The original ‘Walkman’ revolutionized portable audio when it was first unveiled by Sony back in 1979. Cassette technology gave music fans the ability to experience previously unheard-of sound quality at a genuinely achievable price, and it truly took music to the masses. So perhaps the venerable audio cassette was a muse of sorts for Chinese audio manufacturer Shuoer when it came to inspiring the development, name, and design of their most recent IEM release, the ‘Tape’.
The Shuoer Tape arrives into a hotly-contested sub $150 USD IEM market, where a bevy of products from Chinese manufacturers such as KZ and TinHiFi offering what seemingly amount to ‘giant-killing’ performance (well, on paper, anyway). It seems that every month there’s a quite literally a new flavour-of-the-month hype-beast IEM causing click-frenzy and online debate, and not only for their sharp price – we’re also seeing some truly interesting technology emerging from the ‘Chi-Fi’ scene, such as the planar technology featured in the Tin Hifi P1. Shuoer isn’t exactly a household name in the personal audio stakes, having only been around since 2016, but their new Tape stands-out as being worth a closer look thanks to a curious-sounding transducer type that Shuoer is calling a ‘Low-voltage electrostatic driver’. So let’s see whether this retro-inspired new contender from Shuoer is worth a listen, and if it is indeed a bargain in terms of the technology and audio quality it offers at $129 USD.
Shuoer must have just about the most novel packaging in the business – their piano-themed cylindrical boxes are certainly, well…different. But after opening up the Tape’s box, you’re presented with a curious round metal protective tin that’s actually pretty nice, particularly at this price-point. The matte-coated green halves of the shell unscrew to reveal the IEM’s themselves inside, and when tapped they make an unmistakable rinnnnnng-ing sound. While it looks kinda cool, it’s actually slightly impractical for genuinely pocketable use.
Turning our attention to the Tapes themselves, we have on our hands a pair of black aluminium CNC-built shells with MMCX-style connectors, designed to be worn over-ear. The outer design is dominated by red and black screws, mimicking the cassette tapes they’re named after. Or, as Shuoer describes: “Classic Industry design for precious times of the past…” and “…Tapestructure design for pursuit more rhythmical sounds” (their marketing copy is full of such gems). They look ‘OK’ in a rough, Lego kind of way. There’s a small mesh-covered cavity between the screws that looks like an outer vent, but the fairly good passive noise isolation of the Tape does tend to suggest that the mesh is cosmetic only.
Unlike the angular outer design, the inner sides of the shells are fairly smooth. As a result, the Tapes are all-day comfortable to my ears. The left and right sides are identified by ‘TAPE-L’ and ‘TAPE-R’ labels printed onto the shells, as well as having blue + red plastic rims on the MMCX connectors. The mesh-covered bore nozzles are medium-sized in terms of both width and length and are able to accept most after-market tips I have on-hand. The Tape ships with three sets of single-flange black silicone tips, which are all well below average in terms of quality and fit – I didn’t manage to get a proper seal from even the largest set. I was able to get best results from using the largest stock tips that ship with the Grado GR10e (probably my favourite silicone tips).
The Tape ships with a detachable MMCX plastic-coated weaved 6N OCC cable that terminates in a 3.5mm single-ended connection. It’s fairly chunky below the Y-splitter and a little cumbersome, however, it does manage to avoid tangling. Despite Shuoer’s promise that “With the peace of mind that the MMCX connectors are durable and steady even after thousand times plug and pull”, the MMCX connectors in the Tape aren’t really that confidence-inspiring. One side of my review unit was fairly loose, and I did experience intermittent signal drop-outs on both sides with the stock cable after a week or so of daily use, requiring them to be twisted, bumped, or disconnected/reconnected to play again. Switching-out cables proved this to be a cable problem, but it’s hard to say how the MMCX connectors on the Tapes will hold-up in the long-run.
So net-net with regards to build and design: the accessories are kinda mediocre; long-term durability is potentially questionable; but the IEMs themselves are well-designed, solid, and comfortable. All on par for the price really.
Technical breakdown and sound impressions continue over the jump on page 2.