Rank #11: EarSonics S-EM9

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EarSonics is a France-based audiophile manufacturer, which has steadily gained a loyal fan base over the last years – including yours truly. While their models offer a wide variation in signatures, there always seems to be a recurring line throughout their lineup: a little bit more bass than strictly neutral, and high resolution. This is where the ‘music lover versus audiophile’ philosophies meet – and merge. Their universal flagship the S-EM9 too embodies their philosophy, while adding its own unique touch.

EarSonics S-EM9
Drivers:                      9 BA drivers (1 low, 4 mid, 4 high)
Design:                       3-way passive crossover, 3 sound bores
Impedance:               38.5 Ohm
Frequency range:     5 Hz – 20 KHz
Fit:                               Universal (EarSonics biflanges)

PRICE:                          $1490


Cable

The industry standard Plastics One 3-wire OFC cable has a warm tonality, which primarily results from its rolled off upper treble, and lightly enhanced upper-bass. The midrange is linear, resulting in an overall neutral note size. While the mid-bass is warm and natural in tone, it’s not particularly controlled. Accordingly, the loose bass results in a warmer stage structure. This affects the airiness of the stage as well as its transparency; especially since its top end does not extend very far. However, while the cable doesn’t perform very well when it comes to resolution and transparency, its warmer tone results in a fairly smooth and natural signature.

The pairing with S-EM9 provides the typical Plastics One’s lightly warm tone, and smooth touch. But as the S-EM9 has an impressive top-end extension, the rolled off treble of the stock OFC forms a bottleneck for the S-EM9’s performance. Replacing the stock cable with a quality cable improves the airiness of the stage, resolution, and general precision of the image – unleashing the S-EM9’s true potential. More so than normal, I would recommend trying an upgrade cable with the S-EM9.

Sound impressions

Presentation
The S-EM9 has a U-shaped signature: a tastefully boosted bass, and lightly enhanced treble. Its midrange however, isn’t the most impressive. There are thicker, more forward sounding midranges I can think of. But even though it isn’t the most full-bodied, it doesn’t sound thin – just ‘un petit peu’, perhaps. The S-EM9 might sound nimble, it’s an articulate sound; the term ‘refined’ comes to mind. Plus, there’s something special going on with the treble. It’s well-defined, detailed, and quick – yet incredibly smooth. As a result, the treble notes add a sense of pace to the music, an extra emphasis on the rhythm. This presentation might sound light and airy – it’s quick on its feet.

Nevertheless, the S-EM9’s presentation might not be one that tends to impress on first listen. There’s a certain delicacy to the presentation, as it isn’t overly forward or thick; due its neutral lower midrange and upper midrange dip, both its vocal presentation and note size tilt towards the leaner side of neutral. Similarly, its stage won’t jump out with overly large dimensions; it’s average at best. But after deconstructing all if its individual components, and then taking a look at the sum of its parts, the S-EM9’s true purpose comes to mind; the compact note structure, high resolution, and precise imaging: this is a tuning that screams separation.


Its stage is fairly modest, somewhere between a cube-sized and classic stage in its overall dimensions. It’s not particularly wide, and its depth and height are about average. But the S-EM9 doesn’t need to rely on size to excel. As leaner notes require less space, the proportion between the note size and stage is optimized for separation. Add pinpoint precise imaging, high resolution, and good layering ability to the mix, and the result is a well-defined image with a nice bit of three-dimensionality. And I know we all love a wide stage, but a moderate size too has its advantage: it’s easy to follow the presentation as a whole, the combined sum of all the individual components – especially when the positioning is so precise. Taken together, it’s a refined and well thought out presentation.

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About Author

Nic is currently in pursuit of a PhD degree in social neuropsychology, while trying not to get too distracted by this hobby. In pursuit of theoretical knowledge by day, and audiophile excellence at night. Luckily for him, both activities are not mutually exclusive which helps to lighten the workload. Always on the go, Nic's enthusiasm for hi-fi is focused on all chains of the portable system: iems, cables and daps.

8 Comments

  1. I have a chance to pick up sem9 for 40% off. Could you let me know whether they are suitable and is there anything better in around £800 for folk, classic rock and pre 2000 pop music. Thank you.

    • Hi there, it’s a bit hard to predict since it depends on preference. Personally I enjoy the S-EM9 especially for pop music. It will also work for folk and rock, but the vocal presentation is not particularly forward and present, it is more a linear balanced presentation where the instruments are in line with the vocals. So if you are looking for a deeply powerful, emotional vocal experience they might not be ideal. But in general I would consider it an allrounder.

      • Thank you for your replay flinkenick. I really enjoy the sound of S-EM9 however, as you pointed out vocals can sometimes be on a quieter side especially in older recordings. I am looking to upgrade the cable now and given your expertise I would really appreciate if you could recommend me some options around $300 that would enhance or better separate the mids without changing overall sound signature. At the moment I am using stock Westone cable that helps a little. Thank you.

    • Apologies for the late reply, it seems my notifications have been going to spam so I missed the past comments. I guess a good allround player would be the DX200, as it is versatile and neutral in tone. The LPG is also great if you can find one second hand, or maybe an AK player at a good deal. But it really depends on preference, some might prefer a warmer or brighter sound so it would be good to figure that out for yourself first.

    • The Velvet and S-EM9 both share an enhanced bass and lower treble. But the Velvet’s bass is focused mostly on sub-bass, where the S-EM9’s is more balanced between sub- and mid-bass. As a result, the Velvet’s bass is punchy and impactful, but its mid-bass is not very natural in tone compared to the S-EM9. The S-EM9 has a bump around 1 Khz which brings its midrange a bit more forward and gives it more focus. By comparison the Velvet’s midrange is thinner and laidback, especially since its lower treble around 7 Khz is more articulated, while it sounds brighter due to a more elevated 12 Khz peak The S-EM9 has great extension, but the upper treble is less prominent. Accordingly, it sounds smoother and closer to neutral, where the Velvet is brighter and more energetic.

  2. Some advice for people wanting to get the Sem-9. Upgrade your cable immediately. A simple SPC cable like the Thor SPC will do wonders for the soundstage and clarity of the IEM.

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