Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt v1.0 Review

Hello everyone, and welcome back! It’s been a very long time since I posted anything, nearly a year actually buuuuut…I’m back! A lot just happened over the past year between career changes, school, moving, and well, life. I’m sure you all can relate.

Today I’m reviewing not a headphone but a DAC, specifically the Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt v1.0. I’m part of the Todd The Vinyl Junkie’s loaner tour for this product, and this is the first Dragonfly family product and first AQ product in general I have had the opportunity to experience.

Let me first say that this is a $300 DAC, and when you’re in that mid-fi price range, there are certain expectations, especially when the product comes from a company such as Audioquest which has made a name for itself in the cable market with their “unique” products. Does the Cobalt’s performance match the price? We shall see…

Out of the box I was unamused and frankly disappointed. No, I was mad. The Cobalt comes in a flimsy cardboard box, like what you would get a really bad Chi-Fi IEM in. Strike 1. Inside, you find an equally crappy plastic tray with the user manual, the “Dragontail” USB-C to USB-A cable, the Cobalt itself which is reminiscent of a thumb drive, and an absurd little leather sleeve to keep the Cobalt in when you’re not using it. Strike 2.

This is 2019. The ratio of Android to iPhone users is roughly 50/50 and to not include an appropriate Lightning-to-USB cable is simply an oversight that has no excuse. One of the reasons I bought my Fiio Q1Mk2 (my currently wired mobile solution) was because it came with the Lightning-micro USB cable; something frankly few OEMs are offering. These cables are dirt cheap these days. I’ve gotten some off of Amazon for $10 that function perfectly and are dead quiet in terms of sound interference or coloration (if your cable colors the sound, you have a bad cable more than likely). Additionally, you don’t store a $300 DAC that’s incredibly easy to misplace in a sleeve that makes it harder to find (it’s black) and frankly looks horrible. The Cobalt should have come with a full leather or high-quality nylon case that could hold not only the DAC, but the cable(s) as well. 1/5 for accessories, packaging, and unboxing experience. I would easily knock $100 off the price just because of this.

Because I am an iPhone user, I did not use the Cobalt in a mobile fashion but only at my desk, plugged into my 1st generation Microsoft SurfaceBook via the SurfaceHub. I’m pleased to report zero USB noise issues, which tells me that either my docking hub is pretty decent quality, that AQ took special care to address USB noise, or some combination of the two. Either way, it’s as clean sounding as my Modi 3 with respect to USB noise.

All my music is presently through Spotify Premium and downloaded so there’s no issue with streaming quality or network interruptions. I have hearing damage so before anyone tells me I should be using ultra high bit rate lossless DSD, FLAC, or that MQA snake oil, chill out. I can barely tell a difference between 16/44 FLAC rips I have and Spotify’s Ogg Vorbis codec. Even when I can, it’s marginal, especially with the gear I presently have.

During operation the Cobalt’s LED indicator lights up in different colors to let you know the bitrate/format the DAC is processing. Red indicates Standby Mode and Blue, which is what it lit up for me feeding it from the Spotify app, indicates 48khz sample rate. The Cobalt stays cool to the touch and is relatively unobtrusive. I think its size and form factor would make it great for a business traveler who places a premium on light and svelte accessories.

Power output is substantial. On my PC, I ran the Spotify app’s volume at max, with my Windows volume dialed down to as low as 8/100 depending on the track and transducer I was using. To say that the Cobalt has power is an understatement. Your ears will bleed if you want them too. I don’t have anything particularly power hungry so I can’t give any comments on efficiency and scaling.

Now for some comparisons. I’ve been listening almost exclusively to my BGVP DMG’s on my Astell & Kern XB10 Bluetooth DAC over the past couple months, which I might add is utterly stellar given its age and short battery life. I will be reviewing the XB10 in detail in the near future.

The XB10 is decidedly neutral, well detailed, and quite clean and crisp in its sound signature. I only run it single ended and since the Cobalt is only SE as well, that’s perfectly fine for this review. I will note that in the past weeks and months I’ve used the XB10 I’ve had literally zero interference, even in a crowded commercial gym or at the grocery store, so I’d venture to say that there’s really no degradation in sound quality from the Cobalt at my desk to the XB10 fed via my iPhone X over with the AAC Bluetooth codec.

The Cobalt is not neutral. It has some warmth to it, but it doesn’t seem overly colored with respect to the lower end of the frequency response. I would describe it overall as “smooth,” “refined,” “polite,” “detailed,” “slightly soft” (highs are rolled off), and it has reasonable soundstage and good imaging. Notably, the sub bass is a touch more extended and detailed on the Cobalt compared to the XB10.

Overall, I like the sound signature of the Cobalt with certain IEMs. It pairs well with the BGVP DMGs, which is the IEM I did the overwhelming majority of listening on since it’s currently my preferred sound signature and the most comfortable IEM I have presently.

When I used my Sennheiser HD 58X though, I wasn’t happy. The Jubilee’s became softer with less clarity and given that the 58X isn’t overly bright to begin with, the Cobalt colored the sound signature enough to where the highs were essentially rolled off. They were certainly present, with good imaging and separation, but the usually lively 58X became more or less a soft, “background noise” headphone. Combine with this with the Jubilee’s already small soundstage, and it’s a bad pairing.

Sibilance is still slightly present on the 58X with the Cobalt on certain tracks. My Magni 3, slightly harsh amp that it is, is a far more suitable pairing than the Cobalt is in this case.

A comment about soundstage in general for the Cobalt…it is NOT wide. The stage feels quite centered on and in the head, but with fairly equal width, depth, and height. What it lacks in the overall size of stage it makes up for (somewhat) with how evenly it distributes and images everything, and the Cobalt does seem to lend a slight touch of air which helps alleviate the claustrophobic soundstage.

The only other DAC I have that I can really use for decent comparison is my Fiio Q1Mk2. I’ve had it for over a year now and I’ll be blunt, it’s a better DAC and amp than the Cobalt. Overall, the Fiio has a wider soundstage, better clarity and detail in the highs, and it doesn’t color the sound of any of my gear in the way the Cobalt does. While this may sound like a “duh” for seasoned audiophiles, the Cobalt definitely has a “house sound” to it, and it may not be to everyone’s liking. But first, some detailed comparison between the AQ Cobalt, A&K, XB10, and the Fiio Q1Mk2. All the following comparisons are done with the BGVP DMGs unless otherwise noted.

Vocals on Drama Free by Deadmaus and Lights are easier to understand through the Cobalt than on XB10. Cadaverous by Kai Wachi has a MUCH deeper soundstage than XB10, especially on opening woodwind synth loop, but the synth loop is sharper on the XB10. Bass extension seems to be better than XB10 with more control and detail in the super low end (Hakkerskaldyr by Heilung), and the overall soundstage, imaging, and air is better on Cobalt than XB10. I honestly expected this given one is $50 and the other $300, that and the Cobalt is a much more powerful amp. Lamb of God’s Reclamation has a very satisfying “crunch” to the rhythm guitars with midbass is very well controlled (can get boomy with some dynamic driver IEMs).

High hats on right side on Reclamation are imaged well but can get slightly blurry or soft when repeatedly struck over and over again, but this only happens when the track super busy…XB10 has crisper high hats with a more neutral sound signature overall and doesn’t have the congestion issues the Cobalt does.

Bass slam on M.O.B. Klick (We Are The Flesh) is very satisfying, good air, no sibilance; vocals on Westworld are more clear (usually slightly sibilant and “sshhh” sounding), depth and width is good, rhythm guitars blend ever so slightly with the supporting midbass at times, drum line is well defined. On the HD58X though, the Cobalt was unimpressive save for midrange detail.

Westworld (We Are The Flesh) on Q1Mk2 is brighter and has a very slight touch of peakiness in the vocal treble and the bass has greater slam than on the Cobalt. Drum slam is more centered and felt “in the head” than with the Cobalt…this was uncomfortable at times and at one point actually triggered a migraine, though I’m prone to those so don’t take my experience as the standard.

Westworld on the Cobalt + HD 58X was soft and unimpressive. Oddly, the low end was worse on this song with the Cobalt than the Q1Mk2 *shrugs with confusion* Sibilance was eliminated but vocal clarity was worse with the Cobalt than the Fiio.

Machi Bhasad by Bloodywood is usually a very congested track, especially during the chorus. The Cobalt smooths a little of the congestion out and tames most of the sibilance, but the lyrics can still be hard to follow (Hindi is a hard language to begin with). Soundstage and imaging gets a big improvement over the XB10 on this track. The Q1Mk2 has the vocals slightly recessed in comparison to the Cobalt and has more vocal sibilance than the Cobalt. Congestion is about the same between the Cobalt and Q1Mk2 on this track, but the Cobalt has better imaging and a larger overall soundstage measured 3-dimensionally.

Veritas (feat. Johnny Craig) by Kyle Lucas has a softer sound overall on the Cobalt compared to XB10. Micro detail is about the same. XB10 is crisper overall without as much warmth as the Cobalt (which is still only a minor difference).

Fiio Q1Mk2 is more neutral, but slightly brighter than the Cobalt. Soundstage and imaging are roughly equivalent. Q1Mk2 is more refined sounding than the XB10, but again we’re comparing a wired DAC with a Bluetooth DAC.

Reclamation has greater bass presence on the Q1Mk2 than Cobalt with the DMGs. Soundstage is slightly narrower and intimate. Vocals are incredibly clear on Q1Mk2, the Q1Mk2 seems to have an upper mid and very, very slight low-end focus, but not at the expense of the rest of the FR. Right side high hats are balanced between softness and clarity on the Q1Mk2, far better than the Cobalt. When listening to the same song on the HD58X you can immediately hear how the Q1Mk2 has far superior clarity and tonal accuracy. The Cobalt sounds veiled and soft by comparison and with a warmer low end, though it’s low end extension and detail is good.

When I compared Halsey’s Gasoline on the 58X between the Cobalt and Fiio, there was a readily apparent lack of high-end sparkle on the Cobalt, which is sad because Halsey’s track is very airy and has some wonderful high notes in it. The low end was expectedly warmer on the Cobalt but the Q1Mk2 delivered a performance that was closer to the HE-1 Orpheus than the Cobalt could hope to achieve (and yes, I’ve listened to the exact same song on the Orpheus, at CanJam this year actually).

I did take a little time to run my Focal Spirit One S with TaoTronics pad mod on the Cobalt. With the pad mod, the Focal’s move from being muddy and mostly garbage to a low-end neutral and high-mid/treble focused can with incredible detail, but an overall loss of tonal balance compared to my Magni, XB 10, and Q1Mk2. If anyone is interested in this particular mod, reach out to me and I’ll be glad to tell you about it!

So…what’s my verdict? 2.5/5 sound quality with respect to price. 1/5 with respect to packaging and accessories. 2/5 build quality. 2.5 overall rating.

Audioquest has never been known for intelligent, price-to-performance pricing. This latest installment of their Dragonfly USB DACs is an example of this. Plastic end cap. Loose 3.5mm and USB interfaces. An accessory suite that even the cheapest Chi-Fi companies would be ashamed to include with their products, and a decidedly “house” sound that pretty much trashes one of the best headphones on the market (HD58X).

The thing is, I do like the sound of the Cobalt at times. Would I spend $300 on it? Hold my beer while I die laughing. It’s worth absolutely no more than $120, especially given the abysmal accessory options. I wouldn’t spend more than perhaps $90 on it, given how massively limited a device it is, with no balanced out, no universal device capability, and for those who are MQA fans, your software player has to do the unfolding; the Cobalt can only render MQA tracks.

I am most thankful to Todd at TTVJ for including me on the tour and I’m happy I got to try out one of the more polarizing mid-fi DACs presently available.

Happy listening!

Josh

 

 

 

 

 

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Hyland Headphones Saturn One Review

 

First, I want to thank Alex as well as Randy Reinheart from HeadFi for the opportunity to be a part of the North America tour. It was by sheer luck I got to the tour page in time, and it was an enjoyable experience.

First notes on unboxing: the other major companies could learn a valuable lesson here. The WOODEN box is lightweight and nestles the cans in sturdy and soft foam, and there is a felt carry bag included. The unit I got had the L-cush pads as well as G-cush, a 6.3mm adapter for the 3.5mm plug on the cable, and the cable was well made, albeit a bit stiff for my liking. The solid wood cable splitter had a really nice finish on it and I really appreciate the shrink tubing strain relief at all connection and termination points on the cable. One final note on cabling, related to the headphones themselves: if you look inside the ear cups through the grille, you can see that Alex wrapped the small wire inside the cup that connects to the driver. This kind of attention to detail is something I haven’t seen yet, even in more expensive products, and is a testament to the passion Alex has for his work.

The headphones themselves are deceptively light. I was genuinely nervous about handling them in the beginning because I felt like I would drop them. For reference, they’re lighter than my Sennheiser HD 58X, which is a very comfortable can. The clamping force is minimal, which is something I would have preferred more of as I wear glasses a fair amount and need the clamping to get a really good seal. The adjustments are all done via set screws, which even though its different and takes some getting used to, provides a very sturdy way of ensuring your adjustments don’t randomly change on you. The headband is moderately soft leather with enough texture to feel good, but not be irritating. The ear cups are solid wood and utterly gorgeous. The pads slip onto the cups and secure via a small lip on the ear cup and are very easy to change.

So first, I tried listening with the G-cush pads. NOPE. Despite the fact that it opened up the soundstage somewhat, the low end dropped out badly, and everything sounded more Left-Right than centered or properly imaged. Depth of the soundstage was good regardless of the pads I used. Since I really didn’t listen much with the G-cush pads, I’ll focus on my observations with the L-cush (on-ear) pads.

Holy freaking midrange detail! The Saturn One’s are very much like Grados in that they have a very fun and detailed midrange and highs, but without the sibilance that Grados are notorious for having. Detailed guitar riffs and solos were easy to analyze (as well as enjoy), vocals were a bit recessed into the soundstage, too much for my liking but they were still intelligible and detailed. One thing I’ll note about these headphones is their ability to render dynamic range (loud vs. soft sounds) really well without losing the softer sounds. Even with highly aggressive and forward double bass pedaling, guitar riffs, and screaming vocals, the tiny “tsk” of a cymbal or triangle being tapped off to the side was still perfectly clear.

                                 

Bass notes reminded me of my Grados the first time I heard them on a tube hybrid (Vali 2); they were clear, robust (they had feeling as well as the sound itself), and distinguishable from the rest of the music. I would not recommend these for EDM, they will not shake your face or your soul (like the Fostex Purplehearts do).

The Saturn Ones excel at a capella vocals. Ma fin est mon commencement, which consists of rounds sung by 4 male vocalists, is haunting and ethereal when you close your eyes. They kept up decently on Handel’s Messiah, which is arguably a challenging composition for any headphone or system.

The Piano Guys as well as The Brooklyn Duo shined, as the Saturn’s are best suited to more acoustic and classical music. Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass were well articulated and imaged but lacked the seductive low end their music is known and sought after for.

Now for gear pairings: my main solid-state amp is my Schiit Magni 3, which lately I’ve begun to believe is actually not neutral, but somewhat bright, which saddens me as it was a very poor pairing with Alex’s cans. I rolled through 5 tubes on my Vali 2 until I settled on an Aperex 6DJ8 A-Frame tube, which colored the sound signature, so it was more balanced and “lively,” reminiscent of my Focal + Pioneer stereo system (which is my reference sound overall). The tube brought the vocals a bit more forward, which is what I prefer. I didn’t notice any loss of detail overall with the tube hybrid, but the coloration will not be for everyone.

Surprisingly, my Fiio Q1Mk2 sounded freaking great with the Saturns. Unlike the Magni, there was no sibilance and the low end was better balanced with the mids and highs. I would definitely recommend the Fiio + Saturns as a go-to pairing, since the Q1Mk2 is also portable and has substantial juice for them. The DAC I used for my Vali 2 and Magni 3 was my Modi 3. My source files were either Spotify Premium downloads on iPhone or PC as well as ripped 16/44 FLAC files on both sources. I won’t get into details like frequency response and all that because frankly, I only use FR graphs as a very rough guide of how a headphone will sound. Ultimately, listening is the only way to truly know if you like something or not, IMO.

I can’t honestly say I would buy them, at least not right now (budget constraints plus they’re not quite my preferred sound signature) but I fully vouch for the quality of craftsmanship. You’re actually getting something that’s worth the price, in both construction and sound quality. Alex is also very quick to respond to messages, so post-purchase support will be good I anticipate (minus the whole shipping across oceans and that fun stuff!).

Personally, I would have preferred more clamping force (without having to bend the band, which I did NOT do), a softer and more flexible cable, and leather/memory foam ear pads. Just my preference, that’s all.

All in all, if you’re able to demo them at some point in the future, or you’re interested in gambling on some hand-made, truly original stuff, go for it. At the least, you’ll get some smiles and a good experience. At best, you’ll be mad happy.

Josh

Massdrop x Focal Spark Wireless (silver) Review

Focal_Spark_Wireless_Endcaps

“A fine balancing act…maybe too fine”

Price as tested: $40 USD (Massdrop special)

MSRP: $100 USD (retail)

BIAS DISCLOSURE!!! OMG HONESTY!!! 😊

I am a shameless Focal groupie. My Chorus 706V’s were my first audiophile speakers and first Focal product, and 10 years later they are still the ruler I judge everything else by (nothing better at the price point, $750, and under, fight me). So that being said, I went into this knowing I had confirmation bias (I expected a specific sound from the Sparks) and I’m pleased to report that while I did find that signature Focal sound in the Spark Wireless, it lacked the authority that it should have conveyed when appropriate among some other shortcomings.

Unboxing & Physical Characteristics:

Build quality is very good on the monitors and decent on the cable and component housings. The cable is flat, matte white, and the transducer ends have a little bit of strain relief. Focal royally dropped the ball on cable balance though and that’s both from an aesthetic standpoint as well as functional. The two plastic housings on the cable (one for the remote and associated components, another for the receiver) are of different dimensions and are not equidistant from the monitors, resulting in an imbalance. While the cable and pods are very light, there is still enough heft for there to be pull on the lighter side of the cable, dislodging the right monitor. I will note that there is strain relief at all cable connection points on the equipment pods, which should lend a measure of durability and longevity to the cable.

The 3-button remote works quite nicely for its intended functions. The symbols (plus and minus signs) are imprinted into the plastic buttons but are hard to see since they were not colored in or of a different finish. On the receiver pod, however, the branding is also imprinted but has a contrasting texture with the body of the pod, a very thoughtful and subtle touch.

 

The monitors are little metal tanks but are not super heavy. The end cap is of differing finish from the body and has Focal’s delightful little squiqqly line logo cut into it with utter precision. The monitor’s bodies wear the brand name on either side in tasteful gray, and the nozzle cap is highly polished with excellent nozzle screens and a substantial notch for securing the tips.

Focal skimps on the ear tips with only small, medium, and large clear silicone tips. They are slightly more rounded than cylindrical and require some experimentation and finesse to get a good seal. I found that using the small tips let me get a deep, comfortable, and secure insertion. I highly recommend wearing this over-ear, as the insertion angle is easier to work with. A deeper seating is definitely recommended for a secure fit. I will be experimenting with other tips with these in the future.

The little zippered carry case has the company logo tastefully imprinted on the front with a half-net on the roof of the clamshell. You get a tiny micro USB cable for charging, the 3 pairs of tips as I mentioned, and a magnetic cable keeper thingy that I had to look up on YouTube how to use (go ahead and make fun of me, I made fun of me too).

 

Shaddup with the boring part already! We want the sound!

Didn’t your mother teach you how to say ‘please’? 😀

Sound

Source:

iPhone X: Spotify Premium (downloaded)/Bandcamp (streaming)/Apple Music (320k MP3) > Massdrop x Focal Spark Wireless (silver)

Without looking at a graph, I’m not sure how to describe the frequency response (I really don’t care for graphs, they’re nerdier than I would like to be with this stuff, I just love music man…). It’s… “balanced.” You can hear everything pretty well overall, without one area being accentuated over the other. This balance is part of the sound signature Focal is known and loved for.

Sub bass

I was both happy and disappointed with the sub bass. While it is audible and reasonably detailed, it lacks authority. The woofer-wrecking bass lines of Code:Pandorum’s God and Heilung’s Hakkerskaldyr, failed to intimidate me like they usually do and were presented in a more tonally accurate fashion than a forceful fashion.

Mid bass

Now this is where I started to get happy. The Spark Wireless’ mid bass is controlled, like, seriously well controlled. Rammstein’s Los has some bloomy mid bass in it that more often than not, sounds like warbly mud through most speakers and headphones. The Sparks could not be more opposite. While again, the bass lacked authority and impact, it was controlled, tonally accurate, and musical. I will note that rapid-fire double bass pedals, such as from Slipknot’s Duality, possessed more authority than bass guitars or electronically generated bass.

Mids

Balanced, detailed, moderately energetic, tonally accurate, musical. Guitar notes, both electric and acoustic, had body and soul to them. Vocals present cleanly with incredible control and accuracy, something my 706V’s do extremely well. Imaging is pretty good, but it can appear a touchy muddy if you’re not focused on listening and distracted. It really only happens on tracks with a lot of electronic vocal effects and filtering combined with multiple and/or aggressive instruments.

Highs

This is where the Spark’s lose their…well…spark. While the treble is detailed and has good tone, busy cymbals and electric guitars can step on each other or “tsshhhh” together if you’re not listening critically. When you do listen attentively, it clears up a bit and you get a more musical feel. This isn’t to say that the Spark’s highs aren’t musical and pleasing, they could just have better distinction and separation.

Sound stage

Decidedly in the head with some decent forward projection. Vocals that are meant to sound distant, typically will; there is also some decent vertical placement, though it doesn’t go overly high or low, relative to the face. Echoing sounds present naturally and with detail, despite the limitations of the sound stage, but you can tell they want to reach farther.

Bluetooth function

Line-of-sight range is 10m or better, it always varies a little bit. Indoor use will heavily depend on the construction of the building. In my home, the Spark’s were cutting out while I was in the garage, which despite being perhaps 10-15 feet from my phone as the crow flies, suffered signal degradation from going through 3 walls. Call performance is acceptable, and the microphone picked up my voice well with the cable behind my head.

The cable has slight-to-moderate microphonics, but it is not noticeable unless listening at very low volumes while moving around a lot. Most listeners would likely never notice it.

As I alluded to at the beginning of the review, the Sparks are very balanced and honestly, I feel as if it was taken too far. While it is unfair to compare a typically $100 wireless IEM with bookshelf monitors that run anywhere from $500-$750 new, my 706V’s are representative of the signature Focal sound, which the marketing claims the Sparks possess. This claim is only partly fulfilled. Yes, the sound is balanced, yes it can be lively, but it lacks authority, energy, and because of those shortcomings, ultimately lacks the overall musicality and the “oh lord this is music!” factor.

Audio performance on videos was decent but nothing to write home about.

Would I recommend them at the MRSP? Eh, maybe? They honestly feel more like they belong in the $60 price bracket, so I feel the $40 Massdrop offer I took advantage of was a really good deal. If the build quality on the cable and pods was better as well as properly balanced, a suite of foam ear tips was included, and the sound tweaked to regain a bit of that lost energy (perhaps a modest V-shaped response?), then they would merit the full $100 MSRP.

I will likely compare the Spark Wireless with their wired version at some point in the future. I think that a better quality DAC and amplifier would make these sing without them being re-tuned.

 

 

Inaugural Review – Massdrop x Trn V80

So I finally decided to start reviewing audio products, it’ll mostly be headphone related stuff for now since actual home audio products are incredibly expensive…and I only have so much room in my office.

I’m giving simple, straight-forward reviews. If a brand/retailer tries to send me something to review I am going to decline them. Why? I don’t want there to be any suspicion of bias on my part. I love free stuff, but I’m going to keep it real here. That and if say, a company like Unique Melody, sent me a product for review and I thought it was crap, I’m going to say it’s crap. Glowing reviews don’t help products improve, they only drive sales. I don’t care about sales, I care about my music and how I experience it. If the experience is good, then that’s what I’ll say. If the experience is bad, then that’s what I’ll say.

All that being said…here’s the first legit review that will make sense and not make you run for a dictionary…The Massdrop x Trn V80 IEMs…

 

Massdrop x TRN Audio V80 IEM Review

“The Gentleman’s Bass Cannon”

First, I actually got the wrong color in the mail. I had ordered the blue ones through Massdrop, but they had a packaging error and sent me the black ones. I ended up liking them so much I said the hell with an exchange, I’m keeping these! Yeah, that’s how much I was impressed at first listen….

Build quality of the monitors is very good. The casing is aluminum, finished smoothly in a semi-gloss fashion, and the halves’ edges are flush with each other. The pin sockets are clean and don’t display any wiggle. The nozzle screen is firmly affixed inside the nozzle and slightly recessed by a couple millimeters. This should help prevent accidental damage from fussing with ear tips.

The cable really surprised me, as it is very pleasing in the hands, has a straight plug with a high quality, slightly beveled plug sleeve, and the memory wire requires no fussing with to fit into place as it is pre-curved from the factory. Some may appreciate this, some not, it’s personal preference. Overall, the cable is tightly wound, shiny black in appearance, and the cable after the split is most ample in length. My only gripe is that for the length of the L/R cables, a keeper or cinch would help with keeping the wires out of the way when moving around. Sitting at home listening, they’re not a big deal.

Ear tips are your generic silicone S, M, and L offerings. The medium ones are pre-installed and happened to fit my ears just right. Since I’m happy with the stock tips, I won’t offer any comparisons. I would have liked to see a set of foam tips as well, but given the price drop on these for Massdrop, it’s ok.

Sound:

PC: FLAC+WINAMP/Spotify Premium > Schiit Fulla 2 > Massdrop x Trn V80

iPhone X: Spotify Premium (downloaded)/Bandcamp (streaming)/Apple Music (320k MP3) > Massdrop x Trn V80

Xbox One X > Turtle Beach Stream Mic / Wireless Xbox Controller > Massdrop x Trn V80

I’m not going to use audio-nerd terms here, but simple English we can all relate to physically and emotionally. This is for the people. *sweeping bow*

The frequency response is V-shaped and has some delightfully authoritative bass, gentle but clear mids, and dancing highs that don’t scratch your ears bloody.

The bass response is actually quite accurate for a more bass-tuned IEM. Lossless tracks from Unheilig’s Zelluloid did not have a bloat to the midbass nor inappropriate addition to the subbass. Rather, the bass became a little fuller and punchier, while retaining enough detail to distinguish between rapidly plucked notes. On songs that are notably midbass heavy, much modern pop comes to mind, the midbass bloom was very well controlled and surprisingly the mids remained enjoyable.

Mids are gently recessed, with their presence belying the V-shape frequency response. Male vocals are more present than female vocals, with the latter sounding more “distant,” but only by a small amount. Awe inspiring vibratos aremain intelligible and pleasing, lacking the piercing characteristics lesser IEMs confer upon such performances.

The treble is delightful and balanced in its approach; there is sparkle when appropriate and softness likewise. Harsh, energetic cellos and violins, such as those from Epica and Apocalyptica, retain their musical charm and do not claw at the eardrums. It’s really nice to be able to hear both the instrument’s natural tone as well as the distortion and have it pleasant. Cymbals and similar percussion instruments are distinguishable from each other.

The sound stage is generously wide with lossless recordings and fed from the Fulla 2. From the iPhone X, it narrows noticeably but not enough to become congested. What the V80s do not do, is image vertically much at all. The music remains mostly in front of your face or inside your head. When it is inside your head it isn’t unpleasant and it’s usually not all the elements of the song that are centered. Placement of all the instruments and vocals is very good, albeit constrained. Bass usually presents itself low on the sound stage, acting as a firm and authoritative foundation for the mids and highs.

There are notable differences between lossless and Spotify/Bandcamp downloads/streaming as well as between PC and iPhone use. From the iPhone, the soundstage as a whole, closes in more in a circular fashion, evenly reducing the presentation’s width and depth. From the Fulla 2 and lossless FLAC, separation, detail, and musicality was the best. I could not tell the difference between 320K MP3 rips in iTunes/Spotify and the Spotify downloads and streams or the Bandcamp streams. I personally feel that 320K MP3 and Spotify Premium/Bandcamp Streaming (owned music) are virtually identical and if there are differences, either my gear isn’t good enough to resolve them or my ears aren’t.

The memory wire is unusually comfortable and doesn’t interfere with my glasses…I don’t even notice it when it’s in place. The pre-formed shape from the factory is just right for my ears and perhaps other people too. They’re really freaking comfortable and discrete. The cable is quite nice as well.

I would describe how the V80s execute each note as “precise;” even with rapid fire harpsichord key strikes or a roaring symphony you are able to hear and appreciate each individual instrument. This is why I have dubbed the Trn V80s “The Gentleman’s Bass Cannon.” They’ll mess your ears up in all the right ways and be polite while doing it.

What these are not good for at all is gaming…whether they were fed by the Turtle Beach Stream Mic’s headphone out or from the wireless Xbox controller, the sound was a bit congested and all centered in the head. It was very difficult to pick out directional sounds in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, which messed with my performance as the audio engine in the game is superb. Streaming video (Amazon Prime Video, Netflix 4K, CBS Go) was alright but if you’re looking for a movie experience, these won’t do it.