The 5-Way Ultimate still tops average_joe’s list, which almost seems prophetic after all this time. Later, jelt2359 reminded us one more time during the course of his shootout. Aged like fine wine, the 5-Way remains competitive amongst turbulent times of development. It’s because it wasn’t tuned with sales in mind – it was tuned from a certain philosophy; to sound natural, above everything. Of course, the 5-Way Ultimate doesn’t outperform all the other iems in every aspect – far from it. And this certainly isn’t going to be a signature for everyone. But according to the specific scoring parameters of this shootout, the 5-Way is the one that performs consistently high on both timbre and performance.
Spiral Ear 5-Way Ultimate
-Drivers: 5 BA drivers
-Design: 5-way crossover, 5 sound bores
The industry standard Plastics One 3-wire OFC cable has a warm tonality, which primarily results from its rolled off upper treble, and lightly enhanced upper-bass. The midrange is linear, resulting in an overall neutral note size. While the mid-bass is warm and natural in tone, it’s not particularly controlled. Accordingly, the loose bass results in a warmer stage structure. This affects the airiness of the stage as well as its transparency; especially since its top-end does not extend very far. However, while the cable doesn’t perform very well when it comes to resolution and transparency, its warmer tone results in a fairly smooth and natural signature.
Just as with the NT6-pro, I tend to usually listen to the 5-Way with its stock cable, despite an adequate arsenal of cables on hand. It’s partially because the recessed silicone sockets can be a pain to use with upgrade cables, but mostly because the pairing works just fine. The 5-Way constructs a warmer stage structure, and the OFC’s warm tone seems to dissolve in it. There are enough cables that create an airier sound. But this isn’t a stage that was intended to sound analytically clean. Similarly, its laid-back treble might not have the most sparkle, but contributes to the naturalness of the presentation.
The 5-Way sets a candle-lit dinner – just you, and the band. A special ambience, resulting from its warm notes, set against a black background. For even though the 5-Way’s stage is spacious, it conveys intimacy in its sound. The 5-Way has a romantic heart. It’s highly resolving, and its separation is excellent. But it seems to mask its outstanding technical performance, behind the naturalness of the presentation. Due to its laid-back treble, there isn’t a lot of clarity in its attack; it seems to lack a sense of excitement in a way. But upon further listen, the 5-Way’s specialty comes from an unexpected corner. The 5-way doesn’t just reproduce the music, it humanifies it; transforming a recording to flesh and blood.
Quality runs throughout the 5-Way’s signature; from its extension on both ends, to the resolution of its midrange notes and their timbre, and the smoothness in their release. Several individual aspects could be termed as neutral; the forwardness of its vocals, and the size of its instruments – the 5-Way isn’t bound to impress with size, or power. But due to its warmer tuning, neutral isn’t the first term that would come to mind when hearing the 5-Way – that’s reserved for natural.
The 5-Way’s attempt to camouflage its performance, returns in its stage. Make no mistake, the 5-Way’s stage is large; a spacious stage, closely resembling that of Zeus-XIV, Maestro V2, and the Dream. A quality stage, with equal proportions in width and depth. Add excellent layering and precise imaging, and a three-dimensional stage unfolds. Following its laid-back treble, warm instruments are set against a black background – a cozy environment. Yet despite their warmer tone, each can be identified with ease, resulting from the stability of the image, and precise instrument positioning; a well-defined presentation, with excellent separation.