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Posted April 15, 2011 by mikado in The Sound Bar
 
 

Top Ear Review – Superlux HD381F

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6159_P_1300196476666

 

 

I first heard of the Superlux HD381F at the local forums from our good friend Mike, who was based in China. And boy did it make quite a stir when it arrived, with it being compared to top-tier IEMs like the UE TripleFi 10, Sennheiser IE8 and the 3 driver Westones. As this only costs $15 through our good friend from China, I gave in to the hype and hey, I have nothing to lose from 15 bucks  right?

Packaging

The HD381F comes in a very frugal package – the IEMs, a 0.6m extension cord, 3 types of silicon tips (which are of different color to tell them apart easily) and a cable wrapper. You really get what you pay with the Superlux.

Design, Build Quality, Comfort, Isolation

The design may look familiar as it shares its form factor with a more known model from another brand, the Sony MDR-EX90LP.Of course, the build quality is better than the Sony with its driver housing in metal. The all plastic build of the Superlux may put off a few people who may see it as a fragile piece of equipment, but in the one month I’ve had it I never had any issues with its build or the plastic housing just snapping off. Of course, careful handling also helps. The cables on the other hand are quite thin, with just the right amount of flexibility. My one gripe though is that I find them a bit on the short end – the extension cable is really necessary when using it for long walks and storing your DAP/PMP on your pocket.

The HD381F also differs from the Sony in that it is a semi-open design similar to some earbuds hence there is some  sound leakage to be expected. As such isolation is also a step below than many IEMs, but this design also prevents maximum sound isolation from busy environments where hearing your surroundings is a must.

In terms of comfort, the 381F treads middle ground in my ears  – it doesn’t have that ear hugging form of the Westones and the Shures nor does it approach uncomfortable territory  like the TF10 or even the IE8, which I have to adjust once in a while to get a good seal. I also found the I can still lie on my side when using it despite its semi protruding design.

Specs, Sound Quality

First off, the specs:

Type:Dynamic, In-ear
Frequency Response:20 to 20,000Hz
Driver:Φ13.5mm, neodymium
Rated Impedance:16Ω @ 1KHZ, copper-coated aluminum wire
Sensitivity:103dB SPL, 1mW
Total Harmonic Distortion:˂0.25% at 1KHz/1V
Maximum Power:50mW
Cable:0.6 m (8.2 ft) ‘Y’ cable + 0.65 m extension
Connectors:Φ3.5mm adaptor, gold-plated connections
Net Weight:12g (9.75 oz)

The low impedance of the 381f means that it can be easily driven out of any PMP or DAP, amping is also not necessary but it may help improve the sound quality a bit it’s also quite nice to find out that the 381F is very quiet and hiss is almost nonexistent from any source I used it with. Also, for this review I decided not to use portable amps and note that as of present, I have put around 70 hours of burn in on the 381F.I will also provide a comparison to my other pair of IEM, the Westone UM3X.

Out of the box the 381F sounds fairly neutral leaning towards the bright side a bit. It also was a bit sibilant at first, but burn in tamed some of it. compared to the UM3X, the highs on the 381f has a bit more sparkle but UM3x still wins out on detail and clarity.

With regards to midrange, the 381F is tad laidback – a welcome change from the forward midrange of the UM3X, howevert he most evident flaw of the 381F is that the midrange compared to some top tier IEMs like the UM3X and the IE8 is that it sounds thin and grainy. This is quite evident when I switch back and forth from the UM3x and the 381F

Bass performance meanwhile is surprisingly good with the 381F – there’s just this right amount of kick and quantity and it can go pretty low too. However, I still think that it may fall short for true bass lovers.

The 381F also performs quite well in terms of soundstage, another welcome change from the UM3X. Downside though is that detail suffers quite a bit. In terms of instrument separation, the381F is able to perform quite well, but  sit seems to sound a bit congested against busy  tracks. the UM3X still has this one in the bag with its superior imaging and instrument separation.

Trying out different sources I also found out the the HD381F seems to synergize better with warmer sounding sources. The Nuforce uDAC (version 1) that I have seems to be the best combo I have for this IEM, giving the midrange more body and more slam and quantity on the low-end. Straight out of the Cowon S9, the 381F becomes a bit more dry and analytical, further exposing its thin midrange.

Summary

So is the Superlux HD381F able to stand up toe-to-toe with top tier IEMs? Honestly it still falls a bit short of that distinction. while it performs exceptionally well considering it’s price, I still feel that there are still some shortcomings to it, mostly in terms of detail and resolution. However, I still feel that the 381F can compete with IEMs 5 or even 10 times it’s price, and for 15 bucks, it’s one of the best bargain IEMs out there.

Pros

- Cheap

- Neutral sounding IEM that can do all genres quite satisfactorily

- sparkly yet non fatiguing highs

- good bass performance

- quite comfortable for long listening sessions

Cons

- You get what you pay for – build quality is a bit doubtful and limited included accessories

- slightly thin and grainy midrange

- short cable – using the extension cable is a must


mikado