In November 2015, Xiaomi announced their new flagship IEM—the Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro—a hybrid IEM with both dynamic and balanced armature drivers. Hybrid IEMs are nothing new. They’ve been around for a while and basically offer the best of both worlds by combining two very different sounding drivers. The result is what some might call the ultimate hi-fi experience—a perfect balance between dynamic bass and glassy highs.
The thing is (as with most audiophile headphones), hybrids don’t come cheap. The AKG K3003i, Ultrasone IQ, Fidue A83 and the Dunu DN-2000 for example all come with hefty price tags.
Then came the Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro at $25.
I know, some of you must be thinking pfft at that price, it’s probably garbage. On the contrary, Xiaomi has garnered quite a bit of attention within the audiophile community with their two very successul IEMs to date: the Pistons 2.0 and Pistons 3.0.
These two IEMs were very well-received on account of their sound quality (hi-fi, three dimensional), build quality (well-built, good accessories), and budget price (around $15). Although the common complaint was the excessive V-shaped sound which seemed to haunt the Pistons 2.0 (the Pistons 3.0 solved that by introducing a mid-range bump), much was forgiven on account of the $15 price tag.
So when Xiaomi announced the release of a $25 hybrid IEM, it received a lot of attention within the community naturally.
The Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro is a hybrid IEM featuring a balanced armature driver (for rich treble) and a dynamic driver (for deep bass).
The Headphones Pro is housed in a CNC milled metal casing. An aerospace-grade metal composite layer is sandwiched between two PET layers. According to Xiaomi, “the metal sound chamber is a 20-step process that involves diamond cutting, CD engraving, drawing and anodising a piece on aluminum”.
Like the Pistons, the Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro features a remote control on the right cable for Android systems and partial support for iOS. All 3 buttons work on the Android. As for iOS, only the middle Stop/Play button works.
The cable itself is housed in Kevlar fiber reducing microphonics and increasing durability. The earbuds come in 3 sizes: XS, S, L. The earbud itself is angled for comfort making it easy to fit and wear.
The Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro is no pushover despite its budget price. It’s built to last and will if you take good care of it. The metal housing coupled with the kevlar cable is impressive. In terms of comfort, these hybrid IEMs are an improvement from the Pistons 2.0. It has the same angled-design of the Pistons 3.0 which makes it very comfortable to wear.
Everyone knows that an IEM’s sound signature lies in its tuning. For this, Xiaomi employed the Klippel high-speed scanning vibrometer system to simulate recordings with a dummy head to identify the most ideal acoustics. Improvements were then made to the headphones’ structure based on the data received.
Luca Bignardi, a four-time Grammy award winning producer, apparently was also invited to lend a hand in the tuning of the Headphones Pro.
The Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro seems to follow the heritage of the Pistons 2.0 and 3.0. I found the bass to be slightly richer than the Pistons 3.0, but not as overwhelming as the 2.0. For those who have never tried Pistons before, let’s just say that bass is plenty. It can be just a tad too much if you listen to a lot of technical metal (the double kick-bass can get a bit tiring), but for most genres, the bass is just fine. It’s not an extreme earth-shattering thump, but rather a warm and weighty low-end sound.
For those who find the V-shaped EQ of Pistons 2.0 to be annoying, rejoice because the Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro has much more mids on hand. It’s somewhat similar to the Pistons 3.0, but due to the balanced armatures, the mids are a little more refined with just a slight boost in the upper midrange.
Again, this is where the balanced armatures shine. Vocals and cymbals are bright and shiny, which lends an overall expansive sound to the mix. The treble doesn’t reach the same peak as the Pistons 2.0 (which can sound a tad too artificial at times). Does this mean the Mi In-Ear Headphones sound dull? Not at all. In my opinion it makes for a more natural and organic sound.
The balanced armature driver enhances your music’s expressive power so high notes are enchantingly clear and drum beats blend better into the music.
I have to admit the Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro may not the best sounding hybrid IEM out there, but for $25, you’d be hard-pressed to find something similar. In fact, there is no hybrid IEM on the market now that costs $25 (at least to my knowledge that doesn’t sound like crap) and sounds this good. Seriously, it is that good. It sounds great, looks great, feels durable enough to withstand normal abuse, and comes with some nice accessories.
Xiaomi definitely has more up its sleeve, I believe. Like the Pistons, I’m sure they’re looking to improve on the Headphones Pro somehow in the future. As for now, $25 is a great price for anyone interested in exploring the hype and sound of hybrid IEMs.