Pros: Clarity, All-Round Good Performance
Cons: Little Too Forward, Bulky, Seal May Be Hard To Achieve For Some
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AUDIO TECHNICA'S ATH-IM02
Quick Link To Review Thread Here.
After recently purchasing a pair of Sony MDR-XB70AP's (see next review), I was greatly disappointed by the terrible overall sound quality on the "Extra Bass" earbuds. I guess it should have occurred to me that earbuds named and marketed as "Extra Bass" would be pretty bad, but I fell into a beginner's trap and was suckered into the earbud's aesthetics. Undeterred, I sought to find a pair of better earbuds, a search which quickly introduced me to the world of the audiophile. I don't want to turn this into a tl;dr post, so if you want to know more about how I actually got to the ATH-IM02, see the Miscellaneous Things section. Before moving on, a quick shoutout to Stereo Singapore for letting me audition 5 IEMs for over 2 hours.
TYPE: Dual Balanced Armature Driver
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 20-16,000 Hz
MAXIMUM INPUT POWER: 3mW
SENSITIVITY: 113 db/mW
IMPEDANCE: 36 ohms
WEIGHT: 5 grams
PRICE: 211-250 USD
Overall, the packaging on the ATH-IM02 is what you would (and should) expect on a pair of IEMs in the 200-300 dollar range. A smooth black box with precision cut foam inspires confidence, and helps to boost the overall packaging quality past some competitors. In particular, I like that the earbuds are not placed in a simple clear-plastic holder and prominently displayed in a cut-out on the front of the box. However, I am a bit of a stickler for details, so I'm not sure how applicable my comments are in this regard.
With regards to the included "value-added" items, you get a solid hard-case in which to carry your IEMs. Audio Technica's included box is a good compromise between the soft top Shure carrying case and the ABS orange plastic Westone "vault". It adds good protection without looking over the top in terms of demonstrating its ruggedness. 3 sets of silicone tips and a single set of Comply T500 tips are included. This is an area that could honestly have been improved. The inclusion of a few more tips and a triple-flange would have made for a much nicer fitting package. However, it's also good to know that most of the money I paid went into actual hardware. So, reader gets to decide on this issue.
The IM02 has a solid build quality. With a clear plastic housing, relatively comfortable memory wire, and decent "heft", it doesn't cause much doubt in terms of durability. In addition, the use of a new proprietary 2 pin cable will help to lessen the impact of cable failure. The jack is well built and features good stress relief. However, the one gripe that one could have is the relatively large size of the IEMs. With larger ears, the IM02 should be no problem. However, with smaller ears, the IM02 might go from leaning towards a negative profile to sticking out of the ear slightly. In comparison, the fit isn't as good as the Shure Tru-Fit design used by Shure IEMs. Both fits still lose solidly to Westone's truly negative-profile IEM design. That said, with a bit of tuning, most users should be able to achieve a good seal.
Sound quality is excellent. As has been said in many past reviews, the ATH-IM02 sounds well beyond its price point. To start, the bass is solid. It is tight and punchy, and is capped at a very good level. In Espoir by Darius, the IM02's demonstrate their ability to start the song with clear, controlled "punches" of upper bass, before gradually transitioning to a slow decay sub bass. For bass-heads though, the IM02 might spell disaster, as the quantity of bass is not particularly generous. For me, it's great that there's a tight leash on the bass. But for others, this might be a deal-breaker.
To test the mids, I utilized one of my all-time favorites, Africa by Toto. For me, the ability for a pair of IEMs to play this song can be a deal breaker/maker. Testing revealed forward mids that were rich and full. While definitely not the smoothest nor warmest sound out there, the IM02 makes its stamp on the mids through a very analytical interpretation of the pieces it is tasked with playing. I really appreciate the ability to hear one of the band members laugh softly at the 2-3 seconds into the song. That to me is simply worthy of commendation.
The trebles are sparkly/bright, but can be somewhat harsh. This is one of the things that the IM02 is not forgiving about. Poor file quality will spell certain doom, and imperfections will be handled with the same clarity that otherwise makes the IM02 sound so great.
This is a truly great pair of IEMs. At the current price, you can enjoy amazing clarity and rich sounding music through dual balanced armature drivers. I have to commend Audio Technica on being brave enough to not dumb down the clarity in hopes of creating a more forgiving sound that would appeal to a wider audience at this price range. As stated before though, if you are a bass head or are looking for a more relaxed sound, this might be the wrong pair of IEMs for you.
I started out my search with the W10s, UM Pro10s, SE 215s, and SE 315s in mind. However, after 2+ hours of auditioning, I was thoroughly convinced that the IM02 was the winner at the pricepoint given. To start, the W10s are just too mild. Westone didn't want to alienate casual listeners, so the earbuds were tuned to be a little more forgiving. However, they are in many ways, far too forgiving and a little soft too. The UM Pro 10s just sounded wrong. An odd emphasis on mid-high notes and a lack of bass make for a floaty sound that just didn't feel right. The SE215s were bassy and warm. However, they had even less clarity than the W10s and were quite soft. In comparison, the SE 315s were much louder, but lacked a clarity that would warrant the 315 dollar price tag. After trying out the IM02, I believe I had found a clear winner out of these few "entry level" earbuds.