PENON VORTEX Review: Engaging, balanced and capable performer

-Well balanced bright neutral tonality
-fast punchy bass
-textured bass line&sub bass definition
-dynamic sounding low-mid-treble
-good resolution
-realist and versatile tone-timbre
-good technical performance
-fast attack speed and control
-snappy edgy treble
-good male and female vocal presence-body
-good imaging
-excellent for rock and electric guitar (but not only!)
-lot of accessories
-good overall value

-slight sub bass roll off
-would have love more sparkle since this driver can deliver it
-not cleanest sound presentation
-soundstage lack proper sens of openess (unless with E pro Horn tips)
-not a fan of vocal with E pro tips (hint shouty and distant)
-timbre while realist isn’t the must charming musicaly


TONALITY: 8.6/10

Penon is mostly known as an audio distributor and cables maker, yet they begin to release earphones years ago. Their IEMs like the Serial triple DD or Globe hybrid DD+2BA have a solid fan base. It seems the Vortex I will review today is quite appreciated by the audio community too.
Priced 219$, the Vortex is a single dynamic drivers earphone using a 10mm DLC diamond-like carbon fiber dynamic driver with a Strong magnet
Since I’m quite a fan of the Serial, my curiosity drives me to contact Penon for testing this IEM, so, these don’t come out of the blue but are lucid independent decisions driven by pure audiophile curiosity.
Now, let’s see in this review if Penon achieves a cohesive tuning and technically performant sounding IEM even if it uses only one single dynamic driver.


Brand: Penon
Driver: 10mm strong magnetic DLC diamond-like fiber diaphragm
Input Sensitivity: 108dB SPL/mW
Frequency response range: 10Hz-35kHz
Impedance: 24Ω±15%(@1kHz)
THD: ≤1%@1khz
Connecter: 2pin 0.78mm
Plug: 3.5mm audio, 2.5mm balanced, 4.4mm balanced
Cable length: 1.2M



The construction is nice but not mind-blowing for an IEM of this price. It uses good quality resin plastic, the housing is small and has a comfortable ergonomic shape and the 2-pin connector is fully embedded in the housing and feels solid. The backplate is beautiful and I love the dark blue color of the housing too. Nothing to complain about, these feel sturdy, offer decent passive isolation and most of all are very comfortable for long-term listening, you don’t feel them in fact since they are so light and tinny.


Now when it comes to packaging, their nothing to say apart from the fact I was worried about the number of accessories seeing how small the box was. But then, I was overwhelmed by the generous amount of what’s included. Don’t judge anything by its size! Here we have high quality carrying case, not a basic one, something durable and elegant. We have a cable leather pouch and holder, a cleaning brush, and a clamp cable holder. 6 pairs of good quality ear tips and, just wow, this high-end balanced cable. A nice and welcome addition is the ePro Horn ear tips which are truly soundstage openers, so these can be used with any IEM that you feel will benefit from extra spatial deepness and tallness. While I like them with the Vortex, I prefer using KB07 wide-bore ear tips for more forwards mids, and bass.


This cable is the Penon CS819 OCC & Silver-plated Mixed Braided 2.5mm balanced cable and sells for 50$ at their Ali express store. It’s well-built with a sturdy connector. It’s smooth and flexible and I appreciate it won’t have an ear hook for more versatile use. It doesn’t drastically affect sound rendering, perhaps add with of warmth and timbre density, yet keeping the resolution, transparency, and dynamic scaling intact. This might become one of my fav cables. You can choose between 3.5mm single-ended or 2.5 mm-4.4 mm balanced models. Very impressive.

All in all, these are excellent accessories that put to shame a lot of pricier IEMs.



We can say the Vortex delivers a gently bright near neutral to slight V shape tonality with vivid treble and punchy low end, but it’s all but a boring listen, so we are into maturity meet fun musical territory. Its immediate and lively tonal balance is highly cohesive and abrasive, let’s say the dynamic driver isn’t lazy in there and is always ready to show the talent of its excited transient response.

The first time I put these in my ears, it was evident that it wouldn’t be a dull or technically limited listen, it suck me up into music right away and I was ready to rock. The thumping mid-bass was well defined and textured with well-felt punch, the mids were gently brightened in presence and forwards in dynamic, while the treble bite fits perfectly the tone of electric guitar abrasive chords. Yes, at first listen I was headbanging and it wasn’t a basshead IEM kind of joy, but an engaging macro dynamic that feels neutral as a whole yet not tamed in amplitudes freedom.

Musicality was nailed at first listen. Which by itself is a positive subjectivist appreciation on its own.

What the Vortex sound doesn’t offer: mellow mid-bass impact, boring neutrality, dark treble, recessed mids, lean dynamic, and overly safe tuning.

What he offers: fast textured punch and grunt, forwards lively mid-range, sense of impact and weight, above average detail, fast attack, and versatile well balanced brightness.

While these aren’t for basshead like the ISN H40 or as much focus and extension in sub-bass as the pricier Penon Serial, the Vortex isn’t lacking in speedy impact due to a mid-bass boost that is well-defined and has enough texture bite to offer edgy electric bass or rich contrabass resolution. It’s the type of bodied tight slam that can keep its pace even on a very speedy track, and this is the rare type of low end that favor kick drum too, so it does as well with rock as funk or EDM, old-school rap to is well rendered while Trap rap or Drum&bass will lack a bit of thick rumble and sub-bass boost.
For jazz, the result can be quite good too, unless contrabass solo, it will tend to magnify the drummer more than the bassist even if the presence of bass line is well rendered in definition and does not bloom by resonance. I would not say it’s the cleanest bass separation since we have a hint of sustained excitement that can add a hint of warmth and density to mid-range. As well, this low end can deliver some grunt, which will be rewarding for bright electric bass, this extra texture help to define the layering separation between kick drum and bass as stated in jazz, but for rock, it can be incredible, folk too and I would say that acoustic instrument, in general, is very well rendered which is a proof of bass quality. Just avoid the Vortex if you are a sub-bass boost seeker that needs to magnify rumble.

Textured is the mid-range with good note weight, bright but not particularly open resolution, and minimal sense of transparency that permits decent layering. This is the kind of versatile mid-range that can offer appealing male and female vocal, which doesn’t sound thin or too recessed. yet stay centered in the middle of the stage. Low harmonic isn’t lacking, so male vocals are perhaps a bit more flavor in natural full-bodied presence while the highest pitch of a Soprano will feel a bit tamed, but for soul singers that need breathy timbre, it will fit perfectly. The upper mid is softened here, but not lacking in energy, pinna gain isn’t too high, and avoid shortness by a notch. Saxophone sounds quite good too, dense and rich with detailed texturing that will make you not miss any blow subtilities. Listening to Charles Loyd playing is a real delight with the Vortex since we have both the syrupy tone richness and smoothness, the airy density of the instrument, and the edgy articulation of the melody line. The sax sound is multi-layered with texture richness which we can explore with excitement. Piano too sounds very good, due to felt note weight and good presence resolution, in fact, I haven’t encountered any instrument sounding plain wrong with these, from violin to synth to piano to electric guitar (so yummy), the Vortex offers a realist and full sounding tone with textured just a hint grainy timbre.

And now the treble, we can say it’s the center of the show since we have a sense of fullness from the lower to highest region. This isn’t understated nor overly boosted and it extends far too. Yet, it’s not the type of high I would call ultra crisp or extremely sparkly, since it’s more about the crunchy attack and just a hint of extra air on top to avoid macro resolution compression. I never have enough sparkle and brilliance it seems and the Vortex offers this rather common treble brightness that tames natural resonance after percussion impact but here it doesn’t go saturated due to fast sustain with a scooped release that keeps spacing between high pitch instruments. As well, we do have some sparkle and brilliance, it’s just not very boosted and stock cable doesn’t favor that, but the attacking edge does offer this crisp snap when needed.
Minimal spacing, yet, just enough to be able to follow percussions with some effort, since it’s a balanced treble, not a spiky nor an analytical one. The cymbals crash is smoothed a bit, yet keeps its sense of fullness and avoids unpleasant splashiness, snappy metallic percussions are edgy enough with just a pinch of brilliance (i want more!). The snare is focused, well-defined, and fast in control. Both clavichord and acoustic guitar sound full, not thin or overly boosted in a metallic sheen, but as noted you will lack this sparkle release and full airy resonance after impact, so, it can feel overly scooper and even a bit darkened depending on the pitch played. The only instrument I find truly problematic with these is the harp, which needs clean treble extension between 8kz and 20khz, very few IEMs can achieve this and Vortex isn’t an exception since its fullness stop around 8khz. This results in scooped edge, lack of sharp resolution, and extended crispness. But another thing that IEM struggles to present properly is the electric guitar and the Vortex excel with delivering full richness of distorted instrument, which doesn’t sound fake fuzziness, it’s abrasive, full, and vibrant. Again, rock fans would be happy about this.

The Vortex isn’t an IEM offering gigantic and bigger-than-life spatiality, it’s intimate and immersive. The center stage is a bit more recessed and left and right stereo imaging. It’s not very open, nor very airy, or perfectly clean. It sticks around your head so in that regard, it’s a bit average. It’s like wearing a big helmet with 2 speakers at each side of you and a third smaller one in front.

Yet, the imaging isn’t bad at all. Sure if it’s an intimate soundstage the space between instruments wouldn’t be very wide but the fast transient response permit decent layering which benefits more bass and mid-range instruments than high-frequency one.

These are easy to drive and in fact, benefit from a low-impedance source. Like big boi, these have the potential to scale up with a higher-end source that is powerful in dynamic but low in THD and impedance. As well, the Vortex is ear tip sensitive and this whole sound impression is based on Kbear KB07 wide bore ear tips. With the Epro , overall tonality is a bit sharper and more open and deep in spatiality, but have more distant and thinner mids and vocals too, as well as more aggressive treble.




You might wonder why this Serial only cost 80$ more even if it has 2 more dynamic drivers than the Vortex…well I wonder too, but this confirms again how great of a sound value Serial offers.
While the tonal balance is quite different, I don’t think the Vortex can handle this battle in terms of technical performance since even if the Serial is warmer and thicker sounding, it offers clearer resolution higher transparency, and better imaging and layering.
The Serial has more sub-bass extension and thickness, the bass is better layered, fuller, and more natural in extension. It feels a bit slower in mid-bass punch and not as edgy in the definition yet the richness of the bass line is without a doubt superior. The mids are wider in presence, vocals aren’t as bright in presence but more natural in timbre, and mids are more open and effortless in detailing, cleaner and clearer as well as smoother and fuller. Treble is darker but more realistic in detail, and the overall presentation feels 2D with Vortex and 3D with Serial. The soundstage is wider and taller but not deeper. Imaging is superior as stated.

All in all, the Vortex is more energic and bright but it just can’t fully compete against this budget end-game miracle called Serial.

VS Sonic Memory SM2 (1DD-240$)

Crisper and more technical sounding, the SM2 offers a DF-neutral signature that magnifies the sense of clarity. Treble is more open and airy, but less abrasive so it doesn’t work well for electric guitar, it’s a hint more shouty too due to higher pinna gain. But we have sparkle and natural resonance. Attack speed seems faster and more controlled than Vortex too. But both bass and mids sound leaner and thinner too, yet with higher resolution and better imaging capacity. These SM2 are phenomenal IEM and it’s a hard fight here, Vortex bass sure is more thumpy and well define in impact, but separation with mid-range isn’t as good. Yet, the mids of SM2 are a bit cold and more prompt to slight sibilance than Vortex. Spatiality is notably more open, airy, tall, and deep than Vortex. Imaging is more precise and sharp in positioning. Technically the SM2 is superior but the balance isn’t as full sounding and versatile as the Vortex.

All in all, tonality is more appealing, engaging, and realistic with the Vortex, and feels more distant with SM2 which has thinner and less natural timbre. For me, the Vortex screams musicality, and offers a more balanced tonality.


Whathit first is how more open and airy is the Fealty, then, it’s how more treble-centric they feel too and not as well rounded in overall balance.

If the Vortex is smoothened crisp V shape to a bright neutral, the Fealty is inversed L shape to a bright neutral.
The bass is dryer and leaner and lacks the punch of the Vortex, the sub-bass extension seems, even more, rolled off and the overall definition feels more scooped in presence, lacking a textured bit of the Vortex. Mids are leaner, more recessed, and thinner, female voice as well as overall upper mids are more prompt to sibilance. The resolution isn’t as well defined in layers and feels more shouty too. Overall tone and timbre of Vortex are notably more realistic and full sounding. Now for the treble, it’s more in your face with the Fealty and tends to put the percussions more upfront, so it’s less cohesive and balanced highs than the smoother Vortex, yet these are more airy and sparkly on top but more scooped in definition edge too, so it’s more an illusion of clarity than the Vortex.
Soundstage, as noted, is taller-wider and deeper with the Fealty but imaging seems all about the upper treble and quite darkened in proper positioning for low and mid-range instruments due to lack of full definition.

All in all, apart from soundstage size, the Fealty is inferior both technically and tonally to my ears.



After my intense love of the Penon Serial, I didn’t expect much from the single DD of the Vortex and to say I was taken by surprise is an understatement. Why? Because I’ve always struggled to find an IEM that delivers rock music in all its engaging, dynamic, and abrasive glory without going plain aggressive or too nicely tuned, and this is exactly what the Vortex delivers, a versatile bright neutral tonality with enough punch and texture to render both kick drum and electric bass line with punch and definition and enough treble bite and fullness to deliver electric guitar immediate and grungy musicality.
These aren’t similar to the Serial at all and are perhaps the perfect complement since one favors sub bass and warm timbre while the other focus on mid-bass thump and treble texture and extension.

I would never have thought that I would become such a fanboi of Penon IEMs, those that know me for years are very puzzle about this too, even perhaps thinking I shill or something, well, let me underline then that I don’t consider Vortex as mind-blowing as the Serial due to a more common spatiality and layering limitation inherent to the single dynamic driver as well as not the most competitive price.

Yet, apart from extreme nit-picking I can’t really fault these IEMs, sure they’re a slight sub-bass roll-off but the presence is clean and well-defined, sure mids aren’t thickest nor lushest but the noted weight is there, and clarity is there and tone and timbre is realist and enjoyable and most of all, free of sibilance without feeling tamed in dynamic or scooped in attack edge. The treble isn’t the most open, but again, we have snap and fast sparkle.

In an overcrowded IEM world where every new release seems overhyped and a lot of good IEMs stay in the shadow of mediocrity, the Vortex is worth every penny and delivers a lively sound that is both well-balanced and head-shaking.

These will rock your sock off even if maturely balanced.

Highly recommended! (not only for rock fans!)

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