Ok, an admission to begin with – I’m thoroughly biased and judgemental. But then who isn’t? If the opinions of us normal people were based on scientific reason and rationality, we’d all be brains floating in giant tanks and politicians would be our minions, earnestly licking and polishing row upon row of shiny glass.
I was always rubbish at science. I vaguely remember the chemical symbol for gold, a physics teacher talking about reanimating bodies with electricity and how to make woodlice stoned by putting them in gas taps. Beyond that, it’s all a blur and I’ve been blagging my way through the atmosphere in this shell of bone and jelly ever since.
So, just want to warn you: the review you’re about to read is not written by a man with body odour problems, a pair of safety goggles, charts of data and a supercomputer pervily called Loretta. Instead, it’s been typed out on a work pc during stolen moments between web surfing and drinking industrial strength coffee, and contains conjecture, personal thought and sprawling, tilting cities of perspectives so strangely constructed a parkour champion would take one look then jump off the nearest bridge screaming.
The body odour problem is probably fair enough though, come to think of it.
Having established I know nothing about anything but am prepared to defend that nothing in internet forums, let me lead you gently by the hand into the whole point of this review. Basically, a short while ago I posted a review on Head-fi comparing the Ortofon e-Q7 and CK10 iems - go here if you want to read it http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/484834/why-so-seeeerious-hahahaha-ck10-vs-e-q7-and-a-rave-about-where-to-get-them-from - and was rather fulsome in my praise for iheadphones (www.iheadphones.co.uk, natch), a fantastic UK reseller that I’ve had many painfree dealings with. As a result of that review, I was naturally thanked by the company for being so kiss-ass towards them. I hope you all went and threw lots of pocket money at them.
Then time passed, I grew some beards, shaved them off, and last week took the plunge and purchased the beautifully orgasmic Earsonic SM3s from a different retailer over here (I’ve urged Ben at iheadphones to look into stocking these, as I’m sure some of you would appreciate having extra sources to buy from). So there I was, minding my own business, when out of the blue I got an email from Ben asking if I wanted a pair of DDMs to review. No strings attached, just that they enjoyed my other review so much they wanted to give me a crack at these new Japanese babies they’d taken under their wing and to let you guys know what I thought.
Hard choice eh? Whaddya gonna do? Suckle at the corporate teet like a good little boy or get all Hollywood action hero, stick it to The Man and play the lactose intolerant card?
It’s a free pair of iems to roadtest, and the chance to wheel a few crap, rusty jokes out of the shed. You do the maths.
So, here I am, about to tell you all about the Radius. At the same time, and I want to state this loud and clear: all you stiff suits over at iheadphones should know that I may be just a tiny David to your retail Goliath , but there’s no way you’ll compromise my artistic honesty and integrity, OK? No strings attached, remember? I’m gonna tell it like it is, and there’s (adopts squinty Clint voice ) NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT! YOU WANT THE TRUTH?
These Radius DDMs are pretty impressive earphones, and their lowish price point makes them a bit of a no-brainer. More later.
But first, the geektastic stats:
Click your mouse button here to see pictures, words, prices and more:
Ta da! How about that? Pretty reasonable for what is the first dual-driver dynamic universal iem on the market eh? Get ‘em while they’re hot, boys and girls....
For those of you who are into that kind of stuff, I’ve been sent some pdfs with lots of nice drawings, frequency charts and facts and figures for you to look at. Fancy stuff – apparently DDM stands for Dual Diaphragm Matrix, but as that just makes me think of an ad for contraception starring Keanu Reeves, lets simply call them the DDMs shall we?
I’ve uploaded the spec sheets here if you want them. Probably worth a download, if only to see how their graphic designer attempts to mimic Indian takeaway menus in all their ‘stylish’ glory:
Check it out. As you’ll see from one of them, the frequency curve is pretty flat, albeit with a pretty sharp drop-off at 10khz. That might explain the slight lack of top end treble I’ve noticed in some tracks when evaluating, but then again I’m not up on these hertz things. It always reminds me of the bit in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Breakfast of Champions’ where one of the characters notices a van drive by with the word HERTZ emblazoned on the side, and responds “It sure does, it sure does”....
While we’re on the subject of Indian takeaway menus, notice how the spec sheets I’ve upped have that browny burgandy background and gold lettering? I guess that must be the aesthetic Radius have chosen for the HP-TWF11 (again with the confusing letters and numbers. What is it with iem manufacturers and names? If they’re not calling them after rubbish music makers – note to Monster’s marketing team: I’ve copyrighted the ‘Monster Pro 747 Aircraft Engine Beatz Jedwood N2 Blud-E Pulpz’, so hands off – they’re giving them random numbers and letters in a bid to confuse the hell out of you. Stand up and take a bow, Sennheiser.)
Anyway, ahem, back to this gold and brown / burgundy aesthetic. It’s pretty retro, don’t you think? Sort of has a Seventies / QVC shopping channel chic to it, in a borderline naff/genius way. A bit of a Marmite, love-it-or-hate-it thing that is sure to divide opinion and strikes me as a bit of a gamble for Radius. Me, I’m a child of the seventies and love all that stuff, and I applaud the DDMs for at least being unique in their design sensibility, but still...
It starts with the Easter egg box they’ve chosen. Seriously, when it arrived, I thought I’d slipped through a worm hole in my sleep and woken in March. For verily, this piece of plastic and carboard is an iconic classic of contemporary earphone packaging – if you’re living in 1975, that is. Not that they had iems back then, but you get the point. Actually, I wonder if Radius make a huge canned headphone version of the DDMs? Now that would be something. I’d love to see someone wearing those.
So, yeah, the box is cool/not cool (delete according to taste).
Inside, there are the iems themselves, fitted with medium tips, and two pairs each of small, medium and large tips. Then there’s the carry case – a smart, fat, black pac-man of a leather clam shell that has recessed foam inside one half, to allow you to put the ‘phones away properly, and a mesh on the other side to hold tips, pictures of your sweetheart, etc, in which Radius have nicely placed a little cleaning cloth. All in all, its a pretty sweet little case and I like it a lot.
As for the DDMs, well for you cableholics out there, you have a cloth covered affair, à la the Ortofon E-Q7s, but thinner and extending all the way up to the stress relief on the earpiece housing. I’m happy enough with it, but its not even on the same planet as the CK10 for quality. Time will tell if the cloth ends up splitting from prolonged exposure to zips and the like, but for now mine is holding together, and as a man who doesn’t plan beyond the next five minutes, that’s good enough for me.
What’s going to be more contentious is the styling of the earpieces. Radius claim that the DDMs represent “refined luxurious design and precise detail, well balanced mixture of classic apperance and latest technology”, and while I won’t take issue with the ‘precise detail’ or ‘laterst technology’, the rest either indicates they have a different idea of classicism and luxury in the far east, or someone in Radius’ team was tasked with market researching western MP3 player fashions and thought “Sod that” and just watched reruns of ‘Starsky & Hutch’ and ‘The Sweeney’.
Make no mistake, the DDMs are real throwbacks to a more innocent age, coming on like someone’s pimped a pair of Galaxy Minstrels (for our overseas viewers, please click here: http://www.google.co.uk/images?hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=89U&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&channel=s&q=galaxy%20minstrels&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi), and you’ll just have to make your own mind up whether you dig their far out duds, man, or whether they’re just, like, completely retarded dude. Me, I’m in the former camp, but trendy and me don’t exactly share the same tent.
But what do they sound like you idiot? Get to the point!
This is the part when I put them in my ears and tell you about them. Ready?
But first, a message from our philosophical sponsors:
The other day, I was listening to Radio 4’s Today Programme (Middle Class news and current affairs thing for those who don’t like cheesy DJs) and their ‘Thought For The Day’ segment came on. Now this is where they get a religious leader of some sort to talk about how the Football World Cup reminds them of Jesus, that kind of thing. Normally, I turn my radio off in disgust at that point, but for some reason I decided to listen to this one. Glad I did, because for a change it was quite enlightening – they had this non-christian guy on and he referenced the story of the famous philosopher who one day was walking down the beach, trying to figure out the meaning of life. On his journey, he came across a small boy digging a hole in the sand, then repeatedly going down to the water, filling his little bucket, returning and putting the water in the hole. The philosopher apparently asked him what he was doing, to which the boy replied “I’m going to put the whole sea in my hole”. Initially, the philosopher – being an egghead and all – thought the boy was stupid, but then, in a poetic flash of inspiration, saw this as a metaphor for the human mind. His reasoning went like this: the human mind is so tiny and limited in its capacity and knowledge, and yet it constantly seeks to cram the whole universe into its understanding, just like the boy was trying to do with the water and his hole.
What's that got to do with iems then? Bear with me. See, I figure that today’s high-end earphone manufacturers are not that dissimilar, chipping away at the boundaries of science in an attempt to cram whole oceans of music into ever smaller holes. It’s an important concept, this idea that you can distill the emotional and visceral impact of a live or studio or computer generated performance – that seething mass of both measurable and intangible elements – into little delivery tubes that fit in your ears. Put a shell to your ear and hear the ocean! Put an iem in your lugholes and be at a Kings of Leon concert! See how far we’ve come! Two corresponding points on a biological line that stretches back to primitive times.
So, I figure that fundamentally all we are doing when we write about these earphones of ours is essentially to compare different shells. It’s a sobering, humbling thought to realise you are no different from a cave-dweller really. Seems my girlfriend’s been right all along. Hmm.
So here’s the question, finally: DDMs – what kind of shell are they?
• A strangely shaped conch.
Aside from their ‘distinctive’ stylings, the DDMs are equally divisive with their fit. Nothing new there I suppose – most iems have opposing camps when it comes to fit – but these do seem extra special in that regard.
Spend some time if you can browsing the review threads already in this place – Joker’s War & Peace (http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/478568/multi-iem-review-75-iems-compared-radius-ddm-and-jvc-ha-fx67-added-06-07) is a good example, as is the main Appreciation thread http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/486541/radius-hp-twf11r-review-and-impressions-thread - and you’ll see that some people find it hard to get a good fit, while others have no issues. Basically, the angle of the nozzle, coupled with that round disk, means that twisting to get a good seal ends up leaving the driver unit at an angle to the ear. It doesn’t sit flush – at least for me, and I have pretty standard ears judging by experience.
We’re only talking a smallish angle here, but that non-flush does mean the retro blingtasticness of the housing is made even more obvious to outside eyes. Again, its up to you whether you care or not. You might like the attention, you little flirt you. To be honest, I ride the tube to work every day, so I couldn’t give a monkey’s what others think - Central London underground travel soon makes you accustomed to being intimately acquainted with the armpits, necks and retching halitosis of others. At the end of the day, we’re all so wrapped up in our own worries anyway, wearing earphones that make you look like a gay pirate auditioning for the Bay City Rollers is hardly going to scratch the surface, is it?
• A beautifully balanced sounding crustacean house
Another admission here: this is the first pair of dynamic earphones I’ve tried that cost more than £50. They’re also the first pair of dynamic earphones I’ve tried that sound really, really good.
I’m not sure why that first sentence is the case. Guess its down to progressing from those early Apple ibuds to more expensive Sennheisers, to Denons, then taking a sudden left turn up the ramp into Ety ER4P territory. That move from the bass-heavy beasts to the gently detailed BA creatures was one that opened my ears to what was possible with iems – here, all of a sudden, was all that detail and delicate information I knew was missing. As someone who listens to a lot of acoustic, organic sounding ‘real’ music, everything clicked into focus. The rest of my search has been along that BA path, from CK10 to E-Q7 and finally to the impeccably perfect SM3.
So to be sent these things using not one but two dynamic drivers, well it was intriguing to say the least. How would they compare? Would my head expand from all that megabass to the point I could no longer walk through doors and people would call me Benjamin Ballon? Would the sound spectrum be more smeared than an MP’s reputation? Would the instrumentation and imaging be so loose, deformed and discoloured that it made charity store jumpers look like haute couture?
To my amazement, none of the above actually. In fact, even out of the box, sans burn-in, the DDMs sound so balanced and wonderfully natural that all of those worries melted away instantly. From first listen, I knew these were something special, even more so given the affordable price. Take the bass.
THE BASS. The bass. T-h-e b-a-s-s.
See what I did there? I used different sizes and colours to convey the ability of the DDMs to effortlessly convey different bass textures! How creative was that?
It’s true. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not one of those basshead types whose knuckles drag on the floor and who lick windows for a hobby. But, when the song demands it I’m as up for it as the next man, woman and shaved chimpanzee.
Case in point – The Black Keys’ superb ‘Brothers’. Here’s an album that demands accurate and powerful bass reproduction. Its such an integral part of their sound, it would be criminal to listen through anything that didn’t treat the low end with respect. And the DDMs deliver that respect in throbbing, muscle-bound yet sensitive style. And then some. Texture is everything here, from the deep trench whales of reverb with their echoing song, to the languid and snapping predatory sharks that swim near the warm surface of the mids.
Don’t believe me? Just try the first two tracks on ‘Abbey Road’ (hell, the whole album while you’re at it) and hear Sir Paul’s deft control of his instrument [insert your own joke here] unfold before you in a way you won’t with any Balanced Armature out there (not even the mighty SM3 can touch it, in my opinion). Fantastic stuff, and it never once threatens to overwhelm the other instruments or the songs. It serves the music, it doesn’t try and command it.
That’s essentially what the DDMs do – they serve the music. Where natural instruments are used, they deliver those instruments in a way that sounds entirely natural. On ‘Bonnie’ Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang’s recent ‘The Wonder Show of The World’ (album of the year for me so far, by the way), the guitars are so beautifully rendered its enough to make you cry, and Will Oldham’s voice (that most natural of instruments, after all) is textured so well and clearly you can lose yourself in it but still appreciate the counterpoint of the harmonies. This is such a stripped back and organically recorded and produced collection of songs, its all about the guitars and the voice. There’s precious little rhythm section here, so the mids are all important.
And the mids are where the DDMs excel. Frankly, when listening to them these last few days (in all sorts of environments, from busy street to packed train, to quiet home and cluttered office desk), I’ve thought often to check the box and make sure these are actually not balanced armature phones after all and someone’s playing a joke on me. All my preconceptions about dynamics are out the window now. Maybe it’s down to the double drivers and the fact that one deals exclusively with the bass while the other the mids and treble, I don’t know. What I can say is that the mids are so clear and addictively formed by these little electrical impulse shifters, they alone justify the entry price to the show.
Take Joanna Newsom’s mind-boggling triple disker ‘Have One On Me’, for instance. She’s got a voice that is like a demented child, with all the fragility and petulance that implies, and the DDMs handle it expertly like Supernanny squared. Through them, your ears are treated to a vocal that sounds like cool crystal waters, ebbing and flowing through the meadows of each track. And as those meadows consist predominantly of Newsom’s harp, some violin and other stringed instruments, alongside tinkling piano and double bass, they are very difficult landscapes to paint convincingly. One wrong brushstroke and the ambience is ruined. But the DDMs pull it all off like the most versatile painter in the business. Here, they’re painstaking water colourists, but elsewhere – such as Eels’ raucous ‘Hombre Lobo’ or his latest lo-fi 4-track ‘End Times’ – they can lay the oily textures on thick and quick and get the artistic message across no less effectively.
So, uh huh, the mids are where its at brothers and sisters. As are the lows. Just read the legend that is EricP’s comments elsewhere and you’ll see what I mean. Buddy.
But what of the highs? Hmm. The highs. Look, I’m not really all that sure about the highs. As someone who didn’t get on with the CK10’s treble focus at all, I’ve come to the view that I don’t obsess about the highs. As long as cymbals and the like sound convincing, that’s fine with me. First sign of any sibilance though and I’m gone baby, real gone. Out of here like a cat in a kebab shop.
So, although I do sense that the DDMs are more mid and low-end balanced, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Cymbals sound ace-on-a-stick? Check. The odd tingly sensation rising above the smooth, clear mids? Check. Knight to Bishop’s King Prawn? Check mate.
The treble on the DDM, rolled or otherwise, suits me down to a tee. You, of course, have your own mind (despite what the doctor tells you), and its up to you where your allegiances lie. Do some research, check it out, make some models with plasticine. Whatever gets you through the sonic night my friend.
Let’s talk about soundstage, shall we? Did you know that at the E3 Expo in LA this week, Nintendo unveiled the world’s first 3D (no glasses required) handheld gaming console? Apparently, it only has two small screens, but the 3D effect on some of the games demoed is such that the screen area actually looks much larger.
IEMs, headphones, earphones: they all try and do what Nintendo’s done but for the ear. Take the electrical signal, push it through a tube or series of holes, make it expand in the air so that when it reached your brain, that quivering lump of gristle thinks its experiencing something else entirely.
But these devices are not all created equally, and some fail miserably in expanding and covering the head with lovely noise while others run past the finishing line punching the air triumphantly. The SM3 - which run the race without breaking a sweat - are the best example of the latter in my crippled view. The DDMs, while not anywhere near that level of competition, are still pretty damn incredible for the sense of air and space they put into your cranium. It’s a convincing conjuring trick to fool the mind into thinking sounds are coming from outside the head, but Radius conjure away, um, convincingly. More so, in fact, than the e-Q7s at times. Of course, I can’t compare it to the IE8 and its fabled width, as I’ve never tried them (and probably never will), but there’s girth aplenty here and I doubt you’ll be disappointed if you commit. And that’s without even experimenting with flanges and tips (restrain me, please). Stock mediums make me happy as Larry and I haven’t deviated like some of you deviants are programmed to.
So top points from me on that score. There’s immersion here that rewards the purchaser with a nice pat on the back and says “here’s your music, now sink back into it and forget about all that boring & distracting life stuff going on.” And that’s what its all about, right? Immersion. Put the shell to your ear and go swimming. You can live with the illusion long enough to escape and rise above. The DDMs have let me do that. I’m grateful to Ben and his crew at (SHAMEFUL PLUG ALERT!!) iheadphones.co.uk for giving me the chance to shrug off my anti-dynamism and get up and dancing to a decidedly ‘classic yet modern’ tune. At the price they’re selling for, they’re a steal, provided you can live with their idiosyncrasies.
After conducting extensive tests, the following pie chart will prove that getting woodlice stoned by putting them in gas taps is most definitely not a good idea. But it is fun.
Edited by Bennyboy71 - 6/17/10 at 7:29am