Me in 2010 vis-à-vis the SM3: “My God, it’s full of stars!”
Earsonics response: “You betcha!”
Me in 2013 vis-à-vis the EM64 : “My God, it’s full of... better stars!”
Earsonics response: “What, you thought regress was a French word?”
Earsonics have come a long way. Outwardly, their designs don’t show it. But under the bonnet- whoowee! This reviewer has reviewed almost every universal SM series earphone. After carefully fawning over each one, he’s realised two things: first that he is somewhat of an aficionado; and second, that the SM64 is the SM earphone to have.
The SM64 ushers in a newer, better Earsonics- Earsonics 2,0, if you will. Yes it comes in the same old skin. But its newfound brightness, low load drivetrain, and absolute resilience to signal noise, set it apart from both its competition and its forebears.
Sensibilité: 122 dB/mW
Réponse en fréquences: 10 Hz -20 kHz
Impédance: 98 ohms
Driver: 3 transducteurs avec nouveau filtre HQ 3 voies à correcteur d’impédance.
Livré avec: lingettes, outil de nettoyage,
étui de transport.
Earsonics SM64: 399$ USD / €
ohmage: new sensibilité
To the uninitiated, the SM64’s 98Ω may look daunting. Why? That number is several times more higher than any other universal Earsonics earphone. It is also quite a bit more resistive.
Isn’t that daunting?
Hardly. Backed up by an ungodly sensitivity rating of 122 dB/mW, it is one of the easiest to drive earphones out there. Yes, it will require you to raise the volume of your player a few ticks- a point that many mistakenly understand as ‘hard to drive’. Hard to drive the SM64 is not.
Unless, that is, your player is a filthy piece of shyte.
Even an iPod nano 6G runs the SM64 perfectly at all but volumes that would destroy your ears in less than twelve parsecs. Thanks to high levels of resistance, it is voltage, not current, that a player must spit out. High resolution is assured, even from players that aren’t able to supply enough current to other earphones. Naturally, the same goes for stage amps and mics. Basically anything that has a headphone output and enough voltage will make the SM64 sing.
And today, that essentially means anything on the market.
ohmage & porridge: comfort and fit
Nothing here has changed. The SM64, like its predecessors, is comfortable. It has the right insertion angle, the right lay in the ear, and the right ear pieces. Of course, the memory wire in the removable cable can be annoying to glasses wearers. But then again, if earphones were built specifically for glasses wearers, they’d have to be completely wireless- or glasses would have to be velcroed to the nose.
Honestly, I hate memory cables. And Earsonics' cable is especially tricksy. Its memory wire taps against glasses, rendering your ears a veritable tap dance studio- which is a shame as the soft-coated cable makes next to no noise.
Earsonics is a French brand. On a global scale, French kitsch is laughable. Sure, French design missteps are many times more stumbly than similar Danish and German missteps, but they pale by comparison to the commonest and daily missteps made on my island. If I were to criticise anything, it would be Earsonics’ stodgy, almost boring design. But, living in a plastic house in a glowing plastic country as I do, I can’t fault Earsonics’ soft, sombre, and bulbous visage.
ohmage & porridge: build quality
And I can’t come down on Earsonics for building earphones in fracture resistant ABS. The SM64 should withstand the rigours of the daily commute, the nightly pillow-listen, and the infrequent workout as well as its Westone counterparts do. Would I prefer rubber coating, metal lugs, and MMCX cables? Yes, I would. But Earsonics don’t need to fix a thing that isn’t broken.
That said, they should countersink the coaxial cable port to lessen the chance of pin breakage. And to support that, they should anchor the earphone's guts and external connections in a metal plate. Finally, 2004 called and it wants its cable back.
porridge: quality of finish
What I can come down on is an age-old problem inherent to all Earsonics products: follow-through. In this case, it’s the earphone shells, the plastic insert, and maybe the box that really stand out. The shells show ridges and troughs that would never have passed muster in Germany or Denmark. Scissors aren’t required to open the plastic insert, but I promise you that somewhere, someone will bleed whilst prying it open. I pray it isn’t you.
Apart from the above, the SM64 is a rather smooth device. Earsonics have used the same design for several years now. It is tried and true- but rough and rather homely (in the American sense of the word).
“My God, it’s full of stars!” Say I on the train, at my desk, on the toilet. The SM64 is the first Earsonics phone to give the upper midrange a lift, a sparkle, a bit of love. It is the first Earsonics earphone that I can flat-out recommend for trance fans. The other good news is that if you’re not into trance, there is plenty of pretty sound to support almost every musical genre out there.
The SM64 delivers not only crisp mids and highs, it serves up boiling, authoritative punches that roll through most of audible spectrum. Lower mids are fast up and down. They never tangle with bass. Kudos to kick drums, bass guitar, electronic kicks, and pretty much anything with a beat from there on down. Thruma thwaaaarck! goes lower bass. Thwacka thwacka! go upper mids. Speed is king.
Timeliness - while stereotypically not very French an asset - has a pigeonhole with an SM64-shaped aperture.
Timely and taut though it is, the SM64 stops far before it ever reaches the shrill, metallic highs that has ER4 lovers all agog. Some may take issue here. Metal-tipped responses can be hugely fun. But Earsonics are a musician-oriented company; and in Earsonics 2,0, equitability takes precedence over wow.
Fans of crispy crisp crisp will probably look elsewhere for their bacon. Similarly, fans of warm fuzzies may also have to turn elsewhere. With few outliers, the SM64 sounds rather flat - and certainly crisp - at the ear.
In its fully closed housing, the SM64‘s drivers don’t have the space necessary to open up like an Ocharaku earphone. But this earphone’s dynamic range presents details in a wide set stance. Much of its spatial presentation will depend on the ear piece you choose. Comply and other highly porous ear tips tend to soften the upper lows and mids. Some silicon tips can sound splashy.
Given the right tip, lows never bemire the highs. Mad drum and bass riffs never confuse the treble bits. Swift bass response keeps low notes clean. Ne'er e’er does anything intrude into the mids- which is the way Earsonics have done it all along. It’s just that now, it is done even cleaner than ever before.
The general splay is wider than it is deep; focus is paid to the x and y axises before it is paid a to the z. Bass and low percussion is arrayed in the middle, guitars and strings bookending either side. Sometimes the splay is quite wide. For a closed-back earphone, it often sounds very open.
Back when I reviewed the SM2, I felt that bass tended to splay too much to the sides rather than ground the music. At times, the SM2 sounded stiff. The SM3 largely fixed that problem. Next to the SM64, however, it can sound dull.
Bass vs. Mids: ohmage
Because bass is situated in the centre of the sound stage, it is less cluttered, and infinitely more addictive. It never mashes the middle, nor does it slow down the mids. Saying that, it is the most voluble and demanding frequency. Mids are wide and sparkly.
The two gel. Neither competes for the ear. Both retain clear, distinct strokes. Even low mids, jammed as they are against a rather throbbing bass, are clear. In terms of sound pressure, low bass has weight, but nothing like the weight the FX500 wears. It's most audible band is from 70Hz and up.
The only hitch is in the upper vocal range. There seems to be some sort of mild suck out there. It can dull both female and male vocals and some percussion, but because of its overall sound pressure, the suck out has very little deleterious effect to your music.
Bass vs. highs: ohmage
This is the first Earsonics earphone that has me shuffling between classical and trance. It's the highs- vital bits that didn't quite make the cut in the SM2 or the SM3. Yes, that mild cut out in the upper mids, at times, can be a bugger; but it’s not enough to make me prefer any other Earsonics earphone.
Metallic chimes are distinctly metallic. Nothing up top is softened by anything- that is, aside from your choice of tips. Bass and highs stand their ground. They are rendered clearly, and with perfect accent and pitch. Neither is too warm nor too cold.
Drivability and sensitivity: ohmage
Again, 98 ohm shouldn't scare anyone away. The SM64 is highly sensible. At 122dB, it is one of the most sensitive earphones out there. This combination of high sensitivity and high resistance is perfect. Typically noisy sources shouldn't hiss, and typically incapable sources should have no problem driving good resolution into Ersonics' flagship.
The SM3 was a good step in that direction. The SM64 is the perfection of that step. The only people who should worry about the 98 ohms are people with ridiculous sources that are incapable of putting out the small dose of extra voltage necessary to bring the SM64 up to equal sound pressure levels. I have encountered no such player in my embarrassingly growing line-up of audiophile gear.
The SM64 is more than competent in every audio benchmark, more than competent in build quality. It works brilliantly. It sound even better. Its only problem is its tired and somewhat ill-tailored suit. A bit of clean up and it would be great on all fronts. It is not a Sennheiser product. And it certainly isn’t from Ocharaku. But its misses won’t leave you chapped and raw. Why? Because they are shoe-horned into such otherwise loveliness. The SM64 will leave you in wonder about the universe of music in your CD jackets, on your shelves, on your hard disk. It is as big an eye-opener in the stage earphone world as the monolith was to a squalid family of hominids . and is one of the best earphones out there.