Testing Methodology – IEMs

General Beliefs

  • do not believe in burn-in, at least not in the traditional sense. One of my main issues is that the phenomenon is unanimously positive. On a mechanical level, yes, drivers should “break-in” simply because they are a moving part, but one would expect the phenomenon to be applicable both ways if such is the case (think wear and tear). Thus, the extent of my belief in burn-in is one’s brain and ears getting used to the sound.
  • do not believe that cables significantly influence an IEM’s sound. I think that to a small extent they may audibly shift the sound signature, but that cable swapping to “make better” an already poor-sounding IEM is mostly an exercise in futility. 
  • I do believe that tips affect an IEM’s sound. Unequivocally. However, not to the extent of which they’d make or break an IEM.

Personal Preferences

There is not one, specific sound signature that I enjoy; however, there are certainly traits that I look out for.

  • I tend to prefer dynamic driver bass and timbre.
  • I’m fairly sensitive to BA timbre and timbral coloration, although I do enjoy timbral coloration in moderation.
  • I enjoy a midrange with slightly more body.

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 primarily taking into account tonality and technicalities. However, this is also a catch-all score so as to account for 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. 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. And 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 listening for reviews is done over a period of roughly ten 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 50-100 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.

Test Tracks

Music genres can influence one’s listening impressions, so they should always be a consideration when checking out a reviewer’s thoughts. Here are some of the tracks and artists that I frequently use when writing my reviews, as well as some of the stuff I specifically look for. 

[Aimer – Hakuchumu, Brave Shine] This is a female, J-pop vocalist with a husky, somewhat airy voice. It’s definitely unique amongst the sea of J-pop vocalists that tend to lean towards shrill/squeaky. Sometimes this will backfire on IEMs which thin the upper frequencies, thus making her voice sound hollow and muted. 

[Brooks and Dunn – Red Dirt Road] Treble often takes a backseat for me; there’s a plethora of those upper-frequencies sounds that I find myself glued to at 0:30 nonetheless.

[Eden’s Edge – Amen] Catchy, clean country track. This is another song that I default to listening when I first get an IEM just because it encompasses a lot of the things I tend to look out for. The lead vocalist has a smooth cadence and there’s no shortage of natural instruments. 

[Jason Aldean – Talk About Georgia] This is a track that I don’t particularly like, but is interesting because the drums and vocalist are pushed further than normal to the back of the stage. IEMs with poor control in the lower frequencies will often smear these drums or make them get lost altogether. Aldean himself has a distinctive voice that shines best with darker tracks and IEMs. 

[Keith Urban – Sweet Thing, Kiss a Girl] Country singer who’s voice skews towards the male upper frequencies. I’ve found his voice to take on a hollow-ish quality with some IEMs. Sweet Thing is mainly just ear candy for me, but Kiss a Girl has an opening guitar to the right of the stage that is very easy for me to hone in on. 

[Sabai – Million Days] Just your run-of-the-mill EDM track, but this is generally the song that I default to listening first. There is an opening drop at 0:25 that I use to measure sub bass extension and decay. The vocalist, Claire Ridgely, has a smoothed, rich timbre. 

[Sawano Hiroyuki – Remember, e of s] This is a Japanese composer who does original soundtracks. Many of his works utilize more recessed, female vocals and serve as a good indicator of IEMs with emphasized upper frequencies or lack thereof. He also frequently plays around with instrument/vocal placement, so I like to use his songs to gauge imaging and soundstage performance. 

[Seven Lions, Illenium, & Said The Sky – Rush Over Me] A song featuring three of my favorite EDM artists all-in-one? Yes, please. Lots of opening sub bass roll at 0:15 and juicy drops throughout. The vocalist, Haliene, has a clean, ethereal timbre. 

[Taeyeon] Female K-pop vocalist with a classic soprano voice and good range. She shines most with mid-tempo tracks, and I’m mainly listening because she’s one of my favorite artists; nothing should sound off. If an IEM cannot play Taeyeon to my satisfaction: I default to a 3/10 score. Just kidding. Kind of. Sort of…not really.

[Trace Adkins – You’re Gonna Miss This] Male country singer with a rich, gruff voice that shines best on slower-tempo tracks. IEMs that thin the midrange or lean towards the upper frequencies tend to make his voice sound plain wrong and exacerbate the nasal quality that occasionally fringes his voice with darker, fuller IEMs.