Disclaimer: I was graciously provided the ShoonTH ESEP-01BL earbud by PENON Audio for review. Thoughts presented here are strictly my own and I have received no other compensation or incentive for this review. The ESEP-01bl retails for just under $30 US and falls into the budget category of earbuds.
Worth noting is that this product can be easily confused as Shoon uses the same housing on several models (albeit with different cables) and the model numbers are only very subtly different. The sample being reviewed here is the entry level product (01BL) while the 01BLE is a step up in performance and price at $120 and the 01BU is the flagship model and retails for over $200. I stress this as it is entirely possible to read a review of one model while researching a different one and come away with incorrect impressions. Be careful with ShoonTH model designations as they overlap quite a bit.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The ESEP-01BL came shipped in a small natural colored Cardboard box with ShoonTH and their logo printed on the top. On the bottom is a sticker that covers most of the bottom of the box with the specs in Chinese and English. Inside the box is a brown cloth carrying case with orange characters on it. My Chinese is exceptionally poor so I will refrain from even attempting to suggest the meaning of the characters. The bag itself is a nice touch and an unexpected perk at this price point. Under the bag rest the earbuds with the cable nicely coiled and wrapped with a wire tie. A couple of nice touches are worth listing. First, they went the distance to place a foam barrier between the earpieces themselves to prevent scratches. I’d have expected this on a higher level product so it was nice to see that Shoon takes the same level of care even with entry level products. Second the entire bottom of the box has thick padding that was more than ample to protect the buds. Usually the unpacking is more fluff than anything in these discussions but in this case I think it shows just how serious ShoonTH is about product quality. Kudos on that, it certainly sets expectations for what is to come.
The driver housing is black plastic with a chrome accent down the outside of the unit and a red Shoon Logo on the inner surface of the right earpiece. Vents are present on either side of the stem on the rear of the housing, and the grill has a series of ports around the outer edge with a solid central region. Overall the housing is more similar than not when compared with a lot of budget earbuds. If the housing is reminscent of the earbuds of the past, the cable is certainly a step up. The packing lists the cable as OCC Silver plated 4 strand and the black casing on it is neither tacky or tangle prone. The cable is quite a bit heavier than those vintage earbuds we all remember so fondly trying to untangle for hours on end, and as a result is far superior to those older units. the splitter is brushed aluminum with a chin slider mated to the top. Strain relief below the splitter is very minimal as it is coming out of the 3.5 jack at the base of the cable. The jack is of the straight type and shares the same brushed aluminum housing with the splitter. The jack itself appears to be gold plated but I can find no confirmation of that in the advertising materials.
The driver in the 01bl is made by Foster of Japan (Fengda) and is a 15.4mm dynamic driver with a listed impedance of 32Ω and a sensitivity of 110dB/mW which makes it easy to drive on the go. A little digging found the following additional information on the driver. neodymium magnet, coaxial compound moving coil unit with diaphram tickeness of 0.2mm. I couldn’t find a reference to the diaphragm material but others in the Foster Line of that thickness list mylar as the base substance with various coatings. Various references list this BL as the Low Impedance version of the series and the numbers bear that out. While the 01bl can be driven by a cell phone fairly well, it definitely benefits from a bit of extra power.
I found the 01bl sat comfortably in my ear without foams and wasnt particularly prone to shift due to walking or other mild movements. Exercizing or more vigorous activity benefited from use of the chin slider and a set of donut foams to keep the 01bl in place.
All of my listening notes are done without any foams installed. If you use the 01BL with foams, except some differences between my notes and your listening experience.
The 01BL is a bass forward earbud. While most times the first thing a reviewer says about an earbud is “Bass is limited due to lack of seal” that is most certainly not the case here. The 01bl hits hard and has good depth of sub-bass with a nearly linear bass all the way from the depths until it crosses into the mids and things start to take a dip. I like that the lower-mids, mid-bass and sub-bass are in proportion to each other without a large mid-bass bloom. I did find the unit reacts well to EQ and for those who like a lighter bass a 2dB drop in everything below 500hZ brings things back into nearly neutral proportions.
Lower mids, as previously mentioned are forward and in proportion to the mid-bass. The Mids start to drop off mildly above 600Hz and reaching its lowest point somewhere between 2kHz and 3kHz where it seems to plateau off (about 2dB down). The forward low-end and lower-mids combined with some minor bass bleed provides a very warm signature but some details in the mids are obscured due to the tuning. Again with EQ, some of that detail can be recovered.
Lower treble starts to climb back up a bit but never reaches the level of the low-end peak so it is forward of the mids but behind the bass if only by a small margin. Top end extension is only average with substantial rolloff starting just above the 9kHz mark. The push in the lower treble helps bring vocals to the front and gives the bud a more pronounced V shape sound than the FR chart might show. I think this partially due to the tuning and partially due to the lack of seal in an earbud. Air and sparkle are somewhat limited with the upper treble being rolled off, but it does keep the sound from being aggresive or sibilant.
Soundstage / Imaging:
I really like what earbuds do for soundstage and imaging, as the lack of seal somehow usually contributes to a larger sense of space. This is true for the 01BL as it has a fairly wide stage with some depth (not as much as width) and a decent sense of height. Layering is good but limited as expected in a single driver design.
vs MrZ. Tomahawk
Build quality is better on tomahawk.
Bass bleed is worse on Tomahawk than on 01BL.
Tomahawk is more forward treble and may be harsh at times.
Soundstage is bigger on 01bl (width) than tomahawk.
Vs NiceHCK EB2
EB2 has better build quality (earpeice) but worse cable than 01BL.
EB2 is more neutral with better tonality than 01BL
01BL has better bass depth and quantity than EB2
Details are better on the EB2 when compared to the O1BL.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
The Shoon ESEP-O1BL was brought out as a lower impedance version of their higher end earbuds. It shows the normal cost cutting measures seen in the sub-$50 market. Plastic housings, simpler cable designs, and limited accessories. This might make the 01bl sound like a typical big box store earbud which is not the case. While ShoonTH may have cut some corners to keep costs in line, they didnt do so when it came to tuning. The forward low end does a great job of compensating for the natural tendency of non-sealing designs to seem bass light and brings a bit of warmth to the signature. This is a very listenable earbud with no tendency toward fatigue or harshness and good rumble and punch at the lower end. I think many who have been dissatisfied with the lack of low end extension in ear buds will really appreciate that. The treble shy will like the fact that it brings enough air not to sound congested without getting harsh or sibilant. Overall I have no hesitation recommending these for situations where isolation is not needed. Comfort is great and sound is better than expected at this price point.
P.S. Don’t believe the FR chart on this one, Sealing it in a tube creates a completely different picture than what you get when placed in the ear without a seal around it.