Hi there folks and welcome to another review. Today on the test bench we have the HE 150Pro earbud from Hi-Fi End. There has been a real resurgence in popularity for earbuds lately and it looks like they’re here to stay.
When I first saw the box (more on this below) my expectations were not high but in fact, I was astonished by what these have to offer. In a very short time, this little earbud had won me over. So let’s dive in and I’ll tell you how it happened.
The HE 150Pro earbud is currently listed at $29.90 and you can get it at Penon Audio.
This product was provided for the purpose of an honest review. I’m not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions here are my own.
- Build quality
- Great cable
- Balanced sound
- Treble may be lacking energy for some
- Sensitivity: 103dB / mW
- Driver: Dynamic driver
- Impedance: 150Ω
- Frequency response range: 20-20000Hz
- Plug: 3.5mm straight
- Cable length: 1.2m
Package & accessories
It all starts with a little, brown, cardboard box and that’s almost where it ends. But when you open up the box, inside you’ll find a nice little circular clamshell case. What I like about this case is that it’s a bit larger in diameter and a bit more sturdy than the usual type that we see so often. So while it’s still the perfect size for a pocket, it’s also got that bit of extra room that makes it easier to stash your earbuds away inside.
Inside the zip case is the HE 150Pro earbuds and 4 pairs of foam covers. And that’s all there is to it but they’re earbuds so you don’t really need anything else.
For the princely sum of $29.90 you might expect the usual plastic shells but right away you’ll notice the HE 150Pro earbud is crafted from a smooth metal with a matte black finish. On the front end is a silver-coloured metal grill typical of many earbuds on the market and this is held in place by a plastic bumper.
The shells taper down towards the back end, which also has an open, silver-coloured metal grill. The outer side of each shell is adorned with the HE logo in white print.
Next are the cylindrical stems that hang down where the cable attaches. The stems are also metal and are decorated with a couple of silver rings.
Moving on to the cable, it’s a black, twisted, plastic-sheathed affair and it’s actually really nice. In fact, it’s not too different from the type commonly supplied with custom in-ear monitors, though obviously, it is not detachable. It has the same type of rubberized Y-split which is unobtrusive and I’ve found to be very effective from past experience. The cable is neither too stiff or flimsy and finds a nice balance between the two so it sits and winds up nicely. It doesn’t have kinks and it’s not one of those annoying “bouncy” types that never sit right. Also of note is that there is no microphonics at all. The cable terminates in an L-shaped plug that has a very good strain relief.
Comfort & isolation
In terms of comfort – well, it’s an earbud so if you’ve used one in the past you will know what to expect. Personally, I like the size and shape of these and with the black foams attached, I get a nice, secure fit. However, after an hour or so I tend to start getting uncomfortable hot spots with earbuds and that is one reason why I still prefer in-ear type earphones. If you’re a seasoned earbud user though these are likely to be just as comfortable as any other one.
For noise isolation, well, nope. Just nope! As with just about every earbud noise isolation is practically non-existent but hey, that’s why you have big-ass dynamic driver strapped to your ears: so you can still hear the music. While IEMs that isolate really well tend to draw you into the music, I find that earbuds draw the music into your environment. And that can be great, making them sound more akin to the experience you get from speakers.
Gear used for testing
Despite its 150 ohm impedance, the HE 150Pro earbud doesn’t require extra amplification. My Galaxy Note smartphone can power it sufficiently at less than full volume. Of course, as always you are likely to get a better result when using a quality DAC or amplifier.
The HE 150Pro is a feisty little bugger. It has a slightly V-shaped signature but is still nicely balanced with just a slightly recessed midrange. It has a warm tonality which can be attenuated by going naked (without foams) if you prefer a leaner presentation.
This earbud’s bass still surprises me, even after a couple weeks of testing. It has all the things I like to hear in the lower frequencies: punch, impact, rumble and texture. Yes, it really does have all those things. A lot of budget earbuds that go for a full-bodied bass end up smearing and colouring the midrange but the HE 150Pro does admirably. There is some body from the bass that carries over into the midrange but it doesn’t’ blow things out of proportion.
Across all genres, the bass on these hits the sweet spot. Albums like Seamoon’s Expression of the Moment sound fantastic with the HE 150Pro. When your music calls for some sub-bass goodness, again this earbud delivers. Tracks like “Untouchable” by Scarface sound fantastic with a solid midbass thump and a solid but controlled deep rumble.
The midrange is mildly recessed but by no means does it sound thin. Male vocals carry weight and authority and female voices are smooth and emotive. Julia Michael’s voice comes through silky yet defined in the song “Heaven”. There’s a surprising amount of detail to be found and even busy segments are handled well. Instrument separation is above average for any type of transducer in this price range.
As we move up the scale and into the treble there’s a relaxed but airy presentation. It’s not the most energetic or pronounced, but that also means it’s not harsh or fatiguing. The extension is quite good, although cymbal sheen rolls off a little early in some cases. There’s no hint of sibilance or brain piercing shards of icy terror but rather just a nice amount to liven up whatever you’re listening to.
Being an earbud the HE 150Pro naturally has a pretty wide soundstage. Sounds can easily reach outside of the headspace and due to the earbud’s open nature, you might sometimes find yourself looking over your shoulder and trying to determine where that sound just came from.
Vocals are front and centre but quite intimate, although there is sufficient depth in the space to keep you from feeling too close to the action. Positioning and imaging are not the strongest points of this earbud. Still, while listening to the Emerson String Quartet performing Beethoven, the location of different sections is easily distinguishable.
Penon BS1 Experience Version ($39 USD)
The Bs1 Experience Version has a more mid-focused sound with forward vocals. The midrange sounds a little muddy in direct comparison to the HE 150Pro. Treble is crisper on the BS1 but is pushed back more behind the midrange while the HE earbud has a cleaner and more balanced overall signature.
Bass on the BS1 doesn’t have the same impact as the HE’s but is still fairly punchy. These are both good earbuds but IMO the HE 150Pro costs around $10 less which makes it a great alternative.
Venture Electronics VE Monk (discontinued)
The Monk brings vocals and the midrange a little more forward. Bass doesn’t dig as deep as it does on the HE 150Pro but has a similar quality. The Monk has a livelier treble and similar level of extension. These two are really similar in some ways. The main differences are in the midrange forwardness of the Monk and of course, in build quality. The cable on the HE 150Pro is clearly superior and while the Monk’s shells are plastic they’re very durable and have held up extremely well. This comparison really just reminded me what staggeringly good value the original Monk earbud was, even next to the HE which I would also label as great value for money.
So am I throwing all my IEMs away? No, of course not but I feel more enamoured towards this earbud than any I’ve heard since the stupendously good VE Monk. There’s something about the HE 150Pro’s clean and balanced sound that makes it really pleasurable to listen to.
The all-metal build, fantastic cable and budget-friendly price make this a product I can easily recommend. If you’re a fan of budget earbuds you owe it to yourself to get some of these.
You can buy the HE 150Pro from Penon Audio HERE.