This is the area that always scares me when a new company brings out some IEM’s, I want them to do well I really do, but it isn’t always the case (we did an article a little while ago about some of the companies in this category).
It all began with a conversation about the kind of sound we like which actually filled me with confidence. Sonny was doing the communicating and explained that a “flattest possible” sound was what we were after, something accurate and transparent to use as a tool as a reviewer is invaluable and is also where I get most enjoyment actually.
Having explained our preference I was hopeful and keen to get hands on once these reached the front of my review queue. Unfortunately I was undeniably a little pissed off when I first plugged in and listened. The sound was warm and mid bass focussed. I felt a little cheated actually, like we had simply been ignored in what we asked for. The FR graph that you see in this review shows you exactly what I mean. No denying what that shows. The issue is that unfortunately different people will have different ideologies about what a flat, accurate FRG is; this is where problems will arise for customers. Now you may be wondering a few things such as why was the sound being custom tuned for us and also that custom tuning something over email would never really be successful. Well lets take things back a notch and go over the product range. You have the entry level SH-2, the SH-3 and finally the SH-3 U-Tune that we have. The U-Tune is the same driver config as the SH-3 but costs 200 CHF (£130) more to bring the total to 890 CHF (£577). What this includes is an experience much like Ultimate Ears PRM, but just a lot cheaper. Sonny has experienced the PRM and said it does the job it is tasked too well and I guess the Harsch equivalent is the same. You go in, try on some universals and adjust the bass, mids and treble on a small box until your happy with their sound, that sound is what is put into the final custom fit product. The problem is that you have to live in Switzerland to use the box or more specifically, a location near Harsch. We did try and tune a pair without the box but this is clearly where the problems come in! (We think this is a flat tuned U-Tune as this is what was discussed but the sound seems to match the description of the SH-3 so maybe it is a standard one?)
BUT… having had my feathers ruffled I decided to review these as if I had no preconceptions as to what they would sound like, as if they were just another IEM coming through the door, and once I did that I started to enjoy them a little more…
A quick overview…
As I have said they are a mid bassy, warmer earphone with a nice bounce to them in the lower registers, the mid-range has decent clarity and detail whilst being very slightly set back though. The treble laid back, that’s for sure, but I found it a little harsh and brittle sounding more often than I would like.
Soundstage is smaller than both the UERM and the VE6 I mentioned earlier, it is also smaller than the Lime Ears LE3 but it does best the likes of the ACS Encore and the Jomo 6 which are closer competition in price and sound sig. the actual presentation is very ‘in your face’, an on-stage position rather than a 2 rows back kind of deal. This has the effect of being involving but sometimes a little set back would be more natural sounding for me.
Separation is better than the ACS and Jomo’s too; the Harsch’s do excel in comparison to these two ‘similarly’ tuned products, there is very little bass bleed into the mids and instruments are positioned well. The UERM still rules the roost and a quick AB shows the class of the reference monitors up against the SH-3 in this area.
Although it is emphasised it isn’t bloated or empty sounding; at all! In fact it is powerful, punchy and pretty enjoyable actually. Dare I say it, but it actually reminds me of a dynamic driver, stereotypically they have more natural sounding bass, something that few BA earphones replicate really and truly well. Decay is a little slow for my preference but it can’t be described as sloppy or monotone like the ACS encore, it also keeps them sounding fun and bouncy, adding to the dynamism.
They aren’t interfered with by the bass; they are very much their own entity which is a perfect start. They also have really good clarity through the mid-range which I was actually really impressed with… to go with this there is also good body and sloppy over the top syrupy warmth like you get with the Heir 8.0. Unfortunately vocals are too recessed for what I’m after from an earphone, I just feel detached from the music, the vocal is often where the emotion and feeling comes from and to me that is simply lost.
Sometimes with bass focused earphones there is literally no top end at all, now we can’t accuse Harsch of that here, there is plenty of treble quantity, it’s the quality that’s more important though. Shimmer, extension and detail are all qualities that I love in an earphone; the UERM is a great example of this! Harsch haven’t quite managed to fulfil my expectations in these areas. Whilst it is extended and there is a little shimmer, it has a strange monotonous annoyance that becomes fatiguing and distracting. Others might not find this to be the case but it really grinds on me after a while. And as negative as that sounds it wasn’t something that grabbed my attention immediately like the bass emphasis and lack of mid-range. it was just something that lingered and niggled at me over time.
The treble affected me, I don’t know why but I just didn’t enjoy it; it’s also a shame that this earphone wasn’t actually what we discussed about producing sonically. This earphone does have a few things going for it, the bass and the very immersive sound stage as well as a clear and detailed vocal band.
Whilst the whole package wasn’t able to compete with the top dogs, I will say I did prefer it to the Jomo 6 and the ACS Encore. I don’t dislike this earphone at all they’ve just fallen short in a few areas. It must be said the shells are great and the fabric is awesome too and I can see that this won’t be the last you hear from them, well I sincerely hope not anyway.
I hope there is more to come and that they are able to refine their design and create a truly top quality earphone that allows them to break into this market. This isn’t the earphone to do it, but maybe a revision of it can be.
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