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Universal Fit item created by average_joe, May 10, 2010
Pros - Among the most refined and detailed universal IEMs
Cons - Subpar clarity, obtrusive mids, missing forward projection
I've had the SM3 as a loner pair for several weeks, here's the summary of my impressions:
- Very refined sound reproduction
- Bass has top quality and just the right quantity for me
- Extremely detailed and attractive mids
- Almost equally good highs that never get too sharp
- Very realistic timbre for a balanced armature based phone
- Large Soundstage
- Excellent separation
- Decent isolation
- Very good cable
- Forward / in-your-face mids can be fatiguing with some music and/or prolonged listening
- Not among the best in clarity, highs are slightly recessed
- Only minimal forward projection of soundstage ("surround effect")
- Cable too short from earpiece to Y-splitter
- Only average wearing comfort
- Cheap and fragile looking housing
No beating around the bush, I have mixed feelings about the SM3. On the one hand I take my hat off to Earsonics for producing the most refined balanced armature based IEMs I've heard to date. On the other hand, the SM3's sound signature is a little different from what I was expecting after reading several rave reviews. They are slightly on the warmish side of neutral, and by switching between them and my other IEMs it becomes quite obvious that their mids are decidedly forward and in-your-face. In more than one way the SM3 strike me as a more sophisticated version of the SE530, a phone that I found absolutely stunning at first, but over time discovered that their sound signature was a bit too obtrusive for my liking.
Add in the SM3's unusual spatial presentation with only minimal forward projection of soundstage and the music occasionally coming from all sides, I'm sorry to say that as far as soundstaging is concerned, these strike me more as on-stage monitors than consumer IEMs.
Overall I think, even though the SM3 rightfully belong among the best universal IEMs I've heard, they are still a bit overhyped. They are a tad too warm and decidedly too mid-forward to be accurate. They have less clarity then a lot of other IEMs. Their soundstaging is a hit/miss/love/hate affair. Bottom line, if their sound signature fits your taste and you love (or at least don't mind) surround sound staging, the SM3 are for you. I didn't meet these requirements, so they were not for me.
Well, what was I expecting on hearing these at first? Very hard question to answer really, probably a darker sound than the w2’s, an altogether more complete sound than the dtx100, less detail than the hf5 (courtesy of Benny) and a rather dodgily put together earphone which will apparently wow me like no other earphone. Was this what I got? In short, pretty much, no, if you’re not bored yet then read on. If you are then I doubt it’ll get better.
My first thoughts on opening the parcel from Benny was along the lines of: “Ooh, Radius do nice cases for their earphones don’t they?” Westone should take note even though as far as cases go theirs are far from the worst. Anyway with my trusty Sony a818 I plugged them in and opened up the taps, I think the first song I played was “A feeling of the all thing” by Kelley Polar. Sound came out of them. That’s all good, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not a particularly impressive party trick for most earphones, was it a sound that wowed me? No, it wasn’t. I was immediately impressed with the bass extension but that was about it. Five minutes later I had sore ears and was looking for some other tips to use. I tried a lot of tips, the sensorcoms doubles didn’t sound right at all, the balance was off to the extent I thought a driver was damaged, the jays were uncomfortable, Shure olives weren’t bad but fit better on my w2’s, most ety tips had fit problems, the modded tri-flange Ety’s weren’t bad sound wise but hurt. I spent about 4 days taking my sm3’s to work with as many tips as would fit in my Beyer dtx100 case (the biggest reasonable one I had). Eventually I put on some double flange tips I didn’t recognize and promptly got sidetracked. I still had them on an hour later when I realized that they hadn’t yet driven me mad and it turned out they were the stock double flange tips from earsonics. I’m still using them.
Did they wow me? No, they didn’t, was I disappointed with that? No, the last earphones to wow me were my first pair of cx300’s about 5 years ago and if an earphone wows me now I don’t consider it a good thing. The sound is quite a lot like I was expecting. With the amount of talk the sm3’s generated on head-fi I was fairly confident I knew more or less their sound signature. I consider them a good upgrade over my dtx100’s which a little under a year ago I considered the finest things since cheese straws. The bass extension is better than any other earphone I’ve used which, listening to a lot of electronic like I do, is a good thing, I don’t need greatly enhanced bass, that’ll be in the recording if it’s needed, but a lot of tracks suffer if there’s nothing underpinning the track where there really should be, it’s also one area I came to realize wasn’t actually that great on the 100’s. I haven’t a/b’d the sm3 much with any of my other earphones so mids/highs are harder to define but I haven’t found detail to be too lacking compared to the hf5/w2. I imagine I would find they’re not quite as good in that area but I don’t really find it a problem.
Audio Nirvana. Well, how about that phrase. What does it mean? (I haven’t finished on the sound yet, this is an aside) Anyway back in February of this year I bought myself a set of MA GS10’s and coupled them up to my modded CA 640 and either a Dual-Mono TPA Dac or a Rega P2. I have to say it sounds bloody spectacular. I can listen to it at virtually any volume and whilst in any mood and lose focus to music every time if I want to. I bought that set-up and it does its job, sends me away from the world, straight up the staircase to Nirvana. However, when I use my earphones I have just woken up, I am half way through a criminally strong coffee and am about to be rushed off my feet until about 10 hours time. In that case all earphones should do is block out most of the noise and panic of the outside world and cut down as much of the illusion of time as possible on the way to work. Every earphone has done this since my trusty Sony’s back in 2004. So what do you get with the sm3’s that you don’t with earphones at a tenth of the price? When you use them in a darkened room with no background noise it seems a very silly question but on the street? You get a better sound, no contest, the soundstage of the sm3’s is one I might actually call a real soundstage it’s why I think the sound holds together so well. This is where the diminishing returns kick in big time. To my ears they are considerably better than the dtx100 but to many the price difference will not be worth it. After all, the 100’s have an easier fit, are just as well built if not better and sound good in themselves. To me though, the sm3 makes my trips to work a lot nicer. They will never be able to match my gs10’s if merely for the presence of sound but for an hour every morning I keep finding myself forgetting the world around me because i’ve slipped into audio nirvana, I just came in the back door.
Pros - Sound is detailed and smooth. It has perfect amount of bass. It's comfortable to wear on the ears.
Cons - The part of the cable where it splits into Y is short and gives you the feeling of getting choked. Cables aren't replaceable.
Sound is detailed and smooth. It has perfect amount of bass. It's comfortable to wear on the ears.
The part of the cable where it splits into Y is short and gives you the feeling of getting choked. Cables aren't replaceable.
Pros - soundstage, portablility, drivability, braided cables
my choice of music is mainly melodic metalcore and hardstyle, and hell was i ever attuned to the boomy kind of earphones (i was ready to put my wallet out for a pair of IE8s)
so far i got it only 3 weeks ago and upon taking it out, it sounded (IMO) lacking in bass and a little tinny. but within the 2nd week, it really did CLICK for me as mentioned by a fellow head fier - it sounds so downright immersive, with the studio like recording soundstage, as i you are jamming with the band; as if you could feel their presence. now when i have understood (or would people usually say, brain break in,) i loved my SM3s.
no more crying babies for it isolated like a champ, and only just musical nirvana every time i board the trains and buses.
Pros - Great bass, smooth yet extended treble, mids, and an amazingly wide soundstage
Cons - perhaps build quality, and the short length to Y-split
I can't add much to the above reviews. They are some amazing universals. I can't understand any comments that the treble is lacking. To me, that comes from the 'trebleheads' who think the end all be all of audio is just how much extension we can eek out of the top end. Puh-leeze. There is so much more to these earphones, from the wonderfully tight and deep bass, to the natural clean mids, to the awesome detail and layering to their particular top end while remaining so supremely smooth without any hint of harshness or sibilance. The result is such a level of cohesive sound that it's addicting.
But be sure to have access to some extra brands of tips beyond what is included, and do some experimentation. It pays off huge dividends.
Freq. graph, courtesy of mr. dfkt!
Pros - Balance, transparency, bass impact
Cons - none, really
My IEM journey started with the Phonak PFEs, then to the Sennheiser IE8s, Monster Miles Davis, Ortofon EQ7, and now these. In my opinion, there is no area in which the previous phones surpass these beautiful phones. Bass is there when you need it, and doesn't intrude when not. Those who think Balanced Armatures can't do bass have never heard these. Mids are liquid and extremely enjoyable, and treble is smooth and extended. I am fairly sensitive to sibilance, and have yet to come across anything that bothered me yet. The main thing is that these do not impose a sound signature on the music, and really let you hear how your source performs. Those seeking a more "exciting" sound can adjust their amp/DAC/EQ accordingly, and those who have a neutral source and want a neutral sound will get exactly that.
Isolation is about average for an IEM, depending on the tips being used.
Despite the not-so-round edges on the phone, they are very comfortable, and fit very easily into my ear. Those with smaller ears may have more trouble.
If I were to nitpick, the cord from the y-splitter up to the drivers is perhaps a little short. This renders the plastic tube that adjusts the length fairly useless. As it is, however, the length is just right for me, and needs no adjusting. Also one user, who may just be terribly unlucky, has managed to break them twice. Once when the casing split, which has since been addressed by Earsonics, and once when using custom tips and the sound tube broke off inside. I am still waiting on my custom tips to come in, but I think it's best just to be extra careful. They are just plastic, after all.
While time will tell if these are slightly overhyped at the moment, I am confident in saying that they will appeal to most people. Perhaps more flaws will start to rear their ugly heads in the coming months, but at the moment, listening to these has left me with no desire to upgrade.
I used to love my SM3s. Ranted and raved about them in the forum. Threatened to send the boys around to deal with anyone who disagreed.
Then I went off them and bought some Ety HF5s and RE-252s, and I'm much happier now. Sold my SM3s and don't regret it.
Pros - Accurate reproduction of the recording with the ability to recreate the space, dynamics, bass, and everything else originally present like no other!
Cons - None
Remember those essays you had to write in grade school? Well I do even if you don't. In honor of that memory, I am going to write: What does the EarSonics SM3 mean to me?
Back in March I was going to order the EarSonics SM3 based off the few things I have read about them, even though it wasn't much. But then something stopped me. Could they really be that good, and the shipping cost was as expensive as my gateway IEM! I was not sure what exactly to expect, but did have some insider info from shigzeo, which was all positive. But were they going to be UM3X like and lacking they dynamics and excitement I want, especially for the price?
Well, a month went by and search reminded me of the SM3, and I realized I had to have them. So I placed my order. I got the FX700 two days before the SM3. Talk about too many toys at once. Upon opening the SM3, I was surprised that there was only one type of tip (Franck is going to start including a 2nd type of tip). And to be honest, at first, I was thinking "what the hell did I just spend $425 on?" Burn in, tips, getting used to the sound sig, who knows. But they sound so much better now, and clearer also.
What am I hearing? This excerpt pretty much sums it up quite well (thanks MayaTlab via KLS)
Originally Posted by MayaTlab
I don't know about the UM3x availability in the USA.
For the Earsonics, you'll have to import them from their website :
EarSonics ® / Ear Sonics in-ear monitors / custom earphones / in ears / ear monitors / earplugs / earmolds.
Don't be afraid because of the translation - yeah, it sucks. Trust me, they're very serious and the customer service is fantastic.
Also, their price is 350 WITH TAX, and probably if my mathematical skills aren't that terrible around 290 without - still very expensive in dollars (387 + possible customs taxes).
However, I'd wait if I were you, because there are only a handful of head-fi feedbacks about them. The French forums are just raving about them about pretty much everything, but it would be nice to have different points of view. However so far I've read the following comments :
- Better details and instrument separation than the UM3x (that must really be something then)
- Soundstage as wide as IE8
- Superb imaging and depth
- "Spot on" EQ - ie very flat and neutral (though I bet we're talking about the Hi-Fi side of neutrality, that is to say rather warm but not too much)
- Very tight and controlled bass (at least tighter than IE8), with thunderous and fast impact. I haven't read anything about its texture. They have less bass quantity than the IE8, but I cannot say in comparison to the UM3x. I bet given my SM2 experience that they'll slide in between the SE530 and UM3x in terms of quantity.
- Superb mids (very likely to be the best of the current universals, given Earsonics' pedigree), and super extra ultra "liquid".
- Airy and extended treble
- Effortlessly dynamic - they sound "big", "powerful"
They also have the exact same ergonomics as the UM3x, but there isn't a version with removable cables.
On the one hand, that sounds too good to be true (hence my recommendation to wait a bit), but on the other hand, Earsonics has been around for years, is producing a two-way three drivers custom that goes head to head with the JH13 (and was designed more than four years ago) and is a very serious company - so they're totally able to pull this off.
Well, OK, so I stole a post from someone else! At least I cited the source! But seriously, IMHO these are the best in-ear monitors I have heard, bar none (with the exception of possibly the UE11 universal I heard for 20 minutes at Can Jam, but these gave me the same amazed feeling). So, lets see...
- Equal to or better than IE8 soundstage width (my IE8's were lost in the mail, so I can't compare directly)
- Equal to or better space/imaging/instrument separation than the UM3X
- More detail than the dynamics I have heard, and at least as much as the other BA's I have heard (more comparisons need to be done)
- Best of the dynamic IEM like bass impact
- Enough speed for anything I have thrown at them
- Extended treble
- Liquid mids
- e-Q7/GR8 transparency
- Dynamics and excitement when the song calls for it
- Best I have heard balance across the spectrum from bass through the treble
Did I miss anything?
So, because of what I am hearing, my other high priced IEMs are becoming expendable and unused, which means I am probably going to sell many of them, if not all after I finish my comparisons. That is why the SM3 is the "most affordable high priced universal IEM!"
So, I sold: CK10, GR8, FX700, e-Q7, PR1 Pro, Mingo WM2 Gold & Silver and bought the Tesla T1...and I don't miss any of what I sold!
And a note on the sound. While I don't have the others to compare with (still have the CK90Pro, Copper, and RE252 for backup purposes, and out of being too lazy to sell them), I think the SM3 has grown on me/improved even more than when I did my comparisons. Now there are many other owners that are agreeing with my findings. Go get them, you won't be disappointed (after 2 weeks with them).
A note on the SM3 vs. the T1...the SM3 can present a wider space than the T1 with some songs, and has a more true to the recording sound than the T1, as it varies widely in presentation depending on the recording. While I have no complaints about the T1, other than really needing another amp for it, the SM3 can do things the T1 can't. But then the T1 does present things differently and places things in a way that I can hear the individual notes and noises better sometimes. This is due IMO to the T1 having a more constant soundstage size.
My results from A/Bing my headphones. I selected the best tips for each, used a few sources and my test tracks, which I am familiar with.
Bass - FX700 has more bass and more bass reverb than the SM3. But to my ears the SM3 sounds accurate and the FX700 sounds a little uncontrolled. It is easier for me to make out the details in the bass with the SM3, and the SM3 has faster bass. The SM3 is warmer than the FX700 by a bit.
Mids - The SM3 mids make the FX700 mids sound somewhat recessed. This is because the SM3 has full mids and the FX700 presentation of the mids is more laid back.
Treble - The SM3 treble never sounds too much or too little, whereas the FX700 treble sounds like it is artificially boosted and lacks tonal accuracy. The tonal accuracy of the FX700 doesn't really sound off until you compare with the SM3, as the emphasis can be skewed due to the comparatively compressed soundstage and boost, affecting the harmonics. The SM3 treble is liquid, and while the FX700 treble does have much detail and is not sharp like the FX500, it lack s the liquid quality of the SM3.
Soundstage - While the FX700 has nearly the same width as the SM3, the soundstage is comparatively flat front to back and top to bottom.
Transparency - The SM3 disappears more than the FX700, especially when there is a lot of bass and treble in songs.
Summary - The SM3 sounds more natural and balanced than the FX700 across the spectrum. The lower half of the FX700 is nice, but still not as detailed or controlled as the SM3.
Bass - The e-Q7 has nice, deep bass that doesn't sound lacking, until you hear the SM3 bass, which has much more power and much better reverb. There is a very noticeable difference in warmth also, as the SM3 is much warmer. The only place where the e-Q7 may be better than the SM3 is lower mid/upper bass clarity, and only by a bit. Bass speed of the SM3 is superior to the e-Q7.
Mids - Both have very good mids, but the differences are in how liquid the SM3 mids are as well as the warmth and fullness, with the SM3 being warmer/fuller. The mids IMO come down to preference, but the more liquid presentation of the SM3 is much preferred.
Treble - I think the treble of the SM3 sounds much better than the e-Q7, and is more extended and liquid, but not smooth. The details are all there, but not etched or rough at all, just presented in a very convincing way. The e-Q7 on the other hand does not convey the realism in the treble that the SM3 conveys.
Soundstage - The e-Q7 has a similar shape to the soundstage, so both of these IEMs portray instruments with similar accuracy from a 3D perspective. But size is where these differ, which is song dependent. The more space in the song, the better they both sound, but the SM3 has more room for the space to grow. Straight out of a DAP I think the SM3 does better, but when amped, the e-Q7 can catch up for some songs. But again, when the song has a lot of space in it, the SM3 pulls away.
Transparency - This is similar, and I actually think the SM3 is a little superior due to the additional speed.
Summary - The e-Q7 is a very capable IEM, but still not quite as good as the SM3. I do really like the sound, and without A/Bing, this would be my favorite IEM (and the FX700 a very close 2nd), but with the SM3 around, the e-Q7 is expendable, as it constricts what the SM3 does and the bass or treble really don't compete.
Bass - The CK10 extends all the way down in the bass region, but the difference in weight is huge. The SM3 has far superior weight and reverb while not giving up much in speed. Detail is about the same.
Mids - Warm vs. comparatively cold presentation. The mids do have better clarity with the CK10, but that clarity comes at a price of an analytical sound vs. a liquid presentation.
Treble - Just like in the bass region, the treble of the SM3 is vastly superior to the CK10. I used to think the CK10 treble, while not great, wasn't bad. In direct comparison, the treble of the CK10 is metallic and unrealistic sounding. And the emphasis of the CK10 is in the upper mids/treble, which makes it worse.
Soundstage - The CK10 has a very nice soundstage depth/width/height ratio, slightly better than the e-Q7 IMO. The SM3 offers that, but with a much greater absolute size.
Transparency - The SM3 is a winner here as both the bass and treble of the CK10 bring attention to themselves, reducing transparency.
Summary - The CK10 does offer one thing over the SM3...midrange clarity. However, the trade-offs for the small increase in mid clarity is not worth the comparatively poor performance in all the other categories.
MD (I had a short audition. It was short because I did not think it compared well to the SM3):
Bass - The MD is warmer than the SM3, but the bass also sounds very uncontrolled in comparison. The level of detail is very different between the two, with the SM3 have so much more. While the MDs may have more bass because they keep moving and moving, the SM3 doesn't lack power in comparison.
Mids - Both have full mids, but the MD mids are more full. The MDs have a front and center presentation that the SM3 can mimic with a few recordings that are recorded that way. The SM3 mids are more liquid and detailed, sounding more realistic.
Treble: The SM3 treble is spot on, the MD treble is a little relaxed in comparison.
Soundstage - The MDs have a smallish soundstage while the SM3 has a much larger, more 3D and realistic soundstage.
Transparency - The SM3 is oodles better than the MDs as the lack of bass control (in comparison) makes driver placement easy.
Summary - The MDs have a mid-centric presentation with a nice midrange, but IMO are outclassed in every way.
Copper: Quick hit...the Copper is a very nice IEM, no doubt. It has strengths, but compared with the SM3, I don't feel it does anything better.
Bass: Slower and more reverberant than the SM3, it isn't bad, but lacks the details and ability to have a quick attack when the song warrants it.
Mids: The SM3 mids are fuller, but at this stage with my SM3, I do not hear any veil in comparison. The throaty mids have a natural sound to them that makes a believe out of me, while the Copper sounds like I am listening to headphones.
Treble: I do like the treble of the Copper quite a bit, but the SM3 outdoes the Copper in resolution and realistic sound of the instruments as well as more precise placement.
Soundstage: the Copper has a nice 3D presence to its soundstage, although not large. The front-to-back and top-to-bottom aren't all that far off in proportion to the width when compared to the SM3, but the entire soundstage is smaller overall. It does open up quite a bit with a good source/amp, but still does not reach SM3 levels.
Transparency: The Copper isn't the most transparent among the dynamic IEMs, the SM3 is at least as transparent as the e-Q7 (an I think more transparent), so there you go.
Summary: The SM3 sounds so much less like I am listening to IEMs when compared with the Copper. The SM3 is more detailed, resolving, and has a better, wider stage.
Note (6/2/10): I put the Copper in after a long time of not listening to them and realized the above was me being nice. The SM3 just crushes the Copper to my ears as they seem flat in dynamics, compressed in soundstage, lack precision, and have uncontrolled bass in comparison. I remember when I thought the Copper was oh so good; perspective changes everything!
To make this short and to the point, while the GR8 sounds nice, when compared with the SM3, it sounded very unnatural to my ears. The SM3 sounded like how I would hear a live performance and the GR8 did not. Of course, the SM3 also outperforms the GR8 in every category from a little to a lot. Bass, mids, treble, soundstage, transparency, detail, reverb, etc. You think of it, the SM3 was superior IMO. But I really couldn't get past the unnatural sound in comparison with the SM3.
Pros - Resolution, sound reproduction without any additions, transparency, bass detail and texture, soundstage, realism, speed, liquid, comfortable.
Cons - Price, might not impress at first due to neutral signature.
I’ve had the EarSonics SM3 for about two weeks now, and I think it’s time to give them a review (pictures can be found at the end).
The EarSonics SM3 comes packaged in a rather small box (I was surprised to find the size of the box to be much smaller than the huge oval-shaped-unopenable-treasure-chest that my Shure SCL4’s came in). The box is about 1/3 of the Sennheiser IE8 box. Regardless, I found the small packaging to be rather neat because it made me even more curious as to how these sounded.
Inside the box, one finds the most minimalistic of included accessories and tips. The EarSonics SM3 comes with one pair of Comply Foam tips attached to the IEM, an extra pair of Comply tips inside the packaging, a wax remover/cleaner, a carrying pouch, and a manual written entirely in French (my High School French skills didn’t come in handy either, bummer). When I ordered my SM3, I requested some silicone double flange tips to be included, and Franck generously included two silicone tips with no questions asked.
The actual IEM is found inside its own compartment within the packaging, and the wiring is conveniently located inside the included pouch. I actually found the minimalistic accessories/packaging to be no detriment to the actual product, considering the gorgeous sound they reproduce.
Size & Fit
My first reaction upon holding the SM3 was: “Wow, these are so light.” They seemed almost too lightweight to be any good, I thought. They were considerably lighter than my Shures or Sennheisers. Of course, this light weight also equated to an extremely comfortable fit.
The SM3 fits over the ear and it is apparent that they are supposed to be worn behind the back, because of the short space between my chin and the separator when worn in front of me. The fit I had with the default Comply tips were extremely comfortable, and offered the most sound isolation. However, over time I felt that the Comply tips made the treble less accentuated and the bass less tight and more bloated. I switched to the silicone double flange tips and found the treble to come alive, and the bass to tighten up considerably. I now wear the SM3s with the silicone double flange tips and am waiting on my Sensorcom tips to arrive so I can compare.
The EarSonics SM3 wire is braided with absolute care. The wire has considerable stress-relief both at the IEM end and the terminating jack. The wire offers almost zero microphonics, much less than the other IEMs I’ve tried. Also, after having worn the SM3 over the ear for two weeks, the wire seems to have created a very slight (but soft) memory to my wearing style—which I actually prefer—however, it is not a stiff wire memory like the Shure SCL4 wire. All in all, the fit and comfort of these IEMs, and the care with which they were created screams precision.
Now, onto the most important part.
When I first put the SM3s in my ear and turned on my MP3 Player (going ampless), I experienced a familiar ‘thud’. I flipped to a well-recognized neoclassical track, Liberi Fatali by Nobuo Uematsu.
My initial reaction was not a “Wow!” or anything of that nature. However, I did recognize the tremendous soundstage immediately. The track calls for a lot of instruments and treble + timbre on instruments, which all were reproduced well by the SM3.
I moved onto a faster, more bass heavy j-pop track, and here is where my first disappointment came. The bass impact seemed lacking to me, as someone who just came from a Sennheiser IE8. However, the vocals shined and all the instruments were so well separated that it brought back something that I hadn’t experienced for a while: balance. I was so used to the IE8’s signature, that I completely forgot about certain elements in tracks.
Over the next half hour, I played a variety of tracks, and listened to the SM3 very critically. It seemed that the SM3 was improving with every track to my ears. This did not make sense to me, at all.
It appeared that the vocals were getting wetter, more alive, and detailed. The initial bass impact that I found to be lacking was getting tighter and more textured. I recognized texture in the bass that I never found with the IE8s, the bass was rich and very, very well detailed. The highs were, however, still not as extended as I found the IE8s to be. Nevertheless, after my brief audition, I put the SM3 down and knew in the back of my head that these were going to surpass my other IEMs over time. With the half-hour brain burn-in that I experienced, I could only imagine what I was going to think of these IEMs weeks down the road.
Fast-forward those two weeks down the road. Here are my impressions:
The EarSonics SM3 are incredible with vocals. My best way to describe how vocals sound on the SM3 is: natural. The EarSonics presents music as it was recorded, with what seems to be (and I really think this) no colouring whatsoever. Certain tracks that call for female vocals seemed to be so beautiful to listen to with my Shure’s, because of their squeaky clean accentuation. The IE8s also gave me a different direction with vocals, with a more laid-back sound signature which seemed slightly veiled compared to the Shure’s.
However, the SM3 is different from anything that I’ve heard. They do not like to add spices or toppings to the music. They only give you what is in the music and nothing more. I thought I was getting this with the Shures, but I was wrong. The SM3 WILL show you the sound of a female inhaling before singing her first notes—however, while both the Shure’s and Sennheisers did this, the SM3 did it differently. The Shures would present the inhaling almost artificially. There is little to no realism of the air rushing through the female’s throat. What I mean by this is, the bass that the air is riding on is not represented by the Shures. The Sennheisers on the other hand, exaggerate this bass. The mid-bass hump on the IE8s make almost every female vocalist sound one or two steps darker or less polished than they really do. Thus, when a female inhales before singing, the Sennheisers added bass where there should not have been bass.
The SM3 reproduces the bass at an inhale almost magically. There is so much TEXTURE on the bass that the air is riding upon, it is breathtaking (no pun intended). One can feel (not just hear) the air rushing through a vocalists’ throat, and can almost tell if his or her throat is dry or wet. I’m sorry if this sounds kind of disgusting to some, but I am trying to explain in full detail how the SM3 reproduces vocals. I could literally hear the air rushing through the throat and coming back out as beautiful notes. I could see that transformation from air to music that humans are able to do with their vocal cords. The bass is not missing like on the Shures, or exaggerated as on the Sennheisers. It is just right. It is real.
The vocals are not ‘in your face’ nor laid back. They are simply represented as how the music was recorded. Certain tracks that I’ve listened to made the vocals appear so ‘in my head’, while other tracks made the vocals appear in front of me, or way in front of me. It all depends on the track, really. It’s almost as if the SM3 is a malleable piece of mud, ready to be made into a piece of pottery. When you press play on that song, the potter goes to work and transforms the mud into the exact dimensions that blueprint (the song) calls for, giving you a piece of pottery that is solely a reproduction of what the blueprint asked for.
Mids (Vocals continued)
The mids on the SM3 are indeed something magical. They seem so effortless yet so alive, it’s quite hard to discern how EarSonics was able to create this type of sound signature. During a song, the mids are ‘there’. They are part of the music, and it is almost like a strand that you can grab and examine, and then release so that it goes back to being part of the harmony of music. The detail, speed, and realism are all there. But, it is not artificially there to impress you. It’s part of the music. It is not part of a show that the SM3 is trying to make so that it can prove itself to be the best IEM. Almost all of the components of sound are represented this way on the SM3s. They all exist in harmony with one another, but can be ‘held’ by themselves and examined, and they will each prove to be perfectly represented. This is how I would describe mids, and every other component, on the SM3.
They are delicate, lush, smooth, laid-back—whatever the music calls for. They will not be polished and super clean in every song, but real to the audio. But what if a song does call for the mids to be polished and super clean? You will get exactly that. The SM3 reproduces mids in this ingenious, transformational way.
Highs on the SM3 are again, perfectly in-tune with the music. They are not there to give you shivers everytime you hear a cymbal crash. If the cymbal does crash and cause you to shiver, then it means that the audio was recorded with that intention.
The sparkle and glimmer is all there in the highs, but only when called for. The highs will tickle you and make you grin when necessary, and remain there for your picking when the song does not require it. How are they reproduced when the song does require the highs to be accentuated? Well, simply put—brilliant.
The highs extend and glimmer perfectly in all the songs that call for it. They do not roll off like in the Shures, nor are they extended past their intention like in the Sennheisers. Since I listen to a lot of j-pop, the speed and sparkle of highs make for a hard combination to reproduce well. However, the SM3 does this with ease. I will elaborate on the speed and precision of the SM3 later on.
High notes by vocalists are so lifelike and natural it is quite amazing. You can feel the struggle of a vocalist to reach those high notes, and the consequent result of their effort. It is indeed a faithful reproduction of highs. Did I mention that the highs do not interfere with the other sections of music whatsoever while doing this? They are all in perfect balance and harmony with one another. This makes for a reproduction of music that is never artificial and never fatiguing. Overall, the highs on the SM3 is not something to be messed with. It’s amazingly well crafted and beautiful on every level. There is no harshness or sibilance to be found. It is indeed a fine, unique representation of highs on every song.
As I mentioned earlier, I was disappointed with the impact of the bass initially. Two weeks later, I laughed at my naïve self. I believe brain burn-in, as well as some subtle burn-in on the crossover and drivers did this to me. The bass impact on the SM3s is thunderous, fast, tight, and CONTROLLED. Everything about the bass on the SM3 screams high-end reproduction.
The bass is so well textured and defined, yet at the same time so impactful and fast, that it is hard to understand how EarSonics created this type of signature using only one bass driver per earpiece. When I stated that the bass was controlled, this does NOT mean that the bass cannot be felt. It only means that the bass is rich and high-end. The bass feels so… expensive and high-class on the SM3.
On natural instruments, the timbre of instruments is so lifelike it is like a delicacy. The sound of a violin, trombone, or piano are perfectly represented and sustained by the bass on the SM3s. The Sennheisers that I had did this, but not to this level. I believe that natural instruments sound even better on the SM3 because of the bass detail that they reveal. The Sennheisers were not nearly as detailed on bass as the SM3s are. Combined with the massive, realistic soundstage of the SM3s (which I will get to later), the combination is deadly.
On hip-hop songs that are bass-heavy, the SM3 does not fail. I didn’t expect the SM3 to be able to stand through some really bass-heavy hip-hop songs, but boy was I wrong. Bass can pound your ears if the music calls for it, and it can be soft and gentle, carrying the tone of a single piano note if the music calls for it. It may be funny to describe the bass as a premium, viscous honey, but that's the taste I get with the bass on the SM3s. Quantity wise? The bass has tremendous quantity—but only if the song calls for it. It will not be there disturbing you on an acoustic passage if the guitar doesn’t have that type of bass; this is something I grew annoyed with on the IE8—bass was simply accentuated when it shouldn’t have been. The quantity of the bass, combined with the detail and speed, make for an amazing experience on any song with an underlying bass-line.
Did I mention the speed of the bass? It is tremendously fast. The bass can stop on a dime if necessary, and then start back with thunderous impact one second later. The bass will not smear the audio spectrum and ruin your mids and highs. Never. It will always remain harmonious to the music. One can truly appreciate bass on the SM3s because of the detail and control of it. It is not distorted, bloated, or exaggerated one bit.
Bass is not only there on the main sound, but on little tidbits and sounds occurring ‘outside’ the main space in the music. If there is a drum far on your right in the soundstage, the bass of the drumstick hitting the drum will also be there, in accordance with the distance from you. It is marvelous how the SM3 can recreate bass so realistically in this way. One thing that I feel I have to continuously mention is how controlled the bass is. It is almost disciplined in a way, but polished and rich. It is a classy, but fun bass. By ‘fun’, I don’t mean IE8 bass-style fun. I mean, fun in accordance with the music. If the bass on a track is accompanied by dark piano notes, you will feel the sadness in the music through the bass.
The bass can extend down and down. I have not heard the bass roll-off once, even on many bass-heavy tracks. The extension on the bass is again, very rich but CONTROLLED. It will not stagger and break its position. Think about it like you’re on a bike accelerating to a fast speed. If you want to accelerate very, very quickly to that top speed, your bike will likely buckle left and right a little before you reach that top speed and your bike is stable. The SM3 will not buckle while accelerating. The frame of that bike will remain perfectly straight and controlled as it accelerates to that top speed. Overall, I am extremely impressed by the richness and detail of the bass, and with the control that it has. The fact that I can feel (and not just hear) the bass when the song calls for it also makes me delighted. The bass on the SM3 is just as harmonious as the mids and highs with the music. Simply put, the bass on the SM3 is everything you would want your bass to be in music (unless you like artificially enhanced bass—or are a real basshead).
Speed, Precision, and Detail Retrieval
The EarSonics SM3 is hands down the fastest IEM I have heard to date. They don’t gasp for air with complex songs, where there is emphasis on even a 6 or 7 instruments + vocals simultaneously. Everything is effortless. What I like even more about the speed of the SM3 is the fact that everything (the mids, highs, and bass), are all there on even the tiniest note. On songs that start with a soft shrill of a violin for example, that half-second note WILL have the attack necessary, AS WELL AS the bass, mids, and highs that it should have. It is all there in even the fastest notes.
The SM3 is not sloppy when it comes to speed. It will not smear a note from one area to another. Everything is where it should be. A drumstick hitting a drum will have the exact precision as intended. The bass impact of the drumstick hitting the drum will also be there, as well as the consequent sound dissipating into space (this I will elaborate on the soundstage portion).
Attack and decay are all spot-on with the SM3. I can’t say anymore about the speed and precision of the SM3—it is fast and there is no doubt about it. The detail retrieval of the IEM is better than everything I’ve heard. The SM3 will pick up micro-details and place them exactly where they belong on the soundstage. All of the details are incorporated harmoniously on the SM3. Even in complex passages, one can hear the small details or clicks that were intended to be in the track. Even the smallest details will have their respective bass/mids/highs attached to them. It is like the SM3 does not want any note to go out there ‘naked’ into the audio stream. Everything has to have some clothing attached before it is allowed to go out in the audio stream. Overall, the speed and detail of the SM3 is the best I’ve heard to date—and this is not a statement I am making lightly. The Shures that I had were indeed very revealing, but I must say that the SM3s surpass them in every regard when it comes to detail retrieval and more importantly—detail presentation.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Transparency
This is a very important section for the SM3, and I saved this section for last because the SM3 does soundstage like no other IEM I have heard. The soundstage and imaging of the SM3 are all about real reproduction. If a song calls for a drum to be hit far far far away, the SM3 will reproduce that drum far far far away—not just far away. There is such an expansive soundstage that it is incredible. However, I must say that this ‘vast’ soundstage that I speak of is not always in-your-face as with the IE8. The IE8 has a very large soundstage, but one that is artificial now that I have heard the SM3. The SM3’s soundstage can only be utilized by the song. It is like a very, very powerful supercomputer—it’s useless to the average person but can be put to tremendous use by an engineer specializing in it.
The 3D presentation of the SM3 does not for one second sound artificial to me. It is how the music was intended to sound. One particular song comes to mind (Jesters of the Moonless Sky by Nobuo Uematsu), which when I played, reproduced the sound of a drumstick hitting a drum with far more detail and imaging on the soundstage level than I ever thought possible. The sound after the drum was struck created a reverberation which expanded vertically high into the air. I was astonished to find this, as I never experienced it before the hundreds of times that I have heard the track. This reverberation proved that the SM3 also had dimensions in its music. Width, depth, and height are all there for you classical music fans.
For songs that call for a vocalist to be nearly in front of your face, the SM3 reproduces such a sound in an almost eerily realistic manner. For songs that have fast transitions from left to right, or a sound beginning on the right and ending on the left; the SM3’s lightning fast speed combined with its soundstaging, can handle such a task effortlessly. The echo of a vocalist can stretch as wide as the song calls for, and if a song does call for such an echo, you will get shivers from how well the SM3 can reproduce it. One can tell the difference of instruments and their distances easily with the SM3’s soundstage. At the same time, it does not detract from the harmony of the music. It is all there but together with the music—not detached from it. This is what I like about the SM3, it never once sounds lifeless to me. It is there for the music.
Transparency-wise, the SM3 is perfect. Every single component of music is there, and can be held for examination. Not one section of the audio spectrum smears into another area where it should not be. This is perhaps one of the greatest qualities that I like about the SM3. All instruments, vocals, and sounds are independently detailed from one another, but cohesive as a whole—combining together to create a harmonious sound. There are almost no ‘layers’ to go through if you want to pick a certain click or sound, or a bass-line from the song—it’s there and it’s easy to focus upon, and consequently release. Overall, soundstaging and imaging are spectacularly realistic and well executed; together with instrument separation, speed, and detail, the SM3 does soundstage like no other—it can bring you from a concert, to band practice, to an intimate conversation—it all depends on the song and what it wants the SM3 to do. The SM3, in my opinion, is king when it comes to transparency, soundstage, and imaging.
With this long review, what is there left to say? I must say that the EarSonics SM3 clearly stands out as a universal IEM. Everything that the SM3 does, it does so well that it’s nearly impossible to find any flaw in the sound. It combines the strengths of every IEM and eliminates the weaknesses, and adds its own soundstage and speed on top of that. The detail and transparency of the SM3 alone can command its price tag in my opinion. Combined with the speed, bass detail and impact, liquid mids, and thrilling highs—it is unlike any other sound signature that I’ve experienced. In fact, I have been listening to the SM3 the entire time that I’ve written this review, and I think I have grown even more attached to these IEMs now. The SM3s sound great out of an MP3 Player, but they do fare very well with a portable amp. Although I am using a cheap FiiO E5 for now, I plan on upgrading to a much better portable amp in the future for the SM3s. I also plan to get custom tips for the SM3s to see even more of what they have to offer. If you purchase the SM3 and are disappointed at first, give them a week or two. I promise you that the sound signature will grow on you, and you will eventually not be able to put them down.
If you want a presentation of music that remains true to the music—and does not add any spices or special wrapping around the music, then the SM3 is your IEM. It, to me, represents that hallmark of what music should be: engaging, detailed, lively, and harmonious. All areas of the audio spectrum are represented without any detachment from the other respective areas. The EarSonics SM3 is truly as beautiful of a product as the music it strives (and succeeds) to reproduce.
My best purchase since I’ve been here on head-fi, hands down. Highly recommended.
Thank you to EarSonics for creating such a remarkable product, and remaining true to what audio should be.
The EarSonics SM3 retails for €345.00 in Europe & France and €288.46 worldwide, which roughly equates to (using today's exchange rate) $353 + $30 shipping = ~$383. I purchased my SM3 for $419.
You can find the EarSonics SM3 here at their website.