Precog's IEM Reviews & Impressions

Tripowin x HBB Olina Impressions

Configuration: 1DD
Price: $99
Unit provided for review courtesy of HBB & Linsoul.

Pleasantly surprised to hear the Olina, as I recall the Tripowin Mele from a while back not being too impressive. The Mele generally sounded too bassy and too dark; the Olina straddles that fine balance more aptly. Indeed, the Olina’s frequency response is highly reminiscent of Moondrop and Tanchjim’s single-DD IEMs, and perhaps it should be expected: from conversations with HBB, I am told that the Olina’s dynamic driver is at least sourced from the same factory that supplied the Tanchjim Oxygen’s driver. As for whether the Olina sounds the same, I’d suggest “not quite from memory”. I believe that the Oxygen and Hana 2021 were slightly more refined in the technical department than the Olina. This is likely attributable to the other components that have gone into the construction of the respective IEMs, unit variance, and aural memory just being fickle like that.

The treble response of the Olina is also a little more divisive due to the nature of its upper-treble. It has a resonance peak at ~13kHz (I want to say it’s slightly earlier and stronger in amplitude than some of the other single-DD IEMs above) lending to some spice up top. I’ve made clear in the past that I don’t really mind these types of peaks, as they beget a sense of shimmer I enjoy. However, some might find an IEM like the Moondrop Kato to be more refined in this area. Outside of this, my thoughts on the Olina could basically be a re-hash of my thoughts on the aforementioned single-DD IEMs. I’d characterize the Olina’s tuning as a slightly warm V-shape; slightly upper-midrange leaning with some warmth in the lower-midrange. Bring in the above-neutral bass and smooth treble, and you have a really natural sound; the type of set that just sounds right when you put them on. Indeed, most criticisms of the Olian’s sound would be predicated on technicalities which are your usual B-grade affair. Bass is generally slightly pillowy and undefined; close to par with the Moondrop Kato for slam in A/B. Imaging might be a little more expansive than your usual single-DD, but the Olina doesn’t really trigger the out-of-head feeling I recall the Oxygen and Hana 2021 sporting.

From head-to-toe, the Olina is a strong $100 performer with few weaknesses; it neatly slots in with budget titans like the DUNU Titan S (heh) and Moondrop Aria. The Titan S for the thinnest, most analytical listen. The Aria for the warmest and most pillowy. The Olina for the middle ground. I’d be remiss to mention that I tire of this wheel being reinvented so many times (c’mon where are the flagship DDs at?), but it’s hard to complain with the price reductions and subtle refinements. Recommended.

Score: 5/10

All critical listening was done off my iBasso DX300.

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Your “writer’s voice” is just the best, my friend. I could just hear the Olina based on your description.

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XENNS Mangird Tea 2 Impressions

Configuration: 1DD/6BA
Price: $350
Unit provided for review courtesy of Linsoul.

The original Mangird Tea was most well-known as a Blessing 2 alternative. It never really picked up mainstream appeal; however, it did (still does) enjoy a small, almost cult-like following in certain circles. I can’t really remember what it sounded like at this point, so don’t expect in-depth comparisons to the Tea 2. I suppose the rough distinction would be that the Tea 2 sports more distinctive sub-bass, more treble extension, and a more refined tonality.

Speaking of bass…the bass response of the Tea 2 is generally pretty good; it doesn’t hurt that it’s almost tonally spot-on with my preference curve. Of course, I find myself more dissatisfied when it comes to the Tea 2’s bass transients. Oddly enough, it sounds like there’s a BA tokening some parts of the bass response not unlike the ThieAudio Monarch and Clairvoyance. These are IEMs, mind you, that I criticized for having plasticky bass responses. In any case, the Tea 2’s bass texture and slam are somewhat below-average, at least in A/B comparison with a benchmark like the Moondrop B2. The midrange of the Tea 2 is good again wherein I don’t have much to complain about tonally. I’d say it’s upper-midrange leaning but with the pinna compensation sloped by a couple dB off of my perceived neutral. This is a midrange tuning similar to the qdc Anole VX, a tried-and-true heavy-hitter in the flagship arena. Like the Anole VX, things fall back a bit transitioning into the lower-treble (~5-6kHz), but the treble tonality of the Tea 2 is fairly good otherwise. Extension could be better; that’s almost always the case for sub-$500 IEMs.

As you might infer, I think that the tuning of the Tea 2 is pretty solid and that the people at XENNS aren’t your usual, mud-slinging warriors. But technicalities are where the Tea 2 stumbles. The detailing on it is mostly just surface level. I’ve slung this term around liberally for far too long, so allow me to elucidate: “Surface level” detailing is indicative of when a transducer generally nails attack characteristics - it has good clarity - but doesn’t render decay as well. To this end, I find the Tea 2’s note texturing and ability to capture trailing ends of instruments is mediocre. It is fair to note that too much texture yields undesirable grain. But if you’re asking me, the Tea 2 has leaned too far in the opposite direction, and this lack of perceived detail probably isn’t aided by the recession in the lower-treble. Outside of this, the imaging and dynamics of the Tea 2 can best be summarized as “adequate” for $300, but nothing that really grabs my attention.

I suppose the question at this point is whether the Tea 2 is the Moondrop B2 alternative that its predecessor was purported to be. Mostly, I guess? The Tea 2 is certainly not a bad IEM. It does offer a more laidback presentation relative to the B2 thanks to a more desirable bass tonality, relaxed upper-midrange, and a foil to the B2’s 6kHz peak. But even if the IEMs mostly trade blows for raw tuning, I do feel that the B2 comes out on-top by a decent margin for technical performance, especially in terms of raw detail retrieval. So while I think the Tea 2 is worth a listen, the bias score will reflect my general feelings: I want to like this IEM, but it’s missing something for me.

Score: 5/10

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Focal Utopia Impressions

Configuration: Dynamic

MSRP: $4400

Chain: M1 Mac Air > Audirvana > iFi Micro BL

Unit on loan for review courtesy of Headphones.com.

In the interest of transparency, I neither have listened to a full-size headphone in a couple months, nor do I have any meaningful points of reference on hand for A/B. Yes, clearly, I’m a major fan of headphones /s. That said, spiteful headphone contrarian that I am, I’ll try my hand at sharing what I think about this legendary headphone. The Utopia was released in 2016, taking the hobby by a storm with not just its pricing, but with what was - at the time - basically an unestablished brand releasing a summit-fi product. Perhaps even more surprising, then, was the legendary reputation that the Utopia has garnered since then. As a newcomer to the hobby, I can think of few headphones that have been mentioned with higher regard, and subsequently captured my interest more, than the Utopia. I suppose the question at hand now is whether it actually lives up to those praises. Based upon a fleeting listening session at CanJam SoCal 2021, I think the answer is mostly a “yes”, but let’s take a closer look now that I have the Utopia in my hands for extended listening.

The bass response of the Utopia is characteristic of most high-end, open-back headphones: it’s fairly flat down till around ~50Hz, at which point it exhibits some sag. Despite measurements I’ve seen online, it does sound like there’s some hints of distortion wherein quick, successive bass hits can come across a tad blurred; in any case, the Utopia’s a ways off the level of control I’ve heard exhibited by some top-tier planar transducers. Likewise, for a sense of air being pushed, the Utopia is clearly eclipsed by bio-dynamic transducers such as the marvel PhilPhone. What am I getting at? In essence, the Utopia’s bass response is one that is fundamentally good in that it maintains desirable dynamic driver characteristics - specifically bass texture - but by no means do I find myself gushing over it.

To me, the midrange of the Utopia has an unusual appeal that comes from a very specific type of coloration. It’s worth noting, however, that the Utopia generally shares the same midrange characteristics as the Focal Clear. Those who have read my review on the Clear will know that I found its midrange to have some… oddities . This was mainly due to 1) a strong emphasis at 1.5kHz and 2) high contrast between ~4kHz and a 6kHz peak which resulted in sibilance. The best way I can describe it, then, is that the Utopia simply approaches these colorations with more finesse. The emphasis at 1.5kHz serves to push forward vocals for a more exciting, warm, deep presentation at the risk of some added honkiness. The upper-midrange of the Utopia is also neutral with a fairly smooth transition into the lower-treble (unlike the Clear), so there’s rarely, if ever, sibilance. The Utopia doesn’t have a perfect midrange - hell, I’ve heard maybe one headphone (the Sennheiser HE1) with my “ideal” midrange - but it’s certainly serviceable and ahead of 90% of headphones I’ve heard.

Still, there’ll be much less mercy for creative liberties in the Utopia’s treble response which, personally, I find is mostly just acceptable for a flagship-level headphone. Listening to music (so no sine sweeps), I hear what sounds like a minor emphasis at 6kHz, some recession in the mid-treble, a minor peak at around ~12kHz, and then a gentle droop off of ~15kHz. Similar to the Clear, I do think the Utopia would benefit from some more shimmer up-top; it’s just not a particularly airy headphone despite some claims I’ve read to the contrary. In fact, there are IEMs (for example, the 64A U12t and Symphonium Helios) with superior treble extension! But if the Utopia redeems itself in any regard here, it’s mostly because it sounds noticeably less compressed for micro-contrast, more fluid for gradations in treble volume than the aforementioned IEMs. The timbre of the Utopia’s treble response is also not as bad as I’ve seen in some reports; personally, I find it to be noticeably less metallic than the Focal Clear’s.

Overall, the tonality of the Utopia is good but not mind-blowing. It has its quirks, and I suspect that some are partially inherent to the Utopia’s dynamic driver topology. One also has to consider the trade-off between tonal balance and perceived technicalities. Excessive dampening to achieve a desired frequency response can often negatively affect a sense of fidelity. Thankfully, this is anything but the case on the Utopia. A quality that stands out almost immediately when one hears the Utopia is its excellent macro-contrast. It is very revealing of dynamically compressed music, meaning that - unfortunately for me - a lot of my usual listening discography doesn’t necessarily yield the best experience with the Utopia. Even on Younha’s “How U Doing”, though, I observe the subtle shift in volume at 0:48 as her voice and the volume of the plucks in the side-channels rises. On less dynamically compressed music, I also find myself raising the volume to nerve-wracking volumes that I would otherwise never touch on other headphones. This is the good stuff. The stuff that makes music sound alive and that, hand-in-hand with the Utopia’s ~1.5kHz emphasis, results in what I would describe as a true sense of ‘musicality’.

Transients on the Utopia are interesting. While they generally come across as fairly “rigid” in terms of structure and the sense of weight behind them, I feel leading edges could use more sharpness to them. For example, I recall some flagship planars I’ve heard (the HiFiMAN Susvara), and especially electrostatics (Stax L700 MK2), having better clarity than the Utopia. I think this also bears some mention of ‘slam’. The perception of ‘slam’ for me is mostly a combination of cleanly delineated attack transients and the sense of immediacy behind them. For these reasons, I’m not sure if I’m 100% onboard with the Utopia being the king of slam. Furthermore, its open-back nature prevents it from hitting adequate SPL in the sub-bass to create a more traditional perception of air being pushed. But for a sense of innate detail, there’s no question that the Utopia is a top-performer. It has wonderful reproduction of reverb trails and note texture. I do feel that some of this perception of detail is aided by frequency response. There’s added resonance somewhere in the Utopia’s treble that brings forward sonic minutiae that would otherwise be obscured on a more neutral treble response. One could argue it’s not quite natural - I’d agree - but I don’t find myself minding.

The most glaring weakness of the Utopia would actually be its staging. At best, it’s a hair larger than the Focal Clear’s stage from memory (which, by the way, is not a high bar). I’m also not even surprised that the Utopia still lacks center image diffusion - soundstage depth - like all headphones I’ve heard. However, upon closer listening, I do feel that the Utopia’s general layering chops are excellent despite the more boxy, forward presentation. It maintains respectable nuance between instruments panned in the same direction, and I find it relatively easy to discern where individual instruments are placed even in busier tracks.

So what’s the bottom line? At the end of the day, the Utopia has a number of minor issues that make me want to say “I’ve heard better”. And I have. There are headphones that eclipse it in one aspect of sound or another, some by small margins, other by more significant margins. But as a total package - as that single headphone in a collection - your options are a whole lot more limited at ~$4K. The Empyrean Elite can’t touch this. The DCA Stealth can’t touch this. The Audeze LCD-4 and LCD-5 can’t touch this (at least not without EQ). Hell, until you’re in Susvara territory at $6K, I can’t think of another headphone I’ve heard that goes toe-to-toe with the Utopia. The Utopia is indicative to me of the summit of what is possible with a dynamic driver headphone, and I think there is a strong argument for the Utopia remaining one of the best headphones on the market today.

Score: 8/10

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Great review, I’m in agreement with most of what you’ve said, but I also think you ought to try it off some desktop amps, and see what these do with more head room.

I can absolutely guarantee better results, with a solid backend chain, even though the iFi is a great unit. Scaling is one of the Utopia’s strengths, and it’s pretty mind blowing just how far they can be pushed.

Cheers!

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The more I read reviews of any $200 IEM, the more I regret seller the Timeless.

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Agree with you about trying with greater variety of amps and sources.

Hey everyone, I wanted to drop some updates, as I know the thread has been pretty quiet lately.

First, I’ve written a guide to performing IEM measurements on Mac which has been published here:

https://www.headphones.com/communit…/become-an-expert-at-measuring-iems-using-mac

64 Audio has also kindly sent me an attachment for measuring CIEMs. I’ll update the guide accordingly and post some thoughts on that when I get back home this weekend.

Second, I will be taking a trip to Singapore (aka the land of IEMs) in a couple of weeks’ time. I’ll be covering CanJam, Zepp and Co, and probably try and meet up with the Subtonic boys to check out some of their prototype IEMs. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to get my ears on all the other releases I’ve missed recently. This trip is something that I’ve been thinking about for some time, so I’m super thankful to Headphones.com for sponsoring it.

There is some other stuff in the works, but I don’t think it’s quite ready to be discussed yet, and I’ll make a post when the time is right.

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Excellent work @Precogvision.

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Tanchjim Ola Impressions

Configuration: 1DD
MSRP: $40

Unit provided for review courtesy of Shenzhen Audio.

It’s been a while since I’ve dropped actual listening impressions, so here we go. The Ola is Tanchjim’s latest single-DD IEM targeting the budget segment of the market. I liked their $25 Tanya IEM quite a bit, so I was interested to hear what the Ola’s packaging.

On initial listen, the Ola doesn’t really appeal to me. Nowhere to be found is the bass-y and dark tonality of the Tanya. In fact, the Ola is very much the antithesis of its younger sibling. Bass appears to roll-off under ~50Hz, thus slightly emphasizing mid-bass. The quality of the bass itself is about average; there’s a certain softness, aloofness, that plagues the Ola’s mid-bass attack. That aside, I have to say that I like most things about the Ola’s tuning otherwise. The midrange is a welcome departure from the aggressive, 3kHz pinna compensations that have been popularized by the Harman Target hitters (which Tanchjim themselves are no stranger to being). Vocals are pleasant and near-neutral, perhaps akin to the Symphonium Helios’ midrange with some added warmth. Like the Helios, the Ola sports an admirably smooth transition from 3-5kHz into the lower-treble. Due to the Ola’s limited extension (to be clear, I’m talking 15kHz+), I find myself desiring more stick impact for added presence…but asking for more would be unfair at this price.

When it comes to its transient response, the Ola - to me - sounds like it’s packing your average dynamic driver. Decay is seemingly a hair truncated, thus lending to dryness of timbre. Listening to my Moondrop SSR (likely for the first time in a year!), the SSR’s driver is perceptively more detailed with added texture to its decay. It also has better control for bass notes despite the IEMs measuring near-identically in the bass. I’d partially attribute this to the SSR’s more aggressive upper-midrange and lower-treble which creates more contrast relative to the bass; by extension, perception of control. Both IEMs are above-average performers for imaging that belie their price bracket. Subjectively, the Ola has more ‘space’ between individual instruments - it has a very open presentation - even if the two IEMs seem to be actually quite close for stage size.

In conclusion, the Ola is a very safe pick. When one examines the current budget forerunners, they almost universally sport aggressive colorations in an effort to make them stand out. Look at the Moondrop SSR and it’s ridiculous pinna compensation. The CCA CRA and its excessively bright 15kHz peaks. The Tanchjim Tanya, Tripowin Mele, and BLON BL-O3 and their bass-y, dark tunings. You see where I’m going. The only IEM that comes to mind that shoots for the Ola’s niche is the Tin T2 which I did not like. The Ola is more refined for timbre (significantly less grainy) and possesses a smoother treble response than the T2 from memory. In any case, to me, there’s a general sense of the Ola being the Sennheiser HD6XX of the budget IEM bracket. Not that they necessarily sound alike or anything, of course. The Ola’s just inoffensive and has one rare quirk - its staging to the HD6XX’s midrange - for its price to keep listeners entertained.

Score: 4/10

See you guys next week - hopefully with impressions of CanJam SG and Singapore’s major IEM stores!

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Hey everyone, I arrived back in the US today, but I had an awesome time checking out Zeppelin & Co yesterday! This is probably SG’s most popular audio store; they have a massive selection of IEMs and headphones, but what really makes this store special - at least in my opinion - is the unique environment. It’s the most inviting audio store I’ve visited, and there are so many regulars who stop by just to hang out and chat. The owners, Kristy and Feng, are also super-duper passionate about audio! I’ll definitely have a full write-up plus video on this eventually.

I also got some new impressions for a Diva CIEM done while I was there. This time, they were scanned as an STL file so I don’t have to deal with sending out the physical impressions in the future! This mold was also taken way more carefully than the one I had done by a local audiologist last time.

I’m not much of a dongle guy, but I did try out the Lotoo PAW S2 and a new Questyle dongle using my Apple dongle, iPhone 13 Mini, and 64A A4S for A/B. The Lotto PAW S2 was pretty ehhh in my opinion. I found it to be a tad more transparent than the Apple dongle. It wasn’t much of a difference though, or at least it wasn’t nearly enough to justify its price for me. The new Questyle dongle, however, made a more noticeable difference. It had almost a V-shaped coloration; transient attack sounded more lively and decay more elongated, thus creating a dynamic, musical presentation that I found the Apple dongle lacked by comparison.

Dinner afterwards with some friends (I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but like pretty much everything else I ate in SG it was fantastic food lul):

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One review I’ve not seen is for the Campfire Dorado 2020. Have you auditioned or reviewed it elsewhere? I’m curious what you might think.

Keep up the good work, much appreciated :+1:

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Hey, I reviewed it a while back along with the Vega 2020 here: https://www.headphones.com/community/reviews-learning-and-news/campfire-audio-dorado-vega-2020-review

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Hey Precogvision. Great writeup. This looks like a fantastic place to visit. Thank you for all your great work. I love reading your stuff and always look forward to seeing your contributions.

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Just read Precog’s comments and saw his video on the Headphones Youtube channel, it was very fun! And congratulations on your graduation :slight_smile:

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