Make: Spiral Ear
Model: SE 5-way Ultimate
Base Price: € 1699 with the EU, € 1599 outside the EU
Country of Manufacture: Poland
The time has come, at least for a period of time, where I have to either post shorter reviews or not post reviews at all. Life is busy, as this is not my day job, at least yet, and working for a rapidly growing company with work growing faster than we can hire quality people combined with young kids in a dual income household makes time a rare commodity. The Spiral Ear SE 5-way Ultimate aims to raise the bar from the SE5 Reference.
The SE5 Reference sat at the top of my chart for many years, and while some excellent competitors came close from an overall sound quality standpoint, none bested it in my formula. For some insight, my formula combines uses the following qualities for a calculation: Bass quality, bass capability, midrange quality, treble quality, transparency, coherence, dynamics, resolution (presentation detail), instrument detail, note ADSR, clarity, imaging, and soundstage (a combination of size and proportion). The weighting is not even, as some similar characteristics are combined for a score such as resolution and detail while others are weighted by half or even 1/4th on a 100 point scale that is averaged.
NOTE: the actual score should be 101.8 on my rating scale, but the table will only list scores up to 100.
Well, if the scale is 100 points, why is the SE5U’s sound score over 100? The Hidition NT-6 + Whiplash Hybrid V3 was the first CIEM that had a rating that broke my scale, so instead of rescaling all of my reviews, I allowed above 100 scores based on comparative performance. Other CIEMs after have scored over 100 in various categories, and the Lear’s LCM BD4.2 pushed it above the SE5 Reference.
Enter the SE5U hits 105 on my scale in 6 categories. Put in perspective, only the NT-6 + Whiplash cable scored a 105, but in a single category, clarity, which is still the highest clarity score.
If you haven’t already, I recommend reading the Spiral Ear SE 5-way Reference review for perspective. Also, I am not going to duplicate what I wrote in my initial impressions, so you may want to read that also. Finally, a spoiler is jelt2359’s review.
I can easily sum up the SE5U: it is a much better SE5 Reference. Now, at this level, the SE5 that was at the top of my overall sound quality chart is no slouch, but the SE5U makes it sound a bit unrefined and lacking. My review title for the SE5R is “A New Level of Resolution?,” and the SE5U takes that title.
I have spent many hours with the SE5U, comparing it with many other newer CIEMs not yet on the chart as well as the top performers and it outshines. Is the SE5U for everyone? No, as sonic preference should also be a major factor in selection. There are those that don’t like the SE5R, and it seems like there are some bad ones out there that are sold and passed on to others, tainting more views. If you think the SE5R is for you when you read the review and comparisons, the SE5U will also be for you.
The cable is the same as the SE5R, which is a higher quality, but standard looking twisted cable. The cable connector has been refined and improved as noted below in the Build Quality section.
Build quality is the same, and the cable plugs have improved since my SE5R, which was one of the first detachable cable units produced. Fit and finish are almost the same, except some of the internal components have a covering that almost looks like clay, which has leeched a bit into the clear silicone discoloring it. Not a big deal, but not perfect. I am not sure if the recent units are the same, but from my perspective, these things are made for listening to and not looking at, and you can’t see the discoloration when they are in your ears!
Same as the SE5R, and the fit is perfect.
Bass: The bass of the SE5U is amazing. It combines detail, control, and power that is among the best. The Custom Art Harmony 8 Pro does best the SE5U (and everything else) in quality, with the best control and highest level of detail in the bass region, but the quicker note doesn’t give the H8P the same capability as the SE5U. The bass performance of the AAW AHMorph W500 scores the same in quality and capability as the SE5U, but there are differences as the SE5U has better overall speed, but the special bass driver of the SE5U enables competition with a dynamic driver which is impressive. No other BA CIEM I have heard can combine the detail with the overall capability/power of the SE5U.
Midrange: Wow. My quality score for the midrange is one of the six 105 scores. It pushes the envelope in resolution and transparency while retaining the instrument detail levels of the SE5R. While I want to say the midrange is the standout of the performance, it is difficult to make that claim due to real key of the SE5U, which I will cover later. Simply put, the midrange is 3D and brings the information in the music to life.
Treble: I don’t think about the SE5U treble, which is a good thing. It is not lacking at all, but not overly present nor bright, just natural and extended. I can’t think of anything I would change.
Presentation: The key to the SE5U is the presentation. Just like the SE5R, it is a chameleon, changing dependent on the track. It has the ability to let me know how the recording engineer processed the track. One track sounds a bit cloudy, another track seems to have the vocals brought forward in a bit of an unnatural way while another is open and airy. The presentation isn’t the largest, but the proportions are just right. ADSR is spot on, which is why I believe the transparency, resolution, dynamics, and imaging all broke 100 on my scale.
Taking a page from the SE5R, feeding this beast is easy, but you are rewarded for upping the ante. The higher the resolution of your DAC, the more that will come through. The larger the soundstage of your amp, the larger the presentation will grow. If you are going for the gold, don’t skimp on the supporting cast.
Grzegorz Baran, founder of Spiral Ear, has done it again with the SE 5-way Ultimate, raising the ceiling on CIEM performance. There too many good things to say about the SE5U, and I would just be repeating myself, but the word Ultimate does fit the product well. Highly recommended and deserving of a THL Recommended award.