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Energetic and lively look and sound – too much of a good thing?
“WOW!” There are no IEMs (in-ear monitors) that look like this. The Essence’s allure in look and feel will keep many in rapture.
The premium cable, great small hard case, and lots of ear tips are welcome accessories.
- Gorgeous and luxurious form, fit, and finish
- Capable single driver (beryllium-coated diaphragm)
- Extensive set of accessories and hardware-based sound customization options
- Fun and functional hard travel case (though not slim and easily pocketable)
- Decent bass with good texture
- Tone may be too bright for some who prefer warmer, balanced sound signatures
- Sibilance may become abundant with certain types of music
- Treble fatigue
- Cable ear hooks are too stiff and may cause fit issues
- Inconsistent performance
- No microphone option
Established in 2015 and based in Shenzhen, China, TFZ (The Fragrant Zither) produces audio-visual products that are meant to produce high-quality audio while representing bold personality and style. TFZ believes that users are the source of both inspiration and direction for the company’s efforts.
- Transducer driver: 11.4mm dual-magnetic, dual-cavity, beryllium-coated diaphragm, Tesla magnetic group
- Impedance: 35.5Ohms
- Sensitivity: 112dB/mW
- Noise isolation: Passive
- Style: In-ear, with earhook cable
- Connector: 0.78mm double pin
- Plug type: 3.5mm gold-plated straight plug
- Cable length and type: 1.2m (3.9 ft) high-quality mixed gold-plated silver and copper interchangeable cable
Simple and elegant, the packaging does a fine job protecting and presenting the Essence. The rectangular coated white cardboard box is sharp, clean, and substantial, without being wasteful.
The Essence are presented on the right, nestled in a stiff foam enclosure, and a box on the left with ear tips and small-print user guide.
In the box
- Essence IEMs
- 1.2m (3.9 ft) high-quality mixed gold-plated silver and copper interchangeable cable
- TFZ white hardshell plastic carrying/travel case with clip lock closure
- Silicone eartips: 7 pairs total
- 3 pair white, narrow bore (S, M, L)
- 3 pair dark grey, wide bore (S, M, L) + 1 pair M pre-installed
- Product manual and warranty card
The perfectly paired gold-plated silver and copper cable feels top-quality premium. The braiding is flawless and flexible. A rubberized coating helps ensure that no microphonics are transmitted. The gold chrome-colored plastic protective splitter is sturdy; there is no sliding cinch. All terminal connections are secure, with .78mm 2-pin connectors for the IEMs and the 3.5mm audio plug at the other end.
An ergonomic challenge may present for some, as the ear hooks created by thick clear plastic sleeves are too rigid and overly tightly coiled.
Quite literally stunning! Everything about the Essence appears premium and worthy of its price, including the cable and case.
The Essence possess one of the most gorgeous resin shells on the market today. The highly transparent and bright cavity will reveal different colors that will reflect accordingly with the light. The pictures, while amazing, still do not capture how captivating these IEMs are. They are available in light blue and navy blue (despite the yellow/gold that the light may emphasize).
The transparent cavity provides the extra benefit of allowing you to gaze upon the inner engineering wonders of the Essence — even better with a magnifying glass or macro lens.
The brass-colored metal nozzles blend seamlessly into the design, are highly secure, and do an excellent job of holding the ear tips snugly with no concerns of accidental release.
The lightweight ‘custom-type’ shells are seamless, perfectly smoothed, and a pleasure to look at and to run fingers over. For some people, these may effectively double as a high-priced fidget toy.
Despite their significant size, the bodies are shaped well, ergonomic, and remain comfortable for long listening sessions. Nozzle depth and insertion angles seem excellent, though can be negatively affected by the cable’s ear hook challenge mentioned above.
I appreciate that TFZ included a premium cable, yet I am disappointed and irritated with it. In my experience, the cable pressure kept the IEMs from sitting properly in my ears, causing an unnatural pressure and at times inhibiting a secure seal.
I do not want to have to cut off or attempt to reform an ear hook sleeve. After I replaced the stock cable with another .78mm 2-pin cable, the Essence were very comfortable and stayed properly in place, not requiring frequent adjustment.
The Essence house a newly designed 11.4mm dual-magnetic, dual-cavity, beryllium-coated diaphragm, and a powerful Tesla magnetic group. The all-metal enclosed non-resonant acoustic cavity is made with an imported integrated manual mould, which can be seen through the shell.
TFZ Essence Sound
For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:
- Sony DVP-S7000 CD Player
- LG V20 & LG V40 phones (both have Quad DAC and headphone jacks)
- Samsung A71 (in 2020-21, still has a headphone jack!)
- iPhone 7 Plus
- Samsung Chromebook
- FiiO A3
- Khadas Tone2 Pro
It took me a while to warm up to the Essence, as they are most certainly not tuned to a warm signature. They are high-energy, high-detail, treble-forward IEMs that demand your attention. Paired with the wrong music, they may become jittery and sibilant with an almost metallic, artificial sound. Paired with more relaxed music that does not emphasize higher frequencies, they calm down and settle a bit.
Throughout the frequency spectrum, transitions are relatively smooth, though the overall sharpness and “bite” can become quite fatiguing over time.
With a very high sensitivity of 112db and a relatively low impedance of 35.5 ohms, these IEMs are easy to drive with virtually any source. Passive sound isolation is average with proper-fitting ear tips. Channel separation, soundstage, and dynamics are average.
These are ideal IEMs for listeners who are treble fans or not particularly treble sensitive. If female soprano vocals are your favorite, I’d suggest you look elsewhere. This includes heavy and thrash metal with heavy crash cymbal emphasis.
Despite the generally high clarity and detail, there is a slight veiling that at times seems to be present in the midrange, upper midrange, and lower treble, creating an odd damping in the music. At one moment I am impressed with the clarity, and then next feel as if I am listening through a thin sheet.
For this review, we will take a musical journey across a great range of styles, not only geographies. On Anita Baker’s Caught Up in the Rapture, which is generally a laid back track, the Essence rides a razor’s edge of sibilance with ‘s’ vocalizations and hard consonants. The metallic edge can take away from the natural softer tones that are the body of the song.
On the contrary, there are some compositions that are really well reproduced. Jason Becker’s End of the Beginning, a soaring and varied epic instrumental score, is nicely related. The piano timbre is realistic, the harpsichord, cello, and bass have texture, and the electric guitar is clear and present without excessive sharpness. The attack and decay are very good at all ranges.
In my experience, the Essence will not gracefully smooth out a poor or unfavorable mix.
I’m conflicted about the Essence. WIth certain genres and types of sound, the Essence are excellent. Deep trance, ambient lounge, instrumental and male vocal EDM, and some classical can sound very good.
With others, the shrillness and sibilance is harsh and fatiguing. This is especially true with female soprano vocals, and ‘s’ and ‘t’ consonants. While this is a minority report, it’s inconsistently present and irritating when it does make an appearance in the sound presentation.
A number of absorbing ethereal tracks from Aural Planet, including Samadhi, Luv’s Frequency Spectrum, and Are You Human? almost perfectly highlight Essence’s strengths. Lush, multi-layered, exotic soundscapes. They feature complex compositions, unique sounds, and interesting variances of decay in the sound across a very wide frequency range.
The Essence presents crisp highs, clear separation, wide soundstage, and good imaging. The detail is nice and sharp and adds to the experience.
Overall, bass is generally natural and appropriate to the source. While capable of some sub-bass rumble, it is subtle and mid-bass impact is not particularly strong. There are moments with natural instrument reproduction that bass texture is present, though not highly detailed. While they can reproduce quite low frequencies, there is not much sub-bass rumble.
House Party by Marshmello is a big boom heavy bass track. Not so much boom with the Essence, just enough to know that it’s there. The plus is that the bass is tight and composed, despite not having a great deal of impact.
The Essence reproduce bass reasonably well; they do not have the impact and presence I expected from a large 11.4mm beryllium-coated direct driver.
The midrange is quite good – tones present clearly and naturally, especially when it is the emphasis in the sound and mix. What can detract from this is sharpness and detail when the treble increases its demand for attention.
Listening to Andrea Bocelli and Ariana Grande’s E Piu Ti Penso, from Once Upon a Time in America, the tenor presents well with the Essence. Grande’s soprano is well represented, as it was somewhat recessed and more subtle in the mix.
Clarity and detail are generally good, though inconsistent. Treble is assertive and, at times, excessively forward. It has a strong attack, essentially in the mid and upper treble range, with good extension. Unpleasant sharpness and fatigue are consistently a possibility, especially at higher volumes or across music where the volume is not normalized.
Ping Pong (Original Mix) by Armin Van Buuren is one of those stressful tracks for audio gear, with high sonic complexity and intentional digital distortion. Overall, Essence did nicely with this, with the ‘ping pong’ sounds coming through clearly and imaging well. On the track I Need You featuring Olaf Blackwood, treble detail is good complementing the steady bass. In addition to the male vocal reproduced beautifully, imaging and sense of space due to the detailed treble is impressive.
On the contrary, Another You (featuring Mr. Probz) rides a fine line of sibilance with the vocal and sizzle in the music. For some, this will be exciting – for me, a touch too hot.
Where to Buy
The unique beauty and physical quality of the Essence are not equalled by their tuning and sonic performance. I am disappointed by the inconsistency of sound reproduction, and that alone reduces the Essence’s ability to compete with other IEMs in their price range. For me, this is not enough to make me a raving fan.
If indeed the driver is high quality, it ought to have great potential. Many of the Essence’s challenges can be rectified in the future by an adjusted factory tuning and some relatively small modifications.
If you are enthralled with their look and feel, that may be more than enough justification for you to possibly fall in love with them. If you like to tinker with your sound via amplification and equalization, you may discover a complete beauty that you will really appreciate.