Intriguing topic, right?
When we got another request from a couple of friends to give our advice on which IEMs to buy — we have decided that this would become our next blog topic instead of suggesting something quietly. We currently have many IEMs with different tonality and sound signatures — why not letting our friends decide for themselves instead of just asking our opinion. And why not sharing it to the world afterwards?!
The main idea behind this material is to find how much different people audio perception deviates from each other. At the same time we want to understand whether the general terms used by audio reviewers (like us) to describe a certain product do often coincide with customer own opinion and help them to make the final decision. So, let the experiment begin…
Species 1: Galina. Female, age ~33 (who knows, she wouldn’t tell if we’d ask :). She is an artist (painter and designer) and also teaches English. Her interests outspread far more than that and she has even been spotted in radio controlled aircrafts manipulation or sitting close to a piano confessing that she once got a degree and successfully graduated from musical school.
Back to the subject of our interest: Galina is not experienced (nub 🙂 in IEMs and her sessions of listening to music is quite rare. Furthermore, no obvious experience with HiRes sources and capable setups. On the other hand — she has a tendency to gid deeper into technical stuff and can express herfself when it comes to questioning her opinion.
Species 2: Dmitriy. Male, age 31. Former karting sportsman, currently active in technical design and engineering. He is also involved and devoted to R|C hobby, aquired several trophies in this sports.
Far from being audiophile, listens to music on rare occasions using a smartphone and his Sure SRH440 headphones. No previous experience with modern IEMs and HiRes sources.
Both species came to the point that they want more music in their lives, both are hungry for high sound quality and both behave like zombies while waiting for their Hidizs AP80 DAPs to arrive which were ordered during kickstarter campaign. Furthermore, both’s ears are not professionaly trained which coincides with 99% world population making the experiment even more valuable for most of the people.
P.S: yes, they are engaged. Perhaps, this won’t compromise the results of this experiment due to some suspicious similarities in their behavior pattern. No other perfectly matching species around, therefore, we’d proceed with this material 🙂
In order for this experiment to run smooth, we have done several prepations involving some equipment, processes and guidelines.
Hidizs AP80 HiRes DAP was chosen as the main source and Hidizs AP200 + Shanling M0 as additional sources in case if anyone doubts its performance. Concerning the will of finding the best IEMs match for recently purchased AP80 by both species — it is not a surprise why this DAP played the main role.
We have also prepared the following IEMs for this test:
- Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ED16 (ZS7) — hybrid, ~$20
- Magaosi HLSX-808 — hybrid, ~$20
- Hidizs EP-3 — dynamic, ~$20
- Geek Wold GK3 — dynamic, ~$20
- BQYEZ KB100 — hybrid, ~$50
- Kinera Seed — hybrid, ~$50
- Shozy Zero — dynamic, ~$60
- Dawnwood ST-08 (Knight) — dynamic, ~$70
- Hidizs Seeds — dynamic, ~$90
- Earnine EN1J — armature, ~$105
- Magaosi K3 HD — hybrid, ~$110
- Anew U1 — dynamic, ~$130
- Kinera IDUN — hybrid, ~$140
- LZ (LZ HIFI AUDIO) A5 — hybrid, ~$270
Pretty wide distribution of price in under $300 range and covering all types of IEMs technologies excluding something more scarce as planar earphones which really exceed this budget… Again, most of the potential or beginner audiophiles would vote with their wallets for something included in this range rather than jumping straight to $3.000 models.
Blind evaluation process and guidelines:
Prior letting anyone to grab our IEMs we have declared some guidelines and rules of the game: all products were out of their boxes and randomly placed on the table, no close examining allowed, same listening material for everyone, ~3H deadline, no opinion and conclusion sharing until asked to do so. We have also prepared flat surface with «cheap», «expensive» | «warm», «neutral», «bright» stickers on X and Y axis for our participants to identify their findings about each single model.
Shootout by Galina:
Galya was the first candidate to pass the experiment. It took her about 1.5 hours to go over all IEMs with several back and forth iterations with the most favorite ones. Some were thrown aside due to uncomfortable fit, some were painful for her to listen.
She has ended up with few options which had the best fit and the most appealing sound to her liking and she also given further comments on each one of those.
Here is how Galya has distributed IEMs across our evaluation chart:
Peculiar results… At the very top she has placed Hidizs Seeds with a final battle between those and Shozy Zero. The was a tough decision for her cause she tried Seeds and Zero over and over again commenting that Seeds have more balanced sound and Zero have a better fit. Moreover, she likes neutral or warmer sound and prefers the lower end which are main characteristics of both models tonality indeed. Therefore, she has ended up with Hidizs Seeds and Shozy Zero the second best for her next purchase.
Here is a short interview with her about this experiment and final choice (English CCs are there, don’t forget to enable it):
Shootout by Dmitry:
Dmitriy spent the same amount of time for the test focusing mainly on the IEMs he liked from the very first track. Some were also moved to outsiders due to fit or unpleasant sound reasons and only few options taking his full attention.
His distribution of IEMs on evaluation chart was closer to our own findings with few significant inclinations.
The most appealing models for him were Kinera IDUN, LZ A5, Hidizs Seeds and Shozy Zero. He has also been able to identify the most expensive ones judging from its sound quality — LZ A5. But Kinera IDUN was almost as good and had a better fit for him which is second important characteristics while he chooses, right after the sound quality. He has also mentioned Hidizs Seeds several times for its balanced sound but not very comfortable fit and Shozy Zero for its warmth that he wouldn’t really prefer over more neutral tonality.
Surprisingly for us, he has also mentioned KZ ED16 for the sound and more or less comfortable fit… Our personal opinion is that there were much more capable rivals other than KZ ED16 with similar sound signature but more carefull tuning (Magaosi HLSX, BQEYZ KB100). But its his choice and we won’t argue.
(English CCs are there, don’t forget to enable it)
No doubt that all people perceive sound differenty. Some are more succeptible to bass, some can hear more extension of the treble. They all form their own opinion about certain earphones with such factors as comfortable fit and appealing signature or tonality playing the major role. Even a much higher cost regularly acting as better SQ indicator would not convince a mature person to give up his own beliefs.
As you have already spotted there were few correct evaluations on our resulting chart with few severe misjudjements and some peculiar outsiders. Our personal findings deviate much but we are not here to convince the participants to change their minds. We believe that most of wrong picks require much more time to evaluate correctly and to disclose their potential. This only works in ideal world which is far from our reality in which a mere customer would not spend more than 15 minutes making a final choice basing it upon his first impression…
One of the positive conclusions from this experiment is that when a person can clearly define which characteristics he is looking for — we, as a reviewers and more experienced evaluators, can really give him a clue which model might appeal to him. Galya always searched for neutral or warm and intimate sound and our guess was Hidizs Seeds or Shozy Zero before she had made her choice. Dmitriy was less specific in his demands, talking mostly about neutral sound and good resolution. Our initial guesses about him were Hidizs Seeds, Kinera IDUN, BQEYZ KB100, Dawnwood ST-08. Two matches there showing that our theory works…
Concerning price to sound quality ratio and lots of wrong guesses there — we can address the same problem again — lack of time to give a proper evaluation. We wouldn’t make 100% correct amount of guesses in such kind of experiment but we are definitely ready to place IEMs in 0-50, 50-150, 150-300 price groups judging upon their sound quality. Current IEMs in each of those groups show common characteristics with very rare significant advatages over their class rivals. Moreover, earphone resolution, layering and overall tuning grows proportionally with the price. But this requires lots of iterations and far more trained ears.
Finally, we would like to emphasize two main conclusions of this experiment: first, all people have different sound perception and second, reviews are helpful only in case if you can clearly state your own expecation and find the corresponding terms and descriptions in the reviews afterwards. At least, it worked for our friends despite a huge deviation between our perceptions of a good sound.