Shozy X AAW Hibiki Mk.2: Hibiki Refined
Last year, Shozy teamed up with AAW and released the Hibiki. It was a single dynamic driver earphone with a fun v-shaped signature, removable cables and stylish carbon fibre face plates. Today we’re checking 2018’s revised version of this earphone, the Hibiki Mk.2.
Let’s dive right in to see why I think this is the version of the Hibiki that most deserves your attention.
Thanks to Lillian with DD Audio for arranging a sample of the Hibiki Mk.2. 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 Mk2 was retailing for around 65.00 USD.
If much of this review seems similar to my Hibiki Mk.1 review, that’s because it is. Much of that review was re-purposed and edited to reflect the subtle changes made to the Mk.2. Except for sound and comparisons. Those are fresh.
For at home use the Mk.2 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. Like the Mk.1, the Mk.2 Hibiki does not 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 Mk.2 comes in simple but elegant packaging, slightly revised from the Mk.1. On the front of the exterior sheath is an image of the earphones and some delicate text handling the branding. The organic design flourishes from the Mk.1’s packaging has been removed, and image quality has been slightly degraded and is much darker, something that carries over to the rear where it is more noticeable. 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, along with the new AS logo. The rear of the sheath contains an exploded image of the Mk.2’s construction along with some limited specifications and a feature list. There are also images of with descriptive highlights covering the unique carbon fibre face plates, high quality Ethos Black 26AWG copper cable, the inline mic and controls, and the application of a recessed two pin removable cable system.
As with the Mk.1, removing the sheath and opening the lid of the non-descript black box within reveals 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 Mk.2 earphones
- Replaceable cable
- Silicone tips (s/m/l)
I still think the packaging is nice, but the downgrade in image quality is a bit of a bummer for fans of quality packaging as I am. And my concerns about the included accessories remains. 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 and adorned with the new AS collaboration logo, they stand out and give the Mk.2 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 housing is glossy black plastic. 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 off after a while. Not an issue since the Hibiki is designed to be worn cable up and with each ear piece tailored to fit a particular ear. As with the Mk.1 Shozy recessed the Mk.2’s 2-pin receptacles 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 Mk.2’s shells are light and ergonomic, but just as with the Mk.1 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 Mk.2 is somehow even thicker making the ZS10 the more low profile of the two. Size aside, the Mk.2 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 Mk.2 is very comfortable but it sticks out quite a bit. You won’t be easily hiding these when wearing them.
Isolation is the same as the Mk. 1, sub-par at best. Lots of noise intrudes if you’re using them out and about requires an increase in volume to compensate, or swapping over to higher isolation foams tips,
Overall I like that Shozy moved to a glossy plastic for the housings. It tends to last longer, looks better, and is more durable overall. It is disappointing that they didn’t try to alter the size at all. The Hibiki Mk.2 is still pretty massive for a single dynamic, though it is comfortable. Lastly, my sample ran into the same issues I’ve seen from others; the glue holding on the right faceplate lets go. Seems Shozy is aware of this QC issue and has resolved it so you shouldn’t be worrying about that issue on your set.
Inline Mic and Remote:
The mic feels really nice in hand despite being all plastic. The smooth buttons feel right and the rounded edges of the housing comes across naturally 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, the Mk.2 is in my opinion a slightly step down from the Mk.1. Looking at the mic more closely, you can see they installed a new unit, one with a fabric dampener. This leads to the mic picking up less background noise which is awesome, but also your voice being even less clear than it was before. My callers did not appreciate it. The Mk.2’s mic works fine in a pinch, but for frequent or extended calls it is far from my first choice.
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.
Treble on the Mk.2 has good extension with a presence that remains known at all times, yet without crossing over into being unpleasant or forceful. Micro-detail is still slightly smoothed over. Listening to Pink Floyd’s “Time”, chimes are unnaturally emphasized compared to other effects like cymbals, but are not so abundant as to cause discomfort. I also found the cymbals slightly recessed this time around, taking on more of a background role than they should. While I think dropping the upper treble peak slightly was a good thing, the rest of the presentation should have remained where it was. On the plus side, this makes the Mk.2 even more pleasant on the ear for long term listening sessions.
The mid-range takes on a slightly recessed presentation. Where as on some earphones you get the impression of sitting right up against the stage and very close to the artists, the Mk.2 pulls you back and as such gives you some space. Listening to Felt’s “Suzanne Vega”, Slug’s vocals take centre stage and are the primary focus as they should be. Clarity is excellent with each note and word coming through crisp and clear, free of any tendency to sound muffled or smeared. This experience carries over to other tracks like Jessie J’s “Bang Bang” where she, Nicki, and Ariana all sound distinctive and tonally correct, Nicki especially. A lot of earphones give her vocals a very shouty, nasal tone that is simply unpleasant. Not an issue with the Mk.2.
Bass is exactly as it was on the Mk.1 to my ears; 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 dynamicism. It’s not an “always on” sort of presentation either. Where a track is bassy, the Mk.2 is bassy. Where a track requires subtlety, the Mk.2 nails it.
Last of all, sound stage. It is quite wide and open with the ability to fling sounds outside your head space. The positioning of the mid-range really helps to open it up further too, doing an even better job than the Mk.1 of surrounding you with your music or whatever media you happen to be using it with. I really like the way the Mk.2 portrayed the opening moments of Supertramp’s “Rudy” which sets you in a train station. For an inexpensive single dynamic, the Mk.2 does a great job of sweeping those sounds around you, though they impress a little less if you happen to be coming from a well-tuned multi-driver setup like KZ’s new AS10 which gives the scene greater depth and even finer movement.
Select Comparisons (Volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6):
Auglamour RT-1 (55.00 USD): The RT-1 and Mk.2 sound more alike than not, with similarly bass forward, v-shaped signatures. The RT-1’s BA driver gives it a little more treble energy with a faster decay and more detail at the expense of control. The RT-1’s mid-range is more dense and not quite as forward. Timbre is more accurate than on the Mk.2. The extra density to the presentation takes away from clarity and as such the Mk.2’s mids sound more clear and intelligible. Bass on the RT-1 is more mid and upper-bass focused than on the Mk.2, and lacks the same excellent extension. Texture is greater on the Mk. 2 as well. The RT-1 has a more confined presentation with sound placement closer to your head. They image similarly well, with the Rt-1 sounding more layered but with weaker separation. I much prefer the Mk.2’s presentation.
In terms of their physical qualities, the Mk.2 takes the cake here too. It’s design is more mature and it feels more durable. Ergonomics on the RT-1 never felt quite right for me, and as such I spend a fair bit of time getting them seated properly compared to the Mk.2 which fits in place with zero fuss. The RT-1’s cable is definitely unique and looks cool, however, in use it feels awkward and gets in the way. The Mk.2’s more traditional braided cable works well, and without fuss.
Shozy Hibiki Mk.1 (60.00 USD): To my ears, the biggest difference between the Mk.1 and Mk.2 is how the mid-range is presented. The Mk.1’s mid-range is set more physically forward putting vocals closer to you than how they are presented on the Mk.2. While I find their sound stages equally impressive, the Mk.2’s set back mid-range helps give them more air. Treble on the Mk.2 also seems to have been dialed down just a touch. This was most noticeable when running them with Pink Floyd’s time where chimes sounded less overblown through the Mk.2. Bass sounded nigh identical to my ears which is fine. The Mk.1 had a great low end that didn’t need any adjustment. Sibilance isn’t an issue on either.
Meze 12 Classics (79.99 USD): The 12 Classics have a more balanced, warmer presentation. Notes are slightly leaner leading to slightly more accurate imaging set within a deeper, but less wide and tall stage. The Mk.2 comes across less refined and not quite as nimble in the low end, but it’s bass extension and sub-bass presence is more enjoyable to my ears. I also find it a touch more textured. The Meze’s mids have mesmerizing liquidity and natural timbre to them that the Mk.2 can’t replicate. Treble sounds more realistic through the 12 Classics as well, but the Mk.2 has more energy and shimmer.
The Meze certainly has a classier design with nicer materials, those being a combination of walnut wood and aluminum. Build quality is excellent and comfort is nigh perfect as a result of the shapely, traditional bullet-shaped design. The cable is another matter entirely. While I like the Meze’s cable, microphonics are out of control, something you don’t run into with the Mk.2. It’s also no where near as flexible as the Mk.2’s cable and I found it getting in the way when sitting down for a listen.
The Mk.2 isn’t much in the way of a departure from the Mk.1 and shares a lot of the same positives and negatives. Good is the improvement in shell materials leading to a product that looks and feels even nicer. Also good are the ergonomics which let you wear the Mk.2 for long periods, free of discomfort. The sound presentation has seen some improvement too in the way the mid-range is presented, spacing out the sound and giving it more room to breath.
Some things I’m still not fully on board with are the size of the shells. They’re still massive, so smaller eared folks beware. Also be wary of the limited isolation if you’re someone that frequents public transit and was planning to use these for that purpose. I’m not going to dock them much for the face plates peeling off as that has apparently been addressed, but it’s still not something you want to be reading about as a prospective buyer. At least you know Shozy was aware and took action very quickly so you needn’t worry about your Mk.2 having this problem.
My overall thoughts are this. If you already have a Mk.1, you don’t need the Mk.2. You’ve already got a great earphone. Enjoy it and upgrade to something better somewhere down the line. If you don’t have either and want to get in on this sweet Shozy action, get the Mk.2. While the differences are minor, they’re worth the extra five bucks and make for a better product in the end. That said, if you really want a Hibiki and the Mk.2 isn’t an option for you, you shouldn’t feel bad getting the Mk.1 because it is still a wonderful earphone.
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)