Reviews by Deezel177


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: A smooth, warm, forgiving signature
- Full-bodied, rich and meaty lows
- A clear, bell-like upper-midrange
- Excellent packaging, accessories and build quality
- Swappable faceplates
Cons: Not the most linear or transparent-sounding frequency response
- Stage expansion and separation aren't clinical
DISCLAIMER: Stealth Sonics loaned me the U4 in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to Stealth Sonics for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Stealth Sonics is a Singaporean in-ear manufacturer that’s been gaining more and more attention the past couple years. Although they probably aren’t the first names you’d think of when you think Singapore, they have been garnering tons of positive responses through artist endorsements, region-wide loaner programs and appearances at CanJam, where I first encountered their brand. Today, I’ll be reviewing their 4-driver universal U4, as well as taking you behind Stealth Sonics’ myriad of in-house technologies that’ve made their monitors as pleasing, musical and technically-proficient as they are.

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Stealth Sonics U4
  • Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 13Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 114dB @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): IsoStealth, SonicFlo, Stealth Damping, Stealth Kompozit, Klarity Valve
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $499
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

Stealth Sonics’ packaging is impressively mature; resembling something a seasoned veteran of the trade would put out. The outer sleeve is covered all-round with hi-res images. I’m particularly impressed by the glossy accents they’ve dotted throughout the matte artwork, which wonderfully accents text, as well as sections of photos like the faceplates. It really adds three-dimensionality and dynamism, which tend to be underrated in packaging and presentation. Underneath the sleeve is the main box, which is lined with a gorgeous, silken carbon fibre and the Stealth Sonics logo embossed on top.

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Unfolding the box via a magnetic latch, you’re greeted by the in-ear monitors and a carrying case – neatly organised and recessed within foam cut-outs – as well as a Thank You card in a pocket to the side. Next to the in-ears, you have an extra pair of blue, chrome-finished faceplates that you can swap the default ones out for to achieve a different aesthetic. The included zipper case is lined with faux leather; robust, but very light. This makes it more ideal for on-the-go use than the heavier, metallic-infused cases I’ve experienced in the past. And, its size allows it to house at least two pairs of IEMs too.

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Inside the case are the included accessories. In total, you get 7 pairs of tips, which include silicone tips, foam tips and bi-flange tips. You also get airline and 1/4″ adapters. In addition to that is an extra cable with an in-line microphone for use with mobile devices. And finally, you also get a microfibre cloth and a smaller soft pouch for light storage of the in-ears. Now this is what I call an accessories package! I absolutely admire Stealth Sonics for going all out here, while others’d typically consider it an afterthought. The competition should take notes, because they’ve knocked it out of the park.

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The in-ears themselves are very robustly built. Between the almost-rubber-like shell, the blue inlay and the faceplate, the layers are seamlessly flush with zero wiggle, sharp edges or adhesive traces. Stealth Kompozit makes the shells softer to the touch, which’ll make it more resistant from bumps or scratches. It also congeals to the ear quicker than acrylic does. The U4’s striking, sci-fi aesthetic may not be for everyone. Personally, I think it’s unique in a very good way. Again, if you wish to, you can always swap out the carbon-fibre faceplates for the chrome-finished blue ones with the included tool.

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The earpieces sit comfortably and securely in my ears. The smooth, rounded shape allows the U4 to distribute pressure very equally throughout the ear. But, it’s worth keeping in mind that these are rather shallow-fitting in-ears. If you tend to find it difficult to achieve a seal with shallower in-ears, you may have to resort to using the bi-flange tips. But, all in all, Stealth Sonics have excelled when it comes to presentation, accessories and build. Even at this price tier, they’ve packed in a plethora of goodies with stunning attention-to-detail, and I’d love to see nothing more than for others to follow suit.

Stealth Sonics’ Wealth of Tech

On their website and marketing, Stealth Sonics feature a staggering amount of proprietary technologies, which include innovations toward acoustic design and shell durability. Stealth Sonics generously gave me the opportunity to speak to their head engineer about what all this tech was, and how they contributed towards the U4’s. Here’s what he had to say:



"Isolation is basically the key thing in sound, especially in lower frequencies. So, if you don’t have isolation, you lose that. You don’t get to enjoy all the lower-end of the spectrum.

So, what we did was, we took an average of people’s ear impressions. This was possible thanks to our sister company, My Ears, who’ve been taking impressions for a very long time. We used those statistics and data to find one standard deviation – which is roughly 67% of the population – and have our product’s size and shape adhere to that.

We especially focused on the outer pinna; the part where the IEM actually goes into the ear and sits on the lobe. We wanted it sealed as much as possible. The data (demographic) that we had were mostly Western with a little bit of Asia as well. So, we designed the shell according to that. The whole idea behind it is if we were able to seal the pinna as much as possible, we would be able to achieve incremental isolation of 10dB, and that’s a lot."



"While IsoStealth takes care of the lower frequencies in terms of isolation, SonicFlo takes care of the higher frequencies. As we all know, the drivers in IEMs pump out sound through tubes. These tubes carry that energy into your eardrums and that turns into sound.

But, if you pump that energy through your average, circular tubes, you don’t get to hear the higher harmonics. Why? It’s because of principles called resonance and cancellation. For example, whenever a sound engineer goes to a concert hall, they try to make sure no surface reflects equally. Because, if they do, one of two things will happen: Resonance or cancellation. You’ll lose out on some of that sound energy.

So, that’s precisely the idea behind SonicFlo. We use asymmetrical sound tubes to pump the air or sound through. Because there’s a lack of reflection now, the higher harmonics – the hi-hats, triangles – don’t get muddied out and disappear, so you do get that feeling of, “Wow, I’m hearing everything.” This will not affect the low frequencies, because the amplitude isn’t big enough. So, the lows won’t be affected by these asymmetrical tubes."

Klarity Valve


"The Klarity Valve promises to ease discomfort. How? In our ear, pressure is balanced via our outer ear and the Eustachian tube. Every once in a while, your body will equalise that pressure. Now, when you have an IEM or an earbud in your ear, the drivers are pumping air into your ear, which builds up pressure over time. What the Klarity Valve does is it allows that pressure to escape through the IEM. If there’s ever too much pressure in the ear and it pushes back against the nozzle, the Klarity Valve will release it. So, it eases discomfort and reduces ear fatigue.

Now, let’s talk about why you need a large nozzle. Air, like water, is a fluid. Imagine a gardening hose. If you reduce the cross-sectional area of the gardening hose and you maintain the same amount of pressure pushing the water out, the velocity of the water shooting out of the hose will increase. Suddenly, the water has more power and impact, and it carries enough energy to even be considered damaging. So, even though the material conveyed is the same, the speed of the fluid is different. This is Bernoulli’s theorem.

The same applies to IEMs. If I were to listen to something via a smaller nozzle and a bigger nozzle, the information will still be the same; you’ll still hear the sound. However, the smaller nozzle will deliver it at a higher velocity for the same given amount of drivers and air being displaced. So, it impacts your eardrum at a much higher velocity than the larger nozzle. Because we don’t want the sound to impact the eardrum in a damaging way, we’ve made the nozzle of the U2, the U4 and the U9 quite pronounced compared to the other brands. It’s almost three times the size."

Stealth Damping


"Stealth Damping allows us to give you crispier bass. How does that happen? On the faceplate of the universal, you’ll see something that looks like a turbine with a brass tip. Now, really, it’s only the weight of that thing that’s important; the turbine is just for design.

What it does is this: Think of a bass signal on an oscilloscope; let’s say the drummer hits the bass drum. What you’ll see is a spike, then you’ll have a trail; a decay trail. Now, assume that decay doesn’t decay as quickly as you want. What happens is that trail will build, and it’ll accumulate into what we call boominess. Because of that, you begin to lose all the other frequencies; the boominess masks them and takes over.

So, by adding a weight – that we’ve specifically measured (with a bit of tolerance) – to the IEM, the weight is allowed to absorb only the low-frequency sounds. It’s mechanical in nature. This allows the bass response to decay very quickly. When that happens, you hear a more crisp, clear bass, which also allows you to push it even further without diluting the other frequencies at the same time."

Stealth Kompozit


"If you look at our shell and feel the material that makes contact with the ear, you’ll find a rather strange material that isn’t used in the market really. It’s soft, yet resilient; solid. This is a nanocoat that we’ve employed from the audiology industry. The audiology industry had developed this for older people, because they have to wear their hearing aids for a very long time; 8 to 10 hours. So, comfort was very important, and we brought this over to our IEMs.

That comes default with our universals. For our customs, we give options. We can finish them in a variety of materials. For example, we can finish the customs in medical-grade silicone, which is softer. We can also finish them in acrylic. We can finish them in plastic too. So, there’s no standard when it comes to customs. It’s all up to the user’s requests."


The U4 is thick, pillowy and L-shaped; emphasised on the low frequencies. However, this emphasis spans even higher up the range; short of the low-mids. So, what it contributes are strongly full-bodied instruments, as well as a rich, warm and syrupy timbre. That richness is undercut slightly by the sparkle of the top-end, even if the general treble region has been kept relatively laid-back. The mids have a great linearity, bridging the lows and highs seamlessly. Despite being neutrally positioned, the high-mids shine through all that warmth, giving vocals authority; toe-to-toe with that big-sounding bass.

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Spatially, the U4 is an admirable performer. The stage – although not necessarily out-of-head – is never stuffy, congested or claustrophobic; a wonderful achievement, especially given the presence of the bass. The U4 also manages impressive composure for a signature with this much body. A black background is constantly visible behind all the warmth, and you can follow along where everything is in the track fairly well. Obviously, considering how full-bodied everything is, clinical separation and micro-detail retrieval aren’t at the top of the U4’s priorities. Nevertheless, by virtue of top-end extension, control and midrange resolution, the U4 is a notable technical performer in spite of its rich, warm and fat tonal balance.


The U4’s star player, its low frequencies are full-bodied, rich and energetic. Though, unlike most other L-shaped sigs, the bass here is more melodic and silky in timbre; emphasising the sound and presence of a bass note, rather than focusing all its energy into impact. The result is a bass that’s very musical and listenable too. It doesn’t steal the spotlight from the lead instrument by rattling the listener’s skull with mounds of sub-bass. Rather, it complements those mids to form rich, warm and well-rounded instruments. Finally, the region sports excellent extension, coherence and linearity, so it never ever rolls off whenever it alternates between mid-bass hits, sub-bass rumbles and upper-bass melodies, and vice versa.

Given these technical achievements, the U4’s low-end is quite resolving as well. Layering perhaps isn’t as taut as it could possibly be given how much body they’ve given the lows and given the more laid-back nature of the top-end. However, Stealth Sonics have certainly given the bass more authority than I would’ve expected – allowing it to have a nice balance between presence and control – most likely by virtue of their proprietary technologies. The tone of the bass is delectably warm and smooth, making it – again – more ideal for easy listening than analysis and taking apart. Instruments like bass guitars and kick drums bloom and intermingle, for example. So, if that’s the timbre you’re looking for, the U4 will deliver.


Past the low-end lift, the U4 dips throughout the lower-mids. What this does is add headroom, clarity and definition to instruments so they don’t become too full or too harmonic. That role is already performed by the bass, so the low-mids take a step back. As a result, instruments are clear-sounding, clean and refined with just the right amount of wetness to sound natural, without becoming congested or mushy. There’s then a steady lift towards 2-3kHz to ensure vocals have the presence and authority required to stand out from the lows. This is capped off with wonderfully clear upper-mids.

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The 4-5kHz range is my favourite bit of the U4’s tuning. A lift there gives vocals this vibrant, glowing quality that allows them to strongly pop as the commanding lead instrument. The best part is that the lift sounds effortless and perfectly in line with the rest of the U4’s signature. It’s not a lift that attempts to forcefully pull the upper-mids forward and away from the lows and highs. Rather, that clarity blends seamlessly with the rest of the ensemble and completes those full-bodied notes with a zingy, vibrant glow; like a squeeze of lemon juice in a rich, hearty stew. Tori Kelly’s First Heartbreak is as resonant as ever on the U4. Pair that with doses of air, and you have well-rounded, organic, effortlessly clear mids.


That 5kHz lift seems to have bled over a tiny bit into 6kHz, as the U4’s low-treble can have a touch of brightness to it at times. It’s largely track-dependant. For example, it’s non-existent on Tori Kelly’s First Heartbreak, but then it rears its head through the guitars on the very next track: I Was Made For Loving You. And, it’s rife on Nick Jonas and the Administration’s brightly-mastered and energetic State of Emergency. So, it’s a bit of a hue that may or may not appear, but in any case, it shouldn’t be of any concern, since it never crosses over towards brittle or sibilant territory; just a bit of colouration is all.

In order to ensure smoothness, the U4 dips its middle-treble moderately. With cymbals and hi-hats, there’s a very slight smoothening or feathering effect that comes from a 7-8kHz dip. This is ideal if you like your percussion a touch gentler-sounding, though it may not be ideal if ultra-clarity is what you’re looking for. Nevertheless, enough energy is injected in to the upper-treble for a clear and resolving response. The U4 is not mushy or muddy in any way, which I continue to be impressed by given its tonal balance of choice. And, wonderful treble extension allows those transients to come through against a black, stable background with admirable spatial qualities, commendable stereo spread and well-paced decay.

General Recommendations

The U4’s L-shaped signature makes it ideal for those who enjoy smoother, thicker-sounding in-ear monitors. Its bass is a specific highlight; for better or worse. Shown below are the U4’s strongest traits, so see whether or not it’s ideal for you:

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A smooth, warm and forgiving signature: The U4’s risen low-end gives it a rich, pillowy signature that softens and fattens instruments. At the same time, its top-end is kept smooth and forgiving, whilst being decently extended as well. So, if you’re sensitive to top-end glare and you’re looking for a sub-$1000 in-ear to fit the bill, the U4 is a very likely candidate.

Full-bodied, rich and bountiful lows: If you enjoy a warm, full-sounding bass and you prefer your lows more melodic than skull-rattling or punchy, the U4’s bass response will please. It possesses a linear lift up until the low-mids, which gives its bass a sing-song-y quality, rather than a rumbly one. If this is your ideal sort of presentation, the U4 is a desirable option.

Upper-mids that are both clear and well-founded: Despite the U4’s low-end emphasis, a cleverly tuned upper-midrange and low-treble gives higher-pitched vocals a vibrant, crystalline quality. Female vocals sing with sweetness and shimmer, which is rare in these sorts of signatures. This is ideal if you want both rich, hefty lows and radiant, airy instruments.

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Obviously, the U4’s tilted signature will be less appealing to those who prefer the opposite. This certainly isn’t a bright or sparkly-sounding IEM. If the attributes below are ones you prioritise most, the U4 may not be the ideal monitor for you:

A crisp, clean, treble-emphasised presentation: The U4’s emphasis on fullness and harmonic richness naturally prevents it from sounding compact, tight and ultra-fast. It’s a mellower, more pillowy in-ear more ideal for big picture listening than analysis of the minutia. So, if you’re a critical listener yearning for utmost detail, the U4 isn’t the ideal monitor for you.

Vastness, expansion and clinical separation: Again, the U4’s thicker, richer instruments take up quite a bit of space. While this makes it easy to get immersed in the U4’s euphonic presentation, it’s not ideal if your preference is large amounts of space and tighter notes. If you want a spacious, atmospheric presentation, there are more suitable options out there.

A lean or neutral low-end: At this point in the review, it’s become awfully clear that the U4’s bass is quite strongly shaped. It’s a plentiful bass won’t hesitate to make its presence known. Again, it’s a well-executed colouration that plays well with the rest of the frequency response. Nevertheless, it still isn’t for those who prefer neutral, thinner or brighter tunings.

Select Comparisons

Jomo Audio Haka (S$599)

The Haka and U4 strike similar tonal balances – a soft neutral with a lightly warm hue. But, the latter has the bolder low-end. The U4’s bass presence is fuller, gutsier and more prominent, while the Haka’s sits back for a cleaner, more relaxed profile. In terms of sub-bass extension and content, however, the Haka does deliver, so it’s no less fun when listening to genres like EDM or modern pop. The U4’s more excited mid-bass increases its musicality, while the Haka is more linear. Along with similarly laid-back upper-mids, the Haka has greater depth, while the U4 is more engaging and in-your-face.

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This difference in exuberance also comes from the U4’s 5-6kHz peak. Treble notes are brighter and more rounded, while the Haka’s are wispier, softer and more feathered. This means the Haka is the more forgiving piece, while the U4 accepts being a little rough-around-the-edges in order to achieve its energy. Spatially, the Haka will sound airier due to its tighter, more compact notes. The U4’s larger images fill up the image more, but it does compensate with a sufficiently vast stage and a stable background. Imaging-wise, the Haka is slightly more coherent because of its single-armature configuration.

Nocturnal Audio Avalon (S$629)

Compared to the U4, the Avalon is a much crisper-sounding in-ear monitor with leaner instruments and a brighter sense of attack. Tonally, its transients are on the brighter side. Although this bolsters its detail retrieval and helps highlight the smaller nuances, it can get fatiguing over time. Its dynamic range may begin to falter in extended listening sessions. The U4’s warmer, thicker, more pillowy timbre will come across less revealing, but it is much more forgiving and easy on the ear. So, the Avalon is ideal if you’re after raw, clinical detail, while the U4 is if you’re after warmth, smoothness and bass.

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The U4 is a refreshingly unique entry in the sub-$1000 category; one that neither shies away from a gluttonous low-end response, nor allows it to overshadow a vibrantly clear upper-midrange. Its decidedly L-shaped colouration won’t appeal to everyone. But, the riveting accents Stealth Sonics have sprinkled in through their proprietary technologies ultimately make the U4 a more compelling buy than its similarly-coloured competitors. Take into account the excellent build quality and accessories you get for the money, and that value only continues to propel. The Stealth Sonics U4 is an admirable execution of warm, forgiving and bass-y, enthusiasts of which will be hard-pressed to find a better alternative for at $500.

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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Excellent clarity, separation and stage expansion
- Exceeding price-to-performance ratio
- A fun, v-shaped response executed with finesse
- Guttural, yet clean lows
- A richly detailed, yet silky smooth top-end
- Wonderful build and fit bolstered by 3D-printing
Cons: The midrange isn't the most intimate
- The upper-mids especially can be a tad compressed-sounding
- Isn't for those looking for extremely contoured v-shaped responses
- Packaging and accessories are rather simple
DISCLAIMER: Custom Art provided me with the FIBAE 4 in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Custom Art for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Custom Art is one of the most eminent value-for-money CIEM brands today. Although many have gunned for the throne, a balance between constant invention and community dialog have made Custom Art the most impressive of them all to watch as they grew sonically, technologically, and aesthetically too. Their recent innovations in FIBAE technology and the Pressure Optimising Design have given birth to the FIBAE Black – one of the the best value in-ears I’ve heard period. And now, with top-firing balanced armatures comes the line-up’s fifth entry: The FIBAE 4 – gutsy, bold and a whole lot of fun.


Custom Art FIBAE 4
  • Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 8.1Ω @1kHz (+-0.95Ω 10Hz-20kHz)
  • Sensitivity: 115dB @1kHz @0.1V
  • Key feature(s) (if any): FIBAE technology, top-firing drivers
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic in-ear monitors
  • Price: €725
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

The FIBAE 4 comes in Custom Art’s signature shoebox, within which are two included cases: A Peli 1010 hard case and a smaller zipper case. Inside the former is the company’s customary Hi booklet, which acts as a quick-start guide, warranty card and certificate of authenticity all in one. There’s also a hand-written date-of-manufacture, which is a nice touch. And finally, below that are your custom IEMs attached to a Plastics One Hi-Res cable, along with a cleaning tool and desiccant.


It’s become a running gag through my numerous encounters with (Custom Art founder) Piotr Granicki on- and offline to contrast his forward-thinking in-ears with his stubbornly stagnant packaging. This plain, black box has been here since Custom Art’s conception in 2012. At this point in their career, I think a packaging revamp with more prominent branding, a classier aesthetic and a couple more accessories here-and-there is long overdue. At the end of the day, although it’s not ultra-crucial to the success of the in-ears, it would definitely make their already-accessible prices all the more sweet.


Thankfully, Custom Art have spared absolutely no expense where it counts. The monitors themselves are gorgeously designed, immaculately constructed and superbly fitting too. Although the shells aren’t 3D-printed per se, they do take advantage of Custom Art’s recent shift towards digital processing. The ear impressions are scanned and trimmed in the digital domain. Once the shape is finalised, it’s printed and turned into a cast for the traditional, hand-poured technique. So, you get the precision of digital processing with the transparency and pristine-ness of hand-poured, UV-cured acrylic.


Visually, the earpieces are exquisite. The faceplates are a hybrid between maple wood and blue acrylic resin, finished on top with a FIBAE IV logo I quickly put together on Photoshop. Below are clear shells flaunting those top-firing drivers as much as possible. As has always been the case for Custom Art, the in-ears are smoothly finished with zero seams, rough areas or dull spots. The colour-coded wiring for left and right are especially nice touches. Combined with the improved fit thank to Custom Art’s digital processing, my FIBAE 4’s are yet another home run on their fit-and-finish track and record.

FIBAE Technology

FIBAE is short for Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone, and it has become Custom Art’s flagship innovation. First introduced with the FIBAE 1 and the FIBAE 2, what the technology ultimately aims to do is preserve the in-ear monitor’s tonal balance no matter the source it’s connected to. So essentially, whether you’re listening to a FIBAE monitor through your laptop or a dedicated DAP, the frequency response should remain the same. This is especially crucial if you plan to use these on mixing consoles, monitor mixers, etc., where the output impedances can vary wildly from one to the other.


However, that doesn’t mean you won’t hear any differences between said laptop and DAP either. Although FIBAE tech leaves the frequency response intact, the earphone will scale based on whatever data is fed to it. A more resolving DAC is capable of exhibiting superior stage expansion, background blackness, etc. So, although these in-ears won’t bridge the gap between capable and less capable sources, it will allow the user to judge those differences in a clearer manner. And, whatever source you choose to use at the end of the day, you’ll always be guaranteed the sound Custom Art intended.


Custom Art’s FIBAE 4 is a fast-paced, spacey and impactful-sounding earphone. Perhaps Piotr’s most v-shaped entry to date, the in-ear thrives on energy. The low-end provides a bold, gutsy and almost subterranean foundation, undercut by the top-end’s swift, articulate cuts. And, the midrange humbly bridges the gap. However, while monitors of this type usually cause fatigue to set in much quicker than usual, the FIBAE 4 largely avoids this downfall. This is achieved through rapid decay. Images come-and-go with great immediacy, so the listener is never bombarded with noise during listening.


Now, there is a less desirable aspect to this speed. If you’re one to enjoy lots of wispy, euphonic warmth permeating throughout your soundscapes to bind instruments together, the FIBAE 4 won’t provide that. The images this monitor renders are almost their own little islands scattered throughout the soundscape, rather than one big, unified, wall of sound. Obviously, where this benefits the FIBAE 4 is in separation. Detail retrieval and layering is the FIBAE 4’s strong suit. A clean stable background and precise imaging also make for a tactile and convincing surround sound experience. Again, it’s a refined, smooth, fast-paced sound with bounds of air and space, founded by a dense, bold low-end below.


The low-end is the FIBAE 4’s engine. It’s impact-driven, dense and generously-bodied. There seems to be a rise towards 100Hz that bolsters kick drums forward – one of the FIBAE 4’s highlight instruments. Whether listening to or performing with them, kick drums always cut through the mix very clearly. Personally, I find that feature wonderful when I’m having to learn a new kick pattern from a busily-arranged track. And, it works wonderfully with genres like prog-rock and metal as well, where double pedals are abundant. Past that 100Hz mark though, they low-end dips, especially toward the low-mids. This is what steers the FIBAE 4’s bass towards a quick and open timbre, rather than a warm, euphonic or wet one.

This dip allows the low-end to have tons of concentrated impact with minimal bleed. The FIBAE 4’s stage remains clean as a result. In fact, clean can also be used to described the low-end notes themselves. Kick drums and bass guitar come through with tons of clarity and textural data. It isn’t this blubbery mess that trades in resolution for volume. Rather, it achieves both through clever tuning and raw extension. I also admire Piotr’s decision to keep sub-bass relatively linear. It’s what gives the bass headroom, and allows the natural textures of the track to come through without any artificial rumble. All in all, it’s a response with the right blend of bigness, clarity and warmth to sit well with a plethora of genres.


The midrange is where airy and open come in. Instruments are given tons of space – both from each other and from the listener – as they’re positioned neutrally in the stage. One thing the FIBAE 4 never is is in your face; stuffy. Whether or not that’s a good thing will ultimately depend on your tastes. Technically, a low-mid dip encourages definition. Images are well-defined, compact and tight, so there’s always air around them. This allows clarity to always be apparent even in the busiest of arrangements. Transitioning from there is a rise around 1-2kHz, where the majority of the FIBAE 4’s midrange energy is focused. This gives instruments a solid body, so despite the neutral positioning, they never lose their integrity.


In the upper-midrange lies the FIBAE 4’s most audible colouration: A 3-4kHz dip. It’s what pulls the instruments back for a more reserved, open profile. As mentioned, they more so resemble tiny islands scattered throughout the soundscape; modest in note size and in projection. This ensures the soundscape is never saturated with loud instruments fighting for attention. But, at the same time, I find it has the adverse effect of limiting dynamic range. Midrange instruments have a tendency of lacking impact and punch. This is especially true of brass sections, like those on Snarky Puppy’s Chonks. The drama from those horns projecting boldly in your face is diminished. But, at the end of the day, when you consider the bigger picture, it is a compromise necessary for the FIBAE 4’s v-shape to work, and one that others may enjoy regardless.


Despite the v-shape descriptor I’ve been using throughout the review, the FIBAE 4 isn’t as egregiously contoured as the adjective may imply. This is especially true of the top-end. The FIBAE 4 possesses a clean, crystalline top-end with tons of air and detail, but it isn’t as sharp and crisp as one might probably expect from such a signature. This allows the FIBAE 4 to maintain a neutral tonal balance that errs too far neither in one direction nor the other. And, it also allows the FIBAE 4 to maintain coherence. Top-end transients are never too distant from the harmonics of the lows, so there’s a unified feel to the FIBAE 4 that’s become less common in the new hybrid era. It performs with precision and speed; no more, no less.

The top-end efficiently cuts without overdoing brightness or sharpness. Edges are refined, but never blunt or muffled. This comes from the top-end’s immediacy in both transient and decay. Notes appear out of thin air, then vanish just as quick. This is evidently showcased in David Benoit’s Cast Your Fate to the Wind, rife with extremely delicate hi-hat and ride cymbal work. All those tiny touches are rendered through the FIBAE 4 with stunning clarity, and a convincingly realistic timbre. The second part to that equation is the stable backdrop, courtesy of strong extension. Composure is something the FIBAE 4 is never short of, and the same can be said for left-right separation. Stereo spread is downright out-of-head with the right material, and thus completes a wonderful top-end response: Clean, smooth, precise and full of technique.

General Recommendations

The FIBAE 4’s lightly-contoured frequency response makes it an exciting, clean-sounding monitor ideal for a number of genres, as long as you enjoy lots of openness, clarity and air. Above all, though, here are three things it does very well:


Tight, clean and open-sounding instruments: The FIBAE 4’s airiness comes from its clean, well-defined instrument timbre. Images are crisp and well-outlined, which results in strong separation. And, great stereo spread places them all around you in convincing fashion. If you like light and fast instruments that don’t exude too much warmth, the FIBAE 4 is for you.

A guttural, full-bodied low-end with clarity: A great balance between heftiness and definition runs throughout the FIBAE 4’s lows. Although its inherent timbre is airy and clear, it carries tons of weight in its impact due to clever tuning and strong extension. This is especially ideal if you’re playing or monitoring kick drums, or you simply want them to pop in the mix.

Smooth, delicate yet crystalline highs: The same balance between finesse and cut exists in the FIBAE 4’s top-end. Notes cut through with airiness, refinement and clarity, yet they remain smooth and feathered in texture. These aren’t shrill, brittle highs that cut through the mix by force. Rather, they’re speedy, refined transients with a forgiving, effortless sense of air.


However, to achieve its effortless clarity, the FIBAE 4 certainly has its fair share of compromises. It’s not the wettest, warmest or most intimate in-ear monitor out there. Here are three attributes in which those colourations most lie:

Intimate-sounding, rich, warm mids: The FIBAE 4’s midrange is decidedly dominated by air. Instruments aren’t the most full-sounding, nor are they forwardly-positioned or intimate. They’re sat neutrally in order to emphasise spaciousness. So, if you prefer your instruments warmer, richer and more in-your-face, the FIBAE 4 may not be the ideal pick for you.

Impactful, dynamic upper-mids: This airy sensation is most prevalent in the upper-mids. If you’re a rock aficionado – or a concert go-er in general – instruments like electric guitars and horns won’t have that visceral, dramatic sense of impact. Rather, they’re slightly restrained to avoid saturating or congesting the image; limiting dynamic range as a side-effect.

Ultra-crisp and bright transients: The FIBAE 4 is only mildly v-shaped; particularly in the highs. The FIBAE 4’s top-end is crisp and articulate, but feathered and linear relative to the mids and lows as well. It’s a balanced presentation that may lie more towards the modest side to some, especially if you’re a treblehead looking for ultra-crisp, ultra-bright transients.

Select Comparisons

Custom Art FIBAE Black (€450)

The FIBAE Black is slightly warmer and denser-sounding than the FIBAE 4. Its instruments are unified by a very light whiff of warmth, while the FIBAE 4’s are more separated, airy and tight. Though, in midrange projection and vibrance, they are very, very similar. What then makes the FIBAE 4 the more energetic of the two is its sparklier treble. Presence along 5kHz and 8kHz give the FIBAE 4 a brighter, crisper edge. But, in terms of overall quantity, the FIBAE 4’s top-end isn’t too much greater than the Black’s. So, they can both be considered equally linear and realistic, despite lightly differing tonal hues.


Technically, the Black puts up a great fight. Its stage is wonderfully stable, well-defined and expansive. When it comes to background blackness, the Black does win out a hair. However, the FIBAE 4 has the edge in resolution and tactility. When you listen to hi-hats and ride cymbals, although they may be heard on the Black’s just as much as they are on the FIBAE 4, the latter’s reproduction sounds more tactile and corporeal. The Black loses a tad of integrity further up the range to the FIBAE 4. This is also because of the FIBAE 4’s more recessed lower-mids, which gives its notes more definition, clarity and contrast. This is what allows instruments like those to jump out at the listener more effectively, and boost realism.

Custom Art FIBAE 2 (€475)

Compared to its sibling, the FIBAE 2 is a more upfront-sounding monitor with a greater midrange emphasis. Images are larger in size and richer in timbre, assuming a more wall-of-sound presentation. However, this intimacy also comes from a significantly smaller soundstage. The FIBAE 4 expands far further, especially in terms of width. It also achieves stronger stereo spread with a more convincing surround sound sensation. Tonally, the FIBAE 4 is the cleaner-sounding of the two with tighter, faster, crisper and airier notes. It wins out by a sizeable margin in terms of resolution and transparency too.


The FIBAE 2’s lows are richer, darker and fuller than the FIBAE 4’s more concentrated hits. Nevertheless, the latter wins out in physicality and slam because of its superior extension. Texture more easily comes through as well. The same goes for the top-end. The FIBAE 2’s comes across more blunted. Although its top-end extension is fine for a dual-driver IEM, it simply can’t compete with the FIBAE 4’s. This is shown in the latter’s far cleaner, stabler and more transparent stage. If I were being honest, the FIBAE 4 beats out its younger sibling in just about every technical regard by a clear margin. If you own the FIBAE 2 and you crave leaps in cleanliness, resolution and imaging precision, the FIBAE 4 is a very strong option.

Custom Art FIBAE 3 (€525)

The FIBAE 3 is a closer competitor to the FIBAE 4 both tonally and technically. In terms of sheer size, the two aren’t far off. However, the FIBAE 4 has the more proportional stage. Its expansion in terms of width and depth are near-equal, resulting in a near-perfectly spherical sound field. The FIBAE 3 is noticeably wider than it is deep, which results in lead instruments that are more upfront and panned instruments that sound further away. This gives the FIBAE 4 the more believable surround sound experience; immersive and realistic. The FIBAE 3 meanwhile comes across a touch more flat.


In the lows, the FIBAE 4 is a touch meatier and more impactful. The FIBAE 3 perhaps has a hair more sub-bass content, but it really is splitting hairs as far as bass quantity is concerned. What is clear though, is that the FIBAE 4 is the victor in terms of bass extension, as the lows there possess a more realistic sense of slam. The FIBAE 3 possesses a more vibrant upper-midrange that gives it a touch more musicality than the FIBAE 4, while the latter’s more laid-back approach gives instruments more depth and air. The low-treble is the clearest discrepancy between the two. The FIBAE 3’s strong 5kHz dip will sound diffuse without proper adaptation, while the FIBAE 4’s is more tactile, coherent and realistic-sounding.


The FIBAE 4 is Custom Art’s most impressive technical effort yet: Clean, vast and precise in imaging. At the same time, it’s Piotr’s most cleverly-tuned piece as well, getting away with more guiltless colourations than my hands can count. From a hefty yet airy bass, to a smooth, feathered yet crystal clear treble, the FIBAE 4 pulls off its many balancing acts with great finesse. Admittedly, its upper-mids were less successful; slightly unexciting dynamically. But, besides that – and with the tech and asking price in mind – this in-ear is quite difficult to fault. With the FIBAE 4, Piotr has given us his interpretation of a mainstream sound, and – in true, time-tested Custom Art fashion – it’s as clever, unique, balanced and refined as ever.



Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: An engaging, musical, warm-yet-clear signature
- Bulbous, meaty lows
- A spacious midrange
- Admirable technical performance
- Worthy build quality and accessories
Cons: Frequency response isn't the most uncoloured
- Isn't for those who desire a more intimate midrange
- The low-treble spike may irk on some tracks
DISCLAIMER: Lark Studio loaned me the LSX in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to Lark Studio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Lark Studio is an in-ear monitor manufacturer based in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province. Although their 2018 debut haven’t given them much time to accrue renown in the portable audio scene, their history suggests a level of experience that should not be underestimated. Their core founding trio have 18 years of it among them, plus another 2 invested into this brand alone. And, all of that has manifested into the company’s debut IEM: The 10-driver Lark Studio LSX. Armed with a warm, full-bodied and syrupy sound, the LSX is sheer pleasure with commendable technique to boot.

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Lark Studio LSX
  • Driver count: Ten balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 20Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 110dB @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): N/A
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic in-ear monitors
  • Price: $1699
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

The LSX comes in a rather sizeable package with a black outer sleeve. Removing the sleeve reveals the box, lined with a black, leather-esque material and the Lark Studio logo embossed on top. Unfolding the lid open reveals the LSX and all its included accessories recessed within foam cut-outs. The foam itself is dense and velvet red in colour, lending to both security and aesthetics. The add-ons include five extra pairs of tips (silicone, bi-flange and foam), a 1/4″ adapter and an airline adapter. Then, there’s a smaller box containing the final few accessories: A storage pouch, a microfibre cloth, a cleaning tool and two rubber bands for amp stacking. Presentation-wise, Lark Studio have certainly not skimped out.

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The earpieces themselves are superbly constructed. The shells feel even and smooth, as does the lacquer finish on top. Cosmetically, they sport a simple, black colour scheme with metallic artwork on top. But, it takes a mere glance at Lark Studio’s social media to grasp the artistic complexity they’re truly capable of. From glittered and abalone-lined shells to wood-resin-hybrid faceplates, the sky is really the limit as far as customisation is concerned. I’m a huge fan of how Lark Studio have contoured their shells. For my ears specifically, the grooves fit really well, further aided by the shell’s small footprint. The tips do dig deep in the ear, so keep that in mind if you’re used to shallower fits with universal monitors.

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Finally, the LSX also comes with a braided copper cable, as well as a leather-esque cable tie. As a whole, the shine of the conductors in tandem with the metallic and carbon-fibre elements are visually appealing. Ergonomics leave much to be desired, especially compared to aftermarket offerings. But nevertheless, it’s an added value to the LSX’s overall package.


Lark Studio also offer a Splendor variant of the LSX, which includes a PWAudio Saladin cable for a $200 premium. The Saladin is a copper-and-SPC hybrid cable, which I featured briefly in my CanJam Singapore 2018 coverage article. It also retails for S$439 via Music Sanctuary, which translates to around $325 at the time of writing. I can’t comment on synergy as I haven’t heard the pairing, but when you take into account the value proposition, improved ergonomics and ability to customise terminations, I believe the Splendor is a worthy option to consider when purchasing the LSX. Also, considering the leap in performance and treble presence I hear when I demo’ed the LSX with Satin Audio’s all-copper Griffin cable, I think an upgrade cable is something the LSX can really benefit from – especially if clarity and detail are what you’re after.


The Lark Studio LSX straddles between rich, organic warmth and clean, open clarity. Although there’s a distinct, weighty butteriness to its images courtesy of the bass and low-mids, ample upper-treble presence undercuts that fat with plenty of crisp transient attack. Instruments loom large with great fullness. Yet, the LSX stands strong with simple and complex arrangements alike, because of its stability. Instruments sound bold, chesty and tube-esque, but without the congestion one would expect with these sorts of signatures. Despite its facade as a breezy, warm, go-with-the-flow songstress with a penchant for thump if called for, the LSX subtly possesses a marvellous sense of control that elevates it above the rest.

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Now, because of the LSX’s larger, bolder images, stage expansion isn’t something you notice right off the bat. It’s really those weighty, energetic instruments that pull you in first, rather than the spaces around them. But, once you adjust, you will begin to notice the pockets of air the LSX sprinkles throughout. Again, it isn’t the most spacey, atmospheric presentation in the world, but it does provide ample headroom for notes to ring and resonate. Despite the LSX’s fuller signature, it’s not an IEM that’s ever stuffy or saturated. This is further proven in imaging and dynamics. As a track builds with more and more elements thrown in, the LSX constantly maintains composure. You have a clear idea of what’s been added and where everything is in relation to each other. And, above all, it’s delivered with the LSX’s warm, clean touch.


The LSX’s low-end is a wonderful achievement. Tonally, it may lean closer towards neutral because of that upper-treble lift. But, what truly defines that response is its addictively analog spirit. Its attractive blend of body, wetness and thump injects a subtle, vintage playfulness to any piece of music. At the same time, it’s subtle enough to never distract either. This quality is further emphasised with similarly retro-inspired tracks like Justin Stanton’s Automatic Attraction. The kick drums, bass line and toms that kick the track off are reproduced with richness, wetness and warmth. Thumps come and go with excellent timing, tightness and resolve, so both its musical and technical quotas are checked at the same time.

The LSX’s low-end is distinctly mid-bass-tilted. The sub-bass is definitely more reserved in favour of meatier, rounder hits. This technically benefits the LSX, as it provides more headroom for the mid-bass to play around. But at the same time, it should be something to keep in mind if a strong fundamental rumble is something you heavily prioritise when shopping for in-ear monitors. Nevertheless, the bass extends admirably, resolving the most subterranean waves even though they’ll have to sit tight in the very back of the mix. And, bass clarity is excellent because of the LSX’s proficient top-end. Once again, bass response is the LSX’s ace-in-the-hole. It’s a nostalgic blend that appeals to retro sensibilities, but rendered with modern technique. As long as you’re not one to favour loads of sub-bass, I can hardly really fault it.


The LSX cuts a bit of that presence moving towards the lower-midrange. This light dip allows transients to cut through without cloy-ness or mud. Nevertheless, the LSX’s warm profile continues to come through, and the region serves as a smooth, seamless bridge between the low-end and the vocal range. Texturally, notes here lie on the smoother, wetter side of the spectrum. There’s a resonant quality to them that musically blends elements together. So, to my ears, the LSX’s low-mids aren’t the most nuanced or analytical in the world. Tom toms and lower-pitched synthesisers are more harmonic and bloom-y than they are contoured and tight. However, this also gives instruments like pianos and horns a musical, full-bodied, reverb-y quality. And, the in-ear’s stable background continues to preserve resolution regardless.

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The centre-mids are where much of the LSX’s muscle come into play. A healthy rise through 1-2kHz gives instruments density and solidity. Male vocals in particular are gifted a deep, chesty foundation, so they’re never lost in the low-end. Comparatively, the upper-mids across 3-4kHz are far more laid-back. This means higher-pitched instruments sit further back in the mix. It also means female vocalists have a deeper, chestier note, as their higher overtones are less prevalent. But, the dip also provides space for vocals to breathe. Because those high-pitched notes are less upfront, they have tons of space to reverberate, resulting in an airy, wispy and effortless quality. This may not be preferred by those who enjoy shouty-er or more in-your-face presentations, but it brings a lot of balance to the LSX crucial for its overall performance.


The LSX’s top-end is coloured towards achieving sharpness and clarity without introducing too much brightness. This is achieved through a peak around 6-7kHz to add tizz, as well as a peak around 12kHz to add definition, bite and contrast against the black background. This means instruments like cymbals and hi-hats cut through the mix really well; punchy and sparkly. Snare drums, electric guitars and horns also come through with immediacy and snap. But, at the same time, appropriate dips around 10kHz have been applied to remove as much sibilance and glare as possible. So, the resulting presentation is crisp without that metallic sheen, which adds a welcome dose of clarity to all genres of music.

However, with all these dips and peaks comes a touch of incoherence. I believe the gulf between the upper-midrange and the low-treble can be problematic at times. Ariana Grande’s voice on Imagine comes across too tizzy, for example. There’s too much of the transient relative to the body – the meat – of the instrument. But, this is less of a problem on well-recorded material, like Dimas Pradipta’s 9 Range Road single or Snarky Puppy’s Family Dinners Vol. 2 album. On the latter, the peaks effectively increase detail retrieval and separation. And, the top-end’s excellent extension also allows for wonderful stereo imaging. The left, right and centre sections remain well-segregated for a convincing around-the-head experience. So, as long as your library isn’t too hotly-mastered, the LSX’s tonal and technical efforts will shine.

General Recommendations

The LSX’s musical, coloured sound makes it ideal for a wide variety of genres, so long as you subscribe to its penchant for body, warmth and clarity. So, if those are qualities that appeal to you, here are three of the LSX’s greatest strengths:

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Engaging, analog musicality: The LSX’s mix of body and clarity gives it a vintage vibe without coming across veiled, muddy or congested. It has all the wetness any retro-head would desire, paired with sparkle any all-rounder would be proud to have. So, if you desire an analog sound without compromising cleanliness, cut and clarity, the LSX is a wonderful pick.

Meaty, wet, vintage lows: Mid-bass is the LSX’s forte. There’s a liquid, organic tone to it without becoming overtly bloomy or mushy. It possesses texture as well, and the combination works especially well with recordings old and new. As long as skull-rattling sub-bass isn’t on your wish list, the LSX is a treat if wet, reverb-y and meaty lows are what you’re after.

A technical, coloured sound: The LSX’s musical, engaging signature comes with no cost to technical performance. Stage expansion, resolution, extension and stereo separation are all impressive despite the LSX’s penchant for energy and body. So, if you want to have that analog musicality with apparent refinement and finesse, the LSX is a strong way to go.

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But, at the same time, the LSX’s specific colour may be a hindrance to its appeal. If the three following qualities are what you’re searching for in your next in-ear monitor purchase, the Lark Studio LSX may not be the one you’re looking for:

An intimate midrange: Although the LSX is never short on energy, its upper-mids are a tad recessed for a lighter, airier delivery. They’re not particularly saturated or in-your-face. They take a step back to create space instead. So, if intimacy – especially for genres like jazz or R&B – are what you desire from your vocals, the LSX is not the most ideal in-ear for you.

Elevated sub-bass content: Again, the LSX has a clear mid-bass tilt with a more reserved sub-bass region. This means you’ll get a lot more thickness and thump than rumble or verve. So, the LSX isn’t an ideal option for woofer-loving bassheads.

A smooth, reserved low-treble: The LSX’s 6-7kHz peak provides livelier transients and sparkle. Energy and clarity benefit, but it may contribute to slight incoherence. Transients tend to sound thinner than the body, and may sometimes encroach metallicity too. So, if perfect smoothness and linearity are qualities you’re after, the LSX may just fall short.

Select Comparisons

Lime Ears Aether R (€1200)

The Aether R is Lime Ears’ latest flagship – a revision of their critically-acclaimed Aether, renowned for a similar blend of warmth, cleanliness and air. For this revision, Lime Ears have seemingly toned down the top-end a hair, especially in the uppermost octaves. As a result, the LSX is the crisper-sounding of the two with its leaner transients, more cut and more apparent detail. Instruments sound brighter and more energised, while the Aether R instead emphasises balance and even-handed-ness. Projection is noticeably less coloured, so instruments come across more naturally and effortlessly. A transparent sense of balance is the Aether R’s forte, while the LSX has the edge in vibrance, clarity, sparkle and attack.

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This discrepancy in attack plays into spatial performance as well. The Aether R’s calmer transients give it a greater sense of depth. Width-wise, the LSX has the edge, as instruments are a hair more out-of-head. Also an advantage to the LSX’s more lively presentation is the bigness of its images. The Aether R’s calmer delivery makes it sound more even-handed and linear, while the LSX’s larger notes give it musicality and engagement. This is further spurred on by the LSX’s fatter low-end. The Aether R’s lows prioritise clarity, speed and layering, while the LSX’s richer, wetter bass is all about fun. So, to conclude, the LSX is the more coloured-to-please of the two, while Aether R preaches finesse, linearity and balance.

Empire Ears Phantom ($1799)

Compared to the Phantom, the LSX immediately comes across as the crisper-sounding of the two. A considerably more prominent high-treble range boosts the its transient attack, as well as the perceived sharpness of its images. As a result, layering, micro-detail retrieval and clarity is more immediate on the LSX. The Phantom is the more even-sounding of the two between transience and body. They possess similar, lightly warm tones, though the LSX’s top-end is – again -brighter and cleaner. So, the LSX will be the preferred choice among those who crave sharp detail, while the Phantom is more ideal for smoother, long-term listening, or those who listen to a wider breadth of genres with varying recording quality.

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Technically though, the Phantom just as capably performs. Treble extension allows the Phantom to posit a stable, black backdrop, so its resolution is on par with the LSX’s, despite the discrepancy in top-end quantity. In terms of stage size, the two are just about equal. The LSX perhaps has the slightest edge when it comes to width. Though, the Phantom’s spatial presentation is more sensitive to the track than the LSX’s is. It alters from one track to another, while the LSX’s livelier top-end always gives transients a forwardly presence. The Phantom’s low-end is punchier with considerably more sub-bass presence. There’s a physicality to thumps that the LSX has opted to reserve. The latter’s low-end is tighter and cleaner because of top-end presence, but it can too be perceived as less natural and warm compared to the Phantom’s.


Lark Studio’s LSX is a boisterous blend of warmth, body and cut. With its rich, full-bodied lows comes a top-end just as eager, resulting in a wet, bloomy profile never bereft of clarity, nuance or air. The mid-bass is the star of the show, with meatiness, texture and tone to spare. Kick drums possess an analog timbre with the technical ability to back it up. The mids sport similar density for muscular male vocals and rich, chesty female balladeers. Instruments constantly possess wetness and weight, even if they aren’t the most clean-cut. But, at the end of the day, the LSX is an embrace of coloured sigs, and a skilful one at that. Rare as it is in the flagship space, the LSX pulls off crisp-and-warm with wonderful success.

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Thanks for the nice review! Do you think LSX or sony ier-m9 wil pair well with AK SE100 or Dethonray DTR1? Which one will you prefer?
@followMusic Thanks so much! Unfortunately, I can't really comment on those pairings. I don't have the LSX anymore, I haven't heard the M9 in a while, and I've tried neither the SE100 nor the DTR-1. In general, I'd probably recommend the LSX with a neutral-yet-smooth source, and that generally tends to be the sound AK strive for. So, based on that assumption, I think the SE100 would pair nicely. Though, again, please take this with a grain of salt, 'cus I haven't tried it myself yet.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: A balance between technical performance and tonal accuracy
- Excellent stereo separation and imaging precision
- High resolution, speed and detail retrieval without compromising body
- A transparent (adaptable) bass response
- Forward-sounding, vibrant, yet spacious mids
- A smooth, organic and refined top-end
- Admirable price-to-performance relative to the competition
- Strong build quality and accessories
Cons: Not for those looking for ultra-crisp, ultra-clean signatures
- The soundstage isn't exaggeratedly spacious
- The low-end is only as good as your chain
- Engineers may find the midrange a tad too forward to serve as a strict mastering monitor
- The low-profile fit may not be compatible with some aftermarket cables, but this can be discussed with Alclair prior to your order given the bespoke nature of the product
DISCLAIMER: Alclair provided me with the Electro in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Alclair for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Alclair is a custom in-ear manufacturer based in Minnesota, USA. Although they currently aren’t as widely known in the audiophile circuit, they’ve built an outstanding reputation in the pro scene. With over 60 years of experience under their belt, their customer service and price-to-performance ratios have widely been lauded by musicians as some of the best in the industry today. Back in 2013, it was our very own average_joe who introduced them to enthusiasts with a review of their triple-driver Reference monitors. Now, having come full circle, we’re immensely grateful to have been given the first go at their new flagship Electro – a gorgeously-tuned piece, featuring the world’s first e-stat design in custom form.


Alclair Electro

  • Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers and two electrostatic drivers
  • Impedance: 24Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 107dB @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): N/A
  • Available form factor(s): Custom acrylic in-ear monitors
  • Price: $1499
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

My Electro arrived in a stunning wooden box with Alclair branding subtly engraved on top. Now unfortunately, this is a limited option only made available in small amounts around late last year. But, who knows? If enough demand is heard, perhaps Alclair may consider doing another run. In addition to the wooden box, Alclair also kindly provided their default leather case, which is no less attractive in its own right. As indicated by the insignia stamped on the bottom of the body, the case was made in collaboration with Haiti Made, who craft leather goods to help feed families in Haiti. Being entirely handmade, it certainly has a more rustic feel than the pin-point precision of Sennheiser’s leather case from my most recent review. But personally, I love its character, and I admire Alclair’s initiative to help others whenever they can.


Both cases feature dense foam inserts with indents and channels precisely cut-out for the in-ear monitors, cables and accessories to snugly reside in. This makes organisation a breeze, and security guaranteed. Accessories-wise, the Electro arrives with a 1/4″ adapter, a cleaning tool and a magnetic cable tie. Here, I would’ve loved to also see a microfibre cloth and desiccant. For now, they’re only available as part of their $25 Cleaning Supplies Kit – which also includes ear lubricant – on the Alclair online store. There, you can also purchase in-ear vacuums, cable testers, hard-shell Pelican cases, zipper cases, microphone cables, etc. The Electro comes default with Alclair’s premium UPOCC copper cable. In terms of feel, softness and flexibility, it fares fine. But, the inclusion of a $149 cable only adds to the value of the in-ears themselves.


On their site, Alclair also provide an IEM designer for you to visualise your designs before you finalise your purchase. In terms of ease-of-use and presentation, it’s up there with 64 Audio, Empire Ears, Vision Ears and Custom Art. But again, JH Audio is the only thus far to feature entirely rotatable 3D models with simulated lighting. Cosmetically, Alclair offer 35 transparent colours, 15 glittered shades and 6 pearlescent hues. And, for the faceplates, you also have 6 kinds of woods, black carbon fibre and an option known as Bling; dots of odd-sized diamonds throughout the surface of the faceplate.


For my own, I opted for Gold Pearlescent and Black Pearlescent shells with transparent faceplates, so I get a clear view of the monitor’s innards. Cosmetically, I think Alclair did a fabulous job. Perhaps the printed logos aren’t as high-res as the engravings I’m more accustomed to, but that’s a minor nitpick. Fit-wise, the Electro is one of my most low-profile IEMs. The right side in particular can be tricky to insert with aftermarket cables. But once they’re seated correctly, all is well.


The Electro’s signature is all about balance. It’s a studio-ready response that doesn’t prioritise any frequency range over another, which results in an uncoloured, matter-of-fact tone ideal for professional mixing and equalising. The Electro is the antithesis of flashy, which – given its status as the first custom in-ear to sport e-stats – is the last thing I expected it to be. I must commend Alclair for showing restraint and not parading the e-stats, even though they most definitely could have. Those tweeters blend seamlessly with the four armatures below, granting them stereo separation, resolution and background blackness that wouldn’t have been possible with a signature this unassuming, balanced and transparent.


In fact, spatial performance is the Electro’s technical forte. The sheer volume of the stage is impressive, but the standout qualities are undoubtedly layering, resolution and separation. Each element in any given track is effortlessly discernible without any one stepping on another’s toes. But, unlike most in-ears I’ve heard that are marketed towards professionals, the Electro is among the few that achieve this without sacrificing structure. Notes aren’t thinned out or compacted for definition’s sake. The Electro’s instruments are full-bodied, fleshed out and balanced from transient to decay. In tone, they’re lightly warm and gorgeously natural as well, with a decent helping of air. So, what you get is an organic signautre that does not sacrifice resolution, and transparency that does not sacrifice naturalness – truly the best of both worlds.


The Electro’s low-end is the epitome of reference. What I mean by that is it’s entirely dependent on the chain to perform. In quantity and quality, it adapts to whatever the track wills it to. It can sound warm and analog on Black Thought’s 9th-Wonder-produced track Twofifteen, and it can sound heavy and full – almost distorted – on Gallant’s Bone + Tissue. If there any consistent qualities to the bass, it’s that it tends to play second fiddle to the midrange and (sometimes) treble. No matter how big it gets, it usually speeds out of the way. So, because of all this, it’s not a low-end anyone could blindly enjoy. It’s an engineer’s dream, but bassheads should reflect on their gear and playlists to see if this’ll be to their liking.

Technically, the low-end delivers. No matter the track, you can always count on the Electro’s bass to have physicality and weight. Wherever those hits sit in the mix, they will always hit, because of the monitor’s wonderful extension. But on the other hand, this is also still a balanced-armature bass through and through. You won’t get the raw texture or verve that a dynamic driver provides. It’s an authoritative bass response that prioritises being heard than being felt. But again, this is a tuning choice that’ll appeal more to the engineer, who’ll tend to prefer a bass clear enough to analyse, and transparent enough to tone-shape with in mixing. In conclusion, Alclair have given their flagship a linear, amenable low-end with just enough of everything to sound balanced. And, they’ve imbued extension for it to sound dense, tactile and musical too.


The Electro transitions really linearly towards the midrange – eschewing the common lower-mid dip that manufacturers typically employ to generate definition, again because the Electro doesn’t need it. The e-stats produce a stage so stable and primed for nuance, that those lower-mid harmonics can sit with the transients without any congestion or veil. With that said, there is a slight bias for the upper-midrange at around 3kHz to push lead instruments a hair forward. I find this helps identify the minute changes you’re making to them when tone-shaping or mixing. This region could be toned down a hair if you were to make a strictly neutral monitor. But, I personally find it musically beneficial. The slight lift makes those melodies more immersive and vibrant, and prevents the Electro from ever sounding dull or detached.

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The structure of the Electro’s midrange as a whole is immensely likeable. Instruments are large, vibrant and energetic, but they’re airy and spaced well too. There’s ample headroom between them and the listener to prevent any sense of claustrophobia. In timbre, the Electro has a refined, elegant smoothness that sweetens every instrument it reproduces. This isn’t the crisply defined presentation that electrostatic drivers may imply. It’s one geared more towards naturalness and long-term pleasure. Thankfully, the Electro’s stage and separation compensate for this, allowing the monitor’s black background to come through. Listening to Javo Barrera’s Just in Time, a wetness along the drums, woodwinds and bass create a cohesive image. Once you get to the chops at the end, the Electro gives you depth and stereo separation too.


The Electro’s treble is the key to its success; not simply by virtue of the drivers at play, but rather how they’re integrated. Resisting the temptation for an ultra-crisp, detail-oriented top-end, Alclair have tempered the region with coherence and balance in mind. What you get is a treble with an organic, natural tone. Instruments like hi-hats have a whiff of warmth to them that prevents them from sounding metallic. Rather, they sound uncoloured and transparent. But at the same time, they aren’t mushy or diffuse either. The Electro does an excellent job of sounding articulate, yet velvety and silken. Perhaps it also has to do with the e-stats’ speed, which grants this timbre without overlong decay mucking up the image.

Technique is what allows that understated, natural tone to stand out. The e-stats give the Electro superb stereo spread. Spatial cues and depth are rendered more convincingly than most in-ears with similar sigs. And, despite how velvety smooth those treble notes are, they’re constantly defined against the black background. Given what I’ve said about the in-ear’s timbre, it’s obviously not the most crisp and clean monitor out there. If you’re coming in looking for glass-like clarity to the point of tonal detriment, you should look elsewhere. What the Electro aims to bring is an altruistic top-end that gets out of the way, whilst being resolving, transparent and studiously accurate at the same time. Not only is that a genuinely noble philosophy to foster, but it’s the more difficult task as well – a task Alclair have absolutely nailed to a tee.

General Recommendations

The Electro’s linear signature and neutral-natural tone lends itself to a wide variety of genres and use-cases. This is true because of the technical performance it achieves along the way too. So, here are four of its most noteworthy qualities:


An all-rounder by way of balance: The Electro maintains its charm throughout an immense plethora of music, simply due to its natural, well-founded and linear tonal balance. While it’s easy to earn sounds-good-with-everything points by simply sounding clean, airy and crisp, the Electro’s tone ensures that it is versatile and detailed, but with meat to its bones too.

Stellar harmony between body and clarity: This is very much intertwined with the first point. The Electro blends body and clarity seamlessly, such that they don’t sacrifice one for the other. Whether you need more of the former for jazz or slow rock, or more of the latter for EDM and pop, the Electro will deliver. This is done through sheer extension and resolution.

A treble response with depth and speed: Alclair have put Sonion’s e-stats to very good use, allowing the Electro to possess a top-end that’s well-textured, three-dimensional and natural in tone, with speed and refinement at the same time. This combination is rare, as the pursuit of naturalness typically results in a loss in detail. But, this is what that new tech is for.

An adaptive, transparent bass response: The Electro’s low-end is reference-quality in that it shifts according to the track. This is in advantage in that it’s ideal for studio use. But, it can also be a con if your playlist consists of material with sub-par bass production. Regardless, the region’s extension ensures that it always has physicality and presence at all times.


But, the Electro’s steadfast tonal balance may make it unattractive towards those who are looking for strongly-coloured signatures. If you’re one of the two demographics mentioned below, you may want to reconsider going for the Electro:

An ultra-crisp, compact, clarity-focused sig: Although I view the Electro’s meatier, more natural signature as something to be celebrated, those who go into the Electro expecting an ultra-crisp, in-your-face-amounts-of-detail presentation may leave disappointed. If a correct tonal balance is second to clarity on your list of priorities, the Electro may not be for you.

A basshead-ready low-end: As mentioned previously, bassheads should be mindful of the Electro’s adaptive low-end. Although it easily has the chops to bring out the thump and verve in your favourite EDM tracks, it won’t reproduce what isn’t there. So, if you’re a basshead with an appetite, you should evaluate your playlist before giving the Electro a gander.

Select Comparisons

Empire Ears Phantom ($1799)

As a mastering-oriented in-ear monitor within the price range, Empire Ears’ flagship Phantom is the Electro’s most direct competitor. In overall tone, the Electro strikes closer to neutral with clearer instruments, more vibrant projection and a more even balance between low-, mid- and upper-treble energy. The Phantom possesses a fuller profile with more laid-back instruments. This body stems from its elevated mid-bass and lower-midrange, while the biggest difference lies at 3-4kHz. The Phantom’s upper-mids sound less excited, making them sound indifferent. And, Electro has a more compact, focused treble with well-tempered transients, while the Phantom’s has that dullness which may take getting used to.


In terms of raw imaging and stereo spread, I believe the two perform similarly. But, the Electro has the edge in spatial performance for me, because of how convincing and tactile its notes are, especially along hard-left and hard-right. With the Phantom, you get the sense that the centre image is more resolved than the left- and right-most images. It’s more uniform resolution-wise on the Electro to my ears. The depth it portrays is more convincing too, thanks to those e-stats. The Phantom has the more cohered image overall, because of the warmth radiating from its mid-bass. The Electro relies on a track with a fatter low-end to achieve the same bottom-half coherence. But, that too speaks to its discerning ability.

HUM Dolores (¥200,000)

HUM’s dual-driver Dolores is the company’s entry in the reference race. More so than the Phantom, the Dolores shares several similarities with the Electro. The two are strikingly similar along the bass and the midrange. The low-end is tight, transparent and telling of the track’s inherent qualities. Similarly, the midrange is well-balanced, but with a rise around 4kHz to push lead melodies forward. Where the two ultimately diverge is in the treble. The Dolores possesses a more prominent treble, which gives it a slightly brighter tone. But, its top-end is far less articulate. A strong dip at around 7kHz rounds out transients and makes them sound pillowy to the ear. The Electro has much more of an edge to its attack.


Perhaps due to its stronger top-end, the Dolores has the airier, more spacious stage. There’s more room for instruments to ring and resonate, further exacerbated by its laid-back lower-midrange. The Electro has the more rounded midrange with meatier notes and fuller instruments. In terms of timbre, the Electro gives a much more engaging first impression. The Dolores’ mid-treble dip takes quite a bit of getting used to, but its stellar extension ensures that that diffuseness does not translate to a veil at all. In terms of resolution and imaging precision, the Dolores does have a slight edge. It has the peculiar ability of revealing nuance effortlessly, despite – or rather, in spite of – its soft articulation. But again, it does come with a more “unique” timbre, while the Electro’s more linear, realistic signature is much easier to buy into.


Alclair’s Electro is an all-around ace. It’s a wonderfully-balanced monitor with a rare show of restraint; preventing those electrostats from overpowering the mix, and allowing them to showcase their capabilities without shoving them down the listener’s throat. The result is a gorgeously versatile tonal balance that appeals to not only a wide variety of genres, but a myriad of use cases too. Whether you’re an audiophile, engineer or performer, the Electro’s clean, resolving and complete signature will always appeal. Take into account its relative value as a flagship piece, and you have yourselves a jack-of-all-trades with little to no compromises. If you’re a diehard basshead, there are other options on the market. But those pining for clarity, refinement and depth in a full-bodied, natural signature need look no further than the Electro.



Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Excellent technical performance
- High resolution
- Wide, open stage
- Organic tonality
- Great coherence
- Excellent nuance and micro-detail retrieval
- Value, relative to most flagships nowadays
- Build quality
- Size and ergonomics
Cons: Instruments may come across too small and nonchalant-sounding
- Bass and midrange may lack wetness for genres like jazz or blues
- Treble may come across a bit glare-y with certain material
- Detachable cable mechanism could be improved upon
- The cable is too microphonic and too short
- Storing the in-ears in the included case may prove cumbersome
DISCLAIMER: Sennheiser provided me with the IE800S in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Sennheiser for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Sennheiser are bonafide industry legends. From headphones, to in-ear monitors, to microphones, to wireless systems, it’s impossible to ignore the legacy they’ve built on a global scale. The company is no stranger to innovation, which their monumental Orpheus systems will attest to. Their HD800S headphones have also proven their tact in remastering their greatest hits. But, nowhere are both qualities more clearly exemplified than in their flagship in-ear monitors: The IE800S. With refinements in driver tech, acoustics and damping, how does the IE800 successor measure up in today’s landscape?

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Sennheiser IE800S
  • Driver count: One dynamic driver
  • Impedance: 16Ω
  • Sensitivity: 125dB @ 1Vrms
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Proprietary Extra Wide Band drivers; patented dual-chamber absorption system
  • Available form factor(s): Universal in-ear monitor
  • Price: $999.95
  • Website:
Packaging and Accessories

The IE800S arrives in a black box sleeved within high-resolution prints and metallic silver text embossed along the front. It’s a more commercial aesthetic than the more boutique custom IEMs I’ve reviewed recently, but it’s flawlessly executed nonetheless. The inner box is satin-grey with the Sennheiser logo on top – reminiscent of the cases that house their HD headphones. Underneath, the monitors are stored snugly within foam cut-outs, plus the leather case and accessories.

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The leather case is a wonderful inclusion; showcasing the luxury and class befit of a $1000 price tag. It adopts a subtle aesthetic, which emphasises its exceptional construction – cut, stitched and engraved with precision. It comes equipped with a magnetic latch, a metal badge with a serial number and a solid foam insert. The insert has cut-outs and ridges for the earphones and cable, respectively. Although the solution is secure, some may find it cumbersome to wrap the cable around the entire enclosure in order to store them. An additional, compact zipper case would be ideal in this scenario.

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Below the earphones and the case are the IE800S’s suite of accessories. These include a selection of foam and silicone tips, as well as termination options for the cable, which we’ll get into later. The tips are individually seated on a plastic card of sorts with lettering engraved to denote the tips’ sizes. This is a vast improvement in organisation over the cheap, plastic baggies I’ve seen with monitors in the past. This benefits security too, as you’re less likely to lose the tips when they’re securely seated like this. The tips all come equipped with wax guards too to maximise longevity and hygiene.

Cables and Build Quality

The IE800S maintains the original IE800’s semi-detachable cable system. Instead of the more common philosophy where the wire detaches completely from the monitor’s housing, the IE800S’s cord detaches at the Y-split in a 2.5mm plug. This can then be adapted into a wide range of terminations. Sennheiser has included three by default: 3.5mm single-ended, 2.5mm balanced and 4.4mm balanced. I appreciate the sentiment of at least a semblance of a swappable system, but I wish Sennheiser had committed to the more common ideology and separated the entire cable from the housing. This would allow further customisation, potentially removed a risk of failure and solved a few quirks the cable currently has.

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An example would be length. The wires between the earphones and the Y-split are awfully short. The Y-split sort of sits at the neck rather then the chest when wearing them down. This design is infinitely more comfortable on-the-go with the cable running down the back. Another major issue is microphonics. The IE800S’s cable is terribly noisy. The slightest bit of contact with any part of the wire sends an irritating noise that disrupts the listening experience. The IE800S is best heard when stationary or with the included shirt clip to keep the cable still. In 2018-2019, these issues are disappointing oversights in my opinion. And again, these problems would’ve easily been solved with a fully detachable cable system.

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But, with that said, I must give Sennheiser utmost praise when it comes to the earphone’s build quality. The matte-black ceramic housings are as robust as they are breathtakingly gorgeous. Although the in-ears are small, never once have they felt fragile, light or insubstantial. They truly look and feel like quality products, and I have no complaints whatsoever here. In terms of wearing comfort, they excel as well. They’ve maintained the original IE800’s self-adjusting system where they seat themselves in place no matter how deep you try to force them in. I’ve found this system to achieve a consistent fit with utmost security and comfort, so kudos to Sennheiser again here. With the silicone tips, isolation is perhaps not the best, but that’s to be expected with the acoustical technologies at hand. The Comply’s are best for noise isolation.

Dual-Chamber Absorber System

Aside from the refined XWB drivers, the IE800S also features Sennheiser’s patented dual-chamber absorber (D2CA) system. This was first introduced on the original IE800, then incorporated into Sennheiser’s acclaimed open-backed flagship HD800S. According to Sennheiser’s website: “This innovation overcomes the “masking effect”, where low-volume components of a sound are obscured by much louder sounds in a lower frequency range occurring at the same time.” In the next page, you’ll see some parallels between this quote and what I’ve written about the IE800S’s midrange. Although the lower-midrange harmonics are more reserved, they are resolved expertly well. I believe this has much to do with D2CA.


The IE800S possesses a spacious sig with strong emphases on cleanliness, detail retrieval and refinement. Instruments sound compact, snappy and clear, set against a holographic, well-layered and precise stage. In addition, the earphone positions its instruments neutrally on the stage – neither too intimate, nor too distant from the listener – with heaps of air and space between them. Because of this, its soundscape constantly possesses an open, free, voluminous profile. But, the single-driver configuration preserves coherence and unity, so zero listening fatigue is provoked along the way.

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The IE800S’s overall tone is neutral. There aren’t any obvious peaks aside from a hint of mid-treble glare. With tracks like Ariana Grande’s Imagine, the ‘s‘ notes may stand out. It’s not harsh per se, though it does get hot. But, aside from lemons like these, the IE800S possesses a mindful balance between smoothness and articulation. As mentioned, the IE800S’s instruments are compact and tight. This isn’t a signature for audiophiles who prefer warmer, mushier, more intimate-sounding monitors. But, they aren’t withdrawn either. Sufficient midrange presence generates the vibrance needed to complement the extremes – resulting in a dynamic monitor with an ear for detail that does not compromise coherence.


As expected from a dynamically-driven low-end, the IE800S’s bass possesses great physicality – doling out solid, meaty punches without having to overdo quantity. This is done through extension, which the IE800S excels at. The mid-bass may sit in line with the midrange and treble, but you can still feel the impact coming through clearly and unobtrusively. In that way, you get the best of both worlds. A downward slope from the mid- and upper-bass is what gives the IE800S its clean, black background. The sub-bass makes its presence known in hip-hop tracks like Royce da 5’9″‘s God Speed. In fact, the low-end’s darker tone meshes beautifully with the whole genre – clean and defined, yet visceral all the while.

For genres like jazz, I’d personally prefer a bit more warmth to the bass. Contra basses like the one on Michael Bublé’s rendition of Song For You may lack a bit of resonance. It isn’t the most musical or emotive low-end. Instead, it’s more matter-of-fact. But, where this benefits is in its delivery of texture and detail. Bass instruments are excellently resolved to the minutest of nuances, allowing the listener to analyse to their heart’s content. However, the low-end does not sound sterile or dry in the least, because of the aforementioned extension andimpressive sub- to mid-bass balance, respectively. The dynamic driver exhibits outstanding authority over the low-end, resulting in marvellous headroom. So, this detail and energy is delivered effortlessly with zero bleed upstream, and with impact, physicality and verve to boot.


The IE800S’s midrange rides the line well between body and definition. It does have the common lower-midrange dip to maximise cleanliness as naturally as possible. But, the dip isn’t egregious, so instruments maintain enough integrity to sound realistic. Returning to Imagine, Ariana Grande’s crisp articulation is noticeably louder than her deeper, chestier overtones. But, the latter still come through with authority and resolution, so her voice never sounds thin or incomplete. The same goes for snare drums. The dominant sound is the snap and crackle of the drum, but enough body is retained to do lower-tuned snares justice too. This is because of a gorgeously-tuned 1-2kHz rise. It gives instruments this density, roundedness and heft that – when paired with the IEM’s uncoloured tone – strongly evokes pristine, refined neutrality.

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This is further bolstered by the midrange’s technical performance. The IE800S maintains its excellent composure and resolution here. No matter how crowded arrangements get, the image remains stable and the black background still comes though. Instruments are clean and well-separated, but not clinically so. There’s a warmth to them that prevents any plasticity from settling in. When combined with the aforementioned resolution, it creates a presentation that’s both precise and organic. Sennheiser doesn’t really commit to the former nor the latter, but striking that in-between makes the IE800S a very versatile monitor. Those who prefer a more upfront, intimate presentation may prefer more energy around 3-4kHz. But, for 95% of my library, it’s a difficult midrange for me to fault – coherent, full-blooded and clean.


The top-end is where the IE800S is most energetic. Articulation, clarity and air are all emphasised via peaks along 6kHz and 10kHz. The former compensates for the upper-midrange dip by giving instruments a vibrant, punchy pop. Although they’re neutrally-positioned on the stage, they still project with liveliness and sheen. The 10kHz peak sharpens transients and gives every note a crisp leading edge. With most tracks, it pairs perfectly with the 1-2kHz rise, complementing that meatiness with clarity and definition. But, with others, there can be a bit of glare. An example is Pusha-T’s DAYTONA album, except for the track Infrared. So, it may inch towards brightat times, but it remains composed for the most part.

In terms of technique, the top-end performs just as skilfully as the rest of the ensemble. Marvellous extension gives the IE800S lots of headroom. This is what allows that black background to constantly come through in the loudest of mixes. And, this is also what keeps the bass authoritative and composed. Although the treble is prone to the aforementioned glare at times, those brighter notes never linger for too long, because of the top-end’s admirable speed. It isn’t as fast as the balanced-armatures or electrostats I’ve heard lately, but they’re fast enough to prevent any fatigue from setting in. Finally, the treble delivers spatially as well. The diagonals are well-defined, allowing panned percussion to have genuine depth. Stereo separation impresses too, solidifying the IE800S’s precise imaging and its immersive, holographic stage.

General Recommendations

The IE800S’s designated timbre allows its technical performance to take centre stage. But, the density it’s allowed to possess at the same time gives it versatility as well. Here are three qualities that best encapsulate the IE800S’s fortes:

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Crisp, clean, clinical neutrality: The IE800S is exceptional at segregating instruments and giving each their own pocket of space. In addition, the line between instrument and space is extremely well-defined and crisp. It easily produces the giddying sensation of instruments popping out of nowhere all around you, whilst remaining refined at the same time.

Top-class separation and resolution: Thankfully, the IE800S doesn’t tighten its notes and push its top-end just to fake a perception of clarity. Its resolution comes from genuine extension, so all that detail is easy on the ear and comes with headroom. Unlike less-capable IEMs, the lower harmonics are resolved fully (and not abandoned) on the IE800S as well.

A balance between crispness and body: Despite the IE800S’s bias towards compactness and separation, it possesses a fair amount of meatiness too from a 1-2kHz rise. Instruments have density and integrity, so they sound fully-formed whilst being clean and crisp at the same time. So, the IE800S is ideal for those who crave detail without sacrificing structure.

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However, that very same signature does accept several compromises in order to bolster its separation, cleanliness and clarity. If the three aspects below are what you’re looking for in your next in-ear monitor, the IE800S may not be for you:

Warmth, wetness or euphony: The IE800S is a mostly neutral monitor, but its timbre tends to lean more towards tightness. Instruments don’t necessarily bloom or radiate warmth. Rather, there’s an effort to limit that sort of wetness as much as possible. If you prefer your monitors sounding less stringent and more loose, the IE800S isn’t the best option for you.

An intimate vocal presentation: U-shaped is an apt term to describe the IE800S’s vocal positioning. Even though they’re well-resolved and fully-formed, they’re positioned further back on the stage. And, they’re smaller in size too. The IE800S definitely isn’t a monitor to relish your favourite vocalists on, unless clarity and air are very high on your list of priorities.

A smooth, relaxed or rolled-off top-end: The IE800S’s top-end is crisp, airy and articulate. Although it’s been refined to remove as many bright spots as possible, it can glare or bite with inherently hot recordings. The clarity it produces is integral to the earphone’s signature, so if a softer, mushier top-end is your cup-of-tea, the IE800S likely won’t be.

Select Comparisons

Astell&Kern Rosie by JH Audio ($899)

The Rosie is a six-balanced-armature monitor designed by JH Audio. Like the IE800S, it’s a sub-$1000 in-ear aimed at redefining what’s possible at that price range. And, I believe both companies have made truly admirable efforts. The Rosie possesses a balanced signature with a neutral tone, but it differs from the IE800S in note structure and top-end timbre. Unlike the IE800S’s upper-mid dip, the Rosie possesses great vibrance around 2-3kHz, which adds a wetness to instruments like electric guitars and horns. Those very same instruments sound more compact and less playful on the IE800S. But, they sound cleaner on the latter. This is also because of the IE800S’s noticeably sharper top-end peaks.

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The IE800S possesses a more prominent upper-treble. Aside from the crisp transients that produces, it also accentuates the contrast between the notes and the background. So, you get sharper, more dynamic and clear-cut instruments with the IE800S, while they’re more laid-back on the Rosie. Finally, that top-end energy highlights the air between instruments as well, which enforces the IE800S’s perceived separation. On the other hand, the Rosie comes across more linear and more even-handed. Its transients aren’t as energised as the IE800S’s are, so they’re easier on the ear. Of the two, Rosie has the edge in long-term listening. Plus, the Rosie’s impressive extension allows it to achieve similar levels of resolution without forcing the top-end. It can’t achieve the IE800S’s level of contrast, but it gets close with less tonal compromise.

64 Audio A6t ($1299)

64 Audio’s A6t follows a similar tonal direction as the IE800S. It’s neutral and clean-sounding with full-bodied, meaty and dense-sounding instruments. In addition, it’s muscular and powerful down low as well. Although they strike similar hues, they do differ in presentation. The IE800S compacts its notes and emphasises the spaces around them, which highlights separation, cleanliness and background blackness. The A6t possesses larger, wetter, more vibrant instruments that play and intermingle with each other. Although it resolves just as well, the A6t webs them just enough to form an engaging, interweaved wall of sound. So, it wins points in musicality, long-term listening and fun. Conversely, the IE800S distances its instruments as far as possible. So, it has the edge in organisation, left-right separation and background blackness.

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The A6t possesses more bass presence, which adds a great foundation to tracks like Lake Street Drive’s Good Kisser. The IE800S’s low-end is tighter and more authoritative, but that’s a given considering the technology at play. In timbre, it’s aimed more towards retrieving nuance and dissecting mixes, but the extension it possesses gives it the ability to be fun-sounding as well. The A6t’s low-end isn’t as clinical, but it’s more pleasurable to rock out to with genres like hip-hop and modern pop. Vocals are positioned further forward on the A6t. The IE800S’s midrange is comparatively leaner. How tight those notes are certainly help bolster the IE800S’s separation and clarity. But, they may come across small at the same time. The A6t’s livelier images are more actively engaging, but less surgically precise. So, it depends on the presentation you prefer. The top-end is crisper on the IE800S for utmost clarity, while the A6t’s is thicker and more linear to my ears.

EarSonics EM64 (€1140)

The EarSonics EM64 is somewhat of a bridge between the 64 Audio A6t and the IE800S. It shares its neutrality with both monitors. All three are tonally well-balanced and refined. With the A6t, the EM64 shares its vibrance and note size. The images within the EarSonics monitor’s stage are large, lively and engrossing. But, it terms of segregation and the ratio between instrument to background, it has more in common with the IE800S. So, the EM64’s instruments are tighter than the A6t’s, but less clinical than the IE800S’s. In terms of stage construction, it’s certainly more akin to 64 Audio’s A6t. The IE800S’s stage is clean and clinical, but a hair deeper than it is wide. The EM64’s image is more carefree by comparison with more forward instruments. However, its resolution is in the ballpark, even if its notes aren’t as surgically separated.

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The EM64 is most like the IE800S in top-end timbre. There’s a touch more crispness on the latter, but both trebles are crisp, airy and articulate, yet infinitely refined as well. Both possess excellent headroom, which allow whatever bite-y notes there are to breathe. The IE800S does have a brighter low-treble, which makes it more susceptible to glare with less ideal tracks. Despite this similarity, the EM64 is the more coherent monitor overall because of its fuller midrange; the upper-mids, specifically. The IE800S’s 3-4kHz dip creates a slight gulf between the lower- and upper-ends of the spectrum to achieve its separation. It’s not egregious enough to be harmful, but it’s noticeable. The EM64 bridges more effectively. Stereo separation may not be as high, but the edge in linearity can certainly end up being more appealing.


Sennheiser’s IE800S is a technical triumph. At $999.95, it offers a great value for neutral in-ear monitors that emphasise separation, clarity and resolution without compromising bass performance, coherence and organicity. The definition it possesses makes it ideal for audiophiles who love dissecting mixes and discovering nuances. The black background and stability it exhibits is top-notch. But, the meatiness and unity that single dynamic driver brings allows all of it to come through as naturally, effortlessly and refined as possible. If you like your monitors warmer, wetter or more intimate, the IE800S won’t perhaps be your cup-of-tea. A couple issues with the cable threaten to bring it down too. But overall, I believe the IE800S to be a very impressive performer that exemplifies why Sennheiser are the icons they are today.

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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Top-class sound quality
- Uncolored tone
- Outstanding layering and imaging
- Superbly low noise floor
- Immense output power
- A plethora of sound-shaping options
- Bluetooth functionality
- Gorgeous screen with anti-fingerprint coating
- Swift OS response
- Tank-like build quality
- Ergonomic shape and size
- Included leather case
Cons: Price
- UI is not the smoothest to navigate
- Lack of intuitive inter-menu shortcuts
- Album cover thumbnail view is cluttered with text
- No onboard memory
- Battery life is average at best
- No streaming (for now)
- Sound is neutral, and therefore not the most colored or exciting
- PMEQ does not take advantage of touch screen
DISCLAIMER: Musicteck (Lotoo’s US dealer) loaned me the PAW Gold Touch in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank MusicTeck and Lotoo for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

NOTE: This review was written with firmware version Photos not of my own were provided by Lotoo.

Lotoo is an Asian manufacturer who develops digital audio players. Their PAW 5000 and PAW Gold players have attained legendary status among the audiophile community – regularly praised for their rigorous build quality, excellent EQ and explosive sound signatures. Despite the mainly button-oriented nature of those players – especially within a landscape of touch screens galore – they found favour among tons of enthusiasts worldwide. Now, after some fruitful down time, it seems Lotoo is ready to listen to the masses at large; announcing in 2018 the release of their all-new flagship DAP: The Lotoo PAW Gold Touch – sporting a price tag of $3199, a renewed sound signature and a full-fledged IPS touch display.


Lotoo PAW Gold Touch
  • DAC chip: AKM 4497EQ
  • Output power: 500mW @ 32 Ω
  • Audio I/O: 4.4mm balanced (also line out), 3.5mm single-ended (also line out)
  • Sample rate support: Up to PCM 768kHz and DSD512
  • Key feature(s) (if any): PMEQ II, ATE and XRC sound-shaping, proprietary Lotoo OS
  • Price: $3199
  • Website:,,

Unboxing and Accessories

The packaging’s outermost sleeve sports a gloss gold finish, emblazoned with the signature Apollo motif found on Lotoo’s potentiometers. Shedding the sleeve unveils a black box, accented by the slightest touch of gold – indicative of the aesthetic the player possesses. Hoisting off the top lid reveals the device securely recessed within a foam cut-out.


Beneath it lies the Touch’s full slew of accessories. Included with Lotoo’s flagship player are three sets of extras neatly compartmentalised into individual mini-boxes. This is an approach I’ve seen implemented by Astell&Kern and Sony in the past, hinting at the pedigree Lotoo is doggedly pursuing. Comparisons aside, it’s a genuine display of finesse.


The first mini-box contains paperwork – a user’s manual and warranty card. This is also where you’ll find the included micro-fibre cloth and two tempered-glass screen protectors. Again, the latter is a great inclusion that truly exhibits the lavishness of the product. Inside the second mini-box is a sleeved USB Type-C cable. Sheathed skilfully in soft, black paracord and sporting Lotoo-engraved, gold-plated connectors on both ends, the company clearly isn’t skimping out.


The third compartment houses the Touch’s gorgeous leather case. Chromatically, it evokes the device’s aesthetic: All black and accented exquisitely with gold stitching around the rear. Visually, it’s flash and finesse in equal measure, and it’ll be difficult to top when aftermarket offerings start rolling in. The button indicators and logos engraved all around show excellent precision, especially the stylised PAW Gold Touch emblem on the rear; subtle and stylish simultaneously.


One of my only two knocks would be on feel. There’s a slightly oily touch to it that isn’t perhaps as smooth as offerings from MITER or DIGNIS. Clearly, this is a minor con given their prices. To Lotoo’s credit, I’d say everything bar feel is on par with anything MITER, DIGNIS or musashino LABEL have produced. Secondly, despite the cut-out for the USB port, there isn’t one for the SD card slot. It’s a notable exclusion, but it’s something Lotoo can easily remedy moving forward.

Build and Physical Controls

Stating the obvious, Lotoo’s PAW Gold Touch is an exquisitely-built device. Although its blocky form may suggest a more utilitarian approach, the Touch gradually reveals itself as a champion of luxury and class. There’s extreme finesse in how the player comes together. Despite hints of screws and seams here and there, the Touch’s CNC-milled, aluminium-alloy shell may as well have been a unibody design – neither a rough edge, nor an uneven surface nor a loose joint in sight.

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Visually, it’s clear that they’ve maintained the same motif present throughout their previous releases. This is in form and colour, and especially along the volume wheel too. But, several more modern inclusions have made the cut as well. The Touch sports grooves along the sides for a more secure grip. And, curvature along the edges boost ergonomics as well. The chassis’ matte-black exterior oozes class with flawless finishing. It’s a sandblasted finish that’s reminiscent of Apple’s Macbook Pros or Sony’s modern Walkmen. And, all this black only serves to accentuate the bling on dat volume wheel.

Quite literally the PAW Gold Touch’s crown jewel, the Apollo Sun volume wheel is as nostalgic as it is gorgeous. It’s shiny, shimmery, splendid and an awesome throwback to Lotoo’s previous audio players as well. More impressively, they’ve managed to integrate it within a classy, suave and luxurious aesthetic without coming across corny. Accenting the wheel is a white LED ring at its base. The ring pulses to signify playback, but you can turn it off to conserve battery life as well.

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Turning the potentiometer feels smooth, and it’s recessed within the player sufficiently to prevent accidental turns. A neat feature I found on the Settings menu is the ability to determine which direction the wheel turns to indicate volume up or volume down. The wheel is on the looser side, with a fair bit of play in either direction before registering a click. This definitely isn’t a dense, heavy wheel that you’d find on a dedicated amplifier, for example. But regardless, it’s an incredibly solid-feeling, smooth-turning and visually stunning piece that deserves to sit atop the Touch’s gorgeous body.

The PAW Gold Touch sports the classic set of physical buttons along the side of its chassis: Power, Play/Pause, Previous and Skip. Tiny bumps are present to indicate the first two buttons, making blind navigation a breeze. The buttons are beautifully machined and depress with a solid, satisfying, tactile click. And like the volume wheel, they sit securely within the chassis with zero wiggle as well. Also impressive in this regard are the 4.4mm and 3.5mm (also line out) jacks along the top. Among all my digital audio players, the Touch sports the most precisely machined and installed sockets I’ve experienced, leaving no air gaps or wiggle room. In addition, the gold, ring-y aesthetic is reminiscent of old vinyl records.

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Considering what’s become of screen sizes nowadays in both the smartphone and DAP worlds, I think many will find the PAW Gold Touch a reasonably-sized device. As someone who frequents an iPhone 6 Plus and Sony’s WM1A, the Touch definitely felt smaller to me. Although I’ve gotten used to the larger text and album art that my other devices have made available to me, I love the form factor of the PAW Gold Touch for how comfortable it is in the hand, and how easy it is to operate as well. Despite the relatively smaller size, the Touch isn’t a featherweight. But to me, it isn’t inconvenient-heavy; rather, it’s substantial-heavy – truly indicative of the Touch’s exceptional build quality. If audiophiles out there are willing to lug around Sony WM1Z’s and Cayin N8’s in their pocket, I can’t imagine Lotoo’s Touch being too unwieldy for anyone.

GUI and Presentation

The PAW Gold Touch is an outstanding device the second it powers on, literally! Among the high-end digital sources available today, Lotoo’s flagship boasts the fastest boot time I’ve ever experienced: A mere two seconds – no pre-loaded loading screens, no wavy lines, no rotating logos; pure speed. After the comically swift start-up, you’re greeted by the main menu with a standard set of short-cuts. The last-played track prior to the previous shut down is there as well:


Within seconds of operation, it’s clear that the PAW Gold Touch’s start-up speed translates to responsiveness as well. There’s never a perception of lag when operating the device, especially when alternating between menus, scrolling or loading up tracks to play. Functionality aside, one note I’d make towards presentation is the lack of motion blur. With Sony’s WM1A (my main DAP), scrolling has a smoother look to it, as well as a more natural sense of acceleration and deceleration. By comparison, the PAW Gold Touch is a tad stutter-y. But again, this is purely a minor visual nitpick.

Where the PAW Gold Touch triumphs visually is screen quality. The tempered-glass-equipped IPS display is among the sharpest I’ve ever seen. In terms of image clarity and text reproduction, it’s nothing short of impressive. Movement is – again – crisp due to the lack of motion blur. While I may perceive it as less natural-looking, some may prefer it. If there was anything I’d love Lotoo to work on, it’d be colour accuracy. The blacks in particular can be prone to backlight bleed and have some white peering through. Sony’s WM1A possesses deeper blacks, increasing the perception of contrast. Then again, they do make TVs for a living. Regardless, it’s another minor con, but one to perhaps consider in the future.


One massively impressive feature is the DLC (Diamond-like carbon) coating that Lotoo have applied onto the tempered-glass screen. In addition to increased strength, the coating has a fingerprint-resistant quality that’s among the most effective I’ve ever seen. Simple wipes with a cloth or a shirt removes all fingerprints or oily spots instantly with zero traces of residue – no cleaning solutions or compounds required – restoring the screen to mint-like, pristine condition.

Like Sony (for example), Lotoo have gone ahead and produced their own operating system for the PAW Gold Touch – rather than adapting Android, which is the norm nowadays. Lotoo OS is the main reason for the Touch’s speed, and it’s a wonderful achievement from a company that doesn’t necessarily have the pedigree that a Sony or Google has. Although the device does possess Wi-Fi for OS-updating purposes, it’s worth noting that it does not support third-party streaming apps like Spotify or TIDAL; at least at the time of writing. If you require that, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. But, if you’re a memory card purist like me, then the Touch will have lacked nothing – well, except any form of onboard memory, that is.


The PAW Gold Touch sports a fairly universal navigational system. Like the Sony and Astell&Kern DAPs that have largely dominated the market, files on the Touch can be sorted by Playlist, Artist, Album, Song or Folder. In each menu, there are shortcuts at the very top of the screen that allow you to quickly add tracks to a playlist, or filter based on sample rate. Personally, I sort most often by Album, because it’s easier for me to search via album artwork. Although the Touch offers a thumbnail-based GUI like the one shown in the image below, I was disappointed to find the shortcuts still occupied the top-quarter of the screen and the bottom-third of the thumbnails had the album titles on black bars layered on them:


Given the Touch’s already-limited screen real estate, I would’ve loved it if the thumbnails entirely occupied the screen like Astell&Kern’s implementation. I’m sure this is implementable via a software update somewhere down the line.

Also, you can toggle an option dubbed Double-click in the Options menu. This allows you to wake-up the Touch’s display by double-tapping the screen. I found this feature particularly useful during stationary listening or in USB DAC mode.

If there’s a specific artist, album or song you wish to look up, the Touch sports a Search function accessible by swiping down from the very top of the screen. This also brings down a menu that allows to switch between Loopmodes, alter gain settings on both the 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL outputs, and toggle Bluetooth, Volume Lockand XRC on or off.


Although the Touch’s interface is relatively straightforward, I do feel navigation between menus could be a hair more streamlined. Sony’s WM1A (for example) allows the user to jump rapidly between menus through shortcuts on a drop-down home menu. This isn’t present on the PAW Gold Touch, requiring the user to either press the Return key multiple times – which, might I add, is positioned quite unnaturally at the top-left corner of the screen – or swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen to instantly return to the Home menu. Neither action is the most intuitive in the world, so I’d love to see Lotoo add these shortcuts to their pre-existing drop-down menu in a future update for swifter navigation.

Connectivity and Storage

The PAW Gold Touch implements USB 3.1 as its main means of data transfer and power charging. This means the best speeds possible, as well as a conveniently reversible plug. Unlike Sony’s proprietary Walkman I/O, you also aren’t forced to carry around an extra cable because of the ubiquity of USB Type-C. The Touch is also capable of functioning as a USB DAC. In this mode, the display shows a VU meter, as well as controls for XRC and EFX (discussed in Page 3). I admire Lotoo for including sound shaping even in DAC mode – a step above the implementations I’ve seen in other sources. There doesn’t seem to be any input lag too, which is crucial when editing or mixing music, watching movies, etc.

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Additionally, the Touch sports Bluetooth connectivity. As a result, it’s also capable of turning into a wireless Bluetooth DAC. Unlike USB DAC mode, there is neither a VU meter nor an option for XRC. Perhaps this has something to do with the sample rate ceiling when transferring audio over Bluetooth. But, EFX remains available, which is unquestionably the more important feature. Unfortunately, for some reason, my Macbook Pro does not detect the Touch as a sound device. Bluetooth DAC on this laptop has worked previously on my Sony WM1A, so I must assume this is an issue on the Touch’s end. However, the player does work with my iPhone 6 Plus. There is a slight delay when watching YouTube videos, but that’s to be expected. Once again, Wi-Fi is also available, but it’s only current use is firmware updates; no streaming yet.

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The PAW Gold Touch sports a full-sized SD card slot for up to 2TB of potential storage. I was disappointed to find the lack of any onboard storage, but it’s not a fatal flaw. Unlike my Sony WM1A, once the SD card is loaded up, you’re allowed to instantly navigate its contents without any loading screens to sit through. This means you can play music instantly from Folder view while the Touch generates the necessary libraries for tag-based sorting (i.e. Album, Artist, etc.).

Battery Life

The PAW Gold Touch sports a 5500mAH battery for approximately 10 hours of use per full charge. This estimate comes from Lotoo themselves, and I can’t say for certain what parameters were used to achieve that figure. Playing a mixture of FLAC and AAC files, battery sustenance is comparable to those of my Astell&Kern players. It’s decent, but definitely pales in comparison to Sony’s modern Walkmen, who’ve pretty much set the standard as far as battery life is concerned. My WM1A is capable of surviving 4-to-5-hour sessions for 2-3 days straight before requiring another charge. Charging is much faster on the Sony player as well. Approximately half of a full charge can be achieved within an hour’s worth of charging. On the other hand, charging the Touch with a generic USB Type-C cable takes around 3 hours for a full charge.

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Sound Impressions

More so than any digital source I’ve heard in the past, the PAW Gold Touch embodies reference with remarkable ease. The tone it flaunts is largely transparent – as indicated by the blank canvas it allows gear upstream to ultimately shade – and its technical foundations are nothing short of astounding. Its soundstage expansion isn’t endgame, but the layering, separation and detail achieved within it remains some of the best I’ve ever heard. Without the aid of an agitated treble, the Touch relies on extension, speed and balance to bolster its resolution. As a result, the transparency it achieves is done so effortlessly; a well-practiced, smooth and easy routine. Unlike its predecessors, the Touch strays away from flash. But ultimately, the grace and sophistication weaved throughout its frequency response is responsible for its success.


The Touch’s bass response is strikingly clear. Opting for a more neutral tone, it perhaps isn’t as warm or sumptuous as Sony’s WM1Z, for example. There’s an emphasis on definition, separation and clarity, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of any fun, either. Linear extension throughout the sub-bass provides a healthy dose of impact. And, it rises (or drops) in accordance with whatever lies upstream. With dynamic drivers, it’ll match their physicality and decay, but add no more. And, it keeps up with balanced-armatures, without coming across lean. But with both, there’s always clarity and finesse. With upright basses or toms, a part of me may miss that woodywarmth. Ultimately, what the Touch guarantees is zero bottleneck – a bass you can set with your IEM of choice from pristine to hog wild without compromise along the way.

This restraint then pays dividends as we progress further upwards. Without warmth emanating from the low-end – nor glare from the treble – the Touch’s midrange remains largely neutral. Though, where it’s least transparent throughout, an upper-midrange tilt does determine its inherent timbre. Instruments are neutrally-positioned within the soundscape, but they project strongly. There’s an energy imbued within them that translates to an extra zing in vocals, an added roar in electric guitars, etc. But, the lower registers remain calm, which impede a grunty-er, heftier response. Male baritones won’t have maximum gravitas, tom-toms and kick drums won’t bellow as much as they’ll thwack, and pianos will ring rather than slam. It’s a more elegant delivery of oomph that contrasts the explosiveness of Lotoo’s previous offerings.


But regardless, the Touch continues to deliver in the technical domain. Micro-dynamic energy is perhaps the best I’ve heard from a digital source, Tiny nuances pop without resorting to treble peaks. Rather, it’s done via a pitch-black, stable background. So, those micro-details never feel forced. They play their role before vanishing without a trace. The player has an average sense of depth – average for a summit-fi flagship, mind you – but the layering it flaunts transcends that completely. Instruments are layered in front of and behind each other with pockets of clean air in between. The result is a three-dimensional soundscape filled with data to analyse andenjoy. There’s a healthy amount of body to the mids as well. There’s a meatiness to instruments; wetness to feather the line between transient and decay. As a result, clinical separation does not lead to clinical sound. Instead, it’s a balanced, natural image with masterful technique underneath.

The treble is where the Touch is most refined. Sources I’ve heard often struggle in the top-end. iBasso’s age-old DX50 came across agreeable, but dull. Sony’s WM1A had articulate transients that suffered from a case of digital-itis. Lotoo’s PAW Gold Touch manages to achieve a wonderful balance of both through technical ability and restraint. The Touch’s top-end possesses heaps of headroom, but refrains from testing it the slightest bit. The result is a treble that’s articulate, open and fast without seemingly lifting a finger. It’s a free sound that can only be described as refined; second nature. Pair that with a smooth timbre and what you get is a smooth, elegant release of detail. The tone overall is neutral and lower-treble bite does stick out a hair. But, the sheer ease with which those notes are handled – along with the PAW Gold Touch’s aforementioned technical skill – bill a treble response that’s as effortlessly capable as it is stringently controlled.


Balanced vs. Single-Ended

Switching between the two outputs, I hear identical tonal balances. This is unlike my Project-K-modded Sony WM1A or my Astell&Kern AK70-Kai, where you’re almost allowed two different signatures with the two outputs. In terms of timbre, note structure and positioning, balanced and single-ended are identical to my ears. On one hand, you don’t get that one last morsel of customisability. But on the other, you’re guaranteed consistency. I don’t hear a change in loudness either. The differences I do hear are in expansion and layering, especially. The 3D layers on balanced that fanned out along the x- and z-axes sound almost smushed together on single-ended – not congested per se, but compressed into a single file.

On Snarky Puppy’s Jefe, as the track builds from just drums and guitars to the addition of horns, synths, and percussion, you get the impression on balanced that each extra layer sits separate from the ones that came before. Essentially, you experience the satisfaction of hearing the track build in size. On single-ended, each successive track sounds like it was plopped squarely on the previous one. So, the track doesn’t necessarily get bigger – it just gets more crowded. This is also evident in imaging. On balanced, you can hear the drums panned hard-left-and-right and the guitars at 10 and 2′ o clock, then the synths at 11 and 1, and finally the horns at the centre. On single-ended, it’s noticeably harder to discern.



Manual equalisation has been a longtime staple of Lotoo’s digital audio players. The PAW Gold and PAW 5000 were lauded in particular for how effective their EQ implementations were, despite their button-dominated UIs somewhat hindering ease-of-use. I’ve personally never used either of the previous PAW devices, but I have spent countless hours manipulating EQ on my various digital audio workstations – whether it be Logic Pro, Pro Tools or Cubase. As someone who’s well-versed in those plug-ins, the PAW Gold Touch’s PMEQ application was impressively familiar. It’s a 5-point EQ, which to me is more than enough for anyone. Like professional EQs, the user is allowed to specify the target frequency, amplitude change and bandwidth. You’re also allowed to specify the filter type – high-pass, low-pass or band-pass.


Despite the equaliser’s impressive specificity and attention-to-detail, I was disappointed to find the touch screen (i.e. the DAP’s namesake) wasn’t integrated into the interface at all. Unlike Astell&Kern or Sony’s – albeit sonically inferior – EQs, you’re not given the option to draw your intended curve. Instead, you’re forced to manually (and tediously) enter values into each parameter. To me, this is a missed opportunity in ease-of-use. But nevertheless, the sheer customisability and effectiveness of the equaliser remains marvellously impressive – only a few UI fixes away from being gosh darn perfect.


ATE (or Acoustic Timbre Embellisher) is another form of sonic customisation built into the PAW Gold Touch. Brighter attenuates the low-end, positioning it further back in the mix. The result is a cleaner, leaner signature with less warmth permeating the soundscape. I wouldn’t call it brighter in tone per se, but it certainly is less full. Sweet is somewhat of a low-pass, where the upper-mids and treble take a step back. Notes sound thicker and fuller with greater bloom to the lower-mids. With both ATE filters, what’s most impressive is that they seem to only alter the positioning of instruments. Brighter doesn’t sound anaemic or insubstantial, neither does Sweetsound congested or rolled-off. It’s all naturally done.


The vaguely-named Dental sounds like it rolls-off the uppermost registers, resulting in a fuller, more saturated stage. Mid-bass impact seems to receive a slight bump as well. Of the three, this is the setting I personally find least useful, but it may find its place with brighter transducers. Style 701 (perhaps modelled after the AKG K701) heavily attenuates the mid-bass for a lean, neutral response – leaving the low-end more melodic and airy than impactful by any means. This converts my Custom Art FIBAE Black into a strict studio monitor, which I may find useful in the future. Style 990 (perhaps similarly modelled after Beyerdynamic’s DT990) is the complete opposite. It’s a strong low-pass that emphasises low-end bloom over the rest of the presentation. It’s more blubbery than Dental, but again, it may find its place among bassheads.

Near Field brings the soundscape inside the head, creating an inside-out sort of sensation. My experience suggests this setting may involve some phase manipulation, but it does remind me of the Avantone and Focal near-fields I have in the studio. With reference-grade in-ears, this setting is preferred when I’m balancing vocals in a choir mix, for example. Far Field comes across more artificial to my ears. It sounds like attenuations in the mid-bass and upper-mids to create a perceivably more distant image, but it comes across less coherent and transparent. Nevertheless, ATE as a whole brings a slew of customisation to the table. Although some work more than others, I find implementation as a whole to be both effective and non-invasive. The current set is impressive as is, and I can only imagine more to come in the near-future.

Noise Floor and Power

Empire Ears Phantom

The Phantom is one of the most sensitive in-ear monitors in my collection. Although that means it can be driven out of any conceivable device, it is prone to hissing as well. On every source I’ve heard them through – whether it be mixing consoles, portable amps or high-end DAPs from Sony, Onkyo and Astell&Kern – the Phantom willdig into their noise floors. Although the faintest whiff of a hiss is audible through the PAW Gold Touch, Lotoo’s flagship is perhaps the first source where I’d consider the noise negligible. Upon plugging in, the hiss blends into the background immediately. And when music starts playing, it’s practically non-existent; even in pockets of silence. Given the Phantom’s sensitivity, a volume of 25 out of 100 on high gain is where I tend to keep it, leaving tons of headroom for the Touch to perform.

Vision Ears VE6XC

Vision Ears’ VE6XC is perhaps a notch below the Phantom in sensitivity. It’s easy to drive and capable of sussing out hiss, but not to the degree of the Empire Ears co-flagship. And sure enough, the VE6XC does not hiss at all through the PAW Gold Touch. Whether music is playing or not, the noise floor is entirely indiscernible – a fantastic achievement for Lotoo. To achieve an enjoyable volume, the VE6XC requires 28-30 steps on high gain out of 100. Like the Phantom, the VE6XC is a dense-sounding monitor that benefits from the Touch’s clean-yet-sophisticated neutrality. Out of Lotoo’s flagship, both in-ears maintain the delicate, organic, human factor that make them what they are. But, the Touch allows them more headroom to breathe and play. So, you retain that charming musicality, now with zero restraints in the technical realm.

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Custom Art FIBAE Black

Custom Art’s FIBAE Black is a single-driver monitor. But among the custom in-ears in my collection, it’s perhaps the most difficult to drive. The headphone outputs on both my Soundcraft monitor mixer and my Yamaha CL5 barely power it at max volume. But as if to boast its superiority, Lotoo’s PAW Gold Touch pushes it without breaking a sweat. At 40/100 on single-ended mode and high gain, I get very listenable volumes with no hiss. As the name suggests, the monitor also comes equipped with Custom Art’s FIBAE (Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone) Technology. Essentially, it allows the monitor to maintain an identical signature no matter the source. As it entirely skips the colouration of the amp section, it makes for a transparent DAC evaluator. Through the Black, the Touch’s transparency, resolution and dynamics truly shine through – offering an impactful sound, whilst maintaining excellent headroom and composure at all times.

MrSpeakers AEON Flow Open

MrSpeakers’ AEON Flow Open is a relatively easy-to-drive headphone. Dan Clarke developed it to be mobile-friendly, after all. Obviously then, the PAW Gold Touch powers it with ease. On single-ended with high gain, 55 steps out of 100 is perfectly reasonable; akin to around 9 o’clock on my Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon desktop amp. Compared to the Liquid Carbon, the PAW Gold Touch definitely gives the AEON Flow Open a freer, more open stage. After all, the Cavalli Audio amp emphasises dynamism and impact above all. So, if you own an AEON Flow Open and are looking for a source to boost its imaging and expansion, the Touch is a very viable option. With that said, the Touch doesn’t quite give the AEON the warmth down low that the Liquid Carbon provides. So although the Touch is capable of making the most out of that planar bass impact effortlessly, it’s a bit top-heavy in tone for my tastes. But, I’m sure others may enjoy this colouration.


Sennheiser HD800S

An amp-dependent headphone like Sennheiser’s HD800S is perhaps the PAW Gold Touch’s greatest test. Volume-wise, the Touch continues to perform – merely requiring 50 out of 100 steps on high-gain in single-ended mode to reach an acceptable loudness. Obviously then, this leaves quite a bit of headroom, resulting in a sound that comes across neither saturated nor forced. However, I do feel the headphones have more potential to spare spatially. The image the HD800S produces is well-layered, well-separated and detailed, but it isn’t as open or free-sounding as it would be on top-flight desktop amplifiers. But of course, this was the expected outcome. Lotoo should still be lauded for their admirable performance. Like the AEON Flow Open, the tonal combo isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. Although the Touch refines the HD800S’s treble quite effectively, the top-end tilt does leave the headphone sounding lean and meagre down low. This is a combo that’ll suit trebleheadsmore than others. But nevertheless, it makes a strong case for the Touch’s raw power.

Select Comparisons

Sony WM1A (modded by Project K)

The WM1A is my current daily DAP, modified by Project K with enhanced internal wiring, electrical shielding and several other kinds of tweaks. Sonically, the player has transformed considerably, the specifics of which you can find here. The main hallmarks of this modded source is a thick, full-bodied, forward sound set against a vast, stable backdrop. This is where it first contrasts against the Touch. Lotoo’s flagship player is comparatively more laid-back with a neutrally-positioned midrange. Sony’s WM1A saturates instruments for a more energetic, involving and rhythmic presentation. The melodic elements here are fuller and more in-your-face, while the PAW Gold Touch holds back for refinement’s sake.


Down low, the Touch delivers tighter, more concentrated hits. Bass notes feel denser and more compact. When the WM1A punches by comparison, wisps of warm air surround each jab. So, those notes may feel bigger, but they aren’t as defined and transparent as those on the PAW Gold Touch. Where the WM1A’s looser hits pay dividends is in stage cohesion and sub-bass rumble. The soundscape it produces has an ensemble feel because of the decay of the mid-bass. Some may call it musical, others may call it a touch sloppy. At the end of the day, you’ll be the judge of that. Sub-bass rumble is more fun and concert-like on the WM1A, while it has more of a linear, transparent, studio feel on the Touch.

The treble is where the two players are furthest apart. The WM1A sources articulation from its lower-treble. With its full-bodied midrange, you get blunter transients with a wider sense of impact. Comparatively, the PAW Gold Touch’s refinement and upper-treble-emphasis generates feathered transients with a softer sense of attack. Instruments aren’t as bold here as they are on the WM1A. But, this pays dividends in headroom. The Touch possesses heaps of space for transients to pop in and decay. By comparison, the WM1A’s saturation renders it vulnerable to sounding brittle with certain recordings. In addition, the Touch’s superior coherence gifts it a more fanned-out, precise and spherical stage. The WM1A possesses the more musical, fun and immersive soundscape, but sacrifices a touch of finesse in return.

Astell&Kern AK70 (modded by MST Technologies)

Before being usurped by my Project-K-modded WM1A, my daily driver was Astell&Kern’s ultra-compact AK70. Similarly, it was modified, but by MST Technologies in Japan. The alterations made were far more invasive than Project K’s, involving word clocks, capacitors, op-amps, etc. The result was a neutral signature with excellent transparency, layering and stereo separation. You’d be right in assuming, then, that the AK70-Kai and the PAW Gold Touch share several similarities. Unlike the modded WM1A, they aren’t thick-sounding players, neither do they saturate their stages. Rather, they possess lighter, more compact notes with a reasonably swift decay to boost separation, headroom and perceivable detail. These qualities make up the AK70-Kai as well, but a couple notable differences do distinguish it from Lotoo’s PAW Gold Touch.

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In terms of raw stage expansion, the PAW Gold Touch is the clear victor. Elements at 10 and 2 o’ clock especially expand further, giving the soundscape a distinct spherical shape. The AK70-Kai hangs on in terms of depth, but the diagonal and horizontal extremes feel a bit more closed-in. The Touch also possesses superior micro-dynamic range. Nuances pop out of the background more, so they’re more physically convincing. With that said, the AK70-Kai does impress when it comes to layering and separation. Despite having a less stable background, the Kai’s faster decay allows more data to come through. Reverbs seem more prominent, because the fundamentals had already gone. Nevertheless, when it comes to transparency and resolution – despite the Kai’s most cunning efforts – the PAW Gold Touch comes out squarely on top.

The key difference between the two lies in the top-end. The AK70-Kai possesses a calmer lower-treble for softer, more feathered articulation. This is partly why it’s able to keep up with the Touch in terms of depth. There’s more excitement to the PAW Gold Touch, as well as the room to do so. Conversely, the AK70-Kai’s more intimate soundscape makes it lean towards a wall-of-sound-esque presentation. The advantage to the Kai is that its soundscape sounds more cohered and tethered together. The whole ensemble feels like a lively, singular unit. The advantage to the Touch is superior transparency, greater separation and effortless resolution. Finally, the Touch’s excellent bass extension produces notes with greater solidity, physicality and texture. On the other hand, the Kai’s slams sound airier and lighter by comparison.


Lotoo’s PAW Gold Touch is a monumental entry in the flagship space. Gallantly abandoning their button-clad comfort zone, the audio player veterans have shown that they can tango with the top dogs in build, aesthetics, software design and sound. Few interface quirks notwithstanding, this is a luxury product with the function and form to match. Sonically, it’s one of the most well-executed iterations of neutral I’ve heard from a source. How well it executes reference without monotony and spaciousness without indifference is most impressive to my ears. In addition, the stunningly low noise floor, immense output power and plethora of sound-shaping options make one gorgeously complete package. $3199 is never an easy price to swallow, but Lotoo have absolutely made a case for it. As much as I long for all this to trickle down to more affordable options in the future, the PAW Gold Touch alone is a compelling buy for any discerning audiophile.

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I'd like to point out that WM1A can sound a whole lot better. In fact, you can have the 1Z sound on it.
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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Lively, impactful and yet refined signature
- Vibrant with healthy amounts of body
- Headroom is maintained despite added energy in the mid-bass, upper-mids and lower-treble
- Outstanding build quality and hardware
- Braids are tight with flexibility to match
Cons: Not ideal if you want a calmer, laid-back sound
- Transparency and resolution (though admirable for the price) isn't top-class
- Staging is rather saturated, so not for those looking for an airy, open soundscape
DISCLAIMER: Music Sanctuary (Han Sound Audio’s official Singaporean dealer) provided me with the Aegis in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Music Sanctuary and Han Sound Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Han Sound Audio is a Taiwanese cable manufacturer. Despite their relative youth in the public market, the company have been active for years developing a number of proprietary designs. Now, all their conductors and connectors are produced in-house, resulting in their cables being essentially inimitable. Consequently, these innovations have garnered critical acclaim from enthusiasts across the world. My fellow writers ryanjsoo and flinkenick are massive proponents of the Redcore and Venom, respectively, and a recent US tour found the company great success in the West. Today, we’ll be looking at the Aegis: A unique silver-gold/copper fusion capable of excellent energy, musicality and dynamic contrast.

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Han Sound Audio Aegis
  • Wire composition: 23 AWG OCC silver-gold alloy & OCC Litz copper
  • Default configuration: 4-wire
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Fully bespoke design; DuPont Kevlar core
  • Price: S$499
  • Website:;
Build and Accessories

The Aegis comes in a black box with the Han Sound Audio logo embossed on top. Below the lid is a rubbery foam sheet, as well as a foam-lined interior to keep the cable in place during transport. A circular cut-out is where the cable resides, wrapped in an included, faux-leather cable tie. As far as packaging is concerned, this isn’t the most extravagant I’ve seen. But despite the minimal flair, extremely useful features like the foam sheet and the cable tie speak to how well the packaging was thought out. It won’t win points for style, but completion, practicality and safety rank very high.

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Flaunting the company’s experience in the trade, the Aegis is a wonderfully-built cable. It sports one of the most uniform braids I’ve seen yet, and the individual conductors sport a gorgeous semi-matte finish. Although they aren’t as bling-y as the market’s most recent offerings, the brown tint gives the Aegis an undeniably unique look; understated, clean and classy. Han Sound Audio’s cables are also among the most flexible I’ve used. They aren’t as silky-smooth to the touch as PlusSound’s PS Insulation, but they hold zero memory even after tens of coils, and they’re the least stiff in my collection as well. Finally, both the cable’s diminutive wire gauge and tight construction keep weight at a minimum in daily use.

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Completing the look is the company’s in-house hardware. The metallic Y-split and connectors resemble brushed and polished aluminium, respectively; both complementing the carbon-fiber Furutech plug below. The company logo is also engraved into the Y-split for instant recognition. The chin slider – despite its rather loose hold – blends excellently to the Y-split for a coherent, uniform look. Common among them all is great density, so the components feel premium, even if they aren’t vanishing in weight. With an abundance of faux-looking, metal-and-carbon-fibre aesthetics dominating the market, it’s refreshing to see a company with the wherewithal and finesse to pull off the ubiquitous look with style.

Sound Impressions

The Han Sound Aegis is an impactful-sounding cable that injects great liveliness to any in-ear it’s paired with. It sports a w-shaped signature with boosts along the mid-bass, upper-midrange and treble, which fuels the dynamic contrasts that its soundscape is absolutely rife with. Thumps follow crashes and vice-versa, but it’s all done in an impressively smooth and mature manner. Despite the Aegis’ punchiness, it maintains stage expansion and headroom remarkably well. Although it doesn’t vastly improve vocal integrity, harmonic detail or stage stability, it doesn’t compromise any of them either, which is a massive achievement in and of itself. Instruments remain rich and well-structured set against a black background, while constant refinement keeps its energy in check. The Aegis truly lets you have your cake and eat it too.

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The Aegis boasts an addictively impactful mid-bass – meaty in texture, effortlessly detailed and precisely decayed as well. Kick drums feel tight and resonant with a natural tone complementing its physicality. In-ears with a sub-bass bias will reap most from this, as it helps fill out the mid-bass with a natural, fibrous timbre and clarity too. Thankfully, the Aegis positions the low-end behind its upper-mids. So despite the added punch, the focus of the presentation remains the lead melody; an admirable touch that so many similarly-tuned cables miss the mark on. The Aegis also extends bass decay by a hair, which highlights its pleasing tone and enhances the interplay within the low- and high-ends. But, it vanishes before it becomes overtly buttery or congested, maintaining a clean stage and a wealth of headroom to spare.

The midrange is where the Aegis surprised – and impressed – me most. A lift along the presence region gives vocals vibrancy and energy. But fullness along the lower-mids allows the Aegis to sound wholly coherent and seamlessly linear throughout; unprecedented among cables of this ilk. The mid-bass lift (and resultant decay) bridges the gap between the lower- and upper-mids, resulting in a lively and engaging midrange with realistic amounts of body and density. Further aiding this is excellent smoothness throughout. The treble region may be articulate, but it’s wonderfully refined. So, instruments maintain a lightly warm, clear tone with zero grain or fatigue. In terms of placement, the midrange takes a slight step forward to form a thicker, larger image. This may suggest a slight drop in depth, but vocals and instruments alike maintain strong layering and holography. So, they remain present and vibrant, but harmonically resolved too.

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The Aegis incites a subtle lift in the treble to complement the mid-bass and upper-mids. There’s now a larger contrast between the top-end and the lower-midrange. This heightens definition, while the mid-bass fills in that gap to preserve coherence. Uniquely, the Aegis doesn’t opt for a crisp, upper-treble-inclined presentation. Instead, it presents an articulate – yet linear – treble where the key highlight is extension and refinement. The top-end in and of itself is clear in tone, but buttery-smooth and graceful in its delivery. It’s reminiscent of Effect Audio’s Thor Silver II, but the Aegis is thicker and more rounded in tone; more pleasing and life-like as well. Excellent extension maintains the cable’s black background, stable stage and headroom. Although you don’t necessarily feel that expanse because the instruments become fuller as well, it’s crucial in guaranteeing the Aegis’s effortlessness and truly sets it apart from the competition.

Suggested Pairings

The Aegis’s dynamic-yet-smooth signature makes it relatively easy to pitch. It’s especially ideal for IEMs that sound too laid-back or nonchalant, that you wish to inject some liveliness into. But, as I’ve mentioned numerous times in the review, the Aegis is not a generic SPC-sound-alike cable. Distinguishing it from the crowd are the following key aspects:

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Energy, liveliness and vibrancy without compromise: Dynamic cables tend to introduce a v-shape for contrast – tons of energy up-top and down-low, with little regard for harmonic detail in the mids. The Aegis is capable of unloading excellent energy, but with refinement, headroom and meatiness at the same time as well. This is ideal for calmer IEMs with tons of richness you’d ideally want to keep. For example, the Avara Custom AV2 and the Jomo Audio Haka.

A fuller, meatier yet dynamic presentation: Because of its mid-bass presentation and the fullness of its midrange, the Aegis carries a fair amount of body as well. As a result, it pairs its vibrancy with healthy amounts of richness. This is ideal for energetic IEMs that suffer from a bit of thinness, which include the Nocturnal Audio Avalon and the AAW A3H 2018.

Three-dimensionality in the bass: The Aegis adds thump down low, but additionally, it alters timbre and decay. Bass notes are now meatier, better textured and more life-like. And, longer decay endows a physical, authoritative presence. This is ideal for IEMs like the Avara Custom AV2 or the Lime Ears Model X, that are somewhat cloudy and diffuse down low.

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A calm, subdued response: As we’ve strongly established, the Aegis is emphasises liveliness and energy. So naturally, it won’t pair well with bombastic IEMs that require laid-backed-ness and finesse. This would include the Lime Ears Aether.

Utmost clarity and transparency: In the Aegis’s quest for impact and musicality, it mostly disregards utmost transparency and precision. If what you look for in a cable is superior micro-detail retrieval, a more spacious stage and improved imaging – for IEMs like the Warbler Audio Prelude that need help in those areas – the Aegis will not fulfil your needs.

An airy, wide open soundstage: Similarly, the Aegis posits a full, rich and lively stage. If your IEMs are similarly rich and full – like Custom Art’s Harmony 8.2 and FIBAE 2 – something like PlusSound’s Exo Silver + Gold would make a better pair.

Select Comparisons

Effect Audio Bespoke 8-wire Ares II ($300)

The Ares II trumps the Aegis in staging and imaging. Instruments are taller, more distantly spread and the air between them is blacker as well. Comparatively, the Aegis is more intimate, engaging and loud. It has a more dynamic low-end with greater clarity and impact. The Bespoke’s is warmer and more relaxed with less upper-bass content. In the midrange, the Ares II portrays stronger resolution. It maintains a brighter upper-midrange with more pep and zing, which is also true of its upper-treble. But, the Bespoke has great headroom to match, so cymbals sound crisp as they shimmer, yet never harsh. The Aegis doesn’t generate as much air, but remains smooth at all times despite its energy.

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Effect Audio Thor Silver II ($399)

The Thor Silver II’s raised treble region gives it a brighter tone relative to the Aegis. However, it portrays a similar sense of balance and linearity throughout its signature. Stage dimensions are similar between the two, but the the Thor Silver II brings background instruments further forward. This is especially true of stringed instruments, where backing violins sound sweeter and more vibrant. Above all, they’re most similar down low with impactful emphasis along the mid-bass. Conversely, they’re most different up top. The Thor Silver II’s treble is further elevated, but silkier, smoother and more refined. The Aegis’ lower-treble is relatively more raw, punchy and dynamic, yet still far from strident all the same.

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PlusSound Exo Silver + Gold ($349.99)

Both the Aegis and the Exo exhibit dynamic presentations by way of w-shaped responses. Staging-wise, the Silver + Gold portrays stronger width, but depth is similar. It also has a more guttural, sub-bass-oriented low-end. The Aegis bumps in the mid-bass, which gives it the edge in timbre. Its throbs are warmer and meatier in texture, while the Silver + Gold’s feel foundational. The Aegis has a lower-midrange bias, so instruments here sound richer, buttery-er and warmer – yet still vibrant as well. Conversely, the Silver + Gold rises at 2-5kHz, which gives it a brighter bite. This is also due to its accentuated upper-treble, while the Aegis articulates around 6kHz; where the Silver + Gold remains subdued.


The Han Sound Audio Aegis is dynamite done right. In a landscape filled with generic SPC conductors that rob in-ear monitors of harmonic resolution, vocal integrity and tonal accuracy under the guise of impact, it’s utterly refreshing to see a cable with the maturity and know-how to maintain both sides in equal measure. The Aegis utterly thriveson thumps and thwacks, but crucially, it sacrifices nothing in the process. In fact, with that energy comes a warmer, meatier mid-bass, richer, better resolved vocals and top-end headroom to spare. All that plus first-class hardware and build, and you have yourselves one heck of a package. The Aegis is filled to the brim with warm, raw energy, but treats it with the respect and finesse that your 499 Singaporean dollars deserve – TNT in a suit-and-tie; dynamism with class.

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What would you consider a good cable option for pairing with Aether?


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Gooey, syrupy warmth without sacrificing technical performance
- Great body and emotionality, especially with electric guitars
- Impressive spatial performance for the signature and price
- A bass response that's inherently guttural and organic, but customisable as well
- Excellent build quality
- Admirable value-for-money
Cons: Not the clearest, cleanest or most detailed signature
- Warmth may be too much for some
- Not for those who prefer a neutral bass response
- Packaging for ACU modules is rather meek, even though the parts themselves are excellently made
DISCLAIMER: Jomo Audio provided me with the Déux in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Jomo Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Jomo Audio is a Singaporean in-ear manufacturer run by the venerable Joseph Mou. After achieving massive success with his Signature and Pro Audio line-ups, Joseph announced in mid-2018 three new additions to the latter line as well as a brand new series dubbed Melangé consisting entirely of hybrid IEMs. Within this line-up is the Déux and the Quatré, along with a slew of new technologies including CSU (Cross-Sync Uniphase) and ACU (Airflow Control Unit). Today, I’ll be taking a look at the Déux: A warm, laid-back in-ear with features and performance that surpass its modest price tag.

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Jomo Audio Déux

  • Driver count: One balanced-armature driver and one dynamic driver
  • Impedance: 19Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 105dB @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Two-way CSU crossover, ACU technology
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEM
  • Price: S$999 (UIEM); S$1099 (CIEM)
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

The Déux comes in Jomo Audio’s standard packaging: A textured, clam-shell box with the company logo embossed on top. Opening the box reveals an included cleaning tool, an 1/8″ adapter, an airline adapter and the Déux’s laser-engraved, puck-shaped metallic case; all nestled within foam cut-outs for security during transit. An owner’s card with a serial number will also come with all retail units. Inside the metallic case are the in-ears themselves plus information regarding ACU technology. The interior of the case is entirely foam-lined as well, so the in-ears remain safe at all times. As I said in my Haka review, Jomo Audio’s packaging is simple, but it compensates with excellent presentation and style.

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With the Melangé monitors, Jomo Audio includes a total of four ACU filters. These come in an extra box resembling a jewellery case. Based on the look and feel, I can clearly tell it’s an inexpensive OEM solution. But, at least it keeps costs down. If the Melangé series were to expand in the future, I’d suggest redesigning the default box to include the ACU filters in a more elegant fashion. Nevertheless, the filters themselves and their storage unit are solidly machined. The latter is heavy and robust with screw holes for the filters to screw into for ultimate security. The 3D-printed screwdriver gets the job done, but I would’ve loved a lighter design and a more secure insert. When swapping filters, the screwdriver would sometimes drift off the filter and onto the shell, and this may cause scratches to eventually form in the long term.

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In terms of design, Joseph once again had free reign. The theme he and his team came up with this time was a mix of clear acrylic resin and silver-gold glitter, along with metallic inlays on the faceplate. It’s a simple design that won’t necessarily turn heads, but it’s well-executed all the same. The varied particle sizes of the glitter make the aesthetic more dynamic and the transparent shell allows a relatively clear view of the in-ear’s innards. Build – as expected – is excellent. There is neither a rough edge nor a bubble in sight and the monitors were finished with an even, illustrious coat of lacquer. Fit is perfect as well; well-isolating yet vanishingly ergonomic. Finally, the monitors come default with Effect Audio’s award-winning Ares II cable, which further adds to the overall value and performance of the Déux.

Cross-Sync Uniphase

Cross-Sync Uniphase is Jomo Audio’s in-house solution to combat phase cancellation. Essentially, standard crossover networks would often cause a driver’s output to become out-of-phase (or mistimed). As a result, sound waves of certain frequencies would collide and cancel each other out, causing unwanted dips in the final frequency response. CSU was designed to prevent this by altering component values and sound tube lengths, along with titanium waveguides. The result – theoretically-speaking – would be higher coherency, more precise imaging and a more stable soundstage.


Photo courtesy of Jomo Audio

Although I can’t A/B compare between a CSU-equipped and a non-CSU-equipped IEM, the Déux does have excellent headroom and linearity for a dual-driver hybrid. Despite its inherent warmth and okay treble extension, it consistently maintains a black background and a rock-solid image. There’s a palpable sense of width and depth that can only come from coherence – rather than any form of artificial recession – and I must attribute that to the works of CSU technology.

Airflow Control Unit

Airflow Control Unit technology is the second of Jomo Audio’s latest innovations. But, this one is specifically limited to the Melangé line of IEMs. What ACU allows the user to do is customise the amount of air present within the dynamic driver’s chamber. Altering this would shift how the dynamic driver behaves and – therefore – how bass is delivered to the ear. What’s unique about this technology is it isn’t a bass switch per se that increases or reduces the output of the driver. Rather, more esoteric aspects like speed, texture and balance are altered to deliver entirely different flavours.


Photo courtesy of Jomo Audio

The filters included with both Melangé products are labelled Impact (Red), Balanced (Black), Energetic (Blue) and Musical(Silver). These are generic terms for nomenclature’s sake, and I’ll further elaborate on their effects in Sound Impressions. Nevertheless, they all screw into the one port located at the top of the IEM which feeds directly into the dynamic driver.


The Déux delivers a warm, laid-back signature hallmarked by a fat mid-bass and a relaxed treble. Unlike most hybrids with this configuration – like the Empire Ears Bravado or the AAW A2H – the Déux shies away from dynamism in favour of a richer, more forgiving presentation; ideal for longer listening or for sensitive ears. Although this may suggest a lack of detail or excitement, the Déux compensates through stage reproduction. Background blackness and image stability both impress despite okay treble extension. So, the weighty, full-bodied instruments have a strong foundation to stand on. Expansion is a hair above average, but it fills headspace with ease – stereo separation: fair, headroom: sufficient.

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The Déux’s instruments carry a warm tinge due to the in-ear’s thick, buttery low-end. Even with the Balanced filter, low-end impact just inches above everything else. Once again, the soundscape remains stable, clean and roomy thanks to CSU, but the elements within it are noticeably harmonic and rich. This isn’t ideal for utmost definition, but it’s vital for the in-ear’s chill, relaxing vibe. Slow electric guitars like the ones on Mark Lettieri’s Slant sound thick, smooth and gorgeously melodic. The warmer tones complement the instrument’s clean amplification, flaunting the sweet harmonies the guitars produce together, rather than emphasising the minutia – like string plucks – or clinical separation for analysis’ sake.


The Déux’s single diaphragm supplies a rich, impactful low-end – pumping air like an analog piston. But, the key word here is analog. The Déux concerns itself less with sheer dynamic impact: Its delivery is slower, warm and lush. So rather than any sort of EDM, it’s most at home with crooner blues like Elvin Bishop’s Fooled Around and Fell in Love or guitar-driven jazz like Mark Lettieri’s Montreal. It won’t necessarily deliver the raw adrenaline a basshead would expect (not with the Balanced filter, at least). But, what it will deliver is a pleasingly sweet tone. Kick drums, cellos and pianos all resonate with the same weighty, harmonic quality, coalesced by a euphonic decay. The charm here truly is warmth and timbre.

Additionally, the bass is admirable technically too. Despite its warmth, sufficient control preserves resolution, layering and speed. With saturated pop tracks like Charlie Puth’s Attention, the kick drum and bass line remain well-segregated from one another. Extension is strong, but there’s a definite bias towards the mid- and upper-bass. This is where the meat and melody come from. The sub-bass is more foundational in nature, but solid nonetheless. Texture and definition are where the Déux falls short. Because of the richer tilt, the bass comes across less rumbly and detailed than – say – Empire Ears’ hybrids. But, this was ultimately by design, resulting in a presentation tubeheads will most likely prefer.


The Déux maintains a well-structured midrange driven by a linear rise spanning 1-4kHz. The lower-mids remain neutral, aiding definition and contrast in place of the upper-treble. But because the region sits in line with the low-end, harmonic content is always present; constantly fed by the richness of the mid-bass. Notes are thick and fat, but never come across congested thanks to the stage’s genuine sense of depth. The background is rock-solid and instruments are physically-sound, so resolution persists. But with that said, clarity and transparency aren’t the Déux’s strongest suits. Micro-details may come across smoothed over, so the soundscape is certainly more musically coalesced than clinically separated.

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The Déux takes advantage of a 6-7kHz peak for articulation – crucial for preventing genres like pop, EDM and rock from sounding overtly saturated. When taken together with its inherent warmth, the Déux straddles the line well between separation and cohesion. The multi-part guitar harmonies in Mark Lettieri’s Slant come together with great musicality. But at the same time, the individual tracks are well-defined too. More transparency would be required for proper mixing work, but it performs impressively at its price range nonetheless. Though, higher-pitched instruments tend to sound more weighty and rich than sweet. Female vocalists and flutes may sound chestier, for example. Whether or not this is a good thing will vary by preference, but it’s worth noting for purists who prefer their instruments sounding a certain way.


Up top is where the Déux will probably be most divisive. Peaks in the lower- and middle-treble add tizz before roll-off. This calmness in the upper-treble reaffirms the Déux’s more laid-back presentation. The resultant response is articulate, but not the most open or airy-sounding. Many will cite a lack of sharpness, contrast and clarity; especially fans of pop, rock or EDM (who happen to be the target demographic for hybrids like these). But, this is ideal for those who prefer longer listening. Melodic genres like slow rock or ambient jazz sing with little compromise to detail. Additionally, the treble takes on a calmer, warmer timbre – imbuing it with organicity whilst maintaining decent transient attack.

Extension is admirable for an in-ear at this price. There isn’t much air past 10kHz, which adversely affects the Deux’s transparency. But, the stability of its image is upheld by CSU technology. Spatial precision along all three axes is strong. Stereo separation is commendable, as well as a genuine sense of height – especially when listening to cymbals and chimes. Despite what should be middling performance here, Jomo Audio’s efforts in time and phase have served them dividends in the Déux. Another aspect of note here is speed. Treble notes touch-and-go very swiftly. This adds sufficient dynamics despite the top-end’s calmness, and rids it of any bright overtones – confirming its warm, feather-y timbre.

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w/ Blue ‘Energetic’ ACU Filter

The blue ACU filter adds palpable energy to the mid-bass; inching close towards the sub-bass. The emphasis lies around 100-200Hz, so aspects like rumble and bloom are altered most. Warmth remains largely unaffected. Instruments and vocals gain a bit weight and authority – lower-pitched ones earn presence too – but they don’t shift much in tone or timbre. Upright basses in jazz music sound lovely with the added gusto, while genres like pop and R&B become more rhythmically exciting. However, busier arrangements in the latter category may end up sounding too saturated or full.

w/ Red ‘Impact’ ACU Filter

The red ACU filter applies a similar boost as the blue filter, but to a greater degree. Perhaps the emphasis is closer to the sub-bass, but it’s too close to tell. Sub-bass rumble now takes centre-stage with the lead melody, delivering the levels that bassheads will most likely prefer. Sub-bass texture and definition are more apparent now as well. The low-end is more guttural, physical and forceful, but there’s a slight trade-off in headroom. Vocals have less space to resonate, but if the music you listen to is predominantly electronic and/or loudly arranged, this shouldn’t be too much of a compromise.

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w/ Silver ‘Musical’ ACU Filter

Despite my musings about nomenclature at the beginning of the review, I must say – Musical is the most apt term to describe the silver ACU filter. Its emphasis lies closer towards the mid- and upper-bass, which boosts the melodiousness of the low-end. The region now has a clearer tone and a more melodic characteristic. The note of the bass is now the star rather than warmth or impact. This is ideal when listening to jazz, but it’s beautiful with pop music too. It adds another dimension to the low-end as a melodic instrument in its own right – rather than just the foundation or the rhythmic drive – which adds to the (you guessed it) musicality of the whole number. It’s quickly become my favourite of the bunch.

w/ No Filter

Filterless, the Déux’s mid-bass is at its calmest. A sub-bass bias results in a drier, rumbly response. Subsequently, its stage is cleanest too. Note definition receives a small boost, but no appreciable gains are made in resolution or transparency. Vocals are now notably emphasised around 2-3kHz, resulting in a chestier, more saturated presentation. So, if you’re looking for increased vocal focus and decreased mid-bass energy, this is the ideal configuration for you.

General Recommendations

The Déux has an agreeable signature that’s more versatile the more you prefer longer listening. But, it does have several tonal and textural hallmarks that make it an excellent piece no matter the scenario. Here are three of them below:

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Smooth, rich warmth with a DD-fuelled bass: The Déux maintains a rich, forgiving profile because of its laid-back top-end. But, its body and heft certainly stem from the bass. The Déux low-end delivers both the impact of a dynamic driver, as well as the euphony from its decay. If your tastes lie in slow rock and ambient genres, the Déux is first-choice worthy.

Considerable imaging and stereo separation in a non-fatiguing response: With slower, warmer in-ears, imaging precision and layering tend to get compromised. However, thanks to Jomo Audio’s considerable efforts in time and phase, the Déux maintains a sufficiently black background and a stable image. So, this means enthusiasts of the aforementioned genres won’t sacrifice too much technical performance to achieve a pleasing tone. You get the most of both worlds.

Customisable low-end response: Through ACU technology, Jomo Audio allows you to determine how you want your low-end delivered. Although the mechanism they have in place isn’t the simplest to use – requiring a tool and very steady hands to operate – it does open up the Déux for proper use with a wide variety of genres. This is ideal if the Déux’s generally warm profile fits your preferences already, but you have tons of genres in your playlist with differing needs.

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But, the Déux’s warmer tilt and calmer top-end may render it less favourable to many as well. If the following three scenarios align well with your preferences, you’d be better off looking elsewhere for your hybrid monitor of choice:

Top-end sparkle, clarity and micro-detail retrieval: The Déux’s treble is reserved in both quantity and extension. Again, it’s a predominantly warm and lush in-ear. Hi-fi enthusiasts will most likely find clarity, sharpness and air all insufficient. If openness and detail-led transparency are what you strive for, Jomo Audio’s Pro-Audio line will better fit your needs.

A vocal-emphasised presentation: The Déux has a thick, saturated vocal range. But, diehards of vocal-oriented music may find it lacking in transparency and detail. Additionally, they may find the low-end a touch too prominent relative to the midrange. If you have a preference for vocals and also long for a DD bass to go with it, the Quatré is a superior choice.

A dry, purely rumble-focused low-end: Unlike most modern hybrid offerings, the Déux’s low-end is warmer and thicker than guttural and rumble-y. There’s a bias towards the mid-bass that favours rock and jazz more than it favours EDM and dance music. If you prefer a more woofer-like low-end, Empire Ears’ and 64Audio’s hybrids will make better options.

Select Comparisons

Advanced AcousticWerkes A3H 2018 (S$399 (UIEM); S$499 (CIEM))

Advanced AcousticWerkes (or AAW) were arguably the first to popularise hybrid in-ears in Singapore. I recently reviewed the 2018 iteration of their 3-driver A3H (1DD + 2BA) and I found it excitingly energetic. Like the Avalon we’ll explore soon, its penchant for dynamic energy contrasts heavily against the Déux’s relaxed presentation. The A3H throws a more vibrant, more exciting image because of its brighter treble. The Déux is fatter and richer, but compensates spatially. The latter is more intimate-sounding with a stage that wraps around the head – more even in proportion and genuine in depth. Conversely, the A3H is akin to a bright, crisp LED screen; detailed and clear, but comparatively less immersive.

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Down low, both display the rumble and physicality evident of a dynamic driver. But, the A3H is significantly more subtle, as its bass lies further back in the mix. The former then has a cleaner stage and higher clarity. Bassheads though won’t be remiss to call this unused potential. This reservedness also renders its lower-treble sounding more pronounced, while the Déux has better top-to-bottom balance. Resolution is stronger on the latter as a result, as its notes sound more complete; less top-heavy. But, if your cup-of-tea is crisper transients, cleaner soundscapes and sparkly cymbals, the A3H comes out on top. If you like your mids warmer and fatter – and your bass just the same – the Déux takes the cake.

Nocturnal Audio Avalon (S$629)

Nocturnal Audio is yet another Singaporean manufacturer with an eye on the mid-tier market. Their 3-driver Avalon is an in-ear with emphases on treble sparkle and sub-bass physicality. Clearly then, it’s the antithesis of what the Déux has to offer. Immediately, the two clash massively in upper-treble energy. The Avalon comes across sharper, clearer and crisper, but at the cost of balance. The Déux may flaunt less detail, but it’s more pleasing to listen to; throughout long stretches, especially. The Avalon is extremely articulate, but the Déux portrays a fuller and more well-rounded sound.

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The Déux has a richer, more present low-end with emphases on the mid- and upper-bass. The Avalon is more sub-bass-oriented, which gives it a leaner, more guttural texture. This results in similar bass clarity and separation between the two. But, the Déux’s dynamic driver gives it superior physicality and thump. The Avalon has a crisper, cleaner and brighter vocal range, where the Déux is warmer and more organic. This lends the former towards audiophiles who heavily prioritise detail, while the smoother, more laid-back Déux finds its audience among more tone-oriented listeners.

Jomo Audio Haka (S$599)

The Haka is one of Joseph’s most balanced and versatile monitors. Although it’s an entry-level piece, it has a knack for sounding pleasing with everything – my only complaints being a lack of treble extension and bite. These sentiments very much carry themselves through against Déux. The Haka is more coherent and balanced, especially around 3-4kHz and 6kHz; where the Déux is most saturated. Here, the Haka has greater headroom, so it comes across more effortless and natural. Conversely, some audiophiles may prefer the Déux’s energy for a more immediate presentation of instruments.

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Although the Haka delivers a warm, well-rounded bass, it can’t compete with the Déux’s dynamic driver. The latter is superior in texture, extension and impact by significant margins. The Haka gives it a run for its money in overall timbre, but the Déux is the obvious victor down low. Despite the saturation, the Déux also has greater clarity. Instruments are more forwardly-placed and articulate, even if they are a touch forceful. Finally, the Déux has more middle-treble energy, so it’s top-end is crisper and livelier. The Haka may have a blacker background, but the former wins out in air and detail.


The Déux is an immensely appealing piece from Jomo Audio. It’s reminiscent of the Haka in that it strays from Joseph’s clarity-driven house sound in favour of a warmer, smoother, more tonally-inclined signature. And to that end, it uses its dynamic driver in uque ways. Rather than emphasising sheer punch and impact, the diaphragm contributes warmth in a rich, sumptuous manner; reminiscent of yesteryear’s tube-y analog tones. But not to be outdone, modern advances in time and phase preserve resolution, and ACU is always there in case you need a little more (or less) kick. Whether you’re the type to listen for hours on end or die-hards of smooth, lush monitors in general, Déux will definitely do you good.

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you are on fire today


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Value for performance
- Excellent tonal balance (and therefore, versatility)
- Impressive sub-bass extension without over-prominence
- Airy, open, spacious mids
- A light, feathery, inoffensive treble
- Gorgeous build quality
Cons: May lack treble sparkle and raw clarity for some
- Midrange positioning lies on the more neutral side
DISCLAIMER: Jomo Audio provided me with the Haka in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. The review is as follows.

Jomo Audio is a Singaporean manufacturer specialising in universal and custom IEMs. Broadcasting engineer Joseph Mou started the company in 2015, after his efforts in the DIY space rapidly found success throughout the audiophile community. Now a staple of cosmetic flair and excellent sonic performance, Jomo Audio has become one of the largest monitor brands in Asia. Today, we’ll be looking at Joseph’s single-driver unit: The Haka. Although it is the company’s entry-level piece, Haka is probably its most unique; boasting a fully-proprietary balanced-armature driver custom-voiced by Jomo Audio themselves. Truly bespoke from the inside out, the Haka is Joseph Mou’s attempt at the less-is-morementality: Maximum yield through minimal means; a true test of technical ingenuity and relentless innovation.


Jomo Audio Haka

  • Driver count: One balanced-armature driver
  • Impedance: 18Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 107dB
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Fully-proprietary balanced-armature driver; 3D-printed shells (universal variant only)
  • Available form factor(s): Universal and custom acrylic IEM
  • Price: S$599
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

The Haka arrives in a laser-embossed, navy blue clamshell box. Inside, you’ll find 1/4-inch and airline adapters, an owner’s card (not included in my review sample), a cleaning tool and a UE-esque, billet aluminium case with the IEMs nestled inside – all within the package’s velvet-lined cut-outs. Visually, the Haka makes a strong first impression. Accessories are modest, but the efforts that went into presentation definitely boost the unboxing experience. Despite their humble beginnings, the Jomo Audio team have effectively shed the rusticity associated with home-grown, DIY start-ups. Fully abandoning the ubiquitous Peli 1010 case as a form of packaging placebo, this is both maturity and attention to detail I’d love to see more of throughout 2018, lest I continue my hard case collection into the high 20s.

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Contrary to companies of their relatively young age, build quality and aesthetic finesse are things the Jomo Audio team struggle to get wrong. Defying the stereotypes that plague every Asian nation (but Japan), the born-and-raised Singaporean firm has produced some of the most stunning in-ears I have ever seen. Whether it’s multi-coloured swirls, genuinely-textured stone faceplates or full carbon-fibre shells, they can truly do it all. And, as you can see, my Haka is no exception. I gave Joseph full creative control over the monitor’s visual theme, and the blue-silver swirl he came up with exudes reserved glamour. From the shimmer of the shells and the vortex-like faceplate design, to the gold metallic accents, my personal Haka exemplifies simplicity and detail. Additionally, the unit boasts some of the best fit and comfort I’ve ever experienced, topped of with an outstanding lacquer coat; smooth and illustrious all throughout.



The Jomo Audio Haka sports a well-balanced, versatile and musically-engaging signature. With its sans-crossover, single-driver configuration, Joseph aimed to achieve a forgiving yet capable signature, and he’s certainly succeeded here. Apart from moderate lifts along the sub-bass and lower-treble, the Haka maintains impressive linearity. This superb coherence – paired with the Haka’s admirable top-end extension – is responsible for the monitor’s outstandingly black background. It’s unquestionably one of the most stable foundations I’ve ever encountered within this price range, and it does wonders for the Haka’s technical performance. The in-ear gains tons of natural headroom through sheer (linear) extension alone, so instruments maintain a sense of crackle and pop despite the monitor’s lush and laid-back presentation. Like I mentioned previously, a slight bass bias does exist here, but it’s tastefully done for the sake of fun.


The Haka constructs a natural, cube-like image; even in width, depth and height. Additionally, it maintains Jomo Audio’s knack for excellent precision by using a familiar set of ingredients: Neutral notes, a stable stage and swift decay. Like the Samba and the Flamenco, the Haka exhibits an above-average sense of speed. Where it differs is in treble articulation. The Haka neither sparkles nor bites like its bigger brothers; favouring a linear treble until roll-off. As a result, its average note size may come across as timid, but it has the advantage of sounding smoother, more forgiving and more natural than either of its siblings. Plus, the Haka’s neutral vocal placement greatly boosts depth, tip-toeing between expansion and recession with admirable success. Instrument separation is impressive, even if a small amount of texture wassacrificed for smoothness and tone. But, at the end of the day, the Haka still manages an honourable balance between tact and musicality; compensating its lack of bite with immense speed, whilst maintaining realism throughout.


The Haka’s low-end is noticeably sub-bass-inclined. Although mainstream pieces generally prefer a fuller bottom, the Haka has forgone this for an emphasis on control and definition. Impact is still satisfying – generally above average – but more noticeable is how tight these punches are, as well as the air that surrounds each note. As a result, the Haka’s low-end achieves great clarity and a neutral-erring tone. The mid-bass region is more relaxed by comparison, which helps maintain a clean stage. Also responsible for this is the low-end’s impressive pace. Swift transient response further boosts the monitor’s dynamic energy, and its short decay maintains a pitch-black background. Though, bassheads may find themselves underwhelmed by the more foundational nature of the low-end, rather than pure, unbridled slams. But, the bass’s agility and texture renders it versatile and genre-agnostic; unprecedented in the entry level.

Give-and-take aside, the Haka’s clearest achievement is extension. Jomo Audio’s proprietary driver outputs impressive amounts of sub-bass rumble, successfully establishing the in-ear’s rhythmic foundation. Again, the rise is modest and quick, so don’t expect any skull-rattling to occur. But, the Haka still displays great physicality, leading to emotionally-satisfying cadences when listening to genres like pop, EDM or metal – all without losing an ounce of finesse. Additionally, this energy contributes slightly to vocal body in place of the mid-bass and the lower-midrange. Low-end coherence and timbre are the last to benefit from this. Upright basses and kick drums consistently sound rounded and clear, due to the linearity maintained from transience to decay. Some may notice a slight lack of bloom, but that would’ve been one compromise too many for the Haka’s balanced delivery; a work-and-play dynamic infused with skill, organicity and fun.


The Haka begins with a lower-midrange dip. Because of a valley spanning around 500 to 1,000Hz, the Haka delivers vocals with impressive cleanliness, clarity and precision. This endows instruments with a light, wispy and feathered quality, but they never come across anaemic or thin. Again, the Haka’s solid, energetic sub-bass injects trace amounts of body and warmth into the midrange. This attenuated region also creates an impressive amount of space around lead instruments. But, thankfully, a rise in the presence region (around 2-3kHz) prevents them from sounding diffuse or distant. The result is a seductive, alluring midrange with a mindful balance between emotional resonance and finesse. Enthusiasts with a true love for singer-oriented tracks may take issue with the Haka’s lack of intimacy and note size, but its current tuning benefits versatility, because of a universally-beneficial emphasis on space and speed.


The Haka’s lush-yet-roomy tuning inherently strays away from the bombastic, big band, wall-of-sound-esque signatures exemplified by the Lime Ears Aether or the Vision Ears VE8. But on the other hand, this contributes to its relaxing ambience; ideal for extended listening. The Haka dips once again around 4kHz, before rising in the lower-treble. These shifts make sure the monitor retains vibrancy and edge, but they’re also crucial in maximising versatility. The dip ensures the Haka is always stridence-free, while the following rise aids contrast in articulation. In terms of timbre, the Haka remains impressively natural too. Despite a neutral mid-bass, the monitor’s linear upper-treble imbues great organicity into the midrange. Again, playing into the Haka’s buttery nature, instruments truly impress in skill and tone. Although there’s room for improvement as far as harmonic detail and texture are concerned, the Haka’s midrange is a role model in the sub-$500 market; favouring tonal accuracy, effortless resolution, versatility and air.


As mentioned, the Haka employs a lower-treble peak to provide clarity and articulation. It resides somewhere around 6kHz, giving instruments an airy and tizzy edge. An earlier rise would’ve given the Haka better solidity (when reproducing hi-hats, vocal vibratos, etc.), but on the other hand, poorer recordings could’ve run the risk of sounding brittle as well. Jomo Audio clearly settled on a rise with versatility in mind, continuing the Haka’s congruent theme. This feeds into the wispy, ethereal quality present in the midrange; pairing ample headroom with smooth, effortless and clear delivery. It establishes the Haka’s natural spin on transparency (not dissimilar from IEMs like the Warbler Prelude or the Empire Ears Phantom) where linearity and coherence reign supreme. Finally, a familiar element – speed – returns to aid the Haka’s sense of attack; treble notes appearing like warm feathers to the ear before vanishing without a trace.

The lower-treble is where the Haka peaks last. My church’s slow-rock rendition of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – which I recorded live, mixed and mastered – particularly lacks the high-frequency hiss present in the piano channel; indicative of a 10-12kHz dive. However, the track still maintains admirable left-right separation (especially considering the four guitars panned throughout the stage) and an impressive centre image. I imagine this is due to the single-driver’s immunity against phasing and it plays into the solo star nature of the Haka’s vocal presentation. The calm upper-treble proves detrimental, though, in texture and friction. In instruments like guitars and violins, the Haka ever-so-slightly smears the pluck of a string or the pull of a bow. But on the bright side, this aids organicity. The reverb-like liquidity naturalises instruments, so neither the lower-midrange dip nor the lower-treble lift come across as artificial or hollow. Plus, the former allows the Haka to retain adequate separation and stability, even with its relaxed top-end.

Select Comparisons


Warbler Audio Prelude ($1099)

The Prelude is another single-driver stunner from Turkish manufacturer, Warbler Audio. Like the Haka, the Prelude is very much a proprietary product, except its innovations take place around the driver; instead of within it. Although both monitors pursue wildly different ideologies – timbral accuracy for the Prelude, and versatility for the Haka – they arrive at their respective signatures with surprising similarities and very telling deviations. In presentation, the Warbler Audio in-ear is immediately more intimate, romantic and full-sounding compared to the Haka. Their stage dimensions aren’t too far off, but the Prelude’s forwardly-placed midrange and accentuated mid-bass occupy this space to a greater degree. The Haka allows more space around its instruments, but it sounds shier and less engaging as a result. Both in-ears exhibit great speed, rendering both their stages relatively clean, stable and well-resolved.

The Prelude’s low-end is mid-bass-inclined, comprised of dense, warm and gorgeously-textured hits with excellent definition and separation. The Haka’s is less defined and more tonally neutral, but its superior speed makes way for a cleaner stage. The Prelude’s low-end is more life-like in tone and decay, but the Haka absolutely beats it in extension; providing rumble and physicality that the Prelude simply can’t compete with. The Prelude’s bass is better heard, while the Haka’s is better felt. The midrange is probably where the two are least alike. The Haka lacks the Prelude’s forwardness, texture, power and note size, but it gives the Warbler Audio flagship a run for its money in tone and delivery. The Haka provides admirable tonal balance and constant smoothness, even if its articulation isn’t as graceful as the Prelude’s; a result of their contrasting positions at 5kHz. Though, the Haka’s decision to employ a lower-midrange dip gives it a blacker background, a more airy instrumental presentation and superior transparency.

Both monitors share a relatively linear upper-treble. The Haka’s lower-treble peak is its main source of articulation, while the Prelude’s resides in the middle-treble. As a result, the former’s interpretation of clarity is thinner and wispier, while the latter’s is thicker, meatier and more shimmer-inclined. Both emit similar amounts of energy, but they emphasise different harmonics. In cymbal crashes or open hi-hat hits, the Haka’s response is more tss… tss… while the Prelude’s interpretation sounds closer to tsh… tsh… Nevertheless, excellent speed on both allows either tuning to sound relatively clear (despite the relaxed upper-treble), so it’s simply a matter of preference. The Haka’s treble exhibits superior extension though – resulting in its blacker background – and the two trade blows in micro-detail retrieval and authority.


Nocturnal Audio Avalon (S$629)

Also hailing from the cityscapes of Singapore, Nocturnal Audio is another promising up-and-comer in the CIEM industry. Their Avalon is the Haka’s most direct competitor in the sub-S$1000 price range; equipped with a number of the company’s in-house tweaks. Dubbed AEX technology, the Avalon comes packed with unique cross-over networks, specially-treated sound tubes and a solid capacitor for high-pass filtering. This innovation promises a clean transition between the bass and the midrange, as well as a fun, dynamic signature.

Sonically, the Avalon employs similar – albeit significantly exaggerated – peaks and humps as the Haka, along with additional peaks along the mid-bass and upper-treble. As a result, both monitors share several spatial qualities. Instruments on both are neutrally-placed with average-sized notes, but the Avalon’s are thinner and crisper due to the upper-treble peak. This aberration also means the Avalon has the cleaner stage – with a greater contrast between notes and the background – even though headroom is similar between the two. Soundstage expansion – again – leave the two within spitting distance, but the Avalon has the edge in width, while the Haka has superior depth.

The Haka and the Avalon have similarly accentuated low-ends. But, the latter has more mid-bass energy which adds thump-y-ness to tracks. The Haka’s is more versatile, polite and clear. Plus, its linear timbre also proves better-suited towards instrumental reproduction. The two monitors share a lower-midrange valley, but the Avalon’s is more exaggerated. As a result, instruments on the Avalon sound thinner and drier, even if they’re relatively cleaner by comparison. They then rise similarly in the presence region, but the Avalon – again – has a sharper rise at 6kHz. Vocals are – at this point – much more articulative, but also considerably more fatiguing. The Haka’s smoother delivery is a tad less engaging; lacking a smidgeon of texture. But, it’s infinitely easier to listen to, especially over long periods of time.

The treble region is where the two completely diverge. While the Haka settles after its lower-treble peak with a linear – but well-extended – drop-off, the Avalon has an extra rise around 11-12 kHz. This further increases its transient response, which translates to clarity, air and articulation. This’ll make the Avalon seem more detailed and clean. But, in actuality, both monitors retrieve similar amounts of detail and exhibit similar levels of resolution, even if the Haka is more subtle in its delivery. More crucially, this upper-treble peak significantly decreases the Avalon’s long-term comfort. Exaggerated contrast between the Avalon’s extremes allow for a fun – albeit short – listening experience, while the Haka is better geared for extended sessions; calmer and more restrained, but more rewarding in the long run.


The Haka is Jomo Audio’s most ambitious release yet. Despite the limiting nature of single-driver in-ears, Joseph Mou – with the help of proprietary technology – has succeeded in his pursuit of ultimate coherence; delivering an immensely versatile monitor that balances fun, smoothness and accuracy in equal measure. In many ways, the Haka is an understated product. It exhibits none of the industry’s tropes; neither a dynamic mid-bass nor a crisp, crystalline treble. And yet, achievements in linearity, speed and headroom have resulted in a sonic palate alluringly musical, immaculately smooth and outstandingly homogenous at every turn. It’s the singular, powerful sound Joseph Mou had slaved to achieve, and it’s why the Haka is such a wonder at any price (though, the one it is in makes it all the more impressive). Kudos to the Jomo Audio team for their latest triumph, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the future.

How would you compare it to the single-BA Custom Art Black?


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Accurate, well-balanced tone
- Robust, full-bodied and impactful instruments
- Visceral sub-bass performance
- Crisp, airy highs
- Excellent build quality
- More accurate, more reliable fit via 3DFit
- Pressure relief and customisability via apex
- LID Technology eliminates tonal shifts due to source
Cons: Transparency and refinement isn't flagship-class
- May get fatiguing because of this over long stretches
- Tia highs aren't the smoothest in the world
- Fit is tighter than that of other manufacturers (may require personally asking 64 Audio for a more relaxed fit)
DISCLAIMER: Music Sanctuary (64 Audio’s Singaporean distributor) provided me with a discounted price on the A6t in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank them and 64 Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

64 Audio is one of the most well-renowned custom in-ear brands in the world today. Founded in 2010 as 1964Ears, the American enterprise have gone on to become a first-choice for audiophiles and professional musicians – endorsing the likes of Nathan East, Beyoncé, and Kanye West. In addition, they’ve pioneered a staggering number of new technologies. Their apex modules relieve pressure for extended listening comfort and safety, their 3D-Fit process ensures the speed, precision and reliability of 3D-printing, and their open tia drivers deliver crisp, airy and extended highs to every model. Today, we’ll be looking at their new mid-tier reference – the A6t – to see what it brings to audiophiles and engineers alike.

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64 Audio A6t

  • Driver count: Six balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 10Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 108dB @ 1mW
  • Key features (if any): apex, LID technology, 3D-Fit, tia high driver
  • Available form factor(s): Custom acrylic IEM
  • Price: $1299
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

The A6t comes in 64 Audio’s standard packaging: A sleeved box adorned with high-res prints and glossy accents on all sides, indicative of the company’s attention to detail and commercial flair. Removing the sleeve reveals the included carrying case, which can be personalised with the owner’s name, as well as custom graphics at an added cost. The case is clamshell-esque with a secure latch for more extreme use cases. Within are the in-ears themselves – with the stock cable securely wound on a post – along with a shirt clip, a cleaning tool and desiccant. At this price point, audiophiles would probably expect a microfibre cloth and an additional mini case, but 64 Audio at least provides all the essentials.

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Despite the impressive finish, I’m a tad concerned with the carrying case. There’s a lightweight, plasticky quality to it that screams neither luxury nor security as readily as the ubiquitous Pelican cases do. With products at this caliber, I’d expect sturdier, more metallic elements infused within the plastic. That way, both protection and presentation improve without heavily altering the final MSRP. With that said, the interior of the case was very cleverly thought-out. Each trinket has its own isolated compartment designed for minimal contact (so, nothing bumps against each other). Additional structures were conceived for cable winding, desiccant and extra apex modules – all within an impressively compact form factor.

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The in-ears themselves look and feel absolutely remarkable. Despite the 3D-printing process, the shells are impressively clear – more so than most 3D-printed shells I’ve seen – and finish as a whole is great, but not perfect, unfortunately. A couple dull spots, print lines and tiny bubbles prevent a flawless finish. But with that said, lacquer work is great for the most part and these shells are the most robust I’ve experienced yet. They hold a real sense of density and weight that suggests high durability in the long term. The Elmwood Burl inlays react wonderfully to light; highlighting the tiny grains against the surface below. And, the metallic logos are among the cleanest and most sophisticated I’ve seen of its kind.


64 Audio is one of few who’ve transitioned into a fully-computerised manufacturing process. This means the ear moulds are scanned and edited entirely in software, yielding several advantages. Digitised trimming grants superior control and fidelity than hand-trimming. It also allows the user to undo any potential error; impossible with physical impressions. Rather than the traditional wax-dipping stage, the moulds are smoothened digitally as well, which preserves greater detail. Finally, the finished shape is printed in acrylic with its peripheral structures, i.e. the apex port and the tia bore.


Image courtesy of

Along with advantages throughout production, the 3D-Fit process benefits commercially as well. Digital processing yields faster turnaround times. I received my retail pair within three weeks of placing the order, which is the shortest I’ve had to wait for a custom IEM since my locally-made, similarly-3D-printed Avara Custom AV2. In addition, since my moulds have been stored digitally at 64 Audio HQ, they’ll be able to reuse them for future purchases and guarantee a verbatim fit. This perk may also be offered by non-3D-printing brands, but the perishable nature of their silicone/crystalloid casts means a facsimile fit cannot be guaranteed. And, you may need to send in new impressions after a couple years’ time.

For its many pros however, 3D-printing does have its share of cons. 64 Audio limits their shell colours to five options, which is sorely scarce considering most of the competition offer somewhere between 20-40 standard colours. That figure grows even larger when you include custom-mixed colours, glittered dyes and artistic swirls, which – again – 64 Audio aren’t able to replicate with their current techniques. The 3D-printing process also requires a lot more post-processing than hand-poured shells do, lest they look cloudy and unpleasant. Admittedly, 64 Audio’s clear shells here are fantastic – illustrious and clear. But, it does have dull spots and print lines here and there, so it’s not perfect.

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Now, with all this in mind, how do the in-ears fit? Very, very securely. Relative to my other customs, the A6t are far-and-away the most detailed in shape. Part of this is the fidelity of the 3D-Fit manufacturing process; preserving bends and twists that were smoothened down in previous customs. But, it’s also because 64 Audio’s fitting policies shave very little off of the original moulds. They preserve the whole concha and maintain as much girth as possible. On the plus side, this results in a secure fit with zero sloshing noises when I flex my ears, chew or talk. On the other hand, they are rather tight to wear. A slight outward pressure exists when they’re in the ear, followed by slight discomfort after a couple hours. But, this is very much adaptable over time. The discomfort ceases to exist after a week or so of daily wear.


apex technology is pitched as a pressure-relief system designed to rid the ear canal of pneumatic pressure. 64 Audio claims this pressure causes ear fatigue at a faster rate, so apex was developed to grant the user a safer, longer-lasting listening experience. apex comes in two flavours: M15 and M20. The numbers denote the amount of isolation the two modules provide – M15 being -15dB and M20 being -20dB. A solid module (dubbed M26) is offered as well for their earplug range, but is not recommended for use with IEMs because it entirely cancels out apex and dramatically alters sound. Due to the somewhat semi-open nature of this technology as well, 64 Audio promises a wider, more open stage.

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In real-life use, the effects of apex are more palpable when you listen at louder-than-average volumes. Personally, I listen at low-to-average SPLs, so ear fatigue sets in rather slowly for non-apex in-ears too. What I can say apex accomplishes is what feels like heightened headroom. For the A6t’s lively signature, the soundscape rarely ever fills overtly saturated or loud. So, although I can’t say it’s a vastly different experience in terms of ear fatigue, I can say that it serves dividends in listening fatigue. Where an energetic signature like this would tire me mentally, the A6t does not most of the time.

With that said, the interchangeable modules do offer great customisability. Switching between the M15 and the M20 yields different bass responses. The former presents a more linear low-end in line with the midrange – ideal for vocal-focused genres. Meanwhile, the latter boosts the sub-100Hz region by a touch. This results in a more forwardly-placed, excited bass response and adds richness to instruments as well. But at the end of the day, it’s worth noting that both offer less isolation than the -26dB that typical non-apex customs offer. If you do prioritise isolation, you may want to either look at other options or invest in a pair of 64 Audio’s EP-C Solid Earplugs which come with the M26 module.


tia stands for tubeless in-ear audio: 64 Audio’s solution towards achieving a crisp, well-extended and resonance-free treble response. Essentially, it’s a balanced-armature tweeter with the top cap removed. So, instead of firing through a spout and into a tube like traditional armatures, the tweeter radiates freely at the tip of the canal. To prevent debris and ear wax from entering and damaging the open driver, a wax guard is securely placed at the very end of the single bore.


Image courtesy of

Their sonic benefits will be elaborated upon in the next page, but it should be noted that a vacuum designed for in-ear-monitor use is ideal for such a design. This is because using the included cleaning tool to scrape off earwax may instead cause it to break up and fall through the mesh or damage the mesh itself. The immensely popular Jodi-Vac Consumer is an adequate solution, but the included needle was designed for traditional 1-2mm bores; rather than the tia bores. Personally, I’d recommend FIR Audio’s Headphone Vac, which has a larger head specifically designed for these bores.

LID Technology

LID (Linear Impedance Drive) technology is 64 Audio’s solution against frequency response alterations based on output impedance. This is very reminiscent of Custom Art’s FIBAE technology (described here) which guarantees a consistent signature regardless of source. In practice, LID does most of what the packet says. Between my MacBook Pro and my Sony WM1A for example, tonal balance is relatively similar. However, differences in resolution and imaging still exist. Instruments on the WM1A sound more physical and holographic, due to the player’s superior DAC. Nevertheless, it’s a nifty feature, especially for myself as an engineer, where I’m plugging my in-ears into a variety of consoles and amps.


64 Audio’s A6t is a lively, musical and engaging piece. It evokes excitement by virtue of contrast; between its lifted bass and tia‘s signature crisp, airy and articulate treble. But ultimately, the key to its success lies in the midrange – full-bodied, dense and wonderfully balanced in tone. The A6t sets itself apart by placing a significant emphasis on vocal structure. A balance between transient and harmonic (i.e. pop and decay) guarantees the A6t never fatigues in its quest for dynamic range, clarity and musicality. Although it isn’t the smoothest around – as we’ll explore in the Treble section – there’s a clear sense of maturity in the A6t’s framework; one that favours timbre as it does long-term engagement and pleasure.

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That is made all the more crucial when you consider the A6t’s stage. Lacklustre it is not, but transparency is limited by headroom and stability. There’s sufficient space for the A6t to work, but not much for it to breathe. Although they’re never congested by any stretch of the imagination, instruments tend to fill the stage rather rapidly. Imaging precision isn’t necessarily its forte. At its price, the A6t performs perfectly adequately – I’d love nothing more than to see it push more boundaries; literally. However, despite its undesirable effects towards technical prowess, its coalesced-ness does inject a fair bit of musicality into the mix. There’s simply something alluring and human about watching a band play and hearing all their sounds blend into each other. It adds to the A6t’s charisma and – to many – shouldn’t be taken away.


The A6t has a moderately boosted low-end, with an emphasis on the sub- and mid-bass. It droops towards neutral as it approaches the upper-bass and the lower-mids. As a result, the A6t’s low-end is more kinetic and textured than rich and warm. Bass notes are more impact-inclined, so the stage remains clean for the midrange to perform. Secondly, it adds great theatricality to bass drops and riffs. Tracks like Sabrina Claudio’s Don’t Let Me Down – which start bass-less before kicking into high gear – achieve great dynamic range. There’s a genuine feeling of satisfaction as the low-end enters the fray. But on the other hand, this response limits the dynamic range of more melodic bass instruments. Upright basses and tom toms sound plucky (or rather, skin-y for the latter) – mellow and nonchalant, rather than warm and resonant.

This can certainly be attributed to priority. Sarah McKenzie’s rendition of That’s It, I Quit! opens with double bass and you wonder, “Where’s the fullness? The emotion? The radiant, woody warmth?” But, play Gallant’s Cave Me In with its deep, electronic bass line and go, “Oh, so that’s where those two woofers have gone.” This is where the A6t’s low-end truly shines – as a guttural, visceral and immensely satisfying rhythmic drive. You can also experience this on the Kanye-West-produced track, Pusha-T’s If You Know, You Know. Again, the track starts off almost a capella, before the beat announces its presence with – on the A6t – authority, rumble and pleasure to spare. It’s a low-end that aims towards physicality rather than tone, and thus performs better with certain genres than others. Admittedly though, it delivers its fortes with immense skill, whilst serviceably fulfilling its role as a bridge towards the lower-mids at the same time – thumbs up.


To me, the midrange is what anchors the A6t’s presentation. It possesses an alluring mix of density, refinement and clarity that manages to sound neither cloy, nor honky, nor overtly saturated; simply, balanced. A rise between 1-2kHz contributes solidity. Instruments sound physically present as full-bodied images, rather than wispy wraiths. And, lower-pitched elements like the rhythm guitars on Lake Street Dive’s Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts project with force too. In addition to the robustness it imparts onto the rest of the cast – including Rachael Price’s swagger-ous lead vocals – the whole ensemble comes alive with a lively punchiness; not to mention the clarity that tia brings. Then, higher-pitched vocalists like Stanaj and Julia Stone benefit from this as well. It solidifies their harmonics and provides a chesty foundation of sorts, which in turn supports the upper-mids and lower-treble as they belt higher up their ranges.

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In turn, the A6t’s upper-mids come across balanced too. While the trend nowadays is to tilt towards 3kHz for vibrancy and presence, the A6t levels it flat for a more solid, concentrated presentation. Again, you won’t get those sweet, soft, wispy vocals that lull you to sleep. Rather, what you’ll hear are hearty, fibrous instruments with force stemming more from the chest than the mouth or nose; less light and twangy, more grunt-y. But, there’s certainly enough liveliness here for musicality’s sake as well. Vocalists are at the forefront of the A6t’s loud and proud presentation – again owing to the physicality of the centre-mids – belting with effort you can genuinely feel. If you you tend to favour signatures where the vocalists are surrounded by miles of space for echoes and reverbs to ring through, effectively whispering the tune all the while, the A6t will not be for you. But, if you favour a mid-focused presentation where you can hear balladeers truly flex their vocal chords (even when they perhaps aren’t doing so in the recording), the A6t’s fibrous midrange truly is a treat.


Top-end performance has clearly become a hallmark for 64 Audio because of their patent-pending tia technology. The singular open driver has since trickled down from the critically-acclaimed A18t and Tia Fourté onto their 2018/2019 line-up, including the A6t. Consequently, the six-driver IEM possesses sparkly, clear and crystalline highs that benefit both its musical and technical performance. Peaks along 7-and-12kHz contribute to the monitor’s sense of rhythm; injecting instruments with crisp, speedy and open transients that complement the rumble of the sub-bass and the density of the midrange. It cuts through all the heft, but without sharpness or haze. The A6t remains consistently composed. Although the tia driver isn’t necessarily the silkiest or smoothest in the world, it’s at least inoffensive, clear and refined at all times.

Much of that stems from the restraint 64 Audio was able to show when tuning the A6t’s tia driver. As we’ve seen with emerging driver technologies – whether it be piezo-electric or electrostatic – there’s a tendency for manufacturers to want to show off their respective characteristics, but to the detriment of the in-ear’s overall balance. Thankfully, the A6t avoids that pitfall for the most part – exhibiting a treble that sits in line with the rest and avoids imparting its own colour into the mix. With that said, tia does come with its quirks in texture. There’s a certain tizz to its transients that may put off those looking for a wholly smooth signature. Again, it’s entirely inoffensive and most-often refined, but it’s no baby’s bottom either. When it comes to spatial performance however, tia‘s benefits are still undeniable. The open driver brings a sense of openness, air and speed with very minimal brightness; taking top-of-the-line clarity to more attainable terrain.

General Recommendations

The A6t’s energetic-yet-balanced signature makes it suitable for a wide variety of genres. The clarity that the tia driver brings contributes heavily to this as well. But above all, the following three are traits that the A6t particularly excels at:

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A lively, musical, non-V-shaped sound: The A6t possesses bounds of energy, because of the contrast present between its full-bodied bass and crisp top-end. What sets it apart is the solidity imbued in its midrange. No matter how loud things get, the lead melody is never lost. So, vocal integrity is never sacrificed in its quest for dynamism – a truly rare trait.

Excellent midrange balance: And, the midrange in and of itself is well-balanced too. It doesn’t overdo liveliness to the point where vocalists are left overtly saturated (read: suffocated), neither does it emphasise harmonics to the point of congestion. Again, it possesses balance, so instruments consistently come across physically-present and tonally-sound.

A punchy, visceral bass response: One of the A6t’s main draws is the bass it manages to display without intruding on the rest of the ensemble. It does have its share of shortcomings (particularly in terms of timbre). But, if your library mainly consists of pop, hip-hop, EDM and the like, you’ll find much to love in the A6t’s theatrical, cadence-happy rhythmic drive.

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Despite the coherence and balance it manages to consistently maintain, the A6t’s lively, crisp signature may not be for everyone. If the following three traits are what you tend to look for in an in-ear monitor, the A6t may not be for you.

An effortless, nonchalant listen: The A6t is unapologetically impactful through and through. Although that doesn’t translate to fatigue necessarily – and again, it maintains impressive balance regardless – it’s not the type of IEM you sit back and drift away to either. If you prefer a more laid-back, relaxing signature, 64 Audio’s A12t may prove a better fit.

Utmost space and headroom: That liveliness translates to the A6t’s spatial performance as well. Again, it has sufficient space to work, but barely any to breathe. Some will enjoy its enthusiasm, while others may tire of it. If you’re looking for higher dynamic range and a more effortless delivery, the higher-end A12t and A18t are more suitable candidates.

A warm, bloomy tone: The A6t’s tia driver (and lower-mid dip) gives its transients a crisp, definition-focused texture. The upper-bass attenuation also renders the low-end more impactful than emotional; more punchy than resonant. If you’re looking for an IEM with a more natural, organic tone, and a fuller, fatter timbre, 64 Audio’s N8 would probably fit the bill.

Select Comparisons

Empire Ears Phantom ($1799)

The Phantom is Empire Ears’ flagship in the professional space; posited as one of the most natural-sounding, tonally-transparent in-ears on the market today. And truly, that’s what most separates it from the A6t. The Phantom is tuned to be as colourless in tone as possible, allowing the source components and music to dictate its colour, so to speak. By contrast, the A6t’s crisp, lively signature allows it to possess a clear, articulate and musical profile at all times. Of course, whether either quality is good or bad will depend on the listener; some will prefer adaptability, while others consistency. Many of these discrepancies can be attributed to the treble. The Phantom maintains a linear upper-treble and a lower-treble that peaks around 6kHz. The former gives its transients a softer edge, but the latter makes it prone to brittleness with poorly-produced tracks. Again, the Phantom is less coloured – but also less forgiving – than the generally-lively A6t.

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This is because of both in-ears’ lower-mid presentations as well. The A6t presents a more laid-back lower-midrange in an effort to create cleaner transients with greater contrast against the background. Conversely, the Phantom emphasises lower-midrange harmonics. The typical audiophile would call this presentation – in addition to the linear upper-treble – veiled, but it certainly has its upsides too. Instruments come across richer, fuller and more robust, even though they aren’t necessarily as defined – like a protein drenched in a buttery sauce to help ease it on the palate, so the meat doesn’t come across as fibrous or gristly. Now, that’s not to say the A6t is fibrous or gristly at all, but lower harmonics are placed further back in its soundscape for a drier presentation. This means the Phantom has the more natural, life-like timbre, but the A6t benefits here in cleanliness and detail. So, it’s certainly preference; moreso than performance.

Alclair Audio Electro ($1499)

Alclair Audio’s Electro is the A6t’s philosophical doppelgänger: A six-driver IEM imbued with innovative technology aimed at professionals and audiophiles alike. Although they share several similarities, distinct differences exist between them too. The first of which is bass. The Electro possesses a calmer mid-bass, so bass drops and kick drums come through with less thickness and weight relative to the A6t. But, in terms of physical impact, the two are surprisingly similar. This is because of the Electro’s impressive extension, as well as a slight sub-bass lift. So, it punches about as hard as the A6t does with bass-heavy tracks, but without as much fullness. It maintains more headroom that way. However, with less bass-laden tracks, the Electro may lack oomph to some; too nonchalant. As always, bass comes down to preference.

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The Electro also possesses an upper-mid focus, so it comes across more saturated and direct in projection. The mic sounds closer placed toward the vocalist’s mouth, so to speak. But in terms of sheer forwardness, the two aren’t dissimilar because of the A6t’s 1-2kHz hump. Simply, it’s a difference in timbre and structure, rather than level. The key difference in vocal presentation actually lies in the upper-treble. The A6t has a brighter upper-treble, which leads to sharper articulation. The Electro is more laid-back here; opting to sacrifice that last morsel of detail for a more easygoing sound and a longer-lasting listen. Despite this, the Electro goes toe-to-toe with the A6t in imaging and separation. The former’s electrostatic drivers render spatial cues with outstanding finesse. Although the tia driver performs just as well, there’s an effortlessness with the e-stats that the tia may lack. But again, it’s a very, very close race between the two.


Amongst the sea of sub-$2000 do-all in-ears in the market today, 64 Audio’s A6t emerges as a true cut above – thriving on youthful zing, tonal finesse and an outstandingly solid midrange. While it boasts a similar liveliness as its peers, a unique physicality accompanies its rhythmic drive. Instruments are not only fun to listen to, but they’re tangible as well. Although it may lack the effortlessness and transparency of 64 Audio’s monstrous flagships, the technology that’s trickled down onto the A6t ensures admirable performance at a fraction of the cost. With 3D-Fit and apex, you have yourselves one heck of a package. Whether on the go, on stage or behind the desk, the A6t unfailingly delivers punchy, accurate, refined audio. It may not necessarily be 64 Audio’s poster child, but I smell a clear bestseller for years to come.

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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Reference-grade transparency in tone, as well as gear sensitivity
- Refreshingly realistic, unexaggerated stage reproduction
- Marvellous, linear extension both ways
- A clean, resolved and yet guttural bass response
- Airy, effortless and realistic-sounding instruments with zero honk or over-saturation
- Remarkable restraint in the treble
- Excellent build quality and comfort (for medium-to-smaller heads)
- Impressive lightness in weight
Cons: Not as clinically clean and clear as some audiophiles may be used to
- Not as seductively warm or fat-sounding either
- May lack vibrance or liveliness for fans of MrSpeakers' previous offerings
- Vocal enthusiasts may crave a more forwardly-placed upper-midrange
- Clamping force may prove too tight for individuals with larger heads
- Pads aren't the largest or thickest, but aftermarket offerings from MrSpeakers will soon (depending on when you're reading this) rectify that
DISCLAIMER: SLT Technologies (MrSpeakers’ distributor in Indonesia) loaned me the ETHER 2 in exchange for my honest opinion. I will send the headphone back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank SLT Technologies and MrSpeakers for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

MrSpeakers is a headphone manufacturer I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since their humble beginnings. Founder Dan Clarke initially started the business by jumping on the Fostex T50RP mod-fest. The resulting Mad Dogs, Alpha Dogs and Alpha Prime (which I still own to this day) became widely known as the best-sounding of them all. He’s since gone on to develop immensely successful product lines infused with his own technologies, including the ETHER and AEON families.

But, if one were to ask Dan what his most meaningful creation was, his answer would probably be VOCE. MrSpeakers’ bid into the electrostatic space, the VOCE also inspired many of Dan’s most recent innovations – including TrueFlow. It’s no surprise then, that MrSpeakers’ latest flagship bears a striking resemblance; a dark twin, almost. Dressed in a slick matte black, Dan premiered the ETHER 2 at RMAF 2018 – the culmination of everything Mad Dogs to VOCE in the flesh.


MrSpeaker ETHER 2

Driver type: Planar magnetic
Impedance: 16Ω
Sensitivity: N/A
Key feature(s) (if any): V-Planar technology, TrueFlow technology, VIVO cable
Available form factor(s): Full-sized, circumaural headphones
Price: $1999.99

Build and Accessories

The ETHER 2 I’m reviewing is a demo unit from SLT Technologies, so I received it without its retail packaging. Regardless, it does come with the company’s signature, heavy-duty, clamshell case – equipped with a zipper, fabric-lined walls and moulded structures to keep the headphones stationary in transport. There’s also a net-like compartment to store cables and accessories. It’s a clever deterrent against the connectors bouncing around and scratching the headphones too.


For a flagship at its price, one wouldn’t be slighted for wanting more in the accessory department. Perhaps a cleaning cloth or MrSpeakers’ signature tuning pads could’ve been nice touches. But, they do offer a special edition with a signed display case and headphone stand at a $500 premium. So, I at least appreciate the option they’ve given for a less costly, streamlined variant of the product. And, those who want more luxury with their flagship can have their cake as well.


It’s clear however that Dan and co. did not cheap out on the headphones whatsoever. The ETHER 2 sports an all-metal design and a carbon fibre driver baffle – ensuring durability and longevity. The headband’s received a redesign – now more net- or web-like. This reduces the contact area between the material and the head, so the top of the head remains breathable and cool. Although one might criticise this change for weight, that should be the least of your concerns. MrSpeakers’ ETHER 2 is the lightest flagship I’ve ever used. At 289 grams, it’s surely an industry benchmark. Finally, the headphones are finished in matte black for a sleek aesthetic, with zero chips or squeaky bits to speak of – pure class.


The company’s fantastic NiTinol headband makes a welcome return, allowing the headphones to contort unrecognisably before returning to their original shape. This ensures the headphones don’t produce any extra pressure or strain, and maintains the headband’s lifespan as well. For smaller heads, the webbed inner-headband can easily be adjusted to fit your needs. But, for larger heads like mine, there isn’t as much leeway. My noggin certainly stretches the headphones to their near-limits, and it would’ve been nice to see a greater degree of customisation on that end of the spectrum. The synthetic protein leather ear pads, while plush, are a tad low-profile as well. But, I’m sure this specific girth was chosen for sound, and the pads as they are are extremely plush, gorgeously made and breathable too – no complaints there.

V-Planar and TrueFlow Technology

V-Planar technology is something Dan Clarke developed in conjunction with the Alpha Prime. In essence, Dan argued that a flat, planar driver would not be able to vibrate uniformly along a flat plane. Because of the material’s inelasticity, the diaphragm would actually bow as the audio signal rocked it back and forth. What V-Planar technology does is introduce deep, v-shaped creases along the driver’s surface. So – especially in larger excursions – the driver would be able to expand and contract as needed with zero strain to the material. Dan claims an increase in dynamics, high-end extension and measurably lower distortion, along with the diaphragm’s ability to push more air at lower frequencies.


Animations courtesy of MrSpeakers
TrueFlow technology was developed much more recently. While developing the VOCE and investigating the differences between electrostatic and planar magnetic headphones, Dan discovered a flaw in the latter’s design. Planar magnetic headphones – as the name indicates – require the presence of a thick magnet array on at least one side of the driver. The inherent shape of those magnet arrays often impede the movement of air – and therefore, sound waves – from the diaphragm to the listener’s ear. They’d have to make right-angled turns, which introduce diffractions and reflections, i.e. distortion. What TrueFlow does is introduce perforated waveguides in those magnet arrays to smoothen the flow of air as much as possible and dampen any refractions – resulting in superior resolution, dynamics and frequency extension.

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Images courtesy of MrSpeakers

VIVO Cable

Dan and co. have absolutely made huge strides as far as cables are concerned. The all-new, silver-plated-OFHC-copper VIVO cable is a far cry from the ETHER 1.0’s stiff, coarse and unwieldy DUM cable. Ergonomically, the former is infinitelysmoother, softer and more pliable. There’s perhaps a touch more thickness and weight, but it’s barely consequential.


Once again, MrSpeakers have employed their excellent HIROSE connectors – my favourite in terms of security and ease-of-use. The woven, cloth-like insulation heavily resembles the AEON Flow’s stock cables. But again, the VIVO cables are a hair thicker. Sonically, I wasn’t able to compare the VIVO cable against them because of termination differences. But as seen in the Synergy section, with the VIVO cable is as good as the ETHER 2 gets – compellingly transparent performance.


The ETHER 2 is surely one of the most tonally transparent headphones I’d heard to date. In a world where products are typically stereotyped into either the warm, bloom-y Audeze camp, or the clean, crisp Sennheiser camp, MrSpeakers’ latest flagship straddles the line brilliantly between timbral accuracy and technical performance – though to my ears, it favours the former by a hair. A light warmth is imbued in its signature, granting it its realism and organicity. But at the same time, it possesses a neutrally-positioned upper-midrange and an excellently-controlled bass region. The resultant response is an understated, uncoloured and life-like rendition of music; rare in an era where wow factor reigns supreme.


But, that’s not to say the ETHER 2 isn’t a technical performer either. The ETHER 2 establishes its soundscape within an impressively stable, black background. Instruments come and go with precision and layering that could withstand an ensemble with ease. On my production Bila Hati Kita Lemah – which I recorded, mixed and mastered – the lead melody towards the end is shared by an electric guitar and pianos; weaving back-and-forth ala call-and-answer. Throughout my arsenal of in-ears and headphones, the hand-offs between the instruments were made most clear to me by the ETHER 2. I could tell with confidence when the guitar was retreating, or when the pianos were simmering towards the surface.

In soundstage expansion – much like imaging precision – the chain is a key factor; track included. This’ll be discussed in the Synergy section, but I’ve found the ETHER 2 consistently delivers in the aspects I described above: Image stability, stage cleanliness and layering. A key contributor to this is speed. In both transience and decay, the ETHER 2 exhibits great snappiness – allowing it to maintain a rhythmic drive despite its laid-back top-end. Notes appear as if out of thin air and disappear into the blackness below. With select tracks however, energy around 8kHz or so may linger a touch longer and introduce some fuzz onto the soundscape. But it’s a situational occurrence that occurs less often than not.


But, to achieve its realism and technical prowess, the ETHER 2 does make slight compromises. Unlike the first generation ETHER’s – the open ones, especially – the ETHER 2 lacks the vibrancy that granted them their charming musicality. While the ETHER 2’s subtle nuance and life-like neutrality speaks to my personal inclinations, they may not be preferred by audiophiles whose emotional fulfilment when listening to music comes from dynamism, contrast or bombastic-ness. The ETHER 2 is decidedly a laid-back sounding headphone. This isn’t because it’s muted or dull-sounding in any way – everything is simply balanced against each other; quality over quantity. There aren’t any egregious lifts along the mid-bass or upper-treble to incite contrast. So, whether or not that matches your preferences will determine your mileage.


Nowhere is the ETHER 2 philosophy more realised than in the bass – truly, technically astounding. While industry norms dictate a rise around 100-200Hz to maximise presence, gusto and musicality, ETHER 2 takes the road less travelled – relying on high extension and low distortion; resulting in a bass as guttural and satisfying as it is transparent, balanced and controlled. Excellent coherence runs through the entire region, so the bass pumps like a singular, unified piston. And, that balance rings true on a larger scale as well. The bass exists on an equal plane with the midrange and treble to my ears, granting it an evenness deserved of the term reference plus a visceral quality sure to please audiophiles alike.


In tone, the bass exudes naturalness as well. Although it blooms sparsely, the bass possesses a lightly warm tinge. This comes from the ETHER 2’s relaxed top-end and it works excellently with live instruments. Upright basses resonate with a hearty, woody, life-like timbre. Kick drums on all genres display great balance between the thwack of the beater and the thump of the skin. But again, neither are inhibited by the warmth they carry. Bass notes are constantly well-defined against the background, and identifiable in the busiest of mixes. Consequently, this low-end won’t suit those who prefer quantity over quality. Frequencies 200Hz and below may come across too linear for diehard bassheads. Nevertheless, the ETHER 2’s low-end truly deserves acclaim, by virtue of marvellous technical performance, physicality and timbre.


The midrange is where ETHER 2 departs most from its predecessors. As mentioned previously, the ETHER 2 doesn’t have the same vibrance or liveliness, because of a dip spanning 3-4kHz. Consequently, it assumes a more reference profile – a midrange that isn’t plucky and musical at all times, but adapts accordingly to the music. Lady Gaga’s intro on Cheek to Cheek may sound a touch compressed, while Jennifer Hudson belts with divine force on And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. Additionally, a bias towards the 1-2kHz region favours chestier instruments over others. Male baritones are livelier dynamically than female balladeers, violas carry more weight in a string quartet, and so on. But, this beautifully complements the piano for example, where the weight of the key stroke and the ring of the note are expertly balanced.

Subjectivity aside, the 3-4kHz dip serves dividends in technical performance, realism and balance. Contrary to popular belief, a neutrally-placed upper-midrange – with relatively unemphasised projection or force – is how vocals should sound in a performance venue or hall. This is because the large majority of sound you hear is reflected, rather than direct; less in-your-face and concentrated than you might expect. The ETHER 2’s presentation therefore sounds more life-like and natural. And, it has technical benefits too. Because the lead melody isn’t overtly saturated or emphasised, the ETHER 2 is capable of pulling your attention towards the peripheral details – whether it be background instruments, minute, complementary noises, etc. This is again ideal in the studio where utmost balance, layering and transparency is necessary. Succinctly, the ETHER 2 excels in high-definition, undramatised realism; entirely up to you to love or hate.


I expect the ETHER 2’s treble to be its most divisive attribute, and the irony is: It’s my absolute favourite bit! Shying away from trend, the ETHER 2 cleverly eschews instant gratification for a more understated, naturally-hued top-end. Online, I’ve seen this called dark, warm and laid-back, among others. But to my sensibilities, it definitively strikes neutral with a razor’s edge. The ETHER 2 possesses one of the most transparent treble tones I’ve heard, along with an authoritative, crisp and refined timbre that strikes me as eerily life-like. Drawing energy from 8-and-10kHz peaks, cymbals and hi-hats possess excellent attack; decaying with zero awkwardness, incoherence or lingering harmonics – interrupted only by pure blackness in-between. This to me is indicative of a reference-grade top-end in tone, texture and transparency.


Technically, the ETHER 2’s top-end continues to impress. Extension is marvellous and so is speed. The two construct the headphone’s vast, stable and spherical soundscape. But ultimately, the treble’s transparency allows the track to define the image’s dimensions. There’s zero tomfoolery present to exaggerate stage expansion or detail pronunciation; a dream-come-true for professionals. Aside from the obligatory pockets of energy around the lower- and upper-treble, the top-end as a whole is stringently linear. Flashy is a term I’d never associate with the ETHER 2 and it’s truest here. Again, if you’re coming from transducers like Sennheiser’s HD800, Focal’s Utopia or MrSpeakers’ very own AEON Flow, you’ll probably miss some razzle dazzle. But, the ETHER 2 delivers something neither three can: An unabridged, unadulterated and yet-still-musical rendition of the truth. It’s a tuning with my utmost respect, but your mileage may (and will) vary.

General Recommendations

The ETHER 2 offers a no-frills, uncoloured, balanced signature. It’s certainly most at home in a recording studio, but if you’re an audiophile yearning for a flagship with the following traits, the ETHER 2 may find its way to your home too:

A well-balanced, reference signature: The ETHER 2 boasts an immensely level-headed signature, where every frequency range is balanced against each other. It’s neither warm nor bright; neither thick nor lean. This is ideal if you want the headphones to virtually disappear and give you an honest representation of the music or gear you’re listening to.

An unsaturated midrange: One of the ETHER 2’s hallmark traits is its laid-back upper-midrange – a facet reminiscent of mastering in-ears like JHAudio’s Layla. Aside from technical benefits, it also offers a more life-like, spacious presentation, where vocal projection is relatively restrained – taking into account acoustical phenomena you’d hear in real life.

Visceral, yet well controlled, distortion-free bass: The ETHER 2’s stand-out quality is its low-end. Despite how seamlessly it blends in with the rest of the frequency response – perhaps, by virtue of that as well – the ETHER 2’s bass is one of the most technically-capable and tonally-transparent I’ve heard. It won’t please diehard bassheads by sheer impact, but if you’re an audiophile with an appreciation for bass in cleanliness, texture and control, ETHER 2 will absolutely deliver.


By the same token, the ETHER 2’s strict neutrality may limit its appeal towards certain groups of audiophiles – especially those who’re looking for excitement via contrast, or euphony via warmth. Here are traits the ETHER 2 does not possess:

Pristine, crystalline clarity and air: The ETHER 2 has a linear upper-treble with zero peaks for crispness or clarity. While it greatly benefits coherence, refinement and timbre, it does render the headphone relatively laid-back in sparkle and air. If you’re more inclined towards the HD800S or MrSpeakers’ very own Aeon Flow, the ETHER 2 may be too calm for you.

Pillow-y, euphonic warmth: The ETHER 2 does not satisfy the other end of the spectrum either. Aside from the density it draws from the centre-midrange, the headphone remains largely neutral in bloom and warmth. As its upper-treble is, the ETHER 2’s mid-bass is linear as well. So, if you prefer Audeze-esque signatures, the ETHER 2 may not be for you.

An exaggeratedly operatic sense of scale: The ETHER 2’s penchant for transparency extends to its spatial presentation as well. It adapts in terms of stage expansion, note size and imaging precision according to the chain, as well as the track. So, if you prefer the HD800S’s almost exaggerated sense of space and scale, the ETHER 2 won’t necessarily deliver that.


Digital Audio Players

Sony WM1A (K-modded by Music Sanctuary)


Sony’s WM1A – relative to the Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon we’ll discuss later – brings a warmer, more rounded, more intimate sound to the ETHER 2. The player possesses a lower-midrange bias, causing instruments to sound richer, fuller and more harmonic. Fortunately however, no articulation was lost up top. Cymbals maintain their crisp, clean shimmer and snares still crackle. However, the WM1A noticeably grants the ETHER 2 less dynamic range. Instruments don’t pop as much against the black background, resulting in less resolution and transparency. Imaging is also a touch narrower as a result. But, in the absence of a full-fledged desktop amp, I reckon the WM1A will get the ETHER 2 80% of the way there.

Portable Amplifiers

Kojo KM-01 Brass

The KM-01 Brass is a Japanese, battery-powered, portable amplifier. Like the Sony WM1A, it possesses a warmer signature. But, the KM-01 is less bodied by comparison. The warmth it carries comes from the low-end, which takes a step forward in the mix in terms of lushness and impact. However, presence remains untouched, so the melody of the bass never oversteps the lead instrument. The treble gains headroom as well. Flourishes and nuances there remain just as punchy, but sound more refined and effortless. The KM-01 certainly has the hallmarks of a tube amplifier in tone. It certainly isn’t the most resolving or transparent of the lot. Its imaging isn’t the most precise either. But, if you want the ETHER 2 to sound more laid-back and euphonic, the KM-01 is certainly a viable alternative – especially when on the go.


HUM Hypno

The HUM Hypno is a single-ended, battery-powered portable amplifier that drives the ETHER with ease at high gain. With the WM1A and Hypno combo, the ETHER 2 possesses a neutral tone, but shaves a bit of its body for a more precise, clinical sound. Notes sound more articulate than harmonic, which translates to higher definition and perceived clarity. In terms of headroom, dynamic range and transparency, I’d say the combo performs better than the WM1A on its own. But, the stack still loses out to the Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon. The Liquid Carbon produces more fleshed-out, complete instruments against a blacker background. But, it does so with less treble sparkle and pizzazz. The Hypno is an ideal portable option if you’re looking for near-desktop-class headroom, with more sparkle and liveliness in tone to boot.

Chord Mojo

In sheer technical prowess, the Mojo is the strongest of the portable lot. In headroom, dynamic range and scale, it’s on the same tier as the Liquid Carbon – producing instruments with volume, vibrancy and authority. The only aspect where the Liquid Carbon has a clear edge is in soundstage depth. The Mojo’s upper-midrange has a distinct honky-ness to it that makes instruments sound perceivably more saturated. So, the Liquid Carbon sounds more refined and laid-back by comparison. Regardless, I think the Mojo is the ETHER 2’s most capable portable companion of the bunch. Thankfully, it isn’t affected as much by the Chord product’s unique timbre, resulting in a decent desktop-esque experience on the go.

Desktop Amplifiers

Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon


The Liquid Carbon is my go-to desktop amp, preferred for its refined and mature rendition of impact. It never fails to captivate with punchiness and energy, but it’s always complemented by authority and control. I think the Liquid Carbon is an ideal amp for the ETHER 2 in timbre. It injects just enough kick into the headphones without ever tipping it towards losing composure. In terms of imaging, there’s enough headroom to discern stage differences between tracks. However, I have a feeling the ETHER 2’s are capable of scaling further with higher-end amplifiers. I won’t be certain until I get the chance to try them. But, I can confidently say that the Liquid Carbon is beyond sufficient as far as drive is concerned.


Brise Audio UPG001 STD HP

The UPG001 STD HP emphasises note definition and vocal forwardness, whilst retaining as much of the headphone’s inherent balance as possible. Relative to the REF HP, the STD HP doesn’t bring as much dynamic range – notes and micro-details don’t pop as vibrantly. However, this is ideal for those who wish for a more transparent, undramatised presentation. The midrange is now tipped slightly towards the upper-mids. Vocalists sound more present, vibrant and saturated. The lower-mids also take a step back, so those very instruments are perceivably more defined. However, this is to the detriment of note structure. Instruments – though still composed – sound less complete and balanced. All in all, the STD HP provides a shortcut of sorts towards a more intimate sound, though not the last word in technical respects.


Brise Audio UPG001 REF HP

Brise Audio’s UPG001 REF HP brings a more dynamic, forwardly sound to the ETHER 2. The low-end carries more body and weight for a more guttural, grunt-y presentation. The upper-mids and treble are also a touch more energetic with increased sparkle and projection. As a result, the soundstage may be perceived as smaller, due to the amount of room that this occupies. In return, the REF HP brings higher resolution, clarity and micro-detail retrieval – livelier instruments against a blacker background. In all honesty however, the difference isn’t what I’d call night-and-day. And, whatever differences there are aren’t my cup of tea. This is a cable ideal for those looking for more liveliness and energy out of the ETHER 2. For those who are happy with a more transparent, reference signature, the VIVO cable is the suitable match.

Select Comparisons

Sennheiser HD800S

The German flagship is ETHER 2’s most immediate rival. Instantly, the latter strikes me as the more coherent, effortless and natural-sounding headphone. The HD800S becomes a tad disjointed in the treble, where it insists on pushing detail rather than sitting back with the rest of the frequency response. The Sennheiser headphone isn’t harsh by any means, but there’s a clear emphasis on brighter harmonics around 7-8kHz. Instruments have a bright edge to them with varying results. On one hand, transients are crisper and more defined. For example, on Dimas Pradipta’s 9 Grange Road, a rattling ching ring can be heard during a pause around the minute mark. This error (if it is one) is more obvious on the HD800S than it is on the ETHER 2. On the other hand, there’s an artificiality to the sound that the latter entirely evades.


This effect extends to dynamic range as well. Because the HD800S’s transients are constantly excited and in-your-face, the headphone comes across less dynamic than the ETHER 2. Builds, cadences and drops come across with tons more drama and impact on the MrSpeakers flagship, because the energy of the headphone ebbs and flows in accordance to the music. The ETHER 2 maintains a blacker background as well, as its treble decays quicker with less harmonic haze. Another key contributor to this is bass performance. The HD800S competes surprisingly well with its light – yet speedy and punchy – jabs , but the ETHER 2 is the clear victor here. The latter’s arsenal of technologies gift it outstanding extension, resolution, authority and physicality, whilst exerting equal – if not superior – control relative to the HD800S.

In terms of expansion and imaging, it’s neck-and-neck. The HD800S might expand a hair further, but the ETHER 2 posits denser, more full-bodied and more three-dimensional images. Instruments sound more palpable and corporeal. Although the HD800S fares well in this regard too, it does end up sounding a tad two-dimensional by comparison. The midrange, though, is certainly more apples-and-oranges. The HD800S is more exciting, vibrant and engaging, while the ETHER 2 is more even-handed, layered and deep. Again, those who prefer an airier, livelier, more detail-oriented sound will most likely prefer the HD800S. But, if you crave something more balanced, refined and transparent, I believe the ETHER 2 is the more mature headphone – a better reference in any studio or otherwise professional environment.

Speaking briefly on ergonomics, the HD800S is the more comfortable headphone for me because of its far larger ear cups. It also distributes its weight more effectively, while the ETHER 2 is a tad side-heavy. The Sennheiser headphone is more breathable as well. But, it’s significantly more open too, which means it isolates far less noise than the ETHER 2.

MrSpeakers ETHER

Comparing the ETHER 2 to the first of its ilk goes to show just how far Dan Clarke’s grown since 2015. Immediately, the ETHER 1.0 comes across as a punchier, more vibrant headphone; more brash and loud. It has a fuller, more forwardly sound owing to lifts around 300Hz and 2-3kHz. This heavily contrasts the ETHER 2, which dips around 3-4kHz – resulting in its laid-back presentation. But again, that dip has technical benefits as well. The ETHER 2 comes across more refined and restrained, which aids its dynamic range. Similar to the HD800S – except in the upper-mids – the ETHER’s constantly saturated midrange inhibits micro-detail retrieval. Its successor is far superior in terms of headroom, transparency and resolution. ETHER 1.0’s loudness means it’s prone to losing composure, which the ETHER 2 never even comes close to.


This is especially true when it comes to imaging precision. The ETHER 2 zips past its predecessor in this regard because of several aspects; first of which is linearity. Again, the ETHER’s penchant for vibrancy manifests in its lively, bombastic profile. The images it produces loom large, so much so that they overlap sections of the stage. As a result, you don’t get images that are as compact, tight and defined as those on the ETHER 2. Distortion plays a role in it as well. The ETHER 2 possesses a cleaner profile with stronger layering, micro-detail retrieval and separation – more effortlessly too. Nuances simply pop further on the ETHER 2 onto the forefront of the image. How it manages to achieve this dynamic range whilst maintaining a blacker, more stable background is most likely attributed to top-end extension and reduced distortion.

Finally, comes the low end. The ETHER 2 has a more laid-back and controlled bass response, while the ETHER 1.0 opts for a more harmonic, yet less-defined response. Admittedly, this makes the latter more fun to listen to. Again, there’s a charming sense of cohesive musicality that comes from the ETHER 1.0’s more exuberant signature. But, when it comes down to strict technical performance, the ETHER 2 clearly triumphs – in spite of its more linear, true-to-life delivery.

MrSpeakers AEON Flow Open

Between the ETHER 2 and the HD800S lies MrSpeakers’ AEON Open. The AEON Open’s tonal balance resembles the ETHER 2’s in many respects, including a neutral upper-midrange and an articulate (yet un-bright) lower-treble. However, the former departs from its flagship sibling in the lower-mids and upper-treble. The AEON Open has a leaner, more recessed lower-midrange, which gives instruments cleaner definition. Notes are more compact and biased towards the transient (i.e. the leading edge) rather than the harmonic. Additionally, a sparklier upper-treble gives the AEON Open a more exciting, dynamic sound with a more prominent sense of clarity. These two combined yield a presentation that can be succinctly described as crisp, clean and open. The ETHER 2 is relatively more level-headed; laid-back; less contrast-y.


On the surface, the AEON Open might come across as not only the more exciting, exuberant headphone of the two, but the more technically-capable one as well. It’s certainly capable of delivering great, instant gratification by way of vibrancy and detail. However, closer inspection will reveal where the ETHER 2 has the upper-hand. Although the AEON Open performs quite excellently in separation, resolution and control (despite its loudness), the ETHER 2 proves victorious in effortlessness, transparency and imaging precision. Again, like in the ETHER 1.0, the AEON Open’s treble is so vibrant that instruments tend to overlap sections of the stage, resulting in less precise imaging. The ETHER 2 also has a much blacker background, because it supersedes the AEON Open in terms of bass control, top-end extension and overall coherence. Instruments sound considerably more uniform and information comes across much more effortlessly too.

Ultimately, the most obvious differences between the two lies in restraint. The AEON Open is willing to sacrifice a bit of that in order to incite fun and contrast, while the ETHER 2 maintains strict discipline in order to fulfil its role as reference-grade headphones. This is no clearer than in the extremes. The AEON Open has a warmer, bloomy-er, naughtier bass response. It’s certainly fun to listen to, but there’s a clear compromise in definition, clarity and balance. The ETHER 2 fares immensely better in this regard. There’s far more complexity to the bass, it’s more transparent to the source – shifting in texture and tone from one track to another – and it extends further as well. Up top, the AEON Open is HD800S-like with its brighter, crisper timbre. As mentioned previously, this means less composure, linearity and realism for more excitement and clarity. This is why the ETHER 2 comes across more natural, coherent and transparent.

In terms of wearing comfort, the AEON Open takes the cake for me, because of its lighter construction, thicker pads and vertical length. It’s less tight on the head than the ETHER 2, mostly because the headband doesn’t have to extend all the way to achieve a great seal. Again, the ETHER 2’s near-perfect ergonomics are inhibited by lacklustre accommodation towards larger heads. But at the end of the day, this is but a small gripe that’s compensated for in durability and feel.


MrSpeakers’ ETHER 2 epitomises reference-grade; uncoloured, undramatised and pristine in all respects. In an era where wow factor reigns supreme, Dan Clarke and co. have crafted a headphone with a stunningly clear voice – one that lets the music do the talking. Despite how innately it belongs in the professional’s toolbox, the ETHER 2 is compelling for audiophiles as well. Its low-end is one of the most defined, resolved and balanced I’ve heard; as mesmerising to listen to on kick drum stems as they are on Top 40 bass drops. The midrange offers a peak inside the vocal booth with zero fluff. And, the treble is as refined as the intricately-layered soundscape it occupies. Paired with top-class comfort and build, it makes the $2,000 pill just that easier to swallow. It’s not for everyone; nothing is. But – coming from an engineer – if all you want to hear is music in its purest, most unadulterated form, the ETHER 2 truly sits at the top without close contest.

Excellent review and stunning photography


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Excellent technical performance, delivered with refinement and effortlessness
- High resolution, transparency and finesse
- Richly nuanced micro-dynamic energy
- Speedy, elegant transients
- Best-in-class build quality
- Gorgeous accessories
Cons: Price
DISCLAIMER: Effect Audio provided me with a discounted price on the Leonidas II in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Effect Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Effect Audio truly know no rest. The Singaporean ateliers have gone from strength to strength, especially throughout the past year. But, if one were to trace their exponential rise back to its origin, they’d find one common denominator: The Leonidas. First released in 2016, it was the cable that put the company on the map and it’s been the stepping stone to their overwhelming success ever since – which is why its discontinuation came as a shock to many across the globe. But as the saying goes, in every end lies a new beginning. A true successor in every way, a vast leap in speed, resolution and realism, brought to life by the bleeding edge of material sciences – Ladies and gentlemen… welcome the Leonidas II.

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Effect Audio Leonidas II

  • Wire composition: 26 AWG UPOCC Palladium-plated silver + Litz silver hybrid
  • Default configuration: 4-wire
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Palladium plating, UltraFlexi insulation
  • Price: $888
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

The Leonidas II arrives in Effect Audio’s classic premium packaging: A towering, black monolith wrapped in a decorative sleeve. But to mark the momentous occasion, Effect Audio have dressed the Leonidas II’s with a genuine leather skin; engraved tastefully with the product name on top. Inside the box’s circular recession, lies the cable in its lavish leather case – an impeccably-crafted, puck-like unit classier than anything you’d find with flagship in-ears even. Both elements are constructed entirely out of premium calf leather; exuding luxury in ways only Effect Audio know how. This is the wow factor I felt was missing with the far pricier Janus D; a clear indication of its distinguished status. Although it’s worth remembering the cable still requires 888 of your hard-earned US dollars, it – so far – at least has a package to match.

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Handling the Leonidas II for the first time was an immensely pleasing experience. After becoming accustomed to the Bespoke Ares II and Janus D, the II was a welcome change in weight; just as supple, silky and smooth, but vanishingly comfortable as well. However, only time will tell whether or not that softness remains after some degree of use. The pre-shaped heat shrink located near the in-ear connectors have upped in transparency, to the point where I initially thought Effect Audio chose to forgo them. Braiding is uniform, but a touch looser than Han Sound Audio’s, for example. Visually, the Leonidas II’s conductors are certainly more subtle than those of its predecessor. Now constructed out of silver and palladium-plated silver, the Leonidas II adopts a classier, more understated aesthetic than its gold-bling’ed counterpart.

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But worry not, because the Leonidas II compensates elsewhere; namely, its leather Y-split. Marvellously matching the box sleeve and carrying case, the Leonidas II’s Y-split is eye-catching-ly exotic. The matte, almost sunburst-like finish of the leather contrasts beautifully against the engraved chrome metallic accents. The black ties keeping the leather wound around the barrel does run the risk of looking a tad messy, but they’re kept to the rear where they’re practically invisible in use. And, the best part of this design is it’s entirely modular! The leather aspect can be removed and replaced without dismantling the cable outright. Additionally, this leaves the door open for more… interesting options in the future.

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Lastly, the Leonidas II features the updated hardware we previously covered on the Janus D. The connectors, Y-split and plug all carry a seamless chrome aesthetic; sleekly mirror-finished. Effect Audio’s logos are engraved directly onto the components for a cleaner look with zero risk of fading. The 2-pin barrels stay rock-solid when cable-rolling. And finally, carbon fibre accents the hefty 4.4mm plug, developed in collaboration with Pentaconn – completing the Leonidas II’s well-conceptualised, uniform and utterly spectacular look. This is a cable I can guarantee you’ve never, ever seen before.

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Sound Impressions

The Leonidas II – to me – embodies refinement. There’s effortlessness in everything it reproduces, whether it be its vast, holographic stage or wealths of nuance against a pitch-black background. Like the similarly-plated Janus Dynamic, the Leonidas II’s technical prowess is subtly hidden behind a smooth, easy-to-listen-to timbre; a wholly addictive hybrid of smooth and clear. But, a definite distinction exists in tone. Unlike the former’s less coloured response, the Leonidas is neutral-leaning with an emphasis on cleanliness, clarity and speed. But again, relative to its competition, the Leonidas successor is unique in how it delivers that detail – with a light, graceful touch; smooth and rich, yet wholly transparent.

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The Leonidas II is an impressive spatial performer. The stage it possesses is expansive, but more noteworthy is layering, precision and holography. Soundscapes that previously sounded flat and wall-like take on more depth as air permeates between the layers, creating obvious contrasts between the individual elements throughout the stage. Above them all though, the clear star of the Leonidas II’s presentation is its black background. By virtue of its palladium plating, the Leonidas II has taken on astounding refinement and speed. Details appear out of thin-air and vanish without a trace – a huge leap over the original Leonidas’s hazier atmosphere. This contributes heavily into the cable’s transparency, while an organic tonal balance maintains its realism. All this amounts to the II’s immense resolution, delivered with finesse.

Bass performance is an absolute strength in both variants of the Leonidas. Building on its predecessor’s dynamic sub- bass, the II adds a more organically-toned mid-bass – permitted by its broader headroom. Punches are tight, clear and textured, bolstered by commanding authority, effortless control and open air. Because the bass region sits flat relative to the mids and treble, the stage remains spotlessly clean; zero hints of bleed or bloom. Returning to the sub-bass, the cable comes imbued with excellent physicality – immensely guttural and visceral. It’s a woofer-like effect with palpable vibrations, but it’s presented with three-dimensionality and depth which prevents it from crowding the stage. The II is quality-over-quantity down low. Timbre, physicality and detail all excel, but with the restraint and control to match.

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The midrange is where the II most clearly outperforms its predecessor. The original’s clear, transparent response is wholly maintained, but with it now comes superior speed, imaging precision and linearity. Unlike other clarity-driven cables, the Leonidas II possesses a hefty lower-midrange. So, notes here sound thick and harmonically-rich. But, swift decay and ample headroom maintain a pitch-black background, as well as high definition. This results in an organic, refined timbre paired with unprecedented resolution. This also aids imaging and layering. Subtle contrasts in texture and dynamic energy are more apparent along the soundscape, so instead of being congealed in one monotonous mass, those little nuances all feel separately alive – almost like tiny fireflies flickering one after another in a black 3D space.

Like the original, the Leonidas II is lightly lifted along the treble. Notes spanning 7-10kHz sound a touch brighter, so it’s not as tonally transparent as – say – the Janus Dynamic. But again, effortlessness belies the II’s presentation. So despite the lift, there’s neither a hard edge nor a strident ‘s‘ ever in sight – unwaveringly rich, organic and composed throughout. It’s a smooth, articulate and – most crucially – refined treble, so the rise serves merely a shift in hue. Extension is strong, and so is speed. While it isn’t capable of delivering the expansiveness and dynamics of 8-wire cables, it does come close by virtue of its rock-solid stage, generously-nuanced soundscape and graceful articulation – a gentle delivery of detail that delays fatigue indefinitely. The Leonidas II’s treble is an achievement; clear as glass, smooth as a feather’s edge.

Suggested Pairings

The Leonidas II is a clear and refined cable with strong technical qualities. Its neutral tone makes it a wonderful pair especially for warmer IEMs, but its transparency, definition and clarity make it ideal for the following categories below:

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Heightened clarity, finesse and transparency: The Leonidas II has outstanding spatial properties, particularly in stage expansion, dynamic contrast and organisation. Each element within the soundscape seemingly operates independently against a black background. So, IEMs like the Custom Art FIBAE 2 or the Jomo Audio Déux which have a more unified, wall-of-sound-esque signature will benefit from the Leonidas II’s transparency, separation and textural resolution.

Refined cleanliness and sparkle: The Leonidas II possesses a clean and articulate treble, delivered with a soft, organic timbre. This is ideal if you have warmer IEMs you’d wish to have cleaned up, but still wholly maintain that harmonic richness. Popular options include Warbler Audio’s Prelude, Empire Ears’ Phantom and Vision Ears’ VE6XC.

Excellent bass physicality (with compatible IEMs): Quality over quantity is the Leonidas II’s mantra when it comes to the bass, especially in physicality and extension. IEMs with sufficient sub-bass reach will adopt a more solid, guttural profile and benefit from wetness in the mid-bass. But, the depth with which the low-end is positioned ensures linearity with the rest of the range; always a team player. This is ideal for IEMs like the Empire Ears Phantom and the Vision Ears VE6XC.

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Despite the Leonidas II’s impressive technical prowess, it does possess several characteristics that won’t match well with certain IEMs. The Leonidas II may not be for you if the qualities below are what you wish to bring out of your in-ears:

A warm, organic timbre: The Leonidas II is relatively neutral, but it does have a bright touch along the upper-registers. So, if you have IEMs that are bright inherently, the Leonidas II won’t tone that down. For in-ears like the Kumitate Labs Sirius, you’d be better off with less coloured cables like the Janus D, or warmer ones like the Han Sound Audio Aegis.

A crisp, strongly outlined midrange: Despite the Leonidas II’s refinement and clarity, its midrange is lush and organic in timbre – bolstered by a fuller lower-midrange. As a result, notes are rather thick and gossamer. So, if your goal is utmost definition where notes are strongly outlined – and may sometimes border on thin – the Leonidas II will not fulfil that.

Extra slam in the mid-bass: Again, quality over quantity prevails in the bass. The Leonidas II emphasises solidity, physicality and depth down low, so the mid-bass is linearly placed relative to the midrange and treble. If extra slam is what you’re looking for, then cables like the Han Sound Audio Aegis or the Effect Audio Thor Silver II would be more ideal.

Select Comparisons

Effect Audio Leonidas (now discontinued)

The Leonidas and its successor share several similarities in timbre, but ultimately differ in technical performance and delivery. Despite the original’s massive success, I’ve always been repelled by several technical hiccups along the cable’s frequency range. Most prevalent of all is its upper-mid haze. Sounds along the 2-5kHz range leave bright wisps of air as they decay, which introduces several issues into the soundscape. The black background is marred, instruments sound ill-defined and they’re nasal and hollow in tone as well. A lack of refinement and speed killed the first Leonidas for me.

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Thankfully, this is where its successor shines brightest. The Leonidas II’s stage is constantly clean, effortlessly stable and pitch-black as well. Despite maintaining the same neutral-leaning timbre, instruments decay with immensely superior speed and cleanliness. The soundscape simply doesn’t sound as messy anymore, which serves dividends in imaging, resolution and transparency. Additionally, the Leonidas II’s images are more well-founded as well. A wetter, further-extended bass and a filled-in lower-midrange give instruments more solidity, physicality and realism; nasally no longer.

Articulation is much further improved as well. The original Leonidas had an unappealing treble to me – too articulate in the lower-treble and messy further up the range. The II mends this by adding graceful refinement in transient delivery. Akin to the similarly palladium-plated Janus D, the Leonidas II has a bias towards smoothening transients rather than sharpening them. But, this is done through heightened headroom, so all detail and nuance is preserved pristinely. This increased stability also gives the bass more room to play. It comes imbued with a wetter, more natural response whilst maintaining equal authority – solidifying the Leonidas II as the clear victor in both musicality and technical merit.

Effect Audio Janus Dynamic ($1399)

In staging and transparency, the Janus D’s advantages as an 8-wire design are immediately apparent. The background is even blacker than that of the Leonidas II, but it’s because of how refined, well-defined and well-separated the Janus’ notes are. Each element remains in their own pocket of the stage, so the blackness of the background behind them becomes significantly more apparent. Instruments stay where they are, but the Janus D’s stage expands further behind them. So, more headroom is available to resolve their individual decays whilst filling the stage with less harmonics.

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Both the Janus D and Leonidas II are relatively linear in the midrange, but the latter has a noticeably brighter lower-treble. This is why the Janus D slightly edges it out in composure and resolution, even though the Leonidas II has strong refinement in its own right. The Janus D’s low-end is more compact and meaty, while the Leonidas II’s is a touch wetter. Nevertheless, the latter is the clear victor in sub-bass performance by virtue of its physical, woofer-like resonance. Finally, the Leonidas II has an emphasis around 7-10kHz, while the Janus D remains subdued. This results in the former having a clear-yet-sufficiently-natural tone, while the latter has a more linear and organic timbre; just lightly warm.

Han Sound Audio Aegis (S$499)

The Aegis is a significantly warmer cable than the Leonidas II, because of their respective emphases. The former has a lifted mid-bass with a longer decay, while the latter adopts a slightly brighter hue up top. The Leonidas II has less mid-bass, which results in a cleaner stage, while the Aegis imbues instruments with more weight and body. But, the Leonidas II’s fuller lower-midrange gives it the thicker note, with a more harmonic response. So, which of the two you’d like more will come down to whether you prefer a warm-yet-defined soundscape, or a clearer, more nuanced and full-bodied one.

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Nevertheless, the Leonidas II takes the cake in imaging and transparency. It possesses superior headroom and brighter articulation. So, despite background blackness being similar between the two, the Leonidas II has greater contrast and air, as well as vastly superior stage dimensions; width, depth and height. Detail delivery is more apples and oranges. The Leonidas II has greater refinement and nuance, while the Aegis has more weight and presence; a matter of preference.

But, what the Leonidas II simply runs away with is bass quality. It has the clear edge in extension and texturing, leaving the Aegis sounding one-dimensional by comparison. The latter has meaty slam in spades, but pales in terms of sub-bass performance. The Leo II doesn’t necessarily have more sub-bass, but its lowest registers do have an unprecedentedly guttural, resonant quality. It replicates a vibrating sensation that’s woofer-like, but excellent depth prevents it from being too prominent on the stage. It’s a cleaner low-end with less warmth, but it’s a technical powerhouse nonetheless.


Effect Audio’s Leonidas II is refinement perfected. Bolstered by outstanding precision, holography and speed, the II excels as an industry legend’s successor with flying colours and continues to prove why palladium-plating is one of the landscape’s absolute hottest prospects. The technology capably lifts stage expansion, detail retrieval and layering to new heights whilst maintaining composure and finesse throughout. For all the Leonidas II achieves technically, most striking is the effortlessness and ease with which it does so. Upgraded both sonically and visually, this second iteration perfects what the Leonidas set out to be in 2016: Pristinely clear, intricately arrayed and organically rich all at the same time.

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I just ordered this today to pair with the UM MEST. Can't wait!!!


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Best-in-class technical performance with minimal tonal compromise
- Outstanding imaging precision with effortless stereo spread
- Vast, stable stage
- Highly-resolved, cleanly-defined and physically-convincing instruments
- Visceral (yet unobtrusive) bass performance
- Seamless coherence
- Exquisite build quality
Cons: Lavishly premium price
- Transients slightly overtake harmonic content
- Mildly recessed lower-midrange
- Treble (although inoffensive) may be a touch too forwardly-placed for some
DISCLAIMER: Jomo Audio loaned me the Trinity in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following this article. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. My first impressions of the Trinity as follows.

Mere weeks away from its conclusion, 2018 is shaping up to be a monumental year for the in-ear audio industry. We’ve witnessed the hybrid resurgence, the birth of miniature electrostats, the outbreak of proprietary BAs, advancements in acoustics, and so much more. What better way then, to end the year than with a product that does all of them at once? Enter Joseph Mou’s Trinity: A 7-driver flagship comprised of 3 distinct driver technologies, configured in a phase-correct array and finished with an acoustically-affected bore – all within a single shell. Let’s cut to the chase: How does it sound?


Jomo Audio Trinity

  • Driver count: One dynamic driver, four balanced-armature drivers and two electrostatic drivers
  • Impedance: 30Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: N/A
  • Key feature(s) (if any): CSU (Cross-Sync Uniphase) crossover network
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEM
  • Price: S$3799 (UIEM); TBA (CIEM)
  • Website:
Sound Impressions*

The Trinity is a stunning technical performer. Having long been jaded by the tonal sacrifices manufacturers often make to push detail and stage expansion to arbitrary limits, the Trinity is the first piece since 64Audio’s Tia Fourté to have me wholly entranced by the vast, corporeal and intricately detailed soundscape it convincingly transports me to. But more importantly, everything it achieves feels entirely deserved – there aren’t any egregious tonal aberrations, no diffuseness and minimal artificiality. The Trinity never comes across forcing its technical merits. Everything was done with musicality, long-term engagement and tonal balance in mind; making its feats all the more outstanding at the end of the day.


The Trinity flaunts a remarkable stage, expanding beyond the confines of the head – grand and theatre-like in scale. But again, more impressive is how genuine the volume feels. Instruments in the rearmost row – heck, even echoes bouncing off chapel walls in Chesky Records’ binaural rendition of When the Saints Go Marchin’ In – maintain full integrity; gaining the same corporeal there-ness as the crucial centre-image. In Sam Smith’s One Day at a Time, there’s as much tension and resonance in the string plucks at the bottom of the mix, as there is in Smith’s breathtaking vibrato at the very top. It’s a combination of macro- and micro-dynamics that gifts the Trinity its striking transparency and riveting realism.

Unfortunately, it’s small shortcomings in tone that threaten to take it away. Despite the balance it expertly maintains in the bass and midrange – which we’ll discuss later – the Trinity’s middle-treble may come across too energetic at first listen, especially to audiophiles who prefer a warmer, more laid-back and more organic signature. Transients sound a dB or two louder than they should, because of a brighter 7-10kHz range. But, this is something listeners can certainly adapt to. Someone like me who prefers an in-ear as laid-back as the JHAudio Layla or as rich as the Empire Ears Phantom can fully transition into the Trinity within a track or two. Fans of the Campfire Audio Andromeda or the 64Audio A18t may not need to adapt at all. So, whether as a matter of preference or a question of realism, it’s certainly case-by-case.


The Trinity’s low-end is dynamically-driven and clearly so; extension and physicality impress. Although that may seem like a given considering the tech at play, this is a crucial because of the Trinity’s relaxed mid-bass. There’s a clear sub-bass bias, drooping before plateau-ing around 300-500Hz. On one hand, bassheads may not be happy with the Trinity’s modest low-end body. But conversely, the stage is kept remarkably clean and the low-end never distracts. Thankfully, the reverse is true as well. Because the bass is so solid, it never makes its presence or authority unknown. Even in slower tracks – like the aforementioned Sam Smith tune – when the bass guitar kicks in to accompany the vocalist’s entrancing melody, the sheer resonance of the instrument (and the driver) is spine-tingling. The same goes for the drop in Sabrina Claudio’s uptempo Don’t Let Me Down. Indeed, the low-end may not be wild as some crave, but it never, ever lets down.

The Trinity’s midrange was structured with depth in mind, hallmarked by its neutral lower-midrange. Because of this, instruments are more articulative than they are harmonic or rich. Notes are neutral in size, but not in placement. Vocals have an upper-mid bias; vibrant, engaging and musical. But, because of how linearly it rises throughout 1-4kHz, they still come through with coherency, solidity and linearity – avoiding any sense of hollowness or plasticity. Consequently, the Trinity maintains a clear timbre with passable organicity. Boosting 300-500Hz would’ve given instruments a fuller, more complete structure, but it would’ve been at the cost of depth. Again, transparency and resolution is breathtaking as the stage expands far beyond the work area of the midrange. Every layer of every frequency range is revealed with utmost scrutiny, accenting the stage with galaxies of detail, with just enough warmth to keep it all pleasingly glued together.


Treble is where Trinity unleashes its main event: A swift, articulate and stunningly clear electrostatic experience. Unlike any driver technology I’ve encountered in the past – even heavily-modified variants like 64Audio’s tia drivers or Ultimate Ears’ True Tone drivers – Sonion’s twin engines deliver air and detail with unprecedented finesse. Remarkable speed and effortlessness allow transients to appear and vanish with neither a bright haze nor a brittle harmonic anywhere in sight – resulting in an airy, open and vast soundscape with near-zero fatigue. In addition, since the transient decides whereyou hear the note first, imaging precision is fantastic as well. Paired with CSU technology, spatial performance reaches the top of the heap with ease. I haven’t heard the spherical boundaries of the stage – especially the diagonals at 10′ and 2’o clock – and stereo separation this defined since the Tia Fourté and Vision Ears’ Erlkonig. Energy throughout 10-12kHz does give the Trinity a more neutral tone, but the benefits to technical performance are – pun, intended – crystal clear.

With all this in mind however, I must return to the brighter 7-10kHz range. With hotter music, you can begin to hear the slightest hint of a hard-edge to the initial transient. But fortunately, swift decay brings it to a swift end. Again, it’s a peak you can easily grow accustomed to – even if you prefer warmer sounds – but it’s a knack against the Trinity nonetheless.

vs. Alclair Audio’s Electro ($1499)

The Electro is the world’s first commercially-available custom IEM to implement Sonion’s dual electrostatic tweeters – the very same ones used in the Trinity – and the only other in-ear I’ve heard extensively with the technology. Although I was concerned the drivers would lead them to sound similar, I was relieved to find that they weren’t alike in several respects.


This is obviously most prevalent in the bass. The Electro carries a strictly flat-neutral bass. It’s transparent in the sense that it rises and falls according to the recording, which is ideal for use in the studio or live. But, this limits its musicality, especially with genres like EDM, pop and R&B. The Trinity’s low-end is a noticeable step-up from neutral – mostly so in the sub-bass. It then approaches neutral around the mid-bass, but there’s certainly enough rumble and slam to go around with all genres. The dynamic driver also gives the Trinity superior physicality and authority. Even if quantity isn’t particularly high, the solidity and grunt of the bass is as palpable as ever. The sub-bass bias gives the Trinity a visceral, textured low-end, while the Electro’s linear bass grants a natural, melodious tone ideal for mixing or for genres like jazz.

Compared to the Trinity’s neutral lower-midrange, the Electro has a fuller, richer and more harmonic response. Notes here aren’t as defined as on the Trinity, but vocalists – balladeers in particular – benefit from this heftier range. A sense of weight and drama accompany the songstress’s delivery, which then yields a more intimate, powerful and emotionally resonant performance. But, the Trinity compensates with micro-dynamic energy. Because its treble is more articulate and its lower-mids are further recessed, the Trinity maintains a blacker background and a more stable soundscape filled with clearer nuances and more prominent micro-details. This is what grants the Trinity its theatricality. The Electro will have the warmer timbre and superior structure too, but the Trinity simply outclasses it in transparency and definition.


Sourcing their strengths from the same source, the treble is where Trinity and Electro are most alike. As described above – and in my impressions of the Electro online – Sonion’s electrostatic drivers deliver the cleanest transients I’ve yet heard from any in-ear monitor. Treble notes appear, shimmer and disappear with uncanny speed. This means both in-ears sport excellent headroom and stable soundscapes. Where the Trinity departs is in articulation. It’s more crisp, energetic and sparkly than the softer, more linear Electro. This leads to the edge in detail, but it also gives the Trinity a brighter tone. The Electro has the more pleasing timbre by comparison, but the Trinity prevails in imaging precision. CSU technology gives it a more stable sphere enveloping the listener, superior definition at the diagonals (10′ and 2’o clock) and a blacker background. Although the Electro is more organic, the Trinity is unquestionably more technically-capable.

Consensus… For Now

The Trinity – to me – is an undeniable revelation. Since becoming a recording engineer and having my preferences shift towards timbral candor, I’ve abandoned the notion of sacrificing tone for detail – “Juvenile manhood-measuring contests!” I childishly thought. But, as any S$3800 flagship should, I’ve begun to question my creed. After long nights of work – as I lay Phantom and Layla to rest – I find myself giddy and agog; the Trinity calls with all its glorious flair. Track 1 plays and I instantly hear it: A middle-treble peak and a delicate lower-midrange. But alas, no wince! Neither a tick, nor a quiver nor a quail. “Who cares when you have all this detail?!” Because truly, this is what the Trinity reliably achieves: A rival to Fourté with fewer compromise, a foil to Erlkonig at a fraction of the cost, and a challenger to both with a custom form. Will this romance last? Only time will tell. But until that fateful hour comes past, Trinity has me under its evil spell…


*Note: The Trinity I have here is the stainless steel variant; denoting the nozzle material. A brass version is also available and carries its own distinct sound signature. Should I get the chance to audition it in the future, this article will be updated. Also, since the provided cable was single-ended – and to make sure I’m not bottlenecking the Trinity in any way – I’ve written these impressions with the most common aftermarket cable in the world today: Effect Audio’s Ares II terminated with a 4.4mm plug.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Exquisite tonal balance; ripe for professional work
- Organically natural instruments
- A high degree of transparency towards the chain (track included)
- Outstanding bass performance
- Full-bodied, dynamic and nuanced mids
- Top-class build and accessories
Cons: Darker tilt is an acquired taste
- May lack upper-treble sparkle and raw, immediate clarity to some
- Slightly dulled transient attack
- Not the most defined in clinical separation
- Lower-treble peak may react poorly to select tracks
DISCLAIMER: Empire Ears provided me with a discounted price on the Phantom in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Empire Ears for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Empire Ears are on their way to becoming a household name. The family-run enterprise – formerly known as EarWerkz – have been putting out hits for years, including the venerable Legend-R average_joe reviewed in 2015. But, they’ve only recently broken into the mainstream with their statement piece behemoth; the 14-driver, switch-clad Zeus-XR. Looking to ride that momentum into the proverbial sunset, Empire Ears have taken 2018 by storm, putting out two brand new lines of in-ears tuned with a think-tank-like collective of industry pros. Headlining the EP (Empire Professional) line is the Phantom: A revelation in tonal transparency; one of the most natural, sophisticated and refined in-ears I’ve ever heard.

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Empire Ears Phantom

  • Driver count: Five balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 10Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 117dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): synX crossover technology, A.R.C. technology, proprietary balanced-armature drivers
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $1799
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

Among the myriad of in-ears I’ve reviewed over the past year, Empire Ears clearly have the best-packaged ones of them all. The Phantom comes in an uber classy, onyx black box – complete with the company’s Bentley-like logo glimmering on top and a magnetic strip lining the latch below. Lifting the lid reveals a quick start guide, small and large fabric pouches, a branded micro-fibre cloth and Empire Ears’ personalised Aegis case. Within the case are the in-ears themselves, the default Effect Audio Ares II cable and an included cleaning tool securely set within foam cut-outs. Although I wouldn’t mind replacing one of the pouches for a mini semi-hard case, this is surely a package as complete as I’ve ever seen one.

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The provided Aegis case is a touring musician’s dream. A black, fine-textured finish shrouds the enclosure, topped with an engraved, aluminium faceplate and two tenaciously robust clasps. Density and weight throughout the vault suggests a great degree of durability, without sacrificing look or feel. The one complaint I’ve heard online is the narrow profile, which may inadvertently cause pressure on the in-ear monitors when mispositioned. A face-down seating position is required. But overall, Empire Ears’ Aegis case possesses a suaveness that all but telegraphs the quality sitting within.

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When customising your Empire Ears custom in-ear monitor, you’re given the option of 29 shell colours (21 standard and 8 glitter) and a whopping 62 faceplates. The latter consists of the 29 colours that are available in shell form, in addition to multi-coloured swirls, wood, carbon fibre and multi-coloured graphics – almost like vinyl on a race car. On top of that, you’re also given the option of adding Empire Ears’ logo in gold or silver, a field of Swarovski crystals or your own custom artwork that you can submit on their online designer. Although the tool isn’t as sophisticated as JHAudio’s (which allows the user to rotate the designs in a 3D space), it’s on an equal plane as those from 64Audio, Custom Art and Vision Ears.

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In terms of build, cosmetics, comfort and isolation, the Phantom ticks all boxes with ease. My personal pair came in onyx black with carbon fibre faceplates and gold emblems; emulating the class and luxury a high-end in-ear monitor should. And, nowhere is that more clearly reflected (besides in sound, of course) than in finish. The monitors are evenly and illustriously lacquered with neither a bubble nor a rough edge in sight. Even the horn bores – notoriously difficult areas to get clean – are flawlessly structured with utmost finesse. In the ear, they’re vanishingly comfortable – balancing pressure and ergonomics better than a large majority of my collection – and they isolate very sufficiently as well.

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Finally, as mentioned, Empire Ears includes Effect Audio’s acclaimed Ares II wire as the in-ear’s stock cable. Relative to other Effect Audio cables I’ve owned, the braiding isn’t as uniform and silky – probably so because the’ve had to keep up with massive demand. But, they still exude infinitely more quality than most stock options in the industry today.


synX is a proprietary crossover system developed in-house by Empire Ears, which they claim designates more individual audio bands per driver than any other crossover technology currently in existence. In essence, it splits the load across more transducers, so that they possess more headroom and – therefore – lower distortion. This is especially true when you wish to apply any form of EQ. You’re allowed more leeway to push certain frequencies before the drivers begin to operate outside of their comfort zones. This is useful for me as a sound engineer, if I were required to use EQ for – say – a mixing console with sub-optimal output impedance, a specifically coloured audio player, etc. In addition, Empire Ears claim synX improves stereo separation, phase response and SNR, through handpicked resistors, capacitors and filters.


Image courtesy of Empire Ears
A.R.C. Technology

A.R.C. (Anti-Resonance Compound) technology is comprised of two separate parts existing inside and outside of the balanced-armature drivers. The first is ferrofluid that they’ve implanted between the magnets and the armatures within the drivers. What this does is dampen the driver sufficiently, such that it removes any unwanted distortions, peaks and vibrations, whilst maintaining a crisp, clear sound. This also eliminates the need for a damper in the sound tube. The second part is a proprietary coating that they spray on every component of the IEM – including the drivers, crossovers, tubes and shells – to add solidity; acting as – again – a damper to remove any resonances that may render them out-of-phase. Empire Ears claim increased clarity, deeper bass and an overall more efficient monitor as a result of A.R.C.


Image courtesy of Empire Ears

The Phantom possesses a relaxed, organic signature defined by great robustness, a natural sense of body and excellent tonal transparency. Despite its handful of ingrained, fundamental traits, the Phantom is unique in how it lets the chain determine its tone and soundstage. Like other mastering in-ears – such as JHAudio’s Layla – the Phantom is capable of distinctly distinguishing shifts in production, mixing and mastering. An example would be the change in saturation in Tom Misch’s voice between Lost in Paris and South of the River from his Geography album. Or, the shift in vocals between Sam Smith’s Burning and One Day At a Time. While most IEMs aim to provide a generally pleasing, musical performance, the Phantom’s M.O. is infinitely more altruistic: A true, unadulterated representation of music with little compromise.

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But, this ability can only exist when a strong technical foundation has been set in place. Fortunately, the Phantom possesses excellent spatial performance. The EP flagship has been gifted an impressively stable black background with high resolution, by virtue of strong end-to-end extension. Because of this, no matter the hue or size those instruments embody, they’ll always be sat within a well-defined, well-layered and well-resolved soundscape. Despite its transparency, the Phantom does have its quirks in timbre. It’s a predominantly rich-sounding monitor with ample harmonic content, because of its prominent lower-midrange. In addition, a linear upper-treble limits sparkle, crispness and raw clarity. If you’ve grown accustomed to brighter, airier signatures like those of the HD800 or the A18t, the Phantom will likely require some getting used to. But if warmth is your cup-of-tea, it’ll fit like a smooth, snug and transparent glove.


One of the Phantom’s most prominent features is its thick, voluptuous low-end – contributing heavily towards both vocal richness and the overall organic tinge in its tone. It’s not a particularly forward-sounding low-end. Rather, its role in the overall ensemble is to fill out the bottom; pairing articulate transients with equal harmonic content. Outstanding balance is maintained between the sub- and mid-bass, resulting in a transparent response that I’d call neutral in tone. Alternating between the synthetic bass lines on Royce da 5’9″‘s Caterpillar and the uprights on Sarah McKenzie’s That’s It I Quit is a giddying experience – watching the low-end shift between guttural authority and warm emotionality. Again, it’s a rich, well-balanced and full-bodied bass that comes across uncoloured, but neither is it sterile or dull by any stretch.

This is because the Phantom’s bass possesses wonderful technical performance. Although the low-end isn’t necessarily coloured for fun, it maintains gobs of musicality through authority and extension. The Phantom’s sub-bass is excellent despite its balanced-armatured nature. The dynamic range, texture and resolution it possesses is second to few. But, most impressive is the headroom it’s able to maintain at the same time. There’s an effortlessness in the way it doles out waves of bass, that you’re able to objectively appreciate and subjectively head-bob simultaneously. Layering is strong as well, because of the Phantom’s low-end balance. You get just the right amount of everything, while high extension and low distortion make those individual elements pop. In terms of cons, I can see some preferring less upper-bass for cleanliness and definition. But for my money, this is a quality, balanced-armatured low-end I wouldn’t alter one bit.


The Phantom possesses a thick, euphonic and resonant midrange; relatively even bar slight bumps around 1-2kHz and 3kHz. The former elevation contributes a characteristic chestiness – perhaps where the Phantom is least transparent throughout its entire frequency range. When combined with the in-ear’s full upper-bass and lower-midrange, vocals and instruments alike possess great body, as well as rich harmonic content. Although the Phantom then produces images with wetness and body, overall warmth remains minimal – granted by a well-controlled mid-bass and an extended top-end. So despite the harmonic content, the midrange never sounds cloy or congested. Instruments are organic in timbre, but refined too. When paired with the in-ear’s black background, the result is high resolution and tonal transparency.

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This refinement also stems from the its light, breezy upper-midrange. Unlike most musically-tilted in-ears, the Phantom does not possess a particularly dense or concentrated midrange. Instead, it chooses to assume a more feathery profile that projects through the chesty fundamental, rather than the throat or mouth. This aids its chameleon-like quality. Comparing two tracks like David Benoit’s Drive Time and Sarah McKenzie’s We Could Be Lovers, the Phantom showcases how distinct the two are in terms of real estate, rather than colouring both to sound inaccurately engaging. The former is spacious and theatre-like, while the latter bathes in intimacy. Where this may falter is in physicality. Certain higher-pitched instruments may lack concentration and density; failing to sound punchy at times. But again, this favours the engineer: Where tones, timbres and textures are easily discerned, with little distraction stemming from vocal saturation.


The Phantom’s treble is perhaps its most unique attribute and – consequently – its most polarising as well. Unlike most flagships in this day and age, the Phantom employs a flat, unexcited upper-treble; forgoing raw clarity, crispness and air in favour of tonal transparency. The Phantom is the antithesis of in-ears that “sound good with everything.” Because, its philosophy as an unbiased, uncoloured tool wills it so. The main areas of compromise lie in micro-detail retrieval and transient attack. With instruments like snare drums and cymbals, those accustomed to brighter, crisper transducers will immediately notice what sounds like dulled articulation. Transients don’t strike as quickly or as sharply as they normally would. In addition, tiny nuances in the music aren’t as prominent. Funnily though, the smoothness this tuning grants does allow you to focus on more data in a single sitting. But before you can do so, you have to search for them first.

Instead of the upper-treble then, the Phantom’s 6kHz peak provides clarity and articulation. With the right tracks, transients can come across clear as day, yet infinitely refined. These include RVRB’s Faded EP, Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyedand David Benoit’s Drive Time. But other tracks like Charlie Puth’s Done For Me may end up sounding brittle. This was done to maintain as clear a timbre as possible, so it does not sound crisp or tizz-y when it isn’t supposed to. Despite allthe compromises listed above, the Phantom’s treble does reward handsomely as well. Top-end notes – while softer – leave zero trace as they decay. The soundscape remains free of any bright harmonics, haze or chemtrails. This results in a perpetually black background; an essential foundation to accentuate the true colour of the track. This aids dynamic range as well, as instruments flow clearly between different loudnesses for an endlessly engaging experience. Finally, excellent extension preserves detail retrieval, revealing impressive nuance once you grow accustomed to its sensibilities.

General Recommendations

In the current crop of high-end in-ear monitors, the Phantom is certainly an acquired taste. It’s uniquely tuned withoutan eye for raw detail and air – rather, an ear for timbral and spatial shifts. These three are what the Phantom excel at:

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Tonal transparency for mixing and mastering: The Phantom’s uncoloured sonic palate serves as a great foundation for ruthless pro work. Tiny shifts translate with immense clarity – whether it be in EQ, stereo imaging or overall balance.

A rich, emotionally-resonant midrange: For playback, the Phantom also possesses a wonderfully transparent midrange – among the best in dynamic range, balance, tonal accuracy and resolution. If your playlist largely consists of vocal-oriented music, you can always rely on the Phantom to bring the best (and worst) out of your favourite balladeers.

An outstandingly well-rounded bass: Among the vast array of balanced-armatured low-ends I’ve heard, the Phantom is definitely in contention for the throne. Although it’s nowhere near basshead territory, it possesses a sense of balance present both in-and-of-itself and within the Phantom’s larger frequency response. Extension and authority allow it to maintain this, whilst sounding fun too. It strides the line between fun and work with outstanding prowess, effortlessly.

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Because of how far it strays from mainstream sensibilities, the Phantom does have its fair share of what can be perceived as cons. If you prioritise the following three traits highly in an in-ear monitor, the Phantom may not be for you.

High clarity, crispness and transient performance: Derived from its laid-back upper-treble, the Phantom’s articulation can be perceived is stunted; dulled. It isn’t as clinical or clear-cut as most modern flagships. Transient attack may sometimes lack too with more rhythmic genres. If fun and attack are what you’re looking for, Empire Ears’ X Series will be for you.

Contrast-y, clinically-defined instruments: The Phantom’s fuller upper-bass and lower-midrange (relative to the treble) also results in wetter, bloomy-er instruments – not as cleanly defined as on brighter, leaner monitors. There’s certainly an emphasis on harmonics. If you crave detail and definition, the EVR and ESR from Empire Ears’ EP Series will do the job.

A forgiving lower-treble: Despite the overall smoothness the Phantom possesses throughout its frequency response, its lower-treble is a particular point of caution. Although it provides natural clarity, tracks, cables or sources that emphasise 6kHz may end up sounding brittle or sibilant. Again, the Phantom definitely pulls no punches – if it’s there, it’ll be heard.

Select Comparisons

JHAudio Layla ($2699)

Jerry Harvey’s Layla is a bonafide classic – the weapon of choice for dozens of professional engineers worldwide. So, how does the veteran compare to the new kid on the block? Surprisingly (or the opposite, rather) the Layla and the Phantom share several striking similarities. In tone, the two share the same track-first philosophy. The colour the soundscape assumes is determined by the recording and the chain, but both in-ears regardless maintain a sense of organicity; a lush humanity to the way instruments are presented. Where they ultimately differ is how much this lushness intrudes upon the proceedings. The Phantom possesses more flair. There’s a confident, muscular timbre to it that stems from its harmonic lower registers. On the other hand, the Layla comes across more strict; more cool, calm and collected.

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The Phantom has a warmer bottom, a livelier midrange and a peppier treble, while the Layla’s all display a similar level of quiet confidence. There’s a nonchalance to its delivery that may come across less musical, but will appeal to engineers who are looking for the utmost truth; no more, no less. The Layla’s beauty, then, stems from quality. Its low-end digs among the deepest I’ve heard from balanced-armatures, and its resolution across the board is stunning. This is further exemplified in stage reproduction. The Phantom has an immense technical foundation, but the images that occupy it loom large and full. The Layla compacts its instruments, such that its expansive stage feels even more grand. It provides a theatrical experience that some may consider detached relative to the Phantom. As always, it’s a matter of preference.

HUM Dolores (¥200,000)

The Dolores is HUM’s brand new flagship. Like the Phantom, it’s posited as a reference-grade engineering tool. Although the two share similarities, they ultimately diverge in their interpretations of life-like. Although it shares the Phantom’s linear upper-treble, the Dolores posits a cleaner, more neutral tone – courtesy of a 10kHz peak and an attenuated low-end. Transients sound brighter and punchier, but they aren’t much crisper than the Phantom’s. Rather, they’re far more prone to brittleness with hotter recordings, like J. Cole’s verse on Royce da 5’9″’s Boblo Boat. So, the Dolores is cleaner in timbre, but far less forgiving. And although it lacks the sub-bass prowess or mid-bass warmth of the Phantom, the Dolores’s low-end scores high in speed, control and definition. Extension imbues it with sufficient physicality as well.

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Space is where the two are most alike. Excellent bidirectional extension gives the Dolores a stable, well-resolved and richly-nuanced stage. The two are indistinguishable in width, but the Phantom wins out in depth. This is because of its laid-back upper-midrange, while the Dolores’ is more saturated. The former has a blacker background as well, but in terms of detail-led transparency, the Dolores has the edge with its sharper transients. Micro-details possess greater vibrance and attack. However, this compromises tonal transparency. Although it’s capable of discerning shifts in midrange structure, the Dolores doesn’t alter much from one recording to another in overall timbre and hue. So, I’d posit the Phantom as the mixing and mastering tool, while the Dolores is most viable in editing first and mixing second.


The Phantom is a modern classic – discerning, resolving and soulful all the while. Veering from vogue, Empire Ears’ co-flagship forgoes fabricated pizzazz to deliver music in its truest, purest form: A balance built for the professional. But, that’s not to say it’s without its own eccentricities. A harmonic heft tinges its sonic palate, as well as an adamant refusal to conjure any form of hard-edged transient attack; a slip away from the veiled cognomen. But years of experience have come to the Phantom’s rescue, for Empire Ears have truly instilled it with a wonderful technical foundation. Taken together, it’s not a signature all will love – especially those who live on air, crispness and crystalline clarity. But for the listener eager to explore the different flavours, fibres and hues that music has to offer, the Phantom reigns supreme.

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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: A unique interpretation of neutral
- Clear, crystalline and pure-sounding
- A delicate balance between definition and body
- Outstanding for instruments like pianos and violins
- Immense build quality
- Lavish presentation
Cons: Not for those yearning for any semblance of low-end thump
- Minimal warmth and euphony
- Stage definition isn't the absolute best given the MSRP
- Housings are on the heavier side and prone to scratches
DISCLAIMER: My colleague flinkenick loaned me his Eden review unit for the purposes of this article. You can check out his thorough review of the Eden – complete with notes on build as well as comprehensive comparisons – here. My review is as follows.

Rhapsodio is a custom in-ear and aftermarket cable manufacturer world-renowned for unending experimentation and equal ambition. From 9-driver hybrids to 20-driver customs, Rhapsodio founder Sammy has never been known as a business type – rather, a mad professor of sorts living off of the fireworks display he calls a product line. Limited runs, refreshes and one-offs are commonplace for the Hong Kong firm, but in my eyes, that only makes their mainstays all the more special. Enter: Eden. The Eden is Rhapsodio’s new flagship comprised of a single dynamic driver – Sammy’s clearweapon of choice. Tuned for a crystalline and pure signature, this is a TOTL that sells on performance and personality.

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Rhapsodio Eden
  • Driver count: One 10mm dynamic driver
  • Impedance: N/A
  • Sensitivity: N/A
  • Key feature(s) (if any): N/A
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal platinum-plated silver in-ear monitor
  • Price: $2000
  • Website:,
Sound Impressions

The Eden carries a strikingly clear tone, though with zero hallmarks of a crisp, clean, clarity-focused signature. This is because its crystalline nature comes from bass attenuation, rather than treble accentuation. In fact, the Eden’s top-end is kept relatively linear, because there’s minimal warmth for it to combat. On the other hand, instruments never come across lean. There’s a roundedness and body to its timbre – especially in the midrange – that maintains density and coherence. Although notes don’t hold the most weight, they’re always physically convincing. Expectedly then, the Eden builds a clean, open, proportionally-even stage with a natural sense of air – neither brightly harmonic nor richly warm.

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In expansion, I’d call the stage average, but left-right separation is especially strong – and imaging is moderately precise as well – because of the attenuated low-end. Tonally, the Eden precariously rides the line of neutral, whilst borrowing elements from either end of the spectrum. Heavier instruments like upright basses or male baritones sometimes lack the authority and resonance that lend them their gravitas – sounding too light and airy. On the other hand, pianos and violins excel because of the Eden’s bell-like clarity. Tone is a give-and-take with these sorts of instruments, but ultimately, all of them share a unifying quality that I can simply call pure – crystal clear, yet wholesome and even across the board.

But, as neutral as it is, the Eden’s low-end is quality. Despite its quantity (and the absence of warmth), the bass is full – probably so because of the diaphragm’s dynamic nature. It may border on unmoving, but solidity is high and coherency is excellent as well. Clearly, the entire low-end had been calmed rather than select parts. So, the Eden still pumps like a singular piston – however shy that piston may be. Energy is mildly concentrated around the mid- and upper-bass for a neutral tone. This lends itself well to the clarity of kick drums, where you can visualise the skin as the beater strikes. Swift decay further adds to this, solidifying the bass as a light cherry on top, rather than the spongy foundation below.

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The Eden’s midrange is smooth, engaging and surprisingly wholesome. A rise across 2-4kHz gives instruments a rich, almost saturated presence. Higher-pitched pianos and female vocals are particularly engrossing. The Eden balances the fullness and clarity of these two extremely effectively. There’s neither the thinness from the pursuit of detail, nor the bloat of mid-bass warmth. Again, a sense of purity runs through these elements to enchanting effect. However, not all instruments were treated equal in tone. Heavier strings or horns may lack warmth and weight. But, the wholesomeness of the midrange does prevent any notion of leanness. In transparency and resolution, the Eden fares fine for a flagship. Rather than technical performance, the midrange impacts by engagement – a full-bodied, musical and clear display.

The Eden’s treble is unique in that its contributions toward clarity are rather minor. Its lower-treble is articulate indeed, but its defining hallmarks are linearity and cleanliness – rather than any real attempt at emphasising crispness or air. On the plus side, the top-end comes across smooth and effortless. The region as a whole is inoffensive, rounded and ever-so-slightly warm. Extension is relatively average – and so is its transparency, concurrently – but calmness down low renders the treble crystalline nonetheless. Notes are on the thicker side, but sufficient articulation and swift, refined decay preserve that sense of attack. Cymbals and hi-hats won’t necessarily sound all that exciting, but violins and chimes exude elegance. Again, an out-and-out technical performer it is not, but it concludes the Eden’s signature with aplomb.

General Recommendations

The Eden’s pure, crystalline signature yields a unique listening experience that hybridises thick engagement and cleanliness. If the following traits pique your interest, the Eden will prove an excellent flagship for you to consider:

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A balance of rich saturation and crystalline clarity: Because of the Eden’s unique approach towards transparency, it’s able to maintain both cleanliness and body in the midrange. This is ideal when listening to instruments like acoustic pianos, flutes and violins, where both bell-like clarity and note weight are important in accurately producing the instrument.

Minimal low-end quantity: The Eden is as neutral as it gets. It truly goes to great lengths to let the midrange and treble shine. If you listen mostly to classical or acoustic music with little regard for bass quantity, the Eden will serve you well.

A smooth, superbly linear treble: But, that doesn’t mean the Eden’s shrill or thin either. Its clean, unobtrusive low-end allows the treble to assume a smooth and linear profile as well. There are truly no noticeably peaks on the Eden’s top-end, neither are there any apparent dips. It’s a smooth, forgiving yet crystalline treble that’ll serve detail with little effort.

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But, the Eden’s decidedly bass-less signature does leave the following caveats to be considered. If the three traits below are criteria of high priority when considering your next flagship in-ear monitor, the Eden may not be your cup of tea:

Any amount of low-end warmth or visceral impact: This is the Eden’s greatest Achilles’ heel. In an effort to maintain both clarity and midrange density, it’s had to compromise heavily on bass response. Even audiophiles adverse to low-end energy will most probably have to adapt to the Eden’s presentation. I’d like to think it’s an acquired taste – and it does have situational benefits as far as realism is concerned – but anyone with an inkling for impact would not enjoy Eden.

Stage fullness or saturation: A side-effect to the Eden’s neutral low-end is the fullness of the stage. Without bass warmth occupying its designated portion of the track, the stage may feel empty and nonchalant. With more acoustic music – where emotion is delivered through lyricism and micro-dynamics – this isn’t much of an issue. But, it can be; elsewhere.

Top-of-the-line stage definition and transparency: Despite its clarity, the Eden’s transparency is inhibited by top-end extension. For a flagship, stage definition and openness are rather average. So, if you’re after transparency driven by detail, nuance and stage expansion – rather than tone or timbre – the Eden would probably not be your cup of tea.

Select Comparisons

Sennheiser IE800S ($999.95)

Sennheiser’s IE800S is – like the Eden – a single-dynamic-driver flagship tuned for neutrality and detail. As such, the two share several similarities in tonal balance. Low-end warmth on both in-ears is shelved down in order to preserve cleanliness and clarity. However, the IE800S has a noticeably lifted sub-bass for a more guttural listening experience – especially with genres like EDM and pop. The mid-bass is a tad more elevated as well, which results in a more filled-in and tonally warm low-end, even though the warmth it imparts on to the midrange remains minimal. Consequently, the Eden has thicker, more saturated instruments. The IE800S is noticeably thinner with greater definition and contrast.

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A key contributor to this is the German flagship’s treble. Although similarly smooth, refined and clean, the IE800S has a crisper, more articulate upper-treble. Notes are more clearly outlined and the black background is further defined as well. The Eden’s presentation is less contrast-y, but it is more true-to-life. Instruments like violins hold greater balance between richness and clarity. But, cymbals and hi-hats sound sharper, livelier and cleaner on the IE800S. Extension is also the IE800S’s ballgame. The stage is further expanded with a more genuine sense of depth, and cleaner separation between each element. The Eden is more musically coalesced and pure, while the IE800S was purpose-built for hi-fi.

Alclair Audio Electro ($1499)

Alclair Audio’s Electro adopts a similar philosophy to the Eden: Clarity through low-end neutrality, rather than top-end accentuation. As a result, the two share several similarities in tonal balance. The Electro – despite its electrostatic driver – was tuned with a linear top-end. It’s neither overtly sparkly nor painfully crisp – very similar in tone to the Eden’s treble, yet more articulate. But, the Electro’s e-stat grants it superior refinement and speed. Notes appear and decay faster and more gracefully, which allows the Electro to image, separate and layer to greater effect. The Eden is still less coloured – more pure – in the sense that instruments are truly laid bare, but the Electro is cleaner with a greater rhythmic drive.

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And, this is because of the Electro’s low-end. Despite similar proportions across the spectrum, the Electro comes imbued with a touch more mid-bass and a dB or two more sub-bass. The physicality of the bass goes to the Eden by virtue of its driver, but the Electro undoubtedly has more of it. But again, the Electro’s electrostatic driver allows it to keep up with the Eden in stage cleanliness and note definition. In faster music, the Eden does edge it out in how effortlessly it renders instruments, but again, this is at the cost of bass quantity. The two are remarkably similar in the midrange – full-bodied, well-structured and linear. The Electro has more apparent clarity due to its articulation, but it’s the slimmest of margins.


Rhapsodio’s Eden is one of the most unique in-ear monitors I’ve ever heard. By attenuating the low-end and linearising both extremes, it achieves a palate that’s neither dark nor bright, nor cold nor warm; simply neutral and pure. There’s a colourlessness that’s water-like in how pristine and bare the music comes across. But obviously, how that crystallinity is received will vary wildly from one track to another. Any track with a semblance of a need for bass will suffer instantly, while pianos and violins sing with beams of emotion. Whether or not the Eden is for you is for you to decide, but at the end of the day, it is unquestionably unique. And in this landscape, that’s nothing if not praise-worthy by all accounts.

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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Excellent technical performance
- Strong spatial properties in expansion, stability and imaging
- Effortless, refined and transparent tonal palate
- Life-like midrange structure (note density, positioning and timbre)
- Controlled and smooth - yet articulate - treble
Cons: Price (!)
- Ergonomics (relative to standard 4-wire cables)
- Requires the use of pigtail adapters for all terminations besides 2.5mm TRRS
- Lacks additional accessories at this price point
- Isn't ideal for absolute clarity-heads
DISCLAIMER: Effect Audio provided me with the Janus Dynamic in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Effect Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Effect Audio needs no introduction. The Singaporean superstars have cemented themselves as one of the most prominent cable manufacturers in the world; crafting some of the finest products the industry has ever seen. But, not ones to rest on their laurels, Effect Audio have just recently made their most exciting innovation yet: Palladium-plated conductors. As an hors d’oeuvre of sorts, Effect Audio have used this technology to birth the Janus twins; Dynamic and Basso; set apart simply by the geometries within the conductors. Today, we’ll be looking at the Janus Dynamic – one-half of the cable industry’s hottest prospects, and one of the most natural, balanced and effortless cables I’ve heard yet.

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Effect Audio Janus Dynamic
  • Wire composition: 24 AWG UPOCC Palladium-plated copper & EA alloy mix
  • Default configuration: 8-wire
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Palladium plating, UltraFlexi insulation
  • Price: $1399
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

The Janus D comes in a box not unlike ones I’ve previously explored with Effect Audio’s pricier offerings: A black monolith enclosed within an embossed paper sleeve. However this time, the printings are accented with metallic silver ink; a welcome touch given the exclusivity of the cable within. Lifting off the felt-lined hatch reveals the Janus D, as well as its included pigtail adapter. As usual for Effect Audio, the package oozes class. Although I wish they’d include an extra feature given the price – like the Lionheart’s leather pouch, for example – it’s still an impressive display nonetheless.


The Janus D is a formidable beast; thicker than Effect Audio’s standard fair by 2 AWG. Regardless, they still perform admirably in ergonomics. In daily use, I rarely ever notice the extra weight. And, Effect Audio’s newly redesigned Y-split keeps everything stationary on the go. Although it’s far from the most vanishing cable in my arsenal, its lofty size should never be a concern either. The conductors themselves look absolutely stunning; alternating between shimmering grey and matte-black throughout. The braids aren’t as tight as their slimmer siblings, but they’re as even and uniform as Effect Audio’s products always are. Finally, softness and suppleness are still some of the best the industry has to offer.


The Janus D also features Effect Audio’s newly-redesigned Y-split and PSquared plug. This revision features a gorgeousmirror finish – almost resembling chrome – as well as laser-engraved emblems. Numerous users (myself included) have complained about logos rubbing off in the past, so this revision addresses that issue wonderfully. The Y-split feels immensely more robust than the previous one too. It’s noticeably lighter and more compact, but density has greatly increased. As a result, it doesn’t bounce anywhere as easily when in motion, and the cable remains stable at all times.


The 2.5mm PSquared plug is wonderfully machined as well, though it’s important to note that it will be the Janus twins’ default connector. Unlike Effect Audio’s other offerings, all Janus orders will arrive with the aforementioned plug and a pigtail adapter, which you can choose to have terminated in either 3.5mm single-ended or 4.4mm balanced. This was apparently a compromise made to avoid long wait times d ue to the Janus’ laborious production process. I’m personally not a fan of this system, because the inclusion of an adapter adds an extra point of failure and additional heft to an already-lofty cable. So unless you already own a 2.5mm-compliant DAP, this should be an important factor to consider.

Sound Impressions

The Effect Audio Janus D is an excellent technical performer, yet – idiosyncratically – subtle in how it alters the monitor’s presentation. It maintains a smooth and lightly warm timbre, but what sets it apart is the linearity with which it does so. There are zero noticeable aberrations throughout its frequency response, so its general performance is defined by qualities like balance, extension and decay – all of which prove mighty impressive. The Janus D presents compactly-sized images spread throughout a stunningly defined stage. Excellent coherence allow all of these elements to co-exist without the need for extra brightness, and a sufficiently quick decay maintains a pitch-black background at all times.


Expectedly so, the Janus D’s most noteworthy traits are stage expansion, transparency and imaging precision. It presents a holographic, three-dimensional soundscape with layers that expand towards all three axes. Instruments toward the far-left and right display just as much resolution as the centre image, presenting a cohesive whole filled with a variety of tones and textures; equally audible, ripe for the picking. This is especially true with busier genres of music. Although instruments aren’t as sharply isolated as they could possibly be – due to the Janus’s linear upper-treble – this is to the benefit of tonal accuracy, and separation still impresses nonetheless. Finally, transients and decays constantly feel swift, but not sharply so. Hence, the Janus D showcases a healthy balance between liveliness and refinement in its delivery.

Bass performance is one of the Janus D’s strongest suits. It consistently boasts great solidity, wonderful resolution and effortless detail. The region is linear overall, so it’s neither noteworthily rumbly, or punchy, or melodious. Rather, its forte is the ability to maintain an authoritative presence no matter how busy the track gets. Excellent achievements in speed and control ensure the bass is consistently heard, while extension guarantees it’s always felt as well. Although that usually implies tight, insubstantial jabs, the Janus D’s low-end is surprisingly meaty and thick. Punches are harmonic, warm and textured, but never occupy too much space – nor linger too long – within the stage. It’s a bass that rock fans will love, as it resolves the bass guitar and kick drum without either being compromised – both punchy and luscious.


The Janus D’s vocal range is the least coloured of the three. Steady linearity runs through the lower- and-upper mids for a carefully balanced response. Favourably, it does little to alter the monitor’s inherent presentation. Rather, superb transparency further distances the image from the background, ensuring endless nuance and effortless detail without awkwardness in tone. To some, however, the Janus D may lack vibrancy in the upper-mids compared to other offerings. Horns and female vocals sound less peppy and bright here than – say – on the Thor Silver II, which may translate to a lack of engagement at first listen. However, closer scrutiny will reveal the cable’s technical strengths. Separation and imaging precision are extremely impressive, as is note structure and resolution. Never is there excessive warmth from the bass, nor a plasticky chill from the top. Simply put, it’s naturally rich, organically clear, and outstandingly life-like.

The Janus D’s top-end resumes its neutrality; neither organically warm, nor strikingly crisp. Rather, it maintains a clear, laid-back response, where its stand-out characteristics are linearity and transparency. Like the rest of its signature, its transparency is the tonal kind, where it imparts little colour to the in-ear’s inherent presentation. However, it does have a bias towards smoothening and refining transients, rather than sharpening them. This works extremely well with the 64Audio A6t, where its 7kHz peak often borders between grainy and articulate depending on the pairing. But, it isn’t preferable with the Jomo Audio Deux, for example, which needs that bright contrast to pop against its fuller midrange. Regardless, the top-end extends admirably; bolstering its background blackness, transparency and depth. It’s a top-end that won’t necessarily excite like the Horus will, but its technical prowess (and versatility) is undeniable either way.

Suggested Pairings

The Janus D has an overall clear, laid-back signature, with little deviance in terms of tonal bias. As a result, pairing becomes a question of dynamics, rather than timbre. Because although the Janus D excels in the technical realm, it’s relatively less coloured than the industry’s current crop of favourites. So, if you’re already content with how your in-ears present instruments as is – and you’re simply looking to boost performance – these are what the Janus D can do for you:


Superior imaging, separation and resolution – The Janus D’s forte is its ability to create an airy, spacious and grand sonic image without ever making its elements sound distant, nonchalant or unengaged. A strong sense of focus and resolution spans throughout the entire spectrum – instead of remaining limited to the centre image – and musicality is never lost over time. This is gold for IEMs that feel a bit closed in; like the Warbler Audio Prelude or the Custom Art FIBAE 2. You’ll experience music within a more epic, voluminous scale without losing any of its intimacy.

A well-supported, dense, yet transparent midrange – The Janus D maintains strict discipline in its upper-mids and lower-treble; showcasing strong linearity and vocal quality without any frills. A pitch-black background renders finer nuances and dynamic energy, whilst maintaining refinement and organicity. Images are harmonically rich, but remain compact enough to sound cleanly defined at all times. This complements similarly voiced in-ears like the Empire Ears Phantomor the 64Audio’s A6t, and it will enrich wispier ones like the Custom Art FIBAE 3 or the Kumitate Labs Sirius.

Strong bass extension and resolution – Like the Bespoke Ares II I reviewed recently, the Janus D has an authoritative, guttural low-end. As a result, both add physicality to thumps and thwacks without necessarily increasing the mid-bass. However, the Janus D takes it to a whole other level by enriching the bass with a melodious tone and a warm, meaty texture – along with high resolution. If you have IEMs where bass is present, but a touch one-dimensional – like the Avara Custom AV2 – it’ll surely add a pleasing depth that’ll endow upright basses and electric guitars great personality.


However, the Janus D’s bias for smoothening transients rather than sharpening them makes it unsuitable for the stereotypical upgrade cable criteria: Moar detail! Moar clarity! The Janus D has a decidedly meaty timbre, despite its expertise in separation and precision. Nevertheless, these are qualities you shouldn’t expect from Effect Audio’s latest:

Increased treble sparkle and top-end clarity – Despite the cable’s shimmery-silver looks, one should expect very minimal dazzle from the Janus D’s top-end. It’s an articulate and especially refined treble – elegant in its delivery and silky to the ear – but it won’t sound particularly sharp ala Effect Audio’s Horus, for example. In-ears like the Jomo Audio Deux or the Empire Ears Athena-VIII ADEL that need a little bit of bite, will not pair best with the Janus D’s laid-back response.

Poppy, vibrant vocals – The Janus D balances between its lower- and upper-mids. Although it has a slight tilt towards the latter, it’s not going to add any noticeable zing or pep to your instruments; whether it be the honky-ness of a tenor sax, the sweetness of a female songstress or the ring of a snare drum. If your in-ears have calmer upper-mids out of the box – like the Custom Art FIBAE 2 – and you wish to bring out more vibrancy, the Janus D shouldn’t be your pick.

A cleaner, leaner presentation – This is most definitely the Janus Basso’s wheelhouse. The Janus D has a linear frequency response that won’t remove any chestiness or cloy-ness (around the 500Hz to 1kHz region), which makes it less than ideal if you seek more defined and streamlined images. The Janus B has a more v-shaped response with a neutral lower-midrange, so that’s the one to get if you’re after a punchier presentation and contrast between the low- and top-ends.

Select Comparisons


Effect Audio Bespoke 8-wire Lionheart (S$1599)

The Bespoke Lionheart spits out a similarly grand image in width and height, but maintains intimacy in depth. This is due in large part to its warm bass and articulate lower-treble. The Janus D is significantly more linear, uncoloured and laid-back. Down low, the Lionheart throws looser punches; warm and meaty, yet a touch sluggish in decay. The Janus D’s comes with superior resolution, clarity and control. Thumps are visceral and defined, as they are textured and melodic.

The Lionheart’s vocals are further upfront, while the Janus D’s excel in refinement and transparency. The former is more rock out! while the latter has an effortlessness that significantly bolsters its resolution. The Lionheart’s instruments are more forwardly placed, while the Janus D’s sit relatively evenly with the rest of the frequency response. The Janus D has a faster, more refined treble with more headroom. The Lionheart’s is smoother and warmer, but more congealed.


PWAudio 2-wire 1960s (S$1399)

Like the Janus D, the 1960s is capable of strong three-dimensionality. Spatial resolution is excellent, exceptionally at the diagonals. As an instrument pans from left-to-right (or vice-versa), it’s especially easy to follow as it travels – giving the stage a well-defined spherical outline. But, this is also because the 1960s is deeper than it is wide, so 10 o’ clock and 2 o’ clock are closer to the centre image. The Janus D has a wider stage with greater headroom. The 1960s is more articulate because of its bright lower-treble. The Janus D is more laid-back, while the 1960s has a coloured, engaging tone.

In longer listening, the 1960s will prove more tiresome, as it focuses on crisper transients rather than richer harmonics. There’s clearly more snap to the note, while the Janus D balances between edge and body. The 1960s will sound more dynamic and lively as a result, while the Effect Audio conductor has superior linearity, refinement and space. The PWAudio cable invites energy and rhythm at the cost of transparency; its stage feeling a touch more claustrophobic than the Janus D, even though it displays excellent openness in and of itself. The Janus D simply has a more relaxed presentation, which – once again – makes it sound impressively effortless no matter how busy the track gets.


The Effect Audio Janus Dynamic flaunts excellence in tonal balance, spatiality and resolution. It endows every monitor it’s paired to with dense, textured, strongly-defined images within a vast, transparent and unintrusive space. But, what truly impresses is the effortlessness with which it does so. While laid-back, organic signatures are typically associated with sluggishness and cloy, the Janus D subtly – yet crucially – injects its calmness with relentless authority and unwavering control. Within its raw, colourless palette are massive achievements in speed, definition and precision – spanning evenly throughout its entire spectrum. It truly is the best of both worlds; emotional in tone, methodical in execution.

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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Outstanding versatility
- Exquisite balance of smoothness and clarity
- A realistically-structured midrange
- Beautifully-refined treble
- Switchable bass response
- Great build quality
- High value-for-money
Cons: Not the last word in resolution and transparency
- Imaging precision isn't its strongest suit
- Okay bass extension, texture and physicality
- Average packaging and accessories (for now)
DISCLAIMER: Lime Ears provided me with a discounted price on the Model X in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Lime Ears for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Lime Ears is a Polish in-ear manufacturer whom – I think – is one of the most underrated in the world today. Three years after the release of their highly-acclaimed flagship Aether, the company have set their sights on dominating the mid-tier market with the all-new Model X. However, despite its positioning as second-fiddle to the Aether (in driver-count andprice), company founder Emil Stolecki has equipped the Model X with both old and new innovations inside. The bass switch and VariBore make welcome returns, while PAR (or Passive Acoustic Resonator) technology makes its debut – resulting in a vibrant monitor with smoothness, air and headroom to spare; one of the most versatile 2018 has to offer.

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Lime Ears Model X
  • Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: N/A
  • Sensitivity: N/A
  • Key feature(s) (if any): PAR (Passive Acoustic Resonator) technology, VariBore, switchable bass response
  • Available form factor(s): Universal and custom acrylic IEM
  • Price: €890
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

The Model X arrives in a black Pelican-esque monitor vault with the logo, owner’s name and serial number printed on top. The in-ears themselves are nestled safely inside, along with a cleaning tool, desiccant and a name card with Lime Ears’ contact information. Like I was with the Aether, I’m a tad let down by the minimality of the package. I expect more in 2018, especially considering my experiences with Avara Custom, Empire Ears and AAW. But if what I saw at CanJam Singapore 2018 is to be believed, Lime Ears should soon revamp their packaging to adopt a more luxurious aesthetic – complete with a sizeable box, a metal case, and ample accessories. Unfortunately, I can’t review what I do not have.

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Despite the modest packaging though, the monitors themselves are gorgeously built. Emil and I decided to experiment on a brand new design option for the Model X, and the result is a beautiful marble-like motif. Completing the scheme are a pair of engraved logos and a coat of lacquer. The shells are a tad light, but they’ve survived tons of gigs in my fully-stocked backpack, so this shouldn’t be of much concern. Ergonomically, the Model X is one of my looser-fitting monitors – ironic considering the Aether is one of my tightest. However, this is no real detriment to comfort or isolation at all. The Aether’s do cancel out a touch more noise, but I’d rather take the Model X’s vanishing comfort any day. So all in all, I think Lime Ears is an underrated force in cosmetic design and build. All they need now is a premium package to match.

VariBore and PAR Technology

Drawing from Emil’s past experience as an acoustics engineer, VariBore and PAR technology are both acoustical mods. VariBore implements varied sound bore diameters for the low, mid and high frequencies. The dual bass drivers fire through a tighter 1mm bore for optimal low-end delivery, while the tweeter outputs through a 2mm bore for superior extension and minimal resonance. When paired with further damping, the driver delivers a silky smooth top-end that doesn’t skimp on energy, vibrancy or air; one of my favourite elements of the Aether that makes a return in the Model X.

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On the other hand, PAR manifests itself as an additional bore bred purely for resonance control. It’s an empty cavity that acts as a resonator, further smoothening the Model X’s frequency and impulse responses. By treating the ear canal as an acoustics engineer would a room, Emil has given the Model X an advantage over the Aether in transient speed (and decay), overall authority and resolution despite the latter’s higher driver count. These improvements in focus and finesse address the Aether’s most common criticisms – especially in the midrange – and allow the Model X to maintain its dynamic, musical and fun signature with very little compromise in cleanliness and transparency along the way.

The Switch

Lime Ears’ bass switch is another recurring feature present in the Model X. It boosts frequencies below 800Hz by approx. 6dB. It’s an especially useful feature when listening to playlists with varied genres, but it’s also compliant to the Fletcher-Munson curve. Basically, the curve states that at lower volumes, the human ear will perceive less bass relative to the mids and highs. So, this bass boost compensates for that in scenarios where quieter listening is ideal or required.

The Model X leans toward neutral with the switch down. This is unlike the Aether, where its bass remained musical in the same position. With the switch up, the low-end gains dynamism, impact and body with little alterations (if any) to tone, as well as minimal compromise in imaging. The technology may be more widespread nowadays, but Lime Ears’ implementation remains one of the best – adding energy when the mood strikes with little cost to balance or finesse.


The Model X boasts a fun, musical and well-balanced sonic image. Like the Aether, it draws from massive headroom to create an open, airy and especially smooth presentation. But, one shouldn’t mistake this effortlessness for a warm, laid-back signature. Conversely, the Model X’s generous presence across the upper-mids and treble create an exciting ambience. Instruments are vibrant, clear and well-resolved – painted against a decently black background. Its stage may not be the largest of its competition, but this benefits its engagement. There’s sufficient space for full stereo coverage across the head, but enough intimacy is also maintained so the presentation never feels dull or nonchalant.

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A key element in the Model X’s tonal balance is its lower-midrange. Standard practice dictates a dip in this area for max definition, but Emil cleverly bypasses this for greater linearity and superior vocal structure. Notes are sufficiently wet, rich and full-bodied, yet never muddy, bloated or congested. Clarity is then drawn from quick decay and decent treble extension. The stage does retain traces of harmonic haze – so to speak – but the Model X nonetheless maintains some of the best balance between richness and resolution in the sub-$2000 market. Its tone adopts a light shade of warm; leaning closer towards neutral than natural. But, the Model X bolsters more vibrant and melodious instruments than the flagship Aether, because of a more controlled mid-bass, a more resonant midrange and a more articulate upper-treble.


The Model X’s low-end is emphasised towards the mid-bass – consistently producing punchy, fast and musical throbs. Extension only experiences a marginal improvement over the Aether, so it’s still not the most well-defined or textured bass in the world. But conversely, superior treble extension endows greater control over mid-bass bloom. This results in less bleed towards the midrange and higher resolution down low. Nevertheless, the bass’s very light warmth imparts body to vocals and instruments alike, and linearly connects it to the lower-midrange. This is further escalated when the bass boost is active, while the low-end is more tightly reserved – and the stage becomes cleaner – with the switch down.

In both settings, the Model X maintains a warmish-neutral bass tone; only becoming a touch warmer with the switch toggled up. This aids layering and transparency. But on the other hand, the Model X’s bass can never be as gutsy and dominant as the Aether’s can. This is a low-end tuned with a decisive aim towards balance and midrange transparency, so listeners who found the Aether’s bass barely sufficient may not prefer the Model X’s lighter delivery. Speaking of balance, in switch down mode, the bass sits linearly with the midrange; just behind the upper-mids. With bass boost activated, the low-end moves just past the upper-mids for a fuller response. Here, you’ll get a busier stage with a touch less finesse, but both settings will appease a wide variety of listeners and genres – so long as they aren’t bassheads.


The midrange is where the Model X truly surpasses its bigger brother – superior in structure, focus and transparency by admirable margins. A laid-back lower-midrange fuels definition and contrast, but – again – enough content is present for impressive vocal integrity. A rise escalating throughout 1-3kHz give instruments palpable presence, finished with a 5kHz peak for articulation. Most impressive, however, is the linearity with which the rise occurs. The Model X constructs an impressively coherent midrange with zero noticeable aberrations until its lower-treble. This results in a stable, cohesive image, and marvellous headroom – which, in turn, bolsters realism despite the relaxed lower-midrange. Lime Ears have absolutely nailed smooth transparency down to a science, and nowhere is this clearer – literally – than on the Model X.

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In tone, the Model X maintains a gorgeously smooth, lightly warm timbre – neutral-leaning with the bass switch down. But, the midrange’s MVP is certainly its clarity. The Model X carries gobs of headroom and air; as if the vocalist were belting within an open, endless space. There’s a powerful, resonant quality to instruments too, which I attribute to the passive resonator. This compensates for utmost resolution, which is very lightly smudged by the Model X’s treble extension. Nevertheless, when price is taken into consideration, there’s more than enough air to bask in and imaging precision remains decent – if not pin-point. An upper-mid bias is present, so instruments are more melodious than they are weighty. But, once again, excellent coherence preserves realism; sufficiently life-like with every track thrown its way. Truly, this is where the Model X’s most impresses; a midrange as unwaveringly smooth as it is stunningly clear.


The Model X’s midrange may be its most improved component, but the treble – as with the Aether – remains its best. Subtle peaks are present along 5, 7 and 12kHz, but Emil has taken the extra mile to ensure seamless integration for all three. Needless to say, he has wildly succeeded. The Model X’s top-end is crystal clear in tone – and outstandingly airy as well – but at the same time, it is uncannily smooth. It’s an almost paradoxical treble that I’ve yet to hear in any other IEM (besides probably the Vision Ears VE8). The region as a whole is outstandingly linear and coherent, while the subtle peaks add elements of attack, crispness and energy where necessary. If treble were decided by timbre and cohesiveness alone, Lime Ears would have a clear winning formula on their hands – smooth, airy, refined and satisfying at all times.

But alas, additional aspects must be considered too when evaluating treble. One is extension. Relative to the Aether, the Model X extends a touch further; displaying a cleaner stage and greater low-end control. But, it still lacks that last bit of reach for utmost transparency. As mentioned previously, the Model X carries a touch of harmonic haze. Although this aids musicality and cohesiveness, it’s to the detriment of imaging. Instruments are large, vibrant and engaging, but there’s some overlap as to where they are on the stage. In its price rage, it faces stiff competition from the Custom Art FIBAE 3, the 64Audio A6t and – especially – the Kumitate Labs Meteo, so great performance here is crucial. Nevertheless, it just trumps all three in placement, linearity and coherence. A silky quality within the Model X’s top-end integrates it soseamlessly into the bigger picture, that it exists both as a team player and as the monitor’s undoubted star performer.

General Recommendations

The Model X has a clear, well-balanced and forgiving signature that makes it suitable for a massive variety of genres. It does come with a couple compromises to achieve this; settling for a jack-of-all-trades approach rather than satisfying any niches. But nevertheless, these are groups who’d benefit most from its smooth, clean and energetic presentation:

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A musical, clear and full-bodied all-rounder: As I’ve made crystal clear throughout this review, the Model X is a do-all IEM. It boasts bounds of openness, clarity and air to satisfy the busiest of genres and its midrange carries enough density for slower, more emotional ones as well. Rock and electronic music will benefit from its tolerance for harsher recordings, as well as its penchant for dynamic energy. On the other hand, jazz and classical aficionados may find a need for tonal warmth, but the in-ear’s excellently executed 1-3kHz rise ensures palpable physicality for vocals and instruments alike.

Clarity and vibrancy without sibilance: Smooth transparency is one of the Model X’s prime strengths. The musicality of the upper-mids – as well as its linearity along the treble – gives the in-ear a breezy, air and pleasingly clear tone. But, the balance it maintains with regards to the mid-bass and lower-midrange is crucial. As a result, its clarity is constantly buoyed by a sense of body and integrity; not the false, grating clarity that’s been infecting the market as of late.

A variable bass response for different moods, genres or playlists: The Model X’s bass switch makes it wonderfully versatile for a variety of listening scenarios. Additionally, it’s implemented in such a way that it adds weight without altering much of the in-ear’s inherent tone. Of course, whether or not that’s a pro depends on whether or not you enjoy the Model X’s house sound. But nevertheless, it’s a dandy feature with excellent practicality, ease of use and minimal compromise.

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However, despite the Model X’s agnosticism towards production quality and genre, it does have a specific colouration and bias that people may or may not enjoy. It leans closer towards fun, breezy musicality, rather than cold analysis orlush, euphonic warmth. So, the Model X may not be for you if your preferences lie within the following categories:

Utmost precision in imaging and stage expansion: Although the Model X is wonderfully clear in tone, it isn’t as transparent as far as space is concerned. One of the sacrifices it makes in achieving cohesive musicality is pin-point imaging. Additionally, as treble extension begins to waver, its stage isn’t the most clinically defined either. So, if you’re an opera nut with an affinity for theatre halls or two-storey-high church auditoriums, the Model X might not be your cup of tea.

A guttural low-end or a wholly-developed midrange: The Model X is a jack of all trades, but that also makes it a master of none – apart from being variative, ironically. So, it doesn’t necessarily lean in to any cliques, which limits its appeal to niche crowds. Bassheads won’t appreciate the Model X’s leaner low-end and its midrange – while clear – lacks the necessary texture and tonal finesse to truly appease vocal aficionados. It works well enough with genres like classical and jazz (as mentioned), but won’t be the be-all-end-all for those genres – or any genre for that matter- either.

Rich, buttery tonal warmth: The Model X is a well-balanced IEM with enough density and fibre to support its presentation without fatigue. But, there’s a noticeable lack of warmth – particularly in the bass. The Model X is a reasonably neutral IEM, and some might not enjoy its lack of euphony. Granted, to make room for that richness, the Model X would need even more headroom and stability than it has now. So if anything, this is something Emil can strive for in the future.

Select Comparisons

Lime Ears Aether (€1150)

The Model X and its bigger brother share many similarities. They’re both smooth, musical and airy IEMs hallmarked by an open treble response and outstanding headroom. However, they do differ in presentation and balance. The Aether is decidedly richer and heftier because of its fuller mid-bass and more withdrawn upper-treble. The Model X has a flatter, tighter low-end along with a crisper upper-treble, resulting in a more neutral tone and cleaner delivery. This also gives the Model X a blacker background and cleaner separation, even though stage expansion and imaging are similar.

The bass is probably where the Model X and the Aether are least alike. The latter has a significantly warmer, richer and bloomy-er mid-bass, while the former’s is tight and controlled. The Model X’s low-end is cleaner, brighter and better-layered by a significant margin. Paired with its energetic upper-treble, it feeds far less bleed into the midrange. But as a result, its bass is a lot less lush, melodic and musical relative to the Aether. Some may prefer the clearer, more compact approach, while others will find more value in the Aether’s fun, energetic delivery (despite its technical shortcomings).

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The midrange is where the Model X has most improved from its bigger brother. A tighter mid-bass provides a cleaner, blacker background, while a brighter upper-treble boosts clarity and contrast. But, where the Model X truly pushes forward is speed and resolution. The Aether has drawn criticism for its almost unfocused midrange; slightly withdrawn and diffuse, despite its tonal charm. Fortunately, the Model X offers a more complete and fleshed-out presentation with greater holography, solidity and depth. Instruments are snappier and denser, while the Aether remains calm and laid-back. The Model X may sound a touch brighter and lighter, but in terms of technical performance, it takes the cake.

The two Lime Ears monitors share fairly similar treble responses – airy, fast, open and yet smooth. This is especially true of the lower-treble. Both peak around 5kHz with a similar amount of energy relative to the midrange. However, the Model X is more energetic in the upper-treble; around 10-12kHz. As mentioned earlier, this is what gives the Model X its superior sense of cleanliness and clarity, as well as its relative neutrality. So, the Aether is probably more linear up top, but the Model X’s technical benefits can’t be ignored. Extension goes to the Model X as well, resulting in its blacker background, more stable stage and increased headroom. Imaging may be on par, but it’s delivered more effortlessly.

64Audio A6t (w/ M15 module) ($1299)

The A6t and the Model X sound like they were raised in similar households. Both are neutral-natural – with a tendency to lean towards the former – with an emphasis on midrange solidity and treble performance. However, in their respective quests to achieve that goal, they differ in approach. The Model X is more involving, intimate and musical – engaging with forwardness, vibrancy and air. Conversely, the A6t is more laid-back – choosing to envelop the listener with an emphasis on stage stability and background blackness, while the solidity with which instruments are presented lulls the listener in.

Unlike the Model X’s mid-bass emphasis, the A6t has its bump somewhere between the sub- and mid-bass. This is a presentation that invites more texture; visceral and guttural in its delivery, aided by decent extension. Comparatively, the Model X’s low-end is cloudier with a softer, silkier sense of impact; the A6t being the more physical and solid of the two. The A6t is darker down-low, but possesses great layering and clarity. The Model X loses out in this regard, opting to fill the stage with detail coming from the midrange and treble, rather than the low-end. In balance, the A6t is more akin to the Model X with the switch up, but its pitch-black background gives it the headroom to do so with relative ease.

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In the midrange, both IEMs possess a 1-3kHz rise for excellent body and density. However, the Model X displays more energy in both the lower- and upper-mids. As a result, instruments sound more vibrant, forwardly-placed and resonant. The resulting images are rather loose and radiant, resulting in the harmonic haze described earlier. Conversely, the A6t is more even-handed and nonchalant here. Instruments and vocals are more compactly-sized and dense, which aids its imaging and resolution. But in the long term, some may find the Model X’s more musical presentation more enjoyable. In tone, they both err towards neutral due to their upper-trebles, but realism is maintained in structure and delivery.

The Model X has a smoother, silkier treble response compared to the A6t. The former peaks at 5kHz, while the latter rises closer to 7kHz. The A6t will display more solidity, definition and realism as a result – particularly with instruments like hi-hats and cymbals. But, poorly-produced tracks may end up sounding brittle as well. Because of its vibrant upper-mids, the Model X displays better integration of the treble into its overall soundscape. On the other hand, the A6t – depending on the pairing – may have its top-end a touch more forwardly-placed than its upper-mids. It’s a matter of preference whether you enjoy the Model X’s clearer tone or the A6t’s more defined, compact presentation. Regardless, the A6t is the clear winner in extension, decided by its superior precision, transparency and background blackness.


The Lime Ears Model X makes yet another compelling entry in the mid-tier market and displays remarkable maturity in the company’s house sound. Filled with much of the flagship Aether’s DNA, the Model X takes advantage of old and new technologies for further gains in resolution, speed and finesse. The result is a vibrant, clear and seductively smooth monitor fit for any genre thrown its way. Although by no means the most technically-acrobatic of its ilk, only few can contest the sheer enjoyment bleeding through its airy, open soundscape. The Model X is Emil Stolecki flexing his acoustical muscles to make one of the most charming and easily-enjoyable, all-round IEMs I’ve heard yet. Proceed on this path with a focus toward technical performance, and Lime Ears will be an absolute one-to-watch for years to come.

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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Great headroom and staging properties
- Fantastic value-for-money (especially when upgrading from the 4-wire variant)
- Natural tonal balance
- Charming, vibrant vocals
- Strong build quality and packaging
- High versatility
Cons: Inherently less ergonomic compared to 4-wire cables
- Not the last word in technical performance or transparency
- Doesn't subscribe to the stereotypical, full, copper-esque sound
DISCLAIMER: Effect Audio provided me with the Bespoke Ares II in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Effect Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Effect Audio is a Singaporean cable manufacturer of very high repute. Their contributions to the industry have received incredible acclaim, as has their collaborations with in-ear manufacturers like Empire Ears, Vision Ears and Jomo Audio. Though their industry-standard, 4-wire cables have claimed much of the praise, Effect Audio are now pushing forth their Bespoke line consisting of 8-wire cables; double the wire count, double the performance… or so they hope. Our very own PinkyPowers recently reviewed the 8-wire Thor Silver II and touted it as one of his favourite cables of all-time, but today I’ll be taking a look at the Bespoke Ares II; a beastly evolution of Effect Audio’s award-winning staple.

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Effect Audio Bespoke Ares II (8-wire)
  • Wire composition: 26 AWG UPOCC Litz copper
  • Default configuration: 8-wire
  • Key feature(s) (if any): UltraFlexi insulation
  • Price: $300
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

Effect Audio’s 8-wire Ares II arrives in a luxurious, matte-black monolith. It’s identical to the packaging that comes with the company’s Lionheart, except the paper sleeve has Bespoke printed on top instead of Lionheart. Similarly, sliding off the paper sleeve reveals a velvet door, with the cable nestled in a circular cut-out just underneath. The completionist in me would’ve loved to see a cable tie of sorts included inside, but the conductor’s tight braid keeps it uniform anyway.


When making the leap from 4 to 8 wires, there’s a clear compromise in ergonomics. The 8-wire Ares II certainly weighs more than any 4-wire cable, but – surprisingly – overall comfort is a toss-up. The cable’s density is doubled, which makes it impossible to tangle. Effect Audio’s braiding is impressively tight, but never stiff. In daily use, the only weight I ever feel lies above the ear; especially during and after inserting custom IEMs. But, once the monitors are locked in the canal, the additional heft is minimal; resulting in a listening experience that may require adaptation, but not constant attention.

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As always, fit and finish with Effect Audio is impeccable. The Litz copper wires emit an extravagant lustre; gleaming and glimmering at every turn. The braids prove more uniform than their 4-wire counterparts all throughout, aiding both aesthetics and ergonomics. Effect Audio’s signature metallic Y-split and 2-pin connectors are as sleek as ever. Though, I can’t say the same about their plain Jane 4.4mm plug. It’s a simple black barrel with a white Effect Audio logo printed on top, and it breaks continuity – to me – against the rest of the hardware. Thankfully, Effect Audio have since updated the hardware on their cables, including the option for a gorgeous, metal-and-carbon-fibre, 4.4mm Pentaconn plug.

Sound Impressions

The Bespoke preserves much of the original’s timbre: A lightly warm tone juxtaposed against an articulative lower-treble. The stage gains remarkable depth, but the most noteworthy change lies in its definition. The cable outputs a pitch-black background with ample headroom, resulting in effortless refinement; teeming with openness, dynamic contrast and air. While the stock Ares II tends to fabricate space through its leaner lower-midrange, the Bespoke is more welcoming of harmonic detail. Instruments compromise neither body nor tone, yet remain congestion-free because of the cable’s innate expanse. Every element is resolved from transient to decay, with minimal warmth intruding on clarity.


Improved bass extension pairs the Ares II’s warm, meaty punches with palpable physicality. The low-end is tastefully accentuated, focused between the mid- and sub-bass frequencies. As a result, there’s a hint of rumble with every punch; inviting rhythm, energy and motion to the overall presentation. Thankfully, the Bespoke allows enough headroom to avoid veil. Excellent treble extension applies a perimeter of air around each thump. So as the note arrives (and decays), the monitor is able to convey texture, tone and dynamic energy in a cleaner, more articulate and well-separated manner – all whilst maintaining titillating impact. Also, in tracks where bass drops are waiting to happen, the Bespoke’s authority allows the listener to more easily follow the crescendo; adding a dose of theatricality as the song approaches its climax.

Like the original Ares II, the Bespoke maintains a vibrant, emotive and musical upper-midrange. This vibrancy comes from a 6kHz peak, vulnerable to stridence with problematic pairings. However, the Bespoke alleviates this through heightened headroom. The rise is now more rounded, smooth and refined, but just as transparent, articulate and clear. The lower-mids – although largely neutral – gain excellent resolution, as harmonic detail is better rendered against the black background. Male vocalists with larger ranges (like Michael Bublé) reap most from this; amalgamating the Bespoke’s bodied bass, defined lower-midrange and melodious upper-mids to ensure musicality whether he’s crooning or belting. Finally, a stable stage fuels imaging and separation. Instruments maintain their size, energy and hue, but are placed within a more spacious environment; resulting in a more precise – yet tonally-correct – presentation.


The Bespoke’s top-end is just lightly risen, aside from its 6kHz peak. As a result, the Bespoke’s treble maintains a largely neutral tone. However, it also consistently boasts sufficient definition. Its composure translates neither to sluggishness nor veil, as a result of excellent headroom and admirable extension. Notes decay just quickly enough for proper contrast, outlined against a black background, and imaged precisely throughout the stage; resolving, clean and clear. It merely flirts with adding the biting crispness that most silver cables (or even the Eos, for example) are known for, but clarity never falls short. The Bespoke’s linear upper-treble invites a more natural timbre, but its light lift serves dividends in dynamic energy; compensating for its lack of frills with excellent stability, decent transparency and palpable realism.

Suggested Pairings

Because of the Bespoke’s strong technical foundation, it’s a versatile cable that’ll synergise with most monitors it’s paired with. It doesn’t carry any notable frequency aberration(s), even though it does have an overall tinge; lightly warm counterbalanced by the peppiness of the upper-midrange. Regardless, most of its major effects are technical in nature: Palpable increases in soundstage depth, background blackness, image stability, note resolution and spatial precision. So, if the qualities below are ones you’d love to see improved within your IEMs, the Bespoke Ares II will do you good:

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Heightened transparency, without brightness: While the simplest way to coax clarity is by boosting the upper-treble, the Bespoke Ares II skilfully creates a blacker, more stable background. It’s as if the image lowers in distortion; becoming more effortless and well-defined whilst maintaining tonal balance. This is ideal if you own warmer IEMs – like the Empire Ears Phantom or the Custom Art Harmony 8.2 – and seek to clean the image without altering its inherent timbre.

Increased bass physicality, without bloom, bleed or dominance: The Bespoke Ares II is ideal if you want to increase the bass’s sensation of impact, without necessarily boosting the mid-bass altogether. This is done through great extension. IEMs like the Warbler Audio Prelude, Lime Ears Model X and 64Audio A6t benefit most from this, as their tonally-correct low-ends become substantially more authoritative, guttural and musical, without becoming dirty.

Greater midrange texture, without congestion: If you have monitors like the Phantom, Harmony 8.2 or the Empire Ears Zeus and you find their lower-midrange biases may border on overt, the Bespoke Ares II makes an ideal pair. The conductor brings the region closer to neutral and – more crucially – adds authority and texture. So, you never get that cloy sensation of chestiness or fullness. Instead, you get great gravitas within a bellowing, deep lower-midrange.


Conversely, because of the Bespoke’s balance throughout the midrange, as well as its warmer tilt, here are aspects the won’t benefit from the conductor upgrade:

Fuller, meatier and more-bodied notes: Although the Ares II is a copper cable, it does not have the fullness and euphony that copper conductors generally do. Its light warmth is confined strictly to tone, whilst note density, body and richness remain largely unchanged. In fact, its neutral lower-midrange may invite a lighter, less-heavy-handed delivery. In-ears with wispier notes – like the Nocturnal Audio Avalon – won’t benefit (in meatiness, at least) with the Bespoke.

Cleaner, brighter vocals: The Bespoke places its vocals neutrally on the stage; a combination between increased stage depth and a linear upper-treble. Despite its bias towards the upper-mids, the Bespoke should not be your pick if you’re looking to give vocals a cleaner, crrisper tone. The midrange will tend towards melodious and sweet; vibrant and zing-y. With the 64Audio A6t as an example, this added depth gives too much of a contrast between the upper-mids and the 7kHz peak, which makes it less-than-ideal for peaky-er pairings or for low-level listening.

Select Comparisons

Effect Audio 4-wire Ares II ($149.90)

As previously mentioned, the default and Bespoke variants share many tonal similarities. However, in terms of stage expansion, background blackness, imaging precision and resolution, the original noticeably lags behind. Simply put, the Bespoke accomplishes all of its works with less effort. In its delivery, there’s a constant sense of refinement, authority and ease. As a result, the Bespoke comes equipped with greater control over its arsenal. Its 6kHz peak is smoother, its lower-midrange is better-textured and its low-end is physically more sound as well. Succinctly said, fans of the standard Ares II will find much to love in its Bespoke variant, if they won’t mind the extra weight and the heftier price tag.


Effect Audio 4-wire Thor Silver II ($399)

The Thor Silver II displays similar levels of refinement to the Bespoke Ares II, because of its silky, feathery treble. It’s lightly raised and articulate, yet skilfully smoothened. Nevertheless, the Thor cannot achieve the same effortlessness that the Bespoke does. The latter portrays a blacker background, superior separation and a noticeably larger stage. Bass is a much closer contest between the two. The Thor portrays excellent physicality and palpable impact. Its mid-bass is more thump-y, while the Bespoke spreads its energy between the mid- and sub-bass. I’d call extension a wash, but the Ares II’s blacker background gives its low-end greater resolution. The Thor has a lighter (less dense) midrange, while the Bespoke renders more organic texture. But, this gives the Thor Silver II a sense of speed that the Ares has less of.


PlusSound Exo Silver + Gold ($349.99)

More so than the Thor Silver II, PlusSound’s Exo Silver + Gold bears several resemblances to the Bespoke Ares II. Although the Exo’s accentuated upper-treble gives it a brighter tone, it presents a well-structured midrange, as well as excellent sub-bass extension. The mid-bass shows excellent control, even if it’s not necessarily as well-textured as the Bespoke’s. Additionally, it competes with the Ares II in soundstage width, though the Bespoke has the edge in depth. Background blackness and separation also go to Effect Audio, while the Silver + Gold’s larger images aim for utmost engagement. The PlusSound cable has a slightly tizzy-er lower-treble, though it only rears its head with select pairings. Ultimately, the Silver + Gold gets decently close to the Bespoke’s technical performance, but with a brighter twist.


Effect Audio’s Bespoke Ares II is an instant classic. Bringing their award-winning cable to new technical heights, the metal uptake serves dividends in headroom, soundstage expansion, imaging precision and resolution; presenting music with outstanding effortlessness and admirable transparency, yet steeped in a life-like, organic warmth. While compromises in ergonomics are all but guaranteed, Effect Audio’s stellar craftsmanship prevents the Bespoke from showing its heft. And as always with the Singaporean atelier, aesthetics are simply stunning. In summary, Effect Audio have scored themselves another winner in the Bespoke Ares II; a gateway into the vast, open expanse that eight-wire conductors have to offer.



Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Beautifully natural, organic and life-like tonality
- Textured and coherent images
- Melodic, vibrant and arresting upper-mids
- Excellent bass timbre
- Smooth yet articulate treble
- Decent stage organisation and background cleanliness
- Strong build quality
Cons: Subpar bass and treble extension
- Minimal sub-bass rumble
- Soundstage isn't the largest
- May lack headroom, air and supreme cleanliness (esp. to those accustomed to the hi-fi sound)
- Price (esp. to those who value tonal accuracy less than technical ability)
DISCLAIMER: Warbler Audio provided me with the Prelude in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. The review is as follows.

Warbler Audio is a Turkish in-ear manufacturer, relatively unknown until their sky-rocket to stardom throughout the back end of 2017. Finally making their debut in a review written by our very own jelt2359, it wasn’t long before talk of their premiere product – the Prelude – spread like wildfire. It ranked 4th overall on flinkenick’s Ranking the Stars TOTL shootout, and quickly became a favourite amongst midrange enthusiasts worldwide – all the result of six years in R&D and one, exceptionally-tuned balanced-armature driver. To revisit the Prelude’s long and arduous birth; you can read Jason’s interview with the company here. But history aside, the Prelude has been impactful for a reason: A fusion of vintage sensibilities and modern technique, resulting in an IEM that captures both methodical skill and timbral beauty.

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Warbler Audio Prelude
  • Driver count: One balanced-armature driver
  • Impedance: N/A
  • Sensitivity: N/A
  • Key feature(s) (if any): N/A
  • Available form factor(s): Custom acrylic IEM
  • Price: $1099
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

Warbler Audio’s Prelude arrives in a Peli 1010 case alongside a Linum BaX cable, cleaning tool and desiccant. Like I’ve expressed before, this is the bare minimum as far as packaging and accessories are concerned. I attribute the lack of flair to Warbler Audio’s infancy. But, considering the impressive build quality they’ve achieved with their debut, I’d love to see them apply the same discipline towards visual presentation. Branding has become as important as ever nowadays, with many companies worldwide offering spare cases, soft pouches, microfibre cloths, etc. I appreciate Warbler Audio’s immense focus towards sound, but presentation is something much worth considering down the line.

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Despite their workmanlike approach towards packaging, Warbler Audio have certainly flexed their muscles in build. My Prelude is an exceptionally-crafted piece; bested only by a select few in my collection. Apart from the multitude of colours available on their webpage, Warbler Audio allow customers to pick from a wide variety of woods among other miscellaneous materials – such as the one on their Instagram page here. I opted for Padauk wood faceplates and glittered black shells, topped off with Warbler Audio’s sterling silver logo; a gorgeous combo if I may say so myself. The only knack I have with regards to build is a lack of symmetry between the left and right units, but that could be attributed to the quality of my ear impressions. Plus, I can hardly call it a fault if fit and finish are perfect either way.


The Prelude is devoted to tonal accuracy, comprised of elements which – above all – exist to form a linear and organic signature. To this end, the Prelude compromises. Its stage is neither the widest nor deepest you’ll find (impressive nonetheless for a single-BA in-ear). But surprisingly, it hardly ever feels claustrophobic. Separation and layering impress, bolstered by a clean background. So, its intimacy translates to richness and musicality once you acclimate to its size. Despite the Prelude’s warm air (as a result of modest treble extension), its single-driver config allows for an even, coherent response – imbuing the Prelude’s soundstage with well-placed-and-resolved instruments fanned throughout.


Balance is truly the Prelude’s forte. The Warbler IEM provides just enough of everything to achieve an even-handed response; compensating for transparency by ensuring no frequency range ever masks another – an aspect eschewed nowadays in favour of extra sparkle or impact. But because of this devotion towards organicity, the Prelude represents the antithesis of pushing details in your face. It wilfully places its focus on other aspects; the tone of the bass instead of rumble, the melodiousness of the upper-mids instead of transparency, the speed of the treble instead of the clarity or edge. This will appeal to listeners who appreciate tone, realism and unity, but it’ll also repel those searching for the pinnacle of openness and air. Crowd pleaser it is not, but its beauty is undeniable; life-like, defined and smooth.


Despite the Prelude’s reputation as a midrange maestro, the merits of its tuning truly begin here – one of the most tonally correct and life-like bass regions I have ever heard. Rather than any single superlative trait, it’s an outstanding mix of segregation, resolution, pace and timbre. No matter the genre or track, the Prelude consistently outputs dense, meaty and well-resolved punches, which then decay naturally into the in-ear’s black background like a heart beat; realistic in pace, fibrously textured and organic in timbre. Much like the treble we’ll explore soon, the Prelude balances impact with decay; lingering just enough to convey palpable weight and proper texture. So, instruments here are full-bodied, dense and warm, but always defined and never intrusive; present, but neither bloomed nor congested.

Again, this is because of a linear transition between the mid- and upper-bass. Both work in tandem to ensure the transitions between impact and decay are as seamless as possible, and it’s constantly impressive. However, an element noticeably missing here is sub-bass extension. The Prelude’s low-end lacks a true, visceral grunt. Now, minimal sub-bass may benefit exclusively in genres like indie-folk, classical or lounge jazz, but it’s a sensation sorely missed in more synthetic music. Timbre is something the Prelude slaves to perfect, and justly so, bass tone is impressively realistic. Although it lacks the physicality required to fully replicate an upright bass, the instrument’s warm and woody shades are left fully intact. Rich, heart-y and gossamer, this is a bass response that lacks neither charm nor personality. It won’t win over any bassheads any time soon, but its musical, melodic presentation is a beauty to behold.


Arguably the most esoteric element of music, Warbler Audio does not disappoint. A hump exists throughout the Prelude’s vocal range, manifesting in the form of dense bodies you can feel throughout the stage. Instruments are solidly founded and physically present, paired with an organic tone that colours them to a realistic hue; lightly warm yet melodious. An elegance constantly underlies its delivery – resulting in a mid-centric presentation that’s neither honky nor forced. So, midrange focus does not translate to an overt forwardness. Instead, the Prelude maintains great linearity between the bass and treble, which – in turn – imbues it with solidity, resolution and a seductive timbre throughout.


The Prelude boasts full-bodied and well-articulated notes. Instead of relying on the upper-treble, the upper-midrange becomes key in preventing instruments from sounding dull or veiled. Like how lemon juice wakes up a pasta dish, a lift along 2-3kHz adds this liveliness to vocals and instruments alike. Lead guitars are crunchy, fuzzy and warm, and vocalists are as gruff and chesty as they are clear and sweet. This is finished with a 5kHz dip for smoothness over clarity. Adhering to more classic sensibilities, the Prelude relies on linearity, density and speed to form its midrange; powerful, vibrant and soulful, if not spotlessly clean. Ultimately, a sweeping emotional response is what the Prelude was made to achieve, and its gorgeous, humane midrange has done just that; an instant classic in presence, authority and organicity.


Despite minimal extension, the Prelude’s treble is exemplary in smoothness, tone and speed. A lower-treble dip renders it pleasingly rounded; feathered in nature. And yet, the pace at which treble notes appear and disappear prevents any congestion or sluggishness from appearing; maintaining a sense of attack at all times. The Prelude’s rise into the middle-treble draws clarity, but contrast between notes and the black background is merely okay. Regardless, the Prelude’s highs maintain coherence; with no egregious peaks for extra sizzle. From the evenness between crash and sizzle in cymbal hits, to the extremely satisfying snap! of snare drums, this is a top-end as clear as it is cautiously subtle.

In timbre, the Prelude reliably delivers. A warm tinge affects vocals and instruments alike – defined by how seductively and easily they come across despite compromises in clarity and air. So, instruments are neither artificially bright nor overtly crisp. Done improperly, this may lead to a dark image, a congested midrange or a boomy bass, but the Prelude never buckles – relying on speed to deliver detail in the most graceful way possible. But again, Warbler’s top-end is not a crowd-pleaser. Enthusiasts looking for ultimate sparkle and cleanliness will leave dissatisfied with the Prelude’s more laid-back approach. But, if you can appreciate treble as more than just a detail dispenser – rather, as deserved of tonal appreciation as any other – the Prelude’s top-end will impress; a rare mating of timbral elegance and technical aplomb.

Select Comparisons

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Empire Ears Phantom

The Phantom is an in-ear tuned with similar principles in mind: Equal balance between tonal accuracy and technical performance. So, the two share quite a few similarities; particularly in priority and presentation. Both IEMs could be considered mid-centric, but the Phantom has superior balance across the band. This is because of the latter’s greatlysuperior extension; creating a stronger foundation in the sub-bass, as well as a larger, more breathable stage up top.

The Phantom’s low-end is technically stronger by a significant margin. Excellent extension imbues it with a masculine grunt, as well as stronger physicality. Bass lines feel satisfying whilst maintaining an organic tone, while the Prelude focuses on hearing the bass. Amongst their BA brethren, both monitors display excellent texture and resolution. Because of the added sub-bass content, the Phantom’s bass is thicker and heftier, whilst the Prelude’s has a clearer sense of articulation – and decays a tad faster as well – to compensate for its light touch; more thwack than thump.

In the midrange, the Prelude’s presents a lighter, wispier image, though both monitors share a warm and melodious tone. The Phantom has a fuller lower-midrange, which renders harmonic overtones more clearly; adding meat to vocals and instruments alike. The Prelude’s presentation is more effortless and smooth, while the Phantom’s 6kHz peak gives it a slightly tense bite. Though because the Prelude has an upper-mid-bias, vocal delivery gains excellent refinement, while the Phantom’s finesse gives it the edge in transparency and resolution. Finally, the Prelude’s lighter bass gives it a greater sense of speed, whereas the Phantom’s midrange is almost showcase-like; prevalent, well-defined and organic.

The treble is where the Phantom – once again – displays its technical prowess. Superior extension constructs a larger, blacker and more stable stage, where sonic images are better defined and precisely placed. The Prelude – despite its warm air – displays admirable organisation and separation, but the Phantom’s stronger background gives it a more breathable ambience; less intimate yet equally engaging. The Phantom peaks at 6kHz, while the Prelude’s lies closer towards 8kHz. This gives the latter a tizzy-er and more feathered edge, while the former articulates in a more rounded, transparent and clear fashion. But, the Phantom is more prone to stridence with subpar material and/or pairings.


Avara Custom AV2

The AV2 is another mid-centric, for vocals IEM. Its accentuated, full and linear midrange invites density, organicity and refinement within its vocal presentation; resulting in notes that feel complete, well-textured and natural in tone. Like the Prelude, the AV2 maintains an intimate stage, as well as a bias for width over depth. Superior treble extension gives the AV2 greater stability, as well as a blacker background. As a result, the AV2 is slightly more transparent. But, the Prelude’s superior balance overall (i.e. coherence or linearity) endows it with stronger separation and stage organisation.

The AV2’s low-end extends further than the Prelude’s; displaying decent sub-bass presence and greater physicality. However, when it comes to resolution, tonal balance and pace, the Prelude comes out on top. Excellent speed articulates each of the Prelude’s throbs with excellent clarity, with sufficient decay to accurately portray timbre and texture. So, this presentation sounds more multi-faceted. The AV2 has a darker bass; more foundational than melodic. It’s the more satisfying bass with synthetic music, while the Prelude portrays bass instruments with striking realism.

The AV2’s midrange – like the Prelude’s – is dense, meaty and rich. However, a fuller lower-midrange highlights its chesty qualities. Vocals and instruments alike sound more gruff and forwardly-placed, while the Prelude’s delivery is sweeter by comparison. This extra zing gives the Prelude a clearer tone, while the AV2’s 7kHz peak gives it more bite. Both monitors possess a 5-6kHz dip; more obviously on the AV2. As a result, it articulates in a smoother manner. But when paired with the 7kHz peak, it sounds slightly less coherent – more diffuse – compared to the Prelude. The Warbler Audio premier delivers its instruments as a cohesive whole, while the AV2 compromises this (slightly) for clarity and edge.

Both the AV2 and the Prelude share a relatively linear treble. Though, the AV2 has a slight lift towards the upper-treble, which gives its top-end a more neutral tone. Both IEMs maintain warmth in the midrange, but this lift gives the AV2 an increased sensation of space and air. The Avara Custom IEM also has the edge in treble extension, better defining the dimensions of its stage. However, the Prelude’s superior coherence maintains a greater sense of refinement, as well as a more realistic timbre. Instruments are less aggressive (even though they’re already smooth on the AV2), yet the Prelude resolves them with greater effect – a result of its evenness across the band and the black background it brings with it.


The Warbler Audio Prelude represents a devoted pursuit towards smoothness, realism and refinement; a true outlier in the age of sparkle, dazzle and pizzazz. Its tonal triumphs aren’t without technical shortcomings. But where it counts, the Prelude has in spades. Linearity, power, texture and pace are the four cornerstones that uphold the Prelude’s natural timbre with great aplomb. Sheer transparency and detail will never take top billing, but sheer musical intent has never been so clear. Those capable of appreciating the warm, vibrant hues of yesteryear will fall entranced by what the Turkish bird has to offer: A strong, sultry and soulful representation of what music could – and should – feel like.



Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Class-leading spaciousness, headroom and scale
- Impressive linearity, solidity and balance
- Excellent detail retrieval, separation and finesse
- Beautiful build and presentation
- Innovative customisability
Cons: Charm, note size and intimacy are somewhat sacrificed for scale
- A slightly dry touch
- Memory wire
- Price
DISCLAIMER: Unique Melody loaned me this Mason V3 universal demo in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. The review is as follows.

Unique Melody is an undoubted veteran within the in-ear monitoring industry. First making waves with their six-driver Miracle (which I still own to this day), the Chinese company have showcased excellence in both longevity and innovation. Four years ago, they were reshell specialists who even offered installing additional drivers for superior performance. And today, they’re an engineering powerhouse capable of developing their very own planar magnetic in-ears, metal-shelled hybrid IEMs, and a slew of new technologies including dB-Go modules, Dual-Tone cables and the Dreamweaver shell. The culmination of all this is their sixteen-driver flagship: The Mason V3. Equipped with one of the highest – and priciest – driver counts in the industry today, can the Mason V3 and its bag of tricks justify the luxurious price tag?


Unique Melody Mason V3
  • Driver count: Sixteen balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 24Ω
  • Sensitivity: 104dB @ 1kHz
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Dual-Tone cable; dB-Go modules; Dreamweaver shell
  • Available form factor(s): Universal and custom acrylic IEM
  • Price: $2699
  • Website:
Build and Accessories

The Mason V3 comes in a black, textured box with the company name embossed on top. Lifting off the top cover reveals a foam-lined interior with precision-cut depressions to secure the owner’s card, a satchel of multi-sized tips and a round metal case. The card comes embedded with a USB stick which supposedly contains photos of the in-ear throughout different stages of production, but since this was a loaner unit, I chose not to tempt the possible risk of breaking it. The puck-like case is not dissimilar from the ones offered by JHAudio, and they do a brilliant job of keeping the IEMs safe. Accessories aren’t plenty at this price range, but Unique Melody win big in presentation. This is a visually-stunning package that exudes class, even if the addition of a cleaning cloth or a carabiner-clad carrying case wouldn’t have hurt.


As far as build quality is concerned, Unique Melody have absolutely hit it out of the park. Externally, the Mason V3 is one of the most solid IEMs I’ve ever encountered. They aren’t heavy at all (especially in the ear), but they have immense density. And, I must attribute that to their Dreamweaver shells. While other companies cure liquid resin until enough of it solidifies to form a single wall around the perimeter of the shell, Unique Melody have employed a novel method where acrylic is painted and cured onto the IEM layer-by-layer. This essentially produces multiple walls around the shell to further bolster its strength. Unique Melody also offer a design where strands of a wool-like material are placed between each layer to form a spider-web-like effect, as seen on my unit. Cosmetically, the IEMs have also been finished with a flawless layer of lacquer, and the monitor’s internals have been tactfully arranged to maximise finesse.

Dual-Tone Cable

Unique Melody developed the Dual-Tone cable to further increase the Mason V3’s sonic customisability, as well as to simplify cable-rolling on the go. The Mason V3 (and the Mentor V3, for that matter) comes equipped with a screw-in, 4-pin connector not unlike the ones on JHAudio’s Siren Series monitors. But – where the latter uses the four pins to separate bass, mids, treble and ground – only two of the four pins on Unique Melody’s IEMs are ever active at all times. The conductor connected to these two active pins will be the one carrying the audio signal from your source to the IEM, while the other remains inactive. This is designed such that when you swap the cables left and right, you’ll be using a different conductor material to listen. Sonic comparisons between the two will be on the last page of the review.


Ergonomically, Unique Melody’s option is light enough for daily use. Flexibility is okay, but it understandably can’t compete with standards set by the likes of PlusSound or Effect Audio. However, these are but minor gripes when compared to the cable’s memory wire. Unpleasant and stiff, it would actively prevent me from listening to the IEM on the go for any longer than 30-minute stretches. Although the cable’s flexibility and weight are pleasant enough to not warrant any immediate changes, I’d love for Unique Melody to ditch the memory wire completely. Companies like Han Sound Audio don’t even bother pre-shaping ear bends and they work just fine, so this is an option I’d love to see offered on all Dual-Tone cables from now on. The screw-on sockets do need casual re-tightening, but considering my unit is a review loaner that’s been passed around multiple individuals, some wear-and-tear is expected.

dB-Go Modules


The Mason V3 also comes with what Unique Melody are calling dB-Go modules. They take the form of dials protruding from the faceplate, visually akin to Asius Technologies’ ADEL MAMs (Manually-Adjusted Modules). According to Unique Melody, they relieve pressure from within the ear canal – for a less fatiguing listening experience – whilst simultaneously functioning as a sub-bass adjuster. In practice, the adjustment aspect of the modules only allow for two realistic scenarios: Full up or full down. This is because the dials only ever tighten on either extreme, and any setting in-between can’t be maintained because of how sensitive the dial is to the touch when unfastened. Sonically speaking, though, appreciable changes can be heard on either setting, affecting – as advertised – the sub-bass and the sub-bass only. Certain instruments gain a a greater sense of growl down low, This aids musicality on EDM tracks especially, adding a necessary sense of cadence to bass drops and climaxes. Again, it’s a nifty gadget that bolsters the Mason V3’s customisability, and I don’t think it’d be unrealistic to expect more variants on this module some time down the line.


The Unique Melody Mason V3 is defined by its clean, roomy and tactile sonic palate. Brilliant bidirectional extension and admirable linearity give the Mason its wide, spacious and well-resolved stage – excelling particularly in organisation, stability and headroom. There’s a clear sense of geography to the Mason’s soundscape that makes it an absolute joy to explore. It presents ensemble pieces with a balance of mathematical precision and musical cohesion – skilfully defined, sufficiently textured, yet never awkward. Every instrument has a place of their own, and picturing the soundstage – with all its intricate little pieces – becomes dead easy. It’s a combination of volume and separation that gives the Mason V3 its sense of boundlessness. And yet, that’s made all the more impressive considering the IEM’s resolution.


In all its forms, the Mason carries a sense of note weight that’s unique in the current crop of flagship IEMs. Unique Melody have intelligently paired an expansive, airy stage with dense, hefty and well-textured notes. A resonant upper-bass and a well controlled lower-midrange allow instruments to deftly convey realistic palpability. Whether its vocals or guitars or drums, the Mason excels in balancing roundedness and separation. As a result, each individual element sounds complete without the veil or congestion that plague less capable monitors. Although full realism is hampered by the Mason’s upper-midrange – carrying slightly too much energy – it manages an acceptable midpoint between dry contrast and rich euphony. Mating expansiveness with solidity, the Mason is all about being big and bold. It still is clean and articulative in nature, but it brings about great physicality in an impressively coherent manner.


The Mason’s bass – again – shows balance between body and technical ability. It’s a low-end defined by the mid-and-upper-bass; bringing about a more melodious and musical response, rather than one guttural or bellowing. Despite a calmer sub-bass, the Mason is no slouch when it comes to extension. Impressive technical achievements have bolstered the V3 with admirable layering and above-average separation. An upper-treble peak introduces slight dryness down low, but it’s also instrumental in controlling bloom – allowing the bass to retain both its warmth and its definition. With the copper conductors and the dB-Go module turned up, the Mason’s low-end feeds some body into the lower-midrange. Vocals become chestier as a result, but a greater contrast exists between the lower registers and the upper-midrange. The silver conductors introduce superior control and coherence – aiding overall headroom – at the cost of body.

However, little is affected when it comes to tone and impact. In either setting, the Mason V3 has decent mid-bass punch, manifesting themselves as fist-like jabs that complement the IEM’s thicker note structure. Those slams make themselves known, but they remain finely concentrated around centre stage. Again, sub-bass isn’t the most visceral you’ll find, but it shows great, clean presence in tracks and sources that emphasise this particular region. Turning up the dB-Go module adds greater presence here, maxing just above neutral. Tonally, the Mason’s low-end leans toward neutral, but there’s sufficient weight to compensate for this lack of warmth. Regardless, I would’ve loved to hear more wetness in the sub-and-mid-bass for a smoother and more natural response. The Mason V3’s low-end is a technical achiever. Its attempts to balance separation, clarity and organicity are admirable, even if it succeeds at some more than others. Despite a less-than-natural tone, it’s an engaging low-end that proves crucial in the Mason’s weighty overall signature.


Despite the Mason’s heftier presentation, it consistently maintains a neutrally-placed midrange. Vocals are individually well-resolved and deftly textured, but a lack of forwardness and size may hurt its appeal to certain crowds. A more natural response would entail greater intimacy. And, dryness from the upper-treble – again – rears its ugly head with ill-produced tracks. However, this is exactly why the Mason is exceptional in its portrayal of transparency and space. Laid-backed-ness inherently boosts depth, creating its grand and theatre-like ambience. Instruments materialise out of thin air into fully physical objects – impressively audible as they decay organically into the depths of its pitch-black background. An upper-midrange bump aids articulation and clarity, and I would’ve loved to hear a bit more bloom from the upper-bass and the lower-midrange to counterbalance that energy. Regardless, through sheer resolve alone, the Mason concocts an engaging midrange – even if its penchant for space has it tip-toeing on the edge of recession.


Tonally, though, the Mason performs impressively. Despite a touch of grit, the Unique Melody flagship sports a neutral-natural timbre. Organicity is maintained through lower-midrange control and upper-treble extension – drawing chestiness and finesse, respectively. But, the upper-midrange is where I find it most conflicting. It provides excellent clarity and dynamism, yet its energy borders on incoherence. As a result, the Mason isn’t the most forgiving monitor in the world. It’s neither sibilant nor harsh, but ill-produced records will have you reaching in for the vocals at times. This aberration is why I enjoy the Mason most in its warmest configuration, but it isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s but a minor nitpick in an otherwise smooth and engaging signature. The Mason V3’s midrange is a mix of ideologies. It attempts to juggle the engaging maestro, the crystal-clear surgeon and the epic concert hall all at the same time. But, truly, it’s a circus act that – for a good stretch – works. A tad more intimacy and a touch less exuberance would truly make it a winner, but it’s a great achievement regardless. A balance of many that – by some miracle – stands on its own two feet. Good effort.


The Mason relies on a technically-competent treble to truly manifest its signature. Thankfully, Unique Melody have tuned themselves a very capable top-end. The Mason emits excellent extension, outstanding headroom and admirable linearity. A slight aberration in the lower-treble – carried over from the upper-midrange prior to a dip – is the only thorn in its side. Vocals can sound too articulative given the wrong material, especially when compared proportionally to low-end warmth. However, the clear winners here are clarity and micro-dynamic energy. The Mason is capable of creating impressive contrasts from note to note, enhancing the transparency and spaciousness of its voluminous soundstage. An attenuated middle-treble and an almost linear upper-treble is responsible for the Mason’s headroom. Never is the top-end harsh, sibilant or brittle; only constantly energetic, consistently solid and exceptionally natural in its decay.

In terms of balance – the Mason’s top-end fares pretty well. Its illusion of coherence (despite slight aberrations throughout) is impressively convincing. Hi-hats, ride cymbals and crashes ring through with gorgeous solidity, remaining inoffensive at all times. In fact, the Mason is one of the most forgiving IEMs I’ve heard – ironically – with percussion. From jazz, to prog rock, to pop, the Mason is consistently convincing in its portrayal of the drum kit; a virtue of the low-mid-treble dip that gifts generous headroom. Though, where it slightly falters is in tone. The Mason’s upper-treble peak is the cause of its inherently neutral timbre. More crucially, it’s what births the Mason’s drier touch. Because of this, despite its generous body, the Mason struggles to properly emote. Although the music it portrays is vast, dynamic and grandiose, there’s a side to it that’s rather matter-of-fact. It’s a lack of overall wetness, intimacy and organicity that – to some – will be its Achilles’ Heel, while – to others – will be but an insignificant bug in their grand theatre experience.

Select Comparisons

Silver-Tone vs. Copper-Tone


Sonically, the Dual-Tone cable does provide alterations in sound, albeit ones that are incremental in nature. The shifts in tonality aren’t the largest I’ve experienced, but it allows the user to maintain the inherent signature of the IEM whilst fine-tuning for different genres, mixes or listening scenarios. My unit came with a choice between pure silver and pure copper conductors. On the copper cores, the Mason V3 assumes a warmer response, because of a chestier lower-midrange and a richer bass response. Impact does not increase from this change, but more warmth does emanate from the low-end into the vocal region. Both male and female singers gain depth, almost as if they sang from their diaphragm rather than their throat. Though, on some tracks where this region is already emphasised, vocals become slightly nasal-y and incoherent. The overall atmosphere of the stage also gains some warmth, but only by a slight margin.

Shifting to the silver cores, the Mason V3 instantly becomes more precise and dynamic, due to a greater contrast between the treble and the low-end. Bass impact is now more jab-like without the buttery sense of weight, and this affects the lower-midrange considerably as well. That rich chestiness is now leaner, more controlled and more linear according to the Mason V3’s energetic upper-midrange. Notes lose slight amounts of density and solidity, but it’s more agreeable to subpar tracks, because vocals no longer run the risk of sounding throat-y when oddly mixed. This setting, however, is less resolving than the copper-equipped one, especially when taking into account harmonic detail. The slip in note weight combined with the Mason V3’s inherently neutral vocals also cause slightly quicker fatigue. But, this pairing is the one to pick if you’re looking to maximise the Mason V3’s laser focus with a leaner, crisper and airier presentation.


The Unique Melody Mason V3 is an instant gateway to the world’s most exclusive opera-house experience. Showcasing a marvellous knack for spaciousness, imaging and stability, the 16-driver flagship complements its strong detail retrieval with admirable coherence and proper linearity. However, all of its technical achievements come at price. The Mason V3 is one of the most expensive IEMs I’ve ever heard, and its modest versatility will undoubtedly limit its audience. Fans of immense soundscapes and classical music will fall head-over-heels for the Mason V3’s theatrical presentation, while audiophiles searching for large notes, intimate vocals and gobs of emotional resonance will find themselves reaching into the soundstage, yearning to get to the front row. But, with that said, the Dual-Tone cable and the dB-Go modules do add impressive value to the overall package, which will only improve as more options hit the market.

Overall, the Unique Melody Mason V3 is a technical powerhouse – sometimes to its own detriment – that honestly justifies its price with a spacious presentation and strong resolution. It may lack the musical verve that invites and allures the listener into a silky arrest, but its precision, expansion and separation is on a league of its own. It’s a level of finesse that many only strive to achieve, and it’s a testament to how far Unique Melody have come in a few, short years.