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Clear Tune Da Vinci X

Rating:
5/5,
  1. Wannabenewton
    Endgame renaissance
    Written by Wannabenewton
    Published Dec 13, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound, tonality, soundstage, neutrality, detail, bass,aesthetics
    Cons - Not enough sizes of silicone tips,
    Note: i was provided with a review kit of the da vinci series (Edit: X alone costs 2400 USD) for a duration of 1 week by clear tune monitors free of any expense.This review is going to be as objective as possible despite my enamoration with the product and how every aspect of it seems like it was made with me in mind.
    Links for additional details, pictures, and excruciatingly in-depth opinions will be edited in later.

    Tldr: if you like music buy it.

    Unpacking:
    The sleeve on the box has pictures of both X and IX but only contains one unit, so it's obviously a placeholder during pre-production IMG_20181211_170414735.jpg

    The box inside though is very elegant to look at and touch, i'm certain this will be the box the final product will be shipped in. IMG_20181211_170506131.jpg
    The case flap has information and exploded views of the da vinci and it's features, there's a brief description of leonardo da vinci in there too. IMG_20181211_170603534.jpg
    And here sit the da vinci IX's in all their glory, the X wasn't boxed, it arrived in it's carry case. IMG_20181211_170526169.jpg

    The accesories and the unpacking experience do justice to the price point, it's all very premium feeling and sophisticated. IMG_20181211_170657700.jpg
    They provide a 2.5mm fancy cable, assortment of tips, airplane adapter, two sets of filters, cleaning tool, 1/4inch adapter, velcro cable ties, and a case that can hold them all.

    Fit: CTM gives you 3 sizes of silicone tips,3 sizes of foam tips and 1 size of double flange. Ideally there'd be many more sizes of silicone but it's hardly an issue with all the tips audiophiles have lying around. I get a perfect seal with the M size stock tips, the double flanges seem to bring a little physicality to the bass but also reduce the bass resolution.

    Comfort: extremely comfortable, i don't know much about ear topology and i don't know if these will fit everyone well but I have perfect seal and the isolation is above medium. The ear hook is also well implemented, never a hassle and always useful.

    Sound:
    It is ambitious to drop an Iem with a price tag of 2400$ especially without a custom fit option. So, is it worth that much money? Will the bet pay off?
    The answer is absolutely yes, da vinci x is a masterpiece maker like it's namesake and worthy of it's name and price. Here's what most of the money went into, the SQ->

    Detail: painfully detailed, i could hear lips parting, tounges clicking, breathing even on masterfully recorded songs like sound of silence by simon-garfunkel. Very tight control and fast decay, as expected of BA's. Masterpieces like led zeppelin iv, dark side of the moon, appetite for destruction are elevated to new light through these, they aren't just art anymore they're like entire museums with something to be found in everycorner and crevice like detailed magnificent architecture.

    Soundstage: expansive but not artificially massive. The stage presented by these is natural and depends on the location the recording was made unlike some products which sound artificially enlarged or gimmicky.

    Bass: I used these songs to analyse the bass
    Bad Romance-lady gaga
    Cheap thrills-sia
    Halo-beyonce
    Radioactive-imagine dragons
    Imagine-jhon lennon
    I love it-icona pop
    Cello suites-J.s Bach

    You can see a lot of hard work has gone into getting the lows right, and it is a great achievement indeed. The timbre and texture you get here is unparalleled, the bass is well seperated and positioned in relation to other instruments, it never steps on anything else or veils any detail. I'd be suprised if any BA or hybrid iem can do better bass than this. The rumble is very clean and doesn't push a lot of air eliminating pressure issues and keeping your ears safer for long sessions.

    Mids-
    Stairway to heaven,ten years gone-led zeppelin
    Comfortably numb, wish you were here-pink Floyd
    You give love a bad name, bed of roses-bon jovi
    Vocals tested with ost of across the universe and diana damrau in the magic flute.

    The vocals are fluid and detailed (duh 4 mid drivers), the electric guitars are to die for, distortion and other pedal effects are rendered with impeccable precision. Acoustic guitars sound just as amazing and you can hear any mistake or tap of a finger. Since all instruments have some notes in the mids, layering and seperation can be easily studied in this range and it was a delight to see what it can do. Easily the best part of the iem. Even hotel California which works best on dynamic full-sized cans sounds extremely good on this.


    Highs-
    Ode to joy, 5th and 9th symphony- beethoven
    Air-J.s Bach
    Burn-ellie gouldling


    Spacious headroom, airiness, empty background are the first things i noticed. In many cases most of this space is occupied by leaking bass or lower mids, but theres a great synergy going on between the lows and highs here, some black magic i don't understand. These aren't forgiving in any way and i like that, even if poorly mastered songs sound bad it also means well made ones will sound that much better. Highs are not fatiguing even at pretty high volumes, very useful for mastering which can be painful when violins are involved. Sibilance if present in the track shows very easily.


    Synergy- bringing it all together is a very crucial part of engineering and it is executed very well here, i don't know much about Wise ( CTM's new tech ) or how it blends acoustic waveforms but it works and it's fantastic. The 5-crossover is a big deal too, it is flawlessly executed and it delivers in the tonality department.

    Conclusion-- This beast is an all-rounder classic rock, metal, pop, edm, house, classical orchestra it can do em all and kick ass while doing it. X is the closest it gets to the ultimate goal of audiophilia, accurate and natural reproduction of music which feels like you're in the studio during recording. The only downside for the makers is living up to the expectations from now. Like leonardo da vinci himself this is a gold standard and a near impossible target to aspire to. I don't have as many nice things to say about IX, not that it isn't good but the difference between X and IX is a lot more than a 400$ jump. I tried very hard to find something bad about these and the biggest problem i see is these only come in iem form, i want open backs and speakers that sound like this too.

    Subjective interlude- And i say all this without accounting for my preference of it's frequency response because it can't be evaluated objectively, some like it bassy some like it bright, but anyone who wants it close to neutral, as real as the live act should get this if they can afford to, if they can't afford it they should invest in ctm now because they're going places. Again this is subjective, not everyone might feel this way.

    Filters: coming soon.


    X vs IX: coming soon.

    Monitor: As a monitor it is easily the best choice for vocalists and most instrumentalists, and these'll do a very good job of not making them go deaf.

    Aesthetics: These are some of the most beautiful things i have ever seen, beautifully made, XI is better looking than X though.
    IMG_20181211_170318063.jpg
    IMG_20181212_205127075.jpg

    IMG_20181211_222643374.jpg
    IMG_20181211_170128052.jpg
    1. Grimbles
      Great review chap, mine to follow soon. Agree with this - I have never heard anything like the X before - they blew me away.
      Grimbles, Dec 13, 2018
    2. josesol07
      Awesome review. But would love to have the price shown at the beginning of the reviews
      josesol07, Jan 2, 2019
      JLW654 and Wannabenewton like this.
  2. Grimbles
    What a thing this DaVinci X... what a thing
    Written by Grimbles
    Published Jan 6, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - sound quality
    sound stage
    treble
    detail
    scalability
    premium
    Cons - a few niggles
    cost
    Quick Read Conclusion

    I set out to review the CTM DaVinci IX and X to figure out if I could tell the difference between my mid-fi kit, and some properly premium, top of the range equipment. Unfortunately for my wallet I can! These IEMs are absolutely sublime and from the second you open the spectacularly pretty box to the thousandth hour of listening, you will have a smile on your face as they stun you again and again. If I was dropping this $2k+ myself, I would spend the extra and buy the CTM DaVinci X – that treble, that soundstage, that tuning… sublime.

    Introductions and General Bumf

    This review of CTM's DaVinci IX (the "IX") and X (the "X", the IX and X together, the "DaVincis") is written as a side by side review. Partly this is because the DaVincis are packaged identically, look almost identical and are obviously products of the same development, although they do sound quite different. As a consequence, the sections headed Unboxing, Accessories, Practicalities, Fit and Tips and Niggles apply equally to both DaVinicis and it is only the section headed Sound where the differences between the two become clear.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I am in no way affiliated with CTM and have received no inducement from them to write this review.

    Test Kit: I have tested the DaVincis with a Samsung Note 8 and Galaxy S8 (using both UAPP and Tidal), an 11" Macbook Air (2012 vintage, running Tidal), an Astell and Kern AK70 mk 1 (both balanced and unbalanced), an iFi iDSD Nano Black Label, xDSD, and iDSD Micro Black Label and also a Schiit Modi 2 Uber into a Vali 2 ("Schiit Stack").

    Preparation: I received the DaVincis as review samples and gave them both about 50 hours of burn in before any analytical listening.

    Me as a listener: I am not a pro by any stretch of the imagination. I have always enjoyed my music, and my tastes are pretty broad. I go to live music ranging from rock and pop concerts to orchestra and opera. I would not describe myself as having a trained ear, but I am attentive and my ears are in pretty good nick for a 35 year old.

    My tastes: neutral to warm, but I do like good punchy bass and I love to hear decent instrument separation.

    Test tracks: Test tracks noted in the review below were the TIDAL 16/44.1 available through their Hi-Fi subscription.

    So, on to the main event. [/General Bumf]

    Tech Specs

    I have set out below the key technical specifications for the DaVincis, lifted directly from CTM's website. I also note that, on writing this article, the IX is priced at $2,000 and the X at $2,400. No small sum!

    table.jpg

    Unboxing

    I would like to reserve my superlatives for a little later in this review, so will not spend much time waxing lyrical, when I can let the pictures below do it for me. The retail packaging for the DaVincis is simply beautiful…artful… and every bit the elite experience one would hope for if north of $2,000 had been dropped on a pair of IEMs!

    Unboxing 1.jpg Unboxing 2.jpg Unboxing 3.jpg Unboxing 4.jpg Unboxing 5.jpg Unboxing 6.jpg

    How to tell the difference? The IXs have a black IX milled out of the face plate whilst the Xs have a chrome fill in their milled X.

    both on ak70.jpg

    Accessories

    Included in the box with both the DaVincis are a 3.5mm terminated 50" cable, 2.5mm terminated (balanced) 4-wire hybrid cable, 3x interchangeable sound filters, a hard carry case, 3.5mm to 6.25mm adaptor, aeroplane adaptor, cleaning tool, silicon and foam tips (small, medium and large of each), a set of double flange silicon tips and a warranty card and user guide. Some comments on a few of these are set out below (and in the niggles section of this review also).

    Cables

    At this price range it is great to see a couple of really decent cables included. Microphonics from both are minimal. The 2.5mm cable has straight 2 pin (0.78mm) connectors, whilst the 3.5mm cable has angled connectors. Both cables are braided, with the 3.5mm being CTM's "standard" (presumably all copper, waiting for CTM to confirm) and the 2.5mm being a 4 wire hybrid copper/silver number. The 3.5mm cable has some sheathed memory wire running back from the connector to help retain shape, whilst the 2.5mm cable does not. The 2.5mm cable has much more premium termination and chin sliders, giving a v expensive feel over the 3.5mm cable.

    Cable jacks.jpg Cable Mids.jpg Cable tips.jpg

    Tips

    I didn't really get on with any of the included tips (see niggles), and opted instead for my trusty Comply TSX-400 tips.

    Sound Filters

    As you will see in the niggles section, I did not particularly like the design of the sound filters. I also found the sound quality with the DaVincis from the included reference filters so jaw dropping, it wasn't until I came to send them on, that I realised I hadn’t really played with them much. As such, I can't reasonably make comment on the effect these filters have on the sound signatures of these IEMs.

    Practicalities

    Glancing at the numbers above, the impedance figures for the DaVincis may seem high compared to some other TOTL headphones (CA Andromeda 12.8 Ω @ 1 kHz, EE Legend X 14 Ω @ 1 kHz, 64 Audio Tia Fourté 10 Ω @ 1 kHz), but the input sensitivities of both show they don't really need that much power, and I found my S8 was able to push both to very high volumes.

    On reading the specs, I thought that the DaVincis might not reproduce some of the hiss I have typically encountered with exotic multi BA IEMs. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and so you are still going to need to find ways around this. The IEMatch function on the Micro BL was successful, but I encountered no hiss on the AK70 (balanced and non, unless v high volumes), xDSD or xCAN. Obviously the Schiit Stack (specifically the valves in the Vali 2) made a racket and so are not well suited as a pairing!

    X on the rig.jpg

    This said, the DaVincis do scale brilliantly with the kit that you use – they were able to eke out levels of performance from the iFi xDSD and Micro BL (which I had on loan for another review), that my other kit (notably the Sennheiser HD 600) could not.

    Fit and Tips

    Cramming 9 or 10 drivers into an IEM is no mean feat, but the result is the largest universal IEM I have ever put into my ear. The surface area is sensible for my average sized ears, and the ergonomic shaping on the inside face of the DaVincis definitely helped with fit, the moulding into the concha fitting perfectly for me. Where the DaVincis show their size is in their depth, but the lightweight aluminium constructions helps to ensure that they stay in place (at least for me) during use, and I did not find that the DaVincis induced any physical fatigue over long listening sessions.

    The nozzle is pretty wide – on a par with the Campfire Polaris. This is fine if you are used to it, but may be uncomfortable for those with particularly small ears. I've noted in niggles below that I was a little disappointed with the included tips, but on a quick tip-rolling session, I found the tried and tested Comply TSX-400 worked a dream. As ever with a universal IEM, seal is key to get the best performance from the DaVincis, so this is worth spending some time on if you do decide to buy a pair.

    If you are dropping this sort of cash on an IEM you are obviously going to want to try them. For people with average to large sized ears, I do not think there will be an issue with the DaVincis, but for people with smaller ears, the depth and nozzle size may make comfortable fit more challenging. For this amount of cash, the advice has to be to go to your local retailer and try before you buy.

    all 4 no cable.jpg IX no cable.jpg

    The Sound

    Highs, Mids and Lows

    Mids and lows are a similar story between the DaVincis. Full and rich the mid reproduction remains sweet throughout, with no emphasis or weakness in any part of the frequency response. The result is that, no matter your choice of music the DaVincis render the sounds beautifully, whether male or female vocals, strings in the orchestra, electronica, unplugged, live or studio-produced the DaVincis deliver.

    Bass is full, rich and detailed. Whilst (as with pretty much all IEMs) this is not standing next to a speaker stack at a rock concert, the DaVincis are capable of both impact and texture, without losing detail. Thundercat's show off masterpiece Uh-uh (one of WhatHifi's 10 best tunes to test your system) is held together artfully, without confusion in response at even some of the most frantic of passages. Neither DaVinci struggles to deliver a solid bassline either… to try to really make them wobble, I chucked AwolNation's Sail at them – a tune that should really rattle your bones and the DaVincis did not disappoint, with the weight of the bassline conveyed with clarity and control.

    In a sense writing about the bass and mid-range output of the DaVincis is difficult – they just sound right! But then we come to the treble and what really separates the DaVincis. For the IXs, this is a continuation of the rest of the story. Measured and controlled with clarity in abundance. Whether the hi-hat, the triangle over a busy orchestra (think Throne Room and opening credits from the first Star Wars movie) or the metallic twang on an acoustic guitar piece (the live version of Matisyahu's Live Like a Warrior), the IXs are faithful – decay is realistic and there is no fatiguing ring. The word here is "balance", and it is the signature of the IX.

    Now the treble on the X – wow. Never overdone, never sibilant, the treble on the DaVinci X is CTM's Mona Lisa. I can't wait to see some frequency responses published, as I hope they will bear out what I hear, which is a subtle but audible peak across the treble range. On top of making those hi-hats, triangles and metallic twangs more noticeable, this introduces a clarity on every single track I played on the Xs, opening out soundstage (see below) and making every other earphone I have heard (including the IX) sound a little bit muffled in comparison.

    Soundstage, Separation and Detail Retrieval

    Both the IX and X pull incredible level of detail and micro-detail from tracks, scaling up with source and (of course) the quality of the recording and file. Neither is unfriendly to a lower quality recording, so your non-lossless files will still have some life in them, but listen to well recorded CD quality or higher, and your ears will be rewarded.

    For both DaVincis, separation is a strongpoint, with busy tracks (again, heavy orchestral like Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King form the Peer Gynt Suite, but also multi-layered numbers like Ed Sheeran or a Beach Boys harmony) never confusing the IX or becoming muddled or fuzzy.

    The soundstage and separation with the IX are both superb. The soundstage is as wide as any I have heard (including from the open backed Sennheiser HD600) and portrays some depth. As mentioned above though, the X does something a little different, and listening to it is the first time I have experienced truly holographic soundstage. Not only does the X describe depth and width, I could hear height too, meaning that different instruments and singers could be placed in 3 dimensions. This was most pronounced on live tracks, and particularly with the background noise on those tracks, where the Xs create a sense of being enveloped by the audience in a way I have never previously encountered. I have to say I absolutely loved this, and a number of times (including on a train and in my office) I jumped as I heard somebody right behind me or next to me, only to realise it was just the Xs doing their party trick!

    Comparisons

    Given the price differences between my kit and the DaVincis, this isn’t quite apples for apples! Against both the CA Polaris and the FIBAE Massdrop Edition, the DaVincis felt like a more refined, more detailed… more mature sound. Against the DaVincis, the Polaris' weaknesses on lower mid-range (particularly male vocals) are brought under the spotlight, whilst the FIBAE ME sounds slightly veiled in comparison, particularly with the remarkably airy X. The only place either of these IEMs could compete was in bass, with the Polaris having more impact, and the FIBAE ME edging ahead for both detail and impact. But neither of them could touch the X for its treble, soundstage, separation and clarity.

    Niggles

    I have a few niggles which I set out below. Some of these may feel a bit like splitting hairs, but at $2-2,400 I think the customer can expect the very best and accordingly I set out some niggles below.

    On first blush I thought that the hard carry case that the DaVincis come with was brilliant. Although it is quite large, it is solid and includes everything you need in a case of this nature – well moulded storage, a decent loom to wrap your cable around to keep it tangle free, a padded flap above the IEM storage bays which is itself a magnet-sealed compartment storing tips, wax cleaning tool and 6.35-3.5mm adaptor. Unfortunately, I found that it was impossible to store the DaVincis, with cable attached, without always squashing the foam tips when closing the box. See a couple of photos below showing how the box fouls the IEMs on closing. The only solution was to remove the cable from the IEMs each time I put them away. A bit annoying.

    in carry case.jpg in carry case issues.jpg in carry case 4.jpg in carry case 3.jpg in carry case 2.jpg

    Unlike the sound filters with, say the Shure SE846 which require their own special tool to remove, the tiny (and therefore easily lost) filters on the DaVincis simply screw in, easily removed by virtue of their serrated ends. Using the foam tips, I found that daily use loosened the sound filters, and if I was not careful (I was as these are review samples which I don't own) the tips could get loose to the point of falling off, with filter.

    Sticking with tips a moment, I was a little disappointed with CTM's choice of tips with the DaVincis. One set each of small medium and large foam and silicon, and one double flanged silicon. Personally, I don't get on with silicon tips and I didn't really like the included foam tips. At this price point, I would expect a decent selection of high quality tips – Comply and Spinfit are the obvious names, but I am sure that there are other equally decent tip makers out there!

    The DaVincis are clearly aimed at audiophiles, so I suspect that the decision not to include a Bluetooth attachment or phone control cable was about increasing spend on the cables and IEMs – in my mind a sensible decision, but I thought worth noting.

    Conclusion

    Over the last couple of years, I have built up some decent experience of listening to high end personal hi-fi equipment. I have heard a lot of headphones, amps, DACs etc in that time, but I have never heard anything quite like the CTM DaVinci X, and from the first moment I listened to the Xs I was utterly blown away. In comparison, The IX is a refinement of a sound signature I am familiar with; that is to say, analytical without being clinical, but without a "wow" factor – it is a consummately balanced IEM, with detail retrieval levels I did not realise were possible. But the extra driver (and presumably the upgraded crossover) in the X, create something truly amazing. Not just the best IEM I have ever heard, but the best earphone. A joy. Thank you CTM – Leonardo would be proud!
    1. View previous replies...
    2. 21qz
      Wonder how these compare to the Empire Ears Legend X?
      21qz, Jan 10, 2019
      Grimbles likes this.
    3. Grimbles
      Hi @21qz if i get a pair of those on loan i will let you know my thoughts!
      Grimbles, Jan 10, 2019
      21qz likes this.
    4. leeperry
      Sweet, can't wait for Da Vinci XI
      leeperry, Jan 11, 2019
      Grimbles likes this.