Spiral Ear’s new flagship proves that more drivers is not always better
Mon Sep. 28, 2015
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.
I’ve always admired ninjas. They drift seemingly in and out of existence, appearing and disappearing like shadows that seek light if only to avoid it. The SE5 Ultimate has a subbass that hides in plain view, within the shadow of the main bass note. It appears only after the note has subsided, and disappears before your ears have the chance to raise the alarm. This apparently comes from a delayed ignition subbass driver that the SE5 Ultimate possesses, and boy can I hear it. It’s an unforgettable experience, resulting in a decay so natural that I almost forgot that this was not a dynamic bass driver. Almost. For apart from the decay; there are other aspects to bass. Most clearly, bass speed, not typically a standout trait for dynamics, is blazingly fast on the SE5 Ultimate. Sub-bass performance- both slam and depth- also falls short of the IEMs that fill the “Dynamic Bass Driver” hall-of-fame. Overall, this is a bass that is actually rather light and fluffy. Authoritativeness and tightness of the bass are merely okay- so bassheads probably need not apply. Interestingly, with the SE5 Ultimate, Spiral Ears seems to have made a deliberate choice to trade absolute technical performance and detail for emotional impact. Accordingly, the detail in this bass is very average, but the timbre and tone comes in at the top of the class.
Bass Score: 8.4 (Very Good)
If you’ve never heard Julie Andrews sing, drop everything now and go YouTube it. The hills are alive with the sound of music… Godly airiness is on display in the SE5 Ultimate, with a voice that reverbs. and reverbs. and reverbs. Even as you read this sentence, faint echoes endure… Clarity is also pretty good, timbre very natural, and overall the sound is even and measured all round. That being said, the mids could do with a tad more energy, and are also not the most detailed around. Well, one can’t have everything, right?
Midrange Score: 8.6 (Very Good)
Top of the shootout. I’m running out of superlatives, so I’m just gonna list the amazing traits on display here. 1) Baby-bottom smooth. 2) Naturalness of tone. It’s as if you’re standing right there, listening to the original musician play the perfect, unfiltered, note right into your ears. 3) Clarity like the prestine waters of an untouched Hawaiian beach. Seriously. 4) Extension as tall as Jack and his beanstalk. 5) Screeching speed like Schumacher flying into a corner at top gear.
Let’s put it simply- you’re going to enjoy this. Actually, scratch that. If you enjoy quality over quantity in your treble, then you’re going to enjoy this. The one thing that could maybe improved a bit? Sparkle wasn’t quite there. This IEM is not for the treblenatics that luxuriate in a red hot treble-bath. For everyone else, though…. I said, for everyone else, though…. You really gotta try this!
Treble Score: 9.1 (Elite)
There is a specific moment in the movie Gravity when the audience is jolted into a sudden realisation of just how good this movie is. George Clooney had cut off his cord, and begun floating away, but his voice continues to pipe into Sandra Bullock’s intercom. You know he’s already dead, but he’s not yet dead dead- the bugger is still talking, for god’s sakes. I have never felt a more endless, more infinite sense of space than at that moment in time. This is soundstage of the Spiral Ears SE5 Ultimate.
Now take this unspeakable vastness of outer space and fill it with mind-bogglingly consistent music. The sound in the SE5 Ultimate diffuses across your brain like the smell of a masterly vintage decanting for a few minutes before nirvana. As the wine sits silently, its subtle yet glorious aroma wafts gently from the outstretched arms of the decanter; filling the air with the aroma of sweet nectar. Pair this with a competent amount of airy spacial cues- not the best, mind you, but more than enough- and you get a soundstage that teeters on the brink of perfection.
And then there’s the imaging, which is almost an afterthought by this point. It’s basically flawless in all aspects- pinpoint accuracy in depth; width; and coherence in the center. One or two other IEMs- *hint hint* alien Adel technology- are slightly better, but the SE5 Ultimate is right up there. Not bad for an IEM that I’ve heard is made right here at home, on Planet Earth.
Spatial Score: 9.8 (Elite)
Let’s see now. Light bass. Light mids. Light treble. Why is it not surprising that the SE5 Ultimate comes across as supremely balanced? The company’s stated goal was to come up with a more reference and linear version of their flagship, and by golly they’ve succeeded. All the frequencies complement each other in just the perfect quantities, with neither bass, mids or treble taking the show. This is an IEM that understands teamwork, and those -heads who love their bass, mids or treble to take centrestage would do better looking elsewhere.
The articulation and diction is another real standout trait on the SE5 Ultimate. If you haven’t had the chance to try it before, it’ll be quite a shock. Every note is perfectly and cleanly articulated in the distinct comfort of its own skin. As well, the musical resonance is amazing. This IEM seems to have written the very book on how to let the music resonate on, and on, and on after the initial note. Finally, PRaT is very good, and was a pleasure on my faster, more rhythmic happy-hardcore tracks. Oh, the one small area of improvement? The sound wasn’t all that thick.
General Qualities Score: 9.7 (Elite)