Dear long time readers: Are you tired of target curves? Are you bored of gear that all have the same tuning? Do needlessly complicated driver configurations give you a headache? Well, I’ve got just the IEM for you.
Introducing the Nightjar Singularity. At $1,300, this little guy ain’t cheap but it promises to harken back to the good ol’ days of simple and straightforward audio goodness. Brought to you by the same folks who created the universally acclaimed SUBTONIC STORM, the Singularity is the basshead single DD IEM of your dreams!
At least, that’s what everyone tells me. The Singularity is Nightjar’s second IEM offering, the first being the Symphonium x Nightjar Meteor. Announced with a limited run of 100 Launch Edition units back in July, it sold out instantly. A large part of its immense popularity stems from demo sessions at large events like CanJam where community members had ample hands-on experience. As we wait for Nightjar to restock them, I’ll be taking a closer look at the Singularity and see for myself if it lives up to the hype.
Source(s) Used: Ferrum ERCO Balanced DAC & Headphone Amp and Apple USB-C dongle
Launch Edition unit on loan from a local community member. Thanks!
What we like
What we don’t like
What’s in the Box
The Launch Edition was created as a way to reward customers for supporting one of Nightjar’s first products. Here are the bonuses you get:
- An awesome bamboo wood box holding everything else inside. One of the coolest packages I’ve ever seen.
- A black Nightjar-branded round metal carrying case with a screw-on top. Fairly normal carrying case but does look very sleek.
- 24k gold-plated (!) faceplate accents. Aesthetically striking against the black shells.
And for the rest of the accessories every Singularity gets:
- The Singularity itself. It’s a hefty black anodized aluminum shell. The nozzle size is fairly large at 6 mm but I had absolutely no issues with comfort. The nozzle length and angle were perfect for me.
- Subtonic in-house tips. To be honest, these seem like some standard silicon tips you can find included in various other IEMs. Nothing wrong with that. They work well and are the ones I’m using for this review. The core is firmer than most.
- Divinus Audio Velvet tips. Hailing from Korea, these are some of the most interesting aftermarket IEM tips around. They have an extremely smooth, low-friction feeling surface of the silicon. I covered them here in a YouTube Short.
- Vanguard 2-wire cable with OE-multi plug. This multi-plug comes from OEAudio and allows for interchanging the jack for 2.5/3.5/4.4 mm connectors. It’s an excellent implementation as it’s compact and screws on securely.
That Vanguard cable is of special note. Believe it or not, it actually has an MSRP of $525 as Nightjar is more of a cable company than an IEM one. Whatever you think of cables, I will say that the Vanguard cable is one of the nicest I’ve played with. The terminations and Y-split are gorgeous and while I’m not the biggest fan of the sheathing material, I can’t deny that it does an amazing job of eliminating any cable noise and has only a little cable memory. Probably not worth $525 but hey, I’m not a cable guy.
Sound and Frequency Response
I’ll be honest, I did not like the Singularity the first time I listened to it. Or the second time. And maybe even the third. The amount of bass on it was just too much for me. Frankly, it sounded bloated. But beneath that bloat was a surprisingly competent single DD, though it took me a few more listening sessions to appreciate it. It’s one of the few IEMs that can properly be described as having an L-shaped tuning.
Here’s the frequency response graph of the Nightjar Singularity measured using my IEC-711 clone coupler. Remember that a peak at about 8 – 10 kHz is likely an artifact of the measurement rig and that measurements above 8 kHz are not accurate.
Yes, that is a lot of bass. About 15 dB of it at 20 Hz. But when I look at tuning, I always look at the overall balance, not just a portion of the frequency range. Importantly, we see that in the upper mids the Singularity balances out the bass by having a healthy 10 dB of pinna gain. In a more bass-neutral IEM, this abundance of upper mids might’ve been considered shouty or overly forward. But on the Singularity, it ends up much milder and relaxed.
And here is another Singularity measured using a B&K 5128 measurement rig compensated to the diffuse field (DF) response and visualized with preference bounds applied. Let me break down what that means:
- The B&K 5128 measurement rig is currently the most accurate system we have to capture the frequency response of a speaker/headphone/IEM at the eardrum. Note that while it is rated for 20 Hz - 20 kHz, measurements in the upper treble above 10 kHz are still less accurate than below and susceptible to positional variances on the dummy head.
- A Diffuse field (DF) response represents what a flat speaker will sound like if it was placed in a reverberant room where all soundwaves hit your head from all angles and from all directions equally. This is because unlike speakers, headphones cover your entire ear to begin with and aren't affected by room acoustics. DF has long been established as the correct head-related transfer function (HRTF) for headphones (since 1986!) and hence why we use it as a baseline.
- A compensated graph means that we take the difference between the actual measured frequency response (the raw graph) and the DF response. If the product measures identically, we will have a flat line. Any deviations will be shown as bumps or scoops in the graph away from this baseline.
- The wide gray band within the dotted lines represents the preference bounds. This is because subjectively, different people will have different preferences in having more bass or less treble, for example. Thus we provide a range of values (that vary per frequency) to reflect this difference in preference. The reason there is an overall downwards slope is because further audio research (from Harman) shows that the majority of listeners prefer a downwards tilt from the bass into the treble when listening to music in a normal, non-idealized room like the DF response is based on.
- Note that the above points best applies to headphones rather than IEMs. But in absence of robust research in IEMs, we’ve applied the same principles here.
If you’ve been following along with us over at The Headphone Show, this is effectively a more advanced version of the DF + 10 dB slope target we’ve been expounding. Resolve recently did a video as an intro explaining this idea that we’re moving towards.
So how does this apply to the Singularity? It gets a little more nuanced for those unfamiliar with this presentation of a frequency response but here’s how I would interpret it:
- In general, the Singularity reasonably aligns within the listener preference bounds. This makes sense - a lot of people enjoy listening to the Singularity. Myself included, after I got used to the bass shelf. We can see that the upper mids around 1 - 3 kHz is in a fairly ideal position though it starts dip past 2 kHz indicating its more relaxed and milder tonality.
- But while the Singularity falls mostly within the preference bounds, you still have to look at the overall tuning. It would be easy to misinterpret the graph as the Singularity being a little bassy because it’s just a little outside the gray zone in the bass. This is not correct. You can’t look at each region in isolation - you have to consider the balance between the two. In this case, the Singularity is both on the upper bound of the bass preference and the lower bound of the treble preference. In other words, the overall perception is downtitled and bassy.
- This specific measurement uses a type of tip called the Coreir eartips which has some interesting effects on treble. You can see the effect at 10 kHz as a sharp peak. I would take that peak with a grain of salt. I don’t hear it myself, or at least, nowhere near that extreme.
If all of this graph analyzing is too much for you, don’t worry. The next section will be the traditional subjective sound breakdown with no graphs involved.
I would classify the midrange tonality of the Singularity as thick, not so much warm or lush. Despite this thicker tonality from the lower mids elevation, the Singularity has a very natural dynamic driver presentation; its voicing and sense of decay lends to excellent timbre. Common midrange instruments like strings and guitars benefit from having more weight and body behind them, though thickness of the vocals can be a little overdone for me.
Treble is good if unremarkable. It plays a very complementary role in the Singularity’s bass heavy sound and importantly checks two critical boxes for a tuning like this:
- Decent treble extension to capture upper harmonics and prevent it from sounding dark. Historically, single DD IEMs struggled to have enough treble extension, especially one without excessive peaks in the upper treble. That said, modern IEMs have generally addressed this issue.
- A sharp enough transient response to provide note definition and clarity. It’s common to see manufacturers tame the treble of their IEMs to compensate for unwieldy peaks to the point where it sounded overly dampened.
The Singularity’s treble manages both these points to a satisfactory level. Its treble extension and transient sharpness isn’t “obvious” in that it’s crisp or has a sense of airiness but rather that the leading edge in the notes of the hats and cymbals are still heard and trailing tones are sustained. In essence, the best thing about the Singularity’s treble is that it is inoffensive. It doesn’t compromise hats/cymbals timbre like many, many other IEMs do.
That said, the choice of tips does matter. I initially tried the Divinus Velvet tips with the Singularity and it was not the right choice. While Velvet tips fit my ears quite nicely, I find they tend to dampen treble and slightly compress the midrange. And dampening the treble is the last thing I want on the Singularity which already has a modest transient response. Using the stock Subtonic in-house tips brought back the sharpness I needed to round out the Singularity’s sound.
This brings me to a larger overall point I found with the Singularity - the listening environment matters. Well, more than a lot of other IEMs I’ve tried. As mentioned at the start, I had a hard time seeing over the excessive bass when listening to it for the first few times at my desk. But when I used it on transit to work or at a busy coffee shop, the Singularity became much more pleasant as the bass compensates for the louder ambient noise. I suspect this is part of the reason why it’s been so successful at events like CanJam. And once I started to enjoy the Singularity in that busier environment, that enjoyment extended back to the quieter spaces.
Now let me finally address what I’ve been putting off thus far: how does the bass sound? Simply put, the Singularity’s bass is nothing less than a boomy spectacle. Unfortunately, this is where the Singularity didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Not because it’s a boomy IEM, but because there’s a pillowyness to the note impact, a wooliness that’s due to the bass shelf extending far into the lower mids. It lacks a sense of that hard, firm foundation to bury every kick of the drum, for example. When I think of truly great IEM bass such as the Sennheiser IE900, 64 Audio Trio, or Sony Z1R, this firmness is what I gravitate towards.
Really, that’s my only major complaint of the Singularity’s bass. For all of its indulgence, transients are clean and its decay doesn’t linger too long. This leads to note clarity beyond what you’d might expect from a tuning like this. I never got the sense that the Singularity was struggling even in busy tracks. And like its midrange, its timbre has that familiar DD feel for driver type aficionados. Though I think it could use a bit more texture as notes feel a touch smoothened.
On a technical level, the Singularity is fair. Its soundstage is reasonably sizable and its imaging and layering are quite effective at spacing out instruments to further mitigate the claustrophobic feeling a tuning like this tends to create. The Singularity’s staging won’t impress but it will perform.
Ironically, the Singularity’s resolution was quite a bit better than expected. While it doesn’t have that typical crisp sheen a lot of “hi-res” IEMs tend to have, the Singularity somehow manages to highlight notes and passages more often than not. I chalk this up to just having so much lower mids, combined with sufficient clarity, that those fundamental frequencies really pop.
Dynamically, the Singularity puts all of its eggs into the bass macrodynamics department. When a track calls on the bass, the Singularity pounds at you. It’s to the point where in some songs, I almost started reaching for the volume knob. Just don’t ask it to do nuance; it’s pretty much all or nothing. As such, I can see some who might argue it’s all just a result of the sheer quantity of the Singularity’s bass.
Part of the hype around the Singularity is its claim as the best single DD (basshead) IEM. That is a tall claim. In my eyes, the IEM that best fits that description is the $1,500 Sennheiser IE900. So how does the Singularity stack up against it?
On one hand, the Singularity has a much better midrange tonality and a relaxed treble response. It satisfies that craving of a big booming bass. On the other, the IE900’s bass is near ideal for me in terms of its dynamism, its punch and impact, and the texturing of its timbre. That firmness behind every note is oh–so-present. Though it doesn’t quite have the same quantity, the IE900’s low-end shelf is still very much basshead worthy. For its treble, it does skirt the edge of being too spicy but adds plenty of note definition and vibrancy. As for technical performance, the IE900 is on par or edges out the Singularity.
So you’ll have to pick your poison. A well-tempered L-shaped tuning with a softer but more booming bass or a harder-hitting U-shaped one that has a questionable midrange and potentially over-the-top treble. For my preferences, I still hold the IE900 as the best basshead single DD IEM I’ve heard.
Sonic differences aside, there is one other major consideration that tends to get overlooked. Fit and comfort. I had absolutely no issues with the Singularity’s fit and the ergonomics of the cable it comes with is superb. The IE900, not so much. I found that actually getting it into my ears was a bit of a challenge, particularly with the stock tips. The IE900 still sounds good enough that I’m willing to work through these challenges but for some, these might be deal breakers.
Symphonium x Nightjar Meteor
The Meteor is Nightjar’s first IEM and I reviewed it not too long ago with a few misgivings. The Singularity is what the Meteor should’ve been. To its credit, the Meteor’s bass isn’t quite as booming as the Singularity’s and has a tighter impact. But if I had to pick my bass heavy IEM of choice between the two, it would be the Singularity. It has a more natural bass and treble timbre that lends to greater musical enjoyment. I just wasn’t taken by those regions on the Meteor. That said, the Singularity is about twice the price so it’s a bit of a moot comparison for those on a budget.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, but not as your first IEM. Or second. Or maybe even third. The Nightjar Singularity is a fun and amusing, but ultimately optional and expensive sidequest of an IEM. The easiest way to sum it up is that it’s a great single dynamic driver with a massive bass boost. And I think it’s worth trying to hear what a competently executed IEM like that would sound like. There’s a certain appeal to having a good ol’ booming single DD in a market where the push towards exotic high-end offerings has worn its welcome. There was even a point where I briefly asked myself if I wanted to buy one. But the lack of firmness in the bass precludes me from considering it as a true basshead’s endgame. Maybe Nightjar’s rumoured Singularity sequel, the Doublarity, will change my mind.