For my 30th Birthday, I decided to spoil myself with something that I want, not something that I necessarily need; something that I won't even considered buying if it's not for my 30th Birthday.
A custom in-ear monitor.
Custom in-ear monitors or CIEMs are made for musicians, artists and sound engineers for audio monitoring and mixing; or, in layman's term, * fucking expensive earphones with extreme precision*.
Over the years, audiophiles started to use these for casual music listening too, because, them audio elites can only make themselves wet with studio grade equipments. "Custom" because it has to be made just for your ears. So precise that it will fit into your ear like a Lego; this ensures that your ears are isolated from background noise.
I am honestly happy with my current non-custom IEM, the UE900 by Ultimate Ears; it's the flagship consumer IEM model. It's a high end earphone that would never fail to make anyone happy.
I have no complains about it other than the replaceable cables kept on dying on me (totally my fault, because, I'm quite sadistic when dealing with them cables).
The main reason I wanted a Custom IEM is because I wanted something very personal to me, specially made for me; like how a guitarist would like to have a special guitar just for them. These things are built to last too, unlike smartphone or computers that'll go obsolete in less than a year.
I believe that this would be a perfect investment for me.
By the way, this is NOT a product review.
I decided to make one for myself, because I can. I found a shop in Akihabara that specialises in custom iems, E-Earphone. They're really helpful, definitely a must visit if you're around.
The first step was to find a model that I like. There are a lot of CIEM makers out there and deciding on one is pretty hard. Since these are custom earphones, you can only find out how it's truly sound like AFTER it's all completed. So yeah, it's very, very hard to decide on one. You had to bet some faith into your options.
They have demo units for all available models: CIEMs made with normal earphone plugs. It can't represent the final sound quality but it's the closest they can go.
Choosing a model was hard. I've done my study over the internet reading review to narrow down my list of options for weeks, and I still had a hard time choosing one at the shop.
I ended up choosing Ultimate Ear's flagship CIEM, the UE18 Pro. I guess I loved Ultimate Ear's sound signatures just like the UE900 that I already have. Close contenders were UE's UERM and Jerry Harvey's JH13 and JH16.
Next, they need an impression of my ear canals. Conveniently, they have a audiologist clinic underneath their shop.
Seems weird but the process was painless. First, the audiologist checks my ear with a scope to ensure there's nothing wrong with my ears before stuffing cotton deep inside. It was literally cool when the cool silicone filled up my ear canal. Had to wait for 5 minutes for it to harden; had hard time listening to anything during that period as everything sounded muffled.
The completed ear impression was sent off to UE factory in US where it will be crafted by their experts. The entire process was expected to be completed within 2 months.
This should be the most painful 2 months ever.
23 days later, they called me saying that it's ready to be picked up from the shop. That... was a lot faster than I expected. I couldn't sleep that night, and went to the shop as early as possible on the next day.
At the shop, they handed me the finished product and HORY DAYUM, I was speechless when they handed to me the packaging. It's beautiful.
I guess, this I how it feels like when you received a custom ordered BMW car. Maybe. I might not be able to afford a BMW within my lifetime, but hell, this is luxurious enough for me.
The shopkeeper asked me to try them out, to ensure it fits. If it didn't, they will send it back to the US to have it remade again.
Heh, he didn't even have to tell me about it, I'll do it anyway. I plugged them into my ear and wow, it really fitted into my ears like a Lego. It's really deep that it felt weird, but something that I can get used to. There's no need to worry about it to slip out of my ears. I guess, it's important for musicians on stage as they wouldn't want it to slip out when they're head banging hard.
How do they sound though?
I only had my phone with me at the time but it was good enough to test it out. It's perfect to gauge it's real life performance since I'll be using this outside most of the time with my phone anyway. Also, I didn't expect it to outdo my UE900 by much since those are pretty epic by itself.
I was SO wrong about these won't be able to outdo my UE900 by much.
They exploded in my ears with sound performance that exceeded the UE900 by a lot, thanks to the tight seal inside my ear. It exceeded my expectations in many ways. I switched back to my UE900 just to ensure it's not a placebo or something. All that with just a phone, without a DAC.
I can see the shop keeper grinning. "Heh, another overly satisfied customer" was written all over his face.
"How was it?" he asked.
"VERY. VERY NICE."
Head back home, with my new precious plugged into my ears all the way.
Back at home, I can test out it's full potential with my new DAC that I bought from Massdrop few weeks back: Grace Design m9XX.
It's really hard to describe sound in words; especially with my limited vocabulary. Compared to the UE900, the bass is stronger, punchier and crazier; all that without drowning the rest of the frequency range. The separation is pretty good. The clarity is definitely a lot better than the UE900 however was not as awesome as the JH16 demo units I tried.
Honestly, while have no idea on how to describe how it sounded like, to my ears, these are the best speakers I've ever had. You can read more about these online, and they might suggest you to get something else instead. Different people, different cup of tea.
For me, these are FANTASTIC.
That doesn't mean that they're perfect for everything though. I will still use my ATH-50x headphones for a lot of reason; convenience and comfort is one of them. Also, the ATH-50x sounds better for certain music.
Wearing these CIEM for a very long time can be very tiring. After hours of listening to epicness, I could really appreciate some moment of silence. It's that moment where I wear my headphones without listening to any music.
Assured myself that anything beyond these pair would be pure placebo and over overkill.
...okay, maybe I would love to get another pair of CIEM. The JH16 next, maybe. For my 40th maybe...if my hearing are still fine by then. Heh.
Overall, I'm really happy with these purchase. Thought that I would get buyer's remorse from these, but NAH, this was totally worth it.