The opportunity to review an audiophile-grade earphones has changed my perception and perspective of how I judge headphones audio quality. I received a review unit of the Cardas Audio EM5813 Ear Speaker from the Singapore distributor, Sound Decisions, a company specialising in high-end audio and visual product, consultation and room setup.
Design and CreationThe high-performance audiophile earphones, Cardas EM5813 are painstakingly produced over many years by George Cardas, a well known name for audiophile cables since 1987, and that says a lot about his credentials. Cardas sourced the right materials and cut no corners for his first in-ear monitor speakers. The result is a pair of solid brass polished, copperplate finish housing, thick heavy cables that are uncharacteristic of earphones. The result: a very efficient delivery of audio even at low volume levels.
Audio CharacteristicsSound-wise, the EM5813 are clearly tuned with a high-frequency roll-off. When listening flat-response music tracks, they sound muffled and lacks any trace of sparkle. But what EM5813 deliver is a sound character similar to an audiophile speakers. The beauty is in the ability to evoke natural musical qualities across the entire sonic spectrum, and it appears the reduced treble frequency prevents the obscuring of such details. Take "Gangnam Style" by Psy: when played with most other consumer headphones, you will hear loud shrill synths and his powerful vocals, sounding impactful and somewhat noisy. When I played with EM5813, the song transforms into a totally different mix, as if the song has been remastered into an audiophile-grade track. Indeed, while the consumer headphones are more fun to listen, the EM5813 offers a more academic experience, allowing my ears to pick up undistorted details of each instrumentation layer. Interestingly, despite the bias on mid-low frequencies, the bass is well-controlled, impactful yet not overpowering.
While I appreciate the merits of the EM5813, I feel it is not the earphones that many consumers will enjoy on the move, myself included. The treble is just too round-sounding to provide enough dynamics to interest the casual listener. When distracted with the noisy ambient surrounding, you probably can't hear much details. To top that, the earphones are heavy, the cables are thick, and contributes to cable rub (microphonics).
Noticing the great lengths at what George Cardas went through to design this earphones, the EM5813 is very much a representation of what Cardas believed to be the best earphones he has ever heard. And his rationale for creating the EM5813 with a high-frequency roll off is to achieve low fatigue, comfortable listening, and good musicality. He further commented that one should not force a small sealed system like in-ear headphones to conform to audio measurements, as doing so may result in a "fatiguing device with an unmusical exaggerated leading edge."
Summary The Cardas EM5813 has encouraged me to pay more attention to audio details when doing my reviews. It also reinforced my belief that one should not rely on a couple of published reviews to make a purchase decision, especially for headphones, because different people have different tastes. More importantly, the audio output depends critically on the audio device (smartphone, audio player, home sound system) and the music. Fortunately, Singapore is no shortage of retail outlets offering audio demo units.
The Cardas EM5813 is available in Singapore exclusively from Sound Decisions at The Adelphi #04-49, and retails for S$549. International consumers can get yours at Amazon.
Labels: Audio, Headphones, Review, Tech