I would like to thank Max from EarSonics for providing me with a review sample in exchange for my honest opinion.
Everyone can probably name a number of key items in their audiophile journey that really sparked the flame. When I first started seriously looking into this hobby, I drifted around for a while a bit, not knowing what I was really looking for. But when I stumbled on the Velvet, it hit me – this was exactly what I was looking for. A wide stage, powerful bass, and an energetic presentation. Perfect for all the genres I listened to, or at least the ones that mattered the most. After having lurked around Head-Fi for a couple of months, I submitted my very first posts on the Velvet thread. A short while later I wrote my very first review (or at least attempt at one), of the Velvet.
After my audiophile journey progressed to more high-end monitors, the Velvet started getting less playtime. So every once in a while I would put it up for sale, but kept taking it down again. Not for sentimental reasons, although I will say I considered framing it on the wall instead of selling it; but because I felt it could still compete with many of the higher priced iems I was listening to. But as is always the case with this hobby, there’s always more to buy than our wallet will allow us. So at some point it had to let it go in favor for some newly desired object, especially since EarSonics’ flagship S-EM9 shared some similarities. But with tears in my eyes, nevertheless.
There were some times where I seriously contemplated buying it back again. I had the frame sorted out and everything. However, EarSonics recently launched an updated version of the Velvet, and as you can imagine I was more than eager to try. Back to where I started.
-Drivers: 3 BA drivers
-Design: 3-way crossover, 3 sound bores
-Impedance: 31.5 to 41.5 (depending on the dial)
-Sensitivity: 119 dB
-Frequency range: 10 Hz – 20 KHz
PRICE: €699 / $699
Build and Design
The Velvet’s interior consists of large BA drivers for the bass and midrange, and a smaller driver for the treble. On the outer part of the body is the little gray dial to tweak its signature, containing two dots to determine its position. With the former V1, the dial tended to be a bit stuck upon first use, which could result in unwanted damage when too much force was used with the metal screwdriver. I had my original black Velvet reshelled to the crystal shell, but even fully aware of the possible danger, it was hard to keep the dial free of scratches upon first use. Luckily, EarSonics has now made the dial more pliable right out of the box, so the dial readily turns now. On the inner part of the shell body the three shiny BA drivers are nicely visible. The clear shell further has the advantage of visually disappearing in your ear, or at least not drawing so much attention. The black Velvet I initially had two years back looked a lot larger despite its identical size.
As the shells are not very large, I don’t see anybody having difficulties with the form. It’s a fairly compact square shape that tends to fit easily, without protruding too much out of the ear. The Velvet has an oblique nozzle that allows a deep insertion. The nozzle itself has a slightly smaller bore size than the common standard, so popular tips as Spin Fits or Spiral Dots will be too large. However, this is easily remedied by making an ‘adapter’; sacrificing one of the tips you won’t use by cutting of its stem to use for other tips.
For as long as I can remember, EarSonics iems have come with the special EarSonics gray biflange tips. Not just any tip, because they play an important role in the EarSonics’ sonic signature. If they fit properly they provide a very tight seal, and accordingly, a warmer, enhanced bass response, which could be described as a ‘musical’ characteristic within the signature. EarSonics traditionally mainly provided a couple of pairs of these biflanges, along with a small and large pair of mushroom-sized tips. If the gray biflanges didn’t fit, the alternatives weren’t much to work with, and as the nozzle was an alternative size finding aftermarket tips was not easy. The peculiarities with the tip selection were always somewhat of a recurring theme on the dedicated threads.
However, EarSonics has remedied this by increasing their tip selection. They now offer a medium and large size of a conventional silicone tips along with two pairs of foamies. I was always a fan of the original biflanges, but I’m sure the improved tip selection will make a lot of people happy. The matte black box further includes the very classy-looking black carrying case that has always been my favorite for practical use. It’s just the right size, and looks very nice (although the Campfire cases are also a nice example). The accessory package is completed by a cleaning tool and 6.3 mm adapter. Finally, the Velvet comes with the same twisted OFC 3-wire cable with 2-pin connectors as the other EarSonics models. The cable is thin yet durable and flexible in use, while reducing microphonics to a minumum.
The Velvet has a U-shaped signature – a powerful sub-bass and lifted treble. While the stage isn’t overly deep, it is very wide, even surpassing many high-end monitors. The Velvet relies on its width for separation, combined with its airy and open sound due to its lifted lower treble response and excellent extension. Similarly, due to the brighter presentation, this combination of a high level of clarity and wide stage allows for a detailed presentation.
There are different ways to tune an iem, since there are different preferences to keep in mind. The Velvet isn’t an ‘audiophile’ iem by any means – and it’s very clear it wasn’t designed to be. The Velvet does not only have a ‘fun’ tuning by design – it possibly is one of the most successful in this category. A powerful sub-bass fuels the music with energy, it can fill your headspace with music, whil a brighter upper midrange adds to the sense of excitement – the Velvet provides the closest resemblance to going to a club or a festival. You keep your classy jazz or classical ensemble – the Velvet is a party animal.
This is where it all begins – the Velvet’s bass is undeniably one if it’s most discerning feats. The Velvet has a significantly enhanced sub-bass, powerful on impact. Even with the dial set on ‘balanced’, the bass verges into basshead territory, while adjusting it leaves room for more. The sub-bass has good extension, easily reaching low when necessary. But this is a bass that loves to be amped. Providing more power results in just a little bit more impact, control, and sub-bass extension. Driving the Velvet on high gain on the LPG for instance makes the bass go just a little bit deeper with more impact for those that really enjoy bass.
As the emphasis is on sub- over mid-bass, it remains a tight and punchy bass, despite its significant quantity. Importantly, the enhanced sub- rather than mid-bass allows it to be a big and meaty bass, without overpowering the stage with warm air. On the other hand, the lack of mid-bass air takes a bit out of the warmth from the midrange. The S-EM9 for instance can’t match the Velvet in sheer sub-bass impact, although its relatively more pronounced mid-bass creates a warmer and effectively more natural tone. However, as mentioned the Velvet comes with a tuning dial. The switch primarily affects the quantity of the bass. Dialing the bass down results in a cleaner, more analytical signature; dialing it up results in a more bass-heavy sound, which gives the midrange a little bit more fill. However, this setting might be most applicable for bass-enthusiasts.
While the Velvet’s signature is best described as a U or V-shape, the general presentation isn’t distant or thin. Due to a 1 Khz bump, midrange notes have good body and forwardness, allowing the presentation as a whole good ability to fill your headspace. However, as the center midrange bump is followed by a 2-3 KHz dip, the vocal presentation on the other hand is somewhat laidback and thin. This isn’t an iem you put on to listen to a grand vocal performance by Pavarotti or Elvis, as it misses inherent warmth, as well as vocal size and power. It’s here where the Velvet forms the greatest contrast with the midcentric S-EM6, its bigger brother that on the other hand can be considered a vocal specialist.
While vocals might not be its strong suit, the Velvet’s midrange has a lot to offer. It’s clear, detailed, but most of all very energetic. It’s this high energy that makes electric guitars in punk rock or metal stand out. This is partially due to its lifted treble response and brighter upper midrange. This is an upper midrange that loves synthetic melodies. Whether it’s hip-hop, pop, or electronic music, melodies stand out and capture your attention. This is further accentuated by the laidback vocal positioning; instead of centering on vocals, there’s a shift in the spotlight of attention towards the bass and melodies, making it an enticing specialist for these genres.
The Velvet has a lifted lower treble response that gives the Velvet air and clarity, while boosting its soundstage. Due to its enhanced treble, the Velvet has a very airy presentation; an almost analytical cleanliness that combined with its stage width contributes to its separation. While there is a peak around 7 KHz, the Velvet’s remains fairly smooth and free of sibilance, despite its brighter sound.
The treble is slightly forward in the presentation, and brighter in tone. While it isn’t necessarily as refined as a TOTL flagship like the S-EM9 in tone or definition, it’s a treble that captures your attention by adding to the excitement, as well as to the high level of detail. It’s the final ingredient for an exciting package, and EarSonics has implemented it well – besides the lower treble peak, the treble is fairly linear. And in line with EarSonics’ tradition, the treble has excellent extension.
Fidue Sirius ($899)
Fidue’s flagship consists of a 1+4 hybrid, with a dynamic driver for the bass. While it has a slight midbass emphasis, the bass is more neutral than the Velvet’s. The Velvet has more bass quantity, producing a more powerful impact. The Sirius’ midrange is warmer, and more forward. Vocals have more intimacy, and are more natural in tone and size. Both share a brighter than neutral upper midrange. The Velvet’s midrange however has more clarity, with better articulation of individual notes. In addition, the Velvet’s brighter lower treble gives it a more energetic presentation.
While both create a wide stage that is not overly deep, the Velvet’s stage is airer, while the Sirius stage is warmer. In addition, the Velvet has slightly better imaging. Taken together, the two are more different than similar, with the Sirius having a warmer, midcentric signature, and the Velvet a brighter, fun-based tuning.
Campfire Audio Dorado ($999)
The Velvet and Dorado can both easily be categorized as a ‘fun’ tuning: a very wide stage, engaging V-shaped signature, but most of all: powerful bass. The Dorado’s dynamic powered bass has more weight than the Velvet, even in its ‘warm’ setting. There’s noticeably more mid- and upper bass, giving the bass a rounder, more impressive feel. In addition the tone of the bass is warmer, while it has a more natural decay. However, due to its size the bass is more prominent in the presentation. The Velvet’s bass is punchier, but also quicker.
The Dorado’s midrange is slightly warmer, with a relatively more forward vocal presentation compared to the more laidback Velvet. The midrange sounds a bit smoother, compared to the clearer sounding Velvet. The Velvet’s midrange however sounds cleaner, with more space between individual instruments. This is partially due to the Velvet’s lower treble peak, which contributes to the airy sound. Dorado’s treble is smoother and thicker, but offers less pinpoint precision.
A while back I posted this article on the difference between the ‘music lovers’ and ‘audiophile’ tuning philosophies; one is designed to sound exciting, the other for its accuracy and trueness to the tone. The Velvet might well be the poster boy for the former: with its wide stage, powerful bass, and high-energy sound, the Velvet was simply designed to sound awesome. The Velvet won’t necessarily be the most refined iem, but there’s a youthful playfulness to the sound. There’s no doubt the powerful sub-bass will get your foot tapping or head nodding, while the presentation as a whole is clear and detailed. The bass might too much for a purist, and the treble less suitable for sensitive listeners. But we all have our guilty pleasures, be it a pop hit or some catchy club mix – and there’s nothing like the Velvet to make them shine.