Lime Ears Aether R (€1200)
The Aether R is Lime Ears’ latest flagship – a revision of their critically-acclaimed Aether, renowned for a similar blend of warmth, cleanliness and air. For this revision, Lime Ears have seemingly toned down the top-end a hair, especially in the uppermost octaves. As a result, the LSX is the crisper-sounding of the two with its leaner transients, more cut and more apparent detail. Instruments sound brighter and more energised, while the Aether R instead emphasises balance and even-handed-ness. Projection is noticeably less coloured, so instruments come across more naturally and effortlessly. A transparent sense of balance is the Aether R’s forte, while the LSX has the edge in vibrance, clarity, sparkle and attack.
This discrepancy in attack plays into spatial performance as well. The Aether R’s calmer transients give it a greater sense of depth. Width-wise, the LSX has the edge, as instruments are a hair more out-of-head. Also an advantage to the LSX’s more lively presentation is the bigness of its images. The Aether R’s calmer delivery makes it sound more even-handed and linear, while the LSX’s larger notes give it musicality and engagement. This is further spurred on by the LSX’s fatter low-end. The Aether R’s lows prioritise clarity, speed and layering, while the LSX’s richer, wetter bass is all about fun. So, to conclude, the LSX is the more coloured-to-please of the two, while Aether R preaches finesse, linearity and balance.
Empire Ears Phantom ($1799)
Compared to the Phantom, the LSX immediately comes across as the crisper-sounding of the two. A considerably more prominent high-treble range boosts the its transient attack, as well as the perceived sharpness of its images. As a result, layering, micro-detail retrieval and clarity is more immediate on the LSX. The Phantom is the more even-sounding of the two between transience and body. They possess similar, lightly warm tones, though the LSX’s top-end is – again -brighter and cleaner. So, the LSX will be the preferred choice among those who crave sharp detail, while the Phantom is more ideal for smoother, long-term listening, or those who listen to a wider breadth of genres with varying recording quality.
Technically though, the Phantom just as capably performs. Treble extension allows the Phantom to posit a stable, black backdrop, so its resolution is on par with the LSX’s, despite the discrepancy in top-end quantity. In terms of stage size, the two are just about equal. The LSX perhaps has the slightest edge when it comes to width. Though, the Phantom’s spatial presentation is more sensitive to the track than the LSX’s is. It alters from one track to another, while the LSX’s livelier top-end always gives transients a forwardly presence. The Phantom’s low-end is punchier with considerably more sub-bass presence. There’s a physicality to thumps that the LSX has opted to reserve. The latter’s low-end is tighter and cleaner because of top-end presence, but it can too be perceived as less natural and warm compared to the Phantom’s.
Lark Studio’s LSX is a boisterous blend of warmth, body and cut. With its rich, full-bodied lows comes a top-end just as eager, resulting in a wet, bloomy profile never bereft of clarity, nuance or air. The mid-bass is the star of the show, with meatiness, texture and tone to spare. Kick drums possess an analog timbre with the technical ability to back it up. The mids sport similar density for muscular male vocals and rich, chesty female balladeers. Instruments constantly possess wetness and weight, even if they aren’t the most clean-cut. But, at the end of the day, the LSX is an embrace of coloured sigs, and a skilful one at that. Rare as it is in the flagship space, the LSX pulls off crisp-and-warm with wonderful success.