ortofon e-Q7 earphone in review – a touch of class

The earphone market has never been more poised. Multiple driver earphones have come down in price, build quality is on the rise, and selection is huge. But with a huge selection comes the nearly impossible task of selecting the perfect earphone. Every company has a party line, each one sounding better than the last. Then, there’s the driver war that follows the following formula: competitor’s flagship model + 1 speaker unit. The formula and good marketing surely sells earphones, but meanwhile, hapless customers have to sort through a hogwash of marketing speak. Well, cartridge-baron ortofon, commissed the clever lads and lasses from the land of the rising sun to make the e-Q7, a single balanced armature earphone that really munches on the brains and selling points of many of its multi-speaker brethren.

Feel free to discuss the ortofon e-Q7 in our forums.

Driver: balanced armature
Frequency response: 10 – 20 000 Hz
Impedance: 31Ω +/- 5%
Sensitivity: 117dB +/- 3dB
Cable: 1,2 m; 3,5mm stereo plug (gold-plated)

Fit and Package
The e-Q7 is a ~300$ lump of cold, hard metal, but it warms up over time; it even feels good after a bit thanks to its no-nonsense earplug-style fit. There’s hardly anything to do to seat the eQ7 – no tugging and very little twisting. Just aim, fire, and turn up the volume – you’ll be set in a few seconds. The eQ7 can pretty easily be worn with the cable up, over the ear, but it ain’t perfect. There’s no neck cinch to hold the cable against the body, so the e-Q7’s cables tend to tear away from the ear like an energetic kite. Here’s a tip: use a twist-tie. Or, if you’ve had it with high-technology, just twist the cables around each other a few times.

Otherwise, there isn’t really anything to complain about. I mean, these cold,hard bullets jut straight into the ear, uncouple the environment from your music, and sound brilliant. One thing though: the flanged metal lip that surrenders to the ear pieces is stubby. What happens is the cold metal butt can stop up the inner ear of small canaled people. I am one, but I’ve managed to wing my way through with special foam tips. If the metal flange was longer, the earphone would fit perfectly for any sized ear.

But that bit of carnal knowledge only comes after you’ve torn the box open, pulled out the filters, tool, ear pieces, carrying wallet and marveled at the e-Q7’s jewel-box. In terms of eye-candy, the eQ7 is unrivaled; it is laid out like that bloody expensive thing your girlfriend constantly nags about. Despite its eye-candy, you are left with a good mess of usability. Everything works pretty well. The wallet, however, is large – too large to fit in your trousers; I put it in my purse. Then, the ear tips come in two flavours: 1 set of Comply foams and 3 silicon tips. Each is comfortable, but the silicon tips, which keep their shape even in the ear, are better for preserving sound quality. They also feel great thanks to a gently tapered shape.

Cable and Build Quality
What would a Danish/Japanese product be without a little of the old kick-in-the-pants? Danes make the best sandwiches, bar none. Japanese make the best table tennis bats bar some discussion with the Swedes and Germans. I tend to think the combination of East and West shakes hands quite well. The eQ7 is neither edible nor smashable, but its solid turned aluminium shell should weather either attack well. It has a good-fitting plug, and excellent earphone-side strain reliefs. The plug, however, is straight-angled, so will put more pressure on both the contacts and the digital player. Be careful.

The cable is nylon, so you know what’s coming next. Nylon sucks for a variety of reasons: it retains memory, can unravel, and worst of all, it makes horrid touch noise. Ortofon’s design team did manage to unravel one of those problems pretty well: after the y-split, the cable disrobes, sporting a thin rubber sheath all the way till the earbud. It works. The Ortofon eQ7 could have been supremely microphonic and uncomfortable. Instead, its microphonic touch noises are pretty unobtrusive in comparison to other nylon-cabled earphones. But (and this is an Oprah-sized but), the rubber cable is prone to crystallise, a non-kosher problem for an expensive earphone.

Finally, I must mention Ortofon’s organic-looking filter system. In some ways, it is right on. Firstly, the light mesh puts no pressure on sound output. Secondly, the filters fit under light but sturdy o-rings. It’s quite an ingenious system, but because each part is small, light, and prone to jump out of fingers. There’s another problem: the filter sits pretty near the opening of the ear tip: an excited push could let wax in, clogging the filter. Since you have only a few in the entire package, I suggest not waxing the filter system.

Who’d have thought that a non-tweakable earphone with only one driver would command such a high market price. Maybe it’s the nice-looking accessories. More likely though, its price is dictated by the overall good build and sound quality. The eQ7 is simply a marvelous machine. One thing that balanced armature fans may immediately notice is the low-level turbulence. Like a dynamic driver earphone, the e-Q7’s bass rumbles tangibly. It’s not on the same level as any mid-range rumbler like the Mingo WM-2, and certainly nothing like the vociferous Sennheiser IE8. But, the e-Q7 moves a goodly amount of air.

Other than the tangible low end pressure, however, there isn’t anything particularly accented about the e-Q7 in comparison to other good balanced armature earphones – and that’s a good thing. It isn’t dry. It isn’t splashy or wet. You get beautifully rendered lows, smooth mids, and a good high section.

In some ways, the e-Q7 is a midway point between two opposing categories of earphones. On one side are the peaky, ‘detailed’ earphones ala Etymotics ER4S. This category keenly separates instruments, and with the help of boosted treble, coughs up all sorts of energetic high-end detail. On the other end is the mid-low oriented thumpers that sometimes heave up especially bass-detailed sounds. This group is championed by by the Victor FX500 and Radius HP-TWF11R and accented by the emotional Mingo WM-2.

Despite the e-Q7’s ability to move a lot of air, the low end isn’t fabulously detailed. You don’t feel puffs of air at ever pluck on a bass string. There is a goodly amount of ripple, but in terms of fibre and texture, the e-Q7 loses to bassier headphones. But as low notes glide into the midbass, magic happens.

Markus Schulz’ Mainstage, a benchmark for low bass performance reveals a little difference to other balanced armature earphones. But move up past 80Hz and suddenly, the e-Q7 starts to move. Suddenly, controlled but strong, bass erupts. It is beautiful and moving particularly in electronic music where speed and strength go together like John and Yoko. According to ortofon’s engineers, the e-Q7 drops as far as 10Hz. I can attest to it moving air at just lower than 30Hz, but the truth is that its sweet spot comes after the space around 80-90Hz when the single armature really starts to dance.

When the e-Q7 gets going, it sings. From the mid-bass to the upper midrange is thrilling. Vocals and electronic percussion are sweet, the former taking no sides in the unfinished battle of the sexes. Chimes and electric chirps are great, and highs, which can heel many would-be-great headphones, are smooth, and pretty well extended.

After my long romp with the e-Q7, I’ll admit to being surprised at my own conclusions. I like the e-Q7 very much, but it is standard. Before you drop your chin, let me explain. If the e-Q7 represented the English language, I’d call it Canadian. Progenitor or not, the UK simply has too much slang. Hell, there’s more slang in the UK than proper dictionary words in the Canadian dictionary. UK Enlish is the beautiful but caustic Etymotic ER4S. And as for Canada’s closest neighbour, the USA, there are simply too many long vowels and violent rumbles to call its English unaccented. It is the Monster Turbine. Both are great earphones, but neither really represent the middle, each taking sides that demand that the other is wrong. ortofon’s e-Q7 sits in the middle, pushing a strong bass and lush midrange while politely offering up a smooth high band. It is as Canadian as can be and I love it.

Highs drop away after about 14 000Hz, but only barely. They remain keenly audible well past 16 000Hz, and lack slangy peaks. Some earphones may be smoother up top, but few do it without sounding dull. Perhaps because of this, the e-Q7 can be considered mild in terms of space and stage. Instruments are keenly rendered, never slipping in toward one another. And there is a good sense of space, just not a massive, encompassing stage.

What about hiss, you ask? Well, the e-Q7 is pretty sensitive. It hisses with all of my sources, but surprisingly, not as bad as some of my other earphones. I’ve not been annoyed by my iPod touch 2G, my Sony Players or Sansa’s tiny DAP’s. The AMP3 Pro2, as always, is a downer with earphones.

Out and About
You know, I reckon it is the shallow metallic flange on the end of the e-Q7 that’s the culprit, but this earphone just doesn’t isolate very well with silicon flange earpieces. Foams that have thick inner supports keep out the outside as do hybrid foams, but overall isolation is very dependent. I love the feeling of ortofon’s silicon flanges, so despite their lower levels of isolation, I tend to keep them in my ears.

And despite sporting a nylon cable, the e-Q7 isn’t horrid for outdoors. Microphonic noises are worse than usual, but not horrid. What is annoying is the cable’s memory. After winding it a few times, then fitting it into the wallet, you’ll find the cable retains its resting shape, curlicueing its way up to the y-split.

Finally, the 1,2m cable length is quite good, but maybe too short for some purses and tall people. I love it.

Combining a high price and a single speaker isn’t always a show of vanity. ortofon’s e-Q7 is a stunning, ergonomic design. It sounds good, looks fab, and feels ultra classy. The fact that its low-band lungs are uniquely windier than many other balanced armature earphones is enticing are its mids and highs. But while sounding fab, it doesn’t put on makeup or an accent. The sound is smooth. It reigns in peaky regions and keeps up an intimate garden of succinct instrument separation. The inclusion of a neck cinch, a better plug, and the exercising of its crystallisation-prone rubber cable and microphonic nylon cable would put it over the top.

Otherwise, I’ve got nothing but love for this lovely earphone.

Headphone Summary
Title: ortofon e-Q7 Developer: ortofon
Reviewed Ver: e-Q7 Black Speaker type: Balanced Armature
Price: 300-400$ Cable: nylon and rubber
  • brilliant, tangible bass and midbass
  • smooth mids and highs
  • great instrument separation
  • classy as hell
  • good filter system
  • comfortable, great silicon ear pieces
  • microphonic nylon cable
  • rubber cable portion susceptible to crystallisation
  • straight plug
  • plug stress relief is too brittle – exerts pressure on the jack and earphone

Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette

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