Pros: Solid construction, removable cable, great fit, soundstage, treble and bass extension.
Cons: Odd shape may cause fit issues, cable tangling issues, sibilance, upper mid spike, veil/grain in lower mids/mid-bass.
Tonal Balance: U-shaped with more emphasis on the upper mids than midbass.
Style: Over-ear IEMs
Listening Set-Up: Musicbee (FLAC) -> Matrix HPA-3U
Cost: $220 on Indiegogo
Reviewing ProcessI’ve had the LIFE IEM for over a month in which I have given it substantial head-time. I believe that the LIFE IEM benefit greatly from headtime either due to physical burn-in or psychological burn-in; either way my perception greatly changed over the course of the time. Over this course of time I feel that I’ve come to understand the sound of the LIFE IEM well enough to comment on them, but reviews are not a substitute for personal experience. I encourage all readers to personally demo any headphone before buying them.
Build & FitBuild
The LIFE IEMs are built seemingly well; over the course that I have had them I have, admittedly, used them rather roughly. I’ve thrown them in bags, left them in a hot car and have dropped them once or twice, whoops! The odd shaped design has held up though without a sign of wear on the two tone crescent shaped body. The cables are easily removed and replaced with a standard 2 pin fitting which helps with the longevity of the product. I have no worries about durability with the LIFE IEM thus far.
The crescent shaped body of the IEM is not only odd, but I found it difficult to get a solid grip on during insertion due to it. Insertion of the LIFE IEM is a bit of a pain because of this, but once inserted into the ears I find that they sit comfortably and firmly. Once seated properly I find that the LIFE IEMs provide a fantastic amount of isolation with only mild microphonics to note. I have found myself wearing these for two hours straight with no concerns about comfort.
On the whole the lower regions are mildly midbass focused while digging deeply to 10hz with no signs of unpleasant distortion. I love to use the bass shaker test in order to test the extremes of bass and I was happy to find that there was no signs of stress on the driver despite unrealistically loud volumes. In real world listening I find that the sub-bass is equally as competent as in the tests, digging deeply while providing a respectable amount of rumble in the lowest frequencies, certainly enough presence to satisfy bassheads without being largely overpowering. There are hints of grain and hints of sluggishness, but as a whole I find the deep lows satisfying with the tracks I’ve ran the LIFE IEM through the paces with.
The midbass is a mixed bag. The good is that the midbass has a rather quick decay time and packs a satisfying punch. The bad is that there is veil and grain at times, accented moreso by music with organic instruments rather than electronica. Hot Chip’s The Warning is a great example of when the deficiencies of the midbass works to its advantage. The soft and fuzzy electronic kick drum of The Warning packs a satisfying thump while recovering quickly and cleanly. The grain isn’t a factor as the song naturally has a soft fuzz to it, in-fact the LIFE IEM do the fuzziness of the kick justice. The bad is accented on Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, where the tom hits sound muffled while also sounding artificial. The midbass works well with pop music though such as Madonna’s Like a Prayer where the thickness of the midbass accents the bass melody nicely, giving added energy to the already lively track. As I said, it’s really a mixed bag.
Mids & Highs
Much like the midbass, the midrange is an entirely mixed bag. Firstly the lower midrange suffers from a recession. The recession isn’t huge but it’s accented by the prominence of the midbass and further accented by the forward upper midrange. The lower midrange also suffers from the veil of the midbass and much like the veil of the midbass, the veil in the lower midrange is more present some times than others. I find that acoustic guitars suffer the most, lacking correct tonality or clarity about them with male vocals being affected almost as much. The tonal accuracy of the lower midrange is off and the veil does nothing to help.
The upper midrange lacks complete tonal accuracy, but female vocals, banjos and electric guitars sound noticeably more realistic and clear than the lower midrange. The upper midrange suffers from being too forward though. Snare drums often sound borderline painful while the rest of the music is at a comfortable listening volume and the aforementioned instruments at the beginning of this paragraph often sound louder in the mix than any other instrument. The upper midrange is so prominent that it pushes the prominent midbass back a step on the stage. With brightness also comes sibilance and the LIFE IEM do increase the presence of sibilance within a song making sibilant heavy songs near unlistenable at my preferred listening volumes.
The highs are extended well and are done so cleanly. Horns sound rather good and the brightness of the upper midrange doesn’t extend as far up enough to make trumpets and the like hard to listen to. The highs also carry a slight sense of air, coming off slightly breathy and roomy.
Despite the issues present within the midrange, I find that it’s capable of good detail retrieval overall. I feel that I’m rarely missing out on any portion of the song or it’s subtle nuances, rather I find that the tonality or clarity is lacking. As I’ve said, it’s mixed bag and a bit confusing at times.
With no hyperbole, the LIFE IEM have the best sense of stereo imaging and separation that I can recall hearing in an IEM. The sense of depth that they provide is astonishing, accurately portraying the distance from listener to instrument, while similarly providing a good sense of space between each instrument. What is equally impressive is the accuracy of instruments positioning on the soundstage, each instrument having it’s own layer and proper sense of direction which allows me to absorb myself in the many layers of sound presented. Despite being an IEM there’s even a mild sense of air through these, music seems to drift upwards and outwards adding a subtle softness to the presentation of the sound and an enhanced sense of openness.
I don’t think that I’m going to be able to properly describe the presentation in the way that I would like to, but this is as close to stereo imaging that I’ve heard in an IEM thus far.
I have greatly changed my opinion on these many times during my review process. Initially I found them overly bassy and muddy and after some time I found the upper mid range took the focus. It took me a bit to really get a feel for these and after I have two things have really dampened my enjoyment of the sound: veil/grain in the midbass/lower mids and the peakiness in the upper mids.
The LIFE IEM do the soundstage incredibly well though, easily outclassing even many open full-sized headphones in imaging accuracy and depth. I continue to be impressed even with a pair ZMF Vibro and a pair of Audion Zenith PM-x2 sitting on my desk.
If you primarily listen to music that uses acoustic guitars, drums or has male focused vocals then the LIFE IEM won't be for you as the veil/grain will distract from enjoyment. For those who enjoy pop music and lo-fi electronic beats like J. Dilla, Nujabes and Baths the LIFE IEM are worth considering as the issues that bother me with organic instruments aren't nearly as prevalent and the tonal balance complements the genre nicely.