Chord&Major Major6'13 "Ballad" - Reviews
Pros: Natural sounding; Excellent at vocals; Clarity; Build
Cons: Isolation; Weight, fit, and ergonomics for some
The Major 6 was one of the older models in chord&Major's lineup that has been revamped into the Major 6'13, inline with the Tonal Earphone series design principles. While it looks identical to the other models in terms of design, it hides a few improvements under its sleeves. If you're interested in reading up my previous review on the other models, or curious on some references I make here, please follow this link (due to the formatting, it might not be mobile friendly).
 
 
A few things to specify
  1. This pair has been provided to me by Chord&Major as a followup so that I can complete the Tonal Earphone series review. This model was released much later than the others. In fact it was released in 2014 despite still being a '13 model. This pair has been with me and used alongside other gears in the past... almost year. Sorry for the delay!! I did rewrite this many times though.
  1. As individuals our hearing and tastes are individually unique to some extent. In other words, YMMV.
  2. Most of the time annotations will be made following the picture.
 
 
About my preferences
I usually prefer music with vocal tracks. Not that there are no exceptions in my repertoire but the bulk does involve a vocalist be it male or female or synthetic (such as Vocaloid).
 
 
Sources used for this review
iPhone 4S headphone out using the original music app; EQ turned off.
Laptop with uninteresting specs fed into a FiiO E17.
 
I decided against using portable amping solutions this time around since these are driven fine without the amp. Another reason is that my portable source is my phone and my amps lack good shielding... using them with IEMs means occasional, sudden, and extremely loud interference.
 
 
Overview
Chord&Major is a Taiwanese IEM maker with one product line which are the Tonal Earphones. They are basically all different models but share a same design principle, which also includes tuning with better synergy to specific music genres. All models till now use a single dynamic driver designed in-house and are meant to be easy to listen, easy to drive.
 
The Ballad model is made with an emphasis on vocals without sacrificing the instruments that play along.
 
 
Specifications
Major 6'13 BALLAD
  1. Tonal: Ballad
  2. Impedance: 30 ohms
  3. Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000Hz
  4. Sensitivity: 94dB at 1KHz 1mW
  5. Max Power Input: 8 m W
  6. Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
  7. Cable Length: 1.2m
 
Major 7'13 JAZZ
  1. Tonal: Jazz
  2. Impedance: 16 ohms
  3. Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000Hz
  4. Sensitivity: 94dB at 1KHz 1mW
  5. Max Power Input: 8 m W
  6. Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
  7. Cable Length: 1.2m
 
Major 8'13 ROCK
  1. Tonal: Rock
  2. Impedance: 16 ohms
  3. Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000Hz
  4. Sensitivity: 94dB at 1KHz 1mW
  5. Max Power Input: 8 m W
  6. Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
  7. Cable Length: 1.2m
 
Major 9'13 CLASSICAL
  1. Tonal: Classical
  2. Impedance: 21 ohms
  3. Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000Hz
  4. Sensitivity: 96dB at 1KHz 1mW
  5. Max Power Input: 8 m W
  6. Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
  7. Cable Length: 1.2m
 
I've included the specs of the other 3 models for your viewing pleasure, just to show that the Ballad has the highest impedance and the same higher sensitivity as the CLASSICAL model. All of them use dynamic drivers.
 
 
Packaging and Accessories

The theme wood for this model is using pine.
 
There is actually a paper sleeve with product information covering part of the wooden case. At the time of the picture I had removed it already.
 

The interior once opened. The representative instrument this time is the acoustic guitar.

What's inside the box: cable winder (upper right); carrying pouch (bottom​); cleaning brush and a pair of S and L ear tips all sealed (left).
 
The list of included accessories is identical to the other models in the Tonal Earphone lineup and details can be found in its review thread. In short, it comes with:
  1. cable winder
  2. carrying pouch
  3. cleaning brush (sealed)
  4. a pair of S and L eartips without spare M tips (all sealed)
  5. user manual written in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese (when bought from a different market it might have different languages) 
 
The carrying pouch, however, is now different and a lot nicer in my opinion.
 

The new carrying pouch is made of a soft, stretchy cloth. Embossed on one side is the acoustic guitar and on the other the Chord & Major brand and logo.
Side-by-side comparison with (one of) the old pouches. Due to the way it closes being different, the pouch is slightly smaller overall when closed.
 
So unlike the JAZZ/ROCK/CLASSICAL models the carrying pouch is made of a soft, stretchy cloth instead of velvety on the outside and kind of rough on the inside. The shape changed a bit too and now the pouch folds to close. This change is a welcomed one as the previous design is a dust magnet and the IEMs could potentially still fall out when closed. It is also easier to roll up now when trying to shrink the volume it occupies. I suppose this pouch is washable although I haven't had the need to try that.
 
 
Design and Build
These are strictly earphones and no option for inline microphone or buttons are available. The cables are also non-removable and due to the way it is designed, I'm not sure how or if the earphones can be opened up for DIY repairs and/or modifications.
 
Faithful to the other models of the series the materials and shape of the body, cables, and plug are pretty much the same. Sturdy and resilient stainless steel body with wood (pine this time) veneer accents, nice rubbery cable with little memory that barely stiffens in the cold, "Ballad" etched at the Y-split, and a thin profile wood veneered 3.5mm plug. The build quality is great, and I feel this one being even better built than the previous models. Overall they look and feel great.
 
Aside from the different color layout on the back of the earphones, a first in the series with two-tones on the stainless steel parts, the overall shape looks identical at a quick glance. In reality, there are small changes.
 

Comparison between the Jazz (old standard) and Ballad (different) coloring layout on the back.
The black circle on the back tastefully matches the color of the stock ear tips.
 
First off, the earphone is vented in the back just like the other three Tonal Earphones, but the Ballad also has a vent in the front. Even with the (stock) tips on, the vent is actually visible. The distinctive J shaped stainless steel back is also thinner (by roughly 0.08mm), which changes the weight distribution on the body. It feels lighter, but in reality it is not. In fact on the scale they weigh ~0.2g more than the JAZZ model. The surface treatment of the stainless steel is different and the edges have been slightly smoothed. It seems like the proportion of the J shaped back has slightly changed as well.
 

Vent right before the nozzle, so two vents total.
I tried to line up the fold on the J-shaped back. The proportions seem to have changed a bit.
 
As far as durability goes, this time around I didn't forcibly abuse them with drop tests and whacking them against each other. Based on the other models, these are definitely very durable and I don't foresee the metallic mesh fall out or the earphone housing falling apart (like the TDK BA200 is prone to do) and they can take a fair beating. You can also use them to beat others like mini flails but... uhh... you did not hear that from me.  Which brings me to say, if you ever dropped them or one side falls out from your ears for whatever reasons, they could potentially leave an impression on whatever surface it hits.
 
The J-shaped back operates the same as before and is meant to help reduce microphones and cable strain. Personally, I don't find it very helpful against microphonics but it does work very well at providing a nice resistance against cable tug at the cable entry point. On the other hand, when the cables are tangled this particular shape makes untangling more difficult.
 
The 3.5mm plug is very diminutive in size and thus case-friendly for those that use smartphones or tablets with cases.
 
One pet peeves I previously had was with the cable length past the Y-split. Compared to most other IEMs in my repertoire, they are definitely on the shorter side for use worn over the ear. With time and use this had become much less of an issue. I suppose it was a matter of getting used to.
 
 
Fit and Isolation
The previous Tonal Earphones fit okay, but the comfort was definitely not among the best. The Ballad, with small changes to the overall design, brought great changes in terms of comfort. The stainless steel parts do not feel sharp against the skin and does not bother any part of my ears. No hot spots. Originally I thought the steel parts would be uncomfortable in winter when it contact with the skin; turns out since metals are good thermal conductors, this sensation is kept to a minimum and soon enough the earphones are near body temperature. No burns in summer, no frostbite in winter.
 
Overall, these earphones are something I personally can wear for long hours on end. While not as comfortable as small, light, and ergonomic IEMs like say the Sony XBA-C10, they are not uncomfortable. The Ballad weighs about 21g in total including cables but without ear tips. With the right sized tips, they don't fall out of your ears when inserted properly but they cannot mask their presence; these are definitely not something you can sleep on (due to shape) or that you would forget they're being worn (due to weight). Size-wise they are not too big, though I suppose people with very small ears might differ in opinions here. 
 
Here are a few images of how they look worn... on a semi-fail ear replica of mine.
 
Chord&Major 6'13 Ballad​
DSCF6154.jpg Cable down--Side
 
DSCF6155.jpg
Cable down--Face
DSCF6164.jpg  
[size=inherit]Cable up--Side[/size]
DSCF6165.jpg
Cable down--Face
 
 
A few more IEMs from my personal collection to compare with. The ear is latex, a silicone compound, and some hardened modeling clay. The ear human ear is still more malleable and stretchy so the way an IEM fits on a real ear will still be a little different.
 
Fostex TE-05​
DSCF6156.jpg
DSCF6157.jpg
Sony XBA-C10​
DSCF6158.jpg
DSCF6159.jpg
TDK BA-200​
DSCF6160.jpg
DSCF6161.jpg
Ultimate Ears UE900​
DSCF6162.jpg
DSCF6163.jpg
 
 
Isolation? Not very good. Average at best; there are other IEMs that have much less isolation than these. Since it has two vents per side, the lack of good isolation is to be expected but this means that if you take the bus/metro/subway/train, you might not be hearing a lot of your music. In those cases you'd only be hearing mids. In quieter environments the lack of great isolation is not much of a problem and will not interfere the enjoyment of music.
 
 
Sound
All listening have been done using the stock tips. The reason is straightforward: I find they sound and fit the best. Sony hybrids might be more of taste for some... they don't sound too different from the stock tips, with a very slight more concentrated sound, but I personally find the stock tips more comfortable.
 

The FR as shown on the C&M website. The scale isn't mentioned... but I believe it is more to use as reference against their other earphones rather than to take literally.
 
To start off, here is the official description:
Chord&Major's Major6'13 is a tonal earphone with highly balanced frequency response. It targets details in the lead vocal while maintaining comprehensiveness of all instrument. The beautiful, delicate vocals as well as clear, balanced music sound quality presented by Major6'13 gradually lays out the narrator's emotions. As listeners enjoy the appealing sound of singing, they are further invited to sympathize the feelings and meanings of the song and its lyrics.
 
I would be lying if I said I didn't like Chord&Major's product descriptions. They really are spot on. The overall tonality is well balanced with a hard (enough) hitting sub bass when needed, a mid bass that doesn't bleed nor overwhelm mids, a clean lower mids with a more energetic upper mids to bring out clarity, and finally a softer treble that brings detail without sibilance. Across the spectrum there are no major dips or peaks. The focus, or say the specialty, of this model is really on the vocals though.
 
But lets put that into context. Sub bass is there. It hits pretty hard when needed, has good texture, though on jazz tracks for instance the upright bass just doesn't have the same authoritative feel as something that is flat down to 20Hz. So if you want to hear the utmost details in bass, these will not satisfy. Mid bass is clean, and definitely on the lean side if compared to most modern tuning headphones that have mid bass humps. That said, if I were to listen to EDM (which I find sound surprisingly good on these) I might find myself boosting bass sometimes when in the mood. For most music, the quantity and quantity are quite melodic.
 
The same could be said of the lower mids. While there is plenty of body, unlike the Jazz and Classical model the Ballad's tonality isn't towards the warm side but the bright side with a more energetic upper mid reminiscent to the Rock model. The timbre isn't overly skewed and remains in fact very natural sounding. Vocals, male and female, are clear, articulate and portrays nuances very well. I love my BA200 for its vocal reproduction and these sound similar enough but with a bit less body, more clarity. These might be my new vocal reference IEMs. The same can be said of instruments with some reservation.
 
The treble is on the soft side and comparable to the Rock and Classical model. No overly accentuated treble or daggers to my ears as I'd like to call it, although personally I do find these the more fatiguing model--relatively speaking since none of them really are fatiguing. Overall these are less forgiving when it comes to badly mastered tracks.
 
The soundstage isn't perceived as large as the Classical model which I believe is thanks to it's slower decay. I find the stage to be above average and the stereo image very good as well. Vocals take the center stage and are upfront so if you like laid-back vocals, these might not work for you. Instruments are well separated but are layered behind and around the vocals.
 
As far as the speed goes, these are fast. Fast paced tracks, guitar licks, tongue twisters you name it, the Ballad sings them effortlessly. The attack is also fast, part of what makes the vocals and instruments very clean sounding. This can be a con though. My reservation with regards to instruments is due to this. Sometimes the impact of piano keys hitting the strings can feel overly accentuated and distracting. On the contrary, guitars, specially acoustic ones, sound sublime.
 
How do these fare for watching movies or playing games? If the game or movie involves a lot of guns, explosions and the sort, I would say there are much better choices out there. Just because more sub bass adds to the ambiance and echolocation.
 
 
TL;DR: I find these make a great all rounder if you don't need emphasized bass, and especially if you put emphasis on vocal quality. But if you like overall warm sound then these might not be the ones.
 
 
Sound (Alternate)
So uhh.. what's the alternate sound?
There's two vents right?... let's plug them up! (does it show I'm into modifying headphones?)
 
How should we go about doing this? Since the parts of the IEM body where the vents are is stainless steel, tape doesn't always hold very well. So instead, it looks terrible, but I put blue tack which also can be removed without any residue.
 
If only the front vent is plugged, the sound is loose and bassy. Lots of sub bass and huge loss in upper frequency making it very dark and warm sounding. Yuck.
 
If only the back vent is plugged, treble start to sound harsh. Yikes.
 
What if we plugged both at the same time? Huh... surprisingly great. Improved isolation. Increased sensitivity (almost like upping the volume by 1.5 on the E17). More sub bass and mid bass. Still of pretty good quality although sub bass gets a little garbled up in quicker tracks. Mid bass still doesn't bleed into mids. Mids still sound great, but gets a little complicated with somewhat of a M shaped accentuation. So for some voices, there's a little more body. For some it will sound the same. Others you might feel like the singing is a bit irregular. Treble gets a little bit of accentuation but like the sub bass, gets a little confused when the tracks gets fast and sophisticated.
 
What else do we lose? Well, the sound is less airy and flattened. If you're sensitive to differing (air) pressure in your ears, you'll feel it against your ear drums. But for all the times you wished the Ballads worked better on other genres, this method gives you just that.
 
 
EQ Response
These respond quite well to EQ. I personally don't find EQ necessary for these but when mood differs it certainly is an option. Also easier to apply on the fly than plugging vents up.
 
 
Final Thoughts

 
This may be ironic for me to say about Tonal Earphones but I am more the type that finds a good middle ground for all genres I listen to, rather than using different gear for different genres. But having quite a collection of earphones and headphones myself, I do switch around depending on my mood and what I am listening to. Some gear are just better suited for the job than others. That said, these fit the bill as a pretty solid all rounder especially if you like your vocals to be in the spotlight. In my case... I definitely have a penchant for vocals. I can't help but think that these really do excel at vocals without too much compromise, without limiting to just ballads as genre. The biggest and greatest compromise is the isolation which will limit where and how you use them.
 
How do these compare to other similarly priced IEMs? Depending on your tastes these give a fair competition to many high contenders on Head-Fi. I must say though, I haven't had the chance to keep up with the hundreds of new products pouring into the market every other week so my reference point might be outdated... but as far as my personal collection goes (you can check my profile) these rank high on my preference scale.
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