Complement And Conquer
- Great low end, both in presence and in tune. But the texture level is superior.
- Very good body in the first half of the mids.
- The mids have a natural, rich timbre and great vocal representation.
- Very special sound for macro detail.
- Very pleasant, melodious, euphonic, smooth and slightly warm intonation.
- Very natural, rational, logical and realistic scene. Excellent body and vocal recreation.
- Despite the simplicity of the packaging, it has a good set of accessories, very useful and of high quality.
- Ultra low weight of the capsules. The transparent design is very attractive.
- The shape of the IEMS is classic, but very comfortable.
- Excellent value for money.
- Limited extension in the air range and softened treble emphasis.
- The soft, melodious and slightly warm character prevents the perception of micro-detail from being heightened.
- Despite the good soundstage, the sound is not very immersive or three-dimensional.
Link to the Store
Once again, I have the pleasure of reviewing a model from Penon, the well known portable audio retailer. As many people will already know, they also design their own products, and it’s not just cables or earbuds. This time, it’s an ambitious project, given the price range in which it moves: a hybrid model that uses a 10mm dynamic driver and a full-frequency range balanced armature driver. Of course, it has a 2Pin 0.78mm connection and the capsules are made of medical grade resin, completely transparent, with a very pleasant shape and ergonomics. Of course, it is accompanied by a good silver-plated cable and an extensive number of accessories of remarkable quality. I will now go on to describe all these details at greater length, as well as its sound, of course.
- Driver Type: Balanced Armature Full Frequency + Dynamic driver 10mm.
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
- Sensitivity: 112 ± 3dB @1kHz.
- Impedance: 10Ω @1kHz.
- Jack Connector: 3.5mm SE
- Capsule Connection Type: 2Pin 0.78mm
- Cable length: 1.2m
The Penon ORBs come in a yellow box, relatively compact in size. Its dimensions are 130x103x61mm. The colour of the outer cardboard is yellow, with some orange tones under the realistic photo of the capsules. On the main side, top left, is the logo of the brand. In the centre, the photo of the two capsules. On the bottom right, the description of the model, in black letters. On the back side, there are only the brand’s contact details, also on the bottom right. Once the cardboard has been removed, a simple rectangular box appears, with purple on the larger sides and red on the lateral sides. On the main side is the brand’s logo, in the centre, in gold lettering. On the back is a short description of the brand, the specifications and, again, the manufacturer’s contact details. All in white lettering. The specifications are on a sticker. Inside the box are all the components and accessories. In a nutshell:
- A blue zipped case with the logo inscribed in gold on the lid. It is rectangular and tall.
- A leather pouch with a clip closure.
- ORB capsules.
- One cable with 3.5mm SE plug, 8-strand silver-plated copper.
- 3 pairs of grey silicone tips with orange core, sizes SxMxL.
- 3 pairs of grey silicone tips with green core, sizes SxMxL.
- 1 pair of bi-flange tips, single size.
- One metal clamp.
- One cleaning tool, with brush and mini fork.
The cable is available in a 2.5mm balanced version as well as a microphone version.
The presentation is simple, even austere. The packaging may look generic. But the contents, its carrying case, accessories and cable, live up to the price. I do miss some foam tips, but they come with the excellent branded carrying case and a mini leather envelope pouch, which is useful for storing other accessories. The tips are slightly different from each other. Finally, the cleaning tool should be common in many other presentations, due to its great usefulness. It’s a nice touch that Penon includes it on a regular basis.
The packaging is a point of attraction for customers. Audiophiles may be curious about them. But for us, it’s all about the content. I prefer a compact, generic design with quality accessories and variety rather than a large, empty package that takes up a lot of space in my cupboards.
So that’s simple, but very effective – why bother?
Construction and Design
The capsules are completely transparent and one can see all their contents, the connections, the internal cables, some components and the drivers. Also visible are the conduits from the drivers to the outside of the mouthpieces. The shape of the capsules is semi-custom, classic, with a medium-high thickness. With an external face in the shape of an African continent, in the centre of which one can read the model name (left) and the brand name (right) in gold lettering. The 2Pin 0.78mm connection is integrated into the inside of the capsules, at the edge. The inner face has a slight protrusion at one end, although smooth, not as pronounced as on other models. The mouthpiece grows naturally and is relatively wide at the base. At one point it narrows rapidly, forming a ring, from which the last section of the mouthpiece emerges. The length from this point is almost 4mm and its thickness is 6.3mm. It has no external grille, but two ducts leading to each driver. The conduit that goes to the BA driver has a small brass tube (it seems) inside. While the duct that goes to the dynamic driver also has another small tube, but closer to the outside. If one zooms in on the inside of each duct, one can see that there are grilles in each. The BA driver grille is brass coloured, while the dynamic driver grille is white.
The inside of the capsules is mostly empty. A point of higher density is at the connector, where a build-up of resin can be seen to give solidity to this important part of the design. Rounding the corner of the connector, also at the edge, is another conduit with a metal tube inside and another white grid. The other point of greatest density is near the nozzles. The drivers are carefully resin-bonded and carefully arranged to fit into the ducts leading to the mouthpieces. There is a curious but well thought-out detail: the cables seem to be secured to the drivers, thanks to a kind of hardened blue paste on the left side and red paste on the right side. It is an easy way to distinguish each capsule, thanks to the high level of transparency of each one. This paste falls on the back of the dynamic driver.
Capsules with such a high level of transparency do not allow for any faults. Any error in their internal assembly could be seen. The quality control must be exquisite, as well as their manual manufacture. It must not be easy to make each capsule perfect, as you can see.
The SPC cable consists of 8 intertwined, handmade strands. Inside, the cable has a number of silver-plated copper wires. The whole thing is very manageable and has no stiffness whatsoever. The sleeve of the 3.5mm SE connector is a silver-plated cylinder, which tapers gently in the middle. Lengthwise, the brand logo can be seen in white lettering. The cylinder tapers at the cable exit and the cable is covered by a few millimetres of plastic sleeving. The splitter piece is of a similar style, but half the size. The adjustment piece is a small metal cylinder, inside of which there is another transparent cylinder, which has just the right inner diameter to perfectly perform the function of fixing the cable. It has a guide on the ear and the sleeve of the connectors is of the same type and material as the rest of the metal parts of the cable. It is worth mentioning two thin rings of little thickness, close to the guides and a white letter marking the side of each connector. The connection is 2Pin 0.78mm.
As I said, the design leaves nothing hidden, therefore, the quality of its assembly is totally evident: it is excellent.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The classic semi-custom shape is an ergonomic life insurance. The protrusion at the end of the inner side is soft and never bothersome. The shape is compact, but stubby, due to its relatively high thickness. The design of the mouthpiece, somewhat wide and short in its last section, favours a superficial insertion, which can be medium, if one’s canal and morphology allow it. In my case, with my large foam-filled tips, the insertion is totally superficial, but very occlusive, reaching a high level of isolation.
The weight of the capsules is minimal and thanks to the perfect seal I get, the fit is optimal and very durable. The design and size of the capsules prevents them from rotating and there is no possibility of movement. This is probably one of the most perfect fits I have ever tested, despite the thickness of the capsules.
On the other hand, the over-ear guides are soft and barely touch my ears. The cable has no microphonics and is very manageable. The comfort of the set is very high.
I would go so far as to say that the profile of the Penon ORB’s resembles a diminishing W. There is a sub-bass boost at a point that I find very much in line with my Bass Lover preferences. Then, there is a gentle emphasis on the mid-highs and, finally, a sparkle in the mid-treble. The result is a signature with a gently diminishing balance, with a warm but respectful tendency.
I feel that the tuning of the low end has been taken from a theoretical plane to a real plane in a cathedral-like manner. I believe that there are few IEMS that have such a smooth and linear decrease in intensity as the ORBs. It is clear that theory is one thing and reality is another. But, in this case, the tuning result is a success. The depth of the sub-bass is commendable and its sonority totally natural, physical, sensitive and perceptible. The timbre, mixed with the soft warmth of the ensemble, plays in favour of enhancing the naturalness of the bass, enhancing its realistic, yet powerful character. The texture is favoured by the speed of the strike and by a not-so-fast decay. On this occasion, this slight point of greater extension in time sweetens the bass and enhances its texture, turning it into a very pleasant murmur, a soft purr that is never gimmicky, but caresses the eardrums with its excellent descriptive power and its great musicality. This is how the basses are utterly pleasing and euphonic. They are able to assemble structured layers and well layered planes, without losing realism or sounding forced. They retain a thickness to the notes that provides a very enjoyable weight and forcefulness, expanding their presence within the soundstage, to fill it but without crowding out the other elements and without sounding oppressive. Despite the power of the lower range, the bass is gentle on the midrange. The power and presence of the LFOs cannot be denied, but there is room for everything in the ORBs and their technical qualities allow the bands to be represented with good harmony and independence from each other.
Finally, in my classic very low frequency pure tone test, which I use to determine the loudness, depth, naturalness and realism of the bass, I thought I noticed some influence of the BA driver. It is clear from the specs that the BA driver is a full-range driver. So it would not be surprising if there is a beneficial support of the BA driver over the dynamic driver. If so, such a combination, in inexperienced hands, could be disastrous. But the result is nevertheless highly beneficial. It is a well-known fact that depth, punch and realism are not the forte of the balanced armature drivers to represent the low end. However, they do possess other qualities that are very beneficial for the lower range, such as speed, accuracy, quickness, fast decay and… texture. This may be conjecture, but I believe that this test has revealed a certain influence of the BA driver to enrich the texture, the surface, the relief of the bass, its level of definition, its resolution… In short, to enhance them in those aspects that the dynamic driver alone cannot reach. If this is so, the overall result has an explanation. But, on the other hand, it also increases the value of the ORBs, because on this occasion the combination of the drivers is not about divide and conquer, but to complement and conquer. And I think they succeed.
Starting from a powerful and present, but never oppressive low end, the middle range begins with warmth, body and forcefulness in its first bars. The smoothness and linearity of the transition allows the musicality of the initial phase to be deepened, achieving a performance characterised by a good density, while still maintaining a fundamental harmonious thickness, but without being fat or flabby. Again, the tuning design comes to the rescue, to avoid negative consequences. In this sense, the presence of the first mids is full and effective, not forward, but with a compact and regular presentation, without any hint of sluggishness. This is how the male voices manage to emancipate themselves from such a stellar lower section, but without being the protagonists. The restraint of their situation, both on stage and in the presence of the audience, is established in the middle, but sweet. And I say sweet, because they possess an ambivalence that allows them to be savoured in both short and longer shots. The distance of the male voices is such that the nuances and textures can be appreciated in a very complete way, but without occupying a main space in the image. This means that the resolution of the ORBs makes it possible to enrich elements that are not in the foreground and are not bass notes. It is clear that this ability is also transmitted to the rest of the instrumentation, conjugating and mixing elements with a wise harmony, which achieves a highly melodious, pleasant, sweet, enjoyable sound, but without losing any descriptive attributes, nor nuancing the resolving power of the drivers as a whole. Again, I think that the BA driver is capable of adding precision and delicacy to the notes, to extend the definition beyond smoothness, avoiding falling into a musical facileism, lacking technical rigour. Not so, the ORB drivers again complement each other to bring their virtues, to overcome mediocrity and unfinished performances. In this way, the midrange is much fuller and richer, broadening the descriptive level, extolling nuances, but without losing that warm, rounded and smooth character. That is the great achievement, to unite softness and definition in a measured representation in all the dimensional axes.
However, it is also worth noting that this level of resolution does not go into an analytical level. There is a remarkable level of clarity, but the tuning does not seek to enhance the mid-highs in order to gain presence, transparency or proximity to detail or micro nuances. In this aspect, the tuning seeks more fluid patterns and a more organic, neutral and analogue exposition of the elements. In this way, the BA timbre never appears and its technical capabilities have a tendency to be more complementary than protagonist, as at no time does it seem to expose all of its nature uniquely. As a consequence of all this, the first impression of the ORB midrange may seem slightly toned down or muted. But, in reality, it’s just an anecdote, a process of adjustment of our ears, coming from tunings with overexposed mid-highs, to gain clarity and technicality. None of that will be found here. The upper midrange has just the right emphasis to bring closer, to clarify, to highlight and to demonstrate that a theoretical drawing can be equally impressive in reality. This is the result of a winning tuning, which seeks to linger in our memory, leaving a pleasant, but also tasty and captivating aftertaste.
The decreasing tuning character of ORBs tends to be represented to a greater extent in the high range. Undoubtedly, the treble has a smooth, fatigue-free face and a pleasant representation. The brightness is respectful, it is a definition that is still rich in expressive level, but not in emphasis or presence. The result is a balanced top end, consistent with the rest of the range, which does not seek to highlight or stand out.
The upper phase begins with a measured flare and energy, which quickly enters a weighted control zone, and then spreads with relative joy into the air zone. In this way, the treble pattern has a perceptible, but inoffensive, comfortable edge. They are not muted and have the necessary information to give the sound the vigour required by the upper range, but without being obtrusive or overbearing. It is not a complementary upper part, since the treble has the necessary character to last in the atmosphere. But do not seek absolute prominence.
On the other hand, such characteristics do not imply a reduction in the level of precision or definition of this range. ORBs are quite capable of exposing the elements of this phase, in a clear way, with sufficient vivacity, experience, insight and refinement required. However, it is in the air zone that they are not as extensive or present. Perhaps this is the weakest point in the sound of the ORBs, which prevents a clearer, more crystalline and resplendent presentation. The sum of all the properties of the upper range give the sound a more organic, relaxed, balanced, sweet and melodious character, lacking a hint of polish and enough sparkle to raise the level of resolution in the micro details.
The Penon ORB’s representation of the scene is, above all, realistic. The width is above average and, from the front, the image is perceived as large and wide. The distances of the elements feel well defined and it is easy to locate them in space and to guess where they come from. It is easy to mentally separate and isolate each musical component. But it is true that there is a slight aftertaste around, a subtle lack of air that gives a less dark and transparent background. This is the anchor that fixes ORB to a natural reality and separates it from a more analytical or cold sound. It is clear that they have a warmer, organic profile, also with an analogue feel, where the separation is built on these parameters.
The very good corporeal feel of voices and instruments incorporates a sense of the three-dimensional formation of these pieces on the frontal plane. The holographic feel is not great and the vaporous feel is average. Again, the soundstage feels structured and alive, without getting out of the head, but with very good laterality. The axes that stand out most are width and height, while depth has a duality to add volume to the mids, but without reaching the size of width.
One of my absolute references in this price range are my prized Yanyin Aladdin. A priori, I thought that both shared more similarities than differences. After a quick test I have seen that this is not the case, at the sound level, I mean. In the shape of the capsules these similarities are present. It is true that the ORBs are transparent and the Aladdin are opaque and have metal mouthpieces. But, you could say that the capsules share a very similar mould, including the side grille. I don’t have a precision scale, but I would say the ORBs are lighter.
In terms of profile, the Penon ORBs have a slightly warmer profile, with a more noticeable and perceptible low end in their texture. The ORB’s body excels in a quick change, as well as a more homogeneous and tapering profile. Whereas the Yanyin has a bit more sparkle, liveliness and projection. Not that the Aladdin does not possess a certain warmth, but it is represented in a different way. There is a superior emphasis on the upper mids and a technical edge provided by the BA, which gives it tighter definition and a more accentuated brightness and clarity. But this penalises the corporeal presentation of the elements, and this is where the ORBs offer their virtue, as opposed to a more cleanly defined sound in the Yanyins.
It should be noted that both models drive very well and have an equal impedance, as well as a very similar overall sensitivity, although the ORBs have a higher sensitivity.
In the low end, both IEMS have a clear sub-bass accent. But the Aladdins are somewhat more concise, tighter and drier. The ORBs are more textured, slightly thicker and rounder, with a slightly slower decay. This gives them more overall presence and the ability to produce a more pleasing tingle in my eardrums. Technically, the Aladdin’s bass is more technical, while the ORB’s are more organic, robust, wide, broad and noticeable.
The ORBs’ mids are characterised by the warmth they carry, the fuller body and their more natural and comparatively muted timbre. The Aladdin’s greater emphasis on the high-mids offers superior projection on vocals, especially female vocals. But they also feel more isolated. Whereas on the ORBs they are perceived as tighter and denser. More edges and edges are noticeable on the Aladdin, the more precise character of the larger number of BA drivers can be felt. The ORBs gain in musicality and are more melodious, more focused on macro detail, while the Yanyins reveal more micro detail on a shallower, yet brighter and more luminous listen. But, on closer listening, the level of descriptive background can become similar, although the Aladdin is more expressive at first glance.
The higher explicit level is more easily revealed in the high end of the Yanyin, more because of the technical character of its higher driver count than because of an obvious difference in tuning in the high end. In this respect, there are slight differences and more sparkle in the Aladdin. Although there is a more perceptible sense of air, which helps to expand and extend the treble over time, giving a more standard feel. Neither IEMS is a headphone to boast enhanced treble, but the more stretched and slightly more energetic range of the Yanyin does it a favour.
The scene has similarities in the X and Y axes, while it seems that the depth is more effective in the Yanyin, as well as its holographic capability is more apparent. While the ORBs have a more pronounced frontal corporeal recreation, something that could be called micro three-dimensionality or the virtue of recreating volume in a smaller space. In this aspect, despite the greater sense of air and vaporousness, the Yanyin’s elements are perceived as flatter, although well separated. The bottom end is cleaner and more discernible in the Aladdin, while the mellowness of the ORB’s sound weaves through the lower fabric.
In conclusion, both are great IEMS and I feel fortunate to own both. One is more technical and one is more melodious and pleasant. But both are capable of similar sonic quality, but with different nuances. Although the level of prolonged and pleasurable enjoyment is assured in both models.
The Penon ORBs are possibly the best matched single hybrids I have ever heard. In this sense, the drivers are not a «divide and conquer», but rather a «complement and conquer». I think that the marriage of a full-range BA driver, to a powerful dynamic driver from the low end, is felt from the inferior region, expands in the mid-range and culminates in the high end. The harmony of the dual tuning and the mastery of the combination of both drivers imply a clear and strong synergy, which results in a full, melodious, harmonious, warm, euphonic, defined, textured sound with a remarkable resolution. The consequence is direct, the music is fluid, very pleasant, lingers in our ears and in our memory, activating a very pleasing, attractive and desirable memory. I want more.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- S.M.S.L Sanskrit 10th MKII + iFi ZEN CAN.
- Hidizs AP80 PRO-X.
- HiBy R3 Pro.
- Earmen Colibri.
- xDuoo Link2 BAL.
- Burson Audio Playmate.