For as long as I’ve been into audio, I’ve always appreciated a warm, natural sound and enveloping, comforting bass. I’m always on the lookout for the next great warm and bassy piece of gear I’ll be putting on my ears, or in this case, in my ears.
The HiSoundAudio Popo comes in two flavours, bassy and non-bassy. Naturally, the bassy version finds its way to my ears. The Popo is excellent. It’s an inexpensive, unassuming IEM, that is until you get it in your hands and into your ears.
The packaging was very Spartan, nothing but a simple plastic case with the Popos tucked inside the cardboard cutouts. I took out the pack of silicon tips that came with the Popos and pretty much threw away the plastic box. It’s something you will never need again.
That said, although the Popo came with nothing but tips, what a generous tip assortment indeed! There are multiple kinds of tips of all sorts – small tips, wide tips, long tips, bi-flange, triple-flange, the Popo has at least two of each! I think there must be at least twenty sets of tips in here, I really am too lazy to count. But there’s a lot, and you’ll knock yourself out if you want to try to find the best one. Also included is a very nice shirt clip, small profile but clips on to most cables and to your shirt.
As for the Popos themselves, they are, in a word, gorgeous. Made out of a mix of African Rosewood and plastic, with a beautiful red cable that doesn’t tangle and keeps a good constitution, these are a handsome pair of IEMs. They are very light, being made of wood and plastic, and sit in your ears easily depending on the tip you use. For a 3,000 peso IEM these look and feel good. Herein lies the few complaints I have with the Popo’s:
Straight plug. I always prefer angled, but it’s a minor issue.
The wooden casings are of different sizes! It seems that for the price, quality control took a bit of a dip. One earpiece is clearly longer than the other. It’s no biggie though, and doesn’t seem to affect sound. In a way, it’s good because I can distinguish which piece is left or right just by touch.
The venting is found on the wood, but the venting is a bit clumsy and mars what is an otherwise perfectly beautiful earpiece. The vent looks like it was drilled with a hard metal toothpick by a 1st grader. Otherwise, it’s fine.
All things considered, the Popo looks marvellous and is one of the more attractive IEMs I’ve seen, up there with the JVC FX700 and the Dunu Hephaes. The beautiful cable and the wooden cups really do wonders. You just gotta love that Rosewood. The LCD2 is made of Caribbean Rosewood, this African counterpart is no less classy.
Fit and Isolation
The Popos fit really well, and because of its lightness, tends to stay in place. With the huge assortment of tips, you’re almost guaranteed to find something that fits in your ear. If not, you can juxtapose the tips with any of the “large-canal” tips you may have, such as the ones found on the Monster Turbines, the old Shure e2c series, the Dunu branch of IEMs, Ultimate Ears, and a lot of other brands.
Microphonics are present, about average for an IEM and will be a problem if you are the type that cannot stand the sound, if you plan to jog with them, or if windshear is a problem. Since the cable has little memory effect and no chin-slider, the Popos cannot be worn over ear without ear guides, as the cable tends to unfurl. So take this into consideration.
The only other issue I have with the Popo is related to fit. It’s not a dealbreaker, but is still an annoyance. No matter what tip I used with the Popo, and I must have tried at least fifty different kinds of tips from my collection, it has a “squishy” sound that occurs when you insert the tips into your ear. Depending on the tip, this sound will occur again when you press the IEM into your ear or try to adjust it outwards. The squishing seems to come from where the silicon of the tip contacts the plastic of the earpiece, and I have no explanation for it. I have had IEMs with the same kind of shape and plastic as the Popo (like the Miu MR2 for instance) and I never had this squishing problem.
It is a minor annoyance, and usually doesn’t manifest once the IEMs are in listening position, though sometimes if the cable gets tugged the squishing sound comes out like a bad habit. All in all, like said it’s not a dealbreaker, but I hate that the Popo is the only IEM I have ever had this issue with. Your mileage may vary, it may be a quirk with my ears, but if you have this problem, you’ll probably just get used to it and forget it as you typically will not hear it while doing your listening.
Now that that’s all done, let’s talk about what you’re here for: The Sound.
In a word, the Popo sounds fantastic. I just recently bought a Klipsch X10, which was one of my favourite IEMs ever. I have to say, since I got the Popo’s, I’ve been reaching for the X10s less and less. Let’s keep things in perspective, though.
I am a basshead. As I stated earlier, my tastes fall towards the laidback and bassy. I like a warm, natural sound. I prefer a fun sound over a cold, analytical one, but I like to have detail and clarity. I also like the music reasonably laidback, but not so much that I strain to listen for the details.
With all that said, the Popo does a miraculous job juggling all my requirements and doing just all the right things to keep me happy.
The bass-version of the Popo is bassy. No way around that. These are quite bassy, but are not overly so. They are bassier than the Klipsch X10, for reference, but not quite as bassy as the the two Dunu models that recently visited my lab (the Trident and the Hephaes) nor are they as bassy as the Turbines, the IE8, or the Metro.Fi 220. They are bassier than the Spider RealVoice.
But they have enough low end to keep me happy. The low end is full and enveloping, rather than the hard-hitting kind. The Hephaes was hard-hitting. The Turbines were hard-hitting. These are just voluminous and full, adding that much sought-after warmth without pounding your head in with a sledgehammer.
The bass is quite close to that of the Dunu Trident, albeit the Trident has a smidgen more bass.
However, the Popos have a lot more going for it than just the right amount of bass. The mids are not particularly forward, indeed the Popo as a whole has a laidback feel to it, however it’s not excessively laidback like the Trident. Nor is it too forward or intimate like the X10. It manages to maintain a spacious sound while keeping the mids just in the right spot to be detailed and yet not in your face.
The mids are fairly unassuming, although there is a bit of coloration there in the lower mids where the bass bleeds in a bit. That said, vocals do come out quite impressively and fully. Because the mids are just forward enough, you do get the sensation that the singer is singing about five feet in front of you. Because of the rich bass, instruments like guitars and most drums have a rich texture that is very satisfying. Of course, electronic beats and other instruments like bass drums that set the beat are very, very good on the Popos. On the other hand, jazz mainstays like saxophones and trumpets seem to lack a bit of air.
The treble on these is very smooth and rarely ever harsh, but they won’t fix a bad recording from sounding unpleasant. There’s a decent amount of sizzle on the high hats and other high frequency instruments, but it’s not something you can compare to a good armature IEM if you’re a treble head.
Soundstage is all in all medium-sized. It’s decent, and because of the “just right” mids you get a decent headroom, but these are not a wide-open sounding IEM by any stretch. They are fairly laidback, but with the right amoung of forwardness to retain the detail in the mids. They aren’t as wide-sounding as the Spider Realvoice, for instance, which managed to sound wide while having a wonderful emphasis on the vocals.
So what do I think all in all?
The Popo is just an incredible IEM for an incredible price. It has very few rivals when it comes to music that relies on strong beats like chillout, hiphop, and modern pop. It’s not as bassy as, say, a JVC FX500 but it doesn’t have to be, and its balance of mids and the cozy, ambient soundstage it has make up for it, and many listeners don’t need that much bass and in fact prefer to have just enough to ensure the mids are preserved.
For all the great sounding beats and vocals I got from the Popos, the mids aren’t as liquid as I would have wanted. Even coming out of the Mustang, which is a very, very good amp for mids, or plugged into the E9, the mids still lacked the kind of liquid midrange you would get from the Merlins , but when you consider that these retail for like a tenth of the price, you realize you have an awesome deal. In terms of the prowess of the midrange you’d be hard-pressed to find anything as good in this price range, and this swings well right up there with things like the Monster Turbine Golds or the IE6, which are four to five times the price.
I would easily say the Popo beats out a lot of rivals in its price range (the 3k range or $50 range) like the Monster Turbines, the Metro.Fi 220 (never though I’d find a rival to best these at this price), the Fischer Eternas and a lot of other things I probably have yet to hear.
Heck, I’d almost go as far to say that the Popo is one of the best IEMs I have had so far, in any price range. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve had IEMs for 1,000 pesos and some many times that. And I can honestly say the Popo is among the best of them. I say this because of the combination of benefits I get from it that few IEMs really manage.
Great looks. Wood, red cable, the Popo just looks rad.
Fit. The Popos are lightweight, fit really well worn down, and have decent microphonics.
Tangle Free. The red cable isn’t just for looks. It has virtually no memory effect, keeping it tidy, and hardly ever tangles. It’s a healthy, loose and free cable that every manufacturer should use. I’m that in love with it.
The right kind of great sound. And that’s the clincher. For a basshead like me, these afford the perfect blend of bassiness, mid detail, and easy listening to keep me happy.
Very few IEMs can really claim all these benefits to the degree the Popo does. I have very, very few complaints with it (like the squishy sound), it’s just such a complete package, and at such a low price that you’d even classify it as an impulse buy. The only things on my wishlist that I”d like to see the Popo do are: 1. Fix the squishy sound 2. Have an angled plug.
Amazingly, I have no other real beefs with this IEM. And those aren”t even major issues. At 3k that”s unheard of. Even the my old favorite and standby, the Metro.Fi 220, had a major issue with the quality of the cable — too much memory effect and tangles. And it looks cheap and ugly. The Turbine series, another of my favorites, had dreadful fit issues due to the weight; they just kept falling. However good they sounded, they were really inconvenient to wear and they had serious durability issues. TF10? Another great IEM, but it had worse fit issues than the Turbines and the durability was even worse. Even the X10 has durability issues with the strain reliefs, and the wire is too wiry and tangly.
The Popo has none of these issues. And sounds great to boot. I really can”t ask for more. These have really been a welcome surprise and I know a lot of people are going to be surprised by this package.
I did all my listening with the Popos out of a companion product, the HiSoundAudio Studio V, and with an iPod Nano 6G -> LOD -> RSA Mustang. Listening selection was a choice of jazz, chill out and game music along with a healthy dose of alternative. I”d like to thank our sponsors (especially HiSoundAudio) for providing me the opportunity to review these.