Cons - Odd cable length, accessories and treble harshness.
If you never heard of iSK headphones before, you may be forgiven because they mainly focus on professional Studio and Broadcast Microphones plus Recording and Live Performance Microphones. As mentioned on their website,
"iSK Microphones, supply high quality professional Studio and Broadcast Microphones plus Recording and Live Performance Microphones and Accessories. iSK goal is simply, to deliver outstanding quality in sound reproduction and build specification at an affordable price."
So as a headphone manufacture iSK is a relatively unknown, and thus make a perfect candidate for reviewing their earphone line.
Firstly, like to thank Tom at swamp industries for sending two models to review. The sem5 is the current model, which you can find on their website, and the sem6 will be replacing it very soon, hence I got both models. Due to the earphones having the same driver and casing, I will focus on the sem6. The only difference between the two, is the updated look and more accessories.
Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
Included are 5 pairs of ear tips, Silicone (S/M/L) and Triple-flange (S/L), a cable cinch, and it also comes with a 6.35mm and a shirt clip, which I like to have with IEM's.
For the price of these in ears, the build quality is rather high; the cable is coated in the generic plastic, and speaking of the cable, one of the more noticeable features is the length of the cable. At 3m long, it is more than double the size of most earphones. Although it is long for personal use on the move, it will suite anyone that requires length, ie at work pc, on stage or even recording. It does come with a Velcro band so you can tie up the extra length that you don't need. I would prefer if it was around 1.2 to 1.5m, with an extension cable that can be removed, but this is aimed more for recording then personal use.
Like all my earphones, I always burn them in for a minimum 50hrs, but not before a quick listen to see how they sound straight out the box. Because the sem5 and sem6 have the same 10mm driver and housing, I will focus the sound review on the sem6. The only difference between the two IEM,s are the packaging, look and added accessories as mentioned before.
As with all my reviews, I test the earphones in two environments, one in the comfort of my house and the other playing V Drum.
So how does it sound? Playing off my iPhone in ALAC, they do truly sound amazing for the low price of $30. John Mayer's latest album Paradise Valley was my first listen and the track Wildfire really comes to life. Kick drum is punchy and the vocals cut through nicely. The guitar is silky smooth and these make for easy listening. A couple of tracks from this album, I felt the soundstage widened pass my ears and you really feel surrounded by the instruments. Moving to one for my favorites for reviewing headphones is Livingston Taylor's - Isn't She Lovely. The beginning of the track really shows of a headphones upper Mids and highs with an intro of whistling. I did find some sibilance and some parts did make for a little harshness in the high end, but the rest of the track blended well and was nice and silky.
Moving to some bass orientated music from The Xx, I think sem6 has found its home here, you will be blessed by bass and BASS. Not only tight bass, but one that can also extended and rumble. Most of my friends are blown by the bass response, and how sem6 still greatly performed in mids and treble region as well. If you wished to been attacked by bass, play Lindsey Stirling (Lindsey Stirling), see how well the bass response and instrument although a little bit backward, is still nice and enjoyable. Another nice track that showcase these lows is Blackmill's - Sarajevo (Blackmill Remix)
Now off to my trusted V Drums. Being these are designed to drop straight down from the ear and not the usually IEM over the ear design that you see from Shure or Weston, moving around is not the strongest point of the sem6, but you can still do it. Isolation was good using the regular round tips, I did find both sized triple flange tips did fit well, but when I pull the earphones out, the tips came off and stayed in my ears. So this is a little issue, but just might be my ears. The other tips did stay in and felt great for the 2 hours that I used them while playing the drums. The sound from the drums did sound great, kick was big and tight, cymbals was a little harsh, but not over powering.
Bass: You won't be disappointed. Being a dynamic driver, there is oodles of it. Lows are sem6 strong point. Using a frequency sweep app, i got down to 23hrz before losing the bass. The bass is punchy and tight, but could blend more with the mids. Bass heads will love these, as well as any listener who loves some thump in their earphones.
Mids: Quite good, I can’t say it completely satisfied my requirement for vocal representation, but the vocal voice is brought out nicely and has some sweetness, especially it is distortion free, real sound. Vocals are natural yet have good texture but need to be more evenly balanced in quantity to the highs and lows.
Highs: A little harsh at first, but after the burn in, it seamed to smooth out and become silky. Highs is not really lacking, it is present although don’t have the super crisp and extension that some offered, but it is quite respectable do blend better with the Mids and become silky as you listen more and more.
The iSK sem5 and the newer sem6 are very nice IEM's. There are little issues with the length of the cable and some tips not fitting as well, but overall for the price, the sound is good. Bass lovers will feel at home and anyone who wants a long cabled IEM. They are budget IEM's at $30, but they would not be out of place in the mid $50 to $100 mark. You can purchase these from different distributors around the world, and I do expect to see these become more available online through places like Amazon and eBay.