IEMs or In-ear monitors have become very popular these days. A few years ago very few IEMs existed, and these were priced generally very high.
For the lower end market earbuds were the popular choice while IEMs were for the discerning few. US and European companies like Etymotic ears, Ultimate Ears, Shure and others were the only few manufacturers who made IEMs.
With the arrival of Chinese companies however the IEM market has exploded with IEMs now available from as low as $1 to an eye popping $2000+ for custom IEMs that are molded on the users ear canal.
In addition to Chinese companies even big manufacturers like Sennheiser, AKG, Shure and others have started manufacturing IEMs in China while their more expensive models are made in the EU.
Signature Acoustics is an Indian company started in Navi Mumbai and is the first Indian company to launch an Indian branded IEM.
While like most manufacturers the IEM itself is ‘Made in China’, many manufacturers take the easy way out by simply re-branding an existing Chinese earphone under their brand name and selling it to the market. This allows companies the option of launching many IEMs at once.
However Signature Acoustics took the more difficult route of finding a manufacturer to tune an IEM to their requirements. So the C12 is not a simple rebrand of an existing Chinese earphone but it has been customized and built from the ground up after sampling various drivers, housings, wires and cases to come up with a brand new product.
To their credit each IEM comes with a beautiful hand made metal case which is something unheard of in this price range. The metal case is also ‘100% Made in India’.
However the heavy case doesn’t really lend for portability but I am told that Signature Acoustics will be redesigning the case shortly in favour of a lighter leather of faux leather one.
MODEL : Elements C-12
- Driver : 8 mm (CCAW)
- Impedance : 18 Ohms @ 1Khz
- Frequency : 17 to 20 Khz
- Sensitivity : 102 dB
- Total length : 1.2 mts (split length 28 cms. )
- Channel Balance : < 2.5% dB @ 1 Khz
The specs seem to be fine with no real positives or negatives. The earphones have an angled jack which I am not too fond off as I find no real advantages over a straight jack and an angled jack can be a problem when placing a player in your shirt pocket.
The wire is sleeved and doesn’t tangle too easily. Microphonics (ruffling sound when the cable brushes your shirt) is minimal at best which is a very good result.
Wooden housing at this price point is very good. Wood generally contributes to a warmer sound and most people prefer a warmer sound over a pure neutral sound which is why most speaker enclosures are made of wood.
- Silicon Ear Tips (S,M,L)
- Earphone Filters
- Shirt Clip
- Brass Case
Accessories list is spartan, but the metal case is something simply not available at anything close to this price point. Additional accessories for future models could include a pair of foam tips and perhaps a few more spare tips as tips are easily lost.
I found the sound changed quite a bit with different tips. These earphones sound best with thin silicon tips and didn’t work as well with Sony hybrids or double flange tips.
The lightweight housings and shallow insertion lead to a comfortable listening experience.
I tested the C12 with a wide variety of sources and found that these earphones are rather source-dependent. Something I have not seen for some time now.
My main portable source was the Sansa Fuze, but I also tried it on my Pantech Burst phone and BlackBerry phone.
On the desktop I tried it with the Fiio E10 and Music Streamer II paired with a Compass DAC/AMP.
The sound on the desktop setup was a fair bit better which shows that the C12 can scale with better equipment though it sounds just fine on portable sources.
The main focus of this IEM is undoubtedly the bass. The bass is on the heavier side of bass neutral with plenty of ‘thump’, ‘impact’ and ‘depth’
A lot of IEMs try to portray the bass by boosting the mid bass while there is little sub bass (notes < 100 Hz). The Signature Acoustics C12 does have a slightly boosted mid bass but has plenty of sub bass as well.
The bass is quite warm but a bit on the slower side which means that on complex passages it can sound a bit congested. On the desktop setup the bass has even more impact and the speed increases as well.
Mid range sounds nice with a rather warm sound. However female vocals sound a bit too nasal. It feels like all female vocalists are singing while suffering from a cold. Male vocals are portrayed very well, however.
Treble is a mixed bag. On a portable device, the treble is lacking in my opinion. However, a treble EQ can cure that in a large part. Both the Fuze and Burst have custom EQ built in to cure that but the BlackBerry doesn’t have a custom EQ and so the C12 sounds a bit worse on the BB.
Other than the stand out bass the other highlight is the soundstage. IEMs generally have a flaw of having a very narrow soundstage due largely to the design. However the C12 manages to convey a rather competent and wide soundstage. Without any treble EQ however the soundstage is wide and relatively deep but lacks a bit of height so the soundstage doesn’t completely envelope you. However on the desktop system or after adding a bit of custom EQ I found the soundstage is really special and completely envelops you.
Imaging is ok but nothing special and so is instrument separation which means that in complex fast tracks the C12 seems congested. However most warm earphones with thick notes like the C12 don’t offer very good imaging.
Balanced Armature IEMs are the ones to look out for when you require good imaging and instrument separation since BA notes tend to be on the thinner side, and while there are warm BA earphones most are either neutral or on the cold side.
So the sum up the C12 has excellent bass and soundstage with warm mids and decent treble.
So the first IEM from an Indian manufacturer has good performance and has a few headline features like a lovely brass case, wooden housings and excellent bass.
However, while the sound of the SA C12 is good the IEM market is so competitive these days that there are 100s of other earphones at this price range that are available.
The C12 is priced at Rs. 2,700/- which I believe is a good enough price considering the build, sound quality and accessories provided.
Some of its locally available competitors that I have at hand to compare are the Idance X104 which has even more prominent bass but is a rather slow paced IEM and lacks the wide soundstage that the C12 has. Detail retrieval is around the same, but the C12 is a clearly better rounded IEM.
The other IEM I have is the RHA M450i which is priced at 40 pounds and so is priced very similarly to the C12.
The RHA is a very different IEM to the C12. They are practically Ying and Yang. The RHA has much thinner notes and sounds on the colder side of neutral. The RHA has a very small and intimate soundstage and lacks the impact-full bass that the C12 has.
That said the RHA has almost scarily impressive imaging and instrument separation and has impeccable detail retrieval that matches IEMs priced much higher.
So in conclusion the C12 is a very competent IEM and has an easy to recommend sound as a warm sound generally works well across most genres and has few flaws that could spoil the overall listening experience and kudos to Signature Acoustics for taking the initiative to create India’s first IEM.