IEMs with hybrid configurations (ones that combine both dynamic drivers and balanced armatures) are getting more and more popular these days, and our first review of a hybrid is none other than the Oriolus mk2, which is already highly acclaimed in the audiophile community.
I first came across the Oriolus over a year ago when it was still in its first iteration – Oliver had told me about this new hybrid thing that people in Hong Kong had started going crazy over, with comments like “strange chaotic soundstage”. The first version was an inconspicuous deep blue blob without any sign of branding on it. I remember being intrigued by it, as it was not one of the big brands, had an interesting background of being some sort of joint effort between Chinese and Japanese companies, and also had the (then) somewhat rarer hybrid dynamic driver and balanced armature configuration. Over a year later, after having tried IEMs of all different prices and designs to see if I could find the same quality of the Oriolus and failing to find anything better, here I am with this review.
Unboxing, Accessories & Specs
As I am based in Hong Kong, the version I obtained was the Chinese version of the product. The sleeve for the packaging box is a little kitschy, what with the Chinese calligraphy and birds illustration, but removing it will reveal the understated but elegant black and gold signature look of the Oriolus on the box. The cylindrical earphone case is made out of black aluminium and while it’ll serve great as a sturdy and protective container at home, it’s heavy weight and the screw on lid doesn’t make it very convenient for on the go usage.
|Driver Configuration (per side)||1 x 10mm Dynamic Driver
3 x Balanced Armature Drivers
|Cable||1.2m braided copper cable|
|Accessories||Aluminium earphone case
1 x Foam tips (M size)
4 x Silicon tips (XS, S, M, L)
The package also comes with an eartip cleaner, a cable clip, and a set of tips with a range of sizes. I thought it was funny that they provided a tiny eartip – it just barely covers the nozzle. The white foam tips feel a little stiffer than the Complys that I’m used to, and as usual, muddy up the sound a little. I settled for the L size tips for a comfortable fit with a good seal.
I haven’t really been convinced that different cables make an audible or significant difference (if they did, testing would reveal difference in peaks or dips if cables could change the frequency response or THD, etc.). Nonetheless, I’m perfectly fine with commenting on the durability, aesthetics, and ergonomics of cables. The Oriolus comes with a braided copper cable with a slightly showy looking golden 2-pin connector which are labeled L and R. Being triple-braided and sleeved in clear plastic, it’s slightly on the thick side from the bulky metal L-shaped 3.5mm plug all the way to where the cable splits in two, where at this point it transitions to become a thinner and more flexible single braided cable to the earphones. It also has thin metal wires at the 2-pin connector end which serve as adjustable memory wire and help to secure the earphones around your ears. It’s thicker than your average earphone cable so while it’s a little on the stiff side, it’s not difficult to work with and also doesn’t tangle much, which is helpful. Microphonics with this stock cable is great – I typically don’t hear much microphonics, and I walk around and commute with them all the time.
Build, Design & Isolation
The Oriolus is large. People with small ears, I’m sorry to say you probably won’t be able to use this fantastic IEM. I’m very fortunate to have it fit just right for my ears – it’s a really snug fit for me. What can you do – they had to fit a big 10mm dynamic driver and 3 balanced armatures into one tiny enclosure. Its amorphous blob shape is comfortable to wear despite it’s size. Once you get it in though, it sits securely and doesn’t feel like it will fall out. At the narrow tip of the outer facing side is a bass port which helps with bass response as pressure can be released outwards, allowing the dynamic driver to flex with more ease. At the same time, this will cause the noise isolation to suffer and while it’s not horrible, the Oriolus isn’t really the best at isolation due to its hybrid design.
In terms of build quality and design, it’s flashy without being too much so. The golden accents of the “Oriolus” text stands out from the deep glossy black acrylic body, but not excessively so that it’s gaudy. It’s a classy looking package that doesn’t scream for attention. The glossy black acrylic which is supposed to have been upgraded to a German source in the mk2 feels very solid, so you won’t have to worry about it breaking apart or cracking from the slightest pressure.
The Oriolus’ sound signature is currently my favourite and has secured its place in my top 10 IEMs for sure. With its hybrid configuration, it has an effortlessly natural presentation of music as far as IEMs go (which are physically limited by the the fact that they go straight into our ears). The Oriolus presents a wide soundstage, with a little more width than height, and overall has a warm sound signature to it with a slightly relaxed bass response but energetic mids and highs.
Despite having tried shedloads of different earphones, the thing that always stood out and brought me back to the Oriolus was its sublime combination of natural, warm sounding bass combined with amazing detail retrieval up high. The 10mm dynamic driver takes care of all the bass frequencies with a laidback yet controlled attitude in a way that it can pound out plenty of low reaching sub-bass when it needs to. Trance and dubstep lovers will no doubt be satisfied with the quality of the bass here – I tested it with Porter Robinson’s Spitfire and it definitely goes deep. However, it is most definitely not at the level of a full on bass cannon style of tuning, where bass is turned up to 11 and overwhelms everything else for bass impact. In general, Oriolus’ bass sounds like it hits from outside of the ears – oftentimes sounding like its coming from behind my head. There’s plenty of sub-bass rumble coming from afar and a slightly more forward mid-bass impact. Listening to The Helix Nebula’s Convalescence showcases the Oriolus’s excellent separation as bass tones still sound succinctly textured and have a slight bite to them even in the most robust passages of their progressive metal soundscape, revealing details that full on basshead earphones will obscure with their more brash reproduction of the low frequencies. After seeing this teardown photo from Musica Acoustics’ Instagram, I’m wondering if the large physical size of the Oriolus with the dynamic driver positioned way at the back has helped to create this sense of depth in the bass frequencies.
The Oriolus continues to present a rather warm and full sound as it extends up towards the mids, and although I enjoy this tuning which really helps give a sense of weight and body to things like guitars as they chug along in rock tunes, some may find it a little veiled and muddy. I actually reconsidered getting the Oriolus when I demoed it right after using the Westone 4R, which has the typical clean, smooth and controlled Westone house sound. In the end, I picked the Oriolus as it was a little more warm and chaotic in a way that was especially pleasant to listen to in live tracks and was overall more to my liking.
Where the Oriolus really sings is its mid-high region. I don’t have any measurement data to back me up on this, but to me it sounds like there’s at least a slight peak somewhere around the 2-4k Hz frequency range. Whatever it is, the Oriolus has an amazing clarity and more forward presence in the upper range of vocals, guitar solos are rendered loud and clear, and snare drum impact is impeccably snappy and well textured. Combined with the deft rendition of the other frequencies, it reproduces complex passages with clarity and really shows the Oriolus’ prowess at great instrumental separation. The mid-highs are very clear and energetic thanks to the strength of balanced armature drivers in this frequency range. Vocal volume is heightened so that singers really take a centre stage in the head and have a bit of an edge to them that’s never unpleasant, but really lets the listener acutely admire every breath and enunciation. Despite the exceptional separation of this region, I sometimes find myself yearning for a tad more low end fullness to vocals, but I think that the Oriolus has found a good middle ground between a full bodied and sparkly sound. This goes for the top end as well, which has great extension but leans towards a smoother rather than harsh and bright presentation.
The Oriolus and 846 not only share similar prices, but also have a somewhat similar sound tuning. Both have a strong bass presence and lush mids, but in the 846’s case the bass impact is a little tighter and has more slam while the Oriolus has a more natural dynamic driver sound with more decay. The Shure also has more low-mid presence while having less sparkly highs and also a narrower soundstage than the Oriolus.
Campfire Audio Andromeda
Two very different beasts – the Andromeda presents everything with a focus on clarity and control and has incredible high frequency extension, while the Oriolus is more lively and has more focus on the low end. Andromeda’s bass is lean, clean, and very tight, while the Oriolus is a little more loose and has a bigger and warmer presence.
I personally can’t find much fault with this IEM apart from maybe wanting a slightly tighter bass sometimes and fuller vocals. If pressed for an answer, I’ll comment that maybe it’s a little more sensitive than your average earphone – it’ll occasionally pick up weird noises from my OnePlus X, and is a little sensitive in that mid-high region, making it sound a little harsh depending on the music. However, I can get a cleaner signal out of the FiiO E07K when I’m not on the move so that’s not really the Oriolus’ fault. Going for 800USD (I got it for cheaper), it’s not chump change either, but in the current state of the market it’s in my humble opinion the best bang for your buck at this price point for the quality you get, and I would highly recommend this earphone to anyone with ears big enough.