It’s been quite a while since we reviewed the CrossRoads MylarOne X3/XB and X3i/XBi. While they were good sounding in-ear phones in the sub-$100 price range, their build quality was more than questionable. Jaben, the company behind the CrossRoads brand, certainly considered these shortcomings in durability when they designed the new versions of their MylarOnes. We’re going to take a closer look at their Bijou 2, Bijou 3, and Quattro.
To make matters more confusing – or interesting – Jaben introduced a second brand of IEMs as well, called Hippo. While the MylarOne brand appears to be targeted more towards the “serious” listener, the Hippo brand seems to be catering more to the “fun” crowd. Well, at least that’s what the branding and naming scheme looks like to me. “Fun” might actually sound more scary than appealing in this audio context – but fear not, the Hippos are of course nothing like, say, your average Skullcandy IEMs. We’re going to analyze the Hippo VB (Variable Bass) and Hippo Boom in our super secret ABI laboratories, right after the jump.
- Dynamic driver: 7mm (MylarOne Quattro), 9mm (MylarOne Bijou, Hippo Boom), 10mm (Hippo VB)
- Impedance: 16 Ohm (MylarOne models), 32 Ohm (Hippo models, probably incorrect)
- Sensitivity: 95dB (Quattro, Bijou), 102dB (Boom), 105dB (VB)
- Frequency response: 20Hz – 22kHz (Bijou, Quattro, Boom), 18Hz – 22kHz (VB)
- Cable: 120cm (Boom, Quattro), 140cm (Bijou, VB), Y-style, angled 3.5mm gold-plated plug
- Accessories: Case, silicon tips, shirt clip, airline adapter (only MylarOne models), 6.3mm adapter (only Bijou)
All the phones come with a carrying case, a shirt clip, the usual assortment of single-flanged silicon tips in various sizes, and a pair of double-flanged tips – except the Hippo VB, which only come with single-flanged tips.
The carrying cases are of good quality, especially the semi-hard Hippo VB case, which is comparable with the cases that come with Shure or Future Sonics IEMs. The other IEMs have soft cases which are equally well manufactured.
The Bijou and Quattro come with a two-pronged airline adapter plug, the Hippos lack that accessory. Only the Bijou come with a 6.3mm adapter for connecting them to home HiFi equipment. This is a bit confusing since the Hippo VB and Quattro are perhaps a better choice for home listening than the Bijous. More about that later, in the sound chapter.
Design, Build, Specs
The design of the new MylarOnes and Hippos is decent, minimal, neutral. The housings are matte black anodized aluminum with laser engraved fonts, only the Quattro has some plastic parts in the housing. Very classy, Jaben, very nice look and feel.
As already said in the introduction paragraphs, the new Jaben phones’ build quality inspires a lot more confidence than their X3i/XBi forefathers. They look and feel better made than many other manufacturer’s phones, like the Head-Direct RE0 or V-Moda Vibe. The cables don’t feel overly flimsy; the strain reliefs seem to be of standard quality – instead of no strain reliefs at all, as seen on the older MylarOne models. The only exception is the Quattro, which feels a bit cheaper and flimsier than the other phones – but still better than the X3i/XBi.
The Quattro is also the only one of the phones that doesn’t have a 90° angled 3.5mm plug, but an annoying 45° plug that gets in the way and is generally useless compared to a straight or right angled one. Compared to the excellent tiny plugs of the Bijou and Boom it’s bulky and awkward. The other beef I have with the Quattro is wind noise. While jogging, riding a bike, or simply being outside in windy weather they produce quite some hiss that makes me turn up the music to unsafe listening levels (well, not while biking, of course). The other phones, Hippo and Bijou, are better behaved in that matter.
Both the Quattro and the Hippo VB have exchangeable bass ports, tiny plates that are screwed into the back of the earbuds. I’m not a fan of tiny movable parts that can easily be lost, but the precise screw threads on both the VB and Quattro should give a safe enough fit. The sound differences between the various ports are marginal with the VB, and a bit more noticeable with the Quattro. The bass heaviest ports make the Quattro a bit veiled sounding; the bass lightest ports make them slightly bright and sibilant to my ears. So I’m basing the review in the sound chapter below mostly on the medium ports, which provide the best compromise of bass and clarity to my ears. With the Hippo VB the bass ports do what they’re supposed to do – they only change the bass quantity a bit, without affecting the rest of the frequ
ency range in a negative way. By the way, the drawing on the VB’s packaging is wrong; they confused the bass lightest with the bass heaviest port.
One other thing the packaging of the Hippo VB and Boom claims is an impedance of 32 Ohm. However, my multimeter measured a resistance of 16 Ohm with both of them – same as the MylarOne models. I’m aware that resistance isn’t the same thing as impedance (and I don’t have the tools to measure impedance), but this is still interesting, both measuring the same. While low impedance can lead to issues with many MP3 players, all of the MylarOne and Hippo phones behave nicely under most conditions. They display little to no hiss even with problematic players, and they’re loud enough with any player. They don’t need an amp to sound their best. Pairing any of these phones with my Corda Headsix, FiiO E5, or Woo Audio 6 didn’t make them sound significantly different than straight out of my Sansa Clip+.
Isolation from outside noise is a bit less than average with the provided silicon tips. They’re on the thinner side, but any other brand of standard 5mm diameter nozzle tips fits on the MylarOnes and Hippos. My favorite silicon tips, the ones from Ultimate Ears’ Super.Fi series, fit like a glove and give somewhat better isolation. Of course foam tips, like the immensely overpriced Comply foamies, would isolate even more.
Cable noise (also known as microphonics) is average with the Mylar/Hippos – and by “average” I of course mean “bad” – as the majority of IEMs have those annoying cable noise issues. Same as with any other IEM, wearing the cables up around one’s ears improves the situation a lot compared to letting the cables hang down. The included shirt clips might help as well, but I don’t like those gadgets overly much.
The Hippo Boom have a bass response quite befitting their name. The bass isn’t totally tight and controlled, but it extends deep despite a bit of an overshadowing midbass hump. The positive surprise is that the Boom aren’t overly muddy or veiled in the midrange, and that they still retain a decent amount of fairly clear – albeit sometimes slightly sibilant – treble. This isn’t usually the case with IEMs named like these, or amounts of bass like the Boom have. I would describe them as slightly less refined than the Atrios, with more treble – or as slightly better as and less aggressive than the Sennheiser CX 300, with deeper bass. (Of course I’m talking about the real CX 300 here, not the fake, bad sounding knockoffs many people seem to own.) All in all, the Hippo Boom make great gaming or movie IEMs – or might cater to the basshead Techno/Trance or Hip Hop aficionado.
Hippo VB (Variable Bass)
Enter the Hippo VB. They have the deepest bass of the bunch, or at least appear that way because they lack a distracting midbass hump. Their bass is also quite controlled and rich in texture, more like a good full-sized phone, and clearly performing way above its price range. Dare I say it? … Ok, here we go: their bass is more or less as refined as the one coming from the $1150 UE11 – but the VB put less weight on midbass and provide more real sub-bass, so they win. At the same time they also have the best clarity of all five phones in this review. That’s quite a feat, not a lot of IEMs can pull that off easily. Their midrange appears linear, without peaks and valleys, and it’s “lush” and “sweet” like the Shure SE530. Their treble can be a tiny bit harsh at times, same as the other phones reviewed here – but it’s not overly distracting. Since the VB have open sound canals, one can stuff some foam, cotton wool, or similar materials in it to tune the treble response to one’s liking. All in all the Hippo VB are like beefier, more “substantial” Head-Direct RE0 with better bass, more or less equal midrange but slightly less refined treble – and they’re perhaps a full step up from phones like the Atrios. The best, albeit a bit far-fetched, comparison I can think of is that the VB sound like the Ultrasone HFI-780, but with more forward sounding midrange.
The MylarOne Quattro are somewhat similar to the Hippo VB. Not only because of the variable bass ports, but the general frequency response as well – except they don’t provide the same astonishing bass as the VB. They still have enough of it, as long as bass ports #1 or #2 are used. With those, they’re very similar in presentation to the SE530’s bass. Curiously, the Quattro also have slightly less overall clarity and a bit more veil than the VB, despite their more “flat” or “thin” sound presentation. That might be an issue of the Quattro’s relatively small driver diameter of 7mm, compared to the VB’s large 10mm driver. Nevertheless, the Quattro (and the Bijou 3) are the clearest sounding and most precise phones after the VB in this comparison. The Quattro’s midrange is as well linear and well defined, albeit it’s on the “leaner” side of things, compared to the VB – more along the lines of q-Jays, Phonak PFE, or Etymotic, with a bit beefier bass. While the Quattro don’t quite reach the quality level of balanced armature phones like the Phonak PFE, they’re clearly livelier and better balanced than the Etymotic ER-6, with just a bit less clarity. Their treble – same as all other phones here – can have a tiny trace of sibilance in some situations, but is generally nice and sparkly. With bass port #1 I didn’t experience any sibilance, even on badly mastered audio tracks.
MylarOne Bijou 3
The Bijou 3 are quite similar to the old MylarOne X3i, but with somewhat better resolution and clarity. Meaning, they’re nicely balanced phones with a good all-round sound. However, this clarity comes with a caveat: the Bijou 3 can be sibilant with some audio material, and slightly “hollow” sounding with some other tracks. It’s mainly around the frequency range of male vocals that they can feel a bit recessed. That’s however dependent on the track, and isn’t apparent with that many recordings. With female vocals they never appear to lack anything. All in all, the midrange is pleasant to listen to, forward, and detailed. So is the treble range, when it’s not getting too bright. They have a good amount of bass that doesn’t extend quite as deep as the Hippo IEMs, but also doesn’t distract in any way. Not only the Bijou 3’s sound, but also their build quality and comfort level are an upgrade from the X3i.
MylarOne Bijou 2
First thing one notices about the other Bijou – the Bijou 2 – is that they’re muddy and veiled. The got a prominent midbass/lower midrange hump, and they don’t have any real low bass. The veil extends up into the treble range as well. There’s not much more to say about them, except that the Hippo Boom are a better choice with a similar sound character.
All five reviewed phones provide a decent soundstage, as is usually the case with dynamic driver IEMs, especially of the semi-open variety (all phones except the Boom have vents on the back plate). The sound can appear quite wide out of the head (as far as IEMs go) with the right music material. This is especially true for the Hippo VB, probably due to their big 10mm driver.
Another important point is that all these phones work equally well at lower volume levels as they do on loud levels. You don’t have to turn your player up to eleven while listening to your ditties. Your ears will thank you later for that.
I have been using these five phones for about 50-70 hours before starting the review. Dynamic drivers could theoretically take some time to “settle down” or “burn in” – they might or might not sound their best right out of the box. I’m not sure the treble of these phones would change any more after this time, so I can’t say if the slight sibilance some of these IEMs show would go away. In any case, it’s not so bad as to be detracted from the other qualities of the Hippo and Myl
Another reason for using the phones for over 50 hours was to check if they show the dreaded “burn out” syndrome the oldest generation of MylarOnes, the X3 and XB suffered from. The sound quality on those began to deteriorate after a very short time. I’m happy to say that the new MylarOnes and Hippos only got better for my ears – meaning, I got accustomed to their specific sound signatures. No driver burn-out, only brain burn-in, as it should be.
What now? A conclusion? Ok, let’s see how the above ramblings could be interpreted…
Needless to say, my favorite of the bunch are the Hippo VB; they’re coming close to achieving sound characteristics similar to my IEMs of choice, like the UE11, SE530, or RE0 – at least, the VB combine many of the positive aspects of these. They’re maybe not exactly as refined sounding as those phones in all aspects, but the gap is rather narrow. They have exceptionally deep, punchy bass response without muddying the rest of the audio spectrum, slightly forward midrange, and decent yet slightly forward treble. All in all, the VB present a more or less “flat” frequency response according to a human equal-loudness contour – contrary to a theoretically “flat” response, as often seen with other phones’ deceptive graphs and tech specs. The VB sound just about right to my ears.
I also like the Hippo Boom quite a bit. They are jolly good fun with their booming disco sound, and they’re “forgiving”. They make inferior sources like the Nintendo DS listenable, or help with players that lack an EQ, like the Cowon O2 in video mode. With the Boom your explosions and car chases are sure to get more exciting. In short, they make great gaming or movie phones – but for overly critical listening they’re of course not my first choice. Nevertheless, they’re still fairly clear despite their prominent bass, and way above average cheap basshead IEMs.
Personally, I’m not exactly as excited about the MylarOne Quattro and Bijou as I am about the VB, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re good sounding phones. Well, the Bijou 2 not so much. The Quattro and Bijou 3 are maybe just a tad too “lean” sounding, not “lush” enough for my personal taste – and the Bijou 2 are simply too muddy and veiled. Since this is of course all a matter of personal preference, fans of Etymotic, q-Jays, or similar IEMs might actually appreciate the Quattro and Bijou 3 more than the Hippo VB.
Either way, the MylarOne Quattro, Bijou 3 and Hippo Boom are definitely good phones for the price, each one has a different application. And then there’s the Hippo VB, which in my opinion are much more than that: I would recommend those without hesitation to people who crave real, tight sub-bass instead of fake mid-bass bloat, no sacrifices to overall precision or sound presentation, great realistic midrange, and good soundstage. The VB sound just lovely.