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Tactical Headsets C10 Listen Review – Ultra-Compact Budget IEM

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to coupler resonance. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities between earphones. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.

Tonality –

The C10 offers a decent tuning with a vocal focus, it has a decent timbre considering but is quite thin due to the sharp emphasis. The bass is conservative even with a good seal, the midrange taking most precedence with forward and clear vocals. The bass tuning itself is very good, that said. It’s pleasantly linear and balanced with a nice note presentation and timbre. The midrange is less linear as can be observed above. With sizeable 2.5kHz and 4.5kHz peaks, it is a little shouty and pretty thin, if not overly forward or sharp due to a dip at 3kHz and smoother treble tuning. The top-end is smooth and unassuming, with ample attack not to sound blunted or excessively rolled-off. Altogether, a decent, mid-focused sound that is perhaps not the best for its intended purposes but with good vocal intelligibility at all times.

Bass –

Lows are laid-back relative to the midrange, but represent a solid tuning with sound linearity. Sub-bass extension is quite good with noticeable pressure and a nice solid slam. Mid-bass is clean as is upper-bass. So though not a bassy earphone, it doesn’t sound bass deficient and surely the well-extended DD aids this impression. The tone is clean and note size is only a touch increased with a hint of additional thickness from the sub-bass. It feeds smoothly into the midrange without any huge dips or humps and there is no spill due to the balanced quantity.

The driver quality is above average for the price but nothing sensational. The clean tuning aids a nicely defined mid-bass and good separation but the sub-bass comes across as a bit sloppy and poorly controlled. Transients can get a bit smeared on quicker tracks but this is fairly commonplace for budget DD/Micro driver IEMs in my experience. Altogether a pleasant bass experience for those wanting something a bit cleaner and more balanced.

Mids –

I am admittedly quite critical of midrange timbre and the C10 performs decently but has clear caveats. It is a mid-forward earphone with a vocal bias relative to other frequencies. The peaks are a little off target for pinna gain so the presentation isn’t perfectly natural, albeit not especially strange in terms of voicing. Still, vocals sound forward, diminished in body and a little strained and dry. I didn’t find this an intense or sibilant earphone, that said, as articulation is smooth which takes the edge off the 4k spike and the 3k dip prevents them from sounding too forward as well.

The tonality is also sound, it’s clean with minimal colouration from the bass, just a touch cool but not metallic. Vocal definition is quite average, resolution is nothing to write home about either. That said, clarity is quite good, there’s zero veil and good vocal extension sans any intrusive sharpness. So ultimately, this is a very listenable earphone that I could see appealing to those wanting a focus on vocals. The clean tonality and combination between clarity and smoothness is well-considered but better timbre and overall balance is still easily found around this price range.

Highs –

The top-end is smooth and slightly more laid-back than the bass though not blunted or truncated. There’s a smooth foreground and small 8k peak to redeem some clarity and headroom. Detail retrieval is okay, not the best, though due to the middle-treble peak they do bring fine details slightly more to the fore than most. There isn’t a whole lot going on above this and that can be expected at the asking price; you don’t get any micro-detail or sparkle nor huge air and atmosphere.

Extension is above average and the transient response is pretty clean too. In turn, treble instrumentation doesn’t sound quite as smoothed off as the measurements may suggest, there’s ample attack to retain a crisp percussion, for instance. They are most likely designed for high volume applications and the high-end has been tuned not to fatigue in turn. Accordingly, don’t expect huge energy or clarity here, just a forgiving and polite tuning with above average budget technical performance.

Soundstage –

There isn’t much soundstage to mention here, the experience is firmly within the head even on tracks with ambient details. There’s some width but an intimate depth that makes it a more one-dimensional listening experience. Imaging is okay, with clear directional cues and a sharp centre image. Layers aren’t too apparent nor should one expect great organisation on complex tracks. That said, separation is quite good due to the generally clean tuning which means it never sounds congested or explicitly closed-in.

Comparisons –

Final E2000 ($40): The E2000 is a stunningly balanced earphone for the price with a nice, natural tonality. It is a bit more U-shaped and its vocals sound considerably more laid-back by direct comparison. It has slightly less bass extension and increased mid-bass fullness to compensate. The E2000 is fuller and warmer in turn, but as driver control is higher, it is a little more defined on complex tracks. The midrange has a more natural tone and body for a more accurate timbre overall, at the expense of being slightly laid-back. The C10 has higher clarity and more immediacy if that’s your preference. Treble is also more forward on the E2000 with a small 6k hump. It sounds crisper with more detail presence and slightly more foreground detail retrieval. The E2000 also has a much larger soundstage at the cost of being less isolating with a semi-open design. Both have pretty shabby fixed cables.

Blon BL05 ($42): The BL05 is a slightly more balanced earphone, bringing bass and treble up more to match its forward midrange. The Blon has slightly better bass extension and more sub and mid-bass. Its bass is a bit slower, the C10 being cleaner and more defined, the BL05 more textured and dynamic. The midrange is more forward on the C10, it is thinner and the Blon has a slightly better tonality. That said, the Blon has a less natural vocal timbre than the C10, vocals simply sounds stranger on the BL05 despite not being as mid-focused. The Blon is clearly more detailed up top and it helps that it has more treble presence too. It has a bit more extension and a more forward detail presence. Similarly, the soundstage is wider with a little more depth too. The obvious advantage of the Blon though, is clearly its similarly small build and removable cable. That said, the C10 is even lower profile so it still wins out in this regard.

Verdict –

Tactical Headsets are a relative newcomer but certainly draw attention with their in-house developed drivers and proud military pedigree. The product is an earphone with a clear focus on profile and isolation if coming with some compromise to overall audio balance and a fixed cable that may limit longevity. The upside is that the earphones do indeed deliver one of the most svelte form factors I’ve tested, perfect for sliding under a helmet or simply relaxing with in bed. The sound showcases promise, it’s a bit shouty and rather thin in the midrange but with a natural voicing and clean, linear bass. I wouldn’t say that it is especially competitive compared to dedicated audiophile earphones when it comes explicitly to audio quality, but again, the uniquely compact form factor is the main appeal here. As an overall package, the C10 caters well towards a particular niche and is certainly not the worst choice the audio-conscious buyer could make.

The C10 Listen is available from Tactical Headsets (International) for $59.99 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Tactical Headsets and make no earnings from purchases through this link.

Track List – 

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Archive – Controlling Crows (Parts I – III)

AKMU – SAILING

Bob Segar – Night Moves

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How Your Really Feel

Eric Clapton – Unplugged

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Fleetwood Mac – Greatest Hits

John Legend – Once Again

MAMAMOO – reality in BLACK

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

Modest House – Good News For People Who Love Bad News

NIKI – lowkey

Nirvana – Nervermind

Radiohead – OK Computer

Social House – Haunt You

suggi – cheer up!

TOTO – Toto IV

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Vaundy – strobo

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