Member of the Trade: Project Perfection
- Jan 20, 2012
I was given the opportunity to participate in the LEAR LUF-4F audition tour.
First, I would like to talk about LEAR itself. LEAR is a Hong Kong based company, and they first started producing their own universal IEMs before moving to producing custom IEMs, such as the LCM-1 to LCM-3 line up. The interesting part of the LCM-1 to LCM-3 line up is that each model comes in 3 variant, “F” for flat, “B” for bass and “C” for crystal clear, which each variant having a different sound signature tuning. A year later, they introduced the flagship LCM-5.
A year after the release of the LCM-5, LEAR has decided to introduce the LUF-4 series, with the “F” flat model based on the LCM-5. The LUF-4, and its custom cousin, the LCM-4, both come in the same 3 variant as the LCM-1 to LCM-3 family. I will be sharing about the LUF-4F, which is the flat model.
Frequency response: 20Hz~20kHz
Impedance: 28ohm @1000 Hzx
Sensitivity: 120dB @1mW
Driver: 4 balanced armature
Crossover: Passive 3-way crossover
Socket type: Flushed 2pin CM Socket (compatible with Westone pin cables)
Design and build quality
The LEAR LUF-4 is based partially off the LCM-5. It features a Knowles CI for bass, a TWFK for mids and an unidentified BA driver for the highs. This 3 drivers are configured in a 3-way configuration with what seem to be a more extensive crossover design.
The components for the crossovers are protected with a small piece of transparent heatshrink and the internal wires are thick! The shell of the LUF-4F seem to be of very high quality, evident from the clarity and quality of the nozzle. My photos certainly do not do any justice, please pardon the photos as they were shot from a mobile phone.
The most interesting part are the acoustic tubes. There are 2 copper tubes connected to the port of the BA driver units. And from my discussion with Mr. Tatco Ma, president of LEAR, the copper tubes are supposed to help increase the soundstage, bass and treble extension, which I will discuss further later on.
Package content and accessories
The LEAR LUF-4F comes with a nice black box, which contains an Otterbox Pursuit case. This case is a great improvement over the original 1000 case which is a lot more ergonomic and easier to open; furthermore, there is a rubber layer inside which helps to absorb shock from movement of the case. The case itself is also large enough to contain my Sony Walkman F805 and the LEAR LUF-4F snuggly.
In terms of accessories, included are 2 pairs of silicone tips, a pair of foam tips, a cleaning tool, a cleaning cloth, a cloth pouch and lastly, a user manual. I would say that while the case is nice, the rest of the accessories are pretty standard as compared to many other high end IEMs that cost upwards of S$500.
I will be writing this impression of the LEAR LUF-4F with 2 setup, portable and desktop.
For my portable setup it will be just my Sony Walkman F805 since I want maximum portability and being able to put my entire portable setup in the pockets of my jeans.
As for my desktop setup, it will be a JDSLabs Objective2+ODAC connected to my Macbook Air using the Swinsian application for my music playing software.
I will be using mostly the Sony Hybrid tips and the Shure black silicone tips as the included tips are terrible in terms of fit and comfort.
Currently I am mainly using an Unique Melody reshelled and upgraded UE SF5EB with a mid driver and a pair of Heir Audio 4.Ai.
When I first listened to the LEAR LUF-4F, I was quite impressed with the bass extension and the airy mids. I was quite happy with the clarity and soundstage I heard from this pair of iems.
Sound signature wise the LEAR LUF-4F is generally natural, but slightly leaning towards a brighter presentation. The LEAR LUF-4F actually sounds very close to the UE900 in terms of generally sound signature, but with better soundstage, bass extension and treble extension.
In terms of bass, it has great extension. Although not audiophile tracks, Karma by TaQ (Beatmania IIDX 9th style; FLAC, ripped from CD) and 卑弥呼 by 朱雀 VS 玄武 (Beatmania IIDX 16th style; FLAC, ripped from CD) have a bass rumble portion at the start of the track that really reveals how well bass extension can go on many IEMs. The LUF-4F could really reproduce the bass rumble well enough. In terms of upper lows, especially near the mids, there was very little signs of mid bass, allowing the mids to really shine.
Upon further A/B-ing, I found the mids to be a little thin and laid back, but fantastically airy. Vocals of the likes of Adele, Kimbra, Megumi Nakajima and Stacey Kent sounded rather life-like, albeit with a little bit of distance away from my ears. In the upper mids, where most female vocals shine, the LUF-4F does exhibit a little bit of sibilance or near sibilance especially when “S” pronounciation are played.
Moving on to my favourite speed track, Silent Knight by Versaillies (FLAC, ripped from CD), the LEAR LUF-4F is no slouch in speed; it keeps up with the speed of the dual guitar solo so effortlessly. Many other Japanese rock or metal tracks with similar or greater speed thrown at the LUF-4F doesn’t seem to make it break a sweat at all. It just keeps up as how the music should.
The highs is where I think both the strength and weakness of the LUF-4F lies. It exhibits a bit of sibilance for female vocals from time to time, but the extension is amazing. A few tracks that I have that features Japanese flutes made my hair stand with how far the treble can go. When the Japanese flutes hit high notes, I could hear the energy in the Japanese flutes and the LUF-4F could just continue to channel the energy that the flutes needs. If the Fitear C435 scores 10/10 for treble extension, the LUF-4F scores 8.5/10.
Soundstage wise I found it more of a vertical egg shape. It has pretty good depth, more so than the Heir Audio 4.Ai and Westone 4. Soundstage width wise, it’s a little bit narrower than the Westone 4, but still a lot wider than the 4.Ai. Seperation and coherence is excellent, with no instrument or sound of any particular range being left out or left behind. Detail retrieval is great, but it can be a little unforgiving with poorly recorded or poorly mastered tracks, whereby distortions can be quite revealing.
Heir Audio 4.Ai – The Heir Audio 4.Ai has a very distinct mid-bass hump and smoother highs that makes it generally darker. But what surprised me was that after hearing the LEAR LUF-4F, the mids of the 4.Ai actually sounded thick and noticeably laidback compared to the LUF-4F. Bass extension is also noticeably lesser compared to the LUF-4F as sub-bass rumble was almost non-existant. Soundstage of the 4.Ai is noticeably narrower and shallower compared to the LUF-4F.
Westone 4 – The mids on this are incredible in a way that is totally different from the LUF-4F. The mids are very forward and sweet, it makes you feel the connection with the singer’s emotion while singing. The treble of the W4 is so smooth and non-fatiguing, making it greatly enjoyable when listening to female vocal tracks. The W4 also has a wider presentation compared to the LUF-4F, but is a little bit shallower in terms of depth. But it is in the lows region where the LUF-4F is a clear winner. In terms of punchiness and extension, the W4 is nowhere near the LUF-4F.
At the price of what I believe to be under S$700, the LEAR LUF-4F is a strong contender for 3-4 driver IEMs. There’s also the custom version, LCM-4 that I believe is just under S$1,000, which seems a little bit pricey. I am unsure if the copper acoustic tubes does really have an effect of the sound, but we are already starting to see more materials that are used out of the norm such as the Fitear IEMs, which have a titanium bore and the upcoming Null Audio Elpis 3, which will have aluminium acoustic tubes.
The LEAR LUF-4F is almost suitable for all genre of music and I do hope that I will get to audition a pair of LUF-4B, which Mr. Tatco Ma has explained to me that will have a smoother highs and slightly boosted bass to make it slightly more fun sounding. Which may mean that it will generally sound smoother, which maybe exactly what I am looking for.
Nevertheless, the LUF-4F has impressed me enough that I will be placing order for a pair of LCM-5 very soon!
Soundwaves Studio for loaning me the Westone 4
LEAR and TREOO for allowing me to participate in the LEAR LUF-4F audition tour