Over the years I’ve had many of earphones of various prices, fit comfort, and quality. I don’t prefer them to standard full sized headphones, but they do the job while commuting, working out or traveling. I find that once you get in the $50-$100 price range a set of Grado SR60 or similar headphones to be much more open, give a better tonal balance, and sound stage, even if they tend to lack the sub level lows that earphones can produce.
But with pleasure, I can tell you the $60 for the iM-590 would be money well spent.
The earphone drivers of the iM-590 are 9mm neodymium with a sensitivity of (1KHz, 0.1V):>100dB, with a 12Hz-22KHz range, which puts them inline with most earphones of equal value. The iM-590 are rather revealing though. I’ll explain more in a bit.
After letting the earphones burn in, per the manufacturer suggestion, for 8-10 hours, I plugged them into my desktop Dell PC at the office. I’m going to make the assumption that most 99.9% of the people who will purchase these earphones are not going to have a pre-amp or headphone amp, so I plugged them straight into the headphone jack on the PC, and heard a troubling amount of noise on the line that was not apparent in less revealing earphones. I’ve recently been using a $40 pair of Sony MDR-EX76 earphones as my workout earphones and sometimes used them at the office. Those rolled off the highs at a comfortable level which hid the line noise from my PC. The iM-590 headphones though did not. And you know what, that was welcoming. I knew immediately that these did not roll of the highs and would present a good sound stage. Granted, the line noise was irritating, but it isn’t the headphone’s fault.
So out of the PC and into my iPod. Ah clean sound at last. But not truly tested. The MP3s on my iPod are not even close to being of 320 kbit/s quality but they all sounded better than the day before when using the Sony earphones. But here is the catch, or rather, something I was not expecting. Because the iM-590 are so revealing, they made the standard EQ setting of ‘none’ much too bright. I spent some time finding a good EQ setting on the iPod that would work well with the iM-590. Alas, Apple is irritating and so many of the EQ settings are completely worthless, especially on a very clear and sensitive set of earphones. Eventually I found the a setting that worked for me, either ‘acoustic or R & B’ depending on the album.
So out of the iPod and into my Van Alstine Omega III for some real listening. This is where these earbuds sounded best. Out of a flat and clean pre-amp. The sound stage is surprising good for earphones. Sound didn’t appear to be just left, right and center. But cymbal crashes across my mind and slightly off set toms where actually off set, just like on my floorstanders.
Listening to Miles Davis’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson, John McLaughlin’s guitar echoing around the recording studio, and Miles’s horns sway this way and that way. Solid, full and not piercing. The clean fuzz and power of Michael Henderson’s electric bass had my mind bobbing my and my toes tapping. The music kept it’s airy but powerful presence and I really could tell where the walls in the recorder studio were. These still aren’t as good as real speakers, or high end phones/earpones, but they present the best sound stage I’ve ever heard in their price range.
Next on the play list was Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. I wanted to know how clean and extended the bass response was. With-in 30 seconds the back or my eyes were rumbling and and fluctuating to the heavy bass intro of Angle. The bass came on clean and didn’t over power the rest of mids or distort the highs. The earphones never cracked or showed massive signs of distortion. Even when I was going through iPod EQ settings and had on ‘bass booster’ the iM-590s managed to produce a clean the low end very well.
The nice thing about isolating earphones and you don’t have to fight outside noise and can keep the volume lower. This helps to reduce strain on the ear and distortion of the earphones.
As far as comfort in your ear go, the iM-950 were good for me. There are 4 sizes of ear tips to choose from and the plastic molds fairly easily to the ear for good comfort.
The iM-590 come with 4 ear tips, Shirt clip, airline dual-plug adapter, 2.5mm plug adapter, 2-ft extension cable and carrying case.
The earphone cable is not that cheap plastic stuff either, it is a nice fabric like cord protecting the sensitive parts on the inside. It is strong and can take some abuse. The cable never crimped in a way that severed the electrical wires on the inside and the attachable shirt clip was very handy.
So what does this all mean for the average listener who wants a good set of isolating earphones without spending too much hard earned cash? It means the iM-590 are definitely worth checking out but might not be for everyone. Because the iM-590 are very revealing I found that my taste for the earphones really varied with what I had them plugged into. I even tried them on my T-Mobile G1, rocking out to White Zombie’s La Sexorcito at 320k/bits. And though the fast kicks of drummer Ivan DePrume were clean, solid and had a nice pop, and Sean Yseult bass guitar was audible. The combination of album being mixed without much of a low end, and the headphones not making up for that, no EQ settings on the G1… and I couldn’t take much more. But that doesn’t mean anything because I found a comfortable EQ setting for the iPod and they sound great for $60 earphones on the Omega III. Give’m a shot.