Shozy x AAW Hibiki: Quite the collaboration
Today we’re checking out the Hibiki, the resulting earphone of a collaborative project between Shozy and Advanced AcousticWerkes (AAW).
Shozy and AAW are established brands with strong reputations and juggernauts in their respective fields, crafting amps, ear buds, universal and custom in-ear monitors, and more to great fanfare. Seeing them come together to bring to the market an affordable product that was attractive on both physical and auditory levels was exciting. They succeeded too. The Hibiki is a quality earphone.
Let’s take a closer look.
Thanks to Lillian with DD Audio for arranging a sample of the Hibiki. The thoughts within this review are my own and do not represent DD Audio, Shozy, AAW, or any other entity. There was no financial incentive provided to give this a positive review or otherwise. At the time of this review, the Hibiki was retailing for around 60.00 USD.
For at home use the Hibiki was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp with my Asus FX53V laptop sourcing music. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, Shanling M1, HiFiMan MegaMini, or HiFi E.T. MA8, all of which easily brought it up to listening volume. The Hibiki doesn’t need to be amped.
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, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer examples of signatures I enjoy.
Specifications (from manual):
- Driver: 10mm dynamic
- Frequency Response: 20-40kHz
- Sensitivity: 102dB SPL@1mW
- Impedance: 18ohm@1kHz
- THD ≤ 0.5% @ kHz
Packaging and Accessories:
The Hibiki comes in simple but elegant packaging. On the front of the exterior sheath is an image of the earphones and some delicate text handling the branding on the front. The sides, outlined in a broad silver border contains the slogan “Chasing Aural Perfection” and notification that this earphone is a collaboration between Shozy and AAW. The rear of the sheath contains an exploded image of the Hibiki’s construction along with some limited specifications and a feature list. There are also images of with descriptive highlights covering the unique carbon fibre faceplates, high quality Ethos Black 26AWG copper cable, the inline mic and controls, and the application of a recessed two pin removeable cable system.
Removing the sheath and opening the lid of the nondescript black box within, you are greeted by a manual made from dense, high quality paper. Underneath is the Hibiki nestled securely and safely within a finely cut foam insert. The spare tips are set loosely within separate cutouts. In all you get;
- Hibiki earphones
- Replaceable cable
- Silicone tips (s/m/l)
The packaging is quite attractive and has a quality feel to it, but I can’t help but be slightly disappointed at the lack of accessories. At this price point, some additional tip variety (foam, bi-flange, etc.), a soft carrying case, or at the very least a shirt clip is expected. The quality of the included tips is nothing special either, and are a common site among the extreme low budget earphone landscape.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
You will likely find yourself being drawn first to the carbon fibre face plates finished in a brilliantly smooth clear coat. Surrounded by chromed plastic borders, they stand out and give the Hibiki a commanding presence. It’s a large step up from the faux carbon fibre you generally find around this price point. The rest of the housings are just black plastic, coated in a pleasing, soft-to-the-touch matte texture that feels good on the ear but highlights the oil from your skin that sticks to it. Left and right indicators are denoted by large capitalized L/Rs printed in white on the inside of each ear piece. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wore off relatively quickly. Not an issue since the Hibiki is designed to be worn cable up and with each ear piece tailored to fit a particular ear. Unlike most earphones that utilize 2-pin connectors, Shozy recessed the Hibiki’s a good 4mm into the housing. This limits 3rd party cable options but makes for a much more durable connector. Worth the trade off in my opinion.
The Ethos Black 26AWG copper cable is provided courtesy of AAW and is spectacular. The 90 degree angled jack is compact enough to fit in most cell phone and DAP cases, and is furnished with a classy brushed aluminum back plate. Leading up to the y-split are four tightly braided strands that split off into two groups leading to each ear piece. The y-split is a solid hunk of black rubber, above which sits a break-away chin cinch, one that’s a little too eager to separate for my preferences. Leading up to the earpieces are pre-formed ear guides, weighted at the ends with large rubber strain reliefs that help keep them securely behind the ear. Last are the 45 degree angled, recessed plugs which feel very tough. About the only complaint I could levy at this cable is a lack of strain relief . Other than that, it’s well constructed with minimal cable noise and next to no memory.
The Hibiki’s shells are light and ergonomic, but wow are they ever enormous. The ZS10 from Knowledge Zenith uses a similarly shaped shell. With five drivers crammed in each you’d expect them to be large. Despite housing only a single dynamic per side, the Hibiki is somehow even thicker making the ZS10 the more low profile of the two. Size aside, the Hibiki also features a stubby nozzle, one which exits the ear piece at a greater angle than on the ZS10. For some this will be good, for me it was not. The stock tips were unusable since they didn’t extend quite far enough to get a reliable seal. With the right tips, the Hibiki is very comfortable but it sticks out quite a bit. You won’t be easily hiding these when wearing them.
Isolation is sub-par at best. For example, the Hibiki joined me on a ~20 minute bus ride to go pick up my car from the shop. Half way there I took them off and turned off my music. The volume required to have a half decent experience and drown out the bus and other passengers was too extreme to be comfortable.
Inline Mic and Remote:
The mic feels really nice in hand despite being all plastic. The smooth buttons feels right and the rounded edges of the housing is natural in the hand. Depressing the buttons is met with a satisfying visceral response. The layout is little different than most with the larger multifunction button sitting below volume up/down, as opposed to being in the middle. It works well, leading to fewer mis-presses than I experience with other modules. While I didn’t have the opportunity test with iOS, the controls functioned without a hitch on my LG G5 running Android 7.0
Regarding call quality, those on the other end found my voice plenty loud enough, but also somewhat muffled. Using the Hibiki while recording a video supported this. My voice sounded overly thick and a little lacking in clarity, with the mic picking up a fair bit of background noise. Overall performance isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either. Pretty average here.
Tips: As with the ZS10, the large housings and stubby nozzles limited alternatives tol the stock tips. KZ’s large Starlines worked fairly well here as did large Sony Hybrids, but I settled on medium Spinfits which gave the depth needed to get a reliable and comfortable seal. Since the stock tips didn’t work for me at all, the effect Spinfits have on the stock sound signature is lost to me. That said, KZ’s Starline tips tend not to affect sound at all and the Spinfits sounded nigh identical.
I don’t know if they’ve changed the Hibiki’s tuning over time, but to me it has a very common signature, one I’m very familiar with through my time with products from The Fragrant Zither (TFZ). The Hibiki outputs elevated treble and emphasized sub-bass with a slightly recessed but clear and coherent mid-range. It’s a signature that is right at home at it’s price range and is a crowd pleaser among the majority, i.e. the non-audiophile crowd.
Treble is well extended and has a firm presence but stops short of being overly abundant or aggressive. Detail is decent but slightly smoothed over. It seems a little unbalanced with cymbals often sounding slightly too quiet or soft, contrasted by chimes which come across too forward. Pink Floyd’s “Time” shows this off quite effectively. I’m not particularly treble sensitive, but overall I wouldn’t say the Hibiki falls into what I would consider the territory of bright products, such as the Whizzer Haydn A15Pro, Kinera H3, and to a lesser extent the TFZ Series 2. It’s upper end presentation is for the most part airy and fairly relaxing.
The mid-range is quite clear and crisp with a strong presence that melds well with the emphasis placed on the treble and bass. Running through some hip hop by the likes of Aesop Rock, Felt, and others, vocals never sounded overshadowed or muddied. Busting out some classic rock from Grand Funk Railroad and King Crimson, guitar work is weighty and detailed with well defined notes. This seems to be a genre that is particular well-suited to the Hibiki.
Heading into the low end, the Hibiki is big and brash with great extension and a fantastic balance. There is enough mid and upper bass to give music some warmth and weight, but it doesn’t overpower the visceral sub-bass. Texture is not quite as impressive as what you’ll get from TFZ’s graphene coated dynamic units, but it’s still quite good with notes showing solid depth and dynamism. The Hibiki’s bass isn’t always on either. Where a track is bassy, the Hibiki is bassy. Where a track requires subtlety, the Hibiki nails it.
Sound stage is where I was most impressed with the Hibiki. It’s default is fairly intimate, but it has absolutely no issues throwing sounds way off into the distance. I’ve been using the Hibiki a lot with film which seems well suited to the powerful low end, and the Hibki does a great job of surrounding you with the action. Take for example Rey and Kylo’s fight against Snoke’s guards. The sound design in this section is quite impressive with strong directional queues that are well layered, matching well with what the Hibiki is putting out. Also, the pulsing of Kylo’s sabre sounds damn epic and so very textured, contrasting perfectly with the smooth hum of Rey’s sabre.
TFZ Exclusive 3: The Exclusive 3 is brighter and more detailed with a similar bass presentation. Extension isn’t quite a good as the Hibiki, but it is more textured and impactful with a quicker decay. The 3’s mid-range is more forward but also a touch more lean. Sound stage is larger on the Hibiki but with more depth coming from the 3.
The 3 uses a mix of stainless steel and plastic for it’s housings. Fit and finish is good on both with the 3 taking a very slight edge. It’s molding is slightly more precise, evident mostly in the nozzle and the definition of the lip. Their cables are equally good too, with the Hibiki’s 2-pin system being the better implemented. The 3’s plug are not at all protected from bending. Fit and comfort goes to the 3 due to it’s compact dimensions that aren’t reliant on ear size and tip to get a secure fit. The 3 isolates very well.
Huawei AM175: The AM175 is more balanced with less treble and bass emphasis that falls right in line with the mid-range. Treble seems to extend more with the AM175. It has slightly better control with more defined notes. The AM175’s mid-range is more detailed and even more clear with a more accurate timbre. Bass on the AM175 is less powerful and well-extended compared to what the Hibiki puts out. It is slightly less textured, though impact is similar. The AM175 has a smaller stage but with better separation and more accurate and layered imaging.
The AM175 is majority plastic with an aluminum back plate and ring that surrounds the earphone’s waist. The quality of the plastic is outstanding with a very precise mold. As nice as the Hibiki’s construction is, the AM175 both looks and feels like a more quality item in my opinion. The AM175’s cable flat cable is an excellent example of this style of cable. That said, I’d much rather have the Hibiki’s which is more flexible, better relieved, transmits less noise, and in general is more manageable. The AM175’s trapezoid shaped housings are significantly smaller than the Hibiki’s and have a very low profile. They nestle more securely in the ear, though I wouldn’t say they’re any more comfortable. Isolation is superior though.
Meze 11 Neo: The Hibiki has a larger sound stage all around but falls behind the 11 Neo in terms of imaging accuracy. Layering and separation are similar. Bass on the Hibiki isn’t as well balanced but is more emphasized and extends deeper. It is less textured provides a more satisfying physical response. Treble is similarly emphasized on the 11 Neo but is slightly thicker and less airy. It’s better controlled though. Mids go to the 11 Neo. They’re more prominent, clearer, and more detailed and seem presented with greater nuance and finesse.
The 11 Neo’s all-aluminum housings are flawlessly constructed with perfect fit and finish and zero flaws. It is a perfect example of the exceptional construction quality expected from Meze. The cable though, is another story. It has a dense, durable sheath but it is stiff and the microphonics are nearly deal-breaking. I’d take the Hibiki’s outstanding cable any day of the week. The 11 Neo’s compact, lightweight, barrel shaped housings are much more universal and comfortable than the Hibiki’s. If it weren’t for the cable they would disappear.
The Hibiki is constructed well and crafted from nice materials such as the carbon fibre used for the face plate. Special mention goes to the deeply recessed 2-pin cable system and the extra durability such as design affords. Ergonomics are well thought out and the Hibiki is comfortable to wear for extended periods, though the sheer size of the ear pieces will limit their audience. The sub-par isolation will too. The packaging is simple but attractive, yet inside you’re left wanting more in the way of extras. Accessories are few and far between, limited only to a couple spare ear tips. The Hibiki has a grand sound stage with a bass line to match with a crisp mid-range that drew me in, yet I found myself wanting a little more finesse and balance in the treble.
In the end the Hibiki is an enjoyable product with a lot of strengths. For its intended use as a daily driver it is a wonderful earphone, but I’d recommend spending a few extra bucks to pick up some foam tips if you’re going to use them in noisy areas. You’ll be needing the extra isolation.
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)