EarSonics has been making in-ear monitors for musicians in France for years and started selling internationally not too long after I reviewed the SM3 in April of 2010. Along with the international expansion EarSonics has expanded their product line to appeal audiophiles in addition to their core musician customers. Their latest product is a universal monitor with sound tuning, the Velvet. Price-wise it falls between the S-EM6 and SM64 in the lineup, offering a monitor in a price point where there is little completion. Does it fit in that price range, and just how good is EarSonics’ first product with sound tuning? Keep reading to find out.
The Velvet is a 3-driver, 3-way universal fit in-ear monitor with a detachable cable and potentiometer for sound tuning. The nozzle size is 4.5 mm, which is larger than the 3.15 mm SM64 nozzle size, but about the same as the S-EM6’s tapered nozzle. Per EarSonics, the Velvet is tuned with three sound signatures which can be selected by turning the potentiometer, but the knob is continuously adjustable, so it is possible to achieve different sounds with settings between the advertised three.
1-year warranty on the shell and drivers, which is similar to competing products.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
Packaging of the Velvet is quite different than the typical EarSonics packaging, with a much richer presentation style than typical. There are three different types of ear tips included and five spare sets. Three of the five sets are the standard bi-flange ear tips while small triple-flange and a unique mushroom shaped single flange make up the other two pairs. A cleaning tool, small flathead screwdriver, 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm adapter, and two packs of cleaning wipes are also included. A new rectangular zipper carrying case is included, but not as sturdy as the plastic case that comes with other EarSonics products. 8/10
The cable is a twisted cable that is similar to other stock 2-pin connector cables and comes in black for the standard Velvet and gray for the Velvet Crystal. The cable a high quality cable, and the same used on their CIEM products, with a tight twist and clean look. The ear area utilizes memory wire for over-the-ear wear, which is required for the Velvet, and there is a cable cinch made from heat shrink material. The molded plastic 3.5 mm plug has a durable look and feel, and will work with most phone cases and provide good durability. 6/10
The Velvet shell is held together with two screws and is solidly built. The potentiometer has a smooth movement and is easy to adjust with the included screwdriver while the cable connection point is solid. The original model had some housing issues due to the plastic manufacturing process from what I understand, which has been remedied, and the Crystal has a good track record.
The Velvet provides a good amount of passive sound isolation that is dependent upon the ear tips. For me, external noise is significantly muted without any music playing, and when the music starts, it is easily eliminates all but loud external sounds. 4/10
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 EarSonics Velvet received 100+ hours of burn in as is customary before I do my serious listening. The following custom IEMs were used for comparison: EarSonics S-EM6, EarSonics SM64, Lear LUF BD4.2, Sennheiser IE800, and EarSonics EM32 custom in-ear monitor.
Sound Tuning: The Velvet offers sound tuning via tuning dial in the back of the housing. While the tuning is continuously variable, there are three settings that EarSonics has identified, which are indicated by positions of the tuning dial. The tunings can be seen in the cart below, which has been provided by EarSonics.
Bass: Bass is plentiful as is typical for EarSonics products, with good depth and good note sustainment. The tuning knob on the Velvet adjusts the bass quantity from slightly enhanced to quite prominent while adjusting the positioning relative to the midrange. Position 1 presents the bass the furthest back in relation to the midrange while positions 2 & 3 push the bass more forward, increasing the quantity. The bass remains well controlled with excellent texturing and capability to sustain notes considering the BA driver and price point, even with the maximum bass setting. In position 3 note sustainment won’t disappoint unless you are a bass-head since it isn’t quite to the level of a dynamic driver, but it doesn’t intrude into the midrange and treble. Quality is superior to most hybrid/dynamic driver earphones I have heard in the price range, beating the PFE232 and IE800 and quantity is very respectable.
Midrange: The midrange has always been a point of emphasis for EarSonics, and while the midrange can be adjusted from a mid-centric sound to a more V-shape, it still offers the EarSonics rich experience and emphasis one would expect. Layering is excellent, detail is high, and everything is well placed giving realism to music recreation. While the bass and treble can be adjusted, they never overpower nor cause a degradation of the midrange. The upper midrange is a bit more prominent than with other EarSonics products, adding a slightly more airy, brighter tone yet retaining the classic EarSonics midrange bliss.
Treble: On the brighter side for EarSonics, the treble is smooth yet revealing and forgiving; an excellent combination. Overall smoothness is a hair better than the S-EM6 while a good amount better than the EM4, but the presentation isn’t quite as detailed. While the IE800 has similar treble quality, other universals in the general price range I have heard aren’t at the same quality level. Decay is very good in the treble region, and while not up to par with CIEMs that cost double, performance is still impressive. Treble extension is very good, with a gradual roll-off at around 15.5K and the last audible test tone I could hear being 17.5 KHz. This is the best treble from a pure quality standpoint I have heard from an EarSonics product.
Presentation: The Velvet presentation is similar to other EarSonics products, which means the soundstage is 3D with good depth and imaging for an excellent recreation spacious recordings as well as a warmer, richer sound that is smooth. While the bass and treble move relative to the midrange as the tuning knob is changed, there is always the mid-centric (the midrange pushed a bit forward compared with the rest of the spectrum) feel that is characteristic of EarSonics. Transparency and coherence of the Velvet are impressive, comparing with higher priced IEMs such as the S-EM6 and Lear LUF BD4.2. Notes are rich, but are still very clear and detailed with a much improved PRAT vs. the original EarSonics model I heard, the SM3.
Volume performance: The Velvet performs good at all volume levels, and the sound tuning can help overcome the human loudness curve, boosting the bass and treble for a low volume level linearity while scaling to higher volumes well. On the EarSonics website it shows the opposite of my recommendation, as the V-shaped sound shows a louder volume. But, the Velvet does remain very clean at higher volumes regardless of the tuning setting. The sensitivity is on the lower side meaning potential hiss issues aren’t a big concern.
Sound Summary: The EarSonics Velvet earphone falls in the mid-range between the SM64 and S-EM6 earphones, but offers sound tuning via a knob. Regardless of the tuning knob position, the Velvet has the traditional smooth and rich sound along with a mid-centric presentation EarSonics is known for while ranging from mid-forward to V-shaped. Transparency, detail, coherence, and capability are all excellent for the price resulting in a nice realism to the sound. Spatial presentation is also in line with other EarSonics products, recreating a 3D experience with well mastered music. While notes have detail reminiscent of an analytical sound, there is a naturalness to them that enables long-term listening under any condition.