I just came back from an outstanding audiophile gathering with my buddy lately, it was a wonderful night, just like other gathering, both of us showed deep enthusiasm on audio and share our audio equipment as well. I lend some of my beloved item to him and he also shared some of his headphones with me, one of the headphone he brought to the gathering (In fact after I requested) is the long well received Superlux HD681b.
Remembered few months back when Stephen asked my opinion on purchasing a new but cheap headphone for his experiment on the DIY project amp he is doing now, immediately I recommended the Superlux to him, he bought the HD681B from our local seller, that is the story.
Before the 681B
I have always wanted to test the HD668B and 681 series before, my first encountered with Superlux is their super iem HD381F, HD631DJ and the HD661, to be honest both of the HD631DJ and 661 failed to surprise me despite their nice price bracket, their sound are what I really don’t like and the HD631DJ, I was hesitated to wear it on, sound are too closed in, bass are sluggish and the comfort level which is really worse.
Now the HD681B (25USD!!)
However, I still asked Stephen to bring me the HD681B, I am interested to see one of the most talked budget headphones on the forum. When I first saw the HD681B, I am surprised that it is not as bad looking as what I see from the internet, it is simple in the look, also the construction. To be fair, 25USD headphones won’t have superb construction as your 300USD headphones, build quality is something that is proportional to the price most of the time. But comfort level wise it is very comfortable, I am really surprised on this, it is not on the German Maestro’s headphones standard, but it is definitely more comfortable than the Sennheiser HD600,HD25-1, AKG Q701 and on par with the very comfortable Aurvana Live! (Which has a small earcup), it is really comfortable despite the awful build quality (I can’t compalin on this though, it is dirt cheap in price tag)
I love it once I played music on it, I paired it up with Tubeamp TA-1 and my iBasso DX-50 (The portable goodies I can say!), for anyone who don’t know Tubeamp TA-1 yet, it is a portable solidstate amplifier with a very tube-ish sound. That night I can see the sound of HD681B as intermediate and fun, not bassy kind of fun, it is well balanced and not lacking any of the 3 frequencies, treble, mids and bass, smooth and soundstaging seems wide, in another words, I opened up my mouth and I can’t believe how 30USD can bring such a good sound to my ears, wow, this is really great, especially when you can get thing done with such a little money.
I can’t keep my interest down, Stephen agreed with me that for the money that he has spent, he was surprised as well. However, when I paired it up with the Fiio X3 and Panda Audio Amp-S (Latest flagship from Panda Audio), sound is annoying thin and I have got a hot treble there, not a good thing. But bear in mind that X3 is really not a good match for the HD681B and also my German Maestro GMP450, sounded too thin, this is the reason why I prefer DX50 over the X3, I am not going to elaborate more on this now, maybe later in another review, but for instances, it is as good as what I remembered when I got home with my desktop rig, simply Kingrex UD394 as a DAC on the Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear Edition, definitely sounded best on my desktop rig, not something that portable setup can accomplished, but in my honest opinion, you don’t need to spend a lot on the HD681B, it does not really scaled up accordingly. Aware though, this thing will not going to sound good out of your portable player, give it some juice it desired to sound his best.
I played the album Jokes by Quintetto Bislacco, an album that I obsessed lately, every piece of instrument sounded nice and no annoying coloration whatsoever, treble is plenty, maybe at Q701 level, nothing that I will called harsh nor bright unless you have got yourself a bad pairing, like the Fiio X3 that I mentioned before, or else the treble level never annoying me. Bass is not plentiful but not lacking as well, it came in a good amount but lacking some definition, keep in mind, it is EXCELLENT for 30USD, I can’t find it anywhere near the price tag, comparable with more expensive can, I do hope there is extra depth and impact though, but I won’t complain. There are 5 pieces of instruments playing together in the album, pleasingly instrument separation is good and the instrument do not sounded mellow or muddy together, separate well. Imaging and separation are good.
Played some classical music HD681B played them with confidence, the clean sound characteristic is good with classical, however, it might too clean for music like Mondo Head by Kodo, the drum based album, bass can’t keep my toe tapping. Anyway, something like Canon in D by Pachabell is enjoyable through it, clean and neutral with healthy sound. Detail level and soundstaging are the deal here.
I tried to played some old funk musics from James Brown, which I like to listen recently, immediately I played track Watch me, the bass line is not as clear nor as impactful as I like, without good thumping of energy made James Brown’s golden track a shame. To be fair, I played the same track using the same Firestone Audio Bobby (Head amp), Yulong Audio DA8 and Soundaware D100 Pro Premium through similar headphone German Maestro GMP435s, I knew that GMP435s selling much highr price at 300usd, but just for reference, 435s has much better overall sound quality, uncomparable at all. I am not surprised at all given the price difference, but for 30USD, it stood as hard as rock in its own.
So what is not now?
Overall sound might be too thin/clean and the bass is not that impactful/plenti for music others than Classical, such as Jazz and vocal based song, vocal has been cursed by plentiful of sibilant, if you are looking for another type of sound, I will definitely recommended you the Sennheiser HD202ii, which has more bass and thicker sound (But uncomfortable), but closed back means HD681B still has the edge over classical musics, especially the soundstaging here, with much lesser coloration and healthy bass. You might go for Creative Aurvana Live as well, more expensive but with superb vocal that is gentle and smooth sound. For long listening session, HD681B might not that euphonic to ear, thin sound is tiring.
If you are a classical fans, you really need to look into this, Superlux HD681B from a Taiwanese company, for 30USD, this is what I expected, ermmm, far exceeding my expectation in fact. A good way to spend your money. I knew that when you are reading my review you must be feeling that why should I spent for such a cheap and imperfect headphone, but before you expecting of any miracle, there are always better sound when you are willing to spend more, but the true point is, if you only have a desktop DAC/Amp combo, portable amp or anything that is not luxury, also if you are extremely tight on your budget, I am wondering if there is any better way to spend your 25USD in classical musics.