or Connect
Head-Fi.org › 2015 Summer Buying Guide › Head Fi Buying Guide In Ear Headphones 2

Head-Fi Buying Guide (In-Ear Headphones) 2

Introduction
Over-Ear Headphones
In-Ear Headphones
Wireless Headphones
Gaming Headphones
Exercise Headphones
Cables & Accessories
Desktop Amps & DACs
Portable Amps, DACs & DAPs
Ultra-High-End Headphones (Summit-Fi)
Desktop & Portable Speakers
Head-Fi Meets
Music
Head-Fi Buying Guide

Page 1 | 2 | 3

JH Audio Sirens Series Roxanne

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Perhaps the in-ear monitor I'm most excited about is Jerry Harvey Audio's Sirens Series Roxanne. I had a custom-fit prototype here for a while, and, in my opinion, it set a new bar for custom IEM performance.

 

The Roxanne--JH Audio's newest flagship--incorporates all of Jerry Harvey's current best technologies and knowhow, including Freqphase time alignment (assuring all frequencies reach the ear within 1/100 of a millisecond of each other), SoundriVe technology (quad low, quad mid, and quad high balanced armatures per side, for a total of 12 drivers per side), and user-controlled low frequency drivers that allow bass adjustment (between 10Hz and 100Hz) from flat to +15dB. The Roxanne is three-way design.

 

Something very unique about the Roxanne--that I can't imagine has any effect at all on sound--is the fact that you can order it with solid carbon fiber earpieces. It's a $500 add-on, and it looks absolutely stunning, especially if (like me) you're into carbon fiber. Carbon fiber faceplates are a common option in the custom IEM world--solid carbon fiber earpieces are not (and nobody else currently does it). How they do it is not something JH Audio is likely to discuss or describe any time soon.

 

The Roxanne also comes with a carbon fiber and billet aluminum case that is the nicest IEM case I've yet seen. Inside the case is an earpiece holder that has negative impressions of your Roxanne earpieces for easy placement and storage--very unique, very useful.

 

As for its sound, to describe the Roxanne's tonal balance is challenging, because it can be adjusted so widely in the bass region. It can be my neutral reference; it can be similar (tonally) to my JH13 Pro Freqphase; or it can be something like a JH16 Pro, depending on how I choose to set the Roxanne's bass. And adjusting the Roxanne's bass had absolutely no effect on the mids that I could hear.

 

The Roxanne's imaging is remarkable--the best I've experienced from any kind of in-ear headphone. For an IEM, the image the Roxanne throws is very wide, very spacious; and sonic image objects within the soundstage are very precisely placed. Anyone who's had a conversation with Jerry Harvey knows how important imaging is to him, so it's no coincidence the effort that goes into it and the sonic results.

 

Simply put, the JH Audio Sirens Series Roxanne is one of the best headphones I've heard, regardless of form factor.

 

Watch our Head-Fi TV episode that covers the JH Audio Sirens Series Roxanne for more information, and a closer look at it.

TYPE: Closed, custom-fit in-ear monitor 
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
PRICE: Starting at $1,649
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.jhaudio.com

TYPE: Closed, universal-fit in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: $199.99
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.kef.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

With their first two headphones--one in-ear (this one) and one over-ear (the M500)--KEF has come out batting .1000, both headphones being wonderful. Perhaps given all they've accomplished in loudspeaker design I shouldn't be so surprised.

 

This KEF M200 is an unusually designed IEM, consisting of two dynamic drivers per side, one directly behind the other. The one in the back is a 10mm low-frequency driver, the one in the front a 5.5mm mid/high driver. The low-frequency driver's output is ported through a cast aluminum chamber at the center of which is mounted the mid/high driver, so that the low-frequency driver's output is effectively being ported forward around that mid/high driver, with the output of the two combined at the nozzle.

 

The sound of the KEF M200 is outstanding, with emphasized, but very well controlled, bass. The low-frequency driver's integration into the mid/high driver's output is, to my ears, seamless--had I not known ahead of time that the M200 was a dual-driver design, I wouldn't have guessed. While KEF M200 is not quite at the performance level of Shure's SE846, the KEF M200's midband breathes very freely, reminding me (in that specific regard) of the flagship Shure IEM--as with the Shure, the KEF's lower mids are clean, untouched by the M200's bass bump. Also, the M200's treble is extended and smooth. Sonically, thanks in part to the solidity of its bass--and its free-breathing mids--I think the KEF M200 sounds big.

 

In terms of its industrial design, the KEF M200 is gorgeous, with the same chunky, sharp-edged matte aluminum look and feel of the KEF M500. The M200 is a cable-down design, with ear hooks that go over yours ears for fit and stability. Unfortunately, the M200 is also chunky in a way that's not good: to accommodate the unique configuration of its drivers, the KEF M200 uses very thick nozzles, so some with smaller ear canals may have difficulty getting a good fit. (My ear canals are of average size, and the M200 fits my ears very comfortably.)

 

As with its M500 over-ear headphone, KEF has a very well executed IEM with the KEF M200.

Fostex TE-05

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

At first blush, the Fostex TE-05 looks a lot like... well... a lot of in-ear headphones I've seen. Close inspection does reveal very nice machined cylindrical aluminum housings with a high level of fit and finish--it certainly looks and feels premium. With all the other cool stuff Fostex had at their exhibit at 2013 CanJam @ RMAF, though, I would've probably missed the the TE-05 if Fostex's Hiroaki Kawahata hadn't put it in front of me and asked me to try it. And when the music started, it became immediately obvious the TE-05 is indeed a very special IEM.

 

Without a doubt, the Fostex TE-05 is going to end up being one of my neutral reference headphones, being extremely even-handed to my ears, from one end of the spectrum to the other. In addition to its neutral tonality, the TE-05 also has excellent detail retrieval, so that the view of the music isn't just uncolored, it's also deep dive into it. The TE-05 is fantastic.

 

I've found with this headphone that it's important (and easy) to get a very good seal. If you don't, it will sound lean, and even strident. Trust me, you'll know when the seal's good, as that's when very good sonic things immediately happen.

 

The Fostex TE-05 uses detachable high-quality oxygen-free copper cables, which is very nice, as I always find it a crying shame to have to either discard or send in for repairs a headphone just because its cable malfunctions or breaks. I believe the TE-05 uses one dynamic driver per ear (the details of which I do not currently have). It comes in an elegant semi-hard-side leather carrying case with a magnetic closure flap.

 

Whereas I cannot share my Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor with others (because it's custom), it's nice to have another ultra-portable neutral reference that I can let others hear. Because of this--and because it's also just a joy to listen to--the TE-05 has already become an important part of my audio Dopp kit.

TYPE: Universal-fit in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: $149.99
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.fostexinternational.com
 

Sony XBA-3iP

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Sony released seven headphone models (constituting 11 total SKUs) using balanced armature (BA) drivers. I haven't heard them all, but, of the ones I did hear, the XBA-3iP was the one that most caught my attention at the time.

 

Unlike most manufacturers that source balanced armature drivers from other companies, my understanding is that Sony developed their own BA's. Using three of their new BA drivers per side in the XBA-3iP, Sony has achieved a level of refinement and balance with the XBA-3iP that some companies have taken years to realize.

 

The XBA-3iP also has a very nice form factor, with earpieces that look simple and elegant, and with a nice shape that's very easy to grab between your thumb and forefinger for very quick and easy ear insertion.

 

With weighty yet detailed bass, neutral'ish (if somewhat subdued) mids, and detailed, well-extended neutral-balanced treble, the XBA-3iP is a very good universal-fit in-ear monitor. While it doesn't quite reach the performance heights (to my ears) of the Westone 4R or Phonak Audéo PFE232, it also doesn't reach their price strata. At its price point, the XBA-3iP has become one of my favorite universal-fit IEMs.

 

(There is also a version without the three-button remote/mic called the XBA-3, which is priced around $200 to $230.)

TYPE: Closed in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: $150
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.sony.com

 

TYPE: Closed, custom in-ear monitors
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: $999
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.ultimateears.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

As UE (Ultimate Ears) puts it, the three-drivers-per-side Custom In-Ear Reference Monitor is designed for "professional studio engineers and producers for use during recording, mixing and mastering original music content. Other applications include front of the house venue tuning, live recording and mixing. This is also an excellent product for the audiophile or serious music listener because of its natural and authentic sound reproduction."

 

Given that description, it shouldn't be surprising that the In-Ear Reference Monitor (IERM) is the most neutral-sounding custom IEM I've heard. Both bass extension and treble extension sound excellent to me, the entire audioband presented without emphasis. The IERM is one of my neutral references, and perhaps the most neutral of all my headphones (regardless of type). As such, it is my sonic palate cleanser--after listening to more colored gear for extended periods, I can always count on the IERM to remind me what neutral sounds like.

 

Imaging is also one of its strengths, the IERM edging out most of the other custom IEMs I use, in terms of presenting a convincing, cohesive soundstage.

 

If you're in the market for a custom IEM, and pure neutrality is your goal, the IERM would be my first recommendation

Dita Audio The Answer 

Written by Amos Barnett (Currawong)

 

A couple of years ago a pair of gentlemen, Danny and Desmond from Singapore approached me at one of the Tokyo Headphone festivals to ask if I’d try a pair of high-end in-ear monitors they were preparing to manufacture. Round, like a large pill, with an nozzle exiting at 45 degrees to one side, they fitted simply and sounded good enough with my current variety of music types that I said I’d take them on the spot as they were. Not only was it unusual to find a prototype of an upcoming product from a new company that seemed to get it right, but also to meet two people whom, with everything they spoke, were completely sensible with an excellent attitude.

 

DITA Audio’s The Answer is a pair of IEMs with an incredible attention to detail, all the way from the beautifully milled aluminium right down to the carefully chosen plug. Even more so is the box they come in, where the IEMs are beautifully fitted into a large foam cut-out, along with their accessories in the manner of jewellery. They also come with not one, but two different cases.

 

Unusually for a pair of high-end IEMs is that the cable is permanently attached and, especially in the case of the more expensive Truth Edition, the guys have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that it is robust and will last a long time. The cable for the more expensive Truth Edition is designed by Van Den Hul using their 3T technology, which is designed to be mechanically reliable even when wound tightly, as well as better sounding. While very rubbery and springy, the Truth cable is very comfortable to wear, even with the choke piece pulled up. What is more, it is completely silent, not transferring movement noise to your ears.

 

Not surprisingly, the best part about The Answer IEMs is the sound. I’ve had the chance to use a pair for some months, and while they did need some hours of use for the drivers to break in, afterwards the sound is both detailed in the mids and highs while delivering just the right amount of bass to be good all-rounders. As they use a single dynamic driver, phase issues are non-existent and the overall response at all frequencies is excellent, including the trademark punchy bass one gets from dynamic drivers.  The Answer comes with three nozzle-sizes of tips allowing fine-tuning of the sound, allowing you some degree of adjustment of the balance between the lows and highs to taste.


Overall, The Answer, especially the Truth Edition, is an expensive pair of IEMs, but compared to the cost of other top-of-the-line universals, especially after paying for an extra, high quality cable to replace the stock cable in some cases, they are quite competitive given their outstanding quality, unique and thoughtful design and great sound.

 

"The Answer is a brilliant earphone. It is the most natural, realistic sounding earphone that I have ever heard. Technically, it is very very capable, and on par with, if not near to the level of the top custom earphones."

-Douglas (WCDchee)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Universal-fit in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
PRICE: $999.00 
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.ditaaudio.com
TYPE: Closed universal-fit in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: Around $400
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.westonemusicproducts.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The Westone 4R is one of my favorite universal-fit IEMs (in-ear monitors), especially when I'm looking for a more tonally flat sound signature. And the 4R's detail retrieval is outstanding from bottom to top.

 

Across the audioband, the Westone 4R does not provide any specific area of emphasis, and certainly no over-emphasis. Bass extends low, but without any extra weight imparted by the 4R. Though detailed throughout, I find the 4R's midrange detail to be one of its greatest strengths--again, without any emphasis imparted to achieve it. The treble balance is also excellent, with enough to provide some sparkle, but never enough to impart any edginess.

 

The 4R also is very comfortable to wear, with a surprisingly compact chassis (considering there are four drivers per side). Like Westone's other universal-fit IEMs, it sits very flat in the ear, which results in an IEM that can be worn while laying your head down. Put the Westone 4R at or near the top of your list if you're looking for a more neutral sound signature, but look elsewhere if you prefer tonal emphasis of any kind (like bumped-up bass), as that's not what this IEM is about.

 

I have both the Westone 4 and the Westone 4R, and they sound the same to me. From what I can tell, the key difference is that the Westone 4's cable is permanently affixed, whereas the 4R's cable is detachable.

 

"Westone has once again raised the stakes in the driver wars between high-end IEM manufacturers – something they’ve done at least twice in the past. The fit, comfort, build quality, and isolation are all what we’ve come to expect from Westone products but it should come as no surprise that the sound of the W4 is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, step up from the company’s previous flagships. The sound signature requires almost no qualifications for those familiar with Westone products – well-rounded, refined, and spacious, the W4 is a very difficult earphone do dislike."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

I thought I was aware of all the top custom-fit IEM makers. On a trip to Tokyo, however, the gentlemen at Fujiya Avic (a store every Tokyo-bound Head-Fi'er must visit) asked me to listen to a demo model of the FitEar MH334. To say the least, I was impressed with what I heard. The next day, at the Tokyo Headphone Festival (which is put on by Fujiya Avic), I was fitted for my very own custom MH334. When it arrived, the build quality was the first thing I noticed, including the flawless bubble-free transparent main earpiece bodies and the well-dressed internal wiring.

 

Wearing the MH334 revealed the best isolating custom-fit IEM I've yet used. I don't know if its particularly outstanding isolation is due to a perfect fit, something specific to the MH334's construction, or both. And the sound! Voiced by one of Japan's top mastering engineers, the four-drivers-per-side MH334 is the best-sounding IEM I have heard driven straight from my iPhone 4S (compared to others driven similarly), a nearly perfect blend of revealing and smooth, impactful and balanced. I'm looking forward to also using it in a wide variety of externally-amped portable rigs.

 

Currently available only direct from FitEar, the only negative I've got for the FitEar MH334 is its price, which, as of this writing, translates to over $1800! I'm hoping FitEar soon finds broader distribution, as they may be poised to shake things up in the custom-fit IEM market, if this MH334 is any indication.

 

"If you listen to most genres, save perhaps for classical music, you will enjoy how the MH334 renders the music in a musical and organic manner: you just close your eyes and enjoy the music. It's very addictive!"

-Kiats
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Closed custom in-ear monitors
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: 147,000 yen
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.fitear.jp

 

 

Westone ES50

 

TYPE: Closed, custom in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
PRICE: $999.99 
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.westonemusicproducts.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

One of the most well regarded custom in-ear monitors is the venerable Westone ES5. Replacing it would be a tall order; but after a lot of work in the labs, that's just what Westone is doing with the Westone ES50.

 

At first glance, the most obvious difference is the move to a new connector, the new ES50 going to a swivel connector (MMCX), and I think there may be a greater variety of materials, finishes and artwork options, too. I know the ES50 has a faceplate option I haven't previously seen--the ES50 they sent me has a blue left earpiece, and a red right one, both having carbon fiber face plates. The left earpiece's carbon fiber plate appears to me to have wisps of blue fiber woven in with the carbon fiber, and the right's with wisps of red fiber woven in. There are also tiny spaces in the carbon fiber weave that also allow color from the earpieces to show through the fiber. The look is very cool.

 

Of course, the most important thing when you're changing a model as well regarded as the Westone ES5 is any sonic changes that might be made, and there have indeed been some. Comparing my ES5 with the ES50 directly, I'm happy to say that the ES50 still maintains the essence of the ES5--the ES5 isn't a piece whose soul I'd want to upend in the name of change. To my ears, the ES50 is similar to the ES5, but with a little more presence in the bottom end, and improved detail across the spectrum. In other words, what was already (in my opinion) one of the best in-ear monitors available has just gotten better.

 

Thankfully, another thing Westone didn't change is their standard-setting comfort. With their Flex Canal earpieces--which soften pretty quickly at body temperature--Westone has what are, in my opinion, the most comfortable custom in-ear monitors out there. In addition to comfort, I've found the Flex Canal earpiece also provide improved isolation. The only downside to Flex Canal is that the material is a little grippier going in, so they don't slide into the ear quite as easily as hard acrylic earpieces.

 

Without raising the price, the changes the ES50 brings have made Westone's flagship custom IEM even more competitive than it was, in an increasingly competitive landscape.

TYPE: Closed, universal-fit in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: $1,295 ~ $2,195
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.tralucentaudio.com

 

From Warren P. Chi:

 

One of last year's most popular in-ear monitors within the Head-Fi community is Tralucent Audio's 1plus2, a universal hybrid IEM from Hong Kong.

 

The 1plus2 packs a three-way crossover, one 10mm dynamic driver, and two Knowles TWFK balanced armature drivers into a specially tuned and vented housing that resembles a custom in-ear more than it does a universal.

 

Devotees of the 1plus2's sound signature praise it for coming disturbingly close to full-sized over-ears in several respects. The large dynamic drivers deliver an impressively punchy and visceral bass response - while twin BA drivers in each ear serve up superior coherency for improved imaging and separation. The specially tuned and vented housing tops it all off by creating an expansive soundstage that is, for many, sufficiently out-of-head so as to betray its in-ear form factor.

 

Overall, the 1plus2 carries a subtle U-shaped signature that is reminiscent of a classic audiophile presentation... albeit at the expense of a forward vocal presence in the mid-range.

 

Housings are available in your choice of three shell colors (black carbon fiber, red acrylic and blue acrylic), with three different faceplace varieties (carbon fiber, silver and gold). Customers wishing to mix-and-match housing options for easier channel identification can do so at the time of order.

 

Additionally, the 1plus2 is offered with one of three cables: silver ($1,295 total), gold ($1,495 total), and uBer (approximately $2,195 total). Each of these cables present their own interpretation of the 1plus2's basic signature, with the uBer cable widely considered to be noticeably and understandably superior.

 

If you've always wanted a top of the line in-ear, but have always been skittish about jumping into customs due to their inherently low resale value, the Tralucent 1plus2 may be just the ticket for you.

 

 

"What I do like about the 1Plus2 is that the mids have great clarity and timbre. There is a great rawness in emotions I always feel when I listen to strings on it. The 1Plus2 is no slouch in terms of voices either. In fact, I do love the purity it renders on vocals."

-Kiats
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The Triple.Fi 10 Pro was easily one of the best IEMs available when it was released back in 2007, carrying that strength in the years since to become a classic. However, 2012 brings the Triple.Fi 10 Pro's successor in the Logitech UE 900, and, in my opinion, the UE 900 is a vast improvement, in terms of fit, in terms of sound.

 

Unlike its predecessor, the UE 900 sits flush in your ears, and has a more reasonably sized nozzle that shouldn't send the small-eared among us running for cover the way the Triple.Fi 10 Pro does. In the ear, the UE 900 sits and looks like a custom IEM by Ultimate Ears.

 

The UE 900 crafted by the same team responsible for Ultimate Ears' custom in-ear monitors. It uses four balanced armature drivers per side, in three-way setup--two bass drivers, one midrange driver, and one high frequency driver.

 

Most importantly, though--even in the strongest, most competitive field of IEMs ever--the UE 900, to my ears, joins the Westone 4R and Phonak PFE 232 at the top of the universal-fit IEM heap. For the UE 900, the Ultimate Ears team chose a revealing, neutral-ish sound signature. No, its not as neutral as their custom Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor (there's not much I've heard that is), but relative to universal-fit monitor offerings currently on the market, neutral-ish is a just descriptor.

 

Relative to its super-neutral custom sibling, the UE 900 has midrange that is more forward than neutral, and, to my ears, treble that's a bit softer and smoother than perfectly neutral. I find the UE 900's bass neutral and solid, but some used to be some boost might find it too flat (I am certainly not among them). Still, the UE 900, to my ears, is a very revealing universal-fit IEM, and one that puts Ultimate Ears back among the top-tier universal-fit in-ear monitors. I bounce between the Ultimate Ears UE 900, Westone's W4R, and Phonak's PFE232, and I still can't believe universal-fit IEMs have come this far.

 

"The UE 900, despite the steep price tag, is a well thought-out replacement, both sonically and as an overall package. It provides better ergonomics, optional headset functionality, and an improved cable, as well as punchy, smooth, non-fatiguing sound that doesn’t butcher low-bitrate tracks."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Closed, in-ear monitor
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: $399.99
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.ultimateears.com

 

Noble Audio 4  
CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90
TYPE: Universal-fit in-ear monitors
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
PRICE: $450
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.nobleaudio.com

Written by Warren Chi (warrenpchi)

 

In many ways, the Noble 4 is the least "Noble" model in their entire line-up.  This is not to suggest that it's peasantry in any way.  Far from it.  It's just very different from anything that a rank-and-file Noble fan would expect.

 

The Noble 4 isn't warm or bassy like other Noble models.  It's primarily a universal IEM, though a custom version does exist in the Noble 4C.  And - unless you specifically opt for the Wizard's (Dr. John Mouton's) exquisite artistry and craftsmanship - it's just plain, black, ABS plastic.  There's no terabit-capable hardwood from Pandoran trees... no finely-ground and glittery unicorn horns... no pearlescent mermaid tears swirled in... not even a token dragon scale or two.  It's simply the most ignoble Noble that you can possibly get.  

 

But the one thing that truly sets the Noble 4 apart is its flat sound signature.  And that - more than anything else - is what makes it so right!

 

As a staunch advocate and loyal user of an Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor (UERM), a paragon of neutrality in its own right, I find myself surprisingly impressed by the Noble 4 - and that's saying something.  In fact, I am so enamored with its even-keeled presentation that I now consider it worthy of being a flat universal counterpart to my UERM.  It is as neutral or "perceived flat" as my UERM?  No, that it is not.  But its particular flavor of linear flatness is akin to, and eerily reminiscent of, many a studio monitor headphone - earning it a very special place in my collection.

 

And yes, to answer the urgent question that just popped into your minds, this means that the Noble 4 just superseded the Etymotic ER-4PT as my flat universal IEM of choice.

 

They both share the same mid-centric and neutral signature for which the ER-4PT is famous (or infamous depending on whom you ask).  But the Noble 4 offers several sonic advantages that noticeably enhance my listening experience.  Compared to the ER-4PT, the Noble 4 is:  
 

  • Better extended at the bottom end, which addresses a long-standing complaint of mine about the ER-4PT's somewhat anemic bass response;
  • More linear moving from the mids through the upper mids, which helps to tame overly-forward vocal presentations;
  • Slightly boosted moving into the highs - which does deviate from a flat response, but ultimately makes for a more enjoyable listen;
  • Better with separation and imaging for a more holographic presentation; and
  • Better at detail retrieval across the entire frequency range.

 

There's only one place where the Noble 4 loses out to the ER-4PT sonically, and that is in the area of refinement, where the Noble 4 lacks the buttery smoothness of the ER-4PT.  However, given the advantages mentioned above, that is a trade-off that I would take any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

 

Additionally, the Noble 4 offers several usability advantages that I appreciate greatly.  The Noble 4's cable - which is removable, thus allowing for the use of different cables - is not nearly as microphonic as that of the ER-4PT.  The use of standard tips and ear guides also means that the Noble 4 doesn't require the jaw-droppingly, earlobe-pullingly and ear-canal-stuffingly deep insertion that the ER-4PT demands.  Of course, this results in diminished isolation.  But given the Noble 4's easier insertion, superior comfort, and flexibility in tip experimentation, I'm more than willing to suffer that drop in isolation.  And should isolation ever truly become an issue, there is always the aforementioned 4C (custom) variant.

 

In speaking with Brannan Mason of Noble Audio, I wasn't terribly surprised to learn that the Noble 4 is one of their best selling models, despite its deviation from their house sound.  Regardless of what your personal preferences might be, all of us can appreciate having a well-tempered signature within our collections, which probably helps to explain why so many of us have one ER-4 variant or another.  But if you've come to feel that your ER-4 is becoming somewhat dated, or you've been searching long and hard for a successor to address its shortcomings, the Noble 4 is - more likely than not - your huckleberry.

 

"I personally consider the Noble 4U to be an extremely satisfying, refined, mature upgrade from the Vsonic GR07, Vsonic VC1000 or the Etymotic HF5."

-Airlight
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Page 1 | 2 | 3

 

Comments

There are no comments yet
Head-Fi.org › 2015 Summer Buying Guide › Head Fi Buying Guide In Ear Headphones 2