Originally Posted by iponderous
Judging by the widespread acclaim that the JH/13 PRO is receiving, it may be the only IEM worthy of "top tier" status based on your criteria. Unfortunately, it's not a universal IEM and therefore ineligible for consideration in this thread.
Yes, we are excluding customs, although we probably shouldn't feel compelled to do so. One could say those are the true super cars of the head-fi world. I think some of their extreme cost leaves the vast majority of the people without ever hearing them. Some customs are actually quite affordable, Livewires for example, but at that point are you back to the same level again as the unversals but just with a better fit and seal? I've seen some say yes.
Completely a matter of personal opinion? That's going a bit too far. This matter can be judged beyond simple personal preference. You can hate a product and still think it's a very good product. An example is the RE0. It's an earphone that is very unlike my ideal and I would have a slew of functionally worse earphones over it. I still see it as a largely good product that does very little wrong. For the price, it's one of the best functioning options available...but I still dislike it personally.
ClieOS is an example of a person who's used/tested/reviewed a LOT of products. Joker's another who has used/tested/reviewed nearly 50 IEMs, although limited to low and mid level products. These are the kinds of levels of experience that give a person a broad spectrum view of the head-fi world and what it has to offer.
Most people can't accurately define a product. Our perception is based off our experience. It can be based off some logical conclusions too. We create this measuring stick and stick our experieces on it and define a scale. This stick can only measure what we know or can understand logically. We are effectively bound by our own individual takes on reality. My measuring stick is different then yours. My points of experience are in different places and scaled along my stick differently. My perceptions of bright, warm, crisp, muddy, fast, smooth, etc. will be different. What I define as high level and low level will be different. Sometimes you don't know better unless you've had better and realized what you were missing. To accurately measure a product and place aspects in a more true to reality manner, one must have a very well defined measuring device, one with a high resolution of points and spread over a wide spectrum that covers most of the actual realistic range. If you've used 50 or 100 earphones, you have a pretty well defined measuring tool. If you've used 4, it might be pretty crappy. This measuring device has more then one dimension too. It might have 10 or 20 dimensions defining things like level of detail, speed, transparency, impact, stage size, etc., and every single earphone only adds one point in some spot on this measuring stick for each dimension. It's simply that for someone's words to be realistically accurate, they have to have vast experience. 99.9% of the people here simply do not.
My definition of top tier didn't say weakness. It said flaw. I also want to clarify that flaw can not be a subjective value. Frequency response isn't subjective. It's objective, measurable, numerical. I can put a value to it. Subjective could be me saying the IE8 is too laid back, and I could by opinion call that a weakness. However, to someone else's own opinion it could be a strength and a desirable attribute. My perception of how laid back would also be scaled differently. I can't say the IE8 is flawed because it was geared a certain way. Even the midbass hump could have been specifically geared into the product. I can't exactly hold those things against it. I pick on the SE530 because it rolls off heavily in the lower frequencies, pretty much starting at 1kHz. I could say it was "geared" that way, and it sort of was by driver choice, but it's also a 3 driver earphone that completely lacks low end sensitivity. I actually does worse off then some single driver earphones. In my eyes, something like that is a fundamental flaw. There's absolutely no reason it should be that way or still be that way even after revisions.