Rank #1: Spiral Ear 5-Way Ultimate

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The 5-Way Ultimate still tops average_joe’s list, which almost seems prophetic after all this time. Later, jelt2359 reminded us one more time during the course of his shootout. Aged like fine wine, the 5-Way remains competitive amongst turbulent times of development. It’s because it wasn’t tuned with sales in mind – it was tuned from a certain philosophy; to sound natural, above everything. Of course, the 5-Way Ultimate doesn’t outperform all the other iems in every aspect – far from it. And this certainly isn’t going to be a signature for everyone. But according to the specific scoring parameters of this shootout, the 5-Way is the one that performs consistently high on both timbre and performance.

Spiral Ear 5-Way Ultimate
-Drivers:                    5 BA drivers
-Design:                     5-way crossover, 5 sound bores
-Impedance:              –
-Sensitivity:                –
-Fit:                             Custom

-PRICE:                        €1699


Cable

The industry standard Plastics One 3-wire OFC cable has a warm tonality, which primarily results from its rolled off upper treble, and lightly enhanced upper-bass. The midrange is linear, resulting in an overall neutral note size. While the mid-bass is warm and natural in tone, it’s not particularly controlled. Accordingly, the loose bass results in a warmer stage structure. This affects the airiness of the stage as well as its transparency; especially since its top-end does not extend very far. However, while the cable doesn’t perform very well when it comes to resolution and transparency, its warmer tone results in a fairly smooth and natural signature.

Just as with the NT6-pro, I tend to usually listen to the 5-Way with its stock cable, despite an adequate arsenal of cables on hand. It’s partially because the recessed silicone sockets can be a pain to use with upgrade cables, but mostly because the pairing works just fine. The 5-Way constructs a warmer stage structure, and the OFC’s warm tone seems to dissolve in it. There are enough cables that create an airier sound. But this isn’t a stage that was intended to sound analytically clean. Similarly, its laid-back treble might not have the most sparkle, but contributes to the naturalness of the presentation.

Sound impressions

Presentation
The 5-Way sets a candle-lit dinner – just you, and the band. A special ambience, resulting from its warm notes, set against a black background. For even though the 5-Way’s stage is spacious, it conveys intimacy in its sound. The 5-Way has a romantic heart. It’s highly resolving, and its separation is excellent. But it seems to mask its outstanding technical performance, behind the naturalness of the presentation. Due to its laid-back treble, there isn’t a lot of clarity in its attack; it seems to lack a sense of excitement in a way. But upon further listen, the 5-Way’s specialty comes from an unexpected corner. The 5-way doesn’t just reproduce the music, it humanifies it; transforming a recording to flesh and blood.

Quality runs throughout the 5-Way’s signature; from its extension on both ends, to the resolution of its midrange notes and their timbre, and the smoothness in their release. Several individual aspects could be termed as neutral; the forwardness of its vocals, and the size of its instruments – the 5-Way isn’t bound to impress with size, or power. But due to its warmer tuning, neutral isn’t the first term that would come to mind when hearing the 5-Way – that’s reserved for natural.


The 5-Way’s attempt to camouflage its performance, returns in its stage. Make no mistake, the 5-Way’s stage is large; a spacious stage, closely resembling that of Zeus-XIV, Maestro V2, and the Dream. A quality stage, with equal proportions in width and depth. Add excellent layering and precise imaging, and a three-dimensional stage unfolds. Following its laid-back treble, warm instruments are set against a black background – a cozy environment. Yet despite their warmer tone, each can be identified with ease, resulting from the stability of the image, and precise instrument positioning; a well-defined presentation, with excellent separation.

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About Author

Nic is currently in pursuit of a PhD degree in social neuropsychology, while trying not to get too distracted by this hobby. In pursuit of theoretical knowledge by day, and audiophile excellence at night. Luckily for him, both activities are not mutually exclusive which helps to lighten the workload. Always on the go, Nic's enthusiasm for hi-fi is focused on all chains of the portable system: iems, cables and daps.

8 Comments

  1. shez on

    Hi, could you please shortly compare with UE 18+?

    • flinkenick on

      UE18+ and 5-Way fall in the same category of smooth, natural tunings, centred on the midrange. In both cases the signature is very coherent, and warm in tone. Similarly, they both have an audiophile bass with excellent bottom-end extension, and a tight but controlled mid-bass. 5-Way’s mid-bass resolution however is higher. While they both create excellent vocals with excellent balance from the lower to upper midrange, there is an essential difference between them: 5-Way’s vocals are denser, meatier, so to speak, while the UE18+’ vocals are more nuanced and detailed. Both again have a warm and smooth treble. Finally 5-Way’s stage is more three-dimensional, while the UE18+’ is mostly wide. In addition 5-Way’s transparency is a bit better.

      • shez on

        Thank You!

        • flinkenick on

          You’re welcome!

      • shez on

        I will be grateful if you answer a couple of questions.
        Are there any disadvantages of 5-Way in comparison to UE18+, fit, comfort, speed or maybe anything else?
        What kind of music do you mostly like with 5-Way and UE18+? Which one of them better for Rock, Metal music? I’m looking for ultimate earphones for Rock, Metal and live music.
        Speed, timbre, vocal, midrange, slightly warmest, smoothest, musicality and naturalness are very important to me.
        Also, what do you think, which one of them better for multi-genre music use?

        • flinkenick on

          Hmm difficult. For starters I’m not one to easily complain about ergonomics, so I don’t have strong opinions on acrylic vs silicone, it’s all good to me. When it comes to music, they are both warm, smooth, natural tunings. I personally don’t listen to metal, but there’s something about the 5-Way that keeps me from listening to it with genres like that – it’s such a refined, delicate tuning that screams ‘audiophile’. The UE18+ is the one I would go for rock music, while the 5-Way more for easy-listening or jazz. Multi-genre really depends on the genres one listens to. For me personally, that means pop, electronic, rock, and easy listening. But I don’t find either suitable for all those genres due to their warm tuning.

  2. Lord Sinister on

    Outstanding work sir! Now, I must decide which of these expensive beasts my wallet will bleed from.

    • flinkenick on

      Thanks as always Lord Sinister!

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