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.
- 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.
- 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?
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
|Score||IEM||Driver Setup||MSRP||Based On||Signature||Notes|
|9||64 Audio U12t||12BA||$2000||Personal unit||U-shape||Slick, resolving sound signature. Excellent|
macro-dynamics and the gold
standard for BA bass.
|9||Sony IER-Z1R||1BA/2DD||$1700||TSAV demo unit||Mild V-shape||Stunning coherence for a hybrid,|
and an excellent bass response that plays
best with female vocals.
|8.5||Empire Ears Odin||2DD/5BA/4EST||$3400||Headphones.com|
|Neutral-Bright||Top-notch detail retrieval and positional cues|
with an upper-midrange emphasis that will be
fatiguing for some.
|8||64 Audio Trio||1DD/2BA||$2300||Headphones.com|
|Neutral||Rich, controlled bass and holographic |
imaging. Held back by a noticeable disjointness.
|8||qdc Anole VX||10BA||$2300||Loaner unit||Neutral||Top-tier resolving capability. Held by lack |
of engagement factor and imaging quirks.
|7.5||Campfire Andromeda |
|U-shape||Out-of-head imaging, spacious headstage, |
and a safe, laidback tuning. Bottlenecked in
dynamics (macro-dynamics and bass slam).
|7.5||Sony IER-M9||5BA||$1000||Loaner unit||Neutral-warm||Good timbre, coherency, and bass|
response for BA. Warm, hard to fault
all-rounder. A better VE8 at half the cost.
|7||64 Audio Nio||1DD/8BA||$1700||Personal unit||L-shape (M15)||Spot-on decay and timbral coloration at the |
expense of mid-bass bloat and loss of
|Neutral||Top-tier technicalities, particularly in imaging|
and speed, held back by a slight upper
|Settings 3 and 4 recommended.|
Excellent detail retrieval but
microdynamics are dubious
in the midrange.
|7||Vision Ears VE8||8BA||$2700||Head-Fi tour unit||Neutral-warm||All-rounder that leaves something|
to be desired in the excessively warm timbre
and rolled-off treble.
|6.5||Moondrop Blessing 2||4BA/1DD||$320||Personal unit||Harman||Excellent tonal balance, solid technical |
chops, and punches well beyond its price point.
|6||Empire Ears Valkyrie||1BA/1DD/1EST||$1600||Head-Fi tour unit||Extreme V-shape||Gobs of bass, a paper-thin midrange, and |
yet the technical chops to keep
|6||Fearless Audio S8 Pro||8BA||$490||Personal unit||V-shape||Aggressive with good speed and |
technical chops. Perhaps a bit too
fatiguing in the treble.
|6||Fearless Audio |
|Neutral||Solid all-rounder that doesn’t |
merit the extra $100 over S8P.
|6||Jomo Audio Trinity|
|1DD/4BA/2EST||$2800||Loaner unit||Warm V-shape||Extremely warm, inoffensive tuning that |
neuters technical performance. Strong
bass emphasis that lacks control.
|5.5||Campfire Audio |
|V-shape||Fun set that lacks coherency – textureless bass,|
gritty midrange, and sparkly treble – and
borders on bloat due to excessive timbral
|5.5||Etymotic ER2XR||1DD||$170||Loaner unit||Etymotic |
|Excellent tonal balance and coherence|
for the price that lags slightly in tech.
A terrific value proposition SQ-wise.
|5.5||Thieaudio Legacy 9||9BA||$550||Loaner unit||V-shape||Fun set that lacks the technical |
proficiency to play with the big boys.
|5||DUNU DK-2001||3BA/1DD||$299||Manufacturer |
|V-shape||Surprisingly technical set held back by its |
|5||DUNU DK-3001 Pro||4BA/1DD||$470||Manufacturer|
|Neutral||Highly inoffensive set that plays it too safe|
in the treble. Severely lacking in treble
extension and air.
|5||Empire Ears Hero||1DD/3BA||$1350||Headphones.com|
|V-shape||A surprisingly dynamic IEM marred by |
its excessively bright treble.
|5||Etymotic ER4XR||1BA||$310||Loaner unit||Etymotic|
|Resolving, but suffers intangibly: One-note |
dynamic slam, BA timbre, and compressed
|1DD||$190||Personal unit||Harman||Not the most technical set, but great |
tonality and cohesiveness that plays well
with most anything.
|5||Sony MH755||1DD||$10||Personal unit||Harman|
w/ bass boost
|Terrific tonal balance, bass quality, and |
even technical performance that belies its
price point and janky build.
|5||Vision Ears EVE||6BA||$1300||Head-fi demo|
|Warm||Exceedingly warm w/ treble roll-off which|
begets lack of technical ability.
|4.5||Campfire Audio Ara||7BA||$1300||Headphones.com|
|Neutral||Downwards-compressed dynamics, fails to |
be anything more than resolving.
|Bright||Technically competent, but with major |
midrange quirks and fatiguing treble peaks.
|4.5||Noble Kaiser Encore||10BA||$1800||Headphones.com|
|Bright||The epitome of BA timbre and a treble peak|
that goes too far.
|4.5||Etymotic ER3XR||1BA||$200||Loaner unit||Etymotic |
|A darker ER2XR with cutbacks in staging, |
timbre, and dynamic slam.
|4.5||Moondrop Blessing||4BA/1DD||$400||Personal unit||Harman||Good technical chops but has an |
overtly analytical tone that kills any life.
|4.5||Samsung Galaxy Buds||1DD||$130||Loaner unit||Harman||Great bass response and a very |
|4.5||Tanchjim Hana||1DD||$160||Loaner unit||V-shape||Tanchjim’s answer to the Starfield. Decent |
technical performance hampered by an
overly forward upper-midrange.
|4||AirPods Pro||1DD||$250||Personal unit||Diffuse-Field||Poor dynamics and a hollow treble |
response, but a solid tuning overall.
|4||BLON BL-03||1DD||$40||Loaner unit||Warm||Bassy, warm, and well-tuned but |
lacking in any notion of technical ability.
|1DD||$279||Personal unit||Warm-neutral||Strong sub-bass emphasis with unremarkable|
midrange and rolled-off treble. Easy
listen that lacks technical ability.
|4||Final Audio A8000||1DD||$2000||Headphones.com|
|Screechy||Far too peaky in the upper-midrange and |
treble to be considered safe.
|4||Samsung Galaxy |
|2DD||$150||Loaner unit||Harman||Great bass response marred by an |
unnaturally bright treble response and midrange.
|3.5||Thieaudio Legacy 3||2BA/1DD||$120||Loaner unit||U-shape||Fairly safe tuning that leaves something to be |
desired in the treble and dark timbre.
|3||Moondrop SSR||1DD||$40||Personal unit||Diffuse-Field||Overtly pronounced mid-range and highs |
with rather good imaging and resolution
as a result.
|Warm||Uninspired tuning that manages to|
be fatiguing thanks to lower-mid
treble emphasis. Average
|3||Periodic Audio Be||1DD||$299||Loaner unit||L-shape||Excessively warm and bassy without the |
technical ability to redeem itself.
|3||Tin Hifi T2||1DD||$50||Loaner unit||Neutral||“Dead-neutral” with emphasis on the former.|
|3||Thieaudio Voyager 3||3BA||$160||Loaner unit||V-shape||Unabashedly in-your-face set that’s severely|
lacking in technical performance. One viable
|2.5||KZ ZS10 Pro||1DD/4BA||$50||Loaner unit||V-shape||Near-textureless bass and a|
treble response that is nothing
short of fatiguing.
|2||Audeze LCDi4 |
|Planar Magnetic||$2500||Headphones.com |
|Telephonic||Top-tier technical performance that collapses |
due to an extreme midrange suckout.
|2||Massdrop Noble X||2BA||$250||Personal unit||Dark||Dark, muddy mess with few redeeming|
qualities sans being fatigue-free.
|Poor staging, layering, and subpar|
transient speed, not to mention
|2||Shure SE215||1DD||$99||Loaner unit||V-shaped||Non-existent technicalities,|
a front-runner for the slowest IEM
|1.5||DUNU SA3||3BA||$130||Loaner unit||??||As difficult to describe as it is|
hearing what went wrong here.
|1.5||Empire Ears Wraith||7BA/4EST||$3500||Head-Fi tour unit||Dark||Spectacular treble roll-off, muffled |
midrange, and one-note bass. Truly lives
up to its namesake.
|1.5||Fearless Audio |
|??||As difficult to describe as it is|
hearing what went wrong here.
|1.5||Jaybird Vista||1DD||$180||Personal unit||V-shape||Tuning is EQ-able but technical performance|
is in the dirt. Good thing its earth-proof.
|Sucked-out||Dipped upper-midrange and |
zero treble. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
|1||Periodic Audio Ti||1DD||$199||Loaner unit||Sucked-out||The definition of a midrange suckout.|