Saturday, 18 October 2014

Nokia Lumia 635 Review

Nokia Lumia 635 Review

First Impressions:  Post referendum day and having not slept I was in a rather good mood.  Sufficiently so that I thought I’d buy myself a now toy.  I had been thinking for a little while about getting a windows phone, to see what it’s like.  I had been thinking 530 or 520, something really cheap but supposedly quite good.  When I got to the Three shop the screen on the 530 looked horrible and the 520 had hardware buttons.  So I started looking at the 630 and 635, well might as well get one with 4g even if ill not use it.  5 min later I had bought one. 

Once I got the thing opened up and powered up the first I noticed was how snappy it felt.  I realise all the animations are a cover to hide any responsiveness delays, Ios has done this forever but still, feels oh so snappy.  It’s all a bit odd not having a home screen, having this big bunch of menu short cuts.  Actually it all feels very Ios like to me.

Two Weeks later, I have come to the conclusion that WP8.1 has ever so much potential but it just feels unfinished.  Just how Microsoft still haven’t got something’s in place I just don’t get.  I know I’m not a code writer and maybe it is really hard but when you are as big as Microsoft it’s not like they don’t have the resources is it?  Time and again I went to do something and it would transpire that you can’t.

The Good:  Perhaps I ought to start of more with the positives.  The OS feels crazy fluid and snappy.  The hardware specs are nothing fancy but it always felt fast.  The lovely little animation to do everything were just lovely on the eye.  Visually I’m so impressed with everything.  The menu system, even if it takes up too much screen space is really a pleasure to use.  Swiping from side to side, scrolling up and down.  It’s all very intuitive and apps are all very cohesive, using the exact same style.  The “live tiles” too are great once you get used to how they work.  The little people one, flicking through your friends faces, facebook cycling through its stuff, the weather one doing its thing, etc etc.  One thing I especially liked was that you can set your lock screen to use the Bing daily images.  I loved that, I have my desktop computer doing the same thing, every day it pulls in the Bing image of the day and sets as my background.  It’s great.

Nokia apps, they really need to get a mention as there is a bunch of them and they are all pretty good.  The horribly named “Here Maps” is really not bad at all.  It’s a real challenger to google maps but for the love of god, change its name to Nokia maps.  “Here” is not an F ing name!  Is there some translation issue where it doesn’t sound something stupid in Finnish?  Oh, one aspect about it that’s great, you can download maps for entire regions or countries.  Not googles you can download a square area.  I get that google want you to be on a data connection at all times, it’s how they make money.  The Nokia solution is smarter and especially a good idea of your going abroad.  The “Here” drive solution too is really great.  Stupid name aside they are great apps and I can see why people have spoken highly of them.  The nokia camera app, is epic.  It has every control you can imagine and while I think it’s a bit wasted on the little camera on the 635 if you had one of their higher end, super camera models then it spectacularly more controllable than what apple or android offer up by default.

Microsoft’s own apps are all pretty excellent also.  Office, Outlook, that calendar app all impressed me with their prettiness, functionality and snappiness.  Then there is the big one, Cortana.  Cortana is kinda cool.  I like how when you bring it up it has little suggestions of things you can ask of her, it reminds she can do more than just search online for things.  You can ask her a question or tell her to do things.  One thing I thought just outstanding was you tell her to text someone.  It felt like we had really jumped into to the future.  Cortana is awesome.  She is awesome right up to the point she has to google something.  Of course you see the problem is she can’t google things, she has to “Bing” things and frankly Bing is crap.  Some seem to suggest that if you’re in America Bing is less crap but I think this is more a function of Bings marketing campaign there.  Of all the Microsoft stuff on the 635 the only thing that I found lacking was its insistence on using Bing, everything else was generally a joy to use.

The Bad:  So what didn’t I like?  Stupid little things, things that felt like they had somehow been overlooked and then forgotten about.  Remember I said I loved those Bing image on the day lock screens?  Well you can set an image to be the background in the live tile screen.  I thought oooh lets set the Bing image of the day to be the image used.  You can’t.  Not only is there no option to do it apparently there is no api hooks to enable any app to do it automatically.  WTF Microsoft???? 

The keyboard.  The keyboard is actually really good but you see I like to use the Dvorak layout.  So I look to see where I can change the keyboard.  You can’t!  Granted the stock one is very good but really, I cannot change it???  This also means that users of Lastpass can’t have it helpfully fill in usernames and passwords.  You much jump in and out copy pasting.

Cortana, remember I said she was on the whole really good?  Well that’s if you have her.  To get her on the UK one I had to accept the “Developer” build.  WTF Microsoft??? It’s not like I’m asking her to suddenly speak French or Italian.  I am sure this annoys everyone who speaks English but isn’t in America. 

Oh and while I’m on the subject of location.  Why is it Microsoft your annoying app website when I click a link from externally, directing me to the US site, helpfully tells me “not available in your region click here to go to it.”  Just F’ing redirect me!  I have read many people complain about how WP handles region issues, by issues I mean you aren’t in in the US so random things break for no apparent reason.

Then we have the issue of things running in the back ground.  It would seem that Microsoft has decided that it doesn’t want things to so they don’t.  You cannot override this.  For me the thing I wanted was to have a VOIP client running but unless the screen was on and the app was in the foreground it could not receive an incoming connection.  I know this makes for battery saving, the battery life was amazing compared to my Nexus 4, but let me have the option please.

Hardware:  It’s nice.  It’s a Nokia and they have always had a great reputation for building things well.  I like that you can pull the back off and you can replace the battery and put in an SD card slot.  Up to 128GB it’ll support too!!!!  So would make for a good capacity music player if that’s your thing.  The camera is a bit so so.  For a 5 it’s quite nice but oddly there isn’t an LED flash.  Sure it’s a budget device but they cost like 1p.  The other camera oddity is no front facing camera.  Again I’m perplexed by this but it isn’t something I basically ever use anyway so for me it was no massive loss.  Just more odd than anything else.  The screen, this too has been a cost saving measure, it’s only a 480 by 854 pixel.  So on paper that’s seriously falling behind but in real world use the screen is pretty nice.  Its coloration is rather pleasant.  Given its pixel count it’s still a nice screen.  One other omission, no camera button.  I wish all phones had them but if you really are super fussed about a camera your prob not buying this phone anyway.

Audio:  here we go with the important stuff.  I think I’m going to spit it in two a little.  The hardware and the plethora of music playback apps.  First we shall go with the apps.

Audio Software:  I do not use my phone for music. I realise many do though so it matters.  With this Lumia and Windows Phone things are different to what were all used to.  No Itunes managing your Iphone, no google music on your android (though some apps claim to connect to your google music account) I however am not trying those.  The one I’m most curious about is Nokia’s own “MixRadio” which as you can see has another Nokia idiotic name.  It is rather like a Spotify clone but just felt nicer.  It didn’t play any ads at me and if you want to pay them money for enabling additional stuff its only £4 a month.  Seems like a bargain to me if you’re into streaming music.  Oh and it could locally store things too as can Spotify.

The other “big” music app we have on here is just called Music.  Until you open it and then it’s suddenly all “Xbox Music” I presume if you live in the Xbox ecosystem then yey for you.  However I’ve always found Xbox to be rather more of an American thing.  Still it lets you buy music from them and stuff but what I’m really more interested in is playing back stuff I already own.  Yes this is the app to use for playing back stuff from that SD card slot.  On putting one in with music it instantly found it and instantly listed it.  Granted I’m only using a small card but super, super snappy.  The app, like the mixradio, when showing the lock screen shows a little play/pause skip track controls.  Visually its rather slick.  One problem though, FLAC is not supported.  I did find an app that worked but it was horrible to use and I wasn’t buying one just for this.  Given it’s a phone and if your using your phone as your music player a 320k MP3 is more than good enough so my advice is do that, don’t bother trying to make FLAC work.  It just is not worth the pain.

Audio Hardware:  First things first, if you use something sensitive with the 635 be aware that you get a ton of back ground pops and crackles.  It’s not really noticeable in music playback though, well apart from the quiet moments but I suspect that’s not an issue buyers of the 635 would encounter.  If you are one of those people who just cannot at all live with extraneous noise move on.

So, the amp inside the 635, I have had a look round the net and a cannot see anywhere that specifies what it is.  That’s a little bit irritating but not the end of the world, what really matters is how it sounds, not what it called.

Lows:  Ever more a factor of what you’re using with them than the amp itself but there is some influence.  Here the amp seems to be a tad on the cool, hard bass with a bit of an inclination to the punchy.  Depth wise there does seem to be a bit missing and I’ll readily confess that the amp here seems to want to be pushed to be its best.  Even when playing with the super easy to drive DN-2000 the amp just yearned to be given a bit of oomf.  If you play things quietly then the bass is the one to suffer most, its little bit of lacking down low and its inclination to punch doesn’t get that opportunity.  Time and again I found myself bumping up the volume to give it space to show what it can do.  So despite it being a phone using things a little harder to drive, things that usually need a crack of the volume dial to sing work pretty well.  If I were you I would try and aim for things that are a bit boosted in bottom.  That shouldn’t be a problem as pretty much everything mainstream is anyway.

Quantity wise it’s not dripping in abundance but its cleanliness and rhythmic inclination to punch and party I think serve its target market particularly well.

Mids:  Once more I find the amp in the 635 pulling itself over to the slightly cool, bit dry etc etc.  For me that’s just dandy as it lends itself to sounding that touch more vocally articulate than the alternative warm and fuzzy type.  It isn’t what I would say is best suited to hard core audiophiles, looking for vocal notes that linger and drip down your ear canals.  It is not that.  Overall I’m not being wowed, by its sumptuousness, it’s just not.  However as with all things the trade is that it feels highly explicit vocally.  While I may be playing FLAC files and at present using a pair of DN-900’s which cost most of the price of the phone but you know what,  Savage Gardens “I Want You” just feels so very articulate and joyful.  I may or may not find myself dancing in my chair J 

Tonally sure it’s not ultra dead on but for poppy, bouncy music which I’m pretty sure is going to be the domain of the device its really quite pleasing. 

Highs:  It overall cooler tonal nature continues on though to the highs also.  They are inclined to the clean and crisp.  This I think asks a little for trouble as its shortcomings begin to become rather noticeable if you pair it up with high end stuff.  The DN-2000 isn’t the most brutal but it was a bit unforgiving.  The highs just aren’t amazing but…… given the price point I really can’t complain.  When paired up with its more likely natural accompaniments, something warm and bassy, this colder metallic twang is a boon.  You need a little clang to cut through and that it does in a fairly pleasing manner.  Swapping to the ever warm, rich and indulgently bassy IE7 the little clatter of cymbals cutting through works well.  The 635 is like the little phone that could.

The negative is, if you are some crazed treble junky with a pair of RE-272’s you will want to give it a skip.  The 635 puts of a really admirable effort of top, very admirable but it’s not going to be troubling the Studio 3rd Anv. any time soon.

Build Quality:  As you expect from Nokia, it’s pretty great.  I really can’t fault anything.  Do keep in mind it is all plastic if that’s an issue for you.

UI:  I like it.  It’s a little odd at first but the “live tiles” are nice to use and the full menu is great.  It’s a bit slow to only have one single list but you just tap a letter and the alphabet pops up.  You hit x or whatever and its takes to that location in the list.  Exceedingly handy.  Otherwise the UI felt amazingly fluid given the spec’s and you get very used to, very quickly the swiping right and left to slide though menu structures.  It might not be the most screen efficient UI ever, I think WP really needs a BIG phone screen to shine but I found it is most pleasant to interact with.

Accessories:  Erm, a charger.

Battery Life:  Excellent.  Maybe it’s because I’m used to battery destroying android with a ton of stuff running in the background but the 635 was a massive jump improvement.  I know it wasn’t my dally phone so it didn’t see any call or texting time but it stood up very well. Like charge every third day good.  Plus you can swap the battery with a spare if you need.  Massive min for the 635 on the battery front.

Speaker:  It has a tiny little hole to output sound but is rather impressive.  I mean you won’t be listening to music from it unless you’re a monster but playing a podcast or speaker phone call its really quite clear and loud.

Value:  Well at £130 I rather feel it’s not great.  Given its meagre hardware it performs superbly but tell me why a Moto G has vastly better specs for the same money?  It’s not that it’s a bad device or that it’s not nice to use and really snappy but it feels like for the money the hardware should at least have a flash and front facing camera.  Even if I never ever use them, it still niggles me they aren’t here.  Acoustically though, I’m somewhat more pleased with.  The little amp / DAC might be cheap but it’s a really clean and playful sound, I really enjoy it.  I also need to note, that Microsoft have cut its US price to only US$99 and that’s outright, not on a contract as is the norm there.  That makes it a bloody cheap device!

Conclusion:  This might get long.  There are three distinct aspects to the 635.  That is Windows Phone, that it’s a phone and as an audio device.

Windows phone; well it’s really nice, it feels so snappy and elegant.  However it still lacks things that I found hard to believe are absent.  You can’t leave a VoIP app running to accept incoming connections????? The app store too lacks but that for me was mostly about because the things I wanted WP itself prevents an app from doing.  Still, if you want something simple and uncomplicated then it’s a lovely OS.  I have no doubts the proverbial mother or granny would get along just great with it.  I like to tinker and do specific things, with WP it felt like it was throwing roadblocks at me.  Personally its lack of FLAC support was a pain.  Yes I know it’s a phone, it’s not good enough to make FLAC actually matter over using a 320k mp3 but…… just why the F is it not supported?  That’s my real problem with WP, the strangest things are locked down or not supported.  Honestly Microsoft, what is taking so long???

As a phone; here it’s okay.  A big factor of what the device can do is a factor of the OS.  If you want simple, easy and elegant then yey for you.  It felt all exceedingly functional, email especially was a really great experience and its built in keyboard was fab. (Even though I was annoyed I couldn’t change it.)  Everything is so very straightforward and functional.  It would I think make the perfect business phone.  Office and email are just bang on and being a Nokia the signal and call quality were great. 

Audio:  Well this is getting to the heart of it.  I don’t know what the DAC in there is but I was highly impressed with it.  I myself don’t use a phone for music as I would much rather have a dedicated device.  The 635 being a phone, a pretty budget end phone at that I would have expected it to suck big time.  I can safely say as a rule Nexus phones suck for audio, the 5 isn’t terrible but the 4 certainly is.  Whatever Nokia have slapped in here is actually not at all bad.  It’s fairly shifted to the cool, clean, dry end of tonality but its detail level is rather good.  My only complaint is that its amp really wants you to crank the volume to get the best from it but when you do, its actually a pretty credible source!  I won’t be trading in my Studio anytime soon but for a cheap phone, that feels snappy, offers up to 128GB SD card support (yes Nexus line I’m looking at you!) means you could have a cheap convergence device and get some rather decent audio quality. 

When paired up to my beloved IE7, its soft, warm and a bit flabby bottom end really gains a whack of solidity.  Scissor Sister’s “Making Ladies” takes a really vigorous and voluminous punch, punch you right in face kinda bass!!!  While I would not want that all day everyday all day, I like a bit more genteel but surely the target market for the 635 is the teen.  So hard face slapping, vigorous bass lines must be an epic boon, right?  It’s mightily enjoyable party time.  Using Senn’s Momentum IEM’s with volume and play/pause/skip button only served to make things even better!!

So, in short I have mixed feeling about WP as an OS.  As a phone I find its hardware a bit lacking for the money.  As an audio device I found it to be far better than expected.  Its clean and punchy character shine with the sort of warm and bassy IEM’s its likely to encounter.  For the money, you could look at this a DAP or PMP given it’ll play video too, that just happens to make phone calls.

Nokia Lumia 635 Quick Review

Nokia Lumia 635 Quick Review

Brief:  A Nokia PMP that makes calls too.

Price:  £130 or in the US US$99

Specification:  Go read here

Accessories:  Err a charger, that’s it.

Build Quality:  Very nice.

Aesthetics:  Plain, very simple visually and as such quite inoffensive.  You can change the back covers if colour is more your thing.

As a Phone:  Meh.  WP is nice and snappy, elegant even but still I found randomly limited in its capabilities.  It’s lovely and straightforward if that’s what you want but I like things to be how I like; WP did not offer me that ability.  Calls and stuff were fine.

Sound:  I did not expect much as my experience with phones audio wise has been that on the whole they suck.  It doesn’t help that I’m mostly a Nexus person and as a rule on Nexus phones, the camera sucks and the audio sucks.  The 635 then, at a relatively “bargain” end of the market I expected it to suck.  It does not.  If you want warmth and smooth look elsewhere, if you want clean and pithy liveliness you have come to the right place.  The 635 has a cracking little DAC/amp in there.  The amp does need a crack of the volume dial to be its best but when you do, its sooo bouncily lively.  Clean and crisp tonally, the bass while lacking a little depth has great punch and vim.  Vocals are clear and gleefully articulate.  Highs are pin sharp and crisp.  A touch over crisp for treble happy IEM’s but you stick to warm bassy things and it’s all good.  Lively pop sounds fantastically lively and articulate for a phone, it is all joy and exuberance all the time and for the target teenish market I’d say they are onto a sure fire winner audio wise.  They would do better marketing this as a playful PMP that just happens to make calls and text too.  For the price I am well impressed with its clean articulate sound

A hint of warning though, it need to be a little loud to be its best.  WP doesn’t really support FLAC.  The HP out is rather noisy, pops and crackles galore, quiet classical pieces kinda get ruined if your have a sensitive IEM.  However I don’t particularly see any of these downsides being all that much of a problem for the people likely to be buying this in the first place.

Value:  For £130, hmmm I know I bought it but I wouldn’t again.  Still, if you must have a convergence device, want a really simple OS and want that SD card slot (upto 128GB supported) then as a PMP that can also text and make calls, its audio quality is good.  Note, Microsoft has just set the US    price to only US$99 direct from them, that is bloody cheap!

Pro’s:   Sounds great, so fresh and articulately punchy. Acoustically fun.

Con’s:  WP either works for you or it doesn’t.  Not the most noise free output.

T-PEOS Altone 200 Review

T-PEOS Altone 200 Review

Thanks to T-PEOS for the sample.

First Impressions:  The box is a fairly uninteresting affair.  It’s a box, it’s got stuff in it.  Inside we have the normal array of tips, three thin silicon and three thick red cored ones.  Oh, there I see those little blue foamies, I’m thinking its certainty those will be the ones I’ll be using.  Shame case wise you only get the typical T-PEOS soft baggy thing.  Not that it’s terrible you understand, just nothing special.

Blue foamies on and into the ears they go.  With all the good things that have been said about these I have reasonably high expectations and I’m pleased to say they are living up to them.  It tonal balance isn’t my favourite style, I get the impression these, like the 100II like to show off.  There is an enthusiastic and energetic heart in these.  How much are these things supposed to be again?  Oooooh, ebay says £109.  I’m not sure Vsonic and DUNU are going to be best pleased about that.  Still I must remind myself, a dynamic and thrilling sound makes for a great first impression so I should not get carried away with myself. 

Source: Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., FiiO E7/E9 combo, HiFiMAN HM-601, Nexus 5, 1G Ipod Shuffle  and Firestone Audio FireyeDA.

Lows:  The bass here is rather elevated as you might expect that it would be.  Unlike things like the very V shaped H-100II the 200 Altone is considerably less so, waaaay less so.  Thing is the bass itself isn’t really lessened or altered much in terms of its tonal flavour or abilities.  Now given there is a quite price difference the bass isn’t as different as I might hope.  If bass is all you care about then here, for the money I find the linearity and extension to be less than I’d hope.  It’s just a bit rounded and humpy.  You know, I think it’s probably the same bass driver as the 100II and it’s not that it’s lacking per say but for the money I really would like it to be more linear and deep extending.  The bass however retains all the playfulness and bounce.  When you hurl at it some big ass humpy bass it raises to the occasion with aplomb.

This highly playful and rambunctious nature pairs up nicely with the slightly elevated but humpy low end.  Slap on some cheery bouncy pop with a goodly thump and it’s all a foot tapping, dancing in your chair kinda bass.  Just don’t be sat there thinking you’re getting some achingly polite monitor.  It’s cool, it’s clean and it likes a spring in its step.

Mids:  To continue a theme, it’s somewhat cool and dryish in nature.  This lead’s itself to coming over as exceedingly clear and open vocally.  Mids take on that tinge of breathy clarity that makes these feel such a grand improvement over the 100II.  A little Death Cab For Cutie, I'll Follow You Into The Dark just sounds so intimate and personal.  Like you and the singer, alone in a darkened room and your intruding on some deeply personal expression of a sad love.  Tonally I can’t help but notice it seems to lend its self exceptionally well to both breathy, particularly breathy male vocals.  Nora too is superb.  Oh and cello's sound just awesome, so laboured and yearning.   It is again that slightly dry tone that makes strings and guitars sound so raspy and clean.  It’s all such a feast of joy and liveliness.

In quantitative terms, the mids are bout where the bass and highs are.  It’s not very flat though, it’s more of a W shaped sound.  All bounce, all joy and just all party time.  Qualitatively the mids are really most excellent.  They aren’t without flavour but their detail levels are right up there as only a good BA can spit forth.  Nuance and emotive inflection abound.

Highs:  Well it’s no secret I think no BA nails treble like a good dynamic can.  However the 200 Altone is continuing the recent rash of BA drivers up top that are substantially impressive technically.  Again in comparison to the 100II I cannot truly say these are "better" and I suspect they are the same driver at work.  All tonally over on the cool and dry side which lends itself to a very explicit feel.  Dryness makes everything that touch more separate and make those treble impacts more distinct.  The danger in doing this is that you take it too far and do a DBA-02 and abound with brutal and abrasive detail.  Not so here thank god.  The highs and clean, distinct and yet have practically no harshness.  Even when paired up to the slightly bright Studio or the FireyeDA the highs stayed perfectly poised.  Not to over credit it, at its price its treble doesnt hold a candle to the miraculous old RE-0 but what does?

Quantity wise it’s all about the same as the mids and bass, that W shape remember.  So the treble is in fair abundance but it’s not one aiming for treble junkies and neither is it particularly relaxed or one for those treble sensitive souls out there.

Soundstage:  In terms of size it’s so so.  It’s much more adept at the imaging and instrument separation aspects.  The stage before you may be rather close and stretch quite far on either side, it has little in the way of real depth to it.  The instrument separation, as often seems the case with triple drivered and three way crossover IEM's, is top class.  Its three drivers working independently makes everything utterly distinct, granted at the slight cost of integration but who cares.

Fit:  Absolutely fine.  No weird shapes, no annoying ear guides no anything that is in anyway likely to upset anyone.  Oh and equally happy worn up or down.

Comfort:  Just grand.  Like with the fit, I can’t really see anyone having any particular issue with them.

Microphonics:  The usual, wear up none, wear down you do.  Still if you have to wear down the chin slider cures things adequately.

Amped/Unamped:  Well, like the recent 3 way triples from DUNU and its 100II sibling these really don’t need an amp.  Sure you see a bit of a benefit but even out of my little Nexus 5 it was easily adequately driven and still sounded most magnificently pleasing to the ear.  There was a slight pull towards the bass and the treble.  The treble quality out of the phone isn’t anything like as good as the Studio or DA and accordingly the treble was diminished.  Still, who cares?  These are so easily driven to utter magnificence even out of a lowly phone it’s something that just a few years ago would have been an impossibility. 

However it’s not like a much better source and amp are not things you should aim for with these.  Just because they sound exceedingly good out of just a phone its does not mean you won’t get even better with a real DAP.  It’s more that if you insist on using a phone, these are one that is very easy to drive.

Isolation:  With the foam tips on it’s rather good.  It’s at the rather good for having a dynamic in them, which still falls rather short of what you can get with deep seating, fully sealed BA gives.  So yadah yadah yadah, fine for on a bus, easily enough to get you run over but not really flight to New Zealand levels that BA things can provide.

Build Quality:  Just like its sibling the 100II the build is just dandy.  The buds are metal, the cable seems fine and the jacks fine too. 

Accessories:  You get the usual bunch of tips and you also get a soft pouch thing.  While I’m not really going to say the pouch is off putting but I’d have rather seen a hard case of some sort.  A few quid on fleabay will get you one if you want.

Value:  It depends how you look at it.  The 100II is about half the price of the 200 Altone and I can’t really say the 200 is twice as good, it’s just not.  Then I take another look at things and compare the 200 to the UM3x.  Both are three way triple drivered so it’s not an unreasonable comparison, then you look at the prices (well of the UM pro 30 which is the same thing) and it’s just under £300.  So £100 versus £300 it starts to look like a much less fair comparison.  Now as I A/B them the Westone wins by a margin but it’s not like they are different planets.  The DN-1000 though, now it’s really the one the Altone is up against and while the 200 is much more dramatic and attention grabbing I really can’t say its "better." still its right up there as arguably stellar value.

Conclusion:   There is no question the 200 Altone is a good step up on the 100II, that additional mid range driver is exceedingly notable in the presence of the mids.  For me this is a greatly welcome addition as I am quite the mid head, the mids are where human hearing is more focused and where all human vocals are to be found.  They are expressive and full of dry detail.  Guitars pluck and cello's sing.  I must confess I would rather it was a little more liquid in its presentation as the dryness can make some vocals err towards sibilance and that pleases me not.  It’s not a huge issue but when the competition is so brutally fierce it’s a point where they lose some ground.

The other side to this tonal nature is that it feels so very explicit and if anything over explicit.  The raw detail level is great but side to side with the GR07 and DN-1000 these are much more viciously attention grabbing.  They take detail and really hurl it in your face.  Great if you’ve gat a smooth dap with great bit rate tracks but if you have something brighter, like the Studio or 1G Shuffle poor treble really shows.  The vigorous crispness to the mids and treble can be somewhat wearing on the ear.  If you’re a bit treble sensitive like I, then this can be a quite unwelcome style but.......

In all things audio there is the inverse aspect of any trait.  The highly open sound makes every little detail you might not otherwise have noticed leap forth and dance a little jig.  Everything is in there and coldly offered up for your pleasure.  Particularly this coldly pithy bass makes it of the tightest and most grippy, aggressive low ends around.  There is no gentle expansion to soften and mute.  It’s right there, up front and square in your face.  Stylistically I’m more inclined to a more gentle, relaxed sound but the one here is massively engaging and exciting.

The scintillating treble, the dry breathy mids and the taught, vigorous bass make for an overwhelmingly attention grabbing sound.  The excitability and liveliness makes even the 1000 look positively muted in comparison.  In my mind T-PEOS are quickly becoming the archetypal thrill machine maker.  Party, dynamics, massive detail and brilliant vibrancy make for a wild drama cannon.  This really is either going to be its selling point or be what drives you away from them.  Do you want all of its wild forwardness?  Me, I like things a bit calmer but hey, that’s me.   I rather like sedate and if there is one thing the 200 Altone most certainly is not, its sedate!  It is at present, I believe, the most thrilling and excitable IEM £100 will get you right now. 

T-PEOS Altone 200 Quick Review

T-PEOS Altone 200 Quick Review

Thanks to T-PEOS for the sample.

Brief:  A wildly excitable 3 way party beast.

Price:  £109 or about US$176 (before HMRC get to you.)

Specification:  - Type: In-ear, - Driver Unit: 2 Balanced Armature & 1 Dynamic Unit, - Inpedance: 22Ohm / 1kHz, - Power: 100mW(maz), - Frequency Response: 20Hz ~ 20kHz, - Connector: 2.5mm / 24k gold plated L-type plug, Cord 1.2m / PVC round type, Weight 16g      

Accessories:  A pair of ear guides, a shirt clip, a little pouch thing and 7 pairs of tips.

Build Quality:  Very good.  The buds are metal and feel very solid.

Isolation:  For a dynamic in there it’s very good.  It’s about as close to a BA as a dynamic really gets.  Still not one I’d want for a daily Tube commute but would be more than easily sufficient for normal or on a bus use.  As ever, easily enough to get yourself run over if you don’t look where you’re going.

Comfort/Fit:  Very good on both fronts.  Up or down it was a shove in ear and done.  I’d be surprised if anyone had issues with them.

Aesthetics:  Quite nice.  They are metal and shiny but nothing visual especially stands out in anyway.

Sound:  All detail, all the time and right in your face with a distinct sense of urgency about it.  Like a puppy that’s wildly running in circles and going wild because there is a stick it needs you to notice.  It is all of the energy, all of the excitement, all of the wild dynamism and all of the time.  Not unlike its kin the 100II but the additional mid driver in here makes the mids vastly more abundant and better. WAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!! If ever was an IEM I feel might benefit from a valium it’s probably this one.  If you hate even the thought of boring then you could be onto a winner with this one.  The bass is exceedingly taught and punchy.  It’s a bit rounded and the extension isn’t stellar but with its party punch at work you’ll never mind it so.  The mids are up front and centre, its comparable in quantity to the lows and highs but hyperactively open and clear sounding.  If anything it’s all over explicit.  Highs are excitable and crisp and wildly shimmery, excellent detail levels but again so achingly and hyperactively explicit about everything.  Pair with a bright amp and crap bit rates and you will regret it.  Feed it warmth and excellent quality tracks then just watch in wonder as every tiny detail comes hurling to life before you.

Value:  Superb detail, but so wildly exuberant it may not suit all and not as generalist as things like the GR07 or DN-1000.  This however is definitely one for the adrenalin junkies but maybe not so much for lovers of smooth and serene.  Jaw dropingly good value.

Pro’s:   WAAAAAAA!!!!! DETAIL!!!!!!!!! PARTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Con’s:  See pro's.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Tekfusion Twinwoofers Review

Tekfusion Twinwoofers Review

Thanks to Tekfusion for the sample.

First Impressions:  I cannot help but notice the parcel packaging has been opened and then the bubble wrap surrounding the box has been slashed open.  Slashed right the way into the box and through the clear plastic front where the IEM’s sit.  Is this typical for things having come via India Post then DHL?  Opening up the box and it would seem that they mostly made it through their ordeal, with only one of the attached tips having been sliced.  I very much hope this in not typical. 

Slapping them into my ears and I’m pleasantly surprised.  I just presumed that something called Twinwoofors would be very bass centric and it’s not.  The strike me all together as more delicate and subdued than I was expecting.  These are good things but maybe a bit misleading, I know if was some Beats type person wanting all of the bass then something called Twinwoofer would catch the eye and then it would be a bit lacking on the low end.  Also getting a bit of venting / airpressure issues on the right.  Thank you sinuses and hayfeaver.  I wish dynamics were all just more vented.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-601, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5.

Lows:  So the name “Twinwoofer” instantly makes you think tons and tons of overpowering bass right?  It did me anyway.  So first listen was a bit a surprise, yes there is a lot of bass but not the crazy level I half feared there might be.  You know what else?  The bass is really not half bad either.  Sure it’s considerably north of neutral but given its name, if your reading this, I’m thinking you are just dandy with that.  Sure it's not the most linear bass, its actually somewhat of great big rounded hump.  I'm somewhat thinking Beyonce or maybe that Kim woman.  It’s sizable and rounded but not in a way I suspect many will find entirely displeasing.  Similarly it gives a most jovial impression, it wants to bounce a little, jiggle a bit and just have a grand old time of itself.  It’s pretty agile and firm too, little of that soft expansion that a big bottom end can often bring.

The down sides are, the bass isn’t really terribly linear and its depth just kinda melts away.  A big thump bump it likes plenty but when asked to a soft, smooth and gently warm flutter it gets a little confused.  It gives you a punchy thump or its just farts and peters out.

Mids:  Again with the name you’d kinda think masses and masses of bass so no mids.  Well the mids, while clearly not the centre of attention, are again not half bad.  They could be with a bit of a boost volume wise for my tastes but the quality is really nice.  Detail is not only pretty good for a bassy beast but it’s got a great airy delicacy to them despite rather vocaly warm.   For something so warm there is a slightly ethereal quality to the vocals.  I know this just happens to play to my tastes but I like it plenty.  In terms of detail, the mids are rather good too but with their not being overly prominent they are never in your face even when they ought to be.  Also vocals err towards a tonaly warm sound and while that’s great for big beefy male vocals, the girlies sound a bit over warm and bit too demure.  Given I love girly vocals this was a bit disappointing.

One small note against it, it despite its tonal warmth, still manage to head towards sibilance now and again.  It never ear stabbed me but you tell the thought had crossed their mind.

Highs:  I had half expected a very V shape but once more that’s not what we got.  The highs here are mostly pretty tame.  They share the tonally warm nature of the mid range so don’t expect dazzling highs blinding you with their brilliance.  The quality of what is there I approve of.  It’s warmed and smoothed with a hint of that air and delicacy we found in the mids including plenty of shimmer.  Like the dancing of a warm sunset across a gently disturbed lake.  It’s not about the full light of the day illuminating the faintest nuances but rather giving you a flavoured picture.  So long as you aren’t expecting the absolute truth I think you’ll enjoy the acoustic flavouring offered up here.  If I’m super honest, I always rather like when the highs are slightly softened, a beautiful painting can so often be more pleasing than a more accurate photograph.

Of course those who adore treble won’t be as pleased as I.  The extension isn’t bad but it trails away faintly but that it starts with such a lack of edge or aggression won’t satisfy some.  If anything details retrieval is casually obfuscated by this style and lack of abundance.

Soundstage: In terms of width these aren’t bad but seem to lack a little when it comes to depth of the sound field.  Its a little unusual to do left and right projection so nicely yet have so little depth so you always sound like your right in the middle of things.  It never really seems set out in front of you.  Instrument separation is pretty good and distinct.

Fit:  They were fine.  I did get a little hint of air pressure issues but nothing of significance.  The buds themselves were very straightforward and simply a case of shove in and done.  Their shape happily allowed for up or down wear.

Comfort:  Again I did have a little air pressure issues, that made reseating a little irritating but pretty much all nonvented dynamics are exactly the same.  The buds and cable were both very light so weight was never any sort of issue.

Microphonics:  The usual old story, up you don’t really get any, down you do but there is a neck synch that pretty much rectifies that if you use it.

Amped/Unamped:  Well yes there was a bit of a difference but nothing wild.  Given the price category of the Twinwoofors I can’t imagine they are going to come into much in the way of exotic sources anyway.  Amping did make a bit of a difference but it worked just fine out a phone.

Isolation:  For a dynamic rather good.  Enough for normal, on a bus, out and about stuff.  As usual though it’s not a BA so not really one I’d really want for a daily Tube commute or lengthy flight.  Again as usual my warning, it’s easily sufficient to turn you into a road stain if you don’t look where you going.

Value: I can only find these presently available at US$50.  So we’re pretty much looking at GR06 territory.  Both are excellent there is no doubt there and I think which to go for is going to a factor of which sound you prefer of the two.  The Twinwoofer is more bassy, more airy and with better width particularly in the vocals.  The 6 is more upfront and narrowly focused.  The one place the Twinwoofer really bests them is in the Bass, more so in quantity than quality but its likely to be more the crowd pleaser.  In terms of value, a raw sound for your pound both are excellent.

Conclusion:  The little Twinwoofers I can’t say I love their name as they aren’t twin drivered and even if they were why would want two woofers anyway?  You know I’d rather have a woofer and a tweeter, but hey it’s just a name.  Also I think the name is just misleading, I hear twin woofer and I think they must have ALL DA BASS!!!!!!! and sod all else.  That allusion does them a mighty disservice.  Sure the mids are a bit more distance than I would like to see but they are very good and the treble is excellent for this price.  The treble has a great amount of detail and can dance a delicate shimmer with the best of them (at this price.)

Where I think things fall down a little is that the cable feels rather thin and the jack too lacks heft.  It’s not to say they will not survive, the tiny jack I know some will like as it will fit in a phone with a case on.   As will all things there are both pro's and con's to whichever way you go but next to the 6, the 6 just feels nicer, this feels a little cheap.  Still that’s really my only complaint about the Twinwoofer (well, complaint that matters.)

So would I buy one of these?  Probably not.  I don’t love the elevated bass, the mids are a bit quiet for my tastes but the breathy airiness and delicacy they offer is so very nice.  The sumptuously shimmering treble likewise offers a detail level and nuance that just bests what the GR06 can give you.  The simple fact is the time has moved on and the 6 just is beginning to struggle to keep with with the Twinwoofers.  They are close, really close but the 6 is clearly no more stand out spectacular like they once were.  It would seem that the pretty new Tekfusion is set to become a real challenger for the best of what we have seen coming out of China for the last few years.  With this in mind the Twinwoofer is important, it’s taken one the very best in its price range and can absolutely go toe to toe with and not only keep pace but on occasion give it a smacking. All I can say is that I for one welcome our new Indian IEM overlords. Let’s all hope this is just a taster of the good things yet to come.