This story starts on the tones of a horror novel. Right after unboxing, as per usual default I plug them to my R5. After 10 minutes I was about to trash them. They just sounded horrible. As in: I don’t remember last time I heard such an unhearable crap.
Bass was totally hollow. Not only “unbodied” as you might somehow expect by bad-tuned BA, but really lacking entirely. Almost as if the tips were not getting the seal. But they were.
Treble was live, sparkly and full of details – but way too much. It was also sibilant but most of all screachy, peaky, simply definitely unpleasant.
Trash or try? Try…
First attempt: tip rolling.
VG4 comes with 3 sets of tips (S/M/L each). Pre-installed are the black ones, soft silicon wide bore – these are what I initially used.
Blue stock ones (supposedly “for vocals”) are a pure joke: their stem is too large, and does not grip properly on the nozzles. When I tried them on they slid off the housings and I had to remove them from my canals with a pair of tweezers 🙁
White ones are stiffer and therefore recommended “for bass”. Which is kinda true, they enhance bass a bit (due to a firmer seal, as normal) but they also make sibilance even worse for me.
So much for stock tips. On with rolling. I tried: Spinfit, SpiralDot, SednaEarfit Light, SednaEarfit, Radius DeepMount, Symbio Peel, Final E, Acoustune ET07. The sole ones taming sibilance (for my ears) are SpiralDots. OK, on with them.
Sibilance is solved by the tips. SpiralDots are relatively stiff so bass gets a bit more bodied, but nothing remotely enough to call them decent. All the rest remains pure crap.
Is it maybe a never-so-severe-before pairing issue ??
So let’s try with my Fiio BTR5. Same stuff. With my Fiio X3-III. Same stuff. With my Meizu HDP and 2 other DAC dongles. Same, barred non-resolving variations.
X3-III is the warmest of all those sources, and in facts it tames trebles “a bit”. The situation remains crappy but why not trying to play with that a bit. So I keep X3-III in the game, lower volume to zero and start progressively raising to hear what happens.
VG4s are quite sensitive (110dB) so already at 20/120 they get nicely loud and vivid. Too bad that already at 20/120 trebles start going nuts. Bass is “off” or something, very hollow, un-present.
I keep going up. At 28/120: boom! Bass “turns on”. Instantly. Trebles get even shittier in the meanwhile.
And, almost immediately afterwards (31/120) basses go into evident distortion. In the meanwhile, trebles shout and peak-out like crazy.
One step back: at 30/120 mid and sub-bass “sound about right”… almost always. “Sometimes” they suddenly turn off, then on again, and so on. At 31/120 they stay on, but almost always distorting.
VG4 have a declared avg impedance of 12 Ω. That’s the problem.
Technically, it’s not a problem with or about VG4 to be honest. Fact is that all of my sources have a minimum recommended load impedance of 16 Ω. So by pairing with VG4 it’s me asking them to do something “out” of their scope. Can’t blame them.
It would be equally honest to note that the overwhelming majority of portable budget source, and most of mid-tier ones do support 16 Ω ++ loads, not lower. This leads into wondering how brilliant is BGVP’s commercial choice about designing an IEM requiring special sources to drive. More on this later. Let’s go back to the technical part.
Barred exceptionally lucky cases, the pair of VG4 with my owned sources technically simply “could not” work. I’ve not been lucky, and in facts it didnt work.
Not going to write a treaty here but it’s worth to remember that low impedance IEMs sound louder or quiter, and “better” or “worse”, depending on how much “current” flows through them.
Portable sources have a much easier time providing good voltage swing into moderate impedance headphones, while it is much more difficult to design portable devices providing a high and accurately-managed current flow into low impedance IEMs. And, the lower the impedance, the exponentially harder the task.
That’s why most budget- and even mid-tier portable audio devices are officially specced for impedance loads 16 Ω up.
So to find out how these VG4 really sound I have two options: find (borrow, buy…) a 12Ω-load-certified source and/or “fix” the situation externally.
The latter option seemed to me the golden opportunity to justify trying an item I’ve been watching for a while, but I never had the occasion (or the excuse…) to put to work: Ifi-Audio IEMatch.
IEMatch is presented as a one of a kind device.
It’s supposed to stay in the middle of the analog path, between the Amp and the IEM, much like a plug-size-adjusting adapter. It contains passive circuitry that, according to its specs:
- Presents the upstream Amp analog output with a predefined load impedance of 16 Ω
- Applies a significant attenuation to the analog signal passing through, selectable from two available preset values: – 12dB (“High setting”) and – 24dB (“Ultra setting”)
- Presents the downstream IEM with 2 possible Output Impedance values: 2.5 Ω (when “High setting” is selected) or 1 Ω (with “Ultra setting”)
- Is supposed not to introduce any FR or other sound alteration in the process
The declared main design purpose for IEMatch is to clean-off the hiss affecting ultra sensitive IEMs. In my case the idea is using IEMatch as a “high class impedance adapter”.
Once VG4s are connected to IEMatch, and that is connected that to my R5, the R5 will “sense” a 16 Ω load instead of a 12 Ω one, which will make its output circuitry behave within its designed range. On the opposite end, VG4 might potentially not “like” IEMatch’s High Setting too much as IEMs/HPs “sound best” when connected to output impedances not greater than 1/8th of their internal one. So I expect to get best results (if all goes well, and Ifi Audio’s specs are true to their product) on Ultra setting.
Which means I need to be prepared to cope with a -24dB attenuation. That’s a lot, and I do mean a lot. This is why for my test I got a IEMatch 2.5 (balanced ended) version: to exploit R5’s balanced output power reaching up to 1040mW into 16 Ω at fullscale.
And boy did it work !!
Starting from the bottom, R5 did keep its power promise. While R5 makes VG4 “badly shout” at 30/100 volume when straight-connected, I can get +- the same SPL via IEMatch High at 70/100, and Ultra at 95/100. And that’s on Low Gain so I still have the +6dB R5’s High Gain “reserve” available if need be.
What’s most important is that VG4 via IEMatch has a wonderful sound. And I really mean it.
Here below I’ll put my usual table-style analysis but I found VG4’s overall sound so good that I deem worth adding a more discursive description.
While this article is centered on VG4 lets first complete the brief about IEMatch behaviour in this case. Exactly as theoretically expected :
- Interposing IEMatch totally solved R5’s inability to deliver correct powering to VG4
- When driven under IEMatch High setting (2,5 Ω output impedance) VG4 (12 Ω load impedance) sounds perceivably bassier, treble-tamed and narrower compared to IEMatch Ultra setting option (1 Ω output impedance). That’s totally physiological given Zout differences.
- So to let them play at their best I need to drive VG4 through IEMatch Ultra – hoorray for R5’s power!
Now finally on to VG4’s sound.
I’d one-line VG4 as a less elegant, yet more energetic and orchestral TIN P1.
With all 2 switches on 0 position (more on this later) the general tonality is exceptionally clear-neutral. All sections (bass mid and treble) feature very fast transients, as on the other hand one would expect from BA drivers. Same general league as TIN P1, which is even faster though.
Unlike P1, VG4 bass curve is ruler flat, no rolloff in the subs. Beyond that, it sounds much fuller than P1, punchier, more engaging, still absolutely bleed-free. A very centered compromise between precision and body.
Mids are slightly recessed, quite defined and reasonably pleasant. Male vocals definitely better than Female, both, together with other instruments like guitars, benefit from SW2 (see below) the end result being good Males, just decent Females. In terms of quality, we are not in the same league as P1 here, not even close actually.
However good the lows are, the highs are even better. Again, I can hear a speed similar to P1 but with a world more of dynamics and rhythm. As much as P1 is crisp though liquid and relaxing, VG4 treble is full, sparkly, defined and entertaining. Details are eons ahead of P1, in the league of Shuoer Tape to make another comparison, but without a screech, zing or shouty peak, and most of all no hint of that somewhat “metallic” halo which I often find associated to highly-detailed treble presentations. Trebles are at the same time greatly detailed, full, and musical.
Now that VG4 is properly amped, sibilance also goes away and I can safely fallback into adopting stock black (wide bore) tips.
In addition to lows and trebles, the other VG4 fortes are no doubt its key technicalities: soundstage, imaging and instrument separation.
Stage is very wide and deep, not only much more than the aforementioned P1 (which indeed has a weak point there) but surpassing all other IEMs I heard in this price bracket and the one above. Instrument separation and imaging seem cut & carved with a laser tool: all sounds are crystal clear, perfectly separated and positioned onto a “well-lit” stage, where I kinda “see” each one on its own. A really, really well done job.
Each VG4 housing integrates a dip-switch block with 3 switches, aimed at offering some easily and instantly user-selectable tuning variations, one per spectrum section.
To “illustrate” my subjective hearing I’ll aid myself with measurements published by Jaakko Pasanen.
SW 1 – “Trebles”
SW1 adds a moderate hump (a “bell” in EQ jargon) at around 6K, and rolls high trebles off a bit sooner. Far from causing sibilance, the trick is actually very beneficial ! The overall treble presentation gets even more vivid and “complete” on most songs I tested it with. I like that.
As it is inherent with the dip-switch system, the added value also stays in its optionality, and easy, instant applicability.
SW 2 – “Mids”
SW2’s measured FR curve differs from SW1’s by less than 1 Ohm all over the range, so it should be audibly identical. I suspect a wrong measurement is plotted here as the effect of the switch is quite evident instead.
Mids (both voices and instruments, primarily guitars) get an obvious, not excessive “embodiment”. The result is a more intimate general feeling, which is particularly beneficial for acoustic / vocal bands of course, less important or even unwelcome in other cases.
SW3 – “Lows”
In this case the graph presents itself again consistent with my direct experience: SW3 enhances the low (logarithmical) half of the spectrum, that is low mids, midbass and subbass by some very audible amount, while taming highmids and trebles by a smaller amount.
Frankly, I don’t like this “as is”.
I do feel VG4 can benefit from an energic bump in sub-bass, especially in conjunction with some musical genres, but I would apply “just that”, not all the rest which is “moved” by SW3. Trebles don’t need taming. Mid bass don’t need raising. To my taste, of course.
My “custom SW3” is an EQ scheme much similar to the one I apply to TIN P1, as follows:
- Low Shelf 120Hz +1,5dB Q: 1,1
- Low Shelf 80Hz +2,5dB Q: 0,6
As I mentioned P1 once again, it’s worth noting here that VG4 bass is way more bodied right off the bat compared to P1, so this boost is in my taste “more-optional” than in P1 case, so-to-say.
If you read my other review articles you know I just can’t be fussed by packaging, accessories, aesthetics etc. I encourage you to read the other available reviews for this, linked here at the bottom, which are much more “dressed up” than mine, as always.
Ergonomics are fine. Housings are on the big side, but not very heavy. Luckily their shape fits my concha very comfortably resulting in allowing me hours of fatigue-less usage. Being this an extremely subjective point, YMMV by a long shot of course.
A particular mention is worth for the cable which, for my limited experience, is of uncommonly good quality in the “chifi stock cables” category (more on this in the data tables below). Given the story above, I needed to swap it with a balanced cable – but that’s a real pity.
So… do I recommend VG4 ?
In its neutral-signature category, great sound quality is there and there’s some to spare too, no question about that. Simply put: sound is very nice, and technicalities near-superb.
So what could ever play against?
Well first of all the price tag is not so low in absolute terms: $274 MSRP, $224 typical street price. But that may be considered worth it, indeed.
The point is, unless you are a lucky (or provident!) owner of a DAP / AMP nimbly supporting 12 Ω quite sensitive drivers, high chances are you have to complement VG4’s cost with $60-ish for an IEMatch, and this assuming your source is able to deliver at the very least 900mW vs a 16 Ω load to cope with IEMatch Ultra setting – otherwise you need to further invest in an adequate AMP of course. So, again simply put, in the most adverse – but I’m afraid very frequent – case, VG4’s TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) easily climbs to $500 or more. And no I don’t think VG4’s sound is worth such an expense.
|Great soundstage imaging and separation.||Very low impedance and high sensitivy calls for very technical amp pairing, or they sound horrible.|
|Very good bass, fast precise and bodied at the same time.||Potential too high TCO.|
|Superb detailed, fast and full, unschreechy unshouty trebles.||Female vocals not on par with the rest.|
|Good incremental SQ value added by 2 out of 3 switches at least.|
|Very good stock cable|
Full Device Card
Hiby R5 – Balance Ended port – IFI Audio IEMatch 2.5 on Ultra setting – Stock black tips – NiceHCK 16core High Purity Copper balanced cable – Lossless 16/44.1 – 24/96 – 24/192 FLAC tracks.
|Tonality||Neutral tuning, with a very clear, “solar” presentation. Very fast transients offered by the 4 BA drivers, paired with very good embodiement both on bass and trebles.|
|Sub-Bass||Flat vs the midbass, no rolloff. Fast, textured, full although lacking in rumble. SW1 enhances them by 3-4 dBs making them more evident (but still not rumbly)|
|Mid Bass||Same level and speed as sub bass, they are masterfully bodied. Their consistency is a fundamental contribution to the overal energy of the presentation. SW1 enhances them by 1-3 dBs making them fuller and punchier, without significant speed loss.|
|Mids||Not forward, quite defined and generally pleasant. Male vocals definitely better than Female, both benefit from SW2 the end result being good Males, decent Females.|
|Male Vocals||Well defined and natural, they get enhanced and forwarded by SW2 reaching a good overall level|
|Female Vocals||Clear, quite detailed but on the lean side. SW2 also tries to embody them but does not succeed to an equally satisfactory result as with Males.|
|Highs||Fast and precise, while at the same time full, rhytmical, musical and entertaining. No screech, zing or shouty peak. No “metallic” halo typically associated to super-detailed presentations.|
|Soundstage||Very wide and deep, surpassing all other IEMs I heard in this price bracket.|
|Imaging||The stage is not only ample but also “well-lit”, and hosts well separated instruments with laser sharp positioning.|
|Details||A huge amount of details are delivered by the trebles, while never associating a cold analythical or metallic halo to this. Bass are well textured but not equivalently detailed.|
|Instrument separation||All sounds are crystal clear, and well separated|
|Driveability||Extremely picky. Very low soundstage and relatively high sensitivity call for solidly compliant sources, under penalty of an entirely horrible result.|
|Build||Resin housings appear quite solid, as their female MMCX connector and the DIP-SWITCH blocks integrated into them.|
|Fit||In spite of a significant size, housing shapes fit my conchas like a glove. YMMV|
|Comfort||Just great, due to great concha fit (and some luck)|
|Isolation||Above average due to the housing “just right” size to fill the concha|
|Cable||An uncommonly very good 6N copper foil + silver foil mixed braided single ended cable.|
|Housing||PMMA acrylic fiber resin shell, available in multiple colors|
|Driver(s)||2 Knowles + 2 Sonion BA + 4-way crossover|
|Cable||6N copper foil + silver foil mixed braided, 3.5mm single ended terminated|
|Package / Accessories||3 pairs of narrow bore white stiffer silicone tips (“Bass” recommended), 3 pairs of narrow bore blue softer silicone tips (“Vocals” recommended), 3 pairs of wide bore black soft silicone tips, 1 pair of foam tips, a cleaning brush, a semi-rigid carry case.|
|MSRP at this post time||$ 274,00 ( < $ 225,00 deals)|