It’s not so easy to come across new IEM brands during such an economic situation we’re going through. There are some new budget-focused brands that are still worth the attention, yet I’ve been hoping for a new face in the premium range. That being said, I’m pleased that I’ve encountered a brand that fits right into the category – called SoftEars. Founded in 2017, SoftEars is a high-end targeted IEM manufacturer from China that is relatively new to the scene.
Perhaps many are now aware of the close relationship between SoftEars and Moondrop. While some understand SoftEars as a high-end brand that is founded by Moondrop, that isn’t true. They’ve clarified that while they cooperate in R&D and maintain a close friendship, they are two different entities with different owners and visions. Unlike Moondrop, SoftEars took a daring approach by debuting with two flagship IEMs, yet their strategy turned out successful as they’ve quickly gained a strong reputation among many communities. The flagship models they’ve released are Cerberus and RS10, and today we’ll be covering the Cerberus. Let us go through its features, dive deep into the sound characteristics, and bring up some flagship IEMs to the table for contrast, including the RS10.
Just as Campfire Audio does with their products, Cerberus’ packaging size is quite compact. With a green and gold theme, the cube-shaped packaging consists of 3 pairs of silicone tips, 3 pairs of foam tips, 3.5mm stock cable, a leather case, a pair of earpiece pouches, a cleaning cloth, warranty card, 1 cleaning tool, and some paperwork. The silicone tips have the same form factor as the ones included in Moondrop IEMs. These eartips are proprietarily made for Moondrop and SoftEars’ wide nozzle IEMs. The foam tips also have a wider funnel which allows easier installation and a more neutral sound signature. Although I’m not too much of a foam-tip fan, I like these foam tips quite much and would be a worthy buy if sold separately. The included leather case is neatly built and also follows the green color scheme with yellow stitching.
The Cerberus comes with a 2-braided silver-plated OCC cable that is light in weight and sufficient in sound quality. Keep in mind that the 2pin connectors are designed for non-recessed IEMs, hence the stock cable of Cerberus cannot be used for IEMs that use recessed 2pin sockets. Both the plug and Y-split are finished with slim metal housings that are printed with brand logos. While the stock cable works out quite nicely with the sound signature of the IEMs, I do hope SoftEars have used modular plugs as Moondrop did with their recent releases.
Cerberus sports a tribrid setup with 1DD+4BA+2EST drivers per side. Interestingly, Cerberus consists of an additional “passive” BA driver that is not included in the driver count, as it doesn’t produce any sound. In fact, this passive BA transducer is intended to vibrate along with the other BA transducers which enhances the texture details. This passive unit also aids in relieving the ear canal pressure that offers a safer, more comfortable listening environment. Alongside, the DD and BA drivers used for Cerberus are proprietarily made which makes this particular IEM a bit more unique. The 10mm dynamic driver is comprised of carbon fiber and paper dome with linear fiber dampers, which SoftEars claims to bring faster bass response and higher sensitivity. In all, the lower range is handled by the dynamic driver, the highs and ultra highs are covered by the double electrostatic drivers from Sonion, and the mid-range is controlled by the balanced armatures.
Cerberus uses a black opaque resin for the housing with faceplates topped with gold stripes and a SoftEars logo. The earpiece uses a non-recessed CIEM 0.78mm 2pin for the cable connection. As for the nozzle, it has a diameter about of T500, making Cerberus compatible with most aftermarket eartips. The nozzle diameter is a bit on a chunkier side but I’d say this is nowhere near being excessive as the compensation is made by the adequate nozzle length and dedicated eartips. The nozzle design is similar to Moondrop’s and so does the eartips. The design of Cerberus offers a trouble-free fit with minimal shaping or angles on the inner side to minimize fitting issues.
Sound impressions – Lows
The expectations I had with Cerberus is that it would be heavy in bass quantity since its bass has been gaining quite a compliment around the community. Well, the bass quantity is gentle and calmer than expected. But the bass quality explains the good impressions I’ve been hearing prior to having these in my hands. It’s common for IEMs to highlight the low-end vibration by boosting the bass quantity, leading the headroom to be abundantly filled with bass existence. Yet Cerberus extrudes clear and thick bass in a very neat manner. The low-end reverbs do not get bloated to the upper headroom, stably holding their ground at the bottom. It’s not a feeling like the bass has been cut off for the upper part but naturally and fully produces bass within the lower ground. Having this “ceiling” for the bass makes the upper headroom more breathable. Keeping the low-end expansion highly controlled while showing bass details that are bold as basshead IEMs is what makes Cerberus sound luxurious without overdoes. To further elaborate about the sub-bass quantity, I’d say it is 25% boosted from being flat. The bass is abundant enough to feel the dynamics and weight of the music. From profound soundtracks to groove-demanding hip hop tracks, Cerberus handles well with a variety of genres. However, the bass slams are rather on the gentler side, so it’s worth thinking about your preference on bass hardness if you plan to grab these.
Sound impressions – Mids
Perhaps tuning the mid-range is one of the largest obstacles for creating hybrid/tribrid IEMs. Making them sound natural and cohesive is one objective, yet deciding which driver type to be the ‘dominant’ one drastically affects how an IEM sounds with its timbre and texture. While I supposed that the bass would be the only area that I’d feel the DD, Cerberus makes major usage out of the dynamic driver for the mid-range as well. The basis of the vocals feels to be set on the dynamic driver, which is then coated with the texture of BA drivers, giving a crispy bite to the voice. To use a metaphor, it’s like dark chocolate added with mint – giving a deep, sweet taste but finishing off with a vibrant freshness. Mids are smooth and very natural in tone, making Cerberus have one of the finest vocal tunings among the flagship IEMs.
The vocal temperature is neutral-cool which gently shimmers some breeze to the mid-range atmosphere. Vocals show superb analyticity with upper mids revealing a stronger BA driver-ish touch to the sound, coping with the deep, neutral-dark nuance that Cerberus shows for the lows and mids. Having these vibrant, splendid vocals penetrating the quiet and dark background formulates a mojo presentation that is quite charming to the ears. The overall sound flow is very stable, not showing any turbulence in texture or timbre. The sibilance-causing ranges are also well covered by omitting possible metallic hisses but not killing up the brightness that has built up on the upper mids. Mids show neutral-thick in thickness and vocals work out nicely for both male/female voices. Cerberus’s emotional yet orderly reverbs especially match well ballad tracks and those that go in-depth in emotion.
Sound impressions – Highs, etc.
Following up with the calm, weighty atmosphere, highs approach calmly with much air. Just as Cerberus did with the lows, highs are well organized and thoroughly respect the overall balance of the music, rather than bursting out to the stage. I like how Cerberus does the highs as they feel surrounded from the upper back, exposing the treble notes spatially and naturally. Cerberus does a fine job adding emo to the treble notes – it makes me remind of the sparkly stars in the night sky. The quantity of the treble isn’t too extravagant (nor is it anyhow lacking) due to its homogeneous nature. But I’d say there is no need to be concerned about Cerberus lacking the “electrostatic presence” from its sound, because Cerberus nails it when it comes to picking up details, even for micro strands of textures. Unless you’re looking for a treble-machine-like IEM, the Cerberus will do you good.
Highs show matured nuance that gives the treble instruments enough body and density. The timbre also matches out nicely with the lows and mids. Overall, Cerberus has acquired the strengths of a tribrid setup while minimizing the sonic differences caused by the driver types. Experiencing the clean, pitch-black background being topped with rich details is the key enjoyment I’ve found as I listen to the Cerberus. The formation of a heavy atmosphere without dumping a bunch of warmness or bass quantity was another major enjoyment of mine. Cerberus’s way of bringing in mild weightiness to the sound just allows me to tune into the music deep without having my ears feel stuffy. The soundstage is quite on the larger side, which is aided by the splashes and details that spread across the headroom.
RS10 offers a surprisingly natural, bass-rich sound for a full-BA IEM that doesn’t fall any behind Cerberus in bass performance. With good thickness and richness to it, RS10 dives nearly as deep as Cerberus does. However, Cerberus sure makes good use of its dynamic drivers. I could feel the presence of the dynamic driver, especially from the texture, reverbs, and vocal tones. It isn’t necessarily something that is “better”, as it comes down to liking either a tighter and denser bass or a bit softer, soothing bass. Like pasta. RS10 has a slightly cooler tone (in brightness) but only to a subtle extent. Also, while Cerberus has a touch of extra sweetness to the tone, RS10 takes a more neutral, transparent approach towards its tone, living up to its monitoring-level tuning style. The RS10 is mildly stronger in neutrality and analyticity, being more active in exposing the texture grains. Both are equal in the sense that they sound smooth and non-fatiguing; Their overall sound is quite similar, in fact.
The bass quantity scales about the same but Cerberus has an extra touch of body to the upper lows. Meanwhile, RS10 shows bass dynamics just as strong as Cerberus but layers the bass with a linear, steadier flow. Both IEMs tend to highlight the ultra-lows which gives great depth to the music without the clarity being hurt. Highs are basically identical in all ways except for one delicate difference – highs are very slightly stronger and shinier on RS10. But then again, this difference is too minimal that it wouldn’t be apparent unless doing a one-to-one comparison. Hence eartip and cable customization would matter more for the highs. In short, deciding between Cerberus and RS10 comes down to this question – if you have an entrée of reference sound, would you add fidelity (RS10) or musicality (Cerberus) for the seasoning?
The main difference between these two IEMs would be their “rigidity of sound” – which refers to the hardness of the sound. The M5 has a crispier/harder sound while Cerberus is overall smoother and calmer. This feels to be a difference in whether the sound is more oriented by the BAs (M5) or the DD (Cerberus). Cerberus’ mids scale slightly larger and fuller than the M5. Meanwhile, M5 is slightly crispier and crunchier on vocal texture. By a small difference, Cerberus uses more of the DD aspect in its mid-range. M5 lows feel a bit meatier but Cerberus’s bass would scale mildly larger and wider.
Now at this point, it might get you to think that Cerberus completely outdoes M5 in headroom and soundstage. Well, not exactly. Perhaps it’s a yes and no – because it’s due to them having different sound orientations. Cerberus involves more fullness to its sound by forming back-end reverbs. In the end, this gets the sound to be grander. Yet just as much as Cerberus scaled larger, the M5 has a cleaner, quiet background. The mid-range is also a bit denser and tighter while Cerberus allows more room (though without getting loosened up). Another aspect that M5 shows its strength is the treble clarity. The treble sounds “sharper” in the sense that they offer more agile, close-up tingles and sparkles that stand out more vividly. As expected from their TOTL position, Cerberus and M5 go neck and neck in performance. To sum up this comparison, M5 has a sound that brings the listener to active attention (as it is a monitoring IEM, after all) while Cerberus brings the listener relaxation and comfort, all while presenting the same level of details.
While unique, unusual IEMs have a stronger chance to offer fresh-new experiences, that also means those would lead to steep likes and dislikes. Unlike that, Cerberus is an appealing IEM with a high-class tuning that delivers rich, clear sound through comfort and precision. The first impact just may not be imprinting in your ears as strong as those peculiar IEMs, yet Cerberus is an IEM that could be enjoyed by almost everybody. In fact, the “calmer first impression” possibility is literally limited to the first impression only – as Cerberus’s charms are nothing to be looked over. As you dig into its sound, the more and more you discover the natural charms this IEM has. Meaty and elegant bass grooves, 3D-imaging vocals, soothing and water-like treble splashes, and so on. These elements will eventually grasp your attention stronger and pull you into the music. If you’re looking for a flagship or summit-fi IEM to step up your game but are not sure which to choose, perhaps SoftEars will know how to satisfy you with near certainty!