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  • takhama
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Hello,
IEM knowledge has becoming a science... The question is: is it a true science or a mystic one ?
There are tons and tons of pages about IEM: this one has better bass, this one has a better soundstage, this one is the best for this price etc etc. And some people are known over the internet to be a "iem specialist", or let's say a "IEM guru", giving advices and reviews on a lot of IEMs.

For me an IEM is just a driver, and a plastic box... I can imagine some drivers are a little better than low cost ones, but from a certain quality is there really an audible difference ?
So is there really a TRUE audible (scientifically proved) difference between a 10$, a 50$, a 100$ and a 300$ IEM ?

Thanx !

  • skamp
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #1
I didn't go so far as to collect scientific evidence of my findings, but I can attest that not all IEMs sound the same. Some sub-€100 IEMs from Sennheiser that I bought once, suffered from really bad sibilance. I sold them immediately. My AKG Q350 were decent, but they were very bassy (too much). I sold them after a few months.

These days I enjoy my Shure SE425s. I'd say that it's probably not very hard to make good sounding IEMs. And once you get decent sound, the most important thing (IMO) is to get a proper seal, i.e. find plugs that give you a near perfect fit. For me, that's the Comply P-100 tips. Isolation is great, and because the seal is excellent, bass is punchy, without being overwhelming. Regular semi-spherical silicon tips never did the job for me, but everyone's ears are shaped differently, so YMMV.

As for the IEM gurus: that's mostly audiophiles cruising on Head-Fi and the likes. The main problem is to be able to try IEMs before buying them. If you can't, you're forced to make a gamble (or perhaps an educated guess), which is less than ideal.
See my profile for measurements, tools and recommendations.

  • Porcus
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #2
Well if the fit isn't tight – and that depends on your ear canals, whether they are wide or narrow, and also how deep fit you are comfortably wearing – then that does change the sound, for the obvious reason. So while this isn't really an answer to your question, it means that you must expect IEMs to sound different.

And, some plastic transfers a lot of mechanical noise, and would be less useful for work-outs.

  • emte
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #3
I think it all boils down to one's sound preference. I don't know whether or not one driver is technically superior, but they are surely tuned differently. Type of driver, be it dynamic or balanced armature also affects the sound. There's a lot of things that make an iem sound the way it sounds.

  • probedb
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #4
I do think it's down to personal preference. I'm surprised audiophiles don't complain to be honest, some expensive ones only go up to 18KHz which surely isn't audiophile

I have some Westone UM3x and I decided to try the custom molds they do. They are very comfortable but you really have to make sure you get a proper mold done, one of mine doesn't seal well sometimes. I've previously had some Shure E2C and they were truly awful imo, even with a decent seal there was no bass.

It'd be nice to be able to test them but as already said it's a gamble. I'm sticking with my current IEMs until they break.

  • emte
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #5
I have Phonak Audeo PFE 022 with grey filters. Bought it for about 60 dollars and it's almost perfectly tailored to my preferences. I don't need anything more expensive, for the time being at least. I'm thinking of getting another pair just in case as Phonak decided not to produce them anymore.

  • DVDdoug
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #6
I don't own any IEMs, but I'm confident in saying, "All Speakers, headphones, and IEMs (and microphones) sound different."

Measurements are tricky, especially for headphones & IEMs where the sound interacts with different people's ears differently.    And, different manufacturers use different measurements and different standards, so specs are only useful when comparing different models from the same manufacturer.   (And, low-end manufacturers often "stretch" the specs.)

So to some extent it comes down to personal preference...   One person may feel that there is too much bass, and another person may say the bass is just right.

Quote
There are tons and tons of pages about IEM: this one has better bass, this one has a better soundstage...
Bass (and frequency response in general) is real, and it's measurable, although different manufacturers will measure it differently and different people may perceive it somewhat differently.

Soundstage is an illusion.  Different people will experience it differently.   
There is no way to measure or quantify it.
    I've never heard of a test where there were 100 listeners and 80 or 90 of them agreed that IEM/headphone A has a better soundstage than IEM/headphone B.    It's usually just one person's opinion/experience/illusion.  I ignore all audiophile terminology like "soundstage", "detail" or any other words that have no meaning in science or engineering. 

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So is there really a TRUE audible (scientifically proved) difference between a 10$, a 50$, a 100$ and a 300$ IEM ?
Like I said, I don't own IEMs...  I'm sure that the $300 ones sound better (to most listeners) than the $10 ones.    With headphones, I'd say the "sweet spot" is somewhere around $100 or $200.  That is, cheaper headphones probably won't sound as good, and more expensive headphones might not sound much better.    Many listeners might prefer the sound of an $80 or $100 Grado to $200 Sennheisers (or vice-versa).  Or, you might prefer the $200 Sennheisers over the $300 Sennheisers (if nobody tells you the price).    I assume the sweet spot is about the same for IEMs.  Of course, custom ear molds will ligitimately add to the price.


In the audiophile world the more expensive an item, the more desirable it tends to be.  So, I think there is some competition between high-end manufacturers to see who can offer the most expensive product.
  • Last Edit: 29 May, 2013, 01:55:59 PM by DVDdoug

  • saratoga
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #7
For IEMs, the shape of your ear probably has a significant impact on the sound of the device.  I'm not sure how generalizable measurements made on a dummy head or even someone else's ears would be to other people.

  • Porcus
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IEM - Is there such a difference ?
Reply #8
you really have to make sure you get a proper mold done, one of mine doesn't seal well sometimes.


And that might not even be the mold. I do not think you can rule out that the difference is in you even if it is consistently the same side.