Cowon – Plenue L
The Cowon is a smoother sounding DAP with very good levels of resolution and separation. It performs especially well on its balanced output.
It gives the Diana a smoother sounding midrange, where vocals and instruments sound even slightly fuller. Body and weight again are just about perfect. You get a softer toned sound, where every note seems to be placed on an airy surface. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Bass is nicely dynamic with good body, the Diana appears more air-infused in its lows with the Plenue L than on any other pairing I’ve tried, including ones not listed here. It reaches low into sub bass, but misses out on thunder and grunt.
You get very good stereo separation, with very good imaging and layering. The Plenue L falls short in terms of resolution in comparison to the AK or Lotoo, but it creates a more liquid sound than any of the two.
The Cowon gives the Diana some additional spotlight in its lows, which makes the top end slightly more recessed and gives it a harder time to shine through. Treble however still is fatigue free and enjoyable with good speed and energy. Some violins did sound a bit shy though, where they are more confident on other pairings.
In this section I want to give you, the reader, more insight about how the Diana performs in relation to other monitors of similar price and sound. We will of course take a look at how the Diana performs against her sister Billie Jean and offers from Noble and Empire Ears. Hopefully these comparisons will give you more insight about the Diana.
Astell&Kern – Billie Jean (2BA, 349$)
The Billie Jean has been introduced at High End Munich 2018 and I also consider it a good performer for its price, especially considering it only sports two balanced armatures the sound is pretty good.
The Diana has a fuller sound in comparison, where the Billie Jean is lighter and comes with less impact-full bass, the Diana impresses with power and drive. Diana is lusher in its lower midrange, where Billie Jean again seems lighter and airier.
Overall the Billie Jean has a more neutralish presentation with more focus on reference, while the Diana has a shift towards lows. One of the most obvious differences between the two is also in the treble section. Highs on the Billie Jean are more forward and agile, while they’re more relaxed on the Diana.
Diana creates a better organized image with a wider and deeper stage. Both units have very good levels of layering and imaging, but to me, Diana takes the crown on both aspects.
The Diana has a more vibrant sound all in all, with a more natural presentation with excellent body. This is where the Billie Jean is taking a different approach with its lighter tuning and neutrality.
Noble Audio – Sage (2BA, 599$)
The Sage is Noble’s mid-tier offer and has been that for almost three years now I think. The Sage is like the Billie Jean a dual driver configuration.
Noble’s IEM might have a bigger drive in its lows, but in comparison to the Diana it falls short on weight. While the Noble punches with authority, it uses a light glove for that, leaving desire for more impact. The Diana is the opposite. It might not possess the punch of the Noble, but leaves a bigger crater where it hits.
Diana has a more weighty lower midrange as well, with more body and better texture that seems more precise. It has a more natural sound in comparison to the neutral, but also well bodied, sound of the Sage.
Both perform equally good when it comes to designing the sound stage. They reach deep and wide in even dimensions and both know how to place participating musicians with care. Imaging is going to the Diana for me, as it just seems to separate better.
Sage has a more agile top end, which is crisper and brighter. Diana is easier on the ear and might be the better fit if you’re worried about your sensitivity to higher frequencies.
Empire Ears – Phantom (5BA, 1,799$)
Now this is an interesting one. The Phantom is a quint BA IEM that costs a whole thousand Dollars more. I don’t deny the Phantom is in another league on technical levels, but the overall signature of the Diana and the EE is very similar.
They both perform very high when looking at the lower range instruments and vocals. The Phantom and the Diana favour these over their higher pitched counterparts. The Empire IEM has higher resolution and a tighter and better controlled bass. It goes deeper with more grunt and builds a more solid foundation down low.
The Diana as well as the Phantom create big bodies with superb weight. Where the Phantom edges out the AK again is resolution and texture, which seems more accurately displayed on it. Though there isn’t a very big difference here.
Both monitors have a tendency to give female vocals a slightly lesser focus and a shift away from timbral accuracy. The Phantom creates a bigger and wider stage, with better imaging. Both can seem compressed at times, where upper mids seem to be missing air.
People that are eyeing the Phantom but can’t bring out the cash might find joy in the Diana, which seems like a light version of it. Both are impressively natural performers, that place tonal balance and enjoyment over analytical and technical performance.
I’ve been a fan of the natural JH Audio tuning since my first model, and every single one after that has left a lasting impression on me. The Diana is no exception. The collaboration between JH Audio and Astell&Kern has brought us many great IEMs in the past, but this one to me is the one with the best price to performance ratio.
Diana performs impressively in regards of vocals and lower end frequencies. From the first listen on it has reminded me of the Phantom by Empire Ears. This one has found many fans around the globe, and I believe that the Diana can achieve the same.
It sets the bar high in terms of build quality for every monitor of any price in my opinion. The only thing that really annoys me is the twisted 2-pin socket. How I wish I could use some higher end cables with the Diana…
The Diana is a solid contender in the sub 1000$ category, and should be on top of the list for everyone looking for a monitor with a warmer signature that will suit any genre and give high pleasure on an extended period. Diana is a guarantor of enjoyment, a monitor to just sit back with.