The first thing I noticed when putting on the EP6 headphones was that in order to use them, you must turn on Bluetooth (BT) or BT + Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) mode/s (despite having a wired input available). This is unlike the Pendulumic Stance (S1) headphones, they are able to play music over wired connection without using their batteries at all (passively, like most wired headphones are). I’d wager to say this design decision by ELEPAWL is completely hardware dependent or may simply be based on poor passive performance.
Spatial Impressions: Time delay effects such as reverb, echo, delay and 5.1 to 2.0 emulations, are emphasized more with the EP6 than with other headphones I am used to. At times this adds to the realism; in gaming it helps to pinpoint a sound source of interest. In the worst case scenario, it can create a sort of reverb induced distortion at moderate to high listening levels. This likely occurs due to strong reverb combined with the EP6 bass signature. During extensive testing I notice that high frequencies sound as if they have a bit more sustain than other frequencies (see siblance in distortion section here), especially with ANC enabled. Sustain being the length of time a note/sound wave takes to decay to inaudible levels, most commonly used with regard to actual musical instruments.
When I switched over to the S1, the reverb and sustain went back to what I feel is more common. All headphones have inherent reverb profiles, but the S1’s reverb are milder than the EP6’s. What will sound best to you, as always, comes down to personal taste. What you plan to use the headphones for is also extremely important. My gaming test sessions were impressively good, causing me to completely reevaluate the headphones in both spatial and tonal balance. The gaming tests set the review back by 3 days, as I struggled to understand what I was hearing and how best to tell the readers about such behavior.
The correct use of timing delays can help create a sense of a larger listening space by emulating reflections of a room. Effects like reverb, echo, and delay eases the sometimes claustrophobic feeling of headphones compared to loudspeakers. Not one pair of headphones has the ability to produce delayed (sound wave) reflections, as loudspeakers or instruments naturally do in any room. The slightly delayed reflection of sound waves in a room creates a feeling of depth and allows you to estimate the room size/listening space in relation to the source. The best headphones can do is reverb, echo, and delay to create a sense of real spaces, all timing delay effects. In respect to spatial effects, the EP6 do a good job (knowing it’s an uphill battle to emulate such sounds).
Spatial Score: 8/10
I recommend turning on the active noise cancellation feature of the EP6’s during the reverb distortion scenario described earlier. I say this because the drop in bass caused by ANC, cleans up the signal by a flip of the switch. This distortion is most noticeable with compressed audio (such as most streaming) in combination with specific types of sound effects. During many audio performance tests in books like, Small Signal Audio Design by Douglas Self, it was always the bass frequencies that had the most THD, regardless of the configuration of the test.
We need to remember these headphones are marketed at performing well in gaming, movies, music, VR and more! You know what they say about a jack of all trades and quality. Still, the EP6 are able to deliver a convincing stereo image and overall auditory image. The audio purist out there may find the reverb effect of the EP6’s a distraction, especially in content that doesn’t pair well with such effects. However, for those who prefer a noticeable amount of bass in their music and mainly play first person shooter (FPS) or racing games, these could be a perfect fit for you.
Moving on, the stereo image width is a little better with the S1, as they have a wider and slightly more convincing sound stage. That isn’t to say the EP6 have a small sound stage, it’s just not as detailed in most material and seems a little smaller when compared directly to the S1. Except for in my gaming tests, there the EP6 win across the board against the S1. When it comes to the accuracy of sound placement, the EP6 does impressively well. This is another category where ANC has a noticeable effect. When you flip over to ANC mode, the bass becomes much more balanced, resulting in a wider stereo image with more detail.
Stereo Image Score: 6.5/10
The tonal balance of the EP6’s leans towards bass heavy, regardless of genre or movie/game type. Even when playing primarily speech based content, I could hear an obvious shift in the level of bass when wearing the EP6. Bass heaviness is a common trend with “modern” headphones over the last twenty to thirty years. Part of this has to do with the rise in bass heavy music during the late 80’s into the 90’s, along with gaming and action movies. Then we see the rise of DVDs and 5.1 audio enters into your average homes. One last factor to consider on this topic is the cost of manufacturing subwoofers and passive radiators compared with mid-range woofers and tweeters. There is little doubt in my mind that subwoofers and radiators are more cost effective to sell, as the required raw materials are much less expensive to acquire.
Bass became much more important in creating a coherent representation of the material (auditory image) and the speaker/headphone industry started to reflect this during the rise of CDs. The standard headphone design only allows for a single driver per ear, making compromises in design stages is a given. Budget to mid-range headphone companies started to go away from their flat/neutral driver voicing, for one with a middle to low frequency boost. This is highlighted in the first few years that headphones like Beats™ became “iconic”. As mentioned in other parts of this review, the ANC mode will slice some of the bass off the top of the mix, opening up the midrange clarity and delivering better dynamic range. We can’t always rely on this though, so the tonal balance score takes this into account, but the score isn’t determined by the ANC mode alone.
Tonal Balance Score: 7/10
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