Custom Art Fibae 7 (1100 EUR): The Fibae 7 is a more mid-forward earphone, similarly quite energetic and vivid but with a warmer tone balancing it out akin to the Aether R. Its bass extends almost as far despite being an all-BA setup, yet its timbre is not as natural with sub-bass appearing a bit plastic and poorly defined by comparison. Both have a quick and balanced mid-bass, the Fibae 7 has a touch more warmth here. The Pneuma sounds more dynamic and detailed, it has a slightly more extended sub-bass and a more natural presentation. The midrange is more forward on the Fibae 7 and more extended in the upper-midrange. Again, the voicing is natural on both, but the Fibae 7 comes across as a little more strained and intense due to the upper-midrange forwardness. The Fibae 7 has a light warmth that helps compensate so it remains appealing overall.
The Pneuma is a bit more refined here, it is more balanced, accurate and natural with a generally more linear tuning. Its tone is more neutral, perhaps more sterile in some senses, but it also has a denser upper-midrange and more coherent expression. The treble also varies, being more vibrant on the Pneuma, more even and laid-back on the Fibae 7. The Pneuma has more energy and a crisper, more detail dense foreground. The Fibae 7 is smoother with more body and texture, but also less headroom and sparkle. Both have strong extension, the Pneuma appears a bit more resolving of micro-detail highlighted by having a more forward presentation of such. The Pneuma has a slightly larger soundstage, depth especially. The Fibae 7 images slightly sharper, the Pneuma has better separation.
Lime Ears Aether R ($1200 EUR): The Pneuma sounds slightly more vivid but also more natural in terms of midrange timbre than the Aether R. Its bass is slightly more extended, the low-pass does a great job on the Aether, but it still cannot match a hybrid design for pressure and sub-bass resolution. The Pneuma has a harder-hitting bass, and a cleaner tuning. It has no more separation due to the more present sub-bass that creates thicker notes. The Aether R is warmer but faster, it sounds a bit more coherent, while the Pneuma represents a great step up in energy, accuracy and dynamics. The midrange tells a similar story, the Pneuma is more natural in timbre, voicing and cleaner in tone. The Aether R actually has a better tonality to my ears, its bass warmth counterbalancing its lower-midrange dip for a more euphonic presentation.
The Pneuma is thinner here and a bit less forgiving. But it also lacks the off upper-midrange tuning that afflicted the Aether R, so the voicing is more natural despite it being considerably more revealing. The Pneuma is more defined and a bit more balanced, it has more accurate vocal size, the Aether R sounding a bit strained and less consistent between tracks. The treble tuning is about the same on both with a 5k bump, dark and clean middle-treble and upper-treble push for air and sparkle. The Pneuma sounds a bit more energetic in the foreground as its upper-midrange is not as forward. It has slightly better fine detail retrieval and resolution while the Aether R has a touch more body and texture that suits its generally warmer and smoother sound. The Pneuma has a very slightly wider, deeper and more three-dimensional soundstage alongside better separation.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499): Prime competition, the Solaris offers a 4-driver hybrid setup with some smart acoustic design at a lower price. It is a similarly balanced albeit more coloured earphone. It has similar bass quantity and a more typical DD note presentation. Bass is slightly more even on the Solaris, more sub-bass biased on the Pneuma. The Solaris 2020 has a slightly deeper and more pressurised sub-bass and a bit more sub-bass texture, while the Pneuma offers a much quicker and more articulate mid-bass with greater separation and detail retrieval. The midrange presentation is richer on the Solaris 2020 and more revealing on the Pneuma. The Solaris 2020 has more forward vocals, being more balanced on the Pneuma. Both have a natural voicing, the timbre is slightly more faithful to the source on the Pneuma.
The Pneuma has slightly higher definition and vocal extension alongside better separation while the Solaris 2020 has a bit more warmth and body for a more musical and forgiving listen, I can easily see buyers preferring either here. The top-end comparison is quite interesting, the Solaris being even higher energy, the Pneuma more restrained and organised. Both have similar detail retrieval but vary in terms of presentation. The Pneuma has a more focused foreground and greater contrast while the Solaris has more middle-treble presence, sounding airier with background details that pop a little more. Both are sparkly and vibrant, the Solaris has a smidge more resolution while the Pneuma presents slightly more body and texture in the foreground. The Solaris offers a larger soundstage and slightly more holographic imaging while the Pneuma offers better separation and a more stable presentation.
MMR Homunculus ($1699): Another 4-driver hybrid with Foster DD and Sonion Electret tweeter system. It has a more neutral/natural style tuning and a smoother character. Both showcase a similar level of bass and sub-bass extension, though the Homunculus offers a more linear and natural tuning, the Pneuma providing more sub-bass slam and energy for a more dynamic and engaging presentation. The Pneuma has a quicker bass, a more aggressive attack and defined mid-bass while the Homunculus has a more typical, perhaps natural, decaying DD bass with a bit more texture and separation due to the more linear tuning. The midrange tuning follows suit, the Homunculus being a bit more natural in tone and smoother, the Pneuma more energetic and revealing. The Homunculus offers an inviting lightly warm tone. It has forward vocals and a smoother articulation offset by an extended upper-midrange. The Pneuma is cleaner in tone and thinner in body but also noticeably more defined and open. The Pneuma’s voicing is also just as natural and a little more consistent as its tuning is actually a little more linear in the midrange than the Homunculus, just higher-contrast due to its more engaging bass.
Its male vocals especially are clearer and more defined, the Homunculus sounding a little drier and more female-vocal biased. But it also doesn’t sound quite as coherent as the Homunculus. The treble presentation is most different on these monitors, the Pneuma is more energetic and aggressive, the Homunculus smoother and more linearly extending. The Pneuma has a sharper transient response and keener note attack, percussion sounds more detailed and defined. The Homunculus is a touch laid-back but has more accurate instrument body and texture. It decays more naturally and has slightly stronger fine detail retrieval at the very top. The Pneuma is more immediately resolving that said, it has more apparent sparkle and energy so it can be hard to appreciate the MMR in direct comparison. The Homunculus offers slightly more depth and a cleaner background while the Pneuma offers a slightly wider stage. The Pneuma has slightly sharper imaging, subjectively, the Homunculus separates a little better due to its more even treble tuning.
Empire Ears Phantom ($1800): The Phantom is a darker, smoother and more powerful sounding monitor. It has a bigger and noticeably warmer bass with more mid-bass especially but, being all BA, upholds an agile presentation with good separation. The Pneuma is a bit more balanced here, it has a much cleaner tone and more even tuning with a more natural timbre. The Pneuma is much more dynamic and contrasty with a bit more definition and better extension. The Phantom has a robust, dense and supremely coherent midrange, it’s call to fame. It is immediately fuller, richer and warmer in tone and slightly more laid-back. Its vocals are larger and more imposing. The Pneuma is more transparent in every manifestation, it vocal positioning and size are more accurate, its tone is basically neutral.
The Pneuma has much higher definition and separation but at the cost of a thinner body and lower coherence, the Phantom has a noticeably more flattering vocal presentation if not the most objectively accurate one. The Phantom has a small lower-treble peak and an immaculate clean background. In turn, it doesn’t have the greatest openness and air. Both have a focused detail presentation, the Phantom is a touch sharper and the transient response is similarly clean. The Pneuma has a bit more texture here and also a lot more headroom and obvious sparkle. The Pneuma has more background detail retrieval and higher resolution. The Phantom has a larger soundstage while the Pneuma has sharper imaging and better separation.
Final Audio A8000 ($1999): The A8000 is a single-DD pursuing a ballpark Harman-tuning with a completely Beryllium diaphragm. The A8000 is brighter leaning. It has a touch less bass emphasis, but a higher quality bass in general. Sub-bass extends better and is more controlled and defined throughout – sensational quality. The midrange is naturally voiced on both, it is slightly more forward on the A8000. The Pneuma has a slightly better timbre subjectively, the A8000 sounds a bit more strained in the upper-midrange and a touch over-articulated due to a peak around 6k. Neither are especially sibilant or over-forward, but the A8000 can be a bit intense and lacks smoothness at times. In return, the A8000 is more revealing than the Pneuma and more defined. The Pneuma is a bit smoother and it has a more accurate articulation, sounding more coherent and less intense whilst still retaining great engagement. Up top, the A8000 implements a 6k peak, the Pneuma a 5k peak before a cleaner background.
The A8000 has a sharper, quicker transient response, it has better fine detail retrieval and sounds crisper and more aggressive, especially with regards to percussion. The Pneuma is a touch smoother in terms of attack but remains a crisp and energetic monitor overall. It has more instrument body and texture, making for a slightly more coherent and organised performer. The A8000 sounds more detail dense, but also a bit sharp which can mask fine details on busy tracks, despite its superior retrieval. The Pneuma has better separation so it often sounds just as detailed, sometimes more so. Both decay naturally making for generally well-realised instrumentation that said. The Pneuma is slightly more sparkly at the very top and has a cleaner background. The A8000 has slightly better micro-detail retrieval and is airer. The A8000 has a larger soundstage and its imaging is sharper and more three-dimensional. The Pneuma separates better to me, with a more contrasty tuning but also slightly better tri-frequency balance.
Hidition NT-8 ($2000 approx.): The NT-8 is Hidition’s former flagship following the hit NT-6 (&Pro). It features a slightly more mid-biased sound but also a more coherent note presentation. The low-end is slightly less pronounced and extended, with an all-BA setup. It has a more concise, harder-hitting attack if not the same pressure and slam in the sub-bass and a more coherent note presentation. The Pneuma offers more body, rumble and dynamics in the sub-bass, it has slightly worse separation but also subjectively better balance (bass boost off) and a slightly quicker and more detailed mid-bass. The midrange is slightly more forward on the NT-8 and noticeably more coherent. Both sound very natural with regards to voicing and tone, the NT-8 has a slightly more accurate timbre, possessing more accurate body and greater density and smoothness. Its notes sound wholly resolved yet uphold great clarity and definition as there isn’t too much bass colouring the experience. The Pneuma is more revealing, it has higher clarity, higher-contrast and slightly higher definition, it is more articulate at the cost of that last iota of coherence.
The high-end presentation differs greatly too, the Pneuma has a slightly more aggressive and focused detail presentation with a little more lower-treble bite while the NT-8 has a thinner, more airy middle-treble bump. The Pneuma has slightly higher foreground detail retrieval while the NT-8 brings background details more to the fore. The Pneuma has a slightly more natural treble instrument timbre and is more textured with greater body. The Pneuma also has more foreground/background contrast while the NT-8 has a more subtle sparkle alongside slightly stronger extension for a more integrated presetnation. Due to the upper-treble lift on the Pneuma, neither sounds much more resolving than the other, it depends what type of tuning you prefer. The NT-8 has a slightly wider stage while the Pneuma has more depth. The imaging is slightly sharper on the NT-8, but the Pneuma has more defined layers and is more separated.
Lime Ears have developed an outstandingly revealing, delicate and articulate yet natural in-ear with the Pneuma. It is a departure from their former flagship, trading off its euphonic warmth for a cleaner, more natural and more technical sound. Most enticing perhaps, it that this is a high-contrast but not high-intensity sound, being devoid of glare or excess intimacy. In turn, I find it a versatile performer with regards to both genre and mastering style – especially with that bass boost switch. It cannot be avoided that the Pneuma now sits in truly Summit-Fi territory in terms of pricing and this means it cannot be so universally praised; bass could be a bit more coherent, the midrange slightly fuller, treble more resolving. Buyers also should not expect perfect timbre or coherence here. As, though it represents a technical stride over former LE designs, the hefty price jump means that even some cheaper competitors achieve parity in these respects. So the value proposition ultimately comes down to the overall package on offer, not any particular standout quality. It has a unique combination of DD sub and fully-sealed housing that will make it a winning choice for frequent travellers wanting punchy, extended bass combined with high isolation, something not so easy to find. The way Emil has executed this style of tuning also demonstrates a true master craft that few rival; the Pneuma is stunningly balanced and natural in voicing despite its focus on energy and dynamics and this balance can be enjoyed from practically any source too. Lime Ears newest model carries all of the desirable traits one would expect from the flagship of such an experienced company, providing a thoroughly engaging, insightful yet versatile listen with gorgeous artisan design and custom PWAudio cable on top.
The Pneuma is available from Lime Ears (International) for 1800 EUR at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Lime Ears and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Childish Gambino – Kauai EP
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Dirty Loops – Next To You
John Legend – Get Lifted
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Kehlani – While We Wait
Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Nature TV – Emotion Sickness EP
Nirvana – Nevermind
Radiohead – Pablo honey
Steely Dan – Aja
The Cranberries – No Need To Argue
Tori Kelly – Solitude
Weezer – Weezer
Vaundy – strobo
ZICO – THINKING Part.2