Thank you TuneOut Audio for letting us give our honest take towards the TOA BTHLA. Given that the review unit is from TuneOut Audio and is free of charge, it doesn’t affect the honesty and integrity of this review.
TuneOut audio (TOA) used to be a store that caters entry level IEMs, earbuds and accessories. After a year they started venturing in crafting their very own cables and earbuds and now IEMs. TuneOut Audio envisions to bring great snound at a budget and fot months, I think they are properly fulfilling their promsie except that there are some build quality issues but as far as this review unit is concerned, I never experienced such issues even after more than a month.
The TOA BTHLA
To be honest the TOA BTHLA looks peculiar because there’s a cut on the shell reducing the length of the body. Mr. Jae (Owner of TOA) tolr me that the reason behind the build is to reduce the weight and to improve comfort of typical MX500 housing. It boasts an L jack which is gold plated and it is supported (inside) by a strain relief. I wasn’t able to check the internals because I might break the unit but I’ve been using it for 1 month and a half and it still works fine, in fact it is far sturdy than my Monks + and Headroom MS16. It has a black sleeve each containing 2 out of 4 cores and the cable seems to be a 4 core copper, there’s a nut that let’s the user determine which is left and right. Lastly the shell used was an MX500 with a meshed metal face plate. The TOA BTHLA came with a purple tin can and 3 sets of ear foams. Again, I may be lucky but I never encountered build quality issue so far.
I love IEMs and earbuds with mid-centric to flat sound signature as I really love listening to vocals rather than instruments. My genre ranges from heavy rock, alternative rock, pop rock, acoustic, pop, jazz and folk. Majority of my test tracks are in 16 bit – 44 khz and 24 bit – 48 khz FLAC file and here is the list of my common test tracks.R
- Reese Lansangan – For the Fickle (background, female vocals and upper mids)
- Foo Fighters – Bridge Burning (Imaging, Layering, Coherence, Sub bass and Mid bass, Mids, Treble)
- Jensen and the Flips – Come Closer (Mid Bass, Mids)
- Ed Sheeran – Dive (Mid bass, Lower Mids)
- Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why (Upper Mids and Instruments)
- Paramore – Hard Times (Imaging, Layering, Coherence, Sub bass and Mid bass, Mids, Treble)
- Utada Hikaru ft. Skrillex – Face My Fears (Imaging Layering, Bass, Mids, Treble, Coherence, Quickness)
- Passenger – Coins in a Fountain (Mid bass, Layering, Imaging, Instruments, Lower mids, Treble)
- Tori Kelly – Hollow (Background, Upper mids)
- Ariana Grande – Raindrops (Background, Upper mids)
The sub bass has moderate depth and texture, it is quite smooth but not too much. Rumbles and riffs are pretty audible but it isn’t forward too so you’ll never think that this pair is for those who are thirsty of sub bass. Mid bass is placed neutrally, it has good speed for both attack and decay but it isn’t that tight. The mid bass lacks control and smoothness, the weight and punch is just moderate, not overwhelming at all but again due to lack of control it slightly bleed to the lowe mid range but not that much. The bass performance is quite respectful but not spectacular, luckily it is speedy enough to not cause any congestion or whatsoever.
The midrange is more or less neutral, though it has a warm tonality because it is far from being thin and shrill. Lowe midrange has heft in it making male vocals full and lush but I just wished they are a bit more transparent. Upper midrange almost has the same positioning as the lower midrange, I think it lacks sweetness and clarity because it is still presented in thick and full manner. Resolution is just fine, it doesn’t have tons of details but it sounds smooth and very easy to listen. There’s no sibilance on the upper mids even when playing low quality recordings, it is very forgiving and this is due to the tuning which is quite smooth.
Just like the TOA 150 Ohms, this might be the weak link of the BTHLA. A lot of guys would prefer sparkly treble with very good definition and clarity but that’s not the case here, instead it is very airy and smooth. The attack and decay are fairly quick while the extension is just moderate. The positioning is still close to neutral but the tuning made it less prominent than the bass and midrange. Cymbals doesn’t have that brilliance but instead it is airy and far from being aggressive.
Sound Stage and Resolution
The Sound Stage of the BTHLA is actually spacious and airy, maybe this is due to the modified shell design but I can say that it feels open and is more spacious than the TOA 150 Ohms. It may sound to airy for some but for me it is very good for those who are searching for a spacious presentation without spending too much. Of course the layering and imaging is just decent, it isn’t that accurate and I like the TOA 150 Ohms better in terms of these two. Resolution is just fine, nothing stellar. It is less detailed than the TOA 150 Ohms but still it has a fair performance for the asking price.
Sound Signature and Synergy
The overall sound signature of TOA BTHLA is neutral to slightly warm. There’s no emphasis on the bass but the presentation of bass and midrange is thick and lush thus making a “warm” impression, also the treble lacks prominence and sparkle making it sound weak compared to the bass. I would love pairing this guy with analytical or bright source, I really want to add some sparkle to the treble without losing much air because it is a major element for making the sound spacious.
The Shanling M3s can power the BTHLA at 60 volume steps on high gain, that’s nice since it had a hard time to power the TOA 150 Ohms. The bass reproduction has decent amount of details and has moderate depth, weight is moderate it isn’t a bass cannon nor bass anemic, just enough to give you that thumpy feeling. Midrange is full and velvety, there’s no signs of being hallow and shrill even on the upper midrange. The midrange of M3s is already meaty thus, this pairing may sound too thick for some. Treble is smooth and very airy, it has moderate extension and decay speed but lacks sparkle. Sound stage is quite huge for the price but it lacks imaging and layering prowess, resolution is not stellar but it can do the job.
Shanling M3s + Periodic Audio Ni
With this set, the bass almost share the same characteristic when directly plugging it to the Shanling M3s except that it gained better control especially on the mid bass. The body of midrange especially the upper midrange was greatly reduced resulting to a sweeter and less veiled female vocals. This is what makes the Ni different, the treble quantity slightly increased and there’s a hint of sparkle now, treble extension didn’t improved but the added sparkle was more than enough. Sound stage is still the same for me with slightly improved imaging and layering. Resolution slightly became better especially the midrange but not drastic.
Smartphone (Huawei Mate 10)
The BTHLA is loud enough at 70 volume but that doesn’t mean that my phone gave enough justice to the BTHLA. It is obviously smoother as compared to Shanling M3s and Periodic audio Ni, bass became lighter and the weight was reduced. Midrange became slightly thinner compared to the M3s but it doesn’t imoroved the resolution of it. Treble became a bit more sparkly but lacks extension and air. Overall the Mate 10 did a good job but as I expected despite good synergy, technical performance will be less compared to M3s and Ni.
VE Monks + (250 Php/5 USD)
Bass has more weight the monks + but it has less control, and speed compared to the BTHLA, it’s sub bass depth is inferior too therefore the BTHLA takes the W. Midrange seems to be pretty similar except that the monks + sounded a bit veiled in comparison but they’re not that far in terms of transparency. Treble goes to the Monks +, it has more sparkle but less airyness, though they almost have the same extension and speed I’ll choose the one with better sparkle and presence. Sound stage is almost the same interms of airyness and spaciousness, but layering and imaging goes to the BTHLA. Details and resolution also goes to the BTHLA but not that far.
Moondrop Nameless (1000 Php/20 USD)
Right of the bat, Nameless packs more clarity and transparency. Bass goes to the BTHLA with it being better in terms of impact, depth and airyness while the Nameless exhibit better control and speed. The midrange goes to the Nameless, it has more transparency, clarity and details the upper midrange sounded sweeter but it may sound too thin unlike the smooth and lush presentation of BTHLA. Treble goes to Nameless, it is slightly bright and has better sparkle up top, it has better extension too but it lacks airyness and decay speed. Sound stage goes to BTHLA, it is wider by a notch and has more open feeling. On the other hand the Nameless packs more details and is definitely more resolving than the BTHLA.
I liked the TOA 150 Ohms better, they almost share the same price tag but the BTHLA can be easily driven by smartphones. The shell being cut actually made it lighter and more comfortable to wear but at the expense of aesthetics, I prefer the aesthetics of basic MX500 shells. Sound-wise it has deep enough sub bass with moderate texture, thumpy mid bass that slightly lacks control. A thick midrange with adequate transparency and an airy treble that somewhat lacks sparkle but has good speed and extension. Sound stage is huge and very spacious that packs good amount of air and the resolution is quite fine. For something below 800 PHP(16 USD) this is a good find especially for those who want neutral yet thick presentation.