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Xiaomi Piston 2

Xiaomi Piston 2 Review

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

ljokerl

ljokerl

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.

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125 Responses

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  2. Depends on budget. VSonics tend to be harsher but they definitely don’t have the treble recess or veiled mids of the Klipsch, and are still a bargain at ~$50.

  3. do you still stand by these suggestions? I have exactly similar taste in genre’s and have been seeking high and low for a suitable IEM.

    currently using klipsch X11’s which were bought for $99 USD, very comfortable but mids sound a little buried and treble roll off is coming in harsh. missing some clarity to my ears.

    appreciate any help!

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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: https://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/xiaomi-piston-3-in-ear-earphones-review/

  13. 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).

  14. 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.

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

  16. 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.

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