disclaimer: I was approached by a rep I have worked with before about a new venture he is part of and asked if I would review a new in-ear they were releasing. I agreed based on previous experience with his recommendations but very little else to go on. The MIA is the first release from Cat Ear Audio and has a retail of $99. For more information on Cat Ear, see their website or facebook page.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Mia arrived with the box slightly damaged on one edge but the contents in good shape. The box is a lift-top style with photos and logo on front and specs and details on rear. The rear of the package goes into good detail on features and specs in both English and Chinese. This is a much more western style retail packaging and the user can tell exactly what they are buying from the packaging. A black/red theme is maintained throughout. The earphones are nestled in foam in the top layer with the other items hiding beneath. The kit includes 6 sets of tips in 2 styles, an extra set of tuning rings, a soft case, the earpieces, and mmcx cable. This is a pretty standard kit for an entry level product and while the no shirt clip is provided, that is about the only thing missing.
The earpieces are barrel shaped with a 2 part construction. The nozzle is built into the forward portion while the rear face slides into the front portion to seal the unit. Both parts of the shell are anodized aluminum with the forward portion being matte black and the rear a gloss red in keeping with the packaging theme. MMCX connectors exit the bottom rear of the shell and have tuning ring around the base that acts to open or close the rear venting. Another small vent exists at the lead edge of the bottom of the shell and provides venting to the front of the driver. Some caution is needed here as oversized tips can obstruct the forward vent and alter the signature. Nozzles are short with a pronounced lip for tip retention and overall isolation is quite good although they don’t take up a lot of space in the ear. L/R markings are prominent on the under side of the housings and make it easy to index quickly. The design lends itself to a comfortable fit for most ears and it fits mostly in the ear for me with only the cable portion external to the ear. I will note that the tuning rings are somewhat fragile and a couple spare pairs would be a nice touch as I broke one trying to put it back on after testing without them. Luckily one extra pair is provided and I prefer the signature without the rings anyway, but for that change them often, you may need to contact Cat Ear for extras.
The MIA uses a pretty tried and true formula of aluminum housing with an 8mm dynamic driver but they do have a few tricks up their sleeve. Nominal impedance is listed at 16Ω with a sensitivity of 105 dB/mW which puts in the class that can easily be driven by phones, tablets, and portable gaming systems. I found it paired extremely well with the Topping L30 on its lowest gain setting and that while it ran well from my phones, it definitely is capable of scaling up as power is increased and dynamic range seems to improve with a bit more power thrown at it. The driver, cable, and connectors are all cryo treated for 72 hours at -196ºC which to some may seem like a gimmick but having a chemistry background, I can attest to the fact that Cryo treatment of metals does have an impact on crystal lattice structure and cannot be dismissed until further investigation is done into how it might change the acoustic properties of the materials involved. Typically metals subjected to cryo treatment have less internal stress, better wear characteristics, and better grain alignment. The other trick is the tuning rings around the mmcx connector that effectively change the venting and with the ring in place the Mia is essentially closed back and bass forward while without the rings it is effectively a semi-open back and more neutral in tone.
The provided cable is silver plated oxygen free copper that also goes through cryo treatement. It starts at the south end with a 3.5mm gold plated jack in a straight housing that closely matches the aesthetic of the earpieces. The housing has one flat side to enhance grip and has the Cat Ear logo and name on it in red. The cable has a short strain relief before exiting the jack as a 4 wire twist up to the splitter. The splitter is also a barrel shape in anodized black aluminum with a small flat in the center again with the logo and name in red. The flat makes gripping the splitter to adjust the disk chin-slider (also aluminum) above it. This is appreciated as the splitter is extremely low on the cable and the chin slider is needed because of the location of the splitter where it not be if the splitter were moved higher up the cable. At the north end, cables terminate in mmcx connectors again with matched black aluminum housings. These are designed for tip-down wear so no earhook is present. Because of the tip-down style these can be slightly microphonic and a shirt clip between splitter and chin slider helps minimize this.
Because of the differences introduced by the tuning rings, I have made notes with/without as they are more impactful than some other tuning mechanisms and will make a difference in signature.
With the rings in place:
Sub-bass is emphasized but is slightly behind mid-bass in overall quantity. This is definitely a bass lovers tuning as it becomes the single dominant feature of the soundscape. The drawback here is that while it still has good tonality, it is not as clean as with the rings removed. The rings push bass more forward at the expense of a small amount of thickening and clarity to the sound.
Without the rings:
Sub-bass becomes the dominant feature of the low-end and mid-bass tapers off a bit and while still having good punch and rumble, the sound is a bit better balanced as the bass is now in line with the upper-mid/lower treble and no longer the sole dominating feature. Texture is quite good and driver speed is fast enough to keep things from getting muddy or overweight.
With the rings in place:
Mid-bass bleed obscures some of the lower mids and gives the Mia a very warm sound. Mids are recessed but still retain good presence in the mix but lack clarity. Male vocals have good tonality and weight but are a step behind their female counterparts. Guitar has a nice growl with a rough edge. Strings are a bit overly thick (particularly lower strings). Female vocals are forward but polite and not fatiguing.
Without the rings:
Bleed is not gone, but greatly reduced and non-obstructive which allows lower vocals to show through much more clearly. Clarity of the mids is greatly improved compared to with the tuning rings and guitar is more natural sounding while still having good sharpness to attacks. Strings are much more naturally voiced here and particularly the cello seems more realistic. Female vocals are still forward but clarity is a bit better.
With the rings in place:
Lower treble starts out on the same plane as the upper mids, but quickly steps back slightly which makes the overall quite polite and gentle. There is some air which keeps them from sounding closed, but sparkle is limited and while snare has a nice sharp rattle, cymbals are not quite natural and lack zing.
Without the rings:
Here we see more subtle differences as the overall sound is similar but clarity is improved and the top end is more open with a bit more air and sparkle comparatively. Snare rattle has a sharper lead edge, and cymbals have the zing I was missing previously. Treble still retains a polite demeanor that keeps it from becoming a fatiguing listen.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is also very dependent on whether the tuning rings are in use. With the rings the stage is wide, but fairly shallow, without them depth opens up and width narrows some to give a more realistic sense of proportion. Seating the orchestra (sans rings) is straight forward with good spacing between instruments and placements in expected locations. Layering is better than expected for a single driver and only begins to breakdown when tracks get overly complex. Imaging is also quite good with movements easily tracked and precise. There is some mild compression to the low end as things get particularly busy, but nothing like what is present with the tuning rings installed.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
The Cat Ear Mia is a Jeckyl and Hyde proposition depending on whether the tuning rings are used. Without the rings the mild mannered Dr. Jeckyl is a quite pleasant experience with powerful lows, solid mids, and polite highs. With the tuning rings installed, Mr. Hyde comes out to play and we have booming bass, slightly obscured mids, and treble that feels a bit less open and airy as a result. The funny part of this is, I know plenty of people that would prefer a date with Mr. Hyde in this scenario. Those looking for a bass monster will really like what the tuning rings do for the Mia. Those of us who prefer balance will opt not to use them. Luckily, we are given that choice and neither camp has to sacrifice what they are looking for. Overall, the Mia is a surprisingly mature tuning for a freshman product and suggests that most of the players involved had experience in audio long before they began Cat Ear Audio. While the market at the $100 price point is quite crowded, the Mia offers a lot for those who like a single dynamic driver in ear, and some tuning filters that let others enjoy the boom too.