the audiophile world is abuzz. A new manufacturer called Venture Electronics (or just VE) has flipped the market upside down by selling world's best [low price] headphones, which are supposedly better than those that cost hundreds of dollars. How much that is true, I don't know, but signs show that quite a lot. The Eve Insider channel has lately been quite hyped about this product and some of the insiders are even proposing the possibility of including a set with Pyramid Flipper, free of charge.
I just received a pair of these in the post, and today I'm unboxing and reviewing them for our community. First of all, since some of us insiders are considering including these with the tablet, I would like to ask you, the community:
How much are you willing to add to the price of the Pyramid Flipper to have good earbuds included in the box? When I say good, I mean it
Please don't look up the real price of them just yet. This thread will be updated soon™ with a review and comparison to different products (at least a couple of them). You can guess the price afterwards
Here's my review (still work in progress):
Audio source: Colorfly C3. A budget audiophile DAP (Digital Audio Player) that's comparable to a smartphone, but a little better. Not super high-end stuff, but I assume the Pyramid Flipper will have something of comparable audio quality: better than the regular smartphone, but not overkill.
Tracks I listen to: I usually listen to classical music (yes, I'm actually that weird ), but since this poll was leaning towards the bassy side, I will try to choose pieces that are a bit bass-heavy to test the earbuds' ability to play bass (but of course, the details and clarity will not be left behind in this review).
- Sennheiser CX300 II - MSRP $60, I bought them for 40EUR, nowadays can be found for $30
- Audio Technica AD900X - bought for $150 in the USA, European price is significantly higher at 400EUR, for unknown reasons
- The IEMs that came with my Asus Zenfone 2 - just to test it against some "default stuff"
Note how I didn't put any earbuds in this list. That's because nowadays, earbuds have become the synonym of cheap, and it's quite hard to find any good ones to compare the Monk+ with. Except some very high-end stuff over a hundred dollars, that I can't afford.
And here are some pictures for you:
Part 1: choosing the right foams
These earbuds have an expansion pack that costs an extra, and includes various different foams to try: thin film, thick film and "donuts". There are also rubber rings for insulation and ear hooks to help keeping them in place. All of these influence the sound signature quite a lot, so it's very important to choose the "favorite" setup to before proceeding with testing.
How these foams influence the sound signature is pretty simple: the more foams you add, the stronger bass response you get, but you also lose some clarity and details. I've done some testing and here's the conclusion:
- Without foams at all: quite analytical sound, can hear small details, but the bass is nearly non-existent. Good for me, but other people probably won't love it. I like when all the frequencies sound equally well, and "naked" Monk+ does just that. Not as well as my $150 headphones of course, but it's pretty good.
- With thin foams: this adds a little bit of bass, making it sound more "alive". Don't expect goosebumps or shivers on your back, it just becomes a little warmer. Something in the middle between "naked" Monk+ and what should remind you of vinyl recordings - but still closer to the "naked" sound. Doesn't sacrifice much detail, it just sounds more alive. My personal second favorite.
- With double thin foams: adds more bass, but still doesn't sacrifice details. My personal favorite.
- With "donut" foams (hole in the middle): has roughly the same amount of bass as the previous option (maybe a tiny bit more), but the analytical sound of the first one. So, it sounds... one may describe it as "dull, color-less, flat, boring" or "analytic, detailed", depending on their taste. However, the bass boost means that drums have a bigger impact. A quite interesting combo, I'd say. Even though it sounds unnatural with this "flat" taste to it, almost similar to what we commonly call "tin can speakers" sound, it has a decent impact in the lower end. Great for those who want to hear every little detail, don't care too much about how "natural" the sound feels, but don't want to sacrifice the bass impact for that.
- Last option, with thick foams: this is the most bassy option, but that means it sacrifices much more details and clarity. Might be good for those who selected "bass all the way" in said poll, but to me it sounds muddy, and all the detail literally sinks in bass. However, in this case, there's "lots of" bass, but not "good" bass. It won't give you goosebumps, I mean. Full-size headphones are a much better option for these people On the other hand, you can't expect too much from earbuds, and these are doing a wonderful job here. But as I said, this option sounds muddy and is good only for the most "basshead" listeners.
You might be wondering why the thick foams sound so much more muddy than double thin foams, because they're not so much thicker, right? Well, the thin foams are more aerated. They're almost as thick, but much softer. There's so much air in them that they're almost transparent, especially after some tearing up. That prevents them from muffling the sound and making it muddy, but still adds some bass by dampening.
- And lastly, the rubber rings and ear hooks. These should theoretically increase insulation and control the bass a little (making it less muddy). I have tried using them a little, but didn't notice any significant difference. I should come back to them later, maybe they could improve the thick foams at least a little bit. Meanwhile, I only use the hooks to keep them in place.
From this testing, I can almost safely say that double thin foams is the best choice for most people who answered the poll. It's the most "natural" sounding setup, pretty well balanced, and doesn't obfuscate small details too much. Hence, I will continue my review (probably tomorrow) by comparing this specific setup with my other gear. Stay tuned!
BONUS CONTENT (from day one):
I've noticed that these earbuds sound significantly better with all the setups when they are pushed deeper into the ear. If you leave them laying loosely in your ear cup, they won't project the sound directly into the ear canal, will sound remote and some clarity will be lost. You have to push them in slightly with a finger and that opens a whole new world, really. Ear hooks come to rescue here, and despite being way softer than I expected, they hold the buds in place just fine. However, I found that they cause quite unpleasant pain after some usage. The small hooks just weren't enough for my ears, I still had to use my finger to push it in.. but they did hurt after some time. For some reason the big ones hurt less, maybe because they're a bit softer, but it's still unpleasant. This is something to think about. I was never a fan of earbuds because they just keep falling out. Some people don't have that problem and will probably be fine without ear hooks, but this is definitely something to think about.
Part 2: comparison with other equipment
As I mentioned, I have some other equipment that can be compared to the Monk. In part 1, I chose double thin foams for comparison, so I'll use that throughout this part. Oh, and I'm using the ear hooks which also influence it a bit. Because I can't keep them in my ears otherwise.
Let's start by Sennheiser CX300 II:
These cost $30-40, I'd say pretty average price for decent IEMs. They were the first ever piece of audio equipment I bought, and I quickly fell in love with them. That's how I ended up an audiophile ---- but that's a whole different story. I can write a whole thread about that, but I doubt anyone wants to read that boring stuff. Anyway, they are really a quite good piece of engineering that opened a completely new world for my (then) incompetent and not-so-picky ears. They showed me the way into the audiophile world by making me hear what I hadn't heard before. If you're not an audiophile at all, this is the kind of equipment that would probably blow you away the first time you listen to it. That's not only because it's good, but also because it offers that familiar warm feeling that "newbie" ears are usually used to. Not saying it's bad - it's actually quite good. A very good way to step into the audiophile world without getting a "where did my bass go?" or similar shock.
But how does the Monk compare tho it? I'll jump ahead of my writing curvature and say that I'm impressed. I always thought my Sennheiser is great bang for the buck, but VE Monk is just amazing here. It has a similar amount of bass, but it's more controlled. That means that percussion has just as much impact, but the bass doesn't ruin higher frequencies. I always liked my Sennheiser IEMs, not sure if that's because they're really good, or it's just my nostalgic feelings playing because they were my first high-end ones... But I must admit, after the initial shock (which happens with all headphones, since you need to get used to them), the VE Monk blows them away. Yes, you read it right. "Eat my dust!" kind of blowing away.
At first I thought the Monk lacked detail compared to Sennheiser, but then I came to one conclusion: the Sennheiser has more detail, but it's obstructed by uncontrolled bass. So basically, you can hear more details, but you really have to try hard. When I did my initial testing, I did just that: I tried to notice every single bit that could make one pair of headphones better than the other (did that for both sides, by the way, so no bias here). But when I got comfortable with the new earbuds and accepted them as normal part of my life, I just started listening like every normal listener. Not too tense, not too carried away from the music. I was just enjoying it. And this way, I can assure you that I hear just as much detail on the Monk as on Sennheiser. The Sennheiser creates more detail, but it's so obstructed by bass that you can't really hear them without trying hard. Meanwhile, Monk does its best to create details, and although it isn't as good as CX300 II, it doesn't hide anything. You hear its full possibilities without hassle.
Verdict (detail): DRAW (10 points for both)
Let's move to bass: I already mentioned that CX300 II is a quite warm pair of IEMs, that means having high bass and mid/low frequency response. So it should be good for those used to a bit cheaper headphone. Not the cheap ones, but just a bit cheaper ones. Let me explain: lots of manufacturers are trying to make headphones that sell. Since nowadays more and more people look for quality instead of saving their $5, manufacturers have come up with a way to make cheap headphones sound better: without investing too much into high-quality parts and R&D, they just boost their bass response to make them sound "pretty good". They sometimes don't bother too much about controlling the bass, because if uncontrolled, it also puts a curtain on all the bad stuff that's happening in the high end of spectrum. So you get a half baked product that actually sounds much better than the same without bass boost. Lately, I've seen many slogans like "Extra bass!", "Bass Boost v2.0", "Turbo BASS", etc. used in headphone marketing. So basically, basshead headphones are all the rage nowadays, and inexperienced users usually buy them. Because the sales assistant does his job of advertising them And many people got used to that, so making the jump to "flat" balanced headphones is quite hard. That's why I think the Sennheiser IEMs I mentioned are quite good for users who want to dive into high-end listening without changing their habits.
How does the Monk compare? For my taste, perfectly. The amount of bass is just the same, but here, bass stays bass. It doesn't interfere with higher frequencies, doesn't obstruct details. It doesn't give you the first impression of a bass boost, but in a good way. The whole sound specter is quite detailed and clear, without any significant loss in any frequency. And no loss in bass either. After listening to VE Monk, my Sennheisers now sound as if they were speakers in the bottom of a deep hollow structure, such as a water well. And with water inside. Yeah, they sound really bad. But not because they're bad - because Monks are better.
Verdict (bass): Sennheiser - 10 points, VE - 16 points
Finally, soundstage: this is an audiophile term that we use to describe an item's ability to reconstruct the feeling of a large hall, filled with instruments, each in its own place. In other words, it creates separation between different instruments, further helping with details and clarity and creating the feeling of being "there", in the concert hall.
For the comparison, I think it's enough if I say that VE Monk+ is triple as good as Sennheiser. With regular earphones, you will feel like you're listening to.. "something in your ear". With VE Monk+, you will feel like you're listening to a concert. In a concert hall. Enough said.
Verdict (soundstage): Sennheiser - 10 points, VE - 30 points
Sennheiser - 30 points
VE - 56 points
That's pretty great. The initial first impressions weren't as good, but just like with all audio equipment, you quickly get used to it. And now, honestly, I don't even want to come back to my Sennheiser. Even when they're so much more comfortable. Monk is just better.
Second in queue: Audio Technica AD900X:
These are expensive. The kind of head gear that you should really call "Hi-Fi" or "audiophile-grade". I mean yes, there is definitely better equipment like the Sennheiser Orpheus, haha. No, really, this is not top of the line stuff, it's just some very good headphones that the average Joe doesn't buy. Because they're expensive. I got them for $150 in the USA, but the cheapest I could find in Europe was more like $400. That's a lot. But don't get me wrong, they're not overpriced. They're worth every penny. I don't know anyone who owns better headphones, honestly. I'm kind of proud of that.
But back to the point: how do they compare with VE Monk+? You think it's pretty obvious, they win. Right? Well... let's see.
Start by detail: AD900X is a headphone that is meant to be accurate and neutral. It has a very flat frequency response curve, and that means that no frequency is louder than others. Well, almost. It's impossible to achieve a totally flat curve, but these do a pretty great job there. From my perspective, as a listener of classical music, I can tell you that if you close your eyes with these on, you can pretty much forget where you are and start thinking "why is nobody coughing in this concert hall?" I'm serious. That's exactly the feeling I had during the first month of the ownership of this beast
So, does the VE Monk+ have any chance at all to compete with these in terms of clarity? I didn't quite expect that, but... yes it does. Just a little bit. Continuing my points system tied to Sennheiser (notice how it got 10 points everywhere), I will just give quite a bit more points to the AD900X, since let's face it, it's just so much better... But the VE Monk+ is still surprisingly good and deserves at least half of the points that AD900X gets.
Verdict (detail): VE - 10 points, Audio Technica - 20 points
Continuing to bass: neither of these headphones is meant to be bass-heavy. So comparison is pretty complicated here. Overall, the AD900X sounds a little bit more "natural" and less like a tin can. The overall feeling is really noticeable when you hot-swap the headphones, but I really doubt you would miss the bass if you took a 5 minute pause between listening to one or the other.
Verdict (bass): VE - 16 points, Audio Technica - 20 points
And soundstage: well yes, the VE Monk+ is pretty great at this, but the AD900X is an open-back over-ear headphones for a couple hundred dollars. It really beats everything to dust here. The soundstage is what really makes these headphones worth the money. The open-back design allows air to circulate freely and influences the soundstage so much that I sometimes actually forget that I have something on my head.
Verdict (soundstage): VE - 30 points, Audio Technica - 60 points
VE - 56 points
Audio Technica - 100 points
Now, I know what you think. "Why did you even bother comparing them?" Well first of all, I might be a bit biased towards my beloved Audio Technica that opened a whole new world of music listening to me. Secondly, getting half as many points as such a high-end full-size headphone is already a pretty damn incredible achievement for earbuds! And the VE Monk+ is slightly beyond that mark, which makes me proud of owning them.
Part 3: Conclusion
Ok I've been postponing this so long that my to-do stack pretty much got an overflow. But I have to write it. I know it. And maybe the procrastination even served well this time. Because now I know how awesome they are. The first impressions were great, yeah.. but in the long term, I saw that it was just the top of an iceberg. These earbuds are durable, really durable, which I couldn't notice without spending some extra time with them. I admit, I abused them. Normal earbuds would have been broken a dozen times by now. But these little wonders held up like they're made of titanium! They sound great. I don't mean "great for $5", I mean "great, just great". They sound good even for $50, because they're good in ANY style you want! When you need bass, put on the thick foams. When you need clarity, use them naked - you can switch to a completely different flavor in seconds. Without spending an extra penny. When I say they're great, I mean it. And lastly, I can't find a single downside. I mean ok, let's not compare it to $100 stuff, because this one is TWENTY TIMES cheaper! Think about what you expect from $5 earbuds. Now double that. No, you know what? Double that TRICE! YES, multiply that by 8! And you know what? They're even better!!!
And this is my last word.