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Earsonics SM3 v1 Impressions

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Well, first time posting here... In essence, I am posting my impression of IEM vs over-the-ear-open-backed-headphones in general, and Earsonics SM3 v1 vs Sennheiser HD-555 in particular :)



Background
Since I was born, until 1 year ago (when I saw head-fi.org), I only heard some cheap stock earbuds/iem which come from portable players, handphone, etc... :(

Long time before, I already know about burned-in theories which is supposed to increasing sound quality, but finding it contradictory because all that cheap stock earbuds/iem sounds 'great' (my standard is low at that time) out of the box, and becomes worse as the time goes on (bass gone, crackling sounds presents)...

Then one years ago my friend (call him Smith, not a real name) freaking at me because he saw me listening with earbud too louds (he can hear the sounds coming from my earbud)...

Smith said something like this, "Hey dude, lower your volume if you still loves your ears"

Me: "Well, I can't hear the sounds clear enough... It doesn't gives me a WOW feelings..."

Smith: "That's to be expected if you hear it from that kind of stuff... Buy higher quality earbuds!"

Me: "Give me recommendation then?"

Smith: "My child, Google is your saviour"

True, it's kind of annoying about how I can feel satisfied enough and got the soul of music when listening from speaker at moderate volume, while I need to listen at earbuds at high volume to get the same effect... But speakers is out of question since there are many people in my house and I dont want them to know my music preferences when I listen with speakers... (I'm a shy people, love to read without commenting)...

So I use my saviour (uncle Google) and found this forum... Well, there is a myth that people often sucking their wallets if they got sucked in this community... Is that true? I don't know...

So after reading here and there, I decided to buy Sennheiser HD-555 + Fiio E5 amp + GoVibe DAC (available easily in my town), since I heard that open headphones tend to gives 3d positioning more accurately, and I do music and fps gaming a lot... I have a strict wallet since I am only an university student...

When I hear it out of the box, it sounds so veiled and muddy... But after 100 hours listening (with foam mod and soundstage mod), all of that characteristics is gone... Well, it completely sets my new standard of sound quality... I can hear it at moderate volume without losing the details... cheap earbuds/iem sounds too foggy and thin compared to this...

But then I met Smith again and I suddenly realized how stupid I am... I forgot my real objectives, which is to buy a higher quality earbuds! I would look stupid if I wear this over-the-ear headphones in a bus... And environment noises will makes the bass of this open-type headphones go away, really ruining the sounds quality...

Then I'm starting to research again in this forum about IEM... Custom IEM is out of question since I have a trauma of going to the doctor (lol)... In this thread http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/478568 167 IEM is compared and it said that in universal class, SM3 and Westone 4 have a the same highest sound quality score... Because Westone 4 is hard to search in my town, I decided to makes Earsonics SM3 + GoVibe Martini amp (low gain setting) as my next target... So I started savings again (oh my poor wallet) and finally some days ago I can afford to bought it...



SM3 (Stock small comply tips) PROS


Isolation
HD-555 isolation is a joke, really... As your environment becomes more noisy, the bass is attenuated... SM3 with comply tips provides best isolation (stock bi-flange silicone and my stock dynamic driver IEMs is also good, though)... Noise cancelling headphones could provides better isolation while at the same time sacrificing the sounds quality... Custom eartips is the best solution (but I don't want to come to an audiologist :( )

So, in terms of isolation, Custom IEM > SM3 > stock dynamic driver IEMs > HD-555... Custom IEM rules, universal IEM can be appreciated...



Listening Volume
What makes me amazed is that I can listen with SM3 at low volume without too much losing its dynamic ranges, details and intimacy (even though I heard that Balanced Armature needs moderate volume to sounds best)... In my HD-555, I must use a moderate volume to makes it sounds good... I prefer listening to low volume since I believe that my ears is more precious than a bunch of freaking expensive cans...



Distortion Level (lower is better)
No, I'm not talking about obvious distortion that comes from the source... I speak about the distortion within the drivers itself...

When my stock dynamic driver IEM plays a single instruments of music, I don't hear anything in background... It's quiet... But as soon as vocal and some more instruments throwed in (especially in complex-sounded electronica music which I hear a lot), the background also becomes noisier with a sound that I-can't-describes-how-it-sounds-like... This noisy background makes all of the music instruments sounds muddy and covers its details and clarity... It's like covered in a fog... With HD-555, this problem becomes less prominent... With SM3, I can't encounter this problem as long as I listened it at a reasonable volume... Even with complex music, SM3 still provides a quiet background...

So, in terms of the lowest distortion level, SM3 > HD-555 > stock dynamic driver IEMs



Sensitivity
I found that SM3 has the same sensitivity as my stock dynamic driver IEMs... Sometimes I heard a hiss with some bad recordings... I can heard 60hz hums if I plugged it to my desktop computer 3.5mm jack... That's why DAC is important to me because it eliminates this annoying hums...

So, in terms of the sensitivity, SM3 = stock dynamic driver IEMs > HD-555



Bass Impact
Bass impact in speaker with subwoofer is unmatched... When it thumps, your chest, lungs and your whole body also thumps... What a nice sensations, especially if the bass goes deep in 18hz-30hz ranges... Hearing 'Bassotronics - Bass, I Love You' (it has a lot of sub-bass), I felt a sense of uneasiness, excitement and fears while my body is vibrating...

In HD-555, Bass impact is less exciting since you only experienced the vibration in your earlobes (it tickles your ears, really!) and eardrums... Yes it's also moves a lot of air, but it's open-backed characteristics means that it doesn't pump the air directly to eardrum, while at the same time preserving the 'fun' factor because I can still feel it with my more rigid earlobes...

 

With stock dynamic driver IEMs, the bass impact is overpoweringly powerful and can only be felt by your eardrums... And I can feel that the air is directly pumped to my eardrum and it hurts so much... If I tuned it down by equalizer, then I lost the 'fun' factor, since I mostly listen to electronic/trance/hip-hop music...

With SM3, in theory, you also only experienced it in your eardrums... But the strange thing is, as long as I don't set the volume very loud, SM3 never gives me a feeling of the air being punched directly to my eardrums... This is my most feared aspect and concern when I considering to use any IEM and I'm glad it doesn't happened with SM3... Does it means it's less fun?

No.

With SM3, I feel that I have additional illusion eardrums (without a pain sensing system) placed around 3 cm from your real eardrums... Instead of projecting the impact directly in my real eardrums like any other IEMs do, SM3 projects it directly in this illusion eardrums... And this illusion eardrums is not as small as my real eardrum (usually human eardrums measured 1 cm in diameter)... It's ten times bigger, around 10 cm in diameter... I feel that SM3 tends to draw a bass and vocal relatively near to my ear, while midrange portrayed further and treble rendered in a most distant space... In my opinion, SM3 would be better if this bass was rendered more further... It's too close to my taste and maybe different amp could gives different result...

But technically this is a good things, because I feel that stock dynamic driver IEMs draws bass, midrange, and treble layers at the same distance... With HD-555, only the treble which was rendered in a more distant space...

So, in terms of bass impact quantity, Speakers with subwoofer > HD-555 > stock dynamic driver IEMs > SM3... Speaker rules, Over the ears headphones can be appreciated... But if you asks my preferences/tastes (not impact quantity), it would be Speakers with subwoofer > Expensive over-the-ear headphones > SM3 > HD-555 > stock dynamic driver IEMs...



Bass Quality
Remember my imagination about illusion eardrums? With SM3, depends on the recording, it draws this kind of layer with so much detailed resolution which makes it becomes my first times that I can 'see' a textured bass like many people mentioned in this forums... I can't experienced this with my HD-555 and stock dynamic driver IEM (the bass only comes without enough resolution to call it textured)... I don't know if it's caused by a tips or other factor, but I think that sub-bass of SM3 could be enhanced a little bit to match with my taste (it looks like attenuated subtly)...

So, in terms of bass quality, SM3 > HD-555 > stock dynamic driver IEMs



Bass Quantity
Finding a right bass quantity by equalization is a hard work with HD-555 and stock dynamic driver IEMs... The preferences could also changes within each songs played, because every music artist (READ: every people) has a different taste of 'their right amount of bass'... What is the right bass for me? Well, I don't need a boomy bass... If I can heard it and felt the impact, that's enough... It's just that the problem is I need a headphone to sounds warm and full-bodied enough (so I can listen at lower volumes), without sacrificing soundstage width and airiness... But unfortunately, increasing bass in HD-555 equals to decreased soundstage width and airiness... So I need to thinks the right balance between them... Before buying SM3, I think this kind of problem happened in all type of cans...

Well, the story changes with SM3... I didn't find any need to equalize its bass, simply because it's warm and full-bodied enough with my taste while still keeping its unique soundstage width (more on this later) and airiness... Keep in mind that I'm not implying that HD-555 is a cold-sounding cans... It's just that the open-nature of this cans makes me think that it needs more warmth and body... My mindset also changes since having SM3... I try experimenting with equalizing the SM3... To my surprise, increasing bass in SM3 to some reasonable extent doesn't means decreased soundstage width and airiness... I still perceived the same loudness of soundstage width and airiness... Either because of low distortion or because SM3 has a dedicated driver for bass, I don't really know... Maybe both of them?

Nothing can beats the bass quantity of stock dynamic driver IEMs... It's so overpowering and ruining the whole rest frequency spectrum... Everytime the bass is called, the midrange and treble suddenly becomes attenuated...

So, in terms of bass quantity, stock dynamic driver IEMs > SM3 > HD-555 (yes, stock dynamic driver IEMs rules this time)



Bass Harmonics
Not all recordings calls for a bass, but almost all type of instruments have its harmonics pair in a low frequency... Even the distance cues which is happened in some open recording (especially a lot in hall and binaural recordings) also have this kind of low frequency harmonics... Good speakers and headphones should potray this kind of bass accurately to gives every instrument a bold and weighty feeling, contributing in a warm signature of the sounds... Accurate drawing of low frequency harmonics of distance cues also could give us a grandeous feelings, makes it easier for us to imagine how is the stage/hall/ambient should looks like...

Again, speaker benefit very much from this since your skin and body could also senses it... But if I would like to compare HD-555 and SM3, I think SM3 wins hands down here... My stock dynamic driver IEMs never gives me a sense of bass harmonics... Theoritically, higher quality over-the-ear headphones should beats IEMs...



Midranges
Both SM3 and HD-555 shines in this midrange aspect... SM3 sounds softer than HD-555, yet SM3 gives more details (maybe because IEMs tends to gives more intimacy compared with over-the-ear headphones, and because of the quality of SM3 itself)... Next thing that makes me amazed is SM3's transparency... The sounds just come out effortlessly without makes me thinking this is coming from a tiny drivers... To me, HD-555 tends to gives a drier midranges...

SM3 midranges is unique... Vocal is brought forward, as near as the bass, and gives a sense of intimacy with the singer without making it excessive or emphasized... Aside from vocal, the rest of midrange is portrayed at further distance... It has a warm and smooth characteristics, which gives me a sense of 'creamy' midranges... You know, it's like that I can draw a layer of milk all around me... That's how SM3 sounds... So sweet, smooth, soft, lush and intimate without being excessive... I think the balance between softness and intimacy of SM3 matched my taste... I really didn't have any complains regarding SM3 midranges, while I think that the midrange of HD-555 feels drier and not smooth compared with SM3... It's also worth mentioning that SM3 also gives a smoother transition across all frequency ranges...

So, in terms of midrange, SM3 wins hands down here...



Treble
Treble in stock dynamic driver IEMs is a joke... It hurts my ears, really...

I found that the treble in HD-555 is slightly rolled off and veiled, although it still giving an accurate sense of airiness...

In SM3, I discovered that the treble is a bit attenuated, but stock comply tips is to blame here... Well, I use and prefer stock comply tips because it's more comfortable and I am accustomed of HD-555 rolled-off treble... Switching to stock bi-flange tips reveals more treble which I am sure would satisfy most of trebleheads out there, but the tips is not comfortable in my small/medium ear canals... In my opinion, a good treble must be sparkly, clear, gives an accurate sense of airiness and it must find a good balance with its portion to the whole frequency without making it sounded sibilant, intrusive and fatiguing to our ears... All I can say that, SM3 meets this 'good treble' requirement... SM3 draws a treble in most far distance compared with other frequency ranges...

So, in terms of treble, SM3 wins hands down here...



Amping
Contrary to popular beliefs, some IEM (at least this is the case with my 34 ohms SM3) had a benefits from amping... I can instantly tell the difference between amped and unamped... Even when I try to pair my SM3 with a cheap US$129 GoVibe Martini amp (low gains), I clearly notice an improvement in every aspects... Most notably is soundstage, transparency and instrument separation :)



Presentation and Instrument Separation
The first time I got HD-555, I feel very exciting to hear how a supposedly stereo headphones can accurately mimicking a presentation of every instruments... I also glad that I didn't choose to buy 5.1 surround headphones for fps gaming instead, because I still get almost the same result by setting 5.1 speakers in my game setup, and let X-Fi CMSS-3D handle the virtualization... Besides, 5.1 surround headphones sucks in listening a music... You can't force stereo recording to be upsampled to 5.1 channels so easily and effortlessly... It will makes it sounds somewhat unnatural, especially with some open-mic recordings or electronica music which already have some ambient cues inside it...

Getting SM3 upped my standard about headphone presentation to another level... Hearing Virtual Barber Shop Hair Cut binaural recording (google it) makes my ears tickles, really! In HD-555, I only hears two dimensionals instrument placement in my right and left plane (width) and up-down plane (height)... When the instrument is moving from right to left in front of you, for example, HD-555 may represents the transition between them inaccurately (it's like an absence of presence when it sounds in front of you)... SM3 adds front-rear plane (depth) while enhancing its up-down plane (height) compared to HD-555... Clearly with SM3, every instrument is presented more accurately with definetly more than enough room between them so I can pinpoint every details easier...



SM3 (Stock small comply tips) CONS



Build Quality
I prefer the HD-555 in this area... It looks more premium... In my opinion, SM3 looks so fragile and cheap with its muddy transparent housing (some peoples experienced housing breakdown with an older batch of SM3 v1)... HD-555 cable of course looks so sturdy... SM3 cables doesn't gives microphonic sounds while being rubbed (except in area after Y split), which is a good thing because I always experienced microphonic sounds with my stock dynamic driver IEMs (microphonics annoys me so much when I was exercising)...

So, in terms of build quality, HD-555 > SM3 > stock dynamic driver IEMs...



Comfort
HD-555 wins hands down... I can wear it 6-12 hours a day and completely forgetting that I wear headphones... Sennheiser is famous of its open-backed heapdhones comfort... IEM's closed nature gives me a little sense of claustrophobia (google that) and angled housing of SM3 v1 doesn't fit with my earlobes... It makes my earlobes hurt after 30 minutes, although I'm now getting accustomed of this... It seems my ears gone wider to make this angled housing fit... I prefer the design of my stock dynamic driver IEMs than this angled-house design (although angled-house design is useful when you sleep by your ears, or wearing a motorcycle helm)... I also experienced excessive earwax (had to clean it regularly) because it seems that my ear canal is reacting when something strange is intruding...

So, in terms of comfort, HD-555 > stock dynamic driver IEMs > SM3... Over the ears headphones rules...



Soundstage
Nobody's perfect, even for SM3... Although the sounds of SM3 wins by wide margin, I really didn't like the soundstage of IEM... It's like all sounds coming from inside your head... You must close your eyes to fool yourself to get a huge out-of-head illusionics presentation, and again, it's not easy because every bass thump reminds me the real distance of this soundstage... I prefer 3-inch out-of head soundstage of my HD-555 (and all open-backed over the ear headphone's soundstage)...

It's just my opinion, but I think not everyone will be accustomed of the SM3's soundstage... Instead of projected in front of you like Sennheiser do, SM3 tends to presenting the instruments all over you... Combined with creamy midrange, you may feel it's too 3D/holographic when listening to concert / open mic recording... Well I prefer this way actually, since I usually listen to electronic / trance music, so I don't mind... So love it or hate it :D

Well, again nobody beats speakers... Or maybe the technology of over-the-ear-headphones and IEMs is not advanced enough to mimicking the soundstage characteristics of speakers? I don't really know...



The Importance of Burn-In
When I hear SM3 out of the box, I'm shocked to find that it sounds really horrible (more shocked than my HD-555)... No sub-bass, bloated mid-bass, veiled midrange, no soundstage and recessed treble... I stopped hearing it after only 5 minutes of listening and complains to my seller because I thought I may get a fake SM3... It sounds like a cheap stock IEMs I have earlier... HD-555 wins hands down here... I already recheck my foobar, dac, amp, and the cabling between it to make sure it's not an outside factor... :(

Then my seller recommends burn-in... At first I don't believe it will change much since I heard Balanced Armature drivers doesn't benefit much from burn-in (dynamic driver gets more benefit)...

Well, I decided to give it a try... I used pink noise about 50 hours... I'm not hearing it directly, just patiently waiting until 50 hours to prove my seller concept about sm3 burn-in... If I listen it casually, I'm afraid it would be subjective because of brain burn-in... Yes, I'm aware that listening to some new sound signature will makes you feel shocked at first, then your brain compensates and adapting with it... So I want to prevent this by not listening it when burning my SM3...

After this 50 hours, I plug it in my ears again, and feels shocked... Why it can changes so much? The burned-in changes is even more prominent compared with my new vs 1000 hours burned-in HD-555 (dynamic drivers)... New SM3 vs 50hours SM3 is like night and day... Sub-bass can be felt, bloated mid-bass is gone completely, replaced by creamy full midrange and smooth treble... All I can say is, after listening to this 50 hours burned-in SM3, I'm really regretting for accusing my seller for selling fake SM3... Now I know he sells an original SM3 and I'm very satisfied with it :D

And I would say that it still benefits from improvement even after more than 50 hours burning in... I recommends 100 hours or more... I still notice a small improvement as the times goes on after 50 hours... Well maybe now it's called brain burn-in, because after 50 hours, I'm listening to the music casually and directly now :)



Tips Fitting Problems (IEMs only)
I don't know why, but SM3 sound quality depends very much on its tips... Wrong tips, improper ear positioning and poor sealing can lead to horrible sounds... Tinny sounds if you don't seal it enough... My cheap dynamic driver US$45 IEM with its stock silicone oliver tips doesn't has tips and burn-in issues... It sounds right out of the box (no need to burn-in) and it doesn't changes very much if I change the tips or the positioning in my ears...



Values
Well, I'm only an ordinary people... Doesn't have a job yet, still in university... For me, I'm heavily considering performance per price ratio... I still can't receive a fact in audiophile world that we pays much more only for a slight improvement (these two aspects is not linear)... Well I'm not mature enough maybe... Based only in sound quality factors which I mentioned above, SM3 only sounds 2x better while it has 3x price tags compared to HD-555... Clearly HD-555 wins hands down in value here, not to mention its advantage in build quality, comfort, soundstage, and tips fitting...



Conclusion
Well, to make it short, I prefer HD-555 ergonomics and SM3 sound quality and portability... SM3 becomes my new standard of what would I call 'a good sound'... If you have ever owned SM3 and you think that it sounds crap, I can think of some reasons:
- Not burned-in enough... Give it about 100 hours!
- Tips fitting problem... Play with different tips and make sure it sits sealed and comfortably in your ears... If it doesn't feel comfortable, it can ruined the sound quality psychologically...
- You have heard another US$1000++ rigs!

 Disclaimer:
1. I'm sorry if my English is bad with wrong grammar here and there, because it's not my mother language...

2. This is my first time writing a review... It tooks 1 hours to write this review... Since I am new to the audiophile world (only owns two audiophile cans), many technicality aspects which I mentioned could be wrong or misleading... Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong :)

3. I'm sorry if you bought SM3 after reading my review, then later becomes dissappointed because it doesn't meet up your expectations (hey, I only have HD-555 and SM3, so it could be biased :D)... In my life, I only have heard HD-555 and SM3, aside from a bunch of stock dynamic driver IEMs and earbuds which is bundled with many portable players and handphones... So I can only makes a comparison between two of them... I'm fully aware that there are many other cans which sounds better than SM3... Some of you may also prefer Westone flagships (I'm curious how it sounds, but now I don't have money :D ) or another unnamed cans...

 

EDIT:

In case you're wondering what is 'stock dynamic driver IEMs,' refer to this post http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/554349#post_7479234 it's post #5 in this thread (page 1)


Edited by MusicHolic - 5/18/11 at 4:21am
post #2 of 6

which players do your stock dynamic driver IEMs come?

post #3 of 6

what "dynamic driver IEM" do you have?

 

it is as sensitive as the SM3?

post #4 of 6

Great review, going to read it in its entirety soon. I too enjoyed the SM3 quite a lot while I owned it.

 

Oh and, welcome to head-fi. Sorry about your wallet o2smile.gif.

post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

I mention it as 'stock dynamic driver IEMs' because there's too many and I don't remember all of the gadget that I bought... I mostly bought a handphones and a few portable media players... I remember some of them, but it's too hard to search the picture... So I will try to mention some of my previous cans which has a pictures, ranked by sound quality (but really, none of them beats HD-555 and SM3):

 

SonyEricsson Xperia Neo stocks IEM, courtesy of GSMArena (best IEM besides SM3 that I have heard to date... If I don't own SM3 and HD-555, I will happily lives with this IEM)

neo.jpg

 

 

 

SonyEricsson HPM-85 (in the ads, it states that it had neodymium drivers! Priced at US$20, it has a great price/performance ratio)

476f1cb6_hpm-85.jpg

 

 

 

SonyEricsson W380 stocks headphone (I'm shocked that it has a good soundstages)...

w380i.jpg

 

 

 

SonyEricsson HPM-82 (I really can't find the strong points of this IEM)

hpm-82.jpg

 


Edited by MusicHolic - 5/18/11 at 4:24am
post #6 of 6

Very nice review.  Keep up the good work for the community--and enjoy your music.

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