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Fit for a Bat! – Flagship IEMs Shootout

26

Fri May. 22, 2015

By jelt2359

The Contenders (in alphabetical order)

1964Ears | Adel A12

Advanced AcousticWerkes AAW W500 AHMorph

Clear Tune Monitors CT-6E Elite

CustomArt Harmony 8 Pro

Jerry Harvey Audio JH13 Pro FreqPhase

Lear Audio LCM BD4.2

Noble Audio Kaiser 10

Spiral Ear SE5 Ultimate

Eight flagship IEMs. Great. How exactly do you rank so many amazing IEMs against one another? Living with these fellas over the past few months has made me a little crazy. Literally a hundred times, I’d gushed to everyone I knew that this was THE BEST IEM EVER OMG OMG YES! No big deal, if only I wasn’t referring to a different IEM each time. Oops. Long story short- if this shootout had any chance in hell of being done by 2015, I needed to set up some rules.

My Totally Arbitrary Rules

  1. Test with different genres of music. I went from pop to rock; orchestral to jazz; electronica to happy hard-core; live to studio; binaural to monoaural1. Versatility matters- an IEM has to excel in at least a few genres to rank highly. Variation in cross-genre performance was probably the number one reason I flip-flopped more than John Kerry2.
  2. Do A-B comparisons. I refined my scores using this iterative process: first, I’d listen to an IEM and give it a score for a particular trait. Then I would pick a different IEM, volume match (this bit is much more critical than it sounds. Trust me), and score that in relation to the first one. With the first two done, I’d pick a third IEM and score them in relation to the previous two, changing the scores of all three IEMs along the way. To this add #4, #5, #6… Etc. Finally I’d wait a day or two, then redo the exercise again to finalise the scores. Over the past few months I’ve done this again and again and again, going through this process for every single trait I evaluated, until everything seemed right.
  3. Stick to my Chord Hugo. I kept my source constant because I’ve listened to a lot of music (and a lot of IEMs) on it, and have formulated a clear frame of reference with it. Was this the best match for every IEM? Probably not. Could I have tested my IEMs on my other Amps, DACs and even DAPs? Probably- but not this time. I’ve got to draw the line somewhere…
  4. Speaking of drawing the line, I did swap cables around for kicks. It’s just so much easier switching cables than sources, and I couldn’t resist trying some of my Silver-Plated Copper, Copper and Silver cables. But ultimately I kept things simple, and listened most via stock- after all, this is what the manufacturer intended.
  5. I listen pretty loud. It’s what I’m used to, and I find I can best pick out the differences at higher volumes.

My Rating Criteria

With the rules out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. I chose these IEMs for the shootouts mostly because they’d all done similarly well in my previous audition binge. Once I actually started scoring things, though, I got some surprising results. Not only were the performance levels not as close anymore; the final verdict ended up being very different from how I’d initially ranked them (after first impressions). To get to my final score, I rated IEMs in five equally-weighted categories. Each category was further rated in its component parts:

Bass: Speed, decay, detail, slam, authority, tightness, extension and timbre. Subbass and midbass.

Midrange: Energy, evenness, airiness, timbre, clarity, and detail.

Treble: Smoothness, clarity, naturalness, sparkle, speed, and extension.

Spatial: Size of width, depth, and height; airiness; and consistency of soundstage diffusion. Imaging of width, depth and height; and center image.

General: PRaT, balance, note articulation and fullness, musical resonance.

Apart from being relative in nature, my ratings also indicate some sort of absolute quality. Let’s say I thought IEM A lost out to IEM B in terms of Treble Smoothness. In this scenario, let’s imagine that A was actually pretty good- B was just better. So how do I reflect this reality? How do I indicate that A was good to begin with, but then also account for how much better B was? To solve this I ended up using this scale:

Component Scores

<5 : Bad 8 – 9 : Very Good
5 – 6 : Below Average 9 – 10 : Elite
6 – 7 : Average >10 : (yes, >10.) Jawdropping
7 – 8 : Above Average

 

Overall Scores

One last note about scoring. I’ve also grouped the overall scores into different tiers, which reflect how I felt about the IEMs in each score-range. Bear in mind: to get into the top tier would require an IEM to average >9 across every category. I wasn’t sure if any IEM could be that good. Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?

<50 : Bad 70 – 75 : Good
50 – 55 : Barely Acceptable 75 – 80 : Very Good
55 – 60 : Below Average 80 – 85 : Outstanding
60 – 65 : Average 85 – 90 : Almost Perfect
65 – 70 : Above Average >90 : “Fit for a Bat!”

 

 

 

 

1 This is some of the music I listen to:

Beni (JPop) New Order (Rock) FREETempo (Electronic)
Davichi (KPop) Peter Gabriel (Rock) Monkey Safari (EDM)
G.E.M. (CPop) The Decemberists (Rock) Rodrigo Y Gabriela (Guitars)
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Pop) Jamie Cullum (Jazz) Cirque Du Soleil (Soundtracks)
Mika Nakashima (JPop) Jazz at the Pawnshop (Jazz) Lots of Random Jazz
Utada Hikaru (JPop) Daft Punk (Electronic) Lots of Random Happy Hardcore
Chesky Binaural Series (Binaural) Ulrich Schnauss (Electronic) Lots of Random Classical/ Orchestral

 

2 I have nothing against John Kerry. It’s just that “many times I actually did vote for an IEM, before I voted against it”. Kerry would understand.


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About Author

When jelt2359's Shure earphones stopped working ten years ago he was forced, kicking and screaming, to replace them. He ended up with more than 20 new IEMs. Oops! jelt2359 flies to a different city almost every week for work, and is always looking for the perfect audio setup to bring along.

26 Comments

  1. Yiannis Demetruou on

    Hi! Thank you for the great reviews! Do you know how the se 4way compares to theb5 way? I wish I could buy the 5way but I cannot stretch my budget that much…

  2. Wasaki on

    The noble k10 should not be here in this review ,it’s overrated but I like the mids only the mids sound good.

  3. Wasaki on

    heheehe again you put Se5 Ult. in number 1 .
    But not for me my roxanne sound better for me in the bass and mids ,but se5 win in the treble,
    also I’m sure heir 10 sound bigger and better in imaging and space and it sound extremly musical compare to Adel 12 and legend R
    Thanks for your work .

  4. Hunter on

    I’m looking for one with
    detailed, sparkly treble
    upfront vocals
    punchy bass
    wide soundstage good seperation
    I loves the sound of k10
    Can you recommend me one set?

  5. Ezekiel_77 on

    Hi Jelt, I’ve followed this site since the start and always look forward to new reviews. Glad you joined the team! A lot of my UIEMs were bought bcos of reviews here. Now I’m ready to get my first CIEM and Joe thought I should ask you for a recommendation.

    I’m looking for one with
    1) detailed, sparkly treble (a bit of sibilance is ok, GR07 owner here)
    2) upfront, prominent vocals (no recessed mids)
    3) good bass quality and quantity (some punch and rumble)
    4) wide soundstage, average separation is fine

    Using the FiiO X5ii, no amp. Listen to rock, pop, acoustic, vocals, jazz.
    Looking at JH13/Angie, 1964Ears V6S, CTM 500, Noble K10, Earwerkz Legend R.
    Budget is… flexible.

    Thanks for your help in advance. The shootout is part of the reason I want to try customs one day.
    Cheers!

    • jelt2359 on

      Perhaps the Legend Omega or Legend R (former has better bass), although the Legend’s treble is not sparkling.

      Another good option might be the AAW W500, which has awesome bass punch and rumble and better sparkle in the treble; but mids that are slightly less forward than the Omega.

      CTM500 is also a good choice, meets all your criteria well.. If budget is flexible do consider the SE5 Ultimate as well- really great vocals and soundstage and nice treble, bass is also good, but behind the W500.

      • Ezekiel_77 on

        Thanks a lot. Will await your top 3 bcos the Spiral Ears sound hella tasty!

        • jelt2359 on

          They do 🙂 But the W500 has mids that are definitely more forward, if that’s really really important to you.

          To my ears neither are recessed, though.

          • Ezekiel_77 on

            Dang I gotta go down S’pore for an audit.
            Happy SG50 by the way.

  6. ltb on

    Glad that you’re back 🙂

  7. ltb on

    The 5th is late :). I’m looking forward to read your reviews
    i definitely want to know about the W500, SE5U and Adel12 🙂

    • jelt2359 on

      LOL, you got me there! Took a bit of a break, will be back soon =)

      • ltb on

        i guess we’ll have two reviews next tuesday to catch up then :p 🙂

        • jelt2359 on

          😛

  8. IEMTone on

    Jason, have you had a chance to test the 1964 A12 with the adjustable membrane and if not do you anticipate on sharing your thoughts once it is available?

    • jelt2359 on

      I’ve not had a chance to test it yet, but yes, I will probably share my thoughts when I do get it!

  9. jelt2359 on

    Thanks for your support guys! You’ll just have to wait and see what comes out on top =)

  10. Skeith on

    I hope you can add FitEar MH335DW-SR and JH Layla to the party.
    If you can do it, this will become the best CIEM comparison ever !!!

    • jelt2359 on

      Sorry, but probably not. Planning for Fit for a Bat 2 now, but these two are not part of the picture…

      • Skeith on

        Ok.
        How about universal IEM comparison ???
        The contenders that I want to see is:

        – EarSonics Velvet
        – FitEar TG334
        – Shure SE846
        – AKG K3003
        – Sennheiser IE800
        – Westone W60

        • jelt2359 on

          Have one upcoming, but not in this price bracket. (That makes two upcoming shootouts after this one, for those keeping track). May be a third shootout concept to consider…

  11. ltb on

    Looking forward to read your review of the AAW W500 AHMorph and Adel A12

  12. CIEMfan on

    My guess is that the A12 will be #3, the K10 at the #2 spot, and the SE 5-way taking the top position.

  13. Cagin on

    Was wondering when you’re next shootout was due Jason 😉
    Intriguing how ACS Encore and Earwerkz Legend R/Omega didn’t make the round-up though.
    My $5 are on A12, SE5 Ult for #2 ^^

  14. getclikinagas on

    Been following Jelt2359’s Head-fi thread. He has flagships for breakfast!
    Great picture, very good experience, engaging writing style.
    Great to see a full length review 🙂

    Will be following the shootout.

  15. Hon Liang on

    Interesting review and really well taken pictures.
    I heard similar opinions about Ct6E and the love-hate relationship one might have for them. This only makes me want to try them out!
    Let me guess/predict your number 1: 1964 Adel.
    Thanks!

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