User Review Signature Acoustics O-16 Live Review


Signature Acoustics made a splash with their much loved C12 wooden iems. It was well made, reasonably priced and was fun to listen to. Buoyed by the success, Signature Acoustics has launched another iem- the O16 Live. Let’s see how the second offering fares.


Build quality, Packaging, Accessories

The O16-s come in a black cardboard box that’s identical to what came with the C12- understated and classy. Inside the box, you will find a classy leather pouch to store the iems. The C12-s came with an ornamental brass box- the move to leather was to complement the metal enclosure of the O16-s. There is a booklet with a personal message from Gautam, head of Signature Acoustics, spare tips, a shirt clip and two sets of spare mesh filters.

The iems’ shells are made of real metal. The quality of the shells is impeccable. The metal enclosures are dark grey and are finished really well. The bright amber rings and the end housing the mesh grille adds a splash of colour. The mesh grille at the back (also made of metal) is the first hint you get that this is an open iem. There is a mesh covering the nozzle too. The cable is braided and has a protective snakeskin textured sheath. It’s solid and doesn’t have any microphonics (except from the Y-junction). The strain reliefs, though present, are not fused to the cables exiting the iem. When you pull or push the cable, the drivers move along with it. The cable at the L-shaped 3.5 mm jack isn’t fused to the strain relief there either. While the overall build quality, appearance, fit and finish and accessories supplied was excellent, I feel that the cables exiting the iem shells not fused with the strain reliefs was an oversight. Such movement to the drivers cannot be good in the long run. I hope that this is just a one off issue.


Comfort, Isolation, Microphonics, hiss & sensitivity

The C12-s were shallow fitting closed iems. The O16 is also shallow fitting, but is an open iem. Unfortunately, none of the bundled tips fit me. I was able to get a correct fit only with a pair of tips that I used on my JVC FXT90. The bundled tips have different bores that can accentuate or kill the treble and enhance or dilute the bass. Wider bore= more extended and clearer treble with reduced bass; Narrower bore= less treble, enhanced bass. Still, the fit and comfort of the shells was not as good as the C12. I could not get a comfortable fit no matter how I wore it- straight down or over the ear.

Since it’s an open iem, isolation is nil. It’s actually meant to be used in a quiet environment and is specifically said so in the supplied booklet. That relegates it to home use only.

The O16 was sensitive enough to be driven well with my portable source. Amping did not seem to make a difference to the sound quality. Unlike the more forgiving C12, the O16 can be analytical and low bitrate tracks aren’t pleasant to listen to. Switching over to lossless audio made a clear difference. The cable didn’t lend itself to any microphonics but the Y-junction where the two cables are joined together does.

Performance, Sound Quality

I used my Blackberry Z10 for testing the O16- via normal headphone out and line out when connected to my Fiio E7. I also used my laptop- through the headphone jack and also via a Fiio E7 to see if amping made a difference. As stated in my earlier review, I listen almost exclusively to hard rock and heavy metal. Thus, my observations would apply accordingly and listeners of other genres should take note. My collection is mostly in 16 & 24 bit FLAC and with some 320 kbps mp3 files. I listened mainly to live recordings as these iem-s are supposed to be excellent with these.

Bass-Adequate body for an open iem. Not very deep, but is quick, has sufficient impact. There isn’t much decay which is actually good for fast paced metal tracks. This iem is not for bassheads. If you are looking for earwax dislodging bass, look elsewhere. The O16-s bass is more analytical and detailed in nature.

Mids- I found the mids to be neutral. I could not make out a prominent mid bass hump in the sound signature. Only in badly mastered tracks could I find the mild mid bass hump smearing out the details. Guitars sounded detailed and natural without being overtly forward or fatiguing. Acoustic guitars shined with these. The O16 appears to favour female vocals more than the male vocals.

Highs-Easily the best part of the O16’s sound signature. Detailed, crystal clear, smooth, very well extended, beautiful decay. Cymbal crashes sounded very natural without being harsh or sparkly. There was no sibilance either.

Details-Detail retrieval was good. In fact, it can give the impression of being more detailed than it actually is because of its sound signature. Neutral bass and absence of a prominent mid bass hump leaves more details intact- there is nothing to smear the details in the other frequencies which the human ear is particularly sensitive to.

Soundstage-In stark contrast to the C12, the sound stage of the O16 is wide and open. As said in the booklet, live recordings shine with these. Where the C12 lost pace in complex death and heavy metal tracks, the O16 revelled in those. Instrument separation was above average and is a clear cut above the C12.

Verdict

This is Signature Acoustics’s second iem. While the C12 catered to a wide audience, the O16 is more focussed and is meant for a niche crowd. That would be people who want an analytical, mostly neutral iem with well extended treble with a wide soundstage at the expense of isolation and which is to be used only at home for live recordings or acoustic songs. For such an audience, Signature Acoustics has hit a home run with the O16.

However, in a scenario like this, I would turn to an open full sized headphone or circumaurals. What I use now is a Grado SR60, a Sennheiser PX100 and an AKG K518DJ (which is closed, btw). The point of an iem is moot at home- especially an open one- IMHO.

Unlike the C12 which I found to be very approachable and which I would pick over my other iems, I would use the O16 only for specific songs.

Prospective buyers are advised to try them out first to see if they fit- the shells are short and shallow fitting. Though the shells are strong and durable, the rear meshes and nozzle filters should be handled with care.

The starting price is lower than the C12- Rs. 1850 (early bird pricing). It’s a low price point, but this iem is purpose built and is not meant for use in all scenarios. For buyers whose requirements tally with those delivered by the O16, it’s one heck of a deal. This sort of uncoloured sound isn’t common in this price range.

Disclaimer: This review unlit was provided by M/s Pristine Note India Ltd. All expenses and charges were borne by Pristine Note India Ltd.
 

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