BLOX TM5 - top earbud, competing with PK1 and OK1
Like with my other reviews, I would start from the end, so conclusions first:
- TM5 is the most efficient among the best earbuds and the best among the most efficient. It is on par with Yuin PK1 and OK1 in terms of SQ, but plays better with low-powered sources.
- TM5 is extremely transparent; it truly reproduces the sound of the chain before it. It applies less character onto the sound than Head-Direct RE0, which is my former transparency favorite.
- Except the bass, TM5 has very even frequency response and accurate tonality. I have not detected any dips or peaks, areas recessed or forward.
- TM5 has the most powerful bass I heard from the earbuds. This bass is of high quality and does not intrude into the rest of the spectrum. It is not so “exaggerated” but rather a “full-size” bass you may like with the big cans.
My order of liking: TM5 >= PK1 > OK1. TM5 combines PK1 pleasure with OK1 accuracy and results in… sheer musicality?
My guess of overall SQ: TM5 >= OK1 > PK1. I can guess only since I have no OK1 and PK1 to compare with TM5. But I am pretty sure with the guess, because I compared TM5 to my modded PK1 as well as some other headphones for reference. NOTE: I compared OK1 and PK1 one to each other and to some other cans before.
Well, I would simplify my job not your one, describing TM5 sound signature in a word: it sounds basically the same as your source does. The only perceptible things TM5 adds to the sound are mellowness and touch of warmth, reminding me the blessed times of analogue tapes. Read the review to know more and made your own conclusion. I wish I had full-size can with the same sound but I can not recall any, though I listened to 50+. The most close are HD600 or DT880, if you add HD650 bass to both and drive them by tubes. NOTE: I yet to hear orthos and stats, except SR-404. I appreciate if any followers would share their thoughts on TM5 sound sig; I would quote them here with gratitude. Update: Recently I tried MX75 foams and this made the sound darker and more relaxed. Now iPod 5.5 gen headphone out > TM5 combo sound pretty similar to WooAudio 3 > HD650. HD650 has tad warmer, richer and forward vocals, while TM5 soundstage is more open and breathing. So you may consider TM5 sound sig to be quite similar to HD600/HD650.
TM5 placement in my personal headphone ranking chart
I owned or listened to 90+ headphones and I ranked some of them in the chart, which you may find in my Earbuds buyers guide.
Before I understood TM5 transparency, I failed to settle on exact TM5 rank – it drifted, depending on the source used. At the end, I took iPod 5.5 gen LOD > Pico DAC/amp and compared TM5 directly to HD650, ER-4P, DT770/80, SR225, G1A, OK2, CM700. I also “compared” by the memory (yeah, I know…) to some cans I know and remember well – D2000, HD595, DT990, DT880, AD700, AD900, and MDR-F1. As a result, TM5 took a very high position.
Wow, is TM5 really on par with famous Yuin OK1 and PK1? I think so; here are the points I am confident with though I’ve not compared directly:
- With good source TM5 surpasses PK1 and equals/surpasses OK1 in terms of overall SQ.
- Due to the efficiency, with power-deficient source TM5 surpasses PK1 and OK1.
- Due to the transparency, with some sources TM5 may give up to PK1 or OK1, while Yuins may benefit from a synergy. For example, with iPod 5.5 gen un-amped PK1 may equal or surpass TM5, depending on music.
- Due to the full-blown bass, TM5 is well listenable on any volume.
- TM5 surpasses PK1 and OK1 for the purpose of background listening.
- With specific genres, one may prefer either PK1 or OK1 over TM5.
- TM5 is the best all-rounder.
In addition to the guides already listed above, I should say that TM5 and PK1 are pretty different. If you may afford, get them both to build a complementing pair. Otherwise, read the rest of the review to understand their strengths, distinctions and borderlines. To prefer OK1 over TM5, one should be on a very analytical side. Or have some specific source with great synergy to OK1, say TTVJ Millett Portable. Though I yet to try this amp with TM5 and who knows…
I hardly know any. But there are some points requiring an attention:
- As with many other earbuds, the sound depends a lot on foams and fit, while the fit is not stable.
- Bass demands the respect; it may be too much in some ears with wrong foams or fit.
- TM5 does not exaggerate the details, so it would not help dull source to sound better.
- It does not make the sound more “fun” or “exciting” than it is. It is neither “rocking hard” or “analytical”, it is just “see-through”.
- As with other highly transparent gear, there is no synergy to seek or talk about.
- Burn-in time is no less than 100 hrs; bass may hit too hard before this mark.Vendor recommends 250 - 300 hrs of burn-in time.
Specs, pricing and availability
Here is an official info from vendor:
Driver: Dynamic 14 mm.
Frequency Response: 20-18k Hz.
Impedance: 32 ohms.
Sensitivity: 108dB/mW @ 1k Hz.
Cable: 1.2 m, straight plug
MSRP: 180 USD.
BLOX's earphone was made in China.
The item scheduled to be released on Febuary 1st 2010.
Website and ordering:
Comparison to PK1km
I wished I compare TM5 to the Yuin PK1, which is close competitor and well known SQ metric for the earbuds at head-fi. Unfortunately, at the moment I have TM5 on hands, my PK1 was already modded to PK1km (km = kostalex mod). I re-shelled it into the case of Philips SHE2550 earbuds. This results in very stable fit in my ears, which by-turn results in steady sound. I’ve also got the top-notch comfort and thus accomplished all the goals of this mod. Additionally, I re-cabled it with the cable of Sennheiser MX500, made of oxygen-free copper and inline volume control. I had to re-cable them because stock cable hardened and became unusable. Some may point that this volume control degrades the sound but I yet to hear this myself; I keep it in Max position, so it is almost shorted. If I ever notice any degradation, I will remove it. Before that, I would like to enjoy the convenience to attenuate sound quickly as required. To my ears, PK1km sounds the same to stock PK1. Probably, there is a minor loss of bass weight in exchange for slightly tighter bass.
In this comparison I pay more attention describing TM5, of course. If you are interested to learn more on PK1, read my Earbud buyers's guide. I used Sansa Clip, iPhone 3G and iPod 5.5 gen as the sources. The latter I used both un-amped and amped from line-out with Pico DAC/amp, XIN Supermicro IV with 4/11 mods, FIIO E5. Tracks were ALAC lossless, MP3 VBR V0 and probably few of MP3 VBR V2.
I carefully selected the best sounding foams from the plethora of foams/silicon rings I have. Surprisingly, this turn out to be the foams from the Philips SHE2550 earbuds already mentioned. They are smaller and denser than other foams I tried, they fit tighter on earpieces. It does matter because foam covers TM5 rear ports, dampening them and thus affecting the sound. NOTE: It is also important how earpiece and foam fits one’s ear so you may like other foams, rings or even naked earpieces.
How I noted my comparison
A = B, when I hear no difference
A >= B, when difference is subtle or hard to detect
A > B, when difference is apparent while not valuable
A >> B, when difference is apparent and valuable
ATTENTION: Do not read A >> B as “A is much better than B”. To learn how the difference affects to either headphone benefits, read comments following the evaluation carefully.
Soundstage: TM5 > PK1km
Layering (depth): TM5 >= PK1km
Positioning: TM5 >= PK1km
TM5 soundstage is not much larger than PK1km, but it is airier and well opened. Listening to TM5, I miss bigger cans much less. TM5 embeds the music into the real word around you, while PK1km creates its own realm and ask you to choose between it and the surroundings. TM5 instruments positioning is more stable, each instrument has its own place and keeps it well.
Bass weight: TM5 >> PK1km
Bass depth: PK1km >= TM5
Bass quality: PK1km >= TM5
TM5 has phenomenal bass I ever heard from earbuds – it is big, full-bodied and pretty even inside the bass region. At the same time it is well integrated with the rest of the spectrum. It does not reign over the music, but rather supports it, providing a solid foundation. TM5 bass is also of good quality, it is a bit softer than tight PK1km bass, but in no event it is loose itself. In a word – TM5 bass is a luxury. It is possible that my PK1km has a tad less bass than stock PK1, but TM5 bass is a whole different story. There is no chance that stock PK1 or any other high grade earbud I ever heard can meet TM5 bass mightiness.
Mids in a whole: TM5 mids are excellent – extremely transparent, very even and tonally accurate. Surprisingly, TM5 big bass does not bleed into the mids at all, they are dead neutral to me. I rather hear the source mids than TM5 own voice, which is almost imperceptible to me. PK1km mids are opposite, they sound forward and exciting themselves, they bite, they are inflammatory.
Mids details: PK1km > TM5. Both have plenty of details but PK1km accentuates them. Such exaggeration helps it to sound more revealing with lesser sources. With more detailed sources I prefer TM5 whose details are better integrated with the sound. I also feel like TM5 is more forgivable to the bad records, compression artifacts and other input faults.
Vocals: TM5 = PK1km. PK1km vocals sound more lively but occasionally sibilant, while TM5 is more calm and reliable. PK1km colors the voices, sometime for good, sometime for bad in comparison. TM5 impartial approach is a safer bet; it sings smoothly without interleaving glorious strokes of luck with disappointing faults.
Electric guitars: PK1km >= TM5. Guitars are sharper and pleasantly aggressive on PK1km, which roars enthusiastically in a Grado manner. TM5 is not a slouch either here, but it is a little too polite when driven by iPod 5.5 gen. With Pico, TM5 catches up with PK1km so the choice becomes a matter of preference – you choose presentation, sit and row, not absolute quality.
Highs quality: TM5 > PK1km
Highs strength: PK1km > TM5
Resistance to sibilance: TM5 > PK1km
PK1km are emphasized and a little recessed, resulting in somewhat aggressive presentation and sibilance at times. I prefer well balanced, extended and thus non-fatiguing highs of TM5.
Clarity: PK1km > TM5. There is subtle echo in TM5 sound, which is filling the gaps between the instruments. PK1km background is blacker and clarity is higher.
Instruments separation: TM5 > PK1km. At the same time, it is easier to separate instruments on TM5, especially with complex music.
Speed: TM5 >= PK1km. Despite the sharper sound of PK1km, I feel like TM5 is tad faster. Anyway, it is hard category to evaluate and I would not insist on my interpretation.
Tonal balance: TM5 > PK1km. Aside the gorgeous bass, TM5 is ruler flat comparing to PK1km, which has some noticeable peaks.
Genres versatility: TM5 > PK1km. TM5 is perfect all-rounder, it plays everything nice and I doubt whether it may fault with either genre. It shines with complex music (progressive, symphonic metal, orchestra classic), bass demanding genres (hip-hop, house) and those which require strong imaging capabilities (trance, ambient). I may prefer PK1km with the genres which benefit from lively detailed vocals and aggressive guitars – blues (which is my favorite), bluesrock, hardrock, metal and alternative. At the same time, there is some music PK1km struggles with; e.g. it may get congested when many instruments play.
Background play: TM5 > PK1km. When driven quiet, TM5 provides quality musical accompaniment for mental activities (say this review writing) without distracting an attention. Things change with volume and it is hard to keep indifference while listening loud. Being a more involving and emotional earphone, PK1km can not offer me the same duality. TM5 lets me to listen with any volume, including the very quiet, and I really appreciate this. In contrary, PK1km begs me to make music loud and have a fun.
Efficiency: TM5 > PK1km. TM5 concept was “Hi-Fi and high efficiency”. Mission complete – Sansa Clip drives it nice, while struggles driving PK1km. I feel no any signs of power deficiency using TM5 with either source.
Benefits from amping: PK1km >= TM5. At the same time, TM5 sounds better from iPod LOD > Pico or Supermicro than straight out of iPod. I believe it just faithfully reproduces higher quality of better audio path rather than improves its own dynamics with more power like PK1km does. This is why I do not describe the benefits like a “better controlled bass” and so on – they depend strictly on the amp used.
Transparency: TM5 >> PK1km. I believe so because TM5 sounds pretty different with various sources. Even the bass, the only distinctive feature of TM5, varies from amp to amp. Though PK1km own voice is pleasant, it reigns over any source/amp signature. As opposed, TM5 imposes few to the sound of the rig. Look, I noticed very slight recession of the mids, driving TM5 directly by iPod 5.5 gen. Trying the different setups, I found that this is not the TM5 fault – mids were just right with Sansa Clip, forward and aggressive with Supermicro, warmer with Pico and dryer with E5.
Comfort: TM5 = stock PK1. Both are regular earbuds, comfortable and easy on ears. Both exhibit the same problems – fit is unstable, while sound extremely depends on fit. Big TM5 bass helps with a comfort a bit since you do not have to cram TM5 deep into the ears to get adequate bass. Stock PK1 shape is a little bit more comfortable to me.
Look and build: TM5 = PK1km. Just the same - plain and inconspicuous design which looks like zillions of $2 earbuds. TM5 earpieces shape is exactly the same to Sennheiser MX500.
Accessories: I review the prototype with no box, foams, anything else so nothing to say here. I wish the production unit will have 2-piece cable. It has a sense since TM5 sounds good from the players like Clip and Shuffle and extra cable length is not appreciated with these sources. I also hope vendor will choose appropriate stock foams.
Isolation: TM5 = PK1km = 0. No isolation here at all, this is an earbud. Do not use it for isolation in noisy places, cranking the volume up without remorse. Save your hearing, if you need isolation get yourself some canal phone, IEM or closed can.
You are probably looking for conclusions here, but I write my reviews upside down, so look for the conclusions at the beginning. To fill the gap, I post some useful link here:
my Earbud buyers's guide
I would include TM5 into this guide soon.
Edited by kostalex - 7/13/10 at 4:27am