Note: This article is based upon the video "ChiFi IEMs Under $100 - Roundup and comparisons” made by Passion For Sound on their YouTube channel and is printed here in partnership with Passion For Sound. The review was originally posted on September 27th, 2022. Edits have been made for clarity and length. Buy the Moondrop Aria Snow on Apos Audio.
Lachlan of Passion for Sound pitted the best <$100 ChiFi IEMs against each other in a roundup review on his YouTube channel. He compared the BLON Fat Girl, KZ ESX, Tangzhu Shimin Li, KB Ear Ink, and the Mondrop Aria Snow.
Watch the full review below or scroll on for an abridged transcript.
Due to the lengthy runtime of the video review, we’ve only transcribed the Introduction, Moondrop Aria Snow, and Conclusion chapters. Our transcription doesn’t do Lachlan’s incisive and nuanced commentary justice, and we encourage everyone to watch the full video.
Hey, folks. Welcome to another Passion for Sound audio review. Today we’re doing a quick roundup of some <$100 ChiFi IEMs.
So this isn’t exactly a comparison of all of them. It’s also not going to be a full in-depth review of all of these IEMs, but I will cover basics like tip selection, cable quality, and of course how they sound.
I’m not going to compare all of them to one another, but I will provide some comparative comments along the way to help contextualize where I think there’s good value, and where I think it’s maybe worth spending a little bit more or not worth spending a little bit more.
And so, without any further ado, let’s jump into it.
Moondrop Aria Snow
The final IEM that I have here to review is the new Moondrop Aria Snow. The Aria Snow is a new version of the original Aria, but, as I understand it, both are going to live side-by-side. So you’ve got the original Aria, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, and then you’ve got the Snow.
The Snow is priced identically to the standard Aria at $80 US. These are the top-priced items in this roundup, and therefore there’s an expectation that they should perform according to their price.
In the case of the Aria, they’re a good IEM, but they’re not an IEM that I absolutely love, and so I was curious to see if the Snow could fix the tuning.
The chassis has a lovely silver design with a very simple kind of snowflake pattern on it. It’s a very elegant and attractive-looking IEM.
In the case of the Aria Snow, the cable is just okay. I fell like, at $80 US, when you’re comparing things like the Shimin Li and also the KB Ear Ink, I’d expect a little bit better in terms of cable, but it’s serviceable and it’s decent enough.
Instead of the nice cloth twisted cable that came with the original Arias, we’ve now got this kind of silver single sheath cable that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen before on very cheap earphones from places like Blonde.But, as I said, it’s serviceable, and it’s okay. This is also, once again, a single dynamic driver design, and the good news is that the overall tuning of it is absolutely fantastic.
Having not particularly enjoyed the original Arias, I absolutely enjoy the Aria Snow.
The most immediate thing I noticed from them was their incredible ability to focus the image and produce a nice sense of separation of all the sounds.
Now, I don’t for a second suggest that these are on the level of $1,000+ IEMs, but within this roundup, these were a clear standout in terms of their image and their general sound separation.
The sound stage isn’t necessarily huge and expansive, but it’s incredibly well separated into each individual instrument.
I also think the tonality of these is very well-balanced, and it comes with a good sense of overall refinement, so all frequencies are well-controlled.
They’re well-balanced in the mix and they’re just a joy to listen to.
In listening to them for a while, I think they still have a harmon-esque type of lean, but what I like about the Aria Snow is the bass lift is a bit higher up in the register.
What I find happens in a lot of Harmon tunings is that they lift the sub bass and then there’s actually a bit of a trough through the mid-bass and into the lower-mids. And it can cause a slightly hollow sound that overly separates the bass from the mids and the treble. In the case of the Aria Snow, that’s not happening.
By bringing the bass lift just up a little bit in the frequency range it ties together the whole overall frequency response into a beautifully-coherent sonic picture.
The Aria Snow is a very enjoyable listening experience.
Jumping back and forth between the KZ ESX and the Aria Snow, the ESX sounds decidedly shouty. That’s not because the ESX is a particularly shouty IEM to start with, it’s just that the Aria Snows have been so beautifully tuned that the ESX does have the slightly punchier bass, and it’s probably due to to where exactly that bass emphasis has been placed.
But what the ESX loses–and it’s more important to me–is that wonderful sense of imaging and focus that the Aria Snow has.
So I would trade off that little bit of punchiness in the bass from the ESX for what the Aria Snow is giving me every day of the week.
The Aria Snow is not lacking in bass, it’s not slow or bloated, it’s just not quite as snappy or punchy as the ESX.
Where I’ve landed after all of this is that the KZ ESX is really a bit of a sweet spot for value and performance. At $18 USD, you’re getting a wonderfully-performing IEM that’s not the best thing ever–the Aria Snow is clearly better than it–but for $18, the value for money and the price-to-performance ratio is really strong.
Another standout is the Tangzhu Shimin Li, and that’s because it’s a completely different tuning that’s really nicely executed. It’s a wonderful-feeling IEM, in terms of the cable quality, the tip selection, and the IEM shells themselves.
But for me, the absolute winner, if you have a budget of up to $100, has got to be the Aria Snow.
It’s a bit of a shame that the accessory quality isn’t as good as some of those cheaper IEMs, but the general and overall sound quality from the Aria Snow is nothing short of exceptional.
For the price, it combines a great sense of detail and focus in the soundstage with a good balance of tonality that is both rich and smooth, but still plenty of detail and texture.
It’s comfortable. It looks elegant. It’s really just an excellent overall IEM. I can actually imagine that if you paired it up with some high-quality tips, like say some Spin Fits, or some final Audio E-type tips, and a nice aftermarket cable, you’d have yourself an IEM that looks and feels like a much more expensive model.
And so, I’d say that if you’re in the market for a <$100 ChiFi IEM, then I would definitely recommend checking out the KZ ESZ, the Tangzhu Shimin Li, and the Moondrop Aria Snow.
If you’re thinking about an upgrade from the original Aria, I definitely think it’s worth checking out the Snow.