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Signature Acoustics C-12 Elements Wooden IEMs : A Review by Kartick Grover

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kartick

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Signature Acoustics C-12 Elements Wooden IEMs by PROAUDIOHOME (Formerly known as Pristine Note) : Listening Impressions/Review by Kartick Grover

I had read a few online reviews about Signature Acoustics C-12 which made me very curious about this indigenous offering. I had a very detailed discussion with Mr. Faheem from Signature Acoustics/Pristine Note about the kind of music I listen to and the gear I had. This was around March 2013 and at that time my DAP was the Apple Classic 160gb. I had told Faheem that I was looking out for a cozy and warm set of earphones which I could listen to for long durations without having any ear fatigue. Faheem suggested that I should try the C-12 and I bought a pair. This was the time when Signature Acoustics accepted returns of the C-12 if the customer was not satisfied with their sound within 2 weeks from the purchase date. Faheem understood that my desire to procure the earphones was genuine and hence agreed for the refund policy. Upon listening to the C-12 - Ipod Classic combo, I was not very happy with the pairing. I found the sound very harsh and shrill. The trebles were piercing and sibilant. I had to try the thicker ear filters to cut the highs they were still not refined. I gave the earphones ample burn in and still the sound did not mellow down. This was when I decided, that I will return the C-12 and hunt for another mellow sounding earphones to pair with my C-12. Faheem had expressed that it was very surprising to him that I found the C-12 so bright and sibilant when all the other users had commented that they were very easy on the ears. He also suggested that it could have been a case of a defective unit. Having said this about the sound signature of the C-12, I accept that to my ears, the Ipod Classic 160gb is anyways a very bright player and the right pairing of earphones is very critical. Later, I sold off the Classic and decided to purchase the Sansa Clip Zip after reading many many reviews online. This was when Faheem approached me again and wanted me to give the C-12 another try and was very willing to send me a pair and wanted me to review it.

I received the package on 10th June 2013 and immediately opened and plugged these in on my Sansa Clip Zip which houses all my music in FLAC format. All EQ settings were set to flat for the entire 2 months that I lived with these earphones.

Before I delve deep into expressing my listening impressions, I would like to declare at the very outset that my knowledge and experience of portable audio gear is very limited. In this review, instead of talking about the technical aspects of sound or these earphones, I would be talking from an emotional point of view. My target will be to convey the emotions that are evoked when I play music with these earphones.

Build Quality & Wearing Comfort : Wooden finished ear-capsules feel elegant and also indicate towards an organic and relaxed sound. The wire is plastic-braided and has no notable microphonic issues with it. The wire is durable and is not prone to tangling. The antique looking brass carrying case is a novel add on to the whole package however, practical usage is questionable (zero portability as far as I am concerned). The ear bud options (S,M,L) are pretty standard affair with the inclusion of a shirt clip. Addition of filters was a pleasant surprise as most of other similarly priced offerings have shied away from including any filters. Overall very satisfied in the construction/build department. One teeny tiny gripe I have is with the L & R markings on the buds being micro sized. These are etched on black rubber ducts which join the wire to the ear bud are are in black which makes it difficult to figure out the left and right buds. I guess, any bigger/bolder markings or a different colored marking would have taken away from the visual aesthetics of the earphones. The medium ear tips fit my ears perfectly I did not feel the need to readjust it even once and the light weight of the earphones make these very suitable for long listening sessions without any discomfort. These are the only earphones out of the ones that I have previously used or still use, in which I could fall asleep while listening to music.

Listening Impressions :

Straight out of the box, I tried these with Dave Brubeck's classic album, Time Out. I, immediately felt a cloud of mid-bass veiling the openness of the recordings. I have listened to this album several times on my 2A3 Tube Amplifier with the Xonar Essence ST Soundcard feeding the music into the Fostex Fe206en speakers in a back horn loaded cabinet. The beauty of this album is its separation of musical instruments and an airy & life like sound. The C-12 presented the music with an effortless ease. They were very relaxed and easy on the ears. However, I found these lacking in resolution. The sound felt clogged and muddy mostly because of an overt mid-bass presence. This also took away from the shimmer of the highs and the saxophone felt lifeless. I did not want to form an opinion about these buds so early so I put them for a fair amount of burn-in. After about 50 hours of burn-in and then regular listening use for around 2 months, my impressions in regards to the same album (Time Out) have not really changed. Hence, my conclusion : Jazz may not be C-12's forte.

Initial listening impressions also prompted me that these earphones could prove to perform well in bass-heavy genres of music like Downtempo, Dubstep, Hip-Hop, Progressive Trance, etc.. Although, these genres do not even constitute to 10% of my everyday music listening, but in order to be objective about writing this review, I selected a few artists like Zero7, Daft Punk, The XX, etc. to understand the C-12's true potential.

I selected albums like Random Access Memories by Daft Punk, Simple Things & Yeah Ghost by Zero7 and Coexist & XX by The XX. C-12 presented the music in a warm and laidback fashion.
Lows : Sub bass frequencies were present in abundance and it gave a very whole-bodied weighty sound to the tracks. However, excessive mid bass presence again put me off as it made the overall sound very muddy.
Mids : Vocals were soothing, did not feel far back but due to the mid-bass hump, the sparkle and realism from the voices were taken away. The true texture of the voices was not brought out to my expectations.
Highs : Trebles were present in ample quantities. Not a slightest hint of sibilance was felt. However, again the airiness was lacking and yet again, I will hold the excessive mid-bass culprit for it.
Conclusion : For bass oriented music, C-12s are a decent choice which will give you a fatigue free listening experience. It is not the last word in terms of resolution but it is a fun warm-sounding, laid back earphone that can make you enjoy the music rather than analyze it. Honestly, after listening to the C-12 continuously for days, I got so used to their comfortable fit and their fatigue free sound that it was hard for me to go back to the other earphones I have which may be more resolving or airier than the C-12s but do not let me take my mind off off the details and just let me listen to and enjoy the music.

Most of my music listening is constituted of Classic/Psychedelic/Folk Rock from the 60's & 70's. Artists like Black Sabbath, Neil Young, CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Fairport Convention, Cream, Eric Clapton, J J Cale, Donovan, etc are my staple diet (No, I am not a cannibal). Upon trying the C-12 with these genres, I felt that the mid bass hump does not let me get the required definition that is present in the recordings. It prevents the true
texture and timbre of voices to come out in an unadulterated form. Voices of Joni Mitchel and Sandy Denny can make anyone get goosebumps, however, C-12 did not produce them with the required intimacy. A lot of classic rock music was not recorded as well as the Jazz recordings or the present day digital/computer programmed stuff, however, when I listen to these artists, I want to just get engaged in the music. Sadly, that involvement was lacking with the C-12. The C-12 have a very claustrophobic sound stage and hence the separation is not spot on. Tracks like Turn Your Back On Love - CSNY felt boomy and vocals felt recessed. On tracks like NIB and Paranoid by Black Sabbath, the bass lines were flabby, fat and thick and hence lost my interest quickly. Bass is an essential facet of most of Bob Marley's tracks. When I played Marley's tracks like African Herbsman, Don't Rock My Boat and Put It On with the C-12, the bass notes did not feel defined. The decay of bass notes was abrupt. It felt that in the first layer, there is just bass and behind all that bass is Marley's music being played. Felt like a distant room where these tracks were playing. I could feel the bass coming through but the vocals and other instruments seemed so far behind. Everything was there but yet was not clear. But, on the other hand, there on numerous occasions, I felt asleep to J J Cale's greatest hits being played with the C-12. It used to take me to a serene calm place where I could just relax and forget the worries and doze off. I love this aspect about the C-12. These are a very cozy pair of earphones. They are velvety and have cushioning effect which makes you want to just listen to your music with ease and every other thing takes a back seat. These fit my ears so well that it adds up to the whole experience.

Isolation/Sound Leakage : In this department, the C-12 fare pretty well. On moderate listening volumes (-7/-8 on my Rockboxed Sansa Clip Zip), the C-12 cut much of ambient noise. I used the C-12 extensively in my office environment (including office cab) and it easily used to block out people talking and to a large extent the annoying FM crappy music that was played. Another very advantageous aspect is that at loud listening volumes, the C-12 hardly leak any sound. At times, I used to get the kicks and I used to pump up the volumes a lot and not even a single time did I ever had any complaints from any of my colleagues. (And, this had nothing to do with the fact that I could screw their performance appraisals had they even dared to complain. Just kidding.) Also to mention here that upon listening to music at high volumes with my Philips SHE-9800, I used to get stares and people often approached me complaining about the sound leaking. I attribute much of this drawback to their hybrid design. But luckily, no such issues with the C-12.

I would like to summarize the Pros & Cons of the Signature Acoustics C-12 here :

PROS :
- Laid back & Warm Sounding Earphones. Very Musical.
- Built Quality is Excellent for the Price.
- Extremely Comfortable Fit. Extremely light weight.
- Good Quality braided wire which is less prone to tangling.
- Presents music in a very fatigue free manner. Ideal for long music listening sessions. I can wear these, play some nice music late at night and just forget about everything (Have slept off so many times forgetting I was wearing these. Hence, I call these my 'Graveyard Shift Earphones')
- No sibilance (Can only comment about these when paired with Sansa Clip Zip)
- If one can get used to their sound, all music genres can be enjoyed. However, I found bass rich tracks to be most enjoyable on these.
- Extremely easy to drive straight out of any portable MP3 player/phone (18 Ohms - Impedance). I found this a huge advantage as their easy drivability made me use these with my phone (which has a very modest output). Big Thumbs up here.
- Decent sounding straight out of the box. Do not require long burn-in.
- Decent Noise Isolation. No Sound Leakage even at high listening volumes.

CONS :
- Not the last word in terms of resolution. The 'Note' could have been more 'Pristine' :p
- Mid-Bass presence is more than required.
- Lacks Instrument separation and airiness.
- Clogged Sound stage
- Not suited for vocal oriented & Jazz music. Voice textures are not intimate. Realism is missing.
- Sound does not change much even after long burn-in.

As a final word, I would say that in the sub-3000 Rupees category, the C-12 are a decent pair of earphones which can fulfill your daily music listening needs with a lot of musicality and fun factor. I rate these way above the offerings from Skullcandy, Philps (SHE-9800), Sony (I find the Sony earphones also very very bassy and I do not like them much), etc. which come within the 3K price bracket. The C-12 have their limitations in terms of having a clogged sound stage and not having an open sound but if one can get past these handicaps, they are force to reckon with. I would also like to try the Soundmagic E30, since they fall in this price category and has bagged some really nice reviews. My friend has the Brainwavz M5 and I borrowed it from him to just compare it with the C-12. The M5 are also slightly bass heavy but the mids are a tad bit clearer than the C-12. M5 sell for around 44 USD (can be also bought for cheaper prices as there are periodic offers from the manufacturer) so these can be considered falling in C-12's price bracket. Both the C-12 and M5 share a very similar sound signature. Just due to the fact that the M5 presents mids a little better and that it suits my listening, I would choose the M5 over the C-12. It is commendable that an Indian brand in their very first attempt got their sound respectably close to some of the benchmark models from some international brands. So all in all a very praise worthy attempt by Signature Acoustics/Pro Audio Home for getting this offering out to the Indian market. One can easily enjoy quality sound without breaking a bank. The C-12 can be an ideal first upgrade for most of the people listening to music straight out of their MP3 players/Mobile Phones. It is a definite step up from the stock MP3 player/Mobile Phone earphones and other offerings in the 2.5-3 K price category. The C-12 will be going back to Faheem soon and I will continue my search for earphones that share C-12 in terms of their warmth but have better resolution. Currently I am trying the Sony MH1C which I purchased after reading ClieOS's review. These are a brilliant find. Anyone who is interested about these can contact me separately for my impressions.

I would also like to add that the C-12 did not benefit much from amping. I paired these with the Fiio E11, Asus Xonar Essence's headamp and from the 2A3 Amplifier's headphone out, and all it did to the C-12's sound was to increase the gain without adding much resolution to it. These are anyways very easy to drive earphones and do not require an additional headphone amplifier.


Disclaimer : All views expressed are my own and have no bearing of any influence by the manufacturer.
 
Last edited:

kartick

Active Member
Joined
Jul 31, 2011
Messages
422
Points
43
Location
Delhi
Edit 1 -

I tried the Brainwavz M5 with the Comply foam tips today and compared it with the C12 mounted with silicon tips. The C12 with the silicon tips isolate the ambient noise better than the M5 with foam tips. May not be an 'Asprin to Asprin' comparison but still wanted to report this observation.

PS : The C12 have a far superior in ear fit than compared to the M5.
 
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