A few of our MajorHiFi readers have sent us requests to describe sound signatures by brand. And we’re more than happy to oblige. (We’ll be expanding our list of companies below. So, stay tuned for updates in our article). Now, it’s true that for every brand, there tends to be a consistency with respect to certain elements of sound, giving each of these brands a unique personality. However, there’s rarely such thing as a single sound signature per brand. And often depending on price and model, you’ll find variations of common characteristics. With that in mind, let’s talk about Sound Signature By Brand: IEMs.
When it comes to Audio-Technica, you’ll generally find pronounced low and high frequencies with the middle part scooped out. It’s mostly light and playful sound that often drops the lower mids, despite the fact that the bass is usually generous. If you enjoy a dynamic sound with big vocals, Audio-Technica is a good choice. But if your prefer to a flatter, full-bodied feel, then consider going for another brand. I usually fall into the latter category because I like to hear the entire scope of the mix. And I listen to a lot of rock and pop rock that has a lot of instrumentation in the middle frequencies. So, for folks like me (or people who want a versatile headphone), a more even balance is better suited. That being said, there are some die hard Audio-Technica fans out there who would nail me to a cross just for writing this. And if you appreciate transparent and luminous high frequencies, Audio-Technica could be your brand. Popular models include:
ATH-CKM300I, ATH-LS50IS, ATH-E40
ATH-CKS1100IS, ATH-LS70, ATH-CKR90IS
ATH-CM2000TI, ATH-CKR7TW, ATH-E70, ATH-LS300IS, ATH-LS200IS
When I think of AKG, I think flat and clean. Often, AKG is used in studios by sound engineers and mixers because the balance is an accurate representation of the mix. That being said, it can sometimes be a boring sound for audiophiles who prefer a little color to their tracks. It’s not very dynamic, and it can often have a clinical feel. But those who like a no-nonsense sound may gravitate towards this signature. Still, let me repeat some words of caution; certain models really deviate from the classic AKG sound signature, like the Y20, which is extremely bassy. So, do your homework. The most popular IEM models include:
Beyerdynamic is another brand that’s popular among musicians and mixers (in the over-ear headphone world). It also often presents an even balance. It excels at precision, separation, soundstage, and in general, I think it’s one of the more skilled headphone brands on the market. But Beyerdynamic caters to the audiophile as well. I initially bought my pair for recording and mixing, but now I use it just as much for listening enjoyment. So, it’s a great headphone for purists who like to hear the entire scope of the mix. Beyerdynamic IEMs, for the most part, tend to follow the same sound signature approach. But in the lower price ranges, sound profiles vary. The $60 MMX 102 iE, for example, is quite bassy, while the Blue Byrd offers a much lighter sound. Popular models include:
MMX 102 IE, Byron BT Wireless
JBL is a freload of fun. Huge bass response with a forward, full-bodied midrange and rounded highs, JBL buds are great for pop, hip-hop and rock. The brand usually presents a sound signature on the darker side. So those who appreciate sparkly highs might prefer another company, like Audio-Technica. But when it comes to great build at an affordable price, few brands can compete with JBL. And if you need a wireless pair for running, JBL is the perfect choice. Some of their most popular buds include:
JBL Tune 205BT, JBL Tune 110
Reflect Contour 2
JBL Endurance Dive
Shure usually presents a versatile sound signature. Their most famous models offer a generous bass, present mids and detailed highs without any uncomfortable brightness. The amount of bass presence depends on the model. But the most famous ones, like the SE215 and the SE846 have a lot of bass extension and warmth, great balance and good transparency. If you listen to all kinds of music, but you want to avoid a sterile sounding IEM, Shure is a great choice. They’re also one of the leading brands when it comes to sound isolation.
Sony is now taken seriously as a solid audiophile brand. They may not be brimming with personality, but they have an identifiable character, nonetheless. You can usually expect ample bass with a present midrange and detailed, though tempered, high frequencies. Their IEMs, especially the higher price ranges, tend to work well across all genres. And some of their leading, more expensive models are designed for musicians, falling on the more neutral side.
MDR-XB50AP Extra Bass
Sennheiser’s IEMs can also vary in sound signature. But their most famous models, like the HD1, have ample low frequencies and warmth with unparalleled detail throughout the frequency spectrum for the price. It’s a very unique sound signature, as there’s a soft, almost veiled feel about the sound. But at the same time, the transparency is fantastic. So, it’s highly pleasing to the ear. Their most famous models, like the HD1 and IE 800, lean on the darker side. But there are other IEMs with brighter characteristics. Still, the common element is versatility. The HD1 for example, tends to work just as well for hip-hop as it does classical music. Popular models include:
Sennheiser CX 5.00G
Momentum True Wireless
Westone is a classic musician’s IEM. Evenly balanced with tons of detail and a great soundstage, these are super realistic sounding buds that are also highly enjoyable to listen to. A couple of the famous models, like the W40 and the W80 have slightly more generous low frequencies, bringing out a little extra warmth in the track. But in general, their buds are very honest and work equally well across all genres. And in the under $300-$500 IEM price range, few brands can compete in terms of skill. I also find them forgiving on the ears, and suitable for long listening sessions. And Westone’s hard to beat in terms of sound isolation. Popular models include:
W10 (Gen 1)
AM Pro 10
W10 (Gen 2)
You can find most of the headphones/earbuds/in-ear monitors at Audio46. Check out their website or give them a call should you need help from their support team.