After its success with the original Oriolus, Mini Audio has come up with another hybrid offering, the Oriolus Forsteni. Named after the Grey-collared Oriole instead of the Golden Oriole, it’s half the price of the original with a slightly different driver configuration. They’ve managed to get a very pleasing sound out of it despite having 1 less balanced armature driver.
We would like to thank Jaben Hong Kong for letting us borrow this demo unit at no cost for the purposes of this honest review. We are not affiliated with them in any way.
Continuing with their taxonomic naming scheme of the different birds in the oriole family, the oriolus forsteni (not to be confused with a bunch of fish, snakes, and tortoise that are also named forsteni…) is another hybrid IEM from Mini Audio. With 1 dynamic driver and 2 balanced armatures instead of 3, the Forsteni is a surprisingly pleasing IEM that comes very close to recreating the sound of the original. But before we talk about the sound, let’s take a look at its…
Packaging, Accessories, Design
Just like its predecessor, the Forsteni doesn’t waste resources on packaging. A minimalistic foil stamped black cardboard box, a carrying case, a packet of silicon and foam tips inside a plastic ziplock, and warranty cards are all you get. It differs in that it comes with a hard leather case instead of an aluminium case. Undoubtedly a more portable choice, and they also deserve some props for going further with the bird theme. I was pretty amused when I first opened the packaging to see its egg shaped design. The accessory selection and quantity is generous as well – Large, Medium and Small size silicon tips, two pairs of black foam tips, a cleaning brush and also cable clip. I personally like the L size tips.
The Forsteni comes with a dark matte plastic coated replaceable 2-pin connector cable instead of the flashier braided copper cable of the original. It also has a small sized 3.5mm L-plug with an interesting faceted angular design. L-plugs are my favourite since they’re better for mobile device in-pocket use as straight plugs can stick out too far and are more prone to be bent which can potentially damage both the socket and the plug. Microphonics of the cable are minimal which is great. However, the sleeve material of the cable which is slightly stiff, combined with a weak over-ear memory wire makes for a floppy over ear cable experience. I would prefer it to be stiffer so that it could be molded to fit my ear properly.
The design of the driver housing is pretty similar to the original’s organic amorphous shape, and also in terms of width and length, but it’s actually a little thinner in terms of thickness, probably because there’s one less driver. The inner face also has that now-popular “universal-custom” form factor which helps it get a snug fit within the concha area of our ears instead of the round bulbous form of the original. The Forsteni also uses the same high quality glossy black plastic, but has a brushed silver coloured faceplate with “Oriolus” text in gold instead of black faceplate. The slightly smaller size is nice, but since the width and length are basically the same it may still not fit people with smaller conchas easily, although I haven’t had a chance to let other people try it.
Instead of three sound bores, the Forsteni only has two, probably as it’s a two-way configuration instead of three. Other than that there are only very minor differences to the original such as more rounded looking bores, and a slight curve to the faceplate surface and edges instead of the slightly flatter and sleeker forms of the Oriolus.
Actually I don’t have any specs. I think its a 2 way configuration with 1 DD and 2 BAs on each side and it runs easily out of smartphone. Does anyone really care as long as it sounds good? 😉
Finally, the sound!
I hate to be constantly comparing the Forsteni with the original Oriolus, but it’s hard not to since they’re so similar in design, and after trying the Forsteni over this week I’m actually quite surprised at close they managed to get it to sound. For the sake of readers who haven’t tried the original, I’ll try to do a sound impressions review without constantly comparing it to the original Oriolus till the end.
Despite what I said about the similarities in sound between the two, the first thing I noticed about the Forsteni was not bass rumble or forward vocal midrange, but actually its just north of neutral tuning with a boost to the high range and ever so slightly to the lows. In fact, after a week of listening and comparison I thought it was somewhat like a Westone 4R with its politeness shackles off. What I mean is that Westone’s offerings tend to have a very smooth tuning that never emphasizes one any frequency that much and keeps everything tight, while the Forsteni isn’t afraid to push a brighter sounding high end as well as the more “chaotic” sounding dynamic driver bass sound.
The second noticeable feature is the Forsteni’s highs. They’re very crisp, airy and deftly bring out many of the details in this frequency range, and leans towards bright rather than deciding to shimmer more subtly in the background. Highs are reproduced with a rather dry tone and plenty of bite to them. To me it sounds like there’s very short decay in this range, such that they don’t linger around in my head after the initial attack, especially noticeable in cymbals sounds.
Transitioning to the midrange and bass, I actually find it a rather neutral tuning with roll-off as it transitions down to the lower mids. Quite dry as well, it leaves a lot of space for airy high details and the very subtly tuned low bass frequencies. The mids in the vocal range focus also on a sense of “air” in singers voices, so people used to fuller sounding vocals may find it a bit lacking in the Forsteni, but for those who enjoy hearing every breath and a bit of higher vocal tuning, it’s an excellent choice. I listened to We Don’t Talk Anymore – Charlie Puth (Kina Grannis, KHS, Mario Jose Cover), and Mario Jose’s breathy tenor vocals in the opening were quite amazing with the Forsteni.
The Forsteni’s bass quality is actually very similar to the Oriolus’ mk2’s sound – very natural sounding dynamic driver sound with deep extension, a subtly audible rumble in the background and good mid bass impact which isn’t too tight as is typical of balanced armatures. I suspect they may even have used the same driver, and according to Derek from Jaben, they added some damping material on the inside to restrain the bass. However, the quantity is probably about 10-15% less, and in my experience there’s less rumble and tighter sounding mid bass, which in turn helps to emphasize the high mids and highs more.
The Forsteni’s restrained bass frequency region extending up to the mids which is also a somewhat flat, combined with the bright-leaning highs makes it a great choice for the listener looking for a more neutral sounding IEM with a focus on details rather than warm sounding bass and mids. I was very impressed with it despite finding the highs a tad bright for my liking and lacking some bass impact, but that’s why I went with the original Oriolus. All in all a highly capable product with good sound and build quality – I would just criticize its over ear cable design which is a little floppy and makes me want to constantly fix it.