[IEM review] Yamaha EPH-100
UPDATE 12/12/2011: after extended A/B-ing against FX700, I differentiated soundstage between both IEMs. More details in the review.
Well, Yamaha is not exactly famous for their IEMs, but I was really intrigued by the design that they used for these EPH-100, and the price was not too steep (150US$) so I got curious and ordered them.
Claims : Yamaha has gone far from conventional IEM design for those: full aluminium body with chromium anti-corrosion hardcoat, proprietary double flange silicon tips with a straight shape (not conical), and a 6mm closed dynamic driver which is fitted directly within the nozzles (see Yamaha schematics below).
They claim that fitting the driver within the nozzle part of these IEMs makes the sound less distorded and more "pure" since the driver sits deeper into the ear canal. We'll see about that. Frequency range is the usual deal (20Hz-20kHz), impedance if supposed to be 16 ohms.
Packaging/accessories : we have an eco-friendly PET/carton box (100% recyclable). The IEMS are tightly hold and well protected, and for the price of 150US$/140euros, you get 5 pairs of proprietary silicon tips (SS, S, M, L, LL), a 1/4" adapter, a 2m extension cord, and a soft polyurethane pouch (way too soft to fully protect IEMs, Shure's hardpouch remains my favorite one). Quite good overall, I appreciate the variety in tip sizes, although Yamaha did not have a choice since standard tips won't fit the 6.5mm external diameter of these IEMs nozzles.
After quite some stretching, I also managed to put Comply Ts500 (spherical foams) onto the nozzles (will mention what came out of that later).
Build quality : the aluminium body is really well-crafted with a hardcoat making them scratch resistant and very light, and with a very shiny and convex mesh to protect the drivers. Depending on the tips that you chose, they can look very thin (SS, S and M tips) or very strange (mushroom shape with L and LL tips). The strain relief coming out of the body is very flexible, I'm a bit worried that it will get cut on the aluminium edges in case of repeated pulling. The Y piece is the basic moulded type, with no engraving. The cord has a VERY thick section (> 2mm) and is 1.2m long, it is tangle-free and produce no microphonics at all. The connector is angled and relatively thin. I know that a lot of people here like angled connectors but I personnaly doesn't like it because it can break more easily if the cord is pulled out of the mp3 player by force. Final touch is the Yamaha name and symbol which are printed on the external extremity of the body (under the hardcoat, so it shouldn't disappear too quickly).
Well, with exception of the connector, quality is top notch, I would put it on the same level as my JVC HA-FX700 and Sennheiser IE8.
One note though: the nozzle mesh comes very close to the tip surface (please see on the last picture), so earwax can easily deposit on the mesh. People with "wet ears" will have to clean these IEMs often so wax does not obstruct the mesh.
Comparison set-up: A/B-ing with Sennheiser IE8, JVC HA-FX700 and Shure SE420, coupled with a Cowon X7 (flat EQ, and some playing with BBE to assess soundstage). Some additional testing with a Sony NWZ-A847 player (flat EQ, but mids are more forward than with the X7). Music selection included classical/orchestral music, progressive rock, metal (with male and female singers), pop music. No R&B, no rap (sorry, not my taste...).
And just to be clear, I fully agree with Dfkt's assessments of Sennheiser IE8 and JVC HA-FX700.
First sound test (10 minutes long, no burn-in): WTF? It sounded so flat for a dynamic driver that I wanted to cry. Decent bass, but I had trouble with the fit, even with LL tips (but I'm used to this with my huge ear canals, this is the reason why I like to use spherical Comply foams, they fit way better, but don't adapt on the EPH-100). Nevertheless it sounded more like armature-type IEMs, similar to the Shure SE420, bass aside.
Time for 100 hour burn-in with random music (no in-between listening). Although I am not a huge believer in burning-in headphones, I really think it has some scientific meaning with dynamic drivers since they're using a membrane made out a soft material.
Second (and final for this review) sound test : I tried different insertion positions (when worn pendant, the fit is ok but not great, and I can't insert them very deep, which makes me crank up the volume a lot). When worn over-the-ears, they go deeper into the ears since strain reliefs don't touch the ear lobs anymore, so the fit is better and the sound really gain in power, although I still have to set-up the volume higher than with the JVCs/Senns/Shures.
Something sounded different this time, something familiar, especially with guitar, percussion and male voices. Then I realized: it sounded like Panasonic HJE-900, with very forward mids and bass, great instrument separation to listen to guitar, male voices and low-pitch percussions, but with more clarity than the Panas and tamed treble.
Summary : flat spectrum with VERY good clarity in the mids, excellent instrument separation for a dynamic driver, average soundstage but good spatialization, good dynamics and excellent isolation.
Conclusion: for a nice price, these EPH-100 were a real surprise. They're very polyvalent since their spectrum is quite flat, but they really shine because of their excellent instrument separation and clarity. For male voices and guitar, this is a bliss, and even with their average soundstage, classical/orchestral music is a pleasure, you can follow every instrument at will, like you usually can with double ou triple-armature IEMs.
Improvement leads: I finally could fit 2 types of Comply foams onto these 6.5mm nozzles after stretching sessions with pliers. I managed to put Ts500 (spherical) and T400 (spherical). Fit was OK with both foams but something was lost in the process: bass. With Ts500, details were still present but bass impact was lost, making the EPH-100 sound closer to Shure SE420. With T400 foams, bass impact was also lost, but on top of that, some details started disappearing due to the long form factor of these T400.
Well, Comply usually fit my needs, but not this time, these Yamahas really need a good seal combined with a deep insertion, which can't be achieved with the Comply models/medium size I have at my disposal.
I'll try more combos when I receive some large bore double flange from MEElec.
For lazy people, short version:
PROs : excellent build quality, isolation, clarity and instrument separation, relatively flat spectrum with good bass and excellent mids.
CONs : thin angled jack connector, and beware of ear wax on the mesh (provided tips barely cover the mesh)............... and they still cannot beat FX700's treble (but I can't imagine any contender for this)!
PRICE/VALUE : good, no real shame against top-tier universal IEMs.
PMPs: Cowon X7 160Gb, Sony NWZ-A847 (64Gb).
IEMs: Yamaha EPH-100, Shure SE535 Special Edition
Headphones: AKG K240-MKII
To sell: JVC HA-FX300, Philips SHE9850
Last edited by tienbasse; 12-12-2011 at 03:12 PM.
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