Softears Impressions and Reviews Thread

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by shotgunshane, May 16, 2021.

  1. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    For a quick rundown of the current Softears lineup, see the following link to Crinacle's overview:
    https://crinacle.com/2021/03/25/crinnotes-softears-lineup-overview-opulence/

    Softears RSV
    MSRP $730


    The RSV for this review was graciously loaned from Shenzen Audio.

    Softears is a sister company of sorts with Moondrop. They share resources, drivers and engineers (perhaps more) but are separate companies as far as I understand. The RSV is considered part of their reference tuned lineup (RS10 and RSV). The V denotes 5 balanced armatures.

    The housings are black custom come universal acrylic affairs with gold foil sprinkled like glitter on the faceplates and a silver RSV logo. It’s attractive but understated. The cable is black 4 core round braid terminated in 2 pin connectors for recessed sockets. The black custom-ish cable combined with the black housings is a rather elegant look. While I like the cable a lot, it does have a little bit of memory effect, holding the twists and turns of how it was stored. If they could improve pliability and softness a bit, it could be a cable I’d want on all my IEM. It is missing a chin slider but the split is fairly high up and I surprisingly don’t miss it.

    The case is a round leatherette 2 piece case. I’ve seen bigger but it’s still just a bit too large to carry in the average jean pocket. Stock tips are what I used for all listening, as the nozzles, like Moondrop Blessing 2, are among the widest around, so I didn’t really want to stretch any of my wide bore tips out. Stock tips have a very wide nozzle fit but are relatively narrow at the exit, so I can envision many wanting to experiment with wider exit bore tips (like JVC spiral dots, etc) but the stock tips gave such a smooth experience, I tended to prefer them overall after my brief exploration.


    Sound

    The RSV is in the ballpark of reference neutral, however I do find it on the warm and smooth side of that description. To me this is a good thing, it makes it effortlessly listenable but could be disappointing to those looking for the ultimate neutral reference. At any rate, deep and sub bass are boosted over neutral. For the most part, the boost is natural and tastefully done. At times, it can be hair heavy handed for my personal preferences. The midrange is clear, transparent and balanced, all while being easy to listen to. Treble is every so slightly shelved down from neutral. There isn’t anything harsh or remotely bright sounding about the RSV with stock tips. While the RSV doesn’t inherently add any warmth, the slightly boosted sub bass and the slightly shelved treble make for an overall warm and smooth signature that doesn’t stray far from neutral. For someone like me, who prefers a neutral/reference signature, this is my relaxed and pleasant approach. It's just so pleasant and listenable without being overtly colored.


    Comparisons
    via Mac Mini >> Pi2AES (via AES) >> RME ADI-2 PRO FS R

    Vs. Moondrop Blessing 2
    Hybrid: 1 Dynamic Driver and 4 Balanced Armatures
    MSRP $320

    upload_2021-5-16_15-2-32.jpeg

    Bass on the RSV is slightly more elevated in deep and sub bass over the Blessing 2. The amount isn’t all that large but it lends to a more natural and palpable bass, despite the fact the RSV is armature bass. In fact, I’d say the RSV bass also presents better texturing down low, as the Blessing 2, while dynamic driver based, has bit of an overdamped, muted texture. Listening to electronic music or double bass metal, the RSV is able to deliver a more engaging and dynamic rumble.

    Male vocals carry very similar weight between the two; maybe the RSV is very slightly weightier. Blessing 2 tends to be a bit more nuanced, bringing small details forward, whereas the RSV tends to be a little smoother, more pleasant overall. These traits carry over into female vocals, although the body to female vocals in RSV is more apparent. Both have similar upper mid energy but Blessing 2 is once again slightly more revealing of vocal nuances.

    When it comes to distortion rock guitars, both have excellent crunch and bite but Blessing 2 has a harder edged attack. RSV’s softer edges just give it a slightly more pleasing and easy going listen. Some may prefer the harder edge of the Blessing 2, hearing it as more accurate to say live metal guitars and others may prefer the RSV approach of being just a bit easier on the ears without losing realism.

    Both the RSV and Blessing 2 have good treble presence and extension, however the Blessing 2 definitely sounds brighter. Where the Blessing 2 has a modest lower treble peak, the RSV remains smooth. This peak in the Blessing 2 can lead to a raspier treble at times, however cymbals and hi-hats can also sound just a bit too subdued on the RSV at times, particularly when combined with it’s deep bass emphasis. As a result, Blessing 2 is going to push treble details more forward in comparison to the slightly laid back RSV treble.

    While the Blessing 2 is comparable, and at times bests, RSV in resolution, the RSV is noticeable bigger sounding with more pinpoint imaging. If Blessing 2 is on the smaller side of average in-ear staging, then RSV is on the larger side of average in-ear staging. It projects forward more and sounds both wider and deeper. RSV gives better sense of space around instruments and vocalist, giving a more precise image.

    Switching between the two really shows how much smoother and pleasant the RSV is compared to the more neutrally tuned Blessing 2. I would reach for the RSV every time against the Blessing 2.


    Vs. Campfire Andromeda (OG)
    Multi-Armature: 5 Balanced Armatures
    MSRP $999 (Now offered as Classic version; should be same tuning as OG)

    upload_2021-5-16_15-2-56.jpeg

    Andromeda bass rise starts early, which lends toward the slightly hazy OG sound I describe from time to time, yet it levels off fairly early which keeps it from sounding overly warm or bassy. In quite a contrast, the lower midrange and upper bass of the RSV remain flat and even. Bass rise doesn’t start until much lower and as consequence, the RSV sounds much cleaner and defined in bass. While Andromeda extends just as deeply, RSV has a more palpable and textured rumble.

    While male vocal body seems similar between the two, Andromeda has a slight veil over the performance. RSV is significantly more transparent and natural sounding. While resolution might not be all that different, the RSV is simple more lifelike, more convincing. The veil is even more evident in direct comparison with female vocals. Andromeda brings female vocals closer but the veil makes them hazy and lacking definition. While RSV brings more upper mid energy to female vocals, it’s not fatiguing or in your face. It just sounds more natural, more transparent, more correct. RSV is a clearer window into the recording. Midrange resolution isn’t that much different between the two, it’s just more defined, more precise in RSV.

    One thing that I’ve always loved the OG Andromeda for is its wall of guitar sound with bands like Metallica and Megadeth. While it still does this like no other, its lacks definition compared to the RSV, which is able to resolve the weak bass of And Justice For All with more definition, more separation, more resolution. Where the RSV trips up is being just the slightest hair too heavy handed in deep bass.

    OG Andromeda still really has few equals when it comes to treble sparkle and treble timbre and here RSV falls just a bit short. While having arguable better extension in upper treble, RSV treble is just a hair subdued around 10k. Resolution is good, but treble presence and sparkle has me wanting just a bit more. While RSV bests Andromeda in overall tonal balance, it just can’t quite match the timbre up top. That being said, most should find it revealing yet pleasing, without ever pushing too far.

    Once again Andromeda impresses with this wider than average presentation. Noticeably wider than RSV. However RSV sounds slightly better proportioned in that it’s height and depth easily equals its width. So while RSV can’t match Andromeda width, it does sound taller and deeper overall. RSV also sounds noticeably more pinpoint with its imaging and layering, providing more space around instruments and performers.

    Its seems time has finally caught up with the once great Andromeda OG. There are many in-ears that area able to rival and best it at tonality and technicalities, all at a lower price. While Andromeda remains charming and a sentimental favorite of mine, RSV has quickly risen like cream to the top of my favorites.


    Vs. Dunu EST 112
    Tribrid: 1 Dynamic Driver, 1 Balanced Armature, 2 Electrostatic Drivers
    MSRP $490

    upload_2021-5-16_15-3-23.jpeg

    Bass levels holistically seem fairly similar between the two, but RSV focuses more on deep and sub bass and the EST on mid and deep bass. The RSV having a natural sounding armature bass and the EST bass being on the faster side of dynamic drivers, makes for a tough comparison. Gone is the typical dynamic versus armature dichotomy. The overall bass level of the EST is more along the level of my preference and the RSV being just a touch too much. While the RSV has better sub bass texturing, the EST seems just a bit more dynamic overall. Switching to some bass heavy electronic music seems to confirm this- the RSV, while producing more rumble, sounds a little softer edged, lacks a tiny bit of punch and just isn’t quite as dynamic.

    Both sound natural and transparent with vocals. Resolution of vocal nuances is also very similar. Male vocals on RSV have just a hair more body and weight and they sound just a little more forward on the EST. These differences are pretty small and really feels like nit picks that you’d only pick up on with direct a/b. Moving into female vocals, the differences become more noticeable. The EST has brighter, slightly more energetic female vocals. In comparison the RSV is a bit more relaxed, with a bit more body. The EST’s greater energy in upper female vocal harmonics brings nuances more to the front. Where the RSV’s strength is its more agreeable approach, the EST really seems to excel with female vocals. I really feel like the EST is the more transparent window into Lzzy Hale’s vocal performance.

    Rock guitars are more full bodied with RSV and lighter and airier with the EST. Similar to the Blessing 2, the EST has a harder edged attack than RSV but less so than Blessing 2. Overall the EST is also brighter than the RSV, so rock guitars tend to ‘soar’ more with the EST on those favorite rock anthems.

    While the EST is brighter than the RSV it doesn’t sound hot or harsh, rather it has bit of that ethereal treble brightness you can get from electrostatic tweeters. Most of the EST treble presence over the RSV is both lower and mid treble. This greater treble presence does, at times, translate to a bit more realistic timbre with cymbals and hi-hats, yet the electrostatic driver does seem to lack a bit of brassiness one would expect.

    For me the staging is pretty comparable between the two with generally similar dimensions. The biggest difference is the EST is much more upfront overall. It’s close proximity and width is the first things you notice, whereas you take notice of the depth of the RSV and the space around the instruments. This depth and space around the instruments lends itself to a more precise image and the layers within.


    Conclusions

    The RSV isn’t necessarily class leading in any specific category and is bested by others at specific but perhaps limited technicalities. However, when taken as a whole, the RSV is immensely satisfying and something I find myself coming back to time and time again. @purr1n said about the Gaudio Nair in the 2020 Golden Schlong awards thread: “…the totality is greater than the sum of its parts… The Nair does nothing wrong. I don't think enough people appreciate this approach.” I whole heartedly agree about the Nair and now I feel these words apply to the RSV. The Softears RSV is going on my list.
     
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  2. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    Intriguing. A bunch of questions: Can you compare with the Sony M9? How well do they avoid BA timbre? How's the isolation? What kind of power do they like (i.e. are they sensitive, do they need juice to shine).
     
  3. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I don't have the Sony M7 or M9 to compare with; those loaners are long gone back to their owners. From memory the Sony's are a good deal warmer and less dynamic; those were a little too sleepy for my personal tastes. While those did a pretty good job of avoiding BA timbre, the M7 was a little better at that than the M9 in my estimation. I would put the RSV in the same tier as those for avoiding BA timbre.

    The RSV does pretty good with isolation, since it's not a vented design. However they are a bit on the bulkier side, similarly so like the Bleeding 2, although more contoured. So I would think the Sony's might isolate a little better to more ears, due to their smaller size and better ergonomic fit.

    While I think all IEMS sound better on desktop gear like the THX 789 or the RME ADI-2, particularly in bass performance and transparency, I do think the RSV sounds very good from a dongle. I have both the Hidizs S8 and Apple dongles. The S8 is a bit more dynamic and clean sounding and the Apple dongle softer and more laid back but both sound solid with RSV. I don't feel the need to turn them up as much as I did the Sony's when I had them on loan. Those seemed to need more volume to 'wake up'.
     
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