Five of what I believe are the most popular budget-fi IEMs compared.
-Scott Rowley.

All of my listening was done on the FiiO X1; for this review. All impressions of the IEM will be from having it paired with the X1, the EQ is off and volume was adjusted for each IEM so they would present an equal amount of energy as perceived by my ears. The IEMs have had no modifications, using original cables and also using the original factory tips.

Shure SE215
Bass: The SE215's bass is very much there and it has power, but lacks impact. I find bass to be present enough, while still being heard clearly. It's not the most detailed, but it does have pretty good control. It's not sloppy or all over the place. Overall, bass is good on the SE215.
Mids: The mids on these are wonderful, have descent texture with a refined, smooth, liquid sound. It's addicting
Highs: Yes, the highs are somewhat recessed compared to the bass and midrange. No, it's not the most resolving treble you'll ever hear. But it's not bad. Some cymbals can sound recessed and missing some detail. The highs aren't bad; just lack sparkle.
Soundstage: These have very narrow soundstage both vertically and horizontally. Due to the fact that these IEMs lack extension, and for the most part is a very mid focused with everything sort of congesting in the centre. The sound is in your face and does lack transparency. This does not give you a 3D feel but a more 2D, left and right panning.

Audio Technica ATH IM70
Bass: The bass of the IM70 is quite prominent. It has some boom and impact to it, but remains in control. The lower range will bring a smile to the face of anyone who likes a nice and controlled low end. Bass can be a bit forward at times, but for the most part is well balanced.
Mids: This is where the IM70 truly shines. The midrange is ever so slightly bloated in the lower mids, but upper mids are amazing, sounding sweet and pure, in a way that really has to be heard to be believed
Treble: Treble is very detailed and extends well, while remaining smooth and inoffensive. Some sibilance can be heard but rarely comes through and there is no treble fatigue. The treble seemed smooth and detailed to me and comes through clear.
Soundstage: The soundstage of the IM70 is quite realistic in its 3D presentation. It’s by no means the widest, but has excellent depth and height for an IEM. It’s not at the level of an amped Havi B3 Pro 1, but provides a wonderful stage with splendid separation and imaging for the listener.

FiiO EX1
Bass: The bass is done tastefully and well executed. It has sub-bass boost for that all-important rumble. It's clean, fast, and manages a good balance between quality and quantity, giving up just a bit of fun for detail. It isn't boomy or impactful but creates an excellent energy.
Mids: The mids are slightly recessed, but not terribly obvious. Detail is certainly there, but lacks the smooth, liquid and intimate vocals that I prefer.
Treble: The treble is upfront, with great clarity that is extremely good. You hear nearly every nuance and detail of the music. The EX1 extend far without effort. Notes are extremely airy and very crispy.
Soundstage: Most likely as a result of its semi-open design, the EX1 has very good soundstage. While not the widest, it has good height, depth and width. Imaging is good, and instrument separation is excellent as well. I was easily able to pinpoint the locations of various instruments. I’ll say it again It’s not at the level of an amped Havi B3 Pro 1.

Vsonic VSD3
Bass: The bass has plenty of weight and punch. It’s a bit on the slower end, making it very smooth and meaty. It has a full bodied, thicker sound. The bass is well extended but is a bit on the boomier side, which leads me think that this IEM is more suited for mellow, soulful music, but it also plays all genres very well.
Mids: The mids here are a bit forward. They are not bloated and are very well integrated. It’s very natural and relatively clear, but because of its warmth and bass weight, its clarity does take a hit.
Treble: The treble is soft and crisp and can seem to spice up and add excitement. This is the type of treble that makes the VSD3 more of an all-around for different types of music
Soundstage: It’s wider than average but not by much. At times with faster music, along with the bass, the soundstage can feel more “stuck in the head”. The separation and imaging is just slightly better than average.

Havi B3 Pro I
Bass: The bass on the Havi B3 Pro 1 is really flat, organic, as well as very fast and tight. The bass here will not satisfy bass heads, but if you want high quality, versatile bass, the Havis will give you plenty of that.
Mids: Sound natural and have excellent clarity, and are great at reproducing micro details so well. Vocals carry some warmth and have a intimate and enveloping feeling to them, I can easily get lost listening to them.
Treble: The treble is very revealing with great extension and has great sparkle to it. The treble is not harsh either. I like the treble, and is natural and is beautifully executed.
Soundstage: This is by far one of the most open sounding IEM, I have ever experienced, a real out of the head experience. It has a very 3D soundstage; you can place instruments either in front or behind one and another. It does make every song sound bigger and more expansive, this might not be the most natural soundstage but its imaging is just pure enjoyment.
Chord & Major unboxing soon!

Full review to follow.

I would like to say thank you to Rudy from Advanced Acousticwerkes, Singapore and Alvon Yulius Harianto for his help in carrying my AAW W 500 AHmorph Reference Hybrid Universal Iems to Jakarta.

I would like to share out of the Box Pictures from the New Version AAW W500 + Silver cable and the old version with brown color cable.

I have received
AAW W 500 AHmorph Reference Hybrid Universal IEMs.
Hardcase Pouch
Cleaning Cloth.

First early impressions.

AK 380
Ak 380 Amp
SpinFit Japan Domestic version is best Eartips for AAW W500.
Out the Box:
This is the latest Version from AAW W 500 with new Grey Acrylic color Transparent
New Silver Cable

Sound Quality out the Box:

Very open with good clarity and its a detailed sounding IEM.

Very sweet and lush sounding mids.

Very good detail, clarity, great bass impact and speed.

Very good separation.

Very wide and has very good depth

SQ from new version AAW W 500 U with silver Cable is different than the Old Version with Brown Copper Cable.

I will update with a full review after burn in.


Centrance Hifi-Skyn review 
-expatinjapan for Head Pie

The Centrance Hifi-Skyn has finally arrived! Was it worth the wait, Head Pie says yes.

What is it? The Centrance Hifi-Skyn is simply a DAC/Amplifier case/skin(Skyn) for your idevice.

The unit I have is suitable for the ipod touch models 5G and 6G, (it is also compatible with the iphone 5/S although that hasn`t been approved by the Apple labs as of the time of this writing).
The iphone 6+ has been approved and Centrance have personally took their iphone 6 and iphone 5 to the labs to bypass any customs difficulties three days ago.

Noted on their indiegogo page updates section: 
`Another reminder that iPhone 5 model will fit iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6 model will fit iPhone 6S, and the iPhone 6+ model will fit iPhone 6S+`.

On with the show!

I have in the past reviewed the Hifi-M8 and also its younger sibling the Mini-M8
and I was excited to have a chance to listen to the Centrance Hifi-Skyn.

The Mini-M8 was designed for IEMs mainly and lacked the power of the mighty Hifi-M8 and I found it a hard item to review. It did what it was designed to do very well, but it simply wasn`t the stunning super charged Hifi-M8 a product that was crowd sourced from members.

What to do?
Travel light and lack a bit of power and detail, or full power, adjustable output impedence and luscious detail. The final choice was a no brainer. I usually took the Hifi-M8.

Enter the Dragon, I mean the Hifi-Skyn.
What If the power and detail of the Hifi-M8 could be packaged into a small footprint?
And thence the Centrance Hifi-Skyn was born.

The Centrance Hifi-Skyn is a beautiful piece of engineering and design.

We have had in the past the Venturecraft and Vmoda VAMP dac/amp cases for the more clunky iphone 3 and iphone 4/S, as well as the the later Verza model where the phone etc rested on top for a more future proofed design. When I owned my Fostex hp_p1 and A/B`d it against these units the Fostex always won to my ears. I sold my Fostex once I bought the Hifi-M8.

The Skyn is well made, solid and my ipod touch models 5G and 6G 128GB fit with no issues, there is a supplied flat mat of rubber supplied to ensure a tight fit, remove it and the case is ready for an iphone 5/S.

The buttons are solid. There is an on/off power switch and also three stepped gain switch. Very minimalistic.
Also as can be seen in the photo below a 3.5mm headphone out port and also a simple micro usb charging port.
The output impedance is set at 1 Ohm, thats `one` Ohm. Good for those sensitive multi driver in ears.

To clothe your idevice the process is simple, slide back the forward top part of the Hifi-Skyn, set your idevice back in place, and slide the cover back on. It is a firm locked in fit with no issues of coming apart at all. Fear not!

Simple, solid and functional.

24/96, 24/192 playback
In times past idevice dac/amps only played back at 16/44 or 16/48 depending on whom you talked to.
Various members on various forums pointed to hi-res FLAC apps for idevices that promised the earth but couldn`t deliver in reality as everything was down sampled unless it was on the ipad or using a CCK kludge..
I could squeeze it out of my idevice by using the USB B port of the Centrance Hifi-M8 using a CCK but not of course via the USB A port.
Many DAC/Amps promised this but the results were the same - down sampling.
The Hifi-Skyn plays back your Hi-res tracks via such apps as Flacplayer...natively. 
A few other recent dac/amps also can do this. One can check using the Flacplayer app. see photos below.

*How do I add FLAC?  itunes>scroll down to apps>flacplayer>add.


Usual 16/41 file.

24/192 - For science!

But who cares about all that! Move on to the sound I hear you say. We could care less If it had a clunky UI, a terrible build and low battery life as long as it sounded good seems to be the modern mantra for many DAP users these past few years.

In his review of the Hifi-Skyn for Head Pie DrSheep  writes  "The bottom line up front: you will definitely get your money worth with the Skyn.  As an owner and regular user of Astell&KernDAPs (AK120 and AK240), the Skyn sounds and performs better than the AK120 (the AK120 only supports DSD64 with PCM conversions), and just as good, if not better, then the AK240 with JH Audio Universal Layla and Toxic Cable Silver Widow 25 8-wired balanced cable." 

Wow, Strong stuff indeed.
I have been using it as my daily on the go rig, hell I can`t even call it a rig as it is an unobtrusive one piece. Gone are the rubber bands and stacked dangerous looking bits of kit one would think twice about before taking onto an airplane. It is replaced with an elegant one piece solution.

But yeah, yeah...we have seen this before Head Pie!

Oh sorry, where was I? The sound. The bells, the bells!
The sound quality is what sets the Hifi-Skyn apart from its historical competitors, armed with the ever popular AKM4490 DAC and plenty of power the Centrance Hifi-Skyn sounds stunning good.
How good? Well my personal test is where I stop listening to the gear and just listen to the music. Simple, yes?
I am usually at frist critically listening to the gear to detect any glaring or small faults of the product I am demo`ing at the time. With the Skyn I find that I am turning off that part of brain rather quickly.

The Hifi-Skyn in short plays back music as it is recorded, If it is a wonderful recording, that is what you will get, if it is badly mastered or an mp3 you will get a terrible sound obviously.
But If you pair it with a mid or preferably high end set of IEMs or headphones the result is fantastic.

The instruments sound as they should, bass is nice and sharp - no flabbiness here, sound stage is wide and instrument separation is exquisite. Mids are present and not overly warm, highs are present an extended without any sibilance.
The vocals are crisp and creamy when they should be, the vocals and instruments are well balanced, I detest it when the vocals are so far forward I can`t hear the music.
On tracks where there is micro details, the Hifi-Skyn picks those up too.

Centrance typically goes for a uncolored sound with their releases, which means the user decides whether they want to purchase a reference set of headphones with a more flat response or go for something more colored.

In short the Hifi-Skyn is a must for any idevice carrying music lover looking for a simple solution to acquire all the benefits of gorgeous playback on the go.

No more stacks, no more downsampling, simple plug and play.

Is the Centrance Hifi-Skyn value for money?
Their website has it priced at US $399:00.

I would say yes. Comparing the sound to the more `high end` read: pricy daps, the combination of great sound and the ease of Apples UI makes this a no brainer.

Also with idevices now having 128GB storage on board one can store quite a huge FLAC or ALAC library for on the go.

The Centrance Hifi-Skyn is a functional and easy to use device. 
It`s clean lines and solid build with great design where it counts, with easy access to the various buttons and also to the  idevice camera make it a joy to use.
It can get slightly warm when in ones pocket, but not overly.
It fits well into the users hand, the material it is constructed with is soft, supple yet firm and silky but also has enough friction to maintain a solid grip on the device.
The sound quality as mentioned before is wonderful. One gets lost in the music rather than the gear.

A big thanks again to Centrance for providing Head Pie with a Hifi-Skyn to demo and review.

Forte Classic-Bass-Soprano and Impact Dura-Soprano reviews 

 A new comer to the audio industry is Cyberdrive.
I wrote about them after meeting them at the e-earphone headphone show in Tokyo, 2015.

They had some of their products on sale at very affordable discounts, so I bought two of them.
On the price for a set of Cyberdrive in ears ranges from US$40 to US$70 dollars.
So I will be reviewing them with those price points in mind.



Forte Classic-Bass
(With the stock tips)

I love woodies, earphones, headphones - the sound is warm and gloriously lush. So when I spied these at a discounted and very affordable price I had to grab them (Later I went back and picked up the Impact Dura-Soprano too - so I could compare).

The build seems quite robust
You can choose between a flat plastic/rubber cable or a braided sleeve. As seen pictured I choose the more cooler looking and stronger (?) braided sleeve.
I haven`t put them through any extensive rough handling to see If they would come apart or not.
EDIT: I gave them to a friend and it came apart at the plug where the support is the same as at the earphone, March 2016.

Three sets of tips are included (S, M and L). Built in in-line microphone.

I thought I would test these from the headphone out of my ipod touch 6G and then later from the Centrance Hifi-Skyn to see how they scale up.

Using the ipod touch 6G.
The bass is generally clear, it can get a bit loose and congested when there is an excess of deep bass or volume.
The music and vocals volume is at a similar level, which is one point I enjoyed before I bought them.
Highs are generally clear and smooth - as much as can be expected at this price.
Mids are quite silky. Probably the best point, wood I guess.
There is a slight distortion here and there. Some hiss.

Centrance Hifi-Skyn.
The Centrance Hifi-Skyn seems to iron out some of the issues.
Everything is a bit tighter and cleaner.

The design is towards hanging down from the ears as shown on the box.
Due to the cable set back from the ear piece the fit is very comfortable.
I didn`t experience much movement as I walked around and they fitted quite snug in my ears.

The price point is well met. I think it is an appropriate price and users within that market would be  happy.

The Cyberdrive Forte Classic-Bass is a nice little headphone in the entry level price range.
It plays music with a full sound that would definitely be a step up for anyone using stock earbuds.
The fit is comfortable and stays in ones ears very well.
It leans towards the warm side which is to be expected.
Non fatiguing.
Realistic performance from within its price range.

Pictured with their mini Hi-Res player the Seiun.

Impact Dura-Soprano
(with the stock tips)

The build again seems robust and solid. more so on the Impact Dura-Soprano possibly due the metal frame of the in ears.
One of the tips was either ripped or ripped as I took it out of the packaging.
cable is again the braided sleeve version. This one is nylon based and very strong.

They come in a range of colors: Gold, silver, rose, gun metal.

Three sets of tips (S.M and L). Built in in-line microphone.

ipod touch 6G headphone out
An even sound with balanced volume level of music and vocals, not much separation.
Highs are present and varied, I can`t decide If this earphone is V shaped or not.
Bass seems to be tighter, though still flabby at times than with the Hifi-Skyn.
Centrance Hifi-Skyn.
The sound is tighter on the Impact Dura-Soprano as compared to The Forte Classic-Bass.
It is a clean and clear earphone with an emphasis on the treble side-but not extended except at loud volumes.
Bass is quite late, a bit recessed and flabby at times.
Turning up the volume leads to distortion on busy rock tracks, ballad tracks don`t seem to have the same problem.

(Same as the review above).
The design is towards hanging down from the ears as shown on the box.
Due to the cable set back from the ear piece the fit is very comfortable.
I didn`t experience much movement as I walked around and they fitted quite snug in my ears.

(Same as the review above).
The price point is well met. I think it is an appropriate price and users would be very happy.

The Impact Dura-Soprano is an entry level in earphone for the casual user that plays better out of a simple source and doesn`t enjoy excess amplification.
It has an even sound that can suit many genres of music.
Suitable within its advertised price range.

As usual,
Kind regards expatinjapan.

FiiO M3 and FiiO EX1 unboxing continued.

Beautifully packaged by FiiO as usual

FiiO M3 player (with screen protector), usb charging and media transfer cable, supplied stock earbuds.

Two extra screen protectors, instruction manual in several languages, verification of authenticity guide and a lanyard.

FiiO EX1 and case.

Stunning cable.

A selection of tips of various sizes and bores, verification of authenticity guide and a shirt clip. 

Thank you to FiiO for supplying us with the M3 and EX1.
Impressions and a review to follow soon.

regards expatinjapan