- Very detailed and descriptive, almost analytical sound.
- Driver speed.
- Neutral but weighty bass, reference level.
- Wide and open soundstage, very good level of separation and transparency.
- Very light weight.
- Minimal accessories, no storage pouch.
- The timbre of the high end can be a bit critical, as well as in the sub-bass.
- The brightness level is high, perhaps not to everyone’s taste.
- The size of the capsules could be smaller or more rounded on the inside, without protrusions, to improve the ergonomics.
Link to the Store
NiceHCK continues to expand its catalogue. After a year full of top-of-the-range products, such as the EBX21 earbuds, the IEMS Lofty and Topguy, they expanded their repertoire with the HB2 Bluetooth receiver. But this time, to end the year, it’s time to return to more affordable products, a field in which the Chinese brand is very good at. After the DB3, NiceHCK has brought out the DB1. It is a model with a single 10mm dynamic driver, consisting of a strong N50 magnetic circuit, a 0.03mm Daikoku coil and a diaphragm made of PU biofibre. For the outer casing a classic semi-custom shape has been used, made of transparent Bayer PC. Two colours are available, blue and dark grey. As usual, a detachable cable with 2Pin 0.78mm connection is used and the cable can be chosen with or without microphone. The most important of all, though, is usually the sound. And, as usual, the brand does not disappoint. None of the aforementioned models are lacking in sound or build quality, there’s no denying that. For this occasion, the tuning chosen is once again a good choice, as it avoids the typical V-curves offered by many of the products in this range. It is more refined and balanced, with a linear low end and a moderate emphasis on the upper mids and upper treble.
In the following review, we’ll take a closer look at this and other aspects of this surprisingly affordable NiceHCK model.
- Driver Type: 10mm dynamic driver, N50 magnetic circuit, 0.03mm Daikoku coil and PU bio-fibre composite diaphragm.
- Frequency Response: 20-20kHz
- Sensitivity: 106dB/mW
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Cartridge material: BAYER PC
- Jack connector: 3.5mm SE gold-plated.
- Cable length: 1.2m ± 5cm.
- Capsule Connection Type: 2Pin 0.78mm
The NiceHCK DB1s come in a small white box, with an Anime girl in the centre. The inclusion of this kind of drawing is starting to become too much of a stretch and seems to emphasise that audio products are preferably for men. As cute as these drawings look, and as cheap as they are likely to be than using real models, I think that choosing only girls can be limiting in many ways and is not egalitarian. Personally, I would stop using these drawings and focus on the product. If we want to see drawings like these, we’d be better off reading anime or comics, which are available in great quality and variety, fortunately.
Well, back to the subject, my intention was not to attack this brand in particular, but all those that use this type of image.
Apart from the image, the box has a size of 126x89x30mm. On the top left corner is the brand logo, in black letters, and on the right corner is the model name, in red letters. The back is simple, the model name in the same shape, approximately in the centre left of the box, below it the description and specifications, in Chinese and English. Below that you can see a grey and a blue capsule, together with squares with the chosen model. In my case it is the blue one without microphone. At the bottom of the box, there is the logo of the brand and their contact details.
After removing the outer cardboard, you can see the capsules in a rigid white foam mould. At the bottom is a box with the brand logo in the centre. Once all the packaging has been removed, the complete contents are as follows:
- The two DB1 capsules.
- One cable, with velcro strap and protective sleeve for the 3.5mm SE plug, gold-plated.
- 3 pairs of translucent grey silicone tips, sizes SxMxL.
- One clothes pin.
The contents are minimal, the typical NiceHCK pouch is missing. It has gone from a zipped pouch to a pouch and now there is none of this. It is true that the model is very economical, but I would pay 1 or 2 € to include this type of accessory, otherwise I will have to buy it separately. It doesn’t make much sense.
Construction and Design
The capsules are made of BAYER PC, a material that looks like a kind of transparent plastic. PC could also stand for polycarbonate. They have a classic semi-custom shape, which reminds me of TFZ products, although the inner side is more ergonomically shaped. The outer face has the classic African continent shape, with a golden metallic dot at the bottom corner. The body is transparent and there is a repeating hexagonal pattern on the face. In the centre of the face is the brand logo, in yellow. The size is medium and relatively thick. On the edge, near the metal dot, is the model name, along with a mole indicating the side of the channel, all in white ink. Continuing along this edge, towards the top, is a transparent, protruding plate, which is rectangular in shape with rounded corners. This is the 2Pin 0.78mm connection plate.
The inner face is rounded, with a protrusion at the end, to improve the anchoring of the capsule in our ears. There is a small hole in the centre of the driver, close to the base of the mouthpiece. It is metallic and grey, 4mm long and has three diameter levels, the initial one is 6mm, the central one is 4.8mm and the outer one is 5.9mm. The nozzle is protected by a dotted grid, also metallic.
The cable is the classic 4-strand black coiled cable, with a stretched triangular plastic splitter, small pin of the same colour and material, rectangular in shape. The plug is angled, the connector is 3.5mm gold plated. It has a protective sleeve. The 2Pin connectors have a classic NX7 shape, typical of the brand itself. But any bare 2Pin cable may be compatible.
The capsule is extremely light, the inside is clear and practically empty except for the driver in the middle. I like the metal nozzles and the 2Pin connector. The design is becoming universal for many IEMS, but in affordable elements, I prefer to ensure a concrete and ergonomic shape, rather than weird shapes that are difficult to fit. Nothing negative to object to, I think the fact that it is transparent gives it a particular appeal. Despite the lightness, the capsules feel well built and durable.
There is little to say about the cable, a simple, fairly common accessory, which does its job without more, but which invites to be replaced by a superior one, even if it is cheap too. There are many cables for up to €10 that are better.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The ergonomics of this classic shape are also classic. The shape of the capsules is of a medium size, although at the limit of the shape of my ears. The fit is good, but the protrusions at the inner end of the capsules may not be to everyone’s taste or ergonomics. They are very light and in that respect there is nothing to say. The nozzles are relatively wide and short, so the fit will be shallow or medium at best if you have a wide canal. Despite the shallow fit, the capsules do not protrude very far and rotation is minimal. Although some minor adjustment may be necessary to get the best sound and orientation of the nozzles to the channel.
The NiceHCK’s profile is balanced to its elevation in the upper mids and early treble. Its bass is quite linear and despite its boost between 2kHz and 6kHz, you don’t feel a loss of control in that range. The result is a very clear, bright, sparkling sound, but with a relative punch in the lows.
Quality bass is becoming increasingly easy to find in dynamic drivers, but not so easy to find in such an inexpensive product. The best virtue of the DB1’s bass is its speed. It’s clear that it doesn’t have a high low end, but that doesn’t detract from its quality. In the same way that other much more expensive IEMS, which have similar tunings, have controlled, dry, punchy, low decay bass, the DB1 also goes that way. It is undeniable how good a job the driver does with the bass and the tuning goes a long way in this respect. We all know the preference of sub-bass fans and the DB1s stand the test of time at that lower end. Colouring in that initial part is minimal and only noticeable in the tones below 40Hz, from there and above, the sound is quite natural, both in timbre and behaviour. The punch is compact and the decay is fast, there is no aftertaste and the bass is picked up in a breath. They have a light and smooth texture, there is no excessive roughness and the definition is palpable, distinguishable, high for its range. Flat recreation is good and bass lines develop with a certain fluidity and naturalness, without losing control or realism. Actually, I am judging the low end of the DB1s as if they were IEMS of a much higher range, and that is because the technical quality of the DB1s makes me think so. It’s clear that the level of resolution, the texture, the descriptive power, the recreation of planes and layering is not extraordinary, but rather on a simpler level, although really very worthy and surprising for their price. Excellent.
Finally, just to clarify that this is not a bass-head bass, as it is not even predominant. Its level is HiFi grade, with great fidelity, above neutrality, but with great control and packaging with the rest of the tuning.
The elevated tendency of the upper mids and first treble, so characteristic of many IEMS, has for some time now brought a lot of clarity and transparency, as well as a clear favour and enhancement of the central range. It is clear that following the majority, due to fashion, can have some advantages, but it is also necessary to reflect on the extent to which this trend should be followed and to realise where it can be detrimental. Perhaps it is unrealistic to ask for this kind of work in such low-cost IEMS, when other, much more expensive IEMS have not done it either. This work was well executed in the Topguy, NiceHCK’s top of the range IEMS. But I may even be more in favour of the DB1’s low end tuning, even more daring in the treble. Because it’s easier to be bold in a sub-$20 headphone than in a $250 headphone.
After this long intro, the conclusion is that the mids are as they appear, very clear, bright, somewhat thin, with a light body and more emphasis on detail than mass. The sibilances are at the allowed edge and limit, leaving it up to the source whether this point is crossed or not. With warm sources, this level seems not to be exceeded, though with cooler, more analytical ones, the level of sparkle is felt to be abundant, at that limit of acceptability for many, which may even determine the exposure time of the IEMS in our ears. I can affirm that I would have preferred one more point of control. But then again, I am analysing these IEMS as if they were much more expensive. They are not. These are inexpensive IEMS with present mids, but they know how to keep their distance. Their body has a lean, delicate and fine tendency, without much base. That is why the lines are agile and fast, there is not much mass to move. The result is a low density and a more volatile, transparent, airy and free representation. The timbre does not escape this inclination towards brightness, but it is not wrong, nor does it lose realism. There is good cohesion and fluidity in the mids, bringing musicality to a range favoured by detail and nuance. And this is the strength of the DB1s, because they are IEMS that are not complete analytical, but they do bring a high level of resolution and definition to the midrange. And this characteristic can be felt to be enhanced by the sources used. The level of detail extraction is excellent, it’s clear that the DB1s do it their own way, stretching and broadening the treble, but the detail and micro-matic is there. They are perhaps a little metallic at times, but I didn’t feel it was too detrimental. As an aid to this point, the use of better cables, good or warmer sources can be beneficial. Those who believe in burning can give it a try, although I am inclined to go for more tangible solutions. Despite all this, I must also say that I am not able to find other IEMS, let alone dynamic ones, with this level of transparency and detail, for less than $20. It is clear that such a level has a price, but IEMS 10 times more expensive also pay it and there they are. Hearing is believing.
The upper zone is initially elevated. It is very clear how much sparkle it possesses and how good its presence is. I can’t say that the treble is controlled, but neither is it saturated. It is clear that the treble comes through with power, sparkle, lift and brilliance, when it’s their turn and that they keep little to themselves. The big advantage is that the driver is still very agile and the treble is fast. This way its persistence is very low and the flash dissipates quickly. But I must admit that this level of presence overwhelms me in certain situations. However, this is a matter of personal taste. Those who like sparkling, fast and extended treble will probably enjoy this model very much. For the rest, just be warned: an extended, present, vivid and crisp range. The result is that this level of sparkle appears in the midrange and helps to extract a lot of detail from it, as well as recreating a lot of nuance, both at the micro and macro level. The extension is also noticeable and the treble has a good initial dose of air, which also carries through to the rest of the band.
The scene is rendered eminently wide, it has some height, but depth is more limited. The sound is very detailed and has a noticeable dose of air, but lacks much three-dimensionality. Elements are rendered in a flat rather than surrounding manner, despite the level of clarity and transparency it possesses. The scenery is frontal, with a good level of laterality and stereo sensation. But the elements don’t feel very volatile, or ethereal. Despite the high level of separation, there is not much spherical distance and placement is defined from left to right or the other way around, with depth or height not being very decisive at this point.
Despite all this, for the price range, both the level of transparency, width and air are very good.
Tin HiFi T1 Plus
The T1 Plus are slightly more expensive IEMs, currently available for $29. They have a similar construction, although they are smaller, even the cable is similar. Their weight is also very low and the smaller size makes the fit quicker and more comfortable.
There are small differences in their curves, which end up being quite significant. The DB1s are clearly brighter and more transparent, while the T1 Plus are warmer, less extended and present in the treble, with a more accentuated mid-bass. The T1 Plus are a bit more sensitive and louder at the same volume.
The low end of the DB1s is more reference and more neutral. The T1 Plus is more energetic, but its timbre and loudness is more realistic and natural, which is noticeable in the low end. The sub bass sounds and plays better. In terms of speed they are very even, and there is little damping in both IEMS, as well as noticeable recovery. Admittedly, the greater bass elongation of the T1 Plus may give the impression that it is slower, because its travel and depth is greater. But, in reality, the two are very much on par, despite the difference in energy in favour of the T1 Plus. The higher energy generates a more tangible and pleasant texture, as well as a darker and more sensitive colour. All in all, as a bass-lover, I lean towards the bass presentation of the T1 Plus. But I also recognise that the more neutral grade of the DB1s may be more appealing to many other fans.
In the mid-range the warmer sound of the T1 Plus adds more body to the first half of this range. While the DB1s offer a sense of superior clarity and transparency, there is no hint of darkness. This sense of cleanliness enhances the area, even brings it closer to the listener. Above all, because details feel more defined and perceptible. Where the T1 Plus are smoother, the DB1’s more analytical level brings more texture and a descriptive level above the midrange. True, the latter feels thinner, but also more delicate and with a higher resolution. Comparatively speaking, there is a lot of nuance that falls by the wayside in the reproduction of the T1 Plus, whereas the DB1 exposes it with ease, because it has more definition and that more critical character. So it’s not just a difference of a few dB in the upper midrange, but also a higher technical level in the NiceHCKs.
The upper range is the most different between the two models. The T1 Plus is a controlled zone, albeit with an initial sparkle and a certain amount of air. But everything is superior in the DB1s – energy, excitement, emphasis and extension. It’s clear that the DB1s offer a much crisper and brighter treble. While the treble of the T1 Plus is safe, the DB1s feel dangerous. It’s also something fans should be aware of. I would have gone with something in between the two models. Which one feels more natural? Well, actually, neither one nor the other. So our preference and exposure to the high end will have to choose accordingly.
Except in depth, the DB1s sound bigger and louder. The clarity magnifies the scene and the closeness of the elements feels enhanced by the proximity of the details. In this way the image feels frontal, perhaps flatter, but higher and wider. Separation is also perceived as superior, the level of transparency and clarity helping in this regard. And while the sound of the T1 Plus is quite good in this department, the DB1s’ good technicalities make them superior in this area.
The reality is that NiceHCK has been brave and daring in such an affordable model and I think the move has worked out very well. I don’t know many IEMS in this price range with such an analytical, clean, transparent, clear and highly detailed profile as the DB1. It is obvious that they are not perfect, for my taste the brightness is a bit excessive and the timbre in the high end can be more critical, but technically it is good. The low end is linear, neutral and has a good level of weight and a lot of speed. The mids can be very descriptive and detailed, surprisingly so. The upper zone is more excited and extended, but can also polarise opinions one way or the other. But that’s what boldness is all about. And it’s clear that its price invites you to make the leap, there’s not much to lose when the price is under $20 and its sound has many plus points, even superior to many other IEMS in its price range. I’m glad there is an alternative like the DB1s among so many Chi-Fi Vs.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- HiBy R3 PRO.
- Tempotec Sonata E35.
- Earmen Sparrow.
- Earmen TR-Amp.
- Hidizs DH80S.
- Hidizs S9 Pro.
- E1DA #9038D.
- Burson Audio Playmate.
- S.M.S.L Sanskrit 10th MKII + iFi ZEN CAN.