Small But Thuggish
- Quality of its low area.
- Explicit level of detail and nuance.
- Close mids, well-resolved male voices.
- First treble in the spotlight.
- Full sound.
- Very good level of construction.
- Good ergonomics.
- Details, instruments and voices share the same plane, which gives a sense of a compressed sound.
- The mid-highs and first highs are close and present, which can be exhausting.
- The weight of the capsules can be a burden for continued use.
- No carrying case or bag. Minimal accessories.
Link to the Store
Tripowin seems to be another relatively recent Chinese brand. They have their own website, but I can’t find any history about the brand. They have several models to their credit, starting with the TC-01 model, followed by the HBB Mele (a collaboration with the ubiquitous Hawaian Bad Boy), all the way up to the current HBB Olina SE (yes, HBB again). They are not known for having very expensive models and the highest priced model is an open headphone model worth less than $200. This time, I got my hands on the new Tripowin Piccolo model, priced at $35. It comes in two colours: Silver and Black. The Silver version is shiny, polished and silver, of course. While the Black version is also metallic, but with a matte, rough, almost harsh finish. It has a dynamic driver with a third-generation LCP diaphragm, «subjected to intensive polymer sheet processing for crystallisation and cross-linking of the polymers, using a material similar to that used in Kevlar, resulting in excellent diaphragm responsiveness, lower overall harmonic distortion and elimination of treble harshness». They use a cable with high-purity OCC copper wires, with a 2Pin 0.78mm connection. Let’s take a look at what these economy-range IEMS can do.
- Driver Type: 11mm dual-cavity dynamic with third-generation LCP diaphragm.
- Sensitivity: 110dB±3dB
- Impedance: 32Ω±10%.
- Jack Connector: SE 3.5mm
- Capsule Connection Type: 2Pin 0.78mm
- Cable: OCC high purity copper wire cable.
- Cable length: 1.2±5%.
The Tripowin Piccolo comes in a small-medium sized, white box. Its dimensions are 139x96x40mm. It is covered with cellophane. On the main side there is a series of concentric circles whose black lines get thicker as they get closer to the centre. Above them is an actual photo of both capsules, in the same colour as inside. Above is the brand name, below left is the name of the model and a short description about it. At the bottom left is a logo indicating «High Quality In-Ear Monitor». On the back side, the concentric circles are repeated, although, this time, their centre is in the upper left corner. At the bottom is the name of the model, indicating that it has been designed by Tripowin and manufactured in China. Coincidentally, it is also marked «Apex CE Specialists Limited», located in Ireland and Manchester. This company and these details are the same as those on the model I reviewed last week: Kiwi Ears Quartet.
Removed from the outer carton, a black box with the grey concentric circles pattern on the top and the model name on the bottom in white is displayed. Underneath is a warranty card and a card certifying that it has passed quality control. The IEMS are fitted into a dark, custom-made mould. Above are the capsules, below is the cable with the silicone tips. In short, all they come with is the following:
- The two capsules.
- One OCC high purity copper wire cable.
- Warranty card.
- Quality control card.
- 3 pairs of black silicone tips, sizes SxMsL.
There is no cloth bag, no zipped case, nothing more than the above. The bare minimum.
Construction and Design
The Tripowin Piccolo comes in two colours, Silver and Black. The model to be reviewed is Black. This model has a rather rough, dark matte coating, with a sandy finish, which is quite distinctive and visible. The size of the capsules is small to medium, but slightly thick. Their shape is a very rounded triangle. The outer face has wavy grooves, while in the centre there are three larger oval holes. The 2Pin 0.78mm connection is mounted on an oval piece that protrudes from the surface. Next to it you can read the brand name in white capital letters. On the small side there is a circular gold metal piece with a hole in the centre. On the inner side, near this piece, are the letters indicating the channel, in a circle and in white. The inner face has a crescent shape towards the nozzles and there is no protrusion on it. There is a small hole in the inner base of the nozzles. Finally, the nozzles are made of a different material, just like the golden part. They have 3 levels of diameter, the base of 6.5mm, the inside of 5.45mm and the rim of 6.1mm. Their length is 4.5mm and their interior is protected by a silver metallic grid.
It is heavy and has a rough, matte finish. It is not stated what material it is made of, but the weight suggests it is metallic.
The cable is of a slightly higher quality than the most basic cables. It consists of four coiled strands coated with black PVC. The connector sleeve is a small black cylinder, with the brand name in white letters. The connector is gold-plated and is 3.5mm SE. The splitter piece is another, smaller, black metal cylinder. The pin is a plastic ring with two holes in it through which the cable slides. The cables have over-ear guides made of semi-rigid transparent plastic. The sleeves of the 2Pin 0.78mm connectors are angled at 90°. The pins are inside an oval black plastic sleeve, they barely protrude. As I say, the quality of the cable isn’t bad, it’s not stiff and it doesn’t coil up. Overall, though, it looks like a simple model.
Overall, the design of the capsules is not bad. I like the rough finish, while the outer face has a somewhat minimalistic, not to say puerile, design. I also like the shape, which is not too big. But I find the weight a little uncontrolled. The cable is simple and effective, nothing more. Although it has a 2Pin 0.78mm connection, the type of connection covered is not the one I prefer, because it limits the universality of this connection and you have to buy a suitable connector.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The very rounded triangular shape, small-medium size, fits very well. The interior is clean, with no parts that rub against the ear. The nozzles have a good inclination and a size that could promise a medium insertion. The shape of the capsules fits well, firmly to the pinna and does not allow rotation. Despite their thickness, they do not protrude too far out of the ears and with the cable they are fairly well integrated into the anatomy. The problem is the weight, although it is not something that bothers if you get a good fit with tips that achieve a good occlusive and persistent seal. If this can be achieved, they would be suitable for everyday wear, use on public transport, even walking. With a little more movement, the weight could play a trick.
If an occlusive seal is achieved, the isolation becomes noticeable.
Again, the Tripowin Piccolo has a profile that is already familiar to me. I don’t doubt that I like it and I have proved it with the reviews of the TKZK Ouranos (which are very similar) and the TinHiFi T2 DLC 2022. Again I repeat that this is not a neutral profile, but a balanced and homogeneous one. This time, the sub-bass end is softer and the bass is focused in its mid-range. The treble is also light and there is a relatively pronounced roll-off in its first part. I could repeat that this is a lowercase w-profile, with rounded bass, slightly excited mid-highs and more controlled treble. The emphasis on the upper-mid end gives it clarity, sparkle and liveliness, which is countered by the roll-off of the first treble.
Somehow, I don’t sense darkness in the Tripowin Piccolo. The lower range is not dull either, and although it doesn’t come with great power to the LFOs, it defends itself with good linearity up to 100Hz. It is true that the bass is excited in the mid-range and that the power is not very high (they are not bass heads), but they are capable of gaining a lot of power depending on the tips used, as well as the level of occlusion reached. In this way, the bass becomes more sensory with a good seal.
The behaviour is surprising in the pure tone test. It arrives very low with a sensitive, barely audible reproduction mix, being a quite accurate response for 20Hz. It improves as the frequencies go up, sounding natural and very little coloured. I must admit that the behaviour of the low frequency pure tones is superior to that of more expensive models. Excellent.
As a result, bass reproduction is realistic and natural. It is also technically competent, demonstrating very good speed for its price range. I could say that the technical bass capability, in relation to its price and rivals I’ve tested, is above B+. I hate to have to resort to the chicanery of a listless reviewer, but the Piccolo’s bass is clearly superior, qualitatively speaking, to its price range. They have been tuned to have a good level of all-round power, without losing accuracy, concise punch or speed. They cope quite well with complex or saturated bass lines, being able to layer relatively well, albeit from a basic or simplistic resolution point of view. Nor can one expect superior resolving power in these critical passages, but they are defended with taste, depth, even naturalness, without falling into a representative and poorly generated vulgarity. On the contrary, the Tripowin Piccolo manage to surprise in adverse situations. And this is no easy task, where the more expensive IEMS have a hard time.
It is clear that my ears focus on female voices when I listen to the Piccolo. There is also a vivid sparkle resulting from the emphasis on the mid-highs. There is a mix of prominence between the cymbal flash and the female voices. It’s something that can become fatiguing at some points, this level of interpretative duality. This fringe feels close, in the foreground, but also somewhat forced, losing naturalness by giving more importance to the details than to the base. True, the nuances come alive, but they sound more unrealistic in timbre, compressed in this closeness. Those details tend to be in focus, even without the full width to expose them all, they sound close and playable, even if their reproduction is not the most original or faithful. Female voices can feel a little sharp, abrupt, even intimidating, due to their proximity and higher-pitched tendency. I miss a little more delicacy and smoothness in their reproduction, as well as a little more control in their recreation.
The male voices also have a presence, but are somewhat more relaxed. A slight touch of warmth gives them a point of sweetness and musicality superior to their female counterparts and makes them more accurate and natural. Without a doubt, the tuning is more appropriate in the first half of the mids, being more adventurous in the second half. It is clear that this upper part brings benefits in terms of transparency, clarity, appreciation of definition and resolution. But it is true that, on this occasion, it is a forced zone to reach this end, although assuming a compromise, given the price level. The result is a more compressed upper-mid range, pushed towards the listener, while the lower-mid range is more realistic in both behaviour and timbre. The combination of the two parts can be eloquent, even polarised in result. But it is clear that if one is looking for an explicit representation, but without overstepping the boundaries, the listening experience these Piccolos expose is quite juicy, even enjoyable.
The sense of compression is most evident in the treble. The Piccolo’s attempt to condense the high end is an initial flash. This implies a tendency to agglutinate the timbre in this first part. In this way, the treble sounds in a similar way, focused on one point. At first, they feel crisp and sparkling, also in the foreground, with evident energy and even penetrating, lacking in delicacy. But, they are also a little dry. The consequent droop hinders a more extended and realistic sonority. The energy they lose is not replaced by quality and they become more abrupt, abrupt, becoming sloppy, unpleasant in those critical compositions in the upper zone. On this occasion, that control zone has not been well recreated and has become a condensed, clipped and somewhat denatured sparkle.
In a sound that has close and frontal planes, the scene is not very deep, as it is difficult to layer the sound. The bass does a good job of trying to widen the scene and gain distance. But the mid-highs and highs bring the listener closer to instruments, female voices and details. The music becomes splashy and the nuances sprout somewhat forced, although, there they are, when in other IEMS they don’t appear. Laterality is average and there is not much height to be glimpsed. The sound is not diffuse, there is a good level of definition and resolution, although there is not much air or separation. Nor is there a three-dimensional or immersive feel. But you can’t ask much from IEMS in this price range. Without a doubt, the best assets are the level of detail and definition, even if it is a bit forced and sought after.
It is true that the TKZK Ouranos cost $55, $20 more than the Tripowin Piccolo. But I think they are a refined version of the ones I am now reviewing. The Ouranos come with a few more accessories and a slightly superior cable, although I don’t like the handling much. In terms of construction, the Ouranos are made of resin, while the Piccolo are made of metal. The Ouranos are very comfortable and weigh very little. Their integration in my ears is quite complete. The Piccolo are comfortable but their heavier weight is noticeable, as well as their more floating and not so anchored insertion.
In terms of sound, the Piccolo move more easily. A quick switch between them demonstrates the Ouranos’ musical smoothness, their greater refinement, even if it is somewhat darker. Certainly, this is a clear sign that frequency responses can be deceiving: the Ouranos may seem to have a more excited, sharper mid-high end. But this is not the case, they are clearly smoother and more controlled in the mids and highs. True, they need some power to shine, relative to the Piccolo, but therein lies the control and musicality of their ensemble.
In a direct battle, the bass quality of the Piccolo’s is surprising, as well as their precise, concise and marked punch. They are also tighter than the Ouranos. The TKZKs are slightly rubberier, also deeper and darker. Their texture is more noticeable, rougher and more pleasing to the ears, providing that characteristic tingle that is so appealing. The Piccolo’s bass is faster, with less bite and energy. There is a little brighter colouring in their punch, which gives them a slightly more synthetic timbre. But, I insist on the quality of the Tripowin’s bass.
In the middle zone things change. The quality of the Piccolo is decreasing. Their mids are explicit, exposed, feel in the foreground, with less delicacy and control. There is a forced definition through the clarity of their high-mids and highs, something that is not present in the Ouranos. Whereas the TKZKs are smoother and more musical, with a better blend of voices, instruments and details, more harmonious and balanced. There is more body, volume and scene in the Ouranos. Their more relaxed exposition broadens the scene, making it more fluid, three-dimensional and ethereal. There is more flatness, layering and laterality in the TKZK, their more expansive sound contrasting with the foreground music of the Piccolo. It’s clear that the detail is apparent in the Tripowin, but the compression of their sound has an impact on the treble. The Ouranos are an example of similar tuning in the high range, but better resolved, with better control, timbre and smoothness.
No one should be surprised, in my opinion, the TKZK Ouranos are very good for their price. I like their tuning, although I know that many others like a different tuning. The Tripowin Piccolo have a similar curve and that justifies their comparison, especially because control, smoothness and other intangibles are not reflected in these graphs. But, it’s commendable the quality you can get for $35, although it’s a pity that their midrange and treble profile is not more controlled.
The Tripowin Piccolo are a set of IEMS that belong to an affordable price range. They are not the cheapest and that is why their quality is not basic, but remarkable. It is true that in all price ranges there is a lot of competition. But technology is advancing in favour of all segments, to improve the price/performance ratio, as far as sound is concerned. The Piccolo is a paradigm of good, solid construction, good design, remarkable ergonomics and better sound. Its tapered W-profile is homogeneous in its curve. It has a very good bass, with exposed midrange and treble. Its sound is presented in the foreground, with shimmering and close details. It concentrates a good level of explicitness, but it is a little overbearing, offering a more compressed presentation in depth, which can be overdone. On the other hand, achieving this amount of detail and explicitness is not easy at this price point. All of this, coupled with the excellent bass quality, puts its direct competition to shame. Those looking for an energetic, unabashed, powerful and close sound will find the Tripowin Piccolo to be a perfect everyday companion.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Aune X8 XVIII Magic DAC + EarMen ST-Amp.
- Aune M1P.
- Tempotec March III.
- Burson Audio Playmate II.