- Remarkable bass, both technically and qualitatively speaking.
- Mid-centric tuning which may be to the taste of many amateurs.
- Quality construction.
- Attractive design, if you don’t mind the cat motif.
- Just as the profile may appeal to some, it may not appeal to others.
- Small leather bag for proper transportation.
- Not the best ergonomics for my ears.
- Fingerprint magnet.
Link to the Store
According to the packaging, the IEMS Cat Ear Meow is manufactured at Shunshi (Shenzhen) Technology Co., LTD. I have no further information about the brand. This is the first model I know of them. They are $55 IEMS that can be chosen in three different finishes, each one more expensive than the previous one. The Silver model, the base model, is the subject of this review. It is a zinc alloy capsule with the silhouette of a cat on the outside of the capsule. The shape is semi-custom, but with some variations. Inside the capsule are two dynamic drivers, a 10mm and an 8mm driver. The former has a liquid crystal diaphragm and the latter a PET polymer composite diaphragm. The cable consists of 4 silver-plated OFC strands. They have the special feature of having been cryogenically treated at -196°C for three days. The connection type is 2Pin 0.78mm. Regardless of the finish, I think all versions sound the same. Here is my opinion about them.
- Driver Type: Dual dynamic driver. 10mm dynamic driver with liquid crystal diaphragm. 8mm dynamic driver with PET polymer composite diaphragm.
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 25kHz.
- Sensitivity: 110dB/mW
- Impedance: 16Ω±15%.
- Distortion Ratio: <1%.
- Capsule material: Zinc alloy
- Jack Connector: 3.5mm SE gold plated
- Capsule Connection Type: 2Pin 0.78mm
- Cable Length: 1.2m
- Cable Material: 4N OFC deep silver plated, cryogenically treated to -196ºC.
The Cat Ear Meow comes in an eminently black rectangular box, measuring 172x172x41mm. On its main face, a cat’s face can be seen, so that only the eyes stand out, although the nose and whiskers can be glimpsed. The brand logo and the model can be read in the upper left corner, in white letters. On the back side you can read all the specifications, as well as a presentation of the model and the frequency response. The text is in English and Chinese. At the bottom are the brand’s contact details. All this in white lettering. The box is perfectly sealed with a tamper evident. Once the outer cardboard is removed, you can access a very dark box with the logo in the middle and also on the opening flap. Inside there is a dense foam containing the two capsules and another mould with two sets of silicone tips (bass and balanced). Underneath this first layer is another mould containing a black leather pouch, like a purse with a magnetic clip, which holds the cryogenic cable. In summary, the contents are as follows:
- The two Cat Ear Meaow capsules with white silicone tips, size Medium.
- 1 set of white silicone tips, sizes SxMxL, Bass enhanced type.
- 1 set of white translucent silicone tips, sizes SxMxL, type Balanced.
- 1 pouch with magnetic clip, made of black synthetic leather.
- 1 4N OFC deep silver-plated OFC cable, cryogenically treated to -196°C.
The packaging is somewhat large for the contents. The leather pouch is a bit small for the size of the capsules. Two sets of tips are fine for the price. No superfluous things like instruction manual or other paperwork.
Construction and Design
The capsules of the Cat Ear Meow are made of zinc alloy. The surface is all-metal, smooth and highly polished, with a significant mirror effect that is both shiny and very susceptible to fingerprints. You could say that it resembles a classic semi-custom shape, but that would be a bit of an oversimplification. In reality it is a right triangle shape with very rounded corners. The symbolic minor and major legs are joined by a sharp curve that turns inwards to be a smooth side until it curves back towards the hypotenuse. The apex between the minor cathetus and the hypotenuse contains the 2Pin 0.78mm connector, which is shallow, translucent plastic and rectangular in shape. On the outer face is a free-form silhouette resembling the profile of a cat’s head and the model name in handwriting. The thickness of the body is medium-large and the inside of the capsule is curved with a larger bulge as it approaches the nozzles. It is an integral body and the mouthpieces form a complete part of the entire interior of the capsule. The nozzles are protected with a metal mesh. There is a hole protected inside with a white mesh. The joint between the outer and inner face is visible, but very well assembled.
The cable has 4 OFC strands with deep silver plating. In addition, it is cryogenically treated at -196°C for three days. The plug is 3.5mm SE gold plated. The connector sleeve is a classic and simple narrow cylinder. The divider piece is made of the same material, only its shape is narrow conical, similar to a cone with no bottom vertex. The pin is made of translucent plastic and has two holes, one for each channel. It is H-shaped when viewed from the side. The cable is shaped like an ear and the 2Pin connectors are simple, embedded in transparent plastic pieces, in the shape of a padlock. The letter of each channel is inscribed on each piece, in a way that is very difficult to distinguish.
The design is striking, but the simplicity of the external silhouette makes the basic model the most elegant of the three to choose from. The capsules are not the lightest, but for metal, they are not heavy either. The cable has a bombastic treatment that can add little or no benefit to the sound. I even think that a pure copper cable would have been more suitable, given the exciting mid-high profile of this model.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
At first, both the shape and the weight seem good. The insertion is about average, although in my particular morphology, it remains superficial. Depending on the tips used, it could be higher. A set of tips with a medium inner channel is preferable in order to project the mouthpiece inside the channel. A larger inner diameter would sink the tips into the body of the capsule. Over time, after more than half an hour, I have started to feel discomfort at the base of the pinna. The extra-rounded face that joins the symbolic minor and major catetus ends up bothering me, as well as a protrusion on the inner side, also in that part. This curve should be smaller and not so stubby. The weight doesn’t bother me, but the shape does. I’ve tried dozens of IEMS and this is one of the very few that end up bothering me. And it’s not because of the weight.
The Cat Ear Meow have a mid-centred profile, with clearly emphasised mid-highs, softened/mapped highs with a large control zone and bass that is at a neutral or slightly higher level. The bass level can be emphasised by means of the standard tips (bass enhanced) or similar. More contact with the walls of the ear canal could also increase the feeling of bass presence, as is the case with my homemade foam-filled tips, which simulate Symbio W tips. The profile has a slightly warmer feel to it, which I attribute more to the lack of treble, due to its nuanced condition, than to an elevation of the bass. The difference between the most distant points of the mids can almost reach 15dB, which implies a profile that is not balanced in its central part. In fact, the control zone is even more pronounced, generating an immediate and deep drop, as soon as the treble starts.
I’m not usually a big fan of burning, but here I have done a generous process. In addition, I also tested different cables and tips. In the end, I used a pure copper cable and the classic homemade Symbio W tips that I make myself. Although, initially, the sound with them was too twangy, after burning it seems to have improved in «smoothness», if you can use the word to define the upper midrange and its over-the-top excitement.
After a good burning, a search for tips and a change of cable to pure copper, I can confess that the bass is not bad at all, if the technical characteristics are anything to go by. First of all, it should be noted that this is not an anaemic area at all, but could be called neutral, although slightly elevated. This designation is true when playing bass-dominant music and isolating the zone. The bass is rather smooth, but with a classic lift in the mid-range, something that introduces size and body to the LFOs, although it is not the deepest of representations. In any case, the pure tone test from 20Hz to 50Hz is totally natural and many IEMS would like to sound like the Meow does. Their vibration is realistic, sensitive, perceptive and uncoloured. The audible end is represented as such and the 40Hz punch exhibits power and body in keeping with reality. The oscillations feel natural, both in timbre and in the way they are reproduced. In this case, the performance is good as you would expect from a dynamic driver well tuned for this purpose. Even superior. No complaints in this respect.
The hit is agile and restrained, the decay is very good, there is no aftertaste and the bass disappears quickly. The weight is not very heavy and the amount of air it displaces is contained. But the good sensory level it reaches favours its perception and raises the sensation of both quality and presence. By being more focused in its middle, it loses depth and feels more audible for the most part. If the emphasis had been shifted towards the sub-bass and raised by 5dB at the head of the audible range, the response would have been excellent. The problem comes when to enjoy the bass you have to turn up the volume and that’s when the mid-highs overlap in presence, ruining the experience.
A priori, the mids have an unbalanced curve, just by looking at the frequency response. In reality, this becomes apparent in certain cases and depending on the music played. As a mid-centric EMI that extols the high-mids, the Cat Ear Meow is susceptible to auditory fatigue. Sometimes the experience can be very good, sometimes more difficult to digest.
If we go into the musical virtues, first and foremost, we can highlight the luminosity of the central range, the clarity, a good level of separation, the emphasis on detail and the richness of its nuances. The overexposure of the upper part raises the appreciation of the technical characteristics, but in a forced, somewhat fictitious way, due to the tuning it possesses. The timbre is on the shrill side, with final flashes that are stopped by a muted high end. While the first part is thin, the central body seems adequate, but the ending is prone to a mixed sibilance, high in its first half, but cut off in its final part. So is this high part, it starts strong but cuts off abruptly, due to the powerful treble control zone. The result is a sound that is not quite real. It can sound powerful and determined, with a lot of clarity, giving a sense of good definition and resolving power. But there are elements whose timbre does not match, and this is where fatigue sets in, as well as having an abruptness that demands the listener’s attention at the first click. The male voices lack a more corporeal feel, more density in their execution, as well as more physicality in their base. The same is true of the first half of the mids. While the transition from the lows to the mids is very good, the transition from the first half to the second half of the middle range is not so good. The rapid growth towards the treble emancipates the details and clicks, rather than the fundamentals of the instruments. This is how the drums, snares and such flashes sound over the top and unfinished, because their progression feels meagre due to the clear cutting of the treble. Something similar happens in the female vocals, they can sound very striking initially, given that their fundamental is on the way to the top. But reconstruction is not complete. The overall result is overwhelming at the start, but as time goes on, the level of demand, the drift of the timbre towards a more penetrating, harder sound, moving away from softness, begins to take its toll on my ears, which are looking for a more sedate profile, though not devoid of technicalities. It’s a pity, because the first half is in keeping with the bass, while the second half is a very daring gamble, only for people who are persistent to this tuning. I’m not one of them.
The treble seems to have only one section: the initial one. While they do not have much extension or air. They are concentrated in the first flash, and this is abrupt and enhanced. They are crisp in this first instance, even enjoyable. But on closer inspection, the harmonics feel limited and the absence of air is noticeable. The rest is smooth. It’s an overall advantage, but one that doesn’t marry with the emphasis of the upper-mids. With another type of tuning, such as classical V tuning, it would be highly acceptable. But, in this case, the negative side is enhanced more than the positive side, as the imbalance is increased, making it more evident. It is clear that we are dealing with IEMS whose price is limited. But what is the point of using two dynamic drivers? I understand this construction as a classic two-way loudspeaker: while the larger driver is dedicated to the bass and the first half of the midrange, the second one should take care of the upper part. And in that sense, the second half of the treble should not be so nuanced. Unless it is the result of a deliberately mid-centric tuning, suitable for listening to cat meows with great clarity and emphasis.
Along with the bass, the Cat Ear Meows are lavished with technical aspects, a certain kind of definition and a presentation that can become broad and splashy. With a lot of detail and nuance sounding in the foreground, the sound suffers from a certain depth, although it would be unfair to say that the sound is not capable of sounding deep at all, but rather that this ability is not enhanced. In the foreground, mid-centric tuning wins out, whereas with electronic music, this aspect of musical expansion is gained. Laterality is good, thanks to that sparkling presentation that adds some movement and volatility. However, the most important elements don’t always feel well represented, which gives an ambivalent character to the instrumental recreation and the positioning of the vocals, although I’m being very strict here.
I could conclude that the sense of separation is noticeable, that it suffers from a certain sense of airiness, and that the image has good width and laterality, thanks to the expansion of detail, although the positioning can become a little more diffuse.
Reecho SG-01 OVA
Let’s see what a Cat Ear Meow could be like with the tweaks I’ve been discussing in the review. I demanded that if the Meow had 5dB more in the sub-bass, the low end could be excellent. The OVAs have that gain. Also, the mid-highs are similar, but with a more controlled entry into the treble, plus clearly more extension in the second half and especially in the air zone.
In terms of construction, oh, surprise! The OVA are also made of zinc alloy, have a similar cable, maybe a little less because it is stiffer, more tips and a zippered case, as I always like to find. On top of that, it’s cheaper.
In terms of ergonomics, the OVA capsule is smaller. You could say that the weight is the same. But the shapes, both internally and at the edges, are softer, with no strange or forced protrusions. This way, they don’t cause me fatigue, nor do they bother me as the hours go by.
In terms of sound, the OVA sound much more believable from the outset. The bass is deeper and can be clearly felt, without having to strain or turn up the volume to appreciate them. Which can be counterproductive, because the mid-highs of the Meow are more easily boosted, which sends the bass into the background again. The only thing I could point out about the Meow is that its low end is of very good quality, sounding very credible, restrained, with a good timbre and technical ability, perhaps superior overall. But, of course, my bass-loving little heart is drawn to the greater power and depth that the OVA does present.
In the first half of the mid-range there is more physicality, body and fullness. If you look at the graph, there is a 1.5khz band that is equal, from 500Hz to 2khz. But, both the left and right sides add realism and naturalness to the OVA. While the Meow accentuates its mid-centric character, the OVA relies on a more noticeable bass and a more restrained, yet more extended first treble. The result is a much more realistic and fuller timbre. I can’t deny that there is also an excited side in the upper mids, but it is much more believable and natural than the Meow. In this way, the male voices are fuller, complete, mature and natural. The female voices feel projected, but never clipped, as the high end pitch is adequate. The rest of the elements are represented more normally and that alone is enough to sound better than the Meow.
The entry of the treble in the OVA is slightly more measured, it also has a powerful control zone, which counteracts the initial flare. But then it recovers much better, bringing very noticeable harmonics as well as more air. The result is a high zone that is enjoyable for its blend of smoothness and extension, with well thought out and executed tuning.
Without either possessing a very large image, again, realism falls to the OVA. With a concave image and appreciable height, the laterality is superior to that of the Meow. On this occasion, the details are not splashed and what is appreciated is what is fundamental, which are the instruments and the voices. Everything has a better place and the details do not obscure the positioning of the main elements. The scene is more realistic and proportionate. The greater amount of air adds steam to the music and breathes distance between the notes. This makes the background appear darker and with better definition.
Sometimes comparisons are odious. The OVA are a complete ensemble, while the Meow are more specialist, let’s be clear.
The Cat Ear Meow is a product that specialises in a type of sound that must be represented in the market. It is sure to have its audience and in this sense it can be a great value and a great choice. It is well constructed, the design is pleasing and the cat line drawing is attractive. Both the packaging and the accessories are in line with the price. So there is no reason why this model should even be a way to cover all profiles for any hobbyist. You just have to understand the idiosyncrasies of their profile. Like cats, they don’t usually do what we want them to do and they tend to be freer spirits. I think this model also follows its own instinct.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Hidizs AP80 PRO-X Red Copper Limited Edition.
- Burson Audio Playmate.
- S.M.S.L Sanskrit 10th MKII + iFi ZEN CAN.
- xDuoo XD05 BAL.
- xDuoo Link2 BAL.
- Earmen Colibri.
- E1DA #9038D.