Details of past posts

I’m just testing out the new Lumix, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m just used to my 20D, but the pics are too noisy for my taste. I have to try to borrow other point and shoot cameras to double check if it simply is an issue of point-and-shoots in general. In any case, it doesn’t matter since it ain’t mine.

Since my 20D isn’t back yet, I thought I should just use the new cam for my new stuff. The canalphones really needed live pictures because it’s so hard to describe in text my particular concerns without sounding too complicated – so I thought it would be better to have pictures for the benefit of the people who actually are interested in whatever the hell I put in my blog.

You can click on the thumbnails in this post for a larger view

Before I get into the canalphones, I’ve always been mentioning in my previous posts about the nice hard-disk enclosures I’ve been using. Here’s what they look like.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets get back to the canalphone comparison.

FutureSonics Inc. EM3s and Etymotic Research ER4Ps

First, we see on the right are the FSI EM3s (top) using the ER4Ps (which I will call ETYs from now on) black foam sleeves. The ETYs are at the bottom on the other hand, are using the “small” foam sleeves of the EM3s. I had bought both regular and small sleeves for the EM3s for obvious reasons, but found out that I couldn’t get a good enough seal using the small ones due to the EM3s shape.

Then the extra regular foams of the EM3s were lousy because the tubing (the lining in the middle of the foam, where you insert the actual headphone) wasn’t glued properly, so I just wasted money on something useless, which is part of the reason why I wanted to use washable and sturdy silicon sleeves (which aren’t pictured).

Etymotic Research ER4Ps up-close

Now we have a much closer shot of the ETYs with the supplied case. Notice the wiring I was talking about: twisted pair at the inserts, a big plastic slab at the joint, where the shirt clip is connected, then finally a thick, single, shielded wire going to the gold plated contacts. Everything about this canalphone has been well thought out. You can also see the “tubing” I was talking about (the hole” in the middle of the foam).

I confirm that foam does indeed give a better seal (ergo better response), but it simply is a hassle to show around as it easily picks up dust. The charcoal/ash foam tips of the ETYs are a godsend, as you can see I’m now using them with the EM3s. And I plan to just finish up the small tips on the ETYs, because if not, they’d just be sitting there forever. The ETYs are the least of my problems since it does have silicon tips as a last resort, the EM3s however can only use the foam tips (or custom molds, which I haven’t got… yet)

The shirt clip, as I mentioned is very useful because both EM3s and ETYs have very sensitive components, which can make you hear stuff rubbing against the wires. I did some tests and noticed that the “rubbing” reaction is not because the wire itself microphonic properties, but because the tips detect movement near it (meaning the blue and red joints). If you hold the wire and start messing with anything under your hand, there is no such nuance… same goes for the EM3s.

So for both earphones, to eliminate/minimize such “sounds” I run them inside my shirt. And when I do that, I prefer running them from behind. The next problem that arises is that they are easily tugged downwards, like when you pull out the iPod and try to put it in front of you. Or if you sit down and the wire was already straight down without any allowance. This is still a problem with the EM3s, but not so with the ETYs because I can clip it at the back collar of my shirt, have the wire run down, and voila! I also noticed the ETYs’ wire was considerably longer, so I can check on my iPod without having to pay attention if it will start pulling from the back.

Another major advantage is how easy the ETYs are to put on. If you’re still confused how canalphones work, take a look at the EM3s in the picture. The big part (which I will now call “drivers” form hereon) will fit into the ear like normal earbuds… the foam however, would be already inside. For the ETYs, if you would look at me wearing them, you’d proabably only see the red and blue joints sticking out of my ear. the black part would be at the same area which the EM3 drivers would be at, and part of the black cylinder, as well as the foam, would already inside the ear itself.

Hence the word “in-ear/canalphones”… duh!

Now as I mentioned, the EM3s with small foam tips don’t work, unless you have a really small ear canal. My canal is medium, as I can get a seal with even the small, but it is easily broken with the EM3s – partly because of the drivers, which are simply lodged in the outer ear. If you move your ears (which I can do, or if you yawn for example) then the driver will obviously easily move with your outer ear regardless of how your foam is placed… it can be quite frustrating. That’s why it’s good to use regular sized foam, since it has more “area” to cover regardless if the drivers move around.

Furthermore, inserting the EM3s in general is more difficult as you have to compress the foam, and have to insert it before it gets to expand. Naturally you’d want to hold on to the foam until right before insertion… if you try this with the big drivers of the EM3s, the positioning of your fingers isn’t optimal for such an entry; either you have foam tips that expand slowly, or you should be really quick and good at it.

The ETYs on the other hand, are much easier to insert. By looking at the picture, you can imagine that if you compress the foam, it will literally become as wide as the black drivers/barrels of the ETYs, and you can keep on holding onto the foam until the very last second. Not to mention because it’s more of a “stick” by now, you can guide it in like you would guide a cotton swab.

And because of its “thinness,” moving your ear will indeed move the barrel, but the movement will be closer to that of a lever – where the other end (foam inside your ear) relatively remains in the same place… unlike the EM3s, hence, the seal is more likely to be maintained. So for now, I’ll use the small tips on the ETYs even if the bigger ash/black ones are cooler to look at.

More on Performance

Compared to the EM3s, the ETYs lack bass considerably. I would hesitate the word “lack” because I can hear the low notes, but they simply don’t have the “kick” the EM3s have. So at the end of it all, no amount of rationalization will eclipse that fact. For really low notes, you can hear the note, but can’t really “feel” it that much. That’s probably the only area (aside from the price) where I would prefer the EM3s – the EM3s, as they are really “fun” to listen to.

So switching from EM3s to ETYs, will give me that “where the hell did the bass go?” feeling, until I get acclimated to the ETYs. Switching the other way however gives me “where are the highs – and what happened to the soundstage!? The EM3s are already impressive how they can immerse you in the music, but compared to the ETYs, they sound almost claustrophobic – and I noticed this nuance before I considered getting the ETYs. The bass however, more than makes up for that flaw.

The Bass of the EM3s however, I must keep reminding myself, are unnatural to some extent. The reason they are fun is that it compensates for the visceral bass that is lost compared loudspeaker setup. In a loudspeaker, you “feel” some parts of the low frequences which you don’t actually “hear.” Coupled with the fact that there are low frequencies that you can hear, it makes it seem that that particular note you’re hearing has that extra “slam.” EM3s compensate this by boosting the low frequencies higher than average… which is good or bad depending on the school of thought you subscribe to.

On the other hand, everybody likes bass, so both schools of thought are correct. The only concern I have is that if you count on the bass too much of an overboosted dynamic driver (wether speaker or headphone), then if you mix/master with it, you may tend to assume bass equalization wrongly:

  • You can play up the bass too much (since the drivers can handle the bass) – at the risk of lesser quality speakers not handling the load, hence sounding horrible.
  • You can play down the bass too much (thinking that you can circumvent the natural boost your existing monitoring device introduced, and end up putting in too little bass in your mix.

The ETYs however do the opposite, which is to try to reproduce as accurately as possible. In some songs I can feel the visceral effects, and in some, they are lacking… whereas in the EM3s, the visceral effects is present in the same set of songs. I would attribute it to the mixing/mastering of the songs. The ETYs simply can detect and delineate these fine details. The fact that the ETYs still can deliver such bass proves that it’s ability to produce the bass is not to be questioned, so it isn’t “lacking” in power at all.

I noticed in my mixes that sometimes, my basslines tend to get muddled at some point, whereas I hear other songs done professionally have clearer, and more importantly, lower bass. Hence, I’ve just confirmed that the ETYs depicted that my mix/mastering was below par because of its accruacy and not because it “couldn’t handle the load.”

Anyways, I have them both, so it doesn’t matter which school of thought I subscribe to. They basically balance each other out, I love them both.

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