The CTM Da Vinci X Review

-no snarky comment needed

Written by ngoshawk


Pros – Best box I have ever seen.
Beautiful looks.
Sound, which is intoxicating.
Sparkle, detail, spaciousness.
Sound stage is very, VERY good.
No weaknesses of which to speak.
Excellent accessories.
THE BOX!!!

Cons – Ummm…still thinking about that.
Maybe the Torx screws, which could nick the finish?
Still thinking…

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Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X-retail $2400usd
Da Vinci X: https://cleartunemonitors.com/product_detail/240/Da-Vinci-X/#top
Intro: When one finds out they are on a tour there are several layers of response. There is the initial coolness of being included into the club (sometimes pretty exclusive) while getting to listen to something pretty sweet. There is the next layer, which defines how long you have to wait; usually for me about ½ way through (the end is ideal, because you get the critter for a couple of extra days…). There would then be the layer of reading the other reviews of that product (if it has been out for a bit). Or NOT reading those reviews, since you want the anticipation/reaction to be raw. Next would be the laying up of the review specifics so you can focus upon the listening and review itself upon arrival. For something completely new, you must take especial care for you could well be the first. And NEXT to last is the arrival of said critter. You open the box, give a quick listen, fire off emails stating “unit in hand” or some such nonsense and then proceed directly to daughter-units Futbol practice (sigh no listen…). And then the last layer (the icing to me, and the best) …the listening while you write. Oh my, that is a darn good layer, too.
That is a fairly typical response to the way I see reviewing tour units. Due to the short-term nature of time involved, you really want to listen as much as possible. That’s kind of the point. As an added “layer,” you might have to investigate the company itself and products. I did somewhat here, but had heard good things regarding CTM, so I called that part good. Another layer would be that BOTH the IX and X were included, which is a definite benefit. I rather enjoy comparing, so this makes a natural comparison with what I have on hand (see list below).
As luck would have it, I just finished a couple of online grad classes, and could afford time again to the reviewing process (and more listening!!!). So, upon arrival (earlier than I thought, but that’s a good thing here, so…), I hooked the X up to my QP2R and listened. Man, an excellent pairing using the attached 3.5 se cable was wrought from Bandito. Tyler’s voice was fully in my head, and articulate. Succinctity of sound permeated my cranial matter with excellent detail. A very good start.
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Specs:
Input Sensitivity:
117.2dB @ 1kHz
Freq Response:
20 Hz to 20 kHz
Speaker:
Single Armature Balanced
Impedance:
43.8 ohm @ 1 kHz
Noise Isolation:
-26dB
Input Connector:
1/8″ (3.5mm)
Acoustic Filters:
150Ω and 300Ω
What you get when we ship your In-Ear:
  • Your Da Vinci X Universal Fit In-Ear Monitor
  • Standard 50″ Cable
  • Premium 4-Wire Hybrid Cable
  • Interchangeable Sound Filters
  • Hard Case
  • 1/4″ to 1/8″ Adapter
  • Airplane Adapter
  • Cleaning Tool
  • S,M,L Silicon and Foam Tips
  • Double Flange Silicon Tips
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Gear used/compared:
UM Mentor V3
CTM Da Vinci IX
Campfire Audio Atlas (3.5 cable)
64Audio U8 (2.5 bal cable)
Thebit Opus #2
Macbook Pro/iFi iTubes2/iDAC2/micro iDSD Black Label
Shanling M5/iBasso PB3
Questyle QP2R
Songs used:
Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:
Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots-Trench
Unboxing:
I have espoused in the past about having either a plain box, which then focuses on the critter inside, or a box laden with information surrounding the company and IEM of choice. The CTM approach with the Da Vinci would be of the second variety, and I must admit I am fascinated by the box. Who would want the company with an IEM named for one of the greatest Scientific-designing minds of all-time to have an ordinary box? Certainly not me. Chock full of valuable information, you get a sense of efficiency of packaging (yes even though the box is on the larger side) as well as packed with that information. Presentations gets an A+ here.
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Fit-N-Finish:
As mentioned in the IX review, the two main halves are held together by Torx screws. Nary a scratch is had on the screws and fit of the upper half is perfect to the lower. Fit of the nozzles is very good, with only a slight difference in angle noticeable on the right IEM. Mentioned already in another review, we will leave it at that.
Made of black brushed alloy, you can still “promote” fingerprints on the IEM, and the chrome “X,” which crosses the back can gather prints as well. Not much can be done here. Finish is tight and good, no imperfections noted or differing layers of finish to be noted.
In-ear fit is again very good as mentioned. Better than my Mentor V3, which frankly is a PITA. Plug in, insert in ear, run cable over ear, push play and go. That’s it. Nicely done CTM.
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Initial listen:
Plugging in to the Shanling M5/iBasso PB3 combo, the gorgeous 2.5bal cable provided an almost fruity sound on Keb Mo’s Tell Everybody I Know. I do believe Keb Mo is still an unsung hero of recent Blues genre. His songs are sweet, supported by wonderful musicians, and this particular song is not different. Starting with the Southern sound of the Dobro, he brings in a light and airy keyboard/marimba-type of instrument. We delve even further south towards the Caribbean as a result. Fruity, fun, airy and an extremely pleasant sound from the X and that cable.
Before said song, my initial songs were listed above, and I found the X to be on the somewhat brighter side of life, with lively bass, even if it didn’t delve too deeply. My Mentor is somewhat bass-shy, and I love the sound signature. They are in the same price bracket, so good to know that two can catch my eye. Running Roger Daltrey’s The Love You Save, besides his voice taking front stage (oh darn), the bass line comes on first letting you know what this is all about. Rich of sound, quality and density; the X comes across as commanding here. Taking an active role in providing the sound here, you marvel at the presentation and layering knowing that Roger is 74 years young and can still bring it. An excellent album presented properly.
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Follow that with the homemade 12-string of Junior Brown and you have essentially come full circle. His songs are always on the sharp, brighter side of life and this is no exception. A song I know well, The Better Half promotes a solid bass guitar line, melded perfectly with the singular snare giving that western-railroad sound. Throw in his guitar and rich, deep, melodic voice and this is a darn fine setup. His albums are not to be missed. Nor his small-venue concerts.
I guess it is a rock kind of intro to be had, because Joe Satriani’s fabulous Invisible comes on and you simply must turn the volume up. His guitar ability is right up there with my all-time favorite, Stevie Ray Vaughan, but in a different sense. Technique-wise Satriani has few peers. Simply superb. Combine that with his quick changes of pace and volume levels, and you have a sound, which could bring lesser IEM’s into trouble. You know the ones of which I talk…the ones that cannot handle technically-complicated songs. No problem for the X.
Backing off to something a bit mellower in Bonnie Raitt’s Love Letter, you appreciate the X’s response to female vocals. Sensuous, strong and full of vitality Bonnie’s voice plays extremely well through the X. No muddying or shadiness of sound. Presentation is as it should be. Solid and honest.
Finishing off with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s I’m Cryin’ you really have experienced all you need to formulate an “educated” opinion. Running towards his guitar licks, you scramble for the front row, knowing full well there isn’t a bad seat in the house, so why bother. Well, because it is the rush of the music, which draws you in. His sumptuous voice and guitar, which has not equal in my mind solidify whether the pleasure of your listen is worthy of inclusion intro “your club” or not. Many times, this is how I approach a review. Would this be something I would add to my stable of audio gear or not? When one shells out north of twenty-four Ben’s you have a right to know if the pleasure is placebo or long term. I have made that mistake on some, but luckily not at this level of price.
So, if you want to quit reading after this next bit, you will still understand about 90% of where I come from on the X (and the IX). When I had the Mason/Mentor V3’s in possession, I quickly realized that I liked the Mentor more. It’s presentation of bass and overall characteristics lent themselves more closely to my ideal. This was not the first time that I picked the lesser of the two on an “ultra-tour” as you might name it. I liked the u18T more than the Fourte and liked the u12T more as well. I would spend my hard-earned on either and almost pulled the trigger on a B-stock u18t…almost. I already had the Mentor on the way, so I thought my pocketbook would close up on itself…The CTM Da Vinci IX/X IS something I would spend my hard-earned on. I would add either of them to my arsenal, and it would be good. Both have excellent characteristics, which will be defined below and as part of the comparison section. So, there you go, you can quit reading and look at the cool pictures if you like.
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Delving deeper, no really!
Hotel California from Hell Freezes Over is an incredible song to start with, and a fitting end to that greatest song of all-time debate. This song screams of Spanish dancers sashaying across the stage in long flowing dress and impeccable knee-high formal boots on the male. Just a superb representation of the song. I am thoroughly in love with the song. This is how I know that some are not worthy of use on this song. Either too bright and sibilant or confusing the sound because they cannot handle the complication of song; there is no hiding poor representation here. None.
The X comes through at the top. The meme above fits here as well. Come at me Bro! The way the song is represented, with the deep visceral bass and Don Henley’s voice coercing another level is followed by that Spanish Guitar of Joe Walsh & Glenn Frey. Simply incredible song presented as it should be. Fantastic.
Moving on to the iFi stack, Tidal Premium and my MBP, the X came along without problem. On It’s Just My Heat Talk’n from Los Lonely Boys, the presentation is again light, but not faint. The song itself is a remarkable juxtaposition of South-Texas blues and Central American staccato beat. Each strum of guitar is felt and positions well. No misgivings with the instruments. Done well, the song is. Added in was XBass+, but even without, the presentation gives that bit of thump down low, even if the song is a lighter arrangement. That tube sound from the iTubes2 gives the X some genuine soul on more than just this song.
Again, the X shows it can compete with the best when it comes to a diverse genre of music. I am again impressed.
I do get a sense of a more laid-back vocal presentation. Instead of being out front leading the charge, the vocals provide the necessary support to all. Throw on Porn Star, and the bass guitar line is the main course here. A great song, with varied beats and instruments, this is another song, which could be trouble for some due to the diversity of sound. But, the X plays with aplomb. You almost get the sense of the X grooving in your ears. Not bad.
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Trees from twenty one pilots is a cacophony of sound exuberance. Almost hiding before the bold beat comes in, the song develops slowly, but man when it comes on, there is no hiding an IEM, which cannot keep up with the speed. Yet again, the X playfully comes. This is a rollicking good time. This song pretty much defines that the X can be EQ’d to your personal preferences. Driving the bass deeper with the addition, the songs crescendo is met with little resistance and finishes a fine tune from a fine IEM. Man…this is getting good…
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Comparisons:
CTM Da Vinci X ($2400usd) v UM Mentor V3 ($2100usd, sale):
The first thing that struck me switching to the V3 from the X was that the V3 sounded absolutely muddy. Mids sounded congested, and lacked the crispness of the X. The V3 definitely has a “meaty” sound to it. Better depth on the bass, the V3 is ahead down low. With an almost rolled off top end, the V3 lacks sparkle as well. The X has an air about it that is superb. When the V3 came on to the market, it was priced at about $2400usd, but has since been put on sale. At this price, a comparison to the IX might be better warranted. But you will get that, too.
The V3 (with the copper side on for the cable) definitely hits the warm side of the equation. Switching to the silver cable (by switching sides) the field evens out a bit, and that mid-drop all but goes away. Fit of the V3 falls behind as well. With a much longer nozzle, the fit can be a bit tricky. Throw in the stiff cable and you get an almost cumbersome affair.
Through all of that, I love the V3. I love how it sounds. I love that almost “dirty” sound. That down low and “it means business” sound. To me, the V3 is that poster your parents didn’t want you to put up in your room as a kid. The one with the killer legs. The one that would kick your sorry arse, then tend you back to health. Man, it’s baaaaaaddd. It joined my stable over the Mason V3 simply because to me it presented a better bass presence. I liked them both, but the Mentor V3 is the one that came home with me. If I had heard the Da Vinci X at the time, and had my choice, I would really have to think about that, and might have come home with the X. It is that good.

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Switching to the M5/PB3 combination, the V3 brings things back in to line, presenting a better mid line than before. The iTubes2 most definitely had more of an effect on the V3 than the X. Using Jumpsuit from Trench, the presentation is again full and without reservation. THIS is the sound, which drew me to the V3. Solid bass, excellent vocals and a warm signature, which matches my taste. On Bandito you anticipate the end where the song cuts loose. Some IEM’s would falter here due to the complexity of detail. Neither does here. You turn it up and enjoy. Switching back to the X, the air between notes is something at which to marvel. Detail is paramount and if that detail were not of the caliber it is, the song would falter. The X provides that almost delicate balance of detail and a warm touch. I’m not even sure what reference sounds like (no training), but I imagine the X is the one to shoot for. That is not to say it is dry and analytical. Far from it. I mentioned fruity earlier. Fruity and airy would be apt descriptors.

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CTM Da Vinci X ($2400usd) v CA Atlas ($1300usd):
Flipping to the Atlas, we get the clear bass winner here. Hands down. The flagship model from Campfire Audio (before the Solaris), the Atlas brings much to the table as it tries to muscle in to this territory. With a wide and tall sound stage, there is an expansiveness to the bass, which makes you think of an orchestra filling the concert hall with rich vibrant sound. Again, with a lower treble threshold than the X, the Atlas presents a rounded sound, emphasizing a slight mid-forward sound along with that bass line, which is to die for by the way. If it was only bass, this would not even be a contest. But when you look at the overall picture (albeit unfairly due to the price difference), the X shows itself well again.
With a more detailed presentation than the Atlas, there is no getting lost in the plot line as a result. You can clearly see the path and it is a sunlit mountain air type of day. The Atlas on the other hand, grabs you by the hand and tells you soft but deeply, “TRUST me.” And you then get on with the journey a bit scared and taken aback. Not bad mind you for the journey is good, just in a different manner than the X. The Atlas is still one of my favorites, because it has that fairly unique sound, presenting exactly how far a single DD can go. And it does an extraordinary job at it. But it simply cannot compete with 10 BA drivers, and twice the price.
The Finale, sadly (not really!!):
Throughout this, I have waxed on about a certain level of detail and a “fruitiness” to the sound. I do not mean this in a bad way, no. To me, the X would be that first batch of freshly-made Sangria for that fine Spring evening when you have friends over to celebrate the end of Winter. Even if there is still snow on the ground.
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There is an openness to the sound, which can become quite intoxicating. You dare not listen too long, for you will become embroiled in the X’s spell, not able to rise due to the excellent Sangria. Well, I could think of worse things to do with my time…Speaking of time, I do appreciate the time I had with the IX & X. Albeit short, the time was spent utilizing many hours listening to tunes galore, DAP’s galore, combinations galore. Some late nights were had, and at the end…I did not mind because the X’s sound kept things lively, open, airy and fruity. In fact, so good were they, that I may most likely replace my TOTL IEM with the X.
I like fruit.
I am beyond smitten with the sound and cannot shake that feeling. Clarksdale Getaway from Charlie Musselwhite gives that end all sound. A driving down home blues tune, with his raw seedy harmonica filled in with the jam of a Fender, held together by bass and drums really ties the sound together. This is good stuff, and I do not want it to end.
I profusely thank the CTM crowd for sending their flagship IEM’s on tour. The tremendous trust put into each of us is an honor we must cherish and hold true. Plus, we may just end up purchasing one of these fine critters in the end…
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*Edit: they did win me over, I purchased the X…I like fruit.


Senfer DT6 Review
-Audiofool Reviews


Disclaimer:  I purchased the DT6 from NiceHck at retail cost because I had heard enough good things about it that I wanted to see what the fuss was about.    I also purchased the NiceHck N3 (discounted) at the same time in order to compare the two new piezo-electrics.   

Unboxing / Packaging:
The DT6 comes packaged in the same style box as the previously reviewed DT8.  It is a slip-cover style but only top-opening which makes the style unique to Senfer amongst those I have reviewed.  Inside the lightweight paperboard is a heavier inner box with which uses the warranty card as a top cover.  The earphones themselves are protected by a heavy foam while the accessories are hidden under a paperboard cover in the lower 1/3 of the box.   Overall, well laid out but not overly exciting packaging, more than acceptable considering the asking price.




Accessories / cable: 
The Dt6 comes with a single pair of mid-sized red tips with ribs on the outer surface as well as sets of small, medium, and large single flange black silicone tips. Tips are standard 4.5mm bore size.  The only other accessory provided is a black plastic shirt clip.  The cable provided is the weakest aspect of the DT6.  It has a memory that has remained since taking it out of the box and short of ironing the cable I’m not sure that can be cured.  The Jack is a 3.5mm TRRS variety in a brushed aluminum encasement.  I would have prefered a 90º angled version, but at least the strain relief is good at the jack.  The splitter does not show the same as it has no strain reliefs on either side but does share the brushed metal look of the Jack and the microphone.  The one button mic works well for phone calls but has limited function otherwise due to the single button design.   The cable terminates without memory wires or hooks as they are designed to be worn tip down.  They do have  well labeled mmcx connectors making it easy to discern right and left.   The earpieces have matching red/blue indicators as well.







Build/Fit:
The DT6 features an all metal housing vented to both the interior (single port) and exterior (4 ports).   MMCX connectors are well shielded and very solid.   Nozzles exit the lead edge of the interior with a slight forward rake and are long enough to allow for good depth of insertion.  I did find that the whirlwind large tips were preferable to get the best seal for my ears.  Weight is on par with the Bqeyz or Zs7 and size can best be described as medium-large but due to their shape, they are among the most comfortable designs I have tried for extended wear.   Sometimes tip down wear either feels like they are going to pull out of your ear at any moment due to weight or feels like every movement is transmitted directly to your eardrum by the cable.  Thankfully, neither of those in on display here and the DT6 wears extremely well.






 Internals:
This is the source of my interest in the Senfer DT6.   While plenty of iems in today’s market have a 12mm dynamic driver and a balanced armature but far fewer sport a piezoelectric driver.   The DT6 uses a 7 x 7mm  piezoelectric to handle treble duties and reserves the BA for upper mids and lower treble.    A few other earphones in my collection also use piezo drivers, the NiceHCK N3,  the Artiste DC1, and the Elecom CB1000.  The DC1 and CB1000 and N3 rely on the dynamic to handle all but the treble and then pass off to the piezo tweeter while the DT6 uses an additional mid-range driver.


Sound: 


Worth noting is that the DT6 is harder to drive than its sensitivity and impedance numbers would suggest.   Specs list 32Ω with a sensitivity of 110dB/mw which would suggest these could be well driven by a smart phone or tablet.  Truthfully these take about 25% more power than others with similar specs so I would question the impedance value as Piezo-electric devices are by nature very high impedance devices and while the 32Ω listed may be the average, it is certainly not what is on display when in actual use.   These need an amp to do their best work.

Bass: 
Sub-bass is present but not forward and provides some rumble without getting murky or coloring the rest of the palette.   Rumble can be increased using EQ for those into EDM or other genres that require more punch than the stock signature provides.  Mid-bass is mildly forward and adds a bit of warmth as it does bleed mildly into the lower mids.    Attack and decay speed is good in the bass but not quite as good as the upper registers where the peizo has amazing speed.


Mids:
Flow from mid-bass to mids is fluid and the mids are neither recessed or excessively forward.   This is really pleasant as vocals are well rendered without feeling like they are behind the other instrumentation or that they are in your face screaming at you.  The amount of detail present in the mids was also surprising as they easily kept up with things above their price point.  I found the mids on the DT6 to be better rendered and more detailed than those on the Mee P1 for example.  Overall, this is probably my favorite part of the DT6 and I was fully expecting the treble to be what commanded my attention.  Mids here are a nice surprise and I certainly hope Senfer will continue this tuning style in their new models as I much prefer it to that of the DT8.


Treble:
Now, having reviewed more than a few Senfer products before, I fully expected the DT6 to be rather bright.   Whoever tunes earphones for Senfer is definitely a fan of a brighter than average tuning with some models bordering on the infamous KZ ZS6 style spike.   Thankfully, again Senfer has stepped up their game and while I would certainly qualify the DT6 as bright, it does not get strident or harsh as some previous models have.   The upside is the detail level is again on par with that of the mids, and while slightly bright, the DT6 did not get fatiguing as the 4in1 did.

Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is well proportioned and not markedly wider than deep but doesn’t extend particularly well in either direction lending a more intimate staging than expected.   Imaging and layering are both better than expected at this price point and follow from the unexpectedly detailed mids and highs.   Spatial cues were well reproduced on tracks like “baba O’riley” with its shifting intro.

Thoughts / Conclusion:
I had heard some good things about the DT6 which is why I purchased them to begin with.  I can now say it was money extremely well spent.  Even with my expectations, I had not thought the DT6 would be this detailed and clean.  Overall the presentation is miles ahead of anything Senfer has done to date and well above its asking price.  These are a very easy recommendation.  Unless you simply cannot stand a bright signature, or have to have as much bass as possible, I find it highly likely you will appreciate the DT6.  They do a lot very well for so little coin.
  • Packaging - 5/10
  • Accessories - 5/10
  • Build Quality - 7/10
  • Bass - 7.5/10
  • Mids - 8/10
  • Treble - 8/10
  • Soundstage - 6/10
  • Imaging - 7/10
6.7/10
 
Summary
Pros:  Good build quality, very comfortable, fantastic mids and treble
Cons:  Cable sucks, odd tip choices, no case provided.








Disclaimer:  Jim at NiceHck was kind enough to send the N3 at a substantial discount for review.   As with most of my review samples, it will likely go to either the schools or the hospital when the review is completed.   This way either it introduces good earphones to the next generation of music lovers (band and choir students) or it goes to someone who can use it to enjoy music and audio books while recovering.   This allows me to review a great many earphones without the questions of conflict of interest that sometimes arise.


Unboxing / Packaging:
The outer packaging is a slip-cover with an inner paperboard box holding the N3 earpieces in the top 2/3 and hiding the cable and accessories in a box in the lower 1/3.    The complete kit consists of the earpieces, three sizes of silicone single flanged tips, the cable, and a cable tie.  No shirt clip or case is provided with the N3.



Cable:

The cable provided with the N3 is silver-plated copper in a smoked housing.  Fitting are gunmetal colored on the jack, splitter, and slider with black MMCX connectors at the upper end.   The jack is of the 90º style I find preferable with the a solid metal casing and good strain relief.  The splitter is matching metal with NiceHCK imprinted on it and N3 imprinted on the chin-slider immediately above it.   At the north end, the cable does have pre-formed earhooks but does not have a memory wire.  The mmcx housings are thick and sturdy and the connections take some force to make.   Overall, I find the cable to be good and much less tangle prone than that which came with the DT6 (my other current piezo review).







Build/Fit:
THe N3 has a machined aluminum alloy housing in a bar shape.  The exterior of each has NickHCK printed in the mid section while the interior of the bar is imprinted with L/R markings although it be impossible to switch the two unless you were going to ear them tip down.   Nozzles are straight inward with no forward rake and have a pronounced lip to hold tips in place.  Perhaps the most unique feature is the U shaped interior of the shell which makes it fit very differently than most iems.  For me, the rear of the N3 sits at a near 45º angle upward from the lead edge.  Forcing the N3 to try and sit flat in the ear is not a comfortable option as the rear arm of the U presses firmly against my ear.  I also found that with the vent being in the shallow portion of the U, it is possible to block the vent depending on how these are worn.












Internals:
The N3 uses a dual layer 10mm dynamic driver paired with a piezo-electric driver to handle the upper frequencies.   Nominal impedance is listed as 55Ω with a sensitivity of 100dB/mw.   As I have found with other in-ears featuring Piezo elements, the N3 needs more power than the specs suggest in order to operate at its best.   Coherency suffers as power goes down as the dynamic seems to drop off more rapidly as power decreases than the piezo.   With higher power output, the drivers are more nearly the same level and overall transitions between the two are less easily detected.   I would recommend not attempting to use the N3 from a smartphone or tablet as neither will be particularly good pairings.   I found the xDSD and Xduoo XP-2 both worked well between a phone and the N3 to provide the best results.




Sound: 
The N3 is tip sensitive and, for my tastes, ships with tips that do not complement it well.  I found the narrow bore tips to push the mid-bass forward, and strengthens an already over-exuberant treble.   I found whirlwinds or Spiral-dots worked much better to tone the mid-bass back a bit and give the mids a bit more room to breathe.   Treble splash was still present and I suspect the tips did almost nothing to it, but it did allow other things to come closer to meeting it which makes it seem a bit more in balance.

Also of note, it was suggested that the N3 needed considerable burn-in (to the tune of 150 hours).  I ran the FR both before and after doing that length burn-in and found any differences to be within the expected standard deviation between runs.    Take that as you will, but to my ears, it did not change appreciably and the graphs seem to bear out that same observation.




Bass: 
Bass extension on the N3 is good, but not exceptional as it drops off rapidly below about 70Hz so anything centered above that sounds good while tones centered below that sound anemic at times.  Sub-bass quantity is limited but can be brought forward with some EQ tweaks.   Mid-bass is a bit more forward, but also somehow overly clean and not as engaging as expected.    The mid-bass is not as well textured or detailed as I would prefer and quite frankly when I had read the specs regarding the carbon nanotube dual driver, I expected better.  I know the technology is capable of it, but this particular version is either not tuned to do so, or not designed well.   Overall, the lows on the N3 are pretty pedestrian and somewhat forgettable.

Mids:
Mids start out well as the lower mids follow from the bass with a clean transition and show a bit better timbre and detail level.  Unfortunately, that takes a turn as you reach into the upper-mids and lower treble where it hits a big spike that makes vocal shouty at times.  The problem here is the “at times” as if you tune the mids using EQ you sometimes get better balance, and at other times the vocal disappears behind other things.   I found the spike made some vocalists sibilant and others excessively nasal sounding.   The same was true for most strings and brass as they came off as either overly aggressive or unnaturally thin.    Male vocals present a particularly interesting phenomena where when singing in the lower registers (chest voice) the vocalist appears to be behind other instrumentation, then when they climb into higher registers (head voice) they take a sudden leap forward.   The N3 has the odd distinction of both being too recessed and too forward for vocals.

Treble:
Here again, we have mixed results.   The lower treble has a spike that dominates the rest of the treble range and gives the N3 a really unnatural and harsh tone at times.   Female vocals that border on sibilant anyway, will go into full fledged ear-shredding mode and cymbals become indistinguishable if played quickly as the hits all run together instead of being distinct.  To make matters worse, decay of the lower treble is slow so those harsh factors extend out and tend to have a linger impact.    As we move above the spike, the upper treble first takes a nosedive and produces a considerable trough at about the 7kHz mark.   Some energy is brought back at about the 12kHz mark which helps give the N3 some air at the top end which would otherwise be lacking.   Again, depending on which range the upper harmonics fall into, an instrument may show air and sparkle, or it may fall dead flat to the ground depending on whether it hits the peak or the trough.


Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage may be the single best thing about the N3.  It is slightly wider than deep, but has good dimensions both ways and gives a very open feel in the overall.  Things like the Cowboy Junkies Trinity sessions really highlight the depth and width of stage and are indeed impressive.    Layering and imaging are also a mixed bag.  With most tracks, instrument separation is good and lends to easy placement of instruments on the stage.  As tracks get really busy, the N3 becomes overwhelmed and the imaging falls apart.



Thoughts / Conclusion:
The N3 seems like a lot of experiments in one package.  Shape is the first and is a mixed result.  For some it is comfortable, for others the lip at the rear pushes against the ear and makes long wear uncomfortable.    The Piezo-electric driver is another experiment, and another mixed result.    Whether the spikes are inherent to the drivers used or a product of the combination of drivers, crossover components, and housings remains to be identified.  It would not surprise me if the 2kHz spike was a resonance between the piezo and the housing while the 4kHz seems more likely to be inherent to the driver itself.   Either way, these unfortunately overshadow the occasional flash of something good underneath.   My hope is that NiceHCK will take what they have learned with the N3 and move forward to produce an N4 and N5 that move the state of the design forward and into territory where it can be recommended as I do think it shows a lot of potential.
  • Packaging - 5/10
  • Accessories - 5/10
  • Build Quality - 7/10
  • Bass - 5/10
  • Mids - 4/10
  • Treble - 5/10
  • Soundstage - 6/10
  • Imaging - 5/10
Summary

Pros:  Good build quality, peizo treble is well behaved and may hint of things to come.

Cons:  odd shape may cause fit issues for some,  lacks coherency, spikes in the mids and lower treble need clean up






Greetings,

Today we're checking out the B200 from Brainwavz.

The B200 was originally released early 2017 alongside the B100 and B150. What set the B200 apart from it's more budget friendly brethren was the use of two balanced armatures per side in the vein of the B2, a legacy model in the Brainwavz lineup that found quite the following.

2018 saw the B200 receiving a pretty hefty update. Gone were the shells shared with the B100 and B150. That was replaced by a 3D printed unit very similar to the design and shape used for the successful B400. Fixed cables were also made a thing of the past with the B200 now featuring MMCX equipped removable cables.

How does the current generation B200 perform. Let's take a closer look!

Disclaimer:

A thank you to Marlon with Brainwavz for sending over a sample of the B200 for review. The thoughts within this review are my own opinions based on listening to and using the product and do not represent Brainwavz or any other entity. At the time of writing, the B200 was retailing for 119.50 USD. You can check it out here: https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/products/b200-dual-balanced-armature-earphones

This was originally posted to The Contraptionist. Head on over if you want to read lots more like it.

Sources:

The B200 was generally used straight out of a Shanling M0 on low gain. It's not particularly challenging to get up to volume and the M0's warmth paired nicely with the B200's lean neutrality. It was also used with my TEAC HA-501 desktop amp on low to mid damping with the M0 or a ZiShan DSD playing source duty. The B200 doesn't hiss when paired with a more powerful source which is welcome.

Personal Preferences:

I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

Specifications:

- Driver: Dual balanced armature
- Impedance: 30ohms
- Sensitivity: 110db @ 1mW
- Frequency Range: 12Hz - 22kHz




Packaging and Accessories:

I quite enjoy the packaging Brainwavz has created for their armature series. It has a very premium feel to it compared to much of the competition, partly because it shares a number of qualities with the packaging of the significantly more expensive HEM series of earphones from Optoma Nuforce. The cardboard has a nice texture and is dense and durable. It offers lots of protection for the contents inside so they're kept safe and sound until they get to you, the buyer.

On the front of the cream white exterior sheath in a clean, contrasting black font you find the usual Brainwavz branding and model information. In addition, there are notifications for the inclusion of Compy foam tips and Brainwavz's generous 24 month warranty. The sides of the sheath are completely blank while the back contains some trademark info, the Brainwavz logo, and a number of images to coincide with the contents.

Sliding off the sheath reveals a matte grey box with 'Brainwavz' pressed into the magnetically seal flap and '24 month warranty' pressed into the main panel. Flipping back the flap you find the inner left panels contain the Brainwavz mission statement and a short description of what the warranty covers. In the enclosure on the right you find one of Brainwavz's outstanding black and red elongated hard shell cases set within a foam insert, a spare cable tucked in beside it. Resting on top of the foam, surrounding the case, is a paper insert with a psychedelic colour scheme thanking you for your purchase. Within the case resides the B200 and accessories. In all you get:

- B200 earphones
- MMCX 3.5mm cable
- MMCX mobile cable with inline control and microphone
- Shirt clip
- Velcro cable tie
- Red Comply T-100 foam tips (m)
- Single flange silicone tips (s/m/l x2)
- Manual and 24 month warranty card

Overall a great accessory kit. You get a spare cable, one of the best cases in the business, quality ear tips, and some potentially useful little extras like the shirt clip and Velcro strap. No complaints here. Plus, you can't argue with a 24 month warranty which shows that Brainwavz is confident in the quality of their products.




Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

Like other models in Brainwavz's armature lineup, the B200 features liquid resin 3D printing for their construction. The shape and design is quite similar to it's bigger brother, the B400, but shrunk down to something more suitable for a dual-driver. The printing quality is good with the two halves of the shell fitting together nicely and the MMCX ports smoothly integrated, though the cloudiness is a bit of a turn off. I also miss seeing the Brainwavz logo integrated into the face plate design. It all looks somewhat barren and overly simple. FiiO's recent release, the uber stylish FA1, is also 3D printed but unless you knew ahead of time it would be exceptionally difficult to tell just by looking at them. While I appreciate what Brainwavz is doing with the tech and give them huge kudos for being one of the first to start making retail-ready earphones with it, some additional refinement would go a long way towards improving the visual appeal. As is, I think the appeal is in function over form giving the B200 a very subtle appearance that does not draw attention.

The cables included with the B200 will be familiar to Brainwavz faithfuls. They feature multiple twisted strands coated by a tough, matte black sheath. While they tend to retain bends out of the box and are a bit springy, the cable materials used have shown me time and again that they are tough as nails. Plus, microphonics are pretty minimal, strain relief is prominent (less so on the mobile cable), and you get the same style of angled ear guides that were first introduced with the B100 and B150. I love the shape of these guides as they work very, very well. While the wire and sheath materials are the same between the two, the hardware is quite different. The standard cable has a rubber 45 degree angled jack with excellent strain relief, and a beefy rubber y-split that is equally well-relieved. Above it sits an effective chin cinch. The mobile cable adds in a metal three-button remote. The y-split and chin cinch are swapped out for more compact metal units, still with adequate strain relief. I'm glad they didn't omit the chin cinch, even if it can only raise as far as the inline control unit. The 45 degree angled jack becomes a small metal straight jack. Strain relief here is a bit short and stiff making me think it won't hold up as well long term as the 45 degree jack. Overall, both cables are quality items and welcome inclusions.

Due to the B200's light weight, small size, and low profile ergonomic design, this is one earphone I can't see too many having issues with. It tucks into the outer ear like it belongs there and ceases to exist while you enjoy your music. The tiny nozzle, 4mm at its widest and not ideal for tip rolling, does help the B200 with it's universal designation in that it should be suitable for ear canals of all shapes and sizes. Another nice perk is the location of the vent on the inside of the ear piece. Thanks to this and the sleek shell design, it doesn't pick up much wind noise making the B200 a nice companion when walking around outside on a windy day.

Like other models in the Brainwavz armature lineup, the B200 provides well above average isolation thanks to it's reasonable insertion depth, minimal and smartly placed ventilation, and form fitting shape. These are nice to wear in noisy areas, even more so with the included Comply foams installed. Chilling at my computer you hear only the highest pitched portion of a key stroke. In my local coffee shop and on my walks around the city, you hear only a dulled murmur from the activity going on around you. The only thing stopping the B200 from being an amazing travelling companion is the bass quantity which is more suited to the quiet of your home than the chaos of the outside world.



Sound:

Bass on the B200 is certainly not a focal point thanks to what is quite a reserved presentation. Playing a support role, it goes about it's job without ever overstepping boundaries. While some might call them anemic, I can't agree. Extension is just enough and they've got some solid mid-bass punch and overall speed. Running them with The Crystal Method's “Bound Too Long”, a track that in the past I found reliant in a robust low end to fully enjoy, was a surprisingly complete experience. The B200's presentation certainly isn't ideal for bass heavy genres, but it can still hold its own thanks to its extension, speed, and impressive texturing.

The midrange is where the B200 is at its most impressive. Thanks to the reduced midbass the midrange runs lean, but that's the only criticism I can levy at it. The detail and clarity afforded by the B200s mids are intoxicating and impressively capable. The vocal presentation in particular is stellar. From the screams of Warlock's Doro on “East Meets Wesrt” to the soft, melodic crooning of Riya on Lenzman's “Open Page”, female vocalists sound like they should. Male vocals work too, regardless of whether you're listening to Aesop Rock's relentless barrage on “Catacomb Kids” or Paul William's emotional discharge on Daft Punk's “Touch”. Timbre is fairly accurate as well with instruments sounding mostly accurate, but a bit lighter than they should thanks to the lean note presentation.

Treble is extremely tight and well controlled with a clean, inoffensive presentation. Extension is fine with a smooth roll off and a fairly even emphasis between upper and lower regions, though the lower treble sees more of the spotlight. This gives the B200 an extremely detailed and airy presentation without it coming across overly analytic or bright. I like the snappy decay of cymbals and crispiness each hit displays. The treble really nails my personal preferences. Elevated just enough to give me the detail I want without stepping too far. It's not laid back, but not aggressive either.

The B200's sound stage gives off a pleasing sense of depth and width that I just don't hear often from armature-only iems. This seems to be something Brainwavz does better than most. Notes swirl off into the distance and multi-instrument tracks sound layered and well-separated. This presentation is fantastic and about as far from congested as it gets for this driver layout, at least of those I've tried.

The B200 is a pretty impressive performer. If it had the B400's low end emphasis it would probably be my favourite of the lineup. As is, if you value detail and clarity and a neutral bass presentation, the B200 unquestionably delivers.

Select Comparisons:

EarNine EN2J (267.00 USD): Like the B200 the EN2J is a dual armature model, though the EN2J uses EarNiNE's own in-house designed drivers. The EN2J is a brighter, more precise sounding earphone that is quite analytic. Like the B200 it is light on bass. The EN2J is more textured but lacks the extension and as such doesn't offer much in the way of visceral feedback. The B200 doesn't offer a lot of that either, but it does better than the EN2J. The EN2J's mids are rife with clarity but not as timbre accurate giving vocals a dry tone that is characteristic of the EarNiNE drivers. I personally like the presentation quite a lot, but someone wanting a more realistic tone would be better served by the B200. Treble on the EN2J will be overwhelming to those sensitive to upper frequencies. If you aren't, you'll be rewarded with a level of clarity the B200 cannot match. It's tight and extra crisp and almost makes the B200 sound veiled, which it isn't. Sound stage on the EN2J is similarly large but it sets the listener closer to the action by default. This gives sounds a greater range of motion and more impressive imaging. Layering and separation are slightly better on the EN2J as well. While the EN2J is the better performer, for less than half the price the B200 more than holds it's own.

Where the two are somewhat comparable in terms of audio performance, the EN2J takes a few leaps forward with it's stainless steel build. Like the B200 it is low profile and isolates quite well. The EN2J's cable is not as dense and durable, but is much lighter and more flexible. I liked it enough to donate it to my Campfire Audio Polaris. It's an awesome cable but feels like it needs to be babied to survive. Brainwavz's cables need no such thing thanks to their tough sheaths and effective strain relief.

Havi B3 Pro I (discontinued): The B3 Pro I is a classic example of budget neutral and has a legendary status in the Head-fi forums. Outside of the B200 being much easier to drive, it and the B3 are quite comparable in their style of tune. Light on bass with a luxurious mid-range and smooth, detailed treble. The B3 and it's twin dynamics have a larger sound stage, width in particular, but the B200 isn't too far behind and offers more depth to its presentation. B200's imaging is more precise and accurate with better separation. B200's treble is slightly more forward and it's overall presentation a bit more lean and cool. Seems tighter and more defined. I'm split on the low end. B200 is tighter and more punchy but the B3 Pro I provides more extension, though it isn't impressive on either. The B3's mid-range has a thicker note presentation with a warmer, more organic feel, but it isn't as crisp and clear.

Build isn't spectacular on either with the B3 suffering from cracked housings. It certainly looks more impressive with it's Sennheiser inspired design and Gorilla glass face plates. It's fixed, quad-core flat cable also looks snazzy but is subject to drying out and cracking over time. While the B200's 3D printed housings are somewhat uninspired looking and I doubt their ability to stand up to heavy abuse, Brainwavz offers a 24 month warranty and a solid repair service, something you never received with the now discontinued B3 Pro I. The cables are also replaceable. And they're far more form fitting and comfortable than the B3's housings.

Along with the Macaw RT-10, the B200 is one of the closest things I've come across to a proper replacement for the B3 Pro I. The RT-10 is closer in tone sharing the same, soft, slightly warm presentation as the B3, but it's not as capable on a technical level and is notably bassier. The B200 bests the B3 technically, but gives up warmth and note weight.

Final Thoughts:

Aiming for an “ideal” target tune is great and all, but when everyone is doing it you end up with a bunch of samey products that lack a unique identity. It's boring if I'm being frank. The B200 doesn't have that problem.

It has a niche tune that is not going to have wide appeal with your average consumer. Bass on the B200 is well-extended and nicely textured but very much downplayed in favour of the detailed mid and treble regions. To some that is a fatal flaw since it means the B200 isn't well-rounded. To others that specialization is exactly what they want. Neither party is right, but neither is wrong either. This is simply another flavour to choose from within the vast see of earphones available to us consumers, and choice is always a good thing. It breeds competition and innovation.

The rest of the package is nice too with Brainwavz's usual in-depth accessory kit. Their case is durable and spacious and the two cables are useful. Even the quality of the stock tips is good avoiding the need to replace them immediately. I hope to see some refinements to the printing process in future products making the frosty/clear models a more attractive, but as is the printing process does what it needs to do. Function over form as they say.

In the end, I think the B200 is a pretty good product. If a bass-lite sound is your jam, there aren't too many options at this price range, and fewer still that do it as well as the B200.

Thanks for reading!

- B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****


Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)