I first visited the Audio-Technica ATH-IM02 in late 2014 on Head-Fi. Since then, my audio tastes have to a certain extent, matured. Consider this a revisit of a earphone that has since become regional cult-favorite. Will there be hindsight bias -probably. Does this invalidate the original review – no. Instead, this will be a look from a different perspective, one of a more experienced audio enthusiast. A number of things have changed in the playing field since the IM02’s initial release. Without a doubt, the number of competitive options at this price point have grown significantly. There are simply too many options, especially from Chinese companies, to name. In fact, Audio-Technica has also released a new lineup of in-ear monitors known as the E-Series that sort of “replaces” the IM-Series. Is the IM02 still relevant then? The short, and rather surprising answer, is yes. The IM02 still excels at providing an immediately captivating sound, while still mostly outclassing the oddly placed E-series. I will elaborate further.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was purchased for the purposes of the review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Audio-Technica. All media rights are reserved.
Overall, the packaging on the ATH-IM02 is what you would (and should) expect on a pair of IEMs in the 200-300 dollar range. A smooth black box with precision cut foam inspires confidence, and helps to create a strong sense of overall packaging quality. There are now many options out there offering far more sumptuous new product experiences, but the IM02’s utilitarian approach in this regard continues to stand strong. The earphones are not placed in a simple clear-plastic holder and prominently displayed in a cut-out on the front of the box, which continues to be a big plus in my opinion.
With regards to the included accessories, you get a solid EVA-case in which to carry your IEMs. Audio Technica’s included case is a good compromise between the soft top Shure carrying case and the ABS orange plastic Westone “vault”. It adds good protection without being ostentatious in its presentation. Tough, fits in your pocket, and doesn’t turn heads when you pull it out at the office. 3 sets of silicone tips and a single set of Comply tips are included. This is an area that could honestly have been improved. The inclusion of a few more tips and a triple-flange would have made for a much fuller package -considering what Shure is accomplishing at this price-point with the SE-215. However, it’s also good to know that most of the money went into actual hardware. Spartan is how I’d describe it.
The IM02 has a solid build quality. With a clear plastic housing, relatively comfortable memory wire, and decent “heft”, it feels fairly standard. In addition, the use of a new proprietary 2 pin cable will help to lessen the impact of cable failure. The jack is well built and features good stress relief. However, the one gripe that one could have is the relatively large size of the IEMs. With larger ears, the IM02 should be no problem. However, with smaller ears, the IM02 might go from leaning towards a negative profile to sticking out of the ear slightly. In comparison, the fit isn’t as good as the Shure Tru-Fit design used by Shure IEMs. Both fits still lose solidly to Westone’s truly negative-profile IEM design. That said, with a bit of tuning, most users should be able to achieve a good seal. The plastic housing does tend to scratch fairly easily, acquiring a number of unsightly marks over time. General caution is advised.
Of all the sections in this review, I would say that this is where I’d consider the greatest change in opinion to be. The ATH-IM02 continues to sound very good. It has solid, punchy, and highly responsive bass. In Espoir by Darius, the IM02’s demonstrate their ability to start the song with clear, controlled “punches” of upper bass, before gradually transitioning to a slow decay sub bass. For bass-heads though, the IM02 might spell disaster, as the quantity of bass is not particularly generous.
To test the mids, I utilized one of my all-time favorites, Africa by Toto. For me, the ability for a pair of IEMs to play this song can be a deal breaker/maker. Testing revealed forward mids that were rich and full. While definitely not the smoothest nor warmest sound out there, the IM02 makes its stamp on the mids through an analytical interpretation of the pieces it is tasked with playing. I really appreciate the ability to hear one of the band members laugh softly at the 2-3 seconds into the song. The trebles are sparkly/bright, but can be somewhat harsh, and at times simply overemphasized.
The IM02’s greatest weakness is that it never achieves the fluidity of the ER4. Instead, it comes across as occasionally brash and somewhat forward sounding. While this is by no means a problem for short listening sessions, it does become fatiguing at times. Overall, the IM02 is a rather exciting, and at times, jumpy earphone. It excels at bring across the classic AT signature. Whether that ends up being a positive will depend heavily on the listener.
The IM02 is still a great IEM. At the current price, you can enjoy amazing clarity and rich sounding music through dual balanced armature drivers. It’s immediately engaging, technically proficient, and generally competent at what it does. It maintains the classic AT house sound, which I have generally found to be quite pleasant. As an introduction to high-end audio, I would still recommend the heartily recommend the IM02.
TYPE: Dual Balanced Armature Driver
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 20-16,000 Hz
MAXIMUM INPUT POWER: 3mW
SENSITIVITY: 113 db/mW
IMPEDANCE: 36 ohms
WEIGHT: 5 grams
PRICE: 211-250 USD