Review written by Precogvision
Tanchjim is the overshadowed, older brother of sorts to Moondrop, the popular Chi-Fi brand that’s taken the IEM world by a storm with their calculated approach to tuning and tasteful anime art. Like so, Tanchjim’s products have generally tokened a higher price-bracket with the single-DD Oxygen being their claim to fame. Only leaning further into this price discrepancy, Tanchjim has now released the Darling which clocks in at a cool $420. The Darling eschews traditional IEM form factor with a streamlined “bullet” anatomy; Tanchjim has impressively managed to cram no less than a single, 6mm dynamic driver and two Sonion BAs inside. Now all that remains is to see (or rather, hear) how this stacks up.
This unit was loaned for review by Super*Review and provided by Shenzhenaudio. You can find Super* on Youtube here and purchase the Darling from Shenzhenaudio here. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source & Drivability
All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160 (volume ~20) and an A&K SP1000M with lossless FLAC files, stock tips, and the stock cable. The Darling requires medium-ish amounts of power to drive; nonetheless, I had no trouble running it off of any of my sources and did not experience any hissing.
Alright, wow: Let’s just say there are many boutique manufacturers that could learn something from the way Tanchjim is doing their presentation. You’re presented with a sleek, black box. Inside, everything is neatly compartmentalized with clean-cut finger notches to pull them out. The cable is neatly wrapped around a circular peg. Included are the following accessories:
- Microfiber cleaning cloth
- Metal plaque with serial number engraved
- Carry case w/ microfiber lining and magnetic latch
- 2x sets of silicon, T-APB tips
- MMCX cable
- Spare, replacement filters
All the accessories are of excellent quality, and this is coming from someone who is something of a build quality nut! I particularly like the stock MMCX cable, it’s reminiscent of the Moondrop SSR’s cable on steroids. It behaves nicely, has a pleasant tactility, and the hardware appears to be metal. The case is on the larger side; I think Tanchjim would have benefited by sizing it down, especially given how small the Darling itself is.
But speaking of the Darling, it sports a terrific, rich contrast between its slightly blasted aluminum shell and polished stem and connector piece. Machining is impeccable, the finish devoid of surface inconsistencies. You don’t see this often with most IEMs, even those that cost several times what the Darling’s clocking in at! Because of the small size, fit should not present an issue. You can either opt to wear the Darling over-ear or simply have it drape downwards like I did for my listening.
On first listen, I found the Darling’s bass to be somewhat laggy; that is, skewing behind the BA drivers a tad much. While I’d wager coherency could use some work, further listening has me appreciating the Darling’s bass a little more. While not as clean as something like the Etymotic ER2XR or as bold, poofy as the Thieaudio Legacy 4, texture and excursive slam are quite good. Really, the Darling’s bass is surprisingly competent for such a tiny dynamic driver, and I don’t dislike it at all.
Frequency response measured off of an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at 8khz and, as such, measurements after this point should not be considered accurate.
Now, if you’re someone who scans graphs religiously, then the Darling’s midrange might be a fat “nope” at first glance. But here, graphs can be deceiving, and I think it helps to approach the midrange from a more abstract point of view. Perhaps a quick explanation of what we’re looking at is in order too. The 3kHz peak on the graph is what’s generally referred to as the ear (or pinna) compensation; this area is ideally boosted so as to account for IEMs bypassing the outer ear.
In the Darling’s case, however, it’s significantly more elevated than what might be called for normally. So, one might infer that midrange notes on the Darling are overly shouty and forward. And said individual would be correct minus the “overly” part. Whether be it by virtue of the more elevated bass shelf or the quick slope off of 3kHz, the Darling’s really not as shouty as it might look initially. It’s really the timbre of male vocals that suffers most with something of an uncanny nasalness to my ears. This is an IEM that probably plays best with female vocals, although to an extent of which I believe it’ll eliminate a sizable demographic of listeners.
Still, I think the real wild-card here is actually the Darling’s treble. Treble on the Darling is mostly instrument crash with a small peak from around 8-10kHz; it follows that the Darling’s lacking in about equal parts impact and extension. In a more general sense, that is. The 17kHz peak on the graph above is real. I hear it running sine sweeps, and the more I listen to the Darling, the more of an issue it becomes, presenting itself as a certain zingy-ness to the decay of instruments. We’re not talking Tin P2 levels of treble air, but perhaps more concerning? The peak’s so high up that a large demographic of listeners won’t even be able to hear it! Like so, depending on the extent of one’s hearing, one could either find the Darling quite dark - it also rolls off the peak abruptly by 17.5kHz - or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, even fatiguing.
Questionable tonality aside, the Darling exhibits fairly good technical performance. I’d put resolution a slight step behind the Moondrop Blessing 2, particularly in the lower-midrange; the Darling picks up the slack with a cleaner, more natural note decay. Really, it’s a solid technical performer all-round that doesn’t leave me with much to complain about.
I think the real standout, then, is the Darling’s imaging which sits itself in coveted “above average” territory. Left-right separation exhibits excellent distinction - take for example the opening of Sawano Hiroyuki’s “Remember” from 0:00 to 0:08 and 0:40 to 0:57 - with some actual solidity to the image. The center image also diffuses slightly; overall diffusal - or soundstage size - is more middling to my ears. Nonetheless, quite impressive on this front for such a tiny IEM.
This is something I generally don’t explore too closely - as I’ve yet to find an IEM with which tips make or break my verdict - but the Darling has two “depths” for which tips can be fit to, so I think it makes sense to take a closer look. Additionally, I recently received a few SpinFit tips for review, so I thought I’d showcase some possible pairings. As for those different fit depths and what they do exactly: the answer is not much, at least with the stock eartips. It’ll mostly be a physical shift to the way they sit in your ears. Tip rolling was done using the second depth, the deepest fit.
For better or for worse, these tips excel at firing the high-frequencies, and are some of my favorite tips. I regularly run them on my 64 Audio U12t to get the most of its 15kHz treble peak (a terrific combination in my opinion), and similarly, they emphasize the Darling’s 17kHz peak. For me, though, it’s just too much air with the Darling - especially on stuff like Taeyeon’s “Vanilla” - to the point of which it’s overly resonant, but you might work this to your advantage if you can’t quite hear the Darling’s treble peak using the stock tips.
These sit somewhere between the stock tips and the CP145 in terms of air. I found these to also tighten up the bass and midrange; however, I think I prefer the stock tips for a little more physicality to my sound. Probably a happy medium for most listeners, and I found these tips to be quite comfortable. YMMV as usual.
Final Type E
These are the tips that made the biggest difference for me. They noticeably pull back the upper-midrange and kill a good deal of the 17kHz peak. So, you get a much darker sound with some more "tinny-ness" to the treble (likely from the minor 8-10kHz peak contrasted to the lack of air), but it's smoother and noticeably less fatiguing to my ears. The trade-off? Pseudo treble air goes hand-in-hand with imaging to some extent, and I do think the Final E tips kill some of the Darling’s imaging chops. Definitely give these a shot if you find the Darling fatiguing, though.
Do I recommend the Darling? Well, like always, if what I’ve described in this review sounds like your jam then I’d recommend at least giving the IEM in question a listen. But I do feel compelled to make a judgement call. And in this reviewer’s opinion only, the Darling is pushing it. Not because it’s a bad IEM - few IEMs truly are - but because the value proposition is lacking. Like so, the Darling has its strengths, and there’s clearly motivation at hand for tuning like this; however, it’s an IEM that I’m hard-pressed to commend given its price. And that’s a shame because the build, accessories, and presentation of this IEM really are all top-notch in my opinion. For now, we’ll have to wait for Tanchjim to raise the bar again like their excellent Oxygen did because I don’t think this is quite it.
- Aimer - Hakuchuumu
- David Nail - Let It Rain
- Dreamcatcher - Silent Night
- Illenium & Excision - Gold
- Girls’ Generation - Galaxy Supernova
- Joe Nichols - Sunny and 75
- Keith Urban - Defying Gravity (2009)
- Sabai - Million Days
- Sawano Hiroyuki - Best of Vocal Works Remastered (2020)
- Taeyeon - My Voice (2017)
- Tiffany - I Just Wanna Dance
- Tom Day - Where Were We
Watch the video review here: