- Aug 12, 2018
- Reaction score
- Washington, DC
Like you, I went from the SE530 to the Solaris, and I'm not looking back - they sound great and so glad I finally made that jump.1) Tl;dr version:
If your considering the Solaris as a major upgrade to your current mid-tier or lower IEM, go for it - 95% of your quality recordings are going to sound amazing. Just understand that it may take a minute or three for your brain to begin fully appreciating them.
2) Bloated, self indulgent version:
Understanding full well that we’re probably hundreds of pages and thousands of posts beyond the point of really needing another “listening impressions” review in this thread, I nevertheless thought I’d offer a few brief observations for the benefit of anyone who might be contemplating a Solaris purchase as an upgrade after many years of listening to an older, less capable IEM.
By way of background, I meet the most basic requirements for offering such an opinion. Prior to the arrival of the Solaris three days ago, the only IEMs I’ve used for the past dozen years or so have been a pair of Shure SE530s. Apologies up front to all the audio cognoscenti here who are now having to clean the orange juice and coffee out of their keyboards, but yes, you read that correctly - my only IEMs for well over a decade have been the Shure SE530.
I certainly don’t think anyone would need to justify such a purchase at the time. As the more seasoned among us may recall, for anyone making their first quality IEM acquisition back in the 2000s, the SE530 definitely had the potential to be a revelation. I know it was for me. As far as mobile solutions of the era go, iTunes and iPods had just given us the ability to store massive amounts of lossless CD rips on one fairly small device with a baseline SQ approaching that of our portable CD players. Combining the iPod with an iQube V1 and the SE530 resulted in a travel combo that provided me with countless hours of classic rock, metal and new wave audio bliss on many long transcontinental flights.
Of course the iPod eventually gave way to the iPhone, and a Mojo was added into the mix along the way for good measure, but what I might be less able to justify, particularly in these circles, is why I haven’t tried any other IEMs in the interim. Well, what can I tell you? I guess I’m not a ‘flavor of the month’ kind of guy. <insert massive understatement alert here> But whatever the reasons, the Solaris is here now and it too has been a revelation, in any number of ways.
Of course there is the largest measure of truth to all the accolades that have been heaped upon the Solaris with respect to its soundstage, depth, isolation, separation, layering, extension, etc. And while these are all inarguably positive attributes, I will say to the person contemplating such a major IEM upgrade as mine, after having spent so long with only one other pair, that there is much truth as well to the notion that you need to be willing to spend some time retraining your ears.
I won’t lie. At first listen - despite all the research I had done, all the reviews I had read, all the comparisons to other IEMs I had seen made - I was worried that I may have made a mistake. On paper, the Solaris’ advertised sound signature matched up almost perfectly with my general preferences. Yet there were so many more layers of sound present, and so much more extension as compared to my much older Shures, that initially my ears were more than a bit overwhelmed. Separation and even some clarity - of the bass in particular - seemed to suffer in contrast to how I remembered songs in my mind through the SE530s.
Yet as I worked to process all the new sonic information being presented, I continued bouncing haphazardly around my music library. In short order, I began to land upon songs where the differences between the two IEMs seemed less dramatic. Rush’s Moving Pictures might be my favorite album of all time and it’s one that sounds pretty powerful on the SE530s. Here though, a significant overall improvement could be heard through the Solaris immediately. A heavy sigh of relief was breathed. Then it was off to Memphis with Marc Cohn, down to the waterline with the boys from Dire Straits and on to a brief exploration of Richard Butler’s gravelly vocals fronting the Psychedelic Furs. A long standing love affair with the first ladies of new wave, Terri Nunn and Dale Bozzio, was taken to a new level. In all these cases, the Solaris was stunning on first listen. Progressively, those feelings of relief further gave way to ones of excitement and anticipation.
More importantly, through this process, my brain is quickly learning to decode the Solaris’ presentation of nearly all the music in my collection, finding the increased separation, detail and texture that these new IEMs have to offer. That’s not to say there still isn’t some work to be done. For whatever reason, Metallica’s Master of Puppets continues to sound almost comically unnatural to me - as if it were being broadcast from underwater. I can’t tell you why, as many other Metallica tracks sound marvelous. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. And, if all else fails, there’s no law preventing me from continuing to listen to certain songs or albums with the SE530s.
The other bit of conventional wisdom that I found to be particularly applicable in this transition, as it would be with any top quality IEM, is that the Solaris is quite capable of exposing the limitations of the source material. I noticed that with some of my Beach Boys recordings, the highly refined instrumental isolation, separation and soundstage of the Solaris tends to expose an unnatural amount of space and distance between the individual instruments - almost like you were hearing them emanate from three or four widely dispersed but highly point sources. Fortunately the vocals are dead center, right where they should be, and they’re spectacular. So too with some of Van Halen’s earliest offerings, where Eddie’s guitar can sound just a tad too far pushed off stage left. But these are minor hindrances to what has otherwise been a massive reawakening of my musical library. With each new day this week, I’ve eagerly looked forward to stealing away whatever moments I can to continue this exploration into uncharted IEM territory.