Come one, come all to the $1000 IEM shootout

I’m thinking about converting my Etymotic ER4XRs to travel headphones, and buying a new pair that will stay at my desk. I’d like something appreciably better than the Ety’s, so I’m looking at things in the $1000 range.

@ChaseReeves has me all excited about Campfire, so the Andromedas are on the list, but I’d love to hear about your experience/comparisons to the comparable Westones/Nobles/Shures/Ultimate Ears.

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now you’re just teasing the rest of us :face_with_symbols_over_mouth:

can’t help with headphones in that range but I would definitely suggest incorporating a headphone amp in the package, if you don’t have one already. If the unit will be stationary that gives you more options. This will be interesting

I’ve got the Campfire Polaris right now and I’m really impressed. I’d love to try the andromedas to see what the % of improvement is.

I still have a problem with fatigue on, not the sound of IEMs, but the pressure on my ear canal — always hard to find the right seal for me without getting too painful.

Here’s my real quick rundown.

  1. Campfire Audio Andromeda. In my opinion it stands a touch above the rest among universal IEMs. The detail and clarity on these is insane. I was a little worried about them becoming sibilant because of how much sparkle they have in the highs but I have not experienced it. Two issues are that it is rather large so it doesn’t fit everyone although Campfire does offer custom tips which can help with this issue and the Andromeda is a very sensitive headphone. Takes some experimenting with impedance matching to get rid of their hiss.

  2. Shure SE846. Was a great headphone when it was released at its price point. Still is a good headphone if you can get it for lower than MSRP but I wouldn’t buy it at $999 vs the other offerings that are out there.

  3. I can’t speak to Noble’s Django as I haven’t spent anytime with it but I have with the Kaiser Encore and the Katana. The Kaiser Encore has one of the best soundstages I’ve heard in an in-ear. Its a little on the warmer side. I actually quite like the Kaiser Encore but I feel like the Andromeda is the better headphone for the price. The Katana was a little too neutral for my taste and felt kind of boring. They both had great fits for universal IEMs though.

  4. I’ve tried the Westone W60, W80 and UM Pro 50. I like them in this order. UM Pro 50, W60, W80. I found the UM Pro 50 to be the most fun to listen to. Warm sound signature with great detail and clarity in the mids. Female vocals really shone with them. The W60 would be better suited for critical listening while I found the W80 to be a little messy when it came to songs with a lot going on. I think the W80 following the trend of trying to shove as many drivers as possible into an in-ear headphone hurt it.

  5. I wasn’t a fan of the UE 18+ universal. It was really hard to get a proper seal for me. I know @andrew liked them so he might be able to give you some more detail on them. I think if you go with UE, you are better off going custom.

I’d like to get my hands on headphones from 64 Audio, Empire Ears although once again I feel like custom is probably the way to go with them.


I agree with the Andromeda recommendation for Universal IEMs. The best description I can give it is “fun neutral” with the best tonality I’ve experienced in an IEM. There’s a slight warmness to it I think, and initially I thought it would affect the highs but the sparkle in the highs really fit my tastes (not sibilant, not rolled off).

Personally the fit was not an issue for me at all but the sensitivity is definitely an issue. Depending on your source, you may experience some hissing.

I liked the Kaiser Encore but I do think it’s grossly overpriced considering the Andromeda is a better overall experience. I wasn’t a big fan of anything from the lower end of 64 Audio lineup (I actually really disliked the U12 because of how warm and slow it sounded). I didn’t get to try some of their higher end offerings.

I think you should definitely take a look at Empire Ears for customs (their models also come in universal). I’m not that familiar with their new line-up (didn’t realize they refreshed their line-up until just now) but I’ve had a great experience with their Spartan IV CIEM that I personally own. I think it’s 90% of the Andromeda, where the Andromeda edges it out slightly in terms of tonality and better treble sparkle. Their flagship Zeus was always very well reviewed (which I assume has been renamed to Legend X now).


“Fun neutral” is a great way to describe them. Because most neutral headphones aren’t “fun.” I hadn’t been able to articulate it clearly, but now that I think about it, that’s what makes the Andromeda special.

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For sure. I appreciate the purity of true neutral headphones but I also like a touch of dynamics and that fun element in my music.

“Fun Neutral” is making it’s way into my bio. Awesome.

Seems like most people that have tried the Andromeda’s prefer them to the close alternatives. Any dissenting opinions?

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Question from someone who never tried customs- I find my universal Noble 4 to be comfortable. Does this mean I that customs wouldn’t offer me an appreciably better experience for the cost?

So the problem with customs for me was actually that I never got the 100% fit that I liked (I’d say like 95% fit). I also had to send it back twice for tweaks because the first 2 fits did not go well for me.

However, many others have had great experience with customs fitting well the first time around so I’m probably just unlucky. I wouldn’t say customs are necessary by any means and if you’re finding your Noble 4 to be comfortable for all day wear, it may not be worth the upgrade just for the comfort aspect.


Honestly, I’ve been considering this as well. I go through about 6 pairs of foam tips a year, and both @andrew and I have been to the ER to get “lost” ones removed. Even if they were just as comfortable, avoiding that awkward “starting to fall apart phase” (and trips to the hospital) make them tempting.

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I’ve never had fully custom IEMs, but I did have custom sleeves made for my Etymotics. In the process of making them, I learned that I have somewhat oddly shaped ear canals with extreme bend angles (like a Z). This makes the custom shells very uncomfortable to put in and take out.

I now mostly use a cheap shallow-insertion IEM that’s easy to put in and take out and still sounds plenty good for my taste.

Can’t say I have tried many 1k+ iems but I do have 3 of my most memorable ones.

  1. Beyerdynamic Xelento
    Best dynamic driver type IEM I have heard to date. The bass while is very much north of what people would call neutral, they present an immense amount of texture and extension. Just lovely bass from this IEM. The mid range and treble is arguable as some people find them to not have that magic mids that other IEM’s like the 18+ has. The treble is just mostly a 9k spike. There is also a huge 6k dip which I don’t personally like but overall, still a good sounding IEM.

  2. Ultimate Ears 18+ Pro
    The first multi ba IEM that i enjoyed listening too. While the bass does not quite perform like a dynamic, I found it was plenty adequate with decent dynamics. Not a huge complain. What I love the most about them is the mid range, the way it is presented reminds me of the Focal Utopia, hence why I call them a mini utopia. The treble is pretty good, decent enough sparkle but I could use a bit more energy there.

  3. Hyla CE-5
    A sister brand of Oriolus, Hyla made the CE-5 which is a hybrid IEM with piezoelectric drivers made with ceramic, 2 BA’s and a single DD. Lovely IEM as well and does bass extremely well with the combination of drivers. The midrange is better than the Xelento but it does not have a lot of treble energy.

Note: While I do realise not all of these IEM’s are at the $1000 price point but I feel that they deserve a mention.

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Wondering if anyone had the opportunity to try these new ceramic/planar magnetic IEMs? I was about to pull the trigger on Westones’ W60s, but some reviews compare them to Shures’ SE846s. I’ve owned Westone’s W3 and W4rs. Looking to step up a notch for travel, in office listening.

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Audeze iSine 20 are nice with plenty $ leftover for more music

I owned the iSine 10 up until recently. Really liked it. Does require EQ to standout. Fit was weird, but actually really, really comfortable once you figure it out.

I now own the Unique Melody ME1 which is a planar IEM as well. It has a more IEM look than the iSine. Looks like a miniature LCD-series in your ear. It’s got good deep bass, and rich, thicker sound than the iSine, while still retaining good detail. iSine probably has more air to it with the EQ settings from Audeze (or Cipher cable), but the ME1 is easily EQ’d as well. Stock ME1 sounds better than stock iSine 10, but EQ can be done on both to sound great. Stock ME1 is a little shouty though, as it has a peak around 1KHz. Toning it down really helps a lot.

I currently have my universal ME1 at Unique Melody in China right now to be re-shelled to be a CIEM. They said it may change the sound signature a little bit, so we’ll have to see how it turns out when I get it back, whenever that’ll be.

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I have the Shure Se846’s in my collection and I am still a big fan of them. The filters are nice to tinker with and along with great build and fit they’re great. The bass is wonderful on these and I really like the mids on them too. If only they had the Andromeda’s highs and Sparkle. Ooo that would be crazy. Still like you say you need to get these at a good price because they’re a little expensive now in such a tight market. I got mine at a great price and couldn’t be happier. They were my first big iem purchase and I will never part with them.


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My Unique Melody ME.1 just arrived back from China today! It’s interesting - UM charge $759 for universals and $1099 for CIEM. But I was able to convert my universal to CIEM through them for only $140 more (not including the cost of shipping both ways + $20 ear mold impressions). The math doesnt add up right, but I will take the discount. :slight_smile: