Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Yamaha EPH-20 Review

Yamaha EPH-20 Review

Thanks to Yamaha UK for the sample.

First Impressions: I had never seen much about these as they are somewhat overshadowed by their siblings, the EPH-100. Still, I thought I’d give them a bash but given their price and yet being a big name company I wasn’t expecting much. The packet is nothing special, solid, annoyingly so. It’s one of those heat sealed things that you can slice your fingers off trying to get into but eventually getting into them’ the buds are reasonable looking. I got a blue pair for a little bit of colour. It’s more a blueish purple if you ask me, rather like the blueish purple Yamaha have their name in, it’s not the same but not a million miles off. They feel rather light in the hand.

Quick listen time and they aren’t bad. The mids in particular seem rather good, rich and liquid sounding. The highs sound a bit gritty but I’m hoping that will benefit form a burn in. lows seem quite nice, thick and full bodied. Erasure’s “Piano Song” sounds lush and weighty. I think I’m quite impressed so far, they sound so much more grown up than their looks would suggest. Burn in time.

Source: Ipod 1G Shuffle with 75 Ohm adapter and HTC Sensation XE

Lows: Pretty not bad! I’ve always found Yamaha stuff to be predisposed to the warm and liquidy side of things and these hold true to that. If anything though I’d have thought given the big name yet low cost that they would have more flabby and soft than they are. They still aren’t what I’d call the most agile in the low end but they do move quick enough. What’s more they do have a wonderfully rich, enveloping sound to them. What I feel works best with them is things like Adel’s “Lovesong” with its laboured, weighty, thick bass. The EPH-20 much prefers to do something relaxed and gentle than it does quick and punchy. It shall do more popy stuff but I feel it shows up its inability to be quite as nibble as some others. Of course the trade of is as always, rich and powerfull =/= agile and punchy. You don’t get them both at the same time and you certainly don’t even hope to at this price. It’s all about choosing where you sit on the line from one to the other. Stylistically I rather like where Yamaha have gone as it tends to suit many of my musical choices. Still I’d wager that many with my musical tastes are willing to splurge more than the £20 these come in at.

In terms of quantity these are somewhat elevated. They offer a very full and expansive bass that I feel does its best to portray a symphonic scale and depth. When you pair this to more modern things with rather hefty bass the addition that would otherwise counter the hearing verses feeling loss makes for quite a bit. Not really a fault but this does have something akin to Senn's IE7 in bass quantity.

Mids: They are really rather good. It’s not blowing me away, I’d never expect at this price for anything to though. Its Yamaha’s house sound of warm and enveloping does however suit some stuff really, really well. An old favourite, Erasures “Union Street” album sounds damn good. All thick, substantial, rich and longing. For the price you’ll not likely find anything better suited. I’d think if you’re a big jazz fan who likes rich and liquid vocals you’d be on to a winner with this one. The inverse of course holds, light and breathy stuff just hasn’t the air and space you may want. Vocally the EHP-20 isn’t really one that wants to go to the dramatic and exciting but I find myself being inexorably drawn back to Union Street. “Spiralling” is playing this second and it frankly sounds quite wonderful. Sure I know how it could be done better but sometimes things in soft focus have a beauty all of their own and part of that is the softness. That rich fuzziness that makes the notes slowly, casually melt and fuse into one another.

Quantity wise the mids are fairly prominent. Again it’s rather IE7 like in its sound signature, bass and mids are what have centre stage.

Highs: Remember what I said about it being quite IE7 like? Yep, well that. The highs are clearly not dominant, they are not crisp and edgy and they are not hurled at your face. They are like much the rest, smoother, more genteel, more relaxed etc etc. For me that’s great as nothing kills me more than over crisp treble that treats your ears like a block of cheese and they a grater. It’s fairly in keeping with the Yamaha sound of rich and smooth and just yummy goodness. (Can you tell it’s a sound I rather tend to like?) It’s a sound that does have a particular flavour and it’s not hugely going to suit light, crispy fast things. Owl City spring to mind. The EPH-20 will do them but you can tell their hearts just not in it. In this price range personally I think it’s a godsend as there is no way anything costing £20 is going to do treble well enough that if abundant, isn’t going to kill my ears. So, very much better to offer a reduced quantity until you really start spending plenty more.

The detail they offer is not bad though. Just don’t expect to be hearing ever last shimmery moment as a cymbal decays. You won’t. What you do hear though will be beautifully smooth, relaxed and enjoyable though. Just be warned some may find its smoothness to be a touch on the boring side for them.

Soundstage: Rather grand. They like many dynamics can do a grand sense of power and fullness. These do a good rendition of the grand scale of coral and orchestral works. Honestly I think that’s what Yamaha had in mind when making these. Instrument separation is not bad too, vocals being rather clearly distinct.

Fit: I, as I’m sure you know, like to wear IEM’s up and these allowed that just fine. Down worked also but why you’d do that I don’t know. They were pretty much a case of shove in ears and that was it. No driver flex or air pressure issues.

Comfort: They weigh approximately nothing so once in you could easily forget they were there.

Cable: Seems alright. It does look a bit thin and a bit cheap but it seems sturdy enough. That is really all that matters in a cable. The jack feels rather sturdy too.

Microphonics: Wearing down you get some. It’s not too bad as the cable is so light but there is no chin slider to help. Wearing them up you get none.

Accessories: Pretty Spartan, 3 pairs of tips.

Amped/Unamped: The normal improvements you get. The bass in particular solidified quite a bit with more power. The reality is nothing in this price is really going to see an amp anyway so it’s not really anything to worry about. They worked quite capably out of the shuffle and the phone easily.

Isolation: Rather good. For a dynamic this is always a trade-off between isolation and air pressure / driver flex issues. Yamaha seem to have given a pretty well isolating experience without causing problems. Fine for normal out and about activates, on a bus etc etc. Not really long flight worthy but better than nothing. As always, it is enough to make you road kill if you use and don’t look where you are going.

Value: Value is always a hard one. Prices change and availability in different markets make a huge difference too. In the UK for me its competition is the Radiopaq Jazz and in the US it’s the Nuforce NE-600X. The fact is both of them are better. The thing is you certainly won’t find the Nuforce easily in the UK (or at all) and the Jazz aside from Amazon is equally hard to find. The EPH-20 you can walk in to a John Lewis and find them, not only find them but they are available in all 5 colours!!! So competition aside they are a very solid option for the money. At £20 you may not be getting the very best sound that exists for your money but you get a very capable and very decent option. On its own merits I’d say it’s very fair value for money to me.

Conclusion: When these first came to me they on the box stated ”Concert Sound Quality.” Most I wondered just what that was supposed to mean and what language it had originally be written in. What I think it means is that the EPH-20 have been tuned with an orchestral concert in mind. They like that same rich sound with an impressive sense of scale and power. It’s a sumptuous sound that flows over the ears and I for one very much like that sort of sound. I know it’s not one for everyone but if you’re a big Nora listener or Adel fan then these do offer something lovely.

The trouble though is the sort who listen to the music that the EPH-20 do best I think are likely to want to move higher up the food chain i.e. are willing to spend more. I think for that reason more than any other these they won’t set the world alight. It’s a bit of a shame really as I have found I rather like them, they are acoustically rather adorable. So mature and rich sounding I think they would suit an older gentleman or lady who should like a little something to use the “I” thing the children bought them for Christmas. Not that they wouldn’t be very suitable for the young, someone certainly is buying Adel’s stuff and they aren’t all old folks. Just when I think young I think dross like Kesha and the Yahmmy’s are just too grown up for that sort of nonsense. Of course they will do it but you know it’s not where they belong.

Unfortunately their acoustic nature is rather at odds with their visual. These can be had in neon pink and green you know! Their colouring suggests the hip young things are the target market for these. Sorry Yamaha but you’re a grown up, serious brand. You make monitors and grand pianos, real musical instruments! You aren’t I think ever likely to transcend that and be all down with “da yoof.” Yamaha is a company that is more concerned with making sure a piano sounds like a piano and that just isn’t something that’s going to make for the most dramatic sounding IEM.

The EPH-20 is a lovely little IEM and I have rather enjoyed my time with it. It’s not the best thing out there but it’s got a very pleasant and very enjoyable sound. It’s a very grown up and luxuriant sound and if your music listening matches that then these are a tremendous option. Otherwise they are simply a very capable and solidly decent option. They do of course have the tremendous boon of being available. Yamaha is big, grand old company that everyone has heard of and you will be able to find these everywhere. Even the uber mainstream John Lewis (for those not of the UK it’s a well known department store chain.) Hell, Yamaha is even the crappy Word in build dictionary, how many other IEM makers can make that claim? You get with these that big name backing and a credible sound too that I really can’t find much fault with. It’s not the most exciting sound and it’s not the very best that can be found if you look hard but these are easily available, from a big name and sound very nice for the money. I don’t think you can really go wrong with them.

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