Pros: Bass is tight and punchy, Highs are nicely pronounced, but a bit more laid back, Great seperation and imaging, Very fast
Cons: Not for the mid-lover or the highs-lover, Slightly small-ish soundstage
I’ve listened and owned many Universal and Custom IEMs made in the US (JH Audio, Westone, Aurisonics), Asia (Tralucent, FitEar), but I realized I don’t have many European IEMs (EarSonics) or even a CIEM, at least until the name Vision Ears came up in a PM thread with Mimouille (I slightly blame you for this bro) and I saw the Vision Ears/Rhines/Compact Monitors thread. But then my local CIEM (read: drug) dealer Polaris Audio (I fully blame you for this ) got the Rhines Audio line I knew I had to try it for myself. We originally heard the Stage 4 demo unit and I was very very impressed at how they could get that beautiful sound in a 4-driver. I ordered a Stage 5 for myself and since I mentioned that I’d try to review it as well, Polaris and Rhines gave me a nice discount on the Stage 4.
I ordered the Stage 5 (and 4) sometime early 2014 through my dealer Polaris Audio on a rush basis but the construction and delivery was delayed due to some very understandable circumstances around the Rhines office. My order arrived one week before my friends’ own Stage 5s arrived, sometime in August, so it wasn’t exactly a rush. I got mine later as well because I was out of the country, but managed to get it burned in thanks to soullinker20.
Build Quality and Accessories:
One thing to note with the Stage 5, it is very well made. One interesting design point that was pointed out to me by Polaris is the fact that the Stages’ stems are built in a way that would let the sound mix before hitting your ear. As can be seen in the photo, there’s a bit of a space in between where the sound tubes end and where the stem ends, thus making sure that the sounds produced by the drivers mixes well before hitting your eardrum. An interesting idea, by my humble opinion.
My Stage 5 came with a large Rhines Metal Case with a 3.5 to 1/4” adapter and earwax cleaner. The Stage 4 came with a small Rhines wooden case and an adapter and an earwax cleaner.
Listening is mostly done with a Tera Player, an AK240, and foobar2000 with a Chord Hugo, iFi iDSD, and even a Venturecraft Typhoon DSD.
Bass. Wow. That thumpy bass was something I did expect with the Stage 5 but I didn’t really know how much to expect. It managed to have that powerfully punchy bass without sacrificing the highs. One thing I did notice with some tracks though was the fact that the mids were slightly more recessed than I would have wanted, coming from the Noble Audio Kaiser 10, but I looked past it and kept on.
Instrument Separation and Imaging:
One of the best things about the Stage 5 is the way it portrays the instruments and how it just sets them apart. Though the soundstage can be a little small compared to some other IEMs, the separation more than makes up for it. Listening to “chaotic” tracks like Dragonforce’s “The Game” and even Dream Theater’s “Honor Thy Father” the complex instrumentality is something to be marveled at. It manages to cleanly separate the drums, the bass, the guitars, the keyboards, and even the (many) vocals (at the expense of the vocals being slightly recessed, once again). I do have to admit, I don’t really judge the soundstage as much as I did before, instead focusing more on the separation and how everything comes together.
As I listen more to the Stage 5 I realize the speed of the monitors as well can be quite addicting. Quicker drums are rendered flawlessly, and I can honestly say the speed can even beat that of the Kaiser 10. Listening to instrumental tracks like Depapepe’s “Life Is A Journey” and The Piano Guys’ “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets” is one place where the Stage 5 really shines as well. Emotional Jazzy tracks like Jazz at the Pawnshop’s “Over The Rainbow” sax intro really deliver the emotion as well. Long story short, instruments are a joy with the Stage 5.
One thing I wish that could have been better executed (you really can’t have everything) is the quality of vocals. Though I also realize this may be what others are looking for with their monitors, listening to something that’s more vocals-focused like Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” you can’t help but feel like the vocals should have been more at the forefront with greater emotion than making the acoustic guitars what seem to be the forefront of the song. Listening then otherwise to something that’s all vocals, take, for example, Pentatonix’ rendition of “Problem”, the entire spectrum really opens up and the play of the a cappella group’s vocal play really showcase a lot of the power of the Stage 5.
Fan of great bass with great highs? Go for the Stage 5. Fan of modern pop, bands, really great drums, speedy music, classical pieces? Go for the Stage 5. Fan of mids, vocal tracks, and a generally more balanced sound? Go for something else (maybe you’re looking for the Noble Kaiser 10?). In the end it all depends on your preference.
Hope this helps!
Any more questions, feel free to PM me, or talk to me and my buddies (They have Stage 5s too!) in our thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/740936/tales-from-the-batcave-me-and-my-friends-review-stuff