Penon BS1 – Good things come in small packages!

If you're looking for an earbud with great soundstage, powerful bass with great rumble, full bodied mids with beautiful vocals and smooth yet energetic and refined treble then the Penon BS1 definitely should be on your list especially at its price point!

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Very wide and deep soundstage
  • Deep, powerful bass with great rumble and good control
  • Full bodied and articulate mids with forward vocals
  • Refined upper treble presentation with good lower treble energy
  • Superb stock cable build and quality

Cons

  • Due to the bass presence, for the best experience more neutral sources with decent power are necessary to drive the BS1 to its potential

Product page : https://penon-official.com/product/bs1-official-version/
Price : 109$ (singled ended) -119$ (balanced)

Fit, Build & Isolation

The Penon BS1 features a flawless build from the metal shell of the earpiece to the very nice 8 wires copper and silver-plated mixed cable with a beautiful black carbon fiber alloy splitter. This is good news as the cable is not detachable as is usually the case with earbuds.

The BS1 is an earbud and the fit will greatly vary upon your ear anatomy, I had no issues fitting the BS1 securely without using the ear hooks but if you need to the wide panel of accessories should allow you to find the right fit.

As usual with earbuds, isolation is limited but I did find it was enough for the main use I have for earbuds which is at the office in a moderately noisy open space. You might find it less appropriate in public transportation where it probably won’t isolate enough but that’s not a flaw of the BS1 and due to the form factor. There is moderate leaking that shouldn’t be a problem in a moderately noisy environment and I know I had no issues with colleagues in the open space. A very quiet setup with a sensitive person close would probably be a different story.

Introduction

Like many audiophiles I have been a customer of Penon Audio for a while, as they have a wide catalog of earphones and audio gear in general, great customer service and good prices. I confess before the BS1 I hadn’t realized they also had a product line other than their great value for money cables so I was curious to test the BS1.

The first earbud I have purchased (on Penon by the way) was the much pricier Astrotec Lyra Collection which I reviewed earlier this year. I have grown fond of the form factor for office use as it doesn’t isolate completely and I can hear colleagues calling out for me. It’s also so easy to put out of your ears and back in which makes it a perfect form factor for the use case.

Since the Lyra has an open back design, I thought I would try a closed back earbud and picked the BS1. I was curious as to how the BS1 would compare to the top tier priced earbuds from Astrotec. As it turns out, there are benefits to a closed back design and as we’ll see, the BS1 is able to hold its own and I actually like its signature better as it’s smoother, isolates better and packs better punch in the lows.

Let’s dig a bit deeper!

Sound

As most of my readers know, I do value first impressions a lot, although it takes time to really dig into the facets of a signature the baseline is generally quickly apparent. In the case of the BS1, the first two things that struck me were soundstage – it’s really big – and bass, it’s really deep and powerful with great rumble. This is typical of earbuds with their big dynamic driver (compared to IEMs), in the case of the BS1 a 15mm dynamic driver.

Then the very second impression was treble, although it can be a bit shadowed by the powerful bass on some tracks, upper treble is quite refined and there is a good resolution and ability to retrieve details. Third but not least, the mids feature slightly forward vocals with a good ability to convey the singer’s emotion.

The overall signature of the Penon BS1 is strong bass foundations with a lot of power, but clear and sweet vocals and a refined treble. It’s not as clear sounding as the Astrotec Lyra Collection but it’s significantly more bodied with much stronger bass foundations.

Bass

Penon BS1 bass are certainly one of the highlights and is quite impressive : it reaches deep with good extension and definite physicality as there is very good rumble. The mid bass presence is not overly done and the textures are really good. I mainly used the DX160 for this review but interestingly switching to Cayin N6ii with the class A E01 motherboard I found that the BS1 does scale really well with the source providing additional extension, better control and richer textures. Quite impressive given the price bracket of the BS1.

Muse’s “Madness” shows that the BS1 is able to handle fast transitions in the bass, which can always be an issue with a relatively bigger dynamic driver. Caro Emerald “Back it up” is one of my most used test tracks for mid bass as the recording is well made and the double bass is quite prominent in the mix so it’s a track with great mid bass emphasis. One thing it will always show is how controlled the mid bass is and how good the textures are. Penon BS1 didn’t disappoint here, quite the contrary.

Mids

The Penon BS1 midrange is full bodied with just the right amount of vocal emphasis. It’s a smooth and warm midrange but with no excess either as it remains fairly articulate and of natural tone, no sign of congestion there. Both male and female vocals are a treat on the Penon BS1 and I didn’t expect this good a performance.

Out of iBasso DX160, James Blake “Retrograde” is beautifully portrayed, with the strong bass highlighting the heartbeat like rythm, the vocal performance of James Blake is portrayed with great emotion. I was quite surprised. Again when switching from DX160 – which was my baseline – to Cayin N6ii (with the class A E01 card) brought some substantial benefits : mids are more layered with extra nuances and richer textures as well as better separation and a little more bite in the upper mids. Again, the BS1 does scale well.

Treble

The Penon BS1 treble was quite of a surprise to me. The Hot Sardines “Comes Love (l’amour s’en fout)” and in particular the intro of that track features higher keyed piano notes that help me judge of the lower treble energy. The BS1 did not disappoint both in the good energy it’s able to provide with very realistic decay that make for a very natural lower treble presentation. Tone is also very accurate, with a touch of pleasing warmth that I find makes the treble more delicate and sophisticated : something, I confess I didn’t expect at this price point.

Nils Lofgren “Keith Don’t Go” is a track I often use to check out the upper treble presentation as it’s a beautiful live recording with higher keyed guitar notes and gives me a good sense of the attack and decay of notes as well as the air between instruments. On this track, with less bass quantity, the upper treble refinement was clearly apparent in a way that is less so on more bass heavy tracks and speaks to the treble abilities of the BS1.

One again switching from DX160 to the N6ii (E01) confirms that the BS1 can indeed scale well with sources – providing a more refined upper treble presentation yet – and translating into better separation and air with the obvious benefits on soundstage and resolution.

Verdict

I have spent quite a bit of this past two years with universal and custom fit flagships IEMs and it’s easy to loose sight of the value of alternate offerings in different price bracket and form factor. From that point of view this review certainly was a good opportunity to remember that well tuned and decently priced earbuds like the Penon BS1 have a lot to offer over IEMs and even over full sized headphones.

Not only do they sport a bigger soundstage than IEMs in a small and more convenient package than headphones but when tuned right like Penon BS1 they can also bring a level of refinement that is audiophile worthy.

The Penon BS1 is not only very good with great value for money but it also packs a surprising potential with a better source. A portable amp or something like a Dragonfly USB key DAC or iBasso DC01 or DC02 in the context of office use will definitely be something worth considering.

If you’re looking for an earbud with great soundstage, powerful bass with great rumble, full bodied mids with beautiful vocals and smooth yet energetic and refined treble then the Penon BS1 definitely should be on your list especially at its price point!

Listening notes
I spent approximately 30 hours with the Penon BS1, listening on iBasso DX160 using the stock cable balanced and as a test of its scaling potential single ended with Cayin N6ii and E01 motherboard. 

Special Thanks
Thanks to Penon Audio for providing a review unit of the BS1 As usual, this review is my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review. 

Image courtesy of Penon Audio’s website

Accessories

  • BS1 earbud
  • Wood case
  • 1 pair of Hiegi foam donut eartips
  • 1 pair of Hiegi foam solid eatrips
  • 4 pairs of donut foam eatips
  • 4 pairs of solid foam eartips
  • 1 pair of transparent earhook
  • Pouch
  • Clip

Specifications

  • Metal shell, metal mesh
  • Black carbon fiber alloy splitter, alloy slider
  • Driver: 15mm dynamic driver
  • Impedance: 32ohm
  • Frequency response: 14Hz – 28 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 120dB
  • Cable: 8 shares 19-core copper & silver-plated mixed cable
  • Plug: 3.5mm copper gold-plated plug
  • Cable length: 1.2m

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