EarSonics S-EM9 ($1490)
EarSonics’ 9-driver flagship contrasts the warmer 8.2 with a U-shaped and technical signature. The two differ greatly in their presentation, with the 8.2 being noticeably warmer and more forward, while having a thicker note structure. The S-EM9 in turn is airier, faster, and more detailed. Its midrange however is relatively more laidback, while its notes are leaner in size. Finally, the 8.2’s stage is a bit wider, while the S-EM9’s is deeper: a cube-sized stage with even proportions in width, depth, and height, though moderate in size.
The combination of the S-EM9’s leaner notes and more precise imaging results in an overall cleaner image. Due to its depth and layering ability, it’s also a more 3D image, even though it isn’t overly large. Accordingly, it bests the 8.2 in separation and detail retrieval. This is further enhanced by its greater resolution. The 8.2 on the other hand is more upfront due to a relatively more forward stage positioning. In addition it creates thicker notes, which are smoother and warmer in tone – it might be considered more emotional, although the S-EM9 is neither cold nor bright.
Both share an enhanced bass presentation, with a natural mid-bass tone. Similarly, their bass isn’t the quickest, giving them a faint resemblance of a dynamic driver. The S-EM9’s displays more control though, while reaching deeper and feeling slightly more punchy in its impact. In both cases it’s an enjoyable bass, but the S-EM9’s has more power – it’s more predominantly tuned as a fun bass.
Both have a fairly neutral vocal presentation, although the S-EM9’s sound clearer, while the 8.2’s is warmer. But the S-EM9’s midrange is overall relatively laidback, with a leaner note structure due to its upper midrange dip. The S-EM9’s tone is overall fairly neutral, although it isn’t the most accurate. The 8.2 creates thicker instrument notes, while its upper midrange is more natural in tone.
The S-EM9’s lower treble is more enhanced than the 8.2, although it isn’t bright altogether. The lower treble peak adds more clarity and precision to the presentation, while its better extension contributes to its improved airiness and resolution. The treble has better definition and pace, while the 8.2’s is smoother and non-fatuiging. Overall, this results in an organized presentation of the S-EM9, contrasting the warmer and thicker sounding 8.2.
Unique Melody Maestro V2 ($1979)
Unique Melody’s retuned Maestro is the master of tone – a perfect balance between warmth and clarity. It’s not a romanticized sound; just very accurate. Due to the 8.2’s enhanced bass and laidback treble, it’s significantly warmer by comparison. Maestro has more clarity, without sounding bright. In addition, it boasts a grand stage. Of course at almost double the price, some improvement should be expected.
The Maestro’s stage is one of its strong points – it’s a very open, 3D stage, with fairly large dimensions. The 8.2 has a nice bit of width, but the Maestro adds a good deal bit of depth, as well as airiness to the stage. The combination of its larger stage dimensions, precision of imaging, and layering ability, results in a more holographic stage. Even though the Maestro creates more full-bodied notes, its separation is nevertheless more effective than the 8.2 due to its dimensions, as well as the airiness of the stage.
The Maestro’s bass is equally slightly north from neutral, but displays better control and speed. The 8.2 in turn has a bit more sub-bass emphasis, while it sounds warmer – the Maestro’s bass is airier. In addition, the slower pace of the 8.2’s bass creates a warmer stage structure, and warmer tone throughout the midrange. The 8.2’s bass is warm in tone and relatively accurate, but Maestro’s is slightly more natural, while having better definition. The resolution of the bass is better, but by a small margin.
Maestro’s vocals are larger in size, although similarly, they aren’t overly dense or deep. Their tone is fairly neutral, while the 8.2’s mid-bass adds a bit of extra warmth – Maestro’s midrange is only slightly warm. Both iems have a nice body to instruments, but Maestro presents them with more clarity. Most importantly, their tone is more accurate, being neither overly warm nor bright.
While the Maestro’s treble tuning is attenuated, it creates more clarity throughout the signature due to its upper midrange peak. This results in a more natural treble tone, as well as better definition – it’s a more refined treble presentation, being clear, without bright. In addition, its extension is also slightly better, although overall the difference in midrange resolution isn’t very large. Similarly, Maestro is a bit more transparent, due to the 8.2’s relatively warmer bass. The largest differences result from the Maestro’s clarity, rather than its performance.
The 8.2 sounds just about right. If I’d try to imagine what an average top ciem tuned with a warmer tone sounds like, a sort of mental prototype of all ciems I’ve heard mixed together – it would be something like the 8.2. It isn’t either full or thin sounding, overly warm and definitely not too bright. The bass, the mids, the treble, soundstage dimensions and resolution – everything sounds pretty good, as it should be. There’s really not much to fault.
I am missing a little bit of treble emphasis. The warmer tuning makes it a specialist, tilting towards one side of the spectrum. And I guess I wouldn’t mind a bit more resolution. Its tonality is good, as is the neutrality of the presentation; the average note thickness of instruments and its stage dimensions. Generally, the 8.2’s presentation appears to come alive with a brighter dap, while still remaining smooth. With a warmer source like the AK or Cowon Plenue S the warmer bass starts to dominate the tone, while the treble fades to the background.
Mostly, I’m just missing a certain ‘X-factor’; something special that makes me want to listen to it over others, for just that specifically. It might be the full-bodied midrange of Prelude, the sparkle of the NT6pro, or the precision of Samba. The 8.2’s rank doesn’t mean it’s bad – far from it. Rather, the 8.2’s performance serves as a baseline, scoring well on all aspects, though not particularly excelling in any.
As it is, the 8.2 performs excellently for its price, offering a taste of high end monitoring at a very reasonable price. If you’re looking for a smooth, non-fatuiging iem with an accurate tone for a very good price, the 8.2 delivers.
The Custom Art 8.2
-Technical performance could be greater