Earsonics SM2 Inner Earphones in Review

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Earsonics, a French producer of professional earphones, have broken into TMA with their SM2 DLX, a dual balanced armature professional in-ear stage monitor which is priced at 280 € in France, or 268€ outside the country . It both feels and performs worthy of its asking price and comes in your choice of the following three attires: black, crystal (clear), and white. Like the UM3X from Westone, Earsonics’ top-tier universal iem has been constructed to exacting standards and utilises the same cable type: a durable, non-microphonic twisted strand design which is a benchmark for cable quality. Also, like its American competitor, the SM2 is plagued by a dearth of accessories.

Specifications
Sensitivity: 119 dB/mW
Trandsducers: 2 Balanced Armature drivers
Frequency Response: 20 Hz -18 kHz
Impédance: 16 ohms
Driver: 2 transducteurs with a passive 2-way crossover
Accessories: 2 Large Comply® foams, cleaning tool, semi-soft carrying case

Package and Accessories
Earsonics’ package leads the pack in Spartan, utilitarian designs. It is a simply adorned cardboard package whose sparse amenities: two large Comply® foams, a wax cleaning loop, and carrying case, are moulded into a snap-shut plastic tray. While a dearth of accessories is strangely par for the course in many hi-end universal professional monitors, it is disconcerting considering the price.

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However, Earsonic’s choice of Comply tips is a good one: the foam tip company’s products block more outside noise than any competitor’s ear pieces, are soft, comfortable, and easy to use. A word of warning however; the extremely porous foams have a few draw backs. If you use your earphones to monitor in hot, loud venues, or exercise whilst listening to your earphones, Comply earpieces’ minutely vented surface absorbs sweat. Be careful when re-situating the earphones because the foam can channel sweat into the earphone sound tube which can lead to short-circuits and/or sound blockages which are nasty to fix. Also, Comply tips wear out faster than many competing foams, losing compressibility, isolation and ultimately, utility.

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Earsonics’ zipper semi-soft case is excellent. Add the extra tips and ear cleaning tool to the SM2 earphones and there is still room inside for some extras. What would make it better is an inner compartment for ear separating components.

I can admire Earsonics’ no-frills packaging for its small footprint which is easy to stow anywhere. Even the plastic tray doesn’t need scissors, knives, or can-openers to pry open. Consequently, I doubt we will see any reports of users who cut themselves while excitedly opening Earsonic’s packaging.

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Build Quality
As a professional monitor, it would be a mistake to expect less than supreme construction. Earsonics have done their homework – at least most of it. There is nothing on the professional universal monitor market which stands up to their craftsmanship – unless it is Westone. The two companies utilise the same twisted cable which is both strong and exhibits nearly no touch-noise. Terminated in a block-shaped right-angle headphone plug, the jack is housed in impact-resistant plastic which is properly shrunk on to the cable with ~1 cm bumpers. Similarly, the SM2’s earpieces and y-split are shrink-bumped for strength and longevity. Stress relief is an extremely important part of protecting your investment and it is refreshing to see another manufacturer take such care with its products.

Although the SM2 utilises the same cable as the UM3X, and admittedly, looks to have a common ancestor, it isn’t quite as ergonomic. Both are comfortable and strong, but the Earsonics’ choice of angular plains is a small step down from Westone’s more natural curves. Still, the SM2 sits extremely flush in the ear and is among the better thought out designs among top-tier universal earphones. This makes cold weather wearing easier; adding a toque to your minus 20 listening wardrobe is as natural as a pair of woollen mitts and red cheeks.

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Plastic seams aren’t melted together as precisely as Westone’s UM3X, sometimes opening ever so slightly along the furrow. That said, the differences are mostly cosmetic as beneath the seams are plastic sills which effectively protect the earphone’s innards from the the environment. The SM2 indeed, is one of the most robustly-constructed earphones on the market. If the UM3X outpaces it in construction quality and ergonomics, it is by the smallest of margins, and maybe better determined by personal taste.

But both monitors are professional by design and intent. Neither stands up in build quality to the mere audiophile Audio Technica CK100. The professional market is in need of robustness, not frailty. The SM2 should last a long time, but its plastic body is its biggest enemy and if Earsonics fully did their homework, they’d have trumped Westone’s run-of-the-mill plastic shell.

Sound
Besides a nearly flawlessly constructed housing, Earsonics’ focus is obvious: excellent, balanced sound. While slightly warm in the mid region and thumping out a strong, yet balanced bass, there isn’t an overpowering frequency in the SM2’s arsenal. Its one flaw could be a slightly peaky treble which is evident in trance. Saying that, it topples many universal earphones with a large, well placed head stage and is overwhelmingly smooth and neutral.

The Usual Suspects
Ice Cube – Raw Footage
Again this album debuts to test a new earphone. The reason isn’t just because I am a fan of Cube’s smart, egotistical lyrics. Like a lot of contemporary American rap, it is completely low-fi; chalk full of poorly extended instruments, duffy bass, and to a fault, vocal-focussed engineering. Headphones which perform American rap well come in a couple of flavours. The first is the type like Monster’s Beats Tour which sound like a a flat, but powerful wall of sound. The other (in this case, the SM2), plays Raw Footage without any holds: rather, the album cries for more detail, space, and better psychoacoustics from its engineers. Despite revealing how shallowly recorded the album is, Raw Footage is amazing with the SM2.

Raw Footage is strangled by its own texture-less low end – the SM2 bottoms out beautifully, though not in a violent and detailed rumble; rather it expires in a tired, duffy sigh. Despite this album’s prejudiced engineering, it is a great experience with nearly any upgrade earphone. The SM2 adds taut, gritty edge to the veteran rapper’s ranting vocals, render bass perfectly and, among balanced armature headphones, remains a favourite of mine for American rap.

MC Solaar – Mach 6
This album remains my benchmark for well-engineered hip-hop. It is quick, lyrically tight, and varied in speed with a good selection of instruments and vocalists. Though the SM2 isn’t as hot in the mid range as some other phones, it is technically superior. Vocals are crisp, quick and beautiful, while bass is fast, punchy, and powerful. For a technically perfect performance, the SM2 hits the target, but its more neutral midrange loses some lushness compared with a midrange hothead like Mingo’s WM-2. I reference the latter earphone only to point out that there are many flavours of sound on the market. The SM-2 is superior from build to overall performance, but the WM-2’s warmth lends extra legs on certain albums which crave greater midrange room.

Braveheart – The Soundtrack
At once soft and tender, at times, this album crashes violently in sudden thundering crescendoes. Braveheart needs a delicate, yet mid-oriented earphone whose head stage is above-average and which renders bass deeply.

All things considered, there is hardly a better choice in the universal monitor market. Instruments and space are flawless. Wider stages can be found in other earphones: the Sennheiser IE8 for instance; but in the balanced armature world — a world known for excellent instrument separation and placement –, there are few to match the SM2. Bass, which thunders in and out is deep and resonant, adding emotional weight to the album, yet it isn’t overly energetic. It won’t interfere with the other frequencies, smearing mids or recovering too late.

Phantom of the Opera – The Original Canadian Recording
While the London recording is good, the Canadian version, which debuted with Colm Wilkinson and Rebecca Caine is superior. Wilkinson’s Phantom: pained, wispy and haunted is translated admirably. There isn’t a better Phantom than in the Canadian cast, however, there is a better Phantom earphone. Again, the SM2 isn’t stressed by any music in this album, but it doesn’t butter up the excellent recording. Smooth and beautiful, if your tastes are strongly mid-centric, the SM2 may leave wishing for more pain, pleading and probably, for a cheaper, less-neutral earphone.

However, back to back with the UM3X, the the SM2’s more expressive bass and clearer treble lend more to this emotional album. Both earphones are top performers – there is no denying it, but one will likely fit your fancy more than the other.

Marcus Schulz – Progression
It is hard to recommend a better benchmark trance album than this debut by the American DJ. From the deep introduction in Mainstage to the gripping melodies of songs such as Spilled Cranberries and On a Wave, the SM2 is a liquid-hot hit. Trance, a genre which sounds great from the most neutral of earphones, benefits from the SM2’s deep bass and spacious head stage. Vocals are lush, but not overly hot and musical pacing is perfect. The only problem I have encountered is that at times, the SM2 can be tweaky with electronic treble. This isn’t unique to Earsonics’ product; many balanced armature earphones can be fatiguing with this genre. That said, Earsonics’ rendering of trance is stunning and is less fatiguing than several other popular choices.

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Sound – In a Nutshell
While I highlighted the above albums, I want to point out that the SM2 has no real sonic weaknesses in any genre. Its dual drivers are powerful at both extremes of the spectrum; bass is strong and detailed, revealing minute vibrations in stringed instruments, and in electronic music, convincingly deep and resolved; similarly treble is smooth, if not slightly recessed in comparison.

In a market which is endemic with campaigns which almost always suggest that more equals better sound, the SM2 proves that 1+1 can equal 3. After spending a month with the SM2, I want to recommend users to pay less attention to manufacturer’s advertising campaigns and more on their musical preferences.

The SM2’s closest relative – at least in terms of design – is the Westone UM2. Both bear dual balanced armature drivers, excellent twisted cables and robust headphone jacks. However, the SM2 is more articulate. Its bass is faster, doesn’t misstep in fast genres, and provides more detail. While the UM2 is a warm, foot-tapping earphone, the SM2 is more neutral. It compares very well with the UM3X though the two are again, different flavours.

Head Stage
While the smooth, yet detailed sound of the SM2 didn’t surprise me, its stage and instrument placement have. It betters the UM2 by a good margin and though similar in accuracy to Jays’ q-Jays, the latter is dwarfed by the scope of the SM2’s performance.

Out and About with the SM2
There is nothing really to write about. The SM2 is perfect. As I said before, its cable is nearly noiseless. Of course, the sound of your footsteps (which is transferred through your skeleton) will thump in your ears. If that bothers you, stop walking with such thin shoes – there is no inner earphone which will not transfer the sound to your ears. Outside noise is blocked to nearly null with the included Comply® ear pieces even on low volume settings and the SM2 is very comfortable.

At 119 decibels of sensitivity and 16 ohms, the SM2 will reveal hiss from your sources. With an iPod touch 2G, it’s hardly noticeable, but with and iPod nano 1G, hiss is bothersome in quiet passages. My Sony 828 has been sitting on the shelf because it is simply too noisy for serious listening.

The SM2 is a professional audio product. While it is one of the best for portable listening, musicians, who plugged into wireless amp/monitors, aren’t beset with the same worries. However, even wireless amps can be very loud, so be careful as the SM2 can very quickly become unbearably loud.

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Conclusion
280 Euros is a lot of dosh for any earphone, no matter the market. But Earsonics reckon that the SM2 DLX is worth the asking price. So do I. If you want excellent sound, good ergonomics and nearly flawless construction, the SM2 should be on your list. Again, due to design similarity and identical cables, it is easy to draw comparisons with Westone’s excellent UM2 and UM3X. Westone’s products are slightly ahead in ergonomics, but dividing the products on lines which are defined by sound quality is more difficult. The SM2 is similarly neutral when compared with the UM3X, but has a slightly heavier bottom end and an airier treble.

Comparisons aside, Earsonics’ SM2 is a great product. It is solidly constructed and sounds great, has the industry’s best cable and a great carrying case. Though sparse on accessories, it is certainly an easy grab.
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App Summary
Title:Earsonics SM2 DLXDeveloper:Earsonics
Price:234-280.00 Euro
  • Small packaging
  • Snap enclosure
  • Strong, detailed bass
  • Great mids and clear treble
  • Best in class cable
  • Comply ear pieces
  • Needs more ear pieces
  • Not as ergonomic as Westone’s earphones

If you are like the geeks at TMA, you can’t get enough of headphones. Check out some of our latest reviews below:
Klipsch Image S4 in Review – Mingo WM-2 Inner Earphones in Review — s-Jays Inner Earphones in ReviewMonster Beats Tour Earphones in Review — Klipsch S2 in ReviewWestone UM3X in Review

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