Saturday, 30 May 2015

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Over-Ear Review

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Over-Ear Review

Thanks to Sennheiser for the sample.

First Impressions:  For an over ear it looks like a pretty compact box.  Getting inside and seeing the case, it too looks rather smaller than I would expect.  I suppose they’re going to be folded up.  I can’t see why anyone would want over ears to be particularly portable but hey ho.  Inside the case then inside the baggy.  Really???  Have I missed something???  There is only one cable?  Not that it’s really a complaint per say but given the little on ear one came with two it seems weird that the bigger one should not.  I suppose its more practical to not include things you may not want, if you do you can buy them yourself.

Anyway, on the ears they go and they almost immediately strike me as less overtly warm than the other two.  Not that they aren’t warm, just these seem to have a bit better clarity.   Hmm maybe it’s the edged leather earpads are simply not giving as lacks a fit as the soft felt ones of the On.  These seem to be more resolving though, hmmm.  There is something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  These seem to have more upper brightness, hmmm, well let’s throw 100 or so hours burn in at them and see what happens.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.

Lows:  Right away when critically listening it becomes apparent that when you put the Over 2.0 (the names are going to start killing me) next to the On 1.0 that the bass is much more impactful.  The On-Ear and the In were both more a soft, mellow, richly warm bass.  I can’t say how much is a tuning difference verses just getting a more closed environment.  The bass here is so much less soft and forgiving, closer to what I think of as the normal Senn house sound rather than the mellower Momentum signature.  Not that either is “better” than the other, just different.  I suspect part is that these being more costly are more audiophile aimed at rather than the more mainstream.  Personally, I’d rather it was a little more wallowy, here it feels like it’s trying to go ever faster to show off how brutally agile it can be.  Like a Bentley tearing round a racetrack, yes yes I get it, you’re very capable and agile for your size but calm down, please.  Yes I know you can punch me in head and stay hard a rock but I find myself being saddened they aren’t a little more soft and mellow. 

If you plug them into a more portable, lower powered device then it does change, things get a bit more ill-defined and soften.  The bass and highs both significantly calm down.  The bass becoming softer so perhaps it’s just that they are aimed at being used portably.  That when DAP driven they frankly become a lot more richly warm.  Frankly, its a lot more like what I expected from them and I find myself liking them more when poorly driven.  Sure you lose some extension but it’s still okay but it’s a trade I’m happy to make.

Quantitatively there is a lot of bass.  Even by typical Senn standards its abundant and being close too just emphasises its power, volume and weight.  For me its pushing my tolerance limits when playing back bassy pop. 

Mids:  Very broad, a little dry (though a warm source warms them nicely) with a lot of clarity.  I might go so far to say they are a bit W shaped.  I’m as ever all for more mid’s but for a Senn it’s a bit unusual,  I found myself hunting out middy tracks, being highly impressed and pleased with their capabilities.  This feels so much more grown up than the In-Ears, so much more open explicitness to vocals.  Sure a bit dry but so expressive and with a breathy, lingering fade away.    It all feels much more like the traditional Senn mid-range but with a bit of a dial up.  So broad, dry, clear and clean towards the point of losing liquidity.  Its, just not what I expected at all.  I find myself getting randomly lost in tracks.  I don’t know why.  There is just something so captivating at its dry yet lingering vocals that makes them sound so distinctly separate and clear.  Even in tracks you would never think of, like Scissor Sister’s The Secret Life Of Letter’s” there is just something that’s captivating my attention in its vocals.  They shouldn’t be, the vocals aren’t particularly great but I can’t for some reason hit the skip track button.  There is some gentle loneliness and lingering sadness that I’ve really never noticed before.  A certain hollow emptiness that the dry, yet so clean, vocals seem so isolated.  Cyndi Lauper’s “At Last “ album is a melancholic lingering sup that has some Dickensian bleakness.  Grey and dimmed. 

In quantity terms, they’re quite a bit, there is a bit of an upper vocal peak but in general vocals feel quite abundant for a Senn.  It all works very well, particularly with vocals that suit a more dry presentation.  Strings naturally sound highly clear if at the expense of a little warmth.  They are dry and crisp.  Guitars pluck wonderfully well.

Highs:  As is the more traditional Senn sound, there is a spike up top and these hold true to that.  These have a highly, very highly competently capable treble on them.  Personally I’d not object if it got dialled down.  Not just pin sharp at times but medical grade hypodermic needle sharp.  When you throw power at the Over-Ears 2.0 they have a refined explosion of shimmer.  Yes I know at first glance that sound contradictory but it’s true.  Each little pin point of dazzle is so teeny tiny that in itself is not berating but they just explode all over with a million tiny points of sparkle.  Like throwing a fistful of diamonds into the beam of a spotlight.  This mountain of shimmer is glorious in genteel albums (li e the said Cyndi Lauper one) it is all so delicate that the tiny point of light dance across the stage like a fistful of glitter or the light from a mirror ball.  In that mostly dark environment it’s a beautifully complimentary point of light.

If you should be so foolish as to power it well and throw horribly mastered, brutally metallic edged and abundant treble then you well be savaged.  Even reasonably mastered such as Owl City’s “Cave In” it has such an abundance of treble, paired up with face punching bass it certainly makes an impression.  For a 2 min demo in a shop, wow, it will blow your balls off.  However if I had to hear it constantly, it would be my idea of hell. Sooooo much WAAAAAA!!!!!

Soundstage:  Symphonically scaled.  Huge sounding and surrounding for a closed but a little so so in distance.  Vocals like to stay pretty up near the front which is fine, bass is rather further back and the treble seems to move from halfway towards the bass in distance to right up with the vocals.  Instrument separation is partially clean with its somewhat W shaped sound signature.  Still, it’s nicely integrated too which is nice, of course it helps it’s all one driver doing it all.

Fit:  I know some had fit issues with the 1.0 version.  One of the most notable changes therefore was the pads changing.  These are no longer rounded but flat edged and I believe a tiny bit bigger.  I honestly can’t say I thought the pads were especially big but they did manage to fully surround my ears, only just.  Therefore they rested only on my head.  That was that for me. 

Comfort:  Well aside from the warm ear you get with closed cans these were perfect for me.  They were desperately close to not making it all the way round my ears but they do manage it.  I really couldn’t fault them but I know that others have.  They aren’t huge which I think is an attempted careful trade-off between making an over the ear yet them still being relatively portable.

Cable:  Did I get just the one cable?  The On-Ears got two.  Sure I know I said you don’t really need two, the mic one works fine in everything anyway but still…… it just seems a weird omission.  The cable is a reasonably nice one, the mic feels really quite good quality.  Anyway the cables are removable so replaceable, like I think all headphones should be.

Isolation:  Rather good actually, it’s not BA IEM level but it’s very close to that of the In-Ears.  Personally I would feel like a **** wandering around with these on my head, out and about but you could.  Indeed I presume Sennheiser intends that you do, what with the phone compatible cable.  They would sufficiently block out most noise and you shouldn’t be too irritating to those near you with these playing.  If you do decide to wear them out, remember to keep an eye out for traffic as they will block most if not all of it out.

Build Quality:  They are excellent.  Traditionally solid and despite the folding hinge, they still feel extremely well put together.  Likewise the finish on them is first class all the way.  To my eye they are impeccable.

Aesthetic:  I got the Ivory one.  Why is there an Ivory rather than white?  Not that you can see them when you’re wearing them anyway.  Actually I think I’d prefer Ivory to white, its visually softer.  It’s all fairly pleasant, mature and civilised looking.

Phone Use:  Nexus 5, it worked but I was told I was a bit muffled.  Lumia 735 all worked very well and call quality was pretty good I was told.  Iphone 5, well it worked perfectly and I was told of the 3 it was the best call quality.  So why the mic would work better with it than the others, pffftt I have not a clue, it could have been purely coincidental.  I was just happy that everything worked with all three.  Particularly the skip track and volume controls so I was a happy bunny.

Amped/Unamped:  I would say it’s a pretty mixed bag.  I suspect they have been made to cater to those using phones.  Duh you might say given it comes only with a mic’d cable.  The fact is there is a pretty significant difference between amped and unamped use.  Personally I found the more mellow unamped signature to be closer to what I preferred and what I felt to be more the “Momentum” sound too.  (The bigger the bass is the softer I like it to be.)  It was just softer, richer, more relaxed and easy to fall into.  Going to the Solo Ultra and it is as though they have just been given a fistful of stimulants then washed them down with a litre of Red Bull.  It was so much more energetic and sprightly.  Detail levels too picked up quite a bit but bar the extra detail, I’m not sure it was something I wanted to do.   Yes with more power they got “better” but unless your sticking to very sedate music I constantly preferred the unamped sound when encountering poppy, bouncy stuff.  I don’t know if intentional or not but I’d say it could therefore please both the “mainstream” and the audiophile customer.  Poppy tat will sound good out the sources likely to play it yet those listening to well recorded, well mastered stuff can get the benefits of a good amp too.

Accessories:  You get a little baggy and a sort of hardish case.  I think I’d have rathered the big case, the non-folding v1.0 got instead.  I suppose the hardish case is smaller and thus more suited to being carted about.

Value:  The RRP in the UK is a penny short of £270, in the US, $350 and in euro land €320.  However scooting a glance at the respective Rainforest sites shows me that .de will sell you a black pair for €245 which is a fair old saving, but wait, on the UK site they will sell you an Ivory pair for £180!!!  That’s practically a hundred quid off!!!  While over in Americaland the best I can see is US$350.  So just to be clear that means the cheapest place is the UK???? Its not every day that happens.  Granted it would seem only the Ivory is at that price, black being £260, but that sure as hell wouldn’t stop me grabbing a pair.  What matters is how they sound, if you don’t agree then you’re probably better off buying a pair of Beats anyway.  These are a very serious, very grown up and very capable headphone that can justify its normal RRP.  At that price they aren’t perfect, their all leather thing is a fashion statement not an acoustic necessity but with that discount, that’s a real click click and worry about telling the wife later kinda deal.

Conclusion:  They are a bit of a mixed bag.  It’s a pretty good bag, don’t get me wrong, but there are still a couple of niggles I have about the Over-Ears 2.0 (besides from writing the name out being a total bugger.)    The Momentum line I feel has been Sennheiser’s attempt to produce a “mainstream,” warm, rich flavoured offering.  The In-Ears certainly were like that, the On-Ears 1.0 were too.  The 2.0, that I have here anyway, isn’t quite in the same keeping as its kin.  It’s like Sennheiser have gone for a more consumer friendly sound but the engineer in them couldn’t stop themselves from tweaking the 2.0 back into more mature territory.  Maybe it’s just that the Over-Ears being so much more costly they have simply aimed them at the more purist market?  I can’t quite decide what I think they are doing with them and that’s why I feel  a bit mixed.  It can’t be everything to everyone, pick something and run with it.

However, do I like the Over-Ears?  Take a wild guess.  Yes, yes I most certainly do.  While they are quite tailorable with your source selection, not something I realise everyone can do, but I had lots of fun with it.  Change the source and it can take on a whole new face.  From the Lumia 735 is a brighter and cleaner, then swap to the Iphone 5, it mellowed out and warmed.  Sure too much power and the treble got too much and the bass got annoyingly punchy.  Well annoying to me, I bet my sister would love its potential brutality.  I liked that it could be so airy and delicate, rather than rich brown notes of its siblings, the Over was more of a darkened translucent grey.  I found that airy melancholic songs were just achingly languid and desolate.  It could conjure such an air of woeful despair in the most specular, unspectacular fashion.  “At Last” is just so, so good I have not the words.  “La Vie en Rose” and “If You Go Away” are just such a works of aural art.

Turning to more vigorously enthusiastic modern music and its harder, colder bass than I suspect was found in the v1.0 it leads to a more lively sound.  The punch and vigour certainly make it rather much quicker than its On-Ear brethren I have.  Snappy punchy, kick you in the face bass, when you drive it well.  Though for poor sources the punchy nature plays well firming things up.  Songs and sources that would otherwise conspire to be flabby heap of bass stays relatively hard.  Which I’m sure will appeal to those who think an Iphone is a good musical source.  They pair up well.  Yet I want to hurl all of the power at a big pair of cans but then it’s overwhelming for pop.  The bass is too potent and aggressive. The treble likewise gets much too showy for my tastes.  But and it’s a humungous but, when you power it well and stick to calm, it’s got a more cool, airy grace to it.  “Under The Pink” is a tremendous album to hear on them.

I like the Over-Ears 2.0.  On paper they are great and I find their sound signature, with their almost forward mids really works for me yet I still have a niggling mixed feeling about them.  Yes they sound great but they are expensive and moreover these are a high end “consumer” headphone.  I look at their price tag and immediately think you could get an HD600 for £200 or and HD650 for £250 and I can’t imagine any audiophile picking these over them.  The Momentum Over-Ears aren’t for audiophiles though, they are for the consumer who want’s headphones they can plug into their phone to use out and about.  Yet they want something that actually sounds seriously good too.  These fulfil that role admirably.

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Over-Ear Quick Review

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Over-Ear Quick Review

Thanks to Sennheiser for the sample.

Brief:  Sennheisers style range Over Ear.

Price:  Today £270, €320 or US$350.  However Rainforest UK had Ivory for just £180

Specification:  See here scroll to the bottom.

Accessories:  Very little.  A baggy, a hardish case thing and err the cable for it, just the one and its mic’d.

Build Quality:  First rate.  Senn aren’t known for breaking that German stereotype of solid, well-engineered and precision manufacturing.

Isolation:  Pretty damn good for a big can.  I’d consider suitable for blocking out most out and about sounds.  Most public transport too, but really, big cans for that, hey it’s your choice but I am judging you.  Oh and easily enough to block out traffic sounds, so do remember to keep your eyes peeled.

Comfort/Fit:  Very good.  I know some found the v1 pinched their ears a bit but these fit, granted only just, entirely around my ears.  They rested on my skull and thus were comfy to wear for hours and hours at a time.  I know this because I did, repeatedly.

Aesthetics:  Coming in a range of Black, Brown and Ivory, Black I get but are we having a 70’s revival with the Brown and Ivory?  Actually they look alright.  Rather grown up and mature in comparison to the more chavtastic offerings from say Beats or V-Moda.

Sound:  Unsurprisingly they are good.  No, really an upper end Senn sounds good, you don’t say!  There is a reason Senn have a great rep, they have been making headphones since the middle ages so have figured out pretty well how to do so.  The Momentum range is their attempt at a more “consumer” friendly sound but this V2.0 one deviates a touch from the other two I have so far dealt with.  The 1.0 are warmer, softer, richer, an acoustic chocolaty brown.  These new ones are more of a dark translucent grey, slate type of tone.  From a mediocre source like say, an Iphone 5 they are softened, warmed, with a very full bodied bottom end.  Mostly clean but highly scaled and full-bodied.  Fed more power it really increases in solidity and punchiness.  Honestly I’d rather it was more genteel as elevated bass such as this, when driven well punches sufficiently hard to get tiring on my little ears.  Mids, they I really can’t fault well or poorly driven.  They are both so open and articulate.  There is a little mid spike to let them stand out from the instrumentation around them.  Clean with varying degrees of dry to liquid there is an overall coolness, an airy chill wind that blows right though.  Clarity feels enhanced and is perfect for soft acoustic tracks.  Treble, it is of the shimmery type, poorly driven it’s a gentle wash of sparkle.  Drive it vigorously and it becomes a dazzling explosion of pinpoints of light.  Each one so tiny and clear but it’s like a shimmery eruption of light.  Each is still in itself genteel so isn’t abrasive or grating but cumulatively can be overwhelming.  If you’re powering it well you’ll want to feed it quality recordings.

Value:  At £270, you are paying for its fancy leatheryness.  Yes it sounds very nice but that’s HD650 money.  Of course you can’t use the 650 outside or out of a phone.  At £180 then we are really talking, that’s order and worry what the good lady wife might say later.  With them on you won’t be able to hear her anyway.

Pro’s:   Quality leathery build.  Sound great even out of a phone.

Con’s:  You pay for that leather.  A bit heavy and thick sounding. Erm, its only cheap in Ivory, does that count?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Trinity Techne Review

Trinity Techne Review

Thanks to Trinity for the sample and collaboration.

First Impressions:  Once more this is pre production set so no nice box or packaging.  So there really isn’t anything much to talk about pre going in the ears. 

Sticking them in my ears.  Hmm well these filters I don’t think share the same colour scheming as the Delta’s do.   Well this is going to get confusing then. 

Source: Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., FiiO E7/E9 combo, HiFiMAN HM-650, Nexus 5, 1G Ipod Shuffle.

Lows:  Lol, you may not know it but this about the 5th time I’ve written this.  Oh filters, y u give so much work?????  Anyway so when I’m done whining.  I think we have a final set up, black filters, are open but just a touch and the gold are rather open.  Open being more articulate and nuanced than the Silver which is the closed V shaped one.  The black one is what I call natural sounding.  The gold while strictly more “neutral” is a sound that’s oft a bit bass light for people’s tastes.  The black is the one that sound more casually realistic.  In the Golds the bass is tuneful and lithe while being similarly agile as with the Black just Black being quantitatively more.  The Silver, well it has more extended depth as you’d expect but its treble is rather abundant too so it’s that classic V shaped, Senn CX95 like drama.  The bass its rather vigorous.

Personally in 5 min of playing the black tip was the one for me.  The Silver is you’re more archetypal V shape, which will undoubtedly be popular, with its punchy bass.  The gold is very ety’esq.  the black takes a more naturally feeling abundance and style.

Mids:  At no point does the Techne ever be a midhead IEM.  The silvers place vocals at the bottom of a bit valley but have a nicely even tonality.  A little bitty on the cool and dry for added clarity.  They are the same on the golds but with the bass rather more subdued.  Moving on to the blacks, my fav filter, and the mids still never really dominate proceedings but are quite the equals of the bass and treble.  Sure they no PL-50’s but the Technie in my mind is aiming for the “Now” range and it nails it.  Vocals are smoothed and warmed a fraction to make them sound like they can actually sing and enough clarity and mid / bass space to prevent them from ever being obscured or dominated elsewhere. 

For really great vocalists though, Nora singing about her home decorator (Painters song) and while on paper it’s a competent rendition.  However with the blacks it’s a hint dry and more so with the Golds.  Her vocals want a more heavy creamy weight, the Technie is tonally a bit light and airy.

Highs:  Golds and Silvers are quite prominent in the treble, they like to let you know they can really blast it out too.  The bright Golds have plenty.  Much crisp, clean and a hint metallic.  Like with the mids it’s competently capable and it’s at its best when you hurl bouncy pop its way.  That goes double for the Silver tips where you get the same treble but with waaay more vigorous bass.  The Blacks, have the same magnitude but comparatively the bass is in a more balanced quantity so it isn’t overall as relatively quantitative as with Gold or Silvers.  Extension is rather nice, cymbal shimmers stay maybe a bit over clear and prominent but it’s not unpleasant.

Detail levels are good an all fronts, though I’m inclined to think a bit over clear with the Golds and Silvers, hey I’m no treble junkie.  Actually oif trust be told I miss a prospective filter option that had a bit of foam in them to really dial down the treble.  Hey that’s me, Mr treble sensitive.

Soundstage:  Once more it’s a sense of breadth and width that stand out.  Height not so much but I can live a large 2D scape.  With the more closed golds in you lose out on that somewhat, they have a bit more intimate and heavy feel to them.

Fit:  Great, easy as pie to stick in my ears.  A classic case of shove in and done.

Comfort:  Just as with the fit, a pretty effortless affair.  They are really rather an odd shape and despite being metal weigh little on the ear, my ears were happy to have them on all day long.

Microphonics:  Worn up, none.  Given its shape you pretty much have to wear up anyway.

Cable:  Excellent.  The thing is some double braided super flexible thing.

Amped/Unamped:  Now I know they have been made with phone use in mind so they are very easy to make very loud. (you know, that stupid french law about volume limiting which means EU products are all limited.)  These then are particularly easy to go loud.  They run very well out of any old source but….. if you feed them oodles of power they do greatly improve.  At their price point I wouldn’t expect them to regularly meet big amps but if you do get a pair, then know that if you opt to add in a little mini amp then you will see gains from it.  As usual it’s the bass that benefits most, it hardens up and feels more sprightly.  Treble a little too but that’s more likely down to lesser sources just being less capable in reproducing highs.  With the black filters on though using a lesser source, like a phone, does dial the bass power back a bit so it’s a quite reasonable pairing.

Isolation:  It’s about the normal for a dynamic.  The closed Silver tip was a hair better but not so that you’d pick just to get that bit more isolation.  Easily enough for day to day use, on a bus etc etc.  Not one for regular flyers probably but would do now and again.  Obviously more than easily enough to get yourself run over if you aren’t using your eyes.

Accessories:  I have a pre production model but should be, a bunch of tips, little tube for the filters, the filters too obviously and a little case.  Case is pretty nice.

Value:  Well, how important are the sound altering filters to you?  If you are only going to have one IEM and you don’t know exactly what sound signature is the one for you then I can really see the filters being of use.  You can buy something decent and having three different sounds available to you it greatly increases the odds of getting one that is you.  The thing is if you know exactly what is or isn’t you, like I know me, then you are putting money into filters that once you’ve listened to them all you will pick one and then never touch again.  Yes you have that flexibility but you do pay for it.  When they go into retail at £65 you get a bargain if you want that flexibility or indeed if it’s for a gift.

Conclusion:  Hmm, I don’t think I love the Technie.  Right off the bat, I don’t love filters but that’s in part because I always find there is one you like more, so the others never get looked at after the first day.  You pay for those filters though.  However I’m not everyone, I know what I’ll like and what I won’t, I’ve heard so many IEM’s I can usually read any reasonable review and know how it’ll suit me, or not.  I’m a pretty atypical consumer.

So what if you’re a normal person?  Well, I do recognise that normal people tend to buy one IEM and live with that.  They haven’t heard countless dozens to figure out what exactly is or isn’t them.  They by one and for many £65 is considered a lot for earphones.  Hell, for many the thought of paying £20 is a lot for something they think should come free with a packet of cornflakes.  The use of filters therefor helps make sure that they will get a product that will work for them and it also lets them learn that there is a world of variety out there.  All earphones don’t sound the same as each other.  If they have only ever heard crap then no wonder they don’t want to spend money on them.

Lol, all that said about filters, I find myself wanting one back that had a treble filter in it, making it comparatively really rather bassy.  Perhaps Bab might make one again, or you could always just add inn a tiny bit of foam to each filter and boom, you want a bass cannon?  You got it.

The Technie I feel is clearly pitching itself at a consumer audience not a Head-Fi one.  That it has changeable filters, the easy to run out of a phone all point them at a mainstream type competitor.  It’s going after that person who’s just spent several hundred on a new phone and wants some power to their music.  To get an introduction into higher end audio, to tailor audio away from the “more bass = better” crowd.  The Technie can teach you, allow you to learn what can be done with a little filter difference.  Let you find out that things do indeed sound different and let you discover what sound signature is really you…

…Or of course you could just say screw it, you could just buy them because they look so different from anything your friends have, odds are they will sound vastly better than what your friends have too. 

Trinity Techne Quick Review

Trinity Techne Quick Review

Thanks to Trinity for the sample and collaboration.

Brief:  Mid ranger with sound altering filters.

Price:  £65 or abouts US$96

Specification:  8mm Neodymium drivers, Impedance: 16 Ohm, Sensitivity: 108 +/- 3DB, Gold plated 3.5mm Jack, 1.2M Cable length

Accessories:  Bunch of ear tips, 3 pairs of filters, a storage tube for the filters and a little case.

Build Quality:  Nice.  The buds are pure metal and the cable is one of the best cables ever.  They look like real metal too, cant really beat that.

Isolation:  Pretty darn good for a dynamic.  Even with an open filter in use they still isolated really well.  Not quite regular flight well but easily enough for a normal, on a bus commute.  Oh and as always enough to get you run over if you aren’t using your eyes.

Comfort/Fit:  Great, I know they look weird as hell a shape but they fit me perfectly.

Aesthetics:  They are a bit shiney so quite visible, I like brushed metal better but hey.  I rather like them visually.

Sound:  Good.  I’m never the words biggest fan of changeable filters because I know me and I can pick out what is going to suit me best from some distance.  However if you are new to the IEM word and your hoping to learn what sound signature is you.  Perhaps it’s for a gift so you don’t know exactly what sound signature the recipient would be most inclined to?  Maybe because you want just one IEM but want to be able to tweak it?  Whatever your reason, the Technie lets you make some pretty significant changes with its filters.  The Silver is the V shaped one, the Gold is the brighter one and the Black one is the flatter, more natural sounding one.  It’s the one I liked best too.  Silver gives you closed, punchy pithy bass with good depth. The highs are vibrant too.  Golds open up and so the bass takes on open characteristics, feels faster but depth drops off rapidly.  Black is a bit less open so you get that faster bass but not quite so reticent as on the Golds.  Treble on them is always pretty crisp.  A hair over prominent but extended well making shimmering decays a bit more noticeable than they maybe should but I like that so I don’t mind.  Mids are always rather open and maybe a smidge dry at times.  Clarity is grand for a dynamic but it’s notably in a trough when using the Silver filters.  Quite lightly prominent with the Gold, more naturally balanced with the Blacks.   It’s always a pretty enjoyable and energetic experience that you can tailor to your source or ears to your heart’s content.

Value:  You get a good sounding IEM with a fair degree of sound customisation.  You do pay for that customisation but it takes an element of risk of buying an earphone for those new to buying good quality audio products.

Pro’s:   Sound customisable.  Heavy bass.  All metal construction.

Con’s:  Bass a bit too ever present.  You pay for that customisability.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Review

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Review

Thanks to Tidal for the trial.

First Impressions:  Well I am not a big music streamer.  I may listen to a lot of music but a great big chunk of that is when I’m reviewing things.  You know what totally sucks for trying to review and IEM or headphone?  New music you don’t know inside and out.  If you don’t know a track well then you have no idea what you should be listening out for or if its obfuscating anything it shouldn’t.  So I don’t spend a lot of time with the likes of Spotify or Pandora or any of the others.  I will confess I find Pandora a wonder for finding new things but since I live in the UK, well Pandora doesn’t work outside the US. (I’m not saying I use it in the UK you understand as that would be a violation of their T&C’s and that would be naughty of me.)  So Tidal, it’s a new service from Sweden, land of snow and birthplace it seems of all music streaming sites. 

Starting up on the Tidal site with my free trial code in hand that will offer me 90 days.  They do however have a 30 day free trial to all to let you have a little taste of it.  Also what I notice is that price is £20, or CA$20, US$20 or €20.  As of their recent “relaunch” they now have a reduced package, where you only get at best 320kbit files but for only £10, CA$10, US$10 or €10.  Right of the bat I can tell you I personally would not subscribe in pounds then.  I don’t care if others (Spotify) think they can make some pay more than others, it costs Tidal the same to stream to the UK or Timbuktu.  Then it gets better, as I sign in Tidals site keels over.  Suffice to say Tidal and I are getting off to a pretty damn rocky start. 

Compatibility:  A quick glance at their site shows it to be compatible with just about every higher end (i.e. expensive) audio streaming device.  Many of which are the sort of things mere mortals won’t ever come near, Linn, McIntosh, Meridian etc etc.  Sonos though is up there too which is pretty mainstream.  Well it’s comparatively mainstream.  The main methods I think are likely to be via a computer or a phone.  For a computer you can use their browser player or their Windows application.  There are also apps for both iOS and Android.  I’ll be giving all 4 of those options a whirl. 

Windows Application:  Seeing as I just singed up on my desktop it seem natural to download their Windows app and give it a whirl.  They do also have a browser player (optimised for chrome it says) but I like dedicated players.  Firing it up its very Windows 8 looking.  Rather Spartan too, I spattering of various shades of grey and ill confess I really like how it looks.  I’m not one for gaudy colours all over the place.  I like its elegance and I think it fits in with its premium outlook.  Plus I just really like various layers of grey.  The application itself feels snappy in its music playback.  Hit next track and it goes as quickly as if it were playing from local storage.  That’s even with my rather terrible internet connection too, I only get about 6mbits so it’s got to be caching away constantly.  Naturally if your connection is far worse, then you may want to dial back the audio quality from FLAC to 320kbit AAC.  However if you connection is that terrible then you maybe want to rethink streaming at all.

N.B.  Tidal, have after I’d had written all that killed off their desktop app.  Can you say annoyed?  Their press office indicated they are working on something but I think they were confused as to the difference between real Windows and Windows Phone. 

Browser:  Well the browser it seems is “optimised” for Chrome.  I’d did work in others mostly, for some reason it hated Opera, which is Chrome based so don’t ask me why.  Anyway, onto Chrome and it was rather nice.  More than just rather nice, I really liked its aesthetic which is awash with dark greys and near white text.  With tracks overlaid on some album art.  It actually feels more polished than their own app does.  Both sound identical and have the same bitrate options, though I honestly don’t know why the “standard” one at 96kbit AAC exists, anyone using it should be shot on sight. 

What isn’t so great is that the browser version contains none of the additional information the windows app has.  There is no text, none of the here’s things we have picked and why.  The windows app felt like the grown up music discovery and learning tool but the browser version just feels like Spotify.  Just links to music with no commentary to accompany it.

Android:  The client looks quite nice.  It’s not feeling like an iOS port or afterthought.  Making sure the quality setting is at HiFi I get going.  Hmmm it doesn’t like caching an album and playing at the same time.  The network speed doesn’t seem very high, my first thought is to blame the mobile network (Three UK) but when I pause the music playback and fire up Google music the network throughput jumped up considerably.  Hmm that pleases me not.  Still it is a Thursday evening so I’m willing to, actually no, no I’m not willing to cut it any slack.  Hit next track on Google music to make sure it’s out of the cached stuff the network usage jumps to about 20mbit down.  Tidal why are you only serving me up about 2mbit?  It worked fine on my only 6mbit land connection so why you hate my mobile one?  Oh wait, that album done and onto another then suddenly it picks up now it’s going about 10.  Weird.

iOS:  The app looks very nice,, dark and with vibrant cover art.  I do note that the music in the settings for some reason is all set to “standard” quality.  Why the hell would you bother to do that?  Anyone signing up to Tidal is doing it because of the high quality offered so why default to the 96kbit rubbish?  The rest of the app is as awkward as everything is on iOS.  In an attempt to be super simple and not put more than two buttons on screen at a time it just ends up being more irritating.  Anyway once music is playing, all seems well.

Other Streaming:  According to their own website Tidal is presently set up to be compatible with it seems every streaming device out there.  Notably from some of the brand names there is a clear slant toward “high end” stuff, think Meridian, Linn, McIntosh etc etc.  Seeing as I being a mere mortal do not have any of these products I cannot test them.   Still the very fact that its available on such premium equipment is clearly intended to make use of the lossless audio quality.  I mean if you are using a £20’000 amp connected to £100’000 speakers you are really not going to want to be throwing a 128kbit mp3 at them are you.  Tidal is I believe the only streaming service that offers lossless quality, making it the obvious choice for such consumers.

Musical Range:  In the time I have been using Tidal I have noticed a change.  At first there was much literary commentary in their windows application.  Many of the playlists they have created seemed to be of a more mature audience.  Much classical, much stuff that despite my having just turned 35 felt far more aimed at my father than to me.  However since their “relaunch,” you know that event where Madonna straddled a table for no reason and Alesha Keys, well she, oh just watch it.   I am curious how and why she was the one picked to present the thing.  It can have been because she was best suited, maybe it was their idea of a practical joke?  Ever since then I’ve noticed a dramatic shift to the same sort of cack Spotify keep trying to push.  Lots of Jay-z and Rihanna on the front page.  That the desktop app is no more and all the commentary it contained, if feels very much it was purchased not for what it was but to be turned into the personal promotion of the new investors.  Its early days but it feels as though it’s just thrown its primary differentiator from Spotify out the window.  Let’s face it, the other being audio quality, hardly matters for listening to Nicki Minaj, not just because its rubbish but because it’s so badly mastered and dynamically compressed to hell.  It literally would make no difference.  I also don’t see Linn buyers revelling at the new push of such erm “artists” on their service.  Maybe I’m totally wrong and the sort of people that buy such high end stuff love Rihanna and Dead Mouse.

Aside from this new push the collection is really rather good.  All the classical collections are still there and there is a ton of superbly recoded stuff.  However it’s just now not so easily displayed for your perusal.  I mean it’s gone from having on the front page a playlist for Easter called “Golgotha Revisited: Songs About Faith & Doubt” to pushing Jay-z’s latest video.  Maybe it’s a temporary blip but it’s like the service just took a massive dive.

Value:  Hmm well when I started the service only offered its premium service, at 20 currency units and you got everything and all offered in full lossless quality.  With its “relaunch” they now offer a 10 currency unit option where you can get just up to 320kbit, just like Spotify premium.  At the beginning of my time with Tidal I would have said, if you want lossless and you’re buying such premium streamers then of course pick it over Spotify, if your buying £100’000 speakers an extra tenner a month is nothing.  However……. That has changed.  Now they offer a package at the same price as Spotify.  Spotify also has a free version so you can try it for a while.  Tidal only offers 30days of free, then you must pay.  That it once offered all the commentary and playlists was the real appeal I felt for music lovers.  It gave you access to the brains of people whose lives are music and they could share their incites with you.

One last thing about value, How much is Tidal Premium?  TIDAL HiFi: $19.99 in the US $19.99 CAD in Canada £19.99 in the UK €19.99 in Europe 199 Nordic Countries (DK, NO).  hmm so EU users are getting screwed and UK users are getting uber screwed.  F U Tidal.

Conclusion:  Tidal isn’t all bad.  If you want lossless streaming it’s your only option but if I was you, I would skip it.  If you want lossless just buy and rip your own CD’s to local storage.  Tidal I think had something special and offered something worthy of its increased cost but since its relaunch, err no.  The Tidal “event” seriously go watch on YouTube, it’s a total train wreck.  The event was very widely panned (for the love of god who put Alesha Keys up there?) it was lambasted as some of the richest “artists” in the world coming on stage to whine about how they should make even more money.  Seriously, watch it its staggeringly terrible.  there are simply no words that capture how bad it is.

It’s a shame.  I think I just managed to catch the tail end of what Tidal used to be before Jay-z and his friends have destroyed it.  It was something different, something original but now it feels nothing special.  It feels like a platform to push Jay-z and his friends and to wake them more money.  (Particularly more if you’re in the EU or god forbid the UK.  In fairness Spotify does exactly the same thing so they are just as bad.)

So coming right down to it, would I pay for Tidal?  No.  At the start I thought I might do but they have just thrown out everything that made it special.  Bit rate aside, I can see nothing about Tidal that is uniquely compelling.

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Quick Review

Tidal Hi Definition Audio Streaming Quick Review

Thanks to Tidal for the trial.

Brief:  Streaming music, in lossless.

Price:  20 currency units for lossless, 10 currency units for 320kbit.  Apparently US$, Euro’s and £’s all have the same value to Tidal.

Specifications:  Tidal offers you up to 3 different streaming options.  “Normal” gives you a 96kbit AAC+ audio stream, “High” is a 320kbit AAC stream and if you have the premium subscription you can also have the top, 16bit / 44KHz 1411kbit FLAC stream. 

Platforms:  At present you can use Tidal on a computer through a browser.  If you want Lossless though you must use Chrome as Tidal has been “optimised” for Chrome.  For mobile use there are both Android and iOS apps. They are both quite nice apps but it saddens me that Tidal killed off the Windows desktop application they had.  Additionally there are many Streamers that support Tidal, from Sonos and Bluesound to the likes of Linn and Meridian.  Check their site for the full list, note that it slants toward, the expensive end of the market.

Variety:  Tidal claims to have 25 million tracks which is a lot by anyone’s measure.  It’s a little behind Spotify and their claim of 30 million.  You can browse what they have at but you can’t listen to anything without subscribing.  However if you need Taylor Swift, it’s available on Tidal.

Sound Quality:  Well, right now Tidal is the only lossless streaming music service.  So if you want lossless it’s your go to.  Personally I find that it’s double the price of its own 320kbit service to be a bit of a slap to the face.  Yes I grant if you have a Linn Hi-Fi 20 currency units a month is nothing but to me it feels a bit price gouging.  Yes, it sounds great on lossless but unless you have the best of setups you won’t notice that the 320kbit option lacks anything and let’s face it, if your listening to Taylor Swift and the mastering quality of most pop music its irrelevant anyway.  The 320k stream is in my opinion not only good enough, it’s enough to be not the limiting factor is your listening experience.  Listening to the Krall woman’s Wallflower album on Tidal and Google music, out of my Nexus 5, I couldn’t tell the difference, the weak link wasn’t Tidal.  If I owned an ultra-premium Hi-Fi however and I wanted to stream I don’t think I’d be happy with Spotify and its “good enough” 320kbit offering.

Value:  Double the price to get lossless, that irks me.  What irks me more is that Tidal seem to think that £1 is the same as US$1.  It is not, £1 today is actually US$1.54.  So Tidal want to change UK consumers 54% more than US ones.  In fact Tidal seem to thin its acceptable to price gouge everyone who isn’t in the US.  This makes me want to say very rude things to Tidal.

Pro’s:  If you want lossless it’s the only game in town.  Has Taylor Swift.

Con’s:  Price.  Price gouging.  Has Taylor Swift.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Brainwavz BLU-100 Review

Brainwavz BLU-100 Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the review sample

First Impressions:  On opening the parcel I see no box before me, not a shocker as I know the product is brand new, so no retail box for me.  I just have the, now regular, rectangular black and red Brainwavz case.  It’s a good case so I’m happy with that.  Inside it we have jammed all the bits and bobs you need.  The BLU-100’s themselves, a pair of Comply ”actives” a bag of tips and, more unusually, a micro usb cable.  Yes, for the BLU’-100’s need charging.  So after charging for a bit, the first thing I do is pull off the rubber tips and put the Comply’s on.  I wonder if they very deliberately put the “active” ones in there because they are the more grippy on the ear?

So first listen and oh we have problems.  Breaking up, dropping galore.  Oh somethings not right.  Ah, it would seem that my phone hates being paired to this and the SBH-20 at the same time.  Deleting the 20 and all of sudden we seem problem free.  So bass seems alright, hmm not as abundant or as deep as I would have presumed.  Rather more in the upper vocals / lower highs area too.  Over all it’s a bit more of a grown up sound than I’d had expected would be the case.  Hmm, I find myself thinking maybe there should be a bit more lower bass.  Maybe it’s just aimed at bass over heavy pop stuff.  I’m thinking “Now That’s What I Call Running” may be the sort of thing for these.

Source:  Nexus 5, Iphone 5, Moto G 4G and Lumia 735.

Lows:  Depth in absolute terms is, so so.  This irritated me as there is a bit of a lift to the mid/bass region and in a few songs I found drum impacts to be really irritating.  It’s not like it’s terrible but I’ve been spending weeks with higher end stuff and I’m not being wow’ed.  I really could do with a more soft, bilious low end.  I suspect it’s been tightened up and made more impactful on purpose though.  That purpose I think is to make the bass of quick, rhythmic basslines stay tight and snappy.  Firing up “Now That’s What I Call Running 2014” and yep, I’m sure it’s aimed at exactly that sort of gym music.  The bass pairs up well with the bassy, poppy, rhythmic stuff that’s aimed at getting you moving.  It’s not aiming at Nora Jones.  The audio snob in me wants to bash it a little but it seems unfair to do so.  In targeting poppy bouncy tat, its bass signature pairs up very well.  It’s about pithy grip and a bit of punch.  It’s rather good at that.

Mids:  Again, this is no Nora, smooth, creamy goodness.  It’s pretty so so.  Slap on that “Now Running” album and once more its pretty well suited to that sort of music.  It’s not trying to give a spectacular, wondrous rendition of magical vocals, it about spitting bouncy poppy tracks at you.  It’s plenty clear enough and sufficiently articulate.  Slapping on some old school, Roxette and I find it has got me dancing along in my chair, it may not be quite audiophile grade but it’s certainly enjoyable.

Quantitatively, it’s a bit more middy than most lower end things, usually cheaper things have gobs of bass and savage highs, this doesn’t.  It is therefore relatively a bit middy.  The upper bass and lower highs still stand forward of them however so they reside in a slight valley.

Highs:  They are alright.  Impacts can be a bit ouchy to my delicate ears with an urge to get a hint sibilant and shouty in the upper vocal / lower treble.  The extension is alright and they do a pretty decent shimmer.  Clarity is plenty good too.  Mostly it’s all quite reasonable which is an admirable feat for 20 quid IEM’s.  Mind you, I wouldn’t want to go crazy with really treble abundant songs.  Stick to your average bouncy pop and you’re pretty much set.

Soundstage:  Instrument separation take a bit of a beating but the overall sense of scale is good.  They won’t convince you you’re in a concert hall but they have a good fullness to their sound and presentation.

Fit:  Looking at them I did have a little pause.  They aren’t tiny are they?  So with the grippy Comply’s on I popped them in and, well, it was perfectly fine.  I opted to mostly wear with the cable going up over my ear then down under my chin to the other side.  That way I felt if they did fall out the cables still over my ear to catch them.  They never once fell out.  Granted I didn’t test on a bouncy castle but they never felt insecure. 

Comfort:  They a bit big, bud wise, so some might have issue but I didn’t.  Slapped them in the ears and they were fine.  Despite all the battery and Bluetooth bits they never felt heavy in my ears or in any way bothersome.

Microphonics:  None.  Technically there is a bit of cable and you wear straight down as it were you might get the cable banging on a collar.  Looped over the top of your ear cures that.  You could always wrap it round the back of your head too.

Phone use:  A call came in, I answered and I was told I was clearly audible, as were they.  The last number redial could be handy to some too for ringing back people.  The play/pause, track skip and volume controls worked just fine too.

Cable:  Well, the “no cable” thing is very, very freeing.  Personally I feel the 100’s are just made for gym use.  That I could have my phone in my pocket, skip tracks with my watch and in theory I could be on a treadmill or bike, or even out running.  Perhaps you’re a jogger that gets pissed with a cable flapping about?  Well these could be the cure you’re looking for.

Isolation:  Pretty good actually.  For dynamics they are not bad and I’d think would or should fairly easily drown out the sounds of other gym goers or the traffic you’re jogging by.  They aren’t really plane or Tube worthy but you know, fine for normal out and about or on a bus use.  As ever, easily enough to drown out the motorised vehicle that’s about to run you over.  So please do use your eyes when you have them on.

Battery Life:  They claim about 4 hours and that seems about right.  If you were using these as your all day normal earphones that’s a bit tight.  You’d get away with most commute days, still I see these aimed at exercise use.  Anyone exercise for more than 4 hours at a go?  No, I thought not.

Accessories:  Bag of tips, some ear internal guide/rest things, pair of Comply’s which I’m surprised at, a little case and a micro USB cable to add to the collection.   Basically everything you could need or want.  Oh and a little Velcro cable tie.

Value:  Staggering.  While I might be so so about their audio quality, hey they are currently £22.  Normal price is £29.  How???????  How the buggery hell have Brainwavz managed that???  These have not just the earphones but a battery, a little amp and the Bluetooth receiver in there too.  For god sake they even manage to come with a pair of Comply’s that retail for a fiver a pair.  I bet they much get a discount buying so many but still……. The case too would cost probably about the same again to buy yourself.  What the hell must the margins on this be, it’s surely got to be razor thin.  At the price they are I’d have no trouble in the slightest saying if you are a gym goer or jogger just buy a pair.  There is just no way you can go wrong when they are so absurdly cheap as they are.

Conclusion:  The Blu-100’s are a bit of a mixed bag.  As an absolute, their sound quality is a bit so so.  Head-Fi is the land of people who are passionate about music and sound quality, the 100’s are not going to mesmerise anyone in that regard.  It’s not to say they are bad, far from it but they are squarely in the budget end of the scale.  Audio quality isn’t its raison d'etre, that is bluetooth. 

Curiously, music seemed to sound rather more pithy and clear coming from the Lumia 735 than from the Nexus 5 although there was more noise, crackle’s and such on the Lumia connection.  The Iphone was fine but with the bonus of having a little battery indicator show on the phone. 

As it happens I have Sony SBH-20 on my desk too, when I take the two and put them head to head, with the stock Sony buds I find it the more relaxed in the uppers and thus is the more appealing pairing to my ears.  However the midbass response on the BLU is rather more vigorous and I could see it being the bigger crowd pleaser.  The greater differentiator though is that with the Sony you can change what headphones you use but the price you pay for that is wires dangling about.  Not to mention Sony and their weird love of J cables.  The BLU is the far more user friendly of the two in actual use.  The tiny joining cable it has, you can loop over your ears and round the back of your head and you’d never even notice you’re wearing it.  For jogging, in the gym stuff it’s considerably more freeing.

The BLU-100 is more than just an earphone.  It is a headset for your phone.  It’s a pair of earplugs to drown out distractions, it’s a motivation tool for the gym, it’s a controller too for the music.  Volume controls, track skiping, there is a redial option.  It is its own DAC and amp too.  It is everything and it’s all wireless.  Seriously, once you’ve got it on you completely forget that it’s there, music and the occasional voice just appears in your head like magic.  It’s a little bit wonderful, it’s a little bit spooky, it’s a lot bit fun.