An Ode to Clarity
- Vast and wide, ethereal and vaporous soundstage.
- Great separation, sensation of air, clarity and transparency.
- Very good technicality.
- Detailed and nuanced sound.
- Balanced profile with a bright tendency, excellent from mid-range onwards.
- Storage box and magnetic strip to hold the cable.
- Attractive design and remarkable construction.
- MMCX connection.
- Despite the driver’s capacity, the ergonomics and fit do not allow the low end and the first part of the midrange to develop in a fuller and juicier way.
- The profile is cold and somewhat bright, which may be too much for sensitive listeners.
- Heavy, somewhat stiff cable, which does not contribute to prolonging the fit of the earbuds.
- Low amount of foam.
- The softness of the capsules and the somewhat slippery shape make a long-lasting fit difficult. Although, the rubber rings help in this respect. Perhaps a slightly smaller diameter would allow a better fit.
Link to the Store
The well-known AliExpress shop, NiceHCK, has long been involved in the creation of headphones, both IEMS and earbuds, although, personally, I think it has always had a certain inclination to create high quality earbuds, from very low price, like the recent Traceless, to the new and present EBX21. However, personally, I think it has always had a certain inclination when it comes to creating high quality earbuds, from very low prices, such as the recent Traceless, to the new and present EBX21. Three years have passed since that other Flagship, whose name it repeats, the EBX. And many things have changed since then, especially the design, where the current model takes on a more traditional shape for earbuds, but not without novelties and surprises. Of course, the new Flagship has an MMCX connection and a diaphragm also from Japan. The impedance is the same and the sensitivity is almost the same. On the other hand, the bandwidth has been extended to 32kHz and the capsule is made entirely of aluminium alloy. Also the packaging has been completely renewed and updated, as well as the cable, adding the possibility between SE or balanced 2.5mm or 4.4mm connectors, as is the current trend. In this way, the new EBX21 is presented as the top-of-the-range earbuds from a brand that has already joined the ranks of the classic big earbuds firms. Let’s see what these NiceHCK EBX21 are capable of providing.
- Driver Type: 14.2mm dynamic with LCP diaphragm from Japan.
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-32kHz
- Sensitivity: 121dB/mW
- Impedance: 32Î©
- Capsule material: Aluminium alloy
- Cable length: 1.2mÂ±5cm
- Cable material: Silver plated copper tinsel
- THD: <1% @ 1kHz
- Jack Connector: choice of 3.5mm/2.5mm/4.4mm
- Capsule Connection Type: MMCX
Although it is clearly a top-of-the-range product in terms of price, on the outside it is not very different from its other products, repeating an eminently white packaging, somewhat larger, whose dimensions are 172x142x60mm. It is true that there is a realistic photo of the earbuds, but the idea is the same: logo, model and small description on the main side, apart from the aforementioned photo; full specifications on the back. Once the outer cardboard is removed, the box is completely white and luminous, with the logo and brand name in the centre. Lifting the lid reveals a bulky, rectangular, rounded-cornered cloth case with the brand name printed on a piece of leather sewn to the underside of the main face. The case is protected by a white mould, which also contains the capsules, at the top and near the model’s name, written in gold lettering. For easy lifting of the mould, attached to the upper edge, there is a cloth loop. Underneath, the rest of the accessories can be seen, as well as the corresponding warranty certificates and instructions. In summary, the complete contents are:
- The two capsules of the EBX21 earbuds
- A rigid cloth box for storage.
- Warranty certificate.
- 4 complete foams
- 4 donut foams
- Cable with MMCX connectors and 2.5mm balanced plug (in the option I chose).
- 2 rubber rings, small size.
- 2 rubber rings, large size
- 1 leather magnetic loop to hold the cable.
Among all the accessories I would like to highlight the case and the magnetic loop. Both are very practical and clearly distinctive, so they are easy to find in my earbuds collection. The amount of foam is not very high and I seem to remember that even cheaper earbuds used to come in larger quantities and in more colours. The rubber rings are very practical to enlarge the diameter and help the fit and prevent them from slipping inside the ear buds.
The presentation is still a bit minimalist and classic, in keeping with the brand’s style, but in itself, both the cable, the capsules and the accessories feel very neat and well presented, to add to the premium flavour of the product. Although it is logical to expect a little more for the price of the product.
Construction and Design
The capsule of the EBX21 is made of aluminium alloy and has an aluminium-coloured surface in a shiny, medium tone. The design of these capsules could be described as a classic earbud, with a stylised ear pin. Instead of being completely cylindrical, it has several bevels on the back, resulting in a prism shape, although the inside of the earbud is rounded. It seems that this spike is attached to the rear cone of the capsules by means of a screw. In the area of this cone, close to the spike, there is an oblong opening, protected internally by a white sheet, which could be textile. This foil also appears to be visible through the millimetre-sized holes in the lid of the capsule cover.
The entire surface has a smooth micro roughness. The design of the cone, like the cover, is quite rounded, almost slippery. On one side of the spigot you can read the brand name and the channel indicator, inscribed in dark grey ink. The cable is fitted by means of the MMCX connection, almost perfectly and continuously, following the cylindrical pattern of the spigot. A red and a blue cylinder, channel indicators, are the adjoining parts. Then an elongated cone of black, translucent plastic protects the thick, black, textile sheathed cable at its connection. The splitter piece, the pin and the sleeve of the plug are metallic, highly polished and shiny. The shape of the splitter and pin sleeve is cylindrical, with a tapering at its centre, followed by a flat part at its ends and a recessed ring at one edge. On the pin you can read the model name and on the sleeve the brand name. In my case I chose a 2.5mm balanced plug which, of course, is gold-plated. The cable, between the splitter and the plug, is still black textile coated and wound together.
Inside is a 14.2mm dynamic driver, with an LCP diaphragm from Japan. The magnet is a powerful N52.
The construction is clearly durable and precise, without a hint of weakness, but the rounded, slippery capsule surface makes good use of the rubber ring accessory to improve grip inside the ear.
On the other hand, silver-plated copper tinsel has been used for the cable conductor together with a silver-plated OCC shield. Internally, it is a double-layered coaxial cable. The outer shielding is made of DuPont PVC from the US. The result is a pretty premium cable, it looks like very good materials have been used. But I think that combining it with earbuds is not the best choice, due to the weight. It is well known that earbuds do not have as good an anchorage as IEMS and both the slippery surface of the capsule and the weight of the cable do not seem to be the best combination to guarantee a long-lasting fit. Even more so, when the cable has a somewhat higher stiffness than normal, due to its coating.
All in all, both the design and the materials used are of very high quality, but perhaps other parameters should have been taken into account when combining them to create the final result, with the idea of improving handling and comfort.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
As I have already anticipated in the previous section, the surface of the capsule is smooth but slippery. In my case I find it necessary to use the rubber rings, to improve the adjustment and to achieve a more durable fit. But the consequent increase in diameter (the bare capsule measures 16.6mm maximum diameter), the weight of the cable and its relative stiffness, make it difficult to fit securely, increasing insecurity with the simple movement of walking. In my case, I find the EBX21s more pleasant to wear at ease, rather than while engaged in activities that require more or less sudden movement.
When will earbuds be designed with a more ergonomic shape, something different from the classic round capsule?
The NiceHCK EBX21s have a relatively balanced profile, with a tendency towards bright neutrality, which may depend on the fit and seal that can be achieved. While the EBX21s are very capable of delivering good presence throughout the audible range, the individual listener’s perception may vary depending on the quality of the fit achieved. Of course, this is always critical for all earbuds, but it is true that there are shapes and models that favour a more occlusive fit and others that, in contrast, offer a looser fit. On this occasion, the EBX21 belong to the second group, and although they can be used in the traditional way, with the earbud facing downwards, they can also be used with the cable over the ear and the earbud facing upwards. It is precisely thanks to this position that I have been able to achieve the fullest sound, especially in the lower range, as well as the best degree of clarity, the biggest sound and also the most open sound. Thus, all my considerations below will be described with this setting. I would like to point out that I have used the smaller rubber rings to help the fit to be more durable, as it avoids the slippery tendency of the EBX21’s surface.
The lower range is hampered by the lack of grip and occlusion of the EBX21s, which detracts from the great music-making ability of this model. The slightest pressure of the capsules towards the inside of the pinna drastically changes the feeling of fullness offered by the lower range. And yes, this happens in all earbuds, but here one realises how much quality is being lost. Despite this, the low end can be described as lightly emphasised, focused on the mid-bass, offering a sub-bass that has a distinct tendency to fade quickly, due to the loss of contact. Even so, the driver does not struggle to reproduce the lower notes, although it is true that it lacks a point of depth and a more physical and energetic execution, which provides a higher degree of naturalness in the sub-bass, as well as a fuller sensation that avoids that light sonority. The problem in perceiving the sub-bass is centred on the well-known problem of fit. That’s why, in other earbuds, the lower area is boosted to compensate for this loss. But this is not the case here and although the driver is perceived as capable, the perception of the sub-bass is very slight.
On the other hand, bass performance is fast and concise, but recovery is less so, allowing for a slight aftertaste that limits the level of resolution in the area, as well as better note definition. This is also hampered by the distinctly open character of the EBX21s’ sound, which also helps to make the bass feel more diffuse, less full-bodied and less rounded. The texture also suffers for these reasons, being light but perceptible, with a little roughness that leaves the listener wanting more.
In short, the low end of the EBX21s is prey to characteristics that enhance the sound in other respects, but condition the perception of the low end. One cannot have everything.
The middle zone begins its journey in a light manner, still influenced by the escapist tendency of the lower zone. Its timbre has a tone that does not exceed naturalness, but with a firm tendency towards cold light and brightness. In this way, the first half of the central range still retains that slightly airy, subtle and slightly full-bodied sonority, which prevents a thick, full-bodied and dense execution. Nevertheless, this attitude also has its advantages: the sound is really delicate and very well-defined. In contrast to the definition of the low end, it is already clear that the level of clarity and definition of the EBX21s is one of their strong points in the beginning of the mid-range. This is how the big, I would say huge, vaporous and airy sound is cemented in this initial phase.
The voices, in my opinion, have a wake, perhaps a little elongated, towards the high notes. In this way, they appear somewhat flat, without much substrate, even slightly stretched in harmonics. Although it is true that the male voices are the ones that most feel this lack of drive, mass or pulp, as well as those instruments that predominate in this area. However, this does not detract from their presence or proximity in the central range, because they are already influential within the large scene generated, albeit slightly behind other elements from the upper half. Thus, the foreground belongs to the female voices, string instruments, high piano notes and, in general, to all the upper instrumentation. In this way, EBX21s may have a tendency to play genres with a mid-centric approach, where a lot of clarity, transparency and technical ability is needed. But this predilection for exploiting its potential does not limit it to these genres; it also works very well with other faster, denser styles, as its dynamics and speed give it a good advantage over other earbuds.
The texture has a good descriptive level, not a smooth surface, as their high level of resolution and definition gives them macro-level detail, enough to enrich and present the notes in a delicate but soulful and beautiful way. However, in general, the micro detail seems to be somewhat overshadowed by the power and predominance of the more audible nuances, something that does not allow the sound to be fully analytical or of enormous resolution.
In short, the most remarkable thing about the mid-range is its vast width, wide separation, the sheer amount of air, its volatility and delicacy, as well as its presence. Although the range is not entirely homogeneous, dense or full, its predominance in the sound is clear, along with the first treble. Also noteworthy is the EBX21’s skill and technical ability, which is matched by very few other drivers.
Along with the high mids, the first highs are prominent and highlighted in the sound of the EBX21’s. One could even say that the tonality of this model is bright and that is something that comparatively speaking can be clear. But coming from a scene where lately, there is a tendency for a tuning that tries to project the clarity of the sound, above other ranges, it is normal that this orientation does not seem excessive to me. It is true that the luminous character of the sound is dominant, this does not mean that its execution is annoying or irritating. Rather, I could say that it is relatively close to the limit. And I suppose that for some sensitive listeners, they might be excessive, for longer or shorter periods. And many others will be delighted. But it goes without saying that the EBX21s play in a higher league in this range and although the emphasis is high, the level of resolution, definition and performance is almost outstanding. Despite the brightness, there is no trace of metallic and although the timbre is cool, the sonority still sounds natural. However, it is also true that in the long trail that is projected on these flat voices, subtle sibilance can appear. And I say subtle because these high notes are still delicate, drawn millimetrically, quick as a sparkle and with a fragile and vaporous crunch, without any aftertaste. It is undeniable that the sound of these NiceHCKs is sensitive, fine, crystalline, never better said. Something that makes clear the TOTL quality of this product.
As for its extension, although the presence of air is also very perceptible and noticeable, it is below the initial emphasis, something that is normal in earbuds, where the ends suffer the consequences of their shape and fit.
I could say that the scene is simply outstanding. But, in reality, there is nothing simple about it. Rather, it is complex and superlative. The EBX21s demonstrate why they exist, generating a very wide, vast and expansive stage. The separation, the ethereal sensation, the feeling of air, of vapour, is superior. It is true that the depth is perceived as more limited, reducing the three-dimensional sensation, but it does have a lot of height and a clear sensation of sound out of the head. Despite this, so much vapour blurs the positioning and the directionality of the sounds is not focused, but feels more aural, with a more indeterminate origin, as if coming from many points at once. However, when the sound is lateral, the placement is much more precise, achieving a pronounced and effective stereo effect.
The level of resolution and definition is very high; details are very easily distinguishable and feel close. But, I insist that micro details are perhaps somewhat obscured by this superficial exuberance. So, although the technical level is very good, very good for earbuds, perhaps there is room for improvement, or are we reaching the limit of what this type of headphones can provide? We shall see.
The OurArt QJ21 is a very tough rival, even superior in price. It also has an excellent construction, with a spectacular and distinctive design. Its capsule is thicker, but has a slightly smaller diameter: 16mm, compared to the 16.6mm of the EBX21. Although it may not seem like much, that 0.6mm is noticeable and tips the balance of comfort and fit in favour of the QJ21. Both have that slight defect generated by the smoothness of their metallic surface: they are slippery and in both I have used silicone rings to improve the fit. I like the OurArt cable (8 strands 27AWG>99.996 pure silver monocrystalline conductor) better than the EBX21, it is lighter and more manageable. In terms of packaging, both are similar: they both come with a good transport box, a loop to collect the cable, very original and few foams for their price. The presentation is quite good in both models, but more eye-catching in the QJ21, due to its elegant black velvet-covered mould.
It is also curious that both have the number 21 in their name. On the EBX21 it is clear why, as it is the EBX model year 21. But I don’t know why the QJ21 has this number, as it was released in 2019.
In terms of sound, both models are unashamedly TOTL earbuds. And both are inclined to deliver sound with superior clarity, but each in its own way. The QJ21s are warm and the EBX21s are cooler and brighter.
The QJ21s are more sensitive than the EBX21s and move more easily.
The low end of the QJ21s feels more energetic than the EBX21s and has a greater influence on the sound. It brings more than just warmth, a denser, fuller and thicker sound. The bass of the QJ21s is wider and deeper, darker and less coloured than that of the EBX21s. In the latter, the low end incidence is more limited and the less stable setting plays a trick on it, causing the bass to get lost along the way. As a result, their perception feels inferior, even below the actual capabilities of the driver.
The greater warmth of the QJ21s makes the midrange feel less free than in the EBX21s. While light is the star of the show in the NiceHCKs, the OurArt remains comparatively semi-dark, making its elements appear more homogeneous, but with less definition and separation. Voices are sweeter and more full-bodied. But the timbre is more realistic and accurate on the EBX21s, with more natural development, definition and resolution. They also have a better descriptive ability, which brings you closer to a richer, more detailed sound. In this way, the midrange of the EBX21s is musically enhanced, offering more information and dynamics.
Something similar happens in the treble, which is more explicit and energetic in the EBX21s. On the OurArt they are less incisive and smooth, perhaps even too much so, comparatively speaking. Again, the level of information offered in the high end of the EBX21s is superior, approaching a heightened reality where the QJ21s fall short, despite their good work.
The OurArt’s sound is capable of taking up a good amount of space on stage, but the NiceHCKs surpass them in clarity and surround feel, with more separation and air. The QJ21s are only better in terms of depth. The sound reconstruction also feels more accurate and precise on the EBX21s.
The QJ21s were my first TOTLs and their high sound level initially dazzled me. The NiceHCK EBX21s surpass them in many ways and their sound, now that I have more critical capacity, experience and more products to compare, is richer, more faithful, more detailed, clearer and airier, among other aspects. Sins of youth?
With the wide range of remarkable products that currently exist in the world of earbuds, one has to be very good to bring out a model of this price, without disappointing. And NiceHCK manages to do it, although it must have cost them a lot of effort, because the challenge is not an easy one. But here are the EBX21s, with their excellent aluminium alloy construction, with their smooth, rounded capsules, their special cable and their three types of plugs to choose from. And despite the risky nature of their proposal, the EBX21s are the result of a very honest work, which does not lie, where all the meat has been put on the grill. Perhaps, for the cable, they have put too much meat, I think that something lighter and more flexible would have been more appropriate. And even more so, coming from a brand that handles these elements so well.
But when it comes to sound, NiceHCK has proven that clarity, almost absolute, exists in the world of earbuds. Forget about any hint of darkness or veil, there is no such thing in the EBX21, just light, transparency and almost extreme clarity. Add to this an enormous separation, a stage with a width to match and a remarkable, delicate and delightful technique. These are characteristics that exemplify the qualities that are expected of this type of headphones. And the EBX21 is already one of their clearest and best exponents. If you want a TOTL, you have to pay for it, because it is not easy to live up to it.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- S.M.S.L Sanskrit 10th MKII + iFi ZEN CAN
- E1DA #9038D
- HiBy R3 Pro
- Earmen Sparrow
- Burson Audio Playmate