Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Final Audio Heaven IV Review

Final Audio Heaven IV Review

Thanks to Hifiheadphones for the loan.

First Impressions:  Box, it looks like a normal box.  Open the box and holy mother of Christ!!!  Before you is the most amazing looking IEM case I’ve ever beheld.  I’ll suspect it may not be the world’s most practical but my god would you just look at the thing!!!! Just wow, simply wow.

Venturing inside the case there are the IEM’s and they too look quite exquisite.  If you are vain then this could be the set up for you, these are the best looking IEM’s I’ve seen in ages.  Slapping them in my ears, they feel very open and detailed.  Rather light in the low end and somewhat ER4 like up top I think.  Lots of detail but perhaps erring towards the gritty.  Its a very light and lovely sound.  I think this may be an audiophile pleaser but not so much a “mainstream” consumer crowd pleaser.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-601, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5.

Lows:  For quite some time what I was hearing was simply not matching up with what I was reading from others about these.  Over and over I was reading that the bass was great, of reasonable fullness too and I was not hearing it all.  It turns out that I was letting these sit rather more shallow than others.  Once you get them shoved in good and deep the bass begins to make itself known.  If you put it up against mainstream dynamics the quantity is rather lacking.  However for me the natural competition for the IV is the ER4 and side by side the IV feels massive and deeply scaled.  RAAAAARRRR.  It really is dependent on getting a very deep fit, or was for me.  Then its lower end comes to life and reminds me of the “moving armature” IEM’s.  Some halfway house between a BA and a dynamic.  You get a hint of the scale and vigour dynamics are capable but retaining most of the lighting speed and solidity of BA’s.  I’m not sure if it’s enough to please everyone and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

It texture is pretty good.  Its quantity is fairly sized.  Still I find for me it’s not got the best aspects of either and while many speak exceedingly highly of it, it’s just not doing it for me.  If I was only to have one IEM then maybe I’d appreciate its versatility more but I have lots so…..

Mids:  Things here are rather more to my liking.  While BA’s can sound mesmerizingly clear they forego a little fullness and can sound slightly unnatural.  They can strip out any vocal richness and a certain naturalness to its timbre.  The IV’s retain a bit of this organic quality that while sacrificing a little clarity giving it a lovely “natural” quality.  Its gently smooth, the faintest hint of additional warmth to offer a relatively silky vocal reproduction.  Still my ear tells me it’s so close to the achingly detailed and nuanced ER4.  I cannot help but feel they are falling into the same trap as the EB-50 did.  Trying to be a bit of both worlds and just not quite nailing it.  Where I felt they did nail it was with Regina Spektor’s vocals.  She sounded epically glorious on them.  Enough nuance yet with a healthy dose of her ethereally bizarre vocal dynamism.  She was thrilling and captivating to hear.  Then, foolishly I put the q-JAYS in my ears.  The Heavens felt so slow beside them, slow and inarticulate.  Still they did have that slightly more natural quality to them so I’m reluctant to say the q’s are “better” but… well I personally would be picking the little baby JAYS every time.

I can’t help recalling the e-Q7 and their “moving armature” tech.  Essentially a BA plugged to something bigger and edging itself towards the abilities of a dynamic.  Sadly while many seem wildly enamoured with the Heaven IV’s presentation, every time compare it, it just feels like a halfway measure.  Yes it’s good but a proper BA can do vocals better.  Great width, great scale and convincingly accurate, but a proper BA has greater articulation and clarity.

Highs:  Erm, well a bit so so.  It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with the treble but it’s a tad ill refined.  When songs start getting fast paced the driver, trying to do reasonable bass just can’t do everything at once.  The first place issues become noticeable is always in the highs.  Normally they are pretty clean with a tiny bit of an edge going on.  It’s a little bit laid back, it tends to let the mids have centre stage and the highs will gently and accurately play away.  Detail levels are quite good and likely to be cleaner and crisper than most dynamics but, well these are expensive and its competition is excellent.  The ER4 just feels so much more aggressively pin sharp and things like the IE8 or 272 can shimmer and sparkle circles round the Heaven IV. 

Soundstage:  I must grant the Heaven’s some kudos here.  When you A/B there with the ER4 these sound stupendously vast and the Ety’s like a tiny needle point of sound.  As a BA IEM goes these are exceedingly large and grand in their presentation.  Even when doing something intimate sounding it still sounds like it’s in a vast hall with some real space to breathe.  Simply put, for a BA the breadth and width here is vast.  Instrument placement is slightly diffuse but in that great sound scape its of minimal consequence.

Fit:  I tend not to love flat cables for wearing up, as is how I prefer to wear things, here it was fine.  Worn up or down there gave no issues and was a case of, shove in and done.  They did sound best when shoved in a bit far though.

Comfort:  Good.  These did sound better when shove in deep but their large bore meant that wasn’t wildly comfortable for many hours of use.  Then if you let them sit more shallow they were perfect for comfort but its aural talents were diminished. 

Microphonics:  Worn up, more or less none. Worn down it was quite annoying, this was not helped by no chin slider.

Amped/Unamped:  They were rather easy to drive and as such worked just fine out of my phone.  They did get more noticeably mid focused and the bass in particular lost some authority.  Its move to a slightly more light but punchy sound as though the current just wasn’t there to really make it rumble.  It wasn’t a huge change but it was noticeable.  So if these are you daily driver I would have a wee look at getting an amp.
Isolation:  Really rather good.  It’s a little on the weak side for a BA but easily bests most dynamics out there.  I’d be fine using these on a long flight or on the Tube.  As ever, more than sufficient, even with no music playing to get you run over if you don’t look where you’re going.

Build Quality:  First class all the way.  The true test is using them every day for two years but from where I sit they look and feel great.

Accessories: you get a bunch of tips, two types of them.  Then you get the most “look at meeeeeeeee!!!!!!!” case I have ever seen.  It is arguably a beautiful thing but so attention grabbing its erring on the side of pretentious.  It just screams look, I bought very expensive earphones don’t you know, yes they were expensive, pretty and cost a lot of money.  I have better earphones than you, just look at how shiny they and their ”luxury” case is.

Value:  Erm.  How important is pretty to you?  Acoustically these just don’t cut it value wise for me.  They are expensive and I know that for that money I can get things that sound better.  I have no issue buying things that don’t look impressive and come from some Chinese company normal people have never heard of.  The Heaven IV’s are not bad sounding but you are clearly paying for them being so pretty and whatnot.  As an all-round package I could see why some would be very happy with them, no doubt they would make a gorgeous looking Christmas gift for someone. 

Conclusion:  If these were a song it would be Nora Jones, “Wish I Could.”  It’s got very little happening acoustically, its breathy and laboured.  Its soft and lingering strings.  It’s a lovely little serene scene laid out before and around you.  Is it lovely?  Why yes good sir it is, mightily lovely and pretty on the ear. I cannot though help but notice they are very highly spoken of elsewhere and so clearly many do love what they have to offer.  In certain circumstances their mids are pretty fantastic and for lingering ballads they are gorgeous but…

You know, all of the problems I have with the IV is down to its price.  I just can’t really bring myself to place a great value on the looks of something because for me, an IEM’s aesthetic value is merely incidental.  It’s a bonus if something is pretty but I don’t actually care how it looks.  I mean for god sake I’ve worn TF10’s in public.  So the IV’s when I take them solely on their musical talents they just fall short.  They haven’t the versatility I want in a generalist (like the DN-1000) and they haven’t got any particular stand out point of excellence (like the ER4) so as I swither back and forth I find that for me they just don’t wow me. 

So, what about you, should you buy one.  Let’s assume pretty matters because these do look lovely, and let’s face it, that case looks just wow!  If you were perhaps buying a pair of earphones for a lady friend and you wanted something to make a visual statement then these will make a tremendous impression.  They simply scream I am a premium object that getting someone an RE-400 cannot hope to achieve.  The Heaven IV’s have a lovely ethereal sound for soft Jazz or Bossa Nova and visually they look transcendent, if those aspects are what you want then they make a fine choice.

Final Audio Heaven IV Quick Review

Final Audio Heaven IV Quick Review

Thanks to Hifiheadphones for the loan.

Brief:  Final Audio and a case to die for.

Price:  £139 or about US$218 though they seem a bit rare in the US.

Specification:  Driver Type: Custom made balanced armature, Sensitivity: 112dB, Impedance: 16Ω, Cable Length: 1.2m, Weight: 17g per earpiece

Accessories:  6 pairs of white silicone tips, 3 rounded and 3 more conical.  Then of course there is that case.

Build Quality:  Super.  They visually positively drip plush and priemiumness.

Isolation:  Very good.  A bit on the lower side for a BA but still great, enough for most flights and the Tube if needs be.  Oh and do watch out for traffic as you will not hear it with these in.

Comfort/Fit:  Hmm pretty good.  They seemed to want to sit a bit deep but they have a wide nozzle so it was a balancing act.  Mostly fine though.

Aesthetics:  Oooh, all of the pretty.

Sound:  Good.  For a BA they sound massive, a real semblance of scale and space for the music to really breathe.  Vocals are slightly ethereal and have natural feel to them.  I can see why some have found them to be quite mesmerizing.  For me though, it felt like it has lost some of the forwardness and explicit nature of most BA’s.  I won’t say either is “better” but well, I like forward and explicit.  The bass, while again well textured for a BA it lacked real presence and couldn’t keep up with the mids.  The highs, again with a slightly diffuse nature were lovely and airy but, head to head with others their detail levels just weren’t quite as good.  While I can’t say I’ve loved each aspect in a technical sense the whole here is a grand and beautiful soundstage.  Everything feels so very layered and spacious and I can honestly say it’s a beautiful whole.  For a BA the atmosphere created here is slightly mesmerising, the sort of thing you could listen to eyes closed and hear the assemble tableau both before and all around you.  That is where it truly shines.

Value:  Its super pretty and you certainly pay for that.

Pro’s:   Pretty.  Beautiful and expansive sound scape .

Con’s:  Raw detail retrieval isn’t awesome, bit pricey.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears Review

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears Review

Thanks to Sennheiser for the sample

First Impressions:  Ooooh what a pretty looking little case, how much does anyone want to bet it’s massively over engineered?  Oh and there we go, indeed once more Sennheiser have produced an example of just how to ever engineer a case.  Thankfully it seems the bit in the middle comes out, yey!!!  A case from Sennheiser that is actually usable, cue the angels signing Hallelujah.  Okay, clearly Senn are trying to go in a new visual direction.  I’m looking at these and thinking wtf is with the weird little cable loop thing?

In the ears they go and lo and behold they sound good.  I might even go so far to say very good.  That will shock no one, has Senn ever made something that sucked?  I’m thinking acoustically these feel like the slot halfway between my much love IE7 and the CX985.  It’s a fair whack cheaper than they however.  Something about them as also making my mind cast back to the MA-750, perhaps it’s the treble.  How curious.  Burn in time.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-601, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5.

Lows:  Seriously good.  Senn often do good bass if sometimes a bit over blown.  Here it is rather elevated as you would expect but it’s even more elevated than is usual.  The quality though, absolutely first class.  It’s really quite warm, smooth and rolling to the ear.  There is a hint of softness to it but only just.  While it doesn’t feel as controlled and lithe as its competition I find my ear quickly acclimatising to it.  I’m not normally one for particularly bassy things but they really are walking an incredibly tight line, the quantity is really large but it “feels” only a little over inflated.  Its only when you swap to something else that it hits you just how bassy it really is.  Its tone and agility are perfectly blended.  Then I hear something else and the Momentum  seems like it must be a bass cannon but it just does not give this impression in use.  Side by side with the MA-750 and the Momentum’s seem so vast, there is tons more bass, I know this but yet after a few minutes with the Momentum’s it feels almost natural.  Am I going mad?  I think it’s just that the bass has such a playfully rounded tone.  Still, the more I A/B with things the more it is clear the bass here is humongous, we’re talking IE8 levels of bass.

The bass may be good but the more time I spend with it the more I find it a bit much.  It’s too ever present and while it doesn’t impinge on the vocals clarity it is just so much bigger.  I know a bit much bass isn’t a problem per say, it’s a balance choice and given the Momentum is aimed at a mainstream crowd this quantity will be quite welcome.

Mids:  I like very much the tone of the vocals.  It reminds me a bit of those from the IE7, right up until I put the IE7’s in my ears.  They do share a similar tone and nature but they are much more prominent on the 7 and more flowing.  The clarity is still there on the Momentum’s but I keep yearning for them to stand up and match that bass.  I know the mids are so good in those fleeting moments when the bass isn’t playing but then some poppy track comes one and BOOM.  The bass reappears and punches you in the side of the head.

The quality of the mids, well that I can’t fault.  Comparing to the DN-900 the 900 sounds so plastic and forward.  The Momentum is so effortlessly smooth and clear.  God this is where they remind me of the IE7.  They flow like single cream, that slightly thick, cloying viscosity yet you find it so richly indulgent you just want more.  It tends to suffer a bit if you ask of it breathy, it just can’t really without softening and thickening a touch.  Like putting cream on a sorbet.  Its just not really a pairing that comes naturally.  Stick to rich or to mediocre poppy vocals and its rather shines.  If only there was more of it.

Highs:  Sennheiser has at times a love/hate relationship with treble.  On things like the HD600 and IE8 its outstanding.  I have long felt the highs on the IE8 are one of the very best in any IEM ever.  Then you move to something like the old CX95, the same V shape as the 8 but the highs are brittle and aggressive.  The Momentum then, it steals away a little space in between that of the IE8 and the 7.  The highs are rather reduced from the bass matching levels you’d expect and its quantity is much nearer the mids.  This lends itself to the warmth and richness of the Momentum range.  The highs do cut quite cleanly through but always have a little reticence to them.  Next to the MA-750 that dazzle and delight, the Momentum’s feel darkly sumptuous like a dark chocolate dipped in honey.  That sweetness highlighting the darkness and depth to give you something more than either on their own.

Still its not all good.  Its slight subdued behaviour is in part because its just not abounding in finesse.  Its quality is good, a few years ago would have been stunning for the money but with the likes of the 750 around.  If you’re a huge treble junkie forcing the Momentums to do fast, aggressive and abundant treble (especially out of a phone) it just feels unwieldy.  It hasn’t the agility to delicately shimmer, it’s too heavy and too over powerful to convey that airy delicate shimmer I’d have liked.

Soundstage:  Like you tend to get from dynamics and especially from Sennheiser, these sound big and grand.  They offer a lovely sense of scale and pomposity and follow it up with seemingly endless power.  Breadth, depth and height are all exemplary.  Instrument separation and placement however are rather more fuzzy and ill defined.  These are all about the organic whole, not the individual components of that whole.

Fit:  Great.  I wore them up just fine as was down.  The angle they have the stalk at worked absolutely perfectly for me.  Wearing up though did make the mic/controls sit rather high.

Comfort:  With the initial silicon tips I got a very tight seal and I very quickly slapped on a pair of foam tips that were on my desk.  Not entirely sure what they came from but they fit perfectly.  Again it’s that angled stalk, it worked seamlessly with my ears.

Cable:  Meh.  Its fine, slightly flattened but not enough to be annoying.  It’s a perfectly reasonable cable that is pretty ordinary.  Aside from its slightly flat shape and that from the Y splitter its becomes two tone, red and black.

Microphonics:  Wearing down I did get quite a bit sadly, the neck synch helped greatly but I dislike them.  Worn up though, as usual gave more or less none, the mic is so high up it never caught on collars.

Amped/Unamped:  In the real world these will pretty much never see an amp. Sennheiser are making a big deal about its phone compatibility so it’s very clear that’s where they see these.  As such they have made them very easy to drive.  Slapping them into my Nexus 5 they were exceedingly easy to drive crazy loud.  The bass felt like its bottom end was rather diminished and the highs got rather less refined too.  It was no night and day change but it nevertheless made me slightly sad.  It still sounded good but it’s a shame most will never drive them to their fullest abilities.

Isolation:  Very good for a dynamic.  I know it helped I used foam tips but a vast leap from the IE8 and 7.  Would do easily for normal commuter activities.  Maybe a not quite up to daily Tube use but for those Tube commuters who want a load of bass, this might actually do the job.  Oh and so easily enough to get you killed if you don’t look where you’re going near roads.

Build Quality:  Its clearly not and hefty as the CX985 was.  The design is weird with its wire loop but it feels solid.  Knowing that it comes from Sennheiser is also pretty much a guarantee it’s a well-made product.  Oh, 2 year warranty too.

Phone Use:  The Momentum I have here is the “Galaxy” version.  It comes with the normal play/pause/skip track button and……. volume controls!!!!   Yey!!!!  I don’t know about you but I’m always changing the volume.  So for me it’s a really handy thing that I get very used to being there.  Gave someone a call, as you would expect I heard them perfectly.  Even though I was wearing the Momentums up, the mic sitting very high, I was told I was perfectly heard at the other end.

Accessories:  You get just 4 pairs of silicon tips, pretty Spartan by some but sufficient.  Then, you will never guess what, a case.  Yes a case from Sennheiser and you know what that means, a massively over engineered case to the point of being useless.  Now this time we have that sort of still, the way they arrive in their little cable wrap thing is never going to happen again in the real world.  The weird thing is, you can simply pull out the cable wrap thing and you know what that means.  It means you actually have a case that is functionally useful!!!! And from Sennheiser!!!!!!   (see past Senn reviews for why this is so astonishing.)

Value:  Today I can see these only from Senn direct in the UK so its £90 or on Amazon Germany 99 Euro’s or on Amazon US US$100.  I’m a little surprised as traditionally Senn’s are cheaper in the EU than the US but not with those pricings.  Clearly if you’re in the UK buy them Germany and only pay £78.  Or if your Xmas shopping in New York get a pair there for £62.  At £62 these are VERY good value.  Sure they are over bassy but they come with android phone controls that work and have fantastic bass quality.  The nearly 50% increase to the UK price somewhat sticks in my craw.  Going head to head with the MA750 both are great but unless the android controls really matter a lot to you I’d be edging towards the 750 in most scenarios.   Still the Senn is a great product and and I am certain would please anyone receiving a set Christmas morning.

Conclusion:  The elevated UK pricing aside I really like most things about the Momentum.  It’s clear that the Momentum range is a marketing invention rather than anything else.  Sennheiser are the quintessential old guard headphone company.  They some years back launched the IE range as their way of joining the then top end IEM world.  Up until that point Shure, Westone and Etymotic pretty much owned the market.  Then Ipods became ubiquitous and people began to realise that ibud’s were utter crap and were willing to pay for better.  I think we can all agree that the IE range was a success at tapping the audiophile market.  Then Beats came along and did expensive headphones that were, shall we say “style” focused.  Others such as B&W showed the world that you could have good looking things but actually sounded good too and I think, the Momentum range is Sennheisers offer to this segment.  The on and over ears have by all accounts been a success and now that brand has come to IEM’s. 

Momentum’s have a certain reputation for richness and warmth with a big, hearty bottom end on them.  These very much fit that stereotype.  It’s not trying to be flat or sonically pure or in anyway pretend it’s not all about having a good time.  You keep that idea in mind and then I don’t see how anyone could fail to be pleased by these.  They are shamelessly bassy and its quality is sumptuous.  Massive yet controlled and so very articulate.  Just the right amount of softness to it to soothe the ear and yet the perfect amount of power to convince there is a tiny sub somewhere punching you in the chest.  If you like that sort of thing.

Then on more genteel and soothing tracks the mids offered up here are very convincingly sultry.  They flow so smoothly and just that hint over liquid that makes vocals seem that bit better than when sung.  Sure it’s not all perfectly truthful or analytical at all but it is why you would buy these.  Then the highs, ahh ,they are decent.  Clean but you know I’m just not feeling it.  Yes the detail level is fine but when things get too cluttered it struggles to keep up with the best.  Technically it’s a bit so so.

So, would I buy these?  Maybe.  I found their sound signature very flavoured but immensely enjoyable and immensely easy on the ear.  I could and did listen to them at volume for several hours and never felt like my ears needed a break.  Organic and natural feeling even though they are over bassy yet never feeling forced.  The huge bass felt like it belonged there in a way that makes little ration sense, I know it was way too much, but it never “felt” like it was.  Everything just sounded so good on them.  Even things that I know were wrong or lacking, they managed to gloss over things in the most pleasing of ways.  I realise it’s not logical but nevertheless they are eminently enjoyable.

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears Quick Review

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears Quick Review

Thanks to Sennheiser for the sample

Brief:  Sennheiser do a “style” IEM.

Price:  £90 or 99 Euro or US$100 depending where you are.

Specification:  Impedance 18 Ω, Frequency response (microphone)100 – 10,000 Hz, Frequency response (headphones) 15Hz - 22000Hz, Sound pressure level (SPL) 118 dB (1kHz/1Vrms), THD, total harmonic distortion <0.5 % (1 kHz, 100 dB SPL), Jack plug 3.5 mm angled, Cable length 1.3 m, Weight 16 g, Pick-up pattern Omni-Directional, Microphone sensitivity - 44 dB V/Pa.

Accessories:  Ear-adapter set (XS, S, M, L), Premium carrying case

Build Quality:  First Class.  2 year warranty too.

Isolation:  For a dynamic very good.  Great for normal use, on a bus etc etc.  Not really daily Tube commute worthy but close.  As always way more than enough to make you road kill if you’re not keeping your eyes open.

Comfort/Fit:  Exemplary.  The tips are angled from the body and they perfectly fit my ears.  Instantly a good fit and not the slightest comfort problem.

Aesthetics:  Errm.  Let’s go with “different” shall we. 

Sound:  Very bassy but very good too.  It’s a slight deviation from the normal Sennheiser V shaped sound but I believe a continuation of the Momentum signature.  It’s richly warmed, heavy bass.  The mids are clear but somewhat recessed in quantity.  The highs stand up a bit from the mids but still quite notably behind that big old bass mountain.  The funny thing is while my head knows the bass is massively over done it just doesn’t feel that way.  With them in your ears for any more than a few minutes and its gargantuan volume seems to be so natural, like that’s just how it is meant to be.  I know it isn’t but it feels so convincingly natural, it just belongs there, somehow.  It’s so rich and rounded with a perfect blend of power and scale yet retaining a nimbleness that belies its massive size.  Again despite its quantity it manages to in no way impinge on any vocals.  Signers always shine through effortlessly, in a lovely, liquidy, flowing stream.  I just wish there was more of it.  Highs are a bit muted in their brilliance, mostly clean but when things get too fast paced they just can’t keep up.  In fast and explosive treble they begin to creep to brittleness and while their slightly muted quantity keeps them from savaging your ear it’s the only place it falls down acoustically.  The bass though, that’s why you buy these, its vast and spectacular yet always gentle on your ears.  As such these are such a pleasure to use all day long for pretty much any and all genres.  Oh and soundstage is more of a sound scape.  Big and expansive all the way.

Value:  Hmm seems quite a price variation depending on location.  The US price makes these a fantastic proposition and I’d bet an Xmas sales winner.  The UK price though is rather higher and while still a solid choice places it higher than its comparably excellent competition.

Pro’s:   Bass.  Its VAST and its glorious.  Mids are superb too. Android controls that work.

Con’s:  Bass is very ever present.  Pricing variation.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Brainwavz HM9 Review

Brainwavz HM9 Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.

First Impressions:  Ooooh the case thing looks like a giant fabric easter egg.  A little odd perhaps but fair enough.  Inside the egg then we have the headphones and a nettle red pouch that velcro’s itself to the inside of the egg, you know for cables and things.  Just how clever is that, Velcro so you can stuff the headphones in and then still the pouch wherever fits.  I like.  The headphones themselves feel and look really solid, much metal going on here.  Note, the cables have a direction so note which end you plug into the headphones and which the HP out.

First listen and clearly these have a big, warm and softened sound.  Seem very laid back in the treble and feel big and somewhat soft in the lows.  They are making me think of that archetypal “Sony” sound.  Thick, weighty, somewhat lush with a smattering of treble sparkle.  Burn in time me thinks.

Source: FiiO E7 and E9 combo and Hisoundaudio Studio 3rd Anniversary Edition with the occasional something else used also.

Lows:  If there is to be one tonal aspect of the HM9 your being to buy them for it’s probably the bass.  Is it awesome?  Well, I’m afraid no its not.  By awesome I mean the kind of bass that the HPH-Pro 500 had.  Impossibly taut, vigorously ebullient and fantastically rhythmic.  The bass here isn’t that sort of bass at all.  Here we have big, rich, wallowy, indulgently flavoured bass.  It never feels hurried or overly aggressive; its laid back approach is the height of self-indulgence.  Rich, so very, very richly warm and gooey and sumptuous and all that.   Personally it’s all a bit too warm, I’d like a little more composure and the HM9 is so much more about creating a voluminous low end.  Its big and thick, too sofa like for me.  It’s the kinda of bass that Sony has aimed at for years so I have no doubts it’s one thats popular, particularly I believe in china.  Lots and lots of warmth.

The up side to its warmth is that if you want tracks with hard hitting and vastly abundant bass (so top 40 stuff really) then you can have your cake and eat it.  The bass is big and sumptuous and non-fatiguing.  Bass as found the Pro500 was killer and got utterly exhausting on the ear.  The HM9 you can let rip with gobs and gobs of bass and not tire yourself out in the slightest.

Mids:  They are a touch pushed back for my liking.  They are also rather over warmed, particularly in the lower vocal ranges.  This in some adds highly undue levels of warmth, anything by Julie London sounded excessively thick.  I cannot say that I found it particularly delightful.  Never mind though, with all highly flavoured aural offerings for every artist or style it doesn’t suit, there in another that will pair up perfectly.  You slap on modern, fast paced pop or rock and what might on other setups be an assault to your delicate little ears, becomes a smooth yet lively joy.  The aggression and edges are all ever so softened, and let’s face it, lots of pop music might be fun and enjoyable, but many “singers” are a bit rubbish.  The HM9 applies a 60’s film style soft focus that just makes everything seem that bit better than it really is.  Sure it’s not giving you every last, tiny, explicit little nuance but you trade that for the greater whole.  Vocals are all super smooth and silky.

Quantity wise I’d have liked a bit more and particularly a bit more in the upper, lighter vocal ranges but hey ho. 

Highs:  This isn’t a treble monster.  There is a little flick of treble sparkling away but on the whole, its refined and smooth.  A bit over smooth maybe, for some certainly.  The HM9 is still all about a rich, warm smooth presentation that is utterly non fatiguing.  Its smooth softness lets you listen to all like you’re in a gently warmed bath.  Relaxing and genteel all the way.  When you try and go more aggressive and snappy, it does it and sounds good but it never convinces you that it’s truly vicious.  It’s like being attacked by a pillow, no matter how hard you are struck it’s not going to cut you.  It’s a great big billowy, pillowy smorgasbord of sound.

I might rather there was a little more treble but what’s there is clean and sparkles through enough and while the finest detail suffers, who cares.  It’s a big soft bundle of loveliness.

Soundstage:  Yeah it’s alright.  They are closed cans so not so much with the airiness and their thickness lends itself to a rather enclosed sound.  Depth is okay and width is fine too, a biggish room, nothing too grand.  Instrument separation is so so, integration is more the order of the day.

Fit/Comfort:  They were easy enough going on my ears, they seemed to find a seal easy enough too.  The pads are very much on ear, depending on the size of yours you’ll know how well you get on with this sort.  A couple times using they sat just so to give a little pinching but nothing vast.  On the whole they are soft and pillowy in the tactile sense as they are the aural.  Pads are soft and squishy.  The clamping force was fairly light for their weight, at times I could have happily had them clamp more tightly to feel more secure.  It was sufficient for walking about but I wouldn’t think so for jogging.

Cable:  Unusually you get a bit of choice here.  You get three, one round one with a mic, for phone use.  Then two flat ones, one about a meter I guess and the other err, rather longer.  The two flat ones is maybe overkill but I like seeing the mic’ed cable option.

Phone Use:  Swapping for a bit over the round cable with the mic on it.  Sadly the mic is a mic and play/pause/answer button only.  No hand volume controls, yes I know because there isn’t just one standard for that but hey.  Maybe a cable with one might come in the future?  So, I plugged into the phone, gave someone a call and it all worked as one would expect it might.  I heard them fine, they heard me fine.

Microphonics: None.

Amped/Unamped:  Normally more power means better but with these I’m not so sure.  With more these seemed to get more bassy and given they are pretty damn bassy I actually preferred driving them out of my N5.  Not that the bass was significantly changed, it just had a bit less substance and the mids got a bit more chance to come out.  Either way if you have these there is no particular need to go but a really powerful dap.  If it were me, I’d sooner go hunting for a light, bit bright source.  Sounded pretty great out of the Studio and the little 1G Shuffle.

Isolation:  It will matter how good a seal you get but for me, pretty good.  It doesn’t really pair up to what I’m used to in IEM’s, I’d say it’s at around the so so for a dynamic level.  With music going you pretty much won’t notice most outside noises.  I would think fine for normal walking about, on a bus kinda levels.  Certainly enough with music playing for you to get yourself run over.

Accessories:  You get a nice little spread.  In addition to the 3 cables I mentioned, you get the Easter egg case, a plane adapter, a little carry strap for the Easter egg and inside it you get a little Velcro baggy to keep your cables inside the egg tidy. Generally I think big can cases are of limited use, I mean just who carries one about?  Still, I find myself liking the weird Easter egg, for some reason its peculiarity makes me smile.

Value:  On a strict audio quality basis, I’m a little so so.  If you’re an audiophile looking for every last ounce of technical performance, I don’t think your finding it here.  So what, that’s totally not what the HM9 is all about.  It’s about enjoyment and lush smoothness.  All the yummy warmth of being wrapped up in a duvet with a cuppa soup in hand while siting a room lit only by a roaring fire.  You take that acoustic profile and you pair it up with some sturdy, oomphy build quality then you’re getting closer to the matter.  It’s a really solid feeling headphone that ought to last you for years to come.

Conclusion:  On paper I don’t think I’d like the HM9.  It’s all so warm and gooey and a teeny bit suffocating.  In big cans I like things to be open, airy with a delicately flighty flair to them and the HM9 is the complete and total opposite of that.  Its heavy and thick and weighty and just so not me.  Maybe it’s that winter is beginning to peak over the horizon and its cosy warmth conjures an aural image that appeals to my sense of yuletide joy?  Maybe it is, maybe if I was writing this in late spring I would be more inclined to call it oppressively warm, so thick it’s like wading though a swamp, maybe and maybe not.  I don’t know.  I find myself for whatever reason actually rather liking it.  It feels like some naughty indulgent pleasure that I don’t want to admit to others that I secretly like it.

There is something so very indulgent about the HM9.  It’s so smooth and weighty and is soooooooooooooo non fatiguing, you can take any music, no matter how fast, no matter how horribly mastered and it smooth’s out any abrasiveness for you.  You can let yourself go wild and not be wincing at how bad the vocalist actually is, how tin can like the mastering has left the high end, it just pulls everything together.  Everything smooshes up and just works.  The only place I feel it doesn’t is in very bass centric music.  The bass then for me just wants to over shadow more than it should but….. I’m sure a lot of people out there will hardly view this as a problem. 

On a more objective level I am aware the HM9 has a multitude of shortcomings, it’s just so flavoured acoustically that I’d have trouble saying it’s technically excellent.  It’s just not what it’s trying to.  Like saying a tractor is rubbish because it’s really slow round a race track, or a Ferrari is because it can’t pull a plough.  The HM9 is all about the big woolly plush gooey warmth.  It’s like a marshmallow for your hearing.  If you want sweet, soft and squishy and all it entails you will be most pleased with yourself if you grab a set.