Sunday, 24 March 2013

Musical Fidelity EB-50 Review

Musical Fidelity EB-50 Review

Thanks to Musical Fidelity for the sample.

First Impressions:  Nice enough box here, doesn’t really say £150 product inside but ho hum, like it matters what the box is like!  Inside the box, the earphones and the accoutrement seems somewhat reminiscent, to those that know the name DUNU will get what I mean.  Me thinks me has worked out who Musical Fidelity’s OEM is, lol.  Still the bit that jumped out at me first is the wonderful cable tie strap thingy that I’ve seen so often from DUNU.  It’s such a simple thing but I approve tremendously, further I approve of the little accessories case for keeping a cloth (why a cloth I don’t know) and the pretty substantial assortment of bits and bobs they come with.  I am however rather disappointed that instead of a real IEM case you get a little baggy.  Granted it is as little baggy’s go very nice, maybe even very, very nice.  Still, I’d have much rather seen one of DUNU’s amazing little metal cases.  Maybe Musical Fidelity will upgrade the bundle and include one soon?  Fingers crossed.

On to sound, now DUNU have always been pretty solid and pretty cheap and the EB-50 isn’t exactly cheap.  For normal people £150 is an unheard of amount for earphones and Musical Fidelity isn’t what I’d call a household name.  I mean everyone and their granny has heard of Sony or Philips.  In audio land they are a known brand and make audio equipment that goes for several thousand pounds and they have been around for some thirty years.  Safe to say then they have pedigree and audio standing then.  Now I’ve never heard any of their stuff before so I don’t know what their house sound is or how these compare.  First listen with the tips they came with and its good, good but a bit vigorous up top.  Casting the mind back I remember DUNU deliberately offering thin rubber tips and some “hybrids” and the changes they made.  Quick I swap over to the thicker “hybrids” and the low end solidifies and the highs tame.  I’ve been listening to the SE530 all day and these still sound rather good.  Pretty lively, pretty balanced if a touch W shaped maybe.   Clarity is most pleasing to the ear, a fair achievement given I’ve been listening to top tier stuff all day.  Fingers crossed a little burn in further refines the highs.

N.B. 20 min later I’m still listening and dancing about in my chair, always a positive sign!  Okay maybe change that to 40, must go make dinner and chair dancing is not conducive to that.

Source: Source 5G iPod Video line out through a Practical Devices XM5 with LM6171 opp amps and Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anniversary edition.  Also the XM5 as DAC and amp because it’s convenient and not the E7/E9 combo, I will discuss why later.  Additionally a Galaxy Nexus for the phone tests.

Source Selection:  I don’t normally comment hugely on the source selection, I always mention what I’ve used most with an IEM as it does make differences. I tend to go with a warmer source for bright IEM’s and vice versa.  So why am I singling out this one?  Well it seemed to be particularly variable with the source.  With the E7/E9 combo, the E9 is a bit bright but here it was VERY noticeable, the bass practically vanished.  Then on the other hand using the Rocoo BA, a fractionally warm DAP and they sounded rather muted and languid.  Why there was this so pronounced difference I don’t know.  Could it be an impedance issue as when an additional 75 ohms was added with an ety P to S adapter was used a similar thing happened, got V bright and bass went away.

Lows:  The EB-50 is a BA unit but on my first listen it didn’t strike me hugely as being so.  Its large enclosure made me just assume it was a dynamic and its bass behaviour didn’t insist otherwise with any great vigour.  This is a good thing.  Flicking over to the GR01 which is one of the more balanced Bass wise BA IEM’s and there is a noticeable difference.  The bass on the EB-50 is fuller, bigger and I think deeper too.  It actually reminds me more of the bass produced by the “Moving Armature” IEM’s  I’m thinking that’s what’s really inside here, at least my ears are.  They have really the best traits form BA and dynamics, sure it’s not a bass monster and it can’t do all that the best dynamics can but it’s bigger than most BA’s.  Yet it retains the quickness and agility you expect form armature based things.  It’s not the ultra-fast punch and instant decay from some *cough, CK10, cough* again, it’s good.  It’s very even handed in its presentation and while this means it won’t satisfy fans of either extreme I think what Musical Fidelity has gone for a very nice balance.  It’s pretty adapt at thumping bass heavy (“Tocas Miracle 2008,” Fragma) to the slow gentle “Pale September,” Fiona Apple.  It is perfectly happy with either and very good with both.

Quantity wise for a BA it’s pretty big, it reminds me of an ER4 when you hit the bass boost button.  Yes its elevated but it’s not what I’d call bassy, its really similar to what you get from the GR07.  It is a very friendly sound signature, still more audiophile than “consumer” and from the GR07’s popularity it’s a good level to go for.

Mids:  Again we have a fairly middling tonality.  Neither dry nor liquid so it’s pretty adept at dealing with either but never truly shinning with either.  The huge upside to this is it can turn its hand to pretty much any musical style without adding its own flavour like some.  For example the SE530 has stunningly gloriously liquidy and darn right magical mids but for dry songs or rock it’s just not quite right.  The EB50 mids are very nice but they aren’t wowing me, I don’t think they are meant to though.  I’m going to back the GR07 as the closest I can think of to them.  The mids here are a touch more intimate and thicker, not the same air and space to them the GR07 has but then the EB-50 is a closed IEM and the 7 is in comparison rather open.  In case you can’t tell I’m really having issue pining this down as it has no real great flavour of its own.

Strings are tonally very pleasant but seem to lack the finest bight, the twang seems a touch muted but you do get a lovely richness so cello’s sound pretty fab, guitars however are a touch softened.  Erasures “Rock Me Gently” from Union Street sounds so lovingly paced and melodic.  The vocals all sweep together beautifully but the guitar just behind doesn’t cut through cleanly as I would quite like. 

Quantity wise they feel very, very balanced.  Not the “perfectly balanced” you get form the likes of the ER4 which on the ear is somewhat bright.  This sounds balanced in the way you would listen to a speaker and hear it as balanced.  It does to my ears anyway and for me that’s really a grand achievement.

Highs:  Pretty not bad.  The balance on the highs are just about perfect and when needed the highs can cut thorough just like they should.  Frankly the highs are about as good as you get on a BA, they still have that hint of grit and over hardened edge that BA’s have but they do a really valiant stab at decay.  They sound near natural in the decay and fullness.  On many BA things highs can so often feel so small and pin like but here they sound bigger, broader and I’m pretty impressed.  The detail on them too is rather good.  I don’t think it quite matches the ER4 as in the very busiest of passages it seems content to let things slide a touch not unlike the way dynamics do.  I said it before but it reminds me of a “Moving Armature” sound rather than being strictly BA like in how it deals with things.  These are good enough to very much want good recordings yet wont savage you if you don’t like some do.

Extension wise, hmm well its fine but nothing exceptional.  Dynamics do extension better than BA stuff does.

Soundstage:  For a BA again it’s rather big, it’s a full sounding IEM.  It hasn’t the greatest depth to it but it is very much more expansive sounding that just about every BA IEM I’ve heard.  Could that be down to their rather shallow fit?  Most BA stuff ends to be physically tiny and want shoved in deep.  Sometimes brain implant deep (yes ER4, I mean you.)  Presentation wise these are rather more dynamic like than BA.  Instrument separation is good, nothing outstanding but all is pleasantly indicated.

Fit:  Great for me.  I wore up and they went in and that was that.

Comfort:  Their sealed and shallow seating means I’d not like to be pulling these out every two minutes.  Sure sticking on some foamies would solve that if that’s an issue for you.  I wore these up so I never found their size to be an issue but I’ve seen others say so.  Personally I think IEM’s should always be worn up. But if you wear down I found using the skip button would catch on my collars and consequently tugged on my ear creating a little suction.  That got annoying fast.

Cable: Pretty nice.  The cable is a touch stiff but that the only complaint.  The cable feels study, the jack seems really nice, the Y splitter is too and you get a chin slider too.  The bonus feature is the little rubber cable tie do dah.  If your spending £150 then you don’t really want to wrap the cable round a DAP because that kills cables, yet some don’t want to use a little case and not have a mess of cable in their pocket.  It’s a great addition, I’d still rather see a case used but it’s very welcome.

Phone Use:  Testing with my Galaxy Nexus, the mic seemed to work absolutely fine and I could be heard clearly.  Naturally I could hear the other party fine too.  The button to answer worked.  The press to play/pause worked and the double press to skip a track worked.  I couldn’t make it triple click to go back though, which was odd but I never do that normally so don’t care.  I can’t see why so I shall assume it was me.

Microphonics:  Worn down it bothered me.  The mic seems to always hit a collar. The chin slider did more or less remove the issue but so did wearing them up, so I did that.

Amped/Unamped:  They didn’t seem to mind if they were driven from something with power but they were really fussy and variable.  They also loathed additional impedance so don’t bother with that.  Out of my phone and the XM5 and Studio V 3rd they were good.  Out of the Rocoo BA they were slow and meh, out of the E9 they were very bright and almost shrill.  My best guess is that that changed depending on the internet impedance of the source but it’s a guess.  So, out of my phone they sounded good but better out of the XM5 and Studio V 3rd noticeably.  So while yes they clearly did better out of the better sources they care far more about pairing.  The Rocoo BA should handily beat the Galaxy Nexus but it didn’t, go figure.

Isolation:  Very good but on the lower side of things for BA.  Thats no doubt due to being so shallow fitted but it will best pretty much any dynamic out there.  I’d have no problem using on flight or daily Tube trek.  So my eternal warning, look where you’re going with these in as you won’t hear the bus behind you until it impacts your skull.

Accessories:  One of the nicest accessory bundles.  I really would have liked to see a little hard case rather than the admittedly nice baggy.  In some ways its overkill as I don’t know what they think you’ll use the cleaning cloth for, your glasses maybe?  You get seven pairs of tips too so you should be able to find the best fit too.  A set of over ear guides and a shirt clip.  Good stuff.

Value:  Hmmm, Musical Fidelity while not exactly a Sony or Philips in terms of everyone and your granny’s dog having heard of them, is a recognised name.  It’s not previously known for headphones but mostly its amplifiers.  Great big things too, one I believe they do can output 1kW at 8ohms!!!  Very big, very expensive and very serious amps.  They are a proper audiophile brand and here that means when it comes right down to value, these don’t wow me like some Far East places have for value.  Still they sound very nice and are not unreasonably priced.  They are a really nice package.

Conclusion:  This is going to long and winding.  At times I’ve found myself looking at the EB-50 in analytical terms and just not being wowed by it.  It is competent and capable but at each aspect it seems a bit middling and bested by something near its price or cheaper.  Then I find I’ve drifted away and stopped analysing its technical abilities and just enjoying it.  That’s really where its strengths lie.  It’s not the most technically proficient at anything in particular but its blends together into a really pleasing sound.  It’s hasn’t any spectacular strengths but likewise it doesn’t really haveany weaknesses either.  Now if you’re like me and have a box of IEM’s then you may well want something that shines in one particular area.  If you’re a bit more of a normal person and are only going to have one quality IEM then you probably want something that’s a bit more even handed.  Something more of a generalist.  That’s where the EB-50 shines, by shining at nothing and nowhere in particular.

The best I can think to compare it with is the GR07 which hit Head-Fi like a brick, it was a generalist yet seriously good and the EB-50 is rather like that.  Of course it’s different in that its a BA so sounds more closed and thick but gives you real isolation.  As much as I like the GR07 I couldn’t use it day to day as I have gotten used to blocking out the outside world that only a good BA can give you.  The only other IEM I’ve heard that from was the Ortofon e-Q7.  I had a bunch of fit issues with that so I don’t have it anymore and I can only go from memory as to its talents.  I do recall the e-Q7 was rather more costly and was a sold in Japan only.  It was a “Moving Armature” in the e-Q7 and I’d be willing to bet that’s what in the EB-50 too, it certainly sounds like one and behaves in that weird hybrid way.

For a BA it seems a little slow and rounded yet has the lack of air and closedness you get.  It has a slight gentility to the edges of the highs and softens when things get too busy the way dynamics do. It feels like a hybrid.  It is just in the middle in every way.  So it can do more or less everything and everything really well.  It sound good with everything music wise. Be it Dido or Death Cab For Cutie, I really couldn’t find anything that sucked or sounded wrong.  I really looked too, I listened to Kesha for you people yet even her poppy drivel that shouldn’t really suit a BA sounded full and fun.  Yet fire up a little Nora and things relaxed and melted in a way things like the TF10 just can’t do.

The EB-50 for me has been a bit a jack of all musical trades.  Not the quite the master of any but it’s the sort of thing that you could really love if you have varied musical tastes and are only buying one good IEM.  Just be careful what you pair it with and you’ll have possibly the only IEM you’ll ever need.

Musical Fidelity EB-50 Quick Review

Musical Fidelity EB-50 Quick Review

Thanks to Musical Fidelity for the sample.

Brief:  Musical Fidelity gets into IEM’s

Price:  £150

Specification:  Sensitivity: 100dB SPL/mW (1kHz) Impedance: 26 Ohms ±15%, Max input power: 11mW (rated power 5mW), Frequency range: 10Hz-20kHz, Distortion: <1%, Noise Isolation: better than 96%, Driver: 6mm balanced armature, Weight: 28g, Cable length: 1.2M, 3.5mm Gold plated Stereo jack plug, Microphone and answer button included

Accessories:  Lots.  I’m counting 10 pairs of tips, a cleaning cloth, an accessory case, a baggy, an aircraft adapter, an 6.25 to 3.5mm converter and I’d count too the built in cable tie.  Oh and the shirt clip and ear guides.

Build Quality:  Very, very nice.  The buds, Y splitter and chin slider are metal.  The jack feels sturdy as does the cable and the mic does too.  It all feels very well put together.

Isolation:  So so for a BA IEM.  Easily enough to get you run over if you’re not looking where you’re going with music on but not the one id want for a daily Tube commute.  Of course it’s still rather better than pretty much ever dynamic driver based IEM out there.

Comfort/Fit:  Very good for me.  I wore them up and was a case of shove in and done.  Despite their being rather big they sit shallow so were perfectly comfortable.  Worn down the mic did catch on my collar which got annoying though.

Aesthetics:  Not the most attractive IEM in the world but its certainly quite nice.  The brushed metal looks nice and I particularly like the red and blue accents (red for right.)  not only is it pretty its practically useful and I approve lots.

Sound:  Very Pleasant.  It isn’t an IEM of extremes; there are no miraculous, hyper detailed highs, no deep thunderous bass and no sumptuously enveloping mids.  It’s all in all a bit middling.  That’s not a bad thing though.  They do everything rather well even things BA IEM’s usually don’t.  Most BA IEM’s around this price are TWFK dual drivered ones and are known for being bright.  Sure they vary but all have low end issues and the driver in the EB-50 just does bass better.  It reminds me a lot of the “moving armature” of the e-Q7.  For a BA it has a remarkably full sound and deals with both the bass and highs in a rather dynamic like way.  The bass is more expansive and the highs have a smoothness and slight rounding to them.  It feels like it’s quite capturing a hint of both.  It’s not a thrill to listen to but its very pleasant.  Pleasant in a way you could listen to it all day, every day and be perfectly content with pretty much every type of musical style.  Its one of these IEM’s that really hasn’t got any faults, it’s the archetypal all rounder.  Balance wise it’s a very natural to the ears sound, natural in the way a speaker can sound natural.  It is very adaptable.  It’s really nice to listen to.  Its only problem is that it was very source fussy. Some sources sounded rather muddy, others rather bright and near shrill.  I think it was an impedance issue but whatever the case I found my phone worked very well with it.

Value:  Can be beaten in any any given area but it’s a top notch all rounder and the whole bundle is pretty nice.

Pro’s:   Very capable jack of all musical trades, great package.

Con’s:  No proper case, doesn’t excel in an given area.

Hisoundaudio Nova 3 Review

Hisoundaudio Nova 3 Review

Thanks to Hisoundaudio for the sample

First Impressions:  The box is interesting, nothing hugely fancy but easy enough to open which is nice.  Inside we have the DAP of course and then oddly we have three, yes three earphones in there.  Well two IEM’s and one pair of earbuds.  That’s rather a bit of an oddity and to me a really unexpected way to go.  I’d have thought audiophile aimed at DAP’s would have been more inclined to go with giving you none, expecting you will be picking your own anyway.  That you get 3 here though does mean that mainstream folks are likely to get something to suit.  One of them, the Wooduo 2, I’ve heard before and it’s a pretty good IEM so it’s the one I’d expect most folks to go right to, it’s likely the one I will.  The other two, the IEM is the Tabour which I’m not familiar with but seems lower end and the buds are the PAA-1.  Note they aren’t the PAA-1 Pro’s so again should be lowerish end buds but probably rather better than most stock earbuds I’m betting.

Looking at the Nova 3 itself it’s in a brushed goldish colour with a checked pattern on the front.  Turning it over it’s just goldish on the back and looks not bad, the front though, eek, I can’t say I like it.  In pic’s the Nova 1 being sort of titanium coloured looked nicer I think.  Turning it on and I am confronted with some form or Far Eastern hieroglyphics.  Instantly the number one priority is finding how to get into the settings menu, once I did the only option I recognised was “Languages,” yey and into English.  I think this could be the first time something has ever come by default in some other language.  I can’t be sure but given the pictures don’t indicate settings well (a little spanner maybe?)

Screen:  Well unlike previous Hisoundaudio DAP’s there is no tiny monochromatic OLED screen.  What we have here is a colour screen.  As colour screen’s go it’s a bit meh, the colours are washed out and the viewing angles suck.  There is an option for video but you won’t use it, honestly I can’t even be bothered trying it.  The screen, even if it was great is tiny, hell I don’t use my phone for video because it’s too small and I’d bet every person who will ever read this has a phone with a bigger and better screen than this.  Still all that said it does its job and works and that sensibly Hisoundaudio have used a monochrome UI means its pretty usable even in sunlight.

Battery life:  The manual says 20 hours but that seems optimistic to me.  Granted I was using FLAC so that would hit it somewhat.  It seemed to make it through a day of use fine but I’d be inclined to charge overnight every night.

The Manual:  Got to say I loved to manual, it’s so quirky and constantly made me smile.  Lol, firstly its labelled “Manual of Nova” on the front.  Inside it goes on to point out the objective of the company and places like head-Fi, to restore what’s been lost and to point out that your phone probably sucks audio wise.  It’s awesome.

UI:  If there is one thing the Middle Kingdom has yet to master it is the user interface.  Ignoring it didn’t come in English as I recognise their market isn’t entirely anglocentric and that was only a five minute frustration.  No one is going to put this side by side to an Ipod and think Apple have missed a trick.  It isn’t what I’d call terrible but in no way can I say I have enjoyed it.  A big part of that is no doubt the buttons, it’s a weird layout and there is nothing to indicate what they do bar hitting them.  You’ll figure it out but it’s still what I’d characterise as quirky rather than intuitive.  Still it did do what I like most and that’s let me shuffle everything that’s on the player.  That’s what I pretty much always use so on the whole once it was going it was fine. 

Radio:  I only note this as it’s there.  Oddly it’s called HiFi–FM.  It seems to work but never seemed to have the best signal but I never use the radio so can’t really say if that’s normal.  No one’s ever going to use it anyway so who cares.

In The Hand:  The player itself feels nicely put together, it feels solid.  The buttons on the side don’t seem to have quite the same quality about them but I had no trouble with them.  What I did have trouble with is the buttons or lack thereof on the front.  Much like the Cowon i10 I had in once, this has capacitive buttons.  I hate capacitive buttons as I think they give you the worst of both worlds.  No clever and pretty touch interface and no tactility so you can’t use it in without having to look at the damn thing.  Clearly this may not be an issue for everyone as I’m sure some will be perfectly happy with capacitive buttons.  I however find them very frustrating.  Otherwise the button arrangement made sense, it did seem a bit odd to dedicate a button the changing the EQ pre-set but okay.

Format Support:  In the manual (love the manual btw) it says it supports MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC and “Part of APE” since I’ve never seen anyone use APE files I’m not testing it.  Actually I’m not testing most of them, MP3 and FLAC are going to be the two big codecs, MP3 for universality and small file size or FLAC for quality.  WAV is over kill and I’ve never seen WMA used in the wild.  So I can report MP3 and FLAC both work great and it had no bother picking up the id3tag info.  More strangely it can also apparently support displaying lyrics.  Again this isn’t something I tested as the suggested site to get them seemed dead.  Is reading the lyrics a Chinese thing?  I’ve never heard of anyone I know wanting such a feature and certainly not so much to add in thousands of files.  Still it’s there if you want it I guess.

Sound Quality:  Good.  Firstly you won’t be using it on a flat EQ, Wooduo, HiFi or HSA V2.0 are the ones to look to, I’d say ignore everything else as they suck.  I don’t like that I have to use an EQ but you do so just accept it.  Its sounds super meh on flat.  Oh and the noise floor, well there isn’t hiss much but there are beeps and squeaks aplenty, you don’t notice much when its playing but when you skip tracks or have a quiet passage it’s pretty pronounced.

Lows: Good, depends on the EQ your using and with the Wooduo’s abundance they seem to pair well.  The depth with them seemed a bit dialled down but seems fine with others, they are clearly referenced against each other.

Mids:  Rather nice, nothing is added and they have pretty good transparency, a touch ish on the cool.

Highs:  Nice, good extension but a little bit gritty when you pair it with bright stuff but again it pairs really well with the Wooduo 2.

So why is the above so short?  Because you’re always using an EQ so I’m not doing a comparison of how each behaves.  The quantity of each aspect will be whatever you set it to.

Volume:  On the EQ setting, USER which I have sot to flat the volume isn’t massive.  I can with the Wooduo 2’s max the volume and not feel it’s too loud.  Particularly on recordings that are a bit quieter it’s just not that loud.  Hitting the EQ button though makes a big difference and I feel the DAP is intended to be used with some form of EQ going on.  With the HAS v2.0 engaged can crank the volume down to about half and be happy with it.  Honestly what I think you’ll do is pick which EQ you like and leave it on that all the time.  That’s what I did despite not being a fan of EQ’s.  Still if you have something really power hungry (HD600) then EQ or not and you can max the volume and be left wanting. 

Edit:  The new firmware update has boosted the volume so this is improved but I still found that the use of an EQ setting feels necessary.

Accessories:  DAP’s don’t normally get much in the way of mention about accessories but the Nova 3 has an interesting bundle.  I mentioned it before but they come with 3 earphones which is the first I’ve ever heard of any DAP shipping with.  The bud’s, the PAA-1 I had a quick listen to and they seem fine but I’m spending little time with them as I find buds rather uncomfortable.  They sounded okay, a bit muddy maybe compared with the IEM offerings but they look nice and of course you can hear everything that’s going no around you.  That’s sometimes a necessity.  The next one, the Wooduo 2 I’ve reviewed before and its pretty good.  Way bass heavy but otherwise a really impressive sounding IEM that normally goes for circa US$129.  That its bundled together with a means it’s probably the best bundled IEM that any DAP has ever had.  The last one, the Tabour, I thought from its circa US$30 retail price it was the beater IEM included for times when you want music but there is risk of damage to them.  So it was a pleasant surprise in that it sound pretty good.  It’s clearly not challenging the Wooduo 2 for quality but again for a bundled IEM it itself would beat pretty much every other DAP’s bundled pair.  What is really weird though is that there was no included range of tips.  The two IEM’s came with medium tips on them but that was it, I’m hoping that was some sort of oversight as its seems silly not to include some more like they would normally come with.

Value:  It depends.  As a DAP on its own I’m not loving it but if you take into account the whole package it improves massively.  That you got three earphones is most unusual and that one of them is the Wooduo 2 is a huge boon.  They are pretty good IEM’s and without question the best bundled IEM I’ve ever seen with a DAP.  They themselves go for a reasonable amount of cash so if you need a decent IEM too then the Nova 3 bundle takes on new value.  If you don’t need or want the Wooduo 2’s then it really hammers the value of the package.

Conclusion:  I have over the past couple of years been a bit of a Hisoundaudio fanboi.  I freekin’ loved the Studio V when it came out and the Rocoo BA and Studio V 3rd Anv. have both been great and I use them frequently.  The Nova 3 I can’t say expect the same will happen.   Its champagne gold colour I don’t love but most of all it’s the controls I can’t abide.  The touch sensitive buttons give you nothing over real buttons and I think it was a mistake to have used them.  You may not agree with me but they really made the device a pain to use for me.  That’s all I plan to say about that.

Sound wise things were not bad but I wasn’t wowed like I have been with other Hisoundaudio DAP’s.  It’s nice but if I take the DAP on its own then it costs what the Rocoo BA did and the Rocoo is clearly better sounding.  Of course you didn’t get the Wooduo 2’s included there so you’d then have to go buy something good to pair with it which makes the total spend more.  If your starting from scratch that is.  So as a package, if you need a DAP and an IEM then it’s a good bundle for someone starting out.  For those who frequent then I’d be willing to bet you don’t need both in which case the Nova 3 just isn’t wowing me.  As a DAP its good sounding but nothing more.  I’m not sure it’s good enough to overcome the UI issues and those “buttons.”

What I feel the Nova 3 needs (aside from real buttons) is to not be bundled and to get a price cut.  Sure the bundle as I’ve said is really good value but I’m not convinced everyone needs both at once.  Most people upgrade bits one at a time, you move from your phone and the bundled crap buds to something good but cheap like a GR06 then you go higher to like a GR07.  You then start to see the limitations of your phone so then you want to get a real DAP.  The Nova 3 bundle is a bit of a leap.

So essentially the Nova 3 is fair, the Wooduo 2 are really nice and the bundle is really nice value.  

HisoundAudio Nova 3 Quick Review

HisoundAudio Nova 3 Quick Review

Thanks to Hisoundaudio for the sample

Brief: Hisoundaudio tries touchscreen

Price:  Presently £163 on ebay

Specification:  Memory size:  16 GB+ External SD card slot  (Up to 32GB), Size of the Screen: 1.8 inch TFT colour screen. Playing time of the battery: 20hours. Weight: 60g. Formats supported: MP3, WMA, WAV, Part of APE, FLAC, USB: 2.0, The battery capacity: 400mAh, Frequency response range: 15-25000HZ, S/N:> 96 DB, Size of the player: 93X 42x8.5mm, Colour: Champagne golden

Accessories:  1, Player: 1 unit,  2, USB cable: 1 pieces. 3, earphones: 3 pairs - PAA1  4, Some foam or silicon tips. 5, Manual 1 6, Quality warranty card 1.

Build Quality:  The main body is nice, the side buttons I’ve seen complains about but I had no bother with them.  Feels all quite solid.

In the Hand:  I don’t like capacitive buttons, this has them and that makes me sad.

UI:  Well the Far East has yet to master UI’s and this isn’t bucking that trend.

Battery:  Lasted me a day easily enough but it’s probably not making it through two.

Aesthetics:  I didn’t like the “gold” and would have much rathered the Nova 1’s gun metal look (from pic’s anyway) but I’m never a fan of gold anyway.  To quote the friend I asked the opinion of, “it looks cheap.”

Sound:  Pretty good really, it’s clearly a step above what your phone will give you but compared to the other HisoudAudio things I’ve heard I wasn’t wow’ed.  Sure it’s nice but it’s the same money as a Rocoo BA was and it was clearly better.   But then the Rocoo BA didn’t include a pretty great pair of IEM’s.  Clearly a fair chunk of your cash goes towards the 3 earphones in the bundle and should you want them, great.  Should you not, well it’s a bit of a waste of money then buying things you don’t want.  Gifts for family and friends perhaps?  (Do keep the Wooduo 2’s though they are rather good.)  Still the DAP I wasn’t loving as you effectively have to use the EQ which I dislike doing and it makes it impossible to review because every EQ setting changes it so much.  Not to mention the user EQ so it’s effectively infinitely variable.  Great if you’re only having one DAP and you like that sort of thing.  Still what was a bit bothersome were the beeps and clicks the player produces, no hiss but in quiet passages there is a constant beep and squeaking that could well annoy.

Value:  Do you need the bundled Wooduo 2’s?  If yes they it’s a great little bundle if you’re not going to use them it’s not so much.  The old Rocoo’s cost the same and are just better sounding.  Granted its better than your phone, it beats my ipod too but I’d sooner get a Rocoo.

Pro’s:  Great package, the Wooduo’s are easily the best bundled IEM’s ever.

Con’s:  Capacitive buttons, UI, get the IEM’s whether you want them or not.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sony MDR-EX100 Quick Review

Sony MDR-EX100 Quick Review

Thanks to SwimSonny for the loan.

Brief:  Sony shows what it can do when its wants to.

Price: Circa £400

Specification:  Driver Unit 16mm, Dome type (CCAW adopted), Sensitivity 108dB/mW, Power Handling Capacity 200mW, Impedance 32ohms at 1kHz, Frequency Response 3-30,000Hz, Magnet Neodymium, Cord 7N-OFC litz cord adopted Y-type / Detachable Cord Length 1.2m / 0.6m, Plug L-shaped stereo mini plug (Gold) (1.2m cord) / Stereo mini plug (Gold) (0.6m cord), Weight (Without Cord)           Approx. 8g

Accessories:  Hybrid silicone rubber earbuds (SSx2, Sx2, MSx2, Mx2, MLx2, Lx2, LLx2), Noise isolation earbuds (Sx2, Mx2, Lx2), Carrying case, 1.2m cord / 0.6m cord, Operating Instructions.  You get more tips than you’ll know what to do with and the case, while lovely it’s not something to go in your pocket.

Isolation:  A bit meh, they don’t isolate well at all.  They are rather open then they sound it too so if you want something for blocking out noise these aren’t it.  It’s barely passable for blocking out traffic noise and I wouldn’t bother with these for the Tube or a flight.

Comfort/Fit:  Well these are a bit odd.  Firstly they are massive, secondly they are a really weird shape.  I had no bother with them but they sat so loosely on my ear they never seemed secure, not that they fell out or moved.  Comfort was rather good, they weigh nothing and were very gentle on the ear.

Aesthetics:  They make a visual statement.  I can’t say I like that statement as they are massive, noticeable and they say I sure as hell am no freebie included set of buds.

Sound:  So I’d seen lots of good things about these then they vanished from the radar.  Sony is a massive company that essentially has the potential to outspend every headphone maker and are probably the best known consumer electronics brand in the world.  They aren’t known however for rocking the earphone world, the old EX700 was regarded as good but a pain to use and never really stood out.  The EX1000 is rather more expensive and there is a lot more competition now.  Sony has come out with something really nice though.  I still don’t love its shape and its sound quality isn’t earth shattering.  You know that price tag is very high and I don’t think it quite commands it but acoustically Sony isn’t disappointing.  The on paper low end claims 3Hz which is ungodly low.  Likewise the highs on paper go well beyond human hearing so it should have no trouble with either.  The low end though with that massive driver I expected more volume.  Its very well behaved, smooth and a touch relaxed bass.  It’s one of those beguiling basses that are so reserved and polite until you demand more and it comes to life but still seems so laid back.  It is pretty fast yet has this relaxed gentility to it in the very Sony way.  It never seems hurried or stressed.  It’s a quite a beautiful presentation.  Mids too have this every no nonchalant air to them.  Sooooooo relaxed, so airy, so effortlessly offered up.  “Painters Song” feels so softly, clearly, openly and languidly presented.  It feels intimate but it’s not up close and personal.  In something’s this is super lovely but it seems incapable of bringing those vocal up and in your face like something’s need.  The highs, they do extend well but they in the lower high end have a bit of a spike.  They do have a habit of being peaky and randomly leaping out at you (the EX700 did this too as have many other Sony’s) the detail otherwise is rather good if not the most explicit.  This isn’t an analytical IEM, it’s about being beautiful.  This spike detracts from that beauty but these are still very nice.  The sound stage is rather big, above all they are a tremendous ability to sound distant and ever so open.

The balance on them is fairly natural with a bit of an emphasis on the highish spike that can jump out and turn to sibilance.  Also I can’t help but feel these should have more bass, that driver is more than capable but I feel Sony steered away from big bass due to the recent trend of ridiculous bass levels in others.

N.B.  It all works stupendously nicely with acoustic tracks.

Value:  Hmm these are a prestige product and you pay for that Sony name and a fair premium. Still many of us grew up with the Sony “house sound” as they essentially owned the 80’s for consumer audio.  This is that same sound but with rather impressive clarity. 

Pro’s:  Super open sounding, Beautifully relaxed, Sony “house sound” nostalgia.

Con’s:  Its rather expensive, highs have a jumpy spike in them, isolate meh.