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Review: Clear Tune Monitors CTM-200 dual-driver custom

post #1 of 94
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Clear Tune Monitors operates out of Orlando, Florida, with a half dozen auxiliary offices open throughout Europe and South America. Compared to some of the other customs manufacturers discussed on Head-Fi, CTM is a fairly large outfit with professional clients all over the world. The company currently offers five models, from the single-driver CTM to the quad-driver, 3-way CTM-400 Pro. This review covers the mid-level CTM-200, a dual-driver hard-shell custom priced at $350.

Since the CTM-200 is my fourth set of hard-shell custom in-ears, the process of having them made them was all too familiar. For an account of my first-time experience and thoughts on the mechanics of ordering and fitting customs, see last year’s 1964EARS 1964-T review here.



Design, Build Quality, & Accessories


ClearTuneMonitors CTM-200 accessories.jpg

 

ClearTuneMonitors CTM-200.jpg

 

ClearTuneMonitors CTM-200 CloseUp.jpg

 

ClearTuneMonitors CTM-200 CloseUp 2.jpg

 

ClearTuneMonitors CTM-200 CloseUp 3.jpg

 

The CTM-200 utilizes a two-way, dual-bore setup with a Knowles CI-22955 and ED-23619 in each earpiece. The design is identical to other full-shell acrylic customs, with eighteen color options available. Two-tone color schemes for the shells and faceplates and custom artwork command very reasonable $25 premiums. The cable uses a Westone-size socket and a slightly raised connector.

The earphones arrived in a plain box with an equally minimalistic set of accessories – a velvet storage case and a cleaning tool. The build is good – the exterior is clean and free of scratches, with a bit of bubbling on the inside but fantastically clear faceplates. The earphones easily set themselves apart from the similarly-priced 1964EARS 1964-T by the careful finish of the bores and cable sockets and look more polished than the cheaper Kozee X1 as well. Anyone not planning to display their customs in a showroom should be extremely pleased with the construction.



Fit & Comfort



Being a custom monitor, the fit of the CTM-200 depends almost entirely on the quality of the initial impressions and skill of the person making the monitors. If the earphones remain even a tiny bit uncomfortable after an initial break-in period, a re-fit is probably a good idea. CTM allows refits for an extremely generous 120 days. There is added cost with shipping the monitors back and, if necessary, getting new impressions but on the whole a perfect fit is well worth the trouble. The Sensaphonics Seal Test might be of use to those who are uncertain whether they are getting a good seal.
 

Isolation & Microphonics



The isolation provided by the fitted acrylic shells is excellent, though it may not seem so at first. The passive attenuation is slightly below what the higher-end Etymotic Research earphones are capable of with foam or tri-flange tips but higher than that of the ergonomic monitors from Westone and EarSonics. Cable noise is pretty much nonexistent, as is the case with all of the custom monitors I’ve come across.
 

Sound Quality



Specifications


Driver configuration: dual BA with passive crossover
Input sensitivity: 110dB @ 1mw
Frequency response: 20 to 15,500Hz
Impedance: 17.5Ω at 1 kHz
Noise Isolation: -26dB

Note: Most of my listening was done using a Cowon J3 or a Tianyun ZERO DAC paired with mini3 portable amp, and my FLAC audio library. The CTM-200 is relatively forgiving as far as reference monitors go and scales up only moderately. My Cowon J3 is more than capable of driving the earphones but bringing in the DAC/amp combo sharpens everything up a bit.

For reference, reviews of all of the other customs and universals I have heard can be found in my multi-IEM review thread here.

The CTM-200 is billed as a low-cost option for professional musicians and discerning listeners alike. I have no issues with that claim - the sound signature is even enough for it to be used as a reference monitor but at the same time the presentation is fluid and natural, lacking the analytical edge and excessive separation that can interfere with musicality. The bass is only mildly rolled off at the very bottom, otherwise coming across controlled and level. Overall bass quantity is medium, very close to what I would consider ‘neutral’. The mid-bass boost of the similarly-priced 1964EARS 1964-T is nowhere to be found, with the bass of the CTM-200 coming out a touch cleaner and better-defined as a result. The CTM is a little less dynamic and not quite as capable as the 1964-T of belting out the low notes but the gain in resolution will be worth it for many listeners. Compared to the j-phonic K2 SP, the bass of the CTM-200 is similar in quantity but with a greater sensation of impact, likely due to the larger contact area of the custom shell, while the speed and depth are a touch lower. The dynamic-driver VSonic GR07 is also around the same level in terms of bass quantity but has a bit more body and thickness at the expense of detail and resolution.

The midrange transition is smooth and seamless, with zero bleed. Most obvious is just how good the crossover is – the CTM-200 causes the 1964-T to sound concentrated and slightly congested in the midrange, as if there are too many drivers doing the same job. Neither sounds disjointed but the CTM is simply more smooth and relaxed. The mids are less forward than those of the 1964-T but they are by no means recessed. Between the other reasonably well-balanced in-ears, the Audio-Technica CK10 has slightly less midrange presence and the j-phonic K2 SP has slightly more, largely due to its aggressive presentation. Good balance aside, the CTM-200 is also liquid and transparent, not at all dry as the 1964-T tends to be but also slightly less textured and not as aggressively-detailed. The clarity is excellent, note thickness is good, and the tone is very neutral – the K2 SP might sound a touch crisper but it is brighter and thinner-sounding. As a result, the j-phonics come across edgier and more analytical while the CTM-200 is smoother and more organic.

Similarly to the midrange, the treble of the CTM-200 is smooth and non-fatiguing, as it should be with a good monitor. It is clean and clear but those looking for an analytical edge will be disappointed. There is a touch more sparkle compared to the 1964-T but the tuning leans on the safe side on the whole – the VSonic GR07, for example, is noticeably less smooth and tends to accentuate sibilance far more than the CTM-200 does. The ATH-CK10, too, sounds hotter with its treble peak and even the 1964-T is not quite as soft and easy-going despite having slightly more laid-back treble on the whole. Top-end extension is about on-par with the CK10 – some earphones do better but many armature-based sets do worse.

The soundstage of the CTM-200 is rather spacious and the overall sound is big and airy. Whereas the 1964-T is intimate in presentation and has good centering ability, the CTM-200 is well-separated and more diffuse. At times it makes the 1964-T sound downright congested. More interestingly, the headstage is wider than just about anything in my collection. The GR07, RE272 and CK10, while well-rounded in terms of sonic space, fall short of the width of the CTM-200 and the decidedly less spacious K2 SP and 1964-T don’t stand a chance. The imaging would probably be a little less vague if the headstage wasn’t so big and the dynamics were better but the CTM-200 still performs very admirably on all counts.

Lastly, since someone is certainly going to ask, I thought I would compare the CTM-200 to the Unique Melody Miracle. The 3-way, 6-driver, $929 flagship from China-based Unique Melody is not tuned as a reference monitor but it is still my sole benchmark for what a top-tier custom is capable of on a technical level. Keep in mind that the fairness of a comparison between two IEMs so different in purpose and price is dubious at best.

The sound signature of the Miracle is very slightly v-shaped, which means that the midrange of the CTM-200 is more prominent in comparison and the bass and treble are more relaxed. The lows of the Miracle are much more powerful – deeper, thicker, weightier. Impact is more tactile and the bass has rumble to go with its punch. In the midrange the Miracle is again thicker, smoother, and more fluid. Clarity levels are similar but the Miracle is the more resolving and refined earphone. It is also more dynamic, which has an effect not only on fidelity but also on imaging and positioning. The sonic space of the Miracle is easily more well-rounded and more 3-dimensional while the CTM-200 has a slight upper hand in soundstage width and stereo separation.
 

Conclusion



The dual-BA setup used by the CTM-200 is hardly revolutionary but the sound produced by the entry-level custom is excellent. At $350 excluding shipping, impressions, and extras, the CTM-200 is no pricier than many high-end universals but offers the isolation, fit, and customization options of a full-shell custom monitor. The finish is very good compared to the other entry-level customs in my possession and the sound is balanced and spacious. It is not for fans of the dry, overly crisp note presentation of analytical earphones, nor does it have the excessive lushness of certain stage monitors. Instead, the CTM-200 sounds soft and natural, with clarity and detail expected of a BA-based earphone in its price range and a presentation to match. I have been impressed with it over the past two months, and anyone else looking for a balanced monitor in the price range should be as well.


Edited by ljokerl - 12/10/11 at 2:30pm
post #2 of 94

That sounds like a pretty ideal approach in signature based on my preferences and experience. Nice review, will take these into consideration should I ever consider budget customs. 


Edited by Inks - 11/20/11 at 7:15pm
post #3 of 94

Wow, that sounds like a very nice entry custom (or second custom).

post #4 of 94
Thread Starter 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Inks View Post

That sounds like a pretty ideal approach in signature based on my preferences and experience. Nice review, will take these into consideration should I ever consider budget customs. 


Thanks. It is a good signature - I think these may be a good step into entry-level customs for some TWFK fans as it is a more relaxed but still balanced sound and also for those who like balanced dynamics such as the RE252/RE272. Personally I find these more to my liking than the 1964-T and a bit better technically as well.

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by Kunlun View Post

Wow, that sounds like a very nice entry custom (or second custom).



Or third biggrin.gif

post #5 of 94

popcorn.gif

post #6 of 94

Good stuff!

post #7 of 94
How does it compares with Earsonics products? I really like spacious soundstage and balance sounds
post #8 of 94

Sometimes wonder how the likes of UE can justify their prices... are they really 3 x as good?

post #9 of 94
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by average_joe View Post

Good stuff!


Thanks!

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vipa View Post

Sometimes wonder how the likes of UE can justify their prices... are they really 3 x as good?



It's not a linear scale. Performance is a bit difficult to quantify but even high-end universals won't be anywhere near 3x as good as a solid mid-level earphone. See also diminishing returns.


That said, the only way to know the difference between any two products is to compare them side by side. I offered my commentary on the CTM-200 vs the UM Miracle, which as another ~$900 custom. Is the Miracle better - yes. Is it worth an extra $600? That's for the person spending the money to decide.

post #10 of 94

 

aQuote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post


 


Thanks!

 



It's not a linear scale. Performance is a bit difficult to quantify but even high-end universals won't be anywhere near 3x as good as a solid mid-level earphone. See also diminishing returns.


That said, the only way to know the difference between any two products is to compare them side by side. I offered my commentary on the CTM-200 vs the UM Miracle, which as another ~$900 custom. Is the Miracle better - yes. Is it worth an extra $600? That's for the person spending the money to decide.

I just wanted to add a note to joker's valuable comment. In comparing customs, there are hidden issues and prices involved that are important to be aware of. These revolve around the need for a perfect custom fit and possibility of re-fits. With the miracle, Unique Melody products may involve shipping costs, long, long wait times and possible shipping issues to and from China. One person recently had a problem with a UM product (not picking on UM, just using a real example) and had to wait for shipping to China, then they had to wait for shipping back from China. The problem wasn't resolved! Now, they have to wait again for shipping to China and wait again for shipping from China. It adds up to literally months waiting and quite a lot of shipping expenses. So, a $600 extra plus extra shipping plus weeks at least of extra wait.

 

On the other hand, companies that are local for those in the U.S. such as clear tune, Future Sonics, Westone, Ultimate Ears, 1964 Ears, Sensaphonics, JHA, etc. are much more accessible in the event of a problem and shipping times are quick and reliable. Heck, I and a few others changed JHA's policy on refunds for the JH3A just by mentioning on head-fi that it wasn't legal in the U.S. to deny a refund in that case. The legal rights and options when dealing with a company overseas are limited at best. 

 

So, with customs, while many people have had good results dealing with overseas companies (UM for example has stood by its customers), I think most people will find it easiest and best to work with a company based as locally as possible.
 

 

post #11 of 94

joker, I see that you can return it within 10 days on their website. How do they know when I receive the IEM? and it would take me a few day to ship the IEM to them...

Do I have to use express shipping or the 10 days is relative, not strict?

 

Thanks

post #12 of 94

joker -

 

   I really appreciate your review of this product.  As someone who is researching his first set of customs, your thoughtful and descriptive look at the CTM-200 is invaluable.  I was particularly impressed with your mention of the crossover performance, a little appreciated part of the audio chain that often gets overlooked but can make a dramatic difference in any multi-driver system.  Based on your description and my taste in sound signatures (which tends toward the neutral i.e. Grado 80/Sennhieser/Sony V6) and content (jazz, acoustic, more orchestrated pop/rock and some production creation) I think I've narrowed the field to the CTM-200 or the JH5's.  Any thoughts?

 

Also, there seems to be slightly different procedures for ordering between these two companies.  It appears JH Audio is more direct customer oriented (place your order with them, send impressions, wait) and CTM has the audiologist handle much of the transaction. Was that your experience?

 

Thanks in advance for any further thoughts or advise, and again, outstanding work on your part putting to words a subject that doesn't inherently lend itself to being written about.

post #13 of 94
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mini0510 View Post

joker, I see that you can return it within 10 days on their website. How do they know when I receive the IEM? and it would take me a few day to ship the IEM to them...

Do I have to use express shipping or the 10 days is relative, not strict?

 

Thanks


Tracking. As for the 10 days, I'm guessing 10 days for you to tell them you'll be sending  them back for a return but you would probably want to double-check.

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by Kib View Post

joker -

 

   I really appreciate your review of this product.  As someone who is researching his first set of customs, your thoughtful and descriptive look at the CTM-200 is invaluable.  I was particularly impressed with your mention of the crossover performance, a little appreciated part of the audio chain that often gets overlooked but can make a dramatic difference in any multi-driver system.  Based on your description and my taste in sound signatures (which tends toward the neutral i.e. Grado 80/Sennhieser/Sony V6) and content (jazz, acoustic, more orchestrated pop/rock and some production creation) I think I've narrowed the field to the CTM-200 or the JH5's.  Any thoughts?

 

Also, there seems to be slightly different procedures for ordering between these two companies.  It appears JH Audio is more direct customer oriented (place your order with them, send impressions, wait) and CTM has the audiologist handle much of the transaction. Was that your experience?

 

Thanks in advance for any further thoughts or advise, and again, outstanding work on your part putting to words a subject that doesn't inherently lend itself to being written about.


I've never heard the JH5 so I don't think I can be of much help there. In terms of headphones, the CTM-200 is more on the neutral side of the something like a Senn HD428 than the more exciting Grado sound or the bassier, darker V6. 

 

As for procedures, they are pretty much the same with all of the customs I've gotten (except for Kozee, who send you an impression kit to do the impressions yourself). You have to visit an audiologist to get molds but you ship them to CTM yourself along with the order form. Some companies have partner audiologists who will handle the shipping and ordering for you when you do your impressions but you always have the option of doing it yourself. And of course you do want to contact the company first to ask about ETAs and so forth.

 

post #14 of 94

Just popped my ear impressions in the mail after chatting with Cesar, the main guy there.  Seemed like a nice enough fellow.  He was familiar with ljokerl's review.  Holding off on relaying credit card number for payment until the impressions are inspected, which was fine with Cesar.  Said he'd call when the package arrives.  Looks like it's a three week wait (as Cesar pointed out, they don't work on the weekends, I told him that's a good policy to have !)

 

BTW - Had the impressions done at Costco, gratis.  Since they sell Westone and a bunch of other major brand hearing aids and had all the proper tools and up to date evaluation equipment I don't think it was much of a leap of faith to have them do the work.  The audiologist has done impressions for custom IEM's prior so it wasn't entirely new for her.  I offered to pay for her lunch, but she said Costco employees are not allowed to take gratuities, but she did want to see the units after they arrive.  Done deal.

 

I'll put up a post after they arrive...

post #15 of 94
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kib View Post

BTW - Had the impressions done at Costco, gratis.  Since they sell Westone and a bunch of other major brand hearing aids and had all the proper tools and up to date evaluation equipment I don't think it was much of a leap of faith to have them do the work.  The audiologist has done impressions for custom IEM's prior so it wasn't entirely new for her.  I offered to pay for her lunch, but she said Costco employees are not allowed to take gratuities, but she did want to see the units after they arrive.  Done deal.

 

I'll put up a post after they arrive...



Good tip - had no idea Costco did hearing aids/impressions.

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