So I don't have nearly enough experience to consider what you are now reading as a "review". I own a few cheaper IEMs (ie: Sony MH1C, RE0, Brainwavz R1) and now just a couple of higher end IEMs which I'll share with you shortly. In terms of my listening experience, the best headphones I have heard are the BeyerDynamic 770 Pros... not extremely high-end by any standard but it should at least give you a frame for they type of products I have listened to in the past. I believe in burn-in on some IEMs and both of these have had some burn-in time.
I call this impression a noob's audio guide because I am just not that particular (yet) about my source material. I can't really tell the difference between a 192k-bit MP3 to a FLAC file unless I listen extremely closely. I sense a bit more air and space with the FLAC, but its just not enough for me to lose the convinience of a small MP3 file. All of the music in this impression is at least 192k-bit MP3s with some being 256k.
I also do not own a dedicated DAC that isn't just stock with my Android Galaxy S phone, or my computer's on-board sound card (Realtek). I do own and use a Fiio E11 portable amp.
I know that my impressions of these products could change greatly with better sources, but I'm hoping that those who are like me and value convenience as much as sound quality, they may be able to come away with something from this wall of text. So, on to the showdown!
SONG SHOWDOWN 1: Anti Gravity | Lindsey Stirling
Airy and more mid-forward without being thin at all like the RE0 tends to be. Bass has punch with the E11 just the right amount of dynamism that doesn't bleed into the other frequencies. Decent image separation. Violin is very forward... most of the sound is more forward compared to the eph100 but that seems to come at a cost... the Eph100 has a wider soundstage and a slightly greater 3D feel to me with a larger perceptive void between instruments. Detail is roughly the same in this song, but I do prefer how the R50 brings the lead violin more forward. I have to admit, I wasn't expecting the R50's to be as sweet sounding as they are... much warmer than the RE0's and really quite similar to the eph100 in warmth, they just bring the upper-midrange and treble more forward. Bass is more controlled with the R50s though the eph-100 has more impact and a longer decay time. I am really partial to how the eph-100 handles bass decay--not short, but not so long that you miss speed or have it bleed excessively into the mid-range. Having said that, the R50's bass is quite admirable and isn't lacking to my ears.
Verdict: Slight edge to the eph100 because for this type of music, I like the larger soundstage, slightly more aggressive bass and the greater perceived 3D sound to my ears.
SONG SHOWDOWN 2:This is Heaven to Me | Madeleine Peyroux
Oh man.... forward vocals on this track are really smooth, textured, detailed yet feel effortless and weightless. Trumpet has some nice bite to it but never crosses that threshold of sibiliance... still maintaining its spectre-like presence in this song.
Slightly more velvet to the voice and even smoother than the R50. Not as weightless feeling though I think with Madeliene Peyroux’s voice, this type of sound sig works perfectly. Soundstage/separation is better here on the EPH100 BUT the bass that I was praising on the techno song as being just the right amount of decay/impact does not work with this song. It is too prominent and needs to be EQ’d down. While the soundstage and separation are better on the eph100, the sounds' location aren’t how I would want to stage them. Its as if the bass guitar and chime are too forward and the vocal is set back just ever so slightly. Something that wouldn’t be as noticable until you A/B with something like the R50 that does a better job moving the voices closer to your ears.
Verdict: Slight edge to the eph100 even though the vocal positioning is better on the R50. I actually like how the eph handles the timbre of the voice better in the beginning of the song (when the other instruments aren’t as present) and the soundstage space does a better job immersing you into the laid back, hot-cocoa-by-the-fire feeling I want from this song.
SONG SHOWDOWN 3: Welcome to Jurassic Park | John Williams
Cellos... Oh man, the Cellos have JUST the perfect mixture of air and warmth. Actually all the string instruments have that zen-like mix of airiness and warmth. Trumpets have an amazing timbre too that have great texture and grit, but never harsh. Piano is bright but maintains its sustain nicely to keep it sounding a bit more haunting than cheery... exactly as I would want it to be.
Piano is smooth, though slightly more mellow than the R50. it is haunting yet missing the complexity of the R50’s ability to portray the piano as bright yet still mysterious. Larger soundstage again and greater depth of separation and 3D space. Bass works in the EPH100’s favor here giving the song a bit more impact and dynamism. Cellos and string instruments are smooth and just as detailed as the R50 but they lack the amount of airiness and texture to them that the R50 provides. Trumpets are clean, forward and well balanced but again, are missing that slight grit about them that makes them so unique as a brass instrument that the R50 provides. The transition to the heavy trumpet movement is more dynamic on the eph100s than the R50 and sounds a bit fuller.
Verdict: Draw. I love the way the R50 portrays the most important instruments to me in this song moreso than the eph100 but I love the soundstage and dynamism/fuller sound I get from the eph100 that is vital to an epic movie soundtrack. Total toss up.
SONG SHOWDOWN 4: Eleanor Rigby | Beatles (LOVE album version)
God these things just blow my mind with string instruments. Texture, separation, warmth and the right amount of air. Sound separation on this song is much better for these IEMs. Vocals are perfectly forward with, again a really good mix of warmth, detail and air. There is just some slight sibilance in the vocal at the “ssss” sounds but it is extremely minor and doesn’t feel jarring. I probably wouldn’t notice it if I was just listening normally instead of more focused for this review.
Love the soundstage on these things, especially when the background spirit-like vocal comes in at the beginning. Great detail and separation overall. Lead vocals are perfectly balanced with warmth and detail when they aren’t fighting against the other instruments. This is one of those songs where the soundstage of the eph100 cannot save it from the amazing string instruments and vocal details put out by the R50.
Verdict: R50 by a good margin here on this song. The eph100 sounds more than compitent in this song... separating instruments nicely with good detail and soundstage but it just can’t compete with the R50’s ability to portray string instruments better than anything I’ve ever heard plus the vocal detail on the R50’s is consistent throughout the song and is never pushed away (even if it is only slightly pushed away on the eph100) by other instruments.
SONG SHOWDOWN 5: Dissident | Pearl Jam
Texture, texture and more texture. Love how this iem handles electric guitars and the economical presentation of cymbals to go “Pssh” and decay fast. Vocals are just even with the rest of the instruments in terms of placement which is probably closer to how it was recorded (much of Pearl Jam’s earlier work didn’t place the vocals ahead of the rest of the instruments and this is no exception).
Soundstage is really nice as is the amazing 3D presentation of the song, especially on drum flourishes. Vocals are smooth, maybe too smooth for this type of music. Again, this is pretty subtle and would be harder to notice if I wasn’t A/Bing them with the R50s. Having said that, the vocal placement is surprisingly similar in location as the R50s. Instrument separation is good but the bass is just ever so slightly too pronounced with slightly slower decay than the R50s just don’t represent the best way to portray bass for this type of music.
Verdict: R50 by a good margin. While the eph100s sound great due to their friendly sound and 3D presentation, they cannot compete with the R50s when it comes to electric guitar and rock drum texture.
OTHER APPLICATIONS FOR HEADPHONES | Movies and Gaming:
So I really love using IEM's for movies and gaming because the quality of sound, isolation and the ability to not wake anyone else in the house makes them the most ideal audio method for me.
Same story with the music side: Amazing clarity. Its nice to truly be able to understand all of the dialogue in a film and even hear the amazing work of both the foley artists and movie soundtrack composers. Gaming is great here too because the detail really helps judge distances of sounds.
Soundstage and 3D presence. While watching Lord of the Rings, the eph100 does a really admirable job of turning little IEMs into a much more spacious sound. I truly feel immersed with these on.
Verdict: Complete DRAW. R50 just makes voices sound crystal clear and really picks out the details that I would never hear even in the best of movie theaters. The EPH100 does a damn fine job at a surround sound system impression... really giving space to the experience.
I have a personal preference for straight-down IEMs because they tend to be easier for me to get the right seal faster. The eph-100 are second only in ease of fit to the supremely easy Sennheiser CX150s. Having said that, the eph-100 does quite an amazing job isolating outside noise, much better than the R50s with their stock tips.
The R50s take a bit of fidgeting (though MUCH less than the RE-262s did for me) for me but are relatively easy to fit. I wouldn’t want to wear them in an environment that I would have to constantly pull them out though. Their isolation is average with the included tips and would require me to hunt for something better whereas the eph-100 comes with stellar tips.
Build and aesthetics:
Hands down the EPH-100 is built better than the R50 from the all metal driver housing to the very flexible, yet sturdy cable. The R50 is fine in build, its just not stellar or confidence inspiring like the eph-100. Sure, most could care less how their IEM looks but, as a graphic designer, I appreciate when companies take the extra step to put thoughtful industrial design into their products. Aesthetically, the eph-100 is, to me, the most attractive looking IEM in its price class. The R50 doesn’t look bad, and the silicone housing gives it an interesting, almost futuristic look to it. It’s small size also makes the R50 much more attractive in person than in photos, but it won’t win a beauty contest against the EPH-100.
In terms of sound, these two iems are pretty equal in overall quality though they shine in different areas over one another: The eph100 offers a better soundstage and a slightly more 3D presence whereas the R-50s win on detail, texture and vocal placement.
Overall, which one would I pick:
EPH100 wins in the convenience of day to day use. It is much easier for me to fit the eph100s, they isolate better, i feel like they can take more of a beating and they are slightly less dependent on an amp or EQ. Without an amp or EQ, the R-50s don’t have quite enough oomph for me and sound slightly colder than I’d like, but with the E11, they are perfect. The EPH100s need the amp/EQ less to get a good sound out of them. This again, reinforces the ease of day-to-day use with the EPH100s over the R50s.
At first, I went into this thinking there would be one IEM to win this comparison but after spending more head time with both of them, I realize that their strengths/weaknesses are very different... each one offering a totally different experience. I really like the ease of use of the EPH100 and the 3D sound, but I cannot box up the R-50s simply because they just destroy the EPH100s in Rock music and standard classical music. I enjoy both of them equally for their intended use and I cannot bring myself to sending either of them back. I now know how Head-Fi ruins wallets!
Now you made my decision even harder, because I'm still torn between R50, GR07 MK2 and TDK BA200.
Depends on the music you listen to. R50 is great for rock and classical thats for sure. I haven't heard the TDK, but I've read enough to suspect that it is a slightly warmer, fuller version of the R50 (also might be less fragile), though not quite as bright. GR07 is something I've coveted for awhile myself though I have yet to hear it.