NiceHCK EBX21 is a 14.2mm LCP dynamic driver open back earbud featuring an MMCX detachable SPC cable and 5-Axis CNC finishing. It is priced at $219.
Disclaimer: The NICEHCK EBX21 sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. We thank HiFiGo for this opportunity.
To learn more about our previous HiFiGo supplied products reviewed on Headfonics you can click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
I am a bit on the fence with this one. I enjoy the build and the midrange for the most part. But there is an audible dip in the upper mids that is lacking that singer's sparkle that I require and desire. The treble is also relatively flat, while the bass is supremely light on quantity.
I am not sure if something is in the air, or in the water, but it is like 2021 was the Year of the Earbud wars. I recall years ago the fights between Yuin and Sennheiser. Were you team PK1? Or were you Team MX980? Pfft…I was neither, I was too busy enjoying my 9wave Pros at the time. Ha!
I have now reviewed some of the best earbuds that money can buy from a slew of reputable companies such as the Astrotec Lyra Nature Limited Edition which was fantastic. And now, we have a new kitten in the litter to play with…the EBX21.
What the hell is happening to HiFi? I don’t know what is going on, but whatever is happening, for the love of all things holy, don’t you dare stop. 2021 will be the year of the earbud, mark my word.
The EBX21 has been implemented with a 14.2mm driver make of Japanese Liquid Crystal Polymer. A swift Google search of my inventory yielded no results of this type of material used in any earbud that I’ve ever reviewed, so this is new for me too. However, it seems the Moondrop Aria uses a similar design in internal component material. Sadly, that is a model I have not heard.
The company insists that the LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) was specifically used in order to result in a more smooth, more transparent imaging experience.
I can safely say that whatever they used, it sounds good to me and I am really mean when it comes to my earbuds. If they don’t sound good to me, I don’t care what the price is, I won’t use them. I’ll drop a much cheaper Yincrow $5 set in my rig just because it is bass-heavy over higher fidelity, but that is just how I roll.
So, believe me when I say the last few earbuds I’ve reviewed are all stellar sounding and this EBX21 is no different.
The EBX21 has an all-aluminum housing, complete with detachable cable and a much larger stem than the last earbud I reviewed, which was the Astrotec Lyra Nature Limited.
By comparison, the Lyra is tiny and far less bulky. But, these are earbuds, even big earbuds are still quite small. Regarding build though, I can’t see these metal earbuds getting any better. Unless they are handcrafted pieces of art that are carved out of lacquered wood or something, this is as good as it gets for earbuds.
I also do appreciate the large Blue and Red rings around each stem of the EBX21 housing, which denotes which side of your head the earbud is supposed to go in. Such a small gesture makes life easier. I legit hate requiring a macro lens just to find the L and R marks on my other go-to earbud, the UcoTech ES-P1.
I can tell you though, the ES-P1 feels like a thick tank and a solid slab of metal, whereas the EXB21 feels like standard aluminum housing. You can tell the difference in metal quality just by holding it and instantly feeling the UcoTech is almost like holding a solid small rod of metal. But, that UcoTech is also nearly 175USD more than the EXB21.
Comfort & Isolation
As far as the comfort factor goes for me, I don’t seem to have a problem with using them for a few hours at a time. But, like all earbuds, after those few hours are up, especially if I am moving around, my ears get a bit soar.
But the EBX21 is fairly light and I honestly feel like they are more comfortable than the FiiO EM5, which I also reviewed not too long ago.
The included foam rings are fine, I vastly prefer using the foamies versus going naked and having metal touch my ear all day. As far as Isolation goes, you don’t get any. The EBX21 is an earbud. It doesn’t seal the inner ear at all, it hangs on the outer ear area.
At 1.2meters long + whatever adapter you choose on checkout (I opted for balanced 2.5mm termination) you’ll get a silver-plated copper tinsel, with a soft fabric cover lacing.
The EBX21 cable is very well thought out and I wish the other earbuds I have here were designed with a Y junction that is so low. I find the cable placement pieces very comfortable and not as intrusion-prone as the other earbuds I’ve mentioned.
Simply put, having the Y-split area that each cable lead flows from a set that low is really a nice feature. I don’t want a heavy piece slamming around my upper chest. I’d rather it be far lower, as it is on this earbud.
The quality of the fabric is also nice and has no microphonic issues, grinding it in my hands produces no sound through the cable and the termination plug is also of good quality. No cheap plastics.
Packaging & Accessories
NICEHCK dropped in a solid little presentation for the EBX21. Inside the standard box, you get a little bit of paperwork with some formalities printed on it. Beyond that, the accessories box, which contains a random clip with the company name on it and some spare foam covers.
Also included, a set of rubber rings for stability in your ear, which I never use, and a nice hard case box. I enjoy seeing these boxes included these days, as I just made a big deal about it in my last review.
I very much prefer this type of box, although, it is on the large size for such a small earbud. I’d prefer it to be a good 1/3 smaller to save weight and room in your storage bags. For $219, this is a good start.
Astrotec’s NICEHCK’s EXB21 is bass light. At 20Hz-32kHz, it is easy to spot it as a more than likely bass light experience. In fact, it is too bass light. The bass response on this earbud is subpar.
You can hardly squeeze a few extra DB’s of low end out even at a +10db bass booster switch. And when you do that, it doesn’t sound pleasant on the low end.
Now, brush that aside because the stock bass experience is very smooth and clean. It just doesn’t have much down there to offer in terms of quantity and responsiveness to desiring more.
What you get is almost what you are going to be stuck with indefinitely. And this pales in quantity comparison to recent additions in this pricing tier from the likes of UcoTech and Astrotec.
The mids are brilliant and clean. Side by side with the much more expensive ES-P1, I feel the mids of the EXB21 to push a much more forward and engaging experience. However, that causes a bit of a downward trend and spiral when comparisons are made directly between the likes of the older FiiO EM5 and the recent Astrotec Lyra Nature Limited.
The EXB21 has a bit of an issue in the upper mids, it is nasal and lacks energy that is coherently presented with the entire mid to treble response. Something is missing there in all vocal tracks, and it is generally found in the very upper mid-section of the chart.
The experience is flat, lacking dynamic drive and engagement. At times, headphones that have a dip in the upper mids tend to sound both forward at times, and then suddenly a bit recessive.
For $219 though, the raw fidelity of the set is spot on and something I would recommend despite that if someone were asking me about the purity and cleanliness factor. This earbud needs more upper mid energy to match the highly forward and engaging rest of the midrange spectrum.
So, the treble side of this earbud is also very flat sounding and lacking sparkle. However, it is very finely detailed. In fact, it is more detailed than the FiiO EM5 but less detailed than the recent Lyra earbud.
Interestingly, all of the above are more on the neutral/clinical side while the ES-P1 (my favorite of them) remains the only wonderfully sparkly and glittering musical earbud of the crop. The top end of the EBX21 is very colorless and lacking a dynamic kick that would make the earbud interesting to me.
That is the subjective side. The objective side is that the quality of the treble is very good in purity factor, the price tag is justified. The treble is also not at all peaky, or sibilant.
Beyond that, the physical strike factor (impact) is moderate. True, the ES-P1 is buttery smooth and the EM5 is harsh, but this EBX21 is right in the middle. So, if you enjoy a flat treble experience with a forward midrange, and something bass light, this is a good option for you.
Staging & Dynamics
You might be put off by some of the things I’ve said, but I assure you that the EBX21 makes up for it in imaging depth of field. Holy smokes, my ES-P1 sounds dead flat and like there is no depth of field compared to this.
In fact, the excellent imaging of the EM5 and the Lyra Nature are audibly bested by the even nicer and more dynamic EBX21 stage depth. This is a titan of imaging. Where the hell did this even come from? I didn’t see this coming. Out of the lot I have right now, this new guy took the win for imaging depth of field factor.
As far as stage width and height go, it is a match for the EM5 and the Lyra. This guy is probably the best in forward-stage presence I’ve heard in years. But that is where the line stops.
While the ES-P1 severely lacks depth compared to this EBX21, it sounds denser, more realistic in presence of each instrument and vocalist which has a more physical solidity factor. By this, I mean the EBX21 is a bit thin sounding and lacks the ability to pinpoint the sounds in the void as well as some other earbuds.
I feel that with the lacking low-end quantity and the lacking sparkle factor to the treble, the EXB21 falls into the category of specialists and not generalists. It doesn’t mesh with many genre applications out there, but if you do enjoy vocalist experiences, odds are good you will enjoy this.
You’ll really enjoy this if your inventory is mostly live performances, with excellent stage depth dynamics to the recording data. That is the genre version of Synergy.
As for hardware, the earbud is only 32Ohm and will play very nicely with your choice of amplifiers and DAC’s. I do not hear any difference in prowess between my xDuoo X3 DAP vs the X3 + an Ultrasone Panther.
I don’t feel the earbud will scale up much beyond raw quality with a better sounding source. You won’t get more bass with extra power, and dynamics in the imaging don’t really change unless your source is trash to begin with in terms of staging qualities. So that’s a good thing…being able to use the earbud with a lower-tier DAP and getting excellent sound out of it.
These days, I prefer to use my xDuoo X3 DAP. It is a lower-end $119USD DAP with no touch screen. I enjoy it because it has great power and versatility, but it also pairs so well with most portable amplifiers out there due to the general tonality that is a supreme taskmaster with how it meshes with amps.
Given that, I do not need to pair the EBX221 with any more experience amplifier or DAC, it sounds great as it is right out of a $119 DAP. With that in mind though, I can squeeze more fidelity out of the experience if I drop in something like the CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 or connect to a home desktop rig and my Burson Conductor 3.
But why? It sounds 90% the same through just the xDuoo alone and nothing else. What I would recommend is getting a great source or amplifier that has a powerful bass booster on it. Squeeze the life out of the EBX21 for every drop of bass you can get, that’s my life motto with it.
The ES-P1 is like smooth hot butter vs the EBX21’s more harsh impact and presentation. The UcoTech ES-P1 is more relaxed sounding, very mellow, and darker.
The EBX21 has a brighter feeling in the background, less dim, but also more prone to slam. The ES-P1 also has audible more bass, but less clarity. The EBX21 has less sparkle on the treble, but it is also much more dynamically deep in the imaging experience.
The EM5 is a more complete beast, it has much more bass but it also hits much harder and sounds much harsher to my ear. It is also made of printed materials while the EBX21 is entirely metallic.
The EM5 feels like a toy in my hand. Again, the NiceHCK EBX21 is a step ahead in stage depth, but the EM5 has much better upper mids, more presence, and less of a nasalness to the experience from the upper mids up through the treble.
I am a bit on the fence with the EBX21. I enjoy the build and the midrange for the most part. But there is an audible dip in the upper mids that is lacking that singer’s sparkle that I require and desire.
The treble is also relatively as flat as can be, while the bass is supremely light on quantity. We just need more quantity on the bottom and top, and this earbud could be great in a v2.0.
For now, the NICEHCK EXB21 is a solid entry at $219. The case is very nice and the earbud cable design is excellent. But that stage depth is really, really good.
Despite what I feel about the rest of the experience, it is hard to put down when listening to some live performances with an artist beyond recorded from a bit of a distance away.
NICEHCK EBX21 Specifications
Drivers: 14.2mm Dynamic Driver
Japan’s LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) Diaphragm
Impedance (Ohm): 32 Ohms
Sensitivity (dB): 121dB/mW
Frequency Response (Hz): 20Hz – 32KHz
Source Plug: 3.5mm TRS (2.5mm TRRS and 4.4mm TRRS are optional)