This post is a review of the CustomArt Music One single-driver, silicone-molded CIEM. Piotr Granicki (aka piotrus-g), proprietor of CustomArt, originally sent me the Pro 100 for review (see the second post of the thread). Recently, because of canal fit issues, I had the Pro100 model remolded into the Music One variant, and thus this review has been updated to reflect this change. Disclaimer: I consider Peter a close friend on this forum, having conversed with him many times publicly and privately, even before he began his venture into CIEMs. I've been ecstatic to see him experience relative success and since his debut last year has fitted many happy customers with his products. However, I’ve done my best to be as impartial as possible with all aspects of the Music One in this review. The Music One has been reviewed extensively by other prominent members of the forum, including ljokerl and average_joe, both of whom have given the Music One high marks.
The CustomArt Music One (with removable cable socket option), with Forza Audioworks cables.
Preface: From Member to Maven…
Perhaps more so than any other technically-oriented niche hobby, high-end audio self-spawns its next generation of companies and products from within its enthusiast ranks. I’m particularly excited about CustomArt, because it is a creation truly forged by the fires of audiophilic passion.
The brainchild of the Warsaw-based CustomArt is Piotr Granicki (aka Peter, aka piotrus-g on head-fi). Peter began his audio journey quite like the rest of us --- from initial interest in better audio gear, he became a reviewer in his native Poland (for audiohead.pl), and subsequently began experimenting with his own designs, delving deeper and deeper into the art and craft of making custom-molded IEMs.
I first came into contact with Peter when I began exploring CIEMs and turned to the Home-Made IEMs thread to search for information on the design aspects of balanced armature IEMs. Peter was already a helpful fixture in that thread, and we quickly began striking up a conversation regarding the design of BA-based, multi-driver IEMs. Back in the day, when Unique Melody was actually willing to experiment heavily with customers, Peter had an ‘UM-3w’ commissioned. Initially, he had chosen his own drivers, dampers, and crossover design, but in the end let UM make the executive decisions regarding the final acoustic design. At that time (and even now), it was still a pretty substantial feat and from there on out, I basically regarded Peter as my teacher when it came to everything CIEM-related. We would PM back and forth, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of certain designs, analyze what other companies have done, and talk about fantasy designs not yet in existence.
Born from these discussions was the Balanced Armature Chart Project. The two of us, along with a few others, began cataloging the majority of balanced armature-based IEMs, and began listing the known BA drivers used in prominent universal-fit and custom-fit IEMs. Our hope was that DIYers would use this chart as a transparent resource for seeing what most companies chose to use in their designs. While I worked on the chart diligently, it seemed as though Peter was equally, if not even more invested in the project, as he quickly filled in many blanks that I wasn’t aware of.
Then, a couple years ago, I was a little surprised to notice that Peter had been given MOT status and asked him about it. Apparently, with a miniscule 3000 Polish Zlotys, he’d begun a business making custom-fit ear tips and cables within Poland. Having decided it was time to make his services available to the broader head-fi community, he pointed me toward CustomArt’s Facebook page, and it was only then that I realized that not only had Peter been busy making cables and interconnects, but had also been putting his CIEM design knowledge to work (unlike me, just hoarding knowledge like a pack rat when I've never even actually touched an actual acoustic damper or un-soldered BA driver in real life…).
His operation was most impressive, and I was rather astounded by his protean abilities. Most people that cater to audiophiles are specialists --- they either make cables, do mods, or design headphones/earphones. Few do everything. Peter falls into this rare latter category. Thus, I decided to check out one of his CIEM cables, which astounded me with its extreme flexibility (despite being an 8-braid cable) and delighted me with its easygoing sound. I wrote a review of it over here. (Note: Because of the popularity of his CIEMs, Peter has dropped his cable-making service to concentrate on CIEMs full-time). I was really looking forward to finding out more about his upcoming customs and universals, but at that time, he wasn’t quite ready. Crestfallen, I retreated back into my own world of make-believe seven-driver IEMs, six-way crossovers, and phase-cancelling sound tubes. Incidentally, I was simultaneously entering a stage in my schooling where I had no choice but to study for eight to twelve hours straight, thirty to thirty one days a month.
The Stifling Search for Silicone
After some time, I emerged from the solitude of my hermit’s cave to face a brave new world. Studying so much made me realize something --- if I were to expand my areas of recluse beyond my room and into an aroma-steeped coffee shop, or at any other publicly-accessible place --- my acrylic customs, while great, were not as isolating as silicone earplugs that were etymotic (used as a neologism as Mead Killion had intended, meaning "true to the ear", rather than the brand he created). I needed a superior method of sensory deprivation. Thus, I thought that it’d be good for me to invest in a pair of silicone custom in-ear monitors. I wasn’t looking for much; I merely wanted a single-driver model that isolated well and reproduced quality, accurate sound --- no need for pentabores and delayed ignition woofers.
However, I ran into a lot of issues while looking for a silicone CIEM. My first choice was the safe choice --- ACS. I’d been interested in their T3 for a while but was concerned about a few things, including the small, ITC (In-The-Canal) design instead of the traditional full-shell ITE (In-The-Ear) form factor. So, I sent them a long, quizzical e-mail asking about isolation differences between an ITE and ITC form factor, and about how accurate the T3’s frequency response was. Their response? (after a three week lull) “Er, buy an ER4 and we’ll make custom tips for you?” (paraphrasing) As much as I wanted to like that idea, my vanity dictated to me that I shan’t purchase anything that resembles the neck plugs of Frankenstein’s monster. I then saw that Spiral Ear (Poland's other, more famous CIEM company) released the 1-Way Pro, which was said to have an accurate signature similar to the ER4. However, after only one reply, Grzegorz strangely stopped replying to me. I quickly decided I didn’t also want to deal with the hassle of using a proxy to the EU. Ultimate Hearing Protection was something interesting, but they seemed even less interested in servicing people. I had actually forgotten that Minerva even existed and Sensaphonics had stopped producing single driver models, so I was ready to give up when an excited Peter messaged me and told me that his CIEMs were on the cusp of being production-ready, and the rest was history.
Custom Art to the Rescue
I can only say that crafting custom in-ear monitors is like making that perfect cheeseburger. Almost all burgers are composed of the same basic ingredients: buns, tomato, lettuce, cheese, and a juicy patty. Yes, some places use higher quality beef than others --- Angus steak over regular ol’ ground beef, and gourmet cheese rather than plastic-wrapped Kraft, but the basic makeup is the same. What sets a truly good burger apart from the Burger Kings and the McDonald’s of the world is its execution --- the freshness and fluffiness of the buns, the amount of flame-broiling, the caramelization, and the flavor of the secret sauce.
If you’re a particularly technically-inclined individual, I’m sure that if you ask Peter what he uses and why, he’ll tell you as much as your brain will allow him to tell you. Peter has been very transparent about this information because the unique part about his CIEMs is in the fine-tuning aspects, i.e. tubing diameter/length, horn shape, rear porting volume/shape (for the vented drivers) --- these are the things that really take time to get in order, rather than just driver selection or even the crossover design. It is these little things that are a part of Peter’s special sauce, and only he knows the formula.
So that’s why, on the surface, CustomArt appears to be no different from a company like ACS or Minerva. It also has several different models in its lineup, a single-driver, dual-driver, triple-driver, and two variants of his flagship eight-driver "Harmony" model. CustomArt uses balanced armature drivers from Sonion like many other manufacturers, and now uses drivers from Knowles in select cases. The hypoallergenic, 40-shore density, BioPor AB vulcanizing addition silicone Peter uses is from Dreve Otoplastik GmbH, which provides raw mold materials to countless other CIEM and hearing aid companies around the world. The non-removable cables are sourced from the same companies as the others, and his removable cables are merely terminated and overmolded versions of the same cabling. Having begun shipping Otterbox 1000 cases (now discontinued), he now includes Pelican 1010 cases with every order.
The CustomArt portfolio does, however, split itself into two distinct product lines: the Pro Audio series and the Music series, in addition to the high-end Harmony series. As one can guess, the Pro Audio series is intended for audio engineers and stage musicians; products in this line will be tuned with an accurate, fast response that strives for detail. The Music series, on the other hand, is designed specifically for the music listener --- the audiophile or the average music listener looking for a more comfortable fit and more complete audio presentation. I was met with a choice when getting a single-driver model from Peter. I could get either the Pro100, or the Music One. Both used the same Sonion 2300 series driver, but used different damping and employed vastly different venting methods. The Music One was to have more thumpy and extended bass to go with sparking highs, while the Pro100 was to be the consummate musician’s monitor --- honest and unassuming, and focused on the midrange. In line with my more conservative listening tastes, at that time, I chose the Pro100.
From the Pro100 to the Music One
Fast forward another year, and the CustomArt business is booming. Piotr now has happy customers from all over the globe and an ever-increasing distributor network. Because of the Music One's versatility, the more conservative Pro100 is now discontinued (as is the Pro210 dual-driver model, to be replaced with a new and improved design with possibly different voicing), so when I needed to get the Pro100 serviced this year (along with a purchase of the CustomArt Music Two), Peter generously allowed me to have the Pro100 morphed into the Music One.
The CustomArt Music One (right), with Estron Linum BaX cables, and Music Two (left).
The turnaround time for CustomArt is fairly standard; barring delays, things will be done in three to four weeks. Officially, Custom Art quotes a more conservative six to eight week turnaround time, and because demand is high, service speed will depend on the backlog of orders current on hand at Custom Art.
Packaging & Accessories
As my Music One is actually a revision of the original Pro100, I did not receive any updated items. However, from my purchase of the Music Two, I can report that the new Pelican 1010 case feels like an improvement over the older Otterbox 1000 case, despite being larger in size. A small zippered clamshell style case is still included for portable use.
Build Quality & Ergonomics
The shells of the Music One are smoothly finished with silicone lacquer, soft to the touch, and fairly flexible. Since I gave Peter free reign to design the outward appearance of the Music One, he chose to go for a dual material swirl, mixing both blue and white into a groovy mixture.
On the inside, laser engravings clearly mark text for the serial number. Engraving quality seems to be improved over the original, as my understanding is that Peter now has his own laser engraving machine and thus can control the engraving quality himself.
In terms of profile, the Music One was made to sit flush with my ears, with a little more at the top and bottom; originally, the Pro100 was made with smooth "faceplate" edges, but now have a more delineated edge because this revision into the Music One is now made into the removable cable variant.
I get a very good fit with the Music One, with a positive seal to both ears. The 40-shore silicone is soft and comfortable. As people with silicone monitors will know, however, removing the CIEMs is a bit of a pain. They don't pop out easily like acrylic monitors do, but rather have to be slowly twisted off. The absolute comfort of silicone outweighs this drawback, however. Even though acrylic IEMs are very comfortable, you'll nevertheless still be aware of their presence within your ear. On the other hand, it's altogether too easy to forget you're wearing IEMs with silicone monitors. The way they flex with your canals, and the way they mimic the density of human soft tissue, give silicone IEMs the upper hand when it comes to comfort.
With respect to isolation, silicone is not necessary better, but just different from acrylic. Many people can claim that silicone monitors have superior isolation, but the reality is that silicone isolates better in some frequencies while acrylic isolates better in other frequencies. It's a different isolation profile. Qualitatively, acrylic customs isolate like being inside a thick-walled room, while silicone customs isolate like, well, earplugs. I find that I tend to hear high frequencies more easily with silicone than I do with acrylic, but can somehow play music at lower levels without getting bothered by traffic noise when on the street. Frankly speaking, neither has a clear advantage over the other in any one situation.
The Music One is one of the most well-rounded single-driver earphones on the market, period. I state this without art and without bias.
Utilizing a single "standard" 2300 series balanced armature driver from Sonion, Custom Art's pioneering spirit has allowed the vented driver to breathe freely in an otherwise hermetic silicone environment. Peter took a quality transducer and gave it the best possible parameters in which to shine. Why fetter this driver with a stifling acoustic damper when tube and material resonances could be controlled with the length/diameter of tubing, as well as the depth of the acoustic horn? Peter took all these principles into play when designing the Music One, and his expert control over all these variables has allowed the Music One to rise to the top of the crop when it comes to single driver CIEMs. These attributes alone make the Music One an easy recommendation --- perhaps my easiest recommendation --- to those looking for an introduction to silicone CIEMs.
The sound signature itself is like that of the HiFiMAN RE-400, but with a balanced armature twist of detail and isolation. In my opinion, it strikes the right balance between neutral, enjoyable, and easy listening. The Music One is a CIEM that I can easily wear for hours on end without worrying about ear fatigue. The non-fatiguing nature of the Music One means not that it has rolled off treble, however. Its treble is actually quite well extended, as extended as a single balanced armature can be, mostly thanks to the careful tubing arrangement that Piotr used. Detail is very well preserved as well, as the Music One is damper-less, relying instead on the horn design and tubing length/diameter to control harsh resonances. It's a package that simply works.
Soundstage is actually one of the nicest aspects of the Music One --- it manages to present music in a very natural manner, neither claustrophobic nor unnaturally large. Center depth projection is very good, owing to the single driver paradigm and intrinsically flat acoustic phase.
What are the sonic drawbacks then? Bass depth for one. A single BA driver simply does not have the physical volume to convey convincing bass. Even with the venting designed into the Music One, it still lacks in bass depth compared to higher-end models.
The overall, somewhat "downsloping" sound balance may be a second drawback for those looking for a more exciting sound signature, thought that can be remedied. Think the Music One is too mellow? Want a brighter signature? Attach a resistor adapter, and the Music One will instantly become brighter. Just remember that Piotr designed the Music One signature for its native voicing, and when the M1 is driven in a less damped state, it tends to provoke treble resonance around 8 kHz that can be irksome for some people. The native voicing of the Music One does not possess that harshness.
The special swirled pattern of blue and white, along with reflective particles. Pictured with cables from Forza AudioWorks.
The horn bore design of the Music One can be seen here.
Comparison: Music One vs. Music Two
Pssst. Shhh. I have a confession. I listen to the Music One more than the Music Two. Much more.
Well, okay, one of the main reasons is that my Music One fits a lot better than does the Music Two, but I also find the sound signature of the Music One more palatable over long periods of time. To me, the Music Two is a more technically capable and more exciting CIEM; it presents more detail, with a larger soundstage to go with the more classically U-shaped sound signature. It contains great bass depth and holds a cleaner note due to less distortion and more input headroom. But sometimes, the Music Two is too much fun. I end up reaching for the Music One more, because of its mellower personality. In terms of technical attributes, I'm not specifically looking for edge-to-edge performance all the time.
What does the future hold?
The Music One, to me, feels like a classic --- at the price it's being offered, it really has no weaknesses. However, this doesn't mean that there won't be improvements to it in the future. Balanced armature technology continues to improve, and Peter is constantly looking at new improvements. For now, the Music One is without a doubt the pinnacle of an implementation of a single balanced armature.
Without a question, the Custom Art Music One is one of the best values for custom in-ear monitors on the market, silicone or acrylic. The current obsession for Custom Art products is the Harmony 8 and 8 Pro, two flagship-level halo products for Piotr's company, but I sincerely believe that the Music One is the one model from Custom Art that everyone needs to hear.
It is klasyczny!
Sound Signature: Neutral with a Very Slight Hint of Warmth and Excitement
Suitable Genres: Vocal, Classical, Jazz, Pop
Sonic Strengths: Imaging, Vocal Clarity, Gentle but Present Treble, Good Bass Extension for a Single-Driver Design
Sonic Shortcomings: Slight audible distortion in sub-bass and lower midrange
Ergonomic Strengths: Silicone is Comfortable!
Ergonomic Shortcomings: Silicone is More Difficult to Insert/Remove than Acrylic
For more information, refer to the discussion, review, and appreciation thread for CustomArt’s monitors, created by head-fi’s resident CIEM curator, average_joe. Information regarding CustomArt's other models can be found there, as well as on CustomArt's official website.
Official Information on the Music One from Custom Art: (Click to show)
Official Information on the Music One from Custom Art:
Custom Art Music One is dedicated for all audiophiles and music enthusiasts looking for a bang for a buck.
- Single Balanced Armature
- 1-way configuration
- 109dB @1kHz @0.1V
- 41 Ohm @1kHz
- 10Hz-18300Hz (+-20dB into 711 ICE coupler)
- Advanced Horn nozzle design
- Vented receiver for better bass response
- Silicone body
Sound-wise these IEMs are meant to be balanced across the spectrum. Deep yet not overwhelming bass resembling dynamic drivers. Clear vocals and detailed midrange. Extended and precise highs. Bright detailed and spacious in overall signature. Best for acoustic, pop, r&b, rap and electronic. 100% Custom Art house-sound.
These IEMs are meant to be used with low impedance sources (such as iPod/iPhone, Sansa Clip, Fiio Amps) for best possible performance. High impedance sources will reduce bass response and increase high frequencies. Use of external headphone amplifier is highly recommended.
Price: Starting from 759PLN / €189
Edited by tomscy2000 - 1/19/15 at 12:02am