It's extremely hard to compare custom IEMs. Few users have more than one pair, so direct personal comparisons are rare. They can't be measured by InnerFidelity because they don't fit in the measurement head's ears. What to do?
Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead! In this review 5 InnerFidelity writers, blessed with the generosity of manufacturers willing to put their ToTL CIEMs through the ringer do a massive comparative review of 24 of the worlds best custom in-ear monitors.
Emotiva is always full of surprises. They first made their name with a series of high-performance/high-value power amps and home theater surround processors, and their Airmotiv 4 speaker knocked me for a loop last year. The little speaker set a new standard for affordable desktop speakers, and Airmotiv 4 became my go-to reference. Now they've done it again with the XDA-2. The beautifully finished, full-size (17 x 2.25 x 14 inch) $399 component boasts a generous assortment of inputs and outputs. Getting acquainted with the sound with my Hifiman HE-400 headphones was a treat for my ears.
AktiMate may not be a high profile maker of desktop speakers, but as soon as I heard a pair of their Micros at the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver I fell in love with their sound. That rarely happens at shows, I find it hard to get a fix on a hi-fi's sound in cramped hotel rooms, but the lipstick red Micros spoke to me, I had to get them in for review.
You know Bryston? The 35 year old company is based in Peterborough, Ontario, just northeast of Toronto, and they have over 150 dealers in North America. The BHA-1 may be their very first headphone amp, but it's a Class A, fully-balanced, fully-discrete design. Incredibly, Bryston may be the only major high-end audio company currently making a serious headphone amp, but I guess it's only a matter of time before Ayre, Mark Levinson, Rowland, Naim, Audio Research, Conrad-Johnson, Rouge Audio, VAC, etc. wake up and join the fray.
Though it was designed with home theater in mind Paradigm's publicists assured me the sound would click on a desktop. I was a little skeptical, but as soon as I had the system up and running the sound was right on the money, even when I was sitting a mere 30 inches away from the sats.
This is a really great little speaker, and truth be told I was smitten with the design even before I heard it. The LS50's swept-back, curved baffle, with a single rose gold Uni-Q KEF driver gives the speaker a fresh new look. The LS50 is KEF's 50th Anniversary Commemorative Model, and it's very much a twenty first century speaker.
The Logitech Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitors are truly bespoke audio, hand crafted just for you. They'll fit your ears only, the sound is your sound, with a tonal balance tweaked by you, for you. Accuracy isn't part of the PRMs raison d'etre, not in the slightest, it's pure audio self-indulgence. That level of customization doesn't come cheap, the PRM is $1,999!
Editors Note: Especially at this time when The Beatles music is beginning to be heard in public again, I find Steve Guttenberg's article on an important moment in John Lennon's personal audio experience touching and evocative. My ears will be listening to The Beatles music more richly as a result.
Sound quality is a big deal to me, and I've devoted a huge chunk of my life to the pursuit of great audio. My hi-fi costs as much as a nice car, but I'm no gear snob, and I love writing about great sounding budget gear. I've discovered a lot of new music over my Sirius Satellite Radio, music that would sound like crap over my hi-fi. That's why I play the tuner through my Tivoli PAL table radio. That little radio smoothes over the rough edges of Sirius' lousy, low bit rate sound. So even for a hard-core audiophile, lo-fi is sometimes the right fi. The best playback device isn't always the most accurate playback device, not by a long shot. What follows is a meditation on good sound, and why it's such a rare commodity.