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Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci IX

Rating:
4.5/5,
  1. Layman1
    Reaissance, Man – A review of the CTM Da Vinci IX
    Written by Layman1
    Published Apr 12, 2019
    4.5/5,
    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!
  2. Asspirin
    The Renaissance Monitor pt. 1 - DaVinci's pencil
    Written by Asspirin
    Published Feb 25, 2019
    5.0/5,
    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

    [​IMG]

    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

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    Cables

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]



    Filters

    [​IMG]

    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

    [​IMG]

    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

    [​IMG]

    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

    [​IMG]

    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.
  3. Grimbles
    A splendid IEM... eclipsed by its big brother
    Written by Grimbles
    Published Jan 6, 2019
    4.0/5,
    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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