This is a review of the LZ Big Dipper (BD) IEM’s. First I’d like to thank LZ for sending me a review sample of the LZ Big Dipper. The retail price of the LZ Big Dipper starts at $640 and ranges up to $860 depending on how many tuning switches one choses. The Big Dipper is available from Penon Audio:
I’m not in any way affiliated with LZ or Penon Audio. The LZ Big Dipper was sent to me for review purpose and my pair is the same as was earlier used in the excellent Headfonia review.
Build and Accessories
The LZ Big Dipper is an all balanced armature in ear monitor featuring seven drivers per side.
It comes in four different configurations: with one, two or three switches to tune the sound or the basic version without any switch. Prices ranges from $620 for the version without switches up to $860 for the version with three switches (each switch adds $80 to the final cost). Colors are customizable so you can put in your wish when placing your order. I’ve got the version with all three switches and a wood like plate design.
The build in general seem very solid. The actual housings are all plastic but does still feel very reliable and well made and the nozzles are made of metal. The tuning switches are located on the side of the housings and can be changed with a needle or some other thin object. They do stay in place really good once you’ve put them in the configuration you like to use.
Left/Right markings are black on black on the cable but despite this they’re quite easy to spot.
The cable has a straight 3.5 mm connector, is user replaceable and connects to the housing with 0.78 mm two pin connectors. The cable is braided and very flexible. The quality of the cable is extremely good and I’d even go as far as saying that it’s the best stock cable I’ve ever seen. There is none microphonics whatsoever and the over ear wearing style does of course play a part I this as well. The chin slider is also in place the way I like it. Although the cable looks really thick at first glance it’s still pretty light and I haven’t noticed any disadvantages to the way it’s designed.
All in total the quality about everything on the Big Dipper seems to be excellent and they should have the potential to last for a long time. My pair is a pre-production unit and came without a retail package so I can’t really comment on the quality of the included accessories. The accessories pack on the listing at Penon Audio does however look like this and I did get the wide bore tips in the picture:
I find the LZ Big Dipper to be extremely comfortable and I’ve got no problem wearing them for several hours. As a matter of fact I’ve worn them 6-8 hours per day on several occasions without any discomfort whatsoever and that’s more than I’ve been able to use any other pair of IEM’s without having any comfort issues. I’d even go so far as saying that they’re the most comfortable IEM’s I’ve ever tried. The housings are very easy to insert and to get a good fit with. The design does only make it possible to wear them over the ears. The included tips are ok but I found that the Monster super gel tips to be my preferred ones to use with them. I’d also like to add that I find it very convenient to use all BA IEM’s because one can have a great seal with them without having to worry about driver flex or venting.Fit and Ergonomics
Isolation is very good and I’ve been able to test them on a couple of shorter flights with great result. I’m usually not crazy about using IEM’s on planes due to the cabin pressure but the all BA configuration seems to help quite a bit with this. I actually think that the isolation with the Big Dipper is the best that I’ve ever experienced with a pair of IEM’s, it’s at least one of the best.
I’ve used them back and forward during the last six weeks and they’ve played for well over 100 hours. I’ve used them both around the house and when out and about and I haven’t really found any significant weaknesses in the way they’re designed. I’ve used them a lot with my Samsung S8 phone as well as several other sources with a bit of mixed result (more about this later). As already mentioned I enjoy the LZ Big Dipper the most with the Monster super gel tips.
As already mentioned my Big Dipper comes with three different switches. Naturally the filters affect bass, midrange and treble.
Turning the bass switch “ON” add more sub-bass impact but also more mid-bas. With the switch on the mid-bass starts to borderline too much for my preference. That being said it does also give male vocals a bit of extra weight that makes them sound even more natural than with the switch off (especially when paired with brighter/thinner sources). The added sub-bass and weight to vocals would probably be enough for me to prefer the Big Dipper with the bass switch on if it wasn’t for the last change that I notice when turning it on: it does also makes the presentation quite a bit more intimate and less airy to my ears. Being a sucker for soundstage and an airy signature this change is enough for me to prefer the Big Dipper with the bass switch off. I’ve really tried many times, and over several days, to enjoy them with the bass switch on but I’ve always ended up feeling that the tradeoff is larger than the award and turned it off again.
Turning the midrange switch “ON” helps pushing the midrange more forward (big surprise) and I find myself really appreciating this change as the Big Dipper is still a bit V-shaped even with this switch turned on. The difference is not night and day but I do find myself keep pushing the volume up to get more midrange presence when the midrange switch is set to “OFF” and doing so, naturally, also increases the bass presence a bit more than what I ideally prefer. That being said having all switches set to “OFF” is probably my second favorite tuning for the Big Dipper and it does give male voices slightly more weight.
Turning the treble switch “ON” is definitely a no go for me as it makes the upper frequencies too strident for my preference. It’s really not much more to say about it.
So, my preferred tuning on the Big Dipper is with bass and treble switches off and the midrange switch on. Not only is this my preferred setting but it does really hit the sweet spot for me. The rest of this review is about how the Big Dipper perform by itself, in comparison to some other great IEM’s and with different sourcing with this tuning.
The sub-bass extension on the Big Dipper isn’t the most impactful I’ve ever heard but it’s the best I’ve heard from a pair of IEM’s without a dynamic driver in the configuration. I never really feel as if the bass is missing but it won’t give you that sucking deep feeling that can, in my experience, only be achieved by a larger dynamic driver. Mid- and upper bass is just perfect in both quantity and quality for my preference. It don’t think I’ve ever heard such a full sounding pair of IEM’s that never ever let the higher bass feel overblown to me. It might be worth mentioning here that I’m really sensitive to mid bass bloom and it’s the one thing that can make or break a pair of IEM’s or headphones for me but the Big Dipper is just perfect for me in its amount of upper bass. The overall bass presence is definitely enough for me that they’re enjoyable with all kind of music, bass-heads may think otherwise though.
The midrange is fairly well in line with the rest of the frequencies, only slightly recessed but far from a deal breaker even for a midrange lover like myself. The quality of the midrange is excellent though and quite easily outperform both the ASG-1PLUS and the Super Audio 6 that has some of my favorite midrange presentations. Vocals are also extremely good on the Big Dipper with enough weight on male voices for them to sound natural and life like and an even more enjoyable reproduction of female vocals. Despite this, I could wish for even a touch more weight on male vocals. This can be fixed by a different tuning though but I prefer to fix it with a warmer source instead as that works better as a whole for me. String instruments are really well reproduced with a great organic sound to them as well as excellent timbre and weight to the notes. Although I usually like my midrange more forward than neutral I really don’t feel that I’d like the midrange presence on the Big Dipper to be in any other way than it is with the midrange switch on. As a matter of fact there’s a peak somewhere in the upper midrange/lower treble that could probably be a touch strident for someone very sensitive to this but for me it just adds the perfect amount of air, energy and clarity.
The treble is airy and well extended without adding any fatigue and cymbal crashes sound as good as in real life to me. For female voices it really couldn’t be any better to me, I’ve never experienced this high amount of perfect “s” sounds without having a feeling that there’s a dip or roll off somewhere that I don’t appreciate. The treble on the Big Dipper is most definitely among the best I’ve heard.
Clarity and micro details are well above average and resolution is the best I’ve ever heard in such a full sounding pair of IEM ‘s. Actually that’s exactly what I wrote in my review of Big Dippers sibling the A4 but there’s no doubt that resolution in the Big Dipper is even better. The way the Big Dipper manage to have this amount of resolution and yet being the less fatiguing IEM’s I’ve ever used is truly both impressive and extremely enjoyable. Soundstage width and height is excellent as is depth, airiness and 3D feeling. The “out of the head” feeling on the Big Dipper is also great. Still, what stand out to me is layering, resolution and the perfectly natural sound. I just can’t stress enough how non-fatiguing they are to me.
All in all the LZ Big Dipper offers a very natural and non-fatiguing listening experience and delivers an amazing amount of details with a layering that really makes me feel that I hear a lot of my well known music in a new way.
Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.
These comparisons were done listening through the bit Opus #1 DAP.
Aurisonics ASG-1PLUS ($499) vs LZ Big Dipper
The ASG-1PLUS is also a hybrid IEM featuring a 14.2mm dynamic and one balance armature driver.
Compared to the Big Dipper the 1PLUS has a more mid-centric presentation wit less mid-bass impact and punch. The sub-bass on the Aurisonics dig a bit deeper but impact is still not the best (especially considering that the dynamic driver is 14.2 mm). The Big Dipper does have better bass quality and the bass on the 1PLUS is a little bit softer in its characteristic in comparison. Overall bass presence on the Big Dipper does actually come across as more than on the 1PLUS. Both have a very good midrange quality and excellent vocal reproduction but the midrange is definitely more forward and in focus on the 1PLUS despite this the Big Dipper pulls ahead on vocal reproduction, especially female ones, and overall midrange quality. Both of them have very good treble quality but once again the Big Dipper pulls ahead.
- I find them both to be very comfortable.
- Build quality is equally great on both.
- The Big Dipper is a bit easier to drive.
- Isolation is better on the Big Dipper.
Super Audio 6 ($250) vs LZ Big Dipper
The SA 6 is a six BA configuration that I use and enjoy a lot. These two are actually polar opposites in the way they present music. Compared to the Big Dipper the SA 6 has less sub-bass impact. Mid- and upper bass is more present on the SA6 and the bass quality isn’t up to that of the Big Dipper. The midrange on the SA 6 is more forward and thicker while the midrange in the Big Dippper has a lot more air and sounds much cleaner. The Big Dipper has a more airy as well as more detailed treble with better extension. The Big Dipper has an overall a lot more airy presentation and a wider soundstage, better clarity and layering and a much higher resolution. The SA6 sound really mid-centric and even congested in comparison.
- I find them both to be very comfortable although the Big Dipper pulls slightly ahead.
- Build quality is great on both but slightly more so on the Big Dipper.
- The Big Dipper is easier to drive.
- Isolation is great on both but the Big Dipper has even slightly better isolation.
LZ A4 ($199) vs LZ Big Dipper
Compared to the A4 the Big Dipper has less bass impact through all the lowest frequencies and its sub-bass does also roll off earlier. The bass on the Big Dipper does have better quality and mid bass presence is actually quite similar (depending on tuning of course). Both of these have excellent, and quite similar, midrange quality but the Big Dipper has better resolution and better qualities in general. They do have a similar treble texture but once again the Big Dipper is the better performer and sounds more natural. Both have amazing soundstage and 3D presentation but the layering on the Big Dipper does really set them apart. While one can clearly hear the family resemblance between these two there’s no question whatsoever that the Big Dipper is the better performer by quite some margin.
- The Big Dipper is more comfortable.
- Build quality is better on the Big Dipper.
- They’re about equally easy to drive.
- Isolation is a good deal better on the Big Dipper.
Samsung Galaxy S8
The S8 has more than enough power to drive the Big Dipper properly and to my great pleasure it does also sound highly acceptable with it. This is a great plus given how great the Big Dipper isolates making these two a very nice on the go couple.
LG G5 w/Hifiplus module
This is also a great pairing and the Big Dipper does easily show the better sound quality the G5 offers compared to the S8. Yet another great on the go couple.
Not my favorite pairing. The M1S doesn’t have enough weight for male vocals to sound natural enough to me.
The Bit Opus #1
The Opus #1 is slightly warmer than the Aune M1S and mange to make male vocals almost perfect. Highly enjoyable (more than the S8) but not perfect.
The Bit Opus #11
This is more like it. Thick, smooth and buttery. The #11 is warm and lush while still having great details in its presentation and it pairs very well with the big Dipper.
LH Labs Geek Out V2+
The perfect pairing. The V2+ is one of my all-time favorite devices, and for a reason. The dynamics is excellent and both male and female vocal reproduction is sublime. This pairing is so good that it almost hurts.
Interestingly enough I find the Big Dipper to perform better from the single ended output than the balanced one on all devices I’ve tried it from both on. I really don’t have any good explanation for this but it’s what I hear.
The LZ Big Dipper is one sublime pair of IEM’s in every possible way. They’ve the most comfortable IEM’s I’ve ever worn and I can wear them for 6-8 hours at work day after day and still enjoy using them for my evening walk as well. I can honestly say that none other IEM’s I’ve tried has even came close to this. They’re among the best isolating IEM’s I’ve ever worn and work great even on flights and trains. The build quality is up there with the best I’ve ever experienced and the cable is the best stock cable I’ve ever seen.
However, build and ergonomics are far from the only areas where the Big Dipper excels. Sound wise the LZ Big Dipper is the most natural and less fatiguing pair of IEM’s I’ve ever heard. It does a highly admirable job being full enough without ever sounding boomy as well as offering amazing resolution without ever getting fatiguing and by far presenting the best layering I’ve heard in any pair of IEM’s. No doubt does the Big Dipper fit my preferences perfect and I think that anyone that like the LZ A4 and can live with a bit less sub bass in exchange for a lot more of everything else would be very happy with the performance of the Big Dipper.
- Housing – Plastic
- Driver Unit – 7 BA
- Frequency Range – 15Hz-25KHz
- Sensitivity – 115dB
- Impedance – 25 Ohms
- Weight– 30 g
- Cable length – 1.2m (+/- 5cm)