Here at MajorHiFi, we review a lot of high end headphones that can seem a bit expensive – even in Audiophile Dollars. But once in a while we get that odd budget-minded product that schools us on just how good cheap audio can sound when done right. Today I’m demoing the Strauss & Wagner SI201, a $49 earphone with a lightning connection that sounds surprisingly good – and blows its competition out of the water.
Strauss & Wagner SI201 Review
I’d never heard about the SI201 until it landed on my review desk. Inside the basic cardboard box, there’s a drawstring carrying pouch, a manual, and three pairs of eartips.
Holding the earphones in my hands, they feel lightweight, but still well-made. Aluminum on the earphone housings and on the lighting connector plug impart a feeling of durability.
Cabling measures a fairly standard 4 ft (or 1.2 m) and features a three-button mic and remote for controlling volume and playback.
Inside each earpiece, a 10 mm driver handles sound quality. A little large for an earphone, this may translate to slightly more punch in the lows.
Comfort is decent right out of the box, but the nozzle on this earphone can accept tips like the Final E-Type tips, or even Comply foam tips.
Isolation is actually pretty intense, and the SI201 does a good job of blocking out some of my noisier coworkers as they debate the best KPOP group (it’s TWICE, dammit).
Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 32 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 92 dB
Strauss & Wagner actually includes specs for such a cheap earphone, so kudos to them. That being said, the SI201 features a fairly standard frequency range, as well as a standard impedance of 32 ohms. As a result, this earphone should work just fine with phones. While the SPL of 92 decibels seemed kind of weak on paper, in actual use these earphones get VERY loud – most of my listening sessions stayed below 50% volume. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes to blow their ears off at max volume, this baby is probably up to the task.
The SI201 offers a deep and energetic low end. Detailed, but still emotive, these lows handle hip hop and rock especially well. However, the sound still doesn’t detract from classical or jazz tunes, either. Overall, this remains a very good low end (and miles ahead of other lightning-connection earphones I have tried in the past).
The midrange hosts a solid sound that handles instruments and vocals with equal gusto. Surprisingly clean for the price, the SI201 exhibits no compression and only the slightest bit of distortion. Not too forward, these mids still shine on vocal-heavy tracks where a certain air of separation imparts something special.
When it comes to the highs, the SI201 sounds slightly rolled off, not bright. Sharp and contrasting when it comes to instruments, the sound waxes smooth in its treatment of female vocals. The result is a luscious and full high end that sounds great with any track, whether you’re listening to smooth R&B or classical pieces.
I wasn’t expecting much of a soundstage on the SI201, but I may have underestimated the DAC chip that decodes from the lightning connection. There’s actually a good sense of depth and space here. Despite the in-ear design, this earphone still delivers a relatively spacious sound, though it may sound a little narrower with classical tunes. Still, for the price, this soundstage sounds fantastic.
Value for money-wise, the SI201 offers an impressive sound other earphones can’t touch. I’ve tried other lightning-connection earphones and they don’t really compare to the SI201 (or at least, not when considering the $49 price point). Sure, you could get a pair of Shure SE215s and hook them up to a lighting cable with MMCX connectors. But then you’re paying at least three times the price for only a slight improvement in sound quality.
Call quality sounds solid, too, but the isolation steals the show. These puppies could block out the biblical apocalypse. In the office, this feature can be a bit much, and I find myself dialing down the volume so I can hear my coworkers. However, on my daily commute from Brooklyn to Midtown, this earphone constitutes a godsend.
I kind of wish Strauss & Wagner offered one of these with a USB-C connection, as it’s kind of hard to turn my non-apple-using friends on to this kind of sound quality when it all hinges on the lightning connector.
If you have an iPhone and need a great pair of earphones, the Strauss & Wagner SI201 is for you. Honestly, this cheap no-name earphone beats out two of my other go-to recommendations in this price range – the staple Final Audio E3000 (at $54), and the new Sennheiser CX 300S (at $49).
With a deeper low end and more midrange than the E3000, the SI201 sounds better with just about every genre (except one or two rock tracks). The S201 is also more spacious and resolving than the Sennheiser CX 300S, but just by a slight margin.
However, if you don’t use an iPhone, you might need to choose between one of these alternatives, in which case the E3000 would be more v-shaped while the CX 300S might offer a better midrange.
At $49, the Strauss & Wagner SI201 offers an impressive sound that belies its cheap-as-chips price tag. With good isolation, a comfortable fit, great sound, and a wide soundstage, the SI201 does just about everything right. While Android users may have to purchase a different earphone, fans of Apple will love this audiophile-grade earbud.
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