1964Ears debuts Adel technology in a new twelve-driver flagship
Mon Aug. 24, 2015
Clear Tune Monitors CT-6E Elite ($1000)
If the A12 is the king of bass detail, then the CT-6E is the prince. The CTM bass is really detailed, and does a good job of presenting a high-quality, Speedy-Gonzalez type of bass. The A12 on the other hand is no Usain Bolt. You can see it hits the gym regularly, but the absolute best you can say about its speed is ‘that’s quite good’. Compared to the sharp and punchy bass on the CT6E, the A12 presents a marshmellow low-end, the type that envelopes you in a rich and lush flavour after some slow-roasting over a campfire. Yummy…. Anyway, to my ears the CT-6E bass has a much more natural tone, sounding more pleasantly real-to-life. It also is beautifully taut and tight- whereas the A12 sounds a bit rounded and less clearly defined in comparison. The two are quite similar in decay; and present bass with about the same authority although ultimately, the A12 puts just a bit more weight into the note. Sub-bass is no contest. The A12 is a real BA standout for extension in the lowest registers, and the CT-6E can neither dive as deep nor slam as convincingly.
Mids are not close. A12 wins across the board. The CT-6E’s mids are just slightly more energetic and detailed, but otherwise it’s Rounds 1 to 12 to the A12. The CT-6E has a very unique presentation of mids that will be unlike anything you’ve heard before- it’s emotional, it’s raw, it’s prone to wild swings of the bat. It’s the type of hitter that goes for the home run over solid singles, but as a result it will swing, and it will miss, more often. Three areas in particular stand out, where it lags way behind the A12- partly because all three are major strengths on the A12. Namely, these three areas are: the CT-6E’s mids are much more uneven; lacking in air; and have an overall tone that’s rather unnatural.
Treble is much closer; although the duo present a would-be listener with interesting, contrasting choices. The CT-6E wows with its overall tuning- remarkable sparkle fused with incredible smoothness. On the other hand the A12 impresses with Formula One speed and its freakishly long vertical reach. In addition, where the one excels, the other stumbles. The CT-6E is weak precisely in speed and extension; the A12 could do with more sparkle and smoothness. Choices, choices. Both perform about equally (very well) in clarity and naturalness of tone, though, so if those traits are what matters most to you, you really can’t go wrong with either.
In the spatial realm both have soundstages that are about equally big, although the A12 is deeper, and the CT-6E is taller and wider. Both also have pretty good air, although like a bumpy car ride, the CT-6E is let down by a very inconsistent diffusion of sound. Imaging is no contest, so we can probably skip right along, although the CT-6E comes closest to the A12 in its ability to place instruments accurately in terms of depth.
The A12 has a fantastic combination of thickness and articulation, grading out far ahead of the merely average CT-6E in both. Both don’t do very well in musical resonance, with notes that seem to disappear almost immediately after the main harmonics. In terms of overall balance, the A12 performed ahead, but not by much- this was not a standout trait for either IEM. It’s not all bad for the CT-6E, though. It comes out way ahead in terms of PRaT. If you’re a frequent listener of rapid, pacey music, I’d probably pick the CT-6E over the A12.
Noble Audio Kaiser 10 ($1599)
The bass on the K10 has beautiful tone and timbre, and pitting it against the A12 does nothing to change that state of affairs. The A12 bass is an onion-like, peel-back-the-layers-and-weep-at-the-realness type of affair, but in terms of sheer enjoyability of bass tone, the K10 has it comfortably beat. In the sub-bass region though the opposite is true, and the result is a walkover for the A12. Interestingly enough in all the other bass areas (speed, detail, decay, authority, tightness) the pair are like BFFs, so close to be virtually inseparable.
Mids is a very competitive matchup between the K10 and A12. If you like ’em spicy, out of the two you’d pick the K10 in a heartbeat. Detail (which really lends itself to emotion) is also a clear win for the K10. On the other hand if you like your mids airy, even and measured, then the A12 will probably be more your cup of tea. Nonetheless both IEMs have mids with very natural and enjoyable timbre, and overall both rank at the top of the shootout. Apples or Oranges… Chocolate or Vanilla… Trump or Bush…
The technical aspects of the treble go clearly to the A12. Extension, speed and clarity are all firm winners for the A12, which grades out as a more proficient and capable treble-maker. The A12 also has better naturalness of tone, giving treble notes a gentle pleasing shimmer that never sounds metallic. On the other hand the K10 is masterly tuned, with smoothness and sparkle that complement each other in perfectly-mixed quantities. In fact the K10 is so much better than the A12 in these aspects that on balance the treble comparison ends up being basically a wash.
Imaging is a K10 weakness; and an overwhelming strength of the A12. Need I say more about how these two compare spatially? Well probably since this is a review- but let’s focus our efforts on soundstage ‘cos that verdict is a bit less obvious. (TL:DR Imaging A12 Win… Perfect). But even in the soundstage, the K10 still ends up losing to the A12 in almost every aspect. Be it width, depth or height, the A12 comes across as bigger all around. The A12 soundstage is also much airier and more capably filled with spatial cues. The one area where the two are about even is in the consistency of the stage- both IEMs are able to intermix pockets of sound and silence about equally (quite well).
The K10 is a maestro of balanced tuning, and the A12 is clearly not its match in this regard. PRaT and musical resonance are also wins for the K10, which has notes that are faster, more rhythmic, and have more ‘carry’ in the air. Yet where it comes to overall general qualities, it’s not all bad with the A12. The Adel-equipped IEM produces a rich, full sound for which you can make out clearly distinct notes at every turn, and achieves markedly higher grades than the K10 in terms of note thickness and articulation.
Spiral Ear SE5 Ultimate ($1800)
The SE5 Ultimate has an interesting bass presentation. It has a sub-bass ignition driver that kicks in later, and boy can I hear the difference. It’s the only BA driver IEM I have that comes anywhere close to the type of natural, smooth decay that dynamic drivers can muster. In this respect it certainly beats the A12 as well. It also has bass that travels long distances in short periods of time- ie it’s fast; faster than the A12. But on other aspects the distance between the two is quite small- for example, the A12 hits with slightly tighter bass that’s also more authoritative and weighty than on the SE5 Ultimate. Finally, the timbre on the SE5 Ultimate bass is simply flawless, and achieves perfect tone and pitch. Wait, why ‘finally’? Why did I skip right by bass detail and sub-bass? TBH I thought I’d save some ink because it’s pretty clear who won. This is less a slight against the SE5 Ultimate than an ongoing testimonial to just how good the A12 is in these aspects. The SE5 is plenty good itself, with detail and sub-bass that would probably best most other IEMs- just not the A12.
The SE5 Ultimate is the king of airy mids. Just the freakin’ king. I mean, put on some vocals, and you’ll hear voices that reverberate as endlessly as that glass of water in the movie Jurassic Park. The A12 isn’t so poor either, with airiness on display that is like a teenage (rather than fully-grown) T-Rex stomping towards your car. Anyway, many of the midrange skirmishes between the two end in draws. Both have about the same amount of energy in the mids; have about equal clarity; and are close in detail and evenness. (Although I gave the A12 an advantage for those last two traits). Mids timbre is the biggest difference between the duo. The A12 has mids that are overall much more natural and lifelike in its tone, and the SE5 Ultimate just cannot compete.
Treble is where the SE5 Ultimate takes the fight to the A12. It almost manages to catchup with the A12 in terms of speed and extension, but then manages to outpace the A12 in clarity and naturalness of tone, two traits for which the A12 can normally be justifiably complacent about. The SE5 Ultimate also has treble that’s so smooth I can’t believe it’s not butter! It never sounds sharp or peaky- very good indeed, and clearly better than the A12. It’s also- slightly- more sparkling in the high notes, although if you’re the type who likes strident treble then really neither of these need apply.
Listening to these two go at it in the spatial realm is like watching Ali v Frazier. They’re so equally matched that at the end of the day both probably deserve a spot in the Spatial Hall of Fame. Soundstage-wise, the SE5 Ultimate is generally peerless, although it is “out-peered” in terms of depth by the A12. The SE5 Ultimate depth is still astoundingly good, though, and it also wins on width and height. In addition the SE5 Ultimate almost seems to have written the book on how to create a consistent and natural soundstage, with an ability to diffuse sound out so naturally and perfectly that the A12 is left in its dust. On the other hand soundstage airiness, a strong suit of the A12, continues to favour the Adel-equipped IEM in this comparison. Changing gears, in imaging it’s mucho closer, but once again, no prizes for guessing who wins. The SE5 Ultimate is a capable IEM that can leave the imaging comparison with its head held high. It has put up a valiant fight, doing extremely well in imaging… Unfortunately nobody is beating the A12 in this fight. Nobody.
In the general qualities the SE5 excels across the board, posting admirable scores in PRaT, Balance, Articulation and Resonance. In all four of these categories it has the A12 handily beat, with the difference being particularly stark in Resonance. The SE5 Ultimate is the very definition of bell-like, with notes that ring out heartily and then continue to sing and fade gently away; whereas the business-like A12, with notes that don’t hang around even a microsecond more than is necessary, simply cannot compare. One special note on articulation. I’d written previously that the A12 performed splendidly in both articulation and thickness. When stacked against the SE5 Ultimate, the A12 continues to show how it clearly has the fuller, richer and thicker set of notes, a big plus in its favour. But its articulation now seems to fall a little short. The SE5 Ultimate just seems to speak more cleanly and with better diction, revealing itself to be an expert enunciator of music. No shame against the A12, really, but it’s a bit like that fight in the imaging section, except reversed.
If you’ve read the rest of my review, you probably know by now that this Adel stuff is some freaky alien tech. Rumours are that an IEM and an alien transporter had a passionate affair, and conceived this lovechild of an IEM. I hope you like exploring, because the A12 will whisk you away, taking your ears where no man has gone before. You’ll explore bold soundscapes and find fascinating music, coming across brave new worlds as you wander. Some experiences will be invigorating; others will be pretty mundane. But remember your first kiss beneath a crescent moon? You may not stick with her. Heck, you may not even end up liking her all that much. But this is an IEM you’re never gonna forget.
Pros: Imaging!! Bass detail!! Also possesses full, thick notes with great articulation; has great extension in both treble and bass; and present mids that sound very natural and even
Cons: Treble lacks sparkle and smoothness; unlike a bell, music does not resonate well after the note
Overall Score: 86.9 (Almost Perfect)
In case you missed it, check out the IEMs reviewed in other installments of “Fit for a Bat!”