7HZ SALNOTES DIOKO Review: Mellow bassy sweetness

THE PLUS:
-Mellow and immersive tonality
-natural timbre enough for a planar
-Good male and female vocal
-jack of all trades master of none
-Wide tall and holographic soundstage
-some treble sparkle
-planar technicalities
-incredible package for the price
-impressive and very practical carrying case
-unique construction and design
-cheapest planar on market for 2 weeks

THE MINUS:
-strange dynamic behavior
-lack of well define lead and post attack (hit and decay)
-jack of all trades master of none
-smooth yet spiky treble (unbalanced)
-bass roll off and lack of impact resonance and proper separation
-poor imaging
-instant of sibilance and/or shoutyness can occur
-big housing with unique aesthetic that will be love/hate affair

TONALITY: 8/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8.2/10
CONSTRUCTION: 8/10
PACKAGING: 9/10
SOUND VALUE: 8.3/10

SALNOTES is the new budget minded sister company from 7HZ, their goal is to push sound value boundaries with a focus on sub-100$ audio product, mostly IEM, but dongles will come too and who know next? A budget planar headphones that will beat the Hifiman HE400 value??
Well, let say the excitment have grown SO much about their first release, the Salnotes Dioko planar earphones. Why? Because it is the very first planar to achieve sub-100$ price tag, and let say it’s not by cutting or craftmanship quality nor on accessories. This is the type of IEM with very low profit margin, aimed to permit audio enthusiast to taste the Planar flavor at lowest price possible.

Priced 99$, the Dioko use a double sided array N55 magnet 14.6mm planar driver with a fine tuned acoustic chamber in a big CNC-machined allumium housing with a fancy looking twist.

But how about the sound? Let’s see in this review.

CONSTRUCTION

The Dioko elegant and jewel like construction doesn’t reflet it’s affordable price tag. Housing is made of all CNC machined alloy metal with a wide oval shaped back plate made of tempered glass with sapphire coating….wait what? Yes, i was serious when I say it have a litteral jewel look, like a big art deco like minimalist earing. And its a big one and yes this make the whole housing in gigantic planar category…yet the elonged organic shape with long enough nozzle made it comfortable enoug. Still, in all honnesty, i find them a bit attracting attention and as a shy person i live similar look-at-me-fancy-boi moment than with the over-the-top Blon BL-08 Prometheus which make me question if my ears are becoming some kind of contemporary art exibition. So, this was an audacious choice from Salnotes, a statement of wanting to be different as well as part of global tuning choice, but yes, the size matter in term of plain portability, but hey Salnotes think about this too.

(all of this fit in there, and i could have put at least 3 other pair of uncabled IEM. Tempotec V6 DAP isn’t small)

Cause, in the Packaging, we have the biggest carrying case too! Again, were talking about a 100$ IEM and the quality of the case is similar to the one of Unique Melody, made of fake leather with coating inside so you IEM and everything you can pack in this don’t get scratch or damage. I would price this case 30$. And it’S thinked to be use as a multi packing case, so you can fit your dap with couple of cables and IEMs in there. Very very appreciate this accessories generosity.

Other accessories are 6 pairs of colorfuls silicone eartips and a 2pin single ended 3.5 cables that is more than decent, being a 4cores litz hybrid cable with OCC copper and silver plated OCC.

It feel well built, and deliver good sound that doesn’t justify cable upgrade unless you plan to use the Dioko balanced way.

SOUND IMPRESSIONS

(Gear pairing: Tri TK2, Moondrop Dawn, Xduoo Lin2 Bal, Questyle M15)

TONALITY: 8/10

Laid back and energic at the same time, how could it be? Well it is here, we have a special bassy neutralish to balanced mellow V shape tuning with boosted mids presence, softly boosted sub bass which deliver slow chunky slam, and gently sharp treble. Yep, gently, since the attack edge is softed yet the snap and bite happen too.

The Dioko tuning take from Crin is all about damping specific section of dynamic which inflict on tonal balance and color the musicality. It’s safe, yet between fun and neutral.

Bass hit with an heavy mellow pillowy feel (yep, again this word that appear in my KAI review), it have weight yet the impact isn’t fully felt in its resonance and vibrance, as well, definition edge is softed, making the bass have an abstract grip and denser yet shorter sustain. Result is chunky and lazily thumpy, since the attack seem to go in ”slow motion” here.
Bass lack natural extension and flexible articulation, so yes, a bit muffled depending of the type of sound or instrument. Acoustic bass attack lead will sound muted while digital kick drum will hit in a round warm way. Nonetheless, we have some texture time to time, especially when attack is slow and track not too busy with different instruments. I would say the bass is there when needed, but only for simple pop music with slow heavy bass like soul, R&B and some rap. Jazz can work some time since saxophone sound great and percussions have extra snap and speed, but the bass line will lack proper definition and separation.

Mids are lean and rather clean with boosted presence, hint bright even if softed in upper mids ,the presentation is upfront and centraly focused. Female vocal especially, are crisp and vivid, even bordeline shouty sometime at high volume but quite enjoyable still. Soul and R&B sound great with the Dioko since it hit sweet spot of its slight W shape dynamic. The track Ego from IYAMAH for example sound very lively and open, with energic vocal presence and thumpy bass, sibilance is near non existent, yet loudness pressure is high, making this sweet but a bit brighten voice jump at your face with urgency. Female vocal have a breathy feel to them in a dry way, but overall timbre of mid range is perhaps the best part of Dioko, it’s not grainy planar, nor too thin, just a bit underwhelming in well articulation definition, accuracy and resolution.

Treble is understated yet surprisingly SO planar too, in the sens, attack speed is fast so resolution potential is high but it is tweaked to achieve a specific sound presentation. Here it’s mostly smoothed with extra snap excitment for extra bite when needed. This add a bit of much needed air as well as dynamism to the sound, the highs being energic and detailed yet softed in resonance. SO this is ”airy dry”? hum, didn’t know it exist, but the Dioko sure have its unique tonality to share since we can say ”darky crisp” too. A good example of how this treble have it’s own contradiction is when I test clavichord track (Goldberg variations-Jean Rodeau) which sound tonaly off and very magnify in it’s upper highs metallic texture, very sharp yet cutted in sustain and resonance with emphasis on jumpy brilliance.

TECHNICALITIES: 8.2/10

Ok, as a long time reviewer, i’m a bit of an insider when it come to tuning technic. In fact, i should have tune numerous IEM from now if I didn’t cancel projects everytime. So, their alot of tuning technic in fact, some is all about drivers patent and acoustic design, other is more of a ”we deal with the driver we got in hand” and tweak the sound. To tweak this sound, you use damping and tuning filter, their lotta place to put them and it depend drivers type used but for planar it could be in back of driver and acoustic cavity and in nozzle shape and end. More you use damping filter, more you interfer with dynamic, one of more mysterious sound projection factor since we can target 20hz to 20khz frequencies range. All this to say, playing with dynamism is very mysterious and subjective, since everybody have different sensibility to loudness impact.

Here, the Dioko is a very damped-tuned IEM, which explain why some will find them warm and other bright. The bite and attack lead are focus on specific area, which interfer with natural ”melting” of lower and high harmonic. So while the attack is super speedy, it’s slowed too, which make the sustain stopped in it’s natural flow. Thus the lack of resonance-sparkle we should expect from a sound flowing in open air.

Dioko still offer great effortless resolution, fast yet mostly smooth attack speed, a sens of livelyness that only capable IEM can give and wide open wall like presentation.

Soundstage is indeed wall like, but a curved open one. So deepness is limited since i can’t consider Dioko clean sounding due perhaps to…..resonance artifacts? (ok, thats some very instinctive esoteric audiophile questionning right there). Spatiality being wide open in stereo mode is quite immersive at they end, yet, quite intense too.

And then the Imaging, well, it’s not bad nor the greatest, sens of layering are felt yet not precisely seen, static instrument position is a bit blurred in edge so we have a vague yet awake idea of spatial cue.

MUSICALITY APPRECIATION: 7.5/10

Hum, i’m 39 and listen to all type of music with a sharp curious audiophile and musical epicurian mind….so I don’t judge musicality in simple terms, it’s a very complex thing that go from practical state to sacred state.
This is the most subjective part of my review, yet, the most important to me. But it should not be to you. I guess.
So the Dioko for me was a strange story in first place, since I receive limited first batch of IEM with quality check issue, so i need to wait and reinstall different damping filters. It was an easy task. Yet, it put a bit of insecurity in my mind.
One thing sure, this little filter make night and day difference in term of brightness, since before i wasn’t able to handle the sound.
And now the sound, well, when I was listening soul, r&B and relax music, i quite enjoy it, laid back way too you know, i was impress by resolution capabilities too, it sound open, detailed enough yet not too sharp or in your face treble.…
and then i enter critical listening way and begin to be annoy about planar timbre, smoothed attack edge and tamed bass impact…and can’t tell myself anymore this sound 100% natural for all music type I listen too.
the dynamic is capricious here and too colored for me, vocal lack naturalness, in fact any instruments lack naturalness to my ears. Crin being a fan of wonky and boxy denigrative term, i’m surprise to think about these words listening to Dioko. Cause as a whole it doesnt sound boxy or wonky….ok, perhaps wonkioko….its all about lack of sharp definition, which we should expect from a planar. Thing is that technical performance has been lowered in tuning processing, making us wonder if we really get any planar sound benefit here.
All in all, this isn’t my kind of musicality, but I can see other people enjoying this in a laid back way.

COMPARISONS (PLANAR WAR!)

VS TINHIFI P1MAX:

P1MAX is brighter V shape and notably less open sounding than more U shape Dioko. Bass is more textured, which inflict on greater definition edge and permit higher bass line resolution as well as more immediate punch dynamic, where Dioko have warmer slower heavier slam that benefit soul-R&B-Pop compared to rock and fast beat driven music for the P1max. Bass is really where P1max is superior imo, since Dioko have scooped impact and extension-rumble, where the P1max extend deep and clean. P1max mids are brighter and thinner, less natural and smooth in timbre than lusher Dioko, upper mids are more prompt to sibilance too with the Max but even if a bit more recessed they sound cleaner and better separate from bass. Mids have wider sens of presence, better transparency, clarity and layering too. Treble deliver higher amount of micro details and is less unbalanced than the Dioko, presentation is fuller and attack have better bit and control.
Soundstage is wider with Dioko, while taller and deeper with P1 max.
Imaging is clearly superior with P1max, due to more transparent layering, crisper resolution and cleaner highs that inflict on instrument spacing which seem wider and more airy with P1max.
ALL in all, the P1max is superior technicaly, but i can’t decide which tonality I prefer here due to it’s dryier timbre.

VS TINHIFI P1plus

These are the doomed planar IEM it seem nobody love but me, but i wonder if people play enough with ear tips since my revealation happen with wide bore ear tips like KB07. Anyway, these use a double magnet 10mm planar which hacve crazy transient speed. The P1plus is crisper and more treble focus, more open and airy yet not as big tall and wide in spatiality. Technical performance are miles ahead here, resolution being notably cleaner and higher, transparency too, attack speed having more dynamic and control. Simply put, right now if i have to keep one planar, it would be the P1plus because we take full advantage of technical performance promise of planar here while Dioko can be mimic with a dynamic driver due to overdamped dynamic that inflict on performance accuracyand control.
P1plus is more neutral (or real neutral?), leaner bass, but fuller mids and treble too, with perhaps more boosted upper highs. P1plus feel analytical compared to darker and bassier Dioko. Bass is better separated and have higher definition, more detailed yet natural texture and less messy extension but it does lack weight and impact compared to Dioko.
Mids are cleaner, more resolved, attack have more natural resonance but lead attack perhaps less note weight. Mids take front stage here, so we can focus on piano or multiple instrument more easily than Dioko which seem to boost vocal and woodwind instruments. Timbre is thinner yet smoother since upper mids aren’t as boosted with P1plus than Dioko.
Treble is just from another league here, P1plus dig way more micro details in an effortless way which restitue whole image of sounds while Dioko will favorize specific part to create a fake wow effect. Dioko is more rolled off on top and less sharp on top.
All in all, Dioko offer a bigger soundstage with a more fun and warm tonality than crisper more sparkly neutral and notably more technically performant P1plus.

VS MUSE HIFI POWER:

The Muse are notably brigther W shaoe and more energic, with higher resolution and transparency. Dioko is warmer with thicker timbre and more boosted mid bass, which have more body and heft but less texture. Mids range is notably more harsh with the Muse, more sibilant and shouty, plain unpleasant for female vocal which make the Dioko sound way lusher and more natural in timbre yet darker in resolution and less precise and accurate in separation.
Treble is more boosted and detailed, more textured and higher in definition of each instrument, higher in sens of openess and transparency, but not really more sparkly.
Soundstage is less wide and tall, deeper tunnel like way with Muse.
Imaging is more accurate, with better layering and more define separation between instrument.
All in all, technicalities are again superior here with the Muse but tonality is plain unpleasant and more artificial, so i do prefer guilty pleasure of the Dioko big time.

CONCLUSION

My expectation of sound quality of Dioko were unrealistic and victim of 7HZ Timeless big intense praising. Since I never heard the Timeless, i surely put them on a foot of estale.

But still, it was mostly technical promise I was wishing to be fullfill, which isn’t the case here since the Planar driver dynamic response is over damped and colored, their just something wrong about it I can’t pinpoint, but it affect attack accuracy and definition edge negatively.

Tonaly wise, it’s quite enjoyable, yet not the most versatile or rewarding in term of clarity and musicality. It’s a well balanced mellow pleasure, with wonderfull vocals timbre and a very big soundstage to get immerse in.

While I would not suggest these for any complex or fast music, with the exception of some jazz track focus on percussions and saxophone, the Dioko excell with pop music that have slow but boosted bass slam and since it’s music type most people listen, I think this can please wide audience, yet, not mature ”snobbish” audiophile like me.

———-

PS: I wanna thanks LINSOUL for sending me this review sample. I’m not affiliated to this audio distributor, and keep my 100% honesty intact even if it doesn’t pay off at all. I’m gratefull to Linsoul for accepting this savage independance of mind of mine.

You can order the Salnotes Dioko for 99$ here:https://www.linsoul.com/products/7hz-x-crinacle-salnotes-dioko?variant=43008001999065

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