Feel free to listen to my “Audio Audition” Spotify playlist on the right while reading this. I’ve been adding to it all year. These tracks are of course songs I like and know pretty well now, but also chosen specifically to test the headphones I try out across a good spectrum of the stuff I listen to.
Those of you who know me know that I’m a big music fan. While I try to keep my worst audiophile tendencies in check (past ABX and hearing tests have done a good job on that front), I do enjoy a good pair of cans. About a decade ago, I was introduced to my first Etymotics, and I’ve been a big IEM (in-ear monitor) fan since then.
As an aside, my IEM history can be summed up with: Etymotic ER4P, ER6, Future Sonics FS1, Atrios, Westone UM3X, Audeo PFE 232, Shure SE215se, Etyomic hf3, Westone UMPro 50, RHA T10is. I’ve had some regular cans as well, included modded Grado SR60s, Sennheiser HD 580s, and Denon AH-D2000s. I’ve also auditioned the Orpheus and Stax electrostatics and some ridiculous JH and Fitear IEMs. All that’s just a way of saying I have some experience listening to a wide range of headphones.
Especially while traveling, I’m pretty hard on my gear. I lost one of my UM3X drivers (detachable cables, natch) while going through Heathrow. My Etymotic hf3s that I picked up in Singapore earlier this year are electrical taped at the mic control and the connector. Sadly, I also occassionally misplace them. Notably, I lost my Audeo PFE 232s (which I’ve had for a couple years, loved, and are discontinued) at the beginnings of my travels in Taipei. I had to go through some replacements, which prompted a rant against the Wirecutter, and eventually I couldn’t resist buying a pair of Westone UM Pro 50s while I was in Tokyo (they were just over $600 at BIC Camera in Tokyo vs $700+ in the US, although they can be had for $650 now).
The UM Pro 50s are really fantastic, although the full bass/mid hump took me a while to adjust to, and was a bit unexpected as I had assumed it’d be more similar to the UM3Xs (which were notable for insane detail/voice separation). They settled down after a bit of burn-in though, and I ended up quite liking them. Still, if I were buying them again, I’d really want to sit down and audition/compare vs the Westone W50s ($750), W60s ($1000), Shure 846s ($1000), and maybe AKG K3003s ($1150) and the FitEar 334s ($1350+) to boot.
The UM Pro 50s (and a 3rd party MMCX TRRS cable) would actually be the end of my story if I hadn’t unfortunately, lost them a few months later in Amsterdam. That meant I had gone through well over a thousand dollars of headphones in less than a year, so I put myself on headphone probation and made do with the hf3’s I had picked up in Singapore (like most Etymotics, barely any bass to speak of, but good detail/clarity).
I preordered them last month and I’ve had them for a week or so now. The summary is that I’m really digging them. They deliver fantastic sound quality for their price point, and they are pretty comfortable in ear – they feel very much like metal Westones for fit, and while a bit heavy in the hand, I’m able to wear them for long periods of time w/o physical or aural fatigue.
There are a bunch of reviews (also in the linked thread) and some video reviews as well now, but I thought it’d be worth throwing my 2 cents in. I’ll just go into bullet points since that’ll be easier:
- Build quality is great. The coated memory-metal ear wires and metal shells are really neat, especially when you put them on and they warm up. Between the materials and design, you really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth in a way that most much higher-end IEMs are missing.
- The packaging/accessories are fantastic. They include a bunch of tips – I’m actually using one of the ball-shaped silicone tips after years of preferring foam/comply tips as the supplied foam tips are actually too large/uncomfortable for my ears. I prefer “Large” sized Comply tips, so that’s a bit of a surprise. The fit/sound is good w/ the tips I’m using however. Isolation is… ok (better than earbuds), but not as much as I’d like w/ my IEMs. We’ll see how they fare on the plane next week.
- Related to that, microphonics are also… ok. Anything below the Y split is silent, but it has about average microphonics above that, although it’s not too noticeable w/ music playing under normal activity
- The cable is TRRS w/ an Apple remote and a mic (yay!). It also has a really nice metal spring for strain relief, however the cables do not appear replaceable.
- OK, enough of that, more about the main event. As I mentioned, the sound is surprisingly good. I don’t really have a dog in the balanced armature vs dynamic driver arguments, but in the past I’ve mostly preferred the sound/fit of the BA IEMs I’ve tried. These T10is have been great though – decent soundstage, good localization, and generally good clarity/detail. As good as anything else I’ve listened to in the $200-300 range.
- The bass is well controlled (rarely boomy), but very present. I spent most of the first week with the reference tips listening to my collection (mostly V0 MP3s and Spotify Extreme quality) on my iPhone 5S and my Aune T1 DAC. Even after hours, it didn’t really settle, which wasn’t a problem so much for the bassy tracks, but would just constantly surprise me when it’d pop up in a random acoustic. Luckily the T10i comes w/ a couple filter tips, and I found the treble tip much more to my liking. I listened for excess unwanted silibance but didn’t find anything too objectionable – YMMV based on source material/listening acuity and preferences, but I found the treble tips to be much preferable. Bass is still there, but not overbearing (OK, I miss it a bit sometimes). But it also noticeably cleared up some mid-range congestion, making it a great tradeoff.
- They’ll be available at Apple Stores apparently, so they should be easy to give a demo on fit (although it’s probably too loud/busy for critical listening)