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Need Advice for First High-End IEM: Shure SE535, PFE 232, Westone 4R, Heir 4.Ai

Poll Results: Which IEM has the best combination of sound quality, isolation, comfort, and sturdiness (most overall value)?

 
  • 18% (15)
    SE 535
  • 40% (32)
    Westone 4R
  • 28% (23)
    PFE 232
  • 12% (10)
    None of them, I have a better idea (see below in comments)!
80 Total Votes  
post #1 of 77
Thread Starter 

Hi all,

 

I am quite new to the audiophile scene, and am currently in the market for an IEM. I've been reading around the forums for a while now to get a gauge for what's out there, and it seems like for the higher tier IEM's, at least universal ones, Shure SE535, PFE 232, and Westone 4R are the most popular choices. I have also seen people say good things about the Heir Audio A.4i, and at a lower price than all of these, how do they compare? I have barely seen anyone say anything negative about them.

 

Sound quality, neutrality, durability, isolation, and comfort are the largest factors. I listen to primarily alternative/indie rock, pop, jazzy hip hop, electronic downtempo, classical, and some country, but would like the IEM's to give plenty of details and neutrality so that they are more versatile and accurate. This gives me a window into other music forms since I often like to try new genres.

 

I really don't have much experience in high fi at all, being a junior member here and only using cheap Apple earbuds before I got introduced to everything here, but I love music, and would like for my IEM's to let me hear all the details that I was unware of missing out on (that and I sometimes need to isolate myself from the world so I can kill two birds with one stone). I need IEM's also because I'm out and about very often, and headphones will be difficult to carry around everywhere. I am also fortunate to have the budget to have quite a large array of buying options.

 

I don't have an amp at the moment and am merely playing music directly out of my Macbook Pro and iPhone (Pandora, Spotify, FLAC files when I can get my hands on them).

 

If you think I'm not ready at this point in my audiophile journey to venture into these higher tier IEM's, don't hesitate point me in the right way.

 

If you have any recommendations for me, I'd gladly accept them.

 

My Impressions (Click to show)

From what I've gathered, the 3 have their ups and downs, which I summarized below. 

 

The SE535's have good construction with its bronze casing and Kevlar reinforced wires, but the connection between the two is vulnerable. It's also rather heavy and bulky for an IEM, and can be burdensome to put on since you need to have the perfect placement. However, it offers great isolation, especially with the triple flange tips. Sound-signature wise, it has a pretty flat response. However, there is the possibility of over-brightness in the treble region due to non-uniform treble roll-off. It is mid-centric but does not lack bass either, and although faithfully represents the music, still colors it just enough so that the music seems involving. 

 

The PFE 232's have 3 filters, but no one uses the green ones, and most use the grey ones. They have a bit of a V shaped frequency response, so the mid-range gets a tad muddied, but in general, each sound is well produced. They are very light, and comfortable to use, and it doesn't hurt that they offer a spare cable as well. The most common complaint seems to be that its high price isn't justified ($600), and one might as well just go with CIEM. People also mentioned the bass is a little overpowering. 

 

The Westone's are priced at the same level as SE535, but has a noticeably less sturdy construction than the Shure's. However, one can't judge a book by its cover, and I remembered people mentioning that it's actually pretty reliable. They offer a much more neutral representation of the music than the SE535's, but is not considered analytical. They have a better soundstage than the SE535's as well, but slightly worse isolation. It doesn't generate fatigue like the Shure's in the treble region, but a concern is that its bass might be too weak. The 4R's have removable cables as well now as opposed to the 4's, so they can be customized later and broken cables no longer mean the entire IEM must be tossed. They also show more improvement with amp's than the others. 

 

My original instinct was to go with the SE535's, based on its popularity and aesthetics, but after reading some threads on the forums here, it seems obvious that Westone 4R's were the more popular choice, and not by a small margin. 

 

The Heir Audio 4.Ai's are the black sheep, being the newcomer with wonderfully positive reviews. There has been reports of a slightly peaky treble and slightly limited bass extension, but otherwise, people mention it's a custom grade, neutral IEM. Obviously, the looks are there. It's only the isolation, comfort, and sound quality I'm concerned about, with limited feedback available to base my impressions on (the company does not publish its frequency response data, for instance).

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Besides that, I had a few questions:

1. People mentioned that you should switch out the tips for the Westone's in the WR4 for the Shure olive tips for better isolation and fit (since the Westone's don't reach deep enough into the ear for a tight seal), and find some baldur mkii cables to replace the stock ones. Where do you buy these cables?

 

2. How would any of these 3 IEM's respond to pop? Rock? Hip hop? Classical? Jazz? Trance? Downtempo? Dubstep? Which one is most versatile?

 

3. How much isolation can I get out of the Westone's? Is there a link to an isolation chart (by dB)? I would also like a gauge for what 26 dB of isolation means, for instance.

I would prefer to not be able to hear background sounds while commuting to work, as well as not be able to hear normal conversations over 3 meters away from me -- even if I do not have music on. 

 

4. Will there be any deals for these on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas?

 

5. Will amps, DAC's, or an alternative DAP from what I already have (iPhone 4S) make a large difference? And which ones might be a good idea to look into?

 

7. Lastly, does anyone know of a good dealership around Baltimore or Boston? (especially if they are authorized dealers who let people sample the IEM's before purchase, or has a good return policy)

 

(Note: I'm not sure how to add the 4.Ai into the poll, as I discovered an interest in them afterward the birth of this thread. So, the poll results aren't going to be as useful as could be, unless someone points me to how I could change up the poll.)

 

Sorry for the long post. If you can share some insight to help me answer any of these questions, that would be greatly appreciated. Also, feel free to comment on my rationale, or suggest other IEM's I should look into. 

 

And, I'm really new to these forums, so if I happened to lump too many of my questions together and not follow usual forum rules, please let me know and I'll make each of them separate threads or move them to pre-existing ones.

 

Thanks!


Edited by Serpentari - 10/2/12 at 12:29pm
post #2 of 77

I am in the same position.


Either Westone 4R or Shure 535's.

post #3 of 77

Have either of you read the reviews of the se535 and w4 (I imagine most of it would apply to the 4r as well) in the massive joker thread where he reviews many many iems?  Charts in there for isolation as well.

 

Cheers

post #4 of 77
I have the W4R and SE535. The Shure doesn't get much use, in fact I now prefer the SM3 over the SE535 (but not over the W4R; SM3 is an acquired taste too). The Westones just sound better, and are less fatiguing and more comfortable.
post #5 of 77
post #6 of 77
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the massive joker thread link. I have not taken a look at that before you brought it to my attention. But while very helpful, it doesn't answer my questions directly. I still have most of my original questions unanswered, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


Edited by Serpentari - 9/30/12 at 6:24pm
post #7 of 77
Thread Starter 

Bump. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

post #8 of 77

Comments in Bold

So I had a few questions:

1. People mentioned that you should switch out the tips for the Westone's in the WR4 for the Shure olive tips for better isolation and fit (since the Westone's don't reach deep enough into the ear for a tight seal), and find some baldur mkii cables to replace the stock ones. Where do you buy these cables? Don't know about the cables (whether they make a difference is up to you), but the Olives are indeed some of the most balanced tips you can find. I have to clean them alot though. I like the Sony Hybrids, modded to fit, as they require less hassle to clean, and give a less veiled, but still balanced, sound.

 

2. How would any of these 3 IEM's respond to pop? Rock? Hip hop? Classical? Jazz? Trance? Downtempo? Dubstep? Jazz? Which one is most versatile? Probably between the W4s and 232s. I think the Audeo's were cleaner sounding, with more clarity overall. It is slightly V-shaped though. The W4s match them for detail, soundstage, but there's a slight veil in the lower mids which can sound good, but I personally try to get rid of it through tips and EQ. Both are very versatile, the Westone excel at female vocals though, it's pretty much my benchmarks for that genre for IEMs. The SE535 have a lot of lush mids, but I tend to like the other two more for sound alone.

 

3. How much isolation can I get out of the Westone's? Is there a link to an isolation chart (by dB)? I would also like a gauge for what 26 dB of isolation means, for instance.

I would prefer to not be able to hear background sounds while commuting to work, as well as not be able to hear normal conversations over 3 meters away from me -- even if I do not have music on. ~25db for the Westones (with very deep seal avec les Shure Olives). Not sure about the others. SE535 would win in terms of isolation. The others don't really isolate as much (I have the W4s, and they have pretty short nozzles; it does get better with longer tips). 

 

4. Will there be any deals for these on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas? Got my W4s last year during Black Friday through earphonesolutions. They usually have a 25% off coupon for everything during that time. There's a 20% coupon available now. They are authorized (one of the first authorized dealers to get the W4s in), and ship pretty fast (Fedex got here in 2 days time). They also have all 3 phones available. Thankgiving and Christmas, they should have coupons as well.

 

5. Will amps or an alternative DAC from what I already have (iPhone 4S) make a large difference? And which ones might be a good idea to look into? They are all exceedingly efficient. The iPhone 4S is a nice clean source (better than what people make it out to be, though not as good as the 4's), low output impedance, they should do fine without an amp. But of course people will chime in with claims of drastic differences through amping, and I don't doubt them. Just not sure if the difference is good or not.

 

6. I have also seen people say good things about the Heir Audio A.4i, and at a lower price than all of these, how do they compare? I haven't seen anyone say anything negative about them at all...I'd look into the 4.Ai further, they seem to be well regarded, look nicely built, and the nozzles seem to go just as deep as the SE535s.

 

 

7. Lastly, does anyone know of a good dealership around Baltimore or Boston? (especially if they are authorized dealers who let people sample the IEM's before purchase, or has a good return policy).Sorry, no idea here.

 

Comfort could go either way, but I like the PFE232 and W4s for this.The W4 shells are tubby, but really ergonomics. Fits the contours of the ears nicely. The PFE232s are more typical, but still over ear. They're also smaller. Build goes to SE535s again. That cable, you could jump rope with it. The connectors are a bit of a bother though. The W4's shells are a bit plasticky, and I've only had the 232's in my hands for a few moments, so no comment there.

post #9 of 77

My responses are in BOLD. And I refuse to say much about the W4 and 4.Ai because I don't have enough experience with either

Quote:

Originally Posted by Serpentari View Post
From what I've gathered, the 3 have their ups and downs, which I summarized below. The SE535's have good construction with its bronze casing and Kevlar reinforced wires, but the connection between the two is vulnerable. It's also rather heavy and bulky for an IEM, and can be burdensome to put on since you need to have the perfect placement. However, it offers great isolation, especially with the triple flange tips. Sound-signature wise, it has a pretty flat response. However, there is the possibility of over-brightness in the treble region due to non-uniform treble roll-off. It is mid-centric but does not lack bass either, and although faithfully represents the music, still colors it just enough so that the music seems involving.

 

The only reason why the SE535 is "heavy" and "bulky" for some users is because of the thick, heavy, and stiff cable it comes with. If you were to buy the SE535, I strongly recommend getting an aftermarket cable, like the Double Helix Cable Symbiote. People will continue to argue that cables don't make a difference, which may be true to lower quality cables, but Peter's (DHC) uses only OCC copper. I would describe the SE535 as a mild upside down V shape. The rolled off treble will MOST LIKELY be non-fatiguing, but I heard a few members say it's on the bright side. Mid bass is great, then it stops. It doesn't extend as far as the PFE232 and W4 goes.

 

The PFE 232's have 3 filters, but no one uses the green ones, and most use the grey ones. They have a bit of a V shaped frequency response, so the mid-range gets a tad muddied, but in general, each sound is well produced. They are very light, and comfortable to use, and it doesn't hurt that they offer a spare cable as well. The most common complaint seems to be that its high price isn't justified ($600), and one might as well just go with CIEM. People also mentioned the bass is a little overpowering. 

 

I would say a mild V with the Grey filters and a more prominent V with the Black filters. NO THE MIDS ARE NOT MUDDY AT ALL. I don't know where you're getting this from, but I use the PFE232 very regularly and it possesses a generally clear sound throughout the entire spectrum. Mids are good, especially with female vocals. I always have high standards for mids so I like going in detail between Male and Female vocals. Like I mentioned earlier, female vocals are very good while male vocals are just good. Nothing really special unlike the SE535. The PFE232 indeed has strong bass, but I find it blends nice with the mids and treble. Nice punch and infinite extension. For $600, I wouldn't go for a CIEM. You won't get the same kind of universality as the PFE232 with most IEMs and CIEMs. My only complaint is the cable length. One of the most comfortable IEMs to date.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Besides that, I had a few questions:

 

4. Will there be any deals for these on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas? Most likely. Earphonesolutions and/or Headroom.

 

5. Will amps or an alternative DAC from what I already have (iPhone 4S) make a large difference? And which ones might be a good idea to look into? I'm a HUGE believer of DACs, especially from computers without a good soundcard. But considering this is an IEM, it should sound good enough from your iPhone and Mac. None of the IEMs you listed are powerhungry at all, but they will benefit from an Amp. I found great results with a Fiio E11, JDSLabs O2, JDSLabs C421, Calyx Coffee DAC, Objective DAC, and many more as a Portable solution for your phone and Mac.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TwinQY View Post

2. How would any of these 3 IEM's respond to pop? Rock? Hip hop? Classical? Jazz? Trance? Downtempo? Dubstep? Jazz? Which one is most versatile? Probably between the W4s and 232s. I think the Audeo's were cleaner sounding, with more clarity overall. It is slightly V-shaped though. The W4s match them for detail, soundstage, but there's a slight veil in the lower mids which can sound good, but I personally try to get rid of it through tips and EQ. Both are very versatile, the Westone excel at female vocals though, it's pretty much my benchmarks for that genre for IEMs. The SE535 have a lot of lush mids, but I tend to like the other two more for sound alone.

 

 

I agree with TwinQY, but also include the SE535 as well. The slight Veil TwinQY mentioned is the reason why I find Female vocals to sound much better than the Males. I would say both do Female vocals well and beween us two, it's a matter of preference. I say the PFE232 because I have a huge amount of experience with them and I only got to listen to TwinQY's W4 for a limited time at our Vancouver meet. 


Edited by planx - 9/30/12 at 8:40pm
post #10 of 77

The Shures are pretty non-fatiguing. Then again, they're pretty much not that special apart from the mids (which I feel the W4s do a bit better for my genres). The cable is unwieldy, I'm not much for cable improvements in sound, but something I do care about is ergonomics and durability. In that sense, I would gladly pay the usual exorbitant cable prices for something more better than the stock cables. I'd also get a amp for volume control, if you're a low-level listener like me. These IEMs are sensitive. Even the lowest volume out of my iPod can be too much for quiet listening. And impedance adapters mess the sound up. So an amp for that would be fine.

 

I also heard some talk about the 232s were muddy? Blasphemy wink.gif. I heard planx's pair for a moment, and a pair in store. They are the very definition of well-done clarity in universals. Much better than my W4s in that respect. 

 

More weight should be put in considering the Heir Audios. I heard a pair for like 5 seconds, and while it's not my kind of neutral, it could very well be yours. Not to mention they look phenomenal!


Edited by TwinQY - 9/30/12 at 9:09pm
post #11 of 77
Quote:
My Impressions (Click to show)

The Heir Audio 4.Ai's are the black sheep, being the newcomer with wonderfully positive reviews. There has been reports of a slightly peaky treble and slightly limited bass extension, but otherwise, people mention it's a custom grade, neutral IEM. Obviously, the looks are there. It's only the isolation, comfort, and sound quality I'm concerned about, with limited feedback available to base my impressions on (the company does not publish its frequency response data, for instance).

I don't think Shure, Westone, or Audeo publish frequency response either. The only measurement site for these IEMs are Goldenears, I think

post #12 of 77
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the feedback. It seems like I'll be going between the PFE 232 (gray filters) and Heir 4.Ai then based on sound quality and build, and I can always switch between tips to get the isolation I need. Both should be pretty comfortable to wear for long durations. I think I'll give the IEM's a try on their own first, and then add an amp if needed.

 

Does Earphonesolutions carry the 2-year warranty for the PFE 232 (I don't believe they are an authorized dealer)? If not, and I can't find a good deal for them with one, that would definitely push me toward the 4.Ai's or the WR4's, both of which are good investments in their own rights.

 

Is there any reason for me not to get a higher end IEM right away after transitioning from Apple earbuds if I can afford it?

 

Also, how does the neutrality of the PFE 232 compare with that of the WR4 or 4.Ai?

Quote:
Originally Posted by TwinQY View Post

More weight should be put in considering the Heir Audios. I heard a pair for like 5 seconds, and while it's not my kind of neutral, it could very well be yours. Not to mention they look phenomenal!

What kind of neutral are the 4.Ai's?


Edited by Serpentari - 10/2/12 at 12:29pm
post #13 of 77
Quote:
Originally Posted by Serpentari View Post

Thank you for the feedback. It seems like I'll be going between the PFE 232 (gray filters) and Heir 4.Ai then based on sound quality and build, and I can always switch between tips to get the isolation I need. Both should be pretty comfortable to wear for long durations. I think I'll give the IEM's a try on their own first, and then add an amp if needed. 

 

Does Earphonesolutions carry the 2-year warranty for the PFE 232 (I don't believe they are an authorized dealer)? If not, and I can't find a good deal for them with one, that would definitely push me toward the 4.Ai's or the WR4's, both of which are good investments in their own rights.Not sure either

 

Also, how does the neutrality of the PFE 232 compare with that of the WR4? PFE232s are supposed to be slightly V/U shaped-to neutral? W4s are a slight broad hump throughout the bass and midrange.

What kind of neutral are the 4.Ai's? Not sure. I think I heard some treble emphasis

post #14 of 77
Thread Starter 

I contacted Earphonesolutions and they luckily do carry the 2 year warranty since they are authorized Audeo dealers. I just wasn't aware of it since there wasn't the stamp advertising it next to the product. 

 

I guess I'd go with the W4s if I want a warmer, but still neutral sound, and the PFE's if I wanted a slightly more detailed, and more analytical sound. How do the soundstage compare between these two? I know I've read the soundstage on the Heir 4.Ai's is not wide, but feels natural and full-bodied. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TwinQY View Post
What kind of neutral are the 4.Ai's? Not sure. I think I heard some treble emphasis

 

Interesting...I'll keep an eye out for more reviews as they come out. 

post #15 of 77
Quote:
Originally Posted by Serpentari View Post

I contacted Earphonesolutions and they luckily do carry the 2 year warranty since they are authorized Audeo dealers. I just wasn't aware of it since there wasn't the stamp advertising it next to the product. 

 

I guess I'd go with the W4s if I want a warmer, but still neutral sound, and the PFE's if I wanted a slightly more detailed, and more analytical sound. How do the soundstage compare between these two? I know I've read the soundstage on the Heir 4.Ai's is not wide, but feels natural and full-bodied. 

 

 

 

Interesting...I'll keep an eye out for more reviews as they come out. 

Earphonesolutions is awesome! Got my W4s in 2 days, and that's from the US to Canada! People report fast times for regular shipping as well. A pleasure to deal with them.

 

Err, I might get shot in the foot for this, but from my time listening (went in store to try both out last weekend) I'd say the soundstage on the W4s are a little better. Larger, more natural space between everything. Positioning and imaging is top-notch. 

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