Pros: amazing layered soundstage, intricately detailed, speedy, excellent bass quality & extension, beautiful mids, clear treble, neutral, tonally accurate
Cons: a bit like Frankenstein bolts off the ear, bass could use a touch more quantity
Thanks @ejong7 for organising this tour, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Also thanks go out to the mysterious unnamed provider of the ERIB-2A. Mysterious benefactor, you redefined Easter for me. I’m not religious, but these headphones make me want to be a little blasphemous—altars built in high places only to be struck down by some highfalutin prophet and all that old-religion jazz.
“Drip drip drop there goes an eargasm.”
Why!? For the love of God, WHY!? Why did I have to hear these aluminum ear-boxes of absolute bliss, when I just don’t have the money to even think about bad decisions I could make. I’m not going to mince words. These are some of the best headphones I’ve ever heard, and I think they are good value for money at their price. I respectfully disagree with a previous reviewer who said these were too expensive, they absolutely are not. I think these are well worth £549 ($775) (the price at the time of the review). The rest of this review will be about telling you why my wife probably thought I was emotionally cheating on her for the week I had these.
First, I’ll tell you a bit about me, below the fold. If you think I’m not a biased reviewer, I’ve got a bridge to sell you, even if you’re from Arizona and have already bought a famous bridge. Read below the fold if you like, or swallow the blue pill and continue on in naïve ignorance.
About me (Click to show)
Like most sensible people I starting falling in love with music as a child. My first portable audio device was a Sony Walkman (the cassette kind) that I got when I was 10 years old (24 years ago). I listened with the cheap Sony on ears that came with the Walkman until I bought a Koss CD boombox and started listening to UAF College Radio and 103.9 (alternative rock at the time) in Fairbanks, Alaska. I once listened to Louie Louie for 3 days straight, and I’m not insane. My musical tastes started out with listening to what my friends liked (Dr. Dre and Green Day) and what my parents liked (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) and I only really discovered my own musical tastes and sonic preferences in my late teens to early 20s. What I discovered is that I have very eclectic and some would say weird tastes. I could be listening to gay punk rock, Japanese dream garble pop, 8-bit chiptune, Scandinavian black metal, Latin guitar, the Mariinsky Orchestra, or Miles Davis, but I mostly listen to Classic Rock and Indie/Alternative. I’m a big fan of intelligent hip-hop like Metermaids, Kendrick Lamar and Aesop Rock, also.
I tend to like headphones that are all-around performers, this generally means a balanced or neutral sound. I somehow never manage to have much money, so I don’t want to buy infinity headphones to switch between my myriad genres that I play. I can hear all the way down to 10hz and all the way up to 23Khz—these are what I’ve heard doing test tones on headphones. It has been a long time since I had a test with an audiologist. I’m sensitive to peaky treble but do enjoy smooth extended treble. I like deep rich tight bass and impactful drums, and dislike upper midbass emphasis. I like my vocals crisp, so stay away from Josh Tillman’s voice you nasty upper midbass hump. I hear soundstage better than just about anything I identify in music, but my words haven’t caught up to my ears. I listen at volume levels that others consider loud (72 to 75 dB), but I just set it to where the dynamics peak. I’m not here to shatter my eardrums. I like them just how they are.
I don’t believe in using EQ, not even for inexpensive headphones, especially in reviews. I won’t claim that I haven’t done it, but I generally try to avoid it.
I’m a firm believer that cables can make a difference, but I don’t think they always do. When I tried out Toxic Cables line, none of them had labels and the cheapest looking one was the one I liked the best. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to spend much to improve my sound. It turned out that the cheapest looking one was the Silver/Gold top of the line cable. I’ve heard the difference that USB cables can make, from upgrading from the crappy cable that came with my Geek Out 1000 to a Supra USB, and then again when upgrading to the LH Labs Lightspeed 2G with the iUSB3.0. When I picked up a cheap shielded power lead from Mains Cables R Us (who also sell iFi gear) to replace my standard kettle lead on my amplifier, I heard more crunchy and clearer treble. I switched the leads with my wife blinded and she heard the same difference. I didn’t tell her what I heard and let her describe it herself. But cables don’t always make a difference. When I switched from my standard HD650 cable to a custom balanced cable (Custom Cans UK, very affordable), the sound stayed exactly the same when hooked up via a top tier (custom made by @dill3000 silver/gold) 4-pin XLR to 6.3mm converter. Balanced mode made a difference in clarity and blackness of background. Your mileage may vary and you may not hear a difference, but I have.
oBravo does things a little different
To my knowledge, there isn’t another headphone manufacturer that is making headphones like oBravo’s line-up. They have a line of IEMs that pair a planar magnetic tweeter and a dynamic driver, the ERIBs, of which the ERIB-2A is one. Their IEMs come with choices of material for differently tuned sound, aluminum for crystalline clarity and balance, wood for warmth, ceramic for delicate detail. oBravo has a further technology that is unique to them in headphones, air motion transformer tweeters. They use this technology in their EAMT line of IEMs, and in their HAMT line of full-size headphones. I can’t wait to hear this technology next time they visit a show I’m at. All of oBravo’s lineup have a clean metallic industrial design, but all work in notes of wood to provide some organic flavour and warmth to their image. I’m a fan.
If you’d like to know more about these upstarts from Taiwan, check out oBravo’s website for some hot pics and information.
Vital Statistics (what the manufacturer says about their gear)
Almost every headphone comes with some summary measurements about the piece of kit you’ve just thrown your coin on the table and bought, and many of them aren’t relatively true. I’ll leave that judgment up to you. I found that the ERIB-2A lived up to it’s measurements, to my ear, at least. I’m also inclined to believe the frequency response is being conservative. They have another headphone that they list as having response to only 28Hz.
From custom-cable.co.uk, my local seller of oBravo goodies
- The world first Coaxial two-way IEM design by an implementation of Planar tweeter and NDD to deliver a rich sound stage listening experience.
- World class Comply ear tips implementation for balanced sound stage.
- A Wooden ear cup designed model - (erib-2w), and a Precision Ceramic ear cup designed model - (erib-2c) to provide a choice for different sound styles.
- Easy way to enjoy a ultimate sound from a balanced output by an optional 2.5mm Balanced cable.
- Frequency Response: 20Hz~35KHz
- Tweeter: 8mm Planar Magnetic Tweeter
- Dynamic Driver: 10mm Neodymium Driver
- Impedance: 16 ohm
- Sensibility in dB: 102dB
- Weight: 35 g
Form & Function
The ERIB-2A comes in a large zippered container, like a little clutch full of foam and other things to make it look precious. It makes me think of blown plastic inserts on boardgames. They make everything seem organised, but they aren’t really fit for purpose, they are inflexible overkill that you end up tossing out to better use the space in your box. oBravo’s case is ludicrously large, and they appear to have learned their lesson with some of their other headphones (ERIB-5A comes with a logical sized pouch). The case has enough real estate to fit four sets of headphones in it. The case has enough real estate that they had to come up with new inventions to fill the ludicrous space. You’ll find in the packaging something besides the IEM that is special to oBravo, IEM tip organizers. These handy dandy little nails will hold your tips while you drop them down into specially cut foam cubby holes. I would have much rather they gave me an appropriate case to fit the IEMs with a couple sets of tips. The case is a pile of dumb. Luckily everything else about these is pretty brilliant.
They feel a tiny bit awkward at first, as they stick out a bit from your ear. It was emphasized on the tour that you shouldn't really jam the Comply foamies all the way into your ear, that they should be a touch loose to allow a bigger soundstage. What they say works. It doesn’t take long to get acclimated to the feel of the headphones when the sound makes you want to leave them in so much. The cable feels of sufficient quality, but I’m not a huge fan of the proprietary connector. I experienced no microphonics with the cable.
The ERIB-2A can be worn up or down, but I found them most comfortable down due to the big strain relief on the cables. Isolation is not great on these as they are basically an open design IEM, you can see little holes on the wood exterior of the headphones. You’ll hear all the traffic around you, but the music is so clear you still won’t care, and I live in one of the worst traffic cities in the UK. Like every other IEM I own, these didn’t anger any of my office mates when I blast some AC/DC. Win win.
Inside the box you’ll find:
- The aforementioned oversized case (clutch?)
- The coaxial headphone cable
- The IEMs
- Silicone ear guides for helping the IEMs stay in
- Some silicone tips
- Comply foamies
- An awesome stubby 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor (so good I asked if I could buy just the adaptor if nothing else)
I took these to work with me every day for the week I had them and ignored the world as much as I could, which is normal, but I was very committed to this ideal whilst I had these. I played these at home out of the 5W Airist Audio Heron 5 amplifier, and out of the 4W iFi Micro iCAN SE, and I played this out of a cheap low power DAC/AMP, and the iBasso DX50. These didn’t sound bad on anything, but they definitely sound better on certain pairings. I compared these to my favourite headphones I have on hand, and I took them into Richer Sounds and compared them to full size cans from Oppo and Audeze. These little IEMs are top tier stuff.
My first listen on these was using the Airist Audio Heron 5 (my next in line review) with the Chord Mojo as the DAC. I loaded up Roger Waters – Amused to Death and listened to Late Home Tonight Part I, Late Home Tonight Part II and Too Much Rope. These tracks have fantastic levels of micro-detail, big soundstages with lots of pans including one of the only sky to ground vertical pans I’ve ever heard in a music track (BOOM). If you are okay with highly political prog rock, you should definitely add Amused to Death to your listening list. The headphones took a couple minutes to warm up. Once they did they had a touch of warmth to the upper mids, super clear vocals, and supremely natural guitar on Too Much Rope. The soundstage width is spectacular, the height is impressive when the bomb drops in Late Home Tonight, and the image is layered with excellent depth and space for each element of the cinematic experience. The details of the woman leaving and entering rooms of the house holding her baby whilst the TV news plays and music goes on in the street were intricately and precisely detailed—like I was following one step behind her as she went about her everyday normal human day. If I spoke Arabic, I would have understood every syllable of the broadcast and speech. I haven’t had that kind of detail on any IEM I’ve listened to this track with. My first observation was that the sound is crisp, like a collared shirt hard-edged with starch. I think some of this may be the effect of pairing with the Mojo, as the Mojo has a very precise, sharp sound while still having smooth flow and a natural sound. I was also still burning in my brain on the sound, it sounded smoother on future listening.
City of the Sun (on Chesky Records/HD Tracks in binaural+), recently released an album that is spectacular. The album has several fantastic test tracks, my favourite probably being the title track, To The Sun And All The Cities In Between. When I played the ERIB-2A out of the iFi iCAN SE with the LH Labs Geek Out V2 as the source with none of the iFi iCAN SE switches engaged the sound was duller and flatter with less bass than the Heron 5 pairing. Engaging the XBass switch to one dot had the bass show up, whilst three dots made it overbearing. The 3D switch on the iCAN SE boosts treble and made the sound less flat sounding. A comparison to the HD600 revealed the ERIB-2A to be a formidable competitor. I threw on The Beats, Man – Yummmmm and micro-detail was just popping all over like amplified water droplets from a soaking rain perched on a leaf diving into a lake teaming with activity, like a popcorn popper inside your head. The music would have given Salvador Dali a rise. The ERIB-2A was more detailed than the HD600, and not subtly so. The ERIB-2A has greater soundstage height, greater soundstage width, but slightly less depth than the HD600. It has insane imaging and clarity, and jaw-dropping separation between instruments. Every instrument has its own space, every note plucked has its own place. The ERIB-2A feels like it has a touch more body, while the HD600 has a more delicate touch. The HD600 is a great reference headphone, but this in-ear is blowing it away. I’m drooling like a St. Bernard now. Roll over Beethoven, some Pasadena family will be adopting me soon. Who can resist this face?
Switching back to the Heron 5 for the comparison on City of the Sun, the bass is healthier (no boost necessary with the right amplification). The sound has an airy ethereal quality with absolutely stunning mids. Higher guitar notes are something special to hear. Transients are naturally portrayed with excellent instrument decay.
With the Heron 5 and the iCAN SE, I did notice some buzz during quiet sections, but whether it shows up depended on volume level listened at. I also had an interesting effect with the headphones that I think was due to the supremely high amount of current feeding them. The ERIB-2A warmed up and shocked my ears a bit. I wonder if the case is being used as a ground. I think these should probably have a bit less powerful amp hooked up to them, even though they sound absolutely amazing on the Heron 5. I also tried these with the Geek Out 1000 straight out of the high damping factor 0.47ohm jack—they lost about half the soundstage volume compared to the iCAN SE, but still sounded lovely, but a bit thicker tonally. Luckily, I found an inexpensive but brilliant source that I absolutely loved them on, my iBasso DX50.
I listened with the DX50 (on high gain) for two days and compared back and forth with the DX50 alone and DX50 feeding the iCAN SE. I preferred the DX50 alone. I didn’t do a comparison of the DX50 to the Heron 5. I think the Heron 5 probably has a bit too much impedance for these, but the buzz isn’t noticeable on every track. I listened to Led Zeppelin for a whole day—Led Zeppelin I all the way through Presence. That’s a darn fine day. The bass was a touch recessed, but tonally accurate with rich timbre. Jimmy Page’s voice had a nice edge to it, and the DX50 is churning out a soundstage as impressive as the iCAN SE.
At this point, we’ve identified the one minor weakness of these headphones sonically, the bass is a touch recessed. I decided to throw down with Beck – Midnight Vultures, which is a bass forward album. The bass isn’t as forward as on other headphones but is deeply satisfying. The mids are special from lower mids all the way up to the top of the mids ladder. Drums kick right and falsetto occupies the sonic aeries meant for its creepy-cool vibe. I wanna get with these, and their sister, I think her name is EAMT. Get Real Paid is a big highlight; it has sounds popping all over the stage, verticality, width, panning, falsetto, electronic blips and bloops, cool percussion, etc…. I decided to take the ERIB-2A and the DX50 to Richer Sounds to compare to some full size cans using Beck - Get Real Paid.
At Richer Sounds I had to wait a bit to get into the goodie case, but when I did I asked for the Oppo PM3 (£349) and the Audeze EL8 Open (£599). Both the PM3 and the EL8 are designed to be able to be driven out of an iPhone, so the comparison is fair. The ERIB-2A was better than both. The Oppo PM3, was tops on my list for work headphones as it has silky smooth liquid mids and satisfying presentation on the rest of the spectrum. The Oppo PM3 had bass that was a touch slow and loose, the treble clarity was good and the mids were as liquid as I remember them. The PM3 had some boosting in the mids and some added warmth to the signature. Comparatively, the ERIB-2A was cooler sounding, it was clearer, had a much wider and deeper soundstage, more precise instrumentation, and tighter more accurate bass (though less quantity). The EL8 was clearer than the Oppo PM3 with a more forward signature. The treble on the EL8 is less detailed than the Oppo PM3. The EL8 has less stage depth than the ERIB-2A, is a bit warmer, has a touch of grain to the sound, and a more congested presentation. The ERIB-2A also has more height in the stage and better treble definition. The ERIB-2A has less bass, but better bass than the EL8. I handed the ERIB-2A over to one of the shop employees to listen, and they confirmed my preference. They also said I can come back and let them listen to headphones I’m reviewing any time I want.
The ERIB-2A at £549 ($775) beats the £599 Audeze EL8 in basically every way and it is an in-ear headphone.
I also compared the ERIB-2A to the following: Trinity Audio Atlas (orange filter), Echobox Audio Finder X1, RHA ma750, 64Audio ADEL X2, and the Fidue A65 (watch for my review). The ERIB-2A dropped the trousers of the Trinity Audio Atlas, RHA ma750, and Fidue A65 like the class bully on the nerds at your high school. Those are all really good headphones, especially the Trinity Audio Atlas. The Echobox Audio Finder X1, and 64Audio ADEL X2 were closer to the ERIB-2A. The Finder X1 is an impressive little (emphasis because it is crazy tiny) headphone—superb detail, v-shape sound, excellent transparency, healthy but not overpowering in any frequency. The 64Audio ADEL X2 is very natural and fluid sounding, very balanced, with excellent decay and impact on bass and drums. When listening to Neil Young - Out on the Weekend (Pono 24-192) the bass chugged along beautifully with the other two guitars making good appearances and nice vocal reflections off the back of the stage giving an excellent idea of stage size. The ERIB-2A still beats both of the most competitive handily. Micro-details like string scratches on guitar and guitar placement are showcased. The bass is the fastest. The layering is the best. The resolution is the best. The harmonica is perfectly placed at the height of the vocals in a way that none of the other headphones accomplished. Listening to Queen – Loser in the End—a great track for spaciousness, crunchy guitar, wood blocks, and most of all drum impact—the 64Audio Adel X2 was more forward with good impact, but didn’t have the epic transparency, layering and instrument separation of the ERIB-2A.
These headphones are absolutely spectacular, unless you are an unrepentant bass-head or a glutton for the warm sound. I’m neither of these, so I was cursing my ill finances when I had to send these on to the next in line. I want to listen to these more. After sending them on and listening to other very good to great headphones I just find myself missing these. These headphones have spectacular resolution, speed, tonal accuracy and soundstage. I think these will beat many equal or higher priced headphones on sound, including full-size open headphones. There is only one sonic weakness on these headphones to my ears, and it is a minor weakness compared to the copious amounts of strengths these exhibit: the bass is a touch recessed. I didn’t EQ these, but in my experience low bass quantity is generally correctable with EQ. I would buy these with no regrets. These are top of the line, and £549 ($775) is not too much to pay for them.
If you’ve got £549 ($775) in coin and are looking for a new IEM, you should do your best to have a listen on these. You might never look for another headphone—but you will go buy another case, because the case is terrible; unless the EAMTs are as good as their reputation. Hopefully when I hear those I won’t end up divorced and compromising myself in horrible ways to afford them.