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EarSonics SM64 Review

Added Jul 2013

Details: EarSonics 3-way, triple-armature follow-up to the SM3
MSRP: est. $499 / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: Discontinued.  The ES3 is an upgrade/follow-up and is available on Amazon for $399
Specs: Driver: 3-BA / 3-way crossover  Imp: 98Ω | Sens: 122 dB | Freq: 10-20k Hz | Cable: 4.2′ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock bi-flanges; Westone STAR tips
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4/5) – Double-flange silicone tips (2 pairs), foam tips (2 sizes), cleaning tool, and clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – Like the first-gen EarSonics models I’ve reviewed, the SM64 uses plastic shells reminiscent of the Westone stage monitors. The cords are now detachable, however, utilizing a common 2-pin socket, and have a memory wire section for a more secure fit. The twisted cables are similar to those used by Westone universals and most custom-fit earphones
Isolation (4/5) – Quite good with both the included silicone and foam tips
Microphonics (5/5) – Basically nonexistent, as with all similar designs
Comfort (4.5/5) – The new smooth, rounded housings are a major improvement over the angular design of the old SM2/SM3, fitting securely without applying pressure to parts of the outer ear like the SM3 shells did

Sound (9.3/10) – The sound of the SM64 bears a resemblance to its predecessor, the SM3, but at the same time offers a more conventional balance and presentation. First the sound signature – the SM64 is a warmish earphone with impressive bass quality and clear, yet forgiving sound. The low end of the earphones is outstanding – the bass has very good depth and control. It is boosted, yet maintains a good balance of mid- and subbass. The result is a low end that’s extended and powerful, yet very clean and controlled. It makes the bottom end of the VSonic GR07 sound a touch loose and intrusive and competes in quality with the decidedly less bassy Ultimate Ears 900.

The midrange of the SM64 maintains good presence but is not overly forward. Tonally, the EarSonics are slightly warm – warmer, for example, than Philips’ flagship Fidelio S2 model and the Ultimate Ears 900. Note thickness is impressive as well, and while the SM64 doesn’t have the emphasized upper midrange and treble that typically accentuate clarity, it is still about as clear as the flatter and more accurate-sounding VSonic VC1000 and Philips Fidelio S2, among others.

On the point of accuracy – the SM64 has an upper midrange dip, not unlike its predecessor, the SM3. However, the dip of the SM3 seems to be broader and has a greater effect on the sound, resulting in greater veiling and a darker overall tone compared to the SM64. The SM64 still cannot be called neutral, however, and lacks some of upper midrange presence and accuracy compared to earphones such as the Fidelio S2, UE 900, and VC1000, just to name a few.

The treble of the new EarSonics has pretty good presence, appearing more energetic than, for example, the EarSonics SM3, Westone UM3X, and Sony MDR-7550, but not harsh or sibilant. It seems to be a case of taking the middle ground- a little smoothed-over compared to accuracy-oriented in-ears such as the VSonic VC1000 and Philips Fidelio S2 but at the same time is not as smooth as the Sony MDR-7550. Still, while not perfect, it’s an improvement on the old SM3 and a fair compromise between risking harshness and losing crispness. The VSonic GR07, for example, is quite sibilance-prone compared to the EarSonics.

The presentation of the SM64 has good depth and width, and appears to be tuned for more universal appeal than the uniquely enveloping sound of the older SM3. Good bass control and a lack of midrange recession help the SM64’s separation and imaging. The VSonic GR07, for example, sounds a bit congested and lacking in soundstage depth in comparison and even the UE900, while spacious overall and more impressive in this regard than the GR07, still doesn’t quite have the depth of the SM64.

One last thing worth noting is that the SM64 is not very sensitive and was less efficient than all of the earphones I compared it against, especially the SM3.

Select Comparisons

EarSonics SM3 (discontinued)

Pitting the SM64 against its predecessor is telling of the direction EarSonics has taken with the tuning of the new model. While the SM3 remains a very unique earphone with its thick, lush mids and enveloping presentation, the SM64 boasts a more conventional – but at the same time more capable – sound. The low end of the SM64, for instance, is more focused on subbass and less on mid-bass, resulting in sound that is tighter and cleaner overall. The mids of the SM64 are not as forward as those of the SM3 and the note presentation is not as thick and creamy.

The thinner note presentation affords the SM64 a slightly clearer sound, which is also helped along by greater treble energy compared to the previous-gen model. The brighter treble results in a more neutral tone compared to the warmer SM3 – though the SM64 is not flat in FR, it is more balanced than its predecessor. The more mid-forward SM3 also boasts a more enveloping presentation, which is something that resulted in a lot of polarized opinions and heated debate. The new SM64 has a wider soundstage and a more conventional out-of-the-head presentation. Overall, while the two earphones are more different in sound signature than technical ability, I would rather listen to the new SM64 nine out of ten times.

Phonak PFE 232 ($599)

Phonak’s PFE 232 is a dual-driver design with a mildly v-shaped sound signature – quite a contrast to all EarSonics models, especially the old SM3. Compared to the new SM64, the 232 has brighter, more energetic treble and at times seems clearer and crisper, as tends to be the case with brighter earphones. However, the 232 also sounds a little “hot” and has a greater tendency towards sibilance when pitted against the more relaxed treble of the SM64. Its sound, especially the top end, seems thinner and less natural compared to that of the EarSonics.

The bass of the PFE is greater in quantity compared to the SM64 and tends to intrude on the more recessed mids of the Phonaks. The EarSonics, on the other hand, boast less aggressive bass and a fuller, more prominent midrage. That, combined with the smoother treble of the SM64, makes it more natural and easier to listen to than the PFE, which is why it has won my ear here.

Sennheiser IE 800 ($1000)

Sennheiser’s flagship in-ear boasts plentiful bass and a more v-shaped overall sound compared to the EarSonics. It offers greater mid- and subbass presence, as well as greater impact and note weight. The EarSonics, on the other hand, exercise a bit more bass control. The lower midrange of the IE 800 is more recessed but maintains clarity very well. At the same time the SM64, with its laid-back upper mids, sounds smoother than the somewhat splashy IE 800. Subjectively, the performance of these two is actually rather close, though the IE 800 did win my ear more often than the SM64 for its greater midrange accuracy and huge bass that does not sacrifice clarity.

AKG K3003 ($1300)

AKG’s BA-dynamic hybrid is yet another earphone with a more v-shaped sound compared to the EarSonics SM64. The K3003 is a set I’ve always rather liked, and that doesn’t change in head-to-head comparisons with the EarSonics. The AKG boasts more treble presence, energy, and sparkle, and the upper midrange is more filled-in, resulting in the K3003 appearing more detailed overall.

The bass of the K3003 is a little more powerful than that of the SM64, though the difference is not night and day. The mids of the SM64 are fuller and more forward, on the other hand, and the overall tone is warmer. The brighter, more v-shaped K3003 nonetheless sounds a little more neutral to me than the SM64, but it’s difficult to fault the bass and lower midrange of the EarSonics even next to the hugely pricy AKGs.

Clear Tune Monitors CTM-200 ($350)

The CTM-200 is an entry-level dual-driver custom monitor priced right near the SM64. Tuned for an accurate, musician-friendly sound, the CTM-200 is not as warm in tone as the SM64, with bass that rolls off earlier and lacks the impact of the EarSonics. The lack of proper subbass extension hurts the realism and accuracy of the low end – simply put, the EarSonics sound much more effortless and realistic when it comes to bass.

Aside from the bass, the dual-driver CTM-200 actually does offer some advantages over the SM64 – its mids, for example, are flatter overall and provide better accuracy. The upper midrange is more filled-in and the overall tone is cooler. Despite this, clarity is actually on-par between the two earphones and while the presentation of the CTM-200 is a bit more out-of-the-head, the SM64 keeps up very well in soundstage size, imaging, and overall sense of space. Choosing between these two earphones is a matter of choosing between the superior bass of the SM64 or the more accurate sound and marginally larger presentation of the CTM-200.

Value (9/10) – EarSonics broke onto the worldwide audio scene a few years back with the rather controversial SM3 – an earphone that, with some reservations, I quite liked. The sound of the new SM64 retains resemblance to its predecessor but also seems to be tuned for more universal appeal. It’s not tonally neutral, but it refines the formula in many ways – even the fit has been improved dramatically compared to the first-gen EarSonics products.

These days there are dozens of great-sounding earphones available at almost all price points so all high-end purchases are tough to justify, but there’s one thing I’ll freely admit – the SM64 is much more proficient than most at getting my toes tapping.

Pros: Great bass and presentation; very comfortable, especially next to old EarSonics models; good isolation and overall user-friendliness
Cons: Could be flatter between the upper midrange and treble

EarSonics SM64 review by average_joe



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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.


22 Responses

  1. Yes, if price is not an issue my recommendation would be for the Velvet, but whether it’s worth the extra cash really depends on how big a deal spending an extra $300 is for you. It’s not the same magnitude as the difference between an SM64 and your average $150 set, for example.

    I will say that they both do fit your requirements – good bass (more of it on the Velvet), mids that are not veiled, and decent treble energy (again, better on the Velvet without being overly harsh). There’s other earphones that fit this type of sound profile, but those that have bass at least on par with the SM64 tend to be less smooth/more harsh compared to EarSonics sets (e.g. DUNU DN-2000, Fidue A83, FLC Technologies FLC8, and so on).

  2. Hi joker,

    Would you consider SM64 as a significant upgrade over the Sennheiser IE80 in terms of a better sound with no veiled mids and more energetic treble but without sacrificing the bass too much?
    And if your recommendation will be for Velvet, does it really worth the 300 Eur difference from SM64?


  3. The SM64 is bassier than the Alclair Reference.

    The 1964 V3 is closer to the SM64 bass impact-wise. V3 is just brighter, more forward, and more energetic overall while the SM64 is more laid-back, smooth, and dark.

  4. How do these stack up against the alclair reference, if the alclairs can keep up in the bass department, i think that i can live with that. Second if they cant, how would tbese do against the 1964 v3’s, i think that this is really what i am looking for, but the price, not including the ear impressions is a bit much for me to justify- hence i am hoping that the alclairs have as much bass as these or the 1964 v3’s.

  5. Maybe one more comment.

    After giving up 2 channel audio, I briefly did try over the ear headphones. I have the grado SR60, I HAD the AKG 701s being driven by an Elekit TU-882R? (I cannot remember). Sold them off and gave up on over the ear.

  6. PS, the REASON I got excited with IEMs are simple. You can enjoy it with dedicating a ROOM to audio. You know, speakers pulled out FEET into the room. Argent Room Lens (ugly as hell) placed throughout the room. Sound Absorption panels at the first reflection point on the wall etc etc. And the two channel audio thing can get WAY out of hand price wise. Speaker cables (Bob Crump 8 footers @ $1K?).

    It’s nice to THINK there may be a way to enjoy great music almost anywhere. Without waiting till it gets quiet. Without blasting the whole house with sound…

  7. Hmmm… I am not sure where to go next. I have the Shure SE215 and find it a GREAT bang for the buck. I also have the Westone UM30 Pro. The UM 30 pro is less veiled BUT, in my opinion, lacks dynamics. I am using an iphone 5s with apple lossless files ripped from the CD directly.

    From a historical point of view, I was a standard 2 channel audio guy. Although I have owned some nice gear (Electrocampaniet Dac, Bryston 7B ST AMD, AES Super Amp wired for Triode, Silverline Sonatinas (the version with the LPG midrange), Usher Tiny Dancer, LFD Mistral SE, MSB Link DAC, JM Reynaud Twin MK II, Wyred4Sound Amps and Pre, Soliloqouy 5.3s, McCormack DNA 0.5 etc.

    Surprisingly, the Simple JM Reynaud Twin MK II with a T-Amp was WAY good with intimate material and the Sonatinas driven by the AES Super Amp was simply amazing. I thought the SE 215 so good that the Westone UM Pro 30 would be close to the goose bump factor.

    It is NOT. It is like Diana Krall singing. Has capability but lacks EMOTIONAL impact (whereas Eva Cassidy may not be perfect or recorded as well, the emotions come through much better.

    The question is IF IEMs have the potential to do the goosebump thing out of an iphone 5s? Do I need an iBasso DX100 at least? Or should I just give it up. IEMs are just not there yet? Keep the UM 30 Pro and add DX100? Drop the UM 30 Pro and try the Earsonics SM 64? forget it, the sound I am looking for is not going to happen.

    I can give you more ideas about the sound I like. Layered. Wide soundstage. Emotive and NOT analytical. For instance, I never really liked Krell or B&W but something simple like an Art Audio Diavolo driving Meadowlark Shearwater Hot Rods from a Metronome CD/DAC, that IS heaven.

  8. Alright thanks a lot for you help, really appreciate it! I’ll probably try and get the SM64 since I already own an RE-400 which is already thin sounding.

  9. Both the SM64 and DN-2000 are very good. The SM64 gives you a richer, warmer sound (which some people prefer with vocals) while the DN-2000 is thinner, clearer, and more accurate strictly-speaking. Which one is better with vocals will really depend on who you ask – the DN-2000 has the accuracy, but the SM64 gives a more lush and “musical” (not a term I really like using) sound.

  10. It really depends on what you want – the DN-2000 is more of a U-shaped sound with enhanced deep bass and treble. It sounds very different from the SM64 – brighter, clearer, and not nearly as warm and full-bodied. The A83 is somewhere in between in terms of how it’s tuned, but so far I prefer the other two to it.

  11. How does the SM64 compare to newer IEMs like DN-2000 and Fidue A83? Would there be anything else I should consider if I can get the SM64 for around ~$350?

  12. Compared to the GR07 they are smoother, more refined overall, and more spacious. The bass is also a little tighter. The GR07 sounds a little congested, bass seems a hair more intrusive, the tone is brighter, and of course it’s a lot more sibilant.

    As for the W40, they are not too different but I tend to prefer the EarSonics – the bass is deeper (more extended) and the mids are a little clearer because there’s no mid/upper bass bleed into the mids. Both have good soundstage size and well-rounded presentations, no complaints there.

  13. Doubt it’s faulty – the SM64 does have an upper midrange dip, but it doesn’t have as large an effect on the sound as you might think from looking at the measurements.

  14. Not quite… the J3 is a good dap and will give you decent volume but it won’t get the full dynamics and clarity these are capable of.

  15. The Lime Ears LE3? It’s a much more neutral/balanced-sounding in-ear. Less bass with flatter response through the midrange (giving more upper midrange presence) and brighter but more smooth treble.

    And thanks, I just realized recently that the SM3 v2 is still available from EarSonics themselves. It’s very hard to find here in the US, though. Unfortunately I’ve never tried the V2 at length.

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