Read What Others Are Saying

Cowon Plenue D3 (PD3) Digital Audio Player with 2.5/3.5mm outputs and Bluetooth
Friday 29 January, 2021
\"Just got the new Plenue D3 player. Not only does it have the balanced headphone socket, which is excellent - it also has a marvellous set of sound options, meaning I can actually get something which is seriously like real bass through earphones. This is fantastic. it shouldn\'t be called \'JetEffect\', it should be called \'magic\'...... Rated by me as better than some makes that regard themselves as really serious.\"
Dominic Stockford
Cowon Plenue D3 (PD3) Digital Audio Player with 2.5/3.5mm outputs and Bluetooth
Monday 25 January, 2021
As I type this I am jumping between M4a and MP3 files and between Gorillaz and Glen Campbell and also between wired and wireless earphones (both Bose Soundsport). What is really helpful for me is the ability to use the wireless earphones to control the player remotely. The sound is exceptional and quite a jump up from my Fiio X3 II. I am changing BBE settings to see what I prefer, and the earphones sound different with the same BBE so I have settled on BBE Headphones 3 for the wireless and Mach3Bass on the wired. They have different ear buds so it is understandable. Other reviews about the D 2 comment on the dated screen and interface. Yes it is dated and yes the screen is slightly laggy, but I bought it for the sound so this isn't a factor at all. The only PITA is the interface and getting used to how it works and the peculiar icons that are used. It isn't intuitive but after 10 minutes I have the basics figured out (tip - play one of the tracks that are already on it then hit the swirly star thing). For the sound I'd give it 5/5. The screen is an irrelevance for me. For the interface - 4/5 but like a lot of these things once you "get" it, it works. I'll be setting it once and that is pretty much it. I don't think a comment on the quality of a product should include a commentary on the service to buy it. That said, the order process was smooth and as simple as could be and given that it was a pre-order with a due date of 10th Feb I was happy to receive it 2 weeks early. Very happy.
Gwyn Andrews
iBasso DC03 USB-C DAC Adapter with 3.5mm Output
Thursday 14 January, 2021
Great DAC for your smartphone. I have previously used a Hidizs Sonata S3 DAC but it had compatibility issues with my Samsung S20, the iBasso DC03 does not have the same problems and is compatible.
Caleb Lai
Cayin N3 Pro Hi-Res DAP
Thursday 29 October, 2020
Like it's predecessor the N3, Cayin's N3 Pro is a highly versatile AKM-based DAP running the same mature HiBy operating system as their flagship N8. Price wise, the N3 Pro is closer to mid-range competition from the likes of Cowon than the original N3 which was pitched at entry-level. Have Cayin made a mistake taking their budget model upmarket? What is on offer for the extra outlay and is it worth saving up for? For this budget-concious valve-loving consumer the short answers are 'a lot' and 'yes, definitely'. N3 Pro has multiple input / output modes, making it something of a Swiss Army knife among DAPs: 1. Single-ended 3.5mm solid state. Good for very active listening sessions, for example when cutting the hedge, where valve microphonics might be an issue (see below). 2. Single-ended line out on dedicated 3.5mm. Fixed volume, bypassing the headphone amp. 'Clean' output for the purists, for use with desktop or hifi systems. 3, Balanced 4.4mm solid state. Good when extra power is required e.g. for hard-to-drive planar headphones. Untested by this reviewer. 4. USB DAC mode - works with Windows native drivers up to 24-bit / 96kHz. Cayin drivers are available too but untested by this reviewer. 5. Digital out SPDIF over coaxial via USB C (using one of Cayin's proprietary cables, not included). E.g. to use as a transport for Chord Mojo, should you be so inclined. 6. Bluetooth out e.g. to wireless headphones. Untested by this reviewer. Here's where the fun really starts: 7. Single-ended 3.5mm ultra-linear (UL) tube (valve) mode. 8. Single-ended 3.5mm triode (TR) tube mode. Both UL and TR modes are very well judged IMO. In both modes the Raytheon sub-miniature pentode valves act as buffers and are followed by an op-amp stage. Which mode you prefer will depend on what you're listening to, the time of day and the general condition of your soul. I use maybe 80% UL and 20% TR, but when TR hits the spot, usually after dark, it's sublime. UL mode is expansive, detailed and harmonically rich with good frequency extension at both ends. TR mode is warmer, with slower bass and rolled-off treble but more forward-sounding mids - female vocals particularly have real presence. If you think, however, that valves are just about your grandad's jazz LP's then think again - cutting-edge electronica (Autechre - Sign) can sound alive, vital on the N3 Pro. Classic rock (Motorhead - Bomber) sounds like it might electrocute you at any moment. The valves are suspended effectively - Cayin say they invested in R&D disproportionately, compared to the asking price, to get this right. If you tap the N3 Pro whilst it's playing you will get a microphonic ping, but you will be able to pocket it and walk around without concern. The specs mention WiFi - note that this is for OTA firmware updates and file transfer only - N3 Pro is not a streaming device per se, nor can apps be installed. What you do get, on the other hand, is a very versatile Bluetooth implementation which includes the ability to stream from another device to the N3 Pro which takes over DAC and amp duties. In practice, with an iPhone 8 Plus running Tidal, it takes a certain, repeatable, sequence to establish an AAC handshake between the two - get it wrong and default is the unacceptably inferior-sounding SBC codec. For this hitherto Bluetooth naysayer, the sound quality of Tidal HiFi over AAC is simply good enough to overcome any worries about Bluetooth and just enjoy the music; a revelation. Bluetooth technical performance appears excellent, with no drop-outs experienced so far, albeit at short range. What else? EQ is fairly basic, compared to, say, MSEB available on other players and, maybe important to note, is limited by processing power to Redbook file format - no EQ for hi-res PCM or DSD then. The optional-extra real leather gold-flecked green case fits like a glove. There are a number of filter options to choose from; any differences are subtle and I expect will take weeks of listening with each one to reliably discern a preference. HiBy Link, an alternative Bluetooth mode which allows remote control of the N3 Pro from a phone or tablet, worked well until the recent HiBy Link app update - now it drops out frequently. Hopefully this will be remedied by a future firmware or app update as it's a useful value-adding feature. Overall then, I would call N3 Pro a powerful, well thought-out tremendous-sounding player offering real value. If you've never experienced valves before this is a fantastic way in to another dimension of this hobby; once you're in there'll be no going back.
Had Mills
iBasso IT00 Dynamic Driver IEM
Thursday 20 August, 2020
This is going to be a very difficult review for me to do.The reason why is that the IT00 has very little ‘character’ of its own. To my ears they’re ruler flat, detailed throughout the frequency range, fit really well, are pretty efficient and appear to be very well made. Perhaps you can see why I’m struggling. What I have basically described is the perfect in ear monitor. Obviously there are better IEM’s out there - it would be foolish to describe these as the best you can possibly get as this simply isn’t the case. However, once you take their price into account, it’s not hard to see just why the iBasso IT00 is such a good headphone and, in my opinion, you would have to spend considerably more money before you would see any appreciable return on your investment. Physical Description Slick packaging seems to be all the rage at the moment. I think that iBasso is definitely one of the up and coming brands who are desperately trying to compete with the likes of Sony and Apple - and they're succeeding. The IT00’s come in a nicely printed box and also comes supplied with a large array of replacement tips, a rather nice branded round zippered carry case and a couple of replacement filters (really nice touch iBasso). The IEM's are supplied with a rather nice black coated, braided cable that's just the right length for portable use. The jack is high quality and right angled for strain relief. This is a really nice overall package and certainly wouldn't be out of place for headphones costing several times the price of the IT00's. After a bit of tip rolling, I found the right size to ensure a nice seal and was good to go. Whilst I’m not overly keen on white earphones although I have to say that these do look good. If they were made by Samsung the colour would be described as something like Pacific Pearl White or perhaps Arctic Wind Grey - basically they’re white. They feel very solid and look like they could survive a fair amount of abuse. The MMCX connection is nice and tight - I haven’t had the cables accidentally disconnect on me yet. The stem goes a little deeper into the ear canal than some (which for me is always a welcome feature and definitely helps ensure you get a good seal) and the IEM’s feature a replaceable filter (also supplied with a spare set). The glossy finish will help with keeping the IEM’s clean. With most of my IEM’s I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time faffing around trying to get the perfect seal - I kinda got used to the triple flanges used with the Etymotics - and they go deeeeeep! My experience with the IT00’s is very positive and I have no problems pretty much just ‘plopping’ them into my ears, a quick wiggle and I’m sorted. Nice touch iBasso. The cable is nice and flexible and doesn’t appear to easily get tangled. Sound Quality I have to say it. These remind me of the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10’s. This is one hell of a compliment because I rate those headphones very highly indeed. To my ears, the IT00's are essentially flat - perhaps a slight bass ‘bloom’ over the UE’s but not enough to describe them as ‘bassy’. I’ve been driving them from my Sony NW-A55 Walkman (uncapped) and there’s no problems driving these headphones to very high levels with this player. They actually make a really good combination although you shouldn’t have any problems driving these from most portable devices. I suppose if compared to the Etymotic ER4P, the sound character of these could be described as ‘V’ shaped although this certainly doesn’t come across as exaggerated. Mids come through clearly - perhaps not quite in your face mids. The sound stage is perhaps ‘medium-sized’, but there’s nothing in that sound stage that appears overly artificial - it stays nicely focussed. There’s a wonderful amount of micro detail to the sound and the imagery remains nicely rock solid - I feel that this is always the sign of good quality headphone/earphones as it shows that their drivers are well matched. Whilst I have been listening to the IT00’s for a good few days now, I very much doubt that they have ‘broken in’ yet. To be honest I wasn’t much of a believer until I tried the Tronsmart Apollo Bold’s - they really changed their character over the first couple of days usage. So now, I’m a semi-believer - I’m certainly willing to be receptive to the concept - let’s put it that way. I’m very sensitive to harsh highs and I’m very pleased to say that you won’t find any of that here. The highs on the IT00’s are perhaps what reminds me the most of the UE TF10’s. Super impressive when you consider that these are using a single dynamic driver rather than multiple driver balanced armatures. Cymbals have a nice ‘shimmer’ to their sound but the top end isn’t overly bright and doesn't fatigue you after long listening sessions. There’s could perhaps be just a tad more detail on the highs - but I personally really like their fatigue free sound character. I did notice some significant ‘driver flex’ in both of these earphones but it only shows itself when you’re pushing the headphones into your ears - the rest of the time it’s fine. Many in-ear monitors in my collection suffer this phenomenon - especially the bluetooth ones however this has never appeared to have a negative effect on the sound quality. Conclusion What the IT00’s clearly show to me is just how far high-quality IEM’s have come. The original retail price for the Triple Fi 10’s was significantly more than the IT00's but both sound remarkably close to each other in my opinion. In comparing the IT00's to perhaps their closest rival, the Fiio FD1's I think they're very close. For me, the Fiio's sounded very slightly more mellow with slightly more forward mids and slightly recessed treble whereas the IT00's sound more engaging and appear to offer a deeper bass as well as slightly more detail in the top end. Both can be highly recommended as their differences really boil down to your own personal preferences. I personally would choose the ibasso IT00's but I still do enjoy the FD1’s (how’s that for sitting on the fence). Great sound. Great Fit. Great value. Very highly recommended.
Rick Hussey
FiiO FD1 In Ear Monitors
Thursday 20 August, 2020
Introduction Firstly, before anything else, I have to apologise for my excessive wordiness. I can assure you that in person I’m a man of few words - in fact I’m positively antisocial! I have been an enthusiastic headphone user now for many many years and have seen some remarkable advances in this field as time has gone on. In the last couple of years I have kinda focussed on bluetooth audio and have ended up with some very impressive hardware - the Sony WH1000XM2 and WF1000XM3’s, the Lypertek Tevi, the Apple Airpods and the Mavin Air-X in particular. All of these bluetooth headphones impress me with their sound quality and features - so it’s going to be an interesting experience going back to wired IEM’s after using wireless so often recently. Background My current wired IEM’s consist of the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 and Magaosi K3 Pro’s. Playback electronics include the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, AgpTek H1, Acer Chromebook and occasionally the Benjie S5. Additionally I also have the Topping NX2 DAC/Amp and the Nexum Aqua + Bluetooth amplifier. In the past I have owned the Etymotic ER4P, Shure E500 and 1More Triple Driver IEM’s. Most of my music is high-bitrate MP3’s and occasionally some FLAC files. I’m 58 years old - so please take this into account when I talk about sound quality. Introducing the Fiio FD1 Fiio has a reputation for producing some truly excellent audio equipment. Their MP3 players have an enthusiastic following and their multi-driver IEM’s get a lot of positive comments on this site. I personally haven’t had the chance to try out any of Fiio’s products up to now so I was very keen on trying out the FD1’s. When I first read about the specifications for the FD1 I was somewhat dubious about the single driver - when compared against the might of multiple balanced armature drivers and the many hybrid BA/DD models that are now available within this price point. However my recent experience with the Lypertek Tevis and Sony WF1000XM3’s have made me realise just how good a single dynamic driver can be. I was also somewhat concerned about them using a 10mm driver - having expectations of excessive bass (the Lypertek’s and Sony’s drivers are only 6mm and sound superb). Needless to say, my concerns on both the use of a single dynamic driver and its size turned out to be completely unwarranted. Externals The FD1’s are made of an acrylic material - with an opaque backplate (black or blue) and a semi-transparent front which shows some of the inner workings of the headphone. The soundtube has a fairly large bore but appears to be pretty much compatible with most tips. The soundtube itself is a metallic gold and features an impressive looking mesh filter at the tip. The supplied tips fit very tightly - I struggled at first but they’re certainly secure once fitted correctly. These headphones appear to be quite thick but don't really look it once they're in your ears. You can comfortably lay on your side whilst wearing them - this is always something that's welcome as I do a lot of my listening in bed. The cable is really nice - slightly thicker than those found on most other IEM's but they’re really flexible and don't feel sticky. The braiding is tight and it terminates in a really neat right angled gold-plated jackplug. You are left with the impression that the cable is going to go the distance. One really cool touch was the supplied Fiio branded Pelican-style case - much nicer than the typical pleather pouches normally offered with headphones in this price range. The Fiio’s also come with a range of different tips. Sound Quality Before going into the sound quality of these headphones - I feel that it's important to go through something of a preamble first. Insertion Depth As a previous owner of the Etymotics ER4P, I was kinda used to somewhat severe insertion depths. Most IEM's don't go as deep as the Ety's and the FD1 is no exception. However, one thing about the Ety's was that it wasn't just about how deep you have to insert them but also ensuring that you equalised the pressure behind them. Failing to do this with the Ety's (and quite a few other IEM's on the market as well), resulted in a thin, somewhat harsh sound character. Once you got the correct degree of 'insertion' the sound really opened up and sounded so much better. The FD1's feature a pressure release valve which pretty much eliminates the need to 'fiddle' around with the earphone in order to get the 'sweet spot'. The only other headphone that I'm aware of that has this feature are the Apple Airpods Pro. With the Fiio FD1 - you just 'plop' them into your ears and that's it - jiggling them around won't make any significant changes to the sound quality (assuming you have a good seal of course). The Fiio FD1 offer something that I’ve only found on a couple of in ear monitors - rock solid image stability. The Etymotics offered this - clearly Fiio have done a good job matching drivers. Up front, I have to say, these IEM's sound really REALLY nice. My initial concerns about the potential for excessive bass was completely unfounded. Bass goes really deep and yet maintains resolution - textures from lower notes is resolved just as nicely as the other frequencies. I did notice that the FD1’s sounded slightly ‘bright’ on older recordings - but I suspect this is simply a case of the headphones accurately reproducing the recording without adding any artificial ‘bloom’ to the sound. Another thing I noticed almost immediately was the frequency range from extreme bass to extreme treble was remarkably smooth - no apparent gaps in the frequencies and, for my ears at least, no significant boosting of bass or treble. This is a feature that is always welcome on IEM’s - my Magaosi K3 Pro’s definitely appear to have ‘gaps’ which kinda sound like small satellite speakers paired with a massive subwoofer. Bass It’s tempting to say that the FD1’s lack the very lowest bass registers but when I tried some of my darker ‘trance’ tracks they deliver bass in spades. The bass is really nice and tight though. They sort of remind me of the fast bass you get on some balanced armature headphones. To sum up - deep, not flabby, detailed and fast. Mids When I first tried the FD1’s, they were a little ‘shouty’ in the upper mids. This seemed to calm down a little after a couple of hours of listening (although it’s possible my brain did all the burning). The FD1’s certainly can pull details out of my recordings though - I’m genuinely able to hear tiny details (vocallists breathing, additional echos, track layering). They’re perhaps a little ‘strident’ still in the upper mids - this is something I’m normally very sensitive to - but they still sound great to me. Highs Perhaps slightly reduced compared to the 1More Triple Drivers for example, but they don’t suffer with this. Cymbals perhaps lack some of the metallic ‘sheen’ that can be found with balanced armature drivers, the high details still shine through. I think the best description I can give is that they’re slightly more ‘mellow’ than 1More or Magaosi K3 Pro’s - but this is a sound character I really like. Dynamics The Fiio FD1’s are surprisingly dynamic. To me, they share a very similar sound character with the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10’s - that’s high praise in my opinion as I rate them very highly. Faster than I expected, sufficiently sensitive to be driven to very high levels with basic players and phones and not so sensitive that you continually hear line noise either. Conclusion I'm really impressed with these headphones. They offer a taste of the high-end at a budget price. They're comfortable, sound great and don't require any esoteric hardware to drive them to high levels. Whilst they're not the best for external isolation, they also don't have too much 'thud' when you're walking around with them. Very highly recommended.
Rick Hussey