Signature Acoustics O-16 Review
Thanks to Signature Acoustics for the sample.
First Impressions: Hmm the box is like the sort of thing that used to come out of China a few years ago. Fancy it is not. Opening up though, still not fancy but I find the use a two tone green, firm and soft foam most pleasant. It’s silly but that its green rather than black, seems so unusual and quirky in the most pleasing of ways. The buds, hmm, not very interesting. The case, while it’s nice to see something different I’m not sure I’m really sold on it visually.
So popping them in my ears. Hmm. It would seem to be a rather reserved and pedestrian affair. Calm, collected and ever so polite on the ear. It seems such a radical thing for a brand new brand, do something calm rather than go for the most bombastic sound they possibly could. How very, very curious a thing to do. 45 min in and I must confess they are growing on me. So pleasantly polite. Burn in time.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5.
Lows: If you a bass head looking for bass that will sock you in the jaw, this in not it. On the surface of things the bass here is pretty pedestrian. It’s not particularly deep, it doesn’t have huge punch, and it doesn’t wow you in any way. It’s really actually a rather grown up affair. It’s polite and restrained which I found lends itself most pleasingly to the likes of Julie London. Competent, capable, quite smooth and easy on the ear. No matter what I throw at it, even really bass heavy stuff never seems to rattle it, it just gets on with the job at hand and gives an aurally pleasant rendition. You may be picking up that I’m not loving it, it’s not that it does anything wrong. It really does absolutely nothing wrong, in the same way the crazy RE-252 did absolutely nothing wrong. Like the aural equivalent of a perfectly pure glass of distilled water. It is adding nothing of itself, no flavour, no excitement or dazzle.
The up side to its bland flavour is that it turns its hand to any style with equal competency. Nothing comes on and you think, oh no x y and z are totally wrong. It does nothing wrong in the way that decent monitor should. Musical purity untainted by its own flavour.
Mids: If there is anywhere the 16 stands up a bit it’s in the mids. It’s got what you could call a slightly sad smile acoustic signature. The lows and highs trail off a bit and the mids stand up just a tad. Once more I’d characterise this as a very mature, grown up sounding IEM. It isn’t setting out to wow you or scream at you, it just does its thing and gets on with it. Again I find myself thinking of that monitor like flavourless, pure sort of sound. It doesn’t add warmth or dryness or particularly suit any type of vocals better than the other. Its equally competent everything. Guitars pluck nicely too but do have the hard edge of their twangs muted. The 16 isn’t quite up to the greatest clarity and its monitor esq reproduction plays up to that easy, genteel on the ear presentation.
Its mids are good, not amazing but highly competent and highly adept at turning their hand to any vocals you throw at them, be they excellent like Nora Jones or like those of that short blond thing in the charts just now. The 16 is impeccably polite and even handed to them both.
Highs: Polite. They give you what you require to be aware of but they do trail away with no real edge or bight to them. I like that, there is nothing I find more unpleasant than brutal treble. Directly compared to the GR06 and the treble is rather more sedate and laid back. The detail levels are very similar but the 16 is the more relaxed about it. You have to pay closer attention whereas the 6 is for willing to shove it in your face. It makes for a much more polite presentation that can sound a little restrained. It does liven up a bit if you crank the volume dial. Actually I find in more lively, poppy bouncy tracks to make them better come to life you do want to crank that dial. Though I find I enjoy the more laboured style of music on these. Rufus Wainwrights “Rebel Prince” has a smattering of delicate high hat and cymbles running through it but the 16 likes to gently veil things up top. It’s a very relaxing affair.
Soundstage: These don’t seem to do so well in height but their width is very good and they can portray a good sense of distance out to either side of you. Instrument separation is so so but the trade-off is the integration of the whole is seamlessly smooth.
Fit: They worked just fine for my ears. In the ears they went and it was all fine, up or down.
Comfort: Same as with the fit. They are a nice standard shape. A little bit wide if you try to seat them deeply but unless your treating them like Ety’s then you’ll be absolutely fine I am sure.
Microphonics: Wearing them up as I am want to do, they are fine. No microphonics that way but wearing down I did get a little. The cable liked to interact with collars. It wasn’t a big issue though.
Amped/Unamped: Actually, a really mixed bag. Out of the E9 they tended towards being a bit heavy sounding. Out of the little Shuffle they liked additional impedance and were rather clean sounding, bass a little diminished. Out of the Nexus 5 they were lighter and crisper in the treble but lost an element of refinement. Out of the Studio they got a bit more aggressive and took on a little bit more punch. Basically they changed a bit with everything. I think I liked the E9 and its more laboured approach better but I could well see the likes of the Nexus 5’s more lithe crispness being the more generally popular with consumers. Lol it was actually kinda fun trying out different things and seeing the differences.
Isolation: Not so much. They are terrible but they are relatively open for an IEM so for me, I’d probably not pick these if you spend a lot of time commuting. Sure with music going you’re probably going to be okay. If you’re coming from buds then your love it. If you are coming from a BA sealed IEM then not. I could use for out and about in a pinch. I wouldn’t pick for a flight or Tube commute unless I had nothing else. Naturally when music’s playing its going to be enough not to hear that bus coming up behind you, look with your eyes people.
Build Quality: Hmm it’s okay. It’s all very light, despite this the cable feels though. Its apparently some braided cable with a sheath over it and in the hand the cable feels very sturdy. The down side to that is it’s a bit stiff and despite being out of the box for several weeks it still has the bends from where it was wrapped up. The buds seem well put together and nicely finished if somewhat visually unassuming.
Accessories: It’s a credible little bundle. 4 pairs of tips, a shirt clip and a little leather case thingy. Its half baggy half case thing, it’s kinda weird but in a nice way. It’s different.
Value: I found these at the bizarre price of 3999.45 Rupee’s. I didn’t even know there was a sub division of Rupees. So, 4000 today seems to be £42 or US$64. That makes them basically the same as the GR06. Are these better value? No not really. They aren’t really any worse either, just different. These are a nice, pleasant IEM with a nice price tag.
Conclusion: The Signature Acoustics O-16 in a nice IEM. I feel like this review is almost entirely made up of the words “nice” and “pleasant” both of which are highly apt. In everything it has a go at it’s clearly rather competently capable. It just doesn’t wow me, or grab my attention. That isn’t a bad thing though. As time has passed I find myself pleasantly enjoying the O-16’s. They are the sort of IEM I could stick in my ears back in the days of studying and have Bach’s coral works play away all day long (oh how often did I stick on Psalm 51 and just let it repeat all day.) I would play that when studying, it was music that I liked, it was smoothly serene and had zero abrasiveness. It flowed across the ear and never jumped up demanding that you pay attention to it and nothing else.
The O-16 I feel is rather like Bach’s Psalm 51. Of which here is a tiny taster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0Df-oURuqo it won’t thrill nor excite you but I’d dare anyone to listen to it and tell me that it isn’t soothing and genteel on the ear. That is what I feel the O-16 want to be too. It’s maybe a bit on the thick side but does that “nicely pleasant” thing so well. It’s not a thrill seeker or attention grabber. If you insist it play vigorous pop then it will do it, pleasantly, nicely but I get the impression its heart really isn’t quite in it. It will pick up some sprightliness if you whack up the volume dial, which you might be doing anyway to overcome external sounds. Still I found myself drawn back again and again to Bach’s choral works.
It’s the first time I’ve had something from Signature Acoustics come across my desk and in many ways it reminds me of several years back and some of the stuff coming out of china. Good, capable, pleasant but not quite all that. We all I think know how good the stuff coming out of china has become and I am very much looking forward to India giving them some competition. Competition is almost always good for consumers and I think if the O-16 is a display of where Signature Acoustic’s is coming from then I think we are going to be seeing some great things from them. The O-16 is in every way a nice IEM and I don’t doubt that soon they will be producing great IEM’s if this is where they are at already.