Alclair Electro ($1499)
The Electro is the EST-6’s natural match, given their extremely similar driver configs. And, as such, they sport similarities across their sound signatures as well. Both monitors sport neutral-natural signatures, though they differ on which n they lean closer towards – the Electro trends toward the former, while the EST-6 is more so the latter. The Electro exhibits the roomier, airier stage from its more withdrawn lower registers, while the EST-6 is noticeably fuller across 2kHz and below. This makes the latter the wetter, richer-sounding in-ear; a touch warmer and more natural in tone. And, this’ll also result in a more dynamic, more lively lower-midrange, which lends itself nicely to instruments like trombones, cellos and toms.
Spatially, you’ll hear a wider soundstage from the Electro. Its stereo separation is more defined, especially on tracks with hard-panned vocals like Jaime Woods’ Hello Morning. Again, there’s more of that musical, cohesive feel to the EST-6 that’s decidedly less clinical. But, on the other hand, the tonality will also come off meatier, more rounded and more life-like to a number of people, so it’s certainly a matter of preference. This is also because of the EST-6’s smoother highs. Its lower-treble is more feathered compared to the Electro’s, which to me makes articulation in vocals come off more natural. As a result, the EST-6 is for those who want a slightly more musical, more coherent and more sumptuous take on neutral, and I’d recommend the Electro if your mind’s more so set on clarity and air, and you’d like wider imaging to go with it as well.
Custom Art FIBAE 7 (€1100)
Custom Art’s FIBAE 7, like the Electro, also shares the EST-6’s neutral-natural tonality. Both monitors have a good balance between cleanliness and body. Where they differ, then, largely lies in the midrange. The EST-6’s, while vibrant, comes off breezier and airier, while the FIBAE 7’s is more intense and upfront, due to its 3kHz peak. Vocalists don’t sound thicker or richer necessarily, but they have a more powerful presence to them in the soundscape. This gives the FIBAE 7 an edge in highlighting texture, like the lower overtones on Jaime Woods’ voice on Hello Morning. That, in turn, gives the monitor the edge in highlighting and resolving individual sounds, while the EST-6 unifies and conveys the vibe of the track as a whole.
That is because of the EST-6’s more linear, more cohesive tonality. Its soundscapes tend to come together more breezily and effortlessly, while there’s more of an upper-mid emphasis on the FIBAE 7. This is also brilliant if you tend to prefer a more musical, set-it-and-forget-it experience, where the cohesion of the ensemble is the star, instead of any one element. Up high, the EST-6’s electrostatic tweeters give it the edge in clarity, with cleaner air running between each layer. It’s also a more articulate treble than the FIBAE 7’s, whose is more relaxed by comparison. But, despite that, the latter does keep up admirably in terms of airiness, and it also sports the wider image of the two. Then, lastly, the FIBAE 7’s lows are more forward and articulate, but the EST-6’s less coloured presentation does come off more realistic without losing on punch.
Stealth Sonics C9 Pro ($1499)
Stealth Sonics’ brand-new C9 Pro makes an interesting foil to the EST-6. Though it achieves a similar blend of clarity and body – a musical reference, if you will – it does so with much thicker, fuller-sounding instruments courtesy of an elevated low-end. Female vocalists will sound gruffer and chestier, and male vocalists have greater power as well. Overall, it’s got a wetter tonality, especially in the highs. But, because of the C9 Pro’s unique ability to sound rich and open and clean, it competes decently well against the EST-6 in terms of airiness and space. So, although you’ll get more bite and crispness out of the latter, there’s very little between the two in terms of raw spatial performance. It more so comes down to tone.
Elaborating further on those tonal differences, the discrepancy comes from the C9 Pro’s more forwardly-positioned mid-bass. Though, again, it never intrudes on the IEM’s airiness on tracks where it isn’t called for, it does have the potential to match the lead instrument in presence, often on genres like EDM or modern pop. But, that is also to the C9 Pro’s benefit, as it provides stronger resolution across its lower-mids than the EST-6. Ultimately, it’ll depend on how fun you’d like your IEM to be. The other notable difference in tone would be in the low-treble. The C9 Pro’s is a tad smoother and – to some – barely hits minimum in terms of presence. The EST-6’s more articulate low-treble gives it a hair more vibrancy and zing.
Avara Custom’s EST-6 is – well and truly – a beautiful-sounding in-ear monitor. As much as I personally despise using the term for both its vagueness and ubiquity in hyperbole, it’s the one that, to me, best capsulises the earphone’s effortless balance between fullness and air, as well as its wonderfully clear, smooth and breezy tone. It is as much a balanced take on natural as it is a musical take on reference; presenting music as is, but without losing an ounce of vibrance, resonance or romanticism along the way. And, though it’s a touch of finesse – a dash of resolution – short of the industry’s best, the fact that it’s even in the conversation without the massive buy-in is a feat all on its own. Clean, cohesive and melodic, the EST-6 is a new step forward for Avara; a confirmation of their global potential, and an exciting glimpse at things to come.