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Clash of the Titans: HJE900 vs. CK10 vs. Turbine Pro Gold

post #1 of 125
Thread Starter 
Intro

A fortunate series of events has allowed me to be in possession of three currently-popular (to avoid using the term FOTM) earphones simultaneously. Despite only one of them actually being a recently released model, all three have generated quite a bit of interest lately as a result of dropping prices and an influx of favorable reviews. A three-way shootout was obviously in order. The contenders are:

Audio-Technica ATH-CK10 ($200)
Monster Turbine Pro Gold ($210)
Panasonic RP-HJE900 ($110)

I was originally planning to review the HJE900 and Turbines in separate threads but a couple of people showed interest in a head-to-head comparison. I’ve already reviewed the CK10 in fair detail in my multi-review thread so they are included here only for reference purposes. They are and have always been the de-facto benchmark for all of my other IEM reviews but I have tried to be more explicit with my comparisons here.

As anyone who’s been following the CK10 thread or my own multi-review probably knows, I consider the CK10 to be the best earphone I have heard for the type of sound I find appealing. They manage to sound very musical despite being balanced, neutral, and accurate – a hard trick to pull off. The CK10 only needs two Balanced Armatures per side to achieve this – it is not part of the triple-driver IEM elite which has ruled the IEM game until the Sennheiser IE series earphones showed head-fi what properly implemented dynamic drivers were capable of. The Panasonic HJE900 and Monster Turbine Pro build on that lesson by offering two different but distinctly dynamic sound signatures to the crowded upper-mid-range IEM segment.

Packaging & Accessories

To be honest I am only marginally concerned with packaging and accessories when it comes to $200 earphones. Of course it would be nice to get some tips that fit and a protective carrying case but I doubt that the way a $200 earphone is packaged is a deal-breaker for anyone here at head-fi. For the record Monster wins the packaging battle by a mile – that box wouldn’t be out of place holding some pricy perfume. The Turbines also come with the widest variety of tips – silicone single-flanges in three sizes, tri-flanges in two sizes, Monster’s new gel-filled supertips, and Comply foamies – as well as two carrying cases, some ear guides, a 3.5->6.3mm adapter, and a shirt clip. The CK10 covers the bare minimum with a clamshell carrying case and single-flange tips. A microfiber cloth is thrown in to keep the titanium faceplates fingerprint-free. The HJE900 is modestly packaged with a carrying pouch and single-flange tips.

Appearance & Build Quality



Though a highly subjective evaluation, I still prefer the appearance of my tiny dark-blue Audio-Technicas. They are by far the most discrete as the housings all but disappear completely when a deep seal is achieved. For those who instead want to attract attention the Turbines offer an earful of bling that borders on vulgarity with their gold paint and distinctive housing shape. The HJE900 slots neatly in the middle – the slate gray housings are quite discrete but the earphones are significantly larger than the CK10s and the long strain reliefs/cable connectors are very distinctive.

Ironically, the structure of the ‘Gold’ Turbines utilizes the least exotic materials of the three earphones – the CK10 boasts a titanium faceplate and the HJE900 – a Cubic Zirconium housing. Without a doubt these IEMs are three of the best-built earphones I’ve ever had my hands on. The CK10s feel absolutely indestructible with their rubber-covered steel inner structure and titanium faceplate. Cabling is rubbery, extremely soft, and very thick and the meaty 3.5mm I-plug is properly relieved. The Monster Turbine Pro addresses the known issues with the build of the original Turbines by offering proper strain reliefs on the sturdy metal shells, a thicker cable, and an L-type 3.5mm plug. The HJE900 features rock-solid (literally) Cubic Zirconium housings and the holy grail of earphone durability – detachable, user-replaceable cables. If I were to do some nitpicking with the HJE900 it would be with the cabling itself. The cable is thick but has a slightly more unwieldy memory character than the Turbine and CK10 cables, yielding a cheaper feel. The plastic sheath also doesn’t give the rather loose cable cinch enough grip to stay in place. Lastly, the cable is definitely not of the advertised length – the specsheet reads 1.2m but in reality it is at least six inches shorter than the CK10 cable, which is also rated at 1.2m. As a result even with my 5’ 11” frame the HJE900 is just a couple of inches short of giving me freedom of movement I’m used to with my other IEMs.

Fit & Comfort



The CK10 has always been my personal favorite IEM in terms of fit – the housings are extremely light and fit easily inside my ear, allowing for deep insertion. Despite their obvious over-the-ear design the CK10 can actually be worn cord-down with longer tips and a shallower fit. Either way they simply disappear during listening sessions. The Turbine Pros aren’t too far behind in comfort. Despite the weighty housings they stay in extremely well both cord-up and cord-down. Although the strain reliefs look like they may get in the way of deep insertion, with larger tips (more on this later) the Turbines come nowhere near bottoming out on my ear. Though the housings are fatter than those of the HJE900, the front edges are rounded and don’t obstruct insertion. The Cubic Zirconium HJE900s are heavier than the Turbines and feature a shorter nozzle, preventing deep insertion. The large strain reliefs/cable connector help limit insertion depth and their weight exerts torque on the earphones when they are worn cable-down. The HJE900 can be worn cord-up but those with smaller ears may have trouble keeping the cords in place. Wearing them over-the-ear can also be problematic for taller users as 1.2m cable is a gross overstatement. All in all the HJE900 are by no means uncomfortable; just not quite up there with the other two.

Isolation & Microphonics

And yet again the CK10 walks away with the top prize. With smaller tips (2nd smallest Sony Hybrids for me) the CK10 can be inserted very deeply and attenuates external noise a great deal. Not quite up there with what an Etymotic ER4 is capable of but not too far off, either. Microphonics are completely absent in the thick, rubbery cord. If all IEM manufacturers sourced this cable from Audio-Technica the world would be a better place.

The Turbines come in second, isolating far more than one might expect. Even with standard single-flange tips the Turbines are a full step above most straight-barrel IEMs. With dual or triple-flanges they actually get quite close to the CK10 in isolation. Though not as dead-quiet as the CK10 cable, the Turbine cord carries little noise, especially when worn cord-up.

The HJE900 comes in a not-so-distant last. The earphone is ported at the front and isolates less than the Turbines, though the attenuation is quite respectable for a straight-barrel earphone. The cable is the most energetic of the group and carries the most noise. Though the microphonics are still very low in the grand scheme of things, the HJE900 is the only one of the three earphones that I felt needed to be worn cord-up when moving about.

Sound

[Testing Setup]

All on-the-go listening was done straight from an unamped Sansa Fuze using a selection of tracks in 160-320kbps mp3 format featuring a variety of genres including Rock & Metal, Pop, Classical, Acoustic, Blues, Jazz, Trance, and Electronica. Critical listening was done via an optical-fed iBasso D10 with stock opamps using a wider selection of tracks in FLAC and Windows Media lossless formats.

[Specifications]

Audio-Technica ATH-CK10 (MSRP: $399)
Driver: Dual Balanced Armature | Impedance: 55 Ω | Sensitivity: 107 dB/mW | Frequency Response Range: 20 - 15,000 Hz
Cable: 4 ft (1.2 m), Y-type, I-plug

Monster Turbine Pro Gold (MSRP: $299)
Driver: Dynamic
Cable: 3.7 ft (1.1 m), Y-type, L-plug

Panasonic RP-HJE900 (MSRP: $249)
Driver: 8.5mm Dynamic | Impedance: 26 Ω | Sensitivity: 100 dB/mW | Frequency Response Range: 6 - 28,000 Hz
Cable: 3.6 ft (1.1 m), Y-type, I-plug



I have spent long enough with the CK10 to know that the 2nd smallest Sony Hybrids give me the best combination of sound quality and isolation. But slightly larger tips and shallower seal still result in great sound along with isolation that doesn’t result in life-threatening situations when I’m outside. Others have found that mutilated triflanges do the trick. Either way with a good seal the CK10s provides a sound with great balance, incredible speed, and class-leading detail and clarity. The low end is smooth, tight, and fairly extended, with sharp, instantaneous impact that will likely leave bass-lovers underwhelmed. Listening to Porcupine Tree’s The Blind House I was amazed by how delicate, controlled, and precise all drumwork sounds on the CK10 – the longer decay times and greater impact of the other two IEMs provide a very different (and arguably more natural) listening experience. The midrange is smooth and accurate. In terms of tonality all three of these IEMs are among the best I’ve heard. The CK10s have a slight disadvantage in being BA phones, which have always sounded slightly ‘artificial’ to me in terms of timbre, but still manage to hold their own. The treble is best described as being crisp and sweet – sparkly, but not excessively so. There is a fine line between sparkle and sibilance, and the CK10 can occasionally be caught flirting with it from afar. The HJE900 performs similarly in that respect and several popular IEMs (such as the Klipsch S4) tread across unabashedly. This also means that harshness and sibilance will be audible on recordings already prone to such traits. For those bothered by slight brightness there are better options out there. Those who dislike de-emphasized treble, however, will be impressed. Moving on, resolution and imaging are both excellent. The soundstage is wider than average and has good depth – the former on par with the Turbines and the latter – just short of the HJE900s. Transparency is the most impressive of the three – the CK10s add no color to the sound. That said, I find them more forgiving of poor quality source material than both the HJE900 and MTP. The CK10 is also the best of the three for low-volume listening. The HJE900 is still engaging and detailed at low volumes, just not quite as impressive. On the other hand the Turbines lose authority and beg to be cranked up.



Moving to the Turbines from the CK10 shows a world of difference. First off, the Turbines are much more sensitive to insertion depth than the other two – shove them in too far and they lose clarity and air; not far enough and bass depth drops off significantly. I found the soft Soundmagic biflanges to work well for me in terms of providing the right insertion depth effortlessly, but Monster’s own fit kit will likely satisfy most. Sound-wise the Turbines are the epitome of a high-end dynamic IEM. When properly inserted the Turbines can nearly match the CK10 on detail and provide a much thicker overall sound without sounding unbalanced. I was personally impressed with the sound of the original turbines, which provided ample bass with almost no bleed into the midrange. The Pro version follows the same philosophy while correcting the original Turbines’ biggest weakness – mediocre treble response. The Pros are also superior in every other area – detail, clarity, control, soundstaging, and separation all undergo improvement to varying degrees.

I no longer have the Original Turbines for a detailed direct comparison, which is just as well since the CK10 is supposed to be my point of reference. But there’s no comparing the bass put out by the CK10 to that of the Turbines. The Turbines go deeper and hit harder than both the CK10 and, to a lesser degree, the HJE900, encroaching on territory usually occupied by my Atrio M8. The dynamic drivers do a better job of texturing the low end while keeping up with the CK10 in accuracy and detail and giving up a small amount of speed and clarity. With a Trance track, Bizzare Contact’s Run Away, the MTP show the sort of poised, quick, and impeccably-textured sound they are capable of delivering. Transients as a whole are very impressive on the MTPs but just can’t quite compete with high-end armature phones such as my CK10 and TF10, as well as (from memory) the ER4. Same goes for resolution, especially at the high end – the Turbines have a lot of resolving power but they are slanted towards coherency rather than resolution. The midrange is impossibly smooth and just as accurate and textured as the bass. ‘Thick’ is a good term. The midrange cannot be called recessed and neither can the treble, unlike with the original Turbines. Instead, everything is properly spaced and positioned. The Turbines are less forward and intimate than the HJE900 and yield in soundstage depth (but not width) to the Panasonics just as the CK10s do. The high end is natural and well-extended but lacks the sparkle of the others. If the CK10 is tending towards ‘slightly bright’, the Turbines definitely stick just north of ‘neutral’ with the Panasonics somewhere between. Partially for this reason the Turbines are also least engaging of the three earphones at extremely low volumes. Though the specs of the Turbine Pros are not published, they are clearly less efficient than the HJE900 and about on-par with the CK10. Just like the original Turbines they do an adequate job of cutting down on hiss with the Amp3 and my netbook HPO.



Last but not least, the HJE900, Panasonic’s top-of-the-line in-ear. Though Panasonic is not a name oft-mentioned on head-fi, the HJE900 certainly distinguishes itself physically with replaceable cabling and unique Cubic Zirconium housings. But creative gimmicks won’t save a mediocre earphone when pitted against the ATH-CK10 and MTP. Luckily, the HJE900 sounds every bit as interesting as it looks. In overall sound they are certainly closer to their dynamic brethren – powerful, engaging sound with good decay and surprisingly accurate tonality. Bass extension is quite good, surpassing the CK10s but falling short of the MTP, and impact is fast and tight. Low-end response seems less linear than both the MTP and CK10, however, revealing a slant towards mid/upper bass. The upper bass boost gives them a warm tonality – warmer even than the original Turbines – but not excessively so. In fact, the unique presentation of the HJE900 is defined by the combination of slightly warm vocals and crisp, sparkly treble. The midrange is detailed and has a lusher feel compared to the dryer, more accurate CK10s. The soundstage is fairly close and intimate, but not narrow or closed-sounding. The HJE900 do have more depth than width (the CK10s are the opposite and the MTP are a compromise), separating instruments nicely and imaging each well. Listening to A Perfect Circle’s cover of People are People is a revelation with the HJE900 - while the Turbines bring the drums too far forward and the CK10s are too busy dissecting the keyboard track, the HJE900s sound just right, providing a complete picture without skimping on detail. The highs are more similar to the CK10 than the Turbines, with a good amount of sparkle minus some of the detail and transparency. The Panasonics are the most efficient of the three earphones but still don’t hiss too badly with the Amp3. They are, however, the most forgiving of a poor fit and the sound doesn’t change as much as the others with different tips.

Summary & Conclusions

For me the ATH-CK10 is still the phone to beat for clarity, detail, and transparency. The ridiculous speed and excellent separation and imaging allow the CK10 to dissect tracks into the tiniest details. It loses the bass quantity battle by a long shot against the two dynamic earphones but certainly holds its own in quality, never becoming overwhelmed or imbalanced. The decidedly analytical sound signature appeals to the detail freak in me. Still, unlike the Ety ER4 or, to a lesser extent, the RE0, the CK10 rarely sounds dry or boring – instead shimmering with energy and excitement.

The Turbines are the most relaxed and smoothest of the three to my ears. For those with treble sensitiveness they are the natural choice, offering an extended and natural high end without the sparkle of the others. Bass lovers should take notice as well – despite being rather balanced in the grand order of things the Turbines can still put out impressive bass, both in quantity and quality. They have the most sub-bass of the three and are missing the mid/upper-bass hump of the Panasonics (and the original Turbines). They are also the most multi-faceted earphones of the group, with a signature that changes dramatically with tip choice and insertion depth – good enough to satisfy both the casual listener and the tweak freak.

The HJE900 provides a great balance of fun and refinement. The bass and treble are quite a bit more intimate than with either the Turbines or CK10s but the sound is beautifully dynamic and involving. They are perhaps the most ‘musical’ of the three due to the warmed-up midrange and sparkly treble. The powerful and punchy bass is easy to like and manages to stay in balance with the rest of the sound even on bass-heavy tracks. With a price tag half as scary as those on the CK10s and MTPs, the HJE900 are nothing short of a stellar value.

As I’ve said several times in the past, at the level that these IEMs represent there usually are no clear winners or losers. Personal preferences are the chief selection factor between the top-tier earphones, as well they should be. What is the point of pitch-perfect sound if one doesn’t enjoy it? Value ratings are a moot point as well – to those looking at $200+ earphones the price differences between most of the top-tiers are negligible. Personally I would rather be listening to the CK10 or HJE900 than the Turbines except for a limited range of genres (such as trance, for which the MTP is simply unbeatable). While certainly very proficient technically, perhaps more so than even the CK10, the MTP is a bit of a jack-of-all trades and just not as easy to like as the in-your-face HJE900 or the poised-and-precise CK10. But those are my personal preferences. The MTP has already found a wide following which will only grow with time. I applaud Monster for finally joining the ranks of top-tier IEM manufacturers with their 2nd–gen offering, Audio-Technica for maintaining hi-fidelity excellence with their IEM line, and Panasonic for bringing a unique and competitive product into a crowded market despite having no brand following on the hi-fi scene.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Orange1, who let me borrow her beloved HJE900s for an entire week (actually came out to more like 2 weeks with shipping and all). Such concern for my aching wallet is very appreciated .


Please feel free to let me know of any typos or other errors. Statistics and past experience dictate that I should've screwed up at least three times in this review (once per every 1k words ).
post #2 of 125
Great review! always loved reading your comparison/impression on the earphones
post #3 of 125
Thanks for the review! I was real eager to read it. With regards to the Panasonics, I was surprised to hear your positive comments about the mids. Other reviewers had described the mids as slightly recessed.

Can you comment on how the Panasonics compare to the Re0 in mids, highs, and overall detail?
post #4 of 125
Agh, I'm meant to be asleep! Anyway, I've just realized that insertion depth of the CK10s looks very similar to that of the PL50s, so I can stop worrying about the whole isolation thing.

Cheers for the write-up, just reaffirming my interest in the CK10s.
post #5 of 125
thanks for the awesome review ljokerl. The HJE900 is very tempting especially at their current price. I need to stop visiting Head-Fi...
post #6 of 125
Thanks for the awesome review, definitely happy with my order of the panasonics after reading this.

Provides an excellent benchmark of three of the most talked about earphones since I joined, and a well written one at that.
post #7 of 125
nice review!

However still not sure if I'm going to get them yet. For some reason even though it sounds nice on the review it turned me off on the hje900..maybe partly due to the short cable
post #8 of 125
Thanks. I just got S4s and I'm having sort of a mixed impression so far. They are some things I love about them...and others I'm not so sure.

I think I'm gonna let them burn in for a week....and if I still don't love them, I'm gonna return them for a full refund and pick up the HJE900's. It really sounds they they retain the things I love about the S4 but remove the things I'm not in love with.
post #9 of 125
This is a great review of 3 biggies i've been contemplating for awhile. Thanks for the awesome job.
post #10 of 125
Excellent review and I concur at least with the MTP and CK10, but I've not heard the Panasonic earphones yet.
post #11 of 125
great review. it makes me want the ck10s so hard (harder than before, if possible )... i kinda want to see the pannys now. everyone says they look fantastic.
post #12 of 125
some questions about the hje900..how is it wearing over the ear? the metal thing which is probably where the cable connects to the housing looks pretty long and might make the cable even shorter. also would you say the cable has that much memory like say a shure iem after you been using it a while
post #13 of 125
Nice review as always!
post #14 of 125
Owning two of the three IEMS (CK10 and MTPG), excellent analysis Mike. I also have the Pannys here too, soon to be sent abroad, and I have just let them burn in for two straight days. My big question is, are you buying them too? I probably will not, only because I really just need two top tier IEMs around, and I still really appreciate the lowly PR1 Pros, especially for long-term, laid back listening. Thanks for turning me onto the Cyclones and, along with Shigzeo, the CK10s.
post #15 of 125
Thread Starter 
Thanks, everyone!

Quote:
Originally Posted by PolloLoco View Post
Can you comment on how the Panasonics compare to the Re0 in mids, highs, and overall detail?
The RE0 is actually pretty similar to the CK10 minus some of the treble sparkle and bottom-end detail as well as resolution and speed, so the majority of the CK10 vs HJE900 comparisons should apply to the RE0 as well. From memory the RE0 has a thinner, more analytical midrange than the Panasonics, which makes detail more apparent but of course makes them sound less lush. Treble-wise the RE0 doesn't really sizzle the way the Panasonics do but the high end is more detailed on the RE0. Of course I can't be sure since I don't have the RE0 anymore but that's my gut feeling.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AwakenedBeing View Post
thanks for the awesome review ljokerl. The HJE900 is very tempting especially at their current price. I need to stop visiting Head-Fi...
Quote:
Originally Posted by rawrster View Post
nice review!

However still not sure if I'm going to get them yet. For some reason even though it sounds nice on the review it turned me off on the hje900..maybe partly due to the short cable
For all you guys who already have the CK10 there's no point in moving from them to the HJE900 unless you find yourself seeking a more dynamic sound. Like jant71 once told me, all you really need is one tough-as-nails Japanese IEM .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fandangoya View Post
Thanks. I just got S4s and I'm having sort of a mixed impression so far. They are some things I love about them...and others I'm not so sure.

I think I'm gonna let them burn in for a week....and if I still don't love them, I'm gonna return them for a full refund and pick up the HJE900's. It really sounds they they retain the things I love about the S4 but remove the things I'm not in love with.
The HJE900 are on a different playing field than the Klipsch. All of the fun with none of the regrets. I know the S4 has a large following but really it's an $80 earphone and it sounds like one (albeit an above-average one). The HJE900, on the other hand, is very close to justifying its full MSRP of $250.
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