Saturday, 28 January 2012

Software Players and some further thoughts

I finally had a chance to try out some Mac software to improve the playback experience. In my quick test and review, I had the chance to use Pure Music, Audirvana and Decibel. The setup was my EM4 connected to the Calyx Coffee which was USB connected to MBP. All files were 16/44.1 Apple Lossless, ripped from CD via MAX, and a two tracks from HD Tracks in 24/96 FLAC files.

Very quick impressions of each so far, using the same 6 or so tracks. Decibel has a very laid back, flat sound. To my ears, using this combination was a tad boring, I also had some initial problems getting sound out of it, and after changing a few options, got it to work. Pure Music was a lot better in this regards. But overall, I found this setup to work really well with Audirvana. It was powerful, dynamic and engaging. I kept wanting to switch back to this player after listening to the others. This must be a good sign. This was a very quick review of all three software; and I really wanted to like Pure Music. But it didn't seem like a huge step up from iTunes itself; and I found the interface not to my liking. Although it is very powerful; the set of features that I would use will be limited.

Amarra is something to test next, as I just downloaded the 15 day Mini demo. Not sure when I will get another chance to have some dedicated listening, but I hope it will be in the next week, before all the other demo licenses wear off.

I also had the chance to do a direct comparison between 16/44.1 and 24/96 using one track, REM's Losing My Religion. The first basic impression was that the 96 had more detail and definition to the sounds and instruments. More dynamics and separation, which must be a good thing, cause I found the 44.1 very flat after listening to the higher res version. At lower levels, the differences were as pronounced, but as you cranked up the volume, the differences became more audible. I ask myself whether this would affect the overall enjoyment? Probably not. But then when you are not just listening for enjoyment and relaxation; and more about review, examination and appreciation; I think the differences would be worthwhile. I also found that the sound stage was a little larger with the 96 version. The 44.1 was well inside my head between the ears, and the 96 was more wider, and more around the ears, rather than between.

Anyway, more to come late, and I hope to put some photos of the current setup...

Monday, 23 January 2012

After 100 hours...

It has been around 100 hours now, with several overnight burning in sessions on the EM4. The result? I can use the words; effortless sound, authority, control and articulate to describe the sound of these IEM. Listening to my very well worn mix of 10 or so songs that I have used in the last year or so to compare all my headphone listening, has demonstrated a sound more akin to the HD650, then any other IEM I have used (which is only two pairs). In terms of the imaging, it definitely is not 'in ear', but much more, around the ear. As such, very natural, and not like someone injecting sound into your ears.

To use the well worn phrase, "I have heard stuff that I have never heard before", would be true in this case. not just new sounds, but the same sounds sounding different, or more truthful to the recording. At this stage, there isn't a lot that I can find fault with them. I don't find these to be warm or dry. But it just feels like the right mix - the right sound.

What I can say is that during the burn in, over the last two weeks, the sound did change up and down by a fair bit, and it seems in increments of between 15 to 20 hours at a time. But right now, with over 100 hours, they have not sounded better! I am sure that it will continue to change until they settle down, at which point, I cannot say, but as long as they keep improving!

The biggest question for me was, were they worth the money? And a lot of money it was... The single most expensive audio item I have bought to date! Even my second hand Lowther DX3 were cheaper! Well, given my current circumstance, they are the closest that I will get to audio nirvana. When I am on the bus, or walking, I do feel like I am in my own private studio, listening to amazing music. This is so relaxing, and helps me deal with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In this way, they are absolutely worth it. Without having to dwell on this too much, I spent the cash, got a result that I am happy with, and is on par, if not better than my previous reference headphones, can't complain!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

What a difference!

What a difference 12 hours of burning in makes. The bass issue I had last night is now gone. Again it is now firmed back up, but still not super tight but much better than last night. Overall the sonic presentation is much better.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Quick thought on EM4

They now have had around 20 or so hours on them, and want to share a few thoughts. Firstly, I am hearing things on the music that I have not heard before, even withy he HD650, and this is on some very familiar tracks. This is good. Second, the sound is not like the other IEM, which sound like they are inside your ears. These actually like like they surround your ear. Much like the presentation of over the ears. This is a very good pint, as I was looking for an IEM that did not focus the sons into your ear. Thirdly, the guitars sound amazing! The way it strums and the intonation, amazing, best guitar sound from headphones. And also, the way it renders piano and keyboard, you can really tell if the mic was close or far, acoustic only, or with effects. Again, much better than all previous. All of this on my iPhone 4, can't wait to get it onto a proper amp and source!

Now onto the negatives thus far. The bass lost some impact and presence, but I hope that it firms up again after more burn in. And secondly, the isolation is not as good as the HF5, but the fit is so much more comfortable. Well that is all for now, more thoughts later.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

EM4 Arrived

After nearly a 5 week wait, including Christmas, my custom Earsonics EM4 have arrived! Currently listening to them and they have about 8 hours on them so far. Some initial comments. The supplied cable is very light and flexible, and not microphonic at all. But given their more delicate feel, a spare cable is probably a must.

The build quality overall is good. It does look and feel a custom product and I like that kind of design. Gives it some personality. The acrylic is a little cold to put on initially, but after 10 minutes, it feels fine. The fit of the customs are at superior to any of the other two IEM I have used. That is Shute SE210 and Etymotic HF5. Very comfortable and good noise isolation. This is especially good for the public transport system of Hong Kong. All of this was and is through Apple loss lesson my iPhone 4, with no external amp.

Onto the initial impressions o the sound. At first it was a little unbalanced and lacked warmth. But after about 6 hours they have opened up somewhat and definitely sound better the the well burned in HF5 and SE210. The bass is far superior. Well controlled and tight. The trebles are also much better than the HF5, which was itself better than the SE210. midrange is slightly warm so far, but well balanced in the mix, but slightly more forward than the HF5.

Overall, the sonic presentation is similar to my hD650. Which I haven't been able to for three months. As they were left at home. Since I am going to be home in a few months, and by then the EM4 should be well burnt in, should make a good comparison. Is it worth the money? Yes, for me it is on three levels: better fit and comfort; much better then the HF5, and approaching my memory of the HD650. More thoughts to come, as I am now on DAC hunting mode.