Audio-Technica ATH-EC7 vs. Bang & Olufsen A8 Comparison
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Elephas

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INTRODUCTION

At the time I joined Head-Fi in Feb. 2005, I was listening to the Bose TriPort and B&O A8 with a 1st Gen iPod loaded with 256kbps MP3 files. Since then I've progressed (or regressed, depending on your point of view) to the setup in my signature.

I bought the B&O A8 in Hong Kong for HK$580 (US$75) sometime in 2002 and used them for a few years. They now belong to a friend and I borrowed them for this comparison with the ATH-EC7.

My ATH-EC7 was purchased in Hong Kong last week for HK$980 (US$126).

Both earbuds were paired with a SuperMacro-3 with stock NE5534 opamps. Both sometimes benefit from the bass boost, but for the purpose of this comparison the switches were not used. Source was an iPod 30GB with PocketDock Line Out and Oehlbach mini-mini cable.

SOUND

I was pleasantly surprised by the EC7's excellent sound quality. Compared to the A8, it sounds "airier" and has a bigger headstage (sounds seem to originate from beyond the ears). It is also more detailed, with clearer treble and midrange. There is greater separation between instruments and it is easier to pick out individual sounds. Bass is tighter and more accurate and makes the A8 seem muffled. The EC7 keeps its composure at higher volume levels while the A8 becomes confused and muddled.

Compared to the EC7, the A8 seems one dimensional. Highs are cut off with less extension. Bass is muddier and boomier.

I don't think the A8 is unpleasant-sounding, but it is inferior to the EC7 in every area except maybe bass. Depending on individual preferences, some users may prefer the A8's greater and boomier bass to the EC7's less and tighter bass.

When they are physically pressed tightly into the ears, both earbuds have greater and deeper bass. However, once you remove your hands they spring back to their original positions. I understand an earbud by definition is not intended to go that deep into the ear canal. In the case of both earbuds, the sound quality an individual experiences is partly dependent on fit and the size of their ears.

Overall, the EC7 sounds better and seems more like a full-size headphone.



QUALITY

Both earbuds have excellent build quality, and the build materials seem to be very high-quality. Both are made of metal and plastic and the earclips' black sections are rubber.

The A8 earclips twist and slide up and down with a smooth, hydraulic-like movement. This pair of A8 is three years old, and still looks and feels like new except for some fading of the lettering along its sides. The hexagon screws at the earclip hinge have never been adjusted, and the earclips still swing up and down with a smooth, constant pressure.

The EC7 is available in gunmetal and silver colors. I chose the darker gunmetal. I feel the EC7's build and materials quality is at least as good or better than the A8's.

At first glance, the EC7 seems to be fragile. It's metal earclip is fairly solid, though and is stronger than it looks. Still, the A8's chunkier-looking metal may be the more durable of the two.



DESIGN/USAGE

The EC7's earclip swing mechanism is different from the A8's. While the A8 slides up and down and then the top part of the earclip turns, the EC7 turns at two pivot points. Both ways work well and do keep the earbuds secure; there is no feeling that they will slide off. The A8 is easier and quicker to put on, though.

The EC7 is lighter than the A8 and its earbuds are smaller in diameter, allowing them to fit more easily in my ears. Comfort is excellent with both earbuds; the EC7 feels lighter on the ears and has a slight edge in comfort.

The A8 cord is equal-length Y-shaped, while the EC7's is one-sided behind-the-neck. The EC7 short cord is intended to be used with remotes or DAP's hanging from the neck or in a shirt pocket and it comes with an extension cable. I prefer the A8's longer one-piece cord, especially combined with its excellent case.

The A8's included leather storage case makes storing it, taking it out to use, and putting it away very convenient. The two earbud pieces of the A8 are stored securely in separate partitions, and the cord is wound around the case out of the way. Although it is possible to crush the A8 in its case, I believe the thickness and stiffness of the leather provide a high degree of protection.

The EC7 is inferior to the A8 in this respect. Using the included leatherette storage pouch means the EC7 is at higher risk of being crushed and the cord gets tangled. Apparently EC7 users are expected to just stuff the EC7 and its extension cord into the pouch. I would have preferred A-T engineers come up with a better storage solution.

To remedy the EC7's storage problem, I am using an Altoids tin. It's nowhere close to the elegance and simplicity of the A8's case, but at least the EC7 won't be crushed.

Yes, I did try using the EC7 in the A8's case. The A8 is flatter, however and the EC7 is at risk of being bent while in the case.

In terms of appearance, I feel both earbuds to look very good while being worn.



CONCLUSION

The EC7 sounds better than the A8. It is also just as comfortable and just as well-made.

Besides sound quality, factors such as storage, cord length and overall ease of use are also important to me, especially with a portable headphone. While out on the street and listening to music, I don't want to be untangling cords and taking 2 minutes to put away headphones. In this regard, the B&O A8 is superior to the EC7.

After hearing the EC7, though, it is impossible to go back to the A8.
 
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t10

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Thank you for taking time to review these 2 beutiful headphones.


wow, fairly strong EC7 prefference to A8's. I thought they would be more akin to eachother. Hmm, you didnt get a chance to get your hands on the CM7's?


Anyone know if EC7 and CM7 cans use the same drivers? In the specs, it is listed as both having 15.5mm drivers, but CM7's FR extends to 45'000hz, while EC7 only goes up to 24'000.
 
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ChaosCow

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The thing I really wonder about is the Beosound 2. How, exactly, is that thing supposed to give such "better" sound than every other MP3 player? Like, how can it be better than an iPod+SikDin?

I'm really wondering how that's done. CNet (Bose's buddy, keep that in mind) claimed that the Beosound 2 was the best sounding thing they'd ever heard; is this because it came with A8s (by all accounts better than pre-packaged headphones), when they're used to testing with stock Sonys?
 
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