Macaw GT600S Review - By Gilly

Macaw GT600S Review
by Gilly



Shoutout to Penon Audio for the review sample - I am in no way affiliated with Penon beyond receiving this sample for review, and have received no compensation for offering my unbiased opinion beyond this review unit.

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When I first saw the GT600S and read the spec sheet, a few things stood out: hybrid driver configuration, metal housings, ergonomic concha-fitting design, and replaceable cables.

These are all components of my ideal IEM, so, needless to say, I was intrigued.

Design and Build Quality


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When the 600S arrived in my mailbox, I wasn’t disappointed. The craftsmanship is excellent. The steel housings are a touch heavier than I’d like, but they mostly disappear once they’re in the ear; if they used titanium for the next version, I would be really excited. 
The CNC job here is top-notch, and for those who were unhappy with the edge on the GT100, it seems Macaw has heard your feedback: the 600S has rounded, impeccably machined surfaces on the ear-facing part of the housings, despite retaining the outward-facing appearance of the GT100, and the comfort is great. I can sleep in these, but YMMV; the female MMCX connector is housed in a slightly rectangular tube, which I’d like to see rounded/smoothed for good measure, but it doesn’t affect comfort for me personally. Overall, these feel sturdy and well-made, and I’m really happy that they have MMCX connectors so I can use my bluetooth cable.

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The included cable is a black braided OFC wire, with a very unique, contoured metal y-split with short strain reliefs on each end; a nice touch. The straight jack is also metal, with the jack end tapered to fit, presumably, in most smartphone cases (it fits all of mine except an off-brand battery case for my old iPhone that has a big chin), and includes a sizeable rubber strain relief. It has built-in molded ear guides, which I enjoy. A nice design overall - assuming it holds up over time (I’ve had this one for about 2-3 weeks), the cable strikes me as being higher quality than that provided by most high end earphone makers, clearly had more thought put into it than any stock cable I’ve seen to date, even in earphones ten times its price.


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For overall build quality, construction, materials, etc, I have to give the GT600S a solid 9/10. They bothered to use metal, which even most high end manufacturers won’t touch, and the craftsmanship and attention to detail is obvious.

Moving on to the sound, the GT600S sports a signature that I’m familiar with, and fond of for many genres of music: it’s a noticeable u-shape signature with accentuated lower bass and upper mids/lower treble. The bass and treble are emphasized, but not too much - it’s appropriate for any music that isn’t mixed with extra bass. It’s a signature that really brings out the presence in string instruments and female vocals. 

I’ve only heard two records so far that made the bass stand out a bit more than I liked; I find it to be pleasantly emphasized with most music. Extension is respectable, and I would neither characterize it as especially slow or fast. The decay is appropriate, and it very rarely steps out of its place. It’s important to note that the bass emphasis comes in low, rather than the somewhat sloppy-sounding midbass that is emphasized in most headphones geared towards mass consumption, and is never more than 10dB north of the lowest midrange frequencies, so it’s never uncontrolled or overly boomy to my ears.


The mids are a touch recessed. They are rather detailed, and very transparent, but occasionally lack the real soul I like to hear in vocals. They definitely do female vocals better than male. They don’t lack detail or clarity, but I do find myself sometimes wishing they were more forward in the mix. It’s by no means a deal breaker, and nowhere near as noticeable as with some other v-shaped IEMs, but it’s something that those considering the GT will want to consider if they listen to a lot of vocal-centric music. Vocals come through clear and detailed on their own;l solos can be downright beautiful.

The treble is similar to the bass - it is mildly emphasized, and very detailed, but can be a bit problematic with poor recordings or tracks mixed with extra lower treble energy. Most music is presented clearly without any harshness; any deviations are again less than 10dB from the lowest points of the midrange, so harshness is absent in properly recorded/mixed music. The real emphasis to my ears is in the lower treble, which seems to match the expectations established by the graph


In my opinion, this tuning is actually a rather wise one - a study of the outer ear’s resonant frequencies reveals that the outer ear actually amplifies frequencies between 2.5-4khz - exactly where the emphasis is in the GT600S’s graph. In theory, an earphone would eliminate this resonance, which means that compensating for the loss of the frequencies amplified by the outer ear actually brings the signature closer to being subjectively neutral.


Sources:

LG V20 in HiFi Mode (Quad ES9218)
Schiit Fulla
JDS Labs The Element


Tracks used for testing (HiFi streaming on TIDAL):

Snarky Puppy - Shofukan
Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song
David Maxim Micic - Electric Fields
HUW - Beyond Form
Linkin Park - A Place For My Head
Vulfpeck - Animal Spirits
Griz - My Friends and I
Radiohead - Paranoid Android

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Impressions

Snarky Puppy - Shofukan

This is one of my standby test tracks. It’s got about half a jillion instruments in it, and if I can hear them all clearly with an earphone when the percussion goes nuts at 5:20 and the track climaxes around 5:42, it pleases me.
The GT600S passes the test - barely. There is blending at 5:18, and the treble smears on cymbals a little bit at high volumes at 5:42, but at what I consider normal/healthy listening volumes, it gives them a really nice shimmer. The bass, both electric and synthesized, growls but stays out of the way of woodwinds. Toms have a really nice presence, and a good snap - they never bleed. Guitars are set in the middle of the mix and have great tone and decay. Trumpets have great definition; I’ve heard earphones that gives them a bit more presence/body, but they all cost well over double the GT600S’s modest $100 US price.
The only instrument I found a bit underrepresented was the saxes around 2:00, but upon further inspection with my HD650, it’s in the recording/mix rather than the GT600S’s presentation. Everything comes through just as clearly on the GT600S at this point in the song as it does on the HD650, which is pretty damn impressive, even if the timbre isn’t quite as natural and the stage is obviously not as spacious - it would be a miracle if it were.
The GT600S even picks up some really minute, wonky, fun synth and guitar play that goes on at 2:10. Talk about attention to detail...gotta love Snarky Puppy.


Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song

For as long as I can remember, this song has been my favorite track to wake up to, or even just put on for one of those sleeping late mornings where I feel like I just don’t quite want to leave dreamland yet.
It’s also a really great track of hearing the timbre of guitars, since they work alone for the first few minutes of the song.
The GT600S does give a bit of shimmer to guitars that they don’t normally have, but I do think it’s actually more natural compared to how guitars are normally portrayed - acoustic sounds crisp, with strums and plucks clearly audible, and even though they aren’t quite as rich as they might be in real life, the slight bump around 250hz does give them a nice open, almost natural feel.


David Maxim Micic - Electric Fields

This is one of my new favorite tracks. I think David Maxim Micic is a genius, and if you are into progressive metal at all (Rush, Dream Theater, etc), or if you like thematic post rock like Explosions in the Sky, you really have to check him out. His music is incredible.
Micic mixes his tracks with a bit of extra bass, and it shows through with the GT600S, but it’s not much of a detriment IMO. The guitars and synths have great bite and presence, and you can definitely feel the drums. The toms and snares might have a bit too much presence for some, but I welcome it - it can be a bit splashy at times, but here it reminds me more of a live performance in a small venue.


HUW - Beyond Form

HUW does some really cool indietronica that I literally discovered while doing this review because it was on the same compilation as Shofukan. It’s not a track I know well, so I won’t go on for long about it, but I threw it in here because it’s a really cool track and sounds great with the GT600S.
Beyond Form offers a good demonstration of the GT600S’s ability to separate percussion, strings, and synths. There is some serious chaos going on around 4:30, and the GT600S does an impressive job of sorting through it. This is the kind of track that I think the GT is really made for.

Linkin Park - A Place For My Head

The song starts off with some great finger work on electric, and the GT does it justice. Electric guitars come through clearly throughout the track. Cymbals do sound a touch artificially enhanced, and the vocals are perhaps a touch pulled back. Some vocal sibilance is occasionally audible. This isn’t one of the better recordings on the list, so I’m not entirely surprised, but I think it’s still important to note - not all music is mixed well.
Still, the GT brings a visceral yet unobtrusive bass presence to the song. I like it. The deep strings (cello I think?) come through clearly and with good body at 1:50. Toms come through more clearly than on most cans due to the extra upper mid/lower treble presence - think they often get a bit glossed over when this track is heard through basser/warmer headphones. I like the extra snap the GT gives them. 
I will say that the lack of emphasis in the male vocal range/lower mids doesn’t do this song justice. This tuning definitely won’t do justice to music like jazz or metal that rely a great deal on male vocal presence; they seem to lack a little soul for those more raw, emotional male vocal performances.


Vulfpeck - Animal Spirits

I mentioned earlier that some tracks came through with a bit more bass than I would like on the GT - Vulfpeck is the second culprit here. I think this track is mixed to be a bit bassier, like the Micic track mentioned earlier. Still, it comes through as plump and satisfying rather than fuzzy or obtrusive in my opinion, but I do thing most lovers of neutral sound will prefer listening to Vulfpeck through flatter cans.
I will say, the upper mid/lower treble emphasis does some great things for the piano and higher male vocals in this track. I think Vulfpeck deliberately mixes their music for that warm, analog, vinyl-like sound, and the GT does a good job of delivering that design while also bringing forward the other elements of the track without allowing any single element to dominate. The woodwind sprinkled throughout the track sounds great too. 
The emphasis on upper mids rather than lower mids does obscure the intelligibility of the deliberately compressed vocals towards the end of the track.
Some will prefer a more neutral, or perhaps even brighter sounding can for this track, but I think the GT sounds good enough. 


Griz - My Friends and I

I’m a big Griz fan. I love his soulful, funky interpretation of the fusion between hip hop style instrumentals and modern electronic music he brings to the table.
There’s definitely a bit more bass in this track than the others, but it’s definitely intentional this time, and when it comes to Griz, I think that’s great. The wompy bass isn’t for everyone, but when I’m in the mood, Griz is my favorite, and this track delivers a really awesome, upbeat vibe with some seriously thumpy bass.
The GT doesn’t disappoint. It brings the womp and rumble of the lowest of low tons to the front of the mix. I’ve listened to this track riding my bike a few times, and the GT definitely bring the vibe I want for jamming out to Griz and bringing the drive to my workout.
This track isn’t just about the bass though. Synths are there, the hand claps are surprisingly clear when the bass isn’t thumping over the top of them, and the brass sounds great too; it’s not meant to be at the front of this track, but it’s definitely still there.
This is hip hop, though, and the GT doesn’t let the vocals get drowned out. Everything is clearly intelligible, and the vocals are never drowned out by the bass, even when it womps hard.


Radiohead - Paranoid Android

A standby test track of mine that I think is well on its way to becoming a classic, Paranoid Android is another great track for acoustic and some unconventional percussion. The acoustic is front and center here, and drums are still felt but definitely take a back seat, as intended. Thom Yorke comes through perfectly, and the upper midrange emphasis does his voice nothing but favors. When bass enters the mix around 0:50, he never loses his center stage, even though bass tones envelope the sonic stage. 
Listening volume makes a big difference with this track. If you aren’t as interested in the bass, drop the volume, and Yorke (along with the guitars, which image nicely) become the absolute focus of the presentation. Crank the volume a bit, though, and you get a face full of the electric guitar’s distortion (not the bad kind) and the bass plucks are nice and full.
I have to say, the synths and extra guitar distortion come through fantastically at the end of the track - this is one of the better overall representations of this track I’ve heard through an earphone.


Summary

In summary, I’m pretty happy overall with the GT600S. It has a lot of what I’ve been looking for in an earphone: metal housings, MMCX connectors, and a fun sound. If I had to make recommendations for the next version, I’d say tuning the U-signature down a bit to help bring vocals further forward, and maybe adding another armature or two (or perhaps just a different one) to further improve treble extension and vocal body should be the goal, along with titanium housings rather than steel to improve weight and comfort. That said, adding all of that would probably put this earphone in the $300 range at best; for the $100 that Macaw is asking for the GT600S, I’d be making unrealistic demands to complain much. I’m really happy to have gotten my hands on these, and will be looking forward to Macaw’s future offerings if they can improve on the GT600S’s very forgivable shortcomings at a reasonable price point.

4 comments :

  1. Thanks for introducing me to Snark Puppy =)

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  2. How well would these handle classical music? You mention a slightly recessed midrange, which suggests to me they might not be very well suited for it, but what would you say?

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  3. And also, how would they compare to other products in the sub-hundred price range, like say the Hifiman RE400, when it comes to classical music (and generally)? What would be your recommendation?

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