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flinkenick's 17 Flagship IEM Shootout Thread (and general high-end portable audio discussion)

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  1. Deezel177
    In my opinion, it should be a healthy balance of both; technical performance is pointless without naturality, and an organic signature needs technical prowess to back it up. Although compromises are inevitable, higher points (again, IMO) should be awarded to those that can portray what sounds, for lack of a better word, "right" with the least amount of compromises possible.

    Although deviations of tuning surely exist, engineers who can pull off said deviations without sacrificing other aspects of the sound should be rewarded, and the same applies to engineers who can push details, speed, PRaT, imaging, etc. out the wazoo, but still maintain a feeling of reality and naturality to the music.

    Similarly, in music, what's the point in listening to a pristine recording of a piano, if it's the same note played over and over again for 6 minutes? And what's the point in listening to a brillianty arranged and painstakingly rehearsed 200-piece orchestra if it's recorded through a mobile phone? Alluding to your analogy as well, what's the point in seeing all the details if none of it looks real? And what's the point of getting all of the colours perfect to the human eye, if it's all a blurry mess?

    If I were to review these IEMs myself, the more accurate the IEM could replicate what instruments sound like in real life (or how faithfully the instrument was captured via mic, mixed, mastered etc.), the higher the IEM ranks in terms of tonality. Although many don't share that opinion, @flinkenick does, as he explained in his preamble preceding his review(s). I'm not saying this makes my opinion more valid than anyone else's, what I'm saying is judging tonality is easier to standardize once you understand the reviewer's bias (as was mentioned a few posts ago), and it then becomes an integral part of the IEM's evaluation.

    If, say, your personal views on how an IEM/instruments should sound do not align with the reviewer's, then it is important to read their description of the IEM's signature, and see which sounds like the one for you. A score should never be taken at face value, but the relevance of a score should never be undermined either. Every facet of Nick's scoring is of equal weight IMO, and I thank his efforts in making them as clear and level as possible; each taking part in painting the mental picture of an IEM's sound that, to many, is as good as it gets without a direct physical demo.

    At the end of the day, we listen to music with our gear; not the other way around :)
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
    Docterror, sawrym, ranfan and 2 others like this.
  2. Rei87
    I dont usually listen to the Se5U, because quite frankly its lack of technicality puts me off, and even more so when compared to the offerings in the market now compared to what we had then 2-3 years ago. Just to be sure, a friend of mine from a while back, having heard so many great things about it, also bought a second unit and sent it back to Spiral ears to have it reshelled to his shape. Wasn't cheap, but he took the plunge anyway. Both units were equally muddy, and he ended up selling it too to fund an upgrade to other iems. How I see the SE5U, is that its like being in a nightclub, where the reverberation and echo of the music literally drowns out the details of the music being played, but it does however have a great sense of ambiance and festivity. However, such signatures are a dime a dozen, and hence why I rarely use the SE5U, and even refrain from using it.

    I agree, that sound signature is relative, and to some, that muddiness is a small trade off for its presence in the lower regions. However, to me, an iem should NOT even have any sense of muddiness, and no part of the music should have a sense that it is overwhelming another aspect of the song. The horribly muddy lower regions, and its less then inspiring treble,are my main gripe of the SE5U and why I consistently rate it very low. In addition, I find that a large proportion of users then to take great pride in their IEMS, and constantly understate the flaws of the products that they own, which is a problem when trying to compare products. Its the same reason why I still rank the 380CU as a technically superior player than the WM1Z, even though I find myself bringing the WM1Z out most of the time instead, because I need its power and battery life more than absolute technicality. That though, still doesnt stop me from critiquing the heck out of my own player. An IEM, like a player, is just a tool, and one should not get too attached to it and become blinded to its flaws which prevents one from seeing the wider world out there. The SE5U is indeed a stunning IEM for what it does well, but it is, imo, severely lacking if you look at the complete package.

    To address other points that were raised, yes, I do not agree that the appreciation of music should be made into a science, but no where have I tried to advocate for that here. However, when COMPARING gears, a standard of reference that varies from individual to individual should NOT be used, as introducing a shifting goalpost in itself negates the validity of the comparison. I would be happy to be corrected, but the only variable that I can think of that remains constant across everyone, is technicality and an IEMS ability to reveal details in a song. Why rank items into a list where its results will most certainly be disputed, because each person has a different opinion of what is a good signature and not (case in point, one member questioned the Vega's positioning). However, what we can all agree on, is technicality, which is simply if an iem is able to reveal a part of the song, or does it smooth over it. There is no personal preference involved, you either hear it, or you don't. Which, makes for the only valid standard of comparison thus far.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
    Docterror likes this.
  3. jmills8
    Some people wants a thin sharp pen and another wants a thick fat pen. I want both.
  4. Wyville
    But by this logic you would only ever measure detail retrieval and what does that tell us? Plus, it completely ignores what I said before about people hearing differently. Different people will pick up different details. Because it is a human doing the reviewing, it will always, invariably be subjective (not standardised).
    ranfan likes this.
  5. rskbug
    Good point.
    Docterror likes this.
  6. omastic
    I had a brief listening session with the Dream the other day and I was gobsmacked by how good it sounded. If #9 sounds this good, I can't imagine how the top 8 sounds cause it literally trips up my mind to even think about it.

    Dream is the only dynamic that utterly amazed me with clarity and separation. The bass is great of course but all dynamics I have tried before had a certain sense of fuzziness/lack of crispness unlike balanced armatures. But not the Dream. Incredible!
    flinkenick and ranfan like this.
  7. ranfan
    For me, I was gobsmacked by how pricey it was. I was listening to Oriolus 2 then, and in comparison/retrospect the Dream for me sounded ordinary and not really worth the price. YMMV.

    I'm very happy to see there are lots of good arguments at the moment about the 'Music Lover v Audiophile' approach. I hope we can continue this constructive discussion even further :)
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
    flinkenick likes this.
  8. Rei87
    Iirc, the only difference between the
    oriolus 1 and 2 would be the cable that comes bundled with it, no?
  9. crinacle
    Small shell changes too but nothing sonically as far as I could tell.
  10. ranfan
    Oriolus 1 is sort of the Oriolus 2 beta. IDK about its cable, but for Oriolus 2 there are 3 cables depending on distribution; silver (from Jaben, or HK), copper (from China), and PW5 (from Japan). At least to my understanding.
  11. Mimouille
    Either I don't understand your post or you didn't answer my question. Do you own a pair fitted to your ears?

    Besides on the bias on the gear your own, I own or have owned all / most iems I judge. So the bias is cancelled. But thank you for you concern.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
    13candles likes this.
  12. Kerouac
    Regarding the SE5U (and the quite opposite opinions about it): could it be that dap synergy also plays a (big) role with that one?

    @Rei87 obviously uses 380CU and WM1Z (maybe more warm sounding daps?) as sources.
    @Mimouille: I know that you like the SE5U + LPG (which probably has a more aggressive and brighter signature), but you also have the WM1Z, right? How's synergy with that one in your opinion?
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
  13. Mimouille
    Excellent synergy with all my DAPs.
  14. flinkenick
    Rei, there are several fallacies in your logic. The most important is that in this and your other posts, you’re equating ‘detail’ as a measure of resolution, and technical performance in general. But that really isn’t the case. Detail is among others the combined result of transparency, resolution, background blackness, and separation. Those are all individual technical constructs. But even more than those, the amount of detail results from the treble tuning, which decisively isn’t.

    You’re trying to make a case for technical performance by comparing the Dream to the 5-Way Ult. Even though I don’t recognize most of your description, you’re right that the 5-Way Ult has a darker tuning because of its attenuated treble. But ironically, the 5-Way Ult has better top-end extension, and both greater resolution and transparency than the Dream. The difference however is that the Dream is more upfront in its detail, resulting from the brightness of its 5 KHz peak. So even by objective technical standards, the Ult outperforms the Dream.

    Disregarding tone, coherency, and basically the picture as a whole just in favor of detail, is a very crude way to score iems. From a logical perspective, it doesn’t make much sense because that isn’t the way people listen to music; at least for the rest of us. To stick with your leaf analogy, it doesn’t matter if someone draws the most detailed picture of a leaf; it it’s drawn in black and white, it will resemble a leaf just as much as a toddler’s drawing that’s in the exact right color. The best picture will always be the one that balances both to some degree, rather than skewing it towards either end.

    I think at this point, I’ve probably written 10 A4 pages in posts emphasizing how important personal preference is. Your post again only proves that. You find detail the most important, and as a result, the Dream is your ‘perfect’ iem. It’s something I can definitely understand, because the Dream has unique qualities that I too can appreciate. But making an argument that ‘detail’ is the only thing that should be scored by, might be stretching it a bit. If that was the case, the Dunu DN-2000j would probably rank higher than most of these iems. Not because of resolution, transparency, and certainly not timbre; but because it maxes out the treble. Do you honestly think that that is a fair assessment?
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017
  15. flinkenick
    Hey buddy, I would say that over the last two years my preference has evolved strongly from the way I learned to see music. But also just listening to different iems shapes your preference, as each has their own advantage and disadvantage.

    However, I wouldn't say my preference has changed since I started the shootout. Mostly because I've also never really had a specific preference concerning signatures. I listen to wide variety of music including electronic, so I don't mind if a signature is really warm and midforward, or v-shaped and bright. if a tuning doesn't work for one genre, it usually will for another.

    However, I have started to find specific aspects like transparency, imaging, and smoothness more important, so if you like you can chalk that up to a change in preference hehe.
    deafdoorknob likes this.
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