Review: ESS 422H Headphones

Firstly I would like to thank Mel at ESS for sending me this sample to review.

*disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings

Gear Used: iBasso DX200 > 422H
Dell PC > Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ (either direct or through an O2 amp) > 422h

Tech Specs:
Hybrid Driver Unit: 40mm moving coil driver, 20*30mm multi-fold AMT Air Motion Technology
Impedance 32 Ω +/- 15% at 1KHz, 179Mv
Sensitivity: 110 +/- 3dB at 1KHZ w/Vrms input= 179Mv
Power Capacity: 50mW, Max~100mW
Frequency Response: 20~20kHz at 1mW

Packaging, Build quality and Accessories:
The 422H come in a nice little card box with a large picture of them on the front and the brand info on the back. A front flap opens to show the specs along with another picture of the headphones, there is a plastic window through which you can see the case. This inner tray slides out the side of the box, the headphones are carefully folded up in their case, with the cable in there too. Overall a sleek and professional looking box.

Build quality is very impressive overall, the headband is metal and faux leather, the earpads are soft, the cups look amazing in person (due to the grain of the wood). The hinges are all metal, however the cable running from the L to the R cup is very thin, with repeated folding and unfolding of the headphones this could provide to be a weak point. The stock cable is pretty average (nice wood on the jack housing) but there is no real strain relief, luckily there is a normal 3.5mm stereo socket on the L cup, so it is super easy to change the cable to a better one. Overall no real issues with the build of these.

Accessory wise you get the cable, jack adaptor and soft carry case. The case will only fit the headphones in if they are folded up, but works great for transporting them in. All the needed accessories are included.

Comfort and Isolation:
The 422H clamp quite hard, combine this with soft pads and they are comfortable but not for long periods of time. Fine for a quick commute, but I didn't find them great for kicking back and relaxing, you can always feel them on your head.

Isolation is good on these, they seal well and this means you get a high level of isolation. Perfectly adequate for most uses in my opinion.

Split into the usual categories with a conclusion at the end.

Lows: The lows are what grab you first with these, they are the focus and they are very full. There is good sub-bass extension and body but sometimes it can be a little too much and ends up making the sound a little congested. There is a bit of bloat down low which means kicks are not as tight and defined as they should be. I find these headphones to sound a little dark overall, the lows just seem to dominate the sound somewhat. As I previously said, these could do with a bit more control down low, and they did they would be quite impressive. Overall if you like a good full low end they are fine, but if you prefer something with a little more control you may find these to sound a little bloated.

Mids: The mids are not particularly remarkable, they do their thing without doing to much wrong. My only issue is that they do often come across a bit veiled due to the slightly elevated low end response. These are not mid forward, and do lean towards a slightly V shaped signature, but the midrange does have a fair amount of detail. Spatial effects in the midrange are accurate, and there is actually a fair amount of width to the soundstage. Whilst not perfect, the midrange does not suffer from severe recession and kinda does its thing without too many issues, only sounding slightly veiled at times.

Highs: Here is where my main gripe is, with the full low end that these have they really need some sparkle up top to keep them from sounding too dark. And whilst there is a narrow band that has good presence overall the top end is ultimately lacking sparkle. These are ultimately a dark sounding headphone to my ears, they could use a little more control down low to stop them sounding so dense, and the treble could use some opening up. When EQ'd properly you can actually get very good sound quality out of these, it's just a question as to whether you wish to do that.

The soundstage varies quite a bit from track to track, they do sometimes sound congested with more complex mixes but they can also throw the sound fairly wide when needed. Instrument separation is fairly average due to the slight congestion that can happen.

Conclusion: The 422H are an interesting headphone, in their stock form they are dark, bassy and a little too full sounding for their own good. Add a little EQ here and there and you get a nice clean, and fairly open sounding headphone. The clamping force is a little strong, but this can likely be fixed. I will mention that if you add some Dekoni Elite Velour Sony 7506 size earpads these open up a lot and no longer require EQ for my tastes.

The 422h are a well crafted, and great looking pair of headphones and, if you are happy to tweak them a little, are good for the price. Stock however I will say there are better headphones for the price.

Sound Perfection Rating: 5/10 (strong clamp and dense sound hold these back, EQ helps a lot)