Audio, IEM, Review

7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko Review: Technically-Accomplished $99 Planar IEM

Tired of budget single dynamic driver IEMs? Then perhaps a change in driver type will shake things up. Planar magnetic-driven IEMs, for example, were ahead of their time…and also something of a joke. Not only was the tuning of early planar IEMs subpar, there was also the matter of supplying enough power to these power-hungry drivers.

Fast forward to 2022, “planar” is now the buzzword of the year, and ChiFi manufacturers are racing to release products utilising the driver technology. But have planar IEMs actually matured enough? Are they now a good alternative (or even replacement) to “mere” dynamic driver IEMs?

Well, the 7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko aims to answer these questions, while also going for only $99.

What It Is

The Salnotes Dioko is a 14.6mm planar driver IEM tuned by Crinacle, the guru of graphs himself. This means you’ll be getting a balanced tuning as defined by an experienced, high-profile individual in the audio space. This actually marks Crinacle’s sixth collaboration with an audio brand, but it’s his first product with a planar-magnetic driver.

The Dioko is not 7Hz’s first planar IEM either: that would be the much revered Timeless. While it’s not a perfect IEM, the Timeless was quite well-received by the audio community, which might have contributed to the eventual release of the Dioko.

However, the much anticipated launch of the Dioko was met with an unfortunate predicament. Early units of the IEM were installed with incorrect tuning filters, under-dampening the mids and highs. Over 150 early units of the Dioko had this issue, and affected customers were promptly sent replacement filters to rectify the blunder.

Although the filter replacement process is fairly simple – Linsoul even released an instructional video on how to do this – there was no physical way to tell whether or not a particular unit of the Dioko was affected. We know that the mids and highs are under-dampened in the affected units, but those without proper measuring equipment (most people, basically) are left to guess and speculate if their own unit sounds “correct.”

And even if you think you bought the Dioko later enough to not be affected by the issue, the damage was already done; the paranoia is already set.

Aside from that, the task of ear tip rolling and seeking out ones that play well with the unique (read: weird) shape of the Dioko was also an annoying process. In fact, despite being packaged with a rather extensive amount of tips in wide and narrow bore variants, none of them fit my ears well enough to stay put and provide a good seal.

Only when I found a random pair of no-brand, transparent silicone tips in my storage that I was able to get the right fit with the Dioko. If it’s any consolation, at least the IEM comes in a rather nice faux-leather case to house the precious gemstone-looking earphones.

How Does It Sound?

The sonic differences of a planar driver compared to a dynamic one are immediately apparent when you hit the play button. There’s a certain quality and speed in the bass of the Dioko, and certain crisp in the treble that just presents itself clearly and organically.

The tone of the Dioko is unabashedly bright, so dwellers of the dark that prefer to bask in warmer sound signatures should look elsewhere. Unfortunately, I belong in that dark camp, so the Dioko shines a little too bright for my taste. But shine, it certainly does.

The technicalities of the Dioko is, in a word, astonishing. Every instrument presents itself before you without reservation and in high fidelity. Depending on the music you’re listening to, this transparency might even be too overwhelming for some. You might hear cymbals you weren’t aware of, or hear strings you never knew in a new timbre or quality.

It’s a new sensation, if you will.

Bass

The sub-bass of the Dioko is tight and precise, but it does roll-off fairly quickly. It doesn’t help that the mid-bass is also on the lighter side and, in my opinion, a little lacking for genres like pop and rock. But as mentioned before, the quality and presentation of the “planar bass” is still unique and worth listening to.

Mids

My sentiment of there not being enough bass follows through to the mids of the Dioko. Both male and female vocals tend to sound a bit thin and a tad bit recessed. Like a distraught child, there is a desire for intimacy, for more attention. The child calls and beckons, but to no avail.

This is a pity, as the child is pure of heart – as pure as the vocals of the Dioko. This IEM makes up for the lack of weight by producing a natural timbre and breathiness in the vocals. Instruments also sound full and organic, but the amount of detail presented might be sensory overload to more sensitive listeners.

Highs

As previously mentioned, the Dioko is a bright IEM, too much so for my liking. That being said, it does offer superb clarity and treble resonance that lives up to the planar name. Snaps and cymbals are exceptionally crisp and sparkly, though busier tracks tend to be a bit fatiguing and even borderline sibilant.

Blackpink’s Whistle is a good example as the snaps present throughout the song are crisp, but there’s an almost unnatural quality to it.

Soundstage

The soundstage of the Dioko resembles the shape of its shells…if you turn them sideways. There’s quite a bit of horizontal depth, which works well with the transparency and clarity of instruments. Vertical depth and height, however, are quite compressed with a mostly “in your head” sound experience.

Comparison to 7Hz Timeless

Of course, I also got a unit of the Timeless to see (or rather, listen) how it fares against the Dioko. The Timeless has a slightly smaller – by 0.4mm, to be precise – 14.2mm planar driver as well as a N52 magnet, instead of an N55 one on the Dioko. The former’s shell is also quite a bit different from the funky, purple jewel-like shell of the newer IEM.

This difference in shape translates to a more forgiving fit with the Timeless, while the Dioko took me a lot more time and effort to get the right fit, though your mileage may vary.

In terms of sound quality, the Timeless is somewhat identical to the newer Dioko, just…twice as dynamic. There is less sub-bass roll-off with the Timeless, followed by a bump in the mid-bass. It also has much more sparkle in the treble, which is (unfortunately) accompanied by sibilance.

I already think the Dioko can be too overwhelming for some, so needless to say, the more energetic Timeless can even sound “shouty” to some folks. Basically, the Dioko is a tamer, more relaxed version of the Timeless with less bass and less treble, which could be just what you’re looking for.

Another difference between the Timeless and Dioko is the sensitivity of the two IEMs. Although the Dioko is only 1.2 ohms higher than the impedance of the Timeless, it is much harder to drive in my testing. Pairing the Dioko with either the Fiio Q3 or Fiio E10K saw both DAC/Amps pushing their respective knobs 70% of the way. The Timeless, on the other hand, sat at a comfortable 50%.

However, I do find both Fiio devices to be a little less clean than what I would like, with a “fuzzier” treble presentation. But the E10K does provide a pleasant hint of warmth to the inherently bright Dioko, and as a fan of warmer sound profiles, I really dig this.

Is It Worth It?

Despite its shortcomings, the 7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko goes for only $99 (about RM440) on Linsoul, making it the most affordable planar IEM in the market now. In fact, it costs more than half the price of the 7Hz Timeless, which is listed at $220 (approximately RM980). This level of technicality at this price point is incredibly attractive, even if I’m not a huge fan of the Dioko’s sound profile.

If you’re curious about the “planar sound” hype, then the Dioko might just be the perfect starting point, especially if you had enough of IEMs with dynamic or balanced armature drivers. Besides that, it is also tuned by Crinacle himself, so if you’re a fan of his tuning, it’s a completely valid reason to get this IEM.

Yes, the Dioko has a quirky aesthetic with an odd shell design that makes it hard to find a good fit, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a technically-accomplished planar IEM…for cheap. This alone can be a good enough reason to buy it.

Li Jin Soh contributed to this review.

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