LEAR LCM-Skyline (HK$1488)
Like the Orla, LEAR’s LCM-Skyline sports a single dynamic driver as the engine. Obviously, however, diaphragms can take on all kinds of shapes and sizes, with variances spanning from the driver’s make-up, to its size, to its damping, etc. These differences are loud and clear here. The LCM-Skyline has a more articulate, vibrant sig courtesy of its brighter high-mids. Instruments like horns are more in-your-face. And, snare drums similarly have a brighter thwack to them. The Orla is the smoother-sounding of the two with a greater balance between articulation and body, along with an even-handedness to instruments that comes across more effortless; less showy. The Skyline has excitement, while the Orla nails naturalness.
The LCM-Skyline’s emphasis on punchiness starts down low with a good share of sub-bass. This contrasts the Orla’s mid-bass focus, and it’s also why it doesn’t share the Orla’s sheer body and weight. The Skyline is also leaner along the lower-mids. Again, this means the Orla comes off weightier and beefier, and it also gives the Orla a more natural, realistic tonal profile; again, that balance between articulation and body. This is almost echoed up high, where the Skyline has brighter, sizzlier transients, while the Orla’s top-end decays quicker for a more measured, more feathered response. However, the latter’s stronger high-end extension also gives it a lead in stage expansion and imaging; more precise, defined and clean.
TP Audio Aurora ($350)
TP Audio’s Aurora is the Orla’s tonal match. It’s similarly neutral-natural with an unexaggerated treble. However, it differs from the Rhapsodio in-ear in delivery and timbre. The Aurora’s transients are softer and more rounded because of high-end rolloff. Instruments like cymbals will come across less sharp and defined, while you’ll get quite a bit more resolution and clarity from the Orla. This also affects the Aurora’s imaging, which is a hair wetter and more closed-in. Tying into the Aurora’s timbre, then, you’ll get a more intimate, more congealed signature. The Orla, by comparison, is more easygoing.
This is largely due to a difference that exists in the mids. Like the LCM-Skyline, the Aurora has a more forward-sounding, more immediate vocal range. Listening to Tommy Igoe’s Jazz Crimes, you’ll get more vibrance on the horns, as well as the electric guitars; brighter, more emotive and almost larger-than-life. The Orla’s rendition is calmer and more even-handed by comparison. It’s how I’d expect a studio monitor to deliver them. So, which midrange presentation you’ll prefer hinges on what sort of colouration you wish to hear. Finally, down low, the Orla’s brings a lot more physicality and solidity, even if its sub-bass remains relatively neutral. The Aurora’s BA, though admirably warm, certainly is more tonal than technical.
LXear Jupiter (€392)
LXear’s unique canalphone is perhaps the most like the Orla of this lot. Again, they share the same neutral-warm tonality. Then, in addition, the Jupiter also has a similarly tight, well-defined midrange. It is not as forward-sounding as the Skyline or the Aurora, which brings it a lot closer to the Orla in delivery. Where it departs most from the latter is up top. The Orla has a touch more sparkle from the high-mids and up, while the Jupiter slowly tapers off as it nears its upper octaves. As a result, it’s a touch smoother and more rounded than the Orla. But, its impressive high-end extension allows it to keep up decently well in its imaging. You’ll hear less stage width and stereo spread compared to the Orla, but not by a big margin.
Obviously, the second largest difference between the two lies in the lows. The Orla’s dynamic driver gives its bass a fatter presence in the mix, and greater depth and power to it as well. Although the Jupiter’s lows are impressive given the IEM’s form factor – adequately warm and full-sounding at all times – it doesn’t have quite the oomph the Orla has. Lastly, in the midrange, the Jupiter delivers with a bulbous, more rounded tonality because of the less present highs. There’s a greater sense of air to the Orla that aids in separation, while the Jupiter’s instruments are a hair bigger and wetter-sounding. The Orla is for those who want body and bite, while the Jupiter doubles down on its laid-backed-ness, but with definition too.
Audiofly AF140 MK2 ($299.99)
Like all the others on the list, Audiofly’s AF140 MK2 is an IEM with a fuller, warmer take on neutral. But, it sets itself apart from the rest as the one with the most treble response. Obviously, then, its fullness comes from a big, fat-sounding low-end, resulting in almost a v-shaped response. This immediately shows in its presentation; cleaner and crisper-sounding with incredibly-outlined instruments and a gorgeous reproduction of instruments like cymbals. Compared specifically to the Orla, this added high-end energy results in a more open, more spacious soundscape with greater depth and greater air, especially. It’s an in-ear that packs its full-bodied notes with crackle and attack; more so than any other in the line-up.
Now, where the AF140 MK2 concedes to the Orla is in the roundedness of its timbre; the foundation of instruments. The Orla has the fuller tone, especially for instruments like toms and male voices, because of its comparatively more present lower-mids. The AF140 MK2 is able to circumvent this admirably through the decay of its bass substituting for the lower-mids, but the Orla simply sounds more purpose-built to deliver those sweet, smooth tones perfect for genres like blues; Tommy Igoe’s Let The Good Times Roll. On the other hand, the AF140 MK2 is ideal on genres like pop, electronic and rock, where a bit of polish and speed is preferred over sheer fullness of tone. Its greater top-end presence, more textured and guttural bass, and higher dynamic range allow for a more exciting, toe-tapping listen. Both are superb in their own ways.
Rhapsodio’s Orla brings an impressively sophisticated signature to the entry level. In a price tier rife with warm-sounding monitors as a consequence of finite top-end reach, the Orla is one of few that achieves the sound with a clear, calculated intent, shown in the matured tonal balance and technique it brings to the table. Instruments are always equipped with a gorgeous sense of fullness; chesty, solid and with integrity. But, where the Orla sets itself apart is the cleanliness it’s able to achieve at the same time. Where you’d most typically find bloat or veil is a black background with great stereo spread, high definition and texture. The Orla is neutral-natural done right, and the perfect value option for smooth, hi-fi listening.