- More refined, complex, fuller sound than the previous version.
- Very good bass quality, with a great natural, powerful and respectful behaviour.
- Excellent midrange, with a lot of personality, realism, neutrality and good timbre.
- Very good amount of detail, nuances, definition, resolution, without sounding analytical.
- Improved ergonomics compared to the previous version.
- Lightweight even though they are metallic.
- Possibility to choose a great cable such as the New Cyan.
- Very good zippered case.
- It no longer has tuning filters like its previous model.
- Although the set of tips is adequate, NiceHCK could create a line of specialised tips.
Link to the Store
The famous AliExpress portable audio store NiceHCK released its evolution of its first F1 planar IEM at the end of 2023. Sure enough, it’s called F1 Pro. It is a new model containing the next generation of the 14.2mm planar diaphragm driver. It is 2µm thick, uses N55 neodymium magnets and a double-sided magnetic circuit. The capsule is made of aluminium alloy and the ergonomics have been improved compared to the previous model. This time there are no different mouthpieces to change the tuning, but the profile is unique, slightly more polarised than the F1 Silver tuning, but very much in line with the second generation of planar IEMS that came out last year. As standard, the F1 Pro comes with a good set of accessories and its classic shiny, silver-plated cable that has been used on the brand’s last few great models. Of course, you can choose with either a 3.5mm SE or 4.4mm BAL plug. But you can also choose with alternative cables. These include the FirstTouch cable or the New Cyan Cable. For this review, it was fortunate that the cable provided was the special New Cyan cable. It was used for this article. Let’s see what a great pair the two elements are.
- Driver Type: New generation 14.2mm planar diaphragm driver.
- Frequency Response: 20-28000Hz.
- Sensitivity 104dB/mW.
- Impedance: 16Ω.
- Capsule material: aluminium alloy.
- Cable conductor material: OCC and silver-plated mixed cable.
- Jack connector: choice between SE 3.5mm and BAL 4.4mm.
- Capsule Connection Type: 2Pin 0.78mm.
The F1 Pro comes in a sober medium-sized blue box with gold lettering, whose dimensions are 170x117x47mm. On the main side you can see the brand logo and the model name in the centre. Nothing else. On the back side there is not much more, again the name of the model and a small description underneath, also in the centre. At the bottom, on the left are the contact details and on the right an EAN13 code and the logos of the certifications it complies with. After removing the cardboard, a completely white box with the brand logo in the centre is displayed… when the lid is lifted, the classic protective configuration is revealed: a white mould containing the capsules, a white box with the logo in its centre, which houses a zipped case with the accessories. In summary, the complete contents are as follows:
- Both capsules F1 pro.
- Warranty card.
- User’s manual.
- Leatherette case with zip.
- OCC and silver-plated mixed cable.
- Three pairs of grey silicone tips, sizes S-M-L.
- Four pairs of black silicone tips with coloured core, sizes XS-S-M-L.
- Five pairs of white translucent silicone tips and coloured core, sizes XS-S-M-L-XL.
Nice set of tips, with a remarkable zippered case, with the right size to protect the IEMS. NiceHCK leaves behind their good chest cases and goes back to using the zip, increasing the interior space in a good way. The cable is the classic of the latest models, as are the tip sets. If there is one thing missing, it might be the foam tips, although it is true that they are less and less used as standard accessories these days.
Construction and Design
The capsules of the F1 Pro are made of aluminium alloy and machined by a 5-axis CNC. The outer face is almost circular, but with a rectangular corner. At the point where the rectangle ends and the circle begins, there is a small, narrow triangular-shaped trench with a gold background. The rest of the capsule is light blue. At the edge and close to this bezel, there is a 2Pin 0.78mm connection interface, fully integrated into the capsule. It consists of a rectangular piece of translucent plastic, while the female connection is gold-plated. On the other side of the apex, there is the model name, the brand name and the mole containing the letter indicating the channel, all in white lettering. It could be said that this part is the base of the capsule and that a more cylindrical, very rounded and ergonomic inner face emerges from it. It contains a hole in its centre, while the nozzles grow close to the rim. They are not too long, although they are longer than those of the previous model, a clear weak point of that first F1. Up to the mouthpiece, the entire inner face of the capsule is integrally constructed. The outer crown diameter is 5.9mm. The mouthpieces are protected by a metal grille with several overlapping spiral patterns. Despite the metal construction the weight is low.
The standard cable consists of a fairly soft double braid. The material is mixed OCC copper with silver plated cores. It is light, 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 is completely smooth and the pin is a metal ring with a rough surface. It has over-ear guides, but they are smooth, like the whole cable, which is very mouldable.
The special New Cyan cable consists of four coiled strands, each protected by a very light blue textile fabric. The plug is a balanced 4.4mm gold-plated plug. Its sleeve is a metal cylinder painted in glossy black. It has a slight notch around the plug and a thinner notch near the cable exit. The cable is not protected by a plastic sleeve after exiting the connector. The splitter is the same as the connector sleeve, but shorter. The pin is a black metal ring, in the same style as the other sleeves, with a large inner hole. It is a bit too large for a durable fit, and the cables slide around too easily inside the sleeve, slipping more than they should. The sleeve of the 2Pin 0.78mm connectors is a pair of black metal cylinders with a notch around them in the colour of the channel. The notch is near the cable outlet. The 2Pin interface protrudes from a rectangular, transparent plastic part. There are transparent, semi-rigid, over-ear shaped sleeves for the cables. The cable is hardly stiff and although it is a bit thicker than normal, it is quite manageable and comfortable. Its weight is not high either. Quite good.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
One of the most compromised aspects of the previous F1 model was the ergonomics. The mouthpieces were very short and it was difficult to find the right tips. In this case, the ergonomics are much improved and almost excellent. The size is not too big, the inner shape is almost spherical with slim, longer mouthpieces and a better angle. Now, finding the right tips is easier and the insertion can vary from a shallow fit to almost medium, depending on our morphology and the tips used.
With my homemade foam-filled tips I get a shallow insertion, with very good insulation. The fit is quite good, the capsules rotate until they are seated and well integrated. They are not too bulky in my ears and they don’t stick out too much. As I said, although the capsules are metal, the weight is low. Very good improvement over the previous model.
The profile moves between a U or a w. The sub-bass is linear, without being predominant and continues towards the mid-bass, thereafter decreasing. The transition to the midrange is smooth while the rise to the upper-midrange is steeper. At that point it maintains a good energy level and extends towards 10kHz with small peaks and gentle valleys. Again, this is an explicit second half of the frequency range, although there is a certain softness to it, the energy is noticeable. In truth, the F1 Pro follows a very similar FR to the Letshuoer S12s, but somewhat softer in many ways, smoothing and refining the bass, midrange and treble, as if to sweeten and homogenise its curve. The result is a more homogeneous sound, less dense in the first half and somewhat more controlled in the second half. Overall, there is a little more light, as there is less darkness.
The lower area of the F1 Pro is deep without being too dark. It is also quite sensory, with a very good and pleasant texture. That’s something that is already demonstrated in the very low-frequency pure tone test. Starting at the lower audible end, its reproduction is surprisingly pure and clean, with very good behaviour, almost devoid of any inappropriate vibration, no colouration and the 20Hz tone is on the perceptible and audible side at 50%. As you go up the frequencies you notice how the energy and power grow, without losing naturalness, nor that deep and realistic character. You can even feel how the execution of the lower notes favours the appearance of a smooth, perceptible, even quite natural texture, with a controlled roughness that never becomes excessive or impostural.
Although the FR extends in a linear fashion towards the midrange, there is no bloat in them, they are just a little more rounded enough to provide volume and a good level of punch, although without being predominant. It is true that the bass has good weight and presence, beyond neutrality, but they don’t reach bass-heads territory, although, for their quality, texture and strength they fall squarely in the bass-lovers section. They are elastic enough to add a certain realistic and natural rubberiness, providing that fleshy and physical volume I’ve already mentioned, as well as a sweet sensation that invites you to turn up the power of the source to fully feel its quality, without losing control. It’s worth mentioning how the F1 Pro’s are able to absorb the power from the source and deliver it into the bass in a very controlled way, with just enough punch and texture to still sound natural, polite and very engaging. And the best thing is that, despite the power they denote, it is still a permissive bass with the rest of the range, which does not go beyond its frequencies, which dissipates quickly and does not lose speed in its execution. Good planars are known to have low distortion in the bass, and the F1 Pro’s is a key characteristic. Moreover, its behaviour in the worst bass passages, in those that are dirty, unfiltered and complex to reproduce, the F1 Pro is able to bring a great deal of sweetness, delicacy, pristine and reliable performance that makes many other IEMS in the same conditions pale in comparison. I insist, the F1 Pro invites you to turn up the volume and say «give me more».
As I wanted to explain, while bass is not neutral, it is neutral in its behaviour towards the other frequencies. When the song has a powerful bass base, but also a strong vocal presence, the F1s are able to distribute the energy precisely in both areas. I don’t talk much about the music I use for testing, but I must admit that the F1 Pro’s are excellent when it comes to playing the songs on Massive Attack’s Protection album, where Tracey Thorn and Nicolette’s vocals melt over a magma of dirty, unfiltered sub-bass and continuous, overlapping bass lines. The F1 Pros have no problem reproducing such heavy bass, nor separating it, being technical enough to decipher it carefully. But, best of all, female vocals are even on top of that bass, being either prominent or on the same level, but never feeling drowned out or distant. The same goes for the instrumentation, which prevails with enough autonomy to be explicit and descriptive.
My first impression of the F1 Pro was fairly neutral. I didn’t feel they were spectacular. Their low end is not very powerful, although it is clearly beyond neutral, but without being predominant. The midranges are somewhat closer than in other planars, but without being prominent. But, they stay ahead in the mix, even surprisingly closer than the FR seems to indicate.
The first half of the midrange has a physical and full-bodied base, the male voices sound quite full, but slightly behind the bass and female voices, which are the real protagonists of the midrange. The male voices may gain presence if they are lower or if they are higher, in that respect, the basses and tenors will have more privileges in the mix. Even so, the timbre of all of them is very adequate, within that natural neutrality that on that first impression does not attract attention, but on subsequent and more selective listening, one begins to notice an improved behaviour, a superior performance, a quiet ability that separates them from the usual suspects. In this way, without euphemism, the F1 Pros describe the midranges with breathtaking ease, with flourishing but not blatant detail, with nuances that are visible but not overt or spectacular. It’s a range without artifice, one that advocates a descriptive presence, but is noiseless, no pomp, even polite, almost shy in its exposition. But, little by little, this seemingly modest sound grows richer and richer, capable of recreating every aspect of the central range adequately, but without overdoing it.
On the other hand, I feel that the vocals have some advantage over the instrumentation, but when the instrumentation is filled with guitars and higher-pitched sounds, the contest evens out. But even in those situations, the midrange and highs remain controlled and smooth. I can’t say that the sound is warm at this point, but there is a certain edge that calms the energy in this area, limiting hiss and the sharper character of some recordings that are too explicit in these frequencies. In this way, such situations become more delicate and pleasant, but without diminishing in their level of presence, energy or brightness, just sounding more neutral, calm and polite.
And all of this richness and good work has to be shown in some way. And yes, as with the previous F1, the Pro version is still very detailed, but in a more delicate and refined, again, more pleasing way. Again, I have to resort to terms like naturalness to describe how F1 Pro executes detail: without being completely overt or resolute, micro detail is displayed in an effective and simple, yet obvious way. In that way, the neutrality of the midranges feels reinforced by the enrichment provided by the delicate and refined expressiveness of their nuance, detail and micro detail. And all this, without one hardly noticing it, without making a sound.
Fortunately, I usually listen to the IEMS before measuring them. And while the choice of tips can counteract some aggressive midrange and treble behaviour, I have to say that the F1 Pro retains the energy level of the first generation planars. However, the twist is in their actual behaviour. I don’t doubt that it may still be energetic for some, but its behaviour has improved, being more rounded, efficient, less sharp and penetrating. There is that extended brightness, but it is not an explicit or aggressive crackle, not as crystalline or discernible. It’s clearly above the smoothness of the recent S15, but it’s not dark. Nor do I find it as fatiguing as the S12, even though it is very similar in its treble energy level. The difference is in the performance. It is possible that this new generation of planars has something to say in this respect, although they still don’t find the air level too high.
In short, the F1 Pro’s treble is in that classic planar vein, both in terms of energy and extension, but with a softer, more mellow and more pleasing delivery. It’s very capable of delivering lots of harmonics, lots of detail and sparkle, but without being too sharp or piercing. It’s certainly an improvement over the previous generation, even without losing too much presence.
The NiceHCK F1 Pro is still not an IEMS with a compact, dense, planar sound, although it is true that it has a more powerful sound than its sibling. Also, it is possible that the improved ergonomics and the possibility to use more suitable tips allow for a fuller sound. With the old F1 and its short mouthpieces, the number of tips to use was very limited. So I had to resort to very wide tips, but without foam filling. With them the sound is cleaner, more vivid, clearer, more transparent, but it is also less full, especially in the first half of the frequency range. However, the Pro version, as you can see from its FR, is somewhat more V-shaped than the previous version with the Silver (Balanced) filter, has a subtle rise in the low end and a clearer one from the midrange onwards. This should give it more of a sense of brightness, clarity and transparency, but it is also counterbalanced by a stronger impression of punch and punch in the lows, due to the increase and also the effect of the foam-filled tips. Be that as it may, and going back to the description of the soundstage, it has a clear sense of depth and width. It is still not enveloping, but it achieves a great laterality and stereo feeling, which clearly reaches 180°, even beyond. There is a noticeable impression of height and a slight hint of ethereal perception. Despite this, the sound is not volatile, gaseous or overly three-dimensional, but it doesn’t have that homogeneous feel of the S12s, nor is it as free or thin as the F1s. The F1 Pro recaptures that characteristic density of sound, but demonstrates great technical skill in both separating the elements and describing them in a precise and concrete way. But again, in a natural way that is not analytical or cold. The F1 Pro’s achieve realistic micro detail without being sharp or too separated sounding. Separation comes across as natural, without being impressive, but is clearly effective. There are very good technical capabilities without being, at first glance, a purely technical headphone. Perhaps, its virtue lies in that double sensation of calmness, neutrality in the exposure of the music, added to a high but musical level of resolution. All this allows the volume to be turned up without any problems and to see how high the level of definition is.
All in all, the F1 Pro has good separation without being sparse, very good micro detail without being analytical, remarkable precision without being too fine, transparent or glossy. All in all, the image recreation is easy, eloquent, simple to discern, with fairly obvious front and side positioning, where the elements are well distributed. But it is still not an overly broad or clearly specific image.
Hidizs MP145 Gold Filter (Balanced)
Perhaps, the easiest thing to do would be to make a comparison with the F1 model and end the review on a happy note. But I would not be stressing the new NiceHCK model. That’s why I want to compare it with one of the best Hidizs models and, also, one of the best planars of this new batch. The MP145 with the balanced filter.
First of all, the difference in size between the two capsules is very clear. The MP145s are large, perhaps too large, but it is very remarkable to note that this is not a negative for their ergonomics and I find them very comfortable as well. It is clear that the integration in my ears is not as neat as it is with the F1 Pro, but the high volume does not imply discomfort. I can wear them for quite some time without any problems. In the long run, though, the NiceHCKs are more comfortable, especially for everyday, out-of-home use. The level of construction is very good in both cases, with a great finish. But both have particular designs. The Hidizs are eye-catching, while the NiceHCK are a bit more simplistic and not as eye-catching, but I think they have improved their design level compared to their siblings. I prefer the standard Hidizs cable, but the New Cyan cable wins the game here, if you choose this option. The MP145s have filters like the F1s already had. The Pro version is without tuning filters. The Hidizs have more specialised tips, but the zippered case of the F1 Pro is clearly a plus. On the other hand, the MP145s have a leatherette pouch that is not up to the standards of a model of its category.
The sound profile of the MP145 with the Gold filter, which is the most balanced of them all, is very similar to that of the NiceHCK F1 Pro. You can see that the differences are very small. In fact, between the two models, the difference between channels could even further equalise the frequency responses. As far as you can see, the clearest difference is in the midrange, subtly more excited, in the early treble. But up to 1.5kHz both responses are completely identical.
In terms of sensitivity, the F1 Pro’s are a little more sensitive, at the same source volume, they sound slightly louder.
If the low end is so similar, so is the sound. But I find the F1 Pro’s bass a little brighter, clearer, cleaner, less opaque, less muffled and with a little more texture and roughness. These characteristics give the F1 Pro’s a technical improvement in the lower range, they seem to have more resolution, better definition, superior descriptive power, more separation even.
In the midrange, this sense of increased brightness, light, clarity and transparency becomes more apparent. The sound of the MP145s feels more muted, drier and a little more together. The F1 pro is sharper, but also more descriptive and cleaner. Details are better outlined and vocals are further forward in the mix, but also very well differentiated. All this gives it a more evident level of nuance, a more explicit, analytical and vivid sound, but without being fatiguing. The result is a more dynamic sound, with greater transparency and separation. It also seems to be somewhat faster in the transients, being somewhat more resolute in the treble and when many notes need to be represented in a faster way. It even seems to have less aftertaste in these cases, as well as more precision in those cases.
The upper zone seems clearer, more evident and more extended in the F1 Pro, it is a little crunchier. For those who are more sensitive to this area they will clearly notice it. The MP145s with the Gold filter are more muted and controlled.
The better sense of clarity and the more analytical, separated and detailed capability of the F1 Pro gives you a wider scene feel, with better separation, more detail and resolution.
But what is the advantage of the Hidizs? Well, they have a Silver filter to enhance the treble, which still makes the two models much more similar and the differences smaller.
The NiceHCK F1 Pro is not just another new planar model. It is clear that they have been inspired by the latest models. But they have managed to generate a sound on a par with their rivals, with very good resolution, clarity, transparency, detail, in a small capsule, much more ergonomic and comfortable than their previous model. The F1 Pro manages to turn a more analytical sound into something more natural and neutral, more musical and pleasant. It is able to combine the best of both worlds: musical and euphonic appeal, with a high level of resolution and detail, but without sounding cold or sharp, but realistic and engaging.
NiceHCK does not create something new, it limits itself to refine its first version, to polish it, to improve it in its most negative aspects, learning from its mistakes and keeping an eye on the most direct competition. If we add to this a price that can be lower in many occasions, good accessories, a smaller, lighter and more comfortable capsule, adding the possibility of adding quality cables that the brand has accustomed us to, the result is very tasty and a clear challenge to the competition. This is how it is done.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Aune X8 XVIII Magic DAC + EarMen ST-Amp.
- Aune M1p.
- Aune Yuki.
- Burson Audio Playmate II.
- Hidizs S9 Pro Plus Martha.