EarSonics S-EM9 (€1490)
The universal S-EM9 shares some similarities with its co-flagship, but in their core, the two are ultimately quite different. The priority of the EM10’s tuning lies in its tone, where the S-EM9 takes a more technical approach. Both share a fairly similar, deeply enjoyable bass. It’s north of neutral with a nice bit of impact, and lengthier decay. It’s from the midrange on where the two truly depart; the EM10’s midrange has greater body, with a more forward and denser vocal presentation. However, due to the S-EM9’s laid-back vocal position and leaner instruments, its stage is cleaner. As their stage dimensions are fairly similar, this results in a more effortless separation of the S-EM9. In addition, its midrange resolution is a bit higher.
However, the EM10’s midrange not only has greater body, it is more beautiful in tone. The S-EM9 is tuned with an upper midrange dip, followed by a lift in its lower treble. It’s a tuning that provides a detailed, articulated sound, with a fairly neutral tone. As a result of the EM10’s lower treble dip however, its treble is smoother, and warmer in tone. It’s a tuning that not only provides a more pleasing treble timbre, but contributes to a more natural signature, and coherent sound as a whole. The S-EM9 might be the more precise; the EM10 has the smoother and more inviting signature to listen to.
Spiral Ears 5-Way Ultimate (€1699)
Similar to the EM10, the 5-Way is tuned with a focus on tone. But even so, it’s a classic audiophile tuning. The 5-Way sounds warmer, darker, but most of all, more serious. The EM10 sounds joyous by comparison, a more playful sound. There’s more clarity in its sound, although both share a general smoothness throughout the signature. I can see many people finding the EM10 the more appealing iem listen to depending on music preference; the 5-Way’s warmer tuning leads you to smooth, easy listening type music. The EM10 on the other hand invites you to choose something more stimulating. Arguably, it has the more engaging signature. Even so, the 5-Way has its advantages over it. For starters, its stage is larger and more 3D, and accordingly, its separation is better. In addition, its resolution is higher.
But the two really are more different than similar. The difference starts from the bass, where the 5-Way has the better low-end extension, as well as higher resolved mid-bass. It’s a more precise bass from a technical perspective. Even so, the EM10’s bass isn’t far behind in performance, while it in turn adds a touch more mid-bass impact. In both cases, the midrange is warm, with slightly forward and bodied vocals. The main difference lies in the upper mid and treble tuning. While both have smooth, attenuated treble, the EM10’s upper mids have greater clarity, and a more engaging tone. The 5-Way’s general treble region is more laidback, resulting in a darker tuning. However, it has the more accurate timbre, while its top-end extension is greater.
Jomo Samba ($1725)
Samba again goes in a completely different direction, as a technical hardliner – its priorities strictly reside with performance. Compared to the EM10, it constructs a significantly cleaner image, resulting from its stable black background, and high resolution. By creating leaner midrange notes and somewhat laidback vocals, it excels in separation – a presentation reminiscent of EarSonics’ own S-EM9. The EM10 counters with a warmer, smoother, and more melodious signature. It might not sound as clean as the brighter Samba, there’s more body to its sound.
Samba’s bass is tight and punchy, but also a good deal drier than the EM10’s due to a dip in its upper bass. It provides a more stereotypical BA bass response, where the EM10 opts for a fuller and warmer bass. Similarly, the richer bass provides a warmer tone throughout the signature, although as a result, its stage isn’t as clean as Samba’s. But both its instruments and vocals have more body, while their tone is more appealing. The Samba might sound cleaner, its technical approach results in a drier midrange. Its treble in turn is brighter, with greater top-end extension. The more prominent treble results in a more articulated sound, although it isn’t as smooth. The EM10 on the other hand sounds clear without sounding bright, and opts for a smoother treble tuning. But more than anything, this is the hallmark difference between tone and performance – and each has its appeal.
When you get to listen to more and more earphones from the same manufacturer, you start to know the designer in a certain way, their own tastes and preferences. EarSonics used to be known for their warm and emotional signatures, with iems like the EM3, and especially the first version of the S-EM6. But starting with the EM32, Franck Lopez went in a different direction, experimenting with a new type of sound focusing on excitement, resulting from a more prominent treble tuning. The Velvet was the offspring of that philosophy, resembling pure fun and excitement, though a little bit raw around the edges perhaps. With the S-EM9, Franck sought out more balance and finesse, while maintaining a similar musical element.
But it’s with the EM10 that his search and experimentation seems to have fully blossomed. It goes in yet a different direction, while maintaining typical elements of the EarSonics house sound. The EM10 eludes that same feel of joy and excitement, but sounds more beautiful than before. Despite having experienced a wide range of iems, the EM10 seems to fill a void I didn’t know existed, with a tuning that seems to make so much sense. I’ve become too lazy to come up with catchy titles; but if I’d use one for the EM10, it would be something with ‘euphoria’. With its dreamy upper mids, engaging vocals, and extremely smooth sound, the EM10 pulls you away into a hazy state of being, drifting away on the pleasantness of music. Franck has finally created his ‘end-game’ ciem, and I’m thankful he’s letting us, the dreamers, join the ride. Like every iem, the EM10 isn’t perfect; but what an excellent addition to an already crowded market.