Growing numbers of serious music lovers are drawn to high-performance earphones and headphones, though we recognize that some of our fellow audiophiles remain skeptical about products in this category. I suspect this may have to do with a latent conservative streak among high-end listeners, where the trend is often to stick with tried and true solutions until newer alternatives have proven their mettle. Another factor may involve simple lack of familiarity with the options available—a problem compounded by the fact that for every truly great earphone on the market there are probably five or more that look similar but sound mediocre at best.
Obviously, this makes it tricky for newcomers to sort out the winners from the clunkers. But a third factor involves the lack of precedents within the industry. Thus far relatively few well-established, purist-oriented high-end audio companies have chosen to embrace high-performance earphones—until now.
We are pleased to say that Cardas Audio, one of the oldest and most trusted of high-end audio manufacturers, has recently taken the plunge, releasing a high-performance earphone called the EM5813 Model 1 Ear Speaker, priced at $425. While the Ear Speaker is a relatively new arrival in the marketplace, it has been under development for years. To his great credit, company founder and Ear Speaker developer George Cardas resisted the temptation to rush his earphone into production, choosing instead to take extra time to improve and refine the EM5813 until its performance could be considered worthy of the Cardas name. Was the Ear Speaker worth the wait? Our answer is a resounding “Yes!” for reasons we’ll discuss in this review. But, first let’s look at some of the construction details that make this earphone special.
As we suggested above, George Cardas was deeply involved in every aspect of the Ear Speaker’s design, meaning he had a hand in specifying the configuration of the EM5813’s earpieces, drivers, ear tips, and, of course, signal cables. He also carefully evaluated and selected the many materials used for the Ear Speaker’s most critical parts. In short, the Ear Speaker is every inch a real Cardas product—not some cheesy, off-the-shelf, third-party earphone re-badged with a Cardas logo.
In creating the Ear Speaker, Cardas followed design philosophies similar to those that have guided his audio cable designs over the years. Thus, Cardas asserts (without supplying much technical detail) that “the hearing system, musical chords, and these Ear Speakers are reflections of the Golden Ratio” (a design theme underlying many Cardas products). Further, Cardas states that “the EM5813 mirrors the human cochlea and tympanic membrane”— an approach the company terms “Ear Mirror Design.”
Inevitably, readers will ask where the Ear Speakers are made, which turns out to be a deceptively complicated question. Cardas says, “Components of the E5813 were manufactured in Oregon, California, and The People’s Republic of China. Custom alloys were sourced from Italy, Germany, and the U.S., magnets from China, and thin film from Japan.” The EM5813 is built from parts sourced from around the globe, using sub-assemblies mostly built in the U.S., with final precision assembly work handled in China, meaning the Ear Speaker is truly international in its origins.