By: Jonathan Kwan
September 9, 2006
While full-size over the ear headphones has and probably always will be an icon of PC gaming, there's no good reason why it shouldn't be. Being as outstanding as they are both performance-wise and visually, performance-wise is literally outstanding most of the time, while the latter is just simply another word to describe its bulkiness. On the other hand, would you rather lug along a six piece speaker set to a LAN party, or a pair of "bulky" headphones, which probably will end up outperforming the speakers anyway?
However, having large headphones sometimes mean a thing that sits over your ear and interfere with your hairstyle, glasses frame or just weighing down the top of your head. Unfortunately, there are limits to how comfortable and portable they are.
Want to try out something new? When I first heard of gaming peripherals manufacturer Icemat's Siberia In:Ear (There are two different versions -- the 'Headphone' variation which comes with the earbuds only, and the 'Headset' edition which comes with a mic as well), I was like, "How useful can earbuds be for gaming?"
I mean, to tell the truth, earbuds, unlike headphones, haven't made past anything but PSP kind of gaming so far; any dollar store earbuds will suffice with the repetitive tones. So what's so unique about the Icemat Siberia In:Ear? Let's find out.
Initially, I did not expect it to come this early, since Thomas never said they were in stock or shipped. It's a nice surprise to see our unit arrive at my doorstep, and of course, DHL Express plastic envelope from Denmark.
Inside the DHL plastic envelope is a neatly-enclosed small bubble package used to prevent damage during shipping to our Icemat Siberia In:Ear.
Inside the bubble package is our review unit in retail plastic packaging. The one that we received was the Headset version, which came with a separate matching mic as well. I simply cut open my retail plastic packaging to remove the products inside, just to be lazy!
Before we begin, let's take a look at the Icemat Siberia In:Ear's specifications, taken from Icemat's site:
Frequency response: 30 - 24.000 Hz
Impedance: 16 Ohm
SPL@1kHz, 1V rms: 90 dB
Cable length: 1.0 m + 1.8 m = 2.8 m / 9 ft.
Jack: 3.5 mm
Frequency response: 80 - 15.000 Hz
Impedance: 2K Ohm
Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
Sensitivity (1V/P@1 kHz): -38 dB
Out of the box, you will get the Icemat Siberia In:Ear earbuds, a 1.8m extension cable, two sets (Total of four) of clear sleeves and one pair of clear triple flange sleeves. A small carrying pouch comes in the box; a matching mic is included depending on which version you purchased, as mentioned earlier.
The extension cable is pretty interesting. There are two male and female jacks; two 3.5mm female jacks for accommodating the mic and earbuds. The male jacks on the other end of the cable are for plugging into your sound card.
However, none of them are color coded or labeled correctly; both female jacks have a little headphone icon on it. Therefore, there is no visual aid telling which one is which to be plugged into without testing to see which actually works. This needs to be fixed, but at least you get a 50% chance!
The pouch is built with pretty good quality material. It is very convenient for holding your Icemat Siberia In:Ear, although it does not prevent it from tangling or any real protection like Shure cases. The drawstring doesn't work very well either -- it can't stay closed -- so you'll have to tie a knot for it to remain sealed.
As for the mic in the Headset edition, teh appr0@chz is teh sam3 as... anyway, the approach is the same as the one included with Everglide s-500 -- a separate clip on microphone. It keeps out of sight during use and can be easily set to be close to your mouth -- the only disadvantage is a separate unit, which will add to your carry load. However, I think it would be pretty hard to effectively integrate a mic into an earbud style headset without being all weird.
The included mic with Icemat's Siberia In:Ear is nothing special or outstanding in terms of performance, it's a mic for voice chatting, so we won't expect too much either. It is well designed though; no foam to lose and nice matching look with the earbuds. A switch is also on the unit itself as well.
Moving onto the physical aspects of the earbuds itself, there are several things I would like to talk about. The first thing in regard to the unit is its cord. For one thing, I found the cord extremely thin -- maybe I am a little too used to thick Shure cords, but either way, it is thin. Try pressing it with your fingernails.
Another thing is that the cord to the right ear is a lot longer than the one to the left -- where the longer part is designed to go behind your neck. To be honest, I am not a big fan of this kind of cord design, but I am sure some people will appreciate it.
For those interested, the connector is a straight (As opposed to L-shaped) 'gold plated' connector. The part between the earbuds' buds itself and the wire is flexible, unlike most other products (It's a good thing).
Like most noise isolation earbuds, the sleeves are easily changeable. Three sets of sleeves are included; two 'normal' pairs and one pair of triple flange sleeves. The ones included with our white unit are matching clear white sleeves, and my previous experience with similar Shure sleeves indicate that these are likely to discolor pretty fast, and it 'looks' pretty bad because people thinks it's due to your dirty ear canals.
A black version with matching black sleeves are available for purchase as well. I would actually prefer the black version over the white one not only because of the included sleeves, but because the white ones collect dust and dirt easily in its seams, as well as the fact that anything white sticking out of your ears will look way too iPod-ish. And I don't want to be mistaken for using an iPod if I am not actually using one for many reasons.
One last thing before we move onto our tests: Both earbuds (Left and right ear) has something printed on it. The left and right side has "Icemat Audio" and an Icemat logo printed on them, respectively. I found the printed text/logo seem to rub off fairly quickly.
Rating by Specification
Treble: The treble is boosted quite a bit and at times it tries the hit high frequencies without actually being capable of producing it. Therefore, with the wrong equalizer settings the In:Ear can easily artifact.
Midrange: Like I expected with a gaming product, the midrange is really missing. Right off the bat, definitely not recommended for music.
Bass: OK-ish, maybe slightly more distinct due to missing midrange (Not necessarily stronger) than the Shure E2c.
Noise Isolation - It's hard to get a proper fit -- I somehow get better fit in my right ear than my left, and I have no idea why. I have enough experience with fitting noise isolation earbuds, so it's a bit weird. Anyway, the noise isolation is there but not nearly as good as the Shure E2c. I can still hear some of the outside noise while the Shure E2c effectively blocks out almost all.
Rating by Real World Performance
Music: The Shure E2c, although not "that" great of earbuds, sound richer and by far more natural. The Icemat Siberia In:Ear just seems to have a lot missing, and music on it is simply weird. This is likely due to its lack of midrange, which is very important for normal music as too much stress on bass and treble with nearly no midrange will make music sound very plastic-ish and odd, thin voices. Even with equalizer adjustments did not help very much. Music is not very 'clean' as well.
Gaming: When gaming, I don't mean by PSP kind of gaming. I actually mean computer first person shooter -- and the soundstaging ability in first person shooters for earbuds is simply amazing for its size. I've tried gaming with the Shure E2c once, and put it down after a few minutes -- but the Icemat Siberia In:Ear is really good enough to last me quite a while in gaming. The reloads, gunshots, and footsteps are all very distinct and well separated from each other (Namely, thanks to its boosted bass and treble with almost no midrange, called "Gaming Frequency Optimized"). Although not as good as full sized headphones, these are still very decent for gaming. I know this has been pulled and abused by many reviewers, but I had to say this for the Icemat Siberia In:Ear because it's honestly true: I was actually alleged for wallhacking on a Breakfloor server. Soundstaging for games is really that good.
The Icemat Siberia In:Ear really amazed me. Its gaming performance (And great soundscapes in games) is not as limited by its physical size as you expect. Although not as good as the full size ones such as the Everglide s-500 or SteelSound 5H for this purpose, this set is much smaller and by far more portable. However, I would not recommend it for music, and the amount of isolation it provides is not really that good. Good mic implementation, but a design flaw here and there on the Icemat Siberia In:Ear itself, with certain features/design aspects that are appealing only to people with certain personal preference, the choice for purchase is really up to you depending if they matter to you or not.
Special thanks to Thomas over at Icemat for making this review possible.
What do these ratings mean?
(Rating is based on our September 9, 2006 updated system)
Excellent earbuds for gaming -- you'll be impressed by its ability to create a nice soundscape in game. Although not as good as full sized gaming headphones, these earbuds prove to be excellent alternatives to those who don't like large headphones.