My experience with wooden headphones began five years ago with Audio Technica’s Sovereign W1000, a beautiful lively headphone whose smoothness belies its price. Since then, there have been a few: Darth Beyers and Audio Technica’s ES9, but few companies have gone the extra step of pairing down their beautiful creations to the tiny real estate of an earphone or earbud. Mingo, home of a famous headphone shop in Hong Kong number among that handful. The WM-2 which comes in two flavours: bass (silver) and vocal (gold), is created from Longan wood and is an excellent-sounding debut model from the company.
Driver unit: 10mm (Moving Coil, dynamic)
Impedence: 16 ohm
Sensitivity: 105dB±3dB @ 1KHz
Frequency Range: 18 Hz – 20KHz
Cord Length: 1.1 metres
Input Connector: 3.5mm Gold-plated stereo plug
TMA headphone reviews typically wax lyrical about packaging and accessories – two items that are often tossed aside, forgotten, and binned by many users. When you are a headphone junkie; a nut who has bought too many to count; a mind job who names his earphones, the value of both becomes painfully evident as each reflect a certain commitment from the developer to the customer. The problem is that most companies don’t amply supply the user for the long journey with her new toy. Jays provide above and beyond what is needed for the fledgling earphone maniac, while Monster create delectable styling in and out of the box. Outside of those two is a hodgepodge of middling performers which at times, can leave the customer with a distinctly helpless feeling. Mingo’s WM-2 falls toward the latter category.
The WM-2 is cradled in a simple cardboard box which opens to reveal Mingo’s mission. While the beauty in simplicity is illustrated almost perfectly with Monster’s sturdy, spartan approach to packaging, Mingo can be credited with a compactness that, while not perfect, is elegant. Thankfully, the Mingo box isn’t ready to cut your fingers on plastic edges and hard angles. Behind a window cut-out, sits the WM-2 in a deep pressure-moulded, felt-coated plastic tray. Understated? Sure. But the advantages of simplicity and size are great when you have to hide new headphones from your wife.
Accessories and Fit
Mingo have chosen the Ultimate Ears approach to accessories which leaves users with the bare minimum of what they will need. Thus, inside the box is spare aside from a “leather” carrying pouch, 3 silicon sleeves (in S,M,L sizes), a shirt clip and a cable winder. To Mingo’s credit, hardly anything else would fit inside the diminutive enclosure, but with a sticker price of around 80$, first impressions could be summed up by one syllable: cheap.
Mingo’s silicon flanges are stiffer than many companies’ ear pieces – certainly than Monster’s, and may cause irritation to those with sensitive ears. Personally, flanges have to be very pliable and/or acutely angled to be comfortable for listening periods longer than twenty minutes. Even so, the WM-2′s silicons are hardly painful, because of a gentle non-angular taper in the sleeve. The tubes are similar in size to Monster, Ultimate Ears, Sennheiser, Sony and Victor flanges, so any spare ear pieces you have will fit the WM-2 after few seconds’ fidgeting. Comfortably seated, a good fit is worth about 15 db of isolation, give or take your listening venue. What I mean is that the WM-2′s housing isn’t perfectly sealed from wind noise which will funnel through the juncture where the earphone and the cable come together, howling quietly, but usually out of tune, with your music. To be perfectly honest, I turn the volume of my iPod up about 2 notches when on the train.
Mingo Law, founder of Mingo is proud of the company’s first earphone creation, a pride which is mostly well-placed. But, building an advertising campaign with posters and hi-resolution 3D representations of the product which emphasises its wooden build should be supported by an extra step – providing customers with a semblance of quality.
Sadly, Mingo’s WM-2 is a far throw from that. Though the housing is solidly constructed in Longan wood caps which snap snugly into the aluminium sound tube, the earphone fails in many areas. Firstly, neither version of the WM-2 are well-finished. Their wooden domes have inconsistencies that come, not from the natural fibre, but from hurried polishing and incompletely varnished coats. Sadly, it gets worse.
The WM-2′s cable is poorly thought out. Not only is it extremely microphonic, and energetic, but it lacks a neck-cincher which is important to alleviate problems with touch-noise. While a picture is worth a thousand words and I have 20-something pictures in this review, I’ll explain first with words. There is only a half-attempted stress relief on the earphone: the bottom of the y-split. The rest is sheathed in the flimsiest of rubber sleeves or, encased by nearly meaningless rubber grommets.
I remember a teacher instructing me, ‘Show don’t tell, Nathan’ – today, I’ll try both. Whilst unplugging the WM-2 from a headphone amplifier, the sheath which encases the cable at the plug end popped out. Mingo haven’t anchored the grommets or the sleeves, with the smallest amount of pressure, parts pop in and out like diner customers. I could presumably call this a band aid solution thought up at the last minute. The y-split does the same trick:
Though I have been unduly distressed by the build of this 80$ earphone, the sound of the WM-2 can be phenomenal. But as I have learned, it takes time, strategy and patience to find its utmost virtues. Keep in mind that the two versions differ, but not too much. In gold is the vocal version of the WM-2, and the bass version is silver.
Among many albums, I chose these favourites of mine to represent a good cross-section of the music I listened to with the WM-2. Please note that I listened to many more, but chose this group specifically because of their nearly perfect co-operation with the WM-2.
Ice Cube – Raw Footage – Want to go lo-fi? Tired of quality bass? Need some duff? Yeah, the WM-2, a highly resolved earphone can even do lo-fi!
MC Solaar – Mach 6 – For hip-hop with quality mastering, MC Solaar is the one-stop solution. Fortunately, the WM-2 plays this music flawlessly, but particularly, shows his polish as a singer in a rich vocal lustre.
The Braveheart Soundtrack – Among universal earphones, the WM-2 has presented the most beautiful, believable performance of the love/war story.
The Phantom of the Opera: The Original London Cast – Before my great interest in Trance began, I was a Phantom fan. Its music is highly emotional and dependent upon gimmicks, but is intense and requires a good balance of instrumental and vocals, a balance which is simply stunning with Mingo’s earphone.
Each part of the spectrum is fully resolved and tight, but the WM-2 does not immediately provide great sound with every genre. For instance, bass-driven genres such as Trance and progressive are suffocatingly thick. There simply is too much bass coming from the earphones to be pleasing in any sort of non-masochistic way. I have never had to tone down the bass on any earphone, but the WM-2 have made me search for the Bass Reducer setting on the iPod touch at the very hint of a track shuffle to trance music. The only album from above which I used an attenuated bass setting was the Braveheart soundtrack whose sudden revolutions from delicate to violent, were too strong with a flat equaliser.
However, with bass attenuation, the WM-2 is a blessedly angelic earphone. Braveheart for instance, a soundtrack which is lively with strings, wind-instruments, and drums; is more alive and moving than with any other pair of universal earphones I have tried. Both versions of Mingo’s WM-2 are perfect in this uncanny album. In particular, thunderously atmospheric songs such as Sons of Scotland and Gathering the Clans are perfectly embraced from their delicate wind passages to the explosive drums as the Scottish/Irish/American band of not-so-merry men rush in preparation of the coming war.
From drums to strings, instruments simply sing in perfect harmony. None step into the other or topple the extension and delicacy from their peers. Even complicated passages in progressive music are distinctly rendered.
Mids and Treble
Bass extends to the threshold of my hearing and is well defined at 20Hz of both a Sine and Square wave and at 20 000 KHz – the sonic limit of the WM-2 – is audible, though admittedly recessed in comparison. If bass is well-rounded, mids and treble are simply stunning. Jazz and classical in particular are magical, but what I found to have new legs was an old favourite, The Phantom of the Opera. Masquerade, Overture, and The Music of the Night – each song is even more more chilling than when played through my old favourite, the FX 500 from Victor. That isn’t to say that the WM-2 is a better phone, simply, its mids outpace the Victor.
In fact, both versions of the WM-2 are admirable performers for vocal music. Jazz, female vocals, choir: anything with human voices is phenomenal. However, the WM-2 has a penchant for rich, silky male vocals like MC Solaar and drowns the sub-100$ competition in furious tide of envy. After bass, mid-range frequencies, are the strongest portion of music. The gold (vocal) version is especially upfront, but not sickeningly so; rather it brings a richness that makes listening to other earphones seem trite and unfulfilling.
Characteristics of Sound as Affected by construction
The choice to go with Longan wood wasn’t a mistake. Bass and treble which, in poorly echoing chambers, cause fatigue, resonate clearly (and in the case of bass, strongly), but in no way unnaturally. There are no awkward echoes as found in similar plastic or metal-housed earphones because wood’s acoustic amplification and absorptive properties. The tight chamber of the WM-2 allows for speedy treble and ponderous bass. High notes attack and release with velocity and accuracy, rendering cymbals, high hats, flutes, etc., in paced, yet emotional voices.
Mingo’s choice of Longan wood and the shape of the WM-2′s internal cavity exerts very intrinsic effect on music as is the case with some plastic earphones. This can be both positive and negative. While neutrally resonating, the WM-2 doesn’t provide a chalky, resonant floor for a lilting and wayward cello. While occasional chalky presentation is preferable, it isn’t the norm and in my case, the dry bottom of an instrument is something I long to hear in certain music. Such a dry chalky floor is audible in the Victor FX500, another earphone in the price range. The most recognisably moving frequency for the WM-2 is the mid-frequency band. It is tight, detailed, punchy and emotional – traits which don’t come easily from non-open earphones.
The two versions of the WM-2, Bass (silver), and Vocal (gold) are, as mentioned before, quite similar sounding earphones. The biggest difference in presentation isn’t amount of bass, but amount of corresponding mid range frequency. In the gold version, mids are brought forward, but not so much more than the silver version. After attenuating bass, both present a lush mid-section, but the gold version excels with male vocals which reach deeper and call for a lustier, highly-resolved mid range.
After many hours with both phones, my only complaint is with bass quantity. It isn’t mid-high bass oriented like Sennheiser’s IE8, nor overly boomy without resolution. Rather, it is just too thick. As mentioned, I have never had to reach for the bass reducer setting on and iPod touch. If anything, I hope for a bit more. Fortunately, mids and treble are rich enough to not want for equalisation – their signatures are lush, detailed, and at times, jaw-dropping. If Mingo were to correct any area of the WM-2, it would heed to be bass which is simply too strong for fatigue-free cross-genre listening.
Soundstage and Hiss
There are few inner earphones on the planet which can vaunt both excellent depth and width as well as good placement of instruments within that space. While custom earphones will always dominate in the latter category, and in psychoacoustic analysis, perform the former just as well, universals of any type: dynamic or armature, usually perform one or the other not-so-well.
Mingo’s WM-2 is a stellar performer for staging, perhaps one of the best in the dynamic world, certainly at a level which belies its price. Its stage isn’t extremely deep or wide, but its 3D presentation of instruments and vocals is so well built, that it resembles the accuracy of hi-end armature based universal earphones. Care for two syllables? Stunning.
According to Thomas Law of Mingo, the WM-2 underwent a long development process. 3 months alone were dedicated to the selection of the wood housing, which at first, was to be ebony. Proper acoustic shaping, driver selection and tweaking included, the earphone spent around a year in development.
In terms of sound, it is easy to see that Mingo worked hard in production of the WM-2; the time they invested in research and development was an obvious investment into the future.
Finally, if you use an iPod touch 2G or iPhone 3G-3GS, you needn’t worry about hiss; newer iDevice units are superbly free of hiss through the WM-2. Unfortunately, Sony 828, 615, iRiver Clix, Apple iPod Shuffle – all hiss to a greater or lesser degree of annoyance.
Out and About with the WM-2
What can I say that won’t off-put TMA readers? Mingo got sound right/mostly right – in fact they nailed it as long as you can lower the bass with some sort of equalisation. However, the cable is dire. Walking with it means hearing your days’ fashion statement as strummed by Mingo’s microphonic cable which grates from your newly-bought jeans to the thread-bare elbow shirt you threw on in the morning. The shirt clip helps a bit, but is too little, too late. Even a simple neck cinch would have been a great addition to the WM-2. At the moment, however, I am trying to decide which cable is worse, that of the similarly priced Zagg Z-buds, or the WM-2.
What it does correctly is provide 1,1 metres of length which is perfect for a variety of activities. Ho-hum.
Mingo have designed a product which evokes strong emotions in music. After toning down its bass, it is possibly the most lovely-sounding earphone in its price category and is pleasing even when placed against contenders which are twice as dear. In four syllables: astonishing. But, even after a year of production, the company may have rushed things. Their cable is a two-syllable affair: horrid; and the accessories are outclassed by every company except Ultimate Ears’ paltry offerings.
As a debut product, the WM-2 is confusing. Discerning audiophiles will probably argue this and that about the bass, but the truth is that the WM-2 is a phenomenal sounding earphone. Fine, its wooden housing makes the difference along with driver selection and tweaking; but why would they debut an audio product which only holds up to the competition sonically? If TouchMyApps reviewed on the basis of sound quality alone, I would heartily Grab these phones, or possibly, even Kiss them. But we try to look a little deeper.
If Mingo can rid their product of cheap cabling issues and add good support in the way of moulded rubber bumpers to their product, their product will be worth a Grab, especially at the current price. However, as it is now, the WM-2 receives a mere Tap from TouchMyApps.
|Title:||Mingo WM-2||Developer:||Mingo Headphone|
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