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
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.
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.
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