TouchMyApps » IEM – Inner Ear Monitor 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 Ortofon eQ5 earphones in Review – an earphone for all time Mon, 11 Jun 2012 08:52:46 +0000 I hated dolling out a mere GRAB to the Ortofon eQ7. But good build quality, acceesories, and sound alone didn’t do the trick. It could have been easier to wear, and the cable could have been a LOT better. It could have been the eQ5. Specifications Audio Engine: Balanced armature driver Frequency Response: 10-20kHz +/-3db … Read more]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

App Summary
Title: eQ5 earphone Developer: Ortofon Japan
Reviewed Ver:  black Min OS Req: 4.3.0
Price: 350-300$
  • Generally good fit
  • Quality construction
  • Excellent sound
  • Wonderful cable
  • Easy to drive – no amp needed
  • No stress sleeve on earphone cable
  • Accessories? What accessories?
eQ5-accessories eQ5-cable-plug eQ5-flange-mouth eQ5-in-case eQ5-stress eQ5-box eQ5-iphone eQ5-fit

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

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MEElectronics A151 inner earphone in Review – KICKASS!! Wed, 20 Jul 2011 07:54:50 +0000 MEElectronics are hit makers. The M6 and M9 earph0nes defined perfection within their price points, sporting great build quality, good sound, and an impressive array of accessories. With the introduction of the A151, MEEl have outdone themselves in a number of areas, making on of the truly must-have earphones. Caveats aside (and yes, there are … Read more]]>

MEElectronics are hit makers. The M6 and M9 earph0nes defined perfection within their price points, sporting great build quality, good sound, and an impressive array of accessories. With the introduction of the A151, MEEl have outdone themselves in a number of areas, making on of the truly must-have earphones. Caveats aside (and yes, there are a few), this new single armature earphone is a must have for every music lover with a medium-sized budget.

[Bef0re y0u ask: my little 0h and bracket keys have been damaged by a stray glass 0f water. Please bear with me till I can aff0rd a new c0mputer!]

Driver: Single micro balanced armature
Housing: High impact deco housing with angled fit
Frequency Response: 15Hz – 20KHz
Sensitivity: 111 dB
Impedance: 27 ohms
Maximum Power Input: 25 mW
Connector: 3 pin stereo 3.5mm gold plated straight plug
Cable: Twisted black 120 cm cable (47 in)
Accessories: 5 sets of silicone ear tips (small/medium/large; double-flange; large triple flange), clamshell zipper case
Compatible Accessories:
Warranty: 1 year
Dimension: 0.25 in. H x 0.3 in. W x 0.7 in. L
Ship Weight: 0.75 lb

Y0u can find the A151 here f0r 74,99$.

Accessory and Package
Sadly, we start with the caveats (or, if you’re like me and prefer fewer syllables, the bad news). The A151 is a mid-high priced upgrade earphone; sure you can buy from Westone, Sensaphonics, Audio Technica, Sennheiser, etc., for much more, but if you’ve got fewer than a hundred bones in your yard, the A151 qualifies as a premium upgrade. What it doesn’t pack is a premium-grade accessory package. There is a cable winder, a few comfortable flanges, and a nice carrying case. Rather than screaming ‘great’, the accessory package mumbles ‘ho hum’ especially next to Jays’ a-Jays and t-Jays models.

This ain’t 2009 anymore; pretty much everyone packs nice carrying cases and flange options with their earphones. For earphones in the the 70-80$ mark, the A151 feels poorly covered.

You’ll have to pardon me here for not attaching pictures of the A151 box. The truth is that in the midst of a move from Korea to Japan, I lost it. It wasn’t much to chat about anyway (just a bit of serviceable cardboard), but my apologies are sincere.

From here on out, the news is mixed between good, great, and ho hum.

Fit and isolation
The A151′s body is a little awkward: it doesn’t sit flat or flush anywhere in any ear. It even sticks out a little when w0rn pr0perly [0ver the ear]. But, just about anyone should be able to find the right fit. If you can’t, you can slip Comply tips from your more expensive Westone and Sensaphonics right on. Kudos to MEElectronics for going with a standard sized sound tube on the A151.

Because the body doesn’t sit flush, though, you may have some trouble using these for working out, especially with rubber flanges that will get slick with sweat and grease. The earphone body is built from light plastic, so the A151 won’t weigh your ears down. They feel ultra good.

They also manage to block out a lot of noise, about parallel with the Audio Technica CK100 when used with silicon flanges. In other words, don’t expect the bus and train and annoying flock of vacationers next to you unless you employ dangerous sound levels. In noisy places, I get on fine with four clicks from the bottom on my iPod touch, or about -35 decibels on my Sansa Clip+.

Build and cable
The A151 is the first MEELectronics earphone I’ve seen use a triple twisted cable. It mimics the excellent Westone single ground, single left, single right design that has pretty much eaten up the professional market. But, looks are only skin deep. The Westone cable is in another league, vying with Sensaphonics and Audio Technica for strongest cable on the Market awards. The MEEl cable just l00ks like the king.

The A151 cable is wound loosely. If you play with cables, you will unwind this thing, leaving a tangled, prone mess. And if you are careless, you can probably cut it. It isn’t weak, but the older, clear plastic sheaths are more durable.

The plus side to the cable is that it is dead silent like the Westone cables and lacks memory cable. Glasses wears, the A151 is so damn comfortable. Pleasure, little treasure. Just be careful slipping your ProDesigns off and on as I’m serious: this cable ain’t that strong.

It is terminated in a straight plug with an eye-catching model stencil. Looks great. The strain relief is so so; it could do with a longer lead, and maybe a clamp before the wiggle protection cuts in. Again, i-plugs are weaker for both the player and the earphone. Ho hum.

The new y-split looks like a centipede and deserves as much praise as I can heap up in a single sentence. It is flexible, thick, non-abrasive, and light. For an earphone of this price, it is perfect. The earphone-side stress relief is just so-so, but I think it is well-sunk and should stay together for the length of the earphone.

Here’s where your investment really starts to pay off. The A151 is an ear pleaser. From first listen, I was smiling. I starts off with a good low, thump, but maintains control. Bass here is smooth, strong, controlled. It doesn’t bleed into the mids or highs. It retains perfect speed, and very good timbre.

It’s the sort of bass you hope for at it’s price point, the sort that doesn’t often come. Of course if you are a real basshead, it simply won’t do. It’s got more punch than Apple’s dainty Inner earphones and simply embarrasses the hell out of Sleek Audio’s SA1 (which tends to boom more), but it probably won’t satisfy American hip hop lovers.

Hip hoppers, still want the A151? It responds fairly well to good equalisation apps such as Equaliser and EQu, so pump up the low end jam and relax. The A151 has a lot of oomph way down low when pushed properly.

Its bass speed and depth are good for trance, and work work well for rock. There is enough detail that you will hit repeat on your favourite bass solos, but not enough to drown you in 3D details.

Bass-wise, there simply isn’t a better combination that I’ve heard for less than 80$.

The midrange has a few issues. Those are: there is a semi-suckout, and it isn’t because the A151 is hard to drive. No, it’s a proper psychoacoustic suckout that bothers some vocals in the ~1,5k – 2,5k range. Male vocals have great fronts, but lack the crispness they can have with better tuned earphones. Female vocals suffer less, but still sound a little tired. The culprit is a boom low midrange that bleeds into vocals and percusssions.

If you partularly favour non-vocal music, this is a non-issue. For everyone else, it is a small annoyance. After a few hours with these in my ears, I simply forget this slight vocal veil. Rock is pretty good. Guitars roar forward, along with bass, but lose a bit of their edge because of the veil. Still, the A151 sports a very nice sound. More subdued genres sound good enough but might be better with a bump around 1,5k with EQu or Eualizer.

As for high midrange and treble, it is a similar story, but with a much thinner veil. High hats decay a bit too fast, but everything else is good. Think of this as a tiny, budget Sennheiser HD650 with a strange suckout in the vocals and slight boom in the lower midrange. Overall, I am very impressed. For the price, there is so much to praise. No sticky, plasticky echo, no piercing treble, no sibilance. These things sound great.

And, the A151 is pretty sensitive. You can get loads of volume from your iPod touch or iPhone. I’d say it’s fair that you shouldn’t turn the volume past half on either as these earphones really get loud. They are also easy to drive for any modern Apple iDevice. You’ll suffer no roll off in the upper or lowers going straight from your player.

In other words, I’d not worry about an amp. There is also very little hiss, which is strange considering how loud these get. I can plug the A151 into my 2007 MacBook Pro and watch an entire movie without wanting to change to a dedicated DAC/Amp. Very very nice.

The stage and left to right separation are in a word, controlled. You won’t be looking behind you all the time wondering where Billy Joel jumped out from, but when recordings are really binaural, you’ll get a right headache. Trance lovers, yep, the A151 will do the things you want.

Out and about
Thanks to a nice carrying case, you can keep these batboys safe and sound. Just remember to use the case as the cable isn’t a wonder of mechanical engineering. If you’re are tall 185 cm like me, the A151 will fall from your ears to well below your knees. It is a lot of cable to toss into your pocket or purse, and since the cable is very light, you can wrap it up short without bugging your ears with too much weight. Good. And the cable, while built mote like Kickass than the Chuck Norris, is dead silent. Walk around, jump, sleep – you won’t be bothered by microphonic noises. Wonderful.

Remember, too, that the A151 blocks a LOT of noise. You can keep the volume down and take care of your ears!

The A151 sounds like a jackpot. Sure, it’s got a few issues such as its so-so cable and mild midrange suck-out and mediocre access0ry [my 0h key died] kit. But s0undwise and happy-wise, this earph0ne is great, and well w0rth a GRAB.

MEEl, work a little more on your cable and y0u’ve g0t a KISS!

incredible bass and g00d treble
nice carrying case
great y-split

s0-s0 cable quality
access0ry package is 0utclassed in its pricerange

HPR-MEEL-A151-accessories HPR-MEEL-A151-case HPR-MEEL-A151-fit HPR-MEEL-A151-glamour HPR-MEEL-A151-plug-y-split HPR-MEEL-A151-stressRead more]]> 1
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

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Nocs NS200 headset in Review – Deep ear action Tue, 01 Feb 2011 08:21:04 +0000 Nocs, a Swedish company out of… Sweden, have left a tasty impression in my ears this winter with the NS200 headset. While not flashy, the NS200 scores with lively sound and good headset implementation that impresses this Toucher with great audio performance, and a tasty remote control. Specifications Speaker: 8,6mm dynamic speaker Sensitivity: 95dB spl … Read more]]>

Nocs, a Swedish company out of… Sweden, have left a tasty impression in my ears this winter with the NS200 headset. While not flashy, the NS200 scores with lively sound and good headset implementation that impresses this Toucher with great audio performance, and a tasty remote control.

Speaker: 8,6mm dynamic speaker
Sensitivity: 95dB spl @ 1kHz
Impedance: 16Ω @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
Housing: machined aluminium
Warranty: 2 years

Fit and Package
I’ve got this itching suspicion that Swedish design is about the simple, the unassuming. Right, Jays’ matte black a-Jays and Frankenstein t-Jays and branded cables are about as unassuming as a surfing Santa Claus is, but the way Jays tip the scales against convention are just so clever. Nocs carry that tradition, but strip away some of the cleverness. What we get at the end is straight headset with no frills, but unlike a lot of competition from knock-knock Chinese companies, there are no stray hairs anywhere. Desirably understated. Honestly homely. How’s that?

Unwrapped, each piece comes in cute, individually vacuum-packed pouches (that I tore up immediately). There are four sets of ear tips, a flimsy carrying pouch, and a shirt clip. Simple but complete. A word about the pouch: I think it is some off-hand coin purse that Nocs discovered whilst on holiday in the Mediterranean. Not pretty, not protective, but at least it keeps your headset and its pieces in one place. Maximo’s iP-HS5 thimble holster absolutely trumps Nocs.

This design fits very well in the ear and isolates on par with other bullet-shaped earphones. Overall, it is quite a hit. It’s got a slightly narrow mouth that sinks pretty deep into the ear and stays lodged. You’ll not have to worry about the Nocs NS200 falling out. And low and behold, even though there is a microphone attached, you can thread the cable over your ear and still chat away! Nifty ergonomics, Nocs!

Build Quality and Cable
Overall, the Nocs is a well-built earphone, but it has one problem: its post-split cable. Prior to that, the cable is quite like a the q-Jays cable and as such, is strong, and pretty good at keeping crystallisation at bay. It’s not perfect, and terminates in a straight plug, the sort that I always shamefully harp on about. Again, straight plugs put more pressure on the headphone output of your iPod or iPhone, and can break more easily given the right pressure. Shame.

The housing is a bullet-proof ported aluminium nub that fits great and isolates pretty well. The stress reliefs going into it are pretty standard Chinese things that you’d see on the Mingo WM2, and work decently enough. But its inferior post-y-split cable is worrisome. It reminds me of my old Sony EX51 from like 10 years ago. Great earphone, but weak-ash cable that eventually fell apart. Unfortunately, it seems to be the trend these days. A lot of companies that had decent to good quality cables several years ago, are going cheap today. Jays a-Jays ONE TWO and THREE models are duds and a lot of other companies are going for nylon-sleeved cables that kink all over the place and explode in the ear with nasty microphonics.

Nocs’ earphone-end cable is soft, filled with air, and can tear with a pretty forceful wrenching motion. I don’t expect it to pose serious problems when used with care, but it is a liability that Nocs could have nipped by employing a similar cable all along the length of the wire. It’s a shame because the y-split is excellent, and the remote unit isn’t heavy handed, so a more decent cable could take a beating.

As a headset, the NS200 has a lot going for it. Firstly, it works as advertised, picks up voices clearly, and is easy to use. Secondly, it hangs perfectly below the lip, or if you tuck the cable over the ear, hides right outside the jawbone. Overall, Nocs did their homework and supplied a GREAT headset.

It works on my iPod touches, my iPad, and my tiny iPod shuffle 5G. If you don’t mind memorising a few tricks, the NS200 does the following without incident:
adjusts volume up and down
answers and ends calls
pauses/resumes playback
selects next track
selects previous track

It’s quite impressive to see such a slimline remote do all of that with no hitch. It’s made for iPod, iPad, and iPhone, so don’t expect villianous companies like Samsung and Nokia (that reverse cable polarity) to work all that well.

There is no denying the sensuality of the Nocs ns200 – that is, if you like a good, deep throb. Yeah, its 8,6 mm dynamic driver sits as perfectly as it can in its aluminium case. I mean, we aren’t fondling a hundred plus dollar earphone are we? Don’t expect miracles, but do expect brain-numbing bass without the flab. Want to kill your brain cells? Get the Sonomax. Want to enjoy mid and high range too? Get the NS200.

It is more accented than the Maximo headset and is ever so slightly more closed in, but it is a great sounding earphone.

In the sub 80$ world, getting brightness and bass in clean lines is hard. The NS200 walks on some long legs. Bass is absolutely controlled, but deep. It bangs around a good deal, but never massages into the mids. If you’re asking – yes, you can hear Markus Schulz’ Mainstage intro – a plate that not every earphone can serve up.

Kick drums and machines are taut and defined. While controlled, the low end isn’t all that open and free. You’ll get good separation with the NS200, but not easy breezy wind between the bass notes.

The midrange enjoys good space and pretty good focus so you can enjoy great guitar and vocals without fuss. I can’t find fault at all with the treble either, which extends up to and has plenty of focus. There is no sibilance either. Overall, it is like a slightly more congested earphone version of my personal favourite portable headphone, the Audio Technica ES10, and that is saying a lot.

It’s really quite amazing, actually. The bass on the NS200 is massive, but neither the midrange nor treble suffer at all. I’ve listened to everything with it now, and while I recommend dance, electronic, and hip hop, this earphone can do anything. If you had to choose between the similarly priced Nocs and Maximo on sound quality alone, I’d offer this advice: if you prefer balance, go with the Maximo. For everyone else, the Nocs is just so much more fun.

Finally, if you have a modern iPhone or iPod, you won’t need an amp unless you just want to kill your ears. The NS200 sounds fab from the headphone out and remains easy to drive on decent players like all of the ones mentioned in this review. It will hiss if you use a dirty source like a Sony Walkman MP3 player or the absolutely icky HiSound AMP3 Pro.

Out and about
So, the NS200 sounds great and works well. Unfortunately that’s perfect invitation for it to be taken outside and mingled with murderous city air and the dirty engines of busses, cars, and trains. It passes the isolation test, blocking the worst of the noise without requiring much extra volume. You may have to nudge the volume up a bit, though, as the NS200 doesn’t isolate quite as well as the Audio Technica CK100 and isn’t in the same league as the Earsonics SM3, but it slams a lot of the competition simply because its thin body and small nozzle can fit better in the ear.

What it doesn’t do that well is walk the walk. The good portion of its cable is noisy, reminding me of taking the Mingo WM2 around town. At least it’s got a shirt clip, but dear god, it can jigger in the ears a bit. It’s not an enjoyment killer as I’ve enjoyed it on the 4-hour commute to and from work, but you won’t forget it.

The cable is long enough to work for most people, but won’t stretch to the knees.

Apart from the wonderful Nuforce NE7M, there haven’t been any perfect iPhone headsets out there. The Maximo sounded great, but lost in overall implementation, and the excellent Phonak PFE really needed better construction and possibly, ergonomics. The Nocs NS200 plays right along with these. It isn’t perfect, but it sounds good, is styled for the on-the-low audiophile, and it works like a charm. For 79$, it is a better bargain than Apple’s headset, and leaves the nicest of tastes in my mouth. It’s too bad that Nocs couldn’t make a better cable, because this earphone is otherwise, a winner.

Price: 79$


  • sound
  • fit
  • isolation
  • great remote


  • upper cable sucks
  • pouch sucks

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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.

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Westone 4 earphones in Review Tue, 18 Jan 2011 16:19:13 +0000 Whether it’s Metallica, DJ Tiesto, Iggy Pop, Melody Gardot, or Aphex Twin belting around the spinning innards of your cassette player, it’s gonna sound fab from the Westone 4, and it’s not just that new product sheen either. No, it’s the fact that Westone nailed everything in this, the first universal earphone fitted with four … Read more]]>

Whether it’s Metallica, DJ Tiesto, Iggy Pop, Melody Gardot, or Aphex Twin belting around the spinning innards of your cassette player, it’s gonna sound fab from the Westone 4, and it’s not just that new product sheen either. No, it’s the fact that Westone nailed everything in this, the first universal earphone fitted with four speakers per side – a mean feat in any respectable dictionary.

Discuss the Westone 4 in our forums.

Sensitivity: 118dB @ 1mw
Impedance: 31Ω
Driver: 4 balanced armatures
Cable: twisted; separate volume control

Package and Fit
I’m actually typing this up on the airplane – the Westone 4′s are snuggly in my cabin-sick ears – and to be dangerously honest, I can’t for the life of me hear the safety announcements. The reason, my friends, is the same as it has been for yonks: Westone’s body style really gets into the ear canal to block a hell of a lot of noise – and is comfortable to boot. It sits flush against your concha and into your music hole and I reckon that some will even say that it is great for sleeping.

I’ve no complaints. The body is a bit oblong and simply dwarfs my personal favourite, the Audio Technica CK10, but overall, its ergonomics is hunky dory. Particularly comfortable are the Comply tips which melt in your music holes. For rubber lovers, Westone pack semi-hard transparent gumdrop-looking ones, flexible grey ones, and one set of triple flange sleeves. My mate loves the grey ones and I’ve heard tale that even the transparent ones are to some people’s liking. For my narrow, semi-short canals, neither fit, but the triple flanges work wonders. Folks, your mileage will vary and that is the particular reason that Westone have packed in such a rich assortment. Anyone will find a fit.

Aside from the fit pieces, you get an analogue impedance adapter that lowers the volume from loud sources, a decent nylon carrying pouch, a 6,3 to 3,5mm step down adapter, and a wax loop for clearing away your ears’ sticky icky that can build up to clog the sound tube. The package is a treat for, well, whose who will most love the Westone 4: music lovers.

Build Quality
Westone have never ever built bad stuff. I’ve railed on them for setting the now-standard plastic precedent among professional earphones. But I can’t fault them: no one creates anything better, not really. The Westone 4 is an excellent earphone that sort of bridges the excitement of the Westone 3 and the staid, smooth, and easy driving UM3x. I can see it used on stage, but I think that its larger customer base will use it out and about, with their favourite tunes on the bus, train, and on their favourite comfy chair.

That in mind, the Westone 4 has few betters in terms of build quality. Sure, the Audio Technica CK10 and CK100 have stronger cables, metal armour, and thicker plastic, but outside Japan, you’d have to sell your car to afford them. Apart from them and the sexy new Shure SE535, the Westone 4 is simply top in the consumer market.

The Westone twisted cable is easily the most iconic among high end earphones and has many copycats. As always, it is silent, strong, and resilient to deleterious sweat and body oil. The cable WILL harden over time but not for a good long while. And, thank the gods, it’s well anchored in the body of the earphone to avoid getting severed by sharp plastic edges. If you are persistent and begging for bankruptcy, I’m sure you could destroy Westone’s cable, but I’d suggest saving your pennies for more Comply tips. The cable is terminated in a right angle connector, slim enough to fit most iPhone and ipod cases, but sturdy. I’d pick the UM3x‘s boxy right angle connector in a prize fight, but only just.

The earphone body, too, is a winner – at least mostly. I’m not a big fan of its Klingon styling (sorry Westone), but I can’t help but praise the overall effect. The earphone is joined along perfectly met seams, and sports a strong cable anchor stress relief. Again apart from Audio Technica’s top CK series, there is nothing on the market that trumps Westone’s overall efforts in build quality.

Kudos, Westone.

So you probably didn’t spend 450$ just to secure a sturdy, well-accessorised kit, did you? There is other meat between Westone’s Klingon chops. Overall, this new model keeps in line with Westone’s excellence offerings while bridging the sound of the mid-centric UM3x and the Westone 3.

I’m not sure why, but this four-speaker earphone actually sounds tamer than its three-driver big brother. The Westone 3 punches more ferociously down low. It’s a fun earphone that accentuates the beat and punches the highs like its training for a fight. I like it, but after hours and hours of dizzying listening, I’ll admit that the four is an easier listen.

The 4 is, how shall we say it – beautifully realistic. It isn’t overly burly in the low end, and it isn’t too excited up top. Bass reaches low, but it never gets the attention that either the UM3x or the Westone 3 get. If your ears are good enough, you’ll get respectable doses of vibration, but real emphasis starts a bit higher, well after 100Hz or so. At the ear, for instance, the intro to Markus Schulz’ Mainstage (Progression album), which butterflies around the ear with bass-heavy earphones, whispers silently with the Westone 4. The rub of course, is that low bass simply isn’t presented with the same force that high bass is and that in order to really enjoy it, you’ll have to turn up the volume a couple of notches. On the other hand, low bass tends to warm overall sound up and some people consider that a bad thing. Personally, I’d love a bit more weight in the very low frequencies, but not anything else was sacrificed.

It might be an imaginative stretch to compare the Radius DDM to the Westone 4 – the former boasting linearly expressed bass that results in gobs of low end detail — but both earphones (despite technological differences) really sing in the lower midrange and higher bass. Of course, the Westone 4 isolates the world from your ears, so the little things really pop out.

What I’m speaking of – and I hope I say this right – is simply phenomenal reed instruments and percussion. The DDM’s best foot was the guitar; the Westone 4′s best foot has a couple more toes. Vocals are one toe. Both male and female vocals are wonderful, but low-voiced male vocals and husky female vocals shiver the knees. Obviously, we aren’t talking about trance anymore, are we?

No, Melody Gardot’s My One and Only Thrill, an excellent vocal/jazz album, for instance, settles comfortable into the mid-centric Westone 4 like good cheese with a few bottles of wine. Hand in hand with its emphasis, the midrange gives up a lot of details and places them superbly. In some ways, the more drastic juxtaposition of bass and treble in the Westone 3 draws music starkly, but the Westone 4 allows the midrange, and therefore, the main musical thrust, to breathe more freely. It sounds ‘natural’ for lack of a better term, rather than strident.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Westone 3, but It doesn’t catch me the same way the Westone 4 and the UM3x do.

It seems apparent to me that Westone made conscious strides to tone both treble and bass presence down in the Westone 4. The 3 is intensely popular, but a lot of people took aims at its bulky bottom end and trippy top end. It’s true: where it counts, the 3 is pretty damn exciting. For some music, such excitement works like bubbly; for others, however, it works like a monkey wrench. The 4 sits right between the 3 and the UM3x, meaning that it is smooth in the middle and voiced for easy, but detailed listening.

You won’t get tired listening to the Westone 4. But you also won’t get much dose of comparative sound after 15 000Hz. The peak around 8 000Hz is smoother than the 3, but still sounds crisp. The 4 is less sibilance than the 3 and dare I say it, less congested. But in the end, I don’t really see the Westone 4 as an upgrade to the Westone 3 – it’s too different. Rather, it is like a tweaked UM3x, and that’s a good thing.

Out and about
As with all Westone earphones, there are zero problems for out and about use. The Westone twisted cable is dead silent, soft, and easy to use whilst on the go. Similarly, the body style isolates your music really well. You will be able to keep the volume low even on the airplane or bus. Of course, with this much isolation, even Rob Ford’s fatmobile will get the silent treatment.

The small right-angle connector is tip-top among consumer earphones and the overall construction should keep the Westone 4 jamming for a long time. It is an extension of what really is the perfect consumer earphone line.

My scalp starts to itch when I’ve nothing negative to say about an earphone. But in the Westone 4’s case, I’ll have to contend myself with scratching and scratching. Detailed, well made, well accessorised, and good sounding, it is an excellent earphone for the audiophile and the consumer alike. And where the 3 sort of splayed out wildly, chasing away some good-intentioned musicians, the 4 will probably find space in the ear of your favourite musician.

The only downside I see is that the 4 is an upgrade to the three. If you are in the habit of upgrading, this shiny bird will prey on your wallet. If however, the Romulans ravaged your home base and looted your stash of warbuds, you are in equal danger of parting with the better part of 500$.

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Sensaphonics j-phonics earphone in review Fri, 17 Dec 2010 03:14:44 +0000 Who would have thought that Sensaphonics, the stodgiest custom earphone maker on the planet, would go universal? I didn’t, and I bet that Sensaphonics USA probably didn’t either. Nope, the j-phonics is a 100% Japanese product; it begins and ends in the land of the rising sun. Cool as that may be, cooler still is … Read more]]>

Who would have thought that Sensaphonics, the stodgiest custom earphone maker on the planet, would go universal? I didn’t, and I bet that Sensaphonics USA probably didn’t either. Nope, the j-phonics is a 100% Japanese product; it begins and ends in the land of the rising sun. Cool as that may be, cooler still is the fact that its guts are brilliantly tooled, reminding me of the excellently balanced Prophonics 2X-s custom monitor. But, rather than coming wrapped in medicinal silicon, the j-phonics comes packed in cute, coloured polycarbonate shells, new internal laminatation, and a new low[er] price.

Feel free to discuss the j-phonics in our forums?

Frequency response: 20-16,000 Hz
Driver type: Dual balanced armatures
Sensitivity at 1mW: 109dB
Cable length: user selectable: 95, 60, 45 cm
Plug type: user selectable: straight or l-shaped
Carrying Case: user selectable: Pelican Case 1010 or 1030

Package and Fit
The j-phonics does come at a rather high price, but it is supported by a good accessory kit. Sensaphonics Japan ditched the idea of cheap zippered cases and plastic pill boxes. Instead, they took the professional route and supplied a sturdy weatherproof Pelican case to protect your investment and their reputation.

Right, so the onus is on you and me now: it’s our job to keep the earphones in their Pelicans. I’m sure Sensaphonics could spare a few hundred yen to supply a smaller pocket-friendly carrying pouch, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

6 or 8 (this number may change) pair of Comply tips in all manner of sizes come in the box and well, that is about it. There is no 3,5mm to 6,3mm step up adapter, and unless things change, no wax loop.

Fit, however, is perfect. The j-phonics lies completely flat in the outer ear where, for most people, it will be swallowed up and nearly invisible when viewed straight-on. It lies so flat, in fact, that you can sleep on your side comfortably. It fits similarly to the Westone 2, but lies even more comfortably in most ears. Really, the j-phonics is quite small; even in tiny ears, it should relax like a fat man in a hot tub. On stage or when out and about, the Comply tips keep the earphone in snug enough that you never lose seal no matter much you grind your jaw when rocking out at the mic. Ergonomically, the j-phonics is about as close to pragmatic perfection as is possible in a human design, even for glasses wearers.

Build Quality and Cable
Generally, I am against the use of 100% plastic outer shells in professional earphones. Thin plastic walls are susceptible to rupture and to delamination. But, thanks to the professional leader, Westone, many of today’s professional earphones are constructed more casually than their audiophile counterparts. Unfortunately, the Earsonics SM2 and SM3 fall into that camp, and to a lesser degree, so too, does the j-phonics.

The cable is well-anchored in its chassis, the plug is of high-quality, and the y-split is protected better than almost any earphone on the market, but the fact that this professional earphone is plastic is disappointing. Oh well, nothing is perfect. Thankfully, its polycarbonate exterior is glued well and shows no signs of twisting under pressure. Sensaphonics could improve their gluing a little. Currently, tiny gaps below the cable the cable’s entry into the earphone exist in certain samples. I hope that as production is ramped up, Sensaphonics will be able to create an even more solid shell. Even under fairly strenuous use, though, I expect its plastic case to hold up at least as well as its Westone counterparts and certainly better than Earsonics SM2 and SM3 to the stresses of tours, concerts, and rowdy listening sessions at neighbours’ houses.

While its plastic case may grind my nerves, its excellent cable settles them. Sensaphonics Japan let YOU choose your termination style. Musicians will probably chase after the right-angle plug, while consumers may head for the straight plug. I don’t have photographs of the straight plug at the moment, so you will just have to take my word for it: it is a high quality piece that should withstand a lot of abuse. Still, straight plugs are more susceptible to bending and to finding the wrong angles inside receivers and MP3 players when dropped. My suggestion is to stick with the right-angled plug.

From its termination to the y-split, the j-phonics cable oozes quality. Just like its Prophonics brothers, it is strong, thick, and tightly wound to ensure that it doesn’t snag on your accessories. Here again, it trumps Westone and Earsonics.

At the earphone, the cable disappears without a thick rubber sheath. Instead a heat shrink cable guide guards the cable against twisting and biting. The only notable area of concern is the cable surface. It is different to the silver Prophonics cables that can stand up to buckets of sweat and body oils like Gandalf to a daemon Balrog. The j-phonics cable won’t turn green or anything, but over time, will gently crystallise. It compares very favourably to Westone and Earsonics and I expect it to be much sturdier than either for prolonged stage use.

Who’s it for?
Before we bite into the gristle, let’s try to suss who this earphone is for. Considering its lack of marketing ‘flair’, its price, its manly Pelican Case, and its many user-selectable options, the j-phonics should be considered a professional item first, and an audiophile item second. It is aimed at performance as it applies to the road, and as it applies to musical performance. The j-phonics sounds great, but I don’t really see it catching on as well with audiophiles, or shall I say, market-speak suckers.

Unlike the Prophonics 2X-s Prophonics 2X-s, the j-phonics can be fitted into any band members’ ears for a comparative pittance. If you want art, add it yourself. If you want solid performance, relative cost effectiveness, and ease of use, choose the j-phonics.

Here’s the rub, though: the j-phonics is a better-sounding earphone for half the price of the Prophonics 2X-s. It starts at the low end, delivering clear, deep, and fast bass that its big silicon brother cannot deliver. The 2X-s sounds very good, but its deep chops can get violent from time to time. Treble can be its biggest bugger, though: at times, it strains the ears with grain, and bass has a tendency to throb a bit too much.

So why is it that the j-phonics is so perfectly smooth from top to bottom? And, how does it retain space and speed so well? I can only hazard that the polycarbonate case has the perfect combination of laminates in its sound tube. The drivers share a similar crossover, so it must come down to their placement. Anyway, get ready for smooth perfection.

I began my j-phonics journey with Boards of Canada, across the Trans Canada Highway. It’s hard to do Boards of Canada wrong; their music is slow enough that boomy bass and shrill highs don’t slaughter anything. But by the same cruel metric, it’s just hard to do their music perfect justice. I can imagine that perfect justice would be just a bit more bass, but apart from that, the j-phonics provides everything in the right amount.

The j-phonics’ bass is deep, clean, and resonant, but can’t be misconstrued as overbearing. Most of its detail comes from the mid-upper bass. In fact, there is a surprising amount of detail to be had between 30Hz and 60Hz, but after that, and until about 100Hz, the j-phonics enjoys a very sweet spot. Overall, it follows the Earsonics SM3 closely, staying back a pace or so in terms of bass dynamics, but not really in terms of bass slam. J-phonics bass is powerful and both earphones can punch very low without miss-stepping. In the low end, both are control freaks, but the SM3 is slightly more detailed and spacey.

Fun action-dance tunes such as Daft Punk’s One More Time, and Robot Rock are excellent sounding boards for the quality of bass speed and decay the j-phonics can produce. On the natural end, kick drums and bass guitar in Melody Gardot’s jazz are lush, warm, and detailed; but again, their presentation via the j-phonics trails the same on the SM3 slightly in overall detail.

Moving up to the midrange shows similar results. The j-phonics carries along in a straight line from bottom to top. Vocals and strings perfectly sound next to percussion, bass, and treble. Like the SM3, the midrange is large and flat. However, the j-phonics doesn’t inject as much lube into the mix. Consider the j-phonics like a good play at a merger of the Earsonics SM2 and SM3. It is certainly drier than the Westone UM3x. Overall, this results in a flat, neutral presentation. It works very well for classical, jazz, rock, and even trance.

In some ways, the latter, lesser genre is actually better through the j-phonics than it is through the SM3 or SM2. Trance calls for as little accent as possible. The j-phonics has a fraction less accent than the SM3 and doesn’t sacrifice high-end reach like the SM2 does.

So, where does the j-phonics miss against the SM3? I mean, the triple driver, triple crossover Star Child has to beat the hell out of a dually, right? Well, not really. Both are top-flight earphones. Where the SM3 wins is space: its soundstage is pretty legendary in certain circles and I’m not about to gainsay that for this wonderful little bugger. The j-phonics has an amazingly dynamic presentation between bass and treble, resulting in a wide soundstage, but the SM3 one-ups it. The SM3 is wider, yes, and sometimes more dynamic, but overall, I think the j-phonics is the better investment for a stage musician.

So, am I the SP or the MX?
The j-phonics comes in two models: SP and MX. SP is short for Stage Performance and MX short for Music Extreme. The latter is a funny moniker, especially considering that stodgy ol’ Sensaphonics coined it. But what the hell, it is a bit more ‘extreme’. The SP model is flatter with better perceived treble extension while the MX version has a slightly better expressed upper bass/lower midrange. The former is sparklier, the latter, more laid back.

My money is on the SP model unless you really really want to dull the top end a bit, but both models are close enough for rock’n roll. Both come in a range of colours, cable lengths, and terminations – the choice comes down to your preference. Accuracy is the realm of the SP and dynamics (to some extent) is the realm of the MX model, but I’d put more stock in the marketing than actual differences. I mean, isn’t it better to enjoy the music rather than split hairs over which earphone has a decibel more woof?

Out and About
Since the j-phonics was made for the musician and engineer, it holds up well to stress. The cable, earphone, and case are all of high quality. You can walk in plus thirty degree weather, slicking the cables with sweaty, oily detritus, or freeze them in minus twenty degree weather and expect the same results: a two-finger v-salute to adverse conditions. Westone’s and Audio Technica’s high-end cables can be slightly less microphonic, but only at first.

Since the j-phonics cable is less susceptible to crystallisation than Westone’s is (thanks to rubber guards), over time, it will prove to be less microphonic even though Westone’s wins the early races. And thanks to impeccable fit and ergonomics, there is very little wind noise generated at the body.

What the j-phonics doesn’t do well for out and about use is pack itself conveniently into a purse or pocket. The included Pelican could survive a metre-high drop to the pavement at Nevada highway speeds, but it won’t survive a fashion party. If you want discreet, you’ll have to spring for it yourself.

Remember, even the best-constructed earphones can still crap out. To keep the j-phonics for years, make sure to fold it up in their Pelican case, or find another good case for when they aren’t in your ears.

Remember that we are talking about Sensaphonics here. The j-phonics look like a cheap off-the-shelf earphone, but they perform like the finely-tuned Prophonics 2X-s. And, for like 400 bones, it’s a good thing too. For musicians and engineers, the j-phonics is a no-brainer. I’d even feel comfortable recommending them above every other universal stage monitor for ease of use and internal engineering, and for bands on a budget, above customs because with Comply tips, there are next to no hassles with fit and isolation.

Since the advent of the SM3, I feel that the universal earphone canvass has reached a level of maturity that puts a lot of pressure on more expensive customs. The j-phonics comfortably punches at the dollar bottom line with great performance and overall excellent build quality. Audiophiles, even you should love them, though I reckon you’ll be a bit more swayed by the SM3’s more lubed sound.

If, however, you can get past marketing speak, you will find that there is NO better professional monitor on the market now.

Pro list:
Perfect fit
Excellent sound
Best-in-class cable
Pelican case included

Con list:
Cable will crystallise
No extra cable sheath at earphone

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NOTE: The second earphone in comparison photos is the Westone 3. I chose this earphone because it is also piano black and because I didn’t have any other Westone earphone handy. Though the Westone 3 is an audiophile product, it shares cables with the UM2 and UM3x.

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Jays t-Jays THREE earphones in Review – satisfaction is slim! Fri, 03 Dec 2010 14:46:37 +0000 The t-Jays THREE is more Sennheiser than Sennheiser’s former flagship dynamic headphone, the HD650. If you like rich and smooth dark, you’ll fall in love with the t-Jays. Jays have three of them to tailor to your ear and your wallet. TMA has THREE for the skillet today. If you dig low profile, neutral, and … Read more]]>

The t-Jays THREE is more Sennheiser than Sennheiser’s former flagship dynamic headphone, the HD650. If you like rich and smooth dark, you’ll fall in love with the t-Jays. Jays have three of them to tailor to your ear and your wallet. TMA has THREE for the skillet today. If you dig low profile, neutral, and modular, again, Jays are the only horse in town and the t-Jays THREE is quite a ride.

Speaker: 10mm Dynamic Speaker
Sensitivity: 98dB @ 1kHz
Impedance: 16 Ohm @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 15 Hz – 25 000 Hz
Cord length: 60 cm, TPE coated & Kevlar reinforced cables
Plug: straight, Gold-Plated Stereo Plug 3.5mm (1/8 in)

Package and Fit
The t-Jays THREE package is virtually identical to the new a-Jays case. It’s new, looks pretty, and is a bugger to open. The t-Jays earphones, however, are completely different to the a-Jays. The a-Jays is a cute button of an earphone that slides right into your ear with little difficulty in any position. The t-Jays is somewhat of a different beast. At first glance, you might suspect it to be a master of ergonomics. It can be. It fits well over the ear and, for the lucky portion of the population, it fits comfortably down. Bad fit is caused by the sharp casing design that can dig right into the ear. My wife, I, and one friend fall into that group – about half the people I’ve had try the t-Jays.

The neck cinch is a fiddly bit of plastic that can move up and down the cable at the slightest breeze. Overall, however, it does its job. As with all Jays earphones, there is a measure of microphonic noise that the t-Jays will never shake. But then, where would the world be without the quirks of Swedish design? The t-Jays cable also tangles easily thanks to its friction-fiend cable. That cable can grip onto any surface – a feature I reckon should be adopted for ice climbing.

Build Quality and Cable
Jays changed a lot of things with their new earphones. some for the good, and some for the not-so-good. The good things are very practical. The large 10mm driver makes for a stress-relaxing body. Unlike the tiny q-Jays or even the cute a-Jays, I am hardly ever tempted to grab at the cable when removing the earphones. Considering the fact that Jays’ cables don’t always have the last word when it comes to quality stress relieving and anchoring; I expect that there will be some trouble where the earphone meets the cable.

The extension cable is still a sturdy mixture of decent stress relief and very good contact points within the female portion, but the cable itself just isn’t as strong as it should be. I’ve chipped a few morsels from its hide by merely shoving it in its carrying case and can repeat this with other t-Jays. This is all thanks to its table tennis-grippy rubber surface that practically sticks to glass. The plastic case is a perfect place for the cable to rub and then catch. Negligent cramming can damage this cable’s soft exterior.

Overall, however, Jays have come a long way from the nubby, weakly supported q-Jays.

Here’s where Jays always recoup their mostly minor losses. The t-Jays is a keeper, especially for sulky musical genres and bright sources. It is warm, reasonably deep and well extended.

The t-Jays is accented with clean if not overly clear tones. The mid is lush and vocals, especially female vocals, are wonderful. In general, everything from guitars to piano is natural, if a bit dark. Even lower mid tones are clear free of echo artefacts despite the confined plastic case. Whereas the a-Jays THREE can get boomy, the t-Jays is controlled. There is only the faintest hint of mid-bass/lower mids echo.

The same midrange is decently detailed with lots of air. That isn’t to say that the t-Jays casts an immense shadow: space and separation of instruments is good, but the feeling of openness is the mainstay.

I’d take this over the Sennheiser IE8 any day. Its upper bass is much smoother and overall, the t-Jays isn’t as dark. In some ways, it is like an older Sennheiser HD600, doing all the same things as the 400$ headphone, but at a slower pace.

The final piece of good news is that the t-Jays isn’t overly sensitive and hissy. It won’t throw a fit when attached a Sony or an older iPod. Similarly, it performs well unamped, though users of the iPhone 3G and older iPods can enjoy better low end resolution and overall reduced distortion with a good headphone amp. Now, with darker, fuller sources such as the Hifiman HM601, synergy isn’t excellent, but the t-Jays THREE shines fine with my new favourite, the Go-DAP battery extension and headphone amp.

Because the t-Jays sits on the dark side of neutral, it sounds great with most music, even fast trance. The trick, which Jays nailed, is not to let the 10mm driver boom and break over every bass beat. They’ve done a fabulous job.

Out and about
Again, it needs to be stressed that the t-Jays is another departure from the Jays of old. Overall, the changes in housing size and cable stress reliefs are good, but the new, soft cable is a liability. It isn’t that much noisier, just weaker than almost all of its predecessors, especially when used in conjunction with the new plastic carrying case that just loves to carve notches in the cable.

The total cable length is a bit long, but Jays, in sticking with their guns, have a great compromise for those who want to strap their iPods to their arms, and those who want to keep them in their purses. Of course, for half of the population out there, the only option is to loop the cable over the ears in order to keep the earphones in the ear.

Finally, the t-Jays is a ported. Sound will leak in and out. Still, like the Final Audio FI-BA-SB and A1 models, it isn’t too much that you can’t enjoy the commute.

When relatively modest-priced earphone can scrunch its face up like the legendary HD600, it deserves props. The t-Jays is a good-sounding, good-looking at earphone, with a great accessory kit. If you like it long and dark, you’ll love the sound of this little gem. But, in my ‘seen it before’ eyes, the main problem: a rubbery, easily-notched cable, is a liability. Handle the t-Jays with kid gloves and you should be able to enjoy it for a long time – especially if keep care when using the carrying case.

If Jays can fix their the spat between their cable and their carrying case, they’ll have a true winner on their hands. Despite a few flaws, the Swedish rat, Poodoo, says Grab It!

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Final Audio FI-BA-SB and FI-BA-A1 earphones in Review – Top Brass Thu, 23 Sep 2010 15:50:37 +0000 If Final Audio Design were in charge of the world’s marketing, everything from cars to cakes would glisten with the magicalest of molecules. The clearest timber would resonate in plastic pencils and cooking pots. Flowers would reflect the warmth of a thousand suns. Thankfully, however, Final Audio Design cook up wonderful audio equipment like the … Read more]]>

If Final Audio Design were in charge of the world’s marketing, everything from cars to cakes would glisten with the magicalest of molecules. The clearest timber would resonate in plastic pencils and cooking pots. Flowers would reflect the warmth of a thousand suns. Thankfully, however, Final Audio Design cook up wonderful audio equipment like the 1601 series earphone and today’s FI-BA-SB and FI-BA-A1. With these new models, Final Audio took a new approach, creating practical listening devices for the busy, but discerning audiophile.

Feel free to discuss the FI-BA-SB and FI-BA-A1 earphones in our forums. And if you’re in the mood, contact Musica Acoustics to purchase the FI-BA-SB or FI-BA-A1. Musica Acoustics also stock a lot of other very good earphones.

Driver: Balanced Armature
Sensitivity: 112dB
Impedance: 16Ω
Cable length: 1,4m
Weight: 23g (SB); 15g (A1)

Fit and Package
The SB and A1 earphones are very much classmates of the ortofon eQ7. While ortofon shoutier approach with their jewellery case packaging, Final padded their earphones in simple sponge. Which package looks better? Honestly, I’ll side with ortofon here. On the other hand, Final Audio pack better fitting earpieces with their earphones, but only 3 sets of each, and apart from a large, but nice carrying case, nothing else. If you own an iPhone or iPod touch, you’ll be able to cram it in alongside your 300-400$ FAD earphones inside and call it a road trip! Hell, even my larger Teclast T51 fits in, somehow.

We can put this all away for now. Final Audio have put their behind in their pants… I mean their past behind them. Lovely though it can sound, the 1601 series earphones are about as comfortable as your little sister’s shoes. In contrast, the FI-BA-SB and A1 earphones are small and comfortable. The SB (brass version) is not ‘light’ but both it and the A1 slip in comfortably. The included tips anchor the earphones securely and the sound nozzle is capped by a long metal flange that allows the earphones to slide into even the smallest ears holes without pain. ortofon’s eQ7 on the other hand, has the awkward tendency to cram metal up against the soft wall of the ear.

Both the SB and A1 models fit comfortably inserted with the cable routed either up over the ear, or down; but with its thick flat cable, the SB model can be more tricky. Its incredibly sturdy double-decker cable lacks a neck cinch and can jump away at all the wrong moments when you are out and about.

Build Quality and Cable
Both the SB and A1 are wonderfully crafted (as are all of their metal earphones) – but then again, nicely fit metal bullets are pretty well invincible. But until now, Final Audio have fallen flat in one area: cable quality. The 1601 series’ nylon cable gets away with a lot: it should be microphonic as hell, but thanks to the solid metal cable tubes, it ain’t a problem. What is a problem is that all 25g of earphone (and I suspect, more) is balanced precariously in the ear by weakness itself.

FAD have learned a lot since then. They have, I am sure, listened to their customers because both the A1 and the SB sport pragmatic cable designs. The A1′s cable is thin, yes, but the earphone is also light. Dropping it won’t tear the cable or threaten the y-split. Still, 300$ of eargasm is dangled on the likes of the 40$ Sunrise AS-Feeling just doesn’t seem right. Thankfully, the plug-side stress relief is much much better. It’s made from sturdy, bendy rubber with excellent flex points. Sourness returns, however, at the earphone, where the cable delicately disappears into the aluminium housing with nothing but a curiously dual-bored rubber grommet to lead the way. True, the grommet does protect the cable from the metal housing, but the tiny little cable looks like the last member of a black, decaying family of teeth.

The SB model, loses the barest of points there, at the housing, but overall, has a MUCH stronger cable. Flat cables have the advantage of tangling less than round cables, but overall, they make more microphonic noise and can be a b*tch to wear whilst out and about. Well, most of that still applies to the SB model. The FAD FI-BA-SB’s cable is thinner than Monster’s Beats Tour and Jays’ a-Jays flat cables. Before the rather thick y-split, the flat cable piggybacks in a durable double-layer. FAD’s cable is also stronger, less prone to crystallisation from sweat and skin oils, and more tensive than either of its flat comrades and certainly than the FI-BA-A1. The plug-side stress relief is top notch as is the plug itself, and where the A1 feels thread-bare and weak, the SB is sturdy. FAD finally (and I mean FINALLY) nailed great build quality. It isn’t perfect, but among flat cable earphones, it is by far the most impressive.

If you don’t want to read the entire review, let the next few sentences massage your wallet. FAD nailed these earphones. If you like bass, dynamics, and clear, uppity treble, you’ll love both earphones. Both earphones are voiced by space, pace, and beautiful echos. In typical FAD fashion, however, certain acoustics can be caustic, if atmospherically sophisticated. Consider it Final Audio’s marque. Their 1601 series earphones are HEAVILY accented toward the midrange with both bass and treble falling off in rapid succession.

The SB and A1 models have powerful and extended baselines that are matched by equally long-limbed high frequencies. The upper midrange and lower treble are accented. For most music, these accents are like day-old curry and simply tastier than they were the day before. Where they can be caustic is in chaotic alternative and fast, but lost psychedelic. Cymbals bleed in the upper ranges in ringing bursts. Fan of Broken Social Scene? Get used to a healthy dose of treble fatigue.

Strangely, no matter how expressive the high end, mathematical genres such as trance, electronic, and even hot, treble-happy 1980′s heavy metal, are perfectly fine.

The FI-BA-SB and A1 earphones follow in the footsteps of the 1601, if at a respectful distance. Their echos are clean, open, pleasing, and sharp. They neither claustrophobic or dark and thankfully, the rubber tips exert much less influence on the sound. This clear echo is ahead of peers like the Earsonics SM3 and way ahead of Sennheiser’s IE8.

The FI-BA-SB and A1 earphones impress themselves as heady mixes of two of my favourites: ortofon’s excellent eQ7, and Audio Technica’s CK100. Final Audio’s newest earphones best the eQ7 in treble presentation. They are less grainy and echo more sweetly. Genres that rely on space rather than just speed, jump out more, but retain overall sweetness. The FAD earphones are better tuned to jazz and vocal. In the low end, the Final Audio earphones exert more slam than the ortofon – dynamic earphone fans, pay attention! There is enough air movement to get your feet tapping, and just that extra bit of curry in the high end to satisfy those who get hot for the exotic.

Overall, the SB model offers a slightly spicier listening experience than the A1, though both the SB and A1 sound very similarly. Neutral freaks may prefer the A1 while atmosphere freaks who’ve kept their supply of chaotic alternative depressively low, may prefer the SB. Both offer good sense or space, but neither are the champion of head-swimming soundstage like the 1601 is. Actually, despite being ported, both earphones block out a lot of external noise. On the train, I keep my iPod at same volume level as I do in my room. This has me wondering – what purpose do the ports serve? If I plug them with my fingers or yellow tack, there is the barest change in sound. Overall, however, the sense of space is mostly bound up in the great dynamics of these earphones that puts their soundstage slightly ahead of the ortofon eQ7.

Amp users, you have a little room to play, but just a bit. If you own a recent iPod touch, you might find that the bass comes out a tad more and that, in comparison, treble smooths out a bit. Honestly, I doubt that you’d hear much a difference at all. (However, it is always imprudent to rule out the power of placebo.) On the other hand, these earphones are damn sensitive. Even on older recordings, I keep my iPod touch at the third volume step.

Keen mines will rightly assume that these earphones hiss a lot. They do. The iPod touch 2G is notably hiss less with many earphones, but in quiet passages, I can hear a bit of hiss thanks to FAD’s uber-sensitive design. This brings up the last issue: FAD are still stuck on 16 ohm drivers. Most portable players still have trouble outputting perfect resolution to 16 ohms, often spilling bass and boiling the stereo image into the perfect soup. FAD would be smart to differentiate their expensive, high earphones from the masses by designing their drivers with more resistance. I’d be happy with less hiss.

Out and About
So here we are, at the end of another long review and here I am about thirty minutes from home and suited up with my sneakiest of Adidas shoes. The difference between the SB and A1 earphones is most obvious when walking. Both earphones sport freaking long cables. 1,4 metres is enough to stretch to the bottom of any purse and bunch awkwardly into any pocket. There is always lots of slack in the cable. Whatever. These earphones are not good for exercise, but the A1 in particular, are very good for out and about use. The light, cheap cable and easy fit means that microphonic noises are minimum. The SB version is really microphonic when walking around. You can loop the cable over the ear for less noise, but you might need a vegetable tie to keep the cable from flapping all over the place.

Finally, despite the ‘ported’ design of both earphones, wind noise is minimal and as mentioned earlier, these earphones block a lot of noise. It’s not the same level of noise isolation as the Audio Technica CK100 or the Earsonics SM3, but Final Audio have finally designed earphones almost perfect for out and about.

Final Audio have obviously listened to criticism aimed at their earlier earphones. Both the SB and A1 model are excellent for use at home and very good for use out and about and are comfortable and isolate well. Their sound is big: bright, clean and deep with great instrument separation. If you can stomach a bit of hiss and don’t mind keeping your iPod/iPhone at low volume levels, there is a lot of great music enjoyment to be had with either the SB or A1 earphones.

Headphone Summary
Title: Final Audio FI-BA-SB and FI-BA-A1 Developer: Final Audio Design
Reviewed Ver: FI-BA-SB and FI-BA-A1 Speaker type: Moving Armature
Price: ~300$ (A1) – ~400$ Cable:
  • A1 – thin rubber spindle
  • SB – double decker flat rubber
  • Beautiful workmanship
  • Bright, clear treble and smooth mids
  • Big, but controlled bass
  • Best in class comfort
  • Decent accessory kit
  • SB model is heavy
  • A1 model’s cable is of third-rate quality

You can buy the FI-BA-SB and FI-BA-A1 from Musica Acoustics

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

HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-A1-side-case HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-A1-side HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-accessories HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-box HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-final HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-fit HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-plug-y-split HPR-FI-BA-SB-A1-stress HPR-FI-BA-SB-glamour-2 HPR-FI-BA-SB-glamourRead more]]> 2
Sunrise SW-Xcape earphone in Review – Xtra good Sun, 12 Sep 2010 10:00:56 +0000 Sunrise’s three earbuds are a hit here at TouchMyApps, their inner earphone, the SW-Xcape, is bound to be the one to turn the most heads. Why? Well, it’s an isolating earphone, capable of dulling the sound of crying babies, loud airplane engines, and your snoring spouse. Fortunately, it also sounds very good, augmenting Sunrise’ newly-minted … Read more]]>

Sunrise’s three earbuds are a hit here at TouchMyApps, their inner earphone, the SW-Xcape, is bound to be the one to turn the most heads. Why? Well, it’s an isolating earphone, capable of dulling the sound of crying babies, loud airplane engines, and your snoring spouse. Fortunately, it also sounds very good, augmenting Sunrise’ newly-minted fun, full house sound. If you like a good, full bass and this time, a pretty focused treble, you’ll love the Xcape.

Feel free to discuss the Xcape in our forums.

Package and Fit
Right, so go ahead and read the Sunrise AS-series review to get a look at the box, the case – you’ll get the same sort of stuff with the Xcape. The differences are slight; the Xcape comes with several flanged sleeves instead of windscreens, and, to help reduce microphonic noises (which aren’t that bad to start with), it comes with a shirt clip.

Popping ear pieces on and off the Xcape is pretty easy. The flanged lip is about as wide as a Sennheiser CX series, or the a-Jays, or a Mingo WM2, so if you’ve extra tips lying around, or if you lose the originals, you can find replacements in a jiffy. All of that suffices to say that fit is pretty standard. The Xcape slides in smoothly and can be comfortably draped over the ear or worn down. The  the strain relief nub hangs away from the ear either way and is anchored pretty well from the inside. Comfort-wise, Sunrise have done their homework. I’ve no complaints as to the ergonomics of the Xcape.

Build Quality and Cable
As is evident in their other earphones, Sunrise have laid a pretty good foundation for build quality. The Xcape, unlike its siblings, is a bit better made, at least in the body work. Rather than plastic, the it is sculpted from butt to flange into a ported aluminium bullet. It isolates to the tune of about 14 decibels and stays snug in the ear. The sound tube filter is not user-replaceable and made of paper fibres (my guess), which a daring DIYer could remove to experiment with sound. This design has goods and bads to it, the goods being that it is fairly trivial to wipe clean; the bads is that in case you wipe too hard, you can puncture the filter, or smear it with ear wax.

Moving down to the cable is fun. Sunrise use a pretty nice, thick cable reminiscent of the old Sleek Audio CT6 cable, or the one that Victor use on the FX500. It is light and low on microphonic noises, but there is a pretty decent neck-cinch thrown in. Okay, so that is the good news. The bad news is that the cable, is prone to crystallise and harden likes its colleagues from Victor and Sleek. Expect it to last a while, but eventually to break. For the price, it isn’t a worry however and not a strike against Sunrise who are obviously setting themselves up to compete in the price/performance metric. The cable is terminated with a reasonably good stress relief, which is needed since the plug sticks straight out of the DAP at a perpendicular angle. Sunrise would be better to have made an L-shape jack instead to help protect their headphone and your iPod/iPhone/other source.

The only other point that sticks out is the y-split, which lacks strain relief, could be a weak point in the earphone. Inside, the cables are glued into place and have very little room to move. The hard glue and tight space could cause undo stress on the y-split. Sunrise would be good to wrap the cable in a thin layer of rubber, or anchor it with rubber grommets rather than glue.

As noted above, the Xcape is a fun-sounding earphone that really proves how far the market has come in just a couple of years. It fits more comfortably than the Sleek SA1, but otherwise, is worthy of compare. Both earphones hit the same MRSP price bracket and come with great accessories. But, where the SA1 sounds small and loses detail in some music, the Xcape never fails to go ‘bam!’ in all the right tickle spots.

I’ve come to expect pretty good extension from Sunrise’s earphones. The Xcape hits 45Hz with no problem and drops ever so slightly away toward 20Hz, but overall sustains a good, flat lower frequency range at the ear. Highs jolt up before 12kHz and the signal stays strong till after 17kHz with drop off afterward. In other words, with a nod toward the treble, the Xcape does a good job of emulating the ear’s own acoustics. What this means in everyday use, of course is a slight v-curve to help you keep your music at reasonable volume levels.

Here’re some real-world examples: Markus Schulz’s Mainstage, a mainstay performer here at TouchMyApps, is an intro of a song hinged on very low bass. Surprise surprise, the 80$ Xcape can resolve the first 10 or 20 seconds of the song, a feat that the Sleek SA1 couldn’t do as well. But trance (and most other music) isn’t all about the barely audible 20-50Hz sine wave. Stepping up to the world of lowly-voiced PRAT in the 80-120Hz range, the Xcape keeps up happily, never ever smearing mid and upper bass. Hands down, it is more balanced in the lower half of the frequency than the Sleek.

In the midrange, there is a slight sheen on both male and female vocals. You’ll hear these mostly on higher-pitched vocals. This sheen extends into percussion and electric strings. There is a LOT of energy in the vocal range. On the one hand, it is exciting and fun, but on the other hand, it can at times, sound strained. I think that a lot of reviewers may describe it as ‘detail’ or clarity. Indeed, I get the impression that the minty breaths of Nick Cave, will pop up between his dark rhymes. The truth, however, is that you cannot hear them, oh well. What it does for music depends on your tastes. For most male vocals, its effect is negligible, but moving up to Eminem, The Streets, or Shaggy ;) , you’ll experience Ultrasone moments where the high midrange ‘tweaks’ a bit in your ears.

Despite a lot of midrange energy, sibilance isn’t a problem. Rather, there is just a lot of chunky, meaty sound in there. Acoustic guitars, which come to the foreground, centre acoustic music. The vocals, of Nick Cave, for instance play nicely with the back up instruments in The Boatman’s Call. Moving onto modern alternative like Broken Social Scene shows where the Xcape’s trumped up midrange can get a little hot. With so much confusion in the wild instrument arrangements, the Xcape just swarms with sound. There is no real way to tame Broken Social Scene, and the Xcape missteps only a small amount with this Toronto group’s more chaotic songs.

On the other hand, transitions between high frequencies and the midrange are smooth and clever. The Xcape casts a pretty good shadow between the midrange and anything else. You get very clear instrument separation and a decent illusion of space. The soundstage tends to wrap from the side of the head to the back rather than toward the front. Every earphone is different, and for the most part, the Xcape sticks to its guns rather than forging new paths, but the guns it sticks to, are realistic and fun.

Finally, the Xcape isn’t overly sensitive. Of course you won’t hear hiss from a modern iPod, but even the older iPod shuffle 1G’s horrid hiss is somewhat tamed when played through the Xcape and if you are very brave, the HiSound AMP3 Pro2 even, is somewhat listenable. You also won’t need an amp to get volume or resolution with the Xcape unless you are stuck with an old iPod or you know, an ‘audiophile’ unit from Microsoft, Cowon, or iRiver. ;)

Out and About
Because of its quiet cable and decent fit, the Xcape is a great companion the bus rides, walks, and even leisurely bicycle rides. It isn’t a firm enough build to get my vote for cyclocross training, or sports, but it should last for the odd pedal outing. Keep the Xcape in its case and its life will be prolonged. The ported design means that some noise will slip in, but then, the ported design allows for a more natural movement of air inside the earphone.

And since the price is right in line with the Sleek Audio SA1, it is nice to know that both earphones pack in great cases and accessory packages, though there is a definite nod to Sleek for the great-looking branded case. Treat both right and they will last you years.

A different badge, but same excellent Sunrise carrying case

The Xcape is a marvellous earphone. It sounds good, has a decent cable, comes with a good accessory package, and runs very well from portable sources. The only area I wish Sunrise would fix is the cable. I have concerns that the y-split is under too much stress and that, combined with crystallisation, will cause some bad hair days for a few audiophiles. Overall, however, this earphone is a great package deal to take you to the next step in sound quality.

Headphone Summary
Title: Sunrise SW-Xcape Developer: Sunrise
Reviewed Ver: SW-Xcape Speaker Type: Dynamic (Moving Coil)
Price: $80.00 Cable Type: Soft rubber
  • Excellent, warm and detailed sound
  • Great fit
  • Good accessory package
  • Easy to drive, not overly susceptible to hiss
  • straight plug and y-split are worrisome in the long run

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

HPR-Sunrise-SW-Xcape-filter HPR-Sunrise-Xcape-accessories HPR-Sunrise-Xcape-box A different badge, but same excellent Sunrise carrying case HPR-Sunrise-Xcape-fit-glamour2 HPR-Sunrise-Xcape-fit HPR-Sunrise-Xcape-relief HPR-Sunrise-Xcape-y-glamour HPR-Sunrise-Xcape-y-splitRead more]]> 3
New Final Audio FI-BA-A1 and FI-BA-SB balanced armature earphones Wed, 01 Sep 2010 14:24:10 +0000 UPDATE: Review of FI-BA-SB Heaven S and FI-BA-A1 Heaven A is up! Any headline from boutique audio house, Final Audio Design, is news at TouchMyApps. Recently, their first balanced armature series headphone, the Final Audio FA-BA-SS hit the market to some good reviews, but with a price around USD 1000$ and sold in very limited numbers, this flagship … Read more]]>

UPDATE: Review of FI-BA-SB Heaven S and FI-BA-A1 Heaven A is up!

Any headline from boutique audio house, Final Audio Design, is news at TouchMyApps. Recently, their first balanced armature series headphone, the Final Audio FA-BA-SS hit the market to some good reviews, but with a price around USD 1000$ and sold in very limited numbers, this flagship earphone didn’t have a chance to capture the market before selling out. The two new models, FA-BA-A1 and FA-BA-SB (ostensibly in aluminium and brass), however, are sold at the much more reasonable prices of 300$ and 400$. Final Audio look to be following Monster and Jays’ lead by introducing a flat tangle-free cable for the FA-BA-SB. A more traditional cable will adorn the FA-BA-A1 earphone.

Currently, both models are sold out across Japan, but FAD are accepting pre-orders for the next batch. If you are scared about ordering from Japan, don’t be. There are a couple of reliable options. One is Seyo Shop, an exporter of fine Japanese headphones and camera equipment. Their prices are usually excellent. Currently they don’t carry Final Audio.

Musica Acoustics, a feisty audio importer based in Tokyo, will be carrying FAD’s new earphones. Musica Acousticspresident, Mr. Dimitri Trush, is quick to answer email questions, so fire away!

Preliminary review impressions of the FA-BA-A1 are up at TMA’s Forums. For more pictures and product spec, jump the gap:

heaven s Specification (FA-BA-SB)
Type: Balance Amateur
Sensitivity: 112dB
Length of Soft Cord:1.4m
Weight: 23g
Model: heaven s (FI-BA-SB)
JAN: 4560329070123

Headset Pad S/M/L
Carrying Case
Operation Manual

heaven a Specification
Type: Balance Amateur
Sensitivity: 112dB
Length of Soft Cord:1.4m (Adopted Flat cable)
Weight: 15g
Model:heaven a (FI-BA-A1)
JAN: 4560329070147

Headset Pad S/M/L
Carrying Case
Operation Manual

HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-01 HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-02 HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-03 HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-04Read more]]> 1
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