to LG G7) it sounds a bit more restrained with note’s depth and weight while the stage loses a chunk of its 3d Projecting abilities. Details at the base of notes are not clean but still are respectable. When driven out of Earmen sparrow and Questyle M15, Margarita sings at its fullest potential delivering excellent details and coherency, lower end gains a bit more precision and the whole spectrum gains more definition and resolution. The stage exhibits more height and width.
Is it necessary to feed it properly? No, the difference is not a significant one but yes, it is better if you can.
HOW DOES THIS SOUND:-
This is my first QoA review and I am impressed. The last gen Kinera IEMs (Norn & Skuld) left a bit of unpleasant taste in my mouth but I have to admit QoA has improved a lot and is the most impressive IEM of these 3. It does not try to be overly sharp or musical while balancing (has a W shape) the spectrum with relatively meaty bass, clean mid range with lively yet fatigue free treble region. Notes have reasonably natural body, bringing an evenly balanced tonality and details.
Margarita does not have a lot of coloration to it, it isn’t warm for sure but can feel marginally bright and crispy. If you want a more sterile signature and timber, here is my review of the URD.
Burned for more than 120 hours I am using the stock red core tips for this review with mixed use of Shanling UA3 and Questyle M15.
I have been working mid range EST based IEMs for a while. They have been awesome and I have liked most of them but none of them were on the bassier side except the cheaper Senfer MT300. Of all the EST based IEMs I have had this year, I have admit that the Margarita has a full bodied and wholesome lower end which doesn’t skimp on punch or air. Its 7mm titanium coated DD is doing a very good job.
Margarita has very good sub bass presence, better than the Fiio FH9, in fact I will go the extra mile and state that this has the best sub-bass presence in the $500-$1000 range. Yes the body is not big, the area of impact is compact and punchy. I am impressed with the dynamics of this DD driver, it does not get restricted to a certain type of notes and this is evident when I A-Bed “ZHU- Burn Babylon” (More subbass and softer mid bass dominated) to “Linkin Park – Burn it down” (more upper mid bass and upper bass dominated kick drum). It does not feel monotonous like the Fiio FD5 and FH9. It maintains similar energy in the mid bass region, giving the lower end a more fluid feel. It does let the notes deliver weighty and thumpy notes while having very good control. Upper bass has slightly lesser energy but does the job without exhibiting any agitation or clumsiness. I have to appreciate they appropriate amount of decay speed, it has excellent control and knows when to let the DD loose and when to tighten things up.
Even though the bass can come up as a bit heavier the mid range keeps clean thanks to excellent layering and separation. Even when I want to ignore this, I have to admit that I can perceive the decreased energy at the crossover region. It does not lack with details but the transparency is slightly low at the lower mid region.
Just like any good mid range IEM Margarita has no problem with intricate details and separation, the whole mid range enjoys excellent clarity and transparency. Even after belting out some of the best details it does not sound sharp or aggressive. Astonishingly the refinement level of this IEM is much better than the DUNU SA6 which can exhibit a bit of jitter at times. Instruments have very good depth similar to kilo buck IEMs. Margarita brings excellent balances of everything. Notes are agile and have very good accuracy with energy, weight, depth and crispiness. The biggest plus point of Margarita is its technicality, the way it manages to deliver micro details of background instruments is praise worthy and the contrasty nature makes it the IEM to get. No need to worry about the upper mids either, they do not have any uncomfortable notes to worry about. What I like here is, there is no compression worry about like The Thieaudio Monarch ( it has a serious compression in the after vocal and before upper mid region).
When seen from a bit afar the vocals can feel slightly forward compared to the rest of the mid range giving it a bit more pop. Both male and female vocals sound crisp and clear with a slightly crispy tonality, it does not emulate a more organic or warmer tonality like Fibae 4 or URD but the texture and emotions portrayed nicely. Decay is slightly fast paced with precision and accuracy in mind, providing notes with accurate body and weight. It is not thin like the Norn or thick like the URD. Yes, if you want a musical timber and tonality going for the URD is the right decision.
Unlike any other type of IEMs EST based IEMs have some of the best treble regions in the market. Even the half baked IEMs like Monarch have sparkly and agile treble region and the Margarita is no slouch either. This QoA IEM brings very good energy, high quality details, sparkly and agility to the treble region.
The transition phase from upper mid range to lower treble region is excellent with very good transparency and clarity. Margarita is one of those rare type of IEMs that can emulate the endless type of treble extension. It maintains very good amount of energy till the mid treble and even when it drops a hint of energy at the upper treble (to keep things fatigue free) the transparency level is top notch, giving it an endless type feeling. There is no lack of details and the level of maturity with layering and separation make things even sweeter. It doesn’t miss out on anything while keeping the timber clear of any forceful aggression. Cymbals and pianos have excellent transparency, don’t expect it to sound very organic or loaded with texture though (like the Pola39 and URD). Separation and layering is up to the mark with more than enough air between instruments. The treble stage is well spread, assisted by the excellent sonicality. The bigger than average stage size helps a lot with instrument placements and density.
STAGE AND IMAGING:-
QoA has done an excellent job of tuning this IEM and this reflects with the stage expansion too. Unlike the Moondrop Blessings 2 and Monarch who dearly lacks with X-axis expansion, Margarita has very good expansion here. Stage height is very good too but it isn’t as tall as the B2 or Monarch, their intimate stage makes instruments fight for air but the Margarita has very good amount of air. It feels more 3D with expansion in every direction. It does not struggle with both front and back projections but yes, URD is more evolved as its stage is more enveloping. Most of the instruments are placed out of head, only the lower end and parts of the vocals and instruments are placed inside the head. Sonics too are very good as it places cues dynamically with subtlety. It has a very good imaging as the instrument placements are very accurate and the instruments have even concentration across the stage.
Margarita is one of the best IEMs around the $500 price range. It is priced at just under $500 now and I have to admit that is the most complete IEM at this price. It does not lack with anything, nothing is overly smooth, has no abnormal sharpness or aggression either which shows the amount of maturity this IEM has. Yes, Margarita doesn’t have a very transparent or vivid instrumental presence around the vocals due to its W shaped signature but does not feel dull either. I do not find any obvious flaws in this IEM but those who are seeking huge bass slam or mushy and smoother instrumental finishing or a very serious and detail loaded IEM can look at other options.
IF I look at the Margarita for a zoomed out perspective, its an engaging, entertaining and a very complete sounding IEM.