IEM Preference List

Scoring Rational

I score on a subjective scale from 1 to 10 with the latter being the best sound I’ve ever heard. I am taking into account tonality, technicalities, and mainly, my subjective preferences. Please see the following for reference:

  • 3/10 = Average
  • 5/10 = Good
  • 7/10 = Excellent

This is a metric devoid of any other factors including price. Of course, it stands that there are inherent biases from knowing the price alone, but one of my main issues with any grading scale that factors in price is that it subsequently fails to take into account time. So something that is good at one point in time will eventually fall behind the curve thus becoming obsolete. Unless a reviewer is constantly updating said score, it’s not a very useful measure. The only event in which my scale “breaks” is if there’s something that wholly blows past what I’ve heard before or is absurdly bad. 

Testing Methodology

  • Most of my critical listening for reviews is done over a period of 10+ hours. I rarely – if ever – hear audible differences after my first couple hours with an IEM. If I really like an IEM, or it’s mine to keep, then I’ll often throw on upwards of 50+ hours.
  • All listening is done using the stock cable and stock ear tips (if provided). If not, I default to silicon tips. 
  • All listening is done off of an iBasso DX160, and unless specified otherwise, all tracks used are lossless FLAC or higher.
  • I rarely listen louder than 75dB, so take that for what you will if you’re a head-banger.

Disclaimers

  • What I hear is not what you hear. There’s a myriad factors that can influence how one hears an IEM.
  • If you don’t hear the flaws that I hear, well, that can only be for the better! I don’t necessarily encourage seeking out said flaws or trying to find an issue with something you’re happy with.
  • Take it with a grain of salt. I have high standards, and I rarely shy away from critiquing stuff. Why should you let me – or anybody else, for that matter – detract from what makes you happy?

Change-log [11/27/20]

MMR Thummim – 2/10, MMR Homunculus – 1/10, Fearless Audio S8z – 6/10, Fearless Audio Tequila – 1.5/10, Noble Audio Sultan – 3/10, Vision Ears Erlkonig – 7/10, Moondrop Starfield/KXXX – 5/10, KZ ZS10 Pro – 2.5/10, DUNU SA3 – 1.5/10, Shure SE215 – 2/10

ScoreIEMDriver SetupMSRPBased OnSignatureNotes
9 64 Audio U12t12BA$2000Personal unitU-shapeSlick, resolving sound signature. Excellent
macro-dynamics and the gold
standard for BA bass.
9Sony IER-Z1R1BA/2DD$1700TSAV demo unitMild V-shapeStunning coherence for a hybrid,
and an excellent bass response that plays
best with female vocals.
8.5Empire Ears Odin2DD/5BA/4EST$3400Headphones.com
loaner unit
Neutral-BrightTop-notch detail retrieval and positional cues
with an upper-midrange emphasis that will be
fatiguing for some.
864 Audio Trio1DD/2BA$2300Headphones.com
loaner unit
NeutralRich, controlled bass and holographic
imaging. Held back by a noticeable disjointness.
8qdc Anole VX10BA$2300Loaner unitNeutralTop-tier resolving capability. Held by lack
of engagement factor and imaging quirks.
7.5Campfire Andromeda
2020
5BA$1100Headphones.com
loaner unit
U-shapeOut-of-head imaging, spacious headstage,
and a safe, laidback tuning. Bottlenecked in
dynamics (macro-dynamics and bass slam).
7.5Sony IER-M95BA$1000Loaner unitNeutral-warmGood timbre, coherency, and bass
response for BA. Warm, hard to fault
all-rounder. A better VE8 at half the cost.
764 Audio Nio 1DD/8BA $1700Personal unitL-shape (M15)Spot-on decay and timbral coloration at the
expense of mid-bass bloat and loss of
resolution.
7Audeze LCDi4
(w/ Cipher)
Planar Magnetic$2500Headphones.com
loaner unit
Neutral Top-tier technicalities, particularly in imaging
and speed, held back by a slight upper
midrange suckout.
7Vision Ears
Erlkonig
13BA$4500Head-Fi tour
unit
Neutral
reference
Settings 3 and 4 recommended.
Excellent detail retrieval but
microdynamics are dubious
in the midrange.
7Vision Ears VE88BA $2700Head-Fi tour unitNeutral-warmAll-rounder that leaves something
to be desired in the excessively warm timbre
and rolled-off treble.
6.5Moondrop Blessing 24BA/1DD$320Personal unitHarmanExcellent tonal balance, solid technical
chops, and punches well beyond its price point.
6Empire Ears Valkyrie 1BA/1DD/1EST$1600Head-Fi tour unitExtreme V-shapeGobs of bass, a paper-thin midrange, and
yet the technical chops to keep
everything together.
6Fearless Audio S8 Pro8BA$490Personal unitV-shapeAggressive with good speed and
technical chops. Perhaps a bit too
fatiguing in the treble.
6Fearless Audio
S8z
8BA$589Linsoul
review unit
NeutralSolid all-rounder that doesn’t
merit the extra $100 over S8P.
6Jomo Audio Trinity
Brass
1DD/4BA/2EST$2800Loaner unitWarm V-shapeExtremely warm, inoffensive tuning that
neuters technical performance. Strong
bass emphasis that lacks control.
5.5Campfire Audio
Solaris 2020
1DD/4BA$1500Headphones.com
loaner unit
V-shape Fun set that lacks coherency – textureless bass,
gritty midrange, and sparkly treble – and
borders on bloat due to excessive timbral
coloration.
5.5Etymotic ER2XR1DD$170Loaner unit Etymotic
Diffuse Field
Excellent tonal balance and coherence
for the price that lags slightly in tech.
A terrific value proposition SQ-wise.
5.5Thieaudio Legacy 99BA$550Loaner unitV-shapeFun set that lacks the technical
proficiency to play with the big boys.
5DUNU DK-20013BA/1DD$299Manufacturer
demo unit
V-shapeSurprisingly technical set held back by its
fatiguing tonality.
5DUNU DK-3001 Pro4BA/1DD$470Manufacturer
demo unit
NeutralHighly inoffensive set that plays it too safe
in the treble. Severely lacking in treble
extension and air.
5Empire Ears Hero1DD/3BA$1350Headphones.com
loaner unit
V-shapeA surprisingly dynamic IEM marred by
its excessively bright treble.
5Etymotic ER4XR1BA$310Loaner unitEtymotic
Diffuse Field
Resolving, but suffers intangibly: One-note
dynamic slam, BA timbre, and compressed
staging.
5Moondrop KXXS
(plus Starfield,
KXXX)
1DD$190Personal unitHarmanNot the most technical set, but great
tonality and cohesiveness that plays well
with most anything.
5Sony MH7551DD$10Personal unitHarman
w/ bass boost
Terrific tonal balance, bass quality, and
even technical performance that belies its
price point and janky build.
5 Vision Ears EVE6BA$1300Head-fi demo
unit
WarmExceedingly warm w/ treble roll-off which
begets lack of technical ability.
Dead boring.
4.5Campfire Audio Ara7BA$1300Headphones.com
demo unit
NeutralDownwards-compressed dynamics, fails to
be anything more than resolving.
4.5DUNU Luna1DD$1600Manufacturer
demo unit
BrightTechnically competent, but with major
midrange quirks and fatiguing treble peaks.
4.5Noble Kaiser Encore10BA$1800Headphones.com
demo unit
Bright The epitome of BA timbre and a treble peak
that goes too far.
4.5Etymotic ER3XR1BA$200Loaner unitEtymotic
Diffuse Field
A darker ER2XR with cutbacks in staging,
timbre, and dynamic slam.
4.5Moondrop Blessing 4BA/1DD$400Personal unitHarman Good technical chops but has an
overtly analytical tone that kills any life.
4.5Samsung Galaxy Buds1DD$130Loaner unit HarmanGreat bass response and a very
agreeable tonality.
4.5Tanchjim Hana1DD$160Loaner unitV-shapeTanchjim’s answer to the Starfield. Decent
technical performance hampered by an
overly forward upper-midrange.
4AirPods Pro1DD$250Personal unitDiffuse-FieldPoor dynamics and a hollow treble
response, but a solid tuning overall.
4BLON BL-031DD$40Loaner unitWarmBassy, warm, and well-tuned but
lacking in any notion of technical ability.
4Bose QuietComfort
Earbuds
1DD$279Personal unitWarm-neutralStrong sub-bass emphasis with unremarkable
midrange and rolled-off treble. Easy
listen that lacks technical ability.
4 Final Audio A80001DD$2000Headphones.com
loaner unit
ScreechyFar too peaky in the upper-midrange and
treble to be considered safe.
4 Samsung Galaxy
Buds+
2DD$150Loaner unitHarmanGreat bass response marred by an
unnaturally bright treble response and midrange.
3.5Thieaudio Legacy 3 2BA/1DD$120Loaner unitU-shapeFairly safe tuning that leaves something to be
desired in the treble and dark timbre.
3Moondrop SSR1DD$40Personal unitDiffuse-FieldOvertly pronounced mid-range and highs
with rather good imaging and resolution
as a result.
3Noble Audio
Sultan
1DD/4BA/2EST$2900AudioTiers
tour unit
WarmUninspired tuning that manages to
be fatiguing thanks to lower-mid
treble emphasis. Average
technicalities.
3Periodic Audio Be1DD$299Loaner unitL-shapeExcessively warm and bassy without the
technical ability to redeem itself.
3Tin Hifi T21DD$50Loaner unit Neutral“Dead-neutral” with emphasis on the former.
3Thieaudio Voyager 33BA$160Loaner unitV-shapeUnabashedly in-your-face set that’s severely
lacking in technical performance. One viable
setting, 01.
2.5KZ ZS10 Pro 1DD/4BA$50Loaner unitV-shapeNear-textureless bass and a
treble response that is nothing
short of fatiguing.
2Audeze LCDi4
(no Cipher)
Planar Magnetic$2500Headphones.com
loaner unit
Telephonic Top-tier technical performance that collapses
due to an extreme midrange suckout.
2Massdrop Noble X2BA$250Personal unit DarkDark, muddy mess with few redeeming
qualities sans being fatigue-free.
2MMR Thummim1DD/4BA/4EST$4500AudioTiers
tour unit
Dark n’
Bloated
Poor staging, layering, and subpar
transient speed, not to mention
horrible tonality.
2Shure SE2151DD$99Loaner unitV-shapedNon-existent technicalities,
a front-runner for the slowest IEM
there is.
1.5DUNU SA33BA$130Loaner unit??As difficult to describe as it is
hearing what went wrong here.
1.5Empire Ears Wraith 7BA/4EST$3500Head-Fi tour unitDarkSpectacular treble roll-off, muffled
midrange, and one-note bass. Truly lives
up to its namesake.
1.5Fearless Audio
Tequila
1DD/6BA$400Linsoul demo
unit
??As difficult to describe as it is
hearing what went wrong here.
1.5Jaybird Vista 1DD$180Personal unitV-shapeTuning is EQ-able but technical performance
is in the dirt. Good thing its earth-proof.
1MMR
Homunculus
1DD/2BA/2EST$1700AudioTiers
tour unit
Sucked-outDipped upper-midrange and
zero treble. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
1Periodic Audio Ti1DD$199Loaner unitSucked-outThe definition of a midrange suckout.