Lime Ears Pneuma Review – Thunderstruck

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Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to coupler resonance. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities between earphones. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. I gave the Pneuma 100hrs of burn-in prior to final evaluation to ensure maximum performance.

Tonality –

I will say that the buzzwords chosen to describe the Pneuma did concern me to some degree. I personally enjoy the mix of balance and engagement on the Aether R so I was concerned that the Pneuma would push too far into the engaging side. In listening, colour me both surprised and impressed, as this remains an energetic and vibrant sound tempered with tasteful balance and colouration in careful restraint. With bass boost off, sub-bass is lightly elevated but the mid and upper-bass appear well-metered. An uptick of contrast during the transition to the midrange contributes to a more revealing and vivid over smooth and organic presentation.

Within the midrange, the Pneuma represents an even-handed and linear tuning, much more so than the Aether R before it with less of an upper-midrange hump. In turn, the voicing is very natural and, as before, this is a slightly denser but also articulate sound. Treble is defined predominately by a modest hump at 5kHz before a very clean background with enhanced upper-treble energy bolstering headroom and sparkle. This is a very well-considered hybrid tuning, refined and balanced. Perhaps more importantly, it is a well-constrained one that doesn’t overstep boundaries while benefitting from strong dynamics and vibrance.

Tip Choice

As with the Aether R, I did find the Pneuma relatively tip sensitive and good changes can be achieved here to suit listener preference. I did not enjoy the Spinfits that came in the box, the Pneuma has a fairly vivid sound already and these were a little too intense for my liking. The Sedna fit tips that I most preferred on the Aether R provided a similar experience to a lesser degree. I most preferred the sound from the Final Audio E-tips that provided a slightly more focused and coherent sound and the Sedna fit short tips that provided a tasteful middle ground between the E and normal Sedna’s for those wanting a little more openness. The E-tips especially add a bit of density and smoothness to the midrange and also had the most concise bass response. I have heard some initial impressions finding this earphone to be a little thin and I can see why this could be the case with certain tips. I would advise that buyers look into the E-tips, they’re generally great ear tips for sound and ergonomics.

Bass –

From my experience with the Aether R, it was clear Emil knew how to do bass, and the Pneuma elevates this to a new level of engagement and dynamics. The unique driver delegation (DD sub only, BA mid-bass to low-mid) produces a really special presentation, and the clean, linear tuning with just a moderate sub-bass boost takes full advantage of this setup. Boot up some Steely Dan and the presentation is lightning quick, superbly textured through the mid-bass yet with a powerful sub-bass drive and rumble extending down into the perceptual. There’s zero bloom or smear, the tone is clean and notes are presented with natural timbre and accurate size; just slightly thick, bold and pressurised, but never muddy or bloated. The presentation is well-separated if not to the extent of a BA earphone. Take note, this is far from a bass-focused sound, simply one with a highly engaging character. It is also a great departure from the warmer, more mid-bass focused Aether R.

Note presentation is similarly unique and represents an admirable first hybrid from the company. Compared to a traditional setup with DD covering the entire bass range, it does lack a hint coherence with the DD appearing poorly utilised on poorly mastered tracks – the bass boost switch helps here to some degree. Conversely, bass is deep and highly dynamic but also lightning quick and articulate. It combines a well-controlled DD implementation, with your typical quickly decaying BA mid-bass for a super concise, punchy and well-defined presentation. Again, separation is not top level, but remains strong due to the clean tuning and the low-end also lacks any plastic BA-timbre whilst reaping the benefits of their speed and control. In turn, you do get the best of both worlds if not perfect union between them; excellent rumble and power paired with high-definition and detail retrieval. While you do miss the mid-bass texture provided by the best DD earphones or the utmost separation provided by BA earphones, the Pneuma takes desirable characteristics from both and melds them into a fun and energetic whole.

Bass Boost

The bass boost is said only to affect the DD, but on measurement and in listening does appear reasonably similar to past implementations from LE. This means, bass is elevated with reducing amplitude into the midrange to minimise colouration. The switch is slightly more effective than that on the Aether R but not as transformative as that on the Model X. It elevates the sub-bass most notably, delivering more pressure and power in addition to a fuller bass at the cost of slightly reduced separation. The midrange isn’t overly affected, it becomes a little fuller, a little more coherent, but again, not to the same extent as that observed on the Aether R and Model X. As before, I found this style of bass boost very useful in daily use as it isn’t too intrusive to overall timbre, a great option for portable listening or simply to compensate for tracks mastered with less bass.

Mids – 

If there’s one thing I’d like improved on the Aether R, it was likely the midrange timbre. It had a wonderful tone, but sounded a little off due to the upper-midrange tuning. The Pneuma retains its predecessor’s high-contrast, high-definition presentation, cleans up the tone and introduces a substantially more linear tuning; albeit one that remains coloured by the surrounding frequencies. Accordingly, it is a better-behaved earphone, and the voicing and timbre are now very strong performers whilst remaining vivid and engaging. Still, this is not an earphone with an explicit focus on accuracy or coherence per say as, despite being less sculpted than the Aether R, the Pneuma retains a slightly sucked-out lower-midrange tuning and now commands less bass body and warmth to fill in its similarly contrasty sound. In turn, the Pneuma comes across as a slightly thinner and less forgiving earphone than its predecessor and is pushed more towards the revealing side; prioritising outstanding definition, separation and clarity over an absolutely accurate timbre and dense, filled-in notes.

It is important to note the extent of these changes are small as this isn’t a strained, dry or metallic sounding earphone. Similarly, it isn’t over-forward or intense with well-balanced vocals presented with perfect size and a delicate balance between clarity and accuracy. The tone is immaculate clean and, despite possessing abundant energy and effervescence, still manages to provide a very natural and well-organized sound. Like the Aether R, it is an articulate monitor, a little breathy which may leave those wanting outstanding coherence wanting, but focused and defined with an uptick of density that re-introduces some smoothness and an enjoyable sense of refinement. With E-tips fitted especially, the Pneuma never struck me as sharp, intense or over-articulated albeit not a rich and powerful monitor. The Pneuma plays an antithesis to the Aether R, valuing utmost tonal transparency and high-energy without encroaching upon high-intensity. I think Emil has done an admirable job appending common complaints about his former flagship while realizing a vivid signature that avoids common fallbacks.

Highs –

Fans of the Aether R will find a mostly similar experience here, the Pneuma both measuring and sounding reasonably similar in what is becoming somewhat of a Lime Ears house sound. It comes across as a little more complex technically, and a touch more vibrant, a result of its tamer upper-midrange tuning invoking higher contrast. Yet, the same high-detail image with squeaky clean transient response remains. A small 5kHz hump grants an energetic, crisp and slightly aggressive detail presentation. As treble emphasis falls off quickly after, missing the 6k region, the top-end is a little smoother and cleaner than most and sibilance, glare and sharpness are mitigated. Instruments have a light warmth alongside enjoyable body and texture. So even if this isn’t the most linear and balanced expression in isolation, it remains subjectively musical and inviting with wide appeal. The Aether R does provide a little more body and smoothness here, the Pneuma being crisper with sharper note attack and greater fine detail retrieval. Both avoid splashiness and glare with natural air and decay. Separation is superb as before so small details are well-resolved and, more importantly, easily perceived by the listener.

With a darker middle-treble, the Pneuma offers a well-defined and separated foreground and background. It retains abundant air and headroom, not with brightness, but strong extension and top octave presence. Much like Campfire’s offerings, this imbues an immersive atmosphere and highlights micro and background details. Extension and resolution are strong if no longer standout performers given the Pneuma’s elevated price. Still, the combination between above average in-class technical performance and smart tuning that upholds high separation throughout means that this remains a flagship level performer in every sense. It remains a very pricey earphone, enmeshed in a market where grander soundstages and higher resolution can still easily be found but makes a strong case with its composed and effortless portrayal of complex tracks. For there’s beauty in balance, and Lime Ear’s house tuning plays wonderful complement to their technical nature that balances engagement and balance better than the vast majority.

Soundstage –

The Pneuma also much resembles the performance of the Aether R with regards to soundstage given that the tuning and top-end performance are not too dissimilar. That means a slightly stronger sense of width that stretches easily beyond the head in addition to a notable step up in depth, that I found quite intimate on the Aether R. In turn, its stage is more rounded and immersive, especially noticeable if you enjoy tracks from Hans Zimmer where the added low-end extension and power create a more multi-dimensional listen. Being an open and very well-separated earphone, the Pneuma maximises use of its space, so though it may not have the absolute largest dimensions, it does appear more spacious than it actually is.

Imaging is also sharp as on the Aether R though I did find some competitors to offer sharper localisation. The slight bump in resolution and sharpness over the Aether definitely ensure it is not a weak performer here that said. It remains a well-layered monitor too, however, appears a touch less defined than its predecessor to me as the foreground is slightly more aggressive, in turn, a little less balanced with the background than before. Still, the notable step up in depth, fine-detail retrieval and separation means the Pneuma crafts an altogether more immersive listening experience.  

Driveability –

As before, Lime Ears don’t state the sensitivity or impedance of the Pneuma. It is a few notches less efficient than the Aether R which makes it fairly par for course for a high-end IEM and not too difficult to drive. In fact, this is one of the most source agnostic designs I’ve tested, widening its appeal.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Switching between the Hiby R6 (10-ohms) and Shanling M2X (1-ohm) revealed surprisingly little difference in sound signature. There was no bass roll-off or change in overall balance, vocal timbre was similar as was treble besides subtle colouration in-line with the sources themselves.

Driving Power

The Pneuma scales nicely with higher-end sources, mostly with regards to soundstage but also bass control. Given that the DD doesn’t cover as wide a frequency range as most hybrids, the effect is not quite as pronounced when stepping up from a portable to more powerful desktop source. Still, I did notice higher resolution, more control and a more agile, organised presentation on my desktop stack than the aforementioned DAPs. Bass impact is more concise and there’s higher separation.

Suggested Pair Ups

The Pneuma is forgiving of source, it retains a balanced sound even from sources with a high output impedance and doesn’t require huge driving power either. The Pneuma does benefit from a more resolving source, so I would recommend something like the Shanling M2X and above, or the Fiio BTR5/Shanling UP4 for portable use over the lower-end models as you will miss a lot of detail at the high-end. The Pneuma is tuned in a way that plays well with most source colouration too. In general, I did prefer a little extra fullness and warmth, the Shanling and Hiby nailing my preferences more than the more neutral iBasso DX200 and Fiio M9.

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Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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