Cat Ear Mia: Solid Foundation

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out the Cat Ear’s first release, the Mia.

A few months back I was approached by a peer about his new earphone brand and upcoming release, asking if I’d be interested in giving it a listen and writing a review. After being provided with some additional product details that looked promising, I agreed to give it a whirl.

The Mia is a single dynamic earphone with 8mm drivers. The traditional barrel-shaped housing is CNC’d metal with removable cables via MMCX connectors. There is also a simple tuning system in place via removable rubber-o-rings. A lot of major releases in the Chinese Hi-Fi scene this year have danced around that magical 150 USD price point. I was pleased to see Cat Ear taking a more reasonable approach to the Mia’s pricing, dropping it onto the market at 99 USD.

How does the Mia do as the brand’s freshman release? Let’s find out.

What I Hear

Tips: The Mia comes with two sets of tips, only one of which I enjoy using with the product. Starting with the Sony hybrid clones, I’m less enthused. The small bore bloats the midbass and constricts the sound stage which take away from the already minimal treble emphasis. Good tips, but not a great pairing with the Mia. The wide bore tips on the other hand? Those are quite nice. The wide bore helps balance out the bass, brings up the treble, and releases the sound stage.

Tuning Rings: Despite the measurements showing the Mia sounding virtually identical with or without the rings in place, listening says otherwise. Without the rings installed, the sound stage feels wider and deeper, midbass less bloated, and clarity improves across the board. I see no reason to use the rings, save for a slight improvement to passive noise reduction. My testing was done without them.

Treble is rolled off in the brilliance region with focus in the upper ranges being squarely in the presence region. This means the Mia is not particularly sparkly or vibrant. The lower treble peak doesn’t really do much to counter the Mia’s underwhelming detail and clarity, while leaving instruments presenting as harsh and brittle. This heightens an unnaturalness that pervades throughout the general sound. However, notes are dense and full which is quite nice, and backed by realistic attack and decay qualities.

The midrange is to my ears the most enjoyable aspect of the Mia, though it isn’t without some qualms. For the most part it is well presented and retains good presence next to the bass and treble. Vocalists and instruments have a satisfying weight and thickness to them. Unfortunately, at times vocals can sound nasally and somewhat muddy, particularly with male singers, so I tended to stick with instrumental tracks or female vocalists which better suit the Mia. Timbre quality is acceptable, but somewhat unnatural as noted earlier, with sounds having a crispy edge to them.

The low end of the Mia is mainly focused on the mid-bass region thanks to a fairly prominent roll-off further down. This leaves the Mia lacking in visceral feedback with notes that should slam and rumble feeling soft and impact free. The mid-bass focus also highlights minimal texturing. Overly smooth bass can work when you have excellent detail and clarity elsewhere to back it up, such as on the BQEYZ Spring II, but the Mia kinda misses the mark. At least it’s quick enough to avoid congestion on all but the fastest or most congested tracks. I’d avoid using the Mia with metal since rapid double-bass tends to meld into one long, wavy note.

With the tuning rings removed, the Mia’s sound stage is quite wide and reasonably deep giving it a spaciousness that you might not expect given the lack of upper treble airiness. Imaging is a little vague off centre but picks up in accuracy and nuance the further out you go. Tracks can sound quite layered with individual instruments well separated, until you toss something particularly congested or complicated at the Mia. It just doesn’t have the clarity to handle overly busy music leading to muddiness.

Overall I find the Mia to be too safely tuned. While I can certainly enjoy my time listening to music with it, the lack of detail combined with notable rolling off at either end leaves it feeling a bit lifeless. As an earphone to listen with while going about your day it is fine, but for more focused listening it falls flat. It’s absolutely competent, but not quite as competitive as I was hoping it would be.

Compared To A Peer

KB EAR Diamond (79.99 USD): KB EAR’s single dynamic has a heavier v-shape to it’s signature. It has notably more emphasis in the brilliance region giving it a much more lively and energetic feel. That lively feel is backed by a looser, less controlled, splashier sound than what the Mia outputs. The Diamond is lacking in fine detail, just like the Mia, though not to the extent of Cat Ear’s offering. I’m not really a fan of the way either presents the treble region. The mids on these two earphones are quite different. The Mia’s is warmer, more forward, and thicker, where the Diamond’s is leaner, more detailed, and brighter sounding. Sibilance is not an issue with either to my ears. I lean slightly towards the Diamond as my preference thanks to the notable increase in clarity and detail. Bass on the Diamond is significantly less balanced with tons of sub-bass power rumbling away where the Mia trails off. While I find the Mia’s mid-bass a bit too prominent, the Diamond takes it completely overboard leaving it basically ever-present regardless of the track. It can be fun at times and works well outdoors, but I’ll take the Mia’s low end, even if, once again, it falls short to the Diamond on texture and detail. The Diamond’s soundstage is tiny, and that is evident pitting it against the Mia. The Diamond images significantly better off centre though, with this advantage dimming the further effects move away. Track layering is quite similar while I’ll give the Diamond the nod when it comes to instrument separation.

In terms of build, the Diamond looks and feels quite a bit more premium. The Diamond is significantly heftier with a more complicated contrast filled design thanks to the carbon fibre face plate with gold logo insert, and the large gold-coloured nozzles. Visually it’s significantly more eye catching. That carries over to the cable which is twice as thick, more flexible, not that much heavier, and again, looks much more distinct. If I asked someone which they thought was the more premium model, I’d be surprised if they chose the Mia. The Mia is built just as well (and is more comfortable), it’s just not as visually distinct. To some that will be a big plus.

While the Diamond is the more visually appealing and technically competent of the two, the extreme mid-bass, tiny sound stage, and splashy treble left me enjoying the Mia more on the same tracks.

Moondrop Starfield (109.00 USD): The Starfield is a benchmark product in my opinion, easily going head-to-head with earphones significantly more expensive. Sooooo, while the Mia was quite competitive with KB EAR’s Diamond, I find it falls far shorter than the 10 USD price difference between it and the Starfield would suggest. The Starfield’s signature is more balanced with better end-to-end extension, though still pretty tame in the brilliance region. It is more detailed and better textured everywhere with more accurate timbre and better male vocal reproduction. Where they are about even is in note control, and I do find the Mia to sound slightly wider, though not as deep. Imaging, layering, and separation are all less impressive than the Starfield.

When it comes to build, the Mia fares better. While the Starfield is definitely the more eye catching of the two with it’s shimmering blue and purple paint job and deep blue cable, it has been plagued with reports of driver failure and the delicate paint chipping to reveal repurposed Kanas housings. I wouldn’t expect this to be an issue with the Mia since their earpieces, to my knowledge, are unique to the brand (one of the reasons I was interested in it). And while I love the Starfield’s lightweight braided cable, many found it to be somewhat flimsy and not overly confidence inspiring for long term use. The tighter wind of the Mia’s cable has me thinking it will be a bit more durable, though the rubbery feel and slight stickiness has me preferring Moondrop’s cable.

Overall it should come as no surprise that I prefer the Starfield. Despite it’s potential failings, I find the tuning to be more mature and complete with a visual styling that is organic and beautiful. The mere 10 USD price difference further solidifies my preference.

In The Ear The Mia’s aluminum shells use a design I haven’t seen anywhere else which is refreshing. The more traditional barrel-shaped housing is also a nice change of pace from the low profile, cable-up design that seems to be dominant nowadays. Lots of people seem to prefer a more basic cable-down design which the Mia satisfies. Of course, you can always wear it cable up if you want. Fit and finish is excellent with no misaligned parts or sloppy workmanship, though you might find the protruding MMCX ports to look like they should sit more flush with the body of the housing. Their placement is intentional since they hide a vent that is covered by the tuning rings when installed, and hold the rings in place. The metal nozzle grill is neatly applied. The L/R markings located under the body of each earpiece, directly in front of the MMCX port, feel like they’re laser etched in place so you won’t have to worry about them wearing off.

Going back to the tuning rings, I suspect they will be fragile in the long term since one was already snapped out of the box. I would like to see Cat Ear redesign this system. Maybe swap to a more traditional removable nozzle filter, or it they want to stay unique maybe try designing a twistable metal or plastic collar where the rubber ring would normally sit. Could even try a variable vent design similar to what Accutone did with the Taurus. Or they could ditch the tuning system entirely since the Mia sounds better, in my opinion, without the rings installed.

Cat Ear put a lot of emphasis on their cable which, like every other aspect of the product, has gone through cryogenic treatment at -196 degrees. Why is that important? Not a clue, but it sounds cool. The cable itself utilizes a familiar four strand wind similar to what we’ve seen from TFZ Secret Garden HD. While a bit more rubbery and slightly sticky than I’d prefer, it’s far from the bouncy, sticky, Flubber-like mess that was TFZ’s attempt. The hardware used is something I really like about this cable. The MMCX plugs are metal and very compact. The metal y-split is also quite compact with just hint of strain relief entering the bottom. There is no strain relief leading out the top since Cat Ear opted to install a metal chin cinch, a handy feature that is often absent (such as on the Starfield’s cable). The straight plug is also fairly compact with fine knurling for grip and a small, stiff strain relief that, if we’re being honest here, probably won’t do much to protect the cable from major bends or tugs. While I quite enjoy actually using the cable, this style has fallen out of favour for the fancier, more flamboyant cables included with products like FiiO’s FD1 and TinHiFi T3.

Pending you are using tips that seal properly, the Mia slots in place securely and does little to announce it’s presence. I can wear these cable up or down for hours at a time. The only time I experienced discomfort was when wearing them cable down for a few hours. The length of the earpieces means they dip down at the end and put just a hint more pressure on the top of the ear canal. Eventually that turned into a bit of a hot spot. Taking a quick break helped, as did looping the cable up and around my ear which improved weight distribution. Isolation on the Mia is pretty average with the tuning rings in place, and slightly worse with them removed. However, once music was playing the amount of passive noise reduction provided was perfectly serviceable in moderately loud locations. You’ll likely need to up the volume in noisy areas though, or better yet, switch to foam tips.

In The Box The Mia comes in a fairly large black and red themed lift-top box. On the front is the usual branding and model info with the face of a cat lurking in the background, seemingly ready to pounce on unsuspecting passerbys. Flipping to the back you find a list of specs, features and measurements, along with location and contact information for the brand. Lifting the lid revels the earphones and cable nestled within and around a dense, dual-layer foam pad. Beneath lies another cardboard box within which are all the accessories. In all you get:

  • Mia earphones
  • MMCX cable
  • Black Sony-hybrid style tips (s/m/l)
  • Pink single flange wide-bore tips
  • Half-moon shaped carrying case
  • 1x pair of spare o-rings

Overall a pretty decent accessory kit within a fairly standard unboxing experience. I think tossing in a couple extra pairs of o-rings would have been wise since they’re easy to lose and somewhat delicate. The Sony-hybrid style tips are a little stiffer and more glossy than the real deal, but they’re close enough to be basically indistinguishable during actual use. The pink tips remind me of those FiiO included with their first earphone, the F1. While a little bulky, they are exceptionally durable and provide a fantastic seal. The included case isn’t as flashy as what you get with some of the competition but it’s more pocketable thanks to the flat design. The material used also seems like it’ll be quite durable, but that’s something we’ll have to test over the coming months and years. That said, it has handled the last four months without even a spec of wear which bodes well for the future.

Final Thoughts The Mia is a good starting point for the Cat Ear brand. While it hasn’t completely won me over and is probably priced just a little higher than it should be, there are plenty of aspects I like. The housings look nice and are comfortable, the cable isn’t flashy but in use is pleasant, and the easy going sound is great for long term listening sessions. Where the Mia stumbles for me is in the general lack of detail and texture it provides. This combined with a lack of upper treble energy and rolled off bass leaves it sounding somewhat uninvolved. Someone looking for a truly relaxed sound will probably be a lot more happy with the Mia than myself given my preferences usually lean towards thinner, brighter sounding products. The tuning ring design was also a cool idea, but in practice feels more gimmicky than practical and could use a redesign.

Overall I like the Mia and while it could use some fine tuning, it has me excited to see where the brand goes from here.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A big thanks to Steve at Cat Ear for reaching out to see if I would be interested in covering the Mia, and for arranging a sample. The thoughts within this review are my subjective impressions and do not represent Cat Ear or any other entity. At the time of writing the Mia was retailing for 99 USD and could be picked up through various online retailers; https://www.catearaudio.com/product/mia

Specifications

  • Driver: 8mm dynamic
  • Impedance: 16ohms
  • Sensitivity: 105dB/mW
  • Cable: Silver-plated OFC with MMCX

Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, FiiO M3 Pro, 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

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