Musical Fidelity EB-50 In-ear Monitor earphones

A brand more famous for full size electronics enters the earphone market- can they win over Ed Selley?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

2

Highly Recommended
Musical Fidelity EB-50 In-ear Monitor earphones
SRP: £150.00

Introduction

The massive growth in the market for full size and in-ear headphones continues to bring new arrivals to the party including brands with no prior history in the category. Of the latest crop of new arrivals, Musical Fidelity has a more credible reason to make a move into earphones than many of the other brands making the move. As well as a huge range of amplifiers- some of which boast power outputs in the “steady now” category- CD players and DAC’s, they have consistently produced some excellent headphone amplifiers. Anyone selecting the EB-50 will at least have a choice of items to connect it to from the same brand.

Of course, this doesn’t reduce the sheer number of competitors that the EB-50 now faces in this category. The £150 price point that the Musical Fidelity sits at is contested by the more established in ear manufacturers and many of the newcomers as well. One area at least where Musical Fidelity seems to be off to an excellent start is that the EB-50 is already available through a large number of dealers so you shouldn’t have any difficulty picking a pair up. Now all we have to establish is whether you should or not!

Design

The EB-50 is a balanced armature in-ear monitor that sits in the ear canal and uses a selection of rubber domes to provide a seal against the outside world. This seal is absolutely vital to the performance of an earphone of this type and here the Musical Fidelity is off to an excellent start. Supplied with a pair of EB-50’s are no less than seven different rubber dome sizes as well as double and triple “tree” type fittings. This gives the EB-50 a huge advantage over the bulk of the competition as you will be in possession of a very strange pair of ear canals indeed if you can’t get a good fitment with the supplied choices.

Musical Fidelity EB-50

The supplied goodies don’t end there either. As well as the multiple domes (supplied in a hard box to try and prevent you from losing them), you are also supplied with a leather carry pouch a cleaning cloth and something I’ve not encountered before with in-ears. This is a pair of clip mounts that allow the EB-50 to be worn as a structured over ear. This is great news for people whose idea of exercise is a little more involved than walking to the off license. The end result is that the EB-50 is the best specified earphone that I have seen at or anywhere near the price.

The EB-50 is a very distinctive looking device. Trying to impart “brand identity” to something as small as a pair of earphones is no easy task but Musical Fidelity has achieved this rather more successfully than most. Each housing is a metal “drum” tapering to the armature tube where the rubber dome is fitted. Rather than do anything so mundane as mark the housings as left or right, the EB-50 has a quartet of coloured screws on the rear- blue for left and red for right. The detailing on the metalwork is excellent and up to the standard of the incredibly substantial Atomic Floyd SuperDarts. The effect is extremely distinctive and identifiably Musical Fidelity.

Musical Fidelity EB-50

The design isn’t perfect though. The point where the cable meets the housing is effectively a right angle so could well prove prone to stress over time and is not as good as the SuperDarts that permit a greater degree of rotation or the very clever rotating cuff used by Shure. The terminal for the jack is also an angled type and is easier to snag on the side of a pocket or bag when removing or replacing the player than a straight line type. The cord is black which is rather more subtle than the SuperDarts but doesn’t have the Kevlar coating that the Atomic Floyd does that greatly reduces tangling when unravelling them from their pouch. A nice touch that is present on the cabling though is the sliding metal housing that adjusts the point where the cable divides.

The result is an earphone that is a good balance visually between looking special and looking subtle. The Musical Fidelity doesn’t have quite the same unobtrusive appearance as the Grado GR8- where only true anoraks will have any idea what they are- and the SuperDarts that are altogether more visually sudden. The EB-50 manages to feel special without being too visually obtrusive.

Musical Fidelity EB-50

Internally the EB-50 uses a single balanced armature a side to produce a full range signal. Company founder and owner Antony Michaelson is slightly cagey about the internal design of the EB-50 but it is fair to say that this is a fairly large enclosure for a single armature and would suggest that there is enough internal space for a small transmission line or some other form of bass augmentation.

This should help the EB-50 to have a more effective low end response than might be the case with a smaller housing but at the same time allow the EB-50 to achieve the main benefit of having a single driver a side which is great top to bottom cohesion. My two previous in-ear reviews, the Grado GR8 and the Atomic Floyd SuperDarts have gone about achieving this is two different ways. The Grado made use of clever and expensive moving armatures while the Atomic Floyd mated a single pair of balanced armatures (like the Musical Fidelity) to a pair of conventional pair of dynamic drivers to augment the bass in a relatively small enclosure.

The Musical Fidelity is essentially the “purest” form of in-ear monitor and if the work has been done correctly, there should be enough bass response to make it work well. The huge choice of rubber domes ensures the fitment is almost certainly going to be good enough so the EB-50 is halfway there before you put a signal through them.

The Musical Fidelity has a cord mic fitted which has a single button remote control that will allow you stop or start the track you are listening to on an iPhone or iPod. Unlike many rivals it doesn’t have a volume control on the remote so you will need to have the device it is connected to more to hand than might otherwise be the case. The cord mic is mounted a little lower than is often the case which means it is slightly further from the mouth but equally, far less likely to snag on clothing when you move your head.

Musical Fidelity EB-50

Setup

In the interests of fairness, the EB-50 went through a very similar listening program to the other in ear monitors that have passed through my hands. They were used with my iPhone 4 at home and on the move and on trains and tubes. At home, they were used with my Lenovo ThinkPad both via the headphone socket and with a Furutech ADL Cruise USB headphone amplifier. I also used the EB-50 with a Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus acting as a headphone amplifier.

Material used included lossless and high resolution FLAC via Songbird, Spotify and various internet radio services (including the new, free and highly recommended BBC iPlayer Radio ap). Some heavily compressed material was also used including some YouTube videos and low bitrate internet radio stations.

Listening

The review pair of EB-50’s were brand new on arrival so were left to run for a bit before any serious listening. After this was done, I started off with some high resolution audio in the form of the latest Muse album. This 24/96kHz copy of The Second Law came from the German site HighResAudio and anyone who is a bit disappointed with the CD copy and who has the wherewithal to replay it, should check it out.

Musical Fidelity EB-50

The first impression that the EB-50 leaves is not a sonic one but positive nonetheless. The Musical Fidelity is astonishingly sensitive. Technically, all balanced armature designs should be reasonably easy to drive but the Musical Fidelity is extraordinary even by these standards. When connected to the ThinkPad, a perfectly high listening level was achieved with a volume setting of 1 (on a level that goes up to 25!) and by the time you reached the dizzy height of 5 or 6 it is absolutely deafening. If you have an older Apple device with a less beefy headphone amplifier than the modern units, this probably is the most suitable pair of balanced armature designs out there.

Once you have adjusted your volume levels to compensate, the EB-50 rewards with an impressive performance. The Muse album is presented in an open and extremely engaging way. Vocals are rich and detailed and manage to stay cohesively part of the whole performance but never overwhelmed by what is happening behind them. Separation in general is superb, the EB-50’s offer an exceptional insight into music and manage to do this without tearing less recorded material to pieces- after all, not everything we listen to is high res audio. Spotify sounds perfectly acceptable and provided that you don’t compress music too far, the EB-50 seems extremely forgiving.

As might be expected from a single driver design, the Musical Fidelity has exceptional cohesion from top to bottom. The complete absence of crossover is really something that only makes itself felt when you revert to listening to something that has to make two drivers work to cover the same frequency response. The speed and clarity is deeply impressive and the EB-50 gets exceptionally close to the Grado GR8 in terms of integration and seamless performance and given that the Grado is twice the price of the EB-50 that is no mean feat.

Where the challenge resides for the EB-50 is in bass response and here the news is pretty good too. There is plenty of low end detail and drive and for a single armature earphone, it goes impressively deep. The Grado probably edges the Musical Fidelity in terms of absolute low end (although the EB-50 is so sensitive that it is possible that it could have a bit more bass tucked away at ear melting levels) but again, it is extremely close given the price disparity between the two. Compared to the Atomic Floyd SuperDarts, the Musical Fidelity doesn’t have the same ability to produce the sort of skull rattling low end that comes from a dynamic driver but there is a pay-off to this.

Listen to anything with a remotely up-tempo rhythm to it and the EB-50 shows an innate sense of timing that is pretty much the best of any in-ear monitor I’ve had the pleasure to use. Timing is deeply subjective and for many people it doesn’t seem to be too important but I’d be surprised if you didn’t listen to the EB-50 with a lively piece of music that you know well and simply find it sounds “together” in a way which is tricky to describe but extremely easy (and fun!) to experience. This speed and agility is never forced and if you listen to something that doesn’t need this dose of timing it never seems like the piece is being “sped up” or pushed, only that everything starts and stops in a way that is just so. When you combine this with the cohesion and lucidity that the EB-50 also has, the result is extremely easy to listen to.

The overall comfort is good too. Partly because you have such a wide choice of rubber domes to see that you can find something that fits properly rather than making do with a close fit. The housings are relatively light as well which means that there isn’t the weight on the ear that the heavier SuperDarts can produce. They still feel fairly large and depending on the depth of your ear canal you may find that the cable housing can rub your ear but I didn’t find this a problem in use.

Musical Fidelity EB-50

In truth, I didn’t find too much to dislike the EB-50. The impressive sensitivity means that you also don’t leak much sound back out but because the overall levels are fairly low, certain frequencies from the outside world will make their way into your hearing when you might not want them to but equally you are giving your ears an altogether easier time than you would with some rival designs. I also think that the leather storage pouch is a lovely object (and rather better than no pouch at all eh Grado?) but it isn’t as joyously simple to use as the rubber “disc” you get with the SuperDarts which is still the best balance between storage and accessibility I have yet seen.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Lively, detailed and excellent sound quality
  • Superb choice of partnering equipment
  • Handsome design with excellent build
  • Astonishingly sensitive.

The Bad

  • No volume on remote
  • Cable tangles fairly easily
  • Some sound leakage at low levels

Musical Fidelity EB-50 In-ear Monitor earphones

There are some interesting parallels between the Musical Fidelity EB-50 and PSB M4U2 in terms of design and performance. Both products are “first attempts” from their respective manufacturers and thanks to careful design and generous selection of ancillaries; both of them make a very credible claim to be at or near the very top of the class at their price point.

There is no shortage of competition but the EB-50 combines excellent accessories, great build and keen pricing to good effect. Most of all it has a wonderfully cohesive and lively sound that works well with most styles of music and it is sensitive enough to work with some devices that many in-ear monitors are simply too much for. If you are looking for a pair of in-ears at anything up to £200, you need to try these out.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Design

.
9

Sensitivity

10

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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