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Our News : Electrostatic Driver Revolution in In-Ear Monitors: BGVP EST8 (Hands-on) Review

Hands-on with the BGVP EST8 (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Who is the BGVP EST8 for?

  • The electrostatic drivers in the EST8 provides a warmer, more natural sound compared with typical BA driven IEMs, and is best suited for acoustic music listeners
  • People who wants the custom IEM experience in terms of fit and sound isolation without going through the custom fitting process will enjoy the excellent fit and seal that the EST8 provides
  • Hand built with traditional light cured resin and sound tubes, the EST8 are for those who enjoys the classic IEM builds instead of 3D printed designs - and can be appreciated even more with the transparent shell option

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If you are an In-ear monitor user you will be well aware of the precise and fast responding sound of Balanced Armatures (BAs). But for those who take the time to go back to traditional earphones or headphones that use Dynamic Drivers (DDs), it's apparent that there's something that IEM users are missing. More specifically, an organic or analogue quality seems to be sacrificed for the crisp accuracy in BAs.

Some earphone makers have tried to address this with hybrid earphones that use BAs in conjunction with DDs - but all that has done mostly is give the IEM a dynamic bass boost, and the result of mixing the two types of sound doesn't always blend very well.

The BGVP EST8 however is going for a different approach by adding miniature Sonion's Electrostatic Drivers (EST) to it's BA array. How does this innovation play out in real life? That's what I'm here to report after a couple of weeks of listening to the EST8.

The hand-made transparent shells shows off the craftsmanship on the inside of the EST8 (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Top-tiered design and build

Though the BGVP EST8 are not the most expensive IEMs in the market by a long shot, this is a product that did not sacrifice quality for the sake of cost, especially in features that mattered the most.

I deliberately chose the transparent color shell so that it's intricate 8 driver array can be clearly displayed. Instead of 3D printed shells, the two EST8 ear pieces are meticulously made by hand using light cured medical grade acrylic. The advantage of this traditional build is having a shell with high transparency that allows you to gawk at the drivers, much like an automatic watch with a crystal back. What's worth paying special attention through EST8's clear shell is the high voltage transformer that drives the Danish Sonion EST drivers - a unique feature that makes these IEMs so special.

A comfortable fit, and excellent seal (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Though the ear pieces are packing 2 ESTs as well as 6 BAs on each side, the size and profile of the ear pieces were not too bulky, and they fit my ears very snugly without any issues. In fact for me these fit almost like custom pieces, providing great comfort and sound isolation.

The blue vocal ear tips create the best seal even when on the move (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

The seal was perfected for my ears when I discovered the included 'Vocal Ear Tips', which are the softest, most elastic silicone tips that I've ever used. The softness allows the in-ear seal to be very comfortable and holds the seal even when I open my mouth or move my head around. Though the inclusion of these soft silicone tips is a small detail, but in real use, they are a game changer, and in my opinion all silicone tipped earphones should include these.

Finally in regards to the carrying case, BGVP resorted to a simple but effective design that is basically an aluminum clamshell puck, lined by a soft fabric and a rubber mid section. It is on the small side, but I found that the size is just right to provide excellent protection for the earphones inside without them shifting around. The smaller footprint makes them easier to carry in tighter bags like suitcases when compared to other larger carrying cases.

The high voltage transformer of the EST drivers behind the ArtMagic EST8 (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Sound: providing the missing link for IEMs

As mentioned in the introductions, BAs and DDs are two ends of a spectrum that tends to provide either an artificial but precise sound, or an organic but muffled sound. The Danish Sonion EST drivers in the EST8 gives the resulting sound a more airy, organic character.

The overall color of the EST8 is tuned to be on the warmer side, instead of the expected emphasis on the high end on most IEMs. This means music produced tends to take on a darker coloring, and best suits male vocals and altos. The dark, warm tone also makes acoustic sets come alive as the overtone on wood based instruments comes alive.

Impressive stereo staging on the EST8 (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

The soundstage of the EST8 is impressive right out of the box, with listening to Coldplay's classic Parachutes album getting a full 180 degrees staging. The soundstage and separation improved even more when I swapped out the original cables for FiiO's LC-RE balanced cables, coupled with the balanced output from the FiiO's M11 Pro. The realism of the tonality is especially impressive, as I'm getting vibes that reminds me of what I got from premium headphones like Focal Stellias, which again I attribute to EST drivers as I've never heard anything like this with pure BA headphones.

For those who purchase the EST8 I would recommend a powerful source with a balanced output like the M11 Pro, as the sound from these IEMs only starts to sparkle when driven properly, with the gain set on high.

The EST8 is for those looking for new colors in their music (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Final remarks

Electrostatic drivers are not new, and used to be a technology reserved only for top-tier headphones, but using miniature EST drivers in IEMs is something that has come into play only in the last few years. BGVP's EST8 has demonstrated how this technology can bridge the gap in current BA and DD technologies. Like a painter who discovers a new color in his palette, if you're after new textures in your listening experience, the EST8 is a great place to start.

David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move and is on a mission to explore ways to make his overhaul flights more enjoyable. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travellers.