Custom Art Harmony 8.2 (€1100)
The Aether and its fellow countryman, the Harmony 8.2, fall within a common demographic. Similarly equipped with neutral-warm tonalities and bodied presentations, both strive to impress via musicality first. Where they ultimately differ is in approach; the Aether dazzles with energy and vibrancy, whereas the H8.2 seduces with intimacy and warmth.
Of the two, the H8.2 has the technically stronger bass. Although it can’t quite match the Aether’s bass richness, power and atmosphere, it’s the clear winner in rumble, resolution and cleanliness. They’re tonally similar down low, but in terms of texture, the H8.2’s bass is drier and more compact against the Aether’s wetter and looser approach.
The midrange is where the two contrast most. Unlike the Aether’s snappier, sparklier and airier delivery, the H8.2 places its emphasis on lower-midrange body. As a result, the H8.2’s midrange is warmer and less clear-cut, losing out to the Aether on openness, clarity and finesse. Vocal presentation, though, is served with a greater sense of forwardness, gusto, resolution and strength, whereas the Aether puts its focus on depth and articulation.
The treble, on the other hand, is probably where the two compatriots are most alike. Both the H8.2 and the Aether are attenuated in the top-end to produce natural, non-fatiguing and easy-going tonalities. The H8.2’s treble is attenuated to a larger degree (leading to a darker and less-resolving overall tone), but it has a grainier and more tangible texture – almost like film grain – compared to the Aether’s smoother and more elegant presentation. The Aether, though, trumps it in extension; providing a more stable, coherent, and consistent stage throughout its entire presentation.
Empire Ears Athena-VIII ADEL ($1429.99)
The Athena-ADEL – similar to both the H8.2 and the Aether – is driven by a fun, fatigue-free and laid-back approach to sound. However, its implementation of ADEL technology is where it really diverges from the beaten path. The result: An IEM that soothes with smoothness, warmth and body, but with a healthy dose of air thrown into the mix.
The Aether and the Athena-ADEL present bass in two wildly different ways. While the Aether excels in radiation and oomph, the Athena-ADEL endows its lower registers with softness and air. Both have rich low-ends that bloom without much rumble or physicality, but the Athena-ADEL compensates with light and clarity. The Aether, on the other hand, doubles down on fun, happily throwing ultimate resolution out the window in exchange.
Now, because the Athena-ADEL displays its low-end in such a delicate manner, it relies on midrange warmth to equip its vocal and instrumental presentation with thickness and weight. Unlike both the Aether and H8.2, the Athena-ADEL has a linear bump across the entirety of its middle registers. This means it focuses on neither articulation nor intimacy, instead relying on its sheer size to engage the listener. This is where the effects of the ADEL module are most prevalent; vocals are stretched sidewards and upwards to form a huge wall of sound. The Aether’s midrange presentation, by comparison, is more compact and energetic, engaging the listener with short bursts of excitement rather than long stretches of smoothness and warmth.
In order to compensate for its modest midrange sparkle, the Athena-ADEL is equipped with a brighter treble. It adorns the midrange with clarity and air – sparing it from congestion – and alleviates its inherent richness; essentially serving the same role as the Aether’s upper midrange. Although it also shares the meatiness, roundedness and smoothness of the Aether’s top-end, it is less natural in tone, and less transparent as a result. The Athena-ADEL’s treble layers and resolves about as capably as the Aether’s does, but is less adaptive and forgiving when it comes to coherence and prominence.
The Lime Ears Aether is a fervent and unapologetic rockstar. It may be a bit loose around the edges, and it isn’t the most romantic of souls, but it is the pure, unadulterated essence of fun; alluring, exhilarating, and devilishly delicious. Built upon a foundation of masterful tonal balance and striking presentations of clarity and air, the Aether is bolstered by sheer musical charisma, with proper technical performance just lurking underneath. And, while it may have sacrificed a tiny bit of resolution for atmosphere, an ounce of vocal density for articulation, and the last word on transparency for warmth all along the way, among the plethora of IEMs I’ve heard thus far, it is one of the prestigious few that can pull off a near-perfect balance of them all at the same friggin’ time. The Lime Ears Aether is an absolute powerhouse, and it is a tantalisingly promising precedent to what else the Polish company has to offer.