flinkenick's 17 Flagship IEM Shootout Thread (and general high-end portable audio discussion)
Jun 17, 2017 at 2:42 PM Post #1,996 of 35,906

fuhransahis

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I'm sorry for coming across harsh, I guess I didn't know where you were coming from either. The reason I responded is that such a post creates ambiguity over the context of the scoring, so I felt the need to correct it.

I'll try to put it more in perspective. Right now you are enjoying Vega. Vega is a very unique iem because of the signature that results from the quantity of its bass. It sounds thick, powerful, and can be considered very engaging. However, it is also one of the most coloured signatures. As a result, it will always be very polarizing: some people feel it should be top 5, others at the bottom. But there's no doubt it can be considered a 'musical' signature. However, I can't judge iems based on musicality, because that only relies on subjective preference.

For instance, another example of a very different 'musical' iem is the NT6pro. Neither Vega nor NT6pro have a particularly accurate timbre, but are both very enjoyable. Therefore, they have a similar average signature score. However, the NT6pro is just a bit more precise overall, which is why it has a higher rank. However, there will also be iems with high signature scores and only average technical scores, and finally, iems with both.

I guess what I am trying to say is you are right that reference iems score high when it comes to performance; however technical performance does not automatically exclude a natural, fun, or 'musical' signature, rather we would like to see both.

Totally understandable, you've put in a lot of quality time and work into these reviews and we're all grateful for it. It is the only way for people who don't have access to all that great gear and don't have the chance to test it out, to soak in as much insight as we can from your reviews so that we can make an informed decision. As content as I am with the Vega, there is a good chance that one of your top 3 picks will, unfortunately for my wallet, sneak its way into consideration as a next purchase. And it would be the one which, as you mentioned, has the best combination of both technical and musical performance as far as my personal tastes.

@fuhransahis, it's just one of the misconceptions when we are new to this hobby. But technicality does not equal neutrality/reference/clinical. A couple of IEMs that have already been ranked in this shootout, are more clinical than a couple of IEMs that are yet to be ranked.

Another good example is comparing the 64Audio U12 and the Etymotic ER-4S. U12 is both technically better, as well as more fun, than the ER-4S.

I'll admit to falling victim to this newbie misconception. Some of it stems from reading about what are generally regarded as the "best", if there is such a thing, in different categories. The HD800 is held in the highest regard by many, yet you read a lot about how much of a reference sound it has, and is called boring by many. Another part if it stems from the at-length discussions over aspects of phones and IEMs that are purely technical, with very little of the feedback going back to descriptions of how the music actually sounds, as obvious as the challenges may be in describing this aspect without resorting to technicalities, if one is to be objective.

But yes, in time I'll learn to sort through it all, and all of your feedback is invaluable in knowing how my wallet will end up scorning you, while my ears will thank you.
 
Jun 17, 2017 at 3:11 PM Post #1,997 of 35,906
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Just want to add another point. I often puzzled why some people are looking specifically for an analytical reference sound while I personally find it unbearable during extended listening sessions with my... DAPs. And that's when I realize that many fans of such reference sound looking for a clean "sound canvas" to color it with either their desktop or portable amps.

Bottom line, I hope you guys/gals pay more attention to the actual reviews and IEMs sound/sig description, rather than the ratings :wink: Without a doubt it's fun for us to see who's going to make it to the top, and it's a hell of a work Nic put together, bringing this shootout. But I hope people will get different things out of it, specifically trying to figure out what is the best IEM for them, for their setup, for their sound preference, not just which iem makes it to the Top5 or #1 per Nic's rating.

:beerchug: (i used to love the big beerchug smiley, too bad it's mini now)
 
Jun 17, 2017 at 3:47 PM Post #1,998 of 35,906

PinkyPowers

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Just want to add another point. I often puzzled why some people are looking specifically for an analytical reference sound while I personally find it unbearable during extended listening sessions with my... DAPs. And that's when I realize that many fans of such reference sound looking for a clean "sound canvas" to color it with either their desktop or portable amps.

Bottom line, I hope you guys/gals pay more attention to the actual reviews and IEMs sound/sig description, rather than the ratings :wink: Without a doubt it's fun for us to see who's going to make it to the top, and it's a hell of a work Nic put together, bringing this shootout. But I hope people will get different things out of it, specifically trying to figure out what is the best IEM for them, for their setup, for their sound preference, not just which iem makes it to the Top5 or #1 per Nic's rating.

:beerchug: (i used to love the big beerchug smiley, too bad it's mini now)

Exactly. When I read the Dita review, I came away from it pretty sure I'd like Vega more, even though The Dream ranked higher.

It's important to know yourself, and what sig you like best, so when you read a detailed review like Nick's, you can intuit how much you may like it, not just how much he liked it.
 
Jun 17, 2017 at 3:58 PM Post #1,999 of 35,906

EagleWings

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Totally understandable, you've put in a lot of quality time and work into these reviews and we're all grateful for it. It is the only way for people who don't have access to all that great gear and don't have the chance to test it out, to soak in as much insight as we can from your reviews so that we can make an informed decision. As content as I am with the Vega, there is a good chance that one of your top 3 picks will, unfortunately for my wallet, sneak its way into consideration as a next purchase. And it would be the one which, as you mentioned, has the best combination of both technical and musical performance as far as my personal tastes.



I'll admit to falling victim to this newbie misconception. Some of it stems from reading about what are generally regarded as the "best", if there is such a thing, in different categories. The HD800 is held in the highest regard by many, yet you read a lot about how much of a reference sound it has, and is called boring by many. Another part if it stems from the at-length discussions over aspects of phones and IEMs that are purely technical, with very little of the feedback going back to descriptions of how the music actually sounds, as obvious as the challenges may be in describing this aspect without resorting to technicalities, if one is to be objective.

But yes, in time I'll learn to sort through it all, and all of your feedback is invaluable in knowing how my wallet will end up scorning you, while my ears will thank you.

Yes, I've been there myself. There is a learning curve. Rest assured, you are in the right thread, as it holds plenty of good information. Also try reading the 1st post and some of Nic's articles on www.theheadphonelist.com. Not everything would make sense right away. But you would get there someday.
 
Jun 17, 2017 at 5:29 PM Post #2,000 of 35,906
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Totally understandable, you've put in a lot of quality time and work into these reviews and we're all grateful for it. It is the only way for people who don't have access to all that great gear and don't have the chance to test it out, to soak in as much insight as we can from your reviews so that we can make an informed decision. As content as I am with the Vega, there is a good chance that one of your top 3 picks will, unfortunately for my wallet, sneak its way into consideration as a next purchase. And it would be the one which, as you mentioned, has the best combination of both technical and musical performance as far as my personal tastes.



I'll admit to falling victim to this newbie misconception. Some of it stems from reading about what are generally regarded as the "best", if there is such a thing, in different categories. The HD800 is held in the highest regard by many, yet you read a lot about how much of a reference sound it has, and is called boring by many. Another part if it stems from the at-length discussions over aspects of phones and IEMs that are purely technical, with very little of the feedback going back to descriptions of how the music actually sounds, as obvious as the challenges may be in describing this aspect without resorting to technicalities, if one is to be objective.

But yes, in time I'll learn to sort through it all, and all of your feedback is invaluable in knowing how my wallet will end up scorning you, while my ears will thank you.
Well that's very nice of you. I guess I forget that not everything always makes sense when you're starting. If you ever have any questions about sound or signatures feel free to ask, either here or in pm.
 
Jun 17, 2017 at 5:37 PM Post #2,001 of 35,906

PinkyPowers

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Well that's very nice of you. I guess I forget that not everything always makes sense when you're starting. If you ever have any questions about sound or signatures feel free to ask, either here or in pm.

Pinky's EDC.jpg

Choose one. Teach him who's boss.

:wink:
 
Jun 17, 2017 at 6:35 PM Post #2,002 of 35,906

davidmolliere

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It's important to know yourself, and what sig you like best, so when you read a detailed review like Nick's, you can intuit how much you may like it, not just how much he liked it.

I think you got the key here, time and again I have found Nick's review to be so reliable to make a pick (Velvet, S-EM9, Vega in my case).

As I go deeper into the rabbit hole of exploring different signatures through different TOTL I find that I can grow to appreciate different ones that I wouldn't have thought I would like. I sure wish I had kept the S-EM9 or the U12 on top of the Vega and I suspect I'd love The Dream as well.

Each time I get to enjoy music in various ways, discovering layers, details and nuances that make for a fresh listen of tracks and album known by heart. Going from one IEM to another also gives a better grasp of what you love in others and how they stack in different aspects. If you add up different sources as well as the same remark hold true you get so many opportunities for great listening sessions :)

That's where Nick has such a wide experience which is so valuable.

Rankings are based on a reference and Nick brilliantly shared his initially, one thing is sure you can really go wrong with any of the contenders :)

Which will fit you best if you have to pick one (I for one have never been able to justify owning several TOTL at once) is up to you and good news is you have great material to base your choice upon :D
 
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Jun 17, 2017 at 8:44 PM Post #2,005 of 35,906

PinkyPowers

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Jun 17, 2017 at 9:31 PM Post #2,007 of 35,906

Sleepow

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I am sad to see the Dream fall, the TOTL I chose over the U18 and Samba/Flamenco still in the race, but seeing the review, I totally agree with the description.
I clearly was looking for a reference sound with great imaging, stage and precision, but now the shootout will allow me to find a "different" sounding TOTL that could complement it (and that will most likely not be the Samba or U18)
Thanks Nic for your effort and replies to my questions here and on other threads.
 
Jun 18, 2017 at 3:55 AM Post #2,008 of 35,906

Wyville

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Yes, I've been there myself. There is a learning curve. Rest assured, you are in the right thread, as it holds plenty of good information. Also try reading the 1st post and some of Nic's articles on www.theheadphonelist.com. Not everything would make sense right away. But you would get there someday.
@fuhransahis
I fully agree with EagleWings here. I have only been looking at higher end audio gear for a few months now and have learned a lot from reading various reviews, but especially from reading the articles Nic wrote for the Headphone List. The 'Audiophile matters' articles are a really great way to learn more about signatures in general, but also what sort of signature might fit you, in particular when you combine the articles with the shootout reviews. Because it is all by the same author, you can get a sense of what Nic is trying to do, understand his biases and take away from it those things that are in line with your own preferences.

You can check them here:
Audiophile matters #1: Music lovers vs. audiophile approach
Audiophile matters #2: Describing tonality
Audiophile matters #3: “Seeing the music”
Audiophile matters #4: A primer on high-end cables
 
Jun 18, 2017 at 4:40 AM Post #2,009 of 35,906
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Just want to add another point. I often puzzled why some people are looking specifically for an analytical reference sound while I personally find it unbearable during extended listening sessions with my... DAPs. And that's when I realize that many fans of such reference sound looking for a clean "sound canvas" to color it with either their desktop or portable amps.

Bottom line, I hope you guys/gals pay more attention to the actual reviews and IEMs sound/sig description, rather than the ratings :wink: Without a doubt it's fun for us to see who's going to make it to the top, and it's a hell of a work Nic put together, bringing this shootout. But I hope people will get different things out of it, specifically trying to figure out what is the best IEM for them, for their setup, for their sound preference, not just which iem makes it to the Top5 or #1 per Nic's rating.

:beerchug: (i used to love the big beerchug smiley, too bad it's mini now)
This is very well put, and important to emphasise. I will write a post sometime soon that goes into more detail about this, the background of the scoring and how this should be interpreted. But bottom line is if you ever want to base a decision off this shootout you should determine 90% by the content of the review, and see the scores and rank as a fun extra.
 
Jun 18, 2017 at 9:47 AM Post #2,010 of 35,906
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I’ve written this post since there is still some confusion on the philosophy behind the scoring, the role of my personal ‘bias’, and most importantly, how this relates to the reader.

“Audiophile”

The audiophile community originated from speaker systems, which is still infinitely larger than the head fi world in terms of volume and popularity. The headphones and more recently iem community is a great deal younger in its conception, and has become a sort of spinoff from its bigger brother. It follows its own set of rules and interpretations about sound.

If you search online for articles explaining sound analysis (this one for example), or for instance listen to Chesky’s Demonstration disk, they are nearly always from experts on speaker systems. These experts follow the audiophile philosophy, that there is a ‘right’ way for a setup to sound, incorporating many technical aspects like speed, transparency, resolution, dynamics, but also a prominent role of instrument timbre. It also for instance prescribes the role of bass in a system, which is not ‘against’ quantity as is often believed, it just prioritizes quality over quantity, and the two are by definition in conflict with each other. The reason that there are universal, objective parameters to which a sound system should adhere, is because a speaker setup is designed to reproduce a recording or live concert as accurately as possible. The key word here is ‘realism’. In order for this to be achieved, aspects as transparency, precision of imaging, resolution, and of course instrument timbre are incredibly important; you want to mimic a real life experience as closely as possible.

Here on Head Fi, this original meaning of what ‘audiophile’ truly means, is not common practice or maybe even known. Instead it has been adopted to just describe us, which is basically people who have taken an interest in listening to high quality iems and are willing to pay ridiculous amounts for it. Part of the reason is that there is a large difference between the speaker community and iem/headphone world. In the speaker world, there are more fixed principles on how a system should sound, and ‘reference’ translates to a top tier system that incorporates them as closely as possible, including an ‘uncolored sound’ which means an accurate timbre. Here, the standard is ‘all sound is subjective, and it comes down to preference’ - which is true. And there is also an important reason for this. Speaker systems are incredibly expensive; therefore, the main demographic is by definition old, rich men that can afford them. And as you might expect, this is a demographic that primarily listens to classical, jazz, and perhaps some classic rock. So the requirements for this type of music is again tonal accuracy for instance, for it to sound realistic. But here on Head Fi, we are a diverse and dynamic population. There are people in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, as well as those in their 60’s or older. There are people from the US, Asia, or Europe. And as a result, the music we listen to is highly varied. The last two decades, the music has evolved in all kinds of directions. Genres like pop, hip hop, and electronic music rely heavily on synthetic influences. Because of that, the preference for treble and bass has increased, while the importance of factors like timbre and transparency have decreased. Then there are genres like metal that has its own set of requirements.

So now that the difference between the traditional audiophile community and head fi, and accordingly this shift in preferences, has been put in perspective, we can move to this shootout, and how the scores should be interpreted. This shootout is written and scored from this traditional audiophile perspective. I can’t score for ‘musicality’, because there is no such thing; musical just means “I think this sounds good”. So I have adopted this principle, as I need some starting point, and this is the only one that has a clear standard of principles. At the same time, I do not consider myself an audiophile. I don’t listen to either jazz or classical. And because I listen to modern genres as well, tonal accuracy is not my holy grail, although I do score accordingly. But this also means, that a high or low score only partially means that an aspect is better or worse.

As an example, let’s take the NT6pro’s treble. The NT6pro’s treble is technically very good; it is quick, well-defined, and to my ears it is even smooth. However, its tone is too bright to be accurate. Because of its treble tuning, the upper midrange, treble, and tone have all received moderate scores. However, its brighter tone does not mean it per definition sounds worse than a similar technically good treble with a warmer tone. Some people will prefer the sparkle, other will prefer the more natural and therefore 'accurate' tone. I love the NT6pro’s sparkle, but I could not objectively score it higher than 86 despite its excellent technical properties, according to the principles of this shootout.

So how does this relate to the reader? Each of these iems has its own unique set of qualities, and accordingly, each of them will perform differently for different genres and listeners. When we come to the top 5 or even before, I consider every iem to be a specialist. None of these iems is automatically better for every listener. In fact, the chance is just as likely that someone will prefer rank #10 or #15 over rank #1. The scoring of this shootout is only direct applicable to people who listen to music with the same principles as I score; and that chance is highly unlikely. When I listen to an iem, I heavily incorporate technical aspects in my evaluation; if the transparency or imaging for instance is off, it tends to bother me. But a year ago, I didn’t even know what transparency was. So I know how equally important or unimportant these things can be. You as a reader need to decide what you find important. If I say a timbre is not accurate, that doesn’t have to mean it doesn’t sound good. Similarly, if you’re not completely sure what imaging, resolution, or transparency is, then don’t read too much into it if I say it could be better.

So pay attention to this when you look at the scores and the ranks. I stand strong behind my final scores and ranks; but the chance that someone else would score and rank these iems the same is incredibly small. This scoring does not directly represent my own preference, for example, I wrote in the introduction that I don’t mind if an upper midrange is brighter for more excitement. When I first started, I was a basshead myself. However, my preference has been shaped by gradually understanding these audiophile principles – but the principles were there first, and my preference came later. But still, I myself might even rank these iems differently if I was strictly going on my own preference. I hope this illustrates you should primarily go by the content of the review, and only incorporate the full range of scores if you think they are equally important to you.
 
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