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Help with my IEM Choice Dilemma!

post #1 of 81
Thread Starter 
I'm in an IEM choice dilemma - I don't know what to choose!
This will be my first pair of higher-end IEMs (I own CX300s at the moment), and I will be using them mostly everywhere I can't use full headphones...walking around, at home reading a book downstairs or outside(when I'm on my computer).

Options (in preference?):
Shure SE530
Phonak Audeo PFE
Westone UM3X
UE stuff?

I Listen mostly to:
Orchestral film/game soundtracks (i.e. Dark Knight/Transformers..epic sounding, large-scale stuff)
Classical Music (i.e. violin concertos/string quartets/symphonies...violin portrayal very important),
Alternative/pop punk rock (Offspring/Blink 182/All-American Rejects)
Semi-mainstream pop/Korean pop (Natasha Bedingfield/Ashley Tisdale...uptempo songs with good energy)

So a lot of acoustic/instrumental and some female/male vocals...NO Rap/Hip-Hop...but some Trance

Musciality is more important to me than an analytical sound character. I want to enjoy the music, not critique it, but also should have excellent detail/sound quality (using mostly MP3 256/320 kbps and some FLAC)

I believe I like clear, sweet, crisp highs (non-fatiguing though), beautiful, passionate mids, and impactful, but not bloated bass (for the movie soundtrack impact)...phones that do dynamics very well too, also have good "energy"...overall something that has a generally neutral sound with a slight hint of warmness/fullness.

P.S: i will be using this with iPhone 3GS and Samsung P3 player, just bought a Fiio E5, probably nothing more (this is a very portable rig)

Which phone suits me the best? The Shure looks like a good choice, but I'm afraid that the rolled-off highs will give me a problem for classical music (but some members have said that all IEMs will sound rolled-off, and the Shure's are only a tad worse, and can be fixed with a bit of EQ?) It seems like the PFE is more analytical sounding, and I don't know much about Westone/UE sound..but they are regarded here as well...for the more expensive phones (Shure/Westone) I will probably get used...

Thanks!

P.S. Comfort and lack of cable microphonics are important to me! Isolation not as much...but should be decent. The CX300s are pretty comfortable, but have horrible microphonics (not to mention slightly bloated bass)
post #2 of 81
SE530, they sound amazing for vocals/acoustic My second choice would be the W3.
post #3 of 81
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by koven View Post
SE530, they sound amazing for vocals/acoustic My second choice would be the W3.
People keep saying the SE530 is good for jazz (which I DON'T listen to), but not as good for classical (because of the rolled off highs?)...what's the W3 like?
post #4 of 81
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeusEx View Post
So a lot of acoustic/instrumental and some female/male vocals...NO Rap/Hip-Hop...but some Trance

Musciality is more important to me than an analytical sound character. I want to enjoy the music, not critique it, but also should have excellent detail/sound quality (using mostly MP3 256/320 kbps and some FLAC)

I believe I like clear, sweet, crisp highs (non-fatiguing though), beautiful, passionate mids, and impactful, but not bloated bass (for the movie soundtrack impact)...phones that do dynamics very well too, also have good "energy"...overall something that has a generally neutral sound with a slight hint of warmness/fullness.
I'm very interested in the response to these criteria.

I've got CX300, Mylarone X3i, (broken) Denon C700 and IE8. I find the Denons to meet the bolded statements best of those, in particular the toe tapping 'energy' to really engage with music.
post #5 of 81
Thread Starter 
Not heard much about Denon IEMs....anyway, just in case there's a misunderstanding, I don't mean a forward-sounding brightness when I say energy...just a certain essence to the sound that makes it lively/real...r@mside got it.
post #6 of 81
In my opinion, the se530's sound the most realistic for rock, jazz and classical. They are just so balanced and just great. Listening to Dark side of the moon and the vocals are just amazingly real sounding. I would suggest that. I don't know about the westone 3's, but I've never heard them, so I can't be shure. (no pun) Se530's is you're safest bet.
post #7 of 81
Thread Starter 
Balanced? I thought they were rolled-off at the extremes
post #8 of 81
Please rule out se 530 if you like classic or focus on timbre of instrument. SE 530 sounds really terrible if you have slight glimpse about how those instrument should sound in real life

Se 530 is mainly from vocal lover who like to enjoy vocal alone, which SE 530 can do a very good job no matter in what condition, it make sure you can hear full body of vocal, it is little weird or unnatural though
post #9 of 81
Thread Starter 
I play competitive classical piano, and am a 1st violinist in the school orchestra, along with performing in a classical string quartet. I own a violin of european origin, and a Yamaha conservatory grand piano...very familiar with the sound/timbre of classical instruments...
I also transcribe/arrange movie soundtracks to full orchestra...

Anyone else share gameboy115's convictions? That would make me reconsider getting the SE530s...
post #10 of 81
Do yourself a favour and read the UM3X Appreciation thead: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f103/w...thread-422240/

I've had the UM3X, Westone 3 & SE530. The clear winner for me is the UM3X (wonderfully neutral, balanced and musical & incredibly comfortable and non-fatiguing), followed by the W3 (more impressive at first with more treble & bass but not so in the long run and specially for long listening sessions where they can be somewhat fatiguing). I didn't like the SE530's SQ, mostly the recessed highs, and the bass - enough quantity but not as refined/ accurate/ detailed as that on the UM3X; and there were other things I also quite disliked about them.

I listen to about 65% Classical - mostly chamber music; the rest is (experimental) Rock, Jazz and so-called World music.
post #11 of 81
This is a very tricky topic IMO. I'm a regular listener to classical music, from solo piano to full orchestra works, and I've been to quite a few live concerts in the famous venues of my hometown. While not playing myself, I think I have a reasonable conception of what classical music oughta sound like.

It's evident that all headphones have limitations in reproducing music and classical is perhaps the best example to prove this point. That said when it comes to my IEMs, I consider myself pretty good in distinguishing which one sounds right or wrong with a certain piece of music, but much worse in explaining why. Anyway, here we go:

I don't really like my balanced armature based phones (SE530, CK100, X10) with classical so much, especially when strings are involved. They all sound more or less artificial to me and do not convey the experience of a live classical concert. The dynamics, vibration of strings in the air, sound pressure, whatever. (Here's my dilemma, I'm reasonably certain of my point, but lost for words to explain it properly.) This is less apparent with solo piano, where the advantages of BA, like speed, can outweigh their shortcomings. I.e. for solo piano I like the SE530 better than the IE8.

But with the vast majority of classical music, especially orchestral, the top dynamic driver IEMs are IMO superior to BA. They sound much more engrossing and closer to the real thing for me. Strings are noticably better, especially the lower frequency range. The full force of an orchestra is convincingly presented, instead of only hinted at with BA. Of course, the dynamic IEMs have their weaknesses, too. They seem generally a bit slower to me than BA. The IE8 has bloated upper bass that requires EQing or driving them from a bright amp like the Icon mobile. The FX500 is an excellent IEM for classical IMO, but one might need to EQ down the highs. Cymbals can be almost painful with them on flat EQ. Of course YMMV. Last but not least, my favourite IEM for classical is the Playaz N1, an obscure and flimsy budget IEM that definitely needs EQing to sound good, but then does classical like no other IEM I know.

Rereading what I just wrote, I realize it sounds a bit weird and unconvincing. Anyway, though gravely lacking in verbal skills, these are my personal 2c.
post #12 of 81
well its really all about personal preference at this level but i think the 530 are just wonderful and of the things i have i would say the 530
post #13 of 81
Thread Starter 
So now out of 7 posts...3 entirely for SE530, 2 totally against SE530, and 2 for something else - tricky topic indeed..


Quote:
Originally Posted by james444 View Post
This is a very tricky topic IMO.
I don't really like my balanced armature based phones (SE530, CK100, X10) with classical so much, especially when strings are involved. They all sound more or less artificial to me and do not convey the experience of a live classical concert. The dynamics, vibration of strings in the air, sound pressure, whatever. (Here's my dilemma, I'm reasonably certain of my point, but lost for words to explain it properly.) This is less apparent with solo piano, where the advantages of BA, like speed, can outweigh their shortcomings. I.e. for solo piano I like the SE530 better than the IE8.
So this becomes a problem of drivers, not brands? Do all of the ones I listed have BA-based drivers? (SE530/Phonak/Westone UM3X) Is this only your opinion about dynamic drivers besting BA in classical, or a widely confirmed issue? I actually don't listen to much piano music (apart from pieces that I have recorded, and that's usually through my bookshelf monitors), more of full symphony/solo violin...a lot of recorded film soundtracks (from action/fantasy movies...currently listening to Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams), Angels and Demons Movie (Hans Zimmer), Transformers 2 (Steve Jablonsky), Mendelssohn/Bach violin concertos (Hilary Hahn), Shostakovich string quartets, Boys like Girls, and some random uptempo Korean pop songs...mostly in 246/320kbps mp3 (classical music is in FLAC)

On a note, scratch the Westone 3...it is ugly to the point that I won't put it in my ear...looks like a damn black widow...

Thing is, the SE530 can be found ~$200 used, but Westone UM3X used is usually ~$250-300...so price is also taken into consideration...although if the SE530s are really that unsuitable for me, then I can ignore the difference..

Also, someone told me that SE530 is a product of a sad face curve (recessed extremes/forward mids) and Westone 3/UM3X a product of the happy face curve (recessed mids/boosted extremes)...is that true? Could the se530 be EQed for highs/lows?
post #14 of 81
I was in the same boat last week. After all my research i went with the se530's. I wasn't impressed at first untill I started experimenting with the ear sleeves. I did more research and alot of people liked the tripple flange if they didnt like the foam. I felt they went into my ears to far so i cut the third flange to make them shorter and thats what did it for me. ( i read that worked somewhere ) bottom line I think their awesome. Here is a little trick to make them a little cheeper. I found the reg se530's on ebay for $267 shipped or the se530pth for $279 (cheepest on the net I could find) ( $12 more ) I turned around and sold the PTH module in a buy it now auction for $45 on ebay and said brand new never used not in orig box and sold the unit in one day which made them $234 when everything was said and done. To me thats the way to go. I also added a fiio E5 amp and it added more punch and bass. I was very impressed for $20. Its nice but def not necessary.
post #15 of 81
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeusEx View Post
So this becomes a problem of drivers, not brands? Do all of the ones I listed have BA-based drivers? (SE530/Phonak/Westone UM3X) Is this only your opinion about dynamic drivers besting BA in classical, or a widely confirmed issue?
Yes, all on your list are BA-based phones. As far as I know, the opinion about dynamic drivers besting BA in classical is not widely confirmed and I doubt there's been extensive discussion about this. Like mark2410 said, we are talking about very high level IEMs, meaning subtle differences, therefore personal preference is an important factor.

However, it is a widely known fact, that dynamic drivers move more air than BA and especially bass has a different "feel" due to this fact. Sorry, I'm out of words to describe it properly, but I'm certain you'd feel the difference too if you'd audition these phones. But what this difference really means for your personal musical experience is obviously a matter of personal preference.

Like I said, for my taste BA doesn't sound "right" with classical, especially orchestral, but if I could only chose out of my BA phones it would be the SE530.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DeusEx View Post
Also, someone told me that SE530 is a product of a sad face curve (recessed extremes/forward mids) and Westone 3/UM3X a product of the happy face curve (recessed mids/boosted extremes)...is that true? Could the se530 be EQed for highs/lows?
IME the SE530 relies on a good source, it does not so good with my iPod classic but sounds great with my Fuze. According to my freq tests bass goes down to about 15Hz, so I don't think its missing on that end of the curve. The ressed highs are a widely confirmed truth, but I wouldn't call them dealbreakers. For a BA-phone the SE530 responds really good to EQing, so you can pump up the highs if you like.

I'm afraid I can't reliably advise you except look for a chance to audition a high-end BA phone against a dynamic one if you really want to find out your personal preference in this matter.
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