Today I’m looking at yet another budget-fi earphone. This time the TRN v90 which I paid £25 for from Ali Express. In US money they are going for around $30 and that puts them at around the same price as the Blon BL-03, an earphone that doesn’t particularly excel at anything and yet for the price doesn’t do anything particularly wrong either and has become the go-to earphone for $30. The TRN v90 has been around a little longer but I’ve only just picked up a pair myself. I’ve yet to hear an earphone for this price that I like more than the BL-03, so does the TRN v90 topple the Blon? Let’s get into it.
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The TRN v90 is a hybrid design IEM featuring a single 10mm dynamic driver and 4 balanced armatures per earpiece. That’s 5 drivers per ear for $30, pretty impressive.
If it means anything to you, the v90 uses two 50060 balanced armatures for the mid frequencies and two 30019 balanced armatures handling the treble frequencies. The dynamic driver, of course, handles the bass frequencies. This all sounds rather impressive but it’s the crossover and tuning that will decide whether this technology actually sounds any good.
The physical construction is also rather impressive for the price. The body shell is made of CNC machined aluminium, although the nozzle is plastic and they use a metal filter. The weight is 6g per earpiece without tips. They come in three different colourways, gunmetal, black and this midnight blue I have here which I think looks really nice. Note they also have these two rather large vents on the outside, a fair bit bigger than the usual pinhole vents on most IEMs. These vents don’t seem to affect isolation all that much but they do seem rather average for isolation.
The cable connection is a 2-pin method with 0.75mm pins using the standard non-recessed design. There’s nothing wrong with this design but actually, I think I prefer the recessed C-Pin design that KZ uses.
The stock cable is the standard budget-fi thing, thin, easily tangled, stiff ear hooks. I picked them up with an upgraded TRN cable that’s bit nicer and also includes a chin bead. Albeit one that doesn’t seem to stay in place particularly well. Oh well, can’t win them all. Seems that when you buy any of these budget-fi earphones you need to upgrade their cables so this is par for the course. Regardless with a standard 2 pin connector, there are plenty of upgrade options available out there.
The TRN v90 comes with the standard 3 pairs of silicone tips in small medium and large. These ones are a touch nicer than the usual basic budget-fi tips but as usual, I didn’t get on with them, they wouldn’t stay in my ears. This, of course, is entirely personal but for me, silicone tips just don’t work. Thankfully the store I purchased them from included 4 pairs of foam tips with them. I did all my listening with these foam tips.
Something I want to note is the box they come in is the usual KZ box, which is also the same box used by QKZ. Do they all buy their boxes from the same supplier or who ultimately is the original design manufacturer of these earphones, I don’t know. I previously noted how the QKZ VK1 uses the same KZ style box and the body shell of the TRN v10. All three companies have different addresses, it’s not clear how they are all related to each other if at all. Who knows, maybe someone knows, leave it in the comments.
In terms of how easy they are to drive, these are super sensitive at 22 Ohms impedance and 110dB SPL. Just like the KZ ZSN Pro a few weeks ago, I could barely turn up my headphone amp before they were way too loud.
Let’s move on to the sound section. And a quick disclaimer, budget-fi earphones are often known for unit variance. That might be the case with the TRN v90 although I didn’t find much chatter online about this. But I can only report my experience with this one specific pair of v90.
And I should state that all listening was done with foam tips, because as usual I really struggled to get a good fit with the stock silicone. I just do not get on with silicone tips at all.
All listening was done with lossless sources, some from my PC via an O2 amp, some via my phone and some through the Fiio BTR3.
I’m rather conflicted about how these earphones sound. And if not for their price I would probably be quite harsh on them. During my testing, I found myself in a love-hate relationship with them. I think that’s probably fine for the price but they do seem rather track dependant rather than better for one genre or another. I’ll explain more as we go, so let’s move on.
First thing staging isn’t bad, I mean it’s not great but not bad, at least not for music, maybe it’s those big vents on the back, perhaps they act more like an open earphone. I don’t know, but they definitely sound pretty good for an IEM. However, whilst they don’t sound narrow, they also don’t sound particularly open and I think that’s more about their overall frequency response.
Imaging is also not particularly special. And I know no one is really going to game with these but I gave it a go and all I can say is “Don’t”. Again I don’t think that’s a particularly valid test for an earphone like this, I was just curious, and I think the sound signature just leaves them sounding too hollow for games.
In terms of the overall sound signature, it’s very bassy and also bright. Really quite a V-shaped sound.
Bass is a fair bit more elevated than the Tin T4. But it seems focused more on the sub-bass than mid/upper bass. There is a really impressive amount of extension with these. Although not the most articulate, they do have a decent amount of slam capability and a good fullness that doesn’t seem overly boosted and bloated. Unfortunately, at times they sound a little muted and inarticulate for genres with more technical basslines. Charles Mingus was almost missing on Better Git in your Soul, although a little more present on Moanin’ however that track could be a little busier on the v90, particularly considering how good this track sounds on the Tin T4, it’s a bit disappointing. However, jazz is not really the forte of V-shaped earphones. And also let’s keep in mind their price. For EDM like Deadmau5 and Astrix, actually, the bass has good authority and an enjoyable impact to the kick. I think for more modern genres, the TRN v90 bass is simply excellent and really enjoyable. That they aren’t the most articulate is entirely forgivable at this price point. In terms of comparisons to the Blon BL-03, the TRN v90 has more sub-bass extension and the Blon more mid-upper bass and low mid energy. So whilst the BL-03 has a warm low end, the v90 is the most v-shaped earphone I’ve tried to date.
Mids – Despite the overall very v-shaped sound signature, I don’t think the mids sound overly recessed, but this is quite track dependant. Mostly, male vocals, toms, snares, for example, all sit well in the mix without being too far back. However, the upper mids are much more prominent and really quite forwards.
Some people might find the TRN v90 a little hollow. But when v-shaped is done right, I don’t see that as hollow but more of a preference thing, its another flavour versus a more neutral headphone and not necessarily a bad thing. As long as the balance is right. And I think with the TRN v90 the balance is almost right, but its definitely better than the KZ ZSN Pro
Versus the Blon BL-03 for example, which is a slightly less v-shaped earphone, the lower mids on the v90 are little more prominent or at least clearer in the mix if not particularly forwards. This is because the Blon suffers from a more boosted and warmer upper bass/low mids that unfortunately can lean towards muddiness. The TRN v90 doesn’t suffer this at all.
However, there is a lot more shout in the upper mids than on both the Tin T4 and the Blon BL03. Especially between around 2kHz and 5kHz, actually, the Tin T4 seems to have a little more energy at 5kHz than the v90, but the V90 has a lot more energy between 2-4Khz and for many genres, this is really too much for my tastes. Contrast this with the Blon BL03 which is actually quite restrained here and the v90 are sounding like a much more aggressive sounding earphone. Aggressive can be fine if you want something that sounds more energetic or if it comes with a significant level of analytical detail. Unfortunately, that is not especially true with the v90. Sure they appear to be much more detailed than the Blon BL03, which is a bit of a low bar in all fairness, but they are not a patch on the Tin T4 and instead lean towards grain, harshness and edginess. Again factoring in the price the technical ability isn’t so bad but that upper mid shout is going to be the real decider for most people.
For older music such as Jazz, classic rock and pop, for example, all suffer from this edginess.
Having said that, for modern genres, rock, metal, EDM, pop and hip-hop. This upper mid shout is much less noticeable as it is offset by the huge and impactful bass which gives so much energy to the music.
For example, Better Git in your Soul by Charles Mingus, the drum kit, at least the toms, snares and hats are nicely present in the middle of the mix without being too forwards or too recessed. The brass is also right there in that musical sweet spot, but the alto on Moanin’ is a bit edgy, harsh and shrill. Not the worst reproduction I’ve heard of this track, but not particularly enjoyable either.
But on Deep Jungle Walk by Astrix this is a hugely impactful and energetic bass and this TRN v90 is doing this such justice. There are a few moments where the upper-frequency psychedelic synth parts are bordering on harsh but they are somewhat offset by the massive bass. There’s that v-shaped balance.
On Hello by Adele, not usually my cup of tea but actually, wow, pretty good. The piano has a nice big warmth, sounds pretty natural. Adeles vocals have a good presence that sounds surprisingly smooth, really smooth. When the chorus kicks in the big bass is offset by Adele’s vocals with excellent musicality. I’m actually really impressed. Am I an Adele fan now? Maybe not but if this was my kind of music, I’d be very happy with the TRN v90.
Now just because I said they work well for modern genres, that doesn’t mean we get away from that upper mid shout entirely. Case in point is Automaton by Jamiroquai which is not the most forgiving track for a shouty headphone or earphone. And that holds true with the TRN v90, not a pleasant experience at all.
Treble – Treble seems a little more restrained on the whole, perhaps due to that excess energy in the upper mids to low treble, the treble seems rather tame in comparison. However, whilst treble rolls off a little after the 2k-5k shoutiness it still has a decent amount of extension and is quite smooth.
In terms of overall detail, they are quite average, there are moments of brilliance and moments of subpar performance. That is to be expected for the price and actually, they do a much better job than the Blon BL03. Again modern genres are fine but older or more technical genres will highlight the flaws pretty quickly.
I went back and forwards with these earphones, loving them and the bass performance one minute and then recoiling in horror at the upper mid shout the next. I was quite unsure how I felt about them. I was ready to write them off but I had to have a good think about the price and think about sound signature and the type of music that tends to pair well with. And actually, let’s be real here, this is a v-shaped sound signature, and that limits them somewhat, a v-shaped signature is not the most versatile.
So, it’s a budget earphone with an aggressive v-shaped frequency response which also struggles in terms of technical performance, that’s ok, so let’s rule out older, well recorded, audiophile music and talk about casual musical enjoyment for modern genres. And on the whole, I quite like the TRN v90 for this use case, they have an energy and excitement to them, along with an acceptable level of detail for modern genres. These are certainly a fun sounding earphone. But they do border on aggressive at times for some tracks. Basically, anything with a lot of energy in the 2kHz to 4kHz region is going to sound rather harsh and edgy, especially if it doesn’t also have a lot of bass. At that point, it’s going to sound one-sided and unbalanced with that upper mid emphasis.
Match these with more casual and bassy genres and they do a really good job. But don’t go expecting miracles as well you shouldn’t for $30. Are they a good alternative to the Blon BL03? Perhaps, but the Blon are definitely a more relaxed sounding earphone. Their lack of technical ability also rules them out for anything but casual modern genres however perhaps within their limitations they are a more forgiving earphone and therefore, perhaps, a more versatile one too. I’m not sure I could say which is better, the Blon BL03 or the TRN V90 for $30 as both have their strengths and weaknesses. For my own personal tastes I would pick the Blon BL-03 but no doubt some will enjoy the aggressive signature of the v90. So I’ll say if you want a more energetic and aggressive earphone with excellent bass and a bit more detail, albeit one that’s slightly less versatile, get the v90. If you want a warmer, more relaxed and probably more versatile earphone, get the Blon BL03.