EarSonics SM3: Sharing many characteristics and sounding like brothers, the SM64 is the more refined and balanced of the two. From a presentation standpoint, the SM64 is more spacious and places you further back from the presentation while the SM3 puts you on stage with the performers. There is more depth to the SM64 presentation to go along with better imaging, clarity, and resolution. Notes are very similar, but the SM64 is smoother and has an overall higher note quality. Both have good transparency, coherence, and dynamics, but the SM64 pulls ahead in both. The SM64 sounds a bit faster and is more resolving and detailed, if just by a bit.
The SM3 bass is more enhanced and punches harder, but the SM64 keeps up in the reverb and note sustainment departments. With more warmth than the SM64, the SM3 sounds thicker and less clear and controlled in the lower end. The midrange presentations are quite different in placement, with the SM3 providing a more up-close sounds, but similar in note and ambiance. Vocals are cleaner with the SM64 and instrument separation and placement is better. The upper midrange in relation to the midrange is different between these two as the SM64 upper midrange in more level matched to the midrange resulting in a more balanced and natural sound. The treble of the SM64 is slightly more prominent and of higher quality than the SM3 treble.
Choosing the SM64 over the SM3 is first and foremost about sound signature as the SM64 has a more traditional presentation that puts a distance between the you and the presentation while retaining the EarSonics sound. The SM3 is more akin to being on stage with the musicians, which can be good or bad depending on what you are looking for. Technically, EarSonics has upped the bar with a cleaner, more resolving performance that retains and improves upon the smooth and organic presentation of the SM3.
Ultimate Ears UE900: The UE900 is brighter and has a closer, more up-front and personal presentation in comparison with the more spacious sounding SM64, which has a more laid-back upper midrange and treble. Notes of the SM64 are more organic as they have a naturally slower attack and decay, but the SM64 can convey fast notes with a similar attack/decay when necessary, which leads to the SM64 being considerably more forgiving of poor tracks. Within the longer decay of the SM64, there is more micro-detail and recreation of the room ambiance. Transparency, coherence, dynamics, and focus within the soundstage are all slightly better with the SM64 while the UE900 offers more overall clarity, or the ease of hearing the details within the presentation. Imaging is similar, but the SM64 does best the UE900.
While the UE900’s bass isn’t neutral, the SM64’s bass is a bit warmer and slightly more pronounced, in part due to the difference in note thickness. The SM64 is more capable as it can sustain bass notes longer then the UE900, and the difference is fairly significant. As mentioned above, the midranges are divergent, with the UE900 presenting music in a more up-front and personal way compared with the SM64’s more laid back presentation. Vocals, both male and female sound more effortless and realistic with the SM64, although the UE900 brings you right up to the singer and makes it easy to hear nuances of the singer. Treble is also divergent, and while the quality of both is good, the SM64’s more laid back upper midrange and treble is smoother and more forgiving of poor tracks.
The UE900 gives the sense that you are right in front of the presentation due to the more up-close and analytical presentation that accentuates details while the SM64 has a more distant, laid-back, and musical presentation. If you work in a sound studio or want to hear every nuance brought right to you, the UE900 is a great choice while the SM64 provides a more musical presentation that sounds more tonally right to my ears.
Etymotic ER4S: Tonally, the ER4S and SM64 aren’t too far off in the midrange on up, but the SM64 has an overall warmer sound. The ER4S presents with more distance and a slight bit more width, however the SM64 is more 3D with better imaging, placing instruments more accurately in space as well as recreating the space around them better. Note thickness of the ER4S is problematic when recreating sustained notes while the SM64 is much more capable in this regard. The ER4S is more analytical and sharper, yet doesn’t deliver the micro-details that the SM64 is capable of recreating. Songs with deep bass lines and/or depth of presentation sound like different songs on the SM64 and ER4S. The SM64 has better dynamics and transparency while clarity is similar. The SM64 is more forgiving and yet revealing.
Saying there is a huge difference in the bass between these two is an understatement. The SM64 bass driver delivers solid, reverberant, warm bass that is capable of rendering just about any bass note with power and force while the ER4S was fine with very light bass lines, but couldn’t reproduce sustained, reverberant bass notes. The ER4S can be considered a bit warm, but again, it is dependent upon how much reverb is necessary for that warmth, as in comparison with the SM64, it can sound lean. Due to the midrange presentation, the SM64 changes presentation location with changes to track mastering while the ER4S’s flatter (much flatter) presentation keeps the midrange in one place regardless of how the track was mastered. The upper midrange and treble of the ER4S is more peaky and a bit brighter but not as forgiving or detailed.
The ER4S is a time tested classic, but the SM64 surpasses the performance of the ER4S, recreating a thicker, richer, more dynamic and realistic presentation with most music. With the SM64, the warmer, more capable SM64 is the choice if you want an IEM that can portray a wider range of musical notes.
Phonak Audeo PFE 232: The PFE 232 includes 3 different filters: gray, black, and green. The gray tips are the “neutral” tips, which are brighter than the others. The green filters attenuate the midrange and treble and put a veil over the sound, resulting in a darker and less precise presentation than the SM64. With the black filters, the 232 is more bass heavy and not as bright yet the treble isn’t as natural sounding with an overall step down in performance compared with the SM64. The gray filters are the most natural sounding filters for the 232, therefore they were used for the comparison. The SM64 changes more from source to source and most of this comparison was done with the DX100, although many other sources were used.
The 232 is a brighter IEM that has more detail and a bit better clarity in comparison with the warmer, thicker SM64 that is more of a brute to the 232’s finesse while the 232. The 232 has a larger soundstage with better imaging, but the SM64 has a bit better focus within the soundstage. Dynamics are superior with the SM64, but the PFE is equal or better in transparency, coherence, note attack and decay. The note presentation of the SM64 is smoother and more forgiving, if just by a bit.
The 232 deep bass is enhanced, but it doesn’t have the note sustaining capability of the SM64, which has an overall more bass heavy and warm sound. The midrange of the two are divergent as the SM64 is more forward in comparison with the slightly U shaped 232. The upper midranges aren’t too far off, and the SM64 upper midrange is slightly more elevated (however this changes with tracks and sources), but the difference seems more pronounced than it is due to the differences in midrange and treble presentations of both. The 232 treble is brighter providing better clarity and resolving more detail, but the decay is faster and doesn’t sound as natural as the SM64.
Although the 232 is now discontinued, it is a capable performer with the gray filters and is a good fit for those that want boosted deep bass and a little extra treble. In contrast, the SM64 presents music with a warmer and more powerful presentation. When using filters that approximate the SM64 sound, the 232 performs below the level of the SM64, so if you want a rich and thick presentation the SM64 is the better choice. If you want a more analytical and brighter presentation and don’t mind mids that are a bit laid back, the 232 is a good choice.
Alclair Reference (custom IEM): Comparing a custom IEM that cost less than the SM64 should be an interesting value proposition. The Reference is brighter than the SM64, but other than that their sound signatures aren’t too far off. The presentation of the SM64 is more coherent from right to left with better center imaging than the Reference, but the Reference sounds overall larger than the SM64. The brighter Reference is clearer with slightly better attack/decay ability and speed while they have similar transparency, dynamics, and detail, but the SM64 is superior in resolution within the soundstage in large part due to the better center imaging. The SM64 is a slight bit more forgiving than the Reference.
While the bass presentation of these two isn’t too far off, the SM64 is less rolled off in the deepest registers and has a bit better capability to rumble down low. Both are warm, but the SM64 is a bit warmer. The midrange of the Reference is thicker, but they flip-flop between which is more mid-forward depending on the track, often being quite close. The upper midrange is where the two diverge the most as the Reference accentuates the upper mids while the SM64 is more laid back in comparison. While the Reference midrange is thicker, it is also cleaner and clearer yet not as resolving of the ambiance of a presentation. Moving up to the treble, the SM64 has different peaks and dips as they can both sound brighter than the other depending on the track, but overall the Reference is brighter more often. Quality of the treble is similar.
Priced similarly with similar sound signatures, these two can definitely duke it out, both taking wins in different categories of technical performance. Choose the Reference if you want the custom fit and associated isolation, or you like your sound a bit brighter yet still neutral. The SM64 will retain its resale better and allow your friends to try it as well and still has excellent performance that is very close to the Reference with better bass capability and slightly more quantity.
Ambient Monitors AM4 Pro (custom IEM): Both the AM4 pro and SM64 are similar, but different in many ways ranging from the custom vs. universal fit to the brighter sound signature of the AM4 Pro. The AM4 Pro is cleaner, clearer, more dynamic, and more spacious with better imaging. The presentation is more mid-forward with better width, depth, and focus. One of the biggest differences technically comes from the dynamics of the AM4 pro, as music is presented with more punch and superior dynamic range. Detail levels are higher on the AM4 Pro, but the overall resolution within the soundstage is slightly better with the SM64. The AM4 Pro also has better transparency and speed while coherence is only slightly better, and the SM64 keeps up in attack/decay capability with similar attacks, but the decay of the AM4 Pro is more natural. Both are equally forgiving with a quality source, while the SM64 pulls ahead with lower end sources.
Deep bass is a bit more pronounced with the AM4 Pro, and the AM4 Pro can sustain notes better than the SM64. Bass and mid-bass are more pronounced with the SM64, and the AM4 Pro sounds a bit cleaner and clearer in that area. The midranges are somewhat divergent as the AM4 Pro is a bit more mid-forward in general and has a clearer and cleaner sound. The upper midrange of the SM64 is a good deal more laid-back than the AM4 Pro, which leads to the difference in presentation of the midrange and vocals. Treble of the AM4 Pro is more pronounced and higher quality with high end sources than the SM64, but is similar with lower end sources.
The AM4 Pro represents an exceptional value in CIEMs and stands up well to the SM64. The AM4 Pro is brighter and more analytical by a tad, as well as being more source dependent, but if you can pair it with a great source such as the DX100, the performance will be excellent. The SM64 represents a good value in the IEM world with a smooth, warm, and powerful presentation that has exceptional recreation of the presentation with a more laid-back top end that will avoid any listener fatigue. Two strong choices for different preferences and needs.
Proguard P2+1 (custom IEM): The P2+1 is more reminiscent of the SM3 from a presentation standpoint as the entire presentation is more up-close and personal, placing you with the performers while the SM64 puts some space between the you and the presentation. Soundstage size is similar as is imaging despite the difference in presentation. The P2+1 is smoother and conveys more detail across the spectrum, and the detail is easier to hear in large part due to the sound signature. The P2+1 is more coherent across the frequency spectrum while the SM64 is a bit more transparent. Dynamics are slightly better with the P2+1, but note capability in the midrange and bass is slightly better with the SM64. The P2+1 is more forgiving.
The bass of the two is presented differently as the P2+1 is more up-front. Quantity and quality are similar, but the P2+1 is has slightly more prominent and punchy bass while the SM64 is a bit warmer. Moving up the spectrum, the SM64 is thicker which leads to less clarity than the P2+1. The midrange of the two is presented very differently with the P2+1 putting you on stage and recreating more intimate instrument details while the SM64’s more laid-back presentation provides a bit better overall presentation experience. The upper midrange is divergent as the P2+1 is brighter, which adds to the clarity advantage and accentuates the up-close presentation vs. the laid-back SM64. Treble of the P2+1 is well integrated and quite balanced within the sound signature while the SM64 treble sounds a bit boosted relative to the upper mids in contrast to the P2+1. The P2+1 is overall more refined and smoother, especially in the treble.
While similarly priced, the sound signatures are quite different making this more of an either/or choice, or a compliment. The P2+1 puts you on stage with the performance with a very well integrated presentation and nice smoothness while the SM64’s comparatively laid-back presentation gives an organic, natural presentation from a listening standpoint.
EarSonics EM4 (custom IEM): The EM4 is similar to the SM64, but brighter, clearer, more spacious, and a bit more mid-forward. In my EM4 review, I wrote that the EM4 was the upgrade to the SM3 I had hoped the EM3 Pro would be, and the case still holds true for the SM64. If the EM6 is similar to the EM4 in performance but the SM64 in sound, that would be an excellent combination. The EM4 is more coherent and transparent with better imaging, more detail, and more presentation depth. Speaking of the presentation, the EM4 has better resolution and focus of the soundstage which play a part to giving the EM4 superior clarity. Overall, the EM4 presentation is smoother and more forgiving even though it is more resolving, detailed, and brighter.
Bass is similar in presentation, but the EM4 has more headroom and can sustain reverberant notes better as well as recreate deeper bass than the SM64. Warmth is similar and flows similarly into the midrange. Vocals are brought more forward on the EM4, especially in the upper midrange, which is really brought out with female vocals. The EM4 is also brighter than the SM64 with a smoother and more realistic sound, and better decay across the spectrum.
The EM4 is an upgrade to the SM64 in every way, but also changes the tonality as it is brighter and more mid-forward. If you like what the SM64 does, but want a brighter, more spacious, and more capable presentation with a feel that is closer to the performers, the EM4 is it.
EarSonics S-EM6: With a very similar sound, the S-EM6 is the big brother to the SM64. Both share a laid-back presentation in comparison with the EM4, SM3, and EM3 Pro, but the SM64 is a bit more laid back. Both have plenty of bass that can rumble and hit hard, but the S-EM6 bass sounds more “solid” and extends deeper. The more forward midrange of the S-EM6 has better depth, additional detail, more clarity, and is more lively and engaging. The SM64 has a more prominent upper midrange giving a bit of a brighter sound in comparison with the smoother, more coherent and linear S-EM6. Overall, the S-EM6 conveys more emotion and has a fuller sound that is more transparent and head-and-shoulders more cohesive. Ultimately, the S-EM6’s superior imaging, instrument separation, and capability makes the SM64 sound a bit hollow in comparison. Switching between the two highlighted that the S-EM6 was much more musical, making it easier to get lost within the music.
Portable Sources, DAPs
Clip+: The Clip+ sounds decent with the SM64 and given the price and size, it performs well giving a smooth top end. Bass is present but could use better control. The overall size of the soundstage isn’t as large as better sources, but it is good nonetheless. Knowing what the SM64 is capable of with a higher end source such as the DX100 makes you realize the Clip+ has lower resolution, as would be expected given the price. 3.5/10
iPhone 5: Music is playing, but it isn’t all that musical as there is a harsh edge on the notes that isn’t there with the Clip+ or Nova. Spatially, the presentation is good, but the iPhone 5 gives up a good deal of detail and resolution as well as bass impact. Not horrible, but far from good. 2/10
RoCoo BA: The first thing I noticed about the BA was the presentation seemed a bit flatter than heard from the other sources. The notes, while smoother than the iPhone 5, still aren’t are refined and smooth as the Nova or Clip+. However, the BA does resolve better than the Clip+ and iPhone 5. Not necessarily recommended, but not bad. 3.5/10
Nova: With a more musical, more spatially correct, and more detailed presentation than the iPhone 5, Clip+, and to an extent, the RoCoo BA, the Nova is a better match. It is quiet with all DSP off (USER setting), and while some of the EQs can sound good and improve the overall experience, I try to compare with baseline settings. The biggest issue is the volume with the EQs off for this high impedance IEM. 5/10
Fiio X3: The X3 has a similar spatial presentation to the Nova, but with better imaging and layering within the soundstage. The sound is a bit darker and not as clear even though the overall presentation is better. Dynamics are very good, but detail levels and resolution aren’t at the level of the DX50, leading to less of a sense of “ambiance.” 5.5/10
iBasso DX50: The DX50 is a bit more spacious than the X3, with a slightly more laid-back sound, but the real improvement comes from better spatial quality combined with a more detailed sound leading to a better sense of ambiance. However, the difference between the DX50 and DX100 is relatively large, especially with tracks that have a high level of spatial information as the DX100 is more resolving, spacious, and controls the drivers better. 6.5/10
DX100: The DX100 has the driving power, refinement, and resolution that can allow the SM64 to show off. Bass lines are more powerful, spacious songs sound larger, fine nuances are easier to hear in the presentation, and the realism is overall better. 8/10
Portable Sources, DAPs with Amps
DX100-> (testing for perspective)
EHP-O2: Compared with the built-in headphone amp of the DX100, the O2 has a slightly larger presentation space, making the DX100 sound a bit more mid-forward. Other than that advantage for the O2, the DX100 has ever so slightly better transparency, a bit more bass weight in the deepest registers, and a smoother/cleaner treble region that is also a slight bit brighter. The O2 amp is very nice, but not needed with the SM64 via the DX100. 7/10
Lear FSM-02 V2 class A: The Lear has a slight bit more emphasis in the upper midrange and treble, a bit wider space that has better instrument separation, and is overall more revealing. The DX100 sounds a bit more spherical in presentation while the Lear sounds more linear and realistic. While treble quality is similar, the Lear’s slight bit more emphasis brings any issues more to the forefront. Overall, the Lear sounds more realistic and accurate to my ears, but the price and size difference make it hard to recommend using this combo. 8.5/10
Modded iPod ->
EHP-O2 & JDS Labs O2: The O2 amp pairs quite well with the SM64, providing a detailed and dynamic presentation with clarity the Neco V2 can’t match. Bass is good and punchy, but deep bass isn’t quite up to par compared with a source such as the DX100. The midrange and treble provide good detail and layering while retaining a smooth and enjoyable note quality. The overall presentation is spacious and convincing. 6/10
Neco V2: While the Neco V2 doesn’t sound bad from the modded iPod, it isn’t a great pairing when compared with the O2, which is much more dynamic and involving, recreating better layering that is more natural. 4.5/10
uHA-120: The 120 pairs nicely with the SM64, offering a spacious and clean sound with the SM64. Compared with the O2, the presentation is larger and a bit more laid back and overall smoother. Bass quality and quantity are similar, but the midrange and treble quality is superior on the 120. The overall presentation refinement is a good step up over both the O2 and Neco V2. 7/10
Arrow 12HE 4G: The 4G gives the SM64 additional width compared with the uHA-120 and UHA-6S MKII, which works well for the SM64 due to the great depth of the presentation. On tracks with very good depth, the 4G does limit the presentation depth. While the 120 is equally as smooth, the MKII is not quite as smooth in the treble region. Warmth is something the 4G has plenty of, surpassing both the MKII and 120, although the warmth of the amp combined with the warmth of the SM64 can lead to a bit too much. Clarity is similar to the MKII, but the 120 has is cleaner and clearer. Bass is overall more enhanced and extends further than the MKII and 120. The 4G is very listenable and I consider the match a good one. 6/10
Leckerton UHA-6S MKII: With a balanced and spacious presentation that is very transparent, the MKII reveals issues with tracks. Treble isn’t quite as smooth or refined as the uHA-120, Arrow 4G, or Pico Slim, and bass is a bit lighter, but overall the presentation is balanced and neutral. Bass isn’t as deep as the O2 or the Stepdance, Lear, Ortofon, or Portaphile. 6/10
Pico Slim: The PS matches well with the SM64, from a frequency response perspective, adding treble to the presentation and balancing everything else out. However, it does limit the size of the soundstage overall while maintaining a natural proportion, which results in a more mid-forward presentation than other competing amps such as the UHA-6S MKII, Arrow 4G, and uHA-120. Overall quality is good, but the treble isn’t quite as refined as the uHA-120 and bass isn’t too powerful in comparison with the other amps. 6/10
Stepdance: Spacious and quite bass heavy, the Stepdance emphasizes the bass region more than the other amps I used in this comparison. While the bass is enhanced, the control isn’t quite as good as I am used to from this amp, and others outperformed the Stepdance. However, despite the bass, the rest of the spectrum is fantastic with a “just right” midrange that is neither too close nor too far, and clear with excellent imaging. The treble is smooth, clean, and present, but not to the extent of the Pico Slim, offering an excellent level. 7/10
Lear FSM-02 V2: Using the standard headphone out of the Lear amp, the presentation is more on par with the Leckerton UHA-6S MKII, Arrow 4G, and Pico Slim as the spaciousness, imaging, and smoothness aren’t quite up to par. The deep bass, while present, isn’t as powerful as the Stepdance or O2. Not bad, but nothing earth shattering. 6/10
Lear FSM-02 V2 class A:The Class A circuit of the FSM-02 improves the weaknesses the standard amp circuit has, expanding the space, adding power to the bass, and increasing the realism. The deep bass power helps with extension and gives an overall more controlled presentation. The space, clarity, and imaging are a step up from the Stepdance, and there is less mid-bass boom and more deep bass punch. The upper midrange is slightly less prominent than the Stepdance, but still sounds natural. Comparing the Stepdance, the Lear is more refined and overall better. 9/10
Ortofon MHd-Q7: Note: I just received the Q7 and haven’t performed my standard burn-in. The Q7 matches well with the SM64, offering a smoother and slightly more mid-forward presentation than the Stepdance with excellent imaging and slightly better size, although it is not quite as spacious or clear as the Lear FSM-02 V2 Class A. Bass isn’t as prominent as the Stepdance or Lear in Class A, but is more prominent than the Lear standard output. Imaging is good and while not as smooth as the Lear Class A presentation, it is slightly smoother than the Stepdance. Bass has a very nice balance, as does the rest of the spectrum. I wouldn’t be surprised if the amp changes some of the finer nuances over time. 7.5/10
Portaphile 627: The 627 compares is competitive with the Lear FSM-02 V2 in class A mode, where the Lear is slightly smoother in the midrange while the 627 treble is smoother. The 627 is a bit more spacious in all directions and has a slightly more laid back presentation. Bass is quite similar, although the 627 seems to have a slight advantage in control. Poor quality treble is smoother and more forgiving on the 627, but the resolution and detail levels are similar. 9.5/10
Anedio D1: Take the best portable source and add a smoother, more spacious presentation. The source isn’t your typical setup for a sub-$500 IEM, but the D1 shows that the SM64 scales well. This is a very immersive and musical combination. 10/10
Source Summary: The SM64 is a high impedance IEM that is not very sensitive, but there were no issues reaching a safe listening volume with any source tested. The SM64 does perform better with better amp circuits, but it also can resolve more information when paired with a more resolving DAC, which will give you a better bang for your buck. Moving up the amp chain will smooth the presentation while retaining or even improving detail levels, and the overall presentation space will expand. If you get the SM64, there is no immediate need to upgrade your source if you are using something like a Clip+ or Hisoundaudio Nova, but if you do, you will be rewarded.
EarSonics has created another natural, organic, and realistic sounding in-ear monitor that captures the spirit and ambiance of the presentation: the SM64. With a presentation that is rich and liquid yet detailed with great imaging, you get the feeling you are in the audience in front of the performance, hearing where each instrument is in space. Bass is capable but not overdone and the clarity is good, especially considering the warmth and richness of the notes. While the EarSonics SM64 doesn’t provide the same on-stage sound as the SM3, it does provide a similar EarSonics signature that is similar to the excellent EM4 custom in-ear monitor.
Technical performance is quite good considering the price point, holding its own against custom IEMs in the price range. While the SM64 sounds good from entry level sources, it scales quite well resulting in large improvements as higher performance DAC and amps are paired with it. Overall the SM64 is an excellent IEM that will please both audiophiles and musicians looking for an organic, rich presentation that recreates the ambiance of the event, especially when paired with a good source.
– Smooth, organic notes with detail
– Excellent resolution of the soundstage with very good imaging, depth, width, and height of the presentation
– Capable bass and excellent dynamics
– Scales very well with high performance DACs and amps
– Clarity isn’t the best for the price point
– Performance with lower end sources isn’t great
Read Joker’s review here.
See where the SM64 falls on the performance chart (Select “Show other types of headphones for reference” check box and search)