A Headphones Reviews Blog
Vision Ears (VE) is a relatively young company from Cologne, Germany, making some very interesting Custom In Ear Monitors. The company was only founded in 2013, but don’t you be confused – the people behind it have over 12 years of experience in the CIEM world; They were co-owners of a company called Compact Monitors, which both sides chose to leave in order to establish their own new and separate companies, VE and Rhines Monitors. At first they only had the original four Compact Monitor in-ear models in their lineup, but since then, they’ve already released two “pure-VE” models, Firstly the VE6, in 2014, and then the VE5 this year. This review’s subject is going to be the VE5, so let’s start talking about it; As you can understand from its name, it uses 5 drivers, balanced armature ones to be more specific, in a 4-Way design. The VE5 is described in the company’s website as a CIEM with focus on vocals as well as on clarity, resolution and airiness in the treble. It comes at a price of 1399 Euros, not cheap at all. This pricing makes the VE5 a premium product; but the question is: does it provide you with a premium experience and performance as well?
Packaging – Our experience with any product starts with the packaging – it gives us the 1st impression about the product. The packaging here is minimalistic, and it comes in form of thin, purple paper with VE’s logo on it, which is wrapped around the VE5’s case. It surely isn’t your typical packaging, but the purple colored paper gives you a luxury feel.
Accessories – Moving on, the VE5 comes with VE’s standard black-colored aluminum case, which isn’t small, at a size of 15.5cm x 10cm x 5.5 cm. I would say that it’s quite similar in size to that of the case of the previously reviewed Rhapsodio RTi1. The special thing about this case is that VE provides you with an option to customize it. This means that you can either send them a logo or a black & white picture via e-mail and they’ll have it laser-printed onto your case. There are numerous pictures of customized cases on their Facebook page, if you’d like to see some examples. I, being a big fan of Michael Jackson’s music, chose to have an illustration of his silhouette to be printed on my case, with the result being beautiful and very high quality, and even better than I’ve imagined. They also print your name on the case, as well as the model number. The case is one of the most aesthetically pleasing ones that I came across, and not only that, but its usability is top-notch as well.
There is plenty of space inside of it, which is divided to two areas by a big cover; the main one is for storing the earphones, while the other one is for storing the accessories. The accessories can be stored inside of two small pockets which are placed in the interior of the case’s “door”. The case’s interior is coated with rubber in order to protect the earphones from shock when the case is moved. That’s it about the case.
The rest of the accessories that come with the VE5 are more standard, and here’s a list of them:
You can also get 2 additional cases (if you choose to pay some extra money), which are more portable than the one mentioned before – one of them being a soft and small one, while the other one is round and is made out of metal. I think that VE should include one of these two cases in the “basic-package”, since the one that is included isn’t so portable or “pocketable”, and for such a price you’re paying for the CIEMs, the basic accessories package should be better.
Manufacturing – My VE5 took around 7 weeks to be completed, and that’s around the company’s standard turnaround time. In comparison to other companies in the CIEM market, their turnaround time is decent, although there are some companies which complete the manufacturing faster. It should be noted that VE requires closed-mouth ear-impressions, as opposed to most of the companies.
Design – Vision Ears offers a lot of different customization options for their in ear monitors. You can select your desired color(s) of shells, and they also offer to print your name on the IEMs and to add the company’s logo/model-logo to the faceplates, all for free. You can select special-faceplates from a wide range of types (such as wood, carbon, mother of pearl, and more), and you can also get an artwork printed on the faceplate, all at an extra cost, which varies based on your selection. Last but not least, they also let you choose your cable’s color too, so it would fit your IEM’s design. You can find all of the options and some sample photos in VE’s “sample book“.
My pair was designed by the VE team since I couldn’t decide about a specific deisgn. My IEM has “Smoke Grey” colored shells, a VE logo on one faceplate and a model logo on the other one, and for the faceplates themselves it has their latest offering, the “mirror-faceplate” in silver (there’s a variety of colors to choose from with this kind of faceplate). The result is a beautiful IEM, which really fits VE’s description of it (when we spoke about the design) “a technological looking one”; it truly looks like something that came from the future. I’m very happy with the design, it’s just what I expected when giving them the green-light to go with it. I really like the mirror-faceplates, they really give it a luxurious feeling when combined with the silver-3D logos on top of them. It has to be my favorite CIEM looks-wise.
Building Quality – The VE5’s acrylic shells are very well made; they are ultra smooth, very clear, seem to be tough, and have zero bubbles present in their surface. They are some of the most well made shells that I’ve seen, the level of craftsmanship is very high. In addition, my name printed on the shells is printed in a very high quality (in red on the right shell and in blue on the left one), and without any of the imperfections which I’ve had with other CIEMs in my collection.
Unlike most of the custom in ear monitors around, the VE5, like all of VE’s offerings, has only a single bore in its tip, which leads to easier cleaning compared to the common multi-bore’d CIEMs.
The VE5 utilizes flush cable-connection sockets of the 2-Pin type, meaning that you can virtually use any 2-Pin cable that you’d like to with it. The cables connectors are held a bit too tight by the sockets in my opinion, which could be a bit frustrating when trying to remove the cable, but on the other hand, this also assures that it’ll not be loose or fall out of them.
Speaking about cables, I think that the standard twisted-cable that comes with the earphones is more than enough to settle with. It seems to be of high quality, and I am very happy with it for its building quality as well as for its ergonomics. It has enough flexibility and softness in order to offer good comfort, but it also doesn’t feel fragile. It has a small, low-profile, Y-split made out of plastic, which has a rubber-made chin slider on top of it, that when not in use looks like a part of it. The cable also has a (VE-branded) integrated cable-wrap on it, which makes it easier to nicely store the earphones when not in use (this is actually quite similar to what DUNU has on their cables).
The cable ends with a small, straight 3.5mm connector, which has a good strain-relief on top of it and is golden plated.
Comfort and Fit– the VE5 is actually the most comfortable and well-fitting custom in-ear monitor in my collection. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s just spectacular. After trying the VE5 for the 1st time everything else in my collection felt badly fitting in comparison. I never had such a well fitting custom.
The shells are on the tighter side of things, but their tightness does not cause any discomfort at all; it helps keeping the earphones in your ears, very well, I can assure you. I can also eat with them in my ears without experiencing the annoying movement that usually happens when eating with CIEMs in your ears. I also found the VE5 to be comfortable to sleep with, as they do not stick out of the ears, they sit there quite flushly. The included cable offers great ergonomics; it has lightweight heat-shrink plastic ear-guides (instead of the common memory-wire, which I don’t like at all…) which haven’t caused me any fatigue even after hours of use.
To conclude, the VE5 offers fit and comfort that no other CIEM that I’ve tried can, they’re just perfect in this area.
Isolation – I found the VE5’s isolation to be a bit better than my other acrylic-made CIEMs, probably due to their perfect fit, which blocks extra-external noise and allows improved seal over the competitors. Actually, the only CIEM that I have that isolates better than the VE5 is the M-Fidelity SA-33, which is a unique one, since it’s acrylic based, but is filled with silicone, and it has superb isolation due to this special design.
Sound – For this review I’ve mostly used my iPhone 6, loaded with iTunes Store purchased music (256 KBPS M4A files) and with some MP3 320 KBPS CD rips. I’ve also used the Lotoo PAW Gold, and it was loaded with FLACs & WAVs ripped from CDs. The VE5 sounded quite good out of the iPhone, and using the High-End PAW Gold didn’t add to its technical abilities, expect of a bit of additional detail across the spectrum.
The VE5’s sound is targeted towards vocal-lovers with its focus on the upper midrange. This also makes them good for stage usage by singers. In addition to being mids-focused, the VE5 is also musical and quite neutral, with great clarity across all of the frequencies.
While being tight and well controlled, the bass isn’t “shy” or anemic; it still has enough presence in order to satisfy most non-bass-head users, and it can be quite powerful if the track calls it. Of course it doesn’t hit as hard as the BD4.2’s & W500’s bass, but please remember that the VE5 only has 1 BA driver out of 5 that produces bass in comparison to those two CIEMs, which have dynamic drivers for the bass (2 in the BD4.2 and 1 in the W500). On the other hand, its speed, clarity and cleanness are better than those of the dynamic-driver utilizing CIEMs mentioned before. The speed is actually something special, and it seems to me that the VE5 is one of the best in this department in comparison to other CIEMs and IEMs that I’ve heard in the past. In addition to that, the punch is great as well. On the other hand, it does lack a bit in its deepness, I would’ve liked it to be more extended . All in all, the VE5’s bass is what I would call accurate and enjoyable, and you’ll most likely enjoy it if you are not a bass-head.
As I said earlier, vocals are surely the highlight when it comes to the VE5’s sound. Vocals are well bodied and full sounding and they have a great airiness to them. They are very musical, and sound somewhat “soulful” (I didn’t find a better word for this description) in my opinion. In addition to that, they are also extremely clear and clean sounding and are very well detailed. I’ve heard in the past a few IEMs that had too much focus on the vocals to the point of causing annoyance, but in my opinion, the engineers at VE have managed to find the “sweet spot” in terms of vocal presence for an IEM that is focused on vocals, and I feel that they’re present just in the right level not to cause any fatigue. The lower mids are less powerful and present than the upper ones, but they too are well detailed and clear.
Unlike the bass, the treble extends very well and reaches to quite high frequencies. It is quite present, but didn’t cause me any fatigue. Additionally, sibilance is negligible, and I’ve only noticed it in “problematic” songs, in low, not bothersome levels. Clarity is amazing, and the detailing here is as good as it is in the midrange, micro details are everywhere. The treble also has some marvelous airiness and a quite spacious feel to it.
The sound-stage is not small, but neither it is the largest. It isn’t bad by any means, it’s just that there are some other CIEMs out there that offer a larger stage. Also the instrument separation is average, and I think that the VE5 does better with less-layered-tracks.
Final Conclusions – The VE5 is a CIEM that I really like because of the premium experience that it offers; From the perfect fit and comfort, to the personalized case, the great craftsmanship, and most importantly, its sound. It has amazingly good upper-midrange and treble, and the vocals that it manages to produce are probably the best that I’ve ever heard; if you’re a vocals-lover, it couldn’t get any better for you than the VE5. On the other hand, the VE5 is not the most versatile CIEM out there, due to it being so vocals-focused. It doesn’t sound bad with anything, but there are better C/IEMs out there for versatility. To conclude, Vision Ears did a great job with the VE5, resulting a very impressive vocals-focused custom in ear monitor.
Rhapsodio is a young company from Hong Kong that makes some of the most exotic IEMs and cables available in the market. It is run by only two people and they operate a physical store in the city of Hong Kong as well as a webstore. During the last few years they’ve released many different products, making their product line quite unstable, with no product being there for more than a few months. But as the time moved on, it seems that they’ve finally chosen their lane, with a few great products which are less DIY-looking than their older products (less, but they still feel somewhat DIY). I’m talking about their RTi-series of IEMs, which currently consists of 2 models, the RTi-1 and the cheaper RTi-3, which both have a single dynamic driver housed inside of titanium shells, in contrast to most of the high-end IEMs on the market, which include multiple drivers (BA or Dynamic). Today I’m going to look at the $800 RTi-1, which the folks at Rhapsodio call a “Detail Monster”.
Final Audio Design (FAD in this review), based in Tokyo, Japan, makes some of the most exotic earphones and headphones available in the last few years. The company’s story starts in 1974 but its 1st pair of earphones was released only in 2009. In late 2013 they’ve released their 1st pair of headphones, the Pandora Hope VI, which I’m going to look at today. FAD being FAD chose a surprising and extremely unique driver configuration, which includes not only a traditional 50mm dynamic driver, but also a Balanced Armature driver too; yes, you’re not mistaken, that is the type of tiny drivers that a lot of earphones (but not headphones) utilize.
Having reviewed FAD’s Heaven VI earphones a few years ago and liking them a lot had me very excited about the Pandora Hope VI headphones, and as you’ll see later on in this review, their special driver configuration proves itself quite well and provides the listener with a great sound.
Aurisonics is an in-ear-monitors and hearing protection manufacturer based in “Music City” Nashville. The company was founded in 2011 by Dale Lott, an experienced mastering engineer & audio equipment expert, with a goal to make products that “would help musicians to hear the music the way that it is intended to be heard”. Aurisonics’ first IEM model was the AS-1, a single dynamic driver utilizing custom-fit in ear monitor, handmade in the USA (like all of the company’s products) and designed to be used by touring musicians. Dale also made a universal generic-fitting version so that potential buyers could try it before making a decision to purchase it. Later, because of the very positive feedback that it got, this generic-fitting version was added to the Aurisonics catalog as the ASG-1. After a few (quite different sounding) revisions Aurisonics started selling the ASG-1 Rev. 1.3 (which will be the last revision of the ASG-1) a few months ago. The changes from the earlier revisions are very big, and they include a new shell design, a new in-house made dynamic driver and even more.
M-Fidelity is a custom in-ear-monitoring and hearing-protection company based in Norway. They were formerly known as “Starkey Norway”, but since their lab’s contract with Starkey has ended they have became “M-Fidelity”. The company has quite a few CIEM offerings in their line, ranging between a large range of prices. Their flagship is called the SA-43 and it has 4 balanced-armature drivers inside of its shells, but there is a twist to that – the user can choose if he wants to turn on the 4th driver in order to change the sound or not. The product of theirs that I am going to write about in this review is called the SA-33. It is very similar to their flagship, and in fact it differs only by not having the 4th BA-driver, meaning that it is actually an SA-43 without the user-controlled sound.
Fanmusic is a distributor and a brand of Chinese audio-equipment which also has an eBay store. I was contacted by Tony, their manager a while ago and he informed me that they were working on an IEM (under their brand as far as I know), with a dual-dynamic setup in a metal housing with a user replaceable cable, simply named “MS-E1011”. Tony offered to send me a pre-production/prototype to review it and the MS-E1011 is going to be the subject of this review. Read more of this post
Shure, the well known In-Ear-Monitors and microphones manufacturer has just announced a new Quad-Driver In-Ear-Monitor flagship, called the SE-846. They feature a 3-Way crossover and a set of user-replaceable acoustic-filters (nozzles), consisting of balanced, warm and bright filters that the user is able choose from.