Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Portable Headphones, Earphones and In-Ear Monitors › Comparison Review - Earsonics SM3 vs. Earsonics EM3 Pro vs. Earpower EP-10 Plus vs. Audeze LCD-2 vs. Beyerdynamic Tesla T1
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Comparison Review - Earsonics SM3 vs. Earsonics EM3 Pro vs. Earpower EP-10 Plus vs. Audeze LCD-2...

post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 

 

Headphone vs. Custom (vs. Universal): Tesla T1 vs. LCD-2 vs. EM3 Pro vs. EP-10 Plus vs. SM3

 

IMG_3982.JPG

 

I have owned many many high end universal IEMs at one point or another, but then the SM3 changed everything for me.  To me, they were better than all the other universals.  That was the gateway to the Tesla T1 after I sold most of my universals.  Next, I needed an amp to power the T1, and well, the EM3 Pro seemed like a good bet since I liked the SM3 so much.  And, after reading comments about the LCD-2 that reminded me of the SM3, I had to have one!  Finally, the EP-10 Plus sounded intriguing, a custom that has both a dynamic and BA...how good could that be?

 

These are my experiences on how my Audeze LCD-2, Beyerdynamic Tesla T1, Earsonics EM3 Pro, and Earsonics SM3 compare to each other.  I prefer to do comparison reviews since I feel it helps put things into perspective, which is why this is a comparison review.  Your experience may vary.

 

Audeze LCD-2 ($945 + shipping) - full sized planar headphones, open

Beyerdynamic Tesla T1 ($1,295) - full sized dynamic headphones, open

Earsonics EM3 Pro (€744 = $977) - custom 2 way, 3 balanced armature driver top of the line custom 

IMG_2457.JPG

Earpower EP-10 Plus (€700 + shipping = $920) - custom 3 driver design, 2 balanced armatures, one dynamic driver IEM that is the top-of-the line

IMG_2455.JPG

Earsonics SM3 ($380) - universal 3 way 3 balanced armature driver IEM that is the top-of-the line universal

IMG_2459.JPG

 

If you don't want to read my specific comparisons, you can jump ahead.  Here is my review index:

Custom vs. Custom, Universal vs. custom, & Headphone vs. Headphone - This post

Custom/Universal vs. Headphone

Summary Ranking/Rating, and Thoughts

Pictures

 

[And don't miss my Customs Resource Thread]

 

How I compared: A/Bed two of the above at a time over several hours spanning multiple nights using my different sources with genres from electronic to pop to jazz to classical to rock to metal to country and more.  I initially took notes and as time went, the differences became more and more apparent, so my notes became more sparse.   I used the following setups:

Tesla T1 & LCD-2: RPX-33 & Stepdance (both high and low gain, 12V wall power)

EM3 Pro, EP-10 Plus, SM3: RPX-33, Stepdance, Pico Slim, iPhone 3G

I used the same setup when appropriate.  i.e. The RPX-33 and Stepdance when comparing the SM3 with the Tesla T1, and the Stepdance/Pico Slim/iPhone when comparing the SM3 and EM3 Pro.

 

Several things contributed to my experience, which include DACs (and op amps in the DACs), amps, and music (which includes bitrate).  I tried to find the best combinations for my testing, but sometimes one combo worked much better for one setup than another, therefore I did do some comparing with different rigs, which when done right, pulled the performance of things closer.  And volume levels...everything changes depending on the volume level.  At very low listening levels the results changed, and the same goes for higher listening levels.  I tested primarily at low-moderate to medium listening levels.

 

And I wanted to mention, this review took me a while as I was trying to figure out the best way to present everything while still keeping it somewhat easy to follow.  I hope you feel I succeeded.

 

Comparisons:

 

Custom vs. Custom

 

EM3 Pro vs. EP-10 Plus

Two different customs for two different listening style and music preferences.   The EM3 Pro is your typical custom with 3 BAs in a 2 way design in a solid silicon shell.  The EM3 Pro seems very solidly built and is easy to twist in and out and feels very comfy.  The EP-10 Plus is very different, as it has a much lighter plastic shell that doesn't insert as deeply and the upper section is much larger, making them a little uncomfortable to me for extended wear.  I have to pull straight back on the rear of my ear to insert the EP-10 Plus.  The EP-10 plus nozzle does not insert as deeply as the EM3 Pro nozzle and does not isolate nearly as well as the EM3 Pro.  The sound leakage is near ear bud levels, which is what the EP-10 Plus bass driver actually is.

 

And speaking of the bass driver, it is out there.  The EP-10 Plus looks strange, at least to me while being worn.   Not that looks would stop me from wearing it in public if I though it warranted ear time and wasn't offensive.  I am sure it would be a conversation starter, if you want to take them out when people talk to you!

 

I have had the EM3 Pro for much longer than the EP-10 Plus and have been used to the sound.  It offers great detail, can be powerful yet refined, and thick at times.  The presentation location is up close while pushing the stage wide, wider than my previous space champ, the SM3, although the SM3 is pretty close.  The EM3 Pro seems to present whatever was recorded...warmth, bass, treble emphasis, narrow presentation or wide presentation, the EM3 Pro just does what it is told.

 

Enter the EP-10 Plus...it does not do what it is told, it does more (for the most part)!  More space, more bass oomph, more mid-bass.  Ouch, sometimes too much mid-bass.  The EP-10 Plus leaves the EM3 Pro behind in the size of the presentation and can project you further away from the presentation than the EM3 Pro.  The space is headphone like, but I will cover that more in the EP-10 Plus vs. the headphones.  The weaknesses of the EP-10 Plus is the mids and treble are not as detailed as the EM3 Pro, which cuts through a presentation like a hot scoop through ice cream, bring out all the details.  Not that the details aren't there in the EP-10 Plus, but the presentation lacks the refinement in the mids and upper registers, possibly from too much mid-bass, or a better driver being used in the EM3 Pro.

 

How about the bass?  Well, the EM3 Pro can pump out bass, but it does not exaggerate the bass quantity.  If bass is present in large quantities, that is what you hear, if not, you hear the lack in the song.  The EP-10 Plus has much more to it in the bass region, and the quality of the bass is nothing short of spectacular.  So the focus of the EP-10 Plus is the bass.  Of course, using a great amp helps (Stepdance/Pico Slim), although both are still good with the iPhone.  And I will add that the EP-10 Plus is more sensitive than the EM3 Pro.

 

Since there was too much mid-bass for my liking, I decided to EQ the mid-bass down (8 dB @ 800 Hz in the rockboxed iPod and via Winamp).  So, comparing the two with EQ on for the EP-10 Plus and no EQ for the EM3 Pro pulled ahead convincingly except for the detail level, which was not quite up to par with the EM3 Pro.  With EQ on both the EM3 Pro clarity improved even more, so it really is a tossup depending on what you are looking for.  Great bass or better clarity and detail.

 

EM3 Pro

EP-10 Plus

Better mid and treble detail

Better bass texturing and reverb

More liquid/natural mids and treble

Better soundstage space, close to cans

More true to the recording

More bass weight

Easier to drive

More sensitive

More comfortable and easier to insert/remove

Deeper bass

Better isolation

Too much mid-bass - needs EQing IMO

Looks better & more solid construction

 

Removable cable

 

 

IMG_3788.JPG

 

Universal vs. Custom

SM3 vs. EM3 Pro

The EM3 Pro has more space, less warmth, and more refinement than the SM3.  The EM3 Pro takes the good of the SM3 and improves clarity, treble presence, and refinement of the overall presentation.  The SM3's dependence on tips and the changes they bring can allow the SM3 to produce more bass impact than the EM3 Pro and have similar treble presence.  I find that the SM3 changes more with each recording than the EM3 Pro, shrinking or expanding in soundstage size or becoming warm and thicker in some songs, yet being just as clear in others.  The song choice/genre result in different opinions of how the two compare.  With some trance for example, the SM3 can be just as wide with better bass impact (tip dependent) than the EM3 Pro, but with other songs the SM3 can sound very warm and thick and veiled in comparison with the EM3 Pro.  Some songs are a good deal different while others are close overall.

 

More on the bass...the EM3 Pro can sound more powerful in the bass region for complex bass heavy music, such as rap, R&B, and electronic, where the bass is very reverberant and sustained notes.  The dual bass drivers can put out some great bass, but they don't come out and play as often as the SM3 (tip dependent).  They both seem to be cut from the same cloth, yet different.

 

They share the sound signature but the EM3 Pro is a better IEM.  The significant cost increase does get you improved clarity, less warmth, larger soundstage space most of the time, and fit & isolation of a custom, not to mention a little more treble than the SM3.  It is really up to you if the improvement of the EM3 Pro is worth it over the SM3.

 

SM3

EM3 Pro

More bass quantity and impact with some tips

More ultimate bass power, when the song wants it

Changes more with recordings, giving what seems like a bore accurate reproduction of the source

Better clarity and slightly better detail

Very similar sound to the EM3 Pro

Fit of a custom

Much lower price

Better build quality

Easier to resell

Removable cable

 

 IMG_2343.JPG

 

SM3 vs. EP-10 Plus

You can immediately tell the EP-10 Plus is a different beast than the SM3.  The low end capabilities of the EP-10 Plus and size of the soundstage make the SM3 sound somewhat small and feeble.  And while the SM3 is full, lush, rich, and thick, the EP-10 Plus doesn't have those qualities in droves like the SM3, but it does have a noticeable mid-bass hump that affects the clarity more than the thick richness of the SM3.  If the EP-10 Plus and SM3 were boxers, the EP-10 Plus should easily knockout the SM3, but the mid-bass hump keeps the SM3 from being knocked out.

 

Just as with the other presentations, the mid-bass isn't always a killer for the EP-10 Plus, and the warmer songs tend to have more of a veil with both, but to me it is sometimes a killer for the EP-10 Plus, but not for the SM3.  Now, apply the EQ to one or both and then the EP-10 Plus starts landing the knockout blow.  But the SM3 is still hanging around as the mids and treble are more liquid with more easily perceptible detail.

 

You can't deny the space and bass dominance of the EP-10 Plus, but the SM3 also has merit in the mids and treble.  Plus, the sound signature is different with the SM3 sounding more like a stage monitor in comparison, and the EP-10 Plus bass orientation coming out.

 

SM3

EP-10 Plus

More liquid mids and treble

More bass power

Higher resolution/level of detail in the mids/treble

Much greater soundstage size/space

Doesn't need EQ

More sensitive

About 1/3rd the price

Better build quality

Better isolation

Overall sound initially sound much better

Better cable

More bass heavy presentation

Sounds more like a monitor

 

IMG_2468.JPG

 

Headphone vs. Headphone

Tesla T1 vs. LCD-2

This comparison has been made many times, but here is my take.  Both are very nice; well constructed, comfortable, great looking, and great sounding across the spectrum.  Both also have very different styling (wood vs. metal), technologies, impedance, and sound.  The Tesla T1 is brighter and has more of a V shape presentation when compared with the LCD-2, which is more similar to a monitor presentation, but not quite. 

 

These have different sound signatures and distinctly different feel to the sound.  The LCD-2 is thicker and warmer whereas the T1 is brighter and leaner.   But even though the T1 is brighter, it doesn't seem as clear as the LCD-2 on most tracks.  And I would say the T1 is more forgiving of poor mastering while the LCD-2 allows you to hear everything in the song, good or bad.  The presentation of the LCD-2 changes more from album to album than the T1, which has a more steady presentation.  To me, the LCD-2 sounds more natural.  For example, Blue Rodeo - 5 Days In May the cymbals of the T1 seem to be brought to the forefront and too much of the focus while the LCD-2 has a better balance.  The natural sound of the LCD-2 also seems to come through with electronics genes such as trance and D&B.  The bass of the LCD-2 seems deeper and can hit with more authority.  For example, Chamillionaire - Industry Groupie is just lacking that impact with the T1 that the LCD-2 delivers.  The T1 does well with the bass at the beginning of Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy, but the LCD-2 has more power and hit.  Not to take anything away from the bass of the T1, but the LCD-2 is more to my liking.

 

Christina Aguilera - F.U.S.S. has better air and space on the T1, but when compared with the LCD-2 the treble emphasis seemed like a little too much for my preference.  On Dead Kennedys - California Uber Alles , the LCD-2 has better texturing of the drums at the beginning of the song.  The T1 sounds better with EBTG - Two Star as the instruments details are much easier to make out, but the mastering isn't the greatest and that comes through on theLCD-2.   My recording of Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 sounded far superior with the T1 than the LCD-2 as the LCD-2 sounded more constricted with a smaller stage.  I attribute this to the mastering because other songs such as NIN - The Four of Us Are Dying have about the same size soundstage.  But listening to more classical, I do prefer the T1 for many of my tracks.

 

Summary: Tesla T1 has a set soundstage that is larger than that of the LCD-2 and has the bright sound signature I find in many high end headphones/IEMs along with powerful bass.  The LCD-2 on the other hand does not have a set soundstage which can be good or bad depending on the track.  The LCD-2 sound signature seems more balanced and natural to my ears sound closer to the real thing to me. 

 

Tesla T1

LCD-2

Bigger, fixed size soundstage

Dynamic soundstage changes size with the recording

Bright treble and leaner presentation

Natural and balanced treble with great naturalness

Great bass with enough power for any song

Bass is very powerful and can really hit hard and low with an overall thicker presentation

Overall presentation is spacious with good detail

Overall presentation is very natural sounding

Difficult to drive, requiring a great amp

Somewhat difficult to drive as it needs lots of power

Aluminum case

Wooden case

Lighter weight

Detachable cables

More forgiving of poor mastering More resolving of details, good or bad
 

IMG_2521.JPG IMG_2523.JPG IMG_2517.JPG


Edited by average_joe - 6/4/11 at 9:00am
post #2 of 63
Thread Starter 

 

Custom vs. Headphone

 

EM3 Pro vs. LCD-2

The LCD-2 and EM3 Pro are more similar than different, with each track determining how similar/different they are, but they never stray too much.  Both are musical, fast, neutral, and change with the track, but the EM3 changes more with each track.  With some songs the EM3 can sound much thicker than the LCD-2 such as Shania Twain - That Don't Impress Me Much, and with Sub Focus - Rock It the EM3 Pro had more mid-bass and less deep bass.  With Stevie Ray Vaugh - Texas Flood the differences are minimal other than the constants such as difference in soundstage size.  The texturing of the LCD-2 bass is superb, and while the EM3 Pro texturing is good, it can't quite keep up.  The quantity of bass in the LCD-2 is also more, and can give a sense of more power.  The treble on the LCD-2 can be a little more present and forward than on the EM3, but for many tracks they are similar.

 

Overall, the EM3 Pro seems like the little brother of the LCD-2 that most of the time does everything the LCD-2 can.  The LCD-2 presents music with power and a natural sound, with deep bass that is the best I have ever heard.  The EM3 Pro is also powerful and natural sounding, but the power comes more from the a thicker, more mid-bass centric presentation vs. the true deep bass of the LCD-2.   And while the size of the presentation is not too far off, it is superior on the LCD-2, as it should be as the LCD-2 is a headphone. 

 

The LCD-2 sounds better than the EM3 Pro at louder volumes and can really take amp power and translate it into a powerful presentation.  Not that the EM3 Pro doesn't play loud and sound good, but the LCD-2 is more effortless.  The one place where the EM3 Pro slightly beat the LCD-2 was transparency, as it disappeared a little more than the LCD-2 for me.  I am not sure if it was because the EM3 is slightly more coherent across my head (although the LCD-2 and T1 are spectacular in that regards compared with the other headphones I have heard, save the HD800) or because the EM3 has a slightly more liquid, forgiving presentation.

 

EM3 Pro

LCD-2

Better transparency by a hair

Better clarity by a bit

Slightly more liquid presentation

Better sense of power, especially at higher volume

More forgiving on poor tracks

Better soundstage space/openness

Much better isolation

Deeper, more powerful bass with more impact

Much easier to drive

Treble that can be more pronounced

Portable

 

IMG_2489.JPG IMG_2490.JPG

 

LCD-2 vs. EP-10 Plus

Upon initial A/Bing, the space of the EP-10 made me think it is the headphone of the IEM world...the size of the space between the two is close.  As already described in the EP-10 Plus vs. the EM3 Pro, the EP-10 has too much midbass at times.  When A/Bing without EQing the EP-10, it is not all that competitive from a sound quality standpoint.  But, with EQ the overall presentation is very good and the bass is just a small step down from the LCD-2, but the rest of the spectrum falters.  Not that the EP-10 Plus mids/treble are bad, but for the price of the EP-10 Plus, it should be better.  The LCD-2 has much more refined and detailed mids/treble as well as a more realistic presentation to go with a slightly larger space.   Bass impact is similar in most ways including reverb (sustaining bass notes) and texturing, but the LCD-2 is ultimately better.  The LCD-2 is more musical and is exceptional across the spectrum in my opinion while  A/Bing with the EP-10 Plus brings out the flaws of the EP-10 Plus.  I am not going to say the EP-10 Plus is a big step down, but it is a step down.

 

While bass quality of the EP-10 Plus is nearly on par with the LCD-2, the quantity is higher than the LCD-2, even in the deep bass.   However, I don't mind having extra emphasis on the bass of the EP-10 Plus since the quality is so good!  For anything other than critical listening, the EP-10 Plus competes with the LCD-2, and gives space that I still find astounding for an IEM, but if I want to sit down and listen critically, the LCD-2 is superior.

 

LCD-2 is harder to drive by a good amount.  For example, I had to max out the HUD-1 (on high gain) to get a good volume with the LCD-2 while the EP-10 requires a fraction of that volume.   On low gain with the Stepdance the volume again needed to be above 50%, closer to 75%, but on high gain it was fine.  Of course, with the RPX-33 the opposite was true as there was a little hum with the EP-10 and none with the LCD-2.

 

Summary: These are really so different in function; I wouldn't wear the LCD-2 while working outside or bring it on a flight.  A great amp is needed to get the most out of the LCD-2, but the Stepdance takes the EP-10 Plus bass to the extreme (and the Pico Slim isn't all that far behind).  Given the same source, these are fairly close in overall presentation when the EP-10 Plus is EQed, but the LCD-2 is more refined/detailed in the mids on up.  Without EQ the midbass of the EP-10 Plus is just too much for my liking and sounds congested compared with the LCD-2.

 

 

LCD-2

EP-10 Plus

Slightly better bass quality

More bass emphasis and much more mid-bass

Much better detail and realism in the mids and treble

Incredible space for an IEM, near the soundstage size of the LCD-2

Better clarity

Easier to drive

More enveloping and involving

Ultra portable

Little larger overall space

Does not leak sound

Looks much better

Cooler to the ears

IMG_2487.JPG

 

EP-10 Plus vs. Tesla T1:

 

Along the lines of the comparison of the Tesla T1 and everything else, the EP-10 Plus has a different, not so bright presentation.  Take the LCD-2 vs. Tesla T1 bass comparison, meaning I find the EP-10 Plus bass more textured and impactful, but it is still close.  And when the EP-10 Plus isn't EQed and the two are A/Bed the EP-10 Plus sounds like a thick, veiled, poorly conveyed reproduction and then the T1 sounds like a thin, mid recessed overly bright painful reproduction!  They are both very good, but the difference in presentation for me makes each the other sound bad upon first listen. 

 

The rest of the spectrum is portrayed better with the T1, and the space is larger, similar but a little more so to the LCD-2 vs. T1.  The mid and treble quality of the T1 is better.  The details in the T1 treble are smoothed out a little in theEP-10 Plus and the treble presentation in general is more pleasing to me, as the T1can be too much with not the best recordings.  But then I prefer less bright sound signatures.

 

So, EQing the EP-10 Plus greatly improves the sound for me, and without a stellar amp, the T1 isn't all that good, getting knocked down a few notches in quality and bass capability.  Two very vey different styles of headphones and sound signatures that won't be mistaken for each other!

 

EP-10 Plus

Tesla T1

More bass weight with slightly better texturing

More (much more) treble emphasis that is more resolving

Portable

Bigger soundstage

Easy to drive

Better quality, yet less forward mids

IMG_2538.JPG

 

EM3 Pro vs. Tesla T1

Just as the Tesla T1 is different than the LCD-2, the T1 is different than the EM3 Pro.  But while the T1 and LCD-2 can stand look eye-to-eye, the EM3 Pro looks more at the nose of the Tesla T1.  The space the T1 portrays along with better clarity and more realistic and textured bass give a presentation that is usually more involving.  The EM3 Pro is thicker and warmer with a mid focused presentation that changes more with each track, sounding very natural.  The T1 treble can sound like there is too much and therefore artificially enhanced.  Detail levels seem fairly similar, but the expanded space of the T1 results in a more open presentation and better instrument separation.  The warmth of the EM3 Pro has it's plusses and minuses when A/Bing with the T1, as the EM3 Pro can sound fuller, more powerful, richer, and more natural, but other times it can seem a little too thick and a little dark.  The treble is very different as well, and going from one to the other requires a little adjustment time.  When swapping back and forth quickly made me not really care for either as the T1 seems too bright and the EM3 Pro seeming to have too dark. 

 

So, with less direct, quick A/B comparing, I had more fun comparing these two different beasts.  If I had to choose one, I would probably choose the Tesla T1, but since it is only driven properly by my RPX-33 (and Stepdance at moderate and below volumes), the EM3 Pro does have a place.  So, other than the space, technically, these are on a level playing field, but it is comparing apples and oranges in sound signature and functionality.

 

EM3 Pro

Tesla T1

More powerful presentation

Better clarity

More liquid treble

Bigger presentation space

More mid-focused presentation

More V shaped presentation

More liquid presentation

Better bass texturing

Portable

 

Easy to drive

 

IMG_2541.JPG

 

Universal vs. Custom

 

SM3 vs. Tesla T1:

These two are the furthest apart of everything I compared.  The SM3 is thick, the T1 is lean and cleaner, the SM3 treble quantity low in comparison to the T1 quantity, and the space difference is the largest.  Going from one to the other is a shock either way.  If the T1 sound signature is something that you like, the SM3 probably isn't the IEM for you!   However, if you like the SM3, you might still like what the T1 brings, given a good amp.

 

SM3

Tesla T1

Thicker, less bright presentation

Better technically across the spectrum

Portable

Much larger soundstage space

Easy to drive

More powerful bass

1/4th the price

Better clarity

IMG_3371.JPG

 

 

LCD-2 vs. SM3

The SM3 lacks the power of the LCD-2 and depending on the track can sound like a younger brother to the LCD-2, with the older brother being able to show up the younger brother pretty easily when challenged.  The LCD-2 has better resolution, bass impact as well as more space to go with better treble presence and quality, but ultimately the difference between the two shifts from a small amount to a large amount depending on the song.  The SM3 is more throaty in the mids while the LCD-2 sound more natural and somewhat lean in comparison.

 

While the SM3 is a great universal IEM in my opinion, this really isn't a fair comparison given the price difference and style difference.  The LCD-2 puts the SM3 in its place considering the price difference, not to mention the extra requirements to drive the LCD-2 properly.  They both have their own place in two very different price ranges and uses, and the LCD-2 does validate it's price, just as I thought the SM3 validated it's price when compared with other universal IEMs.

 

LCD-2

SM3

More powerful presentation/bass

Lower price

Better clarity

Portable

More detail and refinement

Offers isolation and no sound leakage

Bigger presentation space

Extremely easy to drive

More natural tone/timbre

On some tracks can approach the qualities of the LCD-2 at a fraction of the cost

IMG_2527.JPG


Edited by average_joe - 12/18/10 at 12:10am
post #3 of 63
Thread Starter 

Summary and thoughts

 

SM3: Great sound for the price, a chameleon that changes  with the song/source more than anything else I have heard.  Tip choices come into play with the SM3, which can affect the sound, making them good or bad, though for me they are great with more than one tip choice (custom sleeves with the nozzle drilled out, monster cable triple flange, or sensorcom bi-flange which are similar to the now included stock silicon tips).  Well worth the money for a realistic experience that is on the warmer, darker side of the spectrum.

Recommended for: When you want to hear what is really in your music, good or bad, at a low price (compared with the others) and don't mind experimenting with tips if you have to.  These might not be for those that like bright sound signatures (unless you remove the filter), but will give a very relaxed, spacious, and liquid sound.  The SM3 handles all genres well, and depending on the tips you might be able to tailor the sound to fit your taste.  These provide good isolation, depending on the tips so they might be a good fit for use in noisy environments.  If you don't want to use an amp, the SM3 is a good choice as it is easy to drive.

 

EM3 Pro: Improve the clarity, space, treble presence, and ability to convey weight and authority to the already great presentation of the SM3 and you have the EM3 Pro.   The presentation sounds very natural and liquid, drawing you into the music conveying the experience quite well.  The EM3 Pro has the best isolation of the bunch.   What these give up in sound to the EP-10 Plus in the bass region they make up for in the mids and treble.

Recommended for: If you can/want to spend more than the SM3, the EM3 Pro is the next up the line with the same sound signature.  You can't tailor the sound with different tips like you can with the SM3 as this is a custom, but you will get a neutral presentation that is good for all genres.  Great isolation for use in noisy environments.  If you don't want to use an amp, the EM3 Pro is a good choice as it is easy to drive.

 

EP-10 Plus: A mix of exceptional with mediocre make this a very interesting custom.  Looks are futuristic and will probably get some stares in public, and not necessarily because people think they look cool.  The soundstage space is amazing, competing with headphones, but mid/treble detail is a step down from the others.  Bass detail, on the other hand is spectacular, coming in 2nd to only the LCD-2.  Unfortunately the treble detail is lacking compared to all the others reviewed here, and throw in too much midbass around 800 Hz, and that detracts from the overall pleasure of the EP-10 Plus.  But after using an EQ to lower the mid-bass I have been grabbing for the EP-10 Plus a lot more.  There is something that is magical about the lower end of the EP-10 Plus and the space makes these great for on the go, although the isolation isn't all that great good.

 

As far as fit, initially I had some discomfort and trouble getting them in and out, but have figured them out and now they are much more comfortable in addition to being much easier/quicker to put in/remove.   And initially they sounded very unforgiving and needed to be amped, but now that they are burned in they are much more forgiving (on par with the others in this comparison) and amping isn't as critical.

 

Communication with Earpower is slow as Sergio uses a translator, but he does reply.  If you are not in Italy/speak Italian, the process may take longer than usual, although not really as this is high end audio!  I am still in talks with Sergio, who explained that today's EP-10 Plus is what he finds on stage artists has asked for, which include lots of bass, the ability to hear the crowd (not isolate), not have pins on a detachable cable that can corrode, and light weight  among other things.  What he has achieved is a headphone soundstage in an IEM with fantastic bass (according to Sergio, which is because of the shell material).   I am not sure what the future holds for Earpower in the way of customs, but I am going to remain in contact with Sergio.

Recommended for: Those that want an IEM that has space like a headphone with absolutely fantastic bass and don't mind giving up mid/treble detail and isolation and can EQ the midbass down along with lower levels of isolation than a standard custom.  The EP-10 Plus does benefit greatly from an amp vs. the HPO, so carrying an Arrow, Pico Slim, Stepdance, or other quality portable amp will give you a nice improvement in SQ.

 

Tesla T1: Has a different sound than the other 4 headphones in the comparison, so it is a good compliment if you can drive it.  The T1 really doesn't shine without the RPX-33, although the Stepdance can drive it at lower volumes just fine with wall power.  The T1 is brighter than the other headphones, with a shift to what I would say is a treble emphasis compared with the others. 

Recommended for: Those that have an amp that will drive a 600 ohm headphone and want an extremely good sounding headphone that does everything exceptionally well and enjoy a brighter sound signature.  The Tesla T1 really isn't lacking anything when driven properly, but you will be confined to your desktop amp.  While the Stepdance could drive the T1 OK, it still lost a little when driven at my loudest listening levels (which isn't the loudest). 

 

LCD-2: What can I say that hasn't already been said in the ultra long LCD-2 thread?  These things are awesome and sound extremely natural and lifelike to me.  If you have an amp that can power them properly, they are very dynamic and have great power and weight.  They don't have the largest soundstage, as the T1 showed more in that department, but their soundstage is well proportioned.  One thing about the LCD-2; it is power hungry, but is so easy to listen to at loud levels.  I did find myself listening to the LCD-2 louder than I should too often since I want to keep my hearing long term!

Recommended for: Someone that likes the sound signature shared by the EM3 Pro, SM3, and even EP-10 Plus, which is a powerful and thick presentation with a relaxed, yet great upper half of the spectrum.  If I had to pick the best I have heard, this is it!  With my Stepdance I can move around the house and not be tied to the desk, but the RPX-33 does allow me to crank the volume to loud levels.

 

 

Ranking/Rating charts

I decided to rank and rate the headphones in the bass, midrange, and treble as I hear them.  Ratings/rankings can be somewhat misleading, so I was trying to figure out how to how my rankings in a meaningful way.  I decided to do a rank from first to last as well as a rating (which was more difficult to do) to try to show how big the differences I perceived were.  And since I recommend the EP-10 Plus if you don't mind EQing it, I provided charts for both un-EQed and EQed.  Quality in the chart is defined as the overall presentation which consists of resolution, speed, spacing, placement, note decay,  tone, and timbre.

 

Ranking Chart - EP-10 Plus with no EQ

Headphone

Bass

Mids

Treble

Quality

Quantity

Quality

Quantity

Quality

Quantity

SM3

5

3

4

1

4

5

EM3 Pro

4

5

2

2

3

3

EP-10 Plus

2

1

5

3

5

4

Tesla T1

3

4

3

5

2

1

LCD-2

1

2

1

4

1

2

Quality: 1 = best, 5 = worst; Quantity:  1 = most, 5 = least

 

Ranking Chart - EP-10 Plus with EQ on

Headphone

Bass

Mids

Treble

Quality

Quantity

Quality

Quantity

Quality

Quantity

SM3

5

3

5

1

5

5

EM3 Pro

4

5

2

2

3

3

EP-10 Plus w/EQ

2

1

4

3

4

4

Tesla T1

3

4

3

5

2

1

LCD-2

1

2

1

4

1

2

 

Rating Chart

Headphone

Bass

Mids

Treble

Total Quality Score

Quality

Quantity

Quality

Quantity

Quality

Quantity

SM3

50

50

50

50

50

50

150

EM3 Pro

60

45

75

46

70

60

205

EP-10 Plus

80

80

45

50

40

45

165

EP-10 Plus (with EQ)

90

70

57

43

57

56

204

Tesla T1

70

55

75

38

85

85

230

LCD-2

95

60

85

45

90

65

270

SM3 is the baseline.  From 1 to 100, 100 being best/most

 

Rating Notes:

These ratings are with the best source for each.  Using the SM3 as a baseline for the quantity was a bit of a challenge since the presentation changed with the mastering more than the other headphones, so I had to use a few specific tracks come up with the results.  Your results may vary (as my results did). 

The SM3 bass is with the custom sleeves; the bass is greater with triple flange tips for me.  Scores for the mid quantity are all lower than the SM3 as the SM3 had the most mid-forward presentation. 

 

 

My final thoughts about:

Usage

So, I have these 5 great headphones to choose from.  Which gets the most ear time?  If I still traveled as much as I used to, the EM3 Pro would get the majority of my ear time, but it doesn't (or SM3 if I wanted to be more incognito and not carry around a $1K custom).   How about the Tesla T1?  There are so many good things about it, but the brighter sound signature is just not my personal favorite, so no.  Maybe the LCD-2?  It does sound the best to me in terms of technically and for my preference out of the headphones I have at the time of this writing.  But it is big and I am lazy, so taking it out of the box and putting it back in is kind of a pain, so not the LCD-2.  That leaves the EP-10 Plus, which does get the most ear time.  I do have a specific iPod I use it with that has the EQ on, reducing the mid-bass.  I use it the most due to the lack of isolation, near LCD-2 space and bass, and ease of use.  I don't need the isolation and actually like hearing what is going on around me many times.  I do put in the others from time to time and enjoy what they bring to the party, but for now, the EP-10 Plus is the ear time winner!

 

Headphones vs. Customs (in the same price range)

This process has made me realize I am an IEM guy.  I do think the headphones outperform the customs by a bit, but I enjoy the form factor and ease of use/storage of the IEMs, not to mention the portability.  I do think at ultra low volume the IEMs sound better than the headphones, but at louder volumes, the headphones open a bigger gap between the two.  

 

And amping...the T1 needs a great amp to really shine while the IEMs do just fine without.  I guess even the LCD-2 needs less in the amp category than the IEMs, but with that said the less of an amp is the Stepdance.  The Arrow and Pico Slim can't push the LCD-2 like the Stepdance, and they definitely can't push the T1.  Even the Rx on high gain mode couldn't push the T1.  So, looking at a total cost of ownership, headphones have higher requirements.

 

I have compared the SM3 with the SA5000, which are in the same ballpark price range, and they are pretty competitive, actually a little closer than the more expensive headphone/customs, and I would give the win the SM3.  My Superlux headphones are outclassed, but it is not worth selling them due to shipping charges, so they will just collect dust.

 

But back to the headphones in this comparison.  Ultimately, from a pure sound perspective, the headphones outperformed the customs, but not by a large margin.  There is no real winner since I like the variety and they are different beasts for different uses.  I did sell my RPX-33 and am looking to sell my T1 as it really doesn't fit my personal preference. 

 

Customs vs. Universal (with a large price differential)

I took a long journey hearing lots of universals, and none of them compare with the customs.  Is the price premium worth it?  IMHO, most definitely yes!  I am not sure if it is the custom fit or the drivers/engineering that goes into the customs that make them better (or both), but they are better!  Now, I might have to try a lower cost custom to compare with the SM3 to see for myself if that is still a step up, but for now, it is!  My one experience using custom sleeves with the SM3 improved some aspects of the SM3 over any tip I tried (mainly the soundstage size), but not enough to compete with the customs.


Edited by average_joe - 12/19/10 at 11:59pm
post #4 of 63
Thread Starter 

Additional pictures (I am not a professional photographer, as you can see!)

 

Modded iPod (film caps in the LOD) -> Pico Slim -> EP-10 Plus - this rig is dedicated since it has the EQ on

IMG_2494.JPG

 

modded iPod 5.5g (film caps in the iPod) -> Arrow -> EM3 Pro

IMG_2500.JPG

 

RoCoo -> SM3

IMG_2499.JPG

 

modded iPod -> Stepdance -> LCD-2 = bliss!

IMG_2511.JPG IMG_2514.JPG

 

EP10-Plus

IMG_2482.JPG

 

Boxes/Carrying Cases

IMG_2519.JPG IMG_2531.JPG


Edited by average_joe - 12/17/10 at 11:16pm
post #5 of 63

I have been waiting for this my friend. Thanks for all the great contributions you make to this forum Joe. I wouldn't be where I'm at today with the knowledge of hifi, and of course the quality of gear I've been acquiring, if it hadn't been for you. I will be keeping an eye on this thread for sure. Cheers friend.

post #6 of 63

Very well written and it's been interesting throughout. Makes me wants to get those EPs....

post #7 of 63

Nice reviewpopcorn.gif

 

However, what do you mean by :


Quote:
More on the bass...the EM3 Pro can sound more powerful in the bass region for complex bass heavy music with a lot of reverb
post #8 of 63

Great review! I might have to try the LCD-2 now.

post #9 of 63
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Guidostrunk View Post

I have been waiting for this my friend. Thanks for all the great contributions you make to this forum Joe. I wouldn't be where I'm at today with the knowledge of hifi, and of course the quality of gear I've been acquiring, if it hadn't been for you. I will be keeping an eye on this thread for sure. Cheers friend.

 

Thanks for the compliment my friend!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Inks View Post

Very well written and it's been interesting throughout. Makes me wants to get those EPs....


Thank you, they are good.  I am waiting to see if Earpower can make them with less mid-bass.  Their communication to date has left much to be desired, so that is something to be concerned with.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by patate View Post

Nice reviewpopcorn.gif

 

However, what do you mean by :


Quote:
More on the bass...the EM3 Pro can sound more powerful in the bass region for complex bass heavy music with a lot of reverb


Rap and some R&B music has bass that required the driver to sustain bass notes. Some BAs don't reproduce those bass notes as well as dynamics.  The EM3 Pro does a better job than the SM3, which does a better job than other BA technology IEMs such as the CK10, e-Q7, GR8, etc.


Quote:
Originally Posted by sparker View Post

Great review! I might have to try the LCD-2 now.


They are fantastic!

post #10 of 63

Quote:

Originally Posted by average_joe View Post

Rap and some R&B music has bass that required the driver to sustain bass notes. Some BAs don't reproduce those bass notes as well as dynamics.  The EM3 Pro does a better job than the SM3, which does a better job than other BA technology IEMs such as the CK10, e-Q7, GR8, etc.

 


Sustain is a whole different thing from reverb. I'd rephrase the sentence as it suggests wrongly that there can be reverb in the bass region.

post #11 of 63

Interesting, looking forward to the whole review.


Edited by Kunlun - 12/9/10 at 8:33am
post #12 of 63

That EP10 custom seems pretty interesting. It seems like a mixed bag and a hit or miss depending on what you listen to so am I right in assuming that they wouldn't be a very good all rounder but rather something tailored for certain types of music. Also considering you used to own the IE8 for quite a while one would assume mid bass wouldn't be an issue for you..or does the EP10 have that much more mid bass?

post #13 of 63

Interesting read can't wait til it's complete.

post #14 of 63
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by patate View Post

Quote:

Originally Posted by average_joe View Post

Rap and some R&B music has bass that required the driver to sustain bass notes. Some BAs don't reproduce those bass notes as well as dynamics.  The EM3 Pro does a better job than the SM3, which does a better job than other BA technology IEMs such as the CK10, e-Q7, GR8, etc.

 


Sustain is a whole different thing from reverb. I'd rephrase the sentence as it suggests wrongly that there can be reverb in the bass region.


Updated, thanks for pointing that out.  

Quote:
Originally Posted by rawrster View Post

That EP10 custom seems pretty interesting. It seems like a mixed bag and a hit or miss depending on what you listen to so am I right in assuming that they wouldn't be a very good all rounder but rather something tailored for certain types of music. Also considering you used to own the IE8 for quite a while one would assume mid bass wouldn't be an issue for you..or does the EP10 have that much more mid bass?

 

While I haven't had the IE8 in a long time, I would say the EP-10 Plus has more mid-bass than the IE8, but it seems to be more narrow of a bump as many songs are fine, whereas the IE8 was always pretty warm.  The EP-10 Plus veil isn't as bad as the IE8 from memory either, maybe because the BAs cut through the veil.  EQing fixes everything and the EP-10 Plus preforms very well with all genres.  Since the bass is so spectacular, you get some great texturing for natural instruments as well as plenty of bass for any bass heavy genre.

post #15 of 63

Another great read from you average_joe. Thanks for the write up.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Portable Headphones, Earphones and In-Ear Monitors › Comparison Review - Earsonics SM3 vs. Earsonics EM3 Pro vs. Earpower EP-10 Plus vs. Audeze LCD-2 vs. Beyerdynamic Tesla T1