The JH13 Pro and JH16 Pro clearly became king of Head-fi in the past year or so. In comparison, the UE18 Pro and ES5, which are flagships from Ultimate Ears and Westone, respectively, receive less attention, in particular the UE18 Pro. Last week I got my ES5, and that enables me to write a comparison of the "minority" flagships. I hope it is useful for JH 13 / 16 Pro users who are considering a compliment to their JHs, as well as food for thought for those who are going to take a leap to customs from universals but can't make a decision. I am pretty sure that there must be someone out there owning all of JH13 Pro, JH16 Pro (probably with JH3A as well), ES5 and 18 Pro, but I guess I am the only one with the UE18 Pro and ES5 but without any JHs.
My time spent with ES5 is limited, but I did give it a good listen for around 10+ hours after two days of burn in. On the other hand, I have been using the UE18 Pro for almost a year now, so I am quite familiar with it. I hope to be as concise as possible - the following shootout consists of a number of bullet points stating the pros and cons of the ES5 against the UE18 Pro. Description of music would be quite useless to most of you because I listen to Chinese female singers most of the time, unless you know who is 陳潔麗, 王苑之 and 羅敏莊 lol...
1. iPhone 4 headphone out
2. iPhone 4 line out to RSA BlackBird SR71-A
3. Hifiman 801 Headphone out
4. Hifiman 801 line out to RSA BlackBird SR71-A
I tried to test them on my desktop gear (Esoteric D-07 -> Leben CS300XS) but the ES5 gave too much noise on the tube amp to make the comparison meaningful. So I decided to base my comparison solely on my portable gear stated above.
I used the same ALO SXC cable for testing. Still waiting for my twag to arrive, and will update my review if anything changes with that. So far all the above setups give pretty much the same results (as stated in the bullet points below), but overall I would say the UE18 Pro sounds the best on 2 and 4, and the ES5 sounds best on 3.
ES5 pros against 18 Pro
- Airier high-md and treble
- Better treble extension
- Better details at mid to treble range
- Slightly wider soundstage than UE18 Pro
- Better isolation
ES5 cons against 18 Pro
- Bass much weaker - not in terms of loudness but overall quality and depth. 18 Pro's bass is the most balanced bass I have heard, with texture and goes really deep. 18 Pro's bass also add to the low-mids.
- Low mids less sweet than 18 Pro - but the 18 Pro needs some good combination. For example it sounds great on my Black Bird but not so good (low mids too pronounced) straight out of the Hifiman 801
- Overall less balanced than UE18 Pro - UE18 Pro is a truly balanced piece of gear even when compared with the top headphones I have recently purchased.
Overall I feel that both customs offer very good sound. I hope to do a comparison of my better headphones with the customs, but that is comparing apples to oranges to begin with. Suffice to say that the ED10 does have much more potential than the IEMs and does sound way better with good gear. But at the same time the hassle of matching headphones with the right sources and amps, and the price tag of my headphone gear makes these customs sound like a real deal - especially given their portability.
So that is a very brief but, I hope, concise comparison of the two minority flagships. Hope it helps people in choosing their next (or first) flagship customs!