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I feel the same way as Ultra...but I am a custom man through and through.
Build quality seems awesome. Also I liked the design too, simple and beautiful, nice looking.
I have a question about Stage 4, is it a bass heavy monitor like Heir 8A, Noble 8C, FitEar MH335DW, JH16FP? I am hoping people who heard the demos can answer me.
Stage 4 are U-shaped with moderately boosted bass and highs. They're actually pretty well balanced overall.
I find rhe Stage 4 moderately bassy, it is boosted, but much less than the 335.
I agree, but there's also a moderate treble boost to counterbalance the bass. Very tastefully done slight U-shape overall.
Funny, the Stage 4 demo I heard matched exactly with the description on their website, much unlike the Stage 2 demo.
I also heard the Stage 4 in November, but I only heard it from my Sansa Clip and it sounded kind of veiled in the mids. It'll be interesting to try these on a more potent rig together with Stage 3. I'm bet they'd improve..
Took delivery of my Vision Ears Stage 4s a few weeks back and have been getting familiar with them.
Similarities with References
My previous reference are ACS T1s, and in my set up, the Stage 4s are cut from a very similar cloth, sound-wise. Like the Stage 4s, the T1s have a broadly appealing sound that features a somewhat boosted lower end, yet despite this neither pair over-emphasize one frequency range to the detriment of the others. The presence of the boosted bass results in an almost paradoxically smoother sound, perhaps due to the smaller drivers of cIEMs. To me, this gives the sense of the music coming from a real space with walls, floor and a ceiling. Other IEMs seem to favor a flatter, more idealized response curve which I feel results in a more artificial sound, as if the music comes from an open field where there is no reverb or sense of boundaries.
Compared to other IEMs I've tried the T1s and Stage 4s have a more even response and consistent performance on a wide-range of music types.
Differences from References
Speed. That's the biggest thing I've noticed in the last few weeks. The Stage 4s simply seem much faster to stop and start, making the T1s sound a little smeared in comparison on more complex passages. For example, Joe Jackson's rapid fire patter on "Got the Time" becomes a lesson in his sneering diction, rather than the race-to-the-finish rocker you've heard for decades. The S4s stops and starts sound very naturally and revealing without resorting to artificial edges or decays. I listen deeper and get more involved in the music, and am constantly seeking out more challenging pieces to listen to since the S4s are never fatiguing.
The soft silicone ear molds of the T1s are better at blocking ambient noise out and result in a more quiet listening environment, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they are more comfortable than the S4s.
The headphone cables for the T1s are permanent where the S4s allows a swap out. The Vision Ears supplied cable is a strong performer on its own, but listening to some after-market cables provided interesting results. For example, ALO's SXC 24 built on the speed and detail of the S4s. Playing Leo Kottke's "Vaseline Machine Gun", it becomes apparent from the harmonics and decay that Kottke is using a glass slide on his 12-string guitar, rather than a metallic one. This is the type of detail(s) you can hear under the highest resolving sources in the best of systems, and I was hearing it sitting in my local vendor's shop from an Ipod/CLAS/RX-3 combo and Stage 4s. Incredible. Track after track, new found detail or ambience surfaces.
A final word:
In dealing with Vision Ears, I have nothing but the highest compliments to pay to Marcel, Amin and company. They have dealt with me directly and fairly and have made recommendations to me which effectively took money from their pockets but which they believed would make an overall improvement in my listening experience. I got an exceptional product, one I am proud to show to my friends, and recommend to others interested in premium cIEMS. The art work is gorgeous, the shells are sturdy, inspiring confidence in the workmanship and the selection of choices for colors were so diverse that I felt guilty having to choose only one color, and a simple one at that. The custom engraved box and peripherals supplied was above what I expected and a slight step above the ACS gear. Finally, the turn-around time from placing the order and sending in my impressions to receiving the finished product was just a few weeks, better than ACS and from what I've read, better than many other cIEMs.
If you are reading this thread to decide if the Stage 4s are for you, I will stop short (barely) of giving an unequivocal "Yes" since you may prefer a different sonic signature than I do. But I would say the VE Stage series should be on a very short list for users looking for a gimmick-free monitor that gives hours of unfatiguing and clear listening. If you have a high-end front end and listen to lossless, you will look far and wide before you find anything on par with Vision Ears for enjoyable listening that can also dig deeper into the music than all but the highest of multi-kilobuck systems.
Smeckles, I would love the see the pictures of your Stage 4 mate, German craftsmanship is always interesting for me
Quick delivery and what a delivery! I love it mate, simple and unique design (I don't like ciems with complex, eye-tiring designs). The color is also nice. Congrats on the purchase then
I haven’t really shared my impressions yet, so I will do that now. My perspective is that of a hifi-enthusiast customer who loves music but also technology and product design.
This is my first custom ever and thus I cannot compare with different companies. I can only share my personal experiences with Rhines and their Stage 3.
First, I want to recap how customs are done; just in case some readers have used universals only so far, like I had before. I suggest to keep your jaw relaxed and mouth closed when they take the impressions. The whole process takes 5 minutes max. There’s nothing to be afraid of – nothing touches your ear drum. (I have to admit, I am really scared when somebody touches my ear because my ear drum has been ripped in martial arts training before. Luckily the doctors could fix it back together. And boy oh boy, doctors sure don’t care when they go deep down the ear canal with pointy instruments. But that’s a different story…)
Anyway, I got my ear impressions done by Rhines and not by a hearing aid technician (well, technically I think the team of Rhines are also hearing aid technicians). Either way, it seems the ear molds turned out perfectly as I have no problems with itching, seal or pressure. Quite a pleasant surprise and different to the experiences that I’ve read from other people on head-fi (different brand and ordering done online, though). So my advice is, if you are willing to jump to customs, take the time and visit the company (or distributor) personally. They definitely know what they are doing. It might take some more time, but it minimizes the risk of a refit or worse. Plus, you get free coffee and some more insight about the development in a personal meeting.
James pointed out that using universals has the advantage of changing tips and adapting the sound to your preference. However, my perspective is different. I think it is bothersome to try out and play with tips until you get it right. Because in the end, there is only ‘one right’. And in case of my customs – of which I have auditioned the demos prior to purchase multiple times – they definitely sound ‘right’. I am dead happy that I don’t lose the sound how it is now and that I don’t have to fiddle around, try different materials, insertion depths, ask myself how does the designer want it to sound, etc. It is like it is and it is damn good!
I cannot say for certain how much the sound of the demos is different to the final custom. I know that one time I noticed a peak in the highs with the demo and another time I didn’t manage a correct seal and thus had zero bass response. Both issues are definitely not a concern with the final custom.
I already mentioned that I have no issues with a seal, but I discovered that I have two different types of seal. By default, I don’t even notice the CIEM in my ear. It sits so perfect like right now as I type these lines. It’s as if the CIEM has always been a part of my body. I can also speak freely and move my mouth with no issues.
However, when I yawn or open my mouth really wide for whatever reason, the CIEM is pushed out a tiny bit, yet not enough to break the seal. I have paid great attention to this, but the sound is not changed. However, the soundstage is pushed further out and the presentation is not as direct. The overall volume seems to get lower. It is then that I can feel the acrylic inside my ear canal (of course it doesn’t hurt). As soon as I swallow or move my jaw just a little bit, the CIEM sucks itself back to default position. Not a problem in any way and it took me several days to observe this. But you know, we hifi-freaks pay attention to the smallest of details.
Needless to say, I can fully recommend customs to fall asleep. I take mine to bed every night! (Sadly my girlfriend is not close by at the moment.)
Isolation is superior to everything else and the only way to come close it is with the use of foamies on your universals – which, sadly, often alter sound to the worse. However, I do admit that I love the usage of custom DIY foamies from ear plugs – it’s the only way I still want to use universals nowadays. Not all designs support DIY foams, though.
As for the build, I have already posted pics of my customs. I don’t think there’s anything bad you could possibly say. Currently, I cannot think of any universal that comes close. (Good job, Sennheiser, on making your IE800 cable not replaceable and having all users complain about stiffening! The CKW1000ANV is probably my favorite universal from aesthetics but the fit and comfort were also a problem. The StageDiver series is also awesome build wise, actually, but they are plain black so they can’t match the looks of a true custom.)
So from my personal experience I have to say: yes, customs are a definite upgrade in comfort, fit and build compared to universals.
Now to the sound of the Stage 3:
Since I started my IEM journey with a duel between PFE 112 and HJE900, I have always rooted for dynamic drivers over balanced armatures. Even to this day, if I could only chose one, I’d pick a dynamic. However, I am quite familiar with almost every multi-BA following the mighty trio of W4/SE535/TF10 and I have to admit that I do recognize the strengths and advantages of BA designs. All these benefits come together perfectly with the Stage 3.
Just by the linear and flat tuning alone, I can pick up more details at the same time than I have ever experienced before. On the second day, I remember, I was listening to a mediocre pop song and I was blown away by the fact that I could just count the layers of sound tracks and I felt like I could undo the insulting mastering in the studio where they multiplied the voice track. That is some serious resolution!
Unfortunately, some tunes sound unforgivingly raw. Especially with modern music where people think it is cool to mix beats down to 8 bit to give them some kind of ‘crunchy sound’.
But this is no surprise and I experienced this with the demos before. The Stage 3 scales incredibly well with the source material and I listen to a lot of Jazz and Classical where this actually matters. I am absolutely fascinated by the transparency!
If there were any flaw that I would have to mention, then it is a very mild warmth boost. The UERM does not have this extra warmth but also has less bass impact and a peak in the highs with the tendency to sound sibilant (at least the demo pair had this issue). This is the only other TOTL I feel confident to compare it to. IMO, the Stage 3 is definitely reference material and features a more enjoyable and non-fatiguing presentation compared to UERM.
Having that said, I am very happy to own the Stage 3 – even if I listen to different genres than Classical or Jazz. It’s very interesting to put on some x-ray goggles and unmask the smallest details of recording, production and mastering.
Yet I will still stick around to see what new IEMs will be released – especially dynamic drivers.
Good read Ultrazino, glad you like customs more than universals. For me customs are way to go in every way compared to painful and problematic universals.
You've actually stated the reason why all performers and most audiologists recommend using a bite-block to keep your mouth open when getting impressions done: any movement of the jaw (talking, eating, singing) while wearing the monitors will cause it to dislodge if the impression was taken in a relaxed state. Impressions done with the open state will not have this occur.
Knowledgeable fitters should be explaining this to each user when they are getting impressions made.
I know that biting on a stick is the 'normal' way of doing it, that's why I recommend to keep your mouth closed.
At least if you use the customs for listening to music instead of screaming at the microphone.
Ummm, you're the one who said yours started to dislodge with a yawn. Nothing to do with screaming, it's about jaw movement and the subsequent effect on the shape of the ear canal.
Whatever, if you want to be contrary for the sake of being a rebel and going against what professionals recommend, knock yourself out. I just think it's a bit comical when you give questionable advice, and then in the next paragraph complain about the results from that same advice.