Disclaimer: I purchased the NiceHCK EBX at a discounted price for purposes of this review. I also purchased the EB2 (little brother) as part of the lucky bag sale with no discount beyond the sale price applied. Thoughts here are my own and not coerced in anyway.
It has been awhile since I did any earbud reviews and when I started hearing some good things about some of the recent flagships I decided it was time to revisit the category. The last batch I reviewed were decidedly budget models like the Edifier H185, FiiO EM3, and VE Monk. This time I decided to go a bit up the ladder and will be reviewing the Astrotec Lyra Classic and the NiceHCK Eb2 along side the EBX. The EBX and Lyra represent the $100-150 price point while the EB2 dispenses with some of the niceties of the EBX but preserves much of the sound signature in the $40-50 price bracket.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The EBX ships in a small cardboard slip cover style box with very little detail about what is hiding inside printed on the package. Opening the box reveals a small black rubberized soft case bearing the NiceHCK logo. All other items are tucked neatly inside the case. Unzipping the case finds the earbuds themselves (each individually bagged to prevent scratches), the cable (also bagged) and a bag of solid and donut foams. The cable has a nice leather strap with the EBX logo and a snap provided for cable management.
The earpieces themselves are two-tone metal with a black ceramic grate covering the driver. The main housing is silver in color with a contrasting gold band that houses the mmcx connector and a silver colored faceplate bearing the NiceHCK name. The face plate has a single small vent below the logo while the rim of the driver housing has 2 elongated slots at the top and bottom to allow airflow. The mmcx connectors sit on a post near the rear of the housing and allow for fairly deep insertion. The post itself and the mmcx connector are both robust and should hold up well if treated with even reasonable care.
The EBX uses a single 14.8mm PET dynamic driver rated at 32Ω with a sensitivity of 120 dB/mW. This is certainly a larger driver than we typically see used for in ear monitors but is increasingly popular for earbuds. For example most of the Lyra series use a similar size driver as does the EB2. It should also be noted that while the EB2 has been referred to as a no-frills EBX, the driver is slightly different as the sensitivity listed by NiceHCK is only 106 dB/mW for the EB2 instead of that listed above, so while the driver type and size are listed as being equal, the sensitivity is slightly different between siblings.
The cable provided with the EBX is a first class affair. it is a 8 core cable made of half copper and half silver plated strands in a box weave up to the splitter and a litz braid above the splitter to each mmcx connector. The jack is a straight 3.5 TRS connector with a chrome housing and carbon fiber style inlay. A short strain relief is provided but could be improved by lengthening it. The splitter is a sloped barrel design with a clear slider immediately above it and the mmcx connectors are also chrome barrels with short strain reliefs. Again personal preference would be for a longer strain relief but the cable does seem extremely well made. The cable is also more pliable than most, does not seem to develop a memory or want to kink, and is light enough to wear the EBX tip down without it pulling out of your ears due to cable weight. This is a tough feat to produce a cable that is both sturdy and pliable while also maintaining a weight that doesn’t become problematic.
Any discussion of the EBX is likely to circle back to fit at some point. The earpieces are large enough and with the mmcx protruding from the side of the barrel, it will cause fitment issues for some. While seated, wearing the EBX tip down worked acceptably for me although I found they fit better if I reversed the earpieces so the posts were to the front rather than to the rear of the unit. When moving, it is better to wear the EBX Tip up so the cable can be looped over the ear and prevent cable weight from causing shifts. These issues are not solely an EBX problem but are shared by anything that uses a driver this size and has this much mass in the way of an earbud and many of these same comments will be made regarding the Astrotec Lyra and other similar designs. Some will find the overall fit of the EBX a bit too fiddly for their liking while others will see no issues with it. I fall somewhere between the two camps as I have to work to find a good fit but think the reward is worth finding it.
All of my listening notes are done without any foams installed. If you use the EBX with foams, except some differences between my notes and your listening experience.
Bass is very well controlled and proportioned. Sub-bass while present is not overstated while mid-bass is just slightly forward when compared to the lower mids. Unlike some others that have tried to compensate for the lack of seal and thus bass-light tendency of earbud designs, NiceHCK has kept everything well controlled and nothing too far above or below anything else in the range. I don’t expect bassheads will like anything that doesn’t seal firmly as sub-bass just cannot be made as punchy in an open design, but those looking for reasonable bass quantity with exceptional control will be rewarded by the EBX.
As previously mentioned, the lower mids are slightly recessed when compared to the bass and there is perceptible bass bleed into the mids that provides a bit of extra warmth and body to the overall presentation. As we move into the upper-mids the detail level is exceptional and as a result the upper-mids and lower treble sound extremely clear. The combination of really well done upper mids and lower treble make vocals stand out without detracting from the other instruments in the mix. To me this may be the singular best point of the EBX.
Lower treble is again well in sync with the mids and gives a nice unified feel to vocals without a lot of differentiation between lower and upper register vocals. As we move up, the upper treble steps back just a bit and while still providing plenty of air and sparkle avoids sounding metallic or strident. Cymbals have a nice crisp sound without coming off as digital in their reproduction which is a tough thing to do.
Soundstage / Imaging:
For an earbud with one small vent, I expected closed back like performance when it comes to soundstage, but the EBX out-performed my expectations. The stage has both good width and depth and even produced more height than I thought likely at its price point. (Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions are a good test for this).
vs MrZ. Tomahawk
bass is more controlled on EBX with less bleed than Tomahawk.
Tomahawk is more forward treble and may be harsh at times.
Layering and imaging are better on EBX (by a good margin)
vs NiceHCK Eb2
build quality and cable are far better on EBX
Eb2 has 90-95% of the sound quality of the EBX for less than 1/2 the price
Vs Astrotec Lyra Classic
Lyra Classic has slightly better tonality then EBx.
EBX has better bass extension than Lyra Classic.
Details are better on the EBX when compared to the Lyra Classic.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Overall, I think the NiceHCK EBx checks a lot of the right boxes. It has a near neutral signature without any major spikes or valleys, along with good extension on both ends. Detail is plentiful without the harshness that sometimes accompanies that. For many, the concept of a flagship earbud will seem like an oxymoron as we grew up with the cheap, and generally poor earbuds that came with devices and anything that seals seemed like a step upward from those. If you fall into that camp, you owe it to yourself to try a really good earbud design like the EBx as there is a sense of air and room size with an earbud that just is not present with designs that do seal the ear canal. Fatigue is also much lower for me than when using in-ears. The EBx is likely to remain in my daily rotation for quite sometime (not unlike the tomahawk before it) as it provides a different experience than any of the in-ear or over-ear headphones I own and is a welcome change of pace while still maintaining the clarity and detail I love when listening. To NiceHCK, I say a job very well done. The EBX deserves the title flagship.
Pros: Good bass and sub-bass quantity with great control, balanced signature, great clarity, great cable
Cons: fit is finicky, price will scare some people off.