BUS RIDE IMPRESSION: Earbud Battle Royale: $40-$100 Earbuds

Whew! The past weeks has been quite challenging for me with a lot of things I have been busy with (vendor meetings, sister coming home from abroad, etc.) so you must understand me for being a bit inactive over the past two weeks. I implore you this, as much as my regular dose of 2 to 3 BRIs in a week dwindled to just one for the past 2 weeks, believe that I missed doing this.

I MISS MY COLUMN! Darn, there, I have said it. And I know for a fact that only music can tame the beast inside me, so you must realize that the past two weeks has been quite nerve-wrecking for me.

Anywho, I thank God for this blessed Thursday afternoon that I found myself dumbfounded with the fact that I got it free. Yes, that is how busy I have been.

So, for today, I decided that this might be an opportune time for me to continue my series of reviews for the readily available earbuds in the market nowadays. I have already dabbled with the entry-level earbuds, so it is prudent for me to do the review for the next tier, the earbuds within $40-$100 range.

Before anything else, I would first like to thanks these two gorgeous gentlemen for lending me their earbuds to make this particular review possible:

  • Light Li
  • Sir Max

I would suspect that this one will be hell lot easier as I have got 6 incredible earbuds in store for this review. These are by no means necessarily the best earbuds in the market today, but I will have to say, this is nothing less enjoyable than the other earbud reviews that I did.

So, again, to the words of Michael Buffer, let’s get ready to rumble!

The Earbuds

Today’s list is quite diverse given the sound signature and flavor these have to offer comparing it against each other. As I have said earlier, this fact gives much ease in doing a review, and should be a good roundup of choice in case one is shopping for one with a particular signature in mind.

For the shootout, I will be using Onkyo DP-X1, Xduoo Xd-05 and Auglar GR-1 as my source. Here’s how each fares.

Musicmaker Tomahawk

Musicmaker Tomahawk

This earbud kind of have a special place in my heart given its signature. It has an inherently good kick in the bass that is just right where I want it, but what really made me love this earbud is the sparkle of the highs. I think the extensions are quite good on the high end, with ample airiness that allows me to enjoy high keys better than the rest of the roundup in this review.

However, that is only me. For some other people especially those who may have a bit of low tolerance on brightness, they may find it a bit uncomfortable to listen to. It is not necessarily too bright, just a tad uncomfortable for some perhaps.

Soundstage is quite excellent as expected from a pair of earbuds. Imaging is good, layers can be distinguished easily but not excessively.

One other con for the Tomahawk is the size of the buds. It is a bit bigger than the usual ones, so this may also cause some discomfort to the user.

Build is good, shells are made of aluminum and the cables are made of copper. However, as tried by a fellow enthusiast, this earbud isn’t exactly a modders dream as the cap on the shell is a glued tight; cable mods maybe a bit of a challenge. Also, I will suggest against getting the silver variant, as the wires easily oxidize. While it looks amazing out of the packaging, you will tend to end up with a green mess after some time. Better get the black variant if I were you.

Musicmaker TO300

Musicmaker TO300

This earbud, the bigger brother of Tomahawk, seemed to be as a bland earbud considering how Tomahawk did. However, perhaps my mistake was I did not feed sufficient power to these buds while using it, making it sound a bit flat and lifeless for me. You see, the TO300 is advertised to have an impedance rating of 300 ohms, but given how sensitive most earbuds are, I have always thought of it being capable of being driven even by a phone.

Of course I was wrong, and for an enthusiast it was a critical error that I committed. The TO300 sounded as if it was a waste of hard earned money when I used it with the DP-X1 alone. However, on the arrival of the GR-1 did I realize its true potentials.

It wasn’t as sparkly as the Tomahawk, but I guess the treble on the TO300 is something that will a heck more comfortable for the general public. Bass is good; ample but not overwhelming. However, the best attribute of the TO300 will have to be the imaging.

I won’t say this is the best earbud in the category, but at the very least it has such an excellent imaging that layers of sounds are quite distinct enough to be a bit analytical. It isn’t too analytical, don’t get me wrong, but at least the level of separation is something you will get to enjoy and still be a bit technical about it. For some this may be a pro so if one is into imaging, I will highly recommend the TO300.

Build is practically the same as the Tomahawk, with the label at the side of the earpieces as the only distinguishing difference. Unfortunately, I haven’t other variants so one must be careful using it. I suggest storing it in a dry storage with a pack of silica gel to avoid oxidization of the cable.

Cons? You will need a powerful source to let the TO300 sing. Anything less than the requirement will make it sound bland, but if you are able to drive it properly, it can be a good contender even to those priced above $100. Also, as with the Tomahawk, the shells are a bit on the bigger side so not everyone may have an excellent fit with the TO300.

Musicmaker TY2

Musicmaker TY2

This is the third Musicmaker earbud that I have reviewed so far for this edition, but let me point out that it is also branded as Toneking. Not really sure which is current, so this is just a disclaimer in case you are looking for one.

The TY2 will have to have the biggest shells among the Musicmaker earbuds I have tried, so cramming the buds in one’s ear maybe a bit of an issue. However, it rests quite well so shoving it in will not necessary to be able to listen in to it properly.

Perhaps what is so distinct with the TY2 in comparison with the Tomahawk and TO300 is the mids. Among the 3, the TY2, in my opinion, has the smoothest and most pronounced mids, so the mids lovers will definitely find this as a candy. Bass also has quite a good depth; extensions are good but not too lingering.

Imaging is also excellent for the TY2. Soundstage is superb, perhaps given how it rests on my ears gives it such a good depth and width on staging.

The build is just as excellent as the Tomahawk and TO300 if not for the large shells. Cables seems to have a better shielding from oxidization, but still I won’t suggest lack of care for the cables. Again, dry storage and silica gel.

Only cons I can think of will have to be the size of the shell. Other than that, the TY2 sounded splendid with my source, especially for the mid-centric folks.

Venture Electronics Asura 2.0

VE Asura

At a glance the Asura isn’t much of a looker, considering the generic looking earpieces and cables. Plug isn’t too special too, I would say overall it looked like a usual earbud. It was actually a let down seeing that what was braided cable with its predecessor, VE opted to have Asura to come out with a rather generic looking cable, splitter and even plugs.

However, whatever the earbud lacked in terms of aestethics was compensated by such a great sound off an earbud. It sounded quite balanced for me albeit on a bit of a bright side. Mid-bass sounded good but sub bass rolls off quite significantly. However, given the good balance and clarity I think it is a well tuned earbud.

My issue though is the price. Sure, it is not a $1000 earbud but its price to performance ratio doesn’t seem too equivalent. Yes, it does sound great, although it felt as if the improvement from a Monk+ to Asura doesn’t feel too significant to gamble off the additional price premium.

TY Hi-Z 450S

TY Hi-Z 450SE

I would say I was pleasantly surprised with how the Hi-Z 450S performed. Low ends are quite bold enough, sounded soft, definitely not as tight as one would hope for but definitely sports quite lush sub bass which should please a lot of bassheads. Mid bass is pronounced, but the sub bass is definitely the winner with these buds.

Trebles are, for the lack of better term, sufficient. It definitely doesn’t have the richness of Tomahawk, but has enough accent to complement the lower frequencies. My caveat though is with the mids which felt a bit dipped. Perhaps it is with the presentation of the bass, although it can work a bit of forwarding on the mids particularly the upper mids.

Don’t get me wrong though, the 450S sounded very musical and should please a lot of people especially those who haven’t departed the love of low ends.

Imaging is quite good, separation is quite distinct and clear. Soundstage is ample and allows a bit of headroom.

Build is quite similar to typical IEMs you will find in the market. Cable braiding seems to look really nice, although I have little affinity to twisted cables which is how 450S’s cable is designed from the splitter up to the earpieces. Wire used seems supple enough and shouldn’t get in the way while using the earbuds.

Cons that I see on the 450S is perhaps the twisted cable, as it may be prone to loosening over time so I suggest extra care when storing the earbuds. Also, as the cable used is SPC, one might want to exert extra care to avoid oxidization. Not a deal breaker, but green, oxidized cables is definitely going to be a sore sight for such a good pair of earbuds.

Bengkel Macro Edimun V3 Rhodium

Bengkel Macro EV3 Rhodium

That was a mouthful. Bengkel Macro Edimun V3 Rhodium, or EV3 is a brainchild of an Indonesian wizard who came up with the idea of whipping an Edifier H180 into perhaps (and arguably) one of the best mid-centric earbuds within the price range.

For one, the mids has got to be smooth in all mids region, from the lower leading to the upper mids. It is not too forward to be called in-your-face, but is defined quite subtly to please anyone who is very much into mids.

Highs for me has a very nice sparkle. I loved how a cymbal crash is presented by the EV3, and I will have to say how well executed it is to be rich yet not piercing to one’s ears unless the person is highly intolerant. Tomahawk may still be brighter though.

Bass comes as one of the slight disadvantage of the EV3. While it is not necessarily lacking, I feel that the EV3 can work on some extensions to give it quite a well rounded balance on the frequencies. But then again, for me as a user, I am not really complaining.

The EV3 is terminated with either a straight or angled 3.5mm Rhodium single-ended termination, although I am itching to get my hands on the TRRS as I am quite curious as to what improvements it can offer through a balanced termination.

The cable is definitely not what you will call supple, but gives the earbuds that solid, premium feel as it definitely feels tough and durable. The cable gives you that feel of a longer lasting cable compared to others. For some though, it may be an issue as it can be a bit cumbersome depending on the preference of the user.

Wrap Up

So, which to choose? I would say it will really entirely up to one’s preference. For anyone who is into the low ends or simply enjoys thumb thumping bass, I would go and recommend the Hi-Z 450S. Anyone who is into mids should really enjoy the Bengkel Macro EV3 or the TY2. For those who likes sparkly highs, Tomahawk should be your bet.

For imaging though, I will recommend either Musicmaker TO300 or the EV3, while for those who simply wants clean, balanced sound, VE Asura should be the right choice.

I won’t dare say which one wins because that will be a very strict argument based on the user’s preferences. With that, I would recommend a good audition of which ones actually suit the flavor of the user.

As for me, well, I enjoyed everything. While I may have my preferences, it is always good to have a good mix of buds with different signatures. But, given the chance to only pick 2 or 3, I will definitely go for EV3, Hi-Z 450S and TO300. Of course, that is just me.

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