Two Custom In-Ear Monitors from EarWerkz Supra 2

Earwerkz_LegendR_Photo_SuprawAK120B
Earwerkz Supra2 comfortably aside the Astell&Kern AK120.

It's clear to me: the Legend R is very impressive. Not to take away from what EarWerkz has achieved with that model, but I'd like to hope that any IEM costing over a thousand dollars should sound pretty damn good. All that money should get you 6 or 8 or maybe 10 (or more) drivers which are (hopefully) anchored by a complex, well designed crossover. It's the IEM equivalent of a big expensive speaker—think Focal Utopia series, Dynaudio's Confidence models, or the higher end stuff from Sonus Faber, KEF, and maybe Vienna Acoustics. All of these brands make speakers starting at "somewhat affordable" and climbing to "priced more than a new car", with many steps in between. When buying the top model from any one of these well-regarded brands, you have every right to expect good things. After all, it's one thing to build a $20k or $30k or $55k speaker system which sounds exceptional.... it's quite another to make a killer set of bookshelf speakers for $500.

That's the real trick in my book, coming up with a satisfying design on a far smaller budget. To that end I also wanted to check out an entry level model from the EarWerkz lineup. Thus a Supra 2 ($429) was also sent over for evaluation. The Supra 2 is a dual driver design with a two-way crossover, as is typical from entry-level models across the board. A few brands have done single driver offerings for even less money but those are generally avoided by most, with dual drivers being generally considered the minimum requirement for good sound.

To be honest, I didn't spend much time with the Supra 2 until I was nearly done with my listening on the Legend R. A dual driver model just isn't as exciting as the top model, right? Once I got some ear time with it, I discovered the Supra 2 was perhaps even more of an achievement than its big brother. Not that it sounds better than the Legend R mind you, but the fact that EarWerkz accomplished so much with just two drivers is commendable.

I've already discussed the company history, their build quality, etc. A few more things to mention: Supra 2 uses a single sound bore where the Legend R uses three. And while still quite sensitive, I seem to need a few more clicks of the volume knob to level match with the Legend R. This also means less hiss—there's still some to be found, yet not so ubiquitous on this model. I chose the Linum BaX cable this time around. If you've never experienced one of these, it's hard to convey just how absurdly thin the cable is. Which makes it supremely comfortable to use, and correspondingly frustrating due to tangles. You think your IEM cable couldn't possibly get more tangle-happy? Wait until you try this thing. Ultimately the comfort seems worth the trouble; just be aware of the tangle issue and the decrease in durability. While actually quite tough for what it is, the BaX still has a lower pull strength and requires some extra care overall.

SOUND
I'll move right to the meat on this one: The Supra 2 has a very neutral signature. Somewhat midrange oriented, it doesn't plumb the depths of the sub bass region, nor is it the most sparkly up top compared to some of my other IEMs—though it does have quite good performance in both areas. What it DOES do, however, is give one of the most tonally pleasing, accurate, balanced performances I've heard this side of $1,000. And that's why I think it's possibly more of a big deal than the admittedly impressive Legend R.

As I listen to the Supra 2, I hear shades of other neutral CIEMs I've come to love—some Noble 4C here, some Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors there, maybe a sprinkling of the Unique Melody Miracle...all of which are significantly more expensive and better equipped, driver wise, than the humble Supra 2. That's not to say I fell in love right from the start. On the contrary, just as it happened with most of those models, my initial impressions were a little underwhelming. Coming from a more lit up or bassy or just generally colored IEM, I needed some time to reorient myself to this neutral sound.

Once I logged some hours with them I was able to appreciate what they have to offer. Vocals in particular are just stunningly well done. Female singers ranging from Jesca Hoop to Cheryl Lynn, and their male counterparts from Eric Bibb to Freddie Mercury, are presented very clearly and with very little editorializing. As incisive as the Supra 2 sounds, I appreciate that it refrains from having as much upper-midrange "zing" as other so-called neutral IEMs. Something like an Etymotic or a Phonak IEM can be fatiguing in the long term, but the Supra 2 manages to keep that in check without losing perceived detail in the process. It's a great balance, one that I wish more companies could nail.

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A surprisingly apt analogy springs to mind when I hold both EarWerkz models in hand. The Legend R, being packed to the gills with drivers, is quite a bit heavier. There's an implied density which matches its sound signature rather well. The Supra 2 is significantly lighter in weight and, due to having fewer drivers, allows more light to shine in when held up to the sky. The colors have a brighter pop on a sunny day and look more dark and rich on an overcast evening. Which again lines up with its neutral character and ability to let the music shine through.

Since I mentioned speakers earlier, I'll go back to that for a moment. The Supra 2 experience is a lot like what you get from a great pair of monitor speakers. Deepest bass? Nope, it's somewhat rolled off. Massive dynamics? I've certainly heard better. What we get instead is a "correctness", a capturing of the musical essence that can be missing from larger, more bombastic speakers. Small speakers image like dynamite, suffer less complications in the bass-to-midrange transition, and tend to be very fast on their feet. Yep, Supra 2 ticks all those same boxes. I've been playing with the Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 in my humble living room setup and I hear similarities left and right. At $1600 including matching stands, these little guys do so much right that I can easily overlook their size-related limitations. Rob Reina summed it up nicely in his excellent write-up at Stereophile when he called the Venere 1.5 "A stunning achievement." The Supra 2 elicits similar praise. I had actually tried the larger, more expensive Venere 2.5 floorstanders but in my particular room the 1.5 is a much better fit. See that? More drivers don't always add up to better sound in every situation.

Is the Supra 2 the perfect IEM then? Of course not. As a sub-$500 CIEM with 2 drivers on board there are some inherent limitations that just can't be overcome. For starters, the deepest bass impact is lacking. Partially by design due to the neutral signature, but I've heard similarly voiced models like the Noble 4C dig deeper. These are not recommended for bassheads in any way, shape, or form. That said, bass is tight and punchy and very satisfying for what it is. The soundstage is also somewhat limited—the presentation is very monitor-like, which works well most of the time, but once in a while feels a little two dimensional. Lastly, the Supra 2 is not the most dynamic IEM I've ever heard. Those who want large-scale bombast from their classical or metal or EDM might look elsewhere. Not that it can't play loud enough to fry your eardrums—it just doesn't have the same sense of ease when doing so, compared to more expensive models like the UERM or Miracle.

COMPARISON
Please read Nate Maher's comparison of budget CIEMs—his top choice, the 1964 Ears V3, happens to be a favorite of mine as well. It's been around a few years by now but only recently made it to the Wall of Fame. I got my set when they first came out and haven't really come across anything that might jeopardize its position on the Wall of Fame. That is, until now.

The EarWerkz Supra 2 is a worthy competitor if somewhat different in focus. I'd say the triple driver V3 has better low end heft, smoother treble, and more easily keeps its composure when played at high volumes. It's a slightly warm IEM, smooth but very clear up top, and with very good technicalities all around. The Supra 2 is tonally flatter, more dry in the midrange, and has a generally more direct and "small" feeling to it. This may sound negative but it actually works better under certain circumstances. As I write this I'm listening to the reference system mentioned earlier, going through a wide variety of genres, and finding myself split down the middle as far as which CIEM works best for any given track. It varies with recording quality, the V3 being more forgiving and the Supra more honest. And it varies with my mood—do I want purity and accuracy or a bit of fun? With both models being so different, I'd say they can easily coexist on the Wall of Fame together, much like the complimentary duo of HD800 and LCD-3

CONCLUSION
So there you have it. Jack Vang wanted to know how his flagship design stacked up to the competition on the Wall of Fame. I'd say the Legend R came mighty close to actually pulling it off, foiled only by the sheer brilliance of a more expensive competitor with similar voicing. What neither Jack nor I saw coming was his most affordable model standing so strong in the face of established models—the Supra 2 is a real standout in the entry-level space. If you value neutrality and honesty over sonic fireworks, it should definitely be on your radar. First time custom in-ear monitor buyer? Give the EarWerkz Supra 2 a look. Or, if you already own a more colored IEM and want to add another to your arsenal for contrast, the Supra 2 proves very worthy of consideration.

POSTSCRIPT
As I was knee deep in my evaluation of the Legend R, EarWerkz contacted me about their latest development which they call the Legend Omega. It's not really a new model but more of a tweak to the existing Legend R, swapping some drivers and expanding the crossover to a full 8-way design. Cost is $1,299 which is $100 more than the Legend R, so it could technically be considered their highest model. EarWerkz wants me to check it out so I'll have an update sometime down the road discussing that version.

RESOURCES
EarWerkz home page and product pages for Legend R and Supra 2
Head-Fi Legend R review and threads here and here.
Head-Fi Supra 2 reviews and threads here and here.

COMPANY INFO
EarWerkz
75 Maddox Rd, Suite 100
Buford, GA 30518
(404) 808-3405
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
SashimiWu's picture

What perfect timing for this review since I was looking into the Omega model of the Earwerkz lineup. I am curious to see if you have heard this model in addition to the Legend R?

I really wanted to try them out (either the Legend or the Omega) but it seems that slightly rolled off treble and wider/deeper soundstage) to make it a reasonable purchase.

It is wonderful to hear about a company that offers such great customer service and fast turn around times on their products. I have personally emailed Jack and he is very passionate and friendly about his work. Maybe an Omega is in my future since they seem to sound different enough to provide a nice complement to my K10's.

Thanks for the information regarding DAP's and hope your second part of the review comes out soon!

SashimiWu's picture

Didn't read the part where you said you didn't demo the Omega. Please disregard that portion of my comment.

John Grandberg's picture

I agree the customer service aspect is nice - not sure if Jack can possibly keep that up if his company experiences enough growth, but I know he'll give it his best shot.

The DAP project continues rolling on. Still waiting on the Sony ZX2 to arrive, and just got a balanced adapter for the AK units. So I've still got lots of listening to do, not to mention writing.

You should see how many players and accessories are sitting on my audio rack.... it's ridiculous.

SashimiWu's picture

It's awesome that you picked up the ZX2. That is probably the top of my list for my next DAP. I have always enjoyed the Sony house sound as well as their UI. Looking forward to see your comparisons.

indialogue's picture

I think you've summed up the Supra extremely well! It's a great bang for buck CIEM

KC33's picture

I was so impressed with your writing style that I just wanted to thank you for making this review so entertaining as well as informative.

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