Product name: SpinFit 360 and SednaEarfit XELASTEC
Manufacturer: SpinFit - Hong Kong - Azla - Korea
Price: Varies, usually between $20 and $30 USD.
Reviewer: M.L. Gneier - TNT USA
Reviewed: June, 2023
[Italian version here]
I came to the world of IEMs, earbuds (both Bluetooth and wired) through necessity. A position that I held for decades involved riding on a train and the subway. The entire commute took 1.5 hours each way. Now, as I think back on all of those hours spent on the train, let alone those spent underground, I shudder and say, never again.
If it weren't for my iPod, later my iPod touch and finally my iPhone would never have been able to endure it all. The job was no problem but getting there and back would have been intolerable. Like everyone, I started with Apple's own EarPods and when I realized that I needed to have the volume turned up to 11 when I rode the subway I turned to a succession of IEMs. The passive isolation was worth occasionally having to yank them out to speak to someone. I have great respect for long-time IEM users. Those folks have some tough middle ears. I found them quite unpleasant to wear so I wore them only for my commute. Still, they were life and job savers.
I've always loved headphones. As the youngest of eight children I was assured to be the only one in our house who wanted to hear my music. I bought my first pair with Blue Chip Stamps (Google that if you have no idea what they were) and later a pair of BSR headphones from Fedco (again, Google is your friend. Finally, I made the leap to Sennheiser (first their classic HD-414, with their punishing 600 Ohm impedance) and later various models in their 600, 700 and 800 series. All are excellent but I find my first pair, the HD-600, to possess the supreme combination of comfort and musicality. You may experience them very differently however and that gets me to the essence of this article.
This world of IEMs, earbuds and headphones is called the world of personal audio for a good reason. The transducers bringing music to you brain are actually attached to your person. This results in a lot of subjectivity. Personal fit, both physical and musical, is critical. Can we start by getting rid of rid of simplistic ideas like V-Shaped and U-Shaped sounding headphones? The problem with these kinds of generalities, even if they are based on properly executed measurement, is that they are not predictive of in-ear performance. Further, these kinds of measurements suggest that simple equalization would be a ready cure for any headphone you don't care for. Not likely, my friends. Some of the trouble also comes from too many reviewers who understand too little of what they're writing about. A while back I read a review where the writer showed a basic misunderstanding of the difference between acoustic feedback and microphony when writing about how a given pair of IEMs transmitted unwanted sound through its cable. If the reviewer doesn't know the difference what chance does the reader have?
It's important to respect the challenges that are faced by personal audio designers. They engage in the mass production of gear that's meant to be used inside of someone's body. Lots of luck with that. It's amazing they succeed as well as they do. Still, the duty is ours, the listener.
That brings me to the scintillating subject of earbud tips. My preferred ANC Bluetooth earbuds use what the manufacturer gleefully refers to as memory foam tips. I thought about the idea before I used them and was dubious. Sure, I use foam earplugs when I fly and stay in annoyingly noisy hotel rooms. Mine are made by 3M, by the way, and they are fantastic, in my ears anyway. Remember what I said about our subjectivist duty. Still, I figured I'd try them. The results were dreary. Sure, they were somewhat comfy but I could tell that they undermined the buds ANC and probably the music as well. So, I dug through my drawer of unused earbud tips. Yup, I really have enough of them for their own drawer. At least it's a small drawer. The results were immediate improvement. What brought the improvement was better seal.
Think about it. My main listening room speakers move cubic meters of air around so I can hear my music. They also put energy into the walls, the floor and the ceiling. It's pretty impressive when you consider the actual size of the transducers and the volume of the room. My over-ear headphones use 40mm drivers and must control the air within the ear cup and into my ear canal. The drivers in my earbuds are only 6mm in diameter. They only have to control the air volume between the tips and my eardrums. It's easy to see why any air leak is a problem for earbuds at least if you're concerned about how they sound and how well their ANC works.
That gets me back to the clever marketing behind the memory foam tips I mentioned earlier. They work terribly, as I said, and I knew I could improve on what I had on hand so I started ordering new tips. So much for facial symmetricality. I'm pretty sure my right ear canal is shipped differently than my left. In some tips I end up using medium sized tips in my left ear and large in my right. Expensive, but the earbud tip companies just love me. I expect a birthday card in a couple months. I tried two different brands over the last month.
The first is the SednaEarfit XELASTEC. These look cool in the packaging with their transparent material. But, I think these guys need some help when it comes to material science. This clear stuff looks cool when it's new but after a single use they get cloudy and ugly. Worse, even after being carefully cleaned they lose their smoothness and with it some of their seal. I'm hoping this company doesn't use some nasty forever plastic to make these. On the good side, the have a ML size that really does bridge the gap between medium and large. When you consider the obvious profit margin for products like these it's disappointing when all that's offered is small, medium and large.
Next up are the SpinFit CP360. Their material is significantly more compliant and easier to keep clean than the SednaEarfit XELASTEC and forms a much better and more comfortable in-ear seal. Also, the insert (where the tip fits to the earbud) is more stiff and substantial, again, likely an aid to creating a better seal.
Are either good enough? I'm thinking not. I can tell that my earbuds are still being held back. It's unfortunate that the worst performance comes from the ill-conceived memory foam tips provided by the bud's factory. While both the SednaEarfit XELASTEC and SpinFit CP360 bring some improvement neither is good enough. Some might think of these tips as tweaks, but they are much more than that. Ear tips are nothing less than critical components if you want your earbuds or IEMs to work their best. It's not cheap or easy to experiment with them but the (eventual) performance improvement are worth it. And, by the way, as of this writing the best performance comes from some generic tips I found in my drawer full of tips. I have no idea who made them but they are the best so far, in my ears anyway.
I would love to hear from any of you who have tried or know of a better ear tip, especially from a lesser-known company. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you've come across something special.
Thanks for reading my friends.
Listen well but listen happy.
Copyright © 2023 M.L. Gneier - email@example.com - www.tnt-audio.com