The newcomer Warbler Audio enters the market with a unique single driver CIEM
The Prelude has a few incredible strengths. It is really good at portraying each note in a self-contained, rounded fashion. Think of a good hybrid amp- the lushness of tubes, with the precision of solid state. Like a quality tube amp the Prelude is also baby-bottom smooth, without any graininess. It is also good at avoiding unsightly peaks in the response. The combination of these last two traits means that the Prelude really enjoys being ridden by the seat of its pants. Crank the volume up to 100, and go paint the town red. It doesn’t get grating on the ears at these loud levels, and in fact it is when it is played at the loudest levels that the Prelude shines the most. Probably not a surprise, that the Prelude also easily passes the pop test, as in, ‘does it make heavily compressed, overly-loud pop music sound like shit’? Well, no. I really enjoyed pop music from these. Even more impressive, it may be one of the best IEMs I’ve ever heard straight out of my iPhone. It’s incredible how many otherwise splendid IEMs sound like nonsense from my iPhone. Kudos.
Male vocals and the lower mids are where the Prelude finds a spiritual home. For a long time I was confused about the Warbler, because female vocals sounded a bit off, and violin pieces actually sounded warm enough as to almost seem like a viola. But then I’d put on some cello, some male vocals, and damn if it didn’t sound incredible. After more testing, I now think that the Prelude has a gorgeous lower mids presentation, but the upper mids sometimes suffer from a lack of bite and incision. This is particularly obvious in string instruments- violin, guitar- but also female vocals. If hair-raising upper mids are what you live for, look elsewhere.
But in place of the sinewy, thin strands of detail, the Warbler presents gorgeous tonal colour. Like clouds in the sky that come together, break up, and move on, this IEM portrays ever-changing shifts of tone from note to note, and sometimes even between notes. Pay attention to the flavour of the note as it passes through your ears. You may lose some texture with the Prelude (I’ll get to an example with violins later), but in return you’ll get bitter, sour, salty and spicy all in one.
The treble quality is ethereal, but detailed and real. The separation in the music is really good, and I’ve happily encountered that ‘hmm, I’ve never heard that before’ sensation that we audiophiles covet when hearing familiar music. What is this hobby, if not the continued rediscovery of new facets to the music that we enjoy the most? Depth perception is also very good, and the overall balance of the IEM works well. Bear in mind though that this is a relaxed, musical presentation, which will surely have its lovers, but probably won’t suit everyone.
About the texture on violins: I definitely would have loved a bit more bite. I used to play the violin, and particularly prize the tension and friction that you should be able to feel as the bow is pulled against the string. I did not quite get that with the Prelude.
And then we get to the bass. Speaking to the fine folks at Warbler made it clear that they drew at least some inspiration from Spiral Ears. The SE5 Ultimate was sort of the poster child for size doesn’t matter, coming out tops in my first Fit for a Bat shootout despite being half the weight of many others. So it made sense why they’d cite it as an example. But Warbler also pointed to how the SE5U utilized many techniques that went beyond the obvious (like driver count) to get to its sound. For example, despite an overall bass-lite presentation, the SE5U had great quality nethers, with extremely seductive bass decay that I’d previously heard on no other BA IEM. The Prelude’s bass reminded me a lot of the SE5U. Beautiful quality, especially with the decay- in fact it may even have gone one better than the Spiral Ears in this regard. Detail and the timbre of the bass itself were also top notch, although if one considers the SE5U bass-lite (and I do), then the Warbler would probably qualify as downright aneroxic. Think hors d’oeuvres, not meat and potatoes.
In conclusion I rate the Prelude especially highly for its strong performance when driven loud, and for its remarkable performance from my iPhone. I also really loved the male vocals being exhibited here. These were truly top notch. I like to test male vocals with Eason Chan, who to my ears has an unremarkable voice, technically-speaking (he’s no Mariah Carey), but nonetheless has a great ability to convey emotion. That just happens to be exactly the type of thing- subtle tonal variation reaching past one’s mind into the depths of one’s heart- that the Prelude excels in.