‘Spiral Ear SE5 Ultimate’ Review: Welcome to the Temple of Heaven

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Spiral Ear’s new flagship proves that more drivers is not always better

Mon Sep. 28, 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.

Spiral Ears SE5 Ultimate

Bass

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)

 

Midrange

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)

 

Treble

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)

 

Spatial

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)

 

General Qualities

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)

 

Page 3: Comparisons, Summary, and Overall Score

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About Author

When jelt2359's Shure earphones stopped working ten years ago he was forced, kicking and screaming, to replace them. He ended up with more than 20 new IEMs. Oops! jelt2359 flies to a different city almost every week for work, and is always looking for the perfect audio setup to bring along.

10 Comments

  1. I’ve been eyeing these lately. But two concerns:

    1. Two years old now. Nothing has caught up?

    2. I really do want perfect bass articulation. And dynamic decay.

    I’ve been contemplating the CA Vegas and some others as well. So hopefully you will get a review of those soon.

  2. I don’t know why you rank se5 very high at number 1 ,, what’s make them special , They sound dark .
    there is more option and better CIEM like layla or heir 10.A

        • I’m not sure about Heir 10a , but i did try Layla and wasn’t really impressed except for the soundstage comapared to JH13FP. Do you have a link to specific comparison between heir 10a to se5 ult? se5 ref is even darker with some better details.

          • from my experience heir 10 score higher than roxanne and layla. I love my roxanne but all JH ciem are not good compare to other total ciem..
            Heir 10 headstage big and deeper than roxanne ,I’m sure it’s bigger and better
            than SE5 ul. which is normal or above avarage ,not very 3d .
            I thought heir 10 is warmer than se5 ul. heir 10 bass hit harder and better than roxanne.

    • I have flare r2 pro .I prefer it over my Adel 12 and roxanne .you better buy it .it sound near perfect the only downside it size small and tiny . But the sound very natural .Adel 12 Laid back while roxanne in your face .r2 pro between these 2 ciem . I bet it is better than ie800 .

  3. Thanks Jelt for this incredibly detailed and precise series of reviews.
    I have not heard the Ultimate but have the Reference. I find them very thick and heavy compared to K10, so I am surprised by your impressions. Hopefully someone who heard both models can chime in.

    • “Light” and “thick” are not mutually exclusive to me. I generally mean “light” as in “not forward”. Thickness on the other hand is IMHO a matter of note quality and presentation.

      That being said, I do find the K10 thicker than the SE5 Ultimate- but not by much.

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