Earsonics are a French stage monitor and now audiophile earphones company whose products I have been hunting for way to long. I remember when I jumped into this hobby, a 15 year old with a pair of Shure SE420s I had managed to get second hand for £20, there were a few universals IEMs that just seemed unobtanium, expensive and boasting sound quality I could only dream of. Spearheading these models was the Earsonics SM3, which was soon followed by its V2 iteration. It had 3 balanced armature drivers; removable cables and anyone who put them in their ears seemingly fell in love. It is funny because since then the higher end universal IEM market has blown up and while the SM3 may once have been seen as best of the best, its now nothing more than mid tier, even in Earsonics own portfolio. Now 19 and having tried pretty much everything that’s been released since my exposure to this ever changing world (yes I heard the SM3 even a few years back) I finally have ownership of an Earsonics product and from their new “Premium” line, we have the Velvet. The Velvet comes with a premium price tag to match its premium branding and at €699 are certainly a more expensive universal model, not that it is near some of the more absurd prices I have seen new models costing lately, yes we are looking at you Miss Layla. Also rather cool is an option when it comes to colour choice, originally you could only get a solid black but by the time I had secured a sample, the brilliant crystal version had released, which gives you view of the internals, similar to what a glass bottom boat gives you of the sea.
What’s Your Flavour?
Q. What latest universal IEM trend can Josh and me just not stand?
A. Some sort of tuning ability, filters, dial, screws, adjustments. Oh they annoy the living hell out of me. Alas we can’t stop them happening and we can’t stop people loving them and yep Earsonics have adopted a method of tuning themselves. All I want is an earphone that is tuned to be AMAZING at one thing, I don’t need 3 different sounds because in all the tuneable earphones I have had, once I found my favourite way of listening to them, I stick with that and am done for that feature. Regardless of my obvious feelings towards this, I will stay objective and fair from now on, this little rant probably helped me vent!
The Velvet is a triple balanced armature earphone, with a tuneable 3-way crossover. Now with the way things are going there tends to be two ways to get around the ability to tune something. There is the quick and easy way, with an obvious, usually protruded switch that can be activated while listening. You then have the more time consuming but robust methods that normally can’t be used while listening, use an external tool to activate but are much less obvious to the naked eye. I prefer the latter. So do Earsonics.
The included screwdriver
Using the included screwdriver you can turn a dial on the faceplate that allows you flick between three, pre-designed presets. Each one has a clever name to distinguish the type of signature your going to be getting, Warm, Balanced and Tight. If that doesn’t mean enough to you then Earsonics include a little guide card, with a frequency chart (not measurements) of each tuning and also where you have to turn the dial to get each sound. Changing the sound is in its own right hard work. Maybe the crystal version is a little harder to use being clear because on the completely transparent shell, you have 3 pinpricks that signify where you have to turn the dial too. If it’s dark where you are, no chance, the same goes for unless the lightings perfect. Then recessed into the earphone you have the dial itself, which has two more tiny pinpricks that have to be turned so they sit either side to the aforementioned pricks, then you have selected the mode. However the dials turn a 360* rotation and there is no lock into the 3 obtainable tunings, meaning there is a chance you won’t get it in line perfect, and on a few occasions, I have felt there to be a slight channel imbalance on the bass, maybe due to this. Fortunately as I have said before there are positives to this method and if I had to choose one, it would be a lower profile way like this. In your ears they don’t have a switch hanging out, there isn’t something you will accidently knock while listening on the go and even more importantly, as long as you gentle and not changing these pre-set every few minutes, the dials look robust and securely in place.
The inlcuded case
I turned out to be very lucky with my velvet. The early units were all a solid black, by no means bad looking but not something you would pick out as being special in any way. They then added the crystal version to the line up and boy is it stunning. This is easily one of my favourite universal in terms of aesthetics right now. It’s just so clean, clear and they have taken time organising the organs so you can see what’s going on inside. On the front you have the crossover changing PCBs, giving a green tint to them. On the back you have two larger balanced armature drivers taking up most of the space, they are dust and finger print free and have a shine to them, surely they were polished before installation. Tucked down the side next to them you have a third, much smaller driver. Do I have gripe? Of course, there is one tiny bubble I can make out, the only thing stopping these from being flawless.
Apparently as a wax guarding method, Earsonics have the two bores of this earphone seated right next to the drivers and then the sound merges as it travels up the sound bore into your ears. I understand how it prevents wax as the bores are at an angle and round a small bend from directly in line with your ear but in terms of sound, this is a weird idea, especially when companies like FitEar and Lear are using different metals for the sound bores because it is allowing better sound.
In terms of build quality these are at the upper end of anything I have used universally. For a start the acrylic housing just feels a little bit thicker than usual, the Shure SE535 and Apollo Audio Labs Viper 8 for example, feel a bit brittle and likely to crack if dropped. While I plan on keeping these far away from skydiving as any of my possessions, if these were to hit the deck, I have faith they may soldier on unscathed. Although this is my first Earonics model I have owned, I have used a fair few before and they have always had the real thin canals, like what Shure and Etymotic use. These are much thicker; almost fitting Sony Hybrid tips (they ended up staying in my ear on removal of the earphones) but is much thinner than the rest of the shell. They do give way just a little to a squeeze but i still don’t think they are worth a worry. To tick my last box they do indeed use removable cables in the standard 2 pin configuration, my personal favourite although for some unknown reason, they have recently started using the awful MMCX connectors on their CIEMs.
For what aren’t the smallest earphones, these fit surprisingly easy and well. Earsonics send these installed with some dual flange tips but I have always found them a bit rough on my ear, even if the seal is hella tight and isolation out of this world. I opted for some Spinfit tips that you can get from Jaben. With them the Velvets seemed to almost become custom fitting softly into the bowl of my ear. I even fit them like CIEM, rotating them as deep as they can go. Isolation is obviously tip dependent and Spinfits don’t isolate the best, but if that is a priority, stick to those dual flanges and you wont hear a single thing from the outside world.
Smooth as Satin:
This is about as well named product as any, give these a listen and you know exactly how the name velvet came about, because on any of their three settings, that’s how these sound. They are one of the easiest listens I have ever encountered, butter me smooth, zero grain, this is for those who hate their orange juice with bits in. Even on tight mode, which by all accounts is the most forward, it is still such a relaxed sound. The tight mode is certainly my choice of tuning and if I am honest, while I have tested all three signatures, it is the tight mode I have personally found myself using the most, but first, before I get carried await lets first of all break down them different settings.
Warm Mode – They could have called this bass cannon mode, because that’s what this mode is all about, I think it is way past being just a warm earphone. The bass is very thick, and it wash’s over you like a tidal wave of warm sticky goo. A decay that has plenty of helping in the mid bass along with crazy extension that keep increasing in impact and presence right down to some true skull crushing rumble, just take Skrillex’s “Make It Bum Dem” for a spin and you will get what I’m talking about.
The midrange is very polite, with quite a timid body; especially taking a slight hit off the powerful bass of these. The midrange is still packing a warm, rich timbre and everything just feels pleasant. These aren’t hyper revealing, nor horrible to a recording, and due to the very relaxed upper midrange, they don’t even ooze clarity. To some, this could and should be an instant turn off, these aren’t a reference, analytical monitor, they are a chilled out listening experience, a musical hot water bottle (stolen from BBC Radio 1s show). The upper mids is probably the biggest reason for both the extreme smoothness and lack of grain, and that is a trend between all settings, they seem equally distant in this area and with it obviously being the most sensitive area of the human ear, I understand why they have done it, no one will ever find these uncomfortable to listen to. Don’t get me wrong, the range isn’t missing, its just really kicking back and basking in the warmth these earphones can put out.
Balanced Mode – With the last one being the bass cannon in my mind, this could well be the warm option. We still have an obvious bass hump causing the sub-bass to be still just us thunderous. But that all being said it does have a touch less bass than the latter mode, even if it is still the obvious focus of these earphones and these have a more natural sound because of this. What is rather interesting though is that these also have less lower mids, between 1 and 2kHz making this not sound quite as thick and lush but also tonally a bit more balanced in the midrange.
Tight Mode – Let me just get across these modes aren’t hugely different. No it isn’t hard to tell them apart but they are clearly the same earphone, it isn’t as dramatic as changing the switches on the Vision Ears VE6XC, which is like having two earphones in one. That being said this is the flattest and when I say that it still isn’t flat in the slightest. It doesn’t have a hugely obvious mid bass but what it does have an obvious woolly sub bass hump. It is a hump that can still can cause the bass to be a major player in these earphones sound, even on tight mode, I listened to a slightly warm song, “Mr. Writer” by the Stereophonics and was shocked by how much the bass involves itself. In fact the bass is the biggest difference between all models and the way I would describe what is happening is that the hump in the bass starts well in the mid bass and continues into the sub bass but just gets shoved a little left and reduced a couple of decibels as you go from Warm, to Balanced and finally to tight. So by the time you get to Tight the now smaller hump is pretty much all under 100Hz.
This also has the most obvious and forward midrange still clearly with a big favouritism to the lower midrange, even if that again feels a touch reduced with the bass to again, help balance things and get it nearer the treble. Maybe it is due to the lack of bass but this mode seems the most focused with a bit of extra speed but also less heft. It still doesn’t become a transparent or detailed earphone but this is the glassiest and most agile you will get the Velvet sounding, even if it is still grain less and smooth.
Now a couple of things I have noted so far are both the treble response and sound staging and that is simply because these two thing are the least effected by the switches. The treble is obviously a little more effected due to the upper mids and treble response never changing but from Warm to Tight the lower mids and bass being reduced so you may feel like your getting more treble presence but tonal qualities never hugely change. That being said I do notice one splashy area in the treble and it is the only place of these earphones that sometimes, and I mean on very rare occasion feels just a little but sharp. I would say that is because they have a little spike around 7kHz, it is high enough to never cause sibilance but it does have a bit of careless sparkle on that odd track but for the most part it just behaves and blends in with these effortless and smooth earphones. Don’t let those who are sensitive to treble put you off because these really are the ultimate earphone for those sensitive to treble or fatigue.
Now while you may have expected a smooth and relaxed experience with these due to the naming, one thing you will never see coming is the MONSTROUS soundstage, it is huge. They have so much space, especially in terms of width but I still don’t find depth ultimately lacking, even if it doesn’t scale as awesomely as it does in width. Not only is the width very obvious but it is cleanly spaced and you still feel like your getting a realistic centre image. It is not just guitar on the left, huge space, vocalist and I dunno, a bassist to the far right, the music blends very nicely together. By that it I don’t mean it is pinpoint accurate, these don’t have the dead silent background of my Hidiiton Viento-R but these are much more euphoric than them in everything they do.
Now I did moan about the tuning idea earlier in the review, I must say because of the way they have implemented the tuning, it does create quite a handy function for the user. The way the dials are installed and how pesky it is to change tuning are clearly for a reason. This isn’t made to be re tuned after every song you listen to, but instead allows you, the customer just give these a bit of fine tuning to suite your tastes. If you like the Velvet on warm, you will probably like it on balanced but might prefer it on tight and vice versa. If the Velvet isn’t for you on Tight however, then it probably wont be on either of the other modes. But just think about it now, name your favourite earphone, it is more than likely you can think of a few things you can change to make it ideal, well that is the case here, you may love the Velvet and then you can optimise it.
A Soft Experience:
The Velvets are a product for someone who wants no stress in their life, nothing to put them on edge, nothing to challenge them. They want all their music to sound good and they want bass that extends. They want to get a well presented package, with lots of options to make the earphones both comfortable on the ears and your ear drums. They are also for someone who wants their product finished so well it shines like a crystal.
That all said and done, the Velvets aren’t for someone who likes accuracy, neutrality, detail or transparency. They are not for someone who likes to have no distraction from a slightly boomy deep bass or for someone who needs a company to have enough confident in a product they give you a tuning and one tuning only.
I can be honest with you, that’s my job at the very end, and say that I fall into the latter category of people, I strive for flawless audio quality in the form of as honest reproduction. Instead the Velvet makes things nice for you, it is orchestrated well but obvious nonetheless. The Velvet aren’t cheap but to determine any sort of value with them you must choose what sort of person you are from the above two, and likely you may be neither, somewhere more drastic either side or somewhere in between, which probably leaves another earphone for your liking but like with anything in life, this could well be the one even it is far away from my perfect match.