Review of different sleeves/tips available for the Atrio M5
The FutureSonics Atrio M5 IEM's are a nice set of phones, but I've always found something slightly lacking in the sound. They're very warm phones (which I like) and have a very full low end (which I also like), but their midrange is weak and I have struggled with the murkiness of the treble for some time now. In hopes of getting these phones to keep their warmth but improve clarity, I decided I'd try out a range of different tips for these phones and see which could get me the sound I wanted. I was hoping for a nice, full, clear bass response with precise treble and at least reasonable representation of the midranges. I've tried out five different sets of tips, and posted my impressions below. Many of these tips are quite sensitive to correct placement and seal in the ear, therefore your results may vary tremendously from mine, but I invite any comments/dissenting opinions! I did all my listening either on my Cowon D2(+) or on my Palm Pre, and the type of music I was listening to included Them Crooked Vultures (which is a VERY difficult album to make sound good on the Atrio's), Bullet for my Valentine, The Black Keys, The Raconteurs, 30 Seconds to Mars, and a spattering of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley et al (think hard bop). I wear these phones with the cable "over the ear."
1.) FutureSonics ComfortFit Foams (large):
I'm gonna come right out and say these are my least favorite of the group, but not because of their sound; they are just impossible to get in my ears the way I like. Once they are in my ears, they sound pretty good though. They deliver clean and full bass, ok midrange, and half-decent treble although the soundstage could be cleaned up a bit.
2.) FutureSonics EarFills Silicone Sleeves (medium):
These go in my ears two different ways: part of the way in such that the first flange is in and sealed but not the second, and aaaaaaall the way into the ear canal. With the more superficial insertion, these sound a little sharper than the FS Foams in terms of dynamic range, but the soundstage isn't as clean. This gets you slightly more treble then the foams. Inserting these all the way, the sound quality is improved in terms of soundstage, but the bass because muddled and the treble falls apart; the cymbals lose all their definition. Yuck.
3.) Shure Gray Soft Flex Sleeves (medium): The good news here is that these are, by far, the easiest to get in your ears. They pop right in, seal almost immediately, and quickly establish the sound you're going to keep getting. The bass is slightly weaker and doesn't punch as hard, but my biggest critique is that the sound just isn't as dynamic. I'm not sure how to describe it, as the treble is there and sounds good, but I just keep finding myself going to crank up the volume because I'm not getting the livelihood I'd like. I have a hard time isolating what I don't like about the sound until I've listened for a couple minutes and everything just seems flat.
4.) Shure Black Foam Sleeves (medium):
In terms of fit and isolation, I like these a lot. They're a little more effort to get in than the Shure grays but are probably easier than FS silicones and way easier than the FS foams. The foam stays cleaner, is easier to squish down, and is more comfortable in my ears. These sleeves have a very nasty Achilles heel though; they utterly wreck the soundstage. The treble and midrange would probably sound great if you could hear it over the constant rumbling coming out of the bass section. If you're a bass-head and prefer quantity over quality when it comes to boom, these might be for you, but for me, all I hear is *THUMP RUMBLE THUMP*.
5.) Alpine Double-Flange Silicon Tips (one size fits all, apparently):
And now, the sleeves responsible for this review. IanD sent me a pair of these (discussed here) to try out after dfkt recommended them. In my opinion, these are the best sounding of the sleeves listed here. They're punchier than the other sleeves across the frequency spectrum and are the most dynamic. On particular tracks, the FS silicones or foams can match their quality, but these in general have the best sound. They've got the most well-represented treble and have the most balanced soundstage. However, they are the worst isolators and aren't great to get into your ears. These are much softer than silicone sleeves packaged with the Atrios, which makes them squish and fold when you try to push them into your ears. The shaft of these needs to be cut before you want to use them (they're very long) and I found cutting them all the way down to the base of the 2nd sleeve to help with inserting them into the ear canal. It's possible that doing this hurts the isolation because they don't go as far into your ears, but I couldn't get them in much further anyway without a hell of a lot of effort. They feel ok once they're in your ears (the FS foams, FS silicones, and sometimes the Shure foams make my ears sore after awhile) and you've found a seal. Also, whoever decided to make these white must have really clean ears...mine are already starting to yellow.
In conclusion, I think my favorite of these are probably the Alpine sleeves, although I may switch over to either the Shure soft flex sleeves or the FS silicones when I need more sound isolation. I wouldn't advocate any of these tips aside from the Shure soft flex sleeves if you are going to be popping the phones in and out of your ears a lot, although the Alpines are probably the second best in that regard due to the softness of their silicone.
Best treble: Alpine
Best midrange: Alpine
Best bass: FS foams
Best isolation: Shure foamies (closely followed by Shure soft flex)
Worst isolation: Alpine (might be better if I didn't cut the shaft so short)
Most comfortable: Shure soft flex
Least comfortable: FS silicones
And lastly...if anyone has another unused pair of tips they'd like to see compared here, shoot me a PM and maybe we can work something out! If anyone wants pics, just ask and I'll see what I can do
Previous gear: Sony MZ-N10, Cowon X5, iRiver T30, Sony MDR-EX71
Current setup: Cowon D2(+) 16GB (w/Rockbox), Sansa e260 (also w/Rockbox) with Fiio E3 or E5 amp, Atrio M5's (v1 and v2), Shure E3C's and Sony Eggos MDR-D66's
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