Although I have a HUGE appreciation for the work ljokerl has done is his Multi-IEM review and for his skills as a critical listener, I think he and I have different ears and different priorities. 'Phones that he describes as balanced, or even as mildly bass-heavy, often come across to me as thin, even anemic-sounding. My idea of "balanced" includes a lot more bass than his, perhaps because of my musical tastes -- which begin with live music, though I don't listen to "live" stuff much over 'phones-- and less treble. I'm very sensitive to sibilance, and bright 'phones fatigue me quickly.
My first good IEMs were UE Super-fi 5 Pros. They were revelatory at the time, but they were lost in travel, and the cheaper DDMs I bought next made them seem over-analytical and buzzy.
The best IEMs I've ever had were Radius DDMs. Their bass, was of course amazing, but I loved their intimate presentation -- the way they could make me feel like a male vocalist was standing at my shoulder, singing to me -- and their relaxed-but-not-veiled top end. I found them to be incredibly musical.
ljokerl's review opus led me to JVC HA-FX90s as a replacement when my DDMs broke two years ago, and they weren't a bad call. On first listen, I hated them for their sizzling highs (which smoothed with burn-in) and incredibly disappointing bass. Many people describe them as having punchy, fairly deep bass, but that was just not the way I heard them, even with Monster foam supertips. Mid-bass punch was almost acceptable, but there was little there at deeper frequencies. I thought I had a bad driver until I applied an EQ curve that boosted frequencies up to 125 Hz by about four dB, curving down to level at 500 Hz and cut frequencies above 16 kHhz by about 1 dB. They're good with equalization, but I want better. I also wish I could compare them to the DDMs again to determine whether I'm just being nostalgic. By the way, these things have always sounded more like BA 'phones than dynamics to me.
In the meantime, I've tried a number of other options:
- Brookstone Clear Dual-Drives that I bought for my ex-girlfriend, as possible poor-man's Radius DDM2s. Not bad, but not nearly as good as the original DDMs. The lows and mids were nice, but the top end seemed veiled and lacking detail to me.
- Shure 535s. Very, very good, but for that kind of money, I'd want customs. Anyway, they were maybe a touch boring.
-B&W C5s. Good, but somewhat disappointing, given the name. I use B&W speakers at home, and I love their signature. The C5s, though, seemed no more than quite competent.
-Monster Turbine Pros Coppers. These were the DDMs' main competitors when I was shopping. I was surprised to find that I preferred the equalized JVC HA-FX90s for their clarity and treble detail, although they gave a good bit up to the MTPCs in bass. I also tried the Golds, but didn't find them as good as the Coppers.
-Klipsch Image X10s. Actually tried them a long time ago, and liked them a ton, but I don't think they matched the DDMs for me.
-A few Beats 'phones. Meh.
-UE900s. Good, but not for the price. I wanted more bass, still.
-Phiaton PS20 NCs. I impulse-ordered a set of these a couple of weeks ago for about $18 on Amazon. They're a good deal even at the current $40 price point. These remind me of the DDMs, or perhaps the Brookstone Clears. The bass is enough (mid-bass, at least, if not sub-bass), the mids are fairly buttery, and the presentation is very good for the money, but they do sound somewhat veiled to me (ljokerl, by the way, asserts that they are not veiled). These are currently getting more play than the JVCs, despite their flaws, because the NC feature is rather good on planes, and the lesser isolation is nice while listening for airport announcements.
I'm interested in the Dunu DN-1000s. Their just-under-$200 price point is tempting, and is probably about the most I'd be willing to spend without strongly considering customs. What else should I be considering? And if I were to go with customs in the $400-650 range instead, what would you guys recommend, given my stated preferences?