The all BA, All Star Playoffs!
What do you do when you have 8 exceptional iems on hand? A Battle Royale!
Before we start, a little disclaimer: this shootout was done purely for fun and is not a ranking of these iems. My personal preferences and the overall emotion I felt count as much as the iems’ technical performance.
The one line conclusion: these iems are all excellent (they wouldn’t even be in the contest otherwise). Any of them would make most people extremely happy.
This said, different iems perform better with some aspects of the mucis. So let’s test that!
The contestants are:
- Hidition Violet: 11 BA. The flagship offering from Hidition, the Korean brand made famous by Crinacle and others. They fell in love with their 4BA offering, the Viento. Violet aims for a more fun signature with supreme technical performance. Hidition’s reputation is on the line!
- 64 Audio U12t: 12 BA with a tia treble driver. The iem superstar. Many people consider U12t the absolute iem reference. Quite a reputation to defend!
- 64 Audio U6t; 6BA with a tia treble driver. The new kid on the block. U12t's little sibling with a slightly different signature. Is it lean and mean, small and mighty or just a lesser version of the U12t?
- ThieAudio Monarch MKII: 1DD + 6 BA + 2EST. The new tribrid king from ThieAudio. An impressive driver configuration and a stellar rating from Crin himself. Can it keep the throne it took from the OG Monarch?
- ThieAudio V16: 16 BA. ThieAudio's flagship and, according to them, the summit of their technical performance. Bold claim for an iem that is still somewhat confidential. Is it worthy of its flagship status?
- InEar Promission-X (PMX): 10 BA. The flagship offering from InEar, a German iem manufacturer. This is InEar’s follow up to the well-respected PP8. PMX sounds like a racing car name. How fast and furious is it?
- Fearless x Crinacle Dawn: 6BA + 2 EST. The very first Crinacle iem collaboration using Fearless tuning technology. Also an iem with a controversial reputation. Let’s find out how it stacks!
- Vision Ears VE8: 8 BA per side. Another legendary iem that has won many people over with its emotional sound signature. Is it just fuzzy and warm or also technical and balanced enough to earn a top spot?
Each contest will take a playoff format, organised in two brackets.
I thought about doing a random draw but then decided to organise the first round by theme.
The brackets are:
- Violet vs VE8: two fun iems with hefty price tags.
- U12t vs Dawn: The master and the challenger!
- V16 vs PMX: reference iems with a tasteful bass boost.
- U6t vs Monarch MKII: two smooth and detailed iems that make anything sound good!
Round2 will see the winners of games 1 and 2 and the winners of games 3 and 4 face each other.
Each matchup is a best of 7 games, just like American sports playoffs. The first iem to reach 4 points wins. The 7 songs that will decide each contest are:
- Sultans of Swing, Dire Straits: reveals overall tonal balance. Staging, treble, separation, bass and vocal performance are all on display here. The version of the track I used for most contests is not as well mastered as the main version/ I changed this for the final round when I realised that! The version I am using for most of rounds 1 and 2 is more forward and doesn’t sound as good, which can be a bonus in a testing environment.
- Inner City Blues, Grover Washington Jr.: a great instrumental track with a bass line that can get muddy on some iems. Also tests instrument separation and spatial positioning.
- Get Lucky, Daft Punk: Sub bass, vocals, layering and staging.
- Dear Prudence: Vocals, bass control, stage width and depth, spatial positioning.
- Someone Like You, Adele: Adele’s voice! Also overall clarity and piano notes weight.
- Tire Me, Rage Against The Machine: Dynamics and separation.
- Romantics, Four Tet: Details, holographic stage, micro details. A crazy track!
Bonus Tracks if the contest is very close:
- Small Hours, John Martyn: Stage, micro details and how open the sound feels.
- Paper Trails, Darkside: sub bass depth and control. This track will sound muddy if bass control is not on point.
The stage is set. Only one iem will survive. Let’s go!
- MKII vs U6t
- Inner City Blues - MKII: 1 - U6t: 0. Close contest with MKII having better separation and emotion.
- Sultans Of Swing - MKII: 1 - U6t: 1. Another close contest with U6t having better treble performance.
- Get Lucky - MKII: 2 - U6t: 1. This is going to sound repetitive but it was very close again. U6t sounds airier, MKII has a more impactful sub bass.
- Dear Prudence - MKII:2 - U6t: 2. U6t bass is better here. The sound is more 3-dimensional and more precise with U6T. The intro guitars are a bit more blunted with the MKII. MKII feels very mid centric on this song.
- Tire Me - MKII 2 - U6t 3. Another close contest. U6t sounds airier and more extended in treble. The sound is also "cleaner".
- Someone Like You - MKII 3 - U6t 3. MKII mids are just smoother and more emotional here.
- Romantics MKII 3 - U6t 4. U6t sound crisper. The background details are better with more "reverb" and depth. U6t just sounds overall more detailed and immersive.
- Bonus songs
- Small Hours- U6t. Again, the sound is more open and airy. The background details sound crisper and real. MKII sounds a touch congested in comparison. Bass is also snappier with U6t.
- Paper Trails - MKII takes this one. Another very close contest.
Comment: MKII and U6t have more things in common than differences. MKII takes the vocals and sub bass impact, U6t has faster bass and seems to have slightly better treble extension. Both iems are smooth and excellent for most genres and recordings. Bad recordings will sound good on these smooth operators.
Advancing to next round: 64 Audio U6t
- Dawn vs U12t
- Inner City Blues - Dawn: 0 - U12t 1. Dawn bass tends to be slow and bleeds into mids. It can also sound muddy at times. U12t bass also bleeds a little on this track but U12t performs better overall.
- Sultans Of Swing - Dawn: 0 - U12t: 2. U12t takes everything here: better bass quality, extension, vocals, details and dynamics. Wonderful performance!
- Get Lucky Dawn - 0 - U12t 3. Dawn bass gets loose again, even with a bit of EQ. Too bloated for my own taste.
- Dear Prudence - Dawn 0 - U12t 4. You can tell where this is going. Bass control and overall tonal balance are just overall better on U12t.
Advancing to next round: 64 Audio U12t
- V16 vs PMX
- Sultans Of Swing - V16 0 - PMX 1. Very close contest. PMX takes this one thanks to better vocal performance. V16 has better bass control but vocals sound a touch forward. Note that this version of the track is more “edgy” and in your face than the standard master. It will exacerbate any treble harshness or upper mid forwardness.
- Inner City Blues - V16 1 - PMX 1. V16 bass and dynamics don't miss a single beat here. The guitar solo is magnificent. PMX sounds more “velvety” but also a bit muddier. V16 clearly takes the upper hand with its tight and impactful bass.
- Get Lucky - V16 2 - PMX 1. Close contest! PMX takes the vocals but the speed and layering of V16 is off the charts.
- Dear Prudence - V16 3 - PMX 1. V16 is overall better here. Background sounds are much clearer and better separated on V16.
- Someone Like You - V16 4 - PMX 1. Adele's voice sounds overall better with V16. The track also sounds more detailed and emotional when using it.
- Tire Me - V16 5 - PMX 1. PMX seems to have a slight veil here after V16.
Comment: the result doesn’t necessarily pay enough justice to the PMX. A stunning iem that is both visually and sonically refined. V16 just keeps wowing with its tight bass and immersive, open sound.
Advancing to next round: ThieAudio V16.
- Violet vs VE8
- Sultans Of Swing - Violet 1 - VE8 0. Violet is just formidable here. VE8 is not far behind but it sounds slightly less airy. Mids also sound a bit more congested. Bass is also a bit boomier on the VE8.
- Inner City Blues - Violet 2 - VE8 0. Violet sounds more balanced overall. VE8 bass gets a bit loose. This said, a close contest.
- Get Lucky - Violet 3 - VE8 0. Violet bass is extraordinary on this track. Vocals are impressive and staging is on point. VE8 bass sounds a bit boomy again in comparison and that impacts overall clarity a little.
- Dear Prudence - Violet 4 – 0. Vocals are better on the VE8 but the stage is bigger and more holographic on Violet. VE8 is still formidable but it sounds a touch less airy with a smaller stage. VE8 sounds a bit mid centric here.
- Tire Me Violet - 5 - VE8 0. VE8 again sounds a bit too mid centric and sound gets a touch confused. Violet doesn't miss a beat with amazing dynamics, better separation and airier sound.
Advancing to next round: Hidition Violet.
To recap, our first round winners are:
- 64 Audio U6t
- 64 Audio U12t
- ThieAudio V16
- Hidition Violet
- V16 vs U6t
- Sultans Of Swing - V16 0 - U6t 1. V16 has more air and better bass control. Treble is also clearly better extended on V16. This said, U6t gets ahead with the psychoacoustics and “musicality”. Close one and I had to replay many times!
- Inner City Blues - V16 1 - U6t 1. V16 just feels like a live performance on this track: airy, amazing separation, bass authority. Just wow!
- Get Lucky - V16 1 - U6t 2. V16 bass is formidable here and staging is also better. However, U6t takes the vocals and they are important on this track. Another close one that could have gone either way.
- Dear Prudence - V16 2 - U6t 2. Both perform very well but the atmosphere V16 creates on this song is exceptional. V16 comes out more balanced and detailed. It’s important to note here that V16 bass is formidable when called for, but also knows when to take a step back.
- Someone Like You - V16 3 - 2 U6t. U6t feels more "velvety" but the stage and sense of spatial placement created by V16 is nothing short of phenomenal. Another close contest!
- Tire Me - V16 3 - U6t 3 - U6t seems to display slightly better dynamics here. V16 sounds overall more coherent and airier but I just felt the U6t gave a more emotional experience.
- Romantics - V16 4 - U6t 3. V16 staging and 3d stage are overall better here. Sound is more detailed and more immersive with better separation on a quite crazy track. U6t still sounds crisp and stage feels deep. It wasn't that far really!
- Bonus Tracks:
- Small Hours - V16. V16 sounds more open. U6t sounds slightly rolled off in treble and the sound is not as crisp. You can feel a very slight veil here on the U6t higher up.
- Paper Trails – V16. Again, V16 sound is more crisp and airy. U6t sounds muddier and slightly more muffled here.
Our First Finalist: ThieAudio V16!
- U12t vs Violet: Exciting contest!
- Inner City Blues - U12t 0 - Violet 1. Violet sounds more open. Sound is crisp and airy. Violet’s bass control is phenomenal.
- Sultans Of Swing - U12t 0- Violet 2. Again, Violet sounds airy with a wider stage. Knopfler’s voice is pristine. Bass impact and control is again on display here. U12t sounds slightly muffled in comparison and has less energy than Violet.
- Get Lucky - U12t 0 - Violet 3. Violet just feels like it’s on another level here. Bass is Vio-lent!
- Dear Prudence- U12t 0 - Violet 4. Violet sounds more open. Stage is more expansive and bass is tight. U12t bass feels soft compared to the uber controlled Violet, you get EVERYTHING with Violet.
The Second Finalist: Hidition Violet!
Alright, the second two rounds are now a wrap and things just got serious. The final round certainly promised to be very entertaining! Did it deliver?
- V16 vs Violet, The FINAL.
- Dear Prudence - Violet 0 - V16 1. V16 sounds more open and is overall more immersive. Spatial positioning is clearer. Every instrument and voice position is well defined. V16 bass quantity is lower but the bass control is impressive. There is a very slight veil with Violet after listening to V16.
- Sultans Of Swing - Violet 1 - V16 1. The bass impact on V16 is very nice. It slams! Treble and vocals also sounded good. Violet felt a touch smoother and really balanced. Bass is not as controlled as V16 but it worked here. I had to replay this track many times and decided to give it to Violet, but this was as close to a draw as it gets.
- Get Lucky - Violet 1 - V16 2. The layering on the V16 is nothing short of extraordinary. The bass control, speed and spatial placement are all just on point. V16’s bass sounds like a DD! Both iems were spectacular here but V16 just has the extra wow factor.
- Inner City Blues - Violet 1 - V16 3. This track’s bass can sound a bit muddy. Violet sounded wonderful as expected but the V16 precision was a clear deciding factor.
- Someone Like You - Violet 2 - V16 3. Violet won me over with that little extra warmth. Deciding this track felt like splitting hairs again.
- Tire Me – Violet 2 - V16 4. V16 doesn't miss a beat here. Violet also performed admirably, but drums sounded much more real on V16. V16 also shines with its layering and spatial positioning.
Aaaand we have a winner: ThieAudio V16!
This was a very fun (and time consuming!) experience. Every iem in the contest showed strengths and wowed me with one aspect or another of their performance. I believe that each round provided a conclusive result for my own preferences. YMMV!
Thank you for reading!