Looking at the graph you’ll see that Elsa graphs wonky and strays quite a bit away from a reference accurate signature. So, if I had to review it with my audio engineer hat on and with natural, reference tonal and timbral accuracy in mind, I wouldn’t rate it that well. But as a reviewer who has to keep a variety of preferences, liking and choices in mind and who himself does not shy away from trying a variety of signatures and likes a lot of fun signatures too, it’s a different story. So, I’m going for a neutral approach in this review and will explain the sound of the IEM along with graph examples and leave it up to you to decide if it is for you or not. Still, if you are a person who highly values natural reference-accurate tonality with accurate representation of all instruments, I’d recommend clicking here and checking out one of those reviews.
Graphs are measured using an IEC60318-4 (IEC711) setup. You can compare all the graphs on my IEM Graph Database here – Animagus Squiglink.
Summary – Elsa makes for a fun tuned, coloured and sparkly W-shaped signature that goes for a big and grand presentation of sound than reference tonal accuracy. It has about 7-8dB of a bass shelf, sparkly treble with good extension up top that balances the fuller sounding lower-midrange, and a forward upper-midrange with twin peaks (one at 2.2kHz with around 9dB gain and the other at 4.5kHz with around 11dB gain) that greatly help with instrument definition in the otherwise highly V-shaped presentation.
As an audio engineer, I can tell you that this presentation isn’t tonally accurate or one that can be tagged as reference. It is highly coloured but also rich, engaging, with a very wide soundstage that gives an illusion of watching the band perform in a big closed performance hall, and because of a good forward upper-midrange, doesn’t stray too away from decent tonality of instruments. Another thing to note is that the boosted bass and fuller lower-midrange tuning is a double edged sword – it sounds better at average to louder volumes and boosting volume levels to enthusiastic levels is much easier with such a tuning but it can also come off slightly muddy at lower volumes, which is a character trait of most IEMs with such kind of lower end tuning.
Another thing I noticed and I don’t know if the Shozy engineer intended this but this is very closely tuned to the FiR Audio’s XE6 with lesser 20-800Hz boom and fullness, and slightly more upper-midrange forwardness – both very welcome for my preferences. Of course they’re not identical and won’t sound or perform the same but XE6 is what I thought of as soon as I graphed the Elsa.
Let’s dig in deeper…
Bass – The 7-8dB of bass shelf boosts both the sub-bass and mid-bass. It has very good, prominent rumble, punch and slam when the song calls for it. One of the reasons it doesn’t overpower or bleed into the rest of the FR too much is because of the very well balanced treble and top end extension adding tons of clarity, sizzle and sparkle to the signature. It’s not a very well separated bass presentation though, merely because of the character of its tuning and adds boom and punch behind other instruments that are more forward in the signature. This in fact actually sounds like how bands sound in a performance venue than how they would in a well treated room – which you may or may not prefer depending on the kind of presentation you like to go for.
Mids – The fullness in the 250-800Hz adds extra body to instruments and amplifies the ambience of the track, which is the sound of the rooms and reverb in the track. Elsa does sound full and warm in this region as a result but does not end up sounding too warm or muddy because of the sparkly treble balance that makes up for this region’s added warmth and adds some highly needed sparkle and thinning of the signature. It has a twin-peak forward upper-midrange presentation with very good pinna gain of around 9-11dB. This makes sure that the instruments are well defined in the soundstage and is also the reason why Elsa’s tonal balance isn’t too off. I do hear that dip around 1.5kHz slightly but it pairs well with the type of W-shaped presentation I see Elsa going for.
Treble – Elsa has good balance of treble relative to its warmer lower-end of the signature with very good top end extension. The treble presentation adds much needed sparkle, sizzle, energy and excitement into the warmer lower end signature leading to a W-shaped character, greatly increasing the overall clarity, detail retrieval, musicality and engagement factor of what would’ve otherwise been an extra warm, fuller and bass boosted signature. Likability of this kind of sparkly signature will again come down to your preferences but fans of coloured W-shaped tuning will rejoice. You have to know that Elsa has good treble quantity and will not hide sibilance if a track has it because there is no major dipping in the lower-treble, but it certainly won’t add sibilance from its side if the tracks themselves don’t have it.
Technical performance – Elsa has a particularly fun, engaging, open and airy soundstage that stretches fairly wide. It also has really good micro-detail retrieval owing to its sparkly signature and fairly good depth layering for its asking price. Imaging is not the strongest because of the boosting in the lower-midrange that clouds a cleaner presentation required for good imaging performance.
Pola39 is Shozy’s hybrid flagship with 1DD + 2EST made in collaboration with AAW, an IEM manufacturer from Singapore. Pola39 is a V-shaped signature whereas Elsa is W-shaped signature. Pola39 has a dynamic driver handling the bass duties but Elsa has stronger punch because of more mid-bass quantity in comparison and slightly better lower-end extension. Pola39 does have more gooey analog bass texture majorly because of its tuning and also because of the dynamic driver. Even though Elsa graphs fuller in the lower-midrange, its sparkly treble balance makes up for the warmth and it is the Pola39 that comes across warmer and fuller sounding. Elsa has better, more forward upper-midrange tuning and stronger vocal presence and instrument definition as a result. Both are sparkly and sizzly with their lower-treble and mid-treble tuning but Elsa has better upper-end extension and air and has a more open and airy soundstage as a result. Elsa also has better overall clarity, micro-detail retrieval as well as width separation and depth layering.
Fusion is tri-brid with a 1DD + 2BA + Magnetostatic config. It too has a W-shaped signature but sounds quite different when compared to Elsa. Fusion has more sub-bass rumble but Elsa has more mid-bass punch. Fusion is also brighter with its lower-treble tuning. As a result, it is Elsa’s bass that has more presence, authority and punch but it is the Fusion’s that is quicker and has slightly more natural and organic DD timbre. Elsa’s lower-midrange comes across slightly fuller than Fusion. Both have a forward ‘dipped’ upper-midrange pinna gain but Elsa is slightly more linear in the region. Fusion is brighter with its lower-treble and mid-treble tuning but Elsa has better upper-end air and extension. Both have a very good soundstage presentation, with Fusion being slight leaner and cleaner with deeper depth and Elsa being slightly fuller but also more open and airy. Both have really good detail retrieval but Fusion has better left to right separation and Elsa better resolution and layering.
Moondrop S8 is an 8BA IEM tuned to Moondrop’s VDSF reference target. S8 is a reference tuned IEM whereas Elsa is a more fun, W-shaped signature. Elsa has a bigger bass boost and more stronger rumble and punch as a result. S8 has more refined and mature bass tuning with very good rumble but one which is more neutral. Elsa has fuller lower-midrange that adds extra body to vocals and instruments and slightly more upper-midrange in the 4k-5kHz region. But it is the Moondrop that has better instrument definition, tonality and timbre owing to a more accurate tuning. Elsa is sparklier in treble presentation, particularly in the 8k-12kHz region which adds extra sparkle and sizzle on top of everything, making it a W-shaped signature compared to S8’s more refined, even and neutral balance. S8 has a very realistic soundstage that sounds like listening to the band or a good set of speakers in a very well treated room whereas Elsa has a slightly wider soundstage which sounds like you’re watching the band perform in a big closed hall. Elsa has wider soundstage width but S8 has deeper depth. S8 has better left to right separation, layering as well as imaging.
Elsa has a fun, musical and exciting W-shaped signature as it sprinkles some extra punch and sizzle to opposite ends of the spectrum respectively. Even though the $500-1000 segment is filled with excellent offerings from a ton of brands, I think Elsa is good enough to stand on its own as it offers a very different signature from my personal favourites and segment leaders like Moondrop S8 and Softears RSV; one that will target people looking for a more coloured, fun and sparkly signature than reference-neutral like the former two. But it is the disappointing packaging, cheap cable and almost non-existent accessories that has me thinking of its asking price of $680 as a little too steep. Shozy really need to fix that to increase Elsa’s value proposition against the competition.
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs – iBasso DX240 & DX170 | Lotoo PAW6000
- Laptop – Apple Macbook Pro 15″
- Phone – OnePlus 7 Pro
Artists I like and listen to.
- Rock – Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Switchfoot, Imagine Dragons, Daughtry, Green Day, MuteMath, X Ambassadors, Dave Matthews Band, Vertical Horizon, Our Lady Peace, Lifehouse, Fall Out Boy, Breaking Benjamin, Muse, ACDC, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Biffy Clyro, I Am Giant, Normandie, Paramore, Slash & Guns N Roses, 3 Doors Down.
- Pop Rock – John Mayer, Coldplay, Paul McCartney, James Bay, Hunter Hayes, Niall Horan, Keith Urban, The Bros Landreth, Bryan Adams.
- Progressive Rock/Metal – Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Karnivool, Tool, Dead Letter Circus, Periphery, Lamb of God.
- Pop/Soft Rock – Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, OneRepublic, The Script, Gavin James, Magic Man, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Oasis, Panic! At the Disco, TwentyOne Pilots.
- EDM – Chainsmokers, Zedd.