A Perfectly Round Sound!
PROS: balanced signature with a natural tonality, good low and upper end sound extension for a single BA, universal custom fit, compact design, quality accessories, price.
CONS: not too crazy about stock cable.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Penon.
Over the years since I started reviewing, I covered quite a few products sold by Penon Audio. This well-known audio retailer been around for a long time, and besides raising the awareness of less known affordable brands from Asia, they also gave a jump start to many reviewers. In the last few years Penon decided to apply their accumulated knowledge to develop their own brand of products under the same name. And even so I’m still getting used to saying Penon cables and Penon IEMs and earbuds, based on what I have seen so far, they are off to a good start.
I have reviewed a few of Penon cables already, with decent quality wires, nice-looking hardware, and reasonable pricing. I did skip their earbuds since my ear anatomy is not earbud-friendly. But when Penon announced their first IEM, I was intrigued because it had just a single BA driver. In today’s market saturated with multi-BA and hybrid designs, it’s a bold move to offer a single BA monitor, considering those are less common than single DD. Now, after spending almost a month with Penon Sphere, I would like to share my thoughts about it.
Unboxing and Accessories.
Penon typically uses a compact size box for their own products. It’s a nice small storage cardboard box, a bit DIYish, with their logo on top, and a picture of the product glued on the side with a detailed spec glued on the back. Inside, you have foam inserts with cutouts for the storage case with IEMs and accessories, to make sure all is secured inside during shipment.
What surprised me, and not only about this pair of IEMs but also their cables, Penon likes to add extra accessories which is actually a nice touch. Here, in addition to a cleaning tool and branded velcro cable organizer, they also included 3 pairs (S/M/L) of white silicone eartips with large bore opening and 3 pairs (S/M/L) of grey hybrid silicone eartips with a narrower blue thick stem. I call those eartips hybrid because they use 2 types of silicone material, and I actually have dozens of those, using with many other IEMs.
Plus, you get a small velour accessories storage bag with a Penon logo and snap-on button cover – roomy enough for extra cable or eartips, though not exactly for IEMs w/cable. Then, you get a draw-string velour storage bag; that one is roomy enough for IEM/cable and maybe even extra cable or eartips. And last, but not least, a Wooden round case, Penon branded on the top and with velour Penon-branded coaster inserts. The Wooden case is limited to first production batch of Sphere, and it adds a premium touch to a product packaging.
I’m not sure about the wires of the included stock cable, could be SPC or just OFC, but the cable itself has 4 inner-twisted thin conductors, very flexible, non-microphonic, and with a decent hardware, even so the wires itself feel generic. The right angled 3.5mm gold plated plug has a metal housing and a nice strain relief. The y-split has a matching metal housing and also a strain relief, and a chin-slider is a clear rubber piece. The 2pin standard 0.78mm plastic molded connectors have 270deg angle, and a clear heat-shrink flexible earhook section.
Personally, I found that heat-shrink section to be not very comfortable because it makes cable springy going over my ears and pulls the shells out. Of course, it’s a subjective opinion and could be “fixed” if you can remove the heat-shrink part. Overall, the cable felt kind of generic, and I was a bit surprised that Penon didn’t include something more premium. But you have to keep in mind, this is $169 IEM, so they probably had to stay within a budget.
As you can see, I wasn’t too crazy about the stock cable, so I wanted to try a few different ones. Please keep in mind, in my description below the sound changes are not exactly night’n’day. But there are some noticeable differences I picked up after a careful volume matched comparison using LPGT as a source while playing the same track.
Penon SPC – this cable has an improved ergonomics where there is no heat-shrink pre-shaped earhook part, and you have an option to upgrade to a balanced plug. In terms of the sound, I hear a deeper sub-bass rumble and overall bass sounds faster and tighter, specifically a faster attack and shorter decay of the bass which gives the sound a faster pace. Mids and treble are very similar (when compared to stock cable), though I do hear a little more airiness with this Penon silver-plated cable. The soundstage was the same.
Effect Audio Maestro (Copper) – to my surprise, the soundstage is a little wider with this cable, also I do hear a deeper sub-bass rumble with bass being a little faster, and mids/vocals having a little fuller body. Treble was the same.
Effect Audio Virtuoso (SPC) – the soundstage here sounds nearly identical to original cable, the bass is a little deeper, mids/vocals have a little better retrieval of details, and treble has just a little more sparkle. The difference was very subtle.
Based on how much of the actual improvement you get, I personally found Penon’s own SPC cable (only $17.50 with 4.4mm balanced plug upgrade) to be an upgrade that made more sense to me, especially if you take its improved ergonomics and balanced plug under consideration.