If you’ve read any of my previous reviews or impressions, you know I’ve been a fan of dynamic drivers for a long time. In general, I find them to be more textured in the low end and overall portray a more natural or realistic sound for most instruments. As of recently I’ve rediscovered a love for the separation, layering and intimacy many great balanced armature designs bring to the table. Some have believed that hybrid designs could possibly bring out the best of both worlds. I guess you could say that I’m a believer too, as I am quite fond of the UM Merlin and its musical and engaging presentation; but for anyone that’s a fan of dynamic drivers, that means you’ve ultimately had your eyes on the Future Sonics MG6Pro – with its 13mm driver and heritage from the Atrios line, known for its unmatched sub bass performance.
I’ve been considering and ultimately planning to purchase the MG6Pro for many months. It just so happens I stumbled into a UM group buy that eventually led to a UM Global Promo event, that ended up postponing my plans for the MG6Pro but back in mid February, I decided to take the plunge on what I hoped was the dynamic driver end game.
I decided to have my impressions taken with the same audiologist that did them from my Merlin purchase, since those turned out so well on the first try. Turnaround time from Future Sonics receiving them to shipping them back to me was a little over 3 weeks. Turns out they had a very large order for the singing competition, American Idol, which was placed around the same time.
Upon receiving them, the first thing I noticed was the classic fit issue. They were too small in areas and easily lost seal. I noticed that I was also experiencing a lot of harshness and an echo effect that made them very fatiguing to listen too. I immediately contacted Future Sonics customer service, which were very friendly and professional. They ask me to send them some pictures of CIEM’s in the ears to determine if a refit or complete rebuild would be necessary. Unfortunately a complete rebuild ended up being necessary, so I had to return to my audiologist for additional impressions.
Since this time, I have learned several things regarding impressions, molds, and the CIEM final product. The first is that the customer plays a large part in the quality of the impressions. For instance, did you clinch your jaws or where you relaxed? Did you look down or look up too much? Did you schedule them when you were sick or dealing with allergies? Secondly it is also important that your audiologist follow the manufacturer’s directions in making the impressions. Did they use a bite block? Do they have experience with musician’s monitor impressions? They are made slightly differently from hearing aid impressions, as they require a tighter fit and closer tolerances. And lastly the manufacturer can indeed make mistakes along the way, as confirmed from other members of this trade, from trimming the impressions, to the shaping and sanding stages and lastly when polishing the final product.
After sending in new impressions, along with the CIEM’s themselves, Future Sonics also graciously allowed me to change the color from purple to smoke. I’m guess I’m just not much of a flashy person when it comes to accessories. I received the rebuilt set in early April. Unfortunately I needed to send them back again, due to the nozzle portion of the right ear causing some discomfort and well as both faceplates sticking out from the ear too much. I received a great fitting pair of MG6Pros in late April but unfortunately the issue of the harshness and echo effect, from the beginning, was still there.
The harshness and echo effect I was hearing seemed to be coming from the 2k and 3.5k ~4k areas. It was explained to me that Future Sonics has some peaks in the frequency response there to help balance the overall sound presentation out with the bass response. My sensitivity to these peaks seems to be greater than most, as Future Sonics has never had anyone complain about a harshness. It causes the tops of vocals and edges of guitars to become painful, fatiguing and ‘echoey’, which obscures details. Also cymbals in busier drumming passages became blurred, creating a lack of treble detail and some ringing. It’s as if someone turned the ‘presence’ knob to 11 on a guitar amp.
Upon sending them in for the 3rd time, along with some music tracks so that the techs and owner could hear what I was hearing, it was decided to rebuild and replace the components (which they do on any rebuild), to rule out any other possible attributing factors. I’m doubtful the Future Sonics staff was able to hear what I was hearing but they assured me the last set had passed their listening tests for the sound Future Sonics is known for.
I received my MG6Pro for the 4th time in early May. The harshness, echo effect and blurred treble detail remain.
The MG6Pro contains a new, proprietary 13mm dynamic driver. The shell is vented in the center of the faceplate. It comes with 3 different sized vent inserts (S, M, L).
• 18Hz - 20,000Hz TrueTimbre™ Response
• 32ohm Impedance
• Sensitivity 114dB @ 30Hz
Future Sonics also includes a future $199 upgrade path for when new versions of the driver are released. Upgrades include the new driver, sockets, vent inserts, cable and are performed with your existing molds.
In addition to the cable and vent inserts, Future Sonics includes an Otterbox 2000 that is custom engraved with the buyers name, as well as a pleather pouch for keeping your CIEM safe.
Most of my listening is done on the move, whether commuting, walking or moving from one room in the house to another, so my testing is done on portable/transportable equipment. I’ve used an iPhone 4, Nano 6g, Laptop, Headstage DAC cable, WhipMod 5g iPod and an Objective 2 amp.
Future Sonics marketing states the MG6Pro sounds as:
“The mg6pro™ are multi-driver & crossover free; delivering full range audio w/ natural hi-end sparkle, warm mids and a low-end frequency response no two, three, four or more way balanced armature earpiece can touch! mg6pro™ Ear Monitors® audio signature, reliability and workmanship allow performers to hear themselves with exceptional clarity; while our BIGGER SOUND at lower volume™ promise continues to deliver the best sonic performance possible.”
Bass is first and foremost the allure and attraction for many to the MG6Pro. In this respect the MG6Pro does not fail to deliver. It has a great sense and feeling of power, unlike anything I’ve heard or felt in an IEM before. It really can move a lot of air. The following statement came from another head-fier in a discussion we had regarding dynamic drivers in general but I really think it applies to the MG6Pro: Most IEM’s reproduce the sound of bass, rather than produce bass itself. The MG6Pro produces BASS.
That being said, I find the bass of the MG6Pro to be much too big for my tastes, even with the smallest vents. The entire bass range is elevated and increases presence with the larger vents; this increased presence makes the bass bloom, lose tightness and mask texture. This increased presence also affects the lower midrange, obscuring details here and robbing male vocals of clarity and a musical presence. Compared to the Merlin, the overall bass quantity in both sub and mid bass is a good bit larger in the MG6Pro. However the Merlin has much less mid bass presence and tighter sub bass that reveal more texture, as well as not affecting midrange clarity and detail. Applying some EQ to remove the bass bloom around 250hz and lower, the MG6Pro bass displays better texture, improves tightness and allows lower midrange clarity and details to shine. Overall quality of bass is greatly improved but overall quantity is still very plentiful. Further EQ to remove bass throughout the entire lower region brings better overall balance across the frequency response. (Note: I use the medium sized vents when using EQ. The reason for vent choice will be discussed later in the review.)
The midrange of the MG6Pro, especially the upper midrange, is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde presentation for me. The lower to middle frequencies of the midrange (500 – 1.5k) come across as laid back and slightly recessed. It definitely takes a back seat to the bass and upper midrange/lower treble (2k – 4k) areas. Deeper male vocals fall behind lead guitars and drums, especially in busy passages of hard rock and metal, and even more so during bridges, choruses and leads. However the upper midrange has some very forward peaks, which seem to cause unwanted resonance with my ears. This upper mid peak is what causes the tops of vocals and distortion guitars to appear harsh to me. Some singers in some songs are just too strident and it quickly becomes fatiguing and I find myself clicking to the next song. For instance, in any classic Van Halen song, Michael Anthony’s backing vocals are very piercing and echoey.
These peaks in the upper midrange become harsher as the vents become smaller, so while I prefer the un-EQ’d bass of the smallest vent, I’ve resorted to the medium vents for the slightly less accentuated upper midrange peaks. This effect on the upper midrange causes vocals to become less detailed and un-engaging. Comparatively, the Merlin vocals are more transparent, detailed and engaging with a real sense of intimacy. By EQ’ing these peaks down a few decibels, I’m able to remove the harshness I hear and eliminate the ‘echoey’ effect.
Treble can be hit or miss for me depending on the type of song and the recorded quality. When listening to a higher quality recordings for acoustic and singer/songwriter tracks, treble is laid back but cymbals, rides and high-hats are weighty and sound very realistic. There isn’t any overly bright emphasis that some earphones put on top end; however it is somewhat pushed further back in the overall presentation. On lesser quality recordings and very busy drumming passages in hard rock and metal, the upper mid/lower treble peak causes it to blur details and cymbals to run into each other producing a ringing effect. However, when I EQ the upper mid/lower treble range down by several decibels to remove the harshness and echo effect, cymbals/rides/hi-hats are rendered superbly, with high levels of detail and fantastic timbre. Also EQ’d up in the upper treble frequencies; it becomes possibly one of the most realistic treble I’ve heard. Again, treble weight comes across to me as nearly perfect.
Regardless of vent insert size, I find the overall width of the soundstage to be slightly below average, which was surprising as I usually associate venting as having more of an impact on soundstage width. Instruments seem very close together from right to left, which also negatively affect imaging. However the soundstage depth is among the deepest I’ve ever heard. (note: The upper mid/lower treble peaks exacerbate the soundstage issues. It does open up with EQ.) In contrast the Merlin soundstage is both wider, by a considerable margin and also taller. The MG6Pro serves up a very blended, organic and coherent presentation. It’s quite the opposite of your typical balanced armature presentation that tends to separate every instrument in its own space within the headstage. Again, in my case with proper EQ, instrument realism is very convincing; at times I feel like I’m in the same room with the piano, acoustic guitar or drum kit. While the MG6Pro has a very natural tone, I do find transparency takes a hit at the expense of the massively thicker note and accentuated bass response.
It bears repeating, that to my knowledge, I am the only one to experience the harshness, echoey and blurring effects I’ve described in my review. It’s also not typical to discuss how an earphone sounds after EQ in a review but due to the apparent resonance issues I have with the Future Sonics tuning, I felt it important to bring this into the discussion.
Edit: since the original writing of this review, I have received PM's from 4 to 5 other mg6pro owners confirming that they too hear issues similar to what I've described, albeit to differing levels.
In Sinocelt’s reviews, I found the tool he often referenced, http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/hearing.html, extremely useful in determining where the frequency peaks and valleys were located. I also used the iPhone app, FreqGen, to further pinpoint these peaks and valleys. After spending a few hours precisely pinpointing my issues with these tools, I was able to create this EQ curve using the iPhone app Equalizer:
This interactive chart, http://www.independentrecording.net/irn/resources/freqchart/main_display.htm, shows where various instruments fall within the frequency range and how the various areas can affect how you hear them; thus explaining what the 2k and ~4k peaks were causing me to hear.
I simply cannot listen to these without EQ. The stock sound is peaky, harsh and echoey with extremely bloated amounts of bass.