Currently China is a bit of an IEM frenzy. Be it an OEM brand wanting a piece of the pie for themselves, college kids who reckon they know a thing or two about sonic design or simply new start ups, attempting to shine in an overpopulated arena. Marketed on plethoras of stores in Chinese marketplaces such as Aliexpress and brought worldwide by eBay and awesome stores such as Penon Audio, who supplied me with this sample, it really is a tough task working out whats amazing, whats ok… and of course, whats just utter shit. TFZ or The Fragrant Zither were the brand that Penon put forward to me when I asked about their range of exotic new IEMs. If that was what they wanted me to review from such a diverse magnitude then hopefully I will hit the goods. Of course I could just be optimistic and this was the only model they had spare to palm off to me and keep me quiet…. Like many new companies from China they have not set up shop with just one model and TFZ have a Series 1, 3, 5 & 7. Don’t ask, I have no idea what happened to 2/4/6 and it’s not like they are code for something, the 1,3 & 5 just have a single dynamic driver. Series 1 is the cheapest of the three models and comes at the reasonable cost of $39 or for us Brits, around £30.
What’s Your Colour?
Throughout the Series 1 I find a lot of cues that make me feel like this a much more expensive product but then I will find something else that grounds it a little. Regardless it is clear that TFZ are trying to do something impressive at the thirty quid price tag.
Right from the get go we have an example of the class TFZ are bringing. The box they come in is huge and the presentation along with accessories is really quite impressive. Tips range from foam, to dual flanged and of course the usual collection of different sized silicone and on top of that you also get some ear guides for comfort when wearing. The neatly executed wallet that contains information such as the manual and warranty card is a cute touch as well. The only disappointment through all accessories is the carry pouch which is one of the areas that really does show its price. The little velvet baggie doesn’t offer any protection like a clamshell would.
The theme continues right into the design of the earphone in the simplest of forms. From a distance it looks mighty impressive. The form factor is not a far cry from what Unique Melody have in models such as their Maestro which costs over a grand. You then have the additional design options of which there are 10 to choose from. The decision you have will be not only of faceplate but also a range of shell colours and some alternatives even have a faux carbon fibre or wood front panel. I went relatively simple with “Code – 004” that is a basic clear shell with a red and blue translucent faceplate. I do mean it when I say in a distance or within pictures it looks stellar, I mean the wood option looks like something Heir would churn out in pictures.
So whats the reality? Well, its a combination of things. The form factor is of course good but before that a few design options are a bit so-so. Take the stock pictures which show the TFZ logo on the faceplate for example… these peel off on unboxing (there are a range of stickers to attach if you want)! Then you have what is a classic IEM design, one channel red, one channel blue. In all instances ever, red is for right, blue left. Well, according to TFZ it’s the other round. Not a big issue but still silly in my opinion.
Assembly and build quality is more transparent as well, showing that once again this does have the traits of £30 IEM after all; not those of the Maestro. Faceplates are attached cheaply and there is just something about the acrylic used that feels a bit tacky on closer inspection. I do like looking into see the 12.5mm dynamic driver in all its glory. Apparently used is a dual loop, dual chamber driver?
Disappointingly not removable, the cable seems solid enough, a bit stiff in areas but terminated in a lovely jack, an obvious departure to anything run of the mill.
Obviously a big positive to IEMs with this sort of design is ergonomics and comfort. That is not to say all manufacturers get it right but TFZ seem to have ended up on the right side. This looks like a CIEM in my ear and don’t feel far off in terms of comfort either. BA based earphones also tend to be the better option if you desire isolation as they traditionally don’t need venting like dynamic drivers but the Series 1 will block out most ambient noise, no issue.
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