NF Audio NA1
Now this is an unconventional review. I stepped right in and started discussing the NA1’s weakness first. Because apart from that, I am thoroughly impressed. The speed of the single dynamic driver is simply delicious. The tightness of the bass can make any drummer drool and the body feels just right with most recordings. The midrange is accurate and once one gets past the slight hollowness, voices sound realistic too. The treble is snappy and fast in decay. It actually all comes together when you have a perfect seal and no surrounding that would drown out the lows. Under these conditions, the NA1 is formidable. But when I step outside, I personally either need better isolation or less treble emphasis.
All in all, the Hifiman Ananda-BT excel at where it matters most: sound quality. However, I feel like the overall product design needs more attention. Some decisions, like omitting a passive mode or adding a mediocre bulky travelling case, make the headphones a hard recommendation for the asking price. I am sure people would be willing to pay 100 € more if that would help to create a more complete package. More so, the bulky design does not really help with mobility at all. In conclusion, I think the Ananda headphones have top-tier sonics but the Bluetooth version is pretty much a very niche product. I recommend to check out the original Ananda instead.
I wouldn’t grant the AZLA Horizon a feature as FOTM if I wouldn’t really like these IEMs. I bought them out of sheer interest and I wasn’t disappointed. These are really easy to get into thanks to their good timbre and great soundstage. Pairing them with a good amp can smooth out the treble that otherwise might be shrill at times.
The Horizon prove their worth by a high quality cable, genius ear tips and an advanced dynamic driver that allows for high resolution. In conclusion, I can absolutely recommend them!
64 Audio U18t
The U18 are an incredibly powerful monitoring tool that effortlessly shake out an insane amount of details. They’re tuned to not have their own character and are thus not too exciting for the most part. 64 Audio mainly lets the music talk for itself. Nevertheless, playing through the U18, attention is often drawn to the treble as it impresses with its particularly high resolution.
Do note that if you really want to unleash the almost infinite potential of these earphones, you also have to make sure that your audio chain is up for the task and, above all, that the audio material used is suitable for hi-fi use. If the conditions are met, the U18t blasts the music completely apart in its every atom, allows deepest immersion and often even insights into the production. 64 Audio has created an absolute technical miracle that won’t leave us aghast.
Lypertek has succeeded in creating a completely impressive overall package, which is just as impressive as the Oriveti Hi-Fi earphones according to their price range. The sound is sensational, the operation super simple and the comfort better than with any TWS I have yet had in my ears. The TEVI surpass many more expensive earphones in sound and function. Lypertek heralds a new era in which even True Wireless is no longer compromised.
The Oriveti OH500 are a great package for the aspiring audiophile. (Depending on the budget, the OH300 punch that value even higher, though the small refinements to the OH500 are very appreciated by the careful listener and worth the price difference.) The OH500 are comfortable, beautiful, easy to use and – most importantly – great sounding. They create an enjoyable warmth with a relaxed presentation that doesn’t omit any details and also has an amazing soundstage. I have spent a great amount of time with the OH500 and I am sure I will continue to do so.
SoundMAGIC Vento V3
The SoundMAGIC Vento P55 V3 has amazing value. I should not have any interest in “cheap” headphones anymore, have my demands continuously risen in the past years. But upon first auditioning the demo of the V3, I already knew I’d have to take one home and take a closer listen. I do not regret my purchase at all. It has become my preferred choice when I don’t feel like using IEMs or setting up a complex audio chain. I highly recommend these headphones!
The Campfire Solaris is a real star in the Head-Fi galaxy! Not only is it sensationally crafted and looks great, but it’s also musically balanced. It provides a very addicting signature and manages to assert itself as one of the best high-end listening experiences thanks to its very high resolution.
My verdict after 4 weeks is very positive. The SoundMAGIC E11BT offer reliable features that ensure carefree use in everyday life. The Bluetooth connection is stable and transmits the sound cleanly without audible artifacts. The sound offers a pleasant warmth with potent low bass, homogeneous mid-range and a soft and transparent treble. Especially the headset functions are a welcome enrichment thanks to the high-quality microphone.
For the price called, what is offered is more than impressive. Although some savings have been made in regards to the accessories, the build quality is convincing all the way. The sound isn’t revolutionary, but SoundMAGIC pushes the price/performance ratio even further down than ever before. Here, the manufacturer really shows its muscles and offers skillful tuning, exemplary channel balance, low distortion and wide frequency range. You won’t find “more sound” for the same price!
Buy it. I would like to keep the conclusion this brief. Of course, the Shanling M0 is not perfect and perhaps it’s not the audiophile high-end nirvana in terms of data specs, but realistically speaking, you don’t need much more unless you like to fire particularly hungry headphones. For the moment, I’m hard to press to recommend any cheaper device on the road.
The workmanship is impeccable, the operation functional, the touch display sufficient and the form factor absolutely ingenious! Meanwhile, whenever I leave the house, I have to check for a fourth item in my jacket and trouser pockets: smartphone, keys, wallet and the M0.
Thanks to bluetooth connectivity, it no longer hurts to say goodbye to the smartphone’s headphone jack and compatible bluetooth headphones have also been considered. The “real” audiophile is also served a delicious dish: DSD and HD files are played back without a hitch and the finest gold ears can select an appropriate filter to get the maximum out of the information. However, low distortion and high signal-to-noise ratio are particularly important and Shanling succeeds.
We are talking about 99 € and the application possibilities are extremely varied. There is absolutely no reason not to recommend buying the M0. If you are looking for an inexpensive DAP, or have higher demands and still want to save money, you can easily get it from here.
MoonDrop Kanas Pro
In short, I like the MoonDrop Kanas Pro Edition a lot! For my preferences, the Kanas beats all known IEM with dynamic driver. The price is an understatement.
One can get used to the slight (sub-) bass boost very quickly, and the relaxed dip in the upper midrange and lower treble is fortunately tuned for many songs. For monitoring I would still prefer one of the many alternatives with balanced armature drivers, but as a daily companion for pure music consumption across all genres, it even exceeds my fairly high demands. For tracks with vocals and sub- bass the KPE is now my first choice. When faced with the challenges of complex Jazz, however, I fall back to other IEM.
In regards to product design I am a big fan of the Bauhaus style: “form follows function.” That’s why I’m less convinced by the metal bling bling design. I would prefer a (more ergonomic) housing à la StageDiver and also the cable doesn’t fully suit my taste either. But these are at most nagging things in an otherwise functioning relationship. Overall, I’ve got a lot of praise!
beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro
The beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro are a good set of portable cans in the budget-tier category below 100 $. I think the monitoring purpose advertised by BYR is a bit too enthusiastic, but they do sound enjoyable especially with Pop and Rock music. They are not ground-breaking in any way. You will find pairs that are more comfortable, more fashionable, more neutral, more expansive and more detailed, but not all of it at once for the same price. With the DT 240 Pro, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
The AM850 enter an extremely crowded market with an abundance of choices among sub-100$ priced IEMs. This is quite a challenge and for that Astrotec did well. The AM850 feature good build quality and an attractive design. The sound has an authoritative low-end with nicely tuned mids and highs. Ultimately, it is not enough to stand out as the single best choice, but nonetheless, they are a good addition to a pool of similarly priced IEMs.
InEar StageDiver 5
The InEar StageDiver 5 are technically easily the best of the series. In fact, I think the SD-5’s strengths even outperform the company’s reference flagship ProPhile 8 if linearity is not top priority. The tonality is extremely engaging and balanced at the same time and I can see some less experienced users thinking they are neutral. I have become a big fan of the midrange and I am surprised how easily my mind adapts to the signature.
But not only the sonic performance impresses. The StageDiver are still the most comfortable universal IEM series for my (German male) ears. The design allows a tight and deep fit and I don’t know anything that comes closer to an actual CIEM. For the first time, a small version is already available with the product launch.
Those striving for high-end audio can achieve further improvement by upgrading the cable and they also have the option of choosing real wood designs and an optional leather case to match the performance. Do not let the driver count fool you, this is a TOTL monitor!
At Headflux we think pragmatically: good sound is good sound, whether or not it was achieved with the help of DSP. In our opinion, the frequency response in particular is very important for subjective sound perception. This is one of the reasons why we have been intensively involved with the linearization of headphones behind the scenes for a long time. For this purpose we have already tested several target curves internally – the review of the biggest player Sonarworks should not be missing.
Altogether, we can easily recommend Sonarworks True-Fi as a cost-effective solution to achieve a significant improvement in the audio chain in terms of high-fidelity in most cases. The project is very ambitious, but currently there are not enough headphones on the list of supported devices. We also see potential for improvement in regards to IEM equalization. For the full experience, we also suggest to take a look at Sonarworks Reference, which allows manipulation of the default correction that thus can be better adapted to subjective perception. Anyone can test the software for free for 10 days before buying. We highly suggest to try it – at least if your headphones are supported.
beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless
The beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless are a chic, well-made and comfortable set of on-ear headphones that are fun on-the-go with a warm tuning, moderate bass and smooth highs. You’ll enjoy wearing and showing them, but with a RRP of 449 € they ultimately stay a little below our expectations or don’t quite meet our demands of a neutral studio sound. Nevertheless, they can stand up to competing Bluetooth headphones. Perfectionists will criticize some shortcomings, such as the imprecise touch controls, noise from the built-in technology and a much too coarse volume control. In addition, the connection to the accompanying app is unreliable. Although the MIY app occasionally has problems accessing the headphones, the Bluetooth connection itself works very well. I am also very satisfied with the voice quality. As an audiophile, it’s easy to forget how convenient wireless use really is. Bluetooth definitely has some advantages.
The usefulness of the MIY app, which is actually supposed to enable “perfect sound” through personalization, ultimately depends very much on the health or age of one’s own ears. If your ears are still healthy, the additional benefit remains relatively small, but I can see how the idea makes sense in the long run. Especially those with asymmetrical hearing are offered an almost unrivaled advantage. Others are instead advised to take a look at a cheaper on-ear from the same company, such as the Aventho (without wireless), the T51i or the DT 1350.
RME ADI-2 DAC
I can’t think of any other desktop DAC/amp combo that would be easier to recommend in 2018. There is no magic involved in the RME ADI-2 DAC: no proprietary filters, no patented exclusive circuits, no unordinary connections and most importantly no voodoo buzz words. This is an extremely down-to-earth device that has just been given extreme thought, massive experience and great attention to detail. It’s not the supplier’s chip that makes a great device, it is how you use the tools.
The ADI-2 DAC is technically marvelous, regardless of whether you want to dive into the long feature list or not. I do recommend you do, though, because the equalizer with its many save slots, the customizable loudness function, the tight crossfeed, various DA filters and many controls to test your whole audio chain just keep on giving and giving. Despite the huge amount of functions, the software is extremely stable and hasn’t failed me once.
While the Phones output provides clean and linear amplification for even power hungry headphones, the new IEM output might just have reached a new reference level. Of course the device will work just as well as a standalone DAC in case you want to connect some warm tubes with the line-out. The channel-specific dual EQ or quick bass/treble adjustments can work wonders in a speaker setup.
I praised the RME ADI-2 Pro before and it proved to be a massive success. At 1.599 € (or 1.999 € for the black Anniversary Edition) it challenged competitive high-end products and it seems almost unfair that we now can get the same performance for a lot less, e.g. 999 €. Friends of high-fidelity, what are you waiting for?
Sennheiser HD 660 S
Just like the HD 600 and the HD 650 before it, the new HD 660 S is another great hi-fi headphone for home use. The revisions and minor improvements are legitimate and suit the series well – even if the surcharge seems to be a bit steep for the moment. I do not agree with the decision to include a symmetrical Pentaconn cable, but otherwise, considering the complete package, there is very little cause for criticism.
Sennheiser have once again delivered a very well-balanced and ambitious set of headphones, which can actually be blindly recommended for almost all purposes. However, if you already own one of the headphones from the six hundred series, you might save yourself the upgrade, depending on your requirements. Despite the new technology, the relationship to its siblings cannot be denied.
At almost two thousand dollars, the qdc Gemini is not a steal. But for that, you not only get a very goodmonitor, but also the whole high-end experience: beautiful design, perfect fit, flawless production, a nice case, superior cable and the adequate packaging.
The tuning of the 8 BA receivers is done very delicately. The Gemini sound more musical than a reference tuning but they still provide overall great balance among bass, mids, and highs. They also scale very well with better equipment and I am interested to see how much I can push them in the future.
The bass switch is nothing I asked for, but surprisingly I use it a lot. Once I get on the tram, I subconsciously automatically flip the switch. When I arrive back home, I flip it back. Independent of the music genre, the sound is very saturated, melodic and easy to listen to, yet provides ample texture and great micro-details.
Westone UM-1 (2017)
The new Westone UM1 might not be the first choice for the full hifi experience with impressive extension on both ends, strong low-end rumble or airy treble. But what they do, they do very well.
Their presentation is positively mild with great potential for tweaking, but even without modifications, the homogenous frequency response does well in giving instruments and voices enough room to stand out on their own.
Westone provides a nice package with durable IEMs, a large selection of ear tips and the pro-feeling of higher priced monitors. If they had included a more useful pouch, the value would have been even higher. The new UM1 still prove to be a solid recommendation for musicians on a budget and I prefer them slightly over the current placeholders by Shure.
Audio Zenith PMx2
Audio Zenith asked me many times to enjoy the music while writing this review. That is exactly what I did! I enjoyed my time with the PMx2 a lot and eventually it even made me question the perception of warmth. At the end of the day, the PMx2 definitely had me convinced that their tuning is very enjoyable and natural with not a hint of fatigue. It’s all about music first and that’s where the PMx2 excel at.
Modifications are a subject on their own. No doubt the upgrades done with the PM2 are troublesome and the PMx2 are a further development toward high-end audio. However, I do think that Audio Zenith were a bit too aggressive in covering up Oppo’s base work of a good headphone. Less of those Audio Zenith stickers would have sufficed too. Perhaps something along the lines of “PM2 reworked by Audio Zenith“ could have worked too. But the point is that the team of A.Z. put a lot of work into the PMx2 and the outcome is definitely something to be proud of. This is a very refined product.
I can only recommend to check these out if they are available anywhere near you. Looking at the street prices, I think it might be easier to recommend to grab an Oppo PM2 as long as they are still available and then send them out for modification – this should be cheaper than paying full price for the PMx2. That is not saying they aren’t worth it, but it could make the investment even more worthwhile.
I find it very easy to recommend the MrSpeakers Aeon. The workmanship is good, the comfort is high and most importantly, above all, the sound is pleasing. However, you should prefer a neutral tuning with little coloration, especially in the high frequency range. This is of course the greatest feat in hi-fi and thus I am very positively impressed by the Aeon. Despite the closed construction, the bass is relatively firm and clean. There is slight potential for improvement in regards to homogeneity in bass and midrange, but that’s very picky criticism.
The high level of isolation is very welcome, yet the Aeon are not really suitable as travel companions. They’re too large and the construction is anything but space-saving. It’s a pity, because the Aeon are easy to drive and do not require much power from an amplifier, theoretically making it very practical for mobile use.
I am particularly pleased about the price, which is relatively low for a headphone of this quality. Regardless of price, the MrSpeakers Aeon are one of the best closed headphones available today.
Audeze iSine 20
I wonder what the motivation behind the iSine was. Audeze clearly did not want to improve ergonomics, comfort or handling of existing IEMs. It was all about using a magnetostat that is characteristic of the company. Admittedly, the challenge is high and it is impressive that they have taken up this challenge. Also, certain technical strengths cannot be denied. But in the end, what you get with the iSine 20 for approx. 600 € doesn’t deserve a purchase recommendation.
The tuning with normal cable is best used for fast metal and hard rock. The bass is fast and tight, and screaming vocals gain authority due to the coloration in the midrange. However, with complex jazz compositions, the advantages are outnumbered by disadvantages. The stage seems big, but instruments are not always in the right position and trumpets or oboes can sometimes not achieve the desired presence in the orchestra.
If you decide to grab the iSine 20 nonetheless, 50 € surcharge for the cipher cable should be attractive. The bright tuning can even be pleasing with high-quality classic recordings; but as soon as the recording offers little headroom, the iSine with iOS become exhausting and strain the ears. Instead of relying on the proprietary cipher lightning solution, I would recommend using an alternative equalizer instead. Users of other operating systems have no other choice anyway. There are plenty of EQ apps available and Audeze’s official app does not fully meet the hi-fi requirements in this case.
Audeze has nevertheless succeeded in producing an interesting product. Although my assessment is a bit conservative and the weak points of the iSine outweigh the advantages of the iSine for me, I hope that with the recently released in-ear flagship LCD-i4 Audeze managed to bring the tuning closer to the large LCD series. Should the tuning be pleasing without the help of DSP, the concept of the iSine could become very attractive. As of now, it is but an interesting technology study that only the less hifi-focused geeks are sure to enjoy.
Final E2000 & E3000
The two new Final E-type IEMs are a pleasant surprise. Both the E2000 and E3000 offer a very attractive package with terrific ear tips and useful ear guides. Apart from lacking a hard case, there is barely any open attack surface. Comfort and build quality are as simple as they are useful.
The difference of E2000 and E3000 mostly lies within the tuning. The tonality of the smaller brothers is very well balanced and they do a terrific job as a backup or portable pair for serious detail aficionados. The warmer E3000 is perhaps even more refined but they will take some time to grow on the listener. Of my hifi friends, I am perhaps the one who least likes a warm signature but I kept grabbing the E3000 more often than I thought. They serve extremely well as a nightly companion on the bed stand.
Final’s 6.5mm driver is pretty quick but not enough to punch outside the sub-100 $ price category. The vented design helps a lot in this regard but it also means that the isolation is below average for an IEM. The E3000 use this as an advantage for a big soundstage. Ultimately I do think that the E2000 is even more attractive for the price.
How much is a DAP allowed to cost? Up to 900 €, apparently. I criticized a few points, for example the display. However, there is nothing that cuts back on the music enjoyment. The DX200 has everything an audiophile needs: it sounds transparent, uncolored, spatial, revealing, and more.
The “ideal customer” of the iBasso is uncompromising, but also makes high demands based on price. He also wants to have the feeling of buying a premium device. The DX200 offers all this: the packaging is too fancy to store away; the charging cable is nice enough to proudly carry along and every day anew you want to decide whether to put on the leather case or not – it is attractive with or without it.
If you know that you prefer to listen to music very loudly, then you might want to replace the amplifier unit yourself and order the AMP3 module. The modularity is a big advantage in the long run, as there should soon be the 4th option. Personally, as an IEM user, I was already completely satisfied with the AMP1.
Not surprisingly, the AK70 is less oriented towards technical nerds, but rather tries to deliver an attractive overall package for the hifi enthusiast. The buzzwords are all there: HD, Hi-Res, DSD with up to 128x CD resolution, etc. However, the actual sound improvement is negligible compared to some of the better iDevices – provided you can do without HD. But the sound is a bit brighter and more neutral. It is also a nice handy device, which has a useful USB-DAC function.
I would wish the device would be a little bit quicker for menu navigation and the output impedance could have been lower. Then it would be easier for me to make a purchase recommendation. Now my recommendation is limited to: “My smartphone is not loud enough and apart from good sound, design is very important to me.” If you have 600 € to spare, then don’t let my impression be in your way!
FiiO X5 III
In this review the poor FiiO got wiped several times from left and right. I am someone who demands streamlined minimalism and who prefers perfectionism over loads of functions. The X5 III moves in the opposite direction and offers quantity instead of quality in the software. Those who take their time will certainly get the Android device optimized to their advantage and have an excellent technical basis. If you can do without highly sensitive inears, you get a lot of power for 450 €. Unfortunately, you don’t get it served on a silver platter and I don’t recommend the FiiO music app.
iFi Audio iEMatch
In my testing, the iEMatch was a huge improvement in everyday use. I mostly use in-ears and most of my headphones are very efficient, too. Paired with the normal headphone output of the iPhone (R.I.P.), improvements were very noticeable and highly appreciated. Almost even more so with desktop amps that feature an analog volume control, like the Objective O2.
There are really no drawbacks unless your habit is to listen to music at very loud volumes and your headphones aren’t very sensitive. Very demanding users might be bummed that the little iFi won’t reach below 1 Ω OI, but then again this will probably be easy to accept for a clean and less hissy output. Andromeda users might want to try the ultra setting for arguably better tonality.
In the end, the iEMatch is only a small gadget. A small accessory. A cheap one, considering the investments we usually bring up for this hobby. This is a dead easy recommendation and I am sure it will find a safe place in your IEM case!
NF Audio NF6i
NF Audio caught me by surprise. Based on Chinese local reviews, I was already expecting a solid contender with an enjoyable sound. Obviously, one would expect a newcomer brand to punch the price very low. NF Audio did all that, but that is not even enough to describe the NF6i. This earphone is unique and just as enjoyable as many well-regarded TOTL CIEMs. The high frequencies performance is outstanding. The clarity matches that of an open vented design yet allows high isolation in a custom fit. All without fatigue or sibilance. The NF6i sound fresh and have a unique selling point.
The NF6i are not a new studio reference as their W-signature does not allow the most precise of monitoring across the frequency spectrum. The accurate mid-range floats like an island between present sub-bass and airy upper range. Overall, the NF6 are refined all-rounders that do not let any detail go amiss with any genre. It’s all there, plenty and balanced. They sound fun and hardly colored at the same time. They left me impressed.
Being able to place an order through a Chinese market only will understandably be a huge turn-off for most. But this is a product I advise to put on the watch-list. International dealers or a universal fit might be on their way; at least I hope so, for a more competitive market.