I'm a production manager, but focus mostly on sound engineering and installations. I install and tune a lot of P.A equipment, and also mix live acts. My work environments consist mainly of:
- live venues,
- concert halls,
I've taken a huge liking to headphones - IEM's in particular. I like the idea of having my own personal PA system that I can take with me anywhere. With Rockbox being in such advanced stages, and such great low-impedance portable amps coming out, you can really seem to get any sound signature you wish out of a portable rig.
Enter, the Lear BD4.2.
Packaging and accessories
For starters, the box greets you with a beautifully printed logo:
A very 'premium' feeling drawstring miniature bag:
The usual smattering of tips, including both foamies and olives:
As well as a LEAR branded cleaning cloth, as well as a mini flathead screwdriver for bass adjustment.
In a word: Stunning.
The quad-braid silver cable is very 'luxury'. It unfortunately transmits an audible amount of cable rubbing noise from just below the Y-split in the cable. For reference, the amount of microphonics transferred to the earpiece is a little higher than a Westone EPIC cable, but considerably less noise compared to a cheaper rubber/plastic combo from a generic IEM.
Personally, I love the way this cable looks. It has 'LEAR' printed on the headphone jack:
and the memory wire does its job the way it should.
The enclosures themselves appear to be well constructed, thoughtfully designed, and have a cheeky lashing of carbon-fibre on the outside.
The word 'LEAR' is carefully embossed on the faceplate, along with a vent for air, to aid the driving of the dual dynamic drivers.
Speaking of dynamic drivers, LEAR have included tuning ports on each earpiece, allowing you to adjust the bass-level of the twin dynamic subs enclosed within. I'll speak more about that in the sound section.
The cable appears to be removable, but I didn't want to damage anything on this review model, so I left it as-is.
Whilst the earpieces appear quite large, I personally had no issues fitting them in. Despite their size, they are very lightweight, and the tips are quality enough to have no comfort issues over 3-4 hour listening sessions.
Following in the footsteps of every hybrid I've tried to date, the nozzle on these IEMs is incredibly wide. It has a quad-bore design.
My girlfriend is always my “test subject” for fit/comfort with IEMs, as I generally have no trouble getting most products to fit, however, she has considerably smaller ear-canals, and struggles to find a good fit with many IEMs. The nozzles on these were too wide for her to wear these comfortably. This might be worth noting, if you are generally sensitive to nozzle width, and are considering the universal version of this IEM.
The body of this IEM sticks out of my ear when listening:
This isn't a problem for me personally, however.
I am a complete basshead.
Also, I really don't subscribe to some of the common techniques people use to summarise sound signatures. I've found that when building and tuning a PA for a live venue there are many things to take into consideration. For my own benefit, I describe my sound signatures differently. The idea that all sound signatures are either “U-SHAPED” or “FLAT” isn't something I agree with. It's just not that binary. Sound signatures are always far more complicated than this, and I can't help but feel a little dismayed when products get pigeon-holed into either the “U-SHAPED” or “FLAT” pile. Anyway, enough complaining, back to the review.
PC > Fiio E18.
With the tuning ports set to the lowest setting, these IEMs are incredibly bass-light. It sounds obvious, but it's refreshing to know that a genuine option is available for these. I love the idea of tuning bass in and out of IEMs, depending on your mood and application. Even so – on the “lightest” setting, it's very difficult to detect much sub-bass. Bass decay is at an all-time minimal, and all mids and highs take over the stage.
Now, with the ports set to “full” - Ah. Welcome to the newest addition to the Audiophile Bass Lounge IEM list (http://www.head-fi.org/t/715697/the-audiophile-bass-lounge-basshead-club-part-ii). According to my test-tone testing, there is still audibility in the 30-40hz range, but if I was going to be picky, I'd like there to be a little more sub-bass. It's a few decibels higher at 80hz, then has a fairly steady rise from there. With huge decay and slam, I would say that there is definitely too much overall bass slam for the regular listener. Hell, it's almost too much for me, now that is saying something. A massive tidal wave of midbass, like nothing ever heard before from an IEM. Dual dynamic drivers really bringing forth the artillery. A real brain-shaking affair. It would be ideal to have a little more sub-bass to even out the torrential midbass, but then I'm just being a fussy basshead.
So, let's get a little more realistic (and mature), and set the ports on “half”. Without any notches in the tuning dials, it's hard for me to match them exactly to halfway – I'll have to take my best guess at matching the two, and align the pots by eye.
With the dials on the “half” or “12-oclock” setting, the sub-bass calms down. You won't find tidal waves of dynamic bass, rather a mildly recessed affair, with the roll-off beginning around 200hz, drooping down until it hits 60-80hz.
Overall, the bass is a little hard to get a good firm grip on. You can set the midbass to whatever you like, and the mids, sub-bass and highs will trail behind. If you're in the mood for an absolute eye-ball shaking session, the IEMs will allow you to do so. Be warned, however, that the mid-bass hump definitely bleeds into the mids if you choose to do so.
Not quite as detailed as the Merlin, or as wide in the sense of a “sound-stage”, but still fitting the bill. At first I thought something might be a little “off” about the tone, but upon further listening, my opinion has changed – it just took me a little while to “settle in” to the signature. There is a fairly strong peak around 5k, and another at 7k, with a mild droop in-between the two. It's an interesting listen because of this, soft piano jazz tracks sound beautifully rendered, airy and light – but some electronic music is a little harder to swallow.
Sound-stage isn't quite as expansive or wide as I had hoped – but still a tad wider than the Dunu DN1000, yet not as wide as the Merlin.
I often find sibilance a problem with a lot of hybrid IEMs these days, with the Lear I'm only finding it on some hip-hop tracks, and electronic music. With the Bass dial up nice and high, this isn't so much of a problem. But with the bass levels at 12 oclock, things get a little peaky and sibilant at decent volumes. It's definitely not the same piercing sibilance as the H-300 or some other hybrids, but depending on the music genre and volume, it's definitely noticeable.
Overall opinion of sound:
I started playing with the bass port, at first thinking “hah, what a great adition” and found myself wanting to adjust it with every music genre change. It makes such a huge difference in the IEM itself that I almost want to write several separate reviews for the same product, depending on the bass level.
It's a great idea, and the execution is so close to being perfect. The dynamic drivers seem to be taking care of the lower-mids as well as mid-bass, and this can cause a little bit of “bleed” when the bass setting is on the higher settings.
That being said, I am giving these IEMs the official Head-fi basshead club stamp of approval.
Sound-stage isn't quite “on-par” when compared head to head with the Merlin (which also has four balanced armature drivers for mid/highs), yet is still enough to be satisfied with.
This is where things get a little awkward. I've deliberately left out value from the review so far, as I felt that I would harp on it too strongly if I included it.
At time of writing, it retails for:
Custom: HK$9,998 ($1290 USD)
Universal: HK$8,888 ($1146 USD)
It pains me to actually have to say this: It's far too much. I like the product, I love the accessories, I love the overall fit and finish, and the variable bass ports. But I just personally can't see myself paying four figures for it, when there are so many options out there at a lower price-point.
Tuneable bass ports, fantastic dollops of mid-bass, good (but not great) detail retrieval, great included accessories, a decent fit, all at a very steep asking price.
A huge thank you to LEAR for letting us do the review tour with this sample unit, and to @svyr for being the hero who made it all happen.