If anyone can one-up the Nuforce, it is Maximo. They sport many reasonably priced headsets and upgrade inner earphones which work well and sound good to boot. The iP-HS5 is their premium model which hits the important price point set by Apple’s new dual-driver inner earphone headset. But unlike the white-on-white of Apple’s sparsely accessorised kit, Maximo pack in a lot of black. In fact, its accessories kit might even make Jays blush.
UPDATE: Maximo have informed me that newer iP-HS5 cables are different to the model I have. If that is the case, I will update this review accordingly.
Earphone drivers: 9mm neodymium
Frequency response: 12Hz-22KHz
Sensitivity (1KHz, 0.1V): >100dB
Maximum SPL output: >120dB
Microphone Sensitivity: 44dB +/-3 dB@1KHz
Microphone Frequency response: 20Hz-16KHz
Microphone impedance: 2.2K Ohm
Fit and Package
I am pleasantly surprised by Maximo’s comfortable snowman-shaped ear pieces which drape over each earphone’s driver section. They are extremely soft, fit well into any ear type, and come in three ear sizes – there are four sets in total. The earphone unit itself is small and light, making wearing a charm and is pretty easy to insert. The problem, basically, is that in order to get a secure fit, you may have to push the housing so that it fits well. And removal requires the opposite action. Unfortunately, this Maximo earphone, like the q-Jays, has very little protection at the end of the housing. Over time, the connection to the housing may weaken, breaking either the cable or the pseudo stress relief at the earphone’s base.
The iP-HS5 can be worn normally with the cable hanging down, or looped over the ear for reduced microphonics. Doing so though, limits the use of the microphone. Either way is comfortable, and as we will see later, sounds very good. Though not exactly earplug-territory, it blocks a goodly amount of noise.
The iP-HS5 comes pretty well outfitted with a generous accessory package which includes: a 3,5mm extension cable, two smaller 2,5 extensions, 4 ear pieces, a lanyard, shirt clip, and carrying ‘case’. The latter is the weakest link of the package, hardly protecting the contents, but with loads of space pouching everything very well.
Build Quality and Cable
Maximo chose to tether the iP-HS5 to a horribly noisy nylon-coated cable. The upside is that it looks cool, but god has it got problems. The first is that it is noisy. If the Head Direct RE-2 was annoying, the Maximo is nigh’ on frustratingly so. And like the Z-buds, it is prone to kink and even unravel at places. Thankfully, when worn over the ear, touch noise is diminished, but remain on the wrong side of annoying. Then, there isn’t a single proper stress relief on the cable. The upper portion which connects to the earphone has a rubber insulator, but it is seamed, and liable to split near the earphone. The nylon sheath does provide some protection, but it isn’t foolproof.
The housing is made of turned aluminium, and the pause/play button is similarly strong and light. Had Maximo not chosen a nylon cable sheath, the earphones and play/pause button would needlessly weight down the overall design. The rubber neck cinch is a very good design – at first. But after a few weeks of constant use, loses its grip on the cable as its inner openings grind into larger bores and eventually lose their grip on the cable.
Like the Zagg Z-Buds, the build quality isn’t up to par with its 80$ price, trumped even by the cheaper Nuforce NE7M and by the mic-less MEELectronics M6 and M9. But then again, Maximo comes strapped with an accessory kit fit for MacGyver and a decent sounding microphone. And, Maximo’s proprietary ear pieces really are a step above most of the competition, providing ample isolation and a smooth fit, though Maximo would be wise to at least provide hybrid foamies for folks who don’t get on with silicon.
I will start with what I like (and there is a lot to like). Akin to more neutral headphones, the Maximo iP-HS5 isn’t overwhelming despite its large dynamic driver, nor is it ‘dark’. Bass notes have good presence, but not a lot of excess weight. In other words, any genre flows and moves with speed. If Monster’s Turbine seats bass near the front, the iP-HS5 ushers him a little further back where he still can reach 20 Hz, but not without struggling.
Male and female vocals sing sonorously, but neither are this headphone’s strong suit. Female voices (and to a lesser extent, male), can sound reedy – thin in comparison to their surroundings. My guess is that the iP-HS5’s sparkly treble is the biggest influencing factor, spreading its shimmer and shine down the homage-paying chain. Of course, we are not talking about the somewhat grainy or harsh highs of the PFE 112 and 121, but it is sure that Maximo’s headset has a special affinity for highs.
And while we are at it, delineating it all isn’t too big of a job. Don’t worry about smear – the iP-HS5 is clean, drifting from frequency to frequency with ease. Still, it isn’t the most dynamic of headphones. What it does, it does well; and those who like it will like it a lot. But, it doesn’t ventriloquise music all over the place. No, it remains mature, keeping music right around the ears for a good, focused listen.
And lastly, its microphone records cleanly without much interference. But if you use it whilst walking, it will pick up on all the intense noise its cable is capable of. Again, placement is great when wearing the earphones down and when chatting up a storm, won’t miss a word. But don’t expect it to replace your taper’s kit when recording that U2 concert on the sly.
Out and About
As much as I would love to praise Maximo, I cannot. The iP-HS5 is a tangled, microphonic mess of cable headaches and iffy build quality. Every step pounds a new definition of noise into the earphones; every movement invites the grating sound of the nylon-covered cable – and sadly, any touch, however slight is loud and annoying. Cable length is pretty good, but could do with another 10 cm; the extension is too long for real-world use unless you plan on attaching it to your home amp. The problem is that this headphone, while nice, does not sound good enough to warrant a dedicated amp, so I can imagine that it will stay in the plastic tray long after purchase.
Does the iP-HS5 sound better than the former cost/performance king? Yes, it does but it is no revelation. It is brighter and more fun than the NE7M with clearer highs, lows, and an attractive midline. Like the NE7M, it packs a well-placed microphone. Add to that a play/pause button and excellent comfort, and the iP-HS5 begins to look very good indeed. But, it is 30$ more expensive investment with an overall lower quality build to the NuForce without offering much better sound quality. And eventually, the nylon cable sheaths will kink, fray, and possibly pop out of their protective rubber grommets, or cut teeth on the headphone jack. So while this package comes with loads of goodies and has up-to-par audio, the iP-HS5 is very much like its neck cinch: immediately impressive, but unfortunately coloured by a debilitating future which if anything, isn’t able to keep up alternatives.
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