Pros: Beautifully Crafted, Lush Forward Mids
Cons: Slightly restricted soundstage, Can get a little unfomfortable at times
Equipment Used: PS Audio Power Plant Premier > Macbook Pro > USB > PS Audio Perfectwave DAC > Woo Audio 5 (Shuguang 300B-Z Output, Shuguang CV-181-Z Driver, EML 5U4G Rectifier)
Aesthetic / Build Quality:
This headphone has been criticized as having a slightly flimsy frame that presses on the ears too much. But after having these 1.5 years and using them daily, I can tell you that these are great headphones in terms of comfort and durability. They look the same as the day I bought them and have gotten more comfortable with time. The frame needs bent a little to accommodate larger heads and to relieve pressure on the ears. As of right now I can wear these almost all day without discomfort due to the leather pads. The leather pads are very nice but not the nicest of sticking jobs, but are still great to have. As for the wooden cups, they are really beautiful and have a deep coloring due to the many many layers of lacquer that are on it. I would call the style of this headphone’s styling functional and understated for casual people passing by, but once you hold them in your hand, you can tell the detail and craft of them. Overall, a great design for a portable headphone!
The bass feels well controlled and defined, but never really extends too deep in a song. While it is quite satisfying, it can feel slightly recessed due to the mids being more upfront. However, on songs that have prominent bass in them, this headphone manages to balance itself out and sound just right.
This is really where this headphone truly excels! I think that a combination of small, upfront soundstage and prominent mids make this headphone a joy to listen to. I would characterize the mids as being very lush and liquid, extremely easy to listen to. Singers and instruments all are very involving and intimate to listen, with great timber and tonality. The mids are the reason why I cannot get rid of these headphones....they just always sound so right and I can never get tired of them.
Treble is quite good, but sometimes feels a little rolled off and not as extended as on the W1000X most of the time. Despite this, I wouldn’t call these headphones dark by any means and the lack of extended treble doesn’t quite bother me. It can get a little fatiguing when a song has a lot of highs since the ESW10 can get a little congested at times.
Right away, one can tell that these are portable headphones by the relatively restricted soundstage. To me the soundstage felt quite linear (2D) and not very expansive, meaning that instruments could be identified left, center, and right, but not in depth. Vocals and instruments were very upfront, where the singer always felt he was 5ft away from me vs. 30-50ft on the W1000x, making songs feel more intimate at times. This seemed to work a lot better on Rock songs and reminded me of a closed version of the Grado RS-1 in tonality. However, when a musical passage gets overly complex and layered, the ESW10 has a harder time keeping up and sounds start to blend into one another.
To me, one would get the ESW10 if they like a pretty forward set of headphones with upfront mids that are amazing to listen to. They remind me a little of a more closed Grado RS-1 in terms of soundstage and upfront nature, but not as fatiguing to my ears. For this great presentation that works wonderfully on electronica, rock, indie, jazz, you are sacrificing a little on the soundstage and on the bass and treble, but the headphone never really feels lacking in any of those departments. I would characterize the sonic signature as being an inverse - V shaped, meaning that the mids are more forward than the treble and bass. However, since the mids are so wonderful to listen to, this created a wonderful and intimate listening experience for most music genres.
The beauty of this headphone is that is sounds almost as good out of an ipod as it does out of a very expensive home rig, meaning that it is very forgiving of the upstream you feed into it. Factor with with the great portability and ergonomics and you have a winner for an on the go lightweight headphone.