Subtonic STORM Review: Chasing the Dragon


Have you ever heard the phrase “chasing the dragon”? In audio, it refers to that moment of euphoria when someone first hears music in a way they’ve never had before. It’s the sudden realization that there is a whole world of music yet to be listened. It is what compels folks to dive deeper and deeper into this hobby, to chase that dragon in hopes of reliving that moment.

Personally, I can count on one hand the number of times I remember catching a glimpse of the dragon. Each was with a different seminal piece of gear; the Etymotic ER4SR, the Stax L700 + SRM 353X, the HiFiMan HE1000, and the original Focal Utopia. And most recently, the Subtonic STORM last year at CanJam NYC. Despite my short time with it, I was almost willing to crown it as “The Greatest IEM of All Time”.

Almost. The title of greatest is not easily bestowed. And a single listening session on a noisy show floor is far from a credible assessment of its capabilities. To even be considered worthy of challenging the throne, one must first spend time in court. Or in less superfluous terms, in my house, at my desk, with my music. But unfortunately, not at my own time. I had only a couple of weeks with them. This review will make every minute count. 

But first, what is the STORM? If this is your first time hearing about it, welcome to the highest end of the hobby. The STORM is Subtonic’s flagship product and their raison d'etre. It’s the culmination of three years of research and development from a 4-man team based in Singapore to create the best IEM possible with no compromises. To date, they’ve shipped only 50 units - the $5,200 Launch Edition STORM. Subtonic is now gearing up for the regular edition’s release, though its final price and accessory package is to be determined.

Source(s) used: Ferrum ERCO Balanced DAC and Headphone Amplifier and FiiO Q7


Like all reviews, this article is subject to a number of biases. While I don’t normally do this, I want to explicitly acknowledge a few of them considering the nature of this review because spoiler alert: I’m going to be extremely positive about the STORM. This is perhaps the most positive review I’ve ever written or will ever write.

  • Price bias - A common (and valid) complaint is that reviewers rate more expensive products more highly. At $5,200 the STORM is one of the most expensive IEMs in the market and thus would be susceptible to this bias. I can’t deny that it is a concern; only to say that I’ve heard and reviewed many other Very Expensive Products and have given them negative recommendations.
  • Selection/sampling bias - I haven’t heard every IEM in the world. Perhaps if I did, I would have a different opinion on the STORM. Though I think I’ve heard enough that I’m confident in my thoughts.
  • Recency bias - Closely related to the above, the STORM is the IEM I’ve heard the most recently and thus am more likely to prefer it. I don’t have every IEM on hand to do a direct side-by-side comparison.
  • Positive bias (Halo effect) - I’m friends with the creators of the STORM, even before they started Subtonic and thus more likely give a positive review given our relationship.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to have an objective review in a subjective hobby. But I hope you can understand when I say I don’t aim to be objective. I aim to be fair. If something is great, I won’t hesitate to give it effusive praise. If it’s not, I’ll point out each of its flaws. Whether you decide to trust me is up to you. While you might not agree with my opinions, my only hope is that you will see that I’ve been fair.

See also: Resolve's review over at The Headphone Show  Watch the video

Build and Fit

The STORM’s driver configuration is 2 Subtonic SLAM drivers + 5 balanced armatures + 2 electrostatic drivers for a total of 9 drivers per shell. Those SLAM drivers are actually balanced armatures, just modified by Subtonic to deliver the sound that they want. All of these drivers are housed inside a black solid titanium shell that Subtonic claims provides the lowest distortion. Topping it all off is a gorgeous faceplate with gold enamel swirls. I love the design of the faceplates. It’s luxurious without being tacky. However, all of these intricacies lead to a lengthy production process for the STORM. There was an estimated 3 month lead time from purchase to delivery for those first 50 units.

In addition to that build time, the STORM has had a storied history with its development. There actually exists two versions of the Launch Edition STORM. The difference is in how deep the black grooves on the faceplate are, with v2 being more recessed for a greater contrast in its aesthetic. The STORM I’m borrowing has the original faceplate, though Subtonic is offering to upgrade all v1 owners for free to the v2. Personally, I like the look of it more than the v2 and that’s what I have in all these pictures. If you want to see what the v2 looks like along with the accessories, check out Resolve’s video review.

The stock cable also varies when buying the STORM. For the v1, the stock cable is the 2W Mira and you had the option to upgrade to the 4W Mira, Sovereign or Sovereign Symphony cables. For the v2, the 2W Mira is still stock, but the 4W Mira is no longer an option. Personally, I don’t concern myself with the details of cables so I’ll go with whatever it comes with. The cable on my version of the STORM is the 4W Mira. It’s a very nicely built cable, just rather thick and unwieldy.

In terms of fit, the STORM is a very large IEM. It’s one of the most chunkiest IEMs around. But despite its size, I find it to be rather comfortable. It doesn’t do much to create an ergonomic shape, but it isn’t necessary. Using the stock small AET07 tips, I was able to easily get a deep seal and fit and could have the STORM in for hours at a time. The only complaint I’d have is the weight. Being fully titanium, along with a bulky cable, means that it does drag down while wearing. The STORM is very much a desk-only IEM for me, not one to be used while walking around.

What we like

  • Exceptional dynamic slam and impact
  • Unparalleled midrange resolution and timbral control
  • Outstanding imaging
  • Near perfect layering and coherency
  • Excellent overall tuning

What we don’t like

  • Price (?)
  • Potentially fit
  • Somewhat brittle upper treble that leads to loss of focus

Frequency Response

Here is the frequency response of the Subtonic STORM taken using the industry leading B&K 5128 measurement system. The wide grey bands are preference bounds from research that show the limits of how much deviation/tonal color a headphone or IEM could have from DF HRTF that people still found acceptable without it starting to be perceived as imbalanced. Here’s a great video primer if you want to know more about what that means.

Well isn’t that lovely. The STORM falls nicely within the preference bounds. Overall, the STORM has a tonally balanced sound signature with a generous bass boost, a touch of lower mids warmth, a wideband treble elevation and extension. I’d consider the STORM to be a generalist tuning that I doubt many people will have any complaints about, though depending on your hearing, you might find the treble region to be overly hot.

Notably, the most unusual feature the STORM has is its sharp ~8 kHz dip. It’s unclear exactly why this dip shows up; I believe it’s some sort of phase cancellation effect. I’m not sure if it was purposefully engineered in but it’s something I’ve never seen before. In practice, I don’t notice this dip at all when listening to music. Perhaps unconsciously, it helps perceptually to balance out the treble response or contribute to the STORM’s “technical” abilities.

The Objective and Subjective

So let’s address what’s meant by “technical” abilities. I usually assume that the reader is somewhat familiar with this topic if they’re reading an article like this. But I know a STORM review will attract folks at every stage of this hobby so it’s important that we’re all on the same page.

This is the Objective standpoint:

  1. From a biomechanical perspective, hearing is entirely based on the movement of the eardrum (which in turn causes movements of the inner ear bones etc.). This is the basis of how we hear and thus why frequency response at the eardrum is what determines how something sounds like. So if you are able to perfectly recreate the frequency response at the eardrum using two different IEMs, they will both sound the same. For those concerned about time domain, frequency response already contains that information as frequency is a measure over time to begin with.
  2. But it's nigh impossible for two IEMs to have an identical frequency response at the eardrum due to a massive number of confounding factors. Hence two IEMs that look to be very similar in their frequency response on a measurement rig (or EQ'd very similarly) can still sound perceptually different. Resolve dives into this very topic over at The Headphone Show with regards to insertion depth, ear canal length, and so on.
  3. Does this mean measurement rigs are useless? No. In fact, this is the reason why we need more accurate measurement systems like the B&K 5128. Even if we can't perfectly measure or recreate the frequency response at the eardrum, understanding or closely matching frequency responses on a measurement rig is still the best (and only) starting point we have. 

And this is how the Subjective aspect of the hobby comes into play:

  1. Frequency response at the eardrum has one more nuance if you haven’t yet noticed: it depends entirely on an individual’s ear (AKA your own individual HRTF). Hence every review beyond talking strictly about the frequency response graph is inherently subjective. And that’s before we account for preferences.
  2. Reviewers use descriptors like “warmth” to translate frequency response into our listening experience. But these descriptors extend beyond tonality - it also includes “technicalities”. Audiophile words like “soundstage” or “dynamics”. For example, if I talk about “bass texture”, it might be a result of oddities in the frequency response outside the bass region, such as the upper mids or treble, as instruments have upper harmonics that stretch the whole frequency range.
  3. This translation, though admittedly subjective and sometimes misleading, is the basis of reviews because we don't have an easy way to understand frequency response. When we listen to music, we don't hear it in terms of sine waves. Our brain instantly understands it as instruments playing notes. Hence why people read reviews - to connect with a translation they can understand. Of course, sometimes translations have different interpretations and some people may prefer one reviewer’s interpretation over another’s as it more closely connects with their understanding and/or experiences.
  4. Ultimately however, sensory experiences can only be understood by the senses. No amount of words can truly convey the feeling of actually hearing an audio product. This is the culmination of all those little nuances not easily understood or captured from the graph because my experience is the frequency response at the eardrum, not that of the measuring rig. This is what I like to call “Presentation” which encompasses both the overall tuning seen on the graph and the unseen nuances that make up “technicalities”.

With all of that said, the rest of this review will be the subjective part.



The bass of the STORM could arguably be classified as “basshead”. With ~10 dB at 20 Hz, it’s clearly not shy when it comes to bass quantity. However, I can see some preferring even more bass as the STORM’s overall tonal balance isn’t dominated by the lower frequencies. What isn’t a question is the bass quality of the STORM. It easily competes for the very best that I’ve heard in an IEM. Though I detest the marketing of the STORM’s bass balanced armatures as SLAM drivers, I’ll admit that the STORM is the first IEM I’ve heard that truly embodies the sensation of slam.

So, what is slam? For me, it means a delicate balance of explosive transients coupled with a weighty impact. The STORM rides that fine line and delivers the most dynamically charged bass performance I have ever heard. It’s thunderous. Bass notes have a hard leading edge that’s immediately followed by a firm sense of finality. Importantly, notes never linger a moment longer than they need to.

Instrument Notes:
  • Drums notes best encapsulate that feeling of slam. When the sticks land on the toms or the beater head on the kick drum, there’s a hard outline of note definition and the deep resonant boom unique to the drums. The STORM delivers dynamics here in the way I wish every other IEM could. It’s as if the volume is momentarily cranked up as notes land to amplify the impact.
  • Bass guitars are my favorite. You can hear exactly when they kick in on top of the drums, playing in step, overlapping but never competing. The STORM accentuates the depth of the bass guitars to saturate the lower frequencies and create a “fill-the-room” sensation. There’s intentionality behind every pluck of the strings.
  • Electronic instruments like synths sound weightier than usual. Unlike the drums or guitars, there’s less of an explosive attack on synths so you don’t get the same dynamic impact. What you do get is an increased richness in the underlying notes.


Sennheiser IE 900:

Prior to the STORM, the IE 900 had possibly my favorite bass in an IEM. What I love about its sound is the unparalleled rawness and texturing in the subbass. There’s a heft and meatiness to drums that I don’t find anywhere else. While the STORM gets close in that department, it’s not the same and doesn’t quite have that final touch of texturing.

That said, the STORM does solve my primary nitpick against the IE 900 - that explosiveness at the start of the note to really give it the feeling of slam. It’s this added layer of dynamics, along with the hard note definition and outstanding bass guitar performance that makes me lean towards the STORM for bass quality. I’ll miss the IE 900, but not that much.

Sony IER-Z1R:

The Z1R is an IEM that has long been held as a high benchmark for top-of-the-line bass quality. Personally, I find that with the Z1R, its subbass roll-off gives it a slightly more rounded, punchier sound rather than a booming response. There’s a dynamic backbone behind every note. In any case however, I do prefer the STORM’s overall bass presentation for the same reasons I mentioned with the IE 900. While the hard note definition of the STORM might be seen as “unnatural” to some (the often misunderstood BA vs. DD debate), I think that as long as it’s done right, it can be more enjoyable. And the STORM does it very right.

Elysian Acoustics Annihilator 2023 (Titanium):

I find the Anni 2023’s bass to be in the same category as the Z1R’s. The major difference is that it doesn’t have quite as much of a subbass roll-off so it’s less punchy. There’s also substantially more bass in the Anni 2023 so that it’s very much a focal point of the experience. It’s a closer matchup this time around as the increased quantity of the Anni 2023’s bass makes its dynamic impact more known but as with the Z1R, I prefer the STORM.

64 Audio Volür:

The Volür hit the scene touting their dual 9 mm dynamic drivers in a true isobaric configuration. A lot of marketing, but to their credit, the Volür’s bass has impressive dynamic range. It has an overall BIG sound where notes land with aplomb and linger a smidge thanks to a lengthy decay. It’s an IEM that saturates the low frequencies, though at the cost of a bit of lower mids contrast. To that end, I prefer the STORM because it has a tightened definition in the low end and a clearer transition from big bass notes to lower mids body.


The midrange of the STORM is exceptionally well tuned. I’d classify it as a relaxed neutral with an undercurrent of warmth. It’s particularly noticeable on male vocals compared to females. It’s not so much that it becomes distinctly warm, it’s more like a slight filter over top. And speaking of female vocals, the relaxed nature is great if you’ve found other IEMs shouty in the past. I’m generally OK with more upper mids gain, but I think what the STORM has here is perfect for the overall sound it’s going for.

What sets the STORM apart beyond its tonality is the phenomenal sense of timbral control and resolution it has in the midrange. There’s a hint of texturing accompanying every note that highlights all the little nuances buried within each note. It adds a whole new dimension of enjoyability when listening to music that draws me in to listen for more and more. It’s clarity without stridency. There’s almost a hyper-realism to the timbre that isn’t smoothed or softened over in the slightest.

Instrument Notes:
  • Stringed instruments showcase this beautifully. The singing, quivering, vibrato tones of a violin are pored over with a microscope to paint an image of the striations of the bow as it runs back-and-forth along the strings. In addition to a deepening of the timbre, there’s a real sense of size as you move up from violins to violas, to cellos and the double bass. There’s a richness that isn’t overly lush.
  • With acoustic guitars, every strum is rendered with superb clarity. The articulation of the strings bring the melodies and counterpoints to life while changes in subtle picking patterns are highlighted.
  • The midrange texturing works wonders on gritty, distorted sounds of the electric guitars. It all comes together amazingly and captures that magic of finding the perfect tone.
  • For pianos, it’s about the detail retrieval. I can hear the pedaling of a pianist, the shifting of the feet, and the resting of the mallets on the piano strings. I hear the subtle arpeggiation moments before block chords are fully formed. The keys have great dynamic weight, particularly for heavy accented notes.
  • Vocals are warm and relaxed as mentioned and don’t ever get harsh or sibilant for me. They blend nicely into the mix, but not too much that it gets lost. That said, I think the one gripe I can see some people have is that the STORM doesn’t do anything “special” with vocals. I wouldn’t call it a vocal centric IEM; it’s a generalist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that - but I know there are some who focus entirely on vocal performance and I can see the STORM not being what they’re looking for. Ironically, I think some smoothening of the vocals might be the key here.

Honestly, I wish I played more instruments just so I could have the proper vocabulary to describe how the STORM makes everything sound. Instead of simply hearing the notes, I’m actively imagining how the musicians are playing them. That’s a true mark of excellence.


If there’s one sore spot in all of this praise, it would be in the treble. Specifically, it’s in the upper treble around 10 kHz that’s on the bright side. I find it gives the treble a bit of a brittleness to the sound. Interestingly, it also causes there to be a slight loss of focus in the hats and cymbals. While the initial attack is clean, and crisp, it can start to lose a bit of definition in the middle body of the note, with the treble timbre being somewhat compromised. The trailing ends of tones in the decay do gain back some clarity but remnants of that brittleness still remain. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it smeary per se; notes just aren’t quite as timbrally controlled as they are in the mids or the bass.

That said, this isn’t a deal breaker for me by any means. Treble is by far the hardest frequency range to tune properly and I’ve come to terms that no headphone or IEM will get it perfect. More importantly, the STORM avoids a few of my biggest complaints when it comes to treble in IEMs:

  1. It isn’t too crispy or overly sharp. While the upper treble hump adds brittleness, I don’t find it peaky. It’s not fatiguing to listen to. The STORM also doesn’t have an unnatural “click-y” sound with the hats that I sometimes hear in other IEMs.
  2. It doesn’t have an exaggerated upper treble airiness. What someone might classify as exaggerated varies, but my comparison is some of the 64 Audio products where it sounds like someone using EQ to brute force the upper treble. I don’t like it.
  3. In a similar vein, the upper treble isn’t overemphasized in a way to try and trick listeners to think the STORM is more “hi-res” than it actually is. To be fair, this isn’t necessarily bad and can actually be good for the overall tuning. But if it’s taken to the extreme, it can feel like a gimmick.

As usual, your mileage may vary when it comes to treble as ear anatomy greatly affects the frequency response at the eardrum. This video from Resolve gets into it more. I had to do quite a bit of tip-rolling to get the treble response to be right. In fact, until I landed on the right tips, I didn’t enjoy the STORM half as much as I do now. As it turns out, the stock small AET07 tips were the right ones and Resolve had the exact same problem in his review as I did. So I guess the STORM’s creators really did know what the right pairing was. Go figure.


Symphonium Helios and Crimson:

To my ear, the STORM’s treble is a mellower version of the Symphonium Helios. Both IEMs have a somewhat brittle treble response but the STORM isn’t quite as sharpened in the treble. On the other hand, the Crimson is much more crisp than the STORM and has that “hi-res” sheen I mentioned. It works for the Crimson, especially if you like that sort of treble with heaps of note definition. But the Crimson’s treble is more likely to be fatiguing for someone than the STORM’s.

Sennheiser IE 900:

I love the IE 900’s treble because it has a similar texturing and rawness as in its bass. It has a similar broadband elevation like the STORM does, but takes it up a step. Fortunately, I don’t hear that faint brittleness. Unfortunately, it’s more likely to be peaky and rough sounding for some people. But if you can handle the spiciness of it, the IE 900 delivers some awesome treble, one that I would actually consider on par with the STORM’s.

Thieaudio Monarch Mk III:

The Thieaudio Monarch MkIII is an IEM that could be argued to have that “fake treble detail” with its excessive upper treble presence. While it admittedly does sound highly resolving, it’s only for upper treble details in the hats and cymbals. The price you pay is a zingy sound that captures every shimmer and sizzle in the trailing ends of tones with an unnatural exaggeration. The STORM has none of this. It focuses much more on the initial attack and middle body of the note rather than the decay.


The staging of the STORM is exceptional. The absolute size of the soundstage is very good, though still ultimately IEM-like with great horizontal width and somewhat limited height and depth. Where the STORM excels is in its imaging. It takes complete advantage of the soundstage to create an extremely coherent picture of how instruments are placed. More than how they’re positioned, it’s how they move through a passage. Here’s a few examples: Electric guitar riffs that run down into the quiet background corners of the stage. Toms that sweep across the stereo field, yet ever-so-subtly just in front of me. The backing drum roll where I can practically count every tap amidst the rest of the instruments in the foreground. I’m compelled to imagine how the musicians might be placed on stage as they perform.

I’ve waxed on enough about the STORM’s resolution and dynamic ability so I won’t repeat it here other than to say that it has the most convincing display of these qualities that I’ve heard in an IEM. The question is why. I’ve come to the conclusion that what really sets the STORM apart, the ace up its sleeve that ties all of its sound together, is its exquisite layering ability. It gives every instrument their own pocket to play in, a space to breathe and fully express their sound. Instruments are allowed to play on top of each other, occupying the same spaces in the frequency response, yet remain clear and distinct. For example, when the kick and bass notes play in unison, each amplifies the other, overlapping but not overpowering. Even within the same instrument, such as the crack of the head, the rattle of the snares, and the depth of the drum are all heard atop one another.

It’s this layering that also makes the STORM a very forgiving IEM. I never once thought that, even in my worst recorded tracks, my music sounded bad. There’s a musicality that kept me hooked on listening to tracks and reluctant to put it down once I got the STORM in my ears. And for those who like to listen loud, I found I could keep turning up the volume without the sound starting to feel like it’s falling apart. I used to bundle soundstage, imaging, and layering in a sort of Venn diagram of qualities. But the STORM has given me a whole new appreciation for the impact that superb layering can have on the overall listening experience.

Altogether, I would consider the STORM to be two steps above every other IEM that I’ve heard. It’s the combination of all of its strengths that creates a sonic presentation unlike any other. It’s not that the STORM somehow breaks the laws of physics and delivers an experience like that of a headphone or speaker. That’s an unrealistic comparison. Rather, it’s about pushing the technical limits of what an IEM can do. That’s the first step. The second is doing it across almost every front. The sum of its parts makes the STORM stand above from everything else.


Should You Buy It?

Yes, if you have the wallet for it. There isn’t much to say here. If you want the best sounding IEM, you buy the Subtonic STORM. Despite the minor nitpicks that I have with its sound, its positives far outweigh its negatives. Truthfully, I don’t blame anyone for being skeptical; I was too, after hearing nothing but praise for the STORM everywhere I looked. Perhaps some defiant part of me wanted to be a contrarian and go against the crowd. After all, I’ve reviewed hundreds of headphones and IEMs, including some Very Expensive Products that claim to be the very best. All of them have invariably failed to deliver on their promise. But with the STORM, I feel like I’ve finally caught up to the dragon. I can’t guarantee the same for you, but if you ever get a chance to hear the STORM, be prepared to reach the end of your journey.

Price and Value

The obvious elephant in the room is its price. With an eye-watering MSRP of $5,200 at launch, the STORM is one of the most expensive IEMs to ever exist. Unfortunately, it’s not going to get any cheaper as the regular edition is likely not only going to be over $6,000 due to manufacturing hurdles, but will have an inferior accessory and faceplate set. I can’t make excuses for Subtonic’s production planning. There are valid criticisms.

But is the STORM worth it? Here is where I’d like to point out a key nuance: Price is not the same as value. Manufacturers set a price based on a variety of factors, including what they think customers will pay. Value is what an individual gets out of a product. They do not have to be the same, and in fact, rarely ever are. Without knowing the cost of production or the size of their margins, I can’t comment if Subtonic is being overly greedy by pricing it at over $5,000. But as a small company based out of the most expensive city on the planet, I can’t imagine building a STORM is cheap, particularly with a full titanium build, 18 drivers in total to match, and luxurious accessories to pair with. Crinacle recently did a video discussing this very topic if you’re interested to learn more about what goes into making IEMs.

What I do know is that as long as customers continue to put the STORM out of stock, it’s clear that they see value in it. After all, despite the cost, there is only one greatest IEM in the world. And frankly, this is a hobby with many, many other absurdly priced products. From headphones, to DACs, to amps. Cables and interconnects. You can spend much, much more than $5,000 and still not be satisfied. Being able to reach endgame with the STORM is valuable in itself.

However, if price-to-performance is a concern and the price-is-no-object mentality doesn’t sit right with you, there are other options for a few thousand dollars less. While I don’t think any that I’ve tried are as good as the STORM, they’re still plenty enjoyable. I’ve listed a few other top-of-the-line IEMs as comparators in this review, and there are a handful of others out there that might be worth checking out such as the highly lauded Canpur 622b or the upcoming 7th Acoustics flagship Asteria. Please don’t spend thousands of dollars on something until you’ve personally tried the other options.

There’s also no rule it has to be something expensive either. You might find a $500 IEM to be more enjoyable just like DMS did with the Hisenior Mega5EST depending on what you value. The STORM forces you to listen to it; you might want something more laid back.

What About Headphones?

I’ll go out on a limb here and take the controversial stance that I prefer the STORM over pretty much every headphone set-up I’ve heard. Except maybe the Sennheiser HE-1. I had a suspicion that I might prefer IEMs to headphones for a while now but the STORM has finally made me confident in that opinion. Though it lacks the sense of size and scale of a headphone, I just don’t see myself reaching for one if I have the option to use the STORM. It delivers nearly everything I look for outside of speakers when it comes to dedicated listening. Or to put it another way, some headphones can compete or exceed the STORM on certain aspects but not on the whole. Once again, it’s the total sum of its parts that elevates the STORM against its competitors.

Closing Thoughts

I had a hard time writing this review because as you can see, my thoughts are scrambled all over the place. Ultimately, I think the easiest way to think of the STORM is that it competes with luxuries like vacations, nice speakers, and fancy watches. Not other IEMs. To me, buying anything else is effectively a compromise in sound quality and if you’re going to spend that much money, I think it’s important to consider the other joys in life outside of audio. Especially when I consider that the STORM is closer to $8,000 Canadian for me. Regardless of what anyone says though, Subtonic should be very, very proud that they’ve achieved what every other manufacturer can only dream of. Making the greatest IEM in the world.


I rarely include source comparisons or walkthroughs with specific test tracks in my reviews as I find them to be unhelpful if you don’t have the same gear or listen to the same music. But with the STORM, I decided to add these sections for completeness just in case anyone wanted more info.

Source Comparison

I’d consider myself source agnostic - 95% of the time I don’t hear a difference. And if I do, it’s so miniscule that it’s either a waste of time to worry about it or I’m skeptical if it’s even real due to a lack of proper double blind ABX testing. But that isn’t to say I haven’t heard (or believe I heard) source differences to convince me that they matter. Generally, it’s been with more exotic products, like electrostatic headphones, or esoteric sources like Mass Kobo products.

The STORM would fall under that category. So naturally, I had to do at least a bit of due diligence. The recommended DAC/amp for the STORM is the $800 FiiO Q7; I borrowed one from a friend when they lent me the STORM. At my desk is the $2,400 Ferrum ERCO that is standard across my reviews. And on the go, I use the powerful little $90 Tanchjim Space dongle.


Subtonic STORM on Ferrum ERCO, FiiO Q7, and Tanchjim Space using the AET07 eartips. Measured using the IEC-711 clone coupler. There is effectively no difference in the frequency response graphs with any of these sources. The minor variations here are measurement errors, likely in the seating of the STORM within the coupler.

Here are the test settings:

  • A/B test - Yes, this is not ideal. I don’t claim to be a scientist. I only report on my experiences. Take from it what you will.
  • Volume matched to +/- 0.2 dB - Used my IEC-711 coupler for matching. This was the closest I could get and is at the limits of human hearing.
  • ~85 dB average listening volume - This crossed into the uncomfortably loud territory for me but I wanted to have a better chance of hearing any differences.
  • Test track: Anberlin - Losing It All - This is one of my main test tracks as it opens up slowly with multiple stages of instruments being introduced before fully transitioning into an energetic alt-rock song. It gives me a good starting point to focus on a few instruments at a time.

Specifically, I listen for the moment after the drummer buries the kick at the 2 and 4 second mark. There’s a backend resonance, a trailing echo following the deep thud of the kick that lingers for a split second before the next note. With the Space, that echo is almost non-existent. The note ends abruptly after the main body of the note. This is very evident when I compare it to the ERCO as that backend resonance comes back into the picture. It’s as if I’m missing half of the note with the Space. Listening to this difference, I feel confident in saying I could probably pass an ABX test 9/10 times.

With the Q7, the difference is subtle but still noticeable. There’s a bit more bass depth in the backend resonance. The amount of time it lingers is about the same, so it’s not like the Space vs the ERCO where practically half the note is missing. There’s just a bit more oomph and subbass decay to it. This one, I’m not so confident I’ll easily pass an ABX test.

Outside of listening specifically for the kick drum, on the Q7 the toms land with more impact and slam and when the male vocals come in at 1:00, they have a little bit more body as well. The difference between the Q7 and ERCO closes when the track enters the chorus and every instrument is at full force. Here, it’s harder to define the exact differences other than a general sense that the Q7 is more impactful and enjoyable. On the other hand, the Space doesn’t have as much dynamism and lacks depth, being somewhat light sounding compared to the warmth and weight that the STORM normally brings.

Between the Q7 and ERCO, I would definitely take the Q7 but if I didn’t have them both in front of me to directly compare, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about the ERCO being very slightly inferior. It’s already so good. The Space is obviously insufficient - part of why I did this test was because I suspected the Space was limited with the STORM when I brought it to work to try it out. Don’t get me wrong; it still sounds fantastic. Just not quite as compelling as when I’ve heard it with the ERCO or Q7.

And that’s it for the source report. The main point here is that the STORM is potentially dependent on sources but you don’t always need to get the most expensive one - the $800 Q7 was better than the $2,400 ERCO in this case. As mentioned, I’m far from an authority on sources so if you’d like more information, there’s plenty that’s been written about the STORM and its source (or cables, if you’re down that rabbit hole) pairings elsewhere such as on Head-Fi.

Track Example

I have a variety of test tracks I generally start with before going through a rotation through my library. Sawano Hiroyuki - Attack on Titan is one of them. I like this track because it has a lot of complex layers spanning across acoustic, electric, and choral elements that fully takes advantage of how good your gear can be. The other important part is that it isn’t some extremely well produced work like your typical audiophile fare. As long as the tonality is half decent, smooth jazz or Michael Jackson will sound great regardless of what you hear it with. Also, if you ever watch the show, you’ll understand why this track is so iconic.

Let me break it down passage by passage to show what the STORM brings to the table.

  1. 0:00 - 0:08: This track opens with a set of distorted tones. With most other IEMs, I hear the overall chaotic distortion and modulation of the tones. With the STORM, I can hear the warbling that makes up that distortion and discern the actual notes that make up the passage despite it being masked by excessive effects.
  2. 0:08 - 0:31: This is the first time the drums kick in. Here is where the STORM flexes its dynamic prowess and gives us a glimpse of the thundering nature of the drums.
  3. 0:46 - 1:01: A cello (?) comes in on the right. The imaging of the STORM places it in the bottom right corner of the soundstage. It’s not the primary instrument here; the vocals come over top of everything else. Yet the STORM gives the cello significant depth and distinctly renders every note amidst the pounding drums, vocals, and more distortion tones.
  4. 1:17 - 1:32: The electric guitar comes chugging in along with the hats and cymbals. Even through all the layered instruments at this stage, I can clearly hear the tone of the electric guitar, the nuances of its pickups as the guitarist chugs forward.
  5. 1:33 - 1:48: The kick drum rises prominently above the track, with the STORM highlighting the midbass punch to separate it from the other instruments. The snare also comes in, and here is where I can hear both the crack of the snare’s head and the bodied depth of its resonance layered on top of each other. I normally only hear the crack of the head.
  6. 1:48 - 2:03: Here is a down section. Listen to that snare again. It starts with a bit of a higher pitch. But right at 1:59 - 2:03 it hits twice with a slightly lower pitch, then once with the same higher pitch. This is the sort of subtlety in the notes that the STORM presents so easily for me to pick up on.
  7. 2:03 - 2:24: This is the build-up before the massive drop at 2:25. Here, it’s the imaging of the STORM that stands out. There are electronic notes flitting in and out of the background, seemingly disappearing into nowhere within the soundstage only to rotate through the front again. The STORM manages to capture that sense of fading into nothingness of those notes.
  8. 2:25 - 3:58 onwards: Enjoy the drop. This is where everything comes together. What the STORM does best here is demonstrate its ability to layer every instrument with each other. If you wanted to pick one out, you could easily follow every one of its notes, hear its timbre, and listen to how it’s contributing to the symphony. I like listening to the strings here, positioned to the far left.
  9. 3:58 - end: It closes in the way it started, with a number of distorted tones and heavy drums. As it ends, the STORM reminds me of its dynamic impact with every beat til the finish.

Now, I know what some of you might be saying - this isn’t anything special, you’re only hearing this because you’re focusing hard and listening as you review it. Any one could hear it with any other gear if they spend enough time listening to it too! And I would agree to an extent. Spending time listening to it while I write this up has helped me focus more intensely on what I’m hearing. But at the same time, I’ve heard this track hundreds of times while reviewing other headphones and IEMs. I’ve picked out some of the nuances I’ve described before, but not all of them, and certainly not all at once. It’s the dynamics (thundering drums), the timbral resolution (warbling distortion and strings), and layering (chorus) ability of the STORM that when all combined, is why I consider the STORM two-steps above the rest of the market.

Thanks for reading.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I would love for someone at to review the Rhapsodio Supreme V3 compared to Subtonic STORM since no one has yet provided any frequency graphs with B&K 5128. And because I’ve heard that this is the most resolving IEM, even more so than STORM. Though, it’s hard to drive for full potential.

Great review @Fc-Construct !!

One day I must get to hear Storm…

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You need to my friend. It really does do something different, enough to convince a skeptic.


Unfortunately, the only way someone will be able to review it is if a unit is provided to the team. There are dozens of IEMs in the market all trying to ape each other on price and claim the #1 spot. It’s not feasible to try and hunt them down ourselves. Especially when in my experience, a lot of ultra-niche TOTL products are rather gimmicky and ultimately disappointing. The phrase “hard to drive for full potential” is often a signal to me of exactly that; needing some sort of esoteric set-up to sound good. It’s usually used as an excuse like if someone thinks it’s not good, it’s because they weren’t driving it properly. This isn’t a shot at you by the way, so please don’t take any offense. It’s just a little pet peeve of mine. The STORM is still like a top 10 IEM for me even off a $40 dongle. I recognize that some headphones and IEMs do need special amplification, but like I said, more often than not it’s used as an excuse for mediocre products.

But hey, if someone at Rhapsodio wants to send me one for review, I’m all ears :joy:

Nice review! Storm is wonderful, and I hardly touch my Hifiman Susvara now after using Storm on a daily basis. It’s sad (for my headphones collection), but also awesome at the same time.


A good write and informative review, I believe I know how it sounds before even hearing it.



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IEM tag is missing on the review.

Thanks. I had in-ear headphones as the tag but not IEMs lol