A sophomore flagship effort from the Orlando-based outfit

Fri May. 22, 2015

By jelt2359

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You know the type. Them good ‘ol guilty pleasures. In the office you shake your head and tell your colleagues, ‘What in the world is this?’. But then suddenly you’re at a club, you have a few drinks, and now you’re dancing to the same Justin Bieber song as everyone else. I know, right? Good thing selfies don’t come with audio.

Okay, okay, so the CT-6E is not quite a J.B. (is anything?). But take Lady Gaga, throw in her eccentric fashion sense, and you’ve got a good feel for this new flagship from Clear Tune Monitors. She’s catchy. She’s fun. She knows how to grab your attention. She seems like she walked out of an Addams Family dressing room. You take one look at her, and you’re not sure what to do. Vivid memories of the day you first tried fried ice cream. Do you love it? Do you hate it? Here we go again…

‘What in the world is this?’

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: An Interview with Clear Tune Monitors

Interviewee: Cesar Milano, Owner and President

What is your company’s history?

As a musician I was in the need for in-ear monitors but I found that they were quite expensive so I started doing my research looking for a way to make them more affordable. After a while and counting with the advice of fellow professional musicians, I set up my shop and started manufacturing custom in-ear and the key here was the “personal” experience. You can buy generic in-ears everywhere, but when you have to take somebody’s ear impression and manufacture his everyday tool to his needs, a personal connection is born, and that’s what we’re all about building an excellent product and making it personal.

Who are the people behind your company?

Mainly me and my wife backed up by an awesome group of artists/musicians in charge of the manufacturing chain. At CTM it’s a requisite to be a musician, that way we can guarantee that personal connection since your in-ear are being manufactured by someone who understands the musician’s needs.

Can you describe your philosophy for how products should sound, and how you tune or voice them?

Well, it’s a fact that everybody listens differently and everybody has a different budget. Our goal is to make the best possible product at any given price point with the tools at hand. If it’s a two-driver monitor, we choose the components and adjust the electronics until we’re sure it works, and the same process goes for the rest of the line. Some people buy out of budget, some out of listening experience, we just give them the most options we can.

What do you see as different or unique about your flagship?

We believe all our models are flagships, if we didn’t we just wouldn’t have many models but just one. We build the best monitor we can and then back it up with the best customer experience and it’s precisely that experience which makes us unique.

Where do you see the industry headed?

From my audio engineering background I’ve always seen in-ear monitoring as a blessing. Less noise on stage, better listening experience for the musicians and in consequence for the audience. You used to hear that in-ear would be the future, well now they’re the present and no doubt will continue being the future.

Where do you see the most potential for innovation when it comes to IEMs, and why?

As with guitars, for example, a Tele has its sound, a Strat has its sound, a Les Paul, etc.. Everybody chooses their guitar for its sound, so with in-ears the same applies. I believe innovation will come in the form of being able to cater to all those listening tastes, so we’re bound to do just that and, as always, keep it affordable.

Page 2: Sound (Bass, Midrange, Treble, Spatial, General Qualities)

‘Clear Tune Monitors CT-6E Elite’ Review: A sophomore flagship effort from the Orlando-based outfit

Fri May. 22, 2015

By jelt2359

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Sound

Disclaimer: My scores are awarded after extensive comparisons with different IEMs. The scores below reflect the results of this exercise, and do not indicate my personal preference for one IEM over another. Depending on your sonic tastes, category scores may also be more relevant than the overall score. For example, a basshead should look primarily to the “Bass” sub-section; a soundstage nut should look at “Spatial”, and so on. Finally, the overall scores are an average of all the sub-section scores combined. Read more about how I did these comparisons, and about my overall scoring methodology.

Bass

The CT-6E has elite mid-bass that is tight, detailed, and fast- everything you’d want for an exciting, toe-tapping time. While the low-end is extremely fast on the attack, the decay could be better, coming across as a tad too fast to be completely natural. This seems to be a common trait with Balanced Armature IEMs, though, and I must admit it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. The bass here also hits with relatively good conviction. I’ve always thought of bass as playing a critical foundational function, providing a good sturdy structure upon which the rest of the music is constructed. The CT-6E fulfills this job capably, steady as she goes. In terms of timbre, the CT-6E bass performs beautifully, coming across as lush and not too thin- just how I like it to sound. Finally, the sub-bass extends quite far, but there could be a bit more slam.

Bass Score: 8.3 (Very Good)

 

Midrange

With its unique midrange, the CT-6E throws off her pretense at normalcy and transforms into her alter ego, the one and only Lady Gaga. It possesses the most perplexing set of mids I’ve ever heard. It’s almost as if the musicians at CTM took on a personal challenge to create a midrange that would be both extremely dipped and highly peaked at the same time. A drastic drop in the mids gets to its lowest point smack in the middle of the frequency response, and is immediately followed by a steep incline that gathers speed and finally soars into the treble mountains. In short, yes. This is ski-jumping.

The overall effect of these mids is an unfortunately active experience for a CT-6E user. Entering a subdued portion of your song? Let’s get rid of that veil: fingers to the volume control, and up we go. Oops, singers starting to put more into it, and mids now sounding too hot? Fingers out again- let’s turn the volume down this time. This was what I ended up doing. Up and down with the volume control, again and again. All together now:

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

Anyhow, once you look past the strangeness of it all, you’ll realise that- and this feels like a grudging nod to convention- some technical aspects of the mids remain very good. Details, clarity and energy all score highly. ‘Hey, I can play by the rules too!’

Other aspects, however, don’t fare so well. Evenness obviously suffers. The best mids are a gentle slope, not the rocky undulating experience that is the CT-6E. Airiness is just about average as well. With that huge cut in the center working against it, the CT-6E’s midrange still puts forth a valiant effort, but ultimately struggles to gain enough air as it disperses out across the soundstage. Lastly, the tone of the mids comes across as a bit unnatural.

Midrange Score: 6.8 (Average)

 

Treble

The treble on the CT-6E is very good indeed, grading out the best of all its sonic qualities. It achieves another juxtaposition- this time a more pleasing one- by presenting both top-notch smoothness and sparkle. Clarity in the treble is also on an elite level. Overall, I really enjoyed listening to the treble on the CT-6E, which manages to be extremely exciting and engaging yet not fatiguing at all. Truly a wonderful combination.

A few aspects were just average, though, dragging down its score in this category. Treble notes are presented in a modestly natural manner, with good but not excellent decay and timbre. Doing less well, treble speed was merely above average- the CT-6E struggles to keep up with lightning fast treble notes, losing definition and smearing a little along the way. But the worst of all its treble traits was its high-end extension, with a treble roll-off that arrives steep and early.

Treble Score: 8.6 (Very Good)

 

Spatial

The soundstage on the CT-6E is very large and airy… Nah, who am I kidding, this is Lady Gaga part 2. Don’t get me wrong, the soundstage is very large and airy, but the overall spatial presentation on the CT-6E is most definitely an acquired taste. Rather than diffusing out naturally to fill the soundstage, there is basically no expansion of the sound. The soundstage is very inconsistent from spot to spot. Some areas flash an extremely dense, meaty sound; while with other positions all you get are airy spatial cues- no music at all. The word that comes to mind again and again is ‘holographic’. The sound seems to set up camp at specific, distinct spots around your head, and then never once strays from those spots. It’s so opaque and rigid, you can literally see and touch the music. Love it or hate it, you’ve never heard anything like this before.

Again, look past the eccentricity, and there’s stuff to like about the soundstage. The conventional metrics- size of width, depth and height are all outstanding. The soundstage also never presents an empty feeling, instead being beautifully filled with air.

Imaging performance, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. With its holographic presentation, you would think that imaging would be awesome. Indeed, the CT-6E delivers on this expectation with imaging depth that is absolutely elite, making it extremely easy to make out different layers in the music. However the CT-6E falters a bit in its ability to separate the music distinctly across the stage; and worst among all its spatial qualities, it forms a poor center image.

Spatial Score: 7.4 (Above Average)

 

General Qualities

Here’s that other word in the title at last: fun. The CT-6E has extremely good PRaT, and is a wonderful choice for exciting music. It’s pacey with a great sense of rhythm, and running a fast toe-tapping track through the CT-6E is simply a joy to behold.

Where it falls somewhat short in this category, unfortunately, is… everything else. The overall balance in the sound, which rewards the most delicately-tuned and steady IEMs, is merely average, as the inconsistent midrange serves as an uneven sauce for the rest of the dish. The notes also tend to sound a bit transient, lacking a satisfying fullness in each individual note. Finally, there is very little musical resonance in the CT-6E. Missing from the CT-6E is a harmonious bell-like resonance after the initial note is played, and the result is a presentation that sounds crisp and fast, but a bit less musical and emotional.

General Qualities Score: 6.9 (Average)

 

Page 3: Comparisons, Summary, and Overall Score

‘Clear Tune Monitors CT-6E Elite’ Review: A sophomore flagship effort from the Orlando-based outfit

Fri May. 22, 2015

By jelt2359

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Comparisons

CustomArt Harmony 8 Pro ($1050)

The CustomArt flagship comes in brighter than the CT-6E, which is not exactly a warm IEM to begin with. The two are most similar in terms of their overall PRaT. Fast-paced music is a delight on both these IEMs, with the H8P being a little better although it’s close. Interestingly, they focus on different areas- the H8P is faster, but the CT-6E has better rhythm. Go figure. Apart from PRaT, other clear similarities include the size and airiness of the soundstage; bass speed and tightness; and a similar lack of fullness in the notes played back by both IEMs. Both also rate poorly on mids timbre, and well on low-end timbre.

On the other hand, the midrange on the H8P excels precisely where the CT-6E suffers- it is beautifully even throughout. Spatially, the presentation is a lot more consistently diffused on the H8P pair; and the H8P is also much better at projecting a clear center image. It is however much poorer at imaging depth. In terms of extension, both IEMs have their strengths flipped. The CT-6E is much better at low-end extension, whereas the H8P is clearly superior in high-end extension.

 

Noble Audio Kaiser 10 ($1599)

The Noble K10 actually has a low-end response quite similar to the CT-6E, with bass that’s just a bit slower overall and with a bit less extension but more authority. The treble is also rather comparable, although I found the CT-6E to be slightly better in almost all the treble components that I rate, save for high-end extension.

There are major differences between the two IEMs, however, starting with the midrange. The K10 has a gorgeous midrange, and bests the CT-6E in every single facet of the mids. The K10’s mids has much better timbre and detail; and come across as significantly airier than those of the CT-6E. In fact, the improvement in mids going from the CT-6E to the K10 is rather drastic. On the other hand, the tables are flipped when it comes to the spatial presentation. This isn’t a major strength on the K10, and the CT-6E outperforms it handily. Stage size and airiness; as well as imaging ability, are all clearly better on the CT-6E. But the biggest gulf between the two lies in the sonic balance. The K10 has a flawless balance, with every frequency working very well in perfect harmony. Switching between the K10 and CT-6E is a stunning juxtaposition, and really highlights the unevenness of the latter.

 

Spiral Ear SE5 Ultimate ($1800)

The SE5 Ultimate and CT-6E both possess large and airy soundstages; and present good PRaT. But that’s mostly where the similarities end. The former comes across as a matured, musical IEM; whereas the latter is the fun one you wouldn’t bring home to meet your parents.

The SE5 Ultimate has a mesmerizing airiness in its mids that the CT-6E falls far short of. On the other hand there’s probably no need to mention at this point that the SE5 Ultimate has better midrange evenness (although what do you know, I just did it anyway). While the CT-6E’s treble is pretty good in itself, the SE5 Ultimate comfortably bests the CT-6E, pulling ahead in almost all treble dimensions except for sparkle (more on that later). The imaging on the SE5 Ultimate is also drastically better than the CT-6E in all respects, save for image depth, for which both IEMs acquit themselves extremely well. Finally the SE5 Ultimate presents a fantastic balance, and possesses captivating musical resonance and fullness of note that contribute to its sense of maturity and musicality. The CT-6E simply cannot come close in these regards.

One area that the SE5 Ultimate clearly can’t match the CT-6E, however, is in treble sparkle. High-frequency notes sound subdued on the SE5 Ultimate in comparison to the energetic presentation on the CT-6E. In the low-end, the bass is also clearly tighter on the CT-6E. Sparkling treble and tighter bass: probably not a surprise that the CT-6E sounds more fun, no?

 

 

Summary

Clear Tune Monitor’s latest effort at a flagship IEM has beautiful treble with elite sparkle and smoothness, and comes through as a fun IEM overall with great PRaT. The bass is pretty good, too- fast, detailed, tight and with nice timbre. But be prepared to have a love-it-or-hate-it relationship with the spatial presentation, and consider yourself warned about that unevenness in the midrange.

Pros: Sparkling and smooth treble; large and airy soundstage with very good depth imaging

Cons: Notes a bit transient; inconsistent spatial qualities; has a midrange that will probably render you speechless

Overall Score: 76.0 (Very Good)

 

In case you missed it, check out the IEMs reviewed in other installments of “Fit for a Bat!”