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Review: Crescendo DS-11 Earphones

Personal audio products have made earphones ubiquitous, but they've also raised the potential for hearing loss and nerve damage.

Crescendo wants to change this. The Miami-based company has made hearing protection something of a cause, such as with ear plugs that allow performing musicians and their audiences to enjoy the show without blowing out their ears. Rather than attenuate only the most damaging frequencies, Crescendo's plugs lower all frequencies by roughly the same amount to provide a more accurate and enjoyable listening experience.

The company brings this same approach to its earphones to deliver great sound at safe volume levels. I recently checked out Crescendo's DS-11 earphones, a high-isolation, high-fidelity ear-canal earphone designed for professional musicians and personal-listening devices.

The DS-11s are a passive noise-isolating-style earphone with a 3.5mm stereo plug on a 1.4-meter cable. They come with two pairs of three-flange silicone plugs and three pairs of mushroom plugs in different sizes. Like Crescendo's DS-07 earphones, the DS-11s work with universal plugs and custom molds and come in a handy zippered travel case.

I gave the DS-11s their trial run on my morning subway commute. The first thing I noticed was that I had no difficulty hearing and enjoying my tunes even at low levels in a noisy train car. Much of the reason for this is the DS-11's excellent noise isolation. The three-flange silicone plugs provided about 22db of noise isolation, enough to make the world fade to the background but not so much that you lose awareness of your surroundings…yet another useful and valuable safety feature.

I suspect that the improved audibility is due, as well, to the frequency response curve: while the DS-11's curve is essentially flat from 50Hz to 2KHz, it has a sizable +5–10db bump at around 3–4KHz. This is ideal for reproducing the high harmonic content of low-frequency instruments, such as bass and kick drum, and for boosting snare, guitar, piano and vocals.

The result of this boost appears to be twofold. First, the most essential audio information comes through well at lower volume levels, even in noisy environments. Second, because the boost is within the frequency range where human hearing is most sensitive, you're less likely to need (or want) to increase volume, thereby saving your ears from damage (and sparing your fellow passengers from having to overhear your music).

I found the three-flange silicone plugs perfect for my ears. They fit comfortably, and I could easily adjust the depth of insertion to allow for different environments: shallow for around the office and slightly snugger for the morning commute. Deeper insertion allows for fuller and rounder bass tones, but midrange and high frequencies remained balanced, with no harshness.

To be honest, I've always preferred supra-aural headphones for personal listening; they sit comfortably on the ear and give some isolation, but not too much. But the DS-11s have been a game changer. They sound excellent, fit comfortably and, best of all, are kinder to my hearing. I've been using them for a few weeks now and can highly recommend them.


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Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player (opens in new tab) magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World (opens in new tab), a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar WorldGuitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.