The Shuoer Tape Pro: g'luck?!
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Hi all! Welcome back to the Neighborhood. Today, we’re taking a journey with the Shuoer Tape Pro. This is a follow up to the original Shuoer Tape 09, which I felt was a bit to assaultive to recommend, but how do I feel about the Tape Pro? Has Shuoer delivered on their promise to improve the sound the of the original? Let’s get InToit!
So, despite initial reports, which claimed that the build largely remained the same, the build here has changed in a number of important ways. First of all, the Tape Pro is now offered in two color variants, a silver and blue motif, and the traditional black and red colorway. I think that the silver and blue combination looks the best, but I was sent the black one for review by Linsoul, so I guess I’ll take what I can get? With regard to the shell, it must be made of a different material than the original, as it feels easily half the weight, and is substantially lighter. And, thanks to community feedback, the connection initiating at the earphone has also changed from MMCX to 2-pin.
Yet, despite these positive changes, some negatives aspects of the original build were retained for some reason. For example, the sharp edges and corners. After redesigning the shell to accommodate the 2-pin, I’m not sure why they didn’t take the opportunity to smooth out the design. This was problematic from a comfort perspective, as I really couldn’t get this to rest in my ears right with anything other Dekoni Mercury Foam Tips. Although these have a rather long stem, with any other tips, the IEM went to far into my ear canal, and its sharp corners aggravated my concha. And while the original Tape’s stem was too small, the Tape Pro’s stem was too large- making the fitment of tips difficult on the nozzle. So, while I applaud Shuoer for including a stem with both a lip and a screw-on, replaceable filter, this portion of the nozzle should have been smaller, as it is diffficult squeeze a large variety of tips on the end, it it takes many attempts to get tips to slide on and off due to the nozzle’s unnecessary girth.
Speaking of unnecessary, let’s talk about this cable, as I have a love, hate relationship with it as well. My main gripe with it is that it is coated unnecessarily in plastic that is simply too thick. It has a rubbery, jelly-like feeling to it that cheapens the quality of the overall experience with the Tape Pro. Because of its cable’s thickness and limited aggression of its ear hooks, I had difficulties with the left and right splits of the cable remaining behind the back of my ear, and it tended to slide off rather easily. Furthermore, although I praise the fact that it terminates in a straight 2.5mm balanced connection, it comes with a 2.5mm female balanced to 3.5mm unbalanced connector, which appears extremely cheap and out of place with the rest of this earphone’s package. Here we have the reverse outcome of Shuoer Singers, which came with a luxurious balanced to unbalanced adapter and cable without ear-hooks that was overly thin. But, like the Singer’s cable, the chin slider here is too loose and slides too easily for my preference. Despite these complaints the cable was easy to work with otherwise, and was easy to coil and uncoil repeatedly without forming any kinks or memory.
Like the Singers, the Tape Pro comes with the same embossed, rounded carrying case, which I do like for both its form and its function. It has a neither too large, nor to small; neither too thick, or too thin; and fits relatively flat within a pocket. Also, I forgot to mention that on the actual shells themselves the screws are removable this time, and swapping them adjusts the base tuning of this earphone. But we’ll talk about the effects of this adjustment in a few moments we talk about the sound. So, in the end, I like the build for the most part, in principle, but think that Shuoer could still make some important adjustments in a silent revision or on the next iteration of this set.
So, the sound of the Tape Pro... let's just say that as a reviewer, this earphone actually kind of broke me. In the course of this review, I racked my brain for hours and hours to come up with a good general sound description of the Tape Pro, but in the end, I had to accept defeat, as I mostly can’t. The Tape Pro is simply too amp picky, as it changes dramatically from source to source. So much so, that there are barely any common threads between the experiences to talk about from one source to the next. I think this is why reviews to date of this earphone have been so heterogeneous- with some reviewers loving to the Tape Pros, and others taking issue with it.
To display just how amp dependent the Tape Pro is, I want to talk about changes that occur in the Tape Pro even when one simply chooses a different output type on the same amp. So, let’s get into and investigate how the Tape Pro responds to two amps, which I mostly recommend with it: the THX AAA 789 and the FiO BTR 3K. Using the THX AAA 789 as the source, playing Michael Jackson’s “Man In the Mirror,” the Tape Pro sounded lovely on the 3.5mm out, but became shouty on the quarter inch… and when I switched to the balanced XLR output it lacked bass, with the mids and treble becoming too prominent in the mix. On the FiO BTR 3K, the bass response was generally much better when the Tape Pro was ran balanced, and lacked both quality and emphasis when being ran single-ended.
So depending on source, the outcome of the sounds of the mids to the treble ranged from mellow to shouty, and the bass output from underemphasized and lacking, to over emphasized and bombastic. Tonality also ranged from somewhat artificial, bright and shiny to more natural, but slightly dull and mellow. So, like this earphone’s coherence issues, which we’ll get into, its consistency was also a problem for this set.
Nevertheless, I will attempt to point out a few observations that I made in the course of this review. For example, I noted that switching the positions of screws, which, again, is how one adjusts the bass filters on this set, did have a different impact from what I would have suspected. The Tape Pro comes stock in its bass-restricted configuration. Here, the bass was tighter, resolved more quickly, but was ironically punchier and more dynamic in its presentation. In the bass-enhanced configuration, with the screw positions switched around, I found the bass response to be generally flatter and more even its delivery, with enhanced accuracy and more sub-bass representation, even if this presentation was sometimes more diffuse and lacked dynamics in comparison. In other words, I found that swapping the screws offered a different bass presentation more than it really adjusted its amount. Personally, I preferred to presentation of the bass-enhanced configuration, but your mileage may vary here.
On a positive note, compared to previous attempts with the magnetostatic driver in budget earphones by Shuoer, resolution and clarity was most assuredly improved upon with the Tape Pro. I also did not really have any problems with any sheering of sonics or sibilance here either. So in regards to answering my own question from those previous reviews, “Can this driver do better?”, the Tape Pro does indeed answer that question, and that answer appears to be “yes.”
Detailing, transients, and decay capabilities were also mostly retained or improved upon from these prior implementations by Shuoer. At times, the Tape Pro did struggle with shout from its vocals and upper mid-range presentations, but like I’ve already said, this was both track and source dependent, and I will also note that, when the Tape Pro’s shout did arise, it was ultimately more tolerable to my ears than even some of the other sets I have reviewed in the past- such as the Blon BL-05 or the Moon Drop variants of the Spaceship: the Spaceship, the S.S.R., or the S.S.P. So, shout really wasn’t a major issue here for the Tape Pro, in my opinion; even if there can be some, here or there, it is mostly acceptable.
Yet despite the Tape Pro’s theme of general inconsistency, I did find it rather consistent regarding its staging, imaging and separation capacities. Staging is generally wide and with good depth and height to the presentation. Considering the price, instrument distinction, separation, and placement was quite excellent, and I would argue that the Tape Pro can compete with other earphones of a much higher price in these categories. imaging tests in particular blew me away. For example, I tested the HiFiMan Arya and the Tape Pro with Yosi Horikawa’s Bubbles, back-to-back, and I won’t say that the Tape Pro performed as well as the Arya on this test, but it was very close and impressive that the Tape Pro could almost keep up with this $1600 headphone.
So, what do I think is behind all the Tape Pro’s inconsistencies? Simply put, the crossover. After the release of the Singers, Shuoer released a press release stating that although the the magnetostatic driver was not an electrostatic as it had been advertised as, it was a full range driver, and would be and could be used as such. This is why I am surprised that they apparently have chosen not to implement the Tape Pro in this way- as I do think that it would have been to the Tape Pro’s advantage to have done so. What I think is happening here is that Shuoer chose a rather picky dynamic driver, and then set the crossover too high for the magnetostatic. As such, when the dynamic under performs, the listener is left with only the mid-range presentation and above, and when the driver over performs the sonic picture becomes excessively murky, cloudy, or overly dynamic.
One clue to this phenomenon occurred on the track: “…and I’m Out” by Galatic. On this song, there is a bassline that is pretty crucial to driving the beat forward, yet on some sources this bassline was overemphasized by the Tape Pro, while on others, it could barely be heard. For example, when the Tape Pro was driven off my phone, it felt like it was missing entirely. Mid-range instruments also seemed to lack lower, bass frequencies when the Tape Pro was insufficiently driven. Additionally, I would add that the bass tones of the Tape Pro felt generally separate, and less detailed than its mid-range or treble presentations. Overall, I would say that neither consistency nor coherence aren’t strong suites in the case of the Tape Pro.
But do I still recommend the Tape Pro; especially with its build and sonic inconsistencies in mind? I sure do; provided you are willing to spend the time to find “the right” source, and understand that this may be a bit of a quest to do so. Sources that I found that worked well with this earphone were the Gold Note DS-10, the THX AAA 789 via its unbalanced 3.5mm only, and the FiiO BTR 3K via its 2.5mm balanced output only. I was also surprised that I preferred this earphone’s presentation in the bass-enhanced orientation, as I found both screw potions to be rather uniquely bassy in their own right, and more so dependent on their source, than their tuning screws.
*Tape Pro provided by Linsoul: https://www.linsoul.com/products/shuoer-tape-pro
*Gold Note DS-10 available at: https://gestalt.audio/
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