disclaimer: Little dot is opening a US based web site and store and was looking for reviewers on this side of the pond to help promote their product line to the American market. I agreed to do so based on previous experience with Little dot’s CD transport and Amplifiers. Their tube amps have been a mainstay of the budget (and not so budget) headphone enthusiasts recommendations for quite some time, but to my surprise the first thing Little Dot wanted to send was their earphones. I’ll admit, I’ve known of Little Dot for most of 10 years, but never realized they make earphones, let alone four different models thereof. I was sent the 4 models of in-ear by LittleDotUS for purposes of review. I have not received any other renumeration or input from Little Dot on the content of these reviews.
Each model in the Little Dot / CU Audio line is designed with a different target in mind. The Wyn was designed from the ground up with EDM and house music in mind, while the Cen was designed to excel with vocal and choral music. The KIS was designed with the idea of creating the best possible signature regardless of cost, while the Rad was designed a an introduction to Little dot and Audiophile listening at the opposite end of the cost spectrum. Here you will find all four reviewed, but remember the one you are looking at now was designed for lovers of vocals and choral music.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Cen shares its packaging style with the Wyn and Kis models using the same box and largely the same kit. The box is a bookfold design with the Little Dot name on the face and the CU Audio fairy logo beneath it. Specs are all on the inside of the books cover and not visible on the package exterior so clearly not a stand-alone retail package for western shelves, but all the information is there once you open the package. The kit is all nestled in foam in one of two provided cases. The first is a hockey puck sized round metal case with the CU Aud logo on the top while the second is a pelican style (although not waterproof) snap closure polymer box that is slightly larger and rectangular. The polymer case has about 50% more internal capacity so those wanting to take accessories may prefer it over the smaller metal case which has room for earpieces and cable but little else. The kit that comes with the Cen is quite complete and has an interesting twist not seen often. The cable is a heavy braided cable with a 3.5mm balanced termination and 2.5 and 4.4mm adapters as well as a converter for 3.5 single ended use. Typically a TRRS 3.5mm jack is seen on cables with mics with a balanced 3.5mm being much less frequently seen. For this reason some care needs to be used when plugging in the Wyn as use of the balanced plug in a single ended device may result in problems for the earphone, the source, or both. The remainder of the kit includes a robust shirt clip and six different sets of silicone tips (7 total including those on the Cen).
The CEN is a barrel shaped iem with a domed face. It doesn’t have a true face-plate as the seam runs the mid-line of the barrel with equal portions of the outer and inner shell composing the main body of the unit. The housing is all made of aviation grade aluminum and anodized a bright red with the CU Fairy logo on the face. There are 3 vents on the shell with one on the outer shell immediately in front of the connector, one on the inner near the center, and one on the base of the nozzle. Nozzles exit the mid point of the shell with a distinct forward and upward rake and a pronounced lip for tip retention. Connectors are the raised .78mm bi-pin type and exit with a forward lean from the top center of the housing. L/R markers are on the inside of the connectors for easy indexing. Fit and finish of the shells is very well done with all anodizing matched nearly perfectly and no slop, gaps, glue, or non-linearity visible. Inside the shell is what Little Dot calls the Soft-frame that holds the drivers in a coaxial alignment while still reducing resonance and reflection.
The heart of the Cen is an 8mm dynamic driver and a single balanced armature in a custom designed “soft-frame” that makes the two units work as if mounted coaxially. This was done to reduce resonance, reflections, and distortion and to improve the overall sound quality. The Shells also have three different vents strategically positioned as well for maximum air flow to the dynamic driver. Nominal impedance is listed as 21Ω with a sensitivity of 100 dB/mW. This is a slightly higher impedance than either the Wyn or the Kis and as one might suspect, the Cen does prefer a bit more power than either of the other two models to do its best work. While still usable from tablet or phone, a more potent amplifier helps with coherency of sound as the drivers seem more tightly aligned as compared to lower potency sources.
As previously mentioned, the provided cable is terminated as 3.5mm TRRS balanced with adapters provided for 3.5mm Single ended, 2.5mm balanced, and 4.4mm balanced connections. The 3.5mm jack is straight with the adapters all 90º which creates a large L shape as it exits the dap or phone. Worth noting is that this arrangement is capable of putting a lot of pressure on the jack in the source device especially the 2.5mm that concentrates that force into the smallest possible area. So while this arrangement is very versatile, some care is required to be certain pressure is not applied to the adapter accidentally and transferred into the source device.
The cable provided with the CEN is 6N silver plated Oxygen free copper (OCC) in an eight (8) strand braid from the jack (black metal knurled housing) to the matching splitter. Above that, a matching chin slider hold the 4 strand braids that run to the northern ends. The hooded .78mm bi-pin connectors are encased in black plastic with a large L/R marked on the inner surfaces. The cable does not have pre-formed hooks but the connector housings are angled for tip-up wear.
A second cable without the silver plating was also provided with the kit I received. This is the same style as that with the Wyn, 4 wire from the jack to the splitter, then 2 wire twists above that point. This cable retains the 3.5mm TRRS termination with adapters for 3.5 single ended as well as 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced. The north end is a near duplicate of the silver version with black plastic housing of the same shape and .78mm hooded bi-pin connectors.
Overall, I found the cables very well made with little tendency to tangle, low-microphonics, and good pliability. If there is a complaint to be made, it is the lack of strain relief particularly at the jack where the wire is most likely to become crimped or broken.
The Cen comes with a myriad of tips provided that allow for some tuning of the sound via the tips in addition to the cable options. I found the foams to bring the upper-mids/lower treble back inline with the rest of the signature a bit so would choose those for personal listening. For sake of testing, I used the provided Silicones in size large. I did find some tonal difference between the different types and ultimately liked the colored stem version of the tips best for fit and comfort.
The Cen has good sub-bass when called upon but doesn’t push it ahead of the rest of the signature. Instead bass is very linear all the way from the roll-off in the low 30Hz range up through mid-bass before a mild step back as we move into the lower mids. Tonality is good with better than expected detail in the bass. Attack is slightly faster than decay but the CEN has less warmth and bleed than either the Wyn or Rad and sounds brighter as a result.
Lower mids have good presence and while not emphasized certainly don’t sound recessed either. Male vocals have good weight and fullness without sounding heavy or dulled. Lower strings have good timbre and weight as well. The Cen is definitely an improvement over the Wyn or Rad for those who like string ensemble pieces as the true mids are more natural sounding giving violin a more natural tonality than either of the other two. While Little Dot says the Cen was tuned for vocal lovers, it does a good job of guitar rock as well with good growl and tone to both electric and acoustic in my listening. Upper mids climb substantially moving vocals in front of the instrumentation and giving female vocals a bit of extra push. The upper-mid/ lower-treble push of the CEN gives it an overall bright tone.
The lower treble continues the climb started in the upper-mids and becomes the primary focus of the CEN as it is easily the most dominant feature of the sonic landscape. It begins to fall back in line at about 4kHz before dropping a bit below the mids and bass in the 5kHz range. Once past the lower push, the treble is fairly polite, but does have some grain to it. Snare rattle is good but not quite sharp enough to be real but cymbals are better rendered than the Wyn or Rad with less metallic and more natural tone. Roll-off is above 14kHz so I was unable to find it in my listening. This gives the Cen a very open top end with good air and sparkle.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is well proportioned with a bit more width than depth and some height as well. Seating the orchestra is fairly straight forward with no large anomalies as instrument separation is good and positions easily identified. Layering is good but there is some tendency to thicken a touch in the lower ranges as tracks get particularly complex or fast. The top end doesn’t seem to exhitbit that same thickening. Imaging is good with points in space being easily identified and movements easily tracked. This is another strong suit for the CEN as its stage dimensions and imaging are above average for the class.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
The Cen is Little dot’s vocal lovers earphone based on their description and it shows. The lower end is linear with a big push in the upper-mids and lower treble to lift vocals to the front. Thankfully, that push doesn’t obscure the rest of the signature and can be adjusted slightly with the accessories you choose to put around it. The cable options are first rate as is the tip selection so you are well on your way to finding the best combination for you right out of the box. For me, that combination was the silver coated cable the CEN shipped with and the foam tips that balanced out the signature a bit. The Cen brings good detail and speed to the sound with a natural tonality that makes choral arrangements particularly lifelike. Overall, I am well impressed with the Cen and while it has enough treble energy that I would advise an audition before purchase for the treble sensitive, it has enough going for it that I do think it deserves that audition all the same. For those less sensitive to treble, the Cen is a good choice if your primary interest is vocal, a cappella or choral, and a solid option for concerto and orchestral music. It aint to bad at rock or blues either come to think of it. For a vocal earphone, the Cen is a pretty solid all-arounder for those who like a bit of extra energy up top.
- Bass - 7/107/10
- Mids - 7.5/107.5/10
- Treble - 6.5/106.5/10
- Soundstage - 8/108/10
- Imaging - 7/107/10
Pros: great build and kit, vocals really stand out
Cons: vocals really stand out, treble can be a bit harsh