Etymotic MC5 Early Impressions and Comparisons with Panasonic HJE900
Sep 24, 2010 at 12:50 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 6

Napilopez

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Hey guys, so I've had the Etymotic MC5 for almost 3 days now, and thought I should post some formal first impressions. First though, a few disclaimers: I've been on head-fi for almost a year now, but am still very much a noob in terms of experience. I have no amps, although the lab computer I do much of my listening out of can get way louder than I can bear. My grand total of "hi-fi" purchases include the JVC RX700, Audio Technica FC700, Sennheiser PX200-II, Panasonic HJE900, and now the Etyomic MC5. I've auditioned a modified Thinksound Rain at length, and a few other high end cans in store, but I cannot compare store setups to having my own setup. Basically speaking, I don't have much experience with very high end gear, so impressions will likely be biased by my current inexperience. As such impressions will be largely comparative and/or based on my impressions of live music and "real" sounds. Additionally, though I like to think I'm a fancy audiophile and prefer the most neutral sound signature possible, my current preference show I prefer some heft in lower bass. Finally, pictures will be added later as this is converted into a more complete review..





Packaging, Accessories, and Build:





Similar to how gym supplements with flashy pictures of sweaty overly muscular men discourages me from ever using said products, I'm generally discouraged from using audio products that come in very blingy packaging. Thankfully this is not the case with the packaging of the MC5s, which is simple but exudes a sense of serious-business. A mostly white box with a picture of the MC5s in front, it has a flap you can detach to see the MC5s in all their three dimensional and three-flanged glory.





Included in the box are the required documents, a carrying case, a set of various tips, a couple of extra filters and filter removal tool, and of course the IEMs themselves.


I quite like the carrying case, though a little small and nothing fancy. I've always prefer soft cases to hard cases, and these have an extra small pouch inside to put things such as tips or other accessories. The tips included are a pair of triple flanges larger than the ones on the IEM, some Comply-like foam tips, and a pair of  mushroom-shaped "gliders".





Though I've been spoiled by the build of my Zirconias, the MC5s are not frail in the slightest. After using the HJE900 for so long the MC5s seemed a bit light and less solid, but the MC5s still feel like they can last years even with a bit of abuse. The cables are thick but light, kevlar reinforced, and all ends are well revieved. The cable also brings a cord cinch and one of those shirt-biter grip things, both of which work well. Lack of detachability notwithstanding, this is my favorite IEM cable yet. It has good length, little memory character, pretty low microphonics, a nice rubbery texture, and feels hefty and durable without being as heavy as the stock HJE900 cable.



The IEMs are attractive, looking more high-end than what you typically see while not being too blingy about it. Overall the IEMs are quite pretty, especially in blue. Because blue is the most bestest color, ever. I quite like blue.





Fit, Comfort, and Isolation:





This was my first experience with the "Etymotic fit", or any deep insertion IEM of any kind. It took me a while to get the seal right for the best sound, but I eventually settled on the larger triple flanges (which are actually the "standard" ones, I guess ety just puts on the small by default for aesthetics and to encourage experimentation). This seems to have been the case for most others with the MC5s, FWIR. The other tips didn't isolate as well nor soound as good imo. My second favorite tips were actually Foam hybrid Supertips using the nozzle adapters included with them, but I actually got such a strong seal it was bothersome. I didn't spend too long messing with tips though, and will try out the Supertips more at some point. As an FYI, these have a very thin and long nozzle, and require tips that will fit such nozzles.





They were a bit uncomfortable at first,as I've never stuck something so deep into my ear, and things got itchy. But that was also the case with my first IEM so I figured some time would help, and it has. They are now perfectly fine to use. I wear them cord down, as getting them cord up canbe tricky becauseof the angled ends of the buds. Note, these things go deep. I clean my ears regularly ... but yea. Clean your ears, well.





These things ISOLATE. Like I was expecting it, but wow. The world just gets cut off, and it's better than any bose noise cancellingI've ever tried. These are basically ear plugs that produce sound too, after all. I actually usually don't like so much isolation because I prefer being aware of my surroundings, but there's something very appealing about the way it shuts out all outside noise; it will be enjoyable on subway rides.





Sound:




Now the most important part. These impressions are still being formed, so pardon my lack of eloquence in describing sound. Actually listening as I write and trying to finish before going to work, so this might feel a bit fragmented.





My first impression "was these sound cold, thin, and almost tinny". I knew I was to expect something different, having come from the V-shaped pannies, and not having used anything really close to neutral extensively in months. The closest I had to neutral were my PX200-IIs, which were slightly on the warm side and were much more laid back. I messed around with fit some more to get a better sound and with a better seal found some added warmth and removed the tinny-ness, but overall the sound was still very different than what I was used to. But that's fine, since that's what I wanted! In an overall sense, the sound was what I expected from the Etymotic signature I had read about so much. Clinical, professional, analytical. It's not really the type of sound that gets you to tap your foot, at least initially. Rather you can sit and there and pick apart the music. I would say it's pretty close to neutral, but I personally don't find neutral is necesarily natural.





I was surprised on two counts. They were neither as harsh in the highs as I expected, nor as lacking in the low end. I had just come from the panasonics HJE900s, which are known for having a stock sound with aggressive highs, but I never considered those to be a real issue. From reading impressions about the MC5 and the Etyomic house sound, I expected these to be even more aggressive in the highs, but they rarely made me cringe with uncomfortable treble. I might say they are a a bit more sibilant(pronounced "sss" sounds) than the Panasonics, but aren't as harsh or jarring. I actually wish they were a bit brighter overall in the highs, they don't seem to have as much sparkle as my 900s.



As for Bass, I expected these to have almost nothing, but they actually satisfied me with their impact. It's certainly nowhere near the level of the Panasonics, but I had been worried I would not be able to hear bass at all in some of my more bass-oriented tracks. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find I could always hear the bass, all the way down to notes approaching 20hz, just not as forward as my bass-oriented phones. There is even a workable amount of impact on some songs. Would like a bit more though.





The midrange for me was the most prominent part of it's sound signature. Vocals and electric guitars sounded clear and relatively forward.





The sound as a whole has a thin nature, without the weight in the notes that the pannies convey. Not that one is necessarily better than the other, just different. The etys are precise and particular, the pannies are fast and hard hitting. Kinda like kung fu Vs karate =P The etys are colder, but tend to stray towards warmth from time to time, which seems like a result of mixing the ety signature with a dynamic driver. They are both of similar quick-speed, but the pannies do so while carrying more weight on notes(again, one isn't necessarily better than the other). Perhaps as a result of this, the etys seem slightly more precise on notes, while the pannies are slightly more sloppy because of their high energy. Overall I seem to be able to pick out the same amount of detail on both though.





Soundstage is good for an IEM, though not as impressive as on the Panasonics. Like the pannies, it can reach pretty far wide at the extremes, but prefers to live in a closer area(pannies on the whole are a bit wider though). The sound is less 3 dimensional than the Panasonics, and feels more like it's in front of me rather than around me. I like the upfront sound for rock, less for classical. Instrument positioning, separation, and imaging are all good, but again not quite as sharp as with the panasonics. I have a good general sense of where instruments are(or footsteps when gaming), but not as precisely as I do on the Zirconias. I feel like that's in part due to the Zirconia's low resonance housing, sort of like looking through a sharper lens.



They are harder to drive than my Panasonics, only reaching about 75% of the Pannies' volume out of my cellphone, but not needing to be as loud when I'm on the go because of their way superior isolation. My portable source is really quite weak, but I wish they were a teensy bit easier to drive so I could get more palpable heft with louder volumes when I'm on the go.



To make a photography analogy, the picture of sounds the Etys provide seems like a a bright, slightly unsaturated image, with neutral contrast. The Pannies, on the other hand, have more vivid colors, and higher contrast, while still remaining realistic and perhaps taken with a sharper lens. The image "pops" more. I'm quite happy with my purchase of the MC5s. I can't truly say I feel they do anything so much better than my pannies on a technical level, or that I really enjoy any genre more with them, but they take a more educated, sophisticated approach to the sound. Overall, I think they are worth their MSRP, with obvious emphasis if you prefer an analytical sound.





I'll try to condense and clarify later =P
 
Sep 24, 2010 at 2:05 PM Post #2 of 6

kmhaynes

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Very nice review of the MC5, with a good description of its best points.  I have been tempted lately to abandon the MC5 and move to the HJE900, but having been spoiled by the the RE0 on clarity and details, I sense the need to keep these MC5 for certain situations.  Possibly later I can replace my Thinksound Rain (very warm, fun, bassy but good clarity as well) with the HJE900, esp. if the prices stays below $100 as it is right now at J&R.
 
Sep 24, 2010 at 2:14 PM Post #3 of 6

ericp10

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Nice initial impressions @  Napilopez. Very nice indeed!
 
Sep 24, 2010 at 4:08 PM Post #4 of 6

Napilopez

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Very nice review of the MC5, with a good description of its best points.  I have been tempted lately to abandon the MC5 and move to the HJE900, but having been spoiled by the the RE0 on clarity and details, I sense the need to keep these MC5 for certain situations.  Possibly later I can replace my Thinksound Rain (very warm, fun, bassy but good clarity as well) with the HJE900, esp. if the prices stays below $100 as it is right now at J&R.





Thanks! I don't know if the pannies would necesarily be an upgrade(though I personally think they are to an extent), but they will certainly be very different! They might even sound quite dark to you after being used to three relatively bright phones, but I think you will enjoy them if you get them =]





Nice initial impressions @  Napilopez. Very nice indeed!





Gracias! As a bit of an aside, I always find it intriguing how it seems a dynamic's housing is reflected in its sound signature, especially in more closed phones. Plastics seem to be the most generic, with metals being a bit more... metallic. The rains I tried had this great warm texture to them, that just seemed to "feel"like wood, and perhaps unsurprisingly, wood intruments sounded the best. I think the housing is part of what makes the pannies unique in their sound, if not the biggest part. To me, the pannies seem to have this crystalline, glassy sound to them, which I think handles both natural and artificial timbres well. Of course it's just as likely everything I'm saying is psychoacoustics, but whatever =P
 
Sep 24, 2010 at 4:31 PM Post #5 of 6

rawrster

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You got a couple things right there. Neutral is definitely not the same as natural. That's something a lot of people confuse to be the same thing but it really is not. The MC5 is more neutral while the HJE900 sounds more natural. Also I think you don't find the treble harsh is because you are used to the presentation of the HJE900 which has a harsh treble if you are not used to it. For someone who comes from a phone with a veil it may be pretty painful to go to an Etymotic.
 
While I did try to like the MC5 it would not fit anywhere in my current collection and it was a bit boring to me. It had details and such but nothing excited me when listening to this earphone so it was a pretty easy decision for me not to keep them.
 
Sep 24, 2010 at 8:23 PM Post #6 of 6

Napilopez

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Quote:
Also I think you don't find the treble harsh is because you are used to the presentation of the HJE900 which has a harsh treble if you are not used to it. For someone who comes from a phone with a veil it may be pretty painful to go to an Etymotic.
 
While I did try to like the MC5 it would not fit anywhere in my current collection and it was a bit boring to me. It had details and such but nothing excited me when listening to this earphone so it was a pretty easy decision for me not to keep them.


That's quite probably true. Going to the HJE900s after my Senn PX200-IIs was quite jarring, and was partly why I originally bought complies. Got used to it with time though.
 
I can see how the MC5s don't fit in your collection, and they're a perfect compliment for mine. Next up is the TS02 which should give me something slightly on the warm side of neutral with a softer sound.
 

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