Custom IEMs tend to be expensive, and there's a good reason for that. Even when dipping into the murky waters of no-name IEM brands from overseas (I'm based in the USA) - where admittedly there are occasional gems to be found - I generally prefer sticking with universal designs. Customs require a level of care and customer interaction that doesn't really lend itself to language barriers or unproven operations. This translates to entry level customs from 64 Audio and Ultimate Ears starting at $499, whilst Noble Audio, Empire Ears, and JH Audio charge $599 for their most affordable offerings.
That said, many people (including myself) find custom IEMs generally superior to their universal counterparts. I've had the opportunity to try many designs in both universal and custom form, and nearly every time the custom sounded easily superior. Not saying universals can't sound amazing as well, but perhaps it is easier to extract high performance from a custom build where the designer has more room for ideal component placement. Whatever the case, comfort is obviously a strong point as well - once a good fit is obtained, CIEMs just disappear into your ears, and I can use them for hours without any issues.
That creates a bit of a problem for those desiring CIEM advantages but lacking the budget for even an entry-level model. If only there was an established firm, known for high quality (in both product and customer service), who sold a CIEM for significantly less than the previously mentioned $499-599 starting point.
Enter the Lear Audio LCM-Skyline.
Based in Hong Kong, Lear has been around for well over a decade, and has built a reputation for making great CIEMs at what I consider reasonable prices. I still use their BD 4.2 dual-dynamic/quad-armature hybrid on a regular basis, despite it being almost five years old by now (practically an eternity in the rapidly advancing high-end CIEM world). Lear does have some new cutting-edge designs in the works but is also very focused on the other end of the price spectrum - a segment with far more potential customers.
The Lear Skyline carries a base price of roughly $175 (HK$1388 to be specific). That price gets you the Skyline in your choice of translucent, opaque, or glitter black, with a standard cable featuring an MMCX connection. Before we go on, I feel the need to point out - $175 is a crazy low price for a custom molded IEM! Obviously there's an additional cost for ear impressions, plus shipping (in this case to Lear's Hong Kong office), but those are costs which apply to any CIEM purchase.
Additional options will bring the price a bit higher, but it remains considerably lower than other entry-level CIEMs. I opted for Lear's proprietary "Combo Con" connection system which made the whole thing HK$1688, or approximately $215 based on the exchange rate at time of writing. Opting for Lear's Bluetooth cable, along with the Combo Con, brings it up to HK$1888 or ~$240. Beyond that it's just the usual upcharges for aesthetic touches if you want a fancier shell or faceplate design.
The LCM-Skyline is a single-driver design, which is not unexpected at this low price. What is slightly unusual is the fact that it uses a dynamic driver rather than the more traditional balanced armature style - where I've seen many budget examples floating around (which usually don't sound all that great). Lear uses a custom-made 8mm driver with a PEEK diaphragm, N50 neodymium magnet, and CCAW coil, wired with high-quality OFC wiring. Using a single full range driver makes crossovers unnecessary - a good thing in my view, as coherency is often something of a weak spot in budget multi-BA-based CIEMs.
Lear's "Balanced in-ear pressure" system incorporates a vented shell to reduce pressure and thus listening fatigue. Think of it as a simple version of the Adel/Apex systems used by Empire Ears and 64 Audio respectively. This design has no removable module, and the vent is thoughtfully placed at the "top" of the CIEM, which inserts into the cymba concha (or under the ear "flap" as some call it). Based on the anatomy of the human ear, this portion has an angle to it which means the port won't be blocked by direct skin contact. But it's also tucked away such that it doesn't really leak sound. That said, care should be taken to watch for earwax that could theoretically clog up the ports - I've seen other brands use a layer of mesh as protection, but these are just open. It's small enough to where I'm not worried about it based on my own personal earwax situation.
Let's talk about the Combo Con system. Independent stress testing shows standard MMCX loses 30% of its mating strength after as little as 15 inserts/removals (sorry not allowed to link that report), and is typically rated for a minimum of 500 pairing cycles. That's enough to last a while but could be problematic for long-term users or just people who remove their cables often. Meanwhile the Combo Con system is rated for 3000 cycles and can then be replaced if it does wear out. Whether designing a budget CIEM or an expensive flagship, this seems like a great foundation to build upon.
As mentioned previously, I got my Skyline in black with the Combo-Con upgrade, representing a roughly $215 expenditure. That's less than half price compared to entry-level models from mainstream CIEM makers. Despite that, build quality is solid on the 3D printed shell (typical for every Lear product I've seen), and there's nothing about the Skyline that screams "budget". My fit is excellent, but I've been doing my own impressions for years and as a result rarely suffer with fit issues.
The package is pretty basic: IEM, a fairly standard (for modern CIEMs) quad-braid cable with a nice looking 45 degree plug, and a carrying case, plus a wipe cloth and the usual cleaning tool we've seen so often over the years. This all comes in a nice looking Lear-branded box, but it's nothing fancy. Which is fine considering the cost... overall I have no complaints whatsoever.
Skyline is rated at 16 ohms with a 106dB/mW sensitivity. This is a fairly easy IEM to drive. I used an LG G8 ThinQ, Shanling M0, and even an old iPhone 6S (last iPhone with a real headphone jack) and all were plenty capable driving the Skyline to absurd levels. I did not experience hiss with any DAP or phone I tried, though big desktop amps will often reveal a bit of noise as they usually do with IEMs. This also relates to the DAC being used, the transport, and your power situation in general, as ground loops and other gremlins will be most obvious with a sensitive IEM. I find that using a quality power conditioner helps quite a bit in my particular system, and I achieve great results from an Equi=Core 1800 for balanced power, but there are many other worthy directions that could be taken.
The signature of the Skyline immediately stands out as warm and somewhat smooth up top, with a meaty tonality and prodigious bass extension. It's definitely punchy down low, but also has some midbass warmth - though not so much to be troublesome in my opinion. My initial listening involved various underground hip-hop releases: Little Brother, The Weathermen, Homeboy Sandman, The Dynospectrum, Propaganda, and Atmosphere. The Skyline signature is just about ideal for that sort of thing - warm where you want it, clear enough in the midrange, and forgiving in just the right ways.
Despite the midbass - which definitely seems like a deliberate tuning rather than unwanted bleedover - the low bass remains deep, textured, and surprisingly well controlled. Particularly when we consider the price. From the elegant double bass of Ron Carter to grimy Bass Mekanik test tracks and everything in between, Skyline gets the job done right, and surpasses the performance of many/most entry-level CIEMs using balanced armatures. Bassheads of all types should be thoroughly satisfied here.
Although there is clearly a low-end focus, Skyline is not over-the-top mushy or dark. Detail retrieval is commendable, resolving enough of the intricacies on Tigran Hamasyan's Shadow Theater to keep me engaged. Vocals, whether from Damien Rice or Etta James, have a nice sense of projection, and Hiromi Uehara's Yamaha CFIIIS concert grand piano has convincing enough extension to not sound muffled - as is often the case with overly-warm IEMs. While the Skyline is not a detail monster, it does well enough to where I don't feel short changed as I sometimes do with bass-oriented IEMs.
Where it really shines is that murky world of "musicality" - a term many reviewers detest (perhaps rightly so). Still, I think most people understand what I mean. Older audiophiles may use the term "PRaT", which is of course another imperfect label attempting to capture both a sound and the feeling it invokes. Whatever we decide to call it, Skyline has it. I find myself bobbing my head, tapping my foot, and - in various other ways - being more engaged with the music on a physical level. This is a very uncommon reaction when listening to most single or even dual armature-based designs on the more affordable side of the spectrum.
Soundstage is surprisingly large, though with more width than depth, and imaging is accurate enough to not feel vague or blurry - another shortcoming I've experienced with entry level custom IEMs. Again, the lack of a crossover likely makes this possible, and I suspect the vented shell design may help as well. The overall feel seems appropriate considering the signature and target market of this design.
Is Skyline perfect? Obviously not. No IEM, including those selling for several thousand dollars, can make that claim. Lovers of classical or jazz who find themselves gravitating towards the more detailed signature of an HD800, classic Etymotic, etc, will likely not find Skyline an ideal match. And folks who prefer a more neutral, low-impact presentation may find the bass little overwhelming. But I think the general music enthusiast who enjoys a wide variety of genres, and levels of recording quality, will find Skyline appealing. It has that generous low-end kick without going completely overboard, whilst maintaining enough presence and impact in the mids and treble to still feel reasonably well balanced.
If you are looking for something higher up the food chain, Lear certainly provides many more advanced models, but Skyline is still very compelling as-is. When we consider the extremely low price, it's an easy recommendation for anyone seeking their first CIEM, or perhaps building on their CIEM collection with an affordable and fun option.