I have reviewed Hippo products before and one thing that they have always done is impress me for one reason or another. Sometime this is because they have done something like no other product before and sometime because they just ooze value. If you do not know who they are, they are the house brand of Jaben, a popular headphone mega store in Asia. So Hippos latest IEM is their first balanced armature model and it uses a single armature, the Sonion 2354 to be exact and variations of this model are in fact used in other popular IEMs such as the Phonak PFE 0xx and 1xx and the Creative Aurvana InEar2. However this does mean little as it can be used vented or with a plethora of different filters that will change the sound signature. This product also finishes off their latest line up that feature the Hippo Biscuit (DAP), CriCri (Amp) and CriCri+(DAC/Amp) of which I now own the complete set!
They seem to have a RRP of £100 and in usual Jaben fashion you will likely get something thrown in, I will not say what as it will probably change but they do like to bundle their IEMs with an amplifier at the least, they are nice folks indeed. Right now they are throwing a deal that for 135 quid you will get a ProOne, an Allesdanro MS1i headphone and 6 months supply of Hippo Foam Tips, I think right now that is the way to go!
During the review process I used these a lot in the gym as they seemed pretty suitable for that and while in there I tended to use either my iPhone 4 or iRiver AK100. I also used them a fair bit while at home using my iMac with USB out to my Marantz CD94 with optical out to the Rein Audio X3-DAC and then a line out from that too to an amp such as the Firestone Audio Beyond HD, the Epiphany Acoustics EHP-02 or the Tube Amp BL-2. All cables are from the Audiophile series by the Charleston Cable Company.
Favourite Source – Colorfly C4pro
As for music, it is all FLAC other than a bit of ALAC and MP3 and most of it is CD quality 16/44.1 but I do have a handful of tracks that are 24/96 and 24/192.
The design of these has taken a huge inspiration from the Westone UM series, especially the UM1, an earphone that you could easily mix up with this. This design is one that is easy to like with the clear housings that let you see inside at all the internals (There are not a lot, just the armature really).
The cable of these earphones is a pain. Honestly it is just so much hassle. For so long I have even started to not mention how much a cable tangles but these have a knack for it, I mean the cable gets kicks out of tangling its self up. Taking them off tangles it, putting it in a case tangles it, coiling them in your hands tangles it and so does every little thing you do in between. It started of as a bit annoying and now it is just a pain, I spend more time untangling them than listening and that’s not ideal for an earphone. As for the actual cables build, it uses a really soft cable that is super flexible (likely the reason it tangles so marvelously) but the braid is not that tight and loosens quite easily as well as having an overall weak feel. Little positives are the very low profile y-split, the nice low profile right angled jack and the fact it does indeed have a cable cinch.
The housings are much better and cause much less concern. They have plastic housings that feel solid and well put together and they also have a very nice strain relief coming out to the cable that is ever so flexible and in a good way. The only real worry is that the sound nozzles are very thin like on Etymotic, Shure and Westone IEMs and I have heard horror stories of them snapping but have always been just fine myself.
I think the cable problem could be undone because of the nice amount of space within the housings. Modding them to a removable cable IEM should not be ‘that difficult’ and surely a professional such as BTG audio would be able to manage. I will give it a go myself and if successful you will surely see something about it on here or my YouTube account.
These come with tips that are basically Phonak tips or you can pick up some of the Hippo Foam tips that I have and both work a treat and also are super comfortable. The Phonak tips I use on a lot of other earphones because they are such a joy to wear and foam tips need little explaining on how nice they feel in your ear! Just make sure your roll the tips if using foam ones.
As for finding the fit they are designed to be worn over the ear and they do so very ergonomically and with little hassle. I found a seal easily with the provided tips. They are on the smaller side so not much to worry about.
If you do a little bit of research on earphones that isolate well you will probably first come across Etymotic and then earphones from Shure, Westone and Earsonics who all share similar housings and achieve high levels of isolation. With these having a similar housing too the latter models these also can isolate awesomely and you can go even more extreme with an Etymotic triple flange or a foam tip for huge levels of isolation if you need it. Personally I get more than enough with the single flange Phonak like tip! One thing for sure is that whatever tip you use, these should satisfy your isolation needs.
Microphonics (Cable Noise):
Even though the cable is a huge pain and I do hate it with a passion it is not actually very microphonic at all. I actually happily enjoy this IEM in the gym because it is rather silent and I do not have to worry about the earphone making a bucket load of noise.
By what I am about to write I do not want to cause any upsets or arguments as this topic can be seen as a sour subject. These have had roughly 100 hours now of use and burn in combined. As burn in is not scientifically proven this all could be mental and happening in my head but in the case that it does happen I recommend burning them in as in my personal experience I have noted improvements which have a massive impact on my enjoyment factor, so don’t make any irrational decisions after listening to them out the box.
These really do remind me of the Phonak PFE in the fact they sound just so smooth and effortless as well as being well detailed and this instantly leaves for a very fatigue free and enjoyable listen. I do find it to have a very nice balance with the ever so slightly boosted bass that gives of the must subtle warmth and the same sort of boost on the other side that gives a bit of brightness (not v Shaped at all however). What I do like about them though is they have a rather full sound in comparison to other thinner sounding close to neutral earphones (TWFK IEMs and Etymotic HF5 for example) while still sounding crystal clear. One thing is for sure I am a very big fan of this BA in both the ProOne and the PFE by Phonak. I would say the overall sound signature is on the borderline between neutral (because it is very flat) and mid-centric (just because the not amazing extension each end).
Some things worth pointing out:
· It is not as accurate or detailed as an Etymotic HF5. The Hippo is more full sounding.
· Not as smooth and effortless as PFE but I do find more details on offer and an even more neutral sound. PFE more full sounding.
· I must say I find it faster than most multi armatures such as UE900, Heir 3.Ai and Westone 4.
· Not as analytical and more bassy than the TWFKs that I have heard including the Audio Technicha CK10, Fischer Audio DBA-02 and Rock It R-50.
· Rather similar to the Musical Fidelity EB-50 with that model having better sub-bass and an airier sound but rather the same elsewhere.
· Not for people who want bass, loads more models I would say over these including the single BA MyST Nail models.
Soundstage and instrument separation:
The soundstage is more accurate than large and this is not a bad thing. Depth actually is probably one of the better characteristics size wise with the width not being amazing and the height doing just enough to not sound small. The accuracy of the imaging however is very good and it really does use the two channels to great effect while also having a very natural center image.
Instrument separation is really top notch as one make expect with the speed armature drivers tend to give. Everything was clear and in its own black space. As for instrument separation and speed I really do not think you can beat a single driver due to the complete lack of coherency and phase issues and this really hits the nail on the head.
This is amazing. It is low in quantity and only very slightly boosted with less boost than the PFE with grey filters and that only has about 3.5 decibels boost so this is not very bassy at all and it is less in decay and a quicker speed than the PFE as well. However the bass still as this slight warmth to it, not enough to be coloured or veiled but it just gives a fluffy and pleasant feeling to the bass. The mid-bass is quick with short decay and not have the most impact but I never find it anemic or myself craving more. Sub-bass does suffer from a roll off. I do notice a small presence down their but no rumble, not oomph or aggression and nothing that really impresses but we do not have the huge disappointment of it sounding empty for the most part but comparing to other earphones did prove you sometime miss out little bits here and there.
Really magical and just drop dead beautiful. It portrays everything so organically and detailed. Vocals are really the showstopper here with amazing balance and awesome male vocals down to the slightly more emphasized female vocals. Timbre is also very nice; instruments have good impact and a natural sound that does not sound fake. Detail retrieval rivals much more expensive IEMs and lays them out right in front of you so you hear every little nuance of the music. Upper mids as I have said are slightly emphasized so they also have great clarity but also a hint of brightness.
The treble is a bit happy coming off of the upper mids and we have a nice helping to the sparkle from a peak at 10khz that does seem to like cymbal crashes. It does make everything rather crystal clear. Extension I am not so sure about, while the treble is amazing in presence being slightly bright I can not help but hear a roll off but not bad enough to miss out on much and still get a slight sense of air but not as much as the EB-50 for example. It is not the smoothest and is actually the thinnest part of the FR in texture and it is every so slightly peaky.
This will set you back roughly 100 pounds but knowing Jaben it will never be that much and if it ever is I would expect a free amp thrown in or the opportunity to get a awesome pair of headphones and an amp for like 25 quid extra. There is no doubt this sounds very good for 100 pounds if you looking for this sort of sound, but on sound quality alone I would say that the Musical Fidelity EB-50 would come out on top while be very similar but throwing ergonomics into the mix as well as the overall package I would say the Hippo may remain the better deal. Overall this compliments the sound signature of the rest of the Hippo range as well as the pricing and makes it very competitive and worth having a closer look at, I just wish Hippo were easier to get in the UK to give it a better chance of getting word out there.