Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Cowon EH2 Review

Cowon EH2 Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones www.advancedheadphones.co.uk for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First Impressions:  This is the first time I’ve seen an IEM from Cowon.  A company I am familiar with but for their DAP’s.  It has been suggested they are in fact made by T-PEOS and there are many similarities to the H-100 so it’s a fair bet they share a great deal.  Still I’ve never heard of T-PEOS before and Cowon is a very much more established name.  Visually I rather like the tips that they come with, rather reminiscent of the Sony hybrids but the coloured firm bit extends to the tip and makes for a rather prettier looking tip.  It also means you can always tell what size of tip you have on there.  Clearly there has been much attention paid to the build, the cord is a red woven one and the buds and jack are shiny metal.  It’s a rather premium finish I must say.

First listen and I note a hint or air pressure issues.  I’m thinking that’s the sealed but contains a dynamic driver inside.  I can see swiftly a tip swap to some comply’s.  Acoustically they are a real attention grabber, much BA like accuracy but a most unBA like bass response.  There is some seriously potent action going on deep down.  It’s quite unlike anything else I can think of.

Source:  FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio 3rd anv and Hisoundaudio Rocoo BA.

Lows:  The low end of this hybrid IEM feels a bit out of step with the rest.  The lows I think are just being taken care of by the dynamic driver and the rest by the BA.  If it were a speaker this would what you get from the likes of a 2.1 system and that’s just what it reminds me of.  The bass depth is vastly superior to any BA.  In the deepest lows it just seems to roar out of nowhere.  On The Beautiful South’s “Your Father and I” The low end is positively thunderous and has endless quantities to hand if you choose to EQ it up.  It’s almost like a sub that’s a bit mismatched to the rest.  This is likely to be the case always when having a dynamic and a BA at work together as they do things so differently.  The purist in me has a bit of an issue with it much like anyone having a sub turned up too high would likewise irk me.  Its hard to just look at the bass on its own. 

Its quantity is rather boosted, particularly the lower you go and it feels like it dips a bit before it hits the mid range.  I think it’s to stop the two differing drivers crossing stepping on each other feet too much.  The quality though is very nice.  The driver doesn’t have to do anything but the low end and it feels very clean.  It’s very full bodied and controlled.  It’s got plenty of speed and punch too.  It was equally happy doing slow and melodic bass and then being hurled some cheesy bouncy pop.  It’s like a rather good sub at work here.

Mids:  Clearly the mids aren’t at centre stage as the IEM is pretty V shaped and there is a noticeable and I’m sure very deliberate spacing between the lows and mids.  Mids are very BA like, they have a dryness and openness that a dynamic won’t do.  Vocals though doo feel a little compressed and lack liquidity.  They aren’t beautiful and flowing.  Vocally this means they are much better suited to non-vocal centric stuff.  I’m really thinking that pop music is what these are being aimed at.  Detail and clarity not unlike you get with many TWFK things just rather recessed.  Also I not that at times they can get a little shouty in the upper mids.  Not sibilant but Miss Aguilera does reach at and scream at you from time to time which can be tiresome.

Highs:  I really quite like the highs.  They remind me of those you get in the TWFK stuff but without quite the same quantity and savagery.  The detail is very good and there is lots of detail.  The extension isn’t superb but about the same as most other BA stuff is.  Here though it begins to trail away earlier so is much more refined and genteel on the ears.  I like the way it’s less brutal but keeps all the detail you want.  This works particularly well and songs that shall we say aren’t a product of the world’s greatest mastering.  Let’s face it much pop music is the sonic equivalent of a Pot Noodle.  You might enjoy it but let’s not pretend it’s a serious or quality product.  It is about having a good time and so is the treble here.  The decay is pretty nice and linear, cymbals have just enough impact and trail away very well for a BA.  A bit abundant, rather a lot of detail but just walking on the right side.  It takes a quite a bit of finesse to pull it off so nicely.

There is a little bit a peak in the lower highs that make them feel a bit focused and shouty from time to time but sibilance is thankfully absent.  Not something to pair with hard and brittle treble.

Soundstage:  Quite large actually, I think this must be the work of them sitting rather out of the ear.  Sealed things normally feel a bit more in your head.  Placement isn’t what I’d call stellar but the sense of scale these project is quite impressive.  Also don’t expect thee to be the distance and air of more open dynamics at this price range for these are still sealed.

Fit:  Aside from a hint of air pressure issues these were no bother.  That was cured by using Comply’s and it’s not as issue everyone would get anyway as I have crappy sinuses.  Mind you if I was wearing these down and using the hybrid tips I could see it get annoying as they are quite weighty and would move as you do.

Comfort:  Wearing these up as any sensible person should they were absolutely fine.  The buds are a bit heavy and prone to move if worn down though.  As always wear up then if it’s a problem.  Otherwise they sit rather shallow and were perfectly comfortable.

Cable:  Very, very nice.  I’m never sure I love things in hooker red but it’s the first I’ve seen a woven red cable.  I can’t deny it looks good.  Its feels truly premium too.  The jack and Y splitter seem equally fancy being polished metal, some care has clearly gone into this.

Build:  The buds are solid lumps of metal.  They very much appear to be sturdy and quality.

Microphonics:  The usual story.  Wear up practically none, down you do.  Nothing out of the ordinary about it in this regard.

Amped/Unamped:  They didn’t really seem to be all that fussy.  The bass did get more controlled and tuneful when amped but otherwise not a vast amount of difference.  They cared far more about other things.

Isolation:  Really rather good.  For something that has a dynamic and sits shallow I’d have expected less.  These are rather sealed mind and so you get one of the better dynamics in terms of isolation.  Its not up to more typical BA standards but I’d be perfectly happy using this day to day.  Not many dynamics I can say that about.  Perhaps not something to use on a daily Tube commute but you could also do a lot worse.  As always, it’s easily enough to block out that bus coming up behind you so do ensure you look where you’re going or you’ll be putting yourself up for a Darwin award.

Accessories:  You get loads of tips 9 pairs I think (the foamies and gone by the time they got to me) so you really should be able to find a good fit.  Not only that the tips come in with a foam filling and without.  If truth be told I didn’t notice all that much difference but I only tried them for a very short while before settling on Comply’s anyway.  You also get a 6.25mm to 3.5mm jack if you need that.  You also get a little pouch and a brush on a stick.  What that’s for a have no idea.

Value:  These are sitting at £139 and that’s a fair bit for most people to spend on earphones.  I’m pretty comfortable saying you get what you pay for.  The build is rather wonderful.  The finish on the cable is very visually appealing.  The sound too is just as attention grabbing and I cannot imagine anyone buying a pair and not seeing why they cost what they do or thinking they got screwed.  However maybe not one that aimed directly at purists.

Conclusion:  I really couldn’t make up my mind about this think.  It’s very unusual and you would think I’ve heard just about every sort of sound there is out there.  These at first made me think WOW, the bass is prolific and riotous when it wants and the treble can be scintillating.  The mids though, I’m if anything thing a bit of a mid head and while the quality of the mids is there they get rather over eclipsed.  The clarity means they are perfectly clear but I want more and then there is that mid / bass transition.  They don’t mesh.  This is just weird.  You see normally there can be a bit of mid/bass bleed in bass heavy things and a bit of a bloat in the region but here it’s the opposite.  It just made the bass feel like its didn’t entirely belong with the rest of the sound.  it’s not exactly a bad thing, it’s just unusual to hear in an IEM, its more what you can get from a 2.1 speaker set up.  I am sure we have all heard one at some point and the owner has cranked up the sub so that it feels like it doesn’t quit belong.

I feel I’m being a bit of a an old fart.  So sure the EH2 lacks true sonic purity, its sound isn’t perfectly integrated etc etc this isn’t exactly a W4 worrier.  Of course I don’t for one second that what Cowon were aiming for as it’s not what most people would want anyway.  What they have done is take a BA driver for the clarity that they do and knowing BA drivers can’t do “consumer” levels of bass they have stuck in a dynamic that can.  Clearly it’s a hard, very hard thing to do as practically no one does it.  Back in the days of yore there was the famous Super-Fi 5EB that did this and it, well, looked fugly and was widely reputed as being very poorly integrated.  I never heard one but supposedly its bass was wildly out of step with the rest and that was with all the money UE could throw at the problem.

This conclusion could become very long and very inconclusive I think.  The EH2 just isn’t really like much else.  Cool and dry mids, cool clean highs yet big potent bass.  If anything I’d compare it to the old Denon C751 and maybe to an extent the TF10.  So potentially the ideal IEM for listening to fast, electronic styles of music.  Where you want that bass response but no warmth softening things elsewhere.  When Toca’s Miracle 2008 is played the bass is stupendously vigorous and potent. It’s a really rare combination of features as both of those can be had no more.  It’s a most rare sound, most interesting sound, and most impressive sound too.  Just a bucket load of fun and I find that I don’t really want to part with it.

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