Do you guys feel that with iems, there are always new iems coming out, be it custom or universal, as compared to headphones.
As a whole, I feel that iems development is always sizzling, and in some ways, always exciting and on-going. Of course headphone development is no less exciting or involving per say, but the iems thread is always whizzing by, and that made me feel that iems development is, in a sense,
more volatile as compared to headphones.
This is all true, but I suspect that it is in part because IEMs are a hotter market and it's cheaper for new brands to enter because the mid-fi price range is not as strongly dominated by a few major manufacturers. There is also, in some ways, a better bang for the buck, but that's offset by it being more difficult to convince people to spend $150 on earphones, as opposed to spending $150 on headphones, whose size implies that you got more for your money.
The lack of some effects exacerbate other effects. For example, the shape of the ear canal affects sound, the shape of the outer ear affects the ability for the housing to be positioned for an optimal fit, and various drivers and driver types respond differently to quality of seal. Just like with headphones, the worth of any earphone is as much or more about fit as sound, and there will never be agreement on the perfect IEM or even what's good, given our ranges of tastes and sound profiles, in addition to fit, budget and other esthetics.
What's driving technological development is new interest in these microdrivers, which in turn comes from the increasing amounts of consumer attention towards mobile hi-fi. Almost all the balanced armature designs to date are based on hearing aid drivers; Knowles, Sonion et al have only recently seen the audio market grow large enough for them to justify investing in developing high fidelity audio drivers, and this indicates to me that what we've seen in high end universals and custom IEMs could only be a shadow of what's possible when drivers don't have to be built with efficiency as a foremost goal. Dynamic drivers at very small scale are also being experimented with in interesting ways, and I suspect that when somebody figures out how to dial it in, we're going to see amazing things there as well.
Many of the boutique brands you see in the low to lower-mid range are putting their own marques on the same OEM products manufactured in massive quantities -- regardless of the bumf on the seller's website -- and those products clutter the IEM threads. They'll probably be a glut on the market soon, but at the same time, most of them sound nominally better than what comes packed with mobile phones and DAPs. But for all the action going on there, there won't really be anything interesting going on, beyond slow incremental improvements as consumer expectations get higher and better quality technology and techniques progressively get cheaper to implement at large scales. They're not necessarily bad things, these OEM-built boutique products, but try to keep up with that market and you'll be overwhelmed and distracted from the really interesting things coming along, both from major companies experimenting with new things (Sony, AKG) and boutique companies (FAD, RedGiant) that actually do design (and sometimes make) their own products.
Edited by ardgedee - 5/2/12 at 3:17am