Winter Is Here
- Great reference sound, very balanced, bright, transparent and analytical, with the Silver filter.
- With the Silver filter, the profile is more balanced and flatter than the competition.
- Very adequate weight.
- High level of construction.
- 3 pairs of filters to change the tuning of the sound.
- Although not new, the case is still good.
- The Black filter moves the profile away from the reference level demonstrated with the Silver filter. But it can have its audience.
- The short nozzles can make it difficult to fit and finding the right tips to extract the full potential of the F1 can be complex.
- The tips included are too generic, at a time when every brand is making an effort to improve in this area.
Link to the Store
NiceHCK continues to combine the sale of audio products with the creation of its own products. And there are already quite a few home-grown ones. It is not surprising that, following the current trend, they designed IEMS with the most famous type of driver on the market today: of course, we are talking about the NiceHCK F1, an IEMS with a 14.2mm planar driver. Like other brands, NiceHCK wanted to go a bit further and this is shown in their external design, such as the use of nozzles to alter the sound. In terms of design, it is an aluminium alloy capsule, with a carbon fibre outer panel. In terms of filters, the F1s come with three screw-in mouthpieces that allow you to alter the sound in their lower range, as well as in the midrange and upper-midrange. They continue to rely on the 2Pin 0.78mm connection, a good silver-plated cable and an accessory package that is already common in their top-of-the-line IEMS.
On the other hand, from the introduction I have to point out that these IEMS have left a very good taste in my mouth from the moment they arrived, until today. Let’s see why.
- Driver Type: 14.2mm magnetic planar driver with 2µm diaphragm, silver alloy voice coil, N55 magnets and double-sided magnetic circuit.
- Frequency Response: 20-28kHz.
- Sensitivity: Gold Filter 101dB/mW. Silver Filter 100dB/mW. Black Filter 98dB/mW.
- Impedance: 15Ω
- Capsule material: Aluminium alloy.
- Outer panel: Carbon fibre.
- Jack Connector: Choice of 3.5mm SE or 4.4mm BAL.
- Capsule Connection Type: 0.78mm 2Pin.
NiceHCK sticks to its presentation for mid-high-end models and the packaging shows a white box with a real picture of the capsules in its centre. Its size is 172x127x55mm. At the top left is the brand logo in holographic ink. On the right, the name of the model and a short description. There is an additional description at the bottom of the box. On the back, without being very explicit, are some of the specifications, in Chinese and English. There are also the brand’s contact details at the bottom. Once the outer cardboard is removed, a black textured box appears with the logo inscribed in the centre. The box opens like a book and inside a thick layer of foam are the IEMS with its cable and underneath, the classic leather box of the brand, in blue. Inside are the rest of the accessories. In a nutshell:
- The two NiceHCK F1 capsules.
- One OCC-silver-plated mixed cable, with 4.4mm balanced connector.
- 4 pairs of white silicone tips, sizes SxMxLxLxXL
- 4 pairs of black silicone tips, sizes SxMxLxLxXL
- One branded velcro strap.
- One blue leatherette case.
- 3 pairs of filter tips (Silver, Gold, Black). The Silver mouthpieces are fitted in the IEMS.
- User’s guide.
- Inspection certificate.
As I said, the presentation is not very different from other similarly priced models from the brand. But it is an adequate standard. Although I think the tips could do with a bit more novelty and a quirkier alternative, even the classic foam tips would be welcome. The cable is quite soft and the case is to my liking, although somewhat large, it feels quality and more noticeable.
Construction and Design
The capsules are eye-catching, have a good design that could have been superior, with more attractive details. It is a thick cylindrical capsule, which has a thinner cylinder, attached to the edge, where the 2PIN 0.78mm connection is. On the opposite side of the connector there is a blue or red cap to indicate the channel. On the wide edge you can read the brand, the model and the channel cap in white letters. Due to the silver colour of the material, the white is not easily distinguishable. The inner side is rather flat, but it grows slowly towards the nozzle on the rim, close to the connector and almost parallel to the side cylinder. At the other end of the nozzle there is a small hole. The nozzle is very short, less than 4mm. The inner diameter is 5.1mm and the screw-in crown, which acts as a filter, is 6mm. There are three filters, Silver (Balanced), Gold (Mid-High frequency) and Black (Heavy Bass). They have a serrated edge to facilitate the screwing process. The grille has trapezoidal windows with a slight spiral shape and a hole in the middle. The inside of each one is different, there are filters on the Silver and Black mouthpieces, while I don’t notice anything on the inside of the Gold filter.
The capsules are constructed from aluminium alloy using 5-axis CNC machining. The outer face has a micro-stepped slope leading to a thick C-shaped carbon fibre flat. In the middle, forming the negative of the C, the brand logo is inscribed in yellow-orange paint. Underneath, an opening towards the inside of the capsule, in the shape of a smile and protected by a grille.
The cable consists of a rather soft double braid. The material is mixed OCC copper with silver plated cores. It is soft, mouldable and shiny. The sleeves of the 2Pin 0.78mm connectors are rounded cylinders at the end of the cable, with red and blue rings to indicate the channel. They are smooth, shiny and polished metallic, but have a roughened band for easy gripping. The plug sleeve has the same design, but is longer. The plug is 4.4mm balanced. The splitter piece is completely smooth and the pin is a metal ring with a rough surface. It has over-ear guides, but they are soft, like the whole cable, which is very mouldable.
I’m not really convinced by the design on the outside. But that’s just an aesthetic question. However, the design of such a short mouthpiece has been a concern when it comes to finding the best fitting and sounding tips. Although I doubt I could have found it.
But in conclusion, the construction is good and the cable is nice, although I would have preferred a good copper cable to complement the sound.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
Normally, I always use my homemade foam-filled tips. They are similar to the Symbio Mandarin, but larger, with a wider inner core and a higher foam filling. It would be one size bigger than the Symbio Mandarin L. And that’s because my ear canals are wide at the entrance. Well then. With the very short mouthpieces of the F1s it was not possible to find an adequate seal because they did not reach the optimum depth of anchorage. I had to look for many alternatives and it was not easy to find suitable tips. Finally, I have found some very large blue soft silicone tips, with which I have been able to generate a good fit, more durable and occlusive. Although I don’t know if I’m getting the best bass sound that these IEMS can offer.
On the other hand, once the fit problems are overcome, the design is comfortable, the cable is nice and manageable, you hardly notice the weight in your ears. The isolation will depend on the tips used. With my choice it is above average.
I like the fact that IEMS include tuning options, as is the case with F1s. The point is that, thanks to them, the model in question can appeal to a wider range of buyers. Sometimes filters offer subtle changes in only one part of the frequency range. Other times, they affect several parts and their change is greater. F1s are in the latter case. I think the default filter, the Silver (Balanced) is very good. The black filter adds more bass, lowers the peak at 2kHz a lot, but muddies the sound too much for my taste. The Silver filter offers enviable light, superior to other planar models. Perhaps it might be too much for some, so I would have liked the black filter to be more subtle and not affect the clarity of the whole, nor its level of resolution. The black filter depresses the sound of the F1s, while the Gold filter overly enhances an already bright profile, although tolerable with the Silver filter.
On the other hand, I would like to see the aftermarket go a little deeper into these aspects, designing other filters that add more possibilities to a model that can be very good, even improvable with a few subtle tweaks.
With the Silver filter, the frequency range moves in a gain range of less than 10db up to 10Khz, which is a fairly balanced curve. The bass starts high from the sub-bass and remains linear up to almost 100Hz. The descent into the mids is smooth and the rise into the upper-mids is a little faster. From this point you enter a classic treble plateau that other planars exhibit.
In reality, the F1s with the Silver filter have an even, smooth and balanced frequency response. But they feel brighter than their Letshuoer counterparts. This also makes them sound finer and more explicit with detail. The NiceHCK F1 Silver are among the most detailed planars I’ve tested so far.
The NiceHCK F1 Gold have a strong resemblance to the TinHiFi P1 MAX, but having the Silver filter, it’s clear that the real point is in this profile.
The following review has been completed with the Silver filter.
The NiceHCK F1s have a classic planar response, with that characteristic sonority and adequate speed. It is not the most sensitive bass, nor does it have the deepest response. But it has good agility and some extension into the mid-bass, something that gives it a good presence, a broad and almost noticeable punch. I find the amount of bass with the Silver filter quite adequate and appropriate so as not to drown out the mids, nor the detail. I still insist that the F1 Silver are brighter, clearer and more detailed than the S12 or S12 Pro and I think the fact that they are relatively flatter and more balanced gives them that advantage. On the other hand, the feeling of a wall of sound is not as pronounced.
The bass behaviour is expressive, they have a good rumble. The fact that they are not the fastest ones gives them a point of roughness and texture that is pleasant and more perceptible, as well as a weight and oscillation that becomes natural and can be impressive. The movement and power is very healthy, can be felt easily, has a ripple that resembles dynamic drivers, giving a feeling of air emission very attractive, capable of generating a good effect Wow! Yes, there is healthy fun to be had in the F1’s bass and a good technical level. They are able to withstand pressure and volume with very good dexterity, without distortion and handling the situation smoothly, as is usual for planars. On top of all that, one has to add the abilities of layer generation, stratification, reproduction of complex, hard and unfiltered bass lines, etc. But, in addition to all that, I like its tuning, the level of presence and energy and, above all, the respect for the rest of the range: the mids, the highs and, above all, the details, are never overshadowed with this filter, despite the level of bass achieved. Very good.
Planar drivers know how to keep things in place: each frequency sounds where it should. Then, the nature of the timbre is another matter. If in the sub-bass notes, planars are not totally natural, in the mids this characteristic is not the case. It is clear that the timbre will be affected by the tuning, as well as by the technology used in the driver. But in this case, the balance of the Silver filter works in its favour. The drop from the lows to the mids is smooth and you don’t feel any dip in the midrange. There is a slight distance, just enough so that they don’t sound intimate or too close together. In this way, there is more depth and a more realistic scene. But the control does not stop in this first half, but the classic ascent towards the mid-highs is also contained and pleasant. The tuning has stopped at a sweet spot that finds clarity, sparkle, luminosity and presence, but without becoming hot in this climb. All this is offset by an ambivalent feeling of warmth in the first part and this controlled glow of the second. And as usual, balance and a good equilibrium is usually the best thing. The F1s manage to make everything sound in place, with appropriate enhancement, even in great detail. It is very surprising and pleasing to find that the balance ratio is maintained at all frequency stages. Also, it can be observed throughout the whole range of the notes, being perceptible from the base to the highest overtones. It is true that I find that there is a point of brightness in the mids, compared to the S12, and this is something that can be noticed in the sibilance, which is at the limit of overflow. But that is also due to the logical treble enhancement and plateau. And I can’t hide the fact that this profile can be more analytical and cooler for these reasons, even because of the high level of resolution and definition of the F1s. NiceHCK has been able to give the sound a more descriptive, precise and detailed capability. In this way, the sound is more concise and separated. With the light as a guide, the layers of detail are easier to detect and perceive, you just have to be attentive and you can find that it is easy to dig into the sound and get beyond layers, voices and instruments, to detect details that were underneath it all. I like them.
F1s have the canonical plateau of planar drivers. There is no control zone, no roll-off or anything like that. Even the resonance peaks are controlled. With an almost uniform amount up to 10kHz, one can presage an exposed and present first half. But since the enhancement is not too much and balance is still predominant up to that point, the sound is still bright, but controlled. The enhancement is there, but it doesn’t feel piercing, or penetrating. It’s not a sparkle, it’s a medium energy level that can wear on an average session, if we’re sensitive to this band. The F1s are not crisp at first glance. As I say, the level of sparkle and light is felt from the start, but the treble is more like a long-distance run, it’s all about maintaining a level and the F1s manage to do that. The negative point may be in the more limited air area, something that can detract from a volatile or three-dimensional feel.
In this case, the planar sound is not as compact or as if it were a wall of sound. It is true that the sensation of balance in all frequencies allows the perception of all of them, as if it were a flat response, but with the classic dose of energy of the planars. This sensation always limits the depth of the music and a more airy, gaseous, volatile and expansive exposition. But, as I say, in this case, the fact that the F1s are finer, more analytical, separated and resolute, detracts from their density and gives them a higher level of transparency. The scene is still an oval without much depth, but with great laterality and stereo feel, as well as adequate layering, even with good height. The image feels enhanced by the expressive detail in the different layers of the sound. There is a good sense of separation and it all feeds back to make the detail more perceptible and the distance between notes clearer, even the background more visible. This is how I find the scene and the positioning of the elements more discernible and perspicuous than other planars. But I still feel that the scene is wide, frontal and without much three-dimensionality.
Letshuoer S12 PRO
I’m going to cheat a bit and take advantage of previous IEMS comparisons that I have recently reviewed. The first case is the Pro version of the S12, a very famous planar IEMS that has received a slight tweak. For this comparison I used the Silver nozzle on the NiceHCK F1s.
You could say that from 200Hz to 1.5kHz, both FRs are the same, so there seems to be some commonality in these drivers. Although the F1’s FR is flatter, I find its profile is brighter. While there is a warm neutrality and noticeable bass punch in the S12 PROs, the F1s are lighter overall, but also more defined, precise, cooler and more analytical.
There is a clear superior bass punch in the S12 PROs, as well as greater depth. Whereas the F1s are more restrained and with a thinner bass, with less punch. Technically very good and with a more detailed expression, the F1s do not have anaemic bass, far from it, but I do notice a little more colour, more finesse, less density and physicality. The S12 PROs have a wider, bigger and heavier bass range, which tends to take up more space.
In the mid-range the S12s feel more neutral, but also a little warmer. That sense of naturalness and attachment predominates. While the F1s show more luminosity, transparency, but less body as well. They are lighter, more volatile, cooler and more expansive. I find more separation and freedom in the F1s, as well as a higher degree of resolution. There is also more joy in the F1s, despite being cooler, the notes are more sparkling, the sound is more crisp, even though the FR comparison seems to have a less energetic treble. Everything is less punchy, but there is also more separation, a more gaseous and volatile sound, also more delicate and analytical. In addition, they offer a larger stage feeling. If someone thinks the S12s are brilliant, I don’t recommend the Gold and Silver filters of the F1s. But you could definitely use the Black filter.
The F1s don’t offer that clear wall-of-sound feel that the S12 PROs do, but they can also feel a bit more muffled.
On the physical side, I’ve had trouble finding suitable tips for the F1s, their mouthpiece isn’t very long and perhaps the orientation isn’t quite right. They weigh less though. But I prefer the more occlusive and perfect fit of the S12 PROs.
Currently, the S12 PRO are cheaper than the NiceHCK F1, but there can always be price changes and offers on both models.
The Winter are not planar, they are hybrids with a dynamic driver and a PZT Bone Conduction driver.
The price of the BQEYZ is above 200$ and the F1 below 200$, there can be a difference of 50 to 80$ between them, depending on the offers.
In terms of design they are very different. The Winter follow their trend in terms of the shape of the capsules and NiceHCK change the model with a design reminiscent of the Letshuoer D13, but with shorter mouthpieces. Everyone has a say in which design they like best, in terms of appearance. But for ergonomic reasons, I prefer the Winter. The short nozzles of the F1, as I have already mentioned, have given me a headache when it came to finding tips that could extract their full potential. I don’t even think I’ve been able to find them. With the more classic form of the Winter I have had no problems. The Winter comes with slightly more accessories and a better cable. Both cases are very good. The F1 tips are a bit generic. But there is also a price difference to consider.
As far as sound is concerned, my surprise has been in a quick change from one to the other. Compared to the F1, the Winter sounds more muted, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say warm, analogue and organic. Everything is brighter and shinier with the F1. There is a more striking, explicit and direct expressiveness with the NiceHCK planars. But the bass level seems almost the same, despite the visible differences in both frequency responses. Maybe it’s because the sealing with the F1 is not as good as with the Winter. I think that the tips I use are not the most suitable to get the best presence in the low end of the F1s. In this aspect, I don’t miss anything with the Winter. The Winter has a low end that reminds me of the planars, in terms of speed and behaviour. But they improve their less coloured and less realistic sonority compared to the F1s, which is noticeable when playing pure low-frequency tones. The result is a more sensory bass, with more air movement in the BQEYZs. Otherwise, in technical matters, the similarities are great and the differences lie more in the higher amount of sub-bass in the F1s, which provide a slightly more powerful and punchy feel and a little more depth.
In the mid-range there is a point of higher density in the F1 planars. There is also a more frontal sound and a wall-of-sound sensation, although it is not as pronounced. The Winter’s volatility creates a more hollow, yet expansive feel, which also thins out the sense of physicality and body, both in vocals and instrumentation. The mid-range presentation is more explicit on the F1s, with a homogeneity throughout. Whereas on the Winter there is a more natural and organic flow. In the F1s everything is exposition, in the Winters there are sensations, a movement of voices and instruments. In the F1s the perception is of a more static sound, closer, nearer… that wall I talk about so much. There is nothing wrong with either of them, but each one must value the informative, frontal and expressive presentation of the F1s, instead of the more traditional, more moving exposition of the Winters.
In the treble, despite the Winter’s high level, the F1s feel more elevated, with a higher level of energy. Not for nothing do they present a vast plateau all the way to the air zone. The Winter’s control zone, though small, balances this feeling. The generation of a full and homogeneous sound in terms of energy is maintained in all ranges of the F1s. The Winters provide a breath in every range and feel more suitable for extended use. The F1s are so explicit that they can become saturated and the presence of the high end has an impact on this. The detail is more explosive, more so than the Winter. That’s why I still value the good performance of the BC driver over a planar driver excited in the high end.
When it comes to stage, the Winter’s are more three-dimensional, volatile and gassy. They don’t have much depth, the separation is more circular. The F1s are wider and more frontal, not that they are very deep either. But the feeling of their vast sound offers a wide, generous soundstage with good laterality and height. The Winters win in spatial recreation and in their ability to project sound from more angles. The physical feel of the F1s projects an image that is easier to locate, where elements are more fixed to the scene and more distinguishable. The Winters are more vaporous in this respect, offering a more diluted reconstruction.
NiceHCK joins the planar fever and presents its new F1 model. The driver is a 14.2mm magnetic planar (of course), with a 2µm diaphragm, silver alloy voice coil, N55 magnets and double-sided magnetic circuit. As seems to be the norm, each planar model is usually quite different in design from the rest, and NiceHCK has made an effort in this regard. The only downside is that the nozzles are a little short and this can make it difficult to fit with proper tips. On the other hand, it is marked by the addition of three pairs of filters to tune the sound to your own taste. But for me, the reference filter is enough. But I would rather say excellent. The NiceHCK F1s, with the Silver filter, have achieved a very balanced sound that moves away from the wall-of-sound feeling a bit, to achieve a superior balance in all three bands. Each band has a stellar representation and thanks to the planar technology, each band can be enjoyed separately. Moreover, thanks to this homogeneity, the level of detail is more explicit, the sound is clearer, more descriptive, more analytical, more transparent, more defined and more resolute. It will undoubtedly be a breath of fresh air for those looking for a cooler sound, with greater resolution and analytical capability. The F1s are all that and more, because their filters allow you to change faces for the same price. I congratulate NiceHCK, because they have managed to do a great job with this new model, surprising in the battle of the planars, with a very accurate reference tuning.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Aune Flamingo.
- Earmen Angel.
- TempoTec Variations V6.
- Hidizs AP80 PRO-X Red Copper Limited Edition.
- ACMEE MF02s.
- xDuoo XD05 BAL.
- TempoTec Serenade X + iFi Zen Can.