Macaw GT100s Review: Unforgivingly Detailed

Macaw is a Chinese IEM company that specializes in building earphones. Currently, they have chosen to stay well within the boundaries of “budget” earphones. At a glance, however, you wouldn’t even know it.

You can find the GT100s here on Penon Audio for $55.

Note: Some people may have read my previous review of this IEM or seen my comments about them. I was rather unflattered by them the first time around. However, since I’ve acquired more powerful and resolving sources and amplifiers, I’ve decided to give these another chance. My suspicions regarding my previous source setup being inadequate were confirmed not even 30 minutes into my first listening session. To summarize, my previous impressions on these IEMs are invalid as I did not have the hardware necessary to drive the GT100s at its full potential.

Disclaimer: This review is based upon a sample unit provided to me by a manufacturer or distributor in exchange for my honest opinion and un-edited words. I do not profit in any way from the writing of the review. I would like to thank Macaw and Penon Audio for sending me this review unit.

Preference and Bias: Before reading a review, it is worth mentioning that there is no way for a reviewer to objectively pass judgment on the enjoy-ability of a product: such a thing is inherently subjective. Therefore, I find it necessary for you to read and understand what I take a natural liking to and how that might affect my rating of a product.

My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, bass. The mids should be slightly less pronounced than the treble, but still ahead of the bass. I prefer a more bright upper range.

Source: The GT100s was powered like so:

AP100 3.5mm out -> FiiO A5 (low gain) -> earphones

or

HIFIMAN Megamini 3.5mm out -> earphones

All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC.

The GT100s cannot be driven well without a fairly powerful source. I recommend a dedicated DAP at a bare minimum, as I did not find any of my smartphones to be sufficient in driving the GT100s without a loss in quality and an inability to reach higher volumes.

Sound Signature

Initial Impressions:

Given the GT100s’ rather unique sound signature, it was definitely not very pleasant to listen to at first. Coming from the Advanced Sound Model 3 and Meze 99 Classics, I definitely needed a couple hours to burn my brain in. Thank goodness I waited before passing judgement on them, as they really grew on me. The bass is linear, and extends far down with a slight bump up in the sub-bass to increase the rumble of the IEM. The mids are slightly recessed behind the treble, which controls the GT100s’ presentation. The treble itself is quite well extended, but does a have a certain harshness to it and can sometimes border on sibilance. After a period of adjustment, however, you should be fine.

The GT100s has three tuning filters. Gold for bass, black for treble, and silver for neutral. The gold filter adds a slight amount of warmth to the lower mids and bass that many listeners may enjoy. The black filter places a little-bit more emphasis on the treble, but in turn makes the mids sound a bit more shouty and hollow-sounding. This is my least favorite filter.

Given the rather minute differences between each filter, I will be completing the rest of my analysis using the neutral filters.

Treble: Songs used: White Flag, Midnight City, Outlands

The GT100s’ treble can be summarized quite well with a single phrase: brutally honest. It doesn’t care whether or not you want to hear each and every bit in the song; it will simply show it to you. The vast majority of the time, this amasses itself in pleasant ways. White Flag and Midnight City’s micro-details were dragged out from their hiding spots by the GT100s’ dynamic drivers. The same could be said for Outlands. The violins had fantastic separation and placement, giving the song a sense of air. There were a couple instances during White Flag where I would say that the treble did come across as a tad harsh. That’s not veiled criticism, I literally mean that it only sounded a little bit harsh.

I know that Flagpole Sitta is a song that I use in the mids section, but it makes very good use of high-hats. As such I feel that is relevant for me to mention that the GT100s has the second-best presentation of high-hats and cymbals I have ever heard. Period. I can hear each hit of the cold metal against the drummer’s worn sticks. Frankly, it’s amazing. Seriously, if you buy these go to 2:10 of the song and listen to the high-hats in the background and you will see what I am talking about.

Mids: Songs used: Flagpole Sitta, Jacked Up, I Am The Highway, Dreams

The mids of the GT100s are rather flatly presented, if not a bit coldly. It’s a nice change of pace from the constant onslaught of mainstream warm IEMs. The guitars of Flagpole Sitta and Jacked Up have a nice crunch to them and are quite clear in the mix.

Male vocals sound a bit thin, but are still well-articulated and have an overall good presentation. If the song you are listening to has not been treated for sibilance, you will definitely hear it. A good example is comparing Weezer’s older albums with their new ones. On their older ones you will hear a slight sibilance, while their newest one, White Album, has no signs of sibilance at all.

Female vocals are presented almost perfectly, with a good body to them. Even traditionally darker voices like that of Garbage sound good.

Bass: Songs used: Lights(Bassnectar Remix), Gold Dust, In For The Kill (Skream Remix), Leave Me

Bass is quite linear, with the exception of a small boost to the sub-bass region, somewhere around 20–80Hz. This means that you won’t quite get a thud out of bass-kicks, but you will get a good amount of rumble out of bass-drops. While Lights did leave something to be desired in both impact and rumble, I found Gold Dust to perform much better. There was a moderate amount of kick with a good amount of rumble. The bass is quick and clean, leaving no boomyness in its wake.

In For The Kill provided the GT100s with a stage in which it could demonstrate how well it extended down. The GT100s outperforms essentially all other IEMs I own on this song, as the mid-bass doesn’t cloud up the lower register, making the dynamic sub-bass easy to pick-out. Two IEMs which did beat the GT100s are the Rose 3D-7 and Accutone Pisces BA (both of which are quite a bit more expensive than the humble $55 GT100s).

Clarity: Songs used: Throne, Map of The Problimatique, I’m Not Alright

Throne performed very well, with no distortion at all. A smooth portrayal of the vocals, convincing drum kicks, and resolving treble-bound details all made for a very enjoyable experience.

I’m Not Alright went similarly, with only a small number of lost details during the chorus. The background violins, which live in the upper mids, faded in and out of intelligibility.

Packaging / Unboxing

Macaw encased the GT100s in some of the most complex packaging I’ve ever seen on an IEM. While it did take a couple minutes to figure out at first, this wasn’t a big issue to me. One thing I would like Macaw to change is how tightly they pull the cables when placing the GT100s in its holder. As it stands, the packaging could put strain on the cable before the customer ever even holds their shiny new IEM.

Build

Construction Quality

For $55, the GT100s’ build quality is nothing short of impressive. The driver housings are built from solid stainless steel. The Macaw logo is embedded behind a layer of glass on both of the housings giving them a premium look. Every part of the driver housing, from the filters to the stress relief, feels solid. The downside of a very durable stainless-steel body is that is heavy. You can really notice the heft of these in your hands.

The cable is fairly basic, but given the luxurious build of the rest of the IEM, I give it a pass. There is a single circular button on the right housing’s cable. It acts as a pause/play/skip button and has a microphone inside. The button is also built from aluminum and glass and feel very nice to press. I don’t notice any out-of-the-ordinary microphonics. A chin-slider would be a nice addition though.

Comfort

As I mentioned earlier, the GT100s is heavy. That’s not necessarily an issue though, as it is meant to be worn over-the-ear style. This allows you to offload much of the downwards drag onto the top of your ears. I did not notice any discomfort due to sharp-edges or weight during my standard three-hour listening session while sitting down. Unfortunately, you cannot lay down with these while on your side.

Accessories

The GT100s comes with a good number of accessories. Inside the box you will find:

I forgot one of the medium-sized eartips while taking this picture.
  • 3x pairs of silicone eartips
  • 2x pairs of memory foam eartips
  • 2x pairs of tuning filters (1x black, 1x gold)
  • 1x carrying pouch

The carrying pouch included with the GT100s is one that I really, really like. I do not think it is made from genuine leather, but it is certainly still convincing. It is soft and spacious. Emblazoned on the inner-lip of the pouch’s flap you can find the classy phrase “Listening & Thinking” — something I do quite often.

Summary

The GT100s makes for an excellent departure from mainstream V-shaped tuning while not sacrificing long-term listenability. When powered correctly, the GT100s easily outclasses its peers in terms of clarity, sound-staging, micro-detail retrieval, and accurate presentation. While the cable leaves something to be desired, the audiophile looking for something a bit different will certainly enjoy the GT100s.

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