Earsonics EM32: Weight

The Sound

And as this essay gets progressively happier and happier (and I drunkier and drunkier), the hardest thing for me to do is to transfer the smile on my face to the blank space below this full stop.

I’m getting sidetracked by just how damn comfy this earphone is. Part of that comfort extends to how I listen to music. The EM32 is neither too sensitive, nor hard to drive. Dig the original iPod shuffle, but not its constant whispering background noise? The EM32 cuts down enough of the background noise to make that white gumstick really sing.

Another praise-worthy point is that the EM32, like the SM3 before it, is simple to drive. Plug it into pretty much any modern source or amp and get high quality signal direct to your drums. It eschews crazy impedance swings for staid, conservative loads. Even if your source is an iPod video, you will get great, well-voiced signal straight from its headphone output.

This is one of the marks of a well-designed audio circuit.

And, that conglomeration of silicon, acrylic, and metal sounds:

Heavenly.

In this case, heavenly could be spelled h-e-a-v-y. Heavy as in from the bottom. The EM32 has no problem in rendering the almost inaudible opening seconds to Markus Schulz’s Mainstage. Unlike most earphones capable of rendering lows as low, the EM32 maintains supreme control from there on up.

Bass detail freaks: as long as you are into lows for the backbone, not the airy spaces, EM32 will float your boat. Bass is strongly anchored, but gloms to the centre. The effect is like standing about five metres from stage between two large, well-hung sub woofers.

EM32 sports just three drivers. Two of them are huge. One is small. The small one does treble. One of the big ones does mids. The other handles bass. You might think that headroom would suffer. You’d be wrong. While thunderous, bass never, ever, booms. It never hits walls. It never flubs. Is it supremely controlled? Probably not. But it’s supremely natural. And like a pair of stage subwoofers, it zaps your medulla oblongata, and down.

That means that separation of elements, of left/right bass channels, of super fine details is of secondary importance. Of primary importance is the feel, the touch, of the bass.

And despite more air and more separation, mids follow a similar pattern. And they pull you in. The SM3 impressed me by adding emotion to the laid back sound signature of the SM2. EM3 keeps step. Mids are round, full, lush; and despite taking up what what feels like a smaller piece of the frequency pie, their space is fully their own. Bass doesn’t encroach on mids. The sense of speed remains high, and elements such as vocals, are lustrous, fibrous, and strong.

Back in the day, I dug what I called linear: a sheet-rattle of barely audible bass, ample upper mid range tweak, and what I called detail. Detail amounted to lots of treble sound pressure. My weapon of choice was the Etymotic ER4. At the desk, I used a pre-2005 Beyerdynamic DT880. As time went on, that preference softened. Today, I appreciate where I came from, and still lean toward a contrasty upper mid section and a good sense of space. But more and more, adjectives like powerful and emotional have become important.

But just as often, powerful earphones do one of several things wrong. And EM32 doesn’t. It is powerfully natural; or perhaps I should say naturally powerful sounding. Next to bass, treble presence trails off a bit, but not at the expense of speed. EM32 keeps up with any foot-tapping music you in your arsenal. In fact, it is one of a very few bassy earphones that sounds really really good with trance. No, there isn’t enough contrast between lows and highs to emulate the that genre’s namesake. No nodding off into lala land as Vibrasphere, or Infected Mushroom spin away. Head bopping speed? Yes. Chest-booming power? Yes.

Several years ago, Headfi’s Currawong commented on an ejaculation of mine about the ortofon e-Q5, which I was then reviewing. His exact words I forget. But this was their gist:

Didn’t figure you for an earphone that had real bass.

That was a surprise. But so was my take up with the Earsonics SM3. And today, the EM32. And now the EM32.

But I’m maturing. And the EM32, with its focus on the feel of music, has grown on me.

The Meh

But let’s close this. If you are a so-called detail freak, favouring super-duper contrast between bass and high mids, or that ER4-style etchy treble, the EM32 likely won’t fit your tastes. And, if you dig ponderous, duffy lows that don’t apologise for hitting their own ceiling, EM32 won’t do. It’s too controlled for the latter, and too laid back for the former.

It gets the details across just fine, but when a song is over, you won’t be gabbing about the sound of fingerprints rubbing off on coiled steel. You’ll be on about how the guitar solo made you feel, and how Broken Social Scene really were on it.

The Conclusion

EM32 is Earsonics through and through. It’s about feeling, about mood. It’s an earphone that sounds great sans amp. It’s an earphone that’s not too sensitive. And yeah, it’s obvious that the finer details: earphone guts that could be swept for prints, and that really could do with a hoover, got left out. But it’s equally obvious that what really matters to Earsonics, and the reason they have no qualms with leaving behind evidence, is that the sound engine behind it all is what matters.

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

16 Comments

  • Reply October 4, 2014

    TokenGesture

    Great review. How do they compare to the S-EM6 (which I own and love)? And also, what full size headphone would you say (if any) achieves a similar ‘bottom up” sound signature with lush mids and controlled highs?

    • Reply October 5, 2014

      ohm image

      TokenGesture, thank you for the comment. I’m not sure why there is a dearth of them here.

      S-EM6 I had only for a few weeks and loved the sound. The sound was, in fact, similar to the EM32, but only if you could get on with the right tips. I wasn’t able to find a great fit, but even without a good fit, the same lushness was there. That said, EM32 has a lot more bass presence.

      It is a very worthy custom.

      As for full size headphones with the same sound: I’ve not heard one. Most that have such nice bass are mushy somewhere. The EM32 isn’t mushy at all- anywhere.

      • Reply October 5, 2014

        TokenGesture

        Cheers – I’m lucky with the fit on the S-EM6 (it took a bit of practise) but EM32 certainly has me intrigued, if I decide to go the custom route. I’m with you on full size – starting to think IEMs are where it’s at! Earsonics seem to be a bit of a cult brand – not that widely known outside the musicians community, maybe that explains the lack of comments.

        • Reply October 5, 2014

          ohm image

          Earsonics have a strong following, but you are right, among musicians. And, there was some fallout regarding SM3 and SM64. They totally ‘get’ the earphone thing and the reason a person would go portable.

          EM32 is almost as as easy to drive as SM3, which is a blessing. I didn’t expect such a bombastic/nuanced sound from them, but that is what I got.

          If you get the chance to try them, please do.

          S-EM6 didn’t fit securely in my ears. Are you able to get a secure fit (without the earphone shifting down against the concha)?

          • Reply October 5, 2014

            TokenGesture

            Yes – I went back to the stock tips, there is a kind of trick to sort of screwing them in place, they are now very comfortable and very stable, also great isolation. I use them on the London tube and am sealed off from the noise! Sound amazing with the Chord Hugo and DX90 as transport.

  • Reply October 11, 2014

    malifact

    Interesting review. How do these compare to the Noble Audio K10 which was recently reviewed? Do you have a preference out of the two?

    • Reply October 20, 2014

      ohm image

      I’m sorry this is so late.

      The question you ask is perfectly loaded. I don’t think that the customer for the K10 and the EM32 are that likely to cross paths. The K10 is a more mid-heavy custom while the EM32 is a more bass-low-mid heavy earphone.

      Micro details are the K10’s thing while nuance is the EM32’s thing.

      I have no preferences necessarily, but I find that the heavier EM32 sound is better suited to smaller, simpler ensembles. Neither one is a favourite for fast classical or electronic, but of the two, I’d put the K10 for the detail classical freak and the EM32 for the relaxing classical freak.

      Hip hop? EM32, hands down.

  • Reply October 24, 2014

    Chris

    How EM32 compare to CE6E?

    • Reply October 24, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I have the Cosmic Ears and Nathan has the EM32, tough to compare in this case

      • Reply October 24, 2014

        Chris

        Thanks for the answer. I was hoping for the comparison since I’m interested in both of them (I owned BA4r).

  • Reply January 20, 2015

    Preet

    I’m considering this for my first serious headphones, I mostly listen to metal. Should I go ahead with this or is there a better option around this price range?

    • Reply February 19, 2015

      ohm image

      Sorry for being tardy. What is it you like in metal music? You need to decide what you really savour in your music. Then make decisions around that. Think first in spectra: lows, mids, highs, then think more esoterically: space, speed, power in the lows, extension in one or the other. Do you like bite? Do you dislike it? Come back with the answers to these and let’s discuss.

      • Reply March 2, 2015

        Preet

        There are two genres that I really like, Death Metal and Black Metal. I like the speed of the former and want something that allows me to pick out every single note in it. The instruments in this music are mostly on the low end. Black Metal on the other hand feature high-pitched tones but unlike Death Metal it focuses on atmosphere. One common thread I find in this is the layering of instruments. Yes I do like bite in my sound…Hope I did enough to explain myself.

        Thank you for replying

        • Reply March 2, 2015

          ohm image

          If atmospheric elements (as I understand them) are your thing, probably something like the Noble K10 would be better, as it pushes more contrast in that frequency. The EM32 is speedy, but, as per the title, it is about weight, not the small, fiddly atmospheric bits that hold up a sense of space and speed.

  • Reply October 22, 2017

    Cableman

    You did the test with the stock cable, I think it is a GREAT MISTAKE.

    The stock cable do not deserve the EM32 correctly.

    Update the test with a high end cable and check how the EM32 will be far better !

    • Reply October 22, 2017

      ohm image

      It’s not as easy as that. Every earphone is designed around a certain cable (usually because that cable provides an expected resistance), the failure to use may cause the earphone to sound different to how it was intended.

      Now, you may or may not like that sound, but simply willy nilly switching cables is a punt as many don’t provide the same spec of the original. Of course, as a cable man, you know that.

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