- Jan 28, 2015
This is an interesting discussion and I think @fuhransahis has very good questions. It ties in a bit with what I have been looking at myself: how music can be effective as therapy, what makes music engaging and how I can use that for selecting IEMs.
What I have found myself is that it is very multifaceted and personal preferences play a crucially important role (hence my earlier comment about understanding a reviewer’s biases). Moreover, those preferences will in part be determined by biology, by how we perceive sound.
Back when I was studying I used to ask a rather difficult question: Do we see the same colours? Is my blue the same as yours, or is it actually your green? We might both call the sky blue by definition, but on a neurological level the physiological response in the brain might be (more or less) different. This is a very tricky and technical question, but what I mean to say is that what sounds natural or realistic to one person, might not for another. What is engaging and fun for one person might not be so for another.
This is even deeper down the rabbit hole and I could write for days on this, but what I want to indicate is that when it comes to enjoying sound, especially when “enjoying” is the goal, objectivity is very limited. IEMs can even be too detailed for some. It might be that the individual details are very realistic, but that the whole is reproducing music unrealistically detailed when compared to the experience of a live performance. Then again comes the question of what sort of live performance? Sitting in the studio, like Jude’s comments on the Vega, or a performance at the Royal Albert Hall? Very different stages that will be reproduced differently by the same IEMs.
To me the value of this shootout is that it is all done by the same person. That allows me to understand (to a degree) what Nic is doing and how that might differ from my own preferences. I lack the experience of hearing many different IEMs, so it is still guesswork, but at least it becomes somewhat of an educated guess. My choice of the Custom Art Ei.3 is a result of such an educated guess (made before the shootout) and I am very happy with them.
Not sure if this all makes sense, it is early here and I have only just had my first cup of coffee so my brain is still waking up, but I thought I would share some miscellaneous thoughts nonetheless.
For these reasons stated, I've always found that the introduction of signature, into an IEM ranking, is a flawed system due to the variances between perception of what constitutes an enjoyable signature, what is a sufficient bass, treble and so on. Objectivity, needs to remove personal preferences in a ranking system. For example, the SE5U has really amazing authority in its bass and its decay, but that in turn drowns out its technical performance because all details are masked behind that bass presence, the same way the vega masks details when compared to the dream. If a person likes overwhelming bass, I wouldn't be surprised that he would rate the SE 5U highly, because the glaring flaws of the IEMs simply dont matter much. For for a person with a much more balanced POV, the SE5U (compared to modern offerings) is going to repulse with its glaring muddiness and lack of a treble presence.
As such, the only objective way to rank IEMS, should purely be on a technical performance level. We know that we each perceive colours (and sound) differently, and hence we may disagree on what constitutes sufficient or insufficient treble/mids/bass and so on. However, what we can all agree on, is how well an IEM is, to use an analogy, able to present and contrast the different colours, or even shades within a single colour spectrum.
Sounding realistic, how musical or enjoyable or not, are irrelevant factors, because that differs from person to person, and hence a subjective reference point cannot by its definition be used in an objective ranking without compromising the very premise of the ranking. To use an analogy, an artist that paints all the leaves of a tree in a single monotone that is accurate to the general shade of the tree, is inferior to another artist that is able to accurately portray the difference in shading between every leaf in that tree, but may however have consistently used a shade of colouring that is way too dark or light for the entire tree. The former artist is realistic, but technically inferior to the later artist. You can extrapolate the sound signature of a song that is off pitch, but you cant extrapolate data that wasn't there to begin with.
So, to bite the bullet and to state an extreme example, a higher ranking IEM should be the most revealing IEM, even if it sports a ridiculously boring signature, than one that might be perceived to be true to life, and fun but has obscured details. A high ranking IEM, should allow you to, figuratively, read every part the music you hear, even if you dont actually get to see the music for what it is.