Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by shotgunshane, Jun 7, 2016.
Second that the symbios have always been reliable in their comfort but sound acoustics too
I recently ordered the Sennheiser CX300s and they are good for the money (about 50 Euros retail).
I might buy a second set because their bang-for-buck performance is really good.
Looks like Lucid Audio, who acquired Etymotic back in 2018, has now acquired Westone Audio:
I’m hopeful this could possibly mean some more neutrally tunes iems from Westone in the future. While I’ve been highly critical of their house sound, their housings have been some of the most comfortable uni’s on the market.
I find this announcement a bit discouraging. The best case would be that both Lucid and Westone are doing well and competing against each other. A consolidation like this suggests that one or even both may be struggling and needing to shore up their financials.
Westone Audio was sold by HealthEdge Partners, a private equity fund. Private equity funds do this all the time; they sell off companies or spin off portions of them in order to make the core business more attractive to sell (eventually).
It's well known that the old incumbents of in-ear audio have been struggling. Shure's product sales went down the tubes the last several years, partially due to the massive, stiff competition from Chinese companies. Logitech UE pulled out years ago. It would not be a surprise to learn that Westone was doing poorly as well.
Lucid Audio, on the other hand, came out of the blue a few years ago. No one knew what this company was, and yet it acquired Etymotic outright. But a closer look at Lucid Audio's corporate profile shows that the company used to be called Hearing Lab Technology, and rebranded itself as Lucid Hearing a few years back, with Lucid Audio serving as its consumer branch. It looks to be a hearing aid company that is now focused on expanding its horizons with consumer audio. The CEO and CFO in the past have basically bought up other companies to bring them into their fold, so their purchase of Westone Audio fits their MO. From the way Etymotic is structured right now, there aren't too many fundamental changes to the way it's being operated, so I can't imagine a full merger of Westone and Etymotic into one. Furthermore, the companies are geographically distinct; Ety is in the Chicago area, while Westone is in Colorado Springs. However, I do expect a coalescing of distribution channels for the two companies going forward.
Both brands were there at the beginning of sealed in-ear monitors and even worked together.
Westone worked with Etymotic on custom molded earplugs and Westone also made the first IEMs for Jerry Harvey (Ultimate Ears). Both have roots in hearing aids/protection and both made the first IEMs. (The IEM origin story gets told different ways by different companies and is a little hazy to me at this point.)
Westone still makes a ton of supplies for the other hearing and custom IEM companies. Westone has more of the performance side of the house and Etymotic may be more on the production/measurement side. Both ended up with differing approaches, different form factors, different use cases and customer bases. And both helped build the industry for sure.
In my mind…
Etymotic = Labs, production, hearing study, neutral target, not the most comfortable
Westone = Rock & Roll, stage use, consumer warm/bassier tuning (driven by Cartwright brothers?), very comfortable
I’ve always liked having a more neutral set-up along with a more “fun” or colored rig. Different ways of enjoying the same music, also catering to mood and recording. Another thing is habituation- after a while, things can settle in and become unremarkable. Going back and forth across a range of enjoyable playback means noticing the strengths and differences of each again. An example is to keep something like classic Ety ER3orER4SR + a Westone (UMPRO50/W40) around.
The way I see it- this is a great opportunity for both brands to keep their customer bases and expand their reach. Two different approaches and customer bases that should strive to meet in the middle (but not lose their centers).
I picture a Venn diagram with two separate circles near each other...
If Ety retains their quality control/consistency/coherence and tends to the accurate side but gets a little more capable in the low bass + more comfortable…
If Westone can retain their comfort and musicality while offering a bit more upper extension and a touch more linearity…
Both can solidify their bases of customers (assure base the core DNA is maintained) plus expand their reach. That makes a huge area of the market they can cover well. Both bases can also be exposed to the other product lines over time.
The two brand circles don’t have to try and overlap- they can expand approaches to meet in the middle.
To stay relevant, they need to generate awareness and improvement. I have hope and am excited to see what happens because Tal Kocen started at Etymotic last year…presumably he can help with both and he knows the community well.
Because the Chinese are not just building better products but also better companies. Asia is the big CIEM and high end UIEM market and American companies royally screwed up their early lead.
I was a huge Westone fan - I owned the ES3, the ES3X and later the ES5 back when the Chinese audiophile market was just warming up to CIEMs. Back then all of the popular IEM brands in China were American (Shure, UE, Westone, etc.), UM was around but mostly did reshells. After my first hiatus from the hobby I demoed a few of their universals (W60, W80) and came away really disappointed. None of them felt like they added anything meaningful to the old designs. And while Westone's service has stayed relatively okay UE and JH service is horrible outside of North America. I had one bad interaction each with UE and JH - and I like to think of myself as a pretty agreeable guy - which turned me off both companies for good. Lots of horror stories from friends too.
Now contrast that with brands like Moondrop and QDC. The people running them are visible on social media and you can shot at them if something isn't working. They do extremely high quality work - Moondrop's premium models are quite nice, QDC does the best acrylic shells in the industry - while undercutting US prices. You could wait months for a pair of $3,000 Laylas or get your $1,800 VX's made and shipped to you in a week.
And then there's the retail side. 64 dropped the ball a couple times by not managing their retailers and allowing retailers to repeatedly undercut each other. JH forgot a personal order of Layla's from the guy who owns one of the biggest CIEM retailer in Beijing and didn't reply to his emails for weeks. Brands such as Vision Ears also run long wait times but they actually manage their dealer network and put up shows at Canjam Shanghai.
Westone and UE these days is all but invisible in China, I don't think I've run across demos (outside of Hong Kong) since maybe 2016-17. Maybe they can live on professionals and singers but it's entirely their own fault that they've ended up in their current situation.
I'm looking for workout IEMs. Can live with a wire if its just a wire between the buds, and no dongle that causes weight.
Only care about sound quality and fit, as in it must not fall out what so ever!
Anyone here tried the Jaybird Tarah Pro? Vista? Bose Soundsport?
Other then that Powerbeats 4 & Pro are highest up on my list so far.
From what ive gathered so far, the Tarah Pro and Vista are not the best in stock form, but with EQ they can become excellent. However, I cant have EQ with my Garmin watch
@shotgunshane Do you by any chance remember what version you heard of the UE18+? I know it was like three years ago... Some people really prefer the 2nd generation over the current 3rd.
If I remember right, it was the 2nd gen.
I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say the Chinese are building better companies, but they indeed have been doing a lot more to reach our specific demographic --- the rabid enthusiast and the bonkers audiophile. They grabbed opportunity by the horns upon seeing the big CAGR numbers for IEMs. I also attribute the success of companies such as QDC with the fact that they were flush with cash to start with; QDC in particular enjoys government backing via PLA military contracts. (Westone Labs also has similar contracts with DOD, and it may be a reason why this is the part of the business that did not get let go as dead weight.) An ever growing sense of nationalism in China and government-directed development also produced the opportunity to market themselves as homegrown champions of in-ear monitoring.
US companies did indeed miss the boat with consumer IEMs. They were too concerned about preserving their longstanding contracts with A&R companies and the like. Additionally, the general trend for US companies is that they don't like messing with a good thing. Westone thought they had that with the UM3X and W3, so when it came time to evolve, they didn't move away from that stage monitor-esque, warm/fuzzy signature, whereas Chinese companies were busy trying to capture what was at that time a relatively undeveloped high-end consumer sector by throwing the kitchen sink at their prospects.
Logitech made a pure business decision with pulling out of the consumer market; the UE acquisition in 2008 was done right before the great recession, and after years of trying to develop the brand, they didn't pan out like Beats. Faced with questionable P/E, Logitech had to abandon the marque. They left only the "UE Pro" side to fend for itself, given its deep roots in the music industry. Given the immense importance of tours and concerts, servicing pro musician CIEMs will remain a viable business. There have been some ambitious attempts to capitalize on the prospect of "CIEMs for all", but they've largely been misses. UE's acquisition of Revols' Kickstarter campaign, spinning it into the CSX line, has been met with lukewarm reception, probably because it's really not much easier of a process than going to an audiologist. Currently, all photogrammetric methods of ear scanning have been no better, so this is going to be an ongoing challenge.
Shure, on the other hand, recognized the importance of the consumer side, and worked hard to develop shock/awe products like the SE846 and KSE1500. While the SE846 has likely made them some money, the KSE1500 was too impractical and mismarketed. I attribute this to how Shure worked with its distribution partners. Retail in the audio industry is largely stuck in the 20th century. Brick and mortar still rule the roost. After all, they serve as the major buffer of circulating product stock for companies working this low sales volume segment. But this means that companies like Shure have had to make do with long-term partners that may or may not have had the vision to take advantage of consumer trends in Asia, and in particular, China. These distribution companies might be well-heeled, but they probably tend to harbor a more reactive stance to consumer trends. Perhaps more importantly, they didn't urge the company to shorten product cycles like other companies have, and it led to their being left by the wayside in this tsunami wave of new products every 4-6 months.
JH Audio is probably doing better than you think. CIEMs are almost never going to be profitable in the long run (unless you have massive contracts with record labels and the like), but their UIEM partnership with Astell & Kern appears fruitful, and their increasingly expensive products have been sent by the pallet to various corners of the far east. The same can be said about Vision Ears. The pair of founders have spent a lot of time promoting themselves in each of the major Asian markets, and this success is directly attributed to very proactive regional distributors.
As for social media for the international audience, I feel Chinese companies in general still have a long ways to go. We can't see things merely through the lens of the obsessed audiophile that is always plugged into the ecosystem. After sales service is mostly relegated to eager retailers intent on being the Chi-Fi portal of choice for the Occident. Moondrop's direct international social media presence seems limited to Discord and occasional Twitter/Instagram/Facebook posts; otherwise, Moondrop's near entire customer service and international distribution are outsourced to Shenzhen Audio (a.k.a. Leiyin Audio). I don't envision this type of customer service to ever be able to satisfy the fastidious service standards of the cosmopolitan audiophile who purchases the gamut of summit-fi equipment.
I have a rep with work with who used to be a Westone rep. He spoke really highly about the old way Westone was run, the old owners, the people at the company and the history of the company. The company was run by the same family since the beginning and were looking to package up the company, sell it and retire.
Then when it was sold, the issues started from there. Day one nearly 2 dozen people were laid off. They installed a new CEO for the company. They had a board of directors that they brought in a whole of people from all over the audio industry. But turns out hiring a speaker guy to serve on a board of a company that deals with pro audio is completely different.
The rep saw my Sennheiser MTW sitting on my desk, pointed to it. Said they had they were already in the works with a TWS, they had collab projects ongoing, a new line up being made in China at the time. 2 weeks after the buyout, he gets a call from his former boss, told him that he probably wants to sit down for this next thing.
He was being terminated from Westone, the collabs were cancelled, the products that were literally in production were scrapped.
We personally were a Westone dealer but have dropped them for a number of reasons. There were a lot of people butting heads with the new leadership and being terminated. The project lead of the W series was unceremoniously terminated soon after it was complete. It seemed like every year, they had a new head of sales. They lacked consistency and had no clear goal. The private equity company was essentially running the brand into the ground.
There is without a doubt value still with Westone, they still have big contracts with a variety of companies. With new ownership, still can't say I am eager to be a Westone dealer again until they can get their shit together essentially. Seems like we aren't the only dealer that feels burned by them.
Etymotic ER2 added to the list. Impression can be found in the dedicated thread:
Looks like Ety has reduced the list price to $119 and Amazon is currently selling them for $100.
@shotgunshane What's your recommendation for an iem for when you still want to listen but you're ears have been more sensitive than usual? I guess I'm kind of thinking of something without "shouty" mids or "peaky" treble, and nothing that rebounds with a treble splash. Something smooth and inoffensive, warm but not bloated, without any major deficiency, even if it is lacking an awe factor. Any ideas? I'd like to try something with maybe max of $300, but wouldn't be opposed to extending the budget if something stands out.
I've been toying around what is going on. Not sure if it's a certain frequency causing problems. Or I was wondering about some Tidal digital influence. Or getting used to a dynamic driver after so much BA's. Sometimes, a darker source will help, but it's kind of temporary. I may actually see a doc if this doesn't let up; laying down, I noticed my throat was hurting, too! It's been interesting because I can have occasional tinnitus but that's been fine recently.
But even if that goes away, there are times when you just want a less-demanding listening, if that makes sense.
Thanks as always!
Our homie CeeTee was instrumental with the MassDrop plus. I think it is a relatively "safe" pick in that price range. My personal preference is the MoonDrop Blessing 2 at the price range, but the mids could possibly too much for some. The VSonic GR07 variants are a really easy listen - somewhat boring and lacking technically, but all around solid IMO.
Edit: The Ety E2XR is getting a lot of love right now, but I don't have any hands on experience with it.
I haven't tried a lot of $100ish IEMs, but ER2XR does a lot of things right. ER2SE seems boring to listen to when comparing to ER2XR. It won't win against the JVC Drops but for $100 you can do so much worse.
Good question. That gives me a chance to mention the Moondrop Starfield, an iem I plan on reviewing here shortly. For me, this is my relaxing iem. It’s still in the neutral zone but its slightly warmer and more forgiving than some of my others iems, like the FDX1. Where the FDX1 grabs you by the face with it’s engaging presentation, the Starfield is more pleasant sounding and I’m able to just let the music wash over me without constantly analyzing everything. Instead I’m thinking, man that song was great, I wonder what’s next on the random rotation. I seriously was not expecting this from the Starfield.
However my preferred relaxing and pleasant iem might not be what the next guy finds relaxed. For instance, I find the Sony M7 even more relaxed than the Starfield. It’s very warm and chill to me but I think @rythmdevils finds the M7 just a hair shouty? Anything more laidback to me, might be downright sleepy, ha! In general find the M7 a bit on the boring side, whereas I’m still engaged with the Starfield but it’s more of musical engagement than say the FDX1.
Anyway, these are the two that first come to mind from your question.
PS- Musical can be a bit of nebulous term. For me it means something a little warmer and perhaps bassier than my normal go to for accurate listening.
Edit- M7 might be out of the budget though, as I it’s about $500 new.
How does the Starfield compare from a technicalities standpoint with the FDX1?
I’ll elaborate more when I get down to the review and spend more time comparing, but the FDX1 driver seems faster- faster transients, less decay/rebound time, translating to higher resolution and better imaging. But it’s not night and day; more incremental. Starfield far exceeds my $109 expectations.
The Starfield is a great deal. I am looking forward to your review. I added a Penon OS849 copper and silver cable to mine and it upped its sound quality overall. More of everything and still that silky smooth treble as much as I can hear. Bass is a touch deeper too.
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