EDIT: I apologize but I forgot to thank the folks at T-PEOS for sending me a sample of the H200 for review.
The promise of the hybrid earphone is to offer a best of “both worlds” solution between the two most common types of earphone transducers, dynamic (moving coil) drivers and balanced armatures, offering the clarity and precision of balanced armatures with the natural resonance and, well, dynamic bass a dynamic driver can provide. One of the earliest consumer hybrids was the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 EB, an earphone that, while not without its faults, was proof that the concept could work in practice. Fast forward a few years and now there are a number of hybrid earphones on the market including AKG’s $1300 K3003, Aurisonics ASG-1, ASG2 and the AudioFly AF78.
What I have here is the first hybrid I’ve ever had the chance to test, the T-PEOS H200, the second hybrid earphone in the company’s lineup and its current flagship. Being the first hybrid earphone I’ve had the opportunity to test, the T-PEOS H200 has the honor of being my reference point for hybrid IEMs, the standard by which I judge others, should I get to test them down the road.
So, does the T-PEOS H200 provide a fine reference point or will the promise of the hybrid earphone be unfulfilled? Read on to find out.
Accessories: The T-PEOS H200 ships with six pairs of silicone eartips in various sizes, 3 pairs of wide bore translucent grey tips and 3 pairs of Sony hybrid-esque narrow bore tips. There is also one pair of red foam tips, a leather carrying case, a ¼ inch adapter and two pairs of detachable cables, one black fabric covered with a microphone and one button remote and the other is a standard, red audio only cable.
Design and Build Quality: The H200 is comprised of metal and plastic shells that are both large and solidly built. The removable cables are a boon for durability, as one can simply replace the cable should it develop problems and the cables themselves seem well engineered and designed. Overall, I can’t imagine many will have a problem with the H200 in terms of long term durability because they’re built like tanks.
Comfort: While the housings themselves could potentially have posed an issue for those with smaller ears on their own, the oblong plastic ring near the front of the IEM also presents its own issues as far as fit is concerned. I will say that, at least for me, the ring didn’t pose an issue and I was able to get a comfortable fit with the H200.
I can only hazard a guess as to why the IEM was designed in such a way but it may have to do with the fact that the H200 sounds best with a shallow insertion and the plastic ring is in place to ensure that users don’t (or can’t) insert it too deeply in order for it to sound its best. But of course, I can only speculate.
Isolation: Isolation was decent with shallow insertion.
Microphonics: Because these can’t be worn over the ear, microphonics are an issue, and I wouldn’t advise wearing these while active (running, exercise, etc.) because they carry a fair amount of cable noise.
Burn in: The T-PEOS H200 was given upwards of 50 hours of burn in prior to review. No significant changes were detected.
The idea of a hybrid earphone has always appealed to me in some way. Ever since trying the Rock-It Sounds R-50 and being impressed with the capabilities of a well-tuned dual balanced armature array, I’ve thought that the R-50 could’ve been improved on if it had more present and natural bass. That’s where the dynamic driver of the T-PEOS H200 comes in, taking on the job of rendering low bass and leaving the dual balanced armatures to handle everything else.
What we have in the H200 is a low end that’s natural and authoritative but never excessive. While I wouldn’t say this is the be-all-end-all for die-hard bassheads, the H200 has a nice, detailed and extended low end that manages to be immensely fun and accurate. Bass is tight and controlled and sub bass texture and overall linearity is rather good, with no discernable roll off at the lowest of lows.
The midrange is where the dual balanced armature array begins to kick in but smoothly and without an obvious disconnect between the dynamic and balanced armature drivers. Because the bass is so well controlled, it doesn’t creep up on the midrange at all, allowing the impressive clarity to shine through. The level of micro detail is quite impressive and at least as good as any IEM I’ve heard and imaging and separation are top notch as well.
Continuing into the upper registers, the H200 becomes rather peculiar in that it sounds disconnected from the rest of the signature in a way. There is a deep valley at about 6.5 KHz, likely due to a crossover error, which causes the earphones to sound a bit hollow at times and this is somewhat exacerbated by a sharp peak at 10 KHz. Because of this, the high end has a bit of a splashy feel rather than a pure sparkle. That said, the level of detail is, once again, excellent but it does have an air of unnaturalness that can be off-putting to some. But, I can’t say the high end is particularly offensive, even with the treble peak.
While I wouldn’t call the H200 neutral in the strictest sense, it does a good job of maintaining a good balance between the frequencies. The frequency response is nicely balanced and engaging, if not completely accurate or particularly linear. Tonal balance skews slightly towards warmth but not in a way that compromises detail and the sound is mostly coherent, only losing some cohesiveness because of the upper end unevenness.
The T-PEOS H200 is available from some online retailers and from the company’s own website for about $250. It’s one of the better earphones I’ve heard and certainly worthy of its price tag. Its presentation is quite good and its resolving ability is on the level with the best IEMs I’ve heard. While I think there are a couple of flaws, they fail to bring the H200 down enough for me to say they’re not worth their asking price.
So, has the promise of a hybrid IEM been realized? Yes and no. The bass is more satisfying to me than the low end I’ve heard on any balanced armature based IEM thus far and it offers an intricately detailed soundscape that, while a bit smaller in size than some IEMs like the Triple.Fi 10, still has the ability to shine like the best earphones I’ve heard at any price. Though there are some hurdles left to be cleared, namely in the area of coherency rather than overall detail, T-PEOS is on the right track with the H200 and makes a strong case for the value of the hybrid IEM, a Jack-of-All-Trades that’s mere steps away from being the master of many.