Monday, October 26, 2015

Xiaomi Pistons 3.0: The Successor

Intro



TL;DR: The successor to the popular Xiaomi Pistons 2.0, the 3.0 offers a remarkably versatile package that is no less than excellent at its price point. Easily one of the best IEMs I've ever reviewed.

Before I begin I would like to thank George at Gearbest.com for providing the review sample of the Xiaomi Pistons 3.0 shown in this review. Please note that I am neither affiliated with Gearbest or any of its staff, nor am I being paid for writing this review. Unless otherwise specified, everything you see written in this review are my own honest opinion, so please take that with a grain of salt. All photos you see in this review are also my own unless otherwise specified. Thanks!

Ahh, the Xiaomi Pistons. The first IEM where I wrote a serious review, and the only one to be as popular as it is. Since that Christmas of 2012 the demand for the Pistons 2.0 exploded into a massive craze that lasted a bit over a whole year. Then, sometime around April of 2014, news came about of a successor to the Pistons 2.0, aptly named the Pistons 3. Upon its release, there was some buzz surrounding them, but the hype train never really took off the way the 2.0 did. And, well, for that entire year I never really took the chance to get a pair and review it myself. That is, until now.

So here I am, back where it all began. The sands of time have swept across the budget IEM market, with it bringing fierce new contenders. How will the Pistons 3 stand up to some of 2015’s latest and greatest? Let's find out after the jump.



== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Accessories

The packaging of the Pistons 3.0 is, well, just like its predecessor – sleek, sharp, and with as small a footprint as ever. The clear plastic cover shows off the silicone carry case of the Pistons 3, its brushed aluminium back showing face up. Now that I think about it, there really is nothing different about the Pistons 3 case. The silicone carry case is similar, the accessories are similar…absolutely nothing has changed in the packaging. Not that I'm complaining.


Design, Build, Microphonics

One thing is for sure about the Pistons 3.0 – it looks stunning. 1More Design (the team behind the designs of the Pistons 2 and 3) really changed up the look of the new Pistons, trading in flashy gold and brown for a more understated black and silver. Either way, though, I think they're both stunning in their own ways. Along with the change in appearance came several improvements made to the build quality of the 3.0. The strain reliefs have been reinforced and integrated into the main housing, the Android-compatible 3-button remote has been redesigned, and the Kevlar-reinforced cable remains.

The 3.0 still employs metal throughout its build, with the gold-plated 3.5mm connector, the Y-split, and the housing of its Android-compatible 3-button remote. As with the Pistons 2.0, the 3.0’s cable causes a considerable amount of cable nose, which can be a bit of a nuisance when walking or running. And unlike the 2.1 (a minor revision of the original 2.0), the Pistons 3.0 does not include a shirt clip, so you're going to have to find a different solution to the cable noise problem.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

The new design of the Pistons 3.0 really helped to improve its fit and overall comfort. Their angled, ergonomic housings easily make them one of the most comfortable IEMs I've tried. The fit is just so effortless that the Pistons 3.0 literally just slide into your ears. Oh yeah, and before you start worrying, they also stay quite securely in your ears as well – even though it does feel like they're about to fall off at any given moment.

According to the official page of the Pistons 3.0, they still employ a dual dampening system similar to that used in its predecessor. As such, the Pistons 3.0 doesn't really isolate as much as your typical IEMs such as the MEE Audio M9 Classic and the Brainwavz Jive. In fact, it actually isolates about as much as the DUNU Titan 1, an IEM actually marketed as a semi-open IEM. The Pistons 3.0 has trouble drowning out the sounds of the city streets and the interiors of loud malls. Though this isolation (or lack thereof) can be a bit of a nuisance, I personally found them pretty useful as they do give you much better aural awareness when you’re out and about.

== Sound ==

Specs


Headphone Type
Semi-open (?) in-ear monitor
Driver Type
Unknown
Frequency Response
20 – 20,000 Hz
Rated Input Power
5 mW
Sensitivity
98 dB
Impedance
32 Ω
Weight
14g
Cable
1.25m Kevlar-reinforced cable
Connector
3.5mm (1/8”) straight gold-plated TRRRS connector
Accessories
4x sets black silicone eartips (XS/S/M/L)


Equipment, Burn-in

The source equipment used in this review is a fifth-generation iPod Touch and an iPad 3 directly running the Pistons 3.0, and a PC running iTunes 12 and Foobar2k powering the 3.0 through a Schiit Fulla DAC/Amp. The EQ apps used in their respective test is TuneShell on iOS and Electri-Q on the PC. The eartips used on the S3 are the included medium size eartips. The list of the test tracks I listen to while reviewing the 3.0 can be found here, although I will include links to specific songs in the review for a more direct point of reference.
                                                                                                                                  
I have burned-in the Pistons 3.0 for about 50 hours prior to writing this review, most of that time comprised of direct listening. Over that period I found no changes in the sound of the Pistons 3.0, and I doubt there would be any more from there on out. Anyways, that’s about as far as I could write about everything else; now let’s get to the real reason you guys are here – the sound!



Sound Quality


Bass:
Coming from the Pistons 2 – an IEM I hold in very high regard – I had high expectations for its successor. And, well, they didn’t exactly disappoint. Not exactly. The Pistons 2.0 had this big, impactful low-end which became one of its main selling points for a lot of non-audiophiles.

The 3.0…well, it’s different. Really different. It’s tighter, faster, and more sedate in comparison to its predecessor. Extension is also pretty good, with the 3.0’s driver capable of reaching down and digging up some of the deeper, more obscure bass notes that are often lost in IEMs in this price range (Spag Heddy - Onvang). But as improved as it is, I feel the low-end still lacks some control and refinement in the low-end, as it doesn’t really pull back as much during recordings that don’t really call for them (Daft Punk - Touch). Keep in mind, however, that the Pistons 3.0 is a $16 IEM, and to be honest, for an IEM at this price point, I don’t think I have any reason to complain.
                                                                                                                                                                  

Midrange:
The Pistons 3.0’s midrange is very much improved from its predecessor. So improved that, if I were to pick one quality of the Pistons 3.0 that really sold it for me, it would be the midrange. Their midrange just has this smooth, slick tone that works so effortlessly with just about everything I throw at it. Vocals and instruments alike are given a bit of weight and thickness in the lower registers, but it’s far from excessive. In fact, I could say it’s just about right, given their performance with solo piano recordings (Yiruma – Indigo). Their clarity is also quite remarkable at this price point. However, I did find them to lose their composure in some busier recordings, sounding rather muddled and cloudy to the ears (Adele – Skyfall). Overall, it’s pretty impressive for an IEM at this price point, and easily holds its own amongst some of the best IEMs I have below $30.


Treble:
Moving on, let’s talk about the treble. Quantity-wise, it did not disappoint, with the treble having enough sparkle to be heard clearly, but is far from being fatiguing to my ears. Quality-wise, it’s actually pretty refined, and especially so for a 16-dollar IEM. I can’t really say it’s completely grain-free, but that seems to be what I’m hearing, and it’s definitely better than some of the other IEMs I’ve tried around the price range of the Pistons 3.0.


Soundstage/Presentation:
Unlike the DUNU Titan 1, the Pistons 3.0 isn’t exactly a “true” semi-open IEM – to clarify, I only likened it as such since they didn’t isolate as much as a regular IEM. And unlike the Titan 1, the Pistons 3.0 also doesn’t have a massive soundstage for an IEM. It’s still remarkably spacious for one, though, and it gives a remarkable sense of space that’s a rarity amongst IEMs at this price. Instrument separation is good, but as I stated earlier, they do tend to sound rather clouded in busier recordings. It isn’t too bad, though, and again, it’s nothing to complain about.



Genre Proficiency:
The Pistons 3.0’s smooth, slightly V-shaped sound signature (bass and treble emphasis) allows it to perform decently with just about any genre. Its thumping low-end really fleshes out the bass-heavy beats of EDM, while its surprising midrange clarity grants the 3.0 a level of versatility not many IEMs in this price range offer.


Summary:
The Pistons 3.0 is an amazing, capable performer, able to play just about every genre I’ve thrown at it without ever sounding…well, bad. At this price point, there’s very little to find fault with in this IEM – so much that I feel like I’m just picking at straws trying to find something negative to write about them. I mean, from a general standpoint they sound excellent. Sure, they do have their drawbacks, but given their very tight price limitations compromises do have to be made. But otherwise, no, the Pistons’ smooth sound and impressively versatile sound signature is something I find incredibly addicting, and incredible at this price point.



Other Media

Games:
One can’t really complain much when you’re using an IEM at the very bottom of the price ladder as a gaming tool. That is, beyond complaining about one’s lack of a more capable headphone or IEM. But with the Pistons 3.0, you don’t need to. I found their imaging abilities to be acceptable for gaming purposes, and though the bass does tend to obscure some of the minor details, again, if you want better performance, you might as well shell out a little extra cash.
                                                                                                                             
                                       
Movies:
Okay, I’ll be honest here, the Pistons 3.0 sound great, but they aren’t exactly one of my top picks for watching movies. Why? Because let’s face it, probably the only time one would take the time to watch a full movie outside of the house would be while you’re travelling. And the Pistons’ mediocre isolation has a very hard time drowning out the sounds of airplanes or most loud, droning noises in general. So as good as they sound, they’re not my go-to movie IEMs.



Amp & EQ Response

With the Schiit Fulla, my IEMs and headphones tend to sound cleaner and slightly brighter in comparison to my portable sources. The low-end becomes tighter, the midrange clearer, and the treble a little more snappy. Well, I found the Pistons 3.0 to react quite differently to a little extra power. Its low-end sounds stronger when given more power – and it’s not the good kind. With the extra power for the Fulla, the 3.0 starts to sound more like the 2.0 with its massive low-end. The rest of the sound signature doesn’t seem to be affected, though, so that’s all I can say about that here.

The Pistons 3.0 are also pretty responsive to EQ, making them quite easy to tweak to one’s tastes. Being an IEM that already sounds good from the get-go, I can’t really suggest any tweaks to improve them further, so I’ll just leave it at that.
                                                                                                                                                               


Value

The Pistons 3.0 can be acquired from a sea of third-party sellers online, but by far the most reliable source is from Xiaomi themselves, selling it at its retail price of 99 Yuan, or about 16 dollars. However, to buy from Xiaomi directly, you would have to live in one of the few countries where they actually sell directly – China, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, or the Philippines. So basically, those in the West will have to buy the Pistons from elsewhere. And, well, once you go third-party, the prices can vary tremendously, with some matching retail price (Gearbest.com) or some pricing a little bit (by that I mean about 10 bucks) higher (Penonaudio.com).

And then you have the issue of dealing with sellers of fake products, which can be quite bewildering to the untrained buyer unless he/she has a lot of experience with purchasing from online marketplaces outside of Amazon or eBay. To save you trouble, both of the links above are reputable sellers of the Pistons 3.0, and if you’re still a bit unsure, you could try asking in the Pistons 3.0 thread.



Comparison


Versus Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 ($16):
So here we are, at the fated duel. The fun, basshead-friendly Pistons 2.0 against its younger, more matured-sounding successor. To be honest, it’s a pretty subjective fight, with a lot of opinions stating either is better than the other. And, well, the more opinions that arise, the less significant each one becomes, so basically, my own opinion won’t really be anything new.

But as it is right now, I feel the 3.0 is a very worthy successor with its major improvements across the board. Throughout the review I’ve made some comparisons of the two, but let me elaborate further. If you have the Pistons 2.0 and loved it, you might be pretty disappointed with the sound signature of this new version, mostly in the bass. The 2.0 was a hit mostly because of its big, fat bass response that clicked with the consumer and bass lover types (myself included). The Pistons 3.0 is significantly more balanced and refined across the board, so if you loved the 2.0’s bass, you will be dismayed with that of the 3.0.


Versus Brainwavz Jive ($30):
The Brainwavz Jive is (as of this writing) one of Brainwavz’ latest IEMs, having been released only about two months ago. Straight out of the box it impressed me with its unusually-refined sound and its radical change of sound when you put on the included Comply eartips. Against the Jive, the Pistons 3.0 loses out sound-wise – simply put, the Jive makes the Pistons 3.0 sound like a $16 dollar IEM. Not that it’s a bad thing, though – in reality, I found myself reaching for the Pistons more than the Jive. As with all reviews, whether I like it or not, that doesn’t really matter to you, the reader, if you happen to take interest in buying either.



== Conclusion ==


The Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 has always been a consumer-oriented IEM – one of the main reasons a number of audiophile Head-Fi’ers spew hate on them while ironically hyping other products. (The reason why I say audiophile Head-Fi’ers is because not all of the people on Head-Fi are middle-class elitists with three amps and at least twice that many headphones.) The Pistons 3.0 is no different. Granted it has gained a lot of noticeable improvements to the build, fit, and the sound, but at its core it’s still an IEM meant for the people who aren’t as crazy about sound quality as audiophiles are. They don’t really have the sound characteristics that could completely outclass that of IEMs within and above its price point.

But all in all, the Pistons 3.0 is an excellent IEM in my opinion, featuring robust construction, a comfortable fit, and a versatile sound signature that bridges the gap between consumer and audiophile. For people like me – the people who can’t (or don’t want to) invest that much into the audio hobby – they’re one of the best entry points into the audiophile world that I can think of. I can’t recommend them enough.
  
Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
8/10
The 3.0 has the same packaging and accessories as its predecessor. Not particularly innovative, but still pretty useful.
Design, Build, Microphonics
8/10
The 3.0’s radical redesign gave it a fresh, sleek look and a much more robust build, making it one of its more noticeable and significant improvements.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8/10
The Pistons 3.0 rank amongst the easiest to fit, and the most comfortable, IEMs I have in my collection. However, its isolation can be a bit wanting to those who want more.
Bass
8/10
Punchy, impactful, and a major improvement over its predecessor. However, it still lacks control and refinement.
Midrange
8/10
Smooth, clear, and accommodating enough for just about anything you throw at it. Could one ask for anything more?
Treble
8/10
Crisp, light, and snappy. Nothing too impressive, but there’s not much else to expect at this price point.
Presentation
7/10
The 3.0 provides an excellent sense of space for an IEM of this price.
Gaming, Movies
7/10
The 3.0’s sound signature is quite accommodating for media beyond music, but their isolation prevents them from doing much good as an in-flight movie kind of IEM.
EQ Response
8/10
They’re pretty responsive to EQ and can be easily tweaked to one’s tastes – within the limits of an EQ’s capabilities, of course.
Value
10/10

Total
8/10
Sixteen dollars. Sixteen dollars for an extremely versatile budget IEM package. That’s all I have to say.

Suggestions for Improvement

Can’t think of any.

Shout-Outs, Gallery

I would like to again thank George at Gearbest.com for providing the review sample of the Pistons 3.0 you see in this review. (Apologies for taking so long to post this!) You could check out the rest of the images I took during the shoot here, and you could check out some more of my reviews here.

This has been thatBeatsguy of DB Headphones; thanks for reading!

About the Company

Xiaomi is a Chinese smartphone manufacturer founded around the year 2009, with their products all offering high performance at a low price. This brought the company to be massively popular in China, eventually overtaking both Samsung and Apple in market share in just four short years.

Company website: http://www.mi.com


Changelog

3 comments:

  1. Hi TBG, awesome review! I was wondering if you could add these to your review schedule - http://www.head-fi.org/products/1more-multi-unit-earphones . Afaik, these earphones are basically the next version of the Pistons, but it seems that noone has reviewed them yet. You can buy them from ibuygou here - https://www.ibuygou.com/p-1more-design-gold-white-piston-hd-edition-earphones-6987.html . Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. to tell you the truth it's not better than V2 .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So why do I think of it as such? Your opinion's yours, my opinion's mine. At least respect that.

      ~tbg

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