Indiaâ€™s famous for many things, but for audiophiles, there aren't many indigenous choices available. The Navi Mumbai based Pristine Note is one of the few manufacturers that cater to an audiophileâ€™s needs. They have now ventured into the In-ear Monitor (IEM) market under the Signature Audio brand and have released the SA C-12 as their maiden offering. Signature Audio developed the C12 in-house and has been rigorously testing them for more than 18 months. Itâ€™s made by audiophiles for audiophiles and it shows. Build quality, Packaging, Accessories The C12-s come in a black cardboard box with a transparent cut out window which shows off the iems. The brandâ€™s name is printed in shiny silver along with their moniker â€˜Hear the callâ€™ at the front. The rear contains the usual information present on majority of similar products. Opening the box is a simple straight forward affair. However, when you open it, the first thing that catches your eye is not the iems nestled in a sponge packing, but the unusual carrying case included. Instead of the usual pouches or plastic boxes that are usually employed, this carrying case is made of brass, has a felt covered interior and is made in India. It can be carried around in a jeans pocket, but itâ€™s heavy. Such an over engineered and impractical solution speaks volumes about the amount of dedication and passion that went into the making of the product. Sometimes, when a passionate person endeavors to make something, they overlook some idiosyncrasies in pursuit of perfection of the core product. This is one such example. Instead of criticizing the impracticality of this ornate case, I actually find the effort heartwarming. The only other accessory youâ€™re gonna find is some spare tips for the iem. The iems are made in China and its shells are made of wood. Real wood- not the fake stuff. You can actually see the grain on that one. The shape is reminiscent of the Monster Turbines without the turbine blade detailing at the rear. The companyâ€™s initials are also embossed at the rear. Overall, itâ€™s a classy, distinctive look. The cable is braided and has a protective snakeskin textured sheath. While itâ€™s solid and doesnâ€™t have any microphonics (except from the Y-junction), itâ€™s too springy. The strain reliefs are properly made and the L-shaped 3.5mm jack is solid and gold-plated. Overall, thereâ€™s not much to fault with the design or build of the iems. Comfort, Isolation, Microphonics, hiss & sensitivity The C12-s have a shallow fit. Thatâ€™s good for fit and comfort. The bundled single flanges do the job well and I didnâ€™t feel the need to switch over to another pair of tips. While commuting, I found that most of the noise was shut off and only some minimal amount petered in. Watch out for wind noise though- itâ€™s present. The C12 was sensitive enough to be driven well with all the portable sources I had tested. Luckily, they didnâ€™t pick up any hiss or crackles either from the sources or low bitrate tracks. The cable didnâ€™t lend itself to any microphonics but the Y-junction where the two cables are joined together does. Performance, Sound Quality I used various sources to test the C12- my trusty Clip Zip, an LG Optimus 4x running CM10.1 and using Neutron Player for playback and my laptop- through the headphone jack and also via a Fiio E7 to see if amping made a difference. I should also mention that I listen almost exclusively to hard rock and heavy metal. Thus, my observations would apply accordingly and listeners of other genres should take note. My collection is mostly in 16 & 24 bit FLAC and with some 320 kbps mp3 files. I also tested them out with some movies, games and youtube clips just to see how versatile they are and to judge on how well they fare in practical day-today use. I used a Creative EP630, JVC FXT90, Ultimate Ears 500 and a Panasonic HJE900 for comparison. I had also A-B-d the C12 with my Westone 4 & Grado SR60, but I wonâ€™t be posting it here as the comparison is unfair due to the former being a quad BA and the latter being an open eared headphone. Bass- The first impression I had while listening to the C12 with my Clip Zip was that they were a bass headâ€™s iem. However, prolonged usage kind of dispelled this impression. The low end was heavy, reasonably quick for a dynamic, hard hitting and with a good amount of slam and impact. The lows are tuned for a fun oriented signature than for outright accuracy. This makes the C12 extremely fun to listen to. Ranking: FXT90=SA C12> HJE900>UE500>EP630 Mids- There is a mid bass hump in the C12â€™s mids which makes the notes sound thicker and lend some body to the sound signature. The mids are non fatiguing and clear enough. Guitars and stringed instruments are especially benefitted from this. The mids are not overly recessed as in the EP630 or to a lesser extent, the UE500. Itâ€™s not as lush and liquid as the higher end iems like an RE262 or a W4- but considering the C12â€™s low price, itâ€™s still very good. Ranking: FXT90 > HJE900=SA C12>UE500>EP630 Highs- Upon my first listen, I thought that the C12 sounded quite dark and had emphasis mostly at the low end. Again, prolonged usage revealed a different story. The highs are very much present, but not much emphasis is laid on it. Itâ€™s easy to discern the details with a little concentration- cymbals, high hats and such are clearly audible and are not cut off. EQ-ing might bring out more treble. This has a positive side- the whole sound signature is towards the warmer end of the spectrum and is does not tire out the listener during prolonged listening. If aggressive and sparkling treble is your thing, you might want to look elsewhere. Itâ€™s a matter of preference- just like a different flavor. Ranking: FXT90 > HJE900>SA C12=UE500>EP630 Details- This is what surprised me the most- the C12 can retrieve a surprisingly high amount of detail. In fact, it can give iems costing much more a run for their money (case in point- the UE500). Thankfully, it does not smack the listenerâ€™s face with the imperfections in the recording or with the compression losses caused with low bit rate tracks like the HJE900, for example. Itâ€™s very forgiving of poor tracks without cutting back on the detail retrieval. A rare combination it is. Ranking: FXT90 > HJE900>SA C12>UE500>EP630 Soundstage- The C12â€™s soundstage is pretty good. Itâ€™s not as wide as the UE500 nor is it very narrow and congested. Instrument separation is good and one can make out individual instruments. However, on some complex genres like Death Metal, it becomes a bit difficult to separate the instruments. The C12 shines best with classic rock and ballads where the pace is slower and simpler. Ranking: UE500>HJE900>FXT90>SA C12>EP630 Verdict We should be proud- we finally have an audiophile grade iem worked upon by Indians. Itâ€™s hard to believe that this is Signature Accousticsâ€™ first product. One thing I should mention specially is this iemâ€™s approachability. During the time I had the C12 with me, I would always reach out for it instead of any other iem I had in my collection (including the Westone 4 & the Grado SR60). The C12-s blend well in any situation and holds up well in daily use like commuting and at the gym. It also fares well in gaming and casual use like watching Youtube clips. The C12 does not require amping but it does scale well. One caveat is that these are warm sounding iems. Thus, it is vital that you should have a clean sounding source like the Clip or if youâ€™re using a PC, preferably through a neutral amp or else, the tracks will sound muddy. In that sense, itâ€™s source dependent. Since audio quality is a subjective thing, give this baby a try. If you like the sound signature and if you listen to slower genres (I expect that electronic music to sound good with the C12 due to the heavy bass), the C12 might be the one for you. An apt expression to sum up the SA C12 would be â€˜overachieverâ€™. Out of all the iems I have compared it to; only the Creative EP630 is cheaper. The fact that the C12 compares favorably to more expensive iems really is something. The C12 punches far above its weight and is terrific value at about Rs. 2700. Those looking for a fun sounding iem with a non-fatiguing sound signature that does not compromise much on the details without breaking the bank should seriously consider the SA C12. Disclaimer: This review unlit was provided by M/s Pristine Note India Ltd. All expenses and charges were borne by Pristine Note India Ltd.