When Penon Audio sent me a box of under $50 review units for this $25 shootout and for the upcoming $50 IEM shootout, I wasn’t expecting the EP3 or the Penon IEM v2. I didn’t expect the EP3, because I already had one that came with the Aune M1S when I got that for review from Penon. I never reviewed that unit, because I generally don’t review stuff that I haven’t agreed to review, even if it’s thrown in a box as a freebie. I’ve got a busy life, even without this hobby claiming late nights and early mornings. I guess second time is a charm for Penon, because I’m going to at least give this some impressions in this under $25 IEM shootout series.
$25 IEM shootout pre-amble
One of the coolest phenomenons in audio right now is the big improvements moving forward in the budget sector. $100 headphones can and do compete with $400 headphones, and $25 headphones sometimes compete with $200 headphones. It’s a great time to be an audiophile, even if your budget isn’t as large as you’d like it to be.
In this $25 IEM shootout series I’ll post a new set of impressions every Wednesday until I’ve done them all. Then I’ll select my top 3 from the list. After I’ve selected my top 3, I’ll do a post ranking the remaining units and giving them our trademark visual ratings. Finally, a post will compare the top 3 IEMs under $25 that I have in my possession. If any manufacturers want to send additional under $25 units that they think might rank before I’ve done my ranking posts, I’ll add them in.
Here are our contestants:
- Penon IEM v2 (IEM, $19.90)
- Penon IEM v1 (earbud, $19.90)
- VE Monk Plus ($10, with ex-pack)
- ADV S2000 ($25)
- Lypertek Mevi ($25)
- Alpha and Delta D2M ($25)
- KZ ZST ($18.99)
- KZ ED12 ($19.99)
- Hypersense HEX02 ($25)
- Fiio F1 ($9.99)
- Hidizs EP3 ($14.99)
Unboxing / Form & Function
- The box shows a purple IEM, but both that I’ve gotten are black. I wanted purple.
- Inside the box is a faux leather insert with a box holding the case and extra tips.
- Pretty nice packaging, overall
- It’s really good that they’ve included a hard case, and really demonstrates that every single darn headphone can and should come with a case.
- The included tips are abnormally long, and not comfortable. These are the same tips as those found in the Dawnwood GT-36. I didn’t like them in that situation either.
- There are 3 included silicon tip sizes. I normally where mediums, but these things are like ice picks. I’m switching to large. That’s better. Much like the Dawnwood GT-36, the medium tips are actually medium-small, and the large are actually more of a medium-large. The smalls are actually small.
- Once I’ve got the large tips in, these are fairly comfortable. They are light weight and the cable loops easily over the ear.
- These have a microphone cable. I’ve not tested it yet, but this is a welcome feature in this price bracket given most folks will be using their phone as a source.
- Those looking for tough IEMs probably won’t find that here. The shell is a ABS resin and polycarbonate that looks none too robust, and the strain relief at the ear and at the headphone jack are poor. At least they come with a case.
- The headphone jack has a tiny housing, leaving almost no area to grip. I think most users will pull these out of the jack by the cable. I had to be careful to not do so, myself. With poor strain relief, this will lead to broken cables.
- If you are one of the many headphone abusers in the sub $25 purchasing bloc, these might not be for you. I know tons of people who buy like 5 sets of $15 headphones a year because they break them constantly.
These sound impressions were done with no burn-in, as I think that most people buy a pair of headphones hook it into their phone and never think about nor ponder the existence of burn-in. For sources, I’ve used the HiBy R3 ($229) and my phone (Asus Zenfone 3). I’ve not done level matching at this stage. That will come later.
- The soundstage is compact. These stay in your head in all dimensions.
- Overall sound is a bit veiled.
- Mids and lower mids are a bit accentuated.
- Bass drum is pushed to the front a bit on Modest Mouse – Alone Down There
- Sound of Modest Mouse bass drum is a bit thumpy (some will just say it has lots of kick), with some veiling of lower mids
- Bass extension isn’t exceptional in general and not for the price class.
- Mostly midbass presentation
- Bass rolls off pretty early on Massive Attack – Angel, bass guitar isn’t all there, same on Macy Gray – Annabelle
- Freddie Mercury’s quirky emotive delivery on Queen – Bicycle Race comes across well on this. In fact, I’d say that these do well in mids overall.
- Cymbals and other treble instruments are a bit thin.
- Resolution is a bit muddled
- Not very detailed
These IEMs are a single dynamic driver unit, which will become familiar in the list. Dynamic drivers are a very mature technology, and well-tune can give a great performance across the whole frequency spectrum. They also happen to be the most susceptible to burn in. Frequent effects of burn-in are extension on both ends of the spectrum and improved control. Before these are judged in the final showdown, they will have a few days of my burn-in treatment. I call it neapolitan noise (pink, brown, white, then silence).