Earbuds/Flathead Discussion

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by shotgunshane, Oct 18, 2016.

  1. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

    Staff Member Pyrate Flathead IEMW
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    TGXear Desolation Sound
    https://www.tgxear.com/
    MSRP $599

    IMG_0844.jpeg

    Desolation Sound (DS) is the new, reference tuned TOTL flagship from TGXear. TGXear is conducting a small North American tour of it and I was lucky enough to catch the announcement and sign-up. DS contains a 130Ω custom N55 driver. It’s housed in a standard MX500 shell and has a similar cable to the great Sunniva cable, but with white and black resin y-split and 4.4mm plug. Production units appear to come with a wood storage box, while the tour unit came in a more standard laser engraved EVA zipper case.

    The DS signature is fairly neutral albeit with a slight analytical tilt. Transparency and clarity are top class. Bass is dense with a natural but not exaggerated decay. There is more impact than rumble and lots of texture. This might be my favorite bass in a flathead to date, as it reminds me of the aspects I enjoyed of the Dunu Luna bass. This sense of density carries over to the midrange. It feels denser, more solid than previous TGXear models I’ve heard. There is a middle midrange bump around 1.4k that reminds me of the similar bump on my Etymotic ER4XR. It can add a little honkiness at times but also provides a microscope-like attention on small, low level details, revealing the nuance and grit of the performance.

    Treble has excellent timbre and resolution but is also spot-lit in the lower treble. I was unable to use the donut foams provided on the tour unit for very long; the lower treble peak was just too pronounced for my ears. Next step was the lower density Serratus full foams. These presented everything very similarly to the donuts, while just slightly taming the treble peak, which was still a bit too much on some songs. I finally settled on some higher density full foams, though not as dense as Hiegi or Fiio bass foams. While the overall bass presence is elevated a notch, treble was now good for me across all my music. Transparency and clarity remained unaffected, despite the slight tilt to become just a hair more bassy.

    This slightly bassier response immediately made me think of my bass reduction filtered Sunniva, but taken to the next level. After some back and forth, this thought took more form-
    First and foremost, DS ups the transparency and clarity; gone is the slight veil of warmth of Sunniva. Decays are tightened and transients are faster. Bass is more precise and imaging takes a significant step up. DS is much more forward and close up in presentation. Sunniva is a little further back and feels a little wider, perhaps due to the perceived distance. However, DS imaging is significantly improved over Sunniva, so while overall stage feels more intimate, the relative scale is different. There is more space around instruments due this more pinpoint imaging. DS micro dynamics are truly excellent; reverbs and impact from toms and snares are very distinct, impactful and realistic sounding. Where Sunniva can be somewhat relaxed, the DS demands your attention.

    On the other hand, Serratus is leaner and cleaner with a blacker background, but less dynamic and nuanced. Rock guitars soar and the presentation is airy but lacks some realistic heft in comparison. DS notable increase in bass solidity and midrange density is not only more realistic, but more revealing and resolving micro-dynamically. Where DS really pulls the low level grit from the background, Serratus has a smoother, yet crisp blackness. Imaging is competitive between the two with regards to their spacial source locations left to right, but DS ups the ante with noticeably more spacial information front to back, albeit on a more intimate/forward scale overall compared to Serratus’ wider and further back grand presentation. The best analogy for these differences is this: Serratus is like seeing the band at an outdoor venue, whereas DS is like being up front in the club.

    If you want a TOTL flathead and you crave the best resolution, dynamics and transparency you can get, and price is no object, Desolation Sound should be at the top of your list.
     
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  2. spoony

    spoony Spooky

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    I built myself a pair using what I think is the same blue PET driver, here's the relevant listing:
    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005005372419999.html
    Use the 300 ohm version.

    I used the following (quite open) enclosure:
    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005004743300268.html

    Dropped the driver in to get an idea of what to fix / tune and was surprised by a very big sound coming out of an earbud. Balance is pretty good and not dissimilar to what you are describing here, hell, I haven't been compelled to adjust anything so far. Not bad at all for ~$30 plus cables.
     
  3. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

    Staff Member Pyrate Flathead IEMW
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    Fiio FF3
    MSRP $99

    IMG_0849.jpeg

    The FF3 comes in two colors for the shell: black or silver. The loaner unit I have is the black shell and its really is eye catching in person; the gold accent on the back side of the shell looks really nice too. The black FF3 is one of the better looking flatheads I’ve seen. The shells are stainless steel and surprising heavy. They do tend to move around easily if you are not stationary when listing; otherwise the extra weight does’t cause any discomfort.

    The driver is 14.2mm beryllium plated diaphragm, rated at 45 ohms. The cable seems of high quality and looks nice, but is a bit unruly and springy, which could also affect ear stability as well. It is terminated in a swappable plug that twists apart to change from 3.5mm to 4.4mm. Lastly, it comes with a pelican/otterbox style case but I have no idea if it would be water-resistant/proof like those typically are.

    The FF3 is a bass oriented signature with pleasant warmth and easy going treble. Fiio’s own marketing material emphasizes the technical design aspects that help to bring out this bass emphasis. This is as close to basshead territory as I’ve heard in a flathead so far. Even though this type of tuning is outside of my preferences, I have to say, it is really well done.

    Mid bass has very good punch. NWA’s 100 Miles and Runnin’ hits hard but also stays smooth throughout. The FF3 digs deep for The Egyptian Lover’s To 1985 and has enough rumble to do it justice. Rumble is strong to 50hz and usable to 40hz before sharper drop off.

    Vocals have extra heft and weight, though there is enough ear gain to keep vocals from sounding veiled, even if they lack a bit of realistic energy. Rock guitars have extra body and heft as well. Bite and attack is rounded and somewhat blunted, so your arena rock classics aren’t going to soar but rather will be wrapped in pleasant warmth.

    Treble is pretty laid back and a bit on the dark side. It’s enough presence to provide decent detail but not something you’d call sparkling and resolving. Sibilance is tamed more than most sets, even when highly present on the recorded material. This is a treble you can listen to for long periods of time without fatigue, yet still produce enough resolution to feel you are not missing too much. Due to the bassy and smooth signature, donut foams are really recommended to get the most out of the treble regions.

    While technical aspects like imaging, resolution and staging are all mostly middling/average in the grand scheme of things. The tuning and build are really excellent if you’re looking for a bass heavy presentation. The FF3 is leagues better than the its cheaper FF1 sibling and well worth its MSRP asking price.
     
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  4. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

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    Big thanks to @shotgunshane for sending out this flathead loaner tour. The funny paradox here is: I got interested in flatheads because I was seeking very un-fussy listening, and this loaner convinced me that, at least for me, flatheads are more fit-dependent than IEMs. Less fussy, but more fit dependent. I'll explain.

    My brother in law is a dentist, and he often says: in the mouth, a millimeter feels like a mile. The same is true of flatheads in my experience. Having an ear shape that pushes the transducer a millimeter or two further out can turn a very balanced or even dark-sounding earbud into something with almost no bass that also sounds like the vocals have been run through a telephone filter. I have such an ear shape. Keep that in mind as you read on.

    VE Monk + : Mushy and low-fi sounding

    Fiio FF1: Didn't make me want to listen any longer than a quick initial listen. Part of that was that I was looking forward to listening to others more than this one, and part of this was a not-interesting sound.

    Fiio FF3: These sounded good to me. You'll notice that they sound basshead to others, but that's because they fit others better and sound more true as a result. Fit tip: if MX500-shelled flatheads sound honky/extremely bass-lite to you, the FF3 might sound balanced. There are some peaks in the upper midrange/lower treble that can make these sound piercing at certain moments in certain songs, but for the most part these sounded nicely balanced and fun to listen to.

    Fiio FF5 (not part of the tour, but I own these): These are a bit more bass-lite than the FF3's and they have a somewhat more dry timbre, but they're a pleasant listen and can be tuned with foams to be more full/warm sounding, though like every flathead I've ever heard, these have no sub-bass.

    Dunu Alpha 3: Not as good as the Fiio FF3. Kind of bass-lite and compressed/flat sounding, despite having a fair bit of midrange/lower treble energy.

    OFC MX300 aPs 300Ω: Honky and bass-lite (dammit; I wanted to like these). Vocals sound like they've been run through a telephone filter. This is definitely a fit issue for me, and not a minor enough one that foam rolling helps. Pushing the shells of these inward with a fair bit of force makes them sound 70 or 80% normal/balanced and, oddly, using the balanced output on my Shanling M0 Pro makes them sound a bit more normal than the SE output does (probably a power/juice issue with respect to the Blur's 300 ohm driver though my DIY 300 ohm driver does just fine with the SE out).

    Another fit note: if MX-500 shell flatheads sound bass-lite or honky to you, then the "showerhead" style shell of the Fiios FF1/FF3/FF5 and the Dunu Alpha 3 may get the driver closer in to your ear canal and therefore sound more balanced. Or maybe not? Who knows. These flatheads are wily beasts! I did, for the record, try the Earbud Triple Origami Vibrating Palm move (https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...-flathead-discussion.3026/page-15#post-415143) to try to optimize the fit of the Blur earbuds, but that did not help with the fit issues for me.

    Here's my theory about fit. Maybe this will apply to others: my intertragial notch sits a bit futher out from my concha cavum (https://healthlifemedia.com/healthy/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Ear-External.jpg) than the median anatomy. On a "showerhead" style shell like the one on my DIY buds, I measure 8.7mm from the earbud stem to the face of the driver cover (pics here: https://imgur.com/a/CWaRRqC). I don't have an MX500 shell handy so I can't verify this, but I'd bet that distance is a millimeter or two less on an MX500 shell and...

    ...with earbuds, a millimeter sounds like a mile (less bass). :) I've ordered some DIY earbud parts, including some MX500 shells, so when that arrives I'll measure those and update here.

    Thx again for this tour, @shotgunshane!
     
  5. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

    Staff Member Pyrate Flathead IEMW
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    FF5
    MSRP $129
    Thanks to @philipmorgan for the loaner

    IMG_0962.jpeg

    The FF5 appears to only come in black. The black has almost a blue hue to it in person; it’s quite an attractive shade. The vent looking features on the back of the housing, according to Fiio, are a semi-open dampening scheme, purportedly for reducing reflections and vibrations, letting some air escape but not for bass purposes. The bass venting is in the stems. The driver is a 14.2 ‘carbon-based’ diaphragm, rated at 45 ohms. The shells of the FF5 feel noticeably lighter than the FF3. If I already didn’t really care for the FF3 cable, then now I really don’t like the FF5 cable. It’s fairly springy and very unwieldy. It kinda does its own thing and has lots of memory. It’s 4 cores, has 392 strands and made of silver plated monocrystalline copper. Should you find it as annoying as I do, then luckily the FF5 has standard MMCX removable connectors, so you could replace the cable with something thinner, softer and less memory prone if desired. The stock cable does have a swappable termination that can be switched between 3.5mm to 4.4mm. The FF5 also comes with a pelican/otterbox style case, just like the FF3.

    FF5 vs FF3
    The simplest way to explain the FF5 sound is to briefly compare it to its sibling, the FF3:

    Using thinner, less dense full foams, the FF5 is a warm and bass boosted set, however it is noticeably more balanced overall than the FF3 (with donut foams). The FF5 has less warmth and bass presence, and it’s bass is better defined, more precise in comparison. Both have some of the better flathead sub bass extensions with usable output to 40hz. The FF5 midrange is more balanced, even and natural sounding, particularly with vocals. Both male and female vocals just sound more realistic and natural on the FF5, whereas they are warmer and more full bodied on the FF3. Treble presence seems somewhat similar between the two but ultimately feels more balanced in the FF5, since there is less bass and warmth to compete against. The FF5 doesn’t really image or resolve appreciably better than the FF3, however it’s better balanced tuning does offer small but noticeable gains here. In fact, with the same impedance ratings, I was getting very similar volume between the two, making me wonder if Fiio perhaps uses the same driver, just with different diaphragm coatings and slightly different shell tunings.

    I’ve seen many refer to the FF5 as the more neutrally tuned of the Fiio sets. While this is true in a comparative sense with the other Fiio models, don’t mistake the FF5 for a neutral flathead in the grand scheme of things. That being said, I find its bass boost and warmth pleasant and musical. Against my preferences, the FF5 is a nice laid back, warm set with enough overall balance to keep from being too colored and unnatural. It doesn’t demand my attention and allows me to be able to put the music a bit in the background as I focus on other things in front of me. The FF5 would be my top recommendation of the Fiio flathead family, although bassheads would probably prefer the FF3.
     
  6. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    Earbud Loaner Tour Impressions
    I’d like to thank @shotgunshane and @imackler for making this tour possible; imackler very generously lent us two of his earbuds – thank you very much!

    All listening was done using my MacBook Air or iPad through an iFi Go bar


    VE Monk+
    I’ve owned these for quite a while as I originally bought them for my wife, who doesn’t get along with IEMs, and we wanted to get her something better than the old bog-standard Apple earbuds. And for the $6 price I paid via Massdrop, they were worth a try. I remember the consensus in the Massdrop discussion posts was that they’re great value for money. That’s true. But they’re pretty crap, really, in the grand scheme of things, and especially compared with the Fiio FF1 for $16. I’d rather go a few weeks without goat milk pumpkin spice venti lattes to splurge on the Fiios instead.

    The sound, with the more neutral Clear foams included in the tour, is v-shaped and muddy. The Monk is bass-heavy and, alas, that bass is flabby and lacking in pitch differentiation. There’s an emphasis and bloom in the mid- to upper-bass. The midrange is lacking, there’s some treble roll off, too, and cymbals sound awful. I suspect there’s an emphasis in the lower treble, hence the v-shaped signature. On the positive side, the Monk is reasonably open and spacious-sounding, and tone and timbre aren’t awful, but the resolution is, unfortunately. But, hey, this is a super cheap earbud.


    Fiio FF1
    With the Clear foam, these are much better earbuds and, in some ways, they’re among the more impressive ones, given their price. The overall signature is much better balanced than the Monk’s, and they’re more even through the entire frequency response. They’re warm and rich sounding, in large part because they’re bass heavy, and that bass is a bit flabby and loose, bloomy but fun, and it even has some sub-bass rumble. The bass isn’t completely overblown, but it’s too much for classical music. At the other end of the spectrum, the treble’s much better than the Monk's, and there’s some sparkle, but the FF1 is still a bit rolled off, and cymbals don’t sound quite right. Whereas the mids are recessed/murky on the Monk, the FF1’s are richer. The resolution is a significant step up, and these earbuds have a nice big, spacious, and bold sound. There’s not much depth, they’re quite up-front in their staging. There’s also good impact, solid macrodynamics, and nice decay to notes.

    With the lighter-sounding, brighter donut foams, the FF1’s still very bassy, and a bit too boomy at times.

    Overall, they’re really quite pleasant. They’re unoffensive, with a warm, easy sound. The housings are fairly small and comfy.


    Fiio FF3
    With the Clear foams, these are once again bassy, overly so for classical music (although cellos sound nice and woody). The FF3 are very warm. The sound is nice and rich. The FF3 are wetter and thicker than the FF1. The treble’s pretty decent but could do with more sparkle. There’s decent width to the staging but the staging is panned too hard to the sides, and is too up-front (i.e. lacking depth). There’s just not a strong enough center image.

    With the Donut foams, the sound is once again too bassy and warm and rolled off. There’s no sparkle. The sound comes across as slow and cumbersome, not quite muddy, but lacking snappiness in transient attacks. These are molasses earbuds. At least the bass has a nice spacious quality. Resolution’s better than the FF1 but still nothing to applaud.


    Dunu Alpha 3
    With Clear foams, these are much more neutral than the Fiios offerings. As with the FF3, there’s not much of a center image, with music being panned too hard to the sides. There’s also little height to the staging, which means that layering is shallow and poor. The sound is nice and expansive, though.

    The tonality is lighter than the gloopy, dense Fiios, in part because the bass is less prominent and because there’s more treble extension and emphasis. Alas, there’s a bit of an edge to the treble, and perhaps some roughness, as well as a bit of brightness from somewhere in the upper mids or lower treble. The Alpha 3 also sound less syrupy than the Fiios thanks to the snappier, faster transients.

    Where the Alpha 3 fall down is in a weird recession somewhere in the mids. Certain instruments in various tracks are missing or far too faint. It’s not a matter of resolution, which is ok, but more that the presentation is missing information.

    With the Donut foams, weirdly, the sound gets muddier. There’s also more shimmer and glare to the treble, which is now too bright.

    The Bass foams tame the treble and make for a more mellow listening experience. The Alpha 3 lose some incisiveness and bite, though, but they’re still lively enough, and not as slow as the Fiios. There’s also good mid-bass punch. In fact, the bass is really good now, with a nice balance between bloom and tightness, giving bass guitars nice heft and texture, without them becoming sloppy.


    Blur OFC MX300
    With the Clear foams, the sound is strangely distant, hazy, and with super low resolution. I’m not sure if my dongle is driving them adequately. The bass is nice and authoritative. The mids, however, are thin. And the treble’s screechy.

    With the Bass foams, the presentation becomes v-shaped in a bad way, with recessed mids and edgy treble. The lower mids are too thin. The sound, then, comes across as weird, unnatural, and unbalanced. The earbuds also pick up quite a lot of hiss from my setup, which is usually close to silent, even with my OG Campfire Solaris. Weird. Male vocals are ok, but not really forward enough; female vocals are strident, and sparkles are stabby. The bass has good depth and strength, though. I guess I just didn’t drive them adequately.


    Conclusion
    Well, the Fiios are good for bassheads, I suppose. But none of these earbuds made me want to reach for my wallet. The FF1 were the most appealing, but that’s only from a bang-for-buck perspective. The best thing about these earbuds is that they’re a damn sight better than the old Apple ones, from memory at least, and they inspired me to look further for a pair of earbuds that might suit my preferences better. I thus snagged a pair of TGXear Serratus, which are awesome and just as shotgunshane described them above. I’ll add some impressions of them soon.

    Thank you again for the opportunity to hear these earbuds, it's been a great learning experience, and I'm stoked to have found earbuds I like as they've always appealed to me.
     
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  7. ColdsnapBry

    ColdsnapBry Almost "Made"

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    Anyone know an earbud that sounds like a KSC75? Seems like this could be possible. What I like about KSC75 is microdynamics, speed, timbre, clarity and air. To me KSC75 has good bass too as it's fast and neutral. Might not have subbass but it has nearly perfect PRAT that makes it great for hip hop too.

    I was hoping to try an earbud, something that's a bit more discrete looking than a KSC75..
     
  8. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Why are there no ortho earbuds yet?
     
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  9. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    There are a few planar flatheads but they aren’t popular because they supposedly lack significant bass.
     
  10. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    Sorry for the bother but I got thrown a curveball question about flatheads and I've got zero experience with them since VE Monks an age ago. Would you say that the FF1 were sensitive to hiss e.g. out of a USB microphone, laptop headphone jack, or front panel PC audio or nah? Been looking at reasonable earbud recommendations for friends and others who ask but I haven't yet bothered trying any.
     
  11. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    I don’t recall the FF1 suffering from hiss, but I can’t say my recollection is trustworthy.

    Your post reminded me that I never posted my impressions of the Serratus. They were easily the best of the ones I’ve heard (all listed above in my impressions) and my take on them aligns with shotgunshane’s. Really beautifully tuned. If not for the slightly painful fit, over time, I’d have kept them.
     
  12. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    I do feel that flatheads are a bit of an unfortunately slept-on category cuz sometimes a lack of external noise attenuation can actually be beneficial. Hoping that the really good models stay relatively affordable and don't go down the mad route that IEMs have over the last decade.

    I do remember *really* liking the Apple Earpods ages ago relative to those Samsung IEMs that came bundled with the original Galaxy S (way before they acquired Harman/AKG)-- I had trouble admitting that I preferred the sound of those Apple Earpods though, cuz they were a relative's and not mine haha.

    Hmm, in hindsight I wonder how those measured.
     
  13. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I never used the FF1 with those things, but I cant’t recall any hiss on any of the earbuds that came through my hands. As far as cheap earbuds, the Yincrow X6 is much better sounding than the Fiio FF1 (cheaper too $9~$12) but the Yincrow build quality feels cheaper compared to FF1 build too.
     
  14. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    Thank you! Appreciate the time. In hindsight might actually be worth testing IEMs and flatheads out of objectively bad sources since I feel that's what a lot of folks shopping around this price point will be pairing with their transducers. I can't actually remember if I've wired up front panel audio on my PC (probably have). Might be fun to look into how that sounds.
     
  15. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Moondrop has released a new budget earbud, the U-2 for $35. Industrial minimalism. Supposedly tuned to not require foams but all earbuds benefit from foams IME. Shells are smaller than normal, as it uses a 14.8mm driver, so should be an easy fit compared to MX500 shells.

    [​IMG]
     
  16. DigMe

    DigMe Friend

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    are you getting these for review?


     
  17. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I think so. Shenzhen Audio contacted me about it last night.
     
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  18. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Shenzhen Audio came through.

    Moondrop U-2.jpeg

    Moondrop wasn't exaggerating when they said they were tuned to not use foams. However, due to the smaller size shell, I could not get a sturdy fit in my left ear. It just wanted to flop around and fall out.

    I tried silicone rings and silicone wings without foam, and it kind of worked, but I did want a little bit of damping to the upper midrange for my tastes. So I tried regular full foams, and they are an absolute no go to me; just makes them way too boomy and mutes treble too much. The thinner foams I have, that I call Serratus foams (same foams TGXear uses with the Serratus), work decently well; ultimately they are a little warmer and smoothed over than what I like. So I punched holes in them and made them into donut foams. This brought much better treble sparkle and clearer midrange (closer to no foams) with slightly less warmth and upper bass from fulll Serratus foams. For even less bass and less warmth, the Trig Rain hair net looking, ultra-thin foams sound perhaps even better but they are a little bit itchy feeling with their odd and noticeable texture. They are affectionally known as body scrubber foams on discord.

    upload_2024-5-17_16-23-14.png
    AliExpress photo of Trig Rain ultra thin 'sponge' foams

    That's it for now, need to give my ears a rest. Too much trying different foams and rings and have ear/brain fatigue. Later, once I finally nail down my preference on foams, I'll compare with the Fiio F1 (~$20) and perhaps the Yincrow RW2000 (under $100 during AliExpress sales).
     
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  19. YMO

    YMO Chief Fun Officer

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    Is there any flats that won’t hurt your ears?
     
  20. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

    Staff Member Pyrate Flathead IEMW
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    I usually don’t listen longer than an hour or two at a time, so I don’t usually have any fatigue issues with flatheads. But constantly taking them off to change foams or try rings/wings does cause me some fatigue. Same thing can happen with iems when comparing them or testing lots of tips. Although IEMs have come a long way and most are pretty contoured and comfortable for really long listening sessions. I don’t think flatheads, as currently configured really can’t match that. Rikubuds new custom gen 3 shell has probably been the most comfortable flathead I’ve tired to date.
     
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