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Friday, June 25, 2010

New Phiaton

They have been holding the news back for a while (though they did give a sneak peek in CanJam 2010), but today Phiaton finally announced their new in-ear model, the PS-20NC and PS-20. As the name 'NC' suggested, PS-20NC will have an active noise canceling unit for further noise reduction. The one I am more interested is the PS-20, a conventional IEM with the half in-ear design (similar to the PS210 I reviewed), though it will be released on a later time at August. The PS-20NC will be ready to hit market in next few weeks.MSRP are US$129 for PS-20NC and US$79 for PS-20.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Introducing the Comply S Series - A Review and Comparison

First, I’ll like to thank Comply for giving me a chance to evaluate their upcoming S series foam tips and compared it to their T and TX series.

I have been switching back and forth between each type of the three Comply foam tips for the last two weeks to get a hold of how differently each is. So far I must say my personal favorite is still Comply T400 (in general), though it is not to say I dislike the others. They all have some pros and cons in comparison.

Comply-01.jpg


T400, being the original Comply, is what I am most comfortable with. It is soft, not irritating, and generally has the least impact on sound as compared to the other two. This means I can use it on most IEM without worrying too much of any sonic change, but I do expect the sound signature to turn just a little warmer, smoother and slightly less detail on the treble end. This is perhaps to be expected of using any foam tips and not unique to Comply.

TX400 pretty much does the same as T400, consider they are based on the same foam. However, TX400 also adds more bass weight and takes away just a little more treble because of the foam filter. It is not necessary a bad thing as I have found that TX400 works rather well with IEM that usually being described as analytical or leaner on bass (i.e. Head-Direct RE0, Phiaton PS210, etc). The added filter also works well on stopping earwax from getting to the IEM filter, which can be a pain to clean. This is of course great news for IEM users who tend to have more earwax. On a side note, I also prefer the black color as it is the least obvious when it becomes dirty.

To be fair, the blue colored S400 doesn’t quite look as impressive as its T/TX series counterparts on first sight. I was worrying the rougher outer surface might be irritating in use (as compared to the T series smooth surface), but I was wrong. It pretty much feels just the same as T400, and I do find it to have a little better grip in the ear canal than T series. One important thing I have observed on the S400 is the slower expansion after squeezing which gives it the ability to hold its shape much longer than T series after removal from the ear canal. It is a benefit when situation requires the user to do a quick remove and insert (i.e. try to listen to another person talking). The foam holds its shape and there is no need to squeeze the foam again. In comparison, T400/TX400 will usually just spring back to full size once removed and often needed to be re-squeezed for better fitting. In a sense, S400 does apply just a tiny bit less pressure to the ear canal. The only minor downside about S400 is that it tends to absorb more treble than T400/TX400, which could be the result of a narrower nozzle opening, the rougher surface which absorbs more sound, or perhaps combination of the two. This is probably the only reason why I personally prefer the more revealing (sonic wise) T400. Fitting and comfort wise, I think the new S series could easily equal or better than the T series depends on personal preference.

Comply-02.jpg

S series is supposed to be a different type of foam though the typical soft and tender feeling is just as obvious as other Comply. It is also going to be cheaper (US$9.95 a tri-pack) than the current T / TX series which should offer a better bang for the buck for foam tips user.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

[REVIEW] Hippo Shroom-EB - The Real Psychedelic Punch

First, I want to thank Uncle Wilson @ Jaben.net for the review sample.

I have reviewed the original Shroom less than 7 months ago, and by all mean it is a pretty good IEM for its price. But for those who pay attention to the current IEM market, ‘moving fast’ has became almost an understatement in IEM lifecycle. The idea of Shroom-EB, as I was told, came from comments on wanting more bass in the original Shroom. So fast-forward to today, a new edition comes with an enhanced bass response to quench the need of some brain-punch, as if the original psychedelic concoction is not enough. The new Shroom has been adequately named Shroom-EB, and that is ‘extra bass’ for you and me.

Note: Since the next two sections are the same between the original Shroom and EB, I just copied them over from my old review here.


SHREB-2.jpg

Monday, June 14, 2010

[REVIEW] Fischer Audio Omega v2 and Eterna v2

First, I will like to thanks the Malaysia local Fischer Audio distributor WS Trading for providing the samples.

Though this is a review, I don’t want to spend too much time covering things such as specification or build quality since they have been mentioned in my previous two reviews (first and second) and pretty remain the same in both v1 and v2. For Eterna v2, besides having the new improved cable, it looks and feels almost identical to the old Eterna. For Omega v2, it is pretty much the same except it doesn’t have the cable tie and cable guide. So, please read my previous two FA review for detail that haven’t been mentioned here. As you have seen below, the new v2 comes with new packaging to avoid any confusion of which version a buyer will get.

OMv2-X.jpg

Omega v2
Frequency range: 12-22000 Hz
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Impedance: 32 Om
Input power: 60 mW
Cable Length: 1.25 M with Oxygen-Free Copper cable
Includes: Single flange eartips (S, M, L) and manual.

ETv2R-X.jpg

Eterna v2
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


Thursday, June 10, 2010

[REVIEW] Phiaton PS-320 - A Great Listening Experience

Before the review, I'll like to thank Phiaton for the loaner unit of PS320.

Prelude
I kind of think I have moved from chasing the next best thing to simply trying to get more enjoyment from what I have, but once in a while I get the chance to listen to something I feel really special. It doesn’t have to be particular high-end or expensive, just a sound that fulfill a person’s inner craving. Now I must first admit I am a fairly analytical listener. Not that I don’t enjoy a balanced or warm sound from time to time, I just find myself being drew back to micro detail and neutral presentation all too often.  Being a self-proclaimed audiophile for a while also let me to reach some conclusion of my own. One of such conclusion is: there is no such thing as an absolute ‘correct’ sound. If all of the best gears around can reproduce sound as truthfully to the original recording as possible, then the only logical conclusion will be - they should all sound the same. Yet it is never the case no matter how costly or exotic the gears are. If such ‘correct’ sound does exists for a person, it will likely to be a blend of the listener’s taste, synergy of gears, and the interpretation of faithfulness to the original recording. That being said, it is my belief that the right sound is the better sound, but the reverse might not be always true - especially for those who could only rely on another’s impression or review. Hopefully you will find this review useful because you understand a little more about me as a reviewer.

PS320-2.jpg

PS320-3.jpg


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Perfect Bass at a Great Price.

Here come two new IEM models from Phonak, the PFE 012 and 022 'Perfect Bass'. Build on the same platform as the very well received PFE models (reviewed here), the new models will have a new packaging and a new sound based on the new bass enhanced filters. The good new is that current PFE user will be able to turn their PFE to PFE-PB (short for 'Perfect Bass') by purchasing the new filter once it is available (vise versa, PFE-PB can upgrade their IEM in the future with PFE filters). The new PFE-PB will have the same excellent quality as the current PFE models. By taking away some of the accessories, Phonak is able to price the new models almost US$60 cheaper than the current PFE models. MSRP will probably be around US$100~110 or so. Dare I say this is another Sonic Diamond in the making?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

[REVIEW] Brainwavz M1

First, I’ll like to thank MP4Nation.net from the sample.
 
It is stressful to have a successful sibling when everyone is expecting you to live up to the family name. I guess nothing can be more true to Brainwavz M2 littler brother, the M1 in this case. Coming from the same blood line, M1 is supposed to be a step down version of M2 while still maintaining the same high price / performance standard established by M2. Well that is going to be a tough job since M2 is certainly one of the best valued IEM in the sub $100 category. Now if you have read my previous M2 review, you would have known M2 as the international version of Visang R03. M1 is however a little different. There isn’t any corresponding Visang IEM to M1 as it is specifically tuned by MP4Nation to be a unique model just from the Brainwavz series.
 
Spec
Transducer: 10.7mm Dynamic Driver
Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
Impedance: 32Ω
Rated Input Power: 10mW
Sensitivity: 110dB @ 1mW
Distortion: <= 0.3% @ 94dB
Maximum Input Power: 40mW
Connector: 3.5mm L-shaped plug, gold-plated
Cable: 1.3 m, Y-cable, silver plated OFC
 
M1-1.jpg
 
Accessories and Build Quality
Since what I have is the sample unit from Visang factory, I won’t bother to tell you how nice the packaging is nor the fine detail on accessories. From past experience with Brainwavz product I can almost be 100% sure that the package will look nice and all the standard accessories (plus a few extra) such as different sized silicone eartips and foam tip will be included, along with a good case, shirt clip and probably an earhook just like the M2. Build quality wise, M1 as nothing less from the M2 (which is pretty excellent by the way). The only downside I can see is the lack of strain relief on the earpiece. The good news is that silver plated cable is so well made that I don’t thing overstressing on the cable exit will be too much of a problem, though a proper strain relief will be even better.
 
Like M2, microphonics is decent on the Y-splitter up and almost silence from the Y-splitter down. Isolation is on par with M2, which is above average. The eartips is different from the Sony Hybrid like clone that M2 has, but it is still quite good in quality and fairly comfortable in long use.
 
Sound Quality
As always, I put in about 50hrs on the IEM before the review though didn’t really notice any significant change in sound characteristic. One of the first things to notice on M1 is the ‘house sound’ carried over from M2. It is the same warm and musical presentation that makes the M series easy on the ear and appeals to people who are looking for musical experience as a whole but not a mixture of notes.
 
The overall sound signature is warm, smooth, musical while a little laidback. Treble is decently extended but doesn’t have a lot sparkle, smoother than that of M2.  Mid is full and vocal is quite sweet. Bass has good body and decent impact though just a tad slow and mellow out the general sound impression. Above average soundstage but limited by its inabilities to present good airiness and form a detail image.
 
M1-2.jpg
 
Verdict
If you seriously can’t afford the M2, then M1 is probably one of the next best things. Like the M2, It has a great price, good build, more than decent selection of accessories and a one year one-to-one replacement warranty to back it all up. It is IEM like the M1 that really redefines the borderline of what it means to be a high price/performance ratio IEM in the budget market.
 
Quick sum up can be found here.

 This above rating is for Brainwavz M1 only and may change without notice. Please refer to the list for a complete listing. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

CanJam 2010: First Wave

So the annual Head-fi.org meeting, CanJam 2010 @ Chicago already officially kicks off this this weekend. Here are two news that you might find interesting:

First, this is the demo unit for the upcoming JH Audio JH3A that I have covered previously. Note the bulk of the cable and connectors. Since you need multiple separated channels from the JH3A to the earpiece, it does seem to be a little bulky on the outside. Well, we audiophiles will do anything for the name of good sound.

Here is the 'bomb' from Westone - the new ES5, a 5 transducer per side custom IEM to challenge JH Audio and UE domination over the current multi-ways custom IEM market. Not much is know at this point, but I am sure you can find the spec of it on Westone website by early next week.

Pictures are courtesy of Jude, the king of Head-fi.

Friday, June 4, 2010

[REVIEW] Fischer Audio FA-002 and FA-003: Two to Tango

First of all I’ll like to thank Fischer Audio for the samples. Before these, the FA I know is really more of a portable headphones oriented brand with their main audience in the lower to mid sector of the market. But with the new Master series, FA is aiming on a higher ground. Giving those big brand names pretty much dominate big cans market for now, making budget conscious cans doesn’t quite seem to be the smartest of moves unless FA do believe they have something special up their sleeve, and I certainly think they could have hit the jackpot with the new FA-002 and FA-003.
 
 
FA02-X.jpg
 
FA03-X.jpg


Spec
FA-002 / FA-003 (same for both)
Frequency range: 10.5-26500 Hz
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Impedance: 64 Ohm
Input power: 120 mW
Cable length: 3.0 M
Plug: 3.5mm with 6.3mm screw-on adapter, gold plated
Extra: one additional pairs of cushions
 
 
FA02-05.jpg

FA02-06.jpg
 
FA03-08.jpg


Review Gears
FooBar 2K (ASIO) + NuForce μDAC + FireStone Audio Little Country hybrid OTL
w/ Grado SR-325i, Audio-Technica ATH-AD700, AKG K81DJ, Panasonic RP-HTX7
 
 
FA02-07.jpg
 
FA03-05.jpg
 
 
Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
To make it clear: Both of my packages are in the ‘simple’ packaging, meaning they are in paper box instead of black nylon zippered case with cut-out foam inside (as you might have read on other FA big cans review in forums). The rep from FA told me that the two different kind of packaging reflect the difference in the targeting customer. The ‘simple’ paper box is actually more expensive to produce since it is custom designed and made, but it is environmentally friendlier (for those who like to be green) while the nylon zippered case packaging is more practical. Suffice to say the paper boxes actually do look classier than the zipped case (as far as I can tell from picture), and the general feeling resemble those of SBA-01 and DBA-02 (which are also in the Master series): It is simple and elegant.
 
Inside the box, you will find the headphone itself, 3m long detachable cable (with colored 3.5mm mono plug for each channel), 3.5mm to 6.3mm screw-on adapter, an extra pair of soft leather cushion, and simple manual and warranty. The 3.5mm mono plugs have a snap-on ring at the base so they will fit securely once you push then into the headphone. The 3.5mm stereo plug (for the source) does have a metal body but it is a little hard to tell in the picture.
 
For FA-002, you get an open grill on both side of the speaker since it is an opened design, kind of like HD650 in a sense. Underneath the grill there is a layer of thin foam separating the transducer from the open. For FA-003, there is a piece of metal where the grill is supposed to be as it is a closed design. The metal plate is actually just for show as the ear cup itself is fully sealed with damping material inside. Judging from the spec you might think FA is using the same transducer in closed / opened design but I have listen to both enough to tell they sound slightly different from each other, beyond just the design. The transducers do however share similar construction, which are around 40~ 50mm in diameter. You can remove the ear cup by removing the small 4 screws in the corner, and that actually open up a lot of ‘mod’ space for those who don’t mind to get their hands dirty.
 
For street price around US$170~180, these cans are neither built as good as Audio Technical nor as humble as Grado. You can definitely get better built cans for that kind of money if that is your concern, but it doesn’t mean these FA cans will break in half in one use. At least with care they will last for a long time. There are some really minor issues that I would like to see improvement, such as a stronger but more flexible metal headband, better paint job and such. However, after being a Grado user for a few years, these ‘issues’ are more of a nitpicking rather than actual problem.
 
The earpads are made out of soft leather with foam inner lining which is pretty comfortable but obviously not quite as comfortable as what my AD700 can offer. It is also very deep so the whole ear can be fitted inside without a problem. The headband will apply a little force and the whole fit is quite secure. You can actual move your head around without worrying much but it is not a dead clamp. I can use it for hours without any issue unless it is in a hot day as the leather pad does keep more heat than velvet pad. To switch out the leather pad is also easy, just hold the plastic ring in the base of the leather pad firmly and gently twist it one side and you can twist it out and exchange it for another, which is included in the package. The cable has both channels join on the 3.5mm plug so making it balanced will be very easy since re-termination at the end is all you need.
 
Overall I am happy with the build quality and the general packaging. I can see other companies offering a better packaging and build in this price range but FA has nothing to be ashamed of with what they have, especially once we move on to the next section.
 
 
FA02-08.jpg
 
FA03-06.jpg
 
 
Sound Quality
Now before I start, I want to make it clear that I am not particularly into big cans. So takes my sonic impression of these cans with a grain of salt if you wish to. Note that beside SR-325i being fed by my Little Country hybrid OTL, the rest of the cans were fed directly by NuForce μDAC since the tube amp is tuned for SR-325i and doesn’t sound as nice with others. Both FA-002 and FA-003 received around 75 hrs of burn-in before the review.
 
FA-002 has an opened design. It is on the warm side, but not too much. Treble extends fairly well in a smooth fashion but still retain a decent degree of sparkle. Mid is rather forward for an open headphone, but not quite what I would call rich. Still, vocal is rather sweet and full of texture to listen. Bass is tight, punchy and has a good sense of speed, though not big in any sense but it does reach deep in a smooth rolling off fashion under 100Hz. The soundstage is not quite as wide as AD700 while not quite as narrow as SR325i (or any lower end Grado for that matter). I’ll describe it as above average / decent.  In fact, I like it as it is, even more so than the soundstage on AD700. While movie might not sound quite as ‘surround’ as it can be, the distance is about right for music, especially on vocal. Being a more or less dedicated IEM user for quite some time now, I rather enjoy a closer and stronger image myself. While AD700 has a great soundstage, it often sounds a little too distance to me. FA-002 is what I would describe as a good vocal / mid range headphone.
 
FA-003 has a closed design. Different from FA-002, FA-003 is more neutral in sound signature. Treble and bass extension is almost as good as FA-002 but in a flatter fashion, smooth overall without any graininess or uneven peak / valley. It is a more laid back sound but not really dark. Detail and sparkle are still presented though in a much gentler way. Bass is tighter than FA-002 but still well controlled. Impact can still be felt though I would call the quantity a little light, at least when compared to most other closed headphones. Soundstage on the other hand is quite good for a close design.  It won’t compete with an opened headphone but it is better than most closed headphone I have heard (for what I can remember). As a close cans, isolation is excellent on the FA-003 as I can hardly hear any leak from the deep earpad and the damped earcup. Being a more neutral sounding headphone, I do find FA-003 to be not picky when it comes to music genre.
 
One of the strangest things about FA-002 and FA-003 are that they sound like what they are not supposed to. FA-002 in many ways has the flavor of a closed design headphone while FA-003 is the opposite. Both are not particularly hard to drive from a portable source though I do feel they benefit from a clean sounding source with a little more power. While μDAC is doing a good job with both, I can tell they can still use a little more power when I fed the line-out over to 3MOVE.
 
 
FA02-10.jpg
 
FA03-09.jpg
 
ALL-1.jpg
 
Verdict
I can’t tell you whether these will beat something like HD650, but at least I don’t think they are lesser in any meaningful margin compared to the close-to-US$300 SR-325i. In fact I prefer both to Grado, sound signature wise. Given that they cost less than US$200 individually, the bang for buck factor is simply too hard to ignore. I guess it is only fair to say Fischer Audio really knows how to make an entrance to the big cans world - with not just one, but a double K.O. in the price/performance game.

JH-3A: The Right Direction

After all the craze on trying to fit more transducer into custom IEM, finally we see a more logical approach to better sound quality: Take the passive crossover (which has been the bottleneck of multi-ways IEM) out, put an active crossover in. JH-3A is not only an portable amp, but also has a DSP (digital sound processor) that actively separates the whole frequency into three ranges and fed them independently to the treble, mid and bass transducers on the IEM. The issue is, coherence is often a big issue with larger passive crossover (3-ways and up). This however is not a problem with a DSP, which keeps track on things digitally.

Now it might seen foolish at first to actually carry that 'brick' around where IEM's mobility is one of the reason why it is so popular now. The truth is, people who pay for a JH13 Pro or JH16 Pro often do carry a portable amp around, so it really isn't that much to ask for them to switch to a dedicated amp built specifically for their beloved IEM. Previous JH13 and 16 Pro owner can upgrade their IEM to work with JH-3A for a cool US$1100 (for remold, rewire plus the amp). Those who order their JH13 or 16 Pro with JH-3A will have to pay around US$1700 or so. Do note that once you converted your JH13 / 16 pro for JH-3A, it pretty much means you can't use it with any other amp or source (directly). Want to hear the whole system before ponying up the cash? It will be in CanJam Chicago this weekend.

Amazon's Deal

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.

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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