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Best In-ear Monitors In 2023 / 2024
By Sajid Amit, Founder, Amplify Audio Reviews.
IEMs have come a long way over the last decade. Nowadays, you can get impossible value at the bottom-of-the-pyramid, particularly in the $500 to $1500 range, with IEMs from not only China-made, but from American and Singaporean companies as well.
In this ranking, I will list the best IEMs available to purchase in 2023, in my ever-so-humble opinion. There are so many excellent IEMs in the world that ranking them is more difficult than ever before and is inherently subject to vagaries of the reviewer, including what tips he feels like using, state of mind / mood, how much sleep he has had the night before, to say nothing of his ear anatomy, preference for musical genres, and so forth.
I would like to disclaim that I listen to rock, metal, alternative, some male vocals, and occasionally, female vocals, jazz, and acoustic. I seldom listen to orchestral music or EDM. I also believe that pairing with the right source is a massive deciding factor, and my ranking below considers “average” impressions I have formulated over the years having tried them off multiple sources. Do read till the end for the final summary table of rankings with tonal, technical, and overall numerical score (subjective)!
I should also add that in the summary rankings, IEMs with BA bass, whilst graphing beautifully, have often failed to satisfy my bass-lover (not quite bass-head) leanings. Therefore, you may find some IEMs not faring as well as you would expect on the tonal score, because of my difficulty with BA timbre, lack of decay, and shall we say, “poofiness”.
Let the games begin.
Rank 1: Aroma Audio Jewel
- Impedance: 22Ω@1Khz
- Sensitivity: 103db
- 6 EST, 6 BA, 1 DD 9.2mm
- Price: $5130
Although the newest Aroma Audio flagship ‘’Fei Wan’’ supposedly replaces the Jewel as the poster child of this incredibly consistent boutique brand from Hong Kong, to my ears, Jewel is still the best-sounding in-ear monitor Aroma Audio makes. Heck, it’s the best IEM period. It is one IEM that can provide an astonishing level of technicality such as detail retrieval and imaging without comprising on tonality or even ergonomics.
Jewel is not utterly flawless though. Some audiophiles might find it too polite in the lower treble and bass regions, but tip rolling does help with this noticeably, and amp-rolling can completely change the game. Believe it or not, off the $1200 RME ADI 2 FS, the Jewel starts to slam like it i going out of style. Overall, the Jewel has a velvety smoothness that many audiophiles covet.
That said, the Jewel’s stock cable is among the worst in the world, a contender for crimes against humanity. Your first course of action should be to replace the stock cable ASAP. For elevated bass and some ear gain, I would highly recommend the PW Audio Orpheus cable. The Jewel also sounds amazing off the Sony WM1ZM2, especially with some minor EQ. I detest EQ but the WM1ZM2 has some of the most effective EQ in the business, albeit simple, without compromising on sound quality.
Rank 2: Campfire Audio Trifecta
- Sensitivity: 94 dB
- Impedance: 6.3 Ohms
- Price: $3375
Campfire is a well-known brand from Portland, Oregon. They have both a cult-like following and more widespread appeal, although, occasionally, you will run into a detractor or two questioning their adventurous tuning choices. However, in my humble opinion, Campfire ought to be given an Oscar for eschewing the mundane Harman Target and arriving at their own tuning philosophies and choice and impressing each time. Among these, the Trifecta is interesting because it strays the farthest afield from Harman but ends up with a tonal performance in terms of sheer magic across the frequency spectrum. The Trifecta tuning is essentially the biggest riposte to the Harman proselytizers touting this graph as an epitome of “tonal correctness”.
Some say the Trifecta is not an all-rounder and only suited to bass-heavy genres, but I have enjoyed the Trifecta with every conceivable genre. It has an astounding bass that is more felt than heard, a natural-sounding analog midrange, and a beautifully present treble. The imaging on the Trifecta is massive, bigger than on any IEM I have heard, aided by the massive trio of dynamic drivers as well as midbass presence. Off the Sony DMP-Z1, the Trifecta recreates music and musicians in flesh and blood, and it is goose bumps territory: probably the best audio chain I have heard. I rate this IEM highly. It made me sell 14 other IEMs.
Rank 3: DITA Perpetua
- Impedance: 20 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 108 dB
- 12mm PPT-D Dynamic Driver
- Price: $2999
DITA is a Singaporean brand specializing in single dynamic drivers. They have released only a handful of models in the past, Perpetua being their latest flagship. Perpetua is by far the best single dynamic driver IEM available in the market. It might not be as technical as its $3000 price tag suggests but it is not something you will buy for dissecting sound. The Perpetua is a poster child for the confusing audiophile term “musicality”. This term will make sense to you once you hear the Perpetua.
You will simply melt into the Trifecta because it is by far the most organic, rich, laidback yet natural sounding IEM on the market. It is never too laid back, however, aided by a treble that is warm yet resolving, and a bass that has some of the most unbelievable decay I have ever heard. Just pure bliss and the chef’s kiss. Soundstage is another x-factor of the DITA Perpetua. It is massive, cavernous, one of a kind.
Rank 4: Subtonic Storm
- Impedance: 6 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 103 DB
- 7 BA, 2 EST
- Price: $5200
Subtonic is another brand from Singapore that is literally taking the IEM world by storm, alongside FATFreq, Nightjar Acoustics, and Symphonium Audio. The Storm is widely regarded as the pinnacle of BA EST hybrid implementation as well as the pinnacle of technical performance in IEMs. It is the perfect example of ‘’labor of love’’ as it took several years of R&D and revisions before its eventual release. The limited-edition initial releases sold out quickly and it is expected that the upcoming not-so-limited editions will be higher-priced! Aesthetics-wise, it is a distinct-looking, pretty IEM with surprisingly solid build quality owing to its grade 5 Titanium construction.
The Storm is a technical behemoth with a reference, studio monitoresque tonality that trades blows with Aroma Audio Jewel as far as sheer resolution is concerned. I am generally not a fan of BA bass but Storm comes close to being an exception. It can easily trade blows and in several cases, outperform some IEMs with poor quality dynamic drivers. The midrange is ever-so-slightly lean but has no noticeable coloration otherwise and the treble extension is among the best I have experienced.
However, the Storm is very hard to drive, and most portable sources may struggle. Subtonic themselves recommend the FiiO M17 for the Storm but the pairing was too thin for my taste. I would highly recommend pairing a Brise Tsuranagi, Aroma Audio A100TB or AK PA10 with your DAP of choice (preferably warm and/or thick) to churn the best out of Storm. Some users apparently use speaker amps with the Storm!
Rank 5: FIR Audio Xenon 6
- Impedance: 28 Ohms
- 4 BA, 1 Kinetic Bass DD, 1 EST
- Price: $3899
FIR Audio is a relatively new brand that has taken the IEM world by storm. Vlad and Bogdan, the brothers behind this brand, are some of the technical and innovation drivers at 64Audio. The Xenon 6 or XE6 in short is their unique sounding and beautiful looking flagship donning a gold-black color scheme and featuring FIR’s homebrewed, patented Kinetic Bass technology.
Tonally, the XE6, some would say, is a heavily colored set with a hard-hitting and engulfing bass. The midrange is wet and warm but upper mids and treble do not lack transparency. The lower mids occasionally veer into bloaty territory with the wrong tips and sources. The Symbio Hybrids mop up the excess midbass. Overall, this IEM has top-notch technical prowess, and it is the closest thing one can come to experiencing the floor-shaking bass on a fraternity floor in an IEM form factor.
Rank 6: FIR Audio Radon 6
- Impedance: 28 Ohms
- 4 BA, 1 Kinetic Bass DD, 1 EST
- Price: $3299
The Radon 6 is another FIR Audio flagship featuring their kinetic bass technology. It is another thick, warm-sounding IEM that seeks to take the technical performance of the XE6, or most of it, and present it in a less colored tonal profile.
The RN6 looks very similar to the XE6 but this time the color scheme is reversed. While the XE6 features a primarily gold color scheme with black accents, the RN6 does the opposite. The RN6 is slightly more balanced and less bombastic compared to the XE6 but the bass is still visceral, extended, and impressive. The air region is comparatively more pronounced compared to the XE6 as well. It is a cleaner version of the XE6 with a slightly wider soundstage. Some may prefer it to the XE6 due to the RN6’s cleaner tonality.
Rank 7: Elysian Acoustics Annihilator
- Impedance: 22 ohms
- Sensitivity: 94 dB
- 1 DD 4 BA 2 EST
- Price: $2999
The Annihilator has long been considered as a unicorn due to its limited production and availability. However, after a collaboration with Effect Audio, and some investment as I understand it, production has ramped up and the latest iteration is a lot more attainable compared to its predecessor.
The Annihilator is a treble lover’s holy grail. There is no shortage of IEMs in the market that do bass and midrange well. But IEMs specializing in treble response are still rarities. Other than the treble, the Anni midrange is clean but not devoid of soul. Female vocals sound astounding.
Bass is probably the weakest link with this IEM. While it is fine on a graph, the bass driver does not deliver a high-quality replay for its price point, in my opinion, with regard to texture, decay and other such nuances that go beyond bass quantity. Yes, the bass is better on the 2023 version but still not as good as many others on this list. If the bass was fixed, which I know Lee is working on for a flagship coming out in 2024, the IEM would have ranked far higher. The Anni is also hard to drive and source-picky. I did not enjoy it off sterile sources such as Cayin N8ii or Hugo 2 but the Sony WM1ZM2 and Shanling M9 plus were better.
Rank 8: Unique Melody Multiverse Mentor
- Impedance: 22 Ohms
- 12 BA 1 BCD (bone conduction driver)
- Price: $4499
Unique Melody comes up with the coolest nomenclature. They also have several co-flagships it seems. The $4500 Multiverse Mentor is far from being their top-tier IEM, pricewise. There is the Mason Fabled Sound at $6000 and the Amber Pearl at $8000. However, the Mentor has created a following for itself due to its holographic soundstage and easy-going and rich tonality. Overall, I find it to have a nice tonality that will impress almost anyone, but I would have preferred a more tactile bass. But it is quite decent for BA bass.
Rank 9: Oriolus Traillii
- Impedance: 21 ohms
- Sensitivity: 112 dB
- 8 BA 4 EST
- Price: $5999
The Traillii is a remarkable IEM that caused quite a stir when it was released. Expensive IEMs are not new but before the Trailii, a $6000 IEM was rarer. The Traillii set the bar for IEM pricing and performance, and therefore, its release constitutes a milestone in the history of IEMs.
Overall, the Trailii is an all-BA set, well-loved for its amazing timbre and coherence. The midrange timbre of the Trailii is as good as any, if not better. It is unequivocally a vocal lover’s delight. Strings also sound lifelike. My major gripe with the Trailii is the pillowy BA bass response, which to me is a substantial gripe, leading it to be ranked nine. I also find it lacking in lower and mid treble. My subjectivities aside, the Traillii is a classic and many people’s number one IEM, I am certain.
Rank 10: Flipears Artha
- Impedance: 16 ohms
- 8 BA
- Price: $1700
The final entry on this list might raise some eyebrows. Flipears is a brand from the Philippines specializing in custom studio monitors for musicians and sound engineers. Although its price tag of $1700 is not cheap, what the Artha is able to achieve for $1700 is nearly jaw-dropping. While I generally dislike BA bass it is impossible to dislike the Flipears Artha bass with the bass switch turned on. Because many have not heard it, I would rather not make tall claims but hope others get to hear the Artha’s bass.
In general, the tonal balance on the Artha is immaculate. It may be among the best tuned IEMs on the planet, and its overall coherence and timbre make it worthy of being on this exclusive list. I am also very impressed with the Artha’s extremely precise imaging performance and wide and deep sound-staging. The Artha is a marvel and the fact that it is created by a small Southeast Asian boutique brand makes it even more impressive. I hope you all get to hear it.
There are a few recent releases that I did not spend enough time with to draw meaningful conclusions. These include the Oriolus Monachaa, FIR Audio E12, UM Amber Pearl, Vision Ears Aura, Vision Ears VE X, and 64Audio Volur. Amber Pearl, VE X and Aura. I will certainly revise this ranking once I have had more time with them, of course, if I deem them worthy. There are also several popular choices that many audiophiles tend to regard highly so I would like to explain why they did not make it to my ranking list, despite having owned all of them.
U12T is well regarded for its good albeit BA bass and solid, top-notch technical performance for the price. While I owned and appreciated the U12T, I never connected with its mushy transients and its distinct BA timbre, even though modules can enhance its impact. I also did not find it midrange interesting or particularly captivating. Lastly, cheaper alternatives like Flipears Artha are just simply better if less hyped. I might even say that I find the U12T overrated. It is far from being a bad IEM, but I find it overhyped. No offense to its ardent fan base.
Sony IER Z1R:
The Z1R is a proper cult classic that is still relevant and will continue to be so, I tend to think. However, the Z1R is simply not comfortable and too many struggle with its fit. Sound wise, it is a good “beginner high end” IEM with incredible bass response but I find its midrange lackluster and overall technical performance not in the same league as other contenders on my ranking list. It does have incredible soundstage and dynamics but can be slow in its transients and lacking in resolution compared to my top ten. But I certainly prefer it to the U12T.
Easily the most comfortable IEM in the world, the IE 900 is fantastic for the price and has a proper, well-executed and enjoyable V-shaped tuning. That said, it is simply no match for other contenders on this list in terms of technical performance. Also, the treble shimmer can get fatiguing after a while.
Empire Ears IEMs:
I have owned two significant Empire Ears releases, the Odin and the Legend Evo, and have had long sessions with the AK collaboration, the Odyssey. While the Empire Ears IEMs are technical behemoths and the Odin would be my number 11 if I was doing a longer ranking list, the Legend EVO became tiresome after a while and its bass has been surpassed in quality by FIR Audio IEMs and the Trifecta.
The Odin is wonderful but so source picky and uppermid forward that it struggled to put it in my top ten. The Odyssey is probably the best of the lot, but I find its bass somewhat lacking in texture compared to the other bass masters on this list. Last but not least, lately, I have begun to detect that last bit of timbral performance and coherence lacking with all EE flagships, and I am very sensitive to timbral inadequacies, from my headphone days.
Noble Audio IEMs:
Sultan is the only Noble Audio I kept long-term. I find it tragically underrated. Meanwhile, Noble flagships like the Ragnar are higher rated by many in the community and I also find it class-defining for its technicalities. However, the treble and tonality of the Ragnar is an affront to civility. Its treble is a sonic rendition of Mount Everest and I although I regard its technical prowess highly and have found one DAP that pairs extremely well with it, I would never own it. I was not particularly fond of Kublai either – did not find it anything special. Hence, no Noble Audio IEM on this ranking list.
So that is it really: my top 10 IEMs for 2023.
For some reason, IEM preferences in the high-end tend to be the source of debates far more than headphones, probably because of the adventurous tuning choices entailed and the sheer volume of new releases.
It has to be borne in mind that there is no “correct” ranking just as there is no “correct tonality”: only subjectivities, subjective impression of tonality, and hence, subjective rankings. Below is the table summarizing the ranking and offering numerical scores for tonal and technical performance. Just to remind, I am sensitive to BA bass and don’t like it usually, so IEMs have ranked lower for tonality in some cases because I did not find their bass convincing.
Summary of IEM Rankings