Audio Earz AUD-5X Custom In-Ear Monitor (CIEM) Review

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Comparisons:

Fabs Fabulous Earphones: Both have an open and spacious sound but the frequency spectrum and tone of both is different.  The Fabs are more focused on the upper end while the 5X is, in comparison, more focused on the lower end offering more weight, punch, and power.  Overall the 5X is more detailed than the Fabs and offers a clearer window into the music.

Bass, depending on the track and type, ranges from a little less with the Fabs to significantly less.  The Fabs keeps up better with much electronic, but with real drums the Fabs falls a good deal behind as well as when there is a lot of sub-bass.  Midrange presentation is similar but relative to the treble and bass the 5X has a better balance.  I can hear more detail and ambiance with the 5X which is a bit more transparent.  Treble of the 5X is smoother and offers a little more detail than the Fabs.

The 5X gives a more complete and balanced presentation than the Fabs, but the Fabs do have their appeal, especially to someone that doesn’t want too much bass.  With some tracks the Fabs become very spacious, besting the 5X, however on average they fall a little short.  Someone that wants a colder, lighter presentation and/or that listens to a lot of classical music the Fabs are a great choice, otherwise the 5X would be a good deal.

 

Wan Xuan (Beat Audio) wx i9pro: Differences between these two are fairly significant as the 5X is more up close and personal with a larger emphasis in the upper midrange leading to more clarity and a brighter sound.  The bass of the i9pro is a little more enhanced, but the 5X isn’t a slouch in the lower registers.  Surprisingly the 5X can keep up in the bass department in most songs, but there are tonal and tightness difference between the two with the i9pro sounds a little more tonally accurate and the 5X having better bass control.  With that said, the sub-bass is more pronounced from the i9pro, exhibited for example by the foot tapping at the beginning of Eric Clapton – Layla (unplugged) and seems to be more from extra enhancement as much as the dynamic driver capability.

Midrange differences boil down to a brighter vs. warmer presentation and so for vocals it is a matter of which tonality do you prefer, however the 5X does have more detail and ambiance in the midrange.   Due to the FST the i9pro can exhibit better ambiance than the 5X, but the 5X has a more accurate instrument placement which is accentuated in a track like The Chemical Brothers live at Coachella.  The upper midrange emphasis is blended into the treble, giving the 5X a little more treble emphasis to go along with more extension, although the treble is similar in amplitude and presentation until the i9pro rolls off.  What is presented by the i9pro is overall more liquid and slightly more detailed treble than the 5X, however there were many instances where the treble sounded dark in comparison due to the roll off of the i9pro.

While not analytical, the 5X has a thinner note with a brighter sound, making the i9pro warmer in comparison.  The location of the performance is more projected with the i9pro with better overall spaciousness, making the 5X sound closer and more intimate in comparison.  The 5X does have more speed and an overall more accurate and analytical sound vs. the i9pros more fun and liquid sound.  Either of these can please a bass head, but the i9pro has much more enhancement and can recreate more overall bass.

 

Thousand Sound TS842: The TS842 sounds more distant in comparison with the 5X as the midrange presentation differences are prominent.  Resolution wise these two are fairly close, but the 5X does have the slight edge with better dynamic range giving it the ability to recreate the subtleties in the recording at lower volume in contrast to the main sounds.  The 5X has a little more space and better depth and height than the TS842 resulting in a more engaging presentation with tracks that have good spaciousness.

Bass isn’t too far off between these two as the TS842 bass is tight an controlled and about on par with the 5X but isn’t as warm.  Sub-bass is fairly similar between the two, although the 5X is a bit more enhanced while the TS842 has more sub-bass headroom.  The midrange of the 5X is forward in comparison with the TS842, giving a more personal presentation to go along with more apparent detail and resolution.  Treble of the TS842 is brighter and a bit more revealing if not harsher, as is the midrange as well.  Since the TS842 has more treble energy the harshness stands out in comparison with the 5X.

These can be considered competitors, but for as similar as they are in many ways, the different midrange presentation greatly changes their appeal.  The smoothness of the 5X to go with a more 3D presentation and more punch in the bass region result in less possible fatigue with the 5X.  But if someone prefers an analytical presentation, the TS842 fits the bill, and adding inline impedance to the TS842 changes the sound as the ER4P->S.

 

Kozee Infinity X3: In comparison the X3 sounds more mid-forward, less 3D and smaller overall, mostly due to the depth of the presentation more than the width, which is similar.  There is an added excitement and punch to the X3, but 5X sounds more open, spacious, natural, and effortless.  The added transparency of the 5X leads to a less forgiving presentation while the 3X has clarity built into the sound signature.  The sense of speed is greater with the X3, although the 5X isn’t slow, which is a result of the additional note decay with the 5X.  Dynamics are better on the 5X, offering more headroom and better quiet note performance.

The X3 has more bass enhancement while the 5X both has deeper bass and the ability to produce more bass.  This leads to some songs having more bass with one vs. the other depending on the type and amount of bass.  The midrange of the X3 is more mid-forward as mentioned, but the 5X offers a better window into the presentation with more detail and better space to go with a more natural presentation, and there is no grain with the 5X.  The area of the frequency spectrum where these two differ the most is the treble.  The X3 sounds very bright and somewhat peaky in comparison with the 5X, which offers a more balanced, smoother, and more natural presentation to go with more extension.

These two are competitors as for the most part they offer somewhat similar strengths and sound signatures, but the 5X should be the choice for a more natural and accurate presentation with better spaciousness.  The X3 may be a better choice if you listen to fast electronic music or speed metal or if you want a more mid-forward presentation and a more punchy sound.

 

Starkey SA-12: Listening to the 5X after the SA-12 conveys a sense of more power, fullness of note, and a larger 3D soundstage along with a slightly more mid-forward presentation that has more detail.  The focus of the SA-12 is more treble centric with an emphasis on the upper midrange vs. the more balanced presentation with a slight emphasis on the midrange while offering a more transparent presentation with much more effortless presentation.

While the SA-12 bass isn’t lacking depth and can punch, the difference is significant when it comes to bass heavy music as the SA-12 doesn’t rumble and reverberate the same.  The quality of the overall presentation through the midrange and treble can be similar if better amplification is used since the SA-12 needs driving power, but the 5X always has more detail, dynamics, and has a better sense of speed.  Treble extension is close, but the SA-12 has more emphasis.

These two are more complimentary than competitors due to the difference in bass weight and overall frequency response, not to mention size.  The SA-12 would be better suited for someone that wants a leaner sound coming from something such as the CK10 or ER4P while the 5X is a step up from triple+ BA universals.

 

Minerva Mi-3: The Mi-3 is a good deal more mid-focused than the 5X, but one of the biggest differences is in the bass area as the 5X can deliver while the Mi-3 is on the light side.  The 5X offers better clarity, soundstage depth, and detail while the Mi-3 offers a richer presentation with more forward projection.  This forward projection puts you a few rows back in the audience with the Mi-3 while the 5X has a more traditional presentation with a typical amount of forward projection.  Overall the 5X offers better clarity and transparency, although the Mi-3 is more transparent than most others in the price range.

Bass, as mentioned is very different as the 5X is much more capable with electronic music, but with most acoustic music the Mi-3 is fine when amped well.  The Mi-3 is warmer and richer with a thicker note than the 5X that can affect clarity more so than the 5X.  Midrange of the Mi-3 can sound very spacious and natural, or it can sound very forward in comparison with the 5X, coming across more like the SE535 or UM3X to an extent.  The upper mids are a little more forward and emphasized on the Mi-3  while treble emphasis is similar between the two.  Overall the Mi-3 seems to have a hill sound signature with the peak in the midrange and slowly rolling down from there on either side while the 5X is much flatter.

The 5X sounds tonally correct to my ears across a wide range of genres while the Mi-3 sounds fantastic with some songs but not quite as good in comparison with other tracks.  The tracks the Mi-3 sounds best with are typically acoustic, as that is what the Mi-3 seems to do best.  For those that like a mid-forward presentation with a very rich and liquid presentation the Mi-3 is the choice for you, but for a more balanced and capable presentation across the spectrum the 5X is a great choice.

 

Note: the below comparisons are with much more expensive custom IEMs since I am sure you are all curious just how the aud-5X compares with the “big boys”

Starkey SA-43: I was anticipating the 5X to sound close to the SA-43, but it ended up showing the price difference in the tonal quality as the SA-43 has a more natural and truer to my ear tone as well as a larger presentation.  The 5X does impress with a very similar soundstage presentation to the SA-43, which to my ears is pretty spot on to the proper real life proportions, and the 5X is in this short competition.  While the 5X offers exceptional transparency for the price, the SA-43 is more transparent when driven by a quality source.  The 5X is a little bit punchier but the SA-43 ultimately has better dynamics and headroom when paired with a good source.  Detail levels are similar except in the upper midrange and treble where the SA-43 is superior.  With a high end source such as the 801 the 5X can recreate close to the same level of presentation space and ambiance as the SA-43.

Bass of the 5X does go deeper and hits harder with a warmer presentation and greater sense of power, but the SA-43 doesn’t give up too much.  The midrange through the treble of the SA-43 sounds more tonally correct in direct comparison, something that is hard to pick out just listening to either one.  There is more upper midrange and treble presence with the 5X as well as a more mid-forward presentation however turning the presence switch on the SA-43 to the on position brings the two closer in presentation and tone.  The treble is more neutral with the SA-43 and when coming from something bright might be termed laid back vs. the more present treble of the 5X.

The SA-43 is about double the price of the 5X and you get better tonal quality (without the presence switch on) as well as a larger overall space for the price difference.    Technically the is close to the SA-43 with some different strengths in both as the 5X is more fun while the SA-43 is more neutral, natural, and accurate.

 

JH Audio JH-16: With one more bass driver and 2 more mid/treble drivers the JH16 seems like a more exciting offering, not to mention the price tag that is 2X the 5X.  The JH16 does have more detail with its more laid back yet brighter sound signature and wider presentation, but the 5X has a more 3D presentation with better depth and height to the presentation.  Overall the presentation is different in other ways since the JH16 has a thinner, more analytical note and more apparent speed.  The JH16 is also more punchy and dynamic, like it or not, compared with the more natural sounding 5Xt that can punch when asked to by the track.  Clarity of the JH16 is more set in that regardless of the track you will get a good deal of clarity while with the 5X the clarity changes on a track by track basis

Bass enhancement of the JH16 is always on while the 5X enhancement is not to the same level, but the 5X does have the ability to reproduce a lot of bass when called for, but ultimately not up to the level of the JH16.  The combination of speed and punch with the JH16 gives it a uniqueness to the bass that the 5X approaches but still doesn’t reach.  The JH16 also doesn’t sound quite as natural with acoustic drums as the 5X has a more natural decay, so both have their strengths.  With a more forward midrange, the 5X offers a nice warmth and richness in contrast to a more analytical, yet still liquid presentation of the JH16.  The upper midrange of the JH16 is more pronounced along with the treble.  Again, the presentation is different with the 5X having a thicker note on average vs. the more analytical sounding JH16.  Take note that the differences aren’t huge in presentation, but the comparisons bring out the contrast.  The advantages of the detail really are apparent in the treble region, although the midrange detail levels are close.

Overall the 5X compares well to the JH16 IMO for the price, and while it isn’t exactly on the same level it has a somewhat similar presentation of the bass and treble, but the other differences are many.  I could see people being happy with either depending on their budget, preferences, and use.

 

Logitech Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor (UERM): The UERM is brighter with a slightly bigger soundstage space and better instrument separation to go with better clarity while the 5X is warmer/fuller with a thicker note, more sub-bass, a more powerful presentation, and a more up close presentation.  Both offer good transparency but the UERM is more transparent.  Given those differences, the biggest difference is the lean vs. full sound of the two with many of the other differences more as a result of the sound signature than technical superiority.

Overall the 5X presentation is smoother with more liquidity from top to bottom and some of the not so perfect masters have the issues accentuated with the UERM, but not so with the 5X.  Soundstage shape is very similar but the UERM is larger with better placement of sounds within space, but the 5X creates about the same amount of ambiance, but in a little different way, more like the EM3 Pro vs. the way the UERM does it which is closer to the CK10.  The bass of the 5X is more extended as is the treble, and while the detail in the bass through the midrange is pretty close to the UERM, in the treble region it is less.

Overall these two are not really competitors in the sense that the UERM is an analytical reference monitor and the 5X is a neutral, fun, and liquid custom IEM.  Both have their strong points and technically there isn’t a huge gap between the two.

 

Sound Summary: Technically the 5X is an impressive product for the price.  It offers a great 3D soundstage with good overall size, good levels of detail in the bass and midrange, impressive bass capabilities, and great transparency.  The overall sound is bass enhanced and warm, but not overly so with a slightly mid-forward presentation and a very coherent presentation across the spectrum, which is the most extended on both ends at the price point.

 

SOURCE MATCHING

Portable Sources, DAPs

Clip+: The Clip+ sounds pretty good with the 5X, however it is very revealing of flaws in the tracks and players so many tracks have their faults accentuated but the 5X.  Other than that, overall everything is good, so how good the Clip+ is for you will depend on how good your music was mastered and the bitrates.  5/10

iPhone 3G: Not bad for being a phone, but not an ideal match as the 3G isn’t quite as clear as the Clip+ or RoCoo, nor is it as fun or dynamic sounding.  The soundstage presentation that the 3G usually is a strength isn’t much better than the Clip+ and is not on par with the RoCoo.    4/10

RoCoo A: The RoCoo A is a great match for the 5X, which has plenty of bass and space but with higher resolution than the 3G or Clip+.  7/10

801 (GAME card): This is an amazing match that lifts the performance of the 5X technically to the higher reaches of the custom IEM world.  Transparency is amazing, imaging is superb, bass is impactful, deep, textured, and powerful, soundstage recreation is top notch, detail levels are superb, all leading to a very engaging performance.  The only negative about the sound is the clarity isn’t quite as good as with the Anedio D1, which is not portable and cost more.  9.5/10

 

Portable Sources, DAPs with Amps

Modded iPod ->

Arrow 12HE: Comparing with the other amps with the iPod the 12HE isn’t as clear, not as smooth, nor does it offer the resolution of any of the others.  There is a warmer presentation with very good soundstage width, but the instrument separation and black space aren’t as well defined as the competition.  Changing the IMP switch does improve the sound as the rough edges are smoothed allowing more detail to come through, however the level is still less than the other amps in this review.  5/10

D10: The bass of the 5X really comes through with the D10 and is powerful, deep, and reverberant.  Resolution is good, but the presentation isn’t the smoothest or most detailed.  The midrange is a little on the forward side with average spaciousness for the amps paired with the iPod. 7/10

uHA-120: The match is good but the bass output is not quite as deep and the soundstage is average in depth.  While I don’t have any complaints as the sound is smooth, detailed, and sounds balanced, it doesn’t seem to synergize quite like the Pico Slim or iQube. 7/10

Pico Slim: Nice punch with deep bass, although not as prominent as with the D10 or iQube.  The soundstage is spacious, although not any larger than any of the other amps.  The presentation is very smooth and resolving resulting in very good transparency.  There upper mids are slightly more forward with the Pico Slim than the other amps with an overall neutral presentation. 8/10

Stepdance: The Stepdance has more bass emphasis than any other amp tested with great punch.  The treble is a slight bit less refined than Pico Slim and soundstage space is similar to the iQube but not quite as 3D, nor does it have as good of instrument separation, but it is still very good.  Resolution/detail levels are very good and other than the extra bass emphasis, which also comes with great control, the Stepdance is pretty neutral.  8/10

iQube V2: Surprisingly the iQube has more treble emphasis than any of the other amps tested, but the treble is detailed and of good quality.  Bass is very deep and powerful, similar to the D10, as is the slightly forward midrange.  The iQube adds a bit of spaciousness to the presentation without losing the 3D presentation and is every bit as transparent as the Pico Slim.  The iQube is the more enjoyable overall presentation that isn’t lacking and gets the most out of the excellent 3D presentation of the 5X. 9/10

Neco Soundlabs V2: The Neco V2 reminds me of the Stepdance in many ways with nearly as much bass emphasis and control, similar but slightly more emphasized treble, and similar resolution.  The biggest difference is the midrange is a little more forward on the V2.  The deep bass is a bit off vs the SD but the sound is more airy and bright.  8/10

Cruise: The Cruise sounds a bit more spacious, 3D, and open and airy when compared with the Stepdance and UHA-6S MKII, and while the Cruise is brighter, the sound signatures are close.  In the bass region the Cruise has more texturing from a bit better control.  The presentation is also more dynamic, engaging and exciting.  Unfortunately there is hiss which detracts from the otherwise excellent presentation and reduces the score by 0.5 points. 9/10

UHA-6S MKII: The MKII has a high quality, resolving presentation that has some nice 3D qualities, however the overall soundstage is a bit smaller and more up-front than that of the Stepdance and Cruise.  Clarity is a bit better than the Stepdance, but a bit less than the Cruise.  Considering the price and that the MKII also incorporates a DAC, the performance is very good for the price.  8/10

Arrow 4G: Wide and spacious, but not as 3D as the UHA-6S, and Stepdance.  The 4G adds warmth to the presentation and isn’t quite as clear as the Cruise, Stepdance, or UHA-6S MKII.  While the sound isn’t bad, especially without direct comparison, the overall presentation isn’t quite as smooth or liquid as the competitors. 7/10

627: The 627 adds a level of resolution, layering, and space the other amps do not, resulting in added realism to the presentation.  Listening to the Cruise after the 627 left me thinking the presentation was a bit flat and lacking.  Overall, the 627 is another step up in sound quality.  10/10

306:

O2: The O2 can sound good with certain tracks, but as the music becomes more complex, the O2 sounds congested with the 5X.  Depth and width of the presentation are good, as is imaging, but clarity isn’t the best and the overall presentation isn’t as smooth or resolving as the Neco V2. 6.5/10

 

Desktop Sources/DACs

iQube V2: The iQube V2 is close to the D1, but with a slightly better 3D space, a little less treble emphasis, and a good deal more forgiving presentation. Micro-detail is a hair less but the transparency is about the same with the higher end DAC.  Bass isn’t lacking in any way and overall the iQube gives the best frequency balance of the DACs I have tested.  It is a toss up between this DAC and the 801 as both offer different strengths.  8/10

801: One thing the 801 does better than any of my other sources is recreate an incredible sense of space and ambiance with the 5X, both as a DAC and as a player.  As a player the sound is a little on the thicker side, but still very transparent.  However, with the 801 as a DAC the thickness is increased a bit more, taking away from the clarity of other DACs such as the iQube and D1.  However, due to the spacious presentation the 801 is still an amazing combination, although the thickness might not be for everyone.  The channel imbalance that was present with the stock low gain card is minimized with the GAME card, which still has an imbalance, but only at very low volumes. 8/10

D1: The D1 presents quite a bit of detail and clarity via the 5X, however the 3D space and ambiance are a step below the 801 and even the iQube V2 for some reason.  The presentation is bright with a more analytical sound, and being analytical it makes the 5X less forgiving than the 801 when there is poor treble quality in the track.  Tracks that are well mastered on the other hand do sound excellent.  Bass is strong and there is a nice balance and seemingly flatter response across the spectrum than with other DACs.  Overall the D1 is a nice match, but it is missing that something special with the 5X than the 801 has.  7/10

 

Source Summary: The 5X is easy to drive and as long as you are using a good amp and DAC it doesn’t make a huge difference which one you actually use.  When you do move up to a nice DAP/DAC/amp from something like the Clip+ or iPhone you will be rewarded with a greatly improved soundstage that is very 3D and immersive, however the aud-5X will give you very good relative performance with entry level sources.

 

Audio Earz AUD-5X Custom In-Ear Monitors by Dream Earz

SUMMARY

Breaking the current driver/price performance barriers the aud-5X is a very capable performer.  Technically the 5X punches well above its price point, closing in on more expensive custom IEMs at double the prices.  The strengths include transparency, bass capability, dynamics, soundstage proportions, and bass and midrange resolution.  The overall sound is refined, liquid, a little on the warm and rich side with some bass enhancement and a brighter treble to go along with a bit of a mid-forward presentation.  The coherence across the frequency spectrum is excellent with similar note thickness from top to bottom and excellent integration from the lowest notes to the highest.  When compared with others in the price point, the aud-5X really doesn’t have technical weaknesses.  Being the aud stands for audiophile, the presentation has hit a sweet spot in the sound with the overall balance.

 

Pros

–       Sweet spot in overall presentation at this price point for an audiophile sound

–       Impressive bass performance

–       Well proportioned soundstage that offers both very good width and depth

–       A high level of transparency that allows each track and source to alter the sound based on their sound signature

–       Great treble extension

Cons

–       Detail levels in the upper midrange on up is only average

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About Author

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

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