IKKO OH10 Obsidian review: beauty and fun

IKKO OH1 review
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IKKO contacted me a while back asking whether I wanted to try their OH10 Obsidian, their second product which is a direct follow-up to the well-received OH-1: given the good fame the firm has garnered, I was curious to see how the OH10 would sound. Just like their previous IEM, the OH10 flaunts their signature tuning: a V-shape. It is in fact quite a deep V, complete with thin mids and quite a lot of energy in the upper region.

Disclaimer: Steven at IKKO was so kind as to send me a pair free of charge. IKKO sells the Obsidian on their website for $199.

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TL;DR: recap

Pros
Cons
Good build quality

Great bass section

An overall fun signature

Thin mids that lack body

Aggressive treble

Cheap-feeling cable

Rating: 7.5/10

Packaging & Accessories

The IKKO OH10 Obsidian’s packaging is rather complete (and luxurious for the price): there is a heavy cardboard box surrounded by a quite colourful sleeve, which also holds a “customer service card” in a black envelope. The box holds the earpieces, the cable, six pairs of eartips (three in white and three in black, with the white being stiffer), a (faux?) leather strap for the cable and a faux-leather pouch. There’s also a pin with the IKKO mascot (a fox), in case you really want to display your faithfulness to the brand.

Design & Comfort

IKKO OH1

The OH10 Obsidian take their name from a volcanic mineral, a natural-occurring glass which was used in the Neolithic to manufacture blades (a fact I find extremely cool!). What’s actually even cooler is that IKKO shaped the earphones like one of those obsidian blades, complete with faceting that really make the earpieces look as if they were pieces of obsidian.

IKKO is not exactly clear when they describe the materials: they mention copper, titanium and platinum, but understanding what is used for what purpose is not as easy as it sounds. If I extrapolated that correctly, the shells of the OH10 are made of copper with a titanium coating in order to increase scratch resistance and prevent the growth of bacteria, while the inside is plated with platinum which should allegedly improve the sound. The fact that the shells are entirely made of metal makes them quite hefty, but in a good way: it makes them feel substantial without impacting comfort. All in all, the IKKO OH10 Obsidian look and feel like a premium product.

Build quality is very good. Although IKKO doesn’t even try hiding the seams, they’re done very well so they don’t constitute an issue. The only criticism I can make is that the earphones use a weird 2-pin socket which is slightly raised, so it protrudes from the shells. It’s not one of those sockets that require special cables, but it detracts from the general great appearance. On the positive side, though, it makes it a bit easier to distinguish the two earpieces as the one on the right hand side is coloured in red.

I find the OH10 to be very comfortable: their narrow shape means they can sit in my ears for hours before I feel any discomfort, and even then it’s so slight I can easily ignore it. You may have a different experience as each person has ears with different shapes, but I think that these earphones are probably among the most comfortable you can find out there.

Due to the metal they’re made with, the OH10 Obsidian are really good at isolating from external noise. With the right eartips (e.g. SpinFit), they can block noise almost completely, allowing you to concentrate on the music. They’re not quite as good as the best out there (e.g. Shozy x Neo CP), but they’re still quite good and should provide enough passive isolation for all but the most noisy stuations.

I’m not really fond of the cable, not at this price point. IKKO says that the cable is made of silver-plated 5N pure copper (I’ll quote them directly: “[it provides] both high frequency extension and low frequency strength“, in case you believe in cables making a difference). There are four cores, braided between the jack and the Y-split and then simply twisted. It looks and feels like the cable on the sub-$30 BLON BL-03, maybe it’s slightly softer. It works well, but I expected something a bit better for six times the price. The connector is right-angled, but even so it has the length of a standard connector, which makes the right angle a bit redundant: it doesn’t save space and it doesn’t take stress away from the jack, only partially relieving stress from the cable itself – which is still a good thing to have, of course.

Sound & Specs

I tested the IKKO OH10 Obsidian using mostly an iFi Neo iDSD and an iFi micro iDSD Signature, both connected to my laptop. Most source files were FLACs in 16 bit, 44.1 kHz resolution.

IKKO OH10 Obsidian

Frequency response 20 – 40,000 Hz
Impedance 18 Ω
Sensitivity 106 dB

 

The IKKO OH10 Obsidian uses a hybrid driver configuration with a single dynamic driver, which has a 10 mm diameter and is made of titanium, plus a Knowles 33518 balanced armature. IKKO targets a signature with quite a steep “V” shape, with an accent on mid-bass on one side and upper midrange and lower treble on the other.

I find soundstage to be not that wide, so the impression you get is of being in a medium-sized room, as there is some depth to it; you never actually get the illusion that the sound isn’t coming from inside your head, but possibly due to the tuning you feel completely immersed in it. Imaging is quite good, with both a great placement of instruments on the stage and a good representation of the various positions in the right-to-left (or vice-versa) spectrum. Instrument separation is decent, but due to the recessed midrange it’s sometimes harder than necessary to tell instruments in that area apart.

Bass is quite emphasised and finds its peak in the mid-bass region, with a great presence of sub-bass. This makes bass fairly rich, with a good variety that makes it able to render different layers and different tones with ease; in other words, it’s quite a nimble bass section, which delivers quite a good amount of detail and a finesse that is usually found in earphones in higher tiers. It’s especially the depth that I find great, as it hits the deepest notes with ease and with a very good volume; it’s quite unusual to find headphones in the sub-$200 range whose sub-bass is rendered this good, honestly. I think that IKKO dedicated quite a lot of focus to the lower region, as it has remarkable speed and control. Those result in fast, engaging bass which has a good amount of physicality to it as well. What you get then is a somewhat hard-hitting lower area, with enough control and depth to deliver the kick many people crave for without the boom and the bloat that often characterise this kind of signature.

Midrange is quite thin and concentrated in the upper area, with a lot of emphasis placed on high-pitched instruments (e.g. electric guitars and violins) as well as female voices. The lower area is sometimes dominated by bass and is not always easy to reach due to its recessed position in the mix, but it’s a hell of a lot coherent – the transition is smooth and direct, with no audible dips or peaks. This is a very well done lower section of a V-shaped signature in my opinion. The other side, on the other hand, is less enjoyable as it places a lot of emphasis on the upper area, making voices less natural-sounding by emphasising their breathing component (so that you hear the voice as if people were forcing the breath out); this additional emphasis also entails that this area becomes quite fatiguing in longer listening sessions. The overall sensation is that mids lack body and are too thin for many instruments to be rendered correctly (e.g. pianos). Using the equaliser and taking 3 dB out of the 3 kHz area makes the midrange much more balanced, though it doesn’t solve its recession problem. There’s a good amount of detail, which makes the IKKO OH10 quite enjoyable, though micro-details escape them. There’s little physicality on both ends, though the lower one has more, probably due to it being produced by the dynamic driver.

Treble is well extended, retaining a good amount of energy even in the upper region that make it airy and spacious. This energy is even more in the lower area, where there’s a strong emphasis that makes notes pop out. On the other hand, though, this same energy can be excessive and can lead to tracks being fatiguing. On one hand it gives brightness and liveliness to the sound, making it sound vivid, but on the other these qualities can become too much, especially if the track you are listening to already has a lot happening in that area. Apart from this, treble is actually quite interesting as it offers quite a bit of air and lightness; its detail is such that you can clearly hear even micro-details.

IKKO OH10 Obsidian Comparisons

As I don’t have many V-shaped earphones which I hold in high esteem in the same price range as the OH10 Obsidian, I’m going to compare them to other popular earphones in the same price range:

  • IKKO OH10 Obsidian vs ThieAudio Legacy 4: the Legacy 4 target a much more neutral signature, so in a sense they’re the opposite of the Obsidian. Bass is much more reserved, more in line with what I’d define a “neutral” tuning, with limited depth but good speed and detail; there’s also much less physicality. Midrange tends towards brightness, but it doesn’t reach the peaks of the IKKO, so it’s much more “comfortable”; it offers a good balance that includes a very good level of detail and very good speed. Treble is better in all regards on the OH10, but it is much less fatiguing on the Legacy 4 thanks to their lower emphasis on it. Soundstage is a bit wider on the Legacy 4, which also have slightly better instrument separation, while imaging is better on the IKKO.
  • IKKO OH10 Obsidian vs 1More Quad Driver: compared to the IKKO OH10 Obsidian, the 1More Quad Driver sound terribly dull (an update to the original review is due…). The Quad Driver have less bass presence, leading to a more balanced presentation, but they also have less depth, less speed and less detail. Midrange is a bit weird to compare, in the sense that the Quad Driver are much more balanced and less aggressive, but they still sound a bit recessed and muffled; detail is slightly better, but there’s less speed. Treble is, despite its aforementioned flaws, better on the OH10: it is much more extended, more present (too much, as I’ve said) and better detailed. Soundstage is similar in width, but the IKKO are deeper; imaging is slightly better on the IKKO, which completely slay the 1More in instrument separation. In a few years the quality of the sub-$200 range has increased dramatically!

Final Thoughts

If we were to divide headphones in broad categories, there would be two of them: those that aim for accuracy and those that aim for fun. The IKKO OH10 Obsidian belong to the latter, with a V-shaped signature that is quite well executed in the lower part and which delivers an engaging upper region that’s sometimes a bit too lively. They surely do great with modern genres where perfect balance in the midrange is less important than having kicking bass and sizzling treble. The upper area is the OH10’s Achilles’ heel, as it’s this region that makes the sound unbalanced and a bit fatiguing.

My overall sensation with them is that, despite all the positive things they have, they miss the mark by a very small margin. Their main flaw is the upper region, which is too present and becomes a bit harsh; if you tone it down a bit, these earphones become much more interesting as they become coloured and fun, but not fatiguing. In the end they’re good if you want to have a heavily coloured tuning, but be aware that this is a double-edged sword.

About Riccardo Robecchi

Living in Glasgow, Scotland but born and raised near Milan, Italy, I got the the passion for music listening as a legacy from my father and my grandfather. I have reported on technology for major Italian publications since 2011.
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