Audeze Penrose wireless headphones Review

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by rhythmdevils, Jul 11, 2021.

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Audeze Penrose X Review

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    Gear

    iPod touch 7th Gen Bluetooth -> Penrose

    How simple is that? No fussy cables, or extra amplifiers. Just a phone or DAP and the headphones.

    Build
    Simple, and solid. No problems. Just one quirk. The cups rotate so that they face down when the headphones are placed down on a surface. But they rotate the wrong way. When you’re holding them the way you wear them, with the left cup in your left hand and the right cup in your right hand, as if you just them off, the cups rotate towards you, which you can’t really do with your wrists, and certainly can’t put them down that way. They only rotate half way away from you. This feels like someone just goofed and they got 10,000 pairs in the mail and cursed to high heaven. Not that big a deal, it’s funny more than anything else. The headband doesn’t fold so it does’t really affect their use, it’s just a little awkward putting them down. I wind up just putting them down on their side instead of twisting the cups so they are facing down.

    Comfort
    They’re very small, I think Audeze was going for a Bose type fit. But they’re surprisingly comfortable even with my big ears. The thin memory foam earpads effectively spread out pressure while having minimal contact with your skin which is nice with such a portable headphone, they just feel that much more invisible. The cushion at the top of the headband is also sufficient to spread out the weight, there’s no hot spots.

    Looks
    I hate the neon green. I really hate the neon green. But YMMV. I’m clearly not Audeze’s target market with this headphone but unfortunately they made a headphone that sounds good and will appeal to a more sophisticated market. That isn’t into hipster neon green.

    Wireless Functionality
    I found it to work flawlessly after I realized I was using it wrong. There’s a volume adjustment for both the headphones and the microphone which is probably a good feature for gamers. A USB C charging port. Then two buttons. One is a “multifunction button” that cycles through AUX (wired) input (not recommended - according to Audeze it sounds the worst), lossless WIFI, and Bluetooth modes. Then there is a power button which you hold down to turn them on or off.

    The only tricky thing to know is that this multifuntion button and the power button are both pairng mode buttons. The mutifution button is for pairing with WIFI and you tap the power button to pair with bluetooth. So even if you have them in bluetooth mode, you still need to use the power button to pair them to your bluetooth device.

    I have not had a single dropout since listening to them. And the way they connect to your device is really nice. You don’t have to mess with settings on the device at all. With my iPod, I just open the tidal app, turn on the Penrose, touch the multifunction button so it is in bluetooth mode, and it automatically connects to your device. It’s rather elegant. And you don’t have to cycle through every mode with the multi-function button everytime you turn them on, it remembers the last mode you had it set to, you just have to tap it to re-connect to your device.

    WIFI
    Plug the USB dongle into you PC, and make sure it’s set to PC not XBOX. Then press the multi-function button until it’s in WIFI mode. Then press and hold the multi-function button to put it in WIFI pairing mode and my computer instantly saw it. So easy.

    The Following Sound Impressions are for Bluetooth Mode. I added a bit on the sound differences in WIFI mode at the end.

    Bluetooth Sound

    This was a difficult review to write. The Penrose does a lot of things really well that most wired headphones costing even thousands of dollars fail at. But it also has subtle problems from the active nature of the wireless design that are sound qualities I have never heard before and took more time to hear and figure out. So I first wrote this review very glowingly full of more positive words than I can ever remember using in a review. But the more time I used them, the more these active artifacts became noticeable end bothersome.

    In Brief

    The Penrose is one of those very rare headphones that is tuned so well it winds up sounding better than the sum of its parts. It’s driver is tuned very well with no problematic ortho acoustics that I can hear which is very impressive since it is close backed. It’s very neutral through the whole FR until the treble which is slightly recessed and then rolled off a bit. The midrange and bass are both beautifully done, with the bass extending all the way down but the bass suffers slightly in an indescribable way from under amplification I believe. There is a beautiful weight to the whole frequency range that makes them sound extremely natural while not mooshing or clouding up any part of the FR. It’s just extremely satisfying.

    The Bad
    They have an artificial, mildly plastic tone to them but nothing remotely close to the tone that some Hifimans have, it’s much more subtle and it’s also different. And I’m at a loss as to how to describe it better. I’ve neve heard something like it before and it’s rather subtle. There is also a slight haze or veil across the whole FR which I’m sure is also coming from the active nature, and this is pretty easy to adjust to. It sounds like there’s a bit of something between you and the drivers. And that thing is likely the active wireless tech like I said. I would like more resolution, but I believe the active wireless nature is the bottleneck there

    Apply the above to the whole FR range, because it’s there throughout. I’ll focus on other specifics below

    Treble
    Pretty neutral with slight recession, and good but not perfect timbre. Cymbals are a little muted and don’t sound quite metallic enough. They lack a bit air as well but it’s not bad. There are absolutely no sharp peaks whatsoever but I suspect there is a lower treble bump and the rest of the treble range is recessed a bit, with some rolloff around 10k. The bump is not harsh, it just causes some emphasis that shouldn’t be there.

    Midrange
    Pretty glorious. The best thing about the Penrose, which is how a headphone should be designed- with the midrange coming first. Completely neutral not recessed but also not forward. Natural sounding. Female vocals have plenty of air, and when a vocalist sings up in volume and range, it comes just close to being shrill when the recording calls for it, but they never stray from the recording, The upper mods on some of my test tracks are just a bit forward but only noticeable on my upper midrange test tracks that are already borderline harsh Most people will not hear this but actually like it. Male vocals have beautiful weight and clarity.

    Bass
    Absolutely natural. Extension all the way down. No upper bass emphasis. Tight, and controlled (but see further below for how this gets complicated) Bass is not the last word in resolution or definition but again, that goes with the territory here. Sometimes they sound a tiny bit too bassy in tracks where there shouldn’t be so much bass, but I’m not sure where this is coming from because the bass passes all my bass test tracks. I blame the bluetooth tech for doing something funky. There is also something that sounds a bit artificial about the bass. I’m struggling to describe it because I’ve never heard anything like it before. The best I can describe this is that the bass sounds a bit indistinct sometimes like it always has the same timbre. I’s not bothersome unless you really focus on it in a bass heavy track. I again suspect it is the active tech to blame, not giving these drivers the power they need.

    Soundstage
    Not amazing but pretty good. It is not huge in size but it manages to wrap around the head pretty well, Imaging and separation are great. Instruments don’t bleed together, they are separated in space around you.

    Ortho Acoustics
    I hear no resonance, or issues with damping whatsoever. That’s the first time I’ve ever said that about a commercial ortho though the LCD-X is close. Which should be noted. It’s a big deal. If I changed anything I would try to get better treble extension and timbre. I suspect they’re using a porous paper to damp the driver like the LCD-X but there are better materials for driver damping.

    Wish For Audeze
    I really wish Audeze would take the Penrose, get rid of all the bluetooth and wirelesss tech, make them all black, wire them dual entry, and sell them for 200$ as a studio monitor and portable headphone, possibly with a folding headband of some sort. That would be an absolutely killer headphone especially for the price. These could be serious reference headphones stuck in a silly gaming frame with an annoying bluetooth handicap. I can only imagine how good they would sound wired with no active tech.


    Final Thoughts.
    I’ve pointed out a number of negatives here, but the truth is, in general these headphones sound very good. I enjoy listening to them while cringing a bit at the problems mentioned if I listen for a long time. But the problems are generally errors of omission rather than errors of commission which is how I’d prefer every headphone to be tuned. It’s pretty easy to just enjoy music with the Penrose. The wireless tech has serious drawbacks, but if you are interested in the Penrose, you are looking for a wireless headphone. I’ve never heard any other wireless headphones but I feel pretty confident saying that these are likely the best bluetooth headphones on the market because of how good all the passive aspects of this headphone are. I just don’t see any other company making a headphone in this price range with passive acoustics that are anywhere near as good as this. These would be especially good headphones for use with a TV because of the natural vocal range.

    So if you are interested in a bluetooth headphone, you should definitely give these a shot. They will be going on a loaner tour and I actually have two units. So if there is enough interest I can send both out, or one to Canada and Europe.

    WIFI mode

    Holy shit! They sound so much more clear in WIFI mode! I just spent quite a bit of time listening to the Penrose in bluetooth mode and writing the above review. Then I thought I should try WIFI mode just for completeness. The veil or haze I described is gone as far as I can tell.

    Brief sound impressions in WIFI mode

    Gear

    MacBook Air 2014 with Audeze Penrose USB dongle ->. Penrose

    Sound
    I’m going to focus on what is different because the basic sound signature and FR is the same.

    They are much more clear sounding and more resolving (though not as resolving as they could be or as resolving as better wired headphones), with bigger soundstage. Bass definition, timbre and control is better, pretty good actually. The artificial tone that permeates the whole FR range in bluetooth mode is also reduced or possibly eliminated but a new tonality issue takes it’s place

    They are a bit sharp sounding in a glare kind of way which ruins the smooth tonality they have in bluetooth mode. It’s not too bad but it’s there. It’s never harsh, I can’t get them to hurt my ears, but it is noticeable and bothersome to me on certain tracks. I don’t think this is coming from a peak because there don’t seem to be specific problem spots, it seems to permeate the whole FR range. But it’s uncomfortable in many tracks. My guess is that it is probably related to the active nature. It sounds like they are over damped in this mode, or being overdriven. I don’t know what Audeze could have done to fix this. They’re a bit veiled or hazy in bluetooth mode and a bit sharp sounding in WIFI mode. They probably balanced it as best as possible. I imagine they were tuned to try to sound as best as possible in both modes, probably focussing more on bluetooth.

    I thought about trying to re-write the above, but the headphones just sound different in the two modes so that’s not really possible.

    WIFI Final Thoughts.
    I’m not as enthusiastic about these in WIFI mode. I’’m not sure I could live with the sharp tonality, but others would be fine with it or like it. It’s not anywhere close to a John Grado, as it’s not coming from peaks as far as I can tell. Though I could be wrong. It will be interesting to see FR measurements in both modes. I have no idea what the alternatives are on the market for WIFI headphones but I imagine the alternatives are pretty awful. I would stick with wired if this was my only option.

    Again, I want a wired version of the Penrose.
     
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    Last edited: Jul 11, 2021
  2. ushanka

    ushanka Acquaintance

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    Have you heard Airpods Pro (it is the only wireless headphones I heard extensively)?

    The reason i ask is that with Airpods Pro the DSP is fairly obvious - there is a certai smoothing done to the sound. I wonder if the really good FR and the plasticiness you hear are both the result of the DSP, and a passive Penrose is not really an option.
     
  3. skullet

    skullet Rando

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    So I have the PS5 version. One bothersome thing I've noticed is interference or capacitor noise from the unit itself. I haven't isolated what it is. It's kind of a weird hiss that comes and goes. Have you heard this within the first 5 minutes of turning the headphones on?
     
  4. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex Grumpiest admin

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    @rhythmdevils so can you fix them at all with mod suggestions? I am thinking of getting a pair for PS5 use.
     
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  5. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    No, that is very unlikely. The (very mild) plastic y timber went away with Wifi meaning it was bluetooth. And DSP cannot fix issues with ortho acoustics. You can't fix driver damping issues with DSP, driver damping changes the way the diaghragm is moving. DSP cannot do that. you could sort of fix resonance peak issues from the closed back cups though. But I still think a wired passive Penrose has enormous potential.

    I have two pairs here and haven't noticed anything like that with either of them. No hissing of any kind from these, after 5 minutes or a couple hours.

    If the PS5 uses bluetooth, and you don't expect Andromeda treble, I'd recommend. these. But not if it uses WIFI with the usb dongle. The sound is too sharp for me to recommend genuinely.

    If bluetooth, I think they'd be great for games. Excellent vocal tonality, good bass for explosions and sound effects plus the super addictve weight and body they give to the whole spectrum. I sill find myself liking that a lot. And they do imaging well. But don't expect huge soundstage. But I don't think you need that for games, I iwoud imagine precise imaging is more important. Which these excell at to my ears.

    I could try to give them better treble with mods, but with all the active tech I'd be hesitant to try to open these up TBH. Aside from better treble, I don't think they really need mods. I think the shortcomings are from the active design and bluetooth vs WIFI.
     
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  6. HotRatSalad

    HotRatSalad Friend

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    The new consoles have no Bluetooth support. You can however use a USB Bluetooth dongle and pair with a device. There may be latency issues however. I guess this was their reasoning. Apparently wifi works excellent connection wise though with much better latency so that's a positive !
     
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  7. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

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    Just to make sure, about the quirk you mentioned, you are saying that the pads are turned outside, for example if you would have them around your neck after taking them off, is that correct?

    Because that's what my Bose QC35II are like and it pisses me off to no tomorrow.
     
  8. HHS

    HHS Acquaintance

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    Bluetooth on the Penrose seems like kinda of an afterthought. Unlike the Audeze Mobius, which supports LDAC, the Penrose only supports AAC and SBC codecs. AAC isn't bad, especially from iOS devices, but SBC is pretty crap. SBC especially is gonna roll off the highs pretty seriously. I also wouldn't be surprised if Audeze used lower quality Bluetooth hardware. The star of the show here is audio over the 2.4ghz wireless with the dongle. The Bluetooth is primarily intended to be hooked up to a secondary device like your phone so you can chat simultaneously while gaming. Might explain the different experience using bluetooth vs wireless.
     
  9. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    The treble is the same with bluetooth and WIFI. They're both rolled off and recessed the same amount. The WIFI has a sharp tonality though that I do not like and can't recommend.

    But there's a loaner Penrose available right now, you all should sign up and share more impressions and get to hear them for yourself. Insurance for shipping is only 150$. So its a pretty cheap way to hear them.
     
  10. Huntersknoll

    Huntersknoll Rando

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    I've had this headphone for about a month now and @rhythmdevils hits the nail on the head with the sound. To anyone who buys these and you think it sounds off, you might be right. I had a pair that didn't sound right (It was a pre-order) and kept disconnecting and had a weird wind noise in the left ear cup. I returned it.. waited a few months and got a new one and it is perfect. This is the best you can get if you want a wireless gaming headset. It is an easy $300 to spend and not look back.

    A few tips..

    1. You can download the Audeze Penrose software and EQ this a bit if you want to. It is a 10 band EQ that includes 32hz, 64hz, 125hz, 250hz, 500hz, 1khz, 2khz, 4khz, 8khz, and 16khz. I know they have some presets floating around

    2. The Penrose X (the green one) also works with PS5 but the Penrose (the blue one) does not work with Xbox.

    3. You can use Bluetooth and the USB audio at the same time. It is nice to be able to grind in game and listen to a podcast.

    Audeze has been very good about updating the firmware and introducing new features that people have requested.
     
  11. skullet

    skullet Rando

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    This is what I'm dealing with now. Wind noise in left ear cup. I'm going to try an exchange and see if I have better luck. Thanks!
     
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