Minerva Mi-Artist Pro custom in-ear monitors review

 

COMPARISONS

Minerva Mi-3: I decided to compare Minerva’s previous flagship, the Mi-3, with the Mi-Artist Pro to see where the company is going in terms of performance.  The Mi-3 has a much more laid-back presentation, much less bass, less detail, but a more natural sound and note decay.  Despite the technical deficiencies in comparison with the more dynamic Artist Pro, I found myself enjoying the Mi-3 more due to the better realism and recreation of space along with better transparency and coherence.

The bass of the Artist Pro is significantly more prominent and from the mid-bass region on down, and the note sustainment capability is far superior.  The midrange quality of the two flips, with the Mi-3 offering a more spacious and cleaner sound with better instrument separation in comparison to the upfront Artist Pro.  The slightly less prominent treble of the Mi-3 has a much more natural decay, sustain, and release.

The follow-up to the Mi-3 is quite different than the predecessor, as the Mi-3 has a laid-back presentation to go with a natural note and less bass presence while the Artist Pro pushes the presentation forward to a comparatively in-your-face sound that has more detail but misses out on the recreation of the experience brought by the Mi-3.

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Minerva Mi-Performer Pro: The more affordable Performer Pro offers a sound signature that is tuned for stage use vs. the consumer oriented Artist Pro.  Both present with a similar slightly forward perspective and width, but the PP has a bit better presentation depth and superior imaging.  From a frequency response standpoint, the AP offers a slight V-shape in comparison with the mid-centric PP.  Detail levels are higher with the PP as is transparency and coherence while the AP has more punch.  Note ADSR performance is better from the PP which leads to a cleaner, more concise sound and better focus within the soundstage.

The bass quantity of the AP is higher, but the PP is capable of significantly more note sustainment resulting in a much greater sense of power; however the extra note sustainment comes at a cost of driver control as the AP has a cleaner bass region.  With better imaging, more presentation depth, and a more mid-centric sound, the PP offers a much more realistic and organic experience in the midrange than the AP.  Treble quantity is similar between the two, but the AP has a smoother presentation while the PP can sound rough in comparison at times.

Using the same driver, the Artist Pro and Performer Pro offer two different sound signatures, shell types, and price points.  The PP is great for stage musicians, those that want high isolation, and vocal lovers while the AP is going to appeal more to those that listen to mainstream music and want more punch and zip.

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EarSonics SM64: With a more forward presentation, the Performer puts you closer to the performance compared with the more spacious and laid-back SM64.  The SM64 images better with a larger presentation that has a considerably bigger depth of presentation.  Transparency, coherence, and detail levels are superior with the SM64 while dynamics and clarity are better on the Performer, with more articulation despite the lower detail level.  The Performer is more forgiving of poor treble quality while the SM64’s more laid-back sound is more forgiving in the midrange region.

The SM64 is more bass heavy with superior deep bass note sustainment capability.  Warmth is similar, both have a certain smoothness to the notes, but the SM64 has thicker notes in general.  The more laid-back presentation of the SM64 provides a further-back perspective while giving a better sense of depth.  The upper-midrange of the Performer is more prominent and forward, but the SM64 has more treble emphasis, and the treble can sound a bit harsh in comparison with the smooth Performer treble.

These are two different animals, with the SM64 offering a more bass-heavy and laid-back presentation combined with a treble that is more aggressive and an overall presentation that is more airy and open.  The Performer is more up-front overall, except in the treble, and has a smoother yet more articulating sound with a bit less detail.

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InEarz IE-P250: Both the Mi-Artist Pro and IE-P250 use the Sonion AcuPass driver, but the Artist-Pro is priced significantly higher.  From a frequency response standpoint, the Artist Pro is more neutral, but still has a slight V-shape, with similar bass quality between the two, but the P250 extends deeper and sustains notes longer in the bass region.  The P250 has superior clarity and imaging to go along with more detailed.  The Artist Pro is punchier with a faster average attack and transparency is similar.  While the overall presentation space is similar in width, the P250 presents with a closer perspective while also having more depth to the presentation. Treble quantity is quite similar, but the Artist Pro treble is much more refined giving it an advantage with lower quality tracks as well as making the sound overall more musical.

While the Mi-Artist Pro has some advantages over the P250 in overall musicality, the P250 outperforms the Artist Pro in many aspects, making the price difference difficult to justify unless you live in the UK.  If you are in the UK and want a one-stop-shopping process, the Artist Pro will give you that plus a more refined upper end that results in more musicality.

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Lime Ears LE3: Overall, the LE3 is brighter and more detailed than the Artist Pro, which has more bass emphasis and a more forward presentation. Notes are more concise from the LE3, which offers better clarity, transparency, and coherence while both have a similar note attack for a dynamic sound.  The LE3 is more spacious overall and images better for a more 3D and enveloping sound.  Even though the bass of the AP is more prominent, the LE3 is more capable and has better driver control.  The midrange presentations are similar, but the LE3 adds more space and detail within that space and also has cleaner, smoother, and more detailed treble.

The Artist Pro is bass focused in comparison with the brighter LE3, which outperforms the AP in just about every way from a technical perspective, making the AP sound unrefined and a bit sloppy in comparison.  However, if you want bass quantity, the Artist Pro will deliver more on a continual basis (although, there is a bass model of the LE3).

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Alclair Reference: The brighter Reference is more neutral and spacious than the punchy Artist Pro (AP).  The Reference doesn’t image as well as the AP, but its better focus within the soundstage and note decay/release performance leads to a more clear and concise presentation.  Detail levels and resolution within the soundstage are similar, with the Reference slightly edging out the AP.  The AP has better punch and dynamics that combine with the more up-front presentation resulting in a more exciting experience, but the Reference disappears more due to better transparency and coherence.

While bass of the Reference isn’t lacking, the AP has more emphasis and a good deal more capability, taking bass lines from present to powerful.  The midrange presentations are very different with a cleaner, clearer, and more 3D sound from the laid-back Reference, making it easier to hear detail and offering a better sense of space.  The upper midrange of the AP is more laid-back than that of the Reference, leading to a darker sound from the AP.  In the treble region, note quality of the AP is smoother and more natural making it easier to listen to for long periods of time.

The differences between the two are relatively large with the Reference offering a much cleaner and clearer sound that is more neutral and laid-back for the Alclair version of “reference” sound.  On the other hand, the Artist Pro is tuned with enhanced bass, laid-back treble, more impactful, with a closer presentation perspective for an easy to listen to experience, especially for those used to mainstream headphones.  The choice comes down to reference vs. mainstream sound and if the Artist Pro one-stop-shop solution for UK residents is worthwhile.

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Perfect Seal Sportbud Silver: The SportBud Silver (SS) and Artist Pro (AP) both use Sonion AcuPass drivers and share many sound signature traits.  The presentation is quite similar, but the AP has a slightly wider presentation while the SS offers better depth and imaging.  The SS has better note control (decay and release) for a more clear and concise presentation while the AP has a more aggressive note attack that results in a more impactful, dynamic sound.  Detail levels are higher on the SS, while resolution within the soundstage is about the same, and the SS slightly beats the AP in transparency and coherence.

The warmer AP has a bit more bass emphasis, but the SS has more note sustainment capability.  The midrange presentations have a very similar perspective, with differences being the SS has more space around the presentation and better focus within the soundstage.  The upper midrange of the SS is a bit more forward than the AP resulting in a brighter overall sound while the treble is similar in quantity, but the AP treble quality is better.

The SportBud Silver offers an excellent value proposition vs. the Artist Pro considering the large price gap and minor sound signature differences.  The canal only option for the SportBud Silver is attractive for working out, but UK customers may prefer the ease of getting the Artist Pro given Minerva’s experienced audiologist network and the comfort of dealing with a local company should anything go wrong.

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Perfect Seal Fusion 11: The Fusion 11 is brighter and more spacious than the forward and warmer Artist Pro.  Soundstage size of the Fusion 11 is larger with better imaging and much better focus.  Notes of the Fusion 11 are more concise with better ADSR performance and detail articulation.  Detail levels of the Fusion 11 are higher to go with better clarity and dynamics, transparency, and coherence for a much more revealing sound.  While the Fusion 11 is brighter and more resolving, neither is necessarily more forgiving of poor quality tracks.

Since the bass of the Fusion 11 is tunable with interchangeable ports, the quantity can be more or less than the Artist Pro, but the ability to sustain notes is far greater from the Fusion 11.  The midrange clarity is quite different as the Fusion 11 sound much more open, resolving, detailed, and places instruments within the soundstage more precisely while the Artist Pro is more personal and in-the-head.  The upper midrange and treble of the Fusion 11 are more prominent, with more natural note recreation.

The Artist Pro offers ease of purchase for those in the UK, but the Fusion 11 offers much better value with a lower price and significantly higher performance. If you want to hear more detail, a more open sound, and the ability to have bass that is thumping, neutral, or somewhere between, the Fusion 11 will do it.  If you want a more personal performance with good capability and ease of purchase in the UK market, the Artist Pro is a good choice.

 

SOURCE MATCHING

Portable Sources, DAPs

Sandisk Sansa Clip+: The Artist Pro and Clip+ aren’t a bad match with depth to the presentation, decent clarity, and plenty of punch, even in the bass region.  However, notes aren’t all that well controlled, and when the volume goes up or the music is complex, the performance is reduced quite a bit.  2/10

Apple iPhone 5: The iPhone 5 has an open sound with the Artist Pro that offers good enough spaciousness along with ample punch and bass.  While control is better than the Clip+, the overall quality isn’t too far from the Clip+ except when the music becomes complex. 3/10

Hisoundaudio Nova: The Nova brightens up the Artist Pro in comparison with the iPhone 5, giving it a more forward, exciting, and concise presentation that adds new life to the sound.  Driver control is similar and spatial characteristics are just a hair behind the iPhone 5.  However, the Nova is an overall improvement over the iPhone 5. 4/10

Fiio X3: The X3 and Artist Pro combine for a presentation that has good spatial qualities but is lacking in precision.  Compared with the Nova, the X3 has a more spacious and airy presentation, but the notes aren’t quite as clean and controlled. 4/10

iBasso DX50:The DX50 pairs well with the Artist Pro with good clarity and a clean, concise note with good imaging.  Compared with the X3, the DX50 is a good step up and the smoother, cleaner notes are easy to hear.  Spatially, the DX50 has a more up-close presentation that isn’t as airy, but the cleaner, clearer sound more than make up for the size discrepancy. 5.5/10

iBasso DX90: The DX90 brings an open, spacious sound to the Artist Pro while presenting with good clarity and keeping notes concise.  The DX90 has a similar airy presentation to the X3 and the smoother, cleaner notes of the DX50 for a good combination that brings out the best of the Artist Pro. 6.5/10

iBasso DX100: The DX100 brings more space to the Artist Pro than any other source I have tried, and adds better instrument separation and resolution.  The DX100 separates itself from the DX90 easily with a superior spatial presentation as well as better driver control for a cleaner, more resolving presentation without bringing any negative qualities. 9/10

 

Portable Sources, DAPs with Amps

DX90 ->

JDS Labs O2: The large O2 pairs well with the Artist Pro, providing a spacious sound with good instrument separation and good driver control.  Compared with the DX90 headphone out, the O2 is larger with a more distant presentation perspective while the notes are much cleaner due to much better note decay with the O2.  This combination is musical and enjoyable and worth the pairing. 8/10

Tube Amp TA-1: The TA-1 adds bass presence to the Artist Pro, with a forward presentation perspective and smaller, more intimate soundstage.  The DX90 headphone output is more laid-back and cleaner than the TA-1, therefore this combo isn’t recommended. 6/10

Headstage Arrow 12HE 4G: The thin packaged 12HE offers a warm and clean sound with the ability to adjust the treble and bass.  The presentation isn’t overly spacious, but is about on par with the headphone output of the DX90, but more up-close.  Resolution of the 12HE is better than the DX90. 7/10

Headamp Pico Slim: The Pico Slim is small, and unfortunately the sound with the Artist Pro is also smaller than that of the headphone out from the DX90.  Due to the smaller size, details aren’t resolved or articulated as well as the DX90, and the amp isn’t recommended.  5.5/10

Leckerton UHA-6S MKII: The UHA-6S MKII performs about on par with the headphone output of the DX90, not offering any real improvement, although there is less bass presence. 6.5/10

Ortofon MHd-Q7: The Q7 offers a spacious sound with the Artist Pro that also has a forwardness that isn’t typical with the spaciousness.  Instrument separation is good and notes are well defined.  Compared with the DX90 headphone output, the Q7 is more resolving and creates a more 3D sound that gives the sound more life.  Unfortunately there is a low level of hiss.  8.5/10

Lear FSM-02 V2: The 02 offers a spacious, 3D sound with high levels of resolution and detail from the class A output.  Bass is plentiful and well controlled, and the imaging is precise.  Compared with the DX90 headphone output the 02 is more resolving and spacious, presenting detail the DX90 misses. 9/10

Furutech ADL X1: The X1 provides a spacious and 3D presentation that has exceptional imaging and instrument separation for an engaging experience.  Compared with the Lear FSM-02 V2, the spatial recreation is superior with better imaging and a more concise note.  Compared with the DX100, the DX90 + X1 combo edges it out with a bit better imaging resulting in more definition between main and background notes and a more 3D sound. Even though the background isn’t black, the X1 still performs excellent.  10/10

 

Source Summary: The Artist Pro has a large performance discrepancy between low-end and high-end sources due primarily to driver control and presentation perspective, taking a good DAC/amp combination to sound its best.  While performance with lower-end sources will be acceptable for those moving up from lower-end headphones, note control and spatial recreation will be good at best.  A midrange source such as the iBasso DX50 and/or the JDS O2 are good lower cost source components that will make a difference.

 

SUMMARY

The Minerva Artist Pro is not just a high-performing custom in-ear monitor, but an easier way for UK residents to enter the world of CIEMs.  The sound signature will please mainstream music fans with slightly enhanced bass, a forward and immersive presentation, natural treble, and more detail than mainstream headphones.  The ordering process includes booking an audiologist appointment from a wide range of UK locations, and the rest is taken care of.  However, this convenience does come with a bit of a performance premium that might not please all audio enthusiasts, but should help those that want something special but don’t have the time or knowledge to easily get a better headphone experience.

Pros
–       Minerva makes the order process easy and has a UK audiologist network
–       Natural treble that is smooth and natural regardless of audio track quality

Cons
–       Notes and soundstage presentation are not as concise as competitors
See the Minerva Mi-Artist Pro in the Custom In-Ear Monitors Review List

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ABOUT AUTHOR

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average_joe

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

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