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
The Tin Audio T2 was supplied for the purpose of this shootout by Penon Audio. I do not have to return the unit. I have received no compensation, and the opinions presented are my own.
The unboxing experience doesn’t look very promising at first. We look at a plain white box with very little on it. Just a logo and a tiny bit of black writing that tells us almost nothing.
Made in PRC. That’s about as plain as this could get. Luckily, it looks like the money they saved on printing costs has gone into the next layer of the packaging. Let’s open this package up to see.
Now that’s nice. Sweet looking ‘book effect’ with a nice faux leather and Tin Audio imprint. That looks premium. I really like it. Inside the IEMs are displayed in a foam insert with some blue foamie tips installed. It has nice visual impact here.
The foam is easy to remove. Behind it is the cable and a little bag of tips. The cable has a really nice look. It appears to be silver plated copper. It’s pretty light on top of the ear. It has a hard texture, but is fairly flexible without significant memory effects. It’s a good cable from what I can tell. The cable is connected by MMCX, which is alright. Detachable is better than not. I have heard tales of MMCX failures, including in association with this cable. I personally prefer standard 0.78mm 2-pin cables, with the best designs having recessed entry for added strength.
Build quality is excellent. The shell is solid metal with clear marking of right and left with colour near the MMCX connector (standard red/right and blue/left coding). In this orientation, it’s best to have cable up over the ear, which is plenty comfortable due to the cable’s light weight. If you want wear cable down, it’s doable, though not ideal.
As usual I’ve done no significant burn-in on these. I’ve got around 20 hours of listening on them. No formal burn-in techniques. Equipment was HiBy R3 and LG V30.
- Keb Mo – Am I Wrong? has really nice definition of the fast pluck guitar and blues voice of Keb Mo.
- Roger Waters – Watchin’ TV has a number of vocals, and all of them are pushed a little bit forward. It does a good job resolving all three vocals: Roger Waters, Don Henley and the female vocals at the beginning of the track. Piano is nicely developed in the mid-late part of the track.
- Bass development on Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table has good extension, without having any palpable rumble. What it lacks a bit is texture in the bass. The bass presentation is smooth, missing some resolution that higher end headphones have. It does do a good job of showing texture in Leonard’s voice, which probably owes to good treble balance. When I reviewed the HiFiMAN Susvara, I found that a bit of extra treble unveiled beautifully rich texture in Leonard’s voice. The after-effect is that now I always hear the texture in varying levels. The texture here isn’t maximum, but it is excellent for under $50, for certain.
- Continuing with more Leonard Cohen, Treaty, which has faster plucking gives a much better texture showing on stand-up bass. I think these do better with shortly sustained notes. Leaving the Table has a lot of long notes. The female backing chorus as well as the strings sound gorgeous on these. Really nice upper mids and lower treble presentation.
- Similarly, the stand-up bass in Macy Gray – Annabelle is also on point. Excellent timbre. Really bloody excellent. Cymbals have an appropriate amount of shimmer too, never coming off splashy. Stage depth isn’t very deep, but the instruments have good separation.
- The bass at the beginning of the chorus in Metallica – Until It Sleeps shows the T2 capable of imparting some extra menace on the track with a little tasteful boost. It isn’t blow your face off bass, but it is north of neutral. The overall presentation on this track has a little extra weight in the lower mids and bass, but it’s a good presentation.
- Babies Broken Beats by The Beats, Man really throws a lot of complexity in to the track. It has scintillating treble shining like broken glass butterflies in the edges of your peripheral vision. The electronic drum is like cannon fire. The T2 delivers the delicate layering and throws that extreme impact of the drum right at you and it isn’t overcooking it, that’s the track. Boom. You feel the drum waves pressing up against you. It is palpable.
- On Beach Boys – Sloop John B the upper treble could use a bit more air to it. I’m missing some of the almost crystalline textures to the glockenspiel that I’m accustomed to on the track, but I’m also accustomed to much more expensive IEMs. These are still doing pretty good. The bass is groovin’ nicely on the track. Mids sound a touch heavy, which inhibits some of the feel of resolution. This would probably be alleviated with a bit more treble, which might be accomplished with a tip switch. With a bit of testing, yeah, tips solve it. Best tips for these, in my opinion, were Symbio MandarinEs. Be careful when removing though, I just had one come off in my ear. Had to find tweezers.
- Overall, these are bloody excellent. I would not be at all surprised if these end up near or at the top of the heap in the $50 shootout. If only they’d included a dang case! Still more IEMs to hear. Stay tuned!