Precog's IEM Reviews & Impressions

Thank you!

I can’t remember if you’ve heard the Oriolus Isabellae? If not, you might find it worth demo’ing, if only because it has a sound reminiscent of the good qualities of the HD 6XX. It’s lacking both sub-bass and treble extension, as with the HD 6XX, but it has less of a mid-bass hump than the Sennheisers, and it also lacks the veil of a poorly-amped HD 6XX. It’s not quite as warm but it’s just as engaging, and it keeps the lovely timbre of the HD 6XX and the rich mid-range presentation. It may not wow with its technicalities but it makes for a very pleasing and immersive listen. I agree with everything Rockwell75 has said about it over on head-fi.

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Ya I’ve heard it. To be honest, the timbre sounded different from the 6XX to me. Sort of etched and with a quicker taper to decay than most DDs I’ve heard. I had similar impressions of the Traillii’s timbre, though, which Rockwell also loves for its timbre lol. Maybe just not my sound :tired_face:

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That’s interesting - I can see what you mean about the decay. I wish I’d directly A/B compared them now.

Thank you, I won’t have to sell the Malibu beach house now to buy a pair :sweat_smile:

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Well, now that I’ve had a chance to listen to the HD6XX, I’m thoroughly unimpressed. The “veiled” cliche rings true, and easily I prefer my modded HD58X. The combination of warm bass and lower mids with laid back treble is just too much.

I will say that the HD6XX sounds a tad smoother and less grainy, but that’s cold comfort given the veil.

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Is this the Senny HD650 review page now?!?

Love everyone’s thoughts, but it seems that the group has wandered off into the woods.

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That’s because the 650 is a highly respected and touted headphone, and with that comes fierce debate from it’s fans and haters. Precog reviewed it, and so here we are, still talking about it. Fair game if you ask me.

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I don’t think our comments are incompatible.

Check the old threads for when every discussion experienced a Koss PortaPro takeover (especially with Yaxi pads). These events happen when hobby enthusiasts need something to soak up undirected and excessive enthusiasm. They are going to happen in the absence of a new product or fresh questions.

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Shuoer S12 Impressions

Thanks to Joseph from Shuoer for providing this unit for review.

Planar IEMs…I’m sure most readers are already familiar with the 7Hz Timeless, the $220 planar IEM that took the market by a storm. Of course, I didn’t like it very much because it was chock full of tonality issues, sounded soft, and came across more like a fluke to me than anything. But the market spoke, so we’re back for planar IEM round two, this time featuring the Shuoer S12. Right out the gate, most would probably observe that the S12 and the Timeless share a similar tonal profile; however, I do feel there are differences that need addressing.

First, the bass on the S12 is better than the Timeless in terms of tactility. In fact, I remember hearing the S12’s proto unit at MRS’s house (with no knowledge of what it was at the time) and commenting that it sounded almost DD-like, something I don’t think I’d mistake the Timeless for sporting. Yes, the S12’s bass is a little more textured and more “punchy” rather than “pillowy” akin to what the Timeless exhibits. Extension is excellent, digging into the 30Hz frequencies on Lightsum’s “You, jam” despite some graphs and comments I’ve seen noting a slight roll-off. The S12’s bass control is also better thanks to a slight droop from 200Hz to 1kHz by comparison. I don’t think this is class-leading bass, but it does make me consider dropping the Timeless’ score in this department.

I guess the midrange of the S12 is alright. In my Timeless review, I stated that “If 7Hz had chosen to either 1) focus more energy away from the lower-midrange, or 2) mitigate the degree of pinna compensation, then I think this would have resulted in either a cleaner or a more natural sound respectively”. The S12 falls more toward the former which benefits technical performance, but I do find the S12’s midrange to be a hair more strident, more shrill than I’d like. It follows that it’s noticeably thinner than the Timeless which might be a turn-off to some listeners.

Here comes the major caveat with the S12, and its largest distinction relative to the Timeless. But first, I should lend context: some will recall that I lambasted the treble response of the Timeless for being unbalanced. It had an absence of lower-treble, too much mid-treble, and just about the right amount of air. The S12’s definitely more linear; I hear a lot more of the stick impact and aggressiveness that I felt the Timeless was lacking. However , it’s genuinely too bright at times due to an even stronger peak at 8kHz, and a general elevation after that until ~12kHz, that comes off more abrasive than sparkly. The way I see it? The S12 is one step forwards and one step backwards in the treble. At least treble extension on the S12 remains superb with plenty of energy in the air frequencies.

Transient-wise, I do find the S12 to sound less “soft” than the Timeless, which can be partly attributed to the S12’s brighter tonality. Likewise, the S12 actually edges out the Timeless for resolution; impressive given that I’d already consider the Timeless to be the pack leader for $220. The planar advantage undoubtedly rings true here. The usual intangible limitations begin cropping up as we explore further, particularly in terms of imaging. The S12 might be a hint more open for soundstage and for image sharpness than the Timeless, but you’d be splitting hairs and that’s a very low bar altogether. C’est la vie. Dynamics-wise, the S12 is more incisive in the macro-dynamics department; it hits harder and sounds less compressed. Yet again, I’m thinking the Timeless is in due of reassessment on the ranking list.

Now all that said…is the S12 better than the Timeless? I’d argue no: it’s more along the lines of just different. To a certain degree, I feel like you have a KZ ZEX Pro vs. CCA CRA situation here. Like the ZEX Pro, the Timeless is debatably tuned better for listeners who want a smoother listen, but ultimately, I find myself more impressed with the S12 because of its stronger technical showing. And of course, due to the generous price differential. The S12 saves you more than fifty bucks compared to the Timeless; I’d say the S12 is an IEM worth giving a listen. Just stay away if you don’t enjoy brighter sets.

Score: 6/10

All critical listening was done off of my iBasso DX300 with the stock silicone tips and direct A/B.

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One thing I have never understood and that I see with many reviewers, is the absence of the product price in the first half or even the entire review.

I need the price to set the stage and to better understand the context of the wording.
I may be wrong, but I can’t find the MSRP anywhere in this review; and yes I can just Google it (I did), but why leave out essential information?

The Timeless price was mentioned twice…

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…as was the price differential. Doesn’t require a lot of interpolation.

If it is this sentence you mean:

The S12 saves you more than fifty bucks compared to the Timeless;

Then it is the 3rd last sentence, and $220-$149 = $71
So your math skills needs an upgrade.

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I think a simpler and more palatable request would be:

“I’d appreciate having the msrp early in the review to provide context for the review”.

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Haha, thanks for the suggestion. I almost always have the price in the first paragraph of the full-review, but I agree it would be good practice to have it in the impressions too.

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ThieAudio V16 Divinity Impressions

Configuration: 16BA
Price: $1500
Shoutout to my reader, “OGK”, for loaning this unit for review.

Whoo-whee. ThieAudio’s current flagship IEM and, in theory, their last - so one would hope that the V16’s here to make a mark. Let’s get right into how it sounds.

The bass on the V16 is some of the better BA bass that I’ve heard. The sub-bass curve is solid and intangibles are not too shabby either. However, I do feel that bass decay is not quite where I’d like it to be. It’s a funny thing to say - especially given this a BA IEM - but notes sound almost excessively boomy and have too much thump at times on the V16. It follows that control is probably not as good as it should be for a BA monitor; certainly falling behind the 64A U12t’s BA bass in A/B. In any case, this can be best summarized as a “fun” bass response that is, unfortunately, sacrificing some of the refinement that I’ve heard from the best BA bass. Punch is not bad at least.

The midrange of the V16 comes across somewhat odd to me. It tracks very closely to IEF’s neutral target up until around 4-5kHz, at which point the V16 exhibits an unusual dip. This has the effect of skewing midrange note-weight thicker. But I don’t think the balance struck here is quite ideal. When Carrie Underwood belts, I find her voice to take on a more muted characteristic up-top. This is a general trend with vocals on the V16; you have this sort of uncanny contrast to the upper-midrange that sounds off because, at the same time, it generally is forward. The IEMs that go for these types of recessions normally have a more relaxed pinna, for example, à la the 64A U12t. Intangibly, too, I find myself second-guessing the V16’s midrange. It might be the 4-5kHz recession, but timbre is generally plasticky and lacks vibrancy. For a sense of micro-contrast…well, I don’t think the V16’s midrange has very much either, and it goes further downhill from here.

Most who have read my reviews before will be aware that I never thought that ThieAudio’s EST treble implementations were all that good. Call me a hater, but I genuinely think that the V16’s BA treble implementation might be even worse. The V16’s treble response is unremarkable. Bland. Dry. Compressed. Makes me want to fall asl - actually, you get the idea. I don’t know what’s going on here, but stick impact between rapid hits is undefined and hazy on SNSD’s “Into the New World”. The peak at 6kHz does not actually sound very present if you ask me. And where’s the air, my upper-treble shimmer at? The V16 has less presence over 15kHz than the Monarch MKII had, which I already thought was pushing it. Seriously, for $1.5k…miss me with this.

Rants about the treble aside, the V16 is still pretty resolving for sure; I say this in the sense that internal detail - reverb trails and texturing - are quite good in the midrange despite the lack of perceived micro-contrast. Bass detail and treble detail are more questionable as I alluded to above. Likewise, for a sense of incisiveness to instrument position, I would say that the V16’s younger brother, the Monarch MKII, actually comes out the winner from memory - as does the Symphonium Helios in A/B. The V16’s macro-dynamics are…okay. It definitely sounds like it’s pushing more air than most of ThieAudio’s IEMs. That’s a welcome change of pace. However, it still comes across more subdued for sheer contrast of decibel gradations on less compressed music such as Steve Jablonsky’s “Lone Survivor” (2:16) and FictionJunction’s “Kaze No Machi E” (2:42).

As an assessment of value, the V16 is basically in no-man’s territory at $1500 - which is not necessarily a bad place to be. There are few immediate competitors that come to mind outside of the UM MEST MKII and the CFA Solaris 2020. The problem? As I see it, the V16 doesn’t really offer much over even the established kilobuck monitors to justify the price increase. We’ve observed this trend before with a number of ThieAudio’s IEMs: well-tuned, fairly technical, but lacking that special sauce. Perhaps the V16 is a fitting legacy in some respects, even if the context is not-so-desirable. In any case, I prefer the Monarch MKII and a number of kilobuck IEMs over the V16.

Score: 6/10

All critical listening was done off the 3.5mm jack of the DX300. The V16 is also like CFA IEMs level of sensitive, so be aware that it’ll hiss with most sources. I swapped in the IEMatch after some time listening.

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MiM Dark Magician Impressions

Price: ~$500 USD
Configuration: 1DD

Special thanks to reader “OGK” for loaning these for review.

The Dark Magician…boy does this take me back to playing Yu-Gi-Oh as a kid. But we’re not talking about the famous playing card today. We’re talking about the less known single-DD IEM. Indeed, I suspect most won’t be too familiar with this IEM. To lend some context, it’s produced by ethanmusic7’s in-house brand, MiM. Currently, the Dark Magician can be purchased exclusively on the SG shopping site, Carousell, but it looks like Linsoul might be stocking it soon too.

Diving into the sound, bass on the Dark Magician is mid-bass oriented and just slightly above neutral. As one might imagine with this type of tuning, decay does lean toward the faster side and bass texturing is a little too dry for my tastes. Doesn’t sound like it pushes much air either. An interesting tidbit about the Dark Magician is that it has small vents on the nozzles that one can block by sliding the ear tips further down. That said, even with the vents blocked, I don’t find the Dark Magician’s bass transients to be particularly thick, nor does it sound like it has as much SPL as it graphs with. In a manner not dissimilar to the SeeAudio Yume, I suspect that this has something to do with the nature of the bass slope. Anyways, I prefer it unblocked and, overall, this is just a passable bass response in my book.

The midrange of the Dark Magician is its strength to my ears. It’s right about where I’d like it to be as a self-proclaimed aficionado of the “Western” tuning philosophy. Lower-mids are warmer than neutral, sitting oh-so-pleasant to my ears on Joe Nichol’s discography, and the pinna compensation and upper-midrange are gentle and forgiving. I’m reminded of the Vision Ear VE7’s midrange in many respects. This is the type of midrange you can listen to for hours without fatigue, and it’s probably why it took me a while to catch on to what I was hearing (see my thoughts on technicalities further below).

Now, the treble response of the Dark Magician strikes me as somewhat odd. Stick impact is generally a little fuzzy and, not dissimilar to the Etymotic ER2XR, there’s definitely a dip somewhere through the mid-treble that kills crash on cymbals. I believe it comes back up from this dip in the upper-treble (just after ~10kHz), but too early and with inadequate SPL to give the Dark Magician a real sense of airiness or splash. It exacerbates an odd, dry sort of scraping to when certain synths are hit on Taeyeon’s “Vanilla” (0:10, 0:40, and 1:35 for example); it could just be the recession itself even if I don’t hear a similar phenomenon on my ER2XR. In any case, timbre doesn’t sound quite correct even if I can’t bring myself to really hate this treble response. It’s missing something.

And here comes my caveat with the Dark Magician. The overall tonality is pretty pleasant, but I couldn’t knock the feeling that it wasn’t all that resolving while listening. Bringing in the Moondrop Kato and Etymotic ER2XR for A/B suggests that the Dark Magician is still decently resolving (in that they’re all roughly par), but not really $500 material. I don’t hear the Dark Magician as having noteworthy “latent” intangibles either. Dynamics are average; abrupt hits to the piano keys, such as on Sawano Hiroyuki’s “scene” at 1:00, don’t quite pop and sound as loud and jarring as I feel like they should. Same story for imaging where staging is confined to the shell like most single-DDs.

I feel that assessing the competitiveness of the Dark Magician requires some nuance. It should be noted that most all (good) single DD IEMs you’ll find under $500 are sporting some iteration of the Harman target or the Diffuse Field target. That isn’t the Dark Magician. It offers a more relaxed, yet balanced tuning for people who find those IEMs overly shouty. But the technicalities aren’t necessarily better or even comparable with the cheaper competition. That in mind, I think that you’ll have to decide for yourself how much that tuning distinction is worth. $500 is on the steeper side of what I’d be willing to pay, and at that price I’d rather go for a hybrid…but hey, that’s just my opinion.

Score: 5/10

All critical listening was done off the 4.4mm jack of my iBasso DX300 with the stock tips and stock cable.

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Now available…

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A Detour Back to the Music #1​

I write a lot about the gear that we use to listen to music, but a chance of pace focusing on the music itself once in a while can’t hurt. This is the first time I’ve written a song review - I’m still figuring out a format - but I think I might write more of these in the future if I have the time. Perhaps this can also help lend some more context regarding the type of music I enjoy and the qualities of sound that I’m looking for a transducer to produce. Anyways, today I want to share my thoughts on one of my favorite country artists, Martina McBride, and what I believe is one of her best singles.

Martina McBride doesn’t seem to be as active these days, but she was one of the most well-known female country artists in the 2000s. Her music is distinctive for exploring more sensitive topics that country music doesn’t seem to be as keen on touching these days amidst the cacophony that is beer, girls, and trucks. In this vein, a glance at some of her older works such as “Concrete Angel” (2002) and “God’s Will” (2004) depict commentaries on child abuse and being born with a disability respectively.

But the subject of my thoughts today is McBride’s latest hit to date, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” (2011). It tells the story of a mother and her battle with breast cancer. The production starts off slowly with guitar plucks, some piano, and what sounds like a violin crescendoing in the back, effectively capturing the sobriety of the situation; the narrator has just received the diagnosis. The writing is succinct but fleshes out the narrator satisfactorily: mother of three, 38 years of age, and with a caring husband. Despite the specificity of the lyrics, I appreciate that the narrator extends the possibility of cancer to anyone with the lines, “cancer don’t discriminate or care if you’re just 38, with three kids who need you in their lives” while efficiently integrating the aforementioned characterization details.

The cadence of the song picks up moving into the chorus which is, in essence, her husband lending her his support. It follows a basic “when you’re…I’ll be there” anaphora structure that’s easy to get stuck in the head. This is aided by a drum and some cymbals kicking in and McBride showing off her voice. McBride’s never had the greatest range – she’s a mezzo soprano, after all – but she’s a vocalist that is simply exceptional at propelling emotion and making it feel palpable. Perhaps this impression can be partly attributed to the mastering work. I do feel like there’s a strong sense of micro-dynamics (minuscule shifts in volume) on this track in terms of her vocal inflections and texture. In any case, she certainly has that vibrancy to the timbre of her voice that I associate with the most emotional singers.

Moving back to the lyrical content, the surgery goes well and the narrator survives, but she is plagued by insecurities: “Now it’s forced smiles and baggy shirts, To hide what the cancer took from her”. Again, it’s the realism of the lyrics that appeals to me. The lyrics assert that it’s not all sunshine and daisies even after she survives the cancer; they don’t sugar-coat it. Her womanhood has been called into question and she finds herself wondering whether she “can do this anymore”. Her husband, in turn, reassures her that he’s still by her side and then there’s another chorus. I think what I appreciate most here is that her husband is just a genuinely good guy. He’s doing what a good husband should do, but he doesn’t detract from the situation she is facing, detract from her insecurities, or sound patronizing despite the cliche nature of the chorus. Of course, to this end, there are definitely some other cliches in the writing. I’m specifically referencing the whole being a mom thing; however, in this instance, I do think it tastefully enhances the impact of the track via the implications of if she doesn’t make it.

The production on “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is also quite solid. First, that violin works wonders considering it’s an instrument you don’t hear often in country music. Moving on from the opening, it’s generally oscillating to match the pace of the track, further facilitating a couple of very nice, dramatic build-ups that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. There’s also some steel guitar thrown into the mix that can sound a little disjoint at times (particularly at 2:42), but it gives the track that 2000s sound that I really adore. Writing-wise, as I alluded to above, there’s little to complain about even if there are some common tropes present. The writing effectively conveys an uplifting message for women who are going through breast cancer, as well as their loved ones. In any case, I think “genuine with some flare” are the words that comes to mind when describing the production of this track; it possesses a sense of depth balanced with thrilling-ness that a lot of contemporary country music is missing.

This is unmistakably the most upbeat song of the three from McBride I’ve listed. Both “Concrete Angel” and “God’s Will” are paced more slowly and their endings are indescribably sobering; perhaps for this reason alone, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is my favorite song from McBride. Yes, it might be the weakest in terms of writing and I’m ever the no-good-contrarian, but I’m still a sucker for these types of songs. I didn’t understand these songs as a kid (honestly, 10-year old me probably thought the other two were rather boring), but these days they’re wrenching enough that I can only listen to her work every once in a while. Definitely give some of McBride’s songs a listen if you don’t mind the subsequent waterworks; few songs invoke as much emotion for me as the ones I’ve heard from this artist.

Score: 8/10

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A nice change of pace.

Mark Gosdin

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