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Multi-Custom In-Ear Monitor Review, Resource, Mfg List & Discussion (Check first post for review...

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Thread Starter 

This is the custom in-ear monitor (CIEM) resource thread with a collection of review summaries for many of many CIEMs with links to full reviews as well as quite a bit of information.  I complied this resource since CIEMs have poor resale value and I could not find a resource that compared more than 5 CIEMs, so my full reviews have comparison sections.  Some CIEMs sound better from various source components, so I also have source matching in my full reviews, so check them out.  Please also check out things to consider when reading a review, mine or others.  So many people buy based off the driver count or because someone else gave vague praise, but I feel the most important factor in buying a CIEM is choosing the sound signature you prefer because after you get over the initial honeymoon stage, you have to like the sound you invested in.  If you don't know your preferred sound signature, it may be worth buying some universal IEMs before jumping into custom IEMs, and |joker|'s multi-IEM review thread is an excellent resource for what is out there in the world of universals, and he has also reviewed some CIEMs I have not.

 

Don't miss my multi-portable amp review thread and if you want aftermarket cables, check out my custom in-ear monitor cable review thread.

 

So, if you are a musician, studio engineer, audiophile, music enthusiast, or just someone that wants isolation and great sound from a portable option, read on.  Please ask questions in this thread and your question will be answered!

 

Jump to the filterable, sortable summary table of my CIEM reviews.  You may also be interested in the CIEM buyer's guide and the Musician's buyer's guide.

 

Post #1: IEM summary chart: a starting point

 

IEM summary reviews: more detailed information all in one place.  Check the links to my in-depth reviews that have comparisons and source matching.  The most recent review will have comparisons with previous CIEMs listed.

 

Custom IEM listed in the summary:

          Earsonics EM3 Pro

          Earpower EP-10 Plus

          Fabs-fabulous earphones

          Kozee Infinity X3

          Kozee Sound Solutions Reshelled TF10

          Thousand Sound TS842

          Rooth LS8

          Minerva Mi-3

          M-Fidelity SA-12 (canal size) (formerly Starkey Norway)

          M-Fidelity SA-43 (formerly Starkey Norway)

          Jerry Harvey Audio JH16

          Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor

          Wan Xaun (Beat Audio) wx i9pro

          Dream Earz - aud-5X

          Hidition NT-6

          EarSonics EM4

          Alclair Reference

          ACS T1 Live!

          Dunu DC4

          Spiral Ear SE 5-way Reference

          Rooth demos

          Aurisonics AS-1b (summary only)

          Ambient Acoustics AM4 Pro

          Hidition NT-6 Pro

          Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitor

          Lear LCM-5

    Starting from this point, I will not be filling out the detailed summaries at the bottom due to the very slow thread performance. See here for all information.

          Unique Melody Platform Pure | PP6

          Fit Ear PS-5

          Dream Earz aud-8X

          Proguard P2+1

          Custom Art Music One

          Rhines Custom Monitors Stage 3

          Lime Ears LE3/LE3B/LE3SW

 

Recent universal IEM reviews (will not be in the summary):

          AKG K3003

          EarSonics SM64

          EarSonics S-EM6 (universal)

 

 

My review queue (in no particular order): I can usually answer questions about products in my queue.  Initial thoughts and impressions for many of the products below can be found here.

 

          LivezoneR41 LZ4 (sent back for a refit)

          In Earz IE-P250

          Perfect Seal Sportbud Silver

          Minerva Mi-Performer Pro

          Minerva Mi-Artis Pro

          Lear LCM & LUF BD4.2

          Perfect Seal Fusion 11

          Hidition 

 

Don't miss my cable review threadportable amp review thread, and my data table of my reviews with filtering.

 

Post #2: Custom IEM Information

     Customs vs. universal IEMs

     Customs vs. headphones

     Shell material

     Ear impressions

     Proper fit and refits

     Cables - Aftermarket cable thread

     Connectors

     Taking care of your custom

     Changes to your ears over time

     How long will it take to receive my custom

     Ambient vents

     Interesting articles

 

Post #3: A comprehensive list of manufacturers with links, prices, options, warranty, and other information

 

Post #4: Information on how I perform my reviews

     Process

     Sources

     Music

     Perspective

 

Post #5: How do the number of drivers and the type of drivers affect things: AKA should I buy the kazillion driver custom, or the single driver?  Also added some thoughts on dynamic driver vs. BA driver custom IEMs.

 

Post #6: Source summary including DAPs, DACs, and amps

 

Post #7: How to interpret a review

 


 

Custom IEM Summary Chart - Quick info for a starting point in your custom IEM search sorted by price.  This should be the first thing you read and try to match keywords with what you are looking for, as well as similar sounding headphones.  It is very important to know what sound signature you like will be getting from your CIEM as you will get used to the technical performance and the sound signature will determine your enjoyment of the CIEM.  Also see my write-up on the Rooth lineup.

 

Manufacturer

Model

Price

Keywords

Similar Sounding*

Quick Summary

Unique Melody Platoform Pure 6 | PP6 $2,280 spacious, transparent, u-shaped, bass power, enhanced bass, transparent Miracle The PP6 comes with an extrenal box that contains a DSP, DAC, active crossover,  and amps.  The sound is spacious, euphoric, and U-shaped with a boost in the bass and the treble.
Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitor $1999 organic, realistic, spacious, 3D, excellent imaging, transparent, tuning You tune the sound before getting your customized version Sound tuning enables people to choose their sound signature, which is very important for CIEMs.  Technical performance is exceptional, with an organic, natural sound that is very spacious.

Spiral Ear

SE 5-way Reference

$1650

ultra-resolution, massive bass power, extended treble, rich, warm, liquid, organic, 3D, realistic, detailed, bass depth, transparent, chameleon

Closest match: GR07; similar to LCD-2, SM3, To Go! 334

Silicone shelled custom IEM that conveys raw power and emotion through ultra-high resolution and 3D, realistic soundstage.  Ultimate clarity in an organic way with exceptional technical ability.  Not bright but not dark.

Fit Ear PS-5 $1650 sensitive, warm, enhanced bass, mid-forward, 3D, rich, layered, chameleon Similar but different than the SE5 Five driver with plentiful bass, a forward midrange, and relaxed treble presented with excellecent imaging, good space and detail, and extension on both ends of the spectrum. Adjusts a lot to each track and sources.
Hidition NT-6 pro $1250 extreme clarity, enhanced bass, enhanced treble, ultimate focus, high resolution, bass power, analytical, detailed, transparent, fast more exciting NT-6, colder but more 3D JH16 Supreme clarity and a very spacious soundstage that is both wide and deep with exceptional focus within the soundstage and impressive imaging.  The presentation is more upfront than the SA-43 and on the analytical side, yet still musical.
Hidition NT-6 $1200 reference bass, dynamic range, bright, analytical, spacious 3D, transparent, realistic, extended bass and treble CK10 Very detailed, analytical reference sound that has some musicality to it with a very spacious and 3D presentation.  Ultimate clarity in an analytical way.  Exceptional technical ability.
ACS T1 Live! $1200 Warm, rich, organic, mid-forward, 3D, natural, non-fatiguing, stage use LCD-2, SM3, SE 5-way, Mi-3 Rich and organic silicone shelled custom IEM that presents in a realistic, natural way and makes many others sound a bit tonally off.  Bass and mid-forward with relaxed treble.
Earsonics EM4 $1167 Exciting, warm, resolving, exciting, bass depth, mid-forward, very enhanced bass Brighter SM3, thicker JH16 Full acrylic shelled custom IEM with a fun, dynamic, warm presentation that has captivating vocals, plenty of bass, and very good treble extension presented in a spacious and airy, yet mid-forward way.

JH Audio

JH16

$1149

fast, punchy, spacious, detailed, massive bass power, enhanced bass, bass depth, bright, analytical, sub-bass rumble

LS8, TF10 with more miss

Punchy and dynamic with great instrument detail and width to the presentation.  Bass enhancement is always on and bass is fast yet reverberant.

M-Fidelity (formerly Starkey)

SA-43

$1050

Natural, neutral, realistic, detailed, 3D, liquid, very spacious, 3D, ambiance, enhanced bass, neutral treble, natural tone, transparent

SE535 (ambiance switch on), FABs (switches off)

Extremely spacious and 3D presentation with an organic and natural presentation that is also neutral and options to adjust the amount of bass and forwardness of the midrange.

Rooth

LS8

$1030

fast, punchy, liquid, extended treble, enhanced bass, bright, detailed

JH16, warmer CK10, TF10

Warm and bright with a punchy, dynamic, and liquid presentation that has great detail and a spacious, 3D soundstage.

Earsonics

EM3 Pro

$1000

bass power, organic, liquid, warm, thick, natural, 3D

SM3, darker LCD-2

Warm, thick, and rich presentation that gives

EarPower

EP-10 Plus

$1000

warm, thick, bass power, sub-bass rumble

IE8

This open custom IEM uses a Sennheiser ear but for the bass driver in a special chamber and recreates a spacious and thick presentation that sounds like you are at a concert, but far in the back.

Ultimate Ears

In-Ear Reference Monitor

$999

analytical, bright, 3D, spacious, accurate, neutral bass, detailed, transparent

DBA-02, warmer CK10, warmer NT-6

Bright and analytical with impressive imaging, the UERM doesn't lack in many ways other than the harsh treble with less than perfect masters.

Lear LCM-5 $945 neutral, accurate, spacious, coherent, clear, transparent, 3D, bright CK10, ER4 with adapter Quite neutral with good capability and a somewhat laid back presentation.  Treble isn't as bright as most reference sound sigs.  Needs a good source pairing for best performance.
Audio Earz (Dream Earz) AUD-8X $865 Mid-Forward, Dynamic, 3D, Spacious, Detailed, Resolving, Coherent, Thick, Warm, Balanced SE535 and Infinity X3 Performing at a high technical level, the aud-8X is very capable, with a mid-forward presentation that is enveloping and engaging.  Dynamics are high and the avearge note is on the thicker side, which can affect clarity on a track by track basis.

Kozee

Infinity X3

$620

punchy, dynamic, mid-forward, spacious, enhanced bass

SE535

Very energetic presentation that has all areas of the frequency spectrum turned up with a spacious presentation that is good for bass heads.

Wan Xuan (Beat Audio)

wx i9pro

$619

warm, rich, liquid, enhanced spaciousness, enhanced bass, 3D, sub-bass ability, bass head

IE8 or any bass head IEM, HD650

The FST technology adds an impressive spaciousness to the sound which uses the 14mm driver to appeal to bass heads with plenty of enhanced, reverberant bass and sub-bass.  Very fluid presentation that has a nice balance and coherence across the frequency spectrum.

Minerva Mi-3 $615 rich, warm, forward projection, liquid, 3D, bass neutral IE8 projection and warmth/thickness, but not deep bass Housed in a silicone shell, the soundstage has very good forward projection with a the laid back and ultra smooth sound with good forward projection

Fabs

Fabs Fabulous Earphones

$600

natural, neutral, mid-forward, realistic, somewhat dry, relaxed bass, relaxed treble, 3D, spacious

e-Q7

 

This half-shell custom IEM is neutral and natural with good space for acoustic/classical

M-Fidelity (formerly Starkey)

SA-12

$600

Bright, extended, liquid, warm, bass neutral

CK10, DBA-02

 

This canal sized custom IEM has an analytical yet liquid presentation that is fairly balanced with a warm and slightly bright presentation

Dream Earz

aud-5X

$565

bass power, bass depth, extended treble, 3D,  liquid, transparent, enhanced bass, balanced, powerful, effortless, rich, extended frequency response, sub-bass ability

Much higher quality and brighter SE535

Very well rounded sound with great imaging, transparency, extension on both ends, and technical ability for the price.  Mids are a bit forward but still in great balance with the rest of the frequencies and the presentation is a nice balance between thick and thin allowing the 5X to recreate any note type.

Thousand Sound

TS842

$540

bright, analytical, V shaped frequency response, sub-bass rumble, detailed

TF10

Bright, analytical, and detailed with tight yet powerful and deep bass giving a V shaped response similar to a more refined and higher performing TF10.

DUNU DC4 $499

Mid-forward, liquid, warm, rich, powerful, coherent, transparent, balanced, forgiving, 3D, imaging, presentation depth

SM3, EM4 Up-close and personal midrange that has excellent imaging and depth to go with a very coherent sound across the spectrum with a warm and powerful presentation.  The DC4 is transparent to the song and source while the liquid presentation is never fatiguing but forgiving.
Ambient Monitors AM4 Pro $499 Balanced, 3D, coherent, transparent, bass capable, bright, natural Not quite as bright T1 Live! Natural and on the neutral side, but with a more mid-forward presentation than a typical reference monitor.  Exceptional depth to the performance at this price point with excellent note attack and decay.
Alclair Reference $399 Neutral, natural, 3D, spacious, musical, extended, warm RE252 (with more bass)  Natural and neutral sounding with a slightly warm and musical presentation.  Bass is not overdone and the entire presentation is quite flat.

* These are the similar in sound in one way or another, but overall they are generally fairly different and don't have the weaknesses of the lower end products.  This should used as a starting point to figure out which custom IEMs fit the sound you are trying to find.  Read the reviews for additional information of what you think fits your preferences.

** Discount price

 

Interactive chart with sound scores can be found here.

 

Custom Review Summaries check post #4 for review methods, more information on my sources, song lists and more & don't miss post #7 for things to think about when reading reviews

 

Click on pictures for a larger view.

 

Notes on below information: the below summaries are provided to help you narrow your choice down, but links to additional information should be read for the complete picture.  When frequency response charts are provided, they may not be easy to compare due to different configurations.  The treble will more than likely be at least somewhat different due to the interaction in the ear, and the bass weight is dependent on note sustainment/decay.  If you have any question, please ask.

 

 

 

Earsonics EM3 Pro

France

744,15€ excl tax ($1012 USD)

Design:  Solid acrylic housing (not a shell) with dual sound tubes and a recessed connector jack

 

CableDetachable with pin compatibility with Westone cables; clear/silver; cable oxidizes green over time

Accessories/Warranty: Plastic hard carrying case, cleaning tool; 1 year warranty; 30 day refit

Drivers/configuration: (3,2) dual bass BA drivers and single BA mid/treble driver in a 2-way configuration Build Quality: The outer shell is very well done and bubble free, however the inner acrylic fill has bubbles along the edges resulting in a less than clean look

Isolation: average - 5/10 - the canal tips seem to taper off more than my other customs, which is probably what is contributing to the average isolation even though the shells are full acrylic

 

IMG_4086.JPG 

 

Sound Signature: Warm, lush sound with a slight focus in the lower mids and also in the lower treble region, although the overall frequency response is fairly flat.  Presentation is like you are on stage with the instruments all around you and a relatively smallish soundstage for a custom in this price range.  Ability to reproduce powerful bass..

Sonic Strengths: Presents ambiance of natural instruments giving them amazing space, depth, texture, and realism within the soundstage.  The presentation is very liquid with a captivating and never harsh presentation.  The soundstage has exceptional projection in all directions with some spacious, well mastered tracks. Can reproduce large amounts of bass.

Sonic Weaknesses: Thickness is not for everyone; slight upper midrange dip makes female vocals slightly throaty; A/Bing with leaner headphones accentuates the slight veil from the warmth/thickness; bass rolls off at 30 Hz.  Bass detail and texturing is not on par with others in the price range and overall detail isn't the best. 

Source Matching:

HiFiMan 601 matches great with the EM3 Pro, taking it to another level musically.  

- HUD-MX1 (OPA1611 op amp) headphone out is close to the 601 but lacking the extra liquidity of the 601 

- Modded iPod -> Pico Slim is a nice match that has great resolution with a little colder sound.

- Clip+ roughens the edges slightly and has a darker presentation than the other sources, causing the EM3 Pro to lose some of its magic

- 801: Not the match I thought it would be considering the performance of the 601, lacking the fluidness to the presentation.

Listening Volume Performance: The EM3 Pro is at its best when the volume is at a low-medium volume or above.  At lower volumes the power and dynamics are slightly subdued

Contact InfoFranck is fairly responsive, friendly, and bi-lingual (French/English).  Email responses can take a day or several days.

With Whiplash Elite TWag v2 OM Cable: The Whiplash Elite TWag V2 cable improves the EM3 Pro in many ways including a wider and more precise presentation of space to taming the mid-bass just the right amount which increases the clarity and results in a faster sound when called for.  I really didn't care for the paring of the Clip+ and the EM3 Pro with the stock cable, but with the Elite, that has changed and the Clip+ has never sounded better!  The cable makes the most difference with tracks that have a large presentation of space, are warm, complex passages, and/or have a fast attack.  The cable makes very little to no difference with smaller presentations, simple passages, and/or lean sounding tracks.

Keywords: 3D, ambiance, warm, thick, powerful, mid-bass, relaxed treble

Summary: Recreation of the ambiance of a presentation is excellent, when the information is in the music such as live recordings with natural instruments that are not amped or well mastered acoustic tracks.  (Some of the tracks that perform exceptionally well are anything by Balmorhea, Morphine, Danilo Perez, Amandine Beyer's Four Seasons, etc.) The presentation is thick, rich, warm, liquid, natural, and organic making the EM3 Pro very musical and enjoyable to listen to for hours.  The focus is the mids, and the lower mids to be specific, along with a laid back treble that still can portray great detail and bass has great weight and natural decay but not the most textured.  It also has speed for metal, bass weight for R&B, D&B, and bass heavy genres, and good treble extension, but really excels .  The EM3 Pro adds the 'al' to musical.

If you like: the SM3 (EM3 is brighter but has a slight upper midrange dip in comparison), IE8, Miles Davis, LCD-2 (EM3 is a little darker) or a warmer, darker sound and listen to acoustic music that is well mastered you will more than likely appreciate the EM3 Pro

Links: Customs vs. headphones; EM3 Pro vs. JH13; Impression/ Review thread

Updates: 4/12/11 - changed the top row and If you like section

 

 

 

Earpower EP-10 Plus

Italy

700 € + shipping ($953 USD)

Design:  Thermoplastic shell with an open design and shallow canal length; single large nozzle with internal tube for BA

Cable: Not detachable; cable from ear bud which is OK, non-microphonic, doesn't tangle easy, and is lightweight.  Memory wire added.  I do have durability concerns with the cable.

Accessories/Warranty: Soft carrying bag. 1 year warranty; 30 day refit

Drivers/configuration: (3,3) Single dynamic bass driver; dual BA in a 2-way configuration for mids/treble Build Quality: The shell is solid, but the memory wire seems prone to breaking where it exits the shell; the ear bud seems attached well, but looks like it could be a weak point.

Isolation: limited - 1/10; open back combined with shallow insertion

EP-10 Plus.JPG

Sound Signature: Headphone spaciousness with a lot of bass and especially mid bass, leading to a veil across the mids and treble resulting in a lack of detail in the treble and causing the upper mids/treble to sound recessed; when the mid-bass is EQed down, they balance out and the veil lifts while keeping the headphone like spaciousness, but still lacking the ultimate detail of the others.

Sonic Strengths: Incredible space that is nearly as large as the LCD-2 full sized headphones and envelopes you with the IEM coherence between left and right, making you feel like you are at a concert; incredible bass detail, impact, texture, and quantity, with nearly the quality of the LCD-2

Sonic Weaknesses: Way too much warmth puts a veil on the sound unless EQed; treble detail level not as good as my other customs; mids are subdued by the bass; lack of isolation (and looks) reduces the effectiveness of these in louder public situations

Source Matching:

Note: I can get used to the sound, but typically the EP-10 Plus has too much mid-bass that needs to be EQed out for me to enjoy it.  

No EQ: Neutral/cold sources are best to me such as an iPod -> Pico Slim, iPhone, or the RoCoo.  

EQ: EQ in Winamp: -12 dB @ 800 Hz, + 3 dB @ 12K -> HUX-MX1 = great open and spacious sound that allows the treble to come through and show it is very good

modded iPod 5.5g -> Pico Slim -12 dB @ 800 Hz = pretty close to the HUD-MX1, allowing the veil to be lifted and the quality of the sound to come out.

Listening Volume Performance: The EP-10 Plus is great at lower volumes due to the loudness curves and the bass driver low volume performance.  At moderate and louder volumes the extra mid-bass was problematic and caused mid-bass overload.  The EP-10 Plus is extremely sensitive.

Contact Info: Sergio runs Earpower, but doesn't speak English.  His friend, Fabio, acted as a translator for me.  Some email responses have been extremely slow, others have used Google translate.

Notes:  EQ of -8 dB at 800 Hz in rockbox transforms these from not very listenable to fantastic!Sergio is supposedly working on tuning the EP-10 Plus with less mid-bass, which would make the EP-10 Plus much better and definitely something to consider. 

Keywords: warm, spacious, thick, enhanced bass, forward projection, mid-bass, veiled  

Summary:  When I wear these I get the impression I am wearing headphones, not IEMs due to the portrayal of space that is almost the size of my LCD-2.  The bass from the dynamic woofer is exceptionally deep, textured, with great refinement that has all the power you could want.  Unfortunately, in the current form, the EP-10 Plus is too warm and veiled for my taste with all by one of my sources without EQ.  When EQed, they start to act more like an expensive custom that has better than custom presentation size.  The short sound tube and open back do not give good isolation,  the shape and fit are not the standard, and the cable isn't the greatest, however, when EQed the sound is amazing.  Sergio did say he could tune each design to the users desire, but it will take time; I am still waiting to hear back from him, and the wait could be an eternity!

If you like: headphones that have a warm, somewhat dark presentation such as the SM3, HD650, LCD-2 to an extent, IE8, etc. you may like the EP-10 Plus

Links: Customs vs. headphones; Original thread

Last Updated: 4/12/11 - updated formatting

 

 

Fabs-fabulous earphones ®

Germany

550 € in EU, 450 € outside EU ($582)

Design:  Acrylic shell; half sized custom; moderate insertion depth; 2 nozzles per channel; uses filters on each nozzle.  The Fabs are based on ReSounds REALsound customs, but Claus has them tuned differently (filters and crossover) along with a more robust cable/shell integration. Cable exit can be over the ear or cable down - I recommend over the ear for microphonics. 

Cable: Not detachable, with cable options: 4 pin for phones (iPhone or Nokia) in black or white; coated cable, silver; stranded silver cable (+200 €); provide a cable.  I have the iPhone cable which is rubbery.  Since I decided to go cable down, there are microphonics (not too bad); I am not sure how much better the other cables will perform in microphonics.

Accessories: Soft carrying bag, replacement filters, manual.  1 year warranty

Drivers/configuration: (3,2) dual BA bass driver and single BA mid/treble driver Build Quality: Very good build quality; cable strain relief seems like it will last.

Isolation: below average - 3/10 (20db @ low frequencies, 25 dB at high frequencies)

 IMG_4110.JPG

Sound Signature: Ruler flat across the full spectrum with a natural presentation like being in the 2nd row of a presentation.  Balanced in just about every way (warm vs. cold, liquid vs. dry, aggressive vs. laid back, etc.)

Sonic Strengths: Fairly flat frequency response; wide and 3D soundstage; never offensive presentation which might be due to a lack of peaks and combined with the natural presentation.

Sonic Weaknesses: The treble lacks ultimate extension and isn't airy, however it never seems lacking and is never offensive.  Soundstage shape is slightly off with the midrange a little closer than the rest of the stage.

Source Matching:  

- iPhone 3G interestingly enough is a very good match that has a mic/remote for iPhone use!  The sound is a little more exciting than with the other sources.

- iPod -> Arrow 12HE good sounding combo with the ability to boost the bass, although I have grown to appreciate the presentation without

- 601 sounds good, but there is noise during quite passages/between songs

- 801 adds a naturalness to the sound that makes the Fabs sound slightly more organic and textured

- 801 -> Pico Slim: Amazing combination that makes the Fabs sound similar to the SE 5-way in sound signature and somewhat closest in presentation, but still falling short in the treble sparkle/extension, ultimate resolution, and last bit of dynamics.

Listening Volume Performance: Bass weight really starts to come into play when the volume level is medium or higher.  These remain clear at louder listening volumes, but seem slightly bass light at very low volumes (compared to my other two bass heavy customs).

Contact InfoClaus is very responsive and helpful; he is bilingual in German & English.  He was very helpful before the transaction and has kept a very high level of customer service after the transaction.

Options: Cables with mic/remote for iPhone or Nokia phone; give your own cable; cable exit for wearing over-the-ear; stainless steel shell (900 €); coming soon: stranded silver wire (200 €)

Keywords: natural, neutral, mid-forward, realistic, somewhat dry, relaxed bass, relaxed treble, 3D, spacious

Summary: You want balance and ultra comfort/convenience in your custom, look no further than the Fabs. Not overly warm or lean, not overly bright and not dark, with a relaxed yet detailed and never offensive presentation that give you a fantastic 3D presentation from the front of the auditorium perspective.  Powered by an iPhone, they really shine and bring whatever is in the song to the table and nothing more.  With their wide space they do pretty much every genre right, from classical to classic rock, acoustic to electronics, they present wonderful music!

If you like: The DBA-02, SA5000, e-Q7, or anything flat but with great deep bass extension the Fabs will be a nice upgrade for you.  If you want a neutral and inoffensive presentation, the Fabs are worth a try.

Links: My Full Review; Comparison with ES3

Updates: 4/9/11 - Added more detail the design & cable section about cables; 4/13 - updated the format and added some info

 

 

Kozee Solutions Infinity X3 (w/ executive option)

USA

$620 (impressions included)

Design:  Acrylic shell (executive option) with dual sound tube design and a flush cable mount (can request recessed)

Cable: Detachable; selected a Westone style compatible plug.  Cable is very flexible and a little thinner than the standard Westone cable

Accessories: Impression kit for fitting; Warranty: 90 day fit, 1-year material/hardware warranty

Drivers/configuration: (3,2) dual vented BA bass drivers and single upper mid/treble driver Build Quality: Good shell design, with a few bubbles around one of the jacks.

Isolation: 5/10 26 dB

IMG_2623.JPG

Sound Signature: Warm, full, spacious, and aggressive sound with powerful enhanced bass that extends deep, forward mids, and a prominent treble that has a slight peak.  More analytical thank smooth.  

Sonic Strengths: Good spaciousness and placement/localization with pop and electronic music; bass is very hard hitting with a very good note decay delivering excellent texture in the price range.

Sonic Weaknesses:Slight edge and ever so slight grain (compared with more expensive customs) to the music in the mids and treble; not very forgiving of poor sources or mastering

Source Matching: The quality of the source is important, and they pair best with a lean/neutral source.  They pair very well with the HUD-MX1 with OPA1611 and the modded iPod 5.5g with all 3 of my amps.  They don't pair very well with my 801, as the warm source makes for a too warm presentation for my taste.

Listening Volume Performance:The X3 performs well from quite listening levels, being a better performer in the bass than the EM3 Pro and Fabs at very low listening volumes.  Performance is good throughout the volume range, not changing as the volume increases.

 

Contact Info: Currently the customer service is not good as people with delays and issues are not receiving any feedback at all. Adam is back to responding quickly

With Whiplash TWag v2 OM Cable: The TWag cable, while improving the treble slightly, doesn't make much of a difference with the X3.  This is more than likely due to the slight grain which overshadows the improvements of the cable.

Keywords: punchy, dynamic, mid-forward, spacious, enhanced bass

Summary: The Kozee Infinity X3 has a lush, rich spacious, forward presentation that I find very enjoyable for casual listening as well as using while working or working out. The bass hits hard and deep with good texture, speed, and sustained note decay while the mids are presented in a forward way.  The treble is emphasized as well as the rest of the spectrum, which fits with the rest of the spectrum rounding out the sound signature.  There is a slight grain on some vocal tracks compared with my other customs and an edge to the presentation gets more apparent with lower quality sources.   I found the presentation great for pop and electronic music and is great for letting my music inspire me when I am focused on something else such as work or working out.   If you like bass heavy presentations and want the benefits that customs provide, the Infinity X3 is worth consideration.

If you like: enhanced bass, warm universals with forward mids (SM3, Miles Davis, SE535 etc. however the X3 has more treble), listen to any sort of pop today (pop, rock, R&B, rap, etc) or electronic, the X3 may be a good choice for you.   Or, if you are a bass head, the X3 may be for you!

Links: Original Kozee thread; My Full Review

Updates: 3/30/11 - updated usage; 4/9/11 - If you like section

 

 

Kozee Solutions TF10 Universal Reshell 

USA

$255 (TF10 - $130, reshell $90, cable $35)

Design:  Acrylic shell with triple driver of TF10 configured and tested to have the same frequency response before and after.  Also available in silicone, which should work as the drivers do not appear to have vents.

Cable: Detachable; selected a Westone compatible cable; using the stock cable for testing.  I went with the Westone cable as I thought that would help bring the mids forward, but the reshell accomplished that with the stock cable, which fits loosely 

Accessories: Impression kit for fitting; carrying case

Drivers/Configuration: (3,2) dual BA bass drivers; single BA mid/treble driver Build Quality: Very good build quality, the shells are near flawless.  Recessed jack would have been nice, but they are functional as is.

Isolation: 5/10 26 dB

IMG_2608.JPG

Sound Signature: V shaped frequency response. Compared with the universal TF10: the deep bass does not roll off; the mids are slightly more forward (with the stock cable); treble is very close to the universal.

Sonic Strengths: Treble sparkle combined with treble quality not often found in BAs at this price; bass quality and quantity for this price range is good

Sonic Weaknesses: Given the price and sound signature, none.  Lacks resolution and impact of more expensive customs resulting in a duller less engaging sound; more pronounced S's than I am used to; soundstage is wide, but not very 3D

Source Matching:  Clip+: Plenty of bass and treble with the typical recessed TF10 mids; fun sound, although the level of detail is a step down with smoothed treble 

iPhone 3G: Sounds different than the Clip+, and not necessarily in a good way.  First, the treble isn’t as smooth (even though is seems a little smeared on theClip+, that is replaced with roughness).  The slightly mid-forward iPhone does help the mids, but the bass seemed a little on the weaker side.

Rocoo: Leaner cleaner presentation than the clip+ that has less bass impact and makes the TF10 sound more balanced.

801 (DAC) -> Pico Slim: takes the TF10 to a new level of refinement while opening up the soundstage, expanding it in all directions.  Mids don’t seem as recessed vs the Clip+

801 (DAC): Warmer and less dynamic sounding compared with the 801 -> Pico Slim setup.

iPod -> Arrow: while not as spacious as the 801 -> Pico Slim, there is improved clarity in the upper registers, although it isn’t necessarily as smooth or refined.  The lower end is a little more boomy.

Listening Volume Performance: The TF10 take a little bit of volume to get the bass going and too much volume results in more chances for sibilance.

Contact Info/Customer Service: Adam is back to responding quickly

With Whiplash TWag v2 OM Cable: Not much difference other than the overall sound is a little crisper and the treble, while still being sharp with S's is slightly better.  I was surprised the mids weren't brought forward, but maybe that is because the TF10 has been reshelled.

Keywords: V shaped, enhanced bass, enhanced treble, wide soundstage

Summary: If you have a TF10, like the sound signature, which is V shaped and want to improve fit/comfort along with possibly improving the deep bass vs. your universal fit (I say possibly because the universal fit is different for everyone) while adding a more ergonomic cable, reshelling will give you what you want.  

If you like: The universal TF10, this is much more comfortable and easier to fit.

Links: Original Kozee thread; My Review & comparison with stock TF10

Updates

 

 

Spiral Ear SE 5-Way Reference

Poland

1069 € + shipping ($1361 USD as of 5/15/12) 

(999 € for permanent cable)

Design: Silicone shell with permanent cable and five sound tubes

 

Cable:black twisted cable with memory wire, available in detachable and non-detachable versions

Accessories/Warranty: carrying case, cleaning tool, cleaning wipes, insertion/removal instructions

Drivers/configuration: (5,5) the main woofer, a delayed “ignition” woofer, the low-mids transducer, the high-mids transducer and a super tweeter Build Quality: Build quality looks very good, however I do want to be very careful when removing the custom, grabbing it by the shell and not the cable.

Isolation: 10/10 - silicone shell isolates better than acrylic and with the long canal of the replacement, the isolation is improved quite a bit

 

IMG_2690.JPG 

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Sound Signature: The sound signature is hard to define as the 5-way changes quite a bit with each track from warm to cold, fast to slow, boring to exciting, forward to laid back, etc.  In general, the 5-way has a rich, thick, warm, and organic sound that is very detailed, but the detail is presented within the soundstage, not in a bright and very apparent way like most CIEMs.

Sonic Strengths: Exceptional detail levels in the form of clarity of ambient space within the recording allowing micro-details to be recreated that give rooms a better sense of space.  The ability to change with each track is better than anything else I have heard, and the dynamic range, especially in the bass region is exceptional.

Sonic Weaknesses: While the 5-way performs admirably with some entry level sources, it needs a high end source to reach its full potential.  (Not necessarily a weakness, but the soundstage isn't the largest)

Source MatchingThe 5-way isn’t a sensitive CIEM, but entry level sources such as the Clip+ can still drive it quite well and show off the advantages over lower cost IEMs.  But the 5-way will improve as you move up the quality scale with high end DACs/DAPs, adding to the presentation space and transparency while recreating more micro-detail.  Amps can help the sound even more as the 5-way takes well to amping, especially in the bass region where a good amp can show off the bass capability of the 5-way.

Listening Volume Performance: Very good low level bass performance for a balanced armature.

Contact Info: Grzegorz is very responsive and answers questions in detail
Keywords: ultra high resolution, 3D, power, musical, rich, tonally accurate, natural, dynamic, detailed, rich, realistic, natural, powerful, extended frequency response, spacious, liquid, transparent, ambiance recreation, chameleon

SummaryWith a natural, organic sound the Spiral Ear SE 5-way Reference sets new standards for me in many categories including resolution, transparency, bass capability, treble extension, and treble quality.  On top of that, the 5-way changes its sound signature with each track, bringing out the mastering differences in position, warmth, and other characteristics, making it difficult to pinpoint the sound signature.  Tonally the 5-way wouldn’t be considered bright but not lacking treble, however don’t look for clarity through brightness, and while the resolution and detail are present, they aren’t pushed to the front.

 

The presentation space is large and has a rectangular soundstage shape vs. the traditional oval, with the ability to project both forward and out at the same time quite well.  The attack and decay are exceptional which result in a very natural note and the ability to recreate speed and power.  Overall, the 5-way is a very neutral and transparent CIEM that performs at an extremely high level and should be a consideration for those that aren’t looking for a bright sound signature.

If you like: to hear more micro-detail than you more than likely have heard and have music with that information, if you want treble that extends all the way up, if you want great bass with incredible tightness, texture, and accuracy while also having very good note decay, and/or if you want to have better isolation the SE 5-way is an excellent choice.  The presentation is similar to the UM3X/SM3 but the frequency response is much flatter.

Links: Spiral Ear 5-way full review; original Spiral Ear thread

Updates: 5/5/11 - initial sound signature thoughts; 5/13 - additional updates, 5/15/12 - Full review of the replacement posted

 

 

 

 

Thousand Sound TS842

China

 

$540

Design: Acrylic shell with vented design for the dynamic driver, dual sound tubes (one per driver), and a detachable cable.

Cable: Detachable, UE compatible pins - cable is stock UE type and not very nice.  See cable info below.

Accessories/warranty: Small clamshell case and cleaning tool

Drivers/configuration: (2,2) Single dynamic bass driver, single mid/treble driver Build Quality: Exceptional, stellar build quality that looks amazing including the best writing I have seen. Isolation: 4/10 Vented, so a little below average.  Voices are muted about the same as other acrylic customs but less isolation from engine noise on a plane.

IMG_2801.JPG

ts842.jpg

Sound Signature: The TS842 has a V shaped sound signature with enhanced bass (although it can sound polite when the song has polite levels), a recessed midrange, and enhanced treble.  The upper region sounds reminiscent of the Ety sound, but the bass driver gives the TS842 so much more weight and power they really don't sound similar beyond certain treble notes.  Think of the TF10, but technically much better in all regards. 

Sonic Strengths:Fantastic bass that can reproduce it all, from natural drums to low piano notes to R&B, trance, and other electronic bass.  Treble extension is very good. 

Sonic Weaknesses:There are many small peaks in the frequency response, including at 12K which matches with a high sensitivity area in human hearing.  The mids are slightly recessed.  Mids and treble have a very slight edge to them.

Source Matching: There isn't a huge difference between sources with few exceptions.  If you have a Clip+ to drive the TS842, you will probably be very happy.  All the steps up produce more enjoyable sound, but not by a large margin.  While the 801 is the most detailed of the sources I used to review the TS842, it wasn't my favorite.  I liked the sources that smoothed the treble out a little such as the iPod->Arrow and the HUD-MX1 as well as the Clip+, although there was a difference in detail.  But, if you are using it for less than ideal conditions, such as in a noisy environment or while focused on something else, it doesn't make a big difference and will likely not be noticed.  The TS842 is easy to drive and has thunderous bass from just about any source!  More info

Listening Volume Performance: Very good low level bass performance

Contact Info/Turn Time Received IEMs 3 weeks after TS received my impressions
With Athena (V 1.1) and Crystal cables: The Crystal cable ($41.85 shipped) improves the clarity across the spectrum while increasing the speed of the bass attack and slightly cleans up the treble, offering an overall improvement in the sound. The Athena cable ($86.85) was a pleasure to use as the edge, which was accentuated by the treble peaks, was pretty much removed while improving imaging and overall presentation.  To me the Athena cable is a great match with the TS842 taking the sound up a notch and making the TS842 more competitive with higher priced custom IEMs.  Check here for more information.  

Keywords: Textured bass, sub-bass ability, V shaped, analytical, bright, detailed

Summary: The TS842 has a lot to offer for those that like the TF10, want bass (dynamic, reverberant bass) with the Ety sound in the mids on up, or just want a fun sounding slightly aggressive custom (and a hybrid at that) that won't break the bank.  The bass is fantastic as it has the ability to reproduce any type of bass well and sound like the very best dynamic universal IEM if not better while offering good refinement and quality across the rest of the spectrum.  If you like a more laid back presentation, want a custom IEM, have around $500 to spend and want exceptional build quality to go along with the great sound quality for the price, the TS842 will be a great purchase.
If you like: Great bass reproduced by dynamic drivers and like the Ety sound in your mids/treble; you like the TF10 but want better bass, a smoother presentation, better detail, wider soundstage and just all around better sound the TS842 is for you!  The TS842 does great with all genres, however it is best with electronic (trance, D&B, house, etc.) and pretty good with classical music.

Links: PicturesMy Full Review

Updates:added information from my review 5/10/11; 5/22/11 - updated summary and "if you like"

 

 

Rooth LS8

China

$1030

Design: Acrylic shell with 8 drivers in a 4-way configuration with dual sound tubes.  Recessed jacks (requested)

Cable: Detachable Westone compatible pins, black twisted cable.  The cable is very flexible and ergonomically is great.

Accessories/warranty: Presented in a large white box with an inner black box with fake wood.  The accessories include a cleaning tool, soft case, instructions, metal 2 year warranty card, and graph.  Carrying case is not great.

Drivers/configuration: (8,4) Dual BA bass drivers, dual mid, dual treble, dual high treble Build Quality: Build quality is very good with a beautiful shell free of bubbles and the recessed jack is very nice.  The build quality is among the best I have seen and I have no complaints about fit, finish, or the cable. Isolation: 5/10  The isolation is on par with my other acrylic shelled customs, which is around 26 dB of isolation.  When music is not playing I can hear some external noise, but from a medium-low sound level, it takes a very loud sound to be heard.

IMG_2829.JPG

RoothLS8.jpg

Sound Signature: The LS8 is similar to a CK10 on steroids, it has a peak at 6K that brings the midrange forward and puts the detail right in your face.  The treble is extremely extended and very flat and smooth.  The bass is plentiful and has good reverberation and not lacking.  The overall presentation provides a full range, smooth, detailed, and enjoyable presentation.  

Sonic Strengths: Great clarity across the spectrum with a great balance between lean sound yet still having impressive and tactile bass.  Very high resolution of instruments and individual components of the sound.  Ultra smooth presentation that is non-fatiguing.  Flattest treble response I have experience that extends up to 20KHz.

Sonic Weaknesses: 6K peak slightly changes the tonality of vocals and can add a little sharpness to the S's with some sources (but not all).

Source Matching: The Clip+ is a great match for ultra portability and going from there, adding a more detailed DAC section in the source chain will result in marginal improvements.  Amping with the right amp will further improve the experience.

Best source: 801->Stepdance

Best desktop: HUD-MX1->Stepdance

Best portable: Clip+

Listening Volume Performance: Very good at all but extremely low listening volumes.

Contact Info/Turn TimeRooth Amazingly quick responses/Impressions arrived 3/29 -IEMs arrived 4/27

With Whiplash TWag v2 OM Cable: The TWag cable tightened the bass and increased the dynamics slightly as well as slightly changed the midrange presentation, adding clarity and more front-to-back space.  However, with some tracks I found the soundstage size to sound a little odd and other songs the midrange frequency response was a little less impressive than with the stock cable.  I am torn here as there are some slight improvements, but other aspects are decreased.  The TWag does look better than the stock cable, but ergonomically the stock cable is slightly ahead of the TWag due to the flexibility.

With Beat Audio Supreme Rose Cable: The Supreme Rose performed similarly, but to a lesser extent than the TWag but a more intimate presentation.  The presentation issues were still there, but to a lesser extent with the Supreme Rose.  It also looks better than the stock cable and ergonomically is on par with the stock cable.

With Beat Audio Cronus Cable:  

Summary: This cable comparison was a difficult one because the possible changes are very small.  I think that due to the sound signature of the LS8, the cables do slightly improved the strengths of the LS8 with little change, and arguably a positive change overall since they seem to change the midrange presentation slightly.  When I used the cables with a less detailed source than my 801->Stepdance combo the differences seemed to disappear.  

Keywords: punchy, dynamic, bright, liquid, detailed, exciting, extended, bass enhanced, speed

Summary: The LS8 is an amazing sounding custom IEM with an emphasis on the midrange, specifically the upper midrange, but does not lack in the bass or treble departments.  Bass is powerful with great impact and reverberation while treble is extended and very flat resulting in a very non-fatiguing sound with ultimate detail and fantastic imaging.  Source matching is important as with some songs S’s became slightly sharp in contrast to the exceptional smoothness the LS8 usually exhibits.  The box it comes in is impressive, unfortunately the carrying case was a letdown.  The two year warranty is nice and the build quality is impeccable.  If you like a mid-forward presentation that puts you front row, center bringing incredible detail to you, the LS8 is a great choice.  Just pick your source wisely!
If you like: The CK10, DBA-02, or other TWFKs, you will probably like the LS8 with added warmth and bass power.  Truly a flagship product that produces amazing sound.

Links: Rooth discussion; pictures; frequency response chart of LS8 and Miracle; My Full Review; Rooth demo lineup write-up

Updates: 6/2/11 - review added

 

 

Minerva Mi-3

UK

£395 ($615)

Design:  Silicone shell with permanent cable and dual bore.

Cable: Permanent.  Not your typical cable, and the performance isn't quite as good as the twisted cable since it is more rigid and will coil, tangle, and not straighten easily.  The plug is a neutrik and it is very tight in many of my players/amps.

Accessories: Hard carrying case, soft carrying zipper pouch, instructions, cleaning tool, lubricant, shirt clip

Drivers/Configuration: (3,3) 3-way 3 BA with the musical tuning; they also offer a flat tuning for musicians Build Quality: Build quality seems very good.  The weakest point of any silicone custom is the cable and the Mi-3  is more than likely no exception, however, if you remove it as suggested (by the shell), it should be extremely durable. Isolation: 8/10 - very good isolation due to silicone shell.

IMG_3042.JPG

Sound Signature:Thick and warmish midrange with a slight mid-forwardness to it, smooth and pleasant treble and bass that can be polite or somewhat punchy without being warm or cold.  Detail and texturing is good with an overall refinement and smoothness that is exceptional in the price range.  The entire presentation has more forward projection than the norm despite the mid-forwardness and has an average size and spaciousness for a custom IEM with its price range.

Sonic Strengths: Exceptional smoothness of the overall presentation and a great balance across the spectrum (with the right source). Natural thickness in the midrange that doesn't reduce clarity.

Sonic Weaknesses: Bass performance can be weak depending on the source.  Not the most dynamic of headphones.

Source Matching:  The Mi-3 is source dependent and really benefits from an amp or a source with more power.  If you want more bass, an amp like the Arrow with a bass boost or the Stepdance that can control the drivers and enhances the bass standard will be good fits.  Depending on your preferences and what you are used to, the Mi-3 will sound find from an iPhone, but using it with a good amp does raise the performance of the Mi-3. 

Listening Volume PerformanceThe sensitivity of the Mi-3 is lower than all my other customs in a similar price range and is much more dependent on the source and tracks than any other IEM I own.  The low volume performance is dependent on the source and can range from poor to average.  The bass driver needs power to get going and DAPs with weaker outputs (Clip+ for example) don't perform as well as an amp. 

Contact Info: Lee is very helpful and confidence inspiring.  He has a passion for audio and it comes through.

 

Keywords: rich, warm, forward projection, liquid, 3D, bass neutral

SummaryIf you want a comfortable, affordable custom IEM that offers amazing smoothness with better than acrylic isolation, the Mi-3 is an attractive product.  Included accessories are top notch and build quality is very good, although the cable has memory and gets tangles easier than the typical twisted cables.  Minerva customer service is great and when combined with build quality instills confidence.  The Mi-3 presents music with a great smoothness that I have not heard within the price range and can be very enjoyable when using a source that can provide some power.  But be prepared to find the right source to get the most out of the Mi-3, and the bass response isn't going to rattle your teeth.  Overall the Mi-3 has a lot to offer and will make many owners very satisfied.

If you like: thicker, smoother presentations the Mi-3 is hard to beat for the price.  The Mi-3 does well with acoustic music such as guitar, symphony, vocals, jazz, and most rock for example, but can still work with other genres, even metal.

Links: My full review

Updates: 6/21/11 - added summary

 

 

M-Fidelity SA-43 (formerly Starkey Norway)

Norway

NOK 5648 ($1014)

Design:  Acrylic shell with detachable cable and 2 sound tubes.  Sound tubes have replaceable wax filters.  Shell is filled with silicone for increased isolation and damage resistance.

Cable: Detachable, silver twisted with 90 degree 3.5mm plug

Accessories/Warranty:Large carrying case containing: the custom IEM in a smaller semi-hard carrying case; smaller leather carrying case; printed instructions and information; IPA wipes; 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter, cleaning tools, filter replacement set (8 replacement filters); 2 year warranty with a 30 day refit 

Drivers/Configuration: (4,3) 4 balanced armature drivers, 3-way system, 2nd order (12dB/octave) hard-wired passive crossover (50 Hz and 5,3 kHz); dual bass drivers; two switches: one turns on/off the 2nd bass unit and the other adds "presence" Build Quality: Outside shell has excellent build quality, inside is filled with silicone for durability/increased isolation and has bubbles throughout.   Isolation: 8/10 - silicone filled shell isolates better than hollow shells and as good as the full silicone shelled custom IEMs I have.

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Sound Signature: Adjustable bass and "presence," which is a bump in the midrange!  Spacious presentation.  There are really 4 different sound signatures: Laid back and spacious with enhanced bass; laid back and spacious with more balanced bass; mid forward with enhanced bass; mid-forward with balanced bass.  With the bass switch on the deep bass becomes very punchy and powerful. 

Sonic Strengths: Amazing spaciousness/presentation that makes recordings come alive and sound extremely realistic.  Exceptional transparency.  Four separate sound signatures. Deep bass power and sub-bass rumble is top notch.

Sonic Weaknesses: Treble doesn't extend as high as the LS8 or SE 5-way.  Requires a better than entry level DAP to really sound great.

Source MatchingQuality of the source is very important with the SA-43 in order to achieve the potential of the SA-4.  If you are only going to use low end DAPs or your phone, you might as well look elsewhere, not that the SA-43 is bad per se, but the playing field was leveled.  Basically, the SA-43 scales well and can perform at a very high level when fed from a high level source. 

 

Great matches: HiFi Man 801, modded iPod -> Pico Slim, Anedio D1 DAC

So/so matches: J3, RoCoo, HUD-MX1

Very poor matches: iPhone 3G (stay away), Clip+

Listening Volume Performance: Not the most sensitive custom IEM, the low volume performance is among the best of the BA IEMs I have heard as the bass kicks in at low volumes.  The lower sensitivity makes it difficult for many DAPs to drive, which might also be in part due to the more complex crossover/switching features.

Contact Info: Starkey was exceptionally helpful and fast!  Extremely fast shipping.

With Whiplash TWag v2 OM Cable:

Keywords: very spacious, 3D, realistic, ambiance, enhanced bass, neutral treble, natural tone

SummaryThe SA-43 is special in the way it recreates the space of a presentation along with stellar transparency, putting everything together to make not just music but an experience.  Isolation is also top notch as the silicone filled acrylic shell isolates slightly better than my two pure silicone custom IEMs.  Not only that, you can customize the frequency response to your liking with a switch that controls the extra bass driver and a switch to add midrange "presence."  Spatial presentation is top notch in size, proportions, instrument placement, and timbre.  Add great dynamics, speed, tone, and pace and all genres of music sound captivating and involving.  Detail levels, are right around the middle of the pack; there are some that do better and some that do worse.  It is very important to note that the SA-43 requires a good source or you will lose the great space and some dynamics resulting in a more average performance.   The included accessory pack is extensive however I am not very fond of the carrying case Overall the SA-43 is an incredible custom IEM!

If you like: When used with a good source the SA-43 is great for those that want great spaciousness and transparency.  The switches allow for customization of the bass and midrange presentation, so the SA-43 is very versatile!

Links: SA-43 vs. JH13 vs. JH16; My Full Review Here

Updates: 8/5/11

 

 

M-Fidelity SA-12 (canal version) (formerly Starkey Norway)

Norway

3320 NOK ($600)

Design:  In canal acrylic shell, shell is filled with silicone and filters are used at the end of the sound tubes.

Cable: Permanent, clear cable with 90 degree 3.5mm plug

Accessories/Warranty: Large carrying case containing: the custom IEM in a smaller semi-hard carrying case; smaller leather carrying case; printed instructions and information; IPA wipes; 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter, cleaning tools, filter replacement set (8 replacement filters); 2 year warranty with a 30 day refit

Drivers/Configuration: (2,2) TWFK with a single sound tube Build Quality: Outside shell has excellent build quality, inside is filled with silicone for durability/increased isolation and has bubbles throughout. The cable uses a small tube for strain relief. Isolation: 5/10 - the canal only size limits the total shell area but due to the silicone fill the shell isolates on par with larger custom IEM shells. 

IMG_2930.JPG

Sound Signature: Fairly balanced sound with decent bass weight and reverb with a slightly analytical yet refined sound.  Space is average.

Sonic Strengths: The synergistic presentation that is on the slightly bright and analytical side but has more note thickness and warmth with a great cohesive presentation from bass through treble.

Sonic Weaknesses: Detail levels aren't all that impressive; bass and treble are not fully extended 

Source Matching:  Best matches include the iPhone 3G, HiFi Man 801, when amped with the Stepdance, and the Anedio D1 DAC.  

Listening Volume Performance: Very good performance at low volumes, the bass is at full power without much power, resulting in the sound not changing much at different volume levels.

Contact Info: Starkey was very responsive and fast!  Alf is very helpful, responsive and knowledgeable.

 
keywords: tapering up frequency response (emphasis increases as the frequency response increases), extended, liquid, warm, bass neutral

SummaryOne of the few small form factor custom IEMs on the market, the SA-12 has a lot to offer including a sound I wasn't expecting from the TWFK driver.  The accessory pack is thorough although not perfect, but better than average.  Build quality is great and isolation isn't bad for a canal only custom IEM.  On the sound front the SA-12 has an overall lean toward an analytical and bright presentation but the thickness of the note and warmth give the SA-12 a richness not usually found with the other characteristics, not to mention acceptable bass rumble.  The SA-12 can't quite keep up with the detail or extension of the competition in the price range, but I can see many people enjoying the overall combo of the rich yet analytical and close to neutral presentation.

If you like: A presentation that is between relaxed and analytical with warmth, this sound will be very pleasing.  Recommended for many genres but not for genres where soundstage should be large such as classical, but the bass reverb is great for pop and electronic music.

Links: My Full Review

Updates: 7/17/11 - added full review and updated summary

 

 

Jerry Harvey Audio JH16

USA

$1149 + artwork ($100)

Design:  Acrylic shell with detachable cable and 3 sound tubes

Cable: Detachable

Accessories: Hard case, soft drawstring bag, cleaning tool

Drivers/Configuration: (8,3) Quad BA bass drivers, dual BA mid drivers, dual BA treble drivers Build Quality: The shell is free from defects and has overall good build quality. Isolation: 5/10 Isolation is average for an acrylic shelled custom.

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Sound Signature: Enhanced bass from about 100 Hz down results in a punchy presentation that is generally different than other custom IEMs enhanced bass.  Midrange is very neurtal and treble is on the brighter side.  High levels of detail with good clarity but a somewhat analytical sound due to a somewhat quick note decay. The presentation is spacious, but not very 3D.

Sonic Strengths: Bass that has more speed, texture, and detail than anything else I have heard, while providing the ability to rumble near dynamic driver levels.

Sonic Weaknesses: The overall presentation space, while wide, is somewhat compressed front-to-back and top-to-bottom in comparison with other above $1K custom IEMs.

Source Matching:  The JH16 doesn’t need much power to be driven well and headphone outputs from some DAPs sound quite good with the JH16, even if missing some of the micro-detail in the instruments.  Due to the very high sensitivity of the JH16, sources with an analog volume control such as the 801 and HUD-MX1 had some issues at my normal low to very low listening volumes due to a channel imbalance which went away at moderate volume levels. 

Listening Volume Performance:

Contact Infohttp://www.jhaudio.com/contact.php

 

With Whiplash TWag v2 OM Cable: The Whiplash TWag cable fixes the soundstage depth issue with the JH16 while smoothing the presentation, resulting in an overall improvement.

Keywords: punchy, dynamic, analytical, bright, bass enhanced, detailed, very spacious, speed, sub-bass ability

SummaryThe JH16 gives new meaning to bass with a performance that combines enhancement with dynamics, detail, punch, speed, and rumble.  Instrument detail is plentiful across the spectrum with an added liquidity to the vocal range and an enhancement in the upper mids/lower treble that accentuates the clarity.  Soundstage width is great and competes with/bests similarly priced custom IEMs I have heard.  However the depth and height of the performance does fall short of the others, sounding compressed in comparison with tracks that are presented with a large 3D space.  Music is presented in more of an analytical sort of way, so if you are looking for a thicker and more relaxed presentation, look elsewhere.  Driving the JH16 is easy as a Clip+ does quite a good job and moving up the source chain doesn’t necessarily result in better overall sound except for a little more detail and possibly a larger soundstage with some music.  Accessories are fine for this price point and when you use the dual case setup the JH16 will be well protected.

 

The JH16 is great with today’s pop, hip hop, and a wide range of electronic music where it brings out the most of many over-saturated songs adding punch, detail, space, and excitement while acoustic music with a 3D presentation may disappoint due to the soundstage presentation not having the best depth/height.  For the initial target market, on stage monitoring, the JH16 does perform quite well as it pulls out the details for you to hear and if you are a singer it presents vocals with added liquidity.  The ability to customize the shell with artwork is nice and I get compliments on the look of mine.  If you get the JH16 be prepared for enhanced bass regardless of what you are listening to, from rap to country, even if you don’t want the enhancement.

If you like: The JH16 is perfect for electronics and pop music!  Stage performers that want to hear every detail.  Enhanced bass with a neutral midrange presentation and a bright, airy treble to go with a fast and slightly anaytical sound, the JH16 fits the bill.

LinksJH16 thread; My full review here

Updates: 9/1/11

 

 

Dream Earz aud-5X

USA

$565

Design:  Acrylic shell with detachable cable and triple sound tubes.  Recessed sound tubes prevent wax from entering the sound tubes

Cable: Detachable.  The cable is the standard silver custom IEM cable.

Accessories: Hard case, soft drawstring bag, cleaning tool

Drivers/Configuration: (5,4) - single sub-bass driver, dual bass driver, TWFK midrange/treble driver with internal crossover Build Quality: Build quality is good, on par with many of the custom IEMs in the price range.  There are some minor bubbles in the shell, but they are difficult to see unless you are looking for them.  The sound tubes are recessed and finished well. 
  
Isolation: 6/10  Isolation is slightly better than a typical custom IEM, but not by all that much.  This is most likely due to the silicone fill of the canal.

DRM Earz DRM-4X

Sound Signature: The 5X is a well balanced custom IEM with a slightly mid-forward presentation, enhanced bass, and a slightly elevated from neutral (to my ears) treble.  Source and mastering comes through due to the transparency and the bass can be huge to none depending on what is in your music.  There is a warmth and richness to the presentation that is very pleasing while not being too thick, and a sense of power and efforlessness.

Sonic Strengths: Great transparency;very 3D soundstage; powerful bass; extension on both ends of the spectrum for the price

Sonic Weaknesses: Midrange not as tonally accurate as some higher cost custom IEMs; treble detail is less than more expensive custom IEMs

Source MatchingThe 5X is easy to drive and as long as you are using a good amp and DAC it doesn't make a huge difference which one you actually use.  When you do move up to a nice DAP/DAC/amp from something like the Clip+ or iPhone you will be rewarded with a greatly improved soundstage that is very 3D and immersive. 

 

Listening Volume Performance The 5X has adequate bass performance at very low volumes and performs within the top group of BA custom IEMs for low volume bass performance.  Once the volume is at a low-moderate level the bass kicks up a notch.  At louder volumes the overall sound is still very listenable and the treble non-offensive.  The 5X has better than typical performance for the price range.  Sensitivity is on the higher side, but not to the level of the JH16 or LS8.  This helps with many sources with analog volume control issues or hiss problems.  

Contact Info: Mitch is a friendly guy that is a performing musician

 
Keywords: liquid, transparent, enhanced bass, balanced, powerful, effortless, rich, extended frequency response, sub-bass ability

Summary: Breaking the current driver/price performance barriers the aud-5X is a very capable performer.  Technically the 5X punches well above its price point, closing in on more expensive custom IEMs at double the prices.  The strengths include transparency, bass capability, dynamics, soundstage proportions, and bass and midrange resolution.  The overall sound is refined, liquid, a little on the warm and rich side with some bass enhancement and a brighter treble to go along with a bit of a mid-forward presentation.  The coherence across the frequency spectrum is excellent with similar note thickness from top to bottom and excellent integration from the lowest notes to the highest.  When compared with others in the price point, the aud-5X really doesn't have technical weaknesses.  Being the aud stands for audiophile, the presentation has hit a sweet spot in the sound with the overall balance. 

If you like: A relatively balanced sound with enhanced bass.  Think a JH16 with a little less enhancement in the bass and treble with a less analytical sound.

Links: Full Review Here

Updates:

 

 

Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor

USA

$999

Design:  Acrylic shell with detachable cable and dual sound tubes.  Unique cable design.

Cable: Detachable.  The cable is black and has 4 wires tightly braided below the Y-split and has a very tight twist above the Y-split.  The shell connector is unique.

AccessoriesThe accessory kit is standard, coming with a case, cleaning tool, and 1/4” to 1/8” adapter for use with pro equipment, or many desktop amps.  The case is top notch from a look, feel, and function perspective.   

Drivers/Configuration: (3,3) Triple driver with dual sound tubes Build Quality: Excellent build quality with the best shell connector I have seen, which is protruding.  The shell is perfect with no bubbles or imperfections and the cable is top notch and the included case is very strong and usable.  The UERM should stand up to abuse and last for a very long time. Isolation: 6/10 - the UERM seems to provide a little more isolation than the typical acrylic shelled custom IEM.

4c165081_P1000636.jpeg

Sound Signature: Sound designed as a reference.  The sound is on the brighter sound with an analytical nature, but not lacking in any way.  Mids are slightly forward and the treble is a little more forward still.  Music is presented in a very 3D way and detail levels are good to go along with a high level of clarity.

Sonic Strengths: Soundstage proportions are excellent with very good size resulting in a very realistic recreation of music.  Very good clarity.

Sonic Weaknesses: The treble can be harsh with poorly mastered tracks which are more numerous than expected and not harsh with my other similarly priced custom IEMs.

Source Matching:  The UERM is easy to drive, therefore an amp does little to help the sound.  DAC quality and flavor will matter as the UERM is fairly transparent to the source and does scale somewhat with the source.

Listening Volume Performance: The UERM is a good low volume performer and has no issues with loud volumes.

Contact Info: Ultimate Ears Custom IEM support page

 
My usage: analytical, accurate, bright, neutral bass, detailed, transpaent

SummaryThe UERM is what it set out to be, a reference monitor, and an excellent one at that.  While not perfect when compared with similarly priced competition, it does offer a good mix of attributes that when combined result in an overall good presentation that recording engineers can use for exceptional masters.  As for the audiophile audience, the UERM is a good choice for those looking for transparency and accuracy more so than a musical experience, although I can thoroughly enjoy music with the UERM.  The accessories are very nice, including the metal case which fits the UERM perfectly and offers great functionality with ease of use and a good look.  The cable is better than other stock cables I have seen and the shell connector is protruding instead of flush or recessed resulting in a very solid and durable design.

 

The UERM does present high levels of detail within excellent soundstage recreation both in the size and shape of the space, being among the best I have heard in this regard.  The overall sound is bright resulting in very good clarity, with a gently increasing emphasis on the frequency spectrum as the frequency increases, bringing the treble more forward than the mids by a bit, and the mids more forward than the bass by a bit.  The drivers are well matched and sound very cohesive and the single bass driver does a fairly good job pumping out bass.  While the UERM is very good for the presentation it has, the sound is an analytical one which lends to the ability to hear very good instrument detail but the ambiance of a presentation isn’t recreated they way it is with many competitors.  The biggest issue I had with the UERM is that the treble can be harsh depending on the recording, and while this isn't unique to the UERM, it did occur with more songs than any other custom IEM in the price range.  And dynamics, while overall good, are not quite up to the level of other $1000+ custom IEMs I have heard.

 

All in all the UERM has a place among the other custom IEMs I have heard in the price range as it offers a reference sound with an exceptional presentation; a combo I have not heard up to this point in a custom IEM.  Combine that with the accessories and cable and the UERM stands up well with the competition.

If you like: The TWFK dual drivers but want way more out of your sound, the UERM will give you that.  The UERM does live up to the bill and would be great for studio engineers as well as audiophiles that want an analytical sound without giving up much.

Links: Full review here

Updates: 9/21/2011

 

 

Wan Xuan wx i9pro

China

$669 ($589 for the launch intro)

Design:  Acrylic shell with detachable cable and a single sound tube.  There are some electronics with FST technology in the cable.  The shell has a vent hold in the middle of the back of the shell and there is a sound tube connecting the rear chamber and the front of the driver with a filter between the two.

Cable: Detachable. The cable uses the typical Beat Audio style ear guides and the initial look and feel reminds me of a lower quality Cronus.  The metal can located about 4.5" (114.3mm) from the straight 3.5mm plug measures 1.68" (42.68mm) long by 0.4" (10.39mm) and has strain relief on both sides.  This makes the replacement cables limited if you want the FST electronics.  The right shell connector is black and the left is silver.  After extended use the cable did become tangle prone, at least much more so than other stock cables.

AccessoriesThe i9pro comes with a Dolfin box case that has an inner lining and a cleaning tool.  There is not much more that would be needed to be included, so the accessories are fine as the dolphin box is as good as an Otter box.

Drivers/Configuration: (1,1) Single 14mm dynamic driver, vented. Build Quality: Overall the shell build quality is great and there are no visible bubbles or imperfections in the shell with a nice finish.  The cable sockets are flush and the pins aren’t quite as tight as they should be in my opinion.  The cable does come loose with use and I even had a shell separate during A/Bing.  This can be fixed by slightly clamping the pins with pliers.  Also, over time the cable that for the left shell connector was able to spin around and often the cable was not at the correct angle when I started to insert the i9pro.  Isolation

Being that the i9pro is vented it doesn’t provide quite as good of isolation as the typical sealed shell custom IEM.  Without music playing the isolation is similar to an open backed IEM such as the FX700.  When music is playing the sound masks the leakage but the amount of leakage seems to be reduced in comparison with normal open backed IEMs, but is still not quite on par with the full shelled closed custom IEMs.

1755120

Sound Signature: Warm and spacious presentation that has enhanced bass and a nice balance across the midrange through the treble, which is rolled off.  Great coherence across the frequency spectrum and a very enjoyable presentation with a rich and natural presentation

Sonic Strengths: Spaciousness due to the FST can be better than anything else, but also can at times be a weakness; liquid presentation; conveyance of power.

Sonic Weaknesses: FST enhances the bass and results in some lack of control in the bass; treble roll off at 13KHz.

Source MatchingThe i9pro has the ability to resolve more detail than the entry level DAPs such as the Clip+ and iPod, and even the RoCoo and Studio V can output, so using an 801 or decent DAC will reap some benefits.  Amps also help, but to do the FST, only to a point.  If an amp strengthens the bass too much the FST will cause the bass to be less controlled affecting the sound in a negative way as happened with the Anedio D1.  The 801 is overall a very good match, but due to the price something such as an iPod/iPhone to the uHA-120 via LOD will be a great compromise between price and performance.  

Listening Volume PerformanceThe i9pro is good at low volumes but the bass levels are lower, probably due to perception from human loudness curves.  Due to the sensitivity there more than likely won't be many issues with sources that have analog volume controls.  The biggest issue I have with the i9pro as far as volume is at louder volumes.  For whatever reason, the driver becomes uncontrolled and when there is a lot of bass it bleeds to the midrange.  This isn't an issue for me as I don't listen at volumes that will cause the issue (and I highly recommend you don't listen that loud also), but it is there if you crank the volume. 

Contact Info: Stephen from custom-IEM.com or direct to wxid.com if you speak Chinese.  Stephen offers exceptional customer service.

 
Key words: Warm, rich, liquid, enhanced spaciousness, enhanced bass, 3D, sub-bass ability

Summary: FST technology gives the i9pro a pretty unique sound in its price range with added spaciousness to go with the sound of a dynamic driver.  The spaciousness comes with enhanced bass, an overall warm presentation and a great treble quality.  The level of enhancement is high with punchy and deep, rumbling bass.  Detail levels are good for the price range and presented in a liquid and enjoyable way.  Note decay sounds very natural but speed is average.  Piano sounds amazing, D&B bombastic, and most genres sound right.  Midrange tonality is on the warmer side.

 

But, with the good comes some issues including treble roll off at 13K which can affect air and not recreate some of the harmonics and spatial queues that give ambiance to the upper end.  FST increases the bass and this can lead to the bass sounding a little uncontrolled at times, and the added spatial qualities can affect instrument placement for very spacious tracks.  However, even with these issue the overall presentation of the i9pro is very enjoyable and without direct comparison you will most likely be hard pressed to hear the issues.  So go ahead, rattle your brain with 14mm of dynamic driver that give you a nice spatial experience.

If you like: Lots of bass and a spacious sound, the i9pro won't disappoint.  Upgrade from SM3 and IE8; Upgrade to EM3 Pro and SE 5-way

Links: My Full Review

Updates: 10/12/11

 

 

Hidition New Tears 6 (NT-6)

Korea

1,188,000 원 (Including VAT)

Design:  Acrylic shell with 3 sound tubes

Cable: Detachable

Accessories: Hard case, cleaning tool

Drivers/configuration: (6,4)  Build Quality

Isolation: On par with other acrylic shelled CIEMs

 P1010331.JPG

Sound SignatureThe NT-6 gives you a neutral, high resolution, accurate presentation reminiscent of the CK10 but technically better in every way by a significant margin.  Not to be confused with something thicker and richer such as the 5-way or EM3 Pro, the overall sound is on the thinner and analytical side but is not lacking in bass power or depth when a track calls for it.

Sonic Strengths: Amazing imaging and detail; reference with a musical touch

Sonic Weaknesses: None (not really a weakness, but the soundstage depth isn't as deep as a few other top competitors)

Source Matching:  While entry level DAPs certainly don't sound bad with the NT-6, they don't bring the dynamics, excitement, or detail of the higher end hardware.  When the detail level from the source (DAC) is increased there is a direct correlation to the quality of the music recreated; the NT-6 is very source transparent.  It is a fairly easy to drive CIEM so other than amp sound signatures, there isn’t much difference between high quality portable amps. 

Listening Volume Performance: Excellent

Contact Info

 

Keywords: neutral bass; transparent; 3D; natural, spacious, tonally accurate

SummaryClarity, imaging, dynamics, and full range reproduction highlight the biggest strengths of the NT-6, however there are still other exceptional traits of this reference beast.  The NT-6 isn't shy about pointing out flaws in other CIEMs when compared directly and doesn't exhibit much itself, which is indicative of the very high technical performance.  The biggest weakness of the NT-6 is that the depth of the presentation isn't up to par with a few others in the price range, but the differences aren't too large.  Bass is neutral but not lacking with the ability to recreate sub-bass rumble and pump out a solid bass performance.

 

Accessories are decent but not without issue.  The case is very attractive but a bit small and I often had issues closing it and the NT-6 has a non-standard cable, which is microphonic so additional purchases of replacement items may be a necessity from the start.  However, taking into account the sound, the NT-6 is still an exceptional value due to the high level of sound quality and build quality.  If you are looking for a reference monitor and sound really matters, you have to consider the NT-6.

If you like:the CK10 you will love the NT-6; if you want a reference, this is it.

Links: My full review

Updates

 

 

Earsonics EM4

France

890 Euros

($1167)

Design:  Four balanced armature drivers in a solid acrylic shell with a 3-way crossover and two sound tubes.

Cable: Detachable standard black cable

Accessories: Carrying case, cleaning tool, alcohol wipes

Drivers/Configuration: (4,3) Dual bass driver, TWFK for midrange and treble with dual sound tubes Build Quality:  Solid acrylic shell is extremely durable; recessed sockets protect the cable plug Isolation: 9/10 - the solid acrylic shell offers great isolation on par with silicone and silicone filled acrylic.

P1010563.JPG

Sound Signature: Mid-forward, sweet, warm, and rich with a clarity and brightness to the sound offering a great balance.  

Sonic Strengths: Impressive vocals that are very involving; great bass power/ability; extremely liquid presentation

Sonic Weaknesses: Upper midrange not as natural as some others

Source MatchingThe EM4 performs very well from entry level DAPs such as the Clip+ and there are minimal improvements as you move up the listening chain.  Higher end DACs will add some additional space and detail to presentations while an amp will control the bass a bit better, but overall the gains aren't huge.  There is no need to go all out with the source unless you really want to eke out every last bit of performance.

Listening Volume Performance The EM4 has very good volume performance from the low end through what I consider loud.  The bass drivers kick in at a relatively low level, but a bit of power is needed to really achieve what the EM4 can do in the bass region.  The sound signature doesn't change from that point on up to very loud.

Contact Infowww.earsonics.com/contact.htm - Earsonics has very good customer service and is very responsive

 
Key words: warm, right, clear, bright, bass power, bass rumble, amazing vocals, imaging, airy

Summary: Tuned for the audiophile, the EM4 gives an impressive presentation, immersing you in the experience and bringing the performance right to you.  The mid-forward presentation puts vocals up close and personal while giving you great tonal quality and imaging with bass that is enhanced, powerful, and visceral and treble is extended and realistic.  Everything is presented in a very fluid way and thin is never a word that comes to mind with the EM4, but that doesn't prevent a bright and very clear presentation.  Detail levels are very good, especially in the midrange, and with great transparency, the EM4 gets out of the way of your music. 

 

The liquidity allows the EM4 to be very forgiving, but the side effect is a slight lowering of treble detail, and bass texturing is typically a bit lower than the competition, which is a tradeoff for the enhancement and capability.  In direct comparison with many others high end CIEMs, the EM4 has a bit of a dip in the upper midrange which can lead to the sound being slightly 'off' sounding at times.  However, dynamics and speed are excellent leading to a presentation that is exciting, punchy and fast while being warm and immersive; an impressive combination.  The EM4 has a special sound that reminds me of the SM3 when I first heard it, but oh so much better in every way! 

 

Overall, the EM4 gives a combination of speed and clarity with warmth and richness I have not heard elsewhere.

If you like: The SM3 but want a brighter presentation or like the SE535 but want a more coherent presentation, the EM4 will deliver.  Even if you don't like either but want a mid-forward presentation the EM4 does it in a way that is immersive and engaging with plenty of bass and an extremely high technical level of performance.

Links: My Full Review

Updates: 1/23/12 - Added summary review

 

 

Alclair Reference

USA

$499

Design: Acrylic shelled custom IEM with dual sound tubes and a detachable cable with recessed sockets.

Cable: Detachable, standard custom IEM cable with typical pin compatibility.  The included cable is the silver color variety.

Accessories: Clamshell carrying case, cleaning tool and cleaning wipes

Drivers/Configuration: Three way, three balanced armature drivers. Build Quality: The shell is well made and since there are detachable cables, there are no significant concerns with durability.  Isolation:  5/10 - average isolation for an acrylic shelled custom IEM.

P1010763.JPG

Sound Signature: Neutral but on the warmer side of neutral with good imaging and space and a balanced presentation from top to bottom.

Sonic Strengths: Class leading clarity; natural note decay throughout the spectrum

Sonic WeaknessesThe center of the soundstage presentation isn’t as well defined as the rest of the spectrum, resulting in a less than perfect across the head cohesion of the soundstage that is typical for IEMs.

Source MatchingThe Reference is not too difficult to drive and lower end sources realize nearly all the detail and space available, but improving the amp section does result in a tighter, better controlled sound.  Adding an amp to your existing source such as an iPhone or Fuze will result in as good of an experience, if not better than upgrading to an expensive DAC.

Listening Volume Performance The Reference has decent low volume performance, but at very low volumes the bass driver doesn’t really kick resulting in a flatter presentation.  At moderate and above volume the Reference offers the full power and glory of the presentation, not having any issues at the loudest level I want to listen at for even a short period of time.

Contact Info: Marc Mussleman is a very personable and helpful person: http://www.alclair.com/contact/

Key words: Neutral, natural, 3D, spacious, musical, extended, warm

Summary: The Alclair Reference provides a balanced yet musical presentation that offers an impressively flat presentation with class leading clarity at a relatively affordable price of $499.  Bass rumble is good for a balanced armature driver with extension down to 20 Hz, providing good texturing and control.  The midrange is neither forward nor laid back with good spatial recreation; however the cohesion of the presentation is a bit below standard due to less definition in the center of the soundstage.  Note thickness sounds very natural with very good attack and decay, especially in the treble region, standing out amongst its peers for the natural presentation. 

 

The Reference can be used as just that, a reference as it has the flattest, most neutral sound that I have heard in the price range.  It is, however, not quite as bright as the other ‘reference’ CIEMs, which do cost double+ and are and revealing of poor masters.  Audio enthusiasts and audiophiles that are looking for a balanced, neutral sound with good capabilities that won’t break the bank should take a look at the Reference as Alclair has done an excellent job of combining musicality with reference sound, making the Reference very versatile and enjoyable.

If you like: Balanced, yet musical sound that offers a better balance than anything else I have heard at the price or below, the Reference is for you.

Links: My Full Review

Updates: 2/21/12

 

 

ACS T1 Live!

UK, USA, Australasia

$1,199

Design: Full silicone shell with dual sound tubes and proprietary detachable cable.  The Live! version has microphones for the 

Cable: Proprietary cable connector that is "serviceable."  Kevlar construction that is different than standard cables.  No microphonics.  Initially the cable was prone to tangling, but over time the cable performance improved dramatically, becoming a very nice cable all around.

AccessoriesThe T1 Live! comes with a Pelican case, leather zipper carry pouch, cleaning tool, comfort cream, care and instruction booklet, and a 3.5mm to 1/4" inch step-up stereo plug.  However, from this point forward, ACS will be supplying a new case that can be seen here instead of the Pelican case.

Drivers/Configuration: Three-way three driver design. Build Quality:  Excellent. IsolationUsing a silicone shell, the T1 Live! provides better isolation than a typical acrylic shell, which is rated at 27 dB.  The isolation is similar to the Spiral Ear and a bit above the denser Minerva shells, which also have a different shape to them, only slightly trailing the Starkey SA-43.
  

P1010755.JPG

Sound Signature:  Mid and bass forward with a warm and musical presentation with a small upper midrange boost that results in nice clarity.  The treble isn't lacking, but is relaxed and a bit laid back in comparison with the rest of the spectrum.  Good detail levels and an engaging, enveloping 3D presentation.  While I don't think of "detailed" when I think of the T1 Live!, it does have very good detail levels.  Very organic/natural sounding.

Sonic Strengths: Extremely natural, rich, and organic, especially in the vocal region.  Can make some other CIEMs in its class sound tonally off at times.

Sonic Weaknesses: Midrange can become congested with complex music in comparison with other high end custom IEMs, especially with lower end sources.

Source MatchingWhile the T1 Live! does OK with DAPs, noticeable sound improvements will be realized from amps and higher resolution DACs.  The T1 Live! was designed for stage use with wireless packs, which I don’t currently have for testing.

Listening Volume Performance The T1 Live! performance at very low volumes isn’t the greatest as the bass driver doesn’t fully kick in until low volumes, and is up to full speed at mid-low volumes.  At louder volumes the T1 Live! can sound more congested than at lower volumes with complex tracks.

Contact Infocheck here

Key words: Warm, rich, organic, mid-forward, 3D, natural, non-fatiguing, stage use

Summary: The T1 Live! is aptly named not only for the built in microphones that works with the ACS ambient processor, but also that the sound has a natural sound of a live venue.  Rich is a great word to describe the T1 Live!, and the pleasant presentation and comfort of silicone will allow you to listen all day whether you are on stage, on a train, or at home.  The bass and midrange a forward while the treble is gently laid back, and all are integrated perfectly together.  The soundstage is very 3D and immersive with great imaging and transparency resulting in an immersive experience, but the best thing about the T1 Live! is the vocal presentation which always sounds natural and ‘right.’

 

But it is not all perfect, as nothing is.  The T1 Live! can sound a bit congested with complex music at louder volumes when compared with others in its class, and bass rumble is bested by the multi-bass balanced armature driver and dynamic driver custom IEMs.  This is worse with lower end DAPs and improves with amps, although the T1 Live! was designed to be used with a wireless pack, which I do have for source matching.  But the more natural sounding tone makes up for these shortcomings vs. much of the competition.  Overall, performance is very competitive for the price, and combined with the rich and involving recreation of music, the T1 Live! is a great option stage and for the audio enthusiast.

If you like: Tube sound that is neutral and not lacking, the T1 Live! is a great choice.

Links: My full review

Updates: 3/4/12

 

 

 

DUNU DC4

Taiwan/China

3000 RMB ($499)

Design: Acrylic shell with a detachable cable and a single large bore

Cable: Non-standard cable as it is covered in heat shrink

Accessories: Metal DUNU case, cleaning cloth, and cleaning tool

Drivers/Configuration: 4 balanced armatures in a 4-way configuration with compound upper drivers and single drivers for the lows.  Single, large sound bore with three sound tubes feeding it. Build Quality:  Shell has excellent build quality, reminding me of excellent Thousand Sounds shell Isolation: Average for an acrylic shelled custom IEM.

P1020468.JPG

Sound Signature: Mid-forward presentation with good imaging and a 3D presentation.  Bass is slightly enhanced with a somewhat bright sound that is all in good balance and tied together coherently.  While not lush and warm, the DC4 isn't overly analytical either, making for an enjoyable experience.

Sonic Strengths: Presentation depth and imaging making for a very involving presentation with vocals and other mid-forward recordings.  Very good bass response.

Sonic Weaknesses: Poor source combinations and warmer tracks can make the DC4 sound thick and slightly congested at times compared with other CIEMs in the price range.

Source Matching: The DC4 is selective about the sources that it sounds best with, which are those that are of the mid-forward type with good depth to the presentation.  While more expensive sources sound better than the entry level DAPs, more expensive sources didn’t necessarily sound better than mid-priced ones since presentation matching is very important.   Also, the DC4 is very sensitive and can bring out the hiss/noise in your sources more so than just about any custom IEM I have heard.

Listening Volume Performance: The DC4 performs well at low volumes, especially when there is a powerful source.  The bass driver kicks in and is dynamic at a moderately low volume.  After turning the volume up past what I consider loud listening, although many may not, the DC4 starts to become rougher and congested sounding.  Again, this is at listening levels that really aren’t necessary since the DC4 isolates well, and you will damage your hearing if you listen at those volumes for any extended period of time.

Contact Info: Only available in China.  DUNU

Key words: Mid-forward, liquid, warm, rich, powerful, coherent, transparent, balanced, forgiving, 3D, imaging, presentation depth 

Summary: DUNU’s first custom IEM, the DC4, is a winner in many ways providing an extremely involving and enjoyable presentation that is mid-forward, liquid, and rich.   Transparency and coherence are top notch within the price range and close to CIEMs that cost double, and when paired with a synergistic source, the depth of the presentation is impressive.  With a frequency response that is fairly balanced but not necessarily neutral, the DC4 is fun and quite capable in the bass response.  Certain characteristics change depending on the tracks and sources, improving or reducing the listening experience, however the DC4 is quite forgiving of poorly mastered tracks.

 

Overall, the DC4 has a great sound signature with enhanced, capable and warm bass, a liquid midrange that is presented up-close and personal, and treble that has a nice balance between bright and dark, all leading to a very engrossing and non-fatiguing experience.  The DC4 is a good starter custom IEM as it has a very enjoyable sound, it can grow with you as you upgrade your sources, and will be forgiving as you improve the quality of your music collection.

If you like: The SM3 or mid-forward, enveloping vocals with plenty of technical capability, the DC4 will fit the bill.

Links: My Full Review

Updates: 4/25/12 - added summary and link

 

 

Aurisonics AS-1b USA

$599

Design: Plastic shell with a single 15mm dynamic driver and single sound tube.  Optional "b" configuration adds an ambient port and bass tuning port.

Cable: Detachable, standard silver

Accessoriesinternally padded waterproof OtterBox series 2000 case, leatherette carrying pouch, cleaning tool and port adjustment tool.

Drivers/Configuration: Single 15mm dynamic driver with one sound tube and a tunable bass port. Build Quality:  Frosted shell quality has a different feel than acrylic but appears well done and sturdy. Isolation: Average for an acrylic shelled custom IEM.

P1020751.JPG

Sound Signature: Mid-forward and thick presentation with good imaging and a 3D presentation.  Bass is slightly enhanced with a laid back treble.  Opening the bass port increases the amount of bass and opens up the driver, improving dynamics and airiness.

Sonic Strengths: Excellent bass capability with rumble and control.  Responds well to EQ.

Sonic Weaknesses: The midrange is a bit on the thick side resulting in clarity that is on the lower side of the competition.

Source Matching: The AS-1b can be driven from sources such as the iPhone or Clip+, but the higher quality the source, the better the AS-1b will sound.  I recommend getting a decent amp for maximum enjoyment of the AS-1b.

Listening Volume Performance: Playing loud is not a problem for the AS-1b as the 15mm driver has plenty of headroom, and moderate volumes are fine as well, but due in large part to the sound signature, low to very low volume listening results in the perception of lower amounts of bass and treble due to human loudness curves.

Contact Info

Key words: Mid-forward, liquid, warm, rich, powerful, thick, 3D, imaging, presentation depth 

Summary: The AS-1b is a very capable performer that was designed for musicians, and many of the musicians I know like to EQ their equipment, which the AS-1b reacts very well to.  The 15mm driver has great dynamics and can play at very loud levels if need be.  The overall mid-focused sound signature has great presentation depth and nice imaging, instrument placement, and separation making for an involving presentation.  Don't expect a bright sound from the AS-1b.  The magic of the AS-1b is in the recreation of space, which it does extremely well.

If you like: The SM3 or mid-forward, enveloping vocals with plenty of bass ability.  If you want to EQ the sound, the AS-1b reacts very well to EQing.

Links

Updates: 6/13/12 - added

 

 

 

Ambient Acoustics AM4 Pro Ukraine

4200 UAH ($499)

Design: Acrylic shell with 3 sound tubes and a detachable cable.

Cable: Detachable, coated cable reminiscent of the MEElectronics M6 clear cable, but thicker.

AccessoriesThe AM4 comes with a Dolphin case, cloth pouch, cleaning tool, and desiccant, however my AM4 pro only came with a cloth pouch, so I have used the accessory images from the Ambient Acoustics site.

Drivers/Configuration: Dual vented bass drivers, single midrange driver, single treble driver. Build Quality:  Excellent fit and finish with solid construction. Isolation: Average for an acrylic shelled custom IEM.

P1020799.JPG

Sound Signature: Open and airy with a nice balance across the spectrum that is on the brighter side, but not necessarily bright while the lower end is neutral yet capable.  Detailed and coherent with exceptional depth to the presentation.

Sonic Strengths:The depth of the presentation is exceptional, great dynamics and bass capability, and an extremely natural tone

Sonic Weaknesses: At medium and higher volumes the technical performance decreases, and with lower end sources the upper end can get a bit harsh

Source Matching: The AM4 pro is very scalable: feed it from a better source chain and you will get better results.  The difference between the highest and lowest performing sources is quite large and the AM4 pro is selective about the amps/sources it pairs well with.  

Listening Volume Performance: Performance is excellent at low to medium volumes, but above medium volumes the soundstage becomes less clear and the treble becomes sharper.

Contact Info

Key words: 

Summary: The Ambient Acoustics AM4 pro is an exceptional performer at the price point with a relatively neutral and very natural sound that works for the stage, studio, or just enjoying music.  Note decay is very realistic, the soundstage is very 3D with exceptional depth, and dynamic range is impressive, all resulting in a presentation that immersive and engaging while staying neutral but still musical.  When supplied by a high quality amp, the AM4 pro can compete with CIEMs that cost double as it scales very well.  However, with lower end sources and at louder volumes the clarity can suffer as complex material becomes slightly congested.  Overall the AM4 pro performs admirably and will surely develop a following due to the sound quality and value.

If you like: Balanced sound that isn't lacking in the treble region, but not necessarily bright with plenty of bass capability in a very musical and non-analytical way, the AM4 pro is great.  If you have higher end sources to pair with it, the it will perform at well above it's price.

Links: My full review

Updates: 6/13/12 - added; 8/16/12 - review finished

 

 

 

Hidition NT-6 pro Korea

$1,250 USD

Design: Acrylic shell with 3 sound tubes and a detachable cable.

Cable: Detachable, black cable that is unique to Hidition.

AccessoriesThe NT-6 pro includes a unique metal carrying case that is compact, a cleaning tool, a soft wipe cloth, instructions, and a frequency response chart in a nice box.  The case, while larger than the original, still isn’t the biggest so care needs to be taken to close the case all the way since my shells are rather large.

Drivers/Configuration: 6 drivers in a 5-way configuration. Build Quality:  Excellent fit and finish with solid construction. Isolation: Average for an acrylic shelled custom IEM.

 

 

 

 

Sound Signature: Very bright but slightly warm with plenty of bass capability when a song calls for it.  The NT-6 pro takes the analytical sound and adds fun and excitement while retaining ultimate detail retrieval.

Sonic Strengths: The highest levels of clarity I have heard; exceptional soundstage presentation that is large and 3D with exceptional imaging and focus

Sonic Weaknesses: While the brightness gives stunning clarity, it can lead to an unnaturally bright tone with some tracks.

Source Matching: The NT-6 pro changes quite a bit with different sources, so finding the right sound for you can take some trial and error.  The quality of the DAC section does help with detail and resolution, but especially in achieving the presentation depth and width the NT-6 pro is capable of.   For some reason the latest software for the 801 is a horrible match; however, all other DAPs/DACs I have tried don’t have the same issues.  Using a good amp also helps where it comes to spatial presentation; however, the small changes to the upper midrange and treble did lead to significant tonal changes.  Select your source carefully and be prepared for some trial and error.

Listening Volume Performance: Performance at all volume levels is quite good as the enhanced bass helps get the bass driver moving with very low volume levels and the sound signature is retained as much as it can be, taking loudness curves into account.  At louder volumes, very heavy bass tracks can get a bit distorted, but I can’t listen for longer than a second of so, and can’t imagine people would have hearing in a year listening at those volumes.  Even at loud volumes, there is absolutely no congestion. 

 

Contact Info

Key words: 

Summary: Boasting 6 balanced armatures in a 5-way design, the NT-6 pro is very capable of amazing sound across the spectrum.  The sound is on the analytical side, but with some liquidity and musicality.  Both ends of the frequency spectrum are enhanced at the extremes, but the midrange is not recessed, and the sound does not have the typical warmth that comes with enhanced bass.  The sound is on the quicker and punchier side with excellent dynamic range, transparency, smoothness, and plenty of speed for any genre, but still enough note decay for a natural sound.  Clarity and presentation focus are in a class of their own and help present every detail within the music clearly and concisely.

 

While the NT-6 pro sounds good with lower end sources, carefully selecting a quality DAC and amp or DAP will result in an improved performance.  From a technical standpoint, the NT-6 pro is one of the top three in performance of my custom IEM collection and I highly recommend it if you like a bright, engaging, fun, ultra-detailed and clear sound.

If you like: Bright sound and want ultra-detail with the excitement of enhanced bass, the NT-6 pro is for you!

Links: My full review

Updates: 6/13/12 - added

 

Logitech Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitor

USA

$1999

Design: Acrylic shell with the unique Ultimate Ears detachable cable and 3 sound tubes.

Cable: Excellent cable that is thicker than standard and has proprietary connectors that are very robust.

Accessories

Drivers/Configuration: 5 BA drivers in a 3-way configuration.  Single bass driver, dual midrange and dual treble drivers. Build Quality: High! Isolation: 6.5/10 with a backfill in the nozzle providing additional isolation compared with hollow shells

 

400

 

Sound Signature: With the ability to tune the sound signature, the PRM offers the ability for people to find their music preference.  Sound is very spacious and laid back with excellent imaging, high detail and resolution levels, excellent transparency, and coherence.  Notes are in a very nice balance between analytical and thick resulting in a very organic and natural sound.  The focus is on the overall presentation vs. the individual instruments, yet the PRM performs very well in that regard also.  

Sonic Strengths: Exceptional imaging and layering within the very large soundstage; Note decay is very natural sounding and realistic providing great tonal accuracy; Sound tuning allows you to change the quantity/presentation of the three spectrums, providing you with a better fit to your preference

Sonic Weaknesses: Slightly limited deep bass rumble capability

Source Matching: While the PRM will play nice with some lower end sources, if you are going to spend on the PRM, you should have the source chain to shine.

Listening Volume Performance: The PRM performs well at both low and high volume levels, and everywhere between

Contact Info

Key words: 

Summary:  Does this $2K CIEM live up to its price?  First, being able to tune the sound to your preference solves one of the issues with CIEMs, which is you have to typically buy a non-refundable product to find out the true sound.  If you don’t like it, you are out a good deal of money, which is why the ability to not only tune the sound, but try it before you buy is important and has a high value in my opinion, which people ask me for all the time.  And when people do ask my opinion, I always recommend they buy based on their sound signature preference and usage.  This feature is great.

 

From a performance perspective, the sound signature of my unit isn’t as important as the sound tendencies and technical performance since you can tune the sound to your liking.  Technically the PRM is one of the top performers I have heard, disappearing and letting the music come through with exceptional transparency and realism.  The sound is spacious and on the organic side of the spectrum, if just by a bit, and it the warmth is north of neutral.  With a laid back presentation, the overall performance is the focus, not the individual instruments, although they are clear and detailed.  The PRM performs at a higher level than the $1K UE IERM and up there with more expensive CIEMs I own.  The Logitech Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitor is an exceptional product, even at its price point, due to the sound tuning feature before you buy and the sound quality you get when the customized version is delivered to you.

If you like: a spacious, laid back, and organic sound, the PRM works and you can tune the PRM to your liking

LinksMy Full Review

Updates: 12/8/12

 

All material is original content of average_joe.  If you like this please share the link on social media.  Google+ profile Facebook page Twitter account


Edited by average_joe - 7/25/14 at 10:05pm
post #2 of 4040
Thread Starter 

Custom IEM Information

 

A special thank you to all that contributed!  If you feel something should be added or changed, please let us know by posting in this thread.

 

In this post:

Things to consider before buying a custom IEM

Custom IEMs vs. Universal IEMs

Custom IEMs vs. Headphones

Cost of customs

Shell materials

Dynamic drivers vs. balanced armature drivers

Impressions

Artwork

How long will it take me to receive my custom IEMs?

Proper fit and refits

Cables

Connectors (for custom IEMs with replaceable cables)

Taking care of your custom IEM

Changes to your ears over time - the need for remolds

Ambient vents

Articles

Notes from my personal experiences

 

Things to ponder before buying custom IEM

- Custom IEMs has additional costs associated with them that can include:

   - The cost of your ear impressions.  This is not an area you want to skimp with.  And while not necessary, I would suggest either going with someone very experienced with making ear impressions for custom IEMs or get two different audiologists to take separate impressions.

   - Shipping, which includes shipping ear impressions to the manufacturer, shipping the custom IEM to you, and shipping for any refits.  If international, this is much more expensive.

   - If you live in a humid environment or sweat a lot I strongly recommend a hearing aid dryer for balanced armature earphones and recommend you use one in general.

   - Using something like oto-ease may help with insertion the first several times and after using a hearing aid dryer

   - Be prepared to want to improve the quality of your music and get a better source!  Please check out my source matching with each review.

   - Resale value of a custom IEM is poor to non-existent.  Acrylic shelled custom IEMs can be reshelled, but if they have a fill it becomes more difficult, not possible and I don't currently know of a place than can reshell silicone custom IEMs

- Depending on the custom IEM you go with, the step up from a high end universal IEM might not be all that big, especially depending on the source used.  While I find the custom IEMs I have to be technically superior to any universal IEM I have heard, you may prefer the sound signature of a cheaper universal more.

- All that being said, I do think custom IEMs can give you a great overall experience if you match the sound you are looking for with the custom IEM before buying.

 

Custom IEMs vs. universal IEMs

The level of performance of the custom IEMs I have heard surpasses any universal I have heard.  I won't say by how much since that is subjective, but enough for me to have no interest in any universals.  The one universal I have kept is the SM3, which is good but still doesn't compare to my customs from an overall technical standpoint.  It might be better than some of the lower priced customs in one performance category but so far not multiple performance categories.  Some examples are the SM3 might have smoother mids but the bass, spaciousness, and treble all fall short, or the bass is more powerful but the SM3 doesn't have the smoothness, detail, and as realistic of a presentation.   I have compared a universal TF10 with a reshelled TF10 and found the sonic differences to be fairly small as noted here.  Also, in comparison, the reshelled TF10 technically falls far short of any of the other customs I have, although the price was about half or less.  Why do I think it falls far short technically?  The main reasons are that as the price increases, there is an increase in resolution along with a more liquid/smooth presentation and better dynamics and an overall larger soundstage/headstage.

 

People continuously want to know how big of a different there is between universal IEMs and custom IEMs.  First, this is somewhat subjective and second, the data points many people have with customs are limited to one or two, which doesn't seem statistically significant to make blanket statements.  The amount of difference for me could be significantly off compared with the difference for you due to source, perception, tolerance for imperfections, music, bitrate, perspective, and so much more, so this is a personal thing that only you can answer for yourself.  Some say there is little to no difference and the price premium isn't worth it, others say the opposite.  I know some very experienced people that believe there is a large enough difference to warrant the price increase.  I would say there is a law of diminishing returns, but for me that isn't necessarily the case with the expensive custom IEMs vs. the lower cost custom and/or universal IEMs.  Now, the difference between the lower cost custom IEMs is much smaller when compared with the top-tier universals.  So, yes, I am saying I hear what I term a large difference between the $500-$600 customs (and universals) and now the majority of my $1K+ custom IEMs.  The energy, resolution, recreation of the little things that add realism, enjoyment, and emotion to the music for me aren't necessarily a big step in overall performance, but a big step in the overall experience.

 

And in this, sources do matter, which is why I do source matching for each individual custom IEM and not just in general.  Each custom IEM has it's own source synergy and trying to find the best, or being able to sculpt the sound to your liking is a big part of the equation IMO.  But, whatever price range you can afford, there are some great custom IEMs out there that do more technically better than universals.  Don't miss |joker|s review thread.  I think he has reviewed more IEMs than anyone else on the planet, and he has one custom IEM (1964-T) so you can see how that ranks.

 

For some perspective, here is my full review of the AKG K3003 which includes many comparisons to custom IEMs.

 

Custom IEMs vs. headphones

Custom IEM performance is similar to headphone performance at the similar price points, however they both have a different presentation.  The biggest difference for me between lower priced headphones vs. IEMs is the left to right coherence and in-the-head presentation; headphones seem to have a disconnect from left to right while IEMs seem to be much more in my head to varying degrees depending on the headphone/IEM, price range, and source.  This might be something I could get used to with hours upon hours of listening to only one, but I have spend much more time with IEMs and have never listened to headphones only for an extended period of time.  As the price increases, my experience is that the presentation becomes closer and closer between the two, although headphones have a much wider presentation without better across my head coherence while custom IEMs bring the detail right to you with a more enveloping presentation. You can see how two of the customs below compare with headphones in my review of custom IEMs vs. high end headphones.  

 

I think it is important to mention headphones, especially the higher performance ones, require better amps to get the best sound reproduction.  Also, whatever presentation you are used to will make a difference.  If all you listen to is headphones and you go to an IEM, you may not like them because you are used to the different presentation, and vice versa.  I listened to my headphones every night for 2+ weeks before the above comparison even though I (especially now with 10 customs) rarely listen to my headphones.

 

Cost of customs

So, do customs cost the amount stated on a website?  Usually, there are additional costs associated with customs that can bring the total price up.  First, ear impressions form an audiologist run anywhere from $30 per pair to $100 from what I know.  Some companies such as Kozee Solutions and Alien Ears offer self impression kits to save some money, if desired.  Then, you must ship the impressions to the manufacturer.  International shipping takes longer and is generally more expensive.  If you are going to ship to a foreign country, if for some reason your ear impressions never make it there, you would have to do them again.  Most manufacturers add shipping to the cost of their customs, but not all.  All companies I have talked to do charge for international shipping as they want to make sure you receive your custom, and that cost falls on you.  What happens if you don't have a good seal or feel pain?  You need a refit, which again adds shipping charges, however this time the manufacturer usually picks up return shipping.  But you have to think about how to send a custom back for refit internationally, as I am sure you will want that package tracked!  

 

And, some parts of the world have customs charges.  I have heard of clever ways to avoid customs, such as send the ear pieces as "ear plugs" by themselves and then send the cable two weeks or so later.  Not that I am condoning that, but the possibility is there, as from what I know, some customs charges can be a third of the cost.  A JH16 would then cost $383 in customs charges.  Wow!  And then there is the cost of resale if you don't want them as you can be expected to take a loss of 40% or more depending on the demand and original cost.

 

Shell materials

Acrylic: Acrylic is a hard material that is smooth to the touch.  Acrylic shells are usually said to be more durable due to their hard properties, and easier to insert/remove than silicone.  However, they are usually a shell and not a full fill (EM3 Pro is not a shell, but solid acrylic), so they can break.  

Silicone: Silicone is a softer, more pliable material that is generally regarded as more difficult to work with for custom IEMs.  There are many different types of silicone, so the specific properties can't be summarized.  Silicone can discolor (white or clear) over time, and some say is more prone to shrink.  However, silicone does give better isolation than acrylic and is more comfortable.  Also, since it is pliable, it is said to be better for singers as they won't lose the seal when there are mouth movements.  Only one silicone custom manufacturer that I know of at this time, Sensaphonics, offers replaceable cables.  Some silicone can shrink, however Sensaphonics silicone does not shrink.  Spiral Ear is working on an anti-yellowing silicone which is in the testing phase.  Sensaphonics uses a harder silicone material compared with Spiral Ear and ACS.  Softer material can provide more isolation than harder material, however there are other factors such as canal length that play into isolation.

Vinyl tips: To my knowledge, only one custom manufacturer uses vinyl, and that is for the tip: Westone.  I have never used a Westone IEM, however, the comfort levels are said to be closer to silicone than acrylic. 

Filled acrylic: Some manufacturers such as Earsonics and Starkey Norway fill their shells, which provides more isolation and a change in sound properties.

 

Thread on silicone vs. acrylic

 

Answer from a custom manufacturer that makes both silicone and acrylic shells:

Silicone is a great choice for those that want to wear their customs for extended periods of time because it is so soft.  Also, because it is soft, it has much better shock resistance if accidentally dropped.  The nature of this material allows for better flexibility both inside and outside of the ear.  Its perfect for the average consumer.  Acrylic has better longevity and will hold up against time.  Being a hard material allows us to be able to add the option for detachable cords (but we are working on making this an option for silicone too).  Acrylic is easier to repair, tune, and also to make minor adjustments to sizing.  This is the material of choice for professional applications.

 

In my experience, silicone does isolate better and if there are fit issues, silicone is more forgiving, but still a fit issue is a fit issue and should be remedied.  I can wear both silicone and acrylic shells for extended periods of time if they fit properly and don't give an advantage in comfort to either.

 

Dynamic drivers vs. balanced armature drivers

There are two types of drivers that are used for IEM manufacture, dynamic drivers which work the same way a speaker in your car, home, TV, or just about everything else and balanced armature drivers which are used in hearing aids.  They both reproduce sound via different methods with different types of forces (Maxwell force for BAs vs. Lorentz force for dynamic drivers), which makes BAs more efficient in general.  Size wise, BAs are smaller than dynamic drivers and are more specialized in frequency response and are inherently non-linear, meaning they usually don't cover the entire frequency spectrum well, and therefore often many BA drivers are utilized with a passive crossover.  Dynamic drivers can reproduce a much wider frequency response in a linear fashion and are typically much larger than their BA counterparts.

 

A BA driver has a coil attached to an armature that is suspended within a magnetic field.  This armature is balanced so that when there is no force, it is in the neutral position.  The movement of the armature is translated to a membrane from the drive pin which is attached to both the armature and membrane.  So, there is a sort of lever action taking place.  A dynamic driver uses a coil suspended in a magnetic field, and the movements of the coil (voice coil) directly translate to movement of the membrane.  This is illustrated quite well here

 

While there is a wide range of performance and sound tuning available with both, they both do have different types of sound thanks to their different motion and sizes.  I am going to generalize, so this isn't the case with all the IEMs I have heard, but general trends.  Tuning plays a huge role in the final sound of any IEM, and a BA driver IEM can sound like it has a dynamic driver, and vice versa.  Balanced armatures in general are more precise, with a quicker possible attack and decay and less time to stop moving after a signal is applied.  Dynamic drivers in general have more capability to reproduce deep bass reverberations and have a note decay that in general sounds a little more realistic for whatever reason.  While I haven't heard all the dynamic driver custom IEMs, I have heard a large sampling of balanced armature driver custom IEMs and can say as the tuning gets better the gap between the two driver types decreases as the BAs have more bass and the dynamics have better control and speed.

 

As with most multi-driver speaker arrangement, multi-BA custom IEMs usually utilize crossovers.  Crossovers usually introduce phase issues, but there are ways to minimize this including more complex crossovers and specific design of the balanced armature drivers.  JHA has the JH-3A, which has been designed to eliminate the phase issues inherent with crossovers.

 

Essentially, it comes down to your sound preference.  If you like one sort of driver in a universal IEM, chances are you will like the same driver type in a custom IEM, however due to tuning and a potentially fairly significant increase in sound quality, crossing over shouldn't be a large issue.

 

Impressions

Notes from my experience: Impressions are critical to avoiding refits.  It is important that the audiologist follows the manufacturers directions and the impressions are deep.  If you are sending impressions overseas, it may be worth it to you to get 2 sets of impressions done either by different audiologist or by the same audiologist (if they will give you a discount).  This will allow you to pick the best and see if there are differences between the two.  Typically, acrylic shelled custom IEMs require an open mouth impression while silicone requires a closed mouth, but double check with the company that is making your custom IEMs.

 

The audiologist you choose should be familiar with taking impressions for customs, not just hearing aids.  Many companies recommend opened mouth with a bite block, but regardless, you should be relaxed and not talk when your mold is being made.  However, it seems that some audiologists have recommended people open and close their mouth during the impression process.  It appears there is no right or wrong way to do it, but I would get an impression the way the custom manufacturer recommends.  Detailed info on ear impressions: Earmolds and Hearing Aid Shells: A Tutorial Part 2: Impression-Taking Techniques that Result in Fewer Remakes  Things to consider before getting your custom IEM impressions done. The perfect fit.

 

Quote from JackKontney:

"The problem is that the ear canal changes shape as you move your jaw, so the impression is something of a compromise. That's not as big an issue with pliable earpieces like Sensaphonics soft-gel silicone, which flexes along with the canal to maintain its seal. With a hard material like acrylic, there's a greater chance of losing the seal.

 

Compounding the problem is the fact that everyone's ear canals are not only shaped differently, but can also behave differently during jaw movement. Some get a little wider, but some get narrower. In fact, it can go both ways for one person left vs right.

 

This is why you'll find different methodologies among various audiologists and manufacturers."

 

You can see my self-impression thoughts in this post.

 

Artwork

Customization of an earphone allows for the opportunity to also customize the artwork for many manufacturers.  There are levels of customization ranging from just shell color to complete customization of the canal color, shell color, backplate color and artwork.  Silicone shells usually have the least options, however Minerva can do some artwork.  Some companies that provide great artwork include Unique Melody, Earsonics, Hidition, 1964 Ears, JHA, and a special mention should be made of Heir Audio as the Wizard has created some spectacular artwork.  Below are some links to galleries.

Heir Audio Timber Line

Heir Audio Traditional Line

Unique Melody Gallery

JHA Gallery

Hidition Gallery

1964 Ears Gallery

Ultimate Ears Gallery

Earsonics Gallery (Facebook)

Compact Monitors (Facebook)

 

How long will it take for me to receive my custom IEM?

While every manufacturer is different, most have a 2-4 week turn time from when they receive the impressions in my experience and from reading.  Some models/manufacturers are quicker, for example the JH5 takes about a week from JH Audio, and some take longer depending on the product demand, such as a few of the companies with lower cost customs that have become popular on head-fi.  Each custom is hand made (see videos below) and don't always turn out right the first time.  It has been reported that the actual manufacture process of the shell doesn't take a long time, but testing and tuning can.  Reshells can take just as long as the original build.  Expect a 1-2 month wait from when you decide to get your customs, but sometimes you may be surprised!

 

Proper fit and refits

It is important to have a proper fit with your custom, just like it is important to use the best tips for your universal.  With an improper fit, the sound will not be ideal.  How to test for a good fit/seal:

Sensaphonics Audio Seal Test

Identify areas of pain from the fit thanks to UE (wait a few seconds, then click #2)

Before you buy, it is best to check how long the company offers reshells for fit issues.  It is typically 30 days, but some companies offer longer periods of time.  If you do have fit issues, it is recommended to contact the manufacturer sooner rather than later and get the process started.  Return shipping to the manufacturer is usually paid by the customer.

 

Cables - Aftermarket Cable Thread

Customs either come with permanently attached cables, or replaceable cables.  Custom manufacturers or reshell houses can usually repair broken cables when they are not detachable.  Stated possible issues a few custom manufacturers told me are that the jack in the shell can degrade over time due to sweat and other environmental conditions leading to signal degradation.  After market cables can offer sonic changes and/or improvement to the sound of some customs, but it can be beneficial to match the cable with the particular headphone.  Silver (solid silver, not coated silver) is the best conductor and many (including myself) have noted audible improvements in treble, clarity, and spaciousness.  Cable ergonomics should not be overlooked as well since that can make or break the user experience; it doesn't matter how good a cable sounds if it has poor ergonomics and you hate using it!  Clear cables usually turn green over time, as shown below with the EM3 Pro cable.

 

Cables - labeled.JPG

 

 

Connectors (for replaceable cables)

There are several different connectors available, but there seems to be two prevalent pin configurations: UE style and Westone style.  The Westone style is also the JH Audio, Earsonics styles, 1964 ears, and Kozee.  There are other pin configurations from companies such as Sensaphonics and Fidelity.

 

CustomsPins.jpg

From left to right: Stock Earsonics cable, Whiplash Elite TWag v2 with Westone style pinout, [Pearl Ver.2]Upgrade Cable for Ultimate ears, stock UE TF10 cable

 

The TF10 pins have a slightly smaller diameter than the Westone style pins.

 

lwblackdrumed.jpg   607987.jpg  

Livewires with rotating connector                                                  Sleek replacement cable                                                                                 

 

LL Sensaphonics cable system attaches with a small nylon pan-head screw that is secured to a small circuit borad within the ear piece, virtually eliminating the chance of a cable detaching from the earphone during a performance.

 

Recessed (EM3 Pro) vs. flush (Infinity X3) connectors (from left to right: cable installed, pins barely inserted, side view of jacks, another view of jacks)

IMG_2660.JPG IMG_2662.JPG IMG_2664.JPG IMG_2666.JPG

 

Recessed connectors offer more strength at the plug/jack and have a lower chance of coming loose in my experience.  I have not had issues with my flush jacks, but I am not rough on my equipment.

 

Take care of your custom IEM

UE Technical Troubleshooting Guide (wait a few seconds, then click the Technical Troubleshooting Guide link).  Simple, keep them clean and out of harms way.  Use the cleaning tools to remove wax from the nozzles and don't use harsh chemicals to clean the shells.  When I travel, I keep my customs protected in the pouch/case they came in as, which not a big issue for normal use, but an acrylic shell can break.  I have a friend that sold a reshelled TF10 and one of the shells cracked in transport, but luckily the internal components were OK.

 

It has been recommended to me that a dehumidifier be used to ensure longevity of your custom IEMs.  This will remove moisture that can damage the divers and discolor silicone shells over time.  I will update with my experience soon.

 

Changes to your ears over time - the need for remolds

Ear canal shape changes over time?  It seems to be the case.  How much change is there?  Enough to require a remould? Here is a response from a UE audiologist I know to my questions:

Question: Do ear canal sizes/shapes continuously change, requiring reshells every few years?  If so, is there an explanation as to why?  Many people need refits with customs; what have you seen to be the reasons?  Something wrong with the initial impression, something during the custom making process, etc. 

Answer, Audiologist A: "The ear canals and outer ear normally don't change dimensions frequently but over several years the fit does change. It is usually due to, in part, a significant change in weight; loss of weight creates a looser fit. Our tissues change in their firmness over time too so the monitors can loosen up. As I mentioned in an earlier email. silicone shrinks over time, but if the monitor is made of acrylic as many are, the above issues can change the fit. The original impression can also be a significant factor in the long/short term longevity of the fit. If the original impression material shrank during the curing process the monitors will inherently have slit leaks. Silicone shrinks less than the older liquid/powder impression material that silicone replaced. Some individuals may still use the older impression materials. It is also possible that use of the bite block results in a slightly tighter fit in the canal when the jaw is closed. As I had said earlier, I don't use bite blocks in my practice except for the impressions I take for Ultimate Ears. For hearing aid fittings it doesn't seem to make a difference. But music is wide band and in conjunction with normal hearing a small slit leak can surface with a noticeable loss of bass; hence the need for a remake for a tighter fit. It is also possible that the manufacturing process that results in the custom shell, having several steps that induce slight differences from the original impression, might result in a less than perfect fit. There really are so many variables as you can see."

Answer, Audiologist B:  "Yes, our ears do change a little, but not enough for a reshell every 2-3 years.  To be honest it differs with everyone and there isn't really a
set time you can put on it.  Realistically, your customs should last you at least 5 years and might still be good in 10 years.  The only time I would recommend getting a reshell is if the current shell is uncomfortable or doesn't fit.  The ears do change with weight gain/loss, too
."

 

Ambient vents

An ambient vent is available from many custom manufacturers and allows outside sounds in but usually degrades the sound.  Ambient vents are typically used for stage performers so they can hear the audience.  Sensaphonics has an active system, the Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient system, that does not have vents but rather captures ambience by using embedded miniature microphones at each ear to form a binaural pickup system with natural directionality. The ambience is blended to taste with the source material in the system's bodypack mixer-amp.  DRM Earz has a self contained active ambient system that uses microphones in each ear piece along with a volume control and battery.

 

Articles

Inside Ultimate Ears Lab.  Here is part one of the video series, not too much information.  Thanks High_Q

iLounge Article: Why Custom Earphones Cost So Much: Inside Ultimate Ears’ Labs

Video from 1964 Ears showing the steps of making customs starting at 1:10

 

Notes from my personal experiences

- It takes some use for the shells of my custom IEMs to get a layer of lubrication on them, with the exception of the TS842 which seemed to have something on it already.  The silicone shells were the most difficult to get in and using a lubricant did help a good deal with insertion at the beginning.  The acrylic shells take less time, but can still use help.  Before this happens it is harder to get a perfect seal upon every insert.

- I have had slight discomfort with some of my custom IEMs, but over time my ears have adjusted.  If there is minor discomfort, give it a week of on and off use and see if it still bothers you.

 

average_joe is an audio entusiast that enjoys great gear and seeing how things stack up.  If you like this please share the link on social media.  Google+ profile Facebook page Twitter account


Edited by average_joe - 2/19/13 at 9:56pm
post #3 of 4040
Thread Starter 

Custom Manufacturers

 

 

USA

Company

Models

Detachable Cable

Shells

Country

Contact

Notes

Warranty/Refit

(click for website)

(# of drivers, # of ways*)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caution - Customer Service Issues

 

Kozee Sound Solutions

Infinity X1(1,1) $139.95

Silicone = no, acrylic = yes

Silicone; Executive option ($50) for acrylic

USA

Adam Palmquist

Reshells; free impression kit - TF10 reshell full review here (beware)

1-year material/hardware warranty / 90 day fit

Infinity X2(2,2) $299.95

Infinity X3(3,2) $569.95 - reviewed here

DRM Earz

DRM-1X (1,1) - $245

Yes

Acrylic

USA

sales@drmearz.com

LOW END CHAMBER (LEC) is now available standard (X indicates the LEC)

$30 for recessed sockets

 

Mitch has proven to have exceptional customer service

1 year warranty / 30 days for fit

DRM-2X (2,2) - $325

DRM-XSP (1,1) - $350 - mic/ambient system

 

AUD-5X (5,4) - $565 - Reviewed

AUD-6X (6,3) - $665

AUD-7X (7,4) - $765

AUD-8X (8,4) - $865

JH Audio

JH5 Pro(2,2) $399 

Yes

Acrylic

USA

Brittany

 

2 year warranty / 30 days for fit

JH7 Pro(3,2) $699 

JH10 Pro(3,2) $799 

JH10x3(3,3) $799

JH11 Pro(4,3) $850 (on sale)

JH13 Pro(6,3) $1,099 

JH16 Pro(8,3) $1,149 - Reviewed

Starkey Labs/Tunz

Duo S (2,2)

Yes (but not all)

Acrylic

USA

 

Starkey Labs in the US; Tunz is not the same as the Norway products, but may start selling the SA-43

Worry free warranty (1 year)

Trio (3,)

Trio B (3,) B = bass boost

Trio XB (3,) XB = extreme bass boost

Sensaphonics

ProPhonic 2X-S(2,2) $750

Yes

Silicone

USA

Jack Kontney on head-fi

 

1 year warranty / 30 day fit

2MAX(2,2) $850 - more sensitive 2X-S

3MAX(3,2) $1050

3DAA-1(1,1) - active ambient $2,000

3DAA-2(2,1) - active ambient $2,500 (6 dB more headroom)

Ultimate Ears

UE 1 Pro(2,2) $449

Yes

Acrylic

USA

 

 

1 year shell and internal components / 30 days fit

UE 4 Pro(2,) $399

UE 5 Pro(2,2) $600

UE 7 Pro(3,2) $850

UE 11 Pro(4,3) $1,150

UE 18 Pro(6,3) $1,350

UE IERM(3,3) $999 - Reviewed

UE Personal Reference Monitor (5,3) $1,999

Westone

CR1(1,1) $289

Yes

Vinyl, acrylic, hybrid

USA

Music@Westone.com

 

1 year warranty / 90 days refit

AC1(1,1) $299

AC2(2,2) $399

ES1(1,1) $375

ES2(2,) $650

ES3(3,3) $800

ES3X(3,3) $850

ES5(5,3) $900

Unique Melody US / Beat Audio (Wan Xuan) (custom-iem.com)

Marvel(2,2) $449

Yes

German UV material

USA (made in China)

stephenguo@live.com

Remolds; known for exceptional workmanship

1 year warranty / 30 day refit; 2 year/ 60 day for Merlin & Miracle; 1-year for the wx i9pro

Aero(3,2) $519

Mage(4,3) $629

Miracle(6,3) $929

Merlin (single dynamic, 4 BAs,3) $779

Beat Audio WX I9Pro $669 Reviewed

Platform Pure 6 (6,3) + DAC/active crossover/amp - $2,280

1964 Ears

1964-S(1,1) $200

Yes

Acrylic; silicone available

USA

Vitaliy Belo

Reshells

1 year warranty for shell and internals / 30 day refit

1964-D(2,2) $350

1964-T(3,2) $350

1964-Q(4,3) $500

1964-V3 (3,3) $425 (new for 2012)

Clear Tune Monitors

CTM (1,1) $200

Yes

Acrylic; CTM - silicone

USA

Cesar Milano

Reshells

1 year limited warranty / 120 day refit

CT-100 (1,1) $250

CT-200 (2,2) $350

CT-300 Pro (3,2) $450

CT-400 Pro (4,3) $600

CT-500

Alien Ears

AES10/AE1/C1000(1,1) $200/$160/$189

C series

Acrylic; AES10 - silicone

USA

sales@alienears.com

Reshells; free impression kit

 

There have been reported customer service issues

1 year warranty on the shell and internals / 90 days fit / 10 day trial

AE2/C2 Pro(2,2) $300/$345

AE3/C3 Pro(3,2) $355/$395

FR-AE3/FR-C3(3,3) $355/$395

ASQ4/SQ4(4,3) $600/$650

G12 (6,4) - $700

G10 (5,5?) - $600

G8 (4,3) - $550

Ear Inc

Z1 Monitors(1,1) $350

Yes, swivel or prong connectors available

Acrylic

USA

 

 

1 year material and workmanship warranty / 60 day fit

Z2 Monitors(2,2) $495

Z3 Monitors(3,2) $700

Z5 Monitors(5,3) $1,000

Earsound

Maestroz SD(1,1) $249

No

Acrylic, 24K gold plating available

USA

info@earsound.com

 

1 year warranty

Maestroz DD(2,?) $389

Yes

Maestroz TD(3?) $589

Fidelity - Major issues with the company...beware

Duals(2,2) $259

Yes

Acrylic

USA

Form on website

Many people have had issues with Fideity

1 year warranty on shell and components, 30 days on cable

2X3(3,2) $319

Triples(3,3) $379

Quads(4,4) $589

Future Sonics

mg5pro(1 dynamic - 10mm,1) $748

Yes

Acrylic or acrylic w/ soft silicone canal (add $65)

USA

 info@futuresonics.com

Upgrade service and  basic acrylic fit adjustments @ $199; Gold/chrome plating is available

1 Year warranty / 30 day fit for acrylic; 90 day warranty / 30 day fit for soft canal

mg6pro(1 dynamic - 13mm, 1) $898

Livewires

Original(2,2) $249

Yes

Acrylic

USA

sales@mylivewires.com

 

?

Trips(3,3) $379

Microsonic Music

JC

Yes

 

USA

 

 

 

X (more bass)

Sleek Audio

CT6(1,1) $399.99

Yes

Acrylic

USA

customs@sleek-audio.com

 

 

CT7(2,) $699.99

Got Ears®

Challenger(1,1) $198

Yes

Acrylic?

USA

 

Impression kit

 

Challenger Pro 1000(1,1) $300

Challenger Pro 6500(2,2) $650

Alclair

Road Master 2000 (2,1) - $299

Stage Master Duals (2,2) - $399

Reference (3,3) - $499 - Reviewed

Crank Master 3000 (3,2) - $499

RSM (4,3) - $699

Yes Acrylic USA marc@alclair.com   1 year warranty, 30 day refit
ACS

T1 (3,3) - $999

T2 (2,2) - $799

T3 (1,1) - $479

T1 Live! (3,3) $1,199- Reviewed

T2 Live! (2,2) $999

No, Yes for live Silicone USA Contact page   1 year warranty, 30 day refit
Altec Lansing

A3 (3,3) $999.95

A2 (2,2) $749.95

A1 (1,1) $499.95

No Silicone USA   Made by ACS, tuned by Altec Lansing per the marketing contact  
Aurisonics

AS-1 (15mm dynamic) $399

a option (ambient) +$100

b option (ambient + bass adjust) +$200

c option (cables down) + $50

AS-2 (1 dynamic, 2 BA, 2) - $

Yes Acrylic USA in-ear@aurisonics.com   1 year warranty, 90 day fit
Fit-Ear

PS-5 (5,3) $1650

PS-3 (3,3) $1300

PS-2 (2,2) $700

PS-1 (1,1) $500

MPD-3 (3,3) + ambient $1850

MPD-2 (2,2) + ambient $1750

MPD-1 (1,1) + ambient $1650

Yes Acrylic USA mark @fit-ear.com   1 year warranty, 30 days fit
In-Earz Audio (Fisher Hearing Technologies)

IE-100 Sport Single (1,1) $149

IE – P150 Pro Single (1,1) $335

IE-P250 Pro Dual (2,2) $435

IE-P350 Pro Triple (3,3) $535

IE-P450 Pro Quad (4,3) $635

IE-P550 Pro Five (5,4) $735

IE-P650 Pro Six (6,3) $835

IE-P750 Pro Seven

IE-P850 Pro Eight (8,4) $1035

Yes except IE-100 Acrylic except IE-100, which is silicone USA   Same as Dream Earz? Reshells  
Gorilla Ears

GX (Performer Series)

GX-1 (1,1) $349

GX-2 (2,2) $399

GX-2b (2,2) $449

GX-3 (3,3) $699

GX-3b (3,) $849

GX-5 (5,3) $1049

Yes Acrylic USA      

Europe

Company 

Models

Detachable Cable

Shells

Country

Contact

Notes

Warranty/Refit

(click for website)

(# of drivers, # of ways*)

 

 

 

 

 

 

EarSonics

EM1-iFl(1,1) 326€ excl tax

Yes

Solid Acrylic

France

Franck Lopez

 

1 Year warranty (except cable)

EM2-iFl(2,2) 476,68€ excl tax

EM2-Pro(2,2) 618,73€ excl tax

EM3-Pro (3,2) 744,15€ excl tax - review

EM4 (4,3) 890€ - review

EM6 (6,3) 940€

Ear Power

EP-10(single dynamic, 1)

No

Thermo Plastic

Italy

Sergio Pantanella

Can tune the sound; website in Italian only

1 Year warranty / 30 day refit

EP-10 Plus(single dynamic, 2 BAs, 3) 700 €  - review in the first post

Fabs-fabulous earphones

Fabs-fabulous earphones (3, 2) 550 € in EU, 450 € outside EU review here

No

Acrylic or Stainless Steel

Germany

Claus Zapletal

Many cable options including Mic/remote cable; stainless steel housing

1 Year warranty

Spiral Ear

SE 2-way Pro (2,2) € 339

Yes (add + 70 Euros)

Silicone

Poland

Grzegorz Baran

Reshells

1 year warranty / 30 days for fit with 2 free refits

 

SE 3-way Reference (3,3)  € 595

SE 4-way Reference (4,4)  € 769

SE 5-way Reference (5,5)  1199 - review

SE 3-way Pro (3,3) € 869

SE1-way Pro (1,1) € 215

 ACS (Advanced Communication Solutions)

T3(1,1) £249

No

Silicone

UK

info@hearingprotection.co.uk 

 

1 year warranty / 30 days for fit

T2(2,2) £499

T1(3,3) £649

T2 Live (2,2) £579

T1 LIve! (3,3 )£699 - reviewed

ACS has offices worldwide

Minerva

Mi-1(1,1) £152.17

No

Silicone

UK

Online form

Reshell service;

Plating (Gold , silver, titanium); Neutrik connectors; laser etching (color); more available (see product pages)

1 Year Warranty/30 day refit

Mi-2(2,2) £254.29

Mi-3(3,3) £395 - review here

M-Fidelity

(formerly Starkey Norway)

HF-2 (2,2) - canal size & phone cable

SA-11i (1,1) - NOK 3460

Yes, for an extra amount (NOK 248) - note, prices to the left are w/ detachable cable

Acrylic

Norway

monitor@starkey.no

Have optional bass and treble switches on some models;check here for more information

2 Year Warranty / 30 day refit

SA-12 (2,2) - NOK 3568 - reviewed

SA-22 (2,2) - NOK 4408

SA-22 Akustik (2,2) - NOK 4808

SA-32 (3,2) - NOK 4808

SA-32 LIVE (3,2) - NOK 4808

SA-33 -  5248 w/ detachable cable

SA-43 (4,3) NOK 5648 ($1,048) - reviewed

Starkey UK

Duo S (2,2)

Yes

Acrylic

UK

 

Starkey Labs in the UK; Tunz is not the same as the Norway products, but may start selling the SA-43

 

Trio (3,)

Trio B (3,) B = bass boost

Trio XB (3,) XB = extreme bass boost

Unique Melody UK

Marvel (2,2) £335

Yes

German UV material

UK (made in China)

UM is in China and has dealers in the US, UK, and AU.  See appropriate link under Company <--

Remolds; known for exceptional workmanship

1 year warranty / 30 day refit; 2 year/ 60 day for Merlin

Aero (3,2) £375

Mage (4,3) £475

Miracle (6,3) £675

Merlin (single dynamic, 4 BAs,3)  £575

Compact Monitors

Stage 1(1,1) 519 €

Yes

Acrylic with silicon tip option

Germany

info@compact-monitors.de

 

?

Stage 2(2,2) 769 €

Stage 3(3,2) 999 €

Stage 4(4,3) 1239 €

Puretone Music

Flex-1 (1,1) - £299

Flex = No; Classic = Yes

Flex = Silicone; Classic = Acrylic

UK

Find a local dealer in the UK

Flex series appears to have the cable down, not over the ear.

 

Flex-2 (2,2) - £549

Flex-3 (3,3) - £649

Online email form

Classic-1 (1,1) - £499

Classic-2 (2,2) - £599

Classic-3 (3,3) - £699

Ambient acoustics

АМ1 (1,1) 2000UAH

Yes, 400 UAH more

Acrylic

Ukraine

shop@ambient-acoustics.com.ua

Reshells for 1300UAH 

1 year warranty, 30 day refit 

АМ2 (2,2) 3000UAH

AM2 Pro (2,2) 3000UAH

AM3 (3,2) 3500UAH

AM3 Pro (3,3) 3700UAH

AM4 (4,3) 4200UAH

AM4 Pro (4,3) 4200UAH

Insono

EarBack Music Single (1,1) €435

 

 

France

 No longer in business from what I have read

 

 

EarBack Music Dual (2,2) €635

EarBack Music 3T SBass (3,?) €835

Variphone (Westone)

ES1

ES2

ES3

ES3X

ES5

    Belgium      
Earproof

T15 (1,1) € 199.00 including VAT

T3i AKA Hybrid (2,2) € 599.00 (canal size)

T2pro AKA Precious (2,2) € 899.00

OEM2 single channel (2,2) € 699.00

No Silicone Netherlands info@earproof.com    
Hearwave

S1 Customs (1,) £140

S2 Customs (2,) £220

No Silicone UK email   1 year warranty
Frogbeats

C3 (3,3) £425 $730 €587

C4 (4,3) £560 $861 €691

C5 (5,3) £660 $1014 €815

Yes Acrylic UK      
Lime Ears

LE2 (2,2) 339€

LE3 (3,3) 469€

LE4 (4,?) Coming soon

Yes Acrylic Poland   Reshells (BAs only) - 149€  
Cosmic Ears

Pure (1,1) dynamic or BA £65

Sport (1,1) dynamic or BA £75

Flex £65

HY3 (1 dynamic, 2 BA, 3) £190

Yes Acrylic Sweden info@cosmicears.com    
Audiolab Systems       Germany      
In Ear

Live Pro 1 (1,1) 398,00 €

Live Pro 2 (2,2) 548,00 €

Live Pro 4 (4,3) 998,00 €

Yes Acrylic Germany      
Ultimate Hearing Protection Systems

Soundear (1,1) £170

Soundear Pro2 (2,2) £475

Soundear Pro3 (3,3) £625

No Silicone UK      
Proguard Hearing Protection P2+1 (3,2): £300 Yes Acrylic UK      

Asia

Company

Models

Detachable Cable

Shells

Country

Contact

Notes

Warranty/Refit

(click for website)

(# of drivers, # of ways*)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fitear

 

Private 222 (2,2) ¥78,750

Private 223(3,2) ¥94,500

Yes

Acrylic

Japan

4133@suyama.co.jp

 

?

Private 333(3,3) ¥115,500

Private C111 (1,1) ¥52,500

Private C323 (3,3) ¥126,00

Private C435 (5,4) ¥157,500

MH334 (3,4) ¥147,000

Pro Audio 334 (4,3)

Pro Audio 335DW (5,3)

Pro Audio 335 (5,3)

Pro Audio 222 (2,2)

HFi International

Loose original custom driver IEM 6(6,3) 87,000 Yen

Yes

Acrylic

Japan

 japanhfi@gmail.com

Remolds with added drivers:

 

Luce Custom IEM original eight drivers(8,4) 102,000 Yen ~ $1227

 

LS8+

LS5X

+ 1 driver31,500 Yen

Sell many models including Rooth...

+3 drivers51,000 Yen

+ 5 drivers  78,000 Yen

Rooth LAB 

(official website)

LS8 (8,4) - $1030 - summary in first post, review here 

Yes

Acrylic

China

rooth@live.cn

reshells 

LS5X, LS8+ through HFI only

2 Year Warranty / 60 day refit

LS6 (6,3) - $830

LS5 (5,3) - 

LS4 (4,3) - $640

LS3 (3,2) - $529

LS2 (2,2) - $410

LS5X (single dynamic, 4 BA,3-way)

Thousand Sound

TS222 (2,2) 1950  - $300

Yes

Acrylic

China

gdxugh@live.cn

 

now accept international orders for custom IEMs, but not reshells

Reshell service - $100  excellent quality shells (China only?)

 

TS322 (3,2) 2950  - $450

TS333 (3,3) 2950  - $450

TS432 (4,3?) 3550  - $540

TS433 (4,3) 3650 - $556

TS842 (single 8mm dynamic, single BA, 2) 3350  - $510 - summary above, review here

TS853 (single dynamic, 4 BAs,3) ~ $800

Unique Melody

Marvel(2,2) $449

Yes

German UV material

China

UM is in China and has dealers in the US, UK, and AU.  See appropriate link under Company <--

Reshell service - $160; known for exceptional workmanship

1 year warranty / 30 day refit; 2 year/ 60 day for Merlin

Aero(3,2) $519

Mage(4,3) $629

Miracle(6,3) $929

Merlin (single dynamic, 4 BAs,3) $779

Platform Pure 6 (6,3) $2300

Gui Ling custom headset (G Customs) / The Audio Hub

CX2 (2,2) 1680 

Yes

Acrylic

China (G Customs), Singapore & Australia (Audio Hub)

x_game168@hotmail.com

theaudiohub@gmail.com

Only take orders in Asia & Australia to keep 2 week turn time and exceptional customer service

Reshell service

 

CX-3i (3,2) 2580 

CX5 (5,3) 4280 

CX6 (6,3) 4680 

CX8 (8,4) 5680 

Wan Xuan / Beat Audio (see custom-iem.com under US)

wx i9 (1 dynamic, 1) 3399

wx i9pro (1 dynamic, 1) 3999 - review 

Yes Acrylic China wanxuanid@163.com (or custom-iem.com in the US) Dynamic driver custom IEMs 1-year, 30 day refit
Hidition

NT-1 (1,1) - 341,000 WON inc. VAT

NT Recording Masters (3,2) - 737,000 WON inc. VAT

NT6 (6,4) - 1,188,000 inc. VAT(~$1116 USD)  -  review

NT6 Pro (6,5) - 1,232,000 WON inc. VAT (~$1157 USD)

Yes Acrylic Korea help@hidition.co.kr   1-year, 30 day refit
Stage 93

93-Trio - $546 SGD

93-Quads - $680 SGD

Stage 6 - $911 SGD ($757 USD)

Yes Acrylic Singapore   Reshells  
Heir Audio

3.A (3,3) $350

4.A (3,4) $450

6.A (3,6) $899

8.A (4,8) $1099 - review

Yes Acrylic China

General email

Reshells - $180; amazing artwork 1 Year; Over-haul and upgrade program available; ownership transfer service
Lear

LCM-1B, LCM-1F, LCM-1C (1,1) HKD 1998 ($300)

LCM-2B, LCM-2F, LCM-2C (2,?) HKD 2998

LCM-3B, LCM-3F, LCM-3C (3,?) HKD 3998 ($515)

LCM-5 (5,3) HKD 6888 ($890)

Yes

Acrylic Hong Kong general email Tuning: B = bass, C = crystal clear, F = flat; also make amps 1 Year
Soundcat Reseller of multiple brands     Korea      
Tralucent 1 plus 2 hybrid (single 10mm dynamic, 2 BA,3) $880 Yes Acrylic China tralucentaudio@gmail.com    
Rhapsodio

R^2 (2,) $400

RDB (3,3) $600

Yes Acrylic Hong Kong   Custom versions only available in Hong Kong at this time  
Canal Works     Acrylic Japan   PSTS model allows you to change the sound by changing resistors on the faceplate  

Other parts of the World

Company

Models

Detachable Cable

Shells

Country

Contact

Notes

Warranty/Refit

(click for website)

(# of drivers, # of ways*)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Xtreme Ears

XE1/Pro(1,1) - $1,100

Yes

Acrylic; acrylic with thermosoft tip portion

Brazil

Gisele Goldstein

Focuses on South America/Brazil   Thermosoft = vinyl?

3 months for manufacturing defects

XE2/Pro(2,2) - $1,600

XE3/Pro (3,2) - $1,900

XE3/Ref (3,3) - $2,400

XE4/Pro (4,3) - $2,600 BRL ($1,600 USD)

Audiologic Ltd Dual driver to 6 driver?     Israel Contact Page    

 


Edited by average_joe - 2/26/13 at 7:22am
post #4 of 4040
Thread Starter 

Review Process and Disclaimer

 

First, I feel it is important to know about your reviewer, especially if you are going to spend a good amount of money on something that doesn't have a high resale value.  It is important to know what is the reviewer used to, how much experience do they have, and what process did the person use for their review.  My perspective and owning many other CIEMs in various price ranges usually makes my reviews a little more matter of fact with a less praise.  I try not to hype anything but bring the accurate picture of strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, sound signatures.  Please make buying decisions off the sound signature you like, not what seems like it performs the best from comparisons as at this level, everything sounds quite good unless otherwise noted.  Technically, some CIEMs may perform better than others, but if you don't have the other CIEM for comparison, chances are you won't hear the issues, however if you choose the wrong sound signature for your ears, you will be disappointed in the sound long term.  For example, if you like a brighter sound such as the CK10 and JH16, you may not like the SE 5-way, and conversely, if you like the ES5 you may not like a Hidition product regardless of how they perform technically.

 

Next, please note that my reviews are how I hear the equipment with my sources and music; not everyone hears things the same way.  I spend time to find the best source for the custom IEM from the multiple sources I have and base my review off of that.  Plus, I have select well mastered tracks I know quite well for my listening.  Also, there can variation between units due to fit.

 

Review Process

The first thing I usually do once I receive something is open it and try to remember to take pictures, otherwise I have to clean the buildup of cerumen off.  The next thing is to do some preliminary listening tests, so I will grab whatever source is nearest to me with my test tracks and start listening.  I do believe in burn in as I have heard changes in equipment when comparing with other, well used equipment, including the loudness of test tones, leading me to believe there are changes taking place with at least some gear.  Therefore, I either just listen until I think things are in a steady state or let music play between one and two weeks, but more often than not I am reviewing something else so it just sits.

 

Before I start my critical review listening, I will use my different sources to determine synergy and listen at different volumes to determine volume performance.  Once I am ready to do my critical listening, I know the best source to use for the review unit and know any volume strengths/weaknesses.  Then I listen to the unit under review casually and critically for usually at least a week as my main custom IEM, but do switch off between my other custom IEMs from time to time.  When I do my critical listening I load up my test tracks and (listed below) and A/B with my other custom IEMs and possibly universal IEMs and my headphones over several days/nights (mostly).  I try to listen with the same source and also the best source for each headphone to pit the best vs. the best combo, and I often take notes of my listening experiences.  When I start writing the sound review part of my reviews, I will have a very good idea of what I want to write but will do some additional comparisons to validate.   

 

My A/B technique consists of listening to a small portion (5-10 seconds) of a song and then swapping headphones, and I try to keep the time between swaps as small as possible.  I A/B between two headphones at a time, figure out the differences, and then use the same song with the next headphone.  Each headphone is swapped back and forth until I feel I have a good handle on the differences/strengths/weaknesses.  I take notes along the way and once I am done, I convert my notes into the review.  If there is anything I feel needs more listening, I do so to get it right.  I then take additional pictures for the review, proof it, and publish it.  A single A/B CIEM comparison usually takes me between 30 minutes and 1 hour.

 

Comparing sources is a pain in the you know what.  I have to find the same song on all my sources and then I usually test more than one, so I have to keep song matching.  Comparing amps is easier since I can use one source and just swap the amps.

 

I do interact with many of the manufacturers to find out additional information that I include in my reviews and do bring up issues I have with the manufacturer.  

 

And check out my thoughts on reviewers bias.

 

Sources: As for sources, my comparisons are made with the best sources as are my sound descriptions.  I have found the differences between top tier and lower tier/universal IEMs to be smaller most of the time with entry level equipment, and also some CIEMs perform worse with lower end sources than others.

 

Music: Below are some of my test tracks along with what I focus on with each song and the compression/bitrate

 

Chemical Brothers - Coachella 2011 (24-48 torrent) - this track will let you "experience" the concert like you are in the crowd.  Due to the 24 bit recording, the bass will test the dynamic range of your headphones and you should be able to hear the crowd all around you, sometimes at quite a distance.  It is really something to hear, even if you don't care for the music.  And I must say, this is not rendered by many CIEMs I have all that well.

 

Michelle - Vincent (female vocal) FLAC

Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphonie Nr. 9 D-moll op. 125 1. Allego ma non troppo, un poco maestoso (Classical) FLAC

Focal - The Boy Who Stole The Blues (acoustic) FLAC

Armin Van Buuren - Imagine (rhythm and pace) FLAC

David Guetta Feat. Akon - Sexy Bitch (hip hop/poor master) FLAC

Chris Jones - Long After You're Gone (acoustic) FLAC

Sarah Menescal - Don't Speak (female vocal) FLAC

Erich Kunzel Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - The Pink Panther (orchestral) FLAC

Balmorhea - Context (ambiance) FLAC

Balmorhea - Baleen Morning (ambiance/piano) FLAC

Queensryche - Silent Lucidity remastered (pop) FLAC

Perc - Bosworth (background detail) 320K

Aerosmith - Dream On (rock) 192K

Alicia Keys - Fallin (female vocal/poor master) 192K

Andrelli - Transparent [Tritonal's Air Up There Remix] (space) 320K VBR

Apocalyptica - On The Rooftop With Quasimodo (instrumental) 320K

ATB - 107 - Made Of Glass (overall presentation) FLAC

Blondie - Heart Of Glass remaster (pop) 320K

Blue Rodeo - 5 Days In May (male vocal) FLAC

Chamillionaire - Industry Groupie (R&B) 320K VBR

Christina Aguilera - Fuss (female vocal) FLAC

Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (deep bass) FLAC

Danilo Perez - Think of One (jazz) FLAC

Dead Kennedys - California Über Alles (acoustic/attack) FLAC

Eminem - Run, Rabbit Run (rap) 320K VBR

Enigma - Callas Went Away (space/details) FLAC

Epica - Indigo (details) 320K VBR

Eric Clapton - Layla (deep bass/live presentation) 320K

Everything But the Girl - Two Star (poor mastering) 320K VBR

Flo Rida Feat T-pain - Low (R&B bass) 320K VBR

Grieg - Concerto in A minor for Piano & Orchestra I Allegro molto moderato (piano/classical) FLAC

Guns N' Roses - You Could Be Mine (rock) 320K

In this moment - all for you (metal/poor master) 320K VBR

James Horner - You don't dream in cryo (bass/space) FLAC

Jason Mraz - Sunshine Song (live/space) FLAC

Morphine - Lets Take A Trip Together (jazz/space) 192K

Neko Case - Vengeance Is Sleeping (acoustic/space) 192K

Nightwish - Wish I Had An Angel (speed metal) FLAC

NIN - The Four of Us are Dying (space) 16 bit/96K FLAC

NINJA - Chip Away (drums) FLAC

Oingo Boingo - We Close Our Eyes (average sounding pop) 320K

OneRepublic - Apologize (male vocal) 192K

Pendulum - Slam (D&B) FLAC

Pink Floyd - Time (gotta love Pink Floyd) FLAC

Prey For Nothing - Summoning Sickness (instrumental) 320K VBR

Queen - Forever (piano) FLAC

Seal - Crazy (Accoustic) (male vocal/live) FLAC

Sevendust - Too Close to Hate (treble/metal) 320K VBR

The Beach Boys - In My Room (male vocals) 128K

The Eagles - Hotel California (live) (live/drum decay) FLAC

The Police - Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (cymbals) FLAC

Van Halen - Dance The Night Away (rock/space) FLAC

Virtual Barbershop (space presentation) 192K

VooDoo & Serano - Blood Is Pumpin' (bass impact) 320K VBR

Yes - It Can Happen (rock) FLAC

EnMass - CQ (Seek You) (space) FLAC

GLM - Run To You [Feat. Randolph] [Maurizio Gubellini Remix] (dance) 320K VBR

Garth Brooks - The Thunder Rolls (country) FLAC

Metallica - Dyers Eve (metal) FLAC

Joji Hirota & the Taiko Drummers - Harvest (percussion) FLAC

Billy Idol - Prodical Blues (sub-bass rumble) FLAC

Chemical Brothers live at Coachella (spaciousness, ambiance, and overall bass capability) 24 bit FLAC

 

My Perspective/Previous Reviews

Since I primarily listen to high end sources and CIEMs, I am not easily impressed.  Most of the things I review sound amazing without comparing them to anything else, but when I A/B, that is where the flaws really pop out at me.  The negatives I point out will, in general, not be an issue for many people.  I try to identify weaknesses and sound signatures so you the reader can figure out what you are and are not getting because at this level it is more about matching your preference than something performing well.

 

Here is a list of my previous reviews (custom reviews linked in first post):

$1K headphones vs. customs

Earsonics SM3 Appreciation Thread - Third Time is a Charm?

EarSonics SM3 Appreciation, Discussion, & Review Thread - Technically Best Universal? 

Top-Tier Universal Thread

Monster Turbine Pro Copper Compared

Thinksound Thunder and Rain Reviews

Cresyne C750E Review

IE8 vs. PFE


Edited by average_joe - 9/30/12 at 10:31pm
post #5 of 4040
Thread Starter 

How do the number of drivers and the type of drivers affect things: AKA should I buy the kazillion driver custom, or the single driver?

 

So, are more drivers better?  How about a single BA driver vs. a single dynamic driver?  These are some of the things that I will explore with evaluating the customs I have on the way.  I am sure there will be no 100% all the time correct answer, as if I were to say one thing, I will probably be proven wrong somehow and there is always the highly probable possibility of someone hearing things differently!  But some of the basics: BAs started out for use in hearing aids due to their tiny size and have expanded to reproduce music.  They are a departure from dynamic drivers and have a rod that moves in a magnetic field vs. a voice coil.  From what I know, this produces a point source for sound and the center point is moving more than the outer part of the foil.  With a dynamic driver, there is a surround and the entire cone theoretically moves as a single unit.  This would, from my logic, seem to reproduce sound waves in a different manner.  

 

How about the advantages and disadvantages of crossovers and multiple drivers?  First, it is widely recognized that a single BA driver has issues covering the whole spectrum of sound, especially the lowest lows and good treble extension.  So, using a crossover and throwing multiple drivers that cover a smaller portion of the spectrum can benefit performance at the frequency extremes.  However, what effect do the crossovers have on the sound?  A single dynamic driver is generally regarded as being able to cover the entire spectrum of sound, however, it would seem there are some limitations as the same voice coil must reproduce a 20Hz tone, a voice, and cymbal hit all at the same time.  Does something have to give?  

 

Some of the best home systems use multiple dynamic drivers, such as Focal, which portrayed the most realistic presentation of any speakers I have ever heard, including electrostats.  This is a different situation for many reasons from the volume of space they are recreating the sound waves in to the cost of the system, which can be several orders of magnitude higher than a custom IEM, as is the associated equipment.  Plus, there is plenty of space for very complex crossovers that can be made to have specific phase coherence.  The human ear, and some more than others, is more sensitive to crossover points than others, hearing issues with coherence.  And some say that since the ear canal is such a small area, a BA receiver can easily reproduce the entire spectrum, but if that is the case why do so many manufacturers make multi-BA customs?  And why do so few make dynamic customs?  There is only one that makes a single dynamic driver custom and 2, with a third in development, that make hybrid dynamic/BA customs.

 

I also want to try to evaluate multi-BA drivers that cover the same frequency range such as the 8 driver Rooth LS8 that has 2 drivers each covering of four different frequency ranges and the JH16 that uses 4 bass drivers and 2 drivers for the mids and treble.  Of course, it will be difficult to truly compare since I won't have a unit that only has a single driver for each frequency to compare with, however it is believed the benefit will be more headroom and less distortion.  It shall be interesting finding out!

 

Update 5/15/11: I have some interim results comparing the following (priced from high to low):

(5,5) Spiral Ear SE 5-way Reference $1450

(8,4) Rooth LS8 $1030

(3,2) Earsonics EM3 Pro $1012

(Dual BA, single dynamic,3) EP-10 Plus $953

(3,2) Kozee X3 with Executive Option $610

(3,2) Fabs fabulous earphones $590

(Single BA, single dyamic, 2) Thousand Sound TS842 $540

 

First, there is a general difference in quality/technical ability as you go up the price range.  While it isn't necessarily linear, not 100% consistent, it is there.  So far, the number of drivers/number of crossovers seems like it may play a role in things, however I am fully aware the lack of statistical significance due to the small sample size.  I will say the EM3 Pro uses two very large bass drivers as does the 5-way (one is a "delayed woofer") and the maximum bass output (meaning that bass heavy songs have more bass output while other songs with less bass output level the playing field AKA more bass dynamics) is about the same, however the 5-way has better texturing, layering, and note decay.  So, it may be the drivers themselves (two different drivers for the bass units in the 5-way from what I can tell), or the configuration.  Speaking of bass and maximum output of bass, the two dynamic bass drivers have something on both the 5-way and the EM3 Pro in deep bass.  It is very close, but there are differences I have yet to characterize.  And I do need to characterize everything a little better down the road.

 

The treble is probably where the biggest differences lie.  The higher up you go, the more extension there is, of course with the exception of the TS842 which is behind only the top two.  But quality wise, in direct comparison it seems the more you spend, the better the quality will be.  Again, there are exceptions, but at least at the top.  For example, comparing like sound signatures (Fabs, 5-way, and LS8 are all somewhat close in sound signature: neutral to an extent) but the 5-way and LS8 extend past the Fabs and offer more crispness while having better resolution.

 

How much difference do the filters make?  The 5-way doesn't have any filters yet is so smooth across the spectrum.  The rest use filters except the mids/treble driver of the X3, and the X3 seems to have peaky treble along with a slight grain.

 

So, a mini-summary: are the more expensive customs more expensive because they use a more expensive driver (or a driver tuned a specific way by the manufacturer, making it more expensive), or does it have to do with the external tuning (sound tube/filter)?  As I get more experience I will continue my evaluation of possible trends and see if limitations do exist.

 

 

November 11, 2011

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hyl View Post

I have an odd question about the ammount of drivers of a custom. How do the triple and quad driver customs that you have listened fare in comparison to the ones with more drivers. I have read other people's opinion that more drivers does not always mean that it's inferior to customs with more drivers, but seeing that you have reviewed so many i am cursious about your opinion.

 

Let me start by saying that if it was really all about the number of drivers the UERM wouldn't have compared as well as it did.  Speaking based only on technical ability, tuning and design does play the primary role in how things stack up with the exception of the bass region.  While a single bass driver can reproduce a good amount of bass for most music, there are some challenges with authoritative sub-bass when compared with a dynamic driver.  And since I mentioned the bass and sub-bass, most BA implementations have tighter bass but don't reverberate the same way as the dynamic driver bass. 

 

There seems to be a loose correlation between the number of drivers and/or crossovers and the level of detail/resolution with more drivers and crossover points resulting in more detail.  However, with the exception of the SE 5-way, the differences aren't huge between the SA-43, UERM, JH16, and LS8.  And as a note, I break it into two categories, instrument detail and overall resolution/detail.  Instrument detail is essentially instrument detail meaning how much detail each instrument has, such as how defined is someone's fingers on a harp or how much reverberation of a string can you hear and experience.  Overall resolution/detail is how the whole presentation is put together including instrument separation, how well defined the lines between each music creating component in the music is and the black space, and the actual black space which, when combined with the soundstage components such as proportion and overall size result in a recreation of the music.  Two good examples IMO are the EM3 Pro and JH16.  The EM3 Pro has great resolution of the ambiance in a recording but below average detail resolution while the JH16 is the opposite, primarily because of the soundstage proportions, however also in part due to the slightly analytical presentation.

 

Ultimately it comes down to this: making custom IEMs (or any audio equipment) is an art with a basis in physics (engineering).  Why were Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh better than others?  Hence, it is not necessarily based on the components in the custom IEM, but the engineering and artistry making listening and comparing is necessary.

 

February 27, 2012

 

Here is a little blurb on balanced armature (BA) driver custom IEMs dynamic driver (DD) custom IEMs.

 

BA advantages (in general, but there are always exceptions):

- Detail levels and detail retrieval (ability to hear intricate details with ease)

- Isolation

- Control/require less of an amp for control

 

BA potential issues:

- Integration of drivers

- Crossover phase shifts

- More sensitive to moisture and cerumen in the sound tubes

 

DD advantages (again, in general):

- Low volume playback

- Sub-bass note sustainment (bass rumble)

 

Potential DD issues:

- Driver flex

- Treble with larger drivers may not be all that extended

 

My thoughts:

One thing that changes the sound with BA CIEMs is the note decay, and each driver must be matched and then tuned to have similar note decay or the coherency and realism will suffer.  There are cases where that does occur in the world of multi-BA IEMs, and one product with an easy to identify is the SE530 as it sounds disjointed.  How much you notice it will depend on your perspective and sensitivity to that.  This is an issue with hybrid driver CIEMs, and dynamic drivers, while having a natural note thickness can have treble extension issues.  I will stop it here and continue once I have had a chance to hear more dynamic driver custom IEMs.


Edited by average_joe - 2/27/12 at 6:45am
post #6 of 4040
Thread Starter 

Sources for Custom IEMs (work in progress)

 

Custom IEMs provide the best possible sound for on the go and have many benefits.  For me I use them over full sized headphones as the give me more of what I am looking for either on the go, but especially in a quiet room at home or work.  In my experience with many custom IEMs (as well as many universal IEMs and headphones), synergy and overall performance of the source equipment is important.  How important depends on you, but if you want the best performance you can get, having a great source can be important.

 

Some things to consider

What is the purpose of your setup: entertainment, to help you focus (studying or at work), mastering/critical listening, on stage? And where will you be using your custom IEM: in a noisy environment, one with moderate background noise, or in a quiet place?  I understand that there will more than likely be lots of cross over between at least some of these, but the more background noise and/or the less focus you have on your music, the less difference you will most likely hear.  My use spans most of these as I listen when I travel on planes, sometimes with loud engine noise to at work where it I am not focused on the music, to the gym to at home critically listening.  I have different sources for these different situations.  For example, I use my Clip+ for the gym since it has a clip and meets my sound quality needs while working out (I can hear added detail and prefer the sound of better IEMs during my workout).  At home for critical listening I want my best source most of the time, and when I travel I take either my iPod + amp or my 801, often with an amp.  At work my HUD-MX1 has become my standard, but I do sometimes use an amp with it and will bring my other portable sources from time to time.

 

Phones

 

Apple iPhone 3G (discontinued): Yes, I still have an iPhone 3G and not a 4 yet, but maybe I should wait for the 5!  I have borrowed and listened to a 4 and they do sound a little different, maybe even a bit better, but I didn't have it long enough to know, nor did I have the tracks I wanted to test with it.  As a source the 3G is what you would expect, a decent player with a decent amount of power, decent resolution, and is brighter than the Clip+.  The strength of the iPhone 3G is the airy presentation that, depending on the pairing can give a very rewarding spatial experience.  The 3G pairs well with some of my custom IEMs, but not others and when it does pair well, usually the Clip+ does not and vice versa.  However, most people would want to carry the iPhone around with them due to the added functionality.  Overall the Clip+ has slightly higher resolution than the iPhone, but the additional power of the iPhone combined with the better  spaciousness and brighter presentation sometimes will overshadow the resolution advantage of the Clip+ in overall performance.  The iPhone does have the ability to use the line out with an amp, which does improve the resolution and overall performance depending on the amp, but my testing with the iPhone is for simplistic purposes, so I am not going to review amp performance except when amp cases become available.  

 

Apple iPhone 4S: Moving to the iPhone 4S, there are improvements over the 3G, but the 4 is actually better than the 4S.  The iPhone 4S is spacious and more detailed than the 3G.  There is not much to add to the 4S evaluation in comparison with the 3G other than the 4S is a bit better overall.  The Clip+ is more resolving, but the 4S is more spacious, and performance is dependent on source matching (pairing with the individual IEM).

 

Blackberry Bold 9700: So, you have a Blackberry and don't want to carry around anything else and hear your music.  You can put in microSD cards for additional storage, but as of this writing, the Bold won't play FLAC.  The performance of the Bold ranges from poor to near iPhone quality depending on the IEM.  Dynamic driver IEMs or IEMs that require a good amount of power (higher impedance) perform relatively poorly with bass roll off and lack of weight and the midrange and especially treble can sound harsh.  The Bold is a big step in the right direction compared with older Blackberries but there is still much room for improvement.  The soundstage is closer to the performance of the Clip+ than the iPhone however, as with most IEMs it isn't all that large.  For casual listening it is OK and some music can be better than no music, but for critical listening bringing a Clip+ or other player is recommended.

 

Apple iPhone 5: Quick description is the iPhone 5 sounds better than the 4S due to a bit better detail and more air but max volume is much lower.

 

DAP (Digial Audio Players) - Portable

Sandisk Sansa Clip+ (rockboxed): Very portable, very low cost, very convenient, and very popular source.  It sound really good for the price, but depending on what it is paired with, it can be good or bad.  You can put rockbox on it, it holds a micro SD card, and will play FLAC files making it very versatile.  One of the downfalls of the Clip+ is that it doesn't pump out too much power making some more power hungry headphones (Minerva Mi-3 comes to mind) sound rather dull.  When paired with a sensitive IEM the Clip+ can sound really good for the price, especially since the resolution is pretty good with all things considered!  If you have something that is on the bright side and you are going to fair even better since the Clip+ seems to be on the darker side of the spectrum.  One of the biggest weaknesses of the Clip+ is the soundstage size which is marginal at best and can constrict the presentation space when compared with the iPhone 3G and RoCoo.  But given the price and size, the Clip+ is a bargain if it matches with the IEM.

 

Hisoundaudio RoCoo A (discontinued): Very portable, but not as easy to use or buy as the Clip+.  Sound quality wise the RoCoo A is a step up from both the iPhone 3G and Clip+ with more resolution, instrument separation, and a more 3D sound.  The iPhone does have a more airy presentation as the RoCoo soundstage is between the Clip+ and 3G.  Of the three, the RoCoo has the brightest presentation but is not lacking in bass impact with most IEMs and actually the bass can have surprising impact and depth depending on the IEM.  While it doesn't seem to have the power problems the Clip+ has, the bright signature makes it a poor match for some IEMs with bright tendencies.  Also, the interface is poor at best and the display is not readable in the sun.  I have no problem since I use the RoCoo as a random player and just let it play.  The expansions uSD slot with a 16GB card gives me a 20GB random ultra-portable player that can sound amazing for the size/price when paired with the right IEM. 

 

Toshiba Satellite Laptop L555D-s7005 (Realtek High Definition Audio):  The headphone out of the laptop is your typical lower end source, not bad but far from good.  The biggest weakness is the treble quality, which is somewhat recessed and not the cleanest and smoothest.  Bass is OK in weight and punch but is rolled off in comparison with better sources.  Easy to drive IEMs can sound pretty good from this source as the detail levels are about on par with the Clip+, but the quality of the amp section is apparent when using harder to driver IEMs, especially dynamic driver IEMs.  Connecting an amp directly to the headphone out has decent results bringing out the performance of the DAC section vs. the limitations of the amp section.  Better than the Blackberry Bold, but, depending on the IEM, not as good as the iPhone.

 

Cowon J3: I borrowed a J3 for a short period of time and tried it with several of my custom IEMs and have these general thoughts vs. the other DAPs I own.  With the sound adjustments turned to the default setting the J3 is closest to the Clip+ in detail and overall sound, however the J3 has a good deal more power for the harder to driver IEMs and is more spacious by a bit.  Resolution is similar to the Clip+, which is better than the iPhone but worse than the RoCoo.  From an interface standpoint I prefer the many others such as the Clip+ as my fat(er) fingers had issues pressing on the right area many times.  But the UI is much better than the S:flo2 UI and on par but much different than the HiSoundaudio players.

 

Hisoundaudio RoCoo D: The RoCoo D takes care of the hiss issue that has plagued the Hisound players with high sensitivity IEMs, but introduces a new issue, which is reduced bass response and note thickness.  Depending on the genres you listen to, this may or may not be an issue.  The D is very musical and involving, especially considering the price for music that doesn't have lots of bass such as vocals and jazz.  It outperforms the Clip+ and iPhones as well as the J3 in musicality with better presentation depth and a liquid but detailed sound.  While it isn't for everyone, it can be a fantastic player depending on what you listen to.

 

 

Hisoundaudio RoCoo P: The P is very spacious and 3D but unfortunately the bass notes are extremely thin to go along with bass roll off.  The RoCoo P can sound amazing with vocal music, but is not suitable for pop, electronic, etc.  This is the first player from Hisound where I didn't hear any hiss, but the bass is an issue that prevents me from recommending it to many/most people.

 

Hisoundaudio RoCoo BA: They finally got the player right for use with high sensitivity BAs.  The RoCoo BA sounds spacious and 3D with good resolution, between the Clip+ and 801 and is balanced across the frequency spectrum.  There is no hiss!  The UI is the same and I don't have an issue navigating it, although it isn't perfect.  Battery life is OK, and for the size and price I think it is a very good performer.  This player is the best that I know of at the price point, offing a combination of small size, decent battery life, very good sound for the price, and good enough UI.  Highly recommended for portable use with custom IEMs.

 

Multi-function DAPs (line out and/or line in and other functionality)

HiFi Man 801 (discontinued, replaced by the 901): Top of the line HiFi man DAP that also acts as a DAC and has a line out, can play 24/96 material and is all about the sound quality.  This currently is my best resolving source for on the go, however with a 8 hour or so battery life and specialized charger it can be an issue for extended periods of time between outlet access (if you want to carry the charger).  I have taken the 801 on trips with me cross country and it has made the trip, but I do find myself charging it during layovers to be safe.  The 801 does have very high resolution, as mentioned, bringing out great detail in recordings.  My player came with two amp boards, a low and a high gain version.  Other amp boards are available.  I only have used the low gain version.  

 

The sound presentation is very 3D, although not the widest and is on the warm side of the spectrum.  The 801 has the most resolution of any portable device I have, which is apparent with higher end custom IEMs.  I do primarily use the 801 with an amp so I can change the sound from the original warm presentation to a more neutral sound (usually with the Pico Slim) plus there is a channel imbalance at low volumes with my high sensitivity custom IEMs such as the JH16, and LS8.  Another trade off for the great sound from the 801 is the battery life, which is around 8 hours without heavy screen usage, and the proprietary charger.  I now bring the charger with me when I take the 801.  But back to sound quality.  Nothing portable I have compares with the 801 in ultimate resolution and the built in amp can sound great with many IEMs.  The ability to add an amp is nice, but bulky due to the already large size of the 801.  I do recommend the 801 under certain conditions for sound quality and flexibility as I can also use it as a desktop DAC, but ultra portability is not one of them.  Also, if you like to listen at very low volumes I would not recommend using the 801 without an amp with high sensitivity headphones such as the LS8 and JH16 due to possible channel imbalances, but with the GAME amp this should be fixed.

 

There is also an option for a balanced amp.  The 801 is expensive and large but very versatile with great sound and for high resolution custom IEMs it does make a difference.  The 801 can also be used as a DAC, making it more of an all-in-one solution than the DX100.

 

801 with GAME card: The GAME card takes the 801 to a new level.  Not only are the balance issues gone, but the sound is vastly improved with better dynamics, imaging, soundstage space, and clarity.  If you can afford it, I highly recommend it for most custom IEMs (check source matching of your particular custom IEM for more information).  

 

Hisoundaudio AMP3 Pro2: Great sound with most headphones and some IEMs, but it has a lot of hiss with others from the headphone out.  When used as a source connected to an amp the performance is much better as the hiss is removed, however that is defeating the original purpose of the AMP3, an all in one player that is tiny with amazing sound.  100 hour battery life is stellar.  Great concept that never really made it primarily because of the hiss, memory card issues, and UI that isn't the best, but it still can be a decent portable with a very long battery life for some custom IEMs.  Hisoundaudio is working on the AMP3 Pro3, which is supposed to have less hiss and hopefully I will be able to hear that source.

 

Nationite S:flo2: Very good sound and functionality for a good price.  I owned the S:flo2 for a while but decided to sell it for one main reason: the UI.  The player I would consider the direct competition was the modded iPod 5.5g and the S:flo2 was far superior from the headphone out, but did lag behind when both were used from the line out.  The battery life of the iPod is longer and the UI is hugely superior IMO, although you may like it or be able to deal with it.  I had the 16GB version which has support for a microSD card, so another reason I decided to let the S:flo2 go was essentially it was a 32GB player vs. the 240GBs of my iPod.  The biggest problem with the UI was that the touch screen wasn't all that responsive and I had to really try each and every time to get the correct touch, and then navigate through many windows to do what I wanted after the touch screen went off after a short time.  I do think very highly of the sound quality and might still have it if not for the iPod.  The iPod did have better spaciousness and imaging compared with the S:flo2, but my iPod isn't your typical one you can pick up off the shelf (similar to the now discontinued Red Wine iMod).  With a better UI the S:flo2 could be a winner.

 

Hisoundaudio Studio V: First, there are 2 versions of firmware for the Studio V, the normal firmware and firmware specifically designed for balanced armature IEMs.  I tried the Studio V with the stock firmware but wasn't overly pleased with the results so I changed to the BA firmware, but I did not compare or specifically listen for differences.  The first question to answer about the Studio V is about hiss: how much is there?  Well, the Studio does hiss with the JH16, LS8, and UERM it does.  With the Starkey SA-43 there is no hiss, but the sound is not as dynamic as with an amp such as the uHA-120.  The overall performance of the Studio V with the SA-43 was better than any other small DAP I own save (I wouldn't consider the 801 small).  I do need to test the Studio V more and will in the near future.

 

iBasso DX100: Update: I wanted to get the update in first so people would make sure to read it...the DX100 has become my best source.  I am not sure if it is the newest firmware, or more time on the circuitry, but the DX100 is an extremely natural sounding player that seems to bring the best out in just about everything I connect to it.  In a CIEM review that I have upcoming, I was amazed by the CIEM, and the performance compared with many others, all while using the DX100.  Once I switched to another source, even the 801, the magic I was hearing wasn't gone, but was very noticeably reduced.  My original knock on the DX100 was the treble region not having the organic quality of the 801, but now it has a refined smoothness that the 801 has trouble keeping up with.  And the UI has improved with better speed making the experience much better.  

 

The DX100 is an amazing sounding player for on the go use.  Listening to players at various price levels, the DX100 doesn't necessarily set a new standard, but it is a great option to the 801 as the sound is more balanced vs. the darker 801.  The brightness is between that of the 801 and the Anedio D1, offering a great balance.  Saying the DX100 competes well with the D1 is a huge compliment considering the D1 is more expensive and not portable!  The 801 sound quality is about the same technically, however the DX100 sound signature is more neutral and matches better with a wider range of CIEMs and headphones.  The DX100 can also drive headphones better than the 801 with GAME card, but since I focus on CIEM reviews, I haven't tried the 801 with the stock high gain card.  Bass of the DX100 is extremely controlled, but the 801 does have more liquid treble, however the difference in treble quality is small.

 

The DX100 sounds great with everything I have tried with it, but the weaknesses come from the user experience.  The DX100 uses a touch screen and the Android operating system with a proprietary player that is locked to the home screen.  The player isn't the easiest to use, doesn't have a lot of features, and operates in a non-intuitive way many times.  Some examples are, you can't have random play and repeat activated at the same time, and when you start the player the same song comes up every time.  Also, linear play plays all files by track name, not album.  Trying to play an album, the player would skip to other albums and the track progression doesn't make sense to me.  The UI is slow and after I installed aftermarket players with better functionality, the volume level from those players was much lower than the stock player.  There may be workarounds, but nothing I have found so far.

 

The DX100 has two headphone outputs, a line out, optical out, and coax out.  The line out is not at a fixed volume, which is an issue, and there are no other inputs to use the excellent internal DAC like you can with the 801.  The size and feel of the player is very nice and has a much more solid feel than the 801.  The volume buttons work even when the screen is locked, and you need to unlock the screen to adjust the tracks.

 

Overall the DX100 is excellent from a sound quality perspective, but from a UI perspective it leaves a lot to be desired as of now.  If you don't mind playing your track in random (which I don't), the DX100 is excellent.

 

DAP with amp only

Apple iPod 5.5g, modded with film capacitors/circuit bypass: I have 2 of these; one with internal capacitors and a 240GB hard drive, and another that is like the iMod and requires external capacitors.  I rarely use the 80GB version, but since the caps are external, it can sound a little better with a desktop dock.  But, now that I have the Anedio D1 DAC I have little use for it.  The headphone out is not very good at all, worse than the Clip+ and iPhone 3G, plus I partially tore the ribbon cable at some point so only one channel works now.  No big loss and this thing is meant to be used with an amp.  And that is where it shines for portable use.  When I had the S:flo2 the differences were small, but the iPod was superior in soundstage and resolution not to mention the much larger storage space and much better UI.  I hated the S:flo2 UI!  The 801 does beat the iPod in resolution and the soundstage is more 3D on the 801, but the iPod is more neutral, and with the size and ease of use the iPod is a winner, especially with the dollar investment.  

 

Desktop DAC (Digital to Audio Converter)

Audinst HUD-MX1: Amazing for the price, the HUD-MX1 is small enough to take on the go, powerful enough to power full sized cans, and with rollable op amps can be tuned to synergize with your other gear.  The MX1 supports 24/96 max, has a swappable op amp, and a fairly powerful internal amp.  I have used several op amps in the MX1 and have been pleased with the results, settling on the OPA1611 due to its transparency and neutral presentation.  The MX1 does pack a good punch for the size and price and while not as detailed as the 801, it still does have a good level of detail for the price range.  One thing to note is the difference when used with the included wall wart vs. off USB power: the wall wart powered MX1 has better dynamics, more driving power, and a more sustained note with thinner IEMs.

 

Uber Muzik Tiny Tube DAC V2: Click for my full review.

 

ADL (Furutech) Cruise (and Stride)

 

iQube V2:

 

Headphonia USB-DAC-Cable: Nice idea of a DAC in a cable so you don't need any extra cables.  Maxes out at 16/48.  Back when I had the uDAC (original, not II), I thought the USB-DAC-Cable sounded slightly more refined, although they were very similar when used as DACs.

 

HiFi Man 801 (discontinued, replaced by the 901): The 801 can be used as a DAC but is limited to 16/48 vs. the 24 bit capabilities of the player.  Resolution of the DAC is on par with other good DACs such as the one in the iQube V2, but not up to par with that of the Anedio D1, and is slightly lower than the 801 used as a player.  Overall, with all the functionality of the 801, it is a good DAC.  See my more extensive writeup of the 801 above.

 

Anedio D1 DAC (discontinued, replaced by the D2): I just recently found out how good the D1 DAC is after buying a Musiland Monitor 01 USD to bypass the D1 USB section, which is IMO does not allow the D1 to reach its potential.  With the Monitor 01 USD via coax, the D1 brings my custom IEMs to life like nothing else.  Bass has more weight, impact, and control while having oodles of detail and a good deal more spaciousness than anything else I have heard.  If you want to listen at home and want an amazing performance, the D1 can get you there!

 

Amps

Check my multi-amp thread for amp information and ratings

 

You can also check my full reviews for source matching with a particular source/amp.


Edited by average_joe - 2/16/13 at 8:40am
post #7 of 4040
Thread Starter 

Things to think about when reading a review/how to interpret a review

 

There are many many reviews out there of many many products and many people take a reviewers opinion to be fact without regard for other important factors, such as reviewer experience/perspective, perception, FOTM (flavor of the month), review conditions, equipment, and music..  How do you know what review is an honest review, and which review is biased?  If someone reviews something positively or negatively, is the product really that good, or that bad?  Of course, these are my thoughts and using reviews to help you make a decision might be considered better than buying blindly.

 

An example of what I have seen on head-fi is this:A new product is released, some people get it, say it is fantastic, others buy, and then over time, it is regarded as an average product in it's price range.  Why did this happen?  The original person that bought/reviewed it didn't have other comparable equipment to test it with (perspective/experience) and they may have been excited that they were the first for this great new product (perception).  For that reviewer, it was great and many other first adopters will feel the same.  This seems to happen less the higher up the price ladder you go, possibly because the consumer of the more expensive equipment is more experience, but it does still happen.  

 

And this can lead to high expectations, which can often lead to disappointment.  

 

Before I get into reviews, I also wanted to touch upon thoughts about when people make recommendations: People will primarily recommend what they own and like.  Most people, due to the cost of custom IEMs and the low resale value will only have one or two custom IEMs.  If someone has just one, guess what they will recommend usually!  But there might be something that is a better fit for you that they haven't heard, so how could they recommend anything else?  That is one of the goals of this thread, give the reader a picture of how the options differ.

 

Here are my thoughts on some of the things to think about when reading reviews (including mine):

 

Preferences

Everyone has preferences.  In the sound world it translates to what people want to hear, such as enhanced bass, proper timbre, instrument separation, etc. It is rare that a good reviewer will let there preferences influence their review, but I have seen some that seem to do just that, with a good portion of the review stating their preference of one over the other without substantiating sonic differences or technical capabilities.

 

Experience/Perspective

How much experience each reviewer has, and what other, like products has someone heard to help make the correct assessment of a product in a review can ave a profound effect on the review.  For example, someone that reviews their first high end product, can, custom IEM, universal IEM, or whatever will probably think it is amazing and would easily proclaim it is the best.  I have seen this many times, where something is proclaimed to be great when compared with something substantially lower in cost, which theoretically should be lower in performance.  Why This bias should be easy to pick out with a simple determination of what the reviewer has had experience with (ask if they don't tell you) and what they used for comparison.

 

Also, the more critical listening and more comparisons someone does, the better trained their hearing is.  I do believe that people can improve their listening ability (not hearing ability) through practice; they even sell programs to help professionals in some fields improve their skills. I have a set of test tracks that I have heard hundreds, if not thousands of times, and have performed countless critical listening sessions with the same music which does have my brain trained (the brain naturally forms habits and likes the familiar) for critical listening.  This is not a bias per se, but more of something that helps evaluate a person's ears.  However, I have seen many beginner reviews that are spot on, so the effect of this could be minimal with time spent by the reviewer (and knowing what to listen for by reading other reviews).

 

Perception (also, FOTM - Flavor of the Month)

Good ole perception.  Eddie Murphy put it like this (paraphrased):  If you give a starving person some saltine crackers, they will think they are the best crackers ever, but, once they are no longer starving the saltines will just be some regular old crackers.  Perception can be influenced by many things such as price, packaging, expectations, others reviews, etc.   A $300 universal IEM should sound better than your $100 one, right?  And that can play into how a reviewer perceives the product irrespective of actual performance.

 

There is also the infatuation with a new item, often called FOTM on head-fi resulting in something new being touted as better than the final perception.  This is a personal thing and IMO seems to go away/be reduced with added experience and perception. Not that the reviewer, most of the time, is trying to generate a buzz to sell product or mislead people, but that is their feeling at the time.   

 

Skin in the Game

A few thoughts on free review samples, discounted review samples, and paying full price for something.  Paying full price can lead to either people feeling they can trash a product because they paid for it, or that they want to validate their purchase.  Receiving a discount or getting a review sample for free can lead to protecting the company, or overly positive reviews.  This is a hard one to determine, but I would think most experienced reviewers would tend to report more on the accurate side to keep their credibility.

 

Review Conditions

Your environmental conditions can affect how you hear things. Background noise, distractions, etc. can lower your ability to hear bass and the subtleties of the equipment.  Also, when you have a short period of time to evaluate something may result in missing some of how the equipment performs with certain types of music.  I do think, for me, I can get most of what a product is about in a short period of time, especially if I have something I really know for comparison, but I brought this up as something to think about...an opinion/review from a quick listen IMO isn't as good as a thorough review with a lot of listening.

 

Equipment

The equipment used for a review is extremely important, especially with more expensive and capable custom IEMs.  Sure, BAs are in general easy to drive, but the complex crossovers and various other factors do make a difference, especially the higher you go up in quality.  Some sources (DACs and players) have better resolution when pitted against each other, so a review based on lesser equipment will not show the full capability of equipment.  Amps not only play a role in the sound signature, bass control, and overall spaciousness of the presentation, but they also can possibly limit the resolution of the music presented.  And in addition, synergy between headphones and other equipment can change the sound/perception and alter a review as some combinations of sound signatures just work better together than others, or affect preference.  Output characteristics can affect how a custom with crossovers and complex impedance performs.  A reviewer that only uses one source is going to have a different perspective than a reviewer that uses a different/multiple sources most of the time.  If you can find a reviewer that uses the same equipment that you have, that will more than likely be a step in the right direction.  However, there are other factors listed here that are more important than this one.

 

Volume level

Most headphones perform differently at different volume levels.  There are many reasons for this including minimum input power to get the driver moving properly (when do they achieve their intended sound), reaching excursion limits (do they lose dynamics or have more distortion at louder volumes), and how does each individual person hear the loudness curve?  Loud to me might not be loud to you.  

 

Music

If you listen to country music and the reviewer listens to speed metal primarily, what they are looking for in their experience will probably not match yours.  Look for someone that listens to similar music to what is in your collection, which can be a big factor in how much you will enjoy that piece of equipment.

 

Reviews are Subjective: People Hear Things Differently

Sound is subjective as it is interpreted by the brain, not to mention all the other factors previously mentioned.  If you can find a reviewer that has reviewed what you are looking for that has also reviewed what you own, that is a great situation because you can "compare noted" with the review and your own experience.  Remember, all of these reviews are other peoples evaluation of equipment.  You will often find that many people have the same consensus about a product, or there are two groups of people, the ones that like a product and those that don't, so if you can figure out which group you are most like, that will help with finding reviews from people that hear things similarly to the way you do.

 

Review technique

I have seen people on head-fi, as well as a professional reviewer or two compare two items based off memory without actually A/Bing the products.  While I have a good audio memory and can remember sound signatures, certain technical aspects of headphones are not possible for me to compare unless I actually A/B them.  Even then, without A/Bing something I don't always get the sound signature comparison exactly correct.  There is no substitute for a A/B comparison and comparing by memory is not something that will generally result in accurate comparisons.  Even A/Bing isn't a simple thing and I have developed several different techniques that help me compare and contrast.

 

Summary

Hopefully this helped give you some perspective so you can better evaluate reviews for hype and bias vs. accuracy.  If possible, a general consensus of more than one reviewer is best, or a reviewer you know hears things in a similar way to you.


Edited by average_joe - 9/8/11 at 11:41pm
post #8 of 4040

Now, I, too, have reserved a post!

 

When in rome...

post #9 of 4040

Now I have 2 posts!

 

For Future Sonics, you can put David Gray, GrayD@FutureSonics.com as the contact.

 

For dynamics, listing the diaphragm  size seems reasonable:

The MG6pro Ear Monitor is a 13mm driver

The MG5pro Ear Monitor is a 10mm driver

 

They have acrylic shells with a second, proprietary, material inside. Gold/chrome plating is available.

fs ear monitors.jpg

Ricky Martin has these Chrome FS Ear Monitors.

 

 

Silicon shells were an option that may be still available.

 

 

My review of Future Sonics MG6pro Ear Monitors: Here

post #10 of 4040

Impressive works, Joe!

post #11 of 4040
Thread Starter 

@ Kunlyn, thanks for your input, info added

 

@ ClieOS, thanks, just trying to follow in your footsteps, at least from a review perspecitve ;)

post #12 of 4040
Quote:
Originally Posted by average_joe View Post

@ Kunlyn, thanks for your input, info added

 

@ ClieOS, thanks, just trying to follow in your footsteps, at least from a review perspecitve ;)


btw, at least with ie, the ads are eating much of your chart for me. Maybe something to mention to mods.
 

post #13 of 4040

Wow, nice work! Thanks for including Sensaphonics.

post #14 of 4040
Thread Starter 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kunlun View Post



btw, at least with ie, the ads are eating much of your chart for me. Maybe something to mention to mods.
 


Is it looking better now?  I didn't resize the pictures since they looked fine in Chrome, but in FireFox they looked huge.  My IE crashed, so I didn't see it in IE.

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by JackKontney View Post

Wow, nice work! Thanks for including Sensaphonics.


No problem, thank you for your input/knowledge/assistance!  I hope to have an opportunity to hear Sensaphonics customs at some point in my life, and I am especially interested in the active ambient due to this info on the Sensaphonics site:

"Our latest product, the 3D Active Ambient (available spring 2006), achieves the same sound quality as the 2X-S in a single-driver design. This is possible because, for the first time, we are providing our own, controlled ("active") power source to the earphone. This enables Sensaphonics engineers to specify a single, custom speaker - one not used in any other IEM product - to achieve the same performance. (We will offer a dual driver version of the 3D Active Ambient.)"

 

Although that might be overkill for me since I don't really need it. But it does sound intriguing!

 

post #15 of 4040

average_joe...

WOW, nice compendium. Thanks for putting this together.

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