Rank the IEM's you've heard
Feb 2, 2021 at 10:16 PM Post #2,746 of 2,790

davescleveland

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I bought the original andros (brown case) used for under $600. Pretty beat up condition but oh my god it's heaven in my ears. The sound signature I wanted- the widest soundstage, detail monsters, punchy, thump bass- clear midrange with no roll off on top. Not one other item in my collection gets it this right. That said, am I missing anything in the 2020 version?
 
Feb 2, 2021 at 11:07 PM Post #2,747 of 2,790

Precogvision

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I bought the original andros (brown case) used for under $600. Pretty beat up condition but oh my god it's heaven in my ears. The sound signature I wanted- the widest soundstage, detail monsters, punchy, thump bass- clear midrange with no roll off on top. Not one other item in my collection gets it this right. That said, am I missing anything in the 2020 version?

If you're happy with what you have, then I don't see why you should FOMO yourself into buying something new :)

The 2020 version basically adds pinna compensation and removes the 8kHz treble spike. In theory, this would mean a smoother, more balanced listen. However, you've noted that the midrange is already clear for you, and the removal of the 8kHz spike seems to be somewhat divisive because it takes away some of the original's treble sparkle.
 
Feb 2, 2021 at 11:42 PM Post #2,748 of 2,790

Rockwell75

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I bought the original andros (brown case) used for under $600. Pretty beat up condition but oh my god it's heaven in my ears. The sound signature I wanted- the widest soundstage, detail monsters, punchy, thump bass- clear midrange with no roll off on top. Not one other item in my collection gets it this right. That said, am I missing anything in the 2020 version?

I owned (and loved) the 2020 but never really spent a lot of time with the OG. My understanding taking in all the different impressions I've read is that the 2020 has better mids and the OG better highs. Many were won over to the Andro for the first time because of the 2020 while others still prefer earlier versions for their unique treble profile. Ultimately I think it's probably a matter of personal preference.
 
Feb 3, 2021 at 7:37 PM Post #2,749 of 2,790

IEMusic

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Could you guys recommend something around $1k that doesn't need much power/dap to shine,
I want to use my btr5,
What kind of sound signature do you want, and what kind of music do you listen to mostly? There are a whole bunch of great IEMs for under $1000.
 
Feb 4, 2021 at 11:09 AM Post #2,750 of 2,790

Rockwell75

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Second Update of 2021-- Solaris SE revisited.

Caveats/opening points:

1) This list is just a reflection of my personal experience and preferences—it is by no means meant to be an objective appraisal of any IEMs’ value or worth.

2) What I am after, with the listening experience, is emotional involvement. All other factors-- technical proficiency, perceived tonal accuracy, neutrality etc.-- are secondary for me. That’s not to say that those factors don’t play a role—but for me they are simply the means to the desired end of emotional engagement.

3) Different brands each seem to have a distinct “house sound” or general tuning philosophy that resonates with different people in different ways. To use an analogy, I enjoy both Star Trek and Star Wars, but Star Wars strikes a deeper chord with me…not because it’s any better than Star Trek, but because it resonates more with me internally. I similarly connect with Campfire Audio IEMs in a way that I just don’t, or haven’t yet with, say, any 64 Audio IEMs I have heard. This does not mean I think Campfire is objectively “better”-- I just that happen to vibe more with their products and general aesthetic. I know there are many for whom the reverse is true however, as they say, YMMV.

4) The more time I spend in this hobby and the more IEMs I hear the less I feel inclined to break an IEM down into its constitutent parts—bass, mids, treble, technicalities etc. More important to me than individual factors are how they all play together and coalesce into the overall gestalt of an IEM’s presentation. For example, on paper the Elysium’s bass seems like a deal breaker…but in the context of the signature on the whole it’s absolutely perfect and, in retrospect, somewhat revolutionary.

Summit Tier-- The best I have tried.

1) Vision Ears Elysium =>
The Vision Ears Elysium has, in a very short time, totally and completely won me over. The mid-centric presentation with its subdued bass was a bit weird at first, especially after days of rapid fire jumps from the MEST to the Andro to the Solaris…but once I upped the gain on my n6ii and just sat back and let the Ely do its thing it wasn’t long before I was swept up in its beautiful textures and gentle nuances. The bass (or comparative lack thereof) was a bit jarring at first but once I forgot about trying to break things into pieces and isolate and compare and instead focused on the signature as a unity I found myself immersed in a blissful and beautiful world of sound-- I’ve thrown pretty much every kind of music I can think of at it – including lots of EDM, d&b other bass heavy stuff and, while often different than what I am used to, the Ely brings enough of its charm to the fore that, instead of lamenting change I find myself instead finding new things to love about old favorites. The Elysium is the first IEM I’ve heard that sounds a tier above everything else I’ve heard and it’s the first IEM I have heard that constitutes a clear and decisive upgrade from the Andromeda 2020 at doing what I value most in an IEM, namely its ability to connect and engage me emotionally with what I am listening to within a precisely laid out 3-d headspace. At first Elysium’s driver configuration struck me as crazy. Now I regard it as a brilliant act of vision and daring that was perfectly executed. Elysium review here.

2) Campfire Audio Solaris SE => After receiving the Elysium I tried to sell/trade my SE Solaris to recover funds and possibly fund another IEM. It was out of my hands for about a month and just the other day I received it back from an ill-fated trade and plugged it into my Shanling M8 for the first time. Suffice to say I was totally floored once again by this IEM and in particular with its synergy with the M8. Dynamic, engaging, spacious, impeccably staged with an inky black background. What is really apparent to me now, especially in light of my experience with the Elysium, is how good the mid-range of the SE is. I'm pretty sure this has to do with the ceramic tuning chamber the the SE (along with MW10 Andro, which has a similar character) alone among the Solaris variants has. I don't have enough memory of the OG Solaris to really comment but in retrospect this is what really one me over to the SE when I initially tried it. Male vocals in particular are incredible on this IEM-- moreso than even the Ely (which still wins the day for female vocals). Elysium also wins the day in terms of upper mids and the higher registers, where the SE just can't keep up with the level of minutia/detail that Ely provides. Conversely the Ely lacks the body and dynamic impact of the low end of the Solaris. Here we have two IEMs that compliment each other beautifully and both synergize magically with the Shanling M8-- after hearing this pairing for 3 days I cannot in good conscience rank the Ely a tier above the SE Solaris. The Elysium is peerless in my experience for its instrumental timbre, minutia in the upper registers, and capacity to facilitate a blissful intimacy with your music. The SE Solaris, on the other hand, combines top tier separation, staging and technicalities with a dynamic and impactful low end that doesn't detract from its rich and engaging mid-range-- there is no better IEM I've heard if you want to combine top tier staging and technicalities with an ability to just straight up rock out. Campfire and Vision Ears are my two favorite brands and these are my two favorite IEMs. Nicely done. (Here is a 4-way shootout I did with the SE Solaris, VE8, u12t and Legend X.)

Elite Tier-- the "I could live with one of these as my only IEM" tier

3) Campfire Solaris OG => Balanced and highly engaging all-rounder with solid technicalities across the board and a wonderful natural timbre. There are other IEMs that excel them at certain things but I haven’t found anything that does “everything” as well to my ears. I haven't heard one of these in 1.5 years so I'm not able to confidently say where the OG would stand in my rankings if I heard it again-- but it deserves this positon for posterity as it was the first IEM that truly wowed me and showed me what was possible with IEMs. It is a classic that will stand the test of time. Here is my OG Solaris review and

4) Campfire Audio Andromeda MW10 => After an impressive leap out of the gate and a couple hours of a/b’ing I came to the conclusion that the MW10 is basically a Solaris SE minus the DD. Ultimately I can't say for sure if the MW10's completely capturing my heart in the few hours after I got them is due to how much I've missed the "Andro sound" since selling my 2020 vs. whatever "secret sauce" the MW10 may have over other versions of the Andromeda...but wow they are utterly captivating to listen to. I rank them just slightly below the Solaris for reasons of personal preference, and that on the whole I find the Solaris to be essentially a refined and evolved Andromeda. Sadly I never got to compare the MW10 and 2020 directly but my gut is that that same tweaks and polishes that were brought to the Solaris SE also found themselves in the 2020. Interestingly the MW10 holds the same ceramic tuning chamber that, alone of the Solaris variants, the SE has inside it.

5) Campfire Andromeda 2020/Vision Ears VE8 => These comprise much of the essential DNA of my #2, but a little more coherent and minus the dynamic bass. The Andromeda is probably the most instantly accessible, easily likeable IEM I've heard and I can see why it remains the de-facto reference IEM for many even after all these years. Prior to owning the MW10 I would have said that I still prefer the Solaris overall as the dynamic low end and more "in your face" staging is more to my liking. However for someone looking for a "do everything" IEM that is immersive, inoffensive, and engaging it's hard to think of a better recommendation than the Andromeda...it puts many, much more expensive IEMs to shame

The VE8 evokes a similar emotional response to the Andromeda and differs a wee bit in that they sacrifice a bit of space between notes/instruments for a lusher, slightly thicker sound. I could be happy with either of these ultimately, but the air and spaciousness of the Andro sound may win the day for me in a pinch.

6) Unique Melody MEST => Addicting sub-bass, peerless staging and technicalities relative to what I have heard, and an airy top end sparkle. Ultimately they are a little more "v-shaped" than I like and on the whole I prefer the more forward and organic mids and balanced sound of IEMs like the Andromeda and Solaris. The MEST can be absolutely spell-binding to listen to with its insane technical response, but behind the pyrotechnics and flash, it doesn’t quite draw me in emotionally like the first 4 on this list do. Here is a 3-way comparison I did with the MEST, Andromeda and Solaris SE.

Excellence Tier-- the "each of these do something better than anything else in its class but ultimately don't work as well for me as an all rounder" tier.

7) Empire Ears Legend X => Bass cannon of the gods...peerless with genres like hip-hop and live funk, but not really an all-rounder-- the bass suffocates me as often as it rocks my world. In a sense the most notable thing about the Legend X is its midrange, specifically how it manages to be so present, bodied and detailed despite the insane bass. If you could get LX mids in something like the MEST the very earth might crack open due to the abundance of power and greatness that would generate. Please don’t tell me that’s what the Odin is as I have no plans (or means) to go there.

8) QDC Anole VX => My favorite bass from a BA set...a little fatiguing in the upper mids/lower treble...but that's its only real drawback. Superbly detailed, resolving vibrant and (imho) highly engaging for the most part, though it can at times sound a little too analytic and sterile.

9) 64 Audio u12t => I understand the love for these but I can't relate to it. They’re technically very proficient, tonally very safe...but ultimately not very exciting (to me). I once likened the u12t and Andromeda to the "mars and venus" of IEMs...and I stand by this to some extent. Listening to the u12t is intellectually stimulating-- it lays bare and presents accurately all the elements of whatever you're listening to, is gloriously detailed, and tonally capavble...but it all kind of falls flat for me and fails to evoke an emotional response. Conversely the Andromeda never fails to sweep me off my feet every time I listen to it. The u12t gets respect because it's great at what it does, but it's not for me.

10) CFA Andromeda Gold => I'm not sure if this placement has more to do with the qualities of the IEM itself or the fact that the Elysium has pretty much rendered the Andromeda irrelevant for me (which is why I describe the Ely as a wholesale upgrade to the Andromeda). I first heard the Gold shortly after it was released and it didn't really grab my attention. I heard it again a few days ago and it was the same thing. Maybe it's just a timing thing and that if I heard this IEM under better circumstances I would feel differently about it...but it's a classic case of an IEM that (for me) doesn't really rate as there are many others on this list that (imho) do what it does, only better. Don't let the ranking dissuade you though-- each IEM on this list is top tier and may be a dream come true for someone.

11) Sony IER Z1R => Delicious bass but imho not quite tight enough or worth the sacrifice to the lower mids. Signature wowed me at first but on the whole I found it a little fatiguing and disjointed between the highs and lows.

12) Campfire Audio Atlas => Loads of fun but treble can be intense at times and didn't really succeed as an all-rounder for me. As this list indicates pretty much everything I’ve owned since has bettered it.

On the Radar: EE Odin (fantasy), Erlkonig (fantasy), CFA Dorado 2020, Noble Sultan, 64 Nio, Dunu Zen
 
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Feb 4, 2021 at 11:25 AM Post #2,751 of 2,790

Tristy

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Second Update of 2021-- Solaris SE revisited.

Caveats/opening points:

1) This list is just a reflection of my personal experience and preferences—it is by no means meant to be an objective appraisal of any IEMs’ value or worth.

2) What I am after, with the listening experience, is emotional involvement. All other factors-- technical proficiency, perceived tonal accuracy, neutrality etc.-- are secondary for me. That’s not to say that those factors don’t play a role—but for me they are simply the means to the desired end of emotional engagement.

3) Different brands each seem to have a distinct “house sound” or general tuning philosophy that resonates with different people in different ways. To use an analogy, I enjoy both Star Trek and Star Wars, but Star Wars strikes a deeper chord with me…not because it’s any better than Star Trek, but because it resonates more with me internally. I similarly connect with Campfire Audio IEMs in a way that I just don’t, or haven’t yet with, say, any 64 Audio IEMs I have heard. This does not mean I think Campfire is objectively “better”-- I just that happen to vibe more with their products and general aesthetic. I know there are many for whom the reverse is true however, as they say, YMMV.

4) The more time I spend in this hobby and the more IEMs I hear the less I feel inclined to break an IEM down into its constitutent parts—bass, mids, treble, technicalities etc. More important to me than individual factors are how they all play together and coalesce into the overall gestalt of an IEM’s presentation. For example, on paper the Elysium’s bass seems like a deal breaker…but in the context of the signature on the whole it’s absolutely perfect and, in retrospect, somewhat revolutionary.

Summit Tier-- The best I have tried.

1) Vision Ears Elysium =>
The Vision Ears Elysium has, in a very short time, totally and completely won me over. The mid-centric presentation with its subdued bass was a bit weird at first, especially after days of rapid fire jumps from the MEST to the Andro to the Solaris…but once I upped the gain on my n6ii and just sat back and let the Ely do its thing it wasn’t long before I was swept up in its beautiful textures and gentle nuances. The bass (or comparative lack thereof) was a bit jarring at first but once I forgot about trying to break things into pieces and isolate and compare and instead focused on the signature as a unity I found myself immersed in a blissful and beautiful world of sound-- I’ve thrown pretty much every kind of music I can think of at it – including lots of EDM, d&b other bass heavy stuff and, while often different than what I am used to, the Ely brings enough of its charm to the fore that, instead of lamenting change I find myself instead finding new things to love about old favorites. The Elysium is the first IEM I’ve heard that sounds a tier above everything else I’ve heard and it’s the first IEM I have heard that constitutes a clear and decisive upgrade from the Andromeda 2020 at doing what I value most in an IEM, namely its ability to connect and engage me emotionally with what I am listening to within a precisely laid out 3-d headspace. At first Elysium’s driver configuration struck me as crazy. Now I regard it as a brilliant act of vision and daring that was perfectly executed. Elysium review here.

2) Campfire Audio Solaris SE => After receiving the Elysium I tried to sell/trade my SE Solaris to recover funds and possibly fund another IEM. It was out of my hands for about a month and just the other day I received it back from an ill-fated trade and plugged it into my Shanling M8 for the first time. Suffice to say I was totally floored once again by this IEM and in particular with its synergy with the M8. Dynamic, engaging, spacious, impeccably staged with an inky black background. What is really apparent to me now, especially in light of my experience with the Elysium, is how good the mid-range of the SE is. I'm pretty sure this has to do with the ceramic tuning chamber the the SE (along with MW10 Andro, which has a similar character) alone among the Solaris variants has. I don't have enough memory of the OG Solaris to really comment but in retrospect this is what really one me over to the SE when I initially tried it. Male vocals in particular are incredible on this IEM-- moreso than even the Ely (which still wins the day for female vocals). Elysium also wins the day in terms of upper mids and the higher registers, where the SE just can't keep up with the level of minutia/detail that Ely provides. Conversely the Ely lacks the body and dynamic impact of the low end of the Solaris. Here we have two IEMs that compliment each other beautifully and both synergize magically with the Shanling M8-- after hearing this pairing for 3 days I cannot in good conscience rank the Ely a tier above the SE Solaris. The Elysium is peerless in my experience for its instrumental timbre, minutia in the upper registers, and capacity to facilitate a blissful intimacy with your music. The SE Solaris, on the other hand, combines top tier separation, staging and technicalities with a dynamic and impactful low end that doesn't detract from its rich and engaging mid-range-- there is no better IEM I've heard if you want to combine top tier staging and technicalities with an ability to just straight up rock out. Campfire and Vision Ears are my two favorite brands and these are my two favorite IEMs. Nicely done. (Here is a 4-way shootout I did with the SE Solaris, VE8, u12t and Legend X.)

Elite Tier-- the "I could live with one of these as my only IEM" tier

3) Campfire Solaris OG => Balanced and highly engaging all-rounder with solid technicalities across the board and a wonderful natural timbre. There are other IEMs that excel them at certain things but I haven’t found anything that does “everything” as well to my ears. I haven't heard one of these in 1.5 years so I'm not able to confidently say where the OG would stand in my rankings if I heard it again-- but it deserves this positon for posterity as it was the first IEM that truly wowed me and showed me what was possible with IEMs. It is a classic that will stand the test of time. Here is my OG Solaris review and

4) Campfire Audio Andromeda MW10 => After an impressive leap out of the gate and a couple hours of a/b’ing I came to the conclusion that the MW10 is basically a Solaris SE minus the DD. Ultimately I can't say for sure if the MW10's completely capturing my heart in the few hours after I got them is due to how much I've missed the "Andro sound" since selling my 2020 vs. whatever "secret sauce" the MW10 may have over other versions of the Andromeda...but wow they are utterly captivating to listen to. I rank them just slightly below the Solaris for reasons of personal preference, and that on the whole I find the Solaris to be essentially a refined and evolved Andromeda. Sadly I never got to compare the MW10 and 2020 directly but my gut is that that same tweaks and polishes that were brought to the Solaris SE also found themselves in the 2020. Interestingly the MW10 holds the same ceramic tuning chamber that, alone of the Solaris variants, the SE has inside it.

5) Campfire Andromeda 2020/Vision Ears VE8 => These comprise much of the essential DNA of my #2, but a little more coherent and minus the dynamic bass. The Andromeda is probably the most instantly accessible, easily likeable IEM I've heard and I can see why it remains the de-facto reference IEM for many even after all these years. Prior to owning the MW10 I would have said that I still prefer the Solaris overall as the dynamic low end and more "in your face" staging is more to my liking. However for someone looking for a "do everything" IEM that is immersive, inoffensive, and engaging it's hard to think of a better recommendation than the Andromeda...it puts many, much more expensive IEMs to shame

The VE8 evokes a similar emotional response to the Andromeda and differs a wee bit in that they sacrifice a bit of space between notes/instruments for a lusher, slightly thicker sound. I could be happy with either of these ultimately, but the air and spaciousness of the Andro sound may win the day for me in a pinch.

6) Unique Melody MEST => Addicting sub-bass, peerless staging and technicalities relative to what I have heard, and an airy top end sparkle. Ultimately they are a little more "v-shaped" than I like and on the whole I prefer the more forward and organic mids and balanced sound of IEMs like the Andromeda and Solaris. The MEST can be absolutely spell-binding to listen to with its insane technical response, but behind the pyrotechnics and flash, it doesn’t quite draw me in emotionally like the first 4 on this list do. Here is a 3-way comparison I did with the MEST, Andromeda and Solaris SE.

Excellence Tier-- the "each of these do something better than anything else in its class but ultimately don't work as well for me as an all rounder" tier.

7) Empire Ears Legend X => Bass cannon of the gods...peerless with genres like hip-hop and live funk, but not really an all-rounder-- the bass suffocates me as often as it rocks my world. In a sense the most notable thing about the Legend X is its midrange, specifically how it manages to be so present, bodied and detailed despite the insane bass. If you could get LX mids in something like the MEST the very earth might crack open due to the abundance of power and greatness that would generate. Please don’t tell me that’s what the Odin is as I have no plans (or means) to go there.

8) QDC Anole VX => My favorite bass from a BA set...a little fatiguing in the upper mids/lower treble...but that's its only real drawback. Superbly detailed, resolving vibrant and (imho) highly engaging for the most part, though it can at times sound a little too analytic and sterile.

9) 64 Audio u12t => I understand the love for these but I can't relate to it. They’re technically very proficient, tonally very safe...but ultimately not very exciting (to me). I once likened the u12t and Andromeda to the "mars and venus" of IEMs...and I stand by this to some extent. Listening to the u12t is intellectually stimulating-- it lays bare and presents accurately all the elements of whatever you're listening to, is gloriously detailed, and tonally capavble...but it all kind of falls flat for me and fails to evoke an emotional response. Conversely the Andromeda never fails to sweep me off my feet every time I listen to it. The u12t gets respect because it's great at what it does, but it's not for me.

10) CFA Andromeda Gold => I'm not sure if this placement has more to do with the qualities of the IEM itself or the fact that the Elysium has pretty much rendered the Andromeda irrelevant for me (which is why I describe the Ely as a wholesale upgrade to the Andromeda). I first heard the Gold shortly after it was released and it didn't really grab my attention. I heard it again a few days ago and it was the same thing. Maybe it's just a timing thing and that if I heard this IEM under better circumstances I would feel differently about it...but it's a classic case of an IEM that (for me) doesn't really rate as there are many others on this list that (imho) do what it does, only better. Don't let the ranking dissuade you though-- each IEM on this list is top tier and may be a dream come true for someone.

11) Sony IER Z1R => Delicious bass but imho not quite tight enough or worth the sacrifice to the lower mids. Signature wowed me at first but on the whole I found it a little fatiguing and disjointed between the highs and lows.

12) Campfire Audio Atlas => Loads of fun but treble can be intense at times and didn't really succeed as an all-rounder for me. As this list indicates pretty much everything I’ve owned since has bettered it.
Have you tried the Solaris SE with the Spinfit CP145's yet?? Or any spinfit for that matter.... They were a bit of a game changer for me (my twisty ear canals seem to mess up the sound more than I once had imagined it might have)
 
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Feb 4, 2021 at 12:11 PM Post #2,752 of 2,790

Rockwell75

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Have you tried the Solaris SE with the Spinfit CP145's yet?? Or any spinfit for that matter.... They were a bit of a game changer for me (my twisty ear canals seem to mess up the sound more than I once had imagined it might have)

I've tried about every kind of tip under the sun (and probably spent enough to fund a decent IEM) and given the shape of my ears (right one in particular) there are only a select few that I can consistently get a seal with. So far the best ones for me are Spiral Dots and Sednas. I recently go a set of the OG lite Sednas and they work like a dream with Solaris SE-- the longer stem gives them some wiggle room and allows for a perfect, comfortable and sustainable seal. I've tried a few types of Spin Fits (the Ely comes with 145s I think) and I'm never able to get them to seal properly in my right ear. I hope you get to hear a Shanling M8 at some point-- I wager it would be an amazing pair-up with your Dorado and probably also with the Z1R.
 
Feb 4, 2021 at 12:57 PM Post #2,753 of 2,790

Tristy

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I've tried about every kind of tip under the sun (and probably spent enough to fund a decent IEM) and given the shape of my ears (right one in particular) there are only a select few that I can consistently get a seal with. So far the best ones for me are Spiral Dots and Sednas. I recently go a set of the OG lite Sednas and they work like a dream with Solaris SE-- the longer stem gives them some wiggle room and allows for a perfect, comfortable and sustainable seal. I've tried a few types of Spin Fits (the Ely comes with 145s I think) and I'm never able to get them to seal properly in my right ear. I hope you get to hear a Shanling M8 at some point-- I wager it would be an amazing pair-up with your Dorado and probably also with the Z1R.
Ahh that is a shame, I really rate the Spinfits but I can sympathise with your fitment issues. It may be worth getting some symbio S's, removing the foams and using the foam inserts with the Spinfits? I find this helps to get a better seal with tips which wouldn't have without them as it pushes the silicone against the ear canal. I can understand this is a lot of effort in order to just get a pair of tips to seal correctly but it might be worth it for you... or it might not. Either way, us with wonky ear canals have to look out for one another haha but yeah, definitely a fan of the Sedna's!

I would love to give it a try at some point! I haven't been interested in sources at all recently as the SE200 really seems to be ticking all the boxes for me. The only one which has caught my interest was the DX300 and its soundstage properties.
 
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Feb 4, 2021 at 11:59 PM Post #2,754 of 2,790

CoryS06

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Second Update of 2021-- Solaris SE revisited.

Caveats/opening points:

1) This list is just a reflection of my personal experience and preferences—it is by no means meant to be an objective appraisal of any IEMs’ value or worth.

2) What I am after, with the listening experience, is emotional involvement. All other factors-- technical proficiency, perceived tonal accuracy, neutrality etc.-- are secondary for me. That’s not to say that those factors don’t play a role—but for me they are simply the means to the desired end of emotional engagement.

3) Different brands each seem to have a distinct “house sound” or general tuning philosophy that resonates with different people in different ways. To use an analogy, I enjoy both Star Trek and Star Wars, but Star Wars strikes a deeper chord with me…not because it’s any better than Star Trek, but because it resonates more with me internally. I similarly connect with Campfire Audio IEMs in a way that I just don’t, or haven’t yet with, say, any 64 Audio IEMs I have heard. This does not mean I think Campfire is objectively “better”-- I just that happen to vibe more with their products and general aesthetic. I know there are many for whom the reverse is true however, as they say, YMMV.

4) The more time I spend in this hobby and the more IEMs I hear the less I feel inclined to break an IEM down into its constitutent parts—bass, mids, treble, technicalities etc. More important to me than individual factors are how they all play together and coalesce into the overall gestalt of an IEM’s presentation. For example, on paper the Elysium’s bass seems like a deal breaker…but in the context of the signature on the whole it’s absolutely perfect and, in retrospect, somewhat revolutionary.

Summit Tier-- The best I have tried.

1) Vision Ears Elysium =>
The Vision Ears Elysium has, in a very short time, totally and completely won me over. The mid-centric presentation with its subdued bass was a bit weird at first, especially after days of rapid fire jumps from the MEST to the Andro to the Solaris…but once I upped the gain on my n6ii and just sat back and let the Ely do its thing it wasn’t long before I was swept up in its beautiful textures and gentle nuances. The bass (or comparative lack thereof) was a bit jarring at first but once I forgot about trying to break things into pieces and isolate and compare and instead focused on the signature as a unity I found myself immersed in a blissful and beautiful world of sound-- I’ve thrown pretty much every kind of music I can think of at it – including lots of EDM, d&b other bass heavy stuff and, while often different than what I am used to, the Ely brings enough of its charm to the fore that, instead of lamenting change I find myself instead finding new things to love about old favorites. The Elysium is the first IEM I’ve heard that sounds a tier above everything else I’ve heard and it’s the first IEM I have heard that constitutes a clear and decisive upgrade from the Andromeda 2020 at doing what I value most in an IEM, namely its ability to connect and engage me emotionally with what I am listening to within a precisely laid out 3-d headspace. At first Elysium’s driver configuration struck me as crazy. Now I regard it as a brilliant act of vision and daring that was perfectly executed. Elysium review here.

2) Campfire Audio Solaris SE => After receiving the Elysium I tried to sell/trade my SE Solaris to recover funds and possibly fund another IEM. It was out of my hands for about a month and just the other day I received it back from an ill-fated trade and plugged it into my Shanling M8 for the first time. Suffice to say I was totally floored once again by this IEM and in particular with its synergy with the M8. Dynamic, engaging, spacious, impeccably staged with an inky black background. What is really apparent to me now, especially in light of my experience with the Elysium, is how good the mid-range of the SE is. I'm pretty sure this has to do with the ceramic tuning chamber the the SE (along with MW10 Andro, which has a similar character) alone among the Solaris variants has. I don't have enough memory of the OG Solaris to really comment but in retrospect this is what really one me over to the SE when I initially tried it. Male vocals in particular are incredible on this IEM-- moreso than even the Ely (which still wins the day for female vocals). Elysium also wins the day in terms of upper mids and the higher registers, where the SE just can't keep up with the level of minutia/detail that Ely provides. Conversely the Ely lacks the body and dynamic impact of the low end of the Solaris. Here we have two IEMs that compliment each other beautifully and both synergize magically with the Shanling M8-- after hearing this pairing for 3 days I cannot in good conscience rank the Ely a tier above the SE Solaris. The Elysium is peerless in my experience for its instrumental timbre, minutia in the upper registers, and capacity to facilitate a blissful intimacy with your music. The SE Solaris, on the other hand, combines top tier separation, staging and technicalities with a dynamic and impactful low end that doesn't detract from its rich and engaging mid-range-- there is no better IEM I've heard if you want to combine top tier staging and technicalities with an ability to just straight up rock out. Campfire and Vision Ears are my two favorite brands and these are my two favorite IEMs. Nicely done. (Here is a 4-way shootout I did with the SE Solaris, VE8, u12t and Legend X.)

Elite Tier-- the "I could live with one of these as my only IEM" tier

3) Campfire Solaris OG => Balanced and highly engaging all-rounder with solid technicalities across the board and a wonderful natural timbre. There are other IEMs that excel them at certain things but I haven’t found anything that does “everything” as well to my ears. I haven't heard one of these in 1.5 years so I'm not able to confidently say where the OG would stand in my rankings if I heard it again-- but it deserves this positon for posterity as it was the first IEM that truly wowed me and showed me what was possible with IEMs. It is a classic that will stand the test of time. Here is my OG Solaris review and

4) Campfire Audio Andromeda MW10 => After an impressive leap out of the gate and a couple hours of a/b’ing I came to the conclusion that the MW10 is basically a Solaris SE minus the DD. Ultimately I can't say for sure if the MW10's completely capturing my heart in the few hours after I got them is due to how much I've missed the "Andro sound" since selling my 2020 vs. whatever "secret sauce" the MW10 may have over other versions of the Andromeda...but wow they are utterly captivating to listen to. I rank them just slightly below the Solaris for reasons of personal preference, and that on the whole I find the Solaris to be essentially a refined and evolved Andromeda. Sadly I never got to compare the MW10 and 2020 directly but my gut is that that same tweaks and polishes that were brought to the Solaris SE also found themselves in the 2020. Interestingly the MW10 holds the same ceramic tuning chamber that, alone of the Solaris variants, the SE has inside it.

5) Campfire Andromeda 2020/Vision Ears VE8 => These comprise much of the essential DNA of my #2, but a little more coherent and minus the dynamic bass. The Andromeda is probably the most instantly accessible, easily likeable IEM I've heard and I can see why it remains the de-facto reference IEM for many even after all these years. Prior to owning the MW10 I would have said that I still prefer the Solaris overall as the dynamic low end and more "in your face" staging is more to my liking. However for someone looking for a "do everything" IEM that is immersive, inoffensive, and engaging it's hard to think of a better recommendation than the Andromeda...it puts many, much more expensive IEMs to shame

The VE8 evokes a similar emotional response to the Andromeda and differs a wee bit in that they sacrifice a bit of space between notes/instruments for a lusher, slightly thicker sound. I could be happy with either of these ultimately, but the air and spaciousness of the Andro sound may win the day for me in a pinch.

6) Unique Melody MEST => Addicting sub-bass, peerless staging and technicalities relative to what I have heard, and an airy top end sparkle. Ultimately they are a little more "v-shaped" than I like and on the whole I prefer the more forward and organic mids and balanced sound of IEMs like the Andromeda and Solaris. The MEST can be absolutely spell-binding to listen to with its insane technical response, but behind the pyrotechnics and flash, it doesn’t quite draw me in emotionally like the first 4 on this list do. Here is a 3-way comparison I did with the MEST, Andromeda and Solaris SE.

Excellence Tier-- the "each of these do something better than anything else in its class but ultimately don't work as well for me as an all rounder" tier.

7) Empire Ears Legend X => Bass cannon of the gods...peerless with genres like hip-hop and live funk, but not really an all-rounder-- the bass suffocates me as often as it rocks my world. In a sense the most notable thing about the Legend X is its midrange, specifically how it manages to be so present, bodied and detailed despite the insane bass. If you could get LX mids in something like the MEST the very earth might crack open due to the abundance of power and greatness that would generate. Please don’t tell me that’s what the Odin is as I have no plans (or means) to go there.

8) QDC Anole VX => My favorite bass from a BA set...a little fatiguing in the upper mids/lower treble...but that's its only real drawback. Superbly detailed, resolving vibrant and (imho) highly engaging for the most part, though it can at times sound a little too analytic and sterile.

9) 64 Audio u12t => I understand the love for these but I can't relate to it. They’re technically very proficient, tonally very safe...but ultimately not very exciting (to me). I once likened the u12t and Andromeda to the "mars and venus" of IEMs...and I stand by this to some extent. Listening to the u12t is intellectually stimulating-- it lays bare and presents accurately all the elements of whatever you're listening to, is gloriously detailed, and tonally capavble...but it all kind of falls flat for me and fails to evoke an emotional response. Conversely the Andromeda never fails to sweep me off my feet every time I listen to it. The u12t gets respect because it's great at what it does, but it's not for me.

10) CFA Andromeda Gold => I'm not sure if this placement has more to do with the qualities of the IEM itself or the fact that the Elysium has pretty much rendered the Andromeda irrelevant for me (which is why I describe the Ely as a wholesale upgrade to the Andromeda). I first heard the Gold shortly after it was released and it didn't really grab my attention. I heard it again a few days ago and it was the same thing. Maybe it's just a timing thing and that if I heard this IEM under better circumstances I would feel differently about it...but it's a classic case of an IEM that (for me) doesn't really rate as there are many others on this list that (imho) do what it does, only better. Don't let the ranking dissuade you though-- each IEM on this list is top tier and may be a dream come true for someone.

11) Sony IER Z1R => Delicious bass but imho not quite tight enough or worth the sacrifice to the lower mids. Signature wowed me at first but on the whole I found it a little fatiguing and disjointed between the highs and lows.

12) Campfire Audio Atlas => Loads of fun but treble can be intense at times and didn't really succeed as an all-rounder for me. As this list indicates pretty much everything I’ve owned since has bettered it.

On the Radar: EE Odin (fantasy), Erlkonig (fantasy), CFA Dorado 2020, Noble Sultan, 64 Nio, Dunu Zen



You've heard some really truly incredible IEMs over time. I can't even imagine. Like I have a list of IEMs I want to own one day and the Moodrop S8 is the highest I can possibly imagine owning or coming close to yet you have a list of 12 headphones that all cost more and you think are far superior. Just goes to show how wild this industry is with IEMs compared to headphones.
 
Feb 5, 2021 at 9:27 AM Post #2,755 of 2,790

Rockwell75

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You've heard some really truly incredible IEMs over time. I can't even imagine. Like I have a list of IEMs I want to own one day and the Moodrop S8 is the highest I can possibly imagine owning or coming close to yet you have a list of 12 headphones that all cost more and you think are far superior. Just goes to show how wild this industry is with IEMs compared to headphones.

Yes it is crazy...it almost reminds me of how laptop computers were about 15 years ago. If you bought the best there was at a given time it was only a matter of weeks or days before it was surpassed by something else. Personally I think we're going through something of a golden age of IEMs right now. There are a profound number of great IEMs at any price tier you choose to focus on. The S8 is around $700 new-- for that price you could get either a used Andromeda 2020 or a used Solaris OG, both of which wipe the floor with the S8 imho. There's also something like the newly released Dunu SA6, which is garnering many positive reviews. But you'd be surprised at how much great gear you can experience by judiciously buying and selling on the used market-- on my list above the only IEMs I bought new were the Elysium and the two Solari...the rest were bought used or were part of a loaner tour.
 
Feb 5, 2021 at 9:52 AM Post #2,757 of 2,790

Rockwell75

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Feb 28, 2021 at 8:20 AM Post #2,758 of 2,790

Quadfather

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It's mostly about personal taste.
I sometimes find it difficult to have things stuffed in my ears. But, I do love the portability.
 
Mar 3, 2021 at 1:34 AM Post #2,759 of 2,790

Lépine

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Well, in the early days of my computer audio learning (2009-2010) WASAPI changed how I felt about Foobar2000. It seemed to correct what seemed like timing changes. So then I went on 7 years of paranoia finally using only CDs in a transport. I’m not even sure of what I thought I heard as timing changes, and if it was real? We can create expectation bias. Though even in those early days PC and Apple playback sounded different to me.



Disclaimer:
I have never used this device but am so afraid of USB noise I will break my own rules and at least show an alternative to USB. Lol!

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/pi2aes-pro-audio-shield.948380/


What about the new Schiit products emerging at this point? I’m thinking even they are maybe on the USB witch-hunt? Obviously this is a multi faceted issue, with ground loop from the AC line, environmental noise “passing by” as well as PC internal noise creation. So? I mean there have even been people who believe the giant power towers above their house are sending noise into their DAC from the computer and USB cable. We know ground loop hum has affected amps (especially tube amps) since the start of this hobby in the 1950s, so why not now? If anything..........for you the optical will be a baseline (even though limited). Still what is amazing is many laptops have small optical outputs that people don’t even know they have? MacBooks used to have it. I have no real answers except at times I thought all this was real as daylight, so much of what we do is insurance safety in effort. :)

Still though, different amps have different impedance thus a new and different tone in the end.

Cheers! I want to hear the rest of your story when you get more ideas!

And.......especially how it relates to your impressions of IEM tone.
Been spending more time getting the bugs out of my system and making good progress. The sound that comes out of my desktop system is now quite impressive. I am able to hear and identify differences between Stradivarius and common violins. I can hear the difference between Steinways and Yamaha pianos. I can hear musicians turning their heads in different directions with true binaural stereo microphone recorded sessions.

I replaced more cabling with Kimber Kable (god the stuff is expensive) and added HQPlayer as a pre-upscaler from the Foobar2000 to the M-Scaler running everything going into M-Scaler as 2.8M x 32 bit. I've also changed the fuses in my power filter which cleaned the power line a little bit. Still running USB with a AQ Jitterbug. Can't run Toslink between the HQPlayer and M-Scaler...

I upgraded my headphone cables for my ZMF Verite Closed Back Camphor Burls to Lectrik S silver cables. Finally, I've upgraded the cable on my 64 Audio U18t to Gold and Silver braided wire, have no idea how many individual strands but it is an 8 wire braid.

And amping everything with a now well burned in HeadAmp GS-X Mini with the upgraded resistor ladder volume knob.

System is sounding very transparent now and running 2.8 DSD and Sinc-M algorithms throughout the digital portion of the system has smoothed out some of the earlier harshness. The rest of the analog section is running all balanced. Very close to sounding like my 2 channel Audio Research Labs and friend's Krells.

I still haven't changed my mind. I still like the 64 Audio U18t the best followed by a very different sounding Noble Khan, which can be a bit too much treble. Unfortunately, doesn't quite sound like my Focal Utopia or ZMF Verite Closed.
 
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Mar 3, 2021 at 2:43 AM Post #2,760 of 2,790

Redcarmoose

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DC Phase Linearizer
122345545.jpg

I have enjoyed the TA-ZH1ES hooked up to the Walkmans with 1) DC Phase Linearizer 2) DSD Remaster Engine 3) DSEE HX.

I have used the MDR-Z!R, MDR-Z7, DUNU Zen,SA6 and Sony IER-Z1R.

In use is the Cradle with AQCarbon.

I have found the results nice.




So I too found the Khan to be too upper mid-range, treble.

As long as your happy!

And my next review.......The TA-ZH1ES.
 
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