Low-voltage Electrostatic Driver:
The most interesting part about Tape – the electrostatic driver – is also somewhat of a mystery in terms of how it’s actually implemented. Whereas true electrostatic earphones like the Shure KSE1500 require a dedicated energiser to drive the transducers, the Tape is able to be powered from any standard source. There’s also very little by way of comprehensive technical information describing the driver set-up and technology. It’s described on Linsoul as an ‘Electrostatic Dynamic Driver’, and a cut-away on Aliexpress shows a ‘High-performance 10mm nanotechnology driver’ in addition to a ‘low-voltage electrostatic circuit’. So it’s not exactly apparent whether there’s a hybrid configuration used here, or whether Shuoer is using some creative nomenclature to describe a dynamic driver. Shuoer explains that they have used a “…custom mini low voltage electrostatic driver which is trendy technology nowadays to achieve a lower distortion rate, quicker frequency respond and smoothly excellent separation’. Trendy technology indeed! The Tape’s specifications are as follows:
- Frequency response range: 9-40KHz
- Sensitivity: 104dB
- Sensitivity: 104dB/mW
- Distortion: ＜0.8％
- Impedance: 18Ω
- Sound insulation：25dB
So while the new Shuoer IEM presents a few question-marks in terms of the build + accessories as well as with regards to what’s actually going on under the hood, they more than make up for it where it counts: sound quality. The Tape sounds genuinely excellent, and in terms of value, remarkable.
The elevator version of the Tape’s sound signature: Detailed, fast, transparent, with an impressively well-extended top and bottom-end.
The Tape is one of the most detailed IEMs I’ve heard, regardless of price. They’re able to deliver treble information and nuance with remarkable speed and finesse, without ever venturing into sibilance territory. While I wouldn’t describe them as ‘bright’ per se, upper treble extension, and timbre, to me, is the star of the show with the Tape. In busy, congested and complex music such as ‘Electricity’ by The Avalanches, the Tape is able to dig-out the densely layered samples, synth, and vocals and deliver each back in a perfectly coherent way, with plenty of sparkle.
I personally prefer an upper-treble emphasis, but I’m also acutely aware of when a headphone or IEM becomes fatiguing due to its treble being overly ‘hot’ or unrefined. ‘Oh Me’ from Nirvana’s legendary ‘MTV Unplugged in New York’ record is a great test for treble detail and transparency. Kurt Cobain’s vocal ‘pops’ on the microphone and some guitar neck slides can be sibilant on bright or harsh IEMs, but this record is a pleasure to play-back on the Tape. The brass and hi-hats on Tony Joe White’s ‘They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas’ sparkle without sounding brittle.
The Tape’s treble detail isn’t delivered at the expense of bass-response, in fact, it’s far from the case. The Tape has a well-extended and incredibly fast sub-bass region that’s hugely impressive and genuinely reminiscent of full-sized planar magnetic bass in terms of reach and timbre. ‘D.A.N.C.E’ by Justice reveals the Tape to have incredibly taut and punchy sub-bass that’s never bloated or tubby. I must point out that the Tape’s bass is very seal-dependent and does require a very solid fit and insertion to be properly experienced, and so tip selection is very important. On the subject of tips, switching from the Grado silicone to Dekoni foam-tips does prove to temper the upper-treble by a dB or two, but still delivers great results.
The upper-bass and lower mid-range are by comparison less front-of-house, adding to a signature that’s ever so slightly on the ‘dry’ side. There is a bit of extra energy in the lower treble around the 3K mark that does show up in the form of somewhat shouty electric guitars at times, and contributes to what I’d call a mild “W”-shaped sound signature. This lower treble peak is particularly evident in the guitar tracks during the chorus of ‘Prayers/Triangles’ by Deftones, and also shows-up in Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’, but it’s definitely tolerable. You may want to try adding -2dB EQ tweak around 3.5K if it’s sounding slightly on the tinny side, but I found that I got accustomed to it after only a short while.
While not always the most dominant feature of the Tape, vocal texture is excellent. Chris Stapleton has one of the best voices going around (even if you aren’t into country, give him a listen), and his song ‘Death Row’ is hugely enjoyable on the Tape, with great-sounding bass and super-realistic plucked guitars. Saxophones sit right in the same register as the human voice, and the tenor sax on ‘Crush’ by Bob Reynolds Quartet sounds wonderfully lush, supported by subtly reproduced drums and delicate piano.
The other party-trick of the Tape is its ability to create a sense of space. There is genuine width and depth to the Tape’s sound-stage that feels distinctly un-IEM-like at times. ‘Third of May / Ōdaigahara’ by Fleet Foxes feels big, spacious, and overall more like a headphone experience than that of an IEM. Imaging is also excellent, with ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ by Tool providing an awesome 3D soundscape, with awesome left-right panning drums.
An important ability for me in a headphone or IEM is its ability to ‘rock out’. Staying with Tool for a moment, the 6:50 section of ‘Culling Voices’ shows that yes, the Tape Can Definitely Rock. It throws up a giant, tasty wall of guitar and shows-off one of the best drum performances in recent memory, courtesy of Tool’s drummer Danny Carey, superbly.
For those of you who’ve had the opportunity to listen to electrostatic headphones such as from Stax, then you might have a frame of reference with which to compare the Shuoer Tape. While I’m not entirely sure exactly how the driver setup is implemented, it certainly is reminiscent of an electrostatic in terms of its sheer speed, transparency, and detail. But it’s simply impressive how Shuoer have managed to couple this with a tastefully powerful low-end that’s both entirely controlled, and genuinely impactful.
Click-over to page 3 for comparisons, and our final verdict.