Thursday, December 31, 2009

Exclusively Japanese's

Well, I thought I want to conclude year 2009 with one last news update. The two IEM mentioned here are both from Japan, and likely will be exclusive to the Japanese market (but not that you can't get someone to export them).

JVC announced the new flagship HA-FX700 just few days ago as the successor of the fairly successful, but aging HA-FX500, the first IEM with a wooden diaphragm. The new model will have an updated, larger wooden diaphragm (more like the cone of the diaphragm, actually). Estimated to hit the Japanese store at February 2010, it will cost somewhere around US$300 to US$350. Do expect to pay more if it ever makes its way out of Japan.



Radius Japan announced their new flagship IEM, the HP-TWF11, last month (I know, it is not really 'new' news anymore). A few interesting notes: First, it looks like the Sony MDR-EX700 - but that is not to say the golden/red color combo isn't more classy than the black Sony. Second, it has a really cool transducer. A single magnet, individual coiled dual diaphragms, two-ways dynamic transducer is not what you will find on your average IEM. In fact, no one ever uses two-ways dynamic transducer since Panasonic ceased its production over a decade ago. Unfortunately, like a lot of great gadgets in Japan, I doubt this IEM will ever be marketed oversea. Well, one can always dream.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

Happy Holidays to y'all! :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

[REVIEW] SoundMAGIC PL-21



Spec
Driver: 9mm Dynamic
Impedance: 12 Ω
Sensitivity: 97dB±2 dB / mW @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 15Hz~22kHz
Plug: Gold-plated L-shaped mini plug
Weight: 8g
Cable: 1.2m



Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
PL21 comes in a similar style packaging as PL50, differentiating both from the older generation of SoundMAGIC's IEM. If anything, they do look more upscale than their price tags suggested. Inside, there are four pair of silicone single flange eartips (S, M, L, XL) and three pair of foam tips (S, M, L), warranty card,  shirt clip, soft pouch and a pair of ear hook.



Build quality wise, PL21 is almost on par with PL50: the Y-splitter design is identical, but PL50 does have a slightly thicker cable and a similar but stronger mini plug. PL21's earpieces are similar to PL20, but smaller, prettier and have a slight angled nozzle.



Microphonics is about average on PL21, but the inclusion of shirt clip, ear hook and the angled nozzle make it easier to wear it over-the-ear which should ground any microphonics problem. Isolation is a tiny bit below average on the stock eartips, but better on the foam tips. I end up using Sony Hybrid clone (sourced from eBay) which gives a slightly better seal and isolation compared to the stock eartips. Overall, PL21 has one of the best build quality on all the $20-ish IEM I have seen.



Sound Quality
As usual, a minimum of 50 hours burn-in was carried out before the audition. As mentioned above, I used the Sony Hybrid clone eartips for the review. Though they are clone, the sonic signature is actually almost identical, which tend to absorb a tiny bit on the top end while gives a more solid bass, turning the sound slightly warmer and smoother. For PL21, it doesn't sound slightly less airy than the stock tips, but the gain on a more solid mid and bass performance due to a better seal is still an overall improvement IMO.

The overall sound signature is warm to slight dark, musical, smooth, and has a small emphasis on the mid. Bass extends very deep, does rumbling sub-bass better than any IEM of its class while retaining very good control. Quantitatively not a bass monster but it does show a good bass impact and body. Mid is full, a little forward and vocal is sweet, no sibilance to speak of. Treble has a decent extension but lacks sparkle to show fine detail. Soundstage is about average.



Conclusion
Well priced, well built, and a good sound - PL21 is one very solid IEM in the $20 range. As an overall package, perhaps it even rivals most of the sub-$40 options out there as one of the best all-arounder.

A quick sum up can be found here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

[REVIEW] Ortofon e-Q7

Before the review, I want to thank Ortofon Japan for loaning a pair of e-Q7 to me.



Spec
Driver: Single Balanced Armature
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz (+/- 3dB)
Sensitivity: 120dB SPL/mW
Impedance: 40 ohms
Maximum Rated Input Power: 5.0mW
Weight: 16.9g
Cable: 1.2m, Silver Plated 4N OFC.



Technical Prelude
When Ortofon first announced the e-Q7, the earphone is advertised as having a newly developed single magnetic pole, armature based large size transducer. In most other balanced armature (BA) transducer, the ‘arm’ where the miniature coil is resting on is placed between two magnets (this is the ‘balanced armature’ part). When electrical signal is applied the coil, the arm flexes back and forth according to the change of magnetic field and push an rod at the end of the arm. The rod transmits the motion to the miniature diaphragm and creates the sound. In contrast to BA, dynamic (moving coil) transducer’s coil is placed inside a single larger magnetic field (a rounded magnet). The motion of the coil is directly transmitted to the diaphragm since they are attached to each other. The different in construction reflects the differences in sonic characteristic: BA is often better at detail, speed and resolution, while dynamic is often better at mass and low frequency performance.



The new armature transducer in e-Q7 is, however, a different beast. If I have to sum it up in one word, I’ll call it a ‘hybrid’, or perhaps Grado has described it in a better term as “moving armature” (on their GR8, which features the same family of transducer). Imagine a dynamic transducer without the moving coil. Instead, the diaphragm is connected to a large armature placed in a single large magnetic field. Now you’ll have the best of both world – speed and resolution of balanced armature with the massive low-end found on dynamic transducer. Too good to be true? Perhaps not.

After over 20 years of trying to improve on old technologies in the field of IEM design, now we finally enter in a new era, with a new type of transducer.


A very detailed user manual (with both Japanese and English) is included. Only a small handful of IEM makers have well printed manual. A real shame actually.

Packaging, Accessories, and Build Quality
I am not sure whether it is because the e-Q7 is from Ortofon, or maybe because it is made in Japan (likely the combination of both), the packaging is just great. It just so happens that out of top three IEM packaging I have ever seen (Shure SE530, Sony MDR-EX700 and Ortofon e-Q7), two of them share the same Japanese origin.



Inside the box, you’ll find a hard paper box with velvet lining inside (the sort of box jeweler will use). Open the hard paper box up, the shiny metal ‘ortofon’ is almost too pretty to look at. The IEM itself is sitting at the bottom, just below the real leather hard case. It is elegant.







The other accessories are, three pair of eartips (S, M, L), 3 pairs of replacement filters, a filter removing tool, a pair of replacement filter locking rings, a pair of mid size Comply T400 foam tip. The nozzle size is that of typical UE style, which means finding after market eartips shouldn’t be a problem at all – not that you will need them as I find the included eartips to be soft and comfy, but isolation is slightly below average.




This is real leather case.

The earpieces are made out of aluminum, with an elongated design to serve as an acoustic chamber. Due to the length and weight, the earpiece will tend to lose its seal from time to time, especially if you wear it in hanging style and move a lot. However, it really doesn’t happen often enough to reach the level of annoyance. You can also wear it over-the-ear to avoid the issue once and for all.

The strain relief on the earpiece is semi-hard rubber, which retains a small degree of plasticity but it doesn’t flex much. The cable is ultra pure silver plated OFC. Interestingly, the cable has a two parts design. For the earpieces to the Y-splitter, it is your typical rubber wrapped wire. But from Y-splitter downward, it has an extra fabric sheath to reduce microphonics (and a side effect of extra rigidity). The design actually works really well. If there is one part I don’t like about the cable, it will be the strain relief on the mini plug. It is quite hard and doesn’t do much to relief stress. Unfortunately Ortofon doesn’t include a wire guide up from the Y-splitter, so there is nothing to hold the cable firmly if you want to wear the e-Q7 over-the-ear. The good news is the upper portion of the cable (without the fabric) is soft enough that you don’t need a wire guide to make the cable stays in place. But I would imagine a wire guide could be even better.

In sum, e-Q7 build quality is top notch, but there are still some minor areas that can be improved upon.


There is not obvious left and right marking, but there is an extra bump / dot on the left strain relief.


The two parts cable design, with fabric sheath on the lower end.




The filter is hold by a plastic ring.

Sound Quality
As always, the e-Q7 has been given a 50hrs+ burn-in before the review. Self-contained BA transducer often does not benefit much from the housing, as everything is sealed inside a tiny metal case. On the other hand, dynamic transducer is easily affected by both the design and material of the housing, which give more ‘tuning space’. Since the diaphragm of the e-Q7’s armature transducer has a closer resemblance to that of a dynamic transducer, an elongated housing is designed to be the acoustic chamber to help deepening the mid and bass body.

The overall sound signature is warm and mid focus, well suited for vocal lover. Treble is clean and smooth, though does roll off on the top end, but not more so than SE530 or UM2. Mid is full, focus and sweet, but not overpowering nor sibilant. Bass has good impact, body and extension, but no rumbling big bass. Soundstage is only average.

In many ways e-Q7 sounds like the midway of SE530 and UM2. It has a better mid performance than SE530 as it is totally sibilance-free yet retains most of the mid goodness of SE530 (which still has a tiny bit of sibilance), but it is not quite warm as UM2 (which is probably too warm from a neutral prospective). It also does not have quite as good a soundstage as SE530 because it doesn’t separate each layer as cleanly, yet it is still better than UM2.

What surprised me most are how much e-Q7 sounds like a dynamic transducer based IEM, yet has speed and resolution closer to that of a BA based IEM. One interesting thing to note is, like most dynamic transducer based IEM, e-Q7 needs a bit more volume to sound as its best – but remember not to crank the volume too high.



Conclusion
Ortofon e-Q7 is by far the best single BA based IEM I have ever heard, placing it alongside with some of the best multi-ways universal IEM in the market. This proves again that more transducer is not the only answer to the question of better sound quality, even in the world of balanced armature.

Multi-ways IEM beware: This is only just the beginning. With e-Q7 doing so well, I would imagine the future generation of this new BA will be even better.

Ortofon e-Q7 can be acquired in Japan for about ¥24100 (roughly US$270) from reputable dealer, but unfortunately international price is often higher.


Last but not least, a pictorial comparison between e-Q7 and TF10 (with shure olive).

A quick sum up can be found here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

FiiO E7 + E9 News Update

A black edition FiiO E1 will be released on the next batch.

Here is the new rendering of E7: Along with some inner hardware changes and the face lift, the new casing is also slimmer than the previous prototype showed before.



Below is the proposed E9 prototype. Basically it is desktop amp with an iPod / FiiO dock integration. You can either 1) dock you iPod / iPhone on E9 and feed it the line-out, 2) dock the E7 and give E9 the USB DAC function (E7 will feed line level signal from E7 DAC directly back to E9 amp section). You can think of E7 as E9's DAC module.) or 3) Feed E9 a line-in analog signal, just like most other desktop amp. E9 will also feature a better, newly design amp section that is different from E7. E9 is scheduled for early 2010.



[EDIT] 12/11/09 - More photos update from FiiO. The E7 shown here will be very close to the final version (I was told the final version will be better looking). Also, the will only be black color model (anodized aluminum housing). The buttons are full metal with highly polished glossy surface. So far the included accessories will be 1) decent quality 20cm 3.5mm-to-3.5mm interconnecting cable (not shown here), 2) soft pouch with velvet-like surface (similar to those in picture, but mod'ed for the amp) 3) rubber band (also similar to the one on the E5 in picture, but mod'ed) and 4) a good quality 120cm USB cable.











Wednesday, December 9, 2009

[REVIEW] Hippo Shroom and VB

Before the review, I want to thank Uncle Wilson @ Jaben for the samples.

Hippo Shroom - Clean Sound in Miniature



Spec
Driver: Single 6mm Dynamic
Sensitivity: 95dB + 4 SPL / mW
Impedance: 16Ohm @ 1 kHz
Frequency Response: 10Hz - 20 kHz
Cord: 1.25m
Plug: Gold-Plated Stereo 3.5mm Mini-Plug
Weight: 0.8g



Packaging, Accessories, and Build Quality
Compared to other models of the same line, Shroom's packaging is definitely more shiny and psychedelic. Inside, you will find the IEM itself, a synthetic leather soft pouch (like that of NuForce NE-7M), three pair of different sized black eartips (small, mid, large) and three pair of different sized red/blue colored eartips - very shroomy indeed.

One of the first things you would probably notice is how small the actual earpieces are. The general shape resembles that of CrossRoads' Quattro, but smaller in diameter. In fact, the dynamic transducer used in Shroom is 1mm smaller in diameter compared to that of Quattro's. Also, the transducer is designed to be in the front of the nozzle (which is larger in diameter than the earpiece housing) for a more 'intimate' sound, but we will leave that discussion for later. Isolation wise, I find it to be above average and good enough for fairly noisy environment. Microphonics is just about average. You will want to find a shirt clip to go with it.



The mini plug is of an interesting design, kind of like old UE design but more rounded and smaller. I like the design but I wish the strain relief can be longer and more flexible.

One of the main features on Shroom is its transducer placement, which almost at the tip of the nozzle. As a result, the eartips used are specially made for Shroom to accommodate the extra wide nozzle, which means the possibility of aftermarket eartips replacement is out-of-question. The good news is, the eartips themselves is pretty good in quality. But due to the nozzle diameter, I would suspect people with very small ear canal size will probably have a hard time getting a comfortable fit. The design also introduces a new problem, earwax and dust accumulation. While it is not uncommon to see earwax buildup on the nozzle on any IEM, the more exposed Shroom transducer (sitting just behind the mesh / vent) is more vulnerable to such a problem. You will require cleaning it out the mesh / vent regular with a needle to make sure there won't be any obstruction - not a particularly hard thing to do but it must be done.

Overall, the build quality is similar to the latest CrossRoads MylarOne or he previously reviewed Hippo Boom. Decent, not the best there is but neither is it bad. It is not designed for rough use so some caring will be needed in order for it to last a long time.


Shroom and Quattro, both without eartips. Shroom has the transducer on the tips / nozzle while Quattro's is inside the housing.

Sound Quality
As usual, I gave the Shroom a standard 50hrs minimum burn-in before the review (like I did with all IEM I reviewed). Since there is not possible to use any other eartips and there seems to be no sonic difference b/w the black and colored eartips, I ended up using the stock black midsized eartips for the review.

I first saw the concept of placing the transducer as close as possible to the eardrum on one of JVC low end 'bi-metal' series. The elimination of most of the front housing and nozzle were claimed to help reducing any unwanted reverberation. In that sense, it is probably fairly effective on Shroom. Its sound, in short, is very clean and transparent.

The overall sound signature of Shroom is between neutral and balanced, but still remains largely neutral and analytical. Treble is well extended with good sparkle and resolution, but it will occasionally sound a little bit sibilant on brightest note. The mid is well presented too. Vocal is clean and a bit upfront, but not full nor sweet and can sound a little lean at time. Bass has good speed and decent impact, but not excessive in quantity. It also rolls off more significantly on the lowest part of the sub-bass region. So basshead needs not apply. Soundstage is above average, airy and transparent with good decay.



Conclusion
Clean, transparent, and analytical sound is where Shroom's strengths lie, but in a sense it can be too lean for those who prefer a warmer, sweeter vocal or big bass. Shroom is more in line with ADDIEM's sound signature, but slightly better on overall performance. I consider the overall SQ to be about the same as iM-590 - just that iM-590 has better bass and mid while Shroom is better at treble and transparentness.

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Hippo VB - Customizable Fun



Spec
Driver: Single 10mm Dynamic
Sensitivity: 105dB + 4 SPL / mW
Impedance: 32Ohm @ 1 kHz
Frequency Response: 18Hz - 22 kHz
Cord: 1.30m
Rated Power: 2mW
Max Input Power: 10mW
Plug: Gold-Plated Stereo 3.5mm Mini-Plug
Variable Bass Tuning



Packaging, Accessories, and Build Quality
VB's packaging is similar to that of Hippo Boom, just black paper box. Inside, you will find the IEM itself, a hardcase, a shirt clip, three pair of different sized eartips and of course, the three pair of bass tuning plates. Despite the printing on the paper box, the bass tuning plates are marked wrongly / in reverse. Instead of no dot representing the weakest of bass, it is actually the strongest, and so on.

The hardcase is pretty decent in quality, which is expectable since Hippo started as a headphone case brand. The earpieces resemble that of the Denon C700 series, but with rear exchangeable bass plate. The nozzle is filter-less. The main housing is made out of anodized aluminum which has a solid feel and weight to it. The bass tuning plates concept is similar to that of Quattro's, but improved in the sense that VB's bass plate has rubber o-ring to hold the plate in place so it won't get unscrewed accidentally.



The only complaint I have is about the stock eartips, which have a rather springier inner core that isn't as soft as it should have been. It is just not as comfortable as normal single flange. I end up swapping them with the regular Audio-Technica style single flange which is much comfier in my ear. Isolation wise (on the swapped eartips), the two dotted mid bass plate is about average. The dot-less big bass plate is slightly below average since it turns the IEM into a full opened-back design, while the triple dots small bass plate give above average isolation. Microphonics issue is decent.

Overall, I find the build quality to be slightly better than Shroom due to the more robust design, but it is still not the kind of headphone that you can / should abuse.



Sound Quality
Like Shroom, I gave VB a standard 50hrs minimum burn-in before the review (like I did with all IEM I reviewed). The eartips of choice, as mentioned above, is a pair of generic Audio-Technica style single flange due to comfort issue.

The overall sound signature of VB is lively and on the warm side. On the triple dotted / small bass plate, bass has a decent impact but less in quantity and more toward neutrality. Mid and treble are drier and brighter. Soundstage is also noticeably narrower. On the two dotted / mid bass plate, bass has a very good body and depth, especially on the mid-bass region (and it does go down deep). Mid and treble have better resolution due to better airiness which also give a better soundstage. This by far is the best sounding bass plate. On the dot-less / big bass plate, bass is noticeably more boomy and much warmer, which in term floors over the detail and mud up the mid, treble and soundstage.

Regardless of which kind bass plates, the treble does get sibilant from time to time on brighter music (except it is less noticeable in big bass plate due to the excessive warm muddiness). I listened to VB under a quick frequency sweep and it performs surprisingly well from top to bottom, but there are a few spikes on the upper region which probably is the reason of the sibilance issue. As a result, sometime there can be too many sparkles in the treble which sounds too 'busy'. However, the sibilance is not to the level of annoyance as long as you keep the volume to a reasonable level. Shroom has a better control on treble in comparison.



Conclusion
In many ways VB sounds like the CrossRoads Woody 2 without the wood lushness, while tuned more toward a livelier, focus sound signature (and no doubt both have been benefited from the larger dynamic transducer). It might have minor issue here and there, but VB has outperformed its price tag. For those who enjoy a warm, musical, and lively sound, VB is a great sub-$100 option.

A quick sum up can be found here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

[REVIEW] Head-Direct / HifiMAN RE-252 - 'balance' redefined

Quite some time ago Fang @ Head-Direct asked me if I would like to review the RE3 (RE252's prototype's name), naturally my answer was 'yes'. I have reviewed RE2, RE1 and one of my most favorable IEM, the RE0, and I have witnessed a chapter in the evolution of dynamic transducer based IEM. Back in 2007, the market for top-end dynamic IEM seems to be all dried up. No doubt Atrio is as much a great dynamic IEM as it was back then, but it does seems a bit lacking compared to the big boy with their fancy three drivers. The next year we saw the EX700 and IE8, each with pros and cons of their own. During all these time, Head-Direct has made their way up with dynamic IEM of their own. Small might each step be, they were still very much noticeable in the Head-fi's realm.

For those of you who keep track of things, you might notice that dynamic and balanced armature based universal IEM often seems to appear to two different group of IEM user as if they are two different kind of headphone all together. Dynamic has the bass and the soundstage, BA gets the resolution and isolation - at a time, we all seems to assume that are how things suppose to be. In many way, I consider the entry of RE series marked a change of tide in the dynamic IEM market that is more significant than that of IE8 or EX700. It isn't really about the IEM themselves, but rather how the user respond to these IEM. Suddenly we start to find dynamic transducer good enough to challenge BA for its resolution and the number of transducers in each IEM becomes lesser an issue for choosing an universal IEM. Smaller and mostly unknown brands start to get more attention because of their solid performance rather than rely on many bigger company's fancy-design-strategy.




Spec
Driver: 9mm dynamic with silver coil
Frequency Response: 16 Hz to 22kHz
Impedance: 16 Ohm
Sensitivity: 103 db / mW
Rate Input: 2mW
Maximum Input: 15mW
iPhone compatible 3.5mm miniplug
Soft silicone semi-custom fit earpeices



Package & Build Quality
RE252 comes in a transparent hard plastic case. Next to the earpieces, you will find three pair of different sized single flange silicone eartips. On the earpeice itself is the big bi-flanges. Under the paper container, there is a small plastic bag holding 5 pair of replacement filters, UE style bi-flanges and a shirt clip.



The mini plug is L-shaped and gold plated with fairly light but sturdy build that suitable for iPhone jack. The cable used is PPE based, which is an improvement over the 1st generation PVC cable found on RE0 and I prefer it over the fabric based 2nd generation cable on RE2 and RE0. One of the main feature about the PPE cable is how well it deals with stress and bend as it is much rubbery and flexible than the old cable. While I have had no problem with my 1st generation RE0 cable at all, the cable is stiffer than I like and I always make sure that it won't be wrapped too tightly. Though how well PPE cable will hold up in time remains to be seen, at least at this point I can safely say it is much easier to store RE252 than RE0. Like the old RE series, the Y-splitter and the cable guide are still made of metal, but with gunmetal color and lasered marking instead of the old shiny nickel plated surface and silkscreen painting.



The earpeice housing is mainly a combination of hard plastic (for housing the transducer and forming the nozzle) and soft silicone (for the buffalo-horn like structure which fits into the concha region of your outer ear and the cable strain relief). Since fit is almost always the most important point of getting the best possible sound out of any IEM, we will discuss how well the silicone shell actually performs in the next section. Microphonics wise, the problem mostly restricts to the cable above Y-splitter. Not quite as quiet as I like but not really too bothersome to me.

Overall I think the build quality is more than decent and has shown improvement since RE0, especially on the detail. I haven't been too careful with the soft silicone housing over the weeks of testing yet it seems to hold up fairly well, which is definitely a good sign since it is most likely the first place to show if there is any weakness.



Fit and Isolation
While fit is important to all IEM, it is more so on RE252 as you not only need to get a good seal in the ear canal, but also a good fit on your ear's concha. I have a pair pretty easy going ears that usually don't give me any trouble on seal with a mid size eartips of all sort. In the case of RE252, I tried both the bi-flanges and the mid single flange without problem but ended up using the single flange for reason of SQ (more later).

On first few listening session (usually one hours each), I had no problem on my left ear. It did however get a bit sore on my right ear's concha due to fatigue from the pushing of the 'horn' part of the silicone shell. It is not terribly uncomfortable but I did want to stop for a short moment every now and then to catch a break. For those of you who ever tried Sennheiser Twist-and-Fit earbuds, the feeling is very similar to that. After almost a week of use (around than 10~15 hours, I assume), the situation charged dramatically. Now I actually actually feel pretty good wearing RE252 for long hours without any sore or fatigue. The reason is, the silicone shell gets softer with human contact, as in the case of silicone eartips. So if you have the same problem as I did, do get it more time to 'break in' before calling it quits.

Isolation wise, I find RE252 to be close to average on the single flange. Fine for daily commute but won't be enough against really loud noise. There is a small hole on top of the hard plastic housing but it does have any audible effect when sealed so I assume it is not for venting. On that reason, RE252 probably has a fully closed design.

Sound Quality
As always, my main reviewing rig consists of: Dell XPS420 – Foobar2K - ASIO – 3MOVE. The music of choice is my regular reviewing CD (see this) and a few ripped albums on my computer. Being the new flagship IEM, I pick back TF10 and SE530 along with RE0 for A/B'ing.

For treble, I still prefer RE0 high extension and above all, its transparency. RE252 has a close performance to that of TF10, but (only very) slightly better in the sense that it is capable of a little more sparkle without any sibilance. On the other hand, SE530 doesn't have the extension needed to compete with the other three.

For mid range, SE530 is well known for having a full and rather sweet vocal presentation. TF10 has been criticized fro a V-shape frequency response but I personally find it to be very well placed in the overall sound signature. Not its strength perhaps, but neither is it a weakness. RE0's mid is very neutral in comparison, though has really great resolution. RE252's mid is between RE0 and TF10, but more toward RE0. It is not neutral, but it isn't upfront. It gives an impression of being the dominance of its sound signature yet it is not by itself a powerful or emotional factor.

On bass performance, SE530 has the upper hand of warmness and control, TF10 has more mid-bass that has the impact but lack the depth. RE0 is a bit bass light (or in more correct term, slightly more sloppy) when unamped but if you give it enough power, it will return with good speed and decent impact. RE252, unamped, can easily match and ever excess the bass performance of RE0 on a good amp, but it is far from bass heavy. It is more in the 'neutral' zone.

RE252 soundstage is only about average. It does have a pretty good width and resolution / instrument separation, but lacking in depth (airiness), which makes the overall soundstage a bit more 2D like and not engaging enough. Perhaps it is due to the lack of good reverberation. Reverberation can be a double edged sword. Too much and the sound will get muddy up, too little and the sound becomes too clean for enjoyment (lack of musicality). Like RE0, RE252 does appear to have a rather fast speed which is not the best for building up the body of the sound - on that regard, a warm source or a warm amp will have better synergy with RE252. On the topic on amping: I don't find amping necessary for RE252 at all. The improvement from amping is much more evidence on RE0 than on RE252.

As mentioned earlier, I use single flange eartips on my RE252. To me, it shows the best part of RE252, which is its mid and vocal performance. One of the reason I don't find RE252's soundstage to be that good is probably due to my eartips choice. Big bi-flange does sound more specious to me, but nonetheless I think I am getting more from the mid centric single flange.

The overall sound signature is balance, yet neither totally neutral nor colored. Very good treble and detail, rather dominate yet not very upfront mid and vocal, and decent while still remains mostly neutral bass performance. Decent soundstage but lacks real depth. Pairing with a warm source or amp is recommended while not a requirement.



Conclusion
My first impression of RE252 resembled that of UM3X (in a brief audition, I might add) - not that they sound alike but that I find them both to be lacking of personal characteristic. It is not always a bad thing for an IEM to not have a strong characteristic. It means the IEM is less picky about the genre of the music and be more of a Jack-of-all-trades (the downside is of course 'master-of-none'). In the end, I think RE252 really redefines what I would call as a 'balance' sounding IEM in its own terms as I can hardly say if there is any major flaw in its sound. Perfect it might not be, I think RE252 does earn to be crowned the new flagship of the RE series.

RE252 is retailed for $199, but for now you can grab one from Head-Direct for $99 during its Black Friday 48hrs sale.

A quick sum up can be found here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

HifiMan RE252 on Sale!!!


Head-Direct just announced a Black Friday 48hrs sale event which includes RE252 for half price at $99. I will try to finish up my RE252 review, so stay tuned - but for those who can't wait: RE252 is the most balanced IEM of their current line-up and well worth the original price, the new sale price just makes it an irresistible deal. I'll recommend it to anyone who are seeking an IEM with an almost perfect vocal and mid range performance that does not lack in bass or treble.

[UPDATE] The sale is over. The price has went back to $199.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

[REVIEW] MEElectronics GrooveMEE II

I have been using this little player on and off over the last few weeks and so I thought it is time to give it a review.




Spec
Screen: 320x240 262K color 2.6 inches touch screen TFT.
USB: 2.0 (MSC device)
Memory: 4GB / 8GB
Battery: 600mAh Li-ion 3.7v (rechargeable via USB)
Voice Record: 8KHz / 16KHz WAV
Music: MP3 (up to 448Kbps), WMA (up to 192Kbps), OGG, FLAC, WAV, APE
Video: AVI, MPG, MP4, WMV, MOV, RM, RMVB
Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20KHz
FM: 30 preset stations with recording function
Multi-languages supported
Multiple EQ presets including Microsoft PlayFX
Built-in G-Sensor for motion control
TXT files (eBook) supported
JPEG/BMP/GIF images supported with slide show
microSD card slot
Software scratch pad for drawing and note
Built-in speaker
Files browser

Build Quality and Accessories

On the right side of the touch screen: Vol+, Vol-, Menu, Note(scratch pad), , Rec. microSD slot and mic/reset are on the bottom.


Headphone jack and USB slot on the side, ON/OFF (with hold) on the top.


Most of the outer case seems to be nickel plated steel, which gives the player a bit more weight than your typical mp3 player. All the marking and icons are either lasered on or engraved. The housing is very classy actually though it is a fingerprints magnet.


Inside the box, you will find the GrooveMEE II, USB power adapter, USB cable, pen for touch screen, MEElectrnoics' own IEM the M2 (with three set of eartips), silicone case, small CD with a simple video converting software inside, user manual. Pretty everything you will need for a mp3/mp4 player are included, which is of course great.

Overall the build quality is pretty good. The metal housing does have more weight to it, but not something too heavy to carry around. The included earphone is MEElec's own M2 with the new cable, which is definitely a step up from typical stock earbud you will get from most brand name mp3 player. Unlike most other DAP, with GrooveMEE II you get almost everything you'll need instead of spending more money trying to get things like silicones case or a decent quality IEM. The included pen is a nice touch. While the player itself doesn't have extra space to hold the pen, there is a side compartment in the silicone case reserved for it. The G-sensor actually works okay. You can use do Next/Previous by shaking the player to the right/left direction but it isn't too sensitive to randomly skip song.

If there is one thing that I want to complain about, it will be the viewing angle of the screen. Basically you will need stay in front of the screen to get 100%. While you can still see at an angle, the reflection becomes more of a problem. This is likely an issue when you want to share your video together with someone else.

Navigation
There is one physical switch on the player and it is the ON/OFF with hold key. To turn the player on, you'll need to push the ON/OFF switch to aside for a good 5 seconds. Push it to the other side and you will lock the touch screen down.


Most of the navigation is done via the touch screen. Basically there are 8 selections on the main menu: Music, video, photo, radio, record, eBook, extra, and setting. You will find the file manager, a calender, stopwatch and the scratch pad inside 'extra'. You can also change the color of the most of the font and the menu transition style inside the setting.

In music playback, you can either use the folder browser to play music inside a folder, or choose from ID3tag based categories such as 'artist' or 'album' (it is a bit slow this way as the player read the whole library). Generally the player acts more 'old school' (no necessary a bad thing) and works much like a MSC device. I do hope the browser can be a bit more straight forward (especially on the naming on different folder and submenu) as something it can get a little confusing. During music playback, you can choose whether to display the ID3tag info, lyric, album art or active equalizer. Since the player use kind of a file browser to navigate and select music, you will get both the internal memory and the microSD as two separate folder instead of a tightly integrated music library.

Video playback is much simpler to use. Just browse and select the file you want to play. Unfortunately it doesn't remember the last position so you will need to start from the beginning every time.

While there is a pen included for navigation, using finger is just as easy - but I do recommend you use a screen protector sticker so you won't scratch the screen in the long run. On a side note, the scratch pad (or 'note' function) is quite fun to use and function like 'Paint' in Wondows, but not precise enough for really create a drawing.



Sound / Video / Photo Quality
I mainly compare GrooveMEE II to my Sansa Fuze and Nano4 for its SQ. GrooveMEE II has a colder, brighter sound signature that slightly lack in warm, much like Nano4. However, the overall SQ is pretty decent. In comparison, I think its headphone-out on flat EQ can at least match, or even better than Nano4, while not as good as Fuze. On the other hand, GrooveMEE II has much better and more enjoyable EQ than both Fuze and Nano4. Another plus is it also supports the more common lossless codec such as FLAC and APE. I didn't test any lossless as my music library consist mainly of high quality mp3 or wma.

What surprised me at first about the GrooveMEE II is its video support. For testing, I put a DVD resolution RMVB movie into the player (w/o any conversion!) expecting to crash it (or at least make it quits) but instead it plays it rather smoothly without much pixelation. This put both Fuze and Nano4 to shame. GrooveMEE II does come with a simply video converting software for those oddly encoded video, but so far I don't find any need to install it.

For Photo, I have tested a 3MP pictures without problem. It will auto zoom the picture to fit the screen, but it also allow a fixed 2X(?) zoom but it won't do full size. It is a decent picture viewer overall.

Conclusion
Overall, I find GrooveMEE II to be a decent all around player for the money ($70 for the 4GB models and $90 for the 8GB). It does everything well but nothing very outstanding. Versatility is perhaps its strength in the three MEElectronics' PMPs line-up (MEElec also has the smaller MiniMEE II purely for music and portability and the larger RockMEE II oriented toward video playback). Strength enough RockMEE II also priced the same as the GrooveMEE II. It does has a bigger 3 inches 16:9 screen but lacks in touch screen or G-sensor.

Personally, I will still pick my Fuze for purely music playback (plus I already have custom LOD built for it), but if you are looking for a decent PMP that does everything well which isn't too complicated to use, this one is worth a consideration.

Disclaimer: All trademarks and logos in the website belong to their respective owners. Beside getting free review samples, I don't work for or get paid by anyone to write anything on this website, or anywhere else in that matter. Also, free review samples are never sold for any financial gain. I do buy gears and review them, but for simplicity you (the reader) should always assume what I review is free sample in nature (and thus comes with all the bias). The website does have Google Ads and Amazon Associates enabled (which I have no direct control over their content) - though I don't write review for a living, nor does the ads generates enough money to cover my breakfast (in fact, not even one breakfast per week). Listening to music and playing with audio gears are purely hobby for me. In short, I am just an audiophiles who happens to have his own blog. Not a journalist who happens to be an audiophile. Oh, and excuse my writing as I am not a native English speaker and can't afford a proofreader. Also, just because I don't write in a negative tone doesn't mean I don't write down the negative aspect of a gear. Please read them carefully. Last but not least, please note that this site uses cookies to track visitors' number and page view.

Important: All postings are my own personal opinion only and should not be treated as absolute truth. I do get things wrong just like everyone else. Always do your own research!

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