Disclaimer: I've never reviewed a pre-release unit before, so keep in mind that based upon further testing, this product could be changed before release. I believe this is the first review in the world of the Sonomax Soundcage V4 earbuds.
Ok, let's get started!
At the Consumer Electronics Show: Unveiled event in Manhattan a couple of weeks ago, a product that fascinated me was shown. It was selected as a CES Innovations 2011 Design and Engineering Award honoree. It's made by Sonomax and they are called the Soundcage (V4) Bass earphones.
The most unique aspect of these earphones is the way they are made. In my JH Audio JH-5M review, you can see how custom in ear headphones have been made in the past. It usually takes weeks for them to be processed after visiting an audiologist who squirts silicone into your ear to make an impression. The final product is great, but the hassle of getting them made and finally delivered leaves much to be desired.
Sonomax took a unique approach to this problem. Instead of using an audiologist to make the ear impression, they designed a very ingenious machine to do it for you. And the best part is that it is not complicated.
Using what appears to be a thick headband, impressions are created in less than five minutes. The system uses a thin silicone membrane attached to what looks similar to most universal in-ear headphones flanges. The headband is put on your head with the tips inserted into your ear. Then, a two-part silicone system is injected behind the membrane, expanding it to fill your ear completely. Remarkably, things slowly get quieter and quieter until you can't hear anything going on. In three minutes, your impressions are complete. No, they are not as intricate as the ones made by an audiologist, but they seem to do the job about as well. Rather than having wet silicone in your ear, you are protected by the silicone membrane.
Sonomax's molding headband and resulting earphones
A sophisticated pressure system allows just enough liquid silicone to fill the membrane to get a good seal without providing too much pressure. It is pre-mixed in the headband and is distributed perfectly. I was astonished at how well this worked.
The impression is then removed from the headband (which is then discarded) with the driver attached. A back plate is attached finally, and your headphones are now done. That's it.
Upon first listening to the headphones, I was less than impressed. I was expecting them to sound like my JH Audio JH-5M custom in-ear monitors. Of course, those cost $499 and these will be sold for $199. Also, I did not realize at first that these were not designed to compete with in-ear monitors but were more bass heavy.
It wasn't until I got back home that I realized that these perfectly fit their design. Using a single dynamic driver per ear unlike the balanced armature design found in the JH Audio IEMs, these babies produce some serious sub-bass.
I had long thought the JH Audio JH-16 Pro were bass heavy. And they are, but not like these bad boys. The Sonomax Soundstage Bass earbuds are truly designed for bass. Another journalist was telling me how disappointed he was in the Soundstage Bass earbuds, but I don't think he was using them correctly. A proper insertion is key to great sound. While I wouldn't say the Soundstage Bass are going to replace my JH-16 Pros for everyday use, they simply are crazy awesome at very low bass. Listening to Yolanda Be Cool's We No Speak Americano (an extremely sub-bass heavy track), it felt like I was literally shaking during the bass line. The bass went through my ears and seemed to rattle my middle ear.
It was mind blowing.
That being said, don't expect the Soundstage Bass to have a flat frequency response. They are somewhat muddy in the mid ranges and don't have a very good treble response either. They are for bassheads and really live up to their name in that respect. Think of them as the Dr. Dre Beats of custom earbuds.
The Sonomax Press Agent said they intend to license this technology for others to use in their own products. I think that's a great idea. It will allow this remarkable technology to reach everyone. It's really a lot easier than the current series of IEM out there and is cheap as well. They are planning on releasing a dual-driver balanced armature system that I hope to be more balanced. I don't listen to very much bass-heavy music, so they would be a better fit for me. I really think that this system paired with some good balanced armature drivers and a great crossover will create something very special. For bass heads however, you are going to LOVE the Sonomax Soundcage Bass custom earbuds.
Some interesting notes: The silicone system is more comfortable than the common acrylic shells. They don't feel cold upon first insertion and do not get tiring. They isolate sound slightly worse, but still very well. Studies have shown that people who listen to custom IEM systems tend to expose their ears to significantly less sound than regular earbuds because of the isolation. Because of this, they're great for the health of your ears.
The Sonomax Soundcage Bass will be released during the Consumer Electronics Show on January 5, 2011. I am hoping they will allow me to have some of their dual driver earbuds molded then for a second review. Be sure to check back during CES as our staff will be covering it in its entirety from video games to gadgets.
The Sonomax Soundcage Bass
The "inside" part of the earphone
Soundcage Bass vs JH Audio JH-16 Pro
The impressed area of the JH-16 Pro is much larger than the Soundcage Bass