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

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  1. twister6 Contributor
    I gave up on it. Very nice setup for iems and full size, has a built in audio interface and when you receive it - they also provide calibration files. They recommend using a different measurement software, RoomEQ Wizzard (other than ARTA). I played with it last year, but all the raw measurements were way off in comparison to my VeritasII/ARTA setup. I do use compensation curve with Veritas, tried to apply something similar with EARS, but never got around to perfecting it, so I gave up. At some point will need to revisit it.
    Jackpot77 likes this.
  2. pithyginger63
    I get the feeling the Veritas II is better for ciems isn't it?
  3. Jackpot77
    Nice. Just got a unit (pair?) as an early birthday present - wanted to have something to baseline my own connection of IEMs and reviews going forwards. Interesting about the compensation curves - one of the things that appealed was the provision of a "standardised" one from MinuDSP for each unit, so was hoping this would mean the measurements would at least be vaguely similar to other users measuring using the same kit and curve. Not going down the measurements rabbithole just yet, but interested to see if I can expand my own understanding of the gear I'm hearing (and what I'm hearing) with my own private data. Looks very weird, though. The guys in my workplace blow think I collect severed ears a la Tom Berenger in Platoon! :wink:
  4. jeffhawke
    I used it a few times to do some binaural recordings, and was very pleased with the result.
  5. Jackpot77
    Just unpacked mine it this evening - looks like an interesting piece of kit. Going to put some time aside to learn how to use it over the next few weeks and see how it goes. Interesting times!
    jeffhawke likes this.
  6. Jackpot77
    On a high-end IEM note, Flare Audio have a half price sale on at the moment on their flagship (Flares Gold) at £500 - worth checking out if anyone is in the market for a TOTL-bracket DD. And it's gold plated. :wink:
  7. xmr0613
    I've always demo a pair of them, but they are so hard to find on shows here at US. Would you mind quickly describe how they sound and perform compares to IEMs at similar price range (Campfire Audio iems etc)? Thanks a lot!
  8. Mimouille
    You have to dip the Vertitas in wine first, because in vino veritas.
  9. twister6 Contributor
    I'm not wasting wine on this :D
    KuroKitsu and pithyginger63 like this.
  10. Mimouille
    natemact and pithyginger63 like this.
  11. EagleWings
    The forum-that-must-not-be-named has created a compensation curve for the EARS, that is more accurate than the supplied comp curves.
  12. Deezel177
    Sure thing! Here's a list I came up with really quickly of my current favourites. They're in no particular order - though, which ones I thought of first is somewhat telling - and I must stress that these are my favourites simply by instinct; not purely by quality or any other objective metric, even though those surely play vital roles. Without further adieu, onto the rough, meaningless list! :D

    1) JHAudio Layla: Jerry Harvey's long-standing flagship takes up a very large majority of my ear time nowadays. As I spend more time - and therefore, gain more experience - as an engineer, I've begun gravitating towards IEMs that are as uncoloured and transparent as possible; shifting chameleon-like from one track to another. Consequently, I've also become more distrustful of IEMs that sound good all the time; almost as if they're sugarcoating all the personality that the engineer worked so hard to imbue into his/her track(s). The Layla give me this in addition to outstanding technical performance. The Layla has perhaps the best end-to-end extension I've heard, the best BA bass I've heard, and some of the most headroom as well. There are parts of me that wished it had a more vibrant upper-midrange or (very rarely) a slightly crisper treble, but I admire how steadfastly the Layla holds onto its philosophy: The pure, unadulterated truth; nothing more, nothing less.

    2) Empire Ears Phantom: If the Layla was an adult, the Phantom is the kid. They share striking similarities in philosophy, tone and quality, but there's a clear sense of exuberance with the Phantom that the Layla has seemingly grown out of. The Layla sounds more mature, reined in, cool and collected. On the other hand, the Phantom is more daring, especially in the upper-bass. It does lose some composure and transparency relative to the Layla because of this, but it has its charms as well. The Layla to me is like the IEM equivalent of Jonathan "Sugarfoot" Moffett. Those of you who know your drummers will know that he's been Michael Jackson's drummer since the Jackson 5 days. To general audiences, watching him play may come across... boring. He rarely ever chops; on the groove and on the beat at all times. But, to the more experienced, they'd see that Moffett - although not flashy - plays perfectly. Every. Single. Time. His hits are almost machine-like in their perfection, drawing admiration for his beautiful technique, rather than chops. The Phantom to me is more in line with a Gavin Harrison or a Stanley Randolph, who possesses excellent consistency and technique, but infuses it with a certain flair as well. The Phantom isn't perhaps as studious as the Layla, but that's why I love each for their own merits.

    3) Vision Ears VE8: Speaking of drummers, the VE8 is surely a Benny Greb: Technically-sound, but oh-so-friggin' fun to listen to. What makes me admire the VE8 so much is the fact that its performance and signature cannot be (or at least, has not been) replicated. I've yet to hear an IEM with its blend of thick, engaging instruments, seamless coherence, outstanding technical performance and addictive clarity. It's difficult to describe the VE8, because any attempt to describe its signature will simply make it seem like every other IEM. But that's what's so beautiful about it: It sounds like how you'd expect your favourite IEM to sound, but never has. It simply oozes charming musicality, complemented by technical performance that never steals (or even intends to steal) the show and build quality that'd make Mercedes-Benz proud. If only that price tag was cheaper...

    4) Jomo Audio Trinity: As I've mentioned several times in the past, Jomo Audio's Trinity is one of the most technically-proficient IEMs I'd heard to date. Now, how it makes this list rather than a Tia Fourté for example, is how little tonal accuracy it sacrifices to achieve that quality. It's a three-headed beast and each head provides its own nugget to savour. The dynamic bass on the SS is visceral and authoritative, but never gets in the way. The bass on the Brass (which I just received on loan yesterday) is unabashedly warm, guttural and a pure joy to listen to. The lower-mids on the SS may leave some to be desired, but both variants sport excellent coherence and balance overall nonetheless. In addition, perfect amounts of compactness and forwardness ensure a consistent signature throughout. And, the electrostatic treble is something special to my ears. It possesses excellent spatial performance, effortless imaging and clarity to spare. Again, it's a very expensive IEM that may appeal to some audiences more than others. But, it's a favourite in my book nonetheless; a clear standard to beat.

    5) FAudio Major: FAudio's Major is an IEM that caught me by surprise during my recent trip to Japan. It utilised a single dynamic driver, but it simply sounded so right as soon as I hit Play. Now, when I say right, I don't necessarily mean tonally accurate. The Major does compromise this a tad in favour of dynamic contrast and spaciousness. But, it had a charming sense of fun to it that was perfectly complemented by outstanding technical performance. Being a single-DD monitor, coherence was absolutely fantastic and so was its spatial performance. The stage it conjured was vast and perfectly spherical, with a perfectly black background serving as the backdrop. Excellent end-to-end extension provided high headroom. And, the overall frequency response managed to balance energy, smoothness and tonal accuracy very evenly. The bass had tons of texture, authority and impact, the midrange had sufficient integrity to them, and the treble was sufficiently articulate, sparkly and smooth as well. To me, it possesses stronger balance than similar-sounding IEMs like the Dita Dream, Sennheiser IE800S or Noble Audio Khan. When you take its price into consideration, it's truly hard to resist.

    6) 64Audio A18t: 64Audio's A18t is a modern classic. I've spoken multiple times in the past about its immensely likeable and balanced signature. It's capable of delivering tons of impact and detail, whilst maintaining speed and composure at all times. Technically-speaking, it scores extremely high marks nearly all across the board. Imaging precision is perhaps where it's not the best in the world, but that's only because its larger notes are designed for musicality, rather than sheer clinical-ness. There's nothing that hasn't been said already regarding the A18t's addictive sense of liveliness, openness, air and clarity. It possesses a signature that's simply easy to love for a lot of people. Despite the amount of chagrin that's been thrown at it for perpetuating the ongoing driver and price wars, I can't say that it's been succeeded quite yet in the market today.

    7) QDC Anole VX: The QDC Anole VX is an IEM I got to briefly hear in Singapore last month. In many ways, it reminds me of hybrids of old - where signatures were mainly geared towards boldness, impact and energy - but with a far more sophisticated technical foundation. It's an immensely lively-sounding IEM that manages to sound refined and full of finesse at the same time. It possesses a signature that's not far off from the A18t - a likeable, balanced and neutrally-toned signature - with a warm, full-bodied, thump-y bass, a peppy, upper-mid-tilted midrange, and a crisp-yet-smooth, well-extended treble. Imagine the most fun-sounding, cheery IEM you can think of, and add to it an open, stable stage and high resolution; that is the Anole VX. This won't be for those looking for a lush, laid-back monitor to doze off too. The VX is for a much wilder audience than that, offering youthful energy with high customisation and unprecedented technical performance; a very well-executed throwback to hybrids of old.

    8) EarSonics Grace: The Earsonics Grace was an immensely pleasing listen. It's a laid-back, refined and smooth IEM with no lack in articulation, detail or vibrance. Listening to it made me subconsciously picture woody tones, Parisian cafés, sophisticated jazz clubs and old, vintage soul. If you've ever heard the album Jazz at the Pawnshop and wished there was an IEM that evoked those sensibilities, elegance and :)wink:) grace, then Earsonics' universal flagship is for you. There's simply an effortless musicality to it that isn't at all flashy, like a beautiful, simple-yet-resonant acoustic guitar performance rather than a bombastic, explosive drum solo. It's really difficult to describe - especially considering the brevity of my audition - but I love the Grace for its incredibly apt name. There's simply a beautiful elegance to it that comes across as natural, effortless and soulful, yet clear, clean and wonderfully transparent all the while.

    9) Campfire Audio Solaris: I came upon the Solaris like I did the Grace. I heard it with zero expectations as to how it would sound, and came away deeply enjoying its effortless, laid-back and lightly warm sound. It strays from the Grace especially in the bass and upper-mids. The Grace was light and feathery down low. Though authoritative, it was clear the upper-mids were more prioritised. Conversely, the Solaris had a warm, but expertly-controlled low-end. In addition, its upper-mids were rather withdrawn; a 3-or-4kHz dip. Vocals took a step back, but this resulted in a more spacious, roomy presentation. Some will consider this weak or hollow, but I think it strikes a nice balance between life-like (in terms of force or projection, especially) and open and clear. The treble as well was very refined. It had the openness and clarity of the Andromeda, but without the tizz. All in all, the Solaris is an IEM that to me is thoroughly enjoyable, because of how easy and breezy it sounds - due to the refinement of the vocals and the light warmth in its tone. The Grace is comparatively more vibrant, lively and neutral in tone, but both exude an effortlessness that I can't help but love.

    10) Alclair Audio Electro:
    The Electro is one I heavily debated whether to include on the list or Honourable Mentions. Eventually, I decided to put it on the list by performance second, and by philosophy first. Despite being first out of the gate in the electrostatic race, the Electro resisted the temptation of tuning it solely to show off that e-stat driver. Before hearing it, I would've expected a crisp, airy and detail-oriented sound. What I heard instead was a really, really well-balanced IEM that showed restraint, but high performance nonetheless. The main point of contention would probably be its bass; one of the most reference I've heard in terms of quantity and tone. It's a low-end that can sound deliciously guttural on one track and completely anaemic on another, which I love as an engineer, but audiophiles may refrain from. The midrange is well-balanced, even though it's neutral and unassuming in tone. And, I really admire its treble. The restraint I mentioned previously plays a big role in ensuring the Electro maintains a mostly-uncoloured tone, and the left-right separation, spatial cues and extension that the e-stat provides are treats to listen to.

    Honourable Mentions

    1) Empire Ears Zeus-XR: The Zeus-XR ends up in Honourable Mentions not because it performs less capably than any on the list, nor is it any less likeable. The XR is an outstanding IEM to me still to this day. Rather, it's here because of a combination of not having heard it in many months and having owned IEMs that somewhat fill its spot tonally in one way or another. Perhaps, it also has to do with my honeymoon period being over with the XR. I think it's an outstanding performer (bar its decent low-end) and it's still really competitive to this day. Because of circumstances that are exclusive to me, I just am not as excited over it as I used to be. Again, taking into account the breadth of competition it has against it, that's not a bad thing at all.

    2) 64Audio Tia Fourte:
    The Tia Fourté deserves a mention for technical performance alone. In terms of detail-led transparency, spatial cues and imaging, it's still perhaps one of the best (if not the best) I've ever heard. Unfortunately, its tone is just too unnatural for me to listen to. My jaw drops every time I hear well-separated, well-layered percussion on it, but all it takes is one too many cymbal crashes or a metallic vocal belt for me to fall out of love with it again. I must stress that I'm in awe of 64Audio's technological prowess, and I'd be lying if I said this technology didn't have heaps of potential. But for all the Tia Fourté gets right technically, it's never been able to move me emotionally.

    3) Kumitate Lab Focus:
    The Focus has impressed me like all of Ito-san's NEXT 5 IEMs have. The bass is really guttural and impactful without excessively warming up the stage, the treble is clear, clean and smooth, and spatial performance remains among the best I've heard regardless of price. My main gripes with it lie in resolution and naturalness of tone. I think its lower-mids could be more three-dimensional and its background could be blacker as well (even though stability is top-class). When its price is considered, I think it's a really strong contender. It simply isn't as refined or finesse-full as the top 10 I've mentioned above.

    4) Rhapsodio Infinity:
    Rhapsodio's Infinity took me by surprise when I heard it in Japan. It had a really powerful, impactful, big sound that I don't think I've heard anywhere else. The instruments from top to bottom felt really physical and visceral, and its warm tone simply made it a joy to listen to. However, in terms of coherence, it isn't perfect. And, its choice of timbre won't suit all genres. It's not as versatile as most on the list. If it were priced cheaper, I could consider it as a specialist pick. But, considering its luxurious price point and limited versatility, an honourable mention will have to suffice.

    I Wish I Could Hear Them Again to Make Sure

    1) ACS Emotion: The ACS Emotion had a really resonant, smooth and organic tone; almost reminiscent of a bass-lite Phantom. I'd love to compare it to the heavy-hitters on the list and better gauge its technical performance. But by tone alone, it's certainly gotten my interest very much piqued.

    2) Empire Ears Legend X:
    The Legend X is flagship-class without a doubt. In terms of raw performance and bass especially, it truly is a bonafide great. One of the reasons why I'm not as sure about it is midrange coherence. Perhaps, the LX's vibrant upper-mids and roaring bass aren't as well-connected as I'd like. This has been a nagging thought since I last tried it at CanJam SG. The poor conditions of the show floor have me doubting whether or not this problem legitimately exists. Secondly, I'd love to try it against IEMs like the N8, Trinity, Khan, Anole VX and Layla to truly gauge whether or not the bass is truly as wildly unique as it first was when it came out. I'm quite confident I'll still find the LX top-class bass-wise, but you can never be too sure. :wink:

    3) Shure KSE1500:
    I'd love to listen to the KSE1500 under better circumstances than noisy stores or show floors to truly evaluate where it sits among the greats. I believe it certainly has a place on the list - I just need to figure out where.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2019
    YCHANGE, gc335, Passenger11 and 30 others like this.
  13. davidmolliere
    @Deezel177 Wow, that was a great read, do I see the embryo of a shootout there :wink: ?
    ezekiel77, Wyville and Deezel177 like this.
  14. Deezel177
    Thanks! Perhaps... is anyone willing to make any long-term loans? :p
  15. davidmolliere
    How long are we talking?
    I confess I would have trouble parting with the Solaris for too long a time, even if right now I am having good time with the FW10000 :)
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