Sunday, 24 November 2013

Firestone Audio GreenKey Review

Firestone Audio GreenKey Review

Thanks to Firestone Audio for the sample.

First Impressions:  Well the GreenKey looks just like its siblings and comes in the same box.  I still don’t get what the cap is for other than for aesthetic reasons.  Anyway what the green key does I’m rather interested in.  You see when I use my FiiO A1 for witching TV stuff I have to crank the volume rather a bit and I can hear interference.  I’m pretty sure it’s being generated by the computer as in my experience, Dell don’t tend to seem to shield things well.  (Granted I’ve still mostly used Dell’s for other reasons.)  Still the interference is at times annoying and hopefully the GreenKey will solve it.

Eagerly, I pull out the USB plug from the computer and add the GreenKey.  Nothing happens.  No sound.  Okay, well it is then going into a USB hub so maybe it needs to be after that.  Nope.  Okay lets just unplug it and go directly to the computer and the GreenKey.  Success!  But hold on, there is noise, a lot of noise.  Like when you don’t have an input plugged into anything and its picking up static form your fingers.  What?

I don’t know what the incompatibility is but the GreenKey does not like my FiiO E7/E9 to A1 set up.  I note that the GreenKey does specify it will not allow high current draw through it so I presume that’s got something to do with it.

Time to give other things a go then.  Since I have sitting next to me the Firestone Audio BlackKey it’s the obvious option.  So I plug it into the GreenKey and then that into an USB extension cable then into the computer.  The output from the BlackKey goes into 3.5mm to phono cable and into the back of the FiiO A1.  Like magic music appears.  Huzza!  Muting the music and cranking the volume there appears to be no digital noise. No cracks and buzzing.  Trying the same set up sans the GreenKey and it returns, woo hoo, clearly the GreenKey is doing something then.  It’s dead silent and I can turn the volume to full before a slight hiss appears.

So it would appear that the GreenKey does what it is supposed to, sometimes anyway.  I think it may be time to rip out all the cables and to start from scratch.  I would really rather it worked with the FiiO setup as it lives permanently on my desk.  So we have a clean start and suddenly seems to be working as they ought to and now I seem to be able to max out the volume with no extraneous noise appearing.  YEY!!!  So the GreenKey does what it says on the tin.  It’s a bit finicky about it but it works and it has to me made a difference. 

Value:  Its available for 59 Euro’s which just now is  £49.  So that seems a fair amount given the cost of things like the rather excellent BlackKey.  It’s really going to depend on what you already use, should you be using a very pricey DAC and find your getting some extraneous noise then the GreenKey may be just what you need to remove it.  If indeed the USB connection is the source of that noise.  £49 is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a new computer.

Conclusion:  The GreenKey right from the get go is a pretty niche device.  It does what it claims to provide the USB socket is the source of the background noise you want rid of.  If that something that is causing you some real bother then it could be a very worthwhile upgrade for you.  For most people though I suspect it’s not going the best upgrade money spent.  I mean for my own use I rather wanted one to see if it would remove the irritating noise that was audible in my TV watching with the volume turned up high.  In music listening though with its greatly lower dynamic range didn’t need the volume turned up anything like as much and hence was to me inaudible.

Of course if your one of those people who loves upgrading everything and you already have an awesome DAC and amp and you are getting this sort of USB static and interference then it’s a vastly cheaper way to clean up the signal path than a new computer or DAC that might filter  it.  In grander audiophile setups £49 isn’t even new interconnect money and I would personally much sooner but the GreeKey than spend the same on an interconnect.

Firestone Audio BlackKey Review

Firestone Audio BlackKey Review

Thanks to Firestone Audio for the sample.

First Impressions:  Visually this thing looks just like the BlueKey I looked at previously, its peculiarly quirky pen cap is still there.  Not sure what you do with it practically but it’s fun.  Unlike the BlueKey the BlackKey is terminated with a rather more commonly useful 3.5mm jack.  Yes, that means you can just plug in a pair of headphones and you’re on your way.  The thing itself has no controls, no volume, no nothing but thats hardly an issue as you can just control the volume using windows.  (Same will apply to whatever OS you use) oh and this time windows auto installed the drivers. 

Acoustic first impressions, you’ll have to take with a pinch of salt as I’m using a new to me IEM but I am very happy with it.  I was concerned it might not be terribly powerful but it seems plenty potent.  Not sure it would suit massive headphones but it’s certainly doing a grand job with the IEM's I’m playing with today.  Bass especially seems to be really digging in deep.

Lows:  Right away my initial impressions proved correct.  The bass on the black key feels that bit more vigorous than it ought to be.  It’s solid and digs in with a slightly boosted depth.  It’s more the entertainer than it is purist device.  Tbh I think that fits its product category better anyway. The BlackKey is something you are meant to use with a laptop and to avoid its woeful hp out, you slap in this baby and away.  It’s a thrilling, entertaining and dynamic.  The bass likes to be a bit playful.  However at times with the big cans it felt a little like it wasn’t all quite so effortless as it was more with IEM’s.  Little IEM’s it had plenty of power behind it to sound truly authoritative.  Big cans like the HD515 and HD600 it was a bit more humpy.  Oddly the humpy was more noticeable on the 515 but then they don’t have the greatest depth to begin with.  On IEM’s though depth was good, a hint of that hump remained and it’s what gives the BlackKey a slight V shaped sound.  It’s more a party, enjoy yourself DAC than a ruler flat.  I like it’s fun and bouncy temperament.  It’s dynamic and lively across the board and that plays out with a very bouncy and playful bass line.

Mids:  A touch on the dry side.  They go for a slightly cool, airy and open sort of vocal.  Lots of that breathy sort of detail though the inverse aspects of that mean that smooth and liquidy vocals weren’t shining at their best.  Of course the dryer and more open sounds work particularly well in things where vocals aren’t hurled centre stage.  Predominantly I’m thinking pop stuff.  The hint of added air and dryness gives that bit of breathing room for vocals to get in there and come forth.  Dynamics wise the mids are the least dynamic aspect here.  The otherwise excellent dynamics here are quite pedestrian and ordinary.  Things such as Dido, breathy and dynamically contained do very well here.  Otherwise vocals that are supposed to get all shouty don’t really leap out you here.  Guitars twang rather cleanly though.

Highs:  Returning to the slightly V shaped sound I mentioned before; the highs here feel a bit over what they should.  They are crispy and clean with a dynamic eagerness to them.  They want to come out and play like a puppy.  Lively, energetic, bouncy and so eager to please.  It’s one of these amps that you’ll probably want to feel good quality tracks as the treble energy won’t soften any dross you feed it.  The dynamics again are a stand out trait.  So much range to play with here, it’s a really entertaining ride.  I do feel the extension might be fuller and more dragged out, the highs seem to want to have a peak to focus on and the long lingering decay I like seems to fade that bit faster than I’d rather it do.  Oh well.  I’d think so long as you don’t pair with something that has a coincident peak it’s not something you’ll notice much or object to.

In the Hand:  It’s a funky looking USB key drive.  It’s something that would get stuck in a pocket with ease for moving it.  The lid though, hmmm yes with the lid on it looks fine and it fits it well but I can’t help but think it’s just asking to be lost.  Otherwise it’s a nice little plastic rectangle with a translucent bit that glows.  Given it has no controls on it, you’re not actually going to touch it in use, so yeah it’s a nice flash drive really.

Build Quality:  Like all the Keys they all look and feel the same.  Light, solid (no creaking on squeezing) and glow when they are in operation.

Power:  While these would make very, very loud sounds, even with the HD600 I wasn’t really ever sending the windows volume slider above about 50%.  That said I felt they didn’t really have the current behind them to make the best of bigger headphones.  IEM’s all were driven fine but I know the HD600’s could do better.  It’s not like they sucked, I just know that a beefier amp can do more for them.  I mean it runs off a USB socket after all.  Volume though was never lacking on anything, not even close to lacking.  So when using do try to remember to turn the windows volume down or you’ll hurt your ears.

Transparency:  Rather good.  These did offer a bit of their own flavour to things so that’s got ta mark them down on transparency a bit but the dry and open character makes them feel very transparent.  Details feel very forward and clear.  It reminds me of the DA in offering that perhaps slightly over transparent sound where the contrast has been perhaps a little bumped up.  Such wide dynamics lend to that impression.

DAC:  One of the major points being the BlackKey is that it can decode high res files.  It can do up to 96kHz/24bit which should cover much of what’s about.  So if you’re one of the people who has a collection of such files, yey for you, this will play them back without your comp down mixing them.

Value:  I really rather like the value of this.  If I’m totally honest it’s probably the one I like most of all the Key range I’ve seen.  This is the one too I think not just I but most people would be likely to find of use to them.  It’s really a dinky little thing.  If you’re a road warrior then this, your laptop and a nice pair of earphones and your set.  You don’t even need to carry an additional cable to plug it into.  It goes right into the USB socket and that’s you done.  Acoustically it’s pretty good too and I’d wager with easily wipe the floor with any laptop hp out socket.  That its only £57 is a plus.  Its only potential down side is that it’s a one trick pony, it runs off a computer and that’s it.  No portable amp, no amping some other source you have either.

Conclusion:  Sonically I really like the BlackKey.  The only sill thing I didn’t was I kept finding myself instinctively reaching for the BlackKey to change the volume control.  That was easily the biggest negative I found and as negatives go, it’s pretty minor.  Overall it’s been a very positive experience I’ve had with the dinky little BlackKey.  Sure it’s not hugely subtle, it’s not particularly neutral sounding either.  Still I find I really don’t mind, a rather like its dynamic and slightly bombastic sound.  The V shaped acoustic signature rather works and I find I rather have enjoyed it.

Now I realise that for some the pursuit of a more acoustically perfect sound is desirable and in that case something like the FireyeDA may be more suitable.  The BlackKey isn’t really aiming for that pure and uncoloured sound.  It’s a bit a fun.  Don’t get me wrong it’s a huge quality jump up from the dross that laptops are normally blessed with but its focus is on you enjoying the music.  Having a good time rather than being a instrument to aid in the examination of the music.  Above all it’s been a really fun and enjoyable little doo dah to play with.  Feed it, fun bouncy music and I’d dare any one not find it effervescently and joyfully lively.

Firestone Audio BlackKey Quick Review

Firestone Audio BlackKey Quick Review

Thanks to Firestone Audio for the sample.

Brief:  A dinky, bouncy DAC/Amp to play with.

Price:  Normally 69 Euro but at present 55 Euro or about £46

Specifications:  Size: High 80.15mm x Width 20.4mm x Depth 18.1mm, Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz): +0.04dB, -0.32dB, Noise level: -94.0dB, Dynamic range: 93.7 dB, THD %: 0.0070%, Stereo crosstalk: -90.6 dB, Support to 96kHz/24Bit, USB Interface: (A type) to USB Interface, System required: Windows XP/Vista/7, MAC OSX and Linux, Connectivity: USB interface (A type), Analog output: 3.5mm headphone jack, Dimensions : 8 x 2 x 1,8 cm, Weight : 23 gram

Accessories:  Erm a lid, if that counts.

Aesthetics:  It looks just like the other Key’s but this one sort of dark grey.  Shame it’s the least attractive colour of them all as I think it’s one that will be the biggest seller and hence most seen.

Build:  Yeah, it’s fine.  Looks accurately put together.

Power:  Loads actually.  Seemed happy driving even the big cans and the volume can go make you deaf loud with ease.  Remember that or you’ll hurt yourself!

Sound:  Rather unflat.  These have a bit of a V shaped sound and they are more than a touch exuberantly dynamic in the attitude to music.  They love to fly all over the place and thrill you.  Soaring and sweeping, descending to nothing then to come crashing out of nowhere.  These like to party and have a playfully gay old time.  I can’t say it’s what I’d suggest if you’re after some frightfully carful and precise monitor but I suspect most people aren’t.  These then are a fabulous option to sidestep that crappy laptop headphone out socket and to give you some cheap acoustic thrills.  The detail levels are great but most of all it’s a dynamic thrill ride and while I might not want it to be all I ever heard again its very entertaining.  However this meant for me that mole relaxing music lacked that languid hint where notes seem to linger if not just halt for that briefest instant, where it wants to slow things and melt together.  The BlackKey wants everything to be open and dynamic.  One negative there is that it’s not subtle in the highs and if you pair with hard or gritty treble it’s not forgiving in the least

Value:  Super fun to use and for the sound quality / entertainment value it’s a steel.  It’s got a pretty narrow use case scenario, I mean it’s clearly meant to go in the side of a laptop but I think that’s a pretty big user base isn’t it?  That’s got to be a very large chunk of the world’s student population for a start.  Not sure its sound sig is study inducing but it’s certainly oodles of fun.

Pro’s:  Super dynamic and entertaining.  Prodigious bass impact.

Con’s:  It’s very excitable.  Treble takes no prisoners.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

FiiO X3 Review

FiiO X3 Review

Thanks to Advanced MP3 Player's (AMP3) for the loan.

First Impressions:  I note in the box there is a big red card that tells you to go update the firmware, then to go to head-fi.  So firmware duly updated to 2.05 and I think I may just skip the going to the head-fi page for the moment.  Though while I was on the FiiO website to get the new firmware I did cast an eye over the X3 page and noticed something.  The section detailing the internal DAC used.  It’s a WM8740, I’m sure you all know that means it’s a Wolfson but what was news to me is that Wolfson are based in England.  Shame on you FiiO for making such a school boy error.  Also in the box I note a card for HDtracks, the first I’ve seen a DAP that can playback high res files making an effort to direct people to place where you can find some.  And you get a discount too so bonus.  The X3 itself though is visually, erm well, no one’s going to mug you for it.  I can’t say I’m looking at the button arrangement and thinking this is going to be intuitive to use either.  The silicon case it arrived in too, it’s no looker but it should protect the thing from falls.

On to listening and I picked up the RE-600’s as they were on my desk.  The sound seems to be very fluid and a slight touch on the warm side.  I’d kinda expected warm as it’s a Wolfson inside but the 600 is warm so no snap judgements.  Feels very, very fluid. 

Screen:  Yeah it’s fine.  It’s in colour, it will display album art and it works.  However this is no Sony DAP screen.  I found its brightness was okay once I turned it up to max but it remains a screen that serves it purpose rather than one you long to look at.

Battery Life:  The spec says 10 hours, or with newer firmware more like 15.  That seems more apt to me.  In use I just got into the habit of sticking on charge after I used it but really if I wanted I could have probably gotten away with maybe every second or third day depending on use.

UI:  Hmm if there is one area the Far East has issues with its still making UI’s.  The button layout may look “trendy” being on a diagonal but it’s not instinctively intuitive to use.  You will get used to it easily enough but when you first pick it up you’ll have to think and randomly will press the wrong button.  Navigating menus too are odd.  Sometimes you select an option with the play/okay button and others you cycle through options with the volume up and down buttons.  Again you get used it but let’s just say Apple designers aren’t quaking in fear. 

N.B. you have to either manually tell the thing to update or set the “Update Lib” to auto to get it to fully recognise SD card changes.  Took me far too long to discover this and was only by asking in the forums.

In the Hand:  It feels quite nice.  It’s sturdily put together and seems reasonably good.  Like some other things I’m immediately thinking it’s very 80’s styling.  The corners are rounded but I would still not be inclined to put this in a pocket that also has my phone in it as I think the phone would lose that encounter.  I can’t say again I find the layout to be intuitive or fitting my thumb well.

Format Support:  Essentially it plays everything you can think of.  I do really mean everything too, even that most annoying of formats, ALAC.  Yes even Apples “were going to be awkward just because we can” format will work with the X3.  So that copy of things I keep in Itunes for use with the old Ipods will work with it, meaning I’d only need that one copy.  It will also do things like .ogg and .ape files which I’ve never actually seen anyone use.  Still, you’re more likely interested in the array of lossless formats.  FLAC, WMA, APE, WAV are all supported and in high res formats too, up to 192K/24bit for most. (see specs for exact details and I suspect they may change over time as firmware’s get updated)

Also, 64GB cards are supported

Connections:  The X3 is unlike most DAP’s is awash with sockets.  Okay so it’s obviously got a 3.5mm headphone out socket.  Standard fare so far, now on the bottom there is a micro USB socket, ostensibly for charging the thing but with the latest firmware it acts as a USB data in connection.  Also on the bottom is a 3.5mm line out socket.    Where things get more unusual is that on the top there is a digital coax out.  It’s got a 3.5mm jack socket so to got the coax connector there is an adapter in the box.  Personally I’d have preferred it were an optical over coax but it’s not like I’d personally ever use either.  Still it’s a really unusual addition and if you wanted to hook the X3 up to a proper amp and use it as your source you can.

Volume:  It goes to 60 I believe and even on low gain in never really pushed it out of the 20’s.  Its easily capable of going louder than I’m sure you would ever want.

Sound Quality:  This is going to be heart of things.  Acoustically the X3 follows what in my head I think of as the Chinese/Sony sound.  It’s going for that warm, smooth sound.  It’s not too far from the old traditional British HiFi sound too. Warm, rich mellow, a bit sedate etc etc.  quite unlike the more common American, crisper and harder.  In the speaker worlds anyway.  This DAP follows that warmer, richer softer, smoother sound lineage.  The first IEM I spent any time with it was the DN-1000 and I found them rather subdued.  Even the sprightly and crisp MA750i was tamed somewhat.  Not that either were unpleasant to hear, they both have smooth and sumptuously flowing mids.  The bass and highs though, well they didn’t have the spark and enthusiasm I’d have liked to see from those IEM’s.  Jumping then to the Senn IE8 and things rather change.  It’s a much more dramatic IEM with a very V shaped sound and to me it seems a much more lively pairing.  Actually the two make for a really very impressive pairing.

EQ’ing isn’t something I as a rule am a fan of, its pain reviewing things for one.  So I’m not going to go through each variation but go with sweepingly broad commentary.  Sooooo you get a slightly unusual EQ set up here in that its back to the old school bass and treble controls only.  You can bump either up or down in 10 notches in each direction.  If you have a look at the measurements at max the difference is pretty huge so you can really change things a lot!  10dB swings are simply massive.  So if you want to give it stupid huge bass then you can, I can’t say I was very drawn to, maybe a plus 2 or 3 for things like the RE-0 perhaps.  Any alterations were completely distortion free.

A really nice addition here is that you change the channel balance.  If you have some hearing damage as I know there are lots of people that do, you can alter the balance of the left and right channels to match up with your hearing.  Something you almost never see.

Lows:  Smooth and polite.  In its natural state the balance is a hint on the reticent side, it pairs well naturally with rather big and brash bassed things like the IE8 but otherwise it’s a touch maybe too polite.  It doesn’t love to do hard and punchy bass either, it’s not flabby but in aggressive tracks it doesn’t attack with the hardness it perhaps ought to.  Tonally its little warm and genteel.  The quantity in its natural state is a little bit light and reserved.  Of course you can adjust it all the way to stupid amounts if you like or reduce to almost nothing too. it’s a rather Sony like warm bass.

Mids:  This is really where it does its best.  It’s a somewhat mid centric DAP with that warm, smooth and liquidy ooziness that allow the best vocals to just flow.  Vocals all sound superb.  They really are first rate and if you’re a big fan of vocal heavy stuff thin this type of sound signature works just so very well.  It’s the same sort of thing Sony have done for years and I believe it it’s the primary reason that Wolfson has the reputation it does.  They have a signature sound and this is what you get here.  Warm and gorgeously sumptuous sounding music that just flows. 

Highs:  Super refined and smooth.  Rather like the mids they are all about the smooth and sumptuous flow of music.  Any abrasiveness or in your face detail junkies are probably not best served here.  The extension is rather good.  Tonally it’s a bit soft and genteel again, delicate and relaxed.  Of course you can really dial up the quantity levels too if you want but they will never really take on an edgy in your face hyper “clarity” that some like.  Of course if you’re using a very brittle and treble abundant IEM like the DBA-02 they do a good job of balancing.

Detail levels are very good if not always readily apparent.  The tonally warm nature of the X3 doesn’t hurl things at you in the way some other things might. 

DAC:  As of the last firmware update you can plug the X3 into a computer and use it a USB DAC.  So you’re basically getting a free DAC, so yey for that! 

Hiss:  Erm I can’t say I noticed any.

Accessories:  It comes with the aforementioned 3.5mm to coax adapter, a micro USB charging/data cable, a couple of screen protectors, a silicone case and an odd one.  It comes with a copy of “Dr. Chesky's Sensational, Fantastic, and Simply Amazing Binaural Sound Show” in 192K/24bit.

Value:  It’s a FiiO and everything they have ever done has been of the very highest value.  The sound quality you get for the financial outlay is arguably better than you will find anywhere else.  They X3 sounds superb and you get the DAC functionality on top, you just can’t argue with that kind of value. 

Conclusion:  Like many things form the Far East there are positives and negatives.  The negatives here being the button layout and the UI.  I know neither things are the end of the world but I liked neither.  The thing isn’t much of a looker either.  However for lots of people with an audiophile inclination these are not exactly that important.  The X3 is cheap and sounds great.

The Sound quality here is really aiming toward that rich, warm, smooth, Wolfson sound that is so popular in audiophile land.  It’s a very tube like sound.  It has plenty of detail and nuance.  It’s a sumptuous sound that I’ve oft seen referred to as a more “organic” sound.  that warm and almost tubey sound that is so fervently loved in some circles.  If that includes you then this DAP is a real winner acoustically. 

Then FiiO throw in a free DAC into to the mix is somewhat we have come to expect from FiiO when it comes to value.  It elevates things to level others will have a hard time matching.  You simply can’t imagine the likes of Sony doing something like that.  Sure the trade-off is the UI is a bit meh and the button layout I don’t like but they are things you can push past pretty quickly.  It’s a great warm sounding DAP that doubles as a DAC and it can play every format you can think of.  That it then cost what it does is the real clincher, for an audiophile DAP/DAC for £160, hell yeah, that is stunning value.

FiiO X3 Quick Review

FiiO X3 Quick Review

Thanks to Advanced MP3 Player's (AMP3) for the loan.

Brief:  Crazy value DAC/DAP form FiiO.

Price: £159

Specifications:  Link there was so much info I’m linking rather than copying it all out here.

Accessories:  A micro USB cable for data and charging, a 3.5mm jack to coax adapter and a silicon moulded cover/case thingy.

Aesthetics:  Its alright.  I don’t love it, don’t hate it, I really don’t have any particular feelings toward its visuals other than general indifference.

Build:  Seems very solid.  Metal screws on the side holding it together.  Buttons all seem snugly fitted too and firm.

Power:  Has more volume headroom than I care to test.  Even in low gain with the HD600’s I didn’t hit 40 out of 60.  I’m not sure it generally loved driving the 600’s though as there weren’t being driven to their best.  IEM’s though all has more than enough power there to sound full driven.

Sound:  At its heart is a Wolfson chip driving things and so as you might expect it has the wonderfully smooth and rich sort of sound.  that tube like warm silky sumptuousness that cares to flow effortlessly around your ears.  Bass is a touch tame tonally, smooth and a hint genteel.  Highs likewise are delicate and shimmering in nature rather than hard and aggressive.  The EQ though allows you to dial up either the bass or treble a whopping 10dB!!!  That’s a huge bump, you can also dial them down the same too.  id be surprised if anyone used more than a few notches in either direction.  Doing so though never changed the tonal nature of the X3.  It never becomes a cold and aggressive beast acoustically, even when hugely boosted the bass is warm and enveloping and the highs retain that sweet and delicate, shimmering nature.  A good compliment for more hard and aggressive earphones perhaps or to enhance a warm and mellow sound?

Value:  It’s what FiiO does best.  For the money they offer more than what you get elsewhere.  Here it sound is superb for the money and then they enable DAC functionality.  I can’t even think of another DAP that can do that right now and that it’s a huge plus in my opinion.  If you are stuck using the headphone out of a laptop this then for you is an epic buy.

Pro’s:  Bargainlishous pricing.  Rich organic sound.

Con’s:  UI and button layout.   

Sunday, 3 November 2013

RHA MA-600i Review

RHA MA-600i Review

Thanks to RHA for the sample.

First Impressions:  Box looks nice. Just like the MA-750 one with its magnetic flap.  Opening them up though is a bit of a mixed bag.  The case inside I rather like, more so than the 750 one but the lovely metal tip holder lacks something.  It doesn’t have those foamie tips that I rather like with the 750.  that’s a shame as they were going to be my tip of choice.  Hmm, the 750 came with 2 pairs so maybe I’ll steal the other set!  The buds are rather visually more like those of the MA-350, the same inverse trumpet shape.  The jack though is a 90 degree one and I rather prefer those to the straight one on the 750.

Having a listen and immediately I’m reminded of the acoustic signature of the 350 than that of the 750.  It’s got a rather pronounced V shaped, bombastic sound.  The bass especially seems plenty powerful.  God it’s got a real kick to it.  Overall though I’m really liking the timbre here, it was very good on the 750 too.  Could it be due to the super tough and non resonant machined metal enclosures?

Source:  Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., FireyeDA, Galaxy Nexus.

Lows:  What I said before about the bass, that.  These are really rather V shaped acoustically and the bass is of epic proportions.   Its visceral bass.  Now if you like that sort of thing yey for you but for me it pushing right up there at the limits of what I can stand.  This is a bit of bass monster.  acoustically its very reminiscent of the MA-350 I tried some time ago.  The quality as you would expect has jumped up a fair level and that extra quality translates as being so much more capable when it come to agility and punch.  These will punch you upside the head with their low end response.  There is some serious power here!  For me when you get to this quantity I’d much rather the bass was a little softer and more relaxed, let the bass bloom and envelop you.  Here the bass is vast and feels at times like its beating the sides of your skull in if you really let it go wild with some very bassy tracks.  Subtle and reserved it is not.

The quality is good for its size and cost but its epic and brutal power is too much for me.  Its depth likewise I’d be happier to see it trail away but no, it keeps on battering and roaring right on down to the extend I’m turning the volume ever lower.  If you’re desirous of a savage bass monster to blast and thrill you this could be one for you.

Mids:  Timbrally they are very nice.  They have a beautiful tone going on and are reasonably clear.  They are however in a bit a bass / treble valley.  Acoustically they do especially well with more breathy and airy vocals from the like of Imbruglia.  They did a fine job really with everything I threw at it.  Still this isn’t the IEM you’re picking for mid fans. 

Highs:  For me they are for too abundant but for the price they are rather good.  They and their machined metal enclosures allow them to really have a crisp and metallic twang up top.  Highs impact with that metallic edge they ought to and have a bitingly crisp decay and shimmer.  It’s really quite skilful and really lends itself to letting you hear everything that’s going on.  Every note and every impact is presented in the clearest and crispest possible manner.  For some that will be a grand boon but I found it tired my ears if I used for too long.  The highs here really stand out very very clearly and while they do poses a certain amount of talent, I’m rather treble sensitive.  This is huge V shaped wow you on first impressions, scintillating and attention grabbing treble.

Talented it is though, just a little too much of it perhaps.

Soundstage:  As a dynamic it’s pretty big.  They have a very good sense of space and have clearly oodles of power to scale with.  They worked interesting with orchestral things too, lots of space and reasonable instrument placement.

Fit:  Great, slapped in ears and that was that really.  Fit me fine worn up or down.

Comfort:  I mostly wore up and they were fine.  Down they pulled a bit on the ear as they aren’t the lightest and the mic as with most mic’s would catch on a collar and that irritates.  Worn up was great though.

Cable:  Not anything like as pretty or as tactile as its sibling, the MA750, but this cable works very well in practical terms.  It would appear to be a woven like that on the 350 but with a plastic sheath over it.  It’s attractive but more importantly it lacks the ridges of a woven and it should last a good long while.  The Y splitter and jack too look quality.

Build:  Excellent.  The buds are machined metal, the cable looks good, the jack looks sturdy too etc etc.  In addition you get a 3 year warranty so that a clear commitment to these being able to hold up well to life.

Microphonics:  While they weren’t terrible worn down I’d still suggest wear them up.

Phone Use:  Okay, a bit of a surprise here as the mic worked.  I have no idea why the 600i worked with the Nexus 4 and the 570 didn’t as I would have assumed they have the exact same jack configuration.  I do not know why, maybe I didn’t have them plugged in right?  I don’t know as it just makes no sense.  The play / pause button worked fine, the volume controls did not.  I’m sure they would with an Iphone as that’s what they are made in mind of.

Amped/Unamped:  Arguably the worst amp I ever use in that in the Nexus 4, it’s the weakest probably yet with the 600 that played as a strength in my ears.  The 600 is a blatant beast of an IEM and the phone just couldn’t eak out all that’s there in the highs or the lows.  The result of course is both boing rather tamed to more favourable levels.  It does occur to me that the 600 may very well be made with such things in mind, most buyers in the real word won’t be using more powerful DAP’s.  Throwing more power though resulted in much harder bass and more dazzling treble.

Isolation:  Pretty good.  Like their siblings they are relatively sealed it seems and so isolated well for a dynamic.  More than sufficient for on a bus or out and about but not really up to long flight or daily Tube use.  As always its quite sufficient to get you run over too.

Accessories:  8 pairs of tips that very sadly doesn’t include any of the foamies RHA supply with the 750.  Still it’s a good selection and they all seem of quality construction as does the sheet of metal that acts as a tip holder.  Of course the best bit of the accessories is the case, it seems as nicely constructed as everything else and it’s a great size.  Oh and a shirt clip in there somewhere.

Value:  Hmm, well the 600 is £50 and the 600i is £60.  Normally I’d say yeah go for them if you want this sort of sound signature, its massively, massively V shaped so probably a “mainstream” winning sound and they have a huge warranty and they are really solidly built.  But…given how awesome the 750 is I’d personally sooner save a bit more and get them but hey I realise I’m not the average consumer who wants massive thumping bass.  For that segment the build and huge warranty have got to appeal to those who are hard on things. 

Conclusion:  I don’t think it’s a huge secret that these I have not loved.  The bass here is cracking, skull cracking in fact.  The treble too is wildly exuberant and voracious in its willingness to explode all over the place.  The combination makes for a bombastic thrill machine that likes to slap you in the face with the highs then punch you in the guts with that bass.  I don’t doubt my sister would love this or a few friends too but it’s not a sound that fits me so much.  I like things a bit more sedate, I like sumptuous and flowing mids, the mids here are credible if a tad dry but engulfed by the bass and treble.  The quality of everything here is good but the quantities are what make it not for me.

Speaking of quality, the build on RHA stuff is rather excellent.  The metal construction of the buds and the backup of that warranty, is there anyone else still offering 3 year warranties out there?  Even Shure, Westone and the former kings of warranty, Etymotic only offer 2 years.  I can see that being a big appeal to those who churn through a pair of cheap IEM’s every 6 months.

Acoustically the M600 wants to party all day long.  It’s all about massive potent bass pounding out a bass line and highs crashing and exploding through it all.  I don’t doubt there are many out there who will love it in spades.  And why not?  The quality of each component is actually very good, for the price and when well driven the bass given its vast size is tremendously punchy and agile.  Likewise the treble is of great quality for the money and quantity.  You just primarily need to be sure you want the quantities involved.  It’s not one for the timid or faint hearted.