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Headphones item created by MrButchi, Mar 25, 2016
Pros - Sparkly Highs
Bass switch to alter the amount of bass (Flexibility)
Cons - Price
Hello all, I am Binsterrrrr and I have been in this hobby for close to 2 years now. I just started writing recently and I am still trying to develop my own style of writing so please help me out along the way and feel free to point out anything. I paid the full retail price for the Aether and I am writing this so as to share my own opinion on this wonderful IEM. Please take my words with a pinch of salt and YMMV.
The Aether is my first flagship CIEM I owned and I bought this from Music Sanctuary Singapore early 2016. I had a budget to look for a CIEM that I really liked. My preference for music has changed since then to a more mid-centric sound signature recently from a slight V-shaped sound and something that is musical and slightly on the warm side. When I first heard the Aether, I was immediately wowed by the sound. Sound was smooth, musical and simply very enjoyable (More on that later). I went around to the different audio shops in Singapore to continue trying out different monitors but eventually I personally felt that the Aether was still the most suitable for me and I eventually decided to go with it.
5 Precision Balanced Armature drivers (Single Sub, Dual Low, Single Mid, Single High)
3-Way passive crossover design
Sensitivity: 109 dB/mW
Impedance: 46 Ohms @1000Hz
Ordering Process/Build Quality:
I did my impressions on the same day that I ordered the Aether and settled all the necessary procedures at and the ordering process was very smooth. In exactly 2 months and 2 days from the day my order was placed, my Aethers arrived in Singapore. I picked Victoria Red Shells and Piano Black Faceplates with Gold Glitter laser engraving of the Lime Ears and the Aether Logo.
Photo taken by Emil of Lime Ears.
Build quality of the monitors are superb with the exceptions of a few small air bubbles in the shell near the nozzle area. Monitors come with a stock cable, Emil’s name card, a desiccant and a cleaning tool inside a pelican case with my name printed on it.
Customer service by Emil of Lime Ears was also very good and I was able to message him personally on Facebook and check on the progress of the construction process and he also confirmed some details regarding the design online. Emil is very approachable and very friendly and helpful and he is willing to answer any questions you have regarding the Aether. Thumbs up for Lime Ears customer service.
The Aether can be considered a warm sounding monitor which sounds very smooth but what hit me the most was the very good instrument separation with very deep, punchy yet controlled bass. I would not consider the Aether having a very wide soundstage but I would call it very intimate sounding with very good depth. It has one of the punchiest bass I have heard from IEMs (Switch up) and some might find that the bass is a little too strong for their liking, but it certainly does not overpower the rest of the frequency range.
One of the weaknesses of the BA driver is that it does not pack as much punch as a dynamic driver would. However, this is clearly not the case. If you were to look into the shell of the Aether, you can see a large driver inside there for the bass frequencies and they sure punch hard. The bass produced by the Aether does not sound like any ordinary BA driver IEM and it rumbles deep but yet sounds controlled and very dynamic. The best thing about the Aether’s bass is that is very punchy but does not bleed into the midrange at all.
Should the bass be a little too much for you, just flip the switch down and u will get a slightly less impactful bass punch. However, that does not mean that the Aether becomes bass-light with the switch down. The Aether still packs enough low end punch with the switch down to satisfy most genres of music and gives it a more balanced sound overall. In my personal opinion, I feel that the switch gives more of a mid-bass than an increase in the sub-bass. The switch makes the bass a little more punchy and makes you want to snap your fingers along with the music and not so much of an increase in sub-bass boom and rumble for me.
The main thing I can say about the Aether’s mids is that it is very smooth and seductive. It is slightly recessed but it keeps your attention there to the mid details and makes you want more. It has good resolution and speed and sounds very musical and enjoyable.
The highs of the Aether are very detailed and very resolving. Aether manages to give a lot of details but not sound too analytical at the same time. It matches the overall sound signature of the monitor very well and maintains the very musical sound without sounding too technical at the same time. Treble extension is very good and on tracks like Celine Dion’s All By Myself the treble remains sparkly and well extended all the way to keep up with the vocals while not becoming sibilant and non-fatiguing.
Staging on the Aether is not as wide as compared with my Jomo 6r CIEM but it has very good spatial arrangement of instruments and everything feels nicely spaced out and u don’t feel the instruments all cluttered together and making the sound feel mushy and messy.
Lime Ears Aether + Effect Audio Leonidas taken at Effect Audio Lounge in Singapore.
The main cable that I pair this with is the Effect Audio Leonidas. Even before my Aether arrived, I was chatting with Emil on Facebook and I asked him for any cable recommendations with the Aether. That time was just after CanJam Singapore 2016 and he mentioned that he heard a few cables but the Leonidas “really stands out” and that there is “a really big difference in amount and quality of highs”. He also warned me to “beware as you might get addicted”. Oh damn he was so right. Leonidas sounded so smooth with the Aether and makes the sound even smoother and more seductive with increased treble extension and tightening up the bass even more. This improvement in the lower frequencies is one of the most welcomed and significant improvement in my own opinion. The Leonidas is one cable that I would strongly recommend to any Aether owner looking for a smoother and more musical sound.
I would consider the Aether as a forgiving monitor that sounds pleasant out of almost any source like my iPhone 6s, Onkyo DP-X1, Astell&Kern AK240SS and AK380CU but the sound changes pretty significantly when paired with different players, especially affecting the bass frequencies and the vocals. My favourite pairing now would be the Aether with my AK380CU as it sounds very musical and non-fatiguing and I can listen to it for extended periods of time. However, the Aether already sounds very pleasant straight out of my iPhone 6s or my MacBook Air but I would strongly recommend you invest in a DAP to bring out the maximum potential of the Aether.
The Aether is one of my favourite monitors. Period. Every time I leave an audio shop or meet and and get poisoned by all the gear, when I pop my Aethers into my ears, I still feel that sense of satisfaction and helps me to resist any temptation to get new audio gear. Aether is warm, smooth, musical and an all-rounder that manages to handle almost all genres of music. It functions well as an IEM for use on the go when travelling for work or for a critical listening session to relax at the end of the. I would highly recommend anyone who is looking for a new pair of CIEMs to go and audition this pair of monitors and the Aether is certainly a masterpiece that demonstrates that “More drivers does not equate to better sound”.
My Aether are currently back in Poland with Emil to replace the 2 pin sockets as they became a little loose.
I will take more pictures of my Aether and update this review when they return.
Pros - Amazing vertical soundstage and separation. No sibilance. Fantastic Treble.
Aether is the flagship model of Lime Ears. This utilizes 5 BA drivers with a four way passive crossover network. The IEM features a switchable sub-bass woofer. The Aether has been described as a very Natural IEM with amazing depth.
The review score guide
I will score CIEMs on a scale of 5.
· 1 point for Technicalities (Imaging and separation).
· 1 point for Bass.
· 1 point for Midrange.
· 1 point for Treble.
· 1 point for Soundstage and Air.
· I will also deduct up to 1 point for sibilance.
Do note that the score grading will be done extremely harshly and getting a full point in any criteria would be almost impossible no matter how good the IEM is. This grading system is relative to all the other TOTL IEMs out there. For a reference in any category,
· 0.0 – 0.1 = Bad
· 0.1 – 0.3 = Average
· 0.3 – 0.5 = Good
· 0.5 – 0.7 = Superb
· 0.7 – 0.9 = Amazing
· 0.9 – 1.0 = Best in Class; No other IEM in the world does this better.
If an IEM manages to score even a 3/5 then it can be considered a TOTL piece. A 4.5 essentially means the perfect IEM. The score is also subject to tiny changes over time as I try to perfect this grading system.
Also, the score at the top does not reflect this score but how the IEM performs in comparison to all the other IEMs in the world. That score will most certainly be always higher than my personal TOTL score.
I am more of a music lover than a true Audiophile. I prefer musicality but I will try to make my reviews as objective as possible.
Technicalities (Imaging, Separation)
I thought that the Imaging was done very well. The imaging was not pin point precise like some other IEMs. It’s definitely a little loose but even then, it can be considered very good.
Separation was done pretty well especially vertically separation which the Aether excels at. Horizontal separation is not at par with some other IEMs but overall, it’s very good.
Score – 0.6/1
The Aether has a bass switch which turns on or off the subwoofer. When the switch is off, the bass texture improves and the speed improves (both attack and decay). With the switch on, the texture of the bass becomes lack luster but the decay considerably increases which is enjoyable on quite a lot of songs. With the switch on, the mid-bass impact definitely increases slightly but the biggest change is the sub-bass(obviously) and the bass overall becomes very authoritative. It adds a certain atmosphere to songs having sub-bass. With the switch on, bass extension is deep, very deep.
Score – 0.6/1
Midrange is exactly at the right spot. It’s neither too forward nor too laid back. It’s neither too musical nor too reference. I can hear a fair amount of musicality in the mids. Smoothness is decent. It could have been smoother but this is good. Personally, I would have preferred slightly more musical mids but no complaints here as this is subjective. Female vocals are sweet yet not so sweet. It’s like the IEM is trying to please both the musical and analytical crowd. That said, vocal extension could have been better. Engagement is decent but a little more wouldn’t hurt.
Score – 0.65/1
Ah the sweet Treble. This is almost perfect Treble quantity imo. I am very Treble sensitive and have a preference for darker signatures. I thought this amount is just the sweet spot. Moreover, it is smooth, just utterly smooth. No peaks or harshness. The Treble definition could have been a little better but I think the Treble is just awesome.
Score – 0.8/1
Soundstage + Air
Vertical soundstage is the star here. Just superb depth and height. I was quite surprised when I first heard this because my daily driver does not have much soundstage depth and height. Meanwhile, the soundstage width is decent. It’s not very wide something which I would have liked. Overall, this is still TOTL soundstage.
The air between instruments was good. It definitely could use a little more but this is very good and no complaints here. However, it lacks the feeling of being enveloped by sound.
Score – 0.6/1
Absolutely no sibilance. Nada! Nothing. Not even an iota. This is one of few IEMs I have heard that contain no sibilance. This is very surprising because I am very susceptible to sibilance. I can hear it in the most unexpected of places. This is just wonderful.
Score – 0/-1
64 Audio A12 ADEL – A12 has much better horizontal soundstage and separation. The bass is also better textured and has a tad more impact when Aether’s bass switch is on. The midrange of the A12 is more laid back but is more musical and sweet. Aether just trumps the A12 at Treble. Aether Treble is smoother and just plain better. Aether also has a much better vertical soundstage. A12 also has more air.
Empire Ears Zeus XR ADEL – The Zeus does technicalities better than any IEM I have heard to date. It just trumps the Aether at everything including soundstage, imaging, separation and layering. Zeus bass lacks impact but is very well textured and extends very deep. In XIV mode, Zeus’ midrange is sweeter. Zeus Treble is also much more sparkly and better defined than Aether. Aether Treble however is much more smooth and devoid of any sibilance. Aether has more air than Zeus.
64 Audio tia fourte – The tia also does technicalities better than Aether. Tia has that dynamic bass characteristic of it being a hybrid piece. The bass is very well defined and articulate. The midrange is also much more enjoyable. The tia has more Treble quantity than Aether yet it is not sibilant. Tia fourte also has infinitely more air than Aether.
Noble Audio Kaiser Encore – Encore bass has more mid-bass impact than Aether. It’s also a tad more well defined. The Encore mids really shine well and are more enjoyable than Aether. Meanwhile Encore Treble is on the verge of being harsh and is much more sibilant than Aether. Aether is just plain smoother and non-sibilant. Soundstage is comparable to the Encore and Aether has much more air than Encore.
Listening to the Aether has been absolutely a pleasure for the brief period I had it. This is a very affordable TOTL IEM. The best part is that this IEM provides a very low cost for entry into the TOTL IEM arena. Overall, the IEM scored 3.25/5 which I would consider to be a very good score. The Aether stands tall as the sentinel to the door of the TOTL IEM realm.
I would like to express my thanks to
@Barra – For organizing the Lime Ears tour because of which I was able to hear this masterpiece.
@He IS Emil – For letting me have this opportunity to hear his creation.
Pros - Perfecty balanced signature, well-done and beautiful treble, smooth and rich from top to bottom, most natural timbre ever heard of an iem.
Cons - None
I would like to thank Emil and Bara for arranging the tour allowing me to experience some of the great IEM products on the market and one of them being one of the best I have ever heard in this price range and well beyond - Aether.
Lime Ears Aether is a 5-BA drivers IEM (1 super low, 2 low, 1 mid, 1 high) with Crossover 4-way crossover design. I have learned from my journey in the audio world that Driver-count just doesn’t matter, what matters is how well you tune those drivers and this example could be vividly seen with Hum Pristine. In a few words, I would describe Aether as having the very natural timbre if not most, rich, smoothly done from top to bottom, resolving yet still being so musical without sounding thick nor thin.
In fact, it’s an all-rounder IEM and the tuning has got to be the most balance out of any IEMs I have ever heard. As said, this special signature of Aether reminds me of Mr. Speaker Ether Flow but Aether doesn't sound as diffused as the Ether hp , they are both well balanced and seemingly no compromises.
The following review will be done on pairing with Sony NW-WM1A on Single-ended with universal-fit of Aether. The review will be based upon my opinion of the demo, it might be subjective to some people because we all have different hearing and taste.
Low: Aether has a very neutral type of bass which is tight, fast, well-textured and provides sufficient amount when needed without ever being bassy or too articulated. The sub-bass while not having the same quality as DD type but actually leaning toward it. It rumbles well, has good texture and hits really deep which is the best part of it. Despite having a BA-type driver, the bass is really impressive and satisfying to most people and I actually ended up never using the bass-boost switch. Bass on Aether also doesn’t bleed into other frequencies even when the bass-boost switch is up. For the switch, when up, it makes the sub-bass become a lot more powerful, the signature becomes a bit of V-shape with treble becoming more sparkling.
Mid: The vocal on Aether is neutral and has a very natural tone with a bit of warmth to it. It’s neither laid back nor forward, neither thick nor thin, it pronounces exactly what and where the singer sings in space without coloring the sound. Because of the natural tone, the string instruments and every note ring full and true to life on Aether. The upper mid is well-extended and very forgiving, it never sounds harsh nor bright or tends to sibilance with many bright and poor recordings.
High: The treble on Aether is my favorite part of the entire spectrum, just euphonic. It’s a perfect kind of treble which is well extended, possesses the airiness that goes between layers (Aether possesses this tremendous depth, more on next part) that none other in this price range has and yet it’s accurate. It has no peaks or glares from top to bottom but being smooth and non-fatiguing without ever being bright or dull; also It has a good amount of micro details presented in a very natural manner instead of shoving into the face. The resolution and technical performance are overall high and top-notch in this specific price range and in fact, beats those with higher price tags such as Encore and Katana.
Soundstage and Imaging: To paint the picture, try to imagine yourself in a room listening to a pair of high-end loudspeakers because that is the philosophy to which Aether was being tuned (Can’t remember to which model it was being tuned). The room would have an average size of width, not big and that would be the width of Aether. In this specific space, you will hear every note and position of each instrument with distinct separation between them. This room in fact also has a good height where the sound would travel up top above your head and also well below. From this picture, it could be seen that Aether possesses an average size of width hence the soundstage will not be your last cup of tea but the sense of depth is among the top.
Hum Pristine Reference (PR): Being my daily driver since September, Hum Pristine is a direct upgrade to my previous JH13 Freqphase. It has the resolution and technical performance that rivals Zeus XR despite having only 2 drivers. Hum Pristine has an absolute build quality from top to bottom with internal wirings and components including premium-quality stock cable and premium MMCX connector (brand exclusive).
Both have a neutral presentation but they represent the sound in very different ways. Being a reference monitor, PR is extremely accurate, brighter, thinner and brutally revealing. PR shoves out details in an aggressive manner (similar to that of JH13) unlike Aether presents the detail in very smooth and natural way. Through certain periods of time, I have found PR to be very dependent on source and track, it will tell you exactly what’s on the track without mercy whereas Aether is an all-rounder very forgiving, trying to make everything sound as much natural as possible. In fact, PR has higher resolution and reveals more micro details but at the cost of sounding harsh, thin, dry and lifeless compared to Aether. Bass on Aether has subwoofer-like quality (even with bass boost off) where Pristine has a tighter, more articulate bass with a touch of warmth and good impact. Both has a satisfying amount of bass leaning toward the Dynamic-driver type of bass though I prefer the bass on Aether. Mid on PR is slightly more forward, the upper mid is bright, revealing and become fatiguing sometimes with bad recording not as natural and forgiving as Aether. Both have a great treble extension but Aether extends further and more natural. Soundstage wise, PR has wider stage while Aether has better depth, I found PR staging is similar to that of HD800 due to its being tuned as a Reference monitor, and the separation is better and more spatially accurate. Deciding factor would be for which purpose you would use it, I would pick Aether over Pristine for daily use since I have a large variety of music from different quality and genres.
AAW W500 Ahmorph (middle tuning): AAW used-to-be flagship appears to have best bass quality out of any current IEMs I have ever heard (though it might be surpassed by the new W900). The bass on W500 just hits very deep, highly textured, tight and impactful like a hammer. It clearly beats the bass on Aether hands down. Staging on W500 is wider and has similar depth to Aether. From this point, everything else from Mid to Treble, Aether is just miles better with more natural presentation and higher resolution than W500. One thing I didn’t like about W500 was the sense of muddiness in treble and its upper mid tend to sibilance and peaky on certain tracks.
Noble K10: The impression was made on demo units and was demoed many times during the past 2 years but please still take this as a bag of salt. As you know, Noble K10 was sparking quite a fame in US audiophile community for a few years back. I already had many chances to compare it to JH13 Freqphase which was my daily driver but couldn’t find it to resolve better than JH13 to justify the cost of switching over. Though I have to admit K10 to be thick, musical, pleasant sounding monitor with very emotive vocal (the best part of this IEM). Compared to K10, I found Aether to have better technical performance while still retaining musicality, has an overall higher resolution, more resolving, better separation of the instrument and much more spatially accurate. Aether also has a more natural presentation without being thick or congested. The staging on Aether is wider, airy and has a better sense of depth. The treble of Aether is more extended, more natural and has better definition. The mid on K10 is more emotive and forward where Aether is laid-back and neutral. The upper mid of K10 could borderline brightness sometimes while Aether is not, both never sibilance. The bass on K10 has more slam but lack of control compared to Aether, it also doesn’t extend as deep as Aether’s sub-woofer quality. I have found Aether to be an upgrade over K10 as they are both being all-rounder monitor.
Noble Encore: This unit was demo-ed after a long waiting line in Canjam. Encore has fixed that congested staging and treble of k10 while retaining the similar signature. I have found Encore is still a notch below Aether in airiness, resolution and not as natural. The mid on Encore also somehow lost that magical touch on K10.
Campfire Andromeda: This unit was also demoed at Canjam, one of my favorite tunings at the show. Andromeda has brighter upper mid which tends to sibilance, middle more forward on Andromeda, warmer and thicker. Staging wise, Andromeda is wider but Aether is deeper. Aether beats Andromeda in resolution, separation and has a more natural timbre.
Zeus XR: Also a demo unit at Canjam. Zeus XR beats Aether in resolution, staging, separation and more accurate (reference tuning in mind here) but Aether’s staging has more sense of depth and the treble on Aether sounds just more natural and euphonic without hints of sibilance. As you know Zeus XR is 2.5x the price of Aether and you will get absolutely higher performance but I would take Aether over Zeus due to the signature, the way Aether represents the sound to make you enjoy more than analyze. Also with a top-end upgrade cable, Aether can still match the technical performance of Zeus on the stock.
Aether is a vivid example of how a natural sounding IEM should be – smooth, rich, neutral without the need to be analytical or thick. While its technical performance could be rivaled and bettered by higher-end models with the cost of twice and more, its signature will always be something make it distinct from competitors as a unique one. At the moment, Aether is among those with the best price-to-performance ratio to date. I can only see myself switching between gears but Aether will always remain here for many years to come and it is going to become a classic masterpiece that won’t fade away with times. Give it a listen to believe. (Custom version is even better).
Pros - Very big soundstage, amazing imaging qualities, endless details with intact musicality
Cons - Bass could show more resolution
“According to ancient and medieval science, aether (Greek: αἰθήρ aithēr), also spelled æther or ether, also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere. The concept of aether was used in several theories to explain several natural phenomena, such as the traveling of light and gravity.” (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aether_(classical_element)).
When I first heard about Aether, I was stricken by its name. Obviously, this is a bold name to give to an audio product. When I talked with their creator, Emil Stolecki, he told me that the name actually came quite naturally, as he saw aether as the fluid element that conveys information.
Early on in history, aether was associated with its first letter (Æ). Naturally, Emil used the triangle with the letter t inscribed which is one of the symbols associated with aether; and the traditional Lime Ears O.
So does Aether deliver on its bold promise?
1. Testing conditions
I went through my usual testing routine: full month with exclusive Aether listening, then starting some comparisons here and there, mostly on test tracks (see the end of the review for details), then progressively scanning my music library.
In the end, I’d say I have about 175 hours of listening time, with about 10 on my iPhone 6S alone, 15 with iPhone 6S and Arrow 5TX, 50 with Schiit Gungnir Multibit and Lyr2, and 50 with Questyle Audio QP1R.
Cable wise, I have settled down on Linum Music, having tried stock cable, Linum BaX and Zee’s silver cable. This choice was purely ergonomic, not having found the Aether to be cable sensitive (note that the only iems with which I have experienced a significant sound difference are the Harmony 8 Pro with the Linum BaX, and a smidgen with the Ei.XX).
I listened to music quite low, usually between 8 and 12 on low gain with the QP1R in a calm environment, and between 13 and 18 in the loud Parisian subway. However, for this review, I pushed it up a few times in order to provide a more general feedback. So consider that what you read applies pretty much to most sound levels, as I didn’t experience significant changes in the signature.
Pairing was easy, with the QP1R being the best (including over Gungnir Multibit and Lyr2). Aether is driven quite easily, and the iPhone 6S will give you enough fun to look stupid in the subway (true story). They’re thus easy to drive, but not to the point of making your source hiss (hello SE846 J).
This unit was first provided as a test unit, but I ended up acquiring it. Big thanks to Emil for his trust and for our technical discussions (I’m an engineer and a sucker for design explanations).
If you look up on the pictures, you will see that Lime Ears’ build quality is impeccable. Of all the acrylic ciems I have had the chance to handle (that is from Earsonics, Earwerkz, Custom Art, Lear Audio, Unique Melody), Lime Ears is tied for first with Earwerkz, because both build are just perfect. I specifically asked Emil for a transparent shell color in order to analyze this aspect, and the attention to detail is just stunning. But I’ll try and let the pictures do the talking in that regards.
The package is standard as well as complete: a Pelican case, a cleaning tool, removable cables, and the ciems.
The ordering is made by email, and Emil provides you with specific instructions for the earprints process. It is different from what I’ve known since he recommends biting two fingers (I usually bite only one). Do consider taking tissues with you, because with two fingers, you’re gonna drool. Like physically. Then, send pictures to Emil so he can validate them. Anyway, it seems to work, because this is the best fit I’ve had in acrylic along with Ei.XX, with excellent comfort and isolation. Really top notch.
Long story short, Aether is a four-way, 5 drivers (single sub, dual low, single mid, single high) ciem, three soundtubes, and a switch for subs boost. The design options include engraving, wood / acrylic / carbon fiber faceplates, as well as “time machine” faceplates, which are made from actual watch parts and come on top of a faceplate. Just a quick note on the switch: every single person I’ve talked to was worried about its resistance. I was too sort of. And I was wrong. Appears rock solid.
My design is transparent grey shell with black icewood with time machine faceplates. The cabling inside the shells as well as the serial number engraving allow for easy differentiation between left and right earpieces.
Build time is on average 4-6 weeks, which is somewhat an industry standard. It took me a good 5 minutes to open my box, so be prepared to use a sharp knife.
All the contacts with Emil were great, email response time on average was less than 24h, and I have no doubt that you will enjoy his great sense of humour.
Now that we’re done with the boring introduction (I mean design is cool, but those are made to be listened to, not merely stared at), on with the interesting stuff.
In order to give you a reference, I own Harmony 8 Pro (pre-order owner), Spiral Ears 5-way Reference and an HD800. In other words, I like my soundstage big (although you could argue that Spiral Ears 5-way Reference’s soundstage is not that big). I’ve also been one of the reviewers of the Massdrop / Custom Art Ei.XX, so when I say big I mean it.
Width wise, Aether’s soundstage is close to, but a little smaller than Harmony 8 Pro. Depth wise, Aether is significantly bigger. The first thing that struck me when I started listening was that impression of having different waves of music coming at me from different depths in the soundstage, as well as tricky-looking highs (more on that later).
Basically, it is the first time that the word “imaging” makes actual sense to my ears. It really seems like each sound source is located at a specific place and depth, and comes at you separated from the other sources. Now don’t go thinking that it comes at the price of less musicality, because it doesn’t. It’s really that the depth separation really provides a level of detail which I had not experienced before, and is really beautiful on two voices tracks (or tracks with voice feedback). Incidentally, many of the tracks which I prefer have either two voices or voice feedback. And I discovered at least 15 new occurences with Aether (that is tracks which I loved, but for which I wasn’t aware that they featured multiple voices).
So, all in all, probably the best soundstage I’ve experienced ciem wise, because it is wide, big and precise in all dimensions (you won’t hear me about soundstage height because I mainly listen to rock music and pop). I think where Aether really wins over Harmony 8 Pro is that the latter is wider due to the highs added above 12 kHz, which stretch the soundstage, but deforms it depth wise. I have the impression that, without these added highs, Harmony 8 Pro soundstage would have the same coherency as Aether, but would be markedly smaller in all dimensions.
As I’ve written before, I am not a basshead, although I recognize that Ei.XX did make me appreciate having a little more bass than I used to. I like bass which is textured, fast, and most of all not bloated. In that regards, Aether performs quite well to my tastes.
The amount of bass is significantly bigger than that of Harmony 8 Pro, and is the base to the signature of Aether which I will qualify as “even”, in order to not say “neutral” (which is used by everyone and doesn’t mean anything anymore). By “even”, I mean that the amounts of highs, mids and lows is fairly balanced, resulting in a signature that I cannot qualify as bright or dark, with some air, but without being airy.
The speed and impact are excellent, with impacting subs. In terms of amount, there is clearly less than with Ei.XX (which is a good thing to me), more than with Spiral Ears 5-way Reference, and quite significantly more than with Harmony 8 Pro. If you turn the subs switch on, then you gain some more. In my opinion it becomes too much in a calm environment, but it can be nice in the subway for instance. The switch really appears to affect almost only the subs, with decaying efficiency after 60Hz, until about 100 Hz according to my experience (using single tone .wav music files and trying to detect a difference). I was surprised to actually get something as low as 20 Hz, although I doubt you’ll get any of that in your music.
The ADSR is excellent, which I believe is the foundation of the soundstage depth. Texture wise, things are a little less good. Not that they’re not good, but I’m used to Harmony 8 Pro, whose bass may not be the most prominent, but is the best texture I’ve had the chance to experience. With Harmony 8 Pro, I feel like I get “bass resolution” or “bass details”. With Aether, I get quality texture, but not to that level.
Talking things out with Emil, he explained to me that you often need to make a compromise between bass level and resolution, and that Aether and Harmony 8 Pro are two different compromises. I like that explanation, and really find that one or the other can equally be appreciated for different reasons.
I’m always at odds with mids. First of all, they’re sort of the Malcolm in the middle of music. And I always hated Malcolm. Second, they’re so much harder to qualify than lows and highs. Lows will give you impact and make you tap your foot. Highs will give you air and details. Mids? Well, they’re supposed to give you emotion through texture and lushness. But then that often is done through coloration (which I’m not a fan of). And honestly, mids are quite often done quite well, so you’re really left talking about details.
In the case of Aether, the word I would use is balanced. They’re neither thick nor thin. They’re smooth without being on the “liquid” side. The voices are generally more forward than what I have experienced with Harmony 8 Pro, probably somewhat similar to Spiral Ears 5- Way Reference, but with a little less density.
I’m not a huge “male voice” or “female voice” kind of music, but I can nevertheless say that from Adele to Agnes Obel through Diana Krall, Skye Edwards or Macy Gray, Aether performs great, and I didn’t feel anything lacking.
Instruments are very well rendered, from cellos and violins to piano and guitars (electric or acoustic). So, while I’m not the best mids judge out there, I truly enjoy Aether’s.
Aether’s highs were the hardest part of this test, and probably the most satisfying at the same time. When I first tried the universal version of Aether in November in Paris, my first expression was “those highs are quality, but there is something off, especially in their location”. Of course I suspected universalization and tips to be the cause.
So when I received Aether, I was eager to find out more. And it was obvious that whatever was wrong in November was fixed. So one mystery was replaced by another: the highs were both “Harmony 8 Pro-level detailed” and “round” at the same time! It was as if Aether was suggesting the details instead of spelling them out.
So I focused very hard for a long time on them, and was clueless for most of it: I was truly getting the same amount of details, yet it was all so soft! In the end, I just gave up and talked it out with Emil, only to learn the obvious - it was not for me to find the explanation. To make things short, I’ll just say that the acoustic damper in one of the sound tubes truly works like magic.
On the timbre side of things, I didn’t notice any excessive metal feeling (think cymbals for instance). While Harmony 8 Pro never bothered me, it sounds a little less “true” than Spiral Ears 5-way Reference for instance. Aether is on the level of the latter. It has been written (and I share that opinion) that Harmony 8 Pro has an ADSR which is a little weird in the highs, which, along with the smaller amount of bass, accounts for a little less foot tapping. By contrast, that of Aether is really good and punchy, and it sounds blazing fast.
To sum things up, Aether’s highs are a thing of beauty. They convey details without ever being aggressive. But then keep in mind that I appear to be somewhat impervious to sibilance or highs cringe-ness.
So Aether is perfect right? Well, to me, it almost is. I mean, seriously, save for the bass texture which could be more to my tastes, it really ticks all boxes.
Or, to say it differently, when I do a review, I usually go through Stockholm syndrome: after a month or two with the same product, I’m quite convinced that it is sooooo good. And then I put my Harmony 8 Pro back on. And I go like “What was wrong in that sick head of mine!!!” With Aether, when I put back Harmony 8 Pro, I felt like “Oh, it’s gonna be a close game”.
All in all, it really is a matter of taste. Harmony 8 Pro really is a great monitor type like ciem, and I really enjoy it with the Gungnir Multibit and Lyr 2 setup when I can focus on the music. But for all other activities, and I really mean all, Aether is my new buddy, and it’s here to stay.
To balance out my rave, I’ll mention opinions by other persons who enjoyed it less than I do. In general, the bassheads have found it lacking subs, and a little on the airy side (although imho, it’s pretty much dead “even”). And some sensitive guys have found potential for sibilance.
List of tracks used in the test list: 2 Cellos – Celloverse – The trooper (overture)
Toby Lightman – Little things – Devils and angels
Minerals – White tones – Last time
Radiohead – The king of limbs – Feral
Monika Borzym – My place – Finding her way
Brahms- Ein deutsches requiem Op.45-Selig sind die da Lied tragen-, Chorus
Com Truise – Galactic melt – Futureworld
Daft Punk – Random access memories – Contact
Matt & Toby – Matt & toby – Good boys
Dire Straits – Love over gold – Telegraph road
Dire Straits – On every street – On every street
Monika Borzym – My place – Pisces
Lights – Siberia – Flux and flow
Toby Lightman – Little things – Real love
Korn – Take a look in the mirror – Play me
Massive attack – Mezzanine – Angel
MDC – Conception – Good vibes
Alicia Keys –The diary of Alicia Keys – Nobody not really
Hans Zimmer – Pirates of the caribbean dead man's chest – Jack Sparrow
Christina Aguilera – Save me from myself – Save me from myself
Drydeck – DDK VS ODG /2 – Gentle RMX
The Killers – Hot fuss – Mr. Brightside
Savant – Alchemist – Fat cat shuffle
Pandadub – Archives – Myopie
** To come : detailed comparison on specific tracks with Aether / Harmony 8 Pro / Spiral Ears 5-way Reference **