dB Logic EP-100 Review

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Reviewed Dec 2010

 

Details: Tiny dynamic-driver IEM with an integrated volume limiter
Current Price: N/A (discontinued)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 19Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock bi-flanges, Shure Olives
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Bi-flange silicone tips (3 sizes) and UE-style hard plastic carrying case
Build Quality (3/5) – The positively tiny EP-100 is made entirely out of plastic and resembles the Soundmagic PL50 in size and construction. Unfortunately the plasticky cable is thin and stringy, though the 3.5mm I-plug is well-relieved. The bulbous y-split houses the volume limiting circuitry and can sometimes be slightly unwieldy
Isolation (3.5/5) – With the stock bi-flange tips or Shure Olives the isolation is excellent – the tiny EP-100 can be inserted very deeply and blocks out a lot of noise
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Fairly annoying when worn cable-down and still slightly noticeable with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (5/5) – It is very difficult to convey just how small the EP-100 really is – it is by far the tiniest dynamic-driver earphone I’ve ever encountered. The 9mm dynamic driver is mounted vertically and the chamber is much smaller than that of my ATH-CK10. It is very difficult to imagine an ear for which the EP-100 itself won’t be a good fit, though the deep-sealing bi-flange tips may take some getting used to for those accustomed to conventional canalphones. Shure Olives are a perfect fit, however, and make for one of the most comfortable listening experiences among all IEMs

Sound (5/10) –The main selling point of dB Logic’s headphones and earphones is the proprietary volume-limiting circuitry (dubbed Sound Pressure Level Limiting, or SPL2), which is intended to maintain safe volume levels at all times. Though the company won’t reveal the underpinning principle of the technology, the intended result is clear – distortion-free damping of the output when the input power becomes high enough to produce sound pressure levels considered dangerous for the human ear. To test this claim I matched the low-volume sensitivity of the earphones to a variable-impedance set – a Sennheiser CX281. At a relative volume of 10 on my Fiio E7, I matched the output of the EP-100 and CX281 by ear and verified it using an SPL meter. From there I donned the CX281 and increased the volume until my ears started bleeding (so to speak). At a relative volume of 30 I had to stop. The dB Logic set increased in output volume much more slowly than the CX281 even with a matching starting point and actually hit a full-stop limiter at 40. Turning the E7 up between 40 and 60 volume units had no effect on the output of the EP-100 and – far as I can tell – maxing out the SPL limiter introduced no clipping or distortion to the signal. Impressive, but what about the quality of the sound itself?

The dB Logic EP-100 is quite clearly a consumer-class pair of earphones. There is a slight bit of added kick to the bass and an overall smoothness and warmth typical of mid-range consumer-class earphones. The signature of the EP-100 fits right in with sets like the Sennheiser CX281 and JVC HA-FX67. The bass is smooth and powerful. With sufficiently deep insertion there is surprising depth and rumble to be found at the low end. The bass leans slightly towards the softer and fuller side of the spectrum (as opposed to crisp/tight) but remains perfectly enjoyable at all times. Bass quantity is very close to the CX281 – the EP-100 has slightly slower attack, resulting in a sound with less ‘punch’, but slightly better sub-bass presence.

The midrange is slightly warm but not overshadowed by the low end in the least. Clarity and detail are decent – a hair below the Meelec M9 but not as poor as with the Skullcandy FMJ or Sony XB40EX. The tradeoff is note thickness – the SPL2 fleshes midrange notes out a bit better than the M9 and doesn’t sound nearly as dry. The midrange isn’t particularly forward but then the SPL2 doesn’t have the monstrous low end of aggressive treble of the M9, either, so the overall balance is quite good. In fact, it seems that dB Logic went to great lengths to make the SPL2 as inoffensive as possible – there is nearly no unevenness in the upper mids and treble, resulting in a smooth sound that is low on both sparkle and harshness. Treble extension is solid for a set of budget-class in-ears and the response remains crisp and clear, albeit not particularly authoritative or energetic.

The presentation is competent but not quite outstanding. Airiness, which is derived in part from treble emphasis, is lacking compared to the Meelec M9 and the soundstage, though 3-dimensional, is fairly confined. It extends far enough outward for a $30 earphone but doesn’t portray intimacy very well. Imaging and positioning are a little vague but the earphones are convincing enough on the whole. Tonally the EP-100 is hardly neutral but the coloration is pleasant and works well for modern music. In fact, I would venture to say that the EP-100 was tuned for the type of Top 40 music popular among those most likely to be in danger of self-induced hearing loss. Most of my heavy metal, however, still sounds better with the MEE M9s.

Value (8/10) – For some reason I expected that I’d be able to hear the SPL-limiting circuitry at work in the dB Logic EP-100 but they sound like ‘normal’, albeit not very sensitive, entry-level earphones – and that’s a good thing. There is no distortion or clipping at the volume limits and clarity is about where I’d expect it to be for the price. The sound is well-rounded and goes well with pop- and soft rock-type music. Add in the variety of color options, high isolation, and impossibly tiny form factor and the EP-100 comes out looking like a winner for the price. Those interested in risking early-onset hearing loss may want to give these a pass but for everyone else the EP-100 is a solid option for the money.

Pros: Excellent noise isolation; impossibly tiny design; volume-limiting; easy-going sound signature
Cons: Cable could be better; chunky y-split; deep-insertion tips will take some getting used to


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

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