$25 IEM shootout pre-amble
One of the coolest phenomenons in audio right now is the big improvements moving forward in the budget sector. $100 headphones can and do compete with $400 headphones, and $25 headphones sometimes compete with $200 headphones. It’s a great time to be an audiophile, even if your budget isn’t as large as you’d like it to be.
In this $25 IEM shootout series I’ll post a new set of impressions every Wednesday until I’ve done them all. Then I’ll select my top 3 from the list. After I’ve selected my top 3, I’ll do a post ranking the remaining units and giving them our trademark visual ratings. Finally, a post will compare the top 3 IEMs under $25 that I have in my possession. If any manufacturers want to send additional under $25 units that they think might rank before I’ve done my ranking posts, I’ll add them in.
Here are our contestants:
- Penon IEM v2 ($9.99, from Penon Audio)
- Penon Earbud ($9.99, from Penon Audio)
- VE Monk Plus ($10 with EX Pack from veclan.com or ANQ Distribution)
- ADV S2000 ($24.99, from amazon.com)
- Alpha & Delta D2M ($25, from Alpha & Delta or Lendmeurears.com)
- KZ ZST ($9.99 no mic or $13.99 with mic, from Linsoul or Gearbest)
- KZ ED12 ($17.99 with mic, from amazon.com)
- Hypersense HEX02 ($25, from Penon Audio)
- Fiio F1 ($14.99, from amazon.com)
- Hidizs EP3 ($19.90, from Penon Audio)
- TY Hi-Z HP-32 ($7.98, from Penon Audio)
- KZ ZSA ($19.99 from Linsoul)
- Geek Wold GK3 ($19.99 from Penon Audio)
*I’ve included earbuds. My blog, my rules. I know there’s a difference.
The Penon IEM was thrown in along with a box of stuff for under $50 and $25 shootouts. I didn’t expect much. When I opened up the big DHL box of budget surprises, the Penon IEM actually had one of the nicer boxes. a simple blue box with a magnetic closure. Inside there is some simple foam padding, and a metal case embossed with Penon’s logo. The metal case should look familiar to folks who have looked at some of my HiFiMAN unboxings. Yup, it’s the same one, in a slightly different colour, with embossing. The Penon case is actually a little more fancy. The Penon IEM is $19.90 if you order something else. There are also some basic silicone tips in the standard s/m/l variety and a penon branded velcro cable wrap. I like cable wraps. The shells are made of a painted plastic in a copper tone, and the cable has no strain relief at the shell side. At the 3.5mm termination, the strain relief is excellent.
When I first opened these, they sounded terrible. They were muddy, poorly defined with a fugly small stage. I gave them some burn in with my standard heavy on Ayre IBE (Ayre Systemic Enhancement disc, Irrational but Efficacious) playlist:
- Short glide tone
- White Noise
- Pink Noise
- Brown Noise
- Digital Silence (Binkster Test CD)
They were much better after leaving them burning in for a day with that mix. The stage opened up. The bass got more refined. The character of these is rich and smooth with good sound for $20. I’m listening to it on the Shanling M2s, it’s a great budget pairing.