Cosmic Ears HY3XB CIEM Review
Cosmic Ears showed up and not to long ago on Head Fi and I thought, hmmm is this just another CIEM company but after a little look on their website etc, it did seem that they mean business. Well, of all the new CIEM brands seemingly popping up none have come with any new offers of innovative other than Heir Audio but that is another story. So why are they so different from anyone else, well CIEMs have been, for as far as I know, for the highest end of portable audio. Well Cosmic have changed that and with there lowest model being just £65, you can own a full custom molded IEM without breaking the bank. One of the reasons that they say they can do this is the lack of options that they offer, mainly in terms of colour but I do not think that this is the worst thing that can happen, oh and the stock purple looks great.
So on their website they have ‘4’ models but with in these models there are more options (other than the HY3 which is what it is) with the flex having a extremely wide variety.
So what am I reviewing here? The flagship of Cosmic Ears the HY3XB and its driver configuration is another thing that really is exciting about these because it has a hybrid configuration which is becoming more and more popular, combining their dynamic driver with their proprietary twin armature driver. It comes with a detachable cable on the top of the CIEM and it comes in the Cosmic purple. With the HY3 you also get the choice between the HY3 in its standard form and the HY3XB that is an eXtra Bass version and what we have here. That is it, no shell customizing but an extremely low price for this driver set up at £195.
Now on top of that you will need impressions and in the UK it depends all over the country on how much they will be and it could cost you at the cheapest roughly £30 (cheapest I found) and all the way up to a whopping £100. Now, Cosmic offer you an option to use their DIY impression kit and this costs only £15, well it worked just fine and I had not a problem making better impressions than the audiologists. All you need is a tad of common sense and you should be fine and I think that is the best way to go. Another thing you can purchase with the CIEM is a spin of your monitor. This is really cool and I think exclusive to Cosmic. They make an image of the CIEM that you spin completely around so see it from all angles and I think this is really cool and for £3 I think why not, they look great and it really gets you excited.
The set-up I have used is the normal, as I have started using a new portable rig, which is the Hippo CriCri amplifier connected through a LOD to an iPod Nano 3G with Apple Lossless and MP3 on it.
I also used my old set-ups of my iPhone 4, Cowon J3 (with FLAC) and my iMac with my Objective 2 amplifier. I also have paired these with a few other amps such as the MiuAudio MRB, Fiio E17 and a plethora of Jaben (GoVibe and Hippo) amps.
The design is very different I guess, Cosmic decided to make a stock colour for their models and I would not have been surprised to see the likes of blue and red or clear and solid black but no they decided to go for a purple that in most pictures seemed to be a solid purple. That is not the case and in person it a translucent purple and really does look stunning. It has smooth finish and the purple seems to be just the right shade in the middle of dark and light purple and really does captivate your attention. Is it going to stand up to the fancy wooden faceplates of Heir? No but for £195 this does look like a serious and nice piece of equipment that means business, I really do like the choice to go with purple. As for the cable you can go with white or black and I think the black cable nicely compliments the purple. Also at a close inspection the faceplate actually has a textured effect to it, like the pattern of carbon fibre but understated, it is very nice.
The cable on these is very handily removable so you can upgrade it if you want or replace it if it breaks. However the one you get with it is just fine. The included cable is just the standard Westone style custom cable and is known as the premium cable with in Cosmic naming systems. I will go on experience from owning this cable with another pair of IEMs for a while that it is unlikely anything will go wrong (touch wood). It has a sturdy right-angled jack with a chunky housing and flexible strain relief. This goes onto the cable which is a triple braid and consequently very strong and nicely resistant to tangling and is actually pretty flexible. The y-split is my favorite bit of the cable because it has a strain relief for every cable coming out of it and this is nicely touched up with a Cosmic Ears logo on it. The top cables are a little weaker, only being double braids but they are still strong. They do have a cable cinch, which is nice but can be seen as a bit tacky as it is just a plastic tube but at the end of the day they do the job. They also have memory wire at the top of the cable so they fit nicely over your ears but I think it is a bit on the longer side and can be a bit of a pain for the likes of lying down.
The build of the monitors are very good, the shell as no imperfections and the right side was even done again because Phil did not think the craftsmanship was up to scratch, they do really care that it is a fine piece of work. The acrylics in the housing are fairly hard feeling and they do not seem like one could easily break one. The only bit of the housing that is a bit scratched is the outside of the two sound bores, the bits that you really never see.
This uses flush sockets which has caused a fair bit of talk about whether this is a good thing as Cosmic do offer a recessed socket in their flex options at a bigger charge. I have flush sockets on other IEMs of mine and I have only seen positives for it as it allows the use of after market cables. It is not a problem here and I would not worry, Cosmic have done a nice job making then ‘flush’ as well and they sit tighter than that of my Heir 4.Ai.
Some CIEMs may come with loads of accessories but like with most things about this CIEM, it takes cost into the picture and I guess to lower the price they do not over do it here. You get a small clamshell case which great for protecting and have a little pouch inside. Nothing more and this no big problem because look at the price. What is very nice however is the overall packaging of the CIEM that features your name in metallic silver and the Cosmic Ears logo and it is very personal and looks great.
Fitting it is just a case of twisting them into your ear and then lifting the top of your ear up to let the top part of the monitor fit under the flap of your ear and into the bowl.
I do have a slight fit issue with mine, I still get a fine seal but in my left ear it just causes a little bit of discomfort, these does make them available for a refit so I will update this section when I have them refit.
The isolation on this is amazing; it gets rid of every last drop of ambient noise in the area even if it is extremely loud and low in frequency. My silicon ACS T2 only outdoes the tiny bit it does leak in and these out isolate every single universal that I have tried.
Microphonics (Cable Noise):
Microphonics is not a problem at all, they use the very common CIEM cable that most companies use and this is known for having no serious cable noise, especially when being worn over the ears like it is here, very nice stuff.
By what I am about to write I do not want to cause any upsets or arguments as this topic can be seen as a sour subject. These have had roughly 100 hours now of use and burn in combined. As burn in is not scientifically proven this all could be mental and happening in my head but in the case that it does happen I recommend burning them in as in my personal experience I have noted improvements which have a massive impact on my enjoyment factor, so don’t make any irrational decisions after listening to them out the box.
These earphones have a darn right bassy signature, they are tuned for this and this is what they have. The bass is the dominant creature, a clear amount over the other frequencies that do their own thing and are not actually that affected. However as these have a dynamic driver for the lows and then a twin armature for the rest I think this could be causing a problem. The gap between the mids and the lows are not to articulate, they do not work as one, they do not work off of one another and sometimes this is not a problem and they actually synchronize quite well and then other times they just plain clash. The overall sound is dark and this keeps it from sounding to airy or showing of clarity and this is not too enjoyable to me personally. The other part of the sound which is not too cohesive is that the bass is rather slow and the mids and highs a lot quicker which sounds a bit odd.
Soundstage and instrument separation:
The soundstage is full but not large. Width seems to be in good proportion and height is tall but it still does not have a wow factor about the overall presentation. Maybe because it does not have too much depth or maybe it is the lack of air to the sound.
Instrument separation is probably the best I have heard from a dark and bass signature and this is a positive that is probably taken from the armature drivers. However the bass is slower than the mids and the highs and low frequency instruments such as bass guitars and kick drums are more slurred and less distinctive. Over instruments do keep themselves separated.
These are all about the bass; it is in the name for a reason. The bass is rather pleasing to me in the fact that it is not a mid-bass focus but it is the sub-bass frequencies that are really made huge. In fact the mid-bass is actually rather settled, in comparison to the sub-bass which just runs riot tearing up all that is in its way. The mid-bass is still boosted and it does hit hard indeed, decay lags a bit long and the speed is slower than fast but it manages this without missing a beat. This suits EDM perfectly but for faster less bass orientated genres this does not really work.
The sub-bass is everything some one may ask for when you talk a bout big sub-bass, the texture is great and neat, the power is unholy and the extension goes all the way into the lowest of frequencies without any sort of roll off. However the problem with the sub-bass is that because it is so big it just wants to come play… all the time. When your listening to some nice dubstep then this is great, it just goes into its stride and you get lost in the music. However with some classic rock for example then this has a rather negative effect, because the driver finds the sub-bass that is present in the song, it seems to amplify it into unholy quantities which seem very unnatural in the song. This effect does not happen too often but I have come across it on more than one occasion and the worst was in Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and in Cone Together by the Beatles (the underlying bass riff is now a huge center stage attraction). Now this effect if you’re a crazy bass loving person may actually enjoy this but for me, it just sounds wrong. If the sound does not have a prominent underlying bass like these songs then you will not be into much trouble and the bass staying were it should be with in the song. For example songs with generally less bass like Blondie’s Heart of Glass sound quite pleasant, yes there is extra bass but not extremely excessive amounts. The listening to Example, shot myself in the foot again, the bass just sounds extreme and awesome.
Behind one incredibly large bass from a huge dynamic transducer is the midrange and it is recessed and directly affected by the bass. However a veil would be the cause of a mid-bass hump and with this focusing more about the deeper frequencies the veil is minimal and the sound is rather clear. However, it does sound very thin and brittle and women’s vocals seem especially drawn away. The gathering of micro details is not to impressive either and IEMs like Etymotic HF or Heir 4.Ai do a much better job and even dynamic IEMs like GR07 do. Vocals are not to a recessed to a point where it could be hard to hear them, in fact they are far from that recessed but some times the bass does go crazy and it can be hard to hear what they are trying to get a cross. As for how recessed they are I would liken them to the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 and that can only be a good thing but being behind a much more dominant bass it does not technically sound on the same level. Timbre in the range is on the soft side and is very forgiving and smooth.
Thinking about it at the end of all of that I think the midranges biggest problem is the lack of character that it has.
This driver used manages a very confident and smooth treble. It proves its point when it gets a time were the other frequencies are not playing like the riff at the start of Eskimo by the Red Hot Chilli Pepper, it has a delicate amount of sparkle and is very smooth. It die snot have the best extension however, it is not a bad extension but the roll off comes a bit to quick and in this configuration it leaves a dark sound to the IEM, on it is own it is clearly good enough but it needs a bit more to get past the big bass. On its own it is great but under the bass it needs a bit more presence to shine.
Heir Audio 4.Ai:
Here they are going up against my current favourite universal IEM. It costs £250 but importing it into the UK with shipping and tax you will be set back at least £350 making this actually a fair bit more than the HY3XB all in. As for packages the Heir is better, you get an otter box and some accessories and the monitors have a wood faceplate that is a beautiful. Cosmic do have a more portable case but do not have any accessories such as the bands at cleaning tool the Heir has, but then at the same time you are getting a CIEM and it is made for YOU so there are swings and round ‘a’ bouts.
The first song I A/Bed this to is Tracy Chapman’s Behind the Wall that is a cappella. Now this is just a woman’s vocals and it lets the HY3XB to not be influenced by the bass and compare mids in a different way. The Heir’s were only a touch nicer with more body and character to them and a more natural tone.
I then moved on to a Victim of Love by the Eagles and the mids instantly become more apparently better on the 4.Ai’s. They are clearer, more transparent and have an abundance of micro details in comparison. They also much more intimate on the 4.Ai.
Soundstage between the two is quite close and the HY3XB is bigger with more width being the most obvious difference but there is less depth with it. However the Heir is a lot more airy and has hugely better imaging that is pinpoint accurate of the Heir and a bit smudged on the HY3XB.
Bass here is two different beasts. The Heir have a slight boost in this area, just sitting ever so slightly above neutral and hitting very fast while maintaining an extension that does not quite rumble but is well textured. The HY3XB rumbles a lot more is, more powerful in this are but is also slower, boomier and more dominant. One if for bass lovers and the other is pretty much perceived as neutral and is technically great. The HY3XB is AMAZING for EDM and Dubstep while this is an area not suited for the 4.Ai but the bass is more tuned for any other genre on the 4.Ai maybe excluding pop.
Treble is better extended more sparkly and brighter on the 4.Ai but edgier and not as smooth.
The 4.Ai is technically superior, it sounds better to me because it is a lot more suited to my preferences but it is more expensive and to be honest they are two different things and not really made to compete as the sound signature is so different.
Now this is a CIEM that is a lot more expensive than the HY3XB. This retails at a whopping £500 but does come with some stuff that is so much nicer than what you get with the Cosmic. You get two leather cases, all sorts of accessories like cleaning tools and new filters and comfort cream, they really do go to town but at the same time it does not have removable cables and this is a big negative in my opinion. They also use two different materials, as the Cosmic uses acrylic and the ACS silicone, I will say that the silicone is better for isolating and comfort yet it does take longer to insert and remove which can be a bit annoying.
As for sound there is no denying that these are a beast and that is no surprise with their price. Soundstage is wide accurate and enveloping with depth and it does leave the HY3 in its wake here.
Bass is a strange one here as I have found the bass on the T2 to be fairly source dependent with a fair bit more quantity when used with the iPhone 4 than perhaps the Objective 2 amplifier. They are very warm sounding mainly due to there large mid bass presence which is more than the HY3Xb and is quite fun and really spongy and yummy while having actually a little extra decay and not the fastest of speed, only a little quicker than the HY3. Extension is on the side of the HY3 and while the T2 is no slouch it cannot compete with the rumble of the Cosmic.
Mids are warmer and more present on the T2 yet they do have a similar thin sound to them that the Cosmic has. However they are a lot more detailed than the HY3.
Treble on the HY3 is actually really smooth and the T2 is not, it very in your face and can easily become sibilant and it is a bit too shrill. With the wrong source it can quickly become fatiguing and if the HY3 could have a little more presence in the highs then it would actually have a more enjoyable treble.
Cosmic Ears are a great company, why am I saying this because they are showing innovative and have brought the price down on CIEMs and currently making them more available to everyone. Can I like a company and not the product indeed because I love the other model that they sent me. I have not found this to my liking and I will only recommend it if bass is at the up most importance to you. At the end of the day I am not sure that too many CIEMs are actually tuned for extreme bass and that’s what this and it delivers at a cheap price.