Custom Art 8.2 (€1100)
The 8.2 and Aether share some resemblances throughout their signature, but differ mainly in their tonal balance. Where the 8.2 focuses on a smooth, non-fatuiging signature enriched by its forward bass, the Aether sounds more open and natural. Aether is equally warmer than neutral, but not as predominant as the 8.2. While they don’t differ significantly in their transparency, Aether has greater resolution.
The 8.2 has a wider stage, with a slightly more forward stage positioning. Aether’s stage on the other hand is a bit deeper, and betters the 8.2 in its layering ability. The overall space however is fairly similar. In addition the Aether’s stage is airier, compared to the warmer 8.2. Accordingly, the Aether has a slight advantage in separation, although both have good imaging.
The 8.2 has a more elevated sub-bass. It’s bass has more impact than the Aether’s in the low setting, while having similar impact as Aether’s in the up setting, while having better mid-bass resolution. The 8.2’s bass is warmer, and more laidback in pace. While both sound quite natural the 8.2’s bass is a bit darker, while its warmth creates a warmer stage structure compared to the airier Aether.
Both the 8.2 and Aether have a fairly linear lower and center midrange, but depart at the upper midrange. Aether has more presence here, resulting in a lighter tone, and an overall clearer sound. Aether’s vocals are slightly thicker, although both don’t create particularly dense or forward vocals. The 8.2’s midrange is however warmer, while the Aether’s is airier. In addition, its stage positioning is more laidback. As a result, the 8.2 creates fuller and more forward instruments.
The 8.2’s treble is more laid-back in the overall presentation. While the Aether’s treble isn’t particularly sparkly either, it has more presence in the signature, as well as having a very characteristic smooth and natural tonality. Importantly, the added treble forms a more effective balance for its bass presence in creating its airier structure. In addition, its treble extends a bit further.
Jomo Samba ($1725)
‘Musical’ is one of those powerful sem-audiophile terms that seem to convey a lot of power, but hold little merit due to their subjectivity. Samba and Aether demonstrate the stark differences in what can be considered musical. The Aether for its beauty and naturalness in its tone. The Samba on the other hand for its precision: high resolution and transparency, as well as precise imaging.
Aether’s stage is slightly wider, but Samba’s is deeper, while its layering ability is better. Aether’s stage might be airy; it’s not quite at the level of Samba – Samba’s is spotlessly clean. It’s background is blacker, imaging more precise, and its resolution higher. The result is a highly detailed, three-dimensional image. Accordingly, the cleanliness of the image results in better separation, and a more upfront detail presentation.
Samba’s bass is tight and punchy. Even though its extension is not overly impressive either, its definition is greater than Aether. Aether’s bass is warmer and more natural in tone, but just a bit fuzzy by comparison. In its ‘up’ setting it has more body, but is slower in pace. In the ‘down’ setting its definition improves, but there’s still a good deal more upper bass presence.
Accordingly, the bass provides a more natural tone throughout the midrange. Midrange notes are warmer, and thicker. Samba’s notes are leaner, drier, though more transparent. It’s a clash of styles and vices, with each having their own advantage. Both have a slightly laidback vocal presentation. Aether’s again sound more inviting due to their tone, while Samba’s have more clarity and greater focus.
Finally, Aether has a softer and more natural treble tone – its tone is more accurate. Samba again has the more technical presentation, resulting from a brighter treble tone and better extension. Accordingly, its treble is more precise in its articulation, as well as more detailed. Its comparing differing qualities, but Aether gets the higher score for treble – it’s a wonderful treble to listen to.
The Aether has one of the most beautiful tones in this shootout – period. There isn’t one that easily surpasses it, Aether simply sounds very good. That’s quite a statement to make, given its low ranking. But improve the Aether’s low and top end extension, and this might well be one of the best iems ever made.
So how did Aether end here? It lost most of its points for its bass. And while it gets its beauty from its upper midrange and delicate treble tuning, the midrange itself isn’t overly impressive when it comes to forwardness or density, but it has that beautiful tone. When it comes to performance, Aether performs about average for a flagship iem. Nothing negative about that, there are just quite a few in the shootout that are incredibly precise, even though their tone isn’t necessarily as good. The aforementioned extension works wonders there.
When we look at the average price range, this shootout doesn’t necessarily reflect the grand average of flagships – it’s skewed towards the elite. Both in price and performance. But even after having heard those, I can say from the bottom of my heart: I could happily live with Aether alone. There really is a lot to like, and little to hate – especially at this price.
Lime Ears Aether
-Transparency could be greater