Over the years, with more experience slowly gained, I’ve started to refine my audio collection. I realise I have a privileged position because as a reviewer, I often get to try before I eventually buy (through my reviews). And I do buy the gear I intend to keep for myself – it is only fair after all.
Up until now that has involved buying my iFi stack (iUSB, iTube and iDSD), and my current main headphones and earphones (including the HD800S, HD600 and Möbius among quite a few others). It is with the earphones (IEMs) I’ve managed to come close, but have never quite reached the “nirvana” I’ve been looking for. Earsonics is an extremely well known French audio company who specialises in in-ear monitors, and I’ve had the chance recently to review their ES2 and ES3 IEM’s, and came away suitably impressed by both.
Max Capgras approached me again and asked if I’d like to review another of their line-up. I suggested my tastes were more to the flat than coloured side of things, and he suggested the ES5. Other reviews I’ve seen of this monitor have been very good – would it fill my own personal preferences? Lets take a look together at Earsonic’s ES5 5 BA monitor, and see how it stacks up.
Earsonics was formed in 2004, and are located in France. From their own website, they describe themselves as:
French designer and manufacturer of a range of in-ear-monitors tailored and universal for musicians, sound engineers and audiophiles demanding.
And they further expand by saying:
Provide quality, high fidelity audio listening. Respecting the spectral balance and musicality.
Musical sound around listening .
I know that their earliest commercial model seems to be the original SM line, and includes the SM2, SM3, SM64. From there they have branched out into both custom monitors and also universals including the EM series (Pro and Audiophile), ES series as well as some specially named monitors such as the Grace and Velvet.
But perhaps the quote that gives you the best idea of what Earsonics is all about comes from their CEO (Franck Lopez)
In a field dictated by the data sheet and the race for pure performance, we ended up forgetting the essential – what drives you to start a desire to acquire the best, for the sole purpose of creating this emotion that overwhelms you and makes you forget everything else.
Our headphones are developed in this direction, create EMOTION …
I can definitely relate to this thinking.
The Earsonics ES5 IEM that I’m reviewing today was provided to me freely as a review sample. Max has asked me to keep it for my personal use, or for follow up comparisons, and I thank them for this. The retail price at time of review is Eur 950.
If you haven’t read any of my reviews, I suggest starting here, as it will give you an insight into my known preferences and bias.
For the purposes of this review – I’ve used the ES5 straight from the headphone-out socket of many of my portables, but predominantly the FiiO X7ii, X5iii, M9, and my iPhone. I have tested them both amped (Q1ii, Q5, XRK-NHB, and E17K), and straight out of the DAPs listed.
In the time I have spent with the Earsonics ES5, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (break-in). This is a purely subjective review – my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt – especially if it does not match your own experience.
The Earsonics ES5 arrived in a 165 x 225 x 45mm “book style” box with grey retail sleeve. The outer sleeve is simple with just the ES5 logo on the front and specifications on the rear. The inner box is quite classy – matte black with 2 circular windows showing the ES5 monitors and a pull-out drawer revealing the accessories.
The total accessory package includes:
- A pair of Earsonics ES5 IEMs
- A 3.5 mm single ended to 2 pin earphone cable
- 2 pairs of foam tips
- 2 pairs of silicone single flange tips
- 2 pairs of silicone dual flange tips
- A large zippered carrying pouch (approx 120 x 85 x 30mm)
- A cleaning tool
- A 3.5mm to 6.3,, adaptor
- A user guide (French)
- 2 packets of cleaning towelettes
THE TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION
|Model||Earsonics ES5 (Music series)|
|Approx price||$950 Eur|
|Type||5 Balanced Armatures per side|
|Driver Config||1 x Low, 2 x Mid, 2 x High with three way crossover|
|Freq Range||10Hz – 20kHz|
|Cable Type||120 cm copper core with twisted TPU sheath|
|Cable Jack||3.5mm gold plated, right angled|
|Cable Connectors||Standard 2 pin|
|Weight||19g with incl cable and Shore “Olive” large tips|
|IEM shell||2 piece molded EVS Acrylic|
The graphs I use are generated using the Vibro Veritas coupler and ARTA software. Ken Ball (ALO/Campfire) graciously provided me with measurement data which I have used to recalibrate my Veritas so that it mimics an IEC 711 measurement standard (Ken uses two separate BK ear simulators, we measured the same set of IEMs, and I built my calibration curve from shared data). I do not claim that this data is 100% accurate, but it is very consistent, and is as close as I can get to the IEC 711 standard on my budget. I suspect it is slightly down at around 9-10 kHz, but seems reasonably accurate through the rest of the spectrum.
I do not claim that the measurements are in any way more accurate than anyone else’s, but they have been proven to be consistent and I think they should be enough to give a reasonable idea of response – especially if you’ve followed any of my other reviews. When measuring I always use crystal foam tips (so medium bore opening) – and the reason I use them is for very consistent seal and placement depth in the coupler. I use the same amp (E11K) for all my measurements – and output is under 1 ohm.
The graphs are provided merely as a point of discussion, and later in the review I’ve included comparisons to other IEMs for similar reference.
I’ve measured the ES5 multiple times, and unfortunately with this particular set, there is either a crossover out of whack, or one of the BA’s is out of kilter. Channel matching is very good apart from a spike in the right hand earpiece at 2 kHz – and the imbalance is quite noticeable. Earsonics driver matching is generally impeccable, so I’m chalking this up to an anomaly.
The ES5 has the same shell design as the ES2 and ES3. It consists of a two piece EVS (“ergonomic versatile shell”) acrylic casing which joins naturally into a smooth half “D” shape through the use of two micro Phillips head screws. All corners are nicely smoothed, and the ES5 fits my ears wonderfully with no sharp or protruding points. They measure approx 20mm in length at their widest point and 16mm tall, with a depth of about 12mm.
The nozzle is approx 6mm in length, 4mm in width, is located at the upper front of each ear pieces and is nicely angled to fit naturally with your ear canals. The nozzles are lipless and designed to fit T100 Comply foams (which means the Shure Olives are also a good – albeit somewhat tight – fit).
The external face is smooth and nicely rounded. On the right hand earpiece are the letter ES and on the left is the number 5. At the top center (part of the outer face assembly) is the standard 2 pin connector socket. This is a standard flat socket – so there will after-market cable options for those who prefer cable changes.
The most striking thing about the ES series is the notch in the outer face, directly opposite the nozzle, and it actually looks almost like a piece has been taken out – until you notice the smooth curves and realise it is intentional. I was puzzled why the would do it until I noticed how well they fit. The notch has been designed to fit your Tragus, and it works extremely well. Brilliant design, and one of the reasons why this universal is so comfortable to wear. There are otherwise no external markings or brands, and of course no vents because it is wholly a multi-BA configuration.
The cable is 1.2m in length and consists of a copper core and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) sheath. The use of TPU makes a lot of sense due to its high elasticity, high shear strength, and resistance to oil and grease. The connectors are clearly marked left (blue) and right (red) with dots on the connector housings. From the connectors is a 60mm form-able ear guide which I have found really easy to use. The y-split is plastic with excellent strain relief, and there is a clear plastic tube for a chin slider/cinch – which again works very well. The jack is right angled, 3.mm and gold plated – again with excellent strain relief and also smart-phone friendly.
The cable itself is a twisted pair above the y-split and twisted triple below it. It is extremely supple, and while there are some microphonics, use of the cinch and cable management under clothing eliminates this to a negligible level.
The shell is translucent, and it is easy to see the BA drivers and cross-over circuits. The design (internally) is a little different this time, and Earsonics have fitted 12 mini compartments to effectively house the internal components (drivers, crossover circuit boards, filters and internal wiring). Their use of ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) acrylic, combined with Earsonic’s Fusion process, allows far more flexibility with the design, and this includes a dual pathway in the shell coupled with their own acoustic diffractor to create a wider sound space. The BA drivers are Earsonics’ own proprietary design, and this gives them a lot of control over the total design process. There is a single larger bass/low BA, a dual mid-range BA, and dual high-end BA making a total of 5 BA drivers per earpiece. These are combined with a 3 way crossover for coherence.
FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION
Isolation with the ES5 will depend on the seal you achieve and type of tip (possibly also the insertion depth you can achieve – although generally it will be somewhat shallow). I’m using large Shure Olives, and isolation is rather good (I couldn’t hear the keyboard while I was doing the final edits). With music playing, I’d have no problems using these in public transport, and they are pretty good for use on an aeroplane.
Comfort for me is excellent – the ES5s are a design which simply disappears for me when worn. In fact these rate up there with the most comfortable IEMs I’ve tried. They sit well within my outer ear (inside the external ear cavity – between tragus and anti-tragus), and are extremely easy to sleep in.
I have one ear canal slightly different to the other one (my right is very slightly smaller) – so I tend to find that usually single silicon flanges don’t fit overly well and shallow fitting IEMs can be problematic. The ES5 is a relatively shallow fitting IEM – but because it naturally fits Shure’s Olive foam tips – I can get a perfect seal every time.
Earsonics does include their own silicone tips – which are quite rubbery – but also gave me an excellent seal, and were (surprisingly for me) very comfortable as well (dual flange). Because of the thinner width of the nozzles, and lack of any type of lip – many of my other tips simply would not stay on. However both Spin-fits and also hybrid tips (Sony Isolation) also worked well.
My testing for this section was done with the FiiO X7ii (AM3A module), no EQ, and Shure Olives. I used the X7ii simply because it provides both a very transparent window to the music with low impedance, and also more than enough power. No EQ was used. On more vocal centric tracks, I used the X7ii’s balance control to subtly compensate for the mid-range imbalance – this was quite effective.
For the record – on most tracks, the volume level on the X7ii (paired with AM3a) was ~35-40/120 Single Ended (on low gain) which was giving me an average SPL around 65-75 dB (track dependent). Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list https://www.head-fi.org/f/articles/brookos-test-tracks.17556/
- Sub-bass – very good extension, elevated and prominent without overpowering other frequency bands. The ES5 has good rumble even at my lower listening levels, and for my personal tastes it is well balanced in the overall frequency. With sub-bass dominant tracks (like Lorde’s Royals) there is no noticeable bleed (or masking) into the lower mid-range.
- Mid-bass – good impact, and slightly stepped back compared to the sub-bass. Still has quite reasonable thump and this is pretty good quality, typically quick BA bass. Definition and texture is good but doesn’t quite have the same natural timbre of a dynamic set-up. Still, this is one of the better BA set-ups I’ve heard for overall bass definition, and with hip-hop (Eminem) or Trance (Armin van Buuren) I’m not feeling anything lacking.
- Lower mid-range – there is a definite recession compared to mid-bass, and this is where a lot of the clarity comes through I think. Its an interesting signature because the mid and sub bass combine to give decent richness and a little warmth, but there is definitely a little less depth with male vocals, and the normal rough timbre of Eddy Vedder’s or Shaun Morgan’s vocals isn’t quite there.
- Upper mid-range – elevated compared to lower mid-range (mainly in the 1-2 kHz area, which really helps add that sweetness in the presence area for female vocals. The nice thing about this tuning is that it isn’t overdone and there is a quite a cohesive interchange from low to upper mids. Upper mids are nicely aligned in intensity with mid and sub-bass.
- Lower treble is extended and there is a little emphasis in the 6-7 kHz area which gives added definition and overtones to cymbals. It’s not overdone though (for my personal tastes) and for me the overall feeling is one of balance.
- Upper treble – seems to be well extended. Its hard for me to judge this area, because my hearing tops out around 14kHz nowadays, and the measuring equipment is not accurate enough from about 9 kHz up. No signs of brittleness.
Resolution / Detail / Clarity
- Clarity is very good, and there is excellent detail in all of my usual test tracks. With Nil’s Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” (acoustic guitar), finger movements on the fret-board are audible and realistic. With Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing”, the micro details such as drumstick clicks are easily heard, and there is no signs of masking from the bass guitar.
- Cymbals hits (especially hi-hats and crash-cymbals) are present, and the trailing decay is audible.
- Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” is a good track for checking the overall balance on hi-hat taps and general cymbal decay, and the balance in this track is very good. Cymbal brushes are delicate and sustained.
- Note that I did need to play around with balance to negate the channel imbalance, and I have purposely chosen not to attribute this to any deficiency in this section.
- Directional queues are very clean and transients with Amber Rubarth’s “Tundra” are clear and nicely defined.
- Positioning within the track is consistent and stage shape has nice balance of depth and width.
- Perception of stage is expansive for an IEM. While the percussion is definitely closer, the cello and violin feel as though they are outside my head-space.
- The applause section of “Dante’s Prayer” and Lakme’s “Flower Duet” both have an extremely good sense of of flow around me, and once again there is a sense of space.
- Overall balance end to end in the frequency response.
- Bass speed and definition
- Sense of staging – both shape and overall size
- Excellent at lower volumes with good clarity
- Female vocals have a nice sense of euphony
- Lower mid-range is a little too recessed for my liking and does lose some depth of timbre with male vocals.
- Can be slightly strident at higher volumes
The ES5 is easily powered straight out of any of the portable devices I have, and I haven’t experienced any issues with the iPhone ES, or any of the FiiO DAPs. I’m at my usual 65-75dB listening level (with typical pop/rock songs) on the iPhone ES at a volume level of around 30%. I did try the ES5 with additional amping including the Q5 and XRK-NHB but noticed no obvious signs of improvement through the application of additional power.
RESPONSE TO EQ?
I need to reiterate that there is no perfect solution here. I use EQ to adjust to my own liking – and there is no universal correct EQ setting – it is purely individual preference. I wanted to address one thing with the EQ and that was simply to lift the lower mid-range. To achieve this I used the parametric equaliser on the Equaliser app on my iPhone SE, and simply applied a 4 dB rise at 500 Hz with a q factor of 0.5. There was an appreciable correction in the weight of male vocals and for my personal tastes this was an improvement. The ES5 responds well to EQ.
COMPARISON WITH OTHER IEMS
The ES5 is heading toward flagship category, and definitely sits in that price bracket, so I wanted to compare it to some similarly priced higher end IEMs I currently have. The appropriate comparisons for me included Earsonic’s own ES3, the LZ Big Dipper, Shure’s SE846, Fidue’s A91 Sirius, 64 Audio’s U10 and HiFiman’s flagship RE2000.
These comparisons were all done without EQ, using the FiiO X7ii, and volume matched using a calibrated SPL meter and fixed 1kHz test tone first. These are very subjective comparisons. Pricing was taken from Amazon in USD or Penon Audio (Nov 2018).
Earsonics ES5 vs Earsonics ES3
Earsonics ES5 vs Shure SE846
Earsonics ES5 vs LZ Big Dipper (3 switch)
Earsonics ES5 vs Fidue A91 Sirius
Earsonics ES5 vs 64 Audio U10 (with Apex M20 module)
Earsonics ES5 vs HifiMan RE2000
Always a tough one to judge when the signature doesn’t quite hit your personal sweet spot. It’s worth looking at the pros objectively, and using that to form a decision. The ES5 has very good build, is light-weight and comfortable, and has very good imaging and clarity. It is able to create the perception of depth and width in a sound-stage (something a lot of IEMs struggle with), and when listened to in isolation (no comparison with other IEMs) it has a signature which can be adapted to. At $1099 it is expensive, and I think it provides fair value overall for what it delivers.
EARSONICS ES5 – SUMMARY
One of the things I love about Earsonics is the way they dance to their own tune. They have a great range or IEMs targeted at a variety of different users preferences, and their music series (ES range) is aimed squarely at audiophiles and audio enjoyment. When Max approached me and asked what I’d like to hear, I suggested something neutral and detailed, and in a lot of ways that’s exactly what the ES5 delivers.
The ES5 (like all the ES series) has very good build combined with a superbly designed shell, good quality cable, and decent (if not comprehensive) accessory package.
In terms of sound signature, it has great quality bass (for an all BA IEM) with nice extension. It is a little lean in the lower mid-range, and this does create a somewhat dry and clinical overall signature, but its one you can acclimatise to in a reasonably short time (whilst writing the summary I’ve been jamming out to a play-list on shuffle and thoroughly enjoying them). Overall clarity is really good, and the imaging and perception of stage size and depth is very good for an IEM. They are very good for listening at low volume levels.
Value is decent, but not startling (IMO). Whilst its not quite my preference I can absolutely understand why others will be much more aligned with the overall signature. For the price of $1099 you are getting an IEM with a really nice feature set for the intended audience (those looking for clarity and detail).
I just want to close with thanking Max for arranging the review sample. I know at some stage I will find an Earsonics IEM which will align with my natural preferences.
|Earsonics ES5||My Score||Out of||Weighting||Weighted Score|
|Stage / Imaging||8.0||10.0||8%||0.64|