Given some of the 2MAX’s tonal variations, as described above, it would probably be fair to say the Sensaphonics monitors very subtly enhanced the perceived power of the low-frequency instruments, while the 2MAX’s gentle dab of upper-midrange/lower-treble emphasis no doubt helped Bush’s vocals to stay front and center in the mix. But my point is the 2MAX’s characteristics work, not just on this track but on many others, to help convey the sense of energy, life and drama that are so much a part of music listening
To show you how the 2MAX compares to other top-tier custom-fit in-ear monitors, I’ve chosen to compare its performance with that of two leading competitors: the JH Audio JH16 Pro ($1149) and the Westone ES-5 ($950).
• The 2MAX costs roughly $300 less than the JH16 Pro.
• The 2MAX is a comparatively simple two-way, 2-driver design, whereas the JH16 Pro is a three-way, 8-driver design.
• As mentioned above, the 2MAX offers subtle touches of tonal emphasis both in the mid-bass and in the upper midrange/lower treble region, offering a judicious touch of dramatic emphasis that some listeners might prefer. By comparison, the voicing of the JH16 Pro is somewhat more evenly and neutrally balanced than that of the 2MAX. Neutrality is one of the JH16 Pro’s greatest strengths.
• Resolution levels between the two monitors are comparable, though in an absolute sense I would give the nod to the JH16 Pro’s. Note, however, that the 2MAX’s exceptional noise isolation enables them to provide appealing qualities of sonic intimacy and focus.
• One of the biggest differentiators between the 2MAX and the JH16 Pro involves the construction of their custom-molded earpieces. Sensaphonics uses soft-gel silicone earpieces while JH Audio uses solid acrylic earpieces, and the difference in feel and overall functionality is significant.
• The 2MAX’s soft-gel silicone earpieces take a bit more effort to fit correctly than the JH16 Pro’s acrylic earpieces do (in part because the 2MAX earpieces fit quite deeply within the ear canal). To achieve an optimal fit, you must first rotate the 2MAX earpieces into approximately the correct position, and then press—gently but quite firmly—over the ear canal area to get the earpieces to seal correctly. The resulting fit can seem disconcertingly tight at first, but the end result is very comfortable, while the level of noise isolation achieved by the 2MAX’s is spectacularly good—better than that achieved by any other headphone (regardless of type) that Playback has tested thus far.
• By comparison, the JH Audio earpieces lend themselves to a simple, straightforward insertion process where you gently rotate the JH16 Pro earpieces until they seem almost to “snap” into position, achieving a very good seal and a comfortable fit in the process. While the JH16 Pro can and does handily outperform any universal-fit in-ear headphone in terms of noise isolation, the 2MAX gives even quieter backgrounds.
• The 2MAX costs $100 less than the Westone ES-5.
• The 2MAX is a two-way, 2-driver design, where the ES-5 is a three-way, 5-driver design.
• At first glance, the voicing of the 2MAX and of the ES-5 seems pretty similar, but if you listen carefully certain key differences do appear. First, the ES-5 exhibits somewhat less mid-bass boost than the 2MAX, but perhaps stronger mid-to-low bass. Second, the ES-5 has less of an upper-midrange/lower-treble rise than the 2MAX, instead offering and even subtler region of broad midrange emphasis that tends to make certain midrange instruments, vocalists, and transients sound just a hair more prominent in the mix. Finally, the ES-5’s offer upper treble that is noticeably clearer and more extended than that of the 2MAX’s do, though at the expense of an occasionally “spitty” sound on certain hard-edged upper midrange transient sounds. On the whole, I think many listeners might find the 2MAX the warmer, more dramatic, and more engaging monitor, while the ES-5 is the more accurate monitor and one that offers a certain pristine purity and clarity—especially at higher frequencies.
• Resolution levels between the 2MAX’s and ES-5’s are comparable, though I would very narrowly give the edge to the ES-5. But again, note that the 2MAX’s ultra-quiet backgrounds give the Sensaphonics’ monitors qualities of intimacy and focus that are tough to beat.
• One of the biggest differentiators between the 2MAX and the ES-5 involves the construction of their custom-molded earpieces. The 2MAX features Sensaphonics’ signature soft-gel silicone earpieces, while the Westone earpieces use a combination of solid acrylic material coupled with a separate, thermally sensitive, “soft-feel” material for the portion of the earpiece that inserts into the ear canal. As the Westone earpieces come up to temperature, then, their tips become semi-flexible and thus conform to the shape of the ear canal to achieve a better seal.
• The ES-5 earpieces in a sense “split the difference” between the Sensaphonics and JH Audio earpiece designs. On the one hand, the Westones have the easy-to-insert, “snap-into-position” qualities of the all-acrylic JH Audio earpieces, while also offering some (though not all) of the superior noise isolation characteristics that the Sensaphonics’ soft-gel silicone earpieces provide.