First series of impressions. I managed to grab an hour of listening today. I am using my 901 with balanced card but are iems are cables single ended so far. I am listening only to FLAC in redbook quality in this first session. I am comparing Stage 2, 3, 4, 1Plus2 and SE5. Please be understanding, I am far from being a pro, I just say what I feel.
First test song: The Kills - No Wow
Stage 2: overall very cohesive and musical sounding. A bit on the bassy side. Quite narrow soundstage (compared to the others). Separation is quite good, but less well defined than the others. Clearly less bass body (a bit thin even though it is boosted) and less sub bass extension. Still, I took a lot of pleasure in this tune, the iem was on the fun side, a bit fatiguing with the bass.
Stage 3: slightly less mid bass and better sub bass extension / echo. Same width of soundstage. More details and clarity, mostly due to a better balance accross frequencies. Less fatiguing but some will find also less fun than the Stage 2.
Stage 4: more or less the same level of bass punch as the stage 2 but with more better quality and control and better sub bass extention. Overal more body to the music. No bass bleeding into the mids, better separation than Stage 2 and slightly wider soundstage (still more depth than width though). Overall, better technical proficiency then the 2 others, but still very fun.
1Plus2: The 1plus2 is less sensitive so I turn the volume up a notch. The 1plus2 shines on such tracks that are congested on other iems. The overall presentation is more spacious and airy, but a bit thinner than stage 4. Same level of bass as stage 4 but a bit tighter. A bit harsher in the mids than stage 4. Overall very transparent sound.
SE5: Less mid bass than stage 4 or 1plus2 but at the same level of quality. Wins over the other on naturalness, note weight and note texture. A bit more intimate sounding but with excellent imaging. Not the top on all aspects but maybe my favorite on this track
Second test song: Grizzli Bear - Sleeping Ute
Stage 2: Still very musical and engaging, more width demonstrated, but lacks depth and a bit thin sounding overal (compared to the others). Fairing ok on separation on a very complex track but the difference with others shows clearly here.
Stage 3: Once again less bass than stage 2, clearly better separation, more depth and better overall balance. Overall great technical performance on this track with nice transparence, but could be a bit more engaging...maybe because I compare with the note weight of SE5
Stage 4: excellent separation and layering. More bass than stage 3 but not excessive. Best texture of cymbals of all the 5 on this track (not far above SE5). Great performer on this kind of complex rock track
1Plus2: Further from stage than the others, so different kind of emotion. Larger stage and better clarity than the other, more transparence. Prefer the texture of cymbals on stage 4. Great technical performance, slightly less engaging than Stage 4.
SE5: more intimate sound but same level of separation and impaging vs. stage 4 and 1plus2. The fact that it is the only custom here gives it advantage in my book. More surface of contact gives a better overal feeling of the sound.
Third test song - New Look - Nap on the Bow:
Stage 2: for such modern, simple and well mastered music, the differences in technical performance are not so visible and the Stage 2 performs very well with nice clean bass and very clear mids. The sound is still a bit thin though
Stage 3: bass has more weight and texture. Overall difference vs. Stage 2 is not so clear here. There is a bit more space and the soundstage has better definition. The mids are just as excellent.
Stage 4: Once again, a bit better than stage 2 with the same kind of signature, but difference are slight here.
1Plus2: Tighter bass and more distant, less engaging mids. The added airiness is not really needed here. Overall still an impeccable technical performance as usual.
SE5: More centered and intimate presentation. Very smooth sounding. The most emotional closely followed by Stage 4.
Fourth test song - Musica Nuda - Vado Giu (24 bit):
Stage 2: excellent mids once again. The texture of the cello is very good but a bit overbearing, and hides the violins a bit. They would deserve to be a bit more vibrant. As usual, more towards cohesive sound than great separation.
Stage 3: Female vocals just as excellent. More control in the cello which articulates better with the violins. More balanced sound with just as much emotion.
Stage 4: Ultra detailed, cello a bit strong but does not cover the viollins like with Stage 2 thanks to better separation. Not sure they overperform the stage 3 on such music, but they are better to listen to at low volume
1Plus2: Supreme details above all others, maybe too much ? Clarity to die for, violins could be smoother vs. stage 4.
SE5: Once again, advantage of the customs. More immersion into the music. The cello is more controlled, like with stage 3. The most natural sounding of all.
Fifth test song - Wild Nothings - No Future No Past
Stage 2: The piano lacks a bit in note weight, the bass has nice texture but lacks control, is a bit bloated. Soundstage is a bit vague. Keep in mind that this is all vs. higher performers. The sound is still great overall. The dynamics and punch are awesome, the sound is very vibrant with nice depth. Even if the bass is the bit much, the mids stay well separated. When the tracks become more complex, the stage 2 holds its own. Cymbals have very nice texture.
Stage 3: Less bass, tighter bass, but with just as much dynamics and punch. Mids are very slightly recessed, but the overall balance is better than stage 2. Overall, the feeling is almost perfect, apart from a slight lack in depth.
Stage 4: Once again more bass than Stage 3 but with more control than stage 2. Overall a great separation of instruments and layers. There is more depth than Stage 3 but a bit less bass would be better. Placement in the soundstage is very precise.
1Plus2: Presentation is more distant. Bass is less present than on stage 4 but more than on stage 3. Highs really stand out giving an impression of more detailed sound. The transparency as well as the echo from the subbass are very impressive.
SE5: more tamed bass than stage 4 which is good. Typical SE5 texture and note weight. Lack of width here is a bit suffocating but still ok since separation and depth are excellent
Sixtth and final est song - Buena Vista Social Club - Chan Chan (Wav HD):
Stage 2: very musical, fluid and engaging on this track, very natural. Not ultra separated between instruments but still not overlap, and a nice feeling of coherency. Mids are a bit drowned in instruments sometimes but the feeling of the music is clearly there. Highs are smooth, bass lacks a bit of definition.
Stage 3: Less warm than stage 2, more balance between frequencies but a bit thinner and less engaging. More transparent but less emotional. Highs are more vibrant and sparkly. Because there is less thickness, instrument placement is better defined.
Stage 4: great balance between the engaging aspect of stage 2 and technicallity of stage 3: best of both worlds and thus best of the 3
1Plus2: the technical proficiency of the 1Plus2 really shines on such tracks. Some may dislike the slight distance in staging but otherwise, it sounds incredible in every department: details, transparency, separation, placement...
SE5: incredible performer here too, as much as the 1plus2, but less airy, more natural. The most musical of all.
After doing this track by track on all 5 iems, I decided to stop there and focus on Stage 3 and Stage 4 afterwards as they are the ones I might consider purchasing. I will not switch cables as I initially wanted as the cables seem stuck and I do not want to damage the sockets.
Here is my first summary:
Stage 2: very good balance between technicality and musicality. A bit on the bassy side, more fluid sounding than analytical. Very enjoyable iem. I would have to try the custom version to see if it is worth the price tag, but overall I really liked the sound.
Stage 3: this is the more balanced / neutral sounding of the line up to my ears. It remains very musical so it might be the best all rounder to me at this stage. Will not be as fun or engaging as Stage 2 or 4 on some tracks, but is a great performer overall.
Stage 4: A great technical performer with great musicality. It stays a bit below 1Plus2 and SE5 on some tracks, but I have the feeling it will be at the same level as these two in custom version, but with its own presentation.
Own last thing: I have to repeat that beyond the sound, the build quality is better than anything I have tried except Fitear (and maybe SE5, but silicone is different).
Link to these impressions added to first post.
Edited by Mimouille - 9/30/13 at 11:47pm