It’s strange to think that, till now, as big a high-end audio player as Shure has had no answer to the extravagant, big-gun, flagship in-ear monitor models of its rivals — models like the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom, or the JH Audio JH16 Pro.
But now they do — big time. The new SE846 extends Shure’s highly regarded SE line well beyond the SE535, previously their top, most expensive IEM.
We bumped into neophyte Australian headphones-maker Audiofly in January, during a press-only event at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, and gave two models in the four-model lineup a whirl. Their mid-level AF45 set sounded great for $50; but the next one I tried — the top-of-the-line AF78 ($200) — left me slack-jawed with disbelief; its sound knocked my socks off, even amid the cacophony of noisy journalists.
What makes the AF78 unusual is its speaker arrangement.
Many mid-to-high-end canalphones are powered by tiny armature speakers, while moving coil drivers are found pretty much everywhere except the very high end. Armatures are generally better at producing clean highs and mids, but can lack deep bass; moving coils, on the other hand, are generally not as good at reproducing the clarity of an armature. But the AF78 is part of an elite group of models — like the Scosche IEM856m I reviewed last year — that employ both a moving coil speaker and a balanced armature in each ear, in an attempt to give the listener the best of both worlds. And it works spectacularly.
So far it’s been pretty consistent: Each time we review a set of Ultimate Ears ‘phones, the bar leaps up a few notches as our expectations regarding the outfit’s offerings rise. After reviewing the 350, 700, and especially the 600vi — which garnered a best-in-class verdict — we were expecting the TripleFi 10 ($400) to slay vampires and cure cancer.
Of Ultimate Ears’ more serious offerings — and by serious, I’m referring to UE’s armature-equipped models, which start at $100 — the TripleFi 10 is by far the most serious, with three drivers and a crossover in each ear, pro-level detachable leads, the thickest cable we’ve ever seen on an IEM, Comply foam tips (the best tips, period) and a sound signature that’ll have you madly running through your entire music catalog with a big, gleeful smile plastered all over your face.
What!? Neither Cult publication has ever reviewed Monster’s famed Turbine earphones, even though the IEMs have been hanging on Best Buy end caps for the last several years? Well, that’s an injustice we won’t let stand another day — after all, these are among the best recognized, and most iconic IEMs on the market.
The Turbine is the base model in Monster’s Turbine lineup; though with an MSRP of $180, “base model” seems like a relative term (the two higher models, the Pro Gold and the Pro Copper, are $300 and $400 respectively and are apparently better at reproducing a wider range than the plain-wrapper Turbines reviewed here).
There are those faithful who will never surrender their little white Apple earbuds. To them we say: Wear proudly. But for the rest, for those who don’t want to deal with sub-par sound, earbuds flopping around and having to hunt for foam covers, come with us — and we’ll show you a world of possibilities.
I distinctly recall a bit of maneuvering when Joe Daileda, head of sales and marketing at MEElectronics, contacted us about reviewing some of their earphones. Joe seemed particularly keen on getting a pair of their ceramic CC51Ps in our hands, but I wanted none of it — being the armature junkie I am, I was fixated on their armature-powered A151s ($75). Joe eventually ended up sending us three models (impressions of the unique, modular SP51 coming soon to a review near you).
Joe’s favoritism may have been entirely in my head — I get like that sometimes; but true enough, the CC51Ps turned out to be a stunning revelation. The A151s? Not so much.
LAS VEGAS, CES 2012 – Amazing to think Sony has never offered an armature-driven earphone before; now that they are, they’re diving in huge time with eleven models. Aussie new kid on the block Audiofly just have one in their new lineup, but it’s a doozy, and it sounded absolutely stunning; we fully expect these to be a huge hit.
Let’s get two big facts out the way right now: Yes, these Scosche IEM856m canalphones ($250) look a little like several of the canalphones in Monster’s lineup (eg. the Beats Tour), mostly because of the flat, ribbon-like cable; no, they’re not anything like any of the Monster earphones they somewhat resemble. In fact, one big detail makes them very different from almost any other IEM on the market.
Almost all mic-equipped canalphones that can be had for about $100 use moving-coil drivers to produce sound, as is the case with all the previous IEMs in this review series. But the Ultimate Ears 600vi ($120) are different — this set employs a single tiny armature in each ear. Armatures generally allow for a more neutral sound with better definition than their moving-coil brethren, and that’s exactly the case with the 600vi. In fact, this set uses pretty much the same excellent drivers as in the now-discontinued, $180 SuperFi 5vi we reviewed early last year.
And yes, apart from the V-Moda Vibrato, the 600vi is $20 more than the other earphones in this review series — but we think the extra Jackson is worth it.
Maybe you’re not going to buy a pair of earphones based on the way they look; maybe you’d rather spend your moolah on a pair that came with exquisite performance. What if you could have both? In spades? Here you go: With their deep, bone-tingling bass and blue-blood looks and manners, the Klipsch Image S4i earphones ($100) is the Prince…of Spades.