The comparison was done using Sphere with a stock cable, stock hybrid silicone eartips, and LPGT source, volume matched in every comparison. I don’t have too many single driver IEMs, so this is going to be a modest comparison, including some IEMs that are more expensive.
Sphere vs iBasso IT01s – Here you are dealing with single BA vs DD where sound performance is quite different. In comparison to a more coherent balanced signature of Sphere, IT01s sounds more v-shaped due to extra emphasis on sub-bass rumble and higher treble peaks. Sphere bass is more neutral and more linear while IT01s bass has more impact with a deeper rumble. IT01s mids, especially lower, are leaner, thinner, and brighter, while Sphere mids/vocals are more natural, with more neutral body, and with a slightly more forward presentation. Also, Sphere treble is less fatigue and more natural, while IT01s treble is crisper and brighter. Both have a similar soundstage expansion.
Sphere vs Westone W10 – While in this comparison we are dealing with two single BA driver IEMs, this is a perfect example of wide-band BA (Sphere) vs a narrow band mid-centric BA (W10). The soundstage expansion is very similar, and that’s where similarities end. Sphere has a more balanced natural tuning with a deeper low end extension and more impactful bass while W10 bass is very neutral in quantity with sub-bass being rolled off. Both have mids/vocals with a more forward presentation, but the tonality of Sphere mids is more natural, more layered, and better separated. And the same with treble, besides having a better extension the Sphere treble also sounds more natural, more realistic, and less fatigue while still maintaining a good level of definition.
Sphere vs Westone UM Pro 10 – Finally, in this comparison I can hear more similarities in tuning. Starting with soundstage expansion, these two have a similar depth with more out of your head imaging, but Sphere soundstage width is wider in comparison to UMPro10. Bass has a lot of similarities, from deeper sub-bass rumble to a more laidback less aggressive mid-bass punch. Mids/vocals are also very similar with a more forward presentation, closer to neutral body, and more natural detailed tonality. But when it comes to treble, UMPro10 is less natural and a little harsher while Sphere gives you a more natural definition.
Sphere vs HiFi-Boy OS V3 – Even so I was focused on comparison of single driver IEMs, here with an exception of bass, I found Sphere mids and treble to have a lot of similarities with this 3way hybrid. Overall soundstage, in both width and depth was very similar. Bass is the only difference that really stands out where V3 dynamic driver has more impact and depth, and less control, while Sphere bass is more neutral, tighter, and with better control in comparison. But when it comes to mids/vocals, both have a very natural tonality with a good retrieval of details. Sphere mids do have a little more forward presentation but only because of a neutral bass. Even treble has a lot of similarities, though Sphere is just a touch smoother in lower treble peaks.
Sphere has low impedance (6 ohms) and higher sensitivity (118dBm), thus I paid closer attention to pair up with various sources.
Lotoo PAW Gold Touch LPGT – wide soundstage, neutral-balanced signature, natural, slightly more revealing tonality in upper mids/treble, good low end extension with deeper sub-bass, and well-defined non-fatigue treble. No hissing.
Dethonray DTR1 – wide soundstage, neutral-balanced signature with a more revealing brighter transparent tonality, but unfortunately way too much hissing (even at low gain). I liked the sound transformation in this pair up, but if you are sensitive to hissing or listen at low volume, this might not work due to low impedance of Sphere.
Hiby R6 – with this original higher output impedance R6 the sound quality is very similar to DTR1, wide-soundstage, neutral-balanced signature, and a more revealing brighter transparent tonality, but there is no hissing, background is dead quiet. And if you want to bring the tonality to a more natural level, sphere responds great to HibyMusic MSEB effects where you just need to bring up “overall temperature” setting to warmer/darker side. Good pair up, but just need to keep in mind that between high output impedance of R6 and low impedance of Sphere, tonality will be affected.
Shanling M0 – wide soundstage, neutral-balanced signature, natural, more organic smoother tonality. Very good natural tonal balance, great low end extension, natural mids/vocals, and well defined natural extended treble. It’s a little more on a smoother warmer side, but the pair up itself is very good. No hissing.
Hiby R3 Pro – this pair up sounded on par with LPGT, where I hear a wide soundstage, neutral-balanced signature, natural-revealing tonality of mids/vocals, well defined non-fatigued treble, but the bass was a little faster with more focus on mid-bass punch which had a faster attack because sub-bass was slightly attenuated. No hissing.
Cayin N6ii – this pair up had a wide soundstage, neutral-balanced signature, natural-revealing tonality with improved retrieval of details (the sound was more layered, more micro-detailed), treble was still well defined, and the bass had more sub-bass rumble. I actually enjoyed this pair up even more than with LPGT. No hissing here.
It probably sounds like a cliché saying “I didn’t know what to expect” when I received Penon Sphere, but it’s the truth. Sphere is Penon’s first IEM, and they decided to start with a single BA design where the sound tuning can go either way. Many companies start off with either single DD or hybrid design which guarantees a full bandwidth sound coverage. I think a single BA is more challenging since you are dealing with only a “single” building block to get it right. In my opinion, Penon did a great job with a tuning which has a neutral-balanced sound sig and a natural detailed tonality you can enjoy during extended non-fatigue listening. Well done for a debut release of IEM which is both sold by and made by Penon!