Echobox have had a slow start to their campaign for portable audio dominance. While they initially surrounded themselves with hype for their Explorer DAP, it was with an IEM they first went to market and it had some real unique talking points such as solid titanium housings and a German PEEK driver unit. I reviewed the Finder X1 IEM back in December 2015 and since then they have been fairly quiet, refining their Explorer DAP, which I am happy to announce has finally gone into production. They have taken their sweet, sweet time with the Explorer but fair play to them playing the role of perfectionist in the DAP market where most brands just try and squeeze out as many models they can in quick succession. Fiio’s X5 launched just before Echobox announced their upcoming player and we have already had 3 versions of that before the release of one Echobox DAP. It therefore isn’t a surprise that from sources close to me that have tried all of them, not one has been a truly finished or polished product like I am hoping the Explorer will be, I can only pray that with one and a half years in the making it will be great.
Moving away from that small tangent, I won’t be reviewing the Android based music player today but instead one of their brand new IEMs, launched completely out of the blue at CES. The trade fair that seems to be their favourite place to show off new products! It seems that with their DAP round the corner it seemed only fair that they had a few extra IEM options to compliment it so they have added a cute entry level model (the $99 Traveller) and then even more excitingly, a brand new flagship, The Nomad N1! It is in fact the Nomad that we will be reviewing today and if I am not mistaken, will be the first place to do so. It is priced at $399 but as of right now, they are offering a very tasty pre-order deal giving a $100 discount. My apologies if you have now missed it.
Disclaimer – After uploading this review I was notified that this is still a yet to be released product. Therefore as my pair are a pre production unit, there are some small changes to be aware of in the final version. These things will include different (in house designed) tip selection, slightly longer and different angled sound bore, redesign of the housing so it is more fun aesthetically, same ergonomics, just different etchings. Echobox will be providing me a finalised unit soon so I will update with some pictures and further thoughts accordingly! It seems like they have already fixed my few niggles already!
Ticking The Boxes
Getting from opening the delivery to actually putting the earphones in my ears was a little reminiscent to the party game “pass the parcel”. First you take the outer sleeve off, then open the box which reveals the IEMs, but yet to be attached to any cables. You haver to open up yes another layer to get to the case which holds all included accessories. There wasn’t a huge list of complaints from my end with the Finder but the few I did have seem to have been remedied with this model, the first being the filters storage method. Last time around they came embedded into cardboard and not only were they a real pain to access, but once they had been removed you had these tiny little metal disks and no where to store them. Echobox have now designed a silicone tray that is designed to not only perfectly fit inside the same included carry pouch but also store tips and filters alike. I really rate how it actually has a few spare tip slots so you take some of your own around with you. Check this video I made for a better feel of the unboxing experience.
The actual included tips I am not as impressed by. Like many IEM brands they are partnered up with Comply to include some foam tips but with their last venture I was impressed by their own home made single flange silicone. With The Nomad the silicone feels really flimsy and not a single of the included sizes sealed that well with my ear seeing as these insert fairly deep. Fortunately I am sure you will be fine out the box between these, the Comply and then the dual/triple flange also included. If you do want something extra it is also worth mentioning that Echobox have paired with British brand Snugs (as recently seen on Dragons Den) to get these earphones set up with some custom moulded tips. They are really backing the idea of making 3D scans of your ear when possible instead of the traditional trip to the audiologist to get some gunk pumped into your ear.
Back to The Nomad and they keep everything I loved about the Finder (titanium housings, surprisingly small size, filter system and PEEK drivers) but adds some stuff I found missing before such as the more ergonomic over the ear wear style and removable cables. The attention to detail throughout this product is just fantastic. I adore the little touches such as the company logo on the pause button of the metal remote console, the way the MMCX connector blends into the housing of the earphone and sets the memory wire perfectly to go over ones ear and finally how they have added some soft rubber on the underside of the titanium housings so that the earphone grips the concha of your ear a little better. This is a thoroughly fleshed out product from jack to sound bore. Everything has been finished to the highest spec.
My biggest pain with the entire construction would have to be the included cable. While I have already said I love the remote/mic and the fact they have made their own male MMCX connectors instead of using lesser generic ones, the actual cable is a bit annoying. It reminds me of the type of cable I have seen previously on budget models like HiSoundAudios Crystal and ViSang VS-K1. There is a braid that has been sheathed but in doing so you have a soft cable but one that can act a bit crazy holding its kinks from being packaged. It is not a complete tragedy, but when something has been done so well even the smallest problem stands out like a sore thumb. While on the topic of cables it is well worth letting you know that Echobox are going to start a range of cables soon, featuring lighting/USB C connectors and even a version that will make these bluetooth earphones!
Now earlier I talked about having some seal problems with the included single flange tips. I think a reason for this would be that these earphones are tiny. Not like AAW Q minuscule but for this form factor of an earphone they below average in size. That is mainly because most earphones that sit in the bowl of your ear and loop over the top feature multiple drivers, not just the one. It leaves them similar in design to the Campfire Lyra for the same reasons. Because of this they can be inserted quite deep into your canal and you need a tip that will be solid. I generally like single flange tips and it only took a slightly firmer type to seal just perfect. Once sealed these are gems in your ear. They are sturdy and have no abrasive edges or out of proportion areas. Even with a small vent on the housing they still isolate magnificently!
Turn the page for more….
Not so out of the ordinary in the modern marketplace, you can choose between one of the three filters to listen to this earphone through. The little caps are differentiated by an assortment of coloured material and screen on the end of the sound bore, to which you can see down inside at the german driver when the filter is removed. The black one is all about bass with silver being reference and red is all about the treble. I did find the filters to be more in line with RHA in terms of how obviously they effect the frequency response. This is much more minor than say Torques more elaborate system. The red filter makes the bass leaner, which in turn takes focus to the treble, which sings loud and is a similar hotness to the Finder was with balanced filters. Black still has an engaging treble and takes on a full and meaty sound, with a strong bass to boot. Reference funnily enough sits in the middle for bass and I actually think it has smoothest treble.
After driving my self mad screwing these little pieces of metal on and off the earphone I decided that the reference filters were the ones for me. They don’t feel as hollow as the treble filters and I don’t feel a need for the black filters as I already have ample bass with the reference. The sound is much more matured than with the Finder, it doesn’t have as spicy treble and is now a darker (comparatively) more brooding sound. Not to the level of Campfire Lyra mind you! It has also stepped up its level of refinement to make it grainless, only with a touch of bite at the top of the midrange. While not source picky, I did find warmer/softer amplification to be the one thing it probably ought to stay away from, as it takes away from the combination of pressure and speed it combines so well. With Echobox continuing to use this clearly impressive PEEK technology in their drivers, this does take a lot of similarity to the Finder, that is without doubt. In fact I could even take a paragraph from my review of that model and it would remain applicable to this earphone.
“I am more tempted to say U shape for these as the bass certainly has a focus on the sub regions with a lot of air moved as you would expect from a dynamic driver but still a nimble and capable mid bass that is much less pumped up than the rumble area. The lower midrange is the least prominent area due to the mid-bass’s smaller boost. Pack all that with a treble that is airy, extends and lives in the spotlight and you have a well formed U. Boy it does it so well though, pairing bags of detail with shaking bass and transparency with engagement.”
I am not pasting that to be lazy, it really is the case but it is far from the end of the story. Everything is a bar above, speed is better now, as is soundstage size which is only lacking in depth, whereas before it was generally more diminishing. This is also a very impressively complete monitor extending fantastically at both ends of the spectrum.
I have already mentioned the treble and that is the most vast improvement on this model. It is now the perfect compliment to the sound signature of this model. It still has more gain in this region than the Lyra but it now as this agile grace to it that completes the end to end extension well but doesn’t take any grating peaks. It no longer can be categorised as fatiguing nor does the treble run the show. Not only have the smoothed peaks (still has an incline to 7-8kHz, in comparison Finder was heavier from 3-6kHz and actually dipped a bit after that) but I feel an adjustment to the decay makes this snappier and crisper, making this range not just better, but now very appealing! I would say this is quite a big deal and really helps push the performance of this onto a new level, one that is happy to take on any of the big names.
I gave the Finder my blessing in the low end and will with no reservations once again. What Echobox achieve with the bass of The Nomad really is a rare feat because while it centres around a boosted and mighty sub bass, it doesn’t ever feel out of place in the music. If there isn’t meant to be bass, you won’t hear it humming around in the background anyway. Something that even the 10 balanced armature NG Audio Capricorn couldn’t perfect and was one of the bigger issues with the Earsonics Velvet. Instead of getting frustrated or even bored of the bottom end, when this has some deep tones kick in it is an absolute pleasure! I think this is done because of the tempo it is equipped with. 100 to 250 hertz gradually calms itself. It harnesses similar momentum but doesn’t quite have the same level of boosting, although it undoubtedly sits above neutral and more importantly the midrange. It makes equally as boosted bass’s such as on Oriveti’s Primacy sound soft and sluggish.
The midrange is liquid and polite. It is more distant in the soundstage, pushed back but still remaining very clear. It won’t tickle your fancy if you like vocals smacking you around the face but gives me flashbacks of my good old days with the Sony MDR-EX1000 in terms of how it’s presented. Comparing to a more relevant IEM and it is smaller sounding than that of Lyra and it also has less upper mids. While that tilt from the deepest of bass does continue all the way into the midrange, the midrange as a whole is very complimentary throughout. Upper mids don’t sound any more eager than what comes before it. The coherency makes for great pronunciation, another area it jumps ahead of the Primacy.
The performance here really is fantastic. Its offers some refinement to what was already a very well regarded earphone and adds in every other department to that. What a wonderful product! This certainly falls into a category with few other manufactures who make a product that can tick so many boxes. Engineering, quality, ergonomics and sonics all are second to none. jays and Campfire are probably the other only other brands I think do it all. While I think compared to how much the Finder costs this does seem a bit expensive in comparison, in the broader scheme of things this still offers a lot for the money, since I truly think this compares very evenly with Lyra for example! With a 100% satisfaction rate of Echobox products I have tried, I am so happy that reviewing the Explorer is just around the corner!