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EarSonics EM3 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitor Comparisons

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The EarSonics EM3 Pro was my first custom in-ear monitor, which I was expecting to outperform my highest performing universal at that time, the EarSonics SM3.  While it did, the differences weren’t what I was expecting and led me down a path of trying to determine just how big of a different there is between CIEMs and IEMs.  I later reviewed the EarSonics EM4, which was pretty much what I was initially expecting from an improvement standpoint when compared with the SM3.  The EM3 Pro is designed for the pro market while the SM3 and EM4 are more for audiophiles according to EarSonics.

EM3 Pro vs. EarPower EP-10 Plus

Two different customs for two different listening style and music preferences.   The EM3 Pro is your typical custom with 3 BAs in a 2 way design in a solid silicon shell.  The EM3 Pro seems very solidly built and is easy to twist in and out and feels very comfy.  The EP-10 Plus is very different, as it has a much lighter plastic shell that doesn’t insert as deeply and the upper section is much larger, making them a little uncomfortable to me for extended wear.  I have to pull straight back on the rear of my ear to insert the EP-10 Plus.  The EP-10 plus nozzle does not insert as deeply as the EM3 Pro nozzle and does not isolate nearly as well as the EM3 Pro.  The sound leakage is near ear bud levels, which is what the EP-10 Plus bass driver actually is.

And speaking of the bass driver, it is out there.  The EP-10 Plus looks strange, at least to me while being worn.   Not that looks would stop me from wearing it in public if I though it warranted ear time and wasn’t offensive.  I am sure it would be a conversation starter, if you want to take them out when people talk to you!

I have had the EM3 Pro for much longer than the EP-10 Plus and have been used to the sound.  It offers great detail, can be powerful yet refined, and thick at times.  The presentation location is up close while pushing the stage wide, wider than my previous space champ, the SM3, although the SM3 is pretty close.  The EM3 Pro seems to present whatever was recorded…warmth, bass, treble emphasis, narrow presentation or wide presentation, the EM3 Pro just does what it is told.

Enter the EP-10 Plus…it does not do what it is told, it does more (for the most part)!  More space, more bass oomph, more mid-bass.  Ouch, sometimes too much mid-bass.  The EP-10 Plus leaves the EM3 Pro behind in the size of the presentation and can project you further away from the presentation than the EM3 Pro.  The space is headphone like, but I will cover that more in the EP-10 Plus vs. the headphones.  The weaknesses of the EP-10 Plus is the mids and treble are not as detailed as the EM3 Pro, which cuts through a presentation like a hot scoop through ice cream, bring out all the details.  Not that the details aren’t there in the EP-10 Plus, but the presentation lacks the refinement in the mids and upper registers, possibly from too much mid-bass, or a better driver being used in the EM3 Pro.

How about the bass?  Well, the EM3 Pro can pump out bass, but it does not exaggerate the bass quantity.  If bass is present in large quantities, that is what you hear, if not, you hear the lack in the song.  The EP-10 Plus has much more to it in the bass region, and the quality of the bass is nothing short of spectacular.  So the focus of the EP-10 Plus is the bass.  Of course, using a great amp helps (Stepdance/Pico Slim), although both are still good with the iPhone.  And I will add that the EP-10 Plus is more sensitive than the EM3 Pro.

Since there was too much mid-bass for my liking, I decided to EQ the mid-bass down (8 dB @ 800 Hz in the rockboxed iPod and via Winamp).  So, comparing the two with EQ on for the EP-10 Plus and no EQ for the EM3 Pro pulled ahead convincingly except for the detail level, which was not quite up to par with the EM3 Pro.  With EQ on both the EM3 Pro clarity improved even more, so it really is a tossup depending on what you are looking for.  Great bass or better clarity and detail.

EM3 Pro

EP-10 Plus

Better mid and treble detail

Better bass texturing and reverb

More liquid/natural mids and treble

Better soundstage space, close to cans

More true to the recording

More bass weight

Easier to drive More sensitive
More comfortable and easier to insert/remove Deeper bass
Better isolation Too much mid-bass – needs EQing IMO
Looks better & more solid construction
Removable cable

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Universal vs. Custom

EarSonics SM3 vs. EM3 Pro

The EM3 Pro has more space, less warmth, and more refinement than the SM3.  The EM3 Pro takes the good of the SM3 and improves clarity, treble presence, and refinement of the overall presentation.  The SM3’s dependence on tips and the changes they bring can allow the SM3 to produce more bass impact than the EM3 Pro and have similar treble presence.  I find that the SM3 changes more with each recording than the EM3 Pro, shrinking or expanding in soundstage size or becoming warm and thicker in some songs, yet being just as clear in others.  The song choice/genre result in different opinions of how the two compare.  With some trance for example, the SM3 can be just as wide with better bass impact (tip dependent) than the EM3 Pro, but with other songs the SM3 can sound very warm and thick and veiled in comparison with the EM3 Pro.  Some songs are a good deal different while others are close overall.

More on the bass…the EM3 Pro can sound more powerful in the bass region for complex bass heavy music, such as rap, R&B, and electronic, where the bass is very reverberant and sustained notes.  The dual bass drivers can put out some great bass, but they don’t come out and play as often as the SM3 (tip dependent).  They both seem to be cut from the same cloth, yet different.

They share the sound signature but the EM3 Pro is a better IEM.  The significant cost increase does get you improved clarity, less warmth, larger soundstage space most of the time, and fit & isolation of a custom, not to mention a little more treble than the SM3.  It is really up to you if the improvement of the EM3 Pro is worth it over the SM3.

SM3 EM3 Pro
More bass quantity and impact with some tips More ultimate bass power, when the song wants it
Changes more with recordings, giving what seems like a bore accurate reproduction of the source Better clarity and slightly better detail
Very similar sound to the EM3 Pro Fit of a custom
Much lower price Better build quality
Easier to resell Removable cable

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EM3 Pro vs. Audeze LCD-2

The LCD-2 and EM3 Pro are more similar than different, with each track determining how similar/different they are, but they never stray too much.  Both are musical, fast, neutral, and change with the track, but the EM3 changes more with each track.  With some songs the EM3 can sound much thicker than the LCD-2 such as Shania Twain – That Don’t Impress Me Much, and with Sub Focus – Rock It the EM3 Pro had more mid-bass and less deep bass.  With Stevie Ray Vaugh – Texas Flood the differences are minimal other than the constants such as difference in soundstage size.  The texturing of the LCD-2 bass is superb, and while the EM3 Pro texturing is good, it can’t quite keep up.  The quantity of bass in the LCD-2 is also more, and can give a sense of more power.  The treble on the LCD-2 can be a little more present and forward than on the EM3, but for many tracks they are similar.

Overall, the EM3 Pro seems like the little brother of the LCD-2 that most of the time does everything the LCD-2 can.  The LCD-2 presents music with power and a natural sound, with deep bass that is the best I have ever heard.  The EM3 Pro is also powerful and natural sounding, but the power comes more from the a thicker, more mid-bass centric presentation vs. the true deep bass of the LCD-2.   And while the size of the presentation is not too far off, it is superior on the LCD-2, as it should be as the LCD-2 is a headphone.

The LCD-2 sounds better than the EM3 Pro at louder volumes and can really take amp power and translate it into a powerful presentation.  Not that the EM3 Pro doesn’t play loud and sound good, but the LCD-2 is more effortless.  The one place where the EM3 Pro slightly beat the LCD-2 was transparency, as it disappeared a little more than the LCD-2 for me.  I am not sure if it was because the EM3 is slightly more coherent across my head (although the LCD-2 and T1 are spectacular in that regards compared with the other headphones I have heard, save the HD800) or because the EM3 has a slightly more liquid, forgiving presentation.

EM3 Pro LCD-2
Better transparency by a hair

Better clarity by a bit

Slightly more liquid presentation Better sense of power, especially at higher volume
More forgiving on poor tracks Better soundstage space/openness
Much better isolation Deeper, more powerful bass with more impact
Much easier to drive Treble that can be more pronounced
Portable

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EM3 Pro vs. Beyerdynamic Tesla T1

Just as the Tesla T1 is different than the LCD-2, the T1 is different than the EM3 Pro.  But while the T1 and LCD-2 can stand look eye-to-eye, the EM3 Pro looks more at the nose of the Tesla T1.  The space the T1 portrays along with better clarity and more realistic and textured bass give a presentation that is usually more involving.  The EM3 Pro is thicker and warmer with a mid focused presentation that changes more with each track, sounding very natural.  The T1 treble can sound like there is too much and therefore artificially enhanced.  Detail levels seem fairly similar, but the expanded space of the T1 results in a more open presentation and better instrument separation.  The warmth of the EM3 Pro has it’s plusses and minuses when A/Bing with the T1, as the EM3 Pro can sound fuller, more powerful, richer, and more natural, but other times it can seem a little too thick and a little dark.  The treble is very different as well, and going from one to the other requires a little adjustment time.  When swapping back and forth quickly made me not really care for either as the T1 seems too bright and the EM3 Pro seeming to have too dark.

So, with less direct, quick A/B comparing, I had more fun comparing these two different beasts.  If I had to choose one, I would probably choose the Tesla T1, but since it is only driven properly by my RPX-33 (and Stepdance at moderate and below volumes), the EM3 Pro does have a place.  So, other than the space, technically, these are on a level playing field, but it is comparing apples and oranges in sound signature and functionality.

EM3 Pro

Tesla T1

More powerful presentation

Better clarity

More liquid treble

Bigger presentation space

More mid-focused presentation

More V shaped presentation

More liquid presentation

Better bass texturing

Portable

Easy to drive

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Summary and thoughts:

Improve the clarity, space, treble presence, and ability to convey weight and authority to the already great presentation of the SM3 and you have the EM3 Pro. The presentation sounds very natural and liquid, drawing you into the music conveying the experience quite well.  The EM3 Pro has the best isolation of the bunch.   What these give up in sound to the EP-10 Plus in the bass region they make up for in the mids and treble.

Recommended for: If you can/want to spend more than the SM3, the EM3 Pro is the next up the line with the same sound signature.  You can’t tailor the sound with different tips like you can with the SM3 as this is a custom, but you will get a neutral presentation that is good for all genres.  Great isolation for use in noisy environments.  If you don’t want to use an amp, the EM3 Pro is a good choice as it is easy to drive.


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About Author

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

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