European brands have always been different from the Chinese makers. They have a different tuning inspiration and follow a different approach to sound. Soundz Custom doesn’t veer away from this. Hailing from Greece this brand has a full arrey of BA based IEMs. They cater to the demanding, accuracy liking audiophiles from a mid range starting with the Muse priced at €490 to lower high end with the Avant at €1299. They focus on accuracy and precision and the IEMs are meant for stage and studio use.
What I have with me is the sub-ordinate to the Avant, Flame. Flame is priced at €1099 for the universal version and €1199 for the custom while housing 8BA drivers per side. We get a switch on the back that changes the presentation and can deliver two different moods when needed. I have here with me is the universal version comes in black colour only and the set of accessories are decent. I will put it through the Custom Art Fibae 5 and Hoerluchs HL4410.
Get one from here:
UNBOXING AND ACCESSORIES:
I like this box, it’s small and doesn’t have much negative space. We have the earpieces upfront, stuffed in foam while the cable is placed inside the metal carry case. We get a few tips, both foam and rubber and a guitar pick inside a paper box under the case. This concludes the list of usable accessories.
Just like most of the European brands we do not get to see much information about the cable. It’s just a cable that they have to provide and that’s it yet it’s a decent looking cable with good ergonomics and aesthetics. I definitely would have liked a 4.4mm balanced termination but that’s okay I guess.
BUILD QUALITY AND ERGONOMICS:
We get resin shells on these IEMs and Flame is no exception. It is lightweight and has decent build quality of its price. We get ergonomically comfortable semi-custom design and glossy finish on the body which doesn’t help with traction or grip but the fin on the inner shell provides very good fit and stability. This IEM not only feels sturdy in the hand, its aptly sturdy inside the ear too. It will not survive a drop on hard surface in most cases so be careful. The nozzle isn’t deep but doesn’t feel shallow either. Isolation is decent but if you want better isolation, get the custom version.
PAIRING WITH SOURCES:
It’s better if you pair this highly sensitive IEM with a clean and neutral source to extract the best out of it. It doesn’t have very demanding impedance. At 16.6 ohm it’s very manageable but BA drivers do feel stressed if driven out of a weak or not so clean source. I tried it with a handful of mobile phones and they lack resolution and definition. Treble get muffled and veiled. It sounds like a $500 IEM when not driven properly.
Switch to Shanling UA5 or Questyle M15 and we are in excellent hands. Its better if your source has a bigger stage and more power. I don’t feel it needs loads of power so a dap or good quality dongle is good enough for Soundz Flame.
I like BA based IEMs and this has 8 of them!! They have a lot of details and have some of the most accurate and precise presentation and the Flame is no exception. It has a lot of details and clarity with a slightly mid forward signature. We get good bass response for a BA based IEM while everything else is accurate and detailed akin to BA based IEMs. Tonality can feel a bit on the crisp and brighter side while the timber is neutral to organic side. There is no artificial feel to it thankfully.
SWITCH: This is an okay setup. I was using the Oriveti OH700VB a while ago and this IEM doesn’t have something similar to it. The differences are less apparent and it takes a while to get hold of them.
When the switch is facing up (when inside the ear) we get more bass, more rumbles, a bigger impact area, more air movement, calmer notes, slightly smoother presentation and slightly relaxed upper treble. Vocals are slightly fuller with a bit more throatiness and texture. It eliminates the slightly extra finishing energy. This does lack with the atmospheric feel. Sonics are slightly less engaging as the transient effects aren’t as grand.
When this switch faces down, we get a slightly bigger stage feel with more air between instruments, a bit more definition and energy. It sounds clean and more transparent. It lifts the treble transparency and overall energy without being sharp. Bass body gets smaller, it’s just smaller, not tighter, I don’t know why.
I am using stock cable and tips for this review.
It’s been a while since BA based IEMs have cracked the barrier of lack of bass rumble and extension and Soundz Flame exhibits this with a very good BA response that is decently tight and fast with good details and clarity.
Flame with its dual dedicated BA driver doesn’t really try to ace the bass like a DD but has good sub-bass extension and unlike accuracy minded IEMs, this lower end isn’t tuned for tighter notes or flat tuning. It has a musical and engaging presentation with a fuller mid bass which retains as much essence as possible of the lower end notes without giving up precision and accuracy. The mid bass is big with the impact area and has a healthy punch and respectable air movement but I find it to be lacking the weight and body behind the notes. It kind of feels a bit hollow. Notes hit, they have the layers and definition, texture isn’t missing either but the punch is soft and cushy. Notes are center focused while the edges are softer. There isn’t any loss of details but if you wanted serious accuracy and precision this will feel slower as the notes have a more precipitated feel because it’s more musically paced decay. I do find the dynamics to be a bit compromised as it is unable to hit the harder, upper bass notes cleanly. Upper bass does carry good details though.
The transition from upper bass to lower mids is exceptionally good, it’s better than what the more expensive IEMs like Mest mk2 has to offer. It has right amount of energy to keep things exceptionally balanced. It does have a slightly mid forward W shaped signature but doesn’t have any elevation or lack of energy with the instruments around the vocals.
I have worked on a lot of BA based IEMs and I find them on both the sides of the spectrum. They can be veiled, smooth and dark like the Shozy Pentacle and Andromeda 2020 and they can be super detailed, clean and sharp like the HL4410, Dunu SA6 and Shozy Elsa. Flame belongs to the cleaner and detailed group. It barely has a foot wrong when it comes to PRAT. We get very good precision with good rhythm, the decay and reverbs are very good too. Both vocals and instruments have the desired amount of texture and body giving them a more natural and required amount of throaty feeling. Keep in mind that it’s a more musical and fun minded IEM than an analytical type but precision and accuracy are not ignored. We get very good contrast and crispiness across the spectrum. While the Andromeda 2020 was mushy and veiled, Flame has much better clarity and definition. Instruments have more complete and well defined peaks which are detailed but are not high on aggression and do not have any jitter. There is no extra energy to be wary of at the upper mids either. With all these things, there is decent amount of space and air between instruments, the separation could have been a bit cleaner though. It’s much cleaner than 3rd gen Andro but the HL4410 and even the Shozy Elsa have cleaner floor with tighter point of origins.
Flame has the energy, it’s agile and sparkly but doesn’t want to attack. It has very good energy and definition which keeps me seated without disrupting the comfort quotient. We get plenty of details and the clarity and transparency are very good. It’s very good and not excellent because flame takes a safer path. It doesn’t put out very tight and precise sides of the notes, it handles the sharp and edgy notes with good composure while being smooth with the bassy side and a bit bitier with the atmospheric side. This can be seen as a boon or curse. Those who do not want the piercing type feel of some high energy notes will be thankful while the brave ones will say this is a lacking the extra bit of precision and cleanliness.
Basically, Flame has a limit to the amount of energy a note is allowed carry in bassy mode, it simply does not serve any hot notes. It just simply is filtered, the dirt is cleaned and the peak is neutralized. Worry not, no notes are harmed in this exercise. While the other side has energy and height, it’s slightly jittery. As usual, not a single note is missed, the details in between the notes are clearly audible. Treble extension is very good too, without any compression or lack of energy. Layering and separation is very good too. Its cleaner and slightly fuller notes have their own charm but they do not have the wowing contrast we see with the Fibae 5.
STAGE AND IMAGING:
Again, two sides, the Bass off or atmospheric one is taller and more expanded with taller treble notes and well expanded horizons. It barely has any congestion to it, there is very good amount of air between instruments. No part of the spectrum takes the majority share. This stage has very good height, X-axis depth and Z-axis is well developed too. It doesn’t have a very surrounding kind of feel of the more expansive flagships like VE7 or Kublai Khan but has more 3D stage when compared to DUNU SA6. Imaging too is very accurate. Most of the notes originate from the same plane and are projected all around the head showing its sonical capabilities. Majority of upper mid and treble notes find their presence out of the head. All the notes are placed precisely which is helped by very goodsonics.
PAIRING WITH CABLE:
I usually don’t try to pair these high quality BA based IEMs with cables because they do not like to respond a lot of these but I was desperate. I want the bass to go somewhere, it should either get tighter of fuller meatier and I felt thanks to its native nature of being slightly slow, pairing it with a warmer, fuller sound cable will be a much better option and here we are. The Code 24C is the latest cable from Effect Audio and this cable not only looks superb, it sounds very good too. This pairing is neither warm nor blunt. We get required amount of poise across the spectum. Code 24C gives the flame an even and uniform note’s presentation with improved dynamics.
This cable lets in more air and weight behind bass notes. We get much better rumbles and layered hits from the mid bass notes. Vocals sound fuller, meatier and cohesive. The contrast of back and foreground instruments is improves drastically. The best thing is, it doesn’t blunt out the treble sparkle while keeping the extra agitated energy down. We get improved overall sonics and air between instruments and better layering too.
Overall, this is a very good pairing.
VS Fibae 5:
Fibae 5is was the IEM of 2023 for me. It is exceptionally good and its details and clarity is top notch.
It has better bass body and weight behind notes. Has more texture and sub-bass extension. Mids are a bit less forward with less taller notes yet we do get similar details and texture. No jarred feeling. flame has a bit of upper hand here. Treble is flat out exceptional on the Fibae 5. Its consistency and extension are better. Stage is a bit wider on the Fibae 5 while the Flame is a bit more rounded and smaller.
For me, Fibae 5 has the upper hand, change the cable to something like Effect Code 24 and unlock its full potential.
I will start by repeating myself, European brands have a different feel about them. They have a different charm and tuning principal. Their level of details while keeping everything sane and coherent is note worthy, even when they aren’t warm or smooth. Soundz Flame is no exception. It has all the ingredients to make a cohesive sounding IEM that doesn’t compromises with details or clarity. But I think there is a small problem here. We still see a lot of these brands operating with BA only IEMs, mostly because they have worked out this craft and don’t want to fiddle with it.
I am not asking Soundz to do a lot but guess what.. They have tried hard to deliver a DD like bass with Two (four if you consider the 4 low-mid drivers) of the BA drivers and it’s neither tight nor full bodied. The bass isn’t very well defined or textured either and doesn’t aim for accuracy or precision. It’s on the loose side with a small area of impact and I think we know which driver would have delivered the extra oomph and punch without being slower or loose. So.. Put a good DD in it if you can, it will be easier and maybe less expensive than the Flame while delivering more quality and quantitatively better bass. This is only part where I want Soundz to improve because Flame is excellent otherwise. They have excellent details across the spectrum with an engaging and cohesive presentation. I am impressed with that. They could have gone for the analytical route with the BA but they have opted for a more appealing tuning which is nice, making the Flame a high quality IEM with a small niggle.