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Tangzu x HBB XuanNv Review: Smooth Operator
June 14, 2024 Andrew Cheng

Here’s yet another IEM made in collaboration with YouTube reviewer Hawaii Bad Boy (HBB) of Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews. Following the…somewhat mixed reception to the QKZ x HBB Hades, the YouTuber is now working with ChiFi brand Tangzu – Enter the Tangzu x HBB XuanNv.

Tangzu previously launched a number of IEMs that are considered to be the best in their respective classes. Take one of the company’s most notable releases, the Tangzu Wan’er; the $20 single dynamic driver IEM performs exceptionally well for its price, which is quite an achievement in the highly competitive ChiFi market.

But the Tangzu x HBB XuanNv is not quite as affordable. Priced at $79 (about RM370) on Linsoul – this review unit is kindly provided by the online retailer – the XuanNv has some high bars to clear at this price point – let’s find out if it performs well enough for the money.

What It Is

According to HBB, the XuanNv was originally meant to be released alongside the QKZ x HBB Hades, giving users the choice of two vastly different sounding IEMs; a “yin-yang” option, so to speak. But due to a delay in manufacturing, the XuanNv was only released about two months later.

In essence, the XuanNv is meant to be the more mature, older sister to the “punk rock” Hades. Due to the delay, the Hades was left to its own devices in the wild, facing quite the criticism from the audio community by its lonesome. It’s not that the Hades is a bad product, as I pointed out in my review of the IEM, though it’s definitely not for everyone.

Okay, back to the XuanNv. It houses dual dynamic drivers, the likes of which have ceramic and PU + LCP diaphragms. Essentially, the XuanNv is HBB’s answer to the Truthear x Crinacle Zero Red, featuring a similar driver configuration, colour, and even tuning.

The packaging of the XuanNv is quite premium for an IEM at this price point, which is often the case with Tangzu products. There’s an image of a Chinese lady – she could be “XuanNv” herself, I assume – on the sleeve of the box, which continues the tradition of having a “waifu” on the packaging of a ChiFi IEM. Inside the box, the XuanNv is bundled with a soft leather case, a 4-core single crystal oxygen-free copper cable, the IEM, as well two sets of Tangzu Sancai ear tips.

Now, the Sancai ear tips normally cost $12 each, and Tangzu is generous enough to include both the normal, “balanced” version alongside the wide bore one. These ear tips are regarded as some of the best in the market now for their quality and comfort, so the fact that they are bundled with the XuanNv is very much appreciated.

In terms of build quality, the XuanNv looks and feels good to the touch, but unfortunately enough, some hairline cracks have appeared on both the left and right side of the 3D-printed resin shell. I first noticed a small crack on the right shell upon unboxing, but after a few days of use, the left shell has the same crack as well.

Before you come at me for not taking better care of the IEM, the XuanNv has only been on my desk in the office during testing, and I didn’t even keep it in my backpack to use on the go. Perhaps there is some issue with the 3D printing used by Tangzu, or maybe it’s just an issue with my particular unit, though other folks have reported similar findings.

Either way, it’s probably a good idea to keep the XuanNv in the included pouch when you’re not using it.

How Does It Sound?

Before I talk about the sound quality of the XuanNv, it’s important to note that I notice a slight channel imbalance particularly on the right unit where some frequencies were not as audible compared to the left side. This could very well be an isolated case with my particular unit, but other reviews have also pointed out similar issues. Anyway, onto the sound impressions.

The XuanNv has a clean Harman sound profile that is quite neutrally presented with a pleasant amount of warmth from the low-end that gives the mids a nice lushness. It’s definitely a more tame, relaxed sound signature that works well with many genres, unlike its brother, the HBB Hades.

Bass

To my ears, the bass of the XuanNv almost sounds like the direct opposite to the punchy bass of the Hades. While the XuanNv has good bass control, it sounds…too safe. Sub-bass doesn’t extend very deep despite there being two dynamic drivers, and the presence of bass rumble depends on the song.

It’s a similar story with the XuanNv’s mid-bass where there is punch and good impact, but it doesn’t really stand out, especially in terms of texture and speed. Again, it’s very decent bass performance; I just think the tuning is a tad too safe.

Mids

The warmth from the low-end of the XuanNv lends itself very well to the mid-range. Vocals are smooth and lush, and male vocals in particular have good weight and thickness. Female vocals, while warm, lose out on a bit of energy in the upper-mids. There’s also a lack of airiness and sparkle in this region, but presentation is still clear and neither too forward nor too distant.

Highs

In the treble region, the XuanNv’s highs are smooth and not at all fatiguing, and the absence of any sibilance is also appreciated by a treble-sensitive individual like myself. The smoothness does come at a cost though, as the IEM loses out on quite a bit of air and crispiness.

With that in mind, the XuanNv is not the best IEM for any critical listening that requires exceptional detail retrieval. Switching to a more revealing IEM – like the Truthear Hexa, for example – it’s evident that quite a bit of detail is missing and smoothened over.

Simply put, the XuanNv is a smoother Truthear Hexa with less brightness and peakiness; traits that I personally gravitate towards, though it does lose out on a bit of detail. As a result, this IEM has a tame and safe tuning that sounds good for pretty much all genres, but doesn’t particularly excel in any field.

Is It Worth It?

Everyone’s audio preference is a very personal one, so while I personally prefer the Truthear Hexa’s more resolving nature over the smoother Tangzu x HBB XuanNv, you may find its sound profile to be more to your liking. Plus, it also comes with Tangzu’s Sancai ear tips, which are excellent tips.

For $79, the XuanNv is really a decent IEM with no major faults. Well, except maybe for the odd build quality issue where the IEM shells started developing some hairline cracks. Nonetheless, I do enjoy the smoothness of the XuanNv when I just want to unwind at the end of a hectic workday.

Li Jin Soh contributed to this review.

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