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.
In many ways, the Rad is a kind of happy accident. While ordering parts for other models, little dot was presented the opportunity to purchase 63oo biocomposite diaphragms at a very highly discounted price. They bought them, tested and matched and eventually came up with 2800 pairs that all matched closely enough to be used in producing the RAD. In as such, the Rad is a very limited edition piece. Also because of the nature of their origins, original pricing was set at roughly $200, but it was later decided to pass along the savings as a thank you to existing customers and a welcome to new ones. As such, the Rad currently retails for $69.99.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Rad is the least expensive model in the line so forgoes the packaging of the upper level models for a more modest box. The box front announces the make and model while details are on the side panels. I was a little concerned as the box came in damaged a bit and one always wonders about whether the contents suffered as a result. In this case, unfounded worry as the Rad is packed in a pelican style polymer case that takes up the entire box so all the contents were well protected inside. Overall the kit contains the earphones, shirt clip, case, and a bag with 3 sizes of silicone tips along with an extra set of medium tips preinstalled. At this price point, the kit is fairly standard but the case is of higher quality than most and the shirt clip is more robust as well. Overall, a good first impression.
At first glance the Rad looks a bit like the one more triple of a couple years ago although internally they don’t share much of anything. The shells are reminiscent of a typical earbud shape with a nozzle added to the front. They are designed for straight insertion and tip down wear with a metal guide protecting the 1st centimeter or so of cable as it exits the bottom rear of the shell. The shell is aircraft aluminum composed of 3 pieces. The main body has a small barrel at the rear for cable insertion and connections then expands in a cone shape from the barrel to house the 10mm driver. The faceplate starts immediately in front of the driver and closes to a nozzle at the center of the shell and roughly equal in size with the rear barrel. Nozzles have little or no rake and a large lip for tip retention. There are two vents, one at the bottom rear at the junction of the barrel and cone (immediately in front of the cable insertion point) and the other at the base of the nozzle on the bottom side in line with the other vent and cable exit. Fit is quite good with seam between cable stem and barrel nearly impossible to discern and seam between the face and main body tight, even, and well fitted. Polish is good as well with a brushed aluminum finish over the whole shell that is well matched between parts. L/R are marked on the cable guides for easy indexing as well.
The beating heart of the Rad is a designed and produced in-house 10mm dynamic driver that uses the 4 layer bio-composite diaphragm with a dual voice coil in a CNC milled suspension. Nominal impedance is listed as 16Ω with a sensitivity of 103 dB/mW. I found the Rad easy to drive via smartphone,tablet, or plugged into a laptop and while it did scale some qualitatively with higher end sources, its ceiling is fairly low so those using a phone are getting a pretty solid impression of what the Rad is capable of. Its a time tested simple design of a single dynamic driver in a vented housing.
The Rad is the only model in the line that doesn’t sport a removable cable instead choosing to use a permanent design, but a well protected one. As previously mentioned the top centimeter or so of the cable is protected with a metal guide as it enters the body of the earpiece. At the other end, we start with a 90º Jack in 3.5mm with a proper strain relief before exiting as a single strand in a soft rubber housing. The cable itself is 6N OFC copper and the jack is gold plated for improved corrosion resistance. A small black rubber splitter is well positioned with a chin slider mated to the top. The Rad does not come with an option for a microphone/remote so those wanting to use one will need to opt for a different model with replaceable cable so a mic can be added. (At present none have the option for including such a cable either).
There is no denying the tuning on the Rad. Its V with an emphasis on the sub-bass (centered on about 60Hz) and on the vocals with the other side of the V reaching its plateau at about the 3kHz mark. The Sub-bass emphasis gives the Rad plenty of rumble when called upon and has more than expected detail at the price point. Mid-bass drops back from the sub-bass emphasis but still has more than enough slam when called upon. The driver is slightly faster on attack than decay so does have a little bleed into the mids and a bit of warmth introduced but bleed is not significant and overall the Rad can use the warmth with its fairly bright vocal tuning.
The mids have a V shape themselves with emphasis on both ends and a trough at the center. Lower-mids start out well defined with good weight and body and male vocals are well projected. As you move up, this drops back just a bit so lower vocals and cello actually sit slightly forward of guitar or violin. This is good for pop, but not so much so for classical. Guitar timbre is good with a slight edginess to the sound while strings come across slightly hot and a bit unnatural tonally. Upper-mids climb back forward rapidly and plateau in the lower treble giving female vocals a big lift and making them stand a full step in front of lower voices in the mix. Mids overall have good detail with the tuning being quite obviously targeted at vocal and popular music.
Lower treble begins on the same plateau as the upper-mids and is certainly one of the focal points of the Rad. It does add a good bit of energy here and at times is appreciated, but at others can be a bit bright and assertive. The treble shy will want to try the Rad before considering a purchase as this treble may be too much for some. To my ear, that plateau carries well into the treble range and doesn’t start to drop away until around 7kHz. This is a saving grace for the Rad as it avoids that level of energy around 8-9kHz range which would make it extremely strident. Instead at about 6kHz the treble falls back to about the same level as the lower mids so while still present in the mix, it lacks the energy of the lower treble and keeps the Rad out of the “KZ treble” range. Snare rattle is good but slightly blunted and cymbals while good are not quite realistic as they do carry a bit of a metallic sound. There is some top end air and sparkle as extension is quite good with rolloff not becoming evident before the limits of my hearing (roughly 14khz).
Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage has good depth and is one of the better features of the Rad. Width is about average with a bit of height in the mix. Seating the orchestra does have some anomalies as the mid tuning puts the lower voices a bit forward as already mentioned, instrument separation is reasonably good though and keeps things well defined if not always in exactly the anticipated position. There is some compression that becomes evident as tracks get more complex as well with a tendency to appear first in the lower-mids/mid-bass range. Imaging is good with spatial cues being well represented and easily tracked around the stage.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
This was a tough review for me as it is really difficult to separate one’s own preferences from the facts regarding the subject of review and for me the Rad is a departure from my preferences. I listen to a lot of strings and complex orchestral works and the Rad just isn’t tuned for it. Its a big V with emphasis on the sub-bass and vocal ranges and when used for the anticipated genres it performs admirably considering its entry level price point. It seems wise for Little Dot to build the Rad to do its best work with today’s most popular genres as it is billed as an introduction for new listeners and as such that is the largest target audience. I think listeners to Hip-hop, EDM, and today’s pop and kpop will find the Rad quite satisfying as it delivers a lot of detail not found in a lot of other budget offerings while maintaining the ever popular V signature and big sub-bass presentation.
Pros: Accentuated vocals, tuned for popular music, better detail than expected at price point
Cons: Fixed cable, big V tuning, some compression on complex tracks