The Watercooler -- Impressions, philosophical discussion and general banter. Index on first page. All welcome.
Apr 24, 2021 at 11:44 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 65,459


Headphoneus Supremus
Jan 5, 2019
BC, Canada
Welcome to the Watercooler!

This is a place where all are welcome. We are gathered here to share impressions, to participate in discussions, to cultivate love & enthusiasm for this hobby and to partake in the joy of fellowship and community.

Thread expectations: While discussion will obviously be centred around portable audio and everything relating to it there is no “off topic” here so long as the tone is respectful and and the vibe sincere. My personal ideal within the context of discussing gear is constructive and useful information within an overall climate of appreciation. When it comes to sharing impressions remember to use tact-- the gear you are trashing is probably loved by someone. People are not unfeeling stones so if you need to be critical stick to matters of fact-- keep the value judgements out of it. That being said I am game to discuss anything and everything here so long as proper norms of respectful interaction are maintained.

Common language for discussing gear: It is very important for those of us posting impressions to have something resembling a common language. I would suggest that for the purposes of this thread that J Gordon Holt's Audio Glossary and the definitions therein serve as our baseline.

Watercooler Summer 2023 Community Survey

Watercooler Summer 2023 Poll

Watercooler Spring 2023 Poll

CanJam NYC Impressions

Pre-CanJam NYC Poll

Happy New Year Everyone-- January 1, 2023 is upon us for those of us on the pacific coast of North American. As such our 2022 IEM of the year poll is closed. I will unveil the results in succession-- please keep refreshing this post over the next 10 minutes.

We received 67 votes altogether.

1st Place - 2022 Watercooler IEM of the Year

With 10 votes the clear winner of this poll, an IEM that hit the scene with a bang in the first quarter of this year with its bombastic, addictive and highly technical sound and which has been holding it's place and steadily waxing in popularity throughout the course of this whole year, lady and gentlemen, I give you:

The Fir Audio Xe6

2nd Place

In second place with 6 votes we have:

Unique Melody Multiverse Mentor

3rd Place

The following IEMs are tied for 3rd place with 4 votes each:

AK/Empire Odyssey
Vision Ears Phönix
Campfire Audio Trifecta
Noble Viking Ragnar

4th Place

The following IEMs are tied for 4th place with 3 votes each:

Oriolus Traillii
Subtonic Storm
FAudio Mezzo

5th Place

The following IEMs are tied for 5th place with 2 votes each:

Campfire Supermoon
Sony IER Z1R
Aroma Jewel
Fir Kr5
UM Indigo
Empire Ears EVO

6th Place

The following IEMs received one vote each and are all tied for 6th place:

Meze Advar
Vison Ears VE8
Dita Perpetua
UM Red Halo
FAudio Dark Sky
Letshouer S12
JH Sharona
Noble Kublai Khan
Noble Sultan
7Hz Timeless AE
Vision Ears VE7
Vision Ears Phonix LE
UM Fusang

It's funny how when you can choose 5 IEMs people are freer to explore a bit. Also, it seems the Bird is still soaring and is moving into 2023 still staring down at us all.

Traillii x25
Mentor x24
Xe6 x21
Jewel x20

IER Z1R x16
Odyssey x15
Trifecta x13
a/u12t x10
Phonix x10
Blanc/Noir x10

Supermoon x8
Indigo x8
EXT x7
Ragnar x6
Kr5 x6
EVO x5
Annihilator x5
a/u18t x4
Andromeda x4

Diva x3
Elysium x3
Fourte x3
IE900 x3
KSE 12/1500 x3
Legend X x3
Turii Ti x3
Viking Damascus x3
Odin x3

Pathfinder x2
Solaris x2
Monarch MKii x2
ElysianX x2
u/a18s x2
Red Halo x2
Kublai Khan x2
MESTMkii x2
Xelento 2 x2
Storm x2
Isabellae x2
Phonix LE x2
Jolene x2
Mason FS x2
LCDi4 x2
Turii x2
Sultan x2
Mezzo x2
Hook-X x2

Tia Trio
IE100 Pro
Fibae 5
Zen Pro
Oriolus MKii
Maestro SE
Kaiser Encore
Fitear 111

1) Traillii x26

2) Xe6 x16
3) Jewel x14
4) Indigo x13
5) Odyssey x8
6) Odin x7
7) Evo x7
8) Viking Ragnar x6
9) Annihilator x6
10) Supermoon x6
11) EXT x6
12) Szalayi x5
13) IER Z1R x5

14) Multiverse Mentor x4
15) Mason FS x4
16) Phönix x4
17) TZ700 x3
18) X x3
19) a/u12t x2
20) HS2000MX x2
21) IE 600 x2
22) Diva x2
23) Kublai Khan x2
24) Trifecta x2
25) Turi Ti x2
26) Penon Legend x2
27) Red Halo x2
28) Kr5 x2
29) Pathfinder x2
30) Andromeda x2
31) Thunder x2
32) Fourte x2
33) ISN EST50 x2
34) u18s x2
35) Solaris SE x2
36) Fourte Noir x2

37) Equinox
38) F-Audio Mezzo
39) Zen Pro
40) Legend X
41) Elysium
42) Infinity MK2
43) Twilight
44) Prelude
45) IE100
46) Sultan
47) Trio
48) MAD24
49) LCDi4
50) Penon Volt
51) Solaris OG
52) Anima
53) Wraith
54) VE8
55) S12
56) Turii
57) Variations
58) Duo
59) Blessing 2 Dusk
60) Fiio FD5
61) V16 Divinity
62) Vesna
63) Jolene
64) KSE 1500
65) Storm
66) Mason 2
67) u18t
68) Fusang

CanJam SoCal Impressions

Sitting here back at home over coffee & relaxing with my cats on Sunday morning trying to gather my thoughts over what was a thrilling, exhausting, emotional, breakneck, and ultimately eminently satisfying weekend. My heart, mind and spirit are full right now-- and not merely from the fact that for two days I was essentially a kid in the candy store I've been dreaming of for the last two years. On the surface I came to SoCal to demo gear, and indeed that was a pre-eminent highlight of the weekend. But in retrospect I can tell even now that the true magic of this past weekend, besides it being my CanJam deflowering, was the fellowship and community I share with so many fellow enthusiasts this last few days-- something no doubt magnified tremendously by the crushing weight of isolation so many felt over the course of the last few years. It was so nice to attach faces to so many names, to see people light up in person when hearing something for the first time, or to directly share the joy with someone when you're both talking about something you both love.

Regarding the events of this weekend I am reminded of the following quote:

"To a traveler standing near a mountain range many eminences seem to have approximately the same altitude; it is difficult to disengage Everest from its lofty neighbors. But as the range recedes in the distance, the highest peak lifts more and more above its fellows, until it alone fills the horizon."

I imagine something similar will hold true with respect to the community bonding of the last few days.

Following will be my best attempt at an impressions post of the last few days. Before I get going a couple general caveats and points to note regarding my impressions.

1) Most of what I will be talking about are IEMs & sources that I heard for the first time this weekend. As such I will not pretend to be able to be truly comprehensive with anything as my demos in all cases were by necessity brief and done along side the breakneck pace and underlying excitement, noise and enthusiasm of the event. The most I can say now is simply whether or not I liked something and what I noticed off the cuff. Everything I say here is subject to revision pending more time & thought with the gear in question.

2) I try to avoid saying things like "a is better than b" in a general way as quite often a and b don't really compare in an apples-apples way. Is the Aroma Jewel "better" than the Fir Kr5? depends. They both do totally different things and either could be "better" or totally undesirable depending on what you're looking for and what you prioritize.

3) I have a fetish for single driver setups as I feel the coherence you get is worth its weight in audio gold. Because I put a lot of stock in this something like my Campfire Supermoon excels for me in ways that no hybrid setup, no matter how complex or nuanced, can compete with. This might not hold for you and, well, YMMV there.

4) All listening here, unless otherwise noted, was done through my AK SR25ii.

Started the event of right with one of our custom Watercooler name tags courtesy of @HiFiHawaii808

Favorite IEMs heard:

The Campfire Trifecta was the show stopper for me. Impressions of this IEM so far have been very mixed—with I would say the majority being less than favorable somehow. I had thought to myself that CFA had at best a bit of a misfire on their hands. That being said I wasn’t even expecting the Trifecta to be at the show given that it’s a limited edition, sold out everywhere, and most importantly that Campfire wasn’t even going to be present. It was then with a combination of surprise, delight and trepidation that came over me when, immediately entering the show floor on Saturday morning, the first thing that grabbed my attention at the Bloom table was the Trifecta in a disembodied hand reaching from the clouds and beckoning me to listen. I wasn’t expecting much and I am ashamed to say that it was mostly morbid curiosity that compelled me to sit down and listen. Trifecta impressed me immediately with it’s massive ballsy sound, impeccable coherence, solid resolution and beautiful dynamic & analogue timbre. This is a sound that completely embraces you with warmth and depth and takes you for a ride. Unlike CFA’s previous DD only units that suffered from some combination of veiled mids, metallic treble, overdone bass or crap extension—the Trifecta, in my brief time with it, gets everything right. Bear in mind that I’m a bass & lower mids fiend, as that is what a lot of my library is, and I don’t listen to a lot of female vocals. I went back to the table 4 times over the two days and gave the Trifecta a good once over and continued to find it utterly compelling with the only false note being treble that is a touch aggressive (but nicely extended and never metallic) at times…but never to the point that I hit skip. CFA’s house sound has always existed along two prongs. You have the highly technical with a dash of fun sound of the Andromeda and utterly perfected in the Supermoon, and then you have the more hair on the beast & what I characterize as a “balls deep in dynamic swagger” type sound that Ken Ball has been obviously been passionate about for years but never quite perfected until now. The three DDs in the Trifecta, positioned as they are, act as so many matches whose intensity increases exponentially when they are brought together give the illusion that one is listening to a full size single DD headphone. Single DD and single driver enthusiasts should give the Trifecta a serious look. Approach it with an open mind, you may be very pleasantly surprised.

Hot on the heels of the CFA Trifecta was the Noble Viking Ragnar. Ragnar may be the closest thing to a bonafide Traillii competitor I’ve yet heard. I was able to hear the Ragnar over a few demos starting with an early peek on Friday night. The sound is pleasantly energetic and immediately engaging with the highlight, I would say, being the midrange. I never had any issues with the upper mids or highs but for those who like a more relaxed presentation this may not be the best option. It’s not exactly a basshead either— I would say it’s between Jewel and Traillii in quantity and arguably superior in quality to either. Recommended for people who enjoy the Jewel but would like something a little more energetic and engaging. I could even see this being a great compliment to the Bird for many. Also build quality is utterly top tier—that Damascus shell is really something. Puts the Jewel to shame in this dept. The cable is excellent too.

Astell & Kern Odyssey. I was eager to hear this IEM because of some private chats I’ve had with some EE enthusiasts I consider reliable. The hope is that it would be something along the lines of an IEM with bass quantity more than Odin but less than EVO and less upper mids than both IEMs. There is nothing at all fatiguing about this IEM so if you’re on the fence because of EE’s prior upper mid tuning (I finally got to hear Evo this weekend and the upper mids there murdered my ears) but really love their sound otherwise this may well be the IEM you’re dreaming of. I will say one thing here about this IEM and EE’s sound in general that I have noticed from my experience with LX, Odin and Bravado II. Empire Ears house sound consists in what I refer to as an “observer oriented” presentation. When listening to their IEMs you’re in the perspective of an audience member watching the presentation about a row or two back. Sony is another company I would say has this sort of presentation and I could see it appealing especially to old school 2 channel enthusiasts. It stands in contrast to what I would describe as an “in your face” presentation where, instead of from the perspective of an audience member, you’re totally immersed in the sound—it’s all around you. Campfire Audio is a company who specializes in this type of sound and my overall preference for it is one of the things that has endeared me to this brand over the year. Fir Audio is another one. I would say the Noble Viking Ragnor is slightly in this category and this, along with its midrange emphasis contrasted with the more bass centred sound of the Odyssey (which is by no means a basshead IEM but whose bass grabs your attention more than the Ragnar, whose midrange & highs are more central) comprise the biggest differences between these two IEMs. Both are top tier—choose your poison.

The Unique Melody Multiverse Mentor was my first exposure to UM’s Mason line and I was impressed off the bat—full spectrum goodness with great BA/BC bass and mids so seductive I wonder how this IEM comes from the same company responsible for the synthetic mids that characterize the whole Mest lineup to my ears. Imagine a Phonix minus a bit of the midrange magic (VE are still among the GOATS here) but better everything else and you have the Mentor. If I wasn’t so inherently averse to BAs (despite how good this is) I would be seriously considering it. Of the other UM IEMs I listened to the Mentor is most like the Mason FS...which I consider to be a slight downgrade.

I was enjoying breakfast with some fellow Watercooler-ers on Saturday morning and I had a chance to hear @morserotonin's Aroma Thunder. I didn’t know what to expect at first. Jewel (build quality aside) is a summit fi IEM for sure but it’s too reference sounding for me—YMMV there—and on account of that I’d kind of kept the Aroma Thunder hype at bay. When I put them in my ears I was totally blown away. They’re not the most sophisticated sound perhaps but they’re super engaging with fantastic bass, present clear mids, well extended treble and don’t do anything really wrong that I could detect. Perhaps not the best in any single category but I’m at a loss to find many IEMs that are as much of a fun yet sufficiently technical sounding total package that the Thunder is.

Favorite sources: For me this is a tie between the Hiby RS8 and the Sony WM1ZM2.
The RS8 has a beautifully seductive and analogue is a perfect match with my Supermoon. Software seems a little laggy and buggy to me at times—the player froze a few times on me when trying to navigate and sweet jumping jebus is the player a brick. It’s the heaviest DAP on the market and for be very hard to pocket given it’s tendency to pull one’s pants down. I don’t have a lot of experience here but the RS8 is just what I’d imagined a TOTL R2R to sound like—a flowing river of analogue & technical sound. On the other hand Sony sexy is a thing. My demo with the WM1ZM2 was not ideal because it wouldn’t let me load my own SD card into it—as such my demo was very superficial and I didn’t get to listen to any songs I know. But damn that player is a work of aesthetic perfection and is probably edging the RS8 for me for just that reason.

Disappointments: The Elysian Diva didn't impress me-- which is too bad because that was the one IEM I’d squirreled away funds for and thought I might buy. It gives you a taste of the top tier treble Elysian is known for, and the mids are decent enough but…the bass does not do it for me. The thing with Elysian so far for me, which is kind of the inverse of a problem with many IEMs that focus too much on bass to the expense of mids or treble, is that while the treble is summit fi the bass often is far from it. On the Diva the bass was too boomy for me on the max setting and on the middle setting the Diva like a low-res Supermoon (which I was a/b’ing with it) with limp bass and marginally more seductive mids. On its own terms the Diva may even be a great IEM but for me having the Supermoon more-or less renders it redundant.

The Astell & Kern SP3K seemed mediocre coming from RS8 and didn't do the Odyssey any favors to my ears. I didn’t even like the Odyssey until I plugged it into my SR25ii.

I tried the UM Indigo on two occasions. It didn’t really connect with me for the same reason neither prior Mest I’ve heard has fully connected with me—it’s a technical powerhouse with zero emotion in the mids. Once the fireworks wear off there’s nothing of substance for me to sink my heart and teeth into.

I tried the Dunu planar hybrid (in planar only mode) and it was…well...meh. Coming from Supermoon’s stage &, especially, the fantastic bass it just didn’t cut it. Even at the $200 price point I’d probably still take the Timeless. YMMV.

Other random points:

1) The Aroma Ace is a great all BA IEM, as is the Oriolus Mellianus-- both are overpriced though.

2) Traillii may very well still be the GOAT-- it knocked my socks off today, and through my SR25ii no less. I put it in and literally lost track of time for like 30 minutes in lala land.. given the events and surroundings that is noteworthy. Still not sure about the bass in the long term though.

3) The Elysian Annihilator is mostly a great IEM— hearing its treble performance through the Hiby RS8 was a thing to behold. But the bass is too weak and loose for it to be a top tier IEM for me. The tragic thing is this may not even be a tuning problem but a cheap driver problem—if the Annihilator had a bass driver of the same quality as CFA, EE or Sony’s…and less power demanding e-stats…well this could make me want to spend $4K on it. As it stands now it falls short of the mark for me.

4) I loved the Fourte and it's my presently my favourite 64 IEM. Still it’s showing its age on today’s market. I’ve heard rumours of a Fourte MKii possibly on the horizon and I will be watching for tha VERY closely. u18t is just as sterile as I remember and Trio is still too thin and bright for me.

5) Thanks to @theveterans I heard an OG Andromeda for the first time ever in the form of a Pacific Blue edition and I absolutely loved it. I think I may even prefer it to the 2020...would need to a/b. Hiss free through my SR25ii.

6) I really enjoyed my time chatting with Eric from Eletech—he’s one of the most passionate and kind people I’ve met in this hobby. I tried the Ode to Laura and it wasn’t the best match with my Supermoon-- it totally nerfed the bass but it did a lot of clarity to the mids & highs. Ironically this may have made me a full on cable believer. Talking to Eric about this and we figure the gold plated copper of my Victoria may offer the perfect synergy with Supermoon. We talked about the Jewel and he said it’s the IEM he uses to tune but that he wouldn’t listen to it for enjoyment. That’s basically how I see it.

7) The Stax 009 & Blue Hawaii is the greatest headphone/IEM product I've ever heard. And it's not close. Well actually Susvara is a close second. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to anything else for like an hour after I heard it.

8) Biggest out of nowhere was the EE/Elysian collab Gaea. I picked it up when I had 5 minutes to kill in an idle moment and it totally surprised me. I liked it more than Diva—it’s got much better bass at the very least. It was an enaging & dynamic set but consider this only the hottest of hot takes because of how short it was. I’m fortunate to be part of a tour and should get ears on this again soon. Stay tuned.

9) Perhaps the biggest surprise was this small Singaporean company called FatFreq. I actually met them all in the elevator when I first arrived and was heading out to my room and finally got around to checking out their table on Sunday morning. I tried their Maestro (?) sub-flagship and entry level models. These IEMs have some of most singularly unique and engaging bass I’ve ever heard in an IEM. Impressive still is all the mid-range and top end clarity. I would have bought the $500 mini-Maestro for $500 except there was no vent on the front and the BA was sitting right there. I’d be to paranoid a fleck of dust would get in and wreck it. Still I will be following these guys (and girl) and will be purchasing one of their IEMs eventually. Watch for them.

@HiFiHawaii808 @discord and all the other Cooler members I was privileged to meet are great people. Was a beautiful and exhausting couple days I will never forget.

Edit: Since this post made the front page and they used the above pic as the showcase it's worth pointing out that the above members are all regulars at our Watercooler Thread.

Left -> Right
@Shecky504 CanJam impressions here
@discord Impressions here
@stacey Impressions here. And here.
@HiFiHawaii808 Impressions here

Also Musicteck/Andrew is the Goat of Goats. It was fun meeting my dealer in person for the first time.

As a plus I got to enjoy some Michelin Star (vegan) Ramen (along with some vegan water LMAO).

As a final gesture this little guy bid me farewell:

It was a slice everyone...thanks for the memories.



1) Oriolus Traillii x19
2) 64 audio a/u12t x18
3) VE EXT x15
4) Sony IER-Z1R x14
5) VE Phönix x14
6) EE Evo x13
7) FiR XE6 x13
8) Aroma Jewel x12
9) Sennheiser IE900 x10
10) UM MEST Indigo x10
11) EE Odin x9
12) Elysian Annihilator x7

The above constitutes the Top 12 of the 12's

13) CFA Supermoon x6
14) Elysian X x6
15) EE Legend X x6
16) Oriolus Isabellae x6
17) CFA Solaris x5
18) Dunu Zen Pro x5
19) VE Elysium x5
20) 64 Fourte Noir x5
21) UM Mason x5
22) VE Erlkonig x5
23) Technics EAH-TZ700 x5
24) UM MEST MKii x5
25) CFA Dorado 2020 x4
26) Oriolus Szalayi x4
27) UM Red Halo/LE Jardin x4
28) 64 a/u18s x3
29) 64 audio Fourte x3
30) 64 audio Tia Trio x3
31) MMR Thummim x3
32) QDC Anole VX x3
34) Sennheiser IE600 x3
35) Meze Advar x3
36) Noble Kublai Khan x3
37) UM MEST OG x3
38) 64 Audio u6t x2
39) Aroma Ace x2
40) Fir KR5 x2
41) Fir Ne4 x2
42) Noble Viking x2
43) Rhapsodio Eden x2
44) Softears Turi x2
45) Sony XBA N3 x2
46) Thieaudio Monarch MKii x2
47) Yanyin Moonlight x2
48) Final shichiku.kangen x2
49) Campfire Andromeda 2020 x2
50) Shure KSE-1200/1500 x2
51) JVC HA-FW10000
52) Dunu Luna
53) 64 a/u18t
54) Soranik Bastille Audiophile
55) Noble Sultan
56) Hidition Viento
57) CFA Andromeda S
58) Sony IER M9
59) Nostalgia Audio Camelot
60) Canalworks U91 PSTS
61) Ambient Acoustics MAD24
62) Tri Starlight
63) Penon Vortex
64) IMR Ozar
65) Final A4000
66) Tin Hifi P1 Max
67) Hifiman RE800
68) Hyla TE-5B
69) Jomo Trinity Brass
70) Earsonics Stark
71) EE Zeus
72) Noble K-10
73) Jomo Flamenco
74) Dita Perpetua
75) Inear Profile 8
76) IMR Dark Matter
77) Softears Cerberus
78) Softears RSV
79) 64 Audio Nio
80) EE Legend X SE
81) DC Ti
82) Aroma Thunder
83) QDC Solo
84) Raptgo Hook
85) Lime Ears Pneuma
86) Thieaudio V16
87) Obravo Ra C Cu
88) Oriolus MK II
89) CCR CRA+
90) Hifiman RE2000
91) Cayin Fantasy
92) Tin Hifi T5
93) Moondrop Illumination
94) Acoustune HS1551CU
95) 7Hz i99
96) Vision Ears VE8
97) EE Bravado MK 1
98) Noble Audio Savant
99) Rhapsodio Infinity mkII
100) Rhapsodio Supreme mkII
101) Earsonics Grace
102) Earsonics EM32
105) Earsonics EM10
106) Custom Art Fibae 7 Ultimate
107) Astell&Kern AKT8ie mkII
108) EE Wraith
109) Final A8000
110) UM MEXT
111) Thieaudio Clairvoyance

Full Size

1. Hifiman Susvara x8
2. Abyss 1266 Phi TC x7
3. Focal Utopia x5
4. DCA Stealth x4
5. Sennheiser HD800 x4
6. Stax SR-X9000 x3
7. T+A Solitaire x3
8. ZMF Atrium x3
9. Audeze LCD-4 x2
10. HEDDphone x2
11. Verite C x2
12. Sennheiser HD800S
13. Sony MDR-Z1R
14. Meze Empyrean x2
9. Verite Open
10. Real SR1A
12. Audeze LCD-R
15. HD 6XX
19. Grado GS3000
20. DCA Ether C Flow
21. Sony MDR Z1R
22. Audeze LCD 3
23. ZMF Auteur
24. Meze Elite x3
25. Stax SR Omega
26. Sennheiser HE60
27. Audio Technics ATH-W11
28. Audeze LCD X
29) TH900
30) Focal Stellia
31) Sony MDR-Z7M2
32) Audeze LCD 2
33) Audeze CRBN
34) Final D1000 Pro

The Elite

Traillii x19
Jewel x15
Xe6 x14
MEST x13
IER Z1R x10

The Favorites

Evo x7
EXT x6
a/u12t x5
Fourte/Noir x5
Mason x5
Phonix x5

The Greats

Annihilator x4
Supermoon x3
Thunder x3
Solaris x3
Andromeda x2
Anole VX x2
a/u18t x2
Dorado 2020 x2
Erlkonig x2
Isabellae x2
Khan x2
Legend x2
Legend X x2
Odin x2
Trio x2
Turii x2
X x2
Zen Pro x2

Aether R
Dark Matter
Fibae 7
Oriolus MKii
Tri Starlight

(Conducted over Easter weekend, April 16-18, 2022)



King's Table

Jewel x12
EXT x11
XE6 x11
Mason x10
Odin x10
Phonix x10

The above could be considered the true "heart of the cooler" at the moment.


Fourte x6
a/u12t x5
EVO x5
Legend X x4
Indigo x4
Andromeda x3
Ne4 x3
X x3
Annihilator x2
Dorado 2020 x2
FA10000 x2
Infinity MkII x2
Isa x2
Nio x2
Thummim x2
Timeless x2

Legacy IEMs (those above that have been out since at least 2019):

Legend X


Aionic 3
G Buds 2
Hyla CE5
Oriolus MKii
Penon Legend
Phantom LE
Savant 2
Shingiku Kangen

Top Brands Mentioned:

Vision Ears x 23 (4 different IEMs)
Oriolus x 20 (3 different IEMs)
EE x 19 (5 different IEMs)
Fir x 15 (3 different IEMs)
UM x 15 (??? different IEMs)
Aroma x 14 (3 different IEMs)
Sony x 13 (1 IEM)

Some thoughts at this point:
  • Elder statesman IER Z1R keeps showing it has what it takes to keep up with the young bucks.
  • VE's two flagships both have an impressive showing and VE is also the most well represented brand here.
  • The Xe6 is the reigning champ of the Fir lineup here
  • Aroma putting in a very strong showing considering how expensive and until recently rare it was
  • The Bird is still king.
  • Timeless & Isa are the lone sub $1K IEMs in the upper echelons.
  • The biggest question in my mind is how Elysian would have fared if more here had heard their IEMs. (Tempted to blind buy the new one myself.)
  • The top of the top above comprise a fairly diverse array of tunings which is nice to see-- we like variety here, a sign of a healthy community.
  • It was nice to see Penon get some love-- based on what I've heard their IEMs don't get as much recognition as they should in light of other similar brands that are over hyped.

Thread Index

Impressions & Reviews

64 Audio Duo Impressions begin here by @Rockwell75
64 Audio u12t Impressions by @tgx78
64 Audio u6t Impressions by @Neweymatt
64 Audio u6t Impressions by @ranfan
7Hz Timeless Impressions by @HiFiHawaii808
7Hz Timeless Impressions by @Rockwell75
Alambic Ears Mentawai Impressions by @ian91
Aroma Witch Girl W6.2 Impressions and some more by @Rockwell75
Astell & Kern SR25ii Impressions by @ranfan
Audeze Overview by @Tchoupitoulas
Audiosense DT600 Impressions by @Rockwell75
Audiosense DT600 impressions by @tgx78
BQEYZ Impressions by @KutuzovGambit
Campfire Andromeda 2020 Impressions by @Daniel Lodewyk
Campfire Andromeda 2020 Impressions by @Rockwell75
Campfire Dorado 2020 Review by @Rockwell75
Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 Impressions by @SBranson
Campfire Holocene impressions and again with the n3Pro by @Rockwell75
Campfire Honeydew Impressions by @ranfan
Campfire Honeydew Impressions by @Rockwell75
Camprfire Honeydew Review by @Rockwell75
Campfire Solaris OG Review by @Rockwell75
Campfire Solaris SE Impressions by @Rockwell75
Cayin Fantasy Impressions by @Rockwell75
Cayin n6ii TI impressions by @blotmouse
Cayin RU6 & Dunu Zen Pro Impressions by @Stuff Jones
Dunu Zen Pro Review by @Rockwell75
Dunu Zen Pro Impressions by @Scuba Devils
Dunu Zen Pro Impressions by @Stuff Jones
Dunu Zen Pro Impressions by @tgx78
Elysian Acoustic Labs X Impressions by @Damz87
Elysian Acoustic Labs X Impressions by @snapandslide
Empire Ears Bravado MKii Impressions by @Rockwell75
Empire Ears Odin Impressions by @hlee227
Empire Ears Odin Impressions by @Rockwell75
Empire Ears Odin Impressions by @tgx78
FAudio Dark Sky Impressions by @Scuba Devils
FAudio Dark Sky Impressions by @ranfan
Fiio FD7 Impressions by @Rockwell75
Fiio FD7 Impressions by @tgx78
Fiio FD7 Impressions by @ranfan
Fiio FH5s Pro Impressions by @Ace Bee
Fiio M17 Initial Thoughts by @davidmolliere
GS Audio SE12 Impressions by @Rockwell75
GS Audio SE12 Impressions by @tgx78
IMR Splash of Red Impressions by @Ace Bee
Luxury & Precision W2 Impressions by @tawmizzzz
Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk Impressions by @Rockwell75
Moondrop Kato Impressions by @Rockwell75
Moondrop Spring Tips by @ian91
Newbsound 32Pro Impressions by @tgx78
NF Audio NM2+ Impressions by @Rockwell75
Oriolus Isabellae early impressions by @Deezel177
Oriolus Isabellae Impressions by @Rockwell75
Oriolus Isabellae Impressions Part II by @Rockwell75
Oriolus Isabellae Review by @Rockwell75
Oriolus Isabellae Impressions by @Tchoupitoulas
Oriolus Percivali Impressions by @Rockwell75
Oriolus Reborn impressions by @tgx78
Oriolus Traillii impressions by @Rockwell75
Penon Fan Impressions by @DunkFealer
Penon Serial Impressions by @davidmolliere
Sennheiser IE900 Impressions by @Mehran
Shanling M8 by @Rockwell75
Softears RS10 Impressions by @Rockwell75
Softears RS10 Impressions by @tgx78
Softears Turii Impressions by @jwilliamhurst
Sony EX1000 Impressions by @Damz87
Tansio Land impressions by @Ace Bee
Tansio Spark Impressions by @Rockwell75
Thieaudio Monarch MKii Impressions by @HiFiHawaii808
Thieaudio Monarch MKii Impressions by @tgx78
UM Mason FS Impressions by @jwilliamhurst
UM MEST Indigo Impressions by @HiFiHawaii808
UM MEST Indigo Impressions by @discord
Vision Ears Elysium Review by @Rockwell75
Vision Ears VE8 Impressions by @HiFiHawaii808
Yincrow X6 Impressions by @Scuba Devils

Shootouts & Comparisons

Ace Bee - Timeless vs Aladdin
Ace Bee - IMR Splash of Red vs Dunu Falcon Pro
Damz87 - Elysian Labs X vs. Odin
DanielListening - Andromeda vs. Holocene
DanielListening - Onyx vs. Andromeda 2020
endless402 - Ely & Percivalli Impressions
gLer - Ranking List
HarlanDraka - Oriolus Reborn vs Mest MKii Impressions
HarlanDraka - MEST, u12t, Reborn shootout
jwilliamhurst - Isa vs. Eden
jkjk123 - Zen Pro vs. FD7
ranfan - Great impressions of some IEMs
ranfan - Thoughts on Warbler Prelude, C/2019 & Isa
ranfan Brief thoughts on CFA C4/Holocene vs VE7
ranfan - Dark Sky vs. IE900
Rockwell75 - MEST, Andromeda, Solaris Shootout
Rockwell75 - Solaris, LX, VE8, u12t Shootout
Rockwell75 - IER Z1R, Nio, IER M9 mini shootout
Rockwell75 - Solaris SE vs. Empire Ears LX
Rockwell75 - Elysium vs. Andromeda 2020
Rockwell75 - Thoughts on receiving loaner samples
Rockwell75 - Personal Caveats that apply to my rankings, impressions etc.
Rockwell75- My use case and how it determines my preference
Rockwell75- MEST MKii vs Dorado 2020
Rockwell75 - Thoughts inspired by the Carbo Mezzo
Rockwell75 - Impressions of some budget IEMs
Rockwell75 - IE900 and Vancouver meetup Impressions
Scuba Devils - 2021 Highlights
Scuba Devils - Dark Sky vs. Zen Pro vs. IE900
Scuba Devils - Zen Pro vs. Isa vs. IE900
Scuba Devils - Penon Serial vs. Timeless
Skullar - Indigo vs. EXT
tchoupitoulas - 2021 IEM Overview
tgx78 - Isa vs. 3DT

Philosophical Discussion, Music Recs & General Highlights

1) A few pages of great discussion on the Objective/Subjective begins here
2) Eastern Western
3) Rockwell75 - Cheeky Impressions of other Audio Communities
4) Rockwell75 - Thoughts on receiving loaner samples
3) Interesting Perspective on Tone & Timbre by ranfan
4) A Head Fi History Lesson by Deezel177
5) Interesting Thoughts on Immersion vs. Analysis by Deezel177
6) @ranfan on Brain Burn in
7) Deezel177 on Spiritual & Earthly validation
8) @Neweymatt's audiophile album recs
9) @fzman on drivers & sound
10) @SBranson value and crafstmanship analogy
11) @Ace Bee 's kicka$$ Bollywood playlist
12) Some inspiring musings by @SBranson
13) @Deezel177 shares his expertise on the terms reference, balanced etc.
14) Notes on sibilance and FR balance
15) Budget divisions of "Hi -Fi"
16) A few pages of good discussion on "Eastern" vs. "Western" tuning starts here
17) On master craftsmanship and the cost of the Traillii
18) On the topic of paid shills
@Rockwell75 - Some thoughts on Traillii
19) Great discussion on the terms neutral, reference & balanced begins here.
20) Describing sound vs. Feeling it
21) @Scuba Devils kicks off some great music recs.
22) Some fascinating insights following from his research by @drftr
23) Fascinating post on engagement by @Deezel177
24) Existential discussion of "The Journey" started by @gLer
25) Scuba's impressive music collection
26) Favorite Photo Share-a-thon
27) Index cutoff
27) DavidMollier - Some great music recs
28) jwilliamhurst - Favorite Albums 2021
29) Rockwell75 - On engagement
30) Movie Music Share-a-thon
31) RTodd - On Dynamics
32) Favorite Movie Share-a-thon
33) Top 10 IEMs Share-a-thon
34) Neweymat - Favorite Albums of 2021
35) GLer - IEM Unveiling
36) Scuba Devils - Top Albums of 2021
Index Cutoff
Last edited:
Apr 24, 2021 at 11:45 AM Post #2 of 65,459

Shades of Color— a little 3.5 way shootout between the CFA Solaris SE, Andromeda (2020/MW10) and the Unique Melody MEST (Written December 2020)

For some reason it seems that whenever I find myself on holidays I’m almost immediately struck by the impulse to write a review or a shootout on whatever audio gems have crossed my path in recent memory. On that note here I am, at the beginning of my Christmas holiday, about to gather my thoughts the Unique Melody MEST and the Campfire Audio Andromeda MW10 edition, specifically how they stack up against each other and, of course, and against my mainstay the Solaris SE (and to some extent the Andromeda 2020).

I have had the MEST on loan for the past 3 weeks as part of the Canadian tour and I was fortunate to purchase the MW10 through an auspiciously placed friend in Osaka. Regarding my Solaris SE, I realized this morning that on this day last year, at about this hour that I am typing this, I stopped by Headphone Bar in Vancouver to pick it up. This makes it the first IEM I have had as my daily for a year straight. I think I deserve a few quit audio points for that.

I am very greatful to helpful communities and sources of information like Head-Fi, r/headphones, Discord etc. Without their help we’d all be stumbling blindly in the dark searching out quality gear. In my close to 2 years now in this hobby everything I have come across has been top tier. I can’t think of a single truly “bad” IEM that I’ve owned— because of this even on the top 10 list I made the other day the difference in quality between the top entry and the tenth is much less than may be suggested by the length of the list. None of this would have been possible without the help of fellow enthusiasts from all the communities I mentioned and some. This hobby is such a fundamentally personal thing...possibly my favourite aspect of threads like this and Head Fi in general is that everyone is free to pursue this hobby in whatever way is satisfying to them-- be it through constantly changing through gear or the minutia of cables and sources, or hell even audio rocks (ok maybe not audio rocks). It's always interesting to hear other people's genuine takes and impressions and compare them against your own. I'm happy to have places I can to share the love of this hobby as well as learn and converse with others in the process…so a heartfelt thanks to you all.


Onto the IEMs…

1) Campfire Audio Solaris SE

Screen Shot 2020-12-21 at 12.04.25 PM.png

I mention this one first only because I’ve had it the longest and am the most familiar with it. Between my 1 year (to the day) with the SE and about 6 months with the OG, one Solaris or another has been with me for most of my time in this hobby, which means that it’s become kind of my benchmark for me. I do not pretend that it is perfect (I don’t think any IEM can be perfect—the range of tastes, not to mention styles of music and quality of recording is much too vast) but it does tread a sort of goldilocks middle path for me in that it plays very well with the wide varieties of musical styles and genres that comprise my musical palette. As I’ve said before it’s not necessarily the best at any one thing, but it attains an almost zen level of balance across the spectrum (in terms of both tone and technicalities) such that it does just the right amount of everything to give it a level of versatility that is unparalleled in my personal experience. Further it’s the only IEM I’ve yet owned that I can live with exclusively for months on end and not feel that I’m missing anything substantial and start craving an up or a sidegrade. If by chance anyone reading this is interested in more in depth impressions of the SE see the reviews linked in my sig—particularly the “4 way shootout”.

It’s also worth pointing out, and most people around here who are familiar with me already know this, but I’m something of a huge CFA fanboy. They were one of the first brands I encountered in this most recent chapter of my audiophile life, and as I’ve already indicated they’ve been something of a mainstay for me throughout the last couple years. I love Campfire and have no problem admitting that they are my favourite audio brand. I love their whole design philosophy, aesthetic and sustainable business model. I love the peerless build quality of their products and the fact that they're willing to experiment a little with different tuning platforms and staging models within their IEMs. I like Ken Ball a lot-- he's one of those old hippy types who got his start in life with the idealistic wind of the 60s still at his back. In some ways he's like the Steve Jobs of the portable audio market-- and the holistic, sustainable "think different" ethos of his company seems to suggest this.

The above said I know Campfire are no strangers to controversy (though much of it vastly overblown and underserved IMHO) and head scratching moments. I, along with many, stare in bemusement (and sometimes confusion) at the endless stream of revisions and “special editions”. As I have stated elsewhere I am ok with this to some degree. I much prefer their habit of tweaking and refining their successes as opposed to totally reinventing their lineup every couple years. And I'm grateful that for the time being they're eschewing the fad of exotic driver types in favour of traditional BAs and DDs. That said I do understand the eye-rolling and dashes of jadedness and cynicism that lately have been accompanying these new "special editions". On the other hand I cannot fail to note that I really like how they’re current lineup is shaping out. All 5 of their current models have their own niche on a spectrum from the balls to the wall fun sound of the Vega 2020, to the progressively more balanced and “reference” sound of the Solaris to the Ara. So while I may raise an eyebrow and slightly wrinkle my nose at some of these releases I love what they're doing on the whole and can eagerly look forward to eventually demoing their entire lineup.

2) Unique Melody MEST


Ahh the mighty MEST. My first time hearing of the MEST was last spring in an impressions thread at The first things I read about it were that it “comprehensively bested” the Andromeda and was a “much improved” Solaris. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say of a new IEM that it’s “better than Andromeda”…I’d be able to buy another Andromeda. Still though, these claims about the MEST were made by people whose opinions I respect so I filed them in the back of my head at the time.

Fast forward to the summer where the hype around this IEM reached such a fever pitch that it was all but lauded as some sort of Jesus IEM that could annihilate everything at the $3k+ tier...I was waiting for reports that the MEST had walked on water, raised the dead or fed multitudes with a few loaves and fishes. This pitch of hype didn’t last and before long some more grounded reports started to emerge and, like everything else, it appeared to have its share of idiosyncracies and specialties that may appeal more to some than others. Nonetheless when the opportunity came for me to participate in a Canadian tour for the MEST I enthusiastically jumped on. As I am writing this I am at the end of my tour cycle and am preparing to mail the MEST away to its home.

TLDR: While the hype was, predictably, overblown I nonetheless LOVED my time with the MEST and easily place it in the upper echelons of my personal preferences.

In some ways the MEST was exactly what I expected, in other ways it wasn’t at all. Coming from Solaris the first thing one notices is the bass. In my previous shootout I, inspired by Resolve’s review of the Atlas, laid out the beginning of a framework for measuring bass response using “crap your pants” analogies. The Atlas, for example, has “get off the bus and crap yourself bass”; the Legend X, by comparison, has “get out of your limo and crap yourself bass”. Using this metric I would say the MEST has “wait until you get home and drop a mad one” bass—to wit: it’s superbly controlled, ultimately very satisfying but at the same time it can also be preoccupying to the point of distraction. The bass on the MEST is so good in some respects that it creates a problem for me trying to evaluate it—do I praise its ability to completely captivate and often almost hypnotize me? Or do I point out that it can sometimes do this to the detriment of the rest of the FR?

As implied the MEST eschews the more balanced tonality of the Solaris for a mild V that places a clear emphasis on sub-bass, percussion in general and sparkly highs. On the MEST the sub-bass is a bit wooblier (not wooly, woobly), better defined and a bit more in perceived quantity than on Solaris. The sub-bass response on the MEST is addictive—I often get lost in its subtle textures. But this, again, is both a blessing and a curse as while zoning out on the bass or technical detail I’m simultaneously oblivious to the rest of the spectrum. Conversely both the Solaris and Andromeda do a better job at drawing your attention to the entirety of the sonic spectrum and in their own way allow you to appreciate the recording you’re listing to and not be as distracted by the pyrotechnics. Interestingly I compared graphs of the SE and MEST and imho it doesn’t reflect the bass emphasis I perceive on the MEST. I don't think I would go so far as to say the MEST's bass extends deeper. On the Solaris the bass is perhaps a touch denser and punchier but further back and with a quicker decay and more of a mid-bass emphasis. Because of this there is a bit more "air" to the MEST's sound while the Solaris sounds more balanced. What this means practically speaking is that in some recordings the MEST is notably better than Solaris, which is nonetheless more than adequate and a little more versatile across the board.

Of the 3 main branches of the FR the MEST is probably weakest in the mid-range. While they are perfectly fine much of the time there were times when vocals and instruments sound a little thin and vaguely digitized. Conversely, the midrange on both Solaris and Andromeda sound fuller, more forward and more organic on the whole. The highs on the MEST are outstanding and nuanced and have great “sparkle”. Though, oddly, there were some tracks where it sounded like something vaguely weird was going on, like a chunk of the FR in the “sparkle” region was snipped and inserted somewhere else…if that makes sense. It didn’t happen all the time but there were definitely times where I wasn’t quite sure what to make of what I was hearing. Highs on the MEST have more sparkle, whereas on the Solaris there is a bit more shimmer. The highs on the Solaris can sound a touch bitey on some tracks, but I haven't noticed this at all on the MEST…but the highs on the MEST can be a touch sibilant/overwhelming to my ears here and there.

Sheer technical chops is where I would say the MEST has a clear advantage over both CFA IEMS I own. In terms of detail and resolution I definitely hear more minutia on the MEST, though this may be more due to the lesser mid-bass. It would be interesting to pit the MEST against something like the Andromeda MW10 through the PAW S1 here. In terms of staging, separation, imaging etc. the Solaris used to be my benchmark and though I hesitated at first after hearing the MEST but now that more time has passed, in terms of technicalities, I have to give the crown unequivocally to the MEST over the Solaris...though I have to say the jury is still out on the MW10 in this regard. In any case this isn’t to say I don’t prefer the placement and emphasis of the layers in the Solaris in some ways, but the skill and facility with which the MEST layers and separates things, giving everything its own sense of space is truly remarkable and I have not experienced the like in any other IEM I have tried.

If I had to criticize the MEST at all in terms of its technicalities I would say that sometimes the “fireworks” of its technical skill and detail retrieval can distract one from the heart of the recording they are listening to. I once likened the u12t and Andromeda to the “Mars and Venus” of IEMs. The u12t, being decidedly reference-like and analytic in naturem evokes a more intellectual response-- its engagement factor is derived from the precision, order and detail that characterizes its signature. The Andromeda, by contrast, evokes a more emotional response-- it is less concerned with space and details and more concerned with sweeping you off your feet and casting its spell on you. The u12t stimulates your intellect, the Andromeda tugs at your heart. IMHO neither approach is superior to the other—it really depends on you and what you’re after. I would make a similar claim (with caveats) regarding the MEST and Solaris. I have heard the MEST described as a “supercharged” Solaris and in a sense it is—in terms of its technical chops, but in terms of tonality I found both the Solaris (and Andromeda) more likely to sweep me off my feet.

Overall I was often split down the middle with individual tracks around whether I preferred Solaris, MEST (or neither over the other). For every track that the MEST flexes its strength there is another where I appreciate the Solaris' more organic sounding and forward midrange. In some ways going from Solaris to MEST is like talking to someone from LA and then someone from New York-- while each person will sound distinct it's clear that they are both fundamentally speaking the same language. My preference for one or the other can even vary on the same album. For instance on Dire Straits' first album the MEST renders Mark Knopfler's steel guitar on "Setting Me Up" with greater facility and clarity than the Solaris does. On the other hand when I'm listening to "Six Blade Knife" from the same album on the MEST I find myself missing the extra warmth and body that the Solaris provides. They're both tremendous IEMs, but the MEST is probably more captivating on initial listen. Honestly I if I were to walk into a store and demo the two IEMs cold there is a good chance I'd probably leave with the MEST over the Solaris. However, and this is a big however, having had the Solaris for the better part of two years (and having come back to it on one occasion) my own opinion is that its sheer versatility as an "all rounder" is hard to beat and for me. As to which is a better choice that depends on the individual and their tastes. Technically the MEST is superior and has better bass and highs. But I personally prefer the tonal balance, mid-range timbre and overall "gestalt" of the presentation on the Solaris (and Andro) and would personally edge them both slightly over the MEST. That being said I can imagine there are many for whom the MEST is unquestionably the better, like so many other things, it's a YMMV situation.

3) Campfire Audio Andromeda MW10


The MW10 is a limited edition Japan only version of the Andromeda that, in addition to being the most beautiful (Imho) it's also rumoured to be the best sounding of all, but a clarification of the exact differences and it's exact standing will have to wait until a bit later.

The Solaris was my first love from Campfire Audio and I only really heard the Andromeda for the first time when I got my hands on the 2020 last summer. It's nice to finally understand what all the hype is about-- 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 puts many, much more expensive IEMs to shame.

In the case of Campfire Audio it's practically a platitude that the Andromeda is their most beloved model despite the fact that there have been a few models released "above" it (Vega, Atlas, Solaris were all flagships after Andromeda). I think the thing with Andro is that they hit on a tuning that's really likeable, sufficiently technical, highly engaging and that plays well with just about everything. Often you have to make sacrifices in one of those categories for the sake of another but the Andromeda strikes a nice balance for a lot of people-- there is a definite emotional pull or allure to its sound that I haven't come across very often…and probably never yet to the same degree. Solaris definitely has its devotees (like myself) but it also takes a few chances and is a less conventional tuning than Andro-- which means that how one feels about it will depend on what they listen to and what their own particular sonic priorities are. I listen to a lot of minimal techno and acoustic music and I place a high value on immersiveness, dense bass and holographic spaciousness-- and for what I listen to the Solaris (and now the MEST) is the best I've heard to my tastes. In some respects the Solaris takes the signature of Andromeda, stretches it out and wraps it around your head-- which can be a great effect but it leaves parts of the mid-range feeling a touch thin or wonky for some.

As I’ve indicated elsewhere my impressions of the MW10 at this point have limited value as I have no real experience with earlier versions of the Andro and as of this writing haven't heard the 2020 in months. Further I’m still definitely in the “honeymoon” phase so anything I say has a 50% chance to be the result of me waxing emotional rather being objective. That said—I am in love with the MW10. They are truly a phenomenal product across the board and easily take the crown and the most beautiful and classiest IEM I have owned. Given how sweet their sound is I imagine demand and value will remain steady over time.


Going back in time to the summer, my initial thoughts upon hearing the 2020 Andromeda for the first time was that Solaris sounds like "Andro with its big boy pants on" and on the whole I still stand by that. The first thing I notice when I switch from Andromeda (either variant) to Solaris is the denser and richer low end, vaster sense of space and by extension the more holographic stage. In terms of technicalities my thoughts on the 2020 at the time were that Solaris bests Andromeda in all areas except perhaps minutia of detail (largely an unavoidable consequence of the increased low end presence). My “off the cuff” thoughts on the MW10 are that it has made refined the technicalities and improved the dynamics and punch compared to the 2020. Like the 2020 the Andromeda MW10 has that unbeatable coherence that (in my experience) has only been achieved so far with single driver type setups. There is a definite sweetness and allure to Andromeda's sound that Solaris doesn't quite capture-- but in fairness I haven't heard anything else which quite does either. On that note I would probably give Andro (both the 2020 and the MW10) the slight edge over Solaris tonally, but all 3 IEMs ultimately suit my preferences fine. The Andromeda also puts forth a more etheric type sound-- Solaris is more spacious and Andromeda gives more space between notes if that makes sense. The more I listen to both the more I feel they were each ideally named. Andromeda is a galaxy which conjures images of spaciousness and unity, whereas Solaris derives its name from the sun, a massive centre of gravity which cannot fail to grab your attention. My closing thoughts on the 2020 Andromeda (relative to Solaris) as of a few months ago were that ultimately if I had to pick one I would go with Solaris as I feel it takes the DNA of the Andromeda and expands it into a more complete and evolved sound signature. At this stage the “final standing” of the MW10 over Solaris remains for me to see as I’ve only had them for a few days at this point. Suffice to say the MW10 sound amazing...but they are very very close to what I remember the 2020 sounding like.

In truth I find myself wondering if the MW10 does indeed contain some secret sauce-- in addition to the already speculated treble sparkle-- in the form of improved technicalities and dynamics over the 2020. Regarding the question of whether the MW10 has the "missing" treble sparkle of the 2020 I can't confirm or deny absolutely without listening to the 2020 (or the OG) again. That said it's noteworthy that, coming from 2.5 straight weeks with the MEST, which is known for its highs, sparkle and air, I don't find anything lacking or suffocating with the MW10 Andromeda. It could very well be that the MW10 takes the lows and mids of the 2020 and combines it with the relative brightness and treble profile of the OG...but I would have to hear the 2020 again to verify this for sure. There is something truly magical and enchanting about the Andromeda's sound-- I find myself captivated and "swept off my feet" more than with any other IEM...but I remember saying this about the 2020 too so who knows. I am working on a plan, in the new year, to tour this through a very select group of Andro enthusiasts for some measurements and impressions/comparisons...which will put the exact standing of this thing on less mythical ground.

Man oh man they are nice to look at though.


So where does this leave us? I am in the midst of something of a philosophical shift in the way I regard and assess IEMs. The more time I spend in this hobby the more I tend towards the view that our own subjective state of consciousness—including preferences, sensitivities, moods and many other factors—are AT LEAST as important as any qualities of the IEM itself. To see a beautiful elucidation of the sort of thing I’m getting at see this clip from the martial arts movie Fearless where where Huo Juan Jia (played by Jet Li) describes, over a glass of tea, that any assessment of the tea he makes says as much about him as about the tea. Now I’m not denying that there are definite, objective differences in quality between various IEMs—but after a point the question of “which is better” is less a statement of a given IEMs objective merits and more about the needs, demands, preconceptions and overall state of mind of the listener.

For the last few days I have spent hours switching between the MEST, the Andromeda and the Solaris in order to gather impressions and comparisons of each. What I have found, repeatedly, is that when I listen to either the Solaris, the Andromeda or the MEST at the time I am listening the idea of “comparing” goes out the window and I find myself enjoying each IEM on its own terms and for its own strengths.

IEMs, I think due to the intensely personal connection we derive from them, are almost like our children and it's hard not to take it personally when others trash them or don't rank them as highly. My own belief is that the greater the extent to which one is able to let their own tastes, inclinations and impressions guide their search-- even, and often especially, when it contravenes the "status quo"-- then the greater will be their satisfaction, success and happiness in this hobby.

Apr 24, 2021 at 12:50 PM Post #3 of 65,459
Great idea.
For me, depending on the my tastes of the day, Z1R is tied with Elys
Last edited:
Apr 24, 2021 at 12:57 PM Post #4 of 65,459
Great idea.
For me, depending on the my tates of the day, Z1R is tied with Elys

If Z1R played nicer with my music (a lot of which is focused in the mid-bass/lower mids) it would probably be the same for me also.
Apr 24, 2021 at 8:47 PM Post #5 of 65,459
Dorado looks interesting for rock, grunge, indie music 🤩
Apr 24, 2021 at 8:52 PM Post #6 of 65,459
Dorado looks interesting for rock, grunge, indie music

It's also pretty much peerless with stuff like this in my experience:

Dorado 2020 gets my vote for best mid-bass/lower mids transition in the game right now.
Apr 24, 2021 at 8:56 PM Post #7 of 65,459
Today my favorite one for metal, rock, indie is Opus Mia maybe due to 15mm Aten driver.
I was thinking to Valkyrie Mk2 or Dorado 2020...
Apr 24, 2021 at 8:58 PM Post #8 of 65,459
Today my favorite one for metal, rock, indie is Opus Mia maybe due to 15mm Aten driver.
I was thinking to Valkyrie Mk2 or Dorado 2020...

I'll await your impressions of whatever you wind up trying :)

I haven't heard the Valkyrie (though it has been on my radar for a while). Since it's EE the bass will probably be boomier and not as tight or impactful as Campfire's bass (pick your poison). Valk has e-stats so will probably have more articulate highs. The Dorado's ace in the hole for me right now is its dynamic mid-range. This is something Elysium got me really into and I haven't been really satisfied with any BA mids since.
Last edited:
Apr 24, 2021 at 9:00 PM Post #9 of 65,459
I think that kind of music needs robust sound, maybe not for best resolving hiend IEMs
Apr 24, 2021 at 11:51 PM Post #10 of 65,459
Last edited:
Apr 25, 2021 at 1:34 AM Post #11 of 65,459
It's also pretty much peerless with stuff like this in my experience:

Dorado 2020 gets my vote for best mid-bass/lower mids transition in the game right now.

Kind if got excited there, thought you shared my absolute favourite song of all time. (Always the first song I use to judge if I would get an IEM or not lol)

On the Dorado, is it easy to differentiate the bass from drums around the 19 second mark onwards?
Apr 25, 2021 at 8:46 AM Post #12 of 65,459
Kind if got excited there, thought you shared my absolute favourite song of all time. (Always the first song I use to judge if I would get an IEM or not lol)

On the Dorado, is it easy to differentiate the bass from drums around the 19 second mark onwards?

Downloading it now...Will give it a listen once I get it on my M8.
Last edited:
Apr 25, 2021 at 8:53 AM Post #14 of 65,459
This song is kind of why the Z1R didnt sit well with me, the bass and drums on this sound mushed together.

Z1R and Dorado are kind of inverses of each other in that way-- Z1R has a great upper mid/lower treble presence but sometimes the lower mids feel pushed behind the bass or lacking presence which, along with the more woobly decay of the Z1R can be problematic if you (like me) like a lot of presence and definition in the lower mids/mid-bass. Dorado, conversely, has great lower mid/mid-bass presence however sometimes the upper mids can feel a bit pushed behind the bass...choose your poison. I will get to this in about an hour or so but my guess based off listening to the youtube video is that it will sound great. The Shanling M8 absolutely rocks with stuff like that too.
Apr 25, 2021 at 8:56 AM Post #15 of 65,459
Next up in my effort to consolidate all my major reviews/impressions in one thread here is a shootout I did between the Solaris SE, u12t, LX and VE8: (Originally published ~ March 2020)


Ode to the 4 directions

Something of a 4-way shootout: My impressions of the Vision Ears VE8, Campfire Audio Solaris SE, 64 Audio u12t and Empire Ears Legend X

One year ago today I was sitting down to gather my impressions of my then-just-a-few-days-old OG Solaris. It was my first real “endgame” IEM but what I didn’t realize at the time was that my journey was only beginning. In the year that followed I have bought and sold my way through a number of high-end IEMs and daps-- sometimes purchasing new gear due to dissatisfaction with old gear, and other times simply due to the irresistible persuasion of curiosity that is the true driving force of this hobby—and have presently settled on the VE8, Solaris SE, and Legend X as my foreseeable endgame. Along with a u12t has been graciously loaned to me for a few days those IEMs will comprise the basis of this post.

I have learned a couple of very important lessons this past year. The first important lesson is—take absolutely everyone’s opinion with a massive grain of salt. There is no shortage of opinions out there on pretty much any piece of gear you can imagine—and many of them are glaringly contradictory. This isn’t to say that there aren’t an abundance of great impressions/reviews out there…there are, and anyone who has been in this hobby for long will have a sense of which reviewers or users they will look to for reliable info—but the greater point is that, at the end of the day, nothing can compete with actually hearing something for yourself to determine if it’s right for you or not. There are plenty of quality reviewers out there—Antdroid, Toranku, Resolve and Crinacle (whose graph comparison tool has been especially invaluable) are a few who have been quite helpful for me, or who I have learned a lot from…but there isn’t a single one I haven’t flatly disagreed with at one time or another. There is so much that goes into determining whether I will enjoy a piece of gear—musical tastes, signature preferences, sensitivities, sensibilities, and so on—that, while information from others can be very helpful, it will never be the final word.

The second most important lesson for me has been revolves around the journey of self-discovery that I’ve undergone. One year ago I had only a dim sense of the different types of sound signatures out there— like so many audiophile plebs I started out thinking that if the bass was good nothing else was important. I had no idea about things like resolution, naturalness, musicality, soundstage, voicing or what terms like neutral, bright, warm etc. really implied. Due to my relentless program of “trial and error” this past year I’ve come learn a few things about my own preferences and biases, and what value in an IEM. Further, I used to wonder at people who would build these collections of IEMs and headphones-- why would you need more than a single pair, I wondered. The lesson is: until you have some understanding of and experience with the types of sound signatures available don’t pigeon-hole yourself down one particular pathway or another. Be open to trying new things, get a sense of what you like and not afraid to let go of what isn’t working for you.

What follows is in no way meant to convey any sort of absolute order of said IEMs' objective worth. IEMs, for me are more a "whole is greater than the sum of the parts" sort of deal. A superficial demo (~1 hour or less) will give you some idea of salient characteristics and certain technical features, but to really get a sense of where something fits in the grand scheme of things you need to spend some time with it. I am personally less interested in the individual characteristic components of an IEM's sound and much more interested in the overall gestalt it presents-- how everything fits together as a whole, which is often something that becomes apparent only after you've spent a good deal of time with them. In short: this is a work in progress.

Furthermore, this won’t be structured like a typical review. I am by no means a professional and lack the technical palette that many reviewers have. Further, since I have no access to measuring gear I won’t be commenting too much on the FR of my IEMs. Both 64 Audio and Campfire Audio have been criticized in some quarters for alleged “unit variation” (though nothing specifically has been said about the SE in this regard) and since my VE8 is a re-shell I shouldn’t assume that the FR for the VE8 generally will apply wholesale to my own. Ultimately my impressions are rooted fundamentally in what I hear, what I notice during long listening sessions, what jumps at me when switching from one IEM to another. I will try and be as objective as possible when I can but fundamentally what follows are my impressions and as such will be indelibly intertwine with my own subjectivity.



1) Vision Ears VE8

The first thing I should point out before talking about my VE8 is that it is not a custom as is typical for this IEM—I am the third owner and I bought it off a guy who had the original custom re-shelled by Naga Audio to a universal fit. So anything I can about the VE8 here may not be applicable to the VE8 generally, as I have had a few people tell me that universal VE8s tend to be brighter than their custom equivalents. That being said, my one and only gripe with the VE8 so far is that I'm detecting a dash of sibilance here and there in some tracks-- s, sh and ch sounds sometimes have a dash too much emphasis. Now it's only in some most tracks I don't notice this much at all but it has been a slight nitpick here and there. I'm not sure if this is 1) just how the VE8 sounds, 2) a problem with the recording that the VE8 is picking up or 3) something to do with the re-shelling process and the fact that the drivers in mine aren't totally optimized for the shells they are in. I noticed on Crinacle's site the graph for the VE8 uni has an 8k spike that is absent from the custom he measured, so maybe this is what I'm hearing. Consequently if I drop 8k by a couple DB I don’t really notice it at all

All of that said...

The VE8 is a tremendous IEM that has rocketed to the top of my list and shows no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. It has helped solidify in my mind the idea that the mid-range is the most important—and most difficult to pull off—element of the FR. When I was a noob in this hobby I was fixated on bass—the first IEMs I sought out I did so because I heard they had good bass. Even through much of the last year my initial impressions of the different IEMs I demoed—Solaris, Z1R, VX etc.—often began or ended with my impression of their bass response. With the VE8, on the other hand, it’s all about the mid-range. The VE8 is the first IEM where I really understand what people mean when they talk about the sound of an IEM being “emotional” or similarly engaging— of the IEMs I’ve heard the VE8 is the one that most consistently sweeps me off my feet, and it does so largely through its lush, natural and immersive mid-range. Don’t get me wrong—the bass and treble in the VE8 are excellent, but compared to other IEMs serves more as the means to the end of supporting the mid-range rather than the highlights in and of themselves. The VE8 is warm, musical, detailed and deep— it plays well with pretty much all of my music and of all the IEMs currently at my disposal the VE8 is the hardest for me to take out.

Of the IEMs under consideration today the VE8 more similar to the Solaris than either the LX or the u12t. Both Solaris SE and VE8 go for the same sort of balanced sound; they are both pretty sooth up top; they both fall decidedly on the “musical/engaging” side of the spectrum in that they sacrifice a bit of pure detail and resolution for the sake of a more fun and engaging sound; they both excel at separation and imaging and lastly they both "stage" music in a similarly immersive way (as contrasted with something like the LX and u12t, where it feels as though you're sitting in the audience with all the sound coming towards you-- with Solaris, and with VE8, you feel like you're surrounded on all sides by the sound). In many respects I would say that of all the IEMs I've heard the VE8 would be the most natural upgrade to Solaris for someone who wants to go custom and is after a slightly more refined presentation of the same sort of balanced neutral-warm sound.

One thing I do prefer about Solaris is the bass texture and sense of vastness and space. VE8 bass is excellent, sufficiently extended and well textured...but Solaris has that DD element that simply can't be replicated by any BA setup. The most prominent aspect of the VE8 is with the midrange. I've always loved the instrumental timbre of Solaris but VE8 takes it to another level of naturalness and nuance-- things sound a dash more "real". Vocals are very slightly less forward than on Solaris SE, particularly male, but both male and female vocals sound more bodied and natural on VE8. Stage on VE8 is slightly more "intimate" but similarly laid out. The sound is more clear and nuanced-- I can hear more detail and separation on VE8. To my ears things sound slightly more "3 D". Take all of this with a grain of salt, however, as I don't think I really have the palette to accurately describe all the similarities/differences. But the VE8 does seem to take a lot of what I love about Solaris and refine it a wee bit.


2) Campfire Audio Solaris Special Edition

It’s not as technically impressive, detailed or as tonally correct as the u12t, it doesn’t have the lush or immersive midrange of the VE8, and it doesn’t thump as hard as the Legend X—but I would place it second to each of those IEMs in the respective categories. There isn’t really any other IEM out there like Solaris SE—a dynamic hybrid that goes for a nice balanced sound without any element of the spectrum dominant over any other. For much of the past year the Solaris/SE has been the gold standard for me personally. It encapsulates everything I look for in a monitor-- natural, balanced, spacious, clear, impactful, dynamic bass, not to mention beautiful to look at.

The SE represents a subtle but clear step up from OG Solaris to my ears with improved clarity, more robust and forward vocals and cleaner bass. Solaris SE provides coherent and well-balanced signature within a fully rendered 3-d space combined with impeccable layering and separation-- it doesn't excel at any one thing FR wise, but it does "everything" better than most things I've heard (to my ears). I know many have cited "weirdness" in the upper midrange as an issue with Solaris...but I've never really detected it, much less been put off by it. I will say though, that if you listen to a lot of female vocals or music that requires a lot of presence in the upper-mid/lower treble region (J-Pop, K-Pop) then the Solaris may not be a good bet (due to reports I’ve heard from others).

And yes, there is a hint of the "BA texture" to the bass...but it's far and away a DD above all. The u12t and VE8 both have great bass, but the lack of DD is noticeable and neither of them extend as deeply as Solaris does on the low end

Again, what I really appreciate about Solaris SE is the perfect balance it brings to the spectrum-- there's just enough of everything and nothing is overwhelming. This is something that stands out more and more as my hours on it wear on-- CFA has, imho, reached a "zen" level of balance with Solaris SE. Further they have done a peerless job of combining BA and DD drivers into a balanced "total package" IEM. Solaris might not be for everyone, but it's definitely for me.


3) 64 Audio u12t

Ahh the mighty u12t. This is the only IEM of the 4 I’m covering today that I don’t own however thanks to a friend, who graciously lent me his for over a week, I was able to finally get to know it.

My experience with and of the u12t has helped me come to a greater understanding of my own tastes and preferences. Let’s get one thing clear off the bat-- the u12t is an absolutely exceptional IEM...listening to it I was blown away by the detail, the staging, the precision, the really exposes everything in the recording you're listening to. Add on to that it’s got a very non-aggressive tonality that basically plays well with everything. It didn’t matter what I threw at it everything sounded good on the u12t. When I first started looking at IEMs many months ago 64 Audio and the u12t were among the first to catch my attention, but when I visited the website it described it as an IEM primarily for stage musicians…I didn’t understand what that meant at the time but it steered me away a little bit, especially considering that 64’s “audiophile” offerings like the Fourte are way more than I’d ever be able to afford. Fast forward to now where, after finally getting some time with the u12t I fully understand why it would be perfect for stage musicians. The u12t presents every layer of the recording you’re listing to in such a way that 1) you can isolate each layer at any time and get lost in its details and 2) it does in such a non-obtrusive way that you can be totally doing something else (like focusing on your own playing or, as the case may be, writing a paper or something). Even the added bass boost makes sense in this capacity as it is done, not to color the signature, but to compensate for the bass that is lost in the ambient noise of a stage setting. I could see the u12t being the perfect IEM for someone who likes to listen at work, wants to experience the entirety of what they’re listening to but also have their mind in the foreground focused on something else.

This is an IEM for the analyst who values correctness and precision above all. When I was listening to the u12t I was consistently in awe of it...such a great reference sound but with killer DD-like bass. Ultimately for me (and the way my mind works when I listen to music) with the level of detail in u12t I often found myself zoning out on all the different layers of a recording-- but I have a harder time viewing it as a unity...I'm not talking about a coherence problem or anything...just that u12t is so good at what it does that I just get lost in all the detail and “forget the forest for the trees” so to speak. Put another way, it reminds of an experience I had after consuming some psilocybin back in the early 90s. Some friends of mine were excited because we were going to see Return of the Jedi in the theatre— we thought the experience, in our elevated state, would make the movie super intense and involving. For me, quite the opposite happened…watching the movie in that state all the effects became transparent and all the illusions were dissolved-- the space ships and props looked like models and even the actors came across as people playing a part in a play. It was indeed an intense experience—all the details of everything I was seeing on the screen presented themselves accurately to my mind…but the romance was gone. It was technically very impressive but I was yearning to be swept off my feet. This same sort of thing happened to me every now and again with the u12t—I’d be wowed by all the different layers of what was going on, but it wasn’t quite as emotionally involving or exciting for me as a whole.

Solaris and VE8, on the other hand, sacrifice a bit of sheer resolution and detail for a more musical sound...they’re not as technically proficient in some respects, nor, in the case of Solaris, as tonally correct, but I have an easier time getting lost in the recording in both than I do with u12t. u12t is more correct but Solaris and VE8 are more fun, immersive and “in your face” in their presentation…thus making them slightly more engaging to my ears and sensibilities. When listening to the u12t for long stretches I would often find myself reaching for Solaris or VE8 because I felt I needed some excitement. This is not a slight to the u12t at all—I’m pretty much splitting hairs here as I could easily be happy with any one of the VE8, Solaris SE or u12t as my only IEM. If I could get Solaris bass , space and musicality with a dash of u12t stage and detail all combined with VE8 mids and treble I would stop chasing the unicorn.


4) Empire Ears Legend X

Bass of the gods. The thundering yang to complement the ethereal yin of the Solaris and VE8. With the LX the whole signature is defined by the bass-- it's large, it's powerful and it's everywhere. Thankfully it's also very resolving and detailed so that the rest of the sound isn't drowned out in the bass. Nonetheless the bass is present and it dominates. The sheer quantity of bass makes the sound is a bit "closed in" you're in a club with the bass pounding...I wouldn't go so far as to say congested, as one of the great things about LX is that it somehow avoids this despite all the's why I would call it the ultimate "basshead audiophile" IEM. Yesterday I was coming home after the meet and thought to myself that I had spent so much time with Solaris and VE8 the preceding days that I'd neglected the LX, so I put them in for a bit and was reminded why and how much I still love them.

The Legend X is not an IEM you can listen to "passively"-- they command your attention and are utterly captivating when you feel like getting rocked by vibrant and detailed low end. The key is that it's so refined and resolving. The CFA Atlas (which I also love) was described as having "get off the bus and crap yourself bass"... well by that metric the LX has "park your Mercedes and crap yourself bass". It's definitely a "guilty pleasure", but I'm ok with guilt and I love pleasure.
The LX is akin to listening to music in a club-- a more confined space, with the thundering bass permeating everything, much like the oil in an olive. If the LX is like listening in a club the Solaris is like listening on a mountain top-- grounded in the bedrock of the powerful bass, but wide open up top, and to the left and right, so everything has room to breathe. Nonetheless, due to the robust low end on the LX it can be said to be lacking a bit of air, which I get from my #1 and #2 above. Thus the 3 are a perfect collection for me.



So where does this leave us?

I used to wonder at people who would build these collections of IEMs and headphones-- why would you need more than a single pair, I wondered…wouldn’t one be enough? Now that I've got a modest little collection (all but the u12t here are mine) I kind of understand it. In some ways these IEMs are all more similar than different (with the exception of the LX's bass response) however each of them has something unique to offer and each of them satisfy my different moods at different times. If I want to be swept off my feet by a lush midrange I grab the VE8, if I want to be rocked by a robust low end, the Legend X is my go-to, if I want to be awash in detail and layering the u12t can't be beat, and if I want a little bit of each of those things the Solaris SE does the trick. It's nice to pick and choose depending on what you're feeling at a given moment. Ultimately many of us crave a bit of variety in this hobby…having the right collection on hand that suits different facets of your tastes is a great way to stay excited without having to buy something new every month or two.

In terms of the order I’ve presented these IEMs in today, and the implication of where they stand relative to others I’ve owned/demoed…it’s entirely a reflection of my subjective tastes and preferences— I make no claims to objectivity here. I quite expect there to be many who would rank them differently than I do—this is fine and normal…but the order here defines my tastes, preferences and needs at this very moment. I derive a certain degree of enjoyment from all my IEMs...but the VE8 is the only one so far that's left me feeling romanced...if that makes any sense. I didn't truly understand what was meant by the term "emotioanlly engaging" when describing IEMs until I heard the VE8. I’ve been moved to tears, and to dance…more often with the VE8 than with any of my other IEMs.

After the VE8 comes the Solaris SE. I get that there other IEMs that many would claim best the Solaris in some keys ways, both technically and tonally, but chances are, if I’ve heard them in some way they failed to present the total package to my ears that Solaris does. The VE8 is the hardest to stop listening to but the Solaris the first one I reach for when I need a break from any of the others.

If the criteria was simply “achieves what it sets out to do” then the u12t would probably take the tops spot—I consider it the most technically astounding IEM I’ve heard. It’s also probably the safest and easiest rec I could give to someone who just asked for an IEM that sounds great with everything but doesn’t say anything else about their preferences, tastes etc. Furthermore, it is quite unlike anything else I have in my collection and would make a great addition to it…and some day may. As a standalone however it’s a touch too analytic for my tastes, which leave me preferring the more dynamic and “in your face” presentation of the VE8 and Solaris SE.

Lastly there is the Legend X…no doubt the “odd man out” of my collection. As an all-rounder the LX certainly stands distinct from other 3 being discussed in this post, and if I had to pick only one it would be the last, however for a certain subset of my music (some modern pop, hip hop and some live funk and jazz) the Legend X is so much better than everything else that I can't deny it a seat at the table.

The LX’s bass response notwithstanding there are way more similarities than differences with these IEMs, despite how our descriptions can make them sound like vastly different things. To my ear they are all variations on a "warm musical" sound signature and I could honestly be happy with any of these IEMs as my main.
Last edited:

Users who are viewing this thread