The Alternative Dynamics
- Technical characteristics of the driver used.
- Tone and naturalness.
- Balanced and alternative profile.
- Construction and design that provides high ergonomics, deeper insertion and greater isolation.
- Original packaging.
- Very practical storage box.
- The cable is not up to the quality of the capsules.
Link to the Store
NF Audio is a brand of headphones under the company Shenzhen Ningfan Acoustics. It was founded in 2014. They have several models of medium and high range (JD22, JD24, NF4u, NF3u, NF2u, NF2Pro, NF3Pro, NF4Pro, NF6Pro, NF8Pro, NF4m …). The meaning of the mark, according to them, could be: «Near Field», «Nice Fit», «Nice Frequency response»…
They have recently brought out their cheapest model, the NA1, which is the model I’m going to review. It mounts a dynamic driver, called the MCL2-10. Among the technologies used in the driver, we can emphasize the use of «bilateral voice coil leads» to reduce the distortion generated by the vibration, dual magnetic circuit, where two NdFeB magnets provide a magnetic flux higher than 1 Tesla and a double cavity design, to control the air pressure more accurately and thus, smooth the movement of the diaphragm. Finally, the 3D driver cover has been specially designed to reduce reflection interference. All this helps to make the sound very detailed, full and with a well-defined low frequency, abundant but controlled.
- Drivers Type: double cavity dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 9Hz – 40kHz
- Maximum SPL: 125dB
- Sensitivity: 110dB/mW
- Impedance: 18Ω
- Sound insulation: 25dB
- Distortion Ratio: <1%
- Connector Jack: 3.5mm Audio
- Cable: 5N silver-plated OFC
- Capsule Connection Type: 2pin 0.78mm
The box is big, its dimensions are 230x146x55mm. It is completely black and the letters are grey. On its upper face, on the top, there is a transparent opening, which allows the capsules to be seen. They are inserted into a foam piece decorated like an audio CD. A tab, with the logo and brand name, simulates the laser reader that reads the CD. At the bottom of this face, in vertical letters, is written the name of the model and its small description. There are also coloured moles, which indicate the colour of the capsules. On the right-hand side of the model is the same descriptive content as on the upper side. On the left side, there are some of the characteristics and properties of the model. On the back side, the specifications are completed and some additional information is provided. The languages used in the packaging are Chinese and English.
Once the cover is removed from the packaging, you can see the foam piece, which simulates the CD, where the capsules are embedded. Next to it, there is a black cardboard envelope, inside which there is a booklet with instructions, description of the model, advice on use, guarantee, introduction to the brand, its meaning, its future, etc. It is also written in Chinese and English. Several things are worth noting: on the cardboard envelope, there is a silk-screen printing reminiscent of the controls of a CD player. On the foam piece where the capsules are fitted, both the side and the polarity of the pins are indicated.
Once the envelope is removed, a gray rectangular transport box with a magnetic closure appears, with the logo and brand name inscribed on a grained plate. There is also a small cardboard box, inside which there are blister packs with silicone tips and a small cleaning tool, which has a brush and a fork. There are two sets of silicone tips, three pairs each, size SxMxL. One is white silicone, called «Balanced ear tips» and the other is black, called «Bass ear tips». Apart from the colour difference, their inside diameter is also different. Balanced ear tips have a larger inside diameter.
As a summary, the complete content is:
- The two capsules.
- A 5N cable with a 2pin 0.78mm connection and a 3.5mm plug.
- User’s guide.
- Transport box.
- Cleaning utensil.
- Balanced ear tips (SxMxL).
- Bass ear tips (SxMxL).
The packaging is original, with that tribute to the CD. It may be a little big, but it is something that is normal in most products in this price range. The transport box is rigid, its interior is velvety, it is very useful, distinctive and original. In addition, its dimensions and shape, are very appropriate for storage.
The cleaning tool is appreciated, but some foam tips and a higher quality cable are missing.
Construction and Design
The design differs slightly from the IEMS I’ve tried recently. The shape of the capsules is very stylish: both in the shape of the outer face, and in the finish of the nozzles. The outer face is made of aviation aluminium, manufactured on a 5-axis CNC machine. The shape is narrow, which helps the fit in the ears. The body of the capsule is made of dark, semi-opaque resin. Its shape adapts very well to the auditory pavilion, following a very ergonomic shape. In addition, both the body and the nozzles are conveniently designed to achieve deeper insertion and a high level of isolation. This type of shape makes it easier to adjust, prevents movement and makes the choice of tips much easier and optimal, as it is very feasible to achieve the perfect seal. In this way, it is easy to take advantage of the characteristics of each used tip, being able to observe the characteristics of each one of them.
Returning to the capsules, on the inner side, a hole can be seen, near the base of the nozzles. There is also another hole, this time like a metal button, located on the rear side. The 2pin 0.78mm connection is surface mounted on an oval shaped transparent plastic base. The nozzles are metallic and have an H-shaped profile. The diameter, just at the outermost part of the nozzle, where the metallic grid is located, is 6.1mm, while the diameter of the inner area is 4.9mm.
The cable consists of 4 braided strands, covered with black plastic. The two-pin connector is covered by a rigid, transparent plastic sleeve. This sleeve is angled so that it separates from the vertical plane that crosses the connectors. This way, it tries to separate the cable from the head, to provide a better fit over the ear. The cable, in the immediate area of this sheath, has a semi-rigid translucent plastic guide, to ensure its position behind the ear. The dividing piece is a black plastic disc, with the brand logo inscribed on both sides. The pin is an oval, metallic piece with two holes. The Jack connector is 3.5mm, gold-plated and its cover is a two-colour grey cylinder, with a lowered and polished face, where the brand name can be read. Finally, the cable has a customized Velcro strip, to collect it easily.
The design of the capsules, I think that seeks more the best possible ergonomics and comfort, as opposed to beauty. The capsules are very practical and very well constructed. The weight of each one of them, is in a good medium term. In addition, there is the possibility of choosing the colour of the outer face in grey, blue and red. The cable, however, tarnishes the quality of the set. Nowadays, a lot of importance is given to this element, both in the design and in the thickness, number of strands, material used, etc. In this case, a 5N cable is used, with quite thin strands, which in my opinion, is not up to the performance of the capsules.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The NF Audio NA1 has been designed to optimize its ergonomics, of that I have no doubt. The narrow shape of the capsules makes it fit very precisely in the ears. The shape and length of the mouthpieces, favours a deeper insertion, ensuring an optimal and high sealing, as well as a greater sound immersion and high isolation. This shape favours the use of smaller tips, and also allows the sound characteristics of each tip to be preserved, as the fit is very simple, firm and stable.
The profile of the NF AUDIO NA1 is balanced, with very linear bass, with good depth. Its main emphasis is on the high mids, first highs, generating a very clear sound.
Basses from a dynamic driver are always welcome. This time, though, they are not the most emphasized part of your frequency curve. Every day, these drivers are more refined, providing better sound qualities, gaining in speed and realism, offering greater fidelity. This is something that NF Audio demonstrates in this model. The NA1’s bass is powerfully controlled, fast and very tight. If it weren’t for the DD sound, you’d think you were hearing a big bass BA, because it has the best of it. The low zone is very linear, only the most sub-bass part has a small drop, without it tricking a good feeling of depth. That way, the balance is quite big, getting a very uniform, compact and very precise hit. The timbre is very natural, with a smooth and soft texture. The sound planes of this lower zone are described with great precision and detail, they have great lamination and their layers are easily broken up. Its overall presence is located behind the middle zone, far from a bass-head level, but with a good amount for a balanced profile. Those who want to get more bass presence can use the narrower channel tips, called «Bass Ear Tips», that come with the accessories. With the «Balanced Ear Tips», the reduction of the bass zone is very evident.
There is enormous quality in this zone, provided by the good qualities of the magnificent dynamic driver.
The profile of the NA1s highlights the midrange, generating it with great clarity, with a brilliant hue, which characterises the sound as a whole. This emphasis on the upper mid-range favours a very clean execution of the voices, especially the female ones. Its timbre is situated on the luminous side of neutrality, but without sounding unnatural, nor too fine, since no lack of body is perceived in them. Although they stand out in presence, their perception is not strictly close, but they are well placed within the rest of the instruments, with good separation and a very realistic and natural reconstruction. The proof of the remarkable symbiosis between voices and instrumentation is the high degree of detail perceived in the mids. All of them feel as close as the voices and the instruments, giving them a great sense of naturalness and realism. This is something that underlines once again the excellence of the dynamic driver created by NF Audio, as it is capable of providing a wealth of nuances and resolution, almost unusual for a driver of this type, in this price range.
Again, thanks to the «Balanced Ear Tips», this range can be highlighted, as the bass is quite reduced. But it can also bring the wheezing to a higher point than is permissible, for some sensitive ears. In that case I recommend the «Bass Ear Tips». But you can also play with other tips, with different diameters, bi-flange or tri-flange. The NA1s have an ergonomic design that allows a deeper, medium or shallower insertion, depending on the tips used, which provides a lot of possibilities to tune the sound by «tip rolling».
The first trebles are quite energetic, but the sound generated is neither lacerating nor too sharp. They could be classified as lively and dynamic, crunchy, even exciting. After this almost dazzling start, comes the typical calm, which comes to refine the range, so that it becomes neither excessive, nor too penetrating. The timbre remains realistic, within the natural side. There is a good amount of air, although the extension of the treble is restrained.
As a result, the treble is quite detailed, though not analytical, which is appreciated. The richness of nuance is remarkable, and this is revealed in all ranges, which gives a good idea of the good level of resolution that the NA1s possess.
The NA1 scene is semi-circular, but with more width than depth or height. Its perception is eminently frontal, but very clean, thanks to its high level of clarity. The separation also plays a very important role in this appreciation, as it helps to produce this feeling. Although, on this occasion, this level of separation is observed to be greater than the scene itself. The result is a very well defined, clean, bright, rich, full of resolution sound, with good instrumental and vocal placement, which enjoys a remarkable distance between notes.
The OH1s are one of the clear rivals, as they have a similar profile; moreover, they are hybrids. I wanted to see what the NA1s sound like in relation to the mids generated by a well-balanced BA. The first difference is in the adjustment of each one: the NA1s offer a deeper insertion, but, depending on the tips used, this can be modified. The Ikko nozzles are much shorter, offering a more superficial insertion. The second difference is in the volume, the NA1s move easily. The Ikko requires a little more energy to match the listening. The third difference is in the profile. Ikko are slightly more balanced, but also more V-shaped. They have a greater accent on sub-bass, more weight and overall presence in the lower range. While the NA1, have a more linear bass and more body, from half of the range onwards. They are more agile and fast, with better definition. While in the Ikko, the lower zone has a point of comparative darkness, although greater depth. In the middle zone, in its first half, the NA1 have more clarity, are more luminous and clean. They also have more closeness, presence and, again, more body. The voices in the Ikko sound lighter, colder, thinner, comparatively incomplete, somewhat more distant, perceiving their character more in V. In the NA1 there is more heat and greater width, they sound fuller and with greater presence of low area. They also offer a richer texture, with more nuances and details. The OH1 only offers a smoother and more anodyne texture, which does not stand out especially, where the NA1 reveals greater resolution capacity and, above all, expressiveness. On the other hand, Ikko are more analytical in the upper mid-range, sound more concrete, and the notes are finer, separate and isolated. But they lack the musicality that the NA1 do. In fast and synthetic passages, the OH1s demonstrate again that colder and aseptic character. The NA1s do not reach their level of precision, but they offer a close level, but with much more life. The upper zone of the Ikko follows this same trend, of coldness and greater analysis, their treble sounds sharper, more pungent and crisp. In the NA1, they are smoother, wider, but even more extensive, providing a more comfortable feeling.
The micro separation in the Ikko is higher, but there is more air in the NA1, filling a larger space and thus generating more width and a more ethereal sound than that offered by the OH1. In this way, your scene is bigger and semicircular, as opposed to the moderately deep sound of the Ikko, but also narrower.
Currently, there seems to be a curious trend: dynamic drivers, they want to possess the qualities of BA drivers and they want to sound like dynamic drivers.
On this basis, my impression is that the NF Audio NA1 seek precisely that, extract the best qualities of BA drivers: speed, accuracy, clarity, separation, resolution, detail, richness of nuance … But with a timbre and naturalness, which only good dynamic drivers can provide. And, of course, the typical quality in the lower zone. Even its profile, flees from the classic Harman Target, offering another different and pure alternative. In my humble impression, the NA1 has achieved the best of both technologies, using the classic dynamic driver, but totally improved. In addition, they have designed one of the most versatile IEMS in terms of fit and ergonomics, which I have had the pleasure of testing in their price range. In addition, they are small, excellently constructed, have a careful packaging and an original transport box. There is no doubt that the NA1 are one of the new dynamic alternative kings.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Burson Audio Playmate
- Tempotec Serenade iDSD
- ACMEE MF-01