Monday, May 31, 2010

RE262: A New Flagship from HifiMan

Yes, that is a RE252 in the picture, not RE262. Why? Cause I don't have any RE262 picture to show you. Rest assure I will post picture up if I do find any. But for now, let's use your own imagination.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Future Sonics: New Engine, Better Dynamic

It has been over a year since Future Sonics announced the Atrio rev2, now the company is planning to upgrade the dynamic transducers on both their Atrio and Ear Monitor series. Atrio, which based on the MG5pro 10mm dynamic transducer will have a new MG7 driver, while Ear Monitor will upgrade its aging MG4+ transducer to the new 13mm MG6pro driver. While the transducers' size remain the same for both drivers, it is said that the new drivers will have better headroom and treble performance in comparison while still retaining Future Sonics unique sound signature. It seems that Future Sonics has no plan for now to turn the upgrading into a big event, but you can expect the packaging to change when the upgraded models hits the street.

Monday, May 24, 2010

[REVIEW] Fischer Audio oldskool’70s – Blast from the Past

Before we started, I’ll like to thank Fischer Audio for the review sample.
 
I must confess I am not much of a portable headphone user these days when I have access to a good collection of IEM. I guess the same can be said to most portable headphone user these days, especially among the younger generation. You’ll find less and less people on the street with headband or clip-on headphone but more with IEM and earbuds. It reflects the trend of miniaturization in the audio world where equipments that were once considered very portable now being classified as big and bulky. We are spoiled by technology, no doubt. Here comes FA’s oldskool’70s, a rigid supra-aural design that resembles the old time stock headphone that came with your PCDP (that’s assuming you are old enough to even own a PCDP).  I must admit that this type of styling has some strange attraction to a person like me, who grew up using one of these. But does it perform? We will see.
 
OS70s-X.jpg
 
Spec
Frequency range: 20-20000 Hz
Sensitivity: 112 dB
Impedance: 35 Om
Input power: 100 mW
Cable length: 1.25 M
 
Gears for review: Sansa Fuze / PC->3MOVE
 
OS70s-06.jpg
 
Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
Without a doubt, Oldskool’70s has the fanciest packaging compared to other FA products, even to most other similar products. I guess it is no need to be shy about it. After all, it is supposed to give the user a taste of the 70’s. The actual box that holds the headphone has an outer paper sleeve with the headphone proudly printed on the front. The basic color of the whole packaging is fiery red. The headphone itself is held in the box by a piece of paper with silvery printed words. Does it really a retro way of packaging things as people did in the 70s? I don’t know, but it is definitely very classy.
 
As far as accessories are concerned, all you get just a soft pouch. While I don’t think there is any other accessory that will be very help for a portable headphone, I think an extra pair of foam pad will be a great idea. The foam pad on the headphone is extra thick and marked with the FA brand. It will be difficult to find a generic foam pad replacement with such thickness.
 
OS70s-07.jpg
 
While the overall design is obviously trying to be retro, the build quality needs not be. The back of the transducer housing is made out of aluminum (so is the left/right color button on each side) and appears to have a fully sealed back design. The headband is stainless steel and the two arms that the transducers housing attached to are thick plastic. Since there are very little moving parts (as compared to a foldable design), there is very little thing that can go wrong with it. The only odd thing is the position of where the cable leaves the housing, which is at an angle facing backward (as opposite to just straight down), though I don’t find it to be any trouble at all. The cable is semi-flat. It is not very flat like those on Monster Beat Tour or JAYS’ a-JAYS, but  more like rectangular in cross section. The straight mini plug is iPhone friendly. Overall, the build quality is very solid.
 
OS70s-08.jpg
 
Sound Quality
While I am personally more of an analytical listener when it comes to IEM, I actually do enjoy a warmer sounding supra-aural headphone. Since there is very little isolation to speak of, plus the fact that I generally use my headphone on-the-move, micro detail will be hard to notice anyway.  In situation like that, I would rather just rock out with the music instead of being peaky on detail. On that notion, OldSkool’70s perhaps is not my preferred on-the-move cans, but it works out rather well in a more stationary situation.
 
The headphone has a sound signature that is not easy for me to describe – if you ever heard a pair Alessandro MS-1 (or a pair of lower end Grado), you would know it has a kind of generally neutral to slightly lean, airy sound with bright, analytical treble and quick bass -which many like to describe as a fun “Grado’ish” sound. If I would to describe Oldskool’70s sound signature, it would be ‘MS-1 with forwarded mid and good soundstage’ cause that is how I feel about it right after I A/B’ed it with my old MS-1. Treble is crisp and bright, extends very well , full of sparkle and detail. Mid is forward with a sweet vocal but a little leaner on the lower end. Bass is tight, fast hitting and quite impactful, but lacks just a little warm. Soundstage is a strong point. Though it is not the widest soundstage that I have heard on supra-aural headphone, it is still better than most consider it has more of a closed back design.
 
OS70s-09.jpg
 
A few things to note: First, Oldskool’70s scales rather well with a good source as it is rather revealing. Second, it responds well to EQ. As I said, I like a little warm with supra-aural headphone when I am on-the-move, so I give a little bass bump EQ to Oldskool’70s and it actually sounds very close to what I like (more easy going) and doesn’t degrade the overall SQ at all.
 
When compared to other portable headphones I have, Cresyn C550H, Sennheiser PX200, and Koss KSC75, Oldskool'70s is unmistakably more resolving, more big cans like instead of tuning toward portable use (i.e. stronger bass, warmer bottom) like the others.
 
OS70s-10.jpg
 
Conclusion
As a portable headphone, Oldskool’70s is a little too revealing (and perhaps too hi-fi in a way) for my preference of an easy going sound. However, it serves me well as a stationary headphone. I dare to say I even prefer it over MS-1 in the matter. While I can’t say it has a better price/performance ratio than a $15 KSC75, it is still very well worth the MSRP of $62 (could be a little higher depends on where you are) and thus, recommended.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Balance of A Thousand Mysteries

Head-Direct is bringing some new products to this year CanJam (Head-fi.org annual meeting) at  June 15th in Chicago. Apparently one of such products is the limited production RE-ZERO that is designed to be driven in balanced mode. Not to be confused with the current second-in-line RE0, this new model has a lower impedance, said to have better bass performance and designed to run straight from DAP (normal stereo 3.5mm jack) as well as balanced source or amp (with included adapter). Also, being a limited edition that celebrates the 3th anniversary of Head-Direct / HifiMan's RE-series in-ear line of products, the quantity is set to just 1000 pairs, at US$99 each.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

[REVIEW] Fischer Audio - For Your Ears Only

So this is the second review I am doing on Fischer audio’s (FA for short) portable headphone. When the last one was out, there is quite some controversy as to whether their products were worthy of such praise or perhaps it is just another FOTM, hyper- hyped.  I think by this time around most of the doubt has been gone yet some still remain skeptical.  Before I begin the review I would like to make it clearer as to how I review IEM: A review is not more than a personal assessment which may or may not be agreeable by others. My goal of review is not to simply tell you what is ‘better’ to buy. ‘Better’ is such a complicated words that we all must agree that we can’t really agree on what standard of reference is, as it is all personal. Yet the idea of the review is to give you a glimpse of what may be more/less fitting to your need as to avoid wasting time and money. Thus I don’t want to just telling you what sounds the best, but more importantly what they sound like and how well I feel about each of them as a whole, as objective as I can from a subjective POV. As I have said before, putting a great treble, a great mid, a great bass and a great soundstage together can easily give you the worst of sound as to the best of sound – it is ‘the blend’, the coherence, the synergy and most importantly, the ‘factor of taste’ that determine how an IEM matches you. That is, do the IEM sound signature fits your taste of music? If not, why bother? Trying to be Hi-Fi is one thing, but trying to enjoy the music is another. Fidelity serves no purpose when there is no enjoyment in the music. They are equally significant elements in the quest to a ‘better sound’, or perhaps it is ‘the better enjoyment of sound’. That is the goal.

Spec
EternaRev-X.jpg
Eterna (beta?)
Transducer: Dynamic
Frequency range: 8 -22000 Hz
Sensitivity: 110 dB
Impedance: 18 Ohm
Input power: 350mW
Cable Length: 1.25m OFC cable
Plug: 3.5mm L shaped, gold plated

SBA01-X.jpg
SBA-01
Transducer: Single balanced armature
Frequency range: 50 -23500 Hz
Sensitivity: 109 dB
Impedance: 30 Ohm
Input power: 50 mW
Cable Length: 1.3 m
Plug: 3.5mm L shaped, gold plated

DBA02-X.jpg
DBA-02
Transducer: Dual balanced armature
Frequency range: 20 -24000 Hz
Sensitivity: 108 dB
Impedance: 43 Ohm
Input power: 60 mW
Cable Length: 1.3 m
Plug: 3.5mm straight, gold plated

Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
As far as packaging is concerned, the revised Eterna (beta?) is pretty much identical to the original version. In fact you can’t tell them apart by packaging alone. While it is understandable that FA is trying to avoid reprinting the box, it is nonetheless a hidden issue on the consumer’s part on which version he/she might get. The smart thing to do will be to put a sticky on the box. The box of SBA-01 and DBA-02 is another story. FA is going minimalistic with the packaging (and in a way, pretty green). The boxes are identical b/w the two, basically just paperboard box with different color paper lining on the inside. The boxes are sealed by a strip of color paper with model name on the front and spec printed on the back. It is nothing fancy but in a sense, very classy.

Accessories wise, Eterna v2 is the same as old version, a soft pouch, two single flange, one double flange, ear guide and the simple manual. SBA-01 comes with just one pair of small and one of mid single flange eartips, ear guide, two pieces of manual / warranty paper, and a soft pouch. The pouch is made out of padded nylon mesh which is great for ventilation (which is a good thing if you like to put the IEM in the pouch right after you take it off, as moisture is less likely to accumulate). DBA-02 comes with three pairs of quite decent single flange, ear guide, a leather pouch, and the warranty / manual. It is easy to tell that the pouch is real leather just by the leathery smell. The red stitches actually remind me of leather pouch with e-Q7.

SBA01-05.jpg
SBA01-06.jpg

Build quality is decent with the Eterna v2 (beta?). I have had no real problem with the old Eterna and I certainly don’t find the new v2 to be any lesser in quality. The only issue with the old Eterna is perhaps the slight memory effect on the cable. FA seems to notice that issue and change the cable to a softer, less affected type. SBA-01 and DBA-02 are mainly hard plastic construction. The full plastic housing with transparent section might look a little on the cheap side, but the build quality is pretty good. Beside the good looking metal grill on the nozzle, I especially like how small the SBA-01’s earpieces are. I can wear it over-the-ear or straight down without any trouble at all, though I do think FA should have included a cable guide on the Y-splitter up. The housing of DBA-02 is slightly on the bigger side which requires a little more adjustment when wearing though I do not find it too bothering. The only improvement I would like to see is the strain relief on the earpiece, which should be elongated just a few more millimeters and hold on tighter to the cable. It will make wearing it over-the-ear easier. I am quite happy with the Westone-like twisted cable, but do feel a little strange to see the black and white retro color combination. While SBA-01 has a more UE like nozzle size and DBA-02 has a more Westone/Shure like nozzle, they are not totally confirmed to the common standard. SBA-01 nozzle is smooth with no bump/ridge to hold the eartips, and Comply T400 is slightly too big to have a firm grip. DBA-02 nozzle is simply a little too long for most single flange from other companies, which exposes the filter closer to earwax. Comply T100 or P-series (for Westone) seems to fit fine on the DBA-02 though. Shure olive will probably fit as well but it will be on the tighter side. Microphonic is not a big issue with all three models since they are designed to be wore over-the-ear. Isolation is great on Eterna stock bi-flange, but a little below average for SBA-01 and DBA-02. They are still however enough for street use, but I won’t recommend them on extremely noisy environment.

Overall I am happy with all three models. FA has shown improvement on build quality since I last reviewed the company’s products.

DBA02-05.jpg
DBA02-06.jpg

Sound Quality
As always, I put in roughly 50 hours of burn-in (each) before the audition. I do not find any major change during the process.

EternaRev-05.jpg
The old Eterna is a very musical sounding IEM. It has a slightly warm and an upfront presentation that is ‘not about accuracy of the sonic reproduction, but the 110% dedication to fun and music enjoyment’.  The new Eterna (beta?) is technically more balanced and polite. It still retains the same warm sound, but in a lesser form. Treble is smooth and fairly detail, but rolls off just a little early. Mid is full, decently sweet but feels a little dull. Bass has good impact and decent bodied, but a tad too slow and slightly congressed. Soundstage is slightly above average though lacks a real sense of air. In a quick sum, the new Eterna sounds like a compressed version of the old version – less extreme edges, more polite yet also lost the ‘magical blend’ which I rated so highly.

SBA01-07.jpg

From looking into the transparent housing, SBA-01 has a rounded BA driver which I assume to be Siren transducer by Knowles. Since this is not the first Siren transducer I have heard, it becomes apparent that all Siren transducer share some common characteristic in sound signature. That is they all sound warm and musical in different degree. The overall SBA-01 sound signature is also in similar trend, but with a full sounding mid, especially in the upper region. Treble is well extended though not quite as refine and lacks good sparkle. Mid is decently full with a sweet vocal, but a little harsh on the upper region when in loud volume. Bass is quite deep with a good speed and impact but not vest in body. Soundstage is about average.

DBA02-07.jpg

DBA-02 is fairly balanced sounding with a brighter, more analytical presentation. Treble is very well extended to the top, detailed and full of sparkle, but might be a little too aggressive for non-analytical listener.  Mid has good texture, neither too forward nor recessed, but the upper mid is a little more forward which can sound slightly harsh on brighter music. Bass has good impact, body and speed. Not quantitatively big, but above average. Soundstage is quite good, very airy.

Verdict
In just little over half-a-year since I wrote about Fischer Audio, I have seen the company’s market expended in both demographic and product line. While I am not too impressed by the retuned Eterna, SBA-01 and especially DBA-02 really standout well as the company new venture into balanced armature based IEM. More importantly, I am glad to see FA still maintains its bang for buck pricing policy and willingness to explore the unknown territory. I have given the old Eterna an SDA for its unique blend of sonic signature, and now I think it is time for the new flagship DBA-02 to receive the same recommendation for its technical performance.

The MSRP are $59 for Eterna, $76 for SBA-01 and  $150 for DBA-02. Actual street price might be higher.

Read the quick sum up here.

This above rating is for Fischer Audio Eterna (beta) only and may change without notice. Please refer to the list for a complete listing. 

 This above rating is for Fischer Audio SBA-01 only and may change without notice. Please refer to the list for a complete listing. 

 This above rating is for Fischer Audio DBA-02 only and may change without notice. Please refer to the list for a complete listing. 

[UPDATE] I got words that the new Eterna I have could very well be a beta unit which might not be the same as the new revised version due to some shipping error. So this basically throw most of the conclusion I have out of the window and back to square one. I will keep the review intact but please read it with a grain of salt (not that you shouldn't in any review).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

M2 has a brother


Thought M2 has yet to make it to the market officially, MP4Nation.net already makes plan for another IEM, the M1. Being M2's little brother, M1 is aims for detail and balanced listening audience instead of the M2's more warm and musical signature. The pre-order price is around $30 and I must say it is quite a burgain. I will be reviewing it in the next few weeks.

On an unrelated news, Shure SE535 and SE425 got themselves some price tag. MSRP will be US$550 and US$350 respectively. The relatively high price are actually a little surprising as there have been several reports that the new Shure will have a lower price tag than the current models. Note that SE530, thought MSRT @ $500, can actually be found on the street for $300 (and even less for SE420). I though Shure will do the smart thing to lower SE530 to around $350 while SE535 at around $400~$450. Being such a big name, Shure should be able to push a lot more sale with a lower price tag and still makes up for the price cut. Why they choose to maintain such a high price is beyond me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

[REVIEW] Brainwavz M2 - Beyond Gamma

First, I will like to thank MP4Nation for sending me the sample of their upcoming M2.

For those who have been in the Head-fi forum for a while, you might have known the M2 by its other name, the ViSang R03. So why does a product end up with two different names under two different brands? ViSang is actually a fairly well known headphone manufacturer in China, but like many in the same business, they prefer OEM business for the oversea market as a way to minimize risk and cost. While they are distributing the R03 as their new flagship in their local Chinese market via their own established distribution network, the M2 will served as the ‘international edition’ that will be carried by Mp4Nation.net under the Brainwavz brand.

Spec
Transducer: 10.7mm Dynamic
Impedance: 20Ω
Sensitivity: 115dB @ 1mW
Frequency Range: 20 - 20,000Hz
Distortion: <= 0.3% @ 94dB
Channel Balance <= 2dB
Rated Input Power: 10mW
Maximum Input Power: 40mW
Plug: 3.5mm, gold-plated, L plug
Cable: 1.3m, Y-cord, Silver Plated OFC.

user posted image

Build Quality and Accessories
Build quality is almost excellent, and far exceeding my expectation of its asking price (pre-sale for $50 and MSRP for around $65). The earpieces themselves are made out mainly of aluminum. The metal mesh filter is well cut to sharp and glued on, and better than most of the IEM in same class. The biggest selling point (build quality wise) is the cable. While SPOFC isn’t something uncommon even in this price range, the silver plated OFC wires on the M2 are twisted and sleeved together on each side, kind of like Westone cable with sleeve. Like Westone cable, it is very flexible and fairly tangle- and memory-free even after long period of coiling up in a bundle as long as you didn’t coiled it up too tightly, and it is just a bit springier then the un-sleeved Westone cable (which is totally tangle- and memory-free). The cable is a little microphonics from the Y-splitter up but totally silence from the Y-splitter down. To further improve microphonics, a shirt clip will be included in the final package. The inclusion of the ear guide also make wearing the IEM over-the-ear easier. Unlike in the sample unit I received, the final version will have an L plug like the beta Brainwavz instead of a straight plug like that in the picture. If there is one thing that I think needed something improvement, it will be the strain relief on the earpiece. They don’t look particularly as well made as the rest of the IEM and probably won’t hold on very well if you pull them really hard – so as a precaution I will recommend you not to try to remove the IEM from your ear by yanking the strain relief.

Accessories wise, you will get 3 pairs of good quality Sony Hybrid like single flange eartips, 3 pairs of foam tips, a pair of silicone ear guide, a hard case, a shirt clip. A soft pouch will also be included as well, though the hard case should be more than enough. To further sweeten the deal, MP4Nation also includes a one year one-to-one replacement warranty if there is any problem other than user’s error with the M2.

Microphonics is decent on the Y-splitter up and almost silence from the Y-splitter down. Isolation is above average. Due to the Sony Hybrid like eartips, it is fairly comfortable in long use.

user posted image

Sound Quality
As always, I clocked in over 100hrs on the IEM before the review though I didn’t really notice any significant change in sound characteristic. Since the overall signature is on the warmer and smoother side, plus the stock eartips work out quite well, I didn’t bother to change or experiment with other eartips. Compared to the previous Brainwavz models, the new M2 is quite a step forward, leaving the entry class and begin to invade the lower section of the mid-fi IEM world.

The overall sound signature is on the warm and musical side, but still maintains good degree of balance. While the treble is decently extended, it is in a smooth fashion and not quite as sparkly as I would like. Mid is fairly sweet with a slightly forward vocal, which works out really well but not overdone to the level of being mid centric. Bass is very snappy, impactful, dynamic and well bodied. It appears and scales out well when needed but doesn’t intrude into the mid. It serves as an accentuation rather than a distraction. Soundstage shows decent air and depth but lacks in width.

user posted image

Verdict
M2 just shows us how far the IEM world has gone in the last few years. When I first joined Head-Fi.org, sound quality like that of the M2 would have been well over $150, and yet today it is priced far under $100. It is incredible that newer IEM in the lower price range continue to surprise us with better and better sound. This is going to drive the manufacturers of the middle price range IEM nuts as you can’t just simply sell a $150 IEM without being outdone or chased around by something 1/3 of your price!

While the original R03 is already at great value, the M2 is just a nicer package in comparison especially if you consider the pre-sale price of $50. It is almost a steal and I will recommend it with a SDA for the current pre-sale price.

The quick sum up can be found here

  This above rating is for Brainwavx M2 (pre-sale) only and may change without notice. Please refer to the list for a complete listing.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Balancing Act

What do you listen to music for? To enjoy the complex interaction of musical notes, the dynamic of human vocal range, the complicated mathematic calculation and millions of on/off action on the silicone chips, or do you only care about how wonderful the 'blend' of sound which touches your heart? The truth is, listening to music is the sum of science and art. We use sophisticated electronic equipments like expensive CD transport, DAP, amps and headphones that are designed to faithfully reproduce the music, yet we do not want to listen to the cold, soulless, 'digital' sound and still prefer the warmness of vintage vacuum tube in modern equipments. Gears are not just the instruments, but part of the experience and should be treated as so. Individual gear each reflects its own design philosophy from the designer, and together they have a 'synergy' - the blend of different characteristics that contributes to the final sound. It is beyond just simple electronic engineering that try to be 'bit-prefect'. This is the reason why we don't just enjoy sunlight as a result of nuclear fusion, but because it makes life possible and gives warm to the heart. We are, and always will live our life between science and art, between the principles of physic and the creative complexity of the human mind.

Recently I saw some debate among audiophiles on whether measurement and spec really mean anything in the audio world. While dismissing science from the equation of finding better sound quality is not correct in itself, total reliance in science to resolve this partially artistic quest is foolish as well. Here is a post by Swanlee @ Head-fi that worths a read:
I just think some people put to much int clinical graphs just like some people put to much into snake oil. We should be able to draw some conclusions from each side but in the end we have to decide what we like based on what we hear and our own personal preferences.

A player that has treble roll off at 15K is not big deal for me cause that is where my hearing stops, for someone else this may be a huge deal. A player that dips in bass will not meet my approval as I like a lot of bass someone else may not care. A player with a crazy graph curve may match my personal preferences as to what I like in sound signature which is more enjoyable to me than a flat line.

You simply can't look at a graph and get the complete picture on how a player REALLY sounds but graphs can explain why a player has certain characteristics.

At some point if you don't let your own ears decide what you prefer then why bother even listening to music, just look at straight line graphs all day then.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

There and Back Again

Ah, though it is impossible to forget about the daily engagement and responsibility, it does feel good to 'get away' even if it is just a short while. I am back now, continuing my pursuit for sonic enjoyment.

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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