(5/28/11): And the winner is...
I'm on a mission. It's quite simple really. I wish to go head to head with the top tier IEM's, and find which one "best" fits my genre of music (mainly trance, progressive, EDM). I'd like to thank this community for all it's efforts and contributions, and more importantly, for helping me achieve a much greater love for music, the way I feel it was intended to be heard!
I'll cut right to the chase; see my signature for which IEM's I'll be taking on head to head. Oh and before I begin, I'd like to mention something I've always mentioned second to any of my posts; I'm an absolute novice when it comes to reviews, so I'll use whatever terminology or descriptive terms I'm accustomed to, in order to give you an idea of whatever it is my ears are listening for, and plain and simple, you can substitute in the rest! I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the brilliant reviewers here for their immense help to myself and other audiophiles alike; were it not for your first-hand impressions, we'd all be pulling our hair, and visiting our loan officers more often (exaggeration ), unable to determine which IEM is best suited for us. And lastly, sound in general is all too subjective (hence why I couldn't avoid comparing the top tiers for myself any longer), so take whatever I've said here with a grain of salt. Until you've found a general consensus that majority of the community agrees on, it's impossible to tell which IEM suits whom, unless experienced first-hand.
For today, I'll cover only those IEM's currently in my possession. More to come as the remainder arrive. Let's begin round one:
Audio Technica CK10
Comfort: The CK10's are my reference monitors here. If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing them first-hand, it's really something that can't be over-appreciated IMO. They are SO tiny, very snug when coupled with the sony hybrids, and when worn over the ear, it's easy to forget at times that they're still plugged in! I have yet to wear more comfortable IEM's, hence why they are solely my reference comfort IEM's.
Seal: They W4's (by just a hair or two) are my reference monitors here, and the CK10 is a very close second. With the CK10's paired with the hybrids, and the W4's paired with the comply's, I simply couldn't imagine a better seal.
Treble: MUCH more pronounced than the IE8's and W4's (I'll update comparisons as my other IEM's arrive)! If I were to describe where the sound spectrum is best heard/channeled towards, I'd say it presents as very forward and completely in your face! There are times when they sparkle and I wish the highs were slightly less pronounced with certain tracks, which while some may feel otherwise, I feel is noteworthy and should definitely be taken into consideration.
Midrange: Thank you Enanthate for your suggestion on posting my impression with regards to the midrange. Having heard the W4, it's difficult to compare since it's definitely the most balanced and centered of the 3, with no one area of the spectrum under/over-emphasized. To my surprise, the CK10's are nonetheless a very close second to the W4's here; they may even come out on top based on the listeners preference. I was initially under the impression that the mids would be shadowed by the strikingly vivid highs, yet the CK10 definitely has an equally forward midrange emphasis, making it seem very similar to the impression the W4's give off, as though you are standing right in front of the artist during a live performance. This is moreso the case with the CK10's however, and I can fully understand why some would prefer it over the deeper, yet balanced W4. The CK10 easily trumps the IE8 here, and it's still difficult to say whether it takes the cake over the W4 since it's entirely down to preference. In their own right, they both sound exceedingly pleasant, and I'm left completely satisfied with either one's performance. It's the remainder of the spectrum however, that is hard to top once you've experienced the Westones. Thus, I'll leave it at this; for a more forward, yet again, in your face mid presentation, the CK10 gains the edge, no arguments. For an all around balanced and centered midrange, the W4 takes the cake.
Bass: The IE8's are my reference monitors here. I'm always surprised to find when people mention that the CK10's are bass light; to me that's far from the truth. I think this owes to the fact that the highs are so prominent, and in a sense are the most noticeable aspect of the CK10's, it tends to mask the rest of the spectrum. Just a thought of course. Nonetheless, the bass is present, tight, and very well controlled. Clearly, the CK10's focus is aimed towards quality over quantity. Bottom line; if you're a basshead, you'll clearly want to look elsewhere (ie IE8, W3, EX1000, Monster line-up, etc.).
Soundstage: The W4's are my reference monitors here. The CK10's soundstage, while not as wide as W4, yet wider than the IE8, has no shortcomings IMO! These are amongst the most fun/enjoyable IEM's I've come to own, owing to the fact that their seal and fit is almost unparalleled and I simple can't put them down! Were I to quantitatively describe the soundstage, I'd say they fall just above the IE8, where the W4 is at 100% and the IE8 is at 70%.
Overall: The best way for me to summarize what the CK10 brings the listener is with one statement: if you want to feel as though you are literally seated right besides/in front of the musician while the recording took place, the CK10's are worth their weight in gold! As mentioned, it's as if the musician is directly in your face, or in case of a guitar strum, it's as though you are the one playing! Their forward nature is truly something to experience, and will bring life to your music!
Comfort: Going back to my reference here (the CK10's), the IE8's are quite comfortable and fatigue was rarely ever an issue for me when listening for hours on end, though I can see why it would be for some. The included tips are garbage; I'm accustomed to only the included soft black tips, which do provide a satisfying seal and fit, yet leave much to be desired after having been accustomed to the CK10's and W4! In short, they definitely need improvement here IMO.
Seal: Not nearly as good as the CK10's, or the W4, yet satisfactory. There are times when a yawn or smile may slightly ever nudge them loose, which makes it noteworthy. Nevertheless, The tips here are the obvious culprits, hence YMMV.
Treble: These IEM's are heavily channeled towards the low end, keyword heavily! The spectrum, much like the W4, is deeper all around and never sparkles. The presence of the highs can still be appreciated, yet the difference here in comparison to the CK10's is as clear as day and night.
Midrange: In comparison to the W4, the IE8's aren't nearly as forward, owing to the fact that the lower frequencies, which it's essentially recognized for, steal the show here. Mid-vocals aren't nearly as vibrant or exciting with the IE8's. It's as though you are amongst the crowd, front row, as opposed to the live presence the CK10 & W4 brings. However, it's moreover a matter of preference, and absolutely not at all a con IMO. I cannot stress enough that the IE8 is truly the best at what it's meant to be, with respect to the lower frequencies! Personally speaking, I'd grow out of the IE8's, especially after being accustomed to a more balanced sound signature.
Bass: This is where the IE8's shine! The sub-bass here is enough to satisfy ANY bassheads craving! It's the absolute most prominent component of the IE8's, and it practically sells itself since there is even a 5-setting tuner on the side of the earbud, dedicated strictly to this very aspect. Even at the lowest setting, I couldn't ask for higher quantity, and at it's current street price (~$225-250), IMO it's an absolute no brainer for all bassheads alike! It had been so long since I had last heard the IE8's, it almost made me wish I had kept them all this time! Needless to say, it's practically unparalleled amongst all the IEM's I've heard to date, strictly in regards to sub-bass that is! It's an absolute must have for any bassheads, no buts and ifs!
Soundstage: As mentioned above, I'd place the soundstage just below the CK10's. The best way for me to describe the soundstage of the IE8 is in one word: deep! The exact same holds true for the W4, though given the IE8's sub-bass prominence, and the W4's all around much wider soundstage, the two are very different in their own right. The signature is nowhere near as forward as the CK10, nor is it channeled towards the rear, thus I'd say it's notably centered.
Overall: The IE8's put you in the crowd, maybe even close to the front. Since the signature is much deeper than the CK10's, those with an uncomforting sensitivity towards the CK10's prominent highs need not look elsewhere IMO. I've owned the IE8's previously for nearly 2 years, and had never even considered a different sound signature, since they left me with little else to be desired. Then again, what sold me was the sub-bass and deep soundstage when coupled with my FLAC EDM tracks, which any trance listener knows is a must have! I do admit however, having heard the CK10's and W4's, I'd say the bass is now almost too prominent for my taste. I'm also beginning to feel just as strong as |joker| had with regards to the acncellation on the IE8's, or lack thereof. Where the W4 and CK10 are a 5/5, the IE8's are a flat 3, at best! This owes primarily to the subpar included tips and as a result, a subpar seal.
Comfort: Again, with respect to my CK10's, these come surprisingly close! Given that they aren't nearly as tiny as the CK10's, they pretty much hug the entire circumference of your ear, and the braided cable makes for a very comfortable fit over the ears. While I clearly hold the CK10's in the highest of regards for comfort, the W4's are a very very close second!
Seal: With the comply foam tips, it's very difficult to say which one offers a better seal; the W4 or the CK10. The seal is top notch on both, but I'd slightly favor the comply's over the hybrids, hence the W4's seal would be my preffered choice. It's just so snug, especially since the body of the earphone practically hugs your entire inner ear, and the W4 is VERY forgiving of any pull or nudge on the cable, opposed to most other IEM's, where the cable tends to catch whatever it rubs up against.
Treble: It's truly something to experience! I'm not a fan of pronounced treble, which can be a bit too much at times with the CK10 (sorry for the redundancy). Going back and forth, between FLAC tracks, at the very same areas where the treble sparkled with the CK10's, the W4's were nothing short of stunning! I've yet to experience any sibilance with them. The highs are just as equally appreciated as the rest of the frequencies, which makes the W4 truly universal sounding, with just about any genre of music!
Midrange: Coming from the SM3 and SE535, both of which offer brilliantly lush mids that will simply captivate your ears, the W4 doesn't predominate any one area. Instead, the W4's mids truly shine without any noticeable flaws/shortcomings! It makes me realize that much more just how much of an all around, extremely well balanced IEM the W4 is! The mids aren't at all overshadowed by the higher frequencies, nor can one sense the presence of the lows beginning to creep upwards, imposing on the midrange. Midrange vocals are so pleasant to listen to, as if you're directly facing the artist during a live performance. Dare I say, when all is taken into consideration, coupled with the rest of the spectrum, this area is really one that distinguishes the W4 from the current competition, and is almost enough to entirely warrant it's worth over the rest. On an individual level however, considering solely the midrange, the CK10's are more forward and vibrant, alongside the SM3's and SE535's which never go unnoticed, as mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, I just can't seem to find an area that's "lacking" with the W4's spectrum. Needless to say, I'm sure there are areas where improvement can be made, but for a universal IEM, there's really nothing "missing" IMO.
Bass: They aren't at all anemic, nor are they bass-heavy. Coming from the IE8's however, there's just no comparison. Coming from the CK10's , the same goes without saying. They are each on the opposing ends; the IE8 is a sub-bass monster; the CK10 is not for the basshead, though it's still plenty IMO; the W4 sits right in between, and is tight, controlled, and very well balanced! IMO, strictly with regards to bass, I'd say it's very easy to distinguish between the 3. I personally heavily favor the centered and balanced sound of the W4 here, so to each his own.
Soundstage: The W4 here is my reference monitor, without a doubt! Much like the IE8, among the first things one notices with the W4 is the deep and luscious soundstage! It's much more centered than the IE8's, nowhere near as forward/in you face as the CK10's, and has just the right mix of depth/width. The difference is very easily appreciated when in direct comparison to the CK10, and as mentioned earlier, if the CK10 were at 80%, and the IE8's just below, the W4 sits at a 100%, and is hence my reference monitor for this particular aspect.
Overall: The W4 puts you in a large hall setting, though not as exaggerated/distant as some EQ presets make it seem; at the same time not at all right besides or directly next to the musician, as the CK10's had done; rather, it's as though you're facing the musician dead on, while you're the center point and everything else is around you in its respective place. Nonetheless, unlike the IE8 and CK10, I'm able to appreciate the W4 at slightly louder volume ranges. It just becomes that much more centered and balanced sounding. The entire sound spectrum is nearly ruler flat, while the soundstage maintains it's width! Though I've only had the W4's for a couple days now, I can't fully warrant the cost, nor would I recommend them over the IE8's or other top tiers alike, at least not until I've completed my comparisons. I'm sure that's bound to change over the next few days, as I receive my Headstage Arrow 3G (see below) and various other top tier contenders. On a side note, as was mentioned by many reviewers here, the W4 is rather forgiving of lower bitrate MP3's, and were I to choose from one amongst the current 3, it'd have to be the W4, simply because my entire collection of music isn't bass heavy, hence I'm sure I'd once again outgrow the IE8's. The same holds true for the CK10's, as I'm sure I'd outgrow their forward nature, which IMO is much better fit for genres other than EDM. The W4 satisfies both my bass and treble needs just fine, hence it currently sits as my top favorite.
EarSonics SM3 (V1)
Comfort: The SM3's have a very unique design, in that they are edgy and squared all around. There's no smooth curvature, as can be found on the CK10 or even the Westones. I found it rather uncomfortable. The outer body of the SM3 is sharp and boxy, which can constantly be felt against your inner ear, if you have small ears (though I'd consider mine to be average). I could see myself having listening fatigue after hours on end of keeping them in. In fact, they are similar in size to my W4's, yet due to the lack of a smooth, oval curvature and owing to the sharp boxy edges here, may cause some discomfort, hence YMMV.
Seal: Apart from the potential discomfort, the included large comply's provide a very comfortable seal, just as equally as my W4's had done. Were it not for the above mentioned setback, I'd simply forget they were there, much like the CK10's. Nonetheless, the seal here fits right between the W4 and CK10's, and is more of a close second to the nearly perfect seal the CK10's provide.
Treble: While I was initially under the impression that the SM3's were just as good as the W4's, that soon changed as I came across one track too many where the highs sounded veiled, and sounded as thought someone literally placed a veil over the sound. This aspect may play as an advantage to those accustomed to less pronounced highs, and there's practically no room for sibilance. For my own taste, I prefer the W4's signature, or one that doesn't veil one area of the spectrum, but at the very least represents each area equally. This is most probably the only real distinguishing factor that personally puts the W4's above the SM3's for me.
Midrange: Let's see, how do I put this... ! The mids are SO incredibly forward and vibrant, this is without a doubt the one area where the SM3's completely outshine the remainder of the competition, thus far! In fact, the presence of the mids are so brilliant, I had to tune the volume down by one notch, when switching between the W4 and SM3. They completely dominate here IMO. The mids truly come alive, and the feeling is euphoric! The SM3's are definitely up there with the SE535 and CK10's brilliantly lush mids. The vocals sound magical, and dare I say, I prefer the SM3's to even the CK10! I've never heard better mid vocals, with the exception of the Shures! The mids here trump the W4, no question about it! Truly something to experience, and not much left to be said!
Bass: This is getting ridiculous! It's going to be extremely difficult to narrow down my choices. If the W4 and the IE8 had a hybrid, they'd have named it after the SM3. The SM3 is right dab in the middle; it has brilliant detail and clarity, and definitely pack a punch, with a clear hint of the impactful sub-bass as well. Once again, to my surprise, it absolutely trumps the W4 with regards to bass, and is a very, very close second to the IE8 (with the IE8 dial tuned to the lowest settings of course).
Soundstage: This is where, thankfully, a clear distinction can be made between the SM3 and the rest of the competition. The soundstage is yet again as deep as that of the W4/IE8, yet not nearly as obvious since the mids just jump out at you, and it's where most of your attention is driven towards. While the depth is similar, the width is not even close to that of the W4, and heavily resembles that of the IE8's width, thus falling short of the CK10's. I'd place it within the same range as the IE8, at 70%, assuming the W4 is 100%.
Overall: I'm taken by surprise, to say the least. At the moment, the SM3's are heavy, heavy competition to the W4's IMO. There are subtle trade-offs between the two: SM3 clearly dominates the mids, which come to life as if they jump right out at you; the W4 is nearly as comfortable as the CK10's; the SM3 comply's provide equally as good of a seal; the W4's soundstage is all around much wider and more balanced since the mids don't predominate the spectrum; the SM3 lows are nothing short of powerful and impactful while maintaining detail and clarity (similar to the W4 on the low bass boost setting via the Headstage, yet with slightly more punch). I must also inform everyone that the SM3's were purchased brand new, and I've been told they change drastically post burn-in, if you believe in that bit. Nonetheless, I'm simply telling you what it is I'm hearing, right out of the box. If indeed they are to sound that much better, I couldn't possibly see why I wouldn't consider keeping them. I'm absolutely thrilled to have had the opportunity to listen to the SM3's, and will definitely monitor for changes post burn-in, maybe after leaving them exposed to some pink noise for a full 2 days or so.
Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10
Comfort: The TF10's are very comfortable, definitely moreso than the SM3's for my ears. My only gripe here is that I've never really been a fan of the stiff, yet flexible wire loop around the ear, as it would cause me fatigue on the outer ear, strictly speaking in regards to my SuperFi 5 PRO's that is. Nonetheless, this is more a personal gripe, and very easy to look past since the TF10's are overall quite comfortable.
Seal: No complaints here, though mark my words carefully, YMMV! Paired with a bad set of tips, you'll be quite disappointed. I fooled around, since I've got an enormous array of tips now with all my IEM's, and found that the same soft black tips I used with my IE8's provided me with a very good seal!
Treble: It's ever so slightly more pronounced than the SM3's, but nowhere near the level of the CK10's of course. The treble presence is there, but there's really no wow factor. The TF10 is simply all around very easygoing and laid back.
Midrange: Slightly similar to the SM3's here, and more pronounced than the W4's. In other words, it's obvious that the mids will catch your attention with the TF10's, while the W4's is the all rounder, and is yet again the most equilibrated, if you will. All in all, the TF10 certainly exposes the mids to an extent; somewhere below the SM3's.
Bass: Just as good as the SM3, yet slightly more pronounced. If you were to read the above statement regarding the SM3's, I'd hold the TF10's in that very same regard. It's not at all overpowering, and can be heard as equally as it can be felt. The TF10's do just as good a job IMO!
Soundstage: I've frequently encountered many impressions of the TF10's soundstage, to which I wholeheartedly agree is pleasantly wide! Yet the signature is also slightly dark IMO. It feels as though the sound spectrum is geared more towards the rear, than the middle, though the signature is overall centered, and deep. If I had to make a comparison here, I'd say it's better fit to compete against the IE8, owing to its deeper all around signature.
Overall: The TF10 is great for just laid back listening. It doesn't strike me with any factor, it's just enjoyable. The rest of the contenders, especially with regards to EDM, seem to bring so much more energy than the TF10's do! The TF10 is what I would refer to as the most relaxed of all the IEM's I've tested thus far. From the get-go, each IEM I've listened to has predominated somewhere within the spectrum (excluding the W4); the CK10's brilliant highs, the IE8's monster lows, the SM3's vibrant mids, while the W4's really the only true exception, with it's all around nearly ruler flat signature. IMO, the TF10 would fit somewhere in between the SM3 and W4, simply because it's just so relaxed with respect to the full sound spectrum, while slightly emphasizing the mids, and a slightly dark signature. Though I'd say it's closer to the SM3 in this regard, only because the mids are ever so slightly more prominent than the W4's. Needless to say, t's clearly beat by the SM3/W4 for my taste! For relaxed listening, it's an overall great sounding IEM. For EDM however, I'd most probably take the IE8's over the TF10's, as techno/trance/dance music needs that kick and energy, which IMO, the TF10 (while satisfactory) doesn't match that of the IE8.
Comfort: Both the W3 and W4 are practically identical in size, thus with regards to comfort, there is absolutely no room for complaints with either.
Seal: From what I said above with regards to the W4, the very same applies here, mainly because it's the same comply tips being used here. Both provide a top notch seal!
Treble: I found there to be more sibilance with the W3, owing to the altogether more forward sound signature. The highs are definitely more pronounced than the W4's. It makes me appreciate that much more just how well balanced the W4's sound signature truly is, and it's balance remains unparalleled to my ears.
Midrange: The mids are a bit more recessed with the W3, when in direct comparison to the W4. This is made obvious when mid-vocals are heard. The highs/lows seem to predominate the listeners attention, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that IMO; simply a matter of preference. I would much rather prefer the SM3/SE535's much more forward mids, and would place the W3's just below the W4 in that regard, while nowhere near the SM3/SE535's.
Bass: The W3 definitely packs a more impactful punch than the W4, without a doubt. In fact, it's quite close to the SM3 here, while still not at the level of the IE8 of course. It manages the lows with clarity and detail almost as well as the W4, but not quite there. To it's advantage however, the W3's lows definitely pack more quantity than the W4. Hence, I can appreciate why the W3 would be the more preferred choice for some, for trance/EDM.
Soundstage: Similar to the SM3, the soundstage of the W3 is all around much more forward than the W4, and falls just short of the W4 in regards to its width. Either ones soundstage, however, is short of flaws IMO. The music is a step closer to the listener, in comparison to the W4, while the mids, slightly recessed. It's really a trade-off; one that I wouldn't particularly settle for.
Overall: There isn't much to say about the W3, as I'd really describe it as the younger sibling of the W4. Given the slightly recessed mids, strictly speaking in direct comparison to the W4 and SM3 that is, I'd still prefer the W4/SM3. For those who currently own the W3 and are considering the W4, I would hands down recommend keeping the W3, as the soundstage isn't significantly less, and it's more forward presence are still very pleasant sounding.
Comfort: It sits at 80% of the W3/W4, as the body is slightly different and the surface is not nearly as smooth.
Seal: No surprises here, the comply's are nothing short of a perfect seal.
Treble: Definitely more pronounced than the W3 and W4, approaching that of the SM3, owing to the much more forward sound signature. From top to bottom, the imaging begins to impact everything, and it literally fills your entire head! This may very well be the SM3's rival. I've also found it ever so slightly more prone to sibilance than the SM3, but it's rarely ever an issue and for the most part, barely worth mentioning.
Midrange: Not at all as recessed as the W3, and to my surprise, approaches that of the SM3. Nonetheless, it's only slightly more forward than the W3 as well as the W4 (without a doubt), and the mid-vocals are very pleasant. The first thought that came to my mind when I gave the UM3X's a listen was quite simply, finally, the SM3 meets it's match!
Bass: The UM3X bass is about 70% what the W3 is. While it doesn't have the same impact as the W3, it's quite similar to the W3's lows in all other regards.
Soundstage: I didn't think it possible, but the imaging is MUCH better appreciated with the UM3X, even moreso than the W4! It's certainly an acquired taste, thus the UM3X may not suit everyone. Even for my ears, I encountered many times where the imaging was excessively spaced out, though YMMV of course. I literally could not imagine the music surrounding me more than it does with the UM3X. To me, it's as though all the frequencies are settled and drooping, relative to the center. I'd say this sets it apart from the SM3, and I will definitely need more time before the unique signature settles in.
Overall: What a blast! The imaging is surprisingly good! It just takes you over, and at the same time, the UM3X is surprisingly more forward than I'd imagined, especially after coming from both the W3 and W4! I couldn't possible say it any better: the music simply fills your head! As I mentioned above, I'll definitely need more time before the signature settles in, and I'm sure it's worth it's wait. Stay posted!
Before, I begin, I'll mention here that I'll try to do as best a comparison between the following IEM's listed below, and the top picks from the previous 2 rounds: UM3X, W4, and SM3. And also, I completely understand now exactly all too well what music_4321 meant when he shared with me his belief with regards to just how much the sound differs based on the recording/mastering of the track. Under many occasions, I could never quite settle on one feeling versus another with regards to the sound spectrum, because I found that it varied from track to track. Nevertheless, I'll try and do my best with respect to each of the following categories.
Comfort: The SE535's sit very firmly within my ear, occupying the entire space. Their presence is easily felt when worn for extended periods of time. While I'm not a fan of the flexible loop wire that curves around the ear, it's no exception here. Their presence can be irritating to my ears, though the body fills my entire inner and ear there's practically no leakage whatsoever! I don't mind it however, owing to the curved and smooth body of the earphones themselves (similar to the Westones), but they fall slightly short of the comfort my W4's/UM3X's provide.
Seal: I'm using the large Shure olives here, need I say more? The seal is as good as it gets, and is easily one of the best I've experienced, thus far.
Treble: Since the W4's are the most centered and balanced to my ears, I initially went back and forth between the W4 and SE535 to see where the treble stands. Then I proceeded to see how they hold up against the SM3/UM3X. To my ears, the SE535's are definitely on the bright side; in a negative way? Not necessarily! Though they do tend to sparkle at times, and are definitely much more prone to sibilance, when in direct comparison to the UM3X and SM3 that is. The W4 highs are the gentlest of the 4, as was expected. The SE535's offer performance similar to the SM3 (especially with regards to the mids), but with greater emphasis on the highs. This could be considered quite the edge over the SM3's for treble enthusiasts, or may very well be the opposite for listeners on the other end of the scale. YMMV!
Midrange: The SE535's are no stranger to brilliant midrange emphasis. I found them to do an excellent job, second only to the SM3's, which says a lot! Their midrange clarity, however, quite easily tops the rest of the competition IMO. To some ears, they will do just as good a job as the SM3's, but I place them just below the SM3's strcitly due to the SE535's more prominent highs, which strike your attention almost as equally as the mids do, which IMO sets them apart from the SM3's much more settled highs and almost as equally prominent mids. In other words, yet again, it's strictly down to personal preference. At this point in time, it'd be a tug of war for me to say which one I prefer. I'll know in due time.
Bass: While the SM3 and UM3X do a great job here IMO, the SE535 definitely packs more feel/punch. The sound signature is very forward in nature, similar to the UM3X, though the SE535 gains the upper edge here IMO since the bass presence is definitely both better felt and heard.
Soundstage: Man, was I surprised here! The soundstage is definitely wider than my W4's, and sits somewhere between the SM3 and UM3X, but much much closer to that of the UM3X. It's wide alright, and as was the case with the UM3X, channels the music towards either extreme sides of my head, opposed to the W4's all around centered signature. The soundstage falls just short of the UM3X here IMO, which is quite a mouthful when taken into consideration! Going back and forth between the SE535 and UM3X's instrument seperation, the difference is as obvious as day and night to my ears, though this may not hold true for everyone of course. The SE535's have a brilliant and forward sound signature, and are very fit for direct comparison between my current top picks! They're keepers for now, no doubt about it!
Overall: While I still prefer the SE535's soundstage to the UM3X's, and the SM3's mids to the SE535's, the lows definitely have an upper edge over either one, and the soundstage is still nothing short of stunning. The mids met every expectation I had in mind for the SE535's, and were it not for my attention being driven towards the strong emphasis on the highs, they'd definitely be my preference over the SM3's. Coupled with the olives, the seal is hard to beat, and may even exceed that of the CK10 for some listeners! I'd hold either one in equal regards. I'll definitely give myself more time with the SE535's, and if the more prominent highs do settle in for my taste, they may very well replace even the W4's, though I'd be lying if I said that they already do.
Comfort: I won't lie, when I first encountered even images of the EX1000, I couldn't help but think, what are they? They look pretty awesome, and very aggressive. They are really well designed IMO, completely unique from anything I've encountered! So given the strangely unique body, just how comfortable are they? It's all down to the tips here, due to the fact that the entire body of the earphones practically sticks outside of the ears. It's just as strange as the appearance, and as much as I hate to say it, isolation is just garbage. Even when the track playing, I can hear outside noise. This IMO is quite a dealbreaker for many, though if you read on, I'll tell you why the EX1000 holds it's reputation, and why many are easily willing to overlook it's shortcomings.
Seal: Sub par, to say the least! Even with the very wide array of tips Sony was kind enough to include, I could ever so slightly hear the birds chirping and the wind blowing (during the quiter parts of the track), when seated just besides the window. Am I willing to call it quits here? Similar to what I said above, read on...
Treble: This is where the EX1000 took me by complete surprise! Whenever I encountered any post with mention to the EX1000, the word "bass" was never excluded out of the discussion. Hence I was under the impression that they'd sound very deep, and the treble probably lacking, while the lows would easily predominate the rest of the spectrum. This is the absolute farthest from the truth! Their sound signature is surprisingly high and forward, with respect to all frequencies. The treble isn't at all lacking, nor are the mids, and the lows... well, I'll cover that bit below. They have a good presence of the highs, and can only be compared to the SE535's in that regard. They are still prone to sibilance at times, yet slightly better than the SE535's in that regard.
Midrange: The signature is surprisingly forward, and is such a blast to listen to! I instantly fell in love with the EX1000's with any track I tested them with! IMO, they remind me of a hybrid of the CK10 and W4. The midrange falls right in place, with respect to the rest of the spectrum. They isn't a stronger emphasis in any one area, similar to the W4, and the signature, as mentioned, is surprisingly forward, reminding me of what I loved most about the CK10's! Were it not for the seal, these would sit amongst the top 3 on my list; so much so that I intend to fool around with as many tips as I can practically fit on them and if and when I'm concent, the rest of the contenders are in trouble, to say the least!
Bass: The EX1000's are said to shine with regards to the bass, and oh do they deliver! It's as much punchy as it is rich! It's not at all muddy/bloated, and definitely gains the upper edge on anything I've heard thus far, with the exception of the IE8's, which I still hold in the absolute highest regards! Once again, falling short of only the IE8's is quite a mouthful, in and of itself!
Soundstage: Again, clearly beyond my expectations! The EX1000's almost do it all, and do it really really well! It's obvious by now what the "almost" is here, and I can now understand why the EX1000's receive the praise that they've been known to. They are a blast! They are surprisingly balanced with respect to the entire spectrum, and their forward nature reminds me of my first experience with the CK10's. To my ears, the soundstage is almost identical to the W4's, which means it's very satisfactory! The resemblance is almost scary!
Overall: Were it not for the above mentioned "shortcoming" (if you will), I'd have been sold already! It's almost as though I took what I love most about the CK10's, threw in the W4's soundstage, and a few ingredients from the IE8's lows, and voilà: the EX1000 is born! It sounds SO natural, and once I'm able to fool around with the tips and find a seal better fit for me, it's going to be very hard to look past these! The competition just got that much more serious!
Fischer Audio DBA-02
Comfort: From the size, down to the fit, the DBA-02 is nearly identical to the CK10! The resemblance is uncanny. With that said, comfort is just as equally top notch! These earphones are long and much narrower than the CK10, shaped like a tiny torpedo. Hence they too dissapear when inserted. Absolutely no complaints here!
Seal: While the included tips didn't provide me a good seal, the nozzle onto which the tip inserts is just the right size for my large comply's; hence the seal was as good as it gets for my ears. Yet again, no complaints whatsoever!
Treble: They are bright, yet brilliantly forward! Once again, their resemblance to the CK10's is unimaginably close. Nevertheless, they're not quite as prone to sibilance as the CK10's were. Hence, they're better suited than the CK10's to my ears, and I find it hard to believe that their sound signature is just as much forward as the CK10's had been, or a very very close second, with slightly more tamed highs. To me, that's a winning combination! Strictly speaking with regards to EDM however, they are much too bright for my taste, and are much better suited elsewhere, just as the CK10's had been.
Midrange: With respect to the rest of the spectrum, the mids are unequivalently as forward, and are just as much in your face as with the CK10's! They're yet again either equivalent, or a very close second to the CK10's, based on whether or not ones ears are able to appreciate the subtle difference (if one even exists).
Bass: Oh, it's there, no doubt about it! The bass is impactful, tight and controlled, yet bare in mind that it presents in the very same forward nature as the rest of the sound signature. Thus while it isn't nearly to the same quantity as say the IE8, or even W3/UM3X, it's presence is both heard and felt. Nonetheless, those who's ears are more bass-oriented will want to look elsewhere, as there are clearly more "capable" IEM's in that regard. However, many of the strongly bass oriented IEM's I've come to hear present at the opposite end of the scale, with a darker and much deeper sound signature than that of the not so bass oriented earphones (I'm trying to avoid the use of the word bass-light, because to my ears, that's clearly not the case with the CK10's and DBA-02, and depends entirely on what they are in direct comparison to).
Soundstage: Excellent soundstage. Just as satisfying as my W4's (though not as wide); I'm fully content in this regard! With that said, it's presence is just as forward as the CK10's, and the track just comes to life, in the best of ways! It's an acquired sound, and those content with such an enveloping, brilliantly forward sound signature need not look elsewhere IMO; unless it's the CK10's of course!
Overall: You want to hear what happens when a guitar strum comes to life? Give the DBA-02's a listen, they'll simply blow your mind! I'd mirror here just about everything I had said with regards to the Audio Technica's. Had I listened to either side by side, I'd have been left utterly confused. There are very, very subtle distinctions between the two, and whether or not ones ears are able to pick up on them, I'd say the DBA-02 clearly gains the edge here with it's very competitive and wallet-friendly pricetag! If ever you've come to own the CK10's, give the DBA-02's a listen, and they are bound to win you over; especially your wallet. Not to mention, the highs are slightly more tamed and less prone to hiss/sibilance. They aren't at all competitors for my W4/SE535's, only because their sound is much better fit for other genres IMO. Otherwise, they've just as equally earned my respect as the CK10's had! To prove my point, just a week ago, my sister asked me for a pair of IEM's best suited for her. Given her taste in music (mostly rock/acoustic), I wished she had asked me back when I had the CK10's. With the DBA-02 here now, I was able to fulfill that wish and more, and she was left speechless. She has now made certain I'm nowhere near "her" DBA-02's. Need I say more?
Monster Turbine Pro Copper
Comfort: Upon first impression, I thought to myself, something this well crafted doesn't belong in my ear, it should be displayed behind a glass as decor. They are beautifully crafted, by no stretch of the word! They feel very heavy in the hands, when compared to all my other IEM's. That to me screams both quality and longevity, and the look and feel is nothing short of stunning! I tried both straight cable, as well as over the ear; either one was absolutely top notch, though I prefer over the ear (read on).
Seal: While Monster provided me with more tips than I'd ever know what to do with, I immediately jumped towards my large comply's, which provides the absolute best seal for my ears, period! Unfortunately, the Copper's nozzle is a tad on the larger side, and so I began searching through the wide array of included tips; I settled with the large rounded silicone like tips (as pictured). The outcome? Brilliant! They provide as good a seal as the CK10's had! I prefer to wear the Copper's over the ear, because when worn straight down, the cable tends to constantly brush up against my face and I find it rather irritating. YMMV of course!
Treble: It'd be unfair of me to compare the Copper's with the SE535; they are two entirely different monsters (quite literally speaking ); the Copper's are much more similar in a sense to the W4's. They're ever so slightly deeper sounding, all around, than the W4's, and with respect to the entire spectrum, don't seem to predominate in any one area over another; hence to some, it may seem as though the Copper's sound signature is slightly recessed, when in direct comparison to the W4's. However, I wouldn't call it recessed at all, rather deep and luscious sounding.
Midrange: The Copper's are more intimate and closer sounding to the listeners ears than the SE535's (owing to the Copper's all around deeper sound and SE535's brighter sound signature), though the midrange is nowhere near as forward; rather, my attention was drawn equally across all frequencies. Yet again, it'd only be fair for me to compare the Copper's to the W4's mids, to which I'd say that the Copper's are a close second, though not as revealing. Surprisingly, as deep as they sound, the mids aren't at all recessed. Vocals sound deep yet balanced with respect to the other frequencies. The presence of the mids is intimate and consuming. I simply couldn't put them down!
Bass: This is where the Copper's shine! It's as though I took the very same feeling the EX1000's had brought me, and mixed it in with the W4's balanced signature, while tuning the sound to be deeper all around.I can't strees enough just how close and intimate the Copper's sound to the listener, and the bass is of no exception here! It's so rich and powerful, with no shortcomings IMO. It's very fit for my taste, and is currently the closest threat to my W4's, maybe even moreso than the Shures.
Soundstage : As I mentioned above, the soundstage is deeper than the W4, all around. Nonetheless, It's completely consuming and surprisingly wide for such a deep sounding disgnature. The width is not as wide as the W4's, and falls at about 80% of the W4's, roughly speaking. In other words, it's just enough IMO! While the highs and mids aren't as revealing as the W4's, and nowhere near the SE535's, the luscious and intimate bass is unmatched to my ears. Not to mention, the Copper's are much more tolerable at higher volumes than any other IEM's I've tested, thus far. It's definitely an acquired sound signature, and one that certainly won't lose my attention anytime soon!
Overall: I'm taken by surprise, and whenever the bass hits, I'm left speechless. I love the feel that the Copper's bring me, and while they too have a rather unique sound signature, the Copper's remind me of a deeper, some may even say darker sounding W4, with brilliant bass impact! I've only had a few hours in with them, and they fell right up there with the best of the best! I have no hesitation in keeping them in for hours on in; they go hand in hand with my entire collection! For the time being, the W4 is here to stay without a doubt, but I'll know in a few days time if the Copper's offer enough to replace my SE535's!
Monster Miles Davis Tribute
Comfort: I'd hold the Tributes in the same regards as the Copper's; the build is quite similar with both, with the exception of the shape od the body itself. With that said, the Tribute offers excellent comfort.
Seal: An exact mirror of what was mentioned above with the Copper's; I even used the same round tips (as shown) with both the Copper's and Tributes. the seals as good as I'd ask for, nothing less.
Treble: The Tributes are ever so slightly on the bright side (when in direct comparison to the W4), but not nearly to the extent of the SE535's in that regard. In fact, they're still quite the opposite of the SE535's, since the SE535 also presents with a much more forward signature. The treble sounds just right IMO. It doesn't predominate the spectrum, nor is it at all recessed; it's presence falls right into place with respect to the rest of the spectrum.
Midrange: This is where the Tributes shine IMO. The feel and presence of the mids are surprisingly good! Midrange vocals sound close and personal, with great clarity and exposure. I get a similar feel here to what the Copper's offer, making the sound feel ever so close and intimate to the listeners ears; yet the Turbines are not nearly as deep sounding as the Copper's are. To be quite honest, I prefer the mids here to even the SE535's, since the SE535's tend to drive the listeners attention to the much more prominent and sparkling highs. Nevertheless, the SE535 also has a much wider soundstage, and much more forward nature, so it's a completely different sound signature altogether.
Bass: Coming from the Copper's, I had big expectations. And they were met, to say the least! The Tribute packs quite a punch, and is second only to the Copper's, with much more quantity than the W4 and even the SE535's. It's simply a blast to listen to, and will definitely have you head bopping throughout the track!
Soundstage : While not as wide as the W4, and not nearly as wide as the SE535's, they're quite satisfactory. The overall spectrum sounds elevated and is rather enclosed (ie not at all as open sounding as the W4/SE535). It's as though the soundstage has been scrunched in with the addition of boomy, yet brilliant bass. As vibrant as the mids are, and as powerful as the bass impact is, I'm quite surprised that the mids are just as much exposed throguhout, with no low frequency masking/interference.
Overall: I weasn't able to A/B the Tributes against the Copper's, since my Copper's suffered an unfortunate fate. until the replacements are here. that's on hold. From what I've heard thus far, I can say this much: the two are completely different sounding, to no surprise. The only comparison I can attribute to both is the bass, to which I'd say the descriptive term "monster" fits perfectly well. The Turbines take the deep signature of the Copper's and flip it around, offering a slightly bright signature, with a wonderful, but narrow soundstage in comparison to the W4/SE535, revealing mids, and brilliant bass punch! Bare in mind that my testing involved strictly EDM tracks, and reflects only what I heard in those regards. I'll have to A/B the Monster's again once the replacement Copper's arrive; until then, I'm quite fond of the Monster line of IEM's, and they are definitely fit for the title of top tiers.
Visit the following post for my head to head impression between the Copper's and Tributes.
Headstage Arrow 12HE 3G
First Impression: I had absolutely no idea what to expect with the Headstage Arrow 3G, being that this is my very frist amp, period! Since I've never tested, nor have come to own any amp prior to this once, I feel it's in my favor since my view is entirely unbiased. First off, this thing is TINY! It's extremely slim, equivalent to a stack of 5 credit cards! That's about as portable as anyone could ask for. Accessories included with a mini USB to USB charging cable, and a screw driver in case I ever decide to void my warranty.
There are quite a number of possible configurations, so rather than covering each one individually, I'll combine whichever settings I feel deliver the "best" results, and post my impressions.
Revised (5/15/11): What happens when all the individual settings are switched on and applied together? Plain and simple; magic! I can't believe I overlooked this tiny device. I was once told that while our eyes may be small, they are capable of seeing great distances. Similarily, with me, I heavily underestimated the Headstage, and what distances it's capable of taking my listening experience. I don't have anything else to compare it to, being my first ever amp, but it's absolutely euphoric! It wasn't until I came across many tracks where I wished the W4 had a slight bass boost, similar to the lowest setting on the IE8's which I've come to love; it's really all I could ask for with the W4. I was afraid that with even the low setting applied on the Headstage, the W4 wouldn't sound as pleasant, and may sound muddy or even bloated. However, my Headstage was now simply taking up space on my side table for nearly an entire day, and so I decided to experiment. I went back to each track where I had felt the W4 needed that mid-bass boost/sub-bass emphasis, and switched on the low bass setting. Meanwhile, I fooled around with the rest of the settings, until I was content with the sound. The bass hadn't kicked in yet, so while the progressive track was building up to it, I began to notice the sound spectrum widen ever so slightly with low crossfeed applied, and the richer high frequencies with the gain set to low, as well as the overall full spectrum tightness with impedence on low, where all frequencies were suddenly so much more tame. It was significantly noticeable, and the W4 sounded like an entirely different monitor altogether; and that's where the track reached its climax, when the bass hit. Seriously? IE8's who? I promise you, this is how the W4 should sound, period! I'm practically reaching the point where I'd have no trouble declaring the Headstage worth it's weight, but don't want to jump that point until I've tested the remainder of the competition, come this Monday. Were I to leave it at where I'm at currently, I think it's fairly obvious where I'd stand. Till next time, stay tuned for round 2!
I'll update this thread as my other top tiers arrive. Everything I've mentioned above is strictly with regards to what I hear, and is entirely subjective. Nonetheless, I hope it's of use to some, who, much like myself, find themselves quarrelling between one versus the other.
Edited by i2ehan - 5/27/11 at 9:07pm