Numbers of new brands are flooding in but we know as a fact that most of them are from China. Not to mean that is a bad thing, of course, but I have been willing to see some new faces from other countries as well – which is why I would like to introduce a new IEM brand from elsewhere called NXEars. Founded in California, USA, NXEars is created by a former Knowles engineer as well as the NuForce founder.
Even if your curiosity in new IEMs got dull after encountering multiple new brands, NXEars is especially worth the attention as the products show one-of-a-kind characteristics when it comes to sound. Their first wave of products includes 3 IEMs with different price ranges – Opera, Basso, and Sonata. In this review, we will be dealing with their budget entry model, Sonata. Let us now take a closer look at its sound signature along with some comparisons.
Sonata comes in a white box with a clean, simplistic design. Basic information and specs about the products are described on the rear and the sides. Once unboxed it reveals Sonata and its accessories. Other than the earpieces, Sonata comes with a stock 3.5mm cable, a leather storage case, 4 pairs of silicone eartips, 2 pairs of foam tips, a metal bag clip, a shirt clip, a cleaning tool, and some paperwork. The included shirt clip is a typical form factor and is quite tricky to install to the cable due to the small lips. The pouch is decently built and compact enough to carry them in pockets.
Earpieces – The techs (1/2)
Sonata utilizes a single Knowles balanced armature driver applied with NXEars’ unique tuning methods. The core technology of NXEars IEMs is Aperiodic Ground Loading (AGL) which a patent-pending structure that restores the balance of natural pressure that occurs in the ear canal. You would be familiar with ear pressures that build up as you insert the IEM into the ears. Although building a higher ear pressure usually makes the sound more dynamic and intense, this isn’t so desirable despite its benefits.
First, it bothers the formation of natural tone and headroom. Second, more importantly, your health. Because of this companies started to look for solutions to relieve ear pressure without killing the dynamics and isolation an in-ear provides, though not many are out there, yet. A good example would be the APEX technology that 64 Audio uses. In that sense, NXEars’ AGL technology is very welcoming news as we are served with another good option for hearing protection.
Earpieces – The builds (2/2)
I would like to highlight that NXEars’ AGL technology is fundamentally different from the mentioned examples – since AGL doesn’t use modules. The concept varies, though they sure all have the same goal- to reduce pressure and distortions caused by it. Thanks to that, Sonata retains dynamics and isolation while reducing the ear pressure, thus having a more natural timbre throughout the range.
The earpieces are 3D-built with bio-resin with three color options available – carbon black, carbon green, and pure red. Fitting is very comfortable and hassle-free. There are no edges that bother me nor does the ear pressure builds up as I wear them. The earpieces are detachable and terminated to standard MMCX connection. The nozzle length is about T400, making it compatible with most aftermarket eartips.
Basso comes with a silver-plated OFC stock cable. The 4-braid cable is made well with no loose braiding (Basso uses the same wires but doubled in braiding). This cable is soft, light, and non-microphonic while sonically matching well with Sonata. The end termination is TRS 3.5mm plug with MMCX connectors. There are blue and red rings at the tip of the MMCX connectors for L/R indication.
Sound impression – Low & Mids (1/2)
Sonata took a balanced approach in the bass tuning. Lows are tight but only to the point of keeping the low atmosphere clean and agile. The bass overall has a steady, consistent flow with decent bass depth and quantity, which the amount is about 20% stronger than flat. It’s common for single BA IEMs to have coldish, snappy (or even choppy) bass yet Sonata has nice retention in body and weight, offering a smooth and warm low presence. The bass grooves pop out well as lows are presented calmly, down-pulling, and meaty enough. For a single BA IEM, Sonata does more than decent in bringing out a deep, dark low extension.
AGL’s “unclogging the pressure” feature seems to serve the mids well. With a smooth transition from lows to mids, vocals are clearly pronounced yet not making them bulged out. This is rather important as low/mid/high needs to be placed evenly enough to create a full and rich sound. If we’re talking about producing all sounds from a single BA, that is an objective that you can’t miss for good performances. Hence instead of mids feeling to stand in front and have lows to stay back, Sonata feels more like lows are placed on top while lows nicely hold the bottom ground.
Sound impression – Mid-highs & etc. (2/2)
Mids have a similar or slightly slender body than the lows, making them perform ideally on both male and female vocals. Vocals show great consistency throughout the range with no sibilance or spikes occurring. The textures are done evenly and flat, making the vocals sound more widespread and airy. Both the temperature and brightness are done neutrally. It also shows a mild shine with an appropriate amount of weight, making the vocals sound stable and ordered.
Highs are unexpectedly well-articulated. The fine strands of detail and treble splashes are well caught to attention. Taking a similar position as mids, trebles here retain the tight, BA-ish texture with adequate moisture and softness, not causing the texture to feel too metallic or snappy. Sonata keeps the treble packed with enough body and masculinity, so the treble notes don’t get so lean. It’s still on the slimmer side that delivers swaying flows than solidified blows, though it retains enough density for the instruments. Separation is also well-executed to a quite surprising extent. Highs don’t suffer organizing the inflowing details and positions them accordingly and neatly.
Comet has more internal reverbs (yet not loosen) going on inside the chamber. Sonata is fuller and richer in width and soundstage, which makes sense considering the differences in chassis size and shape. Comet is a bit flatter and mid-focused whereas Sonata shows a more w-shaped sound signature – apply more highlights on all three bands. Lows and mids are fuller and thicker on Sonata, oozing more warmness and depth to the lower region. The overall sound is mildly meatier and more elastic in texture. The high notes are similar in presentation and highlights.
Of course, Comet’s neat and gentle sound signature never comes short in performance compared to Sonata. Alongside, both IEMs show similar bass extension and darkness, giving adequate and balanced bass presence to the music. However, Sonata does seem to show slightly stronger depth expression since the higher bass quantity. Comet also has a silvery shininess on the upper mids, aiding slightly better airiness than Sonata. Comet for a flatter/analytical sound and Sonata for a more musical/dynamic sound. Simple as that.
First off, Yume brings out a bit deeper ultra lows extension than Sonata – but it also presents the mids with stronger grains. Sonata, on the other hand, has a more natural openness on the upper mids. As a result, Sonata exposes the vocal textures explicitly as Yume but with more smoothness. The bass quantity is quite similar but Sonata carries a tighter bass slam that is more agile and solid. Sonata also has a darker background with trebles that are also slightly more crispy and higher in density. The vocal stability is mildly better on Yume but not big in difference.
In all, these two IEMs sit on the same tier in performance. However, my preference tilts slightly more onto Sonata. It’s purely up to personal preferences but Sonata’s “reference but fuller and extra dynamic” tuning captivates me better. The music just sounds more immersive and in-depth. Yume has been a new hype in the budget market, yet I’m surprised to see Sonata competes or surpasses in some aspects – with only a single BA driver.
Do not let your assumptions and prejudice make you look away from Sonata for using a single BA – as there’s more than just that. While it may be common to consider the flagship as the candidate for measuring the technical ability a brand has, the entry product also often serves as a genuine touchstone to make such assumptions.
We’ve previously covered the flagship model Opera and the mid-range model Basso each for a review, and Sonata is just as special as the other two are. NXEars has applied AGL technology and matured tuning done by a former Knowles engineer, leading Sonata to bring out one impressive sound from a single driver. If you’re looking for a balanced, reference-style budget IEM under $200, make sure to include this one at the top of your consideration list. You’ll be surprised what NXEars has done with a single BA!