First Harmonic IEB6 Earphone/IEM Ear-Canal Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Nov 16, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6s+ with Oppo HA2/Beyer A200p DAC/amps, various computers using the Audioquest Dragonfly-2/HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/FiiO E07k DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the First Harmonic IEB6+Mic are based on direct comparisons to other earphones such as the RHA MA750, RHA T20, B&O H3, various Soundmagic IEMs, and headphones such as the v-moda XS, AKG K553, Philips SHP9500, etc. Adding to that are the notes I've accumulated from other prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the IEB6 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use this earphone) only after covering all of the objective issues. My experience with in-ear earphones (IEM's) is limited to about a dozen different types, and the sound of those varies widely depending on the eartips used and how well they seal for bass balance etc. in the ear canals. But, I have a good sense of when I'm getting the proper seal, by pushing the earpieces in until the treble drops noticeably, then backing off until it pops back in - crude but effective.

    The IEB6 impresses me somewhat like the RHA models (MA350, MA750, T20) on the top end, since I find the RHA's to be rather bright, even with the best eartip fit I can get. That's also true of the B&O H3 I had, or even the outrageously expensive Final Audio FI-BA-SS. So my estimation of the IEB6 is it's a bit on the bright side for me, but of course that depends on the eartips you use and how well they seal in your ear canal. The seal has a major effect on the bass and low-end warmth, which in turn determines the overall balance. My IEB6 came with the smallest eartips installed, but I settled on the next-to-largest tips which give me a pretty good seal. The IEB6 earpieces are very small and you might not expect big sound, especially smooth sound from this IEM. However, the midrange is very smooth top to bottom, and the clarity is outstanding. Maximum clean volume is more than enough to overload any user's ears, so caution is advised - don't be fooled by the size.

    The IEB6 bass is hard to describe, because it's close to an ideal 'neutral' curve - i.e. users who want a stronger bass will discover that most bass-boost controls make the IEB6 bass too strong. That's all good news. The bass detail is very good, but users who want strong impacts for gaming and so on might prefer something that's designed for those purposes. There are 20 music tracks listed below that give examples of how the IEB6 performs on different genres of music, but a couple more examples here won't hurt - Markus Schulz's Mainstage has an synth that goes extremely deep with immense power. The IEB6 plays it cleanly. Back down to Earth, the Modern Jazz Tuba Project performs jazz with tubas, and the IEB6 provides sufficient deep-bass detail to make the tubas sound realistic. But the creme de la creme is the 16 hz organ pedal from the Kellogg Auditorium sounds available online - you can feel the weight or the tones, and the detail is so good that you can hear the individual 'beats' of the 16 hz tone.

    The IEB6 soundstage is quite good, but experienced IEM users know that a full treble is necessary for a realistic soundstage, so if you were looking for an IEM that's darker than neutral, it may be difficult or impossible to get a good soundstage from it. Isolation is excellent I think, but not near Bose-level noise canceling. Leakage is very low, but if you're going to use the IEB6 in a very quiet office or library, a person sitting right next to you might hear something faintly if your playback volume is high. Summarizing my impressions of the IEB6 - a slightly bright sound (with my eartip choice) with a very smooth and uncolored midrange, and a fairly neutral bass with the right qualities.

    The IEB6 cable looks good and strong for an IEM. There's a control with a mic and one button (start/stop/next/previous) on the right side. The cable length is approximately 4 ft. including the 'Y' that goes to the earpieces. The terminator is a 45-degree angled miniplug. The cable is somewhat microphonic above the 'Y' where it splits and goes to each earpiece, so I recommend keeping the included clothing clip handy and using it to keep that part of the cable from rubbing against any clothing. There are 5 total pairs of eartips - one installed and 4 other pairs of different sizes. The fabric storage bag included with the earphone will protect it in pockets or bags, as long as a crushing weight or impact isn't applied to the earphones.

    The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the IEB6 plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the IEB6 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Antonin Dvorak (Alsop-Baltimore Symphony): Just after 0:40 of Movement No.2 begins a counterpoint between two instruments - one followed by the other (woodwind and horn), but not necessarily in that order. The IEB6 resolves those clearly, and I leave it to the listener to discern which is which.

    Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): The horns and clarinet have a rich tone, the bass provides excellent supporting weight, and the percussion is crisp and detailed. There's a lot going on in this track, and the IEB6 delineates it all perfectly.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the IEB6.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The IEB6 reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The IEB6 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Christophe Beck - Slayer's Elegy (Soundtrack): The voice, percussion, and other sonic effects occupy a huge soundstage, but it all sounds natural and coherent with the IEB6.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine has a natural sound.

    Cranes - Adoration (Goth-Rock): This track begins with some realistic piano notes, and the percussion and voice improvisation are blended in to create a very atmospheric effect. The IEB6 plays this perfectly.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The IEB6 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Ed Palermo - Crazy (Pop Vocal): A dose of big band, pop, country, and jazz with a unique vocal is Ed Palermo's Big Band, and this track is a great demo for the IEB6 - for instrumental tone and ambiance, and a perfectly-recorded vocal. The saxophone lead at 2:51 is especially gratifying.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The IEB6 plays this music perfectly.

    Hubert Kah - The Picture (New Wave): The voice and electronic effects sound quite natural, and the bass synth is properly warm and very detailed. The IEB6 plays this lively music with great energy.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the IEB6 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Marc Johnson - Prayer Beads (Acoustic): The upright bass has excellent string tone and weight. The IEB6 plays this very well.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Jazz): The voice is prominent but well-recorded, the massed instruments are delineated nicely, and the bass line especially is clear and detailed. This sounds pretty good with most headphones, and the IEB6 makes it very enjoyable.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The IEB6 reproduces that sound with a lighter effect.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the IEB6 renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Sophie Milman - Lonely in New York (Jazz): The instruments (trumpet, violin, percussion etc.) and the vocal are very strong, and the voice can be rather sibilant on many headphones - especially those with a strong treble. The IEB6 renders this track as musically as I've ever heard.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The IEB6's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Tutt-Keltner - Drum Improvisation (Jazz): The drums have great impact with realistic "skin" tone, the cymbal harmonics are very shimmery, and the transient sounds are cleanly reproduced. The IEB6 really brings this track to life.

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