There's an increasing number of IEMs with planar drivers, with Audeze leading the way with its outstanding Euclid. Those cost a lofty $1,299, but a bulk of the IEMs with planar drivers are focused on the sub-$200 category, and the LETSHUOER S12 are an exciting new addition.
These IEMs debuted at the start of the year, and they feature custom 14.8mm planar drivers and a minimalist design that gives the earbuds a lot of character. LETSHUOER is a Chinese brand that has been in the Hi-Fi industry for half a decade now, and the S12 is its best showing yet in this category.
The LETSHUOER S12 are available for $149 on HiFiGo, and you can pick up the IEMs at other audio retailers as well as Amazon. Like most Chinese audio brands, LETSHUOER bundles a decent amount of accessories with the S12, including a leather carrying case and a good mix of foam, clear, and silicone ear tips in small, medium, and large sizes. The bundled cable is of a high quality — it is among the best you'll find in this category — and you can pick it up with a 3.5mm jack or balanced 4.4mm connector. Unlike the Fiio FD3, there's no way to switch out the connector on the cable.
Let's start with the design. The S12 follow a minimalist aesthetic that doesn't include any branding whatsoever, and the design is more in line with models that cost thrice as much. The shells are made out of aluminum and look suitably premium, and they're available in a grey or silver finish. The clean lines make the IEMs look elegant, and while the nozzle isn't too long, it manages to nuzzle into the ear canal and delivers a tight fit.
The metal shells connect to the cable via a 0.78mm 2-pin connector, and the cable doesn't get tangled and is very flexible. Overall, LETSHUOER did a great job with the design here, and the S12 stand out for their minimalist look and sturdy build quality.
The design has a lot going for it, but the standout feature with the S12 is the sound quality. Inside each shell is a 14.8mm planar driver, and it has a wide soundstage and excellent resolution. The 102dB sensitivity means you can drive the S12 with just about any source — including the best Android phones (with a USB-C dongle) — but it shines with a portable DAC. I used it with Fiio's K9 Pro and the new portable BTR7, and it came into its own when using a high-quality source.
The IEMs deliver a wonderfully detailed bass with a good sub-bass extension, offering plenty of authority and character. At no point does the bass get overbearing; you instead get a tight low-end with a great texture, and it is clearly evident in songs like Kavinsky's Nightcall. The S12 controls the low-end really well, offering an engaging sound that is thoroughly enjoyable.
In a similar vein, the mids feel natural and offer exquisite clarity, with vocals in particular shining through incredibly well. There's a little bit of warmth to the mids that makes the sound sparkle just that bit more, and it works in the favor of the S12.
The treble also has a lot of character, but detail retrieval isn't the best in this segment, and it isn't as articulate as the lower frequencies. That said, you still get engaging highs with good definition.
LETSHUOER isn't going for an entirely neutral sound signature with the S12, instead offering a lively sound that's well-suited to a lot of genres. The wide soundstage is inviting and detailed, and the large planar drivers give the S12 a distinct edge over most of the other options in this category.
On that note, there's no shortage of good options for under $200, with TinHiFi's P1 Max offering 14.2mm planar drivers and a unique sound profile for under $200. I'll go into a little more detail on how the P1 Max hold up in this category in another article, but for now, what you need to know is that LETSHUOER did a phenomenal job with the S12.
The S12 have a sturdy design that looks elegant, and the industrial design without any branding makes the earbuds stand out a bit more. You get a good set of accessories in the box, and the planar drivers produce a wonderful sound that works across a variety of genres. If you're looking for sub-$200 IEMs with exquisite sound and a sleek design, you cannot go wrong here.
Thanks to a large planar driver, the S12 deliver a wide sound profile that's thoroughly engaging. The IEMs do a great job in a variety of genres, they're sensitive enough to be driven by any source, and you get all the accessories you need in the box. For $149, you are getting a great value here.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.