Originally Posted by phntmsmshr
I would advise against FXT-90 - while they are nice, they cannot match the DDM1 for bass depth or impact and they sound too artificially bright in treble in comparison to DDM1. I bought them months ago thinking they would exceed the Radius but even after 300+ hours of burn in they just don't rate for me in comparison. the FOTM thread has generated a lot of hype for them though so I expect to be shouted down on that.
[Sorry this is so long-winded; I get on a roll, and I can't stop.]
Well, the gifts have been exchanged, so I thought I'd offer an update with impressions. The girlfriend had indeed intended to get the Monster Turbine Pro Coppers, but after reading all the replies to this thread and reading much of the FXT90 Review & Impressions thread, I told her I thought that the JVCs probably represented the best bargain. (She apparently didn't consider the GR07s strongly, because she thought they were ugly, a judgment I really can't gainsay.)
She gave me a set of champagne-colored FTX90 Limited Editions (as well as a Newcastle United away shirt: Cheik Tiote #24!). At the same time, I gave her, along with a Kindle Fire, a set of Brookstone Clear Drive IEMs, the Radius DDM2 knockoff being sold for $70 at retail. I had recently helped her set up an mp3 player (and provided most of my music library), so she was excited about them, and recognized them for looking just like the DDM2s. I had read a lot about the FXT90, so I was prepared to hear some harshness at the top end before burn-in, but I was NOT prepared for what I actually heard: a positively shrill -- though admittedly resolving -- and grainy top end supported by virtually no bass whatsoever. For a while, I thought the bass drivers on both 'phones must have been defective or disconnected. I'm not kidding, they sounded like hissier iBuds.
Now, while monkeying around in befuddlement with the iPod and the JVCs, which I couldn't believe were the same phones that Ericp10 said "smokes the DDMs," I gave her Brookstones a listen, and was both pleased and crestfallen. Pleased because they are indeed a fantastic bargain and I had given a really good gift, crestfallen because they sounded IMMEASURABLY superior to the JVCs I had received. I haven't listened long enough to judge them accurately, and my own DDMs simply can't be kept working for long enough to do any valid A/B comparisons; but I thought they were certainly in the same league as the DDM1, and possibly better.
Now, with the DDMs, and every other IEM I've used, the mid-sized "standard" rubber tip gave me good fit and acceptable sound. Nonetheless, I had purchased a set of Monster tips (gels and foams in five sizes, $25 at a Staples store in Roanoke, VA) to experiment with, and had the S/M gel tips on the DDMs when they broke down. (They're about the same size as medium stock rubber tips provided with most IEMs. If you're interested, the Supertips were almost ludicrous with the DDMs. It was like hooking a good subwoofer up to them, but with the crossover set incorrectly.) I had been listening to the FXT90s using the medium stock tip, so I tried the small/medium supertip. It still didn't sound good, but it proved that the bass drivers were working. In desperation, I tried the large stock tips, which I've never before worn. They were an improvement, but still left me extremely unimpressed and indeed depressed.
In despair, I left the JVCs hooked to the iPod and left it to play overnight. The next morning, I tried again, rolling tips, but had no better results than the night before. My girlfriend tried them, as well, and immediately got a "WTF" look on her face; she was outraged that she had paid $150 plus shipping from Singapore and immediately offered to return them and buy me the Coppers. I didn't want to make her feel bad, so I said, "well, let's see," and left the JVCs playing all day and night again. There was no change, and I offered to pay for the return shipping if she could get an RMA from Accessoryjack. I boxed the FXT90s up and returned home.
While waiting for the RMA, I decided to dig out my other tips and just try a few options, just in case. I tried Complys first, and they were a big improvement...but I frankly can't stand Complys, because they get so gunked up for me that it's embarrassing to remove them in public. I tried the monster tips, too. The medium gels and foams were a big improvement over even the Complys; I went ahead and tried the larges (two sizes up from what I used with the DDM, which offers a deeper insertion), et voila! I had a brand new set of IEMs. Bass was not only present, but strong and impactful, and whether it was the tips or the 35 or so hours of burn-in I'd already done, most of the top-end grain and harshness was gone. I immediately contacted my girlfriend and called off the return. (She was very happy!)
I'm happy with these phones, but I have never experienced such a strange fit. With their relatively shallow insertion, the JVCs require a lot more width to get a good seal; even the large rubber tips weren't sealing effectively, which is why they sounded like iBuds initially. I've been listening to them a lot over the last couple of days, and have noticed a few things.
First off, right now, I'm not experiencing them as a 1:1 replacement for the DDMs. All the things I loved about the DDMs, well, I still love them, and most of them aren't done as well by the FXT90s. While the smaller, quicker bass driver of the JVCs offers very good -- and exceptionally tight -- bass, it sacrifices the beautiful reverb and decay that characterizes the DDMs. (And I don't concede that the DDMs have "too much" bass; I think they're beautifully balanced, but that many recordings are mixed for iBud listening these days, rather than for speaker playback.) The midrange, as well, is a strength of the DDMs, and it may be a function of my long time with those 'phones that the JVCs' mids seem recessed by comparison (I reserve the right to change my mind on this; I just listened to Radiohead's "Give Up the Ghost," and it was just lovely). On the other hand, I'd definitely say that midrange -- especially vocal -- detail is superior in the FXT90s. At the top end, of course, the JVCs seem to offer a lot more than the DDMs. Detail is phenomenal by my standards, and fast transients (snare drums, etc.) are nearly perfect, though certain "crunching" -- some percussion, very heavily "feedbacked" guitars -- sounds gain a very unpleasant edge through these phones. On the whole, the FXT90s are comparatively fatiguing; the DDMs' more relaxed treble is easier on the ears in long doses. I have faith that further burn-in, not to mention adjustment on my part, is going to lessen the difference here, though. The FXT90s are far less forgiving with poor source material, as well...you really can tell a 128kbps mp3 when using them.
Presentation is a split decision; when I woke up this morning, I think I preferred the DDMs, but now I'm not so sure. The DDMs provide a far more "outside the head" (and yet, somehow more intimate) sound, which I prefer, but I think that the FXT90s beat the DDMs pretty handily when it comes to instrument separation and spatial accuracy. I would never have called the overall sound signature of the DDM veiled, but the FXT90's exceptional clarity can somewhat unfairly give that impression. I'll try to explain. For me, the biggest difference between these 'phones is that the DDMs present music more "organically," with that bass foundation somehow wrapping the mids and even the treble up into a bundle and presenting it gently to your ears. The FXT90s, on the other hand, seem to "show" a chasm between each instrument and voice, revealing each in the fullness of its detail. I want to say that the DDMs' presentation is more natural, more the way we hear, but I'm not sure that's really true. Perhaps a better analogy would be to say that the DDMs represent recorded music, which we always receive from drivers of one sort or another, virtual point sources that combine the discrete components of music together, and attempt to provide an illusion of space in the recording. The FXT90s, by contrast, represent listening to unamped live music, perhaps sitting close to an orchestra, where the sounds you're receiving are really coming from many points in space. It's a somewhat ridiculous comparison, of course, since the the DDMs showed me more space, if less spatial accuracy, and both IEMs actually ARE using speaker drivers to create illusions, but it's the best I can do for the moment.
A note on fit and comfort: the DDMs require a deeper insertion, which is to me fundamentally less comfortable than the FXT90s' shallower insertion. When paired with the monster foam tips, I can hardly feel them in my ears. I think the gel tips improve the sound, particularly bass extension, very marginally and though very comfortable, feel more "squirmy" in my ears and make me think I'm going to lose the seal or have them drop out entirely. However, the design of the DDMs allowed for pretty much one correct insertion, while the FXT90s can twist through a range of positions in your ear, with enormous effect on the sound. The FXT90s also have FAR better isolation.
If I can get the DDMs repaired, I feel like I'm going to have two great and completely different options, allowing for mood and the needs of a listening situation, so I'm quite happy. That said, I'm still going to listen to those Brookstones some more and will certainly get a set if the DDMs can't be fixed. Now, maybe next year I'll try those UM Merlins and see if they provide a best-of-both-worlds solution...