The Lear Flagship CIEM is a hybrid Dynamic + Balanced Armateur offering
Mon Aug. 3, 2015
Clear Tune Monitors CT-6E Elite ($1000)
The CT-6E’s bass is the polar opposite of the LCM BD4.2’s in one aspect- speed. The CTM IEM has a good pair of legs down low, and gets to its destination flash-quick, in and out before you know it. Quite a distinct difference from the 350 pound monster offensive-lineman-of-a-Lear. As well, as you’d probably expect from that last sentence, bass authoritativeness and weight is significantly better on the Lear (although still pretty good on the CTM). On the other hand, as typical of BA drivers, the CTM rates out with tighter bass overall. Where it comes to bass decay, the CTM is just okay, whereas the Lear is outstandingly natural- not too fast, not too slow. Changing gears, the Lear is a monster of the abyss, thriving 20,000 leagues under the sea where the bass is darkest and calls for deep extension; whereas the CT6E is pretty average- more like a recreational diver than something from a Jules Verne novel. Finally, the two performed quite similarly in terms of bass detail and bass tone / timbre. Overall, the Lear came out ahead.
In terms of the mids, the Lear is better across the board, so there’s really not much to say, although the two are going for very different things. The CT6E is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, constantly bringing new interpretations to your music. Sometimes it hits upon a moving, emotional rendition, and you’ll find like you’ve just hit gold. On the other hand the Lear is a technical maestro. Everything is exactly as it were, as it should be- in short, great for analytical presentations.
Moving on to the treble. The CT6E has amazing presentation up top, and manages to be both more sparkling and smoother than the Lear, a remarkable combination. The speed on the CT6E high notes is also, while not necessarily a standout, just that bit ahead of the Lear. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the naturalness. High hat notes for example have a nice natural shimmer on the CT6E, whereas the Lear portrays these notes as a bit metallic and just a tad too thin. The two are just about even on extension, although the Lear nudges ahead by just a few millimeters; and although the clarity on Lear is best in class, the CT6E can still hold its head up high, acquitting itself plenty well. Overall, CT6E wins.
The CT6E has a rather large soundstage, but when going against the Lear- it’s like comparing the park in Jurassic World (plenty big, no?) with the Death Star. Sorry, Jurassic Park is big, but it’s no planet-sized starship; and the Lear grades out slightly ahead in all three dimensions. The two also carries beautiful air in the soundstage (Lear slightly ahead), and has issues with consistency and naturalness of diffusion (CT6E being particularly problematic on this account). They also grade out quite similarly in imaging, although with difference strengths. The CT6E is really really good at placing instruments in terms of depth; but just okay in terms of the 2D left-right stage. The Lear is the opposite. Interestingly, both have similar problems with forming a clear and coherent center image. In general, while the two are quite similarly spatially, the Lear grades out as an overall better version.
Finally, in the general qualities both have their strengths and weaknesses. The CT6E has outstanding PRaT that’s really suited for fast pace music. The Lear does a good job given its heavier bass legs, but just cannot compete with this world-class sprinter of an IEM. The Lear is also rail-thin, and comes across as a bit unnatural, whereas the CT6E has significantly nicer body and thickness to its sound. On the other hand, the Lear is better balanced in terms of its frequency response. It also has better musical resonance, with notes that glide relatively well and do a nice job extending to the furthest corners of your ears. The LCM BD4.2 also has clearer diction and articulation- playing back music that separates itself in a more surgical manner, from one note to the next.
The AAW W500 and the Lear LCM BD4.2 are the two CIEMs in this shootout that are hybrids, pairing dynamic drivers for the bass; with BA drivers for the rest of the spectrum. The AAW W500 has one dynamic bass driver, while the Lear LCM BD4.2 boasts two. Little wonder that I frequently got people asking me about how the two compare. Well, the Lear has some of the bass best I’ve ever heard, but the AAW W500 is even better. The AAW’s bass hits like a sledgehammer, with more weight and authority than any other IEM I’ve heard- including the Lear. Its bass is also a bit faster, and decays in an even more textbook fashion. Interestingly, while it’s a bit like an uber-dynamic in the above qualities, it also is tighter and cleaner than the Lear’s low-end. It’s not all negative for the Lear, though- its bass has a naturalness of tone that’s clearly better; and also boasts a bit more detail. Getting to the sub-bass, it’s safe to say that both these IEMs easily reach into the deepest reaches of the sea, feeding on hapless minions for breakfast. But the AAW has better slam in the darkest corners of the bass, with a more enveloping and bountiful presentation.
Both these IEMs have mids that are pretty similar. Notable differences include: the AAW’s midrange being more energetic and lively; whereas the Lear’s had clearly more detail. Moving on to traits where they rated very similarly, were extremely even in their performance; although the Lear’s had slightly more airiness and clarity; whereas the timbre was better on the AAW.
The AAW has very good treble, being both a bit smoother and more sparkling than on the Lear. But the Lear’s treble is astoundingly clear, and the AAW is just average in this regard, docking it points. Another big difference between the two is the naturalness- the Lear comes across as a bit metallic, whereas the AAW is beautifully lifelike and natural. Rounding up the comparison, both are rather slow; and are just okay- not great- with treble extension, although if you’re keeping score the AAW does better in both.
The AAW has a large soundstage, but this is probably a common theme now if you’ve been reading the rest of the review- the Lear is handily bigger, width, depth and height all. The quality of the soundstage though is where the tables are hugely turned. The AAW portrays a very natural and even diffusion of the music, what I’d called a ‘9.8’ in the Carnegie-Hall factor, whereas the Lear, while still doing above average in the grand scheme of things, never comes close to sounding like a world-class acoustically-treated arena. (The Lear does have more air, though…). Where it comes to imaging, the AAW W500 is a real standout, performing admirably in all the factors I rate. It scored a bit below the Lear for 2D imaging, but was still outstanding overall, and it also paired this with a wonderful ability to spot instrumental depth, as well as to create a consistent centre image. Overall, the AAW W500 wins this one.
In terms of general qualities, the AAW W500 does about equally on PRaT (to be precise, it scores just a bit worse), although I have to caveat that the AAW W500’s portrayal is unique- it brings to the table fantastic rhythm, and earns major scores in the “R” part of the PRaT equation while losing some points in “Pace”. On all the other traits the W500 does better: it has better balance in the frequency response; articulates and distinguishes notes in a clearer manner; plays music that resonates in a more graceful, sustained fashion; and has distinctly thicker notes.
1964Ears | Adel A12 ($1999)
And so another wonderful bass prodigy signs up for a comparison. The A12 comes with a new technology that, to my ears, basically makes it the king of bass detail. The Lear is no slouch in this department either, but all bow to the king! The speed on the A12 bass is also above average, which is enough to make it clearly faster than Mr. Slo-mo in that other corner. On the other hand, bass decay goes handily to the Lear- again, probably a Dynamic vs BA thing, but that the Lear was clearly better with decay, really made me wonder what the Adel technology would do to a dynamic bass driver…. Hmm… Moving on from mad scientist comments, the Lear is just a bit better at the other bass aspects, which is in some cases surprising, some not. First, probably not a surprise that the Lear, with two huge dynamic bass drivers, hits with more weight and authority, moving more air than the A12. I must say though that the A12 does pretty well for a BA. Next, the Lear reports for duty with better bass timbre, sounding more pleasant than the A12. But on to the unexpected. The Lear actually has tighter bass than the A12- surprising because bass tightness is typically a BA specialty. The A12’s bass is beautifully textured and detailed, but more of the type that envelopes you in its comforting dark layers. It’s not of the taut tightrope variety. As well, the A12 basically goes toe to toe with the Lear in terms of sub-bass performance. This was my only BA IEM that managed such a feat. It dived just as deep, and hit with a slam that was almost as full as satisfying. Nonetheless, on balance bass is a win for the Lear.
The mids on both these IEMs are extremely even, a big plus. The Lear impresses overall as a detail monster, pulling ahead of the A12 in terms of clarity and detail, although to be clear the A12 does not lack for these traits either. The mids on the Lear are also a bit more energetic overall. On the other hand the A12 wins the matchup where it comes to the more ’emotional’ traits, posting better scores in airiness and timbre. All in all, the two are just about tied in this region, although they really bring completely different approaches to the table.
Compared to any other IEM, the A12 would be crowned king of treble clarity. Not so with the LCM BD4.2, which laps the rest of the field in this regard. In other technical aspects though, the A12 continues to fare well, and the Lear falters. For example, treble speed and extension are both top-notch on the A12, and the lumbering and short BD4.2 just cannot measure up. The treble on the A12 also comes served in a beautiful, organic tone, sounding distinctly more natural than the Lear. The Lear has some fight in it, though, hitting back with treble that’s both smoother and has nicer sparkler all things considered.
If you want something lifelike, that images better than anything out there… Go buy the A12 immediately. It achieves top grades in every single imaging category, and truth be told, it’s not difficult to discern. Listening to the A12 is as much an exercise in seeing as well as hearing. You’ll be phaser-stunned for a while because you probably won’t be able to process your music suddenly sounding so real, life-like, as if you can reach out and touch it. The Lear still grades out marginally better in 2D imaging, but the A12 achieves such all round excellence in every single imaging category, that the overall result is nothing short of remarkable. Soundstage-wise it’s a bit more mixed; but the Lear comes out ahead. The A12 excels with depth, playing music that extends endlessly in the Z-dimension, but the Lear has it beat in terms of breadth and height and grades out with slightly bigger size overall. The Lear also has better ability to fill the soundstage with air- subtle cues that breathe life into your music- although the A12 wraps up this fight with slightly better soundstage consistency, sounding a bit more natural in the way it creates the soundstage.
In terms of general qualities, the first thing that struck me about the A12 is just how thick and lush its music was. OTOH the Lear is very much the opposite in this regard, coming across as the thinnest model in town. The difference between the two IEMs in this regard is actually remarkable. Other big departures include resonance, for which the Lear does better. For all its thick lushness, the A12 can sound a bit weighty, and music played on it lacks the lift that the Lear brings to the table. Weightiness does have its fringe benefits though, such as improving an IEM’s ability to articulate each note as a distinct, succinct entity- something that the A12 excels in, grading in better than the Lear. In terms of both balance and PRaT the two IEMs are close, although the Lear is slightly better.
My stage is as boundless as the sea, my bass as deep; the more I give to thee the more I have, for both are infinite. I thought it fitting to borrow a few words from the bard himself to wrap up this review. Romeo and Juliet is a story that borders on cliche, but it’s a classic for a reason. Shakespeare utilises the iambic pentameter to great effect, wielding exceptional technical skills in writing sonnet after sonnet to describe the story of Capulet and Montague. The Lear is much the same. Star-crossed from the start, it wows you with sweet serenity to open the play: what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Lear is the sun. (P.S., as it so happens, an adolescent, skinny-jeans Claire Danes would also be the perfect protagonist in any movie of the Lear LCM BD4.2. There will be no fat music from this IEM.) Building on the strong opening, through acts one to four of the play the Lear continues singing softly to remind us that, like the Bard, it brims with technical brilliance. Yet as we enter the fifth and final act, we become awakened to its subtle flaws and it is only then that the true story of the Lear takes its final form. When the curtains come down, the Lear exits the stage still a hero- but a tragic hero. The epitaph of its performance goes as so: “Tonight we witnessed a fusion of genius and shortcoming; it was a bed of sweetness, potential, and melancholy.”
Pros: Biggest soundstage around; deep, authoritative bass with very natural decay; unmatched clarity in mids and treble
Cons: Lack of depth in imaging; unnatural treble; bass swings its bat in slow-motion
Overall Score: 83.1 (Outstanding)
In case you missed it, check out the IEMs reviewed in other installments of “Fit for a Bat!”