Having hosted a number of TOP TIER CIEM tours and having access to others through HeadFi and the RMAF events, I have a pretty good understanding of what is out there in the CIEM options. Some impress immediately as different such as the EE LX with its dual subwoofers, and some others like the 64 Audio A18 grow on you over time sounding good at first, but then bringing tears to your eyes after you listen to it long enough to "get it". The Mason falls into the latter category as it took some listening through my library and playing with my DAP collection before I "got it". Now that I "GET IT" I am in love with its capabilities.
The King of Vocals
What impresses me most about the Mason is its unique ability to provide clarity - front and center - to vocals.... both male and female. Going through my library of music, I am understanding words that I thought previously were mumbled. I am also hearing why the words are illegible by some singers hearing clearly that they are singing in vowels... a vocal trick to sound better. This has been an interesting exercise in just relearning my library for vocals, but there is more. The bass is unique as well. The sounds are well integrated adding bass - as well as treble - to each element offering a thicker texturing for more interesting timbre. Finally, the sound stage is big with lots of space between the elements to allow for maximum detail flow.
The best comparable is the HD800 with enhanced bass through the SonarWorks True-Fi. Although the HD800 is not known for its bass, it has incredible bass when set up right. So does the Mason. Both are highly textured and transparent in a quality sense without being elevated. The bass is not hidden as in bass light equipment either providing full-sized sound. It is, however, right-sized and big in stature without stepping on anything else. The comparison to the HD800 more so is the gobs detail and sound stage. While I have better HPs than the 800, I keep coming back to it as it is the most fun to listen to for the long term. There is just something special about the 800 that has made it an audiophile favorite for so so so long. This is the same with the Mason.
Where I am Unsure
With all this positive, there needs to be some disclosures and balance. As I have mentioned many times, my ears do not play well with universal CIEMs. A weird bend keeps me from getting a good seal so I have to improvise to audition any CIEM before buying a custom version. Therefore, here are some particulars that I cannot make any conclusions until I hear the Mason as a custom if this opportunity ever come around:
- Bass: To get proper bass from the Mason, I have to press my ears against my head to approximate a good seal. This makes the outcome somewhat variable depending on my hold. What I can tell you is that I am getting some incredible bass that ramps up quickly with a better seal. A reasonable seal that i can get if I hold perfectly still is pretty darn good. However, a bad seal and all the bass and texturing go away and it sounds very bright. My guess is that a custom version would be outstanding.
- Detail: While I am impressed with the detail as is, I think there is more to give with a perfected seal.
- Staging: With a better seal, the performance becomes more intimate and the staging improves leaving me to believe that there is more on the table with a custom version.
- Copper/Silver Cable: Switching back and forth there is a slight perception difference, but not enough to care. This again may change with a custom seal. An interesting option that I would love to hear again in custom. Even more impressive was that they include all three cable types for easy switching - 2.5mm, 3.5mm, 4.4mm.
- Knob: While the bass knob on the faceplate is an interesting idea, I couldn't hear the difference wiht a less than perfect seal. Would like to hear again in custom. However, I found it very useful as a grabber for working on my seal in the universal format.
Having a nice arsenal of DAPs/sources, I played around with many to see what the best pairing was. Here is what I found:
- iPhone: Sounds nice, but nothing special. Loses staging and textures.
- AK100ii: Ok, but too bright with diminished detail.... which sounds odd.
- Calyx M: Wow, really, really good, but bright at first until I get used to the sound. Then it becomes the most detailed of my options. The dynamics work really well with the M and I could listen to this for hours.
- Sony WM1a: Sounds good, but kind of dull..... lack of dynamics and a little less sound stage.
- Sony WM1a > C&C BH2 amp: WOW!!! Hands down the best pairing. Once I heard this I lost interest in trying other options. Huge dynamics and texturing that offers full-sized sound. This is the way portable music is supposed to sound. Unfortunately, this stack while small is still a stack.
- Hugo2: TBD
- Hugo2 > Eddie Current ZDs: TBD
This Mason v3 is one that I would love to own. However, at its price tag, it would need to be custom for me to make the most of it. This audition was an eye opener given that I have been completely satisfied with my current stable of CIEMs feeling that I have covered the signature spectrum. Now I know better. Will be looking to see how I can get an opportunity to hear a custom version to update the post with a full review.