Wednesday, 3 December 2014

ROCK JAW Hydra V2 Review

ROCK JAW Hydra V2 Review

Thanks to ROCK JAW for the sample.

First Impressions:  These have the same box as did the Arcana V2 so make more or less the exact same impression.  Though the Hydra, while a cooler name just do not look anything like as pretty as the Arcana V2’s do.  Those things are lush, these are a not ugly or anything but provoke nothing more than a meh.  Still after how impressive the Arcana was I’m excited to see what there can too.  Given they sit at exactly the same price I’m unsure how they will be differentiated.

In the ears and I’ve worked out how they are differentiated.  These are WAAAAAAAAAY more bassy.  A considerably more bass centric sound at work here.  Though I am wondering if it’s the same driver employed, the detail levels seem equally as good.  Burn in time.

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

Lows:  They are big.  By big I don’t quite mean the crazy level as was the Adagio III but well, there is a bloody lot of it.  Thankfully for havening cranked up the quantity it is somewhat softened from the aggressiveness and eagerness of the Arcana.  It’s still got plenty of bounce and for its size, pretty good agility.  Its depth could do with reaching a bit lower but for this price I feel I’m really asking for too much.  This much, this controlled, more depth would just be asking for it to flab all over the place.  With that said, what I find here isn’t the most tuneful bass.  It is more than a dash monotone like some relentless low end sub that lives in a resonant point in a room.  Yes its got great solidity but it’s just that same note over and over again regardless of the song at play.  It’s quite annoying.

Still, I’m no basshead and the Hydra isn’t made with me in mind.  Going for this monotone, resonant monster presentation makes what is a rather cheap IEM, give you some right ball kicking bass.  Throwing audiophile speak out of the way the bass as presented here, its explosively powerful and teens across the world will likely behold it in awe of its aggression.

Mids:  On paper the mids are pretty good.  Rather like their siblings, the Arcana V2 but here the main difference is that the bass here is so dialled up.  The mids then are pushed relatively into the background and for me that sucks.  Otherwise they are a fraction on the thick but reasonably cleanly delivered beside that bass.  They have a good creaminess to them, nice to see after so much of late has felt aiming for a more dry to play up their “clarity” when this is more human.  However in absolute detail terms they are reasonable.

The big issue though is they are so behind that massive bass.  Sure bassheads will be happy but I’d be lying if I said I was.

Highs:  Like the mids the highs here are simply there to accompany the bass.  Detail retrieval, like the mids again is fair.  Still these seem to roll off and lack any semblance of bighty aggressiveness.  I don’t normally want those aspects but at this point I think I’m just looking for something to pay attention to other than the bass.  On the plus side, if you’re really treble sensitive this is highly inoffensive.  I will grant, Owl City’s “Cave In” did sound great on them and it does go to show that despite not being obvious about it, there is a pretty fair level of detail and quality to the highs.

Soundstage:  They don’t have the stellar instrument separation that the Arcana’s have but here is still rather good.  The sound staging too is rather broad in its presentation.  Not so much in height but width and depth were both rather pleasing to the ear.  Just don’t get too caught up in wanting to place each and everything at work.  It’s there in a nicely size environment.

Fit:  Excellent.  Worn up or down these were highly unfussed about how to get them seated.  I got no driver flex or any air pressure issues either, so an all-round thumbs up.

Comfort:  Likewise with the fit there were effortless.  Silicon or foam tips it was a shove in and done.   Well aside from bass mountain kicking me in the head anyway.

Microphonics:  Even worn down there was hardly any microphonics.  I’d still suggest wearing up and there is no chin slider but for these opposed to wearing things up, you’ll get along just fine with these.

Phone use:  I gave my sister a ring and she seemed to indicate she could hear me fine.  I’m not sure how well as she did have to ask me to repeat myself once or twice.  Still, I am sure that they would do the job and of course, I could hear her perfectly.  Naturally the play/pause/skip button worked fine too on my Nexus 5.

Amped/Unamped:  Well, I actually liked how these sounded out of the phone more than out of more beefy sources.  The bass took a valium, stopped its relentless pounding and seemed that bit more tuneful, its gently calmed nature got more pleasing.  Given that they come with a microphone they clearly have phone use in mind.  These VERY much suited running out of my humble Nexus 5.  Pairing up to a more powerful amps just made them so over powered, like putting an F1 car engine in a Fiat Punto.  It just can’t properly handle it and so going lurching from extreme to extreme.  If you buy a pair I’d strongly suggest not bothering to try and amp these, it does them zero favours.

Isolation:  Really not bad at all for a dynamic.  They are pretty sealed, yet gave none of the corresponding driver flex/ air pressure issues and managed to isolate very well.  Sure it’s not up to BA standards but its damn close.  I’d be fine using these on a bus or out and about in traffic.  I’d even be okay with the odd Tube trip or short flight too.  Please remember, with them in look where the hall you’re going if you would like to remain in one piece.

Build Quality:  Like their siblings, I quite like them.  I like braided then wrapped cables and the little buds seem nicely constructed too.  I’d still want them to live in a real case rather than the baggy they come with mind.

Accessories:  Meh.  You get 3 pair of tips and a little baggy.  The tips I don’t mend only 3 as I’ve never had something with only 3 and had much problem but little baggies always seem stingy.    They are a nice pair of earphones, they deserve a real little hard case.

Value:  Great and not so great.  If you’re a total basshead then great, otherwise for the same money you can get the Arcanna V2 so frankly why would you buy these?

Conclusion:  So you have probably picked up that I don’t really have much love for the Hydra V2.  It’s not that it’s a bad product, but…….well I just do not get along with its tuning.  I’m not faulting the driver or their build; there is nothing fundamentally bad about them.  The issue is, unless you want gobs of bass their siblings just do things better.  The bass here is dialled up so and it is so aggressively punchy that I found myself track skipping the instant anything bouncy came on.  Even using them out of fractionally mellowing Nexus 5 these were still a rip roaring set of bass cannons.  That really sums the Hydra V2 up nicely I think.  It is an unadulterated bass cannon and if that’s what you’re after then I send you my heartiest congratulations.  I’m sure that the two of you will be very happy together. 

So while I cannot see the Hydra V2 as being the best way to introduce the audio community to Rockjaw’s offerings I can see them sitting in John Lewis or an Apple shop.  Sitting there and appealing visually, appealing to the mainstream crowd that most certainly do want what this has to offer.  They will absolutely adore its vigorousness.  They will marvel at its viciously punchy and aggressive bass.  To that crowd I can see the Hydra V2 being a big hit.

ROCK JAW Hydra V2 Quick Review

ROCK JAW Hydra V2 Quick Review

Thanks to ROCK JAW for the sample.

Brief:  Oodles of bass.

Price:  £40 or about US$63 though I could not find in the US.

Specification:  Drivers: 8mm dynamic, Impedance: 16Ω, Sensitivity: 108+/-3db, Frequency response: 20 – 20000Hz, Cord Length: 1.2M, Jack type: Gold plated 3.5mm, MIC with pause/play button – (iOS & Android compatible)

Accessories:  3 pairs of tips and a little baggy.

Build Quality:  Very nice.  I’m generally a fan of braided and wrapped cables and the buds seem solidly constructed too.

Isolation:  Really rather good for a dynamic.  Perhaps even just enough for the odd flight or Tube commute and naturally easily more than enough to get yourself run over.  Do look where you’re going people.

Comfort/Fit:  Great.  Despite being quite sealed and dynamic it was above in ears and done.  Comfy to wear for ages too.

Aesthetics:  Meh, there is nothing wrong with them but they don’t provoke any great desire either. 

Sound:  BASS.  While I know from the spec its likely they are the exact same driver as in the Arcana V2 but……..the tuning here is so slanted to the bass.  The bass simply is sufficiently dominating as to just get on my ****.  I know that the mids are a good quality and the highs are nicely nuanced but god, that bass will just not bugger off.  In smallish doses I could see some appeal in its weighty bass but in too many tracks I found it was just getting in the way of the bits I wanted to pay attention to.  The detail levels though are high like its sibling which makes it all the more maddening.  In strictly technical terms the driver in here is excellent and has excellent abilities for this.  I know that it’s technically good but that it cost the same as its sibling, unless your some crazed bass junkie I’m struggling to see why you would go with this one.  It’s like being presented with a beautifully prepared steak and then someone puts ketchup and one of those “cheese” slices on it.  I know there is greatness in there but it has been tailored to a certain demographic.  By certain demographic I mean people who think Beats are the height of audio quality.  Perhaps a better description would be like taking something wonderful, and then wrapping it in Burberry.  It may at its core still be that wonderful something but it’s just really hard to get past how it’s been tailored, sometimes just one issue can be a real show stopper.

If course if you love a mountain of bass and think Burberry is the height of good taste then by all means knock yourself out, it could well be the IEM for you.

Value:  Great if you want a bass cannon.  Otherwise I’d pick its sibling every time.

Pro’s:   Chavtastic mountain of bass. Great technical ability.

Con’s:  Tuned with Beats fans in mind.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Top 10 Christmas 2014 picks from mark2410

Top 10 Christmas 2014 picks from mark2410

So, Christmas is near upon us and in keeping with tradition, that is buying stuff, here are my musings on things that would make a great present.  That present, be it for your very good self or some other whom is dear to your heart.

1:  Right now I think my first two are those that most immediately spring to mind and by the toss of a coin it in the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears.  They have pretty much a bit of everything going for them in terms of a gift.  They have a big and recognisable brand name, they look the part, they feel premium and to top it off, they sound great.  Sure for proper audiophiles they are too heavy in the bass but for most people this isn’t any kind of problem, for many it’s likely a great big plus.  Then just to pile on some icing to that cake, they come in an actual android compatible version as well as the obligatory apple version.  All in all I cannot for see anyone on Christmas morn unwrapping a pair of these and being at all unhappy about it.

2:  The looser of the coin toss is none other than the RHA MA-750.  These many not have the Momentums Android controls nor is it quite so massive in the bass.  For budding audio purists, these have a balance that is much more even.  The bass is still large and of wondrous quality but they also a have a most scintillating treble.  The build quality of them too is a true stand out feature and they put even the big branded Sennheisers to shame, with their crafted aluminium enclosures that you could tell people they cost 3 or 4 times what they do and I bet they would believe you.  To get such a good sounding pair with such visual quality too make these a truly excellent present option.

3:  This I’m going to make a joint choice.  No round up with audiophile pretensions could ever hope to exclude an offering from HiFiMAN.  The RE-400 and RE-600 are in many ways untouchable but in a couple areas have problems.  The 400 has, next to the likes of the MA-750, not such pleasing build quality, not even close.  The 600 is much better, but it’s much more pricey (normally, they have a sale on which is substantial.)  Where these shine though is in their sound quality.  The 400 right now is US$80.  I can tell you there in no IEM I know of that will come anywhere near the audio quality of the 400’s for this money.  Likewise, the current sale of the 600 for only US$200 again will just trounce everything before it.  Everyone on earth with even the slightest audiophile pretension should at the least hear one of these and really ought to own one too. 
N.B.  I have not quite yet heard the RE-300 (I’m told one is in the post to me) but I would be willing to bet, given HiFiMAN’s history that they too will be excellent.

4:  Dunu DN-1000.  This won’t be the first in this list you’ll see DUNU get a mention, in the last few years they have come from nowhere and have mastered the art of putting together a great package.  Every single aspect of things they just get so right.  They look great, they have a great bundle and they sound phenomenal.  The bass is so controlled yet powerful, mids are explicit and highs dazzle.  Then to crown things they come in at a price that puts western brands to shame.  I know that DUNU is a silly name, I mean what the hell does Delicate, Utmost and Unique actually mean?  I don’t know, maybe in Chinese its poetic?  Never mind, because once the recipient gets to hear them they won’t give a fig over the lack of Chinese word smithery.

5:  Well here is another DUNU.  This time it’s the DN-2000 and yes I know that on paper they are not all that different from the 1000, they just take what the 1000 did and scale everything up.  They scale it up a lot too.  These just sound so much more grandiose and symphonic in their presentation in a way that makes them appear so much more than mere IEM’s.  These are too keenly priced for this height of quality and give you the traditional excelent all round package from DUNU.  Name aside these simply have zero aspects that you can count as a negative.  I know they aren’t the cheapest but you get something so much grander for your money.


6:  This one is a bit of a fudge because technically I saw it last year but as the review was last edited on the 24th or November and it’s also the 24th today I’m going to sneak it in.  It’s the Firestone Audio BlackKey.  I realise it’s not a product that a lot would actually have a use for but……. If you are someone that listens to music from out of the headphone socket on your laptop, then I’m telling you now, that thing sounds crap.  Laptop makers don’t care about audio so they skimp on the quality  the little BlackKey just slots into a USB socket and sounds fantastic.  Sure its little excitable and a little V shaped but it’s going to likely be an epic leap up on what you were subjecting yourself to.  Also, it’s just such a dinky little thing and has the potential to make a massive difference for users so what isn’t to love about it?

7:  This is a bit of a new one but it’s the RockJaw Arcana V2.  The V2 is a grand wee beast of an IEM.  It’s got a fantastically enthusiastic and bouncy style and is so very keenly priced given how much detail it can spit out at you too.  Then to go one better it just happens to look rather lovely too.  The wood thing has cropped up time and again and I think is likely more a visual thing than anything else but so what.  These sound great, they look great and come in at a price that I think puts them into that wee little extra / stocking stuffer price category.  I am quite sure everyone would like finding a pair of these with their name on it come Christmas morning.

8a:  I was going to go for just things I’d seen this year but I don’t care, this one goes in.  The NuForce NE-600X.  I realise this is mostly one for those in the US and it’s down to pricing.  On Amazon US you can get a pair of these for US$14.  These are dirt cheap and other than being way, way too bassy, sound just amazing for that price.  These are so the sort of thing you could get for a kid or two.  Something that can show music can sound good on the go and without you having to worry the kids will kill an expensive pair of earphones.  For the money these are available for in the US it’s just stupidly good value.

8b:  Since I picked something that’s only so cheap in the US here is one for this side of the Atlantic.  The Radiopaq Classical.  It along with its sibling, the Jazz are available in the UK for stupidly, stupidly cheap prices. Varying a bit, Argos on ebay has the Jazz for £6 and Amazon UK has the Clasical for £6 too.  These are so underrated because they never were available outside the UK and because the two awesome ones are the Jazz and the Classical.  So the names were off putting and the Rock ones were terrible.  The Jazz and Clasical are both similar, Only that the Jazz is the more bassy of the two and the Classical a bit more trebly.  Both are insanely good value for money.

9:  This one I hesitated to add but I love how it sounds so much I couldn’t stop myself.  The Brainwavz R3.  Now to look at them you might think, holy ****, who the F is going to wear them!  I get that, these look “different” and they are not tiny little things that just melt away visually.  They are big and they look like nothing else around.  So why are they here?  Well because once in your ears, you know they are actually really quite comfy and you can’t see them when they’re in your ears so looks aren’t such a big deal.  Oh yes and they sound simply beautiful.  As big and weird as they look, they sound just so sublimely delicate and genteel on the ear, they just make everything sound so achingly beautiful.  Sure it’s not a party beast so bass heads wont love it but for more mature tastes its silk for your ears.  I love it and it’s probably what I have personally liked most of all the things I’ve heard this year.

10:  Last of all I have one you might not have thought would have been picked by me.  It is the Brainwavz S0.  So why have I picked the S0 given it’s really not something I loved?  Well the S0 is a most excellent crowd pleaser, it’s not an audiophile pleaser, it excels nowhere in particular and in no particular way.  It’s very easy to dismiss it has having no stand out, appealing aspect that it just shines in.  It does everything quite well and as such holds minimal audiophile appeal.  This though is a gift idea list and I would wager that your average chap or chapette would greatly enjoy the musical styling’s of the S0.  Big party bass, enthusiastic mids and glittery highs.  It nails what I think an ordinary person wants and it comes with a fantastic wee bundle for the money.  Whats not to like?

I know I should stop things here, but well, there is a couple of “honourable mentions” I wanted to add.  They are things I greatly like but for one reason or another are something that I would hesitate to suggest as a gift to buy someone else.

First up we have the FiiO X3.  It is a great sounding DAP.  It is a great little DAC for your computer.  It is a fantastic combo device and for a good price too.  So why is it not above?  Well, its not a looker and not everyone wants a separate DAP.  Phones are the king convergence device and many just don’t want to carry something else with them.

Second we have the Audiofly AF180.  It is pretty easily the “best” sounding thing I’ve heard this year.  Why isn’t it in the list then?  It is expensive, really expensive and it is in no way a generalist that your average teen who’s never heard a BA driver before is going to appreciate.  It is a squarely premium product that requires a little discernment and that, for me, makes it something you should buy for yourself and not for anyone else.  (Well I suppose unless they have told you they want it.)

Third the HM-650.  I freakin’ love how it sounds with some caveats.  It’s awesome.  However its flaws, oh my they are some stunners.  First, the not everyone wants a separate DAP issue.  Then the battery life is just terrible, just awful.  Then to the reason its battery is as it is, the thing doubles as a hand warmer.  Sure, a plus in winter but it’s a DAP than has heating vents!  Then the UI, while it’s not utterly terrible it’s a far cry from elegant. Oh and it’s fugly.  It is an extremely specialised device.

Then last of all we have an old, old favourite of mine.  It’s the tiny little Soundmagic PL-50.  It is a teeny tiny little marvel and in its class has the best mid range for the money.  The trouble is, it bass output while fine for me is sure as hell not going to put a smile on everyone’s face.  Buying for someone else unless you know them super well is just a bad idea.

So there we go.  If anyone has any specific questions feel free to ask in I’ll have a go at assisting.  The key thing to remember though is, if you’re buying for someone else and they don’t have audiophile leanings then pic a safe and solid bet.