shotgunshane’s IEM (custom and universal) recommendations, favorites and classics

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by shotgunshane, Jun 7, 2016.

  1. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I figured this place could use some added IEM content, so here it goes...

    I’ve had the pleasure of hearing (owning, borrowing and auditioning) hundreds of in-ears and thought I’d share my top recommendations/favorites across all sound signatures and technologies. List will be updated as I continue to explore the rapidly growing portable market. All MSRP’s are approximate.

    To see a comprehensive list of all in-ears I've heard, follow this link to google docs: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13oa1VMMKY0UjYbRuY0zsIEqGKp2R29O8tCYCKPzf82E/edit?usp=sharing

    Balanced Armatures

    Audio-Technica
    ATH-CK10 – MSRP $350 (discontinued; occasionally available from Japan importers). Universal. A portable audio classic. Neutral to analytical frequency response. Blazing fast bass; crisp and transparent midrange; super sparkly treble with very good timbre. Deep fit required. Super tiny housings.
    Others worth consideration: ATH-IM02; ATH-LS200
    Brainwavz
    B400 MSRP $189.50. Universal. 3D printed shells of so, so quality. Sightly warm and sweet signature that is moderately lower midrange centric. Impressive imaging and layering. Easy to listen to with slightly shelved down treble. Not too far of the neutral reservation but certainly thicker and richer than more neutral leaning sets. Huge bang for buck value.​

    Campfire Audio
    Andromeda – MSRP $1099. Universal. Downward sloping signature with a rebound in treble for plenty of sparkle. Just slightly north of neutral. Excellent transients and leading edges of notes. Just lovely treble sparkle and shimmer. Super shallow fit due to squat nozzles. Large, industrial housings.
    Orion– MSRP $349. Universal. Mid-centric, somewhat neutralish signature with middle/upper mid bump. Great Campfire Audio family treble. Large housings for single armature.​

    Empire Ears
    Spartan – MSRP $749. Custom and Universal. Slight U shaped response. Bass is deep bass focused; clear and engaging midrange; sparkly but relatively easy going treble.
    Zeus (R) – MSRP $2099. Custom and Universal. Well balanced signature. Excellent treble clarity, resolution and sparkle; full midrange and bass with deep bass tilt. Exceptional at layering and imaging.
    Others worth consideration: Cerberus, Athena

    Etymotic
    ER-4S – MSRP $299. Universal. A portable audio classic. Diffuse field tuned neutral reference. Perhaps the best in-ear treble I’ve heard. Can be slightly hot in the upper midrange (2-4k). Noticeable bass roll off under 60 Hz. Second bend fit required and can be annoying/itchy. Microphonics are unbearable without shirt clip.​

    Final Audio
    FI-BA-SS – MSRP $999. Universal. Perhaps my favorite tuned single balanced armature. Somewhat V shaped and super transparent signature. Often described as RAW sounding. Plentiful bass with Final Audio’s BAM technology; transparent and crisp midrange; edgy and raw treble that either performs magically or disastrously. Art deco design.​

    FitEar
    F111 – MSRP $500. Universal. The FitEar single balanced armature homage to the ER-4S. Slightly warm take on neutral. Full mid bass with mild sub roll off; fuller lower mids but still good upper mid presence for great male and female vocals; slightly laid back treble. Horn design nozzle for help with treble extension. Easy shallow fit. Hard to obtain due to Japanese market manufacturer limitations.
    Others worth consideration: TG334

    InEar
    ProPhile-8 – MSRP $1399. Universal. Neutral Reference. Reminds me of the Etymotic ER4XR but clearer, more transparent and much more resolving. Comes with 2 switches: Bass switch that tastefully elevates bass evenly across the spectrum about 3 db's; Treble switch that supposedly elevates lower to middle treble by 2 db's (very subtle change). Biggest criticism is it’s lacking presence in the top octave.
    Jerry Harvey Audio
    Angie – MSRP $1399. Universal. Midcentric take on a neutral signature. Variable bass with mid bass focus; fantastic midrange with intimate and evocative vocals; laid back treble. Lacking reference level treble extension.
    Others worth consideration: Layla

    Lime Ears
    Aether – MSRP $1250. Custom. Downward sloping signature that’s somewhat similar to Andromeda but more V shaped in comparison. Aether has very slightly more bass emphasis, particularly in sub/deep bass. Excellent bass texture. Overall note thickness is slightly warmer and thicker than Andromeda. Treble is not quite as prominent as but still maintains plenty of sparkle; slightly accentuates sibilance.​

    Massdrop

    Plus– MSRP $299. Universal. Diffuse field neutral signature with an approximate 7 db deep bass boost. Similar tuning approach to Sony MH1 but much better implemented. One of the most ergonomic shells on the market. Extreme clarity, excellent distortion guitar crunch. Masters what the Ety XR failed to achieve. One of the best bang for buck iems on the market.
    Noble
    Savanna – MSRP $499. Universal. Slighly midcentric take on a neutral signature. Very good balance across the spectrum with just a bit of warmth through midrange. New Savannah tuning was peak free in treble, unlike previous Noble 4.
    K10U – MSRP $1650. Universal. Midcentric signature. Full, plentiful bass with deep bass focus; lush and engaging mids with excellent vocal; easy going treble with decent sparkle and good extension.
    Massdrop X– MSRP $250. Universal. Downward sloping signautre. Reminiscent of the NAD HP50. Visceral bass, slight bump in upper mids and smooth treble. Recommend wide bore, large tips with shallow fit.​

    Ortofon
    E-Q8 – MSRP $389. Universal. Neutral leaning signature with focus on upper midrange. Very well extended bass for a single balanced armature. Midrange made to showcase distortion rock guitars. Could use a bit more treble sparkle; treble rolls off early.​

    Perfect Seal
    PS4 – MSRP $450. Custom. Balanced but fun presentation. Mild bass and treble boost. Engaging clarity, sparkle and rumble.
    AR6 – MSRP $950. Custom. Available in acrylic or silicone (silicone is more expensive). Neutral frequency response with slight upper mid focus. Excellent bass extension and holographic presentation.
    Deca– MSRP $1450. Custom. 10 drivers with seamless coherency. Very slightly downward sloping neutral signature. Everything the UERR should have been. Absolutely bottomless bass that rumbles strongly down to 20hz. Clear and energetic midrange with fantastic resolution. Slightly laid back treble but still more presence and sparkle that the UERR.
    Others worth consideration: PS6

    Ultimate Ears
    UERM – MSRP (discontinued; used only). Custom. My personal neutral reference. Bass is mid bass focused with roll off under 50 Hz. One of the most resolving midranges I’ve heard. Sparkly and slightly analytical treble with upper mid treble focus; extension to 16k +; Open and airy presentation.
    UE18+– MSRP $1500. Custom. Balanced stage monitor signature. Very slight upper mid veil but otherwise natural and resolving. Much better treble presence than UERR. Pleasing and easy to listen to.
    Others worth consideration: UERR, UE4

    Unique Melody
    Maestro – MSRP $1449. Custom and Universal. UM’s North American take on a neutral signature. Slightly fuller bass and lower mids over Miracle, with more refined, less peaky treble.​


    Hybrids

    64 Audio
    tia Fourte– MSRP $3599. Custom/Universal. U shaped signature, similar to Andromeda but bassier, so not really in the realm of a neutral signature. Fantastic bass texture and treble decay. Spoutless armatures really seem to have an edge in treble realism. Fourte is musical, fun and natural sounding. Certainly one of the best IEM's have heard but at an out of reach price for the average IEM connoisseur.
    AAW
    W900 – MSRP $2100. Custom/Universal. Easy going, polite all rounder. Bass and lower midrange enhanced with shelved down treble. Superb dynamic texture and decay with tame, yet very even and extended treble. Zero treble spikes. Fun done right. May be a hair dark and bassy for those looking for a more neutral signature.
    AKG
    K3003/i – MSRP $1299. Universal. Not the first hybrid and no longer the best but THE hybrid that started the craze. Moderate V shaped signature. Moderate deep bass boost with slow, lingering decay; engaging upper midrange; super sparkly treble with fantastic timbre. Non-removable cable with minimal strain relief. Treble may be too bright for some.
    Aurisonics
    ASG 1 Plus – MSRP $499 (discontinued; used only). Universal. Very slight V shaped response that is extremely fun and engaging but doesn’t stray too far from a more neutral signature like the Rockets. Satisfyingly powerful deep bass and effortlessly engaging and very sparkly treble.​

    FLC Technology
    FLC8S – MSRP $359. Universal. Comes with 10 tuning filters (3 sub bass, 3 bass, 4 mids/treble) to adapt to most preferences. Recommended setup: clear sub bass, clear bass, gold mids/treble for most neutral signature.
    iBasso
    IT03– MSRP $259. Universal. Bass forward signature that can sound like a minor V sig or downward slopping sig depending upon source. Balance of midrange tilting upper mid versus lower mid. Slightly plasticky treble timbre. Loads of fun. Concha housing protrusion can be physically fatiguing for some ears.​

    Oriveti
    Primacy – MSRP $299. Universal. Downward sloping response. Warm with mild bass boost; smooth treble. Very comfortable housings.​

    Unique Melody
    Martian – MSRP $700. Universal only. Slightly bulky but ergonomic and comfortable shells. Midcentric signature: Mild deep bass boost, clear and engaging midrange, laid back but crisp treble.​


    Dynamic Drivers

    AKG
    N20 – MSRP $119. Universal. Slight U shaped response. Moderate deep bass boost; full upper mid presence; sparkly but moderate treble.​

    Aurisonics
    Rockets – MSRP $250 (discontinued; used only). Universal. Neutral frequency response. Bass is neutral and linear with roll off under 50 Hz; intimate and engaging midrange; very slightly shelved down but linear treble with excellent extension. Tiny shells with micro driver and Kevlar cable.​

    Hifiman
    RE-262 – discontinued; impossible to find. The mids Hifiman known for.​

    Mee Audio
    Pinnacle P1 – MSRP $199. Universal. Downward sloping response. Warm with mild bass boost; Treble has mild lower peak, then middle to upper treble focused. Unusually large head stage. Midcentury modern design.​

    Sony
    MDR-EX1000 – MSRP $399 (discontinued in USA). Universal. A Sony classic. Very mild V shape take on a neutral signature. Fabulous bass rivaling the best I’ve heard in an in-ear. Transparent mids and slightly analytical treble with a controversial 7k spike. Odd perpendicular fit to ear.
    Others worth consideration: MDR-7550

    Vsonic
    GR07 Classic – MSRP $99. Universal. A portable audio classic. A fairly neutral but warm signature. A baby EX1000 with slightly more agreeable treble.
    Others worth consideration: GR07 mkII


    Budget [Less than $99]

    Alpha & Delta
    D6 – MSRP $94.99. Dynamic driver. Universal. Another modder’s gem. Stock signature is analytical and lean. Modifications with micropore tape can bring it to a more neutral and natural signature. Super clean and transparent. On the aggressive but engaging side. Could use a hair more sub bass. ​
    Fostex
    TE-02n – MSRP $29. Dynamic driver. Universal. A modder’s gem. Stock signature is neutral leaning analytical. Modifications can bring it to an even more neutral signature. Great timbre and bass speed. Plastic but durable housings.​
    LG
    Quadbeat 3 – MSRP $25. Dynamic driver. Universal. Neutral signature with significant sub bass boost. The sub bass boost can make the mid bass be perceived as lacking. Fantastic clear mids and treble.
    NuForce
    Massdrop EDC3 – MSRP $99. Triple armature. Universal. Slightly warmish take on a neutral signature. The upper midrange gets a bump for upfront and very engaging vocals and guitars. Lower treble is laid back and treble timbre slightly plasticky. A true 'do nothing wrong' signature and wonderful bargain.​

    Ostry
    KC06 – MSRP $49. Dynamic driver. Universal. Midcentric signature. Plentiful bass boost peaks in mid bass but has good extension; lush, inviting midrange with excellent vocals; sparkly, slightly peaky treble.​

    Sony
    MH1/C – MSRP $79 (but can be found for less than half). Dynamic driver. Universal. Warmish to neutral signature with prodigious sub bass boost. Similar to Quadbeat 3 but more sub bass; slightly warmer mids and slightly easier going treble. Worst flat cable known to man but there are many out there to re-cable them.​

    SoundMagic
    E10 – MSRP $39. Dynamic driver. Universal. Bass first signature. Bass boost peaks in mid bass but has good extension; full, engaging midrange; smooth treble with some sparkle. Metal housings and springy, stiff cable.​

    Zero Audio
    Tenore – MSRP $35. Micro dynamic driver. Universal. Warm, fairly neutral but downward sloping signature. Treble is virtually free from peaks and extends to 18k +; bass gives gentle rise to sub bass; inviting vocals. Build quality is inconsistent.​
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2018
  2. mulolomu

    mulolomu Rando

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    Nice and helpful thread...
    Thank you for making this list @shotgunshane

    Have you tried or heard fitear TG334 or Ocharaku Kaede?
     
  3. Griffon

    Griffon 2nd biggest asshole on SBAF

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    Excellent write up SGS, truly wonderful!

    A few takes:

    - JH Angie. This is a conditional outstanding to me. It requires absolutely close-to-zero output impedance from the amp. And it's power hungry. Maybe it's less hungry than UERM, but more juice should be better. At its finest, guitar performance of Angie is outlandish good. Also the bass dials need to sit at roughly 10-11 o'clock position, or there may be bass intrusion into mids.

    - Noble K10U gets my nay. I see why people fall in love with it, but all I can say is it is a nice try to emulate an analogue sound. This is my pick of trying-to-be-fun-but failed.

    - Mee P1 has sibilance reports. It may be a highly fit-dependent IEM.
     
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  4. manatworks

    manatworks Friend

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    Ahhh, RE-262 , my gateway drug, still got one somewhere in my stash. I still think that its one of nicer iem offerings from Hifiman, too bad its not that portable-friendly so it ended up in the box most of the time.
     
  5. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I knew I was forgetting something. I added TG334 as others worth consideration under FitEar. When I was into bassier signatures I really liked the TG334. Perhaps some of the best male vocals and really incredible depth. Treble was a little steely though and eventually I craved more upper mid presence and faster bass.

    The only Ocharaku I've heard is the Flat 4. It was just ok. I little too bright at times.

    I thought Angie pretty decent on the iPhone 5S with it's 2.2 OI. Anything more than that took too much treble away. I think I kept bass somewhere around that same setting as you.


    I don't mind the higher impedance but I didn't care of the modular cable. The connectors were quite heavy and flopped around. I really hope Hifiman brings this one back revamped.
     
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  6. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex Grumpiest admin

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    AWESOME THREAD! Major thanks for posting this :)

    Now we just need to get you some of Mike Kubota's epic stuff like the Oriolus to try out!!!
     
  7. GettingBuckets

    GettingBuckets Almost "Made"

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    For some reason, I can't really get used to the sound of BA IEMs. Any other recommendations for dynamic ones? I heard the Cardas A8 sort of sounds like a 650 (ie warm and smooth).
     
  8. mulolomu

    mulolomu Rando

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    @shotgunshane

    Kaede is also Flat-4 lineup and is the TOTL model, Kuro is the mid end model, and SUI for the entry level model...

    Did you forget which type do you listen to?

    But yes, overall sound signature from all ocharaku flat-4 lineup are towards to uppermid and treble "centric"
     
  9. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I have an Oriolus loaner at the moment. It's nice but a little too CHILL and laid back for me personally. That PW stock cable is pretty epic though. I've never seen such a pliable and flexible cable of that large a gauge.

    Ah, thanks for correcting me. It was the Sui I heard. I had forgot how the naming scheme went.
     
  10. Griffon

    Griffon 2nd biggest asshole on SBAF

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    In addition a few thoughts:

    RHA MA750(i) DD, MSRP $119 for the non-"i" version
    Awesomesauce modern portaphile sound. Dynamic driver done right on budget. Slightly bass-heavy neutral-dark sounding with very correct timbre. Built like a Panzer.

    Also when Angie was running from Sony ZX1, I felt muddy, under-powered sub-bass. It's un-bad, but it needs close-to-zero O.I. to really shine.

    SGS, what's your take on AT IM04? I'm very curious about this one.
     
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  11. recarcar

    recarcar Friend

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    I owned the Kaede II and now have the Akazakura. The Kaede II excelled in terms of instrument texture and timbre but unfortunately had a really low-fi frequency response IMO. It had a huge peak in the upper treble and was generally uneven with regards to FR across the board. It's a shame because what it did well, it did incredibly well.

    The Akazakura is a much more even phone. It still retains much of the strengths of the Kaede II, while providing better tonal balance and and a more even FR. It does give up some of the magic the Kaede II has in terms of instrument timbre and texture, though. It's the least treble tipped of the line, but still on the brighter side.

    I think the Flat-4 line is a classic case of over engineering. The driver used in those earphones clearly has a crazy amount of potential, and shows off some of the more impressive attributes of dynamic drivers. But the phase correction tube and doubling up of the drivers I feel does more to hinder than help, especially in terms of FR.

    There is still, to my ears, some funny reflections happening in the 6-8Khz range (within the range that the phase tube is supposed to mitigate) which exacerbates the peak at those frequencies, and I feel the tube might have something to do with it. I hope in the future they make a more straightforward single DD design with those drivers.
     
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  12. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I haven't heard the RHA MA750 or the AT IM04. The RHA T10i had awesome build quality but not so great SQ. The only AT IM model I heard was the IM02. Some tried to claim it was the second coming of the CK10 but it wasn't even close. It's a fun iem but more tuned towards a typical consumer market than not.
     
  13. Griffon

    Griffon 2nd biggest asshole on SBAF

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    Thanks for the information about IM02! The newer AT E70 flagship is disappointing in a major way. The bass is kinda bloated and muffled, while the midrange no longer has the typical AT magic.
     
  14. Warrior

    Warrior Friend

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    @shotgunshane Great list bro, thanks for sharing. Great take on the Sony ex1000, agreed. One of my top 5 of IEMS. Sony definitely check out the Xb90ex if you love bass, extremely power hungry, along with EX800st.

    Asg g2 and g2.5, another great basshead iem. Some treble roll off, but eq fixes it rather nicely.

    If you are on a budget, the Sony Xb90ex is a great iem for bassheads. Overall, great Sq as well. "bargain" at $90.
     
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  15. zachchen1996

    zachchen1996 Friend

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    I've only heard the EX1000 once and I loved them, wish sony would come out with a successor.
     
  16. Warrior

    Warrior Friend

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    They are incredible. I prefer the EX800st, but the ex1000 are tuned differently. Plus, with eq, you can dramatically alter the sound, and it still sounds crystal clear.
     
  17. mulolomu

    mulolomu Rando

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    I thought Z5 is supposed to be the EX1000's successor...but i dont think its worthy to "replaced" the EX1000..
     
  18. Panohm

    Panohm Almost "Made"

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    Z5 is due for a successor, rumor has it that the major change will be to the mmcx connector. Sony had quite a few RMAs because of the durability of this connection.
     
  19. Warrior

    Warrior Friend

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    I'm still waiting for mine (z5), might be tomorrow... If not hopefully Monday. Not sure if I will like them, but I needed to know.
     
  20. Griffon

    Griffon 2nd biggest asshole on SBAF

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    ASG2.5 falls within my non-shit category. It's basshead but no way it's the best quality bass.
     
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