The original Shure E500 set the inner earphone industry ablaze. It was the first consumer-oriented triple-driver balanced armature earphone, and in 2006, it stormed into many eager audio-lover’s hands. Today, the the venerable earphone has been overhauled and re-badged. The SE530 retains its glorious mid-oriented signature sound which is one of the most stunningly presented among all inner earphones. Smoothly detailed, it twists and turns in time with any musical genre, paying homage to all, but favouring none. Today, there are many other triple-driver consumer earphones, but Shure’s striking debut is still one of the best.
In high Ultrasone tradition, the Zino, is a stylish, somewhat gaudy headphone, but unlike most of the headphone manufacturer’s line, it is aimed at the on-the-go market. This over-the-ear headphone features the company’s patented S-Logic technology which directs sound to your outer ear before driving inward toward your ear canal, delivering a very large, open sound stage which simply smashes the competition for sheer width. Ultrasone are also famous for the inclusion of ULE (ultra low emissions) which shields your ear from magnetic energy.
If Ultrasone don’t ring a bell, let me drop a hint: the Edition 7, 8, and 9 which are considered to be among the best headphones in the world, are the technological ground on which the Zino stands.
I will not get into which sound signature I am more partial to, rather the pictures are merely to illustrate the differences and similarities between both high-end iems. Sensaphonics’ 2X-S is a stodgy contender for the better part of a decade and has survived several cosmetic and build overhauls since its infancy. It is made from soft silicon, a pliable material which stretches with minute changes in the ear’s internal shape. Jerry Harvey’s JH13Pro is made out of the more traditional hard acrylic material that with a perfect fit, feels almost as comfortable as the Sensaphonics 2X-S. Differences in materials do mean a different flavour of sound; the hard acrylic of the JH audio renders extremely clean sound in all frequencies, but both earphones are incredible.
If you would like to read our review of the JH13Pro, please click here.
Earsonics, a French producer of professional earphones, have broken into TMA with their SM2 DLX, a dual balanced armature professional in-ear stage monitor which is priced at 280 € in France, or 268€ outside the country . It both feels and performs worthy of its asking price and comes in your choice of the following three attires: black, crystal (clear), and white. Like the UM3X from Westone, Earsonics’ top-tier universal iem has been constructed to exacting standards and utilises the same cable type: a durable, non-microphonic twisted strand design which is a benchmark for cable quality. Also, like its American competitor, the SM2 is plagued by a dearth of accessories.
After 2008′s popular Image X5, which debuted at $100 less than the X10, Klipsch began expanding the affordable line of their inner earphones. In 2009, the S2 and S4 join the Image line at the more reasonable prices of $49.99 and $79.99. When Klipsch designed the new earphones, they utilised brand new drivers which were made specifically for their sound signature. So, the S4 houses a special 8mm dynamic driver which packs dual neodymium magnets and the audio performance for which Klipsch is famous. Happily, Klipsch also introduced the iPhone-friendly S4i which features a mic and remote and is priced at $99.99.
My experience with wooden headphones began five years ago with Audio Technica’s Sovereign W1000, a beautiful lively headphone whose smoothness belies its price. Since then, there have been a few: Darth Beyers and Audio Technica’s ES9, but few companies have gone the extra step of pairing down their beautiful creations to the tiny real estate of an earphone or earbud. Mingo, home of a famous headphone shop in Hong Kong number among that handful. The WM-2 which comes in two flavours: bass (silver) and vocal (gold), is created from Longan wood and is an excellent-sounding debut model from the company.
Jays from Sweden joined the earphone market in 2006 with the balanced armature earphone, d-Jays. Since then, their engineers have been busy creating new technology and designs for their products. Later, they introduced the dynamic driver, j-Jays and the dual balanced armature, q-Jays that we tested in May 2009. Today, we have the s-Jays, an earphone that uses a new technology dubbed, ‘siren’, which refers to armature drivers which work similarly to moving coil drivers (dynamic). The drivers are designed to maximize low frequency performance and allow for high volume output without distortion. Jays has taken this technology and put it in their s-Jay, for the reasonable sum of $89.99.
The Beats Tour, Monster’s second foray into quality mid-priced inner earphones, is a departure in sound, design and construction from their first, the Turbine; a product which is backed and co-produced by American hip-hop artist, Dr. Dre. At 150$, the Beats Tour tips the scale toward the more expensive side of portable earphones, but in many areas, stands tall even amidst stiff competition. However, at around the same price, the Tour’s closest competition comes from the Monster Turbine.
Klipsch, a leader in consumer and professional speaker systems since 1946, began production of premium earphones in 2007 with the Custom Series and the Image X10. In 2008, the X5 joined ranks in alongside the X10 in the Image line, and in 2009, two new members, the Image S2 and the Image S4, become the newest entrants from Klipsch. Both house new dynamic (moving coil) drivers, a departure from the X5 and X10, which use balanced armatures. Today, we have the Klipsch’s cheapest model, the Image S2, a $49.99 earphone which contends with many other affordable earphones. Be on the lookout for this earphone from electronics’ vendors in August as Klipsch have not yet released the new S2 and S4 earphones.
Crossroads – of MylarOne fame, have kept busy in the last couple of years, and somewhat recently, debuted the Quattro, an aluminium-bodied inner earphone with sites set high, but which remain at the almost reasonable price of 88$. Since they are only available at one place: Jaben.net, you will have to get your fingers suited up for a surf to the legendary Singaporean retailer. Word has it that Uncle Wilson (Jaben’s administrator) is trying out a 700-800$ cable upgrade for the world’s most advanced custom earphone, the Jerry Harvey 13Pro – an earphone which TMA should have in hand next month.