The See Audio – Anou / Yume 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 See Audio for giving me this opportunity.
See Audio is a relatively new company from China. The Anou/Yume (reviewed here) is their entry-level IEM that sports a hybrid design (2 BA + 1 DD) and they do have premium offerings such as the Kaguya and Neo which seem to position themselves in the TOTL or near TOTL realm of things, atleast from a pricing standpoint. The unit being reviewed here is called the ‘Anou’ and has different names based on the market it caters to, ‘Anou’ being used for the unit being shipped to Japan and ‘Yume’ for rest of the world. As per See Audio, the tuning is essentially the same, except for the change in the faceplate design and the names ofcourse.
Aune T1s Hybrid Tube Amp/DAC, Marantz SR5014 & LG G8X ThinQ
Tale of the Graph, Tonality & Presentation:
Tonality is very good overall. Linear to slightly upper mid focused and has all the traits to be classified as harman neutral with not much bass boost (sub-bass is done decently but mid bass to upper bass seems flat and lacking the required elevation), atleast nowhere close to what the ‘Marketing Graph’ would seem to suggest, or my review unit is a dud. Either or, this seems to present an interesting problem to the consumer in the sense that when an OE pushes out a graph for the masses, I would expect it to give you a fair idea as to what one should expect in terms of a high-level presentation or tonal cues. In this case, it does seem that the graph and the sonic attributes part ways the moment one ACTUALLY listens to the iem on their own. The Graph seems to suggest a V signature with sub-bass focus, recessed midrange and an intense or sort of intense upper midrange energy. What I do hear though, is not much upper-bass atall and a significant lack of extension as an add on. What’s there is relatively flat and uncolored with a hint of warmth (very little). Mid to upper bass is quite lean, where it seems to not have too much meat on the bone in the 100 to 300 Hz range, lending to a note weight in the lower midrange which is just shy of being full and rich. With a powerful source, you do get the slam, but the energy in the lower notes seems to be held back considerably, quite strange considering there is a ported single dynamic driver doing the duties on the lower frequencies.
See Audio's measured Target Response Graph and and writeup
What i would like to speculate on the lack in bass extension or quantity / significant roll off / quick decay is that a lot of OE’s tend to play around with the crossovers in a multi driver setup in a way that, inorder to avoid bass bleed into the midrange, the crossover frequencies of the bass driver is set to die out rather quickly, which is great for midrange being left uncluttered, but also affects note weight, body and that wow factor one looks for on a lot of tracks. I would rather prefer better tuning of the bass driver than to cut it off with a limiter in terms of a crossover bar, however, these thoughts aren’t confirmed by See Audio, so a grain of salt here.
Moving on to the actual midrange presentation, it’s a bit recessed but linear up until the upper midrange peak. There seems to be a good amount of micro detailing and texture without over smoothening being involved which is good and kinda expected from a BA setup in this price range. However, the upper midrange can be a hit or a miss based on one's sensitivity to how much upper mids one can take and the specific frequency which tugs at you the most. For some it’s the 3-4 kHz peak that might cause fatigue, for the rest it mostly is in the 6 to 9 kHz zone which leads to spiciness and a stinging sensation of sorts / or like we audiophiles like to call, the sibilance region which when listened to for a considerable period of time, can bring about a ringing sensation of sorts. I personally am not a big fan of the Harman target based tuning because most manufacturers tend to take the tuning too far, so much that even though it does meet the Harman Target based tuning to the T, it does not necessarily sound natural in term of timbre or tonality. The Anou / Yume, is somewhat right in the middle of what I prefer to be perfectly natural sounding.
There is plenty of energy in the upper mids without it coming under the dreaded aggressive category, however, it is more of a plateau in the 2.5 -5 kHz than a spike, which seems to work well, especially when paired to warmer source like the Marantz SR5014. Upper midrange remains relatively smooth but there seems to be a spike somewhere near the 7-8 kHz region (could call it lower treble too) which can be a bit tizzy, based on source and quality of tracks being played. Not to generalize or quote my quantification, but 85% of the times, peaks and spikes / sibilance will be in control. Its borderline on the verge of misbehaving, but just about knows where to draw the line eventually. YMMV based on source though and if your source is clinical and tending to bright sounding, the Anou / Yume could be a handful, specially for someone who is very sensitive to treble peaks.
Treble performance can be classified as adequate. It is not so much as to make the presentation a V signature (or maybe it is), and its not overly rolled off to lack the sense of airiness in the overall presentation either. High hats and cymbals have good timbre as well as energy without being overly forward or a complete miss and the sense of depth and airiness is done well. There is scope for a far better upper treble tuning and sadly, the Anou / Yume doesn’t like the massaging of EQ anywhere whatsoever in the slightest or likes to get all splashy on you.
From a resolution perspective, this one's clearly mid-fi with varying grades if one had to rate the bass, mids and treble separately. With leniency in mind, Mids can get an ‘A’ grade, Treble can pass with a ‘B’ and the Bass is well, a ‘C’ considering I expected a lot more flamboyance in the bass department if there is a DD playing ball.
Soundstage, Instrument Separation & Imaging:
Staging abilities are handled very well, specially considering the price bracket but its not Top of the Line or Mind Boggling by any means either. Depth and height is perceived tall and deeper than the actual width on offer. It is hard to listen to iems and convince yourself that you are listening to full size headphones, let alone feel like you might be live at the place of play. That said, the presentation on the Yume / Anou isn’t very spatial not does the centre image actually feel dead centre, more like a fuzzy off-center of sorts. Perceived width does extend slightly beyond my ears but that is the upper limits of the extension. Overall, the presentation does feel realistic yet more intimate than open at the same time. Instrument separation is above average with quick transients and decay. Complex tracks did not posses much trouble to the Yume /Anou, and the lack of outright bass quantity, further exaggerates this feeling that the iem feels effortless in its transients which may not necessarily be true. Imaging is well, accurate enough for what a closed-in iem should showcase. Far-off cues and dead centre imaging does have a bit of fuzziness and vagueness but nothing out of the ordinary.
Specs on paper might denote that the Anou / Yume should be very easy to drive off portable sources like a smartphone or entry level DAP with its rated 106 dB/mW into 32 ohm. All this holds true except for the uncanny fact that the Anou / Yume needs a powerful source with a slightly warm tint to sound right or scale well. Don’t take me wrong as this is not going to suddenly make the Anou / Yume sound like an Andromeda or take the resolution up, to that of the U12T. However, the stage does improve a bit and the sense of air or openness is enhanced, dynamic range is considerably better and most importantly, the bass slam and the lower treble smoothness ensures a euphonic presentation and tries to fill in little holes in what can be called a near flawless presentation otherwise.
A Simple tape mod to cover the ported bass vents on the top of each earpiece helps get the sub bass and mid bass up by at least +1dB / +2dB (not measured but audibly perceived) with really good effect. Even the slight spike at 7kHz / 8kHz seems to be evened out. All of this, or pure placebo, it did work for me and your mileage may vary as it’s a subjective hobby afterall.
The See Audio Yume / Anou does have balance and coherency going for it with a near neutral and uncolored presentation which not many can boast off in the sub 200$ price range. Is it outright the best in its price range or without its quirks? Honestly NOPE. But that said, it still is amongst the top contenders in 2021 if you are on a budget and looking for this very type of presentation / tuning. Not to forget, the macho looking faceplates and excellent build quality. Just don’t take their graph too seriously. There’s more cheese there than required in a cheese burger! Overall, a good job by See Audio which lays the foundation for what could be an exciting 2021 for newer products to follow through.