A Headphones Reviews Blog
[REVIEW] LEAR LCM-5 Custom In Ear Monitors – Clarity
10/04/2013Posted by on
LEAR (an acronym of “Listen & Learn Everything. Acoustic & Audio Revolution) is a Hong-Kong based audio-products manufacturer founded in 2008 (which has recently also opened an HQ in Japan). The company makes portable headphone amplifiers, some different types of cables and adapters and also custom-fit in-ear-monitors (“CIEMs”), but in the past, they’ve also made some universal IEMs too. LEAR is owned by one the most famous audio stores in Hong-Kong, “Forever Source Digital”, which also distributes LEAR’s products. In 2011, LEAR has introduced their CIEMs line. They are proud of it because they say that it is the first CIEMs line to be fully developed, tuned and manufactured in Hong-Kong. About a year afterwards, LEAR released their flagship CIEM, the acrylic-material-made LCM-5, which sports five balanced armature drivers per earpiece with a 3-way crossover. One of the drivers produces the bass, two others are responsible for the midrange and the left two are treble drivers.
- Frequency response: 20Hz-22kHz
- Impedance: 28 Ohm @1 kHz
- Sensitivity: 122dB @1Mw
- THD Ratio: Below 0.6% (20Hz-10kHz)
- Driver: 5 Balanced armatures per earpiece (1 Bass, 2 Midrange, 2 Treble)
- Crossover: Passive 3 way
After getting my ear-impressions done by my local audiologist, I’ve emailed a few photos of them to my contact at LEAR, Tatco, so he could confirm that they’re good enough to make my LCM-5 from. A few hours later I’ve received a reply from him confirming that my impressions are indeed good to use for CIEM manufacturing.
After hearing from Tatco, I’ve sent them to LEAR, and they’ve arrived within exactly a week (a thing which I was quite surprised by, as it was only a few days before Christmas, when the post is usually very slow). I was then informed by Tatco that the standard building time is between 14 to 21 business days. LEAR nicely kept their promise (in that busy, full of holidays part of the year), and my LCM-5 was ready on January 22nd, and a week later I had the package containing them at my doorstep. You can watch a video that shows how LEAR builds CIEMs in their lab right here.
Packaging- The LCM-5 comes in a not too large sized black cardboard box, which reminds me a bit of Apple’s packaging. On the box’s front we have the company’s logo, printed in silver-letters, while on its back side we have this written in the same silver-letters: “Designed, Tuned and Made in Hong Kong”.
When opening the box, the included OtterBox box can be seen placed inside a black-cardboard “niche”. Under the box, the customer would be able to find also a quite detailed, English-written user manual.
LEAR includes with the LCM-5s a nice amount of accessories that would surely help the users. The included accessories are:
OtterBox 1000 Series Box- the included box is very tough, sturdy and strong, and I can’t imagine it breaking. It doesn’t only protect its contents from shock, but from water too, which is a rather nice and important thing to have. The box is very hermetically sealed, which makes it a bit hard to open in the first few times, but after a while its opening mechanism becomes a bit more smooth and easier to open. The OtterBox isn’t too large in size – it is about the size of my 4th generation iPod Touch, and its height is around 2-3 centimeters, so it is quite portable. Inside of it there isn’t too much space to put anything other than the included accessories. You might be able to in it also a small player like the Sansa Fuze or something similar in size, but nothing bigger than that.
Compact Soft Pouch- inside the OtterBox we get a small and soft fabric-made pouch, which the CIEMs were inside when I received the package. It is quite thick, but it will still protect the LCM-5s only from scratches and from small-height fallings.
The OtterBox and this pouch are a great combo together; the pouch provides protection from small damages that might happen because of movement inside the box, while the box provides protection from dangerous fallings and from water.
Cleaning Tool- this is the standard cleaning tool which has a metal loop in one of its sides and a small brush in its other side. It is very important to clean your CIEM’s bores frequently in order to avoid malfunction of the drivers due to ear-pollution entering into them.
Cleaning Cloth- in addition to the previously mentioned cleaning tool, LEAR includes also a microfiber cleaning cloth so you could clean also the LCM-5’s shell too (the cleaning tool is to clean the bores). The included cloth isn’t of a quite good quality, as mine has started to come apart after a short time of using it.
The included accessories are quite nice in my opinion, but it would’ve been better to get a higher-quality cleaning cloth that won’t come apart so soon after receiving it.
the LCM-5s are really well built; there is a very minor number of bubbles in the acrylic shells, and those that are there are quite tiny and un-noticeable unless you look very closely. The shells’ surface is extremely well polished, it is just really smooth. The cables inside the shells seem to be quite thick and well fixed to their place in order to make them durable enough for intense use.
There are three bores in the tip, each one of them bringing out a different part of the sound – one is for the bass, the second one is for the midrange, while the last one is for the treble.
Like most of the CIEMs, also the LCM-5s utilize user-replaceable detachable cables, their socket being a flush Ultimate-Ears two-pin standard one, which means that you’ll be able to find lots and lots of after-market cables for your LCM-5.
With the earphones themselves you get a nice 1.3 meters long, which is handmade according to what I read. The part where the pins are placed in has a black sturdy plastic coating on it, on which the side indicators are placed on: a red dot for the right earpiece and a blue one for the right earpiece. The cable isn’t too thick, and it has a black shiny plastic coating on it, which makes it a bit tangle-prone. It looks very similar to the cables that are used by Brainwavz for many of their IEMs (it even has the same Y-Split), but apparently, it is of a better quality. The cable ends with a 3.5mm gold-plated and angled plug, with a nice strain-relief to it.
LEAR offers the customer lots of design-options and colors. The customer can choose the colors of the faceplate, the body of the sell and the tip; the customer is able to choose a different color for each one of them in both ears (complete customization). The colors are to be chosen from a large variety, which you can see over here. You can also get a laser-printed artwork on the faceplate at an additional price, plus you can choose if you’d like to have the company’s logo on the faceplate or not. Now, I’ll get to the “special faceplate designs” that are offered by LEAR: the first of them is LEAR’s “True Texture Faceplate”, which is a carbon-fiber-like (it is not real carbon) 3 dimensional printing on the faceplate. Virtually, LEAR is able to make such faceplates in any color, but Tatco (my contact) recommended choosing a solid-black or a transparent gray colored “True Texture Faceplate” for the best looking result.
The second “special faceplate” is the recently released “True Wood Faceplate”, which is a faceplate made of real wood (unlike the “True Texture” one which is only a look-alike). LEAR offers five different wood-styles which the customer is able to choose from for their faceplate.
Both “special faceplate designs” are around 50 more bucks in addition to the LCM-5’s basis-price. My own LCM-5 pair is designed as follows: a solid black “True Texture” faceplate on both earpieces (with LEAR’s logo on it), a “Wine Red” shell for the right earpiece and a “Deep Blue” shell for the left earpiece (how original I am, right?) and clear tips for both earpieces. The colors look awesome in my opinion, just like I expected and just like in the pictures. Also the faceplates came out gorgeous, and they look really like natural carbon. You can see pictures of some LCM-5s right here.
Comfort & Ergonomics
No universal IEM can compete with a custom IEM in terms of comfort, so I’ve decided to check the LCM-5’s comfort level by comparing it to the comfort level of one my other CIEMs, the ACS T3. It should be noted that the T3 is a silicone-made CIEM, while the LCM-5 is an acrylic-made one. The results of the comparison were that the T3s are a bit more comfortable than the LCM-5s and that the LCM-5 felt a bit tighter than the T3, but the acrylic LCM-5 was a lot easier to insert than the silicone-made T3.
Although not a huge difference in comfort, it’s still a quite noticeable one in my opinion. I still find the LCM-5 very comfortable for long listening sessions (moreover due to their quite low-weight), so no one should be bothered by that. I noticed that they have a slightly longer tip than most of the other CIEMs, but I didn’t feel it while wearing them. It is important to note that LEAR offers a “re-fit period” of 30 days from the day of arrival, so if you’ve got any problems with the fit, LEAR would help you fix them for free. Like most of the custom-fit in-ear-monitors, also the LCM-5 is designed to be worn with the cable up over the ear; the supplied cable is very light and it is almost not felt while wearing the LCM-5.
Isolation & Microphonics
The LCM-5 isolates really well, better than all of my universal IEMs aside from Etymotic’s HF5, which proves that Etymotic are indeed the kings of isolation. It will have no problem to isolate most of the noises, but really loud low-frequency sounds might still be heard (although in a lower volume than without the LCM-5). The included cable is silent – there are almost no microphonics. That is both due to the fact that the LCM-5s are designed to be worn over the ears and because that the cable is very lightweight and smooth.
The gear that I have used during the reviewing process is my 4th Generation iPod Touch, which is loaded with mostly iTunes Store M4A files and 320 KBPS file. For some of the time I’ve listened to the LCM-5s directly out of my iPod, while I’ve also tested it with amplification, provided by Firestone Audio’s Fireye HD & HA amplifiers, connected to the iPod’s dock input through a generic LOD to 3.5mm adapter.
The LCM-5s are extremely easy to drive due to their 28-ohms impedance and moreover due to their very high 122dB sensitivity. That means that you’ll get great volume levels from any device that you’ll use these with. I listen to these straight out of my iPod at around a third of the volume, which I usually find quite low, but with the LCM-5s I find it to be quite high.
The five BA drivers that are placed in each earpiece produce a neutral (with a slight bass and warmness addition), balanced, and almost transparent sound-signature. We’ll now move on to a more detailed description of each one of the sound’s parts:
Bass- like I have already mentioned, the LCM-5’s tuning includes a slight boost to the lower frequencies. If the track that you are listening to has a big amount of bass you would not feel that something is missing from it with the LCM-5s, except if you are a bass-head; these would surely not fit any bass-head. The impact is a bit too soft than what I like, although that would probably differ from a person to another. Other than that, I have only good things so say about the bass’ technical abilities; I find it to be extremely fast (might even be the fastest that I’ve ever heard), very well detailed, and both the clarity and cleanness are nothing other than top notch. I was also quite impressed by its extension, which I feel that is quite deep down the spectrum.
Midrange- the quite “dry” mids are in about the same line of the bass – they do not feel emphasized above (forward) it or recessed under it. They’re very clear, clean and transparent. Vocals in high-quality recordings sound exceptionally great, but those in low-quality recordings sound quite awful; these are not forgiving IEMs by any means. The vocals feel quite rich and lush, crisp and well bodied. They (the vocals) are impressively detailed, and every tiniest vocal nuance can be easily heard. The timbre is nicely done, but there are some IEMs in my collection that have a more natural and realistic sounding timbre than the LCM-5’s one. The mids keep the neutral approach of the sound by not being too bright or too warm sounding; they are rather in between, being un-colored.
Treble- the highs are not too bright, but they’re still bright enough to satisfy most if not all of the users, and they’re quite balanced next to the other frequencies. The treble appears to have about the same great clarity, transparency and cleanness levels as the midrange, but it possesses a bit more analytic qualities. I was glad to hear that the sibilance level is between a minor to an un-noticed one (with high-quality recordings), mainly thanks to the somewhat smoothened treble. When it comes to low-quality tracks, a bit more sibilance can be heard, but that happens with most of the IEMs. The TWFK drivers (which LEAR used as the LCM-5’s treble drivers) produce a very nicely extended treble with excellent detailing and micro-detailing in these extremely-high regions too.
Sound-Staging & Imaging- The LCM-5 has an above average sized sound-stage for an IEM, a one which I’d call three-dimensional (though a bit less 3D than the M-Fidelity SA-33’s sound-stage). The depth is really great and the height is nice either. On the other hand, the width is a bit less impressive, but I find it decent and satisfying enough. The imaging is quite realistic, so the instruments’ and the vocalists’ positioning seems to be quite precise and true to the source. The instrument-separation is unbelievably good, most probably the best that I’ve heard in an IEM until the time of writing this review.
The “Monitor Sound Tuned Adapter”– Together with the LCM-5, LEAR released also an adapter which was designed with them in mind (so LEAR does not promise that it would work with any other IEMs), which is supposed to make the LCM-5s a completely neutral “studio-monitor”, while bringing out of them extreme clarity, cleanness and detailing levels. I didn’t really believe to these promises, as I’m already used to hear audio-products manufacturers coming out with some huge ones, which aren’t usually true. I was happy to discover that the adapter actually does what it is promised to do, and that LEAR is not one of those lying companies. When connecting the CIEMs to the adapter, everything becomes a lot colder and analytical, and the technical abilities are increasing by a great bit. You can now hear every small nuance in the sound, it becomes cleaner, it has some extra crisp, and both clarity and transparency are nothing short of amazing. The bass has a smaller amount, but it becomes faster, the midrange has a better resolution to it, and the highs are even more extended than usually. When using the adapter, the impedance goes up to about 180 Ohms, but it should be noted that this adapter doesn’t only add impedance, but it has a lot of other components inside of it.
Because of the high impedance with it, an amplifier is needed when connecting the LCM-5’s to the adapter. To summarize, I was very impressed by the adapter and I’ll recommend getting it together with the LCM-5’s if you are more of an analytical type of listener. Its price is about $50 and you can choose from a few different connector-types and lengths.
LEAR has done a great job with the LCM-5s, and apart from a few quite minor disadvantages, I was very impressed by them sound-wise. At $900 there isn’t a “bang for the buck” value in products, but rather products that sound good enough in comparison to their price; the LCM-5 is surely a product of this kind. LEAR tuned it with a neutral and a “reference” type of sound in mind, but it is not boring or lifeless sounding by any means, and it surely has an enjoyable sound-signature. Also, I was very happy to discover that these are un-fatiguing, even after some quite long listening sessions. The most noticeable thing in the LCM-5’s sound is the clarity, which is just stunning, moreover with the adapter connected.
Purchasing Info- The LCM-5’s price (according to the currencies at the day of the writing) is about $875, and it includes free color-choices. You also have to add about $25 more for the shipping, so the basic price is around $900. For an extra 50 bucks you can also get a “True Texture” or a “True Wood” faceplate, and for another 50 dollars you can get the “Monitor Sound Tuned Adapter” too. You can purchase it through the company’s website, with PayPal payment.
I’d like to thank LEAR for providing me with the review unit.