Wednesday, 24 August 2016

LEAR LHF-AE1d Review by mark2410

LEAR LHF-AE1d Review by mark2410

Thanks to LEAR for the sample.

First Impressions:  I opened these with some trepidation as I thought it was a new phone and not more earphones.  Nice box though, woahhhhhh, there’s a subtle case if ever I saw one!!!  Damn that beast is huge, so much bling, its dazzling.  Thank the heavens in not in gold is all I can say.  Opening it up, ooh bright green.  This is the most nuts case I’ve seen, ever I think.  Gosh its weighty too, it feels more like something that should be used to store unset diamonds rather than earphones.  The earphones, well they are almost as big and almost as shiny.  They are a slightly more darkened metallic silver.  The cable, it’s a bright translucent, braided over a silvered cable.  Ohh its pretty, rather attention seeking but I’m a sucker for silver and bare metal.  Still it’s no wonder you get a cleaning / polishing clot in the box.  It’s only been 10 min and already I want to polish the case back to gleaming perfection.

In the ears and hmmm.  Ahh lets level up those dials, btw it has bass adjusting dials, to max we go and work my way down.  Eek!  Yep let’s maybe try that from the other way.  Well its can certainly go from stupid bass to hardly any bass.  Hmm, though I note that with the venting going on these are not isolating much at all.  The instantly noticeable trade-off is that the sound stage is F-ing huge.  We’re talking at fist guess IE8 destroying huge.  I see some epically scaled orchestral works in their future.  To the burn in machine with you.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5, Lumia 735 and a Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.

Lows:  Well, the lows on these are variable.  Not as in dubious but in that you get a little bass dial and you can dial it up if you want.  They run from very neutral, maybe even less than neutral, very bass light to oh my god stupid amounts.  So I’m really going to try and separate what is quantity and the other acoustic aspects.  So, the quality, is quite excellent.  I’m looking at the specs and are these really only one dynamic driver in them?  They maybe have been borrowing some Titan tech as these too are rather vented.  It really goes to show what making and IEM open can do acoustically.  The bass is really very cleanly rendered.  Like a fine quality speaker there is a slightly effortless quality to it.  It’s not trying, not trying at all to spit out lots off bass it’s just casually there.  There is a little bit of a dip in the mid bass region and a bit of an elevation to the lower / middling bass ranges.  These however are dependent on what you do with that dial.  You can turn it and really crank out a lot of bass.  Damn I’m mixing quality and quantity.  Sigh.  It can be hard to not talk about the other as the balance especially and linearity is rather influenced by the quantity of output.

The tonality however is quite distinct and it’s rather lovely.  Not particularly flavoured in itself, if anything a very tiny slight slant to dryer bass. Going for a more clean presentation and that helps to keep it from flabbing all over when you dial up lots.  It’s nice.  Not too hard, not too soft, actually when dialled down a little more hardness wouldn’t hurt and likewise when dialled up a little more softness would be welcome.

Mids:  Very nice.  Tonally they are very much in the middle, a real lack of their own flavouring which means while they are technically really rather excellent, they lack a bit of soul.  Not that they are sterile or anything like that, they just, well middling.  The price you pay for being very versatile and capable of playing back anything with a high degree of competence means you don’t really shine in either extreme.  If you’re having only one good IEM then arguably this is exactly the sort of thing you want.  I, though find I’m enjoying them.  They are really capable and they do a slightly raspy vocal especially well I’m more inclined to creamy, buttery vocals.  These do seem to have a particular liking for Martha Wainwright and her interesting vocal style.  Yes these are good.  Hmm perhaps they are slightly better on that dry raspy sort of vocal, Nina Simone sounds great on them too.  Note they do a have a slight flare towards the upper mid-range.

Quantity wise they are rather balanced for the most part, you can play silly buggers with the bass if you want or make them rather naturally balanced.  The mids and the treble are both of a similar level.  On paper I cannot fault them.  There just is a something they have and a something they don’t I can’t quite put my finger on.  They have a breadth to them and a something, a certain texture, timbre that just nails it but there is something in the back of my head saying something is off.  Hmmm, it’s irritating me but either way they sound great on the whole.  Just maybe not so great at buttery vocal styles.

Highs:  Really very good.  Dynamics do the treble I like best stylistically and these sound fantastic.  Just exactly the way I like it to be.  They have a hint of a fraction of that metallic twangy bight on the initial impact that rapidly becomes a gently shimmering wash.  Their detail extraction level is great too, really very, very good and I can happily listen out for it without any sort of abrasiveness.  They are clean but no brutality at all, sqeeee!  This, this sort of treble is exactly why I like great quality dynamics treble as a rule over armatures.  They are not entirely dislike the venerable IE8 but whereas the 8 is more dramatically V shaped and with a more focused treble peak these are more broad across the treble range.  Arguably the 8 is the better of the two I recognise but I very much like the presentation style here.  It’s goodly detailed and the more relaxed and generally pleasing a presentation.

The highs here are of pretty great quality.  Sure the 8 bests them but I’ve long said its one of the best trebles out there and these do a nicely capable rendition.  There is still gobs detail to be had, these are just more relaxed at throwing at you.  That bit more casual, laid back, sure it’s great but you know, you can take or leave it attitude.  Very easy on the ear despite not being of a reduced quantity.

Soundstage:  Excellent.  You stick a big dynamic in a big enclosure and you make it slightly open then you will get a spacious sound.  These sound big, great big hall sized, I’m half convinced I can hear a touch of echo they are se scaled.  Big, spaciously and grandly welcoming a presentation.  That said you slap on something rather intimate and you get that big hall but you’re sitting up close to the artist.  They can still do an excellently intimate vocal when called upon.  Superb stuff all-round.  Integration is excellent too, maybe a bit too so as you do start to lose a bit of instrument separation.  The bass though tends to be a bit more separated than the mids and treble.  Due in part to that mid/bass dip.

Fit:  Well they are huge, no escaping that fact but I had no trouble.  I did however essentially need foam tips.  They by their nature sit rather shallow and silicone’s just never felt secure to me.  These also despite their openness could give me a little hints of air pressure and suction on the ear if I touched them.

Comfort:  Great.  On they went and I was happy to wear for several hours.  However on the left ear they did press against my ear a little bit that got wearing after a few hours.  Also don’t think you’re going to be able to lay down with these in, they are huge.

Cable:  Well first of its user changeable so if you don’t like, change it.  However I don’t see why you would want to.  It’s great.  It looks great, seriously looks bloody nice, silvered with a transparent plastic outer and braided / weave something.  Oooh pretty.  It’s also very flexible and gave almost no cable microphonic.   Really very, very much like it.

Microphonics:  Well none really.  You can’t wear these down and wearing up you don’t tend to get lots anyway.  There is a bit more foot fall occlusion due to their being shallow fitting creating a larger chamber to resonate.  They are just closed enough to amplify it a bit so try not to slam your heals down.  Doing that is bad for your back anyway.

Aesthetics:   Ooooooh, the Precious, wants it, needs it.  Okay so it’s a little bitty blingy but they look crazy fabulous.  Not exactly the most subtle look but despite being painted plastic, which when done usually looks so naff, the quality of the paint used here is exemplary.  It’s no wonder that these come with a little cloth to polish them and keep them clean.

Build Quality:  Fingers and eyes concur, there are damn nice.  The seam between the outer facia and the rest of the buds is a bit overly visible but otherwise these look great.  They are good looking, and the cable feels excellent in the hand.

Isolation:  So so.  They are reasonably good for dynamic but they are still that bit open as is generally a geed idea for acoustic reasons in a dynamic.  These are okay for out and about, on a bus sort of stuff but that’s it.  Not Tube nor flight worthy.  Still enough to get yourself run over if you aren’t looking where you’re going near traffic though.  So do use your eyes.

Accessories:  You get a nice little bundle.  You get a bunch of tips, though id still grab some foamy tips if I was you.  Plus an itty bitty screw driver for the bass port.  A cleaning cloth for the earphones and the case.  Oh yes, and that case.  Wow. Now that case may not be the most practical I have ever seen, I mean it’s rather too big for a pocket but……. visually…… wow!!!  I mean just wow.  That silver polished outer, the heft to the feel of it, is weight and solidity.  The tactile sensation of unscrewing it, opening it.  That dramatic and vibrant green inner.  Not just visually but that the green inner is all rubber, the acoustic dampening of it and the seal that it creates when closed….. wow.  Easily the most impressive case for an IEM I think I’ve ever seen.  It’s truly exquisite. 

Amped/Unamped:  Yeah so usually I can go hummm, haaaawwww, well……. Yeah but nope.  If you have these you want to amp them.  They improve quite noticeably when you throw power at them.  Seriously, I mean it’s not like they sucked out of a phone but there was a rather noticeable and significant improvement when they went into the Solo Ultra.  Details, soundstage, instrument separation, detail levels all got a big dose of improvement.  So while you can run there happily out of your phone and they will sound good, they will in no way be at their best.  Throw power at them and probably a natural to neutral to brighter amp as well.  Warmth just softens them slightly and while its often done to give a slight bloom and expansion to the bass, these with the dial don’t need it.  You want more bass just crank it up.  A cool source with power makes for a great pairing.

Value:  So these are unusual in that they are priced solely in HK$.  The HK$ isn’t what it used to be back in the day pre unification but it is still a major world currency.  Still it’s not one I see day to day and I’d wager neither will most of you.  So these, this version come in at HK$1,488.  Which is a weird number but with 8 being a “lucky” number maybe that’s why?  So at almost $1500 you may think, wow that’s expensive as most of us will think US$, CAN$, AUS$ which are all on a similar level.  The HK$ however is not, HK$1 is about 10p.  Thus it comes to £146 or US$191.  That makes a dramatic alteration mentally as to their perceived value.  These then become most excellent value.  They can be a little fit fussy, the tips I think you need foamies and they don’t isolate great but sound quality for your money these are really good.  I’d quite comfortably place these almost on a par quality wise with the IE8 when they are amped.  Arguably they have the more competent acoustic balance too not throwing their mids into a valley the way the 8 does.

Conclusion:  These are a bit of a queer duck as they say.  They in some ways make a great generalist given they can be highly balanced and having a middling tonality they can be rather adept at everything.  Yet they do their best when amped hard and with a cooler, set up.  They gain a noticeable clarity boost and their definition certainly improves too.  The bass, well that can be adjusted to how you like so again there is a versatility.  Though they are a bit open and they haven’t the greatest treble extension.  Their treble side by side with the excellent IE8 does slightly pale in the comparison.  Still this the more overall capable sound signature.  They are clearly except all-rounders.

Being a great all-rounder though isn’t always enough when you’re beginning to come close to the upper end of what universals can do.  These are superb, really truly they are and acoustically these could be happily your only IEM.  But…… ahh that isolation.  I know everyone doesn’t need max isolation but like with the IE8’s this level just adds a dash of disappointment as nothing ruins the acoustic wonderment of some random abrasive noise like a car horn or whatever.  It’s a little flaw and you do get a fantastic acoustic payoff for its presence but….. little in life is ever truly perfect and that is the price you pay here.

So should you / would I buy a pair.  Probably and yes.  For you it’s all about whether that isolation is enough as this money will buy a nice BA set that will sound good and isolate.  Granted it won’t sound this good, have anything like the bass proclivity that this can give you nor sound anything like as grandly scaled.  Life is all about dealing with imperfections and as such these are not quite perfect.  However…… their audio quality is excellent, real top notch stuff.  Like an IE8 that’s got mids and a more tame flattened treble.  These are really a most excellent offering that sound every bit, if not more, as good as they look.

LEAR LHF-AE1d Quick Review by mark2410

LEAR LHF-AE1d Quick Review by mark2410

Thanks to LEAR for the sample.

Brief:   All of da pretty and they sound just as good too!

Price:  HK$1488 or atm £146 or US$191

Specifications:      Driver: 10mm CCAW ,5u diaphragm ,Neodymium magnets, LEAR custom tuned dynamic driver, Frequency response: 20~20kHz, Impedance : 33ohm @1000 Hz (Adjustable knob at 4'o clock maximum position ), Sensitivity : 110dB @1mW ((Adjustable knob at 4'o clock maximum position )

Accessories:  By my count 6 pairs of tips, a cleaning cloth, a little screwdriver fortuning the bass dial and a case.  Oh but that case, calling ait a case would be like calling a Faberge egg, an egg.  The thing is very bling but wow, its looks amazing, it’s so solid too and that rubber, wow that crazy vibrant green inner absorbs any vibration.  It gives it such a feeling of solidity in a case that’s crazy.  Love it.

Comfort/Fit:  They do rather want a pair of foam tips and they sit rather shallow so not effortless to get a fit but pretty reasonable.  Comfort though was great once seating correctly for me.  Just don’t think you’ll wear them laying down as they are really big.

Aesthetics:  Wow.  You may love or hate the bling but wow, for metallic painted plastic they look lush.  Maybe a little to glossy but ooooooh so pretty.  Love the look of them even if they aren’t the most subtle things ever.

Sound:  You know what I said about their looks?  Something about their sound.  Oooooh pretty.  They have a variable bass port thingy so you can have light, neutral bass, you can have stupid amounts or anything in between.  The more bass the softer it starts to get but never really soft.  Nor when it’s very light is it ever really hard.  A little touch middlelly in temperament, tonality and flavour.  It’s rather good though.  I like a bit boosted bass and I don’t like extreme rigidity nor flab.  This strikes a very pleasing balance for my ears.  The depth is nice and it does hump a bit in the lower bass before dropping away.  There is also a slight dip as it reaches upward to the mid/bass cusp.  This gives a bit of a distinction between them and increases the separation.  The mids are nice, rather middling but at their best when pushed towards dry.  Creamy they just never seem quite at home entirely with.  The tonality though is lovely.  Thu highs, they are really capable and have a nice lightly impactful initial edge and then trail away superbly.  Extension is a bit so so but I’m fine with that.  They are more about pleasing than hurling detail at you.  Overall the detail levels are great if a little subtle.  Very spacious and pleasing a sound signature.

Value:  Excellent.  These are pushing toward top tier IEM universals before we enter the esoteric crazy realms.  First rate quality that is slightly provided to you at the expense of some isolation.  It’s a good bargain however.

Pro’s:  Serious lookers.  Sound most excellent.  Generalist super crowd pleasers.

Con’s:  Physically rather large.  Want amping.  So so Isolation.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

E’NOD Waveport Waterproof Earphones / DAP Review by mark2410

E’NOD Waveport Waterproof Earphones / DAP Review by mark2410

Thanks to E’NOD for the sample. (Kickstarter)

First Impressions:  Now this is going to be a little bit hurried as they are currently in the midst of their Kickstarter campaign and as such, time is of the essence.  With that in mind I didn’t expect these to come in nice packaging but they have.  I good solid box with a magnetic clasp.  Opening the flap you can see what’s inside and they look not bad sitting there. Once inside the plastic window and pulling out the innards you have the Waveport’s, a heap of tips and the charging system.  You have a normal micro USB cable and a charging dock / clasp thingy.  While it looks rather nice I can’t help feel little sorrowful at there having to be a proprietary dock that just begs to be lost.  Still there is a good reason for it.  You see these are IPX7 rated.  That’s good enough they say to use in the shower or even to go swimming with.  The down side to that is these being Bluetooth means you’ve got to have your phone to hand too.  Ahh but you see these also have 8GB of storage in them so you can play music directly without the need to connect them to Bluetooth anything.  That’s kinda cool no?

In the ears and instantly I notice that they are super-duper tightly sealed.  No big surprise there but I can feel the pressure inside my ears.  The seal with the silicon tips is totally air tight.  I can foresee that foamies are going to be getting swapped in.  I have been told that for swimming you must use the something whatever (omniseal) tips they have.  I’m not a big swimmer so I’m thinking that’s not going to be an issue.

Source:  Itself and a Nexus 5

Lows:  Having swapped in foamy tips I notice that I have quite noticeably reduced the level of seal involved.  It’s much less extreme but it’s much more gentle on my ears.  Pushing in and pulling out a lot can be very wearing on sensitive ears.  The bass I note has declined somewhat and the bottom end a little absent.   Still it’s pretty good.  Pop’s got enough to be bouncy and rhythmic.  I dare say these are more aimed at those out running, sweating profusely or in the rain than they are a relaxing bath use.  Yeah there are aiming at providing you a bass beat to keep you moving.  Acoustically even swapping back to the tight sealing silicon’s that the depth is, well a bit so so.  Good enough to provide a fun time but these aren’t really up there where there price point suggests but of course you’re not just getting earphones but a DAP and Bluetooth and a mic and waterproof functionality. 

Quantitatively they are reasonably.  Not the bass monsters you might expect.  A bit on the elevated side but not massively so.

Mids:  Not bad.  Once more I get the feeling there are not aimed ale gloriously sweeping vocals but want to belt out rhythmic poppy tune.  Something fast, lively to get the blood pumping and you bounce all over the place.  It a good fun time with a rather nice tone vocally.  Detail levels are not bad too, still they are more suited to the lively pop type mid-range.  If you’re looking for lingering sweeping nuanced vocals it’s not these.  They are more simplistic and about having a bit of a fun party time.

Highs:  The definition level are okay, they aren’t detail monsters and do break up a touch in the uppers but as I’ve mentioned, these aren’t about audiophile purity.  These are about getting your bottom in gear and keeping it moving.  You want a fun, lively excitable sound and that is what these provide.  Their clarity is more than sufficient for that job.  Extension is a touch so so but again, these are poppy fun cannons not purist audiophile earphones.

Quantity wise they are all pretty much instep with each other so you get an overall rather balanced sound signature, a little elevation to the bass and a fractionally more to the treble but it’s all about lively and excitable.

Soundstage:  Actually bigger than you would think.  Being super tightly sealed I’d expect a more in the head, close in sound but the drives must be some distance away as they sounded rather wide.  Unexpected and enjoyable.

Fit:  Well they by their very nature seal extremely tightly.  So for me and my crappy sinuses when inserting and removing did place some air pressure on my ear insides.  Then it would take a little while to equalise and if I moved my jaw about I could create pressure issues.  These are properly water tight, they are very sealed.  While not hard to get a good fit I’d hate to have to be removing and reseating these if people kept interrupting me.

Comfort:  Great mostly, the air pressure when fiddling could get a little wearing on my ears but their actual on my ear fit, that was totally fine.  Comfy to wear for hours.

Microponics:  None.  Well there is basically no cable to transmit anything anywhere.  I did get the occlusion effects from my heels striking the ground but that’s not really a shocker.

Aesthetics:  I have grey pair here but the also come in blue, green and red.  I’m pretty sure that the grey one is the best looking, to my eyes at least.  That said I do kinda like the look of the blue one too.  Actually I think these are more rather nice in the flesh than they do in photos.  I can’t quite put my finger on what but the matte soft touch plastics and its light absorbency just works for me.

Build Quality:  Well with their being water proof that means that bits must be super snugly fitted together.  If they aren’t the thing would die when it went near water thus you can expect that the fit and finish has had some real care and attention lavished up on it.  Now as best as my eyes and fingers can tell the build looks very good.  I really cannot find any blemishes or misfits anywhere. 

Cable:  Yey, there is sort of a cable but it only runs round the back of your head from one ear to the other.  You can run these with a Bluetooth connection to your phone or if you want you can store music on it directly.  That means not only is it wireless it can be completely untethered too.  I mean if you’re swimming you aren’t really going to have your phone on you to stream from are you?  With these you can use them in either mode for say swimming and tethered to your phone for running or round the rest of the gym for example.  What more could you want?

Isolation:  The unsurprisingly rather isolate well.  Being super tightly sealed as they must be you get a good amount of noise isolation.  They are still rather shallow fitting thus they aren’t up there with Ety’s but for a dynamic its absolutely first levels of isolation.  Should be easily enough for just about everything, even should do for the odd Tube commutes or flights.  Now naturally that means you will not hear external sounds.  Be it traffic, your mother, your wife, that screaming baby two rows down or the wheeled chariot of death hurtling towards you.  Eyes people.

Format Support:  Now they only talk about mp3 but I copied across a bunch of FLAC files and they for the most part played fine.  Once or twice a couple of songs hiccupped like the bit rate got a bit too much.  However, FLAC is overkill for these anyway, it’s just I had a collection I use and just lazily copied over.  Still I’m pleased to see the ability there if you want it.

Battery life:  They say it’ll give you 6 to 8 hours of music or 6 hours on the phone.  That’s more time than I think I spend on the phone in a month, err a quarter too probably.  Music that seems a fair range estimate to me.  It was easily sufficient to see me through several sessions.  I would recommend though you charge after every use because otherwise you’ll forget and one day they will die in use.  There isn’t really much in the way of a battery indicator.

Controls:  Now the Bluetooth controls, they all worked great just like you would expect.  However the DAP mode, where it plays back its on-board music, well that was different.  There is a volume up, volume down button.  The only controls you get is a play / pause / skip.  I thought oh maybe a double press will track skip, right?  Wrong.  Like I’ve been seeing on android lately, long holding the volume up button will skip to the next track.  Likewise along press on the volume down button will go back one.  You won’t be using them lots, plus it’s a little too easy to press more than one button at once with their being on opposite sides where you want to hold it when pressing.  Not to mention pushing them about and exerting some pressure on your ears.

Accessories:  A nice little bundle, you get a handful of their tips which I really very much liked.  Very Sony hybrid like tips with a translucent skirt and a more solid, opaque whitish core.  You seem to get a lot of them, and well, if you look very closely you have two different types.  At first glance they look the same but half of the 8 pairs have a filter in them so that when you look through the inner core you can see it obscuring the light.  This is the water proof magical filter thing and they are the tips you must use if you are going swimming with them I am told.  You get a micro USB cable, the charging cradle / dock thing.  You also get a rather pleasant and tactile baggy for them to live in.  Additionally you get a strap thing to hold the things, err, together in some fashion.  I think they are for keeping them tight on when swimming maybe.

Value:  Well atm they are on Kickstarter and you can get the “Kickstarter Special” which will get you a pair forUS$49 when they start shipping.  If you go up to two pairs you get two for US$85 (or US$79 if you’re quick.)   Those prices you’re getting potentially a great bargain.  Even at the normal price of US$90 they still rather significantly undercut the only competition I can see which comes from Sony.  Their closest with on-board storage and Bluetooth from Sony I see at £130 and that only gives you 4GB storage and its only IPX5/8 rated whatever they mean by that, surely its one or the other?  As is often the case if you’re willing to jump in early you get rewarded for doing so.

Conclusion:  These, I wasn’t super loving when I started but they have grown on me.  I got past the fiddling about, seating then reseating them, putting constant pressure then suction on my ear insides and that tires me out super-fast.  Once I stopped playing about and just got on with listening they settled and I began to enjoy them.  I know these are meant for sporty type uses but I found you know what else they are good for?  Housework.  Yeah cleaning and tidying up crap where you need both hands, with no big wires dangling about the place and no big on ear wireless cans.  They go on and leave you utterly unencumbered, which I guess is the whole idea.  No wires, no nothing to get in your way.  It’s really very liberating.

Sound quality on these is nice, but it’s not anything special which I don’t mind as you gain in other areas.  Namely the no wires, the on-board storage and playback, then the Bluetooth and phone functionality too.  That all eats up some cost and so I think their normal price seems more than fare in comparison to what else is out there.  However with it being still in its Kickstarter, you are looking potentially at a great bargain.  You could for ten bucks less than normal for one pair, order two.  One for you and one for the good lady wife perhaps? 

So would I / should you get one?  Well I’m not sporty, I really ought to be more so but I’m not, still I find the utter absence of encumberment to most liberating, it feels so freeing.  You, well if you want that unattached feeling and you ether want to use in the pouring rain or in the shower, great stuff.  Swimming with earphones too if you wanted, that would be so strange but hey the option is there if you want it.  With them going for their Kickstarter price you may want to give a them a spin because you won’t get this feature set elsewhere for anywhere near the present pricing.