Tag Archives: Comparison

Soft Ears RSV Review – Mastering Versatility

Pros –

Flawless gloss finish, Comfortable and well-isolating design, Quality stock cable, Highly refined and versatile tuning, Excellent dynamics for a BA design, Jack of all trades master of many, Easy to drive

Cons –

Treble extension and sub-bass definition could be improved, Soundstage depth just above average in-class

Verdict –

The RSV is one of the most well-rounded and instantly likeable earphones I’ve tested, representing an excellent value proposition even at its elevated price tag.


Introduction –

Soft Ears are the luxury division of the now widely renowned Moondrop, seeking to offer a more refined experience at more premium price tiers. Their product portfolio is more focused and mostly high-end focused. This starts at their all-out co-flagships, the 10x BA driver RS10 reference monitor and their Tribrid Cerberus. Alternatively, the Turii offers a high-end single-DD configuration that has become more popularised in recent years. The RSV is their cheapest model if not a cheap earphone in isolation. The team spent 1 year honing it to perfection, aiming to offer a scaled back version of the RS10 experience with the same technologies and engineering on a simplified and easier to drive 5-BA platform. Compared to the flat out reference RS10, the RSV has been slightly reworked to provide a heavier emphasis on dynamics. Its engaging yet immaculately clean sound, ease of driving and more accessible price point makes it a great choice for audio enthusiasts.

The RSV comes in at $729.99 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit here.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank the team at Soft Ears very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the RSV, RS10 and Cerberus for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. I paid a slightly reduced cost for the earphones in return for honest evaluation and will attempt to be as objective as possible.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Drivers: 5x BA
  • Crossover: 6-Component, 3-way
  • Sensitivity: 125dB @ 1kHz
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 40kHz
  • Socket: 0.78mm, 2-pin

Behind the Design –

Tuned Acoustics & Crossovers

The combination of electronic crossover and passive filters has enabled Soft Ears to achieve their desired note presentation in addition to their ideal frequency response. Using a 3rd order LRC filter for bass, impedance + low-pass for the midrange and film capacitors for the high-end, the company was able to achieve both whilst maintaining almost linear phase. This is aided by the 3D-printed shell and internal acoustics, leading to maximised extension, resolution and sharper imaging.

VDSF Tuning

Moondrop pioneered the VDSF tuning curve which is a combination of the diffuse field neutral and Harman Curves which have become industry standards as of late. Every model lies on a spectrum between both. The Moondrop sound has become hugely popular with users and critics alike due to its combination of timbral accuracy, balance and improved listenability over time compared to the vanilla Harman and DF Neutral curves. The RSV represents one of the most refined takes on it yet.

Unboxing –

The RSV has the most exclusive unboxing of the Soft Ears line-up with a large magnetic box that folds open to reveal the leather carrying case and accessories within a separate box. The case contains the earphones and cable. Each earpiece comes protected within a fabric pouch that prevent scratches during shipping. The accessories include 3 pairs of silicone tips in addition to 3 pairs of memory foam tips that offer a warmer, softer sound. In addition, a cleaning tool is provided alongside a metal Soft Ears card. Of note, the tips have an especially large bore size which can limit aftermarket pairings. The stock tips also have a seat promoting a more homogenous fit depth, likely in order to provide a more consistent sound between listeners. As there was such a heavy emphasis on tonality on this earphone, I decided to stick with the stock ear tips, of course, experiment for your preference if this is not to your liking.

Design –

As a huge car fanatic, the RSV invoked some primal instinct in me. From the sleek, smooth yet symmetrical styling to the gold foil inlay atop carbon fibre faceplates, the RSV advertises its sporty, high-performance nature. I am a huge fan of the combination of texture and simple yet flawlessly finished 3D printed piano black that oozes quality even in the absence of metal and its associated density in the hand. With its solid 3D-printed design, the RSV feels far more substantial than your average acrylic monitor. If I had one complaint, perhaps the nozzle could have a small ridge to help tips stay attached as those with wet wax may find themselves having to clean them frequently.   

Up top are 2-pin 0.78mm recessed connectors compatible with a wide range of aftermarket options. The stock cable leaves little to be desired, with a smooth matte jacket and very sturdy yet minimally cumbersome construction. The wires are a little springy though it is supple enough to coil without issue and microphonic noise isn’t exacerbated either. The pre-moulded ear guides are comfortable and the connectors complete the aesthetic with their clean matte black finish. Altogether a well-considered package, perhaps a modular or balanced termination could have been employed. Arguably, their use of the widely adopted 3.5mm standard is in line with the company’s intentions that this monitor should be enjoyed from almost any source.

Fit & Isolation –

This is a medium-sized earphone and its fit will be reminiscent to anyone familiar with faux-custom style monitors. It sits comfortably in the outer ear and its rounded design is devoid of features that may cause hotspot formation over time. It protrudes slightly, meaning they won’t be suitable for sleeping on, but the RSV isn’t especially bulky either. For my ears, they were comfortable for hours on end and I achieved a strong, consistent seal. Due to its fully sealed design and well-shaped body, the RSV is very stable and forms a great seal with its slightly deeper fit. Those sensitive to wearing pressure will have a similar experience here to other sealed in-ears that said. In addition, wind noise isn’t an issue and isolation is strong, great for commute and even travel, especially with foam tips installed. This also means the earphones don’t require huge bass emphasis to sound great in louder listening environments.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown & Source Pairings

The post Soft Ears RSV Review – Mastering Versatility first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Nostalgia Audio Benbulbin Review – Origin Story

Pros –

Fantastic stock cable, Excellent fit and isolation, Well-balanced, Super tight and defined bass with tasteful sub-bass boost, Refined treble, Highly transparent tone throughout, Very sharp imaging, Great separation

Cons –

Deep fit may be uncomfortable for some, Thinner midrange makes them a little track sensitive, Tip/fit depth sensitive

Verdict –

With its exceptionally solid fit, class-leading cable and balanced sound that doesn’t sacrifice bass extension and power, Nostalgia Audio have created one of the most versatile IEMs in its price class.


Introduction –

Nostalgia Audio are a new kid on the block but that doesn’t mean they lack experience or talent. The company is situated in Hong Kong and is the passion project of 3 passionate audio enthusiasts and professional – Adrian, Artanis and Bernie. The company serves as a response to the increasing inflation seen in the audiophile market. They do so by leveraging the scale of multiple larger companies for each component; coordinating to achieve a high-quality product at a reasonable price that may not otherwise be possible for a smaller company. While the company began with custom cables, the Benbulbin is their first IEM – and an ambitious one at that. This is a high-end 5-driver hybrid earphone featuring an 11mm Ti-coated DD for the bass, 2x mid BA and 2x BA tweeters. This is woven together with a 3-way crossover and 3-bore design alongside Polish 3D-printed shells with wooden faceplates.

The Benbulbin retails for $899 USD. You can read more about it and treat yourself to a unit here

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Bernie and Adrian from Nostalgia Audio very much their quick communication and for reaching out and providing me with the Benbulbin for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Drivers: 1x Ti-Coated DD, 2x Mid BA, 2x High BA
  • Crossover: 3-way, 3 Bore
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 19kHz
  • Impedance: 11 Ohms
  • Isolation: -26dB

Behind the Design

Tuned Drivers

The Benbulbin targets a neutral/reference sound by implementing a 5-hybrid driver setup. Bass is covered by a titanium coated DD. Titanium has the highest strength to weight of any metal, meaning a very light yet strong diaphragm can be achieved. While not as stiff as Beryllium, Titanium coated drivers bring real benefits to transient response, lower distortion and higher overall detail retrieval. 

3D Printed Shell

Nostalgia Audio utilise Polish 3D printed shells to achieve not only a high level of aesthetic quality, but also to permit a better ergonomic experience. In addition, the granular changes permit by 3D printing have enabled the company to modify the acoustics surrounding each driver to optimise the frequency response.

Custom Cable

Also included is Nostalgia Audio’s own Prelude custom cable. These are hand crafted in Japan and implement a 4-wire square braid with 26AWG high-purity silver plated copper conductors. It assumes a Type 4 Litz design featuring a damping core to reduce vibrations, reduce resistance and reduce skin and proximity effect relative to non-Litz wires. The Prelude retails for approx. $150 USD, adding value to the overall package.

Unboxing –

Where usually I am accustomed to a relatively sparse unboxing from newer brands, the Benbulbin provided a surprisingly complete and comprehensive unboxing experience. I would say this is indicative that this is a serious venture for the company given there must have been a fair amount of outlay to realise this. Removing the satin outer sleeve reveals a large hard box. Inside are laser cut inlets for the earphones, case and tips. The earphones ship with a lovely green leather magnetic case that complements the faceplate design. As far as ear tips go, the Benbulbin comes with 3 pairs of generic silicone tips with an additional box of Azla Xelastec tips and Dekoni washable foam tips. A cleaning tool is also provided in order to maintain performance over time. Overall, a pleasing and comprehensive selection. Arguably, Final E tips would have better complemented the Benbulbin’s brighter sound signature though the Xelastec tips do offer a unique sound and reliable fit.

Design and Fit –

The Benbulbin is a curious earphone to look at, undoubtedly handsome with a colourful artistic flair imbued by its stained wooden faceplates that offer a unique pattern for each set. This is delightfully contrasted by a piano black acrylic complexion enabled by the Polish 3D-printing process. Relative to class-leaders in this regard, the Benbulbin does have a few rough joins around the faceplate and some undulations that signify this is a hand-finished product. Nonetheless, nothing harms the fit or comfort in any way, just don’t expect machine perfect precision with the finish.

Up top, the earphone employs 0.78mm 2-pin connectors. The cable is sensational, among the best I’ve seen included with any IEM. It is one of the most compliant cables I’ve felt with absolutely zero memory and minimal microphonic noise. The smooth, transparent jacket coils easily for storage and is highly tangle resistant. It has robust yet case-friendly metal connectors backed up by high-purity SPC conductors in a Type 4 Litz geometry. The pre-moulded ear guides are also well-shaped and very comfortable, forming a very strong first impression regarding fit and finish throughout. I would be glad had I paid retail for this cable, the quality is excellent.

Fit & Isolation –

While the shells are shapely, they are also large and elongated. As the height and length of the earphones is not too large, they don’t form hotspots with the outer ear albeit they do protrude quite a bit as a result of their depth. The elongated nozzles and narrow profile mean the earphones provide an especially deep fit and I found sizing down tips here to provide the best experience. Prioritising a deep fit, Nostalgia Audio are able to create a more consistent sound amongst various listeners if at the cost of some comfort relative to a shallower fitting design.

Accordingly, they never quite disappear in the ear, though I did find the nozzle to be well-shaped and nicely angled. In turn, the Benbulbin provided me with a consistent seal and a very stable, locked-in fit. Driver flex also isn’t apparent and wearing pressure is reduced to a large extent by the vented design. The strong seal and deep fit rewards with very strong passive noise isolation and an exceptionally locked-in fit. Despite the presence of faceplate port, there is minimal wind noise and isolation is easily sufficient for commute and even air travel.

Next Page: Sound & Source Pairings

The post Nostalgia Audio Benbulbin Review – Origin Story first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Final Audio A3000 & A4000 Review – Aberrant

Pros –

Class-leading soundstage space and separation, Agile transient response, Fast and defined bass, Strong definition, Comfortable design, Very easy to drive

Cons –

Brightness is something to consider (especially A4000), Below average isolation, Cable may be prone to splitting

Verdict –

Final Audio’s latest earphones offer unique qualities you won’t find recreated by competitors but also tonalities that differ from the majority. So long as this is to your preference, there is much to like about their detail retrieval and ability to play with space and clarity like few around this price point and well beyond.


Introduction –

Final Audio are a rather profound audio company in that their focus lies not only on audio but also how it is perceived by listeners. In turn, their designs can be highly experimental, and all carry a purpose that works towards the company’s end goals. Each product generation signifies the pursuit of a certain quality and these learnings are then passed down to future, often more affordable models. In turn, the company exists in a state of flux and you can never tell where they’ll take things next. Enter the A3000 and A4000, that bear striking resemblance to the stunning A8000 and B-series that came before. These models undertake an intriguing shift, with a design based upon the differences in listening conditions between audio experts and regular consumers during daily use. Final have invested in offshore manufacturing for a new custom 6mm dynamic driver to slash the price whilst retaining the same quality we’ve come to love from the company.

The A3000 and A4000 come in at $140 and $160 respectively. You can read more about them and treat yourself to a set on hifiheapdhones.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Final Audio and hifiheadphones very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the A3000 and A4000 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Behind the Design –

f-Core DU Driver

Image credits: Final Audio

Final designed custom 6mm dynamic drivers from the ground up for the new A-series earphones. Tuning was conducted according to the parameters found most impactful on sound quality established from designing the flagship A8000. This includes material selection, with a brass enclosure that increases rigidity and mass for reduced resonances in addition to offering better electromagnetic shielding. To tune the time-response, Final have implemented an ultra-thin 30-micron CCAW diaphragm on both units and have even reduced the amount of adhesive used to further enhance transient response. They have also introduced a new diaphragm production technique that permits tighter tolerances between each unit. The A3000 was designed to deliver a natural sound with a more robust low-end while the A4000 targets an immersive soundstage with sharp imaging.

Unboxing –

Final Audio always provide a great unboxing experience and a well curated accessory set, a mantra that is also embodied with the new A-series earphones. Both come within a clean white box with the case and ear tips inside within a protective foam inlet. The earphones are protected within the included carrying case, it is identical to those included with the E-series earphones, with a matte silicone construction. I love how thoughtful the case design it, the earphones coil neatly inside which prevents kinking of the cable and the flexible lid secures the earphones, so they don’t jostle and scratch each other during transit. As before, Final include 5 pairs of their renowned E-tips with flexible sound tube that aid a strong seal in addition to ear hooks as the cable has no pre-moulded ear guides nor memory wire. The tips have a nice plastic case which keeps them organised. As the earphones now use a 2-pin cable, the MMCX assist tool is not included.

Design –

Both earphones have identical designs, varying only in colour scheme – black for the A3000 and a dark navy for the A4000. The shell design is very reminiscent of the B-series and A8000 with a trapezoidal shape that is visually distinct yet also designed to be congruent with the natural folds of the outer ear. However, here, Final have employed an ABS over metal construction leading to a substantially lighter housing. Alongside the price drop, tolerances are noticeably worse than the A8000 though not in a way that would substantially impact longevity nor with sharp edges that would affect comfort. A soft-touch finish with aggressive texture gives a pleasing, tactile in-hand feel.

The cables on both earphones are identical to that included on the E4000 though with 0.78mm 2-pin connectors. As the connectors are both recessed and keyed, aftermarket support will be limited. It isn’t the most robust design, but the OFC cable is of good quality overall. It has essentially zero memory and microphonic noise transmission alongside boasting a very smooth and supple feel. This means the cable stays put well once routed over the ear despite the lack of ear guides and it is highly comfortable during daily wear. The right-angle plug is case-friendly and well-relieved though the cable below the y-split may be prone to splitting due to its design.

Fit & Isolation –

The A3000 and A4000 both provides a very comfortable fit. In fact, I found it slightly more so than the A8000 due to the lighter weight which puts less pressure on the features of the outer ear. Don’t let the angular design fool you, the inner face is rounded and elegantly shaped. In turn, I was able to wear these earphones for hours on end without hotspot formation. They also have a very open feel and minimal wearing pressure due to the obvious venting of the housing. Similarly, there is no driver flex and the fit depth is medium to shallow depending on your choice of ear tip size. Given that both earphones have a brighter top-end, I found a deeper fit to yield the most natural and balanced sound. That said, the design is accommodating of different fit depths should you want to size up tips and go for a brighter presentation. Isolation does suffer due to the vented design, being below average. They are just sufficient for daily use and commute but are not a strong choice for travel and frequent use in loud environments.

Next Page: A3000 Sound Breakdown

The post Final Audio A3000 & A4000 Review – Aberrant first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Fiio FH3 Review – Coup

Pros –

Comfortable and well-isolating hybrid design, Good build quality, Clean and balanced midrange, Dynamic yet well-controlled bass, Linear lower-treble with excellent texture

Cons –

Notable sub-bass bias affects bass timbre, Soundstage on the smaller side

Verdict –

So long as you take into account the narrower soundstage and notable sub-bass bias, the FH3 is an excellent in-ear that represents very strong value.


Introduction –

Fiio is a hugely prominent name in the audio industry, initially due to their range of affordable yet well-rounded source devices, soon their DAPs and lately, their IEMs. The company has come far in this regard, their initial offerings being admirable first efforts, but clearly lacking refinement by comparison to companies specialising in this form factor. It’s been a few years now and the company has taken leaps and strides to the extent that their models are proving very competitive. The FH3 is their latest model, and not only is it a continuation of the hybrid FH-series, it is also a successor of the older, but also very popular F9 Pro. It implements a 3-driver hybrid design with the S.Turbo low-pass first seen on the FH5, alongside a new Be DD and latest Knowles drivers. In turn, it promises a very similar experience to Fiio’s more premium offerings at a drastically lower cost.

The Fiio FH3 is available for $149.99 USD. You can read all about it on Fiio’s website here and treat yourself to a set on HiFiGO.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Sunny from Fiio very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the FH3 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Specifications –

  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 40kHz
  • Drivers: 10mm Be-plated DD, Knowles ED30262 midrange driver, Knowles RAD33518 tweeter
  • Impedance: 24 ohms
  • SensitivityL 114dB
  • Weight: 7.3g per earpiece

The Pitch –

S.Turbo

This is a low-pass filter that prevents the DD from encroaching upon the other frequency ranges. The long 41.5mm tube length provides enough acoustic resistance to roll-off higher-frequencies by up to 32dB, ensuring that the DD is only responsible for delivering bass. From Fiio’s info-graphics, it also appears to act as a kind of pressuriser, which will enhance sub-bass extension and the sensation of moving air. This works in tandem with a dual vent system balancing pressure on either side of the driver.

Knowles BA Drivers

Two Knowles drivers have been implemented to cover the mids and highs. They are placed near the opening of the sound tube to minimise unwanted reflections and resonances. In listening and measurement, this is indeed the case as we observe minimal obtrusive peaks and troughs, insinuating smooth crossover points and generally sound acoustic design. Fiio implements a 3-way hybrid physical and electrical crossover to aid these qualities.

SPC Cable

The included cable appears similar to that on the FA7. It implements monocrystal silver-plated copper conductors with 4 wires, 96 strands total. The high strand count ensures that the cable is pliable while retaining a low resistance. It also enables the company to subtly alter the sound via the skin effect.

Unboxing –

The FH3 has a pleasing unboxing experience similar to their higher-end models. The buyer receives a terrific pelican-style case that feels tough with weather-resistant seals. Inside is a more compact soft zipper pouch for portable use. Fiio include a whopping 11-pairs of eartips, 3 sizes of bass, reference and vocal tuning silicone tips alongside 2 pairs of more isolating memory foam tips. A cleaning tool is also provided but there is a nice fine metal wax filter already in place on the earphones.

Design –

Those familiar with Fiio’s other FH earphones will find a very similar experience here. The shells are all-aluminium with signature ripple faceplate design that catches light in fascinating ways. The inner face feels well sculpted, more so than the FH5, so as to achieve a good fit depth and enhance stability. Furthermore, in line with its lesser driver count, the FH3 assumes generally smaller dimensions – albeit a similar design language and feel in-ear to the FH5 and FH7. The quality is impressive too, with a well-refined finish as one would expect from the large and experienced company. There aren’t any rough edges or surface defects alongside impressive faceplate matching that you won’t get from more boutique manufacturers. Finally, the all-black colour scheme looks clean and streamlined if not quite as regal as the two tone higher models.

The cable appears similar to that included with the FA7 but is noticeably more flexible if not quite as nice as the higher-end FA9, FH5 and FH7 units. It uses an MMCX interface and high-purity SPC conductors with a high strand count. Ergonomically, it features an internally braided structure with a tough, albeit slightly tacky smoke jacket on top. Below the y-split, the two channels are divided rather than being unified so handle with care to avoid separation of the wires. Otherwise, the connectors feel well constructed and relieved. This feels like a sturdy cable if not the most soft and supple one, but maintains low memory with minimal microphonic noise. The pre-moulded ear guides also offer a comfortable and stable experience, especially combined with the smaller and lighter housing design.

Fit & Isolation –

The FH3 was a very comfortable earphone during my weeks of testing. The more compact and ergonomically sculpted housing (as compared to the FH5), makes it feel appreciably more conforming to the bends and folds of the ear. In turn, it feels more stable and locked in than that earphone, in addition to being very comfortable during long listening sessions. I experienced no hotspot formation and it provided a low-profile fit suitable for sleeping, they are impressively svelte. Two vents are apparent, one on the inner face of the earphone, one on the front. Despite this, they are not too prone to wind noise that can pester on many vented earphones, making the FH3 a strong choice for portable use.

The stronger seal is another factor that supports this, aided by a slightly deeper fit than most hybrids. They don’t feel like a fully-sealed BA monitor, of course, but provide surprisingly strong passive noise isolation easily suitable for public transport and perhaps shorter flights; though I would still point frequent travellers towards a fully sealed or custom option. Some driver flex was apparent when intentionally pushing the earphones in once fit, however, I wouldn’t consider this to occur during normal use nor did it negatively affect sound performance.

Next Page: Sound, Comparisons & Verdict

The post Fiio FH3 Review – Coup first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Moondrop Aria Review – Reimagined

Pros –

Strong balance and linearity, Outstanding midrange timbre, Impressive metal build, Wide soundstage, Well-detailed

Cons –

Bass could still be tighter, Average noise isolation

Verdict –

Moondrop’s latest earphone appends complaints with their former design whilst retaining benchmark level tonal refinement at a substantial price cut.


Introduction –

Like many, my first introduction to Moondrop was the Starfield, an earphone that combined their Harman-based VDSF target tuning with a CNT dynamic driver at an affordable price. While I found the earphone to impress in both its build quality and the refinement of its tonality, I did find myself wanting when it came to technical performance. The Aria is the latest offering in Moondrop’s single-DD arsenal, promising to build upon the same foundation of the Starfield. It implements a smart all-black colour scheme and revised driver and surrounding acoustics in order to realise this. Furthermore, the Aria comes at a substantial discount. Of note, some sources refer to this model as the Aria 2 as Moondrop have previously released a single-DD Aria. For the sake of consistency, I will refer to this model simply as the Aria during this review.

You can read more about the Aria and treat yourself to a set on HiFiGO and Apos Audio.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Nappoler from HiFiGO very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Aria for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Driver: LCP 10mm Dynamic Driver
  • Socket: 0.78mm 2-pin
  • Sensitivity: 122dB
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 36kHz

Behind the Design –

Revised Driver and Acoustics

The Aria takes the brass inner cavity and CCAW voice coil of the Starfield and adds stronger N52 Neodymium magnets in addition to a revised LCP (liquid crystal polymer) diaphragm. A newly designed phase waveguide aids treble response and minimises distortion. Moondrop achieve their desired frequency response via implementation of a composite sound cavity, multiple acoustic dampers and numerous tuning ports.

HRTF Frequency Response

The Aria’s frequency response is compliant with Head-related transfer function and room response function. This enables the earphone to provide accurate imaging and localisation. Moondrop’s target curve is a derivative of the diffuse-field neutral and Harman curves – more specifically, compared to Harman-target earphones, Moondrop have toned down the upper-midrange and slightly bumped up the lower-treble. As with the Starfield, I find this to create a very pleasant tonality with a natural-timbre that is increasingly common but not nearly a given in this price range.

Unboxing –

Leveraging their huge success, the cheaper Aria provides a far more prestigious unboxing experience than the pricier starfield before it. An outer sleeve slides off to reveal a magnetic rubberised hard box with foil print. Inside are the earphones within a foam inlet with the zipper carrying case identical to that included with the Starfield just below. The case contains a 2-pin fabric-sheathed braided cable in addition to a whopping 6 pairs of silicone ear tips. What we do miss relative to the Starfield are the tweezers and replacement mesh nozzle covers. Overall, while the accessory set is almost identical to the Starfield, the experience has been elevated by a large degree.

Design –

The Aria is almost identical to the Starfield with a very similar two-piece metal chassis and identical inner half retaining the same in-ear feel between the two. As before, the housings have a nice heft and density alongside impressive tolerances and finish with a palpable seem but rounded edges and corners. The Aria actually appears to have stepped up tolerances slightly from the Starfield, and employs a new flat faceplate design in addition to introducing a more tactile matte finish. In addition, where the Starfield’s painted finish garnered complaints of chipping, the new matte complexion is promised to be harder wearing. Overall, the Aria looks smart with its subtle gold accents and the metal construction rewards with excellent in-hand feel.

The cable has also been revised relative to the Starfield though retains the same 0.78mm 2-pin interface with wide aftermarket support. As opposed to the Litz braided cable that came before, the Aria has a fabric sheathed cable that is only braided below the y-split. It feels a little light and flimsy above the y-split compared to the prior design but is soft and flexible with minimal microphonic noise transmission. The y-split is low-profile and the right-angle plug is both case-friendly and well-relieved. While the cable has some memory, and I do personally prefer the more supple Litz wire, it isn’t too prone to tangling, has a great aesthetic and is easy to live with day to day.

Fit & Isolation –

Given that the portion of the housing that contacts the ear is identical, the fit experience very much mirrors that of the Starfield and models that came before such as the KXXS. This is not a bad thing, for these earphones are all shapely and comfortable to wear. The nozzles are tapered with a nice angle that positions the housing neutrally in the ear to minimise hotspots. The housings are thin so the fit is reasonably low-profile. They’re not ideal to sleep on but are certainly sleek and unassuming in addition to being relatively resistant to wind noise when worn outdoors. There is no driver flex due to their more open-feel with minimal wearing pressure and a shallower fit depth. This is also likely due to the obvious venting which means isolation is below average and not ideal for listening in noisy areas. They do suffice for general commute but I would investigate fully-sealed options for frequent travellers.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown

The post Moondrop Aria Review – Reimagined first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Fir Audio VxV Review – The Perfect Complement

Pros –

Hardy build, Pressure-free yet isolating design, Balanced sound, Tight bass, Wide soundstage, Resolving and sparkly top-end, Non-fatiguing

Cons –

Bass extension and dynamics may leave wanting, Signature isn’t especially engaging

Verdict –

A resolving yet non-fatiguing sound and thoughtful design make Fir’s latest offering a perfectly evolved complement to the audio enthusiast’s EDC.


Introduction –

Fir Audio is a company that is quite new to me, but one that I’ve been keeping an eye on for the expertise that they carry. Though just over 2 years old now, the staff at the company carry almost a decade of experience at leading audio brands. At first, the company made some noise with their innovative IEM utilities; a micro vacuum for removing wax and a cable tester, both valuable tools for professionals or simply those wanting to maximise the performance of their gear. I was then surprised then, when I found out that the man behind Fir was none other than former 64Audio CEO Bogdan. As you would expect, when the company inevitably launched its first IEM line-up, the M-series monitors, Fir Audio quickly rose to prominence. The VxV represents an interesting departure from this direction. Much like the M-series, it sports Fir’s signature Direct Aperture, ATOM and Tubeless Driver tech in addition to a very generous 3-year warranty. However, the design and goals differ substantially from their previous releases. This is a high-end limited run IEM that targets simple yet versatile daily usability. It represents the start of a sister branch of products alongside the professional leaning M-series.

The VxV retails for $999 USD on Fir Audio and is on sale on Drop for $799 at the time of writing.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Asher from Project Perfection very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the VxV for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Drivers: 1x DD, 2x Mid BA, 1x High BA, 1x Ultra-High BA
  • 2.5mm TRRS Balanced Connector
  • MMCX Connectors
  • Chassis: Hybrid 6000 aluminium and DuPoint engineering plastic
  • Impedance: 16 Ohm

Behind the Design –

Direct Bore Drivers

We’ve seen tubeless drivers on a few models, think 64Audio’s TIA drivers and Campfire Audio’s T.A.E.C. By bypassing the usual tube and damper system used by most IEMs, especially hybrids due to the sensitivity mismatch between drivers, manufacturers are able to extract better extension and less distortion from traditional drivers. Fir take this one step further by removing the spount from the driver on top which permits a more natural and organic sound as per the company. The VxV is a completely tubeless design with direct bore referring to the two tubeless tweeter drivers placed within the sound tube itself, reducing reflections as much as possible for the most detailed sound possible.

Tactile Bass Technology

In fact, Fir have outdone themselves with their tubeless design, not only applying it to all 4 BA drivers but the DD woofer as well. The dynamic driver fires into the entire chassis rather than having its own chamber. This maximises the air volume it can work with and enables some mass loading with the metal chassis, helping to improve detail and optimise decay.

Sound Reactor

The  VxV has a vastly different internal structure than the M-series which has enabled Fir to bring all of the technologies pioneered by their flagships to a more accessible price point. Dubbed sound reactor, the internal acoustic design does indeed resemble a reactor with the myriad drivers branding off a central channel. This gives the company greater control over the sound tuning and desired characteristics.

Atom Super +

ATOM, short for air transfer open module, was pioneered by the M-series and works similarly to Adele and apex we’ve seen adopted by professional orientated monitors. These technologies were designed to reduce ear fatigue by minimising pressure on the ear drum but in the same sense I do find these technologies to greatly enhance wearing comfort for enthusiasts too as it greatly reduces the sensation of wearing pressure generated by the in-ear form factor. All have differing implementations, here using surgical grade tubing to permit a smaller footprint. In the case of the VxV, we observe a 3D printed unit integrated into chassis which means they can’t be swapped to change the sound or isolation. Fir Audio promise 20dB of isolation alongside a pressure-free wearing experience.

Unboxing –

In tune with its EDC focus, the VxV has a simple, utilitarian unboxing focusing on thoughtful essentials. The earphones come within a clean white box with Fir branding. Inside is a leather carrying case containing the earphones and accessories. Papers and Firry stickers are also included for the user to enjoy. The case contains 3 pairs of silicone tips and 1 pair of double flange tips in addition to a cleaning tool. The earphones come pre-installed with memory foam ear tips that provide stronger isolation and a slightly warmer sound well suited for these earphones. I found Azla Sednafit ear tips to be a great aftermarket complement for these earphones both from a fit and sound point of view and used them for this review. Of note, units from Drop will also include a DD HiFi 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor as the earphone does ship with a balanced 2.5mm cable, however, this was not included on my review unit.

Design –

Fir’s shell design assumes a minimalist approach with basic yet ergonomic geometry derived from their M-series monitors. Though it may not be clear online, these shells have a very sturdy 2-piece construction dense metal bodies with tough integrated nozzles and Delrin faceplates with a metal insert sporting Fir and Firry branding. The shells uphold a high-quality feel and the faceplate matching is nigh perfect. The small vents for the ATOM system are well integrated into the metal chassis. It’s also easy to appreciate Fir’s knack for compelling story telling, with prototype insignias and coordinates marked on each faceplate coinciding with their mascot Firry and his plans of world domination. It’s a small touch but something that makes the product feel personable and special.

Up top are MMCX connectors that feel like high-quality components. They are outset, seating inside a recessed groove on the cable to prevent moisture and dust ingress. The cable itself has been made specifically for the VxV, sporting SPC conductors and a 2.5mm balanced termination alongside a silver colour scheme that matches the shell. It has a smooth and super supple TPU jacket with Teflon inner sheath that enables essentially zero memory or microphonic noise, making it a pleasure to live with. The ear guides are comfortable and well-shaped and the cable has quite a robust thickness that means, though it is soft, it doesn’t feel delicate. The metal plug and y-splitter are a nice touch, especially with their laser etched Firry logos. As always, it’s attention to detail that upholds a strong user experience and Fir flaunt their extensive experience with IEMs through their mastery.

Fit & Isolation –

As aforementioned, the VxV is not a compact earphone but of modest dimensions that will be compatible with a wide range of ears. The shape of the shells too is very well considered, not excessively sculpted but thoughtfully composed to maximise fit compatibility. The smoothly rounded rears hug the ear and prevent hotspot formation. Meanwhile, the narrow apex slots confidently behind the tragus without introducing much pressure due to its slimness, further enhancing long-term comfort. I was able to wear the VxV for hours without issue and also found the fit and seal desirable, with very well-angled elongated nozzles.

The nozzles aren’t too wide and didn’t limit fit depth as on some longer-nozzled earphones. However, you will be limited to T400 size ear tips. With the right tips, I received a consistently strong seal and a very stable fit despite the vented housings. The earphones feel snug and securely locked into the ears despite a lack of any fins or stabilisers. As promised by Fir, I experienced zero wearing pressure and no driver flex on behalf of the ATOM modules; a great addition for air travel or those sensitive to in-ear wearing pressure. When wearing the earphones during commute, I also noted that the modules relieve the thud of each footstep for an uninterrupted listening experience relative to conventional sealed in-ears.

On the flipside, they do introduce some wind noise, not a huge amount but noticeable when outdoors. They also slightly lower passive noise isolation through not by much. The VxV isolates only slightly less than a fully-sealed monitor but remain a very strong performer easily sufficient for frequent travellers or those listening in noisy environments. The DD also helps to retain a full voicing though I would still recommend custom or foam tips for those wanting to maximise isolation.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown

The post Fir Audio VxV Review – The Perfect Complement first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 Review – Return of the King

Pros –

Class-leading build quality and industrial design, Balanced and coherent signature, Extended and sparkly top-end, Very wide soundstage with holographic imaging

Cons –

Obviously coloured tone won’t suite all, Angled housings may cause issue for some

Verdict –

The Andromeda 2020 isn’t just a homage, but an entire overhaul that addresses the original’s weaknesses whilst compounding upon its core charm.


Introduction –

Campfire Audio was born in Oregon, USA from a passionate team of locals. They brought their expertise from ALO Audio while introducing new smarts for in-ear designs and incorporating local metalwork to achieve a stunning union of qualities. For many, the Andromeda was what really put them on the map, an IEM that impressed users and critics in all regards. It is a musical and unique earphone that is simply very engaging and easy to like. The model has been subtly refined over the years but never drastically altered. This changes with the new 2020 incarnation that makes use of 3D printed solid-body acoustic design to provide a new interpretation of Campfire’s original hit. The Andromeda 2020 promises a more balanced sound, sharper imaging and a more detailed presentation at the same competitive asking price.

The Andromeda 2020 costs $1099 USD, not a small cost, but very welcome in the sea of modern flagships costing multiples more. You can read more about it and treat yourself to a set on Campfire Audio.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Caleb from Campfire Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Andromeda 2020 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Specifications –

  • Drivers: Dual Low BA, Single Mid BA, Dual High BA + T.A.E.C
  • Housing: Machined Alu Shell, Anodized Emerald Green, Stainless Steel Spout
  • Connectors: Custom Beryllium/Copper MMCX
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz–28 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 7.01 mVrms
  • Impedance: 12.8 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance

The Pitch –

T.A.E.C

Tuned acoustic expansion chamber is a 3D printed sound chamber for the 2 high-frequency balanced armature drivers. It’s a tubeless design mitigating the loss of extension and resonances of a traditional tube and damper system. It also provides the impression of a larger soundstage

3D Optimised Acoustic Construction/Solid Body

With a sophisticated driver array, it’s important to ensure all work in harmony. The Andromeda 2020 employs Campfire Audio’s new solid-body acoustic design whereby the drivers are arranged with a 3D printed array that gives them finer control over the sound output by each driver in addition to reducing resonances for an overall more refined and resolving sound.

Unboxing –

Campfire Audio always impress with their unboxing experience and the Andromeda 2020 continues suit. There’s a stunning foil-laminated sleeve that opens up in origami-like fashion to reveal a hard box inside. Here, buyers will find the sustainable cork carrying case in matching green. It has a faux shealing interior that feels soft and protective alongside a smooth metal zipper. The earphones are inside within one of CFA’s dual-compartment pouches that keeps the earpieces separate to prevent scratches.

There are an additional 2 of these pouches, one containing 3 pairs of CFA silicone tips, one holding 3 pairs of foam tips. A separate bag contains 5 pairs of Final Audio E-tips that were my preferred option. They offer a flexible sound tube for a slightly more personalised fit and deliver an especially coherent sound too. The extra cases are very welcome as they can be used on other IEMs too and are very pocketable. Campfire Audio score bonus points with their inclusion of a metal pin and cleaning tool.

Design –

I think most readers will be acquainted with Campfire Audio’s legendary milled aluminium BA shells. The Andromeda 2020 continues this legacy, in signature emerald green with silver nozzle and faceplate screws – a timeless combination. However, as compared to the 2018 Andromeda, the only other variant I also have on hand, the finish is noticeably smoother, the edges more refined and general fit and finish a step up even from the class-leading examples of industrial metalwork that came before.

Indeed, the sharp edges are now subtly rounded, the colour a shade lighter and the finish more even. The rounded MMCX block and milled perimeter that possessed clear ridges on the previous models are now flawless; simply a more refined aesthetic with the same tough angulation and loads of character. The nozzle has been changed, not in dimension, only design; the 3 bore design superseded by a grill similar to that on the Atlas and Ara. However, all the highlights users otherwise enjoy remains.

Up top are the same reinforced Beryllium MMCX connectors and, as always, they provide an especially confident click and very low tolerances. The cable is the smoke jacket variant as seen on the 2019 CFA models and newer. It has a softer jacket than their previous models and a twisted as opposed to square braid in addition to pre-moulded ear guides over memory wire. The result is a more supple and easily conforming cable, it is lighter and more comfortable. The same high-quality right angle plug remains and the internals are Litz SPC as well but with double the strand count that aids both ergonomics and sonic performance.

Next Page: Sound, Comparisons & Design

The post Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 Review – Return of the King first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 Review – Changes

Pros –

Excellent build and cable, Ergonomic and compact design, Hugely dynamic yet controlled bass, Natural voicing, Focused detail presentation, Good coherence

Cons –

Full and high-energy sound won’t suit all, Coloured midrange

Verdict –

The Dorado fills an interesting niche but does so with excellent execution. Very few fun-themed earphones strike with such poise and delicacy as the Dorado 2020.


Introduction –

Campfire Audio began life in Oregon, USA as cable manufacturer ALO Audio. They soon branched into IEMs, utilising their former experience to kickstart what has now become a long and successful career. Of the myriad models they’ve launch since, the Dorado was the company’s first hybrid that existed at a time where hybrids were not so commonplace. The same cannot be said for the modern market and here, quite admirably, CFA once again demonstrate their trend-setting prowess. For the new Dorado 2020 serves as a simplification of its progenitor, exchanging the 3-driver setup for a more refined crossover-less single DD + BA design. It combines elements from their past releases into a more coherent whole whilst staying true to the ethos behind the original Dorado. Once more, the 2020 variant seeks to bridge the gap between their more balanced high-end BA line-up and Solaris, and their bassier Vega and Polaris II.

The new Dorado is available for $1099 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to one on Campfire Audio.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Caleb from Campfire Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Dorado 2020 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 22 kHz
  • Impedance: 10 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB @ 1kHz
  • Black Ceramic Shell
  • Single Custom BA (High)
  • 10mm A.D.L.C Diaphragm DD (Mid + Low)
  • Oversized Neodymium Rare Earth Magnet
  • Custom Be/Cu MMCX connectors
  • Brass Spout w/Midnight Grey PVD Finish
  • Campfire Audio SPC Litz Cable

Behind The Design –

“No Complication” Acoustic Design

The Dorado 2020 takes the company’s hybrid designs back to their roots with a single DD + single BA driver setup sans crossover. The company reasons this provides improved resolution and cohesion. Indeed, crossover-less designs have become popularised recently for their phase coherence yet at the cost of more sophisticated acoustic design. Campfire Audio have proven themselves masters of such design, their Andromeda Gold and Ara being the pudding of proof.

Custom Drivers  

Campfire Audio work with OEMs to develop their own DD and customised BA drivers for their desired sound signature – especially imperative given the crossover-less design. Campfire Audio custom design their dynamic drivers and also own these designs, which permits stricter QC and means their performance is not replicable by other brands despite the increasing trend towards single-DD flagships with similar diaphragm constructions.

They implement an oversized Neodymium magnet to increase flux density, permitting higher efficiency and lower distortion that have been subjectively associated with increased dynamics. The dense ceramic shell and brass spout on the Dorado 2020 should also translate to decreased vibrations and resonances leading to shorter decay and a more defined sound. It may appear simple, but it’s clear that serious thought went into refining and distilling this design.

Unboxing –

Campfire Audio always do a great job with their unboxing experience, reinforcing the premium status of their products. The Dorado 2020 is no different, emplying the same colourful foiled box that folds open to reveal a protective hard box. CFA show support local business and their environment with their locally printed and sourced packaging in addition to upcycling marine plastics for their accessories.

Inside is the canvas zippered carrying case that exudes a classic and dapper vibe with metal CFA tag and pastel orange colour scheme. In the accessory box are two mesh IEM bags, one containing 3 pairs of foam tips and 3 pairs of CFA silicone tips and the other 5 pairs of Final Audio E-tips. The earphones themselves also come in an additional mesh bag, these are quite brilliant due to their compact size and separate compartments that separate each earpiece, preventing scratches whilst maximising portability.

Design –

It’s very easy to appreciate the delightful combination of colour and texture offered by CFA IEMs and the new Dorado is certainly no different. The gold PVD shell of its predecessor makes way for an otherworldly black ceramic with tinted brass nozzle. It’s a svelte package that doesn’t scream for attention but still manages to be visually distinct. As with the new Vega, the construction is a dense ceramic formed through an 8-day process. The results are superlative with immaculate hyper-gloss finish and perfectly even seams throughout their 3-piece construction. The look and feel is dense, sturdy and ultra-premium as we’ve come to expect from Campfire Audio.

The cable too impresses, coming paired with CFA’s Smokey Litz unit with SPC wires. The Dorado 2020 and cable both use custom Beryllium connectors that are harder-wearing that regular MMCX. Indeed, this has been my experience, I haven’t experienced issues with CFA’s connectors and I find them to offer tighter tolerances and a more affirmative engagement too. The cable itself is of pleasing construction with excellent strain relief on the right-angle 3.5mm plug and comfortable pre-moulded ear guides. The wires themselves are very supple with minimal memory and are, thereby, easy to coil for storage. The insulation also doesn’t appear to harden over time and carries minimal microphonic noise. Altogether, a reliable and easy cable to live with.

Fit & Isolation –

Those familiar with CFA’s older Vega or Lyra II will find a very familiar experience here with regards to overall shape and size. That means, they are superbly comfortable as they are compact enough not to contact much, if any, of the outer ear, thereby mitigating hotspot formation. In terms of nozzle design, the new Dorado also addresses the uncharacteristically long and wide nozzles that could impede a comfortable fit and seal on the original. With its sleeker, more aptly angled and tapered nozzles, fit and seal are worlds apart; the wearing experience on the new Dorado is much more conventional even with standard silicone tips, it fits deeper and is more stable during wear.

The seal is strong and the fit very stable when combined with the over-ear cable design. I was able to skip and jog without the earphones jostling loose, of course, they aren’t weather sealed in any way so this is not advised for consumers. Driver flex is apparent as on the new Vega and a lot of CFA’s DD earphones. As always, it doesn’t affect the listening experience nor did I find it to cause failure or performance degradation during my weeks of testing. In terms of isolation, the Dorado 2020 isolates slightly less than the new Vega but well above average for a hybrid earphone. They are easily suitable for public transport and general commute, especially with their robust, punchy low-end tuning. They would suffice in a pinch for air travel with foam tips, but I would still recommend a fully-sealed or CIEM for frequent flyers.

Next Page: Measurements & Sound Breakdown

The post Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 Review – Changes first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Astell & Kern PEE51 USB-C Dual DAC Cable Review – Je Ne Sais Quoi

Pros –

Low noise floor, Flexible braided cable, Ultra-premium build quality and aesthetic design, Smooth and refined sound, Spacious stage

Cons –

Slightly higher OI can limit versatility, Type-C plug isn’t case friendly, No accessories included

Verdict –

The Dual DAC Cable ultimately showcases greater refinement in both feel and listening than even its premium competitors, however, its higher output impedance especially makes it a far more situational buy.


Introduction –

Astell & Kern are one of the most renowned DAP makers on the market with a legacy of innovative designs. One example includes new SR15 which implemented a rotated screen in order to accommodate the ergonomics of handheld use. Upon such a foundation, the company has decided to address the death of the headphone jack in smartphone design with their new Dual DAC USB cable. This dongle-style DAC/AMP sports AK’s signature aesthetic and sound design with a full metal chassis and Dual Cirrus DAC setup – one handling each channel. In turn, the company promises the same premium experience provided by their DAPs scaled down into a hyper-portable form factor and at a reasonable price. As always, the company demonstrate their prowess with a carefully considered premium design that showcases profound attention to detail.

The Dual DAC Cable retails for $169 AUD or $199 NZD at the time of launch. You can read all about the DAC/AMP and treat yourself to a set here.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • S/N: 118dB
  • THD + N: 0.0004% Unbalanced
  • Output Impedance: 2-Ohms
  • DAC: Cirrus Logic CS43198 x2
  • Sample Rate: PCM up to 32bit.384kHz, DSD64 (1bit, 2.8mHz) Native, Stereo, DSD128 (1bit, 5.6mHz), Stereo/DSD256 (1bit, 11.2mHz), Stereo
  • Input: USB Type-C
  • Output: 3.5mm Headphone
  • Dimensions: 17 x 50 x 10.3 mm
  • Weight: About 25g

Behind the Design –

Full Metal Housing

Reminiscent of their DAP designs, the Dual DAC Cable implements a design drawn from the concept of light and shadow. It features a robust zinc alloy build that provides a solid feel and daily durability. It has a noticeably different feel to aluminium with a premium weight and density alongside a different surface finish. The angular design was optimised for comfortable grip and one-handed use, AK also focused on providing a flawless, smooth finish. 

Dual-DAC Chipset

AK’s dongle features two of Cirrus Logic’s CS43198 MasterHIFI DAC chips supporting native DSD256 and 32bit/384kHz playback. This is Cirrus Logic’s power and space-efficient chipset superseding the CS4399. It has been designed with proprietary digital-interpolation filters and low jitter. Two chips have been implemented, one for each channel.

Independent Amplifier

AK forgo Cirrus’ integrated amplifier in favour of their own independent module – a prime differentiator from the vast majority of competing hyper-portable designs. The Dual DAC cable is built atop a micro 6-layer PCB with custom micro-resistors and tantalum capacitors designed to provide stable operation and improved capacitance for a dynamic audio performance. AK’s amplifier circuit offers 2Vrms output (no load)

Silver-Plated Copper Shielded Cable

An often-neglected part of dongle design, AK’s Dual DAC Cable features a custom-made large-gauge 4-core cable with copper noise shielding. It resembles a litz design with a combination of SPC and copper wire entwined around a centre aramid fibre damping core. Separate shielding is then applied over the cable to further shield the device from noise from the playback device.

Unboxing –

The Dual DAC Cable comes within a compact rubberized box and is nestled within a foam inlet. The experience is streamlined and no-frills. Given that the cable is soldered onto the device, no other accessories are included. For the more premium pricing, a carrying pouch would have been appreciated and perhaps a USB-A adaptor.

Design –

Visually satisfying design has always been a defining trait of Astell & Kern’s products and this same ethos is embodied here. For though the Dual DAC is one of the larger dongles I’ve reviewed, it is also one of the most premium. Furthermore, given its slim design, it doesn’t feel too substantial when stacked with a smartphone. The 2-piece Zinc alloy construction surely makes a strong first impression, feeling immediately more robust in the hand than competing plastic and aluminium designs. This experience is reinforced by an extrusion-moulded Type-C connector with matching zinc housing and the cable too impresses greatly; in my experience, one of the most overlooked aspects of dongle design.

AK’s custom 4-core braided cable is especially flexible, which in addition to the weight of the dongle itself, makes the device very easy to stack and handle alongside a smartphone. It also places less stress on the Type-C port of the playback device – and I found the dongle to provide very reliable connectivity here too. Solid rubber strain reliefs are to be observed on both terminations, however, one niggle is that he Type-C connector is quite large and features no protrusion. This means you will need a smartphone case with a large cut-out in order to use this DAC/AMP. Overall, beside the bulky connector, I found the look and feel of this dongle to be highly appealing and a prime differentiator from competitors.

Usability –

As with most competitors, the Dual DAC Cable is marketed as being plug and play on Windows, OSX, IOS and Android devices. Though I was unable to assess compatibility with Apple’s products, I experienced no difficulty using the dongle with either my Windows 10 laptop or Xperia 5 II smartphone, neither requiring unique apps or drivers to interface. On Android, however, a music playback app supporting DSD is required should you want to take advantage of this function.

The dongle also lacks an auto-power function which, to me, is a positive as it maximises compatibility and reliability. Once plugged in, the dongle powers on, denoted by a white LED indicator on its face. There’s no jack-mounted switch or timer which streamlines usability at the cost of power consumption (though realistically, the dongle would be unplugged when not in use). The dongle itself has no controls so the source devices handles playback and volume. I found the dongle to offer a good range here, suitable for sensitive in-ears with enough headroom for less sensitive headphones too.

As there is no integrated battery, the dongle is powered by the playback device. This may limit compatibility with some older smartphones that do not support power output, however, should not be a problem on modern Smartphones and laptops. Power drain was not substantial despite the robust amplifier – I found the Dual DAC Cable to draw less power than most competitors such as the Cozoy Takt-C. This suggests that the circuitry has been well-implemented to optimise efficiency. Do note that the dongle does not support 4-pole in-line remote signal but will support audio-playback on 4-pin remote cables.

Next Page: Sound & Pairings

The post Astell & Kern PEE51 USB-C Dual DAC Cable Review – Je Ne Sais Quoi first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Sivga Phoenix Review – The Charmer

Pros –

Excellent bass weight and extension, Clear and natural vocals, Rich and lush presentation, Good soundstage expansion and layering, Gorgeous build and design, Great carrying case

Cons –

Separation suffers from its fullness, Average technical performance in-class, Reasonably limited range of headband adjustment, Thin earpads can affect long-term comfort

Verdict –

Though its unique combination of qualities and thoughtful execution, the Phoenix is able to carve out a reasonably uncontested niche in the audio market for bass lovers who still value clear vocals and a spacious soundstage.


Introduction –

SIVGA are a Chinese audio company founded in 2016 who focus on stunning wooden designs and competitive pricing. They work hand-in-hand with Sendy Audio, their premium division, who recently achieved renown for their well-received Aiva planar magnetic headphone. The Phoenix is their latest creation, an open-back over-ear headphone featuring a huge 50mm dynamic driver. Signature to Sivga, the Phoenix features a premium bill of materials with special mention going to its gorgeous zebra wood cups. Sivga promise a rich and natural sound from its custom dynamic driver with moderate pricing placing it in direct comparison to some of the most acclaimed planar magnetic options on the market such as the Hifiman Sundara. Still, this is a unique approach and one that does feel well executed to boot.

The Phoenix sits just below the planar P-II in Sivga’s line-up at $299 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a set on Sivga’s website. See also Sendy’s website for their premium planar offerings here.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Collin from Sivga and Mark from Capisco Ltd very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Phoenix and Upgrade Pads for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Driver: 50mm Dynamic Driver
  • Impedance: 32 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 103dB
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Weight: 296g

Behind the Design –

Special Film

The Phoenix’s dynamic driver features a uniquely developed polycarbonate film and independently developed diaphragm structure. The company specifies a clear focus on rigidity in order to reduce modal breakup at high frequencies. Meanwhile, a lightweight construction with copper-clad aluminium voice coil promise an agile transient response for a detailed, extended and low-distortion sound. This is enhanced by the adoption of a 3mm thick rubidium iron boron magnet that provides strong driver control and low-end drive. A 32-ohm impedance makes the Phoenix easy to drive.

Unboxing –

Sivga create a premium unboxing experience for the Phoenix with a gorgeous wood-grain and carbon-fibre textured hard box that slides open to reveal a zippered hard case. The case is excellent, moulded specifically for the Phoenix to provide a perfect, extra-secure fit during storage. It has a faux-leather texture and feels very well-constructed, four feet on its base enable the case to stand upright as well. Inside are the headphones and cable within a drawstring hessian pouch. Sivga also provide a 1/4″ adaptor for use with desktop amplifiers. Altogether, a well-considered and high-quality experience!

Design –

Immediately, it’s hard not to appreciate the gorgeous painted stainless steel and zebra wood build that stands out as a defining feature of this headphone. The Phoenix appears premium in materials and provides a timeless retro aesthetic with adjacent chrome and woodgrain drawing the eye. The metal hangers and headband are reasonably lightweight but feel sturdy in the hand, reinforced by well-weighted and smoothly articulating hinges. Due to its compact dimensions, the Phoenix also is far from a heavy headphone at just under 300g despite its construction mostly employing robust metal parts.

This experience is complemented by a slide-to-adjust suspension headband with a wide, padded goat leather strap. It feels super soft and, being authentic leather, should also hold up better over time than faux so long as it is appropriately maintained. The pads are super soft with memory foam interior that conforms well to the individual’s head shape. The sides are pleather, and the face made from a soft suede that provides a comfortable and slightly more breathable experience.

The cable attaches via 2.5mm mono plugs which is a less popular choice these days but still commonly available on aftermarket cables. Unfortunately, I am not so enthusiastic about the Phoenix’s stock cable which is thin and flimsy, barely thick enough to be an IEM cable. Albeit, the cable is very light and unobtrusive, it is also very compliant and doesn’t irk during listening. The connectors are metal and terminations have a nice strain-relief, the 3.5mm plug, in particular, employing a robust spring loaded one. Still, the thinness is a concern for longevity to me, I would like to have seen a more robust cable that better complements the build of the headphones themselves.

Fit & Isolation –

Looking over the design, I was expecting a very comfortable fit, however, the Phoenix’s compact dimensions means there are some concessions for all-day at-home listening. The headband has fairly limited adjustment relative to most competitors. I personally felt I required slightly more length as I was just able to fit the headphones with the setting maxed out. Otherwise, the headband is comfortable and didn’t form any hotspots for me over time. Though do keep in mind, that If you find yourself maxing out the slider on most headphones, the Phoenix may not fit.

In addition, while the earpads are soft and compliant, they are also very shallow. The opening is large enough to engulf my ears by a hair, however, the lack of width means the drivers are constantly pressed against them, causing soreness after an hour or two of listening. The discomfort was mild and I was able to listen for longer, though the Phoenix does feel more to me like a portable headphone than a full-size open-back as a result. The lightweight build and slim pads to me seem contradictory for an open-back design that is not ideal for portable use, and yet it almost appears geared towards it.

This may be the intention of the design as it does isolate considerably more than most open-back headphones, albeit not nearly to the extent of a closed-back model yet alone the stronger ANC performers out there around this price. This does mean they do in a pinch for basic commute. Still, they do leak sound which is not ideal for public transport. I feel the pad design is intentional to deliver the best sound, that said.

Upgrade Pads

For those concerned about the earpads, Sivga do offer OEM protein leather replacements that offer an additional half-centimetre of width for only $15. The pads are held in place by a twist lock like most competitors making pad swapping easy – though of note, they do rotate clockwise rather than anticlockwise to disengage so take care to twist in the right direction during removal. The company was kind enough to send over a pair for evaluation. Though they aren’t as breathable as the stock pads with an entirely faux leather construction without the velour of the stock pads, but do successfully provide more of an over-ear fit. For my ears, they were noticeably more comfortable for longer listening sessions as they reduced contact between the driver and my ears. I think this is a fine option and a reasonably priced extra, though do note that they will change the sound quite noticeably as I will touch on in the sound analysis below.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown

The post Sivga Phoenix Review – The Charmer first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List