The recent surge in popularity of portable audio, especially in earphones, has provided us with a huge amount of great budget Chinese offerings. Always on the lookout for affordable products, I found a Massdrop deal for the MacaW GT100s, which features a full metal housing as well as changeable tuning filters so I decided to buy a pair to review which put me back around $500 HKD (65USD).
I’ve had good experiences with Chinese-made IEMs such as the Xiaomi Pistons 2 Xiaomi Hybrids, VSD3, and also the Havi B3 – all great sounding for 100-500HKD – so I was quite curious as to how the GT100s would do as it is around the same price range. Would its claim as being “the first inverted dynamic driver earphone” make its sound extra special, or would it turn out to be another marketing gimmick catchphrase?
Unboxing and accessories
I was surprised when i received the Massdrop package to find that the MacaW GT100s came in a surprisingly large and heavy box for a budget offering.
Opening the cardboard box revealed a clear acrylic packaging box with 3 supports holding up the 2 shiny metallic earphones and the mic with the MacaW logo in full view. The box was scratched and one side fell out of its holder, but I gave it a pass since it traveled from some factory in China to a shop in America, then had to get DHLed from there to Germany then back to Hong Kong, basically going around the world.
MacaW did try very hard to present its product in a nice packaging, but I think they would’ve been better off doing away with the low quality plastic molding and used a simple cardboard box instead. There was plastic wrapped around each cable which was a little hard to take off, but other than these issues, it was easy to open it up to reveal another hard plastic box which holds the earphones as well as all the accessories such as manual, a variety of different silicon as well as foam tips, 3 sets of changeable tuning filters with a threaded filter holder, and a soft leather carrying pouch.
The silicon tips come in small, medium, and large sizes. Instead of the typical soft black silicon, these are a translucent white. They feel slightly harder and less malleable than most tips, but they fit me quite comfortably. The foam tips were not spectacular, as they did not squish in like Complys do and so were quite cumbersome when pushing them into my ears. I also felt that they muffled the sound and volume too much for my liking, so I ended up choosing the white silicon tips.
The tuning filters are one of the main attractions of the GT100s. Changeable filters are not new in the world of IEMs, but along with the metal injection molded body, I feel that MacaW was probably emulating the RHA T10 and T20, which advertise the same features. The three filter types are silver for a neutral sound, golden for more brightness and treble emphasis, and black for bass emphasis.
- Model: Single dynamic driver
- Sensitivity: 100dB@1KHz
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Frequency Response: 5Hz-16 KHz
- Maximum Input Power: 10mw
- Cord Length: 135cm
Normally, I include the specifications in my reviews and basically gloss over them, just because there’s always someone out there who’s a technical lover who would be interested. However, for some odd reason this is the second pair of budget Chinese IEMs that has a low impedance (the effective resistance of a circuit to the current; hence the lower the number, the easier the product will be to power) but also a low sensitivity. This makes higher volumes harder to achieve.
When I use my ATH-IM50 with my OnePlus X, max volume is hearing damage levels; but with the MacaW GT100s, it is just about 80% of the volume when using the IM50. However, everyone’s listening habits are different – what may be too quiet for me may be just right for you, and I do tend to listen quite loudly.
Build and design
The first thing that stands out about the GT100s is its sleek metal housings and how heavy they are. The GT100s’ build is advertised to be made with a high quality stainless steel injection molded process, and it does indeed feel well made. The metal has a light brushed metal texture to them, and the complex forms of the housings are made very solidly and finely. There are visible seams where the two halves of the housing meet, but everything is pieced together without fault. All its edges and corners are rounded off slightly so that they do not cut into the user’s ears. The rounded glass pieces with the logo underneath on the housings are nicely flush to the surface and add to the premium quality.
The cables feel like a typical matte textured soft plastic you can find on most earphones but I have found that in my daily usage there were very low amounts of microphonics (audible noise created by physical vibrations against the cable; e.g. when the cable bumps against things while you move). The GT100s has a very short straight plug, and also comes with a handsfree mic (pictured above – the small cylindrical piece is actually a mic and button together). The button is made of glass and feels quite premium. Mic quality, according to the people I’ve talked to is also clear.
The changeable tuning filters are one of my favourite parts of this earphone – small metal cylinders with two rings made of ridges to ensure a firm grip when replacing them, finished off by a small rubber gasket ring to create a tight seal against the body of the earphone. Black, silver and gold colour-coded mesh covers the end of each one, allowing the user to easily differentiate them.
The Sound (with silver filters)
This sound review section was done with the silver filters in place, as it takes a middle ground tuning between the black and gold and is most representative of the sound signature of this earphone.
In contrast to the extremely intimate, warm and bassy sounding earphones such as the ATH-IM50 which I have been using for thousands of hours, the GT100s are vastly different in terms of sound signature. I have to admit that my reaction in the first few minutes of trying them was one of slight worry. Did I just waste my money on some unknown Chinese product? The bass felt weak next to the IM50 and the mids seemed too recessed for my liking.
Fortunately, as I gave them a second listen, I realized that its strengths lay elsewhere. The way the GT100s are tuned provides the sense of an immense soundstage and picks out details like no other budget dynamic driver design I have tried before. When listening to music with them, there is a great sense of airiness and separation between each instrument and frequency range that allows me to pay more attention to the details. At the same time, while it excels at focusing on bringing out small details and sense of separation between instruments, some may find the sound too laidback for their liking.
Unlike many other entry level earphones on the market, overwhelmingly warm bass is not the GT100s’ focus. It sounds slightly laidback yet is still present as its bass tones don’t emphasize the ‘thump’ as much as other earphones; instead, it chooses to reach lower into the deep sub-bass 20-100hz regions and hits with a more subtle rumbling impact from just outside the head. This well controlled sub-bass sound never bleeds over into other frequencies, playing slightly more of a background role so that the other sounds can shine as well, and creates a greater sense of separation between the frequency ranges.
The open and airy sounding signature of the GT100s is also very apparent in the presentation of the mid frequencies. Transition from the low end to mid range is laid back, creating more emphasis on the upper end of the midrange. Personally, I would have preferred a slightly more full sounding midrange, as the presentation of instruments like snare drums, guitars and vocals seems a little too bright and lacks some punch and fullness.
The GT100s’ highs are definitely one of its highlights (no pun intended). Contrasted against the deep resounding bass, the brilliant highs with an emphasis on the 10-14k hz range really brings out the details of the high freequencies. It even sounds somewhat like a balanced armature sound with its extreme emphasis on high end clarity. Hi-hats and cymbals shine with bright clarity and without sibilance, except on the rarest of occasions. However, with the 10-14k Hz peak, there seems to be a slight lack of crunch to the highs with a little too much splashiness, but for a $500 HKD single dynamic driver, there are going to be some flaws.
Black and Gold filters
The tuning filters do not provide drastic changes to the base sound signature of the GT100s. It’s definitely an audible change, but not one that changes the earphone to sound like something entirely new.
The golden filters bring slightly more clarity to high vocal range, with more emphasis on the already very clear highs. As a result, the bass is even lighter. Personally my least favorite filter; I feel the strength of this earphone lies in it having a solid sub-bass sound which fills out the background which gets contrasted by the clear highs coming out of the darkness.
The black filters provide audibly more warmth and oomph to the low end, and also adds warmth to transitional frequencies from bass to mids. This is my personal favourite, since I feel that there is a slight hollowness to the GT100s’ mids with the other filters, and the black filters do not compromise the beautiful clarity of the highs either.
Electronica listeners may be wondering whether this would be a suitable earphone since it has a relatively laidback bass. I was surprised to find out during my testing that this was paired very well with trance and house music. Since the main focus of electronic music is essentially warm rolling bass lines combined with hi-hats to create the main dance beat, the GT100s’ focus on the rumble rather than then the fullness and texture of a real kick drum combined with its extended highs provide extremely engaging reproduction of electronic music. Listening to Porter Robinson’s Spitfire felt like it could nearly have been a live recording, while listening to Eric Prydz’ live set really felt like I was in the midst of a huge festival. I would recommend the black bass filters for even more bass enjoyment.
For rock music, it is a little trickier and depends on the musical presentation of each band. I’ve found that for bands with more focus on clean guitar tones and snappy drumwork such as Chon, the GT100s is very suitable. Listening to heavier metal music like Opeth, with emphasis on chugging, distorted guitars and double kick drumming was not impactful enough for my liking. Depending on the style, either the silver or black filters will be suitable.
Comparison to other IEMs
RHA T10 and T20
Compared to the RHA T10 and T20 that the MacaW GT100s seems to take inspiration from, I have to say that I would place the GT100s over the much more expensive RHA models any time. To me, the RHAs sound very strange and artificial; with an emphasis on low-mids, it sounds a little muddy, and even has a bit of a “honking” sound to mids. Highs detail retrieval, bass impact and even naturalness of the GT100s is head and shoulders above the ~$1500HKD and ~$2000HKD RHAs. I actually prefer the RHA MA750, which actually has a similar sound to the GT100s with more warmth in the midrange, but at ~$750HKD, why not go for the MacaW?
Where the IM50 excels in powerful impactful bass with lush mids in an overall warm, intimate, and somewhat muddy sound, the GT100s is the opposite in that it’s all about creating a sense of air and openness to the sounds, separating the frequencies much more with less bleed over into each other.
The Havi B3 is a much warmer and fuller sounding IEM in comparison. The low end is more evenly spread out and flatter as opposed to the subbass emphasis of the GT100s, and the highs are also smoother and less brilliant. For someone looking for a more neutral sound I would recommend the Havi B3.
I still haven’t figured out what the heck an inverted dynamic driver is, but whatever MacaW is doing, they’re doing it right – the MacaW GT100s really took me by surprise. The controlled refinement of the bass, airy mids, and far reaching highs creating such an impressive sense of soundstage and space is a great bargain at this price point. There are some flaws for sure, but as an entry level earphone, I would easily place this in my top 10 of $500HKD budget earphone list. Anyone looking to get into this audiophile hobby without spending too much or is simply sick and tired of listening to PureSolidExtremeBassTM budget products will have a very enjoyable eye-opening (or ear-opening?) listening experience with these earphones.