Today, I managed the privilege of listening to some demos of CIEMs from a company on the eastern coast of Italy, largely unknown to the head-fi community, called Livezoner41.
I first heard about this company from the Japanese, who are incredibly adept at finding new and unique CIEM companies. At first I chuckled at the name --- it looked like someone took their internet screen name and decided to use it as their company name. Their monitors, from a brief look-see, also hinted at being incredibly bassy, which gave me pause.
However, even though I'm completely unfamiliar with the music scene in Italy, Livezoner does have an extensive client list, which at least proves that they're very serviceable as stage monitors.
After having heard these demos, I'm definitely convinced that this company is worthy of head-fiers' attention, however.
Short impressions (2013/09) of select models that appealed to me (sorry, didn't have a camera handy, have to use the website's photos; I'm also missing impressions of the Gaia, Yule, and LZ1):
LZ2 "Street Life Gold"
I have no idea why it's dubbed "Street Life Gold", but the LZ2 is similar to the CanalWorks CW-L12 in using just the Sonion 1723 AcuPass driver assembly (same one used in the TDK BA200, as well as the Cosmic Ears BA2 and the Minerva Performer Pro), and the two certainly sound similar enough.
Sound is mostly neutral, perhaps a slight lower midrange recession. However, I felt that the LZ2 had a slightly warmer tone than the CW-L12, with a slightly coarser upper treble, while the CW-L12 was more fine-grained across the board. One significant difference is that the LZ2 employs a stepped horn design while the CW-L12 does not; I am not sure of the damper and tube length differences, but there will be differences.
I have a feeling that the LZ4 takes on more of the flavor of the BA4F rather than the BA4R, but certainly there should be differences as I've not heard any Cosmic products before. In tonality, it harks resemblance to the Westone ES5, while being somewhat different in spatial presentation.
The sound is definitely improved over the LZ2, with a more filled in lower-midrange, lending more body to vocals, while not losing upper-midrange vocal harmonics, and smoother treble that ultimately feels refined and pleasant.
The LZ4, to me, represents a good value as a stage monitor that's suitable for personal listening as well --- warm fulll-bodied vocals, reasonable bass, and nicely-extended highs, with few deficiencies anywhere.
LZ4 (2nd Listening Impression)
Livezoner41's comments on the LZ4's intended audience:
The drivers inside the LZ4 have both vents open; it's not worth it to close the vents of a driver that was made that way. LZ4 is a bit "strong" as you say, because on stage you need to reproduce very low frequencies, especially for drummers and bass players, but in general for everyone who is performing "Live". Usually on stage, you have lot of sound coming from wedges and from the main PA system, so it is not like listening at home or with a portable player --- you have a lot of low frequencies and so you need to reproduce well the range from 20 to 100 Hz very well, with good dynamics and in a fast way. The LZ4 can be tuned for audiophile listeners; that is not that difficult at all. I think it is just a matter of no more than -2 dB for the low range.
The LZ4 uses the new (and very good) Sonion 1723, paired with another dual driver 33AJ007i/9.
The LZ8 was their old four-driver model before the AcuPass-equipped LZ4 came out.
The tonal balance of the LZ8 and LZ4 is remarkably similar, except that the LZ8 feels coarser (read: spikier) across the treble frequencies. The low-end also has a little more heft. Overall, IMHO, the LZ4 is the better model.
This is the one I liked best. Yes, it is the flagship (€920), so normally people would expect it to sound the best, but I don't always prefer flagships. Often, I like a lower-end model for the value it presents, and something like the LZ4 is a good value (€500) --- well, relatively speaking. They did indeed deliver the best with this model, though.
The sound felt very complete and present across the board --- airy upper highs, smooth lower treble, present, filled-in vocals with no blunting of upper harmonics, and present bass that extends low with impact (but not overly strong).
In a way, it sounded like the LZ4 but with greater separation and sense of space --- definitely one of the finest presentations I've come across in IEMs. When it comes to flagships, I often ask the question, "Is it worthy of being the flag bearer of a brand?" --- the answer, to me, for the LZ12 is yes.
It's not too bright, and not too dark. Just right. Goldilocks would definitely like it.
Notice the horn design (big diameter) of the treble bore; these guys know what they're doing.
Pictures culled from the BARKS review of the LZ12.
Some Other Notes:
- While this has no bearing on the actual fit of the CIEMs themselves, one thing that I should add is that the Livezoner41 demos are the best-fitting universal demos I've ever worn --- they could probably go ahead with making CIEM-derived universals if they want!
- They use a thick rubber O-ring on the stem to help ensure a good seal. It's a little tight, but it means I get a great seal every time and I can fit it in the canal deeply.
- Nearly all of the demos that I used/saw used a horn design for the mid/treble bores, and sometimes a reverse horn design for the bass bore. While using stepped horns in acoustic design to amplify/restrict certain frequencies is not a new concept (it is used extensively in hearing aids), it is interesting that they're used so extensively throughout their designs, indicating a concerted design philosophy.
- Regarding build quality --- not the best, but certainly not the worst. No real 'bubbles', imperfections, or anything like that, but it lacks the sheer polish that I've seen on the very best monitors. Perhaps it's that these were demos, and not the real deal.
If anyone else has had experience with Livezoner41 monitors, please share your thoughts! I'd be very curious to hear others chime in.
I e-mailed Livezoner41 with some pointed questions to learn more about the company, and a man named Oliver Marino replied with a thorough description of the company's history and their philosophy on sound tuning. From my e-mails with him, Oliver seems to be a total class act, with a great first-hand understanding of both music and IEM sound tuning, as well as a great willingness to learn from others --- all attributes that I highly respect and admire.
Here are some interesting snippets (lightly edited for context and clarity); I highlighted certain parts I thought were particularly revealing:
On himself and the origin of the company...
My primary job is of a sound engineer working in the live music scene, so for 25 years I have been in the pro-audio market, mixing as monitor engineer for Italian and foreign artists alike.
I was one of the first sound engineers here in Italy using the first IEMs back in the 1994, when this market was so young and green. So, I had the opportunity to buy myself the first two-way CIEM, [but] at that time there were very few companies making CIEMs; one was Ultimate Ears that was making the UE7, a very expensive CIEM [at the time].
Then, Shure came out with the E1, which became a very popular [universal]-fit IEM. I had the opportunity of mixing with these very “simple” IEMs, [and while] were far from sounding very good, [they allowed] me to gain a lot of experience in understanding how an IEM should sound for stage use.
In 2005, I met an audiologist who was also a musician, and [together] we decided to start making some CIEMs just for fun, experimenting with different solutions. What was started out as a game, however, became very popular in the Italian music scene, because the only [other] products that were available here were from Ultimate Ears, and were very expensive (because of an Italian distributor).
Thus, I had to learn all the acoustic science [that has to do with] IEMs on my own, because as you may know, there obviously aren’t any books or publications [specifically] about it. As a sound engineer I know the science of sound, but all the acoustic phenomena associated with the making of IEMs are quite different. [Luckily,] I also know electronics very well, so designing IEMs is [personally] very pleasant and stimulating.
On his philosophy for sound tuning, testing, and design...
You can listen [for] this [experience] in my LZ12 and LZ4 --- they are our latest products and the ones that I prefer [as well].
There are so many ways to make IEMs, and you cannot say, "this is good" [or] "this is wrong" --- the only thing that matters is the result. If it sounds good, [then] it's OK. And apart from personal tastes, a loudspeaker or an IEM that sounds good will sound good for most people.
For good sound, a sound system needs to have low distortion, good phase relationship between the different drivers, and good phase linearity from the sound that comes in and the sound that comes out. Some companies use proprietary drivers and they can get very good results because they have the drivers they need, but with “off the shell” or standard drivers from Knowles or Sonion, it is a lot more complicated and often you need to make some “special” or “personal” trick to get a very good result. It is just a matter of knowing [the details] very well.
I do not think that the more drivers you put in, the better the sound --- this is often just marketing or [as many may call, the] “drivers war”. [Honestly,] I think that a good three-way system is adequate enough to sound very good.
As you [mentioned], we always use stepped-bore horns, as well as some other acoustic solutions, because our products are made from a good-sounding point of view. As [for my] personal tastes, I like a warm sound, with warm and fast bass, good mid and delicate high, not annoying and sparkly. I do not like a “fake” sound, the sound needs to be realistic.
In all my communication with various members of the audio industry, I find that very few (unless I personally consider them a friend), are this forthcoming with answers. Oliver seems like an absolute gentleman, and I'm even more fascinated by this company because of it.
I'm likely going to go take another, deeper look at these monitors once again, and will report on the findings from a second audition of the demos.
Product Page: http://www.livezoner41.com/prodotti/
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/Livezoner41
Head-Fi Account (looks like they never bothered to use it): http://www.head-fi.org/u/165866/livezoner41
List of Reviews:
- LZ4 (English): http://www.en.barks.jp/news/?id=1000002858
- LZ4 (Japanese): http://www.barks.jp/gakki/news/?id=1000093010
- LZ12 (Japanese): http://www.barks.jp/gakki/news/?id=1000094438
If you read the BARKS reviews, you'll find that the reviews are exceedingly positive (even by shoddy Google Translate standards) --- I definitely had my doubts when I read the reviews, believing they were too positive. But after hearing the demos myself, I can definitely understand why the BARKS editor (Karasumaru) would think that way. Livezoner41 definitely has a very coherent and enjoyable house sound.
Disclaimer: I have no association with Livezoner in any way; I just happen to be good friends with their new Asia-Pacific distributor, which is how I got to hear the demos.
Edited by tomscy2000 - 12/5/13 at 9:35pm