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IEM Hunting 2011 ( A bit long)

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

So I thought I'd throw the 2011 in the title there since I've been searching thru a lot of good threads on here and it seems like you all really know what you are talking about! However one thing I saw a lot of was that some threads are quite old and I know so many new models of headphones have come out in the last year or so.....

 

Anyhow, here goes. I basically made this thread because I am looking for you guys - The PROS to help me settle on a pair of phones for my use.

 

 

Some background on me: I work part-time as a DJ, and play a wide variety of music which usually ends up boiling down to Top 40, and Urban Mainstream music (Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop, etc) as well as some international flavor (think Punjabi MC). These days there is so much music coming out, and so many popular artists breaking ground that it's become a constant struggle to keep the playlist packed w/ the right jams...so what I like to do is load up my iPod with a bunch of music as it comes my way via record pools and such and then go through it while I'm doing other activities (riding the subway, running/working out at the gym, and so forth). 

 

 

What I currently use (and have used) to give you a benchmark for my preference: I swear by the Ultrasone DJ1-Pro Headphones. In the past I've used a lot of phones...brands like Sony, Denon, Pioneer, Audio Technica....but I love my DJ1-Pros and I'm on my second set (unfortunately, they are plastic and don't last so long with heavy use). The only IEMs that I've owned (at least those over $100) were the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10vi. Just to be clear though, I auditioned many different IEMs before deciding on the Triple Fis....I'll give my view to give you all a better idea:

 

Etymotic HF Series - I had the one w/ the 3 button iPhone control. I thought the clarity of these was exceptional, detail was good -- but no BASS. I mean, literally NO BASS. So they had to go back, especially since I deal w/ a fair amount of Hip-Hop music which I need to hear the bass in.

 

Monster Turbines - Standard edition, wack...muddy, returned. Gold edition bass was too overpowering, everything else sounded crappy - no balance. So didn't even try the coppers

 

Beats Tour - complete piece of sh** - These headphones should be $50 max -- being extremely lenient here. Not only are these terrible, but after listening to Etys and Turbines, the experience was just terrible w/ these.

 

Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 - So i ended up with these. I mean, out of all the ones I tried, I liked these the best. I had to settle a little bit because I could not keep buying and returning headphones every 2 weeks without the salespeople getting pissed off at me. These phones had a great balance from what I could tell. Yes, the mids might have needed a little more oomph, but I felt like when they had a really good seal the sound was pretty decent and the bass was tight. Big problem was sometimes getting that seal....eventually the complyfoams worked best for me, but I had to get used to them. The phones are so big, and stick out a little far -- weird design IMO and not the most comfy! Eventually, the cable frayed on these phones and I had to get rid of them. Good job UE...build IEMs with a $400+ pricetag and put stock ibuds cable on them.

 

 

What I am looking for:

 

So basically, at this time I am looking for a set of phones (I guess IEMs since I feel they will be better for the venues I plan to use them (gym/travelling), although I am open to some over ear recommendations if you guys feel they are absolutely stellar! For the IEMS, I am currently looking into these models:

 

Shure 425/535 -- I still haven't been able to hear these anywhere, so I don't know if their sound signature/profile fits my needs. Maybe you can help on that. What I really like about the Shures is the thicker & removable cable. That is a BIG PLUS for me, seeing as the issues I've had w/ the UE10s.

 

IE8 - I heard these were really good, especially for BASSier music - but the design somehow does not speak to me.


Westone 4 - This would really be more on the higher end of the phones I would go for (and not sure if the cable is removable, but I have heard it's SOLID). What really intrigues me with this set is the 4 driver triple crossover design.

 

 

 

My Budget: At this time I'm setting a budget of $300-400 (roughly, I can probably give or take $50 if it is really really a huge difference in quality). I feel that I am still a noobie when it comes to IEMs, and while I have been looking into CUSTOMS I really have no idea which way to go about it and get it done. Also, the price for decent customs is also a bit out of my current price range. I've looked at the custom options from UE and I feel like at this time if I got something Universal fit, the next set I get could be customs. Again - I'm open to comments and considerations....

 

And so far that is it. I am sure you all have a lot to say and I am all ears. I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my thread and help point me in the right direction.

 

Thanks a lot guys!

post #2 of 25

Earsonic SM3. The end. 

post #3 of 25

If you found the Turbine Gold too overpowering, you may want to consider the Coppers. They're a bit more balanced.

 

Looking at your choices currently, the IE8 and Westone 4 probably suit your needs best. The Shures sound nice, are built well, and fit great, but I don't know if you'd like the mid-centric, warm, smooth sound signature when it comes to mainstream music. You can give the IE8 a chance; their large soundstage will feel more like a full-sized headphone (although no IEM except for customs come close to replicating the feel of a full-sized headphone) and their bass is tunable. At the lowest bass setting, the IE8 is -- acceptable. Any higher, and the balance gets thrown completely out of wack. My biggest issue with them was that I struggled to find a good fit, and it seemed to have poor isolation. The Westone 4 is a good bet; it doesn't offend anyone and does most things well. It is, however, very expensive and personally I still like the UM3x better.

 

You can look into 1964Ears-T for customs. They're about the same price as a Westone 4 when everything is all said and done (molding, artwork, etc.), but will sound better, from all accounts. Either that, or get your Triple.Fi 10 remolded. You already like its sound signature, so it won't really be a big risk, but you'll get an optimal fit each time. There are several companies that offer remolds, and it won't cost you nearly as much as buying a new pair of high end IEMs.

post #4 of 25
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the recommendation on the SM3 - I had not looked into that particular model before, but I have heard about it via this forum. I looked into it and it seems like a pretty decent IEM. I'm worried about some reviews which said the phone has poor build quality. Again, I'll be honest, my phones get a fair amount of use, and when I do use them, they are going to be in an active setting...so I am particularly concerned w/ the cabling system. I'm wondering are there other manufacturers who are on par with Shure's new phones in terms of cable quality/thickness (tangle-free) + user removable/replaceable cabling.

 

@tomscy2000 Thanks for your reply as well. To be honest, I think I'm just not a fan of the Monster phones overall. This whole (coming to head-fi) started because a friend of mine who is a music producer told me that he picked up a pair of dre beats (on ear) for production use. He produces hip-hop with heavy bass, but was skeptical on their performance even after owning them...so I think I've completely talked myself out of the beats now, and thus the other Monster brands too. They have great cabling, but I think they are overpriced for what you get.

 

So onto some details. I guess I am not going to go with the IE8 - I mean I do want to have a good soundstage and that low end punch...but you are not the first one to tell me with issues getting a good seal w/ the IE8. I understand that in order to get good bass from an IEM, you need that perfect seal (I struggled with this w/ the Triple Fis when I first got them).

 

Maybe you can tell me a little bit more about the Shure SE425 having a mid-forward sound signature (why exactly would that be bad for my listening needs)? I'm not an expert so will need a little help understanding all this here.

 

On the Westone 4 - Being a DJ, I often have to experiment with a lot of music that I wouldn't normally listen to on an everyday basis...I mean sometimes it's all over the place. Specifically tailored to my clients requests more frequently than not. So from everyone I've heard the 4 is a really good all around headphone. But I've never heard it - and it seems like there is no way to go anywhere and hear it, despite being in NYC. So I'll have to order it and hope it works out (that's $450 so don't want to make the wrong decision). You also mentioned the UM3x - I'll look into that, maybe you can tell me why you prefer that one?

 

On the customs - I can't remold the Triple Fis because I sold them already. I got $200 for them, which I felt was very fair considering the cable situation....realistically, how much would it cost me to get UE customs and what exactly is the process for doing so. It's a long-shot option in my book, but I am open to it in the back of my mind....

 

Thanks again.

post #5 of 25

http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/536342/review-vsonic-gr07-labor-of-love/150#post_7381075

 

Have a read :) If your after a great sounding pair of IEM's without spending an arm and a leg then no harm in having a browse.

post #6 of 25

1964 ears?  idk im too lazy to read that entire post lol

post #7 of 25

The Gold is muddy and lacks a lot of control.  Even with an amp, they do not like complex music. I wouldn't call them overpowering.  The frequency response is actually quite flat but the note is thick which does pull the emphasis lower.

 

If balance and broad spectrum frequency response is the goal, I'm going to point you towards Ortofon.  The e-Q7 or e-Q5 are great examples of a very well balanced earphone with a well extended response.  The cord is still known not to be the most durable, but it's still a step up from the Triple.Fi 10 cord.  The clarity isn't as sharp as the Ety but it's well detailed, textured, and not muddy or thick like the Turbines.  Along with the Hifiman RE252, it's one of the best balanced IEMs on the market.  The Hifiman RE252 might be another option, again excellent balance, well extended, more clarity and control, but fitment is an issue.  You're still going to have to use Comply tips.  The gummy bit can be trimmed and shaped to fit the ear better if needed.  It's not like you're stuck with the gummy section.  However, it does help secure the earphone to the ear.  It's just that you're trying to fit the gummy + the tip at the same time into a pile of different ear shapes.  For some folks, it fits perfectly.  For other folks, it's quite a miss.  The RE252 does need a very good seal or it will end up sounding quite lean, so again, fitment is a big deal.  For general listening, I've come to prefer the e-Q7 more.  I think it would fit the average listener better as well.

 

post #8 of 25
Thread Starter 

Like I said, I've written off anything Monster at this point...


Also, just to be clear - these phones will not be used amped in any way. Most times they will be used right out of my iPod.

 

Ortofon EQ series - They have a nice look to them. I am a little concerned w/ the cable on the 5s as it just goes straight in. Being that the phones are not even readily available in the US, I'd be taking a big risk getting these without any thorough reviews, and knowing if they are going to be the right choice for me. Although, I did give them special attention, being a DJ my turntable cartridges are made by Shure or Ortofon, of which both are top quality. I am just really worried about the fit and the cord here. More the cord, less the fit though. I know I am going to be using these in a very active setting. I know you said the cord is a bit better than the Triple Fi, but I honestly don't know what UE was thinking when they built that headphone. That cord is paper thin, the audacity they had even calling it a cord is beyond me.

 

 

So far, I guess I am more or less at square 1. A few of you have given me some good recommendations, and I guess I am quickly learning that nothing is going to be perfect and I am going to have to settle a little bit with what I get. That almost seems ridiculous considering $300-400 is gonna get spent here..... 

 

 

Here is where I stand.....confused between SM3, SE425, Westone 4, Ortofon EQ-5, IE8 (Almost written off too)....

 

I still haven't gotten a concrete answer on the Shures yet, but i LOVE the cable design....plus I own A LOT of other Shure products and I have had great experience with them. I have a couple high end Beta Mics and turntable cartridges which by comparison are the best in league (almost at any price). So if their earphones are built to the same standard I'm sure I'll be happy. But being here on Head-Fi helps me better understand the sound signature might not be the right one for me.

 

I am tempted by the SM3, but every review I've read comments on the poor built quality (adhesive being left on the phones?) + the Y Splitter being at chin level - I probably wouldn't be able to deal w/ that. Honestly, I don't mind their Star Wars appearance....I think it's kinda retro and cool.

 

Westone 4 - Never having used westone, I find it quite odd I'm leaning this way....but $450 is a lot and I'm considering if it is worth it....

post #9 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphahelix View Post

 

On the Westone 4 - Being a DJ, I often have to experiment with a lot of music that I wouldn't normally listen to on an everyday basis...I mean sometimes it's all over the place. Specifically tailored to my clients requests more frequently than not. So from everyone I've heard the 4 is a really good all around headphone. But I've never heard it - and it seems like there is no way to go anywhere and hear it, despite being in NYC. So I'll have to order it and hope it works out (that's $450 so don't want to make the wrong decision). You also mentioned the UM3x - I'll look into that, maybe you can tell me why you prefer that one?

 

On the customs - I can't remold the Triple Fis because I sold them already. I got $200 for them, which I felt was very fair considering the cable situation....realistically, how much would it cost me to get UE customs and what exactly is the process for doing so. It's a long-shot option in my book, but I am open to it in the back of my mind....

 

Thanks again.



As a Westone 4 owner, I can definitely confirm that the Westone 4 is good for almost anything if not, ANYTHING. I listen to different genres from Acoustic,Pop,Hip-Hop,Dubstep,Classical,etc. I can pretty much say that anything that comes out of the W4's are great. It all comes down to the eartip preference too. I've tried different tips with them from Long Comply foams,Sony Hybrids,Shure Foam tips,etc. The Long Comply foam tips give a very weighty sound , and kinda gives of a bass emphasized sound. The Sony Hybrids has a pretty laid back sound has great detail but sounds kinda thin compared with the Complys. The Shure's however, are like the combination of the two without the bass emphasis. Balanced and weighty. If you ask me, the shure's are the best for the W4's.

post #10 of 25
Thread Starter 

I think I will have to decide on a pair of phones first, and then the tips I am sure I can decide afterwards. Where would you say is the best place to order the W4s, directly from Westone? Seems it's hard to get them anywhere else....also I noticed these don't have a removable cable like the UM3XRCs

post #11 of 25

The only problem with the SE530 and SE535 is they roll off on the bottom end.  If you are concerned about deep bass like you describe, you will find them lacking.  Midbass is great, but the bottom end simply isn't there, and for rap, that's problematic.  The bass line simply won't be there.  It's kind of sad for a triple driver earphone to be like that, but I know Shure is doing it on purpose to keep the folks who like the sound signature happy.  The SE435 may be a better buy, but I haven't personally listened to a pair.  They are apparently supposed to have more bass, but I can't say in what way.

 

 

 

post #12 of 25
Thread Starter 

Okay, let me ask a question so I can get a better feel. I understand what you mean when you say they lack the lower end bass....that is totally fine. But now on the 425s what do you mean when you say Shure it trying to keep their people happy that liek their sound signature the way it is.

I guess what I am asking is what type of sound signature is Shure's 425s geared to. 

 

 

In fact, your post makes me think a little differently....I think the question that I should be asking first is what type of sound signature am I looking for? To be honest, I don't know. All I know is that I do listen to quite a bit of music that is heavy on the drums, bass, but vocals are also VERY important to me. I guess what I need to ask then is what phone is best for this (sound wise) and then later I can get into the finer details, like cable quality and such...

post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphahelix View Post

I think I will have to decide on a pair of phones first, and then the tips I am sure I can decide afterwards. Where would you say is the best place to order the W4s, directly from Westone? Seems it's hard to get them anywhere else....also I noticed these don't have a removable cable like the UM3XRCs



O no, I just meant if you get the Westone 4's you'll get different sounds depending upon the tips. The ones I described are the sounds of the tips with the Westone 4's, not in general.

As where you can get them, the best place for me is EarphoneSolutions, they ship decently fast and has good warranty service from my experience.

post #14 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphahelix View Post

Okay, let me ask a question so I can get a better feel. I understand what you mean when you say they lack the lower end bass....that is totally fine. But now on the 425s what do you mean when you say Shure it trying to keep their people happy that liek their sound signature the way it is.

I guess what I am asking is what type of sound signature is Shure's 425s geared to. 

 

 

In fact, your post makes me think a little differently....I think the question that I should be asking first is what type of sound signature am I looking for? To be honest, I don't know. All I know is that I do listen to quite a bit of music that is heavy on the drums, bass, but vocals are also VERY important to me. I guess what I need to ask then is what phone is best for this (sound wise) and then later I can get into the finer details, like cable quality and such...



Yes.  The SE535 for example is a lot like the SE530.  Part of the goal of the SE535 is that it still sounded much like the SE530.  I personally disliked the SE530 specifically because it did not cover the entire spectrum.  It was effectively as good as a single BA driver earphone in that way which in my eyes is stupid.  The SE530 was retained much like the E500 and the SE535 much like the SE530.  They do vary a small amount from each other but those coming from the previous model will find largely the same sound signature to which they are familiar and desire.

 

I have not used the SE435, so I can't really say how it sounds.  Frequency response graphs actually show it to be quite similar to the SE535/SE530, but the gearing is supposed to offer more bass. 

 

Then again, frequency response graphs show that the SE530 has bass to 20Hz, but you can't actually make it produce a 30Hz tone for the life of it and barely a 40Hz tone with a massive amount of EQ boost.  Other earphones like the Triple.Fi 10, IE8, or UM3X produces a vastly more effortless bottom end note without EQing need.  Even dual driver earphones like the Custom 3, CK10, or CK90Pro do low frequency vastly easier than the SE530.  The funny thing is, a number of graphs show earphones like the SE530 having extended bass, but it's not there when you listen, not even close.  Graphs will show other earphones like the CK90Pro also having a very similar bottom end but upon listening a vastly more pronounced low end note.  Now this may simply be a difference of presentation, equipment versus human ear.  For example. the SE530's note is very short on decay and without body, a note can not be filled out.  It may have a note peak that retains sensitivity, but with no body, the ear does not hear it at all.  At the end of the day, regardless of what test equipment says, you still need a device that can create a discernible note.  You put a 40Hz test tone through a SE530 earphone, you don't hear anything.  You put a 40Hz tone through a CK90Pro, you get a 40Hz tone.  You look at frequency graphs, you see the same low end response though.

 

Correct, you do need to first ask what you want from the earphone.  What sound signature do you want?  From there, choices can be narrowed down by what actually fits your goals.

 

From my end, I see a person who listens to a wide variety of audio.  This creates a natural need for a product with a pretty flat response.  Uncolored = jack of all trades.  It's relatively insensitive to song choice.  I would prefer to suggest products that are geared more along those lines.  As well, I want something that's not only balanced but well extended AND sounds well extended as in the notes are actually well defined.  Notes shouldn't be too lean or too thick.  Notes should be well textured and dynamic, not too smooth, not to chiseled.  Something in the middle will sound natural and balanced.  At the end of the day out of all the earphones I've used, the Ortofon e-Q7 has been one of the closest.  There are other options of course, but these benefit from a little EQing here or there or have a little more coloration in some way.  Some other earphones are well balanced but fall short somewhere, so they are not quite as capable a product.  Personal preference will still play an important role though.  You as the end user still needs to find a product that will present sound the way you want, and even earphones of similar frequency response can sound vastly different from each other.  This preference will lean you towards one product or another.  Another earphone I might point you to is the CK10.  It has been one of the most "correct" sounding as well as highly detailed earphones I've used.  It has a hot top end though with a moderate but narrow treble peak at 10kHz.  A comply tip can tame that down some though without resorting to EQing, but I still like EQing the best if available and powerful enough to fix problems without making others (many bands, highly adjustable).

post #15 of 25
Thread Starter 

@mvw2 - Thanks for your very carefully crafted response. It is a big help!

 

I guess I can go ahead and scratch the 535s off my list then. As it is, I thought that $500 is an excessive price tag, especially considering I feel I can get so many other options within the same price range. I guess at the time, what is keeping me drawn to the Shure SE425s has to be their design - mainly the cabling. I have not yet heard these myself, so it is very hard to say whether they will satisfy my requirements.

 

Yes, Bass is important to me, so I will need to keep that in mind going forward. Also, your estimation of me being someone who listens to a wide variety of sounds is entirely correct. I can't say that one aspect of a composition is more important than the other for me. You could also say that I have a bit of a trained ear when it comes to certain music and I will hear things that the general public may not notice - but then again, it's a good thing I am on a audiophile forum, I think I won't have to worry about you guys steering me wrong on that premise.

 

I understand that certain phones are going to fall short somewhere...but based on your use, you think that the Ortofon phones are a good choice for me because of their balanced presentation. Let me ask you, do you know what the main difference is between the eq5 and eq7? I've learned that the eq5 is a newer model, and the design does irk me a little bit due to the cords just popping straight out of the phones.

 

I want to mention, that very early in my thread someone mentioned the SM3 Earsonics. I looked into those and it almost seems like they might fit the bill - has anyone had extended experience with them, specifically with a wide variety of music, or music which is considering "popular" these days and you might hear a DJ playing at your local clubs? This aspect is most important to me. Secondly, I'm curious if the cabling was a problem in anyway. I know that they use the braided cable, but I've heard there is some sort of issue w/ the Y-cable. To be honest, I did not mind the way that the UE Triple Fis were worn, being that the cable tucked behind the ear. I am going to chalk those up to just being a bit awkward when it came to placement, but overall, I did not mind putting them behind my ear. I feel they stay still in the ear much better when the cable isn't dragging them down anyhow.

 

Again @ mvw2 - On the sound signature, I am not sure how to answer this. I know that you are well versed in IEMs and really live by them as compared to over ear solutions. Maybe you can help me get a grasp on what I should be looking for here in terms of sound signature. Answering more or less as a layperson, I'd say that I'm looking for something which is overall balanced (in that it can really grab various genres of music), but also has the low-end bass I am looking for with the Urban and Popular music I find myself listening to more often than not. I'm also jumping off the IE8 train at this time for the reason that I don't want a phone that I would have to consistently EQ - especially considering the external bass controls, and so forth.


Now back to this. I am hearing from so many people who just swear the W4 is the best thing since sliced bread. Is this entirely true? Is $450 what it's going to take for me to be completely content until I can make my way to a completely custom solution? How would you guys say the W4 stacks up to the SM3 and the Ortofons and Shure 425? - As of right now those are the ones I am interested in.

 

And just a last note, I'm sure just about anyone here can jump in on this. When I first got the Etys...I was pretty happy with the "clarity" (what should I be calling it) that they offered. I kept them around for a couple weeks thinking okay there is a burn in process and maybe the bass will get deeper. But obviously it never did. If there is anything like those that maintains the low end, I'd be interested to get opinions on that as well.


Thanks again to everyone who has taken the time to respond, I def appreciate your advice and consideration!

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