Gorilla Ears AT5 Custom In Ear Monitor Review
Company Name: Gorilla Ears
Company Website: http://www.gorillaears.com
Gorilla Ears FAQ: http://www.gorillaears.com/faq.php
Headphone Model: Gorilla Ears AT5
Headphone Style (Open, Closed, On-Ear, Over-Ear, IEM, CIEM): Custom In Ear Monitors
Frequency Range: 20Hz-18Khz
Impedance: 25 Ohms @ 1Khz
Sensitivity: 117db @ 1Khz
Isolation: 28db ± 2db
Warranty: 1 Year
Price: $1049 + Audiologist impressions & Shipping to Gorilla Ears
Describing Sound: http://www.head-fi.org/a/describing-sound-a-glossary
Pros: Custom fit for your ears guarantying a good fit and good isolation, sound stage is wide, build quality is good, no micro-phonics.
Cons: They are custom fit for the original owner’s ears. Nobody could use them unless they got them re-shelled. Cable seems a little thin and short, however it is a commonly used cable in mid to upper end IEMs and CIEM’s such as Westone, Tralucent, Heir Audio, etc.
Rating scale Breakdown (1-10)
1-2: Very Bad
5: Not Bad/Not Good/Neutral
8-9: Very Good
Audio Quality: 9.2/10
Overall Rating: 8.8/10
• Audio Quality: How good a set of headphones sounds in relation to other headphones I’ve heard. This will be subjective with any set of headphones that are reviewed.
• Micro-phonics: Noise that can be heard from the cable being moved around. The less noise the higher the value, the more noise the lower the value.
• Comfort: How comfortable a set of headphones is over a prolonged period of time.
• Design: How well a set of headphones are designed. This includes cables, reinforcement points, jacks, and materials used.
• Isolation: How well a set of headphones blocks outside noises and allows you to hear the music you’re listening to. This also includes sound leakage from the headphones to others around you.
• Value: Performance to cost ratio. If performance exceeds cost this value will be high. If performance is on the low end for the cost the value will be low. This will be subjective based on audio quality. Everyone hears different things.
• Accessories: How well the included accessories stack up compared to other headphones of similar style.
• Overall Rating: This is the average of the other 7 criteria summed and divided by 7.
Gorilla Ears AT Models vs. GX Models:
Gorilla Ears is available in two different models, AT and GX, and each model is available in one, two, three or five driver (speaker) configurations per ear. In addition, the two and three driver models can also be ordered in a ‘bass’ setup, which has a dedicated driver for the lower frequencies and is perfectly suited for both bassists and drummers. The bass setup is denoted by the letter ‘B’ in the model number.
The Gorilla Ears AT series features a front-facing, black, twisted, non-detachable cord, ideal for motorcyclists, audiophiles and the casual user.
The GX series is designed for the performing musician, and features a clear detachable cord that wraps conveniently over and behind the ear. In all 5 speaker IEM’s made by Gorilla Ears you get two speakers for lows, two more for mids and a single balanced driver for crisp highs.
Impressions were taken using a 1” bite block and a silicone impression material. They were full impressions and included the crus of the helix, anti-tragus and tragus taken just past the second bend in the ear canal. Impressions can cost anywhere from $25 for both ears up to $100 a piece.
Gorilla Ears will send an instruction sheet to you to ensure the impressions are made with the proper bite block and the impression goes deep enough.
How CIEMS are made:
When asked how Gorilla Ears Custom In Ear Monitors are made, Alan was eager to share the process. He stated:
“[The] Process of building them is part science, part art form – as no two are ever exactly the same, and putting the pieces inside the shell requires quite a bit of skill. Most of the production staff that builds them has been doing these or hearing aids for most of their life.
We build up the impression and fill in any missing spots with wax. We then put a couple additional coats of wax on the impression to increase their size just a bit and so it will fit in the ear snugly. We then make a negative of that impression in something called colloid gel – looks a bit like Jell-O. The colloid setup would basically look just like your ear does now (it’s a negative of the ear impression). The acrylic is then poured in the colloid negative and UV cured so that it hardens up. Once it’s hardened, we can then start putting the electronics and components inside the acrylic shell using your impression. After this process is complete we then start wiring in the speakers and crossovers. Once it’s wired up, we test it and then seal it up with the outer faceplate and cord connection.”
Gorilla Ears was founded in 2001 by the Janus Development Group, a privately held S-Corp, based out of Greenville, NC.
Janus Development Group also makes the SpeechEasy product which is an in ear product designed to reduce stuttering.
The Gorilla Ears lineup of custom in ear monitors were created to offer a high quality, low price, and great sounding CIEM.
Alan Newton, President of the Janus Development Group said: “We’re confident that even the most discriminating audiophile is going to be completely blown away by the sound of these in-ears”.
“And with competitive prices and a no-questions-asked installment plan, you no longer have to be a headlining act to protect your hearing.”
My PC music setup consists of Virtual Audio Cable, VSTHost, and Electri-Q Posihfopit Edition. Playback is done on Foobar2000 with no EQ. This setup allows me to EQ any music source coming from any application on my PC.
Using Virtual Audio Cable allows you to create a sound device that picks up the default Windows audio and route it through a VST plugin of your choice and link it to an output device of your choice. This bypasses the often buggy or less than optimal Windows sound drivers. VSTHost is responsible for hosting the VST Plugin Electri-Q EQ. I get the input from the virtual audio cable, send it through the equalizer, and output it to the Realtek HD Audio card. I use the MME driver for these because in Windows 7 DirectSound runs in emulation mode. Meaning it does not offer hardware acceleration and can often cause degradation over its DirectSound counterpart. I am running a sample rate of 48000 and a buffer of 480 samples (100 b/s).
All of the output is then ran through the Fiio E11 with low gain and EQ at 0 for this review.
• Gorilla Ears hard case
• Wire/Brush cleaning tool
• Micro-fiber towel
Initial Listening Impressions
Right after I got the mail I had to open these. I tossed a handful of songs on Spotify and had a listen. Right away the sound stage was nice and wide and very detailed. None of the frequency ranges stuck out as being over powering or lacking. Seemed like a perfect balance out of the gate.
The headphones are a clear acrylic with a front-facing, black, twisted, non-detachable cord. The cord material is a glossy and slipper braided finish that prevents Micro-phonics. The shells are smooth with no bubbles, edges, or blemishes.
Each shell has a red or blue dot on it. Red is for right ear, blue is for left ear. Each shell also has a serial number on it that is exactly 1 digit apart and contains the model number designation. There are 3 sound tubes. As discussed before you get two speakers for lows, two more for mids and a single balanced driver for crisp highs. That means 1 sound tube for lows, 1 for mids, and 1 for highs.
The faceplates are molded in nicely with no physical evidence that they were 2 separate pieces. The faceplate has a white recessed and painted G on it. Just under the G is the outlet for the wiring. The outlet is half acrylic molded into the faceplate and the other half is a rubber stress relief.
As you move down the wire you get a sliding cinch that is clear. This cinch is made up of the same material as the stress relief for the wire that comes out of the faceplates. The Y in the wiring is a high quality hard rubber compound that is very sturdy.
The wire used appears to be a tangle resistant wire and it terminates nicely into an L shaped gold plated 3.5mm connection.
The case is a black plastic outer shell with a flip top that contains a Gorilla Ears sticker/logo. To open the case you have 2 black slides similar to what you would find on a corporate brief case. You slide both pieces to the outer edge of the case and the top flips open.
Inside the case you will find a soft egg crate lining on both the top and bottom sides to protect your investment.
You will also find a 6 ½” x 6 ½” yellow micro fiber cleaning cloth with a black Gorilla Ears logo that is meant to wipe away the body oils after use. This prevents damage to the internal electronics and discoloration of the shells and faceplate.
The last thing you will find a double sided cleaning tool that contains a brush and metal scoop to clean out the sound tubes on your new CIEM. This tool is meant to remove possible ear wax from the sound tubes to maintain optimal performance.
Images from an iPhone
For this listening review I used some of the GM’s Top 10 Tuning songs, Dr. Chesky’s Binaural Sound Show, and a random assortment of music from my personal collection. The GM tuning list consisted of songs such as “No One” by Alicia Keys and “Hotel California” by the Eagles.
1. During Alicia Keys “No One” – I focused on her voice. The level of clarity was superb. This is one of those songs that will send chills up your spine from the clarity on a high end system. Towards the end of the song you can hear the deep breaths that the singer is taking.
2. The Eagles “Hotel California” – The separation and stage width are what really shine in this song. This was not the live version. You can tell the singer is left of center on the stage along with most of the instruments. Drums appear to be dead center in this recording.
3. Todd Turkishers “Drum Solo” from Dr. Chesky’s Binaural Sound Show CD showed that this set of IEM’s is perfectly capable at producing midbass. The midbass is articulate, fast, and detailed.
4. “This Little Light Of Mine” demonstrates a nice and wide sound stage and clarity. The male vocalist is clearly on the back, right side of the stage and the background singers are to the left. This particular set of headphones provides a depth to the music that I have never experienced. You can hear the rasp in the male vocalists’ voice.
5. Styx “Come Sail Away” is one of my favorite tracks to listen to. The piano intro is very crisp and detailed as is the voice of the vocalist. This track is lush and provides an immersive experience. Drums are tight throughout the entire song.
6. Stonesour “Through Glass” is another one of my favorite tracks to listen to. The clarity in this song combined with its ability to suck you into the sound stage is even more pleasurable to listen to on a high end set of headphones like the AT5’s. The entire song is on a level of clarity that many songs just can’t replicate. Where this song shines is from the middle to the end. The background music just brings the song to life. The bass is powerful, the highs are clear, and one frequency doesn’t over power another. It’s a perfect balance across the entire sound spectrum.
7. Ushers “Scream” was my choice to demonstrate low end frequencies. I know this song has an emphasized low end and used it to put the AT5’s to the test. This song was no match for the AT5’s. The bass and midbass were strong throughout the song. It was never overpowering even though the song is mixed to emphasize the low end.
I have multiple sets of headphones that I have reviewed and at my disposal. For the comparison portion of this review I will compare these to Focal Price CK700’s, Shure SRH750DJ’s, and a set of Dunu Topsound I3CS. I have a set of Aurisonics ASG v2.0’s on the way that these will be compared against once they arrive.
I realize that these reviews are highly biased towards the more expensive AT5’s. However, this will allow you to see how different price brackets relate in performance and sound and kind of break down what things you can expect from a higher end set of headphones that cheaper models just don’t offer.
The methodology for these comparisons will be done in steps. I will pick 5 songs from the 7 that were used for listening impressions and use these 15 second clips for all 3 comparisons. I will use a 15 second clip from each song. I will listen to the comparison headphone for the 15 second clip. I will then replay the same 15 second clip with the AT5’s. I will record my findings and repeat if necessary. During the testing the EQ is set to flat and the volume is the same for every clip.
As with the listening experience section all songs will be 320KBPS or lossless.
Gorilla Ears AT5
1. Alicia Keys – No One: On this excerpt the AT5’s excelled. They were the most balanced in every aspect. They weren’t too bright and the bass wasn’t over powering.
2. Stone Sour – Through Glass: This song is very crisp and clear and feels like it has a wider stage than the rest of the headphones.
3. Usher – Scream: The midbass is where the AT5’s excel on this song. The microdetails from the background music are much more pronounced with this set over any other set they are compared against, which could be annoying depending on your preference.
4. The West New York Spiritual Choir – This Little Light of Mine: This song has a very wide stage and its easy to pick up on the location of the male vocalist just to the right of center on the stage.
5. Todd Turkisher – Drum Solo: The midbass was the best with this set of headphones. Everything was much more clear with this set over any of the other sets. Im assuming this is due to multiple drivers vs. 1 driver for the other sets of headphones.
1. Alicia Keys – No One: The bass in this set of headphones is a lot less than the CK700’s. Everything seems fairly well balanced, but you still don’t get those fine details.
2. Stone Sour – Through Glass: This song is also crisp and clear on the 750’s. It lacks the oomph that the AT5’s seem to have with the instrumentals and seems closed off.
3. Usher – Scream: This song is the perfect song for these headphones. Everything is well rounded with the perfect blend of lows, mids, and highs.
4. The West New York Spiritual Choir – This Little Light of Mine: These headphones underperformed here. Everything was very quiet and there wasn’t a right of center. The vocalist sounded like he was standing to your right hand side directly next to you.
5. Todd Turkisher – Drum Solo: Bass was lacking, but midbass was very pronounced. The instrument separation was very obvious with this set of headphones. I was able to tell where each piece of the drum set was.
Dunu Topsound I3CS
1. Alicia Keys – No One: These headphones are very bright and lack heavily on the low end. They do excel in the midrange compared to the other headphones.
2. Stone Sour – Through Glass: The guitar stuck out like a sore thumb with this set of IEM’s. On this clip there is a reverberation at about 2 seconds. This was the only set that I could hear this on.
3. Usher – Scream: Midbass is very nice with this set of IEM’s on this song. Everything else sounds well balanced.
4. The West New York Spiritual Choir – This Little Light of Mine: This set of headphones was better than the SRH750DJ’s and the CK700’s, but not quite as good as the AT5’s. The sound stage here was more accurate than both of the other IEM’s.
5. Todd Turkisher – Drum Solo: The midbass and treble were very pronounced, but lacking in the low bass department.
Focal Price CK700
1. Alicia Keys – No One: These headphones are very bass heavy in this excerpt. The highs are very crisp and almost bright.
2. Stone Sour – Through Glass: The CK700’s did well on this song. They weren’t bright like they are in some songs, but the vocals sounded watered down.
3. Usher – Scream: The bass is overpowering compared to the other sets of headphones. They seem quieter than the rest as well in the vocals and midbass areas.
4. The West New York Spiritual Choir – This Little Light of Mine: Like the SRH750DJ’s there was no right of center. The vocalist was standing directly next to you.
5. Todd Turkisher – Drum Solo: All of the components where there with this set of IEM’s. It was easy to tell where the bass was compared to the rest of the drum set, but everything else ran together and I couldn’t tell where anything else was in comparison to the bass.
Heir Audio 3.Ai
- Alicia Keys – No One: The base is pronounced in this song, yet everything maintains clarity.
- Stone Sour – Through Glass: The 3.Ai’s were the most clear on this excerpt over any of the other headphones. While it had the most clarity it lacked in low end.
- Usher – Scream: Midbass is the shining point of this excerpt. It doesn’t have the kick that the ASG2’s have. It also doesn’t show the finer details of the background music like the AT5’s did.
- The West New York Spiritual Choir – This Little Light of Mine: This set of headphones was on par with the AT5’s in terms of sound stage. There was a clear right of center with the male vocalist which was lacking in all other sets except for the ASG2.0’s.
- Todd Turkisher – Drum Solo: I expected this set to have a pronounced low end, but it was more of a mid bass monster on this excerpt. The instrument separation is obvious, but the sound stage felt kind of closed off. It was as bad the SRH750DJ’s, but not as good as the AT5’s and ASG2.0’s.
- Alicia Keys – No One: This set of headphones excels in the bass department. Even with the bass port completely closed these had the best bass/midbass out of any set of headphones auditioned including the Shure SRH750DJ’s.
- Stone Sour – Through Glass: The ASG2.0’s performed well in this excerpt. Everything was well balanced and the finer details were still able to be heard.
- Usher – Scream: Again this set of IEM’s excelled in the bass/midbass department. Its very pronounced and clear, but doesn’t interfere with making the highs feel muddy.
- The West New York Spiritual Choir – This Little Light of Mine: This set of headphones was also on par with the AT5’s. I could tell there was a right of center which seemed lacking in other sets compared.
- Todd Turkisher – Drum Solo: As with the AT5’s this set was very clear and the instrument separation was superb. It was easy to pick out where the instruments were coming from.
Overall Experience with Gorilla Ears
Overall I enjoyed working with Alan on this project. He was very knowledgeable, quick to respond, and a standup guy/company as far as I am concerned.
The product used in this review is constructed of the highest quality parts and industry standards. The AT5’s lived up to my expectations and Gorilla Ear’s description. I heard things in songs that I have never heard before despite using the same songs in other reviews.
The clarity, separation, and overall presentation of these headphones were superb. All of these factors combined with the quality products and service has earned these a respectable 8.8/10. The only reason these did not score higher is because nothing is perfect and there is always room for improvement.
Sometimes people are weary to work with a new company on the market or an old company trying to break into a new market segment. Even being a new competitor in the HiFi Headphone market I would not hesitate to work with Gorilla Ears again.