Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Firestone Audio FireyeDA Review

Firestone Audio FireyeDA Review

Thanks to Firestone Audio for the sample.

First Impressions:  It’s a nice box, nothing too fancy but it’s nice to see someone proudly stating where it comes from.  A big “Made in Taiwan” slapped on the front.  Inside the amp looks nice too.  I do find it a bit odd that it has a 5v supply input but no power adapter.  Now I realise you don’t need one and given it’s a DAC with no line in (so no using as just a amp) you’re always going to have a usb cable connected.  Yes the specs say using the 5v gets you more power and specs improve but I just don’t see anyone using it, ever.  Maybe that’s just me but it seems superfluous.  Actually I find I’m a bit disappointed you can’t use this as an amp.  Looking at the front I thought that line out, optical out socket was a line in (yes I tried to use it as such.)  Sad face.  They do offer an amp but it seems not a DAC/amp combo, in the works perhaps?

Listening time and grabbing the HD515’s as I’m thinking it’s a non-battery device so it’s to be used while you’re sat at a computer.  Plus they advertise it can drive 600 Ohm headphones so it seems a fair test.  Wow!!!  Not only can it go super loud and I’m on low gain I am blown away by how they sound.  Are the HD515 that good?  It’s been a while since I’ve used them much, maybe I’m imagining things but god they pair up well.  They sound so amazingly holographic it’s freaky.  Maybe I had better pull out the big HD600’s.  First listen though has left me super impressed.

Lows:  Depends on your tastes but I found this to be a lean and a touch bright amp.  The bass is lovely and tight, very impressively tight but lacks a touch of expansion and fullness.  Not a lot you understand but a hint and on something like the bass lean HD600 it was a bit unsatisfying.  So ah ha you think, there is a bass boost button!  Well there is but I found it was a bit much and a bit unnatural sounding.  I’m not sure where it cuts in but it was more like one of those “DYNAMIC BASS BOOST” things you see on consumer hifi’s rather than a more subtle EQ hike of the lower end.  It was more like a big boost in just that 30Hz and 60Hz bands but nowhere else.  It’s really going to matter with what you pair it up to.  Flicking over to the HD515 and they sounded superb.  It’s a bassyier can and it’s softer, flabbier so the lean tightness of the FireyeDA complimented it wonderfully.  The quantity too was just outstandingly good.  That fraction above what your brain knows it really should be but you just love it.  The quality too just was excellent; it was really getting the absolute best out of the HD515.  Even being silly and turning on the bass boost and it was great. Whether it be that the HD600 is too accurate and won’t soften the clean crispness of the FireyeDA I don’t know but the HD515 just sounded so fun with it.

Depth seems okay but bass isn’t what it does best, there is that trail away and I think it probably wouldn’t pair terribly well with a bright headphone (grado.)  Stylistically it’s a quick and light low end.  Yes the bass boost bumps up the quantity and fills it out but it was too unsubtle a bass boost for me.

Mids:  Like above this amp has the air of lean and coolness to it.  Breathiness was very good and on the slightly thicker, more liquid HD515 they were just stunners together.  The managed to offer a distant yet sultry, intimate vocals just oh my god good.  Painters Song is just every single thing it should be.  The vocal detail is enough without being analytical and yet it has this perfect mix of breathy and liquidy goodness.  On the HD600 it was rather more detailed and airy but seemed to lose some of the soul of the song.  The more neutral HD600 meeting the pretty lean, neutral amp made for a very technically accurate sound.  One of those on paper faultless but just feels a bit soulless.  Going back the HD515 and god they do pair up well.  Every vocal I’ve tested sounds just so good, enough technical accuracy but so natural and organic.  Guitars too sound fantastic.  Not quite the crisp twang they should but so full bodied.

Vocal dynamics are great, everything feels very energetic and vibrant.

Highs:  There is a bit of a tint towards the top end on this DAC.  So if you like fast, slightly crisp treble then this could be one for you.  Owl City’s “Cave In” is a flurry of very quick bass and treble ass over the place.  It’s not subtle treble either and can very quickly ravage my ears.  Oddly it’s something I’ve seem more in warmer, thicker amps as they try to compensate by over crisping the edges of the highs.  None of that here though, the highs are wonderfully shimmy and clean with good extension.  Now it’s still more treble than I personally want.  This is a brightish amp, that’s just how it is.  Long term I might be inclined to not play lots of very bright music because of its abundance but I can’t fault its quality.  One thing though, the high end decays are frankly too quick.  I know it’s a clean, quick amp but cymbals should last longer.  Here it all feels in a bit of a hurry.

Quantity wise there is a touch too much.  This is a bright headphone amp

In The Hand:  Ergonomically the thing is a fiddly, mostly because it’s so petite.  I found I was always picking the thing up and holding it while I changed the volume.  The headphone jack got in the way of the dial, my fingers didn’t fit in between.  Hardly a big deal.  The other weird thing was the power LED on the back, I guess it’s so it has one but doesn’t bother those who find bright LED’s distracting.

Build Quality:  It is a very solid little block, the case is metal, the top and bottom faceplates are might be metal (I think anyway.)  It’s got apparent metal screws holding it all together.  In no way can I fault the build.  It is good stuff.

Power:  On low gain these could with ease send my HD600’s louder than I’d ever want.  I’d suspect on high these could have a good bash at some ortho’s.

Transparency:  Very good.  There is no two ways about it, these are very transparent.  They are if anything trying to be too transparent, too revealing, too open.  This lends it to that too bright and maybe even a touch over dynamic.  That bit over saturated over contrasted to make things seem hyper transparent.

DAC:  I know from the specs it’s got some Wolfson goodness in there, a WM8761 it says on the specs.  It doesn’t have that organic warmth that things with Wolfson DAC’s in them often have.  Normally you know if you see the Wolfson name that’s the sort of sound you can expect, or at least that’s what I do.  Anyway as this has no line in I can’t separate what is the amp and what is DAC.

Value:  I find it not having a line in and battery a bit of a missed opportunity.  I’m not sure who’d not splash out more and get a DAC/portable amp combo.  So ignoring that, the sound quality is fabulous for something sooooooooooo tiny.    Still if your say using something good and want to use the office computer but don’t want to use its terrible audio out this would work well.

Conclusion:  As I’ve just said I’m not sure why you would want this.  I felt so disappointed when I realised there was no line in, I just thought “whhhaaaa whadda you mean it’s not an amp too!!!” I can only assume FireAudio are coming out with an amp/DAC combo soon as it seems madness not to.  So let’s pretend that doesn’t really annoy me and all I want it for is to use in the office (what I’d ever do with the line out then I don’t know but hey its nicer to have than not have.)

It’s a curious little thing and I’ve got to say I have swayed from my first impressions.  There is no doubt it works amazingly well with the HD515 but otherwise it is not quite so amazing.  I mean it’s very, very good and I really enjoyed it with just about everything but, there is always a but.  It’s a bit bright.  Now I tend to like bright things with a warmish headphone, maybe a bit soft and a nice clean sounding amp.  So for me I was bound to like it but even with the HD600 which while neutral for a Senn is still regarded as a bit warm, bit veiled.  Now I long ago parted with the Grado 325i’s I had.  I suspect they would have made for a blinding bright combo.

I found that bit bright, very dynamic, very contrasted sound the FireyeDA offers is immediately attention grabbing.  Its offers up the allusion to even greater transparency than it really has and when you meld that with the softer HD515 its just superb.  For short listening sessions just wow!  For most things though that brightness up top got quite tiring on my ears. I didn’t notice it at first but listening loud for a couple hours and god my ears felt worn out and I started that track skipping for something more mellow.  I never stopped liking the sound but it wore me out.  So really I think it’s one for those who love brightness or want to clean up something that’s too warm for them.

For me the FireyeDA’s strength have been their clarity and their energetic portrayal of everything.  It’s an exciting listen and I never at any point didn’t like it.  It’s fun, dramatic, exciting and particularly with the HD515’s I really, really enjoyed them.

Firestone Audio FireyeDA Quick Review

Firestone Audio FireyeDA Quick Review

Thanks to Firestone Audio for the sample.

Brief:  A small DAC for your desk.

Price:  €110 or about £93

Specifications:  Amplifier Structure : Class-AB amplifier, Power Structure : USB or external power supply,             Headphone Impedance : 16 ohm to 600 ohm, Equalization : Built-in bass boost function, High / Low Gain, Circuit Protection : Output short / temperature protection, Support Format : 16/24-bit, 44.1 / 48 / 96kHz, USB Chip : Tenor – TE7022, DAC Chip : Wolfson – WM8761, Main OPAmp : TI - DRV604, Audio Performance - USB power supply:(1kHz sine wave, 2Vrms output), Frequency Response (From 40Hz to 15kHz) : +0.02dB~-0.02dB, Noise Level (1kHz, A-Weighted) : -93.2dB, Dynamic Range (1kHz, A-Weighted) : 94.4dB, THD% : 0.0028%, Stereo Crosstalk : -93.3dB

Accessories:  A mini usb cable to connect and power the thing.

Aesthetics:  Reasonably attractive and discreet.

Build: Feels firm and solidly constructed.

Power:  Even on low gain it could send my HD600’s louder than I’d ever use so there is plenty of headroom in there.

Sound:  Exciting, fun, fast, and bright.  I found it to have great dynamics.  It was always ready to be as quick as you could like.  This leant itself to a very clean, crisp sounding tonality.  In the mids this was great and in the highs too but in the lows it was a bit over quick and lean.  The bass boost can whack up the volume but its felt a bit unrefined.  Too unnatural and uneven so I didn’t use it much but for bass light stuff it will add in more.  This likes to pair with something a bit warm and a bit soft like the HD515, they were a stunning combo actually.  Its Senn veil, big’ish bass with the agility of the FireyeDA and over dramatic dynamics paired perfectly.  With other things I found its exuberance a bit tiring on the ear.  Just that hint too much treble and the contrast just turned up that bit high.  It was always likeable but I found after a few hours it tired my ears and made them crave calmer, quieter songs.  Still really, really likable and entertaining.

Value:  Hmm, I wish it had a battery and a line in.  It’s a real entertainer for sure but I’m not sure who needs a portable DAC/amp but wouldn’t want to use with a portable DAP too.  Does sound fab though.

Pro’s:  Can sound just stunning, bright, dynamic and energetic.

Con’s:  Low end lean naturally and the bass boost is a bit cludgy.  Energy up top can be tiring.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

t-JAYS Four Review and JAYS Curves Review

t-JAYS Four Review and JAYS Curves Review

Thanks to JAYS for the sample.

First Impressions:  When it comes to packaging, I’ve seen that of the t-JAYS before and these are just the same.  The packaging is exquisite. I have never seen any packaging rival just how good it feels and how well it is put together.  Well maybe the SE530 metal box I have somewhere but its insides weren’t this good.  Everything here is matte black and so perfectly snug.  As packaging goes this is as good as it gets.  The buds too look just as good.  JAYS really know how to make plastic look fantastic.  A friend present at the unboxing very much agreed.

First listen and it’s apparent these are bassy.  Oh my, are they bassy, and there was me thinking for a second I didn’t have them sealed.  Clearly I do.  Still I am aware of the JAYS Curves programme.  It is one of those DIRAC fancy EQ programmes that have been custom tailored for a specific product to give it a specified output.  So it could be great, the driver in here should be pretty good but I’m not sure I’m loving its bass heaviness.  Fingers crossed the Curves thing will change that.  The spiel says it’s been modelled on the q-JAYS which I have always been a fan of.  Will be interesting to see how it does.

Source:  Predominantly an Ipad 2.

Curves:  So what is this Curves thing you ask?  Well it’s a player that’s got a DIRAC setting for the t-JAYS.  What’s DIRAC then?  Essentially, it’s a super fancy EQ setting.  The idea being you make a driver and it sounds however and since today we have fancy electronics its cheaper and easier to EQ it into behaving how you want it to.  They measure its output in a fancy lab and tweak away until they have a setting that makes it do what is desired.  Supposedly the aim for this combo is to aim for the q-JAYS.

“Compared to the original sound of the t-JAYS Four, Curves give you more of a "high-end" sound with a neutral, transparent and balanced bass and also a lot more details in the midrange and treble. JAYS award winning 250 USD q-JAYS balanced armature earphones was the benchmark when tuning the acoustics.”

Given I have a pair of q-JAYS you can bet I shall be testing that claim.

In use the Curves programme I found to be what I’d expect of iOS.  Very simplified.  So once I eventually got it set to shuffle, I had to ask actually how, it was fine.  It was a touch disappointing that it only works with music stored on the Idevice.  So if you’re a big spotify or Google music user then you just can’t use the Dirac stuff.  It’s a bit of a shame but it’s a limitation of iOS and how locked down it is.  Perhaps an Android version that will work with these services is on its way?

Lows:  It’s been a while since I reviewed the t-JAYS One but they share the same sound signature.  In short there is a metric fcuk ton of bass.  Lots and lots and lots of bass.  Looking at my old review of the t-JAYS one I’m thinking much along the same lines.   There is too much and for £80 you can get better and more sensible amounts.

Firing up the Dirac stuff and it’s startlingly different.   Vastly less bass, so much cleaner and tighter.  Depth is all still there and becomes so much more agile.  Okay it’s not really more agile it’s just that before it was flabbing all over the place –so much you couldn’t notice when it has moved.  It’s really good, fun bouncy and enjoyable.  It’s still rather boosted and way more than the little q-JAYS.  That’s fine though as I almost always used a bass boost with them anyway.  I’m wanting to compare it with the GR07, so I shall.  Swapping over to the GR07 and swapping to the normal music player for objectivity.  The GR07 sound disappointing.  Particularly in the low end, what’s wrong with them!  It seems to my ears as thought the Dirac stuff is as much to correct for the t-JAYS as it is for the Idevice.  The Ipad 2 just is not near doing justice to the GR07.   In short the bass sounds vastly better on the t-JAYS and just ever so much fuller and more rambunctious.  Somewhat over inflated still but no longer oppressively dominant.  It’s very nicely agile despite its weight. 

Mids:  Sans Dirac Stuff its thick and muted.  Tbh I had planned to do this review giving time evenly to with and without but if you have an Idevice you’ll never not use the Dirac stuff.  So from here on assume I’m using the Dirac stuff unless I say otherwise.

Hitting the D button and vocals appear as if from nowhere.  Like they were hidden underwater and then suddenly reviled.  Again my first instinct is go the GR07 as it’s the benchmark in this price and type.  Comparatively the mids here are somewhat rich and thick.  Still not so that they aren’t rather versatile.  Tori’s Cactus Practice sounds sufficiently light, airy with that albums air of whimsy.  I might like to see a hint more but that’s heading to personal preference.  The detail is quite good to.  Timbrally it still seems a little subdued, not quite muted but that hint of warmth does colour everything a bit. 

Quantity wise these are just about par with the bass.  It isn’t entirely unlike the IE7 in that regard.  The bass is dominant with the mids close but in a clear second place.  In tracks with very prominent vocals these do sound very pleasant on the ear.  Smooth, lush, liquidy goodness.

Highs:  Sans Dirac the highs stick out a bit but are meh and very subdued but with a spike.  With it on things greatly improve again.  They take on a new found energy level and clarity.  They aren’t what I’d call a revealing IEM, its overall characteristic is still warm and smooth.  The treble does seem as its working to have a bit of an edge in there, to make it seem more crisp than it is and it’s just enough to do its job.  Otherwise there is a warmish tone but still a good decay.  Its delicacy in the fine detail is nice also, particularly so for something as warm as this.  Still if you’re a trebly junkie this isn’t the IEM for you.  Think the more traditional British (and I assume European too) Hi Fi sound.  (Archetypally B&W.)  The highs are there to give you information, not to take centre stage and ravage your ears.

Trying out some treble heavy songs they deal with it like I like a good dynamic to.  A hint of splash with just the faintest edge.  Then it enters that shimmery slow decay and if things get busy they smear into a wonderfully shimmery cacophony.  It’s very pleasing and despite pumping out a lot of treble remains gentle on the ear.  That’s the sort of thing I very much like.  If you like you’re treble more bighting and aggressive then it’s not likely to be one for you.  Quantity wise it’s very much in line with the mids. 

Soundstage:  Large and feels as though it’s got a fair amount of air about it.  Instrument placement I felt was a little bit more fuzzy.  It’s not an analytical IEM.  It’s more about a smooth array of sound put before you.

Comfort:  Worn up these worked just fine for me.  Down I found the mic button pulled at my ear which is always annoying.

Fit:  Super easy.  Stock medium tips, shaved in ears and that was it done.

Microphonics:  Worn up I got none.  There was a fair amount worn down but there is a chin slider to assist with that.

Isolation:  It’s a pretty big and open dynamic.  So much so I thought on first use I didn’t have a seal.  They are very open for an IEM so you don’t get a lot of isolation.  In itself that’s not a bad thing it’s a choice.  One that does get you that great big dynamic sound and is arguably rather safer if your note always the best at looking about for traffic.  These I could probably live with for out and about but for a long flight or Tube commute, not a chance.  Still with music going probably enough to get you run over if you aren’t looking.

Cable:  Modular, yey!   I like modular cables.  Other than that it’s a pretty standard JAYS thinish cable.  I’ve never had a problem with its durability in the past so it should be fine.  And you know what; if you do break it (normally at the jack for most people) you can just use a new cable!  Yey for modular cables!

Amped/Unamped:   Well, it did provide a bit of a boost and the most noticeable thing was it really solidified that bass.  Chucking in the little Fireye Mini to the mix (it was on the desk) and the bass really takes on a more rock like nature.  To the point I could see it long term becoming annoying.  It’s a still a pretty abundant low end and that it’s a hint soft and warm rather than cooler and harder is kinder to the ears.  Still I can see that many would prefer the harder punchy bass.  Likewise the mids and highs both really, really clean up.  It’s clear that the Ipads HP out sucks.  It hasn’t the oomph to really do the t-JAYS justice.  Everything is just so very much more vibrant with the little Fireye Mine in the mix.  Of course you lose the button controls and the mic function so….. well the T-JAYS Three and Four are the same bar the mic aren’t they?  These very, very much like an amp.

Build Quality:  Lovely.  Granted the cable is a bit on the thin side but I’ve never seem much complaint about them before so it should stand up well.  The buds themselves look just wondrous.  It’s a lesson in how nice plastic can feel.

Accessories:  Good.  You get 5 pairs of tips and a shirt clip.  You also get a very, very nice case.  It’s not the greatest to use I’ve ever had but it looks quite awesome. 

Value:  So for £80 on their own.  I’d have to say no.  Well maybe if you really like a very thick, weighty sound.  Mind you they do look awesome.  You are getting a mic and controls too so that’s worth something.  Still this is an audiophile site so the priority is music quality.  For £82 the t-JAYS and JAYS Curves combo is considerably better value, enormously so.  Frankly JAYS should put a code for it inside the t-JAYS box and if needs be bump the price up.  Also given its an iOS only just now I’d really like to see this come to Android too but I don’t believe it ever will.  I think it’s tuned to take into account how Idevices sound and compensate for their acoustic failings.  You cannot do that with 300 android devices.  Not that I’m a big Idevice user (because they just don’t sound great in my experience) and for £82 these sound very enjoyable, more so than the GR07’s did which I found most surprising. (The Ipad just couldn’t do the justice at all.) 

Also,  feel I should point out that the t-JAYS Three are the same as Four just without the mic and buttons.  Yet they I see on Amazon for £40, so ahem, bit of a bargain there if you can live without the mic.

q-JAYS:  Supposedly these are aiming with the Dirac stuff for the q-JAYS and I don’t know why they have said that.  They really aren’t very alike at all. 

a-JAYS:  As I had a pair of a-JAYS Two’s sitting here I thought I’d give them a go with the Dirac stuff.  I know they aren’t intended for it but as I thought the a and t JAYS had similar sound signatures, what the hell.  So in short for the £2 if you have a pair of a-JAYS then buy the app.  Best £2 you’ll ever spend audio wise.  Huge improvement.

Conclusion:  Well these have so many variables it’s not funny.  Out of the Ipad 2 no Dirac these were greatly disappointing.  The HP out of it just sucks and comparing over with my Galaxy Nexus showed a pretty clear improvement.  But…….. you don’t get the volume controls there.  You also don’t get the Dirac stuff. So flipping back the Ipad 2 with Dirac then it’s another improvement.  They are so improved its not funny.  Its turns what is a “chavtastic” massively bassy sound into one with real abilities.  One that I could see being more favourably spoken of in circles.  Then given the HP out an the Ipad 2 still sucks when I added in the little baby Fireye Mini amp they once again took another jump in quality.  A real jump and they are getting really good now.  Honestly adding in that little amp and the Dirac stuff and you’d never guess acoustically it was the same thing you were hearing.  Never in a million years. 

If you are able the Dirac them then these become a really solid option and if you can amp them, even better.  Most wont amp them though, it’s not their target market user (but they should.)  Then there is the Dirac stuff, you only get its goodness if you use the music on your Idevice.  No Spotify or Google music use for you!  Using them is the only time I’d ever want to use my phone for music anyway. When you do get the Dirac stuff going and especially when you get and amp in the mix for the money they get good.  What I can’t fail to notice is the non mic’ed t-JAYS Three are £40.  Is a heartbeat I’d get them and the Fireye Mini over getting the Four.  Then you lose the mic, which let’s face it is a great big plus if your using it with an Iphone.  But that’s me.

So this is the problem I’ve had here, the t-JAYS Four are made with Idevices in mind, specifically for them.  The Dirac stuff too it seems it aimed as much at compensating for the Idevices shortcomings as it is improving the sound signature of the t-JAYS themselves.  If you use anything else no Dirac stuff.  If you buy a pair of t-JAYS then you really must pay the £2 for the Curves programme, don’t argue just shut up and pay for it.  It will be easily the biggest upgrade you’ll see for £2 ever.  The biggest problem though is the price, specifically the price of the Three as its half.  Eek!  Half the price is a big difference.  Is a mic worth £40 to you?  Still if you have an Iphone as your DAP of choice the t-JAYS offer a compelling option for £82 and until your prepared to get an amp it’s one of the nicer all round set ups.  It’s a beautiful IEM physically, the case is too and acoustically likewise  It will eak out the most from your Iphone it can without adding an external amp.

t-JAYS Four Review and JAYS Curves Quick Review

t-JAYS Four Review and JAYS Curves Quick Review

Thanks to JAYS for the sample.

Brief:  Uber fancy EQ stuff for Idevices

Price:  £80 for the t-JAYS Four £2 for JAYS Curves

Specification:  Driver Type 10 mm TCD Dynamic Speaker, Sensitivity 98dB @ 1kHz, Impedance 16 Ohm @ 1kHz, Frequency Response 15 Hz – 25 000 Hz, Earphones Finish  Rubber Coated Black / Metal, Isolation  -40dB @ 2kHz, Size (L)17.5 x (W)6.9 x (H)14.8 mm, Weight 10 grams (0.35 oz), Cord Type          Dividable TPE coated & Kevlar reinforced cables Length        60 cm (23.5 in) + 70 cm (27.5 in), Plug Straight, Silver-Plated Stereo Plug 3.5mm (1/8 in)

Accessories:  5 pairs of tips, a shirt clip and a rather cool case.

Build Quality:  The t-JAYS ooze sumptuousness.  They are an image of perfection and feel just as well constructed in the hand.

Isolation:  A bit so so.  Fine for a dynamic and no doubt perfectly adequate for normal situations.  Not something for a daily Tube commute though or a long flight.  With music going though enough to block out traffic noise so do look out, or you’ll get yourself run over.

Comfort/Fit:  excellent.  Worn up or down they were effortless and perfectly comfortable, even all day.  One caveat, worn down the mic did catch on my collar which annoyed me, up it did not.

Aesthetics:  One of the best looking IEM’s, period.

Sound:  Sans Dirac they are really, really bass heavy and I can’t say I liked them much.  Not for £80 anyway, I don’t care how nice they look!  Slap an extra £2 and you get the Dirac stuff which you can think of as a super fancy EQ setting.  It makes a huge difference and has clearly been aimed at compensating for the shortcomings of Idevices as it is improving the t-JAYS.  The Ipad 2 I used could make these sound good where it frankly struggled with comparably priced IEM’s.  Adding and amp of course solves the issue but I get people using an Iphone as a DAP aren’t going to do that.  The dirac stuff makes the t-JAYS sound into a smooth, lush sounding IEM.  Bass is still big and thick but not suffocating.  The mids are thickish and liquid but can actually flow, smoothly and I dare a say beautifully.  The highs are a bit soft and genteel to continue a warm theme but offer up a nice level of detail, shimmer and accuracy.  They are detailed but kind to the ear.  Smooth and warm with a hint of something else, sharp and tart, like a microwaved big slice of a Black Forrest gateau.

Value:  £80 for the t-JAYS Four is a bit steep when the Three is only £40, £40 is a lot to ask for a mic.  The £2 for the Jays Curves programme is however a no brainer.  If you’re an Idevice user and if you have a pair of t-JAYS (or also a-JAYS imo) then it’s the best audio upgrade you’ll ever see for £2. 

Pro’s:   Look simply superb, sumptuous rich sound with Dirac in use.

Con’s:  It’s a big price jump for a mic and its essentially an Idevice only earphone.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Telefunken TH-120 Review

Telefunken TH-120 Review

Thanks to Topdogheadphones for the sample.

First Impressions:  The box is just like that of the 140.  It’s kinda funky and I’m still liking that little triangular case.  Okay so it maybe not the most practical case that ever there was, it’s different.  Not sure what the visuals are all about though.  Brown seems to be a theme here, again I like that it’s different but brown?  The case is brown and weirdly so are the tips.  For me in the tips box that’s something I’d find useful but not sure if most normal people would.  Again it’s nice to see the two types, thin and thick silicon ones.  The buds though, err visually; let’s say I’m not loving them.  Still it’s not about how they look is it?

First listen and wow they are an exciting listen.  They are tagged with the moniker “Energy” and on the box they claim to have an energetic sound.  That they certainly do!  I can’t see me using the brighter thin tips with these.  God these are fast and dramatic.  Burn in time.

Source:  1G Ipod Shuffle with and without a 75 Ohm adapter and a Practical Devices XM5 with LM6171 opp amps, Hisoundaudio Rocoo BA and a FiiO E7/E9 combo.

Lows:  Well this is not a bass monster.  The bass levels are a bit elevated but in comparison to a lot out there it’s not huge.  It is humpy, but more in the middle bass rather than the upper bass frequencies. Rather than the more usual “midbass” hump where the mids and bass ranges meet.  Still a party IEM this is and its bass goes along with that.  I did find though that I always went with the thicker silicon tips for the bit more bass, bit less treble option.  I also found I didn’t want a bright source, the bass here while significant isn’t close to being dominant.  Quality was thought its super fast with a tremendous solidity.  It’s very exciting and has great impact.  Tbh I think I would have liked to see somewhat more bloom as in some songs it felt like all you were noticing form the bass was the initial bass impact.  It didn’t always have the fullness you might want.  This was especially noticeable in busy stuff like Relient K’s “The Vinyl Countdown.”  The bass should have been bigger and a little slower.  I shouldn’t say should, it’s a stylistic preference after all.  What’s there though is great, lightning fast and very articulate with a control that’s just excellent for this money. 

Mids:  These may be a bit W shaped but it’s not an even W.  The mids while having just fine clarity, more than just fine they are not one for taking centre stage.  Very nicely articulate and when playing very vocal heavy stuff I found myself really liking them.  There is a tiny hint of warmth to them so mostly I’d characterise them as being very smooth.  They were fine with dryer vocals too but when it came to slow and languid stuff (Nora) they did rather feel like they were getting bored.  They wanted to race a little.  Something more suited to Sophie Elis Bexter or Katy Perry.  Poppy, bouncy, fast and just full of enthusiastic and energetic bounce.

Detail is good, very for a party IEM but don’t think its BA challenging, it’s not.  Mind you Mr Johnson sounded very pleasant as his stuff is never too busy.  Everything has plenty of space to stand out particularly his voice. 

Highs:  Kinda dominant.  Oddly they didn’t have the best extension in the world and their impactful edge was almost muted.  Still the quantity of the highs and their detail levels were rather abundant.  In the likes of Susan Wong stuff this made the highs really pop out at you. The exaggerated sense of clarity and detail was excellent.  With the edge taken of the cymbals too they didn’t get tiring in away other things would too.  Ironically I found I really liked it on more high muted songs, it livened them up.  The other side is when you go for really treble happy songs then eek, it kinda got a bit much for me.  Still despite the quantity it wasn’t what I’d call abrasive.  It’s like they have gotten that sibilant point and the exact frequency of the initial impact of a cymbal and dialled them both right down.  Yet somehow they have left everything else intact.  Decay is pretty good too with a nice trail off, it’s maybe a fraction quick but they can do shimmery decays more than well. 

Still it’s not something I wanted to pair with a brighter source.  The treble quantity is quite elevated and when you start to push things to the limit it will begin to loose refinement.  I’d bet it would go really well with a Sony DAP.

Soundstage:  They do sound rather bigish but I can’t say the stage feels particularly coherent.  Instrument placement is a little vague.  Still it’s not like you were going to be using this to hear orchestral pieces anyway.

Fit:  I found very easy.  They can happily be worn up or down and it was just a case of shoving in that was that.

Comfort:  Equally as good as the fit.  They are a touch big so the sit fairly shallow but they were perfectly comfortable.

Cable:  The same cable as on the 120, its clearly braided with a sheath over it.  It’s a bit memory retaining and a hint stiff but should last a good long while.  The jack is a pretty solid little affair as does the Y splitter.

Microphonics:  Wear them up and you’ll be fine, down not so much.  Actually down there wasn’t much but no chin slider means you can’t cure it if needed.

Accessories:  6 pairs of tips, 3 sizes of thin and 3 of the thick silicon.  They change the sound a bit with the thin lowing the bass and upping the treble.  Not something I’d think you’d want but choice is never a bad thing is it.  Oh and the funky little triangle case.

Amped/Unamped:  They really didn’t seem to mind if amped or not.  They are really easy to drive things.  Oddly they didn’t take well to adding impedance, well depends on your perspective I guess.  They muted somewhat becoming rather less dynamic and less dramatic.  They highs did refine but if that the sort of sound you wanted more of you wouldn’t be buying this any way.  Adding an amp though really isn’t required.  Feel free to add if you want but don’t expect lots of change.

Isolation:  A bit so so.  About what you’d expect for a dynamic so the typical fine for normal use etc etc.  Enough for on a bus but not something for a daily Tube commute or trip to New Zealand.  Still more than enough to get you hit by a bus though if you aren’t looking where you’re going.

Value:  Good, granted you aren’t getting a pair you’ll want to show off to friends visually but acoustically they are a massive barrel load of party time.  This is pure and simple, a pop party machine and poppy, bouncy stuff sound awesome on it.  Energy and enthusiasm by the bucket load.  I’d think it something that would be ideal to wake you up on a morning commute or for exercising.  Just super lively.  It’s also nice to see that you can get it in phone version for only a little bit more.  The TH-120I and I’d wager its exciting sound would counter the warm softness of an Iphone well.

Conclusion:  So is the 120 for me?  Na not really.  This is ye big time party IEM.  It’s all about the energy and enthusiasm.  The timing and its particularly fast paced bass just want everything to be about having a good time.  The faster the music the happier it is as it just revels in speed.  Things like The Dresden Dolls “Modern Moonlight” or “Girl Anachronism” are all about fast, ever faster riotous noise hurling itself all over the place.  The bass shifts like a rocket on speed and the Telefunken TH-120 just loves it.  It more than loves it, it excels at it.  Fast, punchy, hard hitting bass in particular is a real forte of the 120.  I can’t think of an IEM of its price with an equally solid punch to it, it’s just excellent.

Turning to slow stuff, sure it can do everything nicely and on paper I can’t really pic too much fault with its rendition of Mamma Cass’s version of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” but there is that timing.  It just wants to pull ahead and it shouldn’t be on that song, it should want to linger and the highs, well they should be a gentle almost soft accompaniment.  Here they are too present.  Sure they sound crisply clear but they should be more reticent and reserved.  Reticent and reserved are not what the 120 does too well at all.

For someone who’s going to listen to mostly in the charts stuff I could see them havening loads of fun with this.  It’s not what I’d call aimed at audiophiles, its aimed squarely at the mainstream crowd I think.  Now if they can get it domed I’d bet they shift a fair number as its one of the most exciting and thrilling IEM’s I’ve heard.  Its looks maybe something that would pass for fashionable in 1980’s East Germany but they sound awesomely spectacularly dramatic.   Just a hugely fun and entertaining listen.