Considering its sensitivity of 121dB, it buggers the mind that the S-EM9 picks up so little non-signal noise. Even when strapped to the noisy AK100, it barely cops a hissy fit. Suffice it to say that a large number of well-designed desktop gear won’t hiss much at all through it. My favourite desktop ADC/DAC, the Lynx HILO, which hisses a bit through the Ultrasone IQ and more so through the Shure SE846, hisses only barely through the S-EM9.
This is how it should be.
I’ve also found the S-EM9 to drive well under a vast array of DAPs I own, almost irrespective of their output impedance. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if you’ve got an iPhone 4 or iPhone 6, or something similar, you’re set. The improvement you’ll get at normal listening levels even through a Chord Mojo, should amount to placebo. The only real hitch is a bit of channel crosstalk.
This is plug-and-play audiophile. This is how it should be.
It is also my opinion that the S-EM9’s general output is as it should be. From its temperate signature, to limber extension in both extremes, it is even-Stephen. Its low range reaches depths generally reserved for dual-driver earphones, going so far as to mildly yawn through the opening sequence to Markuz Schulz’s Mainstage. Bass pressure is highest in the sub region. Mid and upper bass sound pressure is even keel. Low-voiced dynamic range is high, blooming with positional detail in even the fastest, hardest-hitting music. Now, the S-EM9 doesn’t hit as hard as, say, the Astell&Kern AKT8iE, nor is it as warm, but positionally, its bass is more dynamically detailed.
Since low-voiced dynamic range is so high, low-voiced midrange cues come through clear as a bell. For me, the most iconic part of the audible spectrum is the vocal band. It’s kind of like they’ve been zoomed into by a high-magnification variable focal length macro lens. They’re not louder, and certainly not hotter than lows, highs, or transitional zones, but they vibrate with positional and environmental cues far in excess of what typically you hear. Singers practically eating the microphone stand in 90s-era musical iconography and album artwork is about as good a visual as I can give in explanation. Except that your ears are the microphone and stand. This analogy falls apart when it comes to actual sound pressure. The vocal band isn’t elevated, and the vocalist isn’t on top of you. But its milieu of midrange dynamics, apparent z-axis depth, and recovery speed in general, and the vocal range in particular, are ridiculous.
Emotional verve takes a back seat to spatial/timbral detail and speed. Earphones with wider, or fuller stereo images exist. The S-EM9 defines its stage pretty similarly to Campfire’s Andromeda, but with more central z-axis depth. Andromeda’s ovoid headspace expands more to the sides. But as deep as its z-axis is, the S-EM9’s is deeper and even more detailed. It sucks you further forward, into the music. And way in, the extremities at either pole sound farther afield than they do through Andromeda.
In that sense, S-EM9 is less jointed than Andromeda. And yet, its deep, positionally detailed and dynamic z-axis, immerses you in your music more most multi-armature top-flight earphones.
The S-EM9 is an impressive, if sometimes strange, animal. Its highs follow its midrange suit almost to a T, again a bit more energetic and less jointed than Andromeda’s, but positionally more immersive. They are clear and extended and just shy of peaky. All together, the S-EM9 is dynamically impactful. So spatially spread is its midrange, you might think it a late-generation open hybrid. Its top end, whose peaks are smoother than early and mid generation hybrids, certainly bears out the analogy. But no hybrid I’ve tried is as immersive. And most add just a touch too much bass to music whose reliance on speed and accurate positioning, prefers less mid bass bump.
And no matter the juxtaposition of hard bass or clashing symbols, the S-EM9’s speed clearly and dynamically delineates instruments one from another to a degree almost unheard of. Does it keep up with trance? Without a doubt. Does it plum the depths of dynamically opposed orchestral instruments? Without a doubt. Does it throb down deep and where and when necessary? Without a doubt. In his outtro to the Conjure One track, Oceanic, in ASOT 740, Armin van Buuren said it best: shivers.
I didn’t expect such a radical re-jiggering of the SM64 house sound, such a threading of that through the smoothing engine of the SM3, and all of it extruded through the drier midrange sensibilities of the SM2. But that’s what the S-EM9 does. It orchestrates most of the best parts of signature Earsonics earphones, and then one ups them all with a detail-rich z-axis uncharacteristic to Earsonics earphones. It is cooler-sounding than Velvet and certainly than S-EM6, but it’s not reference cool. Its bass pressure is high, but not hybrid high. From a sound pressure perspective, it is flat, but from a detail perspective, mid and high positional details are in a world all their own.