Apple Airpods Pro True Wireless IEM.

In my fourth True Wireless review I get to grips with the Airpods Pro. Can the tech giant compete with the rest?

Disclaimer:
Apple have not paid or sponsored me for this review.
This is an unbiased review of an item I purchased myself.
The views and opinions in this piece are my own.

The Apple Airpods Pro currently retail at £249. ( At the time of this review. )
You can find them and other products on their website here-
https://www.apple.com/uk/airpods/

Review equipment:
Apple Airpods Pro.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ 2019 edition.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ 2018 edition.
Apple TV 4K.
Apple MacBook Air.
Apple iPhone XS Max.
Apple Watch Series 4.
Qobuz Studio Premier.
Spotify Premium.

What’s in the box:
2x Airpods Pro.
1x Wireless charging case.
1x Lightning to USB Type-C cable.
6x Silicone ear tips.
1x Instructions and information leaflet.

Spec:
Active Noise Cancellation
Transparency mode
Adaptive EQ
Vent system for pressure equalisation
Custom high-excursion Apple driver
Custom high dynamic range amplifier
Dual beam forming microphones
Inward-facing microphone
Dual optical sensors
Motion-detecting accelerometer
Speech-detecting accelerometer
Force sensor
H1-based System
Sweat and water resistant (IPX4)
Dimensions:
Height: 30.9 mm (1.22 inches) Airpods
Width: 21.8 mm (0.86 inches) Airpods
Depth: 24.0 mm (0.94 inches) Airpods
Weight: 5.4 grams (0.19 ounces) Airpods
Height: 45.2 mm (1.78 inches) Case
Width: 60.6 mm (2.39 inches) Case
Depth: 21.7 mm (0.85 inches) Case
Weight: 45.6 grams (1.61 ounces) Case
Charging and battery:
Works with Qi-certified chargers or the Lightning connector
AirPods Pro
Up to 4.5 hours of listening time with a single charge (up to 5 hours with Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency off)
Up to 3.5 hours of talk time with a single charge
AirPods Pro with Wireless Charging Case
More than 24 hours of listening time
More than 18 hours of talk time
5 minutes in the case provides around 1 hour of listening time or around 1 hour of talk time
Connectivity
Bluetooth 5.0
Accessibility
Accessibility features help people with disabilities get the most out of their new AirPods Pro. Features include:
Live Listen audio

Build and finish:
The build and finish of the Airpods Pro are what you would typically expect from Apple.
Clean minimal looks, robust build and a premium finish.
Admitted, Apples style isn’t every ones cup of tea. However if you’re like me and love the minimal user friendly aesthetic that they use then you’re going to enjoy the Airpods Pro.
They are lightweight and out of every True Wireless IEM I have reviewed, they are by far the most pocketable model.
The case is compact and the wireless charging is fast. Battery level for both the case and Airpods can be seen in iOS in the side bar.
The ear tips are made from a premium grade silicone and Apples unique mount works well without being fiddly. You’ll be glad to know that there are aftermarket tips available that are made specifically for the Airpods Pro, including brands such Spinfit.
The stems are a lot less obtrusive than on the previous Apple Airpod model and benefit from the force sensors inside them. The feedback is just enough to simulate a light button click.
I just wish Apple would ditch the chrome rings as It takes away slightly from the otherwise very clean white and black. Then I’m probably being a touch petty as they’re not that noticeable. And they are an integral part of the Airpod Pro.
They don’t come across as an audiophile product in their looks but then they’re not aimed at the audiophile market.
Do they pass the upside down open case shaky shaky test? Yes, with flying colours.

Setup:
This is where Apple are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest.
Have your Airpods in their case next to your iPhone and open the case.
They will pair instantaneously and iOS will take you step by step through the setup process.
Once set up you’ll find the Airpods pro to be very easy to use and they will integrate into your Apple eco-system very nicely.
Swapping between devices is a breeze, whether it be Mac OS, tvOS, iOS or iPadOS. Your devices will see the Airpods Pro automatically and all you need to do is select them in the menu. Apple have also now made it possible to share what you are listening to by allowing more than one pair to me connected at one time.
There is no app to speak of as iOS does all the software and firmware management.
Noise cancelling, transparency mode and spacial audio can be accessed either in the Control Panel by clicking on the Airpods slider or through Siri.
Siri works effortlessly with the Airpods Pro and so far I’ve had a 100% success rate.
Apple have now included another handy feature called Live Listen which utilises the iPhones mic to amplify the outside world. This can be accessed in the Control Panel.


Comfort:
The contrast between the Airpods and Airpods Pro in terms of comfort is night and day.
I could not get on with the original Airpods, they would not stay in my ears and if I used aftermarket ear-hooks to hold them in place I found them extremely uncomfortable within a short space of time.
The Airpods Pro are completely different, more in line with a tradition IN-ear design unlike the previous “in/out/slipping all about-ear” design as I like to call it. Sorry, Not sorry!
No the Airpods Pro are comfortable to wear for longer listening sessions and have a good seal and fit. IF you do struggle with keeping them in there are aftermarket ear-hooks available for the Airpods Pro online.
As always I gave my head a good old shake to the point of my eyes almost coming loose, I’m afraid to say in my case they will shake loose if I shake my head vigourously enough. In normal use they stay put with no issues. Ok for me as I’m not a gym-bunny or very active. However if you’re in the prime of life and out there running your posterior off then this is something you may want to consider when looking at the Airpods Pro.

Active Noise Cancelling:
Apple have nailed it with the Airpods Pro on the ANC front.
Easily accessible through iOS, a few second squeeze of the left or right stem or through Siri. “Hey Siri, Activate Noise Cancelling.” or “Hey Siri, Activate Transparency Mode.” It’s that straight forward!
It’s good enough that I never feel the need to take the Airpods out of my ears.
If I’m out and about I leave them in and with a click or quick voice command I can hear everything around me, if anything even a little amplified. On the same note switching to noise cancelling is just as fast and it works really well, muting almost everything outside of my ears. It’s definitely one of the better implementations I’ve experienced.
Calls are crystal clear and my voice is picked up really well with hardly any background noise.

Sound:
Here’s where it gets a little interesting.
By most, the Airpods Pro aren’t considered an audiophile product.
However I think it depends on your interpretation of the term audiophile.
Anyway we won’t get into that here today.
In stereo with no eq’ing or tweaks the Airpods Pro sound good.
We get a medium-wide soundstage with a satisfactory audio image.
Separation is ok but gets lost in noisier parts of songs.
Bass is tight and punchy and can reach the low notes without too much difficulty.
Mids are forward and vibrant. Vocals and classical instruments sound particularly good here.
Highs are crisp and well paced if a little rolled off at the higher end.
The Airpods Pro do have a detailed sound but you could find better at this price point.
Source is the key here. Find a good source in hi res and they will sound great.
Play anything below Redbook ( 16bit / 44.1kHz ) or something that’s been recorded/mastered poorly and it’s going to sound bad.
Things change however when we view the Airpods Pro as a multi media IEM.
Apple just recently introduced a firmware update that included “Spatial sound”.
When watching a video or playing a game on iPhone it turns the Airpods Pro into a virtual home theatre with a genuinely great 3D audio image. And you don’t lose any bass performance or detail.
And as I stated before, switching between devices is easy. So if you need to use them with your iPad for a zoom meeting or your MacBook to edit a movie you can switch seamlessly and get straight to it.
Being able to use them with the Apple TV is awesome. I sometimes enjoy having a Netflix or Amazon Prime binge into the early hours and being able to use the Airpods Pro has become an invaluable tool to allow me to enjoy my programmes without waking the rest of the household.

Summery:
At £249 the Apple Airpods Pro are priced well when considering the tech and features packed into a compact IEM.
If you’re looking for a truly audiophile pair of True Wireless IEMs these aren’t going to be the model for you.
However if you’re invested in the Apple eco-system, and looking for a great all rounder with excellent active noise cancelling with the added bonus of extra features then you could do far worse.
Yes there are other brands that will work with the iPhone that sound far better, however they won’t have the long list of features or the flexibility that the Airpods Pro offer.
It’s a decision that each user will need to weigh up taking into account what’s important to them as an end user.

Thank you to my readers for taking a look and please don’t forget to subscribe, like and share.

All my very best. Paul.

Meze Audio Rai Solo IEM.

Next up in an ever growing line up of Meze Audio products, I review the Rai Solo.
Read more to get my thoughts on this very cool looking IEM.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Disclaimer:
I have not been paid or sponsored by Meze Audio for this review.
The views in this publication are unbiased and my own.
Alexandra and Meze Audio kindly sent these my way to review.
The Rai Solo retail at $249 at the time of this review.

You can pick some up by following the link below-
https://mezeaudio.eu/collections/all/products/rai-solo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Review equipment:
Meze Audio Rai Solo.
Astell & Kern AK70.
Samsung Galaxy Note Ten+.
Audioquest Dragonfly Black v1.5.
Qobuz Studio Premier.

Music:
Fleetwood Mac – Audiophile Collection. ( Redbook 16bit / 44.1kHz )
David Bowie – Hunky Dory. ( Redbook 16bit / 44.1kHz )
Rebecca Pidgeon – The Raven. ( Redbook 16bit / 44.1kHz )
Mahler – Symphony No. 5. ( Redbook 16bit / 44.1kHz )
Mastodon – Once More Around The Sun. ( Redbook 16bit / 44.1kHz )
Gorillaz – Demon Days. ( Redbook 16bit / 44.1kHz )

https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/3785941
https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/3784071

The Audiophile Cafe readers can receive 1 month’s free subscription to Studio, which allows you to listen to Qobuz’s entire music library in Hi-Res and CD quality. 
Please note: Existing Studio subscribers need to unsubscribe first before activating the gift. 
Please click on the following link for more:
https://try.qobuz.com/tqs_fr/?qbzs=society&qbzc=THE_AUDIOPHILE_CAFE&utm_source=society&utm_medium=partner_page&utm_campaign=THE_AUDIOPHILE_CAFE


What’s in the box:
2x Meze Audio Rai Solo IEM.
1x 1.3m MMCX braided, silver plated copper cable.
1x Hard Case.
3 pairs of soft silicone ear tips S, M, L.
3 double flanged ear tips S, M, L.
2 deep insertion double flanged ear tips M, L.

Spec:
Driver: 9.2mm UPM dynamic driver.
Diaphragm thickness: 9µm.
Impedance: 16 Ohm.
SPL: 105±3dB at 1mW/1kHz.
Frequency response: 18Hz – 22kHz.
Distortion: <1% at 1mW/1kHz.
Stock cables: MMCX connector ending in 3.5mm.
Warranty period: 2 years.

Build and finish:
You’ve gone and done it again Meze Audio!
Meze have created an IEM that had I not known the price, would have guessed at being priced between $500 and $600. At the least.
Premium craftsmanship is to be found throughout. The sintered steel shell has been lovingly designed, crafted and finished to the highest quality with colour coded machined nozzles to match with left and right being very clear between red and blue.
These are an ergonomically designed IEM and it shows. Nothing was rushed here.
The included cable is perfect. Stylish, lightweight yet sturdy with nearly zero microphonics, again I wish more headphone and IEM brands would take note and put as much time and effort into the cable as they do the main product. Meze Audio are one of the brands leading the way in creating premium cables to complement their products.

Comfort:
Meze Audio have designed a lightweight ergonomic IEM that sits inside your ears and disappear. The silicone ear tips included are smooth and comfortable but with enough texture to help them stay put creating a good seal, offering good isolation.
The included cable has a flexible sleeve covering the last few inches or so that go up around your ear and these help to hold the Solos firmly but comfortably in place.
Glasses can be worn with no issues which is something that I sometimes struggle with with this style of IEM and cable.
I found that after 3 hours of solid listening I experienced no discomfort or fatigue.

Sound:
What we have here is an IEM that easily punches above its weight due to an impressive dynamic range and low impedance.
Starting with a wide soundstage and great imaging the Solo put you right in front of the stage or behind the mixing desk.
Instrument separation is excellent squeezing out every little detail, and remaining so in busier sections of music.
Vocalists and instruments are clearly positioned creating an almost 3D image.
Lows and mid bass are articulate and on point with great extension and presence. They have a controlled sound with form and plenty of reach into the lower frequencies.
Mids and Mid highs are neutral and have an organic sound. Vocals come through beautifully with air and body without sounding exaggerated.
The Solo have a fair amount of upper frequency sparkle which is immediate with detail and accuracy that I have rarely heard in an IEM at this price.

Summery:
Amazing looks that are more akin to a $500 IEM.
Ergonomic design which allows them to essentially disappear and be worn for extended periods.
Sound performance that punches well above its weight with an extensive dynamic range.
Great all-rounder that plays any genre with ease.
Easy to drive due to low impedance.
A 5 Star audiophile IEM!

I would recommend these to anyone after an affordable pair of IEMs that have a full bodied sound without sacrificing quality.



Therefore I give the Rai Solo IEM The Audiophile Cafe’s Editors Choice award!

Thank you again to my readers for their ongoing support.
Please remember too subscribe, like and share.

A big thank you to Alexandra and everyone at Meze Audio for their generosity and continued support of The Audiophile Cafe!

And thank you to todays sponsor, Airpulse Audio.

Big Fudge Vinyl Inner Record Sleeves

Continuing with this series of reviews, Big Fudge Vinyl’s inner record sleeves are up next…

Disclaimer:
Big Fudge Vinyl have not paid or sponsored me for this review.
This is an unbiased review and the views and opinions in this piece are my own.
I’d like to thank Christian at Big Fudge Vinyl for kindly sending this package out to The Audiophile Cafe.

The Big Fudge Vinyl inner sleeves currently retail at $16.50 for a pack of 50.
You can find this and other products on their website here:-
https://bigfudgevinyl.com/

What’s in the box:
50x Big Fudge Vinyl 12″ paper inner sleeves.

Build and finish:
This will be another short review as there’s only so much one can say about paper sleeves.
They are well made and some thought has gone into their design.
The exterior seams and rounded corners make insertion into the record cover easy with no frustrating folds, creases or catch-ups.
So far I have noticed no dust or flakes from the paper as I have heard can happen with some paper sleeves. I’m experiencing zero static which is of course what we want. Static is the enemy!

Spec:
Acid and alkaline free paper.
Bright white, heavyweight paper. 20Ibs.
Exterior seams.
Rounded corners.

Thoughts and summery:
Perfect replacement inner sleeves to ensure the continued protection and care of your precious vinyl.
At $16.50 for 50 sleeves, it’s another bargain and great investment from Big Fudge Vinyl.
Big Fudge Vinyl also stock packs of 100 and have various sizes of inner sleeve for your every vinyl need.

Thanks to all my readers.
Please be sure to subscribe, like and share these reviews and the blog.

Many thanks. Paul.

The Audiophile Cafe is sponsored by Custom Cans, providing the blog with custom cables for almost any requirement and keeping the signal path consistent between devices.

Grado GT220 True Wireless IEM.

Grado have finally stepped into the True Wireless arena with the all new GT220.
And what an entrance! Read on as I review the first pair of True Wireless IEMs to truly impress me…

Disclaimer:
Rich and John at Grado kindly sent the GT220 True Wireless IEMs my way for review.
I have not been paid or sponsored by Grado and the thoughts and views expressed in this publication are unbiased and my own.

The Grado GT220 True Wireless IEM retail at $259 at the time of this review.

You can pick some up by following the link below-
https://www.4ourears.net/product_p/4e-gt220.htm?fromgrado=yes

Review equipment:
Grado GT220 True Wireless IEM.
Samsung Galaxy Note Ten+.
Qobuz Studio Premier.

Music:
https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/3785941
https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/3784071

The Audiophile Cafe readers can now receive 1 month’s free subscription to Studio, which allows you to listen to Qobuz’s entire music library in Hi-Res and CD quality. 
Note: Existing Studio subscribers need to unsubscribe first before activating the gift. 
Please click the following link for more:
https://try.qobuz.com/tqs_fr/?qbzs=society&qbzc=THE_AUDIOPHILE_CAFE&utm_source=society&utm_medium=partner_page&utm_campaign=THE_AUDIOPHILE_CAFE

What’s in the box:
2x Grado GT220 True Wireless IEM.
1x Charging case.
1x USB Type C charging cable.
6x Multiple ear tips.
1x Instruction leaflet.

Spec:
Bluetooth: 5.0
Battery Life: 36 hours
Headphone Battery: 6 hours; 50mAH
Case Battery: 5 full charges; 500mAH
Charging: USB-C, Wireless; 2 Hours
Codec: aptX, AAC, SBC
Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz
Nominal Impedance: 32ohms

Build and finish:
I’ve owned my fair share of Grado products over the years and their attention to detail and craftsmanship has always brought joy to my audiophile heart.
The GT220 are no different here. The IEMs and the case are well designed and have clearly been thought through thoroughly. Now there’s a tongue twister!
I digress. The case is subtly stylish and robust. The IEMs sit inside the charging ports firmly and will not budge when one tries to shake them out of an upside down case. That’s the first test passed! They are lightweight and pocketable and the case is no bigger than others I have reviewed. Grado get 5 stars for including wireless charging. See it’s not difficult folks. This is a most welcome feature! USB Type-C is still available around the rear of the case, as we all know we can’t always access a wireless charger so kudos there.
The lid is easy to open and stays shut when closed. I know you would think this would be an all too obvious feature, however I have struggled with other cases.
The IEMs themselves are a thing of beauty. Again Grado have opted for a subtle yet stylish design in a smooth satin black and it works so well. The Grado logos are backlit and indicate various functions of the GT220, however they don’t remain lit when inserted so don’t worry about losing any battery life.
I’ll get into more in the comfort section however I’ll add here that like the case, the GT220s are lightweight.
Battery life so far is bang on the money. I got 6 and a bit hours out of the first listen.
On my second charge now and I can confirm the 2 hour charge time.

Setup:
Setup couldn’t be easier and Grado include a step by step guide in the instruction leaflet that a 5 year old could follow.
Pairing took seconds and the connection is stable with no glitches or drop outs.
Grado don’t have a control app for these IEMs and to be honest it really isn’t required.
There is no active noise cancelling which is frustrating, however it’s not a deal breaker.
It all depends on what you’re looking for in a True Wireless IEM. And as I will discuss in a moment they more than make up for the lack of ANC in other ways.
This is not however all that much of an issue when you consider that the 220s can be individually synced allowing just one side to be worn when you need to be aware of your surroundings.

Comfort:
The GT220 are one of the comfiest True Wireless IEMs I have had the pleasure to wear.
I got a good fit with the included ear tips and they provide excellent isolation.
They are lightweight as I mentioned before and this translates into being a very comfortable, non invasive experience.
Giving my head a good shake to the point I nearly triggered a migraine, I can confirm they are shake proof. These IEMs aren’t going anywhere in a hurry. In fact against the 5 True Wireless IEMs I have used prior to the GT220s I have them currently level pegging for top position in the “Head-shake” test. So that’s another In-use test well and truly passed.
I have been listening to these on and off for 6 hours today and I am not experiencing any discomfort or fatigue.
Grado have utilised a touch pad approach with the GT220s and it is implemented well.
The gestures work every time with no hick ups. I always prefer touch pads as you don’t get to experience having your ear stabbed with a pokey thing. Which is a thing. And I have had the misfortune of having to endure it. Thank you Grado for not subjecting users to needless pain when skipping tracks or activating their voice assistant of choice. More Kudos!

Sound:
And here we come to the heart of the matter.
I have tried so hard to find fault here to ensure my readers of an unbiased review.
I will state for the record right now that so far, The GT220 are by far the best True Wireless IEM I have heard to date.
The moment I opened Qobuz and started on my playlists I was taken back by the bass.
Deep, Rich textured bass with an accuracy and impact I have not heard from a True Wireless to date. This applies to the various genres I threw at them.
Midrange is smooth and neutral with plenty of detail and air right through to the high mids.
Saxophone, Cello, Oboe and Trumpet are front and centre stage as are needle scratches and percussive pieces.
The high frequency range is spot on in its accuracy and definition. There is a natural sparkle that is a delight to hear. Cymbal hits and crashes, Guitar solos, Harp and Violin all sound sublime.
No EQ, No DSP, No tuning ports or cable swaps. They sound this good out of the box.
I say this as almost every True Wireless IEM I have tried so far has needed EQ’ing or tweaking of some form to get them to sound right. The GT220’s need no such wizardry.
The soundstage that the GT220 creates is big and spacious with headroom and depth to complement. Instrument separation is clear and concise even in busier parts of tracks.
And the imaging… I thought I understood how imaging works in IEMs, wired or wireless. Obviously I was either wrong in my assumption or I hadn’t heard anything that so far created a good enough image for me to get it. Close your eyes and play your favourite live performance and you’ll soon understand. I felt like I was in the performance not listening from the outside.
So ok, Grado decided to leave off the ANC, but great Scott they more than made up for it in the sound department!!!
I must add here as they do have a built in mic that call quality is excellent and the few folk that I test called confirmed they could hear me clearly and with no muffle or too much background noise.

Summery and recommendation:
At $259 I would say it’s a choice between active noise cancelling or superior sound quality.
If you want a pair of True Wireless IEMs that are as close to a far more expensive headphone with an astounding dynamic range then this is the one. Aside from the lack of ANC, Grado have knocked it out of the park and created what I would consider a great all rounder suiting most genres and a genuine audiophile True Wireless IEM.
I hereby award The Grado GT220 The Audiophile Cafe 5 star rating and a massive thumbs up for releasing what I consider a game changer.
If they have a model in the works with ANC you’ll be sure that I will ask to review a pair and let you know my thoughts as I predict they will be better again.
Finally, I find myself asking would I swap my other TW IEMs for these if given the chance?
In a heart beat!


I would like to thank John and Rich for allowing me this opportunity and will shortly be trying to sweet talk them into letting me keep these. I really don’t want to give them back!

Many thanks as always to my fantastic readers for your continuing support.
Please be sure to subscribe, like and share. Thank you.

Stay safe. All my best, Paul.

Big Fudge Vinyl Outer Sleeves

As part of a bulk delivery Big Fudge Audio sent out a pack of 50 of their outer sleeves. Are they worth it?

Disclaimer:
Big Fudge Vinyl have not paid or sponsored me for this review.
This is an unbiased review and the views and opinions in this piece are my own.
I’d like to thank Christian at Big Fudge Vinyl for kindly sending this package out to The Audiophile Cafe.

The Big Fudge Vinyl outer sleeves currently retail at $15.95 for a pack of 50.
You can find this and other products on their website here:-
https://bigfudgevinyl.com/

What’s in the box:
50x 12″ 3 mil HDPP, Crystal Clear, Wrinkle-Free outer sleeves.

Build and finish:
The Outer Sleeves have a robust and sturdy feel to them with no detectable sharp edges or blemishes.

Spec:
High-density polypropylene.
3 mil.
Crystal clear.
Wrinkle free.

Thoughts and summery:
The outer sleeves are well made and you can tell they’ve been through stringent quality control.
They will easily fit a gatefold which is an added bonus.
As Big Fudge state, the sleeves are clear and not cloudy at all so your record art is clear for all to see with the added bonus of being well protected!
I also noticed zero static when handling them, before and after putting my record covers in them.
$15.95 for a pack of 50 in my opinion is an absolute bargain. I’ve already covered my entire “rotation-stack” of records and still have a load of sleeves to go.
At this rate I think I’ll be able to protect my entire collection for not much cost.
Definitely a worthwhile investment.
I’ll add here that Christian has been an utter gent and legend to deal with since I made contact. Very kind and helpful and usually replies to any queries pretty quickly.
Big Fudge Vinyl are rapidly becoming a go-to brand for me due to the quality of products and the people who create them!

Thanks again to Christian and Big Fudge Vinyl for being fantastic to work with right from the get go.

Thank you to my readers! Please be sure to subscribe, like and share.

And thanks to my sponsors who make what I do that little bit easier.