Preview information available:
Lime Ears LE3 & LE3b custom in-ear monitor
Rhines Custom Monitors Stage 3 custom in-ear monitor
InEarz IE-P250 custom in-ear monitor
Minerva Mi-Artist Pro & Mi-Performer Pro custom in-ear monitors
I am currently quite backlogged with the sheer number of review units I have as well as my time being divided among different tasks, so I have decided to write some brief summaries of the custom in-ear monitors I have received but not yet reviewed. Make sure you take the previews with a grain of salt, as the true findings come from comparison listening as well as finding good and bad source matching. Please ask your questions in the comments below.
See the custom in-ear monitors review list for previously reviewed products.
Lime Ears LE3 vs. Lime Ears LE3B: The bass version of the LE3 (LE3B) is has a different tonality and slightly different presentation to it compared with the regular LE3, as the regular LE3 is slightly brighter and overall clearer. Soundstage presentation is similar in size and space, but the presentation is slightly different, with the LE3b being a bit more mid-forward and having slightly less presentation depth and a bit less width while the LE3 has slightly more focus within the presentation. Transparency is similar, but the LE3 has better coherence across the frequency spectrum, specifically from the midrange on up. Detail levels, resolution, and note capability are similar between the two, but the LE3b sounds more dynamic due to the additional bass punch and slightly faster bass attack speed, even though the bass note sustainment is equivalent. The LE3 is more forgiving even though it is slightly brighter due to a treble peak with the LE3b.
The LE3b is obviously more bass enhanced than the LE3, providing a boost throughout the entire lower spectrum in comparison. The LE3 still has good extension and ability to sustain notes, but since there is less emphasis, there is less overall sustainment. The midranges are close and similar, but the LE3b has a bit more mid-forward presentation in comparison even if the upper midrange isn’t as prominent as with the LE3. The tonality of vocals is a bit more throaty with the LE3b, which sounds more natural with male vocals while the LE3 sounds more realistic with female vocals. While the LE3 is slightly brighter than the LE3b, there is a peak in the LE3b treble that isn’t present with the LE3 resulting in the LE3 upper midrange through treble region sounding more natural and even from top to bottom.
The LE3 and LE3b provide two different flavors, both with their own strengths. The LE3 is more neutral and natural due to a more even frequency response from top to bottom, yet is still very capable. The LE3b has a richer and more exciting presentation with great performance given the price range. I would choose the LE3 for female vocals and most acoustic music while I would choose the LE3b for male vocals and electronic music. Two very capable choices for a good price.
The LE3 is now available with a switch that allows changing between the regular and bass sound signatures.
The Rhines Custom Monitors Stage 3 is a relatively mature design by Compact Monitors, and the company split into Rhines Custom Monitors and Vision Ears. My Stage 3 I has a mirrored face plate with excellent fit and finish. The case is something different than is typical, with a nice look and feel to it. Sonically, the Stage 3 has a neutral sound with some added warmth reminiscent of the Logitech Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor (IERM), but with a warmer, more bass heavy, and forward presentation. Both are very similar in the treble region, but the IERM is more open sounding while the Stage 3 is more coherent and immersive. They both have their strengths and it comes down to what you want from the presentation as well as your location.
The Stage 3 presents with a smoothness that is different than other reference monitors that have more analytical qualities such as the Hidition NT-6, Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors, and Lear LCM-5, but it is also warmer than those. Overall, Rhines sound is a warm, smooth, and organic as I found out with the Vision Ears demo (Vision Ears and Rhines Custom Monitors are the two companies formed after Compact Monitors split-up) for a more euphoric sound than your typical reference monitor. The treble is still revealing as poorly mastered tracks are exposed while tracks that have a good treble balance sound wonderful. This is a good quality for a reference monitor, shared by the others with an extreme being the UE IERM. The NT-6 is brighter, but doesn’t ever come across as quite as harsh. The presentation of the Reference is spacious, but not quite as far back as the IERM, and closer to the NT-6 in performance. Depth of presentation is excellent with a high-end player such as the DX100 and imaging is very good.
So far, the Stage 3 has been very enjoyable with warmth, detail, and a spacious presentation that is immersive.
The InEarz IE-P250 is an affordable dual-driver custom in-ear monitor made in the US for $295. The sound is balanced with a slightly mid-forward presentation that is never offensive and offers quite good performance for the price. While extension on both ends isn’t the greatest, it still has a very pleasant sound that would be expected of a top performer in this price range. It is easy for me to listen to the P250 for extended periods of time, which I can’t say for all my lower cost CIEMs due to my snobby ears that are used to the higher end products :). I still have yet to compare it with the vast majority of my lower cost (sub-$500) collection, but I am expecting very good performance from what I have heard.
Minerva Mi-Artist Pro & Mi-Performer Pro: Minerva has been making hearing related products for over half a century and got into the CIEM game several years ago with the Mi-3. They recently updated their lineup, replacing previous CIEM products with the Mi-Artist Pro and Mi-Performer Pro. The Artist Pro is a dual driver in an acrylic shell with detachable cable while the Performer Pro is uses the same dual balanced armature driver housed in silicone. The cables are different, but both nice.
As far as fit goes, the Mi-Artist Pro acrylic shell is the tightest fitting acrylic shell I have that doesn’t cause pain or discomfort, except when removing. This CIEM does best with a push-in insertion method vs. a twist-in, and especially during the removal. The Performer Pro also fits snugly, but isn’t quite as tight.
Sonically, they are quite different than the Mi-3, with a more forward overall presentation and a good deal more bass capability. The Artist Pro and Performer Pro share a mid-forward presentation, but the Mi-Performer Pro outperforms the Mi-Artist Pro in bass extension and capability while the Mi-Artist Pro has better dynamics, treble extension, and treble quality. The Performer Pro midrange is more forward and also resolves more detail than the acrylic shelled Artist Pro.