T-PEOS Altone 200 Review
Thanks to T-PEOS for the sample.
First Impressions: The box is a fairly uninteresting affair. It’s a box, it’s got stuff in it. Inside we have the normal array of tips, three thin silicon and three thick red cored ones. Oh, there I see those little blue foamies, I’m thinking its certainty those will be the ones I’ll be using. Shame case wise you only get the typical T-PEOS soft baggy thing. Not that it’s terrible you understand, just nothing special.
Blue foamies on and into the ears they go. With all the good things that have been said about these I have reasonably high expectations and I’m pleased to say they are living up to them. It tonal balance isn’t my favourite style, I get the impression these, like the 100II like to show off. There is an enthusiastic and energetic heart in these. How much are these things supposed to be again? Oooooh, ebay says £109. I’m not sure Vsonic and DUNU are going to be best pleased about that. Still I must remind myself, a dynamic and thrilling sound makes for a great first impression so I should not get carried away with myself.
Source: Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., FiiO E7/E9 combo, HiFiMAN HM-601, Nexus 5, 1G Ipod Shuffle and Firestone Audio FireyeDA.
Lows: The bass here is rather elevated as you might expect that it would be. Unlike things like the very V shaped H-100II the 200 Altone is considerably less so, waaaay less so. Thing is the bass itself isn’t really lessened or altered much in terms of its tonal flavour or abilities. Now given there is a quite price difference the bass isn’t as different as I might hope. If bass is all you care about then here, for the money I find the linearity and extension to be less than I’d hope. It’s just a bit rounded and humpy. You know, I think it’s probably the same bass driver as the 100II and it’s not that it’s lacking per say but for the money I really would like it to be more linear and deep extending. The bass however retains all the playfulness and bounce. When you hurl at it some big ass humpy bass it raises to the occasion with aplomb.
This highly playful and rambunctious nature pairs up nicely with the slightly elevated but humpy low end. Slap on some cheery bouncy pop with a goodly thump and it’s all a foot tapping, dancing in your chair kinda bass. Just don’t be sat there thinking you’re getting some achingly polite monitor. It’s cool, it’s clean and it likes a spring in its step.
Mids: To continue a theme, it’s somewhat cool and dryish in nature. This lead’s itself to coming over as exceedingly clear and open vocally. Mids take on that tinge of breathy clarity that makes these feel such a grand improvement over the 100II. A little Death Cab For Cutie, I'll Follow You Into The Dark just sounds so intimate and personal. Like you and the singer, alone in a darkened room and your intruding on some deeply personal expression of a sad love. Tonally I can’t help but notice it seems to lend its self exceptionally well to both breathy, particularly breathy male vocals. Nora too is superb. Oh and cello's sound just awesome, so laboured and yearning. It is again that slightly dry tone that makes strings and guitars sound so raspy and clean. It’s all such a feast of joy and liveliness.
In quantitative terms, the mids are bout where the bass and highs are. It’s not very flat though, it’s more of a W shaped sound. All bounce, all joy and just all party time. Qualitatively the mids are really most excellent. They aren’t without flavour but their detail levels are right up there as only a good BA can spit forth. Nuance and emotive inflection abound.
Highs: Well it’s no secret I think no BA nails treble like a good dynamic can. However the 200 Altone is continuing the recent rash of BA drivers up top that are substantially impressive technically. Again in comparison to the 100II I cannot truly say these are "better" and I suspect they are the same driver at work. All tonally over on the cool and dry side which lends itself to a very explicit feel. Dryness makes everything that touch more separate and make those treble impacts more distinct. The danger in doing this is that you take it too far and do a DBA-02 and abound with brutal and abrasive detail. Not so here thank god. The highs and clean, distinct and yet have practically no harshness. Even when paired up to the slightly bright Studio or the FireyeDA the highs stayed perfectly poised. Not to over credit it, at its price its treble doesnt hold a candle to the miraculous old RE-0 but what does?
Quantity wise it’s all about the same as the mids and bass, that W shape remember. So the treble is in fair abundance but it’s not one aiming for treble junkies and neither is it particularly relaxed or one for those treble sensitive souls out there.
Soundstage: In terms of size it’s so so. It’s much more adept at the imaging and instrument separation aspects. The stage before you may be rather close and stretch quite far on either side, it has little in the way of real depth to it. The instrument separation, as often seems the case with triple drivered and three way crossover IEM's, is top class. Its three drivers working independently makes everything utterly distinct, granted at the slight cost of integration but who cares.
Fit: Absolutely fine. No weird shapes, no annoying ear guides no anything that is in anyway likely to upset anyone. Oh and equally happy worn up or down.
Comfort: Just grand. Like with the fit, I can’t really see anyone having any particular issue with them.
Microphonics: The usual, wear up none, wear down you do. Still if you have to wear down the chin slider cures things adequately.
Amped/Unamped: Well, like the recent 3 way triples from DUNU and its 100II sibling these really don’t need an amp. Sure you see a bit of a benefit but even out of my little Nexus 5 it was easily adequately driven and still sounded most magnificently pleasing to the ear. There was a slight pull towards the bass and the treble. The treble quality out of the phone isn’t anything like as good as the Studio or DA and accordingly the treble was diminished. Still, who cares? These are so easily driven to utter magnificence even out of a lowly phone it’s something that just a few years ago would have been an impossibility.
However it’s not like a much better source and amp are not things you should aim for with these. Just because they sound exceedingly good out of just a phone its does not mean you won’t get even better with a real DAP. It’s more that if you insist on using a phone, these are one that is very easy to drive.
Isolation: With the foam tips on it’s rather good. It’s at the rather good for having a dynamic in them, which still falls rather short of what you can get with deep seating, fully sealed BA gives. So yadah yadah yadah, fine for on a bus, easily enough to get you run over but not really flight to New Zealand levels that BA things can provide.
Build Quality: Just like its sibling the 100II the build is just dandy. The buds are metal, the cable seems fine and the jacks fine too.
Accessories: You get the usual bunch of tips and you also get a soft pouch thing. While I’m not really going to say the pouch is off putting but I’d have rather seen a hard case of some sort. A few quid on fleabay will get you one if you want.
Value: It depends how you look at it. The 100II is about half the price of the 200 Altone and I can’t really say the 200 is twice as good, it’s just not. Then I take another look at things and compare the 200 to the UM3x. Both are three way triple drivered so it’s not an unreasonable comparison, then you look at the prices (well of the UM pro 30 which is the same thing) and it’s just under £300. So £100 versus £300 it starts to look like a much less fair comparison. Now as I A/B them the Westone wins by a margin but it’s not like they are different planets. The DN-1000 though, now it’s really the one the Altone is up against and while the 200 is much more dramatic and attention grabbing I really can’t say its "better." still its right up there as arguably stellar value.
Conclusion: There is no question the 200 Altone is a good step up on the 100II, that additional mid range driver is exceedingly notable in the presence of the mids. For me this is a greatly welcome addition as I am quite the mid head, the mids are where human hearing is more focused and where all human vocals are to be found. They are expressive and full of dry detail. Guitars pluck and cello's sing. I must confess I would rather it was a little more liquid in its presentation as the dryness can make some vocals err towards sibilance and that pleases me not. It’s not a huge issue but when the competition is so brutally fierce it’s a point where they lose some ground.
The other side to this tonal nature is that it feels so very explicit and if anything over explicit. The raw detail level is great but side to side with the GR07 and DN-1000 these are much more viciously attention grabbing. They take detail and really hurl it in your face. Great if you’ve gat a smooth dap with great bit rate tracks but if you have something brighter, like the Studio or 1G Shuffle poor treble really shows. The vigorous crispness to the mids and treble can be somewhat wearing on the ear. If you’re a bit treble sensitive like I, then this can be a quite unwelcome style but.......
In all things audio there is the inverse aspect of any trait. The highly open sound makes every little detail you might not otherwise have noticed leap forth and dance a little jig. Everything is in there and coldly offered up for your pleasure. Particularly this coldly pithy bass makes it of the tightest and most grippy, aggressive low ends around. There is no gentle expansion to soften and mute. It’s right there, up front and square in your face. Stylistically I’m more inclined to a more gentle, relaxed sound but the one here is massively engaging and exciting.
The scintillating treble, the dry breathy mids and the taught, vigorous bass make for an overwhelmingly attention grabbing sound. The excitability and liveliness makes even the 1000 look positively muted in comparison. In my mind T-PEOS are quickly becoming the archetypal thrill machine maker. Party, dynamics, massive detail and brilliant vibrancy make for a wild drama cannon. This really is either going to be its selling point or be what drives you away from them. Do you want all of its wild forwardness? Me, I like things a bit calmer but hey, that’s me. I rather like sedate and if there is one thing the 200 Altone most certainly is not, its sedate! It is at present, I believe, the most thrilling and excitable IEM £100 will get you right now.