Edit 2013-11-17: This review is not an endorsement by FiiO. I had no working relationship with FiiO when I wrote this piece. And I will continue to write way-out-there stuff here under the "not endorsed by FiiO" disclaimer
Edit 2012-07-16: The SHE3580 is getting replaced by its successor the SHE3590. I believe the only difference between them is the shell colours.
Edit 2011-12-26: I know I kind of implied in my review that they need EQ to sound great but you know what? It may all be down to personal preference. AFAICT these have a V shaped sound signatrue but I always have trouble picking out vocals from instruments whichever phones I use so this may just be personal bias kicking in. I showed these to my brother and let him hear it with and without my "setting for everybody" EQ and he even preferred the original sound!
Then I tried customizing an EQ to his ears ala PiccoloNamek's EQ thread and found that for his ears there's very little that needs be changed.
He didn't say much about the sound but he did ask if he could keep the pair I gave him to do the tests on
Seriously, these were the phones that got me back into music after a years long hiatus. And even after I got back into music the broken Etymotic ER-4P I had sat for months in disrepair. I was wondering what better sounds I would hear from them... but not wondering too much. Finally I sent them in for repair, and after they came back, I didn't hear anything special that would sway me from the $10 Philips! The Ety's treble was smoother... but the Philips' treble was even smoother with my custom EQ dialled in (again, YMMV regarding the necessity to EQ). And the bass... is earthshakingly deep. And the fit and comfort... these Philips just pop right in my ears and stay there. I was never comfortable with the Etys until I cannibalised a pair of tips from an extra pair of the Philips I wasn't using and adapted them onto the Etys using decored T-100 comply tips as an adapter.
Then the Etys broke again... for the fourth time for me. This time one of the channels went intermittent and when I tried fixing it by pulling and reconnecting the plug to the bud, the socket came out with the plug after the 3rd try or so Meanwhile, the original pair of SHE3580 I got before I sent the Etys for repair are still going strong... taking more abuse than the Etys with nary a scratch (well, the heatshrink over the I-connector came off when I tried pulling it out of a particularly stubborn socket, but I suppose that can be superglued back on... not that I bothered. It still fits snugly over the I-plug and only comes off when I pull particularly hard. I take that as a sign that I have to be more careful pulling the plug out of this particular socket. The wiring inside the I-connector is potted and the pot can be pulled with no worries over stretching the wires inside). They have also taken blasts of accidental high volume noise from my computer's headphone out and aged like a fine wine--the bass just got deeper.
Finally let me quote why I liked these so much in the first place from another thread:
Of course I would never have bothered to do any of that if I did not hear potential in these phones in the first place. The 5 things counting for it were
1. solidly constructed, completely closed enclosure with no ports; closed speaker design means no flabby ported mid-bass
2. metal grille over drivers instead of fibre plug means sound reached ear more directly
3. incredibly precise channel matching, 2 pairs of $10 SHE3580 I own each have better matched L/R drivers (as I heard from sine sweeps throughout the frequency range) than the Etymotic ER-4Ps I have now!
4. incredible bass and treble extension, treble going beyond the limits of my hearing and bass still going strong way down at 30Hz
5. just a general feeling of "these actually sound pretty good" when I first paid $10 for them and plugged them in my ears, and moments where I got this nagging suspicion that I was hearing things I never even heard on the etys.
Hi, it's been nearly ten years since I joined Head-Fi, but I've been so far out of the loop these last few years that I've practically let my head-fi gear rot--my Ety 4Ps, the last piece of working head-fi gear I was holding onto, had one side go bad last year. Since then, I have been going without any hi-fi grade listening gear. Don't ask me why I didn't send them in for repair; I don't know. Maybe I just wasn't listening to enough music to justify the repair cost. I also had some, er, spouse-related financial problems which only affected hobby gear ;)
Anyway, fast forward to about a week ago. I've recently started listening to more music again, using the subject of this review, the Philips SHE3580 canalphones. On a whim I visited head-fi for the first time in a long time, and stumbled upon this thread:
This thread introduced me to a concept I'd never considered: that standing waves can form between headphones (especially canalphones like I've been using) and the eardrum, causing comb filtering of the music signal just like a badly treated room. Someone who really should know his acoustics theory seems to be on board with the idea. Subsequent experimentation with a parametric EQ (I'm no stranger to equalizers, but a parametric is a first for me) has improved the sound of these $10 canalphones to the point where I think it's worth my effort to write a review about them. A LONG review (for me anyway), because they just sound that good now--and I really wish more people with headphones at any price would give this a try. (Linkwitz did it for his $300 etys, for example)
Past head-fi gear:
Etymotics ER-4P (returned from repair for the third time, now sitting there gathering dust because these just sound that much better edit: broken again, they lasted less than half the time coming back from repair than my original pair of SHE3580 have been trucking on (most of this year).)
Sennheiser HD580 (now with one driver gone bad--cable fault; waiting for cable replacement)
Amp: Porta Corda (volume pot unbalanced; not used in this review)
I also got to audition other head-fi in a Hong Kong head-fi meet many years ago, including a Sony R10 driven by an ASL Twin Head.
A picture of the packaging, to identify them in shops:
Frequency response: 12 - 23 500 Hz (I'd believe the top figure, if not the bottom one) (edit: looking at measurements it seems to be the other way around, although it seems normal for the treble to be rolled off in these measurements:) (and normal for the FR look like a roller coaster...?)
Impedance: 16 ohm
Maximum power input: 50 mW
Sensitivity: 102 dB
Accessories: silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes)
Build: these are some of the tiniest earphones I've seen. The sound chamber is a tiny teardrop-shaped piece of plastic, and it looks like the drivers are slightly angled relative to the nozzle. The nozzles are covered with a metal mesh, no foam. Thin, rubbery cable causes little microphonics but is tangle-prone. I try to avoid tangles by winding the phones into a coil before pocketing them. The very short stem makes wearing over-the-ear easy (but I just wear them straight down).
These come in 6 different colours with different model numbers, SHE3581 (white), 3582 (light blue), 3583 (pink), 3584 (dark blue), and 3585 (red), for those of you who care about such things...
Comfort: very comfortable for me, with the small tips these just about disappear when I put them on. Like most low-end canalphones, these tips seal just over the entrance to the ear canal, which I find more comfortable than the tips that came with my etys, which seal inside the canal.
Out of the box (no modifications)
These phones sounded pretty good out of the box compared with the stuff I've been going through after the etys broke down. Detailed treble, punchy but not overbearing bass. But they do have a pronounced v-shaped curve, sacrificing the midrange. I have trouble picking out vocals from energetic instruments, whatever phones I listen with, and these are certainly not an exception.
Edit: recently I let my brother try these phones. And after tweaking the EQ for him, it seems he prefers the sound almost stock. The bass and treble emphasis, if they indeed be that, seem just right for him.
With graphic EQ (10 bands)
Unlike the good old days of the EX70EQ, all my computers and music players (er, my phone) now come with 10-band EQs that can conveniently alter the sound in real time, so that's what I started playing with.
After 2 months of playing by ear, I settled on something like this: (this is the EQ module from PowerAMP, for those of you looking for an equalizer on Android)
I don't put any of the sliders above 0 to prevent output clipping, and as far as I can determine, the sliders bottom out at 12dB. A graph like this serves to quantify how a pair of phones sounds to me (eg the mids at 500Hz sound about recessed compared to the treble at 4kHz), but as you will see, there's a better graph coming.
With this setting, I could play my old favorite songs and not feel like I'm missing too much compared to the etys. But I felt there was still room for improvement. If I dialled down the treble too much, things sounded dull. If I dialled it back up, there would be too much sibilance. In between, there would be a compromise zone where the sound is a bit dark overall but the sibilance still jumps out at times. Detail-wise I kept picking up hidden cymbals or triangles that I never noticed even with the etys but I'd put this up to the phones' extra emphasis on the upper treble.
Enter parametric equalization
Introduction and original guide
My own updated guide (in progress)
I used the Electri-Q VST plugin (linked in the guide) and pretty much followed the guide by PiccoloNamek on compensating for the headphone-eardrum "room resonance" effect, with the exception that I only tried to smooth out the peaks above 1kHz, not make all frequencies sound "the same". Rathing than using pink noise, I also found it easier to do this by creating sine tones at the peak and trough frequencies (using a sound editor like Audacity) and comparing loudness to adjust the EQ. Another technique is to create sine sweeps (e.g. using the Generate "chirp" function in Audacity) from one peak to the next (e.g. from 2950Hz to 5000Hz in my case); with fixed start and end reference points it becomes easier to know which frequency you're at when you hear more peaks in between that you haven't evened out.
After evening out the peaks (using the sharp dips in the graph above 1kHz) it becomes a matter of approximating the graphic EQ I've been using before, listening to music to test the settings out. But now I'm not limited to 10 bands--in fact I can put in any number of adjustments, centered at any frequency, with an arbitrary level of selectivity (ie the Q factor). At first I was bewildered by the limitless choices available, but then I found a really useful tool--right click on a control point and in the context menu that appears, there is a "bandpass" item at the bottom. Click that, and the control point you've selected temporarily turns into a bandpass filter--filtering out all frequencies except the ones you're affecting with this control point.
If you move this control point around you can now hear different frequencies in isolation in real time--so say you hear a boominess in the bass that is colouring vocals, you can move the point around until you find exactly the frequency around where you hear nothing but "boom boom boom boom". Now uncheck the "bandpass" item to turn your control point back to normal and you can remove just this boominess by lowering the gain at this point.
To put a long story short--smoothing out the resonant peaks really opened up the treble detail. Now I have the average treble level much higher than it was when I was using graphic EQ (though still several dBs down compared to stock), and the sound is bright in the best sense--unbelievably detailed yet not fatiguing at all. Electric guitars from Iron Maiden are forward in an entirely believable and enjoyable manner, drums and transients from well-mastered recordings are so tight and impactful that it feels like my eardrums are meeting in the middle of my head. However woodwinds and trumpets from Kannazuki No Miko OST are a bit too shrill. I would say I am hearing Grados in IEM form, except I've never heard Grados. I think these phones' original sensitivity to treble and lack of foam over the nozzles really helped them out here.
Tweaking the EQ by ear, it appears a low shelf starting ~200Hz and a further dip at ~100Hz really helps to remove boominess and make the bass sound tighter. I don't know how a pair of canalphones with possibly the smallest drivers and sound chamber in the market (for dynamic type) and no ports anywhere to be seen manages to resonate in the bass, but it appears that these phones have a midbass hump just like most budget phones, albeit smaller than a few I've heard. Tweaking the EQ does not totally remove this looseness and this would be my chief complaint that does not seem amenable to EQ, albeit a small one considering the price. On classical music I prefer to lessen the bass cut and leave the 100Hz hump as is as it seems to give a realistic resonance to violins. Make of this what you will.
Edit: rather than calling it a midbass hump, it seems these phones just go stronger and stronger as you go down the bass registers. Like this:
The other sore point was the soundstage. I've never heard much of a soundstage with headphones, especially canalphones, even the Etys (I did not remember the Senn HD580s being particularly impressive to me in this regard, either), but I've never minded the close in-your-face (more like in-your-head) presentation that results. But with all the descriptions of 3D soundstaging I hear from many here I started looking for soundstaging with my music and found it lacking as usual.
I tried Dolby Headphone
but found it coloured the sound too much even with RPGWizard's settings, and I did not find the improvement in soundstage (not much) to be worth it.
For now I have settled on this simple crossfeed plugin
Left on default settings, it gave a nice improvement to the front-back projection of the soundstage without colouring the sound or narrowing the stage much left-to-right. Instruments now appear to be projected just out of my head on some recordings. I suspect that the effect may be more effective on circumaural headphones like my Senn HD580s as the HRTF model may be based on circumaurl headphones instead of canalphones. It would be nice to find a crossfeed plugin that stated exactly which HRTF model it uses: circumaural, over-the-ear, earbud or canalphone. Anyway, I look forward to reconditioning the HD580s to try out the effect.
I find that the riced out SHE3580 gives up nothing against my memory of the $300 Etymotic ER-4P at its best with no alterations. On the other hand, I'm sure the 4P can benefit similarly to the SHE3580 from EQ to remove resonances. (Siegfried Linkwitz thought so too) I'm going to send the 4P in for repairs ASAP and post my impressions on that when they return.
On the other hand, I wonder if I will ever find tips for the 4P that are nearly as comfortable as the tips for these cheap canalphones that seal just over the ear canal entrance rather than inside the canal...
Here's the EQ settings I made for Electri-Q for download (you'd need to tweak it to fit your own ear canal resonances even if you have the same phones):
Edited by Joe Bloggs - 11/17/13 at 7:30am