These days I am no stranger to EarSonics products; a far cry from when I took an initial flyer on the SM3 in my hunt for the best top-tier universal in-ear monitor (IEM) I could find. At first I hated them, but after some time I developed an immense respect for them and caused quite a stir on head-fi with my positive comments. People didn’t want to believe this newcomer be as good as I was saying. The combination of space, smoothness, and resolution resulted in my highest technical rating to that date for any IEM I had tried, including the JVC/Victor FX700, Ortofon eQ-7, Grado GR8, Audio Technica CK10, Monster Turbine Pro Copper among countless others. Due to the sound signature, people generally either loved or hated it. Over time, other IEMs came out that took some of the thunder away from the SM3, but not the technical capability.
I also evaluated and did a comparison review of the EM3 Pro custom IEM (CIEM) which I wasn’t completely blown away. It was better in every way than the SM3, but as much as I had expected, and the tuning was geared for stage monitoring and not necessarily casual listening. I was able to review the EM4 CIEM when it came out that did perform up to expectations as it is a significant and impressive improvement to the SM3. Now, the next step in the IEM lineup, the SM64 has arrived and my hope is the performance is more in line with the EM4 than the EM3 Pro. We shall see…
HOW TO ORDER, WARRANTY, OPTIONS<
The EarSonics SM64 is available from multiple online retailers including Amazon.com for $479, Amazon.fr for EUR 399, and of course you can buy it direct from EarSonics. The EarSonics range does have great distribution and is available in many countries, but if not EarSonics will ship direct.
Note: There are 2 versions of the SM64. All units sold post December 2012 are an unofficial V2, which has a different placement of the filter, different internal wiring, and slightly different sound signature. While I haven’t heard the original (V1), the V2 is reported to sound more liquid and closer to the EarSonics house sound I am familiar with.
Warranty: EarSonics provides a 1 year warranty for their products. Normal wear and tear of the product are not covered. Please contact EarSonics for any warranty issues.
The SM64 is a triple driver IEM with two crossover points (3-way) that result in the three drivers each recreating their own part of the frequency spectrum. The shell is plastic and clear on the inside, black on the outside and uses a detachable cable. Not that it needs mention, but the initial batch of SM3s had issues with the shells staying together, but subsequent batches were fine, and the SM64 housing is robust.
Note on the specifications: while the SM3 and SM64 list the same sensitivity, due to the difference in impedance, the SM64 achieves the same volume performance with a higher volume setting.
Includes: wipes, tool, zipper carrying case, 2 pairs of proprietary silicon tips, and 2 pairs of comply tips in different sizes
The cable is the standard black twisted CIEM cable with a slider, and is detachable. The memory wire holds the wire in place over the top of the ear and isn’t as long as certain other cables, but I have never found this to be an issue. There is no shirt clip, as is traditional for detachable cables.
The isolation is good for an IEM with a rating of 3.5/10 with silicone tips and around 4.5/10 for the included foam tips, which is slightly lower than a typical acrylic shelled CIEM, which scores a 5/10.
Disclaimer: My review is done in a comparative way using similarly priced IEMs and/or CIEMs for perspective and to determine performance. In this review I try to accurately portray the product under review, presenting strengths and weaknesses, the sound signature, characteristics, and technical performance as opposed to providing flowery dialog of performance without perspective. My ultimate goal is to enable you to make an informed decision about what product is right for you. Take the review as a critical look at the product and not a sales pitch or marketing fluff. I believe gear should be selected based on the sound signature you want and/or the specific use, not solely on technical performance or unsubstantiated hype. Here are some quick references for more information: My review technique, Thoughts on reading a review, Custom IEM information
The SM64 received 100+ hours of burn in as is typical before I perform my serious and comparative listening. The following IEMs/CIEMs were used for comparison: EarSonics SM3, Logitech Ultimate Ears UE900, Etymotic Research ER4S, Alclair Reference (custom IEM), Ambient Acoustics AM4 (custom IEM), EarSonics EM4 (custom IEM). EarSonics provides sound signature charts, and this is from the SM64 page:
Bass: The low end of the SM64 is enhanced, warm, capable, reverberant, and has excellent depth resulting in an overall great performance. For a IEM with a warmer presentation, the SM64 warmth and thickness isn’t overly done resulting in little bleed into the rest of the frequency spectrum. With tracks that have warmth built into them, the SM64 does accentuate the warmth, especially with some of the more powerful amps. Texturing and detail levels are good, although the UE900 does have a bit better detail in exchange for the ability to sustain notes and recreate as rich of an experience. The SM3 has more bass enhancement, but not necessarily warmth, and gives up control, detail, and texturing in comparison. I audibly detected the bass starting to roll off at 25 Hz and I the sensation from an 18 Hz tone was minimal, but 20Hz was palpable. While the bass isn’t quite up to par with dynamic driver IEMs, the quality combined with very good capability should impress most people who aren’t bass heads or looking for a leaner sound similar to the ER4 or DBA-02.
Midrange: EarSonics is known for a liquid, buttery, and high quality midrange that is mid-forward, and the SM64 is no different. It is different than the predecessor SM3 in that the midrange is more traditional and less like a stage monitor, yet it retains excellent presentation depth, imaging, and resolution. Detail levels are very good, higher than the SM3, but the resolution of the space between instruments that gives a sense of ambiance, which is an EarSonics trait, is excellent. This results in a more organic and live feel compared with more analytical presentations such as the UE900 and ER4. While the up-close and personal experience of vocals isn’t what it is with the SM3, both male and female vocals are still impressive and have a richness and natural quality. The combination of resolution, imaging, spaciousness, detail, and richness provide a very musical and moving experience in line with other EarSonics products.
Treble: Striking a nice balance between bright and dark, the SM64 treble is present, but not fatiguing. Quantity is less than the UE900 but more than the SM3, and is quite similar to the ER4S, only a hare less bright. Detail levels are good, even with the smooth and liquid presentation. Overall the treble quality is good given the price range, and is the area improved most with amps.
Presentation: Spacious, but mid-forward; bass capable, but balanced; transparent and coherent, the SM64 puts everything together quite well. The width of the presentation falls between the UE900 (a bit smaller) and the K3003 (a bit larger), but has better depth than both, and the SM3. The only IEM I have heard with more presentation depth is the Fit Ear To Go! 334. The SM64 has a rich presentation that traditionally is from a thicker note, and while the SM64 notes are on the thicker side and not necessarily analytical, they are on average thinner than one would expect given the sound signature (just like the EM4). This results in good attack capability that results in the ability to recreate fast tracks well. Note decay capability is also very good, with an average decay that provides the rich and liquid sound, but the possible adjustment results in a natural sound with varying instruments. Overall, the note decay is exceptional as they don’t fall too far behind the EM4; impressive.
The overall presentation is tied together quite well, with excellent coherence between the drivers/parts of the frequency spectrum resulting in great transparency that competes with CIEMs that are similarly priced and even some that are priced a bit higher. Resolution and imaging are again very good for the price point, but the SM64 is just average in detail levels and overall speed. Clarity, and I mean the clarity that accentuates the details, is a hair less than much of the competition, but that is to be expected given the sound signature. Overall the SM64 has an excellent presentation that will please those looking for an organic and rich presentation.
Volume performance: The SM64 is not as sensitive as most BA IEMs/CIEMs I own requiring a higher volume input to achieve a certain volume, which was surprising considering the sensitivity is listed as the same for the louder SM3. This can be a good or bad thing…good when you have a source without a clean background (hiss) and bad when you are powering it from something like an iPhone 5. At very low volumes the SM64 loses some of the punch and dynamics, which really kick in at moderate and above volume levels. Paired with the DX100, volume levels below 130 or so have reduced dynamics, and below 90 the midrange is much more prominent (in part due to loudness curves). Between 140 and 160 everything is excellent and above 200 I don’t want any extended listening. (on average; different songs will give different results) At very loud volumes the SM64 bass can become a bit distorted and subject to overload, bringing about a veil; however those volume levels are damaging for any extended period of time.
Sound Summary: The SM64 is a warm, smooth, accurate monitor that has the EarSonics hallmark deep and liquid presentation with great ambiance resulting in a live monitor feel. The upper midrange is laid-back and the treble isn’t as prominent as with most “reference” monitors, but that gives the SM64 an organic and spacious sound that is a good contrast to the typically brighter reference monitor. The Bass is very capable and deep, imaging is excellent, and the presentation is more laid-back than the predecessor SM3. This results in more distance from the performance, but the overall presentation is still immersive and musical. The entire presentation is well integrated from top to bottom providing nice transparency and allowing the SM64 to get out of the way, recreating the fine nuances you hear with well mastered performances. Technically the SM64 performs quite well, and while it doesn’t best the CIEMs I used for comparison in the price range, it holds its own.
Page 2: Comparisons, source matching, and summary