Superlux HD381F: Thrift Shop Titan


TL;DR: The Superlux HD381F is an IEM that pops tags with its exceptional sound quality in its cheap-looking and completely unassuming package.

Before I begin, I would like to first thank George at for providing a review sample of the Superlux HD381F in exchange for my honest opinion. I would like to clarify that I am neither affiliated with Gearbest or any of its staff, nor am I being paid to write this review. All opinions expressed and all photos taken in the following review are strictly my own unless otherwise specified. Finally, please take everything I write with a grain of salt. Thanks!

Though lately I have been looking up towards the higher IEM price tiers, it remains difficult for me to leave my roots completely. There will always be one or two pairs that pass by and wow the budget IEM crowd. Now, this one in particular has been in the IEM market for a very, very long time, and a couple weeks ago George gave me the splendid opportunity to test out the HD381F – a half-in-ear earphone that has impressed me in more ways than one. Read on to find out why.

== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Accessories

The HD381F comes in a diminutive little box, showcasing the earphones through a round plastic window. The rear of the box lists specifications and the accessories (both of which I’ll write below). Taking out the contents, you are greeted with a plastic zip pouch with two extra pairs of eartips, a cable extender, and a strange-looking cable wrapper which I have no idea how to use. Beyond that there’s not much to say.

Design, Build, Microphonics

The HD381 employs a half-in-ear housing design, which we’ve also found on DUNU’s Titan series of earphones. Basically they’re earbuds with nozzles on them that extend into the ear canals, hence “half in-ear”. Shape-wise they resemble the DUNU Titans a lot, from the cable entry, to the nozzle placement, to the 13.5mm driver capsule. One detail that really stands out, though, is their split cable. The HD381’s cable extends only two feet from the housings and terminates in a straight 3.5mm jack. This is where the cable extender comes in – you attach it to the straight jack and the cable is extended to a more usable 4 feet.

As insignificant as that was, I really found the cable to be noteworthy because of how unnecessary it is – Superlux could’ve slapped on a straight-up 4-foot cable just as easily and it’d still fit in its box. If the cable design was for durability purposes, it’d still be completely pointless since the cable is really thin and feels rather fragile. Nonetheless, the thinness does have its benefits in the form of practically non-existent cable noise, even with the housings’ straight-down fit.

The rest of the earphones’ build is pretty much on average for a $13 IEM. The plastic housings feel pretty solid, the connectors are decently-built, and the strain reliefs aren't that bad, either. Again, my only gripe here is with the cable, which feels rather cheap and fragile. Then again, the earphones themselves are pretty cheap, so I guess that's to be expected.

Fit, Comfort, Isolation

Since the HD381 shares a very similar housing shape to the DUNU Titans, their fit characteristics, too, are similarly excellent. The housings only accommodate a straight-down fit and cannot be worn around-the-ear, but that doesn't matter as the minimal cable noise keeps that from being a problem (unless you want an around-the-ear IEM in the first place). Probably the only thing I can't say is good here is the isolation – with the music off, one can easily hear outside noise, albeit with it slightly muffled.

== Sound ==


Headphone Type
Closed-back in-ear monitor
Driver Type
13.5mm single dynamic
Frequency Response
20 – 20,000 Hz
Max. Input Power

103 dB/mW
16 Ω
12 g
0.6m (2’) round TPE cable
Straight 3.5mm (1/8”) gold-plated
Cable wrapper
2 sets silicone eartips (M/L)
0.6m (2’) round extension cable

Equipment, Burn-in

The equipment used in this review is primarily a 5th-generation iPod Touch directly running the Superlux HD381. For the amp test, I run the Superlux through a Schiit Fulla driven from my laptop running iTunes 12 and Foobar 2k. The EQ software used in its respective test is TuneShell on iOS and Viper4Windows on PC. The test tracks I normally use to assess the earphones can be found here, although I will include links to specific songs in the review to keep things more concise.

As is standard, the Superlux HD381 was burned in for at least 50 hours prior to writing the sound assessment. No major changes were noted sound-wise. The eartips used in the sound assessments are the stock medium-size eartips. Naturally, I’ve tried some other eartips with them to test their eartip dependence sound-wise. No changes beyond the typical wide bore vs. narrow bore eartip differences were noted.

Before we get to the juicy sound stuff, though, there are a couple things I’d like to clarify. Firstly, the “F” marking on this IEM’s model name. There are actually three different versions of the HD381 – namely the bassy HD381, the neutral HD381F, and the brighter HD381B. To make things easier for all of us, here’s a comparison chart complete with measurements from Superlux themselves:

Second, I’d like to clarify that this is a review of the HD381F specifically; basically, I don’t have any of the other versions (if I did, this’d be a complete three-way review and comparison). And, well, that’s about it. Let’s get to it then, shall we?

Sound Quality

The Superlux HD381F starts off strong with a surprising bass response. The HD381F exhibits a level-headed kind of bass authority, with a light-handed yet powerful punch and a clean extension to 20 Hz that I can consider quite a bit of a rarity at this price point. My prime bass test songs (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – Jimmy Iovine, Wiz Khalifa – On My Level) both demonstrate the above two characteristics.

Many other IEMs at this price point usually have bass responses more centred around the midbass, but the HD381F goes for a very clean, smooth response from 20 to 250 Hz, which is surprising for an IEM at this price. What’s even more surprising is how they manage to pull it off and come out with bass that exhibits both power and control at the same time. It’s a response I can very easily liken to its 10x more expensive distant relative, the DUNU Titan 1. If that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is.

The HD381F continues to shine going into the midrange frequencies. Their tonality has a warm, smooth, natural feel to them – quite reminiscent of the A151P Generation 2 albeit with an added heft in the lower registers. Though the heft is nice to have, this warmth does tend to make bassier recordings sound a little too thick – just like every other warmer-sounding IEM on the market (Coldplay -- Magic). Regardless, they still keep on shining with a very likeable tonality that works excellently with guitars, pianos, brass instruments, strings, woodwinds, synthesisers – you name it, the HD381F plays them well.

The treble tops the HD381F’s sound signature off with a very smooth finish, again reminiscent of the A151P Generation 2. There is nary a hint of sibilance as I run SineGen through to the highest limit of my hearing. However, I found the treble to be slightly lacking to my ears – that, or maybe the bass’ raw power obscured a bit of the higher frequencies. Whatever the case, they sound pretty damn good.


Despite having a lot of physical similarities with the DUNU Titan 1, the Superlux HD381 series are all closed-back IEMs, and as such, they have an inherently smaller soundstage than the semi-open Titan 1. This is probably where I feel the HD381Fs could be improved upon – even with live recordings I find them to sound rather cramped (Eagles – Hotel California). That, or maybe it’s because of my reference headphones.

Genre Proficiency:
The HD381F’s overall smooth, natural signature really works well with……actually just about anything. EDM? Their authoritative low-end has you covered. Acoustic recordings? Their slightly warm, smooth midrange has you covered as well.

Probably the two things the HD381Fs can’t do is reproduce minute details and provide a large soundstage. The HD381F can, however, do just about everything else with flying colours. I’ll admit, I never really took a liking for them before I started writing this review. For most of the time during the burn-in phase, all I really noticed was their smoothly rolled-off treble paired with powerful bass – a combination that I usually didn’t like since they usually never work out nicely. But the HD381 seems to be a very rare instance in which you can have both big bass, but with smoother, more laid-back treble. Kinda like having your cake and eating it at the same time.

Other Media

When you’re shopping for some audio gear for gaming purposes, you probably won’t even be looking at this review in the first place. But if your budget cannot go beyond $15 bucks, then look no further – the HD381F has your back. They may not have the pro-level detailing of the MEE M6 PRO or the cinematic awesomeness of the DUNU Titan 1, but if you don’t have the cash to spend on either you won’t be disappointed with the 381F. Their smooth sound signature isn’t well-suited for gaming, but they do have pretty good positional accuracy, so you shouldn’t miss out on too much. Bottom line, they just work.

EQ Response, Amplification

The HD381F’s 16 ohm impedance and 103 dB sensitivity figures guarantee the HD381F will play loudly on mobile devices without turning up the volume too much. As such, an amp won’t really do much to improve the sound of the 381F besides the natural improvements from higher-end gear. That being said, there aren't any headphones or earphones on the market that cannot be improved with a little bit of EQ.

As I stated earlier, I felt the HD381F was a little bit lacking in higher frequency “snap”, so a quick boost to the treble did wonders to retrieve a little of the details that they had trouble getting without the EQ.


The Superlux HD381F is sold at about $13 at As I also said earlier, these IEMs deliver a level of performance comparable to that of IEMs priced much, much higher. With that said, it's hard not to recommend this to anyone looking for IEMs with a tight budget.


Versus DUNU Titan 1 ($130):
Several times throughout this review I've made comparisons to the DUNU Titan 1 – an IEM ten times the price. But despite the massive differences in price and use of materials, the two IEMs sound surprisingly similar. No, I’m not joking around; they really do sound similar, to the point where the only differences I hear are tighter bass, brighter treble, a slightly larger soundstage, and a cleaner midrange from the Titan 1. Beyond that they’re really similar sound-wise – from the tonality, to their all-around capability. It’s safe to say I’m really impressed with them here.

Versus Xiaomi Pistons 3.0 ($16):
I know very few IEMs under $20 that deliver the full package the way the Pistons 3 does. For some reason, they manage to seamlessly blend form, function, and sound into an affordable, accommodating package. That being said, while I do enjoy the 3.0’s overall performance, there are a few IEMs in particular that give a one-up in the most important factor: the sound. The Superlux HD381 is one of those IEMs. Though they look and feel rather cheap, it’s what’s on the inside that counts – and inside these IEMs are drivers that completely blow the Pistons 3.0 out of the water with its smooth, balanced sound signature.

== Conclusion ==

The Superlux HD381F is a bit of a relic in the IEM market – kinda like some centuries-old antique. This little cheapo has no right to be left to bite in the dust like it has way back when. I mean, sure, they aren’t built to last, and they don’t exactly have Pistons 3.0 quality materials, but the sound they put out decimates absolutely everything I’ve heard under $20. This is an IEM you don’t wanna miss, folks, so if any of you happen to look for an IEM that you won’t cry over when it breaks, then look no further. This is it.

Packaging, Accessories
Basic cardboard box, two pairs of eartips, a cable extender, and some sort of shirt clip/cable wrapper hybrid. Can’t expect much else from a $13 IEM.
Design, Build, Microphonics
The HD381F’s plastic build feels rather cheap, but isn’t fragile and will last if taken care of.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
Having a similar housing shape to the DUNU Titan 1, the HD381F shares its secure, comfortable fit and mediocre isolation.
Deep, thumping, and very well-extended, the HD381F’s bass won’t leave anyone hanging.
Their midrange is one of the best I’ve heard at this price, with a natural tonality that is simply effortless in its delivery.
The HD318F’s treble rolls off smoothly as it reaches the upper limits of human hearing, but I feel they’re a bit laid-back for my tastes.
Their soundstage is neither spacious nor cramped – to be honest, they sound just about right.
Gaming, Movies
The HD381F does well with media outside of music, with their accommodating sound signature working decently with both games and movies.
EQ Response, Amplification
Amplifying the HD381F won’t bring out much else from the drivers, but EQ tweaks sure will.

The Superlux HD381F looks, feels, and is cheap, but don’t let the outward looks fool you; inside is a monster of an IEM that can play with my personal favourites in terms of price to performance.

Suggestions for Improvement

None that are worth noting.

Shout-Outs, Gallery

I’d like to again thank George at for providing a sample of the HD381F covered in this review. I’m not done reviewing just yet – there are a couple more IEMs I’m looking forward to review in time for the summer.

As always, this has been thatBeatsguy of DB Headphones; thanks for reading!


Post a Comment