Passing judgment on headphones is a pretty good job but like any other, it comes with some less pleasant tasks day to day tasks. One of these more burdensome responsibilities is when a $30-$40 dollar pair of earbuds drop on my desk for a review. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the companies making these pairs aren’t doing the best they can, it’s that there is only so much you can do if you’re aiming for such a low price point. Or at least, that’s what I thought until the fateful day that Strauss & Wagner’s EM205 earbuds graced my ear holes. These tiny little workhorses boast a high-class sound quality that is comparable to earphones worth hundreds of dollars more. I’ll tell you what Strauss & Wagner did with this remarkable feat of engineering, but I can’t tell you how.
What You Get
There is nothing in the packaging that hints at something out of the ordinary. The box contains a little cloth sack holding the earbuds and two pairs of alternate ear tips. Besides that, there is a small manual and a one year warranty.
Look and Feel
Design-wise the EM205 is an unassuming unit. They have a simple black dual cylindrical design with modular eartips. Though they are comfortable enough for prolonged use, there is nothing ergonomic about them. They don’t fit snugly into the folds of your ears, they have no sort of structure that ensures they’ll never fall out, they aren’t even wireless! There is a remote control built into the cable which allows basic commands and volume control and a feeling as if you’re back in the early aughts. What we have here is a simple and serviceable pair of wired earbuds.
Nothing to see here folks. The EM205 has 9mm drivers and a 20Hz – 20kHz frequency range. Pretty normal specs for earbuds. Their output impedance of 32 ohms makes them compatible with any phone, computer, or media player.
This is where the EM205 starts to stand out from the herd. The truth is, I didn’t know how much these things cost when I first listened through them. Afterward, my boss asked me how much I thought they were worth. Their remarkable detail and clarity led me to assume these were a pair of audiophile earbuds rather than another box for the bargain bin. Even the stereo field is rather expansive for a pair of earbuds, a weakness inherent to that entire category of listening device. Open backs these are not, but when a song such as “My Foot” by the Pillows get wide, you can feel the dramatic panning of the dual guitars on either side of your stereo field.
The lows are thick, powerful, and defined. The EM205 definitely leans towards a warm and bass centric sound. They are not quite a “bass-head” earphone but Hip Hop fared extremely well on these. Kick and bass dominated songs like EARTHGANG’s “Top Down” pop off like a club in your head. You get everything the low end offers, from punch to body to attack and even some boom.
I often find that bass heavy headphones have a tendency to get muddy when playing mid range heavy material. I am pleased to say that EM205 does not. The chorus of Jawbreaker’s “Accident Prone” are fuzzed out and thick with guitars but these earbuds present it with grace. The bass stands on its own among a wall of guitars that are blended but with perceptible distinctions that distinguish each separate building block. The defined and forward mids really establish their warm quality of sound.
If there is a weak point to the EM205’s sound it is the high end. Drums have a pleasant shimmer but there seems to be a roll-off that prevents the sound from getting too harsh, or even bright. As long as I’m not mixing I prefer warmer listening devices. Those of you who prefer a brighter sound may want to steer away from these (though good luck because your best alternative is significantly more expensive). If you cornered me, you might even get me to admit that these have strayed too far into the warmth. There were a couple of times while listening to songs with female singers where I felt like the vocal performance was getting lost in the mix, such as on the climactic moments of I Eat Grandma’s “Donnie Darko.”
I am truly blown away by Strauss & Wagner’s EM205’s earbuds. They truly lived up to their motto, “Best in class sound, at an affordable price.” Forty dollar headphones have absolutely no business sounding this good, yet, here I am stopping just short at running down the street shouting the news. If you want a brighter sound of comparable quality and you have an extra $260, you may prefer the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. Otherwise, if you just want an amazing pair of earbuds with incredible value, I strongly recommend you snag a pair of these. I would love to see these made in a true wireless format one day, but for $40 dollars I can deal with a little bit of cable.
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