My Path to Portable Audio Bliss: ER4/UM2/2X-S
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Astral Plane

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Introduction

Greetings and salutations to all members of this form.

Being new to this form, I would like to start by thanking all the members of this form who provide valuable input on high fidelity headphones. It is through such input by which others are able to make educated choises on how to best spend their hard earned income. Head-fi has given me a wealth of information on setting up my home portable system.
I have been avidly reading postings on this site for the last 3-4 months(lurking as they say), and have probably read most of the postings with respect to IEMs. This is my first (outside of upcoming responses to this thread) and probably my only posting in these forms. I do want to share my experiences on my road to audio nirvana and hopefully this will help others to make decisions of their own when choosing mid to high end IEMs.

Being someone who tends to be very thorough, this posting will be quite long, unfortunately it is the only way to cover the topic properly.



Background

I would like to start by providing a bit of history on my quest for audio bliss. I have always enjoyed music and I also have a passion for sports motorcycles. In the early to mid nineties I decided to try to merge these two passions. Motorcycles however present certain challenges to good audio due to engine noise and background wind (especially above 80-mph, where wind noise seems to drown out all else). After much research, and mainly from the high praise from Headroom.com, I found the Etymotic ER4-S headphones, which were fairly new to the market and fit right into your ear, isolating you from the surrounding noise, along with providing (for the time) some of the best sounding audio via headphones. MP3 players were not out at the time so my source was going to be difficult. Cassettes were out of the question, the quality just wasn't there. The CD players at the time were quite prone to skipping and not tracking when in an automotive environment, and I also wanted to be able to mix my own music as opposed to being limited to commercially produced CD's. The format that I ultimately settled upon was the then new Sony Mini-Disc Format. I purchased one if the first portable models, the MZ-1 Mini-disc Recorder. It had the sound quality I was after, it was recordable, so I could make my own playlists, and it had and excellent memory buffer for skip protection. The unit would not skip unless shaken extremely vigorously and for a prolonged period. This was a beautiful unit, very solidly built and could fit into a home setup very well. I still own the unit to this day, but alas I have evolved out of Mini-discs.
Unfortunately, shortly after this I went through a marital breakup and also a bankruptcy (neither specifically due to my audio purchases), so was unable to complete my setup.

I never really did use this system very much because of its many niggling deficiencies:

a) E4-S could not be driven from the Mini-disc player very well without amplification.
b) Difficulty inserting a full face motorcycle helmet with the ER4S inserted (Stuck out too much).
c) Replacing the foam tips (I initially preferred their sound) were a hassle (ear wax etc).
d) They needed to have the filters replaced.
e) Micro-phonics (I did not know the term at the time).
f) Inserting the phones were a bit of a hassle.
g) Bass quality (which I later found was related to a) above).

I was planning to get a headroom amp, but due to my financial constrains, that never materialized. Eventually, after a few years the driver on my right phone started having problems, only producing less than 1/2 the output, which basically made the headphones unusable. That coupled with the other "hassles" listed above, led to frustration to the point of abandoning (or retrospectively, putting on hold) my quest for portable high fidelity.

With the advent of the MP3 format I started converting my CD collection to my Powermac using SoundJam (aprox 97-98, the precursor to iTunes) and subsequently migrated to iTunes. Soon after this the first MP3 players hit the market. I purchased one of the earlier models a Nike psaPlay with (if memory serves me correct) 64Megs of flash memory expandable to 128M. Due to the memory limitations and sound quality of the provided headphones (again these could not drive the ER4S adequately), I knew this player was not going to be a high end solution, but was good enough for running and working out, which was my primary intent when I purchased it. But at least it gave me portable, recordable, non skip music.

In late 2003 I purchased a 20G ipod (2nd Gen) used off of eBay. I soon realized the potential of this device, and decided to upgrade the headphones. I did not do much research and just picked up some Sony EX71 earbuds from reviews I had read on Amazon and C/net. They were better than stock, but hardly audiophile quality.

Finally, after Xmas 2004, I undertook to improve my ipod into a portable audiophile system. My recently purchasing a Suzuki GSX-1300R Hayabusa (an amazing machine-but thats the topic for another form) had a lot to do with my long lost quest being rekindled.
I decided to restart my quest where I had left off, at Headroom.com, which led me to this site, and you all can guess the rest!



The Purchases

The following is a list of the audiophile equipment I have purchased after spending extensive time going through these forms:

01. Westone UM2 (eBay, $361.00Can)
02. Pocket Amp V2 (electric-avenues.com, $70.00)
03. iPod Photo 60G (Futureshop, $690.00)
04. Sik Din ($37.00)
05. Pocketdock, Panorama 4" mini to mini cable (The Cable Guy, $218.00)
06. SuperMacro-V3 Amp (X Y Computing, $375.00)
07. Tekkeon myPower Battery Pack ($130.00)
08. Sensaphonics Prophonics 2X-S ($937.00)
09. Roots leather camera pouch ($30.00)
10. Repaired ER4-S headphones, converted to P, with P to S cable ($234.00)
11. Sennheiser HD-650 ($291.00US ebay- on there way here as I write this)
12. Purchase of numerous CD's to replace my 128kps music.

Briefly, my reasons for the above purchases are:
Re 01: I felt for the money this would provide me with the closest thing to custom fitted IEM's, succumbed to the custom IEM's.
Re 02: Wanted amplification to bring out the best in the headphones, did not want to spend a lot and felt this amp would provide that after reading the reviews.
Re 03: The realization I needed loss-less files for best sound and therefore needed the most storage I could get.
Re 04: Best sound would be through line out
Re 05: Same as 4
Re 06: to eliminate the annoying Hiss that Pocket Amp V2 had with UM2s
Re 07: increase battery power and provide line out from dock connection
Re 08: could not resist any longer, had to go custom fitted IEM.
Re 09: for portability
Re 10: To finally hear how the ER4-S's would sound amped and to compare to the other phones
Re 11: Again because they are so highly rated, to compare and to enjoy
Re 12: Because iTunes Music Store downloads, and Pirated MP3's just don't cut it anymore

After all of this, I feel that I now have a system for home and portable use that is about as good as it can get at this point in time (and pleeaaase don't tell me how I can improve this, I don't think I can take much more!).
Other audio equipment I have (purchased prior to Head-Fi):

Bose Triports (purchased on a whim)
Koss the Plugs
Sony MDR V700
4G iPod Mini (for my son)
iPod Shuffle 1G

My current setup is as follows:

iPod 60G=>Tekkeon myPower battery backup/Line out=>Panorama=>SuperMacro 3 opamp627=>Sensaphonics 2X-S



The Photos

The following are some photos that I took of my audio equipment with my digital camera:



My 1G Shuffle, my son's 4G mini, My 60G iPod photo/Tekkeon Battery backup, my Panorama cable, and my SuperMacro-V3



My Sony EX71(Did not test, R phone not working), Westone UM2, Etymotic ER4-P/S, Sensaphonics Prophonics 2X-S



iPod 60G=>Tekkeon myPower battery backup/Line out=>Panorama=>SM-V3=> 2X-s in a Roots Camera Bag



Portable rig, different angles:










My Current conventional Headphones: Sony MDR-V700, Bose Triports (Sennheiser HD-650 on the way)



The Comparisons

Finally we get to what this thread is intended to provide. A personal evaluation of the Etymotic ER4-S, Westone UM2, and Sensaphonics 2X-S IEM's. I have now had all these headphones for almost 3 months and feel that I have had ample time to get to know there individual characteristics.
I will also touch upon the amps I purchased, and the cables/connectors in my setup. I will add my thoughts on how the HD-650's compare in this shootout, after I have received it and have had adequate time to burn them in and get accustomed to them.



Build Quality

I would rate the build quality of the IEMs as follows(all ratings will be done on a 1-10 scale):

1. Sensaphonics 2X-S...........9.6
2. Westone UM2..................9.2
3. Etymotic ER4-S/P.............8.5

Build quality of all three IEMs is very good, and all would standup to everyday usage without any difficulty. If the micro-phonics were not so bad due to its cable, I would have scored the Etys higher.
The Cabling on all three is good, but if I had to give a preference it would be to the UM2's cable. It is braided all the way through with a clear cable of substantial thickness which seems the most sturdy. The clear Sensas cable is close behind, the only thing I could find wrong with its cable is that from the Earphone driver housing to the connector where the R and L cable comes together, it uses a very thin (slightly thicker that fishing line) cable, which just does not "feel" substantial enough. I have heard in other threads that it can withstand up to 50 lbs of tension, and do not dispute the claim, but it still feels too thin.
Both the Sensas and the Westones have a small piece of plastic tubing which slides up the cabling from the connector to tighten the L and R wires around your neck or head, which is a nice touch. The tubing on the UM2's is thicker and longer and feels like it would take more abuse. The Sensas tubing is thinner and shorter, probably due to the thinness of the cable it is wrapping around. Again, it is probably adequate for everyday usage, just not as substantial as the Westones. The Etymotics do not have this tubing which would give you more options to how tight the cabling will lay on your face and neck.

The Sensas also have some pre shaped Memory tubing coming out of the driver housing which wraps around your ears. I am not sure why this is here as when you tighten the cabling with the sliding tube, the cable will wrap around your ear. This memory tubing makes it difficult to wind up the headphone cables to put away the phones. The UM2 implementation seems to work the best here again.

The one advantage the of the Sensas "Thin" cable is that it does not change color. The UM2 cable starts to turn greenish when rubbing on your body over time. It does not seem to affect the sound quality, just makes it look like the wire is dirty. This may be why Sensaphonics chose their thin cable over the multi-braided one, I just wish they could have made it a bit thicker.

The Eytmotic cable was the least appealing. It was black (I prefer the clear), did not have a sliding tube to tighten the cables, and after the main connection (where the R/L wire merge) the cable was very thick, unbraided and not very flexible. This makes it less ideal for portable usage, but not as bad for home listening.

Micro-phonics is also quite a problem with The Ety cable as you hear it banging through the earpieces. The other two cables are pretty much free of this problem. Turning up the volume will diminish the micro-phonics, but it is a disadvantage for portable usage. This again will be touched upon in the sound quality comparison section.

I found the Cable length of the Sensas to be ideal for portable usage. They were a bit too short for effective home use without and extender cable. The UM2's cable length was about a foot longer, which starts giving you too much length for portable usage, and not quite enough for home listening. The Ety cable length was a foot longer than the UM2 and was best for home listening, but much too long for portable usage, especially given the micro-phonics problem with the cable.

The main connectors and how the wires connected to components were all on par, however the I did prefer the smaller size of the Sensas and UM2 main connector over the Ety's. Again this is not a real significant issue, just my preference.

The driver housing I found to be best on the Sensas which have a soft silicone enclosure. It is slightly bendable but stiff enough to hold its shape. Its one piece construction provides the best protection for the drivers. It was however the largest of the three. The Etys driver housing was the smallest (since they only use one driver, while the Sensas and UM2's use two drivers for each ear), with excellent build quality. The UM2's driver housing I found to be the least desirable, having a plasticy appearance with noticeable seams where the housing was put together. It works well functionally, just does not give the same sense of quality that the Sensas or Etys give.



Fit and Comfort

For fit and comfort I would rate the IEM's (this is not comparing them to regular Headphones) as follows:

1. Sensaphonics 2X-S.......9.8
2. Etymotics ER4-SP.........8.0
3. Westone UM2..............7.8

Both the Westones and the Etys are about the same in this regard. It must be noted that I was using the triflanges with the Etys, and the comply tips (the longer ones) with the UM2's. The westones were more difficult to insert due to having to squish down the tip and insert it so the cord wrapped around your ear, however when inserted they were slightly more comfortable than the Etys. The ER4-P/S with the triflanges were the easiest to insert due to their relative straightness, I would just have to tug down on my ear lobe and push the tips up and forward as deeply as they would go. Once in, they were a bit more uncomfortable than the UM2's with the foam. I tried using the triflanges with the UM2's but was unable to get them to seal properly with them because I could not insert them deep enough into my ear canals due to the driver housing contacting my ear before the triflange was able to get to full depth. This was however using the Ety Triflange, which has a shorter stalk from what I gather than the Shure triflanges. The longer stalks on the Shures may allow them to be inserted further before the UM2 housing contacts my ears and then providing a adequate seal. I will be looking into ordering some in the future. I would prefer to use the triflanges as you do not need to replace them as frequently and are dishwasher safe.

The Sensaphonics however are much better for fit and comfort than the non custom fitted IEM's. They are about as difficult to insert as the Westones however once in the Sensaphonics are extremely comfortable, in part I believe because of their soft silicone construction which does give and allows the headphones to adapt to your ear canal when doing jaw movements without breaking the seal or causing inadvertent discomfort. You almost forget that you have them in and can be worn for extended periods. I have worn them on a number of motorcycle trips for over 8 hrs with no discomfort at all. That being said, in-ear canal-phones may not be for everyone, they do work well for me.

The other major advantage with the Sensas is that when inserted they are very discrete. I ordered the Clear coloring which is almost a pink skin tone which blends very well with caucasian skin types. They also do not stick out past the ear at all and with the cord going up over the ear (and being as thin as it is) and down the back, most people would not notice that you were wearing headphones. The UM2's were the most noticeable due to their large housing and the non-skin-tone whitish color of it and how the long comply tips made them stick out. The Etys also stick out, but due to how they are shaped, and if deeply inserted, fall just in front of the ear lobe in the natural depression that is there, making them a bit less noticeable.

With regards to sleeping, the Sensas again came out on top for comfort, again it was as if they were not there except for as slight pressure feeling depending on how you were laying. The UM2's and Etys were also comfortable enough to sleep with, but you could more easily catch the cords on things when moving around and were generally more noticeable while inserted.

With use under a motorcycle helmet the Sensas were again the clear winners. It was as if you had nothing in your ears when inserting or removing the helmet, while with the UM2's and the Etys greater care needed to be taken when inserting and removing the helmet to ensure the canal-phones were not dislodged or lost their all important seal. The UM2's were better than the Etys for wearing a helmet with.

With regards to Custom made IEM's, it has been stated numerous times, that a good impression is very important. I guess I got lucky. I live in the greater Toronto area and went to an audiologist to have them made. She had never done impressions for "headphones", but contacted Sensaphonics and talked to some people there and understood the procedure (I presume it would be very similar to impressions for hearing aids). She took my impressions in about 5mins while having my mouth wide open on April 5, 2005. She sent them off to Sensaphonics. Sensaphonics state on their web site and was also told that the turnaround time would be 15-17 business days. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I called to check on my order and was told they were ready, and they were back at my audiologists office in Toronto for pickup on the 15th of April. I drove down to pick them up on the 17th. The fit was perfect from day one and have been enjoying them ever since.

When comparing the IEM's to conventional headphones, comfort and fit are again a matter of personal preference. I find IEM's quite comfortable, but have been using them off and on for the last ten years. Especially the Sensas which, in my opinion, are about as comfortable as any headphone can be. Again however, this is a bit like comparing sport bikes to boulevard cruisers. However as far as IEM's go, the Sensaphonics are about as good as it gets.



Isolation

This is probably one of the most important areas when it comes to in-ear Monitors. Without adequate isolation the sound is just not "there". With all of these phones, as used, I was able to get a good seal. The Sensas and the Etys however, were the easiest to get and maintain the seal. The Triflange on the Etys goes in very straight and if inserted deep enough will seal completely. The Etys also provided the most attenuation of outside noise when fully seated. Etymotics Research claim 35dB of noise reduction. In comparison, Sensaphonics claim a 26dB attenuation with the 2X-S, and the Westones 25dB.

The Foam tip on the UM2's while apparently sealing well just did not feel as secure as the Etys did. Again, I had a problem using the Etymotic Triflange tips on the UM2's, and perhaps the Shure triflange tips would allow deeper insertion then making them feel as secure as the ER4-P's. This being said, I am sure individual variations in anatomy could cause this situation to be reversed. This is where the strength of the custom fitted phones comes into play. No matter your anatomical makeup, with custom IEM's you should be able to get a good fitting phone if the impressions are taken correctly.

All IEM's when properly seated, reduced exterior noise to the point that listening to music undisturbed in most environments was possible.



Sound Quality: Unamped

I tested all my headphones unamped out of both my iPod Shuffle and my 60g Photo. Below is my subjective ratings of the sound:

1. Sensaphonics 2S-X........8.8
2. Westone UM2...............6.8
3. Etymotic ER4-P.............6.2
4. Sony MDR-V700............6.0
5. Bose Triports................3.5

Things to Note:

The Shuffle was using AAC 128 encoding while the iPod photo was AAC loss-less. This made a big difference to the sound, especially to the IEM's. If you are after the best possible sound Loss-less is the only way to go (thats why I upgraded my ipod to the 60G).

I used the Etymotic ER4-P without the converter cable as the P-S converter would not drive the phones very well.

I have only listened without amplification for this testing since getting the SM3, as it improves the sound so much more.

The Etys and the Westones (along with the V700's) sounded pretty good until compared to the 2X-S. The Etys mids and highs seemed forward and its bass response was lacking both in depth and width. There was little resonance with the bass. Also without amplification, the highs seemed slightly harsh compared to the Sensas and the UM2's. The Westones had better bass, deeper and cleaner (though nowhere near the level of the Sensas), its highs were there, just not quite as harsh. Compared to the 2X-S, all the other phones seemed veiled, as if the sound were muffled to some extent.

The 2X-S sounded excellent directly out of the ipods, the only reason I did not score them higher was that their sound signature improved a fair bit with the SuperMacro-V3 amp. Its bass response was easily the deepest and all musical instruments seemed the most life-like. The mids seemed as they should sound, and the highs had all the detail of the Etys and UM2's and then some, and were not affected by silabance to any noticable amount.



Sound Quality: Amped

This is where the sound quality of all the headphones opened up and became more life-like. I did all of my testing with the SuperMacro-V3 amp with the opamp627s. I also have the PocketAmp V2 from electric Avenues, which is a nice little amp for the money, but I found when I had the UM2's there was always a slight background hiss. You could not hear it when the music was playing, but between passages, or with very quite moments in the music it was there and enough of an annoyance to cause me to upgrade to the SMV3. The SMV3 has a completely black background from which the music springs forth from, which is the way it should be. This in my opinion adds significantly to the musical enjoyment. The only times you would hear a hissing with the SuperMacro 3 was on poorly recorded or low bite rate recordings.

Below are my subjective rates of the headphones amplified:

1. Sensaphonics 2X-S.....9.7
2. Westone UM2 ...........8.5
3. Sony MDR-V700.........7.8
4. Etymotics ER4-S.........7.7
5. Bose Triports.............6.0

With the SuperMacro all the headphones seemed to open up. Again the Sensas were the best sounding by a good margin. I used the bass boost switch on the SM-v3 turned on as it gave the best sound to the Sensas. I know people have stated that the bass on the Sensas is excellent and I agree with them, but I found with this amp and the bass boost turned on, was like adding a sub-woofer to the system. The bass seemed to extend deeper and wider and had a wonderful resonance to it. It was not in any way overdone. The surprising thing I found was having the bass boost on actually enhanced the mids and highs very much analogous to how light colors stand out more on a black background. Because of the excellent clarity and detail of the Sensas, when the Bass Boost was on, the mids and highs seemed to better emanate in full richness from a flowing sea of bass. Both the Etys and UM2's exhibited this but to a far lesser extent. I believe that the ability of the Sensas to separate out the music is responsible for this.

Also to be noted the Sensas were the headphones I could turn up the loudest and still find them listen-able unlike the ER4-Ss in which the highs became harsher with high volumes. The Westones were somewhere in between. On the flip side, at low volumes the Sensas again bettered the other phones by retaining more of the musicality than the other phones.

Sound-stage I found best on the Sensas and the Sony MDR-V700, with the Sensas actually having a bit large presentation that the Sony's. This being said, all headphones I have tried have an "in your Head" feel to the presentation, which is quite different than a good set of speakers. The Etys and UM2's were comparable in sound-stage but not as good as the Sonys/Sensas.

Another area that really impressed me with the Sensas was there speed of attack. In very fast passages,(eg Art of Noise-"Yebbo", Depeche Mode's "A Question of Time") the Sensas reproduced the music flawlessly. The clarity and detail was still there, and everything just sounded the way it should. All the other headphones struggled with these passages except prehaps the Etys which were almost as fast, but suffered from harshness on the high end again. The UM2's being a warmer headphone I found became a bit muddied by the speed, where the music seemed to blend together more. There was not the harshness of the Etys, but the detail was decreased somewhat. If I did not have the Sensas to compare to however, I would not have had any issues with the UM2's.

The Sensas also have the most realistic decay of the group. The noted seem to fade away at just the right rate, not overdone in anyway.

Comparing the Etys to the Westones, I found that the bass on the UM2's was better, seeming to reach deeper than the ER4-S's. The highs seemed clearer and more separated on the ER4's but they were also present and accounted for on the UM2's. The presentation on the Westones seemed warmer and fuller, while the ER4's were sharper and clearer. If it was not for the micro-phonics exhibited by the Etys, I would be hard pressed to choose between these two phones. They each have there strengths and would be suited to different musical genre.
It must be noted that I did not give the Sensas a 10 because although I could find absolutely nothing wrong with the headphones, I certainly have not hear all headphones and for that matter all IEM's, so there may be something that would improve on the sound, although I can't imagine how, as the sound reproduction just seems so realistic to me. Things just sound the way I imagine they should sound. And that is probably the best complement you can give any headphone.



Accessories

I would like to comment on some of the accessory items, the Tekkeon myPower battery backup, the Panorama mini to mini cable, and the Roots Leather camera Bag.

Doing a lot of touring on my bike, I wanted a battery backup that would give my iPod more than the 12-18 hrs of rated battery life. I did not want to have to recharge every night or two. The other consideration was that I wanted access to the ipod's line out capabilities, this ruled out probably the best battery backup for the ipod, the BTI iPod Battery ii which attaches via the bottom connector, but does not have a mini out thus restricting by use of the mini out for sound. I found out about Tekkeon myPower on iLounge.com and it seemed ideal for me. I wish I had found it sooner I would not have purchased the Sik Din and the PocketDock for line out capabilities. With the Tekkeon myPower I can go about a week of fairly heavy listening without having to recharge the unit. This seems to coincide quite well with the recharge cycle of the rechargeable batteries in the SuperMacro amp. Whenever I recharge one I do the other and the setup works very nicely. It recharges easily with a firewire cable and its line out capability make it work well with the SM-V3 amp. It also connects to the ipod extremely well making it feel as if it were one larger iPod. Esthetically it is almost a perfect fit with my iPod photo.

The Panorama mini to mini cable was another purchase I made to enhance the quality of the sound of my system. It does make a fair bit of difference to the sound verses a generic (i.e. Radio Shack) cable and would not hesitate to recommend it in a home setup, but in a portable setup I find that the inflexibility of the cable at such a short length (I ordered mine to be only 4') to be a bit of a hassle, with the cable interfering with the removal of my iPod from its carrying case when I want to change playlists, artists etc. I will be looking into other cabling options which will give me the flexibility I'm looking for with the best sound and a short cable length. The cable is also not inexpensive, and thus would only recommend it to people really looking for the ultimate in sound. Also this cable would be wasted on systems using "Lossy" codecs. But if you are looking for a cable that will bring out the best in all your equipment, Line out and this cable is the way to go.

For a carrying case, I wanted something in leather and of high quality with the ability to secure my unit to my body when traveling. It would be responsible for carrying over $2000.00 of audio equipment so it had to be reliable. It also had to hold all my gear. I found a Roots Leather Camera Bag at a camera shop (Japan Camera if I recall) in one of the local malls for about $30.00. It has two pouches, a larger back one and a smaller front one. At first I was going to put the ipod/battery backup and amp in the back pouch and use the front pouch for storing my 2X-S when not in use (ideal size for this), but due to the inflexibility of the Panorama cable, I had to readjust it so the SMV3 amp was in the front pouch and the ipod/battery pack in the rear with the cable coming out of the rear pouch into the front on. It works quite well and there is enough room in the back pouch to store my Sensas. The only real drawback is the difficulty in changing tracks/playlists on the ipod. I have to take it out of the pouch to see the screen and use the control wheel. This is where the Panorama causes its problems, with the cable attached it is difficult to remove and adjust the settings on the iPod.

In terms of security the Roots Camera bag is excellent. It has a shoulder strap which connects with metal clasps and can be unhooked easily if need be, and as a backup has a belt loop for additional security. The belt loop is nice in that it has a snap on one end so the belt loop can be unsnapped and used as a hand strap, or placed under a belt and snapped into place to be held by the belt. This avoids having to take your belt on and off to attach the bag. This disadvantage to the snap is that I would not trust it to hold the bag and equipment in very demanding conditions. It would be OK for walking around, but not for say motorcycle riding. However it does work very well as back up security to the shoulder strap and prevents the bag and equipment from swinging around when used in conjunction with the shoulder strap. If I were to change my mini cable, I would put the amp in the back pouch, use the front for storage of the Sensas, and then the only drawbacks to the bag would be no quick access to the screen and controls on the ipod. Also being leather it is not completely waterproof.



Accessories Wish List

The only items on this portable list that I feel I am still missing is a Bluetooth Transmitter that would attach to the mini out on the SuperMacro3 and transmit the sound digitally to a small receiver, which I would attach the Sensas to. Then I could keep my portable rig in my tank bag (which would give easier access than around my waist when driving) and not be tethered to it. The NaviPlay Bluetooth stereo kit for iPod is along the lines of what I am after. It provides a small remote (I would like it smaller than this) to attach the Sensas to and is light. Its drawback is that it connects via bottom iPod connector therefore I can't use the myPower battery pack or the SuperMacro3 amp, compromises that I am not willing to make for the convenience of being untethered from my unit. Hopefully, one of the Bluetooth manufacturers will come out with a unit that will work with my setup. Then I thing my setup will be complete (oh and a set of UE-10pros and Westone E3S would also be nice!).



Sensas Vs Ultimate Ears

Many here may be wondering why I chose the Sensas over the UE-10pros, or for that matter the Westone ES3's. There were a number of factors.

First the ES3's were not in the running because at the time there was not much info on them on this site and elsewhere to make me feel comfortable dropping $800.00 USD for a set of non-refundable, non-transferable headphones.

So my choice was between the UE-10's and the Sesnaphonics. I had read all the threads regarding these two headphones on this site as well as elsewhere on the net and ultimately decided on the Sensas for the following reasons.

1. Cost: From what I had read, these two headphones were very close in sound judged by people who had hear both, some preferring one, others preferring the other. It seemed it was a matter of sound signature with the Sensas being better on the lower end and in general "warmer", while the UE-10's were more detailed. I had read there was no more than a 5% difference in sound quality. However the difference in price between these headphones was more than that, the UE-10 being 20% ($150 USD) more expensive. This is not an insignificant amount. This was not the overriding factor, but certainly did tip the scales towards the Sensas.

2. Soft Silicone: Somehow I intuitively felt that a soft silicone material would be better suited for and in ear headphone. Acrylic no matter how well fitted could not provide the same comfort as silicone especially given the fact that the ear canal will change its shape with Jaw movements. The silicone should be more forgiving of movements and not cause undue pain or break the all important seal as easily. Note: this was just my intuitive "feeling", I had not scientific or physical evidence one way or the other. It just seemed to make more sense to me that the Silicone would be better.

3. Appearance: Lindrone's review of both the Sensas and EU-10 http://www6.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=76328 was very influential in my decision making. The review was quite thorough in its coverage of both headphones. I knew from reading other reviews that the sound signature was going to be a personal preference and some would prefer one over the other. But esthetically when the headphones were inserted, judging by the photos in that thread, the Sensas were much more discrete. Less noticable from all angles when worn, and I was looking for a headphone that would draw little attention to itself. In fact I can say that if the Sensas wires are wrapped behind your head, people 6 feet and further away will probably not casually notice them even from the side. The EU10's were also bigger and bulkier.

4. Sound Signature: Reading the reviews seemed to divide these two high end IEM's as follows:
UE-10's -detailed with more high end separation and reach
2X-S- Better bass depth and range with a warmer sound than the UE-10's
After having listened to both the ER4-S and the UM2's which I owned, and having hear them being described in similar fashion in many postings as:

ER4-S -Detailed with great separation
UM2 -Excellent bass with a warmer sound

This sounded very similar and I seemed to prefer the Westones to the Etys. So again this pointed to the Sensas for me.

Given all the above points the choice was quite straight forward for me. I went with the Sensaphonics and can honestly say that I have had no regrets. If I were to loose my Sensas tomorrow, I would probably still go with the Sensas, although the ES3's at $800.00USD for a 3 driver unit is intriguing, the silicone, fit and appearance would shift me towards the Sensas again. Not to mention it is a known quantity for me now.



Conclusions

After reading this review, it is quite apparent that I find the Sensaphonics 2X-S to be the best headphone that I have ever heard. They were considerably better than any of the other phones I have tried. Sonically, from the depth of the bass and its resonance, to the clarity and separation of its highs, from the quietist Sonatas to the loudest Crescendos ,none of the other phones were comparable. Its speed of attack and natural decay made it ideal for any and all types of music. I preferred listening to music with these headphones over all the others, no matter the type of music. The Sensas quality of construction were excellent and its inconspicuous appearance allow the listener privacy and intimacy in his/her listening. These headphones were equally at home in a high end home system as well as a light and nimble mobile rig.

When paired with the high quality SuperMacro 3 blissful sound seemed to magically appear from nothing with uncanny realism. Its musicality will envelope it's listener and transport them into a realm of uncompromising musical bliss. And for the uncompromising audiophile, portable audio doesn't get much better than this. So if money is no object, by all means take my recommendations and indulge yourself.

Back in the real world, where money is very often an object, how do the Sensas fair then? This is a good question. If music is truly a passion and an integral part of your life, I would try to save for a system comparable to this, the rewards are just soooo worth it. If however music is just a casual enjoyment or if finances totally rule a system like this out, there are lower end systems that will give you some of the experience for a fraction of the cost.

If it is within your budget I would recommend the UM2's over the Etys unless you were looking for a mainly home system (micro-phonics would not be an issue then), and mainly listened to vocals, classical or other similarly detailed music. You would save some money with the Etys over the more expensive UM2's. However if you will be using your headphones for mainly Portable usage and/or listen to bass heavy music and can't afford the Sensas, I would seriously consider the UM2's.

As noted, I will be receiving the Sennheiser HD-650's very shortly and after adequate burn in and evaluation, I will try to give an in-depth comparison of these with the Sensas. Since my hold the HD-650's in high regard I am looking forward to hearing them and seeing how they will compare to the Sensas. I will not be using them on my portable setup, but will have them for home use, unless of course there is something wrong with their sound.

On a strictly cost basis, I would say the Etys deliver the most bang for the buck, followed closely by the UM2's. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we are not only ruled by our minds, but with our hearts, and emotions, and when those are factored into the equation the outcome is indisputable. The Sensas will always win your heart in this gathering.



Music Test Tracks

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon, The final Cut, The Wall
Enigma: MCMXC A.D., Cross of Changes, Screen Behind the Mirror, Le Roi est Mort, Vive Le Roi
This Mortal Coil: It'll End in Tears, Filigree & Shadow, Blood
Simple Minds: New Gold Dream
Jeff Buckley: Hallelujah
The Art of Noise: Yebbo
Erasure: Nightbird
Vangelis: Friends of Mr. Cairo
Depeche Mode: A Question of Time
BKS: The Moons of Saturn
Brainbug: Benedictus
Johnny Cash: When the Man Comes Around
U2: Joshua Tree, War, The Best of 1990-2000
 
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markopolo

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Great review. Other than the slight hissing you described, how much better is the sound quality out of the SM3 vs. the Pocket Amp? I'm especially interested in performance in the lower frequency range. I'm in the market for a portable amp to go with my E4C's/iPod and have heard rave reviews of the SM3, but don't want to shell out $350 if the performance is only marginally better.
 
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Astral Plane

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The SM3 is a considerably better amp. Like the PocketAmp it can take rechargeable batteries which can be recharged right in the unit. Its build quality is better than the PA2, being of all metal construction. It has a heavier feel to it. It also has 4 switches on the unit which control Impedance (good for the ER4-P, converts it to an S), Amplification, Bass Boost, and Cross-feed. So if you are looking for bass enhancement it will definitely be better.

If you are on a tight budget however the PA2 is not a bad little amp, it definitely enhances the sound, and allows you to drive may headphones that need more power than portable units put out.

I believe however the SM3 is definitely worth the extra money.

Hope this helps.
 
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RiderCoach

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Astral...

Very nice review. I also have the SMv3, and HD650's. They sound good, but I think the Ultrasone 2500's have my HD650's beat all around. The sound is much more open, and bass is much more definitive. Very much like a sub, you can feel it as well as hear it.

Some on the forums have felt them to bright, but I find the sound realistic and natural. The spatial characteristics of this design make the Sennheisers sound like they are in a very small room.

I know it is difficult to find a set to audition, but they are well worth considering.
 
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andrzejpw

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Interesting take on the Sony V700/Bose Triport.
 
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Astral Plane

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Hi RiderCoach:

Unfortunately I already have paid for the HD-650's off of eBay, and probably woun't be in the market for another set of headphones for a while. That is of course if the 650's live up to the reviews I have read on them.

I had not hear too much about the Ultrasone 2500's, but will do a search on them in this form.

Thanks.
 
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