Tag Archives: Hybrid Driver earphones

IKKO OH10 and OH1 review: Still have it

INTRODUCTION:

IKKO is one of those brands which exploded into the audiophile scene. They did not come up with a lot under their belt but has two very good IEMs with consumer oriented tunings. Both the OH10 and OH1 have done exceptionally well all across the world and is one of the hottest selling earphone in their price segments but of the two it’s the more premium OH10 which reigns supreme. IKKO seems calm about their strategies. They are not launching products left and right but are trying to time their launches. IKKO’s portfolio is not a very busy one, after the huge success of their IEMs they introduced a couple of DAC/Amps (and a refresh to the OH1, OH1S very recently) too.

Both the IEMs I have here have the exactly same driver configuration. Both have a single 10mm polymer composite titanium film dynamic drive paired with single Knowles 33518.

These IEMs were launched at $199 and $140 for OH10 and OH1 respectively but to make these IEMs more competent IKKO has reduced their prices. OH10 is $40 cheaper taking the price down to $159 while the OH1 can be bought for $100 from Drop. Both these IEMs do not have many color options. The OH10 comes in metal grey color with chrome finish on it while the OH1 gas a matte blue paint on it.

I have had a few good IEMs under $200, BQEYZ Spring 2, Summer and TRN BA8 and will bring the Campfire Audio Honeydew occasionally for comparisons.

Get one for yourself from these links:

https://audio46.com/blogs/headphones/ikko-oh10-obsidian-hybrid-iem-review

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:-

IKKO has implemented exactly same packaging for both the OH10 and OH1. They come in a colorful outer paper package with a cardboard box in it. These IEMs have an elegant yet simple unboxing experience. Upon opening the flap an envelope greets is. It has some product details and warranty details on it. Below that the ear pieces and a cufflink are stuffed inside a foam pad while the all leather carry pouch is placed aside it. Under the carry pouch 3 pair dark grey and 3 pair of smoke white tips with black flanges can be found.

HOW ARE THE CABLES:-

I am not a fan of this kind of cables being packed with IEMs over $100 but since this cable has its own aesthetical appeal due to use of metal parts in the 3.5mm jack, Y splitter and 2pins. Both the IEMs ship with the same 4 core OFC silver plated copper cable but have different color to them. The OH10 ships with black and the OH1 ships with a grey cable.

Both the cables have exactly same profile and feel to them. These cable are supple and do not have much memory to them. The braiding is slightly on the stiffer side but it doesn’t make the cable stiff. The 90 degree 3.5mm jack is convenient when gaming and the cable guides are very comfortable on the ear. I found the lack of cable slider to be a bit bothering since the cable up from Y splitter is thin and can tangle easily.

BUILD AND ERGONOMICS:-

Both the IEMs have exactly same design, the triangular back plate have similar dented pattern but different finishing and housing material. The OH10 has heavier body with titanium coating on the outside of a copper shell. There is platinum coating on the inside.

The cheaper OH1 has aerospace alloy hosing and is much lighter than the OH10 at just 6g.

Both the IEMs do not have a semi custom type shell. These nozzles are 5.7mm wide but are deep enough for a secure and stable fit. Protection on the 2.5mm socket give these earpieces an unique character. Both the IEMs have two pressure releasing vents, one can be found aside the 2pin socket while the other is near the nozzle’s base.

PAIRING WITH SOURCES:-

Both the IEMs have exactly same specifications too.

Impedance: 18 ohms.

Sensitivity: 106dB.

Frequency Response Range: 20Hz-40kHz.

Thanks to the highly sensitivity of 106db and source friendly impedance of 18ohm both these Ikko IEMs are very easy to drive from most of the mobile phones. But obviously providing these IEMs a bit of power yields better stage and details. No need to worry, it is very good with decent mid range mobile phones too.

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Empire Ears Hero Review : Bass to the forth with details in heart

INTRODUCTION:-

I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t heard about the Empire Ears. They make some of the best IEMs one can buy. Few years ago I reviewed their Bravado and it is an IEM I still fee is excellent for a bassy and caller sound signature. They have launched a lot of IEMs since then. Recently they came up with two hybrid earphones. Empire Ears Odin ($3399) is the flagship while the HERO I am working on is the lower high end IEM (Some can say its upper mid range IEM but anything over $1000 has to be labeled high as far as I am concerned). It houses one 9mm W9+ sub-woofer and 3 BA drivers in a 4-Way synX Crossover Network.

The Hero comes in both universal and custom fit versions and both the versions start at $1349. It doesn’t have any other color scheme for the universal fit and one has to be contained with the black smoke marble type face plate which in itself looks classy.

In their words:

“Hero (Universal)

Hero is relentless, fierce and unapologetic – a renunciation of rules, preconceptions and everything that’s expected from it. It represents a tour de force of Empire’s expertise and craftsmanship, elevating musicality presentation to a level non-existent in its tier. With DNA sourced directly from Legend X and Zeus XIV, Hero reveres our past to emulate flagship levels of performance without the flagship admission.”

It faces plenty of competition from IEMs like a various brands but I will compare it with the Unique Melody Mirage, Vision Ears VE6XC and Nocturnal Eden.

Get one from these links:

WHAT’S IN THE BOX:-

The first thing I noticed about the hero box is the heft. It has a very interesting packaging. Most of the time the IEM and all the accessories are placed in a single compartment but the Hero comes in a layered box. Lifting the upper lid exhibits the IEM and the cable but all other accessories are placed in a sliding compartment under it.

When you pay $1349 you get a 4 core Alpha cable made in collaboration with effect audio. A heavy all metal “Pandora Case”, 5 pair of Final type E tips in 5 sizes can be found at the bottom compartment. A cleaning cloth and cleaning tool can be found inside the carry case.

Here is my unboxing video:

HOW IS THE CABLE:-

Empire Ears have been shipping their IEMs with excellent cables long before this trend caught up. They have Effect Audio as their partner in crime. Hero ships with Alpha IV cable, in their words:

“At Empire Ears we believe that an extraordinary IEM requires an extraordinary cable. We’re proud to introduce Alpha-IV (A4); a premium handcrafted 4 core cable comprised of a proprietary 26AWG UPOCC Litz Copper with multi-size stranding. The advantage of multi-sized stranded design within the same encapsulations enables A4 to achieve distinct highs and details due to the signal transmission speed in thinner cable strands, while the thicker size cable strands deliver smoother bass and mids.”

One can choose 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm terminations while placing the order. I do not see a lot of differences with the last gen cable. This cable too has the similar kind of memory problem. It is not the supplest cable but one has to keep in mind that litz cables are a bit stiff. Thankfully the 4 core cable is not heavy but the 3.5mm jack is on the heavier side though. The cable splitter is small and do not add weight to the cable while the cable/chin slider is very small and functional. Cable guides are easy on the ear and have a secure feel to them.

BUILD AND ERGONOMIC:-

I have been working a handful of IEMs in various forms but the Empire Ears Hero has one of the best fit. The Hero is made out of acrylic with layers of resin on it. It is sturdy and strong, nothing to complain about the build but might not survive a fall on solid surfaces from a 3ft+ height. Yes, it’s not the strongest material on the market but it’s fairly light weight and doesn’t feel heavy inside the ears making it more pleasing.

It incorporates a 3 bore design and has a cute looking bass vents at the side of the shell.

The best thing about these is the slightly longer nozzle, making the IEM get a bit deeper into the ear giving a very secure fit. The nozzle has a bit of lip which lets the tip sit without slipping out. Kudos to the final E type tips too, they have excellent grip inside the ear. Compared to some other IEMs this can feel a bit bigger than needed but the size is not problematic. It has a small wing type design to provide some stability.

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Empire Ears ODIN: The Dream Theatre – An In-Ear Monitor Review

DISCLAIMER: Empire Ears provided me with the ODIN in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Empire Ears for their kindness and support. The article is as follows.

Empire Ears is a Georgia-born in-ear manufacturer, who currently hold stock as one of the most daring, most audacious monitor makers in the industry. Making their name off of penta-bore designs and 14-driver behemoths, Empire arguably made their biggest splash with the debut of their hybrid IEMs. Not only did they establish a slew of novel tech from A.R.C to synX, but they produced a whole, new dynamic driver for them as well, which enthusiasts and professionals alike have gone on to praise for its bottom-end reproduction. And, now, with custom-transformed electrostats thrown into the mix too, Empire present the flagship tri-brid ODIN: A grand, sweeping in-ear with resolution and immersion by the truckload.

Empire Ears ODIN

  • Driver count: Two Weapon IX+ dynamic drivers, five balanced-armature drivers and four electrostatic drivers
  • Impedance: 3Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 108dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): EIVEC, synX crossover technology, A.R.C. technology, proprietary DDs and BAs
  • Available form factor(s): Universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $3399
  • Website: www.empireears.com

Packaging and Accessories

The ODIN I received from Empire Ears on loan is the Founder’s Edition variant, which has signatures from the Empire staff on the box, a certificate (with messages written and signed by Jack and Dean Vang) and an owner’s card packed in the in-ear’s compartment as well. This variant of the ODIN has Dean Vang’s signature engraved on the shells too. This Founder’s Edition instantly sold out at launch, so the following will be an overview of what you get in the standard retail packaging.

The ODIN comes in packaging not unlike their previous flagship Wraith: A large, imposing black box with the Empire logo cleanly embossed in silver on the front. The difference here is this ODIN’s arrives wrapped in a white sleeve, topped with the Valknut logo embossed in gold, which I think is a nice, classy touch; evocative of jewellery or luxury. This box sports a magnetic lid, which folds open to reveal the ODIN and its Stormbreaker cable nestled inside. And, on the side is a pull tab, which reveals a drawer storing the included accessories: A round, engraved, metal case and Final’s Type-E ear tips, which come displayed in a nicely-made metallic tray. Last, but certainly not least, is an Empire-branded cloth tucked in the case.

The ODIN also comes with Empire’s usual paperwork, which comes in the form of their quick-start guide. It’s a well-made guide complete with illustrations; an effort I very much appreciate. And, on it is also a QR code for the full guide on their website, along with links to their social media. Personally, I feel their support staff’s e-mail or their hotline would’ve been more appropriate here, rather than the social media links. But, that’s really my only qualm with the booklet. Then, finally, tucked within the guide are Empire-branded stickers as well, which are always nice additions to the unboxing experience.

We mustn’t forget to mention the ODIN’s premium Stormbreaker cable, crafted by renowned cable maker: PW Audio. The Stormbreaker is based on their 2-wire 1960s cable, which consists of a USA-sourced copper conductor in a coaxial design, enclosed within a black, cotton jacket. The differences between this cable and the 2-wire 1960s would be the gorgeously-made, CNC’d, chrome Valknut splitter, as well as its 2.5mm plug, both made in collaboration with Pentaconn. If you don’t have a 2.5mm source, you may buy matching, Pentaconn adapters to 3.5mm and 4.4mm plugs on Empire’s online store.

Speaking briefly of the metal case, I think it’s a fine addition to the ODIN’s package. It’s almost the exact same case as the ones I’ve seen from brands like Jomo Audio, Metal Magic Research and JH Audio, so it’s not exactly the most unique extra out there. It’s also hard to ignore the recent rise of bespoke leather cases accompanying flagship products. So, from that lens, I can see where some audiophiles (collectors, especially) may want a tad more out of Empire here. But, on the other hand, looking at it from a touring musician’s perspective, metal is a lot more durable than leather. So, depending on who you are, you may or may not be happy with Empire’s choice of case. I personally feel this is a more audiophile-aimed IEM that could benefit from a more luxurious accessory. But, I can see the for musicians argument too. Your mileage will vary.

Ergonomics and Build

In terms of looks, there’s no denying that these ODIN’s are absolute stunners. For them, Empire have premiered another bombshell of a faceplate; this time, fittingly dubbed Bifröst after the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology. It is made in the USA by an award-winning chemist, and it’s made up of nine, individual polymer layers – perhaps, in reference to the Nine Realms of Norse mythology as well – in three, proprietary lamination steps. Each polymer layer reacts to light in different ways, which results in show-stopping spectrums of colours appearing and disappearing as you tilt the faceplates around in light. Finished with gold Valknut and Empire logos, it’s easily the prettiest pair of faceplates I’ve seen in recent memory.

The shells come in Empire’s standard gloss-black, and it’s a very fitting colour here. The faceplates are already flashy and loud on their own, so this piano-black does make a perfect match. As is always the case with Empire, both earpieces are smoothly, evenly-lacquered all throughout without a bubble or crack in sight. Everything from the faceplates to the 2-pin sockets fit flush, and both the sound holes and the Weapon IX+ vents are cleanly, flawlessly-drilled as well. The one gripe I have with the ODIN’s shell would be the lack of a lip on the end of the nozzle. Each time I remove the monitors from my ears when I’m using JVC’s Spiral Dot tips, they’ll come off the IEMs and stay stuck in my ears; without fail. It’s less an issue with the stock Final tips, but it does make tip-rolling more difficult than necessary. Hopefully, it will be fixed in the future.

The ODIN’s universal shell is slightly on the larger side, especially if you’re used to the slimmer profiles of Campfire Audio or 64 Audio’s universals. Though, to be fair, given the amount of components inside, Empire’ve done a pretty impressive job organising those internals and achieving this silhouette. It’s even smaller than the Wraith, which had more balanced-armatures, but no dynamic drivers. In my fairly large ears, both pieces fit very nicely. I probably would’ve liked a bit more of a lip around the cymba area for more grip and skin contact to conduct those DDs. But, that’s my one gripe with the fit.

Lastly, the ergonomics of the Stormbreaker cable are fairly positive overall. This coaxial design makes it much lighter and more low-profile than most aftermarket cables. And, the plugs and Y-split don’t weigh much, if anything at all, either. My one gripe would probably be with the memory of the cable. It retains bends from top to bottom, and it isn’t the prettiest look. But, I reckon the cable’s lightness and complete lack of microphonics (rubbing noise) will slide that nitpick by easily.

EIVEC Technology

EIVEC (or Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control) is proprietary Empire tech developed for their initial electrostatic hybrids: The Valkyrie and Wraith. The aim is to act as a bridge of sorts between the e-stats and the rest of the driver sets, so they’d operate in conjunction to create a seamless, coherent sound. EIVEC involves developing a custom transformer, which – in this ODIN’s case – drives all four of its electrostatic tweeters, instead of the one-transformer-per-tweeter config many other manufacturers use for their electrostatic hybrids. Considering Empire’s claims that “getting the driver types to play nice with each other” was the ODIN’s toughest task, I think it’s safe to say that EIVEC plays a major role in this success.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears

Weapon IX+

Empire’s custom-built, Weapon IX dynamic driver played an immeasurably crucial role in the success of their X, hybrid in-ear monitors, responsible for what both critics and enthusiasts alike have called “the best” or “most memorable” low-ends they’ve ever heard out of an IEM. The product of years of R&D at Empire’s skunkworks, they claim to key to its sound lies in its bass-reflex enclosure system, which has a front-firing sound port and a rear-firing vent for utmost efficiency. In the years since, Empire have continued to refine their diaphragm, and now premiering with the ODIN is the new Weapon IX+ dynamic driver. It sports a larger internal-coil diameter, a more linear excursion envelope and more capable suspension to better-handle peak-to-peak excursions while mitigating distortion. It’s a driver that features in the ODIN, Hero and the upcoming MK2 variants of their X series, and I can’t wait to hear all the flavours Empire will draw out of this stunning DD.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears

A.R.C. Technology

A.R.C. stands for Anti-Resonance Compound, and it’s a solution that coats every component within Empire’s in-ears. What it does is raise the relative mass of each part and dampen unwanted resonances and vibrations. This substance consists of a proprietary mix of polymers, designed to achieve a specific density-to-rigidity ratio; maximising vibration absorption without transmitting those vibrations or gumming up the sound. In addition, A.R.C tech also contributes a layer of shock protection to the in-ear’s internals, so you’ll receive increased durability along with that cleaner, interference-free sound.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears

synx Crossover Technology

synX Technology is Empire’s proprietary solution to crossovers; the system in multi-driver IEMs responsible for delegating the different frequency ranges for each driver or driver set to reproduce. Empire’s synX system is rather unique, in that it often has more pathways than drivers or driver sets, which results in multiple alternate paths for each one. Empire claim this results in zero phase incoherence and precise tone control. The former means each driver set’s responsible for their own frequency range, so there aren’t any overlapping frequencies, which may interfere and cancel each other out at the ear. The latter is a feature for engineers or tinkerers, where all EQ applied to the crossover only applies to the driver set it’s altering. Empire promise realistic imaging, low distortion, low noise and a wide frequency band with synX crossovers.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears

The post Empire Ears ODIN: The Dream Theatre - An In-Ear Monitor Review first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

A First Look: Empire Ears Odin

DISCLAIMER: Empire Ears provided me with the Odin in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Empire Ears for their kindness and support. The article is as follows.

To me, very few in the industry embody the word audacity as fearlessly and passionately as American-made Empire Ears. This family-run monitoring brand have made a name off of their ingenuity, swiftly escalating from penta-bore designs, to 14-driver customs, to proprietary-dynamic-driver hybrids and – now – the inclusion of custom-tuned electrostats in there as well. With each passing cycle seeing one bold, precarious invention after another, you’d think Empire would’ve burned out their creative engine by now. But, in 2020, as they’ve done year by year, they’ve only stepped it up. Empire’s new, tri-brid flagship Odin packs in every last bell, chime and whistle for their grandest, most immense, most revealing in-ear yet.

Empire Ears Odin

  • Driver count: Two Weapon IX+ dynamic drivers, five balanced-armature drivers and four electrostatic drivers
  • Impedance: 3Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 108dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): EIVEC, synX crossover technology, A.R.C. technology, proprietary DDs and BAs
  • Available form factor(s): Universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $3399
  • Website: www.empireears.com

EIVEC Technology

EIVEC (or Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control) is proprietary Empire tech developed for their initial electrostatic hybrids: The Valkyrie and Wraith. The aim is to act as a bridge of sorts between the e-stats and the rest of the driver sets, so they’d operate in conjunction to create a seamless, coherent sound. EIVEC involves developing a custom transformer, which – in the Odin’s case – drives all four of its electrostatic tweeters, rather than the one-transformer-per-tweeter config many other manufacturers use for their electrostatic hybrids. Considering Empire’s claims that “getting the driver types to play nice with each other” was the Odin’s toughest task, I think it’s safe to say that EIVEC plays a major role in that success.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears

Weapon IX+

Empire’s custom-built, Weapon IX dynamic driver played an immeasurably crucial role in the success of their X, hybrid in-ear monitors, responsible for what both critics and enthusiasts alike have called “the best” or “most memorable” low-ends they’ve ever heard out of an IEM. The product of years of R&D at Empire’s skunkworks, they claim to key to its sound lies in its bass-reflex enclosure system, which has a front-firing sound port and a rear-firing vent for utmost efficiency. In the years since, Empire have continued to refine their diaphragm, and now premiering with this Odin is the new Weapon IX+ dynamic driver. It sports a larger internal-coil diameter, a more linear excursion envelope and more capable suspension to better-handle peak-to-peak excursions while mitigating distortion. It’s a driver that’ll feature in the Odin, Hero and the upcoming MK2 variants of their X series, and I can’t wait to hear all the flavours Empire will draw out of this stunning DD.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears


Sound Impressions

Empire Ears’ Odin is an immense, immense-sounding monitor. The soundscape it builds is arrestingly vast, intricate and well-organised, and the instruments within them follow suit with a tonality built for resonance, vividness and power. This is a sig I’d classify as w-shaped to a degree, though one that – more than most others – maintains a fairly-even, clear hue throughout; teasing some zing out of the sub-bass, upper-mids and mid-treble, but with continuity to it too. Coming back to its stage, this Odin’s – without a doubt – ranks among the most effortlessly-nuanced, intricately-layered and just, plain spacious I’ve heard yet. It possesses absolute authority over the picture it’s painting, such that, without fail, you’re always able to tell when sounds start and stop, which move where, etc. It’s resolution and layering made comically easy, and the fact that the Odin does so without cheats – while keeping its notes full and supported – is a massive, massive feat. Bravo.

Empire’s induction into the basshead’s Hall of Fame came concurrently with the release of their Legend X in 2018. Though reception to its mid-bass quantity was a tad more mixed, the physicality, gusto and power that those Weapon IX woofers showed were undeniable, and it set the bar for many; myself included. Now, in 2020, armed with the DD’s latest revision, the Odin sees Empire perfect their low-end tuning for a bass as captivating as ever, but more balanced and refined than ever before; oomph without excess. Tactility, texture and punch rank among the best I’ve heard. But, at the same time, it shows enough restraint to sit with the mids and treble, even with the most grandiose of bass drops on tracks like Pusha-T’s If You Know You Know. If anything, the sub-bass is the one bit that ever exceeds neutral; the mid- and upper-bass lying a smidge behind the lead instrument. But, again, it’s truly the power in those W9+’s that ensure they never get lost in the mix. Whether it’s live kicks or 808s, this Odin’s low-end is quintessential Empire, but with a matured, outstanding finesse.

A crucial contributor to the Odin’s spaciousness, precision and separation is its tight, snappy and incredibly well-resolved midrange. The region’s lower half sits a hair further back in the mix, which is what gives it its light, clean and airy tonality; not as warm or bulbous as I’d expect a classic, studio monitor to be, for example. Vocalists like Rachael Price will sound a tad breathier; less chesty. And, horns like the one that intros Oytun Ersan’s Mysterious Maze will show more of that brass-y quality. But, to my ears, that colouration’s been executed with an admirable amount of finesse, more so than most. I’m not hearing any notable hollowness, thinness or suck-out. Instruments still have their fundamentals to them, and they’re delivered with power as well; showcasing the Odin’s dynamic range on tracks like Snarky Puppy’s Chonks. Note-size-wise, the Odin straddles between neutral and a tad above it. Again, it mostly stays tight for layering’s sake. But, it does allow for a bit of play for – again – dynamics, and to lend a bit of soul too. Last is a nod to resolution, which the Odin has plenty of.

Up high, Empire have sat this Odin’s treble cohesively with the mids and lows. It isn’t a treble that jumps out, necessarily, and blankets a coat of crisp over everything else. It’s more so a top-end that sits right about neutral, relying instead on its natural extension, texture and punch to leap off the image. And, to that end, I think it succeeds fairly nicely. Cymbals and hi-hats sit comfortably without harshness or sheen – most of the times, behind the midrange – yet they cut through with great clarity and punch. Further aiding that is the in-ear’s superbly clean background, which allows even the furthermost detail in the mix to at least be perceivable. The one gripe some can have with the treble is a lightly-livened 5-8kHz region. Again, it’s not an issue of splashiness or sibilance. To my ears, what it does is prioritise the brighter notes on hi-hats and ride cymbals, masking a lot of their darker overtones in the process. As someone who drums and engineers, I find it can slightly homogenise cymbals and take away their defining tones or traits. Obviously, though, it’s more subjective, so your mileage may vary. Otherwise, this Odin’s highs is textbook in teetering between crisp and refined with technique to boot.


Initial Comparisons

Empire Ears Wraith ($3499)

Comparing the two Empire flagships, what you’ll immediately notice is a brighter, clearer tilt on this Odin’s tonality. It has the much more present treble of the two; 7kHz and up, especially. Then, its upper-bass and lower-mids are considerably more relaxed as well. Taken together, what that’ll hand you is a much lighter, airier, more articulative profile on the Odin that isn’t as rich, meaty or warm. This is ideal if a lot of your playlist consists of female vocals, violins and pianos, while I’d likely prefer the Wraith for male vocals, trombones and cellos with its heavier, denser, more organic-sounding midrange. Up top, again, the Odin is the brighter, crisper of the two, which lends lots more attack to snare drums and cymbals. The Wraith keeps up admirably in extension, and it may even be preferred by those who enjoy a more relaxed sig. But, those after clarity will probably opt for the Odin. That added top-end air – along with the Odin’s tighter, more neutral midrange – also make it the more precise separator. Finally, down low, the Odin’s W9+ woofers squarely come out on top in depth, physicality and definition. And, the sub-bass tilt gives it a darker, gruffer tone too, relative to the Wraith’s lighter low-end.

64 Audio tia Fourté Noir ($3799)

Going from the Odin to the Fourté Noir, you’ll immediately hear an almost v-shaped lift; an added presence across either extreme. The 64 Audio universal flagship has a beefier low-end, which extends throughout its low-mids as well. That gifts vocalists a meatier, lightly fuller tonality. Chrissi Poland on Dave Weckl and Jay Oliver’s rendition of Higher Ground sounds almost lower – deeper – in pitch because of it; not as bright or brassy as she is on the Odin. That is also partly due to this Odin’s more vibrant, forwardly-positioned upper-mids. Although, it’ll depend on the specific track or mix too. On Michael Bublé’s Me and Mrs. Jones, for example, this Noir has the more forward-sounding vocals, because of how its high-end rise accentuates Bublé’s articulation, along with its richer lower-midrange. So, it’s a toss-up there. Up high, the Noir is notably sharper-sounding than the Odin. It’s got more of an edge to it, and its generous upper-treble contributes a ton of air into its stage. As a result, images are cleaner-etched and more clinically separated, but the Odin does not lag behind in detail retrieval, resolution or imaging by any stretch. It still layers and resolves effortlessly, and I find its more laidback, well-sat treble actually results in a more holographic stage. In any case, both easily are TOTL IEMs; separated only by preference.

FiR Audio M5 ($2799)

FiR Audio’s M5 is a flagship monitor that, similar to Odin in a way, sounds vibrant and immense. Though, how it achieves this is a much different discussion. It’s an IEM that relies more on its extremes for energy, rather than its midrange. Plus, it’s one that structures its stage differently too; capitalising on tightness and space, which contrasts the Odin’s sweeping, enveloping mids. For a full breakdown on how FiR and Empire’s hybrid flagships compare, check out my M5 review here.

Vision Ears ELYSIUM (€2900)

Vision Ears’ ELYSIUM is a lighter, slightly drier-sounding in-ear with less of a midrange-focus compared to the Odin. Notes are a lot tighter and more compact; not as saturated or concentrated. And, a more present upper-treble gives its tonality a touch more brightness and air too. Cymbals, for example, are more prominent in its mix with a brighter crash. Yet, due to the ELYSIUM’s clever tuning, they aren’t any less refined or smooth than the Odin’s. In the midrange, though, this does give the ELYSIUM sharper, crisper transients, especially noticeable with breath sounds on vocalists or crackles on a snare drum. Which is better will be subjective. Down low, this Odin’s W9+ woofers lend it a more physical, piston-like slam than the ELYSIUM, but the latter has more mid-bass content than the former. Lastly, when it comes to technical performance, I’d say the two go toe-to-toe in resolution and detail. You’ll get slightly more precise stereo separation from the ELYSIUM. But, the Odin edges it out in the tactility or physicality of instruments too. So, to me, it’s down to which tone you’ll prefer.

The post A First Look: Empire Ears Odin first appeared on The Headphone List.

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FiR Audio’s House of M: The M5 – An In-Ear Monitor Review

DISCLAIMER: FiR Audio and Project Perfection provided me with the M3, M4 and M5 in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with these companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank FiR Audio and Project Perfection for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Last, but unequivocally not least, we have the M line-up’s statement piece: The FiR Audio M5 in a blazing, hotrod red. As previously mentioned in Prologue, this five-driver flagship has my second-favourite colourway of the three. Though I tend to prefer darker reds, the vibrance of this shade is undeniably stunning. And, as the photos show, they pair exceptionally well with Focusrite’s Scarlett interfaces too. Again, this M5 boasts FiR’s gorgeously-crafted, machined-aluminium chassis. Then, in addition to Direct Bore, ATOM and Tactile Bass, they’re also the one model in this line-up to implement Direct Bore electrostats. As you’ll see, all this tech combines to create what is, to me, FiR’s most technical and most musical piece yet.

FiR Audio M5

  • Driver count: Three balanced-armature drivers, one dynamic driver and one electrostatic driver
  • Impedance: 6.8Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: N/A
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Direct Bore drivers, Tactile Bass technology, ATOM pressure release system
  • Available form factor(s): Universal aluminium and custom acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $2799
  • Website: www.firaudio.com

This review is a part of FiR Audio’s House of M series and will only cover sound impressions. For the introductory article covering packaging, accessories, build and fit, as well as FiR Audio’s slew of proprietary technologies, click the link here.


Presentation

Despite the M5’s pretty diverse driver config, it has, to me, surprisingly come off the most cohesive, refined and well-put-together of the three M IEMs. There’s this distinct effortlessness and finesse to it, which really shines through in how tidy its stage is organised, how crisply-separated its layers are and how precisely you can hear individual notes start and end. That authority, clarity and control throughout its frequency response are the M5’s greatest strengths to me, along with a brilliantly open, airy image to go with it too. It expands far along all three axes with instruments lining more so the outer reaches than the centre. This airier, more expansive imaging slightly leans this M5 more towards complex arrangements than soloists. On Lucy Rose’s Floral Dresses, for example, I’m drawn more towards the air in the track, the clarity of all the instruments and how cleanly-separated they all are, rather than that rawness and emotion in Rose’s vocal performance.

However, that’s not to say this M5 isn’t capable of revealing emotion either. For its lack of cuddling intimacy and warmth, I’ve found the in-ear is interestingly capable of storytelling through its precision and dynamic range. On Floral Dresses, for example, the frailty in Rose’s performance is aptly captured in how small her voice is within the track’s huge soundscape. Conversely, Jennifer Hudson’s torrential force on I Run occupies the entire image. So, though the M5 isn’t an earphone I’d necessarily call cozy, it’s still one that’ll deliver musicality in spades because of its technical feats. Onto the IEM’s timbre, it qualifies as neutral to my ears. As per the FiR house sound, this M5’s crisp, refined highs and quick, yet hearty lows sort-of meet in the middle. And, the midrange has great presence to it too. So, despite that grander, less intimate imaging, leads will still have tons of vibrance, zing and punch to them, and notes’ll rarely ever feel compressed, hollowed or sucked out.

Bass

While we’ve had a tighter, cleaner low-end from the M3 and a fuller, gutsier one out of the M4, the M5 sits somewhere in the middle. It’s definitely more like the latter in body and texture, but kept more in-rein in presence and punch. The mid-bass isn’t as expressive or loose on songs like Dua Lipa’s Levitating or Oytun Ersan’s Oh, That Butterfly! But, you will hear a cleaner, airier stage in return, as well as a more precise sound overall. Obviously, whether or not this’s a good trade shall ultimately depend on your tastes, but that’s what multi-flavoured in-ear line-ups are for. It’s not a bass that’s ever lacking either. The intro to Frank Ocean’s Nikes rightfully thumps, and the subs really come to life on Tom Misch’s Lift Off or Tone Stith’s Birthday At Midnight. It’s a testament to the IEM’s excellent bass extension, which gives it gumption, physicality and drive in spades. It’s a virtue of the bass’s size as well. Kick drums, while controlled, don’t ever feel choked or compressed. While reined-in, they’ll always sound lively and massive, but with the finesse to keep all eyes (or ears) on the lead as well.

In typical FiR fashion, the M5’s bottom-end showcases superb quality; rich in texture, piston-like in its physicality and yet, incredibly agile too. This is a bass that kicks and dips, which, again, benefits the cleanliness and airiness of the image. It’s most apparent in its mid-bass, where it doesn’t linger and permeate as much as the M4’s, for example. But, in the time it does have, it’s capable of squeezing out lots of detail nonetheless. Kick drums have their thump and thwack fully realised, and toms are similarly resolved down to the tails. This is further boosted by the low-end’s striking dynamic range; readily making those instruments really hit and expand when needed, but in a controlled fashion, once again. The single sound that, to me, doesn’t really benefit from a quicker mid-bass is the acoustic or upright bass. The M4 is better at parsing out those warm, woody notes on, say, Sarah McKenzie’s At Long Last Love. But, again, this’s down to taste. Either way, when it comes to bass chops, this M5 has it in spades: Depth, dynamics and detail that’ll make any bass section shine with grace.

Midrange

Of the three M in-ears, I find this M5’s midrange the best balanced, the best resolved and yet, the smoothest too. There’s still that slight tilt towards its higher-mids for vibrance, presence and pop, but it’s the lightest lift of the lot. The coherency it maintains is superb, and instruments are given a beautifully-rounded tonal profile as a result. Snare drums flaunt both their crackle and their depth, brass sections are evenly-sat across the board, and singers – male or female – never sound breathy or hoarse. They’re all vibrant, expressive and sufficiently meaty. And, they’re very precisely separated too. Again, the M5’s instruments always sit well-arrayed with very little overlap; crisp air freely coursing between them. But, perhaps because of this IEM’s tubeless design, what I love most about the M5’s midrange is how this separation co-exists with its smooth, slightly rich tonality. There’s a wetness – a glow – to these mids that work wonders for pianos and violins, among others; an analog hue that dissuades coldness, and a mix of precision and soul that I feel the M5 nails to excellent effect.

When it comes to positioning and imaging in the mix, again, this M5’s mids land around where I’d call neutral. They won’t get drowned out by busy bass lines, nor are they ever lost behind open hi-hats or crashes. At the risk of sounding vague, I’d call it a versatile, safe, just enough sort of midrange that sits squarely in the ensemble, and I expect it’ll only be disliked by those who’d prefer either extreme. If you like instruments incredibly intimate and lush, the M5 may come off a smidge more precise than you’d like. But, at the same time, it has more meat than what I’d call clinical too. So, to me, it sits in the healthy in-between where it sounds present, rich and clear with any genre, even if it doesn’t go the extra mile in emotion and resonance, which we discussed in Presentation. However, as discussed in that very section, this IEM is still capable of making those mids shine when called for. The monitor’s linear, natural tone gives credence to lower-pitched instruments like the baritone sax more so than its siblings. Plus, despite its penchant for precision, it’s capable of superb building too. The escalation throughout the keys-and-guitar part of Oytun Ersan’s Mysterious Maze is a fine example. So, as long as you don’t mind a less intimate, less enveloping feel, this M5 will show you precision and balance with dynamics and soul too.

Treble

The M5 sports a lower-treble not unlike the M3 and M4; peaked at 5kHz with a crisp, yet refined bite, before tailing off so there isn’t that hard-edged metallicity that’ll typically cause harshness or fatigue. Again, like its brethren, it’s an articulate peak that hands hi-hats and cymbals their crucial bits of cut, and it’s wonderful with snare drums or string plucks as well; transients leaping off the backdrop with punch. But, where it diverts from (and improves upon) the M3 and M4 is in how that peak is supported. The M5’s richer, more organic lower-mid tuning cushions the treble better, so there isn’t as far of a gap between the transient and the harmonic. It resolves that dryness I found on the M3, and it feels more genuine than the M4’s upper-bass rise towards the same goal. Though it’s the technically the work of the mids, it does ultimately make the M5’s low-treble peak more palatable to me, as everything connects in a smoother way. So, though this M5 doesn’t do much different with its low-treble, it has been better facilitated, allowing it to better integrate and shine at the same time.

Higher up the treble is where this M5’s electrostats start coming into play, and it delivers a slightly different presentation as a result. Though the M5 shares the M3 and M4’s slight shelf or taper, which results in that same sense of smoothness, subtlety and refinement, those e-stats do lend an effortlessness those two didn’t quite have. While you might find similar amounts of air in the M4, the M5 renders them with greater ease, resulting in a more open, more floaty feel to its notes. This contributes to the latter’s grander, less concentrated (or intimate) presentation, and it does wonders for separation as well. Thanks to this top-end’s extra headroom, cymbals, hi-hats, chimes and the like come through cleaner – having to cut through less muck. And, the M5’s excellent stereo spread positions them far apart as well for an incredibly immersive surround sound, especially with more complex material. Finally, again, that slight taper off the highest octaves lend those instruments what I’d consider a natural, even-handed tonality that rides the line between neutral and natural very nicely.

General Recommendations

As you’d probably surmise by now, ths M5 is an in-ear that’s – first and foremost – airy, open-sounding and dynamic, but in a controlled, refined way. It’s overall balance and neutrality make it fairly genre-agnostic; there aren’t really any it can’t work with. Plus, its incredible achievements in separation, resolution and physicality benefit all sorts of music universally as well. However, despite its doses of punch and oomph (especially across the lows), it can potentially come off a tad less engrossing or enveloping at times, especially with simpler, more intimate arrangements. If you need vocals to swathe or engulf you, almost, you may find the M5 a smidge too laid-back and calculated for that. It’s also an in-ear with FiR’s classic low-treble bite, which, even though it’s the most refined version of the lot, should be noted if you’re sensitive to any high-end sparkle. All in all, though, as long you have those two last caveats in mind, the M5 is a flagship that rarely puts a foot wrong to me. As long as the budget fits, it’s a strong all-rounder, especially if you want clarity, balance and punch in tons.

Select Comparisons

64 Audio tia Fourté (USD 3799)

64 Audio’s tia Fourté Noir is an in-ear that shares the M5’s blend of intensity and control. They’re similarly punchy in-ears that’ve successfully encased all their brazen energy into well-organised soundscapes. To me, what separates them, then, is how they’ve each portioned out that blend. The Noir, for example, doubles down on excitement and fun, exaggerating its colourations for a more W-shaped sound. Instruments aren’t as smoothly or evenly structured as they are on this M5, but that’s also given them more attack at the same time. That is especially true of the treble-and-centre-mid relationship, where the Noir’s elevation of the former and reduction of the latter gives its transients tons of contrast, energy and bite. By comparison, this M5’s more linear take on the signature still has excitement to it as well. But, it’s traded some of it off for a more linear response, where a note’s head and body sit on the same plane. On Cody Fry, Cory Wong and Dynamo’s Better, for example, the Noir exaggerates the horn stabs, hi-hats and Fry’s vocals, while this M5 is fairer to the synths and backing vocals. So, tonally, picking between the Noir and M5 will depend on how excited or lifted you’d like the IEM to be.

Then, in terms of individual differences from bottom to top, you’ll get a warmer, fuller bass response out of FiR’s M5. The bass line on FKJ’s Better Give U Up, for example, is fatter, more guttural and it digs deeper at your chest as well. The Noir’s low-end is a hair more even-handed between the sub-, mid- and upper-bass. So, though low notes won’t quite rumble as viscerally as they do on this M5, you will be able to hear more of the note itself, along with each individual reverberation within it. So, it’ll depend on whether you prefer verve or nuance. The mids are where I feel the M5 comes out on top with a more even tonality, greater centre-mid support for vocal structure and a wetter, more natural hue overall. The Fourté’s tighter, drier response comes off more artificial to me, even if that tightness gives it cleaner separation. Up top, although both in-ears sport fair amounts of sparkle and tizz, the Noir does have more of a bite to its mid-treble, resulting in slightly harder-edged transients than the M5. Plosives are a tad more prone to brittleness, and its high-treble peak brightens the backdrop too. Whereas, thes M5’s peaks sit more cozily with the rest of its sound, even if it’s a bit more subtle as a result.

Empire Ears Odin (USD 3399)

The Odin and this M5 are both earphones with emphases on openness and air; both grand in imaging and spread-out in structure. They sport similarly neutral colourations too, leaning neither towards all-out brightness nor gooey warmth. To me, where they ultimately differ is, firstly, in dynamics and, secondly, in how they formulate their midranges. Because of the M5’s more present, more pointed treble, it’s the stronger articulator of the two with sharper transients, tighter decay and a slightly brighter shimmer to, say, cymbals. The contrast between that and its low-end gives the in-ear the punchier, more energetic signature. And, details are more apparent at lower listening levels too. By comparison, the Odin’s slightly more refined, more subtle low-treble sits its articulation a tad further back and gives greater focus towards the mids. For example, Yolanda Adams on Nathan East’s Feels Like Home will sound chestier, richer on the Odin, while the M5 sharpens her enunciation, places more of a focus towards her throat and mouth, and emphasises her belt near the climax as well.

While projection, intensity and bite are the M5’s specialty, the Odin’s – as suggested earlier – more so lie in the midrange. It possesses the bigger, more enveloping-sounding vocals, which deliver the intimacy and resonance I’ve said the M5 can lack throughout this review. Though, as mentioned above, they aren’t articulated or enunciated as sharply as they are on the M5, they do have this vibrance and mass that soar with, say, Mark Lettieri’s electric guitars on Spark and Echo or Cory Henry’s synths on Snarky Puppy’s The Curtain. Instruments radiate in a way that may make the M5’s feel a hair truncated. The same is true for the bass. This M5 aims more for tightness and control; again, limiting the warmer, woodier tones on an upright bass or the decay on a kick drum. Whereas, the Odin delivers the more visceral, more imposing bottom of the two. Bass hits dig deeper, and they linger a bit longer too. The latter lends the edge in bass resolution to the Odin too. In terms of imaging and space, the M5 has the lightly deeper stage to me, and its tighter notes give it more precise panning as well. Though, again, when it comes to imaging to immerse or envelop, the Odin’s more ideal. So, for me, the Odin gets a nod if you want expansion, clarity and intimacy in one, while the M5’s staccato sig is for those after order and precision.

Jomo Audio Trinity (SGD 3799)

Across all the in-ears here, Jomo’s tri-brid, flagship Trinity is perhaps the most like this M5 in tonality. Both are almost W-shaped, and both skilfully balance musicality with precision as well. Another common trait between them is a palpable 1-2kHz rise, which lends instruments a strong spine and almost serves as the bedrock for all the energy flying about above and below. That energy across the extremes is delivered pretty smoothly and linearly as well; never straying too far away from neutral no matter the genre. Ultimately, though, what separates them for me is technical ability. Swapping between the two, FiR’s M5 reveals a clear edge in resolution, definition and focus; instruments seemingly more zeroed-in, cleanly-etched and tactile – physical in nature – than those on the Trinity. The latter, by comparison, can come off a touch hazier, especially with regards to its centre-image; less tight and precise than the M5’s. Its treble, though superbly articulate and clear, also doesn’t extend or float as well as this M5’s can. So, technically-speaking, despite its inherently good technique, the Trinity does fall a tad victim to age; losing out on the technological refinements that the M5’s been privileged to have.

Delving deeper into the finer differences between their respective tonalities, you’ll get a slightly fatter mid-bass on Jomo’s Trinity, with not as much sub-bass. The bass line on Joji’s SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK, for example, will come off rounder – more bulbous – and almost convex in shape. Conversely, the M5’s sub-bass tilt gifts it a darker, rumblier, more physical low-end, with stronger texturing and extension as well. That roundness or bulbousness extends to the Trinity’s mids too, which, despite being similar in tonality with the M5, is quite a bit less focused and tight. Notes are allowed to radiate and intermingle, almost, which certainly seems musical and immersive. But, again, the trade-off there will be in precision and separation. The Trinity’s midrange also isn’t as dynamic and tactile – physical – as the M5’s; again, hazy is the word I’d use here. That lack of dynamism actually has a lot to do with the Trinity’s highs, which miss an inch of reach compared to the M5’s. While the former has space and air for sure, it doesn’t quite let notes breathe as easily as the FiR flagship. So, again, though the two share lots in common tonally, the M5 does come out the stronger performer of the two by virtue of tech.

Vision Ears ELYSIUM (2900 EUR)

Immediately, what separates the ELYSIUM and M5 is the low-end. While the former pushes more tactility and depth than most, single-BA woofers I’ve heard can, it simply can’t measure up to a genuine dynamic driver in texture, physicality and drive. The kick on the A-section of Anomalie’s Le Bleury sits a tad behind the synths in intensity, for example. Whereas, on the M5, they pop in and out of the lead spot as I think this track demands. They span larger too; like a looming silhouette behind the keys. Though, if you happen to prefer a lighter, daintier sig, the ELYSIUM’s presentation would be nice. But, in terms of sheer technicality and realism, lows go to the M5 in my book. Now, in the midrange, the tables have completely turned. This ELYSIUM’s HALC-powered midrange hands vocals a radiant, ethereal quality, along with bounds and bounds of texture. Guitars and keys have a soulfulness to them that’s accompanied by a similar precision as this M5, which I feel is a great feat. But, the gap isn’t as big in detail and power, which the M5 has in spades too. Furthermore, the FiR flagship has more 1-2kHz content, which gives instruments a bolder, weightier timbre. So, really, it could be up to preference too.

Up high is where these two in-ears are most alike. Both employ 5kHz peaks for articulation, followed by a comparatively more relaxed upper-treble for balance and refinement. The one difference I’m picking up is a slightly harder edge on the M5, due to its brighter 8kHz presence. Hi-hats have a thicker, sharper bite when they attack, which contributes, again, to that IEM’s intensity and fun. By comparison, the ELYSIUM feathers its mid-treble for a slightly softer attack, which retains balance at the situational cost of pushing those details forward; you may like one, or the other. High notes are also a tad smaller and tighter on the ELYSIUM as a result, which further boosts that airy, floaty feel I described in the Treble section. But, again, you may prefer the more intense presence of that M5 for genres like rock. Top-end extension is where things get a bit hairy. The ELYSIUM has the potential to best the M5 in effortlessness and stability with more powerful sources. But, when they go head-to-head on, say, the single-ended output of Lotoo’s PAW Gold Touch, it’s more of a toss-up. So, it ultimately will depend on what you drive it with. All in all, I’d say the ELYSIUM and M5 fill fairly similar gaps. One is lighter and daintier with a vocal focus, while the latter is heavier, more driven and more bass-emphasised. It’s all down to taste.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

FiR Audio’s House of M: The M3 – An In-Ear Monitor Review

DISCLAIMER: FiR Audio and Project Perfection provided me with the M3, M4 and M5 in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with these companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank FiR Audio and Project Perfection for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Our FiR Audio M-series round-up officially begins with the M3: A triple-driver, universal in-ear priced at $1199. As said on the introductory post, this M3 features greyish-blue faceplates with white logos engraved on top, along with the line-up’s sublime, anodised-aluminium shells. It features all three of FiR Audio’s staple technologies also mentioned in that article: Direct Bore Drivers, Tactile Bass Technology and the ATOM pressure release system. Taken together, what the M3 provides is a crisp, clear and punchy sound with tactile instruments, tons of air and, yet, a balance and coherence to its sig as well.

FiR Audio M3

  • Driver count: Two balanced-armature drivers and one dynamic driver
  • Impedance: 16.4Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: N/A
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Direct Bore drivers, Tactile Bass technology, ATOM pressure release system
  • Available form factor(s): Universal aluminium and custom acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $1199
  • Website: www.firaudio.com

This review is a part of FiR Audio’s House of M series and will only cover sound impressions. For the introductory article covering packaging, accessories, build and fit, as well as FiR Audio’s slew of proprietary technologies, click the link here.


Presentation

FiR Audio’s M3 kicks off the pack with a clean, clear, dynamic response; lightly elevated in air, articulation and punch. The monitor sports a light, quick, open tonality, and derives a lot of its energy from its crisp, sparkly, yet refined treble. This is then supported wonderfully by its thump-y, dynamically-driven low-end, and its centre- and upper-mids finish with great presence to lend instruments the structure they require, and to ensure the M3 maintains a coherent sig throughout. The most obvious colouration would be in its lower-mids, where a bit of that thickness has been scooped to give the monitor tight, quick notes and an airy stage. Nevertheless, it all amounts to a crisp, lively sig that doesn’t lose track of realism too.

Spatially, what I seem to be getting between the tubeless drivers and ATOM is a cleaner, blacker background and an airy, effortless delivery, despite the M3’s punchiness. This is especially true down low, where the dynamic driver doesn’t linger quite as long as one typically would. I find that aids the M3 retain its punch for longer periods of time, because you won’t get dulled by its transients as quickly. And, fidelity-wise, it lends this monitor a more open and roomy sound as well. This is particularly ideal given the M3’s staging, which isn’t out-of-head or theatrical, necessarily. Instruments are more on the forwardly side. But, again, the breathing room the tech provides compensates nicely. And, the M3 ends on a high with its resolution and stereo separation. Instruments are well-formed and well-spread-out for a sound as soulful as it is refined.

Bass

Although my initial comment about the M3’s thump-y lows may’ve implied a full-bodied, elevated bass response, that isn’t necessarily the case. It actually settles on the more neutral side in terms of quantity and warmth; in line with much of the midrange, and just behind the lower-treble peak. Instead, what gives it this presence and allows it to contrast against the high-end is its power, physicality and impact, courtesy of the in-ear’s stellar dynamic driver. Kick drums are rounded with great oomph; incredibly-textured and tactile. The same goes for floor toms too. Dave Weckl’s on Oytun Ersan’s Mysterious Maze is visceral and life-like, and so’s the one panned right on the In The Room mix of Gallant’s Doesn’t Matter. This adds a guttural, physical aspect to the M3’s sound and counters the sparkle of the highs nicely; without adding warmth or musk.

Much of this is due to the bottom-end’s frequency curve, sloping downwards from the sub-bass into the mid- and upper-bass; a tighter, more focused slam that doesn’t bloom or bleed as much. Paired with this bass’s stellar extension, texture and clarity, it is as much a treat with acoustic kicks and floor toms as it is with 808’s and synthetic bass lines. The ones on Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, for example, drop very low, and the M3 keeps up all throughout. The ever-panning bass line on Anomalie’s New Space is also a gorgeous showcase for the IEM’s lows and stereo imaging; present and visceral, yet never overstepping the keys. At the same time, there are songs this curve won’t match quite as well too. Jazz arrangements like Sarah McKenzie’s We Could Be Lovers may want that warm, husky bloom to the pianos and contra bass to fill out the track and lend it its intimacy. But, as long as your tastes are in check, this’s a well-tuned, quality, DD bass; a star in the M3’s sig.

Midrange

The midrange is definitely where the M3 comes off most coloured to me. Again, it has a lower-mid scoop between about 300Hz to 1kHz, which gives its notes that tight, clean sense of definition. It works wonders for headroom and separation; effortless, with pockets of clean air between each element. But, at the same time, it leaves these mids with a lighter, less-than-natural tonality. It takes away a fair amount from those fuller, richer overtones, which contribute to an instrument’s weight. This, in particular, affects male vocals. Robbie Williams on I Wan’na Be Like You comes off a tad restrained; lacking dynamics on the lower-half of his voice, which deters the playfulness he’s trying to exude with his performance. This isn’t the most ideal tonality for saxophones either. Amber Navran’s solo on the Jacob Mann Big Band’s Baby Carrots should be fuller and richer. And, the brass section on Snarky Puppy’s Grown Folks, to me, also feel a touch unbalanced; higher-tilted.

But, with all that said, there is tons to love in this midrange’s clarity, definition and presence higher-up the range. Female vocals, in particular, are a highlight on the M3, especially those with lighter, wispier timbres. Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift will fare better than a Rachael Price, for example, because of the reasons outlined above. Nevertheless, what they’ll all gain from this M3 is striking amounts of detail, along with a bright, vibrant delivery too. These aren’t vocals that’ll ever get lost in the mix, and it’s an ideal in-ear with genres like pop, where you want both the vocals to lead and tons of space for the instruments around them. Records like Grace’s FMA and Tori Kelly’s Unbreakable Smile come to mind. And, further aiding this is the M3’s strong vocal definition. Leads are crunchy and well-realised, and fairly textured as well. So, again, it is a lightly-biased midrange. But, if you like vocals light, vibrant and clean, the M3 will provide with fair technique to boot.

Treble

The M3’s treble, to me, treads between natural and crisp very nicely. It’s articulate with a good tick, which is indicative of a 5kHz peak. But, it’s measured and refined as well; never allowing those transients to leapfrog the mids and lows. Now, to my ears, it can still show the occasional bright spot. Listening to Nathan East’s Lifecycle, there’s the tiniest hint of sizzle on the horns, as well as the ride cymbal. Though, it’s not the kind that comes off harsh or metallic in any way, so it’s more so a tonal colouration than any sort of real flaw in the tuning. That bite does fare better in genres like pop and hip-hop, and it also aids separation within this M3’s space. Heading towards the mid-treble is a steady, linear drop, which ensures that that slight bite doesn’t get overdone to the point of brittleness. The snare and hi-hats on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Boy Problems are hard-edged without glare, for example. Those open hi-hats on Snarky Puppy’s What About Me similarly aren’t splashy.

In the upper-treble, the M3 continues that balance by nicely levelling off; adding sufficient air and openness to the image without treading towards brightness. Instruments, though still on the snappier side given the laidback lower-mids, do not come off razor-thin. Plus, this in-ear’s backdrop remains mostly uncoloured too; neither brightened nor over-aerated for that faux sense of clarity. Cymbals and hi-hats trail off smoothly, and it simply comes off realistic in tone for me. In terms of extension, the M3 performs fairly decently. It isn’t rolled-off by any means, though it’s certainly the weakest performer relative to its siblings. Instruments don’t hold their places within the space as solidly as the M4 or the M5, and it does not expand the furthest either. Again, though, assumedly because of the tubeless drivers, the M3 can still pump an immense amount of openness and air into its stage. So, though imperfect, it’ll still output great clarity, separation and cut for most.

Who is it For?

To me, the M3 is an in-ear I’d pick-up if I was after clarity, air and contrast without straying too far from what I’d consider natural or balanced. It’s a monitor coloured for a slightly drier, crisper tonality and a bias towards higher-pitched sounds, but not to the point of plasticity, hollowness or artificiality. Personally, along with its dynamic lows and slightly-forwardly upper-mids, it’s an IEM I’d take with genres like modern pop, along with the more electronic brand jazz-fusion. Musicians like Anomalie, FKJ and Jerry Folk come to mind, along with vocalists like Billie Eilish or Tone Stith. I would not recommend this M3 for those with fullness, richness and warmth listed as their top priorities, or those with Michael Bublé, Laura Fygi and Ruben Studdard at the top of their playlists. Still, I see it as a mid-tier mainstay, with a couple aces up its sleeves too.

Select Comparisons

64 Audio A6t (USD 1299)

Compared to 64 Audio’s A6t, this M3 is a much lighter, leaner-sounding IEM. The latter’s low-mids are considerably more recessed, which results in a drier, more analytical midrange presentation. Then, its elevated low-treble lends transients a brighter, crisper feel as well. This gives the M3 the lead in airiness and separation, but at the cost of its warmth and tonal accuracy. It emphasises snare cracks, bass slaps, lip smacks and hi-hats with great clarity and punch, but it’s not as linear or natural-sounding as the A6t, which tends to be more even between articulation and body; less flashy. Vocals are fuller, warmer and better-rounded, and the same goes for most melodic instruments, really. So, as always, timbre will certainly be up to your use-case and personal taste. Though, in terms of raw coherency and balance, I’d have to give it to 64’s A6t.

Technique is where I think the M3 takes that edge back from 64’s A6t, with tiny leads across the frequency spectrum that add up to a more immersive, open sound. Firstly, the M3’s dynamic driver lends its lows a more palpable, visceral punch. Despite the more neutral presence, the physicality and impact it brings to the table ultimately inches it ahead of the A6t’s in terms of realism and drive. In the midrange, tonality aside, the M3 does manage to eek out a hair more resolution and focus, which helps instruments pop and feel more tactile. The A6t, if unaided by a mid-biased chain, can lack a bit of zing here. Finally, the M3’s highs extend further to my ears, which hugely aids dynamic range. It’s not as prone to feeling boxy or compressed as the A6t, so it’s more ideal for long listening (given you enjoy its sig, of course). That extension gives the M3 a freer and – especially – taller soundstage as well. So, that will be another point of consideration between these two.

Custom Art FIBAE 7 (1100 EUR)

It’s a bit of a similar story with the M3 and Custom Art’s flagship FIBAE 7. The former is a lot tighter and crisper-sounding, while the latter comes off richer, fuller and more natural in tone. That is especially so in the midrange, where the FIBAE 7 – somewhat like 64’s A6t – capably balances articulation and warmth, while the M3 goes all-in on cut. Listening to Snarky Puppy’s What About Me, the horns on the FIBAE 7 are weighty and well-rounded, while the M3 noticeably emphasises the honky-er, brassy-er qualities of these instruments. There’s a lot more air in the latter’s soundscape as well, courtesy of its tightened, compacted notes. But, again, this’ll be at the cost of linearity and coherence, which is more the FIBAE 7’s forte.

Spatially, the M3’s significantly-elevated treble and neutral low-mids give it the airier, more open stage. Notes are further separated, and they leap further off of the backdrop as well. The FIBAE 7 is thicker and mellower-sounding with, again, a much bolder, more intimate midrange. You’ll be able to glean more detail out of the M3’s tighter, more clinical mids. But, again, I suspect it’ll more so come down to a preference in either’s tonality. In resolution, stage size and imaging, the two come surprisingly close. The M3’s tighter notes do make its imaging a tad tighter, but it isn’t by much. Ultimately, the one edge this M3 has over the FIBAE 7 is its dynamically-driven bass. It moves air in a more realistic, palpable way, which aids instruments like the kick. drum So, again, to me, it’ll come down to your tastes in both overall timbre and bass response.

Lime Ears Aether R (1200 EUR)

Compared to Lime Ears’ Aether R, the M3 is, again, quite brighter and sparklier, especially along its lower-treble. Cymbals and hi-hats are sharper-sounding with a more pronounced sizzle, while they’re softer – more diffuse – on Lime Ears’ IEM. The same can be said on the other end of the spectrum, where the M3 produces a more present, impactful bottom-end; most so in the sub-bass. And, in the midrange, this Aether R’s centre-mid elevation hands it a meatier, more wholesome, more substantial tone. But, it drops off higher up the range, which lends the M3 an edge in presence and vibrance when it comes to female vocals or horns, for example. All this amounts to clear audiences for either profile. The M3’s punchier, contrast-y sig is geared for artists like Anomalie and FKJ, while the R is more versatile at the cost of sounding a bit flatter.

In terms of technical performance, the Aether R and FiR’s M3 do trade blows somewhat. The former, to my ears, sports a blacker background of the two, along with greater dynamic range. Instruments aren’t as aggressive as they tend to be on this M3, and you’re able to discern ebbs and flows in a track’s loudness and energy better too. Ironically, given what I just said about the M3’s tone being better-suited for an artist like FKJ, I find the Aether R better reproduces the dynamics of a track like Go Back Home; properly highlighting the contrast between the quieter and louder sections, and giving that song more movement. Spatially, the Aether R is capable of a bit more depth, given its lightly-withdrawn transients. But, the M3 does have the more vivid, direct and lively-sounding instruments of the two, and this clarity may be something you value highly. So, again, both IEMs do have their respective strengths and weaknesses. As always, it’ll be up to what you’re after.

Original Resource is The Headphone List