June 10, 2011

VSonic GR07: Exquisitely Balanced


In a self destructing way, I justify every IEM purchase with a rational reason. When GR07 appeared on the head-fi scene, my little IEM wearing red devil woke up and said "Let there be a stage monitor!" and there it was - after a few clicks at Lendmeurears and Paypal, I had the bulging large pack of VSonics at my door. Is the IEM devil right in destroying my finances to the tune of $155? The answer lies at the end of a wall of words (and I mean it - including comparison to 7 other IEMs, a little over 7,000 words).

Build Quality, Accessories, Comfort, Isolation and Microphonics

When I bought the VSonic, my expectations were very low when it comes to build quality. Coming from a bunch of Chinese OEM manufacturers with their wavering build quality standards and companies like Head-Direct who put sound quality over build quality and accessories, I was wary. But, GR07 sprang a pleasant surprise on me.

Let's begin from the housing. I generally find barrel shaped IEMs to be easy to fit. Then, there are those with issues like memory wire, sharp edges, weight issues and those which are not made for normal human ears. GR07 with it's square shape and rounded corners is very easy to fit. While I have not fallen asleep wearing it, it is quite comfortable over longer listening sessions due to the lack of sharp edges and just about the right size. The metal nozzle's angle can be adjusted to an extent. I had Microsonics Epic X on loan for a while, which is the only other IEM I have seen with an articulating nozzle. While Epic X can be rotated over a larger angle, it's swivel mechanism was made of plastic, while GR07 uses a more reliable metal construction. This is a boon for people like me with slightly angled ear canals. As is to be expected, it does not allow a deeper insertion, but I find it to be much easier than MEE M6 to fit and comfortable over longer periods than SM3. While it certainly does not compete with the looks of FX700 or an e-Q5, it certainly does not look cheap or crass either.

I am not the sort of person who worries two bits about the driver technology used. But, when I searched for "Bio-Cellulose Diaphragm", I figured out it was used in Sony R10, one of the costlier headphones as well. Some tidbits thanks to Google (and it's poor translator)
Using leading-edge biotechnology techniques, a natural fiber (bio-cellulose) produced by a bacteria called Acetobacter acti is dehydrated, then compressed to a thickness of 0.1 or less microns in a diaphragm die. The advantage of the ultra-thin bio-cellulose diaphragm is that it can produce the same sound velocity as an aluminum or titanium diaphragm, along with the warm, delicate sound that a paper diaphragm provides. It increases the degree of hardness, toughness and improves the damping factor. High damping factor results in elimination of unnecessary and unwanted vibration of the sound amplitude (?).
Enough about driver technology. Let's get on with the rest of the stuff. The cable uses Silver for those who are interested. I am not a big fan of the cable, but it neither feels flimsy like my RE-252 nor thick like CK10 - a good normal, usable cable. The cable is terminated in a right angled plug. The strain reliefs are adequate at the plug and the Y-split and the housing - nothing special nor harsh to say about them except that at the housing, I don't see them too beefed up.

The accessories include a carry case, three sizes of single flanges, two sizes of double flanges and a foam tip. I usually get a proper fit with Medium size single flanges, but with GR07, I can only get a fit with the larger one. As the stock tips themselves are good in quality, I did not bother to try out other tips.

The clam shell case with softer innards is actually useful and is better than many other cases I've bought off eBay. Why VSonic decided to drop it in favour of a pouch is beyond me. But so far, I've not seen many getting the pouch. May be they've not "fixed" what ain't broken in the first place.

Which brings me to the ear guides. Here's an accessory that is often ignored by companies. Of my IEMs, Eterna came with a bulky one, I never cared to use DBA-02's and have been pretty much using my extra pack of the excellent Phonak Silicone ear guides with all other IEMs. While GR07's ear guides are not as soft as the Phonaks, they are my next favorite among the five sets I have used. Phonaks have a tendency to come off sometimes, which is not the case with GR07's ear guides. The ear guides (as with Eterna's) are marked with Left and Right as well.

Coming to other factors, GR07 isolates fairly well for me. Since it is meant to be worn over the ear, there is hardly any microphonics.


Driver: 11mm driver unit high dynamic CCAW 
Rated impedance: 50Ω + / -10%
Sensitivity: ≥ 105dB (at500Hz)
Frequency Response: 7Hz-30, 000Hz
Rated Power: 10mWMaximum power:  50mW
Plug: Gold-plated stereo plug 3.5mm 8μ24K
Cable length: 1.30M 82-core nontoxic TPU silver wire

A little stroll on the wild side - Whither Burn-in?

Let's get this burn-in thing out of the way. I am not a firm believer in burn-in. But, I simply do it anyway so that I am not told that all the 'issues' are miraculously solved with hundreds of hours of burn-in. Generally, I do not observe changes with IEMs after 50/100 hours of burn-in (except may be a RE0 or HJE900, but even that is disputable).

But, with GR07, I found them to be sibilant initially, but after 115+ hours and somewhere below the 200 hour mark, sibilance "disappeared". Where did it go? I am not sure. At the time of writing my impressions, I had not compared GR07 to any of the IEMs; but after 200 hours, I compared it to M3 and found that sibilance is not much of an issue (Detailed notes can be found in this post). Is it possible that sibilance was horrible because I was not comparing it to any other IEM and the latter conclusion that sibilance is not much of an issue purely the result of a proper comparison? Possible, says my skeptical mind. Others have reported lesser sibilance with just about 12-24 hours of burn-in and to counter that there is an odd one out who felt it did not get settled even after 300+ hours on them.

Does burn-in make an audible difference in the case of GR07? Let me just take a politically correct view. If you believe in burn-in, do as much as needed until you feel that sibilance has settled. If you don't, EQ or get used to it.

My regular listening material consists of a lot of tracks with vocal sibilance present in the recording (Tested with multiple speakers and sources using original CDs, not just on Clip+ and my IEMs). So, I cannot just wish it away. Being a dynamic monitor, it would be absurd to expect GR07 to present a smoother, colored version of the song like RE-262. So, I make peace with whatever sibilance is left in GR07. Whether burn-in works or not is beyond me until I can A/B my 200+ hour GR07 with a fresh out of the box GR07.

Sound Signature:

GR07 is meant to be used as a stage monitor. But, the most I'll ever get close to the stage is the front row, so I'll review it just like every other IEM I have reviewed.

I had a problem classifying GR07 during my initial impressions, while the answer was staring me in the face all the time - it is "balanced".

Most balanced/analytical IEMs out there generally lean towards a brighter signature with lesser emphasis on the lower end of the spectrum. GR07 deviates from this path and offers a bass which is textured, quick with an extension and punch to match. It's quantity again is very impressive - a bit less or bit more would have affected the balance of the IEMs. With normal listening volumes on the Clip+, the roll-off occurs below the 30Hz region (using test files of 31Hz, 40Hz etc.,). As a result, unlike many other so-called balanced IEMs, you can listen to EDM/Trance/Related genres music using GR07. I don't generally listen to the said genres and only occasionally deviate from my largely Rock/Metal/Classical/Jazz routine (in that order). Even then, I won't make tall claims that GR07 is the best for electronic music, but it won't disappoint you like RE-252 (lack of quantity) or RE-262 (lack of extension and impact).

The mid range is largely neutral with a very slight hint of warmth. The mid range is neither forward nor recessed. You won't find the mid range to be recessed and distant sounding like V-shaped IEMs, just not as forward as IEMs that lay emphasis on the mids. The mid range is neither dry nor liquid. It lacks the warmth and lushness of the "musical" IEMs, but it does not sound dry either due to the presence of texture, a well rounded note and slight warmth. In other words, while it won't be liquid and forward like RE-262 or warm like e-Q5 / RE-252, it is still well textured when compared to a leaner sounding DBA-02.

Just like the other two ranges, treble in GR07 is neither here nor there. It is neither recessed like RE-262 nor forward, fast, micro-detailed and crisp like the DBA-02.

There is less emphasis on treble in GR07 compared to bass and mids. But, even after 200+ hours on them, the lower treble emphasis is still present, due to which you won't find the treble to be lacking as the bump increases the perception of quantity. I don't hear up-to 22Khz like many (super-humans) seem to do, but to the limit of my hearing (~ 16 Khz), I find GR07 to be extended. There's a bit of sparkle, but it will not offer competition to the RE-252's of the world.

GR07 will show through all the sibilance present in the recording much like most other good transparent IEMs do. Exactly how bad? I think it'll be clear during comparisons. It's not much of an issue at low volume levels, but at higher volume levels, much like everything else, sibilance would be magnified.


The sound stage of GR07 has good width, a decent amount of depth. But, height and the depth elements are not as impressive as the width. The separation is very good as it never sounds blended or congested even with complex music. Similarly, I have no issues with imaging either.

When it comes to detail, I don't find GR07 to be incredibly micro-detailed, but just well detailed. It sure can't match the BAs like CK10 or DBA-02 in detail retrieval. Similarly, it won't offer stiff competition to BAs when it comes to speed.

How does the GR07 sound overall? I won't call it boring by any means. While neither too analytical nor musical, GR07 does not lack much when it comes to technical aspects. Since it has the presence across the range, it can handle most of the music you throw at it fairly well. So far, in my listening across genres, I have not felt GR07 to be inadequate for any genre. It has not made me switch to another IEM immediately like I tend to do with 'bassy' or 'trebly' IEMs. So, is it the most wonderful device ever to embrace my ear canals? Hmmm...I just said "not lacking", did not call it "the best" - different things! It is good enough to be well above average with most aspects. It just does not get top percentile ranking in any one category. Though taken together overall, that's a very good sign for an IEM designed to be a monitor.

There are IEMs like the Brainwavz M series which manage to sound fatigue free due to their forward and smooth mid-range, not so biting bass and treble, GR07 takes the technical aspects of sound a few notches up and still sounds largely fatigue free (barring the sibilance).

I tried to use EQ initially with GR07 to increase treble and play around the 6-8 Khz region, but in the end, I prefer using GR07 without EQ. As it does not require amplification and works fine out of Clip+, I have not tried to use my Arrow 3G with it.

Since I am in mood, let's take the case of something called "timbre". I am not an expert on the subject. How do you tell whether something sounds natural? Musicians can, those who listen to the instrument live often can, but I don't have that much experience. I only have benchmarks for certain instruments, but not for all. My knowledge is very limited, so I dropped the dreaded "T" word from my reviews sometime ago. It's not often that I get to explain all this in a review for want of addressing a largely impatient reader group. But, since this seems to be the trendy, I'll touch the "T" word here.

IMHO, to produce proper timbre i.e., natural reproduction of an instrument, an IEM must

  • Produce the whole frequency range of the instrument
  • Have a good tone that is closest to the natural tone of the instrument
  • Have attack speeds and decay which is closer to the actual instrument. Aspects like texture, thickness of note (thicker or thinner is not as good) must be handled correctly

Not all IEMs handle all instruments well. Some handle vocals merrily, some have great thing for strings, some have special timbre for certain instruments (Pana HJE900 with distortion guitars, for example).

I don't find GR07 to be great with timbre mostly as I do not find the tone to be correct for some instruments. So, for someone looking for a "natural" / "musical" / "engaging" IEM, GR07 may not be the best choice. It just does not sound "natural" to me. A FX700 or e-Q5 handle timbre better than GR07.


There is a sane school of thought when it comes to comparing IEMs - Do not compare an Apple to an Orange. I belong to the insane school of thoughtlessness. I compare an IEM against all the possibilities within that tier. Selfishly, it helps me value the IEMs relatively and rank them. Though publicly, I'd say that I am generously helping you by opining how an apple tastes different from the orange. Whatever be it, A/B or A/B/A helps me purge the memory and all the built-up perceptions around an IEM and see how it fares against others. Another fact to be noted is that these IEMs are almost at a similar level - meaning there will be IEMs which I consider better than others, but the differences are never "night and day". So, what I highlight are subtle to substantial differences between them because I have to.

For those who do not want to read through the next several hundred words, I'll make life simpler. Just scroll down and see which IEM won this battle of my ears (highlighted in blue) and read the much shorter comparison summary.

Testing Process

Considering the large amount of comparisons, I will keep it down to a simple setup. Two Clip+'s running the same Rockbox version, filled with tracks in the same format (FLAC mostly) from original rips. EQ was untouched on both of them. The IEMs are loudness matched to the best of my hearing ability during the comparisons. The descriptions should be taken as mostly relative and not absolute.

My comparison process involved two prior listening sessions where I just listened to all the IEMs in the comparison to form an idea about where each of them stand. In the first session, I did longer listening sessions, followed by shorter A/Bs. My next session involved listening to any of the IEMs with player in shuffle mode until I wanted to switch to a different IEM. For this review, I'll mostly restrict myself to A/B/A of GR07 and another IEM. It's not a comprehensive comparison by any means and I don't intend to analyze any farther than basic characteristics.

vs Hifiman RE-252

Build quality wise, there's no comparison. The thinner, microphonic cable on RE-252 will never be forgiven by me. The gummies though have become softer with use and are no longer an issue compared to my rants at the very beginning. GR07 is much more comfortable and well-built.

While I'd not have said that RE-252 lacks bass when heard in isolation, GR07 makes it's shortcomings in bass very apparent. It is well textured, extended, much better in quantity and makes drums sound like drums and not like a thud. The mid range on the 252 is warm and thinner sounding compared to the well textured mid range of GR07. With treble, RE-252 presents a crisp, more forward and tonally better cymbal representation compared to GR07. When it comes to vocals, GR07 tends to highlight sibilance much more than RE-252. Despite this and the warmer mid range of RE-252, I slightly prefer GR07's vocals due to the texture.

Sound stage of GR07 is better in width, slightly better in height and depth. RE-252 has lesser dynamic range and more intimate presentation and quite forward when it comes to presenting details.

My Preference: GR07

vs Ortofon e-Q5

When it comes to looks, it's easy to see where the $100 premium that e-Q5 demands went. The AAA battery rules! I mean the aluminum e-Q5 housing looks great compared to the plastic GR07. While the cable of e-Q5 is much more thicker up-to the Y-split, but becomes thinner after that. The  e-Q5 does not come with a chin slider like GR07. e-Q5 can be worn both over the ear and straight down, though I usually prefer the over the ear route using the Phonak ear guides. Both are comfortable to wear and easy to insert.

With the external advantage of e-Q5 evaporating once the IEMs are inside the ear, this becomes a very tight comparison. Both have that understated sound signature which does not show off all micro-details. Both have an affinity towards lower volumes, in the case of e-Q5 as it can be listened to at much lower volumes (due to the difference in impedance and sensitivity) and forced in the case of GR07 to avoid sibilance. Personally, I did not think either of them were that great, but after comparing with other IEMs, got more and more impressed. When I was switching between the two without getting down to specifics, they both were equally good, one was not superior or inferior to the other overall. Many times during the A/B, I'd listen to e-Q5 expecting GR07 to be less engaging in vocals or otherwise, but on switching to GR07, I found it to be no less engaging than e-Q5. That said, let's get down to specifics.

As with RE-252, GR07 scores over e-Q5 in bass texture, quantity, extension and impact, though e-Q5 has better bass (with more extension) than RE-252. It must be noted that GR07 is not a bass monster by any means, it's just that the GR07 has the right amount of bass and e-Q5 a slight bit less. Mid range of e-Q5 is warm, forward and organic, whereas GR07 is better textured. Both are similarly revealing when it comes to sibilant material, but GR07 hits a small notch or two higher on the chart. It's nowhere near 'biting' or 'hurting' levels, but you can't wish it away in an attentive listening session. The forward, crisper treble of e-Q5 is better than GR07.

e-Q5 betters GR07 when it comes to speed, clarity and slightly edges out on sound stage height, whereas GR07 scores with separation, sound stage width and depth.

My Preference: e-Q5 (almost a tie, but e-Q5 very slightly more preferred due to better timbre and conduciveness to low volume listening)

vs Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 (with Twilight Cable)

No two IEMs in this comparison are this far apart. TF10, in many people's opinion, is the last remaining IEM from the "old guard" while GR07 is still not past it's honeymoon period. GR07 as a dynamic tries to cross over into the conventional BA territory of stage monitors, TF10 is a triple driver BA that attempts to trespass into fun sounding territory of dynamics. Is there anything common? They both cover (almost) from end to end in the spectrum.

The larger gun mental blue housings of TF10 look odd next to the understated GR07 housings. Unlike many, I never had issues in getting a good fit and seal with the TF10. But, comfort over long hours of wearing is certainly better with GR07. The crush proof travel case of TF10 looks classier compared to the GR07 clam-shell case, though the pouch for storing tips make me still prefer the clam-shell case. Since I am using the twilight cable, I'll make no comment about the cables.

The bass of TF10 is thicker in note, which at times leads to the perception of muddiness. While GR07 scores in presenting a textured bass, punch and impact are terms undoubtedly reserved for the TF10. TF10, deviating from typical BA style, presents a slightly thick and hearty note in the mids. Much has been said about the 'recessed' mid range of TF10. While TF10 does sound V-shaped, I don't hear the mid range to be as recessed as it's made out to be. The textured, well rounded notes of GR07 are countered with the up front presentation of details on the TF10. Mid range of TF10 is anything but timbre rich and so, GR07 presents vocals better. With treble, while GR07 remains well detailed, TF10's treble driver gets a slight bit ahead with it's up-front presentation. By and large, next to the thick note and up front detail presenting TF10, GR07 sounds polite and gentle.

Coming to sound stage, TF10 is better with depth and height, while width wise, they do not differ hugely. TF10 throws out distance cues a slight bit better and also does better on the imaging front. As a BA, speed and clarity are better with TF10. I feel that the dynamic range is a slight bit better with GR07. To summarize how they appeal to me, GR07 stays clear of drawing attention to any one particular range and sounds more coherent, while TF10 scores better at both ends. Technically speaking, I'd put GR07 a bit ahead, but when it comes to fun and engagement, TF10 manages to score some brownie points.

My Preference: TF10 (by a slight margin due to the fun factor)

vs Fischer Audio DBA-02

Now, this is an interesting comparison. Both are IEMs at similar price points. But, the gearing of DBA-02 is more towards an analytical side with a tinge of aggression, whereas GR07 is careful not to overstep it's set limits.

Looks wise, the clear-blue-black color schemed plastic shells of DBA-02 are not such an eye sore. However, when handling them, they do feel a bit flimsy. The tangle free twisted cables of DBA-02 score a notch above GR07's silver cables. Since I wear both of them over the ear, microphonics are mostly non-existent. I do not have fit or comfort issues with either of them, though GR07 is much easier to insert and provides much better comfort.

My favorite conversation with DBA-02 goes like this - "Huh! You seemed to have missed some texture there" to which it impatiently replies "But...I am two notes ahead". The one thing that has constantly amazed me about DBA-02 is it's speed. This also helps DBA-02 bring out some tiny nuances which would be missed by other IEMs.

Due to the shorter decay, it leaves the notes not so textured or well filled. Members of the DBA-02 fan club will be quick to contradict that and tell you that it indeed has bass, which is true because it still has a tiny, weeny bit of filling that does output some bass with decent impact and extension. But, switch to GR07 and you will find bass, not Eterna like bass, but a normal one - one which should be present in balanced and analytical IEMs so that you don't totally miss the information in the bass region.

Moving on to mid range, DBA has a sweet coloration and is placed a bit forward in comparison. When it comes to sibilance in the recording, DBA's quicker decay renders it largely irrelevant to the ears. In the case of GR07, because it does not draw much attention to anything particular, sibilance will be noticed. Many a time, the textured mid range of GR07 lends some authority to the vocals. Now, only if some IEM could mix these two midranges together!

The treble driver on DBA-02 is simply amazing. It's fast, forward, very crisp, highly detailed and what not..oh! a bit aggressive may be. With recordings that have elevated levels of treble already present, the treble gets accentuated with DBA-02. But, as someone whose ears ease up to brighter signatures, I'll go with DBA-02 on this one.

While I am a big fan of open sounding IEMs, I place more emphasis not on the size of the sound stage, but how the IEM uses the space. Though DBA-02 will lose out to GR07 in sheer size of the stage, it never feels constrained or congested. But DBA-02 is not perfect, as a result of a not so stellar dynamic range, it brings overwhelming information to the fore (One can read my second listening session impressions). GR07 sounds much more coherent and correct in many aspects. However, it's not a signature that makes me want to push aside my somewhat 'flawed', but still fast DBA-02 and reach for it.

My Preference: DBA-02

vs JVC/Victor HA-FX700

With the exception of e-Q5, I've compared GR07 to IEMs mostly within it's price range. But, can it punch above it's price range? At the street prices, none of the next three are within the price range of GR07. And to make matters a bit harder for GR07, I count them among my favorites. Why? Because, in no particular order, these three are the IEMs that manage to turn off the signature analysis part of the brain and let me listen to music. None of them are perfect, but each of them offer something unique or special.

The FX700 woodies have the kind of exclusivity in their looks. The angled nozzles provide a firm fit for me. They do add a bit of weight though.The shorter cable of FX700 is a bane for many, but a boon for someone like me who wears his Clip+ on the shirt up higher. Comfort wise, GR07 is still the one that disappears inside the ear easily.

FX700 is truly a "Home IEM". It's dictionary does not include the word isolation. Because of it's elevated bass and treble, it is best enjoyed at lower volumes where the perception of bass and treble are correspondingly lower. You truly would need a quieter surrounding to best enjoy FX700. It compensates for all that with an open sound stage with a pitch black background. Among my IEMs, not many throw the sonic cues as far and wide as FX700. Imaging is excellent as well. About the "T" word? Enough has been spoken in the forums.

The bass of FX700 is indeed the one for bass heads. Good quantity, extension, rumble, punch with a decay that is not lightning quick to leave you dissatisfied - it has everything I like. It's one of the IEMs that converted me from someone who leaned towards bass light signature to appreciate bass. Enough about FX700, this is a freaking GR07 review. Let me get back to the point. GR07's bass does not seem inadequate by any means, but when it comes to genres like Trance, FX700 clearly has an edge.

While the mid range of GR07 appears to be forward when compared to a slightly distant sounding FX700, FX700 never misses a beat with the mids. It remains clear, detailed and transparent. But, in relation to GR07, FX700 has more warmth and carries more heartier note.  While, GR07 is not anywhere close to liquid or lush sounding, with vocals, GR07's presentation is at times better. Despite it's many great features the wow me, FX700 does not always cut ice with vocals for me and that's not on account of the slightly distant placement. It's not short on engagement, but there's a slight, teeny, weeny bit missing there.

Moving to treble, FX700's other half of the V, it's as good as the bottom end. The slightly aggressive top-end of FX700 has good details, crispness and plenty of sparkle. While people with extended hearing may or may not be able to appreciate this, it makes perfect sense at lower volumes.

Apart from the sound stage, FX700 also scores on speed, clarity and details.

My Preference: FX700

vs Audio Technica ATH-CK10

I am not sure if it's common for someone to count FX700, a musical, timbre-rich, V-shaped, fun IEM and CK10 among their favorites. If I have to describe FX700 as cheerful, colorful, a little pleasantly photo-shopped photograph that deserves a magazine cover, CK10 would be a black and white, accurate, detailed, but dry and not to everyone's taste photograph. But then I am weird and wear many hats that looks for different tastes.

The very thick cable of CK10 and it's shiny, diminutive housing are a great sight. Apart from GR07, this is one instance where the IEM practically disappears into my ears. Both are comfortable over longer periods, though I bet I'll sleep more peacefully with CK10 in my ear.

CK10, using the same driver as DBA-02, is far tuned to my liking. Unlike DBA-02, it adds a bit of bass body, extends better, but still is lean on the bass quantity. There's no question about the bass quality on CK10, but when you switch to GR07, the difference in quantity is very apparent.

With the mid range, CK10 is not as lean as DBA-02, which makes it much better. GR07 is slightly warmer and better textured, but placed a bit behind. Texture gives strings and vocals a bit of a heft. But, it's all relative - when moving from CK10 to GR07, GR07 sounds "thick", while the other way around, CK10 would seem to be missing the texture. Where does CK10 score and heavily at that? The detail retrieval goes a full step further. Many a time, I could pick up tiny nuances which I love to do, especially when listening to something like Opeth. To quote a famous head-fier, "every note sounds carefully crafted and special".

Treble is a problem area for many with CK10. Many would describe it as "shrill" and those with not as high a treble quantity threshold like I do would hate it. The peak occurs around 10Khz and is still a tad difficult to adjust when I am moving from a series of not so bright IEMs. But, it adds a greater amount of clarity without the leanness of DBA-02 while remaining crisp, fast and sparkling. GR07 does not sound fall far behind in presenting treble detail, but hardly can it match CK10's effortlessness.

With sibilant recordings, CK10 spits it out more transparently, but as with DBA-02, it does not linger on long enough. In comparison, GR07 would be a very tiny bit more smoother.  The very slight rawness of CK10 would be felt a bit more.

Coming to sound stage, CK10 is a bit open sounding with not much sight of a "wall", whereas GR07 does feel constrained. In addition, CK10 has far better separation and has an excellent back-to-front placement, something not many IEMs I've heard do. The thing that makes me use CK10 even for Trance, despite the not so stellar bass quantity is it's precise placement. The stage does not have much height, but the wider space never leaves you wanting. While I suck at writing shorter, catchy descriptions, let's try this - "CK10 is effortless, precise, fast, transparent and among the best analytical IEMs". Now, if you want a fatigue-free, but not as good in each area version, GR07 is a good choice.

My Preference: CK10

vs Earsonics SM3 v1

Another proof that I am weird comes from the fact that I bunch three unlikely IEMs - FX700, CK10 and SM3 among my favorites. SM3 is more polarizing than anything else in this review and it's not an understatement. Continuing the photograph analogy, if FX700 is a lively photograph, CK10 is a B & W version of it, SM3 would be a heavily photo-shopped version that does not resemble the original in many ways. If you "get" it, fine. If not, brain burn-in or sale - choose your way out of it.

To quote dfkt, "the SM3 look like something that fell out of a box of cornflakes" and I quite agree. The cheap construction of the v1 and all those weird edges make it a bit uncomfortable over longer hours of use. Of course, that braided cable is better than the one on GR07. Though I've gotten used to the "chin strangler" on SM3, it's certainly not as comfortable as GR07. 

Why is it such a polarizing IEM? Coming from other IEMs, the first expressions you typically use with SM3 are (in no particular order) "Why is this sound coming from behind me?", "Why is the vocalist standing over my head?", "WTF! It plays all genres the same way as if a replay gain is applied". Been there, done that! It's like SM3 uses a special sound dispenser that places the instruments the way it prefers. It's not such a bad thing once you find that - the vocalist always upfront and centered, the good separation it provides without any hint of congestion, the way the IEM renders almost any genre to be fit and good for listening and so on. In short, GR07 is designed to be a stage monitor, while SM3 is my version of a 'monitor' - totally non-fatiguing for all of my music library. Even though it does not sound 'natural' like FX700 or snappy like CK10, it is this very non-fatiguing quality that makes me prefer SM3 very slightly over them.

SM3, unlike most bass-light BAs and the odd MA covered here, has good bass quantity with extension. The mid-bass quantity of SM3 is better than GR07 and also carries a bit more punch and impact. SM3 gives a slight hint of the rumbling sensation and extends a tiny bit more than GR07 (25Hz tone can be heard/felt at listening volumes), but GR07 extends a bit more linearly towards the lowest registers.

SM3 has a very forward, warm, smooth and creamy thick mid range. In comparison, GR07 almost sounds recessed. The thicker note of SM3 does not allow it to present the micro details like CK10, but it's not such a bad thing in the overall context. The vocalist is always up front and center, which makes it easier to switch from Death metal to Jazz to anything in between and not find the vocals or the main instrument getting lost in the mix. GR07's textured mid range is not nearly as engaging even if it's a bit more 'normal' without over-emphasis on the lower mids like SM3.

The treble of SM3 is laid-back and slightly recessed. While many have characterized SM3 as "dark", I feel that once my brain adapts and balances out the lower mid range and the 'recessed' treble, I've never found them to be lacking in any aspect - be it details or sparkle. GR07's treble is more forward in comparison, better balanced with mids and bass and relatively speaking, leaner and slightly grainy next to SM3. But, after quite a bit of A/B-ing, I preferred SM3's treble, even if it's recessed. Someone who is not averse to CK10/DBA-02's treble preferring SM3's treble? What am I smoking, right? But, whatever it is, you should try it sometime.

With vocals, SM3's creamy thick presentation makes it a lot more engaging even if it does not bring out every tiniest nuance there is. It stays devoid of sibilance. While SM3's sound stage is not wide open and airy like FX700, the imaging is excellent. Separation is very good with clear demarcation between individual instruments, something that GR07 does, but not as well. GR07 is definitely more transparent, but got much less ear time during the comparison as I got seduced by SM3's invisible voodoo driver more often than not.

My Preference: SM3 v1

Summary of Comparisons
  • Build quality wise, GR07 is nothing exotic. It is not found wanting either. Because of the good design of the housing, it is one of the easiest to insert and secure a good fit. It remains comfortable for longer hours of use.
  • GR07 scores over bass-light IEMs due to it's even presence and quantity in the lower registers.
  • GR07's well rounded notes and texture makes it comfortably hold it's head above water for the most part.
  • GR07's treble, though well detailed and by no means lacking, loses out to IEMs that present sparkling treble. This is more to do with individual preference. If you find sparkling treble a bit difficult to handle, you will like the controlled sparkle and well detailed GR07 treble.
  • Coming to sibilance, GR07 shows through all the stuff there is in the recording. Many times, I've asked myself "But....this recording is not sibilant", only to check back the source and find out that it indeed comes from the recording. It accentuates sibilance a tiny bit, not anywhere close to alarming. The fact that it does not invite attention to any one part of it's presentation makes sibilance easily noticeable.
  • Sound stage of GR07 competes well against many IEMs, though it stands no chance against IEMs that have an open and airy presentation. The imaging and separation of GR07 while good are again dwarfed by a few IEMs. While GR07, when taken in isolation, does not lack in speed (for a dynamic), BAs (in general) and other top-tier IEMs would be better in this regard. It is not as clear as the Hifimans or most of the other IEMs used in this comparison.
  • During most of this comparison, GR07 was never found lacking or wanting, irrespective of the price range and sound signature of the compared IEM. Not as good? Yes! Not as fun? Definitely! Not as "XYZ"? Sure! But, GR07 like a good stage monitor it is, never made me say "This is an inferior sounding IEM". But, purely from a SQ stand-point and complete disregard to price, it certainly did not "punch above it's weight" and make me consider it a new benchmark.
  • To my ears, it betters RE-252, goes toe-to-toe against e-Q5, gives a very good fight against TF10, can easily co-exist with DBA-02, but not as good as FX700, CK10 or SM3 (though all are costlier than GR07).
  • It sure is not a signature that grabs you by the collar and makes you prefer it over other IEMs. It can however co-exist with most of the IEMs out there.

Value for Money

At the $155 mark, GR07 has competition from quite a few contenders viz., DBA-02 / Brainwavz B2, Hifiman RE-262, not to include IEMs like MTPG from the used market. Each of the others cater to a different sound signature preference. GR07 offers sort of a middle of the road choice in terms of sound signature. I find it to be worth of the $150, but taking my usual crazy valuation models, I'd value it around $130-140.

Ranking in my list

With DDM-1 no longer in my position, I am not certain how I'd have liked GR07 in a one on one comparison, but for now I am placing it at 8 of 51. Not a bad position to be in.

Who should buy it?

If your preferences include any of the following
  • I am a bass-head / I require good bass impact
  • Bright is right for me / I like sparkling, forward treble
  • I like lush, forward mid range / I prefer warm mid range
  • I want my IEM to sound "natural"
  • I love a limitless sound stage
  • I usually prefer a V-shaped signature
  • I love analytical IEMs / I like micro-details, the more the merrier
.... Looks like I ruled out most of the IEM seekers. But, anyways, GR07 is not your cup of tea.

Instead, if your preferences are.....
  • Something that can play any genre I throw at it.
  • I do not like earth shaking bass. But, I dislike bass-light IEMs too. Something with a good extension and bass quantity is necessary.
  • I do not like all these bright IEMs. Their treble smells trouble for me.
  • I am not after a liquid mid range, something neutral would do.
  • Some sound stage please! Not sure I like those narrow two bit sound stages. Had plenty of those before.
  • I like details, but not something overly analytical. Enough details, just how much is enough? I have no clue.
  • I have no clue about sibilance, never heard them 'sss' in my music...ever!
  • Is there anything comfortable for long listening sessions?
  • My budget is about $150. I looked at all those nice IEMs above $200, but cannot buy any of them now.
.... GR-07 is the IEM you seek


VSonic GR07 leaves little room to complain about, be it price point, build quality, accessories, comfort or the sound signature. Due to the very even presence across the spectrum, it remains genre-neutral. It's real strength is in doing nothing much wrong. There are IEMs which look better, are built better and sound better. But, overall, it's the combination of staying well above average in each of the qualities that makes GR07 a well rounded performer and one of the great choices to consider in it's price range.


micky said...

Very well said santhosh...
Its a very good write up...
Hope to hear more soon

GregL said...

Highly enjoyable write-up. How does it respond to EQing? It's nearly perfect for me except that I need quite a bit of treble.

Eswar Santhosh said...

GR07 does respond well to EQ. I did try it initially, but started using it without EQ after a while. I no longer have it as I am trimming down the rather large inventory.

There are many posts in clieOS review thread on head-fi and in that really long GR07 appreciation thread that talk about flattening the FR of GR07 and enhancing the treble.

GregL said...

Marvellous, thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Great review!!!

Any thoughts about how it compares to the sony mdr ex600?

Eswar Santhosh said...

No idea on how it compares to EX-600 as I only have the EX-1000 (and have sold the GR07). Going by what ljokerl mentions in his thread, both will be on par overall. I would say that choosing between the two would come down to individual preferences.