NiceHCK X49: An Armature For The Masses

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out a budget friendly single armature earphone from retailer turned earphone manufacturer, the NiceHCK X49.

I’ve been a fan of NiceHCK from the early days, well before retailers like them, Penon Audio, and LendMeUrEars started developing and selling their own products. It was a little odd to see them head in this direction, but using a small amount of brain juice and foresight could see that it made sense. Chinese HiFi was taking off and they were sales leaders. Why not make and pitch their own products to steal some sales away? NiceHCK has done a good job with their products to date with models like the DB3, NX7, and various accessories being generally well-received within the community.

I’ve spent way more time with the X49 over the last few months then most reviewers will in their lifetime, and I’m no less of a fan of it now than I was during the honeymoon period. Let’s take a closer look at why, shall we?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What I Hear Single armature earphones have their limitations, and the X49 is no exception. HOWEVER, done right they can provide a very satisfying listening experience. I’d say the X49 comfortably achieves that.

Treble out of the X49 has a lower region bias with small raise in the brilliance region that keeps it from lacking any sense of sparkle or air between notes. Detail and clarity is quite good, though there is a hint of splashiness present, as well as some grittiness that keeps it from sounding particularly smooth or refined. Notes attack and decay quickly, as is typical of armatures. Despite this, and I think down to the light splashiness, the X49 can get overwhelmed on busy tracks or at high volumes leaving the treble region in particular uncomposed.

The mids are more typical of an armature-based earphone; forward, clear, full of detail and very coherent. Timbre is actually quite nice as well, despite some dryness and a bit of a metallic edge that creeps in at times. Both male and female vocals are well represented with neither sounding more prominent than the other. The subtle warmth provided by the X49’s midbass does lend itself to benefits female vocalists though, given them a sweetness that male vocalists lack.

Bass on the X49 is not going to win over those that want to be swept away in a sea of long, lush waves of noise. It is quite reserved. Still boosted above neutral, but not by a whole lot. Anyone coming from dynamic driver equipped earphones will probably find the X49 lacking until they acclimate to the sound. Once done, however, they will be rewarded with good extension, plenty of speed and texture, and just a generally well controlled, pleasant low end that can handle some satisfying genre variability.

Unfortunately, the X49’s sound stage is quite small. Well-rounded, sure, but not particularly spacious. As a result music feels closed in and personal with vocalists giving you and you alone a show. I like how the X49 images, with sounds moving confidently around their ‘Genie’s Lamp’ sized space. Instrument separation and layering is also solid, until of course you start throwing anything particularly complicated at the X49. When that happens, it starts to lose composure and congestion settles in. The same thing happens at high volumes, revealing this single armature’s single greatest weakness. Keep the volume at reasonable levels and avoid 110 piece orchestras and everything will be alright.

Overall I find the X49 to be a well-tuned earphone little earphone with nice mids, solid bass, and good treble detail. I’d really like a larger sound stage and a bit more control in the upper regions, but there’s nothing going on that I’d say so crippling to make it unusable. It’s a great sounding product that isn’t absent of flaws. Not to be unexpected given the very low price.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

Moondrop SSR (39.99 USD): I typically try not to compare with products that completely outclass what I’m reviewing, or that it completely outclasses. The SSR is, in my honest opinion, one of the most underappreciated and underrated products of 2020. That I decided to compare the X49 to it should give you an idea of just how capable I think NiceHCK’s release is.

Starting with treble, neither is particularly energetic in the brilliance region. That said, the X49 has more emphasis there giving it a hint of additional sparkle, though this comes at the expense of some splashiness not heard in the SSR. It sound less refined, especially on light of how much smoother the SSR’s presentation is top to bottom. Speed oddly feels about on par despite the X49 being equipped with an armature vs. the SSR’s tiny dynamic. Notes attack and decay rapidly through each. I suspect this comes down to Moondrop’s beryllium coating that acts to stiffen and speed things up for the SSR. Detail and texture is also about on par with the X49’s more raw sound resulting in a more edgy, gritty presentation. I personally enjoy both and revel in this very specific difference to how they sound since they end up being very much complimentary. The prominence of v-shaped signatures in our hobby seems to have resulted in a slew of listeners allergic to forward mids, and that’s a shame because both of these products have a gorgeous midrange. The SSR’s is silky smooth and rife with detail backed by just the right amount of warmth to benefit artists of all genders. The X49 feels just as forward and gender neutral in it’s presentation, but sprinkles in a hint of dryness that I find relatively common to full-range balanced armatures. Again, this nigh raspiness the X49 adds to vocals is a wonderful compliment to the SSR’s refinement. Bass on both is politely elevated with the SSR having the edge on sub-bass extension, mid-bass impact, and overall visceral feedback. Texturing is good on both, though the X49 has an edge. Again, speed is about the same with both showing rapidity in their attack and decay qualities. That said, I find the SSR to handle rapid bass with greater ease. As tracks get more and more busy, or you increase the volume, the limitations of the X49’s single full-range armature begins to show. It doesn’t help that is has a much more intimate presentation than the SSR with a very compact sound stage that doesn’t leave music nearly as much room to play around in. This is my only major qualm with the X49 and what holds it back from greatness. Still, pending you’re playing within it’s limitations, imaging is quite nuanced, instruments are well-separated and tracks decently well layered. Toss on something busy or crank the volume and the X49 loses composure in places the SSR has no issues. Overall I prefer the SSR, but the X49 isn’t too far off and provides nearly as an enjoyable a listen.

EarNiNE EN120 (79.00 USD): The EN120 is getting up there in age at this point, but given it has a chromed metal housing surrounding a single balanced armature with a fixed cable, these two had to be compared. The treble presentation between these two is very similar with a lower treble bias and small upper treble peak to give off some sparkle. I’d say the EN120 is slightly more linear though, giving the two regions a more even emphasis. While both offer pretty great detail and clarity, the EarNiNE’s in-house developed drivers are hard to beat. The X49 falls just short in that regard as a result and it feels like an all-rounder vs. the EN120 which is more neutral and analytic. Mids are again similarly emphasized. Once again, however, EarNiNE’s drivers shine. They have a very unique sound to them most notable in the mids that gives the presentation a dry, crispy feel to it. This means that the EN120 isn’t as accurate when it comes to timbre, even if it is a lot more interesting to listen to. Therefore, as much as I adore the midrange of EarNiNE products, it’s not technically accurate so the X49 gets the edge. The additional warmth added in by the midbass presentation of the X49 also helps with this. The EN120 has a near-neutral low end. Compared to the X49, and most other products for that matter, it comes across a little anemic. It’s got the speed and texture to match the X49, it just lacks the emphasis which hinders it’s suitability across genres. While the X49 has a very compact sound stage, the EN120’s is even smaller given off a complete in-the-head listening experience. This quality fits with it’s somewhat analytic presentation, but it also means it’s even more difficult than on the X49 to properly immerse yourself in your music. I still love the EN120 and the unique qualities of EarNiNE’s drivers, but the X49 is the better product. It’s larger sound stage and more versatile tune leaving me wanting when I switch from the X49 to the EN120, something that doesn’t really happen when going from the EN120 to the X49.

IMGP4844

In The Ear Similar in design to Final’s E-Series of dynamic earphones, the X49 utilizes very compact, lightweight, bullet-shaped housings that work equally well with the cable wrapped up and around the ear, or hanging down in a more traditional manner. Outside of some mild tapering on the rear of each housing as well as the and model info laser etched into the metal, there isn’t much to to speak of here. Fit and finish is excellent with tight seams and neatly installed metal grills. The fixed cable enters into the bottom rear of each housing, protected by a stubby rubber relief that also advises which channel is which thanks to raised L and R lettering. A rubber o-ring wrapped around the left cable is also used to more quickly denote the left channel.

The cable is a very basic black, rubber-sheathed affair. There is a hint of stickiness that catches on skin, but slides smoothly enough over clothing so as not be an issue. It doesn’t retain memory of bends or kinks, but it does transmit a fair bit of noise up and into the ear whenever the cable bumps around. Wearing the X49 with the cable wrapped around the ear works to mitigate this. The hardware used is also very basic but perfectly serviceable. The straight jack is absolutely tiny with a somewhat short and stiff relief. It’s not great, but it gets the job done. The same could be said about the compact rubber y-split. Unfortunately there is no relief entering or existing the split, so expect that to be a failure point. They also omitted a chin cinch which would have been a welcome addition to help deal with the microphonics.

Comfort is outstanding. Since the X49 is so small and light, it almost entirely disappears when being worn. This is especially true when wearing it cable-up since what little weight there is ends up being dispersed more evenly around the ear. Isolation is also well above average despite the housing being ventilated. Even with the stock tips, walking along a busy street I can listen at my usual low volumes without having to pump it up to compensate for noise bleeding in.

In The Box The X49 arrives in a very unassuming white box covered in a white sheath, NiceHCK printed on the front. Flip to the back to find some basic specifications and model information, with no real flourishes to draw the eye. If you like minimal packaging, this is it. Sliding off the sheath reveals the X49 nestled tightly into a white cardboard covered foam insert, the fixed cable neatly wrapped and tucked under a cardboard insert alongside the accessories. In all you get:

  • X49 earphones
  • Single flange tips (s/m/l)
  • Velcro cable tie
  • Shirt clip
  • Manual

If you are one of those who are offended by a company that puts time and effort into crafting a memorable unboxing experience, you’ll be right at home here. This is about as simple and basic as it gets. It wastes none of your precious time and enables you to access the X49 immediately. The included tips are the same generic set you get with numerous other products, and they work very well with an earphone of this style. I had no issues using the pre-installed mediums for the majority of my listening time.

Final Thoughts This is my favourite product from the brand to date. The compact shell is comfortable and attractive with a good cable handling music transmission. Sure, it would be great if it were removable, but it’s not so we can be happy that they used a quality wire, even if it looks pretty darn vanilla.

The X49 doesn’t disappoint on the sound front either, with a versatile, capable tune that sounds excellent with a wide variety of musical genres. Where it falls short is in the sound stage which is very compact leading to congestion at high volumes or on particularly busy tracks. Listen at reasonable volumes and avoid crazy busy music and you’ll be fine.

Overall a very nice product. If you’re curious about balanced armatures and want to try them out without spending a ton, this is a fantastic example of the breed and well worth your time.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Nappoler with HiFiGo for sending over a sample of the X49 for review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions and do not represent NiceHCK, HiFiGo, or any other entity. At the time of writing the X49 was on sale for 16.99 USD, down from 42.48 USD: https://hifigo.com/products/nicehck-x49-single-ba-balanced-armature-driver-mini-earphone

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 20-20KHz
  • Impedance: 22ohms
  • Sensitivity: 110dB/mW
  • Driver: Single balanced armature

Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, FiiO M3 Pro, FiiO BTR3K, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

Fleetwood Mac – Rumors

Tobacco – F****d Up Friends

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s