My review of the E1DA 9038S Gen 3 touches on a lot of the issues discussed in this thread: https://medium.com/@darmanskirata1136/e1da-9038s-gen-3-review-b94e0216f268
My readers are likely familiar with my long-stated belief that if a playback device is coloring the sound, something is wrong with the source device. My initial listening experience using the 9038S challenged that conviction. I could not shake the sense of improved clarity and detail retrieval offered by the 9038S over the sources I originally used to review the Smabat ST-10S. I decided to evaluate these impressions under more controlled circumstances.
I connected one earbud to The Element and the other to the 9038S and volume matched the two sources using my Dayton iMM-6 microphone to 1/10th of a dB. To do this, I aligned the center of the earbud face with the center of the tube coupler bore and secured the earbud to the coupler using micropore tape around the earbud circumference. I then played a Redbook copy of “Archetype” by Fear Factory and switched back and forth between the two sources.
To my surprise and in the face of my long-held conviction that all well-designed sources should sound identical, the earbud playing from the 9038S sounded tighter, more detailed, and more spacious, with better definition of and separation between notes, while the earbud playing from The Element sounded slightly smoother and warmer in tonality.
I repeated this test using the same track with the Moondrop S8. This time I took care to ensure that both The Element and the 9038S were set to 24 bit /44.1kHz in shared mode in addition to volume matching, which I had not done in my initial comparison using the ST-10S. My differing perceptions of the two sources remained audible.
I will note that this is a sighted comparison and not a double-blind test. However, I will also note my predisposition towards dismissing claims of audible differences between sources coming into this comparison, an attitude I have held since early in my audio journey. Additionally, I am mostly confident that I would not have been able to distinguish between the two sources examined here without the benefit of instantaneous switching.
There are two alternative explanations for the conclusion I have reached. One is that channel imbalance can explain my perception. To assess this possibility, I measured both channels with both sources. Based on my measurements, I am skeptical of this alternative explanation given the minute differences in matching between the left and right channels of the S8. There are minute variations in my measurements between the two sources in the upper-treble region but I am inclined to believe these are a result of tiny differences in insertion depth and bore angle during the measurement process as opposed to frequency response differences inherent to the hardware. The other alternative explanation is that I hear better in my left ear than my right ear. While my hearing range is indeed around 200 Hz higher in my left ear than in my right ear, I can perceive sounds above 19 kHz in both ears. Again, I am skeptical that this explains the audible differences between the two sources.
There is a lot of snake oil in the audio enthusiast marketplace, and it should be incumbent upon individuals who claim that different pieces of hardware sound audibly distinct to make sincere attempts to disprove alternative explanations to their claims, as I have done here. This is especially true for reviewers and others in positions of influence. I certainly benefited from my training in the physical sciences as I set up the experiments I detailed in this review, but these experiments are far from exotic or complex and could be easily replicated by others.