Precog's IEM Reviews & Impressions

One thing I have never understood and that I see with many reviewers, is the absence of the product price in the first half or even the entire review.

I need the price to set the stage and to better understand the context of the wording.
I may be wrong, but I can’t find the MSRP anywhere in this review; and yes I can just Google it (I did), but why leave out essential information?

The Timeless price was mentioned twice…

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…as was the price differential. Doesn’t require a lot of interpolation.

If it is this sentence you mean:

The S12 saves you more than fifty bucks compared to the Timeless;

Then it is the 3rd last sentence, and $220-$149 = $71
So your math skills needs an upgrade.

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I think a simpler and more palatable request would be:

“I’d appreciate having the msrp early in the review to provide context for the review”.


Haha, thanks for the suggestion. I almost always have the price in the first paragraph of the full-review, but I agree it would be good practice to have it in the impressions too.


ThieAudio V16 Divinity Impressions

Configuration: 16BA
Price: $1500
Shoutout to my reader, “OGK”, for loaning this unit for review.

Whoo-whee. ThieAudio’s current flagship IEM and, in theory, their last - so one would hope that the V16’s here to make a mark. Let’s get right into how it sounds.

The bass on the V16 is some of the better BA bass that I’ve heard. The sub-bass curve is solid and intangibles are not too shabby either. However, I do feel that bass decay is not quite where I’d like it to be. It’s a funny thing to say - especially given this a BA IEM - but notes sound almost excessively boomy and have too much thump at times on the V16. It follows that control is probably not as good as it should be for a BA monitor; certainly falling behind the 64A U12t’s BA bass in A/B. In any case, this can be best summarized as a “fun” bass response that is, unfortunately, sacrificing some of the refinement that I’ve heard from the best BA bass. Punch is not bad at least.

The midrange of the V16 comes across somewhat odd to me. It tracks very closely to IEF’s neutral target up until around 4-5kHz, at which point the V16 exhibits an unusual dip. This has the effect of skewing midrange note-weight thicker. But I don’t think the balance struck here is quite ideal. When Carrie Underwood belts, I find her voice to take on a more muted characteristic up-top. This is a general trend with vocals on the V16; you have this sort of uncanny contrast to the upper-midrange that sounds off because, at the same time, it generally is forward. The IEMs that go for these types of recessions normally have a more relaxed pinna, for example, à la the 64A U12t. Intangibly, too, I find myself second-guessing the V16’s midrange. It might be the 4-5kHz recession, but timbre is generally plasticky and lacks vibrancy. For a sense of micro-contrast…well, I don’t think the V16’s midrange has very much either, and it goes further downhill from here.

Most who have read my reviews before will be aware that I never thought that ThieAudio’s EST treble implementations were all that good. Call me a hater, but I genuinely think that the V16’s BA treble implementation might be even worse. The V16’s treble response is unremarkable. Bland. Dry. Compressed. Makes me want to fall asl - actually, you get the idea. I don’t know what’s going on here, but stick impact between rapid hits is undefined and hazy on SNSD’s “Into the New World”. The peak at 6kHz does not actually sound very present if you ask me. And where’s the air, my upper-treble shimmer at? The V16 has less presence over 15kHz than the Monarch MKII had, which I already thought was pushing it. Seriously, for $1.5k…miss me with this.

Rants about the treble aside, the V16 is still pretty resolving for sure; I say this in the sense that internal detail - reverb trails and texturing - are quite good in the midrange despite the lack of perceived micro-contrast. Bass detail and treble detail are more questionable as I alluded to above. Likewise, for a sense of incisiveness to instrument position, I would say that the V16’s younger brother, the Monarch MKII, actually comes out the winner from memory - as does the Symphonium Helios in A/B. The V16’s macro-dynamics are…okay. It definitely sounds like it’s pushing more air than most of ThieAudio’s IEMs. That’s a welcome change of pace. However, it still comes across more subdued for sheer contrast of decibel gradations on less compressed music such as Steve Jablonsky’s “Lone Survivor” (2:16) and FictionJunction’s “Kaze No Machi E” (2:42).

As an assessment of value, the V16 is basically in no-man’s territory at $1500 - which is not necessarily a bad place to be. There are few immediate competitors that come to mind outside of the UM MEST MKII and the CFA Solaris 2020. The problem? As I see it, the V16 doesn’t really offer much over even the established kilobuck monitors to justify the price increase. We’ve observed this trend before with a number of ThieAudio’s IEMs: well-tuned, fairly technical, but lacking that special sauce. Perhaps the V16 is a fitting legacy in some respects, even if the context is not-so-desirable. In any case, I prefer the Monarch MKII and a number of kilobuck IEMs over the V16.

Score: 6/10

All critical listening was done off the 3.5mm jack of the DX300. The V16 is also like CFA IEMs level of sensitive, so be aware that it’ll hiss with most sources. I swapped in the IEMatch after some time listening.


MiM Dark Magician Impressions

Price: ~$500 USD
Configuration: 1DD

Special thanks to reader “OGK” for loaning these for review.

The Dark Magician…boy does this take me back to playing Yu-Gi-Oh as a kid. But we’re not talking about the famous playing card today. We’re talking about the less known single-DD IEM. Indeed, I suspect most won’t be too familiar with this IEM. To lend some context, it’s produced by ethanmusic7’s in-house brand, MiM. Currently, the Dark Magician can be purchased exclusively on the SG shopping site, Carousell, but it looks like Linsoul might be stocking it soon too.

Diving into the sound, bass on the Dark Magician is mid-bass oriented and just slightly above neutral. As one might imagine with this type of tuning, decay does lean toward the faster side and bass texturing is a little too dry for my tastes. Doesn’t sound like it pushes much air either. An interesting tidbit about the Dark Magician is that it has small vents on the nozzles that one can block by sliding the ear tips further down. That said, even with the vents blocked, I don’t find the Dark Magician’s bass transients to be particularly thick, nor does it sound like it has as much SPL as it graphs with. In a manner not dissimilar to the SeeAudio Yume, I suspect that this has something to do with the nature of the bass slope. Anyways, I prefer it unblocked and, overall, this is just a passable bass response in my book.

The midrange of the Dark Magician is its strength to my ears. It’s right about where I’d like it to be as a self-proclaimed aficionado of the “Western” tuning philosophy. Lower-mids are warmer than neutral, sitting oh-so-pleasant to my ears on Joe Nichol’s discography, and the pinna compensation and upper-midrange are gentle and forgiving. I’m reminded of the Vision Ear VE7’s midrange in many respects. This is the type of midrange you can listen to for hours without fatigue, and it’s probably why it took me a while to catch on to what I was hearing (see my thoughts on technicalities further below).

Now, the treble response of the Dark Magician strikes me as somewhat odd. Stick impact is generally a little fuzzy and, not dissimilar to the Etymotic ER2XR, there’s definitely a dip somewhere through the mid-treble that kills crash on cymbals. I believe it comes back up from this dip in the upper-treble (just after ~10kHz), but too early and with inadequate SPL to give the Dark Magician a real sense of airiness or splash. It exacerbates an odd, dry sort of scraping to when certain synths are hit on Taeyeon’s “Vanilla” (0:10, 0:40, and 1:35 for example); it could just be the recession itself even if I don’t hear a similar phenomenon on my ER2XR. In any case, timbre doesn’t sound quite correct even if I can’t bring myself to really hate this treble response. It’s missing something.

And here comes my caveat with the Dark Magician. The overall tonality is pretty pleasant, but I couldn’t knock the feeling that it wasn’t all that resolving while listening. Bringing in the Moondrop Kato and Etymotic ER2XR for A/B suggests that the Dark Magician is still decently resolving (in that they’re all roughly par), but not really $500 material. I don’t hear the Dark Magician as having noteworthy “latent” intangibles either. Dynamics are average; abrupt hits to the piano keys, such as on Sawano Hiroyuki’s “scene” at 1:00, don’t quite pop and sound as loud and jarring as I feel like they should. Same story for imaging where staging is confined to the shell like most single-DDs.

I feel that assessing the competitiveness of the Dark Magician requires some nuance. It should be noted that most all (good) single DD IEMs you’ll find under $500 are sporting some iteration of the Harman target or the Diffuse Field target. That isn’t the Dark Magician. It offers a more relaxed, yet balanced tuning for people who find those IEMs overly shouty. But the technicalities aren’t necessarily better or even comparable with the cheaper competition. That in mind, I think that you’ll have to decide for yourself how much that tuning distinction is worth. $500 is on the steeper side of what I’d be willing to pay, and at that price I’d rather go for a hybrid…but hey, that’s just my opinion.

Score: 5/10

All critical listening was done off the 4.4mm jack of my iBasso DX300 with the stock tips and stock cable.


Now available…


A Detour Back to the Music #1​

I write a lot about the gear that we use to listen to music, but a chance of pace focusing on the music itself once in a while can’t hurt. This is the first time I’ve written a song review - I’m still figuring out a format - but I think I might write more of these in the future if I have the time. Perhaps this can also help lend some more context regarding the type of music I enjoy and the qualities of sound that I’m looking for a transducer to produce. Anyways, today I want to share my thoughts on one of my favorite country artists, Martina McBride, and what I believe is one of her best singles.

Martina McBride doesn’t seem to be as active these days, but she was one of the most well-known female country artists in the 2000s. Her music is distinctive for exploring more sensitive topics that country music doesn’t seem to be as keen on touching these days amidst the cacophony that is beer, girls, and trucks. In this vein, a glance at some of her older works such as “Concrete Angel” (2002) and “God’s Will” (2004) depict commentaries on child abuse and being born with a disability respectively.

But the subject of my thoughts today is McBride’s latest hit to date, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” (2011). It tells the story of a mother and her battle with breast cancer. The production starts off slowly with guitar plucks, some piano, and what sounds like a violin crescendoing in the back, effectively capturing the sobriety of the situation; the narrator has just received the diagnosis. The writing is succinct but fleshes out the narrator satisfactorily: mother of three, 38 years of age, and with a caring husband. Despite the specificity of the lyrics, I appreciate that the narrator extends the possibility of cancer to anyone with the lines, “cancer don’t discriminate or care if you’re just 38, with three kids who need you in their lives” while efficiently integrating the aforementioned characterization details.

The cadence of the song picks up moving into the chorus which is, in essence, her husband lending her his support. It follows a basic “when you’re…I’ll be there” anaphora structure that’s easy to get stuck in the head. This is aided by a drum and some cymbals kicking in and McBride showing off her voice. McBride’s never had the greatest range – she’s a mezzo soprano, after all – but she’s a vocalist that is simply exceptional at propelling emotion and making it feel palpable. Perhaps this impression can be partly attributed to the mastering work. I do feel like there’s a strong sense of micro-dynamics (minuscule shifts in volume) on this track in terms of her vocal inflections and texture. In any case, she certainly has that vibrancy to the timbre of her voice that I associate with the most emotional singers.

Moving back to the lyrical content, the surgery goes well and the narrator survives, but she is plagued by insecurities: “Now it’s forced smiles and baggy shirts, To hide what the cancer took from her”. Again, it’s the realism of the lyrics that appeals to me. The lyrics assert that it’s not all sunshine and daisies even after she survives the cancer; they don’t sugar-coat it. Her womanhood has been called into question and she finds herself wondering whether she “can do this anymore”. Her husband, in turn, reassures her that he’s still by her side and then there’s another chorus. I think what I appreciate most here is that her husband is just a genuinely good guy. He’s doing what a good husband should do, but he doesn’t detract from the situation she is facing, detract from her insecurities, or sound patronizing despite the cliche nature of the chorus. Of course, to this end, there are definitely some other cliches in the writing. I’m specifically referencing the whole being a mom thing; however, in this instance, I do think it tastefully enhances the impact of the track via the implications of if she doesn’t make it.

The production on “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is also quite solid. First, that violin works wonders considering it’s an instrument you don’t hear often in country music. Moving on from the opening, it’s generally oscillating to match the pace of the track, further facilitating a couple of very nice, dramatic build-ups that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. There’s also some steel guitar thrown into the mix that can sound a little disjoint at times (particularly at 2:42), but it gives the track that 2000s sound that I really adore. Writing-wise, as I alluded to above, there’s little to complain about even if there are some common tropes present. The writing effectively conveys an uplifting message for women who are going through breast cancer, as well as their loved ones. In any case, I think “genuine with some flare” are the words that comes to mind when describing the production of this track; it possesses a sense of depth balanced with thrilling-ness that a lot of contemporary country music is missing.

This is unmistakably the most upbeat song of the three from McBride I’ve listed. Both “Concrete Angel” and “God’s Will” are paced more slowly and their endings are indescribably sobering; perhaps for this reason alone, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is my favorite song from McBride. Yes, it might be the weakest in terms of writing and I’m ever the no-good-contrarian, but I’m still a sucker for these types of songs. I didn’t understand these songs as a kid (honestly, 10-year old me probably thought the other two were rather boring), but these days they’re wrenching enough that I can only listen to her work every once in a while. Definitely give some of McBride’s songs a listen if you don’t mind the subsequent waterworks; few songs invoke as much emotion for me as the ones I’ve heard from this artist.

Score: 8/10


A nice change of pace.

Mark Gosdin


SeeAudio x Crinacle Yume Midnight Impressions

Configuration: 1DD/2BA
Price: $200 USD

Right, the Crinacle collaboration IEMs are here, so we might as well start with the one I’m most interested in: the SeeAudio Yume Midnight. Its frequency response has been sitting on the IEF graph tool for the last couple months with me basically salivating to get my ears on it. Let’s start the gushing.

…well, at least that’s what I’d like to say. But I don’t know if I’m sold on the Midnight. For starters, the bass on the Midnight doesn’t appeal to me very much. It has a substantial sub-bass shelf (~12db over 1kHz!) on paper, yet practice - what I hear - disagrees. Be it a product of the curvature of the bass shelf or the dynamic driver being employed, I would not classify the Midnight as a particularly bassy IEM. Akin to the KZ CRN, bass is really just… there , lending a “foundation” (in nice reviewer lingo) more than anything to the rest of the sound. In any case, you can tell the driver hasn’t changed from the OG Yume because the Midnight seems to slam no harder - which is to say it doesn’t really slam at all. Now, my OG Yume is at home, so I couldn’t A/B for these impressions, but I’ll have it by the time the full review rolls around.

Thankfully, I really like the IEF target’s midrange, so it should come as no surprise that I look favorably upon the Midnight’s midrange tuning. It’s a hair warmer than the OG Yume from memory, but that’s not a bad thing. The pinna compensation and upper-midrange are just about perfect too. Where I’ll draw the line with my praise, however, is timbre. The BA driver that SeeAudio is using for the midrange is a Knowles. While I’d need to do an A/B comparison, it almost reminds me of the Etymotic ER4XR: the Midnight’s midrange is sort of plasticky and smothered over in trailing decay, and not in a pleasant way like Sonion’s BAs at that.

Treble on the Midnight struck me as odd on first listen, and it required some closer listening to understand why. When percussive hits connect, the initial sense of crack that should be there sounds undefined, almost missing. This phenomenon is not unlike my 64A A4S which has a 3-4dB recession at around 5-6kHz. This results in a similar sort of airy, feathery response on the Midnight where it sounds like high-frequency stuff flits in and out. As a matter of distinction between the IEMs (aside from the Midnight having noticeably more mid-treble), however, it feels like there is an artificial strain to the Midnight’s treble transients that falls somewhere between brittle in timbre and flat for micro-contrast. Of course, I wouldn’t consider this a big deal in the grand scheme of things given that the Midnight has really impressive treble extension for $200.

Okay - technicalities - the part everyone’s itching to know about. Why? Because the OG Yume had a serious lack of note definition and basically sounded like a $50 IEM in terms of technicalities despite its class-leading tonality. By comparison, I can confirm Midnight’s note attack is noticeably less blunted on first listen; however, it’s still not quite pulling weight in terms of other intangible metrics either. As I alluded to above, transients on the Midnight come across fairly compressed, thus neutering perceived detail retrieval. Large gradations in volume, too, sound sputtered and don’t really scale all that nicely. I won’t talk about imaging other than to comment that the Midnight’s staging is probably a tad larger than the OG Yume’s. All told, I think you’d be looking at “B-/B” level technicalities if the OG Yume was a “C+”. The Midnight’s a decent technical performer but not necessarily impressive for $200, especially relative to technical frontrunners like the 7Hz Timeless or the Shuoer S12.

It’s strange; generally, I find myself somewhat indifferent about the Midnight. The Midnight is a textbook example - for better or worse - of why I’ve become increasingly convinced that frequency response is not the final authority on what we hear. The Midnight sports beautiful extension on both ends of the spectrum and an ideal frequency response, yet it does not sound hi-fidelity to me. Of course, I’m a perpetual critic and my sentiments on the Midnight could also be attributed to the very high bar that the Moondrop B2 Dusk set for these collaborations. The Midnight is, at the very least, certainly competitive and offers a compelling package on paper for listeners indexing for balanced tuning and impressive treble extension.

Score: 5/10

All critical listening was done off of the iBasso DX300 and my iPhone 13 Mini.

Impressions on the FHE Eclipse tomorrow if I have time.


Tripowin x HBB Olina Impressions

Configuration: 1DD
Price: $99
Unit provided for review courtesy of HBB & Linsoul.

Pleasantly surprised to hear the Olina, as I recall the Tripowin Mele from a while back not being too impressive. The Mele generally sounded too bassy and too dark; the Olina straddles that fine balance more aptly. Indeed, the Olina’s frequency response is highly reminiscent of Moondrop and Tanchjim’s single-DD IEMs, and perhaps it should be expected: from conversations with HBB, I am told that the Olina’s dynamic driver is at least sourced from the same factory that supplied the Tanchjim Oxygen’s driver. As for whether the Olina sounds the same, I’d suggest “not quite from memory”. I believe that the Oxygen and Hana 2021 were slightly more refined in the technical department than the Olina. This is likely attributable to the other components that have gone into the construction of the respective IEMs, unit variance, and aural memory just being fickle like that.

The treble response of the Olina is also a little more divisive due to the nature of its upper-treble. It has a resonance peak at ~13kHz (I want to say it’s slightly earlier and stronger in amplitude than some of the other single-DD IEMs above) lending to some spice up top. I’ve made clear in the past that I don’t really mind these types of peaks, as they beget a sense of shimmer I enjoy. However, some might find an IEM like the Moondrop Kato to be more refined in this area. Outside of this, my thoughts on the Olina could basically be a re-hash of my thoughts on the aforementioned single-DD IEMs. I’d characterize the Olina’s tuning as a slightly warm V-shape; slightly upper-midrange leaning with some warmth in the lower-midrange. Bring in the above-neutral bass and smooth treble, and you have a really natural sound; the type of set that just sounds right when you put them on. Indeed, most criticisms of the Olian’s sound would be predicated on technicalities which are your usual B-grade affair. Bass is generally slightly pillowy and undefined; close to par with the Moondrop Kato for slam in A/B. Imaging might be a little more expansive than your usual single-DD, but the Olina doesn’t really trigger the out-of-head feeling I recall the Oxygen and Hana 2021 sporting.

From head-to-toe, the Olina is a strong $100 performer with few weaknesses; it neatly slots in with budget titans like the DUNU Titan S (heh) and Moondrop Aria. The Titan S for the thinnest, most analytical listen. The Aria for the warmest and most pillowy. The Olina for the middle ground. I’d be remiss to mention that I tire of this wheel being reinvented so many times (c’mon where are the flagship DDs at?), but it’s hard to complain with the price reductions and subtle refinements. Recommended.

Score: 5/10

All critical listening was done off my iBasso DX300.


Your “writer’s voice” is just the best, my friend. I could just hear the Olina based on your description.


XENNS Mangird Tea 2 Impressions

Configuration: 1DD/6BA
Price: $350
Unit provided for review courtesy of Linsoul.

The original Mangird Tea was most well-known as a Blessing 2 alternative. It never really picked up mainstream appeal; however, it did (still does) enjoy a small, almost cult-like following in certain circles. I can’t really remember what it sounded like at this point, so don’t expect in-depth comparisons to the Tea 2. I suppose the rough distinction would be that the Tea 2 sports more distinctive sub-bass, more treble extension, and a more refined tonality.

Speaking of bass…the bass response of the Tea 2 is generally pretty good; it doesn’t hurt that it’s almost tonally spot-on with my preference curve. Of course, I find myself more dissatisfied when it comes to the Tea 2’s bass transients. Oddly enough, it sounds like there’s a BA tokening some parts of the bass response not unlike the ThieAudio Monarch and Clairvoyance. These are IEMs, mind you, that I criticized for having plasticky bass responses. In any case, the Tea 2’s bass texture and slam are somewhat below-average, at least in A/B comparison with a benchmark like the Moondrop B2. The midrange of the Tea 2 is good again wherein I don’t have much to complain about tonally. I’d say it’s upper-midrange leaning but with the pinna compensation sloped by a couple dB off of my perceived neutral. This is a midrange tuning similar to the qdc Anole VX, a tried-and-true heavy-hitter in the flagship arena. Like the Anole VX, things fall back a bit transitioning into the lower-treble (~5-6kHz), but the treble tonality of the Tea 2 is fairly good otherwise. Extension could be better; that’s almost always the case for sub-$500 IEMs.

As you might infer, I think that the tuning of the Tea 2 is pretty solid and that the people at XENNS aren’t your usual, mud-slinging warriors. But technicalities are where the Tea 2 stumbles. The detailing on it is mostly just surface level. I’ve slung this term around liberally for far too long, so allow me to elucidate: “Surface level” detailing is indicative of when a transducer generally nails attack characteristics - it has good clarity - but doesn’t render decay as well. To this end, I find the Tea 2’s note texturing and ability to capture trailing ends of instruments is mediocre. It is fair to note that too much texture yields undesirable grain. But if you’re asking me, the Tea 2 has leaned too far in the opposite direction, and this lack of perceived detail probably isn’t aided by the recession in the lower-treble. Outside of this, the imaging and dynamics of the Tea 2 can best be summarized as “adequate” for $300, but nothing that really grabs my attention.

I suppose the question at this point is whether the Tea 2 is the Moondrop B2 alternative that its predecessor was purported to be. Mostly, I guess? The Tea 2 is certainly not a bad IEM. It does offer a more laidback presentation relative to the B2 thanks to a more desirable bass tonality, relaxed upper-midrange, and a foil to the B2’s 6kHz peak. But even if the IEMs mostly trade blows for raw tuning, I do feel that the B2 comes out on-top by a decent margin for technical performance, especially in terms of raw detail retrieval. So while I think the Tea 2 is worth a listen, the bias score will reflect my general feelings: I want to like this IEM, but it’s missing something for me.

Score: 5/10


Focal Utopia Impressions

Configuration: Dynamic

MSRP: $4400

Chain: M1 Mac Air > Audirvana > iFi Micro BL

Unit on loan for review courtesy of

In the interest of transparency, I neither have listened to a full-size headphone in a couple months, nor do I have any meaningful points of reference on hand for A/B. Yes, clearly, I’m a major fan of headphones /s. That said, spiteful headphone contrarian that I am, I’ll try my hand at sharing what I think about this legendary headphone. The Utopia was released in 2016, taking the hobby by a storm with not just its pricing, but with what was - at the time - basically an unestablished brand releasing a summit-fi product. Perhaps even more surprising, then, was the legendary reputation that the Utopia has garnered since then. As a newcomer to the hobby, I can think of few headphones that have been mentioned with higher regard, and subsequently captured my interest more, than the Utopia. I suppose the question at hand now is whether it actually lives up to those praises. Based upon a fleeting listening session at CanJam SoCal 2021, I think the answer is mostly a “yes”, but let’s take a closer look now that I have the Utopia in my hands for extended listening.

The bass response of the Utopia is characteristic of most high-end, open-back headphones: it’s fairly flat down till around ~50Hz, at which point it exhibits some sag. Despite measurements I’ve seen online, it does sound like there’s some hints of distortion wherein quick, successive bass hits can come across a tad blurred; in any case, the Utopia’s a ways off the level of control I’ve heard exhibited by some top-tier planar transducers. Likewise, for a sense of air being pushed, the Utopia is clearly eclipsed by bio-dynamic transducers such as the marvel PhilPhone. What am I getting at? In essence, the Utopia’s bass response is one that is fundamentally good in that it maintains desirable dynamic driver characteristics - specifically bass texture - but by no means do I find myself gushing over it.

To me, the midrange of the Utopia has an unusual appeal that comes from a very specific type of coloration. It’s worth noting, however, that the Utopia generally shares the same midrange characteristics as the Focal Clear. Those who have read my review on the Clear will know that I found its midrange to have some… oddities . This was mainly due to 1) a strong emphasis at 1.5kHz and 2) high contrast between ~4kHz and a 6kHz peak which resulted in sibilance. The best way I can describe it, then, is that the Utopia simply approaches these colorations with more finesse. The emphasis at 1.5kHz serves to push forward vocals for a more exciting, warm, deep presentation at the risk of some added honkiness. The upper-midrange of the Utopia is also neutral with a fairly smooth transition into the lower-treble (unlike the Clear), so there’s rarely, if ever, sibilance. The Utopia doesn’t have a perfect midrange - hell, I’ve heard maybe one headphone (the Sennheiser HE1) with my “ideal” midrange - but it’s certainly serviceable and ahead of 90% of headphones I’ve heard.

Still, there’ll be much less mercy for creative liberties in the Utopia’s treble response which, personally, I find is mostly just acceptable for a flagship-level headphone. Listening to music (so no sine sweeps), I hear what sounds like a minor emphasis at 6kHz, some recession in the mid-treble, a minor peak at around ~12kHz, and then a gentle droop off of ~15kHz. Similar to the Clear, I do think the Utopia would benefit from some more shimmer up-top; it’s just not a particularly airy headphone despite some claims I’ve read to the contrary. In fact, there are IEMs (for example, the 64A U12t and Symphonium Helios) with superior treble extension! But if the Utopia redeems itself in any regard here, it’s mostly because it sounds noticeably less compressed for micro-contrast, more fluid for gradations in treble volume than the aforementioned IEMs. The timbre of the Utopia’s treble response is also not as bad as I’ve seen in some reports; personally, I find it to be noticeably less metallic than the Focal Clear’s.

Overall, the tonality of the Utopia is good but not mind-blowing. It has its quirks, and I suspect that some are partially inherent to the Utopia’s dynamic driver topology. One also has to consider the trade-off between tonal balance and perceived technicalities. Excessive dampening to achieve a desired frequency response can often negatively affect a sense of fidelity. Thankfully, this is anything but the case on the Utopia. A quality that stands out almost immediately when one hears the Utopia is its excellent macro-contrast. It is very revealing of dynamically compressed music, meaning that - unfortunately for me - a lot of my usual listening discography doesn’t necessarily yield the best experience with the Utopia. Even on Younha’s “How U Doing”, though, I observe the subtle shift in volume at 0:48 as her voice and the volume of the plucks in the side-channels rises. On less dynamically compressed music, I also find myself raising the volume to nerve-wracking volumes that I would otherwise never touch on other headphones. This is the good stuff. The stuff that makes music sound alive and that, hand-in-hand with the Utopia’s ~1.5kHz emphasis, results in what I would describe as a true sense of ‘musicality’.

Transients on the Utopia are interesting. While they generally come across as fairly “rigid” in terms of structure and the sense of weight behind them, I feel leading edges could use more sharpness to them. For example, I recall some flagship planars I’ve heard (the HiFiMAN Susvara), and especially electrostatics (Stax L700 MK2), having better clarity than the Utopia. I think this also bears some mention of ‘slam’. The perception of ‘slam’ for me is mostly a combination of cleanly delineated attack transients and the sense of immediacy behind them. For these reasons, I’m not sure if I’m 100% onboard with the Utopia being the king of slam. Furthermore, its open-back nature prevents it from hitting adequate SPL in the sub-bass to create a more traditional perception of air being pushed. But for a sense of innate detail, there’s no question that the Utopia is a top-performer. It has wonderful reproduction of reverb trails and note texture. I do feel that some of this perception of detail is aided by frequency response. There’s added resonance somewhere in the Utopia’s treble that brings forward sonic minutiae that would otherwise be obscured on a more neutral treble response. One could argue it’s not quite natural - I’d agree - but I don’t find myself minding.

The most glaring weakness of the Utopia would actually be its staging. At best, it’s a hair larger than the Focal Clear’s stage from memory (which, by the way, is not a high bar). I’m also not even surprised that the Utopia still lacks center image diffusion - soundstage depth - like all headphones I’ve heard. However, upon closer listening, I do feel that the Utopia’s general layering chops are excellent despite the more boxy, forward presentation. It maintains respectable nuance between instruments panned in the same direction, and I find it relatively easy to discern where individual instruments are placed even in busier tracks.

So what’s the bottom line? At the end of the day, the Utopia has a number of minor issues that make me want to say “I’ve heard better”. And I have. There are headphones that eclipse it in one aspect of sound or another, some by small margins, other by more significant margins. But as a total package - as that single headphone in a collection - your options are a whole lot more limited at ~$4K. The Empyrean Elite can’t touch this. The DCA Stealth can’t touch this. The Audeze LCD-4 and LCD-5 can’t touch this (at least not without EQ). Hell, until you’re in Susvara territory at $6K, I can’t think of another headphone I’ve heard that goes toe-to-toe with the Utopia. The Utopia is indicative to me of the summit of what is possible with a dynamic driver headphone, and I think there is a strong argument for the Utopia remaining one of the best headphones on the market today.

Score: 8/10


Great review, I’m in agreement with most of what you’ve said, but I also think you ought to try it off some desktop amps, and see what these do with more head room.

I can absolutely guarantee better results, with a solid backend chain, even though the iFi is a great unit. Scaling is one of the Utopia’s strengths, and it’s pretty mind blowing just how far they can be pushed.



The more I read reviews of any $200 IEM, the more I regret seller the Timeless.

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Agree with you about trying with greater variety of amps and sources.

Hey everyone, I wanted to drop some updates, as I know the thread has been pretty quiet lately.

First, I’ve written a guide to performing IEM measurements on Mac which has been published here:…/become-an-expert-at-measuring-iems-using-mac

64 Audio has also kindly sent me an attachment for measuring CIEMs. I’ll update the guide accordingly and post some thoughts on that when I get back home this weekend.

Second, I will be taking a trip to Singapore (aka the land of IEMs) in a couple of weeks’ time. I’ll be covering CanJam, Zepp and Co, and probably try and meet up with the Subtonic boys to check out some of their prototype IEMs. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to get my ears on all the other releases I’ve missed recently. This trip is something that I’ve been thinking about for some time, so I’m super thankful to for sponsoring it.

There is some other stuff in the works, but I don’t think it’s quite ready to be discussed yet, and I’ll make a post when the time is right.


Excellent work @Precogvision.