I picked up the M-Audio IE-10 In-Ear Headphones over the weekend. They headphones are replacing my Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 which just stopped working a few weeks ago (ugh, just before I was traveling, so I had to borrow way too bassy Griffin in-ears from Fuzzy). I had to wait for a Guitar Center replacement check to show up in the mail before I could go pick up the new earphones. Though I’ve only had the EI-10s a few days, my first impressions are so good that I had to post a quick review.
Until last night I couldn’t figure out what killed my Super.fi 3s. One commute they were working the next nothing (at first I thought my iPod had finally failed, luckily the second gen beast is still hanging on). I inspected the ear phones again and found that the right cable had split at the flexible plastic ear-wrap tube. M-Audio’s IE-10 in-ears fixed this and other design weaknesses with a heavy jacketed twisted pair cable that integrates the ear wrap’s flexible wire inside the jacket. This a huge improvement over the Super.fi’s thin copper strand and jacket with separate flexible wire in a plastic tube. The original UE’s copper wire oxidized at the ear wrap connection and at random points along the lead (you can see all this through the clear jacket). The IE-10s wire is tinned copper to help prevent corrosion. I may buy a replacement cable ($19.95) for my old UEs to revive them.
I flip-flopped the left and right leads between the ear pieces so I can insert them backwards for a better seal. This backwards hack improves the in-ears’ isolation and bass response. One problem: it hurts. I need to try different ear sleeves (the IE-10s come with three pairs single flange silicon, one pair double flange silicon and one pair disposable foam) for a better fit, I don’t think the pain is listening fatigue. I do have a cold right now so the pain may just be due to my craptacular sinuses. If the smaller sleeves don’t help I’ll flip the ear pieces back. The M-Audio manual’s instructional pictures actually show the ear pieces inserted backwards, oops. Go watch their video instead.
As I mentioned, with the tighter (and painful for now) fit the IE-10s sound great. Highlights:
- Bass: Ample and accurate. Just the right amount of puff from kick bass drums, clear bass lines, can ride electronica bass waves
- Mids: Snare a little looser than I like, could be due to bass harmonic overhang, clear male and female voices, guitars not shrill
- Highs: Individual cymbal taps can be heard, though a little too much sizzle, little sibilance on male voices
- Imaging: Widest spread I’ve heard over headphones, though earphones do not disappear (especially when the drivers produce a slight vibration on your outer ear), not sure if absolute phase is flipped with rewiring the leads: have to rip XLO/Reference Test & Burn In CD and check
- Isolation and Noise: Again, with the reverse insertion hack isolation is great, when music is playing I cannot hear the noisy trains and buses (and their passengers) that sonically pollute my commute (M-Audio claims 26 dB of isolation). The headphones do not pick up any EMI/RFI interference and background hiss is inaudible revealing delightful low level details for a very clean listening experience
I was reluctant to replace my Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3s with what I thought was just a simple re-brand by M-Audio. To my surprise the IE-10s vastly improved build and sonic quality over the UEs. I highly recommend the IE-10s for anyone interested in in-ear headphones at around the $100 price point. Through circumstance I have ascended the next step up my in-ear can ladder. I started with the Shure E2C, then Etymotic ER6i, then Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 and finally the M-Audio IE-10. I cannot wait for the day when I can justify spending more than $100 on a pair of headphones that are guaranteed to break in little over a year. I guess I’ll keep buying those extended repair warranties for $19.99 a pop.