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REVIEW: Amused to death with the Sony MDR EX-1000 IEM

  1. k3oxkjo
    When it comes to portable audio, it just doesn't get much more portable than an IEM and a Ipod/Zune/Sansa etc. Even tethered to one of the small battery headphone amps, we are talking about something that fits in a shirt pocket. And if, like me, you commute 2 - 3 hours a day, anything that amuses during this "dead time" is a good thing.

    Recent years have seen an explosion of new IEM's upping the ante in sound quality (and price). So I bought a representitive sampling of units to see just what level of quality is attainable. The first round was between Westone 3, ER-4P and a Shure unit (whose number I forget). The Shure won this battle, but I wasn't really thrilled with any of them. Then the Shure broke...

    So round two pitted the IE-8, CK-10 and eQ-7. I just couldn't get past the IE-8 quite ample midbass and found the CK-10 good sounding but fiddly to use, so the eQ-7 became the phone of choice. It was good, but uninspiring. Still, a solid all-around performer.

    Then in a moment of insanity, I bought a pair of Final Audio 1601 SS. The FAD's threw everything into confusion. They were decidedly not uncolored with a subdued but expressive bass and a tres bumpy treble. But they showed the others the door dynamically, in terms of soundfield and detail and in that hard to define sense of overall musical presentation. With all their flaws, they expressed the music in a way that made the rest sound so-so. My thumbnail, unscientific, analysis was that there are certain things that tend to elude non-dynamic driver IEM's (except possibly the expensive and exotic units that employ large numbers of BA elements, which I have not heard).

    Being an audiophile, the FAD's areas of weaknesses still bugged me. The announcement of new FAD models was tempered by their employing BA drivers, but I had to give it a go. A pair of FI-BA-SB were ordered and actually did a decent job of bridging the gap with better dynamics and solidity than the other BA units, but a less idiosyncratic balance than the 1601's. Certainly a successful design, all things continued. But hearing about the Sony EX-1000 with their large dynamic driver proved to be a temptation too strong to resist. Am I glad I didn't!

    The EX-1000 are not cheap, but they are still about 1/2 the price of the popular multiple BA customs, so not out of the question. They come nicely packed with a comprehensive assortment of tips, a shorter replacement cable and a nice leather carrying case. The magnesium driver housing is light but appears sturdy. There is a general sense of high quality and technology here with their 16mm drivers employing Neodymium magnets and Liquid Crystal Polymer Film diaphragms and their oxygen-free copper cables. I found them to be comfortable with the supplied earbuds and easy to route for over ear cable routing. None of which assures the EX-1000 sonic worth, of course.
    The first listening impression is of a vivid, clean sound. The bass, while not as strong as devoted "bass heads" may prefer, is noteworthy for it's sophistication and subjective lack of distortion. Treble is extended and generally smooth with an electrostatic-like clarity. Certainly it's not forgiving of bad recorings, but on the other hand, it doesn't invite bad recordings to sound worse than they are through uncontrolled treble resonances.
    The midrange is really excellent. Clean, yet lively and faithful to the unique texture and color of the individual instruments. The low level of self-noise and intermodulation products allows full detail to be available without being forcefully thrust at the listener. You can really hear this as Howard Hanson takes you through the instrumentation of his composition "Merry Mount" (The Composer and His Orchestra, Mercury). The extemes of dynamics here are also tracked quite well without much in the way of compression or information loss as things get busy. All this allows the impact and excitement of this music to come through to the listener.
    Beethoven's Egmont Overture with Rene Leibowitz and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on an excellent Chesky release (originally a Kenneth Wilkenson recording) comes through both in it's quiet moments and it's riotous ending with it's natural timbres (mostly) intact. The soundfield is excellent for an IEM, second only to the afformentioned FAD 1610's.
    The news is also good with popular music. Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" tricks and multitracks are there to be heard without fracturing the musical whole. Procol Harum's atmospheric "A Salty Dog" is very well served here as well. The percussive new age-y sound of Conrad Praetzel's "EnTrance" is evocative and enticing. For something a bit more hard edged, the vocal and guitar pyrotechnics of Iggy and the Stooges' "Funhouse" inspire excited air play-along (guitar, drum or vocal as you prefer), just as you would hope. Uh-huh!
    Obviously, I like the EX-1000 (you think?). They are the best overall IEM's I have owned or heard (remember, I have no experience with the custom multi-BA units. Someday...) and aren't disgraced by the Sennheiser HD-800 or Sony CD-3000 (though they can't do some of the soundfield tricks of the large headphones). I used my Sansa Fuze, my Zune/iBasso combo and my home system with Dark Voice tube amp all to good effect. The better the signal fed, the better the results, but the EX-1000/Sansa Fuse system was very worthy for it's small size and the Sansa's cost effectiveness.
    Now, if you are a confirmed bass-head or find any sense of sibilance anathema, these may not be the phones for you. But for me, while they are certainly not perfect (the treble could be smoother yet and the soundfield even more expansive, etc.) they are as good as I know in the here (hear?) and now in the non-custom multi-BA class. And I still think there is something to be said for large dynamic IEM drivers...
    iaudio and vernicex like this.
  2. james444 Contributor
    Nice background story, thanks for an excellent read. A crossbreed between FAD1601 and EX1000, that would be something! [​IMG]
    (added a link to this thread to my EX1000 review)
  3. cn11
    Great review. The more I listen to them, the more they grow on me and I'm coming around to liking them as much as you do. What's scary is they give me almost as much big scale satisfaction as my Pro 900s, so I can understand your statement that they're not totally embarrassed by the HD800. I'm a self admitted basshead, and I still love their low end. It's just so layered and natural sounding. So very detailed. I will admit I tick up the clear bass on my Sony X1060 to +1 though! [​IMG]  Amping as you said really does make a difference. With my Arrow 3G, the sense of space goes from awesome straight out of my Sony X to simply staggering for an IEM. Even at this early stage I like them far, far better than the Sony Z1000 headphone (when I had it) which is aimed at the same stratosphere I'd say. 
    My only minor gripes are the slight bite to the treble, and difficulty with fit (for my particular ears apparently). Although I gather from your review that they seemed to go on easily and stay put for you. I actually think the ear loops are starting to stay more conformed to the shape of the backs of my ears the more I use them, because it does seem that they're getting a somewhat easier to get to remain locked around my ears. 
    I look forward to how these evolve with burn in. If it gets any better at all, then gravy. 
    Kudos to a great review.
  4. Kunlun
    great review! As a fan of dynamics I'm happy to see another excellent entry to the field.
  5. 3602
    It would seem as if Sony's Ex-series IEMs are plagued with sibilance.
    Also the font is a bit hard to read on my screen with my font pack.
  6. cn11
    That's what I gather from descriptions of older ones too. But when I say the treble has a touch of bite to it, it's really pretty darn minor. Just about all of the tracks I have to test for treble harshness pass with flying colors on them. And if this is the level of sibilance that the older models had with the critical comments to that regard, well then I just can't see what all the fuss was about. In nitpicking these, wishing for a smoother treble would just about make them perfect. Because with the small couple issues I have with them, sonically I still find them more enjoyable than my SM3s, and I thought that would take years to happen. 
    I would love to hear an older EX700 next to these to see how the reputed hot top end on those compares....
  7. DjAmTraX
    Very nice review. Thank you!
  8. Leander7777
    Great review k3oxkjo!
    Hi Cn11 aka Chris, :)
    How do they compare to your SM3? I had my heart set on the SM3s, but then I read this review... [​IMG]
    we also seem to enjoy similar sound signatures (pro 900).
  9. james444 Contributor
  10. cn11


    Hey there--
    Yes, some brief impressions of them are in that link james provided. The EX1000 is much more akin to the Pro 900 than the SM3. They're just big sounding, and quite spacious, like the Pros. They're a more exciting listen than the Earsonics. The treble is slightly more edgy than the Ultrsones though.... and if you need good isolation ever for flights, they probably wouldn't offer enough of that (just guessing for now here, anyone used them on a plane yet?) since they're a vented dynamic driver IEM which seems to fit kind of loosely (for me at least).
  11. Anaxilus
    Nice review but please don't use Courier type again.  I feel like I'm reading a Department of Defense report on paperclip protocol and logistics.  God my eyes hurt.  
  12. james444 Contributor
  13. k3oxkjo


    Just trying to express the full degree of my pompousness and self-importance (LOL).
    Actually, I was too incompetent to realize how the post would come out once cut and pasted...
  14. Anouk Contributor
    Hi Kevin, I was wondering if youy could do a bit more detailed comparison between the fad ba-sb and the sony? I owned the sb and thought it was quite nice and would like to know a bit more about the differences. Thanks, Greetings, Anouk,
  15. KevinWolf
    How the CK10 are compared to the EX1000?
    I love mine but I'm thinking on a upgrade.[​IMG]

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