Lime Ears LE3, LE3B, and LE3SW custom in-ear monitors review: 2 for the price of 1

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Comparisons:

Lime Ears LE3 CIEM

Dream Earz aud-5X: The LE3B is closer to the 5X presentation than the colder, clearer, brighter LE3.  While the presentation of the two is similar in many ways, both react differently to my various test tracks. In general, the LE3B sounds larger and less in-the-head due to the better presentation depth with a more up-close presentation and better imaging even though the 5X has an overall wider presentation.  Clarity of the LE3B is superior due to better focus within the soundstage and superior instrument separation.  Dynamics, punch, and transparency are better from the 5X, but not by a large margin, while the LE3B is more resolving and coherent.  The LE3B is more forgiving of poor quality tracks do to the higher quality, smoother yet more detailed notes.

Bass quantity is similar, but the 5X has more low end sustainment capability. Both have good texturing and punch, but the LE3B pulls ahead of the 5X in quality with tighter notes and a bit more detail.  Both have similar warmth.  The slightly more forward midrange of the LE3B has much cleaner, more articulated, and engaging presentation of the entire presentation as well as individual instruments due to the superior focus, presentation depth, and focus., while presented similarly, is quite different due to the presentation depth, focus of presentation, and imaging, all of which are superior from the LE3b. The upper midrange and treble of the 5X is more accentuated and pulled further forward, with a brighter sound and harsher overall note.

The more expensive LE3B has a similar sound signature to the 5X, but it outperforms the 5X in most ways, and where the 5X has an advantage, it isn’t very large.  The price differential will dictate which is best for you, but the LE3B offers a more enveloping sound that is more refined and natural along with the benefit of being able to add the LE3 sound signature with the flip of a switch if you opt for the LE3SW model.

 

Dream Earz aud-8X:The 8X presents music in a more neutral way similar to the LE3, but has a frequency response closer to the LE3B.  Both the LE3 and LE3B have a better focus within the soundstage resulting in a more concise presentation even though the 8X is more detailed and has similar clarity to the LE3.  While the 8X typically has a larger presentation space, which is more dependent upon the track, the LE3 and especially LE3B can sound much more accurate from a proportion standpoint, with a more 3D presentation overall.  Transparency is similar while the LE3/LE3B are more coherent.  The note thickness and ADSR differ with the more natural Lime Ears offerings outperforming the sloppier yet sharper 8X.  The LE3/LE3B are more forgiving of poor masters.

Bass quantity of the 8X is close to that of the warmer LE3B in normal listening, but the 8X is much punchier yet not quite as clear and concise due to a thicker bass note.  The 8X’s superior capability allows it to deliver a much more impactful experience than even the LE3B with bass-heavy tracks.  The midrange of the 8X is more forward than both LE products in relation to the rest of the spectrum, but overall presentation space is closer to the LE3.  Even with the good imaging and added detail recreated by the 8X, the lack of sharpness gives the LE products an advantage in clarity into the midrange and sense of musicality with acoustic music.  The midrange to treble integration is better from the LE products in comparison with the more prominent upper midrange and treble region of the 8X, which has better overall treble note decay for a smoother, more accurate sound.

Close in price, the triple driver Lime Ears products are better with acoustic music while the Dream Earz aud-8X offers punch and capability that works with electronic music and lower bitrate music.  Source is more important for the LE products; especially the LE3B but the LE products recreate a more realistic environment with high performing source equipment.  The LE3SW offers switching between the LE3 and LE3B sound signatures by flipping switches, but the 8X can be custom tailored to fit your hearing profile.  It comes down to music and listening style: 8X is best for fast electronic with a more aggressive sound while the LE products recreate acoustic music environments better.

 

Alclair Reference: Tonal presentation Reference is closer to the LE3B than the LE3, as the LE3 is colder and more neutral, especially in the bass region.  Spatially, the more mid-forward LE3B has more depth to the presentation and an overall wider space that gives a more 3D presentation.  The LE3B outperforms the Reference in most categories including transparency, dynamics, detail levels, resolution, and clarity (only with high-end source components), and imaging and focus is a good deal better.

Bass of the warmer LE3B is more enhanced with better sustainment of deep bass, which is more noticeable the deeper the bass note.  In contrast, the LE3 bass quantity is significantly less and sounds cold comparatively, but the LE3 also has better capability than the Reference. The midrange of the LE3B and LE3 are presented more up-front and forward with additional presentation depth while the Reference has gives a sense of spaciousness comparatively.  Treble quality of the LE3 is superior to the Reference, but the LE3B quality is similar.

While the LE3B and Reference have some similarities, the LE3/LE3B outperforms the Reference in just about every category, especially the bass region.  The lower cost Reference does offer a more laid-back midrange presentation and more neutral bass performance vs. the LE3B while the LE3 is more neutral overall. The Reference will work well for multiple purposes while the LE3B or LE3 alone are a bit more focused on their audience preferences.

 

ProGuard P2+1: Both the P2+1 and LE3B share many characteristics and a similar tuning, but have very noticeable differences.  The presentation of the LE3B is a bit more up-close, but the overall presentation space, and especially the depth of presentation is greater.  Notes of the P2+1 are slightly thicker on average than the quicker attacking LE3B, which gives the LE3B a more dynamic performance.  Coherence is similar from top to bottom, but the LE3B has more detail and better clarity.

The LE3B has superior bass quantity and quality compared with the relatively neutral but warmer P2+1.  The P2+1 midrange is pushed a bit forward in relation to the bass and treble for a more mid-centric presentation compared with the more linear LE3B.  Both image well trade-off victories for which is more spacious depending on the track, as the changes from track to track can be significant.  The upper midrange of the P2+1 is more pronounced leading to a bit more throaty sound while the LE3B sounds a bit recessed in comparison.  Treble quantity and quality is similar between the two.

The ProGuard P2+1 and Lime Ears LE3B have relatively similar sound signatures, but the P2+1 is more tuned for musicians while the LE3B has an audiophile’s spin on the stage sound.  Vocalists should appreciate the more forward midrange and boosted upper midrange while the LE3B would fit those that want excellent bass performance with overall better clarity.

 

In Earz IE-P250: The P250 sounds closer to the LE3 than the LE3B, which is warmer and thicker overall.  The LE3/LE3B cost double the P250, and the increase in price translates to a much more coherent, natural, and realistic sound overall.  Differences across most sonic characteristics lead to this dominance, from the better coherence and transparency to the superior imaging, detail, and resolution, to the more 3D presentation that is larger with better focus.  The upper midrange of the P250 boost sticks out in comparison, making for a more throaty sound that accentuates parts of the music, bringing an unnatural sound in comparison.

The LE3 is an upgrade to the P250 if you don’t mind the lower quantity in the upper midrange to go with a more punchy and natural sound.

 

Perfect Seal PS6: The mid-forward PS6 presentation is closer to the LE3B, but the frequency response is much closer to the LE3, which was used for comparison.  The PS6 has a more up-front presentation, but the overall size is wider with similar depth and imaging to the LE3.   Detail levels, resolution, and articulation of details are greater on the PS6, but the overall focus within the soundstage is slightly better from the LE3.  Transparency and coherence are similar, while dynamics are better from the LE3B.  The PS6 exposes poorly mastered tracks a bit more.

Bass quantity is quite different, as the PS6 has more bass emphasis and capability, but the LE3 bass is cleaner and clearer.  Warmth is close, but the PS6 is slightly warmer and thicker.  The closer presentation of the PS6 helps with achieve better detail articulation while the thinner note and better focus of the LE3 helps to keep the articulation level similar.  Upper midrange differences give the PS6 a bit brighter feel while the more laid-back LE3 provides a naturalness that is relaxing for long-term listening. Treble is more pronounced with the PS6 and has a slightly more natural note, but due to the difference between the upper midrange and treble, the LE3 treble sounds more accentuated.

Offering different sound signatures and strengths, the PS6 is best for those that want to be more immersed in their music and experience the bass while the LE3 will provide a more relaxed sound.  The LE3B compares more closely with the PS6 in the bass region, but isn’t as bright and not quite as forward.

 

Minerva Mi-Artist Pro: The Mi-Artist Pro sounds closer to the LE3B in overall presentation and frequency response, although the LE3B has more bass emphasis.  The presentation of the LE3B is more spacious in all directions with better imaging resulting in a more 3D experience than the more forward Mi-AP.  While the Mi-AP has decent dynamics, the note attack and decay is a step slow while sustainment is lacking in comparison with the LE3B even though the Mi-AP is thicker in general.  This results in the LE3B giving a more concise presentation that is clearer, more coherent, and has higher detail levels for a more convincing and effortless experience. The LE3B is more forgiving due to the better note capability.

Bass quantity is similar between the two, except when there is substantial deep bass, as the Mi-AP can’t keep up with the LE3B note sustainment.  Quality isn’t too far apart, but the LE3B is overall cleaner, clearer, punchier, and more concise than the warmer Mi-AP.  The midrange presentation is quite similar between the two, but with a superior depth of presentation the LE3B has a more 3D and enveloping experience.  The upper midrange of the Mi-AP is more prominent (similar to the P250, so is it an AcuPass characteristic?), adding what sounds like an unnatural bump to the area in comparison.  This adds an extra layer that reduces the overall internal clarity of the presentation.  The LE3B treble is a bit brighter and more extended, but quality is similar.

With similar price points and sound signatures that are close, the Mi-Artist Pro doesn’t offer the same level of performance as the LE3B, which has more capability.  The LE3B extends better on both ends, offers more depth of presentation, and a larger overall space that is more clear and concise.  The one caveat is the source dependence, as the LE3B requires a better source to really shine while the Mi-AP is less source dependent.  The Mi-Artist Pro isn’t bad, but for similar money, the LE3B is easy to recommend between the two.

 

Source matching

Lime Ears LE3B CIEM with DX100 music player

Portable Sources, DAPs

Sandisk Sansa Clip+: Pairing the Clip+ with the LE3B results in clarity that doesn’t come close to matching the CIEM’s potential, as there is a veil over the sound recreating less but tighter bass than the iPhone 5.  The overall sound isn’t very clean and the pairing limits depth of presentation and imaging, which is required for the LE3B to really shine.  2/10

Providing much better clarity with the LE3 and a tight, concise bass response, the LE3 sounds quite neutral and performs relatively well.  This pairing starts to show the 3D capabilities of the LE3.  5/10

Apple iPhone 5: Paired with the LE3B, the iPhone 5 has a slightly clearer sound and more bass presence that the Clip+, with an overall improvement to the presentation. The iPhone still lacks the spatial capability to bring out the best of the LE3B. 3/10

With the LE3, clarity isn’t want it is with the Clip+ as the overall sound is warmer and a good deal less precise.  The spatial qualities are not up to the Clip+ level and are overall sub-standard for known performance or the LE3. 3/10

Fiio X3: Paired with the LE3B, the X3 recreates a tight, precise, and clear presentation than is superior to the Clip+ or iPhone 5 by a good margin, but still doesn’t truly show the CIEM’s capability.  4/10

The X3 paring with the LE3 gives a bit more up-front presentation while relaying quite a bit of added detail, excellent imaging, and plenty of presentation depth, bringing out the best of the LE3.  This is a night and day difference from the iPhone 5 and a significant improvement over the Clip+. 6/10

iBasso DX50: The LE3B starts to shine with a source like the DX50, increasing presentation depth which creates an enveloping space that improves other characteristics such as instrument separation, imaging, resolution, and especially clarity.  In contrast, the other similarly and lower priced sources don’t give the 3D presentation space and sound flat in comparison. 6.5/10

Pairing the DX50 with the LE3 results in an open, warm sound great imaging and control revealing more resolution within the soundstage.  Improvements over the Fiio X3 aren’t huge, but are there. 6.5/10

iBasso DX100: Paired with the LE3B, the DX100’s high quality DAC and powerful amp kick the LE3B to another level of clarity resulting from an engulfing, 3D sound, taking the LE3B performance to a level that is very good for the price point.  8/10

Improvements to the spatial presentation has a trickledown effect with this pairing, improving instrument separation, tightness, detail level, articulation, and clarity for an overall experience that is excellent. 9/10

 

Portable Sources, DAPs with Amps

iPhone 5 ->

Tube Amp TA-1: This combination offers little benefit with the LE3 or the LE3B other than slightly tighter bass and ever so slight clarity improvement. 3/10

ADL X1: The LE3 benefits minimally, but more than the TA-1 amp pairing, with a bit more spacious sound and a smoother upper end. The LE3B also benefits slightly with a bit better clarity and somewhat smoother upper end.  However, there is a faint hiss. 3.5/10

 

DX100 ->

Sunrise Dolphin AM-P1: The P1 limits the spatial presentation, clarity, or focus of the DX100, underperforming in comparison with the DX100 headphone output. 5.5/10

The differences aren’t quite as significant when powering the LE3, but there is less bass, the treble isn’t as smooth, and the level of detail is lower. 6.5/10

Shonyun SH-306A: With the LE3B, the 306A reduces the presentation depth and pushes the presentation forward while increasing clarity by a bit.  The overall sound lacks the space of the DX100 headphone out and has some hiss. 7/10

Paired with the LE3, the 306A has a more prominent treble region with sharper notes, less detail, and pushes the presentation closer. 6.5/10

JDS Labs O2: Although the presentation space of the LE3B is larger with the O2 than from the DX100 headphone output, the DX100 offers better clarity and a cleaner presentation. 8/10

With the LE3, the O2 sounds quite close to the DX100 headphone out, but with a bit smoother treble in exchange for slightly less detail. 7.5/10

Tube Amp TA-1: Cleaning up the sound of the LE3B in comparison to the DX100 headphone output, the pairing with the LE3B provides better overall definition, tighter bass, and improved instrument separation. 9/10

Adding a slight bit of presentation width to the DX100 headphone output and a slight clearer presentation, the LE3 doesn’t benefit too much from the TA-1. 9/10

Lear FSM 02 V2 (class A): Paired with the LE3B, the 02 recreates a larger space than the DX100 headphone out, and is an overall improvement in clarity.   The 02 is closest to the ADL X1 in performance and slightly behind the Portaphile 627.  9.5/10

Paired with the LE3, the 02 increases the presentation size compared with the DX100 headphone out and improves instrument separation for a bit better overall presentation. 9.5/10

Furutech ADL X1: Giving the LE3B a more open and cleaner sound than the DX100 headphone out, the X1 has better clarity and instrument separation almost on par with the Portaphile 627 but with less bass prominence.  Compared with the Tube Amp TA-1, the bass is tighter and the overall sound is a bit larger.  9.5/10

Quite similar to the DX100 headphone output with the LE3, the X1 offers a slightly clearer, more precise presentation with a bit deeper bass and more presentation depth. 9.5/10

Portaphile 627: With a bit more forward presentation and noticeable spatial improvements vs. the DX100 HPO, the 627 pairing with the LE3B adds life and realism to music.  Clarity is improved due to better control, instrument separation, and imaging. In comparison with the Tube Amp TA-1, the 627 has a larger sound and more organic, clearer sound.  10/10

Improving instrument separation, clarity, and transparency with a slightly larger presentation space, the 627 improves the fine nuances of the LE3. 10/10

 

Source Summary: The LE3 and LE3B are both quite sensitive to quality of the DAC because without good presentation depth, the strengths of the CIEMs is greatly reduced.  The LE3B is more sensitive to DAC performance.  Pairing with amps also plays into the performance to a lesser extent, but without a minimum level of DAC performance, amp performance is meaningless.  The LE3 is easier to drive while the LE3B is more sensitive to hiss and benefits more from a brighter, clearer amp.  It is recommended to use a high-end DAC to take advantage of the LE3/LE3B strengths.

 

SUMMARY

The Lime Ears LE3 and LE3B, which are combined in the LE3SW model, provide two different flavors of sound signatures with similar characteristics.  Both offer an immersive, 3D sound, excellent bass response, clear midrange, and relatively natural overall sound when paired with high quality source equipment.  The LE3 offers a more analytical presentation with better clarity, a more neutral frequency response, for a near reference sound signature while the LE3B’s more up-front presentation, enhanced bass, and relaxed treble is reminiscent of a stage monitor.

Source components are very important for getting the most out of the LE3 and especially LE3B, which can be very involving with a great source, but mediocre with a phone.  The audiophile overtones to professional sound signature types results in an interesting sound that is a great value when you consider the LE3SW can switch between the complimentary stage and reference sounds.

Pros
–       Conveyance of power from the LE3B with a naturalness not found in this price range
–       Ability to switch between a stage-like and reference-like sound signature with the flip of a switch on the LE3SW model, which is great for both professionals, audiophiles, and headphone enthusiasts

Cons
–       The LE3B sounds veiled and ordinary with entry-level source components
–       Overall soundstage size isn’t as large as much of the competition at the price point

 

See the Lime Ears LE3 in the Custom In-Ear Monitors Reviews List

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About Author

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

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