Xiaomi Mi (iF Special Edition) Stereo Earphone/IEM review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jun 27, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: http://youtu.be/sWfoa4TCV4c

    Photos: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Leica_Dlux6/Headphone_Xiaomi_Mi_In_Ear_01.jpg

    Sources: iPhone5 with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    First impressions of the Xiaomi Mi-IF: A very neutral bass, with an emphasized lower treble centered around 4 khz. I have heard similar signatures with several earphones (IEM's), including the $250 B&O H3 and the $1500 Final Audio FI_BA_SS. Unlike regular headphones where my ear-tests agree well with other reviews that report headphone responses accurately, I seem to get a large emphasis in the lower treble with most IEM's. That may be due to not getting a perfect fit with any of the supplied eartips, although I can tell pretty well when I have the best possible fit for my ears, when pressing the eartips further into my ear canals results in an immediate drop in treble, particularly a huge drop in the upper treble. Just before reaching that point the treble is still present and the bass is at its maximum, indicating a proper seal in the ear canals.

    The Mi-IF soundstage is excellent (typical for a good IEM), and the overall tonal qualities make the Mi-IF an extremely enjoyable listen. The Mi-IF bass has a classic neutral sound, and unless a user gets a better ear seal than what I can get, they will have to appreciate that neutral signature (i.e. it's not for people who love a really strong bass). From all references that I've seen online for the Mi-IF Special Edition, the typical selling price is less than $30 USD. I don't review many IEM's since I don't use them outside of doing these technical reviews, and those that I've reviewed range from an average of $100 to $1500. I have to guess, not knowing the insider secrets for this Mi-IF earphone, that Xiaomi has somehow found the goose that lays the golden eggs, since the package that this earphone came in is very nicely done with great accessories, and most amazingly, the earphone itself is very high quality, physically and sonically.

    My most recent listening has been with the Beyerdynamic T90, DT1350 and T51P, Sennheiser HD-A280, Momentum On-Ear and HD26, and v-moda M100 headphones. With the Mi-IF I'm hearing all of the detail I've heard with these headphones, which shouldn't be surprising since the IEM earpieces are deep in the ear canal, where the sound doesn't bounce around in the headphone earcups or get modified by the ear pinnae. Equally as important as those details are the smoothness (lack of obvious peaks or recesses) and tonal quality (lack of edgy or grainy sound, etc.) that allow hours of listening without the fatigue that can occur when such minor distortions are present. Summing up the sound, I think the Mi-IF will be excellent for jazz, acoustic, acapella, classical, and other related genres. Electronic and house music may also fare well with the Mi-IF, but that depends mostly on whether users demand a higher level of bass strength and impact.

    Isolation with the Mi-IF is average for a good IEM (excellent). Leakage doesn't appear to be an issue, but I don't have a second tester to evaluate that. The Mi-IF cable is fairly thin (good for an IEM), fabric-covered, has a start/stop control, and is approximately 1.2m long with an Apple-style miniplug on the end. The Mi-IF comes with an impressive little hard carrycase and a very nice velvety bag that the hard case fits into. Also included is a chromed clothing clip that looks like a miniature version of a pricy money clip.

    Last word: The user's ear canal fit is going to make a big difference in how they experience the Mi-IF. While I get the impression of a neutral bass and strong treble, I can also sense a stronger bass and more neutral treble with a little deeper insertion in my ear canals. There are many different brands of IEM eartips available today, so given the low price of the Mi-IF, users can purchase extra eartips with the money they save on the Mi-IF. Besides, the Mi-IF might prove to be as good as anyone needs for music listening - even critical music listening - it's really that good.

    The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the Mi-IF plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the Mi-IF compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Xiaomi Mi-iF review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone with a modest weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Mi-IF plays this pretty well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled well by the Mi-IF.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry with the Mi-IF.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Mi-IF plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the Mi-IF.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Mi-IF plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Mi-IF reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Mi-IF renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Mi-IF plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not overly sharp or edgy.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Mi-IF reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Mi-IF plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the Mi-IF plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has very good detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The Mi-IF plays this track very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the Mi-IF. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Human League - Keep Feeling Fascination (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's bass line is very detailed, but the somewhat forward voices don't have quite the "you are there" quality of the Heaven 17 track noted above.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Mi-IF provides great detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the Mi-IF does those very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Mi-IF reproduces the fundamental tone with an appreciable weight.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the Mi-IF is an excellent example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is very subtle with the Mi-IF.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Mi-IF does not reproduce those sounds with the "wooden block" tonality.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Mi-IF conveys some of that experience, but the deep bass doesn't have as much impact as most full-size headphones. The tympani do have a fairly good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Mi-IF renders the tones and transients quite well.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are a bit light, but still work well with the horns and other instruments. The Mi-IF delivers the impacts with some weight and good detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

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