REVIEW: XDUOO X20

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I put my hands on the Xduoo X20 and i got amazed.

200€ are not a lot for an hifi player, you can definitely agree on that, but this Xduoo player really gives out the maximum out from its cost.

This sample was provided by shenzhenaudio, you can buy here: https://www.shenzhenaudio.com/

Construction:

The solid machined aluminuim body and the fake leather case included in the package really give a good impression out of the box, a product overall not light but sturdy enough to leave a good feeling in your hands.

The case fits perfectly the player giving full acces to the side buttons, but struggles to get off.

Before you turn on the player you have to insert your micro sd memory card because there is no internal memory available, i suggest a premium speed micro sd (minimum a class 10) to avoid lag during songs loading.

 

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Usability:

Let’s press the power on button and let’s try to learn the menu system, there is no touchscreen available so you have to navigate through directional buttons (the only real negative point i can notice over this product).

You can search your music in the auto updated catalog made by the device itself or by browsing directories, last way is better if your music lacks of tags and you dont like confusion.

After some time you will learn the navigation system and get used to it without too much effort, I promise.

This player has some extra functions besides the player itself, it is a usb DAC and has bluetooth audio out, however without atleast a pair of headphones with APT X protocol it’s useless. My apple airpods supports this HQ Bluetooth audio protocol and i will tell about them later in the review.

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Audio Quality:

Test with Custom Art Fibae 2:

I plugged my beloved Custom Art Fibae 2 through unbalanced output and played some songs from the album Graceland by Paul Simon.

The first impression was really good, vocals and folk-rock instrumentals perfectly in line with what I expected from those headphones, clean and defined. The only thing i noticed different from other players was a bit of unwanted sibilance in the highs range, later i discovered in the player settings that you can chose the type of sound decay that by default was set up to “instant”, when i switched to “soft” it solved all of my problems. From now on i will use this setting.

Switched album and played some Post Malone from the album “Stoney”, good sound stage and well defined bass range for some fast peced songs, good impression left by “Congratulations” played with really good trasparency.

Good voice representation in Test Drive by Joji, good piano detail and powerful bass extension.

I also played some Vivaldi from the album “Quattro Stagioni” and enjoyed the maximum that the Fibae 2 could deliver in strings and highs listening, considering they give the best in mid-bass range.

Test with Heir 10:

Comparing with previous tracks:

There is a good emphasis on the voice of Paul Simon , great clarity and transparency for the instrumental sections. Increased definition of armonics in these folk songs.

You can feel a slight warmth added in the mid-bass for Post Malone tracks and a really good rappresentation of the soundstage even in the most dynamic parts of it’s songs.

Even more bass pumped out from Test Drive, over emphasized by the artist but not really appreciated by all, still reproduced with enough clarity.

An extra smile comes from the sound extension you can appreciate with “Quattro stagioni”, really good rappresentation of strings and bass in terms of clarity and definition.

The Heir 10 can do better with a more powerful player, but the x20 plays his cards nicely.

I tested other well known songs to my ears and none of them showed negative surprises and after more than an hour of listening i had absolutely no stress on my ears, a good sign of a consistent output.

I also tried my airpods enabling Apt X protocol and i clearly noticed an increase of general detail and transparency on the highs and more spatial separation on the mid-bass compared to my everyday player (Oneplus 5).

As last test i tried the balanced output and got a little wider sound stage and trasparency without losing any of the previous goals.

After some weeks of listening i can assume an overall a pretty balanced sound, no evident colorization given by the player itself and no audible problems like clipping or distortion present at all with my current setup. Transparent on all range with no emphasis, something you can listen for a long time.

The fact that the battery can not be removed is a relatively easy problem to overcome, it is not soldered on the board so with a similar part you can complete the replace by yourself without much hassle, just be gentle.

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SINERGY:

DUNU FALCON C: wide soundstage, with good clarity and transparent sound. Upper midrange can result a bit harsh. Sub-bass is very refined with good speed and dynamic.

NOBLE AUDIO EDC VELVET: good sinergy, but not great like my Opus1s. Overall, this Xduoo gives a good clarity and good instrument separation. Sound is not the fullest one and most controlled, but is quite natural and detailed for the price range( better than my Fiio m7).

IBASSO IT01: fun sound, with strong bass presence and sparkles on the top end. Soundstage is quite wide and holographic. This Xduoo can drive IT01 both in se and balanced output easily.

I found some noise with multi-balanced iems like aroma audio yao and nfaudio 6i, obviously, will never suggest to use a 200usd player with a 1000/2000 usd iem. If you are looking for a neutral/clean sounding player, with quite wide soundstage and enough power to drive most of the iems out there, this Xduoo x20 could be a great choice for you, special at this price range.

Here are some extra specifications:

For the headphone output (3.5mm):

Output power: 210mW (32Ω/THD +N<0.0015%)

Frequency response: 20Hz~20kHz (±0.15dB)

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): ≥114dB

Resolution: >75dB

Distortion + noise: 0.0015%@1kHz (32Ω@1kHz)

For the balanced headphone output (2.5mm):

Line output: 300mW (32Ω/THD +N<0.0015%)

Frequency response: 20Hz~20kHz (±0.15dB)

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): ≥116dB

Resolution: >112dB

Distortion + noise: 0.0015%@1kHz (32Ω@1kHz)

For the line out:

Line output level: 1.7Vrms (10KΩ@1kHz)

Frequency response: 20Hz~20kHz(±0.15dB)

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): ≥114dB

Resolution: >108dB (10KΩ@1kHz)

Distortion + noise: 0.0012@1kHz (10KΩ)

Other parameters

Built-in 2400mAh rechargeable lithium polymer battery

Battery life: 8 hours (3.5mm headphone output)

About 7 hours (balanced headphone output)

Charging time: < 3 hours (DC5V 2A)

< 6 hours (DC5V 500MA)

Size: 110*56*16.6mm

Weight: 138g

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REVIEW NFAUDIO NF6I: REFERENCE SOUND

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Intro

NF Audio (Ning Fan) is a young Chinese CIEM manufacturer, with great aspirations for the global market. In fact, they provide some amazing features which make them compete with the best brands in the global scene.

I have to specify, these NF6i aren’t actually easy to buy internationally, you still have to import them in the most countries, and I have to say that’s difficult to understand for western people how to move and how to buy on that site. But it may be worth for someone, because they are great in many ways. Being custom monitors adds a little more hitch, because of all the info you have to send, but it may not be a big deal for you. It would be fantastic to find an international version, even a universal fit, because there’s so much convincing stuff in them.

This sample was provided by NF Audio in exchange for an honest review, we are not affiliated, and I’ll try to be as objective as possible.

Official site: http://www.nfaudio.cn

Specifications

The NF6i are a 6 balanced armature Custom In-Ear Monitor with a stunning frequency response of 8-30 kHz. The impedance is pretty low (18 Ohm), which is great to assure enough simplicity of driving. Other quick specifications:

  • Sensitivity of 106dB @ 1kHz
  • Distortion below 0.5%
  • Isolation: 26 dB

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Packaging

The classy black box which carries the CIEMs themselves is pretty cured for this kind of product (it reminds me the one used by Unique Melody): inside it, you can find a hard case, a cleaning tool, a warranty card and the buds with the cable already attached. It’s a 2-pin one, actually pretty good, even though I didn’t like very much the silicon/rubber right after the pins. A standard unboxing experience, but surely pleasant. You can already feel the cure provided in the overall experience with these earphones.

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Sound

It’s not difficult to recognize that we’re listening to a reference Monitor: bass isn’t emphasized even though the sub-bass is well covered, it goes enough deep and shows good speed. Usually, for balanced armature iems, the mid-bass is always the key point where most of the companies try to work, to give a more natural and rich performance, trying to avoid most of the common issues of this technology. This is not the case here, the nf6i doesn’t try to give a full-bodied and rich experience, on the other side try to focus on the refined sub-bass experience. The overall sound signature is flat and balanced, and you can easily drive them with DAPs, given the low impedance. Well, “easily” speaking in a compatibility way, because they need a good synergy to please you in a musical way – which however I did find, but I’ll tell later. I found these CIEMs to be tight and airy, very clear on the higher side.

Vocals are quite good( but if not paired with the right player, can sound a bit dry). Female ones are well portrayed, one of the strong point for this iem. Male vocals have enough body to be enough pleasent.

Now, the treble, where this iem really shine. Maybe one of the best treble i have ever heard with Stereopravda sb7. It is very linear and extendend, not that is emphasized in quantity, but just feels natural, refined, never resulting harsh or fatiguing. I am just testing vision ears ve8, another great example of treble execution, but these two products have totally different approach: ve8 tries to create a certain balance with the overall analog sound signature, avoiding too much details on the upper treble, where the nf6i really shine, providing more sparkles and airy sound, but always avoiding any type of harshness( this is not not a common thing and not easy to reach).

Soundstage is quite good for a 6ba iem, showing good depth and width. You may like a V/W-shaped sound, then these aren’t made for you. These are flat, balanced, reference sounding IEMs, but enough pleasent to satisfy audiophile needs too.

The nf6i is quite easy to drive, but here, more than current, this iem needs a good sinergy with the player. For example, with Opus 2 i found the sound too much reference-type showing dry vocals.

Better sinergy with ak se100 and opus 1s. With ak se100 vocals feels more liquid and less dry, with quite good bass impact. With Opus 1s vocals are more rich and organic, gaining a bit of more mid-bass presence too.

nfaudio

COMPARISONS:

NF6i vs INEARZ EUPHORIA(6ba): euphoria has more mid-bass presence and is a more all-rounder iem, working good with all the types of players, even with my iphone too, but lacks the treble extension and details of the nf6i. Soundstage is quite similar, maybe Euphoria a touch wider., but nf6i shows a more airy sound.

NF6i vs Ambient Acoustics AM6: both shares a reference sound, but nf6i is better in almost every aspect: more refined sound, with better clarity and details on upper treble, bass is faster and more refined. NF6i shows better female vocals. AM6 has wider soundstage.

Meze 12 Classics Review

Intro

While trying high-end products all the time, you might forget more affordable ones. We don’t: here is the Meze 12 Classics review, an 80€ earphone – that replaces the “11” series – which may be perfect for a lot of people.

First, I want to thank Doina from Meze Audio for giving me this sample in exchange for an honest review. We’re not affiliated, and my thoughts will be as objective as possible.

These are earphones developed in Europe – Baia Mare, Romania – and produced in China.

Some specifications (from mezeaudio.com):

  • Frequency response: 16Hz – 24KHz
  • Impedance: 16Ohm
  • Sensitivity: 101dB (+/- 3db)
  • Total harmonic distortion: < 0.5%
  • Noise attenuation: up to 26dB
  • Titanium coated 8mm mylar driver
  • Copper-clad aluminum voice coil
  • 3.5mm gold-plated jack plug
  • 7N OFC cable, length: 1.2m

meze in ear frequency response

Unboxing, fit and first thoughts

If the goodness of a product shines through its presentation, this – judging from the cover – is a wonderful one. It may be obvious for someone, giving the long experience in product design of Antonio Meze, but nothing must be taken for granted.

meze box 1

This box is elegant, while clearly ready for being exposed in the stores. The picture of the earphones on the front face is the real position of them inside the box itself; and the shape of it reprises the Meze logo. This sign of cure is a constant in every way concerning these In-Ears. Every face of the box is smartly used to give us all the information about the earphones themselves as well as the accessories and other useful advertisements. The most interesting thing here, for audiophile people, is the frequency response graphic, which reveals the characteristic tuning of the company.

meze box

Inside the box you’ll find a carrying pouch with the Meze logo, a pair of Comply foam ear tips (great to find them!), three silicon tips (S, M, L) and a double-flange pair. Great selection. And there’s a clip to attach the cable on a T-shirt or something: guess… with the Meze logo! The “instruction manual”, which may sound useless, has instead some really useful tips like dangerous volumes ecc.. There’s also a Meze sticker which is good to add to your MacBook with all the others I’m sure you all have out there!

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The “Classic” name that Meze gives to some of its products could mean two things: that you’re looking at a classy product (usually with wooden inserts); that it’s perfect for classical music (that is a difficult genre to reproduce, because of the transients and the soundstage it needs). Why did I think that? Because if you try some Neo versions of the same ear/headphones of Meze, you will find punchier basses and a slightly different tuning, more popular and modern. You can read our reviews of the 99s (Classics and Neo) to better understand this. We will see later if that’s the case even with these “12”.

Anyway, when you look at these earphones you immediately realize to hold a product developed with passion (if you saw the interviews with Antonio Meze you can understand what I mean). The wood gives a premium feel to the product and the overall build quality is top notch. The cable is not my favorite, I’d rather a braided style, but it’s well done and the metal inserts with the Meze logo are very high quality. It’s also oxygen-free, which means that the interferences are very low.

There is an issue regarding the fit of the 12 Classics with my ears: I’ve tried every silicon ear tip and everyone can’t help falling off. I now go with the Comply ones (which are much, much better), but I must be very careful when I walk or move because the fit is not the greatest for me anyway. That didn’t happen with my girlfriend, which found them perfect, for example. You can always wrap the cable around your ear like in IEMs and obtain a better fit for you.

meze fiio

Sound

My main source was a FiiO M7 DAP. I’ve also used my 2012 MacBook Pro (also with a Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface), my Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 with default dongle and with Audirect Whistle DAC/Amp.

I generally liked the sound of these 12 Classics. The signature is not so conventional, and you have to like a warm and pretty dark sound to appreciate them. If you are fan of clarity and brilliant treble, these aren’t probably your first choice. The instrument separation is decent, even though I heard everything pretty unbalanced on the lower side; this is a pro for certain kinds of music, because the bass is quick and punchy, and very dense, but it’s a con for other ones. I have to say that initially the soundstage was very limited, so I recommend following the tips of Meze and let them burn in several hours. Now it’s so much better than before, even though it’s not the widest stage you’ll ever find. The most enjoyable experience you can have with these is with certain kinds of modern music that are minimal and dynamic (sounds strange with the name Classics!) like Lorde, Oh Wonder and so on.

With classical music the things are a bit different. The enhanced lower frequencies remain, but the instrument separation is generally better. Still I didn’t find a perfect imaging, you haven’t the feeling to be inside the scene. The treble voices have sometimes too much reverb; the strange thing is that’s something affecting the male voices more than the female ones. Unusual fact, in my opinion. The particular tuning probably affects the sound in that way. I did find however a really enjoyable sound, fast and precise, more on a fun side than a reference one. From the provided frequency response graph, you can effectively see that the higher frequencies (from 10 kHz) are not the best; it’s the same signature as the 11 series, but I believe that they are tuned with some differences. And the wood may give some “naturalness” to the sound, for the ones who believe it in such small earphones.

The sound leak is almost inexistent, which is great.

meze mic

The mic, unfortunately, isn’t great. It sounds a bit muffled, but I understand the majority of people prefer having it, even for emergency purpose. With this kind of earphones, I’d rather have a better cable with no mic, because they are made for music listening.

So, summing up, the bass is very good, the mid is okay, the treble is not the clearest one. I liked them a lot, because of the punchiness and the quick bass. The sound is embracing, and it surprises: I tried a lot of honest headphones which haven’t some impressive features; these are instead very “warm” in terms of sound, and really convincing. You must know that it’s not the most usual sound signature, however.

meze 1

Quick Comparison

RevoNext QT2 (60€): these are more on a reference side, with a wider soundstage (they have open vents). The bass, instead, is slower and the punchiness, while present, is not managed as well as Meze did. Being IEMs surely gives a better fit, but the sharp angles didn’t really help for me: it’s always hard to find a good fit for me. The cable is similar, but the one of the 12 Classics can’t be removed. Overall sound is good for both, but if you need a reference earphone I recommend the QT2 over the Meze, which are instead less fatiguing and surely more fun.

Conclusion

Do I recommend the 12 Classics? For sure, because you get a good, non-fatiguing listening experience and a quick and detailed sound, even if a little bit dark, and they are easy to drive even with your smartphone. Consider that you might have some small fit issues, like me, and if you need to make a lot of calls with them you may find the mic not so good. I would take them as my daily drivers, if my ears were matching them better, because the sound is pleasant. And they look amazing.

meze

Pros

  • Great build quality, choice of materials and design
  • Punchy and quick bass
  • Fun sound signature

Cons

  • Fit (Subjective)
  • Mic sounds a bit muffled

Unique Melody UM Mason V3 Review

Intro

Once I said that you don’t generally love In-Ear Headphones until you heard a really good one. I meant that you can generally dislike this kind of products, but a really good sound could make you forget the eventual issues regarding, for example, the ear fit. Well, these IEMs by Unique Melody are that good, under some points of view. And, luckily for me, they also don’t have any enormous fit issue.

I want to start with some useful information. First, these are 2700$ monitors; that means two things: they aren’t, obviously, a popular product, and they are meant for professional users. It’s a role – the pro – that I don’t exactly embody, because even though I’ve been a musician and I’m constantly “around” music, I don’t actually perform live nor professionally record. But I do something concerning records on my own, and I’ve tried the V3s – as far as possible – with some more stressful works than merely reproducing music.

Mason unboxing

Unboxing

Usually, when you climb the price range hill, there’s a point where the quality stops going up with the price. That is a difficult step to predict nowadays, but I push a button: I’m not sure that over 1000/1500$ what you get is what you really pay for. But here comes the real deal: what makes the Mason premium isn’t just the product, but the overall experience you get. Starting from the elegant black box, in which they put a lot of useful accessories.

First, I got impressed by the carrying metal box (actually made of titanium) that’s inside: it’s way heavier than expected. That prevents any possible damage to the earphones, but it’s not very handy.

There are a lot of ear tips, which comes from one of the best manufacturers out there (COMPLY); a pair of them is a foam one, really comfortable and sealing by my ears.

They actually include three cables to adapt the M3s to a SE (3.5mm) or balanced (2.5mm/4.4mm) output on your source. I believe these are very expensive cables, and they make a great piece of the price. Besides the price, they are amazing hand-made braided cables (actually, they braid other cables together, cable-ception!editor’s note). They use a 4-pin proprietary standard, secured by a screw, sort of, to help it not to detach. Replacing it is pretty easy.

Inside the box there’s also minor UM branded stuff: the cure is impressive, and as we’ll see this is something concerning every area of these IEMs. You also find a funny USB stick with some pictures and info about the V3 inside.

Mason box 1

Design and Fit

As I said before, I didn’t have fit issues with the Mason. But there’s a matter regarding my ears that’s worth a mention: I can’t wear them for a long time. Like most of the monitors out there, they are just too big for me not to hurt, and this might be an issue if I were a live performer. I’m not, and I have to say they really stay in place like they’re meant to. Obviously, a custom version would fit better and avoid the pain – which I have, but you may not.

The design is classic for an IEM, but gets some interesting and unique features. First, their translucent blue finish let you see through the shell, revealing the insane number of balanced armatures crammed inside (13 or 16 depending on the version). The shell itself is made of acrylic and gives a solid and good-looking impression.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning is how easily you can change the ear tips: it may sound stupid, but some IEMs that I’ve tried in the past were so hardly attached to the monitor’s body to make it difficult to exchange one another.

Mason x Beam x Mix2

Sound

I don’t want to result too critical in this review, but this is the most important part of it and I want to be honest: I didn’t love these IEMs, even though I liked them very much in many ways.

Here are my reasons.

There are a lot of positive things about them. Their precision is insane, and the sound resolution really amazed me. But here’s the problem for me: the sound changes too much depending on the source. I listened to the same track in FLAC on my DAP (FiiO M7) and in MP3 on my iPhone and again in FLAC with my Scarlett 2i2 attached to my 2012 MacBook Pro and with the Audirect Beam attached to my Xiaomi Mi Mix 2. I’ll list the experience I’ve had with all of them:

  • FiiO M7: at first approach, I got caught by the incredible imaging created by the Mason. The very first impression was of a great monitor for the voices and the drums, while not for the bass, that I felt undertone. Also, the treble was clear and pleasant. By listening carefully, I noticed that while the voices tend to emerge, some harmonics get cut. At first, I believed this was a sort of tuning to make the voice standing out, but then I tried to listen to that track on my iPhone;
  • iPhone SE: believe me or not, the MP3 of that track sounded better here than the FLAC there. You may think it’s a question of DAC – obviously – but don’t you think that a dedicated instrument like a Hi-Res certified DAP should sound better than an average phone with lossy files? Well, here I started to search for the problem. The iPhone sourced (can I say that?) MP3 had many more harmonics in the treble area of the voice than the FLAC on my DAP, and this is strange because it’s not hard to know that the situation should be the opposite. I obviously didn’t use MP3s to test the Mason, I just knew that song very well so I did sort of a blind trial.
  • Scarlett 2i2: this entry level audio interface is well-known and, given his nature, you can imagine that the sound is pretty accurate. It is: I understood the frequency response of the V3 better by listening to them through this source. They appear to have a little V-shaped graph, with a little cut-out in the lower mids. They actually provide a sound that I’d describe as funny, certainly not a reference one but they are not meant to. There is a great detail, impressive every time I listen to them. The soundstage is wide: mainly expanded on the lower side, also very good on the treble area. I hear a little bit of a hiss with higher female voices, but it may be a source’s fault.
  • Audirect Beam x Mi MIX 2: good combo, because of the pretty neutral sound provided by the Beam. You hear well the V-shaped signature with albums like “My iron lung” by Radiohead: good bass, good highs, decent male voice on the higher mids but some harmonic cuts. It appears to me to be the sound signature of the Mason V3, and thinking of how they are meant to be used I understand it. You sacrifice a little bit of resonance to hear better the main frequencies you need to hear.

Mason x M7

There’s sort of a valve on each monitor I believe to tune the bass level. I found the sound to be airier by spinning clockwise the right one – and, mirrored, the left one. Not so much a matter of bass, but the difference is audible mainly with male voices.

I must underline that the bass, while punchy, hasn’t a great pressure; the sub-bass is certainly more effective – these are surely features of the tuning which can be changed a bit by switching the cable.

Mason x 2i2 1

If you want to know what they sound with higher level DAPs, the general experience with OPUS 2 and AK SE100 was similar: enjoyable sound, pretty bass and treble, I’d say a classic multi-balance high-end experience. You may buy these IEMs with those kinds of players, but who knows; I reported my 360° experience, made of lower level hardware too.

Recording test (monitoring)

As I previously mentioned, I tried to “stress” the Mason with some recording: nothing heavy and with absolutely less stress than they can really carry, but something more suitable for their purpose than music listening.

I summarize the entire experience with one word: detail. It’s stunning how these work in a recording way: while with music they could leave perplexed the ones with reference expectations, the recording experience is amazing. Whether if you search for bass speed, voice response, or even clean separation of instruments, there you find the real quality of the V3. You hear the real power of these IEMs by exploiting them in all the possible ways.

Conclusions

I extend my positive thoughts about the detail in the overall experience with the Mason V3: if that’s the most important thing in your list (and if you’re a live performer I believe it’s a concrete possibility), then these could be for you.

The second amazing feature for me was the imaging: (fun fact) I got scared when, listening to a live concert with them, applause began; I wasn’t expecting that, and I really heard the people behind me.

The soundstage too appeared true: it’s not that simple with IEMs to obtain such an exact reproduction, because of the driver dimensions. These are convincing. It’s like sitting a few rows in front of the stage.

Mason 1

If you are instead a music enthusiast, there are two possibilities: you want a fun IEM or you want a reference one. These are more fun than reference: with a little V-shaped signature and all the features that I previously described, I recommend them to those who like this tuning. Not a basshead monitor, nor the higher-fidelity one, but a really capable and fun IEM. They are transparent and airy, not difficult to listen to nor to drive, given their low impedance.

The listening experience could be for everyone… the price obviously not. But if you are a professional, then it’s not the priciest alternative, but may be the best for you.

Review: FiiO BTR3

Let’s be honest, high quality audio and Bluetooth never have been well together. No one wants to have a high-end headphone and feed her up with crappy, compressed files, right?
That’s where the new, powerful Bluetooth codecs come into play. Thanks to the raising of Bluetooth’s bandwidth, it’s finally becoming possible to enjoy pretty good audio quality over Bluetooth… but unfortunately, we don’t have a universal codec, but a large number of different codecs. For example, Sony’s telephones and headphones only uses they proprietary LDAC codec, while other android devices are using aptX, delivered by Qualcomm. FiiO, while making this High-quality Bluetooth receiver, wanted to be as universal as possible: so, they created the first Bluetooth amplifier that supports ALL the existing wireless audio codecs, such as AAC, SBC, aptX/aptX HD/aptx LL, LDAC and LHDC. In this way, you can get the cleaner bitrate transfer that your device can offer, without bothering with compatibility anymore.

IMG_20180916_110839-01

Aesthetically pleasing, with nice smooth edges, small rectangular shape, large use of glass and matte-black metal, the only LED indicator is the RGB “FiiO” written in the front. The different colors show which codec you are using at that moment: blue (SBC), cyan (AAC), purple (aptX and aptX-LL), red (charging), yellow (aptX-HD), white (LDAC) or green (LHDC). Battery life, thanks to the large 300mAh battery, is pretty good: i could use it for more than 8 straight hours, and the charging time sits around 90 minutes. One little downside that I noticed is that it tends to become pretty hot (and it of course drains faster) while using the LDAC codec, that is the heaviest codec available. That’s not an issue, since it can still be used for at least six hours even on the heaviest load and, looking at the enormous bitrate of that codec (990 kbps, nearly twice the bitrate of the main rival, the aptxHD), it’s totally worth it. But, of course, you need a compatible device.

While charging, you can still use it as a standalone, driver-less DAC, and it actually worked pretty well. It was a nice upgrade from the on-board DAC-amp of my xps13, but I’m pretty sure that you are not going to use a Bluetooth receiver just as a portable DAC, right?

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The power output has been increased over the previous versions, but it’s still in the weak side. It delivers 25 mW@32ohm and 33mW@16ohm. Enough for almost every IEM, but simply not enough for more demanding, full size headphones. I’ve tried it with my outside cans, the Takstar pro82, and it did a pretty good job, that also did with the ATH m40x, but of course it wasn’t enough for my HifiMan he400i, nor for my Beyerdynamic dt990 pro. But that’s not strange at all, since it is so small: just 58mm long, 25mm wide and 10.4mm thick (without the back clip) and weighs barely 26 grams. I found it perfect while running, since i just couldn’t feel it at all while hanging from my t-shirt. The output impedance of 0.3Ohms is impressive, with THD+N at .003% and signal-to-noise at 120 dB. Overall, the sound signature is pretty flat and natural, delivering good detail and balance. I especially enjoyed it with my Fibae 3, that are not power hungry but at the same time they need a good DAC, otherwise they sound muddled. Oh, and it also has a pretty good microphone too! The clip is solid, and the buttons are a pleasure to press, feeling sturdy. Something that really astonished me was the range: I could move freely around my house, even on different floors, and it always worked flawlessly. Impressive.

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FiiO is also working on an app, ” FiiO music App”, that will let you control remotely this tiny device: at the moment you can get it as a beta-tester from the FiiO website, or if you have an Apple device, you should be able to find it directly from the app store. The FiiO Music app has a wide range of audio formats compatibility including DSD, WAV, FLAC, APE, AIF, ALAC, MP3, OGG, WMA and all three transmission rates of LDAC including 330kbps, 660kbps and 990kbps, plus a lot of small yet useful add-ons, like gapless playing or an efficient sorting system, similar to other famous music apps online.

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So, to sum up, this could be the best Bluetooth receiver available at the moment. The upgrade in the materials and in the AMP raised the price a bit at a higher yet still reasonable 70€ price tag. Although, there is still room for improvement. The logo is a bit too flashy and it can easily be noticed, ruining a bit the sleek body of this little glass and metal artwork, and having both the jack and the USB-C ports on the same side can be a problem in some space-tight scenarios, but that’s nothing too important, since it also packs a good DAC, a better amp, an extremely broad Bluetooth codec support, USB DAC functionality, good battery life, even a microphone! Looking at all those features, those 70€ feel like a good deal, providing a large flexibility of uses. Good job FiiO for having listened to all the feedbacks of the community!

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PROs

  • Every wireless codec available
  • USB C to charge
  • Works as portable DAC
  • Good battery life
  • Good Companion App

CONs

  • While carrying heavy codecs it heats
  • Power output is only decent (yet still great for the most people)

REVIEW: ASTELL & KERN SE100

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Intro
Last June, Astell & Kern released the A&Futura SE100, their new mid/high-end DAP with great capabilities, which is also the first of this premium line. What makes it really interesting is the new powerful Octa-core CPU – we don’t know much about it, but it’s fast, reliable, and thanks to the good 5’’ HD screen with a responsive touch, the user experience is smooth and enjoyable.
Its body is completely made of aluminum and glass, with a “Titan Silver” color and an original back texture that gives a premium feel to the product. Its shape is mostly squared but offers a particular design that reflects other A&K DAPs, in a positive way: it’s kind of a signature of the brand, in a few words “futuristic design”.

The unit was sent me for the purpose of this review in loan unit, I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions will be only my own. Would like to thanks AK team for sending me this unit giving me the opportunity to test this device for almost two months.

PRICE: 1699 USD
LINK TO THE OFFICIAL SHOP: https://www.astellnkern.com/eng/content/main/
LINK TO THE OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/astellnkern/

PACKAGING: packaging is quite simple and elegant, as all the other AK products, the package hasn’t a lot of accessories. For this price range a leather case in the box wouldn’t have been a bad thing. In the box you can find the player, warranty card and a type-c cable charging. Usually don’t like to talk much about packaging and other staff cause my main focus is on the sound quality, but overall the unboxing experience of this DAP surely will not disappoint you, but really don’t understand why AK didn’t include a leather case( strange marketing choices).

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General use and specifications
The dimensions of 75.8mm x 15.3mm x 132.7mm provide a relatively compact device: the squared lines combined with the quite big size, makes this player a bit uncomfortable for the use on the go(price to be paid for a good portable amplifier).
The SE100 offers ES9038PRO DAC by ESS SABRE, which is capable of decoding up to 32 bit/384 kHz and covers up to DSD256 sample rate files (and obviously every other less sophisticated lossy and lossless format). I think this DAC could also read DSD512, as seen in other different products that adopt it, which isn’t however something I feel lacking here. And having the WiFi module (mono-band, b/g/n) with OTA support can cover this and other needs with a software update – for example, by releasing new drivers etc..
I really liked the USB C, which is here a 3.0 one: something really appreciated given the faster data transferring capability; it supports MTP for Windows and Mac OS without any particular issue. The SE100 can also be used as a USB DAC, by installing the drivers and putting it in DAC mode; the drivers can be found in the internal memory of the DAP or on the A&K website.
Another good aspect is the memory area: we find 128 GB of built-in storage expandable with one MicroSD Card; thanks to the large amount of internal storage we don’t feel the need of a second external slot( just to know, most of my tracks are in flac 16,24 bit, I usually don’t use DSD).

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Speaking of outputs, it has both 3.5mm unbalanced and 2.55 balanced (4-pole only) ports. One of the strong points of this player is the balanced ouptut(i used it most of the time in this configuration), that not only offers more power and better instrument separation compared to the SE output, but with absolutely no distortions or background noises, Astell and Kern engineers really know how to make a good amplifier. Nothing unusual concerning the 3.5mm one, it works as expected for a product in this price range.
While not being a fan of wireless audio, this DAP carries a Bluetooth 4.1 connection aptX HD enabled which is a great feature for the enthusiasts.
I’m satisfied about the battery area( another strong pint of this player), considering the powerful System on Chip and the 3700 mAh LiPo: this combo provides at mid volume a good 10 hours or more of music reproduction – screen off connections off help in increasing the result.

Software
The UI is familiar and easy to use. Even though is some Android fork, we can’t install third parts’ apps, but it’s not a big deal. The UX for me was smooth and pleasant, thanks to the powerful chip providing snappy performances.
 
Sound and Clock Jitter
Astell & Kern claims an 800fs clock jitter, an impressive value that provides an optimal synchronization of the instruments. The jitter is a matter of conversion between the analogic-digital signals; that means the DAC used is a very effective one. I actually found that interesting in a matter of sound: it’s impressive the instrument separation and the dynamic provided by both the outputs. It’s clearly a deserved claim.
 
More info: ”An enhanced voltage-controlled crystal oscillator (VCXO) high-precision clock has been utilized in the A&futura SE100.
The reference jitter of Astell&Kern’s implementation has improved performance to 800fs (femto seconds), meaning that the SE100 faithfully reproduces your music by precisely measuring and accurately timing the synchronization of all instruments, vocal and even ambience sound recorded in your digital music file together”.

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Speaking of sound, I found it tending to neutral, but clear enough. My experience was positive because the versatility of this player and its ability to drive also high-impedance headphones without issues.
For sure, this player doesn’t show a reference sound type, offering the typical AK smooth and liquid vocals.

Bass goes very deep, focusing more on the sub-bass region, so helping with the dynamic. Compared to AK KANN, this SE100 goes deeper in bass, showing a more audiophile bass response, with less mid-bass presence. Overall, the bass will give you all the attack, decay and layering you would expect from such expensive device.
Vocals are pushed a bit forward in the scene, creating a more intimate sound compared to my Opus2.
I would say, vocals are the strongest point of this player: very clean, detailed and emotional(makes a great job with female ones).
Treble, compared to AK KANN shows more sparkles and definition, helping to give airier sound and details on top end.

AK SE100 offers great instrument separation, portraying every single micro-detail, but soundstage is not the widest, it extends more in depth and combined with the more forward vocals creates a more intimate scene.
In balanced connection, it gains better instrument separation and layering.

COMPARISONS:

AK SE100 VS AK KANN:
SE100 has better screen and faster UI.
On sound quality se100 is slightly more resolving with better clarity, deeper sound and better dynamic and transient response. What you will notice soon going from Kann to se100, is the overall deeper and more dynamic sound. 
Kann sounds warmer with less sparkles. 
Se100 is still musical, but better transparency and trebles, maybe a bit more fatiguing paired with some IEMs. 
Soundstage is more or less on par extention, but se100 has more precise soundstage, you can easily pinpoint instruments in the scene and feel more air between each instrument. 
Balanced output on se100 is very powerful with very layered and airy sound. 
I have the impression that Kann can sound a bit dull with some dynamic headphones, on the other side se100, thanks to its more dynamic sound can have better sinergy with a lot of headphones. 
Bass on se100 focuses more on sub-bass frequencies, on the other side, on Kann, the bass warms a bit the sound. 
This is not night and day, but really i found many improvements over Kann.

AK SE100 VS OPUS2: Opus2 is still a great player under sound quality terms. SE100 has a more engaging sound, with deeper bass impact, more forward and emotional vocals. Opus2 is a bit more on reference side, with wider soundstage and better left/right channel separation( maybe it’s due to the dual DAC).
Bass on the Opus 2 has less impact, but focuses more on mid-bass, giving slightly a fuller sound.
SE100 will give you more more upper-mid presence, so more clarity and better female vocals reproduction, but can sound a bit harsh with some cold IEMs.
I would not say, there is a clear winner here, both players performs great with slightly different approach, so the final result will only depend by your musical tastes and pairings. If you love vocals, deep bass and a more intimate scene with great instrument separation, SE100 could be a great choice for you. If you are looking for a more reference sound, less engaging, but with wider soundstage at a cheaper price Opus2 could be the player for you.
AK SE100 offers better screen/UI and batttery life, Opus offers offline Tidal and Spotify with sideloaded apk.

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SINERGY:

SE100 WITH UNIQUE MELODY MASON V3: great clarity and definition. Bass gains more impact and decay, with really sweet vocals. Mason V3 sounds very dynamic and engaging with this player.
Great instrument separation, but not the widest soundstage. I found a wider stage paired with Opus2.

SE100 WITH AROMA AUDIO YAO: Yao gains more clarity and better female vocal reproduction.
Bass improves a lot, with deeper bass and better layering. Vocals are just great: liquid, emotional and intimate.

SE100 WITH HEIR 10.0: great sinergy: SE100 helps to have a more forward vocals(heir 10.0 is a bit v-shaped sound signature), more clarity and dynamic.

SE100 WITH AMBIENT ACOUSTICS AM6: AM6 sounds a bit harsh on top end, paired with this SE100, but gains a more engaging sound, with better bass response. Soundstage is very wide, with great instrument separation.

SE100 WITH LARK STUDIO LSX: in balanced output, SE100 can drive easily this 10BA iem. Providing a really engaging sound, with great bass response and sweeter vocals.
Dynamic improves a lot. Soundstage is very deep, with better and more precise instruments positioning.

PROS:
DYNAMIC
BASS IMPACT
SWEET VOCALS
NO HISS PROBLEMS OR BACKGROUND NOISE
GREAT BATTERY LIFE/UI/ SCREEN QUALITY

CONS:
NO OFFLINE TIDAL
NO LEATHER CASE
SOUND COULD BE MORE ON REFERENCE SIDE( IT’S A MATTER OF PREFERENCE)

Some more technic specifications (from the official site):
–          Frequency Response – ±0.038dB (Condition: 20Hz~20kHz) Unbalance / ±0.028dB (Condition: 20Hz~20kHz) 
–          Balance – ±0.074dB (Condition: 10Hz~70kHz) Unbalance / ±0.030dB (Condition: 10Hz~70kHz) Balance
–          Signal to Noise Ratio – 122dB @ 1kHz, Unbalance / 123dB @ 1kHz, Balance
–          Crosstalk – 138dB @ 1kHz, Unbalance / 144dB @ 1kHz, Balance
–          THD+N – 0.0007% @ 1kHz, Unbalance / 0.0006% @ 1kHz, Balance
–          IMD SMPTE – 0.0006% 800Hz 10kHz(4:1) Unbalance / 0.0005% 800Hz 10kHz(4:1) Balance
–          Output Impedance – Balanced out 2.5mm (1ohm) / PHONES 3.5mm (1.5ohm)

REVIEW: PWAUDIO 1950S/1980S/SALADIN(+)

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PWaudio is a boutique/company well known for its premium copper cables. Just recently, Peter Wang( chief of PWaudio), showed his new products at Canjam Singapore. In the catalogue you can find new Vanquish models: Saladin, Loki and Xerxes and new “century series” 1950s and 1980s.
Today we are going to have a better look about Saladin(+), 1950s and 1980s.

OFFICIAL SITE:OFFICIAL SITE:https://www.pwaudio.com.hk/

FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/pg/pwaudio2014/about/?ref=page_internal

SPECS:

1950S:
Jacket Material: Soft PE
Conductor Material: Supreme Level OCC Copper
Conductor Gauge: 26awg as conductors and close to 24awg as shielding
Number of Conductors: 4 conductors and 4 shielding

1980S:
Jacket Material : PVC black with Pattern
Conductor Material : extruded copper with special LITZ
Conductor Gauge: 28AWG as core conductor and 24awg as shielding
Number of Conductors : 4 wires 8 conductors

SALADIN:
Jacket Material : Crystal Clear PVC
Conductor Material : 4 Groups of Extreded and deoxygenated Copper, 3 Groups of Silver plated extruded and deoxygenated Copper
Conductor Gauge: 34AWG X 7 Groups
Number of Conductors : 4 (8)

Just to know, i am a cable believer and i am always looking for the best sinergy between cables and IEMs. Even if, the sound nature of these three models was almost clear after the first try, i preferred to test with different IEMs and wait a bit longer for a deeper sound analysis.
In this article, i will not focus on technical aspects, but will just share my sound impressions.

Talking abut build quality and premium feeling, all these three models show great attention to details, and during this month of use, i never found any build issue.
Saladin 4wires is one of the most softer and most comfortable cable i have ever had the opportunity to use. The (8 wires) model, even if a bit heavier than the little brother, is soft and easy to use for both custom and universal IEMs. The 1980s, is the heaviest of the three, showing harder structer( a bit hard to use with universal earphones on the go).
The 1950s is quite light for a flagship model, even if not soft like Saladin, is very comfortable and easy to use on the go.

SOUND:

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SALADIN(+): to my surprise, Saladin(+) represents a great upgrade over his little 4wires brother.
The (+) model is really interesting with rock music thanks to its great treble and fast/deep sub-bass. The 4 wires model, tries to improve tonality, adding more body with a mid-bass raise and adding more clarity to the upper midrange. The overall tonality of 4 wires is natural/warm, showing a more intimate sound. On the other side, the (+) versions has a better treble and sparkles on the upper treble region( this works great with natural/warm sounding IEMs like Aroma Audio Yao and Custom art Fibae2). Vocals and instruments acquires more body, with more air between every single instruments and vocals. Where the 4 wires models tries to give a more intimate experience, on the other side, 8 wires opens up the scene, showing a wider soundstage and better left/right channel separation. I noticed a better and faster transient response, with a touch better dynamic.
Usually, i found a great sinergy with natural/warm sounding IEM.

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1980s: to my ears, the 1980s, is the most transparent of the three. Talking about tonality, this model, is quite neutral( a bit clear with female vocal songs), less warm than both Saladin 4 and 8 wires. The main focus of this cable is the midrange, helping to have a more forward and detailed vocals. Bass is quite good( adding more impact on the sub-bass region), but can’t compete with the bass quality of 1950s.
The 1980s, has the most holographic stage of the three, showing a great out of the head experience. If you are a lover of vocals or wide soundstage, the 1980s, could be a great choice for you.

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1950s: the most natural of the three: its strong points are bass, natural tone and dynamic.
The 1950s is a very particular cable: it is not so engaging or fun like Saladin or 1980s, it never adds color to the music, trying to stay always controlled, natural and full-bodied. The bass on this model is great, it has great and strong impact, but always feel uncolored and natural. This model fits great with classic music, showing great instrument separation and layering. 1980S has a more holographic stage, but instruments positioning is more confused. With 1950s, you can easily pinpoint instruments in the scene. The natural bass impact helps with a very dynamic presentation.

PAIRINGS:

INEARZ EUPHORIA: great sinergy with 1950s and Saladin: 1950s natural sound, improves sub-bass impact, with great depth layering. Saladin helps to have a better treble( Euphoria lacks a bit on this spectrum).

Aroma Audio YAO: great sinergy with 1980s and 1950s: with 1980s vocals are really sweet and more forward, soundstage improves a lot, portaying a more holographic stage around you. 1950S helps to have a more bass impact(YAO lacks a bit of sub-bass), adding a more neutral tonality( YAO is a bit warm/organic due to the mid-bass elevation).

Aroma Audio Twins: great sinergy with 1950s helping to have a less fun signature and better depth soundstage. Saladin can sound a bit harsh paired with Twins model, but gives a very wide stage.

LARK STUDIO LSX: great sinergy with Saladin: helping with a more dynamic sound and better transient response. Saladin helps to have a less warm sound and better clarity on top end.

REVIEW: AMBIENT ACOUSTICS AM6

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Some months ago, i had the opportunity to review the Ambient Acoustic LAM7( flagship model), a really interesting product, with eight sound signatures in one iem thanks to manual switching on the shell and their LAM technology.

For more info about my LAM7 review, you can check here: https://simplyaudiophile.wordpress.com/2018/02/23/review-ambient-acoustics-am7lam-u/

Today we are going to have a look to their AM6 custom model.
Just to know, Ambient Acoustics is working on new models with 16 and 24 drivers, quite interesting stuff!.
On their official site, is possible to find many and detailed info, even a frequency graph for each of
their models in catalogue.

AM6 unit was sent me for the purpose of this review, I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions will be only my own. Would like to thanks Ambient Acoustics team for sending me this unit giving me the opportunity to test it.

DRIVER CONFIGURATION: Six BA drivers per ear
PRICE: 644 EURO
LINK TO THE OFFICIAL SHOP: https://ambient-acoustics.ua/16/eng/index.html
LINK TO THE OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/AmbientAcoustics/

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About LAM6: “ These custom in-ear monitors are implemented all our many years experience of individual stage monitoring tools designing! AM6-HiRez individual monitors have six balanced armature drivers that reproduce the entire audible range of human hearing, from infralow to ultra high frequency components. This model will be appreciated by audiophiles and experienced sound engineers, because the AM6-HiRez audio feed can be described as a musical, with the most marked “personal” sense of presence, but with clarity and “sound transparency” which is necessary for stage work!”.

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PACKAGING: AM6 comes in a standard hard case, that is quite useful on the go. The order process is quite simple: their site offers a real-time visualiser, that is not nice looking like Visionear tool,for example, but makes its job.
The iem is very comfortable( obviously will depend by the quality of the earimpression) and smaller than other 6ba ciem i already reviewed.
The cable is very solid and just to be honest really nice. As for LAM7 The Silver detachable Ambient Cord uses not a two normal pin plugs, but screw ones, so will not be compatible with aftermarket cables( talking with Ambient Acoustics Lab, they told me customers can ask them for hybrid connectors in order to use both their cable, both two-pin MMCX aftermarket cables.

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SOUND: All my sound consideration has been made after 100 hours of burn in, with different DAPs such as Opus1s, Opus2, Astell and kern se100, iFi Nano Idsd black label and my iphone 6 too.
This AM6 is on the bright side, making a great job with female voices. I would say that this model fits both audiophile and monitoring needs. Can result good for monitoring, cause it is able to bring out lots of detail without coloring too much the scene, but its revealing nature can create some problems with bad recorded tracks. Even if the sound is quite neutral, there are slightly emphasis on sub-bass region and upper mids that helps to satisfy music lovers and audiophiles too.

Bass, even if a bit emphasized in tuning, has the typical BA impact, i would say is not the strong point of this IEM. Overall, the bass is correct, never covering vocals, but i would prefer here a more mid-bass presence, helping to give more body to instruments in this frequency range.
The AM6 can sound a bit thin, due to the emphasis on the upper-mid region, but never result too harsh or annoying with good recorded tracks.
Soundstage is great on this IEM, offering a good out of the head experience. Soundstage is a bit wider than deeper, always showing a good instrument separation.
The AM6, is quite easy to drive, but more than power needs, i found the player sinergy can help this iem to sound less forgiving and more natural. Just an example, my Opus2, helped to have a more mid-bass presence and a more controlled upper midrange. Overall, i would use a neutral/warm sounding DAP with this IEM.

SINERGY:

AM6 with ak se100: se100 can drive easily the AM6, it helps to have a better and more layered bass impact. Vocals are more forward, but with some tracks the upper mids can result a bit too pronounced. Instrument separation is great with this player, but SE100 portrays a more intimate sound compared to my Opus2. The overall result is a clean sounding combo, with better bass impact and better vocal presence.

AM6 with Opus2: great sinergy: very wide and holographic stage. Opus 2 helps to add more mid-bass presence, but lacks the sub-bass impact of the Akse100. Vocals are a bit less forward and clean, but here i found a more controlled upper midrange. The overall result is a more controlled and natural sound, with very wide stage and a more organic feeling.

AM6 with Fiio M7: m7 can’t compete with Opus 2 and akse100, in both layering, tonality and instrument separation, but can drive very good this IEM, adding a more bass presence and clean vocals. Soundstage is very wide here, but instrument separation are a bit more confused.

COMPARISONS:

AM6 VS INEARZ EUPHORIA: Inearz has more full-bodied sound, with more mid-bass bass quantity. Euphoria is less forgiving with bad recorded tracks, with more forward vocals. On the other side, AM6 has a cleaner sound with a touch wider stage, but less depth.

AM6 vs LARKSTUDIO LSX(10BA): this is not a fair comparison, since LSX has 10 drivers per side and costs 2x. LSX sounds warmer and with a more natural tonality. Bass on LSX has more impact and a better layering. Vocals on both these IEMs, are a bit recessed, but AM6 shows a more picky sound on the upper midrage, adding more clarity to the scene, but sounding less forgiving with bad recorded tracks. Soundstage is a touch wider on AM6, but results more mature and natural on LSX, showing equal stage in width and depth.

PROS: good price for a 6BA iem, clarity and instrument separation, wide soundstage, easy to drive

CONS: i think this IEM fits better musician and sound engineers needs than audiophile ones.

REVIEW: AUDIRECT BEAM

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Intro
We all didn’t appreciate the loss of the headphone jack on smartphones: that’s a matter of fact, something I personally hate because I wouldn’t ever get rid of useful stuff. But my actual phone lacks that feature, and I’m trying to bear this, searching for the bright side. No, the ability to connect my phone (Mi MIX 2) to my external audio card didn’t help much, because it’s obviously not something I can carry with me. I may have found the answer with the Beam by Audirect (whom I want to thank a lot for the sample). I previously had the opportunity to review the Whistle, so I can underline the differences and similarities.
I point up that this sample was given to me in exchange for the review, and I’m not affiliated with Audirect.
This product is a dongle, but I can assure that calling the Beam that way is a bit of an insult. I’m not biased by the fact that the only way to listen wired music with my phone is through some kind of adapters: the one carried with my smartphone is really good, lightweight, small. But it’s just an average sounding dongle with a discrete but unknown DAC. These from Audirect are DACs and mobile amplifiers. Sounds good to say, but even better to listen to, believe me.

Whistle
First, I’ve tried the Whistle: it’s good-looking but not so discrete in dimensions. Micro-USB in, 3.5 mm jack out: it works via OTG, so you can look for a different cable with that standard if you don’t like the one supplied. Also, there’s a led indicator for the music quality – it recognizes DSD quality and tunes consequently. Something good and something less for me, speaking of sound. It’s an excellent amplifier, I think that it carries even more pressure than the Beam. But the quality, even though I liked it, it was not perfect. A matter of irony, maybe, but I found it sounding less controlled with a more fun approach.

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Beam
The Beam, instead, is a product to fall in love with. I must say that’s more than a Whistle evolution. First: it uses a USB Type-C, which is dope. Seriously, as a consumer I’d put much more confidence in a future-proof brand, which Audirect is demonstrating to become. Second: it has Android AND iOS compatible volume controls: this may sound insignificant but it’s a really cool feature.
Think of all that IEMs without in-line controls: the Beam gives you that feature there too! Without touching/unlocking the source, you adjust the volume but acting directly into it. Amazing. Third: it’s much smaller and thinner than the Whistle, giving you a better comfort.
In the box you can find the Beam itself and all the cables you may need: Type-C, Type-A and lightning. Not the Micro-USB one, but I don’t consider it a con: I think if you own a Beam you also own a Type-C phone. The cables are well-made, and I’d like to have the possibility to buy them separately on the website, in case you’d lost one or woud like to have more.
The sound-quality led indicator is also there, as well as a play/pause button which is the same lever for the volume, but you must press it: smart.
Speaking of sound, I must say it’s more neutral than the Whistle – thing I appreciate – and doesn’t hiss like it: it’s a sign of cure and evolution. The volume is a bit lower at the same volume level, but I prefer like that, given the better quality. It may also be due the dimensions, which are significantly reduced. Bass is quite good, giving a good impact and fastness. Sub-bass is well reproduced, but lacks the mid-bass and layering presence of more premium DAPs. I was really pleased to hear such clean midrange frequencies, the real deal of this product. All the stuff playing in the midrange feels and sounds right in its place: thanks to a clear background (always compared to the sound that comes natively from the source before using the Beam), the scene offers room for the voice to emerge. If you are looking for sweet and clean vocals on a budget, this Beam and Dunu C-falcon will be a great choice for you.

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Pairings and synergy
I’ve tried the Beam (and obviously the Whistle) with some different headphones and earphones. A thing in common: they are both extraordinary amplifiers. Even with poor earbuds like some Huawei OEM ones, with a ridiculously low volume, these two made their job superbly. If you need to drive some high-impedance products, you can count on them too. The similarities may finish here, not because they sound completely different one from the other, but because you could summarize the sound experience like this: when the Whistle might sound bad, the Beam sounds good; when the Whistle sounds good, the Beam sounds better. Not joking: female voices were not a pleasure on the Whistle, but the Beam has really made a jump forward it. Also, the detail is surprisingly better on the Beam, on the lower frequencies mainly, because in my opinion that were the worse ones of the Whistle. I’m not saying the Whistle sounds bad, because I wouldn’t carry it everywhere with me. I’m saying the Beam feels like another level.

One of the best experiences I’ve had was pairing the Beam with my Sennheiser Momentum HD (the On-Ear version). I’m not a “songs are good when bass sounds hard person”, but this synergy is so cozy on the lower frequencies, and, in the same time really, really detailed. Even on the higher frequencies, where some tracks test really hard the hardware, this pairing sounds amazingly good. Very good job, given that both these headphones and this DAC tend to… appreciate a lot playing in the bass. Also, the soundstage here appears very wide, making the sound very musical and feeling emotional. They really sound great together and made me want to listen to them paired.
The better the files, the better the job, usually. But I’ve also tried to listen to average quality files (320 kbps MP3s) which I didn’t like on my 1More MK801, thinking the bad sounding treble and voices were a fault of the record, and I’ve been surprised to find a really satisfactory sound even in those frequencies. I must say, I liked the 1More in a lot of situations, with my DAPs mainly, but with this DAC/AMPs they didn’t sound the best. That’s strange, because all the other situations convinced me that the Beam provides a sound that’s even better than DAPs that cost twice than it. Verdict in that situation: Beam with good headphones makes sound good even low-quality files; Beam with good files makes sound good even discrete headphones. Would I have to say the Beam is a sound-improver, so? Well, that’s exactly what it is. And what it wants to be. More volume, much more quality, detail, warmness, a wider stage: this little metal bar sounds lovely.

In conclusion, it sounds amazingly well, and you can take advantage of all the convenience of having a phone as a source.
It would be interesting having another version of it, a little bit bigger, with its own battery: the only disadvantage (that’s not really a problem) of this kind of products is that they need to take juice from the source, obviously. Maybe this could be an idea for a future product.

REVIEW: CUSTOM ART FIBAE 3

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Custom Art is a young company on a rapid rise from Poland. Founded by Piotr Granicki, a huge audiophile, they were already quite known thanks to their older lineups, Harmony and Music, but he is now ready to move on, releasing the FIBAE line-up: three innovative yet affordable CIEMs packed with FIBAE(Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone) technology, with an ambitious promise: maintain their sound signature, regardless of the source they are paired with.
The three CIEMs from the FIBAE family are differentiated by the number of drivers they are packed with: the numbers 1-2-3 reflects this. So, the unit I will review today has 3 balanced-armature drivers at a competitive price tag for a CIEM: 525 euros for the most basic version, rasing to just a little more than 600 euros for the most personalized version. CIEM, or Custom In Ear Monitor, are a particular kind of IEM shaped like the ear of the buyer. They usually do cost way more than a standard IEM due to the hard, long process required, but the benefits are evident: comfort and isolation are drastically improved, and they stay firmly in your ear, so they are good for drummers, singers, anyone that moves a lot. So, even a relatively high price (525€ is still a significant amount of money) becomes more affordable than his competition.
This unit was sent me as an example of the Universal model. I would like to thanks Pjotr for sending me this unit and giving me the opportunity to test this innovative IEM.

Data sheet :
· Three balanced-armature drivers(sub-low, full-range, high)
· 7.3Ω @ 1kHz
· 110dB@0.1V@1kHz
· Universal acrylic shape or custom acrylic/silicon form factor
· Frequency range: 10-21000Hz
· Price: starting from 525€

FIBAE Technology: what is it and how does it work?
The trick is in the name: it promises a flat impendance, negating the output impendance dependency of the amplifier. But why is it so innovative? Long story short, any signal jack has an output impendance rating, and it has an effect on the tonality of the IEM. Nowadays, almost every amplifier has a low output impendance, usually less than 1 ohm. Almost. There are some cases in which, for example, the impendance can nearly hit 5 or more ohms, and not few outputs are closer to 2 ohms than to one. Here is when the FIBAE technology starts working: it can cancel the impendance mismatching by switching the armature from inductive to resistive, delivering always the best sound possible. For further information and graphs: https://thecustomart.com/fibae/

PACKAGING: Sparce but with a clean look. It needs way more work. They arrive in a logoless black box, something you would not expect from this price tag. Inside are the basical essential of IEM ownership:
· Peli 1010 case, in which the IEM are stored and protected
· A smaller, more portable zipper case
· Some tools ( a drying cloth and a Wax remove scraper)
· Warranty card and a manual with some quick tips

Nothing too fancy, and even if the essential is here, I really wished for something more. In case of the Universal ones, also a bunch of silicone tips ( 4 different sizes) is included. I hope they will improve the packaging a bit, at least by putting a logo somewhere.

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AESTETICS: Just awesome. As the name suggests, you can customize almost every part of the IEMs, from the colors to the materials. While choosing from a wide range of options, you can look at the big 3d model, in order to have a better idea about how they look. The design is how I discovered those IEMs: they did instantly catch my eyes. They are almost breath-taking, they looked like a sculpture from a modern art museum. You can’t go wrong here: they can suit the tastes of eveyone. The main differences between silicon and acrylic are:
· The silicon ones are more comfortable and their isolation is superior, but are less durable.
· The acrylic ones are more customizable (and they are way more beautiful in my opinion) and, if treated with care, they should last longer. But they suffer from even the smallest shock: handle with care, or you can easly create small, unsightly cracks. They don’t influence the sound, but they surely ruin the aesthetics.

Overall the quality is really good: the stock cable is detachable and easy to change, they are easy to clean, super comfortable (even the universal version) and do seal really good from external noise. The cable itself can be customized as well, adding an in-line microphone or changing the plug.
Since they mainly are Custom IEMs, the website has a guide about how to get your impressions done. Then, just send them to their labs, and after a short wait they will be delivered, exactly how you wanted them to be. They offer a brief warranty in which any remodeling would be free: after that period of time, for less than 100€ you can adjust them, but this should not be needed before a few years.

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SOUND: Here comes the fun part. If I had to use a single adjective, it would be “precision”. The frequency response is close to the W shape, with powerful but controlled low-end, strong vocal presence and an accentuated presence of highs, while conserving a balanced sound.Thanks to the presence of a strong sub-bass, they remind me my loved Hifiman HE400i with a bit more sparkling presence of highs and a wider soundstage.
The soundstage might be the second thing I noticed, and it surprised me. Is really wide, with good spatiality and precision. Such high level can be reached thanks to the overall balance: despite having such a wide range, they managed to create harmony. Impressive. The website has a little graph that illustrate the IEMs, and i was happy to notice that it was pretty damn accurate.
The sub-bass is nothing less than impressive. It gives body and a touch of warmth but without influencing the midrange. Tight and controlled, they dig really deep, delivering a strong but not flat kick when needed. The bass and upper-bass are under control as well, delivering a full, strong impact, without exaggerating: they aren’t earth-shaking , and they don’t invade the mid-range, resulting in a clear, crisp sound.
The mids are a little behind, but still packed with detail and smoothness, without sounding cold. Separation is also really good, a thing that I enjoyed a lot since I love orchestral music: individual instruments were easy to catch, even a simple cord of a guitar.But precision comes with a price: even the smalles problem in the track is amplified. For example, while trying some mid-quality MP3 files that I used for ages, the quality sound fell, and it was almost like listening from an old, half-broken radio. And i always thought they were at least acceptable.
The highs , as preannounced on the website, are more in the bright side, but without excessive spikes nor sibilance. Since they are a bit lifted, the sound deliveres a sense of air, lacking of fatigue but without feeling boring.
To sum up they are quite fun to listen to, never boring but still packing swiss precision and separation: with the right file, they will never sound messy.
Speaking about sources, I tried them on my pretty cheap telephone, on some low end daps like the topping nx2 or xuelin iHiFi780, and some desktop sources too, like the Schiit magni+modi. The sound signature barely changed at all, and even the typical buzzing noise from low end sources is cleaned out. Luckly they are easy to drive, so the biggest difference is made from good files and a decent DAC. Impressive.

CONCLUSION: Those are my first high-end IEM, and i wasn’t expecting such an high quality. They totally washed out my previous iem (a pair of Brainwavz b200), and other models i’ve tried in the past, so I used my he400i as comparison. And they fought on fair ground, with even a wider soundstage. I was astonished.
Superb quality sound, incredible look, affordable price, easy to drive, innovative… What else could I ask? Good job Pjotr!

REVIEW: FIIO M7

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Introduction

Since FiiO has announced this new DAP, I was really curious to try this nearly-entry-level solution. While being a little bit skeptical because of the RAM (it provides actually less than 1 GB of memory), the fact that it runs Android as OS surely was a plus in my mind. Furthermore, this is the firstFiio product with a USB Type C: for me, this is definitely another pro, but the line-up of Fiio provides a lot of Micro USB connectors with proprietary technologies (like the 16-pin connector that also carries the audio). In fact, if you want to use with the M7 – for example – the dock station, you have to use an adaptor; it’s clearly not a definitive solution: USB Type C carries the audio on its own, so I expect to see, in the near future, an updated dock and relative dongles.
The first important thing about this product is the absence of a WiFi module: even though it runs Android, you unfortunately can’t use online streaming services like Spotify – but, given the nature of this Audio Player, it would be a pity to use it with such poor-quality sounds; maybe Tidal users could be more disappointed at this point, but I’m actually no one of them. And I usually “feed” my DAPs with discrete quality FLAC files because I’m an offline kind of person. I also consider myself a “wired” person (not weird, author’s note), but for people who prefer wireless, this DAP carries a nice Bluetooth module (4.2, that’s low energy and long-range).
Consider what I wrote until now as an introduction, a conversational prologue. Henceforward I’ll be technical and pragmatic.

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Package
The M7 is packaged in an elegant white box, that reminds me of the Apple ones, or even better because it seems recycled paper (special consideration for the environment can’t be something bad). Inside we can find the player itself, a useful silicon case, the charging cable and the instruction manuals: basic equipment but nothing missing; otherwise I’ve really appreciated the case and the general elegance: remind this product is 200$-priced, which is a fierce price range because of the competitors. Really a point in favor ofFiiO.

This unit was sent me for the purpose of this review , I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions will be only my own. Would like to thanks Lily and Fiio team for sending me this unit giving me the opportunity to test such a well sounding product.

LINK TO THE OFFICIAL SHOP: http://www.fiio.net/fiio

LINK TO FACEBOOK PAGE:

Hardware, Design and Ports
I can clearly say this is a very 2018 product: a solid construction with really good materials (metal and glass), a good System on Chip provided by Samsung (actually an Exynos 7270), a USB Type C port (that I’m a great fan of), everything sweetly combined in this great-looking Audio Player. I’m not fully convinced about the memory area: both the RAM and the ROM feel significantly underestimated to run Android smoothly (we talk about 768 MB of RAM and 2 GB of Internal Storage). Obviously, to store the music files we have the possibility – I must say the obligation – to mount a Micro SD card: luckily it supports up to 512 GB cards! And I’m sure that nobody could be disappointed with that – does anyone really need more than that?
The musical heart of this player is the DAC ESS Sabre ES9018Q2C.
Speaking of placement, while I find more comfortable having both the charging port and the audio jack on the same side – the lowest -, for technical reasons they are placed on the opposite sides one another: in that way they avoid electrical interferences disturbing the audio signal. And it works great on the audio neatness way, as we’ll see on the dedicated section later; in fact, they grant a harmonic distortion that’s lower than 0,004%.
The audio jack also integrates a line-out output, which recognize the hardware and eventually bypass the internal circuitry while we use it as an external source.

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On the left side they’ve located the volume slider – which has a funny clicking wheel –and three solid buttons (previous song or Radio station, play/pause, next song). Given the small dimensions of the DAP, they result comfortable to reach and satisfyingly clicky. On the upper side we find, with the audio jack, the power button, that’s smart because it has an embedded notification led, which changes color when in charge/charged/simply on.
Something I didn’t like is the brightness level: even though the screen is good, the maximum brightness doesn’t feel enough bright. It could be an issue for those who need to see well under the sunlight.
A 1880 mAh battery is there to provide – as declared – up to 20 hours of listening on a single charge, but it’s not a real-life indication: that result has reached with a really low volume level, low quality files, screen off… but it’s no big deal, because I found that the endurance of this little player was very good: with good-quality FLACs and a little equalization, I’ve obtained a maximum quantity of 15 hours of music reproduction, that’s better than every other out there, I think. Even with a little Bluetooth use.

I was glad to find the FM Radio, a feature usually prerogative of super-cheap DAPs (I really don’t know why, because the multimedia area would always get advantage of it). FiiO has clearly listened to his users and payed attention to the market, both because of the updated USB and the modem area – even though we miss WiFi, but I’m sure we’ll find it in future models; it’s a question of time until they’ll release their updated “X” models, following the great way taken with this M7. However, the signal wasn’t bad at all, and the first time I opened the FM Radio I accidentally happened on a channel transmitting Jackson’s Billy Jean; I don’t really listen to the Radio when in search of audio quality, and that’s why I was surprised the most: that song sounded so detailed and pleasant that I thought I was listening, at least, to a good MP3 file. I’m glad this is not something placed to add a specification, but a cured sector (the chip, provided by Silicon Labs, is the SI4705).

Software
As an Android fan, I washappy to find this OS mounted on the M7. Here in a custom who-knows-what version (which I don’t know anything about, because it’s not even reported in the info), it’s a good-looking User Interface, that runs surprisingly well on that minimum amount of RAM. As I’ve already reported, this player lacks the WiFi module, which also means that streaming Apps won’t find any space. And this product doesn’t even carry the Google Play Store, which is obviously not necessary. However, I thought there was the possibility to sideload apps, if we were not satisfied with, for example, the stock Music Player; but we can’t: the pre-loaded File Manager perfectly reads every song and even hidden folders, but doesn’t show apk files in the micro SD card inserted. Anyway, I can assure that this Player App is so good that I’ve also installed the Beta version of it –provided by FiiO itself – on my Xiaomi Mi Mix 2. Not just the UI/UX side, but also the great optimization carried with it – and, in general, with this not-so-deeply-customized version of the green robot. For those who already are Android users, I must say, on balance, that there’s not much Android left here: even the navigation bar was removed in favor of gestures. Well, at least this is also a very 2018 thing.
However, after using the player, I can assure there aren’t any issues concerning software: I’ve found no big lags, but it’d be hard to, because the software is so limited! If it is a pro or a con, it’s a personal choice. I’ve found just some stray translation mistakes, and, in general, what I didn’t like about this area was not something that compromises the use of the device. For example, the only software way to stop the Radio FM receiving and playing is by opening the Music Player; I’d rather find an on/off switch, just like in the Music Player app. But you can obviously just press the dedicated hardware button for Play/Pause.

During my test period, I’ve received a software update – from 1.0.2 to 1.0.3. I clarify that obviously no notifications appeared on the DAP itself, but FiiO has released the OTA zip here: http://fiio.net/en/supports/56
To install it, I’ve just opened the support app on the M7, selected the zip that I previously inserted in my Micro SD and let it flash. It’s a matter of minutes.
As a Mac user, I’ll give this advice: this player connects via MTP, that’s a Microsoft standard. Given the fact that everyone knows Android File Transfer for Mac OS is a terrible app, I recommend using Commander One, which is so much better, or simply extract the SD from the player and put it into your PC, that will avoid crashes and other amenities. I would have recommended Hand Shaker by Smartisan, but it needs the companion app on the player and we can’t install it.

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Sound and Pairing
I’ve already wrote something about Bluetooth, but I must spend some other words for it. It’s not that I didn’t like it much here, it’s that I never enjoy this type of connection. Not just under an audiophile point of view, but mostly because of the discomfort of having to charge both the DAP and the headphones too many times. In fact, when the Bluetooth connection is on, the battery life decreases faster. I don’t actually have really good sounding Bluetooth headphones (I mean, AptX and various other HD wireless tech), but trying the M7 with the Bluedio T4S gave me a discrete impression: it’s a pretty long-range signal, that carries a crisp sound (with a little lack of bass, but I’m pretty sure it’s a headphone’s fault). I’ve also tried the M7 wirelessly with my Inateck BH1001 – obviously not an audiophile pair of headphones, but neither is the Bluetooth listening in general -: I’ve appreciated their sound in other (more sport-related) situations, and even with this DAP I’ve found an honest reproduction of frequencies; actually, they carry pleasant basses and good highs, while not perfect mids – and I don’t really love V-shaped sounding means, honestly. But I’m writing about wireless signals, which aren’t my favourite (or even some audiophile’s) kind of stuff.
The wired connection here, to my personal preference, was more enjoyable.
First thing to say about sound: this player carries a lot of pression. I didn’t raise the volume over 35 over 60, which is the sign that M7 can drive very high-impedance headphones. I’m wondering why the volume wasn’t divided in 100 steps; who knows.
However, I found the sound to be satisfyingly punchy and detailed in most of the genres I’ve listened to. Buckley’s Grace (the album) was the less enjoyable one because of the electric guitars’ quantity; the kneaded sound felt not-so-well managed in that situation. But in every other situation the M7 has driven my headphones very well, carrying a believable sound in the fidelity way and not coloring it too much. Just like I’ve said before, something surprising here is the noise level, that’s incredibly low. That makes the listening very clean and pleasant.

Some reference songs I’ve used:
– No son of mine, Firth to Fifth, Genesis
– I can’t make you love me/Nick of time, Bon Iver
– Love is a losing game, Amy Winehouse
– Brave new world, Kings of Convenience
– I don’t know what I can save you from, Kings of Convenience

And the headphones I’ve used:

(Good 100$) 1MORE MK801: I loved how they sound together. The soundstage is wide and thanks to the minimum noise carried by the M7, the room feels cozy and warm. I don’t think this DAP is a warm one in general, but they evidently balance themselves. The punchiness was there, but well managed, carrying a good amount of basses (but low sub-basses), decent mids and good highs. The voice was a little too sharp, mostly with female ones, while the instrument separation was very accurate. My quandary remains with Grace, like I’ve said before, because it feels too confusing for the instruments playing mid frequencies. But the equalization is there to help: try simply the custom presets – that I unfortunately didn’t find so different one from another, they are 9 – to adjust the sound; that obviously didn’t do any miracles, but it helps.

Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear (MK1, my loved ones): the best sounding of these first three, a little obvious given the price and the brand. The M7 underlines its pros but also its cons. For example, it’s well known that these earphonesare a little unbalanced on the lower frequencies and it’s clear, by listening to this combo, that this DAP make its work by… just sounding unbalanced on the lower frequencies. So, under the fidelity way I’ve no regrets on pairing these two instruments together. But you have to manually adjust the equalization (10 bands) by taking down a bit the bass, and then you’ll hear exactly what you expect to hear. Soundstage is wide enough, there’s no sound coloring – and I kind of like this flat experience, because you hear everything right. Very good mids in my ear’s taste, including instruments separation, voice clarity, nothing bad to say. Highs are just a little less intense, but still enjoyable. In general, treble with this DAP is well balanced.

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Fiio F5: great synergy, with wide soundstage and natural sound. This M7 helps to avoid any treble harshness and gives a nice bass impact. Vocals on f5 are a bit recessed, this player helps to give a more forward mid presentation.

Fiio ex1 2nd gen: very wide and holographic soundstage, with nice transient response. M7 helps to give a fuller bass response and less v-shaped sound signature.

Ibasso IT01: not a great synergy with this player. IT01 has a great and fun bass impact, for this M7 will give a nice soundstage and vocals, but too much bass quantity. Usually, this M7 has a great synergy with neutral/clean sounding IEM.

Dunu C-falcon: as for fiio iems, M7 has a great synergy with C-Falcon giving a fuller sound and better control. Vocals are sweet with a nice airy sound. I don’t feel too much harshness like with my iPhone.

I’d say this DAP is easy to listen to. Once, there was an agreement between song producers for the tuning. Nowadays, this is no more a thing, and mainstream music receive a mastering process that fills every sound gap and the sound results no more airy. Consequently, this DAP is tuned to fulfill this kind of sound, that’s a mass need, not really an audiophile one. But I liked this little M7, I’d say more than I expected, because it carries an unpretentious sound, which is yet a good-quality one: it’s musical, and this is what we are searching for. This price range carries a lot of good products (Cayin N3, Shanling M2S,…), in which I’d insert this FiiO’s M7, even with all its little faults.
An advice to FiiO: in the “support” section, I’d like to find something about screenshot functionality, and a quick link to the equalizer in Settings. Like, I’d make the equalizer an app itself, it would be simpler to put our hands on.

Notice that this DAP won’t work via USB (as a DAC), that’s only used to charge and exchange data. Explaining it better, FiiO provides support just for its Q1 MK2, Q5 or Chord Mojo, that I don’t own.

Pros
Design
Battery life
FM Radio
Sound
USB C
It reads everything you charge it with
Easy-to-use software

Cons
Poor Memory area
screen brightness
No balanced connection

REVIEW: LARK STUDIO LSX

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Lark Studio is a new audiophile company, but quite experienced in producing universal and custom products, they just released their first 10 balanced armatures model: LSX.

“The lark is a well-known bird to the music industry.
As it flies high, you may only catch a glimpse of it as its cry reaches you.
The crisp and sweet sound of the lark is a symbol of Lark Studio’s constant pursuit of sound quality.
The lark’s rich colors inspire us to build ever more diverse and beautiful products, with an aesthetically-focused design.
Lark Studio was created out of a passion to bring the market top-notch custom and universal in-ear monitors embodying the beauty of the lark, in both body and sound.

After a long two years of preparation, three audiologists, with a combined experience of 18 years, set out to create excellently-performing monitors that provide an excellent visual and sonic value. Each employee of Lark Studio is a veteran of the audiophile market, with the youngest of ours having more than five years of experience.

We are a group of people chasing dreams.
Our team features an industry-leading tuner, hardware engineer, and product engineer, and together we’ve refined the traditional engineering/production cycle to provide a higher quality product, at a lower cost.
Each pair of in-ears goes through three separate polishing passes at the factory and is inspected for quality control rigorously with each pass. We do not tolerate any defects.
During the production process, our IEMs pass through four separate groups of tests, designed specifically by our quality-assurance team. And just to make sure that nothing gets through, a manual review is done by a trained professional right before we box up your new pair of in-ears.

As a testament to our commitment to our customers, we offer a comprehensive insurance package that covers all forms of damage, be it user error, product defect, or environmental damage. A payment of $180 gets your IEM two years of no-questions-asked insurance. Just send us your IEMs and we will get to work. Please note that shipping must be covered by the customer.

Each of Lark Studio’s products is a labor of love. Every in-ear is made from high-quality materials, including some of the finest exotic woods you can find. Each piece is painstakingly screened for visual appeal and then treated to get the highest level of aesthetic value. We aim to build for you IEMs that transcend utility and become a true work of art, an heirloom quality product.

It is exactly for this reason that when each new employee joins the company, he or she knows they must embody the values of Lark Studios.
The staff strongly believes in the value of their work, as their job lets them bring life to an inert piece of plastic or chunk of exotic wood.

This is the story, and these are the values, of Lark Studios. We aim to provide you with a service that leaves you glad you did business with us. Happy reading!”

Today, i am going to review their custom model, but i have had the opportunity to test their final universal prototype too.

CLSX unit was sent me as a sample unit, I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions will be only my own. Would like to thanks Lark Studio team for sending me this unit giving me the opportunity to test this engaging and nice-tuned IEM.

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LSX will come in two versions: standard one, with a copper cable and a special version too, with PWaudio Saladin cable.
They will offer their custom version at the same price of their universal one.
From what i know, you can customize the artwork of both your universal and custom models without any additional cost, this is amazing and quite revolutionary.
( at the end of this review, you can find all the specs for standard cable and PWaudio Saladin one).

For more info about lsx or many custom available artworks, you can easily ask to Michael or Arthur on their facebook channel.

PRICE STANDARD EDITION : 1699 USD
PRICE SPECIAL EDITION: 1899 USD

OFFICIAL SITE :http://www.lark-studios.com
FACEBOOK PAGE https://www.facebook.com/larkstudiohifi/

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PACKAGING: usually, don’t like to write much about packaging and other feautures, cause my main focus is sound quality, but the package here, is quite premium and rich: in the large box you can find many adaptors, a warranty card, a soft pouch and other more accessories, that you can see in the picture above.
Where, other companies uses only an hard case for their custom models, Lark Studio uses for both their universal and custom IEM the same premium box( in the universal model, you will find many SpinfFit and Comply eartips, i found a good isolation and great sound with the blue core SpinFit eartip).
For the custom artwork, i choosed a wood faceplates, trasparent shell and their silver/gold logo. Build quality seems premium and sturdy, though the pin socket are a bit tight specially at the beginning( so pay attention when switching cables).
Will update this review, if will find any build quality issue in the near future.

SOUND: All my sound consideration has been made after 150 hours of burn in as suggested by Lark Studio company, with different DAPs such as AK KANN, AK se100 Futura, Opus 1s, Opus2, iFi Nano Idsd black label.
I really found a great improvement after 100 hours of burn-in( usually, i am not a great burn-in believer for multi balanced IEM, but for custom models it needs time to adjust to your ear-canal and consequently when the seal will be good, perceived sound will improve. At this point, i don’t know if the great improvement i found, was due to only the better seal or the burn-in driver, but just to be sure, i suggest to make always a 50/100 hours of burn-in, before judging the overall sound quality.

LSX is quite a neutral/warm, but still engaging iem, and was quite impressed by the refined tuning. Lark Studio created a nice combination of engaging and neutral/warm sound with sweet female vocals.
Bass is for sure, a strong point of this IEM: last time i heard such a quality bass response was with the Rhapsodio Galaxy V2(dynamic driver). Usually multi-balanced IEMs cannot compete in bass quality with dynamic drivers models, but here bass goes very deep, with great sub-bass extension, mid-bass has adequate presence, but never warms up too much the scene. The overall result will depend on the source too, for example this LSX with ak se100 Futura really shines, giving a great punchy and layered bass response.

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Vocals are a bit behind, but have nice tonality and realism, here again this iem has a great sinergy with astell and kern player, cause se100, usually, tends to push vocals more forward. There is a peak on the high-midrange area that creates a great balance with the strong bass response. Both male and female vocals are well portrayed, but feamale ones are really sweet and refined. Listening to Yael Naim or Cèlin Dion on this LSX was a pleasure for my ears.
Treble is clean and well extended and sometimes, will give you some sparkles, but never resulting too harsh or hot.

Soundstage is quite wide and holographic with the right tracks, but i found the universal model to have a wider soundstage(my custom model fits very deep in my ear-canal, so it can changes the overall perceived soundstage).
This LSX is quite easy to drive, but is not the most sensitive IEM out there, so needs a bit of current to really shine. Overall with good players such Opus 2/1s and ak se100 you will have a great result.

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STANDARD EDITION VS SPECIAL EDITION( STANDARD COPPER CABLE VS PWAUDIO SALADIN CABLE):
the standard copper cable will give you a warmer sound, with more focus on bass and vocals(nice with modern and pop music), on the other side Saladin has always a smooth approach with more organic vocals, but will give you a better balance of mid-bass and upper treble( i would say a more audiophile approach). Overall Saladin has a more refined and sweet sound, with better transparency and resolution. I would suggest you to go with the standard edition, if you love a warmer sound with a more focus on bass response.

PAIRINGS:

LSX and Astell and kern SE100: great sinergy, with deep and airy bass response, vocals results more sweet and more forward. Soundstage results a bit more intimate and less wide compared to Opus2, but there is better depth layering.

LSX and OPUS2: bass doesn’t go deep as ak se100, but acquires more rumble and mid-bass presence. Vocals are not forward like SE100, but are still sweet with good tonality. Soundstage is wider and more holographic, but is less deep.
I can easily drive this IEM on mid-gain without any issues.

LSX with Opus1s: Opus 1s is a bit more full-bodied than Opus 2, less neutral, with a warmer and punchier bass response. Vocals are not so weet and detailed like for SE100 and Opus 2. Soundstage is less wide and layered, but there is great left/right channel separation.

COMPARISON:

INEARZ EUPHORIA CUSTOM(999 USD) VS LSX(1699/1899 USD): lsx has better treble response and upper-mid presence, for this lsx, is capable to show a better female vocals. Euphoria has good bass response, but doesn’t go deep as Lsx can do. Soundstage is more or less on par.
Overall INEARZ EUPHORIA, sounds a bit smoother and less fatiguing, but LSX has better bass response and is capable to combine an engaging and natural sound in a better way.

CONCLUSION: this LSX was quite a surprise for me, wasn’t expecting such a refined tuning abilities from Lark Studio engineers and giving the opportunity to their customers to choose artwork customization for both their universal and custom product without any additional cost, will be for sure a winning choice for this new/big company.

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SPECS:
10 precision tuned balanced armature drivers:
3 bass
4 midrange
2 treble
1 super-treble

4-way passive crossover design.

AVX Oxicap Capacitors
Vishay Resistors
Impedance: 19-20ohm
Sensitivity: 109-110 dB
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20 kHZ

SPECS STANDARD CABLE EDITION:
6N OCC 24awg *4 6N 24awg *4
280*0.06mm conductors /
TPU Shielding (Japan)

SPECS PWaudio Saladin cable:

tapping on his vast experience with copper based and silver based cables, Peter Wong has set out to create a new range of products, known as the “Vanquish” series, to mark a new era of PWaudio products.

Featuring a unique geometry and wire design based on his “Sevenfold Pipe” series, together with his knowledge of different types and grades of cable materials, PWaudio has created the Saladin.

Saladin features an all new 7 bundle Litz geometry of copper and silver-plated copper. Drawing from the characteristics of the copper, Saladin presents a vast, yet warm sound that draws the listener in with its intimacy and smoothness, and which also takes advantage of the SPC to present a detailed treble that provides added resolution and energy.

REVIEW: STEREOPRAVDA SB-7

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This is our first product from the Russian StereoPravda company, so would like to write something about their origin and philosophy:

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources – and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former”.
Malcolm Gladwell, “David and Goliath”.

Misha Kucherenko has been a well known figure in the Russian audiophile circles since 1993 when he co-founded the first Russian real audiophile store called “The Purple Legion”.
Through its history “PL” has been distributing in Russia the products from some of the most respected audiophile brands, including Apogee Acoustics, Krell, Audio Research Corporation, Magnepan, Klipsch, Kimber Kable, MSB, Genesis Louspeakers, Stereovox, Manley Labs, Grado, etc.

In 2002 Misha left “The Purple Legion” to devote his passion and energy to a new company that was called “StereoPravda”. His close relationship with his manufacturing partners lead to transition of most of them for the distribution of their products in Russia from “Purple Legion” to the new company.
Misha is also well known for his independent audio journalistic effort. Despite his unconventional views, for the last 20 years he published more than a hundred of articles and reports in various Russian magazines, including “Audiomagazine”, “Salon AV”, “Class A”, “Art Electronics”, etc. Since 2013 his monthly “Personal Opinion” column on one of the most popular Internet audio forum soundex.ru was read by many thousands of Russian audiophiles. Misha’s journalistic effort culminated in a long interview regarding portable audio, in general, and StereoPravda line of products, in particular, which he gave to a well known American “Widescreen Review” (August magazine called 2015, #198).

As a hard core audiophile and jet set travelling audio journalist for many years he’s been seeing inevitable changes coming to the audiophile hobby. Looking at the progress in various relevant technologies vs stale set of audiophile dogmas brought him a new vision: The Portable High End Audio.
To him, what matters is not a type of a no-holds-barred audio system- be it a home system or a portable one – what does matter is the initial purity of its creator’s intentions and the degree of their realization.

From his stand point and the background he’s not being seeing any adequate audio quality portable propositions coming from “The Big Boys”, so, eventually, capitalizing on his hard-earned reputation, he decided to fill the gap with his own line of products bearing the StereoPravda name.
At this time, the line consists of four In-the-Ear Monitors: SPearphone SB-5, SPearphone SB-6, SPearphone SB-7, SPearphone SB-7A, and also one dedicated portable IEM DAC/Tone Control/two-way differential amplifier to be used with the latter IEM model.

The IEMs are designed by Misha himself, the dedicated DACCA unit is designed by Alexey Malanin, who’s been Misha’s close associate for more than two decades. All these products are result of many years spent on their R&D.
StereoPravda products are 100% hand crafted and individually thoroughly tested.
Misha’s intention with this line is to carry the audiophile torch through High End Audio’s current “neutral zone” to its new incarnation.
And to pass this torch of true values to a new generation of audiophiles.

I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions will be only my own. Would like to thanks “Big Misha” for sending me this unit giving me the opportunity to experience such an audiophile and pure sound.

PRICE: 2500 USD

OFFICIAL SITE : http://www.stereopravda.com/products/5/33/
FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/spearphone/?ref=br_rs

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PACKAGING: SB7 will arrive in a very unique packaging, I would say with a very Russian style. There aren’t a lot of accessories, just some sheets and cards that show the frequency response of the SB7 and some fit tips, you will find a soft pouch to bring your IEM on the go( there aren’t replaceable tips, since the SB7 works only with the mounted ones out of the box).

Build quality is premium, with great attention to details. It’s strange and singular shape is strictly connected to the sound quality. This SB7 was projected not like other common universal IEMs, indeed it fits more like a custom one( reatching the second bend ear canal, not only will give you better isolation, but overall a better perceived sound).

This IEM is not so easy to use, for this, if you are planning to buy one I truly suggest you to follow these guidelines on their site:

SOME FIT TIPS AND SOME INFO ABOUT THE CABLE:

“Each pair of our IEMs (In-The-Ear-Monitors) undergoes an extended audition to make sure that it is 100% perfect. The cable for the StereoPravda SPearphone SB-6 and SB-7/7A is crafted (almost) by hand in his own workshop by our American partner and close friend cable “guru” Chris Sommovigo (of Stereolab). The cable for the StereoPravda SPearphone SB-5 is a generic cable, but which we picked up, after extended auditions of numerous candidates, as the best “bang for a buck” performer.

The mini-jack connector used for the SB-6 and the SB-7/7A is the best one we have ever auditioned.

The mini-jack connector for the SB-5 is the one supplied with the generic cable.

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Here are some basic hints about inserting and wearing our StereoPravda SPearphones family of the IEMs:

For INSERTING please, see the picture attached:

  1. Put the connecting cable behind your neck with its split

closer to the right ear.

For mobile convenience, fasten it with the clip to your collar (the clip positioning can be changed along the cable’s length to adjust each channel’ corresponding extensions).

As this AUDIOPHILE cable is relatively fragile, we would recommend you to “think twice” before making any adjustments, as the coils of the wire would not completely return to the straight shape after twisting.

Wrap the cables around your ear (see the attached picture).

  1. With the connecting wire pointing upwards and slightly in front of you (see the attched picture), slowly insert an IEM as deep as possible(it’s supposed to stop at some

depth, depending on the size of your ear channel). Alternatively, a sharp pain should stop you. Relative unease is a normal feeling while this first undertaking.

  1. When stopped, slightly twist the earphone around, pushing slightly in and out in the ear channel UNTIL YOU FEEL THE SAME EAR CHANNEL ACOUSTIC ISOLATION in each ear.

That is when you pronounce “m-m-m-” or “ah-ah-ah-” sounds, it’s indicated by THE SAME response in both of your sealed ears.

Hopefully, you’ll reach the ear channel isolation with no pain or inconvenience.

The isolation is the key to good sound. Without it the excellent sound is impossible with our designs. So, spend some time making sure you’re obtaining the ear channel isolation, and don’t even try to evaluate the sonic qualities of our products without reaching it.

We are quick to admit that our products are not for everyone, their appeal is limited by the variance in human ear channel anatomy.

So, please, cross your fingers that you’ll pass the admission test!

Otherwise, if your ear channel is too small or a quirky-shaped one, and the use of our products is prohibited by an intolerantly high level of discomfort, we’re very sorry, and are honestly wishing you all the best in your future sonic endeavors!

You can return our product for a full return (please, see our return policy on our website).

  1. RE-WRAP THE CONNECTING CABLE AROUND YOUR EAR (like in

the attached picture). This is important, as the cable, while moving, can constantly twist the IEM out of its correct positioning, leading to the “leakage of isolation”.

  1. If necessary, slightly RE-POSITION the IEM within your ear channel (please, see point 3. above).

So, while moving your head, the ear channel is CONSTANTLY isolated.

Please, make sure that the connectinng cable is wrapped around your ear and SLIGHTLY TIGHTENED around it to make sure that it’ll stay in its place!

The physical design of our SPearphone line is optimized for a CONSTANT (despite on the head movent) level of such isolation in an appropriately (for each model)-sized ear channel.

  1. You’re done.
  2. We recommend to SLIGHTLY change the moving collar clip/R/L cables’ splitting point of positioning on the cable after each use. This procedure would prevent the breakage of the small cable conductors inside at this point of juncture”.

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SOUND: this SB7 is not easy to review, since its sound depends mostly on how good the fit will be. I spent two weeks to find out the best way to use them( my ear canal is a bit small, so required a bit of time to adjust to the singular shape of SB7). Once, found the perfect fit, I enjoyed not only a great isolation, but most important thing a truly audiophile sound. The SB7 is capable to reproduce a great timbre and tonality with extreme soundstage accuracy. This IEM stays on the neutral side, leaning a bit on the bright one, to assure great definition, clarity and airy sound. The reproduction is on top levels and for sure, among the best one I have ever tested. The imperative for the SB7 is to sound neutral, pure without any fun and artificial embellishment.

Bass is on the neutral side, with great impact and decay. It never warms the scene and most important thing, never covers the midrange. Sub-bass, if you will find a  perfect fit and good amplification, is very satisfying, with the right amount of punch and speed. Overall, bass response is natural and well controlled, with great accuracy and definition.

Due to its neutral/bright sound signature the SB7 is a great performer with female voices. Listening to LanaDelRey or Nora Jones on this IEM will be a pleasure for your ears.

Treble response is surely a strong point for this IEM, very defined with plenty of resolution and sparkles, but never sounding too hot and harsh. The overall treble response helps to give a very spacious and airy sound. I truly suggest to pair this SB7 with a more musical and warm player, cause with a reference one, treble can be a bit too much sharp.

Soundstage is great, very wide and holographic. Obviously, the final result will depend by the source and the player, for example with my ak Kann soundstage is more holographic than my Opus1s.

The SB7 is quite easy to drive, and can give you a very good sound just out of common DAPs like Opus and Astell&Kern, but i truly suggest you to pair with a good Desktop DAC/AMP to reach a better tonal balance and more immersive soundstage.

COMPARISONS:

SB7 VS AROMA AUDIO YAO: these IEMs are one of the best I have ever tested, they have totally different sound signature and approach to music, but both of them performs at really high levels. Yao is more on the warmer side, with a more relaxed and romantic sound. Yao has more mid-bass quantity and overall a more organic voice reproduction. SB7 has  better resolution and a more airy sound, with more sparkles, but is less forgiving with low quality tracks. Soundstage is on par, with good separation on both of these IEMs, but SB7 is capable to portray a more holographic stage around you.

Yao is more easy to drive, on the other side the SB7 needs a better amplification to really shine.

SB7 VS RHAPSODIO GALAXY INFINITY: SB7 has better resolution and more convincing tonality and timbre. Bass has better impact and decay on the SB7. Due to the bright signature of the Stereo Pravda IEM, sound is less forgiving with bad players and low quality tracks.

CONCLUSION:

I really loved this SB7 for its pure and audiophile reproduction, but the comfort was not so immediate, at least for my small ear-canal. The singular shape of this IEM is strictly connected to its great sound qualities, but if Misha is able to produce a more comfortable body, with still this top level sound, will easily compete with all the top players out there.

The SB7 is not an IEM for everyone, and StereoPravda knows it, for this I really hope you can audition it by yourself  before buying it, cause the overall final result will depend only  by the fit you will be able to find.

PROS:

one of the most transparent and natural sound i have ever heard

Female voices

Very holographic soundstage

CONS:

not much comfortable for my small ear canals

cable not easy to use on the go

SPECS:

NON-user replacable one size-fits all universal silicon tip;

– SEVEN Balanced Armature drivers per channel, all drivers share the same axis;

– custom Pravda32 connecting cable specially designed for this model by Chris Sommovigo;

– audiophile-grade matching resistors by Vishay;

– mini-jack’s TRS-part by Furutech;

– impedance: 15 Ohms;

– the connecting cable’s length (left earphone to the mini-jack connector): 1.2 meters.