Review: Earsonics S-EM9 – Shivers

Disclaimer: Many thanks to Earsonics for supplying the S-EM9 in this review free of charge. The S-EM9 packs in 9 drivers, only one of which is bass. (Can you guess which one?) It goes for around 1500$ USD. You can find out all about it here: Earsonics S-EM9.

Five minutes into my initial listen, a question fluttered – if just briefly – in my frontal lobe: is this the return of the classic? Polite, articulate highs, emotional largesse: echoes of the SM3. Just minutes later, I switched artists; and a few minutes after that, I switched genres. Hours later I got it.

No: this isn’t the return of the SM3. And yet, there’s something familiar there.

Pinning a house sound to Earsonics’s array of earphones is difficult. We’ve got chalky: original SM2; soft: SM3; split personality: Velvet; and in the SM64, depending on manufacture date, basically two earphones under one model number.

Not sound

The S-EM9 uses the familiar Earsonics cable. It memory wire is mid-long. Its mildly stiff. it’s got a compact L-shaped plug, and under its decades-familiar y-split and clear neck cinch, a tightly wound, triple-strand torso. It’s not a bad cable. It’s not a good cable. For glasses wearers, it sometimes gets in the way, but rarely unseats temples from ears. For everyone else, it’s a familiar non-microphonic vine. I’ve run with it, biked with it for hours under a summer sun in Seoul. I’ve given it treble the Nuforce HEM series treatment and it’s not only stayed together, my efforts barely stretched it.


The same smells-like-spray-paint zippered pouch, the same wax loop, the same 3,5 to 6,3 step up adapter, the same box, and excepting the Comply tips, the same awful ear tips from Velvet have moved onto S-EM9. Longtime Earsonics fans (me among them) use anything but Earsonics’s ear tips, which neither isolate well, nor for many people, fit snug. For me, they hurt.

Starting with Velvet, the sound tube diameter widened enough that Shure’s awesome yellow foams no longer work. The good news is that really comfy alternatives from SpinFit, Ortofon, and the sturdy nibs from the Final Audio F7200, work more or less like a charm. Many tips made to fit medium to large bores just work.


Just so you know, I’ve used the tips that came with my Final Audio F7200 for this review. Final or Comply, isolation waffles between so-so and decent. When on the train, I compensate by ticking up the volume. Thanks to short sound tube, the S-EM9 fits shallowly. Unlike the S-EM6, it fits flush in the ear, anchoring both hips and its shoulders against skin. The cable angle is natural. If you find a good tip, the S-EM9 may well be the most comfy among Earsonics’s line up of custom-cum-universals. My wife didn’t like to keep it in her ears for long, but she said it was more comfy than Andromeda, and certainly more so than most large earphones. (Oh, and it’s not really black. It’s a kind of chocolatey dark brown that looks black in normal circumstances.)

It is put together with care typical to Earsonics’s custom earphones. Its shells are tough, smooth, well-labelled, but here and there in the sound tube, you’ll see bubbles. Speaking of the sound tube, it’s drilled with three bores, each of which connects to one driver set. Speaking of which, the S-EM9 eschews the typical multi-bass driver speaker design for a multi mid and high design. Four each of the latter two, and a single full-sized bass driver. What soundiness, pray tell, does this portend?


Before we get off track, let’s talk two-pin. The unit Earsonics fed me has it. There is evidence that in the wild MMCX versions exist. I’ll be damned if I ever see one. And, I’m quite happy to not. Its novelty has worn off. As has the pressure fit of a number of user-level MMCX connectors out there. So far I’ve been lucky. But I have more trust in the classic and ain’t-broke-so-don’t-fix-it two-pin connector. Earsonics, thanks for staying the course.

Sound and more after the jump:

3.8/5 - (41 votes)

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.


  • Reply November 3, 2016

    Barun C

    Nice review their Nathan. I hope Earsonics improves the default cables in the near future, as I had a horrible experience with the Velvet Plastrics One (Grey) cable.

    The description of the crux of the sound, reminded me of the Velvet at “Tight” settings.

    • Reply November 6, 2016

      ohm image

      Yes, your problems with the cable are hot on my mind. It’s not a great cable, but it isn’t bad. I’ve used Earsonics earphones since 2010 and found their cables generally to be solid. Lemons exist, and that sucks.

      It is similar to Velvet, but at least as far as I can tell, even more energetic than Velvet at tight settings.

  • Reply November 6, 2016


    thanks for the review, do you find it more musically engaging than the Andromeda or just a different flavour?

    • Reply November 6, 2016

      ohm image


      I don’t find it necessarily more engaging. I find its upper midrange and highs less jointed and less smooth than Andromeda, which makes it appear more energetic in some genres. But the two are, at least in my opinion, on the same footing and equally enjoyable.

      • Reply November 6, 2016


        thanks and looking forward to your take on the newer campfire iems!

  • Reply November 8, 2016


    one of the worst review so far. I can tell this is another overpriced iem .
    soundstage is small with good clear imaging, not smooth , alittle thin sounding iem .
    sold mine 1 moth ago . don’t waste your money guys , price to performance is one of the worst .
    also don’t buy Astell&Kern AKT8iE another ovepriced iem .smooth treble . good bass with small soundstage .
    I compare them to roxanne and vega .

    • Reply November 9, 2016

      ohm image

      And here is a comment that misrepresents its own subjectivity. Clearly, droves of people like/love both the AKT8iE and S-EM9. That you don’t is neither here nor there. An earphone could technically be perfect. Neither you, nor I, must like it. We could even hate it. And in so doing, we prove our own subjectivity, or clear preferential bias.

  • Reply November 9, 2016


    that my humble opinion.
    I rate them considering the price .
    I can’t recommend any of these 3, because at this price you have to be more critical not positive…that ‘s a shame above 1000$ should be no mercy .
    you can put a list of positive and negative things of every iem and rate them considering the price . I’m sure many will like that .
    I suggest Adel U6 , fidue a83 or dunu titan. many chinese iem sound good and some are better than these overpriced iem.
    but no offence or hate , I just don’t like short way positive review at this price .
    Thank you

  • Reply November 12, 2016


    How does this compare to Oriolus? Specifically in terms of mids and soundstage. It’s one of the best hybrids I know.

    • Reply November 19, 2016


      This is not funny at all.

      I trust Nathan for his love and intelligence.

      • Reply November 20, 2016


        Sorry, my comment was for Mr.WASAKI.

        We are not interested in knowing his love and hatred.

        He should write his own blog.

    • Reply November 20, 2016

      ohm image

      The Oriolus is typical hybrid, in that it outputs a more dynamically contrasty sound. It is more exciting. Both are incredible. If I had to choose one I might choose the Oriolus, but I can’t be certain. The model I reviewed previously has been superseded and is one I’ve not heard.

  • Reply January 18, 2019


    I have a chance to pick up sem9 for half price. Could you let me know whether they are suitable and is there anything better in around £800 for folk, rock and pre 2000 pop music. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.