disclaimer: The Pola and Pola 39 were sent to me as part of the review tour by Alan with The Source AV. I have no financial interest in either The Source AV or in Shozy/AAW and both were sent on to the next reviewer at the close of my time with the two iems so I have received no renumeration of any kind for this review. If you have an interest in these, more information can be found on the Shozy/AAW website, or to purchase your own pair, visit The Source AV.
My understanding is the Pola is the 1st generation product and the Pola39 the 2nd so while the two share some common elements, they are not identical and should be auditioned independently.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Pola comes shipped in a flat black outer box with the AAW/Shozy collaboration logo, and the model name on the front. Details about what lurks inside are scarce as this packaging is obviously not designed as part of the marketing. Inside the outer packaging is a blue leather zipper box. This is larger than a standard case, but is well laid out and provides good protection for the contents with multiple layers of foam trays inside. The top most tray has pockets for the earpieces themselves with an area cut out for the cable. The layer beneath that contains the tips and adapters. A total of 6 sets of tips of 3 different styles are provided with the kit including a single pair of foams. Overall the kit is fairly complete, but a smaller travel case for just the earpieces and cable would be a welcomed addition.
The Pola is a collaboration between Shozy that handles the internals and AAW that handles the shells. Both universal and custom versions are available with your choice of any color you’d prefer or custom graphics (at an additional cost). Shozy is quick to note that some slight changes between the universal and custom do exist and we would expect maybe driver placements, tube lengths, and cross-over adjustments to account for those other changes. The review pair has the standard Redwood burl faceplate and black acrylic body. The burl has a thin layer of acrylic over it as well that helps protect the wood from oxidation and makes the unit look like a single piece rather than a glued on face. Nozzles are stainless with a pronounced lip and exit the housing with a forward and upward rake. A single pin-hole vent exists at the center of the rear of the shell and is easily missed if not actively looking for it. Shells are fairly small but thick and sit as much on the ear as in it. Weight is a non-issue as the shells are light and with the tip-up style wear, what little weight is present is well distributed. I found the Pola39 to be a bit more comfortable for long wear, but the Pola is certainly far from the worst I’ve worn and will likely suit those with average sized or larger ears well. Those with small ears would be well advised to try the Pola on before purchasing it though.
The Pola uses a 13mm Graphene coated dynamic driver for lows and mids and a pair of Sonion electrostatic drivers for the upper end. The Dynamic is vented to the rear of the unit with a single pin-hole sized vent that can be difficult to pick out if not looking for it. Shozy has designed their 2-way TrueXross specifically for the Sonion Electrostatics and it is used in both models of the Pola. Nominal impedance is listed as 12Ω with a sensitivity of 101 dB/mW. The impedance rating gives the impression these should be extremely easy to drive, but that is a bit of a misnomer. The Pola doesn’t require all that much voltage to drive, but because of the electrostatics, it does need more than average current. As a result, while they can be used from a smartphone or tablet, I found they scaled both qualitatively and quantitatively with better sources. On low powered sources, I found both models to sound poor and would recommend these be reserved for use with a dedicated DAP or amp that is capable of putting out enough current to really make them sing.
The provided cable is made by SYmphonym and is the Tiberon UP-Occ Copper. For those unfamiliar, UP-Occ stands for Ultra Pure – Ohno Continuous Cast which is a manufacturing process designed to minimize grain boundaries and create as uniform a material as possible. While the casting process does not ensure a perfect conductor, it strives to remove as many obstacles as possible. The Tiberon is a 4 core braid with each core being heavier than average. The cable resists tangling but due to its thickness and rigidity, it does have some memory when stored coiled.
Starting at the south end, the Jack is a Rhodium plated straight 3.5mm with a polished stainless and carbon fiber housing. A short strain relief rests at the cable exit and then the 4 wire braid climbs to the barrel shaped splitter. The splitter matches the jack in both style and size with a polished steel button style chin slider immediately above the splitter. The chin-slider is well done and holds position well once set while still being easy to manipulate when needed. A pair of two wire twists exit the splitter and head north to the pre-formed earhooks and .78mm bi-pin connectors. The connectors are of the recessed variety with a polished metal housing followed by a clear plastic insert that fits down into the recess in the earpieces. The housings have a pair of red or blue rings around them for easy L/R orientation. Pins are gold plated for corrosion resistance as well. The cable retails for $169 by itself and I don’t feel that is disproportional to the quality it provides. That is worth considering in purchase decisions as many other models will require the purchase of an after-market cable at an additional cost.
Sub-bass is well delivered but not elevated and roll-off is only evident in the lower 40Hz range. The mid-bass maintains the level of the sub-bass without a marked elevation and gives the Pola a bit of warmth without being bass dominated. As a result, the lower voiced instruments have good weight and tonality without seeming overdone or thickened as sometimes accompanies similar tunings. Speed is good, with slightly slower decay than attack but to my ear it could use a touch more speed on both as that would really allow the dynamic to match the speed of the top end. There is a definite disparity between the speed of the dynamic used for the low end and the speed of the stat at the top. Overall, a well rendered natural sounding bass with good proportions. Bassheads need not apply as this one is nearly neutral than they will prefer.
Mids generally stay in good linearity with the rest of the signature although there is a very slight dip in the lower mids. I don’t want to call it a recess as it is slight and only serves to make the upper mids stand out a bit more. I didn’t note any obstructive mid-bass bleed, and in general the lower mids have good detail and texture, they just are not quite as far forward as the upper portion. Vocals are generally quite good as they have good weight and timbre, but I did find that particularly higher pitched vocals sometimes struggled to have room to work. Its hard to describe exactly, but at times some vocals felt as if you had built a small box around them and while other instruments were allowed outside the box, the vocal was forced to stay in it. This was particularly true when there was a lot going on other than the vocal. Stripped down tracks had no issue so this may be more a matter of layering than anything else. Most of the time, vocals were gorgeously textured and well rendered and while tempted to say this was a mastering issue, I found it on at least 3 tracks where I had never heard this phenomena before by different artists with different producers so I think it is more related to the Pola than the recording. I did find the Pola particularly fun to listen to things like 40 Fingers guitar quartet as it does a great job of rendering acoustic guitar.
The lower treble does have some extra energy early, but then drops back before it becomes harsh so I found no issues with fatigue with the treble tuning. The push does give vocals a forward feel and allows percussion to shine as well. Then the stat really starts to show off. It adds plenty of air and sparkle at the top, without getting annoying (most of the time) in the process which is a tough line to walk. I did find tracks that lean toward sibilance anyway can seem sharp at times and will say the Pola is not particularly forgiving in this respect. I don’t think it is adding to what is present, but it is not mitigating it any either and the result is sharp tracks are delivered with sharp edges. Above about 7kHz is where the stat really makes itself known, and it does show a level of control that most BA drivers really struggle with. I found it to give highhat a particularly realistic sound without the metallic sound so common to lesser models, and the snare rattle again was very pleasingly real. I will say that amping has to be considered as the stat does need extra current to really come into its own and lower powered sources did not sound as clean as higher potency ones. I suspect when not enough power is provided the stat falls a bit behind and some phase issues are being created.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage is good on the Pola with very good depth, and a bit less width and height comparatively. It isn’t massive, but very livable and it seems neither too intimate, nor cavernous. Seating the orchestra is straight forward and instrument separation helps make up for some of that lost width with nothing clearly overlapped or incorrectly positioned in the mix. Layering is above average when proper amping is provided. Imaging is good, but not fantastic. Sounds are easily tracked in space, but exact position is not always easy to nail down. This is a matter of the imaging being fairly accurate, but not precise somehow.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
The Pola is an interesting in-ear in today’s market. There seems to be a great rush to try and use as many different driver types as possible in products to attract customers and I had originally feared the Pola fell into that trap. Instead, it sounds like a single dynamic for the most part augmented occasionally at the top end by the electrostatic driver. This is a tuning others attempting to use electrostatic or piezo drivers could learn a lot from. While not perfect, it uses the electostat to its best effect by subtly augmenting rather than becoming the focal point of the signature. I had previously commented that I thought electrostats needed at least one more generation to really mature as they tended to add too much sizzle at the top based on the models I had tried. I think the Pola proves that what they really need is a better understanding of how to best use the driver and how to tune for it. Perhaps the fault never lay with the driver at all, but with those who tuned it. The Pola manages to carefully walk the line between closed in and harsh which is something most models struggle with regardless of driver type. Resisting the temptation to add a dedicated mid-range driver was probably wise as well as the resultant product seems more coherent than many of the higher driver count models (with the caveat that it has to be driven appropriately). At nearly $1000 USD, these are not an inexpensive proposition and competition is fierce at this price point. While I cannot say I would outright chose the Pola over some of the others I’ve reviewed in this category (Rai Penta for example) most of the reason I shy away a bit from the Pola is fit (which I am happy to report is corrected in the Pola 39). I also found the tuning in the treble to be slightly more forgiving on the Pola39 which for my music collection is a good thing. If these fit comfortably for you and you like a signature that is well balanced but not smoothed over in the process, these are certainly worth a look. If they sound good, but fit is a bit of an issue, instead check out the Pola 39 which offers a lot of similarities in a smaller package.
- Bass - 7/107/10
- Mids - 7.5/107.5/10
- Treble - 7/107/10
- Soundstage - 7.5/107.5/10
- Imaging - 7/107/10
Pros: Build quality, well balanced signature, good air at top without getting harsh in process, pretty wood
Cons: Size may be a problem for some, needs a good amp, not particularly forgiving