URBANFUN YBF ISS-014 REVIEW
THE PLUS: Smooth and weighty sound, Natural timbre, Free of any harshness or sibilance, well balanced for a U shape sound signature, Wide soundstage
THE SO-SO: Average clarity, Average imaging, unbalanced bass, soft attack, slow transient response, darkish overall tonality lacking in texture and definition, cheap mmcx connectors
URBANFUN are among the few talented Chinese earphone companies that stood apart from the debut Chi-Fi phenomenon 7 years ago. I remember being extremely impressed by the refined tuning of their now legendary Hybrid earphones call Urbanfun Hybrid. Using one dynamic and one balanced armature drivers, these were surprisingly neutral-sounding iem with high clarity and delicate treble, which was a real bargain at 20$ and still is, even if I think they are now unfortunately discontinued. The fact is that this type of mature tuning was (and still is) exceptional in the sub-100$ price range which was invaded (and still is) by V shape or overly bright and unbalanced earphones. Strangely, after the high popularity of this bestseller, Urbanfun didn’t make any other Hybrid earphones and choose to create their own patented Beryllium drivers. These drivers stay mysterious and were used in the MarkII budget model as well as the ISS014 flagship model that I will review today.
Okay, I don’t know who choose the model name for these but there you go, they are called URBANFUN YBF-ISS014, as if they choose a patent number for naming their flagship earphones. The ISS014 use a 10mm Beryllium dynamic driver and have an all-metal housing that is very similar to BLON BL-3 and makes people overly compare these two though they have a very different sound and aren’t from the same price range.
Priced 59.00$, the ISS014 is a very affordable flagship, but don’t expect a neutral sound with those as Urbanfun themself describe their iem as U shape in sound signature. Well, I read this after writing this review so it confirms my judgment.
Now let’s see if this ”U shape” sound is well balanced and worth the asking price. As well, let’s see if it can stand apart in Dynamic drivers IEM world as the Hybrid was standing apart in Hybrid world.
You can buy these earphones directly from UrbanFun official store HERE.
Unboxing is about what we can expect for a ”flagship” in this price-range. It comes in a sober black box with a creative Urbanfun logo on it. Inside the earphones is well presented as well as having nice amount of accessories, but this box look like to be for a different iem which make it a little unserious. We have a metal box with 3 pairs of memory foams ear tips, 3 pairs of silicone eartips, an official Urbanfun carrying case, a kinda decent 4 cores spc copper cable and the earphones. For the price, it’s more than enough.
As we said, the devil is hidden in detail, and the construction shows it with the rather underwhelming craftmanship of the ISS014 housing. If you look fast, the thick and quite heavy glossy metal housing looks well built and quite sturdy, it could be if it wasn’t the mmcx female connector that has a rough look and feels badly glued inside, with some dangerous space around it that can lead to water damage or oxidation. I read multiple complaints about these connectors, being too loose and I can confirm I don’t expect a long lifetime if I swap cable often with them. Nozzle mesh too has a cheap look to it but it’s really the connector that worries me. Apart from this, the 2 metal parts of the body are well made and very beautiful, they are different than BLON, having a more triangular shape, less bulbous back and notably thicker nozzle.
CABLE look esthetically appealing, I like the mix of copper and silver-plated copper cores, not so much the ear hook but hes enough flexible to don’t create serious discomfort. What I don’t like is that it feel it darken the sound a little, so I suggest you to pay 10$ to choose upgraded cable with the ISS014 which is a 8cores SPC that look more durable and of higher quality.
In term of fitting comfort, the nozzle isn’t very long so the body tend to push against your ears if you don’t use very long ear tips, as well, as the body is slippy and flat at the back, I find it hard to do a proper placement in my ears, like pushing it precisely. This annoys me due to the fact with wrong eartips the ISS014 was popping out of my ears. Anyway, once I use KZ Starline ear tips and find the right deep fit, they stay there and the flat back of the housing is a plus if you wear a toque or wanna sleep with them.
At 32ohm of impedance and 107db of sensitivity, the ISS014 are quite easy to drive. They benefit from very clear sounding audio source like the Xduoo X20 DAP, which is cold, neutral and analytical. I do not use a portable amp with those, but this will not hurt them and when I do, soundstage does expend a little. I do not suggest warm sounding DAP or amp with the already warm sounding ISS014.
Strangely, they do not block as much outside noise as I would think, this is perhaps due to the venting hole at its side. Isolation do improve with memory foam ear tips. Noise leakage is present and above average due to the 2 venting hole that is surely very near the dynamic driver.
The ISS014 has a warm gently U shape sound signature, with liquid timbre, recessed lower mids, natural vocal, and soft treble. Telling this way, you might think they will sound like a lot of other earphones on the market, but it isn’t the case, because of their rather good tonal balance and inoffensive well-rounded sound free of any serious sibilance. Sure, it’s relaxed in the attack, even if the weighty slam is there and the timbre has good meat, this isn’t bright or snappy sounding earphones, here its the whole cohesion of fluid musicality that charm the ears.
SOUNDSTAGE is one of the highlights of the ISS014, especially in term of wideness, which extends from both way of your head in a panoramic way, tallness is quite good too, but deepness is lacking.
IMAGING is about average and what you can expect from a single dynamic driver in this price range, layering has enough transparency to make discernable other instrument but placement is a little hollow and lacks precision.
TONALITY is warm, smooth and fluid in balance without being too boosted in any region.
TIMBRE is liquid, smooth, minimally textured with airy thickness.
BASS of the ISS014 is very particular, because though it has good slam, it’s beautifully muffled, yes beautifully. This is due to the emphasis on sub-bass that warms the mid-bass punch which is already tamed in impact, as well, this is perhaps due to rather slow transient response. The extension isn’t flat and accurate, and separation is hollow. The bass does caress lower mids which are already recessed, but this adds body to vocal, as well as a liquid lushness. When listening DDIAMOND from intense math-rock band BATTLES, the lack of punch and separation with the bass is evident, it’s even hard to follow kick drum which is very forward with most IEM, as well, sub synth bass lack roundness and mix too much with rest of instrument including the voice, the only thing that positively surprised me with how ISS014 deal with this tracks is how non-agressive it becomes, but this means it sounds dull too, so I really don’t suggest these IEM for fast rock or anything that need fast punchy bass. For slower music like cello sonata, the romantic ISS014 shows a high level of organic musicality, with full-bodied polished timbre, moving good air. For acoustic bass, it’s hit or miss depending on how low the line will extend.
MIDS could have been perfect if we have a little more of them fully covered because while clear, smooth and natural, they feel slightly recessed and too warm in definition, making sometimes word articulation of singer hard understand or breathy. Anyway, while not the clearest, vocal do sound very musical and natural in their unique warm way. An instrument like Piano sound not so good in tonal balance, as mid-range, does lack attack, weight and definition while higher range note are more forwarded and lively. The lower mids do get veil by the bass, thickening the sound but stoling lot of mids information up to about 1.5khz where the real joy begins. This affects especially imaging, not the musical cohesion which gain in addictive smoothness. The woodwind instrument will sound nice with this type of treatment, smooth and full of thick air, but anything that needs some edge to attack will sound less accurate. Mid-range is near texture less, so it’s free of any sibilance. As well, female vocal sounds quite wide and enveloping, taking a front seat when their not too many instruments in a busy track.
TREBLE is delicate and gently forwarded, it’s rather smooth and not edgy apart from upper treble boost that adds sparkle and decay to highs. To my ears, the highs are a little thin and metallic, apart from this upper treble that extract a good amount of micro details, I find it quite balanced and enjoyable. It’s not grainy or overly bright, again slightly liquid in timbre but it’s the most vivid part of sound spectrum and adds some most needed energy. Overall clarity is quite good even if we aren’t in the analytical territory or sharp resolution. The Urbanfun offers an easy going musicality with good versatility and decent technicalities.
VS BLON BL03
So, did the ISS014 is new BLON killer? It’s not a really interesting question because here we talk about completely different sounding iem with one that has notably better technicalities: the BLON. At half the price, the BLON still is the unbeatable sub-50$ single dynamic driver and no it’s not inferior, the 60$ Urbanfun make a pale figure, as well as a pale sound, compared to more articulate, resolve and impactful BLON.
Simply put, when I go from ISS014 to BLON it’s like taking of a blanket taming the sound dynamic and resolution-definition. SOUNDSTAGE is bigger, more holographic, way deeper and airier with the BLON, making the ISS014 sounding like a wide tapestry at some distance from you. BASS is more thumpy, has better extension and articulation, rumble is meatier and mid-bass more textured and impactful, while ISS014 is smoother in impact and lack definition in sub and kick separation, as well, it’s less bassy but in an overly warm way. MIDS are clearer, slightly brighter with the BLON, separation is sharper and whole accuracy better than more laid back and diffuse mids of ISS014. An instrument like violin sound tonally right with good grip for the BLON while the ISS014 have a tamed edge to it and lacks texture, making it sound too liquid. TREBLE is more energic and snappy with the BLON, percussions having fuller resolution while the ISS014 highs are less balanced and thinner with extra brilliance and sparkle that can make cymbals splashy or woodblock metallic sounding.
In no way the ISS014 are better, if I force myself I would say female vocal are perhap less bright and more natural but not as clear and textured as BLON too, technically it’s seriously inferior and the lower resolution, poorer imaging, tamed attack with exception of upper treble make the comparison between those 2 very dangerous for the Urbanfun reputation, so let’s just say these 2 sound very different.
VS KBEAR Diamond (80$)
The Diamond uses a DLC driver with a notable faster transient response, but it’s less balanced at the ISS014. SOUNDSTAGE is again deeper and airier with blacker background, IMAGING is more precise and instruments have more space between them. BASS of both isn’t perfect, but the texture, tonality is better and mid-bass faster in attack but thinner in body, ISS014 have more (slow) slam but separation isn’t as good than DIAMOND. MIDS are brighter with the Diamond, less natural in tonality and timbre, thinner but more transparent and texture. As well, the Diamond is notably more sibilant making vocal way more pleasant with the ISS014. TREBLE is leaner with the ISS014, more balanced with the mids as if it’s natural continuation, with the Diamond, we have more micro details but less macro-resolution, in the sens some instrument sound overly thin or dry compared to lush Urbanfun.
All in all, the technicalities, attack, and imaging will go to the Diamond while the naturalness, timbre, and musicality go to the ISS014.
URBANFUN has made a real departure in sound tuning since their acclaimed Hybrid model, and while I think this more fun and relaxed sound signature will perhaps please a wider crowd, I don’t think it’s an interesting evolution for audiophile searching good technicalities in dynamic range and nuanced well-balanced sound.
Still, they aren’t bad at all mean, the musicality is there, and it offers a full sound that is both smooth and bassy and most of all free of sibilance. U shape is the sound as stated, warm it is too, cohesive in tonality even if not perfectly balanced. It’s fun and laid back urban fun, not for critical listening, just to enjoy with any recording quality you have because it does not show the inner weakness of badly mastered music. It’s a versatile IEM, and an inoffensive one too, easy to love and hard to hate (if you aren’t an old grumpy snobbish audiophile like me).
It’s Urban lifestyle tuned, and it’s Fun without being risky. UrbanFun tune for youngsters audio enthusiasts and the ISS014 is the perfect budget flagship IEM for bassy easy listening audio sessions for music that do not need a high level of accuracy and clarity.