Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci IX - Reviews
Pros: + Build Quality
+ Staging and soundstage size
+ Warm, forgiving sound that works well with all music styles
+ Refined treble that doesn't bite but has enough presence to keep music interesting
+ Overall clarity is awesome
Cons: - Picky with the source, sensitive and needs a high-end source to sound good
- Not for bassheads or treble lovers
- A bit too forgiving maybe
Stage Opens Now - Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci IX Review






Da Vinci IX is the nine-driver setup from CTM or Clear Tune Monitors and at the moment of writing this review it is sold for a price of 1800 USD, down from 2000 USD. The price and naming do not reflect the relationship between Da Vinci X and the IX, they are two very different earphones, and the sonic performance, as we will explore goes in two totally opposite ways. The main competitors areClear Tune Monitors CTM Da Vinci X, Campfire Atlas, Dita Twins Fealty, Beyerdynamic Xelento and Lime Ears Model X. The pairings will include FiiO M11 / M11 PRO, iBasso DX220 with the AMP 9, and Opus #2.






Introduction


You could say that CTM or Clear Tune Monitors is one of the leading forces behind the IEM evolution in the entire world. Although not being quite as known as other companies, they are one of the very few that works on designing new IEMs, new tech, and providing some awesome results for music lovers from all over the world. Just like when purchasing from Lime Ears, and TheCustomArt, the experience is pretty customised, and CTM being an American company has both the package, and the support nailed down, they are one of those companies who will never let you down with their products and support. Furthermore, CTM will always be friendly and offer to help you if you ever encounter any issue with their products, although that is very unlikely, as everything is produced and tested in-house, and built to last, even the universal variants of their IEMs being true technological wonders.


It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Clear Tune Monitors CTM, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. I'd like to thank Clear Tune Monitors CTM for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with Clear Tune Monitors CTM Da Vinci IX. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Clear Tune Monitors CTM Da Vinci IX find their next music companion.




About me


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/about.html



Packaging



First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:










































Sadly, when reviewing the two, I only received the package for Da Vinci X, but not for IX. This being said, as far as I understand, the packaging is the same for both, so you can check and reference my review on Da Vinci X to have a better idea of what the package looks like.


The carrying case that Da Vinci IX came with in my review unit is the same as the one that the X came with, and I have to tell you, the case is actually quite useful, although if there's anything I don't quite like about it, it is that you have to disconnect the IEMs every single time you transport them if you're using that case. For this reason, I had some cases saved from over the years, and ended up either using the case from CTM, the one they shipped their Clear Tune Monitors VS-4 in, or using a case that came with a FiiO F9 PRO a few years ago. Those two IEMs are still relevant, but I don't carry them as much around as I carry around Da Vinci X and the IX.




What to look for when purchasing a high-end In-Ear Monitor


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/what-to-lookl.html



Build Quality/Aesthetics/Fit/Comfort



The build quality of the Da Vinci IX is exactly the same as the one for X, but the X on the outer shell is actually black on IX, while it is a glass silver finish on the X. The body of IX is also ever so slightly smaller than the body of X, or at least this is how they feel when put side by side.


The cable that comes by default is pretty great, but if you want something awesome, I liked both the ergonomics, and the sound better with Dunu Hulk. The comfort is okay, and I would say great, but the IEMs are quite large, and will not fit every ear out there, so I can only recommend the Da Vinci IX for medium and large ears. The IEMs isolate really well from the outside noise, having between 15 and 20 actual dB of passive noise isolation, which means that they are good to go even for a live performance.






The comfort at the tip level is great, there are no hard edges, and everything is designed with an excellent flowing shape, not to mention that the IEMs themselves are designed for an ergonomic fit, the tubes are long enough, and everything falls right into place. The cabe connectors are in 2-Pin, and you can replace the cables with pretty much anything, but don't get me wrong, although I don't quite trust the default cables as much as I trust Dunu Hulk, the sound is pretty great, even when comparing it with some aftermarket options.


There's no microphonic noise, and no comfort issues whatsoever, and although Da Vinci IX doesn't scale quite as much as the X, it scales quite a bit still, and you will want to use some better sources when driving them, so anything from a FiiO M11 or M11 PRO, QLS QA361, iBasso DX220, or Opus #2 would do really well.






They are quite sensitive to hiss, so sources that are hissy or noisy by nature, or sources that have a high output impedance, like Hiby R6 are not really recommended for Da Vinci IX.


The internal configuration relies on 9 drivers per each ear, in a 4-way configuration, with 4 drivers for lows, 4 drivers for mids, and 1 driver for treble. The Da Vinci X has two drivers for treble, and although on paper this would mean that they are quite similar, the results are very different, and where the price difference is about 400 USD between the two IEMs, the actual performance makes them a pair for two different customers entirely.






Something that can also be found in the new AS-7 series from CTM is the WISE technology, and that can also be found in the Da Vinci X, and basically it is a Wave Integrating Sonic Element, a construction of tubes and sonic shapes inside the IEM, which is supposed to to bring the quality of their CUSTOM IEMs closer to the universal market. Especially for those who aren't sure if they will want to switch later on, having a universal means considerably better resale value, but you lose the comfort and technical ability offered by a Custom Fit, so CTM decided to try and reduce the differences between the two styles as much as they could. There have been several iterations that the team at CTM designed until they were satisfied with the tuning that best represents the sound of CTM.




Sound Quality


The tuning of CTM IX is quite different from what you typically find on high-end IEMs. This is because they sound, despite the very small difference of having just one driver less than the X, completely and entirely different. The sonics of IX can be described as colored, emotional, fun and wide. The kind of presentation they have, can be compared to mellow-musical sounding speakers usually found in the high-end, like those costing over twenty-five thousand USD, but which are made for musicality rather than raw excitement and impact. You need to keep in mind that this is the kind of slightly U-Shaped tuning that's mellow and soft, the type that has excellent detail and clarity, but doesn't really go for forcing it on your, but rather conjures a huge stage, and it is more of a complementary IEM to X than a downsized version of it.






The bass is slightly elevated, and the mid bass in particular is a bit sweeter and stronger than what I would call dead neutral, but it isn't elevated enough for me to call this bassy, or even overly, warm, just warmish and colored. Music has a great body, and in general instruments have excellent presence and weight to them, which makes Da Vinci IX great for symphonic and classical music. If you're an electronic music fan, you may be considerably more into Da Vinci X, which is the impactful - clean type rather than a mellow-musical, but if you love some jazz and softer, nuanced music, Da Vinci IX surely is more forgiving and easier on your ears. Even songs like Judas Priest - Spectre are presented beautifully on Da Vinci IX, and you'll love the guitars and large stage, as it evokes the beauty of the older rock days. For aggressive metal and metal in general, the bigger brother, the X acts better.


The mids are presented wide, wide, huge. The upper midrange and the lower treble are nowhere near as forward as the X, instead being relaxed and soft, as the IEM focuses on the main midrange, and offers a really holographic presentation, especially if paired with a wide-sounding DAP like FiiO M11. With a more intimate source, like Shanling M2X, they can be quite close to the listener, so they are source-dependent. The mids are slightly dipped in the 250 - 600 Hz range, which takes off any kind of veil that a warm and soft sound could have had, and competitors like Xelento end up sounding thick, but also a bit veiled by direct comparison. The instrument separation is great, but not aggressive, where Da Vinci X was surgical, and could dissect anything, the IX is soft, but has great separation, it offers space, rather than setting extremely well defined bounds between instruments. The voicing and mid presentation is to die for, if you love slightly older music, or music that is softer, more romantic, rather than new pop and aggressive music. Happily, there's enough treble for it to never feel depressing or boring, and some of the competitors, like Xelento have the treble so smooth and relaxed that rock may sound very relaxed, even older rock being considerably less engaging than I like my Judas Priest to sound. Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory is a great example of a song that manages to sound awesome on the IX, despite being a newer song, the soundstage is huge, the bass lines are clean, presented with good impact, and the treble is present enough to keep the whole sound engaging and interesting.






The treble, the last part of the sound of IX, is what could be either its weakest point, or its strongest point for you, depending on whether you prefer a soft, smooth and relaxed presentation or not. Compared with the X, the treble is far more relaxed, less spicy, and more forgiving, but the overall sound is more analogue-like, there's considerably less stridence and while it is nowhere near as extended, and airy as the original Da Vinci X, the treble of the IX is what you'd go for if you wanted to hear a softer, more musical presentation. The dynamics of IX are also pretty good, and despite it being a full-BA design, it doesn't struggle with complex music, with loud music, it doesn't struggle with EQ, if you want to give it a bit of EQ, and it doesn't cry when you want to push it a bit, the tonality being really natural, and the dynamics also being fairy natural for the whole presentation.




Portable Usage


Upon taking a close look at the Da Vinci IX, you will notice that it has a slightly different overall impedance and SPL from the original, and the IX has a higher impedance, and a slightly higher SPL too. This isn't reflected in the actual volume from a portable source, but you can totally hear that both are very source-dependent IEMs, and where Da Vinci X needs you to use a high-end source because otherwise you lose the detail and clarity they are so well known for, the IX depends on the source for having a clear, clean and large presentation. Furthermore, the IX needs you to use a source that has as little hiss as possible, and although it isn't quite as sensitive to hiss as the Atlas, it is fairly sensitive.






You can apply at most 5 dB of EQ either way, which is less than what you can apply to most Dynamic-Driver IEMs, but with IX that should be enough if you're getting them and liking the original signature. The key here is that they can take some light tweaks, but they aren't great at having their main signature changed.


Compared to the sonic filters found on FiiO's FA9, the latest model, or the physical switch found on Lime Ears Model X, the filters for Da Vinci IX don't really do much for the sound, and they are, at most, fine nuancing filters, rather than game-changers for its signature, like IMR implements for their IMR R2 Aten, IMR R1 Zenith, or IMR R1.


The overall sound in the default pairing is pretty balanced, but I actually would recommend a brighter, more airy cable for Da Vinci IX, compared to a darker cable, as the original cable is not the best, and an improved cable would improve the ergonomics, portability, and the sound a bit, and may give them a more engaging and dynamic overall sound.




Youtube Video


CTM Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci Original Youtube Video:

CTM Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci Retrospective Youtube Video:



Comparisons



The comparison list can go a long way, since there are a lot of valid, and interesting comparisons for Da Vinci IX, and you could even purchase some high-end headphones for the money they cost, like the HIFIMAN Ananda Bluetooth, or HIFIMAN He6SE, or you could go for something crazy like ROSSON RAD-0, or stop at something slightly more affordable like Sennheiser HD660S. The main comparisons I chose for today are the Xelento from Beyerdynamic, Campfire Atlas, Dita Fealty, and Lime Ears Model X. All of those are slightly less pricey than Da Vinci IX, and there was that one IEM priced at a similar price, the HIFIMAN RE2000 GOLD, but I feel like going for comparisons that go for similar signatures may be helpful, as RE2000 was quite analytical and a bit neutral in presentation, so it may not make the most relevant comparison.






Clear Tune Monitors CTM Da Vinci IX vs Dita Twins Fealty (1800 USD vs 1300 USD) - Dita Fealty has a slightly better package, as it comes with the AWESOME cable, and it has both balanced and Single Ended jacks on the same cable. The comfort is better for Fealty, and it can take far more EQ, making it more customisable, but at the same time, the overall detail and clarity is better for Da Vinci IX, and it has an even larger stage, with more refinement. Both are forgiving and go for a similar signature, but IX is more natural on an overall level, with better dynamics and more punch. Dita Fealty is not quite as sensitive to hiss as Da Vinci IX, and if you have a hissy source already, and don't want to switch it, Dita Fealty is a more safe option.


Clear Tune Monitors CTM Da Vinci IX vs Beyerdynamic Xelento (1800 USD vs 1000 USD) - Xelento has driver flex and a shallow fit, which is not as good as the more ergonomic design of Da Vinci IX. On the other hand, Xelento has much better bass and impact, a more raw delivery and blow, while Da Vinci IX is softer, more refined, and more natural. The treble in particular is much smoother on Xelento, which makes them less engaging for rock, where Da Vinci IX has a more balanced overall presentation, although if you're a basshead who wants a smooth treble, Xelento is a much easier choice. From the two, Xelento is not quite as soft or forgiving, so if you want something that's a friendly IEM, the Da Vinci IX should be your choice. Xelento is similarly sensitive to hiss as IX.


Clear Tune Monitors CTM Da Vinci IX vs Campfire Atlas (1800 USD vs 1300 USD) - Atlas has a much more aggressively V-Shaped sound, with more detail and clarity, but also a much more colored midrange, where Da Vinci IX is more natural in the mids, with less coloring, and a more present mid, with voices that have a more natural tonality, and although Atlas has much more impact in the bass, and a more sparkly treble, Da Vinci I X wins on terms of balance and naturalness. Also in terms of soundstage, DaVinci IX is larger, and has a better overall stage, where Atlas is smaller and has a more intimate presentation. Despite Atlas having driver flex, I have better comfort with it, thanks to its smaller build, better default tips, and the ability to wear it both straight-down and over-the-ear. Atlas is slightly more sensitive to hiss than Da Vinci 9.


Clear Tune Monitors CTM Da Vinci IX vs Lime Ears Model X (1800 USD vs 800 USD) - The Model X is actually more versatile, although it has a larger body and Da Vinci IX has better overall comfort. The switch on the body of the Model X is better if you want to tweak the sound, and it acts more like two IEMs in one body, where using the filters on DA Vinci IX barely changes the sound and the tuning. The sound is either more bassy, more impactful, and more V-Shaped on the ModelX, or far more airy, and treble-happy. In both cases, it has more overall detail, thanks to a more prominent upper midrange and lower treble, but in terms of which has a more natural midrange and voicing, the Da Vinci IX wins, and Da Vinci IX is also more forgiving and softer, making it easier to listen to, especially if your collection is made of a lot of older and easier songs.




Recommended Pairings


While there are a ton of awesome pairings for Da Vinci IX, but I tried sticking to the best I had on hand, so pairing it with iBasso DX220 with AMP9, FiiO M11 / M11 PRO, and Opus #2 should do really well for this review. There are more pairings out there, that would work nicely, like Opus #3, or HIDIZS AP80, or even something more eccentric like the QLS QA361, all of those having little to no hiss and making awesome pairings for the IX.






Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci IX + iBasso DX229 (1800 USD + 1000 USD) - DX 229 is still a top dog in the DAP world, with Tidal, Bluetooth, Wifi, and pretty much everything a flagship should have. With the AMP 9 Module, you get one of the best experiences there are with Da Vinci IX, as it breathes a bit more color in the midrange, makes the mids really vivid and a bit more engaging, and if you ever felt that the midrange energy was faint, or that Da Vinci IX lacks life or dynamics, or if you want them to have a bit more punch and life, the AMP 9 with DX 220 is the best way to do that, and don't forget it will drive a ton of IEMs, and even most headphones out there!


Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci IX + FiiO M11 / M11 PRO (1800 USD + 420 USD / 600 USD) - This is a thing I wanted to start doing, but I'm slowly replacing M11 with the PRO version in my pairings and comparisons. Both are good pairings for Da Vinci IX, but the PRO has considerably better dynamic, punch and energy in the entire sound, with better driving power, and a much more pleasing end experience. M11 has the advantage of having that slightly edgy treble, with a slightly digital presentation, but which works well to counter the relaxed signature of Da Vinci IX. Overall, if you want the best FiiO has at this moment, M11 PRO should do the trick, but M11 is still quite capable, and if you want a wide, holographic experience, you can always rely on FiiO's M11 to be a trusty partner.


Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci IX + Opus #2 (1800 USD + 1200 USD) - The second opus has always been their best, and still is, having one of the most organic and natural sounds there are. Especially if you enjoyed the signature and tuning of Da Vinci IX, you're going to enjoy the overall pairing with #2, as it doesn't do much to color the IX anymore, but it gives them a really natural, mature sound, with a fun tilt, harmonious and clean presentation.




Value and Conclusion


When going for something high-end like the Da Vinci IX, or something that's near the top of the mountain, you're not going to get a great value, and this is the case here too. The case is as such, that I could barely find any suitable competitors, and Da Vinci IX is priced quite aggressively for an earphone, but, on the other hand, the sonic performance really is something else entirely. Of course, I didn't receive the whole package, so for me in particular the value is not that great, but if you're purchasing the entire thing, you should have a pretty awesome time, and the 1800 USD price point includes an extra 200-USD cable, tips, and the sonic filters, so although the value is not great, it has similar contents to an IEM that costs about 1000 USD, like Dunu DK-4001, or Dita Fidelity.






The build quality of Da Vinci IX is great, with no rough edges, and no wearing issues, and although it is a slightly larger IEM, the wearing comfort is quite great, because it is slightly smaller than Da Vinci X, and it has a slightly better comfort. It has a bit of void, but no driver flex (since there are no dynamic drivers inside), it has no microphonic noise, and it can even take some EQ, if you want to change the signature slightly (no more than about 5 dB), but that should be enough if you like the signature of Da Vinci IX to begin with.


And there's nothing not to like, given the forgiving, romantic, and musical nature of Da Vinci IX, and the way they portray music in such a way they are enjoyable for everyone, musical slightly U-Shaped, with a good amount of life to the bass, and the treble, with excellent extension both ways, and having a huge stage, holographic really, presenting music the way an expensive speaker setup would, despite being a small IEM.






At the end of this review, if you want a softer, musical, romantic-sounding IEM, from Clear Tune Monitors, one that has a huge soundstage, great clarity across the board, despite being soft and forgiving, and which has excellent build quality, and revolutionary tech inside, the CTM Da Vinci IX should make a great partner for a long time for you.


Shop Link: https://cleartunemonitors.com/product_detail/239/Da-Vinci-IX/



Full Playlist used for this review



While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.


Youtube Playlist




Tidal Playlist


https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b


Song List


Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date

Eskimo Callboy - Frances

Incubus - Summer Romance

Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage

Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead

Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir

Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow

Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us

Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.

Infected Mushroom - Song Pong

Attack Attack - Kissed A Girl

Doctor P - Bulletproof

Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw

Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!

Escape The Fate - Gorgeous Nightmare

SOAD - Chop Suey

Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory

Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve

Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop

Crow'sclaw - Loudness War

Eminem - Rap God

Stromae - Humain À L'eau

Sonata Arctica - My Selene

Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back

Metallica - Fuel

Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable

Masa Works - Golden Japang

REOL - Luvoratorrrrry

Dope - Addiction

Korn - Word Up!

Papa Roach - ... To be Loved

Fever The Ghost - Source

Fall Out Boy - Immortals

Green Day - Know The Enemy

Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge

A static Lullaby - Toxic

Royal Republic - Addictive

Astronautalis - The River, The Woods

We Came As Romans - My Love

Skillet - What I Believe

Man With A Mission - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Yasuda Rei - Mirror

Mojo Juju - Must Be Desire

Falling Up - Falling In Love

Manafest - Retro Love

Rodrigo Y Grabriela - Paris

Zomboy - Lights Out

Muse - Resistance

T.A.T.U & Rammstein - Mosaku

Grey Daze - Anything, Anything

Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For

Maroon 5 - Lucky Strike

Machinae Supremacy - Killer Instinct

Pendulum - Propane Nightmares

Sirenia - Lithium And A Lover

Saving Abel - Addicted

Hollywood Undead - Levitate

The Offspring - Special Delivery

Escape The Fate - Smooth

Samsara Blues Experiment - One With The Universe

Dope - Rebel Yell

Crazy Town - Butterfly

Silverstein - My Heroine

Memphis May Fire - Not Over Yet



I hope my review is helpful to you!







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Pros: separation, layering, imaging, detail, musicality, enjoyment!
Cons: price? (YMMV). Bassheads will probably want to look elsewhere.
Renaissance, Man – A review of the CTM Da Vinci IX IEM


Intro:


I was tipped off about an upcoming review tour being run by Clear Tune Monitors for their two new IEM’s, the Da Vinci IX and the Da Vinci X and was delighted to be offered a place.


My thanks to Castor and the rest of the team at Clear Tune Monitors!


The Da Vinci IX is a universal IEM, featuring 9 BA’s per side and a 4-way Crossover.


The website, with all specs and details may be found on the link below:

https://cleartunemonitors.com/shop.php?tip=16


Appearance, packaging and contents:


See photos and especially the CTM website for details of the contents and packaging, as the one I received has things on the box relating to both IEM’s and I am not sure whether these things, or any of the contents, might later be subject to change :)

1.jpg 2.jpg 3.jpg 4.jpg 5.jpg 6.jpg 7.jpg


The IEM came with two cables (details from their website).

The first is their ‘standard’ cable; a pure copper cable sheathed in black plastic with a 3.5mm single-ended (SE) plug.


The second is their ‘premium’ hybrid silver and copper cable with a 2.5mm balanced plug.


By way of feedback to the company, I would much rather have seen two premium cables; one pure copper (with clear sleeving to show the beautiful colour of the metal) and the hybrid one (or a pure silver one), both with 2.5mm balanced outputs and a pair of supplied adaptors (2.5mm balanced to 3.5mm SE, and 2.5mm to 4.4mm balanced).


We’re talking about a top of the line $2k+ pair of IEM’s here, by way of context to explain my feeling.

Based on what I read daily on Head-Fi, I would guess that probably a majority of people who use TOTL IEM’s at this price point are doing so predominantly through balanced outputs on dedicated DAPs or Amps.

This ratio would probably be different if we were looking at the lower end of the price scale.

But as such, I feel 2.5mm should be the standard, with adaptors supplied as above.

The standard cable bluntly seems rather cheap and unimpressive to partner with an IEM of this level.


Conversely, the good news; the premium hybrid cable is stunningly gorgeous. I really can’t overstate how much I like this cable. It is relatively tangle-free and I have no complaints about the sound.

It has, for me, a perfect balance of heft and thickness. It displays very attractively the two metals intertwining, with a light enough weight and lack of microphonics that makes it eminently suitable for use on the go as well as at home.


Also, I would like to give a lot of credit to CTM for their implementation of the 2-pin connector system.

Generally, I strongly dislike 2 pin connectors. I have generally found them very difficult to insert or remove as they have required a great deal of pushing and pressure, and each time am filled with a mortal dread of bending or snapping the pins. These ones, on the other hand, were a joy to use. The pins seemed almost to click into place with no force required and were equally easy to remove. However, they were completely stable and secure in usage.

I don’t know how they did it and I very much hope this will be a durable implementation in the long term.



The sound:


As ever, my preferred method of testing is to try out the product(s) in question with a selection of songs from various genres and to let that process draw out the comparative strengths and weaknesses (if any!) of each product, along with a summary at the end of my findings.

I have a few tracks which I’ve only found available on MP3; the vast majority are FLAC or WAV files in 16/44 or 24/192.


Also, for the purposes of this review, I have used my main DAP to play the music on for testing; the iBasso DX200 (with AMP8 and the new CB12s 4.4 cable).



Apache Rose Peacock – Red Hot Chilli Peppers(HDTracks 24/96 FLAC)

At around 1:54 I noticed some percussion coming in over the new verse that I’ve never noticed before. The Da Vinci IX presented this very well; another example of the way in which it draws out the details in the track, but in a rather seamless way. Sidling up unnoticed in a dark alleyway with a sneak attack, as opposed to getting in your face and laying the smackdown in the Octagon :)


How You Remind Me – Nickleback(16/44 FLAC)

Here I find a slightly negative aspect to this IEM, for my tastes at least (and of course this is very subjective!).

It may well simply be that I’ve come from an extended time of listening exclusively to dynamic driver or hybrid IEM’s, and I personally feel that well-implemented DD’s have certain qualities that BA’s can’t reproduce and so perhaps I was missing these to an extent.

I can’t say that the IX lacks bass presence, as I can objectively hear it when this song is playing.

All the individual elements are but there just seems to be something slightly lacking in terms of feeling swept up in power, driving bass and rhythm and enveloped by it all.

Despite this, there are so many things the IX does extremely well, even on this track (and ones that gave me a similar feeling); the details are all presented so well. I keep noticing new details all the time or just being able to give them the attention and appreciation they deserve.


Life in a Northern Town – The Dream Academy(FLAC 16/44)

Something that gently drew my attention was the detail in the vocals that the IX displayed; I could hear the sound of his mouth and the saliva moving as he enunciated the words. This was not an unpleasant experience, although I can see how it would sound like it :)

It just made it feel more real and present, without any over-emphasis.

Similarly, the way I noticed, at first barely realising that I was noticing it, the gentle percussion that starts about 39 seconds into the track.


Don’t Go – Hothouse Flowers(16/44 FLAC)

This track served to draw attention to something else the IX does very well.

On tracks with a variety of instruments and a lot going on all at once, it presents each instrument (and vocal) in its own space in a way that enables me to choose to focus on a particular instrument to hear what exactly it’s doing.


When The World Was Young – Jimmy Page & Robert Plant(16/44 FLAC)

This one impresses right from the start. The song begins with (what I believe is) the plucking of a double bass with some delicate percussion layered over the top.

The timbre on both of these are excellent, very realistic and lifelike, and this quality continues as the vocals and electric guitar come in. Again, the vocals are quite forward in presentation, demanding your attention but fortunately backing that up with a warm and natural delivery.


When They Call Us In – Hobotalk(16/44 FLAC)

Again, this one impressed me from the start.

This is a very beautiful, haunting and wistful song that makes my heart wince (in a good way!).

It starts out with precise fingerpicking on an acoustic guitar, with an electric guitar delicately picking out accompanying notes, and a mellotron playing almost imperceptibly in the background.

Especially for an all-BA (balanced armature) IEM, it really does a good job of presenting the tactile feel of the fingerpicking and holds all the pieces together exquisitely.

Every time a new element comes in (a bit of tinkling piano in the background, for example) it is beautifully presented and yet smoothly integrated into the soundtrack.


Conclusion:


Overall, I would describe the Da Vinci IX as being a strong performer.


I feel that the soundstage and separation is not as wide and holographic as on other IEM’s I’ve heard (both TOTL and mid-range). I couldn’t say it’s small, but I didn’t get the feeling I’ve had with other IEM’s where it wowed me from the moment I first listened to it. I think it may also be to do with the tuning, that maybe is giving me an ‘illusion’ of a less expansive soundstage?


The layering is executed very well, and the mids are not recessed in any way; indeed they are probably slightly forward in presentation, which helps to draw attention to the vocals. A strong performance with regards to detail and timbre means that this is generally only a good thing.


With the IX, I found that upon the first listen (to an acoustic track), I was delighted. Then when I switched to some rock tracks (Nickleback, The Darkness, Them Crooked Vultures, I was a bit disappointed. Going to other genres brought back all the joy again :)


As I’ve been writing all this, I’ve been listening to the Hobotalk album ‘Beauty in Madness’ all the way through.

It’s full of outstanding tracks and is one of my favourites, and honestly, I think on the IX’s, it’s sounding as good as I’ve ever heard it. So many details are singing out to me, and the whole sound is just blissful.


I would say that the IX are overall a very good IEM. They offer a fairly large soundstage and a higth level of separation, excellent layering and imaging, and world-class levels of clarity and detail.

The signature is fairly balanced, with a lifted and airy treble and mids that seem slightly forward.

The low end is present and has some weight. I personally would enjoy a little bit more quantity and impact, but then I’m something of a bass-lover so this is perhaps an unsurprising comment for me to make on an all-BA IEM :)

If you like a visceral bass and impact and listen predominantly to rock music (especially where the bass is relatively weak in the mastering), it’s possible that these might not be the best fit for you. However, on songs where the bass and beats are mastered more powerfully, this is not really an issue.

Conversely, if you listen to pretty much any other kind of music, the Da Vinci IX can offer you an outstanding experience that you’ll want to keep coming back to.

On acoustic and softer music especially (and that would include a lot of jazz and classical), I think these are superb!
Pros: Versatile sound signature
-Great detail reproduction
-Great staging and imaging
-Fantastic build quality
Cons: The carrying case
-Picky with sources (very sensitive)
-expensive
Read first!

Clear Tune Monitors two top-end monitors, the DaVinci IX and X are identical in shell design and box contents, but offer very different sound signatures. So if you've already read my other DaVinci review, you may directly skip to "Sound" :)

I've got to listen to these IEMs as part of a review tour, so this review is my own and completely unbiased opinion, based on my experiences with audio equipment and my personal taste. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments or via PM.

Build & Design



The first thing you'll notice when taking the DaVincis into your hands is their excellent build quality. The shells are completely made of metal with a nice satin black finish and screwed-on faceplates depicting the model number in roman numerals. Little spoiler alert here: The faceplates already give away the model's sound signature. The "IX" is kept in the shell's low-profile matte black, while the "X" is inlaid with a shiny chrome finish. The screw-thing seems to be inspired by Campfire's Andromeda, but the rest of the shells if fortunately way more ergonomic, its curves fitting perfectly into the ear. This semi-custom fit gained a lot of popularity lately and I'm happy to see that CTM have adopted it, too.

Accessories

The bundled accessories are exactly what you'd expect from IEMs in this price class, including a variety of silicone and foam tips, adapters, cleaning tool, carrying case, filters and two different cables. I'll go further into detail with the most important goodies of the DaVinci package:

The Carrying Case



Several things have to be said about the carrying case. First of all, the good thing: Once the IEMs are fitted into the case, you could basically play soccer with it. The DaVincis are held incredibly secure, with some extra foam padding holding the earpieces in place, no matter what you're doing. That's especially great news for professionals who are having these babies on tour with them, because tour equipment can be in for a rough treatment at times. There's also a "hidden" compartment which holds a small selection of eartips, a cleaning tool and an adapter, nice! Now the bad news: If you're a regular dude using your IEMs for the commute, you're going to buy another case. Balancing that thing on your lap while fiddling in the IEMs in the correct manner and then coiling up the cable correctly is one task nobody wants to attempt in a crowded subway at 7:00am.



Cables



CTM are supplying you with two cables. One standard cable with an angled 3,5mm connector and one balanced premium cable with a straight 2,5mm plug. Both cables are sturdy and sufficiently long, with securely fitting 2-pin connectors (MMCX haters will be pleased) and a protective transparent tubing for the part that comes in touch with your ears, thankfully without memory wire. The premium cable is a piece of art on its own, braided of pure copper and silver plated(?) wire and beefy plugs to underline the word "premium". It's not exactly designed for great portability, but the difference between a balanced and standard connection, let alone different cable types (if there is any) certainly cannot be heard in public transport or loud venues. So use the standard one for the go and the premium cable for your armchair or showing off at your local Head-Fi meet.





Filters



Besides the standard silver one, CTM are adding two different kinds of filters to the box, red and blue. And at this point I have to give the guys at CTM some more criticism. Nowhere on the box or in the instruction manual it's mentioned what the filters are supposed to do. Sure, by trying them out or simply searching the official Head-Fi thread you may find out. But undertaking in-depth research in forums or extensive A/B listening comparisons are not exactly the kind of experiences I'm associating with buying a premium product. Now back to topic: As CTM explained in the aforementioned thread, the blue filters are for taming the treble, the red filters are for enhancing the bass frequencies a little more. And they actually work like that; but the difference is, to be honest, very subtle. Changing filters takes a few moments, which makes direct comparisons difficult and you may end up not noticing any difference at all. But if you're treble sensitive or longing for these 3 decibels of extra-bass, the filters may be a nice addition. Offering these kinds of tuning options costs money and effort, so I'm giving CTM huge props for that anyway.

Ergonomics



You would not expect a very pleasant experience from plugging massive metal objects into your ears. But due to their ergonomically curved shape and short nozzle length, the DaVinci series feel very comfortable and secure in my ears. In fact, they're among the most comfortable IEMs I've ever tested and going back to my JH Angies made me realize that I should consider an upgrade soon. CTM's cables just add to the overall very pleasant experience; so wearing these IEMs for several hours is not a concern at all. The DaVincis are a true winner in the comfort category.

Sound


With silicone tips

When I chatted with a fellow Head-Fi member about our impressions of the DaVinci Series, he called the IX boring. And that is, in a very positive way, true.

The DaVinci IX are sporting a classic monitor sound signature, which means a mostly neutral (or "reference") frequency response. The DaVinci IX add a little lift to the sub-bass, a pinch of warmth to the mids and an extra portion of mid-treble (between 8-10khz) for extra detail. As a result, the IX perform very well for monitoring and casual listening to a wide variety of music. On bass heavy tracks like Banks' "F*** with myself" and Lorde's "Royals", the IX pump out a decent amount of low end with a great balance between wobble and definition. Busy midranges like in Trivium's "Until the world goes cold" are handled with ease and the dual armatures are showing off their impressive layering capabilities. The enhanced Treble nicely articulates details, gives cymbals a little bit of extra sizzle and snare drums are hitting with a satisfying snap. Fortunately, the treble peak stops short of being sibilant, so CTM did a very nice job of balancing detail retrieval and smoothness. Imaging and spaciousness are just what you would expect from top-tier monitors. They don't sound exceptionally wide or holographic, but can certainly compete with the best: The MTV Unplugged versions of Alice in Chain's "No Excuses" or Eric Clapton's "Layla" are being reproduced in a very realistic way, with very clean instrument separation, positioning and natural sounding voices. There's a lot of room to breathe between the instruments and have I already mentioned how well the IX handles percussion? Couldn't ask for more!

With foam tips

Some IEMs aren't really influenced by tip selection at all, some are changing their properties completely. The DaVinci IX is falling in between those categories quite nicely. Foam tips, especially from Comply, usually thicken up the bass/lower mids a little and take the edge off the treble, also reducing resolution and attack in the process. For the DaVinci IX, this leads to a slightly thicker sound and an evened-out treble, reminding me a little bit of my beloved JH Angie. For most users, including me, this sound may be a little bit too dark and muddy. I personally prefer silicone tips for the IX.

TL;DR

The DaVinci IX offer a non-fatiguing, warm-neutral listening experience with some added treble/detail and very good imaging capabilities.

Verdict



At first, the DaVinci IX don't sound very spectacular or exceptional. But after a few days of re-exploring my music collection, I started appreciating it's laid-back sound and realised that the IX are the best in ear monitors I've ever tried. The sound signature is just spot on: Deep reaching bass with satisfying quantity and punch; excellent voice and instrument timbre; drum reproduction to die for; excellent detail retrieval and imaging. If I was to stick with exactly one IEM model, the DaVinci IX would be my top choice, currently. Due to its smooth and versatile sound, the IX are also a pretty safe blind buy recommendation (if you're into crazy stuff like spending 2000 bucks blindly).

Which should you buy? The DaVinci IX or the DaVinci X?

The price suggests differently, but the decision between the two CTM DaVincis is not one of better or worse. Both have mostly identical bass response, but each have their very own take on midrange and treble. So the choice will be solely dependent on intended purpose and personal taste. Want the classic non-fatiguing monitor signature? Choose the IX. Want a bright, analytical sounding monitor for that extra precision? Choose the X.
Pros: sound quality
balance
detail
scalability
premium
Cons: a few niggles
cost
CTM's own DaVinci X
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!



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!



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.



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 write 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.



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!



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.



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 treble 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.



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!
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