Fiio FH3 ($149): The FH3 offers a similar style of tuning but tones down the treble for those averse to brightness. The low-end tuning is similar, both have a deep-bass biased, bold presentation of similar emphasis. The S12 has both greater dynamics and control. It has a similar amount of bass but is more defined, sounding much cleaner and more detailed. The Fiio returns with a slightly more natural midrange presentation. It isn’t as resolving but lacks the dryness of the S12. It sounds a little more laid-back but smoother and more coherent. The S12 sounds a touch cleaner tonally with the FH3 having a lick of warmth, however, this isn’t a bad thing as far as listenability goes.
Above, the two diverge more. The S12 has a more prominent treble giving it a more obvious U-shaped character. It is crisper with higher clarity and a lot more headroom. The FH3 has a more focused foreground. Though it doesn’t extend nearly as well, it has a bit more bite in the lower-treble. The S12, due to its superior extension, has more background and micro detail, undoubtedly making it the more nuanced listen. It offers a wider stage and sharper imaging on top, layering especially is markedly improved on the S12.
iKKO OH1S ($159): The OH1S has a unique shallow yet highly comfortable fit and a lean, bright-leaning tuning. The S12 comes across as immediately more balanced, the OH1S being brighter and thinner but also more revealing. The S12 has noticeably more bass presence and it has a deeper emphasis lending it thicker, more robust notes. It has superior dynamics and similarly strong definition. The OH1S is lean and well-separated, it has a mid-bass bump for warmth and is a very well textured earphone for the price, however, it lacks the same dynamics and slam at the very bottom. The midrange is more forward on the OH1S and its vocals are both large and forward.
The S12 has a sligthly laid-back midrange and in direct comparison sounds quite relaxed. Its vocals sound smaller but more filled in. The OH1S sounds considerably more revealing boasting higher clarity and intimacy but this will also be its most polarising quality. It also has a brighter treble in both the lower treble and mid-treble. Its notes sound thinner, splashier and more brittle but do impress with their clarity and bite. The S12 is more focused and has a more accurate timbre despite not being the most linear performer in isolation. The S12 has better extension and micro-detail retrieval. Its stage is wider and its imaging and layering are both superior.
BQEYZ Spring 2 ($169): The Spring 2 offers more W-shaped tuning with a greater midrange boost. It has slightly less bass overall and greater mid-bass focus in terms of tuning. The S12 slams notably harder at the bottom while the Spring 2 offers a bit more texture and fullness in the mid-bass. Both have snappy attack and great definition for the price, the S12 is more dynamic with a thicker note presentation and slightly higher control. The midrange is drier on the S12 and more laid-back. The Spring 2 comes across as more intimate with bigger, more forward vocals. The Spring 2 has greater note body within the midrange and a smoother top-end.
In turn, it sounds a bit less extended and articulate but equally coherent despite its size and presence. The Spring 2 is also a touch warmer and doesn’t strike as intense despite these qualities. With a piezo tweeter, the Spring 2 has an equally intriguing treble response. The S12 has slightly more treble, especially in the air region. This gives it more shimmer but also a slightly thinner, tizzier note presentation. The Spring 2 has a bite more crispness in the lower-treble but less extension above. The S12 is more detailed and nuanced overall. The Spring 2 has a slightly wider stage but the S12 has sharper imaging.
Moondrop KATO ($189): The KATO is a very pleasant earphone that offers both strong technical and tonal refinement for its asking price making it a formidable competitor. Actually, both earphones are more similar than different in the bass and offer a very similar tuning. The S12 appears slightly bassier on behalf of having a less prominent midrange. The KATO offers a bit more impact and a very slightly cleaner note presentation. The S12 sounds a touch bolder but also boasts superior note definition and is generally the more nuanced performer. The midrange is where the KATO makes more of a case for itself. It sounds more linear with greater balance between male and female vocals. Its vocals are larger and more fleshed out with a more accurate timbre.
The S12, by comparison, does sound a little dry and diminished. Not exceedingly so, but in direct comparison, the KATO strikes as a more natural and balanced in-ear. Up top, things are not so clear cut. The KATO has a more balanced tuning once again and its note presentation is more authentic as a result. It has more body and a smoother character. The S12, however, has immediately superior extension and detail retrieval. It is thinner, more vibrant and one step brighter which helps with this impression. Micro-details and sparkle are simply far more present on the S12 than on the KATO making for a more detailed listen. The S12 does have a wider stage but not quite as much depth as the more evenly proportioned KATO.
There’s been a lot of talks about planar IEMs and for good reason, they’ve always offered a strong technical performance. Perhaps some of the qualities beloved on over-ear designs such as the renowned planar slam haven’t always been present on in-ear designs. However, modern implementations are ever improving parity to the extent that they are now just as, if not more viable than competing dynamic driver IEMs. What’s most shocking is the price tag as these IEMs are all very cheap. So, in addition to being far better than previous planar IEMs, the new generation models are also infinitely more accessible. The S12 exemplifies this best. Not only is it cheaper than most competitors, the tuning is just as refined and they have especially svelte, ergonomic shells. This makes them a better all-rounder. The S12 offers class-leading resolving power with a tuning that isn’t perfect but can easily be considered proficient with the right ear tip pairings.
time to come.
The S12 is available from LETSHUOER and Linsoul (International) for $169 and $152 USD respectively at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Linsoul or Shouer and receive no earnings from purchases made through these links.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – dont smile at me
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Courtney Barnett – Rae Street
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Jasen – BYE
John Mayer – Continuum
Kanye West – Ye
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride