Penon Vortex Review
Penon Vortex Review
The Vortex of sound
Pros: + Balanced and neutrally reference tuning
+ Natural timbre with plenty of musicality
+ Extended bass with good technicalities
+ Mid-range transparency
+ Smooth but not subdued treble
+ Great imaging and plenty of air
+ Easy to drive and scales well with upstream gear
+ Lightweight and comfortable
+ Good passive noise attenuation
+ Good quality cable that can be ordered with a plug of your choice
+ Three pairs of eartips
+ Premium carrying case
Cons: – Not the last word in resolution and refinement
– Slightly lean texture
– Mildly narrow soundstage
– Not that holographic and immersive
– Competition now comes with modular plug cables
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the Vortex is $219 and you can order it from Penon online shop.
The Penon Audio online shop was born in 2013 with the main goal to sell the best selected audio products at the most affordable prices for both the audiophiles and business users.
Together with selling products from various brands, Penon have started building their own earphone cables and after a few years they have expanded into making earphones.
Now, they are a well established brand with many well received products that are valued among the personal audio community.
Penon Audio Vortex
The Vortex is a single dynamic driver IEM with a DLC, diamond-like carbon fiber material.
The molecular structure of the compound is similar to diamond, the resolution and transmission details are precise and neat, clear and natural. Similar to beryllium metal used in aerospace research and high-end speakers, it is a light metal, and the density of DLC diamond-like carbon is comparable to that of metal beryllium. The ideal diaphragm needs to have the characteristics of light weight, proper damping, and small divided vibration. The key point is that the forward and backward delays of the vibration should be just right: vibrate immediately when a signal is received, and stop in time when the signal disappears. Diamond-like carbon achieves a perfect balance in terms of sound conduction velocity and internal impedance, that is, it has ideal performance on forward and backward delay , ultra-high sensitivity and excellent transient response, which can accurately restore sound.
Build quality and fit
The ear shells are handmade from a medical-grade resin compound that is skin friendly and they come available in two colors, dark-blue and white-blue.
They have a custom-like mold that follows the natural shape and the anatomy of the ear.
They are well made with a smooth shiny finish and they look robust and quite durable.
They are compact sized and lightweight, offering a very comfortable wearing experience.
They fit well, but not too tight, they are discreet, stay in place without falling from your ears and have good passive noise attenuation.
The Vortex comes with a 1.5m long, detachable cable with the 0.78mm 2-pin interface.
It is the Penon CS819 cable that retails for $49 and when ordering the Vortex you can choose between a 4.4mm or 2.5mm or 3.5mm termination plug.
It is an OCC & silver-plated mixed braided cable with 8 strands, a single strand has 19 cores so a total of 8 x 19 cores.
It is a well made, albeit a little heavy and not very beautiful looking cable with solid aluminum plugs, that doesn’t get tangled and it has low microphonic noise.
A quality cable, well worth the Vortex but it should be noted that most of the competition at this price point now comes with modular plug cables.
The Vortex comes with three different types of ear-tips in three sizes each.
Transparent green, gray-green and EPRO, horn shaped silicone ear-tips.
You also get a high quality, roomy and beautiful looking carrying case, a leather pouch, cable clip and a cleaning brush.
The review sample was burned for more than 100 hours in order to make sure that it had fully settled down.
I have ordered it with a 4.4mm balanced cable so I was able to use both balanced and unbalanced sources like the FiiO M11S, EarMen Angel, iBasso DX240 and others.
The Vortex is rated at 24Ω with a 108dB SPL/mW of input sensitivity so it is very easy to drive and you can enjoy it on the go with USB DAC dongles like the iBasso DC03 Pro or something similar but you should also remember that it scales pretty well and it fairs better with higher quality sources.
The Vortex is one of the most balanced and well tuned earphones that I have reviewed lately.
It has an almost perfect neutral and natural sound signature with a very realistic timbre, lifelike tonality and supreme sense of musicality.
The low end is well extended to the sub-bass without too much of a roll off, and evenly tuned up to the lower mid-range without any significant emphasis deviating from the linearity.
The bass and the mid-bass are well balanced without getting boosted or any unnecessary coloring.
Every single instrument, from the bassoon to the double bass, is reproduced with great tonal accuracy, realistic pitch and excellent articulation.
Overall clarity and definition are very good, the bass is textured and layered with great separation between the various instruments, no matter how many of them are playing at the same time, without any kind of audible masking or frequency overlaying.
The driver is technically capable and can sound impactful, dynamic and contrasted when needed but the bass texture is not that visceral and full bodied although not dry or thin, just somewhere in the middle of the intensity grade.
The bass is also fast, tight and controlled with a good sense of rhythm and strict timing.
This is not an earphone exclusively made for listening to classical and acoustic music and despite really excelling in these genres, you can use it for almost everything else as long as you don’t like your bass emphasized and explosive.
Anyway, listening to Kalevi Aho Timpani concerto was an extremely impressive and rewarding experience not that far in sound performance from the much pricier competition.
The mid-range is absolutely joyful and engaging, balanced and naturally tuned, transparent and open sounding with clear articulation and plenty of harmonic variety.
The whole range is handled with the same gravity without any significant peaks or dips so all voices and instruments are represented well blended together in an immersive recreation of the music.
The Vortex is like a bird singing with the most colorful voice, the texture is sweet, lush and rounded without shouting notes and harsh tones.
Rising higher, the Vortex is displaying the same kind of a balanced and evenly handed tuning with a smooth and easy sounding treble that doesn’t have any fatiguing or sharp peaks.
Don’t be mistaken though to think that it is lacking in extension and clarity, on the contrary it has plenty of energy and sparkle, it is extended and not subdued but it always stays polite and controlled.
The Vortex is a quite forgiving earphone but this doesn’t mean that it is short of transparency and clarity or that it is not resolving and detailed enough.
Surely, it is not an analytical or magnifying glass type of an earphone but at the end of the day you will find that everything is in place, nothing really missing but there is always some kind of humility in the presentation manner.
Time decay is also very natural, not fast nor slow, just balanced and realistic in the shimmering effect of high pitched percussion instruments that maintain the fullness of their texture without sounding thin and splashy.
The single dynamic driver is very cohesive sounding, there is a great evenness throughout the whole frequency range with uniform intensity from the top to the bottom.
Generally speaking, the Vortex is not the most resolving or fine sounding earphone, there is a touch of roughness and coarseness, especially in the treble, but it certainly fairs a lot better than the price would suggest.
The soundstage is quite spacious and open sounding by the means that is not contested but it is relatively narrow and not that wide but fortunately not too close and intimate when positioning the listener in proportion to the performers.
Instrumental separation is quite sharp and accurate so listening to overloaded music passages doesn’t cause any significant problems except that you don’t get a satisfying sense of grandness and holography.
The thing is that the overall tonality and balance of the Vortex are so well done and suitable for listening to classical music you will find yourself willing to sacrifice this lack of expansiveness even with symphonic works like Mozart’s 41th.
Compared to the FiiO FD7 ($599)
The price difference between these two earphones makes this comparison an unfair one but it is included not for letting you know how much better is the FD7 but rather for highlighting how close the Vortex is to it.
They have the same kind of a very musical, balanced and tonally correct presentation and an almost similar tuning except for the more extended sub-bass of the FD7.
The FD7 is my reference single dynamic driver for reviewing and listening to music alike and while the Vortex is not a much in overall technicalities, resolution and refinement, it is so shockingly close that it have rightfully become my second reference that I am going to use from now on for reviewing similarly priced gear.
Dunu Falcon Pro ($219)
This is a much more fair and appropriate comparison since both are single dynamic driver earphones with the exact same price.
The Dunu Falcon Pro is made from stainless steel and it is almost as confirmable as the Vortex which is slightly more compact and lightweight with better anatomy which closer matches that of the ear.
For the same price, the Falcon Pro comes with interchangeable sound tuning filters, four pairs of silicone ear-tips, a modular cable with 2.5mm, 4.4mm and 3.5mm plugs, a high quality carrying case, a cloth pouch, a cleaning brush and cloth and a 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter.
The Falcon Pro is slightly better extended at the sub-bass and it sounds more impactful and dynamic with a more visceral texture but it is not as tight, clear, textured, fast and controlled as the Vortex which is also more neutrally tuned in the lower mid-range.
As a result the Falcon Pro is a little darker and warmer sounding with less mid-range transparency and clarity but not deprived of musicality and timbral realism.
It is even smoother and easier sounding in the upper mid-range and treble than the already controlled Vortex so it sounds more relaxed, not as extended and with less sparkle and energy.
Two earphones with different sound signatures that are addressed to opposing listening habits, the reference – neutral Vortex against the warmer, darker and thicker sounding Falcon Pro.
In the end
Extremely well balanced with a reference tuning, natural timbre and full of musicality with great technicalities for the category, the Vortex is one of the best sounding single dynamic driver earphones that you can buy without giving it a second thought.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2023.