At 100 USD you can find some serious bangers. The GT600s is one of the best all-round packages I’ve seen. The Kinera H3 is drop dead gorgeous and made from premium materials, though it’s sound signature is admittedly somewhat polarizing. The TFZ King is a mature product with a balanced, audiophile-focused presentation.
The HLS-S8 rightly competes with the above on sound quality, but looking at the complete package they fall short with a number of flaws that make their 99 USD price tag a bit of a stretch. Come with me while we take a look at Hilisening’s HLS-S8, otherwise known as the “Magic Beans”.
Owned by Shenzhen Sea Power Sheng Xin Technology Co., Ltd. who also owns Magaosi, something I guessed immediately upon first glancing the packaging. My time with the Audbos branded versions of Magaosi’s K3 and DB-02 let me know there was some some talent behind the HLS-S8’s sound tuning.
The Hilistening HLS-S8 was provided free of charge for the purposes of a fair and impartial review. The thoughts within are my own and do not represent HiLisening, Penon, or any other entity. No financial incentive was provided.
The HLS-S8 retailed for 99.00 USD at the time of this review and could be picked up here; https://penonaudio.com/HiLisening-hls-s8.html?search=hls
Packaging and Accessories:
The S8 does not have an impressive package, nor accessory kit. The cardboard used is nice and solid with clean printing on the primary box. I love that on the outer sheath, “Magic Beans” can be found printed under the low-fi image of the earphone in the various color options; black, blue, and red. The information on the outer sleeve is helpful in giving you specifications and a list of contents, but is riddled with spelling errors and weird spacing. Given other Chinese manufacturers have taken steps to drastically improve this aspect of their products, the HLS-S8 comes across slightly amateurish.
The manual too is sub-par in it’s presentation. On one side of the pamphlet you have some information on how to detech the cable and wear the earphones properly, along with instructions on changing eartips and filters, all fairly roughly translated. The other side of the manual tells you all about their MMCX Bluetooth cable which has absolutely nothing to do with this product since it’s not included. It would have been nice to include an explanation of the filters and what they do, but that’s not mentioned anywhere.
The accessory kit is fairly bare bones for the price. In all you get;
- HLS-S8 earphones
- braided, silver-plated cable
- 1 pair of generic foam tips (m)
- 3 pairs of single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
- 3 pairs of tuning filters (treble, reference, bass)
- Faux-leather carrying pouch
What you get would have been acceptable a year or two ago but in that short time Chinese manufacturers have seriously stepped up their game tossing in numerous sets of varying tips, higher quality cases, tip holders, etc. Heck, for 30 USD less the Whizzer A15 gives you a gorgeous stainless steel earphone with a slew of accessories and nicer packaging.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The HLS-S8’s earpieces are well constructed with good fit and finish and a nice paint job. They could have totally botched lining up the three vent holes lining the back, but they’re just fine. The printing of the HiLisening brand name uses a silly font (Courier perhaps), but at least its printed neatly. The filters are compact and slender with well cut threads that screw into place with minimal fuss. The metal mesh is also installed neatly, something you can’t take for granted, even on pricier earphones. The earpieces feel like a quality item and are made well, a statement that doesn’t apply to the cable.
I’ll keep this brief. The good? Flexible below the y-split and free of memory. The chin cinch works really well and doesn’t slide down the cable unexpectedly when in use. The flexible ear guides (no memory wire, yay!) effectively keep the cable in place behind your ear. The bad? The cable is particularly thin and delicate below the y-split which is an even greater concern due to the complete lack of strain relief. Worst of all is the MMCX connection, or lack thereof. The cable plugs in loosely, wobbles around, and can swivel freely. As a result of this wily connection cutouts are frequent and intrusive. I tried the cable on a few other earphones and the result was the same. Plugging an alternate cable in, such as BGVP’s silver-plated upgrade cable for the DM5, none of this was an issue. To put it simply, the HLS-S8’s cable is disappointing and worth replacing out of the box.
When it comes to comfort the HLS-S8 is a success. The angle at which the nozzle protrudes nears 90 degrees like the FLC 8S and might not work for everyone, but I found it just right. The shells are light and curvaceous slipping into my ear unobtrusively. They don’t quite disappear but they at no point ever caused discomfort. Even though they’re designed for over-ear wear, if you toss on an after-market cable without memory wire or ear guides you’ll find they work just fine cable down, just expect some microphonics (cable noise).
If you’re looking to block out the world around you, the HLS-S8 won’t be the one to do it. They let in lots of noise requiring a fair bit of additional volume to counter. Sitting in a coffee shop listening at my normal volumes, I had no issues clearly hearing the conversations going on around me. Below average isolation for sure from this one.
While the S8’s packaging may be a touch out of date, accessories minimal, and the cable downright mediocre, it makes up a ton of ground with great sound quality. The S8 is one of the best 100 USD hybrids I’ve heard which makes it all that more painful to see it handicapped by such an underwhelming package, notably that cable.
Starting with the treble, the S8 is detailed and well-extended with smooth peaks and no harshness or splashiness, unless running with the gunmetal filter which leaves the BAs completely unrestricted. It leans slightly towards a thinner, brighter presentation but unlike a lot of hybrids in this price range, the S8 doesn’t significantly boost treble to give you that “wow” effect out of the box which gets tiring quickly. Instead, it serves to highlight the airiness and clarity on offer and compliments the rest of the signature quite well.
The mid-range sits slightly back but isn’t affected by mid-bass bloat, even with the bass filter installed. Tonally it sounds reasonable accurate when compared to higher end gear like the B400 and RE800, and more accurate than other hybrids like the Audbos K3 which happens to come from the same manufacturer. Vocals lean towards a thinner presentation with an appreciable level of clarity and detail, besting my 100 USD benchmark, the GT600s.
The HLS-S8 has a fairly light and nimble low end with good extension. The focus seems to be very evenly balanced between mid- and sub-bass emphasis with neither taking on a significantly more prominent role. Bass isn’t particularly impactful, but you can really feel the sub-bass rumble. It is also nicely textured too giving the low end lots of depth and space to it.
Lastly, we come to the HLS-S8’s best feature; spaciousness. The slightly lean presentation combined with above average layering and separation qualities gives the HLS-S8 a very open and spacious sound.
Please note that since there is no official documentation that I could find which explains the filters, and I cannot measure the difference, the below classifications are what I think they are for based on many, many hours of use. While the filters do not impact the sound as obviously as some other earphones using a similar system, they do make enough of a difference to warrant their inclusion.
Gunmetal (Treble): This one lacks any filter paper whatsoever in the nozzle, and it shows. It boosts and adds an overly aggressive edge to the upper mids and treble. While not terrible sounding, isn’t particularly pleasant either.
Blue (Bass): This filter gives the S8 a bit more low end umph, particularly in the mid-bass regions. The low end loses some of the tightness and accuracy of the other filters but carries more weight and thickness. This filter also seems to reduce the mid-range slightly giving the S8’s frequency extremities more emphasis.
Silver (Balanced): This filter really shines on the S8. Treble is boosted a touch over the bass filter and retains a smoothness not found on the treble filter. The mid-range has a touch more body and weight and is very crisp and clear. The low end gets a mild bump in the sub-bass regions over the the other filters. This one feels the most refined and versatile.
I’m a little torn on how I feel about the HLS-S8. One one hand, you’re getting a great sounding, comfortable earphone with a basic tuning system that enables you to mildly tailor the sound to meet your preferences. On the other hand, for what you get they’re way too expensive. The cable is terrible, the packaging is amateurish, and the accessory kit is about as basic as it gets. Comparing it to competing products like those from TFZ, MacaW, Fisher Audio, and most others, as good as it sounds the HLS-S8 just isn’t worth it.
This is a good earphone handicapped by a poorly thought out package and a cable that singlehandedly ruins the experience with it’s connection issues. If you can find them on sale for around 60 to 70 USD, absolutely go for it, then pick up a decent cable to round out your purchase.
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)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)