ToTL Madness! 24 Top-of-the-Line Custom In-Ear Monitors Reviewed Companies

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Main

Participating Companies
A big thanks go out to all the participating companies who got on board with this project. Sending out review samples of custom made products is not cheap. And subjecting your best design to a panel of jaded experts is certainly no sure thing—we might collectively hate the product. Despite that, the companies we contacted were surprisingly willing to participate. They varied in their participation ranging from a single pair for one person to a set for each of us, but all participants should be commended for wanting to be involved on some level. Here is a list of participating companies, in no particular order, with a short bit of background on each. Note that some of these highly competitive companies have history with each other—both good and bad. There are some claims of "first ever" that are difficult to verify, and the sequence of events will differ based on who you ask.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_UltimateEars

Ultimate Ears
Founded by Jerry Harvey in 1995, Ultimate Ears was one of the original players in the custom IEM market. Harvey was the monitor engineer for rock band Van Halen, and built his first custom IEM for drummer Alex Van Halen to protect his hearing while playing. The other band members ended up wanting sets of their own, and soon other bands did too; a successful business was born. Harvey left in 2007, and the company was purchased by Logitech in 2008. Despite initial concerns from HeadFiers over the new corporate ownership, UE managed to remain a top player in the game by releasing several well regarded new designs since then, of both the universal and custom variety—including the very unique Personal Reference Monitor which is tuned by the end users themselves. We'll discuss that model along with their other two flagships: the 6-driver UE18 Pro and the 3-driver In-Ear Reference Monitor.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Westone

Westone
Also considered founding fathers of the industry, Westone started way back in 1959 and at the time focused on hearing related healthcare products, which is still a a large portion of their business. Westone claims to be the first company to use balanced armatures for custom molded in-ear monitors back in 1990, working with bands such as Rush and Def Leppard. They later partnered with Jerry Harvey on the original Ultimate Ears products. They have also been pioneers in the universal IEM game, collaborating with Shure on their classic E1 and E5 models. Since the early 2000s Westone has been making universal and custom IEMs under their own brand, remaining innovators by releasing the first 3-way custom monitor (the ES3) and later the first 3-way universal (appropriately titled the Westone 3). Their latest custom flagship is the 5-driver ES5 which they generously sent to all 5 of our members. It has a single driver for lows, dual drivers for mids, and dual drivers for highs.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_JHAudio

JH Audio
As mentioned above, Jerry Harvey was an innovator in this industry. Westone and Sensaphonics arguably did it first, but Jerry (again, arguably) made it very popular. His namesake company continued where he left off at Ultimate Ears, refreshing several existing models and adding a new flagship—the JH13 Pro—which rocked the HeadFi world with its unbelievable-at-the-time 6 drivers per monitor arranged as dual lows, dual mids, and dual highs. Jerry later augmented the JH13 with a sort of co-flagship design called the JH16—a similar model but with 2 more bass drivers per side for a total of 8. Late last year Jerry refreshed both the JH13 and the JH16 with complete overhauls and thus the new FreqPhase versions were born. Jerry claims to have found a method whereby he improves the phase coherence of his designs to an unprecedented level. Our group all has JH13 FreqPhase editions, and many of us still have the original model for comparison. In addition, a few of us have the JH16 FreqPhase as well.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Sensaphonics

Sensaphonics
Sensaphonics was founded in 1985 by Audiologist Michael Santucci as a research and development company committed to hearing loss prevention, with a particular focus on helping musicians. They created one of the first custom fit balanced armature earphones in 1992, which was used by the Grateful Dead and their production company Ultra Sound. In 1996 they came up with one of the first dual driver designs made especially for Prince. By 1999 they made the switch from acrylic to silicone, based largely on feedback from artists like Dave Matthews Band. Sensaphonics continues to make unique products for performing musicians such as their 3D Active Ambient IEM system. For this article our focus is the 3MAX—a triple driver design with dual bass drivers and a single driver for highs. They claim this as their first product deviating from a strictly flat response due to the tastefully boosted low end. Sensaphonics graciously contributed four sets of the 3MAX for this article, as well as a single dB Check in ear level analyzer.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_UniqueMelody

Unique Melody
Based in China, Unique Melody became fairly popular in late 2009—largely because of their remolding service. Remolding (aka reshelling) means taking an existing armature based IEM—Shure SE530, Etymotic ER4S, etc—removing the guts, then placing them in a custom shell. The result is just like a "real" custom IEM except it uses the drivers and crossover from an existing product. This allows the user to get a feel for the sound signature prior to making a commitment. It also creates a used market for custom IEMs, since they can be remolded for a new user. Unique Melody still does reshelling but is now more well known for their original designs. This roundup will include several UM models: the 6-driver Miracle with the somewhat "standard" driver configuration of 2 each for lows/mids/highs, the hybrid Merlin which uses a dynamic driver for lows with quad armature drivers for mids and highs, and also the new Platform Pure 6 which is an active design (no crossover in the IEM itself) complete with dedicated portable DAC/amp box.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Heir

Heir Audio
Heir Audio is also based in China. They burst onto the scene just 2 years ago with their amazing hand crafted shell work, featuring a level of artistry never before seen in the custom IEM world. Customers can choose from exotic details like carbon fiber accents, or hand carved faceplates with inlay options, or gold flakes in the shells...the possibilities seem endless and Heir Audio keeps topping their own best work time after time. Other companies now offer some very nice options as well, but Heir should really get credit as the main catalyst in terms of the recent design explosion. Several of us have the flagship Heir 8.A model, with 8 drivers per side in a 4-way configuration. Also represented are the quad driver 4.A and the elusive 6.A Limited Edition.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_1964

1964 Ears
This Portland, Oregon based company, founded in 2010, has been steadily winning fans with their responsive service and reasonable prices. They are known for their triple and quad driver models and recently released their latest—the flagship V6 with (surprise!) 6 drivers per side. Pricing remains very strong, with the V6 being significantly more affordable than other 6 driver models. 1964 Ears is also one of the few companies to offer remolding service.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_ACS

ACS
Advanced Communication Solutions was formed in 1994 as a "hearing conservation" company. Like Westone and Sensaphonics, ACS saw an opportunity to provide quality sound while saving the hearing of live performers and other folks in the music scene - thus their move into the custom IEM market. They are among the minority of companies who work with soft silicone shells rather than acrylic. While maintaining a strong presence in the UK, ACS recently opened a New York office to better serve North American customers. ACS offers single, dual, and triple driver models. Represented here is actually the Altec Lansing A3 which is made by ACS and is identical to their T1 Classic model.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Lear

Lear
Lear is a fairly new Hong Kong based company that specializes custom IEMs, but has also marketed universal IEMs and portable headphone amps. They have a broad selection of custom designs with a refreshing model - choose your driver count (1, 2, or 3) and your tuning style (bassy, neutral, or bright), for a total of 9 possibilities all together. They also have a flagship 5-driver model, the LCM-5, which is represented here. It uses the same configuration as the Westone ES5 in terms of drivers and has a unique twist which will be discussed later.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_CosmicEars

Cosmic Ears
A relatively new startup from Sweden, Cosmic Ears had been serving their local market for a while as they slowly-but-surely prepared to go worldwide. The initial business model was to offer less color choices in exchange for rock bottom prices. More recently they've been exploring some fancy colors and faceplate designs, but pricing remains very competitive. They have shown a rather unique willingness to experiment with custom requests, though we might see that decrease as they get more busy with orders. Included here is the new BA4 quad driver design which is the current top of the line model - so new in fact that we got the very first set.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Aurisonics

Aurisonics
Based in Nashville Tenessee, Aurisonics is another new company offering a somewhat unique line of products. Their original model called the AS-1 is based on a full range dynamic driver which is not at all common for custom IEMs. They also make a universal version of that same product. The sequel, included in this roundup, is called the AS-2. It starts with a dynamic driver but adds a pair of armature drivers for a hybrid configuration. Aurisonics uses custom software to help model each individual CIEM for optimum driver placement and fit. They also have optional extras like ambient ports and adjustable bass tuning.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Frogbeats

Frogbeats
Frogbeats is based in Glasgow, Scotland. Originally just a neighborhood shop which sold headphones and related gear, Frogbeats later expanded to become an online presence and eventually branched out to offer their own custom designs. Represented here is their most neutral offering - the quad driver C4 which has already garnished considerable acclaim around various forums. It's the "typical" quad design - dual drivers for bass, and a single driver each for mids and highs.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_Hidition

Hidition
Korea-based Hidition has been a local supplier of custom-fit earphones for more than a decade but has only recently begun to gain exposure overseas. The company's lineup is notable for having not one but two six-driver flagships—the NT 6, which features a 4-way passive crossover, and the NT 6-PRO, which adds another crossover point and is one of only two 5-way setups in the world. The PRO model promises enhanced bass, so we went with the more balanced-sounding NT-6 for this shootout. Hidition also offers a massive number of customization options including some very unique mother of pearl faceplates.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_SpiralEar

Spiral Ear
Like Sensaphonics, Spiral Ear specializes in custom earphones made out of soft, medical-grade silicone in contrast to the more common hard acrylic shells. Generally speaking, the flexible silicone material can provide a more consistent seal and better noise isolation compared to acrylic, which certainly holds true for the Spiral Ear offerings. The company is located in Poland and currently ships their product only to the EU. Their flagship 5-way Reference model was billed as the world's first 5-way monitor but in this review we will be covering the 3-way Reference, a triple-driver silicone custom that should be an interesting competitor to the Sensaphonics 3MAX.

Company website.

ToTLMaddness_Logo_LimeEars

Lime Ears
Another Polish manufacturer of custom IEMs, Lime Ears has only been up and running for a few months but seems to be off to a very good start with their first earphones. In addition to their very simple lineup consisting of the dual-driver LE2 and the triple-driver LE3, Lime Ears is one of the only European manufacturers to offer a reshelling service. We are including the LE3 and its by-request-only bassy-heavy LE3B tuning in this comparison.

Company website.

Other General Information
The "standard package" as we see it includes the IEMs themselves, a cable, some type of storage case, and a cleaning tool. All custom IEMs should include that stuff as a baseline—though some of these have more comprehensive bundles that go beyond the basics. We'll mention those when appropriate but if nothing is said then assume it's at least a "standard" setup. Most of the cables are very similar with some small variation which, again, we'll discuss where applicable. Nearly all companies use the same 2-pin connection type meaning an aftermarket cable that fits JH Audio will also fit Unique Melody, 1964 Ears, Westone, etc.

Generally speaking the base price listed for each model is just that, a basic price for a simple one-color design. Sometimes you can have the company logo on the faceplate for free but that's about it. Start adding multiple colors, artwork, special faceplates, or other customization, and the cost can increase significantly. Obviously this customization adds nothing to the sound but it can provide more pride of ownership, making your already unique custom product even more individualized. With the exception of artwork, none of this stuff can be added later without a complete reshell, so decide right from the beginning if you might want some extras and budget accordingly.

All info is current at time of writing. But the custom IEM world is swiftly evolving - models get discontinued or redesigned, prices change, and flagships get displaced when a higher model comes along. This article is pretty darn accurate, but consider it merely a snapshot of where things stand today—it might be different tomorrow. Most of these companies are able to fill an order within three weeks or so, but some of them will occasionally stretch that time frame as long as two or three months for various reasons. If timing is an issue, it makes sense to look for some current feedback about lead times—information is usually readily available through forum chatter. Also keep in mind that international shipping costs time and money. We aren't suggesting in the least that you limit your choices, but simply reminding you to factor that in.

Right, on with the show!

COMMENTS
Deviltooth's picture

Thank-you very much for an article comparing interesting products the rest of us can't casually test.  CIEMs are the most difficult entity in the portable audio world; most of us with a strong interest have to rely on reviews and quality reviews are usually few and far between.

I'm now leaning towards one of JH Audio's offerings.  I primarily listen to electronic music, emphasis on vocal trance, but also use my cans for movies and other musical genres.

Is the consensus that the JH13 provies a lot of bass and the JH16 becomes unrealistic or unbalanced except for a bass head?  Does the additional bass smear the mids and highs (lost detail)?

 

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

Yours is a good question. While I think the JH13 provides the right amount of bass, I wouldn't say it's a lot.  The JH16 provides a lot of bass, but it doesn't quite smear the mids and highs, imo.  Instead, it simply overshadows them in some instances.  I don't think the JH16 is suitable only for a basshead because it is more balanced than that.  It is a noticeable tilt.  Not unrealistic, but accentuated.  I think the JH16 is a blast, but it gets fatiguing for me before the JH13.

 

Based on your post, (though I would be interested to know what other gear you'll be using with them) I think the safe bet is the JH13.  I don't think you will be dissatisfied with the amount of bass and you will ensure that your mids and highs get equal attention.  However, you also might consider contacting JHAudio about the decision.  They (and the other manufacturers) know these are not cheap and that it's a big financial commitment, so they want you to be happy.  My experience with JHAudio is that they'll be honest with you and try to get you the phone that will make you happiest.

Deviltooth's picture

At the moment I'm using CT-500 Elite customs (Clear Tune Monitors) out of a Fiio E17 dac/amp.  The reason I'm interested in other customs is not because the CT-500 are bad, quite the opposite, they're so damn good (and such a leap over any universal I've heard) that I'm wondering how much better (or different) it can get.

I'd love it if someone with the CT-500 could compare them to JH Audio's offerings.  I want a CIEM that can raise the bar even higher.

I'm also open to upgrading my dac and amp provided both remain portable.  It would be great if Inner Fidelity did a round up of the best options for CIEMs.

boosiecollins's picture

I am planning to upgrade from my W4s to my first pair of customs sometime next week, so this article was incredibly helpful! Great work.

I'm basically in the same boat as Deviltooth. I think I'm going to go with one of JH Audio's CIEMs, and before I read this, I was planning to go with the JH16s. I'm not a basshead by any means, but I do primarly listen to rock. I listen to a decent amount of classical too though. I mostly use IEMs when traveling, so usually I don't go through the hassel of lugging an amp around.

My questions now is, will I be able to get a decent bass responce from the JH13s for when I'm listening to bassier music, even if I use them unamped? Given that the JH13's were the consensus favorite, I will probably go with those unless an amp is necessary to reap the benefits these CIEMs provide.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

It became a cultural meme developed by the lovable curmmudgens over on Head-Case.org to when asked whether X headphone and Y amp would be a good portable rig to answer, "JH13 and an iPhone FTMFW!"

Multi-driver BA headphones have wild impedance swings, and their frequency responce can be compromised by driving them directly from the potentially higher output impedance from portable devices. But care need be taken when trying to make that upgrade as some portable amplifiers have somewhat unacceptably high output impedances, and the problem may not be completely erradicated.

Bottom line: I think you should try it without an amp initially to see how you fair. Once accuston to using the CIEM directly out of your device, see if you can borrow an amp from someone for a bit of play time to see if the added encumberace of an amp is worth the improvement for you.

ednaz's picture

I've spent much of my life as a three to five day a week traveller, with two to four flights a week, so an enormous amount of my music listening is through headphones or earphones.  While I've tried a lot of noise cancelling headsets, none of them ever seemed very good to me.  I stumbled onto Etymotic a long time ago and there's always a set of their earphones in my briefcase - I have several different models, sometimes I'm in the mood for one sound signature over another -  but I could never resolve the tension between a good seal and comfort. 

I got my first set of customs - Westone ES5 - a couple years ago, and I should have done it way long ago. The comfort is astonishing.  The noise seal isn't as good as Ety with the triple flange (which is what I wear when I need noise suppression) And the sound quality - I agree with all the reviewers.  In fact the single downside of the ES5 is that it's driven me away from compressed files to lossless, and to more elaborate and costly sources.

I also got custom ear molds for my Etys and besides being significantly more comfortable now - all silicone - the sound quality actually improved.  There are a number of types of music that I like better on the Etys, and they are very kind to compressed music.  I hope you'll include custom-fit Etys in your budget earphone review.

As to Aurisonics - I have a set of custom AS-2, and while I don't agree with the review that they're poor sounding, they aren't all rounders.  I find them wonderful with folk, and what I call "alternative folk" (Mumford and Sons, Lumineers, etc.) They're nice with combo jazz and Latin jazz.  I think they image very well with that type of music, and the heavier bass sounds good, and clean, in those situaitons, they sound small concert hall-ish.  However, I find that when music gets dense and complex, as symphonic music does, they get muddy and indistinct all across the range.  I find they also don't do any favors to rock or pop music, where the mix is already bass heavy they seem to get floppy and muddy bass.  I wish they were more all-rounders, but I'm quite happy with them for a range of music.

I tell all my fellow road warriors that they owe themselves a set of CIEMs.  Better sound than noise cancelling headphones, smaller and easier to carry, and comfortable enough to put on in New York and take off in Hong Kong.  Now I have an article I can point them to, to help them make their choices.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

I totally agree that Road Warriors should skip that dance with noise-cancelers and go right to custom IEMs.  It's one of those few things that, while expensive, really delivers and can make an actual difference between a nightmare of a flight and an acceptable experience.

Road Warrior treat thyself!

Jazz Casual's picture

I value listening impressions and these reviews are consistent enough to be regarded as useful. Nice work fellas.     

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Thanks mate.

Limp's picture

Good job, folks.

I'm a bit bummed to see that the ACS T1 didn't fare any better, but I still think it's at the top of my list. The IEM will by design be used in sub-optimal listening environments, hence I value comfort and sound isolation a great deal more than accurate sound reproduction.

BTW, Tyll. That midband inconsistency in the T1, did you try amending it with some EQ?

John Grandberg's picture

I don't have the ACS but I will say this: context is very important here. If I hadn't compared these directly, I wouldn't have as many negative things to say about some of them. It's like hearing an HD600 and thinking it's nicely detailed, until you later hear an HD800 which gives you a new perspective. Doesn't mean the HD600 is suddenly bad. 

Also I think you hit on something there - comfort and isolation are sometimes more important than pure SQ. Gotta choose according to your usage. 

paul's picture

I am not hard on things. I buy a quality product and it tends to last. I own several pairs of full sized headphones that are 20 years old. They still look and sound great.

Over the years I have purchased at least 15 pairs of in-ear monitors. None of my IEM's experience more than moderate use. Nonetheless, I have sent back for repair pairs of Ety 4's, UE 10's and Shure 500's.

In-Ear Monitors would have to become much more reliable before I would spend a thousand dollars to buy a pair.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

How many of the 15 pairs of IEMs were customs?  The reason I ask is that I also have owned a bunch of IEMs and notice a distinct difference in build quality between most universal fit IEMs and the custom IEMs I've owned.  All the customs I have owned have been pretty tough.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...but I've never had a problem damaging my CIEMs.  Replaceable cables make them a pretty bomb-proof purchase. I'd say the biggest risk is forgetting them on the plane, can't tell you how many times I've heard of that happening.

paul's picture

Sorry for any confusion. None of my IEM's were custom. 

I would add that Shure, in particular, was very nice. I returned my old 500's with a check for $85.00 (?) and they sent me a brand new pair of SE535's. The Ety's cost $175.00 to replace. The UE 10's have still to be sent in.

Never lost a pair of the good ones .... Yet!

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

When you say UE 10, do you mean the triple.fi 10 pro?  (The UE 10 was a custom model.)  I had build issues with each of the tf10p I've purchased. 

The custom models we are talking about here are generally much tougher than universals.  I have heard of instances of the acrylic cracking and crossovers getting dislodged, but, at least anectdotally, the failure rate seems to be far less.  If others have different experiences with their CIEMs, please share as this would be good info to have.

paul's picture

They are the triple.fi 10 pro. I did the "test" as outlined on the UE website and I believe the problem is the cord.

They are still in my draw waiting to be sent for repair. The reason for the delay, they are the least comfortable of all my IEM's.

Can't Win!

br777's picture

First of all AWESOME reviews.   Great idea, great execution.  Just awesome.

I've owned UM miracles, I currently own westone es5's and as another reference point I also owned lcd2 rev 2's for a long time.

Just want to point out that one should never underestimate the power of the equalizer.

My es-5's are currently the only headphones i own.  I got rid of everything else.  Why? because they respond amazingly to eq.  I am extremely picky about how my headphones sound, and have chased neutral for years through various sets.  I found that the es-5's did not sound so great out of the box (relatively speaking of course), to me the mid bass bloated out the mids and highs. but now that I have found eq settings I like I am AMAZED at how good they sound.  At one point I had them sounding very similar to my lcd-2's.  so much so that i sold the lcd-2's cause i wasnt using them anymore.

on the other hand the UM miracles just would not shape up now matter how I eq'd them.

for me its as simple as rockboxed clip zip and a pair of es-5's and i can dial in pretty much any sound I like.  No amp required.  No high end dap necessary.  This is something to consider especially when buying customs.  The stock sound is not the end of the line.  Even if you dont want to use an amp.

coreying's picture

I had owned the UE10 Pro's since Jan 2006, but I upgraded to the JH16 Pro about 2 months ago.What a HUGE difference.

I mostly listen to Progressive Rock and Metal, but also listen to everything from classical to jazz to whatever. I would not at all consider myself a "bass head", actually, I dislike over-emphasised bass.

To me, the JH16 Pro is somewhat like the Sennheiser HD650, in that the HD650 has "emphasised bass" compared to the HD600.

Last month I swapped the stock JH16 cable to the Moon Audio Silver Dragon v1 IEM cable: http://www.moon-audio.com/audio-cables/moon-audio-headphone-cables/moon-...

It has very impressively opened up the sound of the JH16 to me. No longer does the bass seem emphasised because the mid and high is more open.

I guess that adding custom cabling to this review would've made the scope even more wildly large. However, I'd love to hear some of the reviewers thoughts on the JH16 after the addition of the Moon Audio Silver Dragon v1 IEM cable.

elfary's picture

In my (short) experience sources with less than 2 ohms output impedance drive fine most balanced armature iems.

In between  2 and 5 ohms of output impedance the impedance swings of the iem can be trickier and audible.

Doing the math with some of my idevices and iems that's the fr deviation from 0-10000Hz:

iP4S + SE420 = 0'46

iP4S + UM3x = 0'52

iP4S + SE535 = 1'05

 

iP5 + SE420 = 0'69

iP5 + UM3x = 0'91

iP5 + SE535 = 1'77

 

Classic + SE420 = 1'15

Classic + UM3x = 1'34

Classic + SE535 = 2'49

 

iT5 + SE420 = 0'18

iT5 + UM3x = 0'22

iT5 + SE535 = 0'46

 

iPhone 4S Output Impedance is 1'8

iPhone 5 Output Impedance is 3'3

iPod Classic Output Impedance is 5

iPod Touch 5 Output Impedance is 0'75

 

As for smartphones go i think that an iPhone 4S is the best option for balanced armature iems (Along with iPhone 4 which has less than 1 ohm). iPhone 5 was  above 2 ohms and i got rid of it because of that.

HeadphoneAddict's picture

Strangely, I posted the above subject and my custom IEM impressions here at 2:32AM on 5/5/13 and the post is gone, but it was comment #487495.  Anyway, I saved a copy and I'm reposting it below now:

 

I also own numerous custom IEM, starting out with Livewires T1 dual driver customs in 2007 that sounded similar to a Grado RS-1 and beat out all my universal IEM except the Westone 3 and Westone 4 that came out later.  I added the Freqshow 3-driver (bass bleed into mids) and Alien Ears 3-driver (piercing painful treble), which I did not like at all.  I even converted my Shure SE-530 into customs, which made them slightly sibilant but similar to the Livewires.

 

Then I got the ES3X in early 2009 and I was just blown away.  They were simply stunning in their transparency and clarity vs any of my other IEM.  At the time I couldn't name a single dynamic headphone that could match the ES3X performance.  I took them with me to CanJam 2009, where I listened to demo of the new JH Audio JH13 Pro and demo of the UE 11 Pro.  I was impressed enough with the demos that I acquired a set of each, and did a large "Flagship Custom IEM Review" at Head-Fi forums. 

 

The JH13Pro won out slightly over the ES3X in that review, where I thought the JH Audio reminded me more of a Stax SR-007 and the ES3X were closer to the signature and performance of the Sennheiser HD800.  The UE11Pro were a bit more picky about how they were amplified, and many times they would have their huge bass quantity bleed over into the mids if the amp had a high output impedance.  Often they would simply overwhelm you with the mid-bass quantity unless it was classic rock recorded back in the 70's (Pink Floyd, Led Zepelin, AC/DC, etc).

 

My only complaint with the JH13Pro was that there was a deep-bass hump that could sometimes sound like it was disconnected from the rest of the IEM sound, like I had a subwoofer in the corner that was not only turned up slightly too loud but also didn't reach up high enough to meet my mid-bass drivers in my main speakers.

 

Then I got the ES5 in the summer of 2010 and they took the top spot in my stable, with a smoother more laid back treble than the ES3X, and a richer warmer and more vivid midrange than my JH13Pro.  Bass Impact in the mid bass was excellent, and the bass seemed to be more coherent than with my jh13Pro, although it didn't seem to go as deep.  I still felt the JH13Pro were incredibly close as my second choice, but their mids were simply not quite as vivid and rich as the Westone's mids.

 

In late 2012 I picked up the JH16Pro FreqPhase, after being impressed with the new FreqPhase demos of both the JH13 and JH16 at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.  These gave me the best of both worlds between the ES5 and the JH13Pro, with a little special sauce added.  The JH16Pro FreqPhase had the incredible bass impact and speed of the ES5, along with the warm rich mids of the ES5, combined with the extended silky smooth and sparkly treble of the JH13Pro, as well as the transparency and larger soundstage size of the JH13Pro.  The JH16Pro basically sounded more holographic and life-like than any IEM before them, even though that was only slightly ahead of my ES5 in performance.  

 

I don't have a JH13Pro FreqPhase to compare to my original JH13Pro, and with as happy as I am with the JH16Pro I have been hesitant to invest in a third set of JH13’s.  Yes, I have two pair of the original JH13Pro already, one for home and one for portable so I,d have a spare if one was lost.

 

Summary - In terms of sheer enjoyment, I could be happy with either the ES5 or the JH16Pro FreqPhase as my one and only daily use custom IEM.  These IEM could be my one and only headphones if I had to sell everything else to pay the bills.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Soory about the delete Larry, twas a glitch on our part. Thanks for your impressions!

n_maher's picture

Job well done, gents.  Thank you for putting in what had to be a heroic # of hours to review so many CIEMs and coordinate the entire article.  Simply amazing.

mward's picture

What a great resource for consumers. The lack of comparative reviews out there, the prohibitive price, and the difficulty of getting test headphones has made this such a hard category to shop in. Great, great work. Thanks to you guys and the manufacturers.

I was pretty much ready to pull the trigger in some JH13s, but I was still glad to get to read this first.

One question—Tyll's descriptions make the ES5 sound somewhat analogous to the Senn HD600/650. Is that an accurate comparison? Would there be an analogous comparison for the JH13?

DragonOwen85's picture

Will probably get my UM Merlin today, they will be my first customs (now I'm using Westone 4 in my portable rig, source is iBasso DX100)... after reading your review I now more prepared to the sound that I will hear from Merlin and I think that won't be the sound that fully satisfy my needs (using WooAudio WES and SR-009 combo at home, so my demands in terms of sound is quite high...)... but your article maked me think that Merlin/Miracle pair may be just what I need, so already planning to order Miracle if Merlin will fit my ears perfectly (then I won't need to do ear impressions and sending them to China (which is one of the main reasons why I didn't try ordering customs a long time ago...), because, as I understand, UM makes 3D-scans of ear impressions and storing them in their computer database)... So again thanks a lot for a great article, I now almost certain that will be ordering Miracles!

P.S. Also thanks for PP6 review, I was thinking of buying them instead of Miracles, but a lot of minor issues that you mentioned really helped me to make decision that I'm not ready to buy PP6 as they are now (considering the price of cource)...

John Grandberg's picture

Merlin is still a very enjoyable custom - don't get me wrong. I know several owners who remain thrilled by its performance and have no desire to add another to their collection. Then again, the Merlin/Miracle combo covers all the bases.... There are a few headfiers using that combo to very satisfying effect.

The PP6 just oozes with potential. If they can fix those little annoyances, it will indeed make for a compelling choice. Especially for the user who values portability. 

topher's picture

Would of liked to see some veteran impressions of the Frogbeats c5, mainly because im a custom virgin and one of the few people who own one, also its based on the ES5 configuration with a big Sonion bass driver (the biggest one they do in terms of SPL I believe). Must hide my wallet.

average_joe's picture

The custom IEM industry is growing at a very rapid rate, and this is a great summary review of a large assortment of manufacturers.  The more info people have before making a decision, the better decision they will be able to make!  If anyone is interested, I have reviewed some of the included CIEMs and others in detail here.

 

aj

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I was in a bit of a time bind getting ready for my trip to Munich so I never got around to doing a resource section at the end of the article, but your thread was on my mental list of worthy information.  Thanks for posting a link...highly recommended.

average_joe's picture

No problem, I understand time constraints, lol.  I am looking forward to future articles and updates on here, always a great read and worth my time!

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