Audbos DB-02: Class Act

Pros: Beautiful, well-built earpieces – Fun and technically adept signature

Cons: Thin, delicate, noisy cable – Hiss when amped – Uneven treble

Greetings!

Today we are going to be checking out a hybrid earphone from a company new to the scene, Audbos. They have two hybrid models but we are going to be looking at the DB-02.

Hybrids with a low cost of entry, especially those coming out of China, seem to be all the rage at the moment. The DB-02 at 59.99 USD has some serious competition, be they hybrids or not, from models that routinely crop up in conversation around Head-fi’s budget-fi threads. Models like the PMV A-01, LZ A2S, Senfer’s various entries, Havi B3 Pro 1, TFZ Series earphones, and countless others. The number of quality products flooding the market right now is somewhat overwhelming.

Does the DB-02 have what it takes to stand out in a very crowded segment? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer:

I would like to thank Jane at Audbos for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the DB-02. It was provided complimentary in exchange for a fair and impartial review and is still considered the property of Audbos unless they state otherwise. I am not receiving financial or any other form of compensation for this review. All comments and opinions within are my own and do not represent Audbos or any other entity.

MSRP for the DB-02 at the time of this review was 59.99 USD. You can check it out here on their website – http://www.audbos.com/product/in-Ear/93.html

If you prefer a different housing their DB-01 model is tuned the same but with a more traditional barrel-shaped housing.

My Gear and I:

Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread, reviews from other established reviewers, and thus being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own. Fast forward a couple years and I’ve had the opportunity to write about some great products for wonderful companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, Meze and many more. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done and payment enough.

The gear used for testing was an HTC One M8, an XDuoo X3 (Rockbox update), a Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with the NX1 or Plantronics Rig USB amp. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures, I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even mid-range response, and reduced mid-bass. My favorite in-ear, the Echobox Finder X1 with grey filters is a good example of this.

Packaging and Accessories:

Audbos’ packaging is neat and clean, but doesn’t do anything to break new ground, not that you would really expect that from a budget product. The front of the exterior sheath contains an image of the DB-02 and inline remote along with the Audbos branding and notification that these are dynamic and balanced armature earbuds; aka. a hybrid.

The left simply contains the Audbos logo and the right the remote functions. The grey-ish pink chosen as the base color for the sides is an odd choice, but it is certainly attention grabbing. Flipping to the rear you’re provided the all-important specifications:

Sensitivity: 100dB +/- 1dB

Impedance: 16Ω

Frequency response: 20-20000Hz

Sliding off the exterior sheath reveals a plain white box with no markings of any sort. That’s about as unassuming as it gets. Lift of the lid and you’re greeted by the DB-02 laid out in a laser-cut foam sheet. The large and small single flange silicone tips sit to the side with the mediums pre-installed. Under the foam cutout lies a certificate of authenticity, the user manual, and compact hard case holding a set of quality foam ear tips.

Overall the unboxing experience is pleasant and hassle free, and the accessory kit is on par with what you would expect but as in most cases could be better. Three sets of silicone tips, and nice little case, and some foamies tossed in for good measure. A bi- or triple-flange option would be nice for those who prefer a deeper seal.

Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

The classy wood/aluminum housings selected for the DB-02 are wonderfully built but not unique to Audbos. The wood is cleanly cuts and fits tightly together with the aluminum portions. There are no unsightly gaps and it doesn’t feel delicate. Strain relief entering each ear piece is excellent as well. It offers just the right amount of flex to protect the cable, and that’s protection it’s going to need.

The cable is a disappointment when compared to the lovely build of the housing. It’s thin, slightly sticky, quite noisy, and does not feel like it could take much in the way of a tug. The y-split is tiny and is not relieved, though there is decent relief at the compact straight jack. I can deal with thin cables if the sheath feels durable, see the new Brainwavz B100/B150, but that’s not the case with the DB-02. Positives? It holds zero memory so you rarely have to worry about it getting tangled when taking it out of the case. It uncoils perfectly smoothly.

I’m a big fan of the DB-02’s half-earbud style design, one of the reasons I chose it over it’s sister model (DB-01) which features identical tuning. With the right tips installed, it positively disappears in my ear and nestles comfortably in place. Despite being designed for cable-down wear, the nozzle is long enough and exits at an angle that permits over-ear wear (without swapping channels!!!), perfect for dealing with that noisy cable. The DB-02 is equally comfortable however you wish to wear it.

The DB-02 is a fairly large, vented, shallow fit earphone with a dynamic driver. Isolation is expectedly about average for an earphone of this style. I no issues hearing myself type, external voices, cars, etc. with or without music playing. The DB-02 goes insanely loud if that’s your jam, so you can drown all that out if need be.

Overall I love the design, build and comfort of the DB-02, however, it’s let down somewhat by a sub-par cable. That’s an area where improvement is needed I feel.

Sound:

Tips: I found wide-bored tips with a soft core (JVC and UE for example) made the treble splashy, so when using silicones I ended up running them with smaller bore tips with a stiffer code (stock, KZ “Starline”). They shine with foams, however, making this is one of the few instances where foams tips are my preferred option. Foam tips absorbed the occasionally sharp and sibilant treble and evened out the mid-bass response making for a very smooth and coherent listen

Amping: Given they had a tendency to hiss a lot when amped, which annoyed the heck out of me, I just ran them straight from my HTC One M8, XDuoo X3, or laptop. They’re easy enough to drive without the added power of an amp so I don’t think I’m missing out on much here.

After experiencing a variety of hybrid earphones, I understand why a manufacturer would develop one outside of “Hybrid” being a nice marketing point. While my personal preferences still lean towards a well tuned single or dual-dynamic driver, especially in the budget realms, the DB-02 makes a good case buying for a well-tuned hybrid.

Characterized by a w-shaped sound with the mid-range sitting slightly behind the rest of the signature, the DB-02 makes for an entertaining listen. While it’s treble is generally well-behaved, though it can come across slightly grain and rough and times, primarily when using silicone tips. This is evidenced on Run the Jewels’ ‘Oh My Darling’ around 2:33 where the track takes a very aggressive turn. The included foam tips smooth the treble fairly well, but at the same time remove some of the clarity and detail the BA drivers bring to the table. It’s a bit of a trade off that isn’t always easy to make. The treble presentation isn’t wholly unlike the hyper-budget KZ ZST which is great for a sub-20 USD product, but somewhat uneven and lacking at almost 60.00 USD.

The DB-02’s midrange is slightly less emphasized than the treble and bass, meaning it’s unimpeded by either. It’s also a touch thin sounding lacking the body and warmth of the more natural sounding Huawei AM175. That said, the DB-02 is definitely more exciting than that particular earphone. This is especially apparent when listening to the three unique vocal presentations of Jessie, Ariana, and Nicki on ‘Bang Bang’, or the engaging guitar and drum work in Incubus’ ‘Movement of the Odyssey’ parts 2 to 4. Texture and detail is picked up wonderfully and I would shocked to hear anyone say the DB-02 is lacking in these areas.

I suspect the low end is where the DB-02 will find the majority of it’s fans. It’s mid-bass thumps pretty hard while keeping out of the way of the mid-range. Sub-bass extension is nice and emphasized by a somewhat sluggish decay that lets the rumble really settle in. Not great for fast passages, but for more modern and less complicated pop, hip-hop, and EDM it’s pretty addictive. It reminds me quite a bit of the LZ A2S in this section, but turns down the absurd mid-bass quantity for something more manageable. Still a bit much for my personal preferences but it should be right in line with what the general public enjoys.

Despite the DB-02’s somewhat aggressive, forward presentation, the strong imaging and separation really aid in their portrayal of a spacious soundstage. It’s a step above all but the ZST and Pisces BA when it comes to hybrids I own, but falls well short of more accomplished dynamics like the Havi twins, Dunu Titan 1, etc.

All-in the DB-02 is a fun, competent sounding hybrid that in many ways feels like a direct step up from the hyper-budget KZ ZST. It’s really only let down by a somewhat uneven and unrefined treble presentation that could some tidying up.

Suggestions for Improvement:

Tone down the treble a few dB’s to make them more comfortable with the styles of music they are most suitable with; modern pop, hip-hip and EDM. It would also reduce reliance on foam tips for addressing the occasional edginess in the treble that creeps up on you.

Replace the cable with something thicker, more durable, and less noisy, that is also better relieved at the y-split and jack. This is the only aspect of the DB-02’s build that feels decidedly sub-par. It really hinders the user experience.

Final Thoughts:

Back to my earlier question; does the DB-02 have what it takes to stand out? After spending over a month and ten of hours with them, not quite. Does that mean they’re a bad earphone? Not at all. Far from it in fact. The design is lovely, their sound is for the most part well-tuned and performs at a level that’s appropriate for the price, and they are undeniably entertaining. They fit in well with their competition and justify their existence.

Out of the hybrids I own in this price range, they bring to the table a fairly unique signature. The LZ A2S is much darker and bassier, while the Huawei AM175 is more neutral with a mid-focused tilt. My less and more expensive options, the KZ ZST and 1More C1002 Capsule, offer similar experiences. The DB-02 would be a good earphone to move up to from the ZST. The C1002 would be a natural progression from the DB-02, though you’ll be trading deep bass extension for an improved mid-range, cleaner treble, and a more refined sound in general.

If you enjoy a slightly bright and more aggressive signature, the DB-02 would be a good earphone to check out. Just be wary of the thin, delicate cable as it’s probably not going to hold up well to being stuffed in pockets or purses. The DB-02 comes with a case for a reason.

Thank for reading!

– B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Test Songs:

Aesop Rock – Saturn Missiles

BT – The Antikythera Mechanism

Daft Punk – Touch

Dillon Francis and NGHTMRE – Need You

Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)

Incubus – 2nd/3rd/4th Movements of the Odyssey

Infected Mushroom – Deeply Disturbed

Infected Mushroom – The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Jessie J – Bang Bang

Kiesza – Hideaway

King Crimson – Red (full album)

Pink Floyd – Money

Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)

Skindred – Death to all Spies

Supertramp – Rudy

The Prodigy – Get Your Fight On

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