Reviewed Apr 2011
Details: Dual-driver model from French audio firm Earsonics
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP $299.00)
Specs: Driver: Dual BA | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 119 dB | Freq: 20-18k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Sensorcom bi-flanges, SM3 bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (3.5/5) –Comply foam tips (2 sets), filter and tip cleaning tool, and hard zippered carrying case
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The lightweight shells are made of two plastic halves and don’t feel as sturdy as those of the Westone earphones. The light multi-strand cables are properly relieved both on housing entry and at the Y-split but again aren’t as thick, soft, or supple as Westone cords
Isolation (3.5/5) – Quite good, especially when longer tips are used
Microphonics (5/5) – Can only be worn over-the-ear so microphonics are nonexistent
Comfort (3.5/5) – The housings of the SM2 are very similar to those of the SM3, including the squared-off rear corners of the shells, which can cause long-term discomfort for those with smaller ears. I ended up using longer tips and leaving the shells outside of my ears when wearing the earphones for more than an hour at a time
Sound (9.1/10) – The SM2 is Earsonics’ most basic earphone – a dual-armature monitor designed for professionals on a budget. That said, the sound quality of the SM2 shows just how serious the French company is about audio – this ‘entry-level’ monitor sounds anything but. Expectedly, the SM2 shares quite a few sonic traits with the higher-end SM3 but, while Earsonics clearly addressed some of the SM2’s weaknesses with the newer model, the two earphones are different enough to both have a place on the market.
The most surprising aspect of the sound of the SM2 is the bass – one may expect the dual-armature model to have less low-end presence than the triple-armature one – and in general one would be right – but with the SM2 the rules really don’t apply. The low end is very strong – at least on-level with the Westone UM3X – and extended. It is not quite dominant over the midrange but clearly isn’t submissive, either. In fact, it seems more powerful than the bass of the SM3 because the midrange isn’t as forward. There is plenty of punch and yet the bass remains nice and detailed. However while not downright slow, it is not as quick or tight as that of flatter earphones like the CK10/DBA-02 or even the higher-end SM3 or Westone 4 – not surprising considering that the SM2 is the bassiest dual-armature earphone I’ve come across. On the upside, the low end boasts very natural attack and decay times for an armature-based earphone and generally sounds quite natural.
The midrange of the SM2, like that of the SM3, seems be the meat of the sound signature. The overall balance of the earphones is very good and while the midrange is still slightly forward next to the CK10 or DBA-02, it is not emphasized heavily as the mids of the SM3 and UM3X tend to be. Clearly serving as the jumping off point for the tuning of the SM3, the midrange of the SM2 is slightly warm, rich, and detailed. It is not as crisp as the midrange of the ATH-CK10 and generally sounds much thicker and softer. Those who found the lush midrange of the SM3 to sound ‘veiled’ will find little solace in the SM2 as it is only slightly thinned-out in comparison. As with the SM3, vocals and instruments centered on the midrange have surprisingly natural timbre for an armature-based earphone and approach my entry-level customs when it comes to realism.
The treble of the SM2 is competent but obviously tuned with low listening fatigue in mind. Clarity and extension are quite good but it gives some emphasis up to the midrange, resulting in the entire earphone sounding very slightly dark. As with the SM3, there is really no frequency range in which the SM2 lacks presence but for my taste the treble could definitely be more energetic. Interestingly, the top end isn’t quite as smooth on the SM2 as it is on the SM3 – a few peaks and valleys are noticeable in the response – but instead of adding energy or air they just cause the treble to sizzle on occasion. The SM2 sometimes does sound a touch more airy than the SM3 but it’s still a far cry from earphones such as the ATH-CK10 and DBA-02, or even the Westone 4.
As for the presentation, there are clear similarities between the SM2 and SM3 but the former is not quite as immersive and enveloping as the latter. For those who found the presentation of the SM3 just a bit too holographic to be believable, the SM2 should be more tolerable. The difference between the two isn’t huge, however, and those who found the feel of the SM3 downright offensive will not find solace with the SM2. Soundstage size is quite similar between the two – well above-average and close to the perfect size for a BA-based earphone – and the SM2 can portray extreme intimacy just as well as the SM3. Expectedly, imaging and separation are also very good except when the slightly muddier bass of the SM2 gets in the way. The dynamics are good as well though they lag behind similarly-priced dynamic-driver earphones such as the Radius TWF21. Like the SM3, the SM2 will not be all things to all people but it is a highly refined monitor with great presence across the range and a very interesting earphone in its own right.
Value (8/10) – Though not as popular as the higher-end SM3 model, the SM2 DLX is arguably an even more difficult earphone to dislike. While it retains the slight warmth and thickness of the SM3, it is not as forward in the midrange or as enveloping in presentation. As a result, its flavour isn’t as pronounced as that of Earsonics’ flagship – a potential positive for some listeners. All of the functional caveats of the SM3 still apply – the build quality lags slightly behind that of Westone monitors and the angular housings aren’t particularly ergonomic – but on the whole the SM2 is almost as musical as addictive as the SM3.
Pros: No microphonics; Smooth, refined, and detailed sound; spacious presentation
Cons: No silicone tips included, angular housings lead to potential comfort issues, not as well-built as Westone monitors