If you’re looking for a highly engaging all rounder CIEM with what I consider to be the best BA mid bass around and TOTL performance all accross the board doubled with a unique sense of rythm, you can’t go wrong with Earsonics audiophile range flagship! The EM10 manages to equal the most engaging IEM I own in Custom Art FIBAE7 and this is no small feat if you consider it also is totally up to par performance wise with one of the market’s benchmark in Vision Ears VE8. Quite a combination in my book!
- Fantastic pace, rhythm and timing
- Top tier resolution and imaging
- Full and smooth mids with exquisite upper mids presence
- Powerful bass with good sub bass extension and great mid bass with superb layering and textures
- Energetic yet smooth lower treble
- Refined upper treble presentation
- Incredibly fast Build time for a CIEM (typically one week!)
- Price along with the lack of international retailers to demo make it a tough sale for international buyers
- 2 pin socket is a bit too tight, limiting in terms of third party cable upgrades
- No design customization will be a nogo for some at this price point
Fit, Build & Isolation
I provided Earsonics with a digital impression STL file and the build is blazing fast (1 week) thanks to Earsonics industrial process as they work for essentially for pros. Fit is relaxed, more so than the pro EM64 which features a tighter fit – with the exact same digital print – but still provides great balance between a full isolation and not too much pressure. I like that Earsonics chose to go for a horn bore design, which prevent wax accumulation in the bores. The EM10 look as sturdy as a CIEM can be and look like they’re clearly built to withstand typical use. Like the EM64, the EM10 socket are pretty tight which makes using third party cable a bit tough… I know I hurt the left pins on my Dunu Hulk with the EM10 and the DITA Oslo can’t really fit.
From its very beginning, Earsonics has always been associated with products targeted at the most demanding people… musicians, sound engineers and singers. They quickly gained a big share of the French pro market for customs but Earsonics became also well known in he audiophile world for its universal IEMs since the SM3 bestseller.
I know the SM3 v2 was the first Earsonics model I owned and then I went on with the Velvet, the S-EM6 and S-EM9 before moving on to their pro flagship custom the EM64. There is a clear and distinctive house sound, revolving around Frank Lopez vision. This being said the vision and the product line evolved since the S-EM9 to reach new heights with the EM64 custom in the pro range, the EM10 in the audiophile range and more recently in the universal lineup its cousin the Grace.
The EM10 almost was in fact almost my first custom IEM 2 years ago, but I chose the widely acclaimed and stunning Vision Ears VE8 instead when Earsonics decided to bump the price of the EM10 from the 1800€ launching price to 2000€. This de facto placed the EM10 against much fiercer competition as there are some incredible IEM in the 2K range. This being said, Earsonics has inherently higher production cost as it features several custom (for bass) and customized drivers which is not that common. Internationally a lot of fellow headfiers complained there is no Earsonics distributor that allow for a demo of their product (There was a universal demo of the EM10 at Music Sanctuary, though). Too bad…
On its product page, Earsonics states “The EM10 is the custom version based on the S-EM9 fantastic DNA. Two years were necessary to bring this project to life and eventually give birth to the best custom in-ear monitors available on the market.” Frank Lopez and Earsonics as a whole don’t make the french pride lie there 😉
To the audiophile (the pro market especially locally in France will have a different take), this will sound like a very very bold claim, how does the EM10 stack up against the best in the market?
The first impressions with the EM10 was full of surprises given the very few reviews around peg it as warm, laid back and smooth. While there is warmth, it’s a very nuanced coloration and laid back it’s everything but! It’s a very smooth yes but energetic IEM all around : punchy bass, mids with bite and energetic and refined treble. There goes your laid back… It’s not as clear sounding or energetic up high as my former S-EM9 but bass is familiar there.
Sure the EM10 is a tad warmer than the VE8 given the fuller lower mids and even more mid bass presence but the lower treble energy is better than the VE8 and the upper treble is almost as refined (yes, the VE8 is my absolute benchmark here). Most reviews I had read said the EM10 sound nice but is not technically up to par with similarly priced flagship but I beg to differ here : I was impressed by the EM10 resolution and technicalities. We’ll dig into that.
Here is for what surprised me given the account I had read. The EM10 is clearly a TOTL and a flagship CIEM and its tuning features a rare combination of engagement and technicalities. It’s not unlike the fantastic Custom Art FIBAE7 I reviewed in October this year and I’ll provide a detailed comparison section at the end of this review. There is also a strong kinship to Earsonics more recent release the Grace and actually the custom EM10 is much closer to the Grace than the universal EM10 demo that I auditioned (the Grace having less mid bass emphasis and lower mids presence).
The EM10 has a fantastic sense of pace, rythm and timing thanks to its very present mid bass and its lower treble energy, but also the bite of its upper mids. It’s such an engaging IEM, with a full bodied and tactile presentation with its superb textures.
Let’s dig a bit deeper!
The EM10 bass is key to its power and physicality, it’s a deep, rich, strong and full bass that extends fairly low and exhibits superb sub bass control. Sub bass is less present than the mid bass and interestingly I feel the sub bass driver has been tuned tighter and faster, while the mid bass is a bit slower with longer note decay.
The mid bass has such presence that it can be bordering on bloom but never really crosses into messy territory and cable pairing will also come into play here. Dunu Hulk provided great control with a tighter bass where this was not an issue while the less restrained Tiburon 8 wires was just right next to blooming the mid bass on certain tracks.
The EM10 has incredibly rich bass textures, making for a very qualitative bass and the fundamental opposite of a dry bass. It’s not only powerful, but able to provide a surprising palette of nuances. The EM10 has become my all time favorite IEM portraying of the double bass, a title so far held by JVC FW10000, listening to Caro Emerald’s “Back it up” as I write this and it’s pure bliss.
Bass guitar is also a real treat, and generally speaking key to the ability of the EM10 to convey a fantastic sense of rythm and tracks like José James “Kissing My Love”, Ben Harper’s “Steal my kisses from you” or Charles Pasi “Burn out” are a pure treat.
Earsonics has often been praised for its mids tuning, which defined the Earsonics house sound in the early days until things evolved a bit with the Velvet and S-EM9. The Earsonics house sound was more warm and smooth and evolved into a clearer more energetic and forward mids while retaining their legendary smoothness. The EM10 is certainly what could be considered the epitome of the current Earsonics house sound along with the Grace, the two being two interpretations of the same philosophy.
The EM10 mids are full bodied with good lower mids foundations, the male vocals are powerful and deep seated and it’s a real treat listening to tracks such as Leonard Cohen’s “You Want it darker”.
Vocals and lead instruments are nowhere near as forward as the pro flagship EM64 but the EM10 therefore has better soundstage depth and both vocals and lead instruments are intelligible and clear. Timbre are very accurate and not overly colored to me the EM10 is not warm per say.
Despite its full bodied nature it doesn’t fall into thick territory the midrange is very articulate with good separation. Upper mids are a display of Earsonics mastery here : there is a satisfying bite and edge this is especially apparent on trumpets and saxophones, the EM10 takes you to the edge but never crosses the threshold of harshness. Delicious!
The EM10 treble are key to the overall balance of its signature, Given the mid bass presence and lower mids, as they provide a lot of air and grant the EM10 great energy.
The lower treble is smooth but energetic and this is a real treat especially on piano notes, this is a lower treble with good weight as well. Overall the lower treble contributes to the rythm with satisfying hi hats and guitar riffs have great bite as well. It’s a more energetic lower treble than the VE8 although not up to Solaris levels it sits comfortably in between with clear mastery in the tuning as it never gets fatiguing either. Decay is very natural and participate in the sense of naturalness of the EM10.
The upper treble is a very refined one, the EM10 is certainly able to retrieve a lot of details and the resolution is absolutely top tier here. The delivery is smooth and the upper treble presence is a bit lesser than the VE8 which still has the edge on refinement but by a small margin which is no small feat as the VE8 is my ultimate benchmark here. There is less energy but more air than the VE8 in my opinion. This benefits both soundstage and imaging and the EM10 doesn’t disappoint here, featuring a bigger soundstage overall than the Vision Ears BA flagship.
There are few hidden gems in the TOTL segment but Earsonics EM10 is clearly one of them. 2 years after its release, the EM10 is still quite confidential. Few international distributors, no possibility of customizing the shells and very little international marketing definitely explains a lot. In the 2K range with so few reviews around, and little possibility to demo anything else than a sub par universal demo (see footnote) certainly explains a lot. The EM10 surely feels as the great “Grand Cru Classé” that waits in your cellar to be picked up for the ultimate enjoyment.
It’s really too bad because the EM10 is definitely just as good as the highly praised Earsonics Grace, and for some like me it’s actually even better given their own preferences in terms of signature. The EM10 has more mid bass presence and fuller bodied mids and a tad less upper mid presence with just as much refinement up top and a little bit more energy in the lower treble section.
This makes the EM10 a very engaging IEM, equaling the most engaging IEM I own in Custom Art FIBAE7 which is no small feat if you consider it also is totally up to par with one of the market’s benchmark in Vision Ears VE8. Quite a combination in my book!
If you’re looking for a highly engaging all rounder CIEM with what I consider to be the best BA mid bass around and TOTL performance all accross the board doubled with a unique sense of rythm, you can’t go wrong with Earsonics audiophile range flagship!
This review is also published on head-fi.org :
I spent approximately 150hours with the EM10, listening to Cayin N6ii (A01 and T01 motherboard) and iBasso DX160 using 4.4 balanced With Dunu Hulk and Null Audio Tiburon 8 wires.
EM10 universal demo As it’s owned by a friend and I have access to it, I can vouch that the Music Sanctuary universal demo is quite below the original for most because of a very short stem that means poor fit for most people (I fit almost anything and couldn’t get a good experience with the EM10 universal demo). Anyone who judged the EM10 based on this demo is bound to be off in my opinion.
Thanks to Max at Earsonics for offering me a discounted price as a repeat customer and reviewer. As usual, this review is my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review.
Custom Art FIBAE7
Packaging and accessories
The EM10 comes with a classy but understated package containing :
- Premium « HR » stock cable (single ended 3.5)
- 1 cleaning tool
- Carrying Case
- 3.5mm to 6,35 jack adapter
- Sensitivity: 119 dB/mW
- Frequency response : 10 Hz -20 kHz
- DCR: 26,6 ohms
- Driver: 10 balanced armature drivers, HQ 3-way passive crossover with impedance corrector.