e-Q5

Ortofon e-Q8

Released earlier this year, the e-Q8s are a pair of single balanced armature (BA) driver earphones which are the new flagship to Ortofon’s long stagnant IEM lineup.
I purchased mine not too long after their release in April 2014 for 36930 yen (approx. USD 350) and so at the time of writing have approximately six months of experience with them as my daily driver IEMs. I will be providing comparisons to their entry level model, the e-Q5, which I also own.
Tech specs are as follows and are quoted from the product manual:

Frequency Response: 10-20,000Hz
Impedance: 21 ohms +/- 25%
Max input: 20mW
Sensitivity: 115dB +/- 3dB 1KHz/1mW

Package and Contents

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The e-Q8 comes packaged very nicely. The external box is a very shiny silver cardboard, which contains a stiff, felt-lined box, almost like one you might receive from a jewelry store.It is certainly packaged like a premium product.
The contents are of course, the earphones themselves, a selection of different sized silicon tips and single pair of foam tips, spare filters, filter changing tool, carry case and instruction manual.

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I quite like the carry case. It is made of a leather or leather-like material that is pleasant to the touch. While it is only semi-hard and not as sturdy as say, a Westone Monitor Vault, it does provide a decent degree of padding while having a slim and stylish profile, almost like a business card case or small wallet. This makes it ideal for carrying in a bag or pocket.

Design

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The e-Q8s only come in a silver metal housing with rubberised white plastic accents – a minimalistic and in my opinion, very stylish design.Some, however, may prefer something more understated and less bling-tastic: these earphones make a statement. Those who like to keep their earphones in pristine condition will be warned that scratches do show easily on the highly reflective metal housing with use over time.

Their profile is rather long, similar to that of the e-Q7s, so they do stick out a bit from your ear during use. More about this below under the discussion on comfort.

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The cable is sheathed in white nylon from the right angled 3.5mm jack to the rubberised white Y-split,and from there on is your standard rubberised fare. This contrast struck me as an odd design choice and to me, makes the cable feel a little cheap.
In use, the cable is without a doubt the single worst part of this IEM. It tangles and kinks very easily (especially the more rigid nylon-sheathed part), easily picks up noise from your every movement in addition to being microphonic as anything and as if that weren’t enough, it isn’t removable either. Ortofon could really improve their IEMs by allowing users to change the cables out – this would be especially handy in cases where the earphone starts malfunctioning (e.g. losing a channel) due to poor contact between the earphone and the cable, as happened with my old e-Q5s.

Isolation and Comfort

Isolation from the default silicon tips was average. They did form a nice seal in my ear, however, the earphones proved to be somewhat easy to knock out of place due to their long profile, which makes them stick out my ears some distance.
I have also tried the e-Q8s with Sony Noise Isolation tips, which I had trouble fitting over the sound bores without stretching or tearing the tips, hence I decided not to use them. Monster gel tips were the exact opposite, often falling off the earphones from slight bumps or getting stuck in my ear when I tried to remove them. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Sound Quality

In a nutshell, the e-Q8s offer a sound that is fast, energetic and accurate without being nitpicky, anemic or otherwise offensive. I found that while they do well in a majority of genres, they appear to be tuned for a specific taste, as I shall explain below.

Bass

The e-Q8s happily possess both quality and quantity in this department. Bass is quick, snappy and relatively accurate. I say “relatively” as they do have a soft, rounded edge to them; they remind me of the bass on many Sennheiser products such as the IE800. This is not the territory of more analytic cans like the ATH-CK100PROs or K701s where drum beats have a clear, almost palpable outline. Bass hits with significant impact , however it is well controlled and is able to remain distinct from the mids and highs at basically all times. The one, perhaps fatal flaw is that it is (in comparison to other earphones at least) not very well extended, being mostly concentrated in the mid-bass. This was particularly evident when I was A/B testing with my Unique Melody Miracles. The quality of the bass is generally enough to make me forget about this deficiency in most songs, but I would not recommend the e-Q8s to those who really need that sub-bass rumble and/or are partial to electronic genres such as dubstep or house.

In comparison to the e-Q5s: The e-Q8s are head and shoulders above their little brothers in the lower ranges which are quicker, punchier and better separated in addition to being more plentiful. Drum beats are given an extra kick and bass guitars have that visceral growl, which really enhanced my enjoyment of most songs.

Mids

The mids are where it’s at with the e-Q8s. In terms of frequency response, they are quite mid-centric and boy do they get them right. They are particularly adept at rendering female vocals which sound very forward, clear, airy and silky smooth. This is perhaps emphasised by a bump in the upper mid range frequencies. I believe this is at least in part gives the e-Q8s their very energetic, euphoric sound.  Both male and female vocals as well as guitars have a visceral texture to them, which makes them quite engaging.

In comparison to the e-Q5s: The e-Q5s are close in their overall presentation of the midrange, but lack the finesse of the e-Q8s. Vocals lack that airy feel and are less fluid, in addition to not being as prominent.

Highs

The highs on these IEMs are competent, but not their strong suit. If anything I would say that they are there to complement the mids. They provide a sufficient level of sparkle with good, quick decay and never outstep their bounds by being sibilant, tinny or too hot, which I found was what ruined the ATH-CK100oPRO for me. They always retain that smooth quality that makes the e-Q8s easy to listen to for long periods without the sound becoming fatiguing.

 In comparison to the e-Q5s: The e-Q8s deliver a more sparkly and detailed top-end in comparison to the e-Q5s, however it may be the boosted treble that is contributing to the increase in perceived detail.

Staging and Instrument Separation

The soundstage on the e-Q8s is impressively wide, especially considering that they are running only one BA driver in each channel. However, it is not to the point of delivering a true ‘out of head’ experience. Instrument separation and positioning is also excellent, which aids in these earphones being easy to listen to, as it requires very little effort to hear into the mix.

In comparison to the e-Q5: The e-Q8s win out easily here, making the e-Q5s sound muddled and confused in faster songs, where they instruments can tend to sound flat or blended together.

Other Comments

For lack of a better place to put this comment, I will note here that the e-Q8s are quite sensitive and you will need to match them with an appropriate amp (i.e one with low output impedance) to get the most out of them. They sounded flat straight out of my Walkman NW-F806: soundstage was diminished and bass lacked sharpness and impact compared to the Tralucent Audio T1 or Ortofon MHd-Q7 amps.

Closing Comments

I have long had the problem of preferring an agile and energetic sound in my audio gear, which has often led me to gear like the AKG K701s which, although excellent for shorter listening sessions, does get become fatiguing after a while due mainly to its hotter treble. In terms of sound signature alone, the e-Q8s are a great solution to this issue, enabling long, enjoyable listening sessions with their euphoric but smooth sound, with the added benefit of their substantial and punchy lower end. However, they are of course far from perfect. I found the cable to be very disappointing, the earphones came out of my ears easily at times and the poor bass extension was an issue for some genres.

Ortofon know how to make a great looking and great sounding IEM, but as is, their user experience leaves something to be desired. Ah well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad…