Review: Sensaphonics 2x-s vs. Challenger/ER6i/UM1,2/Superfi.5 Pro
Mar 7, 2006 at 3:35 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 6

joeshambro

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note: i'm a professional musician and audio engineer, so my review is more biased towards how i view things in those lights, not as a strict hifi listener. things that make me go
basshead.gif
might make other people go
confused.gif
.


Sensaphonics 2x-s Review...

BUILD QUALITY
---

These things are built like a tank. Having owned almost all non-custom IEM's and held each of the custom build ones in my hands at least once, and these by far are the best constructed of the lot. The soft silicone is really soft and plyable around the ear canal, but where the electronics are protected, is much stiffer and aids to a really good grip when removing them the right way (instead of half-assing it and pulling the cord, which is rated to take a 50lb tug).

Since I planned to use these primarily on stage, I had it terminated in the breakaway cord instead of the straight teflon cord. This was the best choice for my application, but ymmv. If your use is strictly for ipod/home listening, you'll want the teflon cord as it's much lighter. Sound quality is the same, and frankly the build quality impresses me either way.

These sit in my ear canal really, really well. I was very surprised at how little they move in my ear canal when moving my jaw, even compared to other custom IEM's i've used.

Overall, they may cost $750, but they're built like you paid $750.

Now, to play the other side, is there anything I'd change build wise? Honestly, not really. The build quality is above and beyond what I've ever had before.



SOUND QUALITY
---

This earphone, at first, might seem underwhelming if you're used to something artificially robust; however, as you spend more time listening to them, and your brain gets used to the sound in your head, you start to understand the one word that really speaks about these monitors: texture. Your first impression may be that you're not hearing the bass you're used to, but then it finally kicks in: you're hearing a whole new level of bass you've never heard before, an analytical level of bass that increases your listening experience.

Bass extends down to what sounds to be about 30hz analytically and further into a response that feels more tactile than anything. And the most important thing is that this bass is truly musical; the variations between layers of bass (especially when listening to jazz or fast-moving rock with a good groove between the drummer and bass player) is stunning. Kick drums have a bounce to them, bass guitar lines have texture and accuracy; in listening to one passage, I could feel the movement on the fretboard from the upright bass player. These things have SPEED. The decay of everything in your sound field is natural, and that's why these things are pefect for any type of critical listening. When you hear a cymbal crash, instead of hearing it crash and decay as usual, you hear it crash and then decay naturally, with different levels of response.

The mids are accurate but not pronounced; vocals stand out with extreme accuracy, and sometimes accurate to a fault, for the recorded material: one album I was listening to, you could hear throat sounds that I'd never heard before, and you could also hear the artificial pitch correction extremely well. Acoustic guitars also shine: listening to some passages by Dave Matthews Band, detail of small acoustic guitar runs that I wasn't hearing before stuck out really hardcore. And again, the texture is incredible. You can feel the tactile sensation of the pick hitting the strings, and the seperation of each individual string when a chord is played.

The highs don't have the "sparkle" that some 'phones do, but this is to their credit when you take into account the decay factor: that sparkle that some 'phones have would be out of place with the fine level of decay coming from all high-end material. The highs here safely DO extend into and past 16Khz and I'd say even go further out. Again with the texture. Things like high-hats and rimshots on the drums come out at you with lifelike accuracy. Then there's the downfall for the casual listener: if you're listening to mp3's, you'll hear mp3 compression, even if something's encoded at 192vbr. You'll notice that sparkle past 15khz or so isn't there.

The overall sound comes out as being very neutral with a slight move towards the warm side; however, the only thing I'd chance would be a slightly more warmth in the low-mids, where it seems almost sterile. Overall though, for the slight bit of lack of warmth in that direction, these phones make up for it by being completely rock solid in other directions.

I keep referring to the "speed" of these phones, and there's one thing to consider too: most single driver models don't have this speed and accuracy because they're single driver -- it takes a lot more effort for one driver to try to push air in all directions of the sound spectrum, and that's part of why you lose that impressive decay that they're capable of, even in a single driver model with the same driver type.

The soundstage on the 2xs is incredible. You can hear things much more accurately within the soundfield, moreso than I've ever heard before short of a large studio system in a controlled room. And you can hear things in relation to where they fall from the microphone that's recording them. Kick drums, you can actually hear the movement of the heads and the beater, guitars you can hear picks across strings, not just notes.

Also, if it's not there in the recording, it REALLY won't be there when listening with these earphones. I'm hearing inaccuracies and screw ups that I never heard before. I'm also hearing where the mix engineer cut corners; you can hear gates closing, the differences where pieces of bassline were cut and pasted in ProTools; overall, these earphones hide nothing.


AS IN-EAR MONITORS
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As a musician who uses these as monitors on stage, I figured I'd write a little bit on that because it's rarely talked about around here, and might be some interest to somebody..

Rehearsal is tonight so I'll get a chance to hear them in my setup, but on the reccomendation of a good friend who engineers monitors for a couple large touring acts, I played back a recording of a good in-ear monitor mix from a band through a PSM 600 wireless beltpack system. These things are amazing -- listneing to a good monitor mix there's a lot of seperation and accuracy, which is hugely important. Nothing is bloated, and the response is even and quick. It's exactly what you want when you're onstage, even when listening to a monitor mix. Here's where they really shine, listening to a monitor mix that's EQ'ed and comped just for these earphones. I was elated.

If anyone's interested in running a similar comparison, I can upload a track from a recorded monitor mix so you can hear what these earphones are designed for, aside from recorded mastered music.



COMPARISONS:
----


with Precision Labs Challenger C1000:
--

Short version:

headache_man.jpg


Long version:

This isn't even a fair comparison. Compared to even a mid-range universal phone, the Challengers sound dead and lifeless with absolutely no low end. It takes heavy EQ to get the Challengers where you want them. I used the Challengers onstage for a couple years and eventually quit using them in favor of UM2 and eventually super.fi 5 pro.

In short, if the Challengers were to receive a letter from the 2x-s about how much better they are, it'd be like this:

Dear Challenger C1000,

lol.

Love,
Sensaphonics 2x-s.


with Etymotic ER6i:
---

In short:

trainwreck.jpg


I'd say that the Etymotics come in NEAR the Sensaphonics in high-mid accuracy, but the decay and sparkle that the Sensas have just isn't there. And the low end? Forget about it.

I honestly feel like I should compare better here, but seriously.. These earphones are in a completely different league. The Sensas completely demoralize these earphones.


with Westone UM1/UM2:
---

The Westones seriously get my vote as the best stage monitors, universal fit. They've got great sound quality and a very good response across the board, for a universal series monitor.

The UM1 has a nice thick mid and mid-low, which comes across as a similar sound signature to the mids on the Sensas; however, again it lacks the speed and accuracy.

The UM2 gets it closer; the UM2 has a nice firm low end response and the dual driver design aids a little bit more in the speed category.

But still, the sound seems bloated in the low end; bass isn't as musical as it is just "there". That single-note bass syndrome that's so popular.

Overall, if you're looking for a sound SIMILAR but not nailing it in a universal-fit monitor, I'd go Westone. But nothing can beat a fully customized set of earphones.

with Superfi.5 Pro
---

I'd just gotten off a 2 week bender of listening to these 'phones when my Sensas finally arrived. And here's the verdict: The superfi.5 has much more bass and is much louder out of the box, but with more noise and less accuracy.

Knowing what I've always known about Ultimate Ears as a company, they wouldn't put anything out with their name on it unless it was of top notch quality and was something they'd be able to put themselves behind 100%. And this product, they have that at a very fair price point --an e5 killer for the home user -- it's a great product and in my opinion is a way better earphone than the Shure E5 and other dual-driver models I've tried, for the casual listener. They have great decay especially in the mids.

Where they fall flat is low-end. They have a slightly bloated (in comparison) low end that isn't nearly as pinpoint and "bouncy" as the 2xs. And after getting used to that, I was a little underwhelmed with the 2xs bass until I took a good, analytical listen and realied that the detail level across the sound spectrum I was hearing. Bass guitars become muffled in the deepness of the bass, kick drum stands out more in the mid-range with a bloated low end kick that attaches itself to the other low end in the material and creates a larger feeling of messy low-end, especially compared to the 2xs.


OVERALL:
---

The 2xs are nothing short of what they're advertised to be: an exceptionally accurate monitor headphone. At $750 + ear impressions + shipping, you're getting a product that's worth, well, $750 + everything else.

And a note about Sensaphonics customer service: I know a lot of people have complained about Sensaphonics' lack of email support, but I never had a problem when I called in with a question of concern. Total turn around time from the day I sent the impressions to them to the day they were shipped was two weeks and 1 day, and that extra day was only because I needed an extra case and they took the day to get one in my order for me. The people I dealt with were exceptional, and answered every question very accurately. They also took the time to call when they had a question about the order and were right there when I called back with a response. I can't have anything negative to say, but again ymmv, as with anything in this world.
smily_headphones1.gif




Used in comparisons:
---

iPod 5th gen > Sensaphonics 2xs
DAT player > Allen & Heath mixing board > Shure PSM 600 transmitter > PSM 600 receiver > Sensa 2xs.

Recorded music used:
---

Dave Matthews Band - Weekend On The Rocks
Nelly - Nellyville
Medeski Martin & Wood - End Of The World Party (Just In Case)
U2 - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
The J. Davis Trio - The New No. 2
Sound Tribe Sector Nine - Artifact
moe. - Warts & All Volume 2
 
Mar 7, 2006 at 3:44 PM Post #2 of 6

jjcha

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Thanks for the review, very nice. I can see why you're happy with the Sensas and where your thoughts are coming from for all your conclusions.

I also agree, out of the box I was surprised at how the Sensas sounded bass-light and thinner than my IEM of choice at the time, the E5c's. But your brain begins to wrap itself around how the Sensas presents its sound and then you realize, man these are nice warm and very bassy.

I also like your thoughts on the decay and tonal range. Honestly, I do find the treble gets tizzy when pushed forward - it'll never have the sparkling clarity of the ER4S in this regard.

Personally, I think I've since grown to equally favor the sonic approach of the Sensas, and to a lesser degree the E5cs and super.fi 5 Pro, with the crisper approaches of the Ety ER4P/S or Shure E4c. But still, whenever I put on the Sensas I'm left thinking there is nothing better (though I haven't owned the other custom IEM).

Best regards,

-Jason
 
Mar 7, 2006 at 5:18 PM Post #3 of 6

joeshambro

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Quote:

Honestly, I do find the treble gets tizzy when pushed forward - it'll never have the sparkling clarity of the ER4S in this regard.


i completely agree.

the more i listen, the more i like their sound signature though. i really dig the full sound that they provide especially when driven a little harder.
 
Mar 7, 2006 at 6:12 PM Post #4 of 6

K2Grey

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Very nice review - thanks for posting it.
 
Mar 18, 2006 at 4:46 AM Post #5 of 6

joeshambro

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i'll be posting some pics for anyone interested.

now here's a question for fellow sensaphonics users: did yours become "cloudy" and stiff a couple weeks into it? because mine have. very strange.

i used them at a show last night and they were honestly completely transparent. with the mix being good, it was just like not wearing in-ears at all. first time i've ever had that experience.
 
Mar 18, 2006 at 12:45 PM Post #6 of 6

IZCool

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Congrats on your purchase!

I've got some ACS T2PROs on order, mainly because of the customer service problems that you refer to... I sent them an email about a month and a half ago and I still haven't had a reply. For international orders (like me) email is the most practical method of communication. ACS on the other hand has usually replied to my emails within hours.

But enough whinging. Enjoy your new IEMs!
 

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