In 2019 a brand that was relatively unknown in the western market blasted onto the scene with a little earphone called the BL-03. Since then, BLON has practically become a household name in the budget enthusiast segment. In this review, I’m checking out the BLON B20 planar magnetic headphone. Will it be a runaway success like the BL-03? Let’s find out.
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
BLON B20 Review
- Excellent build quality
- Earpads are lush and comfortable
- Detachable cable
- Engaging bass performance
- Recessed midrange
- Modest micro-detail retrieval
Package and Accessories
The B20 headphones come in a large, low-profile box that is black on the top and bottom but light brown on the sides with some BLON branding. On the top is a small transparent window that offers a glimpse of the earcups inside.
As you’d expect, the headphones inside are seated in a foam insert. Apart from the B20, the only other thing in the box is the cable. So things are pretty sparse in terms of accessories but the headphones are ready to go out of the box and that’s all that really matters right?
Build Quality and Design
I don’t know if the saying “Built like a brick shithouse” is popular outside of Australia but that’s what comes to mind when I think of the B20’s build quality. For those who don’t know, it’s a more colourful way of saying “Built like a tank” but you probably figured that out on your own.
These headphones feel solid in the hand, due in part, no doubt, by their hefty 460g weight. The frame is made up of a couple of spring steel bands with a self-adjusting suspension headband beneath.
Both the frame and the headband connect to metal brackets which in turn attach to the metal yokes. At this point, I should mention that the body of the B20 is constructed entirely of metal and wood which is why they feel so robust (and heavy).
Speaking of wood, the earcups are each carved out of a single piece of it. They not only look good but they feel good too. The earcups swivel a full 90 degrees in both directions which is freaking awesome and should be a feature on more headphones IMO. There’s a nice amount of resistance too, making the action feel smooth but it also keeps them firmly in the position you set them to.
BLON has equipped the B20 with some gorgeous, thick hybrid earpads. The pads are perforated protein leather on the sides and a very soft sort of microfibre on the front. On the outside of the open-backed earcups is a black metal mesh surrounded by a ring of metal that matches the yokes.
Overall, the build of these headphones is really outstanding. I treat my gear pretty roughly and these still look brand new after over a month of rugged use.
Comfort and Isolation
Despite being a heavy headphone, the BLON B20 is very comfortable. Although the clamping force is a bit aggressive, the softness of the thick earpads spreads the pressure evenly over a large area. In addition, the headband is generously padded so it doesn’t give you any hotspots on the top of your head either.
Noise isolation is…Well, these are an open-back headphone so there’s hardly any noise isolation at all. Ideally, you should use these in a quiet environment unless you don’t mind hearing ambient noise.
Noise leak is not too bad actually: much less than the Thieaudio Phantom. Still, you might need to consider the people around you if you like your music loud, they’re going to hear it!
The included cable has a braided cloth cover and is extremely supple. It handles superbly and has no noticeable microphonics (cable noise). It’s 2 metres in length which I find perfect for desktop use.
The plugs and Y-split are lightweight aluminium and strain relief is excellent from top to bottom. There are clear L and R marking denoting Left and Right respectively on the connectors and the cable terminates in a straight 3.5mm plug.
I really like this cable and the best part about it is that it is detachable so you can easily swap it out for something more premium or balanced if desired.
Sources used for testing include the Yulong Canary II, Singxer SDA-2 and various DAPs in conjunction with the amazing Phatlab Chimera. Music files were the usual lossless FLAC tracks as well as some Tidal and Spotify streaming.
B20’s sound signature is V-shaped, with an emphasis on the bass as well as the upper midrange and the treble. Clarity levels are good, as are macro details but some micro-details often get lost, which I find rather puzzling, taking the brighter presentation (not to mention the price) into account.
Bass extension is excellent and 20Hz tones are clearly audible (and physically felt). The quantity of bass is above neutral but not in any way excessive and nowhere near basshead levels. Like most planar bass it’s very tight and well-controlled without any noticeable bleeding into the midrange.
The bass has great attack and decay speed, making bass notes sound natural and tidy but with enough weight to carry authority when its called for. In songs like E-40’s “The Story“, the bass takes a step back in order to let the lyrics tell their story but is still full-bodied with ample punch.
Things don’t mesh so well in B20’s midrange. Vocals and instruments are pushed back which lessens engagement and makes them feel distant, even though I wouldn’t call the soundstage expansive.
It’s not all bad though: clarity is good throughout the mids, as is the instrument separation. However, I just can’t shake the impression that something isn’t right. It’s like the mids have a simultaneous mixture of vivid and dull at the same time. I will say that acoustic guitars sound rather good on these phones.
Listening to The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster’s “Black Iron Prison“, the guitars sound too thin and the vocals sibilant. The rise in the upper mids coincides with a subsequent dip that leaves a harsh and hollow impression that isn’t quite natural.
The B20’s treble is crisp and has good extension up top. A significant boost around 7-10kHz makes it fairly lively at the cost of occasionally sounding hot and strident. It can be rather unsettling on certain songs like Utada Hikaru’s “Traveling” which had me wincing regularly as the sibilance stabbed at my ears.
Detail naturally benefits from a more pronounced treble and for the most part, the B20 has decent detail retrieval but not as much as I would expect. This is due to a dip in the lower treble which is what gives the mids a touch of darkness as well as masking over some micro-details.
For an open-back headphone, the B20’s stage is smaller than you might expect. It’s neither particularly wide or deep but the stage position is further back in the perceived area. The upside is that these headphones have above average stereo imaging but their layering is only average. Being a planar headphone the typically fast transients mean the instrument separation is good and sound is uncluttered.
Hifiman Sundara ($375)
The Hifiman Sundara (review here) has a more refined and relaxed tuning. It’s not as contrasty as the B20 and lacks some of the dynamics but it’s more even in tonal balance and more easygoing when it comes to sound presentation.
Sundara also has a fairly typical planar style bass that is similar to the B20 but has a softer leading edge or slam. In terms of sub-bass, the B20 sounds a little cleaner and well-defined.
It’s in the midrange where the Sundara really takes a lead on the B20. Vocals are denser, more intimate and richer in timbre. Sundara’s mids as a whole sound more natural and in addition, they don’t have any of the sibilance that the B20 produces.
Sundara lacks the treble energy of the B20 but has a more accurate timbre. Hats and cymbals have a more lifelike tone and sheen although some might find it lacking enthusiasm in comparison. When it comes to soundstage, neither of these headphones is particularly large but Sundara has greater depth: some sounds are perceived as coming from behind the central vocals while on the B20, it sounds as though everything is pushed up against the back wall.
Thieaudio Phantom ($350)
The Thieaudio Phantom (review here) has a warmer tonality and more relaxed presentation. Bass has more weight and punchiness on the Phantom but sounds equally as controlled.
There’s a bit of a veil in the Phantom’s midrange that results in less clarity and vocal articulation compared to the B20. However, this gives the Phantom a very relaxed and liquid midrange that is more romantic albeit a little hazy.
Treble is more relaxed on the Phantom: perfect for the treble-sensitive but at the same time, it’s less detailed and sparkly than the B20. Despite this, the Phantom’s soundstage has roughly equal dimensions plus a neutral stage position that adds intimacy to vocals and ultimately brings the listener closer to the music.
The BLON B20 is an interesting headphone that is sure to appeal to anyone who likes a slightly brighter tonality and dynamic presentation. However, vocal lovers might feel a bit left in the cold as the B20’s midrange definitely has some shortcomings. In terms of sound quality, these are stretching the boundaries of their $450 price tag, however, when it comes to build quality they feel worth every bit of the cost. Ultimately it will be up to you to decide whether these are for you. But in the end, more competition in the planar headphone segment will benefit everyone.
- Transducer Type: Composite Planar Magnetic Diaphragm
- Transducer Size: 97x76mm
- Sensitivity: 96dB
- Frequency Response: 20-40Khz
- Frequency response: 10Hz-40kHz
- Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Weight: 460g