Earsonics EM3Pro custom earphone in Review – quite simply the best!

Earsonics have a killer lineup. Their SM3 professional universal monitor is fantastic, blowing the socks off a disgustingly large portion of the audiophile earphone market with its easy-to-drive architecture and beautiful sound. Its lofty price tag is worth it. So how about Earsonics’ top end; how ‘bout their customs? you might ask. Same old story. The triple-driver, dual-crossover EM3Pro is a beautiful product at a fantastic[er] price that should come away from a firefight with the biggest and best in the land without a hitch.

Specifications
Sensitivity: 124 dB/mW
Frequency response : 20 Hz -18 kHz
Impédance: 23 ohms
Driver: Triple balanced armature drivers (dual bass, 1 high), 2-way passive crossover.
Included Accessories Replaceable “Y” cable, cleansing wipes, cerumen removal tool with brush, carrying case.

Package and Accessories
I think it’s good that we’re starting off weak here: an EM3Pro that’d look perfect in every light would be suspect. What I mean is that in comparison to its peers (especially the ACS T1), the EM3Pro looks a bit sad. Sure, its got a wax loop, a detachable cable, some clean wipes, and a box, but it’s sort of the quality of these items that counts.

Earsonics chose a decent cable and the best damn wax loop on the planet (there are really no differences), but their carrying case is bad – very bad. It really breaks the heart to open up the shipping box and find such a flimsy carrying case inside. It is built from flexible (and easy-to-chip) plastic. I took the EM3Pro with me on a recent trip to Canada. Unfortunately, the case wouldn’t fit in my carry on, so I had to check it in a very flimsy piece of luggage that just so happens to sport the same sort of plastic on its inside. Every time I hop out of a plane, that luggage is in a new state of shattered disrepair.

Fortunately, the EM3Pro box arrived safely (protected in layers of bubble wrap and fuzzy socks), but I counsel against trusting its sturdiness. Earsonics need to remedy this issue; there is no reason that a ~1000$ earphone should come packed in a box fit for nothing better than vitamins.

Fit
As always, fit depends on many items: the is getting a proper ear impression. That in place, isolation, sound, comfort, and even looks fall in line. That said, Earsonics’ material choices mean that the EM3Pro has a unique fit.

Firstly, the earphone is somewhat thicker than competitor’s earphones, losing out to the almost elephantine FitEar Private 333, but comparatively dwarfing the tiny ACS T1. It is also thicker from its concha-fastened feet to its faceplate than the Jerry Harvey JH13Pro. This isn’t a problem as the earphone, while heavier than hollow acrylic earphones from companies like Ultimate Ears and Jerry Harvey, isn’t overbearing. It feels solid and locks smoothly into place.

Unlike ACS’ earphones, it lacks a helix lock which has both good and bad points. The good is that it is easy to just slip in, the bad is that after a really really tight smile (and maybe some gas), it might dislodge somewhat from your ear. Of course, this happens with every single custom that lacks a helix lock (like 90% of the market). Next, the cable has memory wire in the first several centimeters that hook over the ear. For glasses wearers, it means annoying fit issues, but for everyone else, it means easy dangling wearing.

Finally, Earsonics manufacture their earphones with slightly shorter sound arms. In other words, eardrum-acrylic intimacy won’t happen. Personally, I prefer shorter sound arms, but some people may like a longer reach.

Finish and Build Quality
Earsonics custom professional earphones are above reproach, especially after founder Franck Lopez saw to it that all new EM3Pro models will feature countersunk cable ports. That means that pin breakage (remember the carrying case?) and otherwise cable strain should be on the down and out. Thank you Franck. This is important as many professional makers do not offer countersunk cables.

The unit itself is solid. Though extremely rare, driver rattle, which can affect hollow custom earphones from time to time, is a non-issue for the solid acrylic EM3Pro. The drivers are housed securely in a cluster in the centre of the earphone with long sound tubes extending into the sound arms from there. This method is strong, but also has some ‘issues’ that will be covered in the sound portion of this review.

No matter how well-built an earphone is, it is heeled by its cable at every turn. Earsonics, Jerry Harvey, Westone, Ultimate Ears, and many other manufacturers use the same or very similar cables. The two prongs at the end of the memory wire dig into the earphone’s body. Behind them, the cable is twisted into two wires that become three after a y-split. The plug is a heavy-duty flat box. It won’t fit countersunk headphone ports, but thanks to modern iPhones and iPod touch models, that isn’t a problem. What can be a problem is the cable itself. Twisted cables are known to unwind, getting caught on everything from zippers to drawer nobs. Be careful and the cable will last a long time. It WILL harden over time and while strong, shouldn’t be played with too much.

If you’ve made an expensive investment, treat it well. God knows you’ll have to baby it if you don’t buy a new carrying case!

Like two cheeks, the dual mid/low drivers sew up nicely

Sound
Before I get too far, I’ll just post a few of my sources and amps for reference. In case you are curious, with the exception of the HiSound AMP3Pro 2 and to some extent, the Sony A845, most were pure heaven with the EM3Pro.

Sources:
iPod touch 2G
iPod nano 1G
Sansa Fuze V2
Sansa Clip V2
HiSound AMP3 Pro2
HiSound Rocoo
Teclast T51
MacBook Pro
Sony NW-A282
Sony NW-A845

Amps:
Wood Audio 3
Einar Sound VC-01i
MST FiQuest
iBasso T3D/T3
iBasso P3+
iBasso D4

If you’ve sat through this far, you are in for a treat: the EM3Pro retains the modern bread-and-butter Earsonics sound that the SM3 produces so well, but it does everything better. In a nutshell, it is a warm but realistic sound that slightly favours the mid section and serves up gloriously deep bass and fatigue-free treble.

Fortunately, like the SM3, the EM3Pro is easy to drive. Plug it into anything except your mains outlet to enjoy perfect sound. Again, that fact is incredibly important, especially for stage musicians who need their monitor to sound like it’s supposed to from their mics.

Using an amp will get you a slightly wider stereo image and *maybe some more sparkle, but I fully recommend going naked (and saving the dosh) when using the EM3Pro. Of course, certain portable players such as old iPods and most Cowon players, for example, aren’t able to meet the 17Ω very well and may lose some bass presence. Of course, that bass presence happens at around 80Hz and down where the ear is straining to hear anyway, so while noticeable, this loss isn’t a deal breaker.

What you will notice is a sweet, textured bass whose loving hands apply just the right pressure in just the right spots. The throb and presence felt in the ACS T1 take back seats to cooperation and poise. Bass presence isn’t exaggerated at all though it reaches down incredibly low. The sweet spot is around 60-70Hz where lower bass and upper bass begin to plateau into a very smooth, deliberately flat frequency response.

All that isn’t to say that the lower edges of your music will lose detail. No, the EM3Pro is full of incredible detail. Just like the SM3, strings and percussion are perfect, but better yet, they are even cleaner. The sense of space between low-voiced instruments is keener, sharper. If you had doubts that the SM3 or other universal earphones would be able to separate music into succinct parts, you can breathe easy: modern balanced armature earphones are amazing. The more so with customs like the EM3Pro.

Rather than the three sound bores found in FitEar and recent Ultimate Ears and Jerry Harvey earphones, the EM3Pro has only two, but let me officially say: it doesn’t matter. Part of the reason is that the Earsoncs bore follows a longer tube back to the drivers. The ends of that tube are hard acrylic, unlike the soft rubber used by many competitors. Despite the length, sound doesn’t deteriorate; it doesn’t congeal.

Smooth though it is, bass has edge. In comparison to the JH13Pro, it is less pronounced, but hardly of lower quality. Jerry Harvey’s model is catered a little more to psychoacoustic models, favouring lower frequencies as the ear’s own equalisation takes foot. The EM3Pro favours statistically flatter response and smoother transitions. What that means for listening is a polite, tempered sound. But it doesn’t meant that edge is gone.

Particularly between bass and mid tones, the EM3Pro pronounces delineation with consonants. It will never mistake a bass note for an upper bass note. There is enough space in there to render all instruments in great detail. Again, and in particular, percussion and lower-voiced strings are perfectly voiced, with no accent.

This lends itself very well to vocals and to pop and rock music. It’s like there is a magnifying glass on the bottom 2/3 of the music that brings out the clever details of synthesizers, strings, percussions, and vocals. Beyond that is where we could get into discussion. The high end of the EM3Pro is good, make no mistake about it; but it is polite in a way that makes some other customs seem perky.

The good side is that there is no offence in the signal. You can listen for hours, days even, without the slightest side effect. And thank God, the EM3Pro isn’t dark; it never misses the ‘point’ in high frequencies. But, it doesn’t accentuate it either. You could oversimplify things and call it smooth, ignoring the fact that there are gory details all over the spectrum. But it is true that these details blend very well together. Mids and higher bass do take some precedence, but not to the detriment of treble or lower bass.

And high notes extend very well. So what is the fuss? Well, particularly if you’ve been sipping Yakult instead of milk, you will notice that the EM3Pro’s highs have less to say than the JH13Pro or the FitEar Private 333. You’d be right to say that, too; the EM3Pro presents the highs flatly as it does its mids and bass. Highs, just like bass, are harder for the ear to hear, so they may sound recessed. They aren’t; you’re just accustomed to manufacturers adding treble peaks and bass bumps to help out. Neither the addition of this equalisation, nor the absence of it is problematic. Both are just different approaches.

In some ways, I prefer the at-ear neutral sound of the JH13Pro, but in others, I prefer the milky smooth EM3Pro. Spacey genres such as trance benefit from a bit more treble sparkle, but not much. I am addicted to the EM3Pro’s paced, unruffled sound.

Headstage and Hiss
The EM3Pro finishes what the SM3 started: the construction of a vast, spacey playground for music of any sort. Somehow, besides great focus, and oddly, amidst the milky-smooth background the EM3Pro paints, instrument separation is great. So too is placement. Nothing blurs or trips up its neighbours.

Another badge of honour is that the EM3Pro, while quite sensitive, doesn’t hiss much. The JH13Pro, too, shares this trait. Of course, if you have a modern iPod, Cowon, or Zune, you won’t have to worry about hiss in the first place. But if you (like me) also own Sony’s, then hiss is a constant companion. The EM3Pro lowers this despite getting loud. My Sony A828 isn’t the bugger it was when paired with the FitEar 333 for instance.

I generally keep music set at ¼ volume on my iPod touch and even lower with my Sony with very little annoyance caused from hiss. The EM3Pro is the strong, silent type, thank God.

Out and About
So, properly fit and plugged in, how does the EM3Pro perform whilst on a walk, or on a bus? In a word: great. It isolates loads despite having shorter sound arms and being fashioned from acrylic. It also doesn’t leak at all unlike the FitEar Private 333.

The memory wire helps keep the earphone propped safely over an ear if you have to take it out to chat with someone. The only problem with Earsonics’ design is the case. I don’t recommend tossing your expensive earphones into the case and assuming they’ll stay safe in your backpack. Buy a Pelican case for 10$, or get a jewelry case for the EM3Pro – it’s worth the investment because this case really is sad.

Conclusion
For the price, there is probably not a better-sounding earphone on the planet than the EM3Pro. Hear me out: since it is easy to drive, you’ll get the sound you want from the most meager of sources. You don’t need an amp to bring out its ‘best’ or keep annoying hiss out of the picture. The EM3Pro is smooth, but detailed. It’s got no fuzz anywhere, but it tends toward warm. Despite a polite treble, it isn’t dark and as you can guess, is never edgy. Thanks to Franck’s new countersunk connection terminals, the EM3Pro’s pins should stay safe and last the life of the earphones. With the annoyance of the horrid case occupying the sole complaint in my complaint department, the EM3Pro is a fabulous custom earphone. Look for it in TMA’s upcoming ‘best iPhone earphones’ article.

Headphone Summary
Title:Earsonics EM3ProDeveloper:Earsonics
Reviewed Ver:EM3ProSpoeaker Type:Triple armature
Price:744€ (~970$ USD)Cable:Twisted Rubber
  • easy to drive
  • hiss is minimal
  • non-fatiguing sound
  • excellent low-mid detail
  • counter-sunk cable contacts
  • carrying case is unfit for a ~1000$ earphone
  • memory wire can cause issues with glasses wearers

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

  • Daniel

    Great review. Are you saying that these are better than the JH13 Pro?

  • http://www.touchmyapp.com shigzeo

    The EM3Pro is a great earphone just as the JH13Pro is. But, where the JH13Pro is best with a good amp, the EM3Pro really struts its stuff without one, making it the perfect earphone for almost any portable device. For iPod and iPhone users, for Cowon users, for Sony users, I’d stop here first. If you have a good amp and don’t mind dragging it around, it is sort of a toss up. The two sounds are different too: the JH13pro is more forward and in some ways, deeper while the EM3Pro is smoother and more mid-centric.

  • Daniel

    According to your JH13 Pro review. You find the JH13 Pro’s bass to be neutral, the midrange to be smooth and wet and the treble to be realistic. That makes the EM3Pro another Shure SE530 which I hated. I’ll stick with the better JH13 Pro frequency balance and technicalities.

  • http://www.touchmyapp.com shigzeo

    Hello Daniel,

    I am sorry for being late in this reply. The JH13Pro has a ‘neutral’ bass at the ear as there is a small, but noticeable bass shelf added for the ear’s own equalisation which dampens bass and treble. It is a good design, to be sure, but different to the EM3Pro. The EM3Pro is more extended in the top end than the SE530, but its bass and midrange are quite balanced, meaning that it is less exciting. I’d not say one is ‘better’ than the other really – at least not sound-wise. But, the EM3Pro is easier to drive to be sure and with the countersunk cable attachment, it is sturdier. If you have the JH13Pro, I’d say there is no reason to dig in for another custom as it is one of the best. In some ways, it would be my choice too if it had countersunk pins and was easier to drive. They are both excellent.

  • frenchbat

    Again thanks for the review, enlightening as usual.

    I really hesitated on this one, and it was definitely in my last three with FE333 and the T1. Anyway sounds like a solid contender. I wish I’ll get to try them sometime.

  • Pingback: a-Jays THREE earphones in review – got bass on my mind | TouchMyApps

  • Dawindyk

    How about general build quality? I hope it’s much better than poor quality of SM3 but is it up to 1000$?

  • http://twitter.com/shigzeo shigzeo

    TMA’s unit doesn’t have the top build quality of Earsonics’s new build. The new ones have countersunk earphone connectors. 

    No matter, the silicon gel inside and the general build and anchor system is very good. I would consider it overall better than the build of a lot of competitors at the price point as the shells are thicker and sturdier. And other than Ultimate Ears, the countersunk cable connectors are top notch, losing only to Sleek Audio and Fit Ear.

    The cable is very good, but Westone’s is better. It is similar quality to the JH series of cables. 

    If you want the most long-lasting custom, I am quite sure the Sensaphonics 3xs and the ACS T series are best, though Sensaphonics’ new cable may be best.

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