TouchMyApps » Custom IEM’s All Things iPhone and iPad for those who like to Touch. iOS App reviews, News, New Apps, Price Drops and App Gone Free Wed, 03 Feb 2016 17:15:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 FitEar To Go! 334 earphone in Review – nonpareil Thu, 19 Jul 2012 01:37:53 +0000 Zip, ziiiip, wiiiiii, a mosquito. Chuka chuka chuka katakatatata, the Tsukuba Express plowing back to Akihabara. Click click click, my evil shoe-wearing neighbours on the eighth floor dancing up a spell. Summer’s heat amplifies each sound. So does after-work debauchery. So does Arcade Fire. And Markus Schulz’ Progression, Vibrasphere’s Lungs of Life, etc. and so … Read more]]>

Zip, ziiiip, wiiiiii, a mosquito. Chuka chuka chuka katakatatata, the Tsukuba Express plowing back to Akihabara. Click click click, my evil shoe-wearing neighbours on the eighth floor dancing up a spell. Summer’s heat amplifies each sound. So does after-work debauchery. So does Arcade Fire. And Markus Schulz’ Progression, Vibrasphere’s Lungs of Life, etc. and so on. Especially at the wee hours of 0:00 to 5:00. I get on fine after that. There goes my sleep. And whereas sometimes, screwing earphones into my ears helps me zone out and catch some zzz’s, screwing in the fabulous, new FitEar To Go! 334 zones me in, like never before. Hello Music!

It’s nice to meet you, I’m shigzeo, zombie.

Quadruple (4) balanced armature drivers
3 way / 3 unit / 4 driver (334)
Low 1 / Mid 1 Low 2 / High 1
Two prong detachable cable
Pelican 1010 hard case
Soft carrying pouch
Cleaning brush
4 sets of ear tips
12 month limited guarantee

You can find the To Go! 334 here:
Musica Acoustics
ALO audio
Price Japan

Several weeks ago I spent the better part of an hour at the Ginza FitEar office soaking up as much technical info as my feeble brain could imbibe. Ginza is a nice place to stroll after work, but honestly, its ramen sucks. It’s a godsend that around the corner you can get your teeth drilled and your ear holes plugged by the world’s most classy earphone maker, FitEar.

Mr. Suyama came out of the lift wearing his patent smile and a blue collared shirt. Around his neck was a 5000¥ cable snapped into his own custom earphones. I didn’t see what sort of machine was driving them. I bet it was an iPhone. I will also be willing to wager that he was listening to Karizma’s Cuba or Barry Manillow’s Copacabana.

I follow FitEar on twitter.

Upstairs is a drum set, several comfy chairs situated in front of a wonderful collection of HiFi equipment, headphones, speakers, and of course, music. It’s spinning on CD’s, vinyl, and ticking away inside computer hard disks. I didn’t ask how much music he’s got, but I’ll make another bet: if anyone’s music collection tops mine, it’s Mr. Suyama’s.

But we didn’t go upstairs this time. I was on a tight schedule. (My wife was waiting at Denny’s, and their kimchi is awful – I had to rescue her.) Mr. Suyama sat down, brought out my To Go! 334, smiled, and answered every question I asked, and most of the ones I didn’t.

He did this on small sheets of paper, carefully mapping out the 334′s driver array, explaining why titanium was chosen for the treble tube, waxing in gory detail how each driver is basically hand painted into the housing. This ensures that the earphone body is as slim as possible, and eliminates driver rattle.

You’ll be forgiven if you think the To Go! 334 (here on dubbed the TG334) is just a custom-cum universal earphone bent primarily, on maximum profits and distribution area. The j-Phonics was inspiring, but we are talking about two completely different levels of workmanship here. It’s true that the TG334 utilises the same innards as the fabulous MH334, FitEar’s first custom earphone to be tweaked by master engineer, Mitsuharu Harada. And what a feat it is. Its speakers are precisely machined and fitted into their housing with 100% repeatable results despite the entire assembly being done by hand. It suffers no concessions against the custom earphone that precedes it. That is, unless you really wanted to squeeze goo into your ears holes.

Regarding profits and distribution, you’d partially be correct. Custom earphones are buggers to work overseas from a central plant, especially if your outfit is moonlighting as a dental laboratory. The TG334′s universal package allows the FitEar lab to assemble and ship more units than its custom sibling. Distributors are springing up around the globe, and music lovers are discovering the sound of what once was the most hidden treasure in the vast sea of custom earphones. But since the TG334 is essentially an MH334, you’d also be incorrect in assuming it’s all about numbers. The difference in end user cost is substantial.

Had I been Mr. Suyama, I’d have smirked down at the skinny, semi-balding lout sitting before me. Mr. Suyama waived such nonsense. He is nice. I’m not. You sort of have to be nice to be a dentist in this modern world of lawsuits and litigation. And that is the fulcrum of this essay – sleepless nights aside, that is.

Accessories and Package
FitEar are ever pragmatic. What comes with your TG334 is an indestructible Pelican 1010 hard carrying case, a soft toss-pouch, four pair of silicon ear pieces, a shirt clip, and a cable. For the buying price, it’s an ascetic package, to be sure, but then again, who can argue with discipline?

Well, I suppose that for 1400$, you might be forgiven for expecting a life-size poster of Mr. Suyama, a set of false teeth, and a bowl of bad ramen to boot. The TG334′s price is well hung. It nuzzles its tusks in your common sense every time John Denver bleats on about West Virginia.

But, if you are reading this review, you probably don’t care too much about that. And again, you’d be forgiven.

Fit and Isolation
Bigger than the price difference between the MH334 and the TG334 is the difference in fit between the two. The stark truth is that the TG334′s fit won’t be for everyone. Case in point one: my wife. She is blessed with wide ear holes, but her concha is tiny. She was very kind to pose for this review’s fit photos, and probably deserves an expensive ice cream. (Note: photos to appear this evening, Japan time.)

Because the TG334 houses four full-size drivers, and makes room for three bandwidth-optimised sound bores, it is large. And heavy. It is solid acrylic. TG should stand for ‘The Gargantuan’. I’ll admit, however, that ‘To Go!’ sounds more appealing. By the way, so is the TG334′s sound.

Generally, female ears are smaller than male ears. I’ve been told that mine are wasted on me. I should be a boxer. I don’t get it. I suppose that means they are small. But – and my wife can confirm this – I’m male. With the bad: shaving, strange growths of hair, snoring, a tendency sweat, a growing forehead, and a predilection for bathroom humour, comes the good: enough room even in those small ears for the TG334. Barely.

For me, the TG334 rubs cartilage on every side. I have to tilt it slightly forward for complete comfort. Fortunately, there are no sharp edges anywhere to grind against ears. Me and the TG get alone fine.

People with enough ear real estate will be able to tip the earphone back and forth with nary a wince. In fact, men: I reckon almost every one of our kind will be able to take the entire 334 in. God bless us.

The TG334 doesn’t lie completely flat in the ear. Remember, it isn’t a custom earphone. There will be gaps. To a degree, that will affect isolation. I say to a degree, because the TG334 has the uncanny ability to cancel the outside. It is also quite sensitive. The combination means that you can keep the volume on your source low.

For instance, modern albums such as Marcus Schulz’ Progression will be perfectly comfortable at a setting of 150 on an iBasso DX100, or -42 dB on a rockboxed Sansa Clip, or about three clicks from the bottom on an iPhone 4s. That is at a loud cafe. In an airplane, I might bump those settings up one or two notches. Maybe.

Suffice it to say that the TG334′s sensitivity and isolation tag team noise into the ropes.

The Cable
Contrary to the Private series, the TG utilises a twisted cable sheathed in low friction heat shrink. It is terminated by a slim Oyaide 3,5mm stereo jack and sports pragmatic stress reliefs. One, a clear bit of flexible plastic, is at the jack. The other, sprouting memory wire, is at the earphone.

I wear glasses and am not a big fan of memory wire, but FitEar’s choice works much better than the stiff stuff that much of the competition uses. There are only minor scuffles behind my ears, ending usually, with my glasses getting the upper hand. Thank god. I suspect that Mr. Suyama had everything to say about that. He also wears glasses.

The TG series cable makes much less noise and tangles less than the Private series cable does. Corollary: I find no need at all for the shirt clip, though I’m sure someone will be glad of it.

The Oyaide end complements the same wonderful clip and pin set that is used by the Japanese police force at the opposite end. The pins are polarised: no way to accidentally plug them in the wrong way. Both sides wear coloured dots that line up with the earphone body. The right is black, the left is red. And in case you are colour blind, or habitually unplug your earphones in the dark, there is a raised bump on the right side to guide you.

FitEar have done all the hard work. It’s your blessed duty to enjoy.

Build Quality
I could write exceptional and be done with it, but I’m not that clever. So here goes:

Remember back when Japanese camera companies competed against the world? They made blocks of metal and glass that exceeded the rigid build quality of their German counterparts, and beat them for price. They were hand built of the finest materials. I have several, the oldest of which, a Canon P, was born almost sixty years ago and is mated to several lenses from the same period. It shames the modern scraps of composite,  alloy, and silicon to no end. My Nikon D200, a camera more than fifty years younger, at least still takes product photos. Barely. I predict its demise next year.

While the TG334 signals FitEar’s entry into larger production, FitEar don’t Toyotafy their products by copying and cheapifying. FitEar define quality build in the custom-cum universal earphone world.

Case in point: the sound bores. Unlike UE, Westone, and even Sensaphonics Japan, FitEar’s universal maximises discreet channels for each frequency. Bass and mids spit from their own niches and circle the central treble tube. They are carved into wide half-donut bores of acrylic, not soft plastic. The effect is precise timbre in every frequency. There is no equal.

Fully metal earphones such as Final Audio’s high end Piano Forte line certainly crams in more metal than the TG. But when overall sound quality metrics are gauged, it falls flat in comparison.

The TG334 is made for performance. Absolute performance. Hence the full size drivers. Hence the acrylic donut bores. Hence the treble tube made of titanium. Titanium? you ask? So did I.

As FitEar is jointed to Mr. Suyama’s dental laboratory, titanium isn’t hard to come by. At first, it didn’t strike Mr. Suyama to use it, though. Being a perfectionist can work both for and against  you, a fact Mr. Suyama is well acquainted with. Sometimes you just don’t see the obvious when it’s in front of you as you are too focused on completion. FitEar went through many designs. They went through the do-it-Private like phase where each frequency channel would be forced through a slim circular tube. They went through the UE phase that combined one or more channel frequencies into a single tube. They went through many other phases.

But something was off.

Eventually, Mr. Suyama’s father suggested titanium. FitEar technicians were intimately familiar with working the metal, and had the tools necessary. What followed is the current design. It’s no conceit. Employing titanium in the centre channel allows sound tube walls to be thinner than they would have been in acrylic.

Titanium also proved to have less affect on high frequencies, allowing the most natural acoustic reproduction of music possible. Again, I’d have been smirking through the entire meeting.

Acrylic isn’t to be tossed aside, though.

Thin titanium, ineptly captured by a reverse-mounted 35/2 Nikkor Ai

Wall to wall acrylic
Earsonics employ a similar tactic to FitEar, though go about it differently. FitEar lacquer each driver into place until the housing moulds into its final shape. It isn’t printed around a hollow cavity, nor filled with gel. The rigidity of wall to wall acrylic ensures the drivers stay put. Let’s face it, with multiple drivers and complex crossover boards, it becomes necessary to take strict methods in the construction of an earphone of this level to ensure low distortion.

There are several side effects to this. The first is that the TG334 is many times heavier than the competition’s universal earphones are. Its weight even rivals or surpasses most if not all custom earphones. The second side effect is corollary to the time and expertise necessary in creating such an earphone. The effect is cost.

I’m here to tell you it is worth it.

By and large, the TG334 disappears more than any earphone I’ve heard. There is so little accent in any frequency that I feel justified in stating the trite. Here goes: I’m hearing my music again, for the first time.

Hence the sleepless nights. Hence the zombie behind this iPad, typing, typing away.

3D / instrument separation
Let’s start with this old audiophile trope. Really, this word gets passed around so much, I swear we music lovers are all gamers, topographic mappers, or architects. I promise you, too few of us capable of the last two.

But, I’ll throw this word around anyway. 3D presentation, or the spatial positioning of instruments within the sound field, is the TG334′s most triumphant forte.

I think you, too, will agree. Speaking of the devil, let’s look at U2′s Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of for a moment. It’s a simple song, but one with very distinct layers that I haven’t really paid attention to before, precisely, because I didn’t have the TG334. While my writing isn’t good enough to describe the positioning of each, your imaginations may be. Picture Bono’s whiny vocals, Mullen’s percussion, and The Edge’s melody as three ribbons. Via the TG334, each is distinct, practically carved into the song. There is no mistaking anything. Indeed, individual instruments are so precisely placed that at first, I experienced some sensory overload.

This sense of 3D could be said to be more vertical than it is horizontal, expanding upward, and out. Each frequency doggedly, ferociously guards its own channel.

Overall emphasis in this array favours mid frequencies where instrument layers are most distinct. Bono and the edge win out here, but only in the location of central pressure. There is absolutely no bleed between frequency channels, no obvious preference or emphasis for any one. Forget orgasmic, via the TG334, music is mesmeric. There are so many layers spit from Mr. Suyama’s latest multi-armature earphone, so much depth, that one gets lost, completely and utterly.

I tend to listen to music as I work. You’re probably thinking I don’t get much done. I do, but with music blasting in my boxer’s ears, I reckon I get less done than most. Whatever. You’re free not to follow my example. I find that grating and boomy earphones don’t allow me to concentrate, so I tend to listen to relatively flat earphones – all rounders you could say. By and large, the 334 is flat (we’ll get there later), and should be great for semi-concentrated listening. It can be, but it isn’t immediately good.

At first, its damned 3D placement is too captivating. Waiting a few weeks, as I have, should do ya. Yes, you can get to it. Also, keeping the volume rather low will help. Emphasis on low and high frequencies, as well as apparent detail retrieval go up with higher volume levels. If it’s work time, keep the volume low. That, my friends will solve some of the TG334′s incredible sound.

I have a feeling this may be a somewhat controversial section. With such well delineated instruments, shouldn’t the TG334 have the widest of soundstages? I’d think so. But, to my mesmerised ears, it doesn’t. Its sound stage is incredibly detailed, well placed, but more intimate than some earphones. Indeed, it sounds perfectly like a custom earphone.

If the musical stage thrown by TG334 was spherical, it would be a slightly large basketball. High frequencies tend to bounce around above the ear, mids, especially vocals, bob up and down between your ears, and at times hop up to your frontal lobe. Bass hits often at the back of the head or neck. Percussion pops out from behind the jaw to wrap around the ears.

That is, until you pull the earphones out just enough to maintain a seal. Suddenly, you are playing with a larger ball. This is the case with every earphone. TheTG334, however, is especially prone to change with fit. Push it in too far, and you have thick, almost congested sound.

Here’s why. As the earphone is pressed far into the ear, the silicon flange smothers the large sound tube. Some of the mesmeric instrument separation is lost. Sound stage is compressed. When loosely situated in the ear, bass and lower mids lose some volume impact. Suddenly, there is a small abundance of treble. Psychoacoustic effect? Wide soundstage.

Still, no matter how it is situated, the TG334 won’t cast the shadow of an open dynamic earphone. It will cast simply the most perfectly situated musical stage you’ve ever heard. And that, my friends is something that it does with particular, enviable talent.

I would encourage the brave among you to check out as many well-recorded binaural recordings as you can. Just make sure you are sitting on a stable, safe object.

So, what about the bass?
I agree with bassheads: if you were to carve it from the gestalt of a musical composition, there isn’t a more important frequency. You’ve got that PRAT, that hole-filling oomph, that vital throb. Bass is the heart of music. But, there is no all-important frequency to the TG334. Bass is ultra detailed, extremely well-controlled, severalised. Decay is fast, but not not dry, nor boring. There is a loving hanging-on for the briefest of moments at the back end of a low note. You could call it emotion. But that may be going too far. Remember, the TG334 has almost no accent.

In many ways, it reminds me of the bass produced by ortofon’s excellent e-Q5, only more distinct. It has slightly more edge than the JH13-Pro, and perhaps a smidgen less overall quantity.

Clean, driving, somewhat edgy, and yet not afraid to delicately smear it where it counts, it is pure rock and roll. It is as at home with Tiamat as it is with Arcade Fire, but I have a feeling that has less to do with bass as it does with perfect musical gestalt. In the same vein, this presentation mates to trance and classical like a frog on a finger in May – there’s no romance more absorbing.

Extreme lows, those of Marcus Schulz’ Mainstage, are easily discernible from very low volumes. However, through the TG334, Mainstage doesn’t yawn with the feckless volume of a 1980′s horror movie as it does with at the behest of an Atrio or the FX500, but it certainly growls. The difference in decibels would be about 5-10 depending on fit.

If you are looking for an organic bass sound, you will still probably have to look up something like the Victor FX-500. From lows to highs, TG334 is decidedly armature: fast, detailed, and ultra precise. However, thanks its incredible delineation from midrange frequencies, and the mesmeric sense of space from low to high, I feel that a number of dynamic-only fans will fall in love for a genre of earphone they otherwise may not have have.

‘Ow ’bout the highs and mids
I will bunch these together for the simple reason that these two gel with an energy – sometimes overlapping – that is studded with detail and texture. The TG334 is the king of strings and percussion. There is just so much detail to devour. Every string has two audible edges, one that builds up as energy is impressed into it, and one where it is released. Both are clear as a bell.

Highs and mids are also utterly inseparable. Spatially, mids and vocals are bunched more in the centre of the head than highs and lows are, so it is easier to concentrate on them. There may be a temptation to call the TG334 mid-centric. It isn’t – not from the stand point of frequency response. Here’s where we got back to the argument for dubbing this particular earphone ‘flat’.

Mid tones benefit the most from the mesmeric instrument separation. There are few genres that will not drown you in it. You will easily pick small groups or even single violins from larger bodies. The slightest of nicks a drumstick makes on the rim, the wet sounds a tongue makes, the rub of a finger over steel strings – it’s all there in gory detail.

High mids and lower high frequencies are all attack and decay. Sibilance is null, though with bad fit, you will get an abundance of treble. With perfect fit, you will find no genre too fast or demanding.

As mentioned above, the TG334′s commercial progenitor is the MH334, an earphone tuned by the famous Mr. Harada. Mr. Harada obviously prefers cleanliness to dripping sensuality. This has some negative impact when it comes to certain higher-voiced female vocals, which, at times, can sound thin.

In particular, Christine, in The Original Canadian Cast recording of Phantom of the Opera, sings with a little less pertinent edge than she does from an ER4s, for instance, or even my beloved CK10. I tend to prefer a little more edge in high female vocals. But that is just me. Reading Head-Fi, I have a feeling I’m in the minority.

To amp or not to amp?
When I originally reviewed the FitEar Private 333, I waxed lyrical about its fun, yet overall neutral sound. The 333 is more forward than the TG334 is, but only barely. It is also harder to drive, but only barely.

The TG334 is efficient, not as prone to hiss as the 333 is, and doesn’t seem to dive down as many Ω as the 333 does when it runs into upper mids and high frequencies. An iPhone 4s or an iPod touch 4G or a clip+ alone are enough to do it.

I don’t feel that an amp is necessary at all. In fact, it is possible that the amp you use will handle the TG334 worse than your iPhone does. Keep that in mind. If you have something like an ALO Rx, a VorzAMP, or an iBasso T3D, then use it – it will better your iPhone in some small, key areas, but don’t go out of your way to buy a new amp just to enjoy your new earphone.

There is plenty of resolution there for you.

Now, if you are using an older iPod touch, say 2G, or 1G, or a Cowon, or a Sony player, you WILL lose a LOT of resolution in mid upper mids and gain a lot of distortion. Those players simply aren’t up to snuff. A small amp may help. Or, a Sansa Clip.

Out and About
Aside from its size, there is nothing daunting about using the TG334 in public. It does stick out from the ear quite a bit, and is heavy, but it handles itself well. When you find perfect fit, isolation is excellent, and for the most part, there is no wearing fatigue. Similarly, the cable is excellent. It is resisting this awful Japanese summer perfectly. I see no signs of sweat or body oil induced crystallisation. None.

The only thing to think about is the termination of the cable. The long straight plug should be handled with care. It fits into narrow headphone outputs, but it puts more stress on the cable and output than an l-shaped cable does. Here, the Private series comes out on top.

I feel strongly that no other earphone manufacturer is as involved in the lives of audiophiles as FitEar are. FitEar started making earphones for enthusiasts, experimenting and tweaking endlessly. They’ve found perfection in their tweaking. It’s heavy, and black and made of solid acrylic and sports a titanium tube. It’s 3D presentation of instruments and balance of frequencies is nonpareil.

It is however, expensive. If you were looking for a custom earphone, you now have a universal option that in many ways betters a custom earphone. Fit, of course, is extremely important. Pay attention to it and you will have possibly the best earphone on the planet. But having the best is difficult. Sleepless nights ensue. The zombie is outed. And the zombie absolutely loves his To Go! 334.

App Summary
Title: FitEar To Go! 334 Developer: FitEar
Reviewed Ver: To Go! 334
Price: 1300-1500$
  • Best 3D detail of any earphone
  • Exceptionally neutral
  • Excellent isolation
  • Stunning build quality
  • Use of high quality materials
  • Made in Japan
  • heavy
  • finicky fit
  • sparsely accessorised
FitEar-ToGo334-accessories FitEar-ToGo334-banner FitEar-ToGo334-ear-pieces FitEar-ToGo334-iPhone FitEar-ToGo334-pelican FitEar-ToGo334-pins FitEar-ToGo334-stress FitEar-ToGo334-titanium

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

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Sleek Audio CT7 custom earphone in Review – masterless sound Thu, 07 Jul 2011 07:57:44 +0000 In 2009, Sleek Audio officially released the CT6, their first custom earphone. At its introductory price of 300$, the single driver earphone dominated the budget custom earphone world with great sound and a slew of innovations at a great price point. A LOT has happened since then, and while the CT6 remains a great earphone, … Read more]]>

In 2009, Sleek Audio officially released the CT6, their first custom earphone. At its introductory price of 300$, the single driver earphone dominated the budget custom earphone world with great sound and a slew of innovations at a great price point. A LOT has happened since then, and while the CT6 remains a great earphone, it has been outclassed by newcomers. Naturally, Sleek Audio couldn’t leave it at the top of their portfolio. Enter the CT7, a completely redesigned custom iem sporting dual drivers, higher sensitivity, better artwork, and one of the rawest, fastest, most impressive sounds I’ve heard at any price.

Speaker type: ultra-wide band balanced dual armature driver configuration
Variable Equalization (VQ) Tuning
Wireless Hybrid (wireless unit sold separately)
50” detachable/swivel cable
Frequency Response: 18Hz.-20kHz.
DC Resistance: 25.4ohms
Impedance: 50 ohms
Sensitivity: 115dB

  • Price: 699$
  • Guarantee: 1 year
  • Production time: 2-4 weeks
Contact Sleek
600 8th Ave West, 3rd Floor
Palmetto, Fl 34221

T: +1 800.777.7937
F: +1 941.866.0626

Accessory and package
The CT7 is a custom earphone. You have to order it through Sleek Audio or a Sleek Audio partner audiologist. You’ll have to get gooey stuff squirted into your ears, then you have to ship those gooey things out to Sleek’s home in Florida. No matter who you buy from, there is very little variation on the scene. Sturdy pelican case: check. Detachable cable: check. Wax loop: check. Personalised foam inserts: check. Personalised, engraved name tag: check.

What? Personalised box tag and foam inserts, you say? Yes, I do say. Sleek Audio deserve their hard-earned whuffie because their custom earphones not only fit your ear, they fit your ego, too. Sleek Audio are the only company I know that completely customise their entire retail package. So, when I designed the robot skirt and trousers for my earphones, Sleek made cut prints on my earphones. I wasn’t expecting matching foam inserts, though. And just like before, Sleek personalised the box with the TouchMyApps logo. Yep, they are the kings of customisation.

Their new printing system is pretty damn cool, too. At CES this year, I saw some amazing examples of buffing systems, etching, and paint jobs. Of course, everyone has stepped up this year, but Sleek’s new system is top notch and comes with comparatively cosier price points.

From what I understand, Sleek also offer a soft-sided earphone wallet.

Fit and isolation
As an an acrylic custom earphone, the CT7 will nudge coolly wedge into your ear. Acrylic is hard, but don’t let that scare you off. Providing that you obtain good impressions, the CT7 will be as comfortable as an ear plug. It isolates about 26 decibels, which means you can keep your music at lower, safer volumes, and will never be bothered by the outside world.

Now, acrylic has one or two problems next to the silicon used by ACS and Sensaphonics, and the semi-soft fit employed by Westone. Namely, that is that the earphone doesn’t adapt to the changing shape of your ear canal. When you sing, talk, eat, whatever, your canal will change from round to oval, and vice versa. A lot of stage musicians use acrylic earphones and get on fine, but I promise you, it isn’t the ultimate choice. Semi-soft and soft iems adapt better for expressive singers.

For audiophiles and music lovers (generally, I prefer to separate these two since the latter tend to gear head around rather than enjoy their music), acrylic is simply the bomb. The hard material has the best-sounding echo for fast, clean bass and treble.

Build quality and cable
Message to Sleek: the CT7 cable HAS to change. It is horrible. The CT6 got away with its half-arsed design because of it’s price. Its cable was known to come unglued at the seems (mine did), crack, and in extreme cases, break open to reveal the wires. That was 2009.

You’d think that by 2011 things would change for the better. Nope. The current cable is by far the worst cable on any custom earphone I’ve seen yet. It is the same thing that comes with the cute 55$ Sleek Audio SA1. My SA1 cable failed after light use. It’s a bugger of a shame, too, as Sleek Audio’s coaxial cable connection system is one of the best in the industry. It fits firmly, sports a resilient earphone-side pin, and turns 360 degrees so you can use it up, down, sideways.

The cable will stiffen from sweat and body oil in short order. Its plug is a poorly-relieved straight-angle piece of metal that sticks out like creaky tower. The rubber sheath around it comes unglued and offers very little protection, as inside, the hard pylon that stems from the plug, pinches the cable at stern angles. The y-split is a cheap off-the-shelf sheath of aluminium with a rubber plug. At the ear, the CT7‘s rubber grommets are better than the those of the CT6, but alas, they’re attached to what is else wise, an unprofessional throw together of rubber and metal.

You can opt for the Kleer Wireless bundle, however, and forgo the horrible cable from the start. That option is unique to Sleek and a real boon to the system and Sleek’s amazing coaxial plug.

The good news is that otherwise, the CT7 is a well made earphone. It has thicker walls than its competition from giants Ultimate Ears and Jerry Harvey. It will survive falls better than those two. Of course, for stage musicians, acrylic is a liability unless you are very careful.

The dual Knolls drivers are anchored pretty typically, and the tiny crossover sits atop the larger driver like a cap. Like the CT6 before it, the CT7 can be custom-tuned to your preference, but unlike the CT6, it is pretty much perfect without any tuning at all. Tuning comes from widening or tightening the sound bore.

As you can see, the drivers sit deep inside the CT7 housing unlike FitEar, and Jerry Harvey earphones.

Want a nutshell sound review? Here goes: fast, tight, awesome, sensitive, wide, detailed, raw, pleasing, smile, trance, rock, great. It is a tweaked-for-the-better custom version of the Audio Technica CK10, my favourite earphone of all time.

The CT7 is everything the CT6 was, but better; it is in fact, everything the Jerry Harvey JH13Pro is but rawer. The first listen cut smile lines all over my face for that exact reason.

Gearheads: the CT7 has two speakers per side. It compares very well with earphones sporting 6 or more per side. If you want to brag, you can brag that your dual driver earphone sounds as good earphones with more drivers, and still save hundreds of dollars.

Let’s start off with bass. The CT7 bass attacks all its bases well, but excels in the difficult to control range of 70-200Hz. That range is drier than the bass of the aforementioned JH13Pro, standing out against the wetter, liquidy Earsonics EM3Pro. It is taut, energetic, and hard-hitting, but not abundantly thick. Thickness goes to the ACS T1. It hits with a handful more decibels’ impact than the CK10‘s bass does, vibrating deeply and strongly along the entire range. There is very little inflection at all in its range, though as the signal moves ever higher, the CT7 tends towards sugar, not spice. In other words, artificial bass of fast trance and IDM never abrades, lower percussion is tight and controlled, and there is plenty of detail.

It is fast, ferocious, and squeaky clean. Metal, not wood. No delay, no unwanted reverb in the sound tube. Bass belts out quickly, then fades just as quickly. It is much preferable to the ACS T1 for listeners who value neutrality and clarity.

The JH13pro and EM3Pro, on the other hand, present finer bass texture and space. If there is dead space between bass instruments, you will hear it more clearly through the CT7‘s more expensive competition. The JH13Pro is the champion here, painting low notes like the clearly defined hyperfocal lines of an old Nikkor 50mm 1,2 lens. The CT7 follows along, respectfully, delineating bass and mid voices perfectly well, but at the same time, presenting each within tighter spaces.

I don’t feel that there is a right or wrong here. The CT7 is blunter, the JH13Pro is finer. If you get used to one, you’ll find the other takes time to adjust to, but neither is better than the other unless you give most listening time to genres such as jazz and vocal, in which case, the JH13Pro is just sublime. For industrial rock, electronic, and classical, the extra bite of the CT7 is smashingly good.

The CT7‘s midrange follows its bass. It is forward, edgy, and fun. It’s got detail. It’s got space. It’s got bite. It even has softness where needed. You can hear very clearly the small wet sounds of the mouth, stray breaths into the microphone, the gnarled strings of a guitar. It’s all there.

Vocals are crisp, and guitars forward. Percussion is excellent from the toms to the high hats. Where the the JH13Pro softens, the CT7 tweaks. Natty drummers are natty, crappy guitarists are crappy. The CT7 isn’t sibilant, it’s honest.

Both male and female vocalists excel. They are clear and strongly rendered. The CT7 has a special affinity for mature, lusty voices. The likes of Melody Gardot and Madeleine Peyroux are perfect matches. Nick Cave follows suit. Even Dr. Dre sounds great.

Certain, scratchy voices, however, aren’t the best fit as the CT7’s honest voice will emphasise the scratches till your ears itch in all the wrong places.

Again, it isn’t a weakness, it is merely honest. Milk, not molasses.

If I were to attach a numerical value to CT7 vocal quality, I’d give it an 8. While the formula is right, higher pitches voices lack lust in comparison to the JH13Pro. Of course, the JH13Pro comes costs 300$ more than the CT7. It’s a trade off, one I think that rock, electronic, classical, and pop listeners can live with. Jazz and vocal listeners – if you really really want a custom, the JH13Pro is probably your best bet. The EM3Pro is as good if not better for that genre, but is overall warmer.

The CT7 has almost the perfect balance of power and tenderness. Its equals are more expensive than it. It’s price rivals generally have more audible tradeoffs.

Finally, I’d like to talk about one of the biggest changes between the CT6 and CT7: sensitivity. The CT7 is on par with the FitEar Private 333. If there is any hiss in your source, no matter how timid, you will hear it. The iPod touch 4G is by far the quietest reasonable source I’ve head. It makes no background noise with 99% of the earphones on the market. The CT7 are that 1%. It’s not annoying, it’s surprising. Usually, classical music is dead silent with my CK10, JH13Pro, EM3Pro, Westone 4, and everything but the Private 333.

On the flip side, I can keep the touch on a volume setting of three to four no matter what airplane I’ve boarded. Incredible. Again, I don’t listen to loud music, but even so, the CT6, CK10, and JH13Pro are generally set to as much as 50% of the volume slider.

And, if you have a modern iPod or iPhone, you don’t need an amp to get all the detail you crave. There is a small amount of bloom in the lower bass region when driven without an amp, but it is minimal. Treble notches out to the tune of 2 or 3 decibels way up top only to recover again quickly. A good amp may get everything perfect, but I doubt the difference is audible in controlled, blind listening. Well, actually, since most amps output much much more background noise than an iPod touch, the difference will be audible – and probably not savory.

Out and about
Despite a deep disrespect for Sleek’s crappy cable, I’ll have to admit that it works well for the commute. It is dead silent, light, and unobtrusive. Sure, it tangles, but all good cables tangle. It is long, thin, and because it lacks memory wire, is perfect for glasses wearers.

The cable is long enough to comfortably drop into a pocket or purse, and of course, it can go wireless to a comfortable distance of 10 metres with Sleek’s Kleer Wireless accessory.

Sleek outdid themselves again, making a perfect-sounding earphone for the price point. The CT7 shines with everything you throw at it, even in comparison to pricier juggernauts. If you love music and have 700$ to invest in a near custom earphone, the Sleek Audio CT7 is probably my first recommendation. It has slid ahead of the FitEar Private 333 as my overall favourite for electronic and trance. The CT7’s guitars, too, are to die for. There’s so much going for it that the crappy cable really sticks out, sore and red.

If Sleek can ship a professional cable worthy of the CT7’s 700$ price tag, they’ll have the must-have custom on the market. I unreservedly recommend it to kiddy-gloved music lovers, but scorn its shoddy cable.

Wonderful sound
Best customisation
Good build quality
Incredible accessory package

Horrid cable

HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-allaccessories HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-cable HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-coaxial HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-fit HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-foamfaces HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-leftright HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-tmalogo HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-with-touch HPR-SleekAudio-CT7-glamourRead more]]> 4
CES 2011′s best: Sonomax’s SoundCage 4-minute custom earphone Tue, 25 Jan 2011 15:20:19 +0000 Recently, I Hanseled my way around CES 2011 looking for a place to sit. On my quest to find a comfy chair, I managed to lose myself under a pile of crumby marketing handouts, and half naked girls dancing to show off the features of a … wired router. Amid crappy tablets and massage chairs, … Read more]]>

Recently, I Hanseled my way around CES 2011 looking for a place to sit. On my quest to find a comfy chair, I managed to lose myself under a pile of crumby marketing handouts, and half naked girls dancing to show off the features of a … wired router. Amid crappy tablets and massage chairs, I also managed to find Sonomax‘s booth and discover what I think is the coolest thing to come out of CES: 4-minute custom earphones. Originally, my mate said this Canadian company were batting with a custom earphone that is fully cured in 20 hours and sets in 4 minutes. Hmmm, I thought, that reminds me of SoundCage, a company that made a 20-minute custom a few years ago, and that is also from Canada. Well, it turns out that the SoundCage I discovered whilst getting impressions for the Sleek Audio CT6, and Sonomax are either good mates, or better bedfellows.

Feel free to discuss Sonomax products in our forums.

Sonomax’s Montreal base is hardly a bagel’s toss from TouchMyApps’ petting zoo in Canada’s most quaint city: Woodbridge, Ontario. What success! Imagine meeting a fellow country mate half way around the world in … Las Vegas. What it means is that when I get back to the land flowing with Maple and poutine, I might just pay a visit to their HQ since their HQ made the long trip to the City of Sin and cheap ass beer.

Sonomax’s sculpted eers, or Soundcage, or whatever the full marketing term is, is an excellently marketed product. For less than 200$, you can walk away from a Sonomax distributor with a fully custom earphone. What’s more, the curing process takes just four minutes. Usually, the making of custom earphones is a lengthy affair involving a trip to an audiologist to first get your ears squirted with impressions. Those impressions are then sent off to Westone or ACS or Jerry Harvey or Sleek Audio or Fit Ear, among others, to be bored out and filled with good earphone innards. They come as cheap as 300$, but most cost much more, often tilting the scales at more than a grand.

Thus when my mate said that Sonomax were Canadian, I clued in. We’re a somewhat chintzy society; we don’t like to pay and arm and a leg for something – unless it’s income tax. Sonomax have been making 20 minute custom earphones and hearing aids for years and have contracts with many companies around the world for thousands of their products. The sculpted eers is the culmination of that experience.

Getting fit
The fit experience is – interesting to say the least. First, a Minority Report-esque ‘sound cage’ with pouches that stick into your ears and inflate with what becomes your ear impression. Those go like wet Willy’s, into your ear holes and there they stay for about four minutes.

It doesn’t hurt, but half way through, there is a loud pop. Then, the fun starts. Like a storm coming from afar, you’ll hear rumbling as the pouches fill up with some patented liquid. During that time, you should sit rather calmly to let the impressions cure. Painless, really.

The end result is as you see above and below, tiny moulds of your ears, and sucked into their centres, nice, phat earphone drivers. I say phat, because dat bass is chubby. A good fit will ensure that low notes roar out from a dog whistle. Yes, the SoundCage 4 is a little dark, but with a good fit, it is reasonably laid back, decently spacious, and even well extended in the top end. Similar to a former love, the Futuresonics Atrio M5, they do lack magic in the midrange, however. I’ve been sitting with these in my ears for hours now, and, as much as I love their sound with slow electronic, I can’t vouch for the overall quality of your favourite rock and jazz music unless you fancy slightly bashful vocals. On the other hand, percussion is great even if it tends to rattle at odd times. Guitars, though, what happened to them? Poor Jesse Cook’s famous fingers lose some of their speed and grit. Oh well, nothing is perfect in this world apart from the freakin’ incredible bass output of these earphones.

All that said, I LOVE what I hear.

Sound isn’t the whole story, however. I mentioned that you must get a good fit in order to get that bass. My left ear has perfect fit, my right, anything but. The fitting process, you see, leans on a few fine variables that if ignored, or simply bunged, will result in a one-ear-on, one-ear-off salute to Simon Says. One is that you don’t move. Another is that you don’t smile. Laughing is right out. Finally, the sound cage has to be positioned perfectly, and here is where I see the majority of problems arising. I sat still and tried not to flirt with my companions or the naked router girls. But, no matter how religiously devout my composure, I got a bad fit in one ear even though the sound cage was placed by Sonomax. Probably what happened during fit is that the sound cage popped out a bit and filled all the wrong spots of my ear.

clever little bugger just won't fit

So, my sitting went poorly. But, I really like the brain-massaging sound of the left ear enough to want to get this earphone re-fit. Sadly, I cannot do it via Sonomax (at least not yet). Maybe ACS will do it, who knows. Well, being the intrepid (and impatient) audiophile that I am, I gloried when the right side got squished a bit too much and tore. Great: a chance for the stems to show themselves! After a bit of stretching, the Monster Turbine tips fit perfectly, and despite attracting no love from me when stuffed onto Monster’s own earphones, work great with the Sonomax.

Anyway, everyone’s head is shaped differently. The sound cage may fit the majority of heads, but it won’t fit perfectly on all heads. Now, if the fit process goes well, I heartily recommend these earphones. You don’t need ear pieces, they should please hip hop and electronic fans to no end, and they feel great in the ear. The cable is good quality and the slider works well. Overall, the product is very well thought out. But, and this is a big-ass but, problems WILL arise with this system.

Currently, it’s a one-shot-Finch ordeal. If the fit is bunged, there ain’t a second chance unless you want to dish out for a new earphone. When Sonomax officially launch in the spring, I hope that second chances come cheaply, or are included in the box. On the plus side, sculpted eers should be available at distributors who likely have experience with custom earphones and may get you a good fit.

Tagging along to the fit issue is another concern: safety. Customs in general are fine and dandy. The impression is the most dangerous part. If the material goes in too far, it can damage your ears. That is why degree-holding audiologists check your ear canals and carefully set gauze in your ear holes. They care about your hearing and health. Sonomax do too, but I can’t vouch for distributors who may just want to sell another earphone. More importantly (and probably least likely to happen) is in the fitting process, there is possibility that the pouch bursts and the silicon compound leaks into your ear. There is NO method in place to protect against this unlikelihood.

A finger to Mother Nature
The final issue that Sonomax need to address is one that my colleague brought up: sustainability. Sonomax are marketing a product that has more bits than any earphone I’ve ever seen. One use and the entire sound cage and massive packaging go to the bin. The same goes for inevitable ‘oops’ fits. The leftover plastic from one sculpted eers could make dozens of earphones and probably skin a small netbook.

So, where do we go from here? I think this is a unique product with a lot of promise. But at the moment, there seems to be more promise than result represented by the 199$ it costs to scrutinise Sonomax’s word. The sound, I dig. The idea, I suck down greedily. The execution, and possible mishaps, however, leave my throat a bit dry.

Sonomax, if you are reading this article, please take steps to address: fit issues, Mother Nature, and potential, though unlikely, injuries.

Your SoundCage system is an audiophile’s wet dream and probably a chink-chink sounding echo in the wallet-minded imaginations of potential distributors. I’d like to see this product make a proper, clean splash as I love what I am hearing and believe it to be the most interesting thing that came out of CES this year. For now, though, I’d rather buy the earphones without the custom portion and forgo all the possible problems.

Check out Sonomax’s website for more information.

HPR-Sonomax-VB-case HPR-Sonomax-VB-explode HPR-Sonomax-VB-fit HPR-Sonomax-VB-monster clever little bugger just won't fit HPR-Sonomax-VB-mould HPR-Sonomax-VB-plug HPR-Sonomax-VB-split HPR-Sonomax-VB-top-01 HPR-Sonomax-VB-topRead more]]> 2
Earsonics EM3Pro custom earphone in Review – quite simply the best! Tue, 10 Aug 2010 13:45:47 +0000 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. … Read more]]>

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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 EM3Pro Developer: Earsonics
Reviewed Ver: EM3Pro Spoeaker 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

HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-cableonoff HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-case-engrave HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-case-plastic HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-glamour HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-incase HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-knowles HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-package HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-sideside-02 HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-sideside Like two cheeks, the dual mid/low drivers sew up nicely HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-topbottom HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-tube-02 HP-Earsonics-EM3Pro-tubeRead more]]> 8
Custom-Fit Earphones – its time for the mainstream Thu, 22 Apr 2010 08:15:19 +0000 Noise-isolating earphones are hitting mainstream, and that’s a good thing. Apple and nearly every other digital audio manufacturer in the world distribute their phones and digital devices with open earbuds that not only sound crap, but that ruin ears on short order. The volume of an earphone has to rise 8-9 decibels above ambient noise … Read more]]>

Noise-isolating earphones are hitting mainstream, and that’s a good thing. Apple and nearly every other digital audio manufacturer in the world distribute their phones and digital devices with open earbuds that not only sound crap, but that ruin ears on short order. The volume of an earphone has to rise 8-9 decibels above ambient noise to be heard. To be enjoyed, however, music has to be punched much louder. Using open earphones on the bus, in the tube, or about town is the perfect recipe for destroying your hearing.

Last year, Etymotics introduced custom-fit ear pieces for their popular line of noise-isolating earphones and headsets, but other companies offer custom-fit ear pieces for a variety of earphones.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal took them for a spin and really liked them. Etymotics’ custom-fit ear pieces come from Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS), the manufacturer of the excellent (and pricey) T1 Custom-Fit earphone. If you can isolate your surroundings enough, music, games, and movies sound so much better: better details, dynamics, and oh-so-lovely bass. And with enough isolation, you barely need to adjust the volume of your iPod at all. I keep my iPod touch stuck at about 1/6 volume with my custom earphones – it is more than enough.

Noise-isolating earphones have their own disadvantages: outside noise is reduced by up to 26 decibels, severing your awareness of what’s around you. Of course, the same thing can happen by raising the volume of your earbuds to dangerous levels – which brings up a serious issue: you and only you can prevent being run over by a bus whilst air-plucking to John Denver.

They also cost more. A full-custom earphone will set you back anywhere from 200$ to >1000$ and a custom-tip can do as much as half of that. But the market is just warming up and it’s about time it did.

The iPod and iPhone have great movie and music-playing capabilities, and with loads of people pairing-down to just one device, the step up to safer earphones should be natural. Go ahead, if earphones that sound better than Apple’s pack-ins can be had for about half the price, what’s keeping you on the dial-an-ear-doctor route of blasting your ears with el-cheapo buds?

I never leave home without some sort of isolating earphone. Currently, it is the oh-so-good soundingEarsonics EM3Pro, an expensive full-custom earphone. But my all time favourite is the universal-fit Audio Technica CK10, or if when the economy is in a shambles, the 39$ Head-Direct RE2. Economically speaking, noise-isolating earphones have come a long way. You can pick up the MEElectronic Ai-M9 for 19$ and enjoy your music at safe levels.

If you tend to watch movies or listen to music, you should think about dropping your buds for either universal-fit or custom-fit earphones. If not, say good bye to stereo sound from any source and hello to sign-language classes.

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ACS T1 Custom-Fit IEM in Review – the perfect silicon implant Mon, 19 Apr 2010 02:18:53 +0000 Ever been so enamoured by a new gadget that you take it to bed wrapped in your favourite dainties? I have. My lecherous fingers have caressed many pieces of technology, late into the night. But until now, they’ve been trained on MD players and really high tech shoes and my iPod touch 2G. I’ve tickled … Read more]]>

Ever been so enamoured by a new gadget that you take it to bed wrapped in your favourite dainties? I have. My lecherous fingers have caressed many pieces of technology, late into the night. But until now, they’ve been trained on MD players and really high tech shoes and my iPod touch 2G. I’ve tickled the ACS’ T1, an earphone whose quality belies its silicon shell, far into the dark night. Its sultry curves, great bone structure, and whip-strong cable cry to be handled in a Wash-like ‘manly fashion’.

For all photos and discussion of this ACS T1 Review, head to our forums.


  • Active Drivers 3
  • Build Materia - 40 Shore Silicone with SteriTouch
  • Mould Type - Full Concha
  • Cable Type - Kevlar reinforced with anti-friction sheath
  • Standard Cable Colour Translucent
  • Standard Colour Clear
  • Connector 3.5mm gold plated moulded
  • Standard Cable Exit Top (over the ear)
  • Frequency Response 16Hz ~ 20KHz
  • Noise Isolation 26dB
  • Impedance 17 Ohms
  • Items Included Carry pouch, personalised rugged case, wax pick, care and usage instructions, comfort cream, step-up jack connector adaptor

Package and Accessories
To be honest, I don’t get off with just any earphone. The T1, however, clothed with the best custom earphone accessory package, is 100% satisfying. There are the usual suspects: the manual, a wax cleaning loop, and the carrying case – which thank the Lord, is a small-sized Pelican. And what sexy earphone would be complete without personal lube? The T1 even has that.

Also, a compact leather wallet that fits inside the Pelican case makes a great appearance. The T1 can be wound up and stuffed into the wallet and still take up less pocket space than an iPod touch. Most customs are built up from hollow acrylic shells which have a higher risk of cracking or shattering. Of course, when taken care of properly, they should last years, but silicon affords extra protection for the wearer. The T1’s silicon is its own protection; the earphone bends and squishes, all the while protecting is precious cargo: the tiny speakers and crossover network.

Silicon custom earphones are special. They fit snuggly, they bend, and they block an excessive amount of noise. But, they take longer to stuff into the ear. That is where the lube comes in. Apply a smallish drop to each earphone, massage it around, and then slip the earphone in. If you’re in a pinch, saliva, or excessive earwax will also work.

The T1 is a dual-bore design, but utilises three balanced armature speakers, so one sound bore will carry the sound from two drivers. Like the FitEar Private 333 and Sleek Audio CT6, the drivers sit fastened into the earphone’s body, not the sound arm. The cable is no less outstanding. Strong, thick, and resistant to sweat and body oil, the ACS T1 is built to last. The cable portion which loops over the ear lacks memory wire, so it is comfortable even for four-eyed audiophiles.

Finally, while I don’t suggest doing it, the T1 can be used for sleeping.

Finish and Build Quality
Overall, ACS have done a great job. Their T1 is smooth, solidly built, and can even sport a logo. As long as you can create in one colour and aren’t expecting a Monet, ACS’ technicians do a great job of customising their earphones. On my unit, the contrasty TMA logo looks pretty good against the all black, doesn’t it? I have no idea if newer units have cleaner lines or not; as you can see, the TMA is ‘wavy’, the headphone logo squiggling along the silicon shell. One thing you should be aware of is dust. Silicon shells pick up dust. Gently moistened fingers, however, are all that are needed to wipe dust away.

The T1’s cable is resistant to crystallisation and sweat and fraying. It is also excellently terminated in a right-angle 3,5 mini plug which will even fit into the iPhone 2G’s recessed headphone port. I am so convinced of its strength, that I’d wager my horse that there isn’t a stronger stock custom cable on the market; it might even support my body weight.

In one area, however, it performs below my expectations: the cable doesn’t detach from the body. For cute audiophiles who want to try different cables, it means a lot of money saved, but for professionals — especially considering that road/show life can be hazardous — it can be a liability. Even ACS’ stodgy and excellent brother, Sensaphonics, moved to a detachable cable system last summer. While I have every faith in the ACS cable, I don’t have the same faith in the professionals who can angel-of-death through rubber and wire in the passion of a hot song.

For years now, Triple driver earphones have been the de facto standard for audiophiles and professionals alike. But even with eight-driver earphones such as the JH16Pro eating up the the press, a triple driver’s elegance and keen temperament is what keeps its teeth sharp. The smooth and balanced T1 is an excellent example of how well-tuned a triple driver can be. It enjoys a broad and powerful midrange, smooth acoustics, and low and high extremes which are tweaked just enough to work with the ear’s own equalisation.

When driven from warm sources, at times, the T1’s bass blooms, but primarily, it settles warmly and well mannered into the low frequencies. Its full-bodied bass texture is a unique mixture of ambience and structure. Evident in Markus Schulz’ Mainstage, subwoofer levels flutter unperturbedly just shy of the level of some dynamic-driver earphones.

Overall, the soft silicon acts as an excellent resonance chamber. Even fast mid-bass in trance and drum and bass is nigh on perfectly controlled. With warm sources, the T1 has a layer of barely-audible echo in its mid bass – quite like adding 300 cc of vodka to party punch: no one knows why, but things are ever so much funner, and just a little out of hand. Non-bass driven music such as acoustic, rock, classical (the list could go on and on); and slower genres like hip-hop get on without perturbation. Trance, with its fast bass is the only slightly ‘off’ sound. The T1 throws a modest – and I do mean modest – extra wave of bass impact into each beat. It’s not chaotic, and for those who value a fuller, ‘rounder’ sound, it is great, but my brain has been conditioned on the sharper contrast of the FitEar Private 333.

Rock and hip-hop fans are in for a treat: the full, powerful bass bloody rocks. Packed under the T1’s bonnet are the most important elements of a sub-woofer: vibration and ‘POW’! On Hip-hop and rock, the slight echo makes everything more “rock’n roll”; bass guitars and kick drums have more twang. Even duffy duff bass from duffy duff recorded hip hop is full and round. In classical and jazz, though, there is a special magic. There is lots of space between lowly-voiced instruments, and great vibrations. It’s very much like listening to a valve amplifier: warmth, reverb, atmosphere – the T1 serves intense, yet refined piano and smooth strings. While it parties hotly with trance, it leaves the dress on the floor with rock, hip-hop, jazz, classical, and acoustic musics where its bass warmth can really show off.

So bass is voluminous, detailed, and painted with a bit of echo as it stretches up to the midbass. Where the T1 really, really sings is its milky-smooth midrange. The T1 is rich. Go ahead and follow my lead: sync up Feist’s albums, Let it Die and Surrender. Both albums rely heavily on guitar, hand-percussion, and piano. And, both have the tendency to lose a little magic from most of my other custom earphones. Not so with the T1. Feist’s voice, in smooth luxurious timbre, is perfectly haunting. The soft but thick pelting of the T1’s lower bass, the mid range vocals and instruments are catered to beautiful, relaxing, listening. Ticking with keen shimmer in the background are the perfectly decaying cymbals.

Overall, mid/high-pitched voices are most at home from the T1. Female vocals, Paul Simon (and the like), horns, strings: each are brilliant. Male vocals come in two flavours: amazing and damn good. Deep, throaty voices could benefit from the harder inner sound tubes of the FitEar and Jerry Harvey earphones, but lose only a little in comparison when rumbling from the T1.

Coming from the Sensaphonics 2X-s, an incredible, but somewhat fatiguing custom earphone, I was worried that the T1 too, would suffer from grainy treble. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The T1 extends beautifully high, and even appears to accommodate the ear’s ~8-10 kHz attenuation peak very nicely.

There is an abundance of clear, lush treble. In particular, cymbal and piano decay is spot on, never concocting strange, painful shimmers. To top it all off, instrument separation is excellent. From top to bottom, the T1 is free of smear and intermediate chatter.

Live recordings are spacious and mesmerising. Honestly, I am surprised. My experience with smooth earphones is generally tainted by a longing for more detail, more separation, more space. The T1 meets all my demands, and while not razor-cutting the image like the extremely wide FitEar Private 333, it doesn’t play second fiddle to anyone else. Between notes, there is just so much atmosphere and stage.

Headstage and hiss
The soundstage is ‘softer’ than some of the competition, cleansing away recording artefacts – a strange ability for an otherwise detailed earphone. Jerry Harvey’s JH13Pro retains the most coherently 3D image of any custom I’ve used, and the FitEar 333, the blindingly widest, but the T1 is close to both, adding the warmth and throb of a silicon earphone.

Instrument separation is succinct without engulfing the listener. In particular, the midrange stands out with powerful, dynamic soul. Club, trance, and live music is wide, but never loses that soft, recording-studio maturity.

The T1 is sensitive – make no doubt about that. And because its silicon construction shuts out more outside noise than acrylic earphones, source volume can be tipped downwards. A drawback of this is that if that source is hissy, you’ll hear it. Saying that, it should be noted that the T1 isn’t as sensitive to hiss as the FitEar Private 333 – which is a blessing. The background noise of an iPod touch 2G, which is among the lowest of all DAP’s, is faintly audible from the T1. My Fuze is next, casting more noise into the music, and my Sony A845 and AMP3 Pro 2 make angry noise in the background of every album I have.

Out and about
Remember that this is a fully custom earphone. If you really really want a 20 centimetre cable, go ahead – ring up ACS’ president, Andy Schiach, and tell him. Mine is ~170 centimetres; I can almost wrap it around my growing mid-section a couple of times! Definitely tell ACS what length you prefer. I tend to think 130-140 cm is about perfect for portable use: equally servicing jeans pocket stuffers, and purse-toters.

The cable is also energetic and needs the neck cinch. It doesn’t flop away from the ears, but there is some noise which travels up and down its length. With the cinch in place, however, touch noise disappears. Personally, I’d trade a little noise for strength and resistance to sweat and body oils.

Perhaps the best out and about feature of the T1, however, is the fact that it sits so flush IN the ear. It disappears in everything: the ear, in the wallet, and when not in use, in the trousers when packed together with an iPod nano! Its compactness combined with the solid silicon shell means no wind noise when exercising. The one area which can be annoying is when removing/inserting it. If someone bothers you with a question, you won’t like taking the T1 in and out – silicon earphones simply take more time to insert and remove.

There’s no escaping the warmth of the ACS T1. But where most warm earphones lose details and tend to boom, the T1 maturely casts everything back to the listener. Sure, there is a bit of mid-bass boom, but for most genres, it fits in perfectly. Otherwise, voicing is great and mid/high voiced instruments are phenomenal. That isn’t to say that bass isn’t as amazing. It is, but there, in the depths, is a warm, free-spirit lurking. It is warm, deep, big, and at times, accompanied by a faint second voice. If you are a fan of valve amplifiers, of LP records, and soft ice cream, you will probably enjoy the T1 a lot more than you will its competitors. Still, it stands toe to toe with them in majority detail retrieval.

Finally, It is strong, looks and feels great, and is nearly flawless for out and about. The only thing ACS could improve on is the cable’s attachment to the earphone; removable cabling would be perfect for both the experimental audiophile and the violent professional musician alike! If you are a performer, the soft silicon, which flexes and re-moulds itself to the inner ear, is a perfect choice for the stage. For the lecherous techies and audiophiles, I simply recommend the T1 as an integral part of a hi-end portable system, but comes with a hi-end price.

ACS T1 Custom-Fit IEM Summary
Title: ACS T1 Custom-Fit IEM Developer: Advanced Communications Solutions (ACS)
Reviewed Ver: T1 Version 2 Driver Type: triple balanced armature
Price: £649 (~ USD 1000$) Cable: Kevlar-reinforced
  • Best accessory package
  • Tiny, compact, and tough
  • Great cable, 3,5mm termination
  • Now customisable!
  • Excellent warm sound
  • Great extension and detail
  • Cable should be detachable

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

HP-Review-ACST1-cinchysplit HP-Review-ACST1-fit HP-Review-ACST1-glamour HP-Review-ACST1-pelican-in HP-Review-ACST1-pelican HP-Review-ACST1-plug-strain HP-Review-ACST1-plug HP-Review-ACST1-sideside2 HP-Review-ACST1-tubeclose music-Feist-LetItDie Music-Feist-The Reminder music-Markus-Schulz-progressionRead more]]> 6
Jays launch handcrafted ear moulds for q-Jays earphones! Tue, 02 Mar 2010 08:36:48 +0000 The q-Jays is already a wonderful earphone full of details and space. But Jays aim to make it even better with a new service: custom silicon ear moulds for their current top-of-the-line earphone. Unlike other manufacturers, Jays will make use of silicon rather than acrylic. This ostensibly affords listeners and performers better isolation and comfort than … Read more]]>

The q-Jays is already a wonderful earphone full of details and space. But Jays aim to make it even better with a new service: custom silicon ear moulds for their current top-of-the-line earphone. Unlike other manufacturers, Jays will make use of silicon rather than acrylic. This ostensibly affords listeners and performers better isolation and comfort than traditional acrylic moulds. Jays’s partner is Bellman & Symfon AB, a Swedish hearing protection company, to bring audiophiles and professionals alike, a kick apps in-ear system. Feel free to discuss the Jays launch handcrafted ear moulds for q-Jays earphones in our forums.

Piccies and more after the gap:

Press Release

Swedish earphone manufacturer Jays AB teams up with hearing technology specialist Bellman & Symfon AB to offer individually adapted earphones.

Jays, producer of award-winning earphones, has partnered with Bellman & Symfon, world-leading experts in hearing technology, to boost its range with the launch of q-JAYS Custom, the ultimate personalized audio product.

q-JAYS Custom feature Jays dual armature q-JAYS earphones mounted in a silicone shape that is casted to fit to the users own ear canal for maximum comfort and sound quality. This hand-crafted mold provides close to complete sound isolation to allow the user to enjoy the incedible performance of the smallest earphones on the market completely uninterrupted.

A unique feature is that the earphone can be safely removed and placed back in the mold, allowing for use also as a normal in-earphone. This makes it possible to change the silicone mold, which should be done in intervals of 4 to 5 years, without investing in a new earphone.

“We meet hundreds of musicians and they often ask if we can provide this type of in-ear monitor to use in live performances” says Peter Cedmer, product manager at Jays. “Live performers are like the Formula 1 drivers of the audio world, theyre an extremely demanding group of customers but working in close cooperation with them allows us to develop the very best products. With the launch of the q-JAYS Custom we can now offer the very best in this personalized earphone technology to our non-professional customers as well.”

Fredrik Ahlström, CEO at Bellman & Symfon Europe AB commented, “For many years weve been at the forefront of innovation in the hearing protection, alerting and listening device market so its very exciting to be teaming up with another strong Swedish audio technology brand. With our joint focus on quality and personalized service we can now work together to develop an even stronger set of products to our customers”.

q-JAYS Custom will be available in the beginning of April 2010.

- q-JAYS Custom:

- Testresults:

- Activists:

For more information, please contact:

Peter Cedmer, Product manager, Jays AB

Cell: +46 (0)73 828 52 36


HP-news-Jays-q-jays-custom-moulds-01 HP-news-Jays-q-jays-custom-moulds-02 HP-news-Jays-q-jays-custom-moulds-03 HP-news-Jays-q-jays-custom-moulds-04Read more]]> 0
Sensaphonics 3XMax triple-driver custom earphone introduced Thu, 25 Feb 2010 07:01:41 +0000 Sensaphonics are a virtual monolith in the American professional/musician earphone business. Their hitherto bread and butter, 2X-s and Max are excellent custom earphones for professionals and audiophiles alike. While TMA is still working on the 2X-s review, Sensaphonics one-upped us by introducing their newest, the triple-driver 3XMax. The new earphone shares many similarities to its … Read more]]>

Sensaphonics are a virtual monolith in the American professional/musician earphone business. Their hitherto bread and butter, 2X-s and Max are excellent custom earphones for professionals and audiophiles alike. While TMA is still working on the 2X-s review, Sensaphonics one-upped us by introducing their newest, the triple-driver 3XMax. The new earphone shares many similarities to its older brother: both earphones are housed in medical-grade silicon which isn’t susceptible to the horrors of cracking whilst in the ear. And, mirroring last year’s 2X-s upgrade, it touts a field-replaceable cable for added insurance. Of course, the addition of an extra driver will aid dynamic range and accuracy in musical reproduction.

More after the gap:

Press Release

Sensaphonics is proud to present a new reference standard in custom in-ear monitoring – the 3MAX.

This all-new earphone features a proprietary triple-driver design, field- tested for exceptionally accurate audio by a panel of long-time touring artists and engineers. With its twin-drive bass system and precision high-frequency driver, the 3MAX offers the more potent SPL output inherent in a higher sensitivity design, literally taking Sensaphonics’ legendary sonic
accuracy to a new level.

The 3MAX is also the only triple-driver earphone with the long-wearing comfort of medical-grade, all silicone earpieces. This resilient material won’t shrink, crack or fade, protecting the internal electronics from harm while assuring a tight seal and maximum isolation.

Every aspect of the 3MAX is top-of-the-line, right down to its field-replaceable cable system. Our supple, tour-grade cable is secured to the earpieces with a small nylon screw to guarantee a firm connection that can’t be accidentally unplugged. In the unlikely event of a failure, the cable is easily replaced, eliminating costly repairs while keeping the band rockin’.

Welcome to the new state of the art in custom earphone design – the Sensaphonics 3MAX.

Sensaphonics launches 3MAX triple-driver earphones
World’s first triple-driver gel silicone custom earphones premier at Winter NAMM.

Anaheim, CA (January 14, 2010) Sensaphonics has announced the introduction of its latest model, the 3MAX triple-driver custom earphone. The first and only triple-driver earphone with the long-wearing comfort of soft-gel silicone earpieces, the new 3MAX also features a field-replaceable cable as standard. By combining a proprietary twin-driver bass system with a precision high frequency driver, the 3MAX delivers exceptionally accurate in-ear audio with higher SPL and more bass headroom than any previous model.

“We were the first manufacturer to extend low frequency response by adding a second speaker to a custom earphone,” notes Sensaphonics President and founder Michael Santucci. “To meet today’s demands on IEM earphone performance, we developed a triple-driver design that can deliver as much acoustic push as modern wireless systems can provide, while retaining the sound signature that has made our 2MAX and 2X-S models so successful.”

In finalizing the 3MAX design, a panel of monitor engineers and musicians participated in blind tests to select the best sound quality. “It’s not how many drivers you can fit into an earphone – it’s how accurate they sound,” states Dr. Santucci. “And with the 3MAX, we’ve achieved a new level of excellence. Our test panel confirms it.”

Because the 3MAX attains significantly higher levels than previous Sensaphonics designs, Santucci cautions, “As an audiologist, I actively encourage musicians to listen at safe levels.  We strongly urge 3MAX customers to also consider our dB Check in-ear sound analyzer.” The dB Check is an in-line metering device that allows users to see their in-ear levels in real time, and displays how long they can safely listen at that volume.

The Sensaphonics 3MAX custom earphone is now available. Contact us for more information.

For more headphone news and reviews, be sure to check out TMA’s headphone oubliette.

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FitEar Private 333 custom earphone in Review – Big Japan Mon, 07 Dec 2009 18:22:54 +0000 The world of earphones has been ripped asunder by the ‘driver war’ which is now sillier than the blade war which rears its ugly head in between French handball goals on TV. Today, models which boast 8 drivers roam the prototypical plains in the underbellies of inventive manufacturers – and mark my words, that number … Read more]]>


The world of earphones has been ripped asunder by the ‘driver war’ which is now sillier than the blade war which rears its ugly head in between French handball goals on TV. Today, models which boast 8 drivers roam the prototypical plains in the underbellies of inventive manufacturers – and mark my words, that number will only climb. On the heals of the Jerry Harvey JH13Pro, the Fitear Private 333 will expose another niche, another customer base, and another sound among custom earphones. This time, the badge of honour (other than “made in Japan”) which the 333 proudly wears, is that of ‘fun’. Indeed, this custom is somewhat of a departure from the more neutral options from Sleek and Jerry Harvey and goes the Ultrasone route of fun, space, and speed. And it rocks.

Package and Accessories
Like its more typically dressed colleagues, the FitEar 333 comes with a carrying case and a wax loop. And somewhat odd is an interesting cannon-shaped shirt-clip. Fitear’s new cable is a bit energetic and for the person who cannot keep up, the shirt clip may be necessary to keep it down. If the case looks familiar, it is because Sleek Audio and Sensaphonics also use the same excellent Pelican who are gods among small carry-alls. It is water resistant, crush-proof, dust proof, and otherwise, soft inside to protect your investment. It isn’t perfect though. Unlike Sleek Audio, FitEar didn’t fill the case from the bottom and top with sponge to ensue that the customs don’t move around. While a small matter, it means that if violently jostled, the hard acrylic shells could be damaged.


Apart from the essentials, there is also a one page colour manual which shows you how to insert the custom and explains a few important points in preserving the earphones, and your hearing. I have no doubt that this excellent product will soon make it out of Japan, but currently, if you really want to get into the specifics of FitEar’s literature, you will have to be able to read 日本語.


FitEar’s customs have a trademark shallow fit and position the drivers further into the body of the rather large custom shell rather than the ear. This decision allows for 3 distinct sound tubes for any size of ear. As a 3 speaker design, each driver has its own sound tube, ostensibly allowing for greater articulation. Each tube is also slightly wider than many competitors and a stunning show of workmanship. As a result of the shallower fit, isolation from outside noise isn’t quite as severe as with other, deeper sitting customs, but probably does the better part of 25 decibels.

The 333 is housed in solid, thick acrylic shells. As a consequence, they are larger than most customs. Also, since its cable is mounted onto a sturdy outboard terminal, each earphone protrudes from the ear. This piece is helpful for insertion and removal of the earphones because it provides something solid to grip onto, but I can foresee some users not enjoying this design, preferring instead, the flush designs of the more traditional Ultimate Ears’ standard. Overall fit and comfort best every other acrylic custom I have tried and can be worn for as many hours as the soft Sensaphonics 2X-s.


Of course, fit depends on the quality of your impressions. Make sure they are taken at by a good audiologist, or if you are lucky enough to be in Japan, at Fitear.


Finish and Build Quality
FitEar have many articles about which they can run amuck, boasting, but perhaps the point about which they have no rival is the build quality of their in ear monitors. Zoom way in, this unit is without visual and finish flaw. From smudges, to bubbles, air pockets, and imperfectly buffed areas, the Fitear Private 333 is immaculate. For real audio geeks, it could replace those silly snow globes, providing instead, a deep look into the inner workings of audio perfection. Everything is laid out with precision and optimised for quality. Of course, you cannot choose artwork to adorn the outer portion of the earpiece, and even the meagre personalisations are only possible through cellophane-printed logos. This point is bound to trap users. As a custom, artwork, which is as personal as can be, is rudimentary. But you will see that FitEar’s decision which limits customisation may be worth it in the long run.

The detachable cable is incredibly strong, resistant to the oxidation caused by body oils and sweat, and mounts in a semi-recessed two-pronged input port. If you need another recommendation, look no further than the Japanese Police force who have used a similar cable design for years. I mean, if it’s strong enough for the only people with legal guns in Japan, hell, it’s gotta be something! Contact pins cannot be bend from insertion into and removal from the earphone, nor from being stepped on – the design is quite near flawless. To be honest, there is no perfect method, but Fitear and Sleek Audio employ what appears to be the most sturdy cable mounting systems.


The cable itself is completely sheathed in a jacket of energetic rubber which can be microphonic if the neck synch isn’t employed. After the Y-split, however, the cable tapers to a thin line which is less susceptible to touch noise and works very well for four-eyed audiophiles. While strong, it lacks real stress reliefs and melted anchor-points. The plug is right-angle terminated in a narrow jacket which should fit nearly any source or amp. I don’t doubt that it will last a long time, but there are certain precautions which should be taken to ensure users get excellent return on their investments.


Fun fun fun – the FitEar 333 is a rock/pop/hip-hop/trance/classical-loving earphone. Indeed, it is the DJ headphone among customs: thick and powerful both down load and up top, but tweaked for excellent imaging. Let me attach my favourite Ultrasone DJ1Pro to the FitEar 333 as a weak guideline to its sound. I think it is an apt comparison: both headphones excel with lower and upper frequencies, maintain clarity and edge at the all extremities, and a detailed, but comparatively cool midrange. Unlike the JH13Pro which can be wrangled to lovely-ise every musical type, the 333 is most at home among technical and fast music genres.

Low Frequencies
Low down, tones hit hard and fast in incredibly detailed voices. Any low brush of strings, any pounce of the bass drum, any electronic low note – everything low is essentially expressive, taut and powerful. But unlike the bass monster Ultimate Ears UE11Pro, the 333 pounces with poise AND prejudice. Low notes aren’t boldfaced, underlined, or italicised; they are merely punchy and detailed. Technically, those low sounds are nigh on flawless, but pause should be served as well. Firstly, the 333’s clean, smear-free sound is hardly emotive in slower, moody music; thus organic instruments and low vocals, while finely resolving, lack some of the magical warmth which comes through for instance, in the JH13Pro. In such cases, think the 333 as an engineer who scrutinises music for flaws.

This signature really beings to pick up when the musical pace picks up. Think pop, hip-hop, rap, and electronic, etc.. These genres among many others, translate the 333 from instrument to player. Its fun nature really pops out in some of the most engaging, tuneful renditions of the above genres. In particular, trance is simply flawlessly spacey and deeply riddled with perfect PRaT.

Where the JH is deeply smooth and punchy, the 333 is deep, speedy and punchy. Lows are layered, spaced, and parsed better than any other inner earphone I have heard. But because it can sound clinical; for this reason, the 333 doesn’t encompass as many genres quite as well as the JH13Pro. Detail freaks, on the other hand, may disagree. Another point of comparison is the effect of the solid body. Neither the 333 nor the JH13Pro are bass monsters, but the hollow shell of the JH13Pro vibrates more tangibly, effectively sub-wooferising the light shells. The FitEar design, then, relies more on acoustics more than Jerry Harvey’s masterpiece.

Mids and Highs
The Private 333 is an energetic, and bass-loving earphone, but its low notes don’t drive anything else away. Similar to lows, mids are clean – ever so clean. In fact, if anything comes through with more aplomb, it is the space which is generated in the mid section by this earphone. Sure, bass is energetic, punchy, and detailed. And highs, are pretty much in the same boat, but the mid section sings in a dwarfing space. Most balanced armature earphones foot spacious mid-sections, but the 333 puts them to shame. It is wide, wide, WIDE! And in that vast chamber of sound, the 333 has a slightly more tender spot for male vocals than for female, but both are cleanly beautiful, though erring a little more dryly again than the JH13Pro. I don’t want to make the mistake of turning readers off of this earphone by my adjectives. When I mention clinical, I mean clean, leaving no trace. This isn’t an AKG K701, it is closer to a Beyerdynamic DT880, or again, the DJ1Pro. But still, the 333 is technical first, and lovely second.

Highs are the 333’s make-or-break frequency. Firstly, let me say that they extend very well to 20 Hz, easing into the limits of 16 bit audio with just a minor dip in frequency response to the tune of 3-5 decibels at the eardrum. This high frequency band, like the lows and mids is fast and clean. Thankfully, despite great extension and energy, it isn’t prone to ssssibilance, or grain. Cymbals and high strings shimmer just enough, then fade quickly leaving memory, rather than musical residue. And just for fun, there is a small bump around 8 kHz which shines everything up.

As always, this is one of the more subjective benchmark tests for any headphone, but that matters not. Imagine having tiny speakers behind your ears, near your eyeballs, and at your eardrums. Now imagine that those speakers were vagabonds, nomading their way in and out with the music in concentric patterns. Fortunately, the 333 isn’t so dizzying. But, it is a cavernous _savant_. It simply places everything perfectly with perhaps the widest achievable channel separation I have experienced in an inner earphone to date. Of course, that won’t make old Beatles albums sound better; on the contrary, sharp stereo separation only really makes beautiful music with modern, made-for-stereo albums. Again, is this runoff of the 333’s triple sound tubes, or is it because of the headphone’s excellent dynamics? The truth is that it matters little once in the ears.

Technical music: classical, trance, electronic, psychodelic, space, etc., is a new leaf which the 333 turns gracefully over. Even the JH13Pro doesn’t liven virtual placement quite as well.

Sound in a Nutshell
If the JH13Pro is a high plateau which establishes itself as lord over all genres, the Fitear Private 333 is the domineering range of peaks behind which usurp the lord’s power in certain genres. It sounds good with everything, but it is not the best earphone for soulful, atmospheric music. Rather, where there is space, it will magnify it, scrutinise details, and throw everything back with tight accuracy and loads and loads of fun.

Technically, the 333 is flawless. Sure, it has a small loss of high-end frequency and a slight bump around 8Hz at the eardrum. But the whole story is that this earphone is fun without getting sloppy. It pairs so well with fast music, with pop, and with electronic as to warrant a new genre badge of honour. In other musical genres too, it is an excellent earphone, but voiced with perhaps too stringently detailed a voice. Personally, I am in love, and will recommend the 333 to all fans of ‘fun’ musics. Keep in mind that it is a sensitive earphone. The volume levels needed for pain with other earphones are simply over the top this time around. Unfortunately too, if a source hisses, you will know it. Be sure to have a string of clean sources and amps if you really want to enjoy the 333.

Finally, as with most balanced armature earphones, the 333 is not easy to drive per se. Sure, it gets loud and bassy, but the differences when paired with an proper amp (in my case, the ALO Rx) and without one are kind of stark. The main difference is that high mids/low highs (???) suffer a ‘suck out’ for lack of a better term. There is an audible dip in the high frequency range of about 5 decibels when not driven properly. Fortunately, there is little to know loss of bass definition or the 333′s incredible soundstage without an amp.


Out and about with the 333
There are simply too many items which combine to make this custom earphone perfect for portable use. Firstly, the cable’s lenght is just this side of amazing for walkabouting. Better yet, it is strong, resistant to body oil and sweat, and when the cable synch is employed, has very little touch noise. Then, there is the fact that it isolates well enough to enjoy music at very low volumes. But strangely, one of the best selling points is that the body, which protrudes from the ear more than other customs, is easy to take out and in without every having to pull on the cable.


Because it is a very sensitive earphone, I typically use it at volumes of about 10-20% on the iPod touch which is enough to keep music clean and clearly louder than almost any surrounding. In the same vein, even the very clean iPod touch 2G exhibits slight hiss. Don’t worry though: my ears are simply out of control. You may have no trouble at all.


In the end, if you are going to drop a lot of money on a custom earphone, you should know what you want. The Fitear Private 333 is one of the best if not the best built custom on the planet. It also is the undeniable champ for dynamic, fast, fun, and technical music. And fun is really what it is all about isn’t it? Sure, but you also get an excellent cable which isn’t as susceptible to pin breakages as many competitors, a housing which is sweetly comfortable, and a great case. If you don’t shudder with driver envy, this triple speaker, triple receiver, triple cross over unit will do for you things which till now have remained fantasy.

Artsy types, stay away. Neither the case, nor the housing are indelible by FitEars except the inner, seldom-seen parts. If you want artwork, keep moving.

But keep in mind, it is hungry for details, devouring them in every frequency band, in every instrument, in every voice. It isn’t as lush with vocals as the JH13Pro, nor as equitable as Sleek’s CT6 for trance. No, it is the exciting badboy; the type of earphone you wouldn’t want to catch your daughter with. And for this reason, it simply rocks.


Headphone Summary
Title: Private 333 Developer: FitEar
Price: 89,250円 (89 250 yen) Transducer Type Triple balanced armature
  • Stunning built quality and finish
  • Great cabling system
  • Technically graceful, fun, fast, and strong sound
  • Great case
  • Best in class fit and comfort
  • Extremely simple artwork options leave little to show off

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

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Jerry Harvey JH13Pro in Review – Sex for your ears Wed, 30 Sep 2009 16:26:21 +0000 Every month of every year, enterprising audio designers create new gadgets which achieve some paragon of aural nirvana. Jerry Harvey founded Ultimate Ears to support the rockers, Van Halen with products which would both protect their hearing and relate greater production value to their fans. For 1099$, the JH13Pro stands with a 50$ cheaper price … Read more]]>


Every month of every year, enterprising audio designers create new gadgets which achieve some paragon of aural nirvana. Jerry Harvey founded Ultimate Ears to support the rockers, Van Halen with products which would both protect their hearing and relate greater production value to their fans. For 1099$, the JH13Pro stands with a 50$ cheaper price tag than its older — and now estranged — brother, the Ultimate Ears UE11Pro, but lacks a few of its amenities. What it doesn’t lack, however, is beautiful sound.

INC have a great article detailing Jerry Harvey’s moves which changed the stage performance industry.

The JH13Pro is considered by many audiophiles to be THE custom monitor: an item which transcends the hitherto understanding of inner-ear perfection. Housing 6 coupled balanced armatures per earphone, it is a technological marvel, but at the same time, amplifies the incessant market craving for more; if JHA can fit 6 drivers in the tiny housing, someone somewhere will fit more. The previous driver mogul is the limited production 5-driver TEAR by HiDition, an obscure hearing protection company based out of Seoul, South Korea. The JH13Pro, however, likely is gunning for Jerry’s former masterpiece, 2007’s Ultimate Ears UE11Pro. Jerry Harvey Audio cater to musicians, audiophiles, and oddly enough, aviators. Understandably, they have one of the most varied and unique line-ups of any custom manufacturer.

This flagship product is an important reminder that nothing is good enough when it comes to the audio market. But, my own nerve quivers in response to that axiom: true, the audio market must constantly pace itself for new, better products. But audio, like football isn’t judged in seconds or records, but by dirty referees: its users. Expect glowing reviews for this product: it is worth the wait.

Proprietary precision-balanced armatures
Dual low, dual mid, dual high
Integrated 3-way crossover
Noise Isolation: -26dB
Input Connector: 1/8” (3.5mm), gold-plated
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 20kHz
Input Sensitivity: 119dB @ 1mW
Impedance: 28 Ohms
Cable: Copper, 125 cm

Package and Accessories
Jerry Harvey Audio have two different accessory packages: their older set comes in an overlarge carbon fibre box, and the new set with a hard plastic case from Otter. Each design has its advantages and disadvantages, but pragmatically, the Otter box is a much better accessory. The older, carbon fibre case, while large, and unwieldy, is classy, and uniquely available from Jerry Harvey. But, it doesn’t latch, nor protect the earphones from condensation, nor very well from shock. Also, the inner sponge, which is fastened by double-sided tape can rip out after repeated use. Understandably, this was a short-term gap option from Jerry Harvey, but it leaves the first batch of customers with a less-than-stellar storage solution for a very expensive product.


The Otter case, on the other hand, is less classy, but a better choice when protecting a large investment such as the JH13Pro. Much smaller and splash proof, it is better for touring, working and carrying around. And, unlike the patchwork design of the dark carbon case, doesn’t easily show scratches.

Both packages lack accessories other than the earwax cleaning loop. Considering the price and ostensibly audiophiles and professional market, a 6,3mm headphone jack adapter, extension cable, lubrication, and a travel case would be welcome additions. I am keeping an eye on Headfi’s appreciation thread because subtle additions are popping up. This link shows recent pictures taken by Hifidk, a headfi member who recently received newly re-fitted JH13Pro monitors. Quite a change for the better.


Fit depends on a number of things. Firstly, your impressions must be properly taken and shipped; and second, processed, manufactured, and buffed perfectly. Fortunately, little of that responsibility is laid on you. Jerry Harvey Audio employ stereolithography techniques which model a scanned ear impression to accurately ‘print’ the earphones one layer at a time. The result is less human error, though is a costly and time-consuming process. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and no matter the technology employed, even perfectly conceived processes may result in faults. So, don’t be daunted by fit problems – sometimes, they are just part of the process.

Review-HP-JH13Pro-FullFrontal Review-HP-JH13Pro-FullSidal

Assuming a perfect custom fit, the JH13Pro is a comfortable, yet still intrusive custom monitor. One of the unique construction characteristics of the Jerry Harvey line is its deeply reaching sound arms which reach very deeply into the ear and rest just millimetres away from the eardrum. Most samples I have seen reach very far into the ear and from anecdotal evidence, the JH series sits very deeply. This technique accomplishes two things: one; it aids in severing as much outside noise as possible, creating a great cavity in which only music exists, and two; it ensures that the inner ear exhibits as little of its own influences on the music as possible, enhancing bone conduction. With a good fit, every customer in the world should experience the exact same sound quality with little interference from their ear’s own equalisation. One side effect is that both inserting and removing the earphone isn’t as fast or comfortable as customs with shorter tubes. Also, you must remember that if the tube is pushing too far in; that is to say, if it touches your eardrum, it is dangerous. Care must be taken to ensure that this construction works for you, rather than against you.

The hard acrylic will not shrink over time and with good care, should keep the same shape, thus you should be able to use the monitors for years. Jerry Harvey’s cables come in the following flavours: black and clear; but both house soft copper wires which make wearing both comfortable and free from microphonic noises. Where users likely will draw lines against comfort is in the use of stiff memory wire where the earphone and cable connect. That ~3 cm length is supported by a stiff inner metal rod which can be bent to secure the cable around the ear. Personally, I find wearing glasses and the JH13Pro annoying, but your own mileage may vary. The memory cable and surrounding rubber sleeve do help anchor the cable for less touch noise and to proper routing, items which are important for personal and professional use.


Finish and Build Quality
Sound quality in its primordial definition, is the character of a sound. But as you will see below, the JH13Pro has little to say outright, and other than leaving the listener pleasantly mesmerised, falls pretty close into the category of instrument. Its performance is largely hinged on two fulcrums: combination of quality parts, and just as important, internal construction.

The JH13Pro comes in any colour you can dream of and for a small fee, with custom artwork. Though the outer shell is hard acrylic, all internal sound tubing is semi-hard rubber which travels though long acoustic arms; the effect is that each person’s ears’ own acoustic effects are minimised, allowing each customer to experience the same sound.

Some customs’ sound bores are carved into the acrylic shell themselves with no sleeving which can emphasise . Jerry’s design results in equable treble and mids. Bass is positively effected by the hollow, vibratory housing which transmits a subtle, yet tactile distinction between instruments. Inside, there is a vast empty chamber. Drivers, cables, sound tubes, and supportive adhesive aside, the JH13Pro is a cavern. Despite its great effect on sound, however, there are drawbacks: mainly strength. Under normal use and when stored properly, the hollow shell should not suffer any bodily ruptures nor cracks, but the shells feel, for lack of a better word, a little flimsy – even when compared to the slightly heavier and much less costly Sleek Audio CT6.


The JH series’ cable is a good blend of materials and manufacturing processes. It is soft and supple, yet strong. The twisted construction adds strength to the design which is completely immune to touch noise. And thanks to excellent stress relief from the right-angled plug to the stress relief, the cable shouldn’t suffer shorts. Supple twisted like this are susceptibile to knotting and unravelling, even when stored neatly. Even after careful looping, the cable will twist and kink. I predict that this will become a problem for some. Finally, like many similar cables, it will oxidise; if you have the silver cable, it will turn green around the ears and maybe further down while the black version should remain visually unaffected. I am led to believe that this will not affect functionality, but it is something to keep in mind. Fortunately, the cable is user-replaceable and uses the same connector and pin layout as a number of other cables.

Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-untwist-02 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-untwist-01

Ultimate Ears’ connector is half-hidden in a recessed entry port which anchors the cable securely and protects the pins from bending, but Jerry Harvey’s models, like Westone’s are not anchored and are more likely to bend or break, though that too is dependent on user abuse. The hollow housing isn’t an issue, it is a design decision which positively affects sound by way of bone conduction. Lack of cable recession however, could have been retooled into a better construction method. I know of at least one cable with broken pins and can imagine that this may become a problem.

For musicians who want to use the earphones for live performance or monitoring, the JH13Pro will need to be treated carefully. For the careful audiophile, cable issues may not arise, however, this is the Achilles heal of the earphone and an issue which shouldn’t be overlooked. Too many manufacturers completely overlook the importance of cable and connection quality.

My review is based on the stock cable, which though free from touch noise, needs to improve.


“Listen Up” emblazoned on Jerry Harvey Audio’s website is a bold command to its potential market. But, despite its rich design legacy, technological prowess, and sumptuous looks, the JH13Pro isn’t a loud earphone; it doesn’t trumpet lows or highs, nor vaunt its mid section: like a good poem or book, it is best enjoyed slowly. But, the JH13pro is anything but slow. As can be seen in the attached photographs, each driver pair are tiny – much smaller than some competitors’ models, and like Ultimate Ears, use custom-tuned drivers. The combined effect of long inner ear arms, semi-hard rubber sound tubes and smaller custom drivers is breathtaking to say the least. In all frequencies, the JH13Pro is a detailed, edgy earphone which extends well toward both frequency extremes, but in a nonchalant voice. Listening fatigue should be a non-issue for all ears and musical preferences.

At only 28 Ohms and 119 decibels of sensitivity, by all conceptions, the JH13Pro should hiss from most sources, but thankfully it isn’t an incessant hisser. Of course, noisy sources such as certain laptops, receivers, wireless mics and digital audio players will hiss, but not acutely. Still, for the best listening, and considering the amount of detail this earphone can retrieve, it is best to pair it with a quality, low-noise source. For comparison’s sake, it hisses a little more than Sleek’s CT6, but not enough to truly annoy.

Low Frequencies
It is only natural to begin by praising what is in my opinion, the most neutral, sonorous rendition of bass that I have heard in an earphone. In terms of detail, every nuance is held dear, and no genre, fast or slow, will force the JH13Pro out of its element. Intimate strings from small jazz venues retain their soft edges while subtly caressing each twang, pluck, or kick from lowly-voiced instruments; whether string or percussion-based, bass notes linger perfectly and decay in the same vein. Congruently, soft genres are never too hot nor emotional.

Even more impressive is how the JH13Pro handles bassy music. The likes of Ice Cube and MC Solaar have been treated to hi-fi treatment with Westone’s UM3X, the Shure SE530, and Earsonics’ SM2, but Jerry Harvey’s masterpiece does one better. The JH13Pro isn’t a boomy earphone: even when fed the contour setting of Graham Slee’s Voyager headphone amp, the most forceful, bloomy bass retains clearly defined edges. While Ice Cube is better with the phat bass of Mingo WM-2, or the Victor FX500, his lilted English and adult themes have never been more succinct as when played through this 1099$ earphone.

Moving to trance, it is more of the same. Raw speed and detail preside over power, but in trance, too much power kills pace and space. The JH13Pro hits the floor in any genre, but doesn’t trip on it. Despite its relatively neutral bass response, in trance, the JH13Pro swims the English Channel; its depth is retained even amidst throbbing bass, the roar of crowds, computerised effects, and a steady stream of synth throughout. In a word, it is perfect.

The JH13Pro exercises one of the most beautiful bass signatures of any headphone and it’s little wonder: Jerry Harvey’s former masterpiece, the ponderous UE11 Pro is an earphone whose impact (and when controlled, definition) completely embarrasses most balanced armature earphones on the market. But, he set out to better his former flagship and in doing so, elucidates his position as one of the best engineers on the market. However, if you are a bona-fide bass head, the JH13Pro will probably not rattle enough brain cells. The UE11 Pro, and ostensibly, Futuresonics’ custom earphones may better fit your needs.

Mid Frequencies
The JH13Pro’s mid section is slightly ‘wetter’ than the other frequencies, but it remains controlled and smooth. Never splashy and with no real preference for the male or female voice, vocals sound great. Sumptuously smooth, strings such as piano and harp are not bettered in any armature-based earphone. Like the Victor FX500, natural instruments have great texture and nuance, but where the Victor FX500 excels in fibrous bass and to a lesser extend, mid frequencies, the JH13Pro delivers a stunningly realistic and balanced production in both.

This is applicable to all genres. In trance, the mid section, though a little hot warm, never encroaches the synthesised timbres in the high or low registers. There isn’t a music which is too complex, too lilted to confuse this stunning earphone. What speaker listeners may notice, though, is that a slight mid-range warmth does not translate into vigourously emotive mids. Beautifully voiced, instruments are eerie, beautiful, and in perfect focus, but err limpid rather than hot.

Details such as a drum brush rasping on its canvass, the dull, dry pluck of a guitar string, and of course, the moist voice of a singer are readily noticeable. There is little reason to wax too lyrical, but it needs to be pointed out that, though not fibrous, there is loads of detail to be resolved from instruments, vocals, and the background.

High Frequencies
The JH13Pro bares its dual tweeters like fangs very near the inner ear. The pair deliver a very good high-band listening experience. Especially when positioned so near the inner ear, an earphone needs to manage two things perfectly: decay and extension. I can vouch for a simple sine wave response of up to 20 kHz, which nearly all earphones can reproduce within certain tolerances. But music isn’t all about extension, especially as the frequency dips very low or climbs very high; ultra-wide frequencies are mere specifics which either sell a piece of audio equipment, or serve as a means to define its tolerances.

That aside, this earphone, as per usual, is a top performer where it counts, though in a soft-spoken voice. Treble spikes upward, but without the usual accompanying sibilance. It remains highly resolved and instrumental edges shimmer and fade, but borderline fatigue-inducing details aren’t voiced. Part of the reason could be that its specific high-frequency drivers are smooth; another could be that the semi-hard rubber sound tubes attenuate those frequencies before they reach the eardrum. The overall effect is a very listenable and pleasing treble which isn’t scratchy, sibilant, or tiring.

Only Robin Hood can split his own arrows when given impossible odds; and when asked, the JH13Pro is as focused, delivering sharp, contrasty punches. Yet, it holds onto faint shimmer and fade cycles for ethereal, realistic treble.

Sound Stage
The combination of excellent dynamics, elite attack and decay, and the hollow housing is a wonder to behold. I have already noted that custom monitors deliver great, contrasty sound images which belie their speaker size. The JH13Pro only firm up that resolution. Though no sound escapes anywhere outside of the sound tube, the only physical mechanism which affects the virtual stage is bone conduction; the housing itself will minutely vibrate within the ear canal, and to a lesser extent, in your outer ear. While nothing like a pair of well-situated speakers, the JH13Pro has an uncanny sound stage which is wide and very clear. It goes without saying that instrument separation is good; in fact, there is so much air and individuality expressed within music that it is easy to mistake where you are in the midst of the performance.

I could go on and on, but it is fair to say that the 3D stage is great with this earphone that like a lively party, orchestrates great fun from a chaos of sights and sounds. At the same time, the long sound arms can feel stuffy, and despite the oustanding out-of-head sound, adds a thin veil to the sound.

Sound in a Nutshell
It wouldn’t make sense for me to lay down anything but spades here. No one can prove whether or not Jerry Harvey Audio’s claims that the JH13Pro has the least overhead and most transient speed of any earphone on the market. Marketing can stay where it stays: in and out of the back pockets of consumers. What is true is that there is a delicious miracle of sound behind and inside the hard acrylic shell of the earphone.

Low, high, and mid frequencies are beautiful, detailed, and for the most part, unrivalled. Some listeners may prefer more forward bass in which case, the viscerally dominant UE11 Pro may provide the fastest ticket, but in terms of balance, Jerry Harvey’s flagship product is indomitable. The slightly wet mids make for a truly remarkably detailed, yet pleasing listen which may be the best in the business. Lively, deep, wide, and immersive, it sings like no other. Know though, that its treble may be a little subdued for fans of earphones like the Etymotic ER4, but it is never fatiguing like the venerable grandaddy of inner earphones.

The JH13Pro simply disappears in the music; it is an earphone that does its job without pushing its weight around. If you want to hear and feel the music as purely as possible, this is your ticket to as near nirvana as is currently possible.


Out and About with the JH13Pro
What a joy it is to step into the bus, train, or roller coaster and hear next to nothing but your music. While JHA claim the same -26 decibels of isolation that other manufacturers do, this earphone is on the better end of that spec. It isolates almost as well as a good foam on the likes of the Shure SE530, and still can output quite a volume. Still, the volume of my iPod touch never rises above 40% in any situation and when used with an external amp, sat much further down on the volume pot. By the way, when properly amped, perfect gets perfecter. The hard acrylic does a better job of isolating low tones: cries, tapping metal, ticking mechanical objets – each will find its way into your music if you listen at safe levels.


Again, the cable is dead silent, and the perfect length for plugging into a hip-mounted wireless mic, or a digital audio player. The memory wire causes one problem which isn’t major – it exacerbates motion-noises such as footsteps for the unlucky four eyes among us. Glasses and memory wire is an annoying combination.


The JH13Pro exceeds its hype. In the world which Jerry Harvey helped to create, his latest and best had to be something different, and it is. It isn’t cold, nor overly warm, yet the clear voice projected through all frequencies and instruments is a touch of perfection which seems oddly out of place in high end audio world which is often full of hot air. It is smoother, more detailed, and dynamic than nearly anything your ears can plug into. If your musical preferences require heaps of icy sparkle and thick, chalky bass, there are other, more fitting options, but for a class-leading listen, there may not be a better option. Unfortunately, an earphone isn’t only sound; if it was, then the JH13Pro would be a perfect KISS in all categories.

As it is, there are a few disqualifying marks which stem mostly from build issues. While soft and free from touch noise, the cable is perhaps too delicate – susceptible to tangling and unravelling. There is no doubt that the connection port, too, is flimsy in comparison to the competition from Ultimate Ears, Sleek Audio, and Livewires. Sadly, that design is par for the course even with high-end manufacturers.

There is no doubt that the JH13Pro is the best sounding earphone I have tried, and may be the best in the market, but it is just ever so disappointing in a few, poignant areas to achieve total perfection. If JHA can improve one or two key areas, they will have achieved perfect aural sex.


App Summary
Title: JH13Pro Developer: Jerry Harvey Audio
Price: $1099
  • Superb Sound
  • Tone is excellent
  • Fab looks
  • Non-microphonic cable
  • Great speed and accuracy
  • Cable is subject to unravelling and possible pin breakage
  • Accessories do not compare favourably with Ultimate Ears or Westone, JHA’s two closest American rivals
  • Housing not as clean as some rivals nor shielded for cable protection

TMA is constantly updating its headphone section with news, reviews, and other gleanings from one of the dorkiest hobbiest on the planet!
Victor/JVC FX500 in ReviewShure SE530 in ReviewUltrasone Zino in ReviewVisual Comparisons: JH13Pro and Prophonics 2X-S

Review-HP-JH13Pro-Box-01 Review-HP-JH13Pro-Box-02 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-01 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-02 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-03 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-04 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-Pins-01 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-Plug-01 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-untwist-01 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-untwist-02 Review-HP-JH13Pro-CloseUp-XOver-01 Review-HP-JH13Pro-FamilyPhoto-01 Review-HP-JH13Pro-FamilyPhoto Review-HP-JH13Pro-Front Review-HP-JH13Pro-FullFrontal Review-HP-JH13Pro-FullSidalRead more]]> 21
ACS, Apple, and Etymotics – Oh My! Tue, 08 Sep 2009 16:48:39 +0000 While it is still to early to reliably suss the future, there is definitely something clever about a partnership between three major audio companies. Started in April of this year, ACS and Etymotic joined forces to create force a bit of audiophile air into UK Apple Stores. Apple, undisputedly an audio company, happily obliged, and … Read more]]>


While it is still to early to reliably suss the future, there is definitely something clever about a partnership between three major audio companies. Started in April of this year, ACS and Etymotic joined forces to create force a bit of audiophile air into UK Apple Stores. Apple, undisputedly an audio company, happily obliged, and the HF2 + ACS custom sleeve was born.

More exciting is the buzz this product has created. Apple’s ubiquitous retail presence has led to inadvertent audiophiles who, upon asking a few questions at the store, discover a latent desire to upgrade. The excellent combination has earned a well-placed 2009 iPhone Accessory of the Year from Macworld.

The HF2 is a high-quality headset from one of the most renowned inner earphone makers in the world, Etymotic, who practically invented the universal inner earphone market. ACS are perhaps a little less known outside of their professional market: musicians and formula 1 drivers, but are no less groundbreaking: they developed the first commercially-available soft-silicon custom earphone.

Like Sensaphonics’ 2x-S, ACS’ ear pieces are made from soft silicon, a material which is supremely isolating and comfortable. Sound from silicon ear pieces is a bit more relaxed than that of hard acrylic, but both have their advantages.

If you are lucky enough to live in the UK, your ear can be treated to ACS’ custom tip by simply contacting an ACS impression centre, making an appointment and showing up. I can vouch for the painless process which takes only about 10-15 minutes. A quick look at TMA’s Sleek Audio CT6 earphone review will reveal some of the inherent qualities custom earphones have over their universal counterparts.

If you are interested in the ACS + Etymotic combo, Apple’s UK page has a load of juicy details.

And, if you cannot get enough of headphones, boil some tea water and have a read in our headphone section.

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Jerry Harvey JH13Pro Impressions Roundup at Headfi Fri, 07 Aug 2009 16:34:58 +0000 Want to read the entire 3000-post thread? No? Well I have and it has been a blast, but isn’t something easily summed up in a few words. DaveDerek, a headfi member went through the entire thread looking for hands-on impressions and photos, linking each into one of the best posts for people who are considering … Read more]]>


Want to read the entire 3000-post thread? No? Well I have and it has been a blast, but isn’t something easily summed up in a few words. DaveDerek, a headfi member went through the entire thread looking for hands-on impressions and photos, linking each into one of the best posts for people who are considering purchasing the JH13Pro. My own impressions will join that thread as well as a final review in about a month, but take a delicious look at what has been burning up the portable headphone section at

If you don’t know, Headfi is largest English-language headphone-dedicated forum in the world. While headphiles (as some call us) are still counted among the geekiest of audiophiles, we get around. TouchMyApps will be reviewing a number of hi-end and bleeding hi-end custom earphones in the next month. Among these is the JH13Pro and the Westone ES3x which was mentioned earlier this morning.

I have picked off the links from Headfi and posted them below, but please check out the entire JH13Pro Appreciation thread.

The following links are taken from’s JH13Pro Appreciation thread as compiled by daveDerek: tyrion Crazyguy106 jamato Pale Rider Bolardito rlanger Jude Boomana sling5s Edwood Iron_Dreamer HeadphoneAddict Jensen barbes/Jensen barbes bojamijams hotdoggie thread Sceptre

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