Thanks to an industrywide trend that has seen the release in recent years of lots of overly bassy earphones, it’s rare these days for us to just pop something affordable into our ears and really like what we’re hearing. Maximo’s new iMetal iM-590 ($60) is an example of one of the good ones, a pair of mostly metal in-canal earphones with a couple of design quirks but very good sound and other design elements that will appeal to some users.
Like many of the earphones that have been released since V-Moda debuted the original Vibe, iMetal iM-590 uses a combination of aluminum bodied earpieces and silicone rubber tips to provide sturdy but comfortable housings that fit snugly in the ear. What’s a little odd and interesting about iM-590 is that there are four sets of the rubber tips in the package, initially appearing to be a mix of single- and double-flanges—tapered and ribbed to become bigger as they get further back from your ear—but they’re all really just shaped like double-flanges because of the iM590’s body design. Maximo’s housing bulges at the middle to hold 9mm audio drivers, and the tips cover that bulge, then shrink, providing the same tapered, noise-isolating effect as a double-flange. Our medium-sized ears found the iM-590 design to be comfortable and soft, and save for one thing, the metal bodies have a reassuring feeling of durability.
That oddity’s also rubber-related. Unlike most of the metal earphones we’ve seen, Maximo uses the material both in the front and the back of the bodies, with the latter part forming a contoured tube around the fabric headphone cabling. We’re certain that the use of rubber here is justifiable to the extent that it keeps the cables in place, but on the version of iM-590 we tested, it didn’t look all that hot, and neither did the matching smoke gray tips included with the earphones. Maximo also sells a version of iM-590 with clear white rubber tips and rear accents, plus lighter cables, and at least from the pictures, they look a bit nicer; the dark clear rubber comes across as a little cheap.
iM-590 doesn’t give off any of the other typical signs of cheap earphones, though. An extension cable, a nice zippered carrying case, headphone port adapters, and shirt clip are included in the package, collectively the sorts of items that typically aren’t bundled with $50-60 earphones, and if you can put the rubber backs aside, the earphones themselves are really nice: sonically, they’ve been balanced in a manner that we found immediately appealing, with roughly equal parts of treble, midrange, and bass—a little extra oomph at the top and bottom—rather than the weak treble and accentuated bass combination we hear so much these days. Clarity is appropriate to the asking price, too; the “enhanced definition” product name doesn’t mean that you’ll hear incredible levels of detail, but by the standards of most $50 earphones, these sound very good. We instantly and strongly preferred the iM-590’s sound, though not the styling, to Klipsch’s more expensive Image S4 and Apple’s In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, though each of these $80 pairs of earphones has something—either looks or additional functionality—that may interest some buyers more.
There’s only one small thing worth noting about the iM-590’s audio. Unlike many earphone companies—some of which have argued against the efficacy of this practice—Maximo includes a notice in the package that recommends an 8-10 hour burn-in period before use. We followed this burn-in period before trying them out, running the earphones on relatively high volumes to let them work out whatever dust particles or settling time they needed, and we liked what we heard. So, though we don’t endorse the burn in practice in any way, we note Maximo’s recommendation for the benefit of readers who might try the iM-590s and not be totally thrilled on first listen.
All in all, we definitely liked Maximo’s iMetal iM-590; it’s a worthy follow-up to the prior iP-HS2, though with design choices—particularly in color and rubber—that may appeal more to some users than others. For the price, this is a very good pair of balanced, durable-feeling earphones; they’re worthy of our strong general recommendation.
June 1, 2009: Maximo has provided the clear white rubber version of the iM-590 for our comments—as suggested in the original review, these do in fact look better than the clear black rubber version, with less obvious seams and a cleaner overall appearance. We’d pick the white ones any day.
Company and Price
Compatible: All iPods except iPod shuffle 3G