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How come IEMs don't sound anywhere near as good as speakers?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

I've owned a good number of high end IEMs, including the Sennheiser IE 80, Vsonic GR07, Fischer Audio DBA-02 and Head-Direct RE0. While they sound good, and some are very detailed, none sound anywhere near as good or enjoyable as good set of speakers + subwoofer. 

 

It doesn't even take a very expensive speaker to beat out all the IEMs I've listed above. Something as inexpensive as the $600 Paradigm's new Monitor series speakers sounds better in the midrange and treble while almost matching the level of detail presented. Not just that, I've never heard of any IEM that can reproduce bass as well as a good subwoofer, not even the Sennheiser IE80. While the volume was there, its nowhere near as tight and articulate. Bass from a good sub is also a lot more impactful and deeper, but IEMs can't reproduce that for obvious reasons. 

 

What's worse, no IEM seems to be able to image at all. It sounds like the sound is coming from the IEM, not presented in a nice soundstage with speakers. I can't pinpoint anything with IEMs. There isn't even the basic vocal in the center imaging with IEMs. I expect IEMs to image like crazy because the positioning is perfect and there are no room reflections or any of the sonic problems we have to deal with speakers.

 

Why can't IEMs sound truly good like speakers? Anyone share the same experience?


Edited by bcodemz - 10/28/13 at 9:42am
post #2 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by bcodemz View Post
 

I've owned a good number of high end IEMs, including the Sennheiser IE 80, Vsonic GR07, Fischer Audio DBA-02 and Head-Direct RE0. While they sound good, and some are very detailed, none sound anywhere near as good or enjoyable as good set of speakers + subwoofer. 

 

It doesn't even take a very expensive speaker to beat out all the IEMs I've listed above. Something as inexpensive as the $600 Paradigm's new Monitor series speakers sounds better in the midrange and treble while almost matching the level of detail presented. Not just that, I've never heard of any IEM that can reproduce bass as well as a good subwoofer, not even the Sennheiser IE80. While the volume was there, its nowhere near as tight and articulate. Bass from a good sub is also a lot more impactful and deeper, but IEMs can't reproduce that for obvious reasons. 

 

What's worse, no IEM seems to be able to image at all. It sounds like the sound is coming from the IEM, not presented in a nice soundstage with speakers. I can't pinpoint anything with IEMs. There isn't even the basic vocal in the center imaging with IEMs. I expect IEMs to image like crazy because the positioning is perfect and there are no room reflections or any of the sonic problems we have to deal with speakers.

 

Why can't IEMs sound truly good like speakers? Anyone share the same experience?

 

Think about what you are asking, which is already kinda a reach (comparing IEMs to speakers). Then take into account the difference in prices of the items you are comparing, all the IEMs combined could probably be found for less than that speaker/(any decent sub) combo. Also you are calling the IEMs you listed "high end" yet call those Paradigms inexpensive?

post #3 of 14

Welcome to head-fi

Sorry about your wallet.

 

I'll leave you something to read before answer:

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/across-great-divide-can-we-love-headphones-speakers-equally

post #4 of 14

Why does a big screen TV show more detail than a cell phone screen?  Followed by more news at 11.

 

As mentioned above, you're also comparing $600 speakers to $50-300 IEMS...

 

You definition of high end is lacking. The IE80 should have decent imaging however. Compare some $50-300 speakers though and you'll have a somewhat more reasonable comparison, but still quite off.


Edited by Zalithian - 10/28/13 at 2:04pm
post #5 of 14
It's a little unreasonable to compare full size speakers with tiny little IEMs, but I tend to get hung up on what people refer to as "reference" sound from IEM's. It seems that by definition, "reference" should mean essentially what the music would sound like as if it were being played live in front of you. And yet, "reference" IEM's have bass output that has none of the impact of what, for example, a bass drum does in real life. If the IEM does have that strong, realistic impact, it's considered boomy, bloated, or at the very least, overemphasized.
post #6 of 14

It's all physics. Sound = air being moved. Some instruments are made to sound big, ergo a lot of air has to be moved. This is physically impossible for an IEM. Especially for sub woofers. A 15 inch driver moves a lot more air than a 0.5 inch driver.

 

Imaging is decided by loudness and echo. Loudspeakers are also generally further apart so they create more of a stereo image. By moving sounds 25% to the left + the echo of the loudspeaker in the room your head generates an idea of where the instrument should be located.

 

It's just a limit to IEM's (also headphones). They can never sound as good (but also will never be as expensive) as a perfect stereo system. They can sound great tho and will never break your budget as a stereo system will.


Edited by Rage038 - 10/28/13 at 3:53pm
post #7 of 14

Iems or headphones for that matter are very unnatural to listen to vs. "speakers."  We listen to music with our bodies in addition to our ear canals. The complex shape of our ears, cartilage vs. bone, all play an important part in hearing; even those tiny hairs within our ear canals and body are important in hearing.  You will never get that emotional visceral listening experience through iems/headphones.  Even listening to the most expensive speaker systems will this rarely happen.  But, Iems/headphones are even a greater compromise.  

 

Having said this, this does not mean you cannot enjoy listening to music through iems/headphones.  Just don't expect it to be as good.  Live music>large speaker systems>small speaker systems>over ear headphones>on ear headphones>iems.

post #8 of 14

It's not a silly question OP has asked. The best way to look at portable audio imo is like a different concept to speakers, if you're buying to try and replicate a full size presentation like your home end rig reproduces I doubt you're going to find it and best not even bother.. not with anything I've heard anyway, that includes some expensive totl products like Tralucent 1Plus2 (although it was close)  When I first started this hobby I was a little confused as well about the subject, however once you accept the differences IEM's can be just as enjoyable.  Btw: Vsonic GR07 and IE80 are not top tier, they're mid tier at best and although decent sounding IEM's there's a long way to go further in what an IEM achieve, but to the everyday person you'll be paying out your rear end for it and to many unless die hard fans of portable audio it's just not even feasible to pay that much money.  The best advice I can give is instead of trying to replicate full size speakers (or even full size headphone for that matter) appreciate the IEMs for what they can do, appreciate the differences, think outside the square, come down to reality a little.. 


Edited by H20Fidelity - 10/28/13 at 5:19pm
post #9 of 14
There is no "good" sound; there is sound you are familiar with, and sound you are not familiar with. One person's delightfully bassy rap or EDM is another person's bloated, boomy mess. Ditto all the other frequency ranges.

The key is flexibility. I've known musicians, some of them famous, who have the crappiest sound systems you can imagine. I've known others who've advanced the science of electroacoustic playback phenomenally, with deep research and NASA-level engineering.

Keep an open mind, and ears. Every transducer has its strengths, and weaknesses. Enjoy it all and don't stress, or fight, or worry.

I'm listening to Bruce Springsteen's "The River" on my iPhone with my five year old Shure E3cs tonight. It's as powerful in this way as it is on my Sony ES/Definitive Technology/turntable vinyl setup. There are things in each case I can't hear in the other. I may enjoy it again tomorrow in my car sound system via bluetooth transmission. smily_headphones1.gif

Each is a different, enriching experience, none of it bad. At least, that's how it works for me.



Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
post #10 of 14

For the original poster: I initially felt the same way you do.  I was especially mystified by how many people were writing about earphone soundstaging I couldn't hear.  When I bought my first set of customs I experienced a breakthrough moment.  Suddenly my earphones were offering me an equally enjoyable but different way to appreciate my music.  Oddly after that I'm able to backtrack to less expensive models and enjoy them for what they offer.

 

I think you might need a little 'brain burn in' time with a set of IEMs that match your sonic preferences.

post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 

Some comments regarding posts:

 

Wow, I haven't been on Head-Fi for a few years, and now the Sennheiser IE 80 is mid-tier at best? Times have really changed. Back when I bought them IEMs don't get much better than the IE80, GR07 and DBA-02, besides a couple of oddball customs. Now there seem to be a lot of different $1000 custom IEMs. Nevertheless, I still think they're high end, and the $1000 customs should be in the "exotic" category. 

 

They say headphones can match speakers 5-10x their price (it makes sense, and they should given how little it takes to make them). $300 is definitely at the more pricey side for IEMs. However, $600 just gets you an entry level pair of speakers. To put it in a different perspective, excluding the HTIB stuff that Paradigm makes, the $600 speaker I mentioned is the second worse speaker Paradigm makes, and Paradigm isn't even a high end brand. There are way better speakers than the Paradigm Mini Monitor. My point was that an entry level speaker can sound better than most high end IEMs doesn't make sense.

post #12 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by bcodemz View Post

Some comments regarding posts:

Wow, I haven't been on Head-Fi for a few years, and now the Sennheiser IE 80 is mid-tier at best? Times have really changed. Back when I bought them IEMs don't get much better than the IE80, GR07 and DBA-02, besides a couple of oddball customs.

Well I don't know where you've been mate, but we all moved forward to 2013.
post #13 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by bcodemz View Post
 

Some comments regarding posts:

 

Wow, I haven't been on Head-Fi for a few years, and now the Sennheiser IE 80 is mid-tier at best? Times have really changed. Back when I bought them IEMs don't get much better than the IE80, GR07 and DBA-02, besides a couple of oddball customs. Now there seem to be a lot of different $1000 custom IEMs. Nevertheless, I still think they're high end, and the $1000 customs should be in the "exotic" category. 

 

They say headphones can match speakers 5-10x their price (it makes sense, and they should given how little it takes to make them). $300 is definitely at the more pricey side for IEMs. However, $600 just gets you an entry level pair of speakers. To put it in a different perspective, excluding the HTIB stuff that Paradigm makes, the $600 speaker I mentioned is the second worse speaker Paradigm makes, and Paradigm isn't even a high end brand. There are way better speakers than the Paradigm Mini Monitor. My point was that an entry level speaker can sound better than most high end IEMs doesn't make sense.

 

Seriously, come on. Why is your cell phone camera worse than a DSLR? Why are snap and shoots inferior to DSLRS? Why are cars faster than scooters? Why do intel atom CPU's suck compared to desktop processors? Why does your phone screen only show 720p when your HDTV at home shows 1080?

 

Devices are made with a purpose. Some are made to be convenient and others are not which allows them superior performance. IEMS are made primarily for portable listening. Try doing some portable listening with your HD650's  or your LCD2 and your tube amp. Just bring it on the bus with you. While you're at it go ahead and bring your paradigm speakers too. Oh wait, you can't? That's right.

 

 

 

tldr: Things are made for different reasons. You often have to give up something for convenience. IEMS are no exception. I do disagree with your analysis, but I also feel that your thinking is just flawed in general in this situation.

post #14 of 14

If money, space, time are not issues and you seek the ultimate, something like Focal speakers, a Mark Levinson top of the line tube amp, a great turntable and for digital audio a proper suite of jitter-free hardware, all set up in a room that is properly treated and with the right dimensions, should be your goal.  Or, time spent seeking out well-managed live performances.

 

All other circumstances involve compromises for the sake of convenience, where money, space and time are issues in some way.  There are ideal individual solutions for all those other circumstances, but they're all compromises, make no mistake about it.  And the fun is in exploring which compromises are the ones you're willing to make, for the sake of your music pleasure.  No-one else can judge that for you; they can merely offer advice and their own experience, which is fun to listen to, but it's not your experience, ultimately.

 

Some people enjoy the equipment for the equipment's sake, above all, and there's nothing wrong with that, either; especially these days with such a range of fabulous choices, up and down the line, from $5 to $5,000,000.  Revel in it all.

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