Earsonics Onyx: A well-kept secret no more.
Pros: Excellent build
Sound fits my tastes, semi-laidback
Smooth interpretation of mids
Direct ordering keeps price in line.
Could be considered on par with some flagships
Richness that many at this level strive for, but fail to achieve
Cons: Not much at this price
Very tough price point
Earsonics Onyx ($562): A well-kept secret no more.
ONYX direct link
Intro: The Onyx is Earsonic’s new addition to the lineup. A well-kept secret, little is known about it, until now. I thank Earsonics for the faith in my abilities, and the sample. This is a production unit, and I will provide an honest evaluation of the unit to the best of my abilities. At the time of publication, I know not the price nor configuration, hence the comparison to many at differing prices below. I think that is fair, especially after my first listen, which came across as good and towards the higher end of the spectrum (just a guess).
In The Box:
Silver braided cable
6 sets of tips: 2-foam (s, m); 2-silicon (m, l); 2-silicon double flange (s, l)
Personalized builder card
Lime Ears Pneuma ($2100)
Empire Ears Hero ($1349)
Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 ($999)
Campfire Audio Vega 2020 ($699)
Earsonics Corsa ($450)
MBP/iFi Pro iCAN/iDSD
Shanling M6 Pro
Buena Vista Social Club
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Coming in what I am getting used to as the matte black box of Earsonics, which is not bad by the way; the Onyx fits the subdued nature of the brand. Lifting the front flap, the box opens clamshell-style. Presented with the Onyx, silver cable and larger rectangular case, the look is simple and a bit ominous. Like seeing the shadow of an all-black Mustang Cobra. Muscular in presentation, but it is the parts unknown and unseen, which cause pause and respect. The accessories box is on the right, which houses the tips and cleaning tool.
Inside the case you will find the signature card of the builder, which I do consider a nice touch. Simple, straightforward and black save the cable.
The shell is of familiar shape for those who pay attention or own Earsonics models. The familiar three-piece shell has a flat “stamped” logo on the faceplate, which continues the uneven thickness of the piece, which I indeed like. The back end of the faceplate is also where the two vent slots are, which help the bass note breathe. The inner shell has the trademark “swept seashell” lines to it, which I do like as well. The nozzle is angled for a good fit, too aiding in the overall fit.
The silver cable is of four-braid variety, tight and even. Splitting inside a simple aluminum Y-splitter replete with logo, the then two-strand cable includes a clear harder plastic cinch. Ending in a 2-pin configuration without an ear guide, the cable is wound tightly and evenly. This is a quality cable build as well as the overall unit.
Fit is a bit on the large size, but even with my preferred foam tips, the fit is good, but does stick out a bit. The nob on the inside of the inner shell does not bother my concha too much and longer listening sessions are quite good, comfort-wise.
Fresh from my Corsa review along with a couple of headphones, I was expecting a solid hit; since I liked the Corsa. In talking with @B9Scrambler, who reviewed the Grace, he also appreciated the tuning of the Corsa and very much liked the Grace. Considering it worthy of the TOTL status, we imagined where the Onyx would fit. Having only heard the Corsa, I cannot fathom where this one lies. But based upon the sound, I would put it into the upper echelon of IEM’s.
Providing a solid bass, but not overwhelming, the lows come out strong when needed, and accepting of a backup role when called upon. On Alex Fox’s Love Is In The Air, you understand both aspects of the lows, as the melding of sound with the guitar and staccato syncopation of maracas and applause fit perfectly together. Mids are a bit less forward than the Corsa, which is not bad either. With a frontal attack of distinct clarity and detail, you are met with a very nice combination of detail and speed. The sound is not analytical or dry by any means and the timbre presents a sensation-based experience across the spectrum. Treble note is good and a bit extended; but not pushy or overly grating for my tastes. The signature melding of the three main points is good without any stepping on toes had.
When presented with such a project, you immediately think about what is inside or what the cost might be. When I pushed for more details, Thibault did not bite. All is being kept under wraps and that is all right in my book. For what I hear is quite pleasing and on the richer, warmer side than not. This is also quite refreshing, because I have to evaluate what Road & Track calls the “price-independent rating.” As in no matter what the cost is, which model would you like?
Going through a unit, which is more analytical (Burson Funk) the Onyx cooperates and provides a clean, clear, crisp sound; without being dry or thin. The bass is taut, but not too deep reaching here. On David Bowie’s Conversation Piece, a recording from Ziggy Stardust, you quickly realize that back then bass was not very prominent in recordings. But nonetheless, it is pretty fast in decay, with no bleed into the mids. On this particular song, I would not call it boomy or reaching too deep. As another song might go deep, so will the Onyx, mirroring the recording nicely. Decay is still faster than attack, lending me to believe there is a dynamic driver with good tuning inside.
Mids come across as nearly vibrant and with a slight richness to it, which is quite nice. On Sant Tois, the female vocal is sublime coming in as nearly sensuous. I really like the song, and the treatment given by the Onyx. The female vocals might be a bit thin for some, but they are so sublime in nature, that you do not miss it. Add in the bass of the song as the song reaches the halfway point, and you get a good kick along with the foundation. Male vocals, such as the aforementioned David Bowie come across with a bit of warmth. I am finding this to be somewhat of an Earsonics trend; living on the richer, warmer side of life; even if only a bit.
Moving up the sound signature, there is a nice bit of sparkle to the treble, but without being too punchy or biting. Brian Setzer’s Smash Up On Highway One is a good example of how the upper end is treated. Using Qobuz, there is a bit of a withdrawn treble note, but I do believe this is to counter the song while providing a warmth to it. there is definitely a good push on the Burson, and an even warmer touch to the song on the rich, warm Shanling M6 Pro. I do not mind this at all, and switching to silicon tips, opens the treble note with very good vibrant tonality.
Soundstage comes across as a bit higher and wider than deep, and separation does suffer a bit as a result with my preferred foam tips. Switching to the double flange silicon tips evened that out, without losing the solid bass line. This yet again represents an IEM where you can tailor the sound with the tip of your choice. Layering is still very good as witnessed on the Take Five version from the Kenichi Tsunodo big Band. This is a fabulous rendition of the classic jazz song. As a result of the tinkering above, the Onyx does play nicely across many genre and can be somewhat tailored to your tastes with the tip of your choice.
*Not knowing the price, I compared the Onyx with all from the mid-tier Corsa to the totl Pneuma for reference. the price is now listed above as are specs.
Earsonics Onyx v Lime Ears Pneuma ($2100):
The Pneuma is a guest on my house for a good listening time. Having fully appreciated the other Lime Ears offerings I have reviewed such as the Aether, I had high hopes for the Pneuma. And my hopes were met admirably. The Pneuma is a stellar multi-driver version of a TOTL from a well-respected manufacturer. Detail retrieval is at the top of the class. Bass can be adjusted by a switch on the back, and mids are simply sublime, even if a bit too far forward for my tastes. If it were a quick listen and decision, this would be easy, the Lime Ears product would come home with me and I would be satisfied. But at this price, longer listens are needed. And here, the subtleness of tonality in the Onyx plays catch up nicely. Where the Pneuma (that really is a pain to type…) comes across as bright and vibrant up top, the Onyx comes across with a much subtler detail note.
Based upon longer listens, the fit of the Pneuma comes into play as well. It is large, and even with the silicon shaped foam tips makes for a somewhat tedious listen after a longer session. Switching to pure silicon tips does tend to make a difference. Both of these are quite good, and very different.
Earsonics Onyx v Empire Ears Hero ($1349):
The next level down, I pulled out on Founder’s Edition Hero. After having heard this on tour, I purchased a model from a very nice gent secondhand. I do not regret it, except for the hot treble. Using the new W9+ dynamic driver, this may be a Legend X-lite, but not so with the sound. Excellent detail and that deep, and I mean deep reaching bass are superb. Had EE turned the treble down a bit, this might be the perfect IEM for me. Nonetheless, it still gets a fair amount of listening beside for reviews. Fit is better than the Lime Ears above, but still falls behind the onyx. And even with Comply’s I can listen for a good long time. The only thing that suffers to me are the mids. They are still vibrant and rich, but suffer a bit trying to catch up to that booming low end and sparkly top end. Never fear, for Natalie Merchant on Peppery Man sounds as sensuous as ever.
The Onyx and Hero would be a tough decision and may need a longer trial period than some stores would be willing to offer. Smooth, richer tonality of the Onyx, versus superb bass, sparkly treble and a tone, which is more niche oriented.
Earsonics Onyx v Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 ($999):
The Dorado 2020 is the bassy unit of the CFA line below the trio at the top. As such is can be the forgotten one. The Vega below has deeper bass, and those about have “better” technicals. But to me, the Dorado is the unsung hero in the CFA lineup for it combines all of the best attributes at an very decent price. Compared to the Onyx, it does suffer in clarity as well as having the mids pushed too far forward for my tastes. But the bass makes entry worth it to me such as on Jesse Clarke’s Number 5, which is deep reaching and plays perfectly with the guitar and violin work of the song. The Onyx cannot match that vibrancy, but counters with a smoothness, which the CFA cannot. Other than the Solaris 2020, the Dorado 2020 would be my choice in the lineup (OK, or the Ara/Andromeda…).
Earsonics Onyx v Campfire Audio Vega 2020 ($699):
Moving “down” the line, the Vega is the undisputed bass king of the CFA line. Upon first iteration, many marveled at the thunderous bass emitting from it. I liked it a lot but ended up with the EE Legend X instead. Moving forward to 2020, the bass has been tamed a bit, but without losing that deep rumbling reach. What has improved are the other notes within. Treble note does sound a bit thin, especially with female vocals and instruments, which reach that level, but it is better than the past tuning to me. Mids are quite good for the tuning but do tend to suffer a bit. The Vega 2020 is simply a raucous good time, which picks you up with every note. If you cannot raise your level of spunk listening to the Vega, then you may need to seek help. Compared to the Onyx they are pretty much diametrically opposite. Smooth textured notes of the Onyx, versus thunderous bass and the fun factor of the Vega. Your choice. I really like both.
Earsonics Onyx v Earsonics Corsa ($450):
The Corsa came my way and after a thorough listen, I appreciated the tuning. In talking with others that had more experience with the Earsonics lineup, they passed along that the tuning was quite good across the board and they appreciated the efforts put forth. The Corsa is a solid entry at this price, with very good mids, which while a bit too far forward to me are clear and detailed. Bass is adequate, but not thumping. Treble provides good sparkle without becoming harsh or intolerant. If you like good, solid mids with very good detail, then the Corsa is worth a listen.
Comparatively, the Onyx presents a more laidback signature without as much mid push. Detail is still very good as well, and with better bass; it is not a leap to assume the Onyx has replaced the Grace as the flagship model for Earsonics. It is equally probable that it slots between the Grace and Corsa. Either way, it is still quite good, and my choice of the two here.
Pulling out an “old friend,” the EarMen TR-Amp while playing Space Oddity from David Bowie, I realize the strengths of the Onyx. Purposing a full richness of sound, without being too warm; the Onyx provides a nicely laid-back signature, but without the boring or dullness often associated with a laid-back signature. The TR-Amp is a warmer sounding DAC/Amp and still one of my all-time favorite portables/desktop units. There is sufficient detail to warrant consideration amongst the finer flagships but not enough to be considered too articulate or analytical. A warmth of the mid-section permeates the sound as well. Some will find this odd, until their ears acclimatize to it, but I find it quite good.
I am still not sure where the Onyx fits on the scale and will of course update the review as information comes forth. But for now, suffice to state that the Onyx to me definitely fits above the Corsa lending me to believe it either fills a gap or goes above the Grace. No bother, for it is good in both places and should be considered as worthy of a longer listen if you care for the French vision of listening pleasures. To date, I surely do.