Little Dot Cu Cen: The next to TOTL does its own thing.
Cu Cen: $415
From the website:
Cen was inspired by a pair of IEM that’s focus on vocal, however, we believe Cen has over-performed it in every aspects. Little Dot has put in a lot of passion into developing Cen, and through Cen you can understand some of our understanding in vocal music, and we truly hope it can bring some light into your world!
Cen (ᚳ) is a letter of runic alphabet, present in the Anglo-Saxon Fuporc, and it associated with a torch in the Anglo-Saxon rune-poem. Cen lit up the darkness at Little Dot when we were in the chaotic phase. We hope it can bring something new into your everyday music!
The soft-frame encapsulation makes the diaphragm and armature as one coaxial unit. This is the best method to eliminate vibrations and diminishes the interference in our opinion. While the diaphragm provides the punch for bass, the armature would provide the sweet tonality and all the detail of the music. Meanwhile, the coaxial structure let both diaphragm and armature work perfectly together, and the music has never sound more precise!
Connector type: CIEM 0.78 2 pin
Drivers: soft-frame encapsulation coaxial 8mm diaphragm and armature
Distortion <0.2% @ 1000Hz
Impedance: 21+/- 3 ohm
Plug: 3.5mm balanced, 3.5mm mono, 2.5mm balanced, and 4.4mm balanced
Frequency range: 16-40kHz
Sensitivity: 100 +/- 3dB
In The Box:
4x silicon tips, 3x foam tips
Plastic round case
Two cables: one 6N OFC Copper
Phonic BWD9.2 ($385-415)
Noble Savant II ($499)
Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
HiBy R3 Pro
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
The Little Dot IEM’s come in a very tasteful slender slick-black package, which clamshell opens from the right. Laden with the logo, and name on the front, there is a fairy not unlike Tinkerbell “anointing” the IEM name. I like it so far.
Opening the box reveals semi-soft foam holding both the round plastic case, and the pelican-like case on the right. The choice of two cases is nice but opting for the larger Pelican-like case won out for me every time. The left side shows the specs as well as an exploded view of the IEM itself, highlighting each model inside. Again, tastefully simple and elegant. This is most definitely a situation that I appreciate where less is more and done well.
You are also met with a plethora of tip options as well as another cable (per @Wiljen’s review). The copper cable attached is the only one I used. Manufacturers seems to either include more tips than you would need or not enough. Thankfully, this is the former and you should easily be able to find your right “fix.” That said, many will still tip roll. The unboxing experience is about what I expected here, not too much, not too little with a good choice of tips.
All of the Little Dot earphones are built well. No visible flaws or blemishes you may find on some of this range and ilk. Small, but easy to fit I did find that with all of the included silicon tips I could not attain a good seal. Switching to the TinHiFi white foam tips of medium width, I found what I was looking for. Since the Cu Cen (and Kis) are a very small IEM with which to start, deep insertion meant I could go one size smaller on the tip to attain that good fit.
One thing of which I will “complain” is the angle at which the cable comes out of the IEM. Using the silicon tip, I could not rotate the IEM to attain a good fit, so sound suffered. With the foam tip I still had trouble, but was able to get a good fit. This did rotate the whole unit further towards the front on my head than I am used to, and the cable bent around my ear lobe at a somewhat unnatural position. This may become tedious after longer sessions but may not as the unit is small and less of a bother than some of late.
The copper cable is wound semi-tight, but not as loose as some, so it works well. The 45-degree angled jack seems at odds with a cable, which looks so good, but it is functional. Thankfully here there were no microphonics (unlike the Rad), and the cable guide above the splitter was tight enough to not slide down after moving. This is a nice feature but does add some strain to the cable so just be careful.
At the source end, a right-angle 3.5se adaptor switches from the included 3.5bal to a regular 3.5se. A nice inclusion, but the jack sits out quite far, and I was always careful not to snag it on something, lest the jack bend itself as well as the source jack. To run SE you must use that jack, which to me seems to be a negative due to that size.
Fit and finish are very good as well as the build.
A brief respite for using the included silicon tips, then off to my preferred foam tips, which were a far better fit (and sound) for me).
Using the included silicon tips, even of the largest size I was unable to maintain a good seal, which of course made the bass nonexistent. All sound characteristics suffered as a result. Moral of the story: tip roll to find your best choice, and we all seem to do that now anyway.
Moving on to what was close at hand (literally), the TinHiFi included white foam tips (Comply wannabes) I found not only a good seal and fit, but the sound tamed down to where I could analyze it.
Bass became tauter and deeper, the mids were actually present, and the treble showed up nicely as well. This did of course highlight the flaws as well. I enjoyed the reach of bass, but to me it bled into the lower mids just a tiny bit, slightly convoluting the sound. I will state that this is a mild criticism only. It does not overpower at all, it simply pokes you on the shoulder like a kid stating, “I’m here, I have a question.” Not bothersome unless you make it so. So, go answer the kids’ question.
The Cu Cen was designed for vocal music at best but plays well with other aspects. I found on Feyanman’s The Farewell Courtyard, it played nicely, and that bass of which I just spoke blends well with the lower mids. I sense a bit of recessed mid-mid sound, but it is not bothersome in this vein. With good timbre, I find that it is indeed pleasant. I find of late (the last year or so) manufacturers are tempering their line ups more with more specificity. A“this IEM is good for EDM, while this one excels with vocals,” kind of thing. While I appreciate that companies are indeed tailoring to the market specifics, it can convolute a manufacturer’s line up much the way there can be 15 different levels of a Toyota Camry (I exaggerate just a bit, but the point hold true). While that is nice, many in our hobby simply cannot afford (or want) to have separate IEM’s for separate genre. Thankfully there is one in the Little Dot arsenal that does all well, but you will have to wait on that.
This is not a slam against the Cu Cen, no for it does indeed excel in vocals. Dave Matthew’s voice comes across as sublime on Black And Blue Bird, which is a song of which I am very fond at the moment. His voice always carries well, and here the Cu Cen just puts it more forward than others. Not in an obtrusive manner no, but more forward than some I have. I enjoy that song and I still enjoy it on the Cu Cen. No middling overlapping of sound signature here, nor is there a convolution of layers. The song is presented like we are listening on an IEM which cost $400, and we are. This is not one, which “punches above its level” (I hate that term). No, it punches right at its level. For some though, the vocals could become too far forward.
Luckily, the Cu Cen does not bite too much up top. That push in the upper mids, carries over a bit to the lower treble, giving a good amount of airiness and sparkle. That does die down, which tames the top end for me. This could have so easily carried over into overly bright up top but doesn’t, so I thank Little Dot for knowing not all of us like or need the treble to shout at us to appreciate the sound. That melding with the upper mids gives the treble good presence, and I appreciate the stableness of that. Not bulk, but presence. Wiljen mentions how those with treble sensitivity may wish to audition this unit first before purchase due to the potential treble push. I would agree, but also note that the push does not bother my treble sensitivity when using the foam tips of my choice.
With good width and depth (less than width), the height matches that depth, giving a solid foundation on which, the music can play. Not overly so in any dimension, the cubic sound is adequate and allows for good positional dimensions of the music. Not overly large, this can congest the overall signature a bit, but it does not seem to be a loss. For those vocals are the center of attention, and even with the above, the support is there. Layering can become a bit tedious with complex or faster songs, but the Cu Cen does not seem to suffer much. Good imaging counters this, making up for the loss during complexity and as a result pushes the Cu Cen near the top of this price. Not the top, but certainly not a back-marker.
One can also fairly easily discern the placement of each instrument. Not the best in class, but certainly not a hinderance. On Air by Feynman, you can easily place all. But do not mix that with clarity. That is different, even if the Cu Cen promotes good clarity. Not clean and crisp clarity, but details present themselves fairly and on par with those in the same category.
Little Dot Cu Cen ($415) vs Phonic BWD9.2 ($385-415):
The Phonic is not well known, which is a shame for the care with which Kenneth and company promote is as good as almost any custom, but without the custom price. With the ability to choose wood type for the shell, and cable you get the feeling of custom without that 4-figure shock. In conversing, we talked about sound character I like and he recommended the appropriate wood. From the Timberbank collection (a Hong Kong consortium which uses reclaimed wood to build), the Taiwan Acacia was chosen for its bassy-note. I am not disappointed and the wood simply took on a character of its own in our plains states humidity (no AC at the house). Gorgeous at which to look, simple of character what with the single 9.2mm DD, the 9.2 hearkens back to a simpler time.
Bass goes a bit deeper on the Cu Cen, but the top end lies with the 9.2. Vocally forward, the Cu Cen promotes those a bit much for me, and I prefer the 9.2 a bit more. Either are good choices, but if I had to choose, the Phonic would (and does) lie within my abode. This is not a knock on the Cu Cen though, but just how personal one can get at this level. The Cu Cen is good, but the Phonic fits my tastes a bit better.
Little Dot Cu Cen ($415) vs Noble Savant II ($499):
Running a single DD and single BA, the Savant II was not necessarily a spur purchase, but one where I consulted a trusted fellow reviewer and went with his suggestion. I do not regret the purchase and find the overall signature intoxicating in its simplicity. With slightly lifted mids, and a bass which fits well the Savant is meant for details. Think of the stage of a concert hall placed dead center, with the seats surrounding it. That is the feeling I get. While sound might change with a bit of rotation, there is no denying that the main focus is on the center. I do wish it had more bass, but for clarity, few come close.
The main difference to me besides the bass is the way vocals are treated. With the Cu Cen, they take center stage. With the Savant, they are withdrawn a bit as part of the overall mid push. Call it supporting that mid sound as opposed to leading the mid sound. Add in a mostly cozy sound stage and the Savant is more intimate. It is a superb example of The Wizard’s tuning and I appreciate it immensely. If you want vocal treatment on the better side? Cu Cen. If you want detail retrieval and an intoxicating overall sound, the Savant wins hands down.
As others have mentioned, I have been aware of Little Dot and their fine tube amps for some time. In fact, I have almost purchased a model or two. But to now know they produce IEM’s and have done so for a decent amount of time brings validity to the whole line up. If they can produce IEM’s like they do the tube amps, then they are most definitely worth a look. I would agree and would definitely recommend a listen if possible. The four reviewed here are quite different, but seem to run into overlaps, which may hurt the line up somewhat. Of course, one could also argue the opposite since each is at a different price point. The Cu Cen is their mid-fi priced IEM and worth a listen to me.
I thank Ian and Little Dot for showing the faith in my reviewing skills to warrant a listen. I wish I could say the models stay with me, but they will soon be off to another worthy reviewer. Thankfully I have the Little Dot Mk3 SE headed my way to continue the fix.