KB EAR Opal Review

Price: 25/30€

Where to buy: [link]

Specifications:

  • Impedance: 16Ω±10%

  • Sensitivity: 102±3dB

  • Frequency response: 20Hz-20 KHz

 

KB EAR is a new contender in the sub-50$ Chi-Fi market. I had the chance to try their Opal, which is one of various products they launched to start. Others (I have some and I will review them later) are the F1 (single balanced armature IEM) and an 8 core upgrade cable, but there are also a 16 core cable and a KZ-like 5 BA IEM. I want to thank KB EAR for this review sample.

Unboxing and first impressions

The box is simple but elegant, similar to the RevoNext QT5 or the BQEYZ BQ3 ones, in a black color with the logo, a picture and some information around its faces. There’s a good selection of soft silicon eartips (6 pairs) and a surprisingly good MMCX cable (for its build quality, less for the isolation). The IEMs themselves are all made of plastic, with a very nice design which reminds me some IBasso In Ear Monitors. The faceplate has a carbon look with the KB EAR logo on it. Impressive, good looking, even though I would have put a metallic nozzle. The quality of the plastic is high, and the MMCX connectors are gold-plated and the cable can rotate very easily when attached. The cable has pre-formed hooks to put over the ears, which are great, and the plug is L-shaped. With a carrying case, even a soft one like BQEYZ does, the package would have been spectacular.

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Sound

My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen, XDUOO XP-2 in various wired/wireless configurations

My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A

My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, Billie Eilish, The Bloody Beetroots, …

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I’ve previously mentioned some problems with the isolation. In fact, the cable suffers from electric noises by a disturbed source (like my Mac’s jack output, which is close to the hard drive). I’ll verify if their upgrade cable would resolve this problem, because my 8 core by NiceHCK doesn’t suffer from that issue, thanks to its great isolation. Speaking of which, the isolation of the IEMs themselves is just average: the shape is not particularly ergonomic, and if you have medium sized ears like me, you could have some air coming through a little bit too often. That being said, the fit is average and you can adjust it with the best tips for your ears, obviously.

I’m not fully convinced about the sound of the Opal. KB EAR told me to burn them in 72 hours. I’m not a true believer in burn-in, but I followed the suggestion, because this is a dynamic driver earphone. Even after the burn-in, I felt like they are not very lively. There’s a sense of unnaturalness that I believe it’s the sum of different factors: the soundstage is narrow; the tuning has to be improved, because it’s balanced but it sounds muddy in the low range and thin in the midrange; vocals are a bit harsh. I’m not saying they sound terrible, but there are some albums that I can’t listen to with them (“Urban Hymns” by The Verve, or “A Fever Dream” by Everything Everything). That last album is often hard to listen to with bright earphones. I would consider the Opal as bright sounding, they have some aspects of harshness and sharpness. For example, they are not gentle with the sibilance, nor they are not smooth sounding, in any way (“The bends” by Radiohead is unpleasant to listen to for the sibilance). The bass is undertone: by listening to the Bloody Beetroots’ “My name is Thunder”, the intro is enough to understand that the treble is super enhanced, while the bass is lacking. This aspect reflects the tuning in every song, so you can choose the Opal for bass-heavy tracks and not feel that bass (it reminds me the BRAINWAVZ KOEL, or the Tin HiFi T2/T2 Pro, they are pretty light on the bass). I’ve tried different sources with the Opal, to find the best synergy. I found that warmer sources are preferable, but here’s the thing: it’s easy to get a better sound if you use the iFi xDSD, but I don’t think that people interested in buying something like the Opal would spend that money for a DAC/Amp. We are talking of budget earphones, and it’s more honest thinking of a cheaper source like my Dodocool DA106 DAP. They match pretty well together, but you must understand the Opal are not surprisingly good, even with good files, even with good sources; they are just honest sounding for the price, not so natural, not so lively. Their sensitivity must be very high, because even with my Focusrite 2i2 I hear a lot of background noise, which is not something I’d expect (if you look at the specifications, it’s just slightly over the average 100 dB). Vocals are a bit robotic and lack harmonics, so the effect is hearing recessed mids, while they are not. Try with Radiohead’s “High and dry”, for example: the voice covers a large spectrum of the midrange to the high range, but here it sounds thin and unpleasant. Guitars are not the best, too. Percussions are more enjoyable. Then, if you listen to tracks that fade out you won’t hear a smooth volume change but some steps; I can say the same for the imaging: it’s pretty precise but not smooth, and the soundstage, while being narrow, is strangely uncentered, unbalanced. I hear more sounds on the left earphone, like the instruments were positioned that way. The instrument separation is average, not bad. I don’t understand the sound signature of these IEMs. For a dynamic driver, they have a ridiculous bass, but I think they are meant to be V-shaped. In the end, they are just close-to-flat-until-the-upper-midrange earphones with a lot of picks and notches in various zones, even in the midrange. I honestly never heard anything like that on “serious” earphones. It’s like they have problems with their polarity.  

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Comparisons

ADVANCED Model 3: personally, a difficult earphone to appreciate initially, but now I understand its fun tuning and its darkness. True, they have recessed mids, they are not fantastic IEMs for vocals, but they are coherent. I’d rather them to the Opal, which have the only advantage of having a better stock cable. The fit, the packaging, the tips, the sound, everything is superior on the Model 3. Review here

TRN IM1: am I really comparing two disasters of monitors? Okay, I have two pairs of IM1, they sound terrible. Incoherent, thin, bright, muddy. Just like the Opal! I don’t want to be too brutal, the Opal are superior to the IM1 for me, but I cannot say I like them or even save them. Well, I don’t want to talk about these anymore. Review here

KZ ZSN: strange enough, this is one of the few times I can say that I’d rather a KZ to another earphone. The ZSN are good, surprisingly good for being a KZ. They sound balanced, with their expected U-shape and the color needed for a mass-oriented IEM. Here, again, I talk about coherence, because that’s the point that lacks the most in this review. I don’t hate sound signatures. I’m a flatness lover, but sometimes I need that bass. I’m not a fan of brightness because it’s usually a friend of harshness. But I can stand everything if I understand the will of the earphone. I don’t understand the will of KB EAR, with the Opal. We’ll see if the single BA (F1) by the same company is different. ZSN review here.

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Conclusions

If I weren’t a reviewer, with all these earphones to try every day, I’d be way less critic about the Opal. They are not terrible, but the Chi-fi market nowadays is a sea full of sharks and you have to be careful before selling a product with an immature tuning. To be gentle, I’d say the Opal are not my cup of tea. I love their design, I like their cable, I appreciate the MMCX connectors, but in the end it’s the sound that matters, and this is not something I would recommend.

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Pros

  • Design

  • Accessories

  • Cable

 

Cons

  • Average fit

  • Incoherent tuning

  • Unnatural sound

BQEYZ BQ3 Review

Price: 60€

Where to buy: [link]

Specifications (from Head-Fi):

  • Impedance: 22Ω

  • Sensitivity: 95db

  • Frequency range: 7-40kHz

  • Driver unit: 3BA+2DD In Ear Earphone

  • Weight: About 25g±5g

  • Cable Type: 0.78mm Pin

 

Thanks to Elle from BQEYZ for providing this review sample.

Never thought what BQEYZ stands for? They claimed “Best Quality Earphones (for) You”. And then Z, because why not. 

Unboxing and first impressions

I’ve never tried any BQEYZ products before. But I know it’s a famous brand in the Chi-Fi game. The BQ3 come in a black cardboard box, with some information around the box itself and a picture of the buds on the front. On the inside, there are the buds and the silicon tips (3 pairs) inside a foam, and a soft carrying pouch which contains the cable. The buds are completely made of metal, which is great, and they have an unusual design which is original but it doesn’t seem very comfortable. After trying them, I have to say they are not only extremely comfortable, but they also isolate incredibly well! The cable is a good unit, which reminds me of the TRN IM1/V30 cable, but it’s not the same one. There’s a mic on my version, which works very well. The only disadvantages of the cable are: the chin slider is there, but on a wrong position, because it’s below the mic and it cannot reach your chin; it tangles pretty easily. Overall, I’m not a fan of the design but I like everything about the build quality, the accessories and the comfort.

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Sound

My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen, iFi xDSD, XDUOO XP-2

My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A, MQA on TIDAL Master Quality

My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, … 

 

I don’t know why, before trying the BQ3, I was biased, thinking these IEMs were sibilant, sparkling, sharp. Luckily, I was completely wrong. The first thing I’ve noticed was the good sense of space: the treble is slightly elevated, so the perceived stage is wider than average. And there’s a good imaging too, very smooth around the soundstage. What doesn’t convince me is the instrument separation: when the mix is full, I hear some congestion, like the crossover had to be improved. So, I can say that I would work a little bit on the layering, but the tuning is absolutely mature. In fact, there’s a balanced graph here (from what I perceive) if you think about a frequency response reproduction. I would say this is a similar sound signature to the Tin HiFi T2, with a little bit more bass. I like the control of the mid-bass which doesn’t fall on the midrange, and I like the depth of the sub-bass which is very noticeable. Mids don’t feel recessed, even though there’s a smooth U which gives a pleasant dark background; vocals are forward enough to sound embracing and they can shine through the mix. I particularly appreciate the male vocals here, because of the timbre. That being said, the female ones are great too, because of the sparkling treble; this is usually a con for me, because it tends to cause some sibilance (I’m very sensitive to it), but surprisingly they kept the good and left the bad of this kind of tuning. It’s important underlining that these earphones don’t need amplification, even though the driver configuration may suggest you could (3BA+2DD!). I’ve easily used them with the stock dongle of my Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 with Tidal on MASTER quality, and when I switched to something like the Zorloo ZuperDAC-S or my audio interface on a desktop setup (Focusrite 2i2), I didn’t feel like there was a massive increase in the performances. I feel like there’s a slight upgrade on the layering definition, but very marginal. They are very pleasant with the iFi xDSD, which I have in test, because it’s a pretty warm DAC in my opinion. I like them slightly less with the XDUOO XP-2 because it’s on a brighter side, and it doesn’t mitigate the emphasis of the IEMs’ treble. Overall, there aren’t really a lot of negative things about the BQ3’s sound. In my opinion, they are one of the more complete choices for about 50€.

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Comparisons

Tin Audio T2 (2019 version): even though I prefer the look and the presentation of the T2, I find them a little bit too big for my ears, so… comfort-wise I’d go for the BQ3. As I’ve said before, I find the sound signature of the two being very similar, with less bass on the T2 but a better instrument separation. Consider that the T2 can be sometimes found for half the price of the BQ3, and they are very close. If you find the T2 for less than 30€, go for them. If you want something less mainstream but extremely valid, the BQ3 are absolutely great for being a sub-100 IEM.

KZ ZS7: I love their look (I know, Campfire, it’s your look), and I like their warm sound. I have to admit that sound-wise the BQ3 are a better choice: more clarity, better vocals, a more controlled bass. But I’m a design lover, and BQ3 don’t shine that way. The stock BQEYZ cable is better than the KZ counterpart. And the isolation provided by the BQ3 is superior to the ZS7 one. And KZ doesn’t give you a carrying pouch. Neither their stock ear tips are very good. BQ3 here are a rational choice. But I still love the ZS7 to be a “wannabe” Andromeda.

SIMGOT EM1: a little bit pricier, they are one of my all-time favorite IEMs. Not the widest stage, not the craziest detail, but a reliable sound signature for every situation. BQ3 have better materials, a wider stage, more detail and air in the vocals. Speaking about quality for the price, BQ3 are a bit superior. But Simgot provides a better cable and a magnificent set of silicon eartips to tune the earphones finely.

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Conclusions

For being my first BQEYZ experience, it’s been a great start. This is a solid product with just a little refinement to do, to reach the top for the price range. I’m very impressed by the build quality, the isolation, the mature tuning and I’m surprised to appreciate a sound signature which is closer to the brightness than to the neutrality. I’d say it’s incredible to find something like this for under 100€, but these last two years have been so absurd for the Chi-Fi market that I’m not so surprised anymore: you will absolutely love the BQ3, but at the same price you find the Tin T3, too (which I didn’t compare before because for me they are not so worthy for the price, considering the crazy cheapness of the T2… but that T3’s cable!) and you can buy two sets of Tin T2 themselves. Think about it. I recommend the BQ3, but l suggest to find a great deal for a special occasion.

 

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Pros

  • Build quality

  • Cable

  • Microphone

  • Carrying pouch

  • Mature tuning

  • Soundstage and imaging

  • Almost no sibilance

  • Easy to drive despite the high amount of drivers

 

Cons

  • Mediocre instrument separation

  • Bad position of the chin cinch

KZ ZSN Review

Price: 20€

Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2GSyxgu (Italy), https://amzn.to/2ZNvv4n (US)

Specifications:

  • Driver configuration: 1 BA + 1 DD

  • Impedance: 25 Ohm

  • Sensitivity: 104 dB/mW

  • Frequency Response: 20-40k Hz

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Unboxing and first impressions

Apart from certain models, Knowledge Zenith usually packs its earphones the same way. This one makes no exception: white box with earphones, three pairs of starline eartips plus a silicon medium pair already attached on the earbuds, some manuals and a cable. Luckily, this is a better cable rather than the ones I usually see on KZ models (like ZS3, ES4 or ZS7), because it doesn’t have that bad memory hook with the metal reinforcement inside. I still don’t like the brownish color, and the L plug shape, but these are not functional critics, just aesthetic ones. CCA earphones have a similar cable, but a little bit better in my opinion. The shape of the IEMs is finally smart, because it hints at the shape of a custom earphone. Differently from ES4, this model is well built and good looking. The metal faceplate is really a nice touch, and I’m glad KZ took this way in various models (for example, the new ZS10 Pro). The new sister-brand CCA is doing the same. The fit is surprisingly good (only the ZS7 were good for me that way, but ES4 were uncomfortable and ZS3 were bad too for me), but not so stable. Better than CCA C10, which are a touch too big for my ears.

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Sound

My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen.

My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A

My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, …

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I got these together with the ZS7. With no great expectations, because I didn’t like the previous KZ monitors. KZ7 (here my review) were honestly surprisingly good, not only for the build quality and the nicer presentation, but also for the sound provided. I think they need a refinement on the low end, but they are surely enjoyable: ZS8 will be great if they manage to mitigate the mid-bass. These ZSN are good, too. But differently from the ZS7, they are less bass-oriented and more on a balanced side. Honestly, I feel they are the best tuned KZ I’ve tried.

Bass is punchy, pretty quick, but not overwhelming. It extends well in width, not so well in depth, but mid-bass is controlled and that’s the good point: mids are not covered.

Mids are a bit recessed, and it’s not surprising because these are consumer-oriented earphones, which have to be fun, even in their balanced character. Luckily, they don’t feel buried or lacking air, because the tuning is fine. I like vocals, which feel natural, and instrument separation is better than average. We are talking about entry-level earphones, so I obviously don’t expect miracles. But honestly these feel like one of the better choices on the price range. They just feel overload when the mix is really full. For a 20€ dual driver, it’s fine.

Treble is nice. I’m sensitive to sibilance and I admit there is some, but it’s not so disturbing. I hear no strange picks or notches; instead, a smooth yet precise reproduction of the high frequencies. Higher vocals are enjoyable too.

The soundstage follows the bass impressions: the width is okay, the depth could be better. Imaging is honest, precise but it’s like having some “steps” instead of a smooth reproduction around the space.

What I have to underline is the background noise, which is really exaggerated. It goes away by using an amp, but I believe that 20€ earphones are meant to be easily driven by smartphones. I think they presented the ZSN Pro because they needed that kind of upgrade, or refinement. Maybe if I’ll get them too, I would compare the two and verify this thing.

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Comparisons

TRN IM1: really poor quality control on that model, and a strange tuning, make difficult for me to appreciate that model over anything else. I appreciate the effort of a custom-like cheap earphone, but driver flex, lack of air passing through, are serious defects. ZSN are cheaper (because of the materials, I believe) but sound way more mature. I put this more as an advice than as a real comparison. 

TRN V30: another TRN, another QC problem for me (nozzle filter gone). V30 look like KZ ES4, which I didn’t like for build quality, neither for sound. At least, I can appreciate the V30 for their sound. The soundstage is wider and deeper than the ZSN, and the background noise is way inferior. The tuning is comparable, while I prefer the materials and the build quality of the ZSN for sure.

RevoNext QT5: this is a difficult comparison. I love the QT5, because they are so complete for the price. Honestly, they have the same accessories and a very similar price, so I have to judge the build quality and the sound. Both are well built, but I don’t like the 2pin of the QT5 because they are too deep for most aftermarket cables (5mm vs average 3mm), and I don’t like the ZSN ones too, because they protrude too much. Sound wise, the tuning is more relaxed on the ZSN, while more on a reference side on the QT5. I generally prefer the QT5 tuning, but their sibilance is too much for my taste. They don’t have that background noise, though. If I had to choose, I may pick the QT5, also because of their steampunk look. If you ask, I’m a music lover and a design lover, too. Sound matters, and so does the look. I don’t write just for audiophiles, but for everyone looking for an overall good choice. Earphones are not just tools – some of them are, and this is not the case – but also aesthetic items, for me. 

CCA C10: a bit more expensive, these are a slight upgrade of the ZSN, but you have to appreciate more mid-bass to prefer them over the KZ. Honestly, I’m not that person: ZSN have a balance that I’d rather than the warmness of the C10, which are also bigger and the fit is not that comfortable for me; they tend to fall easily. What I prefer on the C10 is the absence of hiss, which is for me the only real disadvantage of the ZSN for their price range.

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Conclusions

ZSN are one of the better choices on the market for 20€. Honestly, my previous experience with KZ, even in the same price range, hasn’t been that good. These are the first expression of their new design, and I hope they’ll keep this way. I’m just disappointed on the background noise, but the tuning is becoming more and more mature with the new models, and I believe the ZSN Pro really can be an improvement on this area. Before suggesting to buy these, I’d wait for my impressions of the Pro version, which have a very similar price, if I manage to get a pair.

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Pros

  • Design and build quality

  • Cable (finally)

  • Fit

  • Tuning

Cons

  • Eartips

  • Background noise

KZ ZS7 Review

Price: 50$ (Amazon), 35$ (AliExpress special deals)

Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2UcVMta (US) or https://amzn.to/2UZ7O6v (Italy)

Specifications:

  • Impedance: 24Ω

  • Earphone sensitivity: 105dB/mW

  • Frequency range: 20-40000Hz

  • Driver configuration: 1 DD + 4 BA

 

Thanks to Easy Earphones (YinYoo) for providing this free unit to review.

So, here I am with my first KZ review in English. My previous experience with this brand wasn’t that happy (ZS3 and ES4, which I didn’t really appreciate). The first was too bassy, the second was too big and the sound – even if more balanced – wasn’t my cup of tea. Now I have the ZSN and the ZS7, and I can appreciate the progress of Knowledge Zenith. I wouldn’t expect this quality from a brand which didn’t surprise me in the past, at all.

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Unboxing and first impressions

Like most of the people who want to start their IEM journey, KZ was one of the first brands which came to my ears. I was interested in trying the ZS6, but I changed my mind for the RevoNext QT2, a similar pair that I believed was superior. Since then, I hadn’t the opportunity to try the ZS6 nor to compare them, obviously, to the QT2; but I’m here now with the new model, the ZS7. The ZS7 share the same design as the ZS6, but the internals are the one you can find in the ZS10. So, even if this can make you confused, we are talking about a hybrid earphone, with 1 dynamic driver and 4 balanced armatures per ear. This is a similar configuration as the BGVP DMG, NiceHCK M6 (which I both reviewed here, in Italian) and the YinYoo D2B4 (yes, the “D2” name is a little tricky, but it may be actually a double diaphragm single dynamic driver). The fact is: the price of these multi-balanced hybrid earphones is actually really low. For 50$ on Amazon and even less on AliExpress, you can have a really solid model. Starting from the box, which is an elegant black cardboard with a book-like opening. Inside you find the buds, in their amazing electric blue, and underneath the foam you find the manuals, the eartips (unfortunately, the classic KZ ones) and the cable – which is so bad that I didn’t even open it, because I know it and I hate it. Luckily, YinYoo sent over a cable by themselves, which is perfect for this situation (if you want, you can find my review of it in Italian here). I have a color disease, but for me this coppery/pinkish color of the cable is a great match with the blue buds. The metal shell is really solid and very well assembled – I saw some macro photos before having my pair, and they looked kind of summarily assembled, but mine are actually well done. The back of the buds is black, but still metal; even the nozzle is made of aluminum. Because I put a cable which isn’t the stock one, I’ve also used some different eartips: I took the ones of the BGVP DM3, which I don’t use because they fall off my ears too easily. They are white too, which I prefer to the classic gray tips. The fit is strangely good, and not fatiguing. I can’t stand the QT2 which are similar, but these are better shaped, maybe.

 

Right message, wrong language

Right message, wrong language

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Sound

My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen.

My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A

My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, …

 

Considering my previous experience with KZ, I thought I would have found a disappointing sound. I didn’t. These are my favorite KZ among the ones I’ve tried, and also among all the earphones I have. I’m a design lover, a music lover, I pay attention to various things. You can propose me the best sounding earbuds in the world, but if they are made of plastic, the fit is bad and they look ugly, I can’t appreciate them. Earphones are tools, but they are also jewelry nowadays. I can talk about them through the eyes (and ears) of mine as a musician or as an entire person with a lot of interest. KZ ZS7 are good. Good-looking, at first. Good-sounding, at last. I don’t usually like this sound signature: everything is in its right place, until you hear an exaggerated enhancement in the mid-bass area. But this is actually good. Once you understand that you can’t monitor your recordings with them and you have to pair them with particular genres, the way is clear. They are fun, exactly the same way as they look. You can chill with them, you can relax with them. The sound doesn’t reflect the angular shape, though. It’s not sharp, not harsh, not sibilant. This may sound like heaven, for someone like me. It’s not heaven, but it’s absolutely an enjoyable place.

Bass: not the best here. Sub-bass is lacking, mid-bass is emphasized. If I had to find the issue with these IEMs (apart from the cable), it would be this one. Once you get used to this, though, you appreciate the bump. Bassheads will be fairly pleased with this pair. I would rather have more speed and less oomph, because the mids may suffer from that. But I’m okay with the extension and I can survive with the emphasis.

Mids are great. Even with the “invasion” that sometimes comes from the bass. I like voices, I like the space between the instruments, their layering. Maybe you can expect more detail by a set of four BA, but I don’t feel I miss any main focuses in my music. Vocals aren’t sibilant. This is something I’ve waited for since a long time, for a KZ earphone. I like everything of the sound, honestly, apart from that bass. Treble is smooth, not extreme but luckily not harsh. I enjoy it, and I’m not an easy person to satisfy when it comes to high frequencies. Even the highest voices are well controlled, and don’t miss any air or space. The soundstage is average. Not the widest, not the deepest. But the imaging is very precise, so you can enjoy your perceived little room and be happy. The intimacy is achieved. I wouldn’t call this stage “small” in a negative way. It actually opens up when the recordings are well done. But I’d call it intimate, because it’s very in-your-head sometimes, without being intrusive. And the mid-bass presence actually gives a very warm color to the signature which is really emotional. I have to say, I’ve wanted to like KZ since a long time, but it’s been hard, until now. ZS7 are a game changer for this brand.

 

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Comparisons

This is a very interesting moment: the price range is challenging and I have a lot of competitors. I’ll write some, but if you need others, write me on the comments or contact me anywhere.

YinYoo V2: they are among my favorites IEMs. I still prefer them over the ZS7, because they come with better accessories (carrying case, better cable, better tips). Even the sound signature is suitable for more genres, because its bass is more controlled. I’d rather the ZS7 design. I say it now: it’s neary a 1:1 clone of the Campfire Audio Andromeda (and Polaris). I don’t appreciate brands which clone stuff, of every genre. They are even more similar to them than the RevoNext QT2. That said, I love the Andromeda design, so I cannot dislike the ZS7 that way. It’s not ethical, though. If I had to choose, I’d take the V2.

ADVANCED Model 3: they are similarly tuned. But the mid-bass bump is more exaggerated on the Model 3 (strange to say!). I love the Model 3 because of their design, their accessories, their shape and their fit. That said, the ZS7 are better built and to my ears they are more finely equalized. OT, I’m curious to try the new models of ADVANCED, because they have the perfect shape for me, and a more similar driver configuration to these ZS7 (even though I continue to like the dynamic vibes). I’d choose the ZS7 between the twos (I’m talking about the wired version of the Model 3 in this comparison).

RevoNext QT2: I like them, I don’t like them as much as the ZS7. They are very differently tuned, QT2 are on a reference side and they are bright, while the ZS7 are dark and fun. Same accessories here, so I can give you my preference: ZS7, because QT2 are too sibilant and I can’t stand that. And ZS7 are more comfortable.

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Conclusions

This time they did it: Knowledge Zenith is improving. I (more than) like the ZS7, and they are on my top list now. If they put a better cable instead of that crappy memory wire one, the improvement will be complete. And they could compete with the bigs. They just need a little bit of refinement in the tuning. But the ZS7 are solid, and I’m happy to recommend them.

NiceHCK P3 Review

Price: 37$

Where to find them: [here]

Specifications:

  • Frequency response: 20-40k Hz

  • Impedance: 12 Ohm

  • Sensitivity: 106 dB/mW

  • Driver: Hybrid 2BA+1DD

 

This is the second IEM I try by NiceHCK, after the M6. I’ve really appreciated the first one, starting from the accessories. I’m glad they included nearly the same ones here, considering the price range that’s really different between the twos (more than 50$).

Unboxing and first impressions

I like this simple but functional unboxing experience: a white box with some information, which has inside a good hard carrying case; inside there are a lot of tips (three pairs of silicon, two pairs of silicon double flange, a pair of foams) and the earphones, already attached to the cable. The cable itself is the same of the M6, which is good in quality – I don’t really like the color, but it’s subjective. This, for me, should be the package of every earphone. Small, simple, rigid, complete.

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The buds are good looking, with a translucent blue plastic build. The plastic quality is average, a little bit better than the KZ ES4; comfort, though, is way superior on P3, thanks to its shape and the better ear tips. The connector is MMCX. I’m impressed for the price – more than TRN IM1, which has way less accessories in a similar range.

 

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Sound

My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen.

My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A

My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, … 

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Sometimes it happens that you listen to a set and you can’t find nothing wrong. It’s difficult to judge something that doesn’t really fall on any area. You have to rationalize and carefully try to understand what part of your impressions is driven by your personal taste and what’s an objective way to explain the product capabilities. So, I will start saying this is a set that matches my taste, because the treble is pretty rolled off. You hear no sibilance at all, neither any kind of harshness with the P3. That’s the first thing I can say, that’s pretty positive to me, but it mightn’t for treble heads. If you search for a “Tin HiFi like” signature, that’s totally opposite. And it’s fine, because some people don’t like it. So, starting from “the bottom”, the bass is really good. It may be a little lacking of body in the sub-bass area, but the overall scene feels warm and there’s the right amount of punchiness. It’s pretty quick too: comparing the P3 to the KZ ES4, which also are pretty bassy, the P3 provide better layering and resolution. This isn’t a congested bass, nor a boomy bass, nor an over-emphasized bass: it’s enjoyable and it’s one of the better things of these earphones. Mids are honest, with the right space for vocals and a pretty good instrument separation. The signature feels pretty balanced until the upper midrange, which has kind of a notch and falls when it comes to treble. So, I don’t feel mids lacking presence, they just don’t shine. Treble, as I’ve said before, is very relaxed. These earphones are meant to be for the ones who can’t stand any brightness. This means, though, that you have to accept a detail that’s just average and a sound that wants to be fun and doesn’t even try to be analytical. It’s perfectly good. The “problem” is that this sound isn’t really “fun”: it’s pretty boring, even though for my taste it has nothing wrong. There’s a lot of people who just want to listen to music and don’t really need a particular sound signature: this set is honest, and it’s a really good start for upgrading from a casual earphone. Let’s talk about soundstage. There’s an average width that’s kind of holographic, which is good, summed to that bass, if you need something enough precise for gaming. That means that imaging is pretty precise too. So, it’s kind of difficult to explain: the stage is not that wide; however, its depth is discrete, so the immersion in the scene is pretty comfortable. This is a sound which doesn’t fatigue.

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Comparisons

TRN IM1: I’m kind of confused about this set. At first, I thought it was good. Then its slight brightness became too fatiguing. Then I realized that wasn’t a great sound, honestly. It’s more detailed than the P3 one, it’s pretty analytic, but it’s not a solid sound at all. Some songs are pretty good on that, many others sound just too congested and sharp. Let’s say IM1 is not a gentle set. I prefer P3. You can find the IM1 here.

 

KZ ES4: this is a set which sounded honest before I compared it to other ones. It’s kind of similar to the P3, even though it has more presence in the treble and more sibilance. The bass is less precise, but its body is comparable to the P3 one. They also have the same tendency of virtualizing the scene, which is something that I think the average consumer could enjoy. Well, between the two I choose the P3: you have more accessories, a better fit, a better cable (in my opinion) and an overall sound that’s more convincing. You can find the ES4 here.

 

RevoNext QT2: a strange comparison, I admit. QT2 are a bit pricier, but I put them here because if you like their signature, you’re not going to like the P3 one. QT2 are balanced but become very bright and sibilant since the upper midrange. P3, instead, are very warm and more fun to listen to. QT2 are an analytical set from what I hear. You can find the QT2 here.

 

Conclusions

While it’s true that I can’t find any particular reason to recommend this set, neither I can’t find one to not recommend it. It’s comfortable to wear, it’s not fatiguing, and it suits honestly every genre. Not brilliantly, but neither bad, at all. I found the KZ ES4 to sound bad for my taste. Not the P3, which have some good pros. And they are really good for gaming. I can recommend them if you are not searching for any particular feature, even though I believe the price could be a little bit lower. And you get one of the better packages, in terms of accessories.

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Pros

  • Accessories

  • Fit

  • Not fatiguing

  • Relaxed sound signature

 

Cons

  • Average materials and build quality

  • They don’t shine anywhere

BRAINWAVZ KOEL Review

Price: 70$

Where to buy them: https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/products/koel-balanced-armature-earphones

Specifications (from the website):

  • Drivers: Single Balanced Armature

  • Rated Impedance: 30Ω

  • Frequency Range: 16 Hz ~ 22 kHz

  • Sensitivity: 105 dB at 1 mW

  • Cable: Detachable

  • Cable Connector: MMCX

  • Plug: 3.5 mm, Gold plated

 

This is the first BRAINWAVZ earphone that I try. This is also the first single balanced armature earphone that I try. This is an interesting coincidence, because I’ve tried a lot of earphones. To be fair, this is also my first 3D-printed IEM! As you can understand, there are a lot of curious things about these monitors, and we’re just at the intro.

 

Unboxing and first impressions

This box has been a struggle to open. That being said, this is a modern yet classy unboxing experience. The internal box has a book-like shape and contains a hard case (which is a serious hard case, one of the best I’ve held), which in turn contains the IEMs and the accessories. There are a lot of tips (6 pairs, 3 measures doubled, and a pair of T100 red Comply foam tips). There’s a clip, a manual, and the cable already attached to the buds. The cable is good and it feels like a tool – much better than the ADVANCED Model 3 (wired) cable, which I find to be a similar pair of monitors in their will. If you look at some KOEL pictures, you don’t have the same good impression as seeing them in person. They are “lucid” to the touch, and I thought they were “matte” by looking at the photos. The shape is very interesting because it’s a bit unusual, with a grip on your lower ear. I have to admit that – even though the fit is really stable – I find the buds to be a little bit too big for my ears, so I can use them for half an hour but after that time I feel fatigued. With the Comply tips on, the comfort is surely improved, because you can leave the IEMs less deep, but still having a fair grip. If you have bigger ears, these will be not just stable but also very comfortable to wear in my opinion. Anyway, the cable has very low microphonics and its 45° plug is perfect for strain relief. I like everything about the design, the look and the build quality of the KOEL. And I appreciate the attention they put on the presentation.

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Sound

My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen.

My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A

My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, …

First thing first: I noticed that these earphones generally require more power than average to be driven. Just a few steps more on my FiiO M7, which I primarily use.

It’s important to understand the will behind these earphones. As you can imagine reading the driver configuration, this single balanced armature IEM is not for casual users. As casual users, I mean the average consumers who want a “fun” sound, colored; a sound which makes you wince, an emotional kind of sound. You won’t have that with the KOEL. They are meant to be analytical and detailed. That means their use would be not just music listening, but music production too. As a music lover and as a musician, I liked these earphones. A lot. And my love for them is very different from my love for my Sennheiser Momentum, for example. Because their signatures are very different. The KOEL signature is very balanced and flat, it reminds me the one of the ADVANCED M4. It may sound less “natural” than other earphones, because I feel they are meant to precisely monitor your recordings or live stages. When you listen to music, you may like a touch of color, a slight “V”, and there are a lot of choices for that kind of use. However, I feel the KOEL are really different in their purpose. Even though I still enjoyed them with my music, I didn’t feel the emotion of other sets – like the Simgot EM1. Why? Because balanced armatures are not meant to “move” you, they are supposed to be precise, quick, analytical. This is exactly what the KOEL sound like. There is more. At first, listening to “Magic” by Coldplay, I heard some bad noises on the right earphone. Like there was sort of a driver movement when the kicks were punchy. I’ve never heard anything like that on any of my earphones. Then I’ve searched for the same song – mine is a CD rip-off – on YouTube and Spotify and those versions didn’t have those noises! I guess these earphones are so analytical and “raw” that a bad master (or rip, or something) immediately comes to light. This is crazy, in my opinion. Neither my ADVANCED M4, which I find very similar to the KOEL, have this level of detail and precision. It’s important mentioning that “Magic” was the only song which had this problem. I still don’t understand why I’ve heard that just on that particular song, when I can’t hear any strange things by using other earphones or – using the KOEL themselves – with the same track from another source. I don’t think the problem is on the earphones, because no other track has any issues. But I will deepen that aspect in the future, by trying other Brainwavz models and hearing if that aspect still remains.

So, in a general way, the sound signature of the KOEL is similar to the M4 one, but with a more refined treble. The bass remains that neutral, uncolored bass that I found there, yet being well extended. Some may find it lacking: I think you have to think of the KOEL in another way. They make you hear exactly what the artist recorded. Every mainstream earphone has enhanced bass, and even treble sometimes; the KOEL are absolutely not meant to entertain: they are meant to monitor. The mids are phenomenal – I would say this is a “mid-centric” earphone, but it’s just an impression based on a comparison to more fun earphones. Even though the mids are very well-layered and vocals and instrument parts are perfectly reproduced, that doesn’t mean that bass is lacking quality or treble is rolled off. It’s just a signature that puts balance over fun. So, your treble detail is still there, with nearly no sibilance, but it doesn’t make the overall sound bright. Neither that good bass make the signature warm, because it’s very controlled. And the soundstage feels very wide comparing to my other sets. Only the M4 – I continue talking about them because they are similar – feel that wide and have the same precision in imaging. Overall, you won’t get these earphones for the craziest sub-bass extension, nor for the punchiest mid-bass. You will get them for the balance, the airy vocals, the precision in treble. And I believe that spending 20/30$ more than the ADVANCED M4 could be reasonable for the better treble and the interchangeable cable.

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Comparisons

ADVANCED M4 (to summarize): they are very different in every way but the sound. M4 are made of metal, they have a non-detachable cable with a microphone, an L shaped jack and they have a single dynamic driver; KOEL are made of 3D-printed resin, they have a removable MMCX cable with no microphone, a 45° jack and they have got a single balanced armature. Totally different specs, totally similar sounds. It’s pretty strange, considering the different drivers. I’d say, there’s some dynamic spirit on that balanced armatures inside the KOEL. The only real difference I can hear between the twos is the better treble on the KOEL, which is clearer and more detailed. The bass may be a little more present too. I really can’t choose between these two earphones.

 

ADVANCED Model 3: they are very similar in every way but the sound. I’m not joking, and I usually don’t use earphones of the same brands to do comparisons, but here I have to. Model 3 and KOEL have a similar shape, the same connectors, a similar fit (personally Model 3 are a bit more comfortable), similar build quality but very different sound signatures. So, I’m not saying that M4+Model3=KOEL, but the equation is not so different. Model 3 are made for a fun listening. Mid bass is very enhanced and mids are recessed, treble is fair. The soundstage is way more intimate. So, the Model 3 could be an option for those who don’t appreciate the flatness of the KOEL. I would choose the KOEL, though.

 

Simgot EM1: I compare them and not the MT3 (which have a closer price to the KOEL) because I fairly appreciated the EM1 and the KOEL, while I’m not totally convinced about the MT3. That said, even though the EM1 are among my favorite earphones, they are pretty different in sound compared to the KOEL. I don’t feel the EM1 as heavy colored or too bassy. They are pretty balanced and neutral, but more comfortable and more fun to listen to, rather than the KOEL. Between the two, because of the better fit, I would choose the EM1. They are different, I like them all, but if I had just a choice, that would be my personal one.

 

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Conlcusions

So, it’s important to understand this kind of sound signature: I have a lot of earphones, but the ones with that flatness and balance are just these two that I’ve mentioned (KOEL and M4). While I love many sets for different reasons, I can’t deny that while I need to record and mix my songs my choice couldn’t fall upon a fun sounding earphone: here I choose something like the KOEL. Not for chilling, not even for comfort. When I need balance, clarity, sense of space, I rely on them. That’s good in a way, not-so-good in another. Because if I try to recommend them to you, it can be difficult. I may have your same taste, but not your same needs. If you record or monitor music, these are perfect for the money. And even if you are crazy about high fidelity. If you want something more relaxed, more bassy, there are plenty of options. But I think you must give a try to the KOEL, or another flat earphone, to really enjoy the details usually left behind the bass. You may not have that punch. You may not have that fun. But overall, you have something more real and close to the will of the artist. Think about it. I recommend the KOEL and I’m glad to have found a brand that provides a non-mainstream sound signature.

Simgot EM1 Review

Price: 80$

Where to buy them: https://amzn.to/2DWO4ch

Specifications:

  • Transducer unit: 10mm high magnetic composite dynamic driver

  • Diaphragm: Polymer composite titanium-plated diaphragm

  • Frequency response: 15Hz-40kHz

  • Sensitivity: ≥101dB (at 1000Hz)

  • Impedance: 16Ω

  • Distortion: <1%  101dB(20μpa)

  • Channel imbalance: <1.5dB(at 1000Hz)

  • Rated power: 10mW

 

Thanks to Simgot for the review sample.

It’s been awhile since I’ve tried my first Simgot set of earphones, the Meeture MT3 (here my Head-fi review). I kind of liked that monitors, with a particular vocal-centered tuning which makes them perfect for singers’ live stages. They were comfortable too, so with the right eartips they were a really capable IEM. However, the tuning was a little bit unorthodox, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s something you need to get used to. These EM1, instead, are very well-tuned and easier to appreciate. Let’s see why.

Unboxing and first impressions

As you can see, the difference between the boxes is noticeable: I liked the rational small white box of the MT3, but this bigger black one of EM1 is classy and more elegant. There’s a High-Res certification and some black-on-black pictures and specifications on the various faces of the box: I like this style, but I have to say it’s a bit difficult to read what’s written.

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As always, we find a soft carrying pouch with a good number of silicon eartips: 3 wide bore ones, 3 small bore ones. They really change the sound a lot, so be careful to try them all before judging the set. Like on the MT3, I prefer using the wide bore tips, because the sound is more balanced and less “boomy” than the sound provided with the others. It’s nice to see a description of how the sound changes depending on the eartips used, not just because they help with your choice, but because it’s very accurate. Unfortunately, there aren’t any foam tips, but the nozzle is pretty standard: I’ve tried both the Tin HiFi foams and the NiceHCK foams and they all fit very stably. The cable is really good: the same as MT3, a really well-made braided one. It’s oxygen free, 4 core, 6N of purity; a standard single-ended 3.5mm gold-plated jack and 2-pin 0.78mm connectors for the buds. There are pre-curved hooks and they are very comfortable, and there’s a chin slider too. The IEMs themselves come in a beautiful choice of colors: even though you can buy an all-black model, mine has the right earbud in red and the left one in blue. This makes it way easier to recognize which way to wear them. And the eartips are red/blue too, so it’s a beautiful touch. The buds are made of metal and plastic and they are actually the best plastic earphones I’ve ever tried regarding the build quality. It’s a translucent colored plastic, so you can still see the internals: you can notice the dynamic driver, which is the only one used in this set. The nozzle and parts of the faceplate are made of metal. There are some elegant writings. Overall, design wise this set is one of my favorites.

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Sound

My sources: FiiO M7, Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 with Zorloo ZuperDAC-S as DAC/Amp, MacBook Pro 2012 with Focusrite 2i2

My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A

My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, Jack Garratt…

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When you try a lot of earphones, it’s difficult to get surprised: some sets have a good tuning, but they lack of detail, or vice versa. Some others have a really good bass, but they fall on mids and highs; it’s difficult to find a 360° convincing IEM, because brands obviously have to aim at a particular feature, especially on the budget area. Well, for my taste, this is one of the most convincing earphones under 100$. I may say this now is my favorite IEM.

Usually, when I start trying an earphone, I immediately understand a general tuning of it. Whether it’s a flat one or a “V” one, a balanced or a flat. In this case I needed more time to understand. First, I thought this was a warm set. Because bass sounded very punchy, quick, perfectly controlled with a dark background. Then I thought this was a bright set, because I started hearing some sparkles and a slight sibilance. So, I started thinking about a classic V-shaped signature, but I heard no evident fall on mids. Well, this became a really interesting set. I’d say, after listening to them for some time, that I’d remain with the initial impression of a dark background: the overall bass area is solid and gives warmness to the scene. That being said, the treble is surprisingly capable with a great detail and some sparkles, which however don’t bother me, as a really treble-sensitive person. I still hear some sibilance, which it’s not a characteristic of this set, but it’s an evidence of some not-so-well recorded songs: exactly like on Tin HiFi T3. Mids are great: I think they are slightly recessed, because the final impression I have is having a smooth U-shaped signature, which isn’t lacking of body nor lacking of air, though. I hear a very good separation between instruments and a pretty airy sound, with good detail and resolution. Soundstage is average: it doesn’t feel very wide, but neither inside your head. It’s something close to holographic which however doesn’t give the impression of a “virtualization”. And imaging, through this perceived small room, is actually pretty accurate.

To summarize: bass is very well-extended on the sub-bass area, present but controlled, punchy and pleasant. Mids are clear, with airy vocals and a good layering between instruments. Treble is solid and absolutely not rolled off, with a precise and analytical feel. Soundstage is average in width and depth, but imaging is really believable.

 

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Comparisons

Simgot Meeture MT3: while they share the same accessories, materials and build quality, sound wise they are pretty different. Depending on the tips, MT3 can sound really V-shaped (small bore) or mid-centric (wide bore). EM1 are more balanced and provide an overall signature that’s more classic and pleasant. I could recommend the MT3 to singers for their live stages; but I can really recommend the EM1 to anyone, whether for music listening or music production or exibitions. These are really solid universal IEMs with no compromises. You can find the MT3 here: https://amzn.to/2GTFyxN

 

Tin HiFi T3: when I said that most of the times brands need to make decisions, I meant that earphones like Tin T3 are amazing under certain ways, but average on some others. T3 are fantastic if you need detail, they have a really good bass yet remaining bright and they absolutely don’t fall on mids. And they have the best cable on a budget, too. But they are less comfortable to wear and more fatiguing to listen to. I feel that EM1 are more cohesive in their frequency distribution – but it’s easily because of their only dynamic driver, while T3 are a hybrid solution. I personally choose EM1: they may be meant for a more casual listening, because of their less-analytical signature, but they are more pleasant to my ears and they don’t really make compromises. T3 do maybe “too much”: they need to smooth their treble a little bit. Still a great set, though, with a stunning design. In absolute terms, they may be superior. For my personal taste, which requires a more controlled treble, EM1 are a better choice. You can find the T3 here: https://amzn.to/2XcI206

 

BGVP DMG: very different in terms of drivers (it’s a 5 or 6 drivers hybrid), and also in terms of sound. DMG are more sibilant, and provide a less smooth sound through the frequency range. They are warm too, but they aren’t as punchy neither as controlled as the EM1. I like EM1 treble more, too. Mids are similar and soundstage depth too. Fit wise, they are both great and not fatiguing. I like them both, honestly; DMG may be a little bit more detailed thanks to their multi-balanced configuration, but the overall experience of EM1 is closer to my taste. You can find the DMG here: https://amzn.to/2EltqUJ

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Conclusions

EM1 are an easy recommendation for me. I wasn’t so sure about MT3, but this set here is close to perfect for my taste. If you search for the most balanced choice in every way, consider this set. If you are more into crazy detail or very wide soundstage, there are better earphones, which aren’t that solid though, at least for what I think. This actually is one of my favorite IEM ever – and it proofs what you can do with a single dynamic driver, even on a budget. Highly recommended, in the end.