E5 - Impressions of a Music Lover (1st Draft)
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doctorjuggles

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Well, I'm about to venture into land I have not travelled before...reviewing on head-fi.

As most will be able to tell, my post count is low-ish, and my membership is recent. Make of that what you will. I have a feeling that some people actually prefer newbie reviews, I'll explain why in a minute.

Tuberoller's to blame for this one if it sucks. He's been running around encouraging people to review.

Okay, let's get right into it. I've only been taking portable audio reproduction seriously pretty recently. Got my iPod in January and have been looking to get the most out of it ever since. I figured 'why spend $500 on a music player and be prepared to listen to it with speakers that apple churns out for less than $1.' So I started reading on the ipodlounge Earphones section. Reading there led to an EX71 purchase (it too often does on the ipodlounge board.) Those got stolen and replaced, and I moved swiftly to E3s, and even more swiftly to the E5s once I heard how much better E3s sound than average earphones. When I bought the E3s, I wasn't really sure if I'd be able to tell all that much difference between my Sonys and these. I was afraid my ears might not be discerning enough. I'm the most passionate of music lovers, but I'm not an audiophile (I still can't tell the difference between 192 and 320k mp3s.) Anyway, the difference between the EX71s and the E3s was night and day. I thought to myself "hey, I wasn't sure if I should trust those head-fi weirdos when I bought these, and they were so right about them. They HAVE to be right about the E5s then, I gotta have them!!"

This leads on from my earlier point, about inexperienced listeners posting reviews. I feel that we can reassure a lot of people who are also looking into investing in good audio, but, like me initially, may be unsure if they will appreciate what it has to offer.

Fear not good people. If you love your music, the investment will be worth it, unless your hearing is absolutely terrible.
With that in mind, I hope this hopes a few new/unsure people.

E5 impressions (with many references/comparisons to E3)

Presentation, aesthetics and comfort
The E5s are very well, but not brilliantly presented. I'm guessing the E5c takes care of this, but as long as I'm getting the product, I don't really mind.
Opening up the case, it's clear to see you've bought a quality product. Well packaged, they arrive wrapped in a little suede black case that will only protect your precious phones from fairy attacks. Replace this at once, these are expensive earphones. All in all, though, it's a solid package, with a variety of tips included, plus the cleaning tool.
As far as comfort goes, let me start off by saying how frustrating my first week with these things was. I was having MAJOR ear trouble. The last thing you want when you've just splashed out for these things. Stupidly, I tried to listen to them anyway, and this led to no end of trouble with fit and comfort. I kept trying to shove them in further to get a seal, when all the while it was bruising the inner ear. Not smart, and as a result, I had a bad first impression on the E5s as far as comfort goes. Coming from the E3s, they seemed too large to fit properly, they hurt my ears, the tri-flanges scratched my brain, everything was horrible.
Then I got my ears syringed, left my ears for a few days and tried again. Oh man!
Firstly, I must have the deepest ear canals ever. Foamies are so useless for my ears as to be laughable. My only real options are the medium tips upwards, and the tri-flanges. I won't bore you with the details, but the fits boil down to two choices for me. Both of them surprised me. I used the medium soft flexes on my E3s. Useless on these. Weirdly enough, those awful clear tips are perfect....in large! Their fit is brilliant. Go figure.
They're my back ups though. Because they're comfortable, I carry them with me just while I get used to the tri-flanges. As far as sonic qualities go, for me, these things are just on a whole different level. Plain and simple. Sure, for the first few days it feels like a porcupine trying to escape backwards from your ear canal, but these things are seriously good for sound. My ears have become more and more used to them now, and they're nowhere near as uncomfortable as they were when I had ear troubles, which is an unfair way to bias against them. But I can only report on my experience. still, the fact that I'm still using them shows how good the sound is from them. Weird how just a different shaped tip makes all the difference. I won't go into the sounds that the rest create, they don't work properly for my ears, and therefore it's unfair to say much about them. And lindrone has covered this amply anyway.

Sound
Right, the meat of the matter.
I don't know enough about a lot of the terms, so I won't make an idiot of myself trying to use them all the time. I'm sure the hedz out there will know what I mean, and the new members will understand better this way too. So here goes.
I'll just divide the sound up into lows, mids and highs, because that's easiest for me.
Now as I've stated before, I tried these first when I had ear troubles. It was stupid. All I heard was a mass of bass, with no clarity, no detail, and nothing in the mids. I heard a few highs too, but overall, I was pretty unimpressed. These things cost me a lot of money, and my E3s sounded better. Emotions can get like this with music and audio gear, see. I'd already forgotten that I'd been listening to my E3s with good hearing, and now was listening to the E5s with poor hearing. Still, they're expensive headphones, so I felt that they should transcend trivial matters such as ear problems.
When sanity returned along with my hearing, it was time to give the sound the same second chance I gave the fitting. Time to crank these babies.
I can honestly, with all sincerity, say that the difference between my EX71s and my E3s was a massive shock to me that was matched by the difference between the E3s and the E5s. Yup, that good. No doubt about it.
But there's a but here. Actually, that was two, but you know what I mean. The thing is, being used to the E3 by now, I was also used to the over-accented mid-bass and mid-range. Sure, they have a bit of low end on them, and their highs are way better than my other phones at the time, but they really do favour certain frequencies, and as such, develop their own sound signature that is very quickly gotten used to. So sticking the E5s in and listening resulted in two immediate things:
1) I switched the volume down. Man, the E5s are LOUD!
2) I wondered where all the other sounds that I heard on the E3 had gone.
Now point 1 is a good thing, it means the E5s are more efficient. Point 2 wasn't so good. Why was it doing that? Ah, the answer is in here, read on.

Lows
To understand why I couldn't pick out the mids, you have to understand the lows on the E5. Simply, they're amazing. It's a weird explanation, but when these are in my ears, I feel like I have power routed straight into my brain. That's it, they feel powerful. All that bass in your ears. It's just weird. I've been clubbing in the best nightclubs in London, and those clubs have some of the best sound in the world. Period.
Now I'm not comparing the bass to those clubs, because I can't. That bass is visceral, canal phones cannot do that at all. BUT! But the E5s seems to be able to recreate all these bass sounds, just as I hear them in the clubs. In the clubs with £100 000 and more sound systems. The only thing the E5s can't reproduce is the actual movement of air itself. The rest of it sounds like it does when I'm out clubbing. And that's just brilliant. Power.

Mids
Ah. This is where the problem kicks in. If the bass has power, and you're not used to it, it's over-powering. I wasn't used to it at all. I didn't even notice it while I listened to my first few tracks. I was listening to electronic, bass heavy music. But the first time I stuck Pearl Jam's 'Daughter' on, I thought "Oh dear! Where's the rest of one of my favourite songs?"
I was disappointed, I won't deny it. It seemed to be that there was a sonic range missing and I couldn't get it back. I listened to a few more rock tracks, especially some acoustic ones. I listened to Johnny Cash's rendition of 'Hurt'. Nothing there. What to do?
I was sure I'd made a mistake. An expensive one. Gutted.
Then I went home and started playing around. First things first. If something's not there, then if I take away all the other sounds and just leave that sound, I'll hear nothing, right? It'll be a mushy, faded version of what it should be. So I did. And it wasn't. It was excellent. These phones are making the noise, I just didn't know how to listen to it. Ah. Fantastic. How do I change that?
Well, relatively easily, in fact. Just keep listening.
Just as my ears had grown used to the E3 sound, they just got used to this sound. I put my E3 on, and they sound tinny and cheap. (For a laugh, I put my EX71s back on today too, for the first time in months. Heheheh. Well, they are only £30)
Anyway, back to my point. As is obvious by this story, the fault was with me, not with the phones. I can hear all of it now, I just had to get used to it. Initially I had to try and pick the mids out. Now my brain does it automatically.
There's no evidence to back this kind of thing up, but I'd imagine it's a similar kind of mental adaptation to 'burning-in' headphones. Some of the change is just your ears getting used to it.
In short though, I now love the mids on these babies. They're all there, and when you let the sounds mingle their way through your head together, they fit perfectly with the powerful bass, where once they drowned. Happiness.


Highs
Let's get this out of the way. I hate top-end. Can't stand it. It goes right through my head, hurts my ears like buggery. Don't get me wrong, it needs to be there, but I'll always take the edge off of it. Almost every song in the world, when played at clubbing/concert volume, needs about 5-10% of the top-end taken off. This is only MY opinion. My ears are just too sensitive to highs and I've stopped going to concert because of this. Club music itself isn't as guilty, although it has its offenders, but rock and pop just hurts my ears at high volumes.
The same can be said of canalphones and earphones. Even when the volume is at a reasonable level, because the sound is being played so close to my ear, it just freaks me. When sounds like this hurt, it doesn't take long for them to become sibilant for me. Then I stop enjoying music. EX71s are terrible for this.
Knowing this about me, it will come as little surprise to anyone when I say that the E5s have their highs set perfectly. The highs on this sound great to me. I can hear them, I know what the artist is trying to do, and even if I don't hear it how he/she meant it, I hear it how I like it. And how I like it is all that matters to me when I've spent this much money.
However, there are going to be those of you out there who like their highs. Well you'll be pleased to know that setting my iPod EQ to 'Treble Boost' brings it up to a level that hurts my ears again. So they can reproduce those highs. I'm just glad they don't as a rule.

Now I've never heard Ety ER4s before, so I can't comment on how this boosted treble EQ would make the E5 stack up against the ER4 for top-end clarity, but it's well documented that many feel it doesn't compare, so I'll just leave it at that. I'm happy enough knowing that it has extra juice at the top that I'll never need, and that's all I can ask for.

So that's that bit over with. I'll try and describe a few other things on these phones now that probably have cool audiophile names, but I'll use what I know.

Soundstage
Yup, I know that word for sure.
Of the few canalphones I've used before, this hasn't been worth mentioning. They're too close to your ears to create one. However, the E5 does an admirable job of trying anyway, and it pulls it off to a certain degree. I don't know how it works, I assume maybe it has something to do with the dual drivers and maybe the tri-flange tips (I haven't tried the tri-flanges on the E3.) Either way, there's a definite feeling of space on these. I always test spatial feeling with the Ricardo Villalobos 'Alcachofa' album, the E5s really do it justice, with an atmospheric reproduction that is truly impressive.

'All round ability'
Sure, I just made that up as a review topic. I'm sure it's been done before, but it's something I think it important. For instance, I tried to listen to Rhythm & Sound 'Mango Drive' on my E3s. Being really impressed with everything up to that point, I was expecting a good result and was let down terribly. Rummaging around, I looked for a few more songs and quickly realised that, while they were an improvement beyond recognition over the EX71s, there were a few areas that it couldn't perform as well as in others.
The E5 rectifies that problem for me. There's nothing I can throw at it that it can't handle. And my taste ranges to include everything except manufactured pop (because I hate it) and classical (because I've never had much exposure to it.) So we're talking about a collection of music that I set on shuffle that will run from 80s pop, to techno, to breakbeat, to Hard Rock, to Heavy Metal, to Jazz, to new order. Hell, I'm from Africa, I've even got tribal music on there. The E5 gobbles 'em all up and spits them out perfectly. Just what you'd want from a $400 canalphone then.

Conclusion
Welcome to everyone who couldn't be bothered to read the rest of the review. No, it's okay, I understand. But you're off my Christmas card list.
In short, I wish I'd just gone straight for these phones and not wasted my money on everything in between. In a way though, maybe everyone needs to progress in a linear fashion, otherwise it's difficult to appreciate the gains you're making in your extra outlay. Whatever the case may be, I can't think of another purchase that I initially would have regarded as so much money seeming so worth it in the end. As I sit here, I'm being assaulted by a mountain of sounds. I couldn't be happier about it, and I don't miss the money at all. I'll eat next month.

Thanks for making it down here, those who did. Comments welcome. Critics welcome to get lost. Heheh.

For interests sake:
3rd Gen iPod 40GB => E5
LiteOn LTR-52327S => Terratec Aureon Space 7.1 => E5

Music used: Various CDs as source, plus mp3s coded at 192 and aac coded at 128

Footnote: As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I can hear the difference between good equipment, but I don't really seem to be able to tell much difference between the different bitrates. I mean, I can hear some differences, but they mostly seem too trivial to code at higher rates. Is this the difference between an enthusiast and an outright audiophile? Are there many audiophiles out there who don't find 128aac or 160mp3 rips to be insufferable? Just out of interest, as I'm not sure what to make of my discerning equipment taste and somewhat less discerning source critique.
 
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RunsWithScissors

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Nice review doctorjuggles! Glad you like the E5s. I love mine!

I shared a similar experience the first time I tried my E5s moving up from E3. I had a hard time fitting the E5 and thought they sounded horrible when I finally did get a good seal/fit because I had to get acclimated to the sound.


Quote:

Originally Posted by doctorjuggles
These phones are making the noise, I just didn't know how to listen to it. Ah. Fantastic. How do I change that? Well, relatively easily, in fact. Just keep listening.
Just as my ears had grown used to the E3 sound, they just got used to this sound.



I couldn't agree with this statement more - my exact experience!

I have to laugh at people who post about their impressions from listening to these and other phones for 10 minutes - you can't possilby get acclimated in that short amount of time and you simply won't appreciate the sound of the E5s in particular unless you are acclimated to them over a bit of time.


FWIW - I don't believe that this is the definition of audiophile

Quote:

Originally Posted by doctorjuggles
but I'm not an audiophile (I still can't tell the difference between 192 and 320k mp3s.)


I think that all this takes is learning to listen critically and knowing what types of compression artifacts to look for -even then it can be subtle. Differences between compressed and uncompressed can more easily be discerned in my experience if you have good source and phones/speakers.

also fwiw - post count does not mean everything. lots of folks here have high post counts though some talk a lot but don't actually say much - if you know what I mean


Since I actually did read the whole thing, I'll pm you my address for your Christmas card list


Now do yourself a favor and don't read any posts about UE or sensas
 
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Zindrla

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I'm thrilled to hear that you are enjoying these. My ears "learned" how to listen to the E5 about the same time I figured out how to get them in and out quickly.

Nice review.
 
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Bill Ward

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That's a very nice review. I've had no experience with canalphones, but the way you describe them and your experiences with them makes me feel like I have. Particularly liked the way you broke everything down and focused on your impressions. Having the E3 comparison was a great idea. And you mentioned your review music, which is helpful for readers who want to compare impressions.

If this is your first review for Head-Fi, I'm impressed. I'll watch or future installments.

Oh, I read through the entire review, so I DO expect a Christmas Card.


BW
 
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Tuberoller

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Welcome to the land of "featured reviews". Good job and keep them coming guys. These reviews certainly make head-fi a great place and are a reference for us all.

edit: sorry about the glitch,I think I did it right this time.
 
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doctorjuggles

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Wahey! I made it into the featured reviews section! Yaaay.

Tanks for the positive input, guys, it's good to get good feedback, I think that's what will encourage other people to add their reviews too.
 
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Dylan

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Quote:

Originally Posted by doctorjuggles
Footnote: As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I can hear the difference between good equipment, but I don't really seem to be able to tell much difference between the different bitrates. I mean, I can hear some differences, but they mostly seem too trivial to code at higher rates. Is this the difference between an enthusiast and an outright audiophile? Are there many audiophiles out there who don't find 128aac or 160mp3 rips to be insufferable? Just out of interest, as I'm not sure what to make of my discerning equipment taste and somewhat less discerning source critique.


First off, nice review. I bookmarked it because it will be very helpful when I (inevitably) consider upgrading my E3's.

As for your tolerance of lower bitrates I see these as the possible reasons:

1. Your hearing is worse then average on this board
2. You have less experience with critical listening
3. Your equipment isn't revealing enough
4. You are able to enjoy the music despite audible flaws
5. You are not afflicted with the placebo effect where your expectation overrules your senses

Who knows what the truth is. I'm very skeptical of audiophile groupthink but since we can't be in other people's heads I don't know how we can know for sure. But bitrates are one of the easiest things to control in a blind test that you can do yourself without elaborate equipment or procedures. Just encode the same song in different formats and put them into a playlist along with an uncompressed version (wav, apple lossless). Then enable "repeat all" and randomize it and listen without looking at what is playing. What I do is rapidly press the track forward button many, many times for like 10 seconds while counting backwards to make sure I'm not somehow subcounsciously tracking how many times I've pressed the button.

I would like to conduct the above test on every person who calls 192 mp3 things like "unlistenable" (especially when using cheap computer speakers) and uses hyperbole like "blows away" to describe the differences between high bitrate (>=192) encodings.
 
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