Since the E4's highs are not balanced by midrange
richness and deep bass extension, their presentation is somewhat
monochromatic; it is definitely tilted toward the upper frequencies. I have
read a review on another website that compares the E4s to earphones from
another company that purportedly deliver more bass for less money. Though
evaluating more than two models of earphones is beyond the scope of this
review - I would love to sample the Bose Noise Canceling headphones sometime
to see if they have the characteristic Bose sonic signature that audiophiles
frequently deride - my extended time with the E4s suggests, that for music
lovers who mainly listen to CDs and SACDs, the E4s may not provide ultimate
satisfaction. They certainly didn't do it for me.
The E5s are an entirely different story. Here's what I
wrote in the airline terminal, awaiting my flight to Las Vegas:
"Thanks to the E5's separate bass module, these larger
earphones definitely deliver a more complete sonic picture. The darkness of
the cellos and double basses at the beginning of Philip Glass' Symphony No.
6: Plutonium Ode [reviewed in November, 2005] comes through in spades, as
does the brilliance of Lauren Flanigan's voice. The beauty of the solitary
chime at the start of the final third movement, ringing over repetitive
cellos, is striking. So is the great dynamic range of the recording.
"With allowances for the fact that I'm listening
through a Powerbook, rather than a high-end amplifier, this is a satisfying
listening experience. The music may not either glisten on top or shake the
gonads as much as it does over huge speakers, but it is smooth, close enough
to full, seemingly free of distortion, and sufficiently beautiful to
"Most important, the midrange that is the heart of all
music is present in spades. I can appreciate the changes in dynamics and
awe-inspiring versatility of soprano Lauren Flanigan, as well as Glass'
formidable skill at orchestration. The silences truly sound silent, and the
fortes formidable. I have had to lower the volume several times to avoid ear
damage. (Editor's Note: Recent news reports suggest that earphones can
cause damage to your hearing, so be careful. I think there is a tendency to
really crank the volume with earphones because they sound so good.)
"Now I switch back to the E4s. The richness of the
cellos and double basses is replaced by thinner sound. This seems like such
a different piece of music. The E4s, I acknowledge, might suffice if all I
wanted to focus on was Lauren Flanigan’s voice. It comes through loud and
clear on the E4s, albeit without the depth heard through the E5s. But if I
want to hear more of what each instrument can offer – if I demand to connect
with the heart and soul of this music – only the E5s will do.”
While Apple's G4 Titanium Powerbook may offer decent
sound reproduction for CDs and DVDs, it cannot approach the sound generated
by a high-end universal transport, oversampling DAC, amplifier, and speakers.
I thus attempted to evaluate the E5s with other sources.
Alas, none of the gear in my reference setup
accommodates headphones. Nor do I own a headphone amp. I had to turn to
other equipment in the house.
I immediately learned just how bad the sound is through
my ancient portable CD player's headphone amp. Bloated, artificial,
distorted . . . the Powerbook sounds light years better. If it never bothered me
that much through the Radio Shack headphones, consider the limitations of
Then I tried the headphone jack on my spouse's vintage
Kenwood receiver, only to encounter another lousy headphone amp. Nor was the
sound through the headphone amp of his Sony first generation CD player
anything but hideous. Those of us who hated the sound of early CDs were not
helped by such players.
Instead of continuing the agony, I decided to further
evaluate the sound using the Powerbook.
Simply put, I love the sound of the E5s. Their response
is extended and smooth, granting a warm sheen to the sound. The top may be
less tilted up than through the E4s, and detail may at first seem somewhat
softened – if you’re listening to a CD drawn from an analog master tape,
you'll hear considerably more tape hiss through the E5s than the E4s – but
the highs are definitely present.
To further understand the difference between the treble
response of the E4s, E5s, and my Radio Shack "anti-reference," I used all
three models to listen to a poor quality cassette recording of a phone
interview I had made by hanging a microphone over my speakerphone. No Dolby
noise reduction was employed.
I could not believe how much more hiss I heard through
the E5s than through the Radio Shack babies. There was so much noise that I
had no desire to hear how much additional hiss I might hear with the E4s.
One time was plenty. This made me realize that the E5s offer more natural,
albeit softened treble response than the E4s, which are overly detailed on
The E4s, which do a fine job of shutting out noise,
offer detailed reproduction of higher frequency information. Their tonal
balance, however, is neither midrange rich nor deeply extended. The sound is
very much what one would expect from mp3s reproduced through an iPod or
similar portable device.
The E5s, at least the equal of the E4s when it comes to
noise reduction, beautifully integrate a pleasing, well-extended top with a
warm midrange and extended bass. Their sound is quite seductive; music seems
all of one piece, possessing a satisfying, non-fatiguing warmth. In case
you're wondering, I intend to purchase the review sample and use them to
review music with my Powerbook when my home computer is not available.
- Jason Victor Serinus -