TouchMyApps » IEM All Things iPhone and iPad for those who like to Touch. iOS App reviews, News, New Apps, Price Drops and App Gone Free Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:45:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 FitEar To Go! 334 earphone in Review – nonpareil Thu, 19 Jul 2012 01:37:53 +0000 Zip, ziiiip, wiiiiii, a mosquito. Chuka chuka chuka katakatatata, the Tsukuba Express plowing back to Akihabara. Click click click, my evil shoe-wearing neighbours on the eighth floor dancing up a spell. Summer’s heat amplifies each sound. So does after-work debauchery. So does Arcade Fire. And Markus Schulz’ Progression, Vibrasphere’s Lungs of Life, etc. and so … Read more]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

I follow FitEar on twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But something was off.

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

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

Acrylic isn’t to be tossed aside, though.

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

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

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

I’m here to tell you it is worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is plenty of resolution there for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HPR-MEEL-A151-accessories HPR-MEEL-A151-case HPR-MEEL-A151-fit HPR-MEEL-A151-glamour HPR-MEEL-A151-plug-y-split HPR-MEEL-A151-stressRead more]]> 1
Nocs NS200 headset in Review – Deep ear action Tue, 01 Feb 2011 08:21:04 +0000 Nocs, a Swedish company out of… Sweden, have left a tasty impression in my ears this winter with the NS200 headset. While not flashy, the NS200 scores with lively sound and good headset implementation that impresses this Toucher with great audio performance, and a tasty remote control. Specifications Speaker: 8,6mm dynamic speaker Sensitivity: 95dB spl … Read more]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price: 79$


  • sound
  • fit
  • isolation
  • great remote


  • upper cable sucks
  • pouch sucks

HPR-nocs-ns200-accessories HPR-nocs-ns200-cable HPR-nocs-ns200-fit-01 HPR-nocs-ns200-fit-02 HPR-nocs-ns200-glamour-1 HPR-nocs-ns200-glamour-2 HPR-nocs-ns200-glamour-3 HPR-nocs-ns200-grill HPR-nocs-ns200-package HPR-nocs-ns200-pouch HPR-nocs-ns200-stressRead more]]> 1
CES 2011′s best: Sonomax’s SoundCage 4-minute custom earphone Tue, 25 Jan 2011 15:20:19 +0000 Recently, I Hanseled my way around CES 2011 looking for a place to sit. On my quest to find a comfy chair, I managed to lose myself under a pile of crumby marketing handouts, and half naked girls dancing to show off the features of a … wired router. Amid crappy tablets and massage chairs, … Read more]]>

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

Feel free to discuss Sonomax products in our forums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that said, I LOVE what I hear.

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

clever little bugger just won't fit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out Sonomax’s website for more information.

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

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

Discuss the Westone 4 in our forums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos, Westone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HPR-t-Jays-acc HPR-t-Jays-case-out HPR-t-Jays-case HPR-t-Jays-fit HPR-t-Jays-glamour HPR-t-Jays-poodoo HPR-t-Jays-y-acc-all HPR-t-Jays-y-filter HPR-t-Jays-y-side-out HPR-t-Jays-y-sideside HPR-t-Jays-y-splitRead more]]> 2
Sunrise SW-Xcape earphone in Review – Xtra good Sun, 12 Sep 2010 10:00:56 +0000 Sunrise’s three earbuds are a hit here at TouchMyApps, their inner earphone, the SW-Xcape, is bound to be the one to turn the most heads. Why? Well, it’s an isolating earphone, capable of dulling the sound of crying babies, loud airplane engines, and your snoring spouse. Fortunately, it also sounds very good, augmenting Sunrise’ newly-minted … Read more]]>

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

Feel free to discuss the Xcape in our forums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A different badge, but same excellent Sunrise carrying case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headset Pad S/M/L
Carrying Case
Operation Manual

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

Headset Pad S/M/L
Carrying Case
Operation Manual

HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-01 HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-02 HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-03 HP-FAD-FA-BA-SB-A1-04Read more]]> 1
a-Jays THREE earphones in review – got bass on my mind Wed, 25 Aug 2010 17:26:34 +0000 “Back when Cube was rollin’ with Lorenzo” – stolen from Dr. Dre’s What’s the Difference, is innocuous; it betrays nothing of Dre’s ego. But American rap’s pride is why after years, I keep coming back to it. And though this is a headphone review, I think that a bit of good ol’ fashioned American pride applies … Read more]]>

“Back when Cube was rollin’ with Lorenzo” – stolen from Dr. Dre’s What’s the Difference, is innocuous; it betrays nothing of Dre’s ego. But American rap’s pride is why after years, I keep coming back to it. And though this is a headphone review, I think that a bit of good ol’ fashioned American pride applies tastily. In 2010, the Swedish headphone guru, Jays, redesigned itself, shirking cuteness in favour of big business, of pride. One look at the newly minted a-Jays will prove to you just how much business they mean too: flat cables, matte colours, three bold designs, and good prices is enough to make any Monster shake – at least a little bit.

Type 8.6 mm TCD Speaker
Sensitivity 97dB @ 1kHz
Impedance 16 Ohm @ 1kHz
Frequency Response 20 Hz – 22 000 Hz
Color Rubber Coated Black
Isolation JAYS Sound Isolating Sleeves
Size (L)18.3 x (W)11.8 x (H)13.8 mm
Weight 14 grams (0.49 oz)
Type TPE coated flat tangle free cable
Length 115 cm (45 in)
Size Width 5mm / Thickness 1.2mm
Plug Straight, Gold-Plated Stereo Plug 3.5mm (1/8 in)

Fit and Package
One thing Jays have never skimped on is accessories, and they certainly haven’t skimped with the a-Jays. Actually, the a-Jays, replete with the usual suspects: airline adapter, signal splitter, loads of ear pieces, and a carrying case, is on the one hand, perfectly Jays business as usual. But then, the black package itself, unlike the finger cutting plastic of yesteryear, is as unique as the new carrying case itself. Stacked at a store and this badboy screams “buy me!”

That is all fine and dandy, but how does it all work? Mostly well. The sturdy plastic package is great for storing the plethora of parts safely. I won’t be throwing mine out, that’s for sure. The new carrying case, on the other hand, is sort of a tough pill to swallow. It opens and closes with a swivel and a snap and seems quite clever – that is, until you use it too often. Eventually, the latch will wear thin and the case will flop open. And as a fully plastic bit, it may crack if prodded too much. Best to keep this carrying case in a safe and tidy place.

The a-Jays look hot and sound good. They also fit pretty well, but they have their own issues. Firstly, the clever-looking flat cable may cause some ears fit troubles. The earphone housing itself is pretty typical and fits into most ears without trouble, but it reaches shallowly into the ear. If the flat cables rub your ear in a strange way, getting a proper fit may be hard. You can wear them pretty comfortably with the cable drooping over the ear which of course, will help eliminate microphonic noises.

Cable and Build Quality
Of course, the cable has its advantages: it doesn’t tangle easily and it looks bloody awesome. If you can wrangle a good fit from its Saskachewan flatness, it is also comfortable. If not, it will ride out at odd angles. The earphones themselves are as light as the breeze. They ARE plastic, but seem to have very little flex. Still, I’d keep them safely in the case if I were you. If you were me, I’d just say, ‘keep up the good work.’

The real issue with flat cables, however, is that they put more stress on the outer portion of the reliefs and earphone housing. I’d not be surprised if like the Monster Beats Tour, the a-Jays accrue a reputation among resellers for traveling the globe and back on guarantee service.

Of course, at the a-Jays price point, there is less to fuss about and thanks to a 2-year guarantee, your 39.99$-59.99$ is well protected.

But we ain’t done yet: there isn’t a neck cinch to dissipate microphonic touch noise. That means you will hear your shoes grinding the pavement, your shirt brushing the cable, and the constant flapping of rubber on cloth. It isn’t as bad as some earphones, but the noise does have me wishing Jays included a neck cinch. The cable is terminated in a straight plug with a soft rubber bumper that reaches quite far up to lend support. For a straight cable, it is a pretty good design, but again, straight cables CAN stress the headphone terminal of your iDevice more than similar L-plugs.

not impressed by the a-Jays stress reliefs

For the most part, Jays could be described as a company without a stalwart house sound. The detailed q-Jays is as different from the powerful s-Jays as night is from day. In the middle the d-Jays bridges the gap. The a-Jays, however, is a blessed and irreverent finger to the man, if there be a man: bass, throbbing and powerful, and a decent handle on the highs.

The package says ‘balanced sound’ but I’d take that quote with a bag of ice melter. The a-Jays is targeted at people who like to feel the vibrations in their music. At the same time, I wouldn’t call it dark either, though low percussion and heavy bass can get a bit splashy at times. In many ways, its throbbing bass is reminiscent of the excellent-sounding Mingo WM2, if just a bit veiled.

In terms of extension, the a-Jays actually goes pretty low without massive roll off even to 20Hz. At the ear, it performs to about 40Hz with all the stamina of a high school wrestling team. In that range, its focus is clear. It matches bass heavy music pretty well, but there is a thin echo in the upper bass, causing some faster genres to lose control. Despite such a powerful low end, the mid range remains clear, though I wouldn’t put the a-Jays down as a great vocal earphone. Instead, it offers paced midrange that plays a little softly in comparison bass. At the upper end, the a-Jays extend well, putting out a lot of energy at about 10-12KHz and tapering off slowly from there. For all intents and purposes, it is clean and clear, but after a long listening session, sensitive users could find a bit of listening fatigue behind their eardrums.

I tend to think that every earphone gives a certain rendition of a recording; there is no one earphone to rule them all. The a-Jays is great for loud music and even for trance to a certain degree. But it won’t deliver the same sense of speed and transparency that another inexpensive favourite, the Head-Direct RE2, will. In one sense, it does what it came visually and sonically to do: dethrone the Sennheiser CX300. It is similarly powerful sounding, but doesn’t guff the highs in the same way. And, for the fashion conscious, it does the deed. The CX series isn’t really attractive, but of course, Sennheiser haven’t even adorned their HD800 with easy-to-swallow design. For the price, the a-Jays beats its Germany companion in the following metrics: sound, space, speed, and accessories.

On the issue of hiss: yes, the a-Jays has it, but it isn’t bleedingly loud. Plug the a-Jays into your Sony and groove to the music. There is grain, but thank the maker, you won’t notice it with a modern iPhone or iPod touch.

Finally, the a-Jays casts an interesting shadow. Its headstage isn’t the widest, but it is ‘tall’: instruments stand up without stepping on each other’s toes. For close, intimate music, it is quite satisfying.

Out and About
Here’s where I think Jays could have done a little more work. The a-Jays is a fine earphone with good lungs. But it has a few problem that show up especially when you are active. The first is that it tends to fall out of the ear when used actively. It is partially a cable problem, and partially a fit problem. The shallow fit combined with the flat cable creates special issues.

Apart from that, however, the a-Jays is easier to use than many expensive earphones, even in Jays’ lineup. Firstly, it is easier to insert and remove than the tiny q-Jays and d-Jays. And thanks to its cable being one piece, wrapping it up in its case is a breeze. Those who like short cables for shirt-pocket or remote control use, however, will be disappointed.

Finally, the a-Jays does a decent job of isolating music from the background. It, like the CX300, won’t remove babies or engine sound from your economy ticket. It will put a heavy blanket over . I would reckon that you can say goodbye to about 10-13 decibels of environmental detritus.

The a-Jays is hella attractive and pretty well-engineered despite some build quality issues. It comes at attractively tiered prices and well-clothed in an abundance of cool accessories. If you like a u-curve in your music, you’ll love the sound of the a-Jays, especially the pounding bass. For the price, the a-Jays is probably the most impressive earphone I’ve used, but I feel that Jays could have engineered stronger stress reliefs into the earphone as flat cables put a LOT more stress on the housing.

If you’ve enjoyed your Sennheiser CX series earphones but want to jump up to something with more style and better highs, the a-Jays is a great choice. If you are looking for replacement to the horrendous iBuds, look no further.

Headphone Summary
Title: a-Jays THREE Developer: Jays
Reviewed Ver: a-Jays THREE black Speaker Type: Dynamic (moving coil)
  • a-Jays ONE 39.99$
  • a-Jays TWO 49.99$
  • a-Jays THREE 59.99$
Cable: flat rubber
  • good, meaty bass
  • good extension in both lows and highs
  • excellent packaging and accessories
  • to die for looks
  • non-tangling cable
  • average build quality
  • fit can be a bugger
  • case, while nice, isn’t overly practical

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

HPR-a-Jays-THREE-accessories HPR-a-Jays-THREE-case-inside-2 HPR-a-Jays-THREE-case-inside HPR-a-Jays-THREE-fit HPR-a-Jays-THREE-glamour-2 HPR-a-Jays-THREE-glamour HPR-a-Jays-THREE-grill HPR-a-Jays-THREE-in-case-2 HPR-a-Jays-THREE-in-case HPR-a-Jays-THREE-package HPR-a-Jays-THREE-split HPR-a-Jays-THREE-stressRead more]]> 9
Earsonics SM3 earphone in Review – 2010′s Star Child Thu, 24 Jun 2010 07:18:09 +0000 Back when Earsonics’ SM2 debuted, it rocked the professional earphone scene. Dry, neutral, detailed, powerful, and well-constfitructed (for a professional earphone), it sort of bagged the cat as it were. It was – and still is – one of the best professional earphones available. But Earsonics perfection-pursuing head, Franck Lopez, has looked to his laurels … Read more]]>

Back when Earsonics’ SM2 debuted, it rocked the professional earphone scene. Dry, neutral, detailed, powerful, and well-constfitructed (for a professional earphone), it sort of bagged the cat as it were. It was – and still is – one of the best professional earphones available. But Earsonics perfection-pursuing head, Franck Lopez, has looked to his laurels this year and debuted an even better earphone. The Earsonics SM3 betters the SM2 in almost every benchmark and along the way, has become a personal favourite of mine.

For better or worse, the SM2 and SM3 share the same desultory design. As noted in the SM2 review, this design does the job. Professional earphones truly are strange affairs, hinged by promises of quick repair (which they’ll need since they are packed in plastic). There are few exceptions to this rule. Truly, there are few professional monitors out there, but every one is constructed with the same ‘meh’ workmanship. The few well-known monitors are dominated by Westone’s otherwise excellent UM series. No thanks to that, however, Earsonics have followed Westone’s design cues. Their SM series is plastic, which is par for an unfortunately negligent course.

Snug like a bug, the SM3 fits really well

In the 2,5 months that I’ve hung onto this earphone (this review is long overdue), Earsonics have launched a few interim updates. The first is that current SM3’s ship with new dual-silicon flanges in addition to two Comply® tip sets. Comply® tips of course, isolate extremely well for stage work. A lot of audiophiles, however, prefer silicon. Franck delivered. The second change is that current SM3 models have been updated with slightly stronger construction, though you’d not know it by glancing at the two models.

stress relief is quite good

Sensibilité: 122 dB/mW
Réponse en fréquences: 20 Hz -18 kHz
Impédance: 17 ohms
Driver: 3 drivers (3 way crossover)
Livré avec: wipes, tool, carrying case, 2 Comply® earpieces, 1 set of silicon flanges

Last time around, I chose certain albums to describe the SM2’s sound. In the case of the SM3, I’ll keep it simple. I’ll reference a few favourite albums, but I want to make it clear that in many ways the SM3 doesn’t need an album to showcase what it can do. It simply and powerfully, just delivers music.

To prove that, I’ll lay out the arsenal of equipment and amplifiers I used to test these delightful earphones:

iPod touch 2G
iPod nano 1G
Sansa Fuze V2
Sansa Clip V2
HiSound AMP3 Pro2
HiSound Rocoo
Teclast T51
MacBook Pro
Sony NW-A282
Sony NW-A845

Wood Audio 3
Einar Sound VC-01i
MST FiQuest
iBasso T3D/T3
iBasso P3+
iBasso D4

Others that I spent minutes rather than hours with include the RSA SR71A, RSA Protector, (and a few home-brew Japanese headphone amps).

The grit: drivability
The SM3 is an EASY to drive earphone – it sounds great from almost any source. At 122dB sensitivity @17Ω, it can pick up a bit of background noise, but miraculously, much less than many other earphones. Therefore, my hissy Sony’s and AMP3 are remarkably ‘listenable’ when paired with the SM3. The iPod touch and iPhone 3GS of course, are remarkably ‘black’.

In other words, you don’t need a portable headphone amp to make the SM3 really sing. Firstly, the SM3 gets bleedingly-loud from any source; secondly, it simply doesn’t weigh down reasonably mature audio circuits. That isn’t to say that a portable amp doesn’t help things along. My personal (and tiny) favourite is the iBasso T3D, a perfectly balanced iem amplifier that pushes out great stereo image and perfect frequency response while maintaining a perky sound character. Paired with the iPod touch and SM3, there IS a tad more sparkle and in those frequencies where the iPod touch gets a little stuffy, the T3D opens the windows and lets the air in. For me, however, the difference isn’t worth it – and that is a good thing.

This mature behaviour is a plus, and here’s why: the SM3 is a great earphone for audiophiles who laze around on their beds with 20Kg of audio equipment digging into their sternums; but it is also a professional earphone. Stage musicians strap tiny wireless mic/amps to their sides; they don’t have the ‘luxury’ of pulling audio trailers behind them. Since the SM3 performs flawlessly from almost any source, the professional can hear her voice, her instrument with perfect clarity, which translates into better recordings/performances.

The Goo: What you’ll hear
The SM3, I think, should be Earsonics’ poster boy. It is neutral. It is smooth. It is all that. It veers away from bass-stomping. It won’t punch treble-holes in your ears. What is left is expressive, is emotional, is perfection. If touch and feel is your thing (and who doesn’t like touching?), the SM3 is your earphone. Beneath the thwap of every kick drum and under every fleshy guitar strum is sweetness that until now has played hooky from professional earphones from any manufacturer. I am quite ready to place my favourite tiara on the SM3. Percussion folks, and driving bass, are simple, ecstatic pleasures that shouldn’t be missed at any price.

Considering the SM3’s got an extra low driver packed inside its compact frame, I expected substantially more bass slam. Instead, the SM3 surprises with low end balance and midrange poise. The extra driver, triple cross over, and magical engineering smooth out the wrinkles that slightly mar the SM2.

Continuing on, Earsonics reckon that the SM3’s low frequencies are more intense than the SM2, and I agree – to a point. Low notes are clearer, for sure. But I wouldn’t categorise the SM3 as ‘bassy’, or ‘thick’ – or maybe even ‘intense’. It is just more controlled than the SM2. The SM2’s bass is chalky punkrock. The SM3 is a breathily mature.

The SM3 trumps its older sibling in vocals, in piano, and in strings. The midrange simply stands out with detail and *surprise surprise*, emotion. Go ahead, put on a soundtrack and be blown away by touch ‘n feel that the SM3 delivers. The SM3 does great credit to the Braveheart soundtrack, an album the SM2 rendered too coolly. Then, SM3 trumps jazz, vocal and lounge with fantastic atmosphere. You can practically taste the smoke and sex from a late live performance.

If you’re a Sci-Fi fan, you’ll love the SM3. This pragmatic Star Child renders the space between instruments very well. There are several reasons, but I only truly understand one: the SM3’s overall dynamics are good. There is zero blur between its two most prevalent frequencies: lows and mids and despite a somewhat subdued treble, the feel of sound hunting your eardrums from every angle is intense.

As a consequence, the SM3 rocks for trance, IDM, and electronic. Dear God: please let me explain this well… I expected there to be a rub.. I mean there has to be since the SM3 is a pleasure for organic genres. Guitar, percussion and vocals are perfect. Electronic would sound too soft, too pleading. I was wrong, thankfully. Completely and stupidly wrong.

The SM3 has the speed, space, and somehow, the raw strength to beautifully render electronic instruments in any arrangement. The SM3 carves through any electronic barrier and delivers strong, sweet bass, pace, succinct instrument separation, and smooth transitions. It is, however, quite typically a balanced armature earphone: it won’t send waves of bass turbulence into your eardrum, but what arrives is splendidly ’round’ and full. Synthetic percussion, chimes, vocals – all are pure bliss.

So, is there anything the SM3 can’t do? Naturally.

The SM3 sits at the top of its class, rendering bass, midrange, and treble smoothly. Then, there’s space, attack, and decay in dealer’s spades. But in the very same breath comes the rub: the SM3’s smoothness is also its weakness. I can’t fault it exactly, but I can assure you grit and edge are missing. If your tastes in music tip toward the high end or toward what is often mistakenly called ‘detail’, then you may find the SM3 boring. The high end doesn’t roll off per se, but it doesn’t really stand out either. On the one hand, it is 100% fatigue free, smooth, and inviting. But, on the other hand, it pats the hands of otherwise showy high frequencies, shooing them to the back of the class. Shure SE530 fans should find the SM3 a wonderful step upward as it does render highs with more poise. But fans of bitey earphones such as the Victor FX500, or Etymotic ER4S, may be put off.

For me, I’ve found a happy medium: neutral, unwrinkled frequency response, an expansive headstage, and fatigue-free listening. All of this is A-Okay even for a person who entered high-end personal audio many years ago thanks to the bitey Etymotics ER4S. However, my preferences, which tend to sidle toward the teething toddler savour a few nips here and there.

Barnone, the SM3 is the most impressively thought out earphone I’ve HEARD. It isn’t perfect, but it comes very close to perfection – especially when considering its market at large. It not only sounds great, it drives easily from any source and picks up less hiss than many of its comrades. Earsonics hit the nail on the head; they shot two birds with one stone; they baked the perfect cupcake for Oprah. The SM3 is an earphone for audiophiles and professionals – at least as it pertains to sound. Where they miss – and this is a serious miss in my opinion – is in their construction. If the SM3 was a mere audiophile fancy-pants earphone, all plastic might just be an ‘oh well’ item. But as the SM3 is also a supremely engineered tool, I’d love to recommend it to professionals. Earsonics could shut the competition down by delivering a metal or impact-plastic housing with thick walls; they could make a bold statement that sound AND construction quality are paramount concerns. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Even so, the SM3 is a great earphone and with proper care, should last a long time.

Despite my qualms about construction quality, and the fact that the SM3 eeks out a ‘mere’ GRAB, I’ve decided to brand an Editor’s Choice award across this otherwise excellent earphone.

App Summary
Title: Earsonics SM3 Developer: Earsonics
Reviewed Ver: SM3 Speaker type: Triple Balanced armature
Price: 280€ ~400$ USD Cable: twisted rubber
  • Lovely bass and midrange
  • Non-fatiguing
  • Excellent control
  • Wide stage
  • Easy to drive
  • Good cable
  • Drafty plastic construction
  • Dearth of accessories

HPR-Earsonics-SM3-filterview Snug like a bug, the SM3 fits really well HPR-Earsonics-SM3-plug HPR-Earsonics-SM3-side HPR-Earsonics-SM3-stress HPR-Earsonics-SM3-wound HPR-Earsonics-SM3-ysplitRead more]]> 18