MacaW GT600s: Benchmark
Today we’re checking out the MacaW GT600s, a very good hybrid that for reasons beyond my comprehension has flown completely under the radar.
The GT100s, MacaW’s original entry into the competitive world of sub-100 USD earphones, wowed audiences with it’s crisp, detailed sound that could be altered via a simple tuning system. It’s injection moulded steel housings and glass logo plates gave it a premium feel that wasn’t commonplace in the price range. I finally purchased a GT100s earlier in the year, and after spending a fair bit of time with it found it too bright and generally unpleasant to listen to. The angular and heavy housings were also somewhat uncomfortable. They’re not terrible, but not great either.
To say I wasn’t overly excited to give the GT600s a listen would be an understatement. I certainly love their stylish design and that they replaced the GT100s’ mediocre cable with a beautiful braided one. They even added useful preformed ear guides and terminated the cable with a common MMCX connector. A quick look at the housings showed they would be more comfortable too. The edgy design has been smoothed out where it mattered most, (against your ear) and the filter system returned mostly unchanged. But, none of those improvements would matter if the sound quality wasn’t up to snuff.
Thankfully it is. Let’s take a closer look at the GT600s to find out why it is now my 100 USD earphone to beat.
The GT600s was provided free of charge for the purposes of review. I am not affiliated with MacaW or Penon Audio. All thoughts and opinions within this review are my own and do not represent those of another party. There is no financial incentive for writing this review, though the MacaW GT600s does not need to be returned.
At the time of this review it was selling for 99.90 USD over at Penon Audio: https://penonaudio.com/Macaw-GT600S
For at home use the GT600s was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp. During portable use I found it required a fair bit of power to drive properly. My LG G5 worked, but it paired better with a Shanling M1 / Walnut F1 combo. A HiFiMan MegaMini / Walnut F1 combo was also quite pleasant, giving the GT600s a warmer tilt.
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 in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800 and thinksound On2 are a couple examples of signatures I enjoy.
Packaging and Accessories:
MacaW did an excellent job with the presentation of the GT600s. The white, black and grey box is smart, clean, and simple in it’s design. The front, which displays an image of the earphone reflects that the housings are metal, they feature an MMCX removable cable, there is a built in ear guide, and that there is a tuning filter system. The right side shows off the jack and y-split while the back provides a list of specifications.
– Driver type: dynamic driver + balanced armature
– Sensitivity: 98dB @ 1kHz
– Impedance: 16Ω
– Frequency Response: 10-40KHz
– Rated Power: 4mW
Sliding out the inner drawer reveals a simple sheet of black paper endowed with the MacaW logo. Flipping it back, up top you find the GT600s earpieces secured within a foam inlay which covers the cable that is neatly wrapped and Velcroed. Below is another foam inlay in which rests the bass and treble filters (reference pre-installed) and spare ear tips. The metal plate holding the foam tips is a premium touch carrying over from the GT100s. Beneath this second inlay is a wide, flat cardboard box containing the leather carrying case and manual, along with a single sheet of paper which explains the left/right indicator. In all you get;
– GT600s earpieces
– silver-plated OFC braided cable
– 3 pairs of filters (bass/reference/treble)
– 3 pairs of silicone tips (s/m/l)
– 2 pairs of foam tips (m/l) in a metal holding plate
– leather carrying case
Overall this is one of the most pleasant and premium unboxing experiences I’ve seen at this price. The packaging is attractive and intelligently designed so that it provides you with full coverage of the earphone and it’s features without the need to put it in words. The accessory kit is comprehensive in that it includes everything needed to get yourself going. About the only extra item I could ask for is the metal plate from the GT100s that the extra filters screwed into when they weren’t in use.
Build, Comfort, Isolation:
Unlike most earphones I would consider the GT600s overbuilt, much in the same way RHA handles their products. The brushed metal housings are put together with excellent attention to detail. Fit and finish is immaculate with minimal seams between the two halves or where the “2.5D” glass logo plate is installed. The only area where I could hope for improvements is on the threading for the filters. Some precision is required to line them up so they screw in smoothly. At least the filters themselves are well built, with the metal screens cleanly installed and colored gold, silver, and black clearly indicating which is which.
The cable is also wonderfully built. Below the chunky metal y-split you find a tight and uniform braid that leads down to a well relieved straight jack. The jack is on the thicker side, but nowhere near as pudgy as the ones TFZ selected for their Exclusive series iems. Above the y-split the cable is tightly twisted. As you near the plugs you find some flexible, preformed ear guides that do an excellent job of keeping the cable behind your ear and double as strain relief. The MMCX connectors clipped in tightly out of the box and are still firm despite numerous disconnects. As always with MMCX connectors, I recomend disconnecting them only when necessary to ensure they last.
The GT600s is ergonomically sound and exceptionally comfortable, a statement I personally could not apply to their predecessor. The exterior is edgy and full of detail, yet on the inside against your ear where it rests within the concha it’s well rounded and smooth. Up where the connectors plug in the GT600s is squared off, and the only place where I can see someone experiencing discomfort should the edges press against your ear. Also, if you decide to use them with a cable free of memory wire, swapping channels and wearing them cable down works surprisingly well.
Isolation isn’t half bad either, even with the GT600s’ ample ventilation. It came as quite the surprise when I found this earphone effectively dulling keyboard clicks, voices, and external noise such as cars rushing by. These seem like them would be fine for commuting to work via bus or another noisy method of transportation, especially if you opted to use the included foams.
Overall the GT600s has an interesting design that’s made from high quality, durable materials that are put together quite well. They’re also comfortable and isolate better than something so clearly ventilated should.
Tips: The stock tips are pretty standard fare and come with tons of other earphones. While they’re not bad tips, I can rarely get a good seal with them. That’s also the case with the GT600s unless I go with the largest size, though they result in the earphones sitting at an awkward position. Spinfit and KZ Starline tips were an excellent alternative, giving the nozzle some extra depth helping with the GT600s’ relatively shallow insertion. I found they elevated treble a touch over the stock tips which is a big plus if using the black (bass) filters. FiiO’s tips from the F1 and the Stock Foams were a decent pairing for comfort and getting a secure fit, but they seemed to reduce treble energy and detail too much for my preferences. There were a few other tips that paired well, but they’re not readily available from a third party. If looking for alternatives, my suggestion is to go with something with a soft silicone and medium to wide bore.
Amping/Source: The GT600s is not easy to drive. Those of you that like to listen loud will probably want to run them amped or out of a more powerful source. Running them through an appropriate source also improves performance; tighter bass and more prominent mids.
The three filters don’t significantly alter the GT600s’ base sound to the point that it’s like owning three different earphones, but their changes are significant enough so as to alter my enjoyment of the earphone quite drastically.
Gold (Treble) – Seems to boost upper mids and low treble and reduce mid-bass presence a touch. I quite liked this filter with live instruments and recordings, and with modern tracks with recessed vocals.
Silver (Balanced) – The balanced filter is my preferred choice as is softens treble response a bit without killing the sparkle and shimmer. Vocals with this filter are slightly less prominent than with the Gold filter, but like the treble they’re smoother. This filter to me gives off the most refined and well-rounded presentation
Black (Bass) – Admittedly I didn’t spend a ton of time with the bass filter, simply because I did not enjoy the changes. It’s bass increase is modest at best, maybe a couple dB, instead sucking out the mid-range to allow the low end to stand out more. In the process detail and clarity take a hit. I really only found it suitable with instrumental EDM tracks where it could be a lot of fun. These aren’t going to be used often.
General Impressions: The GT600s is a smooth, refined earphone characterized by a mild u-shaped signature that is altered by the included filter options. Bass and treble are slightly raised above the mid-range, though not to the point of overshadowing it, unless using the black filter. Compared to a number of similarly priced earphones at this price range, the GT600s is well-balanced in it’s frequency emphasis.
Treble is well-extended with a clear presence that I found appropriate. It never seemed to overstep is boundries and creep into the ‘bright’ category. Treble shimmer and sparkle is adequate, avoiding a dull or dry presentation. Even with the treble filters installed the GT600s’ treble remains polite and well-controlled without any tendency towards splashiness. It’s not the most airy presentation I’ve come across, but it’s enough to help give the GT600s an open and spacious sound.
The GT600s’ mid-range is accurate and intelligible with solid detail. Sibilance is not an issue with S’s and T’s sounding as they should, even with the volume raised to levels I am personally uncomfortable with. This earphone’s warm-tilting sound really benefits the mid-range, with both male and female vocals equally represented and natural without coming across nasally or harsh. Guitar work is adequately crunchy though some of the finer details are smoothed out compared to more detail oriented earphones like the Blue Ever Blue 1200EX or TFZ Exclusive King. This mid-range presentation makes the GT600s an excellent earphone to pair with hip hop and rap.
This earphone doesn’t shy away from the low end, offering up a tastful quantity of bass. While it’s not the most impactful in it’s presentation, it is well-textured and offers up decent slam and impact on bassy tracks. I also found it relatively quick, easily keeping up with quick EDM tracks and snappy double bass kicks in metal tracks. With the silver and gold filters there is little bleed into the lower mids. Bass quantity won’t please bassheads but it should satisfy those that like it elevated and silky smooth. My only complaint is that on some mid-bassy heavy tracks, such as Aesop Rock’s “Dorks”, the GT600 puts out too much mid-bass. Running the gold filter help negate this.
Staging on the GT600s is impressive. It’s large and capacious, nipping at the heels of the Havi B3 Pro I and Dunu Titan 1, while sounding larger and more open than the Kinera H3 and Audbos K3. It’s capable of bring vocals in close for an intimate presentation, or let them flit off into the distance. Imaging is well-defined with smooth movement channel-to-channel. I didn’t notice any dead zones or vagueness off centre.
Overall the GT600s makes for a very solid listen. It’s not the best I’ve heard at this price range, but it’s up there. It’s smooth signature with near equal presence through the bass, mid-range, and treble regions gives it’s an energetic yet fairly easygoing sound that is simply satisfying to experience.
MacaW GT100s: Going back to the GT100s, I have to admit that I enjoyed them more than I remembered in the past. They share a family sound, though the GT100s sound is much thinner and I feel it is at it’s best with the black bass filter installed. With the gold and silver filters it suffers from sibilance that the GT600s doesn’t show. The black filter dials this down a bit and tames some of the edginess in the upper regions. The GT100s’ mid-range is similarly placed, maybe a touch more forward, but this doesn’t do much beyond exacerbate the sibilance. It’s a much more tiring listen. Their bass performance is similar with the GT100s being more punchy but less detailed and textured. While I enjoy the GT100s with the black filter, compared to the GT600s it lacks refinement and is much more fatiguing to listen to.
Havi B3 Pro I: The B3 and GT600s are very, very different with the GT600s being a much more bold experience. The Havi’s presentation is certainly more neutral than the MacaW, with the most emphasis being placed on the mid-range and treble. It’s bass isn’t in the same league in terms of quantity with the GT600s being much more robust down low. Their mid-ranges are quite similar in tone with the B3 being the thinner, more delicate of the two. The GT600s has more going on in the upper ranges where the B3 lacks sparkle and shimmer. The B3’s soundstage is a touch larger and more open, though I feel the GT600 gives a greater sense of depth. Imaging on both is quite similar. Personally, I find them complimentary. The GT600s is a much more entertaining listen whereas the B3 is much more laid back.
Kinera H3: The H3 is bright and bassy with a clear v-shaped signature that puts a smile on my face. Compared to the GT600s it’s less balanced sound really sticks out. It’s presentation is also considerably thinner. If you find the GT600s too bright, the H3 is going to be way too much. It’s treble is much more prominent and full of shimmer and sparkle that the GT600s simply doesn’t have, regardless of the filter. I found the MacaW’s treble better controlled, though the H3 isn’t unwieldy by any means. The GT600s’ mid-range is more forward and liquid than the H3’s which is somewhat dry, and too recessed in the lower mids. Bass on both digs pretty deep and is full of kick, though the H3 has a bit more thump to it. The GT600s sounds more spacious, but the H3’s thinner presentation leads to slightly improved separation. Imaging qualities of the GT600s are a small step ahead with cleaner transitions.
Fischer Audio Dubliz Enhanced: When I tossed in the Dubliz for a quick A/B with the GT600s, I was shocked at how similar they were. No wonder I liked MacaW’s new hybrid so much. Treble quantity on the Dubliz falls somewhere between the silver and gold filters. It’s mid-range is in line with the gold filters, while it’s bass levels are near identical to the silver filter with a bit more rumble at the deepest ranges. The MacaW is a bit more detailed in the treble but falls behind in the mid-range. The Dubliz has a more impactful low end without giving up anything in terms of agility and speed. Soundstage and imaging are nigh identical.
Dunu Titan 1: The Titan 1 was all the rage in 2015, and it’s still damn good as we rapidly head towards 2018. It’s tuning is quite similar to the GT600s with the gold filters in place, though I find it’s aural presentation harder and more aggressive. The GT600s comes across softer around the edges. The Titan 1’s soundstage is larger with more space between instruments, but it’s imaging is less layered and acurate and it lacks the same sense of depth. The Titan 1 is more comfortable with it’s smaller, lighter housings and simpler design, though I find they have a habit of popping out of place, not an issue with the GT600s’ over-ear design.
100 USD hybrids seem to be a dime a dozen right now with quite a few making strong impressions. What makes the GT600s so appealing is just how well-rounded and consistently good it is at nearly everything. It’s sound quality rivals the best I’ve heard in this price bracket. Few earphones I’ve got on hand can touch it in terms of overall build quality, though there are some that come close. TFZ’s Exclusive lineup and the TinAudio T2 come to mind. In terms of design they are visually interesting, though some like the Kinera H3 offer greater appeal to my eyes. In terms of features it’s got a basic tuning system and removeable MMCX cables for those that like to tweak and personalize. It’s packaging is also intelligently designed and made from quality materials with a comprehensive accessory kit to back it all up.
Overall it’s a very complete package that competes with and bests most of the competition in nearly every metric I deem important. As a consumer, I would want to get the most for my hard earned dollar and the GT600s delivers. If you’re looking for a new earphone in the 100 USD price range, it should be up for consideration.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)