Review: Nostalgia Audio Benbulbin – A New Summit

The Benbulbin are the first pair of IEMs released by Nostalgia Audio, a Hong Kong based company.
The Benbulbin are the first pair of IEMs released by Nostalgia Audio, a Hong Kong based company.

The Benbulbin set a lofty peak for high-fidelity IEMs with excellent sound, an aesthetically pleasing appearance, and a generous package.

Thank you to Bernie from Nostalgia Audio for providing the Benbulbin for review purposes.

The Benbulbin are the first IEM model from Nostalgia Audio, targeting the high-end audiophile market. They are equipped with 5-driver hybrid IEMs – featuring a single 11mm Ti-coated dynamic driver for the bass, dual midrange BA drivers, and dual BA tweeters. A 3-way crossover and 3-bore design intertwine the five-driver hybrid configuration.

Benbulbin is a large flat-topped rock formation in County Sligo, Ireland, part of the Dartry Mountains.
The Benbulbin sound signature is close to neutral and balanced, with a slight boost in the bass and treble.
Bottom Line

With their first pair of IEMs, Benbulbin does almost everything right for a high-end model - natural timbre, great detail retrieval. For those looking for a pair of TOTL IEMs with clean and neutral sound, the Benbulbin are a great candidate.

What We Like
  • Transparent midrange
  • Energetic yet smooth treble with good fidelity
  • Precise bass with sufficient rumble
  • Great isolation with deep insertion
  • Premium accessories
  • Eye-catching physical appearance
  • Three-dimensional soundstage
What We Don't Like
  • Deep insertion might irritate some users
  • Thin and slightly recessed midrange

The Benbulbin have gorgeous 3D-printed shells with wooden faceplates. With all their sonic and aesthetic features, Nostalgia Audio aims to give enthusiasts the best impression with the Benbulbin.

Company Introduction

Nostalgia Audio observed that portable audio gear inflation in today’s market is unhealthy. Among all the products, IEM cables are their main concern.

Most mainstream IEM cables are costly, even entry-level models. Quality varies, and it is challenging to choose a suitable cable. This results in newcomers giving up the idea of changing the cable or buying a new cable which may even be more expensive than the IEMs it is intended for.

With these concerns in mind, three audiophiles, Adrian, Artanis, and Bernie, founded Nostalgia Audio to meet enthusiasts’ needs with handmade cables. Their philosophy is to let the public enjoy the fun of handmade cables at a reasonable price.

Technical Specifications

Packaging

The Benbulbin unboxing experience is top-of-the-line (TOTL) level. Removing the outer sleeve, there is a large rigid box. Inside are laser-cut compartments for the IEMs, case, and ear tips. Included is a gorgeous green leather magnetic case that complements the faceplate design.

The Benbulbin come with three pairs of generic silicone tips with an additional box of Azla SednaEarfit Xelastec ear tips and Dekoni washable foam ear tips. The Benbulbin have the most generous packaging of all the IEMs that I unboxed in 2021.

I feel that narrow-bore ear tips like the Final Audio Type-E or SpinFit CP100 would better-complement Benbulbin’s brighter sound signature. While the Xelastec tips provide a reliable fit, they further enhance Benbulbin’s unique sonic characteristics.
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Nostalgia Audio is generous - the Benbulbin come with a box of Azla SednaEarfit Xelastec ear tips and Dekoni washable foam ear tips.
Nostalgia Audio is generous – the Benbulbin come with a box of Azla SednaEarfit Xelastec ear tips and Dekoni washable foam ear tips.
A gorgeous green leather magnetic case complements the Benbulbin faceplate design.
A gorgeous green leather magnetic case complements the Benbulbin faceplate design.

In the box

  • Benbulbin IEMs
  • Prelude – Litz type 4 High Purity SPC cable
  • Leather magnetic carry case
  • 3 x silicone generic stock ear tips (S, M, and L)
  • 3 x Azla Xelastec ear tips (S, M, and L)
  • 1 x Dekoni washable foam tips
  • 1 x cleaning tool

Cable

The stock cable is Nostalgia Audio’s Prelude IEM cable. Prelude is hand-crafted with 26AWG high-purity, silver-plated-copper conductors in a quad-core braided cable. The Prelude features a type 4 Litz design with a damping core that can reduce vibrations, resistance, skin effect, and proximity effect as compared to non-Litz wires. Nostalgia Audio sells Prelude for USD$165.

The Prelude cable enhances the overall premium feeling and unboxing experience.

The cable is exceptionally soft and supple and I do not observe any microphonics from it. With the 2.5mm TRRS balanced termination and applicable 3.5 and 4.4mm adapters, I can pair the Benbulbin with the different outputs on all my sources.

Prelude is a Japanese hand-crafted with 26AWG high-purity silver-plated copper conductors quad-core braided cable.
Prelude is a Japanese hand-crafted with 26AWG high-purity silver-plated copper conductors quad-core braided cable.

Design

The Benbulbin are absolutely stunning, with colorful wooden faceplates that present a distinctive print for each set. The gorgeous faceplate contrasts with the low-profile, piano black finish, acrylic shells made using a 3D-printing process.

The hand-finished shells are comparable to flagship models from other major manufacturers.

The Benbulbin shells extend more than average, protruding outward quite a bit and the nozzle is longer than standard universal IEMs. However, their relatively enormous footprint does not greatly impact the wearing comfort.

The long extension results in a deeper insertion, which enhances the isolation, but those who are not used to deep insertion may get irritated initially. Those folks should get used to it after a few rounds of listening.
The Benbulbin are absolutely stunning, with colorful wooden faceplates that present a distinctive print for each set.
The Benbulbin are absolutely stunning, with colorful wooden faceplates that present a distinctive print for each set.
The Benbulbin nozzle length extends more than standard universal IEMs.
The Benbulbin nozzle length extends more than standard universal IEMs.
Benbulbin shells are more extensive than average, protruding outward quite a bit while wearing.
Benbulbin shells are more extensive than average, protruding outward quite a bit while wearing.

Internals

The Benbulbin use a five-driver hybrid configuration. A titanium-coated dynamic driver covers the bass portion of the frequency spectrum. Titanium has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio as compared to the typical materials used in dynamic drivers, such as beryllium.

More flexible titanium-coated drivers bring substantial benefits to transient response, lower distortion, and higher overall fidelity.

For midrange and treble, the Benbulbin use dual BA drivers for each region to achieve the best sonic performance. These five drivers connect to a three-way crossover and deliver the sound to users via three bores.

Nostalgia Audio does not specifically mention the brand of the BA driver used in Benbulbin.

Benbulbin Sound

The Benbulbin sound signature is close to neutral and balanced, with a slight boost in the bass and treble. The sub-bass is relatively more forward as compared to the mid-bass and lower-midrange. The recessed mid-bass and lower-midrange create a clean tonality in the overall sonic presentation. From the upper mid-range, the boost in treble kicks in, pushing that region to be more forward.

The Benbulbin sound coherent, having an outstanding transition between different regions in the spectrum. Thanks to the speedy titanium-coated dynamic driver, the attack and decay speed is as good as a BA driver and everything is in phase.

Benbulbin have a good symmetry between depth and width in terms of the soundstage. It expands beyond the head on both axes, creating a round headroom. While not as spacious as some high-end IEMs such as the Campfire Audio Andromeda or DITA Dream XLS, they are sufficiently good to compete in the high-end IEM market.

The boosted sub-bass enhances the depth while the airiness from the treble expands the width. I did not observe any congestion during the audition period, even on complicated tracks like live albums from Mayday, a Taiwanese band.

The Benbulbin sound signature is close to neutral and balanced, with a slight boost in the bass and treble.
The Benbulbin sound signature is close to neutral and balanced, with a slight boost in the bass and treble.

Bass

The Benbulbin deliver great sub-bass extension that helps create the three-dimensional soundstage. The sub-bass has a mild boost to make for an enjoyable rumble. The well-tuned titanium-coated dynamic driver provides a more prominent slam and a more defined boom than BA driver. Despite being more aggressive than a BA driver in tuning, the dynamic driver’s agile transient-response speed successfully retains good fidelity in the overall presentation.

The Benbulbin’s overall bass decay speed is significantly faster than typical dynamic drivers, contributing to excellent mid-bass definition and separation. Dynamics stay robust despite being agile, and the Benbulbin will not appeal to those bass head audiophiles who want tremendous bass energy. However, they are not analytical or dry sounding either, as the sub-bass boost strengthens musicality with depth and slam.

The Benbulbin’s tight and snappy bass presentation with deep extension and clean decay is a pleasure to listen to.

Benbulbin are not analytical or dry sounding, as the sub-bass boost strengthens musicality with rumble and slam.
Benbulbin are not analytical or dry sounding, as the sub-bass boost strengthens musicality with rumble and slam.

Midrange

The Benbulbin’s midrange has a high definition, thanks to the accurate and precise tuning in the bass region. They deliver well-resolved fine textures in instruments and vocals to users while maintaining a transparent presentation. The Benbulbin tonality in the midrange is neutral with a thin note body. This presentation results in a mild V-shaped sound signature.

The midrange has outstanding separation, definition, and clarity by recessing the upper-bass/lower-midrange. It creates sufficient space for the midrange to fully extend horizontally across the staging, without collision with the bass region. Female vocals tend to steal some spotlight and sound more bright and breathy as the tuning is more upper-midrange biased.

The Benbulbin deliver well-resolved fine textures in instruments and vocals to users while maintaining a transparent presentation.
The Benbulbin deliver well-resolved fine textures in instruments and vocals to users while maintaining a transparent presentation.

Treble

The treble is energetic but smooth, with a good amount of airiness. This tuning allows Nostalgia Audio to achieve a revealing sound overall while avoiding fatigue over longer listening. Treble is well-detailed and extended too. There are a lot of fine details in the treble region, and for critical listeners, you will appreciate the information offered in the Benbulbin treble.

Treble is no longer a companion or a shadow in the Benbulbin’s hands; it is the star that shines on the stage.

The Benbulbin handle cleanliness in the treble well too – the decays are neatly done without introducing undesired grain (distortion from treble decays). This is the portion I appreciate the most. I have been disturbed by grainey treble from many TOTL models like the Kinera Skuld and FiiO FH7, which have great fidelity but are not clean sounding.

Due to the grain-free treble, the Benbulbin definitely compete with better TOTL models like the Campfire Audio Andromeda.

The Benbulbin provide clean treble, without irritating distortions.
The Benbulbin provide clean treble, without irritating distortions.

Where to Buy

Verdict

With their first pair of IEMs, Benbulbin does almost everything right for a high-end model – natural timbre, great detail retrieval capability, eye-catching appearance, and premium accessories. There is some room for improvement, but this does not stop them being a new summit for other brands to challenge and conquer.

Clean and neutral sounding, the Benbulbin are a great option.
Clean and neutral sounding, the Benbulbin are a great option.

For those looking for a pair of TOTL IEMs with clean and neutral sound, the Benbulbin are a great candidate.

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