Reviewer complaints and IEM hate/confusion

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by Philimon, Dec 21, 2021.

  1. Wilewarer

    Wilewarer Rando

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    For a while I've felt with IEMs that somehow every resource I can use to figure out what I like - references, measurements, even listening to them - is somehow less reliable than it is with headphones. Stuff that measures similarly sounds different in ways I wouldn't expect, stuff that measures differently sounds similar in ways I wouldn't expect, and sometimes the things I notice when listening somehow don't seem to determine how much I like it, even when they would for headphones.

    The comparison with the Timeless and the Zen Pro in the review reminds me of the last time I compared two IEMs for myself, both cheaper than this one - the Aria (well-liked here), and the Yume (well-liked elsewhere). Sonically the Yume had some flaws relative to the other that I could pick out, and then over time I decided that it sounded better, even though every consistent sonic difference I could isolate and describe seemed like a negative. Honestly sort of confusing to me. Could be that I don't have enough perspective, but I can completely see hearing like 10 different problems with an IEM relative to another one, and then still preferring it head to head.
     
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  2. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    This is why you also need to judge any transducer as a whole, in conjunction with all the individual aspects. Comparisons are great for determining specific difference and flaws. But at the end of the day, do you enjoy it? Does it allow you to get lost in the music? This is all that really matters.
     
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  3. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Almost "Made"

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    No, IEM _reviews_ suck. There is simply too much variation in perceived FR when it comes to IEMs, which makes it all but impossible for a true HD6XX-esque reference IEM to exist, or even widespread consensus for individual models.
     
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  4. jaker782

    jaker782 Almost "Made"

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    For me, fit(comfort) and seal are just as important as tuning and technical capability when it comes to iems. Everyone's ears are different, and for in-ears, if you don't get a comfortable, consistent seal then sound quality and frequency response graphs are irrelevant. IMO, bad seal = bad sound period when it comes to iems. This is one reason why there is often no real consensus when it comes to iems. There are just too many variables to consider that are unique for each individual.

    Threads like this are great though, as the iem market is so flooded these days and @rhythmdevils has put in the time and graciously shared his personal experience to at least give us a good place to start to help us find the diamonds in the rough.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    IEMs can be problematic because they bypass pinna and concha. Those ear structures provide a personalized transfer function that pairs with that individual's brain's inverse transfer function.

    Those who've played around with HATS and different artificial ears know that small differences in the ears can result in quite a bit of difference in response from the 2-5kHz region.
     
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  6. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    This is a distinction without a difference is it not? If IEM's are for whatever reason (likely the reason purr1n mentions, plus tips/fit, plus all the ones I mentioned) are so idiosyncratic that it's down to chance, then IEM's - the whole design and effort - suck, unless your one of the lucky ones.

    You mention 2-5khz, but my impression is that the most controversial area, the one where folks are reporting significant differing perceived sound, is the 5-10khz. Does the variability of the ear canal account for this region as well I wonder?
     
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  7. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Could be ear canal differences, insertion depth, tips (these all inter-related to the canal) and finally age and health (I already know that I'm less treble sensitive now than 10 years ago - my senses also took a good dive after I got really sick from Valley Fever). However, I think at this point, not enough data. (I trust most ears here, but not at HF, GuruAwards, HeadFOTMia, etc.).

    I'd wait on the "other" reports. There is a reason why I dislike referring to impressions outside of SBAF. It's easier to get the bottom of things in a smaller community. I've been around long enough at meets big and small where there is always an explanation why people hear differently because in meets, everybody hears the same, except people have different preferences.

    At least for now, I may have an explanation for why @Ox Cart hears them as laid-back. Although in his case, it would be the reverse scenario of what is described below.

    marvexplainsIEMs.jpg

    As far as the 2-5kHz, it's mostly around that area, but don't quote me on it. This was based on excerpts on some papers that @james444 posted a while back where scientists somehow shoved stuff into people's ears and measured at the eardrum. I believe @Hrodulf has also done some research on this with this EQ software partner. Headphones are also affected but to a lesser or less predictable extent (different headphones will interact differently with the ear).

    P.S. The above may also explain why the 2kHz peak while evident on Grados, isn't as bad as it seems. Grados are circumaural lying on the ear and mostly bypass the pinna, but not concha.
     
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    Last edited: Dec 23, 2021
  8. Lyander

    Lyander Too sensitive for SBAF

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    I can't stand the TH900's treble but some IEMs I've tried like the Ortofon EQ5 and ADV something both sounded fine to me despite their having similar lower treble elevations measured. Klipsch HP-3 is tolerable to me at sane volumes but the CA Solaris (shallow fit, Azla Sednas) was bright as all-get-out. I prefer laid back upper mids but Etymotic ER2XR is fine when the very first tip on the tri-flange gets past the second bend in my ear canal (talk about deep insertion eh?).
     
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  9. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    While IEMs are certainly more variable, its not as pot-luck, end of world as some make it seem. It’s a matter of data and understanding the data in relation to what you hear.

    This is why measurements are very important. Crinacle purposefully makes sure to adjust iem depth in his coupler, so that its resonance peak is a close to 8k as possible. This allows the measurements of different iems to be comparable on his rig and for you to be able to visually know which peaks are the resonant peak and which are inherent with the driver.

    Now you may say, I don’t hear a peak a 8k. Perhaps not- your ear volume and impedance may be slightly different from the coupler, which is modeled after the average ear. If you wear the iem shallower, you will perceive the peak lower in frequency response and likely higher in amplitude. Conversely, if you wear the iem deeper, you will perceive the peak higher in frequency response with lower amplitude.

    Crin explains this stuff here:
    https://crinacle.com/2020/04/08/graphs-101-how-to-read-headphone-measurements/
    Check out the couple resonance section towards the bottom of the article.

    IMO, in order to have any of this stuff make sense to you the individual, you need a tone generator app, so that you can move sliders/dials over specific frequencies and compare what you hear with the measurements on hand or the description the reviewer has described.

    There of course are other variables like Pinna gain: where it should be located (2-3k) and how much amplitude (8, 10, 12, 15 db) is required to sound flat and neutral. But the Timeless review thread is not the place to continue into this. When I have the time later today, I’m going to move all this into its own thread.
     
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  10. joeexp

    joeexp Don't ship this man FD-X1 ever

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    1) If you never try anything new - how would you even know what is out there. Guess what - even the Sennheiser HD600s were new once.
    2) IEM's suck, Headphones suck, Speakers suck. They all suck compared to a live event. Doesn't stop me from using them.
    There's plenty of 'experts' with their preferred FR response curve out there to choose from; Pick one that you like! Just don't expect 3d imaging when you stick some plugs into your earholes.

    This just feels like Head-fi all over again.
    TAXI!
     
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    Last edited: Dec 23, 2021
  11. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Almost "Made"

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    Yes and no. Ultimately, ears are ears, and there will be designers who have a similar perceived FR to your own. Purrin's hearing matches Ken Ball's, mine matches Fiio's, etc.
     
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  12. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Ha, well not really, but obviously I am willing to push it to try to bring some light to the subject even if it does ruffle the feathers of IEM guys a bit. It's for a good cause. While occasionally someone claims the HD6xx does bass or a Focal is slow, these are the outliers whereas the divergence is greater with IEM's *in general* and occasionally flare up into mud slinging.

    Purr1n's, @shotgunshane and others responses have been helpful to me.
     
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  13. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    @crenca some additional thoughts on iems, what you hear and how they correlate to measurements
    • What shifts with insertion is treble. Think 6k and up. If a peak bothers you, try smaller tips to push the housing deeper or multi-flange tips to fit deeper by effectively lengthening the nozzle. Foam tips may absorb ear reflections or even fold/bend and partially block the nozzle if there is much overhang of foam over the stiff inner tube of the tip. As mentioned earlier, deeper fit pushes peaks a little higher in frequency response and lower amplitude. Shallower fit can lower the peak in frequency response and increase the amplitude. This is why Etymotic iems require 2nd bend deep fit to sound correct.
    • Narrow bore tips tend to darken treble but can make it peaks sharper; whereas wide bore tips might sound brighter but treble tends to be smoother as a peak will sound broader versus sharper. Sometimes a manufacturer will flare out the nozzle, like a horn, to allow for smoother, less peaky treble with shallow fit (FitEar did this with the F111, an homage to the Etymotic ER4S but with shallow fit (I should have kept this one)).
    • Upper midrange/pinna gain: I prefer pinna gain at about 2.5k but others prefer 3k. Then of course is the matter of how much amplitude. Not enough and rock guitars and female vocals will sound recessed, or lacking energy, or too chesty/rich. Westone typically has a massive valley here and just sound veiled and weird. Too much pinna gain and there is too much energy/hot midrange. Some call this 'shouty' but that's a misnomer as shout comes from too much 1k (think the original Aurisonics ASG-1, it literally had a shout/reverb there). But shouty mids has become kind of a defacto term, even if misused.
    • I personally don't like peaks/sharp rises between 4 and 5k. I call this the transition area of upper midrange to lower treble. Harshness lives here for me.
    • Pretty much what you see below 2k in raw measurements is WYSIWG (what you see is what you get). However flat linear bass can sound thin in an iem, since there is no chest and body gain. There really is no consensus on how much iem bass gain sounds right but this is one of the things the Harman target tries to address for right or wrong. IME anything over about 3 or 4 db and you start to lose definition/accuracy but it may sound more natural. Such are the sacrifices of of an iem.
     
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  14. Ox Cart

    Ox Cart Facebook Friend

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    Andromeda definitely strikes me as too laid back in general. Timeless isn't so much laid back as what I would call soft. My favorite IEM tuning in the 2-5KHz range is probably the VK4, which is a little subdued at 2 KHz and a little elevated at 4-5. The Timeless is essentially the opposite of that.

    To my ear, the VK4 results in well balanced vocals (not forward, not recessed) and overall a good sense of attack and energy to instruments, though occasionally venturing into harshness. If I EQ down the 4-5K region it does smooth it out, but stuff starts to sound soft and a little boring.

    AFAIK 4K is often the worst affected frequency from noise induced hearing loss, and I'm no spring chicken, so that may be part of what drives my preferences.
     
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  15. nishan99

    nishan99 Friend

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    The nature of the sound should be taken into account. Orthos usually have softer presentation and attacks so making them bright is actually the way to make them sound natural.
    Same reason why Hifimans are always bright on FR measurements but doesn't sound as bright as the measurements indicate (vice-versa with Focals).

    Also it's the same reason why BAs must be as smooth as butter in the FR measurements (1khz and up) to make them listenable to me.
     
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  16. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Yup. This is what I'm beginning to believe and it's a source of frustration.

    With headphones, there are affordable references which have been established for a long time: HD6**, LCD-2. Heck, throw Utopia in there too. These headphones are not the end-all be-all for everybody, they may have even been tweaked slightly over the years. However their sound approach remains the same and people know how they sound. Consistent, steady, everybody knows them.

    It's funny because recently Jason was talking to me about some ideas about making the Aegir "better". I was like, no dude, don't. It's Stereophile Class A recommended. The Aegir fits a certain use case and has a certain sound (as well as being the cheapest amp by far in the Stereophile Class A list). Keep it the way it is. Audiophiles need (and also want) a reference that does not change. Also, we've all been around long enough to know that better usually means different. Let the upcoming Tyr be the better Aegir.

    Anyway, this is what drives me nuts about IEMs. It's just disappointment after disappointment. Once upon a time when there were less competitors, there used to be standards: Etys (which required super deep penetration to work) and then the UERM (custom only). These weren't very long-lived or people decided to move on because newer is always better.

    SixSeven reasons on why IEM reviews suck:
    1. Some of this could be due to the differences with pinna / concha gain from person to person. IEMs bypass these ear structures.
    2. IEMs are more global than headphones - that is they have much more reach in Asia where preferred tuning is different from NA.
    3. IEMs have a younger audience who will interpret what constitutes good sound inconsistently.
      1. Music is just so different these days. There's no manual a la Capitol Records of the late 50s of how to master and mix recordings. Nothing sounds natural. Auto-tune, layers of stuff in ProTools, electronic instruments and sampling, post sound processing effects, etc. May as well "enhance" BTS or Walkure Attack with elevated lows, highs, and sprinkle in some peaks instead of wanting to hear Bing Crosby or Eartha Kitt and their accompanying big bands sound normal.
      2. Kids who grew up with iPhones and in-ears could already have damaged hearing, seriously damaged hearing. I know when I'm on the public transportation of the plane, I crank up the IEMs. IEMs don't block out the noise that much. Good thing that I travel rarely these days.
    4. Even more uncontrolled factors with how the IEMs are used. We already know how important component chain is with headphones. With IEMs, it's even worse with tips, insertion depth, impedance (e.g. the CFA which is totally bonkers).
    5. Too many manufacturers, too many influencers, and hence too many shills (bad reviewers). The fact is IEMs are cheap to manufacture. Anyone and their aunt can get an IEM company off the ground. The capital requirements are next to nothing. And if you are lazy like Cardas, you can throw it over the fence to let someone else make it for you. If I were in the IEM business, I'd find a reliable shilling partner of the month.
    6. People are dumb and keep upgrading (really sidegrading) their IEMs, thinking the latest and greatest is better. Hence, never allowing a long standing reference to take hold.
    7. Sean Olive's shitty IE targets, which become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    EDIT:

    The one recent standout which I felt would be a great candidate for a reference is the GAudio Nair. It's not the end-all be-all. It's tuning is such that is straddles in the middle between people with different pinna gains. However, this as reference would never happen because of reasons (3), (5), and (6) above. It's also Swiss made, which makes it on the pricier side.
     
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    Last edited: Dec 25, 2021
  17. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I just got this new iem in and its soooooo good I'm going to sell both my 7hz and Zen Pros for this new one its the bestest evarrrr!

    I also just bought the LIM again because I realized it's the best everrrr too.

    :p
     
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  18. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    I remember reading an article by Brent Butterworth (or maybe Tyll) that most items he compared with someone else they tended to agree on how they sounded EXCEPT for IEMs where sound notes would diverge quite a bit. One reviewer would swear that they heard things another reviewer never heard.
     
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  19. Josh Schor

    Josh Schor Friend

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    Being an old 2channel guy who is new to headphones I really appreciate this site and the work that you do rythumdevils. Your reviews and music blog are really helpful. Keep it coming. I'm amazed at how anyone could complain about what you do, they may disagree with what they hear based on there rig, experience and hearing compared to you but still be appreciative of the work you put into all of this.
     
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  20. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I suppose I should further clarify some things here for some members.

    I have a 15 year history of mostly negative reviews. I hate almost all transducers and if you've been around for a while, you'd know I'm rather well known for this. I was banned from head-fi in 2013 or so for posting too many negative reviews about headphones, the final straw was posting a picture of an elephant taking a shit on a headphone I thought sounded like shit.

    But what I think some members may not understand is that I am now working as Gearmaster for this site, and doing most of the job to give Chacha a break. So almost every loaner that comes in, came in through me and I was in contact with the vendors. I cannot ask a vendor for a demo unit of a piece of gear and have them agree and send me one, and then write a negative review of it. I would ruin my relationship with them and other potential connections. If I think the product is ok but some members will like it, I will either post a reserved review, or send it to someone else to review. If I think it sounds bad and also that SBAF will think it sounds bad I send it back so that the vendor/manufacturer doesn't send a demo only to get a thread full of negative reviews, and we don't waste our time. I just sent an ortho back to a company that had many good qualities but every review including mine would have said "not enough bass and plastic-y treble timbre"

    So what @Cellist88 is seeing is a pattern of me only writing positive reviews, (along with some other confusing of facts that I already clarified) which is true because as Gearmaster that is all I can do ethically if we want to maintain relationships with vendors and manufacturers. You all are free to say whatever you want, but I'm not. If you noticed my reviews before I started Gearmaster duties, you will see much more critical reviews. I got a lot of flack and drama for thinking the Brystion BHA-1 sounded worse than the Magni 3+ and I'd rather have the Magni 3+.

    Point is, I write what I hear and will always be honest - I feel a serious weight to writing a positive review because it will influence people to buy what I'm reviewing. When I say something sounds good I am being honest, but you don't see all of my negative opinions of other gear because I can't share them. This is for the benefit of you all and SBAF.

    I may just stop writing reviews all together at some point.
     
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