These Mandarin tips have gotten quite a bit of attention lately, promised to be a comfortable, well isolating eartip without the steep price and muffle usually associated with foams. Priced at just $2.95 a pair, the Mandarins are far more cost effective than Comply foams and most other tips for that matter. To my knowledge, they`re hand made by eBay seller “garcs5522” (Head-fi username: garcsa) and can only be bought from his store at present.
garcsa was kind enough to send me two pairs of varying bore size for evaluation and general use. They ship from Hungary and come packaged within a very amusing fruit themed bag, an off cut Mandarin tip is used to seal the top.
As for the tips themselves, visually speaking, the bright orange might not be for everyone, but they certainly have a distinctive and… familiar look. As many users have pointed out, the Mandarin tips are almost definitely derived from 3m earplugs. For better or for worse I think it`s a wise choice. 3M earbuds are constructed from a foam designed to be inherently isolating, hard wearing and comfortable for use in professional applications. The tips are also pretty well cut, garcsa has done a far better job than I ever could.
Off centre – Centred
Both pairs of my tips were cut perfectly width ways but the “stem” was off centre on one of the small bore tips. I didn`t find this to have a noticeable impact on fitment when paired with my Westone UM 50 Pro`s.
One gripe I do have with the design is the lack of a hard stem. While there are plenty of foam tips just like this, I personally have troubles with this kind of design and the Mandarins tend to get stuck in my ears when removing my iems. Apart from that, the Mandarins are offered in two bore sizes and the flexible nature of the foam means that these tips will fit pretty much any earphone. External diameter is more of a one size fits all, they`re quite large but get pretty small once squished down.
Generic – Westone STAR – Mandarin – Comply S400
Fit and feel in the ear is comfortable on a whole, most will be familiar with this kind of foam, but for those who aren`t, they`re pretty much in between Complies and Shure olives in terms of density. The foams retains its shape for quite a while allowing for easier insertion, I find that Shure olives can rebound too quickly but Complies still rebound slower. Whilst the tips themselves have only a modest insertion depth, iems will sit deeper in the ear due to the thin width of the tips. In addition to the aforementioned density of the foam, I found this to produce pretty stellar noise isolation and comfort is quite high as well. I did occasionally get spiked by the end of the stem from my Westone`s, but a simple readjustment will alleviate this.
The sound produces by the Mandarin`s is quite strange. It`s actually a somewhat leaner sound, not what you would expect from a foam tip. Due to the insertion depth and lack of stem, they sound surprisingly transparent. Whilst I can`t attest to the garcsa`s claims of a larger soundstage, the sound was definitely more intimate, great for my more laid-back Westone`s. It might push the midrange too far into the foreground with mid foward iems such as those from Shure, but for darker or more v-shaped earphones, the Mandarin`s are worth a look. The soundstage didn`t change too much, if anything it was less spacious than with silicone tips but only slightly so. It`s the high end that was perhaps the most impressive, or rather the lack of impact on the high end. The Mandarin`s didn`t attenuate the treble at all in my testing which is very impressive for a foam tip. Take into account that I mainly tested the Mandarin`s with a long stemmed earphone so of course, YMMV. I also briefly tested the larger tips on my Shozy Zero`s and had similar results. Since the Zero`s are more of a shallow fitting earphone, the Mandarin`s brought a lot more stability to their fitment and also a little more presence to the midrange.
Taking them for a quick run revealed that the Mandarin`s aren`t bad for activity. They lack the quick drying, porous nature of the Comply S400`s, but the sealing coating that runs the perimeter prevents most moisture ingress, hopefully translating to more longevity. After a few runs and several weeks of general usage, there was no tearing of the foam, they look to be quite hardy. By this period, pretty much every Comply TS tip I`ve used has developed some sort of wear and the Mandarin`s seem to be just as hardy as Shure Olives.
If you enjoy the stable fitment produced foam tips but want to retain that spacious soundstage and high end sparkle, then the Mandarin tips are well worth your $2.95. I feel that user`s of longer nozzled earphones will get more benefit from this kind of tip due to the lack of an internal sleeve and thinner profile. Those who don`t mind the lack of a hard stem and flouro colour scheme will likely find the Mandarins a nice alternative to the stock tips included with their earphones or even some of the pricier foam tips on the market.