Over the last 12 months we’ve seen an influx of new headphones working to bring top-end audio quality and features to the sub-£100 market. Highlights have included the SoundMagic E80 and Etymotic MK5, which both came close to offering sound quality on a par with sets costing close to twice their price.
The £75 e700M are Onkyo’s attempt to pull the same trick, but come with the added allure of being “Hi-Res Audio ready”.
Ultimately those Hi-Res Audio claims don't result in any massive leap in sound quality, but the e700M are still a fantastic set of earphones that any music fan on a budget should check out.
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The e700M’s aren’t the subtlest-looking headphones. The two-tone braided cable makes them look like the lovechild of a set of House of Marley earphones and the SoundMagic E80s. The buds' shiny metal casing and grille protruding from the earpieces are also a little jazzy for my liking.
I’m also a little disappointed that the inline remote (iOS and Android compatible) attached to the left earpiece only features a play/pause button and microphone. I’d have prefered it if Onkyo had managed to load a volume control into the headphones. It’s a small quibble, but I like being able to adjust the volume of my music without having to pull my phone out.
Luckily the headphones make up for these issues when it comes to functionality and build quality. The cable and casings may look ridiculous, but they’re fairly tough. The earbuds survived accidentally being stepped on more than once, and the cable feels rugged enough to survive average wear and tear. This is a big deal, as the cable isn’t removable – if it goes, you’ll be on the market for a new set of headphones.
The e700M are also incredibly comfortable to wear. The main headphones come with three pairs of silicone tips and one pair of foam buds. With the correct-sized tips, the headphones neatly fitted into my ear canal and provided a solid seal. The earpieces’ spherical casing sat comfortably in my outer ear and, when combined with the light weight, also ensured they never felt like they were on the verge of falling out.
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Onkyo’s pushing the e700M’s 6Hz-40kHz frequency response as a key selling point for the headphones. The figure means the headphones are technically Hi-Res Audio ready, but to me that's of limited interest.
The fact is that Hi-Res Audio is still a minefield. The term is a marketing pitch audio companies use to describe any audio codec that exceeds CD quality. The only thing a set of headphones has to do to be Hi-Res ready is to cover the necessary frequency range – a figure that isn’t a sure sign they’ll offer above-average sound quality.
Related: What is Hi-Res Audio?
The type of drivers used and, in the case of portable listening, how good the headphones are at sound isolation, are equally important factors that determine how well headphones can deliver Hi-Res Audio. This left me a little nervous that the e700M’s Hi-Res claims could be a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. Sadly this turned out to be the case.
I tested the feature using an HTC 10 and variety of Hi-Res audio jazz masters. During my personal tests using the headphones in the office and on my commute to and from work, I struggled to hear a noticeable difference. Doing a blind test with friends where I had them listen to the Hi-Res and regular versions of a song back to back, not one of the three lab rats could tell the difference.
Related: What is Hi-Res Audio?
Luckily, putting aside the Hi-Res disappointment, the e700M are a very competent set of headphones. They offer the best and most balanced sound quality I’ve experienced in a sub-£100 set of in-ears for quite some time.
The 108dB sensitivity let them deliver solid maximum volumes distortion-free, and the 32-ohm impedance figure means they're easily driven by any standard 3.5mm headphone output. The e700M’s 13.5mm semi-closed neodymium drivers offered a balanced sound across numerous genres.
Listening to a range of styles including classic rock, instrumental guitar, punk, prog and J-Pop – don’t judge me, Baby Metal are awesome – I was particularly impressed by the e700M’s low-end performance. Too often sub-£100 headphones push bass too much, creating an unbalanced sound that only favours club and dance music.
The e700M by comparision offer a nicely balanced bass that gives the the mid-range and treble room to breathe, while offering suitable power and rumble to let rock and blues tracks shine.
Sibilance occasionally snuck in when listening to emo and soul singers at high volumes, but the e700M’s sound was still noticeably smoother and fuller than competing sets, like the SoundMagic E80, Etymotic MK5 and Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear.
My only criticism of the e700M’s sound stems from a tendency for their treble to harden. Listening to classic punk and heavy metal tracks at high volumes, the guitars and drummers' cymbals occasionally began to sound harsh and ruin what was otherwise a very well-balanced sound.
If you’re a music lover on a budget, looking for a well-balanced set of regular in-ears, then yes, you should absolutely consider Onkyo’s e700M. The e700M are super-comfortable to wear and offer excellent sound quality compared to most competing sub-£100 headphones. Bass is controlled and precise, and the mid-range is full and powerful when up against the likes of the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear.
But if you’re after a set of headphones to go with your shiny new Astell & Kern AK70 Hi-Res Audio player or Onkyo's own DP-X1, then you might be disappointed. They may technically cover the necessary frequency range to be labeled Hi-Res Audio ready, but that’s only an on-paper achievement. The e700M just don’t have the sonic chops to reveal the benefits of Hi-Res Audio.
If you put aside Onkyo’s Hi-Res Audio claims, the e700M are a fantastic set of headphones that offer wonderfully balanced sound quality.