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.
Edited by Serpentari - 10/2/12 at 12:29pm