BUS RIDE IMPRESSION: Earbud Battle Royale: Sub-$40 Earbuds

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Bus Ride Impression!

Today, I am going through an endeavor that has got to be one of my most challenging, death-defying (no, not really) and perhaps the most ambitious BRI I will undertake, the Earbuds Battle Royale!

I am taking the review in installments, categorizing each under these categories:

  • Battle Royal: Sub-$40 Earbuds
  • Battle Royal: $40-$75 Earbuds
  • Battle Royal: Above $75 Earbuds

Yes, I will say it again. It is ambitious. Primarily because of the huge array of earbuds currently available in the market. I am in no way capable of reviewing each and everything there is, I still love my life. However, I thought it will be best to pick the earbuds under these two qualifications:

  1. Those that are pretty common and widely available ones in the market;
  2. Those that holds quite an interest to the general public

This is going to be a tough one, I assure you. But, with the help of some friends and fellow enthusiasts, I don’t think this is an impossible feat. So, through the immortal words of Michel Buffer, let’s get ready to rumble!!!

Merci beaucoup, s’il vous plait Monsieurs

Before I go about getting crazy with the plethora of earbuds to review, I would first like to give credit where credit is due. These folks are instrumental in making this feat happen, and without you guys, this won’t be possible (sniff).

  1. Kevin Nebres
  2. Light Li

The Earbuds

First off, I would like to set an expectation to take this review with a grain of salt. Everyone’s got his or her own preferences, although I will state my observations for each and give a relative comparison with what I currently have. This is to make sure that I draw a picture as close as I can to you, our dear readers.

Honestly, I will have to admit that I feel challenged with this BRI. For one, I know how torn the reading public is going to be with my view on this, with everyone having their own preference and all. So, just to avoid any prejudices, I will be more of an enthusiasts who will try to describe each to the best of my ability instead of making it a toss as to which one is better. That word alone is going to draw a lot of discussions, so I won’t say which one is the best in an overall perspective. However, I will be outspoken to voice out which one I liked the most and why I do.

Let’s start off then, shall we?

Kanzenoka Yin Yang P1.2

yy12_2

The Kanzenoka Yin Yang is a Japanese earbud, and given its origins, I initially thought that this earbud would somehow be bright given the general signature preference from the said country. However, I was pleasantly surprised as to how it performed.

Foremostly, the YY P1.2 brags of its mids, quite smooth for my taste with the highs being airy, perhaps airier than the Musicmaker Tomahawk albeit not as bright. Bass is tight, quite tight enough to easily stand out without any hint of bleeding.

Build is quite great; yes the shells are made of acrylic, but that polished finish spells some premium with how it looks. On top of that, the pairing of white and black shells did add some flair to the name. Cable is soft and supple, but not as supple as those of the Cypherus Audio Campfreds.

Senfer PT15

pt15_1

Senfer PT15 has quite a good sparkle on the high end, with low end providing sufficient but tight punch. Vocals sounded quite nice as it remains surfaced in spite of the said sparkle. Imaging is surprisingly pleasant; it offers quite a great layering for an earbud of such price. Mids may be a bit recessed, but doesn’t dip too much on the frequency.

Perhaps one thing that Senfer adapted from a lot of IEMs nowadays is the detachable MMCX termination. While this mode is starting to catch on, it is great that this earbud offers that option to go for an upgraded cable or for a replacement in case the stock cable wears out. Cable is also supple, but not as supple as the one from YY P1.2. Splitter and plug are both made of aluminum, although the strain relief on the splitter seems to be a bit sub par. Of course I am not complaining, but this is one of those of things that would make the buds extra neat if Senfer opted for a better one.

Earpieces also looks quite nice, as they are made of aluminum. The make of the earpieces added a bit of that premium feel while wearing the earbuds, although the caveat I encountered was the size: it is a bit too large for me. Better leave the foams if you can manage it if you have small ear lobes.

Venture Electronic Monk+

monk_1

Perhaps the most popular earbud in this review, the VE Monk+’s claim to fame is its price to performance ratio. For just $5, you get quite a formidable performance given how clean sounding it is. Add the fact that you get an excellently tuned drivers that suits a lot of enthusiasts makes it quite a force to be reckoned with.

Build is quite typical for an earbud as usual, but what makes it interesting is the now wide array of colors to choose from. Although the colors come out in a seasonal manner, there’s quite a lot of choices available from Venture Electronic’s website and AE store. The brand also gives you quite a wide range of options (cable with play control, mic option, termination options) give you the versatility not found in other earbuds.

I find the sound a bit strong on the lower end, with ample mids and passable highs. Clarity is good, perhaps excellent for something of said price. Soundstage is good, quite typical from an earbud while imaging is above average and may even contend against other earbuds of the same price range.

Venture Electronic Monk+ Espresso

espresso_2

This is so much fancier than the regular Monk+ you get to see in the market. Apart from the premium looking copper-colored earpieces, the cable is made of braided copper which adds more flair to the buds.

I liked the crisp of upper mids to highs on the Espresso, although the bass sounded mildly tamed compared to the regular Monk+. However, lower mids remained slightly recessed which seems to be the typical characteristic of Monks.

Don’t get me wrong though, this has got to be a great alternative to your regular Monks. It sounded a bit more detailed and a lot more balanced compared to the conventional ones. I know it is twice the price of the regular Monks, but I will happily get one for myself. Especially with the fact that there is a balanced variant for these.

Boarseman K25

k25_1

The Boarseman K25 is on the darker end of the spectrum of earbuds. What you get treated while using it is an extended low end stretching from sub bass leading to a tight mid-bass. However, it still retained such a clean thump without really spilling over the lower mids. Highs aren’t exactly the forte of K25, with the cymbal crashes decaying quite too quickly. It was noticeable that highs start to drop at around 11kHz range, picks up right after and drops sharply at around 14kHz range. Mids is average; not too forward nor recessed.

Design is quite very simple for K25. The model comes in either polished Blue, Red, White or Black imprinted with the brand and that is just about it. Cable is of typical quality as most entry level earbuds with the termination being angled. Earpieces are relatively adequately sized; neither too big nor small.

I was amused with the packaging as it comes with a wooden box. Considering the price of $8, I will say that is not a bad deal.

TY Hi-Z (32 ohms)

hiz150_1

Similar to the Monks, the TY Hi-Z seemingly looks like a typical generic earbud: nothing out of the ordinary in terms of design. However for its price it seems to be a good buy if you are something that can be easily drawn out of your pocket.

However, given a direct comparison to a Monk+, I still would opt for Monk+ as I find the Hi-Z a bit too thin: I feel the bass to be a bit frugal. High ends is a bit better though with the Hi-Z, but is not something that, a treblehead, would compromise vs. the overall performance of Monk+. Hi-Z might have won the clarity contest but then again that is just about where it ends. One of the biggest caveat of this earbud is scaling: you pretty much get what you get out of driving these regardless if you are driving budget DAPs or high end ones. This doesn’t scale quite too well.

Build is quite good, cables are the common ones for earbuds while the plug seems to be quite well done as it sports an angled plug which seems to fit even tightly designed DAPs.

TY Hi-Z (150 ohms)

hiz32_1

Now this earbud seems to be good in terms of its low end capabilities. This version sounds meatier and more robust as long as it is properly driven. This is the strength of this earbud: as long as properly driven, it will yield the kind of meat most bassheads would normally ask for.

Highs may tend to be a bit of the shortcoming for the earbud, however mids seems to be satisfactory enough to be enjoyed, but not for those who are into really intimate mids. Bass offers good, tight punch.

Build is a lot better than its little brother, as this one sports braided cable and better cable splitter and plug. Shell seems to be the same, but should not be an issue as it is a properly done shell. Strain relief on the plug isn’t very ideal though as it felt tough. This is not going to be an issue though as long as the earbud is properly taken care of.

Jiushao E600

e600_3

The Jiushao E600 is quite a revelation for a sub-$40 earbud. While the E600 seems a conservatively packaged earbud, what this earbud offers is the warmth quite not available from other earbuds in the range. Also, the mids are quite spectacular and may be a pleasing character for those who are mid-centric.

Tonality is quite good for E600. I pretty much liked the way each frequencies harmonizes with each other. Nothing is overwhelming; yes the mids are quite good but the tuning against the lows and the highs are excellently well to complement the mids.

Nothing special on the build, perhaps the only thing that made it different from other regularly built earbuds is the two-tone color of the earpiece (silver on black). Other than that, nothing is specially different. Looks pretty tough and lightweight though so build should be average at least.

Awei ES10M

es10m_2

Perhaps the biggest surprise that I had for this review has to be the Awei ES10M. To start, the build isn’t exactly spectacular from this earbud. Build really isn’t excellent: mine even came with the wire from the splitter to the right earpiece a bit shorter compared to the one on the left. Shell seems a bit slimmer too, but is seemingly made of a lesser quality of acrylic. Cable is so typical, while the plug is made of a short 3.5mm plug.

However, what is so amazing is the way this earbud scales. Man, this earbud scales quite well. I won’t even compare this to the TY Hi-Z earbuds nor even with Monks as this does scale well. It is highly capable of yielding an even better sound depending on the gear you use. Oh, and did I tell you that THIS SCALES WELL?

Seriously though, an earbud priced at less than $4 with such sound quality is indeed something surprising. Tonality seems balanced enough to yield quite good punch on the low ends and still produce sufficiently crystalline highs. Mids are not so bad too, it quite passable for the mid-centric.

Auglamour RX-1

rx1_1

The Auglamour RX-1 has to have quite the toughest shell compared to the other earbuds in the same price range. The shell is made of aluminum with such good weight and is industrially designed to give it a premium feel. Cables are shielded by rubber and is terminated by an aluminum 3.5mm plug with an Auglamour logo. It actually looks underpriced considering the build.

The sound is quite good too, if you are into well executed highs. Don’t get me wrong though, this has good low ends but the star of this earbud has to be the highs. It is not bright per se, but it carries good sparkle that one would like if you are into such. Details are quite good too for an earbud considering the leak you get out of one.

Perhaps the caveat that I got out of using the RX-1 for using it for several hours is that the shells are a tad too big for my ears. Without foams the earpieces slide off my ears while using a foam makes it a bit even bigger. Perhaps my only solution is to get thin foams for these.

Head To Head

Putting each of these against each other, one would find this bunch quite a good mix as it will allow one to pick which should best fit him or her depending on his or her preference. So to claim something in this mix is the best is highly debatable. Given such, allow me to break each based on preferences.

For those who are into mid-centric sound, Jiushao E600 trumps the line up and is closely followed by Kanzenoka Yin Yang P1.2. Senfer PT15 isn’t exactly recommended for such preference.

For those who are appealed to healthy low end, TY Hi-Z 150 ohms is a great recommendation. It offers good mid bass but if you are after the sub bass, my recommendation goes for the Senfer PT-15. Monk+ should go for a healthy dose of bass but may be a bit too lush. Clarity on the Monk+ should be great if you want that to go with the bass.

For those who are after nice, sparkly highs, the Auglamour RX-1 should be a good choice. It sounds rich on the high end but does not overwhelm to the point of sibilance. You may also opt for Awei ES10M which offers a great dose of highs, good enough to hear clarity of guitars and even cymbal splashes.

For those who is easily enthralled by great low ends while getting a good, decent share of highs, Senfer PT-15 and Awei ES10M should be your bet. Both offers hearty dose for both low and high ends. ES10M should have a more lush bass compared to PT-15 but PT-15 has a tighter, a bit faster bass.

And finally for those who are after a good tonal balance, I would recommend the VE Monk+ Espresso. It is not necessarily linear, but I felt the richness of each frequencies are justified properly with the Espresso. So is the case of Kanzenoka YY P1.2, albeit the P1.2’s strength lies more on the mids.

So, there you have it. It was fun, but I must remind everyone, amount of richness of each details should be distinct for each person, and it will be up to each one of you which really works best for your taste. Afterall, we pick what sounds best for us.

*For your earbud needs, you may reach out to http://www.facebook.com/auremfidelitatem. Special thanks to Kevin Nebres and Light Li for making this shootout a possibility.

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