Simgot steps up a weight class - Audiofool Reviews


disclaimer:    I have recently done a series of Simgot reviews and after the last round was asked if I was interested in a new model that would be released on July 10th.   This was to be the new flagship and sit considerably above the EN700 Pro, so I quickly said yes please.   It arrived on 6/28/19 and jumped the queue on some others due to the time sensitivity with its impending release.   Many thanks to Simgot for providing the Ek3.   For those interested in it, it can be pre-ordered from Amazon or Simgot.  

Unboxing / Packaging:
Those who are familiar with the Simgot line will recognize the packaging.  Understated flat black with Simgot name in satin black on the front and a gold tab at the bottom with Ek3.   The rear of the package shows the specs  and tuning switch positions.  I immediately took a picture with my cellphone for reference while out and about as I have not memorized the switch positions for each mode.   Lifting the cover reveals the earpieces in a foam tray at top, and the leather case in a cutout below.   The earpieces have an almost snakeskin like quality that is accentuated by the color scheme.  They are actually a bit closer to honeycomb on close inspection, but the elements of the design and color choices certainly make them look a bit reptilian.

Accessories:
The EK3 comes with a well made leather case with Simgot logo on the front, slogan on the rear, and magnetic closure.   Inside the case are two cards that each contain a set of silicone eartips in three sizes.  Card 1 contains the standard tips while card 2 has bass enhancing tips.    The two sets of tips do indeed make a difference in sound.  Both are made of the same material and seat to roughly the same depth, but the bore diameter is enough different to change the sonics.    I found Tip 1 to be more accurate and provide a closer to neutral signature while Tip 2 was more relaxed and more musical for long listening sessions.   Tip selection will largely depend on switch positioning as they can to a degree augment or cancel each other out.  Graphs of each tip and switch combination are provided below.
The Cable has a Velcro retainer but lacks a shirt clip.  If there is a ding, it is that the case is not large enough to store both the tip cards and the earphone but for most they will pick a tip from the cards and use it so carrying both cards of tips around is probably not all that likely anyway.

Build/Fit:
Shells are a three (3) piece arrangement with the honeycombed faceplate, the smoked transparent inner shell, and a brass nozzle.  The outer shape is what I would call an inverted teardrop while the inner is a bit more convoluted to conform to the ear of the listener.  Fit and polish around the junction of the two parts is very good with no visible line and no fingernail hanging as it crosses the shell.  Polish around the switches is equally good  The Nozzle exits the upper most point of the front with no cant or rake.   Tips are held firmly by a large lip on the nozzle and I found with the straight in direction of the nozzle I could wear medium tips and get a good seal instead of having to go with large like I often do.


Internals:
The EK3 lists as a 3 driver, all  balanced armature design.  Two packages are used.   The first a CI22955 handles bass duties,  while the 2nd is the TWFK30017 which is a two armature package combining a WBFK tweeter and a vented FK woofer with a single output for ease of installation.   This is an interesting choice as the TWFK has been around since about 2008, but is still one of the smallest available dual packages made.   Other models have been designed to eliminate some of the perceived shortcomings of the TWFK, but none has successfully improved on the TWFK while retaining the same form factor.  As an example, two TWFK packages fit in roughly the same space as a single Sonion 1723.  The 1723 was Sonion’s answer to the TWFK.
Nominal Impedance is listed at 18Ω with a sensitivity 115dB/mW.    With numbers like that we expect the EK3 to be easy to drive, and it is.   I was able to drive it from both I-phone and Android phones and while it does scale some with better sources, I didn’t feel that it lost substantial umph when used with a phone as the source.  I did find that detail levels improved with better source.


Cable:
The cable provided is the same cable provided with the EM2 that I previously reviewed.  I was impressed with it then, and remain so.    It utilizes the increasingly popular hooded bi-pin connectors with .78mm pins.  The connectors are recessed inside the housing to protect the pins and to strengthen the connection when installed.   This is an excellent idea, but does limit use of 3rd party cables but recently several new offering have had the hooded connectors so this may be changing.     The cable itself is a 4 core copper braid up to the splitter and two twisted pairs above.   The jack and splitter both feature a rose gold colored metal housing encased in a clear rubber like plastic.  The Chin slider is the same metal but lacks the coating.   The Jack is a straight 3.5mm TRS design with good strain relief so should last well unless abused.  The bi-pin connectors also share the same rose gold metal ring giving the cable a very nice overall look.  Two minor issues do warrant mentioning. First, the Chin slider is mostly ornamental as it is too loose on the cable and simply falls back to rest on top of the splitter during use.  Second, the L/R markings on the connectors are clear on clear and can be very difficult to make out.  A colored dot would go a long way to making this easier to see.



Sound:
This is a bit more complex than usual as we have two different types of tips and 2 switches that give us a total of 8 possible combinations to influence the sound signature.   The tips are neutral (Type 1) and bass enhanced (Type 2) while the switch positions are defined by Simgot as:
Below are the graphs representing each tuning possibility.  The first set are comparisons of both switches and tips.  For the reference I have used tip type 1 and the balanced tuning settings.
The Second set are comparisons of the tips.  Here I ran the same switch settings with Tip 1, then traded for Tip 2 without touching any of the test settings or switches so you can see the impact of switching tips.

And finally, I am including the one with all the different combinations represented on one page.  I think it does a great job of showing that filters, switches, and tips don’t change the basic character of a driver as in all cases the curve retains all the dominant geography.  A valley may be a little deeper, or a peak may be a little wider or taller, but those same peaks and valleys are present in all of the graphs.   Converting a V to a Neutral or vice versa is not going to happen with tips, switches, cables, EQ, or other minor tweaks.

Bass:
Sub-bass is good in quality and typical of balanced armature bass.  It sacrifices some thump and depth for detail and clarity.   Speed of attack and decay is very good and it can fake the user out if the track doesn’t call for sub-bass, it doesn’t render it.   Mid-bass is a bit forward of the sub-bass in all tunings and again is very fast on the attack and almost equally quick on the decay.  Detail and texture are very good and more natural and flowing than expected from a single BA design.     None of the tunings will satisfy the bassheads among us, but with the bass enhancement turned on (switch 1)  the EK3 delivers plenty of bass for hip/hop, edm, or movie listening.
(One cautionary notice here  –  I did find that the normally understated x-Bass setting on the xCAN and xDSD units I use a good bit, was a poor fit with the EK3 and use of it muddied up the bass some and detracted from the detail so you gained a bit of quantity, but lost more quality proportionally which was not a good trade in my estimation.   If you use the iFi amps, you may want to be aware of this mismatch).

Mids:
Transition from the mid-bass to the lower mids is clean without any bleed or shadowing.  Almost all combinations of switches yield a somewhat mid forward result with switch 2 pushing the mids slightly more forward when on.   While all tunings have somewhat forward mids, none get out of balance with the rest of the signature and all are well detailed with good texture.   Probably my favorite attribute of the EK3 is its ability to produce lush mids with some weight to them without getting sloppy, slow, or thick sounding.   Honestly, I thought I knew the drivers used in this model well enough that I wasn’t expecting mids as good as they are.  Kudos to Simgot on the tuning as the TWFK driver is not known for being this full bodied and tight.

Treble:
Here again transition from the mids to the treble is quite clean and smooth without any jagged edges or sharp points.   The default tuning is a bit hot and I found that I preferred balanced tuning option and tip 1 that brings this down slightly from the exquisite tone settings with the same tips.    Again regardless of the combination of switches and tips, there is an emphasis on the 3-4kHz range and then steps back pretty solidly before finally rolling off above about 11kHz.   Detail in the treble range is very good and the attack on snare is believable if not perfect in timbre.  Cymbals are also believably presented which is a tough thing to get right.       There is enough top end air to feel open when the bass boost is disabled, but turning it on does seem to scale that back just a tick.

Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage has fair depth and width and is reasonably symmetrical.  I would place it somewhere in the middle ground between intimate and cavernous with it being closer to intimate side.   Instrument separation is quite good and the layering particularly in the mids is probably the strongest influence on the imaging.   Seating the orchestra is straight forward with instruments placed appropriately beside or front to back and clean distinctions between them.     Here again the tuning switches and tips come into play.  I found that more bass I added, the smaller the stage seemed to be.  I found the largest stage with either the balanced or exquisite settings and Type 1 tips.

Comparisons: 
I had to stretch a bit here as the EK3 is above the price point of my average fare here.   I have used a couple of my personal collection (FLc8s and IT03) but also borrowed a DM6 and the LZ-A6 and used my notes from a previous experience with the FA-7.    Some of these are slightly above or below the $359 asking price of the EK3 and without knowing if that price will change when it hits the mainstream vendors, I may have compared it to a couple of things that are out of its league.  (I did refrain from the temptation to compare the Eartech Quint and EE Bravado as they were both enough more expensive that it wasn’t a fair fight).
BGVP DM6   –  The DM6 is a favorite of mine, with good sub-bass, very good mids, and a great tonality.   The EK3 comes is pretty much parallel with the DM6 from about the knees up.  the DM6 digs deeper and hits with more authority, but it can be a bit sharp at times which the EK3 handles a bit more fluidly.  Vocal timbre in particular is a bit better on the EK3.   If bass is all important, the DM6 will take this fight, if it is not, this is likely a split decision and my nod would go to the EK3 for its tuning options that  the DM6 lacks.
LZ-A6 – I added the LZ-a6 as possibly the most tunable model in the price range based on its filter set, loudness switch, and the ability to use BGVP filters if so desired.   Internally, the A6 is a hybrid with Dynamic driver, 4 BAs, and a piezo-electric super tweeter.   The BAs are paired using a 4 way crossover so the Ek3 can be compared as a 3 driver to the LZ-a6 as a 4 driver with pairs of the BAs used as a single element.       The A6 sub-bass is a bit deeper than the Ek3 can muster, with its dynamic driver, mid-bass is about equal in quantity with the Ek3 getting in a punch with tighter control and bit faster attack/decay.  The loudness button the A6 can more or less be thought of as a bass boost and makes it a bit looser yet.    Mids on both can be fantastic depending on filter/switch choices and again both can be tuned some to improve them to each users liking a bit further.    I really like both here and would want more time with the LZ-a6 before I declared a clear winner.  The treble is better extended on the A6, but at the price of it being hotter than on the Ek3 and needing a bit more filter to bring it back inline.   The treble sensitive will prefer the Ek3, while those looking for that last bit of extension will prefer the A6.
FLC8s  –  The minute I unboxed the EK3, I knew I would be comparing it to my FLC8s.  The parallels are there, both the same price point, both tunable, both triple driver models, and both aimed at the portable market with low impedance and high sensitivities.   I found the filters to be much more complicated to manage than the switch arrangement, but a bit more effective as the filters gave a broader range of options.   The nice thing about the Ek3 was the ability to change sound signatures with a knife tip or paper clip in a pinch and not having to worry with dropping and losing those tiny parts.   The FLC8s has more sub-bass quantity than the Ek3, while the Ek3 has a bit thicker mids with a more natural timbre.   Highs are slightly sharper on the Flc8s with the factory installed filters but can be brought into line with the Ek3 with a quick swap.  Both have good detail throughout the upper range with the Flc8s being a little sharper edged to my ear.
The other thing I came away from all the tunable models with was the sense that no amount of switches or filters can turn a leopard into a zebra.   All retained basically the same signature with a little more here or a little less there.  If you don’t care for the bass signature, move on to something else and don’t waste time on filters or switches.    If you like it pretty well, but think it could be improved with just a touch more here, or a little less there, then filters and switches may be a worthwhile exercise.   Set realistic expectations.
IBasso IT-03 – Admittedly the Ek3 falls over the price of the 3 and below the price point of the 4 so neither is a direct compare.   The IT-03 has more sub-bass and mid-bass quantity than the Ek3 regardless of switch settings or tips.  Even at Bass Boost and Type 2 tip, the Ek3 cant bring the quantity of sub-bass that the IT-03 brings to the table.  On the flip side, the IT-03 is much more V shaped and the Ek3 has no trouble besting the IT-03 throughout the midrange.  Mids are more lush on the Ek3 and vocals benefit from that extra body.   Highs on the IT-03 are its weakest point.  They are a bit uneven and can be a bit brittle at times.    The Ek3 is more polite on all but the most treble forward (exquisite tone) setting.  I found detail to be about even between the two when comparing the upper ranges.  Again, this battle isn’t a one-sided early round knockout.  It is a split decision with preference of the listener having the ultimate vote.
Fiio Fa-7  – This is another natural comparison as both are up and coming brands, both are using and advertising the use of Knowles drivers, and both are all BA arrangements.   Both models use a CI for bass but while the Ek3 uses a TWFK for mids and treble, the Fa-7 uses a ED for mids and the SWFK for treble.  Two different approaches to solving the same problem.   Both have similar bass depth but the Fa-7 puts a bit more emphasis on the mid-bass and at times gets overly warm from the mid-bass push.   The Ek3 in comparison pulls back the mid-bass and emphasizes the mids a bit more than the Fa-7.   The Fa-7 mids seem distant compared to the Ek3.   Both have polite treble without a tendency to get strident, but the Fa-7 seems to rolloff a bit sooner and feels more enclosed as a result.  Air is a bit better on the Ek3 as a result.    My preference here is the Ek3 based on mids and the early roll-off of the Fa-7.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Have you ever done something long enough that you thought you knew everything that something or someone was capable of, only to find out you were wrong?   I have to admit, this was one of those times for me.   Simgot has been consistently good in the <$200 price bracket, but this was stepping up considerably.   Could the Flyweight contender really take on the Welterweight class and expect to win?   More over, the Combination of the CI and TWFK is now so common that Knowles pre-packages them as a single unit, the GK.       I’ll admit that I thought this was going to be less than stellar.   I’ve had enough CI/twfk driven iems to feel like I knew their capabilities and that the Ek3 would fall neatly into that pigeon hole.    I was wrong.  Simgot has taken the drivers I thought I new and by dampers, filters, crossover, shell design, and tips have improved what I thought was possible out of the combination.    Granted some of the classic characteristics are still there.  The bass is typical of BA bass and trades some depth for speed and clarity.  Other typical criticisms of the drivers are largely addressed though.  I expected the TWFK to be somewhat strident and at times a bit shrill from previous experience, and it simply isnt.  The treble is well balanced and polite even.
Moving to the tuning options, gimmick or real options?   They definitely do alter the signature, but not massively.  A lot of the time simply flipping the switches and listening again will fool you into thinking nothing has changed, but then on closer inspection you hear a bit more here or a bit less there.   Don’t expect huge changes, expect tweaks.   That is a the best way to think of the switches and tip options.   The Ek3 is one of those that grows on you the more you listen to it.  It doesn’t do anything splashy to get your immediate attention, but the longer you listen, the more little things you realize it does very well.
Simgot has managed to step into the welterweight ring and not only not embarrass themselves, but actually give some of the better known contenders a solid fight.   I don’t think its a KO in most of my comparisons, but when fighting above your weight class a draw should be considered a victory should it not?   Overall, I think Simgot should be very proud of what they have accomplished with the Ek3 and I look forward to where they go next.   They have the engineering skill to step up even further should they desire.

Summary
Pros: Good build quality, and several good tuning options.
Cons:  Cable could be improved,  highs can be slightly hot.

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