We’ve covered a number of Audio-Technica headphones in the past, and admittedly been drawn to their SonicPro line. We’ve found that headphones in this product category (like the ATH-MSR7) tend to be well-suited to rock music and metal, a quality that is becoming something of a rarity these days. For that reason we were excited to start with Audio-Technica’s SonicPro in-ear monitors. Up for review this week is the ATH-IM02; metal fans rejoice, it stays true to its SonicPro genes.
Unlike our past experience with Audio-Technica headphones, the accessories included in the IM02’s box are generous — at least for an in-ear monitor. In addition to three sizes of silicone ear tips, we received Comply foam tips and a zippered ballistic nylon storage case. The IM02’s cable is detachable, but only a single, standard, short-ish 3.5mm cable is bundled with the headphone — Audio-Technica leaves it to the user to experiment with aftermarket cables if desired. The IM02 is extremely light (just 5 grams) and compact, owing to the choice of balanced armature drivers rather than large dynamic drivers. The housings of the IM02 are made of a gray plastic, understated and just translucent enough to allow us to see the tiny drivers and electronics within; we think they look great, but found them to be prone to light scratching in real-world use.
Your success in fitting the IM02 might take some experimentation. In our testing, the angle of the sound channels (and, consequently, the ear tips) was such that the headphone would seem to be facing a wall in the ear canal, either blocking out the sound or failing to seal enough for low-end to be heard. After some fiddling and swapping of ear tips, however, we found a comfortable and secure fit that revealed the full range of the IM02. The cable’s moldable over-ear guides are a nice touch, and we actually liked the relatively short length of the cable for use with portable devices — less slack to get caught on random protrusions in our environment. No smartphone controls are included with this cable, but they can be found in the aftermarket for relatively low cost. At 32 ohms, the IM02 is easily driven using the iPhone’s Lightning adapter.
The IM02 uses two sets of balanced-armature drivers per ear — one for midrange and highs, and one for bass frequencies. Similar to Audio-Technica’s other SonicPro headphones, we found the IM02 to be articulate and present a relatively balanced sound signature, leaning on the warm side but without overly present low-end. The IM02’s bass extends low, but is flat through the midrange. It doesn’t present quite as much upper midrange/lower treble as, for example, the ATH-MSR7, but it still struck us as very natural sounding. Some might perceive these as light in the bass region but, given some time to adjust to their sound, we think that many will come to realize that many headphones in the market have an unnatural bass boost. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that — we like a lush bass as much as the next guy — but such a sound signature can limit a headphone’s music pairings.
If you’ve been following our IEM reviews of late, you’ve probably noticed that many of the headphones we’ve come across have had “v-shaped” sound signatures, and we’ve opined that they’re not ideal for rock and metal music. We’ve noticed the trend as well, and have been on the lookout for IEMs that pair well with the midrange-focused genres. The Audio-Technica is the first that we’ve found on this journey, and we think they’re well worth the price.
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