Ortofon eQ5 earphones in Review – an earphone for all time

I hated dolling out a mere GRAB to the Ortofon eQ7. But good build quality, acceesories, and sound alone didn’t do the trick. It could have been easier to wear, and the cable could have been a LOT better. It could have been the eQ5.

Specifications
Audio Engine: Balanced armature driver
Frequency Response: 10-20kHz +/-3db
Sensitivity at 1kHz: 118db SPL for 1.0mw input
Impedance: 40 ohm
Maximum Rated Input Power: 5.0mw
Weight: 15.9g
Cable: 1.2m, straight
Accessories: 3 pairs of silicone ear tips (S/M/L), 1 pair of Comply foam tips, 4 replacement filters, 2 replacement filter rings, filter replacement tool
Available colors: black, red, silver

The eQ5 sports a very similar driver to the eQ7, a speaker designed and made in Japan by Yashima corp. It rocks. I’d call it a hybrid. Yashima call it a moving armature. The moving part is the killing stroke. The armature is the thud on the back of the head to ensure mortality. It’s got all the cleanliness of a balanced armature earphone and most of the tactile feedback of a dynamic driver. It’s got heaps of love from TMA.

Package and accessories
Unlike its older brother, the eQ5 comes minimally packed. Inside the tiny cardboard box is an aluminium cannister. Inside that are the earphones and their accessory package. As written above, you get just four ear pieces, three in silicon and one pair of Comply foam tips.

The good news about the ear pieces is that they are comfortable. The rubber is soft and easy on the ears. The Comply tips are of course among the softest ear tips in the world. Personally, I find the Comply tips to be a strange combination for the clean and agile sound of the eQ5. My ear canals are on the tight side. They squish the Comply too much and the sound gets muddled. But that’s just my ears. Yours might behave better.

Like the eQ7, the eQ5 comes with replaceable filters and a filter tool. The filters are tiny o rings that are easy to lose. A slight sigh after a bad day of work will send them flying around the room if they’re not in their bag. My advice is this: keep them in their bag till you need them. I’ve been using the eQ5 for about 2 months day in, day out, and have never needed to change them. Knock on wood.

You’ll notice that I’ve not mentioned a case of any sort. There isn’t any, unless you consider having your eQ5′s knocking about in the aluminium cannister. I don’t. You get what I’ve listed above. Which is a shame because the eQ5 is an expensive and beautiful earphone. It needs some protection when not in the ear. I suggest getting a small synthetic wallet from somewhere. I keep mine in a strangely supple keyholding pouch. Wonderful.

Build quality and cable
The eQ7 was a well-made product, just too full of oversight to draw a better final rating from me. The eQ5 is a second generation product from the same Ortofon. It is excellent in almost every metric. Take for instance the earphone body, a milled aluminium bullet. Like its predecessor, it will withstand a car crash, a small bomb, the collision of worlds, perhaps even recess at the local kindergarten.

Trailing from its bum is a very nice cable. Finally. The eQ7 might have been a kiss had it had a good cable. Ortofon did away with the textile weave that made the eQ7 cable look pretty and ruined it for portable use because of horrible microphonic touch noise. The eQ5 uses a soft, but strong cable that delivers very little microphonic touch noise to the ear. It is light and not easy to tangle. In fact, it is one of the best cables I’ve ever used on any earphone. At any price. Maybe Audio Technica’s CK100/CK10 best it. Maybe. The only thing it lacks is a neck cinch to keep the cable together above the y-split, that or a shirt clip. Actually, it could do with an extra layer of insulation after the y split. It is possitively anerexic. Regardint the lack of neck cinch, I do the following: twist the cable about six times to achieve an approximation of a cinch. It works. The cable comes together just below my chin. It just doesn’t look as good.

Finally, cable supports: stress relief, insulation, and y-split, are somewhat mixed. I imagine every earphone lover will notice first that the eQ5 lacks a rubber sheath coming out of the earphone. Instead, the eQ5′s sphincter is lined with about 1mm of rubber. Ah, smooth! This keeps sharp aluminium edges from cutting the cable. I think it is adequate. It doesn’t look strong, but let’s be honest here: most stress relieving sleeves are rubbish. Ones that look strong often place the cable under worse threat from harsh wearing angles. There are few that are worth their hype. So, while initially I felt run over by the lack of a stress relief at the earphone, months later, I feel it is unnecessary. Inside the capsule, the cable is properly knotted and anchored. Could Ortofon have done better? Maybe, but I’ve no complains now.

There is also no stress relief at the y-split. Again, I’m not worried by this. The cable is soft and will withstand thousands of snags and twists. Again, after the y-split, the cable does deserve some more insulation. Stress relief finally comes at the plug. It is soft and flexible and not about to break. Like its older brother, however, the plug is terminated with a straight relief. That means of course that it is under greater stress as it will suffer to be bent more often than an L-shaped cable.

Fit
Earplug meets bullet. That’s it. If you can fit those two hand-in-hand in your imagining, you can get what it’s like to have the eQ5 in ear. Because the eQ5 lacks a stress relief and sports a cable that bursts out of its arse, it is as easy to fit as any earbud ever has been. No squeezing or pulling of the earlobe is necessary. Just plug it in like you would a cable into the mains. Phfiiit!

There are no disadvantages to this design. There are disadvantes to the shape of the earphone, however. The front flange is short, and supported by a thick base. People with small ear canals may find fit uncomfortable or impossible. My ear holes are middle/small sized and manage barely. I’d hate to miss out on the eQ5 sound just because of how God made me.

Another accolade that Ortofon deserve is the lay of the cable. Since it juts out from the eQ5′s bum and then hangs down, it barely touches the face. This not only helps keep microphonic noises down, it also keeps face oil and sweat from the cable. Again, the cable is well designed and seems to resist the deletorious effects of body oils, but still, keeping it away from your face is a good idea.

If you can get the earphone into your ears, you are in for a treat. Since it is light and sports great ear pieces, it is comfortable for long listening sessions. I’ve spend up to six hours a day with these in my ears and have nothing but praises to sing at the end of the day.

As for how you should hang the cable, I think the most natural way is straight down from the ear, not over the ear. The eQ5 fits best with the body angled down. Hanging the cable over the ear will mess with this fit. There are people who use it over the ear with no issues, however. Whatever floats your boat.

Sound
The eQ5 is the most enjoyable earphone I’ve used in years. It bests my favourite CK10 in ways that are almost sexual, and makes me laugh at days I spend pining for custom earphones. Yes, it’s that good.

The eQ5 does bass perfectly. One could reckon it’s a well-tuned dynamic headphone. Yes, headphone. The eQ5 renders natural bass with incredible definition. Its focus is pretty flat with low notes, with no apparent mid or low bass hump, and a gradual decline into the midrange. What’s magical about it is its tactile qualities that aren’t natural in armature earphones. Last night, my wife first plugged these into her ears. What she said was: lots of bass. That morning, she had tried another favourite of mine, the Grado GR8. The much prefers the Ortofon. I can’t say I blame her.

Bass is rendered with wonderful space, and a little warmth. Typical of armature earphones, there is no congestion. Decay is fast, but not perfectly spic-and-span, leaving room for some intimacy. Perhaps that is why I’ve warmed so much to the eQ5. Absolute resolution-heads may prefer something like the CK10 or Audeo PFE. I would imagine that most people, however, would enjoy the more organic sound of the eQ5. It isn’t as organic, say, as the Earsonics SM3, but it is close, and in some ways, cleaner. Decay in no way impacts instrument separation.

From the very lowest voiced insturment, frequency bands stay where they should, and within each band, plenty of detail bleeds straight to the ear. High and mid frequencies are the most clearly voiced. Bass decay accounts for a slightly warmer presentation. But each resounds with clarity that few earphones can muster. An earphone that may be able to topple the clarity of the eQ5 is Fischer Audio’s DBA-02 MKII, which some bass roll off in the low registers, making for a more prominent mid range. Both are clear, but the DBA is lusher. Soundwise, you could consider the eQ5 a flatter, easier to tame Earsonics SM2. The DBA-02 is the SM3′s baby brother.

This clarity lends to a charismatic nature. The eQ5 meets your music. It also meets your EQ. If you feel that one frequency needs a boost, go ahead. There are few earphones that respond as well to EQing as the eQ5… Hmmm. A bump in the lower registers results in incredible gains in bass volume without losing definition, and without introducing artefacts. The same goes for high frequencies and mids.

Speaking of mids, whether it is Ortofon or Yashima that’s to blame, it doesn’t matter. The mids have detail, yes, but a lot of force. From the high ends of the bass notes to the lower end of treble, mids are strong, well-voiced, and detailed. What you get is powerful horns and brass and crystal clear vocals, no matter the gender, along with space enough for complicated musical sets. Perhaps you will get more detail from a perfectly created

The eQ5 isn’t an emotional earphone like the DBA-02 or SM3 can be. Don’t even get me started about Mingo. But, it is honest and detailed, and clearly has its feet in the bass that my ears miss when listening to their favourite CK10′s. Before I get onto amplification, etc., I want to make clear one thing: I’ve talked a lot about bass in this review, but I need to correlate my excitement with my a truth. The eQ5 won’t satisfy bass heads. It has gobs of bass for a ‘neutral’ voiced earphone. Remember, I’m comparing it with the CK10 and DBA-02 on the mild end, and the SM3 on the upper end. What it has it flaunts, but it doesn’t output head-numbing quantities of bass.

Compared to the eQ7. Most of what I said in the eQ7 remains true for the eQ5, however, I have been able to get better fit with the eQ5. Perhaps for this reason, bass response seems better and treble less scratchy. Soundwise, I was astounded by the eQ5 where the eQ7 merely left me smiling.

Amping and background noise
The eQ5 is also sensitive. It’s not on the same level as a FitEar 333 where even the air emits background noise. But, you will be able to hear background noise from your player or amp. It’s not excessive, but it’s enough to make me suggest you keep crap like HiSound AMP3′s and older Sony players in a dark drawer. That said, you won’t need an amp. The eQ5 can trip up players like the above mentioned AMP3 Pro and older players such as Cowon D2, iPod touch 1G, iPod 5G, etc., but the tripping is minimal. While the driver is rated for 40Ω, it seems to dip down quite far when under stress. And considering bass output (note the proviso above), I can’t blame it. That single driver is doing such a clear and powerful job that it must drop to stressful levels under load.

Players with output impedances of 32Ω will struggle with the eQ5. Same with amps. Your player will probably do perfectly if its output is good for 8Ω or less.

Out and about
If it weren’t for the lack of neck cinch, the eQ5 would get accolades in this section, too. As it is, it misses out by the barest of fractions. At 1,2m, the soft cable is about perfect for pocket-play. It is a bit too short for a purse, but then again, I’m giving up on carrying one.

Finally, if only Ortofon included a carrying case, the eQ5 would be perfect. Already it seals out quite a bit of noise, not on the level of the CK100 or SM3, but certainly on par with the best earphones that use similar flange-to-ear tip construction. There can be a little wind howling when worn in strong winds, but nothing too scary. It’s not like the eQ5 is made for exercise anyway.

Conclusion
The eQ5 is the perfect earphone for someone who enjoys a neutral presentation with balanced frequencies, but plenty of oomph in the bottom end. It is clear and never trips up anywhere, presenting itself with a slight bias to bass. It’s my type of earphone. If you love clear, wide, and somewhat muscly sound, the eQ5 could be your type of earphone, too. What makes me frown is the omission of a neck cinch and a carrying case. The latter really eats at me. This is a 250-300$ earphone. It deserves better. But all in all, there is too little to fault. The eQ5 is perhaps the most pleasurable earphone I’ve reviewed at TouchMyApps at any price.

I would like to thank Dimitri from Musica Acoustics for loaning the eQ5 for nearly four months! The problem is that I don’t want to give it back!

App Summary
Title:eQ5 earphoneDeveloper:Ortofon Japan
Reviewed Ver: blackMin OS Req:4.3.0
Price:350-300$
  • Generally good fit
  • Quality construction
  • Excellent sound
  • Wonderful cable
  • Easy to drive – no amp needed
  • No stress sleeve on earphone cable
  • Accessories? What accessories?

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

  • Anonymous

    Great write-up! The e-Q5 is among my top 5 IEM’s, and trust me when I say I’ve owned plenty. I found it nearly identical sounding to the GR10, so much so that at one point I even had the e-Q5 in one ear, and the GR10 in another, and the difference between the two is all but significant. I personally prefer the GR10 for it’s fit, comfort, and aesthetics, but the e-Q5 deserves all the love, and more. (:

  • http://twitter.com/shigzeo shigzeo

    Thank you. I didn’t expect to be wowed by such a wonderful earphone, but I am. Now, I’m trying to find out how to get one myself. What to sell!? I also have a GR8, which, like you, I find has a better fit than the eQ5. Sound I find pretty equal among the two, however the highs of the Grado are a bit more up there… haha.

  • Anonymous

    Why not ask Dimitri if he has any open box ones? Not too long ago, he offered one for as low as $199. All the best!

  • http://twitter.com/shigzeo shigzeo

    You trying to spend my money? Haha.

  • I2ehan

    Depends where you’re spending it. ;)

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