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Why would anyone buy this over something like the Earstudio ES100?
Nah man. Fiio BTR5 is newer and cheaper too. This price is silly.
Form factor would be my guess. The ear studio with a long cable is mildly annoying. I haven't picked up a short cable as I don't think it will help much and it's at least another $40 in cost to get one. Something like this that lets you get bluetooth for your existing IEMs in a traditional "drape the cable around your neck" form factor will likely work better.
A better comparison would be the Moondrop Littleblack which is like $40 and essentially the same. It’s also BT5.0 and also an around the neck cable. What makes this better?
I own the original version. The sound quality and power is amazing for its size and form factor. The connections are actually balanced. I also have the Westone Bluetooth adapter and this clearly blow that out of the water. But in my opinion, the sound quality of the ES100 with balanced cable still outperform this setup. It's a question of convenience vs sound quality. I carry both with me nearly everyday and choose depending on my mood.
I agree, the ES100 (which I also carry daily) is better all-around, with the app and the power it has. It's not a very comparable product though.
Apart from the points (all excellent) made by others under your question, they’re also factoring in the cost of the cable itself. It’s high grade copper and workmanship is built to last. To most people that’s an afterthought and irrelevant for their needs. To a minority of audiophile enthusiasts, it’s worth the price. It’s as much about aesthetics than any discernible difference in performance.
It's not hard to argue that these perform worse than the ES100. Another comment mentions the noise floor being a problem with the original version of this adapter paired with a sensitive IEM.TL;DR Line noise is acceptable from a $30 Bluetooth adapter,whether it's meant for IEMs or for a car. It's not acceptable from a $170 artisan fairy dust "assembled in the US" device. $170 is enough to put something together that doesn't have that problem (Sony, below). $170 is also enough to buy the ES100 (or similar device! FiiO BTR3, etc.) and grab a fairy dust eleventy billion conductor virgin copper angel hair infused cable. And a spare of both. Or the next best cable off AliExpress...
I've tried a few similar devices, if anyone is interested.
So how do they stack up? The Sony is fantastic which is nice considering it's actually the oldest unit of the bunch by far, both my unit and the model as a whole. I regularly get more than the 5 hours of battery life the reviewer talks about and I get the same insane range even with LDAC enabled. It's nice to forget my phone on my nightstand and not realize until I'm in an already moving elevator and the signal starts to cut out, or on my desk while I go out for a smoke and only noticing it when I go to grab my phone and can't find it. The microphone is...not good, but that's not why I bought this - and it's still the best microphone out of the three by a mile.
The Elecom isn't bad, but I can hear a bit of line noise if I plug Sony XBA-N3 [16Ω & 107dB/mW] into it. Not exactly a sensitive IEM, but I imagine the noise would be easily noticeable with a more sensitive pair. I don't hear noise from the same IEMs plugged into the Sony adapter, I also can't hear the noise with something like Pinnacle PX plugged into it. The Elecom does aggressively drop down to a Bluetooth LE connection (and kill the audio) if there's nothing playing, while the Sony does not. So for all I know, there might be noise on the "muck" too, but I can't hear it - I did try powering it on/off with it in my ears and didn't notice a clear difference.
The power-on and track skip chimes from the Elecom also match the tones from my cheap-o, random brand, Chinesium BT puck for my car from Amazon (less than $30, cheapest thing I could find with aptX several years ago), which leads me to think there's nothing special inside it.
The Sony's "Powering on...Bluetooth connected" voice prompt, chimes, etc. match their other Bluetooth headphones - from the MDR-EX750BT which basically looks like the muck with MH755's hardwired into it [$50 on eBay] to their noise cancelling line like WI-1000X and I imagine other ones. Both of those units also accept 3.5mm input over a weird microUSB adapter cable, which makes sense for using the ANC buds with an airplane's headrest monitor or something, but not for the regular old wireless buds. So there's probably nothing "special" inside these either, in the sense that Sony just grabbed from their parts bin to put them together.
Neither adapter managed to give me satisfactory sound from the Pinnacle PX I tried them with - relatively high impedance for IEMs at 50Ω and low sensitivity at 96dB/mW - that's a pretty big drop from every other pair of MMCX IEMs I had handy to test with both adapters: [Sony XBA-A2 32Ω 108dB/mW ; Tin Audio T2 Pro 16Ω 102dB/mW ; FiiO F9 Pro 32Ω 106dB/mW]. The PX sounds fine driven from an amp or even from an LG V35. Plus, I'm not fond of the T2 Pro or F9 Pro overall, but that's not the point here lol.
So why'd I leave the KZ adapter out? I can really hear the noise. The ZSX is the most sensitive of the bunch @ 111 dB/mW, and the impedance is square in the middle of the pack @ 24Ω. And while I still don't hear any line noise with the ZSX if they're wired, even if I plug them straight into a smartphone, I can hear it at anything quieter than obnoxiously loud volume levels on their Bluetooth adapter. It also drops down to an LE connection with no active audio like the Elecom, and the noise disappearing is obvious. It will actually take it a step further and power down completely after I think 15 minutes, which wouldn't be that big of a deal if their pre-recorded woman telling me it was powering down DIDN'T SHOUT IT AT LINE LEVEL.
I'm tempted to buy a pair of these wired up for Sony MDR-EX800ST because the cable adapters for those are chunky and expensive, but even if this adapter is as "OK" as the Elecom, these are still 16Ω & 108dB/mW headphones. I'd be able to hear the noise. I'd rather take my chances at re-cabling MDR-EX750BT.
- Sony MUC-M2BT1 which this reviewer fondly/jokingly refers to as "muck" - got mine at $150
- Elecom LBT-HPC1000RC [Japanese link to mfg website] - under $80 on eBay when I picked mine up
- "KZ HD Bluetooth Headphone/Earphone Wireless Cable with Microphone Replacement for (C PIN (KZ-ZSN/ZSNpro/AS16/ZS10pro))" - and people have issues with Japanese model numbers... - paired with the KZ ZSX that's currently for sale on Drop - I paid the same $31.99 you see on the listing right now, and they have an MMCX version which I decided to ignore, more below.
Forgot about the Fiio BTR5. Newer but it's $120.
Damn, high quality writeup there. Thanks.
^This, tbh the trn 4.1 cable isn't terrible if your out and about (have some stuff going on around you) a little bit of line noise but form factor is hard to beat. I have both trn and muck and end up using the trn more often because of the form factor.