Chi-Fi has been progressing at a rapid rate. Single driver in-ear monitors (IEMs) aren’t enough anymore. Now there’s either a multitude of Balanced Armature (BA) drivers crammed into one space or combinations of different driver technologies. Bass, for instance, is agreeably best done with a dynamic driver, so multi-driver setups often have one dedicated for just the low-end.
Then there’s the difficultly achieved electrostatic driver, historically only used for the cream of the crop because of its insane detail retrieval. This means lots of cost and extra equipment (separate amp to energize the drivers). Or does it? Chi-Fi figured that one out too. This brings us to the Shouer Tape. It packs an electrostatic primary (without the need of an energizer module – meaning you can just plug it in via headphone jack like a normal earphone) and dynamic driver for the low-end, all for only $130. Hard to believe? You bet. This synopsis breaks down the deal.
> We really appreciated the Tapes’ design and build. We expected to find visible compromise for what the earphone is trying to do for the price, but can’t. The earpieces are completely made from metal and really feel it. They have this chunky, tough, tank-like feel in the hand, actually inline with the muscular, angled edge aesthetic. Furthermore, the two-colored fasteners on the outward surface give it an appearance found on no other.
> Something unusual in the design are the holes in the center of the fasteners. Additional, there’s an open, horizontal grill between the them. We’re not sure the purpose, other than to somewhat resemble an old-school VHS “tape”. The openings may help relieve some of the bass pressure (like done on the Sennheiser IE 800 and few others) or other unwanted output energy. But we can’t help worry about durability with the earpieces open to the elements. You’ll have to be extra careful for water or debris (like pocket lint) to not get in there.
> For how chunky the Tapes are, the fit is really good. Shouer did the right thing (which surprisingly a lot of manufacturers with chunky earpieces fail at) and narrowed and elongated the end of the chassis that goes in your ear. The nozzle isn’t particularly long, but the earpiece effortlessly slides into the ear and lets the nozzle do the rest into the canal.
> That said, the makeup of the stock silicone ear tips leave to be desired. They’re flimsy and don’t form a tight seal. Fortunately, the Tapes use a fairly common nozzle diameter, so it’s easy to find a compatible third-party tip. For instance, we stuck on some SpinFit CP-100 that work perfectly.
> The Tapes’ only supplied cable is a 2.5mm Balanced copper cable, but a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter is included in the box for the Unbalanced crowd. The cable is detachable via the common MMCX connector, with no proprietary nonsense. So you’re free to go with a third-party cable if desired.
> The big question is whether the Tapes can achieve top-end sound quality at their meager price tag. Straight to the point, it’s kind of a mixed bag.
> It’s very obvious that bass is driven by a dynamic driver. It has that boldness, warmth, and punch we’d expect. It’s probably a good move for Shouer to do, as the masses want an impactful bass than a “reference” signature that an electrostat would give. That said, Shouer lets the bass off the chains a little. Sub-bass is pretty well balanced (audible depth but not overdone), but the mid-bass can quickly get bloaty/loose in bassier passages.
> With that said, the mid-bass can overshadow the mids. Fortunately not really “bleed” into them, just overshadow. One could probably guess, with a crisp top-end that an electrostat would give, we are indeed looking at a V-shaped sound signature. It totally is. Fortunately, mids are helped along with airiness. They don’t completely have that “closed in” characteristic from a V-shape, but definitely don’t have the same forwardness/largeness/presence/energy as the other ranges in the spectrum. Our biggest complaint is that vocals have this particularly weird characteristic where they’re a bit smushed at the center.
> Soundstage is fairly average. As said before, everything about the sound is open and airy, but the soundstage doesn’t reach outward that much (isn’t wide whatsoever). We reiterate, it’s not a “confined” sound like a lot of earphones, thanks to the Tapes’ airiness, but not wide. So it’s a pleasant sound, just not dimensional. Likewise for imaging, which is just average. You lose dimensioning that high-end offerings can get you.
> Treble response also happens to be a mixed bag. We were surprised how much detail we get from this energizer-less electrostatic solution. It’s apparent how much more resolution you get compared to a dynamic driver, and it’s put forward and well articulated, so it’s easy to recognize and appreciate the details.
> Unfortunately, the treble’s tuning is slightly off. There’s an unmistakable tinniness to it, which makes it often sound metallic and unnatural. Shouer needs more time tuning the electrostat. That said, it’s in no way unlistenable or super distracting (only a little distracting). We can see most people getting used to it, or EQ’ing the treble down a little to tame the energy. The treble is forward, so EQ’ing it down wouldn’t be the end of the world.
- Comparatively awesome value
- Tough and rad design
- Balanced-ready, with MMCX compatibility
- Spot-on fit
- Low-end punch and extended, crisp highs
- Exterior is open to the elements
- Stock tips don’t work well
- Bass leans on bloaty
- Mid-range, soundstage, and imaging are average
- Treble can have a metallic, unnaturalness
If you like a refined, natural sound, we would say look at the Shouer Tapes with caution. Shouer may have something compelling with this configuration, but they need to work on cohesion and tuning more. The bass of the dynamic driver needs tightening and the treble of the electrostat needs taming. Just these things alone may help bring out the mids.
This brings us to the value, which despite our concerns about the sound, we can’t ignore. Most of our complaints over the sound are nothing huge, where we wouldn’t recommend the Tapes. And the detail you’re getting for $130 is pretty stellar. If you’re okay with the tuning, we must say that this is a pretty dang good deal. You’re getting a lot for your money in the grand scheme of things.