By: Kenneth Kwok
March 8, 2013
Writing review introductions here at APH Networks is quite an art. It reminds me of a slightly cliché line taken from an anime I have watched a while ago called Ef - A Tale of Memories. The line "wasuretakunai omoide arimasuka?" is said at the end of every episode, which is roughly translated into English as "Do you have memories you don't want to forget?" To me, this is a thought provoking quote, and effectively drives the watcher into anticipating the next episode; one of the major themes of the show itself. To answer the question, one has to wonder if it is possible to actually not have any memories you don't want to forget. Sure, it is possible to have memories that one may wish to forget, but is it really conceivable to have it the other way around? The obvious answer here "no". All I want to get across here is I will never forget how great finding inspiration to write is, be it for review introductions or academic papers. With that in mind, let's move along to our product this week. Today, we will be taking a look at another Gigabyte product. Surprisingly, it is a pair of earbuds, something the company isn't exactly known for making, considering how they are more commonly associated for their motherboards and video cards. The Gigabyte GP-H11 in ear monitors will have to stand the test as to whether this is a product worth remembering, or something that can soon be quickly forgotten. Read on to find out more!
Our review unit of the Gigabyte GP-H11 came in the same medium sized, brown corrugated cardboard as the Gigabyte Force M7 Thor we took a look at two weeks ago from Gigabyte's American headquarters in California, USA. As mentioned before, FedEx Ground was the choice of shipping here, which did a good job of making sure the package arrived to us on time, and in a good condition. Plastic air pockets were used inside the box to make sure things did not move too much, and even if they did, it would not damage the products found inside. In addition to what we expected to find inside, we also received some marketing material from Gigabyte that were obviously not originally intended for us. With these posters and other press materials now hanging around our lab for no apparent reason, let's put it to good use somewhere later on in this review -- might as well use what we have around here, right?
When it comes to looks, the retail packaging isn't exactly spectacular, but it does get its point across. Using a common black color scheme and a small plastic cutout in the middle, we are treated with the look of the Gigabyte GP-H11 at first glance. The small box used to hold it can be very useful for bigger retail displays; not to mention the less material used, the cheaper it is to produce -- which, in turn, passes some of the savings down to the end user. Hold on, let me reword that -- it is environmentally friendly. One problem may arise from such a simple design is that it may get lost in the shelves, so to speak, because it doesn't necessarily pop out from the crowd. Even so, Gigabyte's logo can be found at the top of the box above the plastic display; below this part, we have the name of the product, along with some details including, "Aluminum Headsets, Amazing Headsets", and the motto, "Sound of Heavy Beats". The bottom of the box has the usual serial numbers, bar code, certifications, and other text most people ignore.
Cracking open the packaging, you will quickly find what we have seen from the front of the box. No surprises here -- this is exactly what you will get. It is not necessarily out of the ordinary to discover there are not much else included, considering how this product is intended for the budget market. Inside, there is a plastic mold used to hold the Gigabyte GP-H11 earbuds, and two additional ear sleeves for different sized ears. This type of packaging and product placement is pretty fair for the target audience, and competes well against products in a similar price range you will find at your local brick and mortar store.
Before we move on, let's take a look at the specifications of the Gigabyte GP-H11, as obtained from Gigabyte's press materials:
- Channel: 2.0
- Driver Diameter: 9mm
- Earphone Material: Silver, AL
- Earpads: White, Rubber (Sizes:S/M)
- Impedance: 16Ω/Ohms
- Frequency Response: 150-‐20,000Hz
- Cable Length: 1.2m
- Connector: 3.5mm Jack
- Weight: 11.3g
The Gigabyte GP-H11 only comes in one color design, and that is the one shown here. It is colored white for nearly every single part, except for the silver matte finished aluminum driver housing. When it comes to looks, the GP-H11 is quite aesthetically pleasing in my personal opinion, and fits right in with almost every Apple product out there. Even if you don't have an Apple product, I am sure it will fit in with your Samsung Galaxy S series smartphone, since they look like the same thing anyway (Just kidding!). While it may be hard to say whether this is a good or bad thing, one can easily sum up that the looks are fairly decent, and fits right in with most modern personal electronics.
Weighing in at only 11.3g, these earbuds are light to say the least. This is most likely due to its no frills approach, with lightweight aluminum and standard cabling material. As with all other in-ear monitors, they are inserted straight into the user's ear, which is what most people will use as a standard configuration anyways. The biggest problem with many in-ear earbuds is their tendency to create low frequency noise from the wire when it rubs up against your clothing. This is amplified by the fact that the device is used to isolate noise from the surrounding environemnt, and it becomes more apparent because of this fact. An easy way to prevent this from happening is to wrap the wire around your ears, or behind your neck. I personally have always used the second method, and it works to a fair degree -- enough to reduce enough noise that I can go about listening to my music peacefully while walking around. The stock rubber sleeves are good enough for good fit, however the lack of sizes other than small and medium is a bit disconcerting, and could lead to problems for some people. Personally, I chose the medium size rubber sleeves, as they were more comfortable and provided a better fit for me.
The connector on the Gigabyte GP-H11 is a standard straight 3.5mm jack, meaning it sticks straight out from the device it is plugged into. I find this to be problematic when it comes to long term usage, since the cable easily becomes damaged over time when it is tied around a device without leaving a little room above the connector. In addition, it is also quite difficult to loop cables with this connector. The earphones can easily be pulled out accidentally due to its design. When it comes to cable length, 1.2m should be more than enough for use on a wide variety of devices.
As previously mentioned, the cabling is the standard fare, except it is colored white instead of the common black. The bottom half of the cable are two thinner white cables stuck together, while the top part separated by a small divider breaks into two separate cables for the right and left drivers, respectively. A small plastic slider can be found above the divider, and is used to adjust the cable split length, and thus, modifies the effective location of the Y-split junction.
A quick comparison photo: Gigabyte GP-H11 (Left), V-MODA Vibe Remix Remote (Center), and the Sony MDR-EX85LP (Right).
Like all other in-ear monitors, the drivers are aimed directly into your ear to provide a clearer and crisper sound without too much outside interference. Doing so also has the added benefit of making the product overall much easier to clean, since you are never directly in touch with the drivers, and the story gets much better once you remove the rubber sleeves. These sleeves, of course, also help direct the sound into the ear, and also provide noise isolation as characterized by all in-ear monitors.
Taking a look at the Gigabyte GP-H11 next to our V-MODA Vibe Remix and Sony MDR-EX85LP, we can tell they lack a little in terms of design. To say it is just simplistic is an understatement, but at the very least, they don't look like the generic in-ear earbuds that you can find at the dollar store. The cables are pretty clean looking, and the white contrasting the silver matte aluminum appears to be good enough to fit in with most devices. For a product of this caliber, the design itself isn't necessarily a fault, and works well enough to be considered passable. Of course, it is a bit unfair to compare it to products that easily cost way more than our review unit. This is mostly for reference, and provides a better look at what the device looks like in comparison to other earbuds in the market.
As we always state in all of our audio reviews, there are no truly objective methods of measurement when it comes to sound quality. On the other hand, it is part of our job to put the audio product we are given through a series of subjective tests to try and come up with the most objective judgment possible. The tests were primarily tested with the ADI SoundMAX 1988B integrated audio codec found on the Asus P5E3-Deluxe motherboard, with the Gigabyte GP-H11 plugged directly into the back 3.5mm analog output. While it may not be the newest or greatest thing on the market, this should be good enough for some subjective testing. When it comes to mobile testing, I have used a few different products, including the Apple iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, Google Nexus 4, and my own HTC One X with Beats Audio (Mostly software gain boosts and adjustments).
After approximately 50 hours of break-in time, I have started out testing with tracks that are uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192Kbps or higher.
The following IEMs were used for reference benchmarking, and not necessarily directly compared:
- Gigabyte GP-H11 (Retails for around $10)
- V-MODA Vibe Remix Remote ($80 at press time)
- Sony MDR-EX85LP (Retails for around $50)
- Stock Apple Earbuds (Overpriced from the manufacturer)
To be honest, when I first put on the Gigabyte GP-H11, I did not have too high of an expectation, given the price of the product. However, after some prolonged usage, I was pleasantly surprised that they were not quite as bad as I thought they would be. Since in the past I have used some pretty bad audio products given the price range, these are by far miles (Or kilometers, depending on where you live) ahead of what I have expected, and seems to hold their own in the market they are aimed towards. Actually, after using them for some time, I found them to be decent enough for day to day use, considering how light they are, and the sound produced from them.
The first thing I noticed when using the Gigabyte GP-H11 was unexpectedly good soundstaging for something that costs $10. This is apparent when I ran through some audio tests listening to different types of music, and also using them for watching TV shows and gaming. It became clear after prolonged usage that the directional sound from the earbuds were smile-worthy, again, considering the price range. Sounds that are supposed to sound more distant do so, while sounds that are closer appear as they should -- although this does come with an exception. The problem I had with the overall soundscape was when it came down to the bass -- it just felt lacking, and was somewhat flat, so to speak. I will go into more detail about the bass later on in this review. Clarity wise, the highs and mids were just as good as one would expect from a product that could easily cost up to five times more than our test unit. Which is to say, $50 earphones, which is not a lot, but still. High pitched sounds from instruments and vocals are audible with decent clarity, and the same can be said in the midrange sections as well. Overall, the balance is acceptable, but there is an obvious focus on the highs and midrange compared to the lower end of the spectrum.
As aforementioned, the focus on the highs and mids is quite clear, which sadly leaves something to be desired when it comes to the bass. The biggest problem with this was in some songs where the accompanying instruments sounded a bit out of place compared to the vocals, or that there was a much higher emphasis on the vocals at times. Although this may not always be a bad thing, since some songs really saw the vocals rocking through while the background instruments were just as noticeable, this was especially true for tracks that had a piano accompaniment.
Unfortunately, the heavier focus on the upper to midrange left some problems when it comes to the overall harmony. In theory, harmony, naturalness, and balance are all closely associated. If any of the areas are out of place even by a little, it becomes quite noticeable. This is sadly the case, as the overall cohesiveness or the sound layering becomes a problem in some specific cases. A good way of putting it would be to say that with the music doesn't always feel integrated properly, and that some ranges -- especially the lows -- feel distant and out of place than I would have liked it. However, when it comes to the upper and midrange frequencies, they seem to stand their own, and play back as if they were more focused than other parts of the track.
When it comes to just the highs, the Gigabyte GP-H11 does the job well with a relatively clean reproduction of this range. As such, the treble is relatively distinct, sharp, and wet -- which ends up giving a high emphasis on high pitched percussion instruments and high frequency sounds. The only recommendation would be to just boost the treble a slight notch higher, as it is a bit recessed. This is important to better fit the overall balance that could be produced with these audio devices.
Looking at the midrange section of the Gigabyte GP-H11, they are just as good as the highs in most areas. Theoretically speaking, the midrange section can be broken up into the lower-midrange, mid-midrange, and upper-midrange, which are all important to the overall balance of creating a fully immersive audio experience. The two subsections that impressed me is the upper-midrange and mid-midrange, which produces an good reproduction of the electrical signals put through. The lower-midrange is slightly lacking in some parts, and this reaches down into the bass, which we will cover next. The standard instruments and vocals in the upper to mid-midranges are reproduced very well for something that commands a price tag of $10 at press time, while reaching the lower-midrange just seems to only be satisfactory at best.
Getting into the bass, I found this to the be the biggest problem with the Gigabyte GP-H11. This can be seen when it comes the lack of 'kick', and how the bass seems to fall flat at times; there are even cases where the bass feels out of place or too far off in the background when they should be the closest sound. This may sound odd, but after many tests, I can say for sure that the bass just feels empty -- not quite up to par. Although some may see this as a positive, especially if one does not like the heavy thumping sounds in some audio products, almost every song has some sort of low frequency notes, and the lack of such a kick is a bit frustrating. Producing this result wasn't too difficult; just tuning in on a song with heavy bass or even playing a bit of Counter-Strike was more than enough to show the problem. Bullets in Counter-Strike sounded a bit hollow, and made these quite inappropriate for gaming.
All in all, the cohesion found in the Gigabyte GP-H11 is acceptable overall, however some parts still fall a little short. That is not to say that it is all over the place, but it is noticeable in some of our test tracks. In the end, the sound reproduction for this product that costs around $10 USD at press time is pretty amazing. Just because the bass is a bit lacking, it feels disconnected from the rest of the ranges, and this is where I had the most trouble with the Gigabyte GP-H11. The upper to midrange sections is pretty good, and produces sound crisper than you think, with vocals and most instruments clearly audible. It is when we get down to the lower levels that the problem becomes noticeable, and a disconnect can be found in some tracks that have a heavy emphasis on the highs and lows in harmony.
Noise isolation for the Gigabyte GP-H11 is not the greatest, but it is good enough to block out most major noises. The way rubber sleeves are used is probably a contributing factor to the shortcomings in terms of noise isolation, and the fact that only two sizes of sleeves are included can also easily affect the overall sound isolation for people who cannot get a good fit. Another issue found here is the lightness of the earbuds also made them pop out quite easily in heavy usage situations -- rubber sleeves don't stick in quite as well as most silicone sleeves do.
When it comes to value, the Gigabyte GP-H11 cannot be beat. Simple as that. Coming in at around $10 USD at time of review, the Gigabyte GP-H11 earphones are an excellent budget option for personal audio. Price aside, other factors contribute to a pretty good product; this includes surprisingly good reproduction of the upper to mid-midrange frequencies. The treble really came through as well, with the vocals and instruments being much better than what I had expected. Soundstaging was also good, and provided an acceptable depth of field for the non-discriminant user. That said, the bass and lower levels were a bit lacking. This is particularly obvious in tests where there was a heavy focus on the bass, and it just felt flat at times. Although Gigabyte's product packaging and the product itself was quite simple, one could easily say it is "environmentally conscious" and "clean looking". All in all, the sound performance is easily better than most products in the price range, if not all of them. In my personal opinion, the Gigabyte GP-H11 could easily be packaged with more accessories, and sold for five times their current price, and would still be an acceptable in book. This will definitely be one of those budget audio products that I will remember for quite some time. Sure, they are no V-MODA or Ultimate Ears, but for $10, what gives? We look forward to seeing more investments in this product line from Gigabyte in the future.
Gigabyte provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH equal.balance Award | APH Review Focus Summary:
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.0/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The Gigabyte GP-H11 may not be the best in-ear monitors in the world, but for the price of a McDonald's meal, it is unbeatable for the uber budget conscious.
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