"The EX71s go to finishing school"4.0 starson by Robin Michael
Pros: Muscular bass, commendable mid- and high-range definition
Cons: Cords still as thin as the 71s, which might translate into a longevity issue
Summary: I've always admired the EX90LP's older, less expensive sibling, the EX71s; they are the budget-priced street tough. Sure, their mid-range is muddy, their treble indistinct (but at least present). But they do deliver the beat, the heart, of music, the thing that makes you want to tap your toes, swivel your hips, and dive into and by golly feel the music.
Now along come the twice-the-price EX90LPs, and dang if they don't sound like the EX71s all growed up.
Oh, they still have the fire-in-the-belly of the 71s, that bassy goodness that grips you the by the lapels and compels you to shake various body parts. But the 90s offer something more refined, suggested merely by their look, what with their fancy brushed-aluminum finish that defies the generic divide of all-black vs. iPod-friendly all-white plastic. Pop these babies in your ears, set the EQ to the fabulous v-shape of the "rock" option, and behold a clarity nearly on par with the similarly-priced Shure E2c model matched with a warmth, indeed a spiciness, the competition simply does not touch. Compared to the 71s, the mid-range stand tall, and the trebles don't mind if they develop a bit of an attitude (I like a nice veritable shower of treble, but for those not so inclined, simply tweaking the EQ of the sound source puts a lid on these phone's brights.)
How good sounding are these canalphones? Well, if you told me you were going to use these not as just your travel phones, but as your primary phones for use at home as well as on the road, and I'd be hard pressed to argue the choice.
Sound was not the only thing Sony worked on when it deigned to take the 71s to the next level. Most notably, the 90s, although they are designed to fit snuggly in the ear, sport a 90-degree angle between the portion that goes into one's ears and each bud's primary housing, which housing would appear, upon close inspection, to have a venting that allows air and sound to pass between the housing and the canal tube. Although this reduces somewhat the ability of the 90s to block out external sound, methinks Sony sought to find a balance between noise-blocking ability and thus reducing the “feedback” one can get from unvented canalfphones when one partakes of such rigorous activities as, say, walking on pavement or chewing gum. It’s a move of which I wholeheartedly approve; these are the first canalphones I’ve tried that allow me to both block out surrounding traffic noise *and* go for a run without having the amplified sounds of my footfalls struggling with the music for sonic supremacy.
Sony has also eliminated the either-too-short-or-too-long conundrum of the 71’s mini-cord coupled with an extension cord; the 90s feature a single cord whose length is just right. Sony does, though, appear to have dug in its heels on the asymmetrical cord length between the left and right buds, the cords’ design being meant to be worn behind one’s head. While some have decried this arrangement, it’s never bothered me, and in fact I like being able to so easily discern which side is which, regardless of the lighting.
Another carryover from the 71s is the thickness of the cord. While I haven’t had a problem with the cords of my 71s wearing prematurely, others have noted just such an occurrence. Big of a disappointment as the Shure E2c’s were to me, I do recall being impressed with the feeling of durability the Shure’s cord’s vine-like thickness.
All in all, the 90s deserve a most serious look from those searching for the listening privacy of canalphones paired with all-range clarity and a booty-movin’ bass without spending more than a C-note plus tax.