Firstly a bit about me – I consider myself a melophile, not an audiophile. I got into this hobby trying to make music sound the best I could afford to make it sound. I suspect most of us are like this.
I also suspect most of us get sucked into the definition of “best”. And the definition of “afford”. Over the years, at various times, both of these terms have had variable meanings to me. These days – well I’m still not sure. But I still sure as hell love finding out.
So I guess in some ways it does make me an audiophile. I’ve grown to love listening to different audio kit, comparing it, remembering stuff I wish I hadn’t sold. All the usual things we do on Head-Fi.
But I’d be more upset if new music stopped being made than if new kit stopped being made. (Fortunately, neither of these two scenarios is likely).
A bit about my tastes
My main criteria for music is “does it sound like the person cares more about the music than the money here?”. I know it’s hard/impossible to know someone’s true motivation for making art – but I think it shines through a lot of the time. Beyond that, I’ll try most things and almost every genre I’ve ever heard has examples I love (and many I don’t). So metal, soul, hip-hop, house, techno, pop, breaks, kwaito, samba, mbaqanga, grunge, jazz…it all has a place in my collection.
My main criteria for IEMs and music reproduction in general? That’s also hard to define. What’s warm to me isn’t to someone else. What is a neutral IEM? Well that depends on what your ear canals look like. Did the tips make a difference to how we both heard this thing? And so on.
I’m an old fart Head-Fier. I joined the forums when all we really had to argue about was “Shure is better! No Etymotic is better! No, you’re an idiot.” Not much has changed – just add more brands, I guess.
*** Anyway, if you’re a TLDR kinda person and you just need to know what I like, it’s best described as “the warm side of balanced with an extreme aversion to sibilance.” ***
In real life, upper-mids/treble from unamplified instruments almost never hurts my ears. So if a pair of IEMs/speakers/cans does, then it’s all I can hear. The rest of the range might be perfect, but if it’s pushing out splashy upper-frequencies – then the rest is just drowned out by it and it’s all I can think about. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear good upper-frequencies, it just means I’m ultra-picky – it has to sound right to me or I can’t get on board.
Also in real life, I can always hear or feel the low-end stuff. I have an affinity with the underlying rhythm and that is so often carried in the lower frequencies. So if you’re tuning an audio product to make pianos sound beautiful but the bassoon or double-bass can’t be heard, then I appreciate what you’re doing, but I probably have limited use for it.
Keep these views in mind when reading my impressions please, they may not match with yours, but I'm hoping it helps you place my views in context with your own preferences.
Also keep in mind that this is the first review I’ve posted since the launch of the Shure SE500. Back then, Jude and the mods complained that new voices weren’t adding their impressions to the community and people needed to hear from all of us, so I was emboldened and imspired to write a review. Having complained to us, the mods now had little choice but to promote my nonsense to the main page. Serves them right. They never made the same mistake again, and neither did I.
Back with my own special brand of nonsense, here we go….
A message of thanks
Before I go any further, I really want to thank Joseph Mou at MMR for making this happen – we’re very blessed and lucky to have a distraction as nice as this to keep us busy with this Thummim tour and I’m particularly lucky to be the starting point for this particular set.
I also want to thank @mvvRAZ – this wouldn’t have happened without his passion for finding the best-sounding gear. I don’t think anyone needs me to go into details about his IEM history, but it’s because of his enthusiasm and organisation that this whole thing was made to come to life. Most of us just moan that the UK/EU never gets to take part in this cool stuff….not our RAZ. Thanks bro.
I’ve tried to keep my gratitude for this opportunity away from my impressions on the product itself – but it’s best everyone knows that I received nothing but a week of listening time with this unit – I have already passed it on to the next reviewer and I have received absolutely zero direction/request from MMR other than to tell me who to pass the unit to. But I still felt it best to outline my “relationship” with the company.
Okay, so what about those Thummims right? Nobody came here to read about my life story.
On with the show.
Right – let’s address those looks. Ignoring my own opinion on aesthetics, I’m pleased to see a unique design or two (both MMRs look unusual). And in person, they’re a lot more attractive. But there’s no getting away from it, these definitely look like the side-mirrors of the Tesla Cybertruck.
Aesthetics are very subjective and personal. Equally so, the fit and comfort. Now it’s a shame my first words on this IEM are going to be negative, but there’s simply no way I can pretend these weren’t uncomfortable for the first few days I used them. I have a box of tips overflowing with different brands, so I was fortunate to eventually find something that worked, but even so, the nozzle’s length and size meant I was in some discomfort initially.
Obviously my experiences here will not be universal, some people will chuck on the first pair of tips they think will work and be on their way. Others might try forever and never reach comfort. It’s very individual, but to me, I can’t help feeling a slightly kinder-edged design might have alleviated most of these problems.
Even once you’ve found the right tip, it’s very easy to insert them in a way that can hurt you after an hour or two of listening, and you only realise a little later.
Another thing to mention is that by changing the cable to one that has no memory wire and no heat-shrink tubing trying to force your ear to be the shape it wants your ear to be, comfort can be drastically improved (at least in my instance.) If you get a chance to try these and you are having discomfort, please try a soft cable without tubing/wire.
With all that said, fortunately I’ve been learning to make my own cables and was able to find a tip and insertion length that suited my ears a little more, and I became adept at twisting the shell in a very delicate manner which ultimately led to a pain-free session lasting hours on end. But it was “a process” to get there. Once I was there, I could enjoy the sound. Ooooohhhhh…..the sound!
Before I go into details – here is a random selection of messages I sent to our esteemed tour-organiser. I trawled through my messages because I feel this says far more than an audiophile comment about the attack transients being tight and blah blah blah.
So here are my (sometimes edited for context/censored) thoughts….
- “I just want to listen to every record I've ever owned as quickly as I can to hear them all through this”
- “I've actually had to stop listening to rock/organic music and only put on electronic music while I’m working, because I keep getting distracted - I need background music and this thing makes me feel like I'm at the <censored> concert, so it's too distracting”
- “It's made mince-meat of the ‘tricky’ Tracy Chapman so-called audiophile album”
I think you get the picture. I was enthralled.
Let me start the more focused impressions with sound stage.
Now. I usually don’t mention sound stage in any impressions of IEMs. At all. It’s just not something I particularly feel is a strength of IEMs. It’s an esoteric term at the best of times, and with IEMs there have been times when I’ve thought “are people just discussing sound stage because they need to fill review space?”
Well, “usually” doesn’t apply here. There’s absolutely nothing “usual” about the Thummim’s sound stage. It’s all spectacularly “UNusual”. My comment to mvvRAZ about needing to switch to electronic music was a genuine report on my life – I was working and I simply couldn’t concentrate, sounds just kept flying at my from all over the place.
Even more strangely – one night in bed I was listening to Pearl Jam’s “Binaural” (several of the tracks on this album are recorded with binaural effects specifically for head/earphones and brings a very dynamic feel to proceedings) – and the landscape that these draw somehow had me feeling like I was right in the middle of the band – I could place the drummer right behind me, guitars left and right and I felt, without any real imagination required, like I was in the band singing out. I wasn’t even drunk, I swear!
The Thummim has an uncanny ability to paint a picture across the audio canvas, throwing sounds around like an abstract artist, but the result is anything but abstract. The effect is a marvellous, colourful rendition of your favourite song, rendered new and exciting by a fresh perspective, while still recognising it as the same song you’ve always loved. It doesn’t ruin it, it just seems to say “Hey, you know that band you love? This is what it sounds like to be there.”
And even with certain electronic music, which I listened to in order to escape the vast soundscape, is still sometimes not safe from the Thum’s abilities. I played Maribou State’s excellent “Kingdoms In Colour” album, only for the Thummim to flex. “No way bro, this album has sounds flying in from this weird angle. You dig that? How about this sound here, did you know it came from behind you brah? ‘Course you didn’t. Heathen.” It happened time and time again, and I absolutely love it.
As I say, this isn’t something I usually bother with in IEMs. So the Thummim has had quite an effect on me in that regard. And it’s made me wonder if there’s something in this weird design that’s responsible for that, but only Joseph could tell us that.
Let’s move onto the actual presentation, beyond that crazy imaging.
The best way to describe this - everything I listened to has more body to it. Warmth isn't quite the right word - it's just good at pushing everything that’s there into the open. As if to say "here, this is all the stuff on this record - pick what you like and let it move you. And when you get bored there's plenty more here to switch your focus to.” Everything is accessible, everything is there and bold and ready to be heard, but it never sounds aggressive.
I’m told there’s a very slight dip around the 6k mark (I hope MMR reps will correct me on this if I’m wrong). This seems to be particularly beneficial to me – I think that’s probably where some of my sensitivity to harsher sounds lies. But not once, at any point during my (very long, very frequent) listening sessions did the Thummim cross that audio line, look at me threateningly and intimidate my girlfriend with its unruly behaviour and shoutiness. And believe me, it’s an easy thing to do (cross that audio line, not intimidate my girlfriend. She’ll slap you right back down.)
Let’s keep our focus on that middle range of sounds. It seems like it should be a third of what we talk about in audio, but it’s so much more. Mid-range covers so many sounds that make up what we hear in a record. I may be a lover of bass and low-end rumble, but the mid-range is where all the emotion lives. So for an IEM to be any good – I’d say it needs to have a firm grip on what’s happening here. It’s also where most of what we consider “sibilance” and “shoutiness” comes from. Upper mid-range is as much responsible for this as anything in the treble arena – get this wrong and you’ll be chasing listeners away.
However the Thummim has no time for such unedifying lack of mid-range presentation. It knows exactly what you love and it’s here to provide it for you.
While it’s no slouch with female vocals (Suzanne Vega’s entire Retrospective album is rendered as sweetly as it’s every sounded before), it truly sets itself apart with male vocals. Rushing through everything I could think of, I listened to Johnny Cash, Pearl Jam, The Whitest Boy Alive, Soundgarden, Peter Gabriel, Faith No More, Michael Kiwanuka, Roots Manuva… every unusual, gritty, famous and downright weird male voices I could think of. The Thummim digested them all and regurgitated them with a clarity, power and, most importantly, sense of emotion and soul that few transducers are capable of.
Something this small has no right sounding this big.
Treble is, as I’ve mentioned, my Achilles’ heel. Done right, it can obviously sound superb. But “done right” is as rare as rocking-horse droppings, at least for my ears. Prior to this, the A64 range with Tia technology was my comparator of choice, the zenith of the treble world in IEM terms at least. So does the Thummim match up here?
Well mostly. It wins half the battle and loses half. But there’s absolutely no shame in that. So what’s the skinny here? Well for me personally, I think the U18t beats the Thum’s treble for tone and texture – the treble is a bit more present and easy to pick out. It’s a detail monster, this shouldn’t be news to anyone. However the Thummim manages to extend further – it creates a much greater sense of that annoying term “air”. It has a layer of sparkle, a sprinkling of magic that allows it to shimmer and gleam slightly brighter than the U18t, even though the U18t has a more solid feel to the treble sound.
This really is tough to pick. I think by maybe one half of once percent I would go with the 64A, but there’s no way I could confidently say I wouldn’t miss the Thummim’s allure here too.
And the bass. Goodness me.
Too often with audiophile IEMs, those of us who live down in the bassy realms, the subterranean underworld of sound that is often felt more than it’s heard, are disappointed by the bass. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve though “well I like that – but it’s missing a whole chunk of sound I KNOW is there, because I’ve heard it on a pair of Funktion 1s” or something. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare them to Funktion 1s, but we’re not talking about fair here. If the world was fair, I wouldn’t have to pay thousands of pounds for IEMs. So when I do – I want my bass thanks.
Well the Thummim has given it to me. And then some.
Again, I’m going to compare this to the best in the business (IMO) here, the heavyweight Legend X.
Now I’ll be very clear, the Legend X has more slam. More depth. More, more, more. That’s the LX’s calling card. And it does it well, it’s been covered ad-nauseum by countless Head-Fiers.
Well I’m happy to report that while the Thum is slightly behind the LX, it’s not miles behind. This is Asafa Powell at his best finishing a split second behind Usain Bolt, where most IEMs are….well, me finishing a race when Usain has started the next event at the next meet.
But what most people will appreciate about the Thum is that, because it has an overall slight W shape to the tuning, the bass doesn’t quite rattle everything else into second place. Because while that kind of thing appeals to me, I totally understand why others don’t like that. So if you’re after an IEM that has almost the bass of the LX, but still presents much more of the spectrum in a more balanced and forward tone, all while maintaining a grip on all of them, well this should definitely be on your audition list.
Anything else to talk about?
Sure. The cable that came with the demo unit is the Plato, but a previous version, so I’m not going to comment too much on it. I will say that, while I like Eletech (as a brand I’m only mildly familiar with) I cannot get on with ANY cable that doesn’t have a slider, but ESPECIALLY not with something that has a fit like this.
I do love the way the cable matches the tone and aesthetic of the IEM itself (a function of the two companies being literally in the same building, I’m sure). When you operate in the rarefied atmosphere of the multi-kilobuck IEM, this is the kind of thing that sets a company like MMR apart. (Well, that and the distinctive design philosophy and it's brilliant sound of course). And if you aren’t a believer that cables make a difference, well you can sell it and recoup money on your investment, so I’m all for this type of tie-in with quality brands.
Speaking of changing cables, it’s also worth pointing out that the 2pin sockets on this IEM are like none I’ve ever experienced. Every set of cables fits in perfectly, and there’s a tiny little “click” and it’s secure. It feels almost magnetised. I have no idea what’s happening on a mechanical level, but like the rest of the IEM, this socket feels like it’s been built to last – I was very impressed with it, even as someone who doesn’t really roll cables.
This is where things get interesting (and where lazy people skip to. You know who you are. I know who you are, because I’m one of you).
Let’s deal with the price first. I’m not going to go into the whole “it’s all relative”, we all know how this hobby works. I also won’t go into the whole “I wish the TOTL pricing was lower”, we all wish that too. Bottom line is that we control the price of this stuff with our purchases. So while I have my own views on pricing – this thing is priced at the top of the tree alongside some big hitters. Erlkonig, Noble Prestige – and if you get a decent price selling the Plato it’s down in a zone somewhere just a bit more expensive than the A18s/Masons etc. It has to perform and offer something as good as these IEMs, or offer something that’s the same but better.
In that context – I personally (and absolutely!) believe that the Thummim more than justifies its place in the conversation at the top.
I’ve heard many IEMs, I own enough at the moment to be (quite rightly) treated in quizzical fashion by the more level-headed people around me, and while my tastes won’t be the same as everyone’s, I have heard a few things that are supposed to compete with the MMRs on price and on technical ability.
In that regard, I feel the Legend X beats it on low end. I feel parts of the treble can be challenged and beaten by the U18t, resolution is a smidge better on the Erlkonig. But the impressive thing is that the Thummim comes second to these IEMs in some regards, and comes first in the remaining arenas for my tastes.
The point? That when you create an IEM that challenges the very best in most areas, and is the very best in other areas, then you end up with an IEM that’s truly a contender for the best overall IEM there currently is.
So while I might pick my LX for a thumping track, or I might pick my U18t for a detailed listen, it takes individual IEMs to beat it in individual areas – if I just want to enjoy some music and I could only have one IEM in my collection? Well it’s not even close. I’d choose the Thummim.
Will I buy one? I’m very seriously considering it. The only (and I literally mean ONLY) thing stopping me is that I cannot be 100% sure that the comfort is something I can live with. Yes, it got better. Yes, there are things you can do to help reduce that discomfort. But at this price, I can’t help but feel there shouldn’t be any major “buts”.
However, with this huge “BUT” in mind – the fact that I’m still falling more on the side of “Yes” than “No” should tell you everything you need to know about my opinions on the sound this marvellous little oddity can produce. It’s been a true pleasure to listen to and I’ve enjoyed every single moment I’ve been fortunate enough to spend with this tiny metallic bundle of passionate sound engineering.
I wonder if banks are easier to get into during lockdown?