My interest in these earphones was piqued by Orange1 when she started this thread about these earphones and thus the FOTM started soon afterwards. The FOTM period came and passed and I ended up not getting a pair until recently when the price went down and I grabbed a pair off another head-fi member. Now whether these were just another FOTM or the real deal will be determined shortly.
One thing I don't like is audio jargon but that's inevitable here. There are times when I have some issues trying to explain what I am hearing as that is not easy to do imo so hopefully you will all understand me. I know some of you may be new and don't understand some of the terms so this link should make it easier for you and imo is the best audiophile dictionary I have seen.
As with the rest of my reviews my background is an important thing to know of so you know my personal biases and what I am familiar with. My signature is up to date and consists of my current gear. My previous gear is in my profile listed by order of ownership or to the best of my memory it is. My personal preference goes along the line of what I like to call neutrality. For reference some of my favorite earphones have been the Audio Technica CK10 and Hifiman RE0.
My musical preferences in no particular order are pop, rock, trance, country, jazz and asian pop.
Also as a disclaimer for my review everything here is IMO so YMMV. Please do not flame me if you disagree. I also make no attempt to try to write this from a neutral point of view since I do not believe that's possible. I will write it from my experiences and how I enjoy listening to an earphone which means certain preference biases which have already been pointed out.
Source: Cowon J3, Audinst HUD-MX1
Phones: Panasonic HJE900
Bitrate: A mix of mp3 to FLAC
Frequency Range: 6-28000 Hz
Impedance: 26 Ω
Sensitivity: 100 dB/mW
Connector: 3.5mm gold plated straight plug
Cable: 1.0m user detachable silver coated OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) cable
Driver: 8.5mm dynamic driver
Packaging and Included Accessories
The package of the HJE900 sets off a couple of alarms in my head that just screams marketing BS. The first is the “Hi-Fidelity for Audiophiles” displayed on the front of the packaging and the other is that these are made of Cubic Zirconia. If you have no idea what that is then you probably think it's some kind of material that sounds fancy and exotic but in actuality is some ridiculously cheap material. Have no fear however as thanks to Wikipedia I am now your local head-fi expert on the topic of Zirconia. For those of you that know what the Moh's hardness scale it Cubic Zirconia registers a value of 8 on that scale. That hardness scale is none other than that useless crap you learned in school all those years ago in some geology, earth science or similar class and today is the day when those useless classes finally came into use.
Now moving on to what's actually included in the package. You get just of bare minimum of what should be included in a pair of earphones. You get a set of silicone tips in three sizes, a carrying pouch, some documentation and of course the earphones and the cables. All of this comes in an easy to open package unlike some other manufacturers where it comes in a bomb proof impossible to open without cutting yourself plastic.
My build quality standard is and will be the Audio Technica CK10 until I own another pair of phones that surpasses that phone's build quality. These are the first pair of universals that come dangerously close to the CK10 build but I still consider the CK10 to be better package for reasons I shall give below.
The housing of these are made of Cubic Zirconia and are very solidly built and they look just as nice as the material it is made of. You would need to do some serious damage to break them and I mean some serious damage. There are L and R markings by the connector on the cable to distinguish the left and right as the housings are identical as they should be. There are three vents per earphone near the nozzle area. You have a detachable cable so it is user replaceable which is great! According to another head-fi member Sleek Audio cables work so you don't have to learn Japanese to try to find a replacement cable off Amazon Japan. You have a chin slider that is too loose but for the most part functional and a straight connector which I have come to prefer over right angle. My only issue is the cable as it does retain memory and feels cheap compared to the rest of the build. If these had the CK10 cable in user replaceable fashion then these would be the best built universal earphone the world will ever know.
For those of you who are new to earphones or just unaware tips make a huge difference. You can bring out the potential of an earphone with the right tips or you can make a great sounding earphone sound horrible with the wrong set of tips. So I gathered all the larger nozzle sized tips I own and searched for the best tips.
I've tried many tips and I liked my “balanced” MEElectronics M9 tips. A close second was the UE silicone tips that came with a TF10. These earphones like tips that have a larger nozzle so I would recommend any kind of MEElectronics or UE tips. I would really suggest buying any of these kind of tips or a combination of them as the supplied tips are garbage and they are also smaller than what you would expect for tip sizes.
Microphonics and Isolation
I wear these over the ear so microphonics are not an issue. The chin slider and over the ear pretty much eliminates microphonics. If you wear them straight down then there will be some microphonics present especially if you are doing anything active. Isolation is about average. They aren't as good as an Etymotic but nowhere near as bad as the DDM. They are somewhere in the middle and definitely adequate enough for everyday portable use.
My isolation test is quite simple. I have to be able to enjoy my music while on the subway, bus and walking on the streets of NYC.
Fit and Comfort
I have no issues with fit or comfort. They are pretty simple to put on and pretty comfortable. They don't disappear like some other earphones but are not so uncomfortable to the point where it is just maddening.
Note: My judging of these earphones are not of the stock earphone. I did one small mod. That mod was to take the filter off, add some foam and then put the filter back on. What the mod basically does is make the treble less harsh when it is harsh and bump the mids up. I did my sound signature testing with my Cowon J3. Most of the files used were somewhere between v0 mp3 and FLAC.
Bass extension is by far the biggest surprise here and these have surpassed my expectations by far. These little things boast a pretty impressive bass extension that is only beaten by the best universal earphones that cost many times more. They do fall a little bit short but not by much. They do have a slight boost in the mid bass which gives the perception of a roll off compared to the sub bass. Their boosted mid bass is the foundation on which their warmth comes from. The bass is very much like the stereotype of a dynamic driver bass. For those dynamic driver junkies who can't get enough of the low bass rumble you get plenty of that here. The bass has good impact with good speed but at the same time having accurate decay. These may not satisfy hard core bass heads like an Eterna may be able to do but don't get me wrong. These are nothing like some earphones that are lacking in bass like some Etymotic earphones.
The midrange is surprisingly detailed despite being slightly recessed. The foam mod brings the mids up while still retaining all the detail from without the mod. Strings sound wonderful here. Acoustic, electric, piano, etc. all sound natural and at no time while listening to these did I have to wonder what instrument was being played like some other earphones I've had in the past. Vocals are nice with a small addition of warmth here which is part of the unique sound signature of the HJE900 which makes them so engaging to my ears.
The treble has a a good amount of sparkle but lives dangerously at where most people would consider it a very sibilant phone. There are a couple of peaks in the treble area which can easily be fixed. A simple addition of some foam helps with that or if you have access to a good parametric EQ it is an easy fix. Outside of those possibly problematic areas the treble is very nice with good extension. It has a good amount of detail and has very good clarity for a dynamic driver.
Sound stage as a whole is about average here. The depth of the stage is much more impressive than the width of the sound stage however. Due to it's impressive depth imaging is done nicely and so is instrument separation. It's not the most precise imaging I have ever experienced but it definitely is good.
Lastly I consider timbre of most dynamics to be quite accurate and usually more accurate than their BA counterparts with some exceptions here and there. I don't know what the material of the HJE900 adds to it but I find the timbre quite accurate and one of the better timbres that I have heard.
This section of the review is where I did my critical listening. The listening setup was EeePC1005HA (with Ubuntu 8.10) using mpd+gmpc connected to my Audinst HUD-MX1 via usb and then the HJE900 connected to a 68 ohm impedance adapter. Also the song title format goes as follows Artist – Title [Album Name] File Quality
Deep Purple – Strange Kind Of Woman [Made In Japan] FLAC
The bass is pretty powerful with lots of impact but never overpowering and with good authority when needed. Vocals are wonderfully engaging. All various forms of guitar sound natural and electric shows it's authority when needed. These handle this song well with excellent instrument separation along with speed when the song gets more complex.
Eagles – Hotel California [Hotel California] FLAC
Bass once again boasts a nice low extension. There's a good amount of detail here in this song. You get to hear all the little nuances that one would expect. Vocals are a little further back than I am used to. Imaging and instrument separation is wonderful here. There is no added sibilance here!
Markus Schulz – I Am [Progression] 320kbps
The first thing you notice is a nice stage here which I like. These phones can definitely keep up as trance is not the slowest of genres. Bass hits hards and has a nice decay. Separation is good as well. There's a slight addition of warmth here however compared to some of the earphones that I enjoy trance with but overall quite pleasant.
Priscilla Ahn – Red Cape [A Good Day] 320kbps
The acoustic is done nicely and you can hear all the little details. Instrument separation is a bit better than I was expecting and imaging is very good here. Vocals sound natural with excellent clarity. Bass continue to hit hard and boast an impressive extension.
Eva Cassidy – Fields of Gold [Songbird] FLAC
Vocals are excellent sound natural and you can definitely feel the emotion of the vocals. All the instruments sound wonderful. Guitars are especially done nicely with a great amount of detail. This is just very relaxing where I could fall asleep to but I do have to finish the rest of this review
Sarah McLachlan – Building a Mystery [Surfacing] FLAC
This is one of my favorite artists and a song that I know quite well. Vocals sound amazing. It sounds natural while having good clarity. Guitars are done wonderfully and you can hear all the little details here. Electric is also nice and gives it the authority that comes with them. Bass has good impact, speed and good decay. Crash and ride sounds pretty accurate to my ears.
I simply continue to be a huge sucker for products that offer a bang for your buck. These phones definitely qualify there. While they may not be the best bang for your buck in the market today (imo of course) but they are pretty damn close. I find it quite odd that these are not talked about more here at head-fi while certain products that are similarly priced but do not offer such high value are talked about more often. These are a great product especially at the current going price of under $100 shipped. Something like this a couple years ago easily would be over $200 and closer to $300. You get great sound out of these. They boast very good bass extension, excellent detailed mids and a nice extended treble although it can be a bit much at times. These may not be the end all be all earphone that will hit your audio nirvana but they definitely deserve a spot in my collection where I can switch depending on my mood and what signature I want to be listening to. These are an absolute steal at under $100
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions please let me know. Also if you see any errors please let me know.
Edited by rawrster - 10/5/10 at 2:03pm