Shozy Hibiki Review – Vox Populi
Shozy are a beloved Chinese audio manufacturer with a reputation for daring and experimental designs. A constant endeavour to reconnect with the mentality of retro audio through the lens of modern technology acts as the driving force behind the company. As such, Shozy have produced some truly innovative products such as the Alien DAPs that boasted delightful musical tones but also a questionable screen-less user interface.
However, the company is quickly reaching maturity, bringing the same charming sound within increasingly versatile forms and ever more accessible prices. With a conservative $60 USD asking price, the allure of a hardy removable cable and a sound tuned in conjunction with AAW, Shozy’s latest in-ear, the Hibiki, is easily among the most anticipated affordable in-ears on the market. Let’s see how the Hibiki compares to existing models including Shozy’s own Zero and the best from Fiio and Final Audio.
I would like to thank Shozy very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Hibiki at a discounted price for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones at a reduced fee, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
Packaging is a huge leap over that included with the Zero, the print is bold and silver accents highlight the promise of pristine audio through Shozy’s and AAW’s collaboration. The Hibiki and included silicone ear tips are encased within a protective foam inlet. As always, Shozy provide the bare minimum with their products, there is no protective carry case, no isolating foam tips, not even a shirt clip can be found with Shozy’s affordable in-ear.
It’s a streamlined and perfectly serviceable approach, but given Shozy’s focus on daily usability with a smartphone, I would at least expect some sort of pouch or case.
Upon opening the box, the Hibiki instantly impresses with its high gloss authentic carbon fibre faceplates skirted by a flawless chrome rim. From this angle you could certainly mistake them for a much more expensive product; those plates really enhance the look of the earphones providing depth through the underlying texture that catches light in a fascinating manner.
However, removing the earphones reveals that the bulk of the housings are constructed from plastic, which pretty standard for Shozy’s asking price. And though I do prefer the Hibiki’s rubberized texture over a matte or gloss finish, the plastic does look a bit cheap and easily picks up oil marks. That said, the earphones feel solid in the hand and the finish didn’t become tacky during my month of usage; Shozy vouch for the Hibiki’s hard-wearing properties, utilizing the same paint used by sports earphones.
In the ear, the Hibiki is a large but well-shaped earphone that produces a mostly ergonomic experience. Due to their size, they mostly occupy the outer ear and their flatter inner surface does limit fit depth. A small vent is present on the inner face though it doesn’t overly affect isolation or sound leak during wear. As a result of their ear filling design, the Hibiki has great but not outstanding isolation that is clearly better than most rivals and perfectly sufficient for public transport though a slightly deeper fit may have facilitated better isolation yet.
Furthermore, the Hibiki’s over-ear fit is quite stable, their large housings are light and really lock into the ear with the right ear tip. The Hibiki’s also sport a removable cable using a recessed 0.78mm 2-pin connector. This is a very rare feature around this price but one that is imperative for any long-term investment. It also enables users to swap in a 3rd party lightning or Bluetooth cable which should please modern smartphone users. The cable itself is also of excellent quality; designed in conjunction with AAW, it is supple, sturdy and of excellent thickness.
It’s smooth, braided nature resists tangles far better than competitors and the connectors are all tight and well-relieved. Furthermore, the cable has a smart remote that functions on both IOS and Android. This is easily the best cable I’ve encountered around this price and well above it, a huge step up over the tacky unit on the Zero, the thin cable on the Final in-ears and the stiffer Fiio cable.
The Hibiki is a bright, mid-forward earphone with an ethereal sound that embodies the more typical Asian style of tuning. Bass is a bit reserved but defined and taught, well complementing the higher frequencies, and vocals possess satisfying immediacy. Highs are also slightly forward but what the Hibiki lacks in depth, they make up for with air and speed. And while this style of tuning will not suit every listener, the Hibiki provides a surprisingly mature example of an upper midrange focussed tonality that is rather uncommon around this price range. As such, it’s a nice change from the usual warm, smooth earphones and energetic V-shaped models from manufacturers like TFZ, Klipsch and 1More to name a few.
Bass forms the foundation of any great earphone but all too often it drives the sound of cheaper earphones rather than integrating into it; you would have to pay a fair sum to achieve truly exquisite balance between frequencies. On that note, if you want to relish in a rich, organic bass response, Shozy will likely disappoint. Because the Hibiki is on the conservative side in its low-end quantity, prioritizing definition and agility over impact and warmth. Bass is depth focussed and very pleasing in quality though it sits a fair way behind the midrange in emphasis. This weighting imbues bass notes with a slightly larger sense of body that prevents the earphones from coming off as anaemic though they are still not a particularly full sounding in-ear, especially when compared to competing models like the Final E2000/3000. Furthermore, extension is just above average, the single dynamic driver Hibiki creates a light but incredibly tight sub-bass impact with clearly defined rumble somewhat akin to the Hifiman RE-600.
This is followed by a more neutral mid-bass and recessed upper-bass that contribute to the cleanliness of the Hibiki’s overall presentation. And though mid and upper bass sit a bit too far behind in the mix, texturing and definition is excellent. When listening to Toto’s “Rosanna”, the Hibiki provided excellent PRAT that easily bested the fuller but sloppier Final E2000 and the slightly muddier Fiio EX1 2nd Gen. So despite their price, the earphones are devoid of bloat or bloom. On tracks with a more separated bass response like the Pixie’s “Hey”, the Hibiki thoroughly impresses with spot on body and exquisite bass clarity that makes other earphones sound downright veiled. However, during most songs, the midrange spills over bass details which will probably bother a lot of listeners. That said, a bass-driven sound was never Shozy’s intention and this does leave the midrange, the focus of the sound, delightfully concentrated and uncoloured; the tuning will be a matter of taste, the quality is absolute.
Mids are the centre of attention as the most emphasized aspect of the Hibiki’s sound. Upon first listen, their huge clarity and thinner body can sound a little unnatural, but a brief adjustment period reveals an exceptionally open, resolving midrange. Mids carry a brighter tonal tilt with upper mids holding the most authority in the entire sound, though lower mids are balanced and clear with pleasing quality throughout. Again, these won’t suit those looking for warmth or a perfectly natural response, but the Hibiki does flatter the smoother mastering of Asian albums and really brings out the detail in older tracks. For instance, when listening to Akdong Musician’s “Anyway”, the Hibiki was lacking that organic richness to acoustic guitars on account of their reserved bass response, but vocals were delightfully delicate and guitars very crisp and clean. On a whole, vocals were still too thin for my liking but voicing was well considered so singers never came across as nasal or raspy.
Unfortunately, this style of tuning also exacerbates sibilance but these frequencies are never pushed to fatigue and the Hibiki isn’t too hard on lower bitrate files on account of their smoother treble response. Their highly resolving nature also does so much to enhance midrange elements that these concerns are soon forgotten. A culmination of brightness, clarity and pleasing resolution all contribute to the revealing nature of the Hibiki’s midrange. Vocals are layered and extend with an effortless quality, and instruments such as piano are almost lifelike in their immediacy. As an acoustic guitar player, I also enjoyed the Hibiki’s hyper clear presentation of strings even if instrument timbre isn’t overly natural. Of course, the Hibiki’s won’t be replacing my pricier in-ears but considering their asking price, they offer a nice alternative to the darker, more full-bodied Zero and E2000 while competing eye to eye with the similarly bright EX1 2nd Gen.
Treble is an interesting affair, high frequencies are well presented, clear and smooth for the most part, though the Hibiki is missing some technicality at times. It’s very possible that this was a conscious tuning choice on Shozy’s behalf; the Hibiki has a slight lower treble dip that prevents high frequencies from overwhelming, since they are already quite a forward sounding earphone. However, this is followed by a subsequent rise into middle treble frequencies that imbues their sound with some extra sparkle and air. As a result, I would hesitate to call the Hibiki a laid-back earphone since higher frequencies hold plenty of emphasis in the sound, but they are lacking some bite and aggression due to the unevenness of their tuning. It is a fine balance between energy and fatigue but I did find the Hibiki to be a little too sedate for my liking. Still, the Hibiki is very crisp and clear, they also lack that spiked sound that a lot of more aggressive earphones possess, erring on the side of refinement over engagement.
The Hibiki is well extended but both the Final E2000 and Fiio EX1 2nd Gen possess greater resolution of higher details. Lower treble instruments such as cymbals are well textured but higher elements, though granted with plenty of shimmer and sparkle, are too thin to resolve like the best. Furthermore, their enhanced sense of air does a lot to mitigate the effects of their early roll-off though instruments such as strings and high-hats don’t quite extend and resonate like they should. Detailing is also pretty mediocre, they gloss over some finer details even if those that are resolved are presented in a clear and clean manner. So ultimately, the high frequencies are pleasing but they’re definitely the weakest aspect of the Hibiki’s sound. Competing in-ears around the same price may not possess the same midrange expression as the Hibiki but a few notable models are notably more nuanced.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –
The Hibiki’s clean, revealing sound is counterbalanced by its constant forwardness creating a nice but not outstanding soundstage presentation. Width is especially good, the earphones can stretch to the periphery of the head with the right track though depth is intimate. The Hibiki performs well amongst similarly priced sealed in-ears like Shozy’s own Zero and the Meze 11 Neo though the semi-open Fiio EX1 2nd Gen and Final E-series earphones all provide considerably larger soundscapes at the cost of isolation. Imaging is very good, they position better the vast majority of in-ears around this price due to their agile, revealing nature. Separation is very commendable in some aspects but not quite flawless overall. For instance, mids are spacious and exceptionally well-extended though they can spill into the other frequencies which overshadows details. By comparison, the more balanced, more spacious Final E2000 and Fiio EX1 2nd Gen both separate more consistently though the Hibiki never comes across as congested due to their open, airy presentation.
The Hibiki was designed as a commuter’s earphone with a higher 102dB sensitivity and lower 18ohm impedance making it well suited towards smartphone use. The Hibiki is certainly an easy earphone to drive, achieving dangerous volumes from any modest smart device. And utilizing a single dynamic driver, the Hibiki is also very resistant to output impedance, sounding quite tonally similar from both my phone and Fiio X7 II. That said, the Hibiki does benefit on some level from a dedicated source, for instance, they sounded smoother in their midrange and more detailed in their treble from my Alien+ as compared to my iPod Touch 6G. That said, the Hibiki doesn’t scale like the more technical in-ears around this price though they also actualise more of their potential from a smartphone. While it is disappointing that the Hibiki doesn’t scale up at home, it is very well suited towards its intended uses and price range.
Final E2000 ($45): Final have a winner with the E2000, it is undoubtedly one of the best earphones I’ve heard around this price at the cost of a fragile build. When compared to the Hibiki, it is clearly more v-shaped though clarity is excellent as is technicality. The E2K’s bass is fuller, more separated and better extended than the Hibiki. On the flipside, though both are agile, the cleaner Hibiki is appreciably more defined. Mids are clearer on the Hibiki but arguably pushed a little too far towards clarity while the Final is pleasantly clear but more full-bodied. The Hibiki has slightly better resolution but the E2000 is more detailed, natural and linear. Highs are considerably more detailed on the Final and slightly more extended. The Hibiki is once again clearer in the higher frequencies but a lot of instruments are too thin. The semi-open E2000 has a considerably larger stage, especially depth though they lean out completely when outdoors due to their poor isolation.
Shozy Zero ($60): The Zero is a more natural earphone with a considerably darker tonality. The Zero is considerably bassier with a mid-bass vs deep bass focus though it isn’t nearly as clean as the Hibiki. That said, both are very textured though the Hibiki is much tighter and more defined. Mids are quite the opposite, the Zero is more laid-back and organic while the Hibiki is brighter and thinner but also much clearer. While the Zero is very well voiced, the Hibiki has more resolution at the cost of realistic timbre. The Zero has a more typical lower treble bump though, in terms of technicality, the Zero is both more aggressive and more detailed, it simply has more body and texture to these elements. That said, the Hibiki has a lot more air and clarity to higher elements even if extension is similar on both. The Zero and Hibiki have a similar width biased stage, the Zero has a little more depth while the Hibiki is wider with superior imaging.
Pinnacle P2 ($99): The P2 makes for interesting comparison since it carries a similar kind of sound but also one that’s more accessible. This starts with the P2’s low-end that is warmer and more extended though also more balanced than the aforementioned models. The P2 is more linear in its lower frequencies, it isn’t quite Hibiki clean but is more technically impressive in almost every way. Mids are more forward on the Hibiki but also a bit oddly voiced and thin, the P2 is similarly clear but smoother and more bodied throughout. Highs are a little uneven on the P2 but immediately better bodied and more aggressively detailed than the Hibiki. Neither are especially well extended but the P2 resolves higher details better while the Hibiki is airier due to the nature of their tuning. The P2 doesn’t have the largest soundstage, similar to the Hibiki but with slightly greater depth though it is appreciably more coherent.
The Hibiki is a revealing, tonally unique earphone with an extensive feature set. Their carbon fibre faceplates belie their asking price as does their excellent removable cable. Though their brighter, thinner sound won’t be to every listener’s preference, after some adjustment, they do make a lot of similarly priced in-ears sound quite bloated and buyers who value utmost midrange resolution and clarity now have a very strong contender at a very reasonable asking price. The Hibiki is purported as a commuter’s earphone and though I feel their low-end is a little too lean to compensate for ambient noise, their great isolation, stable fit and rock solid build make them a perfect affordable daily. Moreover, their smooth treble, though far from the most technically impressive around this price, does a lot to help the forward Hibiki avoid fatigue during longer listening sessions.
Verdict – 8.5/10, Shozy’s affordable in-ear makes for a strong investment perhaps not due to sound alone, but the culmination of a well-considered build, extensive feature set and accessible asking price that make the Hibiki Shozy’s most versatile earphone yet.
The Shozy Hibiki is available from Amazon (International) for $63 USD, please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.
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