I received my IO yesterday (4/29/19). I made a brief (~8 min) video of the unboxing, but the camera angles and lighting were crap... I was excited, so I just kinda dove in. I do believe I had the first unboxing video up on YT.



*Edit:* I wanted to be clear here my video is linked above.

Despite that, Currawong made a much shorter and better unboxing video for the IO and the New (2019) Polaris.



*Disclaimer: All sound impressions below are subjective and therefore subject to my own personal biases and of course my ears. None of the below should be taken as statements of objective fact, nor is it intended to replace personal listening time as insurance against buyer's remorse.*

My IO First Impressions (4/30/19, Morning):
Beyond that however, Also am an MD+ owner and I agree with others who feel the Plus is similar sonically to the IO. I actually fell asleep listening to the IO last night, because that's one of my first tests for comfort and sound. *Edit:* My fiancee owns a pair of older-gen CA Polaris, and subjectively, the IO is a bit lighter, and slightly more comfortable in my ears.

I generally start with Halo 3 ODST's Overture, because the rain and the varied orchestral music is really relaxing. I found the timbre of the rain odd on first listen. My ears need to adjust, but the sound signature reminds me of the Plus. Midrange doesn't seem stepped back, bass is low but doesn't slam as hard as a DD, and the treble seems well controlled without being painful. I feel that subjectively, I'm hearing more detail on the IO than on the Plus given the same track and source.

To be honest though, I haven't listened to my Treble-murder test... Shoot Down the Stars by Gym Class Heroes. That's on my list for when I get home today. Also, haven't tried anything with a higher OI, except my phone for some ****ty mobile games, didn't notice anything odd there, though.

*Edit (4/30/19, Afternoon):* So far, I like the IO. It's my first CA IEM. Currently listening to the Mr. Robot OST at work. Staging seems a bit wider than the MD+ (from memory), but I don't think the Plus or the IO have exceedingly wide soundstage. Honestly, I went to Audio46 last Wednesday and tried the Solaris (because they were out of Andros), and THAT thing is the widest soundstage I've ever heard in an IEM. It might even be wider than Argons (at least to my ears).


Unrelated, but, first post on Head pie. Hi everyone!
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Campfire IO vs Sennheiser IE80 Sound Impressions

*Edit:frowning2:4/30/19, Evening)* I'm going to add in my comparison of the IE80 vs the IO, because they occupied similar price points at one point, and the IE80 was my first "audiophile" IEM, and I've kept it around for reference and for it's interesting staging. Both tested out of Shanling M0, stock cables, and JVC Spiraldot Tips

I actually spent an amount of time last night going back and forth between these and the original Sennheiser IE80. I found the Senn to be less clear everywhere but the bass region. There was a ridiculous amount of slam from that old DD compared to the IO's woofer BA. The IE80 also definitely had slower bass, but it sounded more natural for things like a bass guitar (Blue Scholars's Ordinary Guy), but the IO sounded better with snappier things like drums? Maybe I'm just used to the BA timbre?

Treble - IO
Midrange - IO
Bass - IE80
Soundstage - IE80
Imaging - Tie, Slight edge to the IO?
Resolution - IO
Timbre - IO

On binaural tracks, the IE80 sounds noticeably wider, and one of the reason's I've kept it around for so long was that in the Virtual Barbershop, when Luigi taps the recording rig, it actually feels like, and sounds similar to if he tapped your skull. The IE80's are still a pleasure for binaural demos like that, IMO. The IO is much more intimate, again, similar to the MD+... My imaging tests are usually Doll's Polyphony from the Akira! OST and Yosi Horikawa's Letter. I threw A Walk in the Woods from the Original Halo OST in there as well. It's an older song, but the way sounds move through your head and mix in it, feels different with the IO than the IE80. I couldn't really track it in the IE80, tbh. However, the IE80 sounded better or on par during Doll's Polyphony, and Letter. The wider stage of the IE80 could be tricking me there, though.

The IO did start to approach sibilance with some of Blue Scholars's high hats. Like, it almost started to hurt? It was on the border though. The IO definitely takes the whole cake from the IE80 for detail retrieval and air. The IE80 sounds much more laid back, treble wise. Down in the midrange, the IE80 seems hazy compared to the IO. Like, everything just sounds less clear, almost grungy? Or like viewing an image through dirty water?

If I didn't have the IO, and it wasn't in direct comparison, I'd have said the IE80 holds up. As of right now though, with my ears, JVC SpiralDots, and a Shanling M0, for basically everything except Bass impact and Staging, I'd take the IO.
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Campfire IO vs Massdrop Plus Impressions

*Edit/Update (5/2/19, Morning):* I am still in the process of A/Bing the Plus and IO because the Plus has been my reference for a bit now. I want to be absolutely sure of my own ears to tell the differences from repeatable results. As I haven't been able to do so as of yet, take the below with a massive helping of salt... Accordingly, I have amended some of the information below.

Round 1 Impressions (5/1/19, Morning): A/B Testing of the IO and MD+ was quite revealing. I hadn't listened to my MD+ in roughly a week, since my Tin T3's came in, which was about 3 days before my IO's came in.

NOTE: Both earphones tested out of a Shanling M0, as well as an Apple USB-C Dongle DAC from my Google Pixel. The IO was tested with its stock cable, while the Plus was tested with a Null Audio Brevity Cable. Both IEMs tested with JVC Spiraldot tips.

The most jarring for me was the Overture from Halo 3 ODST's Soundtrack. The thunderstorm at the beginning is much more visceral and natural sounding on the MD+. The IO adds that plasticky timbre to the rain that SilverLodestar describes later in this thread as "listening through a cup." That's the best way I can phrase it. From a direct comparison, the sound of the IO is funneled? Or rather, it sounds funneled. The Plus sounds less like the earphones are there...

Which leads into staging and imaging. I expected it to be similar from memory, but I was wrong. The Plus sounded deeper, wider, and thiccer in Overture, as well as Amber Rubarth's Don't You. Imaging capabilities are similar but the IO is more revealing, and I felt it was a little easier to track sound's motion during A Walk in the Woods (Halo OST) on the IO, but Doll's Polyphony (Akira OST) sounded similar on both, though I think the Plus had a slight edge there on the whoosing part during the opening. Yosi Horikawa's Letter favored the IO to my ears.

However during Round 1, the Plus was better sounding to my ears. The treble with the Spiraldots on the Plus is enough for me without ever getting overwhelming. Resolution? The IO's eke out a victory in this department. The IO's revealing micro detail I've never heard before, but the Plus has the fuller bass, thicker mids, wider soundstage, and less incisive treble.
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*Edit/Update - Round 2 Impressions (5/1/19, Evening): Tried both on the THX AAA 789 fed by an SDAC. A/B Testing seemed to indicate the a leveling effect on the soundstage, to where I could no longer tell which was bigger. The bass seemed to come up on the IO while reducing slightly on the Plus. Midrange sounds more natural and weighty on the Plus to my ears. Treble with the wide bore silicone tips is more pleasant on the Plus for casual listening IMO. The IO still gets a bit hot though, and also still sounds a bit muffled, or funneled? I tried the Type E tips, but aside from increasing bass, I didn't really notice a change.

I took a break at this point because either my ears were overloaded, or something was up with my sources, because a lot changed between my two listening sessions, i.e. staging was an even heat, mids sounded fuller on the Plus but sharper on the IO, bass was a wash with the Plus having more quantity and impact, but the IO seeming tighter? IO is definitely brighter than the Plus. Perhaps some foam tips are in order for the IO? A 3rd round of A/B testing is in the works. Forgive me, I'll probably edit all of this once I have a more sure-footed stance.
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Final Decisions/Impressions/Comparisons (Edited, 5/7/2019, Afternoon)

I went back and listened to all my test tracks again, M0, Apple Model A2049 Dongle, and SDAC/789.

The IO is the clearer, more crisp IEM. If I had to make a guess at the FR, I'd say rolled subbass, slight boost in the lower mids, and a slight boost in the lower treble region. The IO has more sizzle, as Jay put it, than the IO. I admit, electric guitars do sound good on it. Side by side, the Massdrop Plus does sound slightly grainy, or hazy...

But, the Plus does have one major advantage. Its tuning. The Plus was tuned to the diffuse field, with a bass bump. The bass is looser, but deeper and more impactful, the mids are stepped back, and the high end is reeled in a bit. Honestly, I liken the IO's sound signature to the HD 600, and the Plus to the HD 650. The differences in their sound signature are very similar. However, the HD 600 does timbre better than a wide wide range of other headphones. The IO does not. Foam tips do correct a lot of the IO's weird tonal problems, but not all of them. Midrange still sounds a bit hollow, despite its boost.

If all I cared about was detail and cymbals, and I had a $300 USD budget, I'd take the IO. But, if I wanted to sit and really enjoy my music? Well, for the same price, I'd take the Massdrop Plus, or if I preferred the Harman target, the iSine LX w/ Cipher Cable.

These are my final thoughts on the issue. I still haven't decided whether I'll keep the IO, as for me, the Plus is the more enjoyable IEM, but the IO does do some things better, I just don't know if it's enough to justify the expense... As per usual, the above are my sound impressions and opinions. Nothing should be taken as a statement of objective fact. I am human, I do make mistakes and I have not heard everything, much less anything above this price range. If you're curious about the IO, you should listen to them with your own ears before committing to them monetarily, if possible.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to Tag or PM me and I'll answer to the best of my abilities.

Have a wonderful day.
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Song List: Edited 5/7/19 (Evening)
This Little Light of Mine - NY Spiritual Choir (Chesky's Binaural Sound Show)
Don't You - Amber Rubarth (The Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disk)
Sleipnir - Manowar (Gods of War)
Indian Summer - Kenny Baron & Mike Sherman (Interplay)
Overture - Martin O'Donnell & Michael Salvatori (Halo 3: ODST Original Soundtrack)
A Walk in the Woods - Martin O'Donnell & Michael Salvatori (Halo Original Soundtrack)
Letter - Yosi Horikawa (Wandering)
Acknowledge - Masta Ace (Disposable Arts)
Call Ticketron - Run the Jewels (Run the Jewels 3)
Lose Yourself to Dance - Daft Punk (Random Access Memories)
Born And Raised (Reprise) - John Mayer (Born And Raised)
Sweet Child o' Mine - Guns n Roses (Appetite for Destruction)
Pork Soda - Glass Animals (How to be a Human Being)
Doll's Polyphony - Geinoh Yamashirogumi (Akira! Original Soundtrack)
Virtual Barber Shop - Princeton University (?)
Shoot Down the Stars - Gym Class Heroes (As Cruel as School Children)
Spanish Harlem - Rebecca Pidgeon (The Ultimate Demonstration Disk)
Listening Notes: I generally listen at several volumes. Low-Med to Med-High Volumes. On my M0, anywhere from 30-60 on the volume gauge, low-gain. With UAPP on my Pixel + A2049 Dongle, it's -6.5 dB, with Bitperfect Mode enabled. The THX 789 is used in Low Gain (Position 1) at roughly 10:30 on the volume knob while fed by an SDAC. Windows Master Volume set at 85%.

Generally, I use Letter & Doll's Polyphony for my imaging tests, Virtual Barber Shop, and Indian Summer to determine soundstage dimensions, Run the Jewels and Masta Ace to test bass, the ODST OST, and Glass Animals to test resolution, and coherence. I use Gym Class Heroes and Blue Scholars to test whether there's any treble spikes. Binaural tracks, and Spanish Harlem are mostly for testing soundstage and resolution. My general preferences are towards orchestrated soundtracks, but I also enjoy a bit of jazz, R&B, classic rock, college rock, and some dalliances with hard rock.

It's taken me a long time to get to where I trust my test tracks, but at this point, I've heard them on everything I've ever owned. I really enjoy my music.

Current Signal Chain(s) tested:
Flac -> Plex Windows 10 App -> Micca Origen G2 (Gaming PC)
Flac -> foobar2k WASAPI Shared -> SDAC -> AAA 789 (Media PC)
Flac -> Shanling M0 (Portable)
Flac -> Google Pixel -> Apple A2049 USB-C to 3.5mm Dongle (Phone)
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Edit 1: Formatting, added some information.
Edit 2: Added IO vs IE80 section.
Edit 3: Added IO vs Plus section.
Edit 4: Added update to IO vs Plus section
Edit 5: Formatting, added Disclaimer, date stamps to clean up some of my thoughts and make them more sensible to someone who isn't me, while also providing a relative timeline for my process. Besides which, I modified some info in the IO vs Plus section because my round 1 impressions may have been kneejerk and/or incorrect, based on my round 2 impressions.
Edit 6: Added closing/final thoughts. Thanks for reading.
Edit 7: Added music list, as well as volume and song notes.

Sendy Aiva…a gift from the clouds
Written by ngoshawk

Pros – Clouds!
Build.
Cost.
Finish.
Gorgeous wood look.
Cable.
Sound, tastefully presented, with excellent air.
Gorgeous looks.
Clouds!
Cons – Ummmm…still thinking about that give me a year or so…
Sendy Aiva: $599, available from Musicteck:https://shop.musicteck.com/collections/sendyaudio/products/sendyaudio-aiva-black-beauty-series-97-76mm-planar-magnetic-headphones?variant=18480633839678





Intro:

Perusing the Musicteck site, which I do not do often enough, I noticed a couple of items. One, which has been on my radar for a long time, and another that piqued my interest simply by looking at the image. This review is about that item. The Sendy Aiva. To say I was smitten would be like a dog anticipating a new bone. Needless to say, my tail wagged, and tongue was panting like said dog. You think I jest, but…I quickly contacted Andrew, with whom we arranged a model. This is about that model. First and foremost, the Aiva was purchased at a discount for an open and honest review. And of course, I would have it no other way




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That’s my dog. My dog kicks ass.

After the order (which included the other item), I read all I could about Sendy and the Aiva. I found a brief thread on Head-Fi (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/new-sendy-audio-aiya-impressions.900362/) and a mention by another reviewer, with copy/paste items from a foreign webpage. Images of the Aiva were superb. This was indeed a looker. Having been stolen by @PinkyPower Atticus, the Aiva recalled the way I looked at his gem upon arrival. But first, a brief history.

From the Musicteck page description: SENDYAUDIO (SHI YI Technology Co., LTD.) founded in 2015 and is made up of the elite teams who worked in audio industry earliest in China. Black Beauty Series is 2019 new positioning products of SENDYAUDIO, and it took three years of hard research and development. We adhere to the use of traditional craftsmanship, coupled with the selection of high-quality natural solid wood as the material for the housing. The whole production process consumes a lot of manpower and time, which include material selection, CNC machining, engraving, grinding, polishing as well as repeated oiling and drying. The finish texture of each individual piece is unique.




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Intro YouTube video from Sendy: https://youtu.be/iHVVXY5SA6s

From the video, you can see the care taken in making the cups. Hand sanded, and finished with several layers of poly, the company states the finish will keep the headphones together through many weather variations. The first time I have heard a company address humidity and such as a concern. Grado never mentions the sort, but no one concerns themselves with deterioration either. What I can say is that the Aiva finish is top notch, superb. No blemishes, and definitely built to last.

Very little is out there regarding Sendy Audio, but from my perusing’s the talk is of how the Aiva punches well above their weight. Some call for a raising of the price to $1k. Well…I for one am glad they do not cost that much. Could they? Well, I guess you will have to read on to find out.

Suffice to say, I really, REALLY like this set of headphones so far. I would state that this isn’t quite your typical planar sound. There is a bit of dip in the mids (to me as opposed to a flat response), but not enough to bother me. Some have posted graphs, buuuuuttt…I’m not going there. Nope, no way





Specs:
  • Driver Type: Planar Magnetic
  • Driver Size: 97*76mm
  • Frequency Response:5-55Khz
  • Sensitivity: 96db
  • Impedance: 32Ω
  • Weight: 420g
Included in the box:

1. Aiva Headphone
2. Headphone Hard Leather Carry Case
3. Headphone Balanced Cable with 4.4mm Plug
4. 4.4mm Female to 3.5mm (SE) Male Pigtail Adaptor





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Gear used/compared (prices USD unless noted otherwise):

Focal Elear ($700, 2.5bal cable)
Campfire Audio Cascade ($800, 2.5bal cable)
ZMF Atticus (from memory, $1099, 2.5bal cable)
Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow ($1500, 3.5/6.3se cable)
Grado GH-2 Limited Ed ($650, 3.5se cable)

iFi Pro iDSD & xDSD used for MBP and XDuoo, others run on their own accord.

MacBook Pro/ iFi Pro iDSD
XDuoo x10tii/ iFi Pro iDSD & xDSD
Shanling M5s
Questyle QP2




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Songs used:

Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots-Trench

shuffle SD card music




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Unboxing:

Coming in a recycled brown top/bottom box, I get an immediate sense of environmental awareness. A good start. Laden with a drawing, which hearkens back to the early 1900’s on the front and silver decal in three languages on the back one could start to understand the simplicity from which the Aiva comes. A simpler time, but none the less important.

Taking the lid off there is a hard foam insert glued to the TOP of the lid, which is used to hold the headphone case in place. The bottom has molded hard foam conforming to the shape of the case. Not much to see, but simplicity again. The black hard case, which holds all inside is quite reminiscent of a Mr. Speakers case and similar in proportion. Slightly smaller in size, and less sturdy, the case will still protect the headphones quite well. Replete with four “feet” on the bottom, the case can stand on its own without scuffing the case. A nice touch.

Opening the black hard case, you are met with a chorus of angels singing. No, reeeaaallllyyy.




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A thick zipper (better in fact than some I have, which cost more…) opens neatly to reveal that chorus, errrr headphone and a reclaimed material cloth bag. With a grab handle to boot, the case is quite functional. This is tingling my environmental senses, it is. Inside that bag of course is the superb cable and the adaptor converting 4.4bal to 3.5se. To say the cable is beautiful, would be say that Elle McPherson is beautiful…Hmmm…I went from angels to a beautiful woman. Apologies.





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Pulling the hefty weight-wise cable out, I marvel at the look. Four braids of thick gauge copper meet your eyes. Each end has silver jacks, complete with the cloud pattern. I quite like the pattern and will go more into that in a moment. With a splitter that looks to be Cocobolo wood, or something similar, the Sendy name is engraved; while the slider shows the company’s Crane logo. Both works well, but I do have long-term concerns surrounding the slider. It is fairly small and is made of wood. The cable is gorgeous to look at and brings a slightly warmer touch to the sound.

Some mention that this cable as an aftermarket would cost $300-400 dollars (actually $250 on the MusicTeck site, so…). I somewhat concur and do enjoy the (what seems to be) hand weaving of the cable strands. With imperfections down the line (just the look of hand-braiding, NOT the cable itself), you get a hand-made feel more and more.

Then…the…headphone…and it really is more stunning in person than images. Superb. Sublime. Sensuous. Sumptuous. I could go on but won’t…for your sake.





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Fit & Finish:

Tasteful. A singular word, which can mean so much more. It can denote the palate of food. Or it can signify a thought, action or behavior, which is thoughtful in deed and in good taste. This could describe the Aiva in one word. But that one word could also signify a simple thought, action or deed. Yet again, this could be apt for the Aiva. But there is more. Humility and a humble nature would intertwine as well.

Each Aiva set is unique, much like the Grado GH-2, or any ZMF headphone. The wood can be matched, much like Zack at ZMF does when concocting sets, but the character of each set is singular. Special. Oneness. Here that trait follows (especially since I saw a darker model in a video), and that is a wonderful trait to have.

The headband is well made utilizing flat aluminum strips for structurally rigidity. In comparison, the Ether-C Flow uses round bars, which can seem flimsy even if they are not. There is some bend here, but not like the Flow. With a nice (p)leather strap just below, the headphones should contort to most heads out there. Plus, with excellent clamp-tightness the strap stays put, adjusting firmly but easily. No plastic is used between the swivel and band either. Nice to see. Swiveling like a Fostex, but much better, the adjustment is more limited fore/aft than others I have tried. But not once have I had an issue.





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Even the rivets, which hold the band and yoke to the earcup themselves is laden with the Sendy logo, a Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis). The Crane denoting honesty and integrity fits the simplicity to be found yet again.

Finishing with the highlight, the ear cups and overall appeal, you are not disappointed. Near-flawless construction embodies honesty and integrity at its heart. With multi-layers of poly the cup will stay protected. Hand polished, and handmade, the electronics and cup fit together extremely well. Only a slight imperfection from the fit of the electronics to the cup was had on one side. And, truth be told, it seemed to be a small fleck of wood left in place mistakenly. After carefully brushing the fleck off, no mismatch could be seen. I do expect flawless construction, and this is about as close as you can get. The metal cloud “grate” fits over the silver dust cover quite well, giving a nice 3-D look to the side.

The pads are on the more unique side. Shaped asymmetrically with the thicker part to the back (and bottom) they are also made of two different materials. The shape continues to vary as you hit the top, with a “cut out” to help fit your gray cranial matter. Thick and plush the pads fit very well and extended sessions do not bother. Not too plush, with good feel this is among the best fit and feeling headphones I have had the honor of trying. With the right amount of compression, and that strap a good fit is had all around.

The front part of the pad is of a suede material, which is very comfortable and does not attract dirt/etc. Call it a hybrid pad if you will, but the pads are quite comfortable. This is one good looking unit.





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Sound:

Apparently the Aiva was the hit of CamJam NY in some circles. After one listen, I can understand why. On looks alone, this could easily demand twice the asking price. The look is simply superb. Beautiful, well-built and tasteful. Artfully displayed with the cloud motif and polished, coated wood cups. This is a beauty. But we’ve already covered that.

With many planar headphones, one can semi-rightly assume that the bass response will either be elevated or flat. Think Fostex. While the sound fits what people are looking for, there can be a bloaty-bass on some models. I think that is an unfounded punishment of a sound, which many like. I only use it for comparative purposes. Here though, there is not any of that. The bass is tight, fairly fast decaying and solid. Not as fast as the Ether-C Flow 1.1 mind you, but quite acceptable. This is not meant to compete with those TOTL headphones or have the bass of the Campfire Audio Cascade, no. That bass signature is meant to be present but support the extremely good clarity of sound. And it does. Quite well. Not reaching particularly deep the bass signature is one, which can be enjoyed as part of the overall signature. And it does so very well.

My panacea of course is the mid sound. I have a hard time discerning difference in intricate mid patterns, so I focus on the overall signature. And here to me it is quite extraordinary. On twenty one pilots Don’t Forget About Me, the bass is strong from the drum. As the keyboard enters along with Tyler’s vocal’s you begin to understand what might make the Aiva such an extraordinary critter. Clarity, separation (even to me…) and detail are exquisite. It is almost like I can discern the air moving around each finger as it strikes a note of keyboard. Almost alarming, it is. I may exaggerate a bit, but the sensation is one of top-notch response. Follow that with Los Lonely Boys Heaven and that guitar riff as the song comes on and you have to sit down. I immediately played the song again with the Ether. Yes, I could discern the difference, but how close they were (OK, PRETTY close) to presentation made me smile.





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Quietly Making Noise from Mr. Jimmy Buffet through the XDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD lends me with true appreciation of how the treble is presented. That detail of clarity comes through almost too strictly. This is a pretty tight song, but there is still true feeling and south seas sound galore. You go inside the song through this combination and it is good. No sibilance whatsoever, no overly bright treble to me, this is good stuff up top. I do not get a sense of much sparkle, which to me would have made the top end simply sublime. That would have been too much to ask at this price I do believe.





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Not the widest sound stage, this is not meant to be an other-worldly sensory sound of stage. No, it is meant to have that airy feeling of an open-back with width sufficient to dispel any claustrophobic feelings one might have. Sufficient height and depth make up for that somewhat narrower stage. I’m OK with that as the sound is so good. Separation and layering are good as well. Not the best, not the worst. Clarity helps separate what you hear well.





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As this is an open-back, there is no isolation so what you hear, your partners hear. End of story. Then Blurryface comes on, and I just turn the volume up…a good bit, too. Clear highs, sensuous vocals. Bass, which is fast tight and deep give the Aiva a smile in my book. This is reverence. SRV’s Riviera Paradise comes on next, and I pour another of KC’s finest whiskey, J. Rieger & Co.





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Comparison:

Sendy Aiva ($599) v Focal Elear ($700ish, 2.5bal cable):

The Elear first came to me on a tour from TTVJ (fantastic person for our hobby). I immediately fell for the warmer signature, which fit my bill. It helped that I was playing them through the ampsandsounds Kenzie, which to this day is one of the best amps I have ever heard. Through that tubey goodness, I fell hard. I still very much like the Elear, but do not use it enough, mostly for comparisons such as this. A shame too, for the bass is sublime through the iFi Pro iDSD/XDuoo x10t ii combo. Better reach than the Aiva, with a bit more grunt as well, the bass comes through nicely using the LQi 2.5bal cable. Not quite the clarity of the Aiva, but a wider sound stage. This is a really good set up. Sting’s voice comes through clean and clear. I will admit that the purported dip in mids of the Elear does not bother me at all. I find the sound excellent, fitting my taste for a warmer signature well.

The Aiva definitely has a somewhat brighter signature, with more clarity as a result (to me). That alone should say how good the Aiva represents sound. I would call this a wash, especially if you can find a used Elear. Caveat-many find the Elex or Clear to be better sounding than the Elear. I have not heard either, only the Elegia. As such, I still like the Elear more. Fit and feel of the Aiva is miles ahead in my book, as I consider it well above on the comfort level. The Aiva are harder to drive as you would expect with a planar as well.


Sendy Aiva ($599) v Campfire Audio Cascade ($800, 2.5bal cable):

Again, the Cascade is easier to drive, much easier. Fit is well behind the Aiva as well. Almost clamp-like this is probably the only aspect of the Cascade, which I do not like. Having used @Wiljen ‘s pair long term, I was lucky to find a barely used pair on Head-Fi at a time when new ones were not available. I do not regret the purchase one bit. Bass is rumbly and superb. Some say it overpowers the overall signature. I say that it sets the tone. Vocals are not lost in the fray either. Treble has a bit of sparkle, but feels a bit disconnected to the overall sound. In my less than professional opinion, this was done to counter the bass. Drums come across clean, crisp and clear. Sound stage is very, very good for a closed-back as well. When I want to jam out in the presence of the family-unit, I pull out the Cascade. Or the Atlas, but that is another story.

Listening the Pink Floyd’s Any Colour You Like, you have that psychedelic sound, which just makes the Cascade sing. This is late night drinking sound of the solo variety. And it is extraordinary. The Aiva on the other hand is a bit mellower believe it or not. Along for the same late-night session, but more subtle. Less sparkle up top than the Cascade, the Aiva presents a more balanced approach. It is hard not to like both, and I do. They are different enough (well, duh) to enjoy both. Different enough so that having the Cascade as a closed-back and the Aiva for open-back would be a superb compliment to each other. I am very lucky, indeed.


Sendy Aiva ($599) v ZMF Atticus (from memory, $1099, 2.5bal cable):

The first time I heard the Atticus of @PinkyPowers, I was smitten. He point-blank told me the Atticus sated his purpose for an open back. We spent two glorious weeks together. And a definitely longing was had in my heart upon their return. I was sad. I went to school with a chip on my shoulder, and a loss of step. Not even my favorite single-malt could bring me from the funk. Until I heard the Aiva. It was like having a pair of Atticus again, almost. The Atticus presents sound extraordinarily well, with full detail, clarity to die for and a sound stage of small concert hall proportions. The look is stunning and counters the girthy-size of the pair. They are superb, presenting sound like it was meant to be heard. Delicate female vocals were sublime. Punchy male vocals were thrusting in quality. Complicated music was simplified in presentation, without losing that detail. It was hard to justify a better pair of open-backs of which I had heard. Until the Aiva. But, put an asterisk by that “until.” For you see, the Aiva does about 80% of what the Atticus does, but for 50% the price. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to someday have a pair of the Atticus. But until then, the Aiva not only reminds me of them, but reminds me very well.


Sendy Aiva ($599) v Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow ($1500, 3.5/6.3se cable):

The Ether-C Flow came about after researching headphones equivalent to the Atticus. I wanted a TOTL closed-back, to “finish my lineup” so to speak. After researching many, I came across a barely used pair and took the plunge. I do not regret it even though a well-known publication had the Ether-C Flow in the bottom half of a comparison test. I have always tended to go against popularity, so I went with them. I was able to have the pair on hand with the Atticus for a four-day period and found myself staying up very late. What a time. The fit-n-finish of the Ether-C is astonishing. Exemplary fit allows one to fully experience the sound. With pads similar to the Atticus, as in pillow-like you should be able to easily find good fit.

I find the bass to be quite good, with a bit of rumble, song-dependent of course. Every Tear Is A Waterfall gives good rumble, delicate detail from the acoustic guitar and vocals of heavenly ascent. This is what I was searching for with a TOTL. The clarity rivals my DaVinci X. Phenomenal. The Aiva cannot match that, and it isn’t meant to, no. The Aiva is more open, a bit more laid-back but with excellent clarity. And for the price, hard to beat, period.


Sendy Aiva ($599) v Grado GH-2 Limited Ed ($650, 3.5se cable):

Right off the bat, you notice how bright the Grado is. Almost bitingly bright, I have to re-adjust to the sound. Plus, as an on-ear, the fit can take a bit to re-acclimate. Once past that though, the sound is clear, bright and clean. I will state that as a result of being easy to drive, and with that bright sound, the Grado cannot be turned up too much for my taste. It becomes too bright. Not sibilant, but a bit too much. The bass is good, with as bit of rumble, but not like some of the others mentioned here. They are not meant to be that way. Sound stage to die for is a key focus of the Grado, and as such, separation and layering is almost as good as anything in my stable. I do still like the Grado, but they will most likely leave my corral as they get very few looks from me these days.






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Sources:

The Aiva through the Shanling M5s provides me with the sound of which I search. Bold, fairly deep reaching bass, and a fullness wrought from what I call the “Shanling sound.” This is a very good pairing, and more than enough power is had with the pair. Intricate detail takes a backseat to seat of the pants rich and full sound. I could get used to this pairing. Again, detail falls behind the XDuoo/iFi Pro iDSD as one would expect; but the rich sound from the M5s is almost a match for the tube sound emanating from the former pair.

Using the 4.4bal to 2.5bal adaptor only let the balanced aspect of the cable shine through, and it was good. An increased sense of layering and separation. I could note a bit more air between the notes as well. While this may have been a bit of placebo, I do get a better sense of layering and separation when I use balanced cables. This of course is a main object of using balanced cables in the first place, so that is good.

The Aiva/Questyle QP2R sound brings back the clarity completely. Playing Neon Gravestones, I am reminded why I like the song so much. Deep full bass arises from the song itself. And with this pair, there is no hiding from any fallacies of sound. There is none. This is TOTL portability sound for anything I have. And this would work for most, short of those who have the Lotoo Paw Gold or Cayin N8. Both are exemplary, and for those seeking TOTL DAP territory, the Aiva will not embarrass itself. I consider the XDuoo/iFi pairing on par with the two mentioned. At least to me they are…

So, you can see that the Aiva is multi-dimensional with respect to source as well. I will admit that my favorite pairing was the XDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD. The XDuoo is superb in its own right as a transport/turntable. Throw in the tube sound of the iDSD and this is good enough for me. Exemplary.






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Finale:

With each comparison, I begin to understand just how good the Aiva really is. It isn’t that the Aiva necessarily beats all comers, no. But when you combine the beauty of the overall unit, with a wonderful copper cable, the intricacy of detail imbued upon the scroll work and wood. The multiple layers of protection on those wood cups. The just right thickness and feel of the band. The sturdiness of the yoke. The just right thickness and shape of the cross members. The oh-so-cool multi-fabric pads (including what I would assume is real lambs’ leather). The robust jacks, inlaid with the cloud pattern; replete with coiled spring, which matches the overall appeal. The handwoven aspect of the cable. And then…the sound… For the price, you are definitely hard pressed to beat the sound. I can say with a high degree of certainty that you will be very hard pressed to find something at this point which sounds this good AND looks as gorgeous. I will openly admit that it was the look, which drew me to contact Andrew. I was enthralled with the cloud lattice. The wood cups, laden with multi-layers of protection, plus the copper cable, which compliments the gorgeousness. This…is…good…stuff, indeed. Find one. Borrow one. Listen to one. Audition one. Listen longer. You may just do what I did and smile the whole time I wrote this review. Delightful stuff.

I end this with the live version of Riviera Paradise, one of my all-time favorite SRV songs, especially live while he is sitting on the edge of the stage swinging his legs. This is the perfect closing song to the Aiva, what with the three dimensions of the live version. A fitting end, and I kick back with that KC whiskey and enjoy. Go find this critter, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

I thank Andrew for the opportunity to try (and keep!!!) the Aiva. It will reside on equal terms with my Ether-C Flow and DaVinci X. I can think of no higher praise than the company in which I will consider it.





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disclaimer: A big thanks to Simgot for sending the EN700 Pro for review.   If you have an interest in Simgot products, please check their website, Facebook page, or Amazon Store.    

Unboxing / Packaging:
Packaging on the Simgot EN700 Pro is very familiar having recently reviewed the EM2 (sibling). Details are listed on the reverse of the slip-cover but are tough to photo well as they are black on black and rather subtle.  For that reason, I have included the sticker which is much easier to see if not as pretty.  Under the slip-cover is a black pressboard box with the Simgot Emblem on front again in subdued gloss black on flat black as well as the name of the Family contained.  Having now seen several, the EM and the EN have different monikers.  Lifting the cover off the box reveals a foam tray with earpieces at top and a leather carrying case below again very reminiscent of the EM2 .  The Tips are hiding inside the leather case, while the cable and warranty cards are beneath the foam tray containing the earpieces.   I’m a fan of Simgot’s packaging especially considering the price points of these.  Other manufacturers charge more and offer less in this department.





Accessories:
The EN700 Pro comes with a well made leather case with Simgot logo on the front, slogan on the rear, and magnetic closure.   Inside the case are two cards that each contain a set of silicone eartips in three sizes.  Card 1 contains the standard tips while card 2 has bass enhancing tips.  a brush for cleaning the eartips is also hiding in the bottom of the leather case.   Tip selection is going to be important as it does change the signature and it is unfortunate that the case is not large enough to store both the tip cards and the iem when travelling.  Those wanting to take both sets of tips can drop a spare pair in the bottom of the case, or carry the cards separately.



Build/Fit:
I should also point out that due to the positioning of the single vent on the inside of the shell, that I found it possible to block that vent and change the signature as a result.  If you suddenly have a bit darker signature than you wished, make sure you aren’t obstructing the vent.






Internals:
The beating heart of the EN700 Pro is a newly developed 10mm dynamic driver using a titanium coated polymer diaphragm.    The same driver is shared with the EM series but is tuned a bit differently depending on model.    Nominal impedance is 16Ω with a sensitivity of 101dB/mW (at 1khz) which on paper makes the EN700 Pro easy enough to drive to use with a phone or tablet.  I did find that the driver does better with a bit more power as it sounds a bit thin when used directly from my Moto M3 when compared to the same track on the Opus#1S or the xDSD.

Cable:
The provided cable is an 8 core braid from the jack to the splitter and a twist above.   The jack is the straight variety with a gold and black housing that nicely complements the earpieces.  A proper strain relief is present and even features the Simgot name in red.    A velcro closure is provided to minimize tangles in storage as well.   The splitter is hard-rubber in black with the chin slider immediately above it in the same gold tone as the jack.  The slider moves easily but stays in place well during exercise.   Simgot lists the outer coating on the cable as 400D Dupont Kevlar so it should stand up to a fair amount of beating and banging before a problem is encountered.   The cable terminates with .78mm bi-pin connectors and while the connectors are standard, the angle most certainly is not so using the cable with other iems or finding a replacement cable may be a bit more involved than usual for the EN700 Pro.







Tips:
Two cards of tips are provided each containing small, medium, and large tips.  The first card is the balanced tips, while the 2nd card is low frequency enhancing.  Both styles are single-flanged silicone tips but lengths differ between styles with the bass enhancing tips being taller while the matching neutral tips are wider but not as tall.   They are indeed enough different to change the signature and it would be nice if Simgot offered the ability to buy extra pairs of your preferred size and type.   For my listening, I used the neutral/high frequency tips as I found the Bass tips to augment the bass bloat and make the EN700 Pro a bit muddier by comparison.



Sound:

Bass:
Sub-bass depth is good on the Pro with audible roll-off beginning in the lower 40Hz range.  From there, the mid-bass rises slightly but doesn’t ever get very far ahead of everything else.  I was a bit surprised here as usually the titanium plated dynamics I have tried have excellent attack with a touch slower decay.  Here, Simgot seems to have intentionally moved away from that and gone with a bit less speed in favor of a fuller more natural sound.   At times this trade off makes the Pro a very listenable signature, at others it means bass can get a little loose.  I found this to be especially true when volume levels are pushed higher.   At low levels, the Pro generally remains well composed but as the volume climbs it can get a bit muddled on the low end.  There is some mid-bass bleed that provides a bit of warmth while not obstructing too much of the mids in the process. (Here tip 1 is your best bet to minimize this bleed/bloat).    Transition between bass and midrange is clean as expected with a single DD and will please those frustrated with poor transitions on the recent hybrids.

Mids:
While the Pro is a bit of a V shape, the mids are pleasantly not as recessed as the FR chart might lead you to believe.  Lower mids follow from the mid-bass and have good texture and detail despite the mild bleed.   If anything the extra thickness present gives male vocals a bit more weight.   As the mids climb toward the treble they move a bit forward and do push female vocals out ahead of their lower voiced counterparts.   I found the mids somewhere between the Scoop of things like the Topaz, and the Full-on assault of things like the NiceHCK M6 without winding up boring like the b400 sometimes comes across.  Overall, very engaging and lifelike without feeling forced.

Treble:
The forward push of the upper-mids continues into the lower treble which helps lift female vocals to the front without sounding unnatural or uneven.  The Biggest difference in the treble on the EN700 Pro vs much of its competition is the coherency offered by a single driver.  Too many of the hybrids sound like a 2nd driver was slapped in to handle the highs with little thought given to phase or timbre matching the other drivers.  The EN700Pro has a very organic, natural tone that is a nice departure from the hybrid clan.   the treble plateaus before starting to roll-off above the 7.5kHz mark.  Strings are well rendered which is a tough task for any in-ear.   Cymbals are portrayed realistically without any metallic click to them.   Overall, the En700 Pro has more air and sparkle at the top end than expected.   Based on the graph I would have expected a bit more limited air at the top but the EN700Pro manages to fool the ear with a tuning that sounds open and yet never strident.  Its a good balance.

Soundstage / Imaging:
Here we have to split the two in the section title as they are not alike.  Soundstage is fantastic with good depth, width,and height and produces a very 3-dimensional sound.    The EN700Pro is easily class leading in soundstage when considering its price point in the equation.  Imaging on the other hand, while good, is not at the same level.  Here I think some of the hybrids make up some ground as the transients are a bit better on things like the M6.  This isnt a knock on the EN700pro as it performs well and seating the orchestra is easy to do while listening, it is simply to say that it doesn’t quite reach the level of imaging and separation that the stage size would suggest.    Layering is good, but here again some of the multi-driver hybrids have a distinct advantage.   That said, I don’t think the EN700Pro loses to those hybrids by the degree one might expect when comparing driver numbers.  I’d say the layering on the EN700Pro probably represents 85-90% of what I hear using something like the Brainwavz B400 or the Kinboofi Mk4.

Comparisons:
EN700 original:
Construction has changed very little between the two models as shells are nearly identical if not exactly the same.  Cables are listed as copper on the original and silver-plated copper on the Pro.  Sound wise, we went from the 700 which was sub-bass light and some found it mid-bass light to the EN700 Bass which pushed more bass but at the expense of detail and some clarity of mids.  The Pro is a shallower V than the original EN700 with better low end and more detail.  Honestly, I think the Pro is what the EN700 Bass could have been as it resolves most of the detractions of the original while maintaining the things it did well.
BQEYZ KB100: 
The KB100 is one of my favorite budget models at present with a signature like an improved Tin Audio T2.   Shells are similar although the level of fit and polish is higher on the EN700Pro by comparison and I found the comfort a bit better as a result of the rounded edges.  Sound-wise, extension on the EN700 pro is better at both ends which is quite a feat considering it is a single dynamic going up against a hybrid.  Sub-bass has a physical presence, and detail level is a grade above the KB100.
Brainwavz B400: 
Build wise, these two have nohting in common.  3d printed vs machined shell, mmcx vs bi-pin, quad BA vs single dynamic.   Sound wise, they are more like than not as both have similar tonality although the extension is better on both ends on the EN700Pro, while the detail level on the B400 is better.   The EN700Pro puts a bit more emphasis on the upper-mids and lower treble which gives vocals a bit more presence while the b400 concentrates on letting nothing get out in front of everything else.    While both have better than average imaging and layering, the b400 wins on this count as the quad driver simply out-muscles the single.    Overall, if you love the b400, but wish it wasn’t quite as boring as it can be at times, the EN700pro comes off as a slightly less refined option with more energy and life where it counts.
NiceHCK M6:
Shells are of similar construction and share similar quality builds.  The cable on the EN700Pro is better than that of the M6 as is the case and tip selection.  Sound-wise, the M6 is a deeper V than the EN700Pro, but both do well with mid detail so both seem shallower than they actually plot.  The M6 has a deeper bass response when compared to the EN700Pro, but its treble is far more uneven in comparison and it needs after-market filters to do its best work.  The EN700Pro is much less forced and more organic sounding by comparison.   Detail favors the M6 as does imaging but the EN700Pro wins for stage size.

Thoughts / Conclusion:
Having had the opportunity to try several models in the EN700 line, I would like to applaud Simgot for listening to user feedback and continuing to improve the product.  I think the Pro represents the best of the breed so far, and is a significant departure from the original and the mk2.   While the EN700pro may not pack the level of detail of some of its competitors, it has an ease to the sound and a coherency that many of those same competitors cannot muster.   I found the technicals to be much the same story, attack and decay are not as fast as some of the hybrids,  FR is not as flat as some,  extension is good but not class leading, but sound is more organic and tonality far more realistic than many of those more technically proficient models.  Perhaps the best way to say it is, The EN700Pro is not an analyst’s earphone, it is a music lover’s earphone.   For those that want to find a quiet corner, put in their earphones, turn on their favorite album, and drift away, the EN700Pro is a good choice.   The EN700Pro won’t be the choice for those who want to really “rock out” as bass loses a bit of control above about 85dB.  Simgot should be proud of what they have achieved thus far as the EN700 has gone from “OK” to “very good” with this latest generation.

Simgot EN700 Pro

7.3

Packaging

7.0/10

Build Quality

7.0/10

Accessories

8.0/10
  • Bass - 6.5/10
  • Mids - 7/10
  • Treble - 6.5/10
  • Soundstage - 7/10
  • Imaging - 6/10
Summary
Pros: Excellent build quality,  great case,  great sound stage,  very cohesive and natural sound
Cons:  Not as detailed as some,  loses a little control at high volumes,  forward upper-mid/lower treble may not be for everyone.
When you’re tired of the same old, same old; sometimes a switch is all you need. The Model X houses two changeable signatures so you’ll never be bored with the music.

Life is full of tough, petty, meandering choices, like chocolate/vanilla, money/fame, dieting/not dieting. Some you can go back and try the other, but others are substantial or large enough that you have to pick one and forever hold your peace, like a television, car or wife. At least until they give out lol.

In the IEM (in-ear monitor) world it’s just as tricky. You have a classic, followed by a variation of it, but with extra bass. History has given us VSonic GR07/Bass Edition, Hidition NT6/ProJH Audio 13/16, just to name a few. You tear your hair out poring through forums and reviews hoping to find a consensus (you won’t), since bass tastes, like fetishes, are extremely personal.

Like a little meme said, why not both? To have a regular signature, and also a bassier one when the mood (or curiosity) calls for it. Meaning you can have your cake and uh, have more cake. Lime Ears, a small company from distant Poland, practices this philosophy by incorporating a bass switch into some of their IEMs.

The switch was the main feature in their flagship, the Aether, and it has enjoyed great success because it’s basically buying two IEMs for the price of one. Today we look at Aether’s second-in-command, Model X. Mr. Spock to your Captain Kirk, if you will.



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Black tie event, guys. Suit up everyone.



The Model X reviewed today is the universal version, housing 4 balanced armatures (BAs) in a 2 low, 1 mid and 1 high configuration. The X features Lime Ears’ in-house technologies:
  • PAR (Passive Acoustic Resonator)
  • VariBore
PAR is a sound bore tuned to even out the high frequencies; while VariBore uses sound tubes in optimized diameters for each frequency band.

And of course, the fabled switch. An easy flick up introduces an 8db boost to the lower-end frequencies from 800Hz down. Which means, for common folk like you and me, moar bass and a fuller, meatier sound. Hulk to your Bruce Banner. The Model X retails for €890.00 (~USD1000) and is available in universal or custom versions through their official website.

I’d like to thank Emil and Piotr from Lime Ears for their prompt communication and enthusiastic response in providing this loan unit. It’s been a pleasure talking to both of you.

This article was first published in Headphonesty.



Equipment Used

DAP

  • Sony NW-WM1A “K” Modded, FW 2.0
IEMs
  • Lime Ears Model X
  • FiiO FA7
  • Jomo Audio Flamenco
Albums Listened
  • Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Ed Sheeran – Divide
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  • Jason Donovan – Greatest Hits
  • Macy Gray – Stripped
  • Prince – 1999
  • Taylor Swift – 1989
  • The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over


Packaging and Accessories

The Model X is packed with love. A prim, proper cardboard box greeted me, dressed in tuxedo black. The parcel felt unusually heavy, and now I know all the extra heft went to the aluminium case. You’ve heard of something built like a tank, well the case IS the tank. You can dent an actual tank with it, or knock a bird unconscious if you fling it in the air.

The case continues the tuxedo theme. Might be a coincidence that the Model X logo looks like a bow-tie when turned sideways, for unintentional class and charm! It’s roomy enough to hold the IEM, an extra cable, and all the ear tips for on-the-go. It’s heavy, but it will also outlive me.



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The lunchbox of your dreams.



Completing the accessory set is the stock Plastics One cable, 9 pairs of ear tips, and a black cotton pouch. The branded ear tips are precisely what the world needs right now. A chocolate-box assortment of tips from Symbio (S, M, L), SpinFit (XS, S, M, L) and Comply (2 pairs M) mean the best in the market are provided, and you can definitely keep them for use with other IEMs.

I might have received special treatment because the cotton pouch is filled with traditional Polish cream fudge candy (krówki). You might or might not get them, but they’re sure delectable, and definitely contributed towards the final score of the review lol.



Design and Build Quality

The Model X marks the Lime Ears’ first foray into universal IEMs after making a career out of crafting only customs. It comes in an amorphous, take-it-or-leave-it shape bearing much resemblance to their custom brethren. A groove here, a bend there and a ridge in between, all in the name of comfort.

But in a stylistic statement of sorts, the X pairs dark smoke acrylic shells with black carbon fibre faceplates. The lime green logos break the monotony, imbuing a sense of playfulness, so things don’t get too formal or stiff upper-lippy. At the tip, sleek 2017A aluminium nozzles complete the look, with three bores of different diameters showcasing their VariBore technology.

There’s very little to fault with the design other than the overtly masculine appearance. I like to get in touch with my feminine side. As for build quality, they are as durable as your regular custom IEMs, meaning they’re plastic. Don’t step on ‘em, squish ‘em, or drop ‘em and you’ll be right as rain. Better yet put them in the aluminium case to survive World War III.



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Extra marks for the delicious krówki, which translates to “little cows”.



Fit, Comfort and Isolation

When your bread and butter and bacon has been custom-fit IEMs, comfort and fit comes as second nature. I bet they could mold the Model X housing with their eyes closed. Sure enough, the X is a securely-fitting IEM, with comfort to spare for days and days. Have you ever looked everywhere for a sock only to realize you were wearing them all this time? Same feeling!

The amorphous shape might look like fascinating black jelly to you and me, but plays an integral part in the glove-like fit and supreme ease of wear. The switch, the only thing that doesn’t merge with the loving contours of the X, is located on the faceplate, and doesn’t touch any part of the ear anatomy.

Isolation is good, just about as good as a universal IEM allows. With SpinFit tips, I was able to keep the environment quiet enough for critical listening. In one instance, only after taking the Model X off did I realize there was construction work nearby. That’s commendable, unless the building is collapsing around you and you have no idea, then it’s bad.



Sound Quality

Think fast, what animal can change to adapt to new circumstances? If you answered chameleon you’d be correct, if you said “every living thing on earth” you’d also be correct. Not enough food? Eat less! Not enough sleep? Sleep more the next day! Too many children? Less sexy time!

While Model X hasn’t achieved “living thing” status yet, it comes with two sound signatures to adapt to listeners’ needs. The bass switch is there not just for the boom-boom. It can be activated to become more audible in low-volume listening, or turned on in a noisy environment for better immersion.



Overall Sound Signature

The Model X can be enjoyed two ways: dead neutral, or neutral-warm at the flick of a switch. The neutral sound is flat as an airport runway from bass to treble, but features incredible clarity and transparency like a dip in a chilly pool. It’s useful for studio monitoring, and some people do derive much enjoyment from a cold sound signature. Vengeful people maybe.

The other signature is friendlier to the ears and wickedly fun. With an elevated bass and lower mids region, instruments and male voices sound more full-bodied and correct in timbre. The mids and treble are unaffected from the base signature, so the note clarity and otherworldly detail are still mostly intact. It’s just a dip in a bubbly spa this time.



Listening Conditions

Critical listening was done after 50 hours of burn-in. BA-based IEMs normally don’t require burn-in, but I’m dense that way. A large chunk of the review was written while using Sony’s NW-WM1A Walkman modded by Project K, and the stock cable. The ear tips of choice were SpinFits, which convey the best seal, fit and comfort while not being detrimental to the sound.



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Couldn’t find actual limes, so here’s something else that’s green.


Bass

Imagine yourself sliding into a skin-tight leather catsuit. Ok, you can’t, now imagine you’re Anne Hathaway. Easy does it. The leather adheres to the skin so securely nothing comes between them, like a vacuum. This is your Model X bass, skin-tight and airtight. The bass is as taut and disciplined as a supervillain or Batman’s on-again, off-again girlfriend.

The bass is, if you’ve been reading, lean and mean, with perhaps a too-quick decay. Extension is deep-reaching, but the sub-bass barely tickles your throat. You won’t feel the giddy heights of a pulsating sub-bass. The midbass conveys a tinge of warmth and body. Note hits are tidy, airy, and velvety-textured with great detail. In some passages, you wish there were more slam and impact though.

With the bass switch on, and it’s a brilliant change much closer to my preferences. Notes are made rounder, warmer and denser, sounding immediately more natural with a realistic timbre. However, there isn’t a satisfying, visceral sub-bass rumble, and the bass doesn’t move as much air as I like (my reference is a hair-dryer). Jokes aside, the switch is the game-changer for Model X and strews improvements across the signature.



Mids

Like traipsing in fields of daisies with no underwear on, the mids are airy, carefree and liberating. The attention-grabber of the outfit (or lack thereof), the mids are addictively crystal-clear and transparent. Notes possess just enough body to reflect a lifelike timbre, with a fun twist. Air follows each note like lovers’ gentle blows (don’t go there), lifting the signature skywards.

The layering is superb, perhaps elite-class. Even in busy tracks, you won’t lose track of what’s going on. You can pick out any instrument and just follow it like the stalker you are. Attack and decay are well-controlled as well. Notes flit in and out of the soundscape with speed and precision, aided by a bountifully black background.

The upper mids are acutely raised for all the airy, textury action to happen. So lady vocals and brass instruments are lively, articulate, and clear as a window, giving you an up-close, nothing-to-hide presentation that captures nuances like second nature.

The lower mids are flat and lackadaisical in neutral mode, but with the bass switch on, mamma mia! Male vocals, strings and guitars receive a welcome, robust boost of body, like a silicon injection in er, strategic spots, for rounder, firmer and dare I say more voluptuous notes. Seriously the bass switch is a godsend.



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He hopes to land a role in a crime drama and finally be taken seriously.



Treble

Moving up from the clean and clear mids, the treble doesn’t deviate much from the baseline, if at all. Like a high heat sear, Model X’s treble aims for maximum impact in the shortest time possible, bringing the sizzle to an already vibrant signature.

Notes have a crispy edginess to them, especially at the lower treble region, veering towards brightness and stopping short of sibilance most times. Cymbals and hi-hats have a crunchy texture followed by a swift decay. Alas, sometimes the treble is overdone, leaving a burnt, charred aftertaste to an otherwise glorious meal. Too much bite and bark.

But 90% of the time, the treble is a people pleaser. The addictive skyward airiness, the lightning-fast transients, and the risk-taking, Evel Knievel extension that is brilliant yet dangerous, dares us to risk our ears and sanity to take in that massively detailed, ear-tickling treble that has as much sparkle as fireworks on the 4th of July.



Soundstage and Imaging

We like to trap stuff to admire in our own time. That’s why we put high-flying birds in cages, kidnap pandas so they’ll copulate to procreate, and uh, capture photos of food. The Model X’s light and airy presentation resemble a firefly that you’d like to hold in a glass jar so it only shines for you, you voyeuristic devil.

To keep the firefly happy, the glass jar is adequately spacious, but only just. The Model X has a tight, disciplined sound matched only by a tight, disciplined soundstage. It borders on the intimate, with equal height, depth, and width for an encompassing sound that never floats away, but serves the signature.

The imaging and separation though, is surely one of the best the market has to offer. With steely precision, layers are um, well-layered and intricate. Spatial cues are well-defined, you’ll have no trouble guessing what comes from where. This is all thanks to the brighter-edged, nimble notes working its mojo with plenty of black space to spare in the background. Ever wanted to dissect a song surgically? Now you can.



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Dangle ‘em, tangle ‘em and mangle ‘em.



Comparisons

FiiO FA7

I didn’t mean to start this section with a pummelling, but unfortunately FiiO’s value-oriented FA7 is the only other 4BA IEM in my possession at this time. Again, at USD300 the FA7 isn’t exactly cheap, but when Model X is aiming for the heels of higher-priced flagships, you know FA7 has its work cut out to itty bitty pieces.

Let’s start with the positives. The FA7 showcases the continuing evolution of FiiO has a brand to be reckoned with, and is probably their most mature tuning to date. There’s plenty to like about the FA7, the robust build, head-turning faceplates, great fit and the accessible, warm sound signature.

It’s just that, when put against Lime Ears who’ve spent quite some time in the TOTL (top-of-the-line) arena, the differences are really telling. Model X obliterates FA7 in technical ability, boasting lengthier extension across both ends; cleaner, tighter notes with better definition and texture; a darker, airier background; and laser-guided imaging precision.



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These blingy faceplates are built to hypnotise.


With that technical backing, Model X flexes its might in all departments. The bass hits deeper and more viscerally, and decays faster than FA7, sounding more engrossing and fun. Mids are more resolved and articulate, with crunchier texture and bite. The treble showcases much better micro-detail retrieval, and carries gobs of air wherever it goes.

FA7 is, by all means, a more forgiving, less fatiguing listen, and would be more of interest to those looking for a smooth, inoffensive sound. But overall, the Model X is a technical masterclass, with top marks in speed, precision, and fun. The FA7 is humbled, and made to sound blunt, slow and plodding while lacking air and crispness.



Jomo Audio Flamenco

Word association: when someone mentions “neutral monitor”, 9 times out of 10 I think of Jomo Audio’s Flamenco, their old flagship (not the Latin dance). It features 11 BAs with a killer neutral tuning, killer switches for bass and treble, and a murderous price (starts at a whopping SGD2999 or ~USD2200 depending on options).

While this might seem like a matchup between David and some giant, Model X and Flamenco are more spirit brothers, both carrying a neutral signature with switches to augment the sound. Flamenco has two fun buttons as opposed to Model X’s single switch, but for the sake of fairness, let’s just twiddle the bass switches.

Straight up, I was amazed at how remarkably similar they both sounded. They possess blazing-fast note speed, an eye for details, top tier transparency, a compact stage size and disciplined, razor-clean imaging. Like brothers from a different mother. The presentation too is similar, opting for precise, well-measured notes, immense air, and a bright tilt for excitement.

Before you can yell “doppelganger”, there are slight differences upon closer scrutiny. Flamenco sounds more organic, true-to-life, and effortless. There is an ease in which the notes flow into each other, and it scores massive points in musicality. This is achieved while not surrendering any of the resolution, speed and transparency that it is known for. It’s a proper top-tier monitor.

Model X however, sounds brighter, harsher and grainier than Flamenco. There is, unfortunately, a faint digital, metallic edginess to the notes, more noticeable in the treble. For mids, X leans towards articulation, while Flamenco has more accurate timbre. X’s bass is slightly boomier and more authoritative than Flamenco’s, lending a more V-shaped signature overall.

So Model X comes across as the excitable loose cannon, while Flamenco is more cultured, relaxed and provides minute refinement throughout. Next to the galvanic magnificence of Flamenco, Model X puts up more than a good fight. It’s flat-out amazing how well Model X keeps up despite the price difference. Baby Flamenco? Why yes!



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If only it was a working timepiece.


Final Words

We like to look for the one IEM that can do it all. But no matter what we choose, concessions are made. Too much clarity sacrifices naturalness, too much note body foregoes airiness and congests the stage, too much smoothness puts you to sleep, too large a soundstage diffuses the sound and lacks engagement, et cetera et cetera.

Finding the perfect IEM is more of keeping what you want while accepting as little shortcomings as possible. It’s a balancing act, like walking a tightrope to profound madness. Lime Ears doesn’t have the solution, or “the one”, but proposes a workaround that allows you to have the best of two worlds, a reference and a fun signature, covering a great many genres in one swoop.

As some might say, X marks the spot. Or is it X barks the lot. Or maybe X sparks the thought. Enough. Model X is quite possibly the most versatile and accomplished IEM I know of in its price range, and provides much ammunition for the “you don’t need many drivers for great sound” argument. What’s more, Model X dares to dream, with technical abilities that rock the boat of pricier flagships.

History remembers the best duos in memory, like Lennon/McCartney, John/Taupin, Milli/Vanilli, bacon/eggs… anything but those Wham! guys. In the same rich vein, Model X’s dual signatures are different and dazzling enough to stand on their own, a dastardly duo that does it all to discerning and distinguished devotees. It’s an absolute joy to listen to.

Pros:
- Versatile, well-implemented sound signatures
- Flagship-tier sound quality
- Elite imaging and layering
- Very good accessory set, especially the ear tips
- Excellent fit and comfort
- Good isolation
- Reasonably priced


Cons:
- Generic design
- Heavy carry case
- Neutral tuning might be too sterile
- Treble is sometimes harsh
- Small soundstage


Rating: 4.5/5