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oBravo EAMT-3w Hybrid Dynamic Driver and Heil Air Motion Transducer In Ear Monitor

Rating:
3.5/5,
  1. glassmonkey
    oBravo EAMT-3w: stadium soundstage, smooth signature, detail master, but not my apex IEM
    Written by glassmonkey
    Published May 28, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - ampitheatre soundstage, smooth warm signature, relaxing, detailed, excellent response, moves air on bass drum and hand drums beautifully
    Cons - attack sometimes blunted by the wood, lower mid dip affects some vocals/instruments, can sound distant, less aggression than Barney the dinosaur

    Acknowledgment   

    Thanks @PhilW for loaning me these headphones for a week. I know how much you missed them.

     

    Introduction   

    After being so impressed with the ERIB-2a (link to review), @PhilW told me that they were child’s play compared to the EAMT-3w that had been his main IEMs for a bit. He surprised me and sent them to me whilst I was visiting @Takeanidea in Cornwall. We put them through the paces. Four DAP/DACs, one beast of an amplifier, the Echobox Finder X1, the HD800, and the ERIB-2a were on hand for the weekend (it was a very nice surprise for my birthday). I started a thread to talk about these, so some of what is adapted from there. The thread asks whether the EAMT-3w is an apex IEM, and for its price of £1800 ($2700), I really think it should be. A very well-respected HeadFier is on the record saying that they aren’t.
     
    Given that these headphones use a technology that I’d never heard of before checking out oBravo, I think it is important to discuss the Heil Air Motion Transducer (AMT) technology at the heart of this IEM. This is what Alan Sircom of HiFi+ had to say about the AMT:
     
    Alan Sircom, HiFi+:
     

     
    The handmade nature of the driver, and the difficulty that must go into making such a driver that is only 8mm is likely why these headphones cost so much. Whether these require highly skilled labour to construct or not is somewhat irrelevant to how they sound, but if you believe in rewarding innovative hand-crafted technology, than the price may be more palatable. The proof of course in whether the artisanal construction of these IEMs is worth it is in how they sound, these have to sound pretty amazing to justify their price, as for the same price as the EAMT-3w, I could get an Ether C and an ERIB-2a. I think I’d be pretty happy with that combo. I imagine also that people of my means aren’t the target audience for this IEM.
     
    Before any review, I think it is important to lay out the preferences and biases of the reviewer. Below the fold you’ll learn about me. I’d rather tell you now than owe you a mea culpa later.
     
    Like most sensible people I started falling in love with music as a child. My first portable audio device was a Sony Walkman (the cassette kind) that I got when I was 10 years old (24 years ago).  I listened with the cheap Sony on ears that came with the Walkman until I bought a Koss CD boombox and started listening to UAF College Radio and 103.9 (alternative rock at the time) in Fairbanks, Alaska. I once listened to Louie Louie for 3 days straight, and I’m not insane. My musical tastes started out with listening to what my friends liked (Dr. Dre and Green Day) and what my parents liked (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) and I only really discovered my own musical tastes and sonic preferences in my late teens to early 20s. What I discovered is that I have very eclectic and some would say weird tastes. I could be listening to gay punk rock, Japanese dream garble pop, 8-bit chiptune, Scandinavian black metal, Latin guitar, the Mariinsky Orchestra, or Miles Davis, but I mostly listen to Classic Rock and Indie/Alternative. I’m a big fan of intelligent hip-hop like Metermaids, Kendrick Lamar and Aesop Rock, also.
     
    I tend to like headphones and gear that are all-around performers, this generally means a balanced or neutral sound. If I have to choose between warm and bright, I’ll choose bright almost every time. A few screechy high notes are preferable to me than a foggy unfocused bass guitar. I somehow never manage to have much money, so I don’t want to buy infinity headphones to switch between my myriad genres that I play. I can hear all the way down to 10hz and all the way up to 23Khz—these are what I’ve heard doing test tones on headphones. It has been a long time since I had a test with an audiologist. I’m sensitive to peaky treble but do enjoy smooth extended treble. I like deep rich tight bass and impactful drums, and dislike upper midbass emphasis.  I like my vocals crisp, so stay away from Josh Tillman’s voice you nasty upper midbass hump.  I hear soundstage better than just about anything I identify in music, but my words haven’t caught up to my ears. I listen at volume levels that others consider loud (72 to 75 dB), but I just set it to where the dynamics peak. I’m not here to shatter my eardrums. I like them just how they are.
     
    I generally don’t believe in using EQ, not even for inexpensive headphones, especially in reviews. I won’t claim that I haven’t done it, but I generally try to avoid it.
     
    I’m a firm believer that cables can make a difference, but I don’t think they always do. When I tried out Toxic Cables line, none of them had labels and the cheapest looking one was the one I liked the best. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to spend much to improve my sound. It turned out that the cheapest looking one was the Silver/Gold top of the line cable. I’ve heard the difference that USB cables can make, from upgrading from the crappy cable that came with my Geek Out 1000 to a Supra USB, and then again when upgrading to the LH Labs Lightspeed 2G with the iUSB3.0. When I picked up a cheap shielded power lead from Mains Cables R Us (who also sell iFi gear) to replace my standard kettle lead on my amplifier, I heard more crunchy and clearer treble. I switched the leads with my wife blinded and she heard the same difference. I didn’t tell her what I heard and let her describe it herself. But cables don’t always make a difference. When I switched from my standard HD650 cable to a custom balanced cable (Custom Cans UK, very affordable), the sound stayed exactly the same when hooked up via a top tier (custom made by @dill3000 silver/gold) 4-pin XLR to 6.3mm converter. Balanced mode made a difference in clarity and blackness of background. Your mileage may vary and you may not hear a difference, but I have.

     

    Vital Statistics (specs from manufacturers and distributors)

    Funny enough, there isn’t a whole lot of information provided about the EAMT-3w on oBravo’s website. Here is what oBravo has to say about them (the description is for the 3a):
     
    Features:
    • The world first Coaxial two-way IEM design by an implementation of AMT tweeter and NDD to deliver a rich sound stage listen experience in earphone market.
    • World class Comply ear tips implementation for balanced sound stage.
    • A Wooden ear cup designed model, eamt-3w, and a Precision Ceramic ear cup designed model, eamt-3c to provide a choice for different sound styles.
    • Easy way to enjoy a ultimate sound from a balanced output by an optional 2.5mm Balanced cable.
     
    Specifications
     
    Frequency Response
    20Hz~45KHz
    Tweeter
    8mm Air Motion Transformer Tweeter
    Dynamic Driver
    10mm Neodymium Driver
    Impedance
    16 ohm
    Sensitivity
    105dB
    Weight
    35g


     
    Nowhere on oBravo’s website are there any frequency response graphs, or even charts showing what frequencies are emphasized or their relative weights. I have a sinking suspicion that these IEMs, while sounding good, won’t measure well. Tyll Herstens measurements of the HAMT-1 (oBravo full size dynamic/AMT hybrid) look poor. The Hifi+ review above indicated that the HAMT-1 required quite a lot of burn in before they sounded right, so this leads me to wonder whether the measurements that are out there are representative of a fully burned-in headphone, whilst at the same time having little confidence that the EAMT series will measure well. My advice with the whole oBravo series is to listen for yourself, absolutely do not buy any of the oBravo headphones blind. My current favourite headphone, the ERIB-2a has incredibly polarized reviews, and the 3w may evoke similar responses. These need a good audition in a quiet space with proper insertion (preferably with foamies).

     

    Form & Function

    The form and function of the EAMT-3w are identical to the ERIB-2a, there are only two differences, the supremely non-functional over-sized case is green instead of grey and the aluminum shell is gold on these instead of silver. These come with the same variety of tips, same silicone wings, same case with its same overwrought foam and ear-tip nails, same excellent stubby 6.3mm to 3.5mm adaptor, and the same cable as the £549 ERIB-2a. I was willing to give the ERIB-2a a pass on its accessories because the value proposition was excellent. I liked the performance of the ERIB-2a out of my iBasso DX50 better than the performance of the £599 full size Audeze EL8 Open, so the case wasn’t that important. When I get up to £1800 (the cost of the EAMT-3w locally), the accessories are no longer acceptable. For this cost there should be a balanced cable included and there should be a nice Pelican hard case or something comparable. At Custom Cable in the UK, these now come with a balanced cable, but this needs to be done worldwide. The cases included on low end models in the oBravo range also need dramatic improvement.
     
    Here are some pretty pretty pictures:
     
    oBravoEAMT-3w-4.jpg oBravoEAMT-3w-6.jpg
    oBravoEAMT-3w-1.jpg oBravoEAMT-3w-3.jpg

     
    Like the ERIB-2a, the EAMT-3w is best worn down, using foamies and the silicone wings. The way to wear them is to use the wing to stabilize insertion depth. You don’t want to fully insert the foamies into your ear canal. The headphones look a bit silly coming out of your ears in the cantilever fashion these fit, but the sound is worth the silly. I have been advised that the silicone tips included are not recommended, and after doing several hours with them and doing back and forth comparisons, I wholeheartedly recommend sticking with the foamies.
     
    For comparing the foamies and the included silicone tips I used Massive Attack's Mezzanine album, listening from Teardrop through Exchange with both sets of tips and then just continuing on with the Comply foamies because it sounds freaking great. Direct back and forth between the silicone and the foamies produced the following observations: the sound is smoother with the foamies, less fatiguing sound (it isn't just the treble, too much force coming in with depth of insertion required for silicone), bass was roughly equal, but a bit less mid impact than with the silicone. The soundstage is also slightly less impressive (less width) with the silicone, partly because the silicone doesn't have a long enough bore to be secure in a partially inserted position. The included silicone wings didn’t work with the silicone tips, as they pop the tips right out of your ear canal. I think that there could be silicone tips that could match the foamies with these, if the length of the nozzle were comparable but I don’t have any that I can make this comparison with. I think the distance to the driver is the main negative with the silicones. The provided silicone tips also don't hold onto the nozzle terribly well, I found them sliding up with short usage. The nozzle is quite large on the EAMT-3w.
     
    The silicone doesn't sound much worse. The main detriments are that the sound is way more fatiguing with the silicone and the soundstage is slightly reduced in width. I got a little headache after just a couple songs, even with adjusting down the volume—the silicone tips are louder because they position the nozzle closer to your eardrum. The tiny bit of difference in distance really does affect the comfort. The silicones do have a bit crisper sound and bit better impact and edge in the mids, but I think the cost is too high given the discomfort I experienced.

     

    Audio quality

    My first listens through the EAMT-3w were primarily using the Chord Mojo, a lovely DAC that I don’t own but have spent at least 10 hours with. Fed from the Mojo, the EAMT-3w have an exceptional soundstage that bests the ERIB-2a, which is saying something. I compared the soundstage on the ERIB-2a to a concert hall, for the comparison between the two to be valid, the EAMT-3w are more akin to an ampitheater, like the Hollywood Bowl. The EAMT-3w sound beautiful, and more natural in presentation and stage than any IEM I've yet heard. Instruments just sound like they are where they should be in a wide, deep and tall soundstage (not HD800 spacious, but damn impressive--I did compare directly to HD800). Most good IEMs allow you to hear instrument placement in good 3-dimensionality, but the EAMT-3w do something that I haven’t had an IEM do effectively until now: they allow you to feel the soundstage. There is tactile movement of air between instruments, definition not just by relative auditory volume but by the palpable fluid volume of the stage.
     
    cee874fb6be19c1a9010a37251e8d76f.jpg
     
    I think one thing that hurts any of these oBravo IEMs in comparisons is that they really shouldn't be compared to IEMs on sound or isolation. They isolate poorly and sound like full size open cans. The EAMTs have sounded like mid to top-tier open planar magnetics. The ERIB-2a sounded like lower to mid-tier full size open cans (I include the EL8 in mid-tier). These are the equivalent of having full-size open cans that fit inside your ears, and can be carried in your jacket pocket alongside your DAP. When I strolled alongside afternoon commuters in their staccato rhythm, the EAMTs were like walking down the street with a boombox, but instead of daggers from granny eyes the only looks you get are vacant stares and bored ambivalence.
     
    oBravoEAMT-3w-12.jpg
     
     
    They have the bass that the ERIB-2a were missing a bit. The bass quality on both is superb, but the bass volume isn't jacked in any way. The bass has plenty of grip and extension and is well controlled on both oBravo offerings I've heard. Compared to the ERIB-2a, these EAMT-3w have some funk—Bootsy Collins and Old Gregg would drink this black milk and Bailey’s concoction. These aren’t full on Parliament, but they are a satisfying shake. If you don’t know the true story of The Funk, The Mighty Boosh will set you straight below. I saw Noel Fielding in London around Christmas. He was dressed in a red feather coat and tight denim, as you’d expect.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    However, on many tracks I found myself preferring the ERIB-2a during my listening sessions with the Chord Mojo. The mids on the EAMT-3w are slightly recessed, with a touch of saccharine. They just don't sound natural on rocking tracks like Rage Against the Machine - Killing in the Name or AC/DC - Highway to hell. The drum impacts are pushed down, and guitars don't sound as visceral. With the Mojo, attack was a little soft for me. It is a warm smooth signature that isn't my cup of tea for my more aggressive musical tastes. ERIB-2a wasn’t just less polite it felt more forward and visceral with more natural edges on vocals and drums, which matched my rock tastes more.
     
    When I listened to the straight-up live acoustic set of Keith Greeninger on Live at the Fenix, his vocals don’t sound quite right. Keith sounds a bit distant on some tracks due to a notch in the frequency response that makes some mids sound recessed. The ERIB-2a sounds less spacious, but the tone and overall presentation are more natural to me on these tracks.
     
    I gave a second run through some more aggressive music both to see if brain burn-in and a different source, the DX-50 made a difference. The DX-50 has a little boost in the upper bass/lower mids, so it compensates a little bit for the notch in the mids that I’ve noticed on some tracks. That mids notch doesn’t always show up. “Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and dismay… and it was alright.” Tool’s Maynard goes shoulder deep without a problem, and Kurt Kobain has Seattle sun shining on him (that is to say he is a pleasantly warm, not hot or cool). However, Zach de la Rocca and Brian Johnson might as well have been the Fugees as their voices and their band-mates axes were killing a bit too softly.
     
    oBravoEAMT-3w-10.jpg
     
    When I shifted to Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (original full glory CD master), the soundstage was like being at a show. I was too young to see Kurt before he joined the 27 club, so it’s a posthumous vicarious treat. However, Smells Like Teen Spirit is famous not only for angst and the launch of a couple music-world-shaking careers, but also for the razor-edged production of Butch Vig. The EAMT-3w takes the razor edge and folds it into a spoon (maybe more of a sporf). This is not nearly as funny a spoon trick as spoon bending by a magician friend, or an Alan Rickman spoon in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. The speed and detail on Nirvana’s generational album was excellent. Instruments were well resolved, though slightly smoothed. Cymbals sounded very natural on the title track. On In Bloom, the bass drum kicks air like an angry government mule. The EAMT-3w do a fantastic job of showing the air from and around instruments. Overall, I liked the EAMT-3w on hard rock/grunge, but was not a fan of the added warmth and anger management properties of the wood cups
     
    eazieaterebay180518274220endjune202.jpg
     
    These are special with classical music and jazz. They did a fantastic job defining the orchestral space and details were floating vectors in a coherent matrix of time and space. The smoothness was a benefit for classical music. The EAMT-3w do an amazing job with complex passages such as Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. These were also absolutely spectacular listening to Charles Mingus’s Ah Um album. Brass instruments sound natural and smooth with an alluring warmth. Cymbal brushwork rides lightly over the surface of the music. Stand up bass plucks smoothly. Lovely.
     
    I started to do comparisons with non-oBravo IEMs, but after listening to the Echobox Finder X1 ($199 vs. $2700), an IEM I really love—I promise I’ll review mine in the future—but just wasn’t a fair comparison. The EAMT-3w are in a completely different class, and while the Echobox had better bass quantity, the detail and texture in the bass just couldn’t compete. The Echobox Finder X1 had a more aggressive sound, but it was never as refined. I’d happily listen to the Echobox with any genre—I found it's tone preferable on some rock tracks to the EAMT-3w—but the EAMT-3w generally outclasses the Echobox Finder X1in all technical performance aspects.

     

    Conclusions

    Whether these are worth £1800 for you will depend on how much copper resides in your coffers and your musical tastes. I’m not a big fan of the warm smooth sound. I like strong attack with natural decay, and these felt a bit blunted and smoothed over. When I want a knife I’m getting a pat of butter instead. For me, these lack the attack and raw power on guitars and drums that I'm into.
     
    The sound stage on these is like listening to an upper-mid to top tier set of open planar magnetic headphones, and they isolate like one too. I don’t understand the physics of how something with a shell so small sounds so massive. It is a special technical achievement. These have great technical speed and are intricately detailed. Microdetails effortlessly surface in the transparent tropical waters of the sound signature. Complex passages are resolved beautifully. Jazz sounds spectacular.
     
    Whilst the headphones have great technical capability, I’m primarily a classic rock, hard rock, and indie rock listener, so the tonal character of these headphones didn’t perfectly match me. These lack aggression. When I’m looking for Chuck Norris, these give me Mr. Rogers—and not the sniper rifle wielding war hero, but the sweater wearing conflict resolution specialist.
     
     
    chuck-norris.jpg
     
    mister-rogers-trolley.jpg
     
    Chuck Norris
    Mr. Rogers

     
    £1800 will buy a lot of great kit. I love the ERIB-2a, and preferred it on some genres to the EAMT-3w; it’s only £549 new. A new HD800 costs £1099. With my current equipment, I’d find that set preferable to the EAMT-3w.