Linette takes a listen to Final Audio Heaven VI – CC, Hifiman RE-600 and Sennheiser IE 800 In Ear Monitors.

So, what do you give a girl that has ears which Legolas the Elf would be jealous of, is really finicky about Head Fi comfort and really doesn’t feel much love for in ear monitors? Three pairs of High End IEMs of course!

As the resident IEM expert and Hifi Pig Teen reporter is currently out of the country, and because these are hardly Teen Pocket Money friendly, it falls to me to review them.

On my desk I have three boxes containing over £1300 worth of in ear monitors….yes, over £1300….for 3 pairs.

Now, I am used to expensive headphones, we have Audeze and Oppo high end pairs in the house….I get the Head Fi thing and I totally understand spending as much on a pair of cans as some people spend on a whole system.

The personal audio market has exploded recently, many people, for reasons of modern living and not being a ‘neighbour from hell’ are shying away from a traditional Hifi system and spending their money on portable or desk systems instead.  For some people it is just becoming second nature to have a head fi system that is a good as your main, high end system, and some people just like to have the best that money can buy. Full Stop.

But IEMs to me have either been plain uncomfortable (the first wave on the market were unfeasible painful to me and somewhat put me off for good) and/or just cheap and nasty and chucked in my bag to tangle up with whatever other detritus was festering in there.

I’m struggling to get my head round paying more than a few quid for a pair, however, there are definitely times when in ears can be a much better option than a pair of more obviously expensive headphones.

If you are travelling around and don’t really want to draw the attention of strangers to the fact that your headphones are very, very expensive, a more discrete pair of IEMs is probably a good way to go!

So, let’s see if these offerings from Sennheiiser, Hifiman and Final Audio can change my mind.

All are reviewed using my FiiO X5 which I usually use with over-ear headphones.

Final Audio Heaven VI – CC

Harry reviewed some of the less expensive in this range, the Heaven II and Heaven IV and rated them very highly. The VI – CC (Chromed Copper) version come in at £400 a pair. FINALVICC

As with all the Final Audio products that I have come across, these are beautifully packaged.  The faux croc skin box contains a silver metal case that looks like a compact or vintage cigarette case.

The copper coloured housing of the IEMs is set off by a chocolate brown flat, tangle free cable which terminates in a right angled mini-jack.

Also in the box are 3 sizes of ear tips in 2 different textures, although I can’t really tell a difference between them other than the size. The fitted ear tips feel too big for my ears so I try the others and go for the smallest pair and change them with little fuss.

Resisting the urge to push them into my ears, they don’t actually have to be rammed in to feel secure….even some vigorous head shaking doesn’t dislodge them.

They feel light and pretty comfortable…..things are looking up!

However I soon realise the error of my ways when I put the music on.

Listening to Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’ album (in flac) I find I’m just not getting the funky bassline on tracks like ‘Skip inside this house’

There is a definite lack of bass…this is NOT a good thing.  While I don’t like bass to be too dominating, if there is meant to be bass then it better be there.

I fiddle with the EQ on the FiiO (I normally don’t ever need to do this), no improvement….hmmmmm.

Then it hits me, these IEMs are really, really meant to be IN the ear canal….this does worry me a little but I persevere and push them deeper, and am rewarded with finding bass instead of earwax.

Result!

They now pass the Hardfloor test, ‘Once again back’ and ‘Acperience’ sound good with tight fast bass matched by punchy top and mids, the sound is overall pretty balanced with the top end maybe just a shade prominent for me, but it’s a world away from the thin sound I was getting before my ‘eureka’ moment.

They are also incredibly isolating from the outside world.

Listening to a few more different artists I realise that vocal music actually suits the Heaven VI best.  I put on Macy Gray’s album ‘On how Life is’.  Her vocal is sublime and I get the full benefit of the female backing vocals.

‘I try’ and ‘Still’ stand out as the distinctive huskiness of Macy’s voice really comes across.

The slender design means that they are not terribly uncomfortable, but, for me they are not the most comfortable thing I have ever put in my ear.

I’m just not ‘at one’ with what feels like an almost medical level of ear intrusion needed to get the best sound.

Unfortunately, the listening position of the Heaven VI rules them out for me, no matter how good they sound, they don’t suit my ears.

I would say they work best and sound incredibly natural with vocal music, particularly female vocal music so would be a good choice for you if this is your bag and if the listening position suits you. 

Sound – 8/10

Comfort – 5/10

Fit and finish – 8/10

Value – 7/10

Overall – 7/10

 

Hifiman RE-600

Hifiman are another company who know the added value of quality packaging.

The RE- 600s come in a (faux?) leather case that flips open top and bottom to reveal the IEMs and their array of foam tips.HifimanHE600

These are the cheapest of the bunch at only (?!) around £320.

The RE400 were recommended by Harry last year.

The RE-600s are shiny and black and feel very light, the cable is black and braided and comes with mini jack and a right angled mini jack adapter.

They sit very comfortably in my ears; I can hardly tell they are there….however they seem to want to work their way out while I am listening…time to try some of the other tips.

I change for a smaller pair and find that they do sit a lot less intrusively in my ears than the previous pair of Finals.

You do have to fiddle around a little to get the best position and get the most out of them…but I like the fact that they don’t go too deep into the ear.

The sound is very balanced and, probably because I’m finding them comfortable and I like how they sound, I get drawn into listening …I have Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Ghetto Style’ on, which is one of my go to reviewing albums.

They are not as isolating to outside noise as the Finals and the sound is not quite as complex but I really like them.

I go back through the same tunes as I listened to with the Finals.

The Hardfloor test reveals great definition and the rumbling bass comes through without being over dominating.

Vocals are engaging to listen to…not quite as ‘rich’ as the Finals but very good.

These strike me as a very comfortable pair of IEMs that are good all rounders, perfect if you like a variety of music on your portable system…I would be happy to use these as an alternative to full size headphones when out and about. RECOMMENDED LOGO NEW

Sound – 8/10

Comfort – 8.9/10

Fit and finish – 9/10

Value – 8/10

Overall – 8.48/10

 

Sennheiser IE 800

Somewhat ironically, the most expensive pair (£600) of IEMs in the trio comes in the plainest packaging.  Sennheiser is a name I associate with no fuss functionality and in the box, the IEMs are neatly packaged in a handy and smart leather wallet that looks pocket or handbag friendly;IE800Sennheiser

Also included are a selection of ear tips and a handy little tool for cleaning gunk out of the ear tips…not a nice thought but useful to have!

They certainly look the business with a smart black and green cable terminating in a right angled mini jack and with their shiny ceramic housing.

The design is interesting with two little ports on the back of each monitor.

Changing to the smallest ear tips they sit comfortably in my ears and feel really light but stable in the ear.

They also promise ‘Extremely deep, distortion free bass’ which sounds like a challenge to me.

The first thing that strikes me is that the soundstage is much wider than with the previous IEMs I have tried…the listening experience is akin to using full size, high end over ear cans.

I dive straight back in to Macy Gray’s ‘On how life is’ and the music totally comes alive.

Bass does seem incredibly deep and tuneful and I am particularly aware of the piano and organ sound.

I get the feeling that I am hearing everything the recording has to offer, not missing anything at all.

Macy’s vocal is as engaging and huskily velvet as it is on the main hifi……..which is quite crazy, seeing as the combined price on the Sennheisers and my X5 is under a grand as opposed to 10s of thousands downstairs in the big system…….yeah, I know, I’m trying to rationalise £600 in ears as ‘good value’.

Hardfloor time again! Ok Sennheiser, you weren’t making it up about the bass were you?

This is pretty insane, I am getting so much detail in the music on every level, perfectly balanced, from the tight, fast bass to the skippy tops.

Best of all I am finding them very comfortable and non fatiguing, both sound wise and physically., plus I’ve done that thing I do when I really rate a piece of kit…forget I’m meant to be reviewing and just get into the music, always a good sign!

Before I know it I have listened to the full albums that I had previously picked tracks out from…Gil Scott-Heron sounds amazing…so do Primal Scream.  I don’t have any classical music on my FiiO but if I did, I bet that would sound great too..;and I am not a classical fan!

A thoroughly enjoyable listening experience…..possibly the first in ears I have heard that are serious competition for full size headphones, as in you could just buy these rather than having a pair of headphones and a pair of IEMs.

Furiously expensive they may be, but it’s a justifiable expensive.

The best thing I ever put in my ears! RECOMMENDED LOGO NEW

Sound – 9.5/10

Comfort – 9/10

Fit and finish – 9/10

Value – 9/10

Overall – 9.13/10

Given their overall score Stuart will be taking a listen to the IE800s to see if they warrant an Oustanding Product Award.

Obviously IEMs are a very personal area of Hifi and one size will never fit all.  The issue of comfort is perhaps as, if not more, important as the sound. 

Have I found an in ear I can live with? Surprisingly yes and, even more surprisingly, possibly competition for my beloved over ear headphones! 

Linette Smith

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