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Old 01-23-2011, 12:33 PM
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Default A Comparison of Basshead IEMs: Denon AH-C551/ Hippo VB/ Klipsch S4

Ever since realising that the stock Apple earbuds and later, Skullcandy, are absolutely rubbish (hey, don't judge too harshly ), I've been on the lookout for portable 'phones that are affordable and actually sound good while on the go; whether they be over-the-head portables or IEMs. I am a basshead and like to have a thumping bass-line pervading my music and so, I got 3 of the better thought of 'bass heavy' IEMs: Denon AH-C551, Klipsch S4 and Hippo VBs (all within more or less $80, so fairly affordable) to satisfy my bass fuelled musical needs. The following thoughts are IMO, so you have fairly good disclaimer right there :

Specs (courtesy of official websites and headphone.com):
Dynamic Driver: 11mm (Denon AH- C551), 10mm (Hippo VB), 8.5mm (Klipsch S4)
Impedance: 16 Ohms (C-551), 32 Ohms (VB, although this seems incorrect), 18 Ohms (S4)
Sensitivity: 110db (C551), 105db (VB), 110db (S4)
Frequency Response: 20- 21000hz (C551), 18- 22000hz (VB), 10-19000hz (S4)
Cable: split cable 51cm + 95cm (C551), 140cm (VB), 125cm (S4) Y-style, angled 3.5 mm gold-plated plug
Accessories: Semi-Hard Case (C551, VB), Steel Case (S4), 3 sets of single flanged silicon tips (C551, VB, S4), 1 set of double flanged tips (S4), shirt clips (All 3), 6.3mm adapter (C551), Earwax cleaning tool (S4)

PHOTOS
Sorry for not taking photos personally, my camera's FUBAR:




ACCESSORIES
All the phones come with a case, all of very good quality, which can accommodate the earphone and as a bonus, my Clip+ too. The most practical case, for my purposes is the Hippo VB case as it is pretty flat, zippered and doesn't bulge out while in the pocket. The C551 case, while somewhat smaller, is a bit chubbier than the VB case. The S4 metal case, though providing better safety, is kind of wobbly and opens easily.

Although not in the above pics, all 3 come with shirt clips and the regular assortment of small, medium and large silicon single flanged tips and the S4 includes an additional double flanged set, which is on the small side, so it might not useful to users with large ears.

A nice touch from the S4 is the earwax cleaning tool, which is useful. The C551 come with a 6.3mm adapter which is useful for home listening.

DESIGN, BUILD, COMFORT
The design of the C551 and Hippos is simple and minimal; the housings are matte black anodized aluminium with laser engraved fonts and look nice. The S4 on the other hand looks very flamboyant and the housings, although entirely made of plastic, don't feel cheap or nasty. All the 'phones have good stress relief.

Buildwise, the C551 easily dominates over the VBs and the S4s. They are built like tanks! I've used them for almost a year now, in varyingly worrying conditions (home, burning desert, very wet monsoons) and they have still pulled through without any disturbing physical damage. The only complaint against the build is the split cable. It feels far too long for an IEM and gets tangled very easily; the slider at the Y-split reduces this to some extent, however.

The Hippo VBs have decent cable quality and the 3 exchangeable bass ports at the back of the earbuds, to control the bass, are screwed on pretty tightly and have a nice, safe fit.

The S4 build quality is probably the most rubbish out of these 3. The cable feels far too thin and again, gets tangled too easily.

Isolation on the C551 from outside noise is average with the provided silicon tips, below average on the Hippos and quite good on the S4. The tips are all a bit thin, but the IEMs can be used with other tips such as Comply's and Sony Hybrids. In fact, I use the C551s with the Hybrids, which improve isolation.

Microphonics are really bad, with all the phones exhibiting annoying cable noise. The C551 and VBs can be worn over the ears, which reduces cable noise significantly. However, the S4 cannot be worn this way and that's where the included shirt clip comes in handy.

Comfortwise, the C551s can be slightly uncomfortable- if using the stock tips after about an hour's worth of listening; however for me, this was corrected by using the Hybrids. If the Hybrids are not for you, the C551 can be used with Comply's too, but they are just too expensive and in my opinion a complete ripoff, YMMV. Hippo VBs are very comfortable right out of the box (although I've heard and read about complaints from other users, but for me they are pretty good straight away) and even the S4s with the round oval tips feel very comfortable.

SOUND
As I mentioned earlier, I am a basshead and bass was the yardstick while measuring these IEMs against each other. However, it wasn't just muddy, uncontrolled bass I was after, otherwise I would have gone with Skullcandy and you wouldn't be here reading this. I wanted there to be a level of clarity too and the bass to be there as an undercurrent and not separate sounding, kinda like a really good quote in a paragraph with a really thick underline to make it stand out. Lame analogy, I know, but the best I could think of right now. Anyhoo..

Denon AH-C551
These are very capable with regards to bass. Very, very capable. And it matches what I've said above. The bass is not a separate entity, its part of the whole song. What I mean to say is that these are warm with very smooth mids and upper mids. However, the highs leave a lot to be desired; for example, cymbals and some background vocals just blend together. Its not very distracting while on the move however, and if you're not very picky with regards to this, then these are very good sounding earphones for the price. Although I dont really believe in burn-in, the C551s have changed their sound signature over time and I have required to EQ them in recent months to get the best out of them. All Hail Rockbox!!

Hippo VB
The main feature of the VBs that attracted my attention is the exchangeable bass-ports (Variable Bass). These little plates let you adjust the amount of bass and come in three flavours- no dot, 2 dots and 3 dots. The no dot plate is pretty crappy IMO and makes the VBs sound harsh and sibilant while the 3 dots plate, although big on bass, makes the VBs sound a bit muddy. The 2 dots plate is where the sweet spot is, with the right amount of bass while maintaining a decent amount of clarity throughout. Mids are good and the highs are better than the C551, although there can be slight traces of sibilance. Again, as with the C551, these have changed their sound signature since I got them a few days back. I've used them for about 24 hours now, and their bass seems to have settled down, but mids and highs are more or less the same. Along with the decent build quality and excellent SQ, these are IMO the best value for money IEMs you can get for $80.

Klipsch S4
This is all I can say about the S4:
Bass: VB>C551>S4 (more than the C551 actually, but not as controlled)
Mids: VB>C551>S4
Highs: VB>C551>S4 (dear God, the sibilance!! although this wasn't apparent when I first got them)
Build Quality: C551>VB>S4
Don't get me wrong, there's not much amiss with the S4 (apart from the sibilance and the build quality) and given as an only choice is a very good IEM for the price. However when stacked up against the other two, there's very little reason to pick the S4 over a VB or the C551 as it offers very little value for money against either of them.

CONCLUSION
Phew, long read eh ? I was basically trying to imitate dfkt from here and hence the similar pattern.

So finally, what do I want to say: Which is the best basshead IEM from the above choices? Personally, the Hippo VB, hands down. Jaben has done a freakin sweet job with these and the plenty of happy customers, here on Abi, Jaben's own forums and Head-Fi will attest to the really good SQ and overall value for money of these IEMs.
I really like the Denons as well and if not for the distorted and weak highs would have tied or even surpassed the VBs due to their better build quality.
The S4s were a serious disappointment as I had heard so many positive reviews of them that my expectations were probably higher than usual. The only good thing that came of buying these was that my GF had broken her Senn CX500s and wanted replacements. Somehow she loves the S4, doesn't think them sibilant and accuses me of being too picky . Which leads me to saying what I've said earlier: this is IMHO, YMMV.

Thanks for reading (if you actually have)
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IEMs: Hippo VB|Denon AH-C551|Klipsch S4

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  #2  
Old 01-23-2011, 12:41 PM
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Excellent shootout, Illusion - a great read. I really appreciate your attention to detail. Personally I haven't heard the Denon or Klipsch, but I guess now I don't really need to.
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Old 01-23-2011, 12:44 PM
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thanks bro ..that means a lot coming from you
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Cans: Denon D1100|AKG K518LE|Senn HD201,PX100ii
IEMs: Hippo VB|Denon AH-C551|Klipsch S4

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
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Old 01-23-2011, 01:08 PM
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Just love to read a good writeup and concluding that I'm already where I want to be

Thanks for the comparison, especially about the Klipsch that get a lot of discussion.
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Old 01-23-2011, 03:03 PM
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Great comparative review, in fact easily one of the best I've read in some time. You were thorough and having owned 2 of the 3 your accuracy is on spot.

Oh to make your Klipsch tin better, bend the lid inward 1mm or so where the bump that is supposed to keep it closed is. It will allow for more clamping force and it will never open randomly again.
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Old 01-23-2011, 03:11 PM
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+4 Illusion. Excellent job indeed! I have heard the VB and S4 and agree with your assessments. The Denon stuff always look great and for a while I was eye-ing the DCH-751 that I believe Musichound has.

Site suggestion: dfkt, team, perhaps this is also article worthy of a mention on the main ABi site somehow? Interested bassheads would be well served.
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Old 01-23-2011, 03:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lestatar View Post
Site suggestion: dfkt, team, perhaps this is also article worthy of a mention on the main ABi site somehow? Interested bassheads would be well served.
Don't jinx me! I'm currently typing it up in Wordpress. In other words, good call.
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Old 01-23-2011, 03:52 PM
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Posted: http://anythingbutipod.com/2011/01/b...vs-klipsch-s4/

Thanks, Illusion... and I definitely see some JVC FX700 in your future.
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Old 01-23-2011, 04:40 PM
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I feel honoured to have my pic of the VB in your review
I agree on the verdict as well.
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Old 01-23-2011, 04:44 PM
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You mean the image in Illusion's review, or on the front page? (To be honest, I just pilfered the first Hippo VB pic I found, I didn't clear any rights. The other two are stock images.)
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Old 01-23-2011, 04:54 PM
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The pic on the frontpage is from Jaben's webshop, or it looks ridiculously similar.

I laughed about the 5.1 setup btw

Oh and a bit more on topic: illusion, do you keep the VBs and the Clip+ in the case together? Because I tried it once but was scared to zip it up and have the Clip+ damage the cables.. I thought it was a bit too small.
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Last edited by Brett_val; 01-23-2011 at 05:16 PM.
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Old 01-23-2011, 04:58 PM
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Ah cool, indeed it is - then it's a stock image too. Phew.
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Old 01-23-2011, 05:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dfkt View Post
You mean the image in Illusion's review, or on the front page? (To be honest, I just pilfered the first Hippo VB pic I found, I didn't clear any rights. The other two are stock images.)

Don't need any rights for it, nice to see it's getting used. Oh, and I got a mention on the front page too
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Old 01-23-2011, 08:23 PM
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I was looking at the Denon and the klipsch coincidentally and I was going to go for the klipsch but then I saw this review. (Very informative BTW)

However
I have found the Klipsch selling for $65 and the Denons for about $85
Would the $20 gap make up for the sound?

And also, I plan to use this earphone for running so how would that affect how much better one is over the other?

Thanks
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Old 01-23-2011, 09:20 PM
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I looked to my S4's now and started to cry. Hahahahahaha

Thanks for the great review!
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Old 01-23-2011, 10:00 PM
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Nice review, i guess the hippos are my next IEMs
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Old 01-23-2011, 11:43 PM
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@everyone: thanks for the kind words and glad i could be of help
@dfkt: thanks for the FP and funny you should mention the JVCs, I've had my eye on them for quite a while, but wallet says no-no ..
@adub: doh :facepalm:..why didnt I think of it before? shoulda been fairly obvious :P.. thanks for the tip..worked like a charm
@brett_val: i do keep the clip+ and the VBs together and used to do the same with the Denons..the Denon case is a bit narrower then the VB case, but slightly more thick (about 3-4mm and I haven't noticed any physical damage to either of the 'phones..
@Finlandia: thanks for the pic
@Franchan: I wouldn't use either for running (I use my old EP-630 for that purpose)..S4 coz of the thin cables and questionable durability and the c551 coz the stock cable is a split one & simply too long.. the c551s are also a bit large to comfortably stay in your ears while running..go for something like these if you only wanna use them for running.. overall though, I'd get the denons; they are definitely the better choice between the two and the build quality alone would be worth the extra $20, no to mention the better SQ
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Last edited by illusion; 01-23-2011 at 11:50 PM.
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Old 01-24-2011, 01:41 AM
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Nice review. I've never heard the Hippo VBs, but I own both the Denon 551's and The Klipsch Image S4s. Your review is pretty spot-on, however I find the Image s4s better suit my listening preferences. Nice and bright with a decent amount of quality bass. The Denons have very good mids but the highs seem slightly veiled to me, which I don't really like. The s4s can be a bit sibilant, I don't really find them that bad though. The Klipsch 'phones provide better imaging. I will say that i find the Klipsch much easier to wear (using stock eartips between the two) but the Denons are built to last...I used to use them as my "daily drivers" (no pun intended) and have used and abused the crap out of them. The housings are scraped, the denon logo and L/R markers are almost gone, and they're still kicking.


As far as pricing goes, it's weird how much the price has gone up on those Denons. I got them from Amazon two years ago for $50. I only paid about $40 for the Image S4s.
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Old 01-24-2011, 02:49 AM
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Hey, nice job illusion!
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Old 01-24-2011, 10:47 AM
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How long are the cords of these IEMs?
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