Clear Tune Monitors WLS-5 Review

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Reviewed November 2013

Details: 5-driver flagship from Florida-based Clear Tune Monitors
Starting Price: $800 from cleartunemonitors.com
Specs: Driver: 5 BA / 3-way crossover | Imp: 20Ω | Sens: 124 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ L-plug
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4/5) – Cleaning tool and small hard shell pelican case
Build Quality (5/5) – The WLS-5 is part of Clear Tune Monitors’ Wood Legit Series, so called for the use of real wood faceplates. The faceplate on my unit is definitely substantial – a thick wooden slab with an engraved CTM logo. The unit looks great overall, with a metallic brown swirl in the acrylic housings to match the faceplates. The WLS-5 utilizes a triple-bore setup and boasts detachable cables in the standard 2-pin configuration. The cable is twisted and on the whole quite typical except for the longer memory wire section, which I rather like
Isolation (4.5/5) – My WLS-5 was made with long nozzles so the isolation is excellent – slightly below that of silicone-shelled customs but on-par with my UM and JH Audio units
Microphonics (5/5) – Nonexistent
Comfort (5/5) – As with all acrylic customs, the shells are hard but very comfortable when fitted correctly. If the earphones are uncomfortable after an initial break-in period, a refit is probably a good idea.

Sound (9.5/10) – Clear Tune Monitors describes the sound tuning of the Wood Legit Series earphones as “extremely warm and punchy”. While the flagship WLS-5 is not overly warm to my ears, it certainly does have good punch. The bass is not the deepest, but emphasis picks up quickly and it can hit quite hard – certainly much harder than Clear Tune Monitors’ dual-driver CT-200 model. Bass impact is greater than with the average custom monitor and about on-par with my benchmark, the JH Audio JH13 Pro, in being a few dB north of neutral.

Emphasis drops off a bit for the midrange, which is less forward than with sets like the JH13 and Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor (UERM). Note presentation is a little thinner here as well, which affords the WLS-5 great clarity but also makes the mids sound a touch dry and recessed, not unlike what happens with JVC’s carbon nanotube earphones, such as the FXD80.

The WLS-5 gains presence in the upper midrange, strongly reminding me of the similarly pro-oriented Sensaphonics 3MAX. The lower treble has good presence as well, though top-end extension ultimately doesn’t quite keep up with the JH Audio JH13, resulting in a slightly darker overall tone and a presentation with less “air”. The relative emphasis on the upper mids and treble gives the WLS-5 a slightly “shouty” character, which again reminds me of the 3MAX as well as the Japan-exclusive j-Phonic K2 SP monitors. Despite this, the top end of the WLS-5 is surprisingly forgiving compared, for example, to the Alclair Reference and 1964EARS V6-Stage customs, as well as universals such as the VSonic GR07. The presentation, likewise, is competent – a little narrower than average, but well-positioned and accurate.

Worth noting also is the high sensitivity of the WLS-5 – it is highly recommended to use the earphone with a noise-free source as background hiss can get quite noticeable with a subpar audio player.

Select Comparisons

Clear Tune Monitors CT-200 ($350)

One of Clear Tune Monitors’ lower-end models, the dual-driver CT-200 provides a sound radically different from that of the Wood Legit Series earphones – smooth, mid-centric, and light on subbass. The WLS-5 is significantly more extended at the bottom end, providing deeper bass with more punch, and makes the sub-bass roll-off of the CT-200 very obvious.

Moving up, the WLS-5 is clearer and more resolving than the CT-200, especially in the midrange. The lower-end model, in comparison, lacks crispness and sounds a little smeared and lacking in detail. The WLS-5 has more upper midrange emphasis and more treble energy as well. The CT-200 has a more laid-back, out-of-the-head presentation while the WLS-5 is more forward and aggressive, due in part to the upper midrange emphasis. Despite this, the WLS-5 has slightly better overall imaging thanks to its crisp and clean note presentation.

Alclair Reference ($399)

The triple-driver Alclair Reference follows a balanced, slightly v-shaped sound signature. Compared to the WLS-5, the Reference has slightly deeper bass but lacks a bit of bass control and tightness. In the midrange, the WLS-5 is a little clearer and more resolving. Despite its upper midrange boost, it still sounds smoother and more refined overall compared to the Reference, especially in the treble region. The Alclair unit, on the other hand, sounds peaky and is more prone to sibilance. The presentation of the Reference is a bit wider overall, however, and unlike the CT-200 it keeps up with the WLS-5 in imaging, too.

EarSonics SM64 ($399)

The SM64 is a universal-fit earphone with quite a lot of bass for a balanced armature setup. Next to the WLS-5, the bass of the SM64 goes deeper and provides more impact and rumble. Unfortunately this also makes it sound a little muddy in comparison, especially in the midrange. The WLS-5 is clearer and brighter overall, with a lot more emphasis in the upper midrange and lower treble. It does tend to be a little harsher than the SM64, but it’s not bad at all considering how much more the upper mid and treble energy it has.

1964EARS V6-Stage ($699)

1964EARS’ latest flagship is a neutral-sounding earphone in the same price class as the WLS-5. The V6-Stage is a little tighter and more refined in the bass region but has more presence in the lower mids, which gives it a slightly warmer and richer sound. The bass of the WLS-5 is a bit deeper and more impactful but the earphone has dryer, more recessed mids compared to the V6-Stage. However, it gains emphasis towards the upper midrange, which often makes it sound clearer. Realistically, though, neither earphone lacks clarity or has a real advantage over the other here.

The 1964EARS set is more sibilant, especially on tracks already prone to sibilance, but also has a bit more treble “sparkle” and extension. The WLS-5 is less extended, but more forgiving of sibilance and less critical of recording quality. Overall, the V6-Stage does sound a little more natural on some tracks, but each of these earphones has a tendency to make the other sound flawed.

Westone ES5 ($950)

Westone’s flagship custom is a 5-driver, just like the WLS-5, but boasts a warmer, more bass-biased signature. It has deeper, more powerful bass than the Clear Tune Monitors and a richer, fuller, more prominent midrange. The WLS-5, on the other hand, boasts a thinner note presentation and is a touch clearer. Its upper midrange and treble are more prominent, lending it a brighter sound. The ES5 offers up a darker tone but is very, very smooth and has a more spacious soundstage. Neither earphone has great treble reach. Overall, the ES5 is a little more convincing from a tonal standpoint, but the WLS-5 is not far behind and has an advantage in clarity.

Unique Melody Miracle ($950)

The 6-driver Miracle is a top-tier earphone built around a 3-way, 6-driver configuration. Tonally, it is more neutral than the WLS-5 and has a more coherent sound. It lacks the bass presence of the WLS-5, as well as the emphasized mid-treble region, exhibiting great smoothness through the upper midrange and treble. The upper midrange lift of the WLS-5 throws off its tonality in comparison to the Miracle and makes it sound a bit “shouty”. The top end of the Miracle is also more extended and it sounds more spacious overall.

Value (7.5/10) – The Clear Tune Monitors WLS-5 is a uniquely-voiced custom monitor oriented towards the pro audio market and doesn’t share many similarities with the lower-end CT-200 model. Instead, it is a less expensive, acrylic-shelled alternative to the Sensaphonics 3MAX. Like the 3MAX, its sound is characterized by a prominent upper midrange, though the WLS-5 also boasts excellent bass presence. It offers deep canals – what I normally see referred to as “musician’s fit” – and isolates rather well as a result. Add the excellent fit and finish with the engraved wood face plates and the WLS-5 is a musician’s truly monitor unlike anything else out there.

Pros: Great clarity and excellent bass; excellent fit & finish
Cons: Musician-oriented tuning with a distinct sound profile


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

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