ESX900 Impressions: Slamhead’s Delight

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by tommytakis, Aug 18, 2020.

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  1. snevok

    snevok New

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    Agreed, very well thought out review! I’m on board with most of your opinions, especially it not only being for bass-heads and the bass being more similar to a good 2 channel + sub. Also agree with it being an easy pairing in regards to both gear and music, I’m plenty happy listening to whatever genre out of an Apple dongle. Hope your love for it doesn’t dwindle over time :)

    I won’t lie, theres a good chance it could happen haha. You wouldn’t be the first person to sell Auteur and keep ESX, and I doubt you’d be the last.

    The ESX sounds like a ‘fixed’ Auteur to me. It’d probably be somewhat redundant keeping both around since the only thing I liked more about Auteur was midrange timbre.
     
  2. dematted

    dematted Friend

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    Two New Challengers Dethrone an Old Favorite: Borealis, ESX900, Auteur Shootout
    As some of you know, I have been enjoying my ZMF Auteur for a long time now – at least, a long time for me, who tends to go through headphones besides my trusty HD600 fairly quickly. In the course of looking for headphones to serve as a complement for my Auteur, I’ve stumbled across many – the Aeolus, the Verite, JAR HD600, KISS 650, and some vintage Sennheisers. But of all the headphones I’ve heard, the Borealis and the ESX900 are those that really give the Auteur a run for their money. I intend this review to be, first and foremost, a review of the ESX900, which is a headphone I’ve been very lucky to have @E_Schaaf loan to me. But I also want to make good on the promise I made to write a more formal review of the Borealis, especially since my thoughts about it have changed (for the better) since the capacitors on my amp have burned in and I got some Mullards to take the edge off the treble.

    For full transparency, I listened to these three headphones with the following gear:
    • Pi2aes AES into Soekris 2541
    • ZMF Pendant with RCA Clear Top 12Au7, Tungsram EL84’s and Mullard EZ81
    • Cocobolo Auteur on high gain, and Borealis + ESX900 on low gain.
    In this review, I’ll consider each of the different bands of the frequency response, post a spider chart largely dealing with technicalities and comment on some of them that I thought better illuminate the differences between the headphones, and then write about the general presentation of each headphone before concluding by giving my personal verdict. If you want a TLDR, scroll down to the "General Presentation"/"Personal Verdict" section.

    Bass

    These headphones all have vastly different bass presentations with different strengths and weaknesses. For raw bass texture and microdetail, the nod has to go to the Auteur: there is a amazing sense of timbral realism that the Auteur presents in the bass, with microdetails present here that just don’t show up on the other two headphones, though the ESX900 is much closer on this note than the Borealis (indeed, the ESX900 barely lags behind the Auteur here, but it does slightly lag behind to my ears). Speaking of the ESX900, it has the most sub-bass response of any of these three headphones, giving an excellent sense of foundation to the sound. The Borealis, meanwhile, has the least amount of “grip” and follow-through on the bass of all three headphones, and is also the most sub-bass light, giving it a more punchy but also less rumbly, tactile feel than the other two headphones in the bass region.

    Overall, the nod here probably has to go to the ESX900. The Auteur might very well be competitive here, but it has a noticeable lack of macrodynamic slam in the bass, and also feels like it lags behind both the Borealis and the ESX900 in reproducing the transient speed of bass notes and dealing with very quick, stop and start bass sequences. Meanwhile, the Borealis, though it is excellent at what it does well, has a lack of sub-bass extension that ultimately renders its presentation less satisfying than the Auteur for my tastes.

    Verdict: ESX900>>Auteur>Borealis

    Mid-range
    This is probably going to be the most controversial section. These three headphones, once again, have fairly different mid-range presentations. The bump in the middle-mids of the Borealis gives it the most presence, immediacy, and vibrancy, imparting a forwardness to the mid-range that makes it sound more visceral. Clarity, microdynamics, and texture are all excellent here. Though the Borealis does not stray into a particularly “lush” or “rich” sound, I still feel as if vocals have their fundamental notes properly emphasized.

    The Auteur is quite different from the Borealis here: its extended sense of decay lends a certain obliqueness to the sound, making individual notes strike one as less direct and immediate but giving them a tasteful “color” that can improve emotional engagement. The Auteur’s extended sense of decay also occasionally improves microdetail retrieval, but in general, it lacks the mid-range clarity of both the Borealis and the ESX900 and has a tendency to homogenize textures in the mid-range, leading to an impression of less detail, vibrancy, and dynamic contrast. To put it simply, the Auteur often imposes an excessive sense of smoothness on the sound in the mid-range, which runs together instrumental and vocal textures, making everything sound "Same-ish".

    The ESX900’s mid-range presentation reminds me most of that of a souped-up Aeolus. For those of you familiar with SBAF’s favorite amps, the Valhalla 2 is to SW51+ as the Aeolus is to the ESX900. By this, I mean that the ESX900 has the mid-range “Richness” and lower-mid emphasis of the Aeolus, but it does this with a much greater sense of detail and microdynamics in the mid-range. This is undoubtedly not a neutral sound, but at the same time it does not offend me in its coloration in the way that the Verite did. Compared to both the Borealis and Auteur, its true that the ESX900 is less neutral, but it does not sound “muffled” in the upper-mids in a way that is objectionable to me. And compared to the Auteur, the mid-range of the ESX900 sounds cleaner, clearer, and simply more engaging in its portrayal of transients and dynamics.

    Verdict: ESX900 = Borealis >> Auteur

    Treble
    This is the area I’ve had the most trouble with the Borealis on. Initially, I felt there was just a bit too much energy somewhere around 7k. There was a sharpness to the treble there that just didn’t sit right with me. However, as the new Jupiter capacitors have burned in and I’ve swapped a few Mullard tubes, I’ve found that this problem has mostly disappeared. Or rather, the treble on this headphone has gone from a dealbreaker to somewhere in the “acceptable” range. This isn’t to say that the treble on the Borealis doesn’t do some things extra-ordinarily well: the sense of shimmer and sparkle on violins is fantastic, and the level of detail is, for the most part, markedly better than that of the Auteur (though not the ESX900). However, there is still a certain stridency to the treble, as well as a lack of refinement, that can occasionally bother, and for that reason alone I don’t rate its treble particularly highly. It lacks that sense of smoothness and effortlessness that both the ESX900 and the Auteur have, and there occasionally seems to be a certain kind of “Graininess” there.

    As far as the other two headphones, the ESX900 and Auteur both present a good sense of treble detail, but ESX900’s treble just sounds more alive, present, clear, and tangible than that of the Auteur, even though its timbre sounds just a tad less smooth. Meanwhile, the Auteur’s semi-open design gives it more sense of “air” than the ESX900, but this is traded in for a loss of macrodetail and a lack of the transient “bite” that makes many violins so satisfying, as well as the general feeling that the treble is less palpable and immediate. Because of the ESX900's downsloping frequency response, the treble also tends to send a bit more saturated, while the Auteur has a more ethereal presentation, where the treble tends to "Float" more above the rest of the frequency response.

    Verdict: ESX900=>Auteur=>Borealis

    Spider Chart

    Screen Shot 2021-03-29 at 9.05.47 PM.png

    Mid-range Texture: By this, I mean the extent to which each instrument sounds like an actual, well, instrument. The Auteur'slong decay and general smoothness leads to many mid-range elements sounding somewhat homogenized: the distinct timbre of each instrument is not as vibrantly portrayed as it is on both the Borealis and ESX900. In fact, everything sort of sounds "similar-ish" on the Auteur, while on the Borealis and ESX900 each instrument has a much more distinct sense of timbre and texture.

    Mid-range Tonal Balance: This was a hard one for me. Auteur has, to my ears, a perfect mid-range balance, while the other two headphones reviewed here deviate from that in different ways. To my ears, the tonal balance of the ESX900 is more pleasing than that of the Borealis, which has lower-mids that are just slightly bowed (whereas ESX900's middle-mids aren't emphasized like the way those of Bori are). To my ears, ESX900's mid-range timbre is rich and smooth, whereas that of Borealis is slightly lean but very lively. Auteur walks a middle path here, and is the most well-balanced.

    Mid-range Resolve: The Auteur just can't keep up with the other two headphones here. It lags noticeably behind each of them, and the Bori just sounds a tad more resolving than the ESX900, but that very well be its increased clarity/layering and sense of macrodetail.

    Transient Speed: No complaints about the transients of the Borealis or ESX900, though the Auteurs are, as many know, a bit slow and blurry. I didn't really mind them until I heard these two headphones which handle transients much better. The Borealis has a real sense of quickness and snappiness, but rarely sounds unrefined or artificially "Hi-fi" and edgy. The ESX900, meanwhile, strikes me as being a fairly fast headphone but not a particularly -sharp- one. This actually reminded me of the Verite and Aeolus, which both have "rounded" but fast transients. Good, good stuff - if I had to rank "transient quality" instead of "Transient Speed", ESX900 would be at the top.

    Clarity/Layering: Despite its small soundstage, the Borealis sounds noticeably "Blacker" in background and clearer than the other two headphones here, though the ESX900 is much closer behind it.
    General Presentation/Personal Verdict

    These are all excellent headphones, and I would recommend them to most people looking for a headphone that is a step up from the 6x0. However, these headphones do not really sound similar at all. They have vastly different sonic presentations. The Borealis is somewhat recessed in the sub-bass and lower-mids, with bumps around 2k and 7k, giving it an extremely lively, dynamic sound that can sometimes sound just a tad unrefined. However, the timbre with my Pendant is generally spot-on in the bass to mid-range, and its technical abilities mostly best the Auteur, a headphone that is nearly double the price. The ESX900 also bests the Auteur in most respects, though it has a very different sound than the Borealis: it is, generally speaking, much more of a forgiving headphone because of its tonal characteristics, but it manages to accomplish this without sacrificing technicalities. Generally speaking, it is a smoother and richer headphone, but unlike headphones like the Aeolus, it manages to maintain this sense of lushness without a sacrifice in its technical abilities.

    If I could choose two of these three headphones, I'd pick the ESX900 and Borealis - yes, I didn't think I'd be saying that anytime soon, given that I recently had my Borealis up for sale and that I thought the ESX900 would sound much too "dark" for me. If I had to choose only one, I'd be very upset, but I'd probably pick the Borealis even though I feel like the ESX900 is, overall, a slightly superior headphone - this is simply because the ESX900's downslope still strikes me as just a bit too much for my tastes.​
     
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    Last edited: Mar 29, 2021
  3. dematted

    dematted Friend

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    I feel like the above review may not have done justice to the ESX900, so I wanted to write just a few additional notes about this headphone in particular (not comparing it to others, but just noting aspects of the sound that struck out to me):

    -Don't be scared of the downslope! This headphone does sound warm, but it's not -nearly- as dark as the frequency response graphs make it look. Not sure -why- that's the case, but this sounds a lot like an Aeolus with Suede Perforated Universe pads, but with all the inherent limitations of the Aeolus' driver lifted (technicalities a -notable- step up from Auteur in most respects). No part of the frequency response sounds particularly muffled or recessed, something that I -really- did not expect.

    -Timbre is smooth, rich, and altogether easy to get along with. This is, in fact, the most "free of grain" timbre I've ever heard from a dynamic headphone.

    -Compared to the Auteur, things generally sound more alive and visceral. Probably a combination of slightly faster decay, a more lively driver, and better macrodynamics.

    -This headphone, interestingly, didn't "Slam" harder than some of my others. But what it did have was a great sense of sub-bass response and bass that was simultaneously nuanced and impactful.

    -Staging is very, very good for a closed-back headphone, and the layering and sense of clarity is easily above any closed back headphone I've heard.

    -The biggest drawback? Probably just the sense of relaxedness that comes from the tonality. Yeah, it's not as dark as the FR response graphs suggest in my hearing, but it's still definitely a headphone that's on the smoother, more chill side. If you want to rock out, these aren't the headphones to choose. I can imagine someone who likes a more aggressive sound still feeling like these don't really do the trick for them.
     
  4. Jinxy245

    Jinxy245 Vegan Puss

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    I'll have to start with a big thanks to ETA (Evan, Tommy and a 3rd party not on SBAF) for organizing the loaner. There is nothing like getting ears on a pair of cans in your own system. I'll make this just a bunch of bullet points really since so much has already been written (better than I could). I'll gladly elaborate on any points that are too vague.

    My chain was a mix of lossy and lossless files from my HP PC > Bifrost 2 via Unison > ifi Pro iCAN or ZMF Pendant > ESX900. The Pendant traded a bit of slam for some midrange/headstage tube magic giving it a more ethereal feel. Overall and surprisingly I was drawn a bit more to the SS amp i for the majority of my listening.

    Tommy's initial caveat is spot on IMO, not for the neutral headed folk, those looking for bright tuning, or anyone adverse to a strong bass presence.

    Pretty Comfy overall, I don't have weight issues but these seem pretty light. FWIW I find them easier to wear that the 6xx series, mostly the clamp bugs me on those.

    Not a fan of hardwired headphones, but I had no issue in the short time I had them. I don't recall what kind of pads they have, if they're proprietary or what but they definitely do the job. Comfy & tune the sound wonderfully.

    I agree with much of what has been already said, there is bass for days with slam and texture. I had a LOT of fun going through bass tunes hearing what these can do. Not just electronic music either, soundtracks and jazz with stand up bass, Fats Waller organ, Japanese drums all were fantastic. I could listen to this for hours...and often did.

    The bass may be the star of the show, but it's sure not the only player. Mids are lush & engaging, not pushed forward but always intelligible. I never felt wanting with male or female vocal tracks, these are not a one trick pony.

    How they got the treble to behave so well while retaining information I think is is quite an achievement.String plucks have bite, high hats are not muted, and great tone with every instrument. All without ever wincing once.I've never experienced that combination before, for me it's the perfect blend of detail and smooth.

    I don't know if it's because of the ear friendly treble or maybe the infectious and addictive bass, but I did find myself turning up the volume more than with many other headphones. I had to keep reminding myself to turn it down a bit (before turning it up again which is why I had to KEEP reminding myself).

    Detail is quite impressive, every telltale sign I listen for in a recording was there. The best sign is when I don't look for those "detail markers" and just listen to the music, which is what happened more times than not.

    These definitely will not make you forget you're listening to a closed back headphone. The space isn't as cavernous as Verite Closed, nor is the headstage as spacious, but it's still quite good. My preference is for open back headphones, but these would likely be my 1st choice in a closed back headphone if I ever decide to go that route again.

    In the end, I think Evan has a great ear for tuning. I apologize if someone else had a hand in the mod, if I'm not mistaken it was just Evan with F/R guidance from the other co-owners. Either way ETA did a helluva job with this IMO. If you're into this type of tuning, these headphones are a must hear.
     
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  5. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    My thoughts on ESX900

    First off, thanks to Evan for lending out his pair to the wild for us to consume and chew up and regurgitate. He has spent lots of time tuning, using not off-the shelf materials, custom secret sauce ingredients, and thinking outside the box to wrap his head around how this driver, cup, pads, baffle, venting, all work together to get it to do what he wants. Making headphones, or tuning headphones rather, is not like tweaking the crossover, vent port, or box like with speakers. As I have found out and learning through him it is a slow process of trial and error and there are no rules, and your own limitations are the driver itself, the headband, and yourself. And Evan has certainly tried everything with the Foster headphone and then some. And what he has learned is poured into his own venture, ETA, but let's look at the ESX first.

    Equipment used for testing:
    • Theta ProBasic II
    • Liquid Carbon X
    • Gilmore “Dynalo” clone
    • Cayin N3
    The first thing that struck me is how dark they are. Dark, syrupy, bass forward, whatever you want to call it. It is not that the lows dominate and kill the high end, it more feels like someone turned down the treble knob. If you look at the FR, you can see the downward tilt.

    Now in talking with Evan, these are to his liking. They like leaner amps. Certainly the Gilmore clone was a bit too much and switched to the leaner more forward Liquid Carbon X. Much better, and transients come through better. More bite as expected. Still too dark for my tastes.

    Note, I also switched to my Geshelli Enog, just to see how much my thick Theta was contributing. Turns out, not much. I forget that the Theta is warm, but may not be as slammy as the ProPrime with the PCM64. It certainly sounded better on the Theta that has better dynamics.

    So I asked, I took out the single sheet of TP in front of the driver. It is wedged into the ear cup and the thinnest paper (yes, I tore it getting it out. Sorry Evan). That brought the high end to more respectable levels for me, but not all the way. My 650’s still sounded brighter in comparison. Male vocals especially sound darker, snare hits are deeper, and the kick drum from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories sound like they are hitting your chest as if in a club. And clubs usually have some serious pro subs, so that is what you are getting here. Tight bass, and lots of it. It still seems controlled. Yes, these things have bass, bass texture, and the low end bleeds into the low-mids just a touch, but not super annoying levels.

    Mids sound rich as hell. Sounds can still appear out of thin air, which is amazing. It makes heavily distorted guitar sound thunderous and if I was into metal, this would be my go to headphone. On the banging tracks, you want more volume, not less.

    High end has this drop yes, but there is some clarity at the upper registers. None of the annoying scratchy frequencies from 2-6k, but there is just a slight upper lift that still allows cymbal hits to come through. Things still sound natural and very controlled. However, this is also where you can start to hear how damped these headphones are. I sometimes cannot hear the reverb trails and all the plankton and what not.

    I started to get the feeling like I was listening to speakers in a room. Kind of like the NAD headphones, but more detailed, more slam, and yet still with some depth. In speaking with Evan, he says he tunes like he hears his speakers in his room, and so I feel I am not so crazy for thinking this.

    It honestly reminds me of the upper end LCD headphones. I have not heard many of them, only at meets and I just feel as you go up the line they start to have a darker tilt, more control in the upper end, yet some stuff is still there. That is what you are getting here, just with more detail and microdynamics. The macrodynamics are somewhat more controlled. Stuff that is hard to listen to before is a delight - Metallica, Filter, Helmet, Foo Fighters. I even threw some hi-fi stuff at it like Pet Sounds and honestly it took the sharpness of that album and wrapped it in a blanket that you probably could smell the ozone of the tube console. It was like listening to a tube amp on my aunt's The Fisher console.

    I usually don’t mention specific songs in my reviews, but someone asked last time and some may find it helpful.
    • Queens of the Stone Age - “Misfit Love” : this song is infectious. On other headphones that intro keyboard riff that sounds like an alarm when the bass and drums kick in...on other headphones that alarm sound is the loudest thing in the mix - on ESX it is more in in the background rather than the foreground, letting the bass and drums drive the song as it should.
    • Muse, “Hyper Music”. This is a super compressed track that has a bunch of crap going on. Still...ESX has you begging to turn up the volume, and no harshness at all. Any headphone should be scared of any bass pedal with a Big Muff driving the beat - easy to take over the whole track, but somehow everything comes through.

    • Rush, “The Big Money,” this is one of my favorite Rush albums, but man is it 80’s and soaked in plate reverb. Most headphones will sound polite, but the ESX makes it sound more exciting. Geddy Lee’s bass line comes through so crisp and clean it is SO locked in with the kick, and all the ear candy is still there, just subdued.
    These things are easy to drive and hard to drive. Think of them like planars. High damping means you have to have power. Low-impedance means easy to drive. Yes, I tried them off my phone and at full volume was plenty loud - not ear-splitting, but plenty. I just think you are going to get more depth, separation, and details, with a DAC and amp that can deliver. However, a TOTL amp not needed...it ran fantastically off my Liquid Carbon X, and I am sure it would be fine off a Vali 2 or Mani.

    The Gilmore amp might be too low tilted for it (as I mentioned earlier), although it has plenty of power for them. The Liquid Carbon X gave them enough power, albeit probably too much power as even in low gain at 3 o’clock was ear shattering. The Cayin N3 was even fine in medium power mode surprisingly, although that is also a warmer DAP, so not the most perfect match.

    For everyday listening these are great. They may not be for every genre and lovers of Grado better stay away. These are more like speakers in a room.

    One last thing I will say, and this is kind of another discussion, but whenever we are presented with something that does not match the real world sounds, our brains do some some compensation - our brains fill in the gaps. This is why some have brighter rigs than others, because of our references around us. We all have a “brain burn in” of some kind. And mostly with headphones we are bass deficient, our brains fill in the gap. When the high end is reduced it is almost easier for our ears to fill in the the slight loss. It certainly is less fatiguing, meaning, it also causes our brain to be less tired. So today on day 4 I find them less dark than on day 1.

    TLDR; plenty of low end slam and macrodynamics, a pleasure for metal, industrial, dubstep, but may not have the finesse or hi-mids that some desire.

    Note: I have spoken to Evan and he is making some optional changes to the ESX to make the high-mids a bit more forward to move to slightly more neutral with a couple of perforations in the cups.
     
  6. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    [​IMG]

    My time with the ESX900 was spent pairing with the DNA Starlett, McIntosh MHA150, and Holo Audio Spring 2. With both switches off, the Starlett has an output impedance of 3 ohms, which might be a little high for the ESX900, as it was a bit heavier in the mid-bass compared to the MHA150.

    This is easily the darkest headphone I’ve heard, much darker than my LCD-4. I usually prefer more treble and less mid-bass, but I respect what Evan has done to smooth the frequency response and remove any sharpness from the upper registers. I’ve not heard anything quite like the ESX900 before!
     
  7. ThyDanMan99

    ThyDanMan99 New

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    I would like to preface my ESX900 impressions by saying I'm not familiar with how the terminology for audio is supposed to be properly used sometimes. So for that reason alone I will primarily be describing my experience with these headphones based on how they made me feel.

    I would like to thank Evan very much for the ability to use these one of a kind headphones. Throughout my 5 day experience with them, I enjoyed every second. I used the ESX900 with the SW51, Gilmore Mk2 Lite, and a Modi 3. I primarily used the Gilmore because I felt that the slam and impact of the bass was better. The SW51 felt like I needed to turn the knob too much to get the same level of bass that was achieved on the Gilmore. I heard this may be due to the Oi being a little too high on the SW51 for the ESX900 which can give them a kind of rounder sound. Additionally, I did not try the version of the ESX900 that has the perforated ear pads, so I can only give the impressions of the pads that Evan included originally with them.

    Some of the songs that floored me were "bury a friend" by Billie Eilish, "Level" by Rockwell, and pretty much any song by ford. The bass got so exceptionally deep that I could not help but shiver when listening to bury a friend. It was so much fun I couldn't help but smile. "Cooler Than Me" by Lucky Luke made my head feel like it was being inverted. I'm not sure exactly how to describe what that means, but I think it basically felt like my head was being sucked like a vacuum through my ears and then pounded with bass. It was glorious hahaha. I have a pair of TH900s myself, and whenever I would switch between the ESX900s and TH900s, I chose the ESX900s instantly. There was never an EDM song that I listened to that I preferred the original TH900s for. The pads included with the ESX900s also were exceptionally good at noise isolation compared to the original TH900s. However, I did find the TH900 pads slightly more comfortable than the ESX900 pads, but of course there was going to be sacrifices somewhere that had to be made.

    These headphones are personally quite difficult to critique since my preferred style of music is EDM/electronic. I can't say these headphones excelled at classical, but they were sufficient for my needs and of course I could just use my HD 6XXs if I really wanted a better classical listening experience.

    Overall, the only thing I would change is a possibly slight adjustment to treble to make it just a pinch softer/ not as loud if that makes sense. I just really love the bass on these headphones, so I would want even more bass at the cost of slightly less treble, but I don't think most people would prefer that.

    Thanks again Evan for providing these wonderful headphones!
     
  8. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    Thanks very much to Evan for graciously loaning me a pair of ESX900. I only received them today and listened for about 6 hours total but I am so excited about them I had to get some thoughts on paper. I am pretty concrete about my feelings on the headphone though some questions which I will ask at the end remain unanswered for a follow-up review.

    Should also preface my impressions by saying these have a key tweak that I don't think any of the previous posters in this thread got to try (at the time of their post) which involves adding some perforations (hole punches) in the earpads, so let's informally call this version ESX900.1

    [​IMG]

    Evan can confirm if anything else was changed but since he included some micropore tape to block these perforations, I can attest there is a huge difference in the tonal balance and amount of sub-bass energy just by removing the tape. Tape in place (earpad holes covered), the extra bass was fun with pure electronica but was too much for other types of music, to the point where the cans were rattling on my head from the sheer bass output. Some people like this sort of thing so it's cool to have the option but it bothers me personally. Tape removed (earpad holes not covered), these are not a basshead or even bassy headphone by any means and sound extremely balanced, so the rest of my impressions were without the tape.

    [​IMG]

    Finally, all of my listening was with the Helm Bolt ($99 dongle) out of my iPhone or 2008 Mac Pro. Review forthcoming on the Bolt, I'll just say for now it's an extremely synergistic match with the ESX900 and hope other owners can try it to confirm. I also had to listen through a daisy chain of adapters as the ESX cable was fixed with XLR. You can see this very cursed setup below.

    [​IMG]

    OK 4 paragraphs later long story short; I love these, going to buy a pair as soon as possible, best thing I've heard in a long time, enter my top 3 headphones ever (HD600, ESX900, DT48), supersede the hard to obtain Sennheiser HD250 Linear I as my favorite closed-backs.

    Long story long; do you ever lie awake at night wishing you could return to a simpler time, before the disease of audiophilia, where your enjoyment of music and willingness to explore new frontiers of music was not dictated by the obsessive matching of components? Recently, through a journey of self and spiritual enlightenment, I was able to build a system that tickles my funny bone and return to this primeval state of music enjoyment for the sake of music! I became self-aware of how much I was engaging with new music from all eras of history. Even my friends and loved ones began to notice my waning obsessiveness over gear and growing interest in new musical styles and recordings. I consider this the audiophile's version of having your cake and eating it too!

    But assembling the aforementioned system was f'ing hard. And it cost a lot of money, more than any sane person should or would consider spending. In Hong Kong, some audiophiles liken this to 'paying tuition'. I also found that 95% of my music listening was still done on my Vanatoo desktop speakers for convenience sake, I just didn't want to warm up my space heater OTL amp to listen to a handful of songs before bed or something I had heard on the radio earlier that day. I really wanted something that would not sound like shit out of a phone, because I wasn't about to buy a second setup just because I was too lazy to turn on my first!

    Where am I getting at with all this? With the ESX900, you can have your cake and eat it too! This headphone sounds so insanely good running off of a $99 portable dongle that I listened to it for 6 hours today while sitting next to about ~$6000 in source gear in my main rig, and overall felt like I was missing very little. I will elaborate on what was missing later. The ESX900 is a headphone to enjoy music on your own terms, even after being plagued with audiophilia, without fatigue, regardless of the genre or aesthetic of the musical work (or recording). This is the highest possible praise I can think of! Anything after this point will just be flattery.

    Tonally the headphone is tastefully balanced. I do not feel the bass quantity is much greater than HD600. The presence and brilliance regions are subdued compared to neutral but not to the point of recession. The midrange is still very clear and present, electric guitars have acceptable crunch, violins acceptable sheen. In other words the tonal balance is perfectly acceptable for a wide variety of recordings. The sound is very clear, intelligible and articulate. I can hear most if not all of the recording artifacts and raw detail that I can on my big rig. Sometimes, more, because the HD600s low contrast and grainy sound obscures things that the ESX driver renders clearly. Not going to waste more words talking about the bass, mids, highs, soundstage, other crap. Other people can do that as well or better than me. I will attempt to explain why this headphone is special instead.

    In his book 'Sound Quality' (pub. 1998), Anatoly Likhnitsky outlines four levels of auditory perception as it relates to the evaluation of equipment for the reproduction of music. I will not copy his detailed definitions but instead briefly summarize them below in my own words for the purposes of the relative evaluation that follows.

    With those summaries out of the way, let us now try to define what makes the ESX900 so good. For reference, my (vintage and special) HD600 and the $6000 system I built behind it consistently allows enjoyment of music at the 4th level of perception. The ESX900 consistently allows enjoyment of music at the 3rd level. I can listen to modern and old recordings that are special to me and feel a wide variety of emotions, strong enough to cause my eyes to well.

    This is a serious achievement for a headphone that does not require a dedicated and expensive system to make the most out of it.
    For further context, the majority of headphones I have tried completely fail at even the 1st level of perception, let alone later ones. This includes all ZMFs, Focals, Hifimans, Audezes, etc. Shame on them. The $30 Koss KPH30 succeed at giving glimpses of the 3rd, despite technical limitations in the 1st and 2nd.

    So, it turns out the Fostex engineers made a very capable and resolving driver with the TH900 but ultimately failed with its tuning and execution, and for this they should commit seppuku. Evan has managed to save it and turn it into something extremely enjoyable. Since I have only evaluated the ESX900 with the Helm Bolt, I'm not able to fully separate their performance. My solid-state amp is out on loaner currently, and I remain curious how much further things can improve with a new cable. When I get my own pair and answer these questions I'll do a brief follow-up. If anyone has any questions about anything in this review, please ask, I am happy to answer.
     
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    Last edited: May 3, 2021
  9. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Leaving the link to my impression here as well: ETA ESX-900 Measurement, Review, and Discussion

    TL;DR version of the impression: I liked ESX900 with the right tracks. But my musical and sonic preference (both quite casual and crap-oriented) often depart from what the headphone tries to convey in both lows and highs, which eventually gives it a pass.

    I do prefer to have it in a separate thread (as opposed to merging into one) as subjective threads are FWIW functionally and practically not suitable to store measurement data points. And I want to keep my subjective and objective aspects in one place -- long ago I also tried to report each in different threads and I got negative feedback then. Of course I respect whatever admins decide tho.
     
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  10. pure5152

    pure5152 Friend

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    Maybe it may be good to link this impressions thread at the top of the measurements thread you created? Correct me if I understand incorrectly @E_Schaaf, but I feel like the main concern is visibility of impressions, given that the measurements thread has been featured, and this thread is quite old. Putting a link to this thread in the measurements thread and emphasizing all subjective impressions should go here would help solve that concern.

    EDIT: Just noticed @E_Schaaf posted in the other thread. Point still stands though that it may be a good idea to put a very-visible link at the top post @Vtory
     
  11. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    [​IMG]

    this is a follow-up to my initial ESX900 review earlier in this thread that was based on a loaner pair. I have now had my own pair of ESX for two months, and I love them to bits. they are the best headphone experience I have yet had, aside from my HD600 powered by a nuclear reactor chain. my personal pair sounds even better than the loaner did, as I had them hardwired with a cable from Art Cables in Moscow (the loaner pair had a cheap amazon cable), and they have the stock Fostex cups.

    while my initial review was based on pairing the ESX with the Helm Bolt dongle, I have now had a chance to listen to them from a variety of sources. first up I plugged them into my desktop amp and while they certainly scaled a bit, I quickly realized I liked listening to them more from modest sources such as the headphone jack of a 2009 Mac Mini. my favorite pairing so far is with a 5th gen iPod. this is awesome not just because you don't need to be tied to a specific chain, but you can also appreciate an inherent increase in musical clarity with a very short signal path.

    [​IMG]

    the ability to perform and even outperform from modest sources is a big selling point of the ESX. the TH900 driver is just insanely good and capable. they have presence and colorful tone, you do not get the feeling that sounds are emerging from a fog with gray/blurred dynamic contrast like many fixed suspension dynamic drivers. at the same time the ESX does not have the ornate and unnatural transient characteristic of the Focal Utopias. intelligibility is as good as anything I have tried. the bass can be ridiculous if you want it to be but I asked Ev to tune my pair to be flatter. aside from an addicting biocellulose timbre, what they do so well for me are sensations of tactility and sonic weight which give pop/rock anthems like the song below the emotional impact I'm looking for.



    what else? despite the tactility, attacks are slightly rounded. this is a plus and a minus as other than the downslope frequency response it is the primary reason the headphone is so eminently listenable and non-fatiguing. on the other hand you may feel the sound gets soggy during complex passages with some sources. I know this feature can be alleviated to a degree via tuning, but 'listenability' will take a hit, so probably not worthwhile to force the driver/enclosure to do something it shouldn't.

    I still get goosebumps listening to these out of an iPod, which I emphasize again is the highest praise I can give anything. I am very happy to own these and don't see myself ever selling them. the cherry on top is that Ev can tune these within a margin to your preferences, although I strongly feel what is now considered 'stock' will be palatable to a wide audience. the search for the ultimate Tegan&Sara headphone is over. that's all I wanted to say.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 10, 2021
  12. FishCommander

    FishCommander New

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    I wanted to try to give some brief impressions of my time with K4's ESX900.1 and the iPod 5.5. :)

    For context I haven't heard any other ESX900 or even the stock Fostex headphone.
    My headphone references are BS HD600 & HD800sdr.

    I don't want to repeat everything K4 said as I agree with his assessment for the most part. I was impressed that with every source I plugged the ESX900.1 sounded great. I was easily able to just allow myself to enjoy what I was listening and not feel like I was evaluating a headphone. The ESX being easy to drive will allow for a lot of flexibility and choices. Listen how you want! ;)

    The tuning that Evan did for these headphones in particular, I think, is fantastic. Bass authority is much better than my 600 although, not overwhelming at all. Treble extension is less so than the 600. I might have to disagree with K4 that the 'stock' tuning would be to more peoples preferences. I don't know, I certainly like these a lot and I don't have an itch for more bass. Everyone has their preference.

    Onto the iPod.

    I listened to different genre's of music that were provided on the iPod (Metallica, Radiohead, Sinead O'Connor, Mezzanine, Wolf Alice, Garbage, The Doors). The iPod plus 900.1 is a fantastic match. Yeah, seriously! To my ear the iPod is a touch on the warm side although, as a portable device, I would be happy with it myself.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Just for fun I hooked up the iPod into my Elekit TU8500 and then onto one of two headphone amps (Zdt Jr & Gilmore lite mk2 golden ref). Everything improved how I imagined. Better staging depth and width, more punch, and some of the characteristics of each amp.

    Thanks again @k4rstar for the opportunity to try these out!
    Congrats to @E_Schaaf I think this 900.1 is a great mod, I enjoyed it!
     
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    Last edited: Aug 24, 2021
  13. Gazny

    Gazny MOT: ETA Audio

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    I want to thank @k4rstar for this loaner.

    Intro

    I wanted to original write something witty and funny sort of a meta review but decided against it due to it being funnier in my head.
    sometimes I want to get to the point when writing a review, other times I want to impersonate others writing style, and really show a unique take but it isn't so I wont.
    Many times we will find ourselves, stuck between two choices, doing the right thing and doing the fun thing. Now for me I always love a good laugh, maybe even a bit of spice in my life. You can see here for my hot sauce reviews, and here for some of my funny posts in other threads.

    ESX is a headphone that has a legacy the wood finish is absolutely beautiful.
    This in this glassing and solid feeling Urushi style in red.

    General impressions

    I forgot what I was even writing about, but I think it was how much I enjoyed the ESX.
    The sound signature of the ESX would be tasteful upper bass with a nice hefty sub bass, it wont seem like everything is bass pouring into the Mariana Trench, and it might have a slight roll off somewhere, but it sounds full and pleasing, maybe some h2 or 3 due to the bio-dyna driver stated earlier. It is slightly thick sounding and gives some heft to the mind rage but can lack some of the density in the upper mid-range into the treble region. It isn't the end of the world for some recordings it is superb, screeching female vocals can be perfect.

    Very good with pop and electronic, good sense of space, background being closed is great. Gives it nice layering otherwise destroyed by background noise. It would make all those deafening loud listeners proud. Being able to sound good on just about anything is huge. No pentode amp needed here, was a big much with the Asgard 2, way too much slam for me tho it is a slam heads delight. Reacts well enough to just about everything while still able to maintain its composure. Biodyna is pretty awesome, no idea why people skip over it so much. While it wont resolve every detail its flaws have huge positives, timbre and decay are exceptional. Maybe it is the cups giving that little bit of standing wave pressure in the lower octaves.

    Bass response is good and sometimes too much for me or maybe it is just Sennheiser Stockholm syndrome. Nice enough for pop punk with female leads and exceptional for EDM/IDM. Other times it comes in like a tsunami wave, crashing down and engulfing you in sonic vibrations. Not that it is grimy water, it is crystal clear, and you can still see the sun sinning through the water. Giving off prismatic shadows as the tide washes over.

    It has some things I don't like either, but it is pretty well crafted. Great for small ears, at least I believe mine to be big. Touching the inner cover for the pads, possible rips the the inner dampening mastering. At times I felt as if hi-hats lacked a bit of that crashing sound, not that it was a a deal breaker. I did feel at times maybe some of the treble or upper mids might be over compensated for. Light feeling in some areas, not giving me the same satisfaction as I get throughout the spectrum. Also it might have lacked some air but I will chalk that up to being my source, and really it did not take away from my enjoyment.
    Looking at the graphs and trying to put them in my own words. I feel this headphone has to lose some H2 or H3 in the mid and treble regions. I just can't escape the feeling of a hollow sound compared to the bass region sound full and lively. maybe the dip in the graph is a indication of this, vs stock it is a huge difference objectively of course. Additionally I want to say the bass feels much bigger than the graph would suggest, maybe 3-6 db above what is measure is my perception. still very good, really I am over stating this. The search for a headphone with near life like cymbals will remain a dream. Anyone who has heard live music or worked with a band that the drums can be deafening, here it is a bit muted, maybe distant sounding 10 feet behind the kick drum? if I was to put it in a live context it sounds about 100 feet away and a comfortable distance being 20 feet, 5 feet being ear splitting levels.
    Music

    Here are a list of songs I had listened to during the tour generated at random.
    https://songwhip.com/marty-robbins/the-masters-call
    • This song just gave me chills
    https://songwhip.com/sonic-youth/my-friend-goo
    • Incredible, I should have gotten more time with this album
    https://songwhip.com/radiohead/identikit
    https://songwhip.com/vikingur-olafs...der-sunde-bwv-54-transcr-by-vikingur-olafsson
    • superb
    https://songwhip.com/joe-henderson/fire
    • Alice Coltrane is an amazing artist, 2nd track on random from the ipod.
    https://songwhip.com/metallica/sad-but-true
    • The drums felt half way there, lacking a bit of that crash and sizzle I would love to hear
    https://songwhip.com/the-smiths/this-charming-man2008
    • Did I mention I loved male vocals on these?
    https://songwhip.com/jamespants/were-through
    • One of the key tracks to demonstrate what the ESX can do
    https://songwhip.com/jamie-xx/gosh
    • sound Tsunami

    Final statement
    Overall I would say the the ESX is a headphone for those who love deep bass, splash of vocals, and have a slight treble sensitivity. While looking for something on the go. As in being easy to drive and bringing its own musicality to recordings. More power, bigger dynamics. Noisy source, no problem it won't give you issues.

    The ESX excels where other headphones fall flat. It just sounds good no matter what you throw at it.
     
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    Last edited: Sep 14, 2021
  14. Mystic

    Mystic Mystique's Spiritual Advisor

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    Forgot to post these impressions I wrote last month.

    Big shoutout and thanks to @k4rstar for providing his personal pair of headphones for this loaner.


    ESX900 loaner Impressions

    Gear: Bifrost 2, Studio B, ZMF Auteur


    Forward:
    I was lucky enough to get these very shortly after my time with the other ETA headphone, the ETA Gen G. I’ll say upfront that both of these were utterly fantastic. Up there with some of the best dynamics I’ve heard.

    Build/comfort:

    This is the first Fostex variant headphone I’ve used. The red cups are beautiful and the build seems pretty sturdy. There is an aftermarket wrap around the headband and the overall headphone is light weight and comfortable. Fit is a little loose so proper head-banging must be done carefully.

    Sound comparisons:

    Vs Gen G:
    I preferred the ESX900. The bass was toned down a bit in quantity but had a more firm, tight hold of the bass comparatively. Mids were a bit more spacious and clear. I did prefer the treble presentation on the Gen G however. The ESX900 can be a bit prickly in the highs depending on what your listening too. Soundstage was a bit wider on the ESX900, about the same depth. Imaging a bit more precise as well. Small details came through a bit more clearly on the ESX900. Winner: ESX900.

    Vs ZMF Auteur:
    Bass is vastly superior. A little more quantity on the ESX900 and vastly better quality. The ESX900 can SLAM and just hits with more texture and control than the Autuer. The ESX900 is hands down my favorite bass I’ve ever heard from any headphone. No doubt those TH900 drivers are putting in work. Mids I still have a preference for my Auteur. There is just this natural space and tone that I’ve never heard rendered so beautifully on another headphone. It likely has something to do with the resonance of the wood, or some other way the driver is interacting with the wood. Treble is more precise and detailed on the ESX900, however I prefer the Autuer here solely on the fact it’s much easier listening. Soundstaging is little larger on the Auteur. Imaging a bit more clear and precise on the ESX900. Micro dynamics are better on the ESX900. I would be very hard pressed to pick a favorite here which is saying a lot as I love my Auteur.

    Conclusion:
    I love these headphones. I want a pair for myself, but the th900 prices have creeped up a lot over the years so I’ll have to think a little more about it. I will really miss the bass on these. It’s addicting. These are very easy to drive too. They really opened up on my Studio B but they sounded great even out of the iPod Classic that was included with the loaner.

    Two ETA headphones demoed now and both have seriously impressed. It’s awesome we got another set of good ears making dynamic headphones that can join the ranks of ZMF and Focal for great sound.
     
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  15. Inoculator

    Inoculator Friend

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    I recently wrote up impressions of the ETA Genesis G, but at the same time was having my first go with the ESX900 so included some impressions of both headphones. Thought it was worth linking those impressions here, but also providing a brief update after more time/experimenting with these headphones. Link to those impressions: ETA Genesis-G/P Impressions Thread

    The relevant section on the ESX900 from that review

    I wanted to follow-up here, as some of my impressions have changed (for the better), since removing the tape over the vent holes in the ear pads. Turns out I should have done this before diving in on writing up impressions because I adore these headphones now. I did not find that it seemed to have any significant reduction in bass quantity, the lush/full/textured satisfying bass I talk about in my initial impressions is still there. I did find that getting a good seal was more important, as the bass would disappear if I did not have a decent seal (long hair problems). What removing the tape solved was the bleeding of bass into the mids I noted in my impressions. I talked about how sometimes I felt the bass was drowning other stuff out, and how I felt really aware of the downsloping frequency response. Once I got that tape off, all of that vanished for me, and really these just clicked together for me.

    I also noted how maybe this driver was just not for me. Those concerns largely vanished as well, as some of the muffled/restraint characters I noted seemed gone once these vent holes were untaped and the bass boost was localized deeper. Largely listened to these via the Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Gold, and I think I need to eat crow on saying this driver lacks technical ability or "Hi-fi"-ness.

    I just read back through some of the recent impressions that talk about the ESX 900 making the Auteur redundant in their collection, I get that now. It still doesn't quite dethrone the Auteur for me as I think the midrange engagement from the Auteur is still just a tad better and would have me still reaching for the Auteur with most of the stuff I listen to/my preferences, at least when I am sitting at my main rig. What is does do though is bring the performance of the ESX900 up closer to the Genesis. (Both of which I note in my GenG review sound more technically proficient than the Auteur) Pros in favor of the ESX900 is the ESX900 is more forgiving of a wider variety of music, and have a really unique engagement factor that makes you want to grab for them. Both have a great tone, but I think the ESX900 with its slightly more relaxed midrange/top end along with more bass slam is more up my alley at least for long listening sessions. Gensis is for sure the more discerning/revealing headphone though. I guess it is truly a "why not both?" scenario.
     

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