Post-SM2, Earsonics changed their tune. Their tune used to be: sensitive, dark, and characterized by wildly swinging impedance. The SM2 still is my benchmark for testing the ability of an amp to supply enough current to low-impedance loads.
For that reason I love it.
But on every other front, I think Earsonics’s current route, is better. It is, in fact, one of the best house design standards in the world of balanced armature earphones.
For one, current Earsonics earphones’s low sensitivity levels obviate the worst hiss from poor amps and DAPs. And then, because it requires more voltage to hit comfortable listening levels, channel imbalance is rarely ever a problem. If it is a problem, your playback device/amp is a POS not worth the ink printed on this page.
That’s all to say that current Earsonics earphones are wonderfully easy to drive. Your old iPod will do the trick. Your old Walkman will do the trick. Even your old AMP3 Pro2 may sound okay. You do NOT need an amp. You will need to turn up the volume. But again, if your device can’t supply enough volume for safely loud listening volumes, it is a POS.
This is killer. And it probably comes from Earsonics’s experience with performing musicians, that need stable output no matter the battery pack into which they’re plugged.
As a result, most of this review was done plugged straight into a current-generation iPod nano. Back to back with iBasso, or with iRiver, or with other, trebly, quadruply expensive, players the nano holds its own. And it has Earsonics Velvet partially to thank for that.
As for what you’ll hear from Velvet, well that really depends. Since it’s got a new wide-mouth bore, it’s harder than before to bung up the sound path. The ear pads that I cobbled together sound as good as anything.
Then, there’s the analogue dial, which lets you set Velvet into one of three variable sound signatures. Earsonics call those: warm mode, balanced mode, and tight mode. I prefer this nomenclature: EM32 thick-ass bass mode, SM64-esque exciting mode, and closer-to-GR10 mode.
Take another gander at my EM32 review. I was floored by its deep, throaty bass. Bass that knocked your eardrums about like punching bags. Bass that yawns with ferocity, but which also yawns just to yawn. It’s not a bass that bottoms out, nor does it drift into the mids. It is strong, but eminently natural. It is addictive. It is detailed. It is also a bass more fun and unforgettable, than bass from most earphones out there. It doesn’t give up heaps of spatial detail, nor does it cast a really 3D image. But it centres everything, and is huge.
That’s the bass you get when you switch Velvet into Warm mode. Personally, I find it Velvet’s most addictive setting. It’s big bass done right.
Transitions are good across the field, but addicts of forward highs may miss angrier progressions from mids to upper mids and highs, that help turn a simple trance listen into a mind-catapult into the club.
God knows the bass has done its part to get you there. Mids aren’t at all pulled back or recessed. They border on the emotive, and thankfully tread far enough from the florid to make them work brilliantly with trance and EDM. Voices jump to the center, as do strings, woods, and your favorite jaw harp (which my wife mistakenly calls a Jew harp). But what my brain keeps coming back to is Velvet’s amazing bass.
I know that I’ll probably draw eyebrow lifts from some people on the net for saying this, but here goes: Velvet is a basshead earphone. And I’m a basshead. Being a basshead can mean one, or many, of many things. The basic tenet of bassheadinity is that bass, in form, and function, is it. You can be a basshead to whom only bass sound pressure is important; you therefore place little importance on bass definition, on bass extension, and on bass quality. That’s one part of being a basshead. Velvet, and the EM32, fulfil the requirements of the basshead that wants the sound pressure, but also the quality, the roundness, and the agility necessary to make it feel good.
Velvet nails those things. And yet, its bass isn’t too much, nor is it really the star. It is just damn addictive. The midrange balances against it well, and the highs, which drop slowly in sound pressure from the mids, don’t drop off too aggressively.
Highs certainly are muted when put side-by-side with forwarder earphones. The GR10’s smooth, but grippy upper mids trump Velvet’s, but only in signature. Earsonics have never been about forward upper mids. They’ve been about the smooth, ultra-keen transitions from one to the other. And Velvet is as smooth as any Earsonics ever. Sorry, that is wrong. It has smoother transitions from bass to mids than any hitherto universal Earsonics earphone. But it’s got a better high-presence than the SM3, and the S-EM6. Tuned correctly, it gives a very convincing approximation of a maturer SM64.
And god, it’s good.
While there’s not much to complain about, I will say this: people that desire stark contrast between spectra should move on. Velvet makes no sonic mistakes, but it is more laid back than the typical ‘reference’ earphone. And perhaps partly thanks to its softer body, its rendering of stage elements is closer, though well positioned, than, say, the SM64, and the EM32.
I’m also a fan of the Ultrasone IQ, but I’ve got to say: Velvet outclasses it in almost all regards. IQ’s biggest problem is that its bass driver has a tendency to bottom out when fed overly energetic, powerful bass lines. Velvet knows no bottom. Neither does it know as excited of an upper midrange.
Tuned to the balanced setting, it compares favorably with the LEAR BD4,2, which is saying a lot. The two are complementary, but interpretations of a similar verve. The LEAR of course, less bassy, and more mid-focused. The Earsonics: well, read the above.
Firstly, there’s too much black in this one. From the package, to the literature, to the accessories, Velvet is, while classy, a bit of a yawner. And its sound tube is a bit too soft. I’d prefer that I couldn’t roll it between my fingers without marveling at its elasticity. And while we’re on it, I think I should encourage Earsonics: you’ve made great strides. Velvet is so much more classy, and sure to appeal better than ever to the market into which your earphones have been funneled. I think it will do well. But I think you could go further: iron out the divots in the impact foam, make better ear pieces- when I think of more, I’ll mention it.
That you neither need an amp, nor needs your hissy iRiver AK100 an attenuator, makes Velvet such a pretty pony to pair with otherwise good-sounding, but ghastly noisome equipment. Its sonic performance is workhorse steady. Its new design is easy to use, and its sound as addictive as it is lovely. Had my early unit not fallen apart, it was a shoo-in for 2014’s best of. Velvet has raised my expectations from Earsonics.
It should yours, too.