Breakthrough update | Why EQ'ing is a great thing.
I must say, this has been a frustrating musical expedition comparing these two earphones. Namely because I love different aspects of them. As you can probably tell from the general tone of my posts so far, the SE535 has been more to my "tastes" than the W4. Namely because I felt the W4 lacked the dynamism and punch of the SE535 despite having better instrumental sound separation and a wider soundstage. It's high's were not as sparkly, it's mids more laid back and bass lacking as much impact. Well, since spending more hours than I'd like to calculate on EQ'ing, I think I've had a bit of a turn around in opinion.
Imo if you are not EQ'ing, the SE535 (to my ears) sounds better. It just has more punch and prominence in nearly all areas. Whilst the W4's soundstage and musical separation (possibly thanks to the 4 drivers too) is just stunning, what lets it down I've especially realised now, is a stupendously thick veil over the sound. It really clouds much of the dynamism to an already laid back headphone. This is one of the reasons the SE535 feels punchier than it is, because the lack of a veil (comparatively) really helps bring out the clarity. With the W4, at default settings, the veil slightly hampers the overall signature and lays waste to an otherwise superbly detailed and refined earphone.
So....the solution? You guessed it, EQ'ing (I'd imagine amps could have similar affects, though I've not tested the theory).
After several hours of tweaking, followed by more tweaking, topped up with even further tweaking, this is what I have.
I warn you, I am a bit of a bass junkie, so you may want to reduce the bass frequencies a bit. These were using the Shure Foam Onlives on both. Software used was EQu on the iPhone 4.
Not finalised, still feel there's room for improvement. I could possibly further reduce the potency of the mids whilst retaining the texture and lush overall appeal. Still a big improvement with a much less vibrant and more neutral overall balance. Vocals don't drown out details as much, and there's more realism to the overal audio signature. It's still a bit cluttered, with a fairly narrow soundstage, not sure if I can EQ this out, but I will do further testing. Had to drop it at 7k just a tad to reduce some sibilance on snares and other harsher instruments. Added to the highest frequencies to make up for this slightly, and the lower mids which used to carry or compliment a lot of the highs forward before. Dropping near the 128hz mark cleaned up the sound and spaced things out a bit. Test it out and try it yourself.
Post EQ thoughts: You lose some of the vibrancy it had before, but it sounds less aggressive and more balanced now. Still has all the bite from before, but now with vocals and other instruments being less glaring. Though overall due to the smaller sound sig, it can still feel a bit claustrophobic, and instrumental detailing/separation still ins't on the level of the W4. Main thing that shines is the stunningly impactful bass. You can really feel it. Pre EQ it has more punch in the upper/mid bass which drowned out the low bass, EQ'ing helps that without really losing any details. Bass is one of the SE535's best features. It's prominent, direct and detailed. High's also have a bit more sparkle than the W4, but it's not always as obvious due to the slightly less effective instrumental separation.
Not sure how much more I can really improve this one. I'm comfortable with it as my final. The results have really impressed me. You can see based on the EQ graph, to my ears the W4's were in some serious need of EQ'ing. Balance is sort of all over the place. The potential (and bags of it) is all there, it's just masked behind a slight veil and some overly laid back presentation. But EQ'ing those out and the results are sublime. Similar to the SE535, dropping certain frequencies removed the slightly annoying veil and completely lifted the sonic presentation. Brought the mids forward a bit to add texture to vocals, then some more to the highs and bass. Had to drop at near 7k to reduce sibilance as per discussed above. Sibilance wasn't as much of an issue with the W4 as the SE535, but with both I think I've struck a good balance between removing the harshness whilst preserving sharp details. W4 needed bigger bumps in most areas to bring it to life (for my tastes).
Post EQ Thoughts: Wow. What a game changer. Now the W4's can finally breath. A veil no longer clouds the presentation, and bringing out the mids (subtly), highs and bass just brightens it all up and allows you to really appreciate the fantastic soundstage and detailing. The bass, whilst more impactful than before, still isn't as dramatic as the SE535's. That said, there's plenty on offer now, and none of the control is lost. What you lose in punch you gain with more variety. There's ever so slightly more layer to the bass compared to the SE535. Slightly more texture and shape to it. Highs now have more sparkle, no longer conservative whilst still not having an ounce of sibilance (I was careful to remove it). Overall the presentation is still very balanced, neutral and analytical. Just not as laid back or lazy as before. It's more musical and detailed. That tremendous instrumental separation glows, whilst now being even more balanced and not instrument prominent as before. Now the vocals can line up against the instrumentals with more command as they should have all along. In any case, a big improvement all around.
End thoughts: I was sure I'd keep the SE535's and sell the W4's, but now I'm not so sure. In a weird turn of events I am now enjoying the W4's more. I complained that before the soundstage and instrumental separation was problematic for me before on the W4's as I ended up focusing more on the instruments than the vocals or bass. Now the emphasis is where it should be when it needs to be. I'm enjoying music on it more. The soundstage and detailing is paying in dividends, and instead the SE535 is sounding a little claustrophobic or overly controlled/focused. I'm missing the detailing and space the W4 offers, though saying that, the SE535 is still more punchy and fun. Just not as balanced or quite as detailed. I'll report back with a final conclusion, since I'm still not 100% sure which I prefer, and could change my mind again lol.
On a side note, I hate the cable ends attached to the housing on the W4's. They itch the top of my ears. Should have stuck with rounded or smooth cable housing!
Edited by Naim.F.C - 7/9/11 at 7:25am