Sunday, 24 March 2013

Musical Fidelity EB-50 Review

Musical Fidelity EB-50 Review

Thanks to Musical Fidelity for the sample.

First Impressions:  Nice enough box here, doesn’t really say £150 product inside but ho hum, like it matters what the box is like!  Inside the box, the earphones and the accoutrement seems somewhat reminiscent, to those that know the name DUNU will get what I mean.  Me thinks me has worked out who Musical Fidelity’s OEM is, lol.  Still the bit that jumped out at me first is the wonderful cable tie strap thingy that I’ve seen so often from DUNU.  It’s such a simple thing but I approve tremendously, further I approve of the little accessories case for keeping a cloth (why a cloth I don’t know) and the pretty substantial assortment of bits and bobs they come with.  I am however rather disappointed that instead of a real IEM case you get a little baggy.  Granted it is as little baggy’s go very nice, maybe even very, very nice.  Still, I’d have much rather seen one of DUNU’s amazing little metal cases.  Maybe Musical Fidelity will upgrade the bundle and include one soon?  Fingers crossed.

On to sound, now DUNU have always been pretty solid and pretty cheap and the EB-50 isn’t exactly cheap.  For normal people £150 is an unheard of amount for earphones and Musical Fidelity isn’t what I’d call a household name.  I mean everyone and their granny has heard of Sony or Philips.  In audio land they are a known brand and make audio equipment that goes for several thousand pounds and they have been around for some thirty years.  Safe to say then they have pedigree and audio standing then.  Now I’ve never heard any of their stuff before so I don’t know what their house sound is or how these compare.  First listen with the tips they came with and its good, good but a bit vigorous up top.  Casting the mind back I remember DUNU deliberately offering thin rubber tips and some “hybrids” and the changes they made.  Quick I swap over to the thicker “hybrids” and the low end solidifies and the highs tame.  I’ve been listening to the SE530 all day and these still sound rather good.  Pretty lively, pretty balanced if a touch W shaped maybe.   Clarity is most pleasing to the ear, a fair achievement given I’ve been listening to top tier stuff all day.  Fingers crossed a little burn in further refines the highs.

N.B. 20 min later I’m still listening and dancing about in my chair, always a positive sign!  Okay maybe change that to 40, must go make dinner and chair dancing is not conducive to that.

Source: Source 5G iPod Video line out through a Practical Devices XM5 with LM6171 opp amps and Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anniversary edition.  Also the XM5 as DAC and amp because it’s convenient and not the E7/E9 combo, I will discuss why later.  Additionally a Galaxy Nexus for the phone tests.

Source Selection:  I don’t normally comment hugely on the source selection, I always mention what I’ve used most with an IEM as it does make differences. I tend to go with a warmer source for bright IEM’s and vice versa.  So why am I singling out this one?  Well it seemed to be particularly variable with the source.  With the E7/E9 combo, the E9 is a bit bright but here it was VERY noticeable, the bass practically vanished.  Then on the other hand using the Rocoo BA, a fractionally warm DAP and they sounded rather muted and languid.  Why there was this so pronounced difference I don’t know.  Could it be an impedance issue as when an additional 75 ohms was added with an ety P to S adapter was used a similar thing happened, got V bright and bass went away.

Lows:  The EB-50 is a BA unit but on my first listen it didn’t strike me hugely as being so.  Its large enclosure made me just assume it was a dynamic and its bass behaviour didn’t insist otherwise with any great vigour.  This is a good thing.  Flicking over to the GR01 which is one of the more balanced Bass wise BA IEM’s and there is a noticeable difference.  The bass on the EB-50 is fuller, bigger and I think deeper too.  It actually reminds me more of the bass produced by the “Moving Armature” IEM’s  I’m thinking that’s what’s really inside here, at least my ears are.  They have really the best traits form BA and dynamics, sure it’s not a bass monster and it can’t do all that the best dynamics can but it’s bigger than most BA’s.  Yet it retains the quickness and agility you expect form armature based things.  It’s not the ultra-fast punch and instant decay from some *cough, CK10, cough* again, it’s good.  It’s very even handed in its presentation and while this means it won’t satisfy fans of either extreme I think what Musical Fidelity has gone for a very nice balance.  It’s pretty adapt at thumping bass heavy (“Tocas Miracle 2008,” Fragma) to the slow gentle “Pale September,” Fiona Apple.  It is perfectly happy with either and very good with both.

Quantity wise for a BA it’s pretty big, it reminds me of an ER4 when you hit the bass boost button.  Yes its elevated but it’s not what I’d call bassy, its really similar to what you get from the GR07.  It is a very friendly sound signature, still more audiophile than “consumer” and from the GR07’s popularity it’s a good level to go for.

Mids:  Again we have a fairly middling tonality.  Neither dry nor liquid so it’s pretty adept at dealing with either but never truly shinning with either.  The huge upside to this is it can turn its hand to pretty much any musical style without adding its own flavour like some.  For example the SE530 has stunningly gloriously liquidy and darn right magical mids but for dry songs or rock it’s just not quite right.  The EB50 mids are very nice but they aren’t wowing me, I don’t think they are meant to though.  I’m going to back the GR07 as the closest I can think of to them.  The mids here are a touch more intimate and thicker, not the same air and space to them the GR07 has but then the EB-50 is a closed IEM and the 7 is in comparison rather open.  In case you can’t tell I’m really having issue pining this down as it has no real great flavour of its own.

Strings are tonally very pleasant but seem to lack the finest bight, the twang seems a touch muted but you do get a lovely richness so cello’s sound pretty fab, guitars however are a touch softened.  Erasures “Rock Me Gently” from Union Street sounds so lovingly paced and melodic.  The vocals all sweep together beautifully but the guitar just behind doesn’t cut through cleanly as I would quite like. 

Quantity wise they feel very, very balanced.  Not the “perfectly balanced” you get form the likes of the ER4 which on the ear is somewhat bright.  This sounds balanced in the way you would listen to a speaker and hear it as balanced.  It does to my ears anyway and for me that’s really a grand achievement.

Highs:  Pretty not bad.  The balance on the highs are just about perfect and when needed the highs can cut thorough just like they should.  Frankly the highs are about as good as you get on a BA, they still have that hint of grit and over hardened edge that BA’s have but they do a really valiant stab at decay.  They sound near natural in the decay and fullness.  On many BA things highs can so often feel so small and pin like but here they sound bigger, broader and I’m pretty impressed.  The detail on them too is rather good.  I don’t think it quite matches the ER4 as in the very busiest of passages it seems content to let things slide a touch not unlike the way dynamics do.  I said it before but it reminds me of a “Moving Armature” sound rather than being strictly BA like in how it deals with things.  These are good enough to very much want good recordings yet wont savage you if you don’t like some do.

Extension wise, hmm well its fine but nothing exceptional.  Dynamics do extension better than BA stuff does.

Soundstage:  For a BA again it’s rather big, it’s a full sounding IEM.  It hasn’t the greatest depth to it but it is very much more expansive sounding that just about every BA IEM I’ve heard.  Could that be down to their rather shallow fit?  Most BA stuff ends to be physically tiny and want shoved in deep.  Sometimes brain implant deep (yes ER4, I mean you.)  Presentation wise these are rather more dynamic like than BA.  Instrument separation is good, nothing outstanding but all is pleasantly indicated.

Fit:  Great for me.  I wore up and they went in and that was that.

Comfort:  Their sealed and shallow seating means I’d not like to be pulling these out every two minutes.  Sure sticking on some foamies would solve that if that’s an issue for you.  I wore these up so I never found their size to be an issue but I’ve seen others say so.  Personally I think IEM’s should always be worn up. But if you wear down I found using the skip button would catch on my collars and consequently tugged on my ear creating a little suction.  That got annoying fast.

Cable: Pretty nice.  The cable is a touch stiff but that the only complaint.  The cable feels study, the jack seems really nice, the Y splitter is too and you get a chin slider too.  The bonus feature is the little rubber cable tie do dah.  If your spending £150 then you don’t really want to wrap the cable round a DAP because that kills cables, yet some don’t want to use a little case and not have a mess of cable in their pocket.  It’s a great addition, I’d still rather see a case used but it’s very welcome.

Phone Use:  Testing with my Galaxy Nexus, the mic seemed to work absolutely fine and I could be heard clearly.  Naturally I could hear the other party fine too.  The button to answer worked.  The press to play/pause worked and the double press to skip a track worked.  I couldn’t make it triple click to go back though, which was odd but I never do that normally so don’t care.  I can’t see why so I shall assume it was me.

Microphonics:  Worn down it bothered me.  The mic seems to always hit a collar. The chin slider did more or less remove the issue but so did wearing them up, so I did that.

Amped/Unamped:  They didn’t seem to mind if they were driven from something with power but they were really fussy and variable.  They also loathed additional impedance so don’t bother with that.  Out of my phone and the XM5 and Studio V 3rd they were good.  Out of the Rocoo BA they were slow and meh, out of the E9 they were very bright and almost shrill.  My best guess is that that changed depending on the internet impedance of the source but it’s a guess.  So, out of my phone they sounded good but better out of the XM5 and Studio V 3rd noticeably.  So while yes they clearly did better out of the better sources they care far more about pairing.  The Rocoo BA should handily beat the Galaxy Nexus but it didn’t, go figure.

Isolation:  Very good but on the lower side of things for BA.  Thats no doubt due to being so shallow fitted but it will best pretty much any dynamic out there.  I’d have no problem using on flight or daily Tube trek.  So my eternal warning, look where you’re going with these in as you won’t hear the bus behind you until it impacts your skull.

Accessories:  One of the nicest accessory bundles.  I really would have liked to see a little hard case rather than the admittedly nice baggy.  In some ways its overkill as I don’t know what they think you’ll use the cleaning cloth for, your glasses maybe?  You get seven pairs of tips too so you should be able to find the best fit too.  A set of over ear guides and a shirt clip.  Good stuff.

Value:  Hmmm, Musical Fidelity while not exactly a Sony or Philips in terms of everyone and your granny’s dog having heard of them, is a recognised name.  It’s not previously known for headphones but mostly its amplifiers.  Great big things too, one I believe they do can output 1kW at 8ohms!!!  Very big, very expensive and very serious amps.  They are a proper audiophile brand and here that means when it comes right down to value, these don’t wow me like some Far East places have for value.  Still they sound very nice and are not unreasonably priced.  They are a really nice package.

Conclusion:  This is going to long and winding.  At times I’ve found myself looking at the EB-50 in analytical terms and just not being wowed by it.  It is competent and capable but at each aspect it seems a bit middling and bested by something near its price or cheaper.  Then I find I’ve drifted away and stopped analysing its technical abilities and just enjoying it.  That’s really where its strengths lie.  It’s not the most technically proficient at anything in particular but its blends together into a really pleasing sound.  It’s hasn’t any spectacular strengths but likewise it doesn’t really haveany weaknesses either.  Now if you’re like me and have a box of IEM’s then you may well want something that shines in one particular area.  If you’re a bit more of a normal person and are only going to have one quality IEM then you probably want something that’s a bit more even handed.  Something more of a generalist.  That’s where the EB-50 shines, by shining at nothing and nowhere in particular.

The best I can think to compare it with is the GR07 which hit Head-Fi like a brick, it was a generalist yet seriously good and the EB-50 is rather like that.  Of course it’s different in that its a BA so sounds more closed and thick but gives you real isolation.  As much as I like the GR07 I couldn’t use it day to day as I have gotten used to blocking out the outside world that only a good BA can give you.  The only other IEM I’ve heard that from was the Ortofon e-Q7.  I had a bunch of fit issues with that so I don’t have it anymore and I can only go from memory as to its talents.  I do recall the e-Q7 was rather more costly and was a sold in Japan only.  It was a “Moving Armature” in the e-Q7 and I’d be willing to bet that’s what in the EB-50 too, it certainly sounds like one and behaves in that weird hybrid way.

For a BA it seems a little slow and rounded yet has the lack of air and closedness you get.  It has a slight gentility to the edges of the highs and softens when things get too busy the way dynamics do. It feels like a hybrid.  It is just in the middle in every way.  So it can do more or less everything and everything really well.  It sound good with everything music wise. Be it Dido or Death Cab For Cutie, I really couldn’t find anything that sucked or sounded wrong.  I really looked too, I listened to Kesha for you people yet even her poppy drivel that shouldn’t really suit a BA sounded full and fun.  Yet fire up a little Nora and things relaxed and melted in a way things like the TF10 just can’t do.

The EB-50 for me has been a bit a jack of all musical trades.  Not the quite the master of any but it’s the sort of thing that you could really love if you have varied musical tastes and are only buying one good IEM.  Just be careful what you pair it with and you’ll have possibly the only IEM you’ll ever need.

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