Enter the Hippo Pearl. Priced roughly around $30, the Pearl may be the cheapest IEM that I know of. Sure, you have the JH13s and the UM Mages for those audiophile moments. But if you’re like me, there are occassions where I want something that won’t give me a heart attack when accidentaly break it or pull a cable or something.
I have never listened to a $30 IEM throughout my headphone career. The thing is, IEMs used to be a luxury commodity not so long ago. Back when I was introduced to IEMs, the cheapest stuff that I can remember were the Shures and the UM1 Westones. A $200+ ER-4 was crazy expensive, and likewise, a $200+ Livewire Customs. Over the years, more affordable IEMs have been introduced to the market, but even then a $25 IEM is still pretty special in terms of a price. I’ve listened to some RE-2s, Hippo Pearls, and some Altec Lansing, but they still don’t sell for $30. For the price, perhaps you’re not expecting very much other than a pair of IEMs that simply produces sound. Stay in tune, cause the Pearl actually offers more than that. It has a sound signature that I have yet to find on any other IEMs up to $300, and the sound is actually something that seasoned listeners will be able to appreciate more than newcomers.
The Hippo Pearl is tiny. If you take one of the standard IEM tips and double the length, then you’ll have the exact dimension of the Pearl, housing included. Actually it’s quite obvious on the picture above. This can be both good and bad. It’s good, because it disappears when you wear it, and if you’re one of those non-flashy people, then the look will suit you. It’s bad, because it’s really hard to get a proper positioning of the drivers. On my ears, it takes a little effort to get the driver pointing to the eardrums. Since another friend also reported the same thing, then you might also find the same situation when wearing the Pearl. The Pearl is comfortable, but you just have to move them around a little bit to get the driver pointing to the eardrums. When the driver is pointed off, you don’t hear the proper treble, and the result is a dark sounding IEM. If you find the same difficulty as I did with the positioning, just keep on using it for a week, and eventually you’ll get used to it.
A neutral and balanced IEM is very hard to find, especially on the entry level offerings. Most IEM will either boost a certain frequency range to get that Hi-fi wow factor when people audition them. If you listen to a Westone 1, for instance, you might like the sound very much at first, but later you find the midbass bump to be everywhere, even if the particular recording you’re having doesn’t have it. To some, that can be a nice sound signature, to others looking for neutrality, they would say “over-emphasized midbass”. Well, the Hippo Pearl happens to be one of those rare finds, a very neutral IEM that sells for merely $25. The Pearl’s frequency balance happens to be one of the best that I’ve found in IEMs. It is not neutral in the sense of thin, like the case is with ER4s. It’s also not like the UM3X, where some people find them to be too warm and having too prominent mids. It has just enough of everything in the frequency range. For instance, playing some Alicia Keys songs, I find that the midbass of the Westone 1 is a little too much for me, and I prefer a much neutral presentation of the Pearl.
Another good thing with neutral sounding Pearl is that on modern recordings that tend to boost the treble, the Pearl handles it nicely without any hint of sibilance or sharpness. Once again, the Pearl’s treble may lack the wow factor from some other IEMs, but the Pearl is right for people looking for neutrality and balance.