Hoping for advice on the chances that I'll ever like IEMs
Dec 7, 2014 at 9:11 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 20

Jawed

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I abuse Sennheiser HD650s. I run them off the motherboard line-out jack on my PC. I have tweaked the Windows Media Player equaliser so that I can hear the treble. Occasionally I plug them into my Lumia 520 (stuffing yards of cable into a pocket) for music during a long train journey.
 
When I first got them nearly 11 years ago, I did give them a proper source (Audio Synthesis Transcend CD transport and DAX-2 DAC) feeding an integrated amp (myst tma-3). I ran the headphones off the speaker outputs (via an adaptor) which gave a very satisfying fast, dynamic, loud experience. Music was wonderful on that headphone system. Reminiscent of my old full range speaker system but without the gut-churn of sub 20Hz bass:
 
http://www.joelbenford.plus.com/hifi/jawed_joel.jpg
 
(I'm on the left and those are my Naim DBLs, which were epic - parted from them now, sadly.)
 
Music is still very enjoyable on my current, heavily compromised, PC setup. Music I like:
 
http://www.last.fm/user/Jawed
 
I'm wondering whether I can find a pair of IEMs that I'll enjoy. I'd like to be able to listen to music when I'm travelling. The 650s are a bit impractical for daily commuting (and have worse neighbour headroom than DBLs), though they do keep my ears warm.
 
I've tried IEMs a few times. First time was about 8 or more years ago. The overriding impression was extreme discomfort.
 
In the last few months I've tried again. Borrowing a pair of Grado IGIs, and working my way through all the tips to get something that sounds like they're working as intended and vaguely comfortable.
 
I've used the IGIs for a couple of long train journeys as well as for a few hours at home. Running off both the PC and the Lumia.
 
Here's the thing: the music was always a complete waste of time. I never adjusted to the presentation. It was a thoroughly miserable experience. No groove. No dynamics. No insight. No emotion. No acoustic. No atmosphere. I was never lost in the music.
 
Is there any chance of finding IEMs that will be as engaging as my 650s? I'm not looking to buy several pairs to find out what kind of sound I like, since I already know what I like (my 650s). I'm not especially bothered by budget (headphones are absurdly cheap compared with full range speakers). I'm looking for something that will last 10 years.
 
I've spent a fair while rummaging around here, but I haven't made any real progress with my basic question: If I spend £500 or £1000 on IEMs is there any chance they'll be enjoyable like my 650s?
 
Dec 8, 2014 at 9:04 AM Post #2 of 20

SteveHiFi

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There are as many IEM experiences as full size experiences - your iGi experience shouldn't be the same for all IEMs.
 
The HD650 has a warm, rolled off sound allowing the midrange to shine through (in my opinion). Something like a smooth Final Audio Heaven series IEM (the Heaven VII is just out but they're all great) might suit. Also Audiofly's AF monitor series has a wonderful midrange (AF120,140,160 and 180). The top one's about £370 (did I see a British picture rail in that picture?)
 
They're detailed but are never 'in your face' like so many IEMS are.
 
Dec 8, 2014 at 8:11 PM Post #3 of 20

Jawed

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Yes, I'm in the UK.
 
Do many people with full size headphones use IEMs? Is it worth starting a thread "HD650 fans: which IEMs do you like?" Is it a reasonable comparison to make? I've literally no idea whether I'm being unrealistic asking for IEMs that will be in the same ballpark as 650s.
 
Thanks very much for the recommendations of the Final Audio Heaven series and the Audiofly. I've read a number of reviews of the Heaven VI and AF180. I'm very much intrigued.
 
I get the impression that the AF180 is the more "neutral" of the two. Also it seems like it would have better comfort and quieter cable noise (iGi cable noise is infuriating).
 
These both seem to be about the same price. Honestly I'm not sensitive to price, I'd rather not let that get in the way of my enjoyment. I'm still in love with my HD650s and would be enthralled if there's an IEM I'd enjoy as much. Though I do wonder whether I'd get HD800s at some point. I plan to set up the proper headphone playback system to run off my PC when I have more space, real soon now... And it would be ironic if I spent more on IEMs...
 
It seems there's a Heaven VIII too. Would it be silly to pursue that?
 
What are IEMs like for replacement cables? I kill the cable on my 650s every couple of years...
 
Dec 10, 2014 at 7:06 AM Post #4 of 20

SteveHiFi

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Threads such as that are not uncommon! - http://www.head-fi.org/t/734021/replacing-hd-650s-with-iems-for-travelling
 
Yours is a totally fair question in terms of frequency response, although things like soundstage will be different due to the different design.
 
The Heaven series is designed to be worn down from the ear (like earbuds) and the Audioflys have cable going over the ears. This cuts out a lot of cable noise. I'm trying some Heaven VIIs here as I type, and a lot of bumping sounds are coming up the cable when I tap it. They are great though!
 
The Heaven 8 is a little smoother than the 7 due to the different material (so I'm told). The Heaven Series do not have replaceable cables but the Audiofly AF160 and AF180 do.
 
Dec 10, 2014 at 6:33 PM Post #5 of 20

Jawed

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So, I've been doing more rummaging. I tried a search based on your suggestion and that's kept me occupied for a while now.  Though there's very few relevant postings from the last 18 months.
 
I don't know, is the state of the art in IEMs progressing at a significant pace? Are threads from 4 years ago at all relevant in terms of the gear featured? Back when CD replay was evolving quickly, state of the art players were often junk by the new standards set 4 years later.
 
I now know that the IEM concept is decades old and should have hit maturity. But theoretical maturity didn't stop vinyl from continuing to progress... So I've got no perspective on the relevance of old gear :frowning2:
 
In this thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/734021/replacing-hd-650s-with-iems-for-travelling it's notable that all responses are "custom". Which is pretty off-putting.
 
Eric seems to know what he's talking about: http://www.head-fi.org/t/639044/500-iem-vs-500-headphones/15#post_9104126
 
 My HD650, properly amped, is superior to any of my customs.

 
and http://www.head-fi.org/t/639044/500-iem-vs-500-headphones/30#post_10001069
 
The biggest problems with iem's is the tinny sound and very small soundstage. It cannot resolve the textures or nuances of the information present in a recording. For instance, a trumpet that is distant in the soundstage just eekes out a sound but without weight and is very one-note, whereas a full size headphone will give you all the variegated sounds of an instrument, of a voice. Take the analogy of a paper napkin that's been folded up and has many creases in it, well, there isn't a single in ear that I've heard (my customs included) that can reproduce those finer grains and the topography of the arrangement, whereas a full-size gives it all to you.

 
Texture is a key thing that was utterly missing in the iGi and I fear that Eric's comment pertains to IEMs no matter the performance level. I know exactly what he means when he talks about the sound of a distant trumpet.
 
Jobbing's first impressions of Heaven VIII, http://www.head-fi.org/t/613641/final-audio-design-impressions-and-discussion-thread/4995#post_11114894 make me more optimistic. But maybe that's just because it's what I want to read...
 
Dec 11, 2014 at 9:36 AM Post #6 of 20

SteveHiFi

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Oops, well I added the link to show that your question was not out of the ordinary, just ask again for for suggestions, I suppose. Specifically universal IEM ones.
 
As you guess, the IEM market is always evolving and on balance, things are better than they were in the past.
 
When it comes to soundstage the Grado GR10 is very good, but I suppose when comparing to full-size then most IEMs will be lacking if you're really wanting perfection.
 
Dec 11, 2014 at 11:02 AM Post #7 of 20

billybob_jcv

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Sometimes, the old school is the best school. There are far too many headphones & IEMs in the market today that just want to deliver 3 primary notes: a midbass thump, an upper mid for vocals and some treble for the cymbals. This is the Dr. Bose-method, fool the general public by giving them some big peaks to focus on, and let the listener's brain to fill-in the missing segments of the music.

I suspect you might appreciate the old school approach, like what is delivered by the Etymotic ER-4, or perhaps the Westone UM50 Pro or W50, or if you go for the full monty, a custom from JH Audio.

The Etymotic ER4 is said to be "bass-light, but detailed" - but that's not what I hear. I hear a very accurate and dynamic presentation that has excellent definition throughout the frequency range. The bass is there - it's just not thumping away where it doesn't belong. When you first hear them, they do sound bright, but after a few weeks that changes (I don't really believe in driver burn-in, but I do believe in brain burn-in). Soundstage is not right - especially with older stereo recordings that were intended to bounce from speaker to speaker in the old, crude way (eg Queen Bohemian Rhapsody). Those sound a bit weird with IEMs, but that doesn't really bother me. Cable microphonics on the Ety are a problem, you can wear them upside down and wrap them over your ear, but that's not an ideal solution.

The Westones are warmer, but they are also neutral and detailed. I've never heard JH Audio - I just dream of those...
 
Dec 11, 2014 at 12:21 PM Post #9 of 20

Bones13

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IEMs are definately an aquired experience, and some don't adapt.  I have small ear canals, and there are only a few non-custom IEMs that I can wear for more than 20 minutes or so.
 
Now CUSTOM IEMs are a completely different story.  A mid level custom (~800-1000 USD) should provide at least the quality of the HD650s (I have 650s and custom IEMs myself)
 
You might spend some time on the forum investigating the various IEMs from the multitude of providers, and find someone's description that matches the sound signature that you like.  I have previously used Etymotic ER4, which was uncomfortable when pushed in for a seal well enough to coax some bass out of them.  I still use the Ety ER6i for working out.  It was when I got the Ultimate Ears UE-10pro that my eyes got opened on both the comfort and the increased fidelity you get with custom IEMs.  Several years later I have the JH Audio JH13pro, that I currently use.  Neither of these is quite as warm as the HD650s, but much more accurate and detailed.  There are bass heavy IEMs that you may prefer, I loved the HD650s when I started this journey many years ago, but the HD800s are my regular cans at the office.  I use either my JH13s or a pair of AT ESW9JPN when I am traveling and use my computer.  JH13s with iPad for music or movies on planes.
 
There are also some companies that have both universal fit and custom fit with the same drivers and crossovers that you might could try before getting the custom made.  An expensive version at Ultimate Ears actually lets you tailer the sound on a device before you actually get them made, and the sound signature is what you have chosen.
 
Dec 13, 2014 at 3:35 PM Post #10 of 20

Jawed

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  Oops, well I added the link to show that your question was not out of the ordinary, just ask again for for suggestions, I suppose. Specifically universal IEM ones.
 
As you guess, the IEM market is always evolving and on balance, things are better than they were in the past.
 
When it comes to soundstage the Grado GR10 is very good, but I suppose when comparing to full-size then most IEMs will be lacking if you're really wanting perfection.

Hi Steve, I wasn't complaining about the link you provided. Indeed it was a useful prompt for further searches, so I spent quite a bit of time reading new threads. Though I didn't find any real consensus.
 
As far as soundstage is concerned, it's not the most important thing to me. Though I dare say it's indicative of the overall resolving power of the system. When I was referring to those comments about the distant trumpet, it was really about the way that poor quality equipment fails to resolve the textures and dynamics of quiet/distant sounds. So that all you're left with is an impression of a trumpet, not the sound of one.
 
Over the hours I spent listening to the phone and 650s on multiple train journeys, I was never bored or skipping tracks in frustration. I could hear pretty much everything in the recordings, though limited by the relative quietness of the phone at maximum volume and the lack of environmental isolation. It's clearly not the last word in hi-fi, but it was always enjoyable despite the resolution and dynamic capabilities of HD650s being far greater than the phone.
 
The great thing about HD650s is that they are unflappable. There's nothing in their character that'll suddenly fire off, making horrible noises that aren't in the recording. It doesn't matter if the recording is primitive or just badly made, they'll happily play it warts and all, without adding some junk of their own.
 
Sibilance is a particular evil that fires off way too many systems. I had a recent encounter with Focal Grande Utopia:
 
http://www.focal.com/en/utopia-iii/184-grande-utopia-em-3544050698000.html
 
which was absurdly sibilant for no good reason
confused.gif

 
I'm not explicitly looking for something that sounds "dark" (after all I "fix" the darkness of my HD650s with EQ when playing through my PC), instead I'm looking for something that has the refinement to be unruffled by the uncouth corners of my music collection or less than ideal equipment.
 
Anyway, I've realised that what's available in the UK is pretty limited, so I've compiled a list of things to consider:
 
AKG K3003i - £810
Audiofly AF180 - £370
Audio Technica ATH-CKW1000ANV - £585
Dita Audio The Answer - £400
Dita Audio The Answer Truth - £600
EarSonics SM64 - £370
EarSonics S-EM6 - £650
Final Audio Design FI-BA-SS - £800
Final Audio Design Piano Forte XCC - £2900
Final Audio Design Heaven VI - £400
Final Audio Design Heaven VII - £???
Final Audio Design Heaven VIII - £???
Grado GR10 - £400
HiFiMan RE-600 - £320
InEar StageDiver 3 - £395
Sennheiser IE800 - £600
Sony MDREX1000 - £470
Shure SE535 - £283
Shure SE846 - £870
Ultrasone IQ - £530
Westone 4 - £360
Westone W40 - £365
Westone UM Pro 50 - £450
Westone W60 - £600
 
I've already eliminated a few of those, but I'll cover that later as I get to them. I'm going to try to evaluate relative performance according to the subset of comments about these things that rank individual pairs or groups in a way that's important to me.
 
Or, I could just make it a toss-up between K3003i and Heaven VIII...?
 
Dec 15, 2014 at 10:16 AM Post #11 of 20

SteveHiFi

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Uhoh - big list of models..makes me want to run away..!
 
I'll add some notes as to whether you'll find it worth checking those out (the ones I know anyway).
 
Audiofly as mentioned previously
Dita Audio - Truth Edition may be a little bright, cheaper one is more laid back.
Earsonics SM64 sounds really good, not harsh but hard to drive.
SM-EM6 - I found the bass a little too much
Final Audio Fi-BA-SS A real treat but cable a little fragile looking
Piano Forte XCC - The midrange really shines with these, treble has considerable rolloff but that's part of the magic
Heaven VII and VIII - I tried the VII and it's gorgeous, I'm trying and reviewing the VIII this week. Heaven VII review on our site soon.
Grado GR10 - Soundstage is best on these, quite detailed and light
Sennheiser IE800 - Still my favourite in-ear
SE535 - you might find a little bit too bright
SE846 - very accurate, good bass but may fatigue (filters can be changed though)
 
Dec 15, 2014 at 5:53 PM Post #12 of 20

Jawed

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Thanks for being patient, Steve.
 
I've spent 20+ hours this past weekend scouring various threads, in an attempt to gain an idea of these models. I've certainly not been able to read about all of them, so I'm not going to say "I know how these sound". I'll never know until I buy something. I really hope I don't plant my face in the turf buying something I hate. (I bought HD650 un-auditioned. but I'd already lived many years with HD560 Ovation..)
 
To be honest, I nearly called your company today to simply order the Heaven VIII. I'm reaching the point where I feel I'm not going to learn anything more material before I make a purchase.
 
Anyway, I didn't (I was this close). So here's what I'm feeling.
 
First off, I'm extremely sceptical about multi-driver IEMS that use crossovers to shape the signal per driver. I ran speakers without passive crossovers for about 10 years. In those systems, filtering was done between the pre-amp and power amps - one power amp per driver.
 
Crossovers suck up huge amounts of power as well as making speakers sound muddled, incoherent and undynamic. I suspect good full size headphones generally avoid those problems because they don't have crossovers. Truthfully I only have experience of the 650s and Grado GS1000s (which I can't stand because of the metallic sound) from the modern era. They're both at the very least remarkably like listening to active/crossover-less speakers.
 
So, that basically rules out most of that list as far as I can tell, even before considering character.
 
I used your comments on the Audiofly 180 and Heaven VI to set an approximate baseline on both character and performance level implied by price, hence the lack of £200 IEMs. Grado iGi costs nearly £100, which is worryingly expensive for something so bad.
 
I used many of the threads about FI-BA-SS and Heaven VI to get some sense of relative positioning amongst a number of these models. I'm pretty sure FI-BA-SS is too lively for me (though I suspect not quite in the style of GS1000), so it might be unfair on some of them.
 
Anyway, first round of elimination based on the threads I've read:
 
Dita Audio The Answer/The Truth
Grado GR10
HiFiMan RE-600
Sony MDREX1000
Shure SE535
Westone 4
 
Also eliminating Piano Forte XCC on the basis that it's just too radically coloured, coupled with the mildly bonkers price - though I have since seen it much cheaper than the price I listed.
 
Heaven VI (and other Heaven FADs) are generally described as coloured in the midrange. Which makes me a little cautious. On the other hand there's a strong consensus that they're very communicative, something I value very highly. Though that might be a chorus of defenders singing from the same hymn sheet.
 
Taking your list at face value, I'll also eliminate:
 
Earsonics SM64 - hard to drive is a significant warning
SM-EM6 - I turn the bass hump of the 650s down with EQ, so this sounds like a warning
Grado GR10 - "light" is not what I want - not to mention the fact I could never live with the two Grados I've spent time with, so I'm not going to try a third time
 
Some other comments, not elimination though:
 
Fi-BA-SS - your comment about the cable should apply equally to the Heaven series shouldn't it? If not, why is the Heaven series less fragile?
 
SE846 - I've read about the filters - they don't appear to offer the option I want: "less analytical". To be honest I'm cagey about rejecting this as the performance level does seem to be genuinely high. I'm not against neutral, just wary of something that is described primarily as accurate rather than intensely communicative.
 
Dec 15, 2014 at 5:55 PM Post #13 of 20

Jawed

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So down to this shortlist of stuff I can buy:
 
AKG K3003i - £810
Audiofly AF180 - £370
Audio Technica ATH-CKW1000ANV - £585
Final Audio Design Heaven VII - £???
Final Audio Design Heaven VIII - £???
Sennheiser IE800 - £600
Shure SE846 - £870
Ultrasone IQ - £530
Westone W40 - £365
Westone UM Pro 50 - £450
Westone W60 - £600
 
Dec 15, 2014 at 6:31 PM Post #14 of 20

Jawed

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Sometimes, the old school is the best school. There are far too many headphones & IEMs in the market today that just want to deliver 3 primary notes: a midbass thump, an upper mid for vocals and some treble for the cymbals. This is the Dr. Bose-method, fool the general public by giving them some big peaks to focus on, and let the listener's brain to fill-in the missing segments of the music.

I suspect you might appreciate the old school approach, like what is delivered by the Etymotic ER-4, or perhaps the Westone UM50 Pro or W50, or if you go for the full monty, a custom from JH Audio.

The Etymotic ER4 is said to be "bass-light, but detailed" - but that's not what I hear. I hear a very accurate and dynamic presentation that has excellent definition throughout the frequency range. The bass is there - it's just not thumping away where it doesn't belong. When you first hear them, they do sound bright, but after a few weeks that changes (I don't really believe in driver burn-in, but I do believe in brain burn-in). Soundstage is not right - especially with older stereo recordings that were intended to bounce from speaker to speaker in the old, crude way (eg Queen Bohemian Rhapsody). Those sound a bit weird with IEMs, but that doesn't really bother me. Cable microphonics on the Ety are a problem, you can wear them upside down and wrap them over your ear, but that's not an ideal solution.

The Westones are warmer, but they are also neutral and detailed. I've never heard JH Audio - I just dream of those...

 
I don't know what "old school" means. I think you probably mean the opposite of the iGi (peaky sound seems like a good description). From your descriptions it seems to me I'd prefer the Westones to the Ety.
 
I've seen quite a lot of posts by people who've had customs and rejected them in favour of universals. I'm extremely sceptical of them for a few reasons:
 
- aimed at musicians - musicians want analytical sound
- the product ranges of each manufacturer go up in tiny price increments with a surfeit of models - screams to me of marketing
- multiple drivers - 6 drivers is the most I've seen listed - What, the excesses of 1970s speaker design all over again
 
I'm unsure whether the fit is better with customs. Or is it deeper? So far I haven't understood why the fit is superior, if the seal with a universal is complete. I had no trouble getting bass extension out of iGi when the seal was good (and I understand it's not just low bass that the seal gives). On the other hand the seal was inconsistent. I can understand that a custom is consistent (though I'm aware of the opened/closed mouth difference) - but I don't know if universals are generally inconsistent.
 
I get the impression that the shape of the IEM body is a factor. e.g. with the Heaven series the narrow elongated shape seems to result in lots of people happy with a consistent seal. (Note I've spent 80% of my time in FAD threads, so I've not got a balanced viewpoint here.)
 
Dec 15, 2014 at 6:34 PM Post #15 of 20

Jawed

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