xDuoo EP1 initial impression, $50 IEM shootout

$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:

Unboxing/Functionality

The good:

  • Strong aluminum ear pieces
  • Excellent strain relief at the earpieces and at the 3.5mm jack
  • Well-made metal chin slider
  • Good light but strong feeling cable
  • These feel very durable
  • Good tip selection: 2 pairs foam tips (S/M), 3 pairs silicone (S/M/L)
  • Light weight
  • Extroardinarily easy to drive (108dB sensitivity, 16Ω), only takes 1/2 volume on phone
  • Detailed instruction manual with very precise burn-in instructions (that I ignored for my own tried and tested methods)

The bad

  • Unboxing experience is poor
  • Box is flimsy card with a see-through plastic window with foam insert inside. Plastic window glue came off when I unboxed.
  • No case. Zero, zilch, zip nada.
  • Ear pieces are a touch on the large side

Sound Impressions

When I first put these in, the treble sounded a bit recessed and the heavy midbass was infecting the whole sound. So, like the Penon IEM in the $25 shootout, I gave these some burn-in. I assumed that Penon Audio had a reason for recommending these. I gave these about 4 days of burn-in with a mix of noise (white, pink, brown) and music (Charles Mingus, Amber Rubarth), and the sound did improve.

As usual for these shootouts, the source was the HiBy R3. Here are the findings:

  • Midbass is still big and boosted, it colours the lower mids slightly and masks texture that might show in lower bass frequencies.
  • The midbass makes the lower mids sound a little veiled and stuffy when paired with a somewhat muted treble
  • When listening to Leonard Cohen – Treaty, Leonard’s voice loses a lot of it’s richness and texture due to the limited range of bass expression and inadequate treble and for bringing out the edges of vocals
  • On Rage Against the Machine – Settle For Nothing the energy just isn’t quite there in the treble region. Guitars don’t have enough edge or volume to them.
  • Beck – Guess I’m Doing Fine sounds pretty good. Beck’s voice plays well to the EP1’s sounds. The simple arrangement of the song, also appears to get better performance out the instruments than some other tracks.
  • The stand-up bass on Macy Gray – Annabelle sounds underexpressed. Details, like the smack of the strings are almost completely missing, which is probably due to poor treble tuning. Macy Gray’s voice has a muted feel that is more laconic than it should be      .
  • Guitars on Rush – Spirit of the Radio lack crunch. Geddy Lee’s voice feels recessed and a touch veiled. Neal Pearts drums also sound veiled.
  • God Bless the Dead by 2Pac has clear vocal expression and the sound of the track is generally on point. Bass is performing as expected.
  • In strange contrast, Why? – Strawberries has mediocre bass expression. Yoni Wolf’s vocal generally has a sweetness to it, but some of that sweetness is muffled by the midbass expression. Piano sounds a touch artificial, like there is something missing. Percussive instruments lack some sparkle.
  • I don’t think I can recommend these. There’s just too much unneveness in the tuning. They have out of proportion mid-bass to my tastes, imbalanced bass expression, and not nearly enough treble energy.
  • They aren’t muddy. They aren’t awful, but they don’t satisfy me at all. There are better IEMs in the $25 shootout (to be fair these are only $29.90).
  • The exceptional build quality doesn’t make up for the sound.

Acknowledgement

These IEMs were supplied by Penon Audio for review. I do not have to return them after the review. I have not been compensated for the review. The opinions contained within are my own.

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