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REVIEW: Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro & Sensaphonics ProPhonic 2X-Soft

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REVIEW: Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro & Sensaphonics ProPhonic 2X-Soft



The Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro and Sensaphonics ProPhonic 2X-S are the two top offering from two top-tier custom IEM (In-Ear Monitor) companies. Meanwhile Ultimate Ears claim technical superiority with their triple driver technology, Sensaphonics is the only IEM company that offers a full silicone custom molding for their IEM. So what are the differences between these two IEM's.

I won't go into details to the process of acquiring the IEM itself, the audiologists vists and impression process has been covered at long extent by many other people. So I'll skip forward directly to the good stuff. Here's a table of content to help you easily navigate this rather lengthy review:

TABLE OF CONTENT

Build & Construction
-driver material
-driver design
-cable design
-overall build, pros & cons

Sound quality
-spectrum observation and decay
-bass: dual or triple driver?
-soundstage/sound imaging
-overall sound signature

Comparison to ER-4 and E5c

Noise sensitivity

Isolation & hearing preservation

Conclusion
-overall recommendation
-personal preference

Footnotes:
-usage with iPod versus home equipment
-testing equipment
-testing tracks



BUILD & CONSTRUCTION

driver material
UE-10 Pro comes in either a hard acrylic, or what they call the "full-soft" material, which is a slightly softer acrylic. Meanwhile the ProPhonic 2X-S comes in a very soft silicone material. Either material is comfortable in comparison to universal fit IEM's, as long as the impressions were made well, and the custom molds fit correctly. Directly compared to each other though, the "full-soft" material is almost a marketing joke. The "full-soft" acrylic is about as soft as chewing jolly rancher candy in your mouth. It will give a little bit when the temperature is warm, and it'll be slightly flexible. In reality it doesn't do anything to help the fit better, since the flexibility level is way too low.

In comparison, the ProPhonic 2X-S is extremely soft, when I put the UE-10 Pro in my ears, it feels like it was pushing against my ears once it's seated. It's still very comfortable, but it was more like my ears were comforming to the driver unit. With the ProPhonic 2X-S, it feels like the driver are comforming to your ears, not the other way around. Let me clarify that UE-10 Pro fits very well, but it's just in comparison, the ProPhonic 2X-S is just a level even better. Having them in your ear creates very different sensation, the UE-10 is just there, the 2X-S feels like the material is "hugging" your ears. The level of comfort for long wear duration is better on the 2X-S, even if it's just a bit.

Inserting the UE-10 is a bit easier, since the material is harder, hence easier to orient. However, mis-aligned insertion with the UE-10 can hurt a bit, as the hard material sorta scrapes against the inside of your ear. Insertion with the 2X-S is a little harder to get the hang of, since the material is so soft. However, mis-aligning the 2X-S during insertion will not cause any pain or grief. Extracting the 2X-S is easier too, because you can get your fingers in and "squeeze" the driver a bit to loosen it up. UE-10's extraction is a twist and pull affair. If you have to take them off and put them back in on a frequent basis (as I do at work), the UE-10 definitely gets more irritating over time. During the heavy A/B test I've been doing with both, the UE-10 definitely caused my ear to get sore after repeated insertion and extraction.

However, with a good impression, neither has any problem with maintaining the seal despite the material differences.

driver design
UE-10's driver housing is much bigger than the 2X-S. Meanwhile part of this is due to the extra driver in the triple driver design, I suspect the space that the triple driver take up is not that much more than the 2X-S (I see plenty of room to implement another driver in the 2X-S if necessary). I think some of it has to do with the detachable cable design of the UE-10. UE-10 implemented a detachable cable that plugs into the driver unit. The size of this plug and the contacts that needs to be created for it takes up some extra room, and require the driver to be of a certain size to the plug has enough space to get a clear path out of your ears.


2X-S with the integrated wire design, click the image for a larger version.


UE-10 with its cable plug, click the image for a larger version.

2X-S's cables are integrated, so there's no plug head that needs to run clear of your ear. Hence the 2X-S can be made much more recessed into your ear, and making it much smaller and inconspicuous. You can see the picture below and note the difference of the drivers inside my ears.


Images of 2X-S and UE-10 worn from a side view, click the image for a larger version.


Much easier to see from the front view, that the UE-10 has some significant size differences from the 2X-S. Click the image for a larger version.

cable design
UE-10 has a detachable cable on the driver unit, the cable itself is a teflon/twisted variety, sort of like a braided cable, but much better material than the usual rubber braided cable you see on lower-end IEM's. The "memory" cable portion is very short, basically a plastic sleeve with a wire inside that can be bent to a certain shape. The two braided cable combines into a joint, and then third braided cable runs all the way down to the plug.

2X-S has a teflon wire that isn't braided coming out of driver unit. It's a very elegant and thin wire that's much less visible than the UE-10 wire. Despite how thin it is, it is some material that was rated to pull 50 lbs. of weight. Even tugging on it feels very sturdy. The thin-ness of the cable also means deploying a different type of "memory cable". Instead of the usual plastic sleeve with a bendable wire, the 2X-S has just a plastic sleeve that's wrapped around the first part of the cable. The plastic sleeve itself has some permanent curling, so it'll always softly curl itself around your ear and your head. It gets a little tangled sometimes, but it's actually a very elegant solution. You don't have to "adjust" the memory cable to any degree, it'll always curl and wrap around.

From there on, it'll come to a joint, which is much smaller than the ones deployed by Ultimate Ears, and then terminate in a similar braided cable as the UE. I should also note, this is the style of cable that I chose to have with my 2X-S. 2X-S has a design with detachable cable as well. However, it doesn't detach at the driver unit. It is at the joint where the two L and R cables come together, where it'll terminate into a threaded, female-plug adaptor that'll connect to a black, I think either a rubber or nylon cable. So the replaceable, "breakaway" cable is at the joint and below.



overall build, pros & cons
Just looking at how both headphones are made, the feel of them in your hand, and the design and thoughts that went into each. It just feels to me that 2X-S is a much higher quality product, with better workmanship. There's a lot of design that went into the 2X-S to make it as inconspicious as possible for those musicians that really don't want to expose their IEM on camera. The thinner, barely visible cable and the smaller driver unit are both a testament to this. It's just a level of refinement in both the process of design as well as the material itself.

Having both of them side-by-side, and in my ears, I have to say that UE-10's material is definitely sub-par. If someone were to ask me if they should go with the full-soft or hard acrylic material on the UE-10, I would probably tell them it makes no differnece at all which one you use. The "full-soft" is so hard, it isn't that far apart from hard acrylic anyway. On top of that, I still remember seeing some old UE "full-soft" acrylic models that's yellowed, shrunken, and cracked. I don't know if UE's made any advancement in the full-soft material since, they answered my question with a definitive "no, the material will not shrink or yellow over time." Given the very little realistic improvement in wearing comfort though, I would just get hard acrylic if I was considering a UE.

In contrast, 2X-S's material feels almost heavenly the way it enters and sits in your ears. Every time I had to switch between UE back to 2X-S, it feels like inserting a pillow into my ear and relieving some of the stress that UE put on my ears. Well, the silicone is a little cold when it enters your ear too, so it's like a very soft cold compress. There's just no comparison between the material here, 2X-S wins hands down.

On durability issues though, I would guess the silicone material will tear more easily if you applied a lot of force to it. It would still take a lot of force to tear them. You have to really purposely hold them between clamps and try to pry the thing apart. So even though hard acrylic and full-soft acrylic is probably more durable than silicone, I don't see how anyone would be able to break any of these IEM's easily. Maybe if you've got them in a pouch crushed by a 100 lbs amp or something during transport.

The detachable cable of the UE's are a good idea though, if people got their cable snagged and torn somehow, it is much easier to replace the cable on the UE than the 2X-S. My fully integrated version will have to go back to Sensa for repair and replacement. It shouldn't take anywhere as long as when the earphones are first made, but it'll have to go back to them. You shouldn't switch the cable too often though, as we all know, any contact surface will wear down over time. Just the same as Sennheiser HD580/600/650, if you switch cable too often, the contact will come loose. Don't switch cables on your UE unless you have to, keep the contact new and fresh.

Furthermore, 2X-S's integrated cable option only comes in one length, 45", which is just barely long enough to reach into my pocket when I have my iPod. I'm still considering whether to switch to the detachable cable option, but the detachable cable is more weighty (which may or may not affect my day-to-day wear anyway). However, the detachable cable comes in a variety of different length.

One last note, as of the writing of this review, I have been told that Sensaphonics is offering colored ear pieces as well now. So you can order them in different colors just as you can with Ultimate Ears. The colored option doesn't change the softness of the silicone molding at all, as I've been told. I don't think colored cables are yet an option.


SOUND QUALITY

sound reproduction - spectrum observations & decay
This is where things gets interesting. Some people have voiced that they consider triple driver IEM's in a different class than dual driver IEM's. Before I go on any further, I'll just say this: High-end dual driver IEM are indeed, in the same class as triple driver IEM. The difference here is much smaller, even the point of barely noticeable, than going from single to dual driver IEM. The difference between the UE-10 and 2X-S more about sound signature preference rather than true technical superiority.

The high-end on the UE-10 is sharp and clear, everything is clear and very detailed. The clear high-end gives UE-10 an extra "edge" in its sound reproduction. Chimes are very clear, even high-range vocals (usually female vocals) has some extra sharpness to it. Comparatively, the high-end on the 2X-S is more sedated. Instruments such as cymbals and trumpets tend to have some edge taken off from them. There's a plus and minus to both approach. UE-10 sounds more pure, more neutral in the way it treats the high-end, and you'll see this is a consistent theme in the comparison between these two IEM's. At the same time, UE-10's high-end is much more sibilant. The sharpness is a little fatiguing, female vocal in particular has some extra "brightness". The 2X-S has probably, up to this date, the best sibilant control of any headphone that I've ever personally dealt with. Nothing, regardless of how high-pitch and sibilant it was originally, gets to that sharp and painful stage.

This extra sibilant control is not like the one that's implemented on the Shure E5, which is the volume reduction of high-end reproduction overall. The high-end instruments are still clear and precise, the detail and resolution in this part is about the same for both the UE-10 and 2X-S.

Midrange resolution on both IEM are about the same as well. A part of the interesting in the midrange, is that I think because of the different high-end driver, the midrange are affected differently. Just like mentioned before, the female vocals on the UE-10 are really sharper and more clear than I've heard on any other headphones. There's also another interesting phenonmenon with the UE-10 that I've never really experienced on any other headphone. On almost all the recordings I've tried it with, the vocals are really pulled forward. Interesting enough, for a headphone that supposedly has completely "flat" response, that vocals are somehow emphasized more than anything else. I would imagine this is a very interesting and good effect for musicians in particular, to have the vocal in a very forward presentation in a performance environment is probably very helpful.

However, there is a problem with having vocals always forward. In some recordings where there are beautiful mixes of background and foreground vocals, the UE-10 pushed the vocal so far forward as to detract from the music itself. The vocal became so glaringly powerful, that the instruments are really pushed back.

This is a good time to bring up another element of difference on the UE-10 and 2X-S. The decay on the UE-10 is much shorter and to the point than the 2X-S. To me, 2X-S's decay represents the best that I've ever heard. This decay on the high-end tend to make the cymbals vibrate a little longer and a little more naturally, where the UE-10 plays the sharp note and terminates rather quickly. UE-10's decay is by no means as drastically terminated as the Ety ER-4, they are still there and well defined, it is just a bit too quick for me to feel natural.

The decay characteristic also helps 2X-S in the midrange a whole lot, in my opinion, because it adds warmth and a richness of tone to the midrange especially. It doesn't really help much in the high-range instruments, but in the midrange, where you've got acoustic guitars, pianos and vocals, it really lends some very "magical" presentation that UE-10 doesn't seem to be capable of. Whether or not this extra sense of richness is accurate to the original sound though, is another matter. I think it's really an extra bit of coloration that makes the sound warm and smooth.

Of course, longer decay will always lead to a perception of less 'detail' as well, even though the level of detail is really about the same in my opinion. What one really has to understand, is that with the introduction of a more natural decay, the rising notes are obviously going to be muffled a bit due to the blending of decay into rising notes. However, decay introduces a new type of detail in itself. The strum of guitar strings as one chord passes over the next, the vibration of the string slowly fading into the silence. The air escaping from a singer's mouth as each phrase is pronounced. These specific type of minor characteristics associated with decay gives the music more "life" as opposed to just a technical playback of sounds.

This is also part of the "magic" that 2X-S possesses that's just not apparent on the UE-10. There's so much beautiful richness in the sound, not just the rising note, but the minor characteristics, in another word, more "microdynamic" in the sound that 2X-S produces. As a counterpoint though, these extra microdynamic also makes the 2X-S lesser of a monitor for musician use. UE-10's clarity and top-end rising note is very impressive, and it's very easy to distinct different notes without much mental effort. It's also important to note that even though 2X-S has a good amount of decay, it is a decay with beautiful texture and clarity, unlike the decay on Shure E5c. Equally important, is that UE-10's termination of this decay is prompt, but nothing like the Ety ER-4, where it is completely lacking. UE-10's decay are still present, just not as strong, but definitely still much better than Ety ER-4 and Shure E5c as well.

bass: dual or triple driver?
I think this topic deserves its own dedicated section, since much of the debate has been about whether or not triple driver really makes a difference, and can a another driver really get that much more bass? The answer to the first question is, yes, it does make a difference. However, the answer to the second question is.. no, not very much.

I searched through a lot of my very bass heavy recordings looking for that extra tidbit of bass. On some recordings, once in a while, in one or two particular beat, there is an extra level of deeper bass. For the few notes which it did appear, yes, there is credence to the triple driver design offering extra amount of audible bass at a very low level. However, you do have to look pretty hard for it, and very few recordings other than hip-hop/rap genre will have bass that reaches that deep level.

With that said, there's actually *more* bass on the 2X-S than the UE-10. Part of it is the decay factor I talked about earlier. 2X-S's bass is deep, rich and full, and it is allows to vibrate for a duration of time, reminding me more of what I would hear from a speaker system normally. It's like having a good subwoofer, there's very good visceral vibration with every deep thump. As I also mentioned in the 2X-S review before, this bass is not as exaggerated as the Shure E5c. It has much more texture and detail than that. The mid-bass also doesn't get as much vibration, the deep vibration is reserved for low-bass only, as it should.

UE-10's bass it not bad at all either, it's just more clean and more to the point. As I said before, there's a recurring theme here, right? The bass does have that one or two extra deep note that 2X-S can't produce at a certain point. I also suspect the bass more resembles what a musician hears when a bass note gets played, rather than what's coming out of a speaker system or a subwoofer. There's much less visceral vibration, but a deep penetrating "punch" is still there. UE-10's bass is punchy and powerful.

Now, remember back to what I said about UE-10's vocals being overpowering sometimes. That's one flaw I see in the presentation of the UE-10. In the same way, here's a flaw about the presentation of the 2X-S, when the bass gets really heavy and repeats quickly, there's a tendency for the visceral vibration of the bass to overtake some of the higher-end instruments.

soundstage/sound imaging
This criteria was the hardest to compare between the two IEM's. Up to this point, the difference in sound signature is very obvious. However, size of the soundstage and the sound imaging capability involved a lot of complications.

First of all, 2X-S doesn't take any sound in particular and make it more forward, as UE-10 does with its vocals. Very important to note the difference between the bass vibration overwhelming the sound, as something sounding more "forward" and "in-your-face". So immediately the soundstage of the 2X-S feels larger and more relaxed, and UE-10 feels smaller because the vocal is almost always pulled forward, putting it in the center of your head.

At the same time, UE-10's tendency to take certain sound, vocal being the most obvious, and bring it more into the foreground adds a layer of sound imaging which I can't tell is entirely accurate, but it does bring an extra dimension. I'm thinking that it might be inaccurate because it seems to do that on too many recordings, but I just don't know for sure. It's getting into that "intrepreting the original intent of the artist" thing. Out of my collection of music, I noticed a particular anomaly with my Alicia Keys albums, where at certain times her voice would be recessed, and at other times pulled forward more than I've ever heard them. It has me more than a little baffled. The extra forwardness of certain sound also helps establishing some more clear separation of sound imaging as well. At given times, there's more defined spatial difference in certain instrument reproduction versus others.

2X-S's soundstage is fairly relaxed in comparison. Lending to less fatigue, but also a bit less impact. Everything sounds like where it should be, but with less defined extra "special effects" that UE-10 produces at times.

Overall, there's no clear winner in either category. I found the 2X-S more consistent in how it portrayed the soundstage. On some recordings UE-10 will push the vocal forward more than any other headphone I've ever heard, on some other recordings the vocal will be in the same distance as the 2X-S. However, at the same time UE-10 had more enhanced sound imaging in some recordings versus the 2X-S. One thing that can clearly be said, is that both IEM has superior soundstage and sound imaging than any lower class IEM out there. You should be happy with either regardless.

overall sound signature
If you can't tell by now, the clarity and short decay of the UE-10 lends to it a colder, more punchy sound. The 2X-S has a warmer presentation, with more smoothness and less fatiguing sound. The sibilance control is extraordinary on the 2X-S, which helps it to be less fatiguing. However, it does take some sharpness off the edge and lose some of the "punch".

I would say UE-10 is more neutral, and definitely has characteristic that speaks for an excellent pair of musician's monitor. There's less coloration to the sound, easily detectable instrument separation. It has a drier, more netural feeling than the 2X-S.

The best part of the 2X-S is that almost magical richness that it lends to a lot of the reproduction. The warmth and decay of every note produced gives it a very organic and wet sound. The best part of UE-10 is its purity, the clarity and punchiness of everything. Overall, if I was to describe the UE-10 as "silky", then 2X-S is definitely "velvety".


COMPARISON TO ER-4 AND E5C

I can imagine by this point, there's going to be a lot of people thinking of the UE-10 and 2X-S in the same way they thought about ER-4 and E5c. When I described the UE-10 as "dry" and "neutral", I'm sure a lot of people thought about ER-4 in the back of their minds. When I described the 2X-S with "warm", and "smooth", people are probably thinking about the Shure E5c. I have to make a point that such a comparison and mindset shouldn't be made, beause of the following points:

- Both 2X-S and UE-10 offers levels of detail that's unrivaled by both E5c and ER-4. May it be macrodynamic (E5c's bass and visceral impact) or microdynamic (ER-4's instrument separation and detail).

- UE-10 is more analytical than 2X-S, but it doesn't lose musicality in doing so. So it's not just a version of ER-4 with more bass. Similarly, 2X-S has a lot of musicality, but doesn't lose detail in doing so, so it's not just a version of Shure E5c with more detail.

- I have mentioned previously that the warmth of the 2X-S reminds me of the E5c more than ER-4, which is true. The detail and punchiness of the UE-10, however, reminds me of a E5c with less warmth, not a ER-4 with more bass. I think this is just because I like the E5c more than ER-4... counter-arguments can be made that 2X-S is an ER-4 with more warmth.

The whole point is, meanwhile ER-4 and E5c represented two very different end of sonic experiences. UE-10 and 2X-S are much closer to each other in this regard. So if you liked the ER-4, there's no reason why you wouldn't like the 2X-S. If you liked the Shure E5c, there's no reason why you wouldn't like the UE-10 either. Of course, this doesn't make the decision process easier, but I don't think any high-end headphone are easy choices to make. The fact that you can't audition either before you buy them just makes it even harder.


NOISE SENSITIVITY

I was concerned about UE-10's noise sensitivity, because given its sensitivity level and very low impedance... I was wondering if I would see the same thing that happens on the Shure E5c, where noise becomes a huge issue with a variety of amp and equipments. UE-10 does pick up more noise than the 2X-S, however it's nowhere near E5c's level.

It's such a minor problem, I wouldn't worry about it at all.


ISOLATION & HEARING PRESERVATION

The isolation on both of these IEM's are of course, excellent. The different materials of the two IEM's does change the isolation characteristic slightly. There are different frequencies that gets attenuated to different degrees, as one would imagine. However, the overall isolation is pretty much the same. So I would not make isolation an issue in choosing either IEM.

My audiologist had told me on several occassions that she does not consider UE products the best for hearing preservation. Now that I have heard both of them, I can understand why. It's not that UE is particularly bad compared to your normal headphones, but that Sensaphonics is just that much better.

Over the course of past few months that I've owned the 2X-S, I've actually found myself reducing my listening level gradually. The reason is that, 2X-S has a very strange and interesting volume characteristic. Even at low volume, it seems to reproduce microdynamics very, very well. The high and midrange detail doesn't seem to disappear as with conventional headphones as the volume level gets lower. What does disappear is the impact of the bass, which dwindles down as the volume gets lower, without equally decreasing the level of detail. As you turn the volume up, the level of detail in the highs and mids increase a bit (remember, they didn't disappear at low volume as much), and the impact of the bass becomes heavier and heavier.

You are given a choice of being able to listen to music at a lower volume level than you would normally do, and still not miss the details. When you really yearn for that impactful and intimate experience, you can turn the volume level up, and the excitement in the bass is right back there.

In contrast, the UE-10 is very much like a conventional headphone, the amount of detail decreases as the volume is turned down. You need to achieve a certain volume level in order to get all of the detail out of the headphone. In the process of doing A/B comparison with the UE-10 and 2X-S, I found myself having to increase the volume from where I normally would in listening to the 2X-S in order to match the "impact" level achieved by using a higher volume level. Otherwise the UE-10, with lower bass impact, would loose some high and midrange details in comparison to the 2X-S.

In a more normal application, where the music listening session might not be 5 to 6 straight hours a day as some sound engineers might have to go through (I'm saying might, because I really don't know how long they have to wear those things for their typical work), I think the volume level for the UE-10 are okay. Just keep in mind that hearing loss is a function of sound level over time, so even acceptible, consistent sound level over a long period of time could lead to hearing loss.


CONCLUSION

overall recommendation
Making a recommendation is hard, because both UE-10 and 2X-S are very proficient IEM's, and provides high quality sound level that's unlike any other headphone under $1000 range that I've ever heard. Other than the issue of soundstage, which I still think full-size headphone fairs betters, there's no question that these IEM challenges full-size headphone in every single way.

I think if you're a person that loves warm, full, rich, fluid and musical presentation, the 2X-S is probably better for you. The richness, warm presentation that that extra bit of "magic" is really amazing. All presented in a very soothing fashion, so even though it has impact and excitement, it somehow all manages to be strangely relaxing. The sibilance control on the 2X-S is simply superb, no harshness whatsoever. Additionally, if hearing preservation is very important concern for you, I think the 2X-S has an edge on the UE-10.

Other issues that falls in favor of the 2X-S, the silicone material itself, the general quality of the construction, smaller size of the driver unit, and being able to achieve higher detail level at lower volume.

Now, if you're a person that wants a neutral, pure, clear and very defined presentation, the UE-10 is more for you. UE-10 is more punchy, with the vocal that's more forward. Everything has an extra edge of sharpness to them, not in a bad way, but in a very appreciable way. Sound doesn't just gets played, but sort of "jumps" in front of you. Even though that extra bit of bass note is often not used, it is there when the recording calls for it, and I almost jumped the first time when I heard that extra bit of "punch" (almost felt like something punched my ear!).

Other issues that falls in favor of the UE-10, replaceable cable that goes all the way to the driver, variety of color choices on the cables (again, Sensaphonics offer colored earpieces as well now), and longer braided cable lengths than the 2X-S.

Ironically, if you're a basshead, you will probably be happier with the 2X-S. As I explained before, 2X-S's bass has much more visceral vibration. Meanwhile UE-10's bass does reach just a note lower, 2X-S's bass is fuller, warmer, and more subwoofer like.

personal preference
In truth, I'm still jumping between them periodically, because I haven't owned them for all that long. It's still a lot of fun switching from 2X-S and go to UE-10 and hear the differences in the presentation. I'm glad I have both right now, because I can just sorta jump in between them depending on my mood, and I have a more than adequate back-up when the other goes in for repair.

I suspect though, given my preference for the warm, organic sound, over time I will spend more and more time with the 2X-S, and less time with the UE-10. The silicone material of the 2X-S also did itself much favor. I can't say how much sound quality I would've been willing to trade-off fro the silicone material if the 2X-S had turned out to be much inferior... but there is a certain amount that I was willing to give up no matter what. Good news though, there really isn't, so I don't have to think about it.


FOOTNOTES

usage with iPod versus home equipment
I'm sure it'll come up at some point in time, about how easily driven each of these IEM's coming out of a portable source. Given that these IEM's are designed by be driven out of battery-powered wireless beltpacks in true IEM systems, in which most of the juice has to go to the wireless transmission, there's no problem driving them out of the iPod at all.

Even though there's a lot of people out there that'll say iPod is "bass deficient", I simply consider the iPod to have the flattest output out of all the portable players out there. Given that, there's no difficency in the bass for either one of these IEM paired with the iPod directly. Having an amp will always improve the sound in various degrees, but there's nothing wrong with driving them from the iPod without an amp.

I did a lot of cross testing of the same tracks using my home set-up versus the iPod. There is definitely another level of detail and deeper extension in both higher and lower ranges, but that is to be expected. However, it is nowhere near the realm of unsatisfactory experience. In short, the bass on the iPod with these custom IEM's is simply superb. Even the lowest note of bass that's present on the UE-10 is present on the iPod as well as my home system, although it is stronger and more apparent in my home system.

One very important advice though, you have to use lossless files on your iPod. Otherwise you'll find the experience less than optimal versus your home system. Lossless and lossy compression makes a huge difference here.

testing equipment
Apple 3rd gen iPod w/ Apple Lossless compression
Hotrodded Sony SCD-CE775 w/ Emmeline HR-2

testing tracks
Alicia Keys - "Diary of Alicia Keys"
Alicia Keys - "Note in A Minor"
Ben Folds - "Ben Folds Live"
Ben Folds - "Rockin' the Suburbs"
Ben Folds Five - "Whatever and Ever Amen"
Ben Folds Five - "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner"
Black Eyed Peas - "Elephunk"
Christina Aguilera - "Stripped"
Coldplay - "Parachute"
Coldplay - "Rush of Blood to the Head"
Death Cab for Cuties - "Transatlanticism"
Duncan Sheik - "Humming"
Duncan Sheik - "Daylight"
Jars of Clay - "Who We Are Instead"
Jason Mraz - "Waiting for my rockets to come"
Miles Davis - "Kind of Blue"
Miles Davis - "Birth of the Cool"
New Radicals - "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too"
Norah Jones - "Come Away With Me"
Norah Jones - "Feels Like Home"
PM Dawn - "Dearest Christian....."
PM Dawn - "The Best Of"
Vince Guaraldi - "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
post #2 of 271
You are one hell of a lucky guy !

Thank You For an absolutely wonderful review and lovely pictures
post #3 of 271
Lindrone,
I don't care if you are biased or not, that review was beautiful and you've earned my grudging respect. It answered every single one of my questions, and it showed that you gave them a thorough examination.
You have a lot of character, and I'm proud of you. Nice job!
post #4 of 271
That is one great review. For anyone who is considering making the leap to this level of IEM, this is a must read. If I were in the market for either of these, I think I would go for the Sensaphonics. I currently have the E5s and it sounds like the 2x-s would be the next logical, albeit a large step.
post #5 of 271
Lindrone,

Nice and informative review. How much for each cananl phone?
post #6 of 271
I can't believe I read the whole thing!!!!!!! I have exactly 140% no interest in either of these products, but still thought this was one of the best audio reviews I have read. You did a great job. Thank you.
post #7 of 271
Wow, I'm even MORE intrigued by these two custom canalphones now. THANKS for the nice review.
post #8 of 271
Very informative review Lindrone but you don't seem to have allowed any time for UE-10 burn in at all, unlike Welly-Wu who allowed about a week.

As i said before, however wonderful Sensaphonics are, it is completely futile ordering them out of the US when they are appallingly bad with answering emails.
post #9 of 271
Heh, disregard my PM..accept the congratulations bit.. for some reason I couldn't reply to this awesome review!

Lindrone has now made my choice more difficult because I can see the good points and bad points of each now, and I like em both. Gee thanks pal.

Wonderful review! I laughed! I cried! I liked it better than Cats! I'm going to read it again and again...

edit - ..except the bit about the cables. Mindy told me they were ment to be used without fear, so if it were to break, that wouldn't be considered normal by UE. But I understand the general feeling there, as a Senn 600 user.
post #10 of 271
excellent review. thank you
post #11 of 271
Lindrone -- Thanks for the excellent write up and comparison between the two units. Also thanks for your time and $$$ invested towards this. I am sure others like me appreicate it even though sometimes it may seem people are poking at you.

I do have a question -- based on reading your past reviews on the Shure E5 and E3 I purchased both ... first an E3 and then an E5. I enjoyed the E3 a lot and once I got the E5's ... I also enjoyed them but not as much. Reasons -- a) E5 was bigger unit and didn't seem to fit into my ear as well and give me the isolation I wanted compared to my experience with the E3. Additionally the E3 seemed to have better or more available (at least to me) high and mid end as compared to the E5. The E5 definitely had more bottom [low] end to it ... but the high and mid end got a bit muddied up with the low end part being so pronounced as compared to the E3 which was nice but definitely lacking a bottom end. Today I have an E3 still and a Sony CD-3000 ... I used a mini iPod when I am travelling, at work or working out with my E3. I used the Sony CD-3000 with my Ray Samuel's HR-2 AMP and sometime the E-3 also. I like the Sony CD-3000 sound quite a bit.

Based on my comments above which would you recommend for me the UE10Pro or the Sensaphonic 2XS.

Note: -- Only time I have the headphones in for over 4 hours straight would be on a airplane flight (under 3 times a year).

Thanks for your recommendations and efforts again.

Regards,

- rajs
post #12 of 271
lindrone, I applaud you, sir.

This is the best review, for my purposes, that I have seen on this site.

Thank you.
post #13 of 271
A very nice review....thanks!!
post #14 of 271

Interesting perspectives...

Thanks for your opinions. I want to ask you a question about the durability of both custom IEMs. With the silicone and soft acrylic materials, do you know what percentage of owners of both Sensaphonics and Ultimate Ears products have returned their custom IEMs back to the company for repairs? Also, do you think that comfort is derived from the quality of the ear impressions or the material with which the custom IEM is fashioned?

I ask these questions because of this quote which I found to be interesting and true:

Quote:
On durability issues though, I would guess the silicone material will tear more easily if you applied a lot of force to it. It would still take a lot of force to tear them. You have to really purposely hold them between clamps and try to pry the thing apart. So even though hard acrylic and full-soft acrylic is probably more durable than silicone, I don't see how anyone would be able to break any of these IEM's easily.
I ask you because the importance of long term durability of these expensive earphones must be shifted to the foreground of readers' minds. Ultimate Ears recently made the wise decision to offer their Ue-10 PRO in hard acrylic only to non-professional musicians while professional musicians may opt for the full-soft material. Their reason for coming to this decision are that professional musicians contort their faces while singing and the full-soft material provides more flexibility to account for the fact that the inner ear canal changes in shape in relation with movements of the jaw associated with singing and performing on stage. Regardless of brand or model names, I firmly believe that the level of comfort associated with custom IEMs is solely dependent upon the quality of the ear impressions; hence, I do not believe there is a correlation between either the full-soft or hard acrylic materials and comfort level (although I do believe personal preferences should be determined by needs).

Switching to another point you made in your review, I want to ask you how much of a factor does system synergy play in shaping your opinion of the sonic performance of both custom IEMs? I am not talking about personal preferences. How would you characterize the sonic attributes of both your home and portable audio system in relation to the inherent sonic characteristics of both custom IEMs? From your review, you say that the Sensaphonics ProPhonic 2X-Soft has a warmer color while the Ultimate Ears Ue-10 PRO has a more neutral color. I know you have the excellent Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2 headphone amplifier and it is noted to be dark and warm in color wheras the Apple iPod is more neutral in color. It stands to reason that the Sensaphonics ProPhonic 2X-Soft will provide a better level of system synergy with your home audio system (this is my casual assumption to which I will appreciate your input) but I also know how well the Apple iPod and Ue-10 PRO combination sound together. Will you continue to use both custom IEMs by playing to the synergistic strengths of the associated equipment to which they are hooked up? If you are an audio dealer / advisor, then how will you make recommendations to readers as to which custom IEM to choose should they have both the inclination and capital to make the investment based on their audio equipment?

Your thoughts and answers will be most appreciated.
post #15 of 271
a very nice review to say the least.
Lindrone could you specify in a bit more detaill what options did you use when placing your order for each product as in what design did you chose.

cheers
kunwar
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