As I write this, I’m listening to a hires 24/96 FLAC recording of Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto served from an old white Macbook using a $120/year music player (Roon) streamed through a $100 transport and DAC (Raspberry Pi + Hifiberry) to a $400 amp (Ember II) set to 35 ohm output impedance (?!) driving a $50 pair of Chifi IEMs (QT2), and I’m really enjoying it! Like, more than I remember enjoying my HD 600 when I still had them…
This whole situation violates a lot of what I’ve come to believe:
You get what you pay for (though diminishing returns are real)
Maybe it’s because they’re still relatively new to me, but this doesn’t feel like good for $50 but for $300 you get more. It fells like damn, these sound good! Yes I had to EQ down a treble spike, but I have to do the same with my $500 DT 1990 too.
The impact of DACs and amps is relatively minor and headphones should be where you spend the most money
The QT2 sound quite good out of my iPhone SE. They sound better (though sometimes too bassy) out of my LG V20. But they sound friggin’ great from my Ember II, with good weight down low without being boomy or loose, good speed, detail and dynamics, more smoothness and somehow a more open sound. Audio memory is poor, but I suspect I would prefer Ember II + QT2 over say iPhone + HD 600.
Dynamic driver and especially BA IEMs need sources with low output impedance relative to the headphones’ input impedance
Well, the QT2 have 2 dynamic drivers and 1 BA per side with an input impedance of 15 ohm. The LG V20 supposedly has a very low output impedance (though I don’t know the actual spec) and the iPhone SE is probably around 3 or 4 ohm. I’m running the Ember II at 35 ohm, and it’s the one that sounds the best to me. Theoretically it has a horrible electric damping factor, but if anything it’s just contributing to a smoother sound.
I originally got these as something to plug into my iPhone to use while on the go and for conference calling and I would have never expected that I’d enjoy them so much from a desktop amp. Like every other pair of headphones and IEMs that I’ve owned, they’re not perfect (I had to replace the tips with my KZ ZST tips for improved comfort, and as mentioned the treble is too hot for me without some EQ) but I’m pretty amazed at what you get for $50.
My complete impressions and a comparison to the KZ ZST are posted on Reddit.
P.S. I tried these from my Magni 3 and the pairing sounded very similar to the LG V20, with perhaps a little less low-end emphasis.
P.P.S. I’ve had less exposure to different IEMs than I’ve had to different headphones, so I don’t have much perspective on that market. This is really just the impressions of a headphone guy on some cheap IEMs that surprised him
Disclaimer - I’m aware that these IEMs’ housings are clearly a knock-off of the Campfire Andromeda. This doesn’t particularly bother me because 1) being a car buff, I’m used to manufacturers aping each other’s forms, 2) using a different driver configuration and from what I gather a different tuning, I don’t think they’re really copying any of the Andromedas’ special sauce and 3) I haven’t seen any marketing materials trying to pass these off as some sort of legit Andromeda alternative.