After trying armature driver IEM's by Shure, Sensaphonics, Etymotics and Livewires and all the universal dynamic driver IEM's made by Future Sonics and a few other by Sony and Shure over the years I've come to this earth shattering conclusion:
Dynamic drivers sound better to me then armature drivers.
There I said it. I'm now in the camp with Marty over at Future Sonics. Dynamic drivers are smoother, less "metalic" sounding and easier to get a good hiss free performance out of.
I came to this conclusion this morning while building my new IEM rig for stage use. A Yamaha O1V that'll do enough mixes for everyone in the band, Sennheiser wireless packs and a set of Livewires T1 dual armature driver custom IEM's. It was when I A-B'ing my new Livewires to my Future Sonics Atrios (dynamics) with the whole setup gong that I discovered the tonality of the Atrios was lots better. Smoother, Deeper and without any hiss I was getting form the Livewires.
Now for a regular user this is not really a problem. You just use the Atrios right? What's the problem, send the Livewires back right? Well for musicians like me it's a bigger problem. We seriously rely on our IEM's to perform. Here's the considerations:
The Livewires are built really well. The can sustain the road abuse and are customs so their really comfortable, isolation is great and there's no danger of loosing a seal or one falling out while I'm rocking out on stage in front of however many people that payed to see me. But they just don't sound as good to me and there's background hiss and noise with IEM receiver packs because of their sensitivity.
The Atrios sound better right out of the receiver pack (but maybe require a little more rolling off with EQ on things like vocal mics so they don't get too boomy and cover other things up like my guitar.) On kick drums and bass guitars they're golden. Over all there a have much smoother, deeper tone without the background hiss of my wireless pack. The problem is they're not built that well. Not well at all. They could never take the abuse on the road every night that's gonna be unleashed upon them over the years. Sweat, dirt, heat, pulling, tugging, twisting, dropping, maybe even stepping on them. I have no confidence what so ever that these things would last me more than a couple years even if I babied them. And even then I'm gonna have to keep buying foamies cause they sound and fit the best. I'm gonna loose foamies, I'm gonna run out somewhere in Ohio and be without. The wires are really thin and I have to screw around with the ear pieces a little bit to get a good seal. And being blue they're a little obvious. They feel really fragile compared to my custom Livewires and not nearly as comfortable. And even if I wanted to get custom molds made for $150 they're only gonna last me so long before a wire shorts or they get totally ripped apart by an arrant guitar headstock or something of that nature. And when that happens they're done for. You can't replace the cables. Buy a new set for $200 (or $150 if your shrewd enough) and just be that much poorer. Tough luck kid.
The ONLY company that makes a custom dynamic driver IEM is Future Sonics and their $750. I don't have that kinda coin. I'd feel ripped off if I spent that anyway. I kinda need both of these IEM's. I'm gonna have to keep both of them. I can't send the livewires back and rely on the poorly built Atrios. Plus there the best armatures around until you get to the UE's for $750 (once again). And not to mention that John and company are really fine folks and I can't fault them at all on their product. It's a breakthrough product for sure. It's way beyond other armature IEM's I've had. Even the ones that cost more. It's the best thing going. I just found out I like dynamics better.
This problem can't be exclusively mine. And maybe I'm more picky than most. Ok, actually I'm sure I'm more picky then most. The facts are that almost everybody performing on stage with IEM's from the guy in your local bar to freakin' Madonna are using Armature driver IEM's by Shure, Sensaphonics, or UE and a few using Livewires (Sarah Evans, Black Sabbath etc..) And although I'm sure the UE $1500 IEM's sound a bit better then my $250 Livewires they can't sound THAT Much better. Their still armature IEM's and they're still gonna have that texture to them. They're using the same Knowles drivers! And then there's all those bands that use either Shure or Sensaphonics IEM's that I've already owned or have heard like Cold Play, Dave Matthews, etc... that apparently think they sound just fine thank you very much. The Livewires I have sound almost exactly like the Sensaphonics that the Eagles use. So why am I even frustrated? What Sarah McLachlan's IEM's not good enough for me huh? What's my problem?
It's the state of the art I guess. Or maybe it's me. Maybe I should just get used to armatures. Everybody else likes them, why can't you be like those nice Cold Play boys? What's wrong with you? Mick Jagger likes them, what's wrong with you?
I don't know what to do. Guess I'll keep them both.
Questions, comments, tirades, rants? Lets get a debate started... armatures vs. dynamics. You, in the back....
Edited for extra content:
So I kept experimenting (a.k.a screwing around) with the whole rig and A-B'ing the two IEM's in different situations as I build the rig. Playing, singing, listening to music etc... I found out that although the Armatures do require more EQing to suite me that when they're used with a more compatible amp like the one in my 01V mixer that they do both sound in fact...great. They both sound great. The major problem with my signal chain is the Sennheiser receiver packs' amp. It doesn't play well with any armature IEM's. So next I'm gonna try building an impedance adapter for use with the Livewires. So hopefully that'll make the issue much less a problem. I'll keep posting. I'm hopeful. I want audio nirvana every gig I play dammit!