Rooth LS8: Crystal Clear Power & Dynamics
Rooth is under the same roof as Unique Melody, sharing the same facility and possibly the same manufacturing equipment, but both have different designers/technicians. I took a blind flyer on the LS8 as there really wasn't much information that I could find about these, but you never know when you might strike gold. I figured the LS8 could be a good performer with 8 balanced armature drivers in a 4-way configuration and contacted Rooth.
They responded quite quickly and after a few emails back and forth I found myself sending them ear impressions and then sending them my payment via PayPal. I asked for some custom artwork consisting of pictures and then carbon fiber, however they told me they couldn't do either so I settled on a clear shell with the word Rooth. I did request that they recess the jacks for the detachable cable which they did. Three weeks after I sent my ear impressions via USPS First Class International they arrived, then 25 days later the LS8 was ready for shipping back to me. They were shipped via FedEx and arrived in 2 business days. Click here to see my custom IEM review, information thread, and manufacturer list thread.
Presentation of the LS8 was impressive as they came in a large white box with an inner black box. They were nicely presented in a cavity with fake wood usually found in cars inside. The accessories include a cleaning tool, soft case, instructions, metal 2 year warranty card, and graph. I do have to say I was disappointed with the carrying case as it is not something I am using and now put the LS8 in another carrying case.
click for larger pictures
Build quality is very good with a beautiful shell free of bubbles and the recessed jack is very nice. The cable is a black twisted cable that is typical for custom IEMs. The configuration of the drivers is as follows: dual bass driver; dual midrange driver; dual treble driver; dual super tweeter. The build quality is among the best I have seen and I have no complaints about fit, finish, or the cable.
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.
Disclaimer: My reviews are done while using other similarly priced headphones for comparison when available. Comparison with others in the price range will help identify strengths and weaknesses, however the weaknesses might not be noticed unless in direct comparison. In comparison with lower cost custom IEMs, the high the price, unless explicitly stated, the better the technical ability.
Upon the very first listen the LS8 didn't sound spectacular as it wasn't as refined or as smooth. I am a believer in burn in, even with BA customs, so I let the LS8 play music for a week before I did any serious listening. Upon first comparison listen after burn in, the LS8 is not like my other similarly priced customs in sound signature. It reminds me of the CK10 in tonal balance due to the midrange frequency response which includes a peak in the upper mids at 6K, but other than that it is like comparing a kitten (CK10) with a lion (LS8). I would say the LS8 is aggressive, but in an oh so smooth way, like a sleek but powerful killer in the wild. Update: actually, upon the very first listen
Treble: Excellent extension with the flattest treble response I have heard using test tones and frequency sweeps. I can hear 18.5K before any roll off, which I believe is due to my hearing, but turning the volume up I can still hear 20K. I consider the 6K peak in the midrange and mention it more there. This translates to extraordinarily smooth treble that has zero fatigue for me while sounding airy but not too bright. The detail levels are fantastic as the harmonics of notes are recreated resulting in great imaging and articulation. Tracks that can be offensive due to either poor quality mastering or over-emphasis of treble are smooth and non-offensive and sound very smooth, yet retain amazing clarity and detail.
Mids: Detailed and very clear if slightly on the lean side in comparison with my other similarly priced custom IEMs. The mids are forward and the 6K peak brings the upper mids even more forward, accentuating instruments in that region and making vocals front and center. Both female and male vocals sound crisp and extremely detailed, as if the performer is there in front of you. However depending on the source matching (see below), the S’s in a few female vocals sounded a little sharp, which was a surprise as everything else is super smooth across the spectrum. This issue was limited to a small percent (maybe 5%) of my tracks with the worst offender being Michelle – Vincent, which also sounded too forward as the song is mastered to have a 3D presentation with forward vocals. And in comparison with my other customs, the midrange was a marginally leaner probably due to the 6K bump vs. a lack of warmth.
Bass: Rumble and reverberation run rampant with great punch on bass heavy tracks (Massive Attack for example) giving the presentation power and weight with a slightly warm presentation (again, the slight lean sound is due to the 6K peak, not lack of bass warmth). The CK10, which the LS8 somewhat reminds me of, is nothing like the LS8 in the bass region when bass heavy tracks are playing. On the flip side, the SE 5-way, SA-43, EM3 Pro, and EP-10 Plus all have more bass emphasis and warmth. Bass extends down to about 30 Hz where it slightly rolls off, but this is only noticeable when compared with others that don't roll off in the few tracks that do hit that deep. Using test tones at 1 Hz increments below 30 Hz showed the roll off, but it was 20 Hz was still fairly strong. Bass texturing and detail is very good as is bass note sustainment. Reverberation and decay are also very good, and while they aren’t quite to the level of a dynamic driver, the bass is tighter and faster. It could keep up with any type of instrument or electronic note thrown its way.
Presentation: Detail is exceptional across the spectrum, bringing out every nuance of the instruments in a clear, easy to hear way. Instrument separation is also very good, but not on the same level of the detail, but nonetheless combining the two results in superb imaging. On certain tracks like Coldplay - Viva La Vida and Danilo Perez - Think of One I could picture the instruments in front of me and felt like I had my own private presentation. Even my poorly mastered tracks, such as EBTG - Two Star and In This Moment - All For You sounded very detailed and smooth while still providing great detail. The inherent sibilance that All For You exhibits with many headphones was non-existant with the LS8! The overall presentation across the spectrum of the LS8 is fantastic with no fatigue despite the presentation.
The soundstage is spacious and wide, but a step behind the other custom IEMs I have in front-to-back presentation. Tracks that are wider than deep such as 30 Seconds to Mars - Echelon and the Nick Warren album Back to Mine excel. Tracks that are more 3D such as Danilo Prerez and anything from Balmorhea only seem limited in direct comparison with my other $1K+ custom IEMs. The forward projection puts you front row, center.
Imaging is fantastic as the LS8 articulates location and details exceptionally well. I caught myself listening to specific parts of the presentation for extended periods of time as everything is easy to make out. While the other similarly priced customs present music with great detail, they recreate the space and place everything together while the LS8 seems to recreate the individual instruments/sounds in their place in the space, recreating an equally convincing space, but just different. Unfortunately the LS8 didn’t recreate the ambiance of the presentations in the same way the other high end custom IEMs did, which you probably wouldn’t hear if you were front row center.
Loudness performance: Very low volume performance was similar to most BA IEMs where the bass somewhat fades compared with the rest of the spectrum. This increases quickly as you turn the volume up, a little faster than the lower cost customs and my SM3. Of course, moderate volume levels are great and the LS8 can deliver perfectly at high volume level (as loud as I care to listen for a few seconds).
Sound Summary: Detail, clarity, smoothness, and power summarize the fantastic presentation of the LS8 while a CK10 with a kick, a huge one at that, is a summary of the sound signature. The LS8 often surprised me with the crystal clarity it provides for individual instruments with great imaging while still providing a full range and powerful presentation. I could listen all day without any hint of fatigue or wanting to take them out.
Amazing detail and clarity
Extremely smooth and liquid across the frequency spectrum
Powerful bass with great tactile performance
Soundstage, while wide, is not the most 3D
With some sources and some tracks the S's have an edge
Source matching is important due to the LS8 due to the 6K peak as with some sources the S's can become sharp.
Rooth LS8 with TWag cable connected to the 801-> Pico Slim
Clip+: The LS8 is very detailed and brings the details of the performance out with a fantastic smoothness. This combo is a very good one as the details the Clip+ do produce are all there in their glory with a sound signature that matches quite well as the 7K peak was tamed quite a bit. The smoothness of female vocals wasn't quite as good as with many other sources. The fine details really add to the realism for me are smoothed out or sometimes even just not there with the Clip+ for the recordings that have that information present, but for on the go convenience, the Clip+ is great!
iPhone: Switching from the Clip+ to the iPhone, something seemed to be missing. First, a certain liveliness/dynamics of the presentation seemed to be somewhat lacking with the iPhone. The midrange seemed accentuated, but there was a lack of air and deep bass punch found with my other sources. I really don't think this is a great match.
AMP3 Pro2: The LS8 is held back by the AMP3 by hiss and lack of ultimate clarity that make the LS8 special. I don't think the AMP3 is a good match for the LS8.
-> Arrow: This combination exhibited the sharpest S's of all my sources and the treble is a little rougher than other amps with the iPod. It does add some warmth to the sound, which is welcomed with the LS8, although not needed.
-> Pico Slim: The Pico Slim was on the colder side when paired with the LS8, which wasn't the most enjoyable performance for me. Soundstage space was slightly smaller than the Arrow or Stepdance, and while a little more 3D than the Arrow, it was about the same as the Stepdance. Treble was the smoothest of the amps tested with no edge to the S's. This match is OK, but my least favorite of the amps. Between this and the Arrow you are trading off treble smoothness for a little added warmth.
-> Stepdance: The Stepdance is a great match with the LS8 as it seems to bring out the best for me. Bass seems to reach slightly deeper and is more visceral, treble, while not quite as smooth as the Pico Slim, only trails by a hair while giving a 3D yet wide presentation. Carrying around the larger Stepdance is worth it for the synergy here.
HUD-MX1 (OPA1611 op amp): From the headphone out, the HUD resembled the iPod-> Arrow in the treble region with some sharp S's. Bass was full and the overall presentation was nice, however the detail levels and imaging wasn't up to par with the iPod to an amp. The presentation wasn't super wide, but wasn't bad at all. When an amp was plugged into the signal path however, the detail levels were kicked up a notch, although still not to 801 levels. The Stepdance again ruled the amps with the best combination of overall sound.
HiFi Man 801: First, at very low volume levels there was a channel imbalance, so all listening was done at low-moderate and above listening levels. The 801 has great imaging with a very 3D presentation with incredible depth to the presentation, however it does give up ultimate soundstage width to achieve the depth. This is my most detailed source, and it shows in some tracks where there is an increase in the micro-detail of the instruments, but not in all tracks. Actually, the difference between the 801 and my modded iPod are not all that great in the vast majority of tracks I used for comparison, but then the few acoustic tracks where there was a difference were a very pleasant experience. The 801 is a warm player and this warmth goes well with the LS8 making for a very tonally satisfying presentation. The treble did have a little sharpness to the S's, but significantly less than the Arrow from the iPod.
-> Arrow: Detail levels picked up with this combo vs. the HPO. The bass region isn't as impactful nor as deep and the soundstage becomes wider yet flatter. The imaging and detail increase the realism of the presentation, however the tonal balance of the HPO sounds more accurate to me.
-> Pico Slim: The presentation seems much more mid-forward than the Arrow and the presentation surprisingly seems less treble focused. The Pico Slim tames the 7K peak, but doesn't necessarily improve the presentation from the 801 HPO, it more or less just seems to change it. Presentation space is about the same, but the Pico Slim seems a hair smaller overall.
-> Stepdance: Details are much more readily apparent with the Stepdance than the HPO in addition to the Stepdance adding power to the presentation lacking in the 801 (although it didn't seem lacking until I compared the two). The bass hits really hard with the Stepdance, giving the best punch of any source combination I have tried. Very enjoyable and the top selection of my source combinations, although the modded iPod -> Stepdance isn't too far off. It is also important to note that the lowest volume level achieved from this combination was higher than the other two amp combinations I used and can be too loud for some songs/listening environments.
Source summary: 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 to the sound. Amping with the right amp will further improve the experience.
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.
For a summary, reviews of other custom IEMs, and many other custom resources, see my Custom IEM Resource Thread.
Edited by average_joe - 8/2/11 at 2:07pm