$50 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 series we’ll see how much you get from stepping up from a budget under $25 to a budget under $50. In order to have some comparison with the under $25 segment of the market, I’ll be including the top 2 IEMs from the $25 IEM Shootout, once they are determined.
In this $50 IEM shootout series I’ll post a new set of impressions every Friday 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 $50 that I have in my possession. If any manufacturers want to send additional under $50 units that they think might rank before I’ve done my ranking posts, I’ll add them in. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get the Final Audio e2000 into this contest, too, as I’ve heard good things.
Here are our contestants:
- Lypertek Mevi ($29.90, Penon Audio)
- TFZ Series 2 ($45.00, Penon Audio)
- BGVP SGZ-DN1 ($29.00, Penon Audio)
- Dawnwood GT-36 Halo ($49.90, Penon Audio)
- xDuoo EP1 ($29.90, Penon Audio)
- Tin Audio T2 ($49.90, Penon Audio)
- RHA S500i ($33.99, amazon.com)
- Magaosi BK50 ($45.50, Penon Audio)
- Alpha & Delta D3 ($35, amazon.com)
- $25 IEM Shootout #1
- $25 IEM Shootout #2
The SGZ-DN1 comes in a patterned black retail box of a good size for a retail shelf and for shipping. The front of the box is emblazoned with the BGVP brand and THE BEST EXPERIENCE. On the back we have specs English and Chinese, but also so more puffing language (that’s making advertising claims that you don’t have to confirm). Are these IEMs really “Ultimate quality.” We’ll finish with the unboxing and review that claim.
The first exposure inside the box is the IEMs suspended in foam and outward facing, they have some red medium silicone tips fitted. Beyond the initial display we find two headphone cables with MMCX terminations, one set of medium foam tips and 3 additional sets of silicone tips (S/M/L). One cable has a mic, the other does not. The mic cable has a straight 3.5mm jack, the non-mic cable has a right angle jack. I did my listening with the mic cable. Detachable cables is a nice feature at this price level and MMCX has the widest variety of cheap aftermarket cables. At this price point, I think it would be dumb to buy an aftermarket cable for anything other than the instance that your two cables that came with it have broken. The included cables are basic. When I do ratings, I’ll compare them and try them out with a replacement cable.
One thing missing from the box is a carrying case. I personally think this is a pretty severe oversight. A good quality semi-hard carrying case costs pennies for them. You can buy one off Alixpress for under $1, there is no reason that they can’t provide one to protect the headphones when they aren’t being used. Putting headphones loose inside a bag is one of the best ways to break them. If $15 headphones can have a semi-hard case, these sure as heck should.
The headphones have short nozzles which leads to a somewhat shallow insertion. This may be a problem for some folks, it wasn’t for me. Looking past the nozzles, each earpiece has some ventilation holes on the inner edge. I believe this is to prevent driver flex. I didn’t experience any driver flex, but looking at the holes does show a build quality issue. There are supposed to be three holes drilled into each earpiece. As can be seen in the picture below, one of mine only has two holes fully drilled. As far as I could tell, this didn’t affect the sound.
For these impressions I used the HiBy R3 as the source with the stock tips. I spent some time with these, but I didn’t do a proper burn-in. These are not final impressions, but I’ve tried to offer a good level of detail. After burn-in, the impressions may change.
- I start it off with Leonard Cohen – Leaving The Table. On this track the bass sounds soft and rounded. Theres some inaudible—I feel it, I don’t hear the tone—treble energy that is immediately causing fatigue for me. Leonard’s voice has good texture and is nice and clear, but the bass is a bit smoothed over in the textural department.
- Treble and upper mids energy and definition is really friggin’ good on Metallica – Master of Puppets. The high mids of the guitars are shredding nicely. The drums and vocals are good quality and clear.
- These do really well with all kinds of vocals. Norah Jones is accurately and fully represented on Feelin’ The Same Way. She just sounds beautifully natural. On Pixies – Where Is My Mind the female backing vocals absolutely soar. If I had to guess, I’d wager that these have extra energy in the upper mids and lower treble which is what is giving these such good clarity in the mids.
- Where Is My Mind also highlights the good snap in drums, accurate cymbal crashes, and well-resolved subtle guitar strums. Good job here.
- The stage on these isn’t deep, but the width is decent. Height is average.
- I had fun with the clear presentation of Run D.M.C – Tricky. Great clarity. Similarly Outkast – Sorry Ms. Jackson has a clear, well-delineated, well-commanded presentation. Sorry Ms. Jackson has a ton of sound effects all over the frequency spectrum and they are handled very well.
- I use Geddy Lee of Rush’s vocals to test for sibilance. He’s always got some sibilance in his voice naturally, so you don’t want it to be absent, but you don’t want it accentuated. On The Trees the SGZ-DN1 accentuates Geddy’s sibilant voice a little bit. In words ending in ‘s’ this sound is elongated slightly. It isn’t enough to bother me, but when I’m listening for it I notice it. I don’t know how much I’d notice it if I weren’t trying to notice it. To go with that little bit of extra sibilance, there is also really good shimmer on the cymbals in this track.
- The separation on these is quite good for the limited stage depth. I found that the vocals, piano and bass on Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody had good separation.
- The one major weakness of these is the phantom fatigue. When I do the proper countdown, I’ll have burned these in and I’ll test more tips.