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  1. Wyville
    Stealth Sonics Universal IEM Tour - Meet the U4
    Written by Wyville
    Published Aug 14, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Stealth Sonics U4

    Disclaimer
    I would like to thank Stealth Sonics for providing the demo units for this tour and Jackpot77 of Audio Primate for organising the UK tour and letting me participate even though I escaped back to the continent last year. No incentive was given for a favourable review. This was originally posted as a single review, but adapted to fit the proper Head Gear sections, therefore certain sections will be the same as for the U2 (link) and U9 (link) reviews.

    Links:
    https://stealthsonics.com
    https://www.facebook.com/stealthsonics/

    Preamble
    Stealth Sonics is a company based in Singapore and while a relatively new player in the IEM market, has had a decade or so experience in audiology/music technology in Southeast-Asia. I first came across them around the NAMM show in 2018 where Stealth Sonics launched their new IEMs. I enjoy occasionally browsing around to see what is new and what might peak my interest and Stealth Sonics certainly did the latter when I saw their universal IEMs. A bold design that made a statement: StealthSonics has Style. That is style, but then with a capital 'S', quite possibly it even needs to be italicised as Style. Whether or not it is your cup of tea is another matter altogether, but there is no denying that Stealth Sonics sets itself apart from the crowd. It is an extravert styling with bold colours and design elements, some of which are also functional (more on that later). For me, I am about as extraverted as a particularly agoraphobic hermit crab, so not quite my cup of tea although I do appreciate it when companies have their own unique Style.

    It is not just the Style that sets Stealth Sonics apart. They have some really innovative ideas too. For one, their custom shells are coated with a proprietary lacquer that makes them extra hard. So hard that they can survive quite a large drop on a hard floor and that is not something I have seen very often. The universal shells too have some nifty design elements of which the Stealth Damping technology is the most noticeable because it looks like someone stuck a turbine engine to the faceplate. It is meant to help create a tight and clean bass response. The faceplates can however be removed to extend the bass, or replaced to make your universal Stealth Sonics IEMs look even more eye-catching.

    Unboxing
    The tour package contained the full retail packaging of the U4 to give an example of what you can expect when buying any of the three universal IEMs. So while I can only show the U4's unboxing, the experience should be the same for the U2 and U9 as well.

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    The universal Stealth Sonics come in a relatively big box covered by a sleeve with on the outside a picture of the IEMs and specifications. A bit more information can be found on the inside of the sleeve as well. The box itself has a carbon-like look and feel to it and opens up to display the universal IEMs in all their glory. Alongside can be found replacement faceplates. In the case of the U4 these are glossy blue, and I believe the U2's are red and the U9's black. Standard on all three are carbon-look faceplates. Below the IEMs is a generous size case, which contains a second cable with a mic, a bag with various ear tips (foam, silicone and double flange), adapters, an allen key for the faceplates, a microfiber cloth and a pouch. Overall a very healthy selection of accessories.

    I believe that the regular cable is an SPC, although with all three IEMs it has a different colour: black for the U2, blue for the U4 and silver for the U9. The mic cable appears to be a pure copper one with clear insulation.

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    Build quality and fit
    As I indicated earlier, the Stealth Sonics CIEMs have a uniquely strong build quality thanks to a special lacquer that strengthens the shells. The universal IEMs do not seem to be far off in that respect with a very durable feel to them, but it is a little deceptive because they are extremely lightweight. This low weight is purposely done to improve wearing comfort because Stealth Sonics aim at achieving long listening sessions (6-8 hours) without inducing signs of fatigue. Comfort is essential here and I do find that the low weight helps the IEMs to disappear while I wear them. The shell material below the faceplate also feels very soft and is very comfortable when wearing. The fit though was a little tricky for me to get right and I ended up using Final tips one size above my normal to get the best seal and most secure fit. I am not sure if I got the optimal fit, but time constraints meant that I could not spend too much time tip rolling. The reason it is a little tricky is because the stems are quite thick and short, so the fit becomes relatively shallow.

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    The included cable is quite a good one and comfortable to use, although the long ear guide did occasionally push and pull a bit more than I am used to because the cable did not settle around my ear. The cable's ear guides made the cable "float" (as it were) just above my ears because the shape of the bend is held very well, rather than something suppler that settles on the ear. Other than that it is certainly a quality stock cable that I think most people will be very happy with.

    As mentioned, Stealth Sonics aim to achieve long, fatigue free listening sessions for their (C)IEMs and have fitted them with what they call a 'Klarity Valve'. This is a type of pressure relieve valve that helps minimise pressure build up during use. The vent of the valve can be seen on the inside of the shell, just alongside the 'L' and 'R' indicators of the monitors. I have had issues with pressure build up in the past and I find that the Stealth Sonics IEMs are about as comfortable as using IEMs with APEX/ADEL modules. I did not get any uncomfortable pressure build up and was quite happy to have the IEMs in my ears for longer periods of time.

    Source
    All listening was done with the Cowon Plenue 2 from the SE out.

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    U4 - The warm and smooth one
    • Drivers: 4 BA (1 x Low, 1 x Mid, 1 x High, 1 x Super-High)
    • Crossover: 4-way
    • Frequency response: 18Hz - 23kHz
    • Sensitivity: 114dB at 1mW
    • Impedance: 13 Ohms at 1kHz
    • THD: <=1% at 1kHz
    • Price: US$499

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    Presentation
    The U4 are presented by Stealth Sonics as having "the flattest response possible" and I think here we might have some Babylonian confusion going on because I would personally associate a flat response with neutrality and the U4 are anything but neutral. The U4 are warm, lush and very smooth, perhaps a little too much so. The U4 have an unmistakable veil that takes a while for your ears to adjust to. Once adjusted it is a signature that is incredibly easy going and about as fatigue free as it can get. The U4 present the listener with thick notes and a woolly smoothness that is really rather pleasant. It does come at a cost of some transparency and separation is nothing special, but it does work well to produce a signature that you can listen to all day without any issues. While I was going through different types of music I found that with down-tempo EDM, such as Carbon Based Lifeforms, the listening experience was incredibly mellow and I could just slowly drift away in the music. It would not surprise me if performing artists will appreciate this signature for their stage monitors, as details are still there and there is enough air to avoid congestion, but the smoothness helps to make the U4 a practical tool. Of course audiophiles might be more critical, but they are an annoying bunch of anal-retentives with their reviews and unpicking signatures rather than just enjoy the music... Oh yeah... *embarrassed cough* Let's move on, shall we.

    Bass
    The U4's signature is dominated by its bass and that is perhaps not so surprising once you learn that Stealth Sonics used the biggest, baddest BA driver they could find to produce it. Especially with the faceplate off the bass is capable of the sort of low-end growl that I would normally associate with dynamic drivers. With the faceplate on (Stealth damping enabled) the bass is really quite impactful and it gives great weight to, say, a kick drum.

    Because the bass is so dominant, it does colour the signature all the way up and I feel this is what causes the perception of 'veil' across the signature that will be a matter of preference whether or not it is acceptable. For bass heads I think that without the faceplate the U4 produce a really satisfying bass and I dare say I wish Stealth Sonics had tuned the U4 with that bass in mind. In fact, after the U2, this experience with the U4 leads me to question whether or not the Stealth damping technology is the right solution. It definitely tightens and cleans the bass, but also seems to physically constrain it from resonating naturally, and the U4 have an awesome natural resonance there. Faceplate off, the U4 have a formidable bass performance that can compete with much more expensive IEMs.

    Mids
    Where I might differ in opinion on the flatness of the response, I do fully agree with Stealth Sonics that the mid range of the U4 is silky smooth. Instruments have a full sound and the warmth passed on to them by that incredible bass results in a natural-warm tonality that is incredibly easy going. Works great for mellow blues, although it does come at a cost of some details. Details are not entirely lost, but the U4 don't push them towards the foreground either.

    Vocals are more balanced compared to the U2, as I find that with the U4 male vocals get the natural throatiness they need and there is more weight to them as well. Female vocals do get some sweetness added to them, but I personally don't mind that and is again fully in line with the mellow character of the U4. Even the sound of the brightest soprano reaches your ears like fluffy clouds, and the U4 manage it while maintaining very decent clarity at the same time. In that sense I feel that Stealth Sonics have found a balance that works well. Smooth and fatigue free while maintaining enough detail and clarity to ensure nothing is missed.

    Treble
    Like every aspect of the U4, the treble is as smooth and easy going as it comes. It feels a little attenuated, but with the extension needed to add enough air to counter the warmth of the bass. But the bass reaches even to this end and the treble is convincingly on the sweeter side, lacking some sparkle and natural brightness in (for instance) cymbals or brass instruments. I do like some sweetness to the treble, but when I listen to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker I find that the sparkle is missing to add to the wintery/Christmassy atmosphere I love so much.

    Here again I suspect that this is an intentional choice by Stealth Sonics to cater to the needs of the performance artist rather than the audiophile. The sparkle is there for the listener to pick out, but is not emphasised to avoid fatigue. I think this is a good choice. I often use IEMs to isolate myself from the environment while I work and as such can wear IEMs for very long periods of time, easily 10 hours a day, and for sessions this length of time the U4 would definitely be among my preferred IEMs regardless of price.

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    Conclusions
    Stealth Sonics have come up with a very nice trio of universal IEMs. The U2 have a signature that is engaging and fun, and I am disappointed I did not have the Final E5000 around anymore because it I suspect the U2 would give those a fair bit of competition. The U4 feel to me like great quality stage monitors that offer the complete package, a smooth and fatigue free signature combined with a very light weight and all the advantages of the Klarity Valve to make them as comfortable as it gets for long, very long listening sessions. The U9 offer clarity and detail at a very high level, while maintaining smoothness and accuracy in the reproduction of instruments. Where the U4 feel like stage monitors, the U9 might lean more towards studio monitors, although without foregoing musicality.

    Stealth Sonics offer all their IEMs with a healthy selection of accessories and pack their IEMs with unique technology and styling to set them apart from the masses. At their respective price points the U2, U4 and U9 are interesting propositions, especially for those who prioritise practical aspects such as durability, comfort and a fatigue free listening experience. I feel Stealth Sonics have done an excellent job to create such a complete package and look forward to what they will do in the future.
  2. Layman1
    Euphoria - a review of the Stealthsonics U4 IEM
    Written by Layman1
    Published Jun 13, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Gorgeous musicality, note weight and thickness, excellent detail and timbre.
    Cons - The low end (very occasionally) can be a bit too much; but this is also its strength usually. Separation good, but not top class.
    Introduction:


    I would like to begin by thanking @jackpot77 and the team at Stealthsonics for arranging this tour and being gracious enough to include me in it :)



    IEM details from the Stealthsonics website:


    https://stealthsonics.com/u4series


    The U4 by Stealthsonics is an all-BA (Balanced Armature)IEM featuring 4 BA’s.

    1 x Low

    1 x Mid

    1 x High

    1 x Super High

    Apparently the bass in the U4 is handled by a dual oversize BA (that also covers the lower mids) which they had developed to their own spec through their audiology connections in Singapore. It apparently cost them a small fortune to get right and is the most expensive single component used in their IEMs. Without wanting to reveal any spoilers at this early stage, they sound like it :wink:


    Special Features (from the website):


    SonicFlo Acoustics: The Aerospace Advantage

    We’ve harnessed our technology breakthroughs in the aerospace industry to optimize aerodynamics, aeroacoustics and airflow performance. We’ve also taken advantage of our extensive research in fluid dynamics principles to engineer our in-ear monitors for optimum sound isolation in any environment.


    Acoustic Optimisation: From Drivers to Damping

    Acoustic refinements include extra-large bores that preserve airflow and sonic fidelity and advanced venting features to manage resonance. All of our universal in-ear monitors offer Stealth Damping technology, featuring a faceplate that can be removed to extend bass response for deep, rich low end that you can feel.


    Space-Age Materials: Comfort and Confidence

    Components are built inside an ultra-light enclosure housed in proprietary composite material that ensures a snug, comfortable, slip-free fit, even during long-term use.


    Klarity Valve, Hearing Protection

    The Klarity Valve is designed to release pressure build up in the ears arising from long use of IEMs.
    Without such a 1 way valve, the listener becomes exposed to pressure build up in the ears causing fatigue and hearing stress.


    Ultra Hard Impact Shells - Breakage Resistant

    Designed to withstand pressures arising for accidentally dropping the IEMs and other typical accidents, the shells are coated with a proprietary lacquer that makes the shells extra hard.

    Regarding these features:


    I tried the U9 with the faceplates removed, and at first there was no noticeable difference. Further listening seemed to reveal a very, very, subtle increase in low end weight and rumble. Either way, the effect is extremely subtle (on a par with that of the bass tuning valve on the Mason v3 IEM that I reviewed previously).


    I'm something of an audiophile bass-head, and my philosophy on such things is ‘go hard or go home’. Either design it to make a significant difference, or why bother? As with all things, this will come down to personal preference.

    In defence of Stealthsonics, they responded that this feature was designed with studio engineers and professional musicians in mind as a kind of fine tuning feature.


    In a way, it’s all something of a relief actually, because the faceplates are way too stylish for me to want to remove them anyway :)

    I subsequently did not try the U4 with the faceplates removed.
    I simply can't imagine anyone hearing the U4 and thinking "you know, it's awesome and all, but if only it had just a *touch* more bass".
    It's a big world though and, as such, anything is possible.
    After all, someone out there actually thought "hey, wouldn't it be a great idea to have Greedo shoot first?!"



    I would agree that the isolation (especially with foam tips) is good on these, and the comfort and venting claims are not exaggerated; I’ve worn them for hours without discomfort or in-ear fatigue.



    Pricing at the time of writing was $499 which I would say places it somewhere around the middle of mid-range in terms of pricing. Not to mention in the exact middle of the range in terms of Stealthsonics’ own universal IEM lineup. Which I just mentioned.

    It is the meat/jam in the sandwich of their IEM range (other fillings are available).



    Photos:

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    Appearance and build:


    As an introductory note, the review tour package for these IEM’s came with only 3.5mm Single-Ended cables. I understand that Stealthsonics are working with another supplier to make more cables available. I believe a balanced cable (perhaps with an adapter for SE use) will be included with these IEM’s in future. I would advise those interested to check on their website to see if any updates are released. Either way, they should be available to buy as an extra sooner or later, and of course you can always buy your own or use those you already have.


    What this did mean however, is that I could only use the Amp 1 Mk II on my new DX220, with no opportunity to see how these would sound on my modded AMP8 (4.4 balanced).

    Nevertheless, the DX220 and AMP1 Mk II are still an excellent combination and provide a TOTL sound, so I’m confident that I’ve been able to give these IEM’s a thorough workout :)


    The appearance of these IEM’s certainly doesn’t disappoint. They have a gorgeous matt black shell, with a shiny metallic blue trim.

    I greatly appreciated the fact that the 2-pin connector for the right hand wire has a red area, still slightly visible once plugged in to help me with knowing my left from my right :p

    On top of that, they have a prominent “L” and “R” printed in white writing on the inside face of the shells (hidden during use of course).

    The attention to these small details, which are actually quite important in daily use, are a promising sign from this company.

    Correspondingly, the 2 pin cables are very easy to remove and insert, clicking smoothly into place, but absolutely secure once in. Very well engineered, as is everything on this IEM.


    The faceplates have a very stylish and individual Formula 1 feel, with a glossy and well-executed carbon fibre finish, with what looks like a tiny industrial speaker cone in the middle.

    They really look the business and unlike many IEM’s I’ve used, I don’t feel these need to be handled like delicate porcelain due to their very sturdy build and the aforementioned advanced materials. There’s a video of them on YouTube, being dropped from a balcony or something and emerging without a scratch and still working fine :)


    One negative for me was that the nozzles seem to have a more shallow insertion than that found on my iBasso IEM’s.

    As a result, I initially struggled to get a good seal with these.

    With my usual IEM’s, I can actually wear all 3 sizes of Symbio wide bore hybrids (my tips of choice in most cases), each offering a different kind of seal/depth of insertion and consequent effect upon the sound signature.

    However, with these new IEM’s, I could only wear Large size tips.

    The outer part of the ear canal on my left side is pretty cavernous; I’m faintly embarrassed to admit it’s like the Albert Hall in there (other prestigious concert venues are available).
    I tried the included silicon tips, double flange tips and memory foam tips.

    Only the memory foam tips gave me a decent seal in that ear.

    However, it made the sound a bit veiled and boomy, which is a side effect that can happen with foam tips sometimes.

    My Symbio tips could get a seal, but it always slipped after a few mins.

    Despair!

    However, I then found an old pack of memory foam tips of my own.

    These have lime green wide-bore cores and were bought cheaply on Amazon or eBay.

    Now I have great seal and insertion, without any deleterious effects upon the sound signature. And now, the IEM’s start to shine.

    Elation! :)




    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 of each product, with a tl;dr summary at the end for those who lack my infinite saintly patience :wink:

    I have a few tracks which I’ve only found available on MP3; the rest are FLAC or WAV in 16/44 or 24/192.
    For the purposes of this review, I used the iBasso DX220 (with AMP1 Mark II).


    Note that I have been reviewing the Stealthsonics U9 as well, so I’m including some comparisons in my notes here, since it represents a rather different sound signature with a larger soundstage and a more analytical and neutral signature, with less warmth and note thickness and weight as a result. So by including these comparisons, I hope it could help people to better figure out whether the sound signature of the U4 is ideal for them or not. Also for people new to Stealthsonics (that will be most of us!) who might be wondering which of their line-up is most suited to their own tastes.


    Hanson: Change in my Life (16/44 FLAC).


    This is an acapella song, featuring harmonising of the excellent voices of 3 brothers who’ve been singing and performing together for about 30 years.


    This is a useful test track for testing midrange and seeing how well the IEM can handle the 3 voices, individually and as a group.

    I’m happy to report that the U4 performed with flying colours here.

    The low end wasn’t obtrusive here at all, but lent a gorgeous weight to the vocals, and the IEM showed excellent separation to let me discern individual performances within the song.


    Eurythmics – Angel (HDTracks Remastered 24/48 FLAC):


    Wow. Wow!!

    I’m familiar with this song, but 16/44 FLAC (in the original non-remastered version) is the best I’ve ever heard it.

    I recently got this HDTracks remaster, and it sounds superb.

    A song that I already loved is just taken to new heights.

    Fans of Eurythmics songs; I highly recommend you to check these out!


    Over and above these facts, I have to say this sounds especially superb on the U4.

    The remarkable mastering of the song makes the soundstage and separation sound big here, in a way it doesn’t always on other tracks. The sounds of the acoustic guitar fingerwork and plucking are very pure and crystalline.

    The vocals have great timbre, especially when she sings low.

    The timbre of the percussion is outstanding, really outstanding.


    There’s a quality that this IEM has, that consistently impresses me; it just seems to present every little detail so very, very well, but in an effortlessly natural and musical way.

    Think Roger Federer (or insert sports genius of choice) at his best, making shots of mind-boggling skill and artistry look like a casual afterthought.

    It’s like I notice everything and yet doing so never interferes with my focus on the song and the feelings and emotions it gives me. It’s really something special on the U4.




    The Ataris – So Long, Astoria:


    Hmm. I have to admit that here that there is something of a guilty pleasure.

    This high tempo pop-rock song features crunching guitars with lots of percussion. Not a bassy mastering, but a fairly dense ‘wall of sound’ kind of song.

    As such, the weighty low end on the U4 here (combined with the possible effects of foam tips on the sound signature) made for a bit of a ‘bottom heavy’ sound signature.

    Somewhat pear-shaped if you like. Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’.

    I have to say regardless, the song rocked. As such, the low-end-centric sound I hear from the IEMs on this song is pretty suitable and adds power and thunder to a song that complements such things.

    And I am a bit of an (audiophile) bass-head. Hence the guilty pleasure bit :p



    Farhan Saeed & Shreya Ghoshal – Thodi Der (from the Bollywood film ‘Half Girlfriend’ OST. 16/44 FLAC):


    This song is gorgeous. The first time I heard it, I was entranced. And I still am each time.

    It’s very pure, clear, beautiful. It takes a good combo of equipment to display this to perfection without letting the highs become piercing or strident in occasional places.

    It starts with a high-pitched female vocal, then a deeper, but sweet male vocal, and at times harmonises both beautifully together. Very moving.

    I hear very good timbre on both, but a bit more so on the male vocals (I suspect some residual warmth from the low end is helping here).





    Alison Lau – Handel’s ‘Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disenganno’ (HDTracks 26/96 FLAC):


    A staggeringly tranquil and beautiful piece of opera.

    I am embarrassingly new to the genre and don’t know much, but I’ve started picking up bits and pieces. This track stunned me when I first heard it. It was literally a transcendent moment. Aided by being a super high quality HDTracks version, I was excited to see how the U4 might perform with this track.

    I was not disappointed. The singer, Alison Lau from Hong Kong, has a terrific and versatile voice, able to swoop low and soar high from line to line.

    What I got from hearing this track on the U4 was how well it captures timbre and the thickness and weight of note that it brings to the table.

    The baroque instrumentation sounded so rich and resonant with the U4. It captured the timbre and rapid changes in the vocals excellently, handling the transients well where the song featured pauses and moments of silence as the instruments trailed off.

    Never becoming sibilant or shrill in the high notes. Really impressive.

    Also worthy of note is how it lets me notice small details in the background; the sounds of fingers or bows touching the bodies of the instruments etc.





    Sidney York – ‘Dick & Jane’ (from Korean drama ‘Age of Youth’ OST, 320k MP3):


    Ha, this is a bizarre song. Foot stomping percussion (literally on this recording), madcap vocals, a ukulele, whistling, and a ridiculous bassline that oscillates between octaves.

    It should be awful, but somehow holds it together for a goofy fun ride.

    The combination of all these things make for a tricky customer for any IEM, but the U4 does well here, bringing out the detail of all the various things going on and never becoming overwhelmed or losing its sense of balance and poise, which would be very easy to do here. It’s comparatively a bit more congested sounding than the U9, but not to the degree that it becomes a negative thing.


    Shawn Mullins – The Gulf of Mexico (16/44 FLAC):


    So, this is one of my go-to tracks for critical listening.

    Here is one of the rare cases where I think the low-end of the U4 has a slightly negative effect. This is a song that sounds terrific where there is huge soundstage and separation or shimmering highs. Ideally both. When there’s both, it’s stunningly good. My iBasso IT03 and IT04 IEM’s do this superbly.

    Here, the soundstage seems comparatively slightly closed in and the weight of the low end and its influence on the overall sound seems to somewhat dampen any shimmer.

    I should emphasise that on most songs, I haven’t noticed this occur. However, here, the result is.. good, but not great.

    By way of balance, I should add that the quality of shimmer (as I perceive it) is not the only way in which highs can be well presented. There’s also sparkle, crystalline clarity, and so on. I can listen to Club 8’s ‘Love Dies’ (another go-to track for highs) and the U4 sounds crystalline and superb. No sibilance or shrillness (a risk on that track).


    Miles Davis – Blue in Green (HDTracks 24/192 FLAC):


    A jazz classic, blissful and folorn trumpet circling like a solitary sea bird over tranquil waters of brushed percussion.


    This track demonstrates how well the U4 handles presentation of timbre. The brushed percussion is so tactile and realistic, each instrument absolutely on point. The bass – no surprise – feels physical and goes right through you, but again, without dominating.

    There’s something of a chameleon quality to the U4; on some tracks, it can rock hard with great dynamics and power; here, it’s smooth and laid back, as befits the song.

    That’s something I’ve noticed it does very well. The U4 is really a great all-rounder.



    Dire Straits – Sultans Of Swing (DSD 64):


    One of my go-to test tracks for testing (and just listening), and I know several other reviewers on here share this point of view!

    A terrific song, with lots of things to get analytical over; percussion, timbre, guitar fretboard wizardry etc.


    So right from the beginning, we have a kind of strummy/plucked guitar riff, with another guitar solo-ing over the top.

    Again, what the U4 does so well is make me feel amazed by the detail and presentation of both of these guitar lines at the same time. I think with most IEM’s that are very detailed, the effect is to draw my focus onto a particular aspect of the song. But with the U4, it never seems to do that. I always hear every detail, but without losing the enjoyment of just being in the music. It’s really remarkable.

    From around 30 seconds in, there’s a very delicate bit of high percussion (high-hat?) that comes in. Normally, it’s barely perceptible, but here, it stood out wonderfully but again, not in a way that took my focus away from everything else that was going on.


    The presentation of the U4 makes the bass really swing here and there is a lovely tactility to the strumming and plucking and percussion.




    Anberlin – The Art Of War:


    This is an immense track. There’s so much going on in it and so many things to zone in on when listening. There’s powerful percussion and bass, a driving rhythm, synths and sound effects and over all this, great vocals, searing lyrics and simply majestic rock!


    In terms of analysis of detail retrieval, on this track, around 9 seconds in, there’s a sudden sense of space opening up in the upper-central zone of the soundstage, along with a faint, almost imperceptible hum.

    I don’t know much about music production, but I’m guessing this is the ‘channel’ being switched on that the bass guitar is linked up to (as indeed the bass comes in at the same spatial location a second or two later).

    This small detail of the channel opening up for the bass at 9 seconds in is captured very noticeably, better than most IEM’s I’ve heard.


    This is a modern style of rock, dynamic and rich in the mastering.

    The U4 sounds assured and muscular on this song.


    The song starts with an electronic pulsing beat, which the U4 presents with astonishing tactility and physicality, the likes of which I’ve never heard in a non-DD IEM.


    Then the bassline comes in.

    It rumbles like a throwdown between the Bloods and the Crips and the U4 captures this exquisitely. The driving notes are thick but each strum and pluck are discretely discernible.


    This is top-drawer earphonery. Seriously.




    Comparisons:


    U4 vs Noble Audio Katana.

    NB: I’m comparing the Katana here from memory, so take all this with a pinch of salt.

    Also, of course bear in mind that the Katana is around 3 times more expensive, so it’s not an especially fair comparison; however, it’s the all-BA IEM with which I’ve had the most experience, so I thought it worth a shot.

    Katana has a slightly larger and more holographic soundstage and separation.

    However, the U4 has a slight edge in note weight and thickness.

    Female vocal presentation superior on the Katana, whereas for male vocals, the U4 is on the same kind of level.

    The Katana is more intimate, warm, organic and musical overall, whereas the U4 has the influence of that low end, which can (on certain songs) be felt across the sound signature. So the U4 not quite at the same ‘audiophile’ level, but my feeling is that it presents detail a bit better.




    Summary of the sound signature:


    The low end really surprised me. When called for, it’s the most visceral and powerful I’ve heard on an all-BA IEM, mostly without ever being muddy or overbearing. That custom oversized BA for the lows really does make a difference here.

    There’s strength and depth across the bass spectrum with great extension, lending weight and thickness to the midrange, but without undesirable bloat or boom.


    The U4 displays a substantial low end, but maintains balance, poise and attention to detail. The Kim Kardashian of the IEM world.

    But without the tackiness :p

    I think that the custom BA for the low-end was made of a hybrid material involving exotic metals and concentrated testosterone. Despite ‘dat bass’, it still somehow displays (on most tracks) decent balance and marvellous subtlety.

    Intriguing..

    You surprise me Mr. Bond! (strokes white cat).



    The mids are refreshingly balanced, neither too forward nor recessed. As mentioned above, the low end helps here, adding richness and weight to the mids, generally without muddying them. However, I would say that this comes perhaps slightly at the expense of soundstage and separation. I would say that with its sound signature, the U4 gives the impression decent levels of separation and an average sized soundstage which seems larger on songs without a strong bass.


    The treble to me strikes a good balance between clarity, detail and smoothness. It never once became too sharp or sibilant, nor did it ever feel lacking in detail or texture. It has a lovely pure crystalline quality.


    There was a seriously impressive amount of micro-detail available (and superbly presented), and a good amount of separation, layering and accurate placement.



    Conclusion:


    I think the only weaknesses here for me would strangely also be the strength of the U4; that low end. This is where personal preference with regards to sound signature (and especially low end) will be a factor. It does sometimes influence one’s perception of the U4’s soundstage and separation.

    I found it to be perfectly acceptable, and even very good on certain tracks – so it’s by no means a deal breaker – but equally, the soundstage and separation here never drew my attention and took my breath away as for example, my IT03 or IT04 IEM’s do.


    On some tracks where the bass is mastered heavily, or where the mastering is somewhat muddy or congested, the low end of these IEM’s doesn’t allow the U4 to present itself at its best.

    On pretty much all other kinds of tracks, it performs admirably well.


    The good news is that the ‘list’ of weaknesses ends there.

    Everything else, it does remarkably well. It handles every genre with aplomb.

    It’s fast, accurate and dynamic. Female vocals sound very good here, and male vocals even more so.

    It has a terrifically implemented low end and yet for the most part sounds gorgeously balanced, never failing to draw out all the details in a song but always in an astonishingly natural and unobtrusive way. It presents timbre accurately and has a beautiful weight and richness to every note.


    Summary:

    If you’re looking for a versatile all-rounder with a rich, weighty sound signature and a superbly natural balance of detail and musicality then the U4 may be perfect 4U (sorry) :p