Once again I'm speechless, sitting down with a pair of $24.90 headphones that look and sound better than a number of other popular brand name IEMs that cost 4x-5x that much. How is it possible? For a lot of us who live in US and EU, there is a whole world of great headphone brands from Asia we never even heard of. After reading and participating in a number of discussions on head-fi, I decided to look into much talked about Xiaomi Pistons currently on their 2nd generation release.
I know the price of under $25 sounds ridiculous for anything of a high quality, but you have to trust me - these headphones are simply amazing! I know a lot of you see the name and the model and quickly get on Google to search for the best deals. Here is a thing, when it comes to these particular in-ear headphones, any search will yield a lot of results with fake models. And because those often cost almost as much or a few dollars less than original, it's really hard to find a trusted seller of Pistons. That is a reason I'm providing you Amazon link of a trusted seller who has real Pistons v2 in stock. Be very careful when placing an order even with amazon where you have multiple sellers, and make sure its with Zhengnan'shop. Apparently there used to be other sellers under the same listing which turned out to be fake ones. The one I received came from Zhengnan'shop, I confirmed it to be the real deal!
OK, since I got that explanation out of the way, let's take a closer look at the headphones itself. The small carton box they arrived in turned out to be a one piece design which unfolded with instructions and other info. Unfortunately, everything was in Chinese, but I can certainly appreciate the originality of this design. Once you take the actual box out, you are presented with a gorgeous view of golden in-ear headphones inside of jewelry-like box. When you lift the cover, the first thing you notice is... a smell. I know what you might think, probably a smell of toxic plastic? Absolutely not, you are getting a smell of a chocolate. Yes, I did say "chocolate". There is a lot of thought that went into design of these headphones and their packaging, including one of the most original presentation with a piece of molded rubber insert that houses earphones, inline remote, a plug, a cord which gets wrapped around, and also made out of material with a sweet smell of chocolate. Underneath on the bottom of the box you will find 3 bonus sets of eartips and a really cool shirt clip (a very original design). Once you take the headphones out, you can't help but notice how super lightweight these are and how detailed is their design. Everything from headphone housing to in-line remote (which also serves as cable y-splitter) and 3.5mm connector is made out of lightweight aluminum alloy material with a gold finish and laser etched circular lines. Everything feels solid, durable, and very premium quality. The cord itself is tangle free, and the portion between splitter-remote and 3.5mm plug has a threaded coating which almost looks like a shoelace. The part of the cable from the splitter-remote up to headphones has a durable rubbery coating attached to earpieces with a decent strain relief.
There is no doubt, Pistons have a very luxurious look and feel, but how about the sound quality? Once you put these in your ears, get ready for a very pleasant surprise!!! Featuring a patented beryllium diaphragm, I found these dynamic drivers to cover quite an extended frequency range. The first thing you will notice a rich deep bass which extends quite nicely down to a powerful sub-bass layer while still having a well controlled punchy mid-bass. The selection of a proper eartip size to create the best seal with your earcanal will play a significant role in the amount of bass you will hear. With my selection of medium eartips, I found the bass quantity to be definitely boosted. Not quite at basshead level, but enough to feel it. At the other side of the spectrum, treble was very clear and smooth, hardly any hint of sibilance. Mids were detailed, a bit recessed, but still leveled enough to enjoy vocals. Overall the sound was bright and balanced with a little bit of v-shaped eq, a nice low end enhancement, and in general very airy and smooth. Of course, as great as they sound, it will not replace $500 multi-driver IEMs with a fuller body sound and better separation, but the fact I'm even bringing up a comparison of $25 to $500 in-ear headphones can tell you how highly I think of these. The soundstage was above average thanks to semi-open design with a port on the back of these headphones. Despite that, they actually had a decent passive noise isolation, but as I mentioned above a good seal with a proper eartip is very important to achieve that.
Usually I don't spend too much time talking about in-line remote, but in case of Pistons it deserves a special mentioning. Every pair of headphones I reviewed so far with in-line remote never had a set of volume controls that works with Android phones. Typically you have multi-function button which is universal between android and apple devices, mic for taking calls, and up/down volume for iPhones. Well, Xiaomi is actually a very well known Chinese android smartphone maker, and that is why their headphones were designed specifically for android phones. Though I only tested it with my Galaxy Note 2, the volume control worked perfectly!!!!! Furthermore, multi-function button worked great for play/pause/call with a single click, skip next with a double click, and skip prev with a triple click, and long-press for Google Now. No additional software was necessary, everything worked by default. Also, phone calls were loud and clear.
Overall, I found Xiaomi Pistons 2 to be one of the best value headphones I have tested in a very long time!!! The combination of a sexy design, durable construction, amazing sound quality with a great bass, and full remote control compatibility with android phones makes this a MUST have accessory which gets my high recommendation.
Here are the pictures.