2 years ago, at CanJam NYC ’20, I was caught by a surprise seeing “Soundcore by Anker” table since I wasn’t aware that Anker spun off their audio line of products under its own Soundcore brand name. Of course, who hasn’t heard of Anker, considered to be the industry leader in portable power-banks and usb chargers. I was aware of their Bluetooth speakers and earphones, and have reviewed some in the past. But I always considered them to be aimed at general consumers, not audiophiles. At the last CanJam, I was impressed with their Liberty 2 Pro TWS earphones, featuring fun v-shaped tuning and support of custom sound profiles. When I approached their table this year, I did notice Liberty 3 Pro sign, being promoted with updated tuning and featuring LDAC Bluetooth codec support. But, the focus of their display was on Soundcore Frames, Wireless “smart” sunglasses. That caught my attention from the get-go, and I even forgot to check out Liberty 3 Pro.
These $199 Frames are available in 8 different styles and share the same “smart” temples that pack 4 speakers and custom audio processor, along with dual microphones to pick up calls. They work like wireless earphones, and you don’t have to stick them in your ears to enjoy the sound while having a full surround awareness. We are not talking about bone conduction or anything like that, just a sound from speakers inside temples in close proximity to your ears with a touch control to pick up calls and to manage the music playback. Of course, don’t expect audiophile quality tuning, this is more of a consumer type of tuning, but it was still very clear and detailed, even had some low-end weight, but not as much. These are comfortable to wear and fun to use “smart” audio sunglasses to enjoy outdoor activities, like biking, hiking, beach, pool, or just chilling in the backyard.
While I wasn’t familiar with a concept of smart audio frames before, this was my first experience, and a few people pointed out to me other brands that offer similar products. But with other brands you pay the full price for one particular style of glasses. Soundcore Frames have a unique feature of interchangeable frames which disconnect from their pair of wireless “audio” temples, and you can buy other stylish frames for additional $50. Or pick one of the spare frames with a more common shape to fit prescription lenses.
When I was watching Head-fi CanJam preview video, I noticed Brian talking about InEar IEMs and their PP8 model. This came as a surprise since CanJam is usually about manufacturers showcasing their new or upcoming products, while here we are talking about 5.5 years old, $2k, 8BA-driver model. So, what is a catch? Until now, for the last 5+ years, these popular studio reference IEMs were offered only in universal shell design. I mean, even their universal design had a custom-like sculptured shape, but it was still universal with eartips.
Not sure why it took InEar that long, assuming they received a lot of requests from performing musicians and finally decided to introduce CIEM version which you can customize for a perfect ear fit and with different finish options. You are still getting the same internal 8BA design and 2 switches yielding 4 different tunings. You are even getting the same replaceable filter in the nozzle like in Uni. While I’m familiar with many IEMs, it just so happened that I never heard PP8 before. So, it was a great opportunity to finally check them out. On their default switch setting, these IEMs have a very neutral balanced signature with a clear detailed tonality. Not the biggest soundstage expansion, but a very good and accurate imaging with placement of instruments. What impressed me the most was effectiveness of switches, especially the bass switch which added a natural low-end lift.
Making its debut at CanJam NYC 2022 was ThieAudio with two of their latest flagship IEMs. Actually, it wasn’t really a debut of IEMs themselves, but rather a debut of Linsoul audio as a retailer of these IEMs at CanJam show in NYC. I was under the impression that ThieAudio was Linsoul’s own exclusive brand, but noticed it being sold now by a few other on-line retailers. There were more IEMs and cables available at the Linsoul table, but ThieAudio was the focus of many stopping by to listen to Monarch MKII ($999, link) and Divinity 16 ($1,499, link), not your typical chi-fi budget priced IEMs. Since I’m not very familiar with this brand, I took the opportunity to audition both.
Monarch MKII is a tribrid design IEM featuring 9 drivers partitioned into DD (10mm), 6BA (Sonion and Knowles drivers), and 2EST (Sonion drivers). It also comes with a premium high purity SPC cable with modular 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm termination plugs. The sound had W-shaped balanced signature with a natural revealing tonality where you hear a deep textured bass, close to neutral detailed mids, and crisp energetic treble, though without any lower treble harshness or sibilance.
Divinity 16, as the model’s name suggest, is 16BA-driver model featuring a mix of Knowles and Sonion BAs partitioned with a 5-way crossover. I thought it was very interesting that ThieAudio/Linsoul are trying to be very specific about using brand name drivers, setting these models apart from budget chi-fi releases. It also features a similar premium high purity SPC cable with modular termination and 2.5/3.5/4.4mm plugs. Divinity 16 tuning had a more neutral balanced revealing tonality. I found it to be more resolving than Monarch MKII, but its bass was more neutral and flatter in comparison to MKII. For me personally, I preferred Monarch MKII tuning due to a beefier bass, but there were quite a few people at the table who favored Divinity 16 instead. Everything comes down to a personal taste!
FAudio Dark Sky (reviewed) was one of my pleasantly unexpected discoveries of the last year. Then, while passing Musicteck table during CanJam show this year, I came across FAudio new hybrid IEM, Mezzo. I never heard of this IEM model and had to Google it on the spot to find the only reference going back to… the end of 2019 where FAudio made Twitter announcement, promoting this new release at Autumn Headphone Festival over 2 years ago. I have no idea what triggered the delay of this DD+2BA hybrid IEM, or if FAudio changed their mind and decided to update it while Dark Sky was released first. But it looks to me like Mezzo, with its green theme shell and green/golden cable inspired by Monster energy drink artwork, is finally ready for a prime time.
In FAudio spec, they referred to Mezzo’s DD as “Major”, assuming it was using the same DD driver as in their other Major single DD IEM, similar to Dark Sky. Also, Mezzo features 3 switches to fine-tune the sound. I started in default setting with all switches down which yields a v-shaped sound signature with a big and bold bass (quite strong impact), natural revealing micro-detailed mids that sounded a bit recessed, and a very energetic treble with a crisp bite. The soundstage was very big and expanded. The default v-shaped tuning was not bad at all, kind of reminding me of Trio.
I was curious about those switches and decided to flip #2 which actually made mids even brighter. I was ready to walk away until I decided to give it one more shot with a switch #3, and got instant gratification of Mezzo mids becoming more forward and more natural, which also affected the perception of the treble to be more natural, and the overall sound signature to become more w-shaped and balanced. I think this is another pleasant discovery, and I’m glad I didn’t give up after the first listen.
Page 1 – Intro.
Page 2 – Grell Audio, Dunu, Meze Audio, Empire Ears, 64 Audio.
Page 3 – MMR/JOMO, Eletech, Bloom Audio, Lunch break.
Page 4 – SoundCore, InEar, Linsoul/ThieAudio, FAudio.
Page 5 – CEntrance, HiFiMan, Chord, JH Audio.
Page 6 – Musicteck (Cayin, FirAudio, EA, VE, Oriolus, UM, Aroma, SoftEars, Lotoo, and more).
Page 7 – Final thoughts.