Advanced AcousticWerkes W900 ($1999)
AAW’s W900 shares some core similarities with the VE8; its stage might even be slightly wider, but in both cases, the wide and tall stage creates a large screen, while offering a big sound. Similarly, both offer precise imaging and excellent separation, executed in similar fashion: while their layering is good, they primarily rely on their width. In addition, both are fairly neutral in tone, although the W900’s mid-treble dip takes some light from its tone. Accordingly, its presentation is smooth, and more relaxed. The VE8 in turn sounds clearer, with more authority in its sound. But its key difference is the forwardness of its staging – the VE8’s more upfront stage positioning results in a more engaging sound, with larger instrument notes. By comparison, the W900’s staging is more laidback.
When it comes to signature, the W900 offers a deeper-reaching sub-bass, while the VE8’s mid- and upper-bass is relatively more enhanced. Accordingly, both the VE8’s instruments and vocals are larger, although the W900’s have a bit more vocal power and solidity, despite their neutral size. But the W900’s treble stands a bit on its own, as a mid-treble peak adds a touch of brightness to its treble timbre. While it brings out more detail, it tends to do so in an isolated way. The VE8’s treble timbre is not only better, it works more coherently with the midrange.
Empire Ears Zeus-XIV ($2099)
Zeus and VE8 make for another mighty standoff, both top-tier iems in price and performance: high resolution, and precise imaging. The VE8’s stage is wider than that of Zeus, while Zeus in turn offers a more 3D stage, with equal proportions between width and depth. But in both cases, their separation is outstanding, resulting from their precise imaging, and the cleanliness of the stage. Zeus however relies more on its layering, and the VE8 on its width. In both cases, their tone is relatively neutral, as neither sounds particularly warm or bright.
But more than their performance, these are two iems that are defined by their midrange; terms as authority and forwardness readily apply. Similarly, both can be considered engaging. Even so, they demonstrate key differences in their midrange presentation: the VE8 provides significantly more body to its instruments, which sound forward and bodied. In addition, its mid-bass is richer in quantity, compared to the relatively neutral bass of Zeus. Zeus’ midrange in turn is centered around its vocals; they’re denser, and bolder. VE8’s vocals are large in size, but Zeus offers more solidity. Accordingly, they switch positions in forwardness, with Zeus putting its vocals upfront, and the VE8 in turn its instruments. While both monitors offer impressive top-end extension, the VE8 provides the more accurate treble timbre, while having the quicker decay.
Jomo Flamenco ($2179)
Jomo’s Flamenco offers a rather unique design, consisting of 11 drivers, and two switches to modify the sound. Overall, its signature pends between relatively neutral to slightly bright, depending on the mode. Compared to the VE8’s wide stage and thick notes, Flamenco’s stage is relatively more compact, relying on its depth and layering for separation. But as it shares a similar midrange bump as Zeus, it again offers a slightly more dense vocal presentation, although the VE8’s is a bit larger in size. While its instruments are a bit leaner, their transparency is greater: the Flamenco is a technical masterpiece.
The VE8’s bass is roughly similar in impact to that Flamenco with its switch up, although it still edges it out in terms of quantity; the result of a richer upper-bass, which additionally provides more body to its instruments. Not that Flamenco sounds lean altogether, for its an engaging signature in its own right. Due to its switch, Flamenco provides the option of a relatively neutral treble similar to the VE8, or more sparkle on top. Their treble pace is similar, as is their extension.
64 Audio A18 ($2999)
64 Audio’s A18 and the VE8 both share an engaging sound, due to their forward stage positioning. However, A18’s emphasis is on excitement due to its brighter upper mids, as well as upper treble lift; as a result, the A18 is especially upfront in its detail retrieval, pushing finer detail to the foreground. In addition, its sub-bass extension is slightly greater, as is its impact – overall, the A18’s bass hits with more authority, especially with its M20 module. The VE8’s bass is equally enhanced, but conveys more of a mid-bass impact. In addition, the A18’s stage is slighty wider, although the VE8’s is taller, while bettering the A18 in its layering ability. Even so, both iems primarily rely on their width for separation.
But where the A18’s brighter tuning sounds more stimulating, the VE8 powers through with a full-bodied sound: both its instruments and vocals are larger in size, giving the VE8 better ability to fill the headspace. In addition, its signature is slightly more coherent, as well as smoother. Both iems are top performers when it comes to technical ability, although the A18 has the edge when it comes to resolution and transparency. However, the VE8’s imaging is more precise. Personally, I tend to prefer the A18’s exciting treble for electronic or classical music, where I would favor the VE8’s bodied midrange for rock or vocals.
With the VE8, Vision Ears brings us back to the core of why we listen to music: to be engulfed by it, to be thrilled. Despite being a flagship model, the VE8 displays no interest in aiming for a neutral or reference approach. Not by skimping on performance, for when it comes to technical ability, the VE8 is certainly up there with the best. But even though I’m one to pay close attention to subtle aspects of performance that distinct good iems from really great ones, the VE8 doesn’t really do subtle; it’s all about its presentation, and the VE8 offers a powerhouse of a sound. In a way, the VE8 listens like a Mercedes: it provides a big sound, while it’s comfortable and easy to listen to. But when you step on the gas, the performance is there: its general pace is quick, and its resolution high.
I’m fortunate to be able to fall back on different iems for different moods, or genres. But if I’d had to pick one to do it all, the VE8 might just be the one – at least for my genres. It won’t necessarily be a top pick for classical music for example due to its thicker note reproduction, but the VE8 easily breezes through contemporary genres like rock, pop, reggae, EDM, or easy-listening music. And not just by reproducing the music, but by bringing it to life.