Sonomax PCS-250 Sound Quality
Of course, next after comfort when considering earbuds is sound quality. The Sonomax PCS-250s are spec'ed from 18Hz to 16kHz. They have two drivers in each earbud and a crossover to balance out the frequency response. I first used Rives Audio Test CD 2 to try out the frequency response claims. I found that the 16kHz claim was accurate. The 20Hz tone came through nice and clear as did the 25Hz tone.
In playback situations, I found that, as I mentioned, having thePCS -250 Sculpted eers correctly inserted was imperative to achieving good performance. When listening to Junior B on the eye album by Yello, having the PSC-250s correctly placed was the difference between great bass and no bass. It was that dramatic. In fact, you can pretty much kiss any sort of decent sound quality goodbye if the eers are not firmly inserted. If there was a break in the seal, much of the high end and all of the bass would leak out. With them correctly inserted, the Sonomax PSC-250 Sculpted eers bass sounded as good, if not better, than my Denon AH-D1000 headphones.
A/B testing in-ear molded headphones like the Sonomax PCS-250s is an exercise in frustration. You can go from the Sonomax to separate headphones but going back again just isn't feasible. I tested them with the Denon AH-D1000 headphones which, when reviewed, retailed for about 1/2 the price of the PCS-250s. Of course, the thing to remember is that they are completely different animals with different uses. I'd never consider taking the Denon's to the gym.
That said, the overall presentation of the Sonomax PCS-250s was mush more lush (I hate that I just used that word, but it fits) than the Denons. The Denons sounded like they were more reserved overall with the Sonomax eers provided a much fuller midrange and an overall richer sound. Now it may be that the Sonomax had a more pronounced response through the midrange (I found Maggie Reilly's vocals on "Close Your Eyes" to be particularly forward and intense in comparison with the Denon's which sounded like she was singing at me from the back wall of a concert hall). Both headphones, to me, sounded very good though the Sonomax were definitely a step above the Denon's. While I've long loved the Denon's, the eers just sounded much fuller and more engaging. The overall presentation was more dynamic and, dare I say it, dramatic than the Denon's, which sounded much more sterile in comparison.
Unlike other, cheaper, earbuds, I didn't find the Sonomax PCS-250s to be fatiguing in the least. The top end was very clear and not at all shrill. Even at high volumes, the Sculpted eers headphones were a joy. Demanding material like "Planet Dada" from Yello with tons of electronic pops and clicks didn't become fatiguing or painful in their presentation (or, at least, not any more so that the artist intended). Even lower quality MP3s sounded fine, probably due to a bit of a roll-off on the top end. This really means that the eers are great all-around headphones for all sorts of music and file compression types.
The only downside to the overall excellent sound quality was the need for the perfect fit. After a while of wearing them, I didn't have much to worry about but, at first, it took a while for the eers to "warm up" and fit right in my ear. And even then, if I turned my head in a certain way (and looked up for some reason), they tended to loosen up and I would start to lose bass. Usually, once I turned back forward, they'd re-seat but sometimes I'd have to push on them to get them back in. Now, this may be a problem with the original molding or it may be just the way molded earbuds are. Either way, it was a minor annoyance.
I ended up taking the Sonomax PCS-250 Sculpted eers to the climbing gym to try them out in a loud, noisy, and, admittedly, smelly environment. I would rarely recommend climbing with headphones in but I wanted to see how they would work. In preparation, I wore the headphones for an hour beforehand to make sure they were warmed up. As I found in my listening tests, movement was an issue for performance. As I climbed, I could feel the eers moving around and occasionally losing that perfect fit. As I moved back, they'd re-seat and things would sound better.
But then I started to really think about he use of the eers. Would I consider taking any of my other headphones to the gym? Certainly not the on/over ear ones. They'd surely fall off with sudden movements not to mention the sweat factor. Even the normal earbuds that hang from your ears would be too likely to dislodge. With the earhook, I had little to worry about no matter what happened. On top of that, they sounded pretty awesome at home when I could make sure they were seated properly. So I ended up with a set of headphones that would work great in a gym (where sound quality isn't so important) plus could double as a high-end headphone for the home. Suddenly that $300 price tag was starting to make more sense.
The only disappointment on the sound quality front was the imaging. For the price increase over my reference models, the Sonomax eers didn't sound any better. I expected them to exceed my other headphones on every category. Here, they just tied.
I only really have two suggestions for Sonomax. I really, REALLY, wish the molded part of the earbud was separate from the driver unit. This would mean that you'd go through the molding process and then install the molds on the drivers (like a normal earbud with multiple tips). This would allow Sonomax to include more than one set of molds so that you can take another shot at molding them if you felt you made a mistake. Also, the way they are designed, the Sonomax eers are really single user earphones. While I appreciate I now have a built-in reason to tell my kids that I can't share my $300 earbuds with them, my wife would have liked to have a chance to test them out (and use them when she is working out).
The standard length of cord for any earphone seems to be 1.3 meters (50 inches). Sonomax adheres to that standard. I just wish someone would change that to something a bit longer. The cable is just long enough for me to slip the phone into my front pocket while in use but not long enough for it to be in my back (or in the side pocket on a pair of cargo pants). Surely, a few extra inches wouldn't hurt? I'm also partial to running the cable down my back (rather than hanging from my front). This keeps them out of the way when I'm cooking... I mean pumping iron. With the cable running down my back, no pocket is close enough.
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