High End Earbuds Review -updated-

GENERAL COMPARISONS WITH IN-EARS
In the old days, one of the thing that people constantly praise the PK-1 for is its soundstage, though now I’ve discovered that the MX980 and the TM-5 are also pretty phenomenal with the soundstage. The earphones can really make you forget that you’re only wearing a tiny earbud. They won’t give you the precise, dead black background, and vast soundstage that you get from IEMs such as the JH16Pro, or even the Etymotic ER4. But some impressions between the PK-1 and some IEMs have generally favored the PK-1 in terms of soundstage performance. I think the loose fit of the earbuds and the open sound characteristics is mostly what’s attributing to the sense of full-size headphone like soundstage with these earbuds. Having an open sound can sort of trick you into thinking that the soundstage is bigger than it really is. Having an open sound also gives an impression of a more airy sound even for studio recordings. And in this sense, the earbuds presents the listener with a more consistent, spacious sound, whereas a precise but fully sealed IEM like the ER4 or the JH customs more accurately reflect the ambiance as captured in the recording.

In a sense, the earbuds give you a more speaker like presentation in the sense that they are more airy and open sounding. Going back to the JH customs, I can’t help but noticing the closed-in and sealed presentation, despite the huge and much more accurate soundstage. I remember some people friends telling me that they can’t live with the ER4 due to the lack of soundstage, while I’ve always thought that the ER4 has one of the best soundstage presentation around. Again, in this case, the more accurate IEMs becomes a more faithful representation of the recording, in which they give you a closed ambiance when the recording was taken in a fully sealed studio room. The earbuds can never quite give me the zoomed-in, fully engaged presentation of the IEMs, but while they are somewhat “looser” and less accurate in this sense, they do give a generally more open and spacious soundstage irregardless of the recording.

As I was comparing the earbuds to the 8-driver JH16, the question of single versus multi driver arises once more. Speaker guys are always on this sort of discussions, one full range driver versus multi driver speaker set ups. As with full size headphones which mostly comes with one driver per side, the earbuds does present the music with a greater sense of coherence which is the signature of full-range speakers. They may not handle each frequency as well as with a multi-driver IEM, but the sense of coherence in the frequency range is indeed very present.

AMPING REQUIREMENTS
One thing that I’ve heard many times with the PK-1 is that you need a good amplifier to really hear what it’s capable of. For most mainstream recording that tend to be mastered at a higher volume level, I find that the Ipod is powerful enough to blast it to volume levels that make my ears hurt. So, in that sense, the gain level is quite sufficient, and I also don’t think that the current demands of these earbuds to be something so high than an Ipod can’t handle.

When I move to a good portable amplifier like the Pico Slim, ALO Rx, or SR-71a, obviously the sound is improved. In that sense the PK-1 is no different than any other headphone or even portables that I’ve tried. Given a good driver quality, even headphones like the PX100 and the V-Jays improve with amplification. Among the three, I do find that the PK-1, the HR-1 and the Blox TM-5 to improve the most with quality amplification, while I’ll be happy to use the MX980 and the A8 right out of an Ipod (as it’s also easier to drive than the Blox or the PK-1).

I’ve tried the earphones with many different amplifiers, up to the Burson HA-160D and the Grace m902, just to see how well they scale. I’d probably say that a good portable amplifier is good enough for these buds, with the Pico Slim being my favorite amp for pairing with the Yuin and the Blox.

END WORDS
The Yuin PK1 is a legendary earbud, and I do think that its sonic performance clearly deserves the legendary performance. However, I don’t think it’s quite fitting to be the “King of Earbuds”, in a way that it’s one earbud to rule them all kind of thing. Perhaps the lack of low bass and PRaT is its biggest weakness, as it simply doesn’t do rock well enough. As it is, the Yuin makes for the best jazz, vocal (especially with an RSA Mustang), and acoustics earbuds among the three.

The Blox’s tuning is fitting for a totally different genre than the Yuin, and is excellent for rock, electronic, and I also enjoyed it for classical as it just gives the best soundstage performance of the three and a proper weight and slam that’s very important in symphonies.

The Sennheiser MX980 is less of a specialist than the previous two. It doesn’t have the midrange of the Yuin or the Bass of the Blox. But in a way it also has the widest genre bandwith, and is the best all-rounder of the three. It’s not dark like the Blox, and it’s also a better bass performer than the Yuin.

For most people, the $200 pricetag of these generic looking black earbuds would probably sound like a big ripoff price. Even the cable build looks no different from the generic $5 earbuds that you can get on electronic stores. They simply don’t inspire too much confidence in them. The Sennheiser simply is much superior in terms of build quality, employing fancy materials, even up to the inline volume control. For some reason, however, I doubt if the looks and build quality will really direct the purchases toward the Sennheiser. I think the cult surrounding earphones are quite niche by itself, and people who decides to put $200 into an earbud would probably be basing their purchase based on the sonic credentials.


Update: Addition of the Bang & Olufsen A8 and Crossroads HR-1

BANG & OLUFSEN A8
The A8 from Bang & Olufsen is normally not considered an audiophile option by the headphone crowd. It’s been in the market for a few years now, and yet the stylish A8 has never joined the rank of “legendary” earbuds such as the Yuin PK-1 or the Crossroads HR-1. Since a unit was sent to me by Anton, I thought it’ll be good to include it in the comparison just to see where things stand.

The sound is quite likable, and the tonal balance is quite good, bearing more similarities to the MX980 and the PK1, rather than the extremely warm HR-1 or the dark sounding TM-5. I can see how the mainstream crowd will be able to appreciated the A8 due to its clean sound and forward signature. The midrange area is consistently forward, regardless of the recording, and it becomes a signature character of the A8. This can be nice at times, but also often time the midrange, especially upper mids can be overly forward for pop or rock recordings, and I can’t help but having to listen to the A8 at a lower volume level. The sound is very clean and grainless, something that I don’t find on the other buds. I’m not talking clarity or transparency here, but rather the lack of grain in the sound that gives a very clear impression of the sound. For this reason the A8 doesn’t quite need to boost the treble levels to give an impression of clarity, and in fact, the treble levels is quite okay for a majority of different recordings (though the upper mid isn’t, as I mentioned earlier).

One of the most noticeable deficiencies of the A8 is that I don’t a linear enough frequency curve at the upper treble and lower bass ends. Making a comparison with the MX980, for instance, the Sennheiser have more low bass presence that “completes” the lower end body, and also the same on the upper frequencies which gives you the cymbal crashes, the air and the ambiance in the music.

Although the A8 boasts a forward midrange, it doesn’t have the sweetness of the PK1 or even the MX980. The mids also sound congested often times, and is not as well articulated as the PK1 or the MX980. The overall instrument separation and soundstage size on the A8 are also not as good as on the MX980 and the PK1. Finally, the timbre is a little off when you compared it to the MX980, PK1, and the TM5, and it’s very noticeable once you start playing live instrument recordings.

I can say that the A8 is actually pretty well developed, if you consider that B&O was probably targeting the product for the average consumer base. The solid build quality is definitely the best in this comparison, and really puts all the other chinese offering to shame. The solid rubber-wrapped metal hanger and the modern minimalistic design is a very strong plus on the A8. And finally, the A8’s well balanced and grainless sound does a good job of giving the average Joe a small taste of what a proper hi-fi sound would be like.

The Bang and Olufsen A8 has the best build quality and design. The hanger is also a plus, as it keeps the buds in place securely.

The adjustment range of the hanger, and also notice that the vertical rod can be pulled in and out as well.

CROSSROADS HR-1
From what I’ve heard, the now discontinued Crossroads HR-1 is quite legendary in the earbuds circle. And somehow, due to its being discontinued and there aren’t a lot of HR-1 around, it has somewhat earned a higher legendary status than the Yuin PK-1.

Upon receiving the HR-1 from Anton, I noticed that the housing has an identical shape, notches and holes with the Yuin PK-1. Most very probably the two comes from the same OEM company in China. The HR-1, however is finished in a nicer glossy paint which looks good compared to the flat-black Yuin. There is also an addition of a red and blue marking for easier identification of the right and left side. The cable is a soft multi-braid cable similar to the Westone cables, and is much softer and flexible than the PK-1’s. At the end of the cable, the HR-1 is terminated with an angled 3.5mm jack, again this is more user-friendly than the straight jack of the PK-1.

The voice is somewhat similar to the PK-1 that I really believe the two were manufactured by the same company, but with a different spec on the driver, cable, and perhaps also the housing. The tonal balance, however, is quite different than the PK-1, as the HR-1 is significantly more mids oriented and warmer sounding than the PK-1. Treble presence has been attenuated quite significantly on the HR-1, resulting in an almost never offensive treble, regardless of the recording quality. I can see that the HR-1 is an attempt to tune the PK-1 sound in a way that it would blend well with the majority of treble happy recordings these days.

I think the super-warm and treble attenuation of the HR-1 is quite controversial. For one, I find the HR-1 to be the most demanding of a good amplifier compared to all the other buds in this comparison, even the PK-1. Unamped and direct from a portable player, the sound is muffled and very unimpressive technically. However, when plugged in to a good portable amp, in this case I’m using the Pico Slim, the HR-1 transform itself quite tremendously. The soundstage becomes very big and comparable to the size of the PK-1 soundstage, amped. For some reason, perhaps due to the mid-centric tonality of the HR-1, the soundstage have an impression of being deeper than the PK-1’s soundstage. Also, the midrange opens up considerably, and the detail on the treble and the low bass also improves. There tonal balance is still the same mid-centric sound as if unamped, but I don’t find the HR-1 to be muffled or muddy as I did when unamped.

So the HR-1 transforms to a totally different earphone when properly amped. But the tonal balance is still the same, and most people will need to re-adjust their ears to be able to appreciate the HR-1’s sound. What I truly like about the HR-1 is how the treble always remains unoffensive on many different recordings, but the extreme colorations make it hard for me to recommend it to people, unless I know them to be a fan of a mid-centric presentation.

The Crossroads HR-1. The housing body looks very similar to the Yuin PK-1, but with better finishing quality. The foam pads are a bit tattered on this HR-1.




Gears used for review:
Earbuds: Yuin PK-1, Sennheiser MX980, Blox TM-5
Amplifiers: Pico Slim, ALO Rx, RSA Shadow, RSA SR-71a, Grace m902, Burson HA-160D
Source: Ipod Classic, Hifiman HM-601 & 602, Onkyo ND-S1 dock

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122 Comments

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    Mike

    Right after I published this article, I received a package containing the Bang & Olufsen A8 and the legendary Crossroads HR-1 earbuds from Anton. Looks like an update is due sometimes in the future to include the two additional buds. πŸ˜€

    • Reply January 26, 2011

      CccC

      I reckon you'd find the B&O A8 to have an extremely wide soundstage for a pair of earbuds, though may be slightly shy on bass compared to the Yuin series. The Crossroad HR-1, however…. *chuckles* I guess it'd be up to you to see if you'd like it though. Personally I find it to have a slight tinge of strange warmth throughout the entire spectrum.

      Haha. Let me continue reading your review ya Mike. Great writeup there. πŸ™‚

      • Reply January 26, 2011

        Mike

        Thanks for the heads up! I need to spend sometime with both earbuds, as they're totally new to me. But it's all good since I can be doing that while working on the portable amplifier shootout, and the Yulong U100 and Musiland 02 reviews. πŸ™‚

        • Reply January 26, 2011

          CccC

          Haha.. I reckon you know who I am ya Mike. Pardon me for my email address with its vulgar wordings though.

          Mike, how would you rate the comfort for the earbuds though? From my experience, the generic casings used for the Blox TM5 and Yuins in fact do contribute to a better comfort, generally more acceptable for the masses. I am not too sure about the MX980 though, I've heard some complaints about the earpiece being too big and heavy. How would your experience with them reflect this aspect though? πŸ™‚

          The MX980 do look good though. Smexy. Haha. I was once tempted to grab it, but honestly, the volume control and perceived ergonomics turned me off a little. I have the MX580 however, nice pair of cheap earbuds, mids are quite forward and sweet, making it very emotional for vocal-centric songs, but other than that, the Yuin PK3 still reigns… In my humble opinion. πŸ™‚

          • Reply January 26, 2011

            Mike

            No dude, I actually don't know how you are, and I can't remember any email resembling what you said. o.0

            Yes, the TM5 and the PK1 are more comfortable, but on my rather large ears, the MX980 holds better. It's also heavier, but I don't think I have any problems with it. I think the weight of the rod is probably pulling down on the housing in such a way that makes it sit better on the ears than the PK1 and the TM5.

            • Reply January 26, 2011

              CccC

              Oh, haha, I'm C who had a short conversation about earbuds with you over at headfonia p2 before you published the review, Mike. πŸ™‚

              By the way, I realise we can rate our own comments in the forums. *chuckles*

              I should really try out the MX980 one day.. Sadly, I can't get to audit them anywhere in my country, so most probably I might need to order it to try it out. I still find the design abit of a turn off on comfort for me though (I'm a puny asian with no eyes and small ears, hahaha), but I shall reserve further comments until I have them on my ears. πŸ™‚

              Well, let's see how I go financially first though! πŸ™‚

              • Reply January 26, 2011

                CccC

                Sorry I don't mean "rate our own comments in the forums", but "rate our own comments on headfonia". Gah.

                • Reply January 26, 2011

                  Mike

                  I know! Isn't that awesome?! B)

              • Reply January 26, 2011

                Mike

                Lol.. Yes I know you. How can I forget? πŸ˜€

                Interesting that you decided to take on the MX980 and not the Blox. I don't know, but I have a feeling that people who're into Yuins are probably not going to be impressed at the Senn. The different character of the two buds tell me they're targeted for different type of music.

                • Reply January 27, 2011

                  CccC

                  Oh, honestly I am not too decided yet. Either the ZePhone NB01 (they say it uses the same driver as the PK1, but different cable and plug, they also have an upgraded version of the NB01 as well which has different cables than the stock NB01), Sennheiser MX980 or wait for the Blox TM5 I reckon. Or a Yuin OK1. Haha. I guess I'll just sit down and enjoy my Yuin PK1 first.. Since I can't seem to decide on which to go for, as honestly, I am expecting my next earbud purchase to be better than the PK1 instead of a sidestep to it.

                  Decisions decisions, we rant when we don't have money, and we rant when we are deciding on how to spend money. Oh the irony! πŸ˜›

                  • Reply January 27, 2011

                    Mike

                    I'd personally go for the Blox TM5. Most awesome soundstage of the bunch, and superb bass QUANTITY and QUALITY. Not for TREBLE lovers though.

      • Reply January 27, 2011

        Mike

        Been spending some time with the HR-1, and my impression is that the HR-1 is an even warmer version of the PK1. It's also less bright and has better mids and bass body than the PK1. I can see how some people would prefer the HR-1 than the PK1. The two has an identical housing though! It's like Jaben ordered it from the same OEM company, painted the HR-1 gloss black while the PK1 is matt black.

        -corrected the TM-5 part-

        • Reply January 27, 2011

          CccC

          Hmm.. I find that excessive warmth may sound weird sometimes, probably that's why I mentioned it has that tinge of warmth which made me shy away from it. Doesn't seem to "fit in" right. Haha. But hey, I have to say, the Crossroad HR2 and HR1 do look great, with braided cables and that special coating (said to be some sort of UV coating) which helps avoid scratches on the earbud's body themselves.

          • Reply January 27, 2011

            Mike

            Yes the braided cables are great, looks like Westone cable knock offs. It is very warm and mid centric though. Good for female vocals.

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    kanon

    Thanks for the review, Mike. I really enjoy the speaker like sound from the tm5.

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    kanon

    Another thing, do you find tm5 sound similar to ie8? how do the two compare in soundstadge and resolution?

    • Reply January 26, 2011

      Mike

      Can't say much about the IE8, it's been a while since I heard them. But I did say a thing or two about earbuds vs IEM soundstage.

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    kanon

    I'm just curious it seems like tm5 share a very similar sound signature to ie8 based on what I have heard

    • Reply January 26, 2011

      Mike

      The IE8 has good bass, but it's not as articulate as the TM-5. PRaT is also not as good as the TM-5. The IE8 has a smoother sound, more relaxed, where the TM-5 still has a good pace and attack.

      It's like comparing the sound signature of a HD650 to an LCD-2. Both dark, both good bass, but different voicing.

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    Jelle

    How about Atomic Floyd AirJax?
    And does the Radius HP-TWF11K count as an earbud or in-ear?

    • Reply January 26, 2011

      CccC

      I've tried the Atomic Floyd AirJax before. Honestly, not very impressed with it for the price. Don't get me wrong though, it does sound good, however abit too costly for what it delivers. πŸ™‚ Its sound signature reminds me best of the likes of Philips, made quite bright to seemingly bring out its details, bass extension which isn't too deep or wide, vocals just a slight bit thin. Overall does sound pretty nice with mainstream songs, but for the price.. I'd hesitate over buying it.

      The Radius is definitely an in ear. πŸ˜€

      • Reply January 26, 2011

        Mike

        I've reviewed the TwistJax before. It's one of the few reviews we had on this website, actually: http://headfonia.com/atomic-floyd-twistjax/
        πŸ™‚

        • Reply January 27, 2011

          CccC

          "Overall, the TwistJax is a good product from a fairly young company. K.K.Ko, the Accoustic Engineer, has close to 15 years of headphone engineering experience in Philips and Fujikon "

          Hey!!! No wonder when I tried the AirJax the sound signature reminded me of Philips headphones! Seriously, I started off with the Philips SHP2700 and SHP8900 when I was much younger. Honest, I didn't know the company is in any way affiliated with Philips and Fujikon. *laughs*

          • Reply January 27, 2011

            Mike

            I like your email man. Is that your real email?

            And yes, apparently they do.

            • Reply January 27, 2011

              CccC

              *giggles* I.. Like many people online (hopefully!), have multiple email IDs to keep track of things. Haha. However, you could always fire me a mail there as I do check things up periodically. I use another email for my Windows Live Messenger. πŸ™‚

              • Reply January 27, 2011

                Mike

                I keep a notepad, like the one you actually have to cut a tree to make, to write down all the different user passwords I have. It's just too much nowadays.

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    @relentlessFocus

    Mike, It's iPod not Ipod. Love reading your reviews. Thanks!!

  • Reply January 27, 2011

    a_tumiwa

    @CccC: what are your top 3 earbuds? have you tried ATH CM700??

    • Reply January 27, 2011

      CccC

      Whoops, sorry, I didn't try the CM700.. Yet. *chuckles* But I had a fairly decent discussion with an online buddy of mine over how the CM707 (a supposed replacement for the CM700). The soundstage, mids and highs of the CM707 are done pretty well, albeit with the soundstage being wider than deeper. Bass, however, is abit on the lean side. This goes very smilar with previous impressions of the CM700 as well.

      I have either owned or heard (I don't have that much experience with earbuds too, sadly) the Yuin PK1/2/3, Atomic Floyd AirJax, Sennheiser MX580 and MX400, Crossroad HR1/2, Bang&Olufsen A8, Final Audio Piano Forte II, and I've discussed and talked about the ATH-CM707, Blox TM5, Sennheiser MX880/980, ZePhone NB01, Yuin OK1/2/3 and some other.

      My top two is the Yuin PK3 and Yuin PK1. Nothing to slot in the 3rd at the moment, and I am looking around for one to outperform either the PK3 and PK1 in my ranks.

      Yuin PK3 for its tremendous value for performance factor, not to mention is scales very well with amplification for something this small and cheap. Manages to push out INCREDIBLY deep and low bass for its size and price, far deeper than the PK2 (PK2 has bigger bass though), capable of going as low as the PK1 even. It's very much like an unrefined, mini version of the Yuin PK1.
      Yuin PK1 for an overall balanced sound with a hint of warmth to it, making it sweet for gentle acoustic songs and vocals as female vocals and Jpop stand for a huge part in my music collection. For me it's hard to point on the fault of the PK1, unless I am listening to rock or extremely fast paced songs where it'll start sounding fairly congested and messy.

      One more thing I have to tell you about myself, I am a sucker for comfort. *chuckles* Up till now I've avoided the higher end series of the Sennheiser MX series (880 and 980) due to the presence of a volume control and their ergonomics, the volume control adding an extra bulk on the cable and the MX980 seems rather uncomfortable to me, but it won't stop me from trying them out before I decide if this stands true or not. I adored the generic case shell that Yuin used and hence they could stay for ages in my ears. Oh not to mention I actually sleep with my earbuds on (music helps me sleep :P), so I'd be rolling over on my side, where I would need earbuds that doesn't press too much against my ears, which explains why I don't use IEMs, or any earbuds with built on earhooks.

      Well, so much about me, what would YOU wish your future pair of earbuds to do, a_tumiwa? πŸ™‚ For starters, you may consider the Yuin PK3, far more balanced and acceptable to a wider range of listeners than the Yuin PK2. πŸ™‚

      • Reply January 27, 2011

        Mike

        The CM700 REALLY sounds like an Audio Technica. It's sounds like an CK100 done in an earbuds format.

  • Reply January 27, 2011

    kanon

    Mike, what would you say that creates the width and depth of soundstage? Would you agree that a huge soundstage (both width and depth) is the best indicator of technicalities?

    • Reply January 27, 2011

      Mike

      Definitely. The soundstage is surprisingly very deep. I suppose you can count that as good technicalities, yes. Everytime I go back to the Blox after listening to the other earphones, I get blown away by the soundstage. It's not even close.

      • Reply January 27, 2011

        kanon

        Hmm, can you tell me what create the width and depth of soundstage?

        • Reply January 27, 2011

          Mike

          I really don\’t know. Driver quality, somehow? Also combined with housing design? I know that Sennheiser vastly improved the soundstage from HD555 to HD558 just by changing the housing. I\’m not talking just a more \”open\” sound improvement either. But from having no depth to a real good depth in the soundstage.

  • Reply January 27, 2011

    @tom_nyam_kun

    Really nice review Mike πŸ˜€
    As a fan of ear bud I really enjoy reading this review
    I'm waiting for your high res wallpaper of mx980 πŸ˜›
    it look like a state of art for me πŸ˜›
    Anyway do you have plan to review the one and only (as for now) dual driver ear bud ,koss kde250?
    and where did you get the blox ?
    I thought it is very rare, and only 1 person in our country have it .

    • Reply January 27, 2011

      CccC

      Blox TM5 goes up for sales every once a while. πŸ™‚ The previous one was about 2~3 weeks ago, but I was having exams, couldn't think well, so I sort of hesitated my purchase (for a good reason too! Things didn't go very smoothly financially for this month afterall).

      I'm checking their site every once a while, hopefully it pops out some day soon. πŸ™‚

      • Reply January 27, 2011

        Anonymous

        Didn’t know it was so hard to get the Blox.

        What a marketing strategy: Release a high end earbuds when everyone else is making IEMs, then make it extremely limited quantity. That’ll get everyone looking. πŸ˜›

    • Reply January 27, 2011

      Anonymous

      Thanks!

      I didn’t even know Koss makes a dual driver earbud. But if you read the short bit I wrote about single vs multi drivers, I have a feeling the Koss will have the same issue as the multi-driver IEMs as well.

      I got the blox from my buddy Sem. You know him?

    • Reply December 15, 2017

      Warren Peace

      The Koss KDE250 isn’t technically an “earbud”, I call it an open earphone. But it sounds very, very good. It lags behind the Sennheiser MX985 in absolute clarity (but only just), and the fit is really fussy to keep it in the sweet spot where the best sound is. I haven’t heard the TM5, but don’t be fooled by its lowest frequency response being rated as 40hz: the Koss has far and away the best bass out of any open earphones I’ve ever heard. It will SLAM in the low end like only much larger headphones can!

      I think of it as sharing a sound signature with the PortaPro, but greatly refined. It doesn’t lose entire frequencies like the PP, and it will give you far more detail and clarity.

      The KDE250 is criminally underrated in hifi circles.

  • Reply January 27, 2011

    a_tumiwa

    i believe his blox tm5 has batch number #2 or #3 from total 150 pcs created πŸ˜€

    • Reply January 27, 2011

      @tom_nyam_kun

      so there are 2 in our country πŸ˜€
      I really wonder why blox make such a limited amount …

  • Reply January 28, 2011

    mathu

    Mike, how would you compare these high-end earbuds and ultra portables like V-Jays in terms of soundstage and overall SQ? It’s very hard these days to find an open headphones that remain truly portable and do not require additional amplification. I was looking for an improvement over my V-Jays in terms of bass and detail rendering and unfortunately had to move to closed cans from Shure. The sound quality is fine, with much better details and bass, but I’m lacking the airy sound and portability of the V-Jays and I’m wondering if these Senns or Blox could be considered as a solution for my problem.

    • Reply January 28, 2011

      Anonymous

      That is a very good question.

      I don’t think the ultra portables have the refinement, treble mid quality of the PK1, bass quality of the Blox, or the soundstage of the PK1 or the Blox. But given the larger driver size, they can produce more bass quantity very easily.

  • Reply January 28, 2011

    esanthosh

    High-end Earbuds comparison and no OK1? πŸ˜‰

    • Reply January 28, 2011

      Anonymous

      Shut up πŸ˜‰

      • Reply January 30, 2011

        esanthosh

        Really? That’s your answer? I expected something on the lines of “soon to be included” ;). Considering that earbud comparisons are such a rarity (not only at headfonia), I’d have ideally liked OK1 to be included. MX980 vs OK1 is something I looked forward to. May be in the future…

        • Reply January 31, 2011

          Anonymous

          Ah, I’m sorry esantosh. Let me see if I can find an OK1.. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply January 31, 2011

    ___2003

    I own Yuin PK-1, OK1, Sennheiser MX980 and Blox TM5 2nd batch.
    I can say that the best are MX980 because they really sounds as big cans.
    TM5 bass is not as good as the one in the review. They are only more ‘bass biased’ than MX980 and PK-1 with deafult signature but if you plug an equalizer and crank up the bass only the MX980 really sound good.

    • Reply January 31, 2011

      Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment. I will try the MX980 with some EQing.

  • Reply February 1, 2011

    Pete Manakit

    After starting my headphone journey with IEMs and went through many dozens of them, now I’m going back to basic finding a sweet spot with the PK2! Earbuds seems to be the best compromise for my listening at school as the lack of noise isolation is now a plus… It was a nightmare trying to insert/reinsert the SHURE E500 with it’s triple flange! However… back at home the HE5 still reigns : )

    I’m waiting impatiently for the revisions as I’m very very interested in the A8! I love the design and of course the brand’s heritage… I’ve always wanted to try one but was always put off by the rather high retail price… while buying second hand is out of option… so many AAAAAAAAAAA fakes!

    Cheers!

    • Reply February 1, 2011

      Anonymous

      Thanks, Pete. I should be updating it this week. πŸ™‚

      • Reply February 1, 2011

        Pete Manakit

        Also, have you tried the PK1 without amps? I used to remembered reading that it absolutely needs an amp to shine…

        • Reply February 1, 2011

          Anonymous

          Hi Pete,
          I’ve written about that on the *AMPING REQUIREMENTS* section.

          • Reply February 1, 2011

            CccC

            Hey Mike, sorry for disappearing some time. Didn’t manage to comment and reply much. Had been busy with stuff, and have to prepare for Chinese New Year! Haha. Enjoying my HD650 + iBasso D6 (topkit with stock buffers) though. =D

            But trust me, I’ll be checking on this site often through my iPod Touch, waiting for the updates on the HR1 and A8. πŸ˜‰

            Wishing all audiophile friends a prosperous new year ahead, and Happy Chinese New Year! πŸ™‚

            • Reply February 1, 2011

              Anonymous

              D6? Sounds sweet! I’m having such a good time with the HM-601 602 and Z1000.

              Happy Chinese New Year too!

          • Reply February 2, 2011

            Pete Manakit

            LOL… I’m such an idiot… missed reading the entire second page!
            Another ‘legendary’ earbud springs to mind… have you ever tried the AIWA D9? I tried it very very briefly (like 5 minutes) but the airiness of the sound still itch me to buy one every now and then.

            ps. Happy Chinese New Year!

            • Reply February 2, 2011

              Anonymous

              I’ve never tried the Aiwa, unfortunately.

        • Reply February 1, 2011

          CccC

          I’ve used the PK1 without an amp, with an iPod Shuffle 4th Generation. πŸ™‚ Mike also wrote a good deal about it in his review. It will still go up to a ear tearing volume, and the basic characteristic is there- sounds smooth, warm, generally balanced.

          It’s just not as refined as how it would be as amped – more deep bass, better high extension, wider and deeper soundstage. πŸ™‚

          • Reply February 1, 2011

            Anonymous

            X2

          • Reply February 2, 2011

            Pete Manakit

            First I was ruling out the PK1 on the basis that I wouldn’t want to carry an amplifier around for portable use… but hmmm this is tempting. So hard to choose! Seems like I gotta do what I did with buying IEMs… just buy them all and sell out the one I don’t like hehehe.

            • Reply February 2, 2011

              Anonymous

              Well, if you can afford to buy all of them, that’s always the best way. πŸ™‚

              Nano + Pico Slim makes for a very portable package, and I’m loving the
              Pico Slim with either the PK1 or the TM5

              • Reply February 2, 2011

                Pete Manakit

                Usually I bought them secondhand, so I won’t hurt too much come resell time…

                I’ve rarely heard about the Blox here in Thailand though 0-0

                • Reply February 2, 2011

                  Anonymous

                  The Blox is very very good and is becoming my personal favorite in this
                  shootout. πŸ™‚

  • Reply February 2, 2011

    CccC

    Stop tempting me! πŸ˜›

    • Reply February 2, 2011

      CccC

      Dang.. Trying to comment properly on my iPod touch. πŸ˜€

    • Reply February 2, 2011

      Anonymous

      Spreading of information is different from tempting. πŸ™‚

  • Reply February 4, 2011

    markychas

    just bought the Audio-technica ath-cm700ti from shopaudiotechnica.com. Paid too much, but what a sublime sound without the iem intrusion. Much better soundstage and very detailed compared to my previous purchase the AKG K319.

    • Reply February 5, 2011

      Anonymous

      Sounds sweet. I kinda want to try it too.

  • Reply February 6, 2011

    A_tumiwa

    $200??? i think it`s too much for this old product bro…
    what makes me confuse is their upgrade model and newer product, CM707 , priced cheaper than CM700

    • Reply February 7, 2011

      markychas

      didnt want the weight of the new CM707’s extension cord. I hate in’line volume controls and extensions on something like that. I paid too much to ensure that I received the real deal. I hear that theres alot of fakes out there.

  • Reply February 7, 2011

    Anonymous

    The update that includes the Crossroads HR-1 and the Bang & Olufsen A8 can be found on the end of the second page. All the other sections remain the same.

    http://headfonia.com/high-end-earbuds-review/2/

    • Reply February 7, 2011

      Pete Manakit

      So, the A8’s result came out exactly as I feared… a bit disappointing really, I was sort of hoping it was worth a try, but your review has quenched the thirst for good… well, at least until that too-good-to-be-true deal pops up every now and then. Ah, lust, greed, desire… whatever you call them, they never really goes away do they!

      Thanks for another great review!

      Pete

    • Reply February 10, 2011

      CccC

      Too fatigued to reply your updated review properly Mike.. But nice to see it up now! Perhaps I should retry the HR-2 with a properly amped setup and see how it goes. πŸ™‚ Definitely keeping my eye on the Blox TM5 though. πŸ˜‰

      Go get yourself a good break there Mike. πŸ™‚

      • Reply February 10, 2011

        Anonymous

        Thanks, man. I’ve had a very long day myself.

  • Reply February 8, 2011

    kanon

    Mike, is there any IEM with PRaT on par or better than tm5?

    • Reply February 8, 2011

      Anonymous

      Mmm…. just thinking on top of my head, without a real A-B comparison,
      you can try: UM3X, SM3, SuperFi 5 Pro, Atrio M5, and TF10 Pro, and JH16
      among many others.

    • Reply February 8, 2011

      Anonymous

      Just to add something, while the TM-5’s PRaT is the most awesome of the
      bunch, I’m sure there are in ears that can better it, including the JH13/16.

      • Reply February 8, 2011

        kanon

        Incredible, I was under the impression that IEM can never sound more like full-sized can than earbuds (assuming full-size can sound is basically very good dynamics).

        • Reply February 8, 2011

          Anonymous

          Yes, I don’t think you can make that generalization with IEMs. Like what
          I’ve written on the article, the impression of a full size headphone is
          partly from the earbuds’ open sound presentation — where IEMs are more
          closed in due to the seal. However, technicalities wise, the BA multi
          drivers are currently the king of the game. That doesn’t mean that the
          multi driver BA is the best way to go, as there are other parameters to
          judge audio performance by.

          On our local forum we are discussing the merits of multi driver BA vs
          single driver DD, and each have their own followers depending on
          preferences and music choices.

  • Reply February 9, 2011

    penggemarMike

    is it possible to combine 1 DD and Multi BA? DD to produce low frequency , and Multi driver BA to produce mid and high frequency?

    • Reply February 9, 2011

      Anonymous

      I think that will cause more problems than having multi driver BA, as the drivers will have different transient responses, among other things.

  • Reply April 27, 2011

    CccC

    Mike! πŸ™‚

    Do you think there’s any IEMs that may best the Yuin PK1 in terms of overall sound quality? I know it might be hard to beat, especially with how spacious and airy earbuds sound, but I’d love to give it a shot, especially that we can hardly find any other earbuds better than the Yuin PK1. And I don’t really intend to buy a sidestep earbud this time (another earbud with a different sonic signature).

    Was considering customs, such as the ACS T1.. But that’d be of last resort. Will definitely prefer universals so my fiancee can grab them off from me whenever she feels like it. Haha.

    • Reply April 27, 2011

      Anonymous

      The closest to the Yuin is probably the EX1000. Being an IEM, it won’t
      give you an open sound like the PK1, but it would better the PK1 in most
      other areas, simply because of superior driver.

      The customs, at least the few models I listened to, sound nothing like
      the PK1. You need to stick with single dynamic driver to get close to
      the PK1 sound. Multiple BAs sound different.

      • Reply April 27, 2011

        CccC

        Hmmm.. When you say sounding nothing like the PK1, you meant by sonic characteristics? I haven’t been into IEMs long enough to learn about the differences in sound of (multiple) BA and dynamic drivers.

        I guess IEMs not being able to sound as spacious/open as earbuds is simply unfortunate for me though. *chuckles*

        • Reply April 27, 2011

          CccC

          Gah. Sorry, no idea why I ended up double posting.

        • Reply April 27, 2011

          Anonymous

          Well, I probably need to write a good article about dynamics vs BA one
          day, but simply put, dynamics have their own characteristics, and so do
          BAs. In the world of speakers tuning multiple drivers to sound as
          coherent as a single driver is always a challenge, and some argues that
          you can never make a multiple driver sound like a single driver.
          Likewise the discussion with single driver dynamics (PK1, EX1000) vs
          multi driver BAs (dual drivers to JH16s.)

          • Reply April 27, 2011

            CccC

            Oh. Indeed. I had a shot on the JH (with universal tips), TF10 and some others when I was over at a retail store at my place, they do sound good.. But for some reason I find them a little too technical sounding for my liking.. For some reason everything doesn’t sound coherent to me, it sounds like the highs are there because they sound be there, the lows are there because they should be there, but not because of a uniformity that creates something musically pleasant to my ears.

            But it might just be me, Mike. And truth been told, I haven’t spend enough time on them yet regardless. Just a couple minutes and I’m done. Maybe I’m just took picky for my own good. πŸ˜›

            • Reply April 27, 2011

              Anonymous

              I think the way you descrobed the coherence issue is spot on.

              • Reply April 27, 2011

                CccC

                Minus the myriad of spelling mistakes I did from typing too fast! Gah. Let’s see… “highs are there because they SHOULD be there”, and… “Maybe I’m just too picky for my own good”.

                • Reply April 28, 2011

                  Anonymous

                  Dont worry man, I get your point. I made a lot of spelling mistakes myself, typing on the Ipad.

        • Reply April 27, 2011

          Anonymous

          Additionally,
          Though I agree that the earbuds have a more open sound (compared to say
          a JH16), I don’t think the open sound is an actual soundstage image. The
          actual soundstage image of a good IEM (again, the JH16) is much bigger,
          but the sound is very closed due to the seal.

          Some people use the term headstage vs soundstage to illustrate this.

          • Reply April 27, 2011

            CccC

            Noted Mike. It’s the feeling of spaciousness that earbuds provide, making it sound airy, not that the imaging or the headstage which is wide, right? πŸ™‚

            • Reply April 27, 2011

              Anonymous

              Yes… Funny thing is depending on who you’re talking to, one may use the term headstage to illustrate the same concept that the other group refer to as soundstage.

    • Reply April 27, 2011

      Anonymous

      Frequency balance speaking, I guess you can try either the Shure SE535 or the Westone 4. I think the tonality is similar, though ultimately they are NOT the same sound. Smooth treble, midrange centric, soft bass with medium punch.

      • Reply April 27, 2011

        CccC

        Again, Mike, let me thank you for spending time replying my inquiries.

        Perhaps I’ll give them both a shot. πŸ™‚ Either that or I could audit and see if I like the top tier Alessandro/Grado headphones.. Reason being, despite me loving my HD650, I can’t wear them for more than an hour due to my bad reading posture on my work desk, tires out my neck because of that, and I sweat rather too easily.

        Pardon me for being peculiar on this though. πŸ™‚

        • Reply April 27, 2011

          Anonymous

          If you like the Yuin, you should try the Sony Z1000 headphone instead of the Grados. Btw I still cant listen to a Grado for long periods simply because of the foam they use.

          • Reply April 27, 2011

            CccC

            Oh, I adore the Grado/Alessandro cause generally they are light and can stay on my head for a long, long time. Well, that is, my experience with the MS-1. Not sure if the rest are as light. πŸ˜›

            So let’s see.. I want something light that sounds good.. Hopefully better than the Yuin PK1. *giggles* I’ve did a brief checkup on your review of the Z1000, Mike. But the weight seems to be close to the HD650 at nearly 9.25ounces..

            Still, the HD650 holds a very special place in my heart. It had been the headphone I had wanted since I was very, very young in this hobby. πŸ™‚

            • Reply April 28, 2011

              Anonymous

              The Z1000 may not be as light as Grados, but it is still very light and the way Sony made the pads, it is very comfortable. One of the comfiest out there.

          • Reply April 27, 2011

            CccC

            Oh and I have no issues with the pads. At all. BWAHAHAHAHA. πŸ˜› I love the comfies in fact, not so much of the bowls.

  • Reply May 14, 2011

    techcommander

    where is ok1? without it, this review isnt finished πŸ™‚Β 

    • Reply May 14, 2011

      Anonymous

      Yea, a few people have said the same thing. πŸ˜‰

      I’ll try to add in an OK1 impression in there. Gotta find a loaner unit
      first. πŸ™‚

      • Reply May 14, 2011

        techcommander

        i bought yuin pk1 last week.i still cant believe how amazing these phones are.these areΒ  the first phones for me except full size headphones thatΒ  i really feel 3d sound, amazing Β dept for an earpud.
        Β i was using Β  westone 4 but sold it. it has great Β sound but too close sound almost in head sound .i was trying to find a big Β sound and soundstageΒ  similar to full size cans, yet portable (not hd25 style).i wasnt expecting that sound from these phones.

        just buy one Β and review it if it has a better sound than pk1 Β then i will buy yours πŸ™‚

        • Reply May 16, 2011

          Anonymous

          I’ve been listening to the Westone 4 and I think your impressions are
          spot on. Doesn’t quite mean that the PK1 is ultimately better though, as
          there are other things that the Westone does better.

          A few of my friends have the OK1. I just have to arrange it with them to
          borrow it for some time.

      • Reply May 15, 2011

        Anthony Tumiwa

        ok1 is more expensive than pk1, but i dont know why many people prefer pk1 than ok1, including me , maybe ok1 is not as fun as pk1, even though the staging is one of the best in earbuds category.

      • Reply July 30, 2011

        Jason Suarez

        Wow. If you added a comparison between the OK1 and the MX980 that would be great. I’ve been trying to decide between those for a while. My old 1990’s Sony earbuds are nice but I love earbuds and am in need of a real upgrade.

        Those earbuds seem to have a similar soundsig going for them so it would be interesting to find out the differences between them.

        • Reply August 1, 2011

          Anonymous

          Hi Jason… I would love to, but I don’t think I have the time to do them right now. πŸ™

  • Reply September 11, 2011

    OnTheEdgeAustin

    You should add the HiSound Audio Live to the collection, it’s a nice earbud, but not worth $100.

    • Reply September 12, 2011

      Anonymous

      Thanks Austin, but I think I’m done reviewing earbuds for a while.

  • Reply November 20, 2011

    Saju Daniel

    Hello Mike,
    Which one of these would be perfect amp to make Β the Pk1 (150 ohm impedance) sound better Β without any quality degradation.

    A) Fiio E10.(0.3 Ohm output impedance hence damping factor of 500)
    B) Dacport(10 ohm output impedance hence damping factor of 15)
    C) Dacport with 1 ohm mod ( 1 ohm output impedance hence damping factor of 150)

  • Reply January 6, 2012

    Arten

    Mike,
    i have been listening to the PK1 this whole week and i think the sound signature really suits me.
    I have HD650 and need an amp. What amp do you recommend if i want to have PK1 like sound?
    Or maybe i should get HE-500? Because if i am not mistaken, HE-500 paired with HM810 sounds like PK1 CMIIW.

    Thanks Mike

    • Reply January 7, 2012

      Mike

      Arten,
      The HD650 is quite different than the PK1, I don’t think amplifier choices will make it sound like a PK1. The HE-500 perhaps is closer in sound signature to the PK1. I would pair it with something like the Graham Slee Solo.

  • Reply April 27, 2013

    MHOE

    I would like to thank you very much for an extremely helpful article. I want to confirm that Sennheiser MX-980 are really very neutral and provide a very good imaging, separation and soundstage width for the price (and considering earbuds’s inferior technical abilities to IEMs). I personally enhance transparency and depth using my StageDAC’s crossfeed circuit which works brilliantly. Pairing them with my Torpedo tube amplifier (with impedance switch), these are buttery-smooth but still very neutral.

    Comfort is the factor that forced me to move from full-size headphones (HD800). I am considering IEMs as wel but I’ve had issue in the past with the fact that you have to push them into your ear canal. You definitely get a greater comfort and softer feeling with earbuds and that’s why I decided to purchase these.

    For 140USD new, these are a great value if you appreciate earbuds and want to get much better soundstage and separation in comparison to typical cheap pairs.

    • Reply April 27, 2013

      Mike

      Thank you for the impression, MHOE

  • Reply May 18, 2013

    aristidesfl

    I would like to see this great review updated with Blox TM-7 , HiSound Audio Paa-1 Pro and HiSoundAudio Paa-1 Living

  • Reply July 12, 2014

    Sam

    Hi, great article! I’m considering getting a pair of earbuds to compliment my Grado RS1i – specifically, I hope to kill two birds with one stone: something more portable and something which will work better with classical music (I’m thinking specifically small-scale choral works and string ensembles, neither of which respond well to the Grado’s treble emphasis).

    Do you have any thoughts as to which of these may be most suitable? Or any other related thoughts?

    I’m also considering IEMs, but aside from not being so keen on complete isolation I also imagine I would have to spend significantly more to get a decently-balanced and open sound (I may of course be completely wrong).

  • Reply September 15, 2015

    Sivakumar Ramamoorthy

    Can you suggest a pair of best Earphone?

    I am confused with PK1 and B & O H3.

    • Reply September 15, 2015

      dalethorn

      You need to decide, based on your research, whether you’d like just the earbuds that sit in your outer ear, or whether you want IEMs that insert into your ear canals.

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