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Review of Audio Technica ATH-IM02 in-ear monitors w/lots of pics!!!

OP vectron

9th March 2014, 10:36 PM   |  #1  
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This is a review of Audio Technica ATH-IM02 in-ear monitors. http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/he...22c/index.html

When it comes to in-ear headphones priced above $100, often the question is not if they are good or bad, but rather how good are they and if they represent a good value in terms of their price to sound ratio. The price is often dictated by a number of drivers used in a design, typically in $100-$200 range for a single BA driver and then approximately $100 more for every additional driver. The sound quality is not as predictable and left to manufacturer interpretation of how they think it should be reproduced and delivered to your ears. In my opinion, sound quality is the most important factor, though we would like price to be reasonable too. That is why after careful examination of Audio Technica's new line of IEMs ATH-IM01/02/03/04, I decided to review their dual driver IM02 model. It was a step back from my previous reviews of quad driver models from UE and Westone, but I found it to be an excellent decision, and after a few days of testing I can confirm they deliver an excellent value if you are serious about stepping into a world of audiophile sounds. Here is what I found.

I always start with a packaging of the product, and here Audio Technica didn't disappoint. Beside high quality images, full list of included accessories, and spec in both Japanese and English, it also includes an internal component breakdown to show you in details every piece of the design. I find such presentation to be very educational. Speaking of accessories, IM02 includes 3 pairs of silicone eartips, one pair of Comply foam tips, and a quality storage case. Though I don't consider cables to be an accessory, the new IM line of AT headphones now feature detachable cables which can be replaced in case of failure. As we all know a cable failure is very common with headphones, so being able to replace these is a big bonus. Here, AT decided to use 2 pin connector which is key-shaped to be attached in only one way with a very secure snap. To assist with behind the ear fitment, the only way these could be worn, there is a memory wire portion right after the connector to form a secure and comfortable loop. The same goes for the headphone earpieces itself, I found the design to have an ergonomic shape with a very comfortable fitment inside of my ear.

Doesn't happen often, but I was actually very pleased with a storage case included with these headphones since it has a generous rectangular shape to fit headphones with cables without a need to bend pre-shaped memory wires. Nothing is more annoying than spending time re-shaping the wire every time you take it out of the storage case when it's too small. The wire itself is very high quality, almost reminding me of electrical appliance shielded wires, but obviously thinner and more flexible. There is also a chin slider after the y-splitter to enhance behind the ear fitment. At the end of the wire you have 90 degree gold plated 3.5mm connector. There is no in-line remote/mic, but since this cable is replaceable I hope they will offer it in a future.

As I mentioned before, the sound quality is the most important factor for me. I didn't know what to expect since my previous experience was either with single or quad BA drivers. IM02 features a dual driver design with a separate woofer and mid-high driver. After initial burn-in, I was left speechless with a high quality of the sound. To summarize the sound signature of these IEMs, they are balanced analytical headphones with a very detailed bright sound and great transparency. I'm going to be honest, in the past I wasn't a fan of analytical detailed sound because other headphones I tested, like Etymotic for example, had a very harsh revealing sound with absolute lack of bass. Though IM02 doesn't have a very strong bass presence, it offers a very detailed and rich low end with a full body and actually a noticeable quantity. Mids are the star of these headphones with a detailed and very natural delivery, especially when it comes to vocals. Listening to these headphones made me realize how unnatural vocals sound with a lot of my other headphones. I also realized how much I was missing with a lot of my other v-shaped headphones where mids are typically recessed. Treble was also very detailed and had a nice sparkle to it. I do have to mention, that when I first put IM02 on, bass was not as tight and I felt upper mids/treble to be on a harsh side (with some borderline sibilance). But after 4-5 hours of burn in, bass tightened up and extended down to sub-bass level, and highs became smoother and easier on my ears. I was doing a lot of a/b comparison with other IEMs to make sure it's not just my brain burn-in. Furthermore, I found soundstage to be spacious, definitely above average quality. With regard to sound forgiveness, due to analytical nature of these IEMs you will have to stick with 320kbps as a minimum to enjoy your sounds. I had no problem driving it from either my Sansa Clip+ or X5 audio players as well as Galaxy Note 2.

Overall, I found Audio Technica ATH-IM02 to be one outstanding pair of headphones. Beside an excellent build quality and comfortable fit, they have one of the best ear-friendly analytical sound signatures with an exceptionally balanced and natural timbre. Often headphones could be a one-trick pony to cater to one specific crowd, while these will capture a wide audience from EDM, pop/rock, to jazz and classical. For some, perhaps the mids will be a little too revealing and upfront which could be easily tamed with EQ while still retaining the natural sound. But you can't do that with other headphones where boosting recessed mids adds unnatural artifacts. I actually heard that ATH-IM03 model with an additional driver is smoother on mids, but to determine if sound quality improvement worth a higher price - that's something I hope to find out if I get a chance to test IM03. But as of now I'm putting ATH-IM02 at the top of my list since none of the other headphones in my review collection have the same unique natural revealing sound signature. I also want to bring to everyone's attention that within next few weeks these headphones (IM0x models) will be available from US authorized dealers, where IM02 should debut for $200 or less. Though these already available on Amazon as an import from Japan, Audio Technica US can only honor their 2 year warranty on units purchased from authorized US re-sellers.

Here are the pictures.











































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12th March 2014, 09:55 PM   |  #2  
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This is pretty impressive. Detachable cables are a big plus! I wish they had bi-flange tips though,

I think I might actually go for this one... just one query: I know it's probably a wrong comparison to do because of the formats; but how do they compare, sound quality and feel wise, in your experience, with the ATH-M50?
12th March 2014, 11:06 PM   |  #3  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ashphoenix

This is pretty impressive. Detachable cables are a big plus! I wish they had bi-flange tips though,

I think I might actually go for this one... just one query: I know it's probably a wrong comparison to do because of the formats; but how do they compare, sound quality and feel wise, in your experience, with the ATH-M50?

You can buy eartips for a few bucks

M50 and IM02 are in two different worlds, not even apples and oranges lol!!! M50 is over ear dynamic drivers with warm bassy sound, decent clarity, and not much of a transparency (detailed separation of different instruments). Those are my favorite listening headphones on laptop when I watch YT channels or just background listening; very good build and easy to take on/off or use in Dj-style with one earcup. But they are NOT audiophile quality headphones. IM02 are very analytical and detailed. If you were looking for Etymotic as your original choice, M50 is not for you. Btw, Audio Technica also released ATH-IM50 and IM70 dual dynamic driver in-ears but only available in Japan. That IM50 is more on par with M50 in terms of very strong bass, but you are not going to get the same level of details and instrument separation as you get with balanced armature drivers of IM02.
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13th March 2014, 08:08 PM   |  #4  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vectron

You can buy eartips for a few bucks

M50 and IM02 are in two different worlds, not even apples and oranges lol!!! M50 is over ear dynamic drivers with warm bassy sound, decent clarity, and not much of a transparency (detailed separation of different instruments). Those are my favorite listening headphones on laptop when I watch YT channels or just background listening; very good build and easy to take on/off or use in Dj-style with one earcup. But they are NOT audiophile quality headphones. IM02 are very analytical and detailed. If you were looking for Etymotic as your original choice, M50 is not for you. Btw, Audio Technica also released ATH-IM50 and IM70 dual dynamic driver in-ears but only available in Japan. That IM50 is more on par with M50 in terms of very strong bass, but you are not going to get the same level of details and instrument separation as you get with balanced armature drivers of IM02.

Thanks for the explanation, that clarified a lot -- I think I'm now sold on IM02...

Now just waiting for the X5 to hit the US market!
8th November 2014, 06:07 AM   |  #5  
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How's the sound signature compared to the UE 900? (Details, Soundstage)
9th November 2014, 02:31 AM   |  #6  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3NF03RC3R

How's the sound signature compared to the UE 900? (Details, Soundstage)

Different beasts I had IM02 as a review loaner for a very short time awhile ago, so can only go by memory. Their soundstage was comparable, nothing out of this world, above average. In terms of details, I want to say that IM02 was more analytical versus UE900 being more balanced with a better bass quantity and smoother upper mids/treble (though a bit peaky as well). IM02 is in category of Etymotic and Zero Audio Doppios where you have brutally honest details which can also get borderline sibilant. UE900 and W40 are smoother and more forgiving, better for enjoyable non-fatigue listening. BUT in my book the king of all reviewed IEMs (from my list) is indisputably ATH-IM03. You get the ear-friendly details and da bass!!!
1st December 2014, 04:25 PM   |  #7  
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Hi vectron
Very nice, how about the IM04? Did AT also sent you one?
1st December 2014, 06:36 PM   |  #8  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LenMargaux

Hi vectron
Very nice, how about the IM04? Did AT also sent you one?

No, didn't get. I don't think AT is pushing IM01 and IM04 too much and I haven't seen too much discussions about it on Head-fi. If you want a comprehensive comparison, you need to check out earfonia thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/705687/revi...-im50-ath-im70

I think with IM04 price going up, you might be dealing with diminishing returns but for sure it might be more refined. I only tested IM02 and IM03, where found IM03 to be more suited for my preferred sound sig (with lunashops silver-plated upgrade cable). IM02 is more analytical/details, while IM03 has more bass impact and smoother at the top.

Btw, waiting to receive CKR9 and CKR10 review samples in the next few weeks. AT US is finally going to carry these, and I heard only great things about it! Dual dynamic driver in push-pull config, can't go wrong with that
2nd December 2014, 01:32 AM   |  #9  
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I think the IM02 that you returned, was sent to me. haha I recognized those markings on the filter. anyway, was it easy to get a sample from beyerdynamic? I been asking them so far no luck.

Here's my review by the way: http://thepcenthusiast.com/audio-tec...h-im02-review/
Last edited by LenMargaux; 12th December 2014 at 02:19 PM.

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