The ratings are heavily referenced to the EQUIPMENT I USE, my PERSONAL taste, usage and Point of View. Should NOT be used as a Buying Recommendation because your usage and taste may DIFFER vastly from mine!
The scoring is determined by the significance of strengths vs weaknesses. Results and rating done are heavily influenced by the nature of the IEMs/Headphones used. A dongle will score high if they exhibit great technical ability while remaining smooth sounding at the same time – the most technically competent ones does not necessarily mean they will be superior in my POV. I will rate a dongle more points if they exhibit great flexibility with different type of IEMs/Headphones – meaning they are easier to establish synergy.
I believe that not every dongles are designed to sound the same, they are built to serve a diversified range of taste and we all know that one person’s preference may not be applicable to another’s. I factor all these into my assessment and look into the perspective of the intended presentation of the dongle in question. Some are apparently built to cater for those preferring warm and musical presentation, some outright technical. However the one that goes into 5 Stars are the ones that exhibit exemplary balance between the two, which makes them highly viable for any situation. What I have personally learned so far, that there are substantial number of great performers out there to choose from. Making it even more difficult for me to place them into the grading system as sometimes the variance between a 4 to 5 stars can literally mean just a step of improvements here and there. Critical listening with the assistance of ultra-resolving IEMs/Headphones does make the job less punishing.
My fist cycle of critical listening always start with the use of Etymotic ER2XR, TIN HiFi P1, VE Monk GO or HZSOUND Heart Mirror, earphones that I regard as very natural sounding that does not emphasize any specific frequencies. Then 2/3 through the session I will usually switch to my Planar Magnetic Monolith M565c, FOSTEX T40RP or Beyerdynamic DT990. With the first complete pass done, I will usually conduct a second pass after some break and run them through with my Shure KSE1500 and Etymotic ER4SR alternately and this will give me better perspective on the maximum capability of the dongle in question – KSE1500 and ER4SR being ultra resolving will reveal anything that can be revealed. At the later stages I have also include to use of HZSOUND Heart Mirror, Moondrop Aria and VE Monk GO to give me better perspectives especially on the subject of background noise or distortions/hisses due to high sensitivity (this was not tested extensively when I first kicked off my #donglemadness as my IEMs/HPs are practically high impedance type)
If the dongle impressed me enough I will do a third session where I will focus on A/B comparison with those that I have already rated – usually trying to compare between the ones that seems to share similar traits and I will try to discern what makes them different (this stage can be quite taxing and painful to do).
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Contenders will need to pass driving test of the notorious Tin HiFi P1 Magnetic Planar IEM (95db), FOSTEX T40RP (91db) and Monolith M565c (96db). Being able to deliver great fidelity will secure them 5 stars rating. In general the rest will also be measured on their capability to drive these three monsters.
And lastly, I actually use the dongles regularly and casually as much as possible, running shuffled songs and observe how they behave, sometimes these random sessions prompted me to revise my impressions and I will reflect it on what I have wrote earlier.
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