FutureSonics EM3


Ok, I’m convinced that USPS (United States Postal Service) is a good mail courier. My headphones arrived yesterday… the same day I tracked the package and found out it arrived in the country.

Though it was priority mail, it wasn’t nearly as pricey as the normal known couriers (FedEx, DHL, UPS, etc.) Shipping it via FedEx et all would range from 70-100USD, which was like 70-100% of the price of the item itself – this was unacceptable. Fortunately my friend’s relative decided to go the much cheaper USPS, which at first I was apprehensive only because of the “safety” aspect (it is a small package and can easily get lost/stolen).

Anyways, there’s quite a backstory involved: On the 16th of June, I had asked a friend to purchase the EM3s for me since his dad was coming home on the 23rd of June. He completed the transaction on the 16th, while at the end of the business week, we figured it was still enough time to get to his dad (since a 3-5 day shipping schedule is pretty much reliable in the US). To cut a long story short, it didn’t make it (it arrived the day after he left). One thing led to another and we ended up agreeing that his relatives ship it internationally, and which is what the initial paragraphs were about.

So we went USPS, I tracked it the first time I was informed that it had been dropped at the drop point (which was the 28th Phlippine time). First time I checked, I saw this:

ACCEPTANCE               CASTRO VALLEY CA 94546                 06/27/05  2:00pm
ENROUTE                  OAKLAND CA 94615                       06/27/05  6:21pm
ENROUTE                  SAN FRANCISCO CA 94128                 06/28/05  9:19am
INTERNATIONAL DISPATCH   SAN FRANCISCO AMC                      06/28/05  9:20am

Cool, it already had left the United States. But you have to understand that the United States Postal Serivce’s jurisdiction doesn’t span internationally, – this means once it reaches the Philippines, our ‘ol *cough*reliable*cough* postal service would take over. I expected a bottleneck somewhere in our country (perhaps spanning to the regular 2 weeks we’re all used to). Obviously I was proven wrong, and I’m really pleased by what has transpired. It literally took 3-5 days to get my earphones… internationally to boot! Something truly worth commending.

How much did it cost? 18 dollars. Not bad at all 🙂

The Earphones up Close

I’ve tried GPs already, so I already know how good the earphones are. But now was my chance of using them for extended periods of time to truly get a feel of them.

At first, they sounded terrible. While the dynamic range was awesome, there wasn’t any “space” at all in the mixes of the songs I heard – it was like they were all clumped in the center of the mix. I worried since I knew dynamic drivers had to be “broken/burned in,” but I never expected them to sound this bad. Not that they sounded “bad” mind you, but compared to what I heard from GPs pair (which convinced me to buy a pair for myself), they really sounded defective.

Fortunately the “burn-in” process indeed holds true: as I’m posting this, I’ve noticed a significant increase in audio quality, and I expect it to improve as time goes by.


I was disappointed that it operated on a 40Hz-20KHz scale. When the site said it was 20Hz-20KHz. Though at the low end I can say that the bass is REALLY more than enough.

Despite the seemingly limited low-end, I was amazed (and bewildered) how it was able to deliver such bass while operating on a 40Hz threshold. I’ve never been a bass person to begin with, so it may that I’m not so picky – but in all honesty, it packs a surprisingly tremendous amount of bass, visceral or otherwise. I’m really not the one to say it, but the best way to prove my point is to simply compare it to whatever “ultra-bass” in-ear type headphone you can throw against it – I’m pretty confident it will win (or hold its own at the very least).

The mids are also superb, but I’m still not that hot about the highs. I remember saying to GP that the highs seem to be lacking (the roll-off is too steep perhaps). But I also kept in mind that I probably wasn’t wearing them right (these types of headphones are a pain in the ass to put on), or that I had some dirt too deep in my ears that had to be cleaned. I’m one of those “dry ears” guys, so I don’t suffer from the moist earwax. Because my ears are dry, they’re easier to clean because once you latch on the hardened wax, everything comes with it… unless some are lodged deep in my ear canal… in that case I’d have to visit a specialist and have them cleaned.

Another possibility I’m dreading is that I’m probably used to too much highs – this would mean I’ll have to “adjust” my hearing preference. I take pride more in my abilities rather than my achievements, and modesty aside, I’ve always been proud of my hearing ability. And I’ve spent my whole life trying to listen to music in the most neutral way possible – meaning I always start (and usually stay with a flat EQ setting). As much as I’m willing to adjust my preference if my preference is proven wrong, I truly hope it isn’t the case this time – or at least hope that I can adjust quickly if need be.

Having said that, I still think that it could use a bit more on the high frequencies. Or I hope that further burning in would bring those frequencies out eventually. But this is a miniscule issue, since this also depends on how acute your sense of hearing is. Some people may not even hear what the hell I’m talking about.

Going back to the good stuff: The EM3s are awesome, but of course, not as awesome as their 700-1000USD siblings/rivals. Regardless, I’m pretty sure that they’re damn good – enough to earn the respect of audiophiles; how else could these ugly things sell? I think Futuresonics did a really excellent job on balancing the dynamic driver to replicating a “transparent” sound given the necessary “boosts and cuts” required for headphone frequency-response curves.

In fact, they’re so good, that I confirmed for myself the other claims that one of the drawbacks of the EM3 is that they are too good, that you can hear (almost) every mistake in a mix. Of course for the OC sound engineer, this would be a godsend. The OC listener however would have to get used to listening to compressed music again. Since even at high bitrates, you can’t help but hear the “compression.”

Mind you, these are all using your regular audio devices, be it speakers or headphones. The better quality speakers/headphones you get, the more these “flaws” will be apparent. Which is why audiophiles despise compression in general. They only go lossless regardless of how big the files are. I mean if you have the best equipment, and the best ears to match, then you’d understand while they won’t settle for anything less.

Suffice to say, that I’m not such a person. Though I may be picky most of the time, at the end of the day, I would rather enjoy music than to enjoy “audio.” So as long as I know the limitations of my hardware, then I can live with the penalties of such limitations. That’s why this whole roll-off issue is irritating the hell out of me – I don’t know if it’s a limitation of the headphones I have to live with, or a flaw in my hearing preference which I have to change.


Now that we’ve got performance out of the way, let’s see if this is a type of earphone the average listener would love.

  • Advantage: As far as audio is concerned, without a doubt. Since people love bass, and the dynamic range on these babies are sublime, then its hard to find a person that wouldn’t love the sound.

  • Disadvantage: As for the look, obviously not. If you’re a mac fanatic and like your stuff all nice and stylish, then these aren’t for you. Get the Shures instead, but make sure you get an E4c or higher, since they’re the only ones that sound better than these. Of course Ultimate Ears are also cool looking.

  • Advantage: The other side of the look issue is that it’s good in the sense that it doesn’t scream to be stolen. It may be ridiculously cheap for the quality of audio it gives, but it still is 100USD. And no one want’s to loose hundred dollar headphones.

  • Disadvantage: As for comfort. People say that these are comfortable. I cannot imagine how awful the “non-comfortable” must feel like. I must admit, I’m not that used to these types of phones, which can be construed as “earplugs.” Because unlike the regular earbud headphones, these require you to seal you ear, which is why they have foam, or flanged silicone “sleeves” that are inserted much deeper into your ear. By now I don’t have to tell you that I don’t enjoy wearing them for extended periods of time. I think the foam is too thick for my ears, and the thin sleeves are too thin – and obviously, they don’t have medium-sided sleeves.

  • Advantage: These earplug type phones are great for listening to music in any place regardless of the volume of the environment – as they are “sound isolation” phones by nature. You can literally leave your volume level steady and still hear pianissimos and fortissimos of your material because you’re blocking out all other external sound (like your own mini-studio in your ear)

  • Disadvantage: Continuing that thought, you have to be ready not to talk to anyone while listening to your music. Because for one thing, you probably wont hear them well or at all if the music is playing.

  • As of today, this is a disadvantage, but maybe it just takes getting used to: they’re difficult to wear. Sure you can jam them in you ear and seal, but to get them really “comfortably” in there, you’d have work. I like moving my ears (subconsciously or otherwise) and this can displace it from time to time, defeating the “seal”

  • Disadvantage: Foam! Easily dirtied. I remember teasing GPs because his phones were dirty – so of course there were the obligatory tutuli jokes. Mine on the other hand are brand new, and after a night are noticeably dirtier than the previous day – partly because our unit is situated by C5 (dust), and when you put in foam earphones, you usually have to squeeze the foam together, and insert them, so that they will expand in the ear and make a proper seal. I don’t need to tell you that what if you put it on and take it out often in a day – and of course no one has the time to keep on washing their hands whenever they do that. So the foam easily reflects the dirt accumulated easily. Now Its only a matter of time till I’m the victim of the tutuli jokes, even if my ears are perfectly clean. Another disadvantage of course is that you can’t “lend” it to just anyone if you want them to listen to something. It’s simply unhygienic unless you’re really, REALLY good friends with them hahahaha.

What Now?

That’s about it, I discussed the pros and cons of the earphones. And while there are indeed a few practical disadvantages, they sound so good that I really don’t regret buying them.

In fact, because of that whole foam issue, I’m now planning to have FutureSonics make custom silicon molds. Re-washable, and infinitely more comfortable and easy to put on (because they are going to base the mold on my ear canal).

Only two disadvantages: First is that I can’t lend them to anyone anymore simply because they won’t fit into their ears. And the second is that it will set me back at least another 150USD for the molds alone. And before they make them, they need “ear-impressions,” which I have to visit an audiologist for – I hear those don’t go cheap also.

The price sucks since the total amount that will come out of this would probably have gotten me the “better” Shure models (or the Etymotic Research ER4s). But who knows, maybe the EM3s will sound better once the music is “resonating” perfectly to the contours of my ear… at least that’ll be my excuse hehehe.

One Reply to “FutureSonics EM3”

  1. although they DO look ugly, especially upclose, and are really expensive (!), am glad you like your newest purchase. 🙂

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