Chord & Major and Me: A Comparative Review for Regular Folks

November 06, 2015 | 0 comments

As a music lover with a stronger commitment to staying married than to spending vast sums on my hobbies, I’ve never spent $1,800 on earphones. Or $800. Or even $180, for that matter. So, while an audiophile with a monster budget (and probably no wife) might consider the under-$200 C&Ms an “affordable” investment, I’m among the many experiencing them as a step or two up from my norm.

Accordingly, I found all three of the Chord & Major tonals (Major 7’13 for jazz, Major 8’13 for rock, and Major 9’13 for classical) predictably impressive in their designated spaces. But I was far more interested in how each pair would fare across a much wider musical spectrum. I have about 21,000 songs by 1,000 artists in my iTunes library. It’s about 60 percent rock-n-roll (~1965 to present) and maybe 15 percent blues (electric post-war Chicago, mainly).

The rest is all over the place…electronica/EDM, Americana, R&B, Motown, pop, tribal, alternative, international, and so on. A thread that runs through it all is my lifelong love for the female voice…an instrument incomparably varied and intricate in its limitless application. So, I updated my “Ladies Only” playlist with new and old tunes from all over the stylistic spectrum, and played it – without supplemental EQ – for days, swapping earphones every time I reached the end. You can easily find links to C&M reviews written by – and for – listeners with far more experience in earphonia esoterica than me. Here’s a hands-on (uhhh, ears-on?) version for the rest of us.

The 7’13’s jazz orientation gives them a prominent midrange that really showcases the vocals in everything I sent their way. For my collection, I like a more defined edge and a bigger thump at the bottom end (the 7’13s provide a full and generally rounder bass response) and more treble, where the detail lives in much of the music I prefer. I found that the 7’13’s added a lot of interest to the old country and middle-era pop that I’ve accumulated, and they even did an unexpectedly revealing job with some of the harder-to-classify voice-focused artists, like Throwing Muses (“The Real Ramona”) and Lana Del Ray (“Born to Die”). I clicked out of my playlist into a Harlem Boys Choir compilation, where the 7’13s really lit up, with crystalline clarity. “Breathtaking” is not a word I use a lot, but it’s probably not too strong for this experience.

Given my collection’s heavy underpinnings, I fully expected to find true happiness with the 8’13s. Within the set’s broadly-defined mission (“rock” covers a lot of territory…), I was never disappointed. From Alabama Shakes to ZZ Top (and ZZ Ward, for that matter) the 8’13s provided a vibrant and rewarding experience, easily outperforming my go-to Bose SIE2i set. Bass is emphasized for sure, but it’s not excessive…a pleasant departure from any number of other headphones/earphones designed for rock listeners who prefer their bass overdone. As a result, the 8’13s’ thump just barely takes the edge off the crispness that I favor through the midrange, where female vocals come to life. Above that, the treble is plenty good enough for rock-n-roll, even if it falls off a little bit too quickly for some other stuff. One listen to Vince Neal’s cover of “Set Me Free” (featuring Steve Stevens and Vik Foxx) and you’ll be convinced, too. The C&M 8’13s are an easy recommendation for anyone who lives on a pretty steady diet of rock. I could easily listen to them forever…

…had I not heard the 9’13s. While I’ll sorely miss the nice boom that the 8’13s (and even the 7’13s) provide at the bottom, the diversity of my collection (plus the alarming frequency of my musical mood swings) let me trade willingly for the 9’13’s unique personality. For starters, there’s the generous additional nuance they provide throughout the midrange and into the upper mids. To hear the bright shimmer of a cymbal is one thing; to also hear the stick hitting it is another thing altogether: a 9’13 thing. I also love the 9’13s’ better ability to express dynamic range. That’s the contrast between the loudness of the louds and the softness of the softs, and while it’s a prerequisite to enjoying classical music, it also projects a lot of mood into whatever else you’re playing. Finally, I feel like the 9’13’s classical tuning predisposes them toward a really wide spatial footprint, which, even at moderate volume, makes their overall sound feel really big.

To me, the 9’13s seem less tuned to anything specific and more accommodating of everything else than the others. I can background-listen on shuffle for hours without ever needing to skip a song because it sounds “wrong” for the 9’13 IEMs. Conversely, though, when I sit down to actively listen, a few EQ clicks easily fine-tune them to the farthest extremes of my library. Check out the round fullness of Etta James (“Cheating in the Next Room”), or the microscopic detail in Alicia Keys (anything off of “Songs in A Minor”). The nearly percussive attack of Shannon Curfman’s guitar (“Few and Far Between”). The raw grit in Lucinda Williams’ “Can’t Let Go.” The stark difference between Joan Jett’s original “Bad Reputation” (menacing!) and Avril Lavigne’s slick cover (snotty!)…even the hidden expression in the Band Perry’s “Done”. The 9’13’s ability to disclose some of these subtleties may even have made me a better listener.

Limitations? Well, I still think that disco is appalling. But that’s probably not something that I can attribute to the performance of Chord & Major’s excellent earphones.

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