TFZ Secret Garden HD: Not just more of the same
Today we are checking out one of TFZ’s more premium offerings to date, the Secret Garden (SG) HD.
TFZ has been swarming the market over the last couple years with a variety of new products, like the entirety of the Exclusive lineup, to all the new King models, and seeming one-offs like the Tequila 1. Secret Garden looks to be their new premium line with the SG HD being the 199 USD “entry level” model. A number of balanced armature only earphones are taking up the reigns for the pricier models. The SG makes due with something familiar to TFZ faithfuls, that being a single 12mm, dual-magnet, graphene coated dynamic. Does it do anything different than the other dozen or so 12mm equipped earphones in the TFZ lineup and carve a niche of it’s own?
Let’s find out.
The Secret Garden HD was provided free of charge by Lillian of Linsoul for the purposes of review. It does not need to be returned. I am not receiving any financial compensation for this review. The thoughts within this review do not represent Linsoul, TFZ, or any other entity and are mine alone. At the time of writing the SG retailed for 199.00 USD.
The SG did not show itself to be picky about the source, and as such I commonly paired it with my LG G6 and the Shanling M0. It was also powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp with an ASUS FX53V sourcing music. Easy to drive, and consistent in signature.
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.
- Driver: 12mm dual-magnet, graphene coated
- Impedance: 30 ohms
- Sensitivity: 108dB/mW
- Frequency Response: 5Hz – 40kHz
- Connectors: 0.78mm 2-pin
- Cable Length: 4ft / 1.2m
Packaging and Accessories:
The SG arrives in a white, compact cube of a box with minimal branding. SG and the new logo, a stylized profile shot of a woman’s head, adorns the front. Additional branding can be found around the sides. The back contains more branding and location information for TFZ, along with a sticker that clarifies the exact model and color inside. In the case of mine, it’s the blue 003 model. Lifting the top of the box reveals the ear pieces set within a cardboard coated foam insert. Beneath that is another insert which covers the warranty card and Pelican style carrying case in which you will find the cable and all accessories. In all you get:
- SG earphones
- 0.78mm 2-pin removeable cable
- Velcro cable tie
- One pair of foam tips (m)
- Wide bore single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Medium bore single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
Overall this is a nice unboxing experience with a comprehensive accessory kit. The includes tips are varied enough to experiment with and of good enough quality to not be immediately replaceable. The cable I’m not a huge fan of, but we’ll cover that in the next section.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
At first glance the SG seems to use a similar housing as their King lineup, but that could not be more wrong. Flip it over and you find they’ve gone with a custom-like design in the vein of the Kinera IDUN. I would like to say they’ve gone with a high quality acrylic but I can’t find anything in the specifications to support that material choice. The faceplate looks like brushed metal and is flawlessly integrated into the design. There are no seams or rough edges anywhere. Breaking the flow a little is a metal port at the back that sticks out slightly. The nozzle lip also breaks from the otherwise excellent design cohesion as well being that it is made from a lower quality plastic and looks tacked on. The SG ends up having a very boutique, limited production feel to it that makes it stand out from the plethora of other models in TFZ’s extensive lineup.
The cable pulls some mixed emotions from me. Good is the hardware like the metal straight plug that is a huge step up from the heavy, bulky one they saddled the King Pro and Tequila 1 with. Also good are the preformed ear guides which, while a little on the stiff side, do a good job of keeping the cable securely behind the ear. I also like the 2-pin plugs which are very similar to those KZ equipped the new ZSN with. They wrap around the input port giving a secure fit and protection from bending. Bad is the cable sheath. Gone are the lush, flexible sheaths I’ve become accustomed to from TFZ, replaced with a rubbery, sticky, noisy, bouncy mess that tangles way to easily. I personally think this cable is a big step in the wrong direction for TFZ and I hope they ditch it a.s.a.p.
The SG’s CIEM-like shells are very comfortable, once you find that sweet spot. Like other TFZ shells they’re fairly large, but unlike those other models have a hump at the back intended to flow naturally with the shape of the ear enabling an even more secure fit. I found that compared to other earphones with a similar shell, such as the Tenhz P4 Pro, the hump sits a little higher up on the shell. This forced me to tilt it forward once inserted in my ear, else the hump would cause a hotspot and discomfort after a relatively brief period of wear. As a result of the placement of that protrusion, for my ears the SG is not quite as “plug and play” as some other earphones.
Isolation is outstanding, even with that big old vent facing the rear of the housing. With no music playing through the earphones, silicone tips in place, and my laptop playing a video in the background at full volume, I could barely make out what the commentator was saying and other noises were completely muffled. Same could be said when visiting my local coffee shop. With foam tips the isolation is even better. These will be great for noisy commutes or if you simply want to shut out the world around you and focus on your music.
Tips: I quite like both types of stock silicone tips and settled on the medium bore, medium sized set for the purposes of this review. I found they brought out more sub-bass in the SG over the wide bore tips, and tightened up the treble presentation slightly. The differences are pretty minor though. SG’s sound output doesn’t seem to vary as greatly as other earphones with different tips, at least not for me. Since I’m not a huge fan of foams, they were used only briefly. They sounded similar to the medium bore silicones, but with mildly reduced treble energy and a softer bass presentation.
The SG isn’t your usual TFZ, despite using a very familiar single 12mm, dual-magnet graphene coated dynamic driver setup. With a more balanced signature and a colder, more detail heavy sound it targets an audience that embraces technical prowess over the big bass of it’s predecessors. That said, the HD certainly doesn’t shy away from low end.
Treble on the SG is elevated with a focus on the lower regions. This gives it tons of detail and great clarity, but at the expense of shimmer and sparkle. As a result, the SG comes across a touch cold and sterile in the upper ranges and mids. This also means the SG is quite revealing so I do not recommend using them with poor recordings or low res/compressed sound files like you’ll hear on YouTube and Soundcloud. The compression is very noticeable.
The mid-range is fairly neutral in presence with an upper mid bump that makes vocals pop nicely on number of tracks, like EL-P’s “Works Every Time”. The presentation is a little on the lean side with a dry tonality that plays into the SG’s detail-focused qualities. Sibilance is present but not to the extreme, mostly cropping up only on really hard ss and ts.
Bass is well done with a better sub-/mid-bass balance than you’ll find on most products in their lineup. King Experience is the only one I can think of with a similarly positive balance. Depth is excellent giving the SG a fairly visceral low end, though not one that comes across as bassy. This is evident on Kavinski’s “Solli”. Where other earphones deliberately direct your attention to their low end qualities, the SG says, “Huh, nice. I can do that too you know.” but doesn’t make it a focal point.
Sound stage is an area I always find TFZs quite impressive, usually beating out most of the competition. While the SG has a more forward and intimate mid-range than other models in their lineup, it doesn’t take away from the wonderful sense of space on offer. Take for example the closing moments of The Prodigy’s “Warrior Dance” where the artists are discussing an alarm effect the track eventually closes with. When one of the band members replies to a question with “Huh?” you can easily tell he’s sitting off to the left and pretty far from the mic. Moments like that are plentiful with the SG as a result of some pretty smooth channel to channel imaging and outstanding layering and separation. Even congested, busy moments like the last few minutes of King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black” fail to tax the SG’s abilities.
Select Comparisons (volumes matched using Dayton Audio iMM-6):
TFZ King Pro: The King Pro has a warmer, smoother presentation than the SG and places more focus on bass, mid-bass in particular. This gives its mid-range a more dense, full presentation. This presentation means it loses out to the SG in vocal clarity and detail. I also found it fell short of the SG in bass speed and impact, providing a softer, looser experience. Treble on the SG shows greater emphasis, especially in the lower regions, contributing to that colder feel it has over the King Pro. I also found this to highlight the extra detail and texture the SG pulls from tracks. Sound stage is similarly presented on both, with the King Pro feeling more spacious and the SG feeling more technically competent in terms of imaging accuracy, layering, and separation.
Build and comfort lean convincingly in favor of the King pro in my opinion. It’s metal shells incite greater confidence when it comes to durability and longevity while it’s tried and tested shape results in something you can slip in your ear without a second of thought regarding ideal placement required. Despite the heavy steel hardware affixed, the King Pro’s cable is truly superior when compared to the SG’s. Soft and flexible with next to no cable noise. SG isolates much better.
Campfire Audio Comet: SG has greater end-to-end extension with significantly more sub-bass presence. Treble has more shimmer and greater clarity on the SG, along with additional air between notes. Comet’s mid-range is similarly set within the signature and has a thicker, more robust note weight and more natural timbre. Clarity again goes to the SG which makes the Comet sound slightly stuffy on some tracks. SG’s bass is more textured and hits harder, not to be unexpected when comparing a full range armature to a single dynamic. SG has a much larger sound stage with greater width and depth and more nuanced imaging, layering and separation. I feel the SG outperforms the Comet in nearly every metric, save for that the Comet sounds less cold and more natural and timbre accurate.
SG falls behind in build here too. The Comet’s bullet-proof, hand-polished steel shells really are a work of art, though the design isn’t to everyone’s tastes. I prefer the Comet’s cable which lacks the rubbery, springy qualities of TFZ’s. However, it isn’t perfect either. The somewhat plasticky sheath gets pretty stiff in the chilly Canadian weather we’re experiencing. This introduces additional cable noise and if wearing the Comet cable down makes it very easy to inadvertently tug them out of place. SG offers up more isolation.
I had high expectations for the Secret Garden HD based on my past experiences with TFZ, and if I’m to be honest, out of the box I was a little underwhelmed. However, even after just a few hours of listening I had warmed up to them and could see that these were taking TFZ’s sound in a new direction. They weren’t just more of the same, an experience I had with the Exclusive lineup and a few of the Series models. The SG’s boutique-style CIEM-like shell has some glorious character to its design and is very comfortable, once you’ve found that prime interaction with your outer ear. Isolation is pretty amazing. The sound quality is detailed and crisp with great extension at either end, though I can see the somewhat cold nature being a turn-off for those that prefer a warmer sound. Overall, they feel like a completely different product from anything TFZ has released in the past and I hope they keep going in this direction. Once you become accustomed to signature, they sound fantastic and perform very well.
The SG is a great earphone and well worth an audition if you have the chance, but keep in mind power creep from cheaper models in the lineup, specifically the King Pro. The King Pro is warmer and smoother which I suspect will find favor with a wider audience. It has a much better cable. The metal shell is more durable and easier to fit comfortably. Where the Secret Garden really earns it’s keep over the King Pro, elevating it beyond the more budget friendly models in the TFZ lineup, is in it’s tuning balance. Namely, the lack of an invasive mid-bass hump along with some impressive detail and clarity.
Thanks to you for reading. And once again, thank you to Linsoul for the opportunity to give these a listen and to share my thoughts with the community.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – Skelethon (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)