Well, what was I expecting on hearing these at first? Very hard question to answer really, probably a darker sound than the w2’s, an altogether more complete sound than the dtx100, less detail than the hf5 (courtesy of Benny) and a rather dodgily put together earphone which will apparently wow me like no other earphone. Was this what I got? In short, pretty much, no, if you’re not bored yet then read on. If you are then I doubt it’ll get better.
My first thoughts on opening the parcel from Benny was along the lines of: “Ooh, Radius do nice cases for their earphones don’t they?” Westone should take note even though as far as cases go theirs are far from the worst. Anyway with my trusty Sony a818 I plugged them in and opened up the taps, I think the first song I played was “A feeling of the all thing” by Kelley Polar. Sound came out of them. That’s all good, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not a particularly impressive party trick for most earphones, was it a sound that wowed me? No, it wasn’t. I was immediately impressed with the bass extension but that was about it. Five minutes later I had sore ears and was looking for some other tips to use. I tried a lot of tips, the sensorcoms doubles didn’t sound right at all, the balance was off to the extent I thought a driver was damaged, the jays were uncomfortable, Shure olives weren’t bad but fit better on my w2’s, most ety tips had fit problems, the modded tri-flange Ety’s weren’t bad sound wise but hurt. I spent about 4 days taking my sm3’s to work with as many tips as would fit in my Beyer dtx100 case (the biggest reasonable one I had). Eventually I put on some double flange tips I didn’t recognize and promptly got sidetracked. I still had them on an hour later when I realized that they hadn’t yet driven me mad and it turned out they were the stock double flange tips from earsonics. I’m still using them.
Did they wow me? No, they didn’t, was I disappointed with that? No, the last earphones to wow me were my first pair of cx300’s about 5 years ago and if an earphone wows me now I don’t consider it a good thing. The sound is quite a lot like I was expecting. With the amount of talk the sm3’s generated on head-fi I was fairly confident I knew more or less their sound signature. I consider them a good upgrade over my dtx100’s which a little under a year ago I considered the finest things since cheese straws. The bass extension is better than any other earphone I’ve used which, listening to a lot of electronic like I do, is a good thing, I don’t need greatly enhanced bass, that’ll be in the recording if it’s needed, but a lot of tracks suffer if there’s nothing underpinning the track where there really should be, it’s also one area I came to realize wasn’t actually that great on the 100’s. I haven’t a/b’d the sm3 much with any of my other earphones so mids/highs are harder to define but I haven’t found detail to be too lacking compared to the hf5/w2. I imagine I would find they’re not quite as good in that area but I don’t really find it a problem.
Audio Nirvana. Well, how about that phrase. What does it mean? (I haven’t finished on the sound yet, this is an aside) Anyway back in February of this year I bought myself a set of MA GS10’s and coupled them up to my modded CA 640 and either a Dual-Mono TPA Dac or a Rega P2. I have to say it sounds bloody spectacular. I can listen to it at virtually any volume and whilst in any mood and lose focus to music every time if I want to. I bought that set-up and it does its job, sends me away from the world, straight up the staircase to Nirvana. However, when I use my earphones I have just woken up, I am half way through a criminally strong coffee and am about to be rushed off my feet until about 10 hours time. In that case all earphones should do is block out most of the noise and panic of the outside world and cut down as much of the illusion of time as possible on the way to work. Every earphone has done this since my trusty Sony’s back in 2004. So what do you get with the sm3’s that you don’t with earphones at a tenth of the price? When you use them in a darkened room with no background noise it seems a very silly question but on the street? You get a better sound, no contest, the soundstage of the sm3’s is one I might actually call a real soundstage it’s why I think the sound holds together so well. This is where the diminishing returns kick in big time. To my ears they are considerably better than the dtx100 but to many the price difference will not be worth it. After all, the 100’s have an easier fit, are just as well built if not better and sound good in themselves. To me though, the sm3 makes my trips to work a lot nicer. They will never be able to match my gs10’s if merely for the presence of sound but for an hour every morning I keep finding myself forgetting the world around me because i’ve slipped into audio nirvana, I just came in the back door.