It was a muggy April evening when I put on the Cowon EH2 to hear their sound for the first time. I had heard Arcade Fire’s Reflektor numerous times over the past few months, but it still felt like I was hearing it for the first time. The moment the song hit my eardrums this time, it seemed to turned from dusky twilight to as bright as the break of dawn. It had started off well, but I was eager to see if the EH2 can keep it up throughout my usage.
Design and features
The EH2 looks just like any other IEM in the market, which is to say, it won’t stand out from the crowd at first glance, but its build quality is outstanding.
You can throw the EH2 in your bag, dump it in with other loose cables and pretty much ill-treat it like you would any cheap pair. They handle brilliantly, tangling very rarely, and even then coming undone easily. There’s never a feeling that the cord will snap, if you apply too much pressure when getting them out.
We got the model which has bright red cord. It’s a great colour to be honest and doesn’t look as gaudy as it may in the box. The 1.2m cord features two materials. The bottom part which ends in the 3.5mm jack has a braided covering, the kind you see on bungee cords. It’s stretchy and at the same time, lends enough weight to keep the cord from swaying in gentle breeze. Above the small metal and rubber cylinder which marks the split, the cord is made of rubber or what Cowon calls balanced type, but it’s not as flimsy as it may look at first glance.
When you first hold the earphones, the weight is noticeable. The EH2 is very top-heavy; this is thanks to the stainless steel construction of the housing. Sometimes it does feel that the earphones will fall out of your canal, especially since they sit rather shallow. This feeling disappears after a day or two with the EH2. To Cowon’s credit, though, ear fatigue is minimal, which is surprising considering the weight. Of course, having the right tips also helps in comfort.
Speaking of tips, Cowon has packed a whole bunch into the box, giving nearly all ear types and all kinds of listeners an option. There are four overall sizes for the earcaps and two variants in each of them. The ones which have a sponge layer between the inner and outer rubber layers are the noise isolation caps, and work excellently. Sadly, the package didn’t include foam tips, though Cowon’s website promises them in the box.
If there's one niggling problem and a possible worry for the EH2, it's the 3.5mm jack. From the base to the tip, the jack is quite tall, which means it sticks out awkwardly when plugged into a smartphone. We would have preferred an L-type connector, as they tend to be more sturdy when used with phones.
The package itself is big, and features the EH2, a necklace to keep them secure around your neck, a carry pouch and a brush to clean out the dust filter. There’s also a 6.3mm adaptor if you want to connect the EH2 to an amp or a professional setup.
The highlight of the EH2 is of course is the dual-driver setup. It uses a Dynamic Driver as well as a Balanced Armature Driver for maximum fidelity. The rated power is 3mW, while the maximum power is 100mW. You also get a pretty wide frequency range of 20Hz to 22KHz, along with a 105dB sensitivity rating.
Performance and audio quality
Over the next week or so after my first time with the EH2, I experienced the same bright sound nearly each time I used them. Twangy Spanish guitars in the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack were piped through just as clearly and crisp as any reverb-laden percussion-heavy MIA track. I never came across any sort of sound that the EH2 didn’t reproduce just as it was intended to, not a song that didn’t sound better with the Cowon EH2 than through my stock pair.
Audiophiles will be right at home with this pair. The soundstage of the EH2 beats nearly anything else I have experienced. This is thanks to the balanced armature and dynamic driver setup, which makes the pair highly sensitive. The placement of the earphones in your ear also helps. The EH2 sits shallow in your ear, which adds to the impressiveness of the scale, without much of the big 'head sound' you get from sealed earphones.
I usually tinker around with the equalizer on Poweramp on my Nexus 4, when trying on new earphones, but the EH2 sounded perfect just like that, without any tweaking. Having said that they are highly sensitive to even the lightest of fiddling around on the equaliser, so you have to be quite precise with your modifications. Crank up the bass through the EQ and the EH2 delivers the thump, without bottoming out.
With such great bass performance, we were worried that the drivers might be shy when delivering mids or high-range. That was entirely unnecessary, though, as the EH2 shows its repertoire with similar brilliant delivery. The mids are well-defined, which we thought would be one of the weak points in the EH2. We expected a bloated sound where the mids meet the bass, but the EH2 was scintillating, sorting out the frequencies with great athleticism. The highs were similarly great; no shrillness was apparent at high volumes. All musical instruments are piped through with great detail.
The EH2 shows supreme flexibility, when it comes to switching from a bass-heavy sound to softer numbers. The vocals also sound extremely clear and crisp, not suffering from any peak noises. This is greatly evidenced when listening to vocal-driven tracks such as a Bob Dylan number or a Ray Lamontagne piece. Vocal performance is equally good, when watching a movie or TV show on your mobile device. Throw on a familiar 1080p video file on your PC, and you will start hearing sounds you never knew existed. The EH2 provided these moments of genuine delight quite a lot during my brief time with it.
A word about the tips: The noise-isolation tips tend to make music sound bigger and grander in your head, sort of like a chapel with a high ceiling. This can be easily mitigated with some EQ tweaking, though for everyday use, we suggest the non-noise isolation tips. These are generally better for a random listening session, since they are more faithful to the original sound.
Even with the volume not turned up high, we could block out noise well and there was no audio bleeding when the volume was full blast. It’s another notch in Cowon’s cap, as far as seal and build is concerned.
Price in India and verdict
At an MRP of Rs 15,000, the EH2 definitely has a price tag matching its stellar audio chops. It’s expensive, but totally worth the premium, thanks to the brilliant build quality, the well-endowed retail package and finally, but most importantly, the absolutely stunning performance for all usage scenarios. You can find the EH2 in the market for around Rs 14,000, which still puts it well ahead of other dual driver competition such as the Sony XBA-H1, which is available for half the price, but it also doesn’t have the same build quality, from the looks of it.
As someone averse to the gaze of the stranger, the EH2 did not stick out in the crowd and it allows you to truly enjoy your music, without any of the other distractions. I would like to take another moment to talk about how great it feels when earphones allow you a moment of peace in the hustle-bustle of everyday life. For the eight days that I used the EH2 I wasn’t bothered about the cacophony of the vehicles on the road or the loud beckon of street hawkers, because it was all kept out of my ears by a pair of great earphones.
The EH2 is not meant for the masses and caters to a niche segment of the well-off audiophile. Yes, the price is a huge barrier, but if you can afford it, we cannot recommend this pair enough.
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