Every once in a while in slow-moving industries like audio fidelity, there's a breakthrough in technology and there's a breakthrough in value. For the past couple of years we have seen multiple flavor-of-the-month chinese in-ear headphones aiming to take the top spot, but very few have stuck around. THe IKKO OH10 is a beautiful emergence from that competition, standing a class apart from the competition.
Right when the pandemic was hitting, I remember there being a few contenders for the top tier value IEM. Thankfully I jumped on the train for Moondrop faster than most people think - my IEM from them was Kanas Pro Edition - a stainless-steel DLC wonder. The shell has been used in several other succeeding iterations such as Starfield. Right around the same time there were a few heavy hitters like Tanchjim OXYGEN, Tansio Mirai TSMR-5. The hype for Sony's budget 10$ earphones were just kicking off, and in the list for the hype enrolled another underrated IEM - Ikko OH10.
While Moondrop was the one of the first trendsetters of anime waifu graphics design in IEM, OH10 emphasized on it a lot more. I mean, you have a picture of an anime girl on the cover. And you're thinking to yourself - how do I really take this seriously as a grown man? Then you unbox the IEM and you're blown away by the premium presentation of this 160 USD IEM. The first thing you see after unboxing the initial cover are two in-ear monitors that look like rare-earth mineral. Then the tips, and the rest come later.
You plug the 2-pin cables in and find some Spinfit cp145 tips, just in-case. The shells looked uncomfortable, you think to yourself. Scared about what nightmare of a fit issue you'll have, you loop the cables over your ears and plug them into your music player. The fit isn't really that bad. You find some old-school rock, preferably Eagles, and you're blown away. It's like you've achieved a completely new level of audio fidelity.
Let me describe the OH10's capability from similar competitors; and I'll play fair and only compare tonality.
Ever since the inception of chi-fi, for some reason there's a weird shift towards an upper mid spike. This upper mid spike has been the sole reason for frustration for a lot of audiophiles. Nailing this one part of the audio spectrum usually results in audiophiles liking a product. Take for example this Ikko OH10. I naturally have skepticism and mentally prepare myself to be hit with the pinna-gain-valley-of-death whenever I get the opportunity to test a chi-fi IEM. With the Ikko OH10, an iem that handles almost all genres amazingly, this horrible emphasis is a lot more tolerable. While I write this article, I have Electronic and Prog Rock on shuffle in my playlist - and these are the genres that these IEMs really work with, let me explain why.
I'll start from the bottom first. That's right, that round fat area that sometimes slaps hard or just flubbers around a little bit. The bass. I will admit that this IEM has some prominent bass. The bass is definitely one of the dominating aspects of the sound, but the IEMs only show off when the song asks for it. It's like going for dinner at one of your relative's house. If the song asks for it, it'll give you a little extra but not too much; and as you are fed more than you realize that the bass really gave the song the kick it needed. In other words, the bass is very dynamic but not necessarily the dominant force for the signature.
The mids aren't sweet or melodic. They feel very fresh - like someone ran the vocals and the instruments through a purifier and it's clearer now. I can see female vocals having some issues, but nothing major - not as major as supposedly flat IEMs that aim for neutrality but leave some painful peaks. Speaking of peaks, the dreaded upper mid hump is nowhere to be seen - or atleast far better integrated than it's competitors within the sound signature. That trait alone makes this IEM an extremely listenable product to enjoy for hours on end. The way I would describe instrumentation and layering is - The soundscape extends to half of each shoulder, and the layering stays within this soundscape. It's razor accurate and handles complex passages really accurately. I've heard and demoed several in-ears under 160 including OH10's supposed successor but haven't been satisfied by a soundscape this much.
The highs are a little problematic but not in the region you think. The 9k peak has mostly been taken care of, hence the highs don't hurt that much. With that being said, the OH10 instead decides to turn it up another notch on the highs. As a result, you have a somewhat v-shaped IEM capable of rendering soundscape wider than most IEMs within the range.
I think what makes the IEMs sound like they have sublime soundstage is the fact that the channel matching is almost equal on both left and right channels. It shines the most in genres like classic rock, old-school electronic. I guess the hump in bass and mids help it retain the fidelity missing from these genres. Authentic drums and similar instruments are rendered almost perfectly. Bengali song enthusiasts will also be pleased to hear that modern songs sound amazing on these IEMs. The transducers ooze pure energy, which, when combined with well mastered songs sound amazing. Recommended listens are - Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, Pale Shelter by Tears for Fears, Black Out Days by Phantogram, Mad About You - Love from Koningin Elisabethzaal by Hooverphonic, Bamboleo by Gipsy Kings, Mckay & Cassie by Labrinth, Won't Forget You by Shouse, Comin' Home Baby by Quincy Jones.
Drivability is somewhat doable for most audio enthusiasts. I'm using an Apple dongle with four to five notches under the max volume. Pairing however becomes a bit iffy. Accurate source and amplification will not extract the best out of these in-ears. Rather, something a bit rounded off over the rough edges of the sound will help massively. My favourite pairing with the OH10 was the iFi Go Blu as I found a demo in Gears for Ears, and up til then it was really the best combo I've heard in-store among the demo units; the only close contender would be a Shozy 1.1 with BTR5.
Combined with a wide soundstage and razor sharp accuracy, with a non-peaky upper midrange, this has become my recommended pick for the foreseeable future. The philosophy is very close to old-school high fidelity speaker systems; you can turn these systems up til the ceiling collapses but there isn't going to be any compromise in fidelity. No wonder these IEMs still get recommended around reddit and Head-fi for great starter IEMs.
Author - Mohammmed Istiaq
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