Precog's IEM Reviews & Impressions
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Precogvision

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I'll be putting most of my reviews and impressions here going forward for those who want to follow along through Head-Fi. I've posted my reviews here and there, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have them all organized in one place.

All my reviews can be found on my site here, and I have a Youtube channel where I'll occasionally upload IEM reviews too.

Personal, Subjective Ranking List
Can be found here on my site or through Google Sheets here if my site is being a slowpoke.​

Who am I?
I'm actually a newcomer to the hobby, and I basically got into it about six months ago. I'm a college student based out of the US, so it isn't always easy getting my hands on demos. While I don't have half the experience and knowledge that some people here do, I'll be doing my best to learn! Following a brief stint with Audio Discourse (I got fired, tragically. jk jk), I now work for Headphones.com writing reviews.

What will I post here?
First impressions, reviews, and more will go here as I find my way in this rabbit-hole of a hobby. I'll do my best to provide my unaltered feedback and honest thoughts.

Testing Methodology
Please see here for my full methodology, scoring, preferences, and a general lay of my beliefs in audio thus far.

On-Deck
Empire Ears Odin (delayed)
Final Audio A8000
Noble Audio Kaiser Encore
Sony IER-M9
Thieaudio Monarch

Directory of Reviews
64 Audio Nio
64 Audio tia Trio
64 Audio U12t
64 Audio U12t Revisited
Apple AirPods Pro
Audeze LCDi4
Campfire Andromeda 2020
Campfire Ara
Campfire Solaris 2020
DUNU DK-2001/3001
DUNU Luna
Empire Ears Hero
Empire Ears Valkyrie
Empire Ears Wraith
Etymotic ER2XR
Etymotic ER3XR
(brief comparison to ER2XR)
Fearless Audio S8 Pro
Massdrop Noble X
Moondrop Blessing 2
Moondrop KXXS
Moondrop SSR
qdc Anole VX
Sony IER-Z1R
Thieaudio Legacy 3
Thieaudio Legacy 9
Vision Ears Elysium
Vision Ears VE8

Directory of Impressions
64 Audio Nio
64 Audio tia Trio
Audeze LCDi4
Campfire Andromeda and Solaris 2020
Campfire Ara
Empire Ears Hero

Empire Ears Valkyrie and Wraith
Fearless Audio S8 Pro
Final Audio A8000
Jomo Audio Trinity Brass
Noble Audio Kaiser Encore
Sennheiser Store Round-Up July 2020
Samsung Galaxy Buds
Sony IER-M9
Thieaudio Voyager 3 (plus L3 re-visited)
Vision Ears Elysium/VE8
Vision Ears EVE20

Rants & "Philosophy"
My Thoughts on Audio Reviews
Ranking List Implementation
Terminology and Preferences
 
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buonassi

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subbed here and to your youtube account.
I think these dedicated threads based on a particular subject's experiences are a good idea and go further helping the community select the IEM that is right for them. Over time a familiarity with the reviewer develops and becomes very helpful in understanding the IEM under test.
 
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Precogvision

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Just got the tour kit for the Empire Ears IEMs today. I'll put some more ear time on them over the course of the week and should have reviews ready to go by the time I send them off to the next participant. For now, here's some first impressions.

IMG_1800.JPG


IMG_5358.JPG


Empire Ears Valkyrie (top)
Powerful, sub-bass centric low-end. No shortage of rumble and extension, that's for sure. Coherency suffers somewhat between bass and the rest of the frequency response; maybe it's because it's a tribrid, or maybe it's just because it's so crazy pronounced. As a result of the V-shaped frequency response, the midrange is also rather thin. No issues with the treble response, but I'll have to listen some more. Very energetic timbre and presentation, yet still seems technically competent. Not bad at all, and I'm liking it so far.

Empire Ears Wraith (bottom)
...ooof. Reeks of BA timbre, an obfuscated midrange, and most of all...there's no treble. Apparently these were tuned around a higher-power source (which I don't have access to), but let's be real: It's an IEM and so much of its function is predicated on portability. You're better off just getting a headphone than listening to the Wraith out of a dedicated, desktop setup. And that's if it even significantly improves the sound because there's much slack to be picked up here. Oh right, and before I forget - it's only $3500. I'll put more ear time on these, but seriously, I think something just went wrong when they tuned this thing.
 
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Precogvision

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Please view on my site here for more pictures and the ideal viewing experience.

Empire Ears Valkyrie Review

Empire Ears is one of the few, US brands that caters to the hi-fi IEM market. In this niche, most brands tend to do one of two things: Play it safely or go wild with their tunings. Empire Ears happens to fall into the latter category, and it’s done so to a surprising degree of success. To this effect, the Valkyrie is their latest tri-hybrid IEM. It utilizes a DD for the lows, a BA for the mids, and an EST for the highs. The Valkyrie is a wild-ride of an IEM that certainly won’t be for everyone, but is stellar for those it appeals to. Let’s talk about why.

I received the Valkyrie as a part of a demo tour organized by Barra of Head-Fi. I am grateful for the opportunity, and as always what follows are my honest thoughts.

Sound Analysis
Please see here for a full-breakdown of my testing methodology, music preferences and more.

The Valkyrie’s frequency response is characterized by an aggressive V-shape; starting from the low-end, the Valkyrie brings its best to the table. It’s sub-bass centric with excellent extension and the most drawn-out decay I’ve heard of any IEM. You can absolutely hear the subwoofer rumble, the texture is all there. To this effect, I’d consider it visceral, a word I’ve refrained from using in my reviews thus far. No, seriously. Anything EDM or pop, particularly female-vocal stuff, flies real well with the Valkyrie.

Despite making my inner-basshead jump for joy, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. The mid-bass is likewise boosted, but the attack is lacking some bite and takes what I can only describe as a rounded edge. The aforementioned decay also leads to time-domain overlap; it simply lags behind too much. Thus, I find that there is a lack of coherency to the Valkyrie’s low end versus the midrange and treble.

But the midrange also leaves something to be desired. It’s seriously thin, and it especially struggles with male vocals; take for example Blake Shelton, who sounds strained on the Valkyrie. Forget genres like country music with the Valkyrie. That said, things pick back up with female vocals. Some stuff like Taeyeon’s “I” when she hits her high notes are pushing it, but they’re serviceable enough. Moving along to the treble – it’s actually there! Empire Ears has managed to properly implement an EST. Good stick impact and a very slight roll-off, the highs are pretty crisp. They’re also quite elevated, and as a result the Valkyrie has a bright, energetic timbre.

Let’s talk technicalities because the Valkyrie is surprisingly competent given its tonal balance.
  • There is some timbral coloration; I wouldn’t call it bad at all though, and it gives the Valkyrie a pleasant, musical warmth.
  • Soundstage is decidedly average, bordering on somewhat closed-in. Thus, there is a sense of intimacy that compliments the aggressive presentation. No issues with imaging.
  • In pure speed, I’d say the Valkyrie is on the faster side sans the bass response which tends to lag behind as I noted earlier.
  • Resolution and detail retrieval are good, but not what I would consider class-leading. In this regard, the Valkyrie clearly falls behind some of the established giants like the 64audio U12t and Sony IER-Z1R. The Valkyrie’s still a “baby flagship” after all.
Most of all, I find that the Valkyrie has that elusive engagement factor in spades. At least for the stuff it plays well with, from the warm, timbral coloration to the intimate soundstage, this thing knows how to put on a show. And frankly, it’s intoxicating. Even going back to my 64audio U12t, which is objectively the better performer, left me wanting something more. Go ahead – call me a dirty basshead. But this is something that I can’t say I’ve found with most IEMs.

Select Comparison

As I’m sure many are wondering – does the Valkyrie trade blows with the Sony IER-Z1R, the resident tri-hybrid king? And the answer is no, not really. Tonality-wise, the Valkyrie takes many of the things that make the IER-Z1R great and simply pushes them too far. The Valkyrie also suffers a lot in terms of coherency; conversely, the IER-Z1R has a level of seamlessness that I’ve not heard with any other hybrid. Sonic-wise, 1:1, it should be a no-brainer which to get. I would only consider the Valkyrie if you prioritize quantity over quality in the bass, and even then that’s pushing it. But once you factor in the tangibles, it gets more murky. Fit is atrocious on the IER-Z1R plus you can get the Valkyrie done in a CIEM. At that point, yeah, I could see a case being made for the Valkyrie.

The Verdict
When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes take me out for a ride in his sports car. And well, let’s just say he’d push the speed limit a little – OK, a lot – on some curvy streets for fun. I mostly just remember clutching my knees and being shell-shocked, but always knowing that he was still at the wheel. Likewise, the Valkyrie is toeing the line with its tonal balance. And yet, I do think that it manages to just barely stay in control due to its surprisingly strong technical chops.

Let’s be real, this is a niche IEM. The Valkyrie is not a good all-arounder; however, it stands that there is no perfect IEM. And in this vein, I can see the Valkyrie being a great piece to round out an IEM collection or being for someone who wants an engaging, edge-of-your-seat IEM. Empire Ears clearly had an artistic vision when they set out to make the Valkyrie, and I’d say they mostly succeeded. Above all, given Empire Ear’s often less-than-conventional tunings, this is the stuff that gets me excited to see what they can put out – consider me impressed.

Score: 6/10 (Darn Good)
 
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Precogvision

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Please read here on my site for more pictures and the ideal viewing experience.

Empire Ears Wraith

Before we get into this review, let me drop a few disclaimers:
  • What I hear is not what you hear. Everyone hears things differently, and especially so when it comes to IEMs which have so many variables. Don’t let me detract from what you think sounds good.
  • I don’t shy away from calling things as I see (or in this case hear) them. For better or worse, I’m a pretty straight shooter.
So the kicker: I don’t have very high regard for the Wraith, and if you don’t take kindly to unforgiving explication, you can stop reading now. But hey, if you want to watch me tear down an empire, read right on.

Empire Ears is one of the few, US brands that caters to the hi-fi IEM market. In this niche, most brands tend to do one of two things: Play it safely or go wild with their tunings. Empire Ears happens to fall into the latter category, and it’s done so to a surprising degree of success. The Wraith is their latest flagship IEM sporting no less than 11 drivers; seven BAs and four ESTs. It seems like they’ve packed a lot of technology into the Wraith, but unfortunately, it falls short of pretty much everything else I’ve heard in recent memory.

I received the Wraith as a part of a demo tour organized by Barra of Head-Fi. I am grateful for the opportunity, and as always what follows are my honest thoughts.

Sound Analysis
Please see here for a full-breakdown of my testing methodology, music preferences and more.

Suffice it to say that I wish I’d never opened Pandora’s Case, the name of Empire Ear’s beautiful IEM container. As Pandora of myth brought carnage upon the world for her curiosity, so too must I upon you, the reader, in the form of this review.

Lame analogies aside, the Wraith has a warm, dark tuning which should be pretty non-offensive. For lack of a better word, it’s basically auditory Xanax (the stuff used to treat anxiety). Or at least that’s what I’d like to call it, but I just can’t. When you have a $3500 IEM, there are expectations to be had. Along this line, the Wraith has too many glaring holes in its sonic qualities for me to consider the IEM simply boring, like I might a less-expensive IEM.

The first thing that struck me as off about the Wraith is the midrange, it’s tuned wonkily. Vocal presentation is muffled, sort of like when someone is talking to you through the wall of an adjacent room. Obviously that’s a superlative for illustration’s sake, but that’s the best way I can depict it. On Sabai’s “Million Days” when the vocalist, Claire Ridgely, enters she sounds hollow and recessed; the midrange reeks of BA timbre. Perhaps the saddest thing here is that the Wraith doesn’t discriminate, it defiles with no regard for vocalist gender.

Cue the song’s opening drop at 0:27. The drop extends, but it’s decidedly one-note and lacks any semblance of authority or slam. All the hallmarks of BA bass, and it’s not even a question of quality over quantity (the Wraith runs close to neutral here). To this effect, you can be sure that anything like EDM or pop music is particularly disappointing on the Wraith. Like so, the Wraith is already zero for two.

But what really kills the Wraith is the treble presentation. The definition of the word ‘wraith’ is a “ghostly apparition” and boy is the treble reminiscent of it. Calling the treble laidback would be an, um, charitable description. Treble is so non-existent on this IEM, that frankly, it sounded inverted the first time I heard it. Along these lines, the Wraith inexplicably manages to tame Girls Generation’s “Galaxy Supernova” which is one of the most treble-intensive tracks in my entire library.

Generally, if you’re zero for three, it means you’ve struck out. But not so fast – we still haven’t discussed technicalities. And surprise, surprise, the Wraith falls flat here too. This thing has seven BAs and transient speed is slow. Furthermore, the Wraith is utterly lacking in dynamic detail, particularly in the midrange and treble. Make no mistake that the Wraith fails in any and every technical aspect you could possibly throw at it. This culminates with the whole frequency spectrum sounding dampened and like the living dead are crawling out of their grave.

And in this vein, I think that the Wraith truly lives up to its namesake: It produced a dead caricature of every song I put through it. And believe me, I tried. To no avail, I wasted hours trying to find something, anything, that would work well with this IEM. I even let my dad have a listen – without telling him the price of course – and he told me that everything sounded “closed-in and horrible”. So congrats Empire Ears, if you can’t tune your IEMs, you certainly know how to name them.

Select Comparison

Let’s talk about how the Empire Ears Valkyrie (1DD+1BA+1EST) compares. Both have somewhat esoteric tunings, but the Valkyrie actually feels like some thought went into the process. Bass on the Valkyrie runs circles around the Wraith’s one-note, hollow response, and the mid-range presentation is thinner but cleaner on the Valkyrie. Despite it’s aggressive V-shaped tuning, the Valkyrie is also leagues more competent than the Wraith in terms of technicalities. The Valkyrie’s presentation is exciting, engaging, and has something called life. And there’s actual treble! All this to say that sometimes less is more, and you can’t just shove drivers into an IEM hoping for the best.

The Verdict
It’s fairly clear to me that Empire Ears tuned the Wraith out of something that was…well, not at all portable. From the crazy sensitivity to the fact that there’s apparently actual treble out of a high-power source alludes to this. Here-in lies the problem: The Wraith is an IEM and much of an IEM’s function is predicated on portability. Thus, why would you run the Wraith out of a desktop setup when you could just be using headphones instead?

But I digress. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my brief stint of this hobby, it’s that there’s literally something out there for everyone. And although my words might fall on deaf ears to some at this point, I seriously believe this. If you enjoy the Wraith’s sound then have no shame in it; as I garner from other reviews, some genuinely do seem to like it. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that the Wraith’s pure sonic qualities are far from meriting a $3500 price tag, and I cannot in good faith recommend this IEM. Perhaps the most disappointing part of my time with the Wraith is knowing that Empire Ears can tune stuff well and utilize ESTs as evidenced by the Valkyrie.

Score: 2.5/10 1.5/10

Editors Note: Upon reflection, I was clearly being too generous with my original score. I was infatuated with the Valkyrie and gave the Wraith the benefit of the doubt. That was immoral of me. I shouldn’t have let personal feelings sway my scoring to that extent, and I apologize to readers for my blatant dishonesty. Yes, I’m joking, but seriously, the Wraith is just that bad.
 
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Precogvision

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Tour kit for VE8 and Elysium arrived today. Here's my first impressions! Take them with a grain of salt, I've only had a few hours with them so far.

IMG_0300.JPG


Elysium
Some interesting things going on with this one; the decision to swap the DD/BA seems a bit questionable. Not sure why they didn't just plug 2DDs in like Sony did with the IER-Z1R, but hey, it is what it is. So nothing special about the low-end; it's decidedly BA and lacks a lot of that thump I enjoy with a DD. Certainly passable, probably even good for BA. I do see what some of the midrange hype is about. A little thicker, further back, and easy to get drawn into, but not for me I think: It comes off a wee bit fuzzy A/B-ing with the VE8. Treble is pretty elevated and seems like a proper EST implementation. To be fair, after hearing the EE Wraith, my bar isn't exactly high here. Timbre has a slightly warm, hazy quality to it. I don't mind a little coloration like with the U12t's midrange, it keeps things musical. But to go back to the Elysium's fuzzy midrange, the coloration seems more like a double-edged sword and is pushing it. And holy cow, this IEM takes a lot to power! I'm guessing its because of those ESTs. Anyways, don't get me wrong - this is a really solid IEM, I'm just assessing it according to its $2700 price tag.

IMG_6243.JPG


VE8
While it's got some warmth to the timbre, it's not the hazy kind - just feels like BA. Leans somewhere around neutral with bass boost. Same bass quantity as Elysium, but of a different quality. Seems a bit faster with less decay. Some part, I think the mid-bass, also feels a little hollow, so I'm not sure which one I prefer between the VE8 and Elysium here. More in-your-face midrange that reminds me a lot of the Fearless Audio S8 Pro, but leans towards smooth. Slight roll-off to the treble. Honestly, I'm no treble-head, so it takes a while for me to assess; I didn't even notice until Tork mentioned it. And luckily, if it affects technical performance, it's of little concern. Terrific resolution/detail retrieval on the VE8 and quite the fast IEM - it probably trades punches with the U12t in this respect. While I don't think it quite has the layering/staging chops to match, I'll have to A/B more. The VE8 definitely seems to be a step up over the Elysium in terms of pure technical performance, but comes off as less "musical".

I can already tell that both of these are very solid IEMs, particularly the VE8, and you can bet they're going to be getting a lot of ear time this week.
 
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Precogvision

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My Stance on Audio Reviewing

Just wanted to quickly address my writing style and reviewing mindset here for posterity. I'm sure some have noticed that my reviews are somewhat harsh, maybe caustic even, and I have a tendency to lay out the cons pretty bluntly.

As a newcomer to the hobby not even a year ago, I remember feverishly researching what IEM to purchase first. But there were a couple things that struck me as odd about the plethora of reviews I read, namely:
  1. First, they were in English - my native language - yet I literally could not understand most of them.
  2. The vast majority of reviews were overwhelmingly positive.
Let's address the first point. While my lack of familiarity can partly be attributed to my noob-ness, as I've grown more well-versed in the hobby, my concerns have likewise become more grounded. Many - not all - reviews in this hobby are plagued with a plethora superlatives, metaphors, and fluff. To this effect, more often than not, it feels like I'm reading a novel or hype piece. On one hand, I totally understand reviewers wanting to provide an adequate description of what they're hearing. Yet, it becomes an issue when there's more fluff than substance, when I can't come away with a shred of substantial information. Frankly, the number of reviews I've read where the reviewer breaks down in tears, has an auditory orgasm, or [insert absurd, equivalent superlative] is alarmingly high. So let's be honest - if you enjoy reading reviews like this, you're better suited picking up the latest, spicy adult novel. Kind of kidding, but also kind of not.

If readers cannot understand your review because of all the fancy lingo and fluff you have, that's plain negligence. So even as my audio vocabulary expands, I'm going to try and keep my reviews more to-the-point. I'm not here to waste my readers' time. That said, I don't mind a little embellishment; there's a way to keeping a flow, keeping things interesting. This is the balance that I'm trying to strike in my reviews.

To the second point, there are a number of reasons why the majority of reviews are positive. I'll refrain from going in-depth; however, it's rooted in a conflict-of-interest.
  • If someone is sent a review sample, then they have an incentive to give a positive review for future samples.
  • Conversely, if someone purchases a product with their own money, they may embellish so as to uplift their personal ownership.
I could list more examples, but I think you get my point. And to this effect, something like "objective reviewing" is an oxymoron: From inception, any and every review is biased to some extent. But positive reviews never seem to be a point of contention! It's always the negative reviews that get a bad rap. This is disappointing because negative reviews are critical to establishing balance - let me explain.

I believe one of the main issues people have with "negative" reviews is that said individuals are emotionally invested, attached to the product in question. A lot of people read reviews for validation, and I know because I've been guilty of this myself. People simply don't want to know that something they own is flawed. And if this is the case, then reviews are not for you. A reviewer's primary obligation is to prospective buyers, not to the current owners, of a product. But even for owners, I'd posit that "negative" reviews are critical to enhancing the audiophile journey. Nothing in life is ever perfect, and that's a fact. Negative reviews allow us to be open to potential flaws, and if you can't come to terms with them, then perhaps said product just wasn't for you in the first place. In the latter instance, the negative review allows you to let go and move on to something better.

With this in mind, let's talk about why I've instead decided to take a more critical, balanced approach. First, it establishes trust with you, the reader. If I hype everything as audio's next big thing, there's a major problem. Not only is it boring and downright repetitive - for you and me both - but if everything is special then nothing can be special. There needs to be a baseline, a standard which is adhered to. Second, my highlighting the downsides of a product plays into your favor. In this type of hobby, so much comes down to preference. If all a reviewer knows how to do is hand out praise, then you're missing half the story. You can't as effectively calibrate your expectations of a product as you would with someone who cites the cons too. Even if they have the exact opposite preferences of you. And finally, I'd like to believe most people are smart enough to read critically. The line between "review" and - oh lord, I'm going to say it - shilling is a fine one. But people will catch on if all you do is hype everything under the sun.

Wow, I wrote more than I thought I was going to. Anyways, remember that at the end of the day it's a hobby! There's going to be ups and downs with everything, but that's just how it is. I'm sure some individuals will take this post the wrong way, and what can I really say? It's an opinion, nothing more. You're free to have your own, and if you respect mine, I'll respect yours.

thx for coming to my TedTalk
 
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RikudouGoku

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My Stance on Audio Reviewing

Just wanted to quickly address my writing style and reviewing mindset here for posterity. I'm sure some have noticed that my reviews are somewhat harsh, maybe caustic even, and I have a tendency to lay out the cons pretty bluntly.

As a newcomer to the hobby not even a year ago, I remember feverishly researching what IEM to purchase first. But there were a couple things that struck me as odd about the plethora of reviews I read, namely:
  1. First, they were in English - my native language - yet I literally could not understand most of them.
  2. The vast majority of reviews were overwhelmingly positive.
Let's address the first point. While my lack of familiarity can partly be attributed to my noob-ness, as I've grown more well-versed in the hobby, my concerns have likewise become more grounded. Many - not all - reviews in this hobby are plagued with a plethora superlatives, metaphors, and fluff. To this effect, more often than not, it feels like I'm reading a novel or hype piece. On one hand, I totally understand reviewers wanting to provide an adequate description of what they're hearing. Yet, it becomes an issue when there's more fluff than substance, when I can't come away with a shred of substantial information. Frankly, the number of reviews I've read where the reviewer breaks down in tears, has an auditory orgasm, or [insert absurd, equivalent superlative] is alarmingly high. So let's be honest - if you enjoy reading reviews like this, you're better suited picking up the latest, spicy adult novel. Kind of kidding, but also kind of not.

If readers cannot understand your review because of all the fancy lingo and fluff you have, that's plain negligence. So even as my audio vocabulary expands, I'm going to try and keep my reviews more to-the-point. I'm not here to waste my readers' time. That said, I don't mind a little embellishment; there's a way to keeping a flow, keeping things interesting. This is the balance that I'm trying to strike in my reviews.

To the second point, there are a number of reasons why the majority of reviews are positive. I'll refrain from going in-depth; however, it's rooted in a conflict-of-interest.
  • If someone is sent a review sample, then they have an incentive to give a positive review for future samples.
  • Conversely, if someone purchases a product with their own money, they may embellish so as to uplift their personal ownership.
I could list more examples, but I think you get my point. And to this effect, something like "objective reviewing" is an oxymoron: From inception, any and every review is biased to some extent. But positive reviews never seem to be a point of contention! It's always the negative reviews that get a bad rap. This is disappointing because negative reviews are critical to establishing balance - let me explain.

I believe one of the main issues people have with "negative" reviews is that said individuals are emotionally invested, attached to the product in question. A lot of people read reviews for validation, and I know because I've been guilty of this myself. People simply don't want to know that something they own is flawed. And if this is the case, then reviews are not for you. A reviewer's primary obligation is to prospective buyers, not to the current owners, of a product. But even for owners, I'd posit that "negative" reviews are critical to enhancing the audiophile journey. Nothing in life is ever perfect, and that's a fact. Negative reviews allow us to be open to potential flaws, and if you can't come to terms with them, then perhaps said product just wasn't for you in the first place. In the latter instance, the negative review allows you to let go and move on to something better.

With this in mind, let's talk about why I've instead decided to take a more critical, balanced approach. First, it establishes trust with you, the reader. If I hype everything as audio's next big thing, there's a major problem. Not only is it boring and downright repetitive - for you and me both - but if everything is special then nothing can be special. There needs to be a baseline, a standard which is adhered to. Second, my highlighting the downsides of a product plays into your favor. In this type of hobby, so much comes down to preference. If all a reviewer knows how to do is hand out praise, then you're missing half the story. You can't as effectively calibrate your expectations of a product as you would with someone who cites the cons too. Even if they have the exact opposite preferences of you. And finally, I'd like to believe most people are smart enough to read critically. The line between "review" and - oh lord, I'm going to say it - shilling is a fine one. But people will catch on if all you do is hype everything under the sun.

Wow, I wrote more than I thought I was going to. Anyways, remember that at the end of the day it's a hobby! There's going to be ups and downs with everything, but that's just how it is. I'm sure some individuals will take this post the wrong way, and what can I really say? It's an opinion, nothing more. You're free to have your own, and if you respect mine, I'll respect yours.

thx for coming to my TedTalk
Respect dude! Keep up the good work :clap:
 
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buonassi

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The bottom line is that we all have different HRTFs, gain/impedance factors with our hearing anatomy.

Next, add that we also have preferences and don't like 'balanced' sound even within our HRTF limits.

Then add the cherry on top - we use different tips, sources, volume levels, etc.

Reviews are, therefore, only one more point of opinion on whether or not you're going to like something or not.

I like reading impressions from folks who are wholly disconnected from well known review sites. Like Aminus, Crin, Toranku, etc. The fact that you and @RikudouGoku have added to that offering is fantastic.
 
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Precogvision

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Please view on my site here or on Head-Fi here for more pictures and the ideal viewing experience.

Vision Ears VE8

The VE8’s tonality leans towards neutral with a slight bass boost. At this price point, excellence is the standard and the VE8 nails most of the things I’m looking for tonality-wise. To this effect, I think it makes more sense to focus on what it’s not instead of what it is, so let me outline some concessions:
  • Bass is, well, characteristically BA. In typical fashion, it hits fast and decays fast. There’s a slight hollowness to the mid-bass and the sub-bass is missing some rumble. This lends itself to a lack of authority. It’s certainly decent, but far from being a dynamic driver substitute.
  • Treble rolls off at the top. This is what makes the VE8 so fatigue-free and gives it that “smoothed” characteristic. A lack of treble extension generally carries over to technical performance; however, I don’t think it’s a big concern with the VE8. Overall, it’s a sacrifice I don’t particularly mind.
What does bother me is the midrange presentation. It’s pushed forward, robust, and plays well with most vocalists. And yet there is a not-so-subtle spike in the upper registers that presents itself with a harshness to some consonants. A prime example is on Taeyeon’s “Feel So Fine”. At various instances, her voice has a slight screechiness as she drags out some notes. Wow, does it grate on my ears. According to some friends I asked, there’s a tiny peak at 6kHz that’s probably responsible for this. And tragically, it mars what would be one of the best midranges I’ve heard.

Now preferences are preferences, but despite the minor niggles I’ve cited, I struggle to see someone finding fault with the overall tonal balance. It is nothing short of exemplary. With the exception of a few songs, the VE8 played well with anything and everything I threw at it – it’s an excellent all-arounder. In general, just the way it images and shapes presentation is stellar; it feels like you’ve been given a front-row seat to the action.

To this effect, I can’t help but feel that tonality is VE8’s standout. It’s no slouch technically, but does leave something to be desired. Let’s briefly compare it to the 64audio U12t, my personal benchmark for technical performance. VE8’s midrange resolution is extremely crisp, trading punches with the U12t’s which has a very slight haze to it. Other than that, though, it doesn’t quite match the U12t when it comes to the general intangibles: That is to say layering capability, micro-dynamic detail, and overall speed.

There’s also evidence of BA artifacts in the timbre; Vision Ears seems to have tried to mitigate this with a warm coloration. It’s a weird, weird amalgamation that I picked up on immediately. Something about it rings artificial, dissimilar to the coloration with a DD that I actually happen to enjoy. It fades after some listening time for me; nonetheless, A/Bing with other IEMs makes it quite obvious. All this to say that there are clear divides even between some of the best: VE8 is no doubt a strong technical contender, but it’s fighting a losing battle against some of the other, established giants.

Select Comparison

How does VE8 compare to Elysium, Vision Ear’s exorbitant flagship? Well, if you ask me, it’s actually the better IEM. In terms of technicalities alone, it has a clear edge on the Elysium. It’s got quicker transient speed and, frankly, makes the Elysium sound fuzzy in the midrange. That being said, they differ slightly in their tonality and presentation. Elysium has a mild V-shaped sound signature with a livelier treble and more dynamic bass. There’s also some more haze to the timbre which lends itself to a more “musical” listen overall. I can certainly see that appealing to some listeners. But in the most objective sense, VE8 is the superior IEM. Once you stack on that ~$500 upcharge for the Elysium, it’s not even a question of which one I would go for personally.

Am I being uncharacteristically harsh on the VE8? You bet I am. It’s clocking in at the more expensive end of the flagship spectrum. This is a price at which I can’t help but feel there are comparable – even better – options for less. And when there’s this much money on the line, you’d better know damn well what you want. Don’t buy the VE8 expecting visceral bass, treble extension for days, or a crazy clean timbre. It has none of those things.

But if you enjoy a more neutral tonality with some warmth and life, this very well could be the IEM for you. And make no mistake that the VE8’s one of the better, safer flagship IEMs. It really plays well with most anything, and I found myself racking hour after hour on it. I do think it's bordering on overpriced, but hey, consider the VE8 a recommendation from this reviewer if you can foot the accompanying $2700 bill.

Score: 7/10 (Excellent)
 
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Precogvision

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Someone was kind enough to lend me their Sony IER-M9 for a couple days! This isn’t a full write-up and just some brief impressions as such.

EA8E2328-42C6-44F0-A127-558DBF386303.jpeg

F3837CA7-4D6A-4378-8F70-26733301C5A6.jpeg


For some context, the IER-Z1R is one of my favorite IEMs; Sony struck gold with whatever they did to achieve such coherency in a hybrid. And in a similar vein, Sony's really done something special with the M9's timbre. Coming off the VE8, it feels distinctly different - in a good way. Both run neutral-warm and are colored, but the M9's mostly devoid of that plasticky feeling, those BA artifacts. So much so that I could almost see it being mistaken for DD. The bass clearly benefits from whatever they've done too. It's leagues ahead of most BA responses with some actual weight behind it minus a slight bloat. Not quite a substitute, and far from being a Z1R, but it's good. The midrange is passable enough; I do hear the occasional sibilance or screechiness on some tracks. Rare, but when it comes out, it's very obvious. As for the treble, I like it! It works rather well with the M9, and I wonder why Vision Ears couldn't do the same with the VE8 which rolls off. This is what I wanted the VE8 to be, but it just wasn’t.

In terms of intangibles, the interesting thing to me is that the M9 isn't fast. Like the Z1R, it seems to lean toward the slower side. Speed and technical ability generally go hand-in-hand, but this is one of the exceptions. It's certainly not lacking anything when it comes to imaging or layering capability.

My main criticism of the M9 is the lack of depth. In particular, it often feels like vocals struggle to diffuse from the head-stage, and they're sort of just left floating there. Neither in your face, nor pushed back enough to make it feel like the vocalist is truly in front of you. In tandem with the more laidback tonality, the M9 lacks some of that elusive engagement factor that lures you in, establishes you inside of the music.

Overall, though, this is a very safe IEM and probably my top pick if I had $1000. And unlike the Z1R? The M9 was designed for human ears. This one's definitely worth your money.

Score: 8/10 (Excellent)
 
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kdphan

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Keep up the great work dude. Enjoyed reading some of your reviews.
 
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Keep'em coming. Will be reading some of your reviews later today.
 
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Precogvision

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Vision Ears Elysium

A lot of companies seem to be putting out tri-hybrids nowadays, and this is Vision Ear's take. But wait, there's a catch! Vision Ears has swapped a BA for the lows and a DD for the mids; two EST for the highs. Totally groundbreaking stuff, I know. So how does it actually stack up?

Starting from the low-end, frankly, I'm not seeing the payoff of swapping to a BA. It's fairly snappy with more texture and weight than most BAs, but it's also not what I would call good. Decent for BA? Sure. Along the same line, the midrange is pretty OK. Fairly level, and it has that warm coloration which gives it a "musical" quality that a lot of people seem to enjoy. Yet, the transients are slower than I'd like which results in a slight fuzziness A/Bing between some other TOTL stuff. Moving along...treble is interesting. It definitely has a different flavor to it than BA/DD. I wouldn't say it bothers me, but it feels strangely distinct which is probably only exacerbated by the lift in the FR here. I hear good extension and sparkle, perhaps bordering on splashiness at times. Although this is where I take issue with Elysium's coherency, it’s not setting off any alarm bells, so well done here.

Let's briefly discuss technicalities. No issues with the overall timbre. Staging is mostly average, but I find that it has fairly decent depth, enough to make the image diffuse somewhat. Layering capability and detail retrieval are certainly above average as well. Speed...I don't think it's either fast or slow, it seems to be somewhere in the middle. In general, it's a good performer - I'd put it at around the $1000 mark - but it's not playing with the big boys.

I tried spending more time with the Elysium just because I wasn't quite sure how I wanted to frame my thoughts. This thing clocks in at $3200. Let me let that sink in - three, two, zero, zero. It's certainly not bad, but the value proposition is severely lacking.

A quotation that comes to mind is "Pioneers get slaughtered, and the settlers prosper". To this end, I get the feeling that while the Elysium is groundbreaking now - at least in its EST implementation - it'll probably be eclipsed as other companies figure out the technology too. Your money is your money; however, make no mistake that $3200 is a lot to put on the line. I would only consider the Elysium worthy of purchase if the tonality sounds like your endgame, if supporting so-called pioneer companies is something important to you, and if you actually have the money. For all the fancy things going on with it, there are more technical, more "musical" IEMs for less. For example, Vision Ear's own VE8, which I'd already consider borderline overpriced, has a clear leg-up in technical performance. There's better ways to go broke in this hobby.

Score: 6.5/10
 
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