ISN AUDIO H30 Review: Budget refinement

THE PLUS
-safe neutral with hint of warmth
-natural enough timbre of balanced armature mids
-present and bodied male and female vocal
-smoothly balanced with softed lower treble
-good technical performance
-fast attack speed
-snappy treble that benefit percussions rendering
-”jack of all trades, master of none”
-excellent packaging and accessories
-great price value

THE MINUS
-mellow bass with rolled off sud bass
-intimate soundstage
-average imaging-compressed layering
-lack a bit of definition edge
-a bit lean in dynamic
-no treble sparkle-decay (inherent to BA)
-”jack of all trades, master of none” can me boring tonality for some

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TONALITY: 7.8/10

TECHNICALITIES: 8.2/10

CONSTRUCTION: 8.5/10

SOUND VALUE: 8.5/10

INTRO

ISN Audio is an IEM company branch of Penon, they make IEM cables as well. Their catalog has 6 IEMs released, from entry-level single DD priced at 80$ (D02) to flagship DD+2BA+2EST tribrid priced 460$ (EST50).

Today I will review my first ISN earphones, which is a promising budget hybrid called ISN H30. Priced at only 130$, the H30 is a hybrid with one 9.2mm beryllium plated dynamic driver for bass, one Sonion balanced armature for mid-range, and one Knowles BA for treble. To say this type of high-quality driver is rare in the sub-150$ price range is an understatement I think the H30 is an exception here, which makes me wonder how low is profit margin with such pricey balanced armature.

But does it guarantee the H30 will sound phenomenal? Nope. And this is why I will share my critical review with you today which includes a comparison with 3 other hybrid IEMs in the very competitive sub-200$ IEM market.

CONSTRUCTION&PACKAGING

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The construction is excellent for the price and beyond. It’s made of 3D-printed resin plastic with a beautiful backplate made of stabilized wood. The look is elegant and feels very sturdy since it’s not made of cheap plastic. The design has an elongated organic shape, the nozzle being longer than average it permits a deep fit for extra isolation, but you can wear it the way you want since the housing is light and doesn’t tend to fall. I use wide-bore ear tips.

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The included cable is of good quality too, it’s a braided high-purity copper cable that feels very durable and doesn’t justify urgent cable upgrades like it often happens in the sub-150$ price range.

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The packaging is very impressive too, very glossy and prime looking. We feel respected as consumers and it’s great. Box has this beautiful glossy blue electric color and several accessories are on the generous side. The leather magnetic carrying case is a nice addition. We have plenty of eartips too, 6 pairs of silicone (2 models) and 2 pairs of memory foams tip. We also have a cleaning tool and a practical cable clamp. And the very braided cable. For 130$, there are very good accessories!

SOUND IMPRESSIONS

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I would call the tonality as being Smooth neutral to gentle L shape with slightly boosted bass with warm round punch, lean but very present mid-range, and extra treble snap and crispness. These are the kind of IEMs we struggle to consider warm or bright since they will oversimplify the macro musicality richness of the 3 drivers used. These are maturely tuned, with an organic lushness coming from the bass and lower mids warmth. Full sounding, intimate, and safely tuned, these are the kind of IEM we can call ”Jack of all trades, master of none” but in a musical way, not in a cold or clinical pejorative way. Tonal balance feels natural and a hint creamy and favors a thicken macro resolution.

These aren’t for basshead, nor for a bass lover, the H30 has an understated bass presence that doesn’t hook attention. It is slightly boosted in mid-bass and offers a gentle punch, with a mellow dynamic. The kick is warm, round, and glued to the lower mids, which are thickened. Rumble is minimal and a bit rolled off, it doesn’t move air and feels distant. The low end doesn’t mix or veil mid-range and always stays in the background, for better and worst since it’s good for instrumental and acoustic music yet will lack punch and slam for anything beat driven. A very boring bass performance we can say, and since the extension isn’t very linear or very deep, it doesn’t benefit acoustic bass nor sound very clean or textured. Cello and male vocals benefit from this low end that tends to make low harmonics more focused yet this do had note weight without the dynamic heft that we would need to fully enjoy musical fullness.

Then the mid-range came in and charm our ears with an impressively smooth and dense timbre that isn’t typical of the balanced armature. Upper mids being damped and pina gain being safe, it results in a lush and intimate presentation with a great sense of proximity to the instrument or singer. It’s a hint warm too, definition edge being softened. Both male and female vocals sound fully bodied and upfront in presence, with a hint of breathiness and extra low harmonic. Vocal is very centered in spatiality, not the widest or more open in projection. Clarity is good, but not the cleanest or crispest. It’s not the type of mid-range that will permit analytical listening since their a warm haze to it due to the syrupy mix of sound layers. Yet, the tone is right for all instruments, the piano sound is full with good note weight but not sharply defined, and saxophone and woodwind instruments tend to be better layered and more open sounding.

Now, the treble is rather unique, not the fuller, most linear, or extended. If you seek for lotta sparkle, air, and brilliance, the H30 will feel underwhelming. It’s a thick organic treble we have here, with a boosted sense of snap-in attack that benefits percussion timing speed and crispness. But it’s a half-cooked treble with a dark section, texture and crunchiness feel tamed here, surely to avoid over-brightness issues. Sure, as expected with the balanced armature, the attack is fast and well controlled, there is no splashiness or fuzzy long sustain with this, but micro details aren’t that impressive either, it’s either the percussions part. The whole treble seems a bit dark apart from the boosted presence, around 8khz their surely a peak that adds a hint of brightness in definition to avoid overly warmed macro resolution. The violin sound smoother than nature, and the attack strike is soft. Clavichord sound dries but well resolve. My biggest qualm with treble is the lack of sharp definition and airiness.

Soundstage is intimate as said, without beginning stuck in your head, it feels close to you, like a cocoon. Minimal wideness, like 20cm for each side of your head, near no deepness, unless instrumental music with few instruments.

Imaging is also average, due to a  lack of clean crisp clarity and space for sound layer articulation. Layering isn’t bad tough and doesn’t go muddy on busy tracks, it’s just not fully transparent and rolled off high affect precision of definition.

Technically, they are more than competent for the price, the mix of 1 dynamic + 2 BA permits impressive attack speed, especially for mids-treble while the bass is a bit slower and more tamed in dynamic, yet weighty and punchy enough.

Resolution while good, isn’t the sharpest or cleanest, we have definition blunt there and there in busy music tracks, but it’s still above average for the price, just not overly boosted yet perhaps a bit too soft.

COMPARISONS

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VS MEAOES Eagle (2DD+2BA-150$)

The eagles are brighter analytical V shape, with notably more energic and vivid tonality. Everything is about treble with those, so bass isn’t as well-rounded and thick as H30 yet has a more excited punch to it. Mids are thinner, more recessed, and have dryer brighter timber with lighter note weight and leaner dynamic. H30 mids are notably fuller and more upfront, both male and female vocals are more present and bodied, timbre is more natural and resolution is richer, as well, vocals are less prompt to sibilance and tone is right, so both piano and violin sound less boxy. Treble is way more boosted with the Eagle and only part of the sound with energic dynamic, it’s more shouty and thin still, and it seems it extracts more micro details in an unbalanced way, percussions are more in your face than H30. H30 is smoother, fuller in layering, and more cohesive in balance. The soundstage is wider and taller with H30, while mids recession (center stage) seems to give the illusion the Eagle is deeper in spatiality, but their nothing to be found while the center stage is rich in sound layers. This makes imaging and layering notably superior with H30, even if denser in sound info.

All in all, H30 is from another league both in tonal balance and technical performance, and it’s to be expected since it uses a high-end balanced armature. Eagle can be put in the same league as KZ IEM, while H30 is a solid competitor in the 100-200$ price range.

VS KINERA IDUN GOLDEN 2.0 (1DD+2BA-170$)

Now, this is a real competition. Idun is a similar smooth W shape near neutral IEM, but more mid-centric and warmish that hint at brighter H30. The bass of H30 is a bit more boosted and impactful, with less presence texture but fuller-bodied roundness, both lack sub-bass rumble and extension. Lighter bass impact tends to make mid-range more focused with Idun, as well, timbre is denser and favors a bit more male vocal over female vocal compared to H30, so perhaps upper mids are softer with Idun. Treble is more detailed, open, and vivid with H30, so yes, brighter they are and this makes them more resolve too, it inflicts on the sense of airiness too and highs seem more extended, snappy, and slightly sparkly. Overall dynamic feels more immediate and lively with the H30, while thicker and slower with Idun. The soundstage is about the same width, a bit taller, and deeper than H30. Imaging is different in spatial presentation, sound layers are less thick and wide, with Idun, we ”swim” and explore dense layering while H30 offers sharper imaging that favors presence separation, so it feels more precise and cleaner in spatiality.

All in all, this is a hard one, but I conclude technical performance is superior with H30 which is quite insane cause I praise those Idun a lot even if pricier, it seems we have less harmonic distortion euphony with the H30, yet for those that favor thicker and warmer timbre, the Idun is sure a good bet and this is were tonality preference come in…here, I’m just unable to conclude anything, yet, I’m certain to prefer a mid-range of the Idun.

VS SEEAUDIO YUME2 (1DD+2BA-200$)

Yume2 is brighter and easier and has more W shape sound than the H30 which feels warmer and more mid-centric as well as more neutral and less treble-focused. Sub bass is notably more boosted with the Yume2 and both punch and slam are louder and more impactful, bass is more textured too. Mid-range is thinner, less lush and natural, more brighten in the presence and upper mids have more bite so the attack feels edgier too with the Yume, adding a sense of immediacy H30 is a bit lacking. While dynamic is more vivid with the Yume 2, mid-range has less note weight. Treble of Yume2 is digging more micro details, attack snap feels less blunted-tamed, and highs are more vividly extracted adding a sense of air that the H30 is lacking. This inflicts on the soundstage which seems wider, taller, and deeper with the Yume2, with a more recessed center stage where the mid-range instrument will feel more distant. Due to more open spatiality, instrument separation is wider and easier to pinpoint in positioning, while H30 has more compressed layering that makes it harder to precisely spot instrument position.

All in all, unless your treble sensitive or favor timbre and vocal, the Yume2 offers a more resolved and lively musicality, with slightly superior technical performance. Tonality-wise, I feel the treble is a bit too much and not as well balanced as the H30.

CONCLUSION

Their no doubt that the ISN H30 is very good for the price, even if the niche mature tonality might not please everyone, especially basshead and people searching for an energic musicality.

These are aimed at audiophiles that enjoy smooth balance with gently neutral tonality.

The effortless musicality that the H30 delivers is addictive in the long run and offers fatigue-free immersive.

If you seek a hybrid IEM without the flaw of balanced armature timbre that can often sound artificial or metallic, the H30 delivers a very natural mid-range that presents vocals lushly and appealingly.

These are a well-tuned hybrid that stands apart in the sub-150$ price range, thanks to the high-quality drivers used as well as the hint of warmth that adds an organic cohesion to the macro presentation, the H30 is one of this rare ” jack of all trades” that find the sweet spot between technical and musical sound rendering.

ISN Audio is a refreshing chifi company that is worth to be followed. Recommended!

——

PS: I want to thank Penon Audio for sending me this review sample. I’m not affiliated with nor compensated financially to write this review. As always, these are my 100% honest subjective audio impressions and opinion.

You can buy the H30 for 130$ here (non-affiliated link):

https://penonaudio.com/isn-audio-h30.html

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