They might be earbuds and they might be white, but make no mistake, these are no Apple Earpods, not even close. From the silver 3.5mm plug imported from Japan to the quad braid OCC cable to the mysterious NOS drivers, the Cygnus represent a testament to the bygone analogue era; offering a classic look and design combined with an organic sound that seemingly erupts with detail.
The Cygnus is custom made by Shozy and is being produced in limited quantities due to a finite supply of drivers. The earbuds feel every bit as special as this would suggest, but are also the most expensive earbud offered by Shozy. With an RRP of $90 USD shipped, they are $30 dearer than the already fantastic Zero. This puts them in the same league as venerable earbuds such as the VE Asura 2 and MrZ Ting, and whilst the Cygnus takes a very different approach to audio excellence than either, the end result is no less impressive whilst being far more unique.
*I would like to note that since the Cygnus is built by Shozy, stock can be unreliable from other sellers (such as those on Aliexpress). It is very common for the Cygnus to be out of stock despite what the listing may state. It is best to purchase the Cygnus straight from Shozy.
I would like to thank Shozy very much for sending me a review unit in exchange for my honest opinion. I am not in any way affiliated with Shozy and will be as objective about the Cygnus as possible.
About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases
I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.
The Cygnus is marketed as exclusive, finite and as such, very desirable. Unfortunately, the un-boxing experience is in-congruent with this description; a small cardboard box flips open to reveal a white Shozy branded hard case which contains the Cygnus.
Although the Cygnus is adequately packaged, the overall the unboxing feel is nothing special.
The included carrying case presents nicely, but mine was a little scuffed from transit. It is also far too large for the cygnus alone, also fitting a small player with ease. I would no doubt have gotten more use from a smaller, more practical case.
The Cygnus comes equipped with a set of donut foams but no more are provided. Obviously for $90 USD I would have like a bit more, even the $5 VE Monk comes with 4 sets of foams! The stock foams are a thin, more rubbery variety that fit very tightly over the housings and luckily, they`ve worn well over my past month of ownership.
Overall, these complaints aren`t too major. Foam covers and hard cases are as cheap as it gets on Aliexpress but It would have been nice for Shozy to include more accessories. I can understand that, being custom made, the Cygnus is a little more expensive to produce, it just would have added so much more to the experience if the packaging and accessories were more convincing.
On recommendation I did give the Cygnus a try with Hiegi foams and deciding between Hiegi and stock foams was a tough decision. I did notice that they produce a clearer, more excited sound, with a little more midrange detail and clarity in general. The mids are flatter and the bass quality is slightly improved too, with increased definition and tightness. Unfortunately, low and mid-bass becomes overbearing with the added seal provided by the Hiegi`s. The stock foams by comparison, produce the more typical analogue sound we`ve come to expect from Shozy. There is still plenty of detail but bass is far more balanced whilst the mids are just a hair darker. So it`s a tough call, but I use the stock foams in most scenarios, the Cygnus loses a bit of its analogue charm and the bass is overbearing with the Hiegi`s.
Of note, the Hiegi foams can be purchased for $3.90 (for a dozen) at penonaudio and are somewhat of a Sony hybrid/Spinfit of the earbud world. They`re definitely worth a look if you`re searching for more clarity and bass extension from your earbuds, but I don`t think they are a good match for the already bassy Cygnus.
The housings are far smaller than almost all other earbuds, the EM3 and Tomahawk included. They employ the Yuin style housings that I personally find very comfortable.
Combined with the light cable, the Cygnus is actually one of the most comfortable earbuds I`ve used; I can wear it for hours without fatigue. If I had one complaint with comfort, it would be the stems.
You can see that the stems are a little thin, they do dig into my ears a little over time. This is not something Shozy could have changed, but something that buyers should consider when looking into the Cygnus. If you have no issue with Yuin buds and equivalents then you won`t have any problems with the Cygnus. I also get hotspots from the stems on my Tomahawks, but the elevated stems of the Fiio EM3 and flatter VE Monk+ housing avoids this problem entirely though at the cost of a little stability. The Cygnus sits very steadily in my ears with a deeper than normal fit for an earbud and thus a very consistent seal.
The finish of the housings is actually really nice. They`re a very unorthodox frosted white with a strong matte texture that feels tactile and pleasant in general. Like the Monk+, the Cygnus employs a typical design in an atypical fashion and the end result is very pleasing, perhaps even unique.
I would not consider the Cygnus poorly designed, lazy or generic for a second, it`s quite the opposite; the Cygnus inspires awe and exhumes an air of quality. I didn`t notice any staining of the white housings during my testing nor have I heard reports of discoloration on Head-fi.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the Cygnus`s build is its cable. Most earphones get the cable so wrong, but Shozy have gotten it so right with the Cygnus. The cable is among the best I`ve used, impossibly supple with absolutely no memory, it`s almost perfect. The cable is braided for reduced crosstalk and increased shielding, it has a great texture and looks absolutely amazing. The weak seal and loose braid produce absolutely no microphonics which is a nice break coming from cable down in ears. You`ll notice I said almost perfect, this is because it`s pretty common for the cable to turn green over time due to oxidation. After just two weeks, mine started oxidizing which is disappointing, although it doesn`t affect the sound. I did notice that the oxidization is coming from both ends of the cable. Despite the Cygnus`s price, the cable is no worse than the Westone epic cable or Logitech UE900 cable, in fact it`s much softer than both. Other reviewers weren`t lying when they likened it to a CIEM cable.
The jack is also a focus for Shozy. It`s a Oyaide style plug imported from Japan with the Shozy insignia laser etched into its surface. It`s gold-plated, knurled for easy gripping and case friendly, no complaints here either, very classy. It has transparent heat shrink strain-relief similar to Effect Audio cables which seems effective and resilient. The lustre really adds some impact to the look complimenting the cable well.
The Y-split is actually just heatshrink, not bad, not great. It`s low profile and actually stronger than conventional casings that terminate the wires and then split the channels. There`s a largish chin slider which is luckily quite light, avoiding intrusion.
The build is well considered on a whole. The housings are ergonomic and the finish is brilliant but the greening cable is a worry.
Shozy has employed NOS drivers from the 1990`s to achieve a unique sound akin to an open flame, warm and dynamic with plenty of pop. Just for reference, “NOS” simply translates to “new old stock”, drivers that were never released for sale. It`s quite a romantic notion that Shozy stumbled upon such a Goldilocks stock driver, but a rep has stated that they are responsible for more than just transplanting the drivers, so Shozy might be doing some additional tuning to achieve their desired sound.
Speaking of sound, the Cygnus do not disappoint. They more or less abide to Shozy`s house sound, slightly V-shaped but balanced on a whole with just a little more body to the low end and a little more sparkle up top. They`re more balanced than the Zero from my experience and the tonality is very charming overall with very realistic timbre. The Cygnus has a very neutral sub-bass response for an earbud paired with mildly boosted mid and upper bass responses that slightly warm the lower midrange. The added body of the lower mids is very nice, similar to Westone`s tuning, providing great vocal presence without sounding forwards. This is complimented by an upper midrange that has surprising clarity and presence. At first I thought the Cygnus sounded a bit dark, but they`ve really opened up, they don`t sound dark even compared to the MrZ Tomahawk or my Sennheiser ie800`s. That`s not to say that they are a bright earphone, the Cygnus is rather slightly darker than neutral, but female vocals have great intelligibility and don`t sound dull for an instant.
Like the Zero, I initially thought the soundstage was quite intimate, but as much as I hate to say it, after 200 hours of burn-in, the soundstage has plenty of space. It`s very similar to the VE Monk+, except with more width and a little more depth too. The sound does push instruments more to the side than to the centre and podcasts can sound a little diffuse, but music sounds very open with impeccable separation. Imaging is also pretty great, but I think the Tomahawk`s sound a little more coherent on a whole.
Golov was kind enough to measure the impedance of the Cygnus which turned out to be 18 ohms, quite low but high enough to avoid excessive output impedance swing. The Earbuds sound great from any source, they`re a little darker and rolled off from my HTC M8 as opposed to my e17k, but remain almost equally detailed. They are very sensitive, perhaps the most sensitive earbud I own and user`s will have no problems achieving high volumes from conventional portable sources.
The bass response is decently linear but moderately boosted overall, a little less than the VE Monk+ but more than the Tomahawks. The bass is more linear than the Fiio EM3, VE Monk+ and Baldoor E100, only the Tomahawk offers similar balance throughout the spectrum. The linear nature of the boost results in no loss of definition and the bass sounds amazingly textured as a result, more so than even the MrZ Tomahawk and Baldoor E100. The Tomahawk does have a slightly faster response, but the mild-boost and increase texture of the Cygnus is often more enjoyable. The response is still very fast, the Tomahawk`s are just exception and bass notes are portrayed in a very punchy manner. Unlike the Tomahawk`s however, there is surprising impact as well, yet both have a little more sub-bass for a bit of added fun. This could be due to the Cygnus`s impressive extension for an earbud, a little better than even the Tomahawk but I did find the E100 rolls off a little less.
As the boost is mild, there is very little flab and bloat to the bass, keeping up with complex bass lines with ease. This also results in negligible midrange spill, the bass remains impressively separated from the mids despite the boost. I never found the bass response to be excessive nor anemic, it`s well balanced with the rest of the sound and quite versatile. I think it holds up well to earphones well above it`s price range and outclasses any earbud priced below, the Cygnus performs more than well enough to justify it`s price and that`s before the sublime midrange coming up next.
The midrange is the most unique part of the Cygnus, slightly warm, full-bodied with abundant detail and clarity. Shozy have done a great job tuning the NOS drivers in the Cygnus, the midrange is so smooth yet detailed, it`s a very nice presentation. Whilst the considerably brighter MrZ Tomahawks do have more midrange clarity, I wouldn`t hesitate to say that the Cygnus is more detailed. Whilst most high-end iems will offer more detail due to a better seal and isolation, the Cygnus are the most detailed earbuds I`ve listened to, my Westone W30`s aren`t that far ahead. The full-bodied lower midrange grants male vocals a very nice tone but speech can sound just a tad muffled when watching movies. In music, this subtle boost is very satisfying, making for an engaging listen however.
In addition, the upper midrange is quite neutral with plenty of presence and a lot of clarity. I don`t miss those small intricacies that other earbuds skip over with the Cygnus, it picks up nuances that even the Tomahawk skips over. The upper midrange is conversely very slightly thin, but vocals don`t sound raspy. If I had one caveat with the Zero, it was that the midrange was ever so slightly dark and a little thick sounding, the Cygnus by comparison has none of those problems.
So the midrange is actually surprisingly linear, like the bass, more so than the Zero and almost inverse to the Tomahawks, with a little more lower midrange instead of brightness. They aren`t as forward as the Tomahawk`s however, and for my preferences, the midrange actually sounds more inline with the bass and treble. You`ll need no time to adjust to the sound of the Cygnus unless you frequent bright earphones. It works with pretty much any genre, smooth enough for jazz and hip-hop but also raw enough for rock and electronic.
The Cygnus`s treble performs very well. For starters, It`s very extended, perhaps the most extension I`ve heard from an earbud. Again, it`s very slightly sculpted with a little more sparkle up top. There is plenty of body and texture to the treble with cymbals sounding like cymbals and high-hats avoiding woodsticks phenomena.
I didn`t detect any roll-off in the highs and detail retrieval is as equally impressive as the midrange. The treble response is better than that of the Tomahawk`s in every way; smoother, more extended and a lot more detailed. It`s a genuinely convincing treble response with plenty of sparkle and air when needed. This is aided by the impressive soundstage width that well compliments the airy response. It`s the treble in particular that sets the Cygnus apart from the Zero, I found the treble response so much more extended and textured, it`s almost as good as my Westone W30`s which cost over 4 times as much, so that`s quite a statement.
The Cygnus builds upon the strengths of the Zero, taking your audio listening experience to the next level. Whilst the price is a little less inviting and the earbud form factor is less versatile, the Cygnus rewards buyers with exemplary audio performance and a genuinely charming tonality. The Cygnus just provides that extra layer of separation and airiness to the sound, something that prevented the Zero from being Top Tier, creating a much more satisfying presentation. It also holds many advantages over other earbuds.
The main comparison I touched upon was the MrZ Tomahawk, an earbud that I liked immensely (and also one that`s about half the price), but the Cygnus is undeniably superior. It`s a little more balanced, more textured and far more detailed.
Accessories – 3/10, Not great, the unboxing experience is comme ci comme ca, comes with enough to get you started but that`s it. I would recommend promptly purchasing a smaller carry case and a bulk pack of foams.
Design – 9.5/10, The build is a standout feature for sure. With that wonderful quad braid cable and silver plug complimenting the impossibly comfortable housings, the Cygnus is ergonomically brilliant. If not for the greening cable issue, the Cygnus would easily get a perfect score.
Bass – 7.5/10, Obviously not as extended as the Zero or most iems for that matter, but the bass response is incredibly textured and very punchy. Linear and without flab or bloat, bass notes hit with great precision.
Mids – 8/10, The midrange has such a pleasing tonality, much like the W30`s, neutral but just sculpted enough to present uniquely. With plenty of detail and clarity, the Cygnus achieves unmatched midrange quality for an earbud, besting many iems as well.
Treble – 8.75/10, The treble response is fantastic, easily the most detailed, extended treble response I`ve heard from an earbud. Texturing and body are also represented avoiding fatigue and sibilance.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation – 9/10, Separation might just be the best I`ve heard from any earbud as the sound is less forward than the Tomahawks, though space is not class-leading. The Tomahawks have more precise imaging and placement, though the Cygnus impresses with great soundstage width and good depth.
Value – 8/10, Although the Cygnus is very expensive for an earbud and also more expensive than the Zero, it performs as well as the price differences would suggest; I don`t get any sense of diminishing returns here. I also compared the Cygnus to my Westone W30`s, an earphone that costs $400, over 4 times that of the Cygnus and found that their midrange and in particular treble performances were not all that different. In that sense the Cygnus can be considered to be great, but not outstanding value.
Verdict – 9.5/10, The Cygnus is a fantastic piece of audio equipment. I fully acknowledge that earbuds might not be for everyone, but give the Cygnus a try and I have a hard time believing you won`t at least want to give them a go. The looks of the earbud can`t be faulted nor can the build. Ultimately the Cygnus strikes with precision and poise, inciting exhilaration through it`s punchy bass performance, organic midrange and etheral treble. The tonality is brilliant, but the quality of the sound is also up there with the best. Get it whilst you can because the Cygnus is sure to run out fast!