Ear Buds Discussion

I have to disagree with some of the reviews of the Monk’s. I posted a few comments is other forums as well. These have become my EDC’s.

I have the Massdrop version and I think they have a lot of air and a lot of depth in the sound. Separation is good and I believe they sound much better than they should at this price point. Maybe it’s a quality control issue. Mine sound great from my MBP or my iPhone.

I guess I will have to get a point of comparison. Suggestions?

Other than the Monks, where do the Apple earbuds fall in this category? Not the original. The ones that come with an iPhone 7, 8, or 10. They angle as @Brause suggests is a better direction. Are they IEMs or earbuds?

It’s not a quality issue, I’ve owned three of them and they all sound mediocre to me. I highly recommend trying out the Yincrow X6 or RW9 as a start. I also prefer the Monk Lite 120 ohm over monk plus but it also is pretty veiled sounding.

I also got a new set of Faael Iris 32 ohm and they sound good and are $8 on Amazon with prime delivery.

@antdroid, have you spent much time with the Iris yet? How does it compare with the Yincrow?

Since we have a snow day here in Seattle, I have some time to listen to them and give impressions:

Tegan & Sara - Goodbye Goodbye
The Civil Wars - Poison & Wine
Chris Stapleton - Broken Halos

  1. Faael Iris 2.0
    Good bass response. Wide soundstage. Female Vocals sound veiled. There’s something funny sounding about the upper mids. Male vocals sound good. Females not. Vocals are more forward than Yincrows

  2. Yincrow RW-9
    Better bass response and punchier than Iris. Some veiled female vocals, not as bad as Iris. Medium soundstage. Most balanced of the three.

  3. Yincrow X6
    Punchier bass. Vocals sound more natural but more recessed. Wider soundstage than RW-9. Most V-shaped.

Of the three - I still like the Yincrow X6 or RW-9.

The PMV B01 AOEDE, I just got, $30, is the best of the four, by far. It’s got a lot of what I liked about the Rose Masya, but without as good bass response. It’s $70 cheaper though.

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Below are sound impressions of the Nicehck EB2 and comparisons to the Monk Espresso and QianYun Qian 69 from a review I did for Head-Fi a few months ago:

The Nicehck EB2 has a restrained and clear audiophile-friendly tuning. Sub-bass extension is poor. Mid-bass is lean but well-articulated. Bass transients are quick but bass texture is one-note. Mid-bass bleeds slightly into the lower mids. The lower mids are gently recessed. Male vocals are clear but could use more warmth. Upper-mids are emphasized, conveying excellent presence but a little too much bite. The emphasis on the upper mids combined with the lean bass can make the EB2 sound thin. Treble is mildly veiled, extended while not prominent. Detail resolution is excellent but I had to strain my ears to pick it out. Instrument separation is not great, especially at higher volumes.

Nicehck EB2 vs QianYun Qian69
The Qian69 is more V-shaped. The Qian69 has better sub-bass extension. Bass dynamics are similar, though the Qian69 has more textured bass. The EB2 has less recessed mids. The Qian69 has more prominent treble and sounds airier. The treble on the Qian69 is more fatiguing. The Qian69 has a larger soundstage and slightly better instrument separation. The Qian69 is easier to drive from a smartphone but does not noticeably scale with better amplification.

The Nicehck EB2 benefits from dedicated amplification, which improves instrument separation and makes the treble less veiled. The difference is distinct but not night and day.

Nicehck EB2 vs Monk Espresso
The Monk Espresso is warmer, with slightly better sub-bass extension and more mid-bass. The EB2 has better bass articulation, with faster attack and decay. Mids on the Espresso are more recessed than on the EB2. Lower treble stands out more on the Espresso. The EB2 has a slightly bigger soundstage. Instrument separation is slightly better on the Monk Espresso. Both scale with dedicated amplification.

I like the Qian69 the most out of the three. It has the most engaging sound by far.

I also find it interesting that generally I hear a much bigger difference with dedicated amplification using earbuds than with IEMs, which I assume has something to do with the high impedance ratings of the EB2 and Monk Espresso.

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Thanks for the comparison! More stuff to lighten my wallet… :confused:

A cheap mod that isn’t talked about enough is to take ear bud foams and put it on the Apple EarPods. It helps boost the anemic bass on the IEMs and cleans up the treble, and actually makes them quite pleasant for a cheap modification.


Recently bought Anker soundbuds slim and for 30 bucks they are pretty good

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Just received my Yincrow RW-9 earbuds in the mail! I will be writing up a first impression and a comparison to Massdrop’s version of Monk VE+. I will also compare the Monk VE modded to balanced cable (thank you again, @antdroid)


I’m on team Yincrow.

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Just got a couple new pairs of earbuds in the mail today! Might as well put some quick initial impressions here. Reviews will likely come in a couple weeks after I’ve become more acquainted with writing on a forum.

DQSM Z&W Panda PK2 ($18 USD) and QianYun Qian69 ($11 USD)

First up, the Panda PK2. These guys have a telltale V-sig, but they have a decent amount of bass. Mids feel a little recessed, and the treble is nice and clear, until around 14-ish KHz, where it rolls off. This makes it lack some sparkle. Does pretty well for electronic music, breakcore, and metal, so far. Instrument placement seems alright, soundstage isn’t as wide as I’d like. Zero sibilance either, but the vocals can get a tad shouty.

Now, the Qian69. Interesting pair. These are very V-shaped, right off of the bat. Mids are recessed more than the Panda PK2, but it makes up for that with it’s great treble extension, and thumpy bass. Wew, they even have sub bass. The amount of sub bass these things can put out took me by surprise - normally, earbuds don’t have much sub bass at all. Soundstage is just a bit wider, instrument separation is great, and I can even hear a bit of shimmer on cymbal crashes. So far, so good.

So, to conclude, both of these are pretty solid performers, and it seems like they’re worth the money I put into them. My opinion will likely change a bit after a couple weeks, honeymoon period and all that fun. Panda PK2 have small housings, and have a warm signature. Qian69 are warm, bit are slightly brighter, and have better bass. However, those housings get a little uncomfortable after an hour of wear.


Nice impressions. Thank you I always like to hear about new stuff.

I just did a quickie review of the following IEM/Ear Buds

  • WI Digital SEBD10 IEM’s
  • Rose Maya Pro earbuds
  • Etomytic ER3XR IEM’s
  • Audio Technica ATH-E50
  • Sennheiser HD650’s (for reference)

Everything was driven from MusicBee (Windows 10) through an IFI Nano IDSD BL USB DAC/Amp. The two pieces of music were Bohemian Rhapsody (from a 24 bit/96 khz recording) and a snippet of 24/96 stuff from Sony (https://helpguide.sony.net/high-res/sample1/v1/en/index.html ).

I am not a sophisticated listener so this is going to be kind of high level.

Not surprisingly the 650’s were the relatively easy winner. #2 was the SEDB’s. These are marketed as being more about their isolation than their over-all sonic qualities. But the ‘fullness’ that I hear from the 650’s was close here. Using the small size ear tips they were a snap to put in. Bass was very clear and everything was crisp and ‘kind of big’ (in a very good way). Nothing sounded thin, but I will say that they need to be well seated in your ear to hear well. And see the PS at the bottom of this post.

Next came the Rose Maya’s. These are my go to ear pieces when I am in the car as they allow external sound to creep in (which in this case is a good thing). But they had a noticeably ‘thinner’ sound, less bass (not enough to my ears), and just sounded smaller. I use a rubber kind of half circle thing which helps stability in your ear and seems to improve the sonic performance slightly. They are slightly tricky to get into your ear (SEBD’s are trivial in comparison).

Roughly a tie with the Maya’s was the Etomytic’s. I found them pretty comfortable and easy to insert. And like the SEBD’s you needed to seat them properly (and DEEP) to get the best performance. I found them comfortable and VERY stable in the ear. But like the Maya’s above, they just ‘sound smaller’ than either the 650’s or the SEBD’s.

Last place (by a large margin) was the ATH-E50’s. First they have this odd (to me) angled insertion into your ear that I cannot make work. I have tried the earpiece tips that ATH supplies and some Comply tips designed to fit these IEM’s. I just cannot get them into my ears in less than a couple of minutes, and they never fit properly. And this is probably the reason that, to my uninformed ears, they come in last place. They might well be ranked higher if they could consistently fit into my ears as there are days that they sound OK and there are days that they do not (today is one of those).



ps. https://tinyurl.com/y52hhjxd is what I bought from Amazon. These are NOT $35 IEM’s. See https://tinyurl.com/yxr9nxkq as an example. I have no sympathy with Amazon on this. I once ordered a Jitterbug from Amazon and received a TOSLINK cable. I returned it and they sent me ANOTHER TOSLINK cable. I looked carefully at the packaging, and while the package was a TOSLINK package, the Amazon supplied sticker identified it as an Audioquest Jitterbug. I tried any number of times and ways to tell Amazon that they probably had a whole shelf full of mis-labled cables. I could not get their attention, so I am happy to let everybody know that they can get a $250 IEM for $35.


Below is my review of the Smabat ST-10. This review is also available on my blog.


The Smabat ST-10 is an earbud that retails for $99 at the time of this review. I purchased the ST-10 from the Nicehck Audio Store on AliExpress for $1 with the expectation of a fair and objective review. The ST-10 is also available on Amazon.

I have used the Smabat ST-10 with the following sources:
Windows 10 PC > JDS Labs The Element > Smabat ST-10
Pixel 3 > Fiio BTR1K (Bluetooth Apt-X) > Smabat ST-10
Windows 10 PC > Fiio BTR1K (USB-DAC) > Smabat ST-10
Pixel 3 > Apple USB-C to 3.5mm dongle > Smabat ST-10
I have tested these headphones with local FLAC and Spotify Premium.


The Smabat ST-10 comes in a mid-sized black rectangular package with inlaid silver text. The front panel, top panel, and bottom panel of the lid bear the Smabat logo, and the left and right panels list Smabat’s web address. While the web address is valid, the website is Chinese language and loads very slowly. The back of the package lists specifications for the earbuds and contact information for the manufacturer.

Included with the ST-10 are a pair of full foam covers, a pair of donut foam covers, a pair of full silicone covers, a leather pouch embossed with the Smabat logo, and an owner’s manual. The pouch is small for the ST-10, and the materials used are cheap-looking.

The Smabat ST-10 has a two-part housing design. The outer housing section is black plastic with a U-shaped brushed aluminum wrap. There is a bass vent with a silver grille on the bottom. The Smabat logo is printed on the outward-facing brushed metal surface, and the model name and “L/R” are printed in line with the MMCX connector. The brushed aluminum seems to be wear-prone. In the few weeks I’ve had the ST-10, the green finish has begun chipping off along the edges.

The saucer-shaped driver enclosure has a black metal back lined with fine concentric grooves and a silver ring about halfway down the sloped surface to the ear-facing grille. Below this ring, there are two circular vents about 100 degrees apart from each other. The rim of the earbud is matte black plastic, and the earbud face grille is polished metal.

According to reports in the Head-Fi earbuds thread, the first batch of ST-10s had issues with loose MMCX connections. It is my understanding that Smabat replaced affected pairs at no cost to buyers and addressed the issue on the second run of ST-10s. My ST-10 is evidently a post-revision pair, as the connection on my pair is tighter than is necessary. It is very difficult to remove the stock cable.

The MMCX cable has a cloth sheath up to the Y-split, after which the cable is enclosed by rubbery plastic. The MMCX connector housings are also rubber and have raised “L/R” indicators. The cable has pre-formed rubber ear guides. The Y-split and 3.5mm jack have metal exteriors. The chin slider is also metal. The chin slider is laser-etched with a barbute, the Y-split housing with the model name, and the 3.5mm housing with the brand name. The top of the 3.5mm jack and the bottom of the Y-split have strain relief.

The Smabat ST-10 is intended to be worn cable-up only. The ST-10 is comfortable to wear for extended periods. Isolation is non-existent and keeping a secure fit is difficult, as with any earbud.

The following sound impressions are based on listening without any of the included covers.

The Smabat ST-10 has a slightly bright tuning with exceptional sub-bass extension.

The ST-10 has a wiry, accurate bass response that digs deeper into the sub-bass region than any other earbud I’ve ever heard. Mid-bass is de-emphasized. Bass-heavy tracks generate rumble but do not slam. Bass articulation is fast and precise. There is not enough mid-bass to bleed into the lower midrange.

The midrange emphasizes presence and clarity over warmth and body. Female vocals are slightly more forward than male vocals. Female vocals are vibrant but not shrill. Distorted electric guitars and harsh male vocals are convincingly abrasive.

The treble is elevated and extended, with abundant air and sparkle. Transients are natural sounding.

The ST-10 stands head and shoulders above any other earbud in my collection (QianYun Qian69, VE Monk Espresso, and Nicehck EB2) in terms of technicalities. Detail retrieval is excellent. Instrument separation is very good. Soundstage is expansive. Imaging is above average.

With a sensitivity of 115dB and an impedance of 45ohms, the Smabat ST-10 can be driven to adequate listening volumes with a smartphone or dongle but will benefit from the additional headroom provided by a dedicated source if one wants to listen at high volumes. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.


The Smabat ST-10 is a high-water mark for earbuds, displaying technical abilities I didn’t think were possible in the form factor. Recommended.


Interesting – ear bud designed to be worn with cable over ears. Looks like something I should check out in the future.

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Hi Antdroid,
Thanks for the impressions.
I am looking for buds that have a good soundstage. The RW-9 info caught my eye.
Any other ideas about good “soundstage” buds?

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I think this would be an excellent match/comparison. I like the Monks and am itching to try the RW-9’s

Below are my opinions, and review of the DQSM Z&W Panda PK2.

To start off with, I’ve been trying out different IEMs and earbuds over the last couple years. I’m still a bit inexperienced, however. Subjectively, the best pairs I own are Sony MH755 and MH750. I unfortunately only have a baseline for IEMs (MH755/750), so there’s not much I can go off of. I’ve tried my fair share of chi-fi, most of which I no longer own. I also cannot provide accurate measurements for earbuds. I don’t have a pinna simulator. Because of this, my earbud measurements will come out looking like this:

Note the different resonance peaks, despite being the same pair of earbuds. I suspect this is due to my measurement rig not being sufficient for earbuds. It only tends to be accurate for IEMs. The channel imbalance in the upper treble is definitely there, however. It’s only a few dB difference, so it’s not that noticeable.

Throughout this review I will also be referring to these earbuds as Panda PK2.

Now, on to the review. These earbuds cost roughly $19 USD. They have semi-small housings. The housings are a clone of the YUIN PK2/PK3 shells, but are in a different colour, and have different drivers. The cable is just your standard 1.2m braided cable terminated in 3.5mm SE, for support with almost any device. They’re 32 Ohm, with a sensitivity of 117 dB/mW. I’ve tried my pair with several sources, and it appears to be source dependent.

Tech Specs:

  • 14mm dynamic drivers
  • Type: Earbuds
  • 32 Ohm Impedance
  • 117 dB/mW sensitivity

The Good:
The Panda PK2 are a pair of earbuds that have a rather high sensitivity, making it easy for most devices to power them. You can use these with low power devices, like smartphones or bluetooth receivers, but it isn’t optimal. You will get the best out of these with a good dongle, or DAP. The sound signature is warm, with the classic sub-bass rolloff that most earbuds have. The mid-bass is good, and has good depth and punch. Decay and attack seem to be sufficient for rock, metal, and psytrance. The mids are slightly recessed, but not by much (Roughly 5 dB. So a very slight V), and have good quality. Vocals sound natural, and so do most instruments. Male vocals seem to work better than female on this pair. This is interesting, as most of my IEMs and earbuds did better for female vocals (MH755 and Qian69). These also have an alright soundstage, but it’s nothing to write home about. For earbuds it’s average.

The Bad:

These earbuds have a thing with being picky about what source you power them with. While they can easily be played on a smartphone, I find that most smartphones do not power it sufficiently for there to be enough bass. On my DAC (Hidizs Sonata HD) and my DAP (AGPTEK M20), it’s powered correctly. Perhaps my phone just has a very weak amp in it. These earbuds also seem to be very picky with songs. Due to a bump at around 1.5-2KHz, then the rolloff around 3KHz, they begin to show edginess and some shout with some tracks. I find that prog metal, psytrance, hardcore, and hi-tech work on these. Jazz is alright too, but that edginess ruins a lot of music for me. There are also some tracks (Namely, Puppe by Rammstein and Them Changes by Thundercat) that have a weird “veil” surrounding them. This only happens with some tracks. It may be related to mastering of those tracks, however, I wouldn’t rule out the earbuds. Upper treble extension, while it should be sufficient for most people, I find that it lacks quite a bit. The cymbals lack sparkle, and seem to fade in with the rest of the music.


The Panda PK2 are an average pair of earbuds with decent tuning, but lack proper treble extension, and could use more 3K energy, and slightly less 1.5K. For $19 USD, I say that it may be a better deal to get QianYun Qian69 for $11, but if you’re curious and want to try out a YUIN PK2 clone, then these may work for you. The bass, and mids are great on this pair, as is the soundstage. These have a warm signature and may not be for everyone. I would still recommend Yincrow X6 or Qian69 over these.

My grade? 3.5/5. Slightly above average, thanks to it’s tonality. But it isn’t quite there with Qian69.