Monday, 28 September 2015

Huawei P8 Review

Huawei P8 Review

TLDR? Try here.

First Impressions:  So if you can cast your minds back, those of you in the UK anyway, to the launch of Carphone Warehouse’s new MVNO (mobile phone network) called iD.  Well they had a promotion / maybe misprice where whey had the brand new Huawei P8 on a 12 moth contract with 300 minutes, 5000 texts and 1GB of data a month for £21.50 per month, with the handset thrown in for free.  So yeah for £258 you got the phone and a years’ worth of usage.  Having had a play with the Honor 6 and 6+ just before I had been getting really tempted by the upper end offerings from Huawei and that price pushed me over the edge.

The box, is a weird side entry thing, its trying to be very different, not to mention that its outer card sleeve conceals a plastic box.  It all feels so very different and it really instantly makes you note how thin the phone is.  Why makers all think we want phones razor thin I don’t know but hey, its super thin.  Sliding it out and it’s a nice object, it feels nice in your hand.  Oh FFS.  Pulling out the inner box with the accessories, so nicely packaged and they are all white.  Plug, cable and sodding earphones too are all gleaming bright white.  If I had a white phone great, I got the “dark” one, grey something so just what on earth makes you think Huawei that I want blindingly white accessories?!?!?!?  I hate that!!!  They will never getting removed from their box.  Grumble grumble.

Phone on and oooooooooooooh, pretty, pretty, pretty screen.  The blacks on it look genuinely black, colour saturation looks lush too.  Oooh so much pretty.  The rest hmm feels very angular in the hand, all metal edged, metal back, little metal speaker / microphone grills.  Ooh and little metal screws at the bottom. 

Hardware:  Physically it’s a lovely object, all glass and metal so no one I think is going to criticise its construction.  It is Huawei’s flagship and it’s built in a way that fits that persona, however the hardware inside is more varied.  First off the screen is stunning.  I would happily declare it to be the best LCD screen I have seen on a phone.  Blacks look actually black and the colours all look so vibrantly colourful, not super saturated like an AMOLED would but just beautifully rendered.  Top notch screen in everyway. 

Things then start to go weird.  The CPU used in one of Huawei’s own, the Kirin 930.  The 64GB version however gest the 935 which is the same chip but clocked a tiny bit faster, why god knows.  Storage, 16GB or 64.  Sim cards, yes card’s.  Sim 1 and sim 2, like those Far East phones have long had so you can have 2 networks both running at once in the phone.  However if you use the second sim slot you then cant insert a micro SD because they use the same card slot.  WTF?!?!?!? Is it a space issue? For the love of god if needs be make the phone bigger to fit them both or just scrap the 2nd sim.  For me I’d love the 2nd sim slot for on holiday, put your home sim in slot 2 and get a local sim in slot 1 for data usage.  Though if I’m on holiday ill probably want a micro SD card full of stuff too on the phone.  I just don’t get it.  Also I use Three and they give me free roaming anyway soooo, err yeah.

Next up the GPU.  The CPU maybe close enough to high end to be thought of as such but the GPU is relatively much more lacking.  Now I’m not a gamer, so for me I don’t care in the slightest but it’s odd for a “flagship” to have such a notable deficiency, if you’re a gamer that is.

In short, there are weird omissions and deficiencies so pay attention, make sure you don’t want NFC or Qi charging or 5GHZ Wi-Fi before picking up one and just assuming that a “flagship” will of course have such things.  They are all missing.

Audio Software:  Ahh, well noticeably there is an FM radio in the thing.  There is an App called “Music” as the stock Huawei app.  It looks nice, it’s pretty, but simple but attractive.  Of course being Android you can install whatever the hell you want (cough Google Music Play, cough.)  Naturally there is every streaming service you could possibly want.  Weirdly “Music” has 3 screens, to swipe between, far left is the list.  Sensible so far, then in the middle there is the album art photo which again seems reasonable.  On the right however, it wants to display lyrics.  I’ve seen this before on audio players from the Korean Cowon.  So is this some Far East thing?  Given I speak English it’s pretty rare for any music I ever hear to not be in English.  You only have to look at Eurovision these days, pretty much everyone sings in English.  Now I can’t imagine there being a high degree of my music being in a foreign language.  So maybe if you’re listening to songs in English but your first language isn’t English then having the lyrics there could be really desirable?

For me, Google Music and Deezer were what I cared about and both worked perfectly.

Audio Hardware:  Like every other phone maker they tell you sod all about what audio internals are in them.  Give the unusualness of the CPU and innards I’d expect its some random Chinese thing but without ripping the thing to bits, well who knows.  Still it seems to be not unlike the recent wave of Snapdragon 400 sounding things I’ve seen and have impressed me.  Head to head with the 400 this actually wins.  The 400 hisses like a bag of snakes on the Moto G but the P8 is dead silent.  This meant sensitive things were good but where the P8 shone most is actually with the big PM-3’s from Oppo.  Yeah, Cyndi Lauper’s “la Vie en Rose” with the volume dial cranked up was really impressive stuff for a phone.    It is as of this moment the most capable audio I’ve had from an Android phone.  The Lumia 735 is still the better with its more even-handedness.  The P8 likes to get a little too exuberant.

Lows:  Good.  It seems for the inability makers have in specifying what audio bits they contain this sounds not bad.  I don’t know if that’s because they are all starting to care more or just that the cheapest whatever’s they can throw in happen to be improving greatly.  Still here we have a fairly clean lower end.  The depths do trail away, I don’t think the amp for all its ability to go loud has the vigour to hold it while going down.  Still it’s something you can live with, most music doesn’t have great depths and in the more middling and the mid/bass ranges there is plenty of power.  It might actually do with a bit of softness as it’s a bit hard and well, a bit soulless.  Pairing it up with the sultry and rich IE7’s things balance more and are most agreeable.  Still it wants to be vigorous and aggressive in the bass.  Mainstream users will likely appreciate its assertiveness but me, I think it needs a Gin or three and to relax a little.

Mids:  Similarly they are going for a slightly clean, dry, open sound.  Which if your plugging in some very warm, bassy, thick, (cough cheap crap, cough) then it’s the way you want to steer things to boost their clarity.  Hey I can’t fault it, they have made an assumption of what’s likely going to get plugged into it and angled to get the best of out that.  Pulling out the little AM12’s by Huawei’s sub brand Honor.  Hmm yeah, mids not so much.  You know they aren’t bad but the mid/bass hump is overshadowing many vocals.  Not bad per say, just it’s still all a very thick offering and while there is a time and a place for something thick and creamy, I find it all a little overly weighty. 

Highs:  Highs on the AM12 are err so so.  The P8 is trying to give them a little nudge forward, cool them and lighten things up a touch but the overall pairing is still warm.  Though should you whip out something much more sprightly like the wondrous q-JAYS, then all the light and wonder comes out but they start edging towards sibilance and towards little leaps and spikes.  Each in themselves not fatal but it can be like getting ear stabbed with tiny needles.  The clarity is pretty good for a phone but it feel like it’s trying too hard to lighten those slow and weighty earphones.  Ahh but you know it’s a phone and it’s not trying to be an audiophile, neutral paragon.  Its clarity boosting lightness does what it sets out to, eeking out detail that slow and heavy earphone tuning would otherwise drown out.

Soundstage/Instrument Separation:  Not bad actually, a cooler more open and lighter sound always lends itself to feeling more open and airy.  You get that, nudge towards open, airy spaces and surrounding space.  It’s a little nudge but it’s what you likely want when pairing with over heavy earphones.

Battery Life:  There is no way to gloss over the fact that the super duper thinness of phones the industry seems obsessed with is that battery size suffers.  Smaller battery means smaller capacity which means shorter battery life.  The Battery here is only 2680mAh.  So it’s not super tiny but it’s on the smaller side.  However Huawei seem to have worked a little magic as its battery life is actually not bad, not bad at all.  I’m not saying it’s “good” but it rarely didn’t make it through a day for me.  I would have preferred it to be thicker and have a bigger battery.  That headline figure strikes fear but in usage it’s not bad.  But…… the reason I think for that is its desire to turn apps off that aren’t on screen anymore.  So when you start using the phone, it will ask you constantly if x can run in the background, notifications telling you y is still running, that z is consuming too much power and do you want to kill it.  Once you’ve told it for each app this largely goes away but when you first are using it, its gets mightily annoying.

Build Quality:  In no way can I fault it.  Lovely.

UI:   Ahh phone makers all do like to “differentiate” their devices from others.  Why I don’t know, I’ve never met anyone who has used stock to say, “oooh you know I like that Touchwiz better.”  Anyway so Huawei has EMUI and at first I didn’t hate it.  Like many Far East makers their version has no home screen, so it’s just all app list like iOS is.  They have customised lots of icons and I found myself visually loving it.  Then I decided to install all my apps and start properly using the phone.  When you add 200 apps my positive thoughts towards EMUI did not last long.  In fairness it was the no home screen issue that did it for me, so EMUI is not alone in that regard.  I had to install Nova and get things looking more manageable.  The other tweaks in EMUI seemed fairly inoffensive but really, just what was in stock Android they found so visually offensive?  I wish they would all just stop it.

Two notable changes I liked, the lock screen, its variety of stock images it changes between with every close, love it.  I wish it was a standalone app.  Second was the drop down notifications list.  Its more organised looking than the stock one so gets a big thumbs up from me.

In The Hand:  Well it’s lovely for sure but you know what?  Metal, not so grippy.  I quickly began to miss the textured black plastic on the Nexus 5, it doesn’t feel like it could just slide out of my hand.  The P8 does.  Then to make things more precarious the thing is insanely thin.  There is so little to grip at the sides.  So premium yes but I’m going to be sticking it in a case to give me something with more grip and that’s likely to double its thickness anyway. 

Format Support: Android, plays pretty much everything.

Volume:  It really goes rather loud.  Louder than I would ever need on pretty much every IEM I threw at it.  Hiss remained absent even at high output levels.    Though the louder you made it the more rowdy it became, liked to grow more dynamic and wild.  Hmm I could see it being super fun for lively and playful music but it got on my nerves.  It could drive the big PM-3’s perfectly well and plenty loud enough, so should be way more than enough volume for anyone.

Accessories:   There is a fair selection to choose from, some are super curious too.  You see the P8 uses on screen buttons, like many phones do.  However it has the ability to add pretend capacitive buttons just underneath.  It’s called “TouchPlus” and it adds some buttons to the bottom of the facia and fancily redirects the touches to some exact location on the actual screen thus creating pretend buttons.  I want it, I really want it, it’s just so intriguing.  However its US$30 for a screen protector, just to try something???? Err no.  Still it’s the first I’ve ever seen anything like it for a phone so it is something I’d love to play with.  The rest, well hit up eBay and there is an assortment of cases and stuff, though it does keep pulling up P8 lite stuff too.  Why must companies do that, sharing names between devices?

Speaker:  Despite the two speaker grills it’s just one, the other is for the mic to use.  It is reasonably loud and the quality is pretty good for a phone speaker, good for hands-free calls.  Could even use to watch a little Netflix.  Like all phones though, anyone using it for music should be shot on sight.

Camera:  Supposedly this has the first 4 colour CCD, red, green, blue and white.  Supposedly this makes it much better at shooting decent pics in minimal lighting.  I however am useless at taking photos.  To me it seems pretty good, wildly better than my Nexus 5 but then so is just about everything.  Others say the P8’s camera is rather good, I’d agree with that but I’m no expert.  It’s a 13MP one on the back and an 8MP one on the front.  One camera feature that it has that’s rather funky is that if you double click the volume button it auto launches the camera and takes a snap.  In something like 0.8 of a second. 

Reception:  Ever the bane of phone users, crappy or no signal.  Now I’m only going to give a very quick check, signal at my desk that could be influenced by a million factors I can’t control so this is in no way definitive.  It in use was consistently a tiny bit worse than the Nexus 5, very slight but signal strength consistently a fraction lower.  If you will clad a phone in metal that will happen

The Good:  Well right of I must say the screen.  The screen is excellent, no ifs no buts, no caveats it’s a great looking screen.  I really, really like the screen, photos don’t do it justice.  Then the build, the feel, now I’m not one of these metal = better than plastic people.  I’m very happy with plastic nicely put together.  Now as Huawei’s “flagship” they have clearly gone out of their way to polish the P8.  It is really well put together and it feels like a finely crafted object.  The price too, can’t really get away from that given that this isn’t “flagship” in parts of its spec but its price says you get a bargain and who doesn’t love a bargain.

The Bad:  First off, why the hell do Android makers keep feeling the need to add in their own launchers?  EMUI isn’t terrible as they go, actually at first I liked its unified colour scheme that re coloured all the app icons, lovely I thought.  I thought that right up until I installed my 100+ apps and it became a mess.  Not all had colour icons for things and the no freekin’ home screen thing!!! Yeah Nova got installed and then I was much more happy.  The thinness.  Why is the thing thinner than a blade of grass???  When was the last time anyone looked at a phone and said “oh I’d buy that if only is wasn’t so fat?”  I betting no one has ever said it anywhere.    The phone is stupid thin and thus has a small battery.  Now its battery life is actually okay but I’d rather it was fatter and had a bigger battery.  The last “bad” is that it’s got no 5GHz Wi-Fi support.  Sure it’s not a killer for most people, nor even me but it just seems like such a bizarre omission, oh and no NFC nor Qi.

Value:  Pretty great actually.  Sim free it goes for about £350 and on contracts it variable.  I have seen some deals where it works out that the phone is being sold for in the region of 200 to 150 compared to sim free contracts.  For that you get a really nice, pretty phone that is for the most part a really pleasant device.

Conclusion:  I like the P8.  Its god some weird quirks (seriously Huawei no 5GHz Wi-Fi???) but otherwise its abilities all punch above its price point for the corresponding big name brand.  It’s no surprise as that’s how it’s been in the headphone world for years.  New things coming out of China are not “better” than those from Japan or South Korea but they slice off a chuck from the price tag.  The P8 in its audio terms are really not at all bad when you’re pairing it with mediocre earphones.  It’s clearly adequately capable and so long as you steal away from bright things you’re golden.

The other phones stuff, battery, its fine but I’d trade some of the lack of thickness for a battery double the size in a heartbeat.  The UI overlay, like them all have admirers (surely at least one person likes Touchwiz) but I’m not one of them. 

For audio, it’s not aimed at me.  It’s just not, it’s there to please the masses and it pairs up to produce a hugely crowd pleasing sound with their own AM12’s or the also bargainlishous Piston 3’s.  They are pairings that work.  Solid punchy, hearty bass, passable vocals, and a sprinkling of treble.  So it’s a good contender for phone audio use, awesome if you love midbass punchy humps but me, I’d like something more quiet and boring frankly.  Never the less its quality for a phone is high and when you combine its micro SD card carrying abilities you really could use it as your audio player of choice.  I wouldn’t (cough, battery cough) but you could, it’s certainly rather better than the Iphone 5 I have here and many people survive using that, a P8 therefore would be a notable step up in audio quality.  Really nice as a phone, but only a fairly good audio device.

Huawei P8 Quick Review

Huawei P8 Quick Review

Brief:  Hawaii makes a super (thin) phone.

Price:  Sim Free, circa £350 or cheapest “free” on contract I see is £21.50 for 24months on iD. (300 min 5000 texts 1GB data) the closest plan is £7.50 so you’re paying £14x24=£336 for the phone.

Accessories:  There are plenty on eBay circulating, including a cut out view cover case and a screen protector that adds pretend capacitive buttons to the bottom of the screen.  Its US$30 unfortunately but I love the idea.  In the box you get a white charger and white earbuds, really with a black phone!!! I hate that.

Build Quality:  Huawei clearly want consumers to think of them as a quality brand, not some cheap Chinese company.  They have gone out of their way to make the P8 look and feel lovely, which it very much does.

Aesthetics:  Like with the build, you’re supposed to think “oooh” and you do.  It’s a nice thing to have in your hand even with its very squarish edges.  It is a nice object.

As a phone:  Good and bad.  Its CPU is zippy, its GPU not so much.  Its screen, is super lovely, its custom UI, not so much.  Its specs are mostly hits but there are weird omissions, like no 5GHz Wi-Fi.  The dual sim but not for the west and you can’t use the second sim slot and micro SD cards as they share the same slot, why??? The Bluetooth stack in it, is also suspect, I had issues with the Vidonn x6 and I’ve see others report issues too.  Then the no Qi nor NFC, neither being deal breakers but their absence makes me sad face.  Everything else though was pretty great.  It’s a nice phone to use daily even with its small but hardy battery.

Sound:  Arguably the best I’ve had from an Android phone.  It is a little too exuberant and uneven for me to love it truly but it’s detailed, capable and has some oomph to drive things.  It’s a little mid/bass punchy and it’s a bit excitable up top too.  Pairs well with cheap, thick, heavy sounding IEM’s which is what it likely will encounter in the wild anyway.  Still even with the big PM-3’s it did remarkably well.  A bit flavoured, paired well with the Senn Momentum Over-Ears 2.0 too.  It felt quite at home with the big cans, its little amp was at its best when the volume was getting worked hard.  Though even sensitive things were dead silent the bigger and harder to drive the more detail came out with the bumps and dips flattening out.  A bit weird a situation that it’s a phone and I’m saying find power hungry big cans for it to be its best but that’s nevertheless true.  I wish I had the yammy Pro 500’s to try out with these.

Value:  Mostly pretty great.  It has as a phone some deficiencies that in a true “flagship” would be killer issues.  No NFC, no Qi, no 5GHz Wi-Fi are things I’d find unforgivable but….. this costs half what others “flagships” cost.  Like the so so GPU, I never game so I don’t care really.  The CPU is good and snappy, mostly the bits I care about are all good.  5 GHz Wi-Fi and NFC I miss but would I pay an extra £300 for them, errr no.  Good enough value that I bought one with my own pennies.

Pro’s:  Cheap.  Lovely looking screen.  Audio output for a phone is impressive.

Con’s:  No 5GHz Wi-Fi.  No NFC.  Questionable Bluetooth stack.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Zorloo Z:ero Digital Earphone Review

Zorloo Z:ero Digital Earphone Review

Thanks to Zorloo for the sample.

TLDR? Try here.

First Impressions:  Interesting packaging.  The case in some shrink wrap.  Unusual but seems sensible and saves on much packaging.  Not sure I’m wild about the case colour though, pinkishy purple?  Sure functional but bit girlish no?  Anyway, so inside we have the earphones and a bunch of tips, oh and some silica gel.  Tips look nice but Comply’s will still be happening.  The cable though is again an interesting colour.  A smoky grey with a muted smokey red twisted pattern.  It I like way more than the case.  I like it a lot.

So in the ears and grabbing the Nexus 5 on my desk, plugging them in I expected something to happen.  All that did was the headphone symbol appeared at the top notification bar.  Hmm, that’s it?  So I hit play and whoosh, music, just like that.  Warm, heavy, somewhat thick in tone.  Hmm not bad, better than I feared they might actually.  Given they are pretty cheap packing a DAC and amp in there too must raise production costs somewhat.  Off the top of my head I’m thinking Brainwavz M2.  Not that I’ve heard them ages so that might not be accurate.  Still its where my thoughts are heading.  Not a detail monster but a really pleasant feel.  Thick, velvety, cushiony, so very comfortable on the ear.   Hmm burn in time for these.

Source:   Errr, well they are their own DAC and amp so in theory any device is just delivering raw bits and therefor everything must sound identical.   However not everything may support them so here in what I used.

Huawei P8, it recognised there was a headset plugged in but audio continued to come out of the speaker. The headset play/pause button worked through which was weird.  Moto G 4G 1st gen, it worked immediately, flawlessly.  Nexus 4 running CM12.1.  erm nope, weirdly it didn’t work.  Nexus 5 running CM12.1, worked great, go figure.  Additionally a colleague tried out the following “Moto G 2013,Moto G 2015, Moto X Play, Idol 3 4.7",Idol 3 5.5, Kazam Tornado 348, Honor 6+,LG G2”  and of those he said only the Motorola’s worked.

Lows:  Rich, full bodied and moderately rotund.  It’s got a real slant towards the thicker, more creamy and rich side of things.  I rather like it actually.  Big and kinda mellow.  Naturally I instantly go towards slower more relaxed music as you know that when it does poppy bouncy bass, it’s too big and fat to show off any agility.  Not that it won’t be a crowd pleaser, its big BIG weighty thunk give a potent bassy power.  It’s big and smashy, just ploughing right through everything like a runaway train.  Sooo big, sooo much power.  I can see bass heads loving the power it’s got, certainly given that its intended for phone pairing, phones might not always have the power reserves to properly thunder a big bassline.  No one’s going to be accusing the Z:ero of that!  Roaaaaaarrrrrrrr!!!!!!

Flicking to Nora, actually the big hearty, big old softy nature of the bass works.  It’s a bit over mellow and over soft.  Depth is really not bad but you know given the scale that it’s going to be quite a rounded hump.  Still rather a lot as it approaches the mid/bass cusp.  Vocals do get affected, thickend, creamied up.  Not in a particularly unpleasant way but it is VERY flavoured, much dark chocolatey creaminess.

Mids:  See Lows.  Highly flavoured chocolaty creamy thickness.  I almost said goodness but you know, it’s a little bit too chocolatey.  Like you’re nearing the end a giant piece of chocolate gateaux and you start to find all that chocolate ganache no longer desirable.  Just a short while ago you wanted it so much but now it’s gotten sickly and sweetly oppressive.  It not that it’s bad per say, just so creamy and rich it too much for me for long term use.

In poppy bouncy stuff that is going to be its typical fare it produces, close to what I always call that “Sony” house sound.  It’s warm, its bassy, its heavy and powerful.  With just a little spike way of top to inject some sparkle.  For me it’s too heavy and powerful but I can see it being a crowd pleaser.

Highs:  Muted.  You knew what was coming from the mids and lows anyway, there are no surprises.  There is a little spike to get the treble detail coming through but it never in anyway comes close, nor even thinks about dominating.  The treble is never the star of the show with the Z:ero’s.  That’s not an issue for me, it goes pretty well with the type of music it’s going to be playing, poppy bouncy stuff that may not be the best mastered stuff in the world.  It’s a little, narrow, little spike that does what it can to shine, like a tambourine player in a band.  It’s there, its audible but it’s in the back and if you aren’t looking you may never notice them.

Soundstage:  Placement and such, err not so much.  Scale though, sheer unadulterated power, oh that it’s got.   If you want a giant wall of power then you’ll love its scale.  Instrument separation is so so and any staging placement, they just get lost in the wall of potency.

Fit:  Great, slapping in and done, up or down were both good.  Though I’d say wear up, when you grasp the controls to change whatever it tugs on your ears if you wear down. 

Comfort:  Aside from the down/tugging issue great.  The buds are a bit big but they are light and gave me no comfort issues.  However I did find that in my little ears they moved sufficient air that loud for too long got quite tiring.

Cable:   Nice.  It’s pretty flexible, still has its out of the box bends but softly flexible in use.  I also like the colouring, the smoky translucent with a whirling red stripe.  It’s different.  Seems pretty sturdy a cable too.  The Y-splitter / mic and controls thing seems nice too.  The “jack” the micro USB plug seems fine but I’d have been more happy if it was shorter,  micro USB connectors aren’t that long and I just see the length of the “jack” putting a great deal of angled exertion and killing the thing.  I’ve no evidence it will but it’s a concern to me.

Isolation:  Pretty normal for a dynamic.  You know the drill, fine for out and about or on a bus, not really for Tube or flights.  As always enough to get yourself run over if you fail to look where you’re going.

Build Quality:  It all seems not bad, the cable I particularly like but I also approve of the combining the Y-splitter and mic/controls that seems to have begun.  It reduces the number of potential weak points so should increase average life span.  Otherwise nothing super surprising, nice though.

Aesthetic:  As ever dependent on the person but they are, fine really.  I like the cable but the buds are plain, non-descript, inoffensive.  You know I don’t look at them and feel anything, no love, no hate, just so so visually.

Phone Use:  Err, erm it doesn’t appear to have a mic in it.  Seriously?  I presume it’s a limitation imposed by the USB output drivers but seriously?  It doesn’t even ring when a call comes in, your music just stops.  I know no one really uses their phone for calls, but still.

Amped/Unamped:  Well why is this section still here you may wonder.  Well it seems like the perfect place to discuss that primary feature of the Z:ero, it bypassing the internal audio outputs of your phone and utilising its own internal DAC and amp.  Inside it has a Wolfson WM8918 so, yey for Wolfson, who are very widely loved in the audio world.  Though the amping, it’s just what it can draw from your phone and this is USB limited, still that should be plenty for almost everything.  On paper this should make for a stunning pairing.  The thing is the Z:ero’s are so cheap I fear there isn’t enough money going to the earphone side of things to really justify the separate DAC and amp.  Don’t get me wrong they sound pretty good but I find myself desperately thinking, I wonder what they would be like if they had instead of a sale price of US$40 but US$140 that DAC and amp may get to prove more of their worth. 

Accessories:  You get a not bad little case and a heap of tips.  Pretty much all you need.

Value:  US$39 for US’ians and an extra US$5 postage for the rest of us.  So US$44 which is almost £29.  You for that sum get a very good value product acoustically.  It’s a very flavoured one but that’s not a bad thing it itself.  However if your phone’s audio output is sooooo terrible you need to bypass it, you still need to check if this will work out of it. 

Conclusion:  The Z:ero is without question a fantastic concept.  Easily its truly inventive and major kudos to the Z:ero team for its inception.  However…… at its current price point I’m just not seeing why you would go to the bother and annoyance of its set up.  If you’re only buying £30 earphones how amazing do you think they’re going to be out of your cheap ass phone or some top end DAP?  So unless your phone is truly, truly horrifyingly bad then I can’t see why spend the bits on a nice DAC and little amp circuitry.   I can’t plug them into the headphone socket and say conclusively that the DAC is necessary at all in this set up.

So my main grip is that Zorloo need to come out with version two and leap up a $100 in pricing.  Let’s get some cracking buds that can really show off what the amp and little DAC can do.  I’m strongly betting they could spank what you find in most phones but they are held back by those buds.  Not the buds suck but they simply can’t show me what I want, nothing that’s priced at US$40 is really going to give me want.  I cannot stop myself from feeling that they have missed an opportunity to really show off what an external DAC and amp can do.

So would I buy one, nope.  I love the concept, its great and I expect their next earphone to be very interesting.  As it stands the Z:ero is a good value, hugely hearty earphone that I’d wager acoustically will be a big crowd pleaser.  Its big, hefty bottom end will be much loved.  Still I’m just not sure the fiddlyness of the DAC and Amp are truly necessary at this price point.  So a great proof of concept earphone but it is not for me.

Zorloo Z:ero Digital Earphone Quick Review

Zorloo Z:ero Digital Earphone Quick Review

Thanks to Zorloo for the sample.

Brief:  Mobile audio goes all digital.

Price:  US$39 for US’ians, US$44 for everyone else.  (about £29)

Specifications:  32 Ohms, 20Hz – 20kHz, SNR of 96db, THD of 0.02%, max output of 27mW.

Accessories:  3 pairs of silicon tips and a rectangular little case.

Build Quality:  Seems good, nice cable especially.

Isolation:  Roughly typical for a dynamic so you could use it fine for walking, on a bus but I wouldn’t really want to use it for a Tube commute or a flight.  You could but I’d prefer not to.  Naturally it’s always enough to get yourself run over if you forget to use your eyes.

Comfort/Fit:  Given you play with the controls I found wearing down got them regularly tugging on my ears.  Wearing up this was cured and I prefer to wear up anyway.  Once done they were good, easy shape, pretty light, pretty standard fare really.

Aesthetics:  Coming in either black and red or black and gold, hmm not sure either are colours id have gone with.  The red and gold bits are glossy and a little blingy for my tastes.  Not that they are ugly just, too glossy.  I like the cable though.

Sound:  Big, rich, weighty, hearty stuff.  Maybe like a big winter stew followed up a by a big chunk of a chocolate gateaux.  Big and heavy is good but it’s very much a flavouring and style that influences the output.  For me that’s fine but I found that after a little while it was all too much and wanted something lighter.  The big dark thickness particularly in the middle bass and mid/bass cusp is really heavy stuff.  It slow and thick, rich, so mellow and I’ve run out of words.  You get the picture anyway.  Mids and lows are both highly flavoured in that manner.  The highs, they too are very much of the same nature, there is a little spike to cut through and keep in some detail but the treble is comparatively rather muted.  In poppy and thumpy tracks the power and oomph to things, especially to basslines was too much air movement for me however I can see it being a big crowd pleaser.  It’s got some serious potency behind it and it’s not an agile punch it’s like being hit by a runaway train.  Sooooo much power. 
For the price its target demographic is likely gonna love the way it’s tuned and sounds but it was too hearty and weighty for my delicate little ears.

Value:  Pretty good, good sound for price but I can’t help feeling the DAC and amp inside aren’t being put to their fullest potential.

Pro’s:  Bottom end thunderous power.  Potency and vigour.

Con’s:  USB support is hit or miss right now.

Monday, 21 September 2015

JAYS q-JAYS v2.0 Review

JAYS q-JAYS v2.0 Review

Thanks to JAYS for the sample.

TLDR?  Try here.

First Impressions:  Oh dear god, what is in the box.  The thing feels like its got lead weights in it.  Okay its Russian doll like with layers of packaging to get into.  My god this is the most sold cardboard I’ve ever encountered.  It’s so dense and so ridged.  The manual.  Ooooooooooooh so pretty.  So tactile, it feels more like it more belongs to something a peace treaty belongs on rather than earphone instructions.  Sumptuously freakish for an earphone manual.  Lifting that off and again more stunning design.  Jays have clearly put a disturbingly huge amount of effort in here, it’s just a box but it’s so perfect.  Opening each little bitty, the tips, the cable, my god the little case.  Oh!  The buds are metal.  The old q’s were plastic so I’d assumed these would be the same.  I’m feeling like it all needs to go like in a display cabinet somewhere.

In the ears and I’ve purposely been avoiding my old pair.  These sound unsurprisingly lovely.  Starting with “Wallflower” I’m highly pleased.  The lowers feel rich, there isn’t any upper brittleness that I’m noticing.  Switching to something with more upper energy there is a sharpness to things.  Though is it me, are these still fuller in the bottom than their predecessors?  Hmmmm I can’t tell from memory, they were always one of my favourites so it’s no surprise these are excellent.  The question though is just how excellent.  At 3700 Swedish Krona which google tells me is £275 they are not cheap, actually they could be the most expensive set of dual BA Universal IEM’s out there.   There is no question they are good, god their mids are seriously good, “Like I Can” is stunning.  This review is either going to take me no time at all or forever.

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:  Marry Poppins.  Practically perfect in every way.  There has always been something about the itty bitty q-JAYS that I have loved and found there to be something natural feeling about them.  I have never ever been able to quite pin down what acoustically it is they are doing to make feel there is something so natural.  Whatever it is, god damn the little buggers still have it.  of all the dual BA’s that once were all the rage, back in the days of q-JAYS v1.0 they all share a certain similarity, bass is armature like, tight, controlled, polite and above all, shifts only a smidgen of air compared to dynamics.  Now in the age of hybrids where dynamics have moved in for shifting a ton of air and giving raucous bass the q’s are comparatively super reserved.  These are BA all the way so don’t expect gobs of bass.  These are all about hearing, not feeling, bass notes and they are tight, highly sculpted yet for all their swooping marble like texture.   It’s hard, you know it’s hard yet to the gentle sweep of a finger it’s so soft, the curves so gentle, so human, so natural.  Like Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne.  You know that it’s all fake, an unyielding lump of rock, yet there is something achingly natural and organic to its touch still.

The bass on the q-JAYS is just like that.  I know it’s unyielding and controlled but if feels so wondrously natural.  It’s pretty tame in quantity, bass heads won’t like it but….. it responds very nicely to a bass boost.  It bumps the level to a slightly more crowd pleasing level, well head-fi crowd pleasing level but keeping that peculiar natural sensation.  It’s never going to be basshead pleasing, ever, dual BA’s do not move a lot of air but,  aggrrrgh I haven’t the words to properly capture what it is they do. 

Mids:  Gloriously something.  Not really smooth or liquid nor really cool and dry.  Sort of slap in the middle and not really picking side.  Probably a little cool, little clean compared to what I unusually go for.  But…… there is that strangely natural something they have that I can’t define.  These damn sons of bitches have me constantly wanting to burst into song and as much as I might like a slightly tipsy sing along to Whitney’s “One Moment In Time” trust me, my voice really cannot go there.  It’s a contestant struggle to keep my mouth shut.  I do not know what it is that’s the cause, normally I go for much more creamy vocals and these have always been more dry.  Yet damnit there is something that feels so natural.  Strings and guitars too, Miss Chapmans “Fast Car” once more has me wanting to bust into song like I’m in some West End musical.

The breadth, the tonality, the most delicate of inflections are all served up gloriously. 

Highs:  They suck.  Just kidding, like everything else they are to die for.  The treble in the old one was the area where they did lose things a touch.  They got a little broken, brittle, gritty, never so far as to make me not still love them but you knew it was there.  The new ones however doesn’t seem to have that issue.  I should confess I’m not exactly going out of my way to play horrible scratchy treble to find out.  I know it’s not really “professional” but suck it, I’m just enjoying so much every track that comes on.  “My Dear Country” is just soo freekin’ good, it’s an awesome track and they just sing, F me do they sing!!!  Pick a whole bunch of sweary words and arrange them into expressions of positivity. 

God damnit I still cannot put my finger on what it is they are doing that makes them feel so “natural” it really is so very, very good.  It’s pushing CK10 good, way less in your face but so much refinement.  How the UE700 and these have the same drivers, Christ knows.  Still I would say if your DAP pairing don’t steer towards bright or brittle, it’ll nudge the q’s that way and they don’t need it.  Something maybe slightly smooth would suit better, well suit me better.

Soundstage:  Well articulation and separation is great, still feels well integrated but as a little BA they do really well in terms of scale.  They really honestly do but they are BA’s and they don’t shift symphonic amounts of air.  I’m fine with that but if you want epic vastness they try but fall short of what big dynamics can do.  Big for typical dual BA’s but it’s a limitation of the tech.

Fit:  Yeah look at the dam things.  Sooooooooooooooo teeny tiny they just slip right in there.  Up or down was fine (I like up) such effortless little beasts.

Comfort:  Compared with v1.0 these weigh a ton.  I can’t find the numbers which is odd.  Still they maybe heavy next to their siblings but they are so tiny, in your ears they may as well weigh nothing.  I’ve never heard of anyone having issues with the old version, I’d be surprised if anyone did with these.

Isolation:  Hmm these have a tiny vent and I think it has diminished their isolation a bit.  Hmm for me it’s fine as they still isolate plenty.  Though, I’m not a Tube commuter and it would be probably enough but I’m not certain.  Easily good enough for most normal environments, super easily enough for you to get yourself run over by not hearing that bus behind you.  Eyes people!

Build Quality:  Insane.  “Metal injection moulded stainless steel” short of taking a hammer to them I’m not sure what you could do to physically damage them.  Well apart from immersion in a liquid but that’s kinda a given for everything.  Cables nice, super flexible, replicable so if you kill it you just get a new one. I should probably note that while they are really thin, they are supposedly coated Kevlar, JAYS has not been penny pinching when making these.  I can see no reason why these wouldn’t last you the next decade and more.

Aesthetics:  They are just as the look in photos.  So long as you like black they are quite beautiful.  I’d personally love a grey pair but they are just so “Swedish” minimalist, plain, functionally efficient and just beautifully simple.    They are the antithesis of bling.

Phone Use:  So I didn’t get the phone versions but I wanted to mention anyway.  Since they have detachable cables they come in iOS, Android and Windows Phone cable versions.  Now I wouldn’t use these out of a phone but you can and get a mic and buttons too if you want.

Amped/Unamped:  Are they easy to drive, well yes they are.  You can plug these into your phone and they will sound quite excellent.  They are so easy to drive, they really do not need gobs of power at all.  Still I would implore that you do anyway.  They just come to life, bigger, grander, deeper, more dynamic, more expressive, more wonderfulness when you amp them well.  They don’t “need” to be amped but that’s like grandpa buying a Ferarri to drive at 20mph to Tesco.  You can do it but it’s just plain wrong.  It’s still a Ferrari and I’m sure Grandpa loves driving it at 20 mph, just as you would love the q-JAYS running out of your mobile phone. 

It’s still wrong though.

Accessories:  In the box you get 5 pairs and sizes of silicone tips and a pair of Comply’s.  You also get a case that is an epic leap from the heap of crap that came with v1.0.  JAYS are still running with the ultra-minimalist matte black everything theme.  The case is thick matte black plastic.  It feels extremely firm and solid.  It is then inlayed with some black layer of a firm spongy substance to cushion its itty bitty cargo.   You can buy replacements and phone version cables if you want.  They also offer two different cases if you fancy one a little different looking.  They really do know how to make a damn good looking case.

Value:  If there is one fly in the ointment it’s the cost.  From the JAYS store online, the no mic cable version is 400 Euro’s.  The mic’ed ones are all 470 Euro’s.  errr 70 Euro’s for a mic???? Are you serious???  I mean maybe they have to use more Kevlar to reinforce the connections which create weak points but still, 70 Euro’s is 50 quid to swap a no mic’d cable for one with a mic and controls.  Sorry JAYS’s I love you and while I don’t want the mic version anyway, come on are you serious???

Anyway…. So at 400 Euro or US$400 which by the time you at tax are basically the same, so it’s about £290.  They are not cheap, maybe the most expensive dual BA?  I cannot say these are a bargain, they are just not but they are exquisitely beautiful sounding.  You want the best, well your wallet is going to suffer for it.

Conclusion:  It was never a secret I loved the old ones, sure they were a bit gritty up top and a bass boost didn’t hurt but I loved them still.  These have filed that treble grit and lifted the bass just a smidgen.  They are without question one of the best IEMs your wallet can get you.  Sure there are “better” things out there but at this point we’re well into diminishing returns as it is.  I mean, when I got my old q’s I snapped them up in white and baby blue for like £80.  The black at the time was going for £120.  They were really competitive at that price, clearly beating the DBA-02.  These though are on a level up from there in terms of refinement, were talking CK10 levels.  (Which was a costly little beast.)  Hmm it was also all metal, weren’t they titanium shells or something crazy?

Cost is really where it comes down to, the q”s are masterpieces but they cost masterpiece prices too.  (70 Euro for a cable, bad JAYS.) Still when you’re hitting this level you can get away with charging what they are.  I really, really like these and want to be able to jump about and say just grab a pair, unconditionally and that price tag means I can’t.

So should you get a pair, if your wallet can take it, yes.  I’m not saying these are 3 times as good as the R-50 (which uses the same drivers) but they are better.  No “ “ they are just better.  Jays have laced the q’s with some magical acoustic crack.  I don’t know what they’ve done I cannot put my finger on it but they just feel so natural and alive and beautiful and vibrant.  The IEM equivalent of Julie Andrews singing on an Alpine mountain side.  Something so invigorating and captivating yet so clean and so simple too.  I’m not sure I’d be pleased at handing my wallet to them for the dent it would produce but I’m pretty sure I’d forgive quickly all the same.  The fact is they are exquisite little masterpiece’s and I love them to bits.