Rank #4: Warbler Prelude


The tale of the Prelude’s torn identity starts from its bass. A bass that will sway some, but repel others. The mid-bass is beautiful in tone, and its definition high. It’s a slightly forward mid-bass with thicker notes, so it doesn’t mind letting itself be heard. But truly as an audiophile bass, one to listen to as a fellow instrument on the stage – a bass guitar sounds at its best, and the Prelude makes it easy to appreciate it. A natural-sounding bass, with a slight decay. Although it’s close to neutral in overall quantity, the mid-bass bump gives it a modest touch of impact. Similarly, a rich upper-bass equally contributes to the tone, and the overall warmer signature.

Its bottom-end extension however, falls behind. It’s a beautiful bass to hear, but not necessarily to feel. The sub-bass extension and impact will leave enthusiasts wanting for more. This isn’t going to be a bone-shattering bass, providing that deep bodily feel. Based on its tone and definition, I would be inclined to score this bass at 90. Just a beautiful bass to listen to, with above average strengths compared to the competition. But while these qualities will certainly appeal to some, its engaging properties definitely will not. I belong to the former, that would personally rate it high; but based on the latter, can only score it average.

The Prelude’s sound is built on its midrange, the foundation of the music; the core body of vocals and instruments. Its tone is warmer than neutral, and it’s smooth, and inviting. A full-bodied instrument presentation, with an everlasting smoothness in their articulation – the result of its 5 KHz dip. The warmth might tend to mask how well it performs, for the speed of its midrange notes is well above average. But it isn’t just warm, as there’s a touch of light in its instrument notes. They aren’t sparkly, but it’s an essential touch nevertheless, required for the beauty in their tone. And of course, an accurate timbre. Even so, the upper mid dip can occasionally make some instruments sound warmer; the Maestro V2 is closer to neutral for instance, and will sound clearer. But take an instrument like a saxophone, and there’s a teasing sensuality in the smoothness of its tone, and an effortlessness in its production. It’s a warmer than neutral presentation, but its timbre sets a high bar.

A similar story continues in its vocals, and unlike its bass, there’s less discrepancy here: the Prelude creates exceptionally full-bodied and emotional vocals. Deep, inherently warm, and exceedingly natural. The Prelude is tuned with a bump throughout its midrange, encompassing the full vocal range. And a generous lower midrange, mind you. When listening to a vocalist like Bocelli or Elvis, you can sense the pure power of someone singing at the top of their lungs; the vocal articulation comes from deep behind the throat, rather than just the mouth. Try it in the shower or when nobody’s home, to get a full grasp of what I mean. This too results from its 5 KHz dip, which adds that extra fullness to the vocals. For when it comes to vocal power, the Prelude doesn’t just do vocals right – it does them as one of the best. Even so, the dominant warmth in the tone can on occasion affect female vocals, resulting in a warm, rather than sweet reproduction.

The prowess of its vocals can be related to its transparency. Resolution and transparency can, among others, be related to an iem’s top-end extension, which plays an important role in creating the airiness of the stage; the cleanliness of the presentation. As the Prelude’s top-end extension is not impressive, there is a trace of warm air around its instruments. But performance is also related to the linearity of the tuning. For instance, while a lower treble peak will provide a cleaner sound, it only emphasizes the top end of the note; the rest of the body of the note lacks impact, and fades away. It’s the linearity throughout the Prelude’s midrange that allows it to shine. The Prelude presents the full body of the note, including its lower harmonics. And their definition is quite high, as is their immediacy; the feeling of presence with the music. However, it will not necessarily convey that feeling of cleanliness, commonly associated with a hi-fi sound.

The Prelude’s treble – this is where the magic happens. A highly articulate treble: well-defined, with a quick decay – it’s a treble than can keep up with the fastest notes. And most of all, that incredibly natural timbre. A complete package, combining both timbre and performance. This is a treble that invites you to listen to treble notes, rather than merely tolerate them. A snare drum presents itself as a rare delight, and I find myself looking for songs just to hear them. And importantly, infinitely smooth. Even when playing the highest pitched violin at louder volumes, you can sense it approaching a border; but always, remaining perfectly controlled.

Similar to iems as the Maestro V2 or UE18+, it’s a tuning resulting from dipping the lower treble region in order to benefit the general tone, as well the timbre of the treble itself. Even so, its warmer tone might come across as laidback, especially for listeners accustomed to brighter signatures. Accordingly, there might be an adjustment period. But once familiarized, it becomes apparent the treble, quite meticulously, was purposefully tuned this way. But those valuing sparkle as a touch of excitement, might never feel this way. Taking its speed, definition, and especially timbre into account, I rate this as the highest treble in the shootout; but it will be a polarizing treble, and not always a shared opinion.

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About Author

Nic is currently in pursuit of a PhD degree in social neuropsychology, while trying not to get too distracted by this hobby. In pursuit of theoretical knowledge by day, and audiophile excellence at night. Luckily for him, both activities are not mutually exclusive which helps to lighten the workload. Always on the go, Nic's enthusiasm for hi-fi is focused on all chains of the portable system: iems, cables and daps.

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