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Custom earphones - the good and the bad


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I've owned IEM's in one flavour or another since early 2000 and before that was stuck on headphones. In the intervening time, my lifestyle, having wrecked a track across the world, prohibits me from setting up the audio system I'd really like. So, I own tiny (not high quality) Travagan's speakers, FW/USB/optical audio interfaces and some pretty nice headphone amps.


Plugged into any of those are my iems and headphones.


The main instruments are: Beyerdynamic DT880 600? in balanced and single ended. I also have the Ultrasone DJ1Pro. Apart from that, ALL of my earphones are iems. That goes from the top end, the Jerry Harvey JH13Pro, a 1100$ custom, the Sensaphonics 2X-s (700$), Sleek Audio CT6 (~350$), Fitear Private 333 (900-1000$) and I am ordering a new batch.


I have loads of non customs including the 800$ Final Audio 1601SS - an all-steel earphone which acts more like a headphone.


Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but dear god, for the money, the performance is amazing. There are issues, however. Firstly, most balanced armature earphones sport complicated cross-over networks which wreck havoc on amps which are not made specifically to drive really low loads of 4-32?. With a matched ouput, there are trace differences and sometimes rather stark differences in each. Some simply roll off the bass of the output, others suck out the upper midrange, but when paired with an amp which can drive them properly, they are glorious.


There are other problems: hiss. Many dedicated amps hiss, though often in very minor amounts. Sensitive iems will suck that hiss and blow it up. Most of my home amps don't do well - they over drive, under drive, or hiss too much. Even some dedicated IEM amps do the same. Currently, I am op-amp rolling an iBasso FiQuest and P3+ to get as good an output as I can with all of my iems and then will work on the same with my headphones.


I also have measurement mics to complete tests to show which configuration works to sustain the best frequency response. But, after all of that, I merely want to say that it IS possible to perfectly enjoy audio with just headphones. I'd rather have the dosh and room to go for a nice speaker setup, but I cannot now.




TouchMyApps headphones reviews

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Shigzeo:


I really enjoyed your interesting post. I travel often and use a variety of headphones and earphones, and have experienced the same pros and cons you have. I also found your selection of IEMs very interesting. Models I have not taken the opportunity to try. So, what is your current preferred system?


I currently use a MacBook Pro set up as a dedicated music server with an Apogee Duet firewire DAC and connect it to various headphone amps. The Duet has proven to be an excellent DAC; however the sound quality of the internal headphone amp does not measure up to other available portable amps. So, I bypass the amp, and with adapters, I connect to various portable amps from Ray Samuels Audio. The Emmeline XP-7 Headphone Amp for my Sennheiser 650 HD, the Tomahawk for my IEMs, and The Black Bird SR-71A for my Grado GS1000 and other earphones and headphones. I also use on occasion a HeadRoom Portable Desktop Headphone Amp w/USB DAC (the DAC sucks, but the amp is quite good). I am looking forward to the release of the Emmeline “The Protector” – a portable balanced headphone amp.


There are hundreds of headphone amps available, and after listening to at least 20 I started with the Ray Samuels line for a number of reasons including no hiss. Using IEMs seals off the outside world and places the music right in your head. Nothing is more irritating than hiss and other background noise.


I also have two balanced headphone amps made by RudiStor in Italy. Once you hear a top quality balanced headphone system you will never want to go back. I started with balanced amps 18 months ago with a HeadRoom Balanced Desktop Amp then changed over to a RudiStor NX-33 balanced amp (now discontinued) and my Sennheiser 650 HD headphones with Moon Silver Dragon balanced XLR cables. I now use this combo in my office.


At home I use a RudiStor RP010B MkII Quad-Mono Balanced Amp, no negative feedback, and all Class A. The output impedance is 8 to 600 ohms. Of all the headphone amps I auditioned, the RudiStor was absolutely the best; expensive but very well built. I mostly use Sennheiser HD 800 headphones modified with a Moon Silver Dragon balanced XLR cable, but on occasion I have Westone ES3X custom fit IEM, but they are only single ended.


By the way, I recently heard two Graham Slee headphone amps, the Solo and the new Voyager portable amp. They were quite good but not balanced.


My current collection of earphones includes: Westone 3 Earphones (30 ohms), Ultimate Ears 10 Pro custom fit monitors (13 ohms) and my personal favorite (for the present) the Westone ES3X custom fit earphones (56 ohms). For headphones I have two pairs of Sennheiser HD 650 (one modified with a balanced XLR cable), Sennheiser HD 800 with balanced cable, and Grado GS1000i headphones w/J Money Audio lambskin headband.


When traveling, I used a basic black leather notebook computer case with two pouches on the front side where I placed the Apogee Duet DAC and a headphone amp in the other, then ran the cables between them. During the summer of 2009 I converted over to an AXIO Beatbox http://axioluggage.com/beatbox.html which holds two sets of headphones, my MacBook Pro, cables and accessories, external hard drive, amps, DAC, and it even has a handle and wheels. I get some strange looks now and then waiting for trains and planes, and even curious questions and compliments from guys with their own portable systems.





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Hello Daphne,


I sold most of my headphone stuff when I moved to Korea about a year ago and have slowly been getting back into it. As such, you have a much nicer system than I do.


My DAC's are two and are simple: Edirol FA66 (which I use mainly for measurements) and an iBasso D4 DAC/portable amp. I have mostly portable headphone amps, but also have the Woo Audio 3 and Einar Sound VC-01i. I also work closely with a couple of distributors as a reviewer of products, so I get to borrow a lot of great earphones and amps.


In fact, I really am pretty lucky to try out more portable and large amps than the regular person. So, I know what the cons/pros of many are (including dreaded hiss (for iems) and frequency suck out). Buying them is expensive (and inevitable) since I start to like quite a few!


I have the Graham Slee Voyager, iBasso D4, P3+, T3, T3D (both borrowed) and FiQuest - great portable amp which is nearlyl as powerful as some mains amps.


My headphone 'collection' is meagre: Beyerdynamic DT880 (600? in SE and balanced), and the wonderful Ultrasone DJ1Pro. I've also owned the Senn HD600 (one of my favourite) and am saving up for a Beyer T1.


I think we have a lot to talk about, but you certainly have much nicer gear!




TouchMyApps headphones reviews

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  • 2 weeks later...

These just arrived into my sweaty little hands last week and are very, very good. Smoothly neutral like my other silicon iem: the Sensaphonics 2X-s, but with a much better top end. The cable is tough like the FitEar 333 and just like the Sensaphonics, hiss isn't as bad as some of my other customs. A great earphone, but of course, expensive.


On another note, my DT880 600? came back to me in great balanced shape after a long time away. Been back for about 2 weeks.


Pic of the T1 can be seen here: http://www.touchmyapps.com/forums/showthread.php?369-Review-ACS-T1-Custom-Fit-IEM-say-hello-TMA!


TouchMyApps headphones reviews

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  • 5 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Hello Aiden,


I hope you can find this post helpful, but I am sorry to say that I have pretty bad news for you. Custom earphones are very expensive. Cheap options from funky companies exist: Alien Ears, Hear Yourself, and others, but few of those companies are reliable.


I've reviewed a few good custom earphones here: http://www.touchmyapps.com/category/headphones/custom-iems/.


Take a look at these customs. You might even be able to find someone who will sell them used to you. I have seen 1300$ customs go for less than 700$. You just need to get them re-moulded, a process that should take about 200$. companies like Unique Melody do this.


For about 500$, you can get very good ones from ACS, Earsonics, Jerry Harvey, Ultimate Ears, and some other manufacturers.


TouchMyApps headphones reviews

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  • 1 month later...

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