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.
Lightweight and comfortable, Folding design, Super soft lambskin leather, Superb balance and linearity, Strong fine detail retrieval in class, Cable orientation always correct
Less bass extension than some competitors, Not the most spacious or open sounding headphone, Unorthodox cable design, Plastic build scratches easily
The LCD-1 provides a balance of qualities and conveniences unmatched by immediate competitors.
Who hasn’t heard of Audeze? The US-based headphone manufacturer are an icon of the headphone industry, their LCD line-up having both huge success and staying power. If there’s one thing that alienated buyers from these models, it’s likely their price followed quickly by their large, heavy design. The new LCD-1 is their solution to these qualms, and their sleekest LCD headphone yet excluding the on-ear SINE. It implements the same technologies in a compact form factor designed for all-day comfort. Furthermore, the sound signature has been tuned with monitoring in-mind, pivotal as such a balanced sound is not so easy to come by around this price range.
The LCD-1 retails for $399 USD. You can read all about the LCD-1 alongside Audeze’s technologies here and treat yourself to one here.
I would like to thank Ari very much for getting me in contact with Audeze and making this review of the LCD-1 happen. 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.
Style: Over-ear, open-circumaural
Transducer type: Planar magnetic
Maximum SPL: >120dB
Frequency response: 10Hz – 50kHz
THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
Impedance: 16 ohms
Sensitivity: 99 dB/1mW
The Pitch –
Audeze implement waveguides to avoid unwanted resonances and destructive interference. This enables greater high-frequency extension and resolution in addition to increasing efficiency. Audeze also promise greater phase coherence resulting in better resolution and sharper imaging. Furthermore, the waveguides can help reduce turbulence and enhance damping enabling higher driver control and a more agile transient response. You can read Audeze’s description here.
Audeze headphones utilize very strong N50 neodymium magents – the higher the number, the stronger the magnetic force exerted, with N52 being the absolute strongest currently available. This equates to a greater ability to exert force onto the diaphragm meaning a quicker transient response, higher efficiency. This enables Audeze to implement a single-sided array that contributes to the LCD-1’s very light weight design. You can read Audeze’s description here.
Ultra-thin Force Diaphragm
Audeze headphones use an ultra-ligthweight diaphragm just 0.5 microns thick – 1/10th of the thickness of a red blood cell. In turn, the diaphragm is very lightweight which permits quicker acceleration and deceleration – a quicker and cleaner transient response. Alongside the more uniform force application with Audeze’s fluxor magnet array, their drivers offer high resolution and low distortion at high frequencies due to the reduced inertia. You can read Audeze’s description here.
While the box doesn’t have the luscious velour interior of Hifiman’s headphones, the LCD-1 upholds a premium unboxing experience. Sliding off the outer sleeve and opening up the hard box reveals the compact Audeze carrying case. It’s a tough and protective zippered hard shell with rugged fabric exterior. There’s an elastic internal pocket with Velcro holder that enables the user to store cables and accessories without them scratching the headphones. The headphones are comfortably secured within the case, which also showcases how they fold-up for storage. Audeze also includes a 2m cable and 3.5mm to 6.25mm adaptor and papers to verify warranty and authenticity.
Futuristic is one of the descriptors that came to mind when I first lay eyes on the LCD-1. It’s a compendium of clean lines merged with Audeze’s signature faceplate design merging minimalism and the tradition that came before. The plastic construction is a departure from the tanky builds we’ve come to expect from Audeze, however, it is premium where it counts. The earpads and headband make an especially strong impression, employing a gorgeous lambskin leather with plush memory foam on the earpads and soft sponge on the headband. The swiveling mechanism features a metal reinforcement plate that will provide more reliable function over time. Though not the most premium in terms of overall material choice, the LCD-1 feels relatively sturdy and upholds a strong user experience.
The LCD-1 can both fold flat and fold down for storage making them very portable when paired with the included case while enabling them to hang comfortably around the neck. They offer more axis of adjust-ability than most and a nice ratcheting headband slider that lacks position markers but retains its position well. The design of the headband may present issues if you have an especially large or tall head as I found myself using the 2nd largest setting where I usually hover around the middle setting on most competitors. The tolerances are also impressive, with only a slight wobble due to the folding mechanism, but zero rattles, hollowness or creaking indicative of a long-lasting product. The clamp force is slightly higher than average but this is mitigated well by the plush earpads while contributing to strong fit stability. My only personal gripe with the design is that, when folded flat, the earcups are prone to scratching one another.
It is easy to append using some adhesive vinyl, even tape if you don’t mind the ghetto aesthetic. However, competitors such as the Oppo PM3 have small tabs that place the earcups apart, mitigating this issue. It doesn’t help that the LCD-1’s matte finish scratches quite easily even if providing a generally pleasant in-hand feel. The LCD-1 is extraordinarily lightweight in return, especially for a planar. At just 250g it is lighter than most portable dynamic driver headphones. Due to the plastic build and soft leather, I would treat the LCD-1 a little more carefully than most headphones, however, in my experience lambskin wears much better over time than the Faux leather used on the majority of competitors that are prone to pealing.
I am also enthusiastic about the included cable. It’s a dual entry design with TRRS 3.5mm plugs on all terminations. Note, even the headphone side are TRRS which means aftermarket cables are unlikely to fit, and the sound will be in mono if using a regular dual-entry TRS cable. In return, the cable is always in correct orientation since both sides offer stereo that aligns with mono connectors in the earcup jack. The cable itself is of good quality. It’s braided and smooth, but also very supple with zero memory. Microphonic noise is minimal and the cable coils very easily for storage. The metal connectors feel premium and the straight plug has great strain relief in addition to a protruded plug that makes it case friendly.
Fit & Isolation –
I am a huge fan of the LCD-1’s fit and comfort, the lambskin feels superbly soft and supple, while the heat-activated memory foam conforms perfectly to the head over time. They are an over-ear headphone and, as others have stated, the pads are on the smaller side, measuring in at approximately 3.5 x 6 cm but with a larger cavity behind. As the pads are quite deep, they did fully engulf my ears so I didn’t personally find this to form discomfort over time. As always, YMMV here. The headband is reasonably thin but well-padded. Due to the lightweight design of the headphones, they don’t wear on the head like many other either, so I was able to wear them for hours with no issue. For professionals, this will be a prime selling point of the LCD-1, their all-day comfort and the excellent wearing properties of the lambskin leather. Of course, being an open-back design do expect sound leakage in addition to minimal noise isolation. Though compact and fold-able, this makes them less ideal for portable use.
Mostly large and heavy design, Note presentation can sound unorthodox relative to competitors
The HEDDphone offers summit-fi performance at high-end pricing, I applaud HEDD for perfectly balancing long-term listenability and huge resolving power in their modern masterpiece.
When it comes to premium products, story often precedes performance and Heinz Electrodynamic Designs (HEDD) has such a wonderful inception. Founder and CTO Klaus Heinz is more than a successful entrepreneur, he’s a physicist who designed and built the first commercial units of Oskar Heil’s Air Motion Transformer under ADAM Audio – where it has been a staple in their high-end studio monitors to the current day.
We’ve seen this technology pop up in other speakers such as the Kanto TUK and many of oBravo’s ultra-premium designs. By freeing up his focus from expanding ADAM’s line-up, Klaus was able to further his innovations at HEDD with his son Dr. Knop, where the team was inspired to build the HEDDphone. There’s been a lot of noise surrounding this model recently, not only due to its pricing, but also since it represents a world first in two regards – the first headphone sporting an AMT driver, and the first full-range AMT driver design. In fact, the full-range nature of the driver here has netted it another name, the variable velocity transformer (VVT) representing an evolutionary step in geometry over the tweeters built before. The HEDDphone is a true statement product, yet also a piece of innovation at a price point that remains attainable to a wide range of enthusiasts.
The HEDDphone is available for $1899 USD. You can read more about the HEDDphone and its technologies and treat yourself to a set on HEDD’s website here.
I would like to thank Klaus from HEDD very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the HEDDphone 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.
Klaus has extensive experience with Oskar Heil’s (1908-1994) air motion transformer designs under his previous company Adam Audio. This driver type was adopted and is desirable due to the velocity of the sound output. Traditional speaker designs, including DD, Estat and Planar drivers operate like a piston and therefore, move sound at the same velocity as the diaphragm itself. AMT drivers differ in that they employ pleated mylar folds that permit the driver to accelerate sound output up to four times higher in an accordian-like fashion. This is significant since it results in a higher efficiency driver, substantially faster transient response and higher fine detail retrieval and resolution. When considering the full-range implementation utilised within the HEDDphone itself, the AMT driver also poses benefits for bass response due to its space-efficient pleated design that means the effective surface area of the driver is up to five times higher than what may otherwise be permitted in a headphone design. You can read more about the AMT driver and its benefits here and here.
The AMT to VVT Evolution
AMT drivers are conventionally able to extend down to 650Hz and are, therefore, mostly implemented for their ability to provide accurate high frequency reproduction as tweeters. Headphone design presents different challenges than studio montitors, but also some desirable traits such as a more efficient seal aiding bass reproduction. HEDD have approached this by altering the geometry of the AMT driver folds. Rather than sporting consistent width, the VVT driver features larger and deeper ripples for the low-end and smaller for highs. In so doing, the VVT driver is able to reproduce a full-range frequency response, alow greater flexibility over the desired sound signature and still uphold the desirable characteristics of a traditional AMT driver. Though the HEDDphone is not truly the first headphone using AMT technology, it is the first to solely use an AMT driver (others such as oBravo’s HAMT range being hybrids).
Like many at this price, the HEDDphone comes in an enormous hard box that reinforces its premium status. Within is a card information page providing insight into AMT technology and usage instructions. The HEDDphone itself is snugged within a laser cut foam inlet with the cable in a separate hard box below. No other accessories are included such as a pouch or case, nor balanced cable. Still, perhaps especially at this price point, many headphones do not include these accessories as they are not intended for portable use – though I would say it would be a reasonable expectation for them to include a balanced cable. HEDD sell their OEM balanced cable at an additional $189 USD. It should also be noted that though the HEDDphone uses mini-XLR connectors, the wiring pattern is reversed so cables for other headphones will have inverted phase. This should not be audible to the vast majority though the OEM HEDD cables are most recommended for this headphone as a result.