Sunday, December 24, 2017

KZ KS6 home user review

Disclaimer: This review is written based a normal listener (a.k.a not audiophile) and I believe that everyone has different listening experience. My listening preference is balance sound and treble-happy (I enjoy clarity over bass). My listening setups are Flac file format, Samsung A7 smartphone with Poweramp, laptop with Dolby advance sound plus foobar2000.

Short summary

Cons


  • Subpar construction quality.
  • Screw on housing has no purpose and doesn't enhance the aesthetic (personal opinion).
  • Imbalance channel (Right side is louder than the left)
  • Hissing / Sibilance if pair with a headphone amp.
  • V shape sound characteristic. High treble and bass. Mid-range frequency is tad laid back.
  • Bass is a little artificial especially bass drum. A bit more rumble and bloated.
  • Sound leak and average isolation.
  • Rubbery cable plus edgy housing causing discomfort.
  • Large housing may not fit for people with small ears.

Pro


  • Dual Balance Armature produces detailed sound characteristics. (if you don't mind the sibilance)
  • Instrument separation is exceptional.
  • Very good price per performance ratio. 4 drivers (dual BA + dual dynamic) with price less than $30.
  • Easy to drive with a smartphone. No headphone amp is preferable.
  • Replaceable cable.
  • Aluminium housing.


Long story


After reading the online reviews and most of them reported with a positive conclusion, I finally bite the bullet and order a pair (with android headset cable) from Gearbest with AUD $29.37 including shipping.

Afterall, 4 drivers in-ear-monitor with price less than $30, what could go wrong?

After 5 weeks of waiting (impatiently) and finally got my hands on the earphone, things start to go horribly wrong.

Quality Issue


The first thing I noticed is that the left earpiece cover is a bit loose. I thought this is a small issue as the screw on the housing was loosened. So I try to tighten up the screw but it has no end. It seems to me that there no internal thread and caused by manufacturing issue. Then I thought maybe I tried something else later to jam the screws but they are so loose that I ended up losing one of them. Disappointment plus frustration, instead of sending back to Gearbest for the repair (more waiting), I went to the nearby stationery shop and get a $3 superglue to end this frustration once and for all.

Both screws do not hold up the cover. One end up missing and the other I kept it in a safe place.
Aftermath after putting the superglue. A "scar" between the top cover and the housing. It's not perfectly aligned but the seal does not matter because there is a bass port on the cover.
Please be warned this earphone I got has a physical quality issue. Or perhaps it was just me who happens to be the unlucky one. 

Furthermore, the screw on the housing doesn't enhance the earphone aesthetic nor provide any advantage to the listener (e.g. bass/treble tuning). In my opinion, I don't think anyone would unscrew the cover and do something special about it. If you are a KZ engineer or designer, please throw away the screws design and have it clip-on on the housing.

Right earpiece has no issue.
Another quality issue is the cable connection gap is different between left and right earpiece. There is a slight gap in the right cable connector while there is none on the left (See screenshot below). I have tried to push in hard but it won't budge any further. Fortunately, the connector stays in place and does not fall out easily.

Left & right connector looks the same.
There is a gap on the right connector but there is none on the left.
Then, there is the rubbery cable that is easily picked up microphonic noise (e.g. cable rubbing on a shirt while moving) and the memory ear hook does not help to stop the noise much. Furthermore, the rubbery cable irritates my skin when I tucked the cable inside my t-shirt. In short, I don't really like the cable much. However, cable splitter, L shape 3.5mm plug, and the headset controller is well built.

The housing is made of aluminum and it's big compared with others similar earphone I have. It carries some weight and eventually caused some discomfort after long session of listening. People with small ears will definitely have difficulty on the fitting.

Sound


On my first listening, I noticed there is an audible channel imbalance where the right earphone is louder than the left. I used my smartphone to run a pink noise check with 80% volume and I can confirm that the imbalance is real. Adding more salt to my KS6 injury. Ouch. However, low volume listening might not able to notice the difference.

On the bright side, KS6 is my first pair Balance Armature (BA) earphone and it does really bring out the details in a song, up to a point where I can imagine the song environment (e.g. reverb, echo, guitar string picking, live concert ambient noise). With a headphone amp (Fiio E11 Kilimanjaro), KS6 shines until that the treble went overly bright and hot, resulted in some of the reviewers reported hissing/sibilance with this earphone, which is true.

Please be warned that sibilance effect on electronic genre song is the worst of all where high pitch electronic sounded annoyingly buzzing and piercing. Never in my life that I have experienced this before.

Luckily, to remedy this issue, I got a Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 (with voodoo sound app), which has fall-off starting from the 20khz treble region. Without headphone amp, it pairs really well with KS6 without too much hissing/sibilance except it reduced sound imaging. Another workaround is low volume listening will help ease the sibilance issue. I have tried using comply foam tips for toning down the sibilance but it doesn't help much.

Next is the bass region which I find it a bit artificial, bloated and rumble. Some might even enjoy the coloration. After a long session of listening, I'm not compelled to tune down the bass so I guess it is acceptable.

Soundstage is above average but not spaciously wide.

Overall sound characteristic, in short, it's a V shape with high treble and bass. Mid-range frequency is a tab laid back but doesn't overrun by the bass or treble. Instrument separation is superb and surpass my other earphone collection (All non-BA).

I have tried equalizing it to my preference by tuning down the treble and bass for a better sound balance but I find it hard to control.

Isolation is average and the bass port on the housing will leak sound but not enough to annoy other people in public transport unless they sit really close.

Conclusion


So in the end, how's KS6 performed? In my opinion, this is the first earphone review that I put up a Not Recommended. To be honest, I had high hopes on KS6, as Chinese companies nowadays are producing high-quality products (e.g.XiaoMi, Huawei). However, this KS6 that I have gotten does not live up the hype from reviews I read on the Internet. Well, we can all argue if I get a replacement, my experience might change to a positive note. But I would rather move on than deal with the quality issue.

On top of that, here are some points to ponder:

Is channel imbalance a deal breaker? For me, yes.
Is potential sibilance presentation a deal breaker? I can work around it but not ideal.

The only joy that I can get out from my pair of KS6 is that the BA sound signature comes with lots of details and clarity, differentiating itself from my other earphones with its own unique listening experience. So, it's a keeper for now until I find another pair of BA earphone (perhaps KS6 version 2?) that can match up with KS6, then it will be stored away.

Update: After couple of week of listening, the bloated bass start to becoming a problem, sounded unnatural. It's affecting the sound quality when watching video or youtube and some of my favorite tracks. I even bought the silver cable just to see whether that help improve the sound quality and channel imbalance. Unfortunately, that didn't work either however, it is more comfortable for the skin and less microphobic issue.

 Gallery  



Android headset. One button mic controller. No volume control.

Cable splitter

L shape 3.5mm plug

Metal earguard. Ear tip falls out sometimes since there are is no hook around housing tip.

3 sizes ear tips

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Audio Technica ATH-IM70 earphone home user review

Disclaimer: I'm not an audiophile and my listening preference is toward balance tone or minor v-shape. Hence my review and listening experience may bias to certain characteristic. Your mileage may vary (YMMV).

Short story:
Recommended for people who are: Prefer more bass in their music, probably preference in music genre such as dance, electronic or house.  Love equalizer (EQ), spacious or live music

Not recommended for people who are: Balance tone lover, purist, analytical, love accuracy, studio sound.


Long story:
I bought my pair of IM70 from Minidisc (after price match) without auditioning them. I made my decision on getting the IM70 solely based on online reviews and frequency response charts (I won't be doing this adventure again and should go for the earphone audition before putting my hard earn money on risk no matter how little :D)

Pros
  1. Great rumble bass response (check the cons where I find the bass is too much for my taste). My first impression on the bass region that it has full/rumble bass and sort of giving my eardrum some massage. My thought is that it's perfect for dance or electronic music. Bass guitar and low tone detail can be easily picked up. This may thanks to the dual symphonic driver which it has one dedicated bass driver.

  2. High frequency is smooth and clear. The high sounded smooth, clear and easy listening. I picked up details more than stock earphone but not up to a point that it really surprises me. Furthermore, the treble is not analytical/bright either and hence the easy listening impression. The advantage of the smooth treble is that it allows long listening without treble keeps piercing to your head.

  3. Mid is slight forward and well presented. Overall, it sounded full, smooth and detail.
  4. Sound-stage is wider than single driver earphone. There is a very, very small touch of reverb (echo) effect that I believe it created a slight air/ wide sounding. Listening to live music feels like a sitting in the actual event. It's good, but also might be a turn off some who prefer to studio environment and accuracy. Wide sound-stage may also cause some confusion because some musical instrument with the echo effect may sound not so familiar.

    My second take on the wide sound-stage is that it improves the sound on gaming and movie on smartphones. Big plus here.

  5. Easy to drive and has more volume compared to my listening collection.

  6. Over ear wearing style and bright red color works and looks fine for me. Some say they are intimidated by the color, but I find there are more people out there wearing bright red headphone and nobody cares. Anyway, the over ear cable reduces cable noise and secure the earphone in the ear. The housing is not very stuck out while wearing, In short, I like the look, the design and the color.

  7. Different sizes ear-tip included. One pair of mid size comply form tip  and 3 different size pairs of silicon ear-tips included.

  8. Great build quality with detachable cable. IM70 cable is replaceable. The cable came with it is sturdy but not as impressive as Shure cable (which I find them the best cable quality of all). The housing is well built and feels solid.

Cons
  1. IM70 is not a balance earphone (EQ may required). The Bass, by default without EQ, is taking over the music presentation. This has negative effect where I find the mid is laid back and the bass detail kinda punch to your face (Yes, it's bad). Fortunately, IM70 response well to EQ and tuning down the mid bass region tame the bass a little and allowed me to turn up the volume without having the bass slamming to my eardrum too hard. Once the EQ got it right, it sounds amazing.

    For some, this may be the deal breaker, especially for music purists (no equalizer, preamp or other mixer that gets the way and wanted the music presentation as the artist intended) or lazy people who doesn't want to bother at spending time on EQ.

  2. Comfort is average due to earphone nozzle and housing is slightly large. For people with small ear or ear canal may find problems with the wearing comfort. Insertion is rather deep and may cause some discomfort. 

  3. Noise isolation is average. The may due to the bass port in the back of the housing. Some say changing the ear tips to comply might help on the noise isolation. My recommendation is NOT to use the comply form tips because it sucks away some of the treble energy. Changing the ear tip from mid to large also helps with the noise isolation. Plus the large tip helps in holding up the earphone.

  4. Included pouch feels cheap. Black color drawstring pouch. I think Audio Technica can do better.

  5. No headset/mic for picking up calls.
     
  6. Headphone amp is preferable. Although IM70 does not required amp to drive, however having the amp will helps bring out the sound-stage and more clarity. Recommended if you can pair IM70 with an amp.

  7. Price is high for home users. There are cheaper options out there (e.g. XiaoMi Hybrid, Piston3 with price less than $50). Part of the IM70 value may contribute to the replaceable cable feature and great build quality.

Shure SE215 Comparison



There is a vast difference between the two and I had to re-listen to my music collection as the IM70 picks up additional detail on the bass region which SE215 lacks. Furthermore, SE215 has more engaging vocal, with the clarity in the treble region where IM70 sounds fuller and musical. Wide sound-stage gives a fair advantage for the IM70 (works well on gaming and video), live music sounds terrific (after EQ) and more suited to the general listening with the present of rumble bass. On the other hand, SE215 has its strong features, with the unbeatable noise isolation (allows low volume listening), wearing comfort and more present of treble region where some may find it more enjoyable.



Summary

Is it a bad purchase? After I got the EQ right, I think overall IM70 is a winner. It's definitely an upgrade for people who coming from stock earphone and wanted more bass rumble, smooth treble and wide soundstage in their music presentation. It got great build quality, style and features. The downside is some may find the bass may be too much for music.


In the end, everyone has different listening preference and the fail safe option is always "try before you buy" like get a audition on the earphone and you will never go wrong.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Croc Shoe

I had this pair of Croc shoe more than 5 years now and it's still going strong. 

Amazed. 

I thought of capturing this moment and put my personal artifact here.