Who are Minerva?
Minerva are a company based in the UK, established in 1952, they make everything to do with hearing, from earplugs to hearing aids and obviously CIEM’s. They have worked with the NHS as well as with Specsavers in the past to produce high quality, professional products throughout the years they have been operational. They also boast that they are one of the largest specialist ear mould labs in Europe!
Here in the UK there really aren’t many earphone manufacturers let alone custom manufacturers, so obviously I was keen to find out what they had to offer! Their history and experience suggest they really know what they are doing however the lack of advertising to an audiophile market is something that I believe has restricted their popularity and how well they are known, especially overseas. It also concerned me slightly as I began to wonder why they didn’t seem to be advertising to an audiophile market. I hoped it was purely because they didn’t need to, but we shall find out.
So the Mi-Artist then: now this is a hollow, acrylic shelled single balanced armature design that has a removable cable and retails from £295.00, which seems expensive for a single balanced armature (BA) earphone, but then it has to be remembered that this is a custom, so its expected the price is a bit more but Cosmic Ears still kept things very affordable. The Mi-Performer Pro is a dual BA silicon shelled design aimed at professional musicians, sound engineers and audio lovers. This model has no removable cable but does offer my preferred cable of the two.
Fit and finish:
So my units are coloured black for the Performer Pro and obviously clear for the Artist. The finish of the products are overall, well, brilliant. I had one small problem but that was very quickly rectified (brilliant service), but as I say overall, very good. The acrylic shell has no visual imperfections in terms of air bubbles or obvious material thickness problems, which is a good sign of quality.
The choice of options offered by Minerva is somewhat lacking in comparison to the likes of Heir Audio, LEAR, JH Audio, Vision Ears….. The list goes on. However, these companies are CIEM specialists and prices are quite a bit more expensive in most cases even without the added extras. So these two have an opportunity to become a great option for low cost customs!
The fit of these IEM’s is absolutely fantastic; no other word for it. Both customs perform beyond expectation in this area causing noise isolation to be absolutely terrific; seriously, I can use the Artists as earplugs by detaching the cables if I wanted to. In terms of comfort, well the Performer Pro is the most comfortable IEM I have ever put into my ears bar none. I had them in for just less than 5 hours on an aeroplane and there was no discomfort for me. I am a real fan of the silicon design in terms of comfort, but I have found it to have a particular affinity to dust which sticks! The Mi-Artist is also extremely comfortable 99% of the time however with mouth movements and especially yawning, I have found some very slight discomfort.
Overall both products have been manufactured to the highest standard from build quality to attention to detail in finish and fitting. A big thumbs up here, no doubt about it.
Down to the important stuff, soounnnnndddddd.
Mi-Performer Pro Sound:
I will state from the word go that both these earphones are being reviewed purely as an earphone for audio enthusiasts and not as a stage monitor for a band or singer. Each product will also be reviewed with respect to its pricepoint. We shall talk about each product separately and begin with the Mi-Performer Pro.
As I have said, the Mi-Performer Pro is a dual BA silicon CIEM that retails from £375 which seems quite inviting to me. I think a dual BA set up could be really good if executed properly and I was intrigued to see if this UK Company could do it!
The general signature of this earphone could be described as warm to neutral with a slight emphasis on midrange and upper bass.
Soundstage and Imaging:
It’s quite an enjoyable presentation actually. The Pro puts you right at front of stage and it does translate to a rather immersive experience. It has to be said that although it’s not a massive, airy, spacious soundstage, the sound isn’t in the middle of your head, it is trying to expand beyond that, I genuinely quite enjoy it, but I can imagine it won’t offer the expansiveness that some people will look for. In terms of width, height and depth we have a solid effort indeed. As I have said, no stand out feature but they do a fairly good job where width and height are concerned. They are notably very focused in their staging, quite a real presentation actually. I don’t feel like the distance between instruments is exaggerated or enhanced. I am a fan of this.
Imagery is fairly well hit within this focused staging however thicker tracks can cause a little confusion and begin to sound a little uncontrolled occasionally but this didn’t happen massively often and overall they cope pretty well indeed. This product is not the last word in either of these areas by any means, but the forward presentation is something quite enjoyable.
This area of the Pro’s has me in two minds, the top end detail is fairly good and the treble is certainly there but to me it just lacks a level of presence and agility that I would like to hear. There is no real sparkle either to my ears, but the flipside to this is that I have never ever found the treble to be harsh or sibilant; whatever the genre whatever the format I haven’t had an uncomfortable treble. This is a real plus for someone that has a real diverse music library, although it doesn’t excel in a particular genre either.
These to me seem very nicely presented; pretty forward actually, which is something I like in an earphone. Vocals have a certain air around them, which was a bit of surprise to me considering the general characteristics of the staging and imagery. Vocals sound open and smooth, sooo easy to listen to. London Grammar’s album shows off the positives qualities of the Pro’s in terms of dynamic ability, openness and good body, they are a really enjoyable earphone in the midrange, an area that I think I’m quite fussy about.
As a warmer IEM the bass draws a great deal of attention to itself. I would describe it as punchy with a little more decay than usual. This is another reason why this earphone is great for many genres because it isn’t bloated or boomy, but it certainly isn’t weak either. Another positive comes in the form of extension, it offers up a little rumble despite rolling off a little early for my tastes. Certain trap tracks are after a little more, but it is rarely noticeable with normal listening. My only problem with bass is detail. It’s not as refined as I would like in the low end. I think this is because of the increased decay, there seems to be a struggle to recover before the next hit is required. Despite being enjoyable and fun, bass just doesn’t have the articulacy I love from low-end frequencies.
The Pro is a really solid earphone there is no doubt, it offers up lovable characteristics that are seldom found bundled together. The open mid-range and full sounding bass lend themselves to making this a really fun enjoyable earphone across a mass of genres. It is smooth, dynamic and so so easy to listen too. No fatigue and no discomfort due to the great fit. The thing is though, it’s not outstanding in any field, and it hasn’t got a wow factor. It’s a solid earphone that is very easy to enjoy, but it’s not a reference or a critical listening tool and some would want more for nearly £400. I would recommend this earphone if you have a really diverse music library and want a warm fun, energetic earphone in a custom shell and if you want a forward stage with pretty decent space and imaging this could be a contender. Around this price point you must bear in mind the more established brands and their models around this pricetag. The likes of the UM Aero, the 1964 Ears V6, and JH Audios JH5 Pro would be earphones I would want to hear before purchasing the Minerva’s.
The Mi-Artist Sound:
Let’s begin with the main positives. The product sounds pretty neutral with an emphasis on the mid bass, which gives certain warmth to the earphone. In addition this earphone puts you front of stage rather than giving the impression of being distant from the music.
Good, now let’s move on to the other points of this product.
This is an area that can only be described as pretty narrow from all aspects, height, width, and depth are all very limited which in all fairness is arguably something to be expected from a single BA earphone but still, it’s really not a great display of spatial excellence.
This is fairly poor too. It’s really a very messy presentation of music. Thinner textured tracks are coped with to an ok standard but anything thicker is a real struggle for these earphones. The whole performance is clumsy and nondescript.
Treble, mid-range and bass:
Treble is ok but nothing standout, it isn’t the last say in extension or detail but to call it terrible would be unfair but it would also be unfair to say it impressed me. It is not airy or sparkly or particularly detailed for a £100 IEM let alone a £300 one.
Vocals are an area that is actually really quite bad. Vocals seem almost muffled. Vocals aren’t clear or rich or detailed and it really is something I dislike about this earphone.
It’s a similar story when we talk about the bass. It takes a pretty good presence but it fails to have the impact, control and definition I have come to expect from a balanced armature earphone. I must say that it does extend pretty well not only for a balanced armature but also for a single balanced armature.
Conclusion of the Mi-Artist:
I think you can see that I really did not enjoy the Mi-Artist. I simply cannot take a £300 earphone seriously, custom or not, that is so far behind earphones a fraction of the price. The Hippo ProOne for example is a third of the price and outperforms in almost every aspect other than isolation. The TDK BA200 is another earphone that can be picked up for under half the price that again outperforms everywhere other than isolation. The Brainwavz S5 is £60 and in some ways I prefer them, this really shouldn’t be the case for a £300 earphone. The reason I have used comparisons with products that are much, much cheaper is because I know the Minerva’s are a custom earphone. If it is more similar price we are talking about the DUNU DN-2000’s are a £200 earphone that absolutely dominate the Mi-Artists in my opinion and I honestly wouldn’t expect anyone to disagree with that.
I know it’s a custom and it really isn’t nice when I dislike a product that has been sent for review but I have to be honest and I would really struggle to recommend this product.
By Josh Coleby