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)
- TRN V80 ($43.99, amazon.com)
- $25 IEM Shootout #1
- $25 IEM Shootout #2
Unboxing / Functionality
The Magaosi BK50 is nicely packaged and pulls some clever tricks off inside the box. The box is constructed of an outer branded sleeve with computer renderings on the front of the IEM, directions on how to use the inline remote on one side, and specifications on the back. The whole image has a bit of a shimmer to it and the Magaosi branding on the back has a rainbow gradation.
Inside the box the IEMs are held in a foam sheet with the small and large tips, and then there is the clever trick. There are several IEMs that don’t come with a legitimate case in the $50 shootout, which is ridiculous to me. The TFZ Series 2 and the Dawnwood GT-36 come with pouches, which offer minimal protection. The Tin Audio T2 doesn’t have a case, neither does the BGVP SGZ-DN1. The BK-50 fits in a nice case and a nice presentation by laying the case flat. Other manufacturers need to copy this technique.
The included accessories are good: a semihard case, 3 sets of small bore tips (S/M/L), and one set pair of medium large bore tips. I would have sprung for a full set of large bore tips, having just one set in medium is a bit odd. That’s the kind of thing usually done with foam, not silicone tips in this price bracket. The fit of the tips is standard fair, and the headphones are comfortable in ear.
The build of the Magaosi BK50 is pretty good. The body of the IEM is made of metal and wood. The wood extends to the inside, apparently forming a resonant Brazilian walnut wood cavity. Cool. The rear is ported with a metal mesh (maybe just appearance?). The bore has metal mesh protecting from the ingress of waxy ear villainy. Strain reliefs are adequate on both the capsule (earbud) end and the jack end, but basically useless on the remote. I don’t break cables, but a co-worker who does regularly told me that the remote is where she usually breaks hers. It would probably be better to have legit strain relief around the remote. The remote is on the right side, and that’s how you’ll figure out what ear goes where most of the time, as the writing on the shells is thin and not terribly useful.
As usual these impressions were made without burn-in, so the final impressions may change some. I did my listening on the HiBy R3 and the LG V30. I used the narrow bore medium tips.
- The Magaosi BK50 have a somewhat dark sound to them. On Annabelle, Macy Gray sounds a little restrained. In contrast Leonard Cohen – Treaty has a sound that is a bit forward on the mid-bass and lower mids. Though to be fair, Leonard has a lot of bass presence, too.
- Rush – The Trees exerts a tiny bit of control on Geddy Lee’s sibilant voice, but mostly leaves it alone. The guitars sound excellent with great crunch. The stage is dynamic with loads of layering and lots of slam to the drums. The bass chugs nicely in the background. The drums are the star of the show, but the upper mids and treble receive really nice treatment too. This is a nice dynamic listen. I like this a lot.
- These have really nice shimmer on cymbals and other mid-high percussion instruments with nice decay and centre impact.
- The bass on Steely Dan – Aja is a little extra big. The cymbals again have nice shimmer.
- These have a nice lively signature with a slight v-shape. The mids are only very lightly recessed in the the area where Macy Gray’s voice lives (also Donald Fagen of Steely Dan). Deep male voices are nicely rich with their character lending a warmth to the sound when present. Upper mids vocals (where many female vocals and Geddy Lee are) are not restrained and sound nicely defined. Overall, these do a really nice job on vocals.
- These do a good job separating the elements of the stage. On Macy Gray – Annabelle the drum kit is tightly resolved in it’s own space. Really beautifully done.
- Natalie Merchant – Carnival (off Paradise Is There) gives a nice sweet tone to her voice. Wonderful richness with a breathiness around the edges.
- Neil Young’s vocals are also nicely done and the chug of the bass and taps of the cymbal are nicely resolved in space on Out On The Weekend.
- The raucous Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945 sounds busy, but doesn’t lose any instruments. All the multitude of individual instruments can be picked out in in-between the heavily distorted guitars and smashing drum strikes.
- The treble air on Pixies – Where Is My Mind doesn’t soar much on the female vocal. The tone is there, but the amplitude is not. I think that in the past I’ve preferred a little north of neutral on the female vocal on this track to really hear the top of the stage just pop off. I don’t get that here except at the very end of the track, but it’s still pleasingly done. Black Francis’s vocals are a touch back on these.
- I really like these. They sounded excellent on both the HiBy R3, and the V30. To my ear the V30 gave them a more neutral representation, while the R3 was a little more vibrant. Not huge differences, but there.