flinkenick's 17 Flagship IEM Shootout Thread (and general high-end portable audio discussion)
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Well I did what you asked... burn-in the 4T and Fourté, and I did have one slot extra, so I decided for the Earsonics S-EM9...
So we see (hear) at the end of the week how they changed for the better!!
wow I also would love to have those
 
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Ho boy... I might catch some flack for this one.

The Deezel Dash: In-Ear Edition - Ultimate Ears

My experience with UE's in-ears have been largely positive so far. The UERR is something I hope to be able to work with someday and I very nearly purchased the UE18+ upon first listen. Both exuded great tonal balance, excellent linearity and an especially well-done treble section; reserved, natural in tone yet articulate all the same. So, walking into Music Sanctuary to hear their latest models, I was understandably very excited. However, upon some listening, I began to ponder... then listen more, then ponder again. then listen even more, then ponder even... you get the idea. Among factors like burn-in (both mental and physical), I chose to take my time with these ones, especially knowing how excited people have been about them. And, after two ponderous days, I'm finally ready to post my impressions - for better or for worse.

IP67 Connector


To my surprise, the IP67 connector is extremely robust and well-thought-out. The IEMs don’t spin freely like with MMCX connectors, but you can certainly turn the connector within the socket to better angle the cable’s bend according to your ears/head. This turning mechanism is perfectly executed; neither too tight nor too loose. Plugging and unplugging can also be done confidently, akin to using a very small XLR connector. I can’t test the weather-resistant aspects of the cable unfortunately, but all-in-all, it’s a fantastic connector that they need to share with third-party cable manufacturers. Once/If their exclusivity deal with Linum runs out, I’d love to see other cable makers take advantage of this connector - especially for their more audiophile-inclined pieces.

Ultimate Ears UE6

The UE6 thrives on contrast. Clean-cut notes dominate the stage, further accentuated by the in-ear’s impressively black background. Perceived clarity and transparency is also high as a result, but the UE6 suffers from a lack of lower- to centre-midrange body. In its pursuit of precision, the UE6 compromises on the chestiness and density of vocals, leading them to sound a touch distant, even if they’re actually neutrally-placed in the stage. I can understand why it’s preferred for instruments like drums and percussion - because of its speed, clarity and snap factor - but vocals lack fleshiness, musicality, intimacy and power. Both male and female vocals lack harmonic body, coming off as surface-level and two-dimensional. Though, this results in its decently-expanded stage sounding significantly more spacious than it actually is. It’s a wide and stably-formed soundscape with excellent horizontal separation and imaging, perfect for reproducing the left-and-right overhead mics on a drum kit. It’s very much a purposeful tuning, even if it’s left lacking versatility in the process.

The UE6’s dynamic driver benefits its bass reproduction - guttural, visceral, but not overdone. Impact doesn’t come across as swift, but there’s a certain naturalness in the way kick drums thwack into the stage. It’s well-paced and realistic when aided by the low-end’s natural tone. The UE6’s bass decays impressively though, maintaining the transparency and cleanliness of the stage. Bass lines are expertly resolved and remain well-restrained. Sub-bass is more foundational in nature, though it does let a serving of rumble permeate the stage in tracks like Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance.” The mid-bass proves more subtle than the sub-bass, so bass notes sound neither overtly thick nor overwhelmingly rich. Following this is a drop in the upper-bass, which then transitions to a significant valley at around 1kHz. As a result, bass notes benefit more from texture and bodily presence than clarity, but it’s an adequately executed low-end nonetheless - especially at the UE6’s price range.

UE-1.jpg


The UE6 has a heavy upper-mid tilt. The lower-midrange has been significantly attenuated for precision’s sake; drawing a hard line between notes and the black background for superior contrast. Clarity and focus is high, but resolution takes a significant hit due to the missing lower frequencies. Vocals lack chestiness and density, leading to a hoarse and throat-y reproduction. Thankfully, an 8kHz dip prevents stridence, but their hard-edged, clear-cut nature does get grating after some time. Tone is on the neutral side - due to the warmth imparted from the bass - but the thinness and dryness of the upper-mids remain; distancing it from natural. Instruments - especially percussive ones - fare better. Snare drums and electric guitars benefit from the crackle of this tuning. A heavily relaxed lower-midrange also translates to an extreme centre-focus, surrounding midrange notes with tons of air and increasing perceived transparency. But, in any case, this is a midrange that requires lots of consideration prior to purchasing the UE6. Vocal lovers should immediately stray away, but fans of genres like metal and prog rock may find much to love in the UE6’s clarity-focused presentation.

The UE6’s saving grace is a relatively well-navigated lower-treble. A small 5kHz peak adds great solidity, airiness and clarity, whilst maintaining smoothness due to an 8kHz dip. Vocals sound immensely focused, but more crucially, hi-hats and cymbals sound crisp and energetic. Also contributing to this is an 11-12kHz peak. The resulting stage is stable and spacious, and the background impressively black. However, the UE6’s overall texture remains on the leaner side; unsuitable for longer listening sessions. Despite this detriment in tone, drums still sound admirably realistic in impact; a result of high micro-detail retrieval, solid articulation and speed. Snares, toms and cymbals punch with great energy; as a result of the bass as well. They might lack organicity and harmonic detail (most prevalent in tom decay), but the transparency and physicality it draws out from metal tracks - for example - is what the UE6 was tailor-made for in the first place.

Ultimate Ears Live

The UE Live is driven by an immensely heavy bass response. Mid-bass impact is extremely prominent; fractions of decibels away from overtaking the entire signature. As a result, the UE Live’s stage is heavily saturated with so-so headroom. Width and height are both average for a TOTL, but a lack of depth is what truly makes the Live sound as full as it does. Its presentation is upfront and energetic, living up fully to its name. However, its immense fullness leads to a lack of spherical-ness and spaciousness by comparison. This also results in an inability to appreciate the Live’s detail retrieval. There’s not enough headroom for the listener to sit back and appreciate the finer details, but the heavy bass response and 8kHz peak also prevents users from fully immersing into the Live’s atmosphere (like in the VE8 or Aether, for example). It resides in a strange in-between that’s neither spacious enough for transparency nor balanced enough for full engagement. I don’t know whether live musicians benefit from this sort of response, but critical listening with it feels out of place.

The Live’s dominant range is certainly its low-end. Ironically, the IEM’s overall tone isn’t warm or dark in any significant way, but a distracting amount of richness and impact steals your attention away from the rest of the frequency range. I can’t tell whether it’s a lack of speed, but there’s an absolute emphasis on punch over warmth. It's not muffled or veiled in a Beats sort of way, but constantly getting knacked in the cheek via kick drum is not a pleasurable way to listen to music. This leads to an extremely physical low-end that pumps energy in to the Live’s overall signature, with barely enough space and transparency to capacitate it. Likewise, texture and clarity down low is minimal; overridden by the sheer punchiness of the dynamic driver. Tone is decently realistic, palpable as the low-end slowly decays. But again, an egregious focus on impact over everything else - combined with the treble’s 8kHz peak - creates a fatiguingly distracting signature too saturated for both casual and critical listening. Maybe it’s a response that truly shines on stage, but a flagship product with this niche of a tuning is beyond strange in my humble opinion.

UE-2.jpg


The Live has a relaxed lower-midrange around 500Hz, transitioning into a centre-midrange rise at 1kHz. This creates a dense vocal image that adds even more heft to the sonic landscape. Because of this, you can constantly feel the mid-bass and midrange quarrelling for attention as they fill the stage with borderline bloat. Overall tone is a warmish neutral, but both male and female vocals are coloured with a similar chestiness. A rise around 2-3kHz further adds light in the upper midrange, which prevents instruments from getting drowned out by the bass completely. Presence is stronger than on the UE6, but I can hardly call that a good thing if it ends up conflicting with the bass response. Overall. It’s a decently balanced midrange with great density, but it would’ve been better suited in a free-er stage, or a blacker background.

The Live’s treble is defined by a 5kHz dip, giving vocals and instruments a soft and feathered form of articulation. I’ve compared this before to a vocalist placing the microphone closer to his/her mouth, inducing a more harmonic and expansive delivery. This is followed by the Live’s main source of clarity: An 8kHz peak. It smartly avoids the more sensitive 6kHz region, but the resulting curve comes off unnatural and incoherent. The dip and the peak together end up sounding splashy, with a present yet unfocused sense of articulation. This region is by no means muffled or hazy, but it has a certain honky-ness which prevents it from achieving full realism. Simply put, detail delivery on the Live is not as coherent, linear or smooth as I expected - both at this price point and considering Ultimate Ears' outstanding pedigree. Artists belting are oftentimes comprised of mellow vowels followed by strident plosives. Following that is a linear upper-treble, which furthermore adds to the stage’s saturation; lacking enough air to open the stage, and almost suffocating in its own fullness. With that said, separation and imaging is adequate - if so-so for a flagship of this price - and stage stability is decent.

Closing Thoughts

So, as you can probably tell, I had mixed feelings - though ultimately understood - the UE6, but was immensely disappointed by the UE Live. It's not because of its technical performance (though it does have a sizeable role), but it's due to its odd and idiosyncratic tuning. I pride myself in being capable of accepting vastly different signatures if they have a clear-enough purpose, but the Live is something I still can't crack two days after my initial listen. My experience as a stage performer is close to none, so the jury’s still out on that front - the Music Sanctuary staff did mention a few stage musicians enjoying it. But unfortunately, as a $2000+ flagship product in both casual- and critical-listening use cases, the Live is something I simply cannot recommend based on this demo. Here’s to hoping the UE18+ Gen. 3 fares better when it gets here.
 
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^^ Much disappoint in UE Live. Looking forward to the Gen. 3 review. It's great value at 30-40% discount if > Gen. 2. N8T "Dogg" blipping heavy on radar.
 
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^^ Much disappoint in UE. Looking forward to the Gen. 3 review. It's great value at 30-40% discount if > Gen. 2. N8T blipping heavy on radar.
Yeah... Myself and several individuals I know were very confused and - in a way - heartbroken when we first heard the Live. The last thing I wanted to do was share negative impressions of a flagship product, especially from a brand that I do deeply love. Like I said, I'm expecting some flack for this (whether deserved or not), so I hope you guys can understand where I'm coming from. I'd love to discuss and elaborate my thoughts if you guys have any queries, and I still have very high - almost desperate - hopes for the UE18+ Gen. 3. Hopefully, I'll have more positive impressions to share with you guys throughout the next few days. But for now, this is what it is.
 
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Scratch that one off the "to audition" list :triportsad:
 
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Ho boy... I might catch some flack for this one.

The Deezel Dash: In-Ear Edition - Ultimate Ears

My experience with UE's in-ears have been largely positive so far. The UERR is something I hope to be able to work with someday and I very nearly purchased the UE18+ upon first listen. Both exuded great tonal balance, excellent linearity and an especially well-done treble section; reserved, natural in tone yet articulate all the same. So, walking into Music Sanctuary to hear their latest models, I was understandably very excited. However, upon some listening, I began to ponder... then listen more, then ponder again. then listen even more, then ponder even... you get the idea. Among factors like burn-in (both mental and physical), I chose to take my time with these ones, especially knowing how excited people have been about them. And, after two ponderous days, I'm finally ready to post my impressions - for better or for worse.

IP67 Connector


To my surprise, the IP67 connector is extremely robust and well-thought-out. The IEMs don’t spin freely like with MMCX connectors, but you can certainly turn the connector within the socket to better angle the cable’s bend according to your ears/head. This turning mechanism is perfectly executed; neither too tight nor too loose. Plugging and unplugging can also be done confidently, akin to using a very small XLR connector. I can’t test the weather-resistant aspects of the cable unfortunately, but all-in-all, it’s a fantastic connector that they need to share with third-party cable manufacturers. Once/If their exclusivity deal with Linum runs out, I’d love to see other cable makers take advantage of this connector - especially for their more audiophile-inclined pieces.

Ultimate Ears UE6

The UE6 thrives on contrast. Clean-cut notes dominate the stage, further accentuated by the in-ear’s impressively black background. Perceived clarity and transparency is also high as a result, but the UE6 suffers from a lack of lower- to centre-midrange body. In its pursuit of precision, the UE6 compromises on the chestiness and density of vocals, leading them to sound a touch distant, even if they’re actually neutrally-placed in the stage. I can understand why it’s preferred for instruments like drums and percussion - because of its speed, clarity and snap factor - but vocals lack fleshiness, musicality, intimacy and power. Both male and female vocals lack harmonic body, coming off as surface-level and two-dimensional. Though, this results in its decently-expanded stage sounding significantly more spacious than it actually is. It’s a wide and stably-formed soundscape with excellent horizontal separation and imaging, perfect for reproducing the left-and-right overhead mics on a drum kit. It’s very much a purposeful tuning, even if it’s left lacking versatility in the process.

The UE6’s dynamic driver benefits its bass reproduction - guttural, visceral, but not overdone. Impact doesn’t come across as swift, but there’s a certain naturalness in the way kick drums thwack into the stage. It’s well-paced and realistic when aided by the low-end’s natural tone. The UE6’s bass decays impressively though, maintaining the transparency and cleanliness of the stage. Bass lines are expertly resolved and remain well-restrained. Sub-bass is more foundational in nature, though it does let a serving of rumble permeate the stage in tracks like Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance.” The mid-bass proves more subtle than the sub-bass, so bass notes sound neither overtly thick nor overwhelmingly rich. Following this is a drop in the upper-bass, which then transitions to a significant valley at around 1kHz. As a result, bass notes benefit more from texture and bodily presence than clarity, but it’s an adequately executed low-end nonetheless - especially at the UE6’s price range.



The UE6 has a heavy upper-mid tilt. The lower-midrange has been significantly attenuated for precision’s sake; drawing a hard line between notes and the black background for superior contrast. Clarity and focus is high, but resolution takes a significant hit due to the missing lower frequencies. Vocals lack chestiness and density, leading to a hoarse and throat-y reproduction. Thankfully, an 8kHz dip prevents stridence, but their hard-edged, clear-cut nature does get grating after some time. Tone is on the neutral side - due to the warmth imparted from the bass - but the thinness and dryness of the upper-mids remain; distancing it from natural. Instruments - especially percussive ones - fare better. Snare drums and electric guitars benefit from the crackle of this tuning. A heavily relaxed lower-midrange also translates to an extreme centre-focus, surrounding midrange notes with tons of air and increasing perceived transparency. But, in any case, this is a midrange that requires lots of consideration prior to purchasing the UE6. Vocal lovers should immediately stray away, but fans of genres like metal and prog rock may find much to love in the UE6’s clarity-focused presentation.

The UE6’s saving grace is a relatively well-navigated lower-treble. A small 5kHz peak adds great solidity, airiness and clarity, whilst maintaining smoothness due to an 8kHz dip. Vocals sound immensely focused, but more crucially, hi-hats and cymbals sound crisp and energetic. Also contributing to this is an 11-12kHz peak. The resulting stage is stable and spacious, and the background impressively black. However, the UE6’s overall texture remains on the leaner side; unsuitable for longer listening sessions. Despite this detriment in tone, drums still sound admirably realistic in impact; a result of high micro-detail retrieval, solid articulation and speed. Snares, toms and cymbals punch with great energy; as a result of the bass as well. They might lack organicity and harmonic detail (most prevalent in tom decay), but the transparency and physicality it draws out from metal tracks - for example - is what the UE6 was tailor-made for in the first place.

Ultimate Ears Live

The UE Live is driven by an immensely heavy bass response. Mid-bass impact is extremely prominent; fractions of decibels away from overtaking the entire signature. As a result, the UE Live’s stage is heavily saturated with so-so headroom. Width and height are both average for a TOTL, but a lack of depth is what truly makes the Live sound as full as it does. Its presentation is upfront and energetic, living up fully to its name. However, its immense fullness leads to a lack of spherical-ness and spaciousness by comparison. This also results in an inability to appreciate the Live’s detail retrieval. There’s not enough headroom for the listener to sit back and appreciate the finer details, but the heavy bass response and 8kHz peak also prevents users from fully immersing into the Live’s atmosphere (like in the VE8 or Aether, for example). It resides in a strange in-between that’s neither spacious enough for transparency nor balanced enough for full engagement. I don’t know whether live musicians benefit from this sort of response, but critical listening with it feels out of place.

The Live’s dominant range is certainly its low-end. Ironically, the IEM’s overall tone isn’t warm or dark in any significant way, but a distracting amount of richness and impact steals your attention away from the rest of the frequency range. I can’t tell whether it’s a lack of speed, but there’s an absolute emphasis on punch over warmth. It's not muffled or veiled in a Beats sort of way, but constantly getting knacked in the cheek via kick drum is not a pleasurable way to listen to music. This leads to an extremely physical low-end that pumps energy in to the Live’s overall signature, with barely enough space and transparency to capacitate it. Likewise, texture and clarity down low is minimal; overridden by the sheer punchiness of the dynamic driver. Tone is decently realistic, palpable as the low-end slowly decays. But again, an egregious focus on impact over everything else - combined with the treble’s 8kHz peak - creates a fatiguingly distracting signature too saturated for both casual and critical listening. Maybe it’s a response that truly shines on stage, but a flagship product with this niche of a tuning is beyond strange in my humble opinion.



The Live has a relaxed lower-midrange around 500Hz, transitioning into a centre-midrange rise at 1kHz. This creates a dense vocal image that adds even more heft to the sonic landscape. Because of this, you can constantly feel the mid-bass and midrange quarrelling for attention as they fill the stage with borderline bloat. Overall tone is a warmish neutral, but both male and female vocals are coloured with a similar chestiness. A rise around 2-3kHz further adds light in the upper midrange, which prevents instruments from getting drowned out by the bass completely. Presence is stronger than on the UE6, but I can hardly call that a good thing if it ends up conflicting with the bass response. Overall. It’s a decently balanced midrange with great density, but it would’ve been better suited in a free-er stage, or a blacker background.

The Live’s treble is defined by a 5kHz dip, giving vocals and instruments a soft and feathered form of articulation. I’ve compared this before to a vocalist placing the microphone closer to his/her mouth, inducing a more harmonic and expansive delivery. This is followed by the Live’s main source of clarity: An 8kHz peak. It smartly avoids the more sensitive 6kHz region, but the resulting curve comes off unnatural and incoherent. The dip and the peak together end up sounding splashy, with a present yet unfocused sense of articulation. This region is by no means muffled or hazy, but it has a certain honky-ness which prevents it from achieving full realism. Simply put, detail delivery on the Live is not as coherent, linear or smooth as I expected - both at this price point and considering Ultimate Ears' outstanding pedigree. Artists belting are oftentimes comprised of mellow vowels followed by strident plosives. Following that is a linear upper-treble, which furthermore adds to the stage’s saturation; lacking enough air to open the stage, and almost suffocating in its own fullness. With that said, separation and imaging is adequate - if so-so for a flagship of this price - and stage stability is decent.

Closing Thoughts

So, as you can probably tell, I had mixed feelings - though ultimately understood - the UE6, but was immensely disappointed by the UE Live. It's not because of its technical performance (though it does have a sizeable role), but it's due to its odd and idiosyncratic tuning. I pride myself in being capable of accepting vastly different signatures if they have a clear-enough purpose, but the Live is something I still can't crack two days after my initial listen. My experience as a stage performer is close to none, so the jury’s still out on that front - the Music Sanctuary staff did mention a few stage musicians enjoying it. But unfortunately, as a $2000+ flagship product in both casual- and critical-listening use cases, the Live is something I simply cannot recommend based on this demo. Here’s to hoping the UE18+ Gen. 3 fares better when it gets here.

If you were a truly committed reviewer, you would learn and instrument, become a well-known stage performer, and come back to us with a balanced review.
 
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n8(t) (@Deezel177):

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/the...ia-technologies.826606/page-304#post-14293212

UE Live (bad): I was expecting so much from the Live from my love of the 18+. It was muddy, had tons of bleed, smeared transients, unforgivably low resolution and narrow staging. It's a no from me.

64 Audio N8t (amazing): I want more ear time on these. I need more ear time on these. The N8t hits nearly every checkbox on my preference list: sub-bass focus, dynamic bass, treble in line with the midrange, near-neutral tone (slight lean towards warmth). My own personal search for a hybrid endgame might be here.
 
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If you were a truly committed reviewer, you would learn and instrument, become a well-known stage performer, and come back to us with a balanced review.
I play drums on and off stage from time to time, which is why I was able to appreciate the UE6. The Live is just downright perplexing to me.

Crin was one of the few individuals I auditioned the Live with (though, he heard it on my second day auditioning it). He wasn’t impressed either.
 
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Crin was one of the few individuals I auditioned the Live with (though, he heard it on my second day auditioning it). He wasn’t impressed either.
I suspected that since it seemed like all of Indo and SG was @ MS this weekend. That area is a UE18+ stronghold.
 
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I find it funny that you referenced Milli Vanilli; a band later exposed as frauds for not singing their own songs. Freudian slip, perhaps...? :p
 
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If you were a truly committed reviewer, you would learn and instrument, become a well-known stage performer, and come back to us with a balanced review.
would having learned an instrument to mediocre level been good enough?
 
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would having learned an instrument to mediocre level been good enough?
This is Nic's thread, mediocrity is not an option, excellence either. Only perfection will do

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