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SonoCore, a company recently incorporated in 2003, might not be a name that you have heard of or easily recognize. But, with a team of dedicated engineers focusing purely on research and development of audio equipment, like the SonoCore Cindy, their name holds plenty of promise. Their namesake, Mario / Maryang Holdings Inc., has roots in both Los Angeles and Japan, allowing for a potentially wide product distribution. Today, we are going to be taking a look at one of their latest products, the aforementioned SonoCore Cindy, which features a dual driver coaxial configuration, something rarely seen, in each of the ear monitor housings. With a budget price and an impressive specifications list, we'll determine if SonoCore's latest offering has potential to be the next audiophile "flavor of the month," or merely falls short of its intended goals.
• Unit Type: Canalphone, 2-Way 4-Speaker Coaxial, Electro Dynamic Receiver
• Frequency Response: 16Hz-20KHz
• Impedance: 10Φ(8Ω), 6Φ(16Ω) @1KHz
• S.P.L: 115 ± 3dB (At 20Hz 126mVrms), 99 ± 3dB (At 1KHz 126mVrms)
• Rated Input Power: 3mW, Max. Input Power: 10mW
• Cord: 1.2m Balance Type (Y)
• Plug: 3.5mm Stereo Gold Plated Plug
• Weight: 15g
• Bass: Powerful neodymium magnet used in 10mm receiver produces magnificent bass response creating a superior sense of realism in movies, music, and games.
• Mid-range: The core coil assembly provides for clear voice tone and quality instrument separation.
• Treble: A 6mm tweeter allows for soft and profound sound, while the 2-way cartridge allows for great soundstage perception.
• EQ: Thanks to the dual driver design, you can achieve high performance via audio equalization.
SonoCore's Product Page
Price: $89.00 @ SonoCore's Webstore
SonoCore's choice of packaging greatly reminds me of the packaging that we saw with the Yuin G2A clip-on earphones. That is to say, it is simple and direct. The outside of the packaging features a nicely embossed "Sonocore" logo on every side of the packaging and a nice, albeit under-exposed picture (kind of like my picture) of the Cindy earphones on the front. Once you cut into the "Cindy" sticker, you might have some difficulty removing the base of the box from the top. The all-around rigid cardboard box, while great for transit protection, requires a solid amount of force to remove. I recommend wedging you index finger into the very middle of the bottom side with the shortest length, this will push the bottom compartment upwards as shown in the picture. Then, you should grip the side of that protrusion with your pointer and index finger and both pull and squeeze the compartment upwards. While I would have preferred slightly more substantial packaging, if the simple cardboard box saves SonoCore money that is passed along to the customer, I can't complain too much - it certainly beats the living daylight out of infamous "blister" or "clamshell" packaging!
Inside the Packaging:
Once you open the packaging, you will be presented with a rather modest, but useful, assortment of accesories. SonoCore has included a small cloth carrying bag, an assortment of silicone tips (small, medium, and large), a specifications and warranty card, and the earphones themselves. The warranty period lasts for a year and covers only manufacturer defects. The warranty card, while it doesn't need to be mailed in, contains fields that can be filled in (such as purchase date) to make any future RMA exchanges less painful. The included bag is nice, but it would have been better to see a reinforced, zippered, nylon case, as the springy earphone wiring quickly becomes tangled inside of the minimally sealable pouch. It also would have been great to see SonoCore include a set of foam cushions for individuals who dislike silicone tips. I am, however, incredibly happy to see that the earphones are fit snugly inside of a foam cutout. So, while the packaging is somewhat on the thin side, the dense foam should keep the earphones nice and safe during transit.
The SonoCore Cindy Itself:
I am not overly impressed with the cosmetics of the unit, I would like to see a better color scheme and composite material - maybe a soft touch black chassis or something similar. As is, the white on silver plastic looks like something you would expect for a pair of sub-$30 earphones. Fortunately, the unit itself is rather sturdy. Some individuals complained about previous revisions of the earphone having easily removable assemblies - this is not the case with this particular version. The unit, while not cosmetically appealing, is absolutely sturdy, creak free, and can definitely tolerate a few drops and bumps via daily handling. It might be somewhat hard to discern in the second picture, but each earphone has sturdy mesh included within each nozzle. This is great, because it ensures that unwanted particulate matter does not end up inside of the coaxial cylinder. The mesh is also a lot closer to the tip than in other earphones, making cleaning the mesh incredibly simple. Although, SonoCore could, in the future, include a small, plastic cleaning apparatus like other earphone manufacturers do. At first glance, I was pleased to see that SonoCore included a hard plastic cable strain relief at the ends of each earphone (contrary to other, weak rubber strain relief designs). Unfortunately, that is actually not the case. A normal strain relief is attached to the cable itself, this will prevent the cable from ripping or pulling from the earphone itself. This is important, as an earphone cable can easily be snagged, pulled, or tripped on. The SonoCore earphones have a hard plastic outlet, but the cable itself is freely attached inside. I would definitely like to see SonoCore add a rugged cable strain in the future - this is a very critical feature and a definite blow against the unit's build quality. Without a proper strain relief at both ends of an earphone cable, the unit can become damaged very quickly. A notable example would be that of the Zune Premium earphones - the poor strain relief design renders them useless relatively quickly.
Before we move on to testing, I'd like to talk a little bit more about the cable and the general design of the unit. The opposite end of the cable, fortunately, does have a sturdy rubber strain relief attached to the 3.5mm connector. Unlike with the cable connected to the drivers, this strain relief should absolutely ensure that your cable will not fray or falter during normal use. The connector itself is the usual gold-plated jack, but I'd like to say that I am glad that the strain relief around the connector is a little thin. A lot of earphones, especially expensive ones, come with gigantic connector shrouds. This can make connecting them to certain devices somewhat difficult - a smartphone would be an example. The relief shroud is fairly thin, so you shouldn't have much difficulty connecting to any device. I, personally, am not a big fan of straight connectors, right-angle connectors make me feel safe, but, as previously mentioned, this connector shroud doesn't cause too much unnecessary bulk. The cable is definitely thicker than the gauge seen on lower-end earphones, but still leaves much to be desired. In terms of length, there are roughly 47 inches of cable from driver to connector (beats the Yuin cable length). This is plenty of length for normal behind the ear usage and it isn't too long for normal wear. It is definitely nowhere near the length of, say, Shure's earphone cables; this is a positive for most. Going back to behind the ear usage, I prefer using my earphones this way and you definitely have that option with these. It would be nice, however, if SonoCore included memory wire or plastic ear forms to facilitate this better.
Another important thing to mention is how tangle prone the cable is. No matter how I wrap or store the earphones, the included cable will absolutely find a way to tangle. This is due to the smooth rubber used. I would definitely like to see SonoCore include a less tangle prone cable, because this is a big annoyance to most earphone users. To keep this to a minimum, I recommend not wrapping your earphones around your device, but instead wrapping them in a circular fashion (around your hand for example) and then storing them in the included pouch.
To help you understand what makes this particular unit different from other earphones within this price bracket, I thought I'd vectorize and enhance the awesome diagram provided on SonoCore's website. This particular earphone is different from most not just because it has two drivers, but because the drivers aren't balanced armature drivers and are instead dynamic drivers (or moving coil drivers) in a coaxial configuration. To provide a bit of background information, armature drivers allow for greater clarity and quality of sound within a much smaller package (as you no longer need a voice coil) than a dynamic driver. And, on the other side of things, a dynamic driver, allows for much deeper lows and higher treble, at the sacrifice of size. Shrinking dynamic drivers down leads to a decrease in clarity and quality. So, as you can see, it is awfully difficult to reach a compromise. Fortunately, if you're a bit of a bass head, on paper these earphones should suit you just fine. The coaxial design places a woofer and tweeter within the same axis of sound delivery. Hypothetically, without too much loss in lower frequency, placing two distinguished drivers in-line should allow for a quality soundstage in a small form factor. We won't, however, know for sure until we get these earphones into testing! Also, for your viewing, here is a quick video showing the unit:
When it comes to testing an in-ear audio device, remembering that it is subjective, there is a large assortment categories that are most important: microphonics, isolation, comfort, soundstage, sound signature, accuracy, bass, mid-range, treble, and usage in music, video games, and video. I hope to cover as much ground as possible, but, as always, if you, the reader, have any additional questions, please feel free to ask by leaving a comment.
The cable and unit, being comprised of relatively simple rubber and plastic, produce microphonic qualities during most movement, but the effect is nothing out of the ordinary for this type of design. It's not as awful as with cloth covered cables, but it would be nice if the cable was thicker, or had plastic polymer shielding to cut down on the sound caused by external vibration. The unit's isolation, while I don't have a specific decibel rating, is surprisingly good. This is mostly attributed to the solid seal provided by the included silicone tips. Similarly, I'm guessing foam tips would improve the isolation even more. You'll have no issue drowning out a busy gym or public setting at even low volume levels - an important feature for any in ear monitor to have. And, as long as you aren't lying down, the unit is relatively lightweight, comfortable, and secure. I've had no problems with the seal, nor with the earphones slipping out, even during serious lifting sessions or running - something that even my Shure IEM's sometimes have problems with (yes, I do use them over the ear).
Moving into issues regarding sound quality, I'd like to mention that before using these earphones, I "burned" them in for roughly three days straight with white noise. If you're not familiar with this concept, burning in an audio device is when you play an audio sample that has equal levels of all frequencies for an extended period of time. Hypothetically, this is supposed to set in the sound signature of your audio device. It is also important to note that I have extensively used these earphones over the past month without any issues, audio cutting out, or durability problems - for such a new company, I'm impressed with how well these have held up!
As predicted, the sound signature is mostly bass driven, with a nice thumping, booming sound. The overall sound isn't as warm (slight roll-off towards the higher frequencies) as I am accustomed to (I'm a big KRK and Shure fan if you haven't guessed), but it's still not painfully flat, which is good. I am, however, mostly attributing this to just how powerful and punchy the bass is in this unit, I'll get to equalizing later, where I have some suggestions to improve the sound more. I am, though, fortunate to report that the lows are not muddy in any way whatsoever. So, everything in this department is a-okay!
There isn't anything particularly note-worthy about the mid-range. It doesn't stand out, but isn’t too weak either. The mids are a little flat for my liking, so if you're into equalizing, you might want to just slightly boost the high-end of the mid-range. I think that SonoCore has a little room for improvement here.
With the "treble problem" looming, I do have to be the bearer of some unfortunate news. If you're into heavy, fast music (say, metal), you are going to be very underwhelmed. Listening to the rockier of genres on these earphones leaves a lot to be desired. If you're more into the indie-pop or classical persuasion, you should be a-okay after playing around with the equalizer. But, I warn metal only listeners - stay away!
The biggest disappointment, however, is with the unit's treble (highs). More specifically, there is no sparkle or air, and the treble borders on being almost tinny. Drum cymbals in fast passages are quickly and carelessly washed out of songs, which is a huge bummer. This means that the soundstage is somewhat sub-par, because it is difficult to separate out instruments that are treble-bound. Fortunately, even though the treble is disappointing, there isn't any sibilance (besides that already in a recording). Which is good, because I was dreading sibilance being an issue with this unit.
While the issues with treble bring this unit's potential down, I thought I'd translate how all of the "performance" indicators relate to usage. These earphones are absolutely fantastic for electronic music and hip-hop - seriously! And, I mean, everything from IDM and electronica to even dubstep; they've definitely made this M83 fanatic very happy. Likewise, they're great for mobile gaming and action films. There isn't much difficulty separating out explosions, or pinpointing newbs, but if you plan on watching dialogue heavy, slow films, you might be slightly disappointed. But, honestly, just to reinforce how serious I am about their electronic magic, I'm listening to electronica and using them while typing out this review!
Thankfully, there are a lot of improvements that can be made to the sound via simple equalization. Personally, I find it best to put a slight reduction in the lower frequencies and a hearty increase in treble. This results in the best listening experience for me. But, I still feel that with more manufacturer tweaking, these earphones could produce even better sound.
While I do enjoy these earphones, it is really difficult for me to give them a definite recommendation. For just one more Hamilton ($10 USD note), you’ll be able to purchase the beautifully warm Shure SE215 – one of my favorite entry IEMs. But, I will say, if you’re mainly interested in the lower frequencies and listen to electronic, hip-hop, or “top 100” tunes, it’ll be hard to beat the Cindy earphones at exactly this price point. With a bit of manufacturer improvement (especially in the cosmetics and treble departments) and some careful equalization via the consumer, I can, however, say that you’ll be in for a pair of fun, inexpensive dual drivers that would make for a good daily driver. SonoCore, as a company, has made gradual improvements in their products and I look forward to seeing what’s in store for them in the future.
Sound signature isn’t overly flat, but slightly warm
The low-end offers lots of fun, booming punch
Fairly comfortable during prolonged use – good seal
The unit has proven to function very reliably; there have been no quality issues
They handle equalization okay, but I would prefer not having to resort to eq on an IEM
Cosmetic design could use improvement
Soundstage is somewhat underwhelming, likewise separation could use an improvement
Disappointing treble; no sparkle, oomph, or air
Tangle-prone, strain-relief-less, microphonic cable
Thanks go to Mario at SonoCore for the opportunity to take a look at the Cindy!