Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Trinity Techne Review

Trinity Techne Review

Thanks to Trinity for the sample and collaboration.

First Impressions:  Once more this is pre production set so no nice box or packaging.  So there really isn’t anything much to talk about pre going in the ears. 

Sticking them in my ears.  Hmm well these filters I don’t think share the same colour scheming as the Delta’s do.   Well this is going to get confusing then. 

Source: Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., FiiO E7/E9 combo, HiFiMAN HM-650, Nexus 5, 1G Ipod Shuffle.

Lows:  Lol, you may not know it but this about the 5th time I’ve written this.  Oh filters, y u give so much work?????  Anyway so when I’m done whining.  I think we have a final set up, black filters, are open but just a touch and the gold are rather open.  Open being more articulate and nuanced than the Silver which is the closed V shaped one.  The black one is what I call natural sounding.  The gold while strictly more “neutral” is a sound that’s oft a bit bass light for people’s tastes.  The black is the one that sound more casually realistic.  In the Golds the bass is tuneful and lithe while being similarly agile as with the Black just Black being quantitatively more.  The Silver, well it has more extended depth as you’d expect but its treble is rather abundant too so it’s that classic V shaped, Senn CX95 like drama.  The bass its rather vigorous.

Personally in 5 min of playing the black tip was the one for me.  The Silver is you’re more archetypal V shape, which will undoubtedly be popular, with its punchy bass.  The gold is very ety’esq.  the black takes a more naturally feeling abundance and style.

Mids:  At no point does the Techne ever be a midhead IEM.  The silvers place vocals at the bottom of a bit valley but have a nicely even tonality.  A little bitty on the cool and dry for added clarity.  They are the same on the golds but with the bass rather more subdued.  Moving on to the blacks, my fav filter, and the mids still never really dominate proceedings but are quite the equals of the bass and treble.  Sure they no PL-50’s but the Technie in my mind is aiming for the “Now” range and it nails it.  Vocals are smoothed and warmed a fraction to make them sound like they can actually sing and enough clarity and mid / bass space to prevent them from ever being obscured or dominated elsewhere. 

For really great vocalists though, Nora singing about her home decorator (Painters song) and while on paper it’s a competent rendition.  However with the blacks it’s a hint dry and more so with the Golds.  Her vocals want a more heavy creamy weight, the Technie is tonally a bit light and airy.

Highs:  Golds and Silvers are quite prominent in the treble, they like to let you know they can really blast it out too.  The bright Golds have plenty.  Much crisp, clean and a hint metallic.  Like with the mids it’s competently capable and it’s at its best when you hurl bouncy pop its way.  That goes double for the Silver tips where you get the same treble but with waaay more vigorous bass.  The Blacks, have the same magnitude but comparatively the bass is in a more balanced quantity so it isn’t overall as relatively quantitative as with Gold or Silvers.  Extension is rather nice, cymbal shimmers stay maybe a bit over clear and prominent but it’s not unpleasant.

Detail levels are good an all fronts, though I’m inclined to think a bit over clear with the Golds and Silvers, hey I’m no treble junkie.  Actually oif trust be told I miss a prospective filter option that had a bit of foam in them to really dial down the treble.  Hey that’s me, Mr treble sensitive.

Soundstage:  Once more it’s a sense of breadth and width that stand out.  Height not so much but I can live a large 2D scape.  With the more closed golds in you lose out on that somewhat, they have a bit more intimate and heavy feel to them.

Fit:  Great, easy as pie to stick in my ears.  A classic case of shove in and done.

Comfort:  Just as with the fit, a pretty effortless affair.  They are really rather an odd shape and despite being metal weigh little on the ear, my ears were happy to have them on all day long.

Microphonics:  Worn up, none.  Given its shape you pretty much have to wear up anyway.

Cable:  Excellent.  The thing is some double braided super flexible thing.

Amped/Unamped:  Now I know they have been made with phone use in mind so they are very easy to make very loud. (you know, that stupid french law about volume limiting which means EU products are all limited.)  These then are particularly easy to go loud.  They run very well out of any old source but….. if you feed them oodles of power they do greatly improve.  At their price point I wouldn’t expect them to regularly meet big amps but if you do get a pair, then know that if you opt to add in a little mini amp then you will see gains from it.  As usual it’s the bass that benefits most, it hardens up and feels more sprightly.  Treble a little too but that’s more likely down to lesser sources just being less capable in reproducing highs.  With the black filters on though using a lesser source, like a phone, does dial the bass power back a bit so it’s a quite reasonable pairing.

Isolation:  It’s about the normal for a dynamic.  The closed Silver tip was a hair better but not so that you’d pick just to get that bit more isolation.  Easily enough for day to day use, on a bus etc etc.  Not one for regular flyers probably but would do now and again.  Obviously more than easily enough to get yourself run over if you aren’t using your eyes.

Accessories:  I have a pre production model but should be, a bunch of tips, little tube for the filters, the filters too obviously and a little case.  Case is pretty nice.

Value:  Well, how important are the sound altering filters to you?  If you are only going to have one IEM and you don’t know exactly what sound signature is the one for you then I can really see the filters being of use.  You can buy something decent and having three different sounds available to you it greatly increases the odds of getting one that is you.  The thing is if you know exactly what is or isn’t you, like I know me, then you are putting money into filters that once you’ve listened to them all you will pick one and then never touch again.  Yes you have that flexibility but you do pay for it.  When they go into retail at £65 you get a bargain if you want that flexibility or indeed if it’s for a gift.

Conclusion:  Hmm, I don’t think I love the Technie.  Right off the bat, I don’t love filters but that’s in part because I always find there is one you like more, so the others never get looked at after the first day.  You pay for those filters though.  However I’m not everyone, I know what I’ll like and what I won’t, I’ve heard so many IEM’s I can usually read any reasonable review and know how it’ll suit me, or not.  I’m a pretty atypical consumer.

So what if you’re a normal person?  Well, I do recognise that normal people tend to buy one IEM and live with that.  They haven’t heard countless dozens to figure out what exactly is or isn’t them.  They by one and for many £65 is considered a lot for earphones.  Hell, for many the thought of paying £20 is a lot for something they think should come free with a packet of cornflakes.  The use of filters therefor helps make sure that they will get a product that will work for them and it also lets them learn that there is a world of variety out there.  All earphones don’t sound the same as each other.  If they have only ever heard crap then no wonder they don’t want to spend money on them.

Lol, all that said about filters, I find myself wanting one back that had a treble filter in it, making it comparatively really rather bassy.  Perhaps Bab might make one again, or you could always just add inn a tiny bit of foam to each filter and boom, you want a bass cannon?  You got it.

The Technie I feel is clearly pitching itself at a consumer audience not a Head-Fi one.  That it has changeable filters, the easy to run out of a phone all point them at a mainstream type competitor.  It’s going after that person who’s just spent several hundred on a new phone and wants some power to their music.  To get an introduction into higher end audio, to tailor audio away from the “more bass = better” crowd.  The Technie can teach you, allow you to learn what can be done with a little filter difference.  Let you find out that things do indeed sound different and let you discover what sound signature is really you…

…Or of course you could just say screw it, you could just buy them because they look so different from anything your friends have, odds are they will sound vastly better than what your friends have too. 

Trinity Techne Quick Review

Trinity Techne Quick Review

Thanks to Trinity for the sample and collaboration.

Brief:  Mid ranger with sound altering filters.

Price:  £65 or abouts US$96

Specification:  8mm Neodymium drivers, Impedance: 16 Ohm, Sensitivity: 108 +/- 3DB, Gold plated 3.5mm Jack, 1.2M Cable length

Accessories:  Bunch of ear tips, 3 pairs of filters, a storage tube for the filters and a little case.

Build Quality:  Nice.  The buds are pure metal and the cable is one of the best cables ever.  They look like real metal too, cant really beat that.

Isolation:  Pretty darn good for a dynamic.  Even with an open filter in use they still isolated really well.  Not quite regular flight well but easily enough for a normal, on a bus commute.  Oh and as always enough to get you run over if you aren’t using your eyes.

Comfort/Fit:  Great, I know they look weird as hell a shape but they fit me perfectly.

Aesthetics:  They are a bit shiney so quite visible, I like brushed metal better but hey.  I rather like them visually.

Sound:  Good.  I’m never the words biggest fan of changeable filters because I know me and I can pick out what is going to suit me best from some distance.  However if you are new to the IEM word and your hoping to learn what sound signature is you.  Perhaps it’s for a gift so you don’t know exactly what sound signature the recipient would be most inclined to?  Maybe because you want just one IEM but want to be able to tweak it?  Whatever your reason, the Technie lets you make some pretty significant changes with its filters.  The Silver is the V shaped one, the Gold is the brighter one and the Black one is the flatter, more natural sounding one.  It’s the one I liked best too.  Silver gives you closed, punchy pithy bass with good depth. The highs are vibrant too.  Golds open up and so the bass takes on open characteristics, feels faster but depth drops off rapidly.  Black is a bit less open so you get that faster bass but not quite so reticent as on the Golds.  Treble on them is always pretty crisp.  A hair over prominent but extended well making shimmering decays a bit more noticeable than they maybe should but I like that so I don’t mind.  Mids are always rather open and maybe a smidge dry at times.  Clarity is grand for a dynamic but it’s notably in a trough when using the Silver filters.  Quite lightly prominent with the Gold, more naturally balanced with the Blacks.   It’s always a pretty enjoyable and energetic experience that you can tailor to your source or ears to your heart’s content.

Value:  You get a good sounding IEM with a fair degree of sound customisation.  You do pay for that customisation but it takes an element of risk of buying an earphone for those new to buying good quality audio products.

Pro’s:   Sound customisable.  Heavy bass.  All metal construction.

Con’s:  Bass a bit too ever present.  You pay for that customisability.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Review

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Review

Thanks to Tidal for the trial.

First Impressions:  Well I am not a big music streamer.  I may listen to a lot of music but a great big chunk of that is when I’m reviewing things.  You know what totally sucks for trying to review and IEM or headphone?  New music you don’t know inside and out.  If you don’t know a track well then you have no idea what you should be listening out for or if its obfuscating anything it shouldn’t.  So I don’t spend a lot of time with the likes of Spotify or Pandora or any of the others.  I will confess I find Pandora a wonder for finding new things but since I live in the UK, well Pandora doesn’t work outside the US. (I’m not saying I use it in the UK you understand as that would be a violation of their T&C’s and that would be naughty of me.)  So Tidal, it’s a new service from Sweden, land of snow and birthplace it seems of all music streaming sites. 

Starting up on the Tidal site with my free trial code in hand that will offer me 90 days.  They do however have a 30 day free trial to all to let you have a little taste of it.  Also what I notice is that price is £20, or CA$20, US$20 or €20.  As of their recent “relaunch” they now have a reduced package, where you only get at best 320kbit files but for only £10, CA$10, US$10 or €10.  Right of the bat I can tell you I personally would not subscribe in pounds then.  I don’t care if others (Spotify) think they can make some pay more than others, it costs Tidal the same to stream to the UK or Timbuktu.  Then it gets better, as I sign in Tidals site keels over.  Suffice to say Tidal and I are getting off to a pretty damn rocky start. 

Compatibility:  A quick glance at their site shows it to be compatible with just about every higher end (i.e. expensive) audio streaming device.  Many of which are the sort of things mere mortals won’t ever come near, Linn, McIntosh, Meridian etc etc.  Sonos though is up there too which is pretty mainstream.  Well it’s comparatively mainstream.  The main methods I think are likely to be via a computer or a phone.  For a computer you can use their browser player or their Windows application.  There are also apps for both iOS and Android.  I’ll be giving all 4 of those options a whirl. 

Windows Application:  Seeing as I just singed up on my desktop it seem natural to download their Windows app and give it a whirl.  They do also have a browser player (optimised for chrome it says) but I like dedicated players.  Firing it up its very Windows 8 looking.  Rather Spartan too, I spattering of various shades of grey and ill confess I really like how it looks.  I’m not one for gaudy colours all over the place.  I like its elegance and I think it fits in with its premium outlook.  Plus I just really like various layers of grey.  The application itself feels snappy in its music playback.  Hit next track and it goes as quickly as if it were playing from local storage.  That’s even with my rather terrible internet connection too, I only get about 6mbits so it’s got to be caching away constantly.  Naturally if your connection is far worse, then you may want to dial back the audio quality from FLAC to 320kbit AAC.  However if you connection is that terrible then you maybe want to rethink streaming at all.

N.B.  Tidal, have after I’d had written all that killed off their desktop app.  Can you say annoyed?  Their press office indicated they are working on something but I think they were confused as to the difference between real Windows and Windows Phone. 

Browser:  Well the browser it seems is “optimised” for Chrome.  I’d did work in others mostly, for some reason it hated Opera, which is Chrome based so don’t ask me why.  Anyway, onto Chrome and it was rather nice.  More than just rather nice, I really liked its aesthetic which is awash with dark greys and near white text.  With tracks overlaid on some album art.  It actually feels more polished than their own app does.  Both sound identical and have the same bitrate options, though I honestly don’t know why the “standard” one at 96kbit AAC exists, anyone using it should be shot on sight. 

What isn’t so great is that the browser version contains none of the additional information the windows app has.  There is no text, none of the here’s things we have picked and why.  The windows app felt like the grown up music discovery and learning tool but the browser version just feels like Spotify.  Just links to music with no commentary to accompany it.

Android:  The client looks quite nice.  It’s not feeling like an iOS port or afterthought.  Making sure the quality setting is at HiFi I get going.  Hmmm it doesn’t like caching an album and playing at the same time.  The network speed doesn’t seem very high, my first thought is to blame the mobile network (Three UK) but when I pause the music playback and fire up Google music the network throughput jumped up considerably.  Hmm that pleases me not.  Still it is a Thursday evening so I’m willing to, actually no, no I’m not willing to cut it any slack.  Hit next track on Google music to make sure it’s out of the cached stuff the network usage jumps to about 20mbit down.  Tidal why are you only serving me up about 2mbit?  It worked fine on my only 6mbit land connection so why you hate my mobile one?  Oh wait, that album done and onto another then suddenly it picks up now it’s going about 10.  Weird.

iOS:  The app looks very nice,, dark and with vibrant cover art.  I do note that the music in the settings for some reason is all set to “standard” quality.  Why the hell would you bother to do that?  Anyone signing up to Tidal is doing it because of the high quality offered so why default to the 96kbit rubbish?  The rest of the app is as awkward as everything is on iOS.  In an attempt to be super simple and not put more than two buttons on screen at a time it just ends up being more irritating.  Anyway once music is playing, all seems well.

Other Streaming:  According to their own website Tidal is presently set up to be compatible with it seems every streaming device out there.  Notably from some of the brand names there is a clear slant toward “high end” stuff, think Meridian, Linn, McIntosh etc etc.  Seeing as I being a mere mortal do not have any of these products I cannot test them.   Still the very fact that its available on such premium equipment is clearly intended to make use of the lossless audio quality.  I mean if you are using a £20’000 amp connected to £100’000 speakers you are really not going to want to be throwing a 128kbit mp3 at them are you.  Tidal is I believe the only streaming service that offers lossless quality, making it the obvious choice for such consumers.

Musical Range:  In the time I have been using Tidal I have noticed a change.  At first there was much literary commentary in their windows application.  Many of the playlists they have created seemed to be of a more mature audience.  Much classical, much stuff that despite my having just turned 35 felt far more aimed at my father than to me.  However since their “relaunch,” you know that event where Madonna straddled a table for no reason and Alesha Keys, well she, oh just watch it.   I am curious how and why she was the one picked to present the thing.  It can have been because she was best suited, maybe it was their idea of a practical joke?  Ever since then I’ve noticed a dramatic shift to the same sort of cack Spotify keep trying to push.  Lots of Jay-z and Rihanna on the front page.  That the desktop app is no more and all the commentary it contained, if feels very much it was purchased not for what it was but to be turned into the personal promotion of the new investors.  Its early days but it feels as though it’s just thrown its primary differentiator from Spotify out the window.  Let’s face it, the other being audio quality, hardly matters for listening to Nicki Minaj, not just because its rubbish but because it’s so badly mastered and dynamically compressed to hell.  It literally would make no difference.  I also don’t see Linn buyers revelling at the new push of such erm “artists” on their service.  Maybe I’m totally wrong and the sort of people that buy such high end stuff love Rihanna and Dead Mouse.

Aside from this new push the collection is really rather good.  All the classical collections are still there and there is a ton of superbly recoded stuff.  However it’s just now not so easily displayed for your perusal.  I mean it’s gone from having on the front page a playlist for Easter called “Golgotha Revisited: Songs About Faith & Doubt” to pushing Jay-z’s latest video.  Maybe it’s a temporary blip but it’s like the service just took a massive dive.

Value:  Hmm well when I started the service only offered its premium service, at 20 currency units and you got everything and all offered in full lossless quality.  With its “relaunch” they now offer a 10 currency unit option where you can get just up to 320kbit, just like Spotify premium.  At the beginning of my time with Tidal I would have said, if you want lossless and you’re buying such premium streamers then of course pick it over Spotify, if your buying £100’000 speakers an extra tenner a month is nothing.  However……. That has changed.  Now they offer a package at the same price as Spotify.  Spotify also has a free version so you can try it for a while.  Tidal only offers 30days of free, then you must pay.  That it once offered all the commentary and playlists was the real appeal I felt for music lovers.  It gave you access to the brains of people whose lives are music and they could share their incites with you.

One last thing about value, How much is Tidal Premium?  TIDAL HiFi: $19.99 in the US $19.99 CAD in Canada £19.99 in the UK €19.99 in Europe 199 Nordic Countries (DK, NO).  hmm so EU users are getting screwed and UK users are getting uber screwed.  F U Tidal.

Conclusion:  Tidal isn’t all bad.  If you want lossless streaming it’s your only option but if I was you, I would skip it.  If you want lossless just buy and rip your own CD’s to local storage.  Tidal I think had something special and offered something worthy of its increased cost but since its relaunch, err no.  The Tidal “event” seriously go watch on YouTube, it’s a total train wreck.  The event was very widely panned (for the love of god who put Alesha Keys up there?) it was lambasted as some of the richest “artists” in the world coming on stage to whine about how they should make even more money.  Seriously, watch it its staggeringly terrible.  there are simply no words that capture how bad it is.

It’s a shame.  I think I just managed to catch the tail end of what Tidal used to be before Jay-z and his friends have destroyed it.  It was something different, something original but now it feels nothing special.  It feels like a platform to push Jay-z and his friends and to wake them more money.  (Particularly more if you’re in the EU or god forbid the UK.  In fairness Spotify does exactly the same thing so they are just as bad.)

So coming right down to it, would I pay for Tidal?  No.  At the start I thought I might do but they have just thrown out everything that made it special.  Bit rate aside, I can see nothing about Tidal that is uniquely compelling.

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Quick Review

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Quick Review

Thanks to Tidal for the trial.

Brief:  Streaming music, in lossless.

Price:  20 currency units for lossless, 10 currency units for 320kbit.  Apparently US$, Euro’s and £’s all have the same value to Tidal.

Specifications:  Tidal offers you up to 3 different streaming options.  “Normal” gives you a 96kbit AAC+ audio stream, “High” is a 320kbit AAC stream and if you have the premium subscription you can also have the top, 16bit / 44KHz 1411kbit FLAC stream. 

Platforms:  At present you can use Tidal on a computer through a browser.  If you want Lossless though you must use Chrome as Tidal has been “optimised” for Chrome.  For mobile use there are both Android and iOS apps. They are both quite nice apps but it saddens me that Tidal killed off the Windows desktop application they had.  Additionally there are many Streamers that support Tidal, from Sonos and Bluesound to the likes of Linn and Meridian.  Check their site for the full list, note that it slants toward, the expensive end of the market.

Variety:  Tidal claims to have 25 million tracks which is a lot by anyone’s measure.  It’s a little behind Spotify and their claim of 30 million.  You can browse what they have at but you can’t listen to anything without subscribing.  However if you need Taylor Swift, it’s available on Tidal.

Sound Quality:  Well, right now Tidal is the only lossless streaming music service.  So if you want lossless it’s your go to.  Personally I find that it’s double the price of its own 320kbit service to be a bit of a slap to the face.  Yes I grant if you have a Linn Hi-Fi 20 currency units a month is nothing but to me it feels a bit price gouging.  Yes, it sounds great on lossless but unless you have the best of setups you won’t notice that the 320kbit option lacks anything and let’s face it, if your listening to Taylor Swift and the mastering quality of most pop music its irrelevant anyway.  The 320k stream is in my opinion not only good enough, it’s enough to be not the limiting factor is your listening experience.  Listening to the Krall woman’s Wallflower album on Tidal and Google music, out of my Nexus 5, I couldn’t tell the difference, the weak link wasn’t Tidal.  If I owned an ultra-premium Hi-Fi however and I wanted to stream I don’t think I’d be happy with Spotify and its “good enough” 320kbit offering.

Value:  Double the price to get lossless, that irks me.  What irks me more is that Tidal seem to think that £1 is the same as US$1.  It is not, £1 today is actually US$1.54.  So Tidal want to change UK consumers 54% more than US ones.  In fact Tidal seem to thin its acceptable to price gouge everyone who isn’t in the US.  This makes me want to say very rude things to Tidal.

Pro’s:  If you want lossless it’s the only game in town.  Has Taylor Swift.

Con’s:  Price.  Price gouging.  Has Taylor Swift.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Brainwavz BLU-100 Review

Brainwavz BLU-100 Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the review sample

First Impressions:  On opening the parcel I see no box before me, not a shocker as I know the product is brand new, so no retail box for me.  I just have the, now regular, rectangular black and red Brainwavz case.  It’s a good case so I’m happy with that.  Inside it we have jammed all the bits and bobs you need.  The BLU-100’s themselves, a pair of Comply ”actives” a bag of tips and, more unusually, a micro usb cable.  Yes, for the BLU’-100’s need charging.  So after charging for a bit, the first thing I do is pull off the rubber tips and put the Comply’s on.  I wonder if they very deliberately put the “active” ones in there because they are the more grippy on the ear?

So first listen and oh we have problems.  Breaking up, dropping galore.  Oh somethings not right.  Ah, it would seem that my phone hates being paired to this and the SBH-20 at the same time.  Deleting the 20 and all of sudden we seem problem free.  So bass seems alright, hmm not as abundant or as deep as I would have presumed.  Rather more in the upper vocals / lower highs area too.  Over all it’s a bit more of a grown up sound than I’d had expected would be the case.  Hmm, I find myself thinking maybe there should be a bit more lower bass.  Maybe it’s just aimed at bass over heavy pop stuff.  I’m thinking “Now That’s What I Call Running” may be the sort of thing for these.

Source:  Nexus 5, Iphone 5, Moto G 4G and Lumia 735.

Lows:  Depth in absolute terms is, so so.  This irritated me as there is a bit of a lift to the mid/bass region and in a few songs I found drum impacts to be really irritating.  It’s not like it’s terrible but I’ve been spending weeks with higher end stuff and I’m not being wow’ed.  I really could do with a more soft, bilious low end.  I suspect it’s been tightened up and made more impactful on purpose though.  That purpose I think is to make the bass of quick, rhythmic basslines stay tight and snappy.  Firing up “Now That’s What I Call Running 2014” and yep, I’m sure it’s aimed at exactly that sort of gym music.  The bass pairs up well with the bassy, poppy, rhythmic stuff that’s aimed at getting you moving.  It’s not aiming at Nora Jones.  The audio snob in me wants to bash it a little but it seems unfair to do so.  In targeting poppy bouncy tat, its bass signature pairs up very well.  It’s about pithy grip and a bit of punch.  It’s rather good at that.

Mids:  Again, this is no Nora, smooth, creamy goodness.  It’s pretty so so.  Slap on that “Now Running” album and once more its pretty well suited to that sort of music.  It’s not trying to give a spectacular, wondrous rendition of magical vocals, it about spitting bouncy poppy tracks at you.  It’s plenty clear enough and sufficiently articulate.  Slapping on some old school, Roxette and I find it has got me dancing along in my chair, it may not be quite audiophile grade but it’s certainly enjoyable.

Quantitatively, it’s a bit more middy than most lower end things, usually cheaper things have gobs of bass and savage highs, this doesn’t.  It is therefore relatively a bit middy.  The upper bass and lower highs still stand forward of them however so they reside in a slight valley.

Highs:  They are alright.  Impacts can be a bit ouchy to my delicate ears with an urge to get a hint sibilant and shouty in the upper vocal / lower treble.  The extension is alright and they do a pretty decent shimmer.  Clarity is plenty good too.  Mostly it’s all quite reasonable which is an admirable feat for 20 quid IEM’s.  Mind you, I wouldn’t want to go crazy with really treble abundant songs.  Stick to your average bouncy pop and you’re pretty much set.

Soundstage:  Instrument separation take a bit of a beating but the overall sense of scale is good.  They won’t convince you you’re in a concert hall but they have a good fullness to their sound and presentation.

Fit:  Looking at them I did have a little pause.  They aren’t tiny are they?  So with the grippy Comply’s on I popped them in and, well, it was perfectly fine.  I opted to mostly wear with the cable going up over my ear then down under my chin to the other side.  That way I felt if they did fall out the cables still over my ear to catch them.  They never once fell out.  Granted I didn’t test on a bouncy castle but they never felt insecure. 

Comfort:  They a bit big, bud wise, so some might have issue but I didn’t.  Slapped them in the ears and they were fine.  Despite all the battery and Bluetooth bits they never felt heavy in my ears or in any way bothersome.

Microphonics:  None.  Technically there is a bit of cable and you wear straight down as it were you might get the cable banging on a collar.  Looped over the top of your ear cures that.  You could always wrap it round the back of your head too.

Phone use:  A call came in, I answered and I was told I was clearly audible, as were they.  The last number redial could be handy to some too for ringing back people.  The play/pause, track skip and volume controls worked just fine too.

Cable:  Well, the “no cable” thing is very, very freeing.  Personally I feel the 100’s are just made for gym use.  That I could have my phone in my pocket, skip tracks with my watch and in theory I could be on a treadmill or bike, or even out running.  Perhaps you’re a jogger that gets pissed with a cable flapping about?  Well these could be the cure you’re looking for.

Isolation:  Pretty good actually.  For dynamics they are not bad and I’d think would or should fairly easily drown out the sounds of other gym goers or the traffic you’re jogging by.  They aren’t really plane or Tube worthy but you know, fine for normal out and about or on a bus use.  As ever, easily enough to drown out the motorised vehicle that’s about to run you over.  So please do use your eyes when you have them on.

Battery Life:  They claim about 4 hours and that seems about right.  If you were using these as your all day normal earphones that’s a bit tight.  You’d get away with most commute days, still I see these aimed at exercise use.  Anyone exercise for more than 4 hours at a go?  No, I thought not.

Accessories:  Bag of tips, some ear internal guide/rest things, pair of Comply’s which I’m surprised at, a little case and a micro USB cable to add to the collection.   Basically everything you could need or want.  Oh and a little Velcro cable tie.

Value:  Staggering.  While I might be so so about their audio quality, hey they are currently £22.  Normal price is £29.  How???????  How the buggery hell have Brainwavz managed that???  These have not just the earphones but a battery, a little amp and the Bluetooth receiver in there too.  For god sake they even manage to come with a pair of Comply’s that retail for a fiver a pair.  I bet they much get a discount buying so many but still……. The case too would cost probably about the same again to buy yourself.  What the hell must the margins on this be, it’s surely got to be razor thin.  At the price they are I’d have no trouble in the slightest saying if you are a gym goer or jogger just buy a pair.  There is just no way you can go wrong when they are so absurdly cheap as they are.

Conclusion:  The Blu-100’s are a bit of a mixed bag.  As an absolute, their sound quality is a bit so so.  Head-Fi is the land of people who are passionate about music and sound quality, the 100’s are not going to mesmerise anyone in that regard.  It’s not to say they are bad, far from it but they are squarely in the budget end of the scale.  Audio quality isn’t its raison d'etre, that is bluetooth. 

Curiously, music seemed to sound rather more pithy and clear coming from the Lumia 735 than from the Nexus 5 although there was more noise, crackle’s and such on the Lumia connection.  The Iphone was fine but with the bonus of having a little battery indicator show on the phone. 

As it happens I have Sony SBH-20 on my desk too, when I take the two and put them head to head, with the stock Sony buds I find it the more relaxed in the uppers and thus is the more appealing pairing to my ears.  However the midbass response on the BLU is rather more vigorous and I could see it being the bigger crowd pleaser.  The greater differentiator though is that with the Sony you can change what headphones you use but the price you pay for that is wires dangling about.  Not to mention Sony and their weird love of J cables.  The BLU is the far more user friendly of the two in actual use.  The tiny joining cable it has, you can loop over your ears and round the back of your head and you’d never even notice you’re wearing it.  For jogging, in the gym stuff it’s considerably more freeing.

The BLU-100 is more than just an earphone.  It is a headset for your phone.  It’s a pair of earplugs to drown out distractions, it’s a motivation tool for the gym, it’s a controller too for the music.  Volume controls, track skiping, there is a redial option.  It is its own DAC and amp too.  It is everything and it’s all wireless.  Seriously, once you’ve got it on you completely forget that it’s there, music and the occasional voice just appears in your head like magic.  It’s a little bit wonderful, it’s a little bit spooky, it’s a lot bit fun.

Brainwavz BLU-100 Quick Review

Brainwavz BLU-100 Quick Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the review sample

Brief:  Uhura’s earphones.

Price:  Normally US$34.50 / £22.40 but atm US$44.50 / £28.90

Specification:  Transducers/Drivers: Dynamic, 8mm, Rated Impedance: 30ohms Closed Dynamic, Sensitivity: 110dB at 1mW, Frequency range: 20 ~ 20000Hz, Bluetooth 4.0 (CSRBC8645) with aptX, Operation max distance: 30ft (10m), Battery: 60mAh - 4hrs playtime, 100hrs standby, 2hrs for full charge (Micro USB charging), CVC echo and noise cancellation, Supports voice prompt for MMI: Power on - Paring - Connecting - Battery low - Power off, Supports HFP, HSP and A2DP, Supports pairing with two devices at the same time, 3 button remote, works with Apple iOS products, Android & Windows phones & PC

Accessories:  Case, bunch of tips and a micro USB charging cable, velcro cable tie and some inner ear guide things.

Build Quality:  Nice.  They feel very light given what they contain but you want light, so they don’t fall out.  Plastic but nicely put together.

Isolation:  Pretty good for a dynamic towards the upper end.  So not quite Tube or long flight worthy but easily good enough for most stuff, walking, on a bus etc etc.  Just remember to use your eyes when using them.

Comfort/Fit:  Very good.  Yes they are a bit big but they are so light that I never found them tug at my ears.  With the Comply’s in they were fine to use until the battery keeled over.

Aesthetics:  Plain.  Inoffensive to the eye.

Sound:  Pretty good.  The sound quality it pretty decent, its signature is a bit heavy on the mid/bass and there is a bit of a splashy upper vocal / lower treble range too.  The extension at either end is middling, though better at lows than the highest highs.  It’s the sort of thing that’s made for the top 40, well suited to bouncy poppy music that you listen to with enjoyment in mind.  If you want critical listening the BLU-100 isn’t what you would choose to do it with.  It’s good enough that you’ll be toe tapping away without realising, however where I think it shines most is in being rhythmic and lively.  You see, it’s hard to ignore that the 100 is wireless and I think it’s the ideal in gym or out jogging earphone.  It’s about giving you that little oomph needed to get you round the next corner or to do that next set of some gym activity.  At that it is great.  It’s a little warm but plenty bouncy and excitable.  It’s not the most refined, there is a bit of sibilant flair with the odd track at volume but it’s a crowd pleaser type of sound. 

Slapping on Wallflower and even the Krall woman sounds pretty nice on them.  A bit bloated in the midbassy region but smooth and pleasant on the ear.  While they wouldn’t be my first choice, for their price together with being wireless I’m pretty damn pleased with their performance.

Value:  Pretty crazy.  Not only does it sound decent its wireless too!

Pro’s:   Bluetooth. Cheap. Sounds fun.

Con’s:  Can’t use all day due to battery life.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear Review

Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear Review

Thanks to Graham Slee for the loan.

First Impressions:  So out of the box it came and it’s a light little thing, or maybe it’s just light beside the power supply?  I have the upgraded PSU1 power supply and it’s a really heavy solid block.  God whatever’s in it, I feel like you could build houses with the thing.  So the amp, it looks kinda nice.  Now I haven’t pre planned how I’m going to actually hook the thing up, I’m realising I probably should but too late now.  Right, ghetto solution it is.  Hp out of the E9 and to the AV inputs on the back of the amp.  A classy looking solution this is not but hey it’ll do till I can face spaghetti junction.

It seems sensible to pull out the HD600’s has they are quite easily the best big cans I have.   First thoughts on listening, please bare in mind I haven’t used the 600 in a while so I do forget just how excellent they are sometimes.  I don’t know if it’s maybe just the tracks but things feel deeper and more holographic.  Highs seems super refined, highly easy on the ear yet just so choc full of detail.  It’s all completely uncritical non comparative listening so I know it means little but…… everything feels unquantifiably better.  Not brighter nor deeper lows nor more forward mids but I keep coming back to wanting to describe them as holographic.  These just feels something better and as I haven’t been able to quite swap back to just the E9 and actually do some proper critical listening I just cannot for the life of me put my finger on it.  Something effortless feeling somewhere.

Lows:  While I get the impression that the HD600’s are being better driven in the lows which when you get deep can cause issues for amps, there is something effortless.  As the only proper desktop amp I have, the E9 which I still think is super bargain levels of value, the Solo, well the Solo doesn’t even notice it.  In the way that a great battleship might sail unfettered right though a harbour of toy boats.  Playing with the Oppo PM-3’s and flicking back and forth it’s blisteringly apparent that the bass feels so much weaker on the E9, it just lacks the vigour and authoritative reach that the Solo gives it.   It’s not per say larger in the bass it just feels better are more articulated.  The E9 is struggling.  Honestly it’s most annoying for until the Solo I was very happy with the power the E9 was capable of delivering and new I’m thinking I’m forever going to be aware of what it lacks now.  

Quantitatively, the Solo actually feels perhaps a tiny fraction less bassy than the E9.   Less so that the bass is diminished but that it’s more cleanly delivered and therefore there is that hint less in the way of bass bloom.  The Solo isn’t particularly forgiving when it comes to low end articulation so you may want to try and feed it better quality stuff than some of the bass as is found on Miss Gaga’s tracks.

Mids:  It’s the same story as was with the bass.  The Solo feels like it is casually spiting it out at you and that its capable of doing vastly more should you ask it to.  The E9 feels like it’s already giving you it’s all.  They are just not in the same class.  It also becomes more notable that the separation between what a grown up amp, hooked up to the mains can do that a portable one running off a battery cant.  Flowing, and effortlessly detailed.   It’s just all so openly expressive, Regina Spektors “Ballad Of A Politician” with its eclectic cacophony of sounds feels so wonderfully layered an ensemble.  Everything is so singularity clear and distinctive you can mentally tear it from its place in the song and examine it to your heart’s content.  The imaging vocally is kick ass good.    The only real issue is if you feed it crap, you see info that you might happily wish it would more melt into the whole.

Tonally and quantitatively it’s a little bit middy and a little bit open.  The smoothest high quality vocals are too expressively rendered to truly give you that creamy, melty, Galaxy advert type sumptuousness.  There isn’t the thickness that works so well with creamy vocals.

Highs:  Much refinement, much detail, much nuance.  To be honest you wouldn’t have expected otherwise would you?  The difference is the more noticeable in big cans but it’s still noticeable with IEM’s too.  Things that are very easy to drive still manage to benefit from, well from what exactly I don’t know.   Maybe it’s the extra headroom in available power?  Maybe it’s a slight inclination towards an open and detailed sound signature?  It’s not what I would ever call “bright” you know, things like the Icon mobile or the FireyeDA they are bright, they have that noticeable lift and dazzle in the upper end.  The Solo doesn’t really do that, it’s just a little more explicit all over.    Actually when you really, really start to look closely at the treble it’s pretty mild.  The initial metallic impact of a cymbal is ever so fractionally dampened.  The immediate rattle and decay are both effortlessly perfect.  Just exactly how I would want them to be but I know that being ever treble sensitive, there will be those that love the raw brutality of impact.

It’s curious in that its edge it a hint calmed yet its exceedingly high level of clarity otherwise makes the treble more noticeably distinct and clear.  So when you get elevated levels of clarity giving the impression of brightness you aren’t really, you are just getting more explicitly distinct treble.

Connectivity:  It’s a pretty clean and simple affair.  You get two pairs of phono connectors on the back, input 1 and input 2.  While in normal usage I dunno what I’d do with the second input but for reviewing?  Oh god trust me, it made my life soooooooooooo much easier.

Interface:  Super simple.  6.25mm headphone socket on the front.  Volume dial. Then lastly we have the input switch, it can be for input 1, input 2 or in the middle which makes no sound come out.  Effectively it acts as a mute button.

Power:  Gobs of it.  Not only did it continuously feel like it was never in the slightest straining or that it didn’t have endless reserves, it could go loud.  I never got the dial past 12 o’clock and that was with the HD600’s and with a fairly quiet recording.  It always felt like there was tons and tons of headroom left it you need or wanted it.

Dynamics:  Dynamics tends to be more headphone dependant but with the power availability it never did that, hint of volume decline when a song explodes out from silence.  There was plenty of dynamic range to call upon at any instant.  It was perfectly happy to trundle along, meek and mild then rip your ears off.  Great for music but it did occur to me how much I don’t love that in movies.  Not that you buy the Solo for film watching but its dynamics I think could irk me after a while.

Transparency:  Exceedingly transparent.  Very open and detailed.  It does it too without being particularly breathy so you do retain much liquidity.  I suspect that’s where its “valvey” purported nature comes from.  Still, oodles and oodles of detail and transparency.

Build:  It’s a block of aluminium.  It has a hint of DIY esq charm as you can see clearly how the external casing is put together.  A bit of handmade craft like appeal about the thing.  It feels solid, sturdy and that if you dropped it it’ll chip your floor rather than explode on impact.

Value:  Hmm.  I’m not an idiot so I fully realise that we are in the realm of diminishing returns.  I realise that if I had the Solo SRGII here which is the near twin of the Solo Ultra Linear Diamond Edition that I have here, it’s circa £400 for the standard verses the £670 for this version.  Even comparing to the FiiO E7/E9 combo it would be silly to say that any high end audio equipment is “good value” but more do you get something of worth for your money.  The answer there is a clear yes.  The Solo Ultra Linear came in and quite effortlessly battered the snot out of every amp I have.  Sure it’s the most expensive so it should too.  It just opened up a new layer of performance from pretty much every single thing I plugged into it.  Even the itty bitty Trinity Hyperions I’ve been playing with lately.  I’m not saying that if I had £700 to play with I’d put £30 to the Hyperions and £670 to the Solo Ultra but if you’ve already got some first rate stuff, yes you will see an improvement over any mainstream output.  It’s not about getting great “value” it’s about eking all that you can, making your headphones be the best that they can be.

Conclusion:  Within a couple of days of getting the Solo Ultra in I came to a stark realisation.  That one it was very good but secondly that part of me wishes I’d never heard it.  You see as a rule I’m an IEM guy, that’s what I use most and they don’t really need oodles of power.  They also are for use on the go, not so much as being wedded to a desk.  Therefore I was happy with how everything performed and I had my E7/E9 combo for throwing a bit more power in when I wanted to.  In my head I knew it wasn’t the greatest desktop amp in the world but I was happy with it.  Now I’m not.

Spending hour after hour messing about with cables and headphones and IEM’s and amps and the variety of combinations you can make, the Solo Ultra just lifts everything it was hooked up to.  Sure it couldn’t make a £30 IEM challenge a £200 one being played out of a meh source.  It’s not a magic wand.  It did however immediately offer a new layer, not only in quality and detail but it improved the acoustic layering.  I feel almost a little spoiled in what it can do to things and then to go back to my old set up feels as though something has been stolen.  That hint of life, of vibrancy, of dynamics, of nuance has just ever so slightly been taken away.  Everything feels diminished and it makes me sad. 

The Solo Ultra Linear therefore stands quite easily head and shoulders above everything as the best amp I’ve ever encountered.  It’s that simple.  It is wonderful.  The however is that it’s of course not the cheapest amp I’ve ever encountered.  To most people out there it would simply be wild overkill to spend so much on an amp.  The fact is you pretty much always get a far bigger improvement in audio quality by putting it into a more expensive headphone than into an amp.  So if you don’t have a great pair or two of headphones then I’d strongly suggest you get them first.  Then when you want to make the your favourite headphone the very best it can be, maybe then have a think about the Solo Ultra, maybe give their home trial / loaner programme a bash and see if you like it as much as I have.