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Review: Apuresound-recabled Etymotic ER4P (revised)

post #1 of 104
Thread Starter 
Introduction


I have pretty much owned all kinds of ER4 in existance. My first Etymotic was the ER4P, after which I used a PtoS adapter, then I had a chance to try the Apuresound ER4S.

After these I bought and sold a barrage of IEMs and earphones, and have never been perfectly happy with any. Later on I went to electrostatics to find what I was missing with iem's, earphones and dynamic cans. I have never been fond about the idea of following the custom IEMs route, as I find it too expensive, and I would feel paranoid in having something like a pair of UE11 shipped from overseas. I wouldn't smile much when my country's customs charged me 30% of such an expensive item's value in order to release it, and finally I'd die of heart attack if a 1000+ custom iem broke.
Apuresound is a well known cable manufacturer that has been offering a custom recable for Etymotic ER4P and ER4S since the end of 2007.
The Apuresound-recabled ER4P was the only universal IEM I had yet to try to consider my experience complete. A week ago I got intrigued by a post by jlingo, dating April 2008, where he said he prefers the Apuresound ER4P over the S, and over pretty much everything else apart from the UE11 (this included him preferring them over the UE10, all universal IEMs, Westone ES2, Sensaphonics -first and second version- and so on). His thread is here: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f4/i-p...-er-4s-308515/
I consider jlingo one of my early "headfi teachers" along with catscratch and few others.
Jlingo's review, eventually, brought me to buy my own pair of Apuresound ER4P, used, from another member. In this review, I'll try to report exactly on what I am hearing.


Etymotic ER4P: the stock earphone

I already reviewed Ety er4p and often consider it as a benchmark to compare other earphones with, even if not being the best IEM I tried. The ER4P has deep bass, great bass definition, clear but somewhat empty vocals, and tilted upper midrange and very spikey treble. This makes for a hyperdetailed sound that doesn't sound natural, but rather analytical. The ER4P brings out details from the song that aren't meant to be dominant, and somewhat change the original presentation of the track. Some people, including myself, call those "fake details".
There is also a lot of sharpness and sibilance to the vocals, originating from peaks that are hard to equalize down.


Apuresound recabled ER4P

Apuresound decided to try a recable that worked as an natural equalizer, replacing the stock and bright silver plated copper wire, and in the meanwhile reducing the microphonics (if wearing the earphone over the ear).
The result is still an Etymotic, but with revolutionized personality.
The bass is still flat and tight, very well defined, crazy deep, but more impactful, effortless sounding than before. It's still Ety-like, but fatter and slamming. The sound seems made of stone. It keeps improving with cable's burn in, of which Apuresound recommends 100 hours. Jlingo underlines that the recabled Etys keep changing until that time, and my previous experience with Apuresound S testifies it. My current P pair should have around 100-150 hours of burn in.
Frequency wise, it's the deep bass and the early midbass frequency range to be boosted.
The sound is equally improved by the fact that treble peaks are a lot tamed.
Sibilance is not a problem anymore: the upper mids are slightly boosted but not painfully so, like with stock Etys (and their silver plated copper wire).
So, what happens when you add a cable with a dark frequency response to the bright ER4 driver?
The first thing to be noticed, after the treble spikes and sharpness are gone, is the ability to make for an emotional rendition of electric guitars and trumpets, that stand out with some rage. The usual Ety boost at 1-4 kHz becomes more apparent after the ultradetail and sharpness feeling are tamed. Vocals tend to stand out with a gritty tonality. Unlike what other earphones do (Westone 3 come to mind), the total lack of upper bass/lower midrange bloat makes vocals clean, present, close but not full sounding. Vocals lack some chest, but are still emotional. In direct comparison, the Westone 3 seem sedated when it comes to vocals. I wouldn't call the Westone 3 midrange "recessed", or "lifeless" like the Head-Direct RE0 can be in the mids, but in direct comparison the W3 tend to be very uneven in the midrange with a lower range fullness and upper mids that are a lot more laid back, resulting in a far portrayal of vocals and leading instruments that should have a more primary role.
Back to the item under review: the singers' "s" have some brashness in some of my worst recorded albums, reminding the sound of sand, but they don't sibilate since sibilance spectrum range is not really emphasized.
The ability of stock Etys to impress sounding spectacular, retrieving hidden details and hurting with sibilance & cymbals is replaced by a more mature, neutral and even natural sound, words I would have never applied to the stock Etys. It's not the same kind of flatness the Head-Direct RE0 have, since the RE's tend to have great, spectacular and flat treble, but a cold, uninvolving feeling in the midrange and a bass that doesn't hit either hard, nor deep.
Going back to the sibilance issue, sibilance takes place in the frequency range where cymbals lie, be different from normal "s" frequency range. As sensitive as I am to sibilance, it is not problem with these IEMs. You need to keep in mind that sibilance becomes more and more tamed, until it disappears, with burn in, as the cable's darkness settles in.
As already mentioned, the sound presentation doesn't offer the feeling of "fake details" that was there with the stock IEM.

The Apuresound Etys have a very variable response from track to track. They are tilted, aggressive and exciting with some thin rock tracks (like My Bloody Valentine - Loveless), hiding their fullness; or they can be euphonic and more romantic with other songs (John Cale - Hobosapiens, Mingus - The black saint and the sinner lady and so on).
This kind of variability is intensely due to the kind of bass boost the cable offers, which being very tight can't add where there is none and the recording is very harsh (think about My Bloody Valentine), while it magnifies recordings with a good bass tonality without making them feel "rubbery" (like some found the Triple.fi 10 Pro to be, due a strong midbass hump).
There's a solidity to the sound of these Etys that always makes me think of stone. They are the perfect mate for rock and some jazz. They represent well bass with trance and electronic music, even if these genres are presented with a timbre that's slightly closer to rock. There's deep bass (and bass volume) in spades. Classical is pretty nice since it doesn't sound stitical, but rather efforless and never bloated. I still prefer my current home setup (upgraded Melior Bitstream DAC -vouched to sound the closest to vynil as possible-, Stax SRM-252A amp and Stax SR-X MkIII Pro monitor, already discussed elsewhere), but what the "Apuretys" can do is remarkable when I consider the size, portability and the fact that we are still in universal IEMs realm.

I don't usually expose my personal preference when doing a review, but I like the Apuresound Etys over any other IEM I have ever tried, and almost all dynamic full size headphones I have owned.
Keeping things in portable realm, these are some of the least flawed headphones I have tried.
On the bad, it needs to be said that soundstage is very closed in, especially considering the huge sounding Westone 3, new offerings like Sennheiser IE8 (which I haven't heard myself) or killer tweaks like Audiocats-modded Babystax (which have other shortcomings, like an overall sense of darkness, discomfort and lack of isolation). I have noticed soundstage improves a lot with better sources (AMB Gamma 1 dac makes things wider and more lively over the iAudio 7 I am using). Amping a limited source doesn't change my view of soundstage much (I have tried a great home amp like the CKKIII and a Mini^3), but can still give some small benefits.

APS Etys have a unique sonic character I have never found elsewhere. I am impressed by these as portables, mostly because they manage to sound real, or at least as close to it as I have ever find in a portable headphone (and most headphoes in general). They are also the first IEMs I consider as keepers, everything considered (I couldn't say so even about the Triple.fi, due to the awful comfort issues that crippled my time with them, and other sonic flaws).

Note 1 (S recable): Apuresound ER4S, which I tried almost one year ago, had more harshness and less fullness to the sound.
Note 2 (Etymotic ER4 transient response): I have to agree that the ER4 transducer (also used in ACS T2 custom IEMs) has some weird behaviour when it comes to transient response. It tends to overemphasize the first edge of the transient, then decay very quickly while the rest of the transient has reduced amplitude compared to a normal response. This is the kind of distortion that makes most think about Etys as super-fast. Well, the hearing effect is that indeed, and is not even bad, nor so noticeable with the darkened/recabled version as before. While I am aware of this issue, and would like more fidelity I an objective sense (and electronic point of view), I can't really say that this issue spoils the listening, and the overall sonic experience, to me, is still the least flawed and most enjoyable I can use for a portable system.
Note 3 (insertion/removal): If you keep reading across the thread, you'll find that a member (jpelg) has issues with the pins of the Apuresound cable.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jpelg
Sounds like the APS cable pins are nearly (for all intents & purposes) permanent, and do not allow easy installation/removal. Attempting so more than once potentially opens the holes more each time, potentially ruining the driver tubes.
While I can't disagree with the latter part of the statement, I wish to add that Alex himself suggests not to swap cables more than few times. This idea can result also from common sense driven by experience, since swapping cables in other IEMs that use a replaceable cable involves a risk of loosening the driver sockets too.
Personally, I needed to do a swap of drivers in order to check if a driver was wrong (it was, due to age I guess, and I had to replace it). I haven't had a problem in having the drivers been kept firmly in place after it, and it was about the third time those drivers underwent a reinsertion in their late "life". Although I can't recommend to take out the drivers more than strictly necessary, it can be done when needed.

Tony
post #2 of 104
Really happy you like them and glad they seem to have found a good home. They are to my ears the best iem I have ever had but the practicallity of the HF2 with the iPhone won. I am now talking with Alex about doin the ultimate cable for the ER4, a P cable based on his former V2 wire and terminated in xlr so to make a balanced ER4 for home use.
post #3 of 104
Thread Starter 
Your balanced experiment is going to be a marvel. I am planning to visit northern Europe, so I might knock at your door, have a beer with you and listen to your sweet gear.
post #4 of 104
Excellent review! I am also a big fan of the ER4s. I've had an ER4S for 10 yrs now, the one I have currently is my second S (my first became my dog's chewie). In fact, I have both S & P but I prefer the S. My question is how does the APS P compare with the APS S? Also, I really like the clip of the stock cable, I just clip it to my shirt. The APS does not have a clip but is it possible to put a clip on it?
Thanks.
post #5 of 104
Thread Starter 
From what I remember (it has been almost a year), the APS ER4S is less full and more aggressive, sibilance is more present. I'd expect that treble peaks are stronger with the APS ER4S.

My cable can't use a clip, but you can ask AKZip to put a tight circle of tissue around the cable before making it, it's what I used to use with my APS S, and worked fine to attach a clip to it.
post #6 of 104
Quote:
Originally Posted by antonyfirst View Post
From what I remember (it has been almost a year), the APS ER4S is less full and more aggressive, sibilance is more present. I'd expect that treble peaks are stronger with the APS ER4S.

My cable can't use a clip, but you can ask AKZip to put a tight circle of tissue around the cable before making it, it's what I used to use with my APS S, and worked fine to attach a clip to it.
Yes that is also my more recent recollection of the difference between the P and S.

I always use my iem over the ear so am not worried about not using a clip. On my S cable I had Alex put a small piece of shrink wrap to make an under the chin slider like you get on many stock cables.
post #7 of 104
Quote:
Originally Posted by antonyfirst View Post
Your balanced experiment is going to be a marvel. I am planning to visit northern Europe, so I might knock at your door, have a beer with you and listen to your sweet gear.
I hope so, just driving them single ended from that huge amp is fantastic. Alex has not yet replied as to whether he can do it, probably depends on if he still has some V2 wire left and if the plug can accomodate the thicker wire in a stable way. V3 is out of the question for this use as it is too thick and unwieldy but the V2 used over the ear should be very good.
post #8 of 104
Quote:
Originally Posted by antonyfirst View Post
From what I remember (it has been almost a year), the APS ER4S is less full and more aggressive, sibilance is more present. I'd expect that treble peaks are stronger with the APS ER4S.

My cable can't use a clip, but you can ask AKZip to put a tight circle of tissue around the cable before making it, it's what I used to use with my APS S, and worked fine to attach a clip to it.
So, is stock S, overall, better than, the same as or worse than APS S? How does the APS P compare with the stock S?

I apologize for my many questions, but I am seriously considering this upgrade.
Thanks again.
post #9 of 104
The APS versions are imo better than the correspondng stock versions both building on what is already there in the stock version. Personally I prefer the P version to the S even when amped.
post #10 of 104
Quote:
Originally Posted by nc8000 View Post
The APS versions are imo better than the correspondng stock versions both building on what is already there in the stock version. Personally I prefer the P version to the S even when amped.
Thanks. I read your comments on the price/improvement ratio under jlingo's thread. And that's where I'm at.
post #11 of 104
Thread Starter 
In fact, I think that the improvement/price ratio for the Apuresound P is very high. I had no issues with comfort using the stock cable, and the recable cost for me is more than justified by the sound improvement. For me stock Etys are way too sharp and treble happy.
post #12 of 104
Quote:
Originally Posted by antonyfirst View Post
In fact, I think that the improvement/price ratio for the Apuresound P is very high. I had no issues with comfort using the stock cable, and the recable cost for me is more than justified by the sound improvement. For me stock Etys are way too sharp and treble happy.
Thanks. I'll keep an for a used APS P cable.
post #13 of 104
Quote:
Originally Posted by wuwhere View Post
Thanks. I'll keep an for a used APS P cable.
Ooops! I'll keep an EYE for a used APS P cable.
post #14 of 104
If you like the ER4 I'm sure you will not be disappointed
post #15 of 104
Quote:
Originally Posted by antonyfirst View Post
In fact, I think that the improvement/price ratio for the Apuresound P is very high. I had no issues with comfort using the stock cable, and the recable cost for me is more than justified by the sound improvement. For me stock Etys are way too sharp and treble happy.
Buying used did get you it at a good price
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