Paying $1900 for a custom in-ear monitor comes with certain expectations, especially if it’s the first time. The high cost should yield a certain reward in terms of improvement, an upgrade over previous equipment. When it comes to high-fidelity sound, this doesn’t just translate to tone, but performance: a precise image, resulting from high definition. The ES80 was built for resolution. It doesn’t just provide that sense of improvement over sub-par gear, but in certain aspects, even over top-tier equipment. This emanates from its excellent extension on both ends, and fairly linear signature. The deeper origin: its custom-built BA drivers, specifically designed for this purpose. Accordingly, the ES80 provides an exceptionally highly resolved sound, while maintaining a neutral, yet smooth signature.
Similarly, the ES80’s presentation is neutral in terms of stage positioning. Neither overly forward, nor laidback. Its stage is wider than average. But again, it’s its technical proficiency that stands out; the quality within the stage. Not only is its imaging precise, but its notes are set against a stable black background. The result is a remarkably clean and focused image, despite a lightly warm tone. It’s a presentation that allows detail to stand out, by means of the stability of the image – its separation is excellent. For even though its stage isn’t overly deep, its layering is precise, and the ES80 never tends to congestion; the ES80 takes full advantage of its high resolution, and leaner instrument size.
The quality of its top-end extension has far-reaching effects, returning throughout the signature. Starting from its role in shaping the bass: the mid-bass is highly resolved, with precise contours marking its form – a well-defined mid-bass, with excellent separation between the sub- and mid-bass. A controlled bass, and a fast one. Even so, it’s not a lean bass, which leaves one wanting. Despite remaining close to neutral in quantity, its mid-bass provides sufficient impact, and a rhythmic dynamic to the sound.
But it’s especially its bottom-end extension that provides a sense of power to the sub-bass: a tight, but hard-hitting impact, especially enjoyable for electronic beats. Overall, it’s a bass tuning in line with its technical approach. Importantly, this doesn’t mean it lacks engagement by any means; especially the depth to which its sub-bass hits is addictive. Rather, its technical proficiency contributes to the sense of enjoyment, by constructing a complete bass on many fronts: definition, detail, and low-end impact, rather than mere quantity.
But the advantages of its highly resolved bass transcend the definition of bass notes – the control of the mid-bass creates a particularly airy stage. In addition, a clever dip in the upper-bass helps to construct a rather clean-sounding midrange. The midrange is lightly warm in tone, and rather smooth. Its instruments are slightly leaner in size, ensuing from the upper-bass dip; especially heavier rock guitars or cellos might come across as a bit leaner. But altogether, the ES80’s note size is close to neutral. And importantly, it’s a presentation that sufficiently fills the headspace – an engaging sound.
Similarly, vocals are commonly awarded a certain forwardness, giving them an advantage in size over their fellow instruments. The ES80 won’t have anything of it, following a more egalitarian principle. Its vocals are clearly defined and smooth, though somewhat compact. It’s a presentation that aids in creating the abundance of space on the stage. Even so, it’s not a thin vocal presentation. Vocals might be smaller in size, but they’re still sufficiently dense; it’s a well-rounded vocal presentation, providing enough depth to a singer’s voice. Compact, yet powerful, and highly enjoyable as well. And because of its neutral tone, one that doesn’t discriminate between male and female vocals.
The ES80’s signature is fairly linear, save a lower treble peak. Lifting the lower treble provides more articulation in its note, while bringing a touch of clarity to a piano or violin. Even so, the ES80 doesn’t come across as bright by any means, or sparkly for that matter; it simply brings its tone closer to neutral, by balancing the bass. On occasion, the lower treble peak can act up with poorly mastered tracks; but overall, the ES80 can be considered a smooth monitor.
In line with the rest of the signature, the treble tone is neutral. This isn’t a treble that either sparkles, or feels emphatically natural. But make no mistake; the treble delivers an outstanding, above average, performance. Just like its bass, the treble shines by means of its technical prowess. Besides being well-defined, it’s exceptionally fast: quick on the draw, but natural in its decay. It ensures a complete presentation of the treble note, with even the fastest of notes. And as a result of its excellent and very linear top-end extension, the ES80 delivers a full display of the overtones, in all their glory. In sum, a technically outstanding treble performance.