TouchMyApps » Headphone Reviews http://www.touchmyapps.com All Things iPhone and iPad for those who like to Touch. iOS App reviews, News, New Apps, Price Drops and App Gone Free Fri, 12 Sep 2014 16:31:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.7.4 Sleek Audio SA7 inner earphones in Review http://www.touchmyapps.com/2013/10/20/sleek-audio-sa7-inner-earphones-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2013/10/20/sleek-audio-sa7-inner-earphones-in-review/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 00:28:04 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=73281 This review is verbatim the one at Ω image. In case you are confused by all the ohmages and porridges, head to Ω’s about page. It’ll get better. Back when Cube, was rolling with Lorenzo in a Benzo, Sleek was polishing their chrome-trimmed SA6. Under da hood was a single ultra-wide band driver that laughed … Read more]]>

sleek-SA7 standing up

This review is verbatim the one at Ω image. In case you are confused by all the ohmages and porridges, head to Ω’s about page. It’ll get better.

Back when Cube, was rolling with Lorenzo in a Benzo, Sleek was polishing their chrome-trimmed SA6. Under da hood was a single ultra-wide band driver that laughed in the faces of the tubby competition. But times is changing. Sleek has doubled the SA6’s ultra-wide band armature count and dropped most of the chrome. Sleek’s hard core: the customisable VQ system, the coaxial detachable cable still roll with their shit off safety.

Spec

2 Year Limited Warranty
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: 18 Hz.-20k Hz
DC Resistance: 25.4 ohms
Impedance: 50 ohms
Sensitivity: 115 dB/mW

3 Pairs of dual flange silicone ear tips
2 sets of Treble Tuning Tips
User’s Guide

SA7 Limited Edition 249,99$ USD

MADE IN USA

ohmage & porridge: customisation

The SA7′s VQ system does the same thing the SA6′s VQ system did. Except that metal eschews plastic wherever possible. Rubber gaskets and metal screw mounts keep treble and bass ports in place. Better tolerances and materials between earphone and VQ parts reap better sound.

Bass ports plug in at the back. Treble ports screw into the nose. Both seal their respective ports much better than before. Your choices are: flat and minus. The effects are rather stark, but never jarring.

Finally, the cable can also be exchanged- that is, if a viable third party option existed. Currently, the number of after-market cable producers working on Sleek’s otherwise excellent coaxial cables is close to damn all. Sincerely, I hope that number grows.

We will see why this matters in the section entitled build quality

ohmage & porridge: comfort and fit (C&F)

Like the ER4 and most of Final Audio Design’s earphones, the SA7 fits like a nail in the ear. But if you were Frakenstein’s monster (and let’s face it: most of us portable audiophiles are), the SA7 would be one of the more luxurious nails out there. It certainly betters the ER4 nail. Its angle of entry is comfortable and it’s soft silicon tips quite workable. Sensitive-eared people may take issue to the shallow umbrella silicon flanges. Their shallow fit can rub the ear canal the wrong way. Undead creatures borne of lightning and dressed in someone else’s skin may find Sleek’s umbrellas just dandy. Instead, I use Comply or Shure olive tips. I bother with third party pieces because the SA7 is worth the effort.

Because its body is triangular, the SA7 is easy to grip. Getting it in and out of the ear is spectacularly simple. But the freely rotatable coaxial cable tends to pop out when screwing the earphone into your ears, prompting bouts of plugging and unplugging, whence mechanical wear and tear is birthed.

The major plus to the freely rotating mount is that  the cable can be worn both over the ear and hung down like a traditional earbud. The SA7’s triangular prefers over-the-ear fit, but is right at home with a hung cable. The cable is a light and supple affair. It bends and writhes in the most comfortable of positions. Unfortunately, it also tends to harden after time, and fray. I’m on my second replacement.

ohmage: kitsch

Sleek Jony Ived away most of the SA6′s chrome. Thank Jobs. The new earphone shines less, and thanks to an abundance of metal, is far more robust than the SA6. More attention has been paid to items that ensure good fit and sound. Less bling affords the SA7 a truly sturdy design. And like FitEar, Sleek chose to go with a smart, indestructible and utilitarian Pelican storage box.

sleek-SA7 Pelican Case

ohmage & porridge: build quality

The Pelican will long outlast both you and your earphones. While the SA7′s reliance on metal and rubber elements is commendable, their are a few items of concern to the long-term investor.

The first is the cable. As hinted at above, it is awful. I said the same thing in my CT7 review. It is the same cheap cable used in the Sleek Audio SA1- a cable which I bemoaned even in a 55$ earphone. If you think I’m joking, try a Sleek Audio SA1 Google Search. The SA1 replacement cable shows up at the bottom of the FIRST PAGE!

The plug-side strain relief of my SA7 came apart mere days after I received the earphones. It also tends to harden faster than other cables I bag. I would enthusiastically take the ageing SM64 cable over the SA7 cable. Of course, Sleek’s coaxial connection is wondrous. It precedes today’s popular MMCX connection by years and is just as rotatable and secure. It is a simple wonder, however, that it has been yoked to such a dollar store bit of rubber.

The other bit that concerns is the the treble tips, and only for the reason that the grill came off my treble + tip while I removed a SHURE olive tip for cleaning.

Sleek Audio have assured me that I am one of only two customers to whom this has happened. (I wonder if the other customer was also a sensitive eared chap or chappette that tried millions of ear tips.) They also assure me there will be better cables coming- though it seems they are from third party manufacturers. While I hope that is true, it is imperative that Sleek start making a reliable cable for their earphones. Cable breakage has been a big problem since 2008.

The good news is that the cables are quite inexpensive. And besides being supple and light, they are probably the least microphonic of any production cable out there.

I’ve now used my CT7 for two years both on the pedal and on the bus, in weather both blistering hot and bitingly cold. The coaxial mount is still in great shape. But I’ve gone through three cables. I expect the SA7 to stand up similarly well.

ohmage & porridge: quality of finish

The SA7 is beefier than its predecessor. Both channels bulge quite like the calf muscles of a Greek god. The coaxial connection sits high like the like a exhaust pipe of a rally-ready VW Beetle. The treble port is its hood scoop. Vroom vroom! And while the paint job doesn’t quite rival Elite Detailing, it is more than adequate for the small area of an earphone.

Well done.

Small things like the treble port bore being off centre, indelible manufacturer smudges, excess glue at the seems- these things detract somewhat from Sleek’s muscular image, but not to a degree that ruins the earphone.

sleek-SA7 and cable

sound 

The Sleek Audio house sound is as muscular as its looks. It is fast, grippy, and serves precise, and sometimes heavy punches to the mid and low ranges. It is the perfect evolution of the SA6 sound. Both electronic and acoustic chimes sound freaking awesome. The overall signature is mid-focused but linear. Fast guitars are crunchy. Electronic bass is atmospheric. Female vocals are impressively clear and void of accent. Speed of attack and decay is good. And no matter which ports you plug or screw in, the SA7 will serve up aggressive mids.

Crispness

Shiny mids are the Sleek way. The largest overall swell of shininess resides in the vocals and strings. Interestingly, vocals can also trend wispy. Adaptability to the idiosyncrasies of your music is one of the SA7′s biggest draws.

Bitey percussion keeps the edge in rock and roll, the live in folk.

No matter the ear piece you choose, the SA7 is never congested. That said, it presents details with softer inter-frequency contrast than, say, the Earsonics SM64. Its most resilient instruments are electronic chimes, horns, and high strings. Higher frequencies than that are slightly muted. Certainly you would not call them veiled, but no fan squeaky eaky sound could call the SA7 bright.

ohmage: space

The SA7′s sound stage is honest. It is energetically live and grippy, and at times, raw. It puts you in front of the stage. Floor standing monitors whip at your sweaty business face, the crowd nips at the party in the back. The focus is the music, not the crowd, or room acoustics, or your fabulous mullet. Details go wide, but never wrap around your head. Think IMAX, not VR headset.

ohmage: Bass vs mids

The SA7 keeps religious balance between bass and mids. The two breathe in and out with ease, never erring towards one or the other. Bass pressure is rather flat. Plus tips add more body, but sound pressure levels remain similar between frequencies.

The SA6 tended to boom, losing bass detail on heavy tracks. Not so the SA7. Even the most ferocious of lows are clean, level, and supportive. It is one of the most clean and speedy of any compact dual-driver earphone out there. It is a do-all signature that, day by day, grows on you. This quiescent cooperation of bass and mids is almost pastorally utopian- until you out the SA7 in fast rock and industrial. Aggression attends this gangsta just as well as peace and harmony do. Give it time. If you are coming from a more accented earphone, you will need to adapt. If you are coming from a truely neutral earphone, you will need to count to ten. When finally you acclimatise to the SA7’s goodness, goodbye. This sucker is addictive.

ohmage: Bass vs highs

Even with treble + filters plugging its nose, the SA7‘s high frequency sound pressure is slightly lower than mid and low sound pressure. The difference is slight but certain. Upper mids are shiny and bass is energetic. High hats decay a little too quickly; yet strangely, a ragnarok of violent Viking metal causes high hats to splash.

Upper mids have excellent body and edge. Guitars. Holy frack. Forget Ol’ John Denver (RIP). SA7 is all about strings. And Guitars. Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire. Bruce Springsteen. The Boss. Born in the freakin’ USA. These is rock through and through.

That said, the SA7 does American hip-hop quite well. It can’t hit duff duff lows, but the post-2001 tendency to mix medium-high pitched chimes into a rap is perfect for modern beats.

Trance: great. Classical: could use a bit more contrast between stage elements, but overall, good. Jazz: good unless you want more accent. I recommend the SA7 to fans of flat, semi-bright sound signatures. Bass pressure is strong but mids rule.

ohmage: drivability

Despite toting two balanced armature drivers, the SA7 is no harder to drive than your typical single driver earphone- unless of course, you are using a terrible source.

Interestingly, setting the volume slightly higher than usual yields the best sound. I listen to the SA7 about 3-5 decibels louder than I listen to other favourite earphones. It really does wake at slightly louder volumes.

ohmage & porridge: sensitivity

SA7 is as sensitive as its predecessors. It is one of the most sensitive earphones in my collection, very nearly matching terrible hissers like the Shure SE500 and Westone UM2. It outs hiss from every source I own. Among my favourite players, the iBasso DX50 hisses the most, the iPod nano 6g the least. My Sony players are downright obnoxious through this Sleek; HiSound’s Amp3Pro is unlistenable.

Earsonics’ recent turn to high resistance makes their top earphones the easiest to drive. I wish that Sleek will follow suit.

ohmage: isolation

Earlier in the year, I missed a train. I very nearly missed the departure time for a rather important shoot that day. The SA7 was in my ears and my iPod nano set to a volume of about 5. The Tsukuba express is a loud train. But the SA7 drowned it out completely. If you want to turn your back on everything around you, SA7 will do it. It isolates far more than most universal earphones. Study hall? Oh yes. Commuter train? You betcha. And here in Asia where coffee shops, malls, and every other public place are rife with annoyingly inane loudspeaker adverts and jingles, the SA7 is a miracle. Honestly, isolation was never something I absolutely craved until I came here.

My ergonomic favourite Grado GR8 doesn’t deliver enough. The SA7 is what is necessary to drown out the worst Asia has to offer.

At its current price of 249$, I expect it is flying off the shelves. And it should. It more than worth its asking price. It rocks aggression like it was 1999 but still purrs when more delicate genres hit the output circuts of your favourite source. An earphone this limber is seldom seen outside of expensive customs. If only Sleek replaced their cable with something realistic. That cable is Sleek’s Aftermath. No one knows why Sleek are still using such a chintzy piece of rubber and wire. The sooner they replace it, the better.

An earphone of this calibre deserves much, much better.

ohmage: 10

porridge: 5

This review is verbatim the one at Ω image. In case you are confused by all the ohmages and porridges, head to Ω’s about page. It’ll get better.

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Earsonics SM64 reviewed at ohm-image http://www.touchmyapps.com/2013/10/08/earsonics-sm64-reviewed-at-ohm-image/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2013/10/08/earsonics-sm64-reviewed-at-ohm-image/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 00:08:08 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=73236 While the bulk of shiggy’s headphone and earphone reviews have moved to ohm-image, expect a few good reviews to come to TMA. Shiggy’s most recent review is of Earsonic’s SM64. Earsonics are a favourite here at TMA and the SM64 seems to be the hit of the SM line. Why? Shiggy has this to say: … Read more]]>

Earsonics-SM64

While the bulk of shiggy’s headphone and earphone reviews have moved to ohm-image, expect a few good reviews to come to TMA. Shiggy’s most recent review is of Earsonic’s SM64. Earsonics are a favourite here at TMA and the SM64 seems to be the hit of the SM line. Why? Shiggy has this to say:

The SM64 delivers not only crisp mids and highs, it serves up boiling, authoritative punches that roll through most of audible spectrum. Lower mids are fast up and down. They never tangle with bass. Kudos to kick drums, bass guitar, electronic kicks, and pretty much anything with a beat from there on down. Thruma thwaaaarck! goes lower bass. Thwacka thwacka! go upper mids. Speed is king.

Timeliness – while stereotypically not very French an asset – has a pigeonhole with an SM64-shaped aperture.

Timely and taut though it is, the SM64 stops far before it ever reaches the shrill, metallic highs that has ER4 lovers all agog. Some may take issue here. Metal-tipped responses can be hugely fun. But Earsonics are a musician-oriented company; and in Earsonics 2,0, equitability takes precedence over wow.

Fans of crispy crisp crisp will probably look elsewhere for their bacon. Similarly, fans of warm fuzzies may also have to turn elsewhere. With few outliers, the SM64 sounds rather flat – and certainly crisp – at the ear.

Crispness FTW!

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音茶楽 Flat4-楓 Ocharaku Flat4-KAEDE earphone in review http://www.touchmyapps.com/2013/02/13/ocharaku-flat4-kaede-earphone-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2013/02/13/ocharaku-flat4-kaede-earphone-in-review/#comments Thu, 14 Feb 2013 00:43:24 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=71889 I have a hunch that Mr. Yamagishi, the former Sony headphone and speaker designer behind Ocharaku was drinking tea before he ever sipped into the idea of the Tornado Equaliser. That singular technology has since revolutionised the upgrade earphone market among price-conscious portable audiophiles in Japan. And with the introduction of Flat-4 SUI – and … Read more]]>

Ocharaku FLAT4-Kaede-iso

I have a hunch that Mr. Yamagishi, the former Sony headphone and speaker designer behind Ocharaku was drinking tea before he ever sipped into the idea of the Tornado Equaliser. That singular technology has since revolutionised the upgrade earphone market among price-conscious portable audiophiles in Japan. And with the introduction of Flat-4 SUI – and TE’s successor, TEE – in 2011, the technology has found itself in a new, better pot. Twin Equalised Elements (TEE) is the new leaf that Mr. Yamagishi turned over to create SUI and now KAEDE. If you’re interested in a few different views of KAEDE, check out Ω image’s KAEDE post.

Transducer: 010e002 Φ10 mm dynamic x 2 (per single channel)
Prime technology: Twin equalized element
Output sound pressure level: 104 dBSPL/mW
Frequency characteristics: 3.5 to 35 kHz
Max. input: 400 mW
Impedance: 18 Ω
Weight: About 17 g
Plug: Φ3.5 mm gold plating stereo mini-plug
Cable length: 1.2 m (type Y)
Accessories: Comply-foam ear tips T-200 size L (Size M is attached to the main unit.)
Wooden storage box, cloth, Instruction Manual & Guarantee

Ocharaku
Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Ku, Kyodo 2-17-2
Tel: 03-3428-5557

In early December, I visited Ocharaku. Mr. Yamagishi’s polite personality and eager explanations do wonders to his two foremost product lines: imported tea and luxurious hand-made earphones. I can’t wait to get the chance to go again. In fact, I’m queued up to purchase on of his modded Audio Technica CKM55 earphones.

Ocharaku FLAT4-Kaede-iso Ocharaku FLAT4-Kaede-plug-iso Ocharaku FLAT4-Kaede-split-Edit Ocharaku-FLAT4-KAEDE-box-cardboard Ocharaku-FLAT4-KAEDE-Box Ocharaku-FLAT4-KAEDE-Fit

Accessories and Package
With nothing more than a few comply tips and a royal blue cleaning cloth to adorn its bits, KAEDE comes somewhat thinly attired. But then again, what high-end earphone system ever comes surrounded by accessories? The prize is KAEDE, not the packed-in bits and nibbles. KAEDE comes in a delectable wooden tea box, that itself comes wrapped in a bit of fancy packboard. From the outset, the impression you get is one of careful, tense planning.

Fit and Isolation
I fear that many of my observations of Final Audio’s 1601 apply to KAEDE. Many, but not all. Unlike the 1601, KAEDE is light, and stays put no matter how you move your head. Similar to the 1601, however, is KAEDE’s somewhat awkward fit. It sticks out of the ears like Frankenstein bolts. Comply tips keep it secure, but there is no neck cinch, so the cable can get caught on this and that. Also, KAEDE is an open design. It lets in a bit of noise, but not enough to ruin a train ride. Its isolative properties are halfway between those of the 1601 with tips and an Audio Technica CK10 strapped with low density foamies. Whilst riding in to Akihabara and plugged into an iPod nano 6G, I had to raise the volume by 1/3 to 1/2 over my usual listening levels.

Usually, I drape earphone cables over my ears. Due to the angle at which KAEDE protrudes from the ear, over-ear cable draping is uncomfortable and precarious. Big ears? You’re in luck. Small ears? You’ll have to stick to wearing KAEDE straight down.

What isn’t precarious is the sound tube, which has a smaller diameter than another favourite of mine, ortofon’s e-Q5. Even people with small ear canals should comfortably be able to comfortably wear either KAEDE or SUI. Another plus is the soft angle at which the tube extends from the earphone body, which makes for comfortable wear.

Cable
Both Flat-4 earphones come with a quality 4-element cable. It is thick, malleable, and fairly resistant to body oils. It is similar in tensile strength to the excellent ortofon cable. Noise transfer is minimal, however, without a neck cinch, touch noise reaches the ear.

Inside the earphone, the cable is knotted. I’ve given it a few good tugs (don’t tell Mr. Yamagishi) and it held firm, but I don’t suggest doing it. Other than a small rubber o-ring, there is no stress relief at the earphone, the plug, or the y split. While KAEDE is meant for luxurious listening, and not for a beat ‘em up bout with the gals, it would behove Ocharaku to install more protection, especially in an expensive earphone like KAEDE.

Build Quality
Ocharaku’s earphones aren’t meant to be worn whilst exercising, or at a party. While sturdily made, they will break if subjected to the rigours of wind sprints on the back of your steel Marinoni in Canada’s yearly 70º temperature swings. (Ocharaku was designed by a Tokyoite, after all. Tokyo is a city that generally sees fewer than 25 degree swings from summer to winter.) Being fashioned in maple wood, KAEDE is even more susceptible to: rain, sweat, sun, corrosive acid, and kryptonite. Each earphone goes through a long curing process that hardens the wood and outer resin. The finish is beautiful, and damn it, it better stay that way.

Mr. Yamagishi is adamant that his upper level earphones are made in batches from the same base wood in order that as many sonic anomalies as possible may be avoided. Hence the limited edition status of KAEDE. There will be no more than 200 units made. Ever.

Sound
Don’t be fooled by your skepticism; KAEDE is worth every bit of attention it draws. And no, it doesn’t sound like your favourite balanced armature earphones. In particular, its sound is open, clear, and, at strange moments, prone to mush together a few details. But when it gets things right (and that is 95% of the time) it gets them so right that you’ll be scratching addendum after addendum in your Oxford under ‘perfect’, ‘just right’ and their ilk. It is that good.

Openness
While not engaging the outer ear at all, KAEDE (and SUI) maintain a multilayered, generally out-of-the-head sound. I almost hesitate to compare it with headphones of any format. Why? Because, if not for the bit of Comply fuzz squishing against your canals, the sound truly is out of the head. Speaker-like, if you will. That sound isn’t as 3D and sculpted as a good balanced armature. Pitted against a FitEar ToGo! 334, both Ocharaku earphones have some difficulty delineating the smallest details in lows and mids, but in a larger sense, the sound is open and extremely out of the head. You and I will be sipping Oolong tea on the sweaty shores of Mars’ largest surfing beach before the 334 catch up to the vastness of KAEDE’s sound. If the 334 casts a beach ball sized shadow of sound around your head, Ocharaku’s earphones fill a sonic shadow the size of a big box wrecking ball.

Bass

KAEDE’s bass is thick, organic, and detailed. It is the spiritual successor to Victor’s FX500. But where Victor’s hero could at times, resonate uncontrollably, Ocharaku’s flagship obviates transient crowding of any sort. At all times it is clear and emphatic. On one extreme, it precisely renders the opening seconds of Markuz Schulz’ Mainstage in audible puffs and yawns. At the other, it keeps pace with the trash trance of DJ Tïesto’s Kaleidoscope, never once stepping into the mids. Despite its strong presence, it never blooms nor bulges. Tangible detail on this level is only possible from high-end dynamic driver earphones, and among them, KAEDE retains the clearest image, bar none.

Mid to high bass impact generally, is excellent. A slight delay in the upper mid bass dampens my opinion only slightly. But combined with its tangible and detailed lows, KAEDE conveys a live rawness to most acoustic music. SUI’s bass is only slightly colder than KAEDE’s. Both are excellent.

Mids and Highs
Separation of bass from midrange melody elements is spot on. Only Inception’s dream within a dream within a dream concept can describe melodic depth in contemporary terms. The presentation is very much like a speaker setup. Positioning is incredible. Bass has an anchored position near the back of the ear near the neck. It never strays too far from that position. But it never ever mixes into any other frequency. Mids and highs swim around the head, sometimes drifting far, sometimes posing close to the ear.

Actually, it is this element that may pose the most problem to listeners. Because KAEDE’s mid frequency sound stage is so engulfing and contrasty, it takes time to adapt to. I’ve spoken with several users who, at first, wanted to return their KAEDE. After a few days, they warmed to KAEDE and now love it. Contrariwise, I fell in love right away. This earphone stuns with its truly out-of-head experience.

Go to a small venue concert. You will notice that the vocalist and all instruments are mic’d. They come in over the house, but in such small places, if the speakers are set to lower volume levels, you get music via the speakers, music via the stage, music via naked instruments and throats. Invariably, guitars and vocals are mic’d more strongly than drums and bass guitar is. Melody and vocals run to the forefront. Percussion can shimmer at the ear and guitar bumps into the middle of it all, eclipsed only by vocals. In an almost separate channel, bass nudges in. This multi-layered, live sound is what KAEDE is all about.

Let’s get back to frequency evaluations. In upper mids and lower treble, KAEDE remains strong, delineating each vector clearly, cleanly, and with verve. Unfortunately, in order to get this sound from a TEE earphone, KAEDE is your ticket. SUI lacks crisp edges along vocal lines, cymbals, guitar, percussion; the list goes on. While I appreciate SUI’s overall presentation, KAEDE can’t even be graded on the same scale. Still, especially fast beat-driven music may lose shape in the cavernous expanse KAEDE throws. It is the first time that a wide earphone has tripped me up with regards to trance music.

KAEDE’s high frequency extension is excellent and sound pressure stays high through the reaches of all treble-tipped instruments. SUI has a noticeable suckout.

Sound in a Nutshell
KAEDE’s sound is multilayered, deep, wide, and well extended. Apposed to each other in any recording, bass, mids, and treble stand out, sometimes quite aloof. Ocharaku’s flagship earphone tends to infuse edge into almost any music without being fatiguing. It’s not an over-active treble, it’s succinct layering. The price you pay is low isolation and unwieldy fit. If you can get by those two hurdles (and the price), there’s nothing really like it.

If you really really love minute detail in treble, the stuff only balanced armature earphones supply, I cannot recommend KAEDE. It has loads of detail, but most of that is shown off in contrasting each frequency channel in contrasty vectors. Minute details are present, but not magnified as they seem to be when spit out by balanced armature earphones. Yet, because KAEDE retains excellent control over its tangible sound signature, detail, as it applies to feeling and the sonorous movement of air, is there in spades. It’s just a different sort of detail. And I’ll be honest and say I dig it completely. If I had to live with one earphone, I would choose KAEDE in a heartbeat, despite losing some isolation.

Regarding Sensitivity
At 104dB both SUI and KAEDE are semi-sensitive earphones. They can detect noise from many sources, though at much lower volumes than the likes of FitEar’s earphones and certainly less than Sleek Audio’s CT7. Once music kicks in, noise isn’t a problem like it can be with other earphones. For this reason, noisy players like Sony’s Walkman and the first generation iPod shuffle are fully listenable with only minor annoyance.

Regarding Amping
Unless you have a source with a very high headphone output, or that is extremely underpowered, an amp isn’t necessary. Neither earphone pose too much a load on any modern headphone output. Mr. Yamagishi mentioned that he wanted people to enjoy music on any source. He didn’t design KAEDE or SUI as high end products to be fitted to high end gear. He designed them to sound great on anything. And they do. I would recommend not using an amp unless you are keen on a certain brand of sound the amp adds to the sound. In the majority of cases, you won’t get better sound by using an amp.

Out and About
As a semi-open earphone that rings in at over 700$, KAEDE isn’t ideal for use out in the Big Apple where a tech savvy thug could make it disappear in a New York minute. A few minutes’ chase and much muscle-flexing later, the KAEDE is back in your paws. But, the thug has sweated on it, and in his/her haste to outpace you, bashed it against walls and broken parking meters. The cable still looks good, but that beautiful maple exterior is pock-marked like old Luna. Bugger that. At least you can still slide your iPod into your pocket and string the KAEDE’s cable through your shirt. There’s plenty of slack there. After beating down a would-be crook, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. And there’s a new rawness in your music.

Conclusion
Flush the image of mass-marketed robot-assembled plastic speaker-filled nubs out of your head. You’ve entered boutique audio street. KAEDE is an extremely limited edition earphone. There are only 200 in the world. I got to sweat on one for three weeks. I only wish it was longer. The loving craftsmanship that went into it, the finely tuned sound, the awkward fit: each of these mark it in and out of its niche. This is not a thrown-together luxury product. It is quite possibly the world’s most realistic up-market earphone for audiophiles. Mr. Yamagishi got its sound, materials, and curing just right. It outperforms its direct competitors from Final Audio. Its only real fault is that for most people out there, it is impossible to get ahold of. Bugger. For you and me, Mr. Yamagishi’s got some great stuff cooking. Until then, count your pennies.

kiss-icon

Pros:
Excellent sound quality
Best in class performance
Swimmingly open
Luxurious finish
Excellent quality cable
Attractive box and tea case

Cons:
So-so plug quality
No stress reliefs

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

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FitEar ToGo! 111 – This is Trance http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/11/15/fitear-togo-111-this-is-trance/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/11/15/fitear-togo-111-this-is-trance/#comments Fri, 16 Nov 2012 01:33:36 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=70824 Yesterday, I was asked by Musica Acoustics to shoot a new earphone, the FitEar ToGo! 111. The 111 is the ToGo! 334′s younger sibling. It was released sometime in the summer in Japan and has had very few legit sales channels abroad. This version is spread with a Musica Acoustics label. Evidently, Jaben have their … Read more]]>

Yesterday, I was asked by Musica Acoustics to shoot a new earphone, the FitEar ToGo! 111. The 111 is the ToGo! 334′s younger sibling. It was released sometime in the summer in Japan and has had very few legit sales channels abroad. This version is spread with a Musica Acoustics label. Evidently, Jaben have their own label. You can pick it up from Musica for 645$. From what I understand, it is the same as the regular ToGo! 111. Correct me if I’m wrong.

While setting up my studio I decided on some preparatory listening. And after the shoot (evidently I have to return these on Monday), I kept listening. I’ve now got about 7 hours and 9 albums on the 111, and I’m prepared to say:

This is Trance.

Bass is oh so tight, so beautifully fast. Mids are flat, staid, and never get in the way. Highs are extended, but not peaky. Space is wide, though not continentally so and separation is top notch for a single driver earphone. The 111 is an Etymotic ER4 done perfectly. There is no plastic resonance or thick overhang anywhere, no screech, no pain. Trancing out to the 111 is as refreshing as using shampoo for the first time after a week of canoeing in July. Refreshing.

It gets on splendidly with vocal, jazz, the piano works of Nick Cave, and surprisingly, with perfect fit, with Classified’s raps. Its bass, being lean and tight, isn’t fun enough for hard IDM artists such as Anodyne Industries, Kasunagi, or thick American hip hop. And, being sensitive, it picks up a good amount of hiss from any source.

But after quite a few hours, I am almost ready to dub the 111 my favourite single driver earphone. Almost. I’ll be reviewing my current favourite, the Grado GR8 next week. Bass is harder hitting with the Grado, and more organic, but apart from that, the better overall coherence and space of the 111 is plum ear estate. Not sure yet if I will or will not do a review. Prices need to come down first.

NOTE:  about the large and ugly watermark: TMA have been ripped off by verbatim copycats in China and Russia several times. Recently, however, Audiophilia.com, a Canadian website, ripped off the FitEar 334 main image from TMA by cropping out the discreetly placed watermark. I raged about it on Twitter, sent an angry email, and waited. They fixed it later by using FitEar’s image – exactly what they should have done in the first place. They had myriad legit pictures to use, but they deliberately chose to steal TouchMyApps’ image. Their action was not a mistake. They never replied to my email, never apologised, never acknowledged their wrong. I’ve heard nothing on Twitter, either. I don’t expect to. I will continue to shoot and review, but TMA will be more careful. We have to be: the internet is full of cheap-arse freeloading website scum like Audiophilia.com.

FitEar-111-cable-earjoint FitEar-111-titianium FitEar-111-y-main FitEar-111-y-split FitEar-111-plugRead more]]>
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Heir Audio 3.Ai and 4.Ai in Review http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/11/13/heir-audio-3-ai-and-4-ai-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/11/13/heir-audio-3-ai-and-4-ai-in-review/#comments Tue, 13 Nov 2012 16:37:49 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=70670 Heir Audio’s youngest children have been thrust into the thick of a do-or-die competition. Custom earphone manufacturers are pounding with exceeding energy toward the lucrative – and showy – universal earphone market. I see no end in sight – and to be honest, that is a good thing. Technology handed down from top-flight customs is … Read more]]>

Heir Audio’s youngest children have been thrust into the thick of a do-or-die competition. Custom earphone manufacturers are pounding with exceeding energy toward the lucrative – and showy – universal earphone market. I see no end in sight – and to be honest, that is a good thing. Technology handed down from top-flight customs is good stuff. Heir Audio’s 3.Ai and 4.Ai carry the goods inherited from their more expensive, custom siblings.

Specifications
3.AI
• 3 Precision tuned Balanced Armature drivers.
• One Dedicated drivers for Low Frequency production
• One driver for Middle Frequency production
• One driver for High Frequency production
• Dual Bore Design
• Detachable cable
• Quality ear tips
Shell color: “Black Mamba”
Face Plate: Burl
299$ USD

4.Ai
• 4 Precision tuned Balanced Armature drivers.
• 2 Dedicated drivers for Low Frequency production
• One driver for Middle Frequency production
• One driver for High Frequency production
• Dual Bore Design
• Detachable cable
Quality ear tips
Shell color: “Black Mamba”
Face Plate: Burl
399$ USD

Heir Audio
Floor 10, Tower C, Chengdu International Commerce Building
136 Bin Jiang Dong Road, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Postcode:610021

Email: heiraudiousa@micro-dsp.com
Tel: +1 (805) 284-6443
Fax: +1 (619) 615-2105
Skype: brannanmason
Facebook: www.facebook.com/heiraudio
Twitter: @heiraudio
Head-Fi: bangkokkid

Heir Audio
In all my dealings with Heir Audio, I’ve met the kindest, fastest of responses. Heir Audio stand behind their products and their services. No matter which product you choose, you are in for a treat. In that respect, they are top notch. Well done.

Accessories and package
Seasoned lurkers will realise by now that almost all custom and custom-ish earphones come similarly attired. Heir’s little ones come replete with branded Otter style box, detachable cables, ear pieces, and cleaning tool, is no exception to the rule. It’s just that after looking at what you get – and considering the price you get it for – the 3.Ai and 4.Ai embarrass other sub-400$ earphones.

Against other custom-ish earphones, too, Heir wiggle quite nicely. Neither FitEar nor Tralucent offer so many ear pieces. The carrying box looks and feels like an Otter box. Thank god it isn’t though: those things are impossible to open. It protects Heir’s littlest ones perfectly, but isn’t quite as smooth an operator as a Pelican box is.

Fit and isolation
If you can’t find perfect fit via the included earpieces, you are in a tough place in life. Heir include just about every size imaginable: single, dual, split flanges in sizes from tiny to large. The tips are hard, but not abrasive. They keep the earphones firmly in the ears, and block external noise extremely well.

Still, there are those, who, like me, prefer a gentler touch. Thankfully, the nozzle size accommodates the same tips used by the FitEar To Go! 334, ortofon eQ5 and eQ7, and many other wonderful earphones. I prefer the ortofon eQ5 tips. They are the most comfy single flanges I’ve found. If you live outside Japan (where they are readily found), you can pick up a pair at Musica Acoustics. If you live inside Japan, I suggest going to e-eearphone or checking out kakaku.com for best e-Q5 earpiece prices. I got mine from e-earphone.

The bodies of the 3.Ai and 4.Ai are so similar in size that without a glance at the back of each, you might mistake one for the other. They are tiny. In comparison to the FitEar To Go! 334, which boasts the same number of drivers, the 4.Ai is positively dwarfed. But comparing them is an ineluctable delight. For users who can’t cram the 334 into their ear holes, the 4.Ai is a safe bet. Barely larger than a regular earphone, both Heir Audio universals disappear in the ear by any practical comparison.

They lay flat enough that you can lay on your side with them in with very little discomfort. However, laying on your side will, in the long run, bend the contact pins. My recommendation is merely to rest assured that you could if you wanted to- But for the sake of your investment, don’t lay on your side.

The one standout issue is that neither earphone grasp earpieces as firmly as the ToGo! 334 does. I guarantee you will lose ear pieces. They will fall off the 3.Ai’s and 4.Ai’s sound tube flange. Heir Audio’s tooling isn’t perfect. FitEar’s tooling is: its sound tube of the 334 is as precise as a handmade earphone can be while the 3.Ai and 4.Ai look very much handmade. Both are hand made, but you can tell at the most cursory of glances that FitEar’s earphones command top prices. That human touch works wonders on tables and chairs, but where sound tubes and precise tooling are concerned, more effort needs to be paid to 100% repeatable form.

Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-bands Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-box Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-butt-detail Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-cables Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-fit Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-front Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-ipod Heir-Audio-3.Ai-4.Ai-plug

The cable
Heir chose to strap the 3.Ai and 4.Ai to a Westone/UE style cable. The good of it is that if the cable breaks, finding a replacement is simple as pie. There are numerous replacements out there. Most can be found for modest sums. Some can even be had for more than the price of Heir’s earphones.

Heir Audio also offer an upgrade cable. The Magnus 1 comes terminated in Neutrik and sports stronger contacts and lead pins than the stock cable does. Rather than three cable strands, it is separated into four. The Neutrik connector gets into and out of fiddly iPhone case earphone ports better than does the flat Westone/UE style connector. Both are L-shaped, and to be honest, similarly robust for casual use – that is, until you reach the terminals. Treated with kiddy gloves, the standard cable should last many years. However, I’ve broken two Westone-style cables. The Magnus 1 may be an expensive upgrade, but I have a lot more faith in its leads and connectors than I do in the standard version. Is it worth double the price of the standard cable’s replacement? Not sure, but it is a nice option to have.

Technically, its four strands should offer some sort of sonic gain, but I’ll be honest here and say I don’t hear it. Again, not being a dog (or a Sennheiser recording head), I’m at a disadvantage here. Audiophiles, you can duke it out in the forums of your favourite party website.

Build quality
Both the 3.Ai and 4.Ai are well-built earphones, easily toeing with the likes of similarly priced universal earphones. That is, of similarly priced earphones from the 2010-2011 era. Heir’s earphones come in rather thick acrylic housings. They are free of blemish and wrinkle and they should last for a long time. Still, I’d put Audio Technica’s CK100 ahead of them where housing quality is concerned. Like Audio Technica’s high-end earphones, Heir work with luxurious materials. Both the 3.Ai and 4.Ai are topped off with beautiful burl wood faceplates.

Heir built the pin ports flush to the housing. There is no structural support for the teeny tiny Westone/UE pins, and the plastic blocks that houses the copper tubes that connect with the cables are fused directly behind the faceplate with no lateral support to the pins. Either earphone comes with ovoid sound bores. This shouldn’t affect sound quality, but when the ineluctable question: “how’s it compare to the ToGo! 334?” comes up, it’s basically fit, finish, and build quality that comes up soonest in my mind. Sound is one thing, immediate visual targets are another. While there are no severe bubbles or finger prints inside Heir’s housing, the guts of the earphones (what you can see of them) dully reflect light as if they are blanketed lightly with dust and oil.

Those are hardly faults. After all, these earphones come at less than half the price of their nearest big-name competitor. But, as with all things, you get what you pay for.

Apart from the cable pins and unreinforced contact square, I commend Heir for what they have been able to accomplish at the price point. The x.Ai series is beautiful, functional, and while not even even with FitEar’s build quality, the benefits of hundreds of extra dollars in your pocket can’t be discarded.

Sound
The tale of the 3.Ai and 4.Ai is curious. The 3 bears 3 balanced armature drivers, split between low, mid, and high, while the 4 bears 4 balanced armature drivers split like this: low, low, mid, hi. Spec alone is cause to believe the 4 bares a plumper bottom. That isn’t the case. In all cases, it is leaner, more mature, and for music lovers who hold neutral sound signatures dear, more mellifluous. The 3.Ai has received surly attention at a number of forums – namely for the amount of bass it produces.

3.Ai is too bassy
Firstly, I’d like to dispel any such nonsense. The 3.Ai does have a healthy bit of oomph in its lower end, but it isn’t in what can honestly be called the low bass region. Its impact, which artfully fits genres such as hip-hop and pop, is actually situated in the higher bass regions. Don’t believe me? Fire up Markus Schulz’ Mainstage from the Progression album. Truly low-voiced earphones yawn ferociously in the opening seconds. The 3.Ai doesn’t really get going until the main beat fires up.

Pedantic but necessary. As ‘bass’ denotes the lowest pitch, the 3.Ai isn’t a bass monster. It is a creature that favours mid and upper bass. True bass monsters don’t expose themselves in just any genre. True bass monsters take special songs such as the above-mentioned Mainstage, to reveal themselves. The 3.Ai exposes itself at most corners.

That upper bass hits with medium speed. Its presentation is safely situated between the slow body of the ephemeral DDM and the low-riding but heavily textured FX500. It reacts faster than either, but isn’t instant. Both its attack and decay hang on for a fraction of a second longer than my favourite ortofon eQ5. This slight delay is great for medium-fast to slow musical genres. It’s not an earphone a seasoned listener would pair with trance. There is a slight stuffiness to the lower end that doesn’t resolve itself too well with the likes of fast electronic. Trance beginners, however, may love its well of low-end power. Move to slower IDM, hip-hop, pop, rock, etc., and it delights.

On bass and the 4.Ai
Where the 3.Ai is hefty, the 4.Ai is lean. Straightaway, I’ll recommend it for trance. Bass impact and attack are tuned to fast beats and swifter attack/decay response. Back to back with the 3.Ai, the 4.Ai may even sound thin. But after a few minutes, it feels right as rain. Bass detail and texture are medium. It lacks any sort of congestion.

Neither earphone outputs what could be called ‘organic’ or ‘textured’ bass. Detail and impact come when called for in the 4.Ai, but neither rise particularly high against the competition. Again, the 3.Ai’s upper bass impact is another matter. It won’t be forgotten soon. While fun, it is more of a mood-matching sound than a practical one. Fun is the name of the 3.Ai’s game.

Away from the bass
Apart from bass, the overall signature of both earphones is close. Both earphones are fun to listen to. Each belts out enough mid and high end detail to satisfy fans of ortofon’s eQ series, for instance, and goes a long way in assuaging the gripes ER4 users have about every single earphone out there.

Transitions are flawless. Extension is good, and sparkle isn’t hard to find. The 3.Ai’s bass, however, is so polarising.

Generally, both earphones excel at mid-high range clarity. For this reason, piano resonance, especially against female vocals is sumptuous. Both earphones are friendly with jazz, piano, vocal, and rock music. The taste is different between the two of course, but both work quite well within personal preferences. There does seem to be a bit less sparkle in the 4.Ai in the range of higher female vocals and violins than the ortofon eQ5. I wouldn’t call the 4.Ai perfectly flat. It seems to mimic more a Beyerdynamic DT990 frequency response: while presenting mids with space and detail, the dip in the upper vocal area is noticeable.

Since fit isn’t generally an issue, you don’t have to fiddle with ear pieces to get the best balance of sound stage, 3D image, and frequency response clarity. Sound stage is medium-wide. Generally, mids hover right around the ear canals, upper mids float somewhere behind the eyeballs, bass belts at the back of the skull, each well delineated, but the entire image is intimate rather than spacious – at least when comparing to FitEar’s To Go! 334. This is especially good for a majority of studio recordings. Whatever you put into your player comes out tight, controlled, and compelling.

Generally, instruments are well separated, rendered in their own space and clean in their frequency channel. For best effect, couple the 3.Ai and 4.Ai with the small chorals and bands. Vocals from the Cardigans, while neither part of a choral (nor any longer part of a band), are sent to the moon against the backdrop of guitars/effects, very well imaged. Of course, the hitch is that Persson’s voice loses some of its cuteness on the 4.Ai. Surprisingly, 3.Ai does a better job of sustaining the right frequencies for female vocals; at the same time, it belts out that idiosyncratic high bass. So while imaging and separation are good, in the range of higher female vocals, there may be a wee bit of dynamic compression against the surrounding instrument flora. Fortunately, the fault is overall, quite small.

Regarding sensitivity
Both earphones are reasonably sensitive. You can keep the volume low, obviating distortion from both your iPhone/iPod and/or headphone amplifier. Background noise does come through, but not quite as much as with the FitEar Private 333 and nowhere near what the Shure SE530 puts out. Poor quality headphone outputs will sound even poorer through Heir’s earphones. Be warned.

Get yourself a good source. If you’re in the Apple camp already, you can’t really go wrong today. Everything since 2008 has been as free from background noise as is possible this side of an iBasso DX100.

Regarding amping
Most earphones perform their best from low Ω output devices with enough current in their capacitors to keep up the bass and supply even frequency response. Heir’s earphones will cause lesser players to stumble. If you have a pre-2009 iPod/iPhone, a small iBasso T3D will do the trick. When strapped to an iPhone 4s very little distortion affects the signal. For the most part, the same goes for an iPod nano 6/7 and iPod touch 4G and their ilk. Heir did a good job with their crossovers so that you can keep your portable package simple, small, and relatively inexpensive. Personally, I find no real reason to add an amp unless your player is ancient or has an output impedance higher than 5Ω. iPhone 5 may be another story…

Out and about
The 3.Ai and 4.Ai are by far the most comfortable universal-cum-custom earphones I have tried. They fit any ear out there. Their slim, small bodies simply disappear. Heir’s wood finish looks great, too. The Westone-style cables are noise free. However, if you use a case with your iPhone, or an amp with a heavily recessed headphone jack you may not be able plug in either the stock or Magnus cable.

The Otter-esque carrying box is strong, but huge. When out and about, I use a soft-sided nylon zipper thing I picked up at Chapters circa 2004. The earphones are small, so they’ll fit in most small pouches. Pick one up.

Conclusion
Heir’s kids did it. They finished the race, and after all numbers are tallied, stand quite tall in a number of criteria. The 3.Ai is probably best bought by bassheads and the 4.Ai by people who prefer more linear musical reproduction. The accessory package for both earphones is great, and so is the price. At their respective price points, both earphones are a steal. There is nothing at all like them on the market. Nothing. The tradeoffs are fit and finish, neither of which stand up to current universal earphones in the same price range. Among expensive custom-cum-universals, their build quality may be outclassed, but when Heir’s x.Ai series comes at less than half the price, what can you say. That is, what can you say except: “I wonder what Heir could do for 600$?”

Heir Audio’s 3.Ai and 4.Ai are good kids. You can’t go wrong with either.

PROS
Price vs the competition
Beautiful burl faceplates
Selection of cables
High price/performance ratio
Sparkly!
Excellent customer service

CONS
Build quality and fit/finish meet price expectations, but shoot no higher
Sound quality not quite same league as other custom-cum-universals

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

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FitEar To Go! 334 earphone in Review – nonpareil http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/07/18/fitear-to-go-334-earphone-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/07/18/fitear-to-go-334-earphone-in-review/#comments Thu, 19 Jul 2012 01:37:53 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=69049 Zip, ziiiip, wiiiiii, a mosquito. Chuka chuka chuka katakatatata, the Tsukuba Express plowing back to Akihabara. Click click click, my evil shoe-wearing neighbours on the eighth floor dancing up a spell. Summer’s heat amplifies each sound. So does after-work debauchery. So does Arcade Fire. And Markus Schulz’ Progression, Vibrasphere’s Lungs of Life, etc. and so … Read more]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

I follow FitEar on twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But something was off.

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

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

Acrylic isn’t to be tossed aside, though.

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

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

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

I’m here to tell you it is worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is plenty of resolution there for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ortofon eQ5 earphones in Review – an earphone for all time http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/06/11/ortofon-eq5-earphones-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/06/11/ortofon-eq5-earphones-in-review/#comments Mon, 11 Jun 2012 08:52:46 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=68450 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

App Summary
Title: eQ5 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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Fischer Audio DBA-02 MKII in Review – Bittersweet http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/03/29/fischer-audio-dba-02-mkii-in-review-bittersweet/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2012/03/29/fischer-audio-dba-02-mkii-in-review-bittersweet/#comments Thu, 29 Mar 2012 13:54:37 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=67359 Fischer Audio have updated their best-selling DBA-02. And what an update it is. The DBA-02 MKII is a delightful earphone replete with comfort and an accessory kit that is the envy of the earphone world. How about its sound, you ask? I’ll be singing praises soon enough. First, let’s yabber about WOWs. Package and accessories … Read more]]>

Fischer Audio have updated their best-selling DBA-02. And what an update it is. The DBA-02 MKII is a delightful earphone replete with comfort and an accessory kit that is the envy of the earphone world. How about its sound, you ask? I’ll be singing praises soon enough.

First, let’s yabber about WOWs.

Package and accessories
The first WOW for me came when I picked up the chunky DBA box. It’s cardboard, not plastic, but it’s not run-of-the-mill cardboard. In Star Wars terms, it’s a Corellian cruiser, not Princess Leia’s transport; or better yet, it’s an imperial Star Destroyer, but without the two weak testicles at the top. Depending on how bony your bum is, you can sit on box without crushing it. The importance here is twofold. First: it’s a great place to keep the myriad accessories. Second, when the audiophile gear buying urge gets you bad enough, you can even hide away an amp or two from your wife. Third (and most important): it is a breeze to open. I feel that I’ve not been tough enough on certain manufacturers. Some still insist on sealing their goods with hard, finger-cutting plastics that necessitate scissors, a medical degree, and the application of pressure and hurried calls to 911. Yes, I’ve actually bled after opening certain earphone boxes. Not with the DBA-02MKII.

Inside the box, you get a wonderfully small (and therefore practical) zippered carrying case. (It is semi-hard, and will keep your DBA-02 MKII safe and snug with enough room left for a backup pair of ear pieces, and have room enough left over for an iPod shuffle or Nano.) Then, there are dozens of ear pieces for you to play with. There are three sets of hybrid pieces – though, I should admit that calling them hybrid is unjust to true hybrids as they are merely silicon flanges with a bit of foam on the inside. Nevertheless, they fit well and isolate well. Then, there are triple flanges, transparent flanges, and still more: there are loads to choose from, and each one is comfortable. Finally, there are two ear-guides and a shirt clip to keep the DBA-02 MKII put.

Let’s start with the shirt clip.

What it’s all about, I don’t know. Why do I say this? For starters, it’s a bugger to get on the cable. I really want to fasten cable after the y-split, but no can do. And even when I get the bugger into position before the y split, it does almost nothing to keep the cable next to my body nor touch noise down. And I’m no fool. I graduated from York University (the audience roars with laughter). With a degree in English literature (they gasp for air, hammering their sides).

It was an honours degree. (Someone in the second row falls over from cardiac arrest.)

I’ll preface the next section merely by saying: the shirt clip is the first strike against the DBA-02 MKII’s ergonomics. It isn’t the last.

Build quality and cable
The DBA-02 MKII is well made. It’s housing is tough, comfortable, and compact. It won’t unnecessarily weigh down the cable, or easily snag on loose clothing. The plug is nicely relieved. It is either melted to the cable or stuck there with adhesive, reinforcing internal contacts. It is not, however, L-shaped, meaning it will be under more stress, particularly if you use it with a portable player. L-shaped plugs withstand drops and pressure much better. That said, my CK10, which I consider the best-made earphone in the world, has straight cable. It is still going strong after years of combined usage. All that is to say: the DBA-02 MKII is well made, certainly in its price range.

But the cable is rectangular, not round.

Yay, so it doesn’t tangle as badly as some other designs. Yay, flat cables generally are stronger singular products than round or twisted cables. Yay. And, it’s in style. Hell, even Final Audio use flat cables on their excellent FI-BA-SB earphone. Yay Bob. Flat cables by nature stress their internal wires more because weight isn’t evenly distributed. Wires on the outside of cable tend to get stretched more than inside wires do. That leads to shorts. I’ve seen it with the a-Jays FOUR, and Monster Beats Tour.

That said, the DBA-02 MKII cable is better than those two. It is more snug, and better relieved than either. I expect it to last much longer, too, but I don’t think it belongs in a flagship product.

Fit
Praises ahoy. At least as far as comfort goes. The tiny size of the DBA-02 MKII is a wonder-worker for both small and large ears alike. It is supremely comfortable. The DBA will fit into any ear, you’ve got my York University Honours degree on it…

The ear pieces are excellent and come in so many sizes that at least one is bound to fit perfectly in your ears. Even so, I take advantage of the small sound tube to fitfitting SHURE Olive hybrid foams or Comply tips that I use on the Westone 4.

My opinion sours, however, as the cable fits into the equation. Square are buggers to use.

Let me illustrate. The logo on the DBA suggests it is meant to be worn with the cable over the ear. Great. Most good earphones are made to be worn in the same way because it keeps the earphones in the ear, relieving stress from the earphone and cable connection, and thus eliminating grand portions of touch noise. However, if you are to wear the cable over the ear, you necessarily need a cable cinch to keep the cables from flapping all over. The DBA lacks one. Big omission. The combination of ear guides and shirt clip are not enough. The ear guides do not work well if you have glasses, and even without, may not keep the earphones in your ears anyway. As stated earlier, the shirt clip requires a master’s degree to operate.

In the end, I gave up wearing the cable over the ear. Even twirling the cable around itself didn’t work to keep the earphones in. Good news, though, wearing the DBA down is easy, and comfortable. Thread the cable through your shirt and Bob’s your uncle. He’s a loud one though, as that cable transfers a lot of touch noise to the ears no matter how careful you are.

Sound
Here’s where we get back to the WOWs. In 2010, I called Earsonics’ SM3 a Star Child. It still is. The DBA-02 MKII may well be another one. Its overall voice is similar, though more tipped to the treble and upper mids. In a similar vein, it is smooth, mostly flat, and detailed. Some people find the DBA-02 MKII to be extremely detailed. I don’t. Any more detailed and the DBA would fall flatly into the categorical demon, “analytical”. It isn’t though, and instead, allows for a smoothly detailed high range that is open well into the mid range. Lovely.

One thing iPod and iPhone users will notice instantly is that they don’t need much volume to hit very loud listening levels. The DBA is quite sensitive even at its middling sensitivity rating of 108dB. If you are careful with your ears, old records need just a minor volume bump to a third on iPhone 4‘s volume slider. Volume war records of the last twenty years need much much less. Because of this, you may be able to pick out background noise even from very clean sources like Apple’s new iDevices and high end headphone amplifiers. Fischer balance this sensitivity with a relatively thick-skinned 43 ohms, which is great for most portable sources. It allows players with high output impedances to retain resolution even in passages where low can disappear.

And works it does.

As long as you are not a basshead, the DBA-02 MKII will bring a smile to your face. The signal certainly does reach low, but does so with prejudice. Marcus Schultz’ Mainstage won’t roar in the background as it does when powered by lower voiced earphones like the Victor FX500 or my personal favourite, the Radius, but its overall balance is better. Low notes are round, firm, and decay in perfect time. In my opinion, they trump my favourite CK10 by their more natural timbre.

With a good fit, I can listen to the DBA for hours with no fatigue. That isn’t to say that this earphone isn’t detailed. You will hear details like a Madeleine Peyroux’s tongue click against her palettes and though you won’t be able to sense the shape of the guitar player’s thumb, there are loads of moments that can only be described as pornographic. Fortunately, they are soft porn. If you expect Etymotic exactness, you needn’t look here.

To some, this will be a blessing, to others, it will be a curse. Earlier, I compared the DBA to the Earsonics SM3. I promise you, it wasn’t ingenuous. Fischer’s flagship earphone is cooler sounding than the SM3, emphasising upper mids more than bass, but it is equally as smooth within a different metric. That is, bass and mids flow together perfectly, better than almost any earphone I’ve heard at any price.

(The biggest audio quality caveat with the DBA, however, is fit. In order for midrange detail and clarity to be milky and sweet, perfect fit is imperative. I found that pushing the stock ear tips in too far caused the midrange to be harsh, tinny; long term listening became uncomfortable. For my ears, the DBA sounds better with a shallow fit, or with Shure Olive ear pieces. Your mileage may vary.)

Getting on, high frequencies: cymbals in particular, decay quickly, and shimmer just enough. High frequencies are less grating than those of direct competitors, again trumping my beloved CK10. I think the dime will fall to heads for some, and tails for others, as even this great balance will for some be too bright. Again, I fall into the category of worshippers of this sound.

You may or may not fall into that group. Remember, thought the low-mid frequency transition is extremely smooth, high mids to ultra high frequencies are aggressive. If you don’t like bright earphones, you probably won’t love the DBA-02 MKII. If you do, however, you will find lots to love. Lots.

Fischer claim that the DBA-02 MKII reaches 24.000kHz. I don’t doubt that it can reach that high, but not without a LOT of fall off well before that mark. Obviously my ears aren’t sensitive to those levels, but they do a good job of categorising various earphones. To these ears, there appears to be less overall sound pressure in the extreme high frequencies than some of my other favourites.

And that is a good thing.

In summary, the DBA-02 MKII is a smooth sounding earphone aimed at midrange detail. Lows and highs are plentiful, but neither forefront. With good fit, you can enjoy wonderful vocals, strings, and percussion with the DBA-02 MKII. For trance listeners, there is good enough space and soundstage to keep you thumping in that imaginary universe, but not enough to cause you to get lost. Rockers, the wonderful transition between bass and mids is wonderful, with the promise of fast, pleasant cymbal decay. I cannot really recommend the DBA-02 MKII for hip hop lovers, however, as bass simply isn’t duffy enough. There is no driver wobble; too much kilter, really.

Out and about
With a long cable and great carrying case, the DBA-02 MKII should be the perfect walking/trekking/commuting earphone. But unless you can quiet the cable down, I guarantee you will be annoyed by its energy and touch noise. Still, the overall combination is good, and with the right tips, you can really push background noise out of your music. Again, Shure Olives are great for this.

Conclusion
What more can I say? Fischer have upgraded an instant classic. They have nearly perfected an already wonderful earphone. For listeners who love details but shy away from the sometimes screechy Etymotic ER4 and CK10, this is the earphone for you. It is smoother and more natural in its transitions from bass all the way to highs than the almighty SM3. Wow. But this level of natural perfection doesn’t come without its own set of caveats. Nope. You’ll have to put up with a rectangular cable that only a mother, or, judging by the sudden onslaught of such cables, hip music lovers who’ve never had anything better, could love. For me, it’s a bittersweet romance, and one good enough for a warm grab, though honestly, I’m dying for a kiss.

Grab It Rating - 4/5

Earphone Summary
Earphone: DBA-02 MKII Maker: Fischer Audio
Price: $178-220 USD
  • Perfect transitions
  • Great low and high extension
  • Wonderful accessory kit
  • Great fit
  • Stupid, noisy cable
  • No neck cinch
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MEElectronics A151 inner earphone in Review – KICKASS!! http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/07/20/meelectronics-a151-inner-earphone-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/07/20/meelectronics-a151-inner-earphone-in-review/#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2011 07:54:50 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=55109 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!]


Specificati0ns
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.

Sound
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!

Conclusion
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!

Pr0s:
incredible bass and g00d treble
nice carrying case
great y-split

C0ns:
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]]>
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Sleek Audio CT7 custom earphone in Review – masterless sound http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/07/07/sleek-audio-ct7-custom-earphone-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/07/07/sleek-audio-ct7-custom-earphone-in-review/#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2011 07:57:44 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=54530 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.

Specifications
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
info@sleek-audio.com

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.

Sound
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.

Conclusion
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.

Pros
Wonderful sound
Best customisation
Good build quality
Incredible accessory package

Cons
Horrid cable

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Nocs NS200 headset in Review – Deep ear action http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/02/01/nocs-ns200-headset-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/02/01/nocs-ns200-headset-in-review/#comments Tue, 01 Feb 2011 08:21:04 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=47431 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.

Specifications
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.

Features
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.

Sound
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.

Conclusion
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$

Pro’s:

  • sound
  • fit
  • isolation
  • great remote

Con’s

  • upper cable sucks
  • pouch sucks

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CES 2011′s best: Sonomax’s SoundCage 4-minute custom earphone http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/01/25/ces-2011s-best-sonomaxs-soundcage-4-minute-custom-earphone/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2011/01/25/ces-2011s-best-sonomaxs-soundcage-4-minute-custom-earphone/#comments Tue, 25 Jan 2011 15:20:19 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=47056 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.

Sound
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.

Issues
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.

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

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

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

Check out Sonomax’s website for more information.

HPR-Sonomax-VB-case HPR-Sonomax-VB-explode HPR-Sonomax-VB-fit HPR-Sonomax-VB-monster clever little bugger just won't fit HPR-Sonomax-VB-mould HPR-Sonomax-VB-plug HPR-Sonomax-VB-split HPR-Sonomax-VB-top-01 HPR-Sonomax-VB-topRead more]]>
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