Xiao Mi? The Chinese company??? Don't they make handphones/cellphones? Wouldn't their accessories be as chortle as great as Apple earpods? Well, on top of having Hugo Barra, ex VP of Google's Android division and at present attempting to take over the world, they garner the public's trust garnering 15.9% of the market share in a short six years since their founding in April 2010. With this, they set about selling almost anything. From fitness bands to water and air purifiers to home automation/security device takes a breath and earbuds and headphones.
One would gather being a jack of all trade makes one master of none. But having already the trust of the gargantuan Chinese market with their phones and power banks, Xiaomi chose to maintain that faith. Every product thus sold are thoughtfully designed, high in quality and yet at bargain basement prices. If Apple makes premium products at a certain income strata, then Xiaomi opts to ensure the everyman gets the most of their money's worth. For personal audio devices, they have already garnered reputation with the piston earbuds. So how will their Mi headphones priced for under $80 fare?
They come with most comprehensive accessories for something under a single Benjamin! The inclusion of three different earpads was intriguing. There are two fake leather earpads perforated to breathe better. The smaller ones looks to be for on the go and rests gently on your ears whilst the larger pads go around the ear. The larger pads much more comfortable and gave a better balance to the mi headphones and so settled for those. The third earpads are foam ones that looks very similar to the Grado donut earpads but is slightly smaller and far more comfortable. There really isn't any reason why you can't bring these headphones out with any of the earpads.
The headphones fold where the band meets the ear pieces to go into the rather compact hard case. The cable are detachable and is very high quality and don't look like it would break anytime soon. In fact the overall fit and finish are significantly better than similar headphones like the Grados SR series which can be priced so much higher.
One niggle I had about Grado SR headphones are that they have this emphasis on the highs that whilst make exciting music even more so, it gets fatiguing very quickly. Also, they aren't very comfortable to begin with and get two hours on them before my ears hurt. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was that the Mi headphones have neither of these issues and I could wear them all day long and sometimes dont even remember they are on, nearly tugging the cables off!
When you don these $80 headphones the perforated padding material feels rather luxurious and breathes well enough during summer/tropical climate with causing perspiration. Being only 220 grams light you would barely notice them as you go about your day. The venerable Sennheiser HD650s are my go-to cans to fall asleep in but the ear pads on the Mi are smaller and would be less comfortable doing so. I often forget that I am wearing the Mi headphones when the music has stopped due to how well they sit and rest on your head. I oftentimes go on a 6hour stint on them whilst working in front of the computer. The longest marathon was about seven hours on a flight with my trusty Sony ZX-1 player who ran out of juice earlier than my tolerance for the headphones did.
Lorde's Royals has the satisfying thump with each bass note as much as the recording quality allows. More importantly when the bass hits it does not compress the dynamics of the vocals and other instruments and the Mi headphones reproduced this enjoyably. With such recordings where there is a focus on the midrange and bass, Mi headphones are very satisfying. Compared to the Sennheiser HD650s, the Mi has more kick in the bass and an overall more exciting personality with the Sennheisers being more laidback but more tonally true.
When we move to more audiophile recordings like Canadian jazz up and comer Cecile MclorinSalvant's "Nobody" from the Womanchild album, these Mi headphones shine! Cecile's lush, emotive vocals starts quiet, small & low only to go expressively loud a minute into the song. Backed by only a double bass and grand piano the Miheadphones reproduces them along with the ambience of the studio very well. You could almost hear Cecile swaying whilst performing in this recording!
Again, against the HD650s the Mi provides a more intimate presentation compared to the Sennheiser HD650s with the latter eking out more resolution and decay of the instruments and soundstage than the Mi. Despite my mentioning that the Mi has a tonal balance towards brighter highs and that their cables are silver plated copper, I don't hear an over-emphasis in the highs and they are far, far less fatiguing than Grados aurally and physically.
A brief traipse with Reference Recording's Copland 100 album, specifically, "Fanfare for the common man" confirms my suspicions. The Mi loses out to the Sennhesier HD650s in terms of soundstage, presentation and tonal balance of the piece. Strikes on the tympani, and their subsequent reverberation around the concert hall, was reproduced with deep bass and wide soundstage on the Sennheiser. This was significantly less so on the Mi headphones. But hey, you could buy six Mi headphones for the price of one Sennheiser so I'm not really complaining, just amazed that the Mi is holding on to its own rather well!
Best of all, at their price, they make an excellent gift to introduce that friend, partner or relative to high fidelity.