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
Treble extension and sub-bass definition could be improved, Soundstage depth just above average in-class
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Deep fit may be uncomfortable for some, Thinner midrange makes them a little track sensitive, Tip/fit depth sensitive
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Comfortable and well-isolating hybrid design, Good build quality, Clean and balanced midrange, Dynamic yet well-controlled bass, Linear lower-treble with excellent texture
Notable sub-bass bias affects bass timbre, Soundstage on the smaller side
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Strong balance and linearity, Outstanding midrange timbre, Impressive metal build, Wide soundstage, Well-detailed
Bass could still be tighter, Average noise isolation
Moondrop’s latest earphone appends complaints with their former design whilst retaining benchmark level tonal refinement at a substantial price cut.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bass extension and dynamics may leave wanting, Signature isn’t especially engaging
A resolving yet non-fatiguing sound and thoughtful design make Fir’s latest offering a perfectly evolved complement to the audio enthusiast’s EDC.
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.
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.
Drivers: 1x DD, 2x Mid BA, 1x High BA, 1x Ultra-High BA
2.5mm TRRS Balanced Connector
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.
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.
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.
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.
Excellent build and cable, Ergonomic and compact design, Hugely dynamic yet controlled bass, Natural voicing, Focused detail presentation, Good coherence
Full and high-energy sound won’t suit all, Coloured midrange
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Separation suffers from its fullness, Average technical performance in-class, Reasonably limited range of headband adjustment, Thin earpads can affect long-term comfort
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Highly linear sound, Excellent detail retrieval throughout, Hard-hitting yet even bass, Wide BT codec support
Settings menu overly-complicated to access, Volume buttons are inefficient, Large footprint
The D70s’ strength lies in its ability to effortlessly resolve the minutiae and do so without any fatigue, all the while upholding an almost perfectly even-handed presentation
I’m sure by now the vast majority are no stranger to Topping. The company has been making source devices for quite a few years now and have recently received widespread accolades for their chart-topping measurements and cost-efficient, scalable designs. The D70s represents the successor to Topping’s original D70, sitting just below the D90 in their dedicated DAC line-up. It utilises two of AKM’s AK4497EQ chips and features an upgraded XMOS 16-core XU216 microcontroller in addition to BT5.0 with LDAC support. Topping promise less jitter and native MQA decoding for a hearty jump in measurable performance over its predecessor.
The D70s retails for $649.99 USD at the time of writing. You can read more about it and treat yourself to a unit on Apos Audio (affiliate).
I would like to the team at Apos Audio for their quick communication and for providing me with the D70S for the purpose of review. The company is a sponsor of THL, however, all words are my own and no monetary incentive has been provided at any time for a positive review. Despite receiving the DAC free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
All great sources are built atop a quality power supply and the D70s is no different, using the same linear, regulated toroidal transformer as the D90. It has 8 independent voltage regulators and 7 Nichicon electrolytic high-grade caps built for audio application that provide clean and stable power.
Dual AK4497EQ DAC Chip
At its heart lies two of AKM’s 2nd highest DAC chip, the AK4497. However, Topping were able to beat even AKM’s own reference design in terms of measurable performance, to the extent that it almost matches the flagship AK4499 as used in the D90. Besides this, the D70s implements the same Accusilicon AS317 femto-clocks and Altera MAX II CPDL FGPA module with Topping coding.
The D70s utilises XMOS’ latest USB chipset that enables full-MQA decoding and native playback. In addition, they pair the AKM DAC with AKM’s AK4118 chip handling digital inputs for maximum compatibility and performance. On the Bluetooth front is the CSR8675 receiver chip from Qualcomm with wide codec support and BT5.0.
Similar to Topping’s amplifiers, the D70s comes within a large card box with the device itself safely secured within a laser cut foam inlet. There are adjacent cutouts for the remote, power wire, BT antenna and USB cable in addition to a user manual and warranty papers on top. The unboxing experience is simple, effective and utilitarian matching the ethos of the product itself.
As compared to the original D70, the successor boasts a slightly more sophisticated design and proud MQA certification on its faceplate. It retains the aluminium shell that provides rigidity in addition to enhanced isolation. Robust silicone feet provide a planted and stable feel on the desk. The fit and feel is also impressive with rounded edges and a nice, uniform sand-blasted finish across its exterior. Though this remains far from a modern design, especially coming from SMSL’s competing devices, with visible screws and a simplified black and white OLED display with 4-button navigation. The faceplate is squared off and protrudes noticeably from the housing rather than sitting flush. In turn, I find this design to be nowhere near as sleek as the D90 or even the former D70 to my eyes. However, this can also suggest that the device is intended to be stacked or contained.
Otherwise, it feels solid and robust; Topping are clearly capable of providing strong build quality and the D70s’ BOM are well considered. The device does have quite a large footprint, being the largest Topping DAC in fact, which is something to consider if you have small desk. It is clearly larger than my THX789 and the SMSL SU-9, especially in width. The control scheme is button-based as opposed to the rotary encoders we’ve seen implemented elsewhere. On the rear are the inputs and outputs. A power switch sits adjacent to the plug and a voltage selection switch is located on the right-hand side since this device uses a linear power supply that cannot automatically adjust for different voltages. The D70s supports AES, COAX, USB, Optical, I2S and Bluetooth inputs while providing XLR and RCA outputs.
The D70s provides, to me, a versatile experience albeit not the most intuitive one for the user. It excels best, in my experiences, as an all-in-one DAC used not just for headphones but also speakers and perhaps even a media/TV setup. This is because the device is, by far, easier to navigate with the included remote, which can be inconvenient to constantly have on hand during use in a regular headphone/desk setup.
Accessing the sound setting menu without the remote requires powering off the device using the rear-facing power switch, holding the sel button and switching the DAC back on. Otherwise, when on, the sel button simply changes sources, the arrows the level of the pre-amp output unless set to pure DAC-mode (in which volume control is disabled). It’s frustrating that holding the sel button whilst the device is on offers no further functionality here as would be intuitive.
Apart from this, the D70s provides a streamlined experience and users shouldn’t feel the need to constantly tweak these settings during daily use. It also features an auto-power on feature which is super handy for use with a PC setup. A small niggle, the volume control via the front-facing buttons is noticeably slower than a rotary-encoder, however, source selection is quick and clearly denoted by the large OLED display. The DAC also constantly provides status of the inputs/outputs in use, the volume setting and the sampling rate it is currently using.
The Bluetooth input is also easy to use, simply change to the BT source input and it becomes discoverable by any BT source. The D70s promptly paired to my Xperia 5 II over an LDAC connection. On the phone I was able to prioritise either signal stability or sound quality in addition to LDAC’s usually auto-scaling function. The wide codec support of this DAC is a huge plus, providing the convenience of wireless with surprisingly low-quality degradation. Of course, this is not how the DAC will be assessed but is surely handy when listening to music during social events. I found the connection to be stable and the range easily sufficient to traverse a large room without any form of intermittency or artefacts on behalf of the external antenna.
Great ANC with usable modes and minimal artefacts, Stable fit, Well-considered V-shaped signature, Excellent foreground detail retrieval, Wide soundstage, Stable connectivity
Larger charging case, Large housings won’t suit those with small ears, App has questionable functionality
The 1More TWS ANC may not best market leaders, but gets very close for considerably less with a more technical sound on top.
1More are a US-based audio company who have built a strong cult following with their triple-driver hybrid in-ears and more well-received products since. The ANC TWS is one of their more coveted products and also one of their most unanimously lauded. It is especially feature packed, offering advanced ANC and a hybrid DD + BA driver setup not commonly seen on this form factor. So, it came as little surprise when 1More announced that their ANC TWS would be the first TWS in-ear to achieve THX certification. What was less obvious to consumers is that there’s more to this than a simple badge on the box; consider the THX certified models – that being manufactured around June 2020 onwards – as V2 hardware. This revision will also features a revised balanced armature driver, similarly, the firmware has been upgraded according to feedback by THX engineers alongside adding support for 1More’s QuietMax technology first introduced on their neckband model. This is a very nice refinement of an already very competitive TWS in-ear.
The 1More TWS ANC is available for $179.99 USD at the time of writing. To read more about it and 1More’s technologies see their product page here. To purchase one for yourself, please see here (affiliate).
I would like to thank Ari very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the 1More ANC TWS 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.
Dimensions: 38 x 18 x 28.5 mm (earbud), 81.32 x 30 x 38.5 mm (case)
Bluetooth Version: 5.0, 10m range, apt-X and AAC supported
Battery: 55 mAh (earbuds), 410 mAh (case), 5v 1A charging
Runtime (50% vol): 6hrs (ANC off), 5hrs (ANC on), 22hrs total (incl. case ANC off)
Impedance: 32 ohms
The Pitch –
The ANC TWS’ design opens up several avenues for enhanced ANC performance. QuietMax consists of dual-band ANC, intelligent wind reduction and methods to reduce wearing pressure. On traditional single-driver earphones, ANC diminishes sound quality as the driver must handle two duties. With the ANC TWS, 1More attempt to circumvent this by delegating the DD to ANC duties and allowing the BA driver to cover a wider frequency range with ANC on. 1More are also utilising two mics to offer feedforward and feedback ANC so it can detect noises within the ear canals in addition to ambient, offering additional attenuation.
The dual mic system is also handy for wind noise reduction, as the earphones are able to reduce the sensitivity of the ambient noise feedforward mic and rely more on the in-ear feedback mic to mitigate artefacts. There are also two ANC modes that vary not in intensity, but bandwidth. One is a wide-band attenuation to cancel a wide range of sounds including voices, the other focusing more on lower wearing pressure and the cancellation of explicitly more constant low-frequency background noise. Overall, this is a very intelligent approach to ANC with clear benefits to real world performance. This technology is further explain here.
When the TWS ANC first launched, it was slammed for sounding very different when ANC was activated, becoming overly bass heavy. This has since been remediated to some degree with firmware updates, now creating a more consistent sound profile – the more balanced one offered with ANC off is now mostly retained with ANC on. Furthermore, the V2 hardware units have also been updated with ANC and audio tweaks based on feedback from THX engineers. 1More explains THX certification and how to identify your hardware version on their website here.
1More always provide a stunning unboxing experience and the TWS ANC is no different. The box looks premium with high-quality print and renders. There’s a brushed metal tab on the magnetic tab that opens to reveal the earphones and case within a foam inlet. A separate box contains the remaining accessories. There are 3 sizes of retentive loops, 1More’s interpretation of stabiliser wings, in addition to 3 pair of soft silicone tips and 3 pairs of harder silicone tips. I found it especially important to find the right combination of both due to the size and shape of the ANC TWS. Also take note that the tips are directional, try rotating them 180 degrees if you can’t get a good seal.
If you’re familiar with 1More’s other TWS designs, you’ll find a similar experience with the ANC TWS. A key differentiator from the lower-end models is the all-black colour scheme with slick carbon-fibre faceplates and red accented grills. It gives the earphone a seriously sporty aesthetic that’s reminiscent of automotive design and also very distinct. They are one of the largest TWS in-ears I’ve tested personally, but are very lightweight, being mostly plastic in terms of construction. In turn, they don’t feel especially dense or high-quality in the hand, but the positive trade-off is a more stable and less obtrusive fit; you feel the size much less in wearing. They have no official IP rating, but 1More claim the design is suitable for workouts and light moisture if not any kind of submersion.
The majority of the housing sits outside the ear while the portion that sits in the ear is compact and covered by a silicone cover. The user is able to choose between 3 sizes of silicone rings, the smallest having no retention for those with smaller ears. The experience can be likened to that provided by Master & Dynamic’s MW07 earphones; they feel soft in the ear and achieve a nice, locked-in sensation once tilted appropriately. This works in tandem with angled nozzles and oval ear tips, though do take note that users will be limited to the stock ear tips since the nozzles are also oval and elongated which can affect purchase with third party tips. Infrared sensors are also apparent to auto-pause when removed from the ear.
Fit & Comfort –
The earphones are clearly on the larger side, most apparent when looking at photos of the inner face as shown below. Accordingly, they protrude noticeably from the ear, so a far cry from svelte competitors such as the Airpod Pros and Pixel Buds though roughly on par with something like the WF-1000XM3. In turn, they aren’t suitable for sleeping on and do pick up a little more wind noise than the smaller aforementioned designs. In addition, they are not the best choice for those with smaller ears as I found them very unstable without the stabiliser rings attached. Due to their larger design, finding the right sized stabilisation rings and eartips is imperative. With the large rings and stock medium tips, I was able to achieve a consistent seal and stable fit for my ears.
I was able to run and skip without requiring adjustment, a surprisingly good result given that the medium rings installed out of the box were very awkward for me. I do also personally find the rings more comfortable than wing style stabilisers and even the small fins on the MW07 earphones. They form no hotspots and spread the force evenly over a large area, where the fins and wings tended to push on certain parts of my ears harder causing mild discomfort over time. If you have average sized ears and above, the 1More ANC TWS will provide a very comfortable and stable fit.
Though not nearly as compact as the Airpods case or even the Pixel Buds case, the 1More charging case has well-considered dimensions that make it more pocketable than most. It’s long but also slim and narrow, so it slides into the pocket comfortably next to a wallet or phone. The case feels great to handle, high-quality and solidly built with a gunmetal anodized exterior and silicone base that keeps it steady when placed on a table. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend repeating this, but the case is bottom heavy so it tends to fall towards the rubber base when dropped, offering some shock protection. The hinge feels solid as well, not the smoothest and the reverse lock feels stiff, but it works reliably and hasn’t popped out or caused other issues during testing.
The magnets that hold the lid closed are strong so you don’t have to worry about losing the earbuds when dropped or placed in a bag. Similarly, the earbuds seat themselves very snugly into the case and there is plenty of room for large tips and rings. The case charges via Type-C and supports Qi wireless charging. There’s a status LED on the front and a pairing button inside. Of note, the case will power the earphones off even if completely discharged, but it will not power them back on when removed requiring the user to hold the MFB on the earphones to power on manually. The case offers around 3 full charges and I found it to match that figure comfortably during testing. Fast charge is also available, offering 2 hours of listening time with 15 minutes of charging.
If you’re able to operate any other TWS earphone, you’ll have few troubles here. The 1More’s are easy to use with intuitive controls. Upon opening the case, they enter pairing mode or automatically reconnect to previously paired devices. Pairing can also be manually initiated with the button inside the case. Auto pairing was quick and reliable on my Pixel 4. Once setup, I was also very impressed with the connectivity. They offer among the best range of any TWS earphone I have on hand, able to traverse around 3 rooms with double brick wall before becoming intermittent, but even then, they held onto audio most of the time. With my phone on person, I experienced no issues with cut-out or interference, even in busy areas such as the CBD or public transport. Connected over apt-X, latency was also a strong performer with minimal lip sync making them suitable for videos, movies and some gaming.
Here I am experiencing a mixed bag, the physical controls work well, and the touch controls are among the better performers I’ve tried. I appreciate the use of touch for more complex actions such as ANC mode, and more reliable physical controls for volume, skip track and call accept/reject functionality. However, there are a few caveats that irk during daily use. For one, there is no ability to customize the control scheme, aggravating as I can’t set a dedicated button for instant pass-through mode. The touch controls also have a noticeable latency but have voice feedback announcing the ANC mode, passthrough, etc. Meanwhile, the physical controls lack any kind of auditory feedback, aggravating since skipping tracks requires a 2s hold, but only initiates once the button has been released. So, if you hold the button for too long, the earpiece powers off, too short and it only changes the volume; an unreliable control that I struggled to acclimatise to during my testing. You can’t palm the touch-sensitive faceplates like the Sennheiser MTW2 so they’re a bit difficult to tap when running per say, they are also nowhere near as responsive as the class-leading Google Pixel Buds with capacitive touch panel. That said, the touch controls are reliable enough, hitting about 95% accuracy during daily use.
1More Music App
It’s good to see some app integration here as it permits some functions that other more audio-centric earphones lack. That said, the experience is quite limited which seems like wasted potential here. The app is limited to basic controls of the features available. There’s a slider that adjusts the ANC mode between the 3 settings and a pass-through toggle just below. You can also adjust whether the IR sensors auto-pause music or both pause and play, however, you cannot disable this feature. OTA firmware upgrades are available alongside a quick guide for fit and controls. There is no eQ or other sound mode setting and no ability to change audio feedback. There is an addition 1More app available, however, this essentially only offers firmware updates and automatic burn-in for those wanting to extract maximum performance from their earphones out of the box.
Given 1More’s bold claims with the introduction of QuietMax, I was very curious to try their technology for myself – especially, since impressions online vary wildly. Of course, effectiveness will vary greatly based on seal, so ensure you have the best setup of tips and rings, I do personally get a very good seal with these. I also have not tried the non-THX V1 earphone so these will be purely impressions based on the newest revision.
Well, if my prior comments had you concerned about 1More’s ability to deliver on claims, the ANC performance will surely redeem them, it is superb. I found them almost on par with market leaders such as the Airpods Pros and Sony WF-1000XM3, which is to say, very effective and instantly noticeable. Those models cancel out just a little more midrange, so voices sound a bit more muted on both, however, low-frequency noises were similarly attenuated to near silence on the 1More’s, if not a little more so. The only downside is that high-frequencies are a little more apparent when ANC is on than these models, with a noticeable whoosh. That said, the 1More’s are also less susceptible to artefacts. A common area where I experience difficulties with the other models was chains rattling in the gym, the change in pressure when doors close on the train and a pop when the rope strikes the ground during skipping. The 1More’s had no issues with any of these noises where the Sony’s and Airpods would pop and clip noticeably.
As mentioned in my rundown of QuietMax, the ANC TWS offers two modes of ANC; one wideband, one low-frequencies and less aggressive in general. They are very useable with well-defined use cases for each – if somewhat inconvenient to toggle between. It should be noted that wind noise is still noticeable on these earphones, but was better controlled than competitors even on the more aggressive ANC setting (mode 1), and it was roughly halved in volume on the low-frequency ANC setting (mode 2). The worst performer here was the Sennheiser MTW2 that almost amplified wind noise despite being by far the least aggressive in terms of actual noise cancellation. The first mode does a sensational job at silencing background hums and drones, think road and traffic noise, AC, computer fans and distant chatter, in addition to a good job at lowering the intensity of voices and keyboard noise. Meanwhile, setting 2 cancels those hums and drones at about 80% of the effectiveness of the first mode, while leaving voices less attenuated. However, the 2nd mode also vastly lowers artefacts and there is almost zero wearing pressure, where some becomes apparent on the 1st mode when in louder environments.
I think this is a good trade-off and a very useful addition for frequent flyers who may prioritise long-term comfort over the best ANC performance possible. For reference, the level of pressure on the Apple and Sony competitors is similar to the 1st mode and only the Sony’s offer the ability to adjust ANC intensity. However, as aforementioned, it is a pain to cycle through each setting, of which there are 4 – ANC Mode 1, ANC Mode 2, Pass through (aware mode), ANC Off. Most notably, reaching pass through takes a good 5 seconds or so as there is an accompanying voice chime between each setting paired with a second delay, presumably adjusting the dual-driver duties. This means it is essentially useless for catching quick conversation and announcements as it simply takes too long to cycle around to this mode. You can manually select each within the app, however, you’d need to keep it open in the background as there is no quick-setting toggle or slider in the notification shade.
Despite being more inconvenient than most to access, the actual effectiveness here is very good. It doesn’t amplify sounds like the Sennheiser’s but passes ambient noises in a very natural manner akin to the Airpod Pros. They don’t clip on louder ambient sounds and don’t sound thin, sharp or shouty either as some do – for instance, the Sennheiser’s would amplify high-frequencies excessively to the extent that jingling keys would deafen. The 1More’s sounded almost open, not super clear once again, but a natural effect that leaves speech easy to distinguish even with music playing – so long as it is at a reasonable volume. Overall, if you’re looking for an earphone with effective and adjustable ANC and a very sound pass-through when you need spatial awareness, you won’t be disappointed with the 1More’s.
With an extensive microphone setup, call quality is easily good enough for day to day use but still clearly a setup below market leaders. That said, I would only recommend these other models over the 1More if the buyer were using them primarily as a headset as I find the ANC TWS to offer a fairly well-rounded experience with good performance elsewhere. Recipients noted my voice was immediate and discernible in noisy environments with good ambient noise cancellation albeit could be a little clearer. There is no pass through/sidetone during calls and also no ANC during calls as the Huawei Freebuds 3 are able to retain. However, other competitors do not offer this functionality either.
Few competitors create as well-rounded a package as the Blessing 2, this is a balanced and refined earphone that punches well above its asking price.
If you frequent any kind of audio for a, you will be well acquainted by now with Chinese cult-hit Moondrop. For the company has achieved huge renown in a very short time, no small feat, with their excellent VDSF tuning based on the coveted diffuse field neutral curve. The Starfield assumed such a tuning, that permit surprising refinement at a reasonable price. However, though tonality impressed, the quality of the driver did leave me wanting. The Blessing 2 looks like a fine solution, assuming a very similar tuning realised through an elaborate 5-driver hybrid setup. The Blessing 2 implements 3D printing for physical band and low-pass filtering used in conjunction with electronic RC filtering to deliver a phase-coherent 3-way setup and very specific control over the frequency response. That’s a load of engineering for a midrange IEM.
The Blessing 2 retails for $319 USD. You can read more about it and purchase one for yourself on HiFiGO and Apos Audio.
I would like to thank Nappoler from HiFiGO very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Blessing 2 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.
Impedance: 22 ohms @ 1 kHz (+/- 15%)
Drivers: 1 Dynamic Driver & 4 Balanced Armatures on each side
Frequency Response: 9 Hz – 37 kHz
Effective Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Treble Driver: Knowles SWFK
Midrange Driver: Softears D-MID-A
Bass Driver: 10mm Paper Cone Diaphragm Coil
Quality Control Range: +/- 1 dB @ 1 kHz
Sensitivity: 117 dB/Vrms @ 1 kHz
THD: <1% @ 1 kHz
Interface: 0.78 mm – 2 pin
The Pitch –
Hybrid Acoustic and Electronic Filters
The Blessing 2 implement physical band-pass filtering that isolates one pair of the BA drivers to exclusively cover the midrange frequencies. The BA drivers are a custom 2 in one unit from Soft Ears Japan tuned to their specifications. Similarly, Moondrop use a physical low-pass filter to limit the DD to bass under 400Hz in addition to controlling pressurization. An electronic RC filter is also utilised to reinforce this. SFWK tweeters provide extended high-frequencies and special attention was given to unite the sensitivities of all drivers acoustically rather than electronically for a phase-coherent design.
Neutral has become a more subjective term over the years as more minds contribute to different curves simulating different acoustic environments. Most famous are the Diffuse and newer Harman curve, both have their share of fans and critics. Moondrop’s first IEMs traced the Harman Curve incredibly well, a selling point for the company and sound foundation for developing their own curve called virtual diffuse sound field (VDSF). Similar to its name, this is Moondrop’s appropriation of the diffuse-field neutral curve, not the Harman Curve. Comparatively, they’ve toned down the highs and upped the bass which is, to my ear, a combination between the two aforementioned curves. Though both diffuse-field and Harman are considered by most critics not to showcase great balance, the VDSF curve is a refined and mostly natural-sounding tuning that is a very effective mashup.
Moondrop always package their products professionally and the Blessing 2 is no exception. The outer sleeve houses specifications and Moondrop’s famous anime splash art. Inside is a clean grey box adorned with Moondrop’s logo. Opening the box reveals the carrying case and separate card box with additional accessories. The earphones are protected within a foam inlet inside the zippered case, it has a nice textured vinyl exterior in svelte grey and ample interior space for the earphones and a small DAP too.
The box contains the rest of the accessories, a 6n OFC Litz cable, airline adapter, papers and 6 pairs of silicone ear tips. The tips have an interesting design, the bore fits exactly onto the Blessing 2’s nozzles but the size of the sound output has been reduced likely to slightly attenuate high frequencies and create a more balanced sound.
The Blessing 2 is a very attractive earphone to my eye, an impression enhanced by a certain amount of customisability on the user’s end. The 3D printed shells are as you’d expect; perfectly smooth, seamless and unibody, they’re also resin-filled for a nice quality heft in the hand. Meanwhile, the transparent design showcases the acoustics inside and driver setup, you can study them for hours. This is topped with CNC machined faceplates with a brushed finish. Buyers are able to order wooden variants and custom artwork for an additional $30, or choose from 8 set options provided by Moondrop.
The cable too inspires confidence, I’ve personally had a great experience here. Up top, they utilise a standard 0.78mm 2-pin connector with wide aftermarket support. It’s a 4-core braided unit with soft, smooth jacket and very supple feel, the cable is slightly thin but feels well anchored at all terminations. There’s also zero memory so the cable isn’t too tangle-prone, and it conducts minimal microphonic noise. The well-relieved right angle plug and metal Moondrop y-split cover add a premium feel while the pre-moulded ear guides provide a comfortable and stable fit. I personally enjoy the contrast created between the copper cable and silver housings.
Fit & Isolation –
If there’s one thing that may polarise about the Blessing 2’s design, it’s likely the fit. They are ergonomic in their design for sure, but definitely also on the larger side. They aren’t ridiculously proportioned nor do any design decisions come at the cost of ergonomics. This is a rounded, smooth and generally comfortable design with well-angled nozzles that promote a deeper, more stable fit and strong seal. I didn’t experience any hotspot formation, albeit due to the size, they don’t disappear in the ear. Those with smaller than average ears may experience difficulties due to the height of the earphone as the tops lock-in somewhat to the anti-helix area.
With the right tips, they achieve a deep and comfortable fit. In turn, though reasonably large and quite wide, the fit is lower-profile, hugging the contours of the ear. You can’t sleep on them due to the width but wind noise is not too bad despite the presence of a faceplate vent. Similarly, isolation is well above average and easily suitable for commute and public transport. You would benefit from a fully-sealed design in especially noisy areas such as the metro or air travel, but the Blessing 2 is passable here too, especially with foam tips.