Things are constantly evolving with Cosmic Ears. A new website, new models, new options.... there's no way I can hope to keep up with all the developments - at least not in this opening post. Apologies, but you'll need to visit their website and maybe skim the later pages of this thread for the updated info.
I'm keeping the below info for historical purposes only. Some of the lower end models like the single driver dynamic and single driver BA models are not available at the moment, but should be soon - they are tweaking them now and hope to put them back up for sale in the near future.
A few days back, I posted a vague reference to a new custom IEM company that I wasn't able to name yet. I got several replies and messages about it but I wasn't quite able to post the info publicly until now.
The company is called Cosmic Ears. Based in Sweden, they have been around for a while serving their home market, but are now making a push towards international orders. There's been a lot of work behind the scenes for the past year in terms of building the website and building capacity to deal with more orders. The owner (who is English, thus no language barrier that sometimes comes with foreign companies) has a lot of business experience and wants more than anything to avoid some of the problems that have plagued startup CIEM companies (ahem.... Kozee Sound Solutions). By limiting aesthetic choices to a handful of colors and having a smaller set of options than most, they were able to set their prices very low.
Just how low do I mean? Prices start at just over $100 USD (plus shipping) for the entry level Pure model. That gets you a purple shell, a fixed standard cable that exits from the bottom, and most importantly: a single dynamic driver. Yes, you read that right. Cosmic Ears found a way to use a dynamic driver in a non-vented acrylic shell, and are using that as their base model.
From there one could step up to the Pure with the Plus package, which costs $130 (plus shipping). It swaps the dynamic driver for a single balanced armature unit and upgrades the cable to a Westone-style braided design, still bottom exit and non-detachable.
There's also a Sport/Sport Plus model which seems to be the same thing for $20 more. It gets you a detachable cable that connects on top like most other CIEMs do.
From they offer something called the Flex, which as it's name implies is highly configurable. It can be configured just like the Pure model but with your choice of colors. Or it can be configured with a "twin" BA driver ($150), dual BA drivers ($230), or triple BA drivers ($300). Any of these options start out with the basic fixed cable and purple color, but those can be changed for a small fee. They also have the rather unique options of a hybrid single BA/dynamic configuration ($250) or a hybrid dual BA/dynamic configuration ($310). Those are rare to find anywhere and when you do they are traditionally far more expensive than this. Finally, one can choose shell size from standard, medium or micro, the latter not being large enough to accommodate anything higher than the twin BA driver.
I've been in contact with Cosmic Ears and currently have a few sets incoming for review. They opted to have me check out the entry level Pure, the Pure Plus, the Flex with micro shell/twin BA drivers, and finally the flagship hybrid triple driver model. The Pure models are on the way to me now and should arrive this week, though unfortunately I have to wait a bit longer for the others.
EDIT: Here is what I'm getting or already have:
I've currently got:
- base model Pure with dynamic driver, basic fixed cable, bottom exit
- step-up model Pure Plus which means single BA driver, premium braided cable, still fixed and still bottom exit
These are both in the stock purple color and both in the medium shells.
I'm waiting on:
- Flex using the micro shell with the twin BA driver, red in color, has the basic stock black cable
- Flex Triple Hybrid (twin BA plus dynamic driver) with full sized shell, blue in color, recessed sockets, premium braided detachable cable with top exit
I'm excited to check them out as it seems Cosmic Ears has put a lot of effort into the designs. For example, the twin BA driver is not the usual TWFK, since the designer isn't a huge fan of that sound. So he found something else that he prefers the sound of, and still allows him to it his price point. That's another thing they have put a lot of effort towards - keeping the prices low. With just a few colors and cable options, they obviously aren't out to challenge Heir Audio in terms of aesthetics. And that's OK. Instead, they aim to serve the lower segment of the market that so far has not been handled very well. They are big on customer service including giving an "order tracking" number to allow status checks on your build. You can also get (for a small fee) a very cool 360 degree "spin" of your customs before they ship. I've got a few examples of mine HERE and HERE, and I think this is really cool technology. It's hard to be patient while waiting for customs to arrive, but this sort of thing helps.
So I received my package yesterday and got a chance to mess with them. Unfortunately I was pressed for time so I didn't listen to them as long as I would have liked. But my initial impressions are as follows, in sort of a random, stream of consciousness format:
- Build quality is quite high. These things feel really polished and smooth, similar to my Lear, UM, and Heir customs. That's good company to be in for a budget IEM. Having only a single driver makes them comically light weight.
- The purple is actually quite nice. The look changes based on the light - I first thought there was a mix up because they looked red, but then in different lighting they can look almost like translucent black. I was initially somewhat skeptical of "purple" but I can now say I dig it.
- Fit is great on both my sets. This is a relief because I had actually sent my impressions in many months ago, and I was worried about them shrinking. Apparently they didn't.
- The bottom exit cable? Awesome! I was able to sleep with these in, which is not something I normally do because of the over-ear memory wire on most cables. The downside (just due to the nature of having cables exit the bottom) is microphonics, which I need to test more before determining how these do.
- The base model cable is pretty nice. I expected thick and stiff, but it's more like flexible and pretty soft. Seems like it might tangle easily though. We'll see.
- The case, since someone asked about it, is fairly useful. The typical soft case is something like THIS, which can barely hold a pair of CIEMs. The Cosmic Ears case is soemthing closer to THIS which comfortably holds the IEMs plus a Sansa Clip+. You probably couldn't fit much more in there though. It's fairly tough though not completely crush-proof - If you sat on it or stepped on it, that could be bad.
- The texture on the faceplates is very subtle and at first I didn't even see it. Maybe lighter colors would bring it out more. It's covered in a smooth layer of acrylic so it doesn't feel rough, which the pics suggested it would. But it's like a nice surprise when you do get a glimpse of it - very much a nice touch that would not be expected on a budget item.
Impressions on the sound will be limited for now as I had far less time than I'd be comfortable with to really judge these. Still, here's a few thoughts:
- Base model with dynamic driver is not very sensitive - I had to crank my Clip+ to almost full volume to get a comfortable level out of them. This means they may not be loud enough when used with some cellphones. But most things should power them well enough.
- As expected, bass is pretty solid and hits hard, mids and highs are fairly laid back. These are not detail monsters. All I can say for now is that they don't sound terrible, and will definitely be worth using for a casual music fan who is upgrading from a crappy iBud or other cheap earphone (and that's really the target audience for this model). I did notice a nice wide soundstage with good imaging, which is surprising due to the somewhat recessed treble.
- These definitely need some breaking-in time - either real driver burn-in or perceived "in the head of Project86" burn-in. Keep in mind that I'm coming from the $900 Lear LCM-5 that I've been using for several weeks (review in progress), and the $450 Heir Audio 4.A prior to that. So this $100 custom will never sound as smooth or transparent as those. But we'll see how good it gets.
- The Pure Plus model sounds really great! I don't want to get overly enthusiastic because I clearly need more time with it, but my initial impression is very positive. It is not bass light (as I had anticipated due to the single BA design) but actually has some nice extension. On both ends. Based on my limited use the Plus option is worth every penny of the $30 or so it adds to the base model.
- I need to do some direct comparisons to my Kozee Infinity X1, which is also single driver BA model CIEM that goes for $190. I can't recommend anyone using this company due to a variety of service issues, but the product is still good and worthy of comparison. My initial reaction is that the Pure Plus is hands down superior - less glare in the upper mids, less grain, better micro-detail, and more transparent overall. But I need to confirm that with much more listening. If true, this would place the Pure Plus among the top tier of single driver BA designs that I've heard, such as Etymotic ER4, Phonak PFE, and Shure SE310.
Overall I'd say that both Cosmic Ears models seem worthwhile at this initial stage of evaluation. The Pure Plus is especially promising, but I'm going to spend more time with the base model first to try to get a handle on that. If I go the other way around I'll surely be disappointed with the base model.
I got some quick phone pics to give you some more details. Sorry for the mediocre quality...
Single bore for the sound tube, which makes sense as a single driver model.
You can sort of see the dynamic driver in there.
There it is again.
Notice the strain relief, basically two layers of it (colored and then clear).
Seems really sturdy.
Some internal wiring.
This is the basic cable. Y split is very sturdy, and it has a
nice slider. The actual plug itself is angled and somewhat
less "beefy" than the typical Westone style cable. Not bad though.
Compared to a full sized shell (from another brand). Notice the
top section is more low profile on the Pure.
Another view of the medium shell compared to a full size shell.
UPDATE - 9/22
I've been spending time with both the Pure and Pure Plus models this week. I know I said I was going to focus on the basic Pure with the dynamic driver, but I've been swapping around between these, the 1964 Ear V3, and the Lear LCM-5. Talk about a disparity in prices - the Pure is $100, Pure Plus is $130, V3 is $425, and LCM-5 is $900. That's quite a range of price points and obviously these models are not intended to compete with each other. Still, it's been interesting to see what the extra money gets you, or doesn't in some cases.
PURE: For the basic Pure, I'm most impressed by the bass impact. It certainly rivals or surpasses anything I've heard from budget dynamic universals. It is definitely the selling point on this model. I'm happy to report that for the most part it stays clean and well controlled, only mildly bleeding into the midrange once in a while. Far better than the HiSound Popo in comparison, though I admin that I'm not a huge fan of that model (but some people are).
Mids and highs are smooth and somewhat recessed. I think the key here is that this is an inoffensive sound, which largely avoids the missteps usually made by cheaper IEMs. For example - I love the Meizu EP-40 which although priced at just under $50 is actually a rather advanced design. It has great bass as well, really tight and impactful though slightly less "in your face" than the Pure. The EP-40 has superior mids which are a bit more engaging and detailed than the Pure. Where it goes wrong is the upper mids/highs area: the EP-40 has a tipped up treble, with a certain edginess to it that can sometimes become fatiguing. The Pure may not be as crisp sounding but it certainly never gets annoying. The biggest complaint I can muster is that it just doesn't dig as deeply into the recording. But I think it's better to leave out some information than present it in the wrong way. So I'd say Cosmic Ears made the right choice here.
Soundstage on the Pure basic is surprisingly large - which is unexpected because that sort of thing usually disappears when you have recessed highs. I actually think the dynamic Pure may be more spacious than the armature based Pure Plus, though the plus model seems a bit more precise in terms of accuracy. This, along with the bass, is the best aspect of the Pure.
Overall I'm impressed with the Pure, yet I can't claim it will definitely blow away every single universal IEM out there within the price range. Universals in this segment have come a long way in the past few years, and models like the Shure SE215 are quite good for the price. But the Pure remains competitive in sound and obviously offers some clear advantages in terms of build and fit. I can easily recommend them for an entry level custom IEM, or for the casual listener, or as a second set of customs to be used for yardwork, gym duty, etc. I'm actually amazed that they can pack in this much good sound for the ~$100 price.
Pure Plus: Now here's where things really get interesting. At under $140 this thing is extremely competitive. In fact at this moment I can't think of a superior IEM for the price, universal or otherwise. It has more satisfying lows than the otherwise enjoyable Phonak PFE 122. It's about as clear as the Shure SE310, but with a somewhat more musical presentation... and without all the fit issues I had with those. It also seems a bit less analytical than the Ety ER4, though some people may prefer that for its more lively presentation.
I'd call the Pure Plus neutral for the most part, with a nice extension in the bass region and a relatively smooth top end. Vocals are just a bit laid back, which is why I said these are not as lively as the Etymotics. But I'm talking slightly laid back, not recessed at all. Bass extension is very solid too - they passed the "intro kick drum" test from Tears in Heaven off the Clapton Unplugged album. Some IEMs, even really great ones, kind of pretend those kick drums aren't there. The Pure Plus plays them at roughly the same level as my Audio Technica W1000x, which is to say not as loud or as deep as a HiFiMAN planar or a Lawton LA7000, but still present and clear.
Imaging is accurate but not extremely spread out - that's an area where the dynamic version excels. Still, it's not a noticeable deficiency, especially compared to similarly priced universals.
Again, build quality is superb, and the premium cable is every bit as good as a stock cable from Westone or JH Audio. The bottom-exit cable combined with the easy insertion of the "medium" shell makes this an easy custom to deal with, without sacrificing any of the quality on the cable.
I need to listen more but so far I'm exceedingly impressed. As good as the basic Pure model is, I can't imagine someone who would prefer it over the Plus for sound quality. That extra $30-something dollars definitely buys you a lot of quality. We'll see how well the twin driver model compares, but for now I think the Pure Plus is the best price to performance.
Further updates to follow when possible.
Edited by project86 - 9/14/13 at 3:19pm