Pros: Superb sound signature (detailed, full & lush), stunning mids, terrific soundstage. Near perfect HQ crossover circuitry.
Cons: Fit may take a few tries to perfect.
I've now had these earphones for over a year and I remain breathless at how versatile they are. The below list should give readers of this review a good idea of the kind of sound I have been used to in the past as I have owned the following.
- Westone W40
- Shure 530/535 SE (Red)
- Sennheiser IE8/IE80
- Etymotic ER-4S
- Sennheiser HD 650
- Sennheiser HD 580
- Audio Technica ATH-W3000
- Audio Technica M50
Just prior to buying the SM64’s, I had decided on the Westone W40’s. I'd heard great things about them and got them from an Australian online retailer at a reasonable discount with a money back guarantee if I wasn't happy with them. I decided on the W40’s over the SM64’s partly for price but mostly because of the fact they had four drivers, one more than the SM64’s which have a measly three. Four’s gotta be better than 3 right?
Well – I've discovered that’s not always the case. It’s got to be said that W40’s are excellent earphones, and had I not owned the above mentioned earphones, would say they're pretty good. The problem with the W40’s is their almost complete lack of ‘fun sound’. They're detailed, cover the audio spectrum quite well, but ultimately, I just didn't enjoy them. I’d experience short moments of “wow” but these were few and far between. So I sent them back and with the refund, bought the EarSonics which took a real leap of faith not having tested them. I was compelled by all the extraordinary reviews I had read - reviews that still didn't do them justice.
The SM64’s are never ever boring. Nor are they overly coloured. In fact I would describe the sound as detailed, fairly neutral – yet full, lush and way bigger than any IEM’s should ever sound.
I said earlier that reviews I'd read about the SM64’s didn't do them justice, mostly because some of them said that the bass wasn't particularly prominent. This couldn't be further from the truth. The bass from these IEM’s is something to behold. It’s definitely not boomy however it is full and beautifully detailed/textured, something I did not experience with the W40’s which had not one but TWO dedicated bass speakers in each ear! How EarSonics achieved this miracle is a true mystery, but they could have used sorcery for all I care – the bass is so fantastic that it’s addictive, such is the detail contained within each bass note. Not only is the bass clear and balanced, it extends low – very low. I’m talking subwoofer low. When listening to the opening scene of Batman The Dark Knight on Blu-Ray, I was treated to sound I'd only heard previously in the IMAX theatre I'd originally watched it in. You literally feel the rumble in your ears.
Next is the mids which I can only describe as “buttery smooth” and just a delight to listen to. The mids are a little forward but have astounding quality. This is the key difference between the SM64’s and their closest rivals, the Shure SE 535’s – brilliant earphones that do a lot very well, but never quite come close to the class and “fun” of the SM64’s. To get the 535’s to sound their best, amplification is required to get to that “wow” factor. This is not the case with the SM64’s – all that’s required for great sound is an iPhone. Anything above that (whether it be amplification or player with better phone-amp stage) will scale the sound up from friggin' awesome to whatever superlatives you wish to place above that.
Yes, these earphones are seriously THAT good.
This is where EarSonics hit it out of the park. The highs are clear, detailed (really detailed) and much like the bass, also have that addictive quality where you want to listen to recordings just to hear what new details you had previously (but unknowingly) missed.
All three frequency ranges sound brilliant alone but it’s how they sound together that gives these earphones their magic. EarSonics obviously put a huge effort into getting the 'HQ crossover' on these earphones right, and they succeeded – spectacularly. It often feels like I have full sized headphones, not earphones on.
SOUNDSTAGE & INSTRUMENT SEPARATION
Last but not least is the soundstage. Now THIS is where the SM64’s come into their own. You would be forgiven for thinking they had 5 or even 6 drivers per ear instead of 3. Even with lower quality recordings, the instrument separation is excellent. But upgrade to higher or full bit-quality sound and the separation (and soundstage) really has to be heard to be believed. Not one of the competing IEM's I have listed above come close, and they even gave the full sized headphones a run for their money. A huge statement, I know. But one I stand by.
Much has been said about the impedance (which is a high 98ohms) but I had no trouble driving them from my iPhone 5S or my current iPhone 6 Plus. I do have to turn the volume up louder and much older recordings couldn’t be driven loud at all. But anything post late 90's should be fine. With amplification, this is not at all an issue. The SM64’s seem to have the right balance of impedance vs sensitivity resulting in great (though slightly reduced) volume - an issue instantly sorted with the use of a portable DAC (more on that below).
So it can't all be good news, right? Well in the interests of balance, I do have some gripes. A minor one (that is now sorted) is the fit. The default eartips did not work for me. It took ages for me to get the right fit but even then, there was almost no bass. It wasn't until I changed to the slightly bigger ones that I almost instantly started experiencing audio nirvana! They're now virtually as comfortable as the Shure SE-535's which are considered by many one of the most comfortable IEM's on the market.
My main gripe though is the build quality, notably, the slightly cheap feel of the plastics used. For earphones that cost over AU$500, I expect better. That said, perhaps this is EarSonic’s way of saying “hey look, we put all our effort in making these earphones sound great and skimped a bit on the shell casing”.
And maybe they're onto something as ultimately, I just don't care. It’s not like they're falling apart. They're very sturdy indeed and one year on, show zero signs of wear and tear despite the fact I use them all the time. They just don't look the million dollars I forked out for them which never matters anyway once I press that play button.
RECOMMENDED USE WITH iPHONES
Whilst the sound is great with the standard music app on the iPhone, I very strongly recommend using the Onkyo HF Player app which is free. The sound is dramatically improved with this app, especially as it has a "touch-adjustable linear-phase FIR equalizer, which offers 16,384 discrete bands of high-definition equalization with zero loss in audio quality". It offers an in-app purchase of the HD Player Pack for playback of multiple HD (192 kHz/24-bit Hi-Res Audio) formats including FLAC, DSD etc - which I recommend if you want to use any of these formats (that the native app doesn't recognise).
I also strongly recommend the Oppo HA-2 portable amplifier. Not only does it look amazing (in my opinion the best looking portable amp with its leather exterior) but the sound it creates when coupled with the SM64's is outstanding as it has the ability to use the digital signal from the iPhone via the lightning port.
If you're after the ultimate in sub $1000 earphones, you would be hard pressed in my opinion to find anything better than the EarSonics SM64’s. They deliver brilliantly time and time again and outclass headphones that cost notably more. The instrument separation and soundstage (for an IEM) is superb and all three drivers produce outstanding, beautifully balanced and addictive sound. They sound so good, I'll no longer be using my full sized earphones. Finally, an IEM that rules them all! To get anything noticeably better, you would need to spend almost triple what these cost. There's a reason why so many reviews recommend them so highly, and now that I own a pair, I know exactly why.
So if you're tossing up between the SM64’s and their competitors take it from me, sonically (and in terms of value and music versatility), the SM64’s are king!
NOTE: The sponsored ad link for Amazon below says they're $59.50. This is incorrect. Clicking link takes you to a completely different set of earphones so please be aware of this. Thanks.