NOTE: the e-Q8 is a very difficult to drive earphone. You won’t get any bass out of it if you are using an older iPod, HiSound player, Cowon, Sony, or myriad headphone amps with low-current, high-Ω outputs. Check out Portaphile amps, or Vorzüge’s Vorzamp (review coming later this week). On the low end, the original iPod shuffle does the trick, and to a lesser extent, the Sansa Clip. On the high end, check out Mezzo Hifi modded AK100. I try to break it down here. iBasso’s DX90 reference audio player is an equally good choice. Each of these is able to coax the right amount of resolution and nuance from the e-Q8 to make it really stand out. And trust me, when this earphone stands out, it stands with the best earphones out there, at any price.
Assuming your output device is up to snuff, what the e-Q8 shoots at your ears your ears is phenomenal. The most phenomenal point is its bass, which kicks out an amazing sense of presence and lateral detail. Lacking is the attendant sound pressure. Bass is clean, thick, excellently textured, but never bounces around much in the ear. I don’t get it. I love it, but I don’t get it. It’s the sort of bass that really sounds like a fast full-size headphone dynamic driver, but doesn’t feel like it. Driven properly, it is similar to the e-Q7. But it goes a further step forward. Better detail, faster; it spits out stronger undercurrent. Both are fast, but e-Q8 is sweeter, more liquid, and somewhat more forgiving. But again, you won’t hear a decibel of it unless your source/amp can kick the requisite amounts of current into its load.
The e-Q8’s sound stage is wilder than the e-Q7’s, but there is less Z presence. Details splay wide. The 3D draw is wider, and more contrasty, but is neither overbearing nor scratchy. Highs are tangier, but high mids sing with mostly the same voice.
Alien to the e-Q8 are harsh transitions that glom your music of its silky, smooth, loveliness. The e-Q8 has the smoothest, politest transitions from bass straight through to upper mids of any heretofore ortofon earphone. And that is saying a lot. In fact, properly driven, it may offer the cleanliest transitions of any universal earphone I’ve ever heard.
But it would be misleading to call the e-Q8 smooth or silky. Its transitions are perfectly silky, perfectly cohesive. It lacks the same chalky sound pressure in the lows for which the e-Q7 is lauded. Its high mids are less bulbous than either the e-Q7 or the e-Q5. And highs, while well extended, are elastic, and never scratchy. But the overall impression is first of speed and detail, second, of smoothness and silk. It is a fantastic marriage between the analytical and the fun. And, I think, the analytical wears the pants. (They are, of course, made of silk.)
e-Q8 manages to front speed, decay, and good, aggressive hard edges without the requisite harshness. Vocals and up are music as you hear them not music as interpreted to you
As you know, I own a number of high-end earphones. Some of them are totally awesome. Some are easy to drive. None, however, are as hard to drive as the e-Q8. Getting it to spit out anything but really smooth treble is pretty hard unless you have a system that kicks out stable current at insanely low Ω output. The other problem is that e-Q8 is extremely sensitive. Even if your amp kicks out the right amount of low-Ω current, it’s likely that it won’t be able to kick out a signal that is balanced in both left and right signals at comfortable listening levels. And it is guaranteed that you will hear noise from your system you never knew was possible. In fact, that last point is the single biggest argument for something like the Mezzo, whose noise output is practically null.
While e-Q8 won’t give you the fleshy impact of the Dita The Answer, it will keep up with every other of its laudable strengths. And, I think, it will keep up with your Roxannes, and S-EM6’s. Yes, e-Q8 is a single moving armature earphone, that when driven right, can kick the ass of pretty much anything.
There is one large gotcha, though. Whether it is due to systems unable to kick enough current to the e-Q8, or a problem with manufacturing quality control, it is clear that e-Q8 suffers problems with distortion. Read up about it at the e-Q8 thread at Headfi. My unit suffers no such buzzy buzz buzz. (I’m knocking on wood now.)
I first plugged my e-Q8 into an iPod nano 1G, and then an iRiver AK100. Later I used it with an iRiver AK240. Every single time, I thought: where’s the bass? Why did ortofon ‘upgrade’ the e-Q7 with something as gutless as this? Enter the Portaphile and the Mezzo HiFi. Enter the bass. Enter the ultimately smooth transitions, the space, the liquid highs. When everything was set up in its favor, the e-Q8 is a damn fine earphone. It is in fact, one of the finest-sounding earphones I have ever had in my ears. If only it ditched the textile cable. If only it was less sensitive and didn’t require a heavenly system to sound its best.
If only that buzzing question: “Is there really a quality control issue?” didn’t plague the current narrative. And yet, I’m convinced that, when all things are properly ordered, the e-Q8 is one of the finest earphones on the planet at any price.