Masters of Classical Music - A Wyville Original Review Series
Dec 23, 2020 at 3:04 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 61

Wyville

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Masters of Classical Music - A Wyville Original Review Series

Introduction
For those who have read some of my reviews it will come as no surprise that I am a big fan of classical music and for quite a long time I have wanted to do something more with that than merely include a few descriptions and anecdotes in my reviews. I started out with the idea of a series of reviews where I would try to find the ultimate gear for classical music, but I found that to be a somewhat misguided goal, as the diversity of classical music can’t be captured by a single setup and I will explain later why that is. So instead I came up with this review series. A series that is all about celebrating the unique nature of classical music and how high-end gear can help to unlock that. Classical music has this incredible ability to draw the listener in and pull their heart strings like no other music can. Even without words a single instrument can express the deepest emotions and an orchestra can tell tales of heroic adventures and tragic demise at an unparalleled scale, which is what makes it so popular for Hollywood movies. It is no coincidence that Beethoven’s 5th symphony, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 are among the music selected for the Voyager record. What better to present to an intelligent alien species than music that embodies so much of what makes us human? That is what I want to celebrate with this series of reviews. These are not traditional reviews, but rather aim to take the reader into the soundscape and together explore the stories, uncover the nuances and experience the emotions as presented by some of the finest IEMs available for the job. It is not an exhaustive series and I intend to keep it open ended in order to add gear whenever I get the chance so that it becomes an archive of sorts for classical music loving audiophiles.

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DITA Audio Dream XLS

When I use the term ‘classical music’, I use it in the broadest sense to include everything from medieval composers such as Hildegard of Bingen right up to contemporary times, although my main interest is in composers from the Classical and Romantic periods of the late 18th and 19th century. Perhaps for good reason because those were especially turbulent and exciting times, the perfect source of inspiration for music that seeks to express human emotion. Many changes in society were happening in those times and music changed along with that. Music from the Baroque period that preceded the Classical period was composed for a formal setting such as church or at court (royal, not legal, although I guess for some people being forced to sit through an entire opera would be akin to capital punishment) and thus had a subdued character to it in order to suit such a setting. Church was after all no place for exuberance or drama (especially at that time) and neither was the sophisticated setting of a royal court, so the music had to reflect that. Music from the classical period was composed for a different venue altogether, the public concert, and thus had to evolve into a new style to suit the middle classes who were now able to enjoy concerts as a form of entertainment. This often much larger audience, which was looking primarily for entertainment, meant that the music had to become more dramatic and its dynamics more easily perceptible. Thus it had to evolve into something more exaggerated to draw the audience into the music. You would get this low level of tension at one point and then a sudden burst of energy at another, making it far more exciting than anything from the Baroque period. I love that dynamic character of the music from the Classical and Romantic periods and it provides me with an experience that I feel is unique to classical music. Mozart is a great example and where I personally found my love for classical music first. I have heard him being called the “ultimate child prodigy” and he most certainly was, writing his first composition at the tender age of five and his first full scale symphony at eight. One thing that is very appealing is that Mozart’s music has this wonderfully accessible character. In fact, Mozart was very particular that his music should appeal to ordinary people as much as to the educated, stating at one point that: “Every errand boy whistles my tune.” His music is dynamic and yet never becomes too complex, which is why I think Mozart is the best recommendation as a starting point for someone wanting to explore classical music more deeply. It is more dynamic than Baroque music, which I personally find a little dry, but does not yet have the complexity of Beethoven that demands the listener’s attention. -It really does, Beethoven would throw a fit if anyone dared to talk during one of his performances.- However, it is with Beethoven that I find my bliss these days. I love immersing myself in the masterful complexity of Beethoven’s work, especially his symphonies no. 3, 5 and 7, so expect those to come by a lot in this series. Of course I will aim to include a diverse selection of music, as otherwise I would miss the goal of this series completely.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Now, I am sadly not a musician, let alone a classically trained one with extensive knowledge of how classical music works in terms of its composition (I wish I was) and so this series is simply about the subjective experience of enjoying classical music. Equally, while I include historical background details, it is not meant to adhere to academic standards, it aims merely to bring life to the composers and the context from where the music came. It is an audiophile’s way of exploring what makes classical music so special and how high-end gear can help to uncover the nuances of the music and make tangible the emotions that are conveyed by the instruments. This is most definitely not a shootout-type of series to find the “best” IEMs for classical music as such, rather it is a way to explore how different presentations work for classical and how those engage the listener with the music. This will be different from person to person and so my aim is to describe how the IEMs sound as best I can and explain why I consider them so suitable. I have selected IEMs that I feel are particularly good for classical music because I have heard them before, as well as explore a few interesting ones I have not heard yet based on advice from others or guesswork of my own. As I said, it is first and foremost about an audiophile’s way to enjoy classical music where the gear itself is a means to and end. Some presentations might work well for certain types of classical music, but not others, just like classical music will present itself differently based on the setting where it is supposed to be played. Chamber music for instance is, as the name implies, best enjoyed in an intimate setting, a private place rather than a public place. A string quartet like Beethoven’s no. 7 op. 59 can be like a conversation of sorts. The opening of the second movement starts with the Cello asking a question and the first violin answers it, followed by the viola asking the question again and the second violin answering before the conversation develops. Such music benefits from an intimate setting and would lose its character when performed at a large concert hall. So too can a more intimate stage of the IEMs potentially benefit this type of music. It is therefore not a given that a large soundstage is the key to IEMs performing well for classical music, even though it is important for large scale symphonies. I love how, when I listen to Beethoven’s 5th symphony with IEMs that have a large soundstage and a dynamic character, the symphony builds up and, especially as the third movement transitions into the fourth, it bursts with all the energy, scale and drama of an Indiana Jones movie theme. My aim here is to explore these differences and give the most accurate and informative description I can.

Criteria
This is probably the section where some audiophiles will have to bite their tongue and accept that this series does not aim at setting narrowly defined and supposedly objective criteria. Because this series is about exploration rather than ranking, and about the music rather than the gear, there is no way to do that in any meaningful manner. It is about the subjective, the personal, the emotional, because that is where we engage (or not) with the music. However, that does not mean that there are not certain strengths that clearly benefit classical music and (of course) my own preferences play a role in understanding why I consider some IEMs particularly suitable and not others. So what do I look for? Let’s look at Beethoven’s 5th to illustrate.

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Ludwig van Beethoven

Four notes, just four, and yet this opening motif is so universally recognisable that writing down “ta-ta-ta-taaaa” will probably be enough for most people to hear in their mind exactly what I am referring to. Still, I think most of the appeal of Beethoven’s 5th symphony is found in the journey that it takes through its four movements and just how astonishingly Grand its finale is. Yes, I capitalised the ‘G’ there intentionally. The scale of it is that Big. Mendelssohn, after hearing it, wrote in a letter in 1830: “How big it is—quite wild! enough to bring the house about one's ears! and what must it be with all the people playing at once?” This is in my opinion, and based on my preferences, the quintessential symphony. A work of art that transports the listener to another world where emotions ebb and flow, where the listener journeys through ups and downs before experiencing a high that continues to resonate long after the final note has been played. It is big, bold, but also full of fine nuances. Ideally this masterpiece is presented in large stage, where I personally prefer a letterbox type of shape that is very wide, has excellent depth, but not a lot of height, which is presented in front of the listener. Positional information is key and layering needs to be excellent so that the orchestra stretches out in front of you. Combined with accurate timbre and a black background (image stability) this layering and positional information allows for tonal nuances to rise above the orchestra or emerge as if from out of nowhere, putting emphasis on solo instruments that rise above the orchestra. In the wide stage those instruments rise up at different points, which moves the attention of the listener around the soundscape, making for a much more dynamic listening experience than if it were presented in a more intimate stage. Such dynamics are important, not just in space, but in intensity as well. When a solo instrument rises above the orchestra, the attention must be drawn there with laser-like precision, as that will create the greatest effect for when it is contrasted by a strong rise in the complexity and energy of the music. Nowhere is this more clearly felt then in the transition from the third movement to the fourth. The music slows down with only a few instruments, such as the piccolo, playing, but playing very silently. This is where that black background, accurate timbre and positional information start to play a key role in contrasting the piccolo against the background, allowing it to rise more clearly and convey a sense of things slowing down more strongly as attention is focused on those few delicate instruments. Play time is over. Suddenly it feels like the music stops, drums start rolling gradually with the sole purpose of building up tension and anticipation. There is energy boiling in that drum role. Transposed over which are the violins signalling that pressure is building higher and higher until finally a tipping point is reached and at the start of the fourth movement the whole orchestra bursts onto the scene with a catharsis of emotion! It is wild and feels like the orchestra is taking flight, pulling the listener with them. It is here where that dynamics can make the difference between excitement as an observer and being pulled along, immersed in the moment and experiencing goosebumps even if you have heard it a hundred times before. This is classical music at its finest, as the fourth movement drags you along until the final note, after which you are left with the excitement still resonating on your head.

Here I also find that the way in which the 5th flows can be complimented with IEMs that have a certain organic fluidity to them, where notes will flow from one instrument to another seamlessly and thereby adding to that sense of the orchestra taking flight, emphasising a sense of freedom in the final movement. It is not essential and some might prefer IEMs that lean towards a more clinical separation of the instruments (without harming coherency of course). Preferences thus play a role here in how well specific IEMs will work for any one of us. This is where I will try to convey those differences in such a way that it will be informative for people with different preferences. A letterbox stage is one thing, but a holographic stage where the listener is a central point around which instruments dart in and out from every direction can make for an incredible experience, especially when listening to a piece such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. What I am trying to convey is that I want to explore synergy between the music and the gear, and to describe how that works out in such a way that it informs classical music loving audiophiles about gear that might suit their preferences in terms of the music itself and its presentation. The challenge is thus not to find one generalised setup to rule them all, but to identify specialist setups that are particularly noteworthy for “classicaphiles” (okay that’s bad… very bad… I promise I won’t ever use that term ever again).

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Lotoo PAW6000


Source

Obviously the source used is another key factor in achieving synergy that genuinely resonates and makes for a fully immersive listening experience. I intend to experiment a little with this as well, although at the start of the series my main source will be the Lotoo PAW6000. The PAW6000 is not a ‘Top Of The Line’ DAP, but it does offer a few key characteristics that I personally value highly. First and foremost, Lotoo are masters at developing a source that generates a truly pitch-black background and this creates such a clear contrast between the notes and the background that I suspect it might well be the key feature that has propelled the PAW6000 instantly to “my precious” status. It also has a reference tuning, one with (in my opinion) outstanding dynamics that brings the music to life while revealing all the details. It offers great transparency with just a hint of note articulation, which I love with violin techniques such as Martelé and Spiccato, where the bow jumps and dances on the strings (I say as if I know what I am talking about). The pairing of the PAW6000 with the DITA Dream XLS is the first that will be up for review because I love the synergy between the two for classical music and it is what I listen to most. Despite stating here my undying love for the PAW6000, I recently also received the new Shanling M8 for a (regular) review and I found it especially good at creating realism in violins when paired with the DITA Dream XLS. This pairing seemed to be more natural sounding still and with incredible transparency while reducing the note articulation a little. Pairing the M8 with the FiR Audio M4 and DITA Audio Oslo showed great synergy and produce an absolutely massive soundstage with a concert hall feel to it. Shanling certainly introduced an interesting proposition and so contrary to my initial plan of maintaining the same source throughout the series, I will experiment with sources where possible and/or interesting. If I see an opportunity I might also include desktop gear to see just how far I can make the IEMs scale.

There are also some practical concerns with the source, one of which is particularly important for classical music: gapless playback. This is especially important with for instance symphonies that have a seamless transition from one movement into the next, such as the transition in Beethoven’s 5th from the third to the fourth movement. This is where my sources are a little problematic because Shanling’s music player does not do gapless and the PAW6000 does do it, but unfortunately not with the lossless ALAC files I use (a consequence of using a MacBook Pro where iTunes can’t play flac files). I contacted Lotoo about this and they are working to resolve this issue, so perhaps a firmware update will come at some point during this series.

Another practical aspect is whether or not a DAP can stream music. I was never concerned about this until I discovered Idagio, a streaming service based in Berlin (Germany) that is dedicated entirely to classical music. Here the M8 has a real advantage, as its Android environment allowed me to install Idagio directly onto it, making it easier to work with than using my phone connected via Bluetooth to the PAW6000. The downside is that at the time of writing Idagio is not yet capable of gapless playback on Android, something they are aware of and working on to resolve as soon as possible.

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Shanling M8 - DITA Audio Oslo - FiR Audio M4

Aftermarket cables

Always a controversial topic among audiophiles and I am going to treat it very simple here. If I find a particular cable works well with certain IEMs, I will use that cable. Again, this is not a traditional review series and I have no reservation about changing from stock to an aftermarket cable if it works particularly well, it is about finding that special kind of synergy after all. A great example is the Vision Ears VE5 which synergise exceptionally well with the Effect Audio Lionheart cable and I am very happy to be able to include this pairing in the series after Vision Ears generously sent me the VE5 on an extended loan. I will however not spend a lot of time unpicking the slight changes that aftermarket cables cause, that way it will be easy to ignore for anyone who feels cables can’t make a difference. For those people, just consider I am doing it for improved comfort or the option of having a balanced termination. For those who have no problem with it, it is mostly about small nuances that I find particularly worthwhile. For instance, I found the FiR Audio M4 to have a number of really great characteristics for classical music, but pairing them with the PAW6000 was brighter than I was comfortable with. Changing the stock cable to the DITA Oslo cable resolved this issue and even enhances some of the characteristics I like for classical music, such as generating one of the biggest stages I have heard with a truly out-of-the-head experience and so I never changed it back to the stock cable. Of course the Oslo’s Awesome plug is another very convenient thing to have and I love the versatility of changing termination whenever the need arises. So it is all about that versatility and the Oslo cable’s excellent ergonomics. -wink- -wink-

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Vision Ears VE5

Concluding thoughts

I did not want to make this introduction too long, but felt it was important to at least say something reasonably coherent about what is at the end of the day an experiment that I want to give every opportunity to evolve over time. This series is not set up with very strict criteria and I do not want it to be seen for more than what it really is, a fun and informal way of exploring classical music by an enthusiastic audiophile with a little knowledge of history and considerably less understanding of classical music. I just enjoy listening to it, writing about it and pretending I am a classical music connoisseur (darn, forgot my monocle). So take a load off, be entertained by the read and if you like my descriptions, go out and demo for yourself to hear if you hear it the same way and if a particular setup might be interesting for you.
 
Dec 23, 2020 at 3:05 AM Post #2 of 61

Wyville

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Reviews in the series:
1) DITA Audio Dream XLS
  • Wide, letterbox-type stage
  • Deep black background with strongly contrasting notes
  • Highly dynamic, conveying strong emotions
  • Organic with great fluidity
  • Excellent tonal nuances
2) FiR Audio M4
  • Exceptionally large stage with a “concert hall” feel to it
  • Effective in countering the occlusion effect, which creates a very natural presentation with an open feel to it
  • Outstanding separation without harming coherency
  • A very energetic presentation while maintaining excellent balance throughout
  • Outstanding technical performance
3) Vision Ears VE5
  • Focus presentation with attention to detail
  • Excellent clarity
  • Outstanding vocals
  • Especially good at rendering emotion conveyed through instruments
  • An intimate feel, particularly suited to solo performances, string quartets, concertos, etc
4) [I'll get there... I promise]
etc. :wink:
 
Last edited:
Dec 23, 2020 at 3:06 AM Post #3 of 61

Wyville

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Masters of Classical Music - DITA Audio Dream XLS

Disclaimer
The DITA Audio Dream XLS was provided to me by DITA Audio and Project Perfection for my full review. My choice to include the Dream XLS in this series was entirely my own and no incentive was given for doing so.

Dream XLS
  • Driver: Single Ultra-linear 10mm Dynamic Driver Gen. XLS
  • Frequency response: 10 Hz - 25 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 104 dB
  • Cable: OSLO-XLS (stock)
  • Price: US$2,299

Links:

Introduction
I am starting off the ‘Masters of Classical Music’ series with the DITA Audio Dream XLS because these were the last nudge I needed to make the series happen. The Dream XLS have been my go-to IEMs for classical music ever since I got them in for a review, coincidentally (or perhaps not such a coincidence because they are from the same manufacturer) replacing the DITA Audio Fealty as my favourite IEMs for classical music. The Dream XLS combine a number of strengths that to me make them sublime for classical music and especially symphonies such as Beethoven’s 5th, which I stated in my review was the best I had heard it. That is also the reason why I will make this entry in the series mostly about Beethoven, although I have selected two pieces by other composers as well for reasons I will explain when we get there.

The main source I will be using here is the Lotoo PAW6000 because I think the synergy between it and the Dream XLS is excellent and because it is precisely this pairing that convinced me I was set up with a sort of baseline pairing for how I personally think classical music is most enjoyable. That should, hopefully, also provide readers with insight into my preferences and how their own might align with, or differ from those. To me this seemed like an excellent starting point.

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General characteristics
As I stated in the introduction, the Dream XLS combine a number of characteristics that, for my preferences, makes them especially good performers for classical music. To begin, the Dream XLS have a stage that is quite wide, gives an excellent sense of depth and does not have too much height, a type of letterbox stage. I love this for classical music, as it gives me the feeling of seeing the orchestra stretch out in front of me. The stage is then built up by combining this space with a pitch black background, especially when paired with the PAW6000, outstanding positional information and ability to layer the instruments. Because there is not much height to the stage, it generates an image with depth to the layering that follows how an orchestra is positioned during a performance and you can really sense it when an instrument is placed further back. The instruments themselves are then brought to life with a particular strength in conveying tonal nuances, accurate timbre, excellent texture and a tremendous amount of detail. The Dream XLS have in part a reference type of tuning that is very revealing of details, is transparent and maintains a little note articulation. However, they do something else as well and this is a balancing act that in my opinion the Dream XLS execute to perfection. Even with so much going on, that reference character that allows you to analyse minute details, the Dream XLS manage to bring it all together in a presentation that flows organically and never pushes those details forward. So we have the big stage, the layering, the positional information that is strengthened by tonal nuances, the image is rich in detail and you can analyse every aspect if you wish, but it all works together with excellent coherency and a fluidity where notes flow from one instrument to another. This is then lifted to “master” level by an incredibly dynamic character. This is why the Dream XLS work so well for symphonies, because they have the ability to follow the ups and downs in such music with ease. Tonal nuances displayed against a pitch black background when solo instruments are played silently and attention is drawn from left to right, front to back across the stage, contrasted by the entire orchestra coming in and releasing energy in a way that flows like a fast stream, sucking the listener in and immersing them in pure emotion. Even though the Dream XLS have a reference character to them, they do emotion with the best of them.

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante (K.364)
Conductor: Colin Davis
Performers: Arthur Grumiaux, London Symphony Orchestra

As I was looking at various pieces of classical music I wanted to include in this series there was never any doubt where it should start: Mozart’s ‘Sinfonia Concertante’. This is where my love for classical music truly started. I must have listened to it hundreds of times by now and it is still able to draw me in as if I am hearing it for the first time. It is also in my opinion a great example of the accessible nature of Mozart’s compositions.

Composed by Mozart in 1779, the full title is ‘Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and orchestra’ and is written, as the name implies, as a sinfonia concertante. This is a hybrid between a symphony, a composition written for a full orchestra, and a concerto, a composition written for a solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra. (As it happens, this section is followed by a symphony, Beethoven’s 5th, and a concerto, Paganini’s Violin Concerto #4.) In this case there are two solo instruments, the violin and the viola. Mozart greatly enjoyed playing the viola himself and this might explain why in Sinfonia Concertante the viola is an equal to the violin, where usually violins take centre stage. Sinfonia Concertante consists of three movements where the first and thirds movements have a higher tempo, while the second movement is slower. All movements though have in my opinion an incredibly powerful dynamic to them as they transition between a focus on the solo instruments and having the orchestra create a rich current that drags the listener with it. This is the dynamic that I enjoy so much when listening to Sinfonia Concertante and what acted as a gateway to falling in love with the dynamics and complexity of Beethoven’s symphonies.

The first movement starts with a statement followed by what feels like the start of a symphony. Because the orchestra consists mainly of strings, only two oboes and two horns are added, there is a wonderful flow to it that the Dream XLS accentuate due to the fluidity I mentioned earlier and the wonderful texture of strings they are able to reproduce. The opening is also layered and quite dynamic, again playing to the strengths of the Dream XLS. Only a couple of minutes in, suddenly out of nowhere the solo violin and viola come in and start a conversation. The difference in tonality of the violin and viola is very accurately reproduced and the violin sounds relatively light compared to the fuller viola, with the conversation moving from left (violin) to right (viola). What I love about Sinfonia Concertante happens the first time about five minutes in. The conversation between the violin and viola transitions into a lift, rising higher and then taking along with it the entire orchestra into a wonderfully complex current. The Dream XLS give a wonderful sense of energy here and yet you can easily pick out all the individual elements that make up the current if you so wish. …or just sit back and immerse yourself in it. The Dream XLS give this choice, as it were.

The second movement is thoroughly melancholic and some have speculated that this was Mozart grieving over the loss of his mother in 1778. It is slow and feels heavy, especially with the viola, where the violin can sometimes come up with a sense of tears trickling down. The Dream XLS give the solo instruments a wonderful texture that conveys the emotions, as expressed by the violin and viola, tangible. Just as you get drawn into the melancholy, the transition again happens where the solo instruments merge with orchestra in this sweeping sense of loss, but not desperation. It feels like there is acceptance there, perhaps even a glimmer of hope. Pure speculation on my part, but that is the beauty of classical music, trying to explain with words what instruments seem to express so effortlessly. Because of how well the Dream XLS are able to convey the dynamics here, that feeling is tangible and becomes fully immersing. Every time they put a spotlight on the solo instruments before once again sweeping the listener along with this powerful emotion expressed by the orchestra as a whole.

Grief then ebbs away and the third movement becomes cheerful and fast, faster than the first movement. The conversation between the violin and viola becomes faster, more exciting and the Dream XLS once again follow this with ease, giving excitement to the violin and viola with that little bit of note articulation that brings the strings to life as the bow dances across them. Again there is a flow, but now more strongly between the violin and viola, giving more energy to the music and dragging you along with it with providing barely a moment to breath. The way the violin and viola play together here is amazing and complimented with short sections for other instruments, such as the horns, to get the spotlight, which works wonderfully well due to the timbre and sense of power that the Dream XLS give the horns. It builds up until the very end where it stops in such a way that it leaves the music to resonate with the listener.

Sinfonia Concertante is not the most exciting that it can get and so doesn’t show off the ability of the Dream XLS to go along with the dynamics quite as well as full scale symphonies, but therein lies the accessible nature of Mozart. It is easy to enjoy and even as background music works quite well, only occasionally demanding the listener’s attention when the entire orchestra comes in. More complex and more demanding was the work of Beethoven.

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Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner
Performers: Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is without doubt one of my favourite composers, primarily because I consider him a master of complexity and dynamics. It is exactly because of the complexity and dynamics that Beethoven was initially scorned by other musicians of his time, who considered his music bizarre and too complex. For instance, his Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, which Beethoven composed in 1790, was only performed for the first time in 1884 because orchestras considered it too difficult before that time. Beethoven’s piano playing too was so violent that 18th century pianos literally could not cope and would break under the strain, forcing Beethoven to demand bigger, stronger and louder pianos to be built. Perhaps he could be considered the rockstar of classical music, he certainly had the turbulent personality for it …and the lack of personal hygiene. He had quite an ego and perhaps for good reason. His father pushed him from a very young age, hoping the little Ludwig would become the next Mozart, although his father failed to fully appreciated where his son’s talents were to be found. Rather than perfecting the performance of a specific piece, as his father would have him do, Beethoven was extremely skilled at improvising. So when Beethoven at the age of 16 was asked by the great Mozart to do some improvising, Beethoven was more than happy to and left quite the impression on Mozart, who commented to the audience that they were sure to hear great things from this young man in the future. That is high praise coming from someone like Mozart and might explain Beethoven’s ego. What it doesn’t explain is why Beethoven was living in absolute squalor. The Pasqualati House in Vienna might display Beethoven’s life in a meticulously clean museum style, but those who visited Beethoven while he was living there were confronted with a dirty and chaotic home where even the chamberpot was left unemptied. It became so bad that somewhere around 1820 Beethoven was arrested as a tramp due to his poor hygiene and his friends would resort to stealing his clothes in the middle of the night, replacing them with new, clean clothes, which Beethoven wore as if unaware of the switch. To make matters worse was that throughout a large part of his life Beethoven suffered from an increasing loss of hearing. This went on full display in the most dramatic way possible during the first performance of his 7th symphony (one of my favourites). As he was conducting it in his usual animated style he hunched down for a silent part, only to jump up in excitement for a loud part …that the orchestra had not yet reached. Beethoven only realised his mistake when his hearing caught up as the orchestra did finally reach the loud part. His life, as much as his music, was pure drama and perfect for a Hollywood script. Of his symphonies I personally find that his 5th embodies this most clearly and that is the reason why I wanted to include it in this series. Due to the characteristics of the Dream XLS, I find these IEMs exceptionally well suited to this symphony.

Of course there are different interpretations of the 5th symphony, where some see it as Beethoven railing against his deafness. My personal favourite interpretation is by John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, an orchestra that uses period instruments in its performances. Gardiner was inspired by the theory of German musicologist Arnold Schmitz, who proposed that Beethoven was influenced by, and sympathetic of, the French revolution. Gardiner also applied Beethoven’s own marking of 108 beats per minute as the tempo for the 5th, something that many conductors have ignored because they feel it is too fast. The combination of a high tempo, period instruments and a French revolutionary interpretation make Gardiner’s 5th especially dynamic, playing perfectly to the strengths of the Dream XLS.

Like so many symphonies, the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th starts with a statement, the world famous four notes of the ‘Schicksalsmotiv’ (fate motif), and what follows is this tremendous burst of energy. What impresses me when I listen to this with the Dream XLS is how well they keep up with the complexity and how easily they layer the instruments. The opening four notes are followed by very fast, much lighter violins, then the heavy tympani and quickly more and more layers are built up, all the while the Dream XLS manage to convey the details, the textures and the tonal nuance exceptionally well. Horns sound authoritative, violins sound fast and articulate at times, while flowing beautifully at others, and woodwinds come through clear with beautiful timbre. Each layer adds to the complexity and the Dream XLS allow you to perceive those layers individually while maintaining outstanding coherency as notes flow from one instrument to another organically. This generates a feeling much like a whirlwind where the Dream XLS’s fluidity strengthens that.

The second movement is much slower, transitioning between slow sections with emphasis on solo instruments rising above the orchestra and powerful, uplifting parts. Here the Dream XLS have no trouble in conveying the tonal nuances of the different woodwinds and their position within the orchestra, pulling your attention across the stage in different directions. As Gardiner explains, there is something of Beethoven’s humanism to this movement and I think the clarity with which tonal nuances are presented by the Dream XLS really help to bring that across, especially in combination with the fact that the Dream XLS do not push details forward too much nor their musicality. This gives them a gentle smoothness and something welcoming whereby you are enticed into the music, and this seems to work very well for conveying this humanism.

The third and fourth movement I am going to take together here because it is especially in the transition from one to the other that I love the Dream XLS and where I also find a particular advantage in their pairing with the PAW6000. The third movement is like a march, powerful with a forward movement to it that sometimes slows down quite a bit as if in anticipation of what is to come, before moving forward again with conviction. The whole movement feels like it ebbs and flows like this, but towards the end everything really slows down and we get to the part I discussed in my introduction. No surprise I would imagine that I was listening to the Dream XLS and PAW6000 pair while I wrote that. Pairing the Dream XLS with the PAW6000 creates an incredibly black background against which tonal nuances contrast very clearly and with great positional information in a wide stage, it feels like the sound is jumping across the soundscape. It is gentle, instruments are being played very silently, and yet it still manages to feel incredibly dynamic. This, to me, brings across the emotion of anticipation and builds it up beautifully before finally that catharsis of emotion as the fourth movements starts and the whole orchestra bursts onto the scene. The Dream XLS’s fluidity then sweeps you along this rollercoaster ride, as the orchestra seems to take flight and everything starts to feel like the music from an Indiana Jones movie. This feeling of being pulled along is exceptionally strong for me when I listen with the Dream XLS and it continues to pull me along throughout the fourth movement, right up the last note, after which it leaves the music resonating in my head. I have heard a lot of really good IEMs, but the Dream XLS give me this feeling most strongly.

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Paganini’s Violin Concerto #4
Conductor: Michel Sasson
Performers: Alexandre Dubach, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo

All the pieces I highlight in this first review of this series have a particular reason for being included beyond just being favourite pieces to listen to and Paganini’s Violin Concerto #4 is no exception. I fell in love with this piece when a friend of mine let me borrow the DITA Audio Fealty. After an initial phase of getting used to the Fealty’s tuning, I started to absolutely adore those and ended up writing a completely unplanned review of them. I was so compelled to write that it was the fastest review I have ever written and the Violin Concerto #4 played a key role in that, it was the catalyst so to speak. I loved the way the Fealty presented the piece and the Dream XLS take that up to another level.

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Niccolò Paganini

I won’t go into this Violin Concerto as much as the other pieces because I suspect it will return at a later point in this series. Being a concerto, focus of the piece is naturally on the violin and very few can rival Paganini for creativity and pure imaginative use of the violin. He even went so far as to imitate farm animals with his violin and his ‘Duetto Amoroso’ is the musical interpretation of two lovers sighing and groaning. I am not a violin player, the violin I have is strictly a display piece and in desperate need of some TLC, but when I listen to Paganini I can’t help but be in awe of the technical skills it must take to play it. In the Violin Concerto #4 the bow dances across the strings with so many techniques that I could randomly name a few violin techniques and they will most likely be in there, giving the illusion I actually know what I am talking about. I don’t, but I can enjoy it nonetheless and the Dream XLS provide both transparency and note articulation that really brings the violin to life here. There is quite a bit of bite here because so much of it is in the upper registers and the Dream XLS accentuate that bite a little. The strings have wonderful texture and the Dream XLS are incredibly good at conveying how in the lower registers the body of the instrument starts to resonate more clearly. When the violin moves from the upper registers to the lower, it is wonderful how well you can follow that transition in how the instrument is working. The techniques in the upper registers are also very clear and the Dream XLS’s note articulation accentuates those techniques, which themselves are a form of note articulation. It edges towards my treble sensitivity and yet I find great joy in it, while it never fatigues me. This is something I love about the Dream XLS, but also where I am very curious to compare to IEMs that are strong with music such as string quartets. This is also the reason why I will likely come back to this piece later in the series with IEMs such as the Vision Ears VE5.

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Concluding thoughts
The Dream XLS are in my opinion masters of dynamics and very well suited to symphonies that have a lot of variation between the subtle, the boisterous and the outrageous. The music, while very detailed and well textured, flows organically and does not push those details forward too much. Instead the Dream XLS entice you into the music and reward you with tangible emotions if you let them take you along for the ride.

This first instalment in the Masters of Classical Music series is meant as a sort of baseline. The DITA Audio Dream XLS suit my preferences very well, especially when paired with the Lotoo PAW6000, and my aim here is to not just provide a description of how the Dream XLS sound, but to also provide some insight into my preferences. From the next review onwards I will incorporate more details on how IEMs and sources compare, which I hope will build up a clear picture of how different IEMs compare for classical music and why some work better for one type of classical music (e.g. symphonies) and others for another type (e.g. string quartets). Differences can also be in terms of presentation. The next IEMs in the series will be the FiR Audio M4, which are great for symphonies as well, but present it in a different way. The M4 offer a much bigger stage, probably the biggest soundstage I have heard, with a more energetic presentation that pushes details more forward. By using the Dream XLS as a baseline, I hope to be able to convey the differences clearly.
 
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Dec 23, 2020 at 4:32 AM Post #4 of 61

proedros

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@Wyville i envisioned Lord Barnie , dressed as Barry Lyndon while reading your posts
 
Dec 23, 2020 at 6:11 AM Post #6 of 61

normie610

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Wow excellent post (and thread)! I’m in the early phase of getting to know classical music. Most of my current collection consists of violin concertos (I love Tchaikovsky’s and Korngold’s concertos). The starting point for my journey to explore classical pieces is actually from discovering great violinists, and so far my favorite is Heifetz, there’s just something in the way he plays that gives me chills (e.g. Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor). I’m lucky that all of my top 3 IEMs (i4, Erlky and M5) are great for classical music, especially violin concertos. I’m keen to explore what other IEMs are suitable for this genre, so look forward to your next posts!

On the XLS, I did have a chance to listen to them and felt a bit underwhelmed, but I didn’t listen to any classical pieces with them so I might give ‘em another go :relaxed:
 
Dec 23, 2020 at 7:18 AM Post #7 of 61

Wyville

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Wow excellent post (and thread)! I’m in the early phase of getting to know classical music. Most of my current collection consists of violin concertos (I love Tchaikovsky’s and Korngold’s concertos). The starting point for my journey to explore classical pieces is actually from discovering great violinists, and so far my favorite is Heifetz, there’s just something in the way he plays that gives me chills (e.g. Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor). I’m lucky that all of my top 3 IEMs (i4, Erlky and M5) are great for classical music, especially violin concertos. I’m keen to explore what other IEMs are suitable for this genre, so look forward to your next posts!

On the XLS, I did have a chance to listen to them and felt a bit underwhelmed, but I didn’t listen to any classical pieces with them so I might give ‘em another go :relaxed:
Thanks! I love violins too and started out mainly listening to Mozart's violin concerto's (that included Sinfonia Concertante) and went from there. Now I love Paganini, but still need to explore so much more. I want to start a full subscription of Idagio soon, so I will have access to a much bigger library. That way I can also try out suggestions from people, such as Korngold's concertos, which are new to me.

Yeah, you have a great selection of IEMs for classical. I will see if I can include the i4 as well, but Erlkönig and M5 might be more difficult. Vision Ears was kind enough to send me the VE5 on an extended loan and those are super special, so already very happy I could include them.

The Dream XLS really suit my preferences, but I can understand those might not be to everyone's taste. They don't push details forward and I find that they are best enjoyed sitting back and closing my eyes. That is also why I wanted to do the Dream XLS first, because it gives readers insight into my preferences and will hopefully make it easier to compare to one's own preferences. This is also one big experiment and so I quite like to have this thread for discussions, sharing thoughts and ideas, and letting the series evolve over time.
 
Dec 23, 2020 at 10:16 AM Post #8 of 61

Sam L

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Just wandered in here to take a peak! I'll be sure to circle back and read through your post in greater detail. Most of my listening genre is classical music, typically violin pieces and orchestral pieces I've played in various youth ensembles and my university orchestra. In recent years, I didn't really listen critically until the pandemic when I lost my job and found classical music a solace. Coincidental to this re-discovery, I've been actively working on eq curves for earbuds. (went from <300 posts to almost hitting the 1.5k milestone.)

@tgx78 is another big fan of classical music as well.
 
Dec 23, 2020 at 10:35 AM Post #9 of 61

Wyville

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Just wandered in here to take a peak! I'll be sure to circle back and read through your post in greater detail. Most of my listening genre is classical music, typically violin pieces and orchestral pieces I've played in various youth ensembles and my university orchestra. In recent years, I didn't really listen critically until the pandemic when I lost my job and found classical music a solace. Coincidental to this re-discovery, I've been actively working on eq curves for earbuds. (went from <300 posts to almost hitting the 1.5k milestone.)

@tgx78 is another big fan of classical music as well.
Nice, sounds like you know a lot more about classical music than I do (I sadly don't play an instrument, let alone well enough to do it in public :wink:) so it will be great to have a more informed perspective here as well. I just enjoy listening to it and exploring its history (I am a historian). For me too classical music has had great therapeutic value, as I was ill for about two years while we were living London. Classical music offered me an escape from it all and helped me order the chaos in my head.
 
Dec 24, 2020 at 12:47 AM Post #11 of 61

Wyville

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Love the way you present the reviews! Looking forward for more! :D
Thanks Eric! It's nice to try something different and see how it works out. Hoping things will start to come together more with the next review, when I can start comparing on specific differences in presentation.
 
Dec 24, 2020 at 1:13 AM Post #12 of 61

Wildcatsare1

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Subbed, @Wyville, bravo Sir, well done!
 
Dec 24, 2020 at 10:03 AM Post #15 of 61

twister6

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Exciting stuff! Stoked to see where this is going, been a while since I sat down to read a review series :D

Don't get too excited, Nic. This is not a shootout :p
 

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