Review: Earsonics S-EM9 – Shivers

Sound

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

End words

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.

Bravo.

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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.

13 Comments

  • 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

    CL

    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

      CL,

      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

        CL

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

  • Reply November 8, 2016

    wasaki

    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

    wasaki

    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

    ezekiel77

    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

      V6XC

      This is not funny at all.

      I trust Nathan for his love and intelligence.

      • Reply November 20, 2016

        V6XC

        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

    Gasper

    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.

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