Look what arrived!
When Audio Technica announced their new IEM lineup a few weeks ago, I was pretty excited at their new direction. A IEM shell that had a similar design characteristic to the industry standard would almost definitely ensure a good fit for the majority of ears. My first real venture into Audio Technica in-ears began with the ATH-CK7 and despite sounding reasonable, I was never able to get a good fit due to the odd but pretty physical design. With each new IEM release, Audio Technica have adopted a different design standard (from CK7 all the way to CK100pro). The closest sibling that the IM70 appears to evolve from is the ATH-CK9, however as you will see from the images below has improved in ergonomics and functionality.
The other reason for my excitement was their foray back into dynamic drivers, and it wasn't just any single dynamic.... (wait for it)... it was a dual dynamic! Or "Dual Symphonic Driver" as Audio Technica like to term it. The arrangement of drivers is such that there is one driver behind another (concurrent so it would seem) both producing sound which exits the port. I'll not pretend that I understand the physics of this arrangement, nor the benefits or disbenefits, all I can say is that it works.
You might be asking yourself, why did I choose this over their other new offerings, the ATH-IM02-04. The answer is simple. I have experienced many balanced armature earphones, and so am familiar with their characteristics (all the way up to 8 drivers per earpiece!). I believe with balanced armature earphones there is a "sound quality ceiling", a point where using lots of drivers provides a benefit, however perceptually all we are achieving are different sonic signatures. So do I:
A) Buy another balanced armature earphone
B) Buy the IM70 and write a review
C) Save Money
(C) is obviously out of the question at Head-Fi . (A) isn't likely to perk my interest. (B) is the only other option! So without further ado, please enjoy the pictures and assessment of the ATH-IM70 from Audio Technica (November 2013).
Front of Box
Back of Box
Side of Box - Specifications
Attention to packaging detail. (Its actually grey and not blue as my camera took it, weird huh?)
The supplied accessories
Clear Markings for Left and Right Pieces
The cable junction and the slider
The Unholy Trinity. (from top to bottom: IM70, CKW1000ANV, CK100)
The build quality of the IM70 is nothing short of sturdy. I believe it is advertised as having a composite body construction (metal and plastic). But really, it is just made of strong, high density red plastic (with metal? audio technica branded faceplate). The plastic is durable enough that it won't be breaking with any amount of reasonable abuse. Like the CK100, the sound port is covered with a felt-like material that acts as the mesh both for filtering sound and to prevent dust and particles from getting inside the earpiece.
The cable is removable on the IM70, and connects very tightly to the earpieces. It takes a significant amount of force to disconnect the cable which might be seen as a pro or con depending on the situation. If you like to leave your IEMs dangling from the neck, great. Want to disconnect the cable? Have fun. Personally I am a fan of tight connections rather than loose ones. The pins for transmission are on the earpiece themselves (recessed) and the cable side is a female connector. Recessed is great, because it means that the pins have less chance of bending due to an accident.
The quality of the cable is good. Semi-plastic and rubber feeling, flexible though not as good as the CK100 cable, where the latter feels more rubbery and is highly flexible. From the connector to the earpiece to bump (refer to images) is memory wire. The memory wire is thicker than the cable and can easily be bent to the shape of your ear. The cable length slider is made of a matte texture plastic and is a big improvement over the clear shrink wrap slider of the CK100 and a small improvement over the CKW1000 slider. The cable is terminated in a 3.5mm L-shape jack. The strain relief is flexible and of good length to resist damage due to bending.
Upon closer inspection of the earpiece themselves I had noticed an open hole for pressure relief, and so I was expecting isolation to suffer.
However this was not the case. The isolation is very good using the stock medium silicone tips (use tips that give you a good seal, mediums just happen to work for me). On a busy street with many cars, the IM70 muffled the sound considerably. With music playing at a low - moderate volume (reference: 1/4 output of iPhone 5S) the cars can barely be heard. Wind noise was not tested, because there were no higher wind speeds available. On a bus (at the same reference output), the engine noise can be heard at a low volume. Nearby commuter conversations could not be heard.
The earpieces themselves are fairly light and being of a traditional IEM design are very comfortable to wear. Microphonics are mitigated using an "over the ear" design.
The design of the IM70 is typical IEM with removable cable, so there is nothing special in this case. My only gripe is the single colour choice (red) which is/can be a little too flashy. White and black are preferred to blend in with the crowd.
iPhone 5S > ATH-IM70 (stock medium silicone tips)
iPhone 5S > ATH-CKW1000ANW (stock medium silicone tips)
iPhone 5S > ATH-CK100 (stock medium silicone tips)
Subjectively level matched (20 iterations A/B)
Listening in a quiet room ( < 25dB)
Sitting in upright position
What strikes me first when listening to the IM70 is that there is nothing wrong with it. What strikes me second is that I only paid a little over 100 bucks for it. You may think I'm being a little too excited and biased here but I'm being pretty honest . The overall sound can be described as warm, detailed and somewhat balanced.
The bass has a strong presence (not overpowering) sounds full with a healthy amount of attack and correct amount of decay. The texture of the bass is natural and detailed. Extension is deep and has no problems exhibiting the lower notes in electronic music. Some slight bleed into the midrange, but can still be separated from the rest of the spectrum.
Compared to the CK100, the bass quantity and quality is higher on the IM70. Some might consider the CK100 as being a little too conservative in the bass region and needing more volume for a greater amount of bass. Whilst the CK100 bass extends relatively deep and is detailed, the quantity is insufficient, leading to a skew (focus) on the midrange and treble frequencies. Arguably, that would be design characteristic of the CK100, beautiful forward vocals and very well controlled treble presentation.
The IM70 shares more similarities with the CKW1000 than would otherwise be obvious. This is most likely due to the use of the dynamic driver in both of these earphones. Whilst the CKW1000 can match the IM70 in terms of bass quantity, the control (detail and texture in particular) of bass in the IM70 is superior.
The midrange is forward and balanced equally with the bass. The typical AT house sound has not been lost with the new generation, with smooth and sweet female vocals still a strong characteristic of the IM70. The presentation of the midrange is smooth and natural. Due to the forward presentation of the midrange, the tonality of some instruments may not be entirely accurate (e.g. saxaphone), it is still enjoyable, though not to be relied on for monitoring.
Compared to the CK100, the midrange is not as forward. There is less emphasis on the midrange, and more emphasis on the overall sound (balanced). Both present the midrange in a detailed and smooth manner and great for vocals in general.
Compared to the CKW1000, the midrange of the IM70 is significantly more forward. CKW1000 is overall more dark sounding, with a slight "U" shaped character. This is not saying the CKW1000 is particularly recessed, just of a different signature, skewing the tonality in a different direction (vocals even more sweeter, females sounding sexier than they should be lol). Being less forward than the IM70, there is less apparent detail in the midrange of the CKW1000.
The treble can be described as being natural with a sufficient amount of sharpness and sparkle leading to very good balance with the bass and midrange. It is also smooth and well controlled making it resistant to sibilance. Extension is towards the threshold of human hearing, there does not appear to be an audible "rolloff" in the high region.
Compared to the CK100, there are many similarities. The treble is equally well controlled, detailed and sparkly. Overall there is slightly less emphasis in this region compared to the CK100, as the IM70 has substantially more bass to balance out the focus.
Compared to the CKW1000, treble is superior on the IM70, being both more natural and more well controlled. The CKW1000 was very unforgiving to poor recordings and some instruments which aggravates some sibilance. The CKW1000 treble is sharper and more sparkly.
The soundstage is wider than usual for an IEM. Most of my orchestral pieces played well on the IM70. A fair amount of horizontal and vertical space can be heard, though it will never reach the level of full size headphones or speakers.
Audio Technica have made a remarkable innovation with the ATH-IM70 and its dual symphonic driver, however, I'm quite perplexed by the ATH-IM70 to be honest. Its an excellent IEM and well rounded overall, but the price point at which it is sold at would lead people to believe it is average. It is anything but. With performance that can exceed an old AT flagship, one may as well call the IM70 "Audio Technica's flagship dynamic IEM". A very good value proposition indeed. Highly Recommended.
Edited by blazer78 - 12/2/13 at 3:21pm