Cat Ear Audio - Mimi : Little Cat, Big Meow?
The Cat Ear Audio - MIMI is a sample that was sent to me in exchange for my honest opinion in this review, as part of a review tour. I thank the team at Cat Ear Audio for giving me this opportunity.
Cat Ear Audio (the brand) is relatively unknown on this side of the shore and to the audio community in general, not surprisingly so, as they have been established as a brand as recently as 2019, with their first product launch (MIA) as recent as July 2020!
What's not so new though is it's history in making high quality & premium cables: power cords, speaker cables, RCA signal cables, the lot; under its parent company banners/wings viz-a-viz Shunshi and ShoonTH.
The MIMI in consideration here is designed and made by ShoonTH. It boasts of a rather large 15.4mm dynamic driver paired to a very well designed Silver plated LC-OFC cable with a strong and sturdy 3.5mm straight plug which is outright amazing the moment you hold them in your hand, considering the price point this is pitched at! From a drivability standpoint, the MIMI is fairly efficient with a Sensitivity Rating of 110db/mW with a 32-ohm impedance making it relatively easy to be driven through most portable daily devices such as your phone & laptop.
Aune T1s Hybrid Tube Amp/DAC, Marantz SR5014 & LG G8X ThinQ
It's hard to analyze stuff that costs just about the 10$ USD mark and put up objective rationale with perspective and comparisons in relativity to the ocean of iem's and earbuds out there. If the competition is the ocean, then consider the reviews from reviewers as the salt left behind when you boil the ocean
The MIMI has an inoffensive - euphonic and smooth sound signature, which has enough pizazz and spice in the mix to keep enthusiasts and casual listeners interested and tapping their feet to the tunes, irrespective of genre.
Something to note is that my particular unit had some channel imbalance issues which reduced quite substantially during the burn-in period, but retained the trait long enough to be mentioned here. With all benefit-of-doubt to Cat Ear, this maybe a one-off issue. Since most of my testing included the LG G8X with the (ESS 9218P DAC), the inbuilt software was able to correct the imbalance without much hassle atall. The imbalance correction on my unit has been highlighted below out of the box which is within -2db from Left to Right (quite large initially) and reduced further down to less than -1db (still audible):
The MIMI sounds on par if not better than most earbuds in its price category in stock form right out of the box. However, minor equalization tweaks bring about massive uplift in the actual ability that the MIMI is capable of. Ofcourse, this my subjective take on the kind of sound I prefer which leans towards a slightly airy upper treble and a bit less emphasis on the lower mids without affecting the tonality of how the midrange vocals sound. In short, the following basic EQ tweaks, made the MIMI sound more balanced, with slightly better extensions on either end, helping percussion and drums shimmer and pop with better contrast in-line with their respective timbre accuracy. My review and overall summary further down reflects the sound capability as a summation of how the MIMI sounds in stock as well as slightly EQ-ed (aka more capable form):
PS: Please don't mistake the EQ above as a form of interpreting it as an FR-Curve. This is more of a digital compensation applied to make the actual FR sound more balanced and cleaner overall.
Imaging, Staging & Instrument Separation:
Directional cues are handled surprisingly well for an earbud of this price point and general caliber expectation for the course. Staging is done pretty well with the width being larger than the perceived overall depth. That said, there is a good sense of space and enough directional accuracy in the z-axis to make live performances such as the Symphonic Version tracks by HAEVN from the album Bright Lights. A slightly elevated upper treble would have increased the overall Air and sense of space even further but with EQ mods shown earlier, most would be content with the presentation. Instrument separation is above average and clean on the whole. Percussion instruments are a bit subdued and hazy due to the roll-off in the upper registers but a bit of EQ does bring about the necessary spark and finesse to them as well.
Overall tonality leans towards being very smooth and euphonic with a warm and rich tone, without sounding too veiled and laid back or overly fresh and brittle. A bit of EQ-ing cuts down the lushness in vocals down a bit to balance out the contrast between the bass and treble, rendering a smooth yet natural presentation.
The Bass on the MIMI is really good. Decay is like a well-tuned iem and although there is sub-bass roll-off owing to the tuning + the nature of poor isolation in general on earbuds. Quality and quantity, as well as tactility, is enough to bring a smile to anyone who enjoys listening to good bass. Last but not the least, the upper bass remains clean and doesn't bleed into the lower mids and hence there is no muddiness with male vocals.
The Midrange is lush - and the added warmth from the signature does lend the MIMI a distinctly smooth and decently forward sounding earbud. However, it is fairly neutral in terms of the balance between being sweet and hard sounding. Although the detailing is on par with the price point, vocal textures can do with a little less smoothening overall.
The Treble performance is something that needs a bit more help to balance itself out and have enough contrast in relation to the bass and mids. Luckily, EQ solves this very cleanly and without fuss which not only helps the overall depth in the presentation but also adds the right timbre accuracy missing on percussions and high hats on the whole.
Scalability & Pairings:
A quick summary from a scalability factor does point to the fact that the MIMI does not warrant high-end expensive sources as it's capped quite early in terms of scaling which is fairly limited and this doesn't come off as a surprise given its modest price point. A good entry-level DAP or phone will be able to bring out the most from the MIMI.
That said, well-textured and brighter sources with good extensions do tend to make the MIMI shine further without the need to fiddle too much with EW mods and so on, such as the Fiio Q5s, Aune T1s, and even the LG G8x ThinQ. A good source always makes good gear shine and the MIMI does show improvement with better sources. However, that's where the tables turn from a value perspective as the source will always be more expensive (far too expensive) than the transducers themselves!) which is a no-no.
Bottomline: Stick to what you already have as a source. The MIMI is fun (irrespective of source)!
The Cat Ear Audio - MIMI is a good - balanced yet playful earbud that has a tuning quite tasteful right out of the box but opens up the Pandora's box if you can take the time to fine-tune them. Although I am not a big fan of EQ-ing, this is one of those instances where I would wholeheartedly pass the 'audiophile' baton to someone else just for the sake of enjoying a cheap thrill! (who doesn't love one!). That said, it will be interesting to check out how the the top tier offerings from Cat Ear Audio sound like after the kitty purr MIMI!
The MIMI is availble to purchase in India from Hifinage (https://hifinage.com/products/cat-ear-audio-mimi)