With my recent reviews of both the Xiaomi Piston 3’s and the Honor AM12’s, so close together in time, in origins, in positioning and in pricing, the two earphones scream out that they are competition for each other. They both in many ways represent more than themselves, they represent their entire brand and to an extent the whole company they come from so how can we not look at them, direct and head to head.
First up the Piston’s from Xiaomi. The company that the media love to call the Chinese “Apple” I think because they make products that look good. Apple in my opinion produce wildly over priced products with beyond massive amounts of advertising behind them. Xiaomi on the other hand doesn’t seem to do any advertising, instead relying on chatter derived from its flash sales in its home land. It also spits out products that are very keenly priced. Xiaomi have stated that their first forays into Western markets will be not through their phone lines but instead through their accessories which means products like the Piston’s.
The Pistons therefore represent a projection the company is trying to foist on the west, creating some brand recognition. These being the third iteration of what has so far been a highly promising line in the world of audio. They are not the finest quality in the world but they are so keenly priced their value is off the scale.
Then we look over at Honor. It’s a brand I find curious because its parent company and brand, Huawei, also operate in the UK. I see Honor as being their Western-friendly, trendier, little bit hipster brand. They want the same associations between offering a decent product at a stunning cost which is the hallmark of both Chinese companies. They may not quite yet be playing with the absolute best in the world but they are absurdly cost effective.
Whilst it’s obvious that the companies themselves align in their mission statements to some extent, how do their products compare?
Well both are good, rather differently flavoured. The Piston’s being the heavier, more weighty sound and the AM12’s being more evenly balanced. Both offer levels of skill and finesse that are pleasing, they aren’t amazing but they are both capably good. The Pistons do edge out as the better of the two but as they are the third attempt from Xiaomi it’s not too surprising. While the Pistons are the ostensibly “better” of the two the Honor AM12’s have the more evenly balanced and what I’d call more mature flavour to their sound. Both are nice but a quick demo by a more “mainstream audio” friend instantly took a liking to the bigger, air shifting bass found on the Piston’s. Personally I think I’d probably take the Honor’s more mature sound but I suspect most would opt for the Pistons.
Sorry Xiaomi but Honor has you whipped here. It’s not that the Pistons are in any way ugly, they are just uninspiring. Then you look at the AM12’s, come on, they look stunning don’t they? I’m a total sucker for silvery, translucent cables and bare metal buds. They look just beautiful. As pretty as the most pretty earphones found anywhere and at any price.
Again there is nothing wrong in any way with the Pistons but……. the Honor’s just look epic. Rightly or not bare metal in my head sets of a bell that rings “quality.” Time is the only real way to test so I can’t say which of the two is better after a longer period of use. That combined Y-splitter on the Honor might one day cause an issue, who knows. Honestly though, both seem really great quality wise.
Both are somewhat so so when it comes to isolation. There are acoustic benefits to venting dynamic drivers but at the cost of a loss of isolation. However for those coming from buds, or those things from Apple it will be a revelation how much they block out. Neither is particularly better than the other so this is pretty much a tie.
I honestly don’t know how to compare them for value. Both are so cheap yet really impressively good sounding for their prices. The best prices I’ve found puts just a fiver between them. This means in essence the Piston’s are twice the price of the Honor’s AM12’s. They are not twice as good, they simply aren’t but the difference of a fiver perhaps help to grey that particular deciding factor. Both really deserve to be thought of good value in equal measures, equal in the sense of they are both tremendous.
Well, I don’t know. That I think is all that can be concluded is that whatever the two companies decide to focus their efforts on next, there is only one winner; Consumers. To be putting out products that are as good as these two and as disturbingly cheap, can only mean good things for you and I. What’s more is the potential that lies in their product pipeline. Rightly or wrongly I think of both companies as being “phone” companies but I have never had more than a brief play with an Honor phone and I’ve only briefly glimpsed a Xiaomi one. So are their earphones simply supplementary products aimed to getting you to think of their phones as a great value accompaniment? The alternative is that it’s not a loss leader at all. That it is just representative of the new price / quality ratio that is coming out of this new breed of Chinese super company.
I reiterate, I just don’t know. The thing is I’m not sure I care. Either way it seems to me like a win win for the consumer. So long may it continue.