Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ethereal and Metra Home Theater Premium Home Audio and Video Installation Products Review


When it comes to installation products for car audio, Metra makes some of the best. But what may not be as well known is that Metra also has you covered for your home audio and video installation needs. Under their corporate umbrella, is found Ethereal and Metra Home Theater, which covers your home theater, or any other home audio or home video installation needs. Up for review today are some of their installation products, in the Velox HDMI & audio cables, and Ethereal RG6 Coaxial cable & 2-conductor stranded wire, Ethereal wall plates, and Ethereal banana plugs.



Features and specs:

Velox HDMI cable:
·          HDMI® transmission cable
·          Advanced features in metallurgy, topology, dielectric and shielding
·          New microwave RF design
·          Less insertion loss over long distances
·          For HDMI® TMDS High Speed Signaling
·          Highest bandwidth performance
·         Cable Diameter: 6mm
18.0 Gbps
Yes
10.2 Gbps
Yes
Bandwidth
10.2Gbps, 18Gbps
Brand or Series
Velox Series
Features
ARC Supported, DPL Certified, HDR
Resolution
1080p, 4K
Type
Ethernet, Passive
Length (feet)
0.2-5
Length (meters)
0.1-5
Jacket Type
CL Listed
DPL Certified
Yes



 Velox Professional Audio Cable:

·         24K gold plated contact connectors
·         Compression RCA connectors
·         Colored logo for wire management

Ethereal 65 Strand Oxygen Free Speaker Wire
·         16-Gauge
·         2-Conductor
·         65 strand oxygen free speaker cable
·         Length: 500ft

·         Color: Black

Ethereal RG6 Coaxial Wire:
·         RG6 Quad CCS
·         3.0GHz CL2
·         Box
·         Color: Black

Ethereal Premium Banana Plugs:
·         Premium level banana plug
·         Gold plated
·         2 Pack (1 red, 1 Black)

Ethereal Wall Plates:
·         7.1 Home Theater Wall Plate
·         Wall Plate w/ HDMI®
  • Accepts up to 12 AWG speaker wire
  • Two speaker connections can be installed easily and quickly in a single J box
  • Designed for home theater surround sound systems
  • Gold plated connectors
  • Easy installation
The products came in nice professional packaging. The Ethereal speaker wire and coaxial cable came in nice bulk boxes. The Velox HDMI and audio cables came in nice color printed boxes, with photos and specs of the cables. The Ethereal wall plates and banana plugs came in simple clear plastic pouches, with specs printed on the pouches. Materials used in the quality of the construction was metal and plastic. Quality of materials used was very good, as was the fit and finish.

For the bulk wiring, it was the speaker wire and coaxial cable. The speaker wire is perfect for running in the studs during the construction phase. Having purchased several new build homes, when you pay for the option for a surround sound pre-wire, this is the wire I would have LOVED to have been provided. Typically builders will use a cheap 20 gauge, maybe an 18 gauge wire if you're lucky. But this wire from Ethereal is a really high quality 16 gauge, 65 strand oxygen free copper. The Ethereal RG6 coaxial cable is also a high quality, with good shielding, and a solid 18 gauge copper wire core.

Next are the Velox ultra high speed HDMI cables, and Velox Professional subwoofer audio cable. The HDMI cable has a cool glossy metal connect with gold plated tip. And I love the color coded system. It uses color rubber grommets that fit into the top of the connector. So when you are connecting up multiple cables, it makes it easier to make sure the correct cable goes to the right device. The subwoofer cable is another high quality cable. It features a cross braided flexible jacket and 24K gold plated connectors. The connectors are not cross-cut or ribbed. Instead, there are internal ribs to make sure you have a solid connection, so it is still really high quality.

The same quality also comes through with the wall plates. The standard wall plates feature gold plated connectors. The connectors are standard connectors that accommodate bare wire and banana plugs. When running wire for a speaker system, you need a standard 2 connector plate for the positive and negative wires to be located next to each speaker location. The wires will run from the 2 connector plate to the main plate. The main plate has connectors for 7.1 surround sound, plus an HDMI connector for the video, for the TV or projector.

Unfortunately, manufacturers have not caught up to the current Dolby Atmos format, which can be found in 7.4.1, 7.2.1, 5.4.1 or 5.2.1. Dolby Atmos adds height channel speakers, and there are not yet wall plates in those configurations. In their defense, demand for them probably is not very high yet. An easy solution would be to just add a separate 8 connector or 4 connector plate for the 4 or 2 height channels speakers. So you can just add an additional 8 or 4 connector wall plate for the height speakers.

I also liked the banana plug quality. They are 24K gold plated for excellent signal conductivity. The screw on design is also a simple one. All you do is unscrew the bottom, slide the wire up the bottom piece and fray the end and push the wire over the end. Once this is done, you screw the bottom piece back onto the top piece. Once this is done, the top of the bottom piece cinches the wire up against the bottom of the top piece, to give a secure, solid connection. It’s easy to attach the wire to the banana clips. And I love the easy installation of using banana plugs. When the wires are ready to install, it’s just a matter of pushing the banana plug into the wall plate connectors. Five seconds, and you’re done.

Performance of the products was aces! The speaker and RG6 wire was easy to run. The wall plates were also easy to install. With the wall plates installed, securing the bare wire to the back of the plates was as simple as sliding the wire into the designated hole and twisting the connector down onto it to secure it in place. And using the banana plugs on the wire that went to the actual speakers, made it a breeze connecting the speaker wire to the wall plate. Thanks to the ample sized 16 gauge wire, they provided plenty of power to the speakers. And given that they also used a high strand count of pure oxygen free copper wire kept the power signal pure and high quality. The sound that they provided from the source was powerful and transparent from the source.

The audio and HDMI cables were also great in performance. Think of it as the weakest link. I’ve seen people get really nice and expensive surround sound receivers, and blu-ray players. But then they use cheap cables. To get the best performance out of your hi-res audio device, or 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, you need high quality cables that can transfer all of that source signal, so it all can be seen or heard. Using the best quality cables maximizes the performance of your devices. The HDMI cables provided excellent resolution high quality sound, as well as well saturated and vibrant colors in full resolution that was true to the source material of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. And the Premium Subwoofer Audio Cable provided the same audio performance that was true and transparent to the source material. It will help any subwoofer reach its full potentials.

In the end, I must say I was pleasantly unsurprised. I’ve worked with Metra for years, and they have never provided a product that did not perform well. So when given the opportunity to review some of their home installation products, we naturally jumped at the opportunity. We had high expectations, and as usual, those expectations were met. Based on their design, features, quality and performance, these Metra and Ethereal home installation products have earned our Editor’s Choice award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.metrahometheater.com.




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Sunday, April 22, 2018

2018 Annual Headphone Shootout Part 2: The In-Ear Monitor's


It’s now time for round two of the headphone shootout. Now it’s time for the In-Ear Monitors. And they are some excellent products from some great manufacturers. They include Creative Aurvana Trio for $149, Klipsch Reference X12 Neckband for $399, Westone UM Pro 50 for $649, Ultimate Ears UE ll for $1,199, and the Westone ES80 for $1,899 ($2,187 as tested).

First off is the Creative Aurvana Trio. If you want off the charts bang for the buck on a tight budget, it’s hard to beat the Creative Aurvana Trio at only $149. They are a triple driver IEM with Hi-Res Audio design. A hybrid design is also employed, as they feature balanced armatures for the hi’s and mids, and a dynamic driver for the lows. The cable  is also detachable, and includes in-line mic and controls.



Features and specs:
Product Type
Wired Headphones
Weight
19 g
Color
Gun metal
Frequency Response
5Hz – 40kHz
Cable Length
1.2m / 3.9ft
Cable Style
MMCX Detachable Cable with Inline Mic and 1-Button Control
Driver
10mm Bio-Cellulose Dynamic Driver, Dual Balanced Armature Drivers
Inline Microphone with Controls
1 button for music playback and calls, supports iOS and Android phones
Microphones
Type: MEMS Microphone, Frequency Response: 100 Hz ~ 10 kHz, Sensitivity (1 kHz): -42 dBV / Pa


The creative Aurvana Trio came in a nice hard plastic box, with a paper sleeve with photos and specs. The top was clear plastic, so you could also see the IEM. Opening the box, I was able to see they were also well made. Materials used in the construction was mostly plastic with some metal. Quality of materials used was good, as was the fit and finish. Also included was the owners manual, additional ear tips, airplane adapter, and a semi-hard carry case.

Looking at what you get, I’m impressed. Especially for such a small price tag! It’s a small investment, which is also protected thanks to the detachable cables. If you ever get a short in the cable, just replace the cable! The 3-way design at such a small price point is also huge! Let’s see how they sound.

Eric Bibb: Why Are People Like That-Vocals were natural sounding and nice and smooth. Bass had nice extension and output. Percussion was crisp and clean. Harmonica was dynamic. Piano was natural sounding.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue-Clarinet was very smooth with good texture and enough resolution to hear the tonguing. Piano was surprisingly natural sounding. Bassoon had nice midbass extension. Brass was very dynamic.  Earth, Wind and Fire: Let’s Groove-Vocals were smooth with good texture and resolution. Percussion was crisp and clean and dynamic. Bass was deep, with good impact and authority. Claps were also crisp and dynamic. Soundstage was bigger than expected.  Katy Perry: Dark Horse-Vocals were smooth and very natural with good timbre. Bass had excellent depth and output. Claps were crisp and very dynamic.

Now it’s time for the Klipsch Reference X12 Neckband. Neckband style headphones have gotten more and more popular, ever since I saw the first ones from Samsung. They were cheap, and provided great functionality, with them just hanging around your neck. For sound quality, audiophiles were left waiting for more. Klipsch has answered the call, and have their own series of neckband style IEM’s. So whatever your budget, Klipsch has you covered. And Klipsch has provided their top of the neckband line X12.

Features and specs:
  • Award-winning sound
  • KG-926 balanced armature driver
  • 18 hour battery life
  • aptX and AAC high-definition Bluetooth® streaming
  • Integrated mic with cVc®
  • Call vibration alert 
  • Genuine leather-stitched neckband
  • Electroplated steel exoskeleton
  • IPX4 slash-proof design
  • Premium carrying case
  • Pair of Comply™ Comfort Ts-100 Tips
  • STYLE:  In-Ear Monitor
  • DRIVER DESIGN: Full Range Balanced Armature
  • DRIVER COMPONENTS: KG-926 Balanced Armature
  • MIC/REMOTE: cVc® 6.0 Integrated Microphone & Controls
  • FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 5Hz-19kHz
  • NOISE ISOLATION: -26dB
  • INPUT CONNECTIONS: Bluetooth
  • COLORS: Black, Brown
  • BATTERY: 220 mAh, 18 hr.
  • BLUETOOTH® SPECIFICATIONS: Version: Bluetooth 4.0 Profiles: Multipoint A2DP, AVRCP, Multipoint HFP A2DP Codecs: SBC, AAC®, aptX® Range: Up to 10m (33ft.) Input Rating: 5V DC, 0.5A Battery Status: iOS Battery Status Monitor
  

The Klipsch Reference X12 Neckband IEM came in a really nice looking box. There is a color photo and specs. The front has a clear plastic cover, so you can actually see the product. Opening the box revealed a well protected product, sitting in custom cut foam, which looks like the foam sound treatment that you would find on the walls of a sound room. Nice touch! Materials used were leather, metal, and some plastic. Quality of materials used were excellent. And the same can be said for fit and finish. Also included was owners manual, additional tips, charging cable, and semi-hard zipper case.
I really love the design of the Klipsch Reference X12 neckband, at least mostly. For those that love the neckband design, Klipsch takes it to the next level. The neckband is real leather, with vibration alerts. The controls are a solid quality, and the same can be said for the cables. The actual IEM is also reference quality, using a balanced armature driver. The downside: the cables do not retract into the neckband when the headphones are not in use. Instead, they just dangle on your chest. To me, it sounds like a patent issue. For me, it’s just a small price to pay for much better quality, look, and sound. Now let’s see how they sound!

Eric Bibb: Why are People Like That-Vocals were really smooth with nice texture and timbre. Piano sounded natural. Bass had really nice low end extension and authority. Percussion was really crisp and clean. Harmonica was really dynamic with good harmonics.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue-Clarinet was very smooth with very good resolution to hear the woodiness of the reed and tonguing technique. Piano sounded very natual. Bassoon had nice extention into the midbass with good texture. Brass was very dynamic and not too brassy. Flute had good air. Imaging was quite good and they threw a big soundstage.  Earth, Wind and Fire: Let’s Groove-Vocals were smooth with very good texture and resolution. Percussion was very crisp and clean and very dynamic. Bass had very good low end extension, with tight impact and authority. Claps were also very crisp and dynamic. Soundstage had good depth and was very wide as well.  Katy Perry: Dark Horse-Vocals were very natural sounding with very good resolution of the timbre and texture. Bass had very good low end extension, hit hard with very good output. Claps were crisp and very dynamic.

Next up is the Westone Um Pro 50 IEM. Let’s face it, not all professional musicians have rock-star status. Those that don't are still very talented and provide great entertainment. They just don’t have the deep pockets as the rock stars, but still need professional quality equipment to do their job. To answer that call, Westone has the Um Pro series. They are a universal fit designed for the professional musician. And the Westone Um Pro 50 features a 5 balanced Armature design.

Features and specs:
·         FIVE BALANCED-ARMATURE DRIVERS WITH THREE-WAY CROSSOVER: The UM Pro 50 features five proprietary balanced-armature drivers with a 3-way passive crossover, and is the flagship In Westone’s line of Universal-Fit In-Ear Musicians’ Monitors. Thunderous low’s, combine with a rich, detailed mid-range, and shimmering articulate highs, in a balanced and harmonious presentation that meets the demands of the biggest names in the music industry, and of the most discerning music lover.
·         THE MOST COMPACT, LOW PROFILE, ERGONOMIC DESIGN IN THE WORLD: Designed and built to perform in the most demanding environments, the compact, low-profile, ergonomic design of the UM Pro 50 is incredibly comfortable, and can be worn for hours and hours. Westone’s silicone and comfort foam ear-tips enhance the performance of our IEMs by providing superior noise isolation and ensuring a superb fit.
·         TWISTED MMCX AUDIO CABLE: Westone’s professional-quality MMCX Audio Twisted Cable is manufactured using high-strength, high-flex, ultra-low resistance tensile wire, which is reinforced with a special aramid fiber. Twisted to help reduce cable noise and keep the cable light-weight, flexible, and comfortable, our cable features MMCX Audio Connectors and 3.5mm stereo plug. Built to withstand the rigors of the road, Westone’s MMCX Audio Cable is perfect for use on-stage, or for personal listening
·         TECHNICAL SPECS: The Westone UM Pro 50 features five balanced-armature drivers and a 3-way passive crossover, with 115 dB @ 1mW sensitivity, 20Hz - 20kHz frequency response, and an impedance of 45 ohms @ 1kHz
·         IN THE BOX + WARRANTY: Purchase includes; 1 pair Westone UM Pro 50 Dual-Driver In-Ear Monitors, MMCX Audio Twisted Cable, 5 pair Patented STAR Silicone Ear-tips, 5 pair TRUE-FIT Comfort Foam Ear-tips, Impact-Resistant Monitor Vault, Cleaning Tool, and a 2-year warranty. 



 The Westone Um Pro 50 came in a great looking printed box, with it’s features and specs printed on the box. On the front is a clear plastic window so you can see the IEM’s. Opening the box revealed a well protected product, held firmly in place by custom cut-out foam. The materials used in the construction was mostly plastic, with some metal. The quality of materials used was excellent, as was the fit and finish. They are a musicians tool, and they look like they would provide years of use doing it. Also included was a water resistant hard plastic case, additional sized tips, wax loop and owners manual.

I really like the design of the Westone Um Pro 50. The MMCX audio cable is very high quality. And if you ever wanted to see what balanced armature looks like, it’s easy, just look. The monitors have a clear plastic on the front, and a smoked plastic on the back. This allows you to look in and see the components used. You may wonder why there’s no in-line mic or controls for your smartphone and that’s easy to explain. These are designed for professional musicians. But that also means that we can expect great sound. So, let’s see how they sound!

Eric Bibb: Why are People Like That-Vocals were silky smooth with really good texture and timbre. Piano sounded natural. Bass had really good low end extension, and played well with good authority. Percussion was really crisp and clean with good impact. Harmonica was extremely dynamic.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue-Clarinet was really smooth, with plenty of resolution to hear the woodiness of the reed and tonguing technique. Piano sounded extremely natural. Bassoon had good depth and definition of the timbre. Brass was extremely dynamic and not overly brassy. Flute had very good air. Sound was a bit warm overall, imaging was very good, and they threw a big soundstage. Earth, Wind and Fire: Let’s Groove-Vocals were very natural and smooth sounding with excellent timbre and texture. Bass was very deep, very clean, and hit like a sledge hammer with lots of authority. Claps were very crisp and very dynamic. Percussion was also really crisp and clean, and dynamic. Sound stage was pleasantly deep and very wide. Katy Perry: Dark Horse-Vocals were silky smooth with excellent resolution of the timbre and texture. Bass had very good low end extension, that was clean, and hit hard. Claps were crisp and very dynamic.

Next up is the Ultimate Ears UE ll. This model I am particularly excited for. As an avid car audio fan, I tend to be a bit of a bass head. So I like a lot of bass. The Ultimate Ears UE ll appears to have that covered. They are a custom IEM with a 4-way design. This means that in addition to the standard highs, mids, and bass design, where there is a driver dedicated to each of those frequencies, there is also a dedicated subwoofer, with a driver dedicated to deep lows.

Features and specs:
  • Input sensitivity:  119dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Frequency Response:  5Hz - 22kHz
  • Noise Isolation:  -26 decibels of ambient stage noise
  • Impedance:  18 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Internal Speaker Configuration:  4 proprietary balanced armatures with 3-way crossover
  • Input connector:  1/8" headphone jack; compatible with all systems

The Ultimate Ears UE ll came in a simple yet elegant black box. On the side of the box was a white rectangular sticker that showed my name, the model number, the serial number, and an employees initials that is passed quality control. Opening the box, the owners manual was sitting on top, and a white thank you note. Nice touch. Under the note and manual, I saw an aluminum tin cylinder that was sitting in a custom cut out that was covered in black silky cloth. On top of the tin was the UE logo, and my name engraved on it. Another nice touch. Opening the tin, I saw a soft cloth bag that was holding the custom IEM. At the bottom of the tin was a wax loop. Opening the bag, I saw the custom IEM. Materials used was mostly plastic, with some metal. Quality of materials used was excellent, as was the fit and finish.

When it comes to the design of custom IEM’s, it doesn’t get much better than that. To get the sound from a pair of IEM’s you need a good seal. That’s where it all starts with custom IEM’s: a trip to an Audiologist. There you will need to get custom moldings made. These can be made a couple of different ways. The old school way is to have silicon squeezed into your ears, wait a few minutes for the mold to harden, and then pull it out. The molding is then sent to Ultimate Ears, where they will use it to make your custom IEM. The other way is the newer, more modern way that not all doctors are using yet. That is to use a computer and a handheld scanner, and scan the inside of your ear to make a digital map. This digital file is sent to Ultimate Ears, for them to use to make your custom IEM.

The next step is to order your custom IEM. Since they are made especially for you, you can also customize it, with different colors and designs. I went with a clear plastic for the body, to more easily see all of the internal components. The top end piece I went with a clear blue, with the UE logo. It came out looking really cool! And since they are custom fit exactly in my ears, I get the best fit for the best sound. And speaking of sound, let’s see how they sound!

Eric Bibb: Why are People Like That-Vocals were silky smooth like honey, with excellent texture and timbre. Piano sounded so natural. Bass was really deep, and played with excellent authority. Percussion was so crisp and clean, with excellent resolution and impact of the drums and cymbals. Harmonica was so dynamic. Soundstage had good depth and was really wide.   Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue-clarinet was extremely silky smooth with excellent resolution of the woodiness of the reed and tonguing technique. Piano was extremely natural sounding with great harmonics. Bassoon had nice midbass extension, output and texture. Brass was extremely dynamic and not overly brassy or edgy. Flute was very airy. Imaging was spot on, and soundstage had great depth and width.  Earth, Wind and Fire: Let’s Groove-vocals were as smooth as honey, with excellent resolution of the timbre and texture. Bass was incredibly full, very deep, and hit like a sledge hammer with ton of authority. Percussion was really crisp and clean and dynamic. The claps were also extremely clean and dynamic. Imaging was spot on, sound stage had good depth and was really wide.  Katy Perry: Dark Horse-Vocals silky smooth with excellent resolution for the texture and timbre. Bass was nothing short of massive, with excellent depth and hit like a juggernaut! Claps were also really clean and dynamic.

Last but not least is the Westone ES80. Westone has been doing audio products for over 50 years. All of this experience has provided some extensive know how in creating excellent products. The best of which is their Elite Series. They have a new eight driver IEM design, and their best of the best is the custom version which is their new flagship model, the Westone ES80. MSRP starts at $1,899, before any customization.  After customization the review model came to $2,187.

Features and specs:
·         Westone Custom-Fit Technology
Fully custom earpieces are cast, sculpted, and polished by hand from actual impressions of your ears, resulting in the best fit and acoustic seal possible.


·         Balanced Armature
Westone’s proprietary balanced-armature drivers provide enhanced sonic detail and frequency range that extends well beyond typical in-ear solutions.


·         Flex Canal
This body temperature reactive material provides increased comfort and acoustic seal.


·         Cold Pour Acrylic
Earpiece shells are cold-poured in acrylic for a thicker, more robust acoustic enclosure. This process increases durability and provides a more luxurious appearance.


·         Deep Open Bore
The Deep Open Bore design provides a smoother transition between the monitor mix and the ambient sound and also increases comfort and acoustic seal.


·         Precise Acoustic Symmetry
Left and right earpiece responses are matched to an extraordinarily tight +/-2 dB tolerance.


·         Replaceable MMCX Audio™ Cable
Durable, supple, light-weight cable features low resistance and minimal cable noise.


·         Designed and Hand-crafted in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
All of Westone’s products are meticulously assembled by a staff of dedicated artisans and lab technicians.
·         Sensitivity: 111 dB @ 1 mW
·          
·         Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 22 kHz
·          
·         Impedance: 80 ohms
·          
·         Passive Noise Attenuation: Over 25dB
·          
·         Driver: Eight, Balanced-Armature Drivers, with a 3-way Crossover
·          
·         Cable: Replaceable MMCX Audio ™ Cable, 52”/128 cm
·          
·         In the Box: Monitor Vault III, desiccant, cleaning cloth, cleaning tool, Oto-Ease™, Owner’s Manual, and 2-year warranty
·          
·         Warranty: 2-year warranty (Warranty Information).


The Westone ES80 came shipped in an excellent water resistant plastic case. On the front of the case is a custom printed label with the Westone logo, my name, serial number, and manufacture date. Opening the case showed off the excellent Westone E580’s sitting in cut-out foam molding. Materials used in the construction was mostly plastic with some metal. Quality of materials used was excellent, as was the fit and finish. It’s their top of the line product and it shows. Also included was the owner’s manual, a cloth carry case, cleaning tool, a tube of oto-ease, a microfiber cleaning cloth, and an extra cable.

I love the design of the new Westone ES80. The body is made of hard acrylic for durability, and the bottom section that actually goes into the ear cable is actually a silicone, so it got a little softer as it warms up, to give you more comfort and a better seal. The tuning has also changed to a more audiophile neutral sound. And there’s something about having custom IEM’s that are made custom fit to your ears. It is just so cool. It reminds me of the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where he’s talking about the Ferrari. I think Ferris said it best, “It is so choice.  If you have means, I highly recommend it.” The same is true of the Westone ES80.

Ordering the Westone ES80 was simple. There are tons of options in styles, colors and face plates. I opted for the silver, and pacifica face plate. The silver looks like pieces of silver in the body, and the pacifica looks like a shell. Very cool looking. Once you decide on the look, you print out your design, and find an audiologist. Westone has an extensive list that they work with. Print out your design, pay for it, and bring your design sheet with you to the audiologist, who will ship your design to Westone along with the ear impressions. And Westone’s website also walks you through the whole process. Once they are built in Westone’s facility in Colorado, they get shipped to you. Now let’s see how they sound.

Eric Bibb: Why are People Like That-Vocals were so silky smooth like honey, and the texture and timbre are excellent. Piano sounded very natural. Bass had excellent depth and played with excellent authority. Percussion was crisp and clean with excellent impact. And dynamics that had to be heard to be believed. Harmonica also so clean with excellent dynamics. Soundstage had good depth and really wide.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue-Clarinet was silky smooth with excellent resolution to hear the woodiness of the reed and tonguing technique. Piano was extremely natural sounding, very dynamic, provided excellent low level harmonics. Bassoon had excellent midbass extension and texture. Brass was smooth, extremely dynamic without being edgy, and not too brassy. Imaging was spot on, and the soundstage was both deep and wide.  Earth, Wind and Fire; Let’s Groove-Vocals were as smooth as a Dove chocolate bar, with excellent resolution of the texture and timbre. I felt like I was right there in the recording studio. The realism was just bananas. Bass was good and full, with great impact and authority. Percussion was crisp and clean with good dynamics. Claps were also crisp and very dynamic. Imaging was spot on. Soundstage was deep and very wide.  Katy Perry; Dark Horse-Vocals were so silky smooth, with excellent resolution of the texture and timbre. Bass was very deep, really clean, and hit like a sledge hammer with excellent output. Claps were also really crisp and dynamic.

The IEM’s for the most part performed as I expected. As you went up in price, the better the sound, and resolution. The exception would be the Creative Aurvana Trio. A hybrid 3-way design with dual balanced armatures and a dynamic woofer, has an MSRP of only $149. They performed so well for their price point, they aren’t a bargain…they’re a steal. The Klipsch Reference X12 Neckband has an overall neutral sound with sound equal to their styling. The Westone UM Pro 50 has a sound that is a bit on the warm side overall, with the performance that musicians expect. The Ultimate Ears UE Pro II takes aural bliss to a whole new level. They are an overall neutral sound with excellent resolution, and dedicated subwoofers for exceptional bass performance that had me grinning from ear to ear. And just when I thought the sound couldn’t get any better, it did with the Westone Elite Series ES80. Using eight drivers, four of which are for the highs, I would have expected the sound to be overly bright. But the sound is actually neutral, and the realism and resolution is bananas, and has to be heard to be believed! Based on their design features, quality, and performance, the Creative Aurvana Trio has earned our Value award, the Klipsch Refernace X12 Neckband and Westone UM Pro 50 has earned our Highly Recommended award, and the Ultimate Ears UE 11 and Westone ES80 has earned our Editor’s Choice Award. For more info and complete specs, check out their websites at www.us.creative.com, www.klipsch.com, pro.ultimateears.com, and www.westone.com.





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