InEar StageDiver 5
The InEar StageDiver 5 are technically easily the best of the series. In fact, I think the SD-5’s strengths even outperform the company’s reference flagship ProPhile 8 if linearity is not top priority. The tonality is extremely engaging and balanced at the same time and I can see some less experienced users thinking they are neutral. I have become a big fan of the midrange and I am surprised how easily my mind adapts to the signature.
But not only the sonic performance impresses. The StageDiver are still the most comfortable universal IEM series for my (German male) ears. The design allows a tight and deep fit and I don’t know anything that comes closer to an actual CIEM. For the first time, a small version is already available with the product launch.
Those striving for high-end audio can achieve further improvement by upgrading the cable and they also have the option of choosing real wood designs and an optional leather case to match the performance. Do not let the driver count fool you, this is a TOTL monitor!
At Headflux we think pragmatically: good sound is good sound, whether or not it was achieved with the help of DSP. In our opinion, the frequency response in particular is very important for subjective sound perception. This is one of the reasons why we have been intensively involved with the linearization of headphones behind the scenes for a long time. For this purpose we have already tested several target curves internally – the review of the biggest player Sonarworks should not be missing.
Altogether, we can easily recommend Sonarworks True-Fi as a cost-effective solution to achieve a significant improvement in the audio chain in terms of high-fidelity in most cases. The project is very ambitious, but currently there are not enough headphones on the list of supported devices. We also see potential for improvement in regards to IEM equalization. For the full experience, we also suggest to take a look at Sonarworks Reference, which allows manipulation of the default correction that thus can be better adapted to subjective perception. Anyone can test the software for free for 10 days before buying. We highly suggest to try it – at least if your headphones are supported.
beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless
The beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless are a chic, well-made and comfortable set of on-ear headphones that are fun on-the-go with a warm tuning, moderate bass and smooth highs. You’ll enjoy wearing and showing them, but with a RRP of 449 € they ultimately stay a little below our expectations or don’t quite meet our demands of a neutral studio sound. Nevertheless, they can stand up to competing Bluetooth headphones. Perfectionists will criticize some shortcomings, such as the imprecise touch controls, noise from the built-in technology and a much too coarse volume control. In addition, the connection to the accompanying app is unreliable. Although the MIY app occasionally has problems accessing the headphones, the Bluetooth connection itself works very well. I am also very satisfied with the voice quality. As an audiophile, it’s easy to forget how convenient wireless use really is. Bluetooth definitely has some advantages.
The usefulness of the MIY app, which is actually supposed to enable “perfect sound” through personalization, ultimately depends very much on the health or age of one’s own ears. If your ears are still healthy, the additional benefit remains relatively small, but I can see how the idea makes sense in the long run. Especially those with asymmetrical hearing are offered an almost unrivaled advantage. Others are instead advised to take a look at a cheaper on-ear from the same company, such as the Aventho (without wireless), the T51i or the DT 1350.
RME ADI-2 DAC
I can’t think of any other desktop DAC/amp combo that would be easier to recommend in 2018. There is no magic involved in the RME ADI-2 DAC: no proprietary filters, no patented exclusive circuits, no unordinary connections and most importantly no voodoo buzz words. This is an extremely down-to-earth device that has just been given extreme thought, massive experience and great attention to detail. It’s not the supplier’s chip that makes a great device, it is how you use the tools.
The ADI-2 DAC is technically marvelous, regardless of whether you want to dive into the long feature list or not. I do recommend you do, though, because the equalizer with its many save slots, the customizable loudness function, the tight crossfeed, various DA filters and many controls to test your whole audio chain just keep on giving and giving. Despite the huge amount of functions, the software is extremely stable and hasn’t failed me once.
While the Phones output provides clean and linear amplification for even power hungry headphones, the new IEM output might just have reached a new reference level. Of course the device will work just as well as a standalone DAC in case you want to connect some warm tubes with the line-out. The channel-specific dual EQ or quick bass/treble adjustments can work wonders in a speaker setup.
I praised the RME ADI-2 Pro before and it proved to be a massive success. At 1.599 € (or 1.999 € for the black Anniversary Edition) it challenged competitive high-end products and it seems almost unfair that we now can get the same performance for a lot less, e.g. 999 €. Friends of high-fidelity, what are you waiting for?
Sennheiser HD 660 S
Just like the HD 600 and the HD 650 before it, the new HD 660 S is another great hi-fi headphone for home use. The revisions and minor improvements are legitimate and suit the series well – even if the surcharge seems to be a bit steep for the moment. I do not agree with the decision to include a symmetrical Pentaconn cable, but otherwise, considering the complete package, there is very little cause for criticism.
Sennheiser have once again delivered a very well-balanced and ambitious set of headphones, which can actually be blindly recommended for almost all purposes. However, if you already own one of the headphones from the six hundred series, you might save yourself the upgrade, depending on your requirements. Despite the new technology, the relationship to its siblings cannot be denied.
At almost two thousand dollars, the qdc Gemini is not a steal. But for that, you not only get a very goodmonitor, but also the whole high-end experience: beautiful design, perfect fit, flawless production, a nice case, superior cable and the adequate packaging.
The tuning of the 8 BA receivers is done very delicately. The Gemini sound more musical than a reference tuning but they still provide overall great balance among bass, mids, and highs. They also scale very well with better equipment and I am interested to see how much I can push them in the future.
The bass switch is nothing I asked for, but surprisingly I use it a lot. Once I get on the tram, I subconsciously automatically flip the switch. When I arrive back home, I flip it back. Independent of the music genre, the sound is very saturated, melodic and easy to listen to, yet provides ample texture and great micro-details.
Westone UM-1 (2017)
The new Westone UM1 might not be the first choice for the full hifi experience with impressive extension on both ends, strong low-end rumble or airy treble. But what they do, they do very well.
Their presentation is positively mild with great potential for tweaking, but even without modifications, the homogenous frequency response does well in giving instruments and voices enough room to stand out on their own.
Westone provides a nice package with durable IEMs, a large selection of ear tips and the pro-feeling of higher priced monitors. If they had included a more useful pouch, the value would have been even higher. The new UM1 still prove to be a solid recommendation for musicians on a budget and I prefer them slightly over the current placeholders by Shure.
Audio Zenith PMx2
Audio Zenith asked me many times to enjoy the music while writing this review. That is exactly what I did! I enjoyed my time with the PMx2 a lot and eventually it even made me question the perception of warmth. At the end of the day, the PMx2 definitely had me convinced that their tuning is very enjoyable and natural with not a hint of fatigue. It’s all about music first and that’s where the PMx2 excel at.
Modifications are a subject on their own. No doubt the upgrades done with the PM2 are troublesome and the PMx2 are a further development toward high-end audio. However, I do think that Audio Zenith were a bit too aggressive in covering up Oppo’s base work of a good headphone. Less of those Audio Zenith stickers would have sufficed too. Perhaps something along the lines of “PM2 reworked by Audio Zenith“ could have worked too. But the point is that the team of A.Z. put a lot of work into the PMx2 and the outcome is definitely something to be proud of. This is a very refined product.
I can only recommend to check these out if they are available anywhere near you. Looking at the street prices, I think it might be easier to recommend to grab an Oppo PM2 as long as they are still available and then send them out for modification – this should be cheaper than paying full price for the PMx2. That is not saying they aren’t worth it, but it could make the investment even more worthwhile.
How much is a DAP allowed to cost? Up to 900 €, apparently. I criticized a few points, for example the display. However, there is nothing that cuts back on the music enjoyment. The DX200 has everything an audiophile needs: it sounds transparent, uncolored, spatial, revealing, and more.
The “ideal customer” of the iBasso is uncompromising, but also makes high demands based on price. He also wants to have the feeling of buying a premium device. The DX200 offers all this: the packaging is too fancy to store away; the charging cable is nice enough to proudly carry along and every day anew you want to decide whether to put on the leather case or not – it is attractive with or without it.
If you know that you prefer to listen to music very loudly, then you might want to replace the amplifier unit yourself and order the AMP3 module. The modularity is a big advantage in the long run, as there should soon be the 4th option. Personally, as an IEM user, I was already completely satisfied with the AMP1.
FiiO X5 III
In this review the poor FiiO got wiped several times from left and right. I am someone who demands streamlined minimalism and who prefers perfectionism over loads of functions. The X5 III moves in the opposite direction and offers quantity instead of quality in the software. Those who take their time will certainly get the Android device optimized to their advantage and have an excellent technical basis. If you can do without highly sensitive inears, you get a lot of power for 450 €. Unfortunately, you don’t get it served on a silver platter and I don’t recommend the FiiO music app.
We are friends of magnetostatic headphones. We are particularly pleased if these are visually attractive and of high quality, without being punished with a lot of weight. It’s almost unbelievable when a headphone can do all of this and also fits into your hand luggage, yet still manages to play loudly and clean from almost any source.
The smaller deviations from a perfect frequency response give the headphones their individual character and we are pleased that these do not end in too much bass and highs – as is often the case with the competition. Instead, the Oppo PM-3 appear surprisingly mature and feel most comfortable with multi-layered and complex compositions.
Lake People Reference Series
The Lake People Reference Series is easily recommendable for headphile purists. DAC and amp sound very clean and linear without any flaws. Especially the amp impressed me. Aiming at the same sonic qualities as the pricier Violectric products, the Reference Series deserves its name in my humble opinion.