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[REVIEW] Presenting the Chord&Major Tonal Earphone Collection

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  1. kalbee
    Chord&Major Tonal Earphone Collection Review (2013 editions?)
    Never heard of Chord&Major? I don't blame you; their exposure is still very limited and, truth be told, I haven't heard of them either until two months ago.
    For this review, I believe the contents can get a little... long, so I will be placing most of each section into separate spoiler tags to avoid the clutter. Please enjoy clicking all of them!
    While this is not my first time writing a review, this will be my first after being spoiled from trying out a bunch of high end earphones and headphones alike. Consequently, my judgement might be harsher. That said, note that I am using pretty high standards for the wording of these earphones in the low/mid-fi price range.
    For this I'd like to thank Jack of Woo Audio for coming to Salon Son et Image (SSI) in Montreal back in March, and the folks at Fujiya Avic for the headphone festival (and all exhibitioners). I was even given recommendations on traveling spots! definitely will check those places out!
    Of course, I'd also like to thank Phoebe and Henry of Chord&Major for having me over at their office! I had a great time and hope to drop by again... hopefully by then my Mandarin would have improved a bit, specially in audio linguistics.
    Now as a reminder: to some extent we all hear differently and we might all have differing degrees in our definition of various sound signatures. For this reason, keep in mind to take reviews--not just mine but in general--with a grain of salt; especially the sound description sections. We also have differing tastes in evaluating "good sound", do not forget that. A hyped headphone/earphone is not necessarily a headphone/earphone you will like.
    On the note, sorry to all readers: I wish I were a better cameraman! If you see any physical damages to the box or earphones, that is because I was banging them up on purpose to know how well they hold up.
    Finally, if you'd like to say anything, please avoid direct quoting this post as it will turn out lengthy for no reason.
    Now without further ado. 
    Chord&Major is a small company based in Taipei, Taiwan. They started about three years ago, and even now the team consists of a mere five members. The entire design is done in-house, including driver designs, and the whole manufacturing process is done in Taiwan as a M.I.T. product (Made in Taiwan; though I'm sure many of us associate the M.I.T. acronym as something else).
    While the company is still small, they focus a lot of effort not only on making earphones (up till now surely less than 10 models), they also host various activities and events to promote culture and music. I believe most of the events up till now are generally promoting Chinese and Taiwanese music, including Taiwanese first nation music, and are completely admission free. In fact, recently they hosted a tour within Taiwan promoting a first nation artist, but I was unable to attend due to my odd travel schedule... below are some of the past event pamphlets (lower half) and product description pamphlets as can be seen in stores (upper half).
    As I understand, there are three models released this year and, bear with me, the names can be a little troublesome to enumerate:
    Major 7'13 "Jazz"
    Major 8'13 "Rock"
    Major 9'13 "Classical"
    There also exists one lower end model, called the Major 6. I suppose the '13 stands for models released in 2013. The three in the '13 lineup of the Tonal Earphone collection are priced roughly around $160 each, and as the name suggests, are tuned for specific genres of music. For all intents and purposes, however, consider them as three distinct models at similar price points as their sound characteristics are quite different.
    Who cares about packaging?
    I'd say I kind of do. Especially since the way these are done is somewhat interesting.
    As can be seen from the previous picture, the packaging has a simple and clean look to it.
    That does mean there's no hyperbolic marketing jargon in plain sight you can read to have it convince you to buy it. But that's a good thing, right? Well, perhaps it depends on the person.
    All you see in the packaging is a cardboard sleeve over a box, and all that in shrink wrap.
    What's on the cardboard?
    Aside from the specifications which I did not include:
    -Made in Taiwan
    -1 year warranty
    -A note regarding the wooden box
    -The list of included accessories
    Major 7'13 JAZZ
    Tonal: Jazz
    Impedance: 16 ohms
    Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000Hz
    Sensitivity: 94dB at 1KHz 1mW
    Max Power Input: 8 m W
    Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
    Cable Length: 1.2m
    Major 8'13 ROCK
    Tonal: Rock
    Impedance: 16 ohms
    Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000Hz
    Sensitivity: 94dB at 1KHz 1mW
    Max Power Input: 8 m W
    Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
    Cable Length: 1.2m
    Major 9'13 CLASSICAL
    Tonal: Classical
    Impedance: 21 ohms
    Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000Hz
    Sensitivity: 96dB at 1KHz 1mW
    Max Power Input: 8 m W
    Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
    Cable Length: 1.2m
    Let's peek inside the box. Since the interior packaging is the same, the equivalent picture for each model will not always be shown.
    Each of the interior cover shows an instrument and the model name. Based on the model Jazz, Rock, or Classical, you will see either a violin, an electric guitar, or a saxophone respectively.
    Once you remove the cover, the IEMs will be removable. You will also find the cable winder taped to the underside of the cover.
    Start by unwinding the plug till you reach the IEMs.
    Well, this is a real spoiler.
    Now while I did show the outer face of the cardboard sleeve, I did not show the interior.
    The underside of the wrap gives a description of the specific tonalities of the model in question. It also comes with a segment presenting an accomplished artist in the genre of music portrayed.
    What's fun (in a slightly silly way) about these is that they come with a sort of blister pack feature; each model actually has two (or maybe more in the future) different artists presented, and you won't know which one you you get until you open it.
    So that was the ones for Rock and Classical spoiled...
    Also available--not included in the package itself but possibly given at the cash register upon purchase--is a simple burn-in procedure card.
    For this review I did follow this, plus some extra.
    The sticker for use with the warranty card is actually on the exterior of the shrink wrap.
    Usually it will have the date of purchase on them, and you need to stick it onto the warranty card as proof of purchase. I guess this means they won't ask for the impossible (i.e. the receipt) whenever you need to use the warranty... but don't take my word for it. I am just guessing.
    I will be the first to say: the accessories aren't very impressive in general.
    As was already shown on the packaging, it includes a cable winder, a carrying pouch, a cleaning brush, and some ear tips. I will also add the box to the list. First though, let's start with the cable winder.
    The patented cable winder is completely flat, made of a plastic polymer of some sort. It feels decently solid, but at about 1mm thick, it doesn't give me the impression of an impressive cord winder.
    (All of the cable winders are identical)
    The reason why I don't find it too impressive is because it causes the cables to be wound at a sharper bend at the edges. In practice, as long as one doesn't wind the cables in tension, this design is okay.
    I am unsure if the picture on the winder itself is supposed to be in any way indicative or representative of the suggested way to wrap earphones onto them. Looking back at the user manual, apparently it is. If you follow the imagery, you get something like this:
    Fancy looking ain't it? It might not be super practical... unless I just need more practice or more getting used to. Perhaps it is easier to wrap it as below?
    Either way, the length of the winder gives plenty of room for creative wrapping methods. The cable winder itself is similar to a credit card in thickness and length, but not as wide. Wrapping in this format, leaves you with more kinks when unwrapping. There's always methods to reduce the kinkiness of those cables, but at least we know that the hook can be used to hold the earphone side and the hole can be used to station the plug side. Both of these are useful additions.
    If you wish to place the winder back in the box, since it was originally double-sided-taped to the underside of the cover, you'll have to do it in foresight:
    The tab in question, to whom the winder is double-sided-taped with:
    This is how you'll see the cable winder underneath the cover. Peel it off.

    You will notice the double-sided-tape tab tends to come off with the winder.
    Peel it off carefully, careful not to let it roll up on itself for best results. Finally, stick it back, the proper side facing down, onto the backside of the cover. This tab is the 'handle' for easily picking up the cover, so putting it back on the right orientation should be beneficial.
    Once I took these IEMs out of their boxes, I never put them back; they've been in the carrying pouches whenever not in use. The pouches are velvety and embroided with the company logo and name.
    These come in three colors, depending on the model, with the representing instrument shown on the back side:
    I found it odd that the exterior, velvety and all, is contrasted with the relatively rough back side of the synthetic velvety material. In these kind of carrying pouches often the interior would be made of a softer material than the outside, such as with the FiiO E17 ALPEN pouch, or at least slightly covered with cloth like the PortaPro's pouch. The inner side of the pouch feels largely unfinished.
    Notice the interior uses the raw backside of the cloth, and the fold is not even sown up. The embroided logo simply sits there with no extra layer covering it.
    This half-baked job might be deliberate, however, and after thinking through the possible pros and cons to them, I actually like it better this way. Let me elaborate.
    Recall the major downside to having fuzzy, soft materials as lining: dust magnets. This applies for the exterior of these pouches also... but ever more true for my E17 pouch. When was the last time I saw it black? Thus said, the interior is much more easily kept clean, and easier to clean as well. As for scratching the IEMs up? doubt they are rough and hard enough to do that.
    The fold not sown up? It seems crude but it does help prevent the rolled up IEMs from slipping out.
    All in all, the pouch is good at its job.
    With a total length of 61mm (nearly 2.5"), these are easy to handle and use. The brush is also not too soft, not too stiff. It uses very fine bristles so it does get rid of dirt very well. Not much to say but it works very well and all IEMs brushes should be like this.
    Before I start talking about the tips, I would like to point out that the tips and the brush are both sealed in airtight packages. Perhaps it means they were sterilized, I don't know, but kudos for showing that sanitation is taken into account. Picture in the spoiler tag below.
    The picture doesn't show up very well with all that reflection, but you can see that the brush and the tips are sealed---and that there aren't many tips.
    The provided spare tips are a pair of S and L silicone tips. No extra medium ones. It also means that the M tips aren't in the sealed bag but, alas, what does that matter.
    Personally, the lack of extra M sized tips is alright. Yes, it is the size I use. Wouldn't hurt to have a spare in case, right? Yes, but that also calls for extra wasted materials for people using S or L, or even for people that will find their own tips to use. In any case, the reason why I wasn't very bothered by the lack of extra tips is because it seems nearly impossible to lose the tips with regular use. Even taking off the tips is somewhat difficult, unlike my JBL reference 220... I don't even know when I lost the original tips that just fell off like it was minding it's own business.
    For the lack of provided tips, at least the cut and finish are great, unlike the hisoundaudio ones I've had before which provided a bunch but poorly trimmed, causing irritations in the ear. I did not check the nozzle size, but I did try with tips from a pair of TDKs and VMODA and they both fit; I suspect these are standard size, so most typical tips should fit.
    The tips are standard shaped silicone tips, single flange. The texture is smooth but more tacky than the usual silicone tips provided by most other makers; this is the reason why the tips do not have the tendency to slip off the nozzle. Likewise, they tend to stay put in your ears as well without slipping out. Despite the typical single flange shape, the insertion-depth-to-tip-length might be different from others; some people's ears end up touching the metal rim of the earphones with the stock tips while as Sony hybrids solve their problem.
    I mentioned adding the box as an accessory... how come?
    Based on the packaging pictures, it might have been somewhat clear already that they're quite nice looking, and made of wood. Wood... as in vinyl covered particle boards? No; actual wood boards. Each model comes with a different wood and color theme, a skeuomorph to an element in either jazz, rock, or classical.
    Let me first say that the wood I named may not be 100% it. I had to translate it into English, and my grade school level Mandarin only leads me so far.
    Whether the entirety of the box is made of the specified wood, I don't know. I was told and confirmed that the woods have been treated for color--so far that's obvious. At least for the top lid and parts of the sides I see there are different types of grains and ring density. That said, each box will look different: same story as when buying guitars, violins, or any wooden product that isn't painted or covered over in opaque.
    Now one thing about the box is the wood has not been under lacquer or any sealant, so it would be affected by humidity and etc.
    The box itself is held shut by a small magnet, like most boxes of this kind. A cut out facilitates the opening of the lid.
    Like written on the packaging slip, "Every unique wooden box keeps every unique treasure."
    So they intend the box to be used as a jewelry box or the sort. That's great and all, but with the interior partitioned, we lose some flexibility on how it can be used.
    The designers did not overlook this possible flaw in usability; the whole interior can be removed, minus the base.
    The partitions, including the walls, are removable although not so much repositionable. You could to some extent reposition pieces but your choices are rather limited. Naturally, if you change the interior layout you will not be able to place the cover back with the IEMs placed back in the foam form.
    The blocks that form the partitions may be a little hard to handle, sometimes fitting well and sometimes not so much. In the case of my Classical box, you can see part of the partition block got glued to the rosewood. Part of the black paint stayed as I yanked it out of the box. This is not always the case, as my Rock box was very cooperative.
    This box is still just a regular box, or it will not be airtight and might not even close completely flush, specially taking into account the possibility of the lid warping due to humidity. The box is overall still a nice accessory to store cables, earphones, etc. Or maybe transform it into a headphone stand, somehow.
    The earphone's body is made of stainless steel or varying color depending on the model. It is also wrapped in a layer of wood veneer corresponding to the same wood used for the box. This veneer, unlike the box, is treated to be glossy to go with the already shiny stainless steel. Because of all the crow-luring shine, you can expect these to be finger print magnets.
    These color accents are consistent throughout the earphone.
    The Y split is market with a (probably stainless steel also?) metallic piece, with the music genre of the earphone written on it.
    The plug also, follows the same build as the earphone body.
    These IEMs have a metal mesh at the nozzle, with a nice finish. The mesh is not a flat piece glued to the outer surface like most if not all the other IEMs I've owned.
    The cables on the Tonal Earphones are pretty decent. They aren't memory-free but they are supple yet thick enough to avoid nasty tangles. The rubbery feel of the exterior does help on keep them feeling elastic (versus plastic).
    At 1.2m long, it may be a little on the short side for some. I find it to be a great length for pocketing my PMP.
    The earphones overall do have somewhat of the Ortofon design of a straight tube with cables coming out straight out of it, not at an angle. But there is a design twist where the back extends outwards in a bend and meets again with the cable. This design was created for two reasons: to reduce microphonics (if I properly understood Phoebe and Henry), and to reduce stress on the earphone end of the cable.
    Unfortunately, microphonics are not significantly alleviated through this design. In fact, they probably don't do much since the stainless steel extension is hard-joined to the rest of the body; vibrations are still carried over without any dampeners. The only difference is that the vibrations coming from the cable do not reach till the cable end. If there was a sandwich layer of rubber (like my prof liked to say, a rubber puck) or the likes between the body of the IEM and the stainless steel extension, the situation might be different... though we can all understand that it would also create a potential point of weakness.
    A simple diagram showing the path take by vibration (orange) to the ear. The cable (red) section between the IEM and the stainless steel arm is to some extent bypassed, but for the same results. Naturally the vibrations do not travel out forward with the sound waves, but you get the point... I couldn't be bothered to draw a whole head cross section!
    The stress reduction on the other hand, works to some extent.
    You can see from the above that the length between the arm and the IEM can be adjusted. The arm does hold the cable but not extremely tightly. This lets you adjust it, but also breaks the speed at which the cable would otherwise be pulled from impacts and etc.
    While the arm itself does subject the cable to some degree of stress/strain, it does alleviate it. The location of stress is also pulled a little further away from the IEM itself, making any midway recabling possible although surely not too pretty.
    The overall build quality and finish on these is excellent. Due to the wood veneer, each pair will also have a 'unique' look, much like its box. Being built largely out of stainless steel, they do weight more than a conventional plastic model.
    While these are pretty nicely built, there's downsides to that.
    For one, the cable length. 1.2m already might be a problem for some people. The other problem though, is the distribution of this 1.2m cable.
    Here I have held the three pair of IEMs by their Y split end, to compare the cable length after the Y split. The two other IEMs are my very old JBL reference 220 and a freebie TDK budget IEM courtesy of the TDK booth during the Spring Tokyo Headphone Festival 2013.
    First thing you notice: the Chord&Major hangs higher. Despite the cables being the most vertical.
    This problem is most apparent when trying to wear these with the cables over the ear. It's a little uncomfortable having the Y split just at about 3 inches below the chin. While I do find this length more ideal than the norm when worn straight down, it loses versatility. They certainly can still be worn with the cable over the ears though.
    The second potential problem is the weight. I don't have my jeweler's scale with me, but you can imagine a stainless steel earphone. What happens when one side falls out? it has a much higher likelihood of yanking the other side out. The microphonics in the process isn't very pleasing.
    Because it is stainless steel (and wood), if these heavier pods do fall on the ground, it also suffers the likelihood of getting dented. For most part, that would be a cosmetic problem. I can do the same with my JBLs and they will just bounce, maybe with some minor scratches too. But dented metal at the wrong place can mean discomfort. Real bad one too.
    The third potential problem will depend on the ear.
    Since the finish is done with a lot of design in mind, I do find it to look nice. But is it comfortable? not bad, except for one part sometimes.
    See that beautiful 90 degree angle edge?
    Sometimes it may touch, and it can bother the ear.
    The barrel of the IEM is at, roughly estimating, 1cm in diameter, so to get a good seal many people might end up having this edge touch their ear. For some it will be bothersome, for some not at all. I personally don't feel it except when I insert it wrong, but I thought I'd point this out as potential threat to comfort since they're otherwise pretty comfortable.
    Lastly, the extended arm.
    This last one a non-issue for many.
    The problem stems in the way this stainless steel arm extends outwards. If in a rush you shove these IEMs in your pocket, they risk on getting slightly tangled like all earphones. Because the cables are thick enough and springy, you won't have any problem undoing the knots. BUT, this J shaped arm does turn into hooks sometimes, making it hard to pull the pod out of the cable loop/knot.
    I'd like to differentiate build quality with durability.
    Build quality is the overall workmanship and material quality put into these.
    Durability is how badly of a beating they can take, or how long they can endure daily slavery as your personal ear drum massager.
    It hasn't been extremely long since I've had these, and I got all three models are once. Being rather busy, I was unable to give them a thorough drill to clearly determine their life expectancy, but I am confident these should last a good beating due to the chosen materials. Some people on Head-Fi used to use their Beyerdynamics to smack people, taunting the receiver to do the same back with their Beats. Well, these can hurt people too. You got a set of mini flails with these. The unit itself is likely to break, though if you manage to pull out the cables in the process... that's a different story.
    I did everyone a favor of not treating them softly though. Occasionally I'd even try to hard-damage it. Nothing too extreme, but these were not cared for in the most general sense.
    How's the finish going to last though? Good question.
    As previous mentioned, these are metal although stainless steel, they can nick. I've not tried tossing them on asphalt (still have to review them!) or hammer it with sharp tools, but it remains a possibility.
    The wooden parts are more sensitive to dents. Now here's the irony: the IEMs themselves have an enemy to the wood. The stainless steel parts! Since most of the metal parts have hard edges, it makes it even easier to damage the wood parts.
    I've personally banged the earphones against each other, both in a caveman trying to light a fire way, and in Newton's cradle way. I was able to create some battle scars like some guitar owners like to call, but was not able to go all the way and displace wood off the barrel. However, I did notice some parts where very small pieces of wood did chip off. I'm not entire sure in what exact case it happened, but it did. One of the possible scenario was when the earphones are put into the carrying pouch: I wrap them around my fingers and just drop them in. From all the traveling I am doing this summer, it could be that the earphones rubbed against each other the wrong way under the weight of all my other luggage. Yup, while the carrying pouch has an arguably intended unfinished interior, the damage might be cause from the earphones themselves not the bag.
    That said, I believe these overall have good durability but in terms of the finish, you may want to take a little more care than the abuse I granted them.
    Alright, so things get tricky here since there's three models.
    As the collection name goes, these are TONAL EARPHONES. They were designed for semi-specific genres and not as all arounders. But does this design intent hold true?
    The Chord&Major website does have some FR graphs but I will ignore those and elaborate on my own. Mentions of EQ will be tuned for general tastes with a dash more of mine own preference. For that, I guess I should first say that I love mids and vocals. I also prefer warmer sounds to bright and cold ones. Nonetheless, that does not mean I want A shaped sounds. I'm perfectly fine with V shaped as long as the vocals are not crippled.
    Let's take a look in chronological order. Incidentally, the Major 9'13 is the most expensive model. The two others, depending on the shop, may be differently priced or same price. By the way, these do benefit from some burn-in.
    I will be borrowing many terms from http://www.independentrecording.net/irn/resources/freqchart/main_display.htm so you may consult it for further reference if needed.
    The Jazz model is the most sinister of the three. By sinister, I mean they have a very different tuning, and they're also on the dark side. It takes a bit of getting used to.
    Here's their official description: Major7'13 allows you to lay back and savor the improvising moments of Jazz music, a genre relaxed by deep and resonant baritone. With boosted bass, the earphones can fully articulate the soft and coarse vocal of Jazz singers.
    Vocal is often seen and performed as a type of musical instrument with equivalent importance in Jazz music, in which different instruments are to complement one another in harmony and take turns to improvise. Common instruments in Jazz include piano, bass guitar, drum set, saxophone, trumpet, and guitar. Major7'13 puts an emphasis on the resonant low sound produced by bass guitar and drum set; the arpeggio and slur on saxophone and trumpet; as well as the broad and warm vocal acoustics. It perfectly delivers the laid-back yet lively atmosphere of Jazz performance.
    Now that's one hell of a description. Because for once a company actually has a decently accurate description of what their earphones deliver. Too bad it's hidden from plain sight on the packaging. At least now you know it isn't some crazy manufacturer's claim on delivering sound as intended by the artist.
    The bass on these have very good extension. Down to 20Hz? check; no difficulty articulating till those low frequencies. These can give a pretty nice thump, and also good rumble. Thanks to that they have decent texturing due to the sub bass in proper amounts without being overwhelming.
    Mid bass is on these is pretty good, though I'd say perhaps a little on the slow side. This mix of great sub bass with a slightly slower mid bass gives bass guitars a very nice ring on string instrument, with great attack and a little bit to the decay. 
    Lower mids. Ahh, another great part of the spectrum on these. Aside from the smooth, lazy jazz vocals, this region is prominently used by various instruments such as saxes and trumpets, with great reproduction.
    Upper mids on the other hand, is one of the weakness on these earphones. This section is definitely more recessed, giving a stuffy, dark feel to the sound. Not a problem for many Jazz tracks, but if you do intend on using these for other genres like pop, give it a EQ boost with a mound covering roughly 500Hz to 4KHz (YMMV) and the vocalists will be cured from nasal congestion. 
    Treble is the other weakness to these earphones. When you listen to jazz, the cymbals don't have to ring till they give you tinnitus. In that sense, the soft cymbals still work great. In terms of other genres closing into rock, you'll want to EQ boost your trebles a bit.
    The Major7'13 responds very well the EQing, and will add or pull to either extremities you want change.
    Let's talk about a few suitable and unsuitable musical genres.
    Needless to say, jazz is great on these. I don't have much jazz with vocals but I have many with piano-drums-bass and they sound fabulous. Tracks with saxophones and trumpets also work like a charm. For those that like more shimmer to the cymbals though, you'll need EQ. Upper midranges are probably not going to be much trouble. This is however not to say that this is the ideal sound for jazz, as many V or flat frequency response headphones will also pull off jazz in most enjoyable ways. It is however true that the 7'13 are most suitable for jazz.
    With the great sub bass, it's unsurprising these would be good for the likes of rap and dubstep. They're not basshead earphones per say, but they do perform the part when asked.
    Pop and rock are a little hard without EQ. The lack of upper mids make these almost suffocating to listen to. While your ears can get used to it, somewhere mentally you might feel like your nose is starting to get congested like the singers too. Once again, boost some upper mids and treble and these will sing.
    Choir music might be a bit of both worlds. I only have a kids choir Ghibli album with me right now, but they sound fine. My hunch is due to two reasons: I am not allergic to dark sounds, and Japanese choir singing always sounded a little blanketed to me. A little EQ will make it sound more lively nonetheless.
    I believe that the Rock model might be the most versatile model, otherwise the Classical, without use of EQ. The sound is V shaped and closest to your standard earphone. Well, I must take back that claim. Today's typical earphones are extremely bass heavy, and these are simply not as bass bloated. Definitely not bass shy though. In any case, this sound is probably most natural (i.e. most used to) for most people.
    Here's the official description: Rock is an attitude, a personality. Rock represents freedom, power, and passion. Rock music drives people crazy. It is a candid and straightforward style, in which ideas and emotions are passionately expressed by way of musical instruments. Our heart beats are rocked by strong rhythms, moving voice, and even stimulating yells.
    Instruments played in rock music include electronic guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drum set, etc. Effects units are also commonly used. Accordingly, Major8'13 is tuned for high-pitch, penetrating overtone. Its bass is full of solid punch and clearer, more powerful rhythms, as compared to Jazz music.
    Major8'13 tonal earphones gives you solid bass punch ad penetrating high-pitch rhythms, especially for rock.
    I'd say this description is pretty true as well. While I do find the Jazz model to have more thump, these definitely feel like they have more punch. It is also clear that the overall sound is clearer thanks to having more upper register.
    Now much like the Jazz model, the sub bass reaches far and deep on these. The way the bass sounds though, is different. The bass doesn't feel as textured. Like it has thump and punch, but not as much of the rumble in between.
    The mid bass on these are quite suitable for electric bass, which often doesn't play in the same range as the bass in jazz (at least not upright bass or in my test tracks). The bass isn't all that tight... but what are we asking for at this price range anyway. Regarding electric bass, sometimes the bassline would get buried by the vocals or guitars, but that is also a question of recording. If I had to say, there's a good amount of bass in here, but it isn't as forward and prominent as the rest.
    Mids. I actually quite like vocals on these. The tonal balance is not bad, perhaps a little bit towards the bright side. While it doesn't sound it like suffers a huge deficiency in a broad spectrum like the Jazz, if one were to EQ them, a little mound around 400Hz~2.5KHz could be pretty fitting.
    Uppermids and treble do sound better on these, but something feels missing. All the three of these Tonal Earphones don't have sparkly treble unless you EQ them. These earphones are made for enjoyable sound that is also non-fatiguing. This is true for this one as well, but in some tracks the cymbals might sound a little unnatural.
    The 8'13 also responds pretty well to EQ. A little in the mids and trebles can improve enjoyment.
    And as mentioned previously, while these are good for rock, they're also pretty good all-rounders especially if you like the vocals more forward. That said, I won't go into breakdowns of different genres of music since this is probably the one most suitable for the general music-listening public. While they do have a lot of bass, I am in the belief that they would not serve as well out of the box as bass head earphones.
    So finally, the 'ToTL'.
    No; these three are technically on the same level in model ranking, since they are tuned for different music rather than simply higher vs. lower end models. Though this is generally the most expensive one.
    I find that overall there's a lot of overlap in terms of general sound signature.
    The official description goes as such: The earphones are customized for the classical world, in which listeners expect music to be delicate, elegant, and highly expressive.
    The beauty of classical music comes from the harmonic ensemble of different sections with a diversity of instruments, such as strings, woodwind, brass, and percussion. The expressiveness of individual instruments, especially the brightest of strings and brass, has thus become the priority of Major9'13. The tonal earphone for classical music responds smartly to instantaneous changes and provides you with clear sound quality. With Major9'13, you will gain masterly control over a symphony of instruments and will experience the rich dynamics of classical music.
    Now regarding the description of this model, I do recall speaking with Phoebe and Henry about it in their office. This model puts more emphasis on having a larger sound stage and better separation since orchestras are recorded in an ensemble rather than individually plugged to the mixer like rock music might be. Because classical music also pays a good deal of attention to dynamics, these are essentially to bring out the classical music listening experience, in layman's terms.
    My thoughts on that? Fair enough.
    My personal judgement on these earphones are that they are very enjoyable, and not just for classical but for a fair deal of genres. So long as the rhythm isn't too fast paced. As I explain.
    The sound stage on these is definitely the most spacious feeling of the three. However, I believe that is done by having a ever so slightly slower decay. For this reason, tracks with very quick rhythm may sound a little more clouded. Mind you, I am exaggerating to give a clearer idea.
    Let's begin analyzing the frequency sections. These are also towards the V shape.
    The sub bass on these actually is the least prominent. As far as bass thump and punch, if you're not the type to like too much of it, these are the ones. Surprisingly enough, it still has a good bass texture compared to the Rock model, which rolls off further down the frequency line. In this context, we have a peek at the bass capabilities of the Jazz model.
    It feels like there's still a midbass hump on these. Still with a decent, fun amount, they will not be anemic nor overwhelming. Due to the reason mentioned earlier, the bass isn't all that tight.
    The tonal balance on these are pretty good as well, a quality similar to the Rock model. Does this mean I can use the same EQ as the 8'13? You can... but the vocal balance will be thrown into the bright side. You're better off leaving them as they are. The vocals--and the overall sound too--are more laid back.
    The overall mids as far as instruments go is fair. Classical instruments sound realistic and clear.
    The highs in this model is pretty good. The rock version might have a little more sparkle (still not 'sparkly') but these do feel fuller. They do have some sibilance, but nothing out of the ordinary.
    I am familiar to quite a few violinist, so I've heard a lot of live plays. Not in concert halls, but at home. One of the most amazing part of listening live, is the crispness of the sound, and the almost piercing vibratos. While the 9'13 are designed for classical, they won't give you either of that. How come? I'd like to quote a section I found from IEMCrazy's post.
    His description of the sound, is pretty much the description of the tonality these earphones have. I don't have much experience in concert halls, only in houses with reflective walls, low ceilings, but I can trust his take on it, because it sounds about right. Even with high end speaker setups listening to classical, rarely would someone have a bright setup. Having a nice super tweeter is something else. These don't have that super tweeter for the crisp, sharp texture of high pitch vibrato, rather they are a little on the dark, warm side. Not very dark, but a warming and organic sound. By organic, I want to add that they are the more natural sounding lot of the three. Are they perfect? no. If one had to nitpick, the trebles still don't offer a lot of microdetails. The extension doesn't go far enough. The sound is a little 'slow', so may not suit all genres of music.
    As far as musical genres compatible, aside from classical, jazz works very well. Anything too fast, and we'd be getting into murky waters territory (exaggeration). They can handle rock to some extent, but they're not ideal. These are also far from being bass head IEMs.
    Hm... though choice really. I am leaning between the largely different 7'13 Jazz, and the 9'13 Classical.
    The Jazz model does a really good job at an immersive jazz listening session. Once you get used to the sound signature, classical is passable with these as well. I like these because, while they are very different sounding and not very usable with pop, these are easy to EQ and have a great bass that accents the movement of strings. Many of the tracks I like have bass guitars and cellos; the fact that you can hear from the plucking down to the vibration of the strings in the air, is a great feeling.
    The Classical model on the other hand feels pretty complete as it is. Being slower though, forget some types of electronic or rock tracks. While I wouldn't call it a concert hall sound stage, they do possess similar qualities to the ambient damping qualities of a classical or theatrical venue. In fact, the slow sound is reminiscent of watching plays, as you hear the actors and the instruments bounce off the walls. While they do not offer the same type of enjoyment in the bottom end as the Jazz model, these in turn have a good vocal tuning and a fuller sounding treble.
    The reason why the Rock model falls short on my personal preference is that it sounds normal. I am sure I can find similar sounding earphones without too much trouble. One that has a good amount of bass impact, and a treble that feels like it's missing something in between it's start and extension. For rock music, this treble might not always be very apparent; I don't always listen to rock though. Still, in terms of overall sound since it is faster than the Classical and has forward vocals (that I do like a lot, albeit these are slanted towards the bright side), they might be more interesting to most people.
    In a nutshell, all three models are made to avoid a fatiguing listening session. They did so, while still sounding musical. The end result though is that it may sound dark for some. If you are allergic to dark or non-bright/sparkly sound, these might not be for you.
    Are these an audiophile grade IEM? at around $100 you should be kidding. What are these then?
    They're fine sounding IEMs for the genre they wish to portray. Without EQ, they're not the panacea to your upgraditis, nor the holy grail to your perfect earphone quest. Even with EQ, there's better sound quality out there, though often requiring a nicer stack of cash as proof of worthiness! If we're out there looking for all the technical jargon to pass tests, these are sure to fail many of the subjects. Surely not the best $100 IEMs out there, but they are good at their specific genres, and a bit more.
    Overall, are they worth the money? Let's put one thing straight first: I made a lot of mention of EQ because some earphones simply don't take EQ very well. That is not really the case for these. EQ, however, is not something everyone likes, for whatever reasons, and it is also not something everyone has access to. In which case, some models need to be outright pruned from the list depending on your musical preferences.
    These offer plenty of enjoyment, and aren't bad technically. They can still be considered an upgrade over some other similar or even higher priced IEMs, but it depends what you're looking for in your sound. These can be great gifts also (packaging for a reason!), as entry to audiophilia since that's what these militate for; the enjoyment and appreciation of music.
    What Chord&Major aimed to create with these and the various events they hold, is to enjoy music. A slightly different view of audiophilia than some from our Head-Fi community. Yes, I am challenging the views of audiophilia of Head-Fi, which are starting to become more like the stuck up, cocky attitude that makes the general public dislike us. In the end I believe we should find the proper balance between the simplicity of music enjoyment and the technical prowess of our gears.
    Unfortunately I don't own much other similar ranged IEMs to compare these to. I did have the chance to audition many many IEMs though. The only one I own is the JBL reference 220, which at the time used to be sold for around $100 as well. But things change; today we tend to get better value for the money if we look hard enough. This is one of those cases. And there's surely a few other even more precious gems out there.
    I guess the biggest problem right now is that these have little exposure and aren't widely available. At the moment I believe outside Taiwan and Japan it would be harder to get to try them. In Taiwan you can find them in many headphone shops and Eslite bookstores. In Japan you can find them both at Fujiya Avic and e-earphone (at this moment the Major9'13 seems to be out of stock). Chord&Major did get asked by a retailer in Europe (I forgot where) to be allowed to carry their product, so those in EU might be in luck.
    For any inquiries, you can probably contact them through http://chord-m.com/en/ though because they're only 5 total, it might take some time for you to get a reply.
    (I am in no way working for them or affiliated with them, by the way)
    Overall, these are a very interesting take at making earphones. I was quite pleased with the way they sound, hence bothering to contact them, and do hope to see new products coming in! At the least, these are my new to-go IEMs, a different model depending on my mood that day, until I decide to get something high-end which, don't fool yourselves, are still mostly short with the same problems plaguing low and mid range earphones.
    I just received note about the possible pricing on the eventual International sale. These will probably be selling for around $160.
    My original conclusion mentions a $100 range earphone--I will add a part for correction ASAP, (done. read below). The $100 was based on a very rough estimate in currency exchange whose pricing may not be accurate anymore. Sorry for the confusion.
    Well, in the end I did not receive any reply regarding the international pricing.
    I only know there is a projected Major6' that will be made into similar likeness to these ones, with the wooden box and everything. No details on the design of the earphones themselves. The wood is supposed to be pine.
    So are these worth it at around $160?
    I got to try a few earphones of various price range lately, and to put it in a VERY simple conclusion... many of them all have weird dips throughout the frequency range (e.g. RE-600), or simply a few uncontrolled frequencies that causes slow decay (e.g. ASG-2), veiled vocals (e.g. FX700), etc. Some of the ones I did try ARE excellent sounding, but have different quirks to them such as fit issues (e.g. KEF M200 that wouldn't work well with people having smaller ear canals), FR balance (bright, dark, etc...), and timbre.

    So while these are not the definition of perfection, some of these, namely the m9 Classical, are sort of the jack of all trade, master of none. Or master of few? Very good timbre, natural sounding FR balance, not a very fast decay but even throughout the frequency range... in the sense of a very easy to listen yet very enjoyably sound, these are great. If you're searching for anything in specific; such as amazing bass or clairvoyant clarity, these may not handle the job if you choose the wrong model. Specially not the high clarity/revealing criteria. The m8 Rock also shares many of the characteristics of the m9 but is faster, among other differences.
    Overall it all boils down to what you want in your sound. The jazz can serve as bass head IEMs but they certainly do lack a lot in the upper register. The rock and classical can be great all arounders, but if there are specific qualities you like accentuated in your music, something more specialized would work better. Just as an example, if you like a lot of details and clarity (and brightness) in your female vocals, look for the TDK IE800 for a cheaper alternative.
    Review by shigzeo here or here
    2013/07/05: Added changelog, general editing over my sleepy typography.
    2013/07/06: Received info on pricing. Changed that. Placeholder added. Updated "Audiophile grade" definition in layman's terms.
    2013/07/07: Linked shigzeo's review. Thanks!!
    2013/07/16: Added update regarding $160 price and forewords.
    2013/11/18: Details added to the ear tips section.
    2013/11/19: Updated the introduction, conclusion and design section.
    nick n and davidmolliere like this.
  2. Kunlun
    Interesting options at the $100 range.
    Good points about playing classical or sitting on a couch next to a person playing the violin versus listening (even with good seats) in a concert hall. The 5-7k spike some earphones have might replicate how a violin sounds to the person playing it, but it's a very, very different sound for the person in the 3rd row where the lady with the giant, curly hair in front of you acts as an acoustic filter...
  3. JK1
    There are so many new headphone companies. Having different earphones for different types of music is not new. Radiopaq in the UK tried this. I think they started out at 60 quid($90) but were later discounted to as low as around $13. For this new company to thrive, they will need to prove their products are excellent and well worth the price. With so many great cheap products from JVC, Panasonic, Soundmagic, Meelectronics , and others, it may be hard for a new company to really prove themselves, especially selling IEMs for over $40.
    squallkiercosa likes this.
  4. nick n
    Wow .
    What a review. Thanks very much for this. Going to let it percolate.
  5. kalbee
    Yup. Though I have to specify that the Classical model does give you the crispness in a violin vibrato. What it doesn't have is that extra spike to really pierce through the hearing. All for the good, I'd say. Though I would like to try listening to the same thing again on JH13pro FreqPhase; those really spoiled my definition of good treble.
    Absolutely, the concept is not new but not often used by many of the bigger brands we tend to see on Head-Fi. Often times it also does not make the genre distinction this far obvious. This type of earphones are sort of a niche market though, since most people will:
    1) buy from bigger, universally known brands
    2) buy something that seems to be better suited to all types of music alike
    The market is getting really competitive for sub $300 earphones, with different stages are each price point. What these do have is a nice balance in sound. Specially the 9'13. While I don't own many, I've demoed over 30 pairs of earphones lately ranging from $30 to $250, and then many essentially high end models be it CIEMs or universal. Very often there is an overly high emphasis on bass, or the treble is spikey/dipped/shelved. Otherwise there are some parts of the sound that ring in the housing.
    In terms of budget earphones, I really am eyeing TDK for being another contender on making more natural sounding models. In fact, in terms of great tonal balance in vocals, something that is often at fault in various earphones, I've found a very good one in the $40 range that is both light and comfortable to wear. They do have an accentuated bass, and the treble is not very neutral. I've not tried any Soundmagic or Meelectronics but the JVCs are still geared more towards bass heads IMO, even the new wood ones.
  6. JK1
    The vast majority of the headphone and earphone market is under $100, and especially under $40. The quality of the best headphones and earphones under $40 has greatly increased, with JVC being the value leader(look at their HAS400 headphone and HAFX40 earphones for example), while others such as Panasonic(RPHJE450, RPHJE355), Soundmagic, Meelectronics, Vsonic, etc. also have some great items that sell on Amazon for under $40.Some of these are even under $30 or even under $20. It seems like the quality increase from going from the best under $30 headphones and earphones to the best under $100 ones is getting smaller all the time, and the quality increase in going from the best $100 ones to the best $300 ones is getting even smaller. Some low priced ones like the JVC HAS400, Panasonic RPHJE450, and JVC HAFX40 are very satisfying.
  7. kalbee
    Yes, the vast majority is indeed under $100. People who aren't in the hobby tend to buy whatever looks the nicest, sounds decent, from a well known brand, and lastly for cheapest. This, is what makes up the vast majority. In reality, go above the $100 range you'll be surprised by the sheer amount of available stuff.
    Those JVCs are still bass inclined models. That isn't a sound signature favored by all people; I'm sure Head-Fi would tell you at least that much :wink: which is why we take interest in so many different kinds of headphones and earphones.
    Chord&Major does have a $30~$40 range IEM also for the budget person. I simply did not make a review for them. That's the 6'12 or 6'13?
    From my short short 
    These earphones are not their first product line; as mentioned at the beginning of the review, these are the 2013 version/revision, which means the Tonal Earphone existed in whole or in part previously in a different version. I've confirmed a 8'12, but did not see them in person either. The fact that they had zero exposure on Head-Fi before does not mean that they did not exist before. I'm glad I could have been the person to introduce these to the internet, but skepticism is strong against this one [​IMG]
  8. JK1
    Only a few JVC models are extra bass. I would not describe the HAS400 or HA-FX40 as being extra bass. Their HAFX101 and HAFX3x are extra bass though.
    They need to prove themselves, especially with the models over $50. There is so much good cheap stuff out there now.
  9. Exesteils
    Just looking at those beautiful phones makes me want to get them. I've never heard of C&M before but it'll be very interesting to try on something new, particularly intrigued but the Classical and Rock variations.
  10. ericp10
    Nice review, but there are audiophile IEMs at $100 or less (example>> RE-400). I'm more into the sound quality than how an earphone looks. 
  11. kalbee

    That they certainly do, like all new products.
    Considering I just received word that my pricing estimation was a little (quite a bit?) off, I'm sure you would be even more annoyed hearing the new price :D
    At the new price range, they certainly do get a lot more contenders. If I can find a good deal, I'll find myself a TDK BA-200 to compare, since I quite liked those as well from a short demoing session. Nonetheless, these are no slouch.
    They certainly are beautiful and very nicely built as a bonus. These have even appeared in design/fashion related magazines for their beautiful design.
    Like I did mention in the review, in order to keep them looking nice for longer, you will want to put a little bit of care on storing them. The way I did it, intentional as it may be, can damage the wood veneer. Small dents to the wood are essentially invisible to other people when worn, but it does leave a little sadness to the heart.

    I purposed to write my review in a non-authoritarian tone.
    I've heard enough horror stories of people seeing convincing reviews and get completely disappointed.
  12. Exesteils
    I store my IEMs separately (I only have a few), and only bring the ones which can handle a little wear and tear, like the TF10s, as my portable phones. These will stay safe in their pouches when not in use and most probably only ever leave the house if I ever find someone who's interested but plan to test them out first.

    I'm currently waiting on my fujiya-avic's registration, the classical's finish seems nice but I'll go with the safe pick and get the Rock for now.
  13. ericp10
    I'm sorry but I missed the point. What does that statement have to do with what I stated? 
  14. shigzeo Contributor
    I've just finished publishing my review at Ω. Overall, I think that either classical or rock will take the headfi crown- at least in this series. Jazz is a fine looking earphone, but is a bit too stuffy to really enjoy a much beyond small ensembles. Rock and Classical have timbre that really is to die for. 
    kalbee likes this.
  15. kalbee
    Good golly! Now that's what I call nice pictures!!!
    Thanks for posting this, I'll be adding the link to the first post! Glad you made mention on a few points I forgot...
    My personal reason for choosing 7 and 9 if I were to choose both, was because to me the 9 and 8 overlaps a little; at least in terms of timbre, albeit not completely the same. I liked the definition on the bass the 7's offer (I'd EQ the rest for vocals), and for the sake of having two very different sounds, 7 and 9 came up.
    I still think 8 and 9 are the most suitable for the Head-Fi crowd.
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