Pros: Excellent tip selection, good build quality, good comfort, pleasing overall sound
Cons: Highs are lacking, mids and highs can sound artificial on some recordings
Preferred Genres: I preferred jazz the most on these,
Home: Musicbee (WASAPI) -> ODAC -> O2 Amp
Portable: iPod Classic
From the outside the EX10s packaging doesn’t look too spectacular, NVX is keeping the black and blue color scheme I first became acquainted with when I received my XPT100. The EX10s come in a dominantly black rectangular box with blue accents and a clear plastic window showing the IEMs sitting in grey foam, very typical for most IEMs. The front has some basic selling points to grab the users attention while the sides have specs and accessory listings and the back has information on some unique features of the IEM. Overall though this is pretty standard for an IEM, in my experiences.
The experience was pretty standard until I slid the “shell” off of the box and am greeted with a minimalistic black box that’s surprisingly more eye-catching than with the shell on to my eyes. The box opens with the face of it lifting up to expose the secured IEMs. The IEMs are sitting in foam that is attached to a triangular shaped piece of cardboard slides out, then I became a little confused.. As I removed the IEMs and the holder I didn’t find any of the accessories the box claimed, I expected them to be housed inside the triangular cardboard I had just removed, but instead I found a little compartment that is built into the box that houses the IEMs in a small space sitting underneath the IEM display. A cardboard flap opens up from the bottom of the box and I find my accessories. I don’t know why this impressed me so much, and I’m probably doing a horrible job explaining this, please refer to the pictures for clarity, but I thought that this was a nice change-up from the usual. It’s the little design choices like this that make the user experience just a bit more enjoyable.
Included with the EX10s is a rather large list of accessories starting with a black pleather pouch, ear guides, and a shirt clip, then a huge list of tips: 1 pair of their ComfortMax tips, 7 total pairs of their imitation Sony hybrid tips, 3 pairs of imitation hybrids filled with foam, 3 normal pairs of single flanged tips, and lastly a pair of bi-flanged tips. You’re going to find a pair of tips that suit you, I promise this.
In most of my reviews the summary usually goes something like, “Like most packaging in this price range,” well this one I can say is different and it excites me. I’m growing tired of the typical open from the top, slide out a plastic mold holding my headphones and the accessories jammed beneath it that fall out as the mold is removed. It’s all too common and while NVX hasn’t completely changed the game, they’ve made the experience varied just enough to make an impression on me.
Design and Build Quality
Enough about the packaging, how about the actual IEMs? Well the IEMs are shaped in the same way the Vsonic GR06 are, that is to say that they are square shaped with a bulbous protrusion where the nozzle comes out that are designed to be worn over ear. The housings are made from sturdy black plastic with a small NVX logo in the center of the outside. The inside has something interesting that I’ve never seen though, a movable nozzle that is said to help with comfort and to ensure a better fit while reducing irritation on the outer part of the ear. This is actually pretty great as it allows more flexibility as to how I maneuver the tip into my canal without worry of the housing being forced against the outer part of my ear. Another thing I’ve never seen is in the metal mesh filter there is a small inner ring that has it’s two ends facing inwards towards the center of the mesh filter. I’m not sure what this is for, so I can not comment further.
The housing has a lighter colored plastic stress relief that protects a rubber memory wire that keeps the wire in place, assumedly to cut back on annoyances of over-ear cables moving around and falling over the ear during exercise, that is at least the benefit I’ve seen most. I assume that it also helps microphonics. Once the memory wire ends a thick feeling, compared to most IEMs I own, grey cable comes from each ear and meets at a hard rubber y-split, one side having the NVX logo, the other having the model number, a cable cinch is also included and is a welcome addition. The cables join to make one thicker cable that terminates into a 90 degree angle 3.5mm plug that has a small NVX logo on it.
After much deliberation between the tips I finally settled on the foam filled hybrids, the regular tips and the regular hybrids simply don’t have the comfort that these do and I found that with the ComfortMax tips the sound had an artificial sounding mid-range and that the bass had lost some of it’s punchiness. The fit on these is much like the CKM500 I recently reviewed, but thanks to the movable nozzle I am able to use the single flanged tips as the housing isn’t rubbing on the outside of my ear like it would with a static nozzle. Isolation is average at best even with the foam filled tips, but with music playing there’s no worries of outside noise. Isolation is one aspect the ComfortMax tips do trump the other tips in though, even without music playing they provide a good enough amount of isolation to make conversation impossible with the IEMs in. Comfort is good no matter what tip you use, though I found the ComfortMax provided the best comfort with the foam filled hybrids coming in a close second.
The build quality is great here, I have no doubts that these will put up with a good amount of abuse and last many years if treated right. There are no worries about the cable or the housing as far as their build is concerned and the comfort is above average here. If a well built IEM that fits well is your primary concern then these are something to highly consider on those aspects alone.
I’ve put at least 100 total hours of music playing through the EX10s, whether on my ears or by themselves. At no time did I notice any burn-in effects. My review is based on the foam filled hybrid tips provided in the packaging.
So far we’ve established that the packaging is pretty great, the build quality is solid, and that the comfort is above average, now it’s time to get to the important stuff. The sound of the EX10s and the style it’s presented reminds me of being in a smoky intimate jazz venue that has the bass up just a notch too much. To put that simply, the EX10s has a slight favoring towards the low frequencies presented in an intimate manner, they actually remind me a lot of the Sennheiser HD558 I used to own in overall sound style. The EX10s aren’t the type to impress right away with huge detail, or a very lively sound, but what the EX10s excel at is sounding good with almost everything I’ve listened to them on.
The bass is the prominent frequency of the overall sound of the EX10s and it’s the primary reason the EX10s remind me of the HD558. The bass is very clean with good extension rather deep down and good mid-bass slam for kick drums and toms. These aren’t bass monsters by any means and the sub-bass leaves a bit to be desired but these will certainly satisfy those of us who aren’t bassheads. The mid-bass has a small hump that emphasizes these frequencies, pushing things like bass guitars, to the spotlight, but the impressive thing is that despite this nuances in the background aren’t lost. An example of this is during an atmospheric drum and bass track by Duo Infernale called Lost in the World where I’m able to hear the slow panning electronic noises despite the heavy rumbling sub-bass that drives the track with the kick drums being worked overtime. The loss of nuances due to pushy bass is a problem most bass oriented IEMs I’ve heard in this price range suffer from, NVX does bass right here. Overall the bass is very satisfying, it favors bass guitars over kick drums and sub-bass, but the impact of toms and kick drums is above average as is the sub-bass in presence and quality.
The bass is a bit too prominent for me, but I can say that I am almost completely satisfied with the mids. Vocals have a great sound to them having a clean sound that’s placed well in the soundstage being center but not too forward. Guitars sound clean as well with every string able to be heard separately on albums that were recorded well, namely The Beatles Abbey Road, the EX10s aren’t miracle workers though and poorly recorded modern rock albums can sound a bit flat and dull in the mid section. As the famous saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” The EX10s may not be very detailed, but they are detailed enough to expose poorly recorded guitars. Listening to Sufjan Steven’s All of the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands is a good example, while it’s one of my favorite songs off an excellent album, the album is still lo-fi and while it’s not painful, the banjo is obviously lacking some clarity and luster.
The highs aren’t the focus here and that is painfully apparent in some tracks where the high frequencies are the focus. The main offender I am talking about is Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb and am referencing the solos, which unfortunately sound as if they are turned a notch or two down below the bass. Trumpets do sound great though, a bit restrained but that can be a good thing for fatigue. The highs are rather clean, though I do notice the same dull characteristics the mids can sometimes carry.
As for how the sound is presented, the HD558 comparison fits rather well here too. The EX10s have an intimate sound stage with good separation, there’s even a slight open sound to this as I hear instruments trail off a little into the “sky.” I really enjoy the presentation the EX10s have, it works with the sound of the headphones.
There is a lot of competition in the IEM market with huge competition going on in the ~$100 range right now. There are companies like Brainwavz and Meelectronics who have established a cult fanbase that have both released some good IEMs in the past year and there are new companies like NVX who are in the process of carving out a niche for themselves. I don’t envy the struggle of the new companies and wish them all the best of luck in this tough market. Fortunately I think NVX has found their stride, first with their XPT100, now with the EX10s. The EX10s haven’t fully won me over with their sound, they do sound great mind you, but they have really shown a care for the consumer with their packaging, huge list of accessories, build quality, and the little things they do.
The EX10s are currently available for pre-order through NVX.com for $130. I’m not sure if I can give them a full recommendation at this price since the price to quality ratio is just average. The big selling point here is the huge accessory list that makes these far easier to recommend to someone looking for their first pair of IEMs since most of the seasoned IEM users will have a huge tip selection already. With that said, I feel that those who are looking for a travel companion to compliment their Sennheiser HD558 should look here, you shouldn’t feel far from home.
See more pictures of the EX10s here.