First pair of IEM Suggestions? Details in thread
Feb 23, 2021 at 10:34 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 10

mattrb2

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Sup everyone.

This is my 2nd post, first being in the new member thread! I've searched many reviews and have narrowed down what I "think" I'm looking for. Any help would be appreciated.

I'm looking to pickup a pair of IEM's... something "above average sounding" and by that I mean something that sounds more "special" than the normal off the shelf earphones you would see in retail stores. After doing research here, I'm not sure If I want to go the single large dynamic driver route or the large dynamic driver + balanced armature driver route. Back in 2012 I picked up a pair of Sony XBA-1's and was surprised at how "neutral" they sounded. That term seems to be used a lot here but I can say back in 2012 that was my first thought. Bass/Mid/Treb all seemed to be on the "same level" if that makes sense. Maybe the bass was a bit lacking. Great clarity. It took some getting used to but eventually I fell in love with the the XBA-1. I would like to find something that has a better sound than the XBA-1 but similar profile.

Two IEM's I'm looking at are the Sony XBA-A3 (if I can find a used pair in good shape) and the Sony MDR-7550 / EX800ST (seems the EX800ST is still produced in Japan, many listings on Amazon and Ebay). Is there a huge difference in sound between the Hybrid 3-way – 16 mm dynamic + 2 Balanced Armature setup in the XBA-A3 and the Single 16 mm dynamic in the EX800ST?

Would you experts say these IEM's are worthy and worth investing in? Reviews seem to say they both are. Any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Budget is roughly $250.

Thanks!
 
Feb 23, 2021 at 11:58 AM Post #2 of 10

surfgeorge

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I have had the EX800ST (still have the EX1000) and listend to the XBA-N3 a few times in the shop, although that's 2 years ago.
I also considered buying the N3 a few times since I really liked it.

The EX800ST is a rather special IEM with that open sound, a generally somewhat neutral-ish signature, good detail and that effortless bass. The bass is special, you can really tell that there's a big driver at work which can move air, it's quite fast and textured and can rumble and slam.
The limitation of the EX800ST from my point of view is the slightly dry presentation. It leans towards accurate and detailed rather than smooth and musical. Works very well with acoustic and classical, but I liked the JVC FD02 (modded) better for vocals.
A special feature of the EX800ST is the ability to boost the bass with the tape mod, then they become basshead IEMs.

The XBA-N3 looks like an XBA-A3 with more sub-bass and a smoother mid-high range.
Crinacle describes it as "Neutral with Bass Boost - Exceptional tonal balance only limited by its slightly smoothed over definition" which I think describes it well. The A3 looks a little sparklier and more mid-bass focused.
I remember that I liked the fun DD bass of the N3 and that I felt it had more resolution in mids & treble than the single DDs.
More fun and smoother than the EX800ST, but I could tell the difference between DD and BA signature.

Both good IEMs at around $200, but I would not pay much more.

A very capable IEM at $325 is the Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk - but much more neutral, with much clearer mids and leaner upper bass. Different tuning but very good value. A little tricky to get good fit if you have smaller conchas like myself.
 
Feb 23, 2021 at 12:37 PM Post #3 of 10

mattrb2

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I have had the EX800ST (still have the EX1000) and listend to the XBA-N3 a few times in the shop, although that's 2 years ago.
I also considered buying the N3 a few times since I really liked it.

The EX800ST is a rather special IEM with that open sound, a generally somewhat neutral-ish signature, good detail and that effortless bass. The bass is special, you can really tell that there's a big driver at work which can move air, it's quite fast and textured and can rumble and slam.
The limitation of the EX800ST from my point of view is the slightly dry presentation. It leans towards accurate and detailed rather than smooth and musical. Works very well with acoustic and classical, but I liked the JVC FD02 (modded) better for vocals.
A special feature of the EX800ST is the ability to boost the bass with the tape mod, then they become basshead IEMs.

The XBA-N3 looks like an XBA-A3 with more sub-bass and a smoother mid-high range.
Crinacle describes it as "Neutral with Bass Boost - Exceptional tonal balance only limited by its slightly smoothed over definition" which I think describes it well. The A3 looks a little sparklier and more mid-bass focused.
I remember that I liked the fun DD bass of the N3 and that I felt it had more resolution in mids & treble than the single DDs.
More fun and smoother than the EX800ST, but I could tell the difference between DD and BA signature.

Both good IEMs at around $200, but I would not pay much more.

A very capable IEM at $325 is the Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk - but much more neutral, with much clearer mids and leaner upper bass. Different tuning but very good value. A little tricky to get good fit if you have smaller conchas like myself.
Really good stuff here. Thanks! Your review of the EX800ST and XBA's seems spot on to what I've been reading. Could never find a comparison between these two specific ones though.

Not sure I'm much of a bass head, never have been, I actually think I'm more of a treble head, lol. I always have the treble maxed out in my car stereo and the bass somewhere around 2-3 on the EQ. Small tweeters and factory sub in the back could be the reason though. Or maybe could be the type of music I listen to. Other than classical (mostly modern classic piano - Haruka Nakamura Still Life I and Still Life II for example), and some jazz, I mostly listen to progressive post-hardcore/emo/mathcore stuff from the early to mid 2000's. Those genre's tend to have tight sounding drums, articulate guitar riffs/solo's and super high vocals. EX800ST might do this type of music justice based on your description!

Thanks for the comparisons, it really helped clear things up. For some reason I like the idea of the hybrid systems such as A-3 / N-3. "More is better" right? haha.

Never heard of the Moondrops but will certainly check them out tonight. $325 over budget but hey ya never know.
 
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Feb 23, 2021 at 4:32 PM Post #4 of 10

surfgeorge

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I think you have a good feeling for the EX800ST - yes, I'd also say it has more bite and crunch, also a more treble sparkle, at least compared to the XBA-N3. The XBA-A3 has a spikier treble and should feel a little more energetic in the upper frequency range. N3 is smoother.
What would also be in favor of the EX800ST is the dynamics and energy it brings, specifically for percussion. It is an unusual IEM, and I have not heard anything like the EX800ST and EX1000. If you are willing to EQ them you have even more possibilities, because they have so much power and drive that they take even lots of EQ easily.
Toranku has posted PEQ profiles that transform them and are a great starting point for optimization.

PS: in terms of the tracks you listed, I am listening to the Haruka Nakamura CDs and I have to say the recording is quite strange, very muffled and hazy. Listening on the CHORD Hugo 2 with Focal Clear. I'd find it very hard to evaluate an IEM or headphone based on these tracks.
 
Feb 24, 2021 at 9:11 AM Post #5 of 10

mattrb2

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For ease of simplicity and not waiting too long I'll pull the plug and purchase a pair of EX800ST's. They are in my price range and seem to be a great fit for the sound profile I like. Will shop around a bit and buy this weekend. Also I'll leave a review of what I think in the correct forums, with some other music recommendations (remember noobie here but I think I have a decent ear). Unless anyone reading this has a used pair of XBA-A3's they are willing to sell for a fair price! :).

I checked out the Moondrops, mostly all positive reviews from what I see. One person saying its the go to IEM sub $500 which is a pretty bold statement! And they look like a thing of beauty. Nice to see China coming out with great products like this, when I think of audio usually Japan, USA, Europe comes to mind. But I'm a noobie when it comes to audio so what do I know.

PS: in terms of the tracks you listed, I am listening to the Haruka Nakamura CDs and I have to say the recording is quite strange, very muffled and hazy. Listening on the CHORD Hugo 2 with Focal Clear. I'd find it very hard to evaluate an IEM or headphone based on these tracks.
Haha pretty strange right? Nakamura experimented with what he calls "mute piano" which is probably the muffled sound you're hearing. Here's a tid bit about the recording from Nakamuras website: "Gen Tanabe, an engineer, set up a microphone for his upright piano at home. And I put my own linen cloth between the piano hammer and the strings. This is to record all songs with "Mute Piano"."
 
Feb 24, 2021 at 12:25 PM Post #6 of 10

barrypew

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I want to second the suggestion for the Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk. But, I also think that you should consider the Shouer Tape Pro because you said you love treble. The electrostat driver in those things deliver very define treble. The bass is big too, but you can eq that down really easily. I would also say that the Tape Pro is a unique and special sound. I love having them around.
 
Feb 24, 2021 at 3:56 PM Post #7 of 10

surfgeorge

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For ease of simplicity and not waiting too long I'll pull the plug and purchase a pair of EX800ST's. They are in my price range and seem to be a great fit for the sound profile I like. Will shop around a bit and buy this weekend. Also I'll leave a review of what I think in the correct forums, with some other music recommendations (remember noobie here but I think I have a decent ear). Unless anyone reading this has a used pair of XBA-A3's they are willing to sell for a fair price! :).

I checked out the Moondrops, mostly all positive reviews from what I see. One person saying its the go to IEM sub $500 which is a pretty bold statement! And they look like a thing of beauty. Nice to see China coming out with great products like this, when I think of audio usually Japan, USA, Europe comes to mind. But I'm a noobie when it comes to audio so what do I know.


Haha pretty strange right? Nakamura experimented with what he calls "mute piano" which is probably the muffled sound you're hearing. Here's a tid bit about the recording from Nakamuras website: "Gen Tanabe, an engineer, set up a microphone for his upright piano at home. And I put my own linen cloth between the piano hammer and the strings. This is to record all songs with "Mute Piano"."
That explains the sound characteristic of those tracks! I was wondering if my chain was broken! LOL! Had to play a known track to make sure...

EX800ST is an IEM worth having, even if it just for a while. It's so different to others.
One thing to mention - it's really mostly suited to home listening, since it has those big vents and therefore has bad isolation.

The Moondrop Blessing 2 are very good indeed, and the Dusk version might be a little better yet.
I have the standard Blessing 2 and like to listen to it for a change from my $1000 Sony IER-M9.
Of course the M9 is better in every way, clearer, bigger stage and better imaging, better detail and resolution, better bass texture and tightness etc.
But I still enjoy the B2, and am totally fine bringing them when I don't want to take the expensive M9s.

Where the EX800ST beats the Blessing is opennes and bass texture and extension. The EX800ST and EX1000 bass quality is really outstanding.
Directly comparing the B2 and EX1k the Sony sounds wider, more open, more fluid, more balanced and more musical.
B2 has a drier, narrower presentation, the music stays more in the forehead, more focused on upper mids and focused on resolution. Still smooth, but less musical.
The EX1k makes me boogie more. And in terms of bass quality the EX1k really outclasses the B2 big time. Listening to Metallica makes that painfully clear.

To me the EX1k clearly comes out on top.
 
Feb 26, 2021 at 7:28 AM Post #8 of 10

mattrb2

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Where the EX800ST beats the Blessing is opennes and bass texture and extension. The EX800ST and EX1000 bass quality is really outstanding.
Directly comparing the B2 and EX1k the Sony sounds wider, more open, more fluid, more balanced and more musical.
B2 has a drier, narrower presentation, the music stays more in the forehead, more focused on upper mids and focused on resolution. Still smooth, but less musical.
Wow the imagery in this description! I've never experienced anything like this from earbuds or headphones for that matter. I really cant wait to pick something up and be in music heaven :D.

Listening to Metallica makes that painfully clear.
:thumbsup::metal::L3000:

Currently best I can find is a pair of new EX800ST for $230 shipped. I also found a deal on a pair of used Sony XBA-Z5 in great condition for $240. Not sure where to go from here. Seems this is the best I can find at the moment.

Happy Friday/weekend everyone :).
 
Feb 26, 2021 at 7:55 AM Post #9 of 10

surfgeorge

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Wow the imagery in this description! I've never experienced anything like this from earbuds or headphones for that matter. I really cant wait to pick something up and be in music heaven :D.


:thumbsup::metal::L3000:

Currently best I can find is a pair of new EX800ST for $230 shipped. I also found a deal on a pair of used Sony XBA-Z5 in great condition for $240. Not sure where to go from here. Seems this is the best I can find at the moment.

Happy Friday/weekend everyone :).

I got my EX800ST directly from amazon Japan. You need to open an account with them, but they shipped to EU without problems, even handle import duties and taxes. The price listed by Amazon JP when ordering from EU includes everything. Shipping time was very fast, I think less than a week.
I'd check that out, might be a little cheaper still.

XBA-Z5 has it's fans, Crinacle rates it rather average, I listened to it only briefly and liked it according to my notes, but I can't really remember.
I wrote down:

Sony EX800ST:
Wow - for the price amazing! Really great bass, powerful, punchy, detailed, natural, quite fast. Mids a little dark, needs a bit getting used to but also good and detailed, highs can get slightly sharp but in general very detailed.

Sony XBA-Z5:
16mm DD + 2BA: all the good EX800ST bass with refined and detailed mids and highs. Clear step up, but here they are 3x the price, too much IMO

Sony IER-M7:
4BA model, very nice but just not up to the IER-M9 level:

IER-M9:
Great sounding 5BA IEM (added super-tweeter). IMO better than Andromeda, more lively, more punchy. Closer to Solaris, but could not say how close. Great fit!
Very, very nice to hear that refined, detailed and sparkly BA sound with a little heft in the bass. But the weight and heft cannot compare even remotely to the EX800ST or XBA-Z5 slam.
Pure SQ clearly above Z5, but the Z5 also has refinement paired with real slam. Matter of preference.


Take it with a grain of salt. I was just starting to check out IEMs. That was at e-earphones in Tokyo, where I spent 7 hours in 3 seesions testing IEMs up to $3000.
At that time I had just bought th EX800ST and the JVC FD02. Now I have the IER-M9...

At the prices you mentioned I think either the EX800ST or the Z5 will be a good choice.
 
Feb 26, 2021 at 9:27 PM Post #10 of 10

mattrb2

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I appreciate all the help surfgeorge! I pulled the plug on the EX800ST. Ended up having some amazon points from using their credit card and got a nice deal. Will leave my impressions on Monday or Tuesday!
Thanks again! (everyone else too that commented here)!
 

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