Reviewing cheaper audio products can be heavily polarising. There’s no shortage of fantastic options catering towards different audiences available for cheap. But at the same time, the market is rife with clones and low-effort, generic junk. However, for me, Rose have stood a step above. Their balanced armature in-ears, both cheap and expensive, never failed to impress and still do almost a year and hundreds of other earphones later. So when Penon offered the Hybrid 7 MKII for review, I was instantly intrigued. Despite its modest $125 asking price, the 7 promises coherency through tailor-made drivers and sound chambers.
In particular, the Hybrid 7 MKII employs a similar design to the far more expensive Fidue A85, implementing separate sound chambers for each driver. The dynamic driver chamber also interfaces directly with the nozzle rather than a tube and damper, promising a smoother transition between the two drivers. It’s a very interesting hybrid in-ear that demonstrates a lot more thought than most budget earphones, despite having a lower driver count than something like the triple driver Magaosi K3 Pro. You can purchase and read more about the Hybrid 7 MKII here.
I would like to thank Chi from Penon Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Hybrid 7 MKII for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The earphones come in the same hard box as other Rose products. It opens magnetically, revealing the earphones and tips within foam, and the other accessories in small boxes below. Rose provide 4 pairs of silicone ear tips in 3 sizes (2 pairs of small). A pair of foam and dual flange tips are included within a separate container should the regular tips not provide an adequate seal.
On the left is a ¼” adapter for desktop amps and instruments. I’m a big fan of the cases provided with Rose earphones, one is a compact pouch great for pocketing and the other is a more protective Westone Vault-style hard case. The vault case is great, very protective and well-sized, terrific.
The Hybrid 7 MKII best resembles earphones like iBasso’s IT01 in design. Its form is inspired by CIEM style earphones, but it’s more compact and without a protrusion that locks into the concha. What it retains is a smooth 3D printed resin construction with eye-catching wood textured faceplates. The 7 has proven to be a comfortable earphone over my month of testing, though its build could definitely use some work.
Ergonomics are very good. The 7 is a small and well-shaped earphone that slots comfortably into the ear and remains comfortable over time. As it has a large vent on its inner face, isolation is mediocre, but its bassy sound balances out external noise fairly well. Still, this wouldn’t be my first choice for public transport.
Glue marks on the inside of the right earpiece
When I reviewed Rose’s $300 BR5 MKII, I was enthused about its ergonomics but lukewarm about its build and the same rings true here, in fact, the cheaper Hybrid 7 MKII is far worse. The level of finish is frankly terrible; the faceplates have an uneven edge where joined, bubbles are apparent and uneven glue marks litter their interior. There’s even permanent marker on mine where the driver vents were drilled out, something that doesn’t appear on other units I’ve seen online.
Permanent marker around the vent
None of these affect function or comfort in my case, but it’s a pretty poor showing when 1More’s stunning Triple Drivers can be had for $25 less. It also serves as a visual representation of Rose’s rampant QC issues, and I’m even less confident in the longevity of the Hybrid 7 MKII than their other offerings. Still, the drivers look to be well secured inside and the external housings show no obvious signs of weakness.
Up top, Rose are using a typical MMCX connector that feels very clicky. It was reliable during my testing, with no intermittency or cutouts. The Hybrid 7 MKII comes with Rose’s signature silver plated cable. It’s one of the nicer included units I’ve come across, supple with a loose-braid that mitigates microphonics. My only gripe is its rubbery texture that catches on clothing. Otherwise, terminations have nice strain relieve and I’m a huge fan of their pre-moulded ear guides over memory wire solutions.
The Hybrid 7 MKII assumes a V-shaped signature that contrasts quite heavily to Rose’s more mid-focussed earbuds and BA in-ears. That said, though clearly not balanced, its tuning maintains a pleasing tone throughout. This is achieved through a sub-bass enhanced low-end and bright midrange/high-end; a similar tuning to that found on many modern Japanese IEMs that retains greater midrange transparency. It has two notable dips on either side of its midrange, creating isolated vocals that draw attention despite being relatively recessed. As a result, the 7 MKII sounds very clear and vivid, and parts of its midrange are more upfront than one would expect.
Bass is slow and smooth with rather rounded notes. It presents through sub-bass impact and tones over delicately articulated notes. As a result, the 7 isn’t overly detailed nor does it suit faster genres of music. Still, accuracy clearly was never Rose’s intention and the earphones deliver a fun bass response with excellent extension. Combined with hearty sub-bass emphasis, the earphones produce clear rumble and impressively physical slam. Mid-bass is cleaner by comparison with declining emphasis into the upper-bass frequencies. As it still has enhanced presence, notes do sound enlarged and bloated, not aided by the 7’s slower decay that compromises separation.
Still, the Hybrid 7 MKII delivers impact like few other in-ears around this price, and even the venerable IT01 doesn’t reach the depths the Rose can achieve. Moreover, Rose mitigate the effects of the 7’s enhanced sub and mid-bass on midrange transparency though upper-bass attenuation. It’s not an uncommon style of tuning, but the 7’s low-end sounds fairly smooth due to a similarly recessed lower-midrange. As a result, bass is more consistent between tracks while remaining very well separated from vocals and the Hybrid 7 MKII doesn’t sound especially warm while sounding immensely engaging.
The Hybrid 7 MKII’s midrange is a little strange. Easy to enjoy for sure, but not particularly natural or realistic. Instruments take a backseat behind vocals that sound clear and well separated. At the same time, their lack of linearity saps realistic timbre and extension, producing quite a compressed and dynamically flat midrange. This can be attributed to a notable trough above upper mids and attenuation of upper-bass and the lower-midrange. In return, the 7 has a centre midrange emphasis granting vocals greater body and presence; avoiding thinness, veil and an overly laid-back stage position at the cost of sounding poorly integrated.
With a brighter signature, male vocals are slightly more laid-back than female vocals, and a little small and strained. They have a lack of density due to the 7’s attenuated lower-midrange. And, though very clear and defined, they sound over-articulated due to treble colouration. As is usual for most Asian IEMs, upper mids hold larger focus through a more forward stage position and greater body. This is imbued through their centre midrange accentuation and that sizable trough into the higher-frequencies that grant vocals a smoother presentation. As a result, the 7’s midrange manages to be clear despite some truncation, producing a dry but naturally bodied presentation that is just passable in technical proficiency.
The Hybrid 7 MKII’s high-end is defined by a lower-treble spike that grants them a more aggressive detail presentation. They’re very crisp as a result with sharp attack set to a clean, composed background. This contrast is achieved through a more laid-back middle treble which comes with the usual caveats; reduced shimmer and air. However, the 7 combats this deficit by introducing another frequency spike within its upper-treble that redeems air and enhances both sparkle and micro-detail retrieval. As such, though not realistic, the 7 MKII’s foreground image has a nice amount of information and great clarity.
However, as treble is so uneven and peaky, instruments sound quite thin and lack a lot detail, even if what detail they have is very forward. This is especially evident coming from more linear earphones such as Rose’s own mini 2. Extension is good, however, producing pleasing levels of resolution. But the earphones lack of body and linearity heavily affects their ability to retrieve background detail and create a coherent presentation. Moreover, depending on track, the 7 MKII has a tendency to emphasize sibilance which can become fatiguing pretty quickly. Still, the 7 MKII, though not technically impressive, manages a crisp, clear and vivid presentation that stays true to the tuning we’ve come to expect from Rose.
The 7 MKII has a large stage though with a strong bias towards width over depth. This results from its more laid-back instrument presentation combined with forward vocals placed front and centre. As a result, its stage isn’t accurate, but remains inviting. Imaging is not accurate, due to the 7’s wonky signature, and instrument placement is at times heavily altered. The same goes for layering which is vague and lacking intermediate detail mostly due to lower-midrange recession, producing a fairly superficial sound. Separation, however, is quite commendable. Lows are pretty sloppy, but mids and highs are well composed, and it’s very easy to differentiate between vocals in the foreground and instruments in the background.
The Hybrid 7 MKII has a low 12ohm impedance combined with an above average 108dB sensitivity. It reaches high volumes from essentially any source and isn’t power hungry enough to warrant an external amplifier. It also isn’t too hiss sensitive and doesn’t respond too much to output impedance, with the most notable change being slightly muddier, less extended bass. As always, a low OI is optimal, but the 7 MKII should be driven well by most smartphones and portable players.
Rose Mini 2 ($100): The Mini 2 is a lot smaller, just as comfortable if not more so and its solid resin housings feel better finished. The Mini 2 is immediately a lot more balanced and linear, perhaps too much so for some. The 7 has much better sub-bass extension, but the Mini 2 is more linear above. The Mini 2 is a lot tighter and more controlled, it is more defined and more detailed. Mids are very well integrated, contrasting to the isolated Hybrid 7. Mids are more balanced on the Mini 2, they have coherence and layering few possess around this price. The Hybrid 7 though clearer, sounds wonky and ill-defined by comparison. Highs are more aggressive on the 7 but the slightly smoother Mini 2 is a lot more detailed as it lacks any huge peaks and drops. The Mini 2 also extends further though its mellower tuning means its higher resolution isn’t always evident. The Mini 2 has a smaller stage with less separation, but imaging is magnitudes better. The Mini 2 best suits those looking for fidelity, balance and timbre. It’s not as engaging, but is miles ahead on a technical level.
iBasso IT01 ($100): The IT01 has a similar design to the Hybrid 7 MKII, is similarly comfy but a little thicker, protruding more from the ear. In return, it isolates more and has a better cable (both removable). The IT01 has a very similar signature focussing on sub-bass and lower-treble. However, it is more linear in its approach, lacking the aggressive peaks and troughs of the 7. Bass isn’t as extended on the iBasso, but a little more balanced and controlled with greater definition. Mids are more balanced on the IT01, they sound more recessed, but also better integrated and more natural in their voicing which greatly benefits layering. Treble is still aggressive but less spiked on the iBasso producing greater detail retrieval. It also extends further, delivering greater resolution. The IT01 has a narrower stage but far more depth, sounding more rounded. It images a lot better. Still, the Rose will suit those wanting greater vocal clarity and presence while maintaining the same kind of engagement.
TFZ King Pro ($150): The King Pro’s aluminium build is magnitudes better than the 7 MKII. It has an excellent 2-pin cable that is thinner but softer than Rose’s unit. Sonically, the King Pro is also fairly similar, but it has more body and a greater focus on air. Sub-bass is just as extended but less emphasized. It has slightly more mid-bass and is slightly warmer. Male vocals are similarly recessed but upper mids are fairly balanced and a lot more extended. Highs are immediately a lot more detailed and extended on the King. It has a lower treble bump combined with increasing emphasis into middle treble. This produces greater air, shimmer and resolution. The King Pro has a larger stage with better imaging, it also separates better, especially within the lower-frequencies. At just $25 more, I can see a lot of buyers going straight for the King Pro; it’s built a lot better, is more balanced, a lot more technical and still very engaging.
I’ve loved every Rose product sent my way; the Mini 2, Masya, BR5 MKII, all truly terrific stuff. As much as I wanted to enjoy it, the Hybrid 7 MKII, unfortunately, represents the inflexion point. On the surface, it’s is a very comfortable earphone, and a nice looking one too. However, its average isolation and subpar construction make it fairly mediocre as a daily driver. Its V-shaped sound is nicely balanced by bringing vocals forward; bass is big and fun and both mids and highs are clear. But, the 7’s sound lacks substance and control throughout, especially up top where it sounds neither natural, detailed nor extended.
This is compounded upon by the sheer competition around this price point; with the similarly tuned iBasso IT01 offering a more complete package at a lower price, and Rose’s own Mini 2 provides a far more balanced, realistic and nuanced sound, also at a lower price. Still, though the 7 evidently isn’t the most flawless earphone on an objective level, it still has an audience. Most notably, its sub-bass impact is standout, its tone is very commendable and it has especially clear, forward vocals despite having an aggressive V-shaped signature. The Hybrid 7 MKII best suits buyers searching for clarity and vocal intimacy without sacrificing bass quantity.