Review: Maximo iMetal iM-590 earphones

Maximo updates its iMetal earphones with improved sound signature (July 17th, 2009)

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Product Manufacturer: Maximo

Price: $59.99

The Good

  • Balanced sound
  • Quiet cords
  • Attractive design
  • Tons of accessories
  • Frequency response matches company specs
  • Eartips fit wide range of ear canals
  • Driven by portables without dedicated amp

The Bad

  • Less isolation than triple-flange designs

Maximo has continued to improve the quality of its products without tacking on additional costs. The Vancouver, Washington-based company expanded its iMetal series of earphones with the iM-590. Instead of taking the previous-generation headphone and simply increasing the driver size and color options, Maximo has worked with its acoustical engineers to refine the sound signature and increase the level of noise isolation.

The iM-590 ships with an impressive array of accessories including an airline adapter, two-foot extension cable, shirt clip, and carrying case. Customers can choose between four sizes of included eartips, each with a unique design that avoids the separated flanges found in many other isolating earphones. The smallest size easily fit an ear canal that has proved incompatible with most 'one size fits all' eartips.

The eartip design provides adequate noise isolation for most listening situations. While many triple-flange tips offer a higher level of isolation, the Maximo design remains comfortable over a longer period of time. When the earphones needed to be removed and re-inserted several times during a listening session, the iM-590 tips did not cause irritation.

To cover the speaker wire, the company utilizes a woven fabric shroud instead of a rubber sleeve. Compared to rubber-coated wires, the iM-590 cords lead to significantly reduced microphonics. While triple-flange tips offer improved isolation, pairing them with rubber cords can cause annoying sounds every time the cord slides against itself or clothing. The effect was barely noticeable with the Maximo earphones. The shallow eartips did not shift or fall out of the ear canal even when jostled during a brisk run.

With a $60 price tag, our initial expectations for sound quality were modest. The earphones, however, quickly corrected the prejudice. The majority of competing sub-$100 headphones offer either poor sound reproduction or excessive bass levels. While many manufacturers fudge their frequency-response ratings to appear top-notch, despite a vast imbalance throughout the range, Maximo's advertised frequency response of 12Hz to 22KHz was verifiable.

A MacBook Pro, iPod touch and Yamaha receiver easily powered the iM-590's 9mm drivers without feeling the need for a dedicated amplifier. Bass frequencies felt slightly elevated, but without approaching obnoxious levels. Although users requiring reference-quality balance might reach for costlier earphones such as Etymotic's ER-4 (MSRP $300), the slight low-end boost of the iM-590 adds warmth to lighter music such as classical, jazz, rock, and acoustic. The high-end response maintains detail even with bass-heavy tracks, but without becoming harsh.

Overall, the iM-590 proved to be a formidable contender among the vast array of new earphones priced under $100. The balanced sound was pleasing even to a discerning listener. If a user simply wants a headphone that will crank the bass levels, they may want to look elsewhere, as the iM-590 represents an affordable entry to high quality, balanced audio. Although iPods and similar devices are terrific players, most ship with sub-par earphones. The iM-590 is a great choice as a first accessory.

by Justin King


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