Through their original company, Compact Monitors, Vision Ears are a well-established German creator of Custom In Ear Monitors (CIEMs). Compact monitors recently split into Vision Ears and Rhine Custom Monitors. Finer details of what caused the split do not really interest me and I will not discuss any further and this review is of models sold by both the two companies but the ones I have with me are made by Vision Ears and they who we are here to discuss. So I have the pleasure of having what they call, the “ VE STAGE DEMO UNIT” and what that is, is a really neat little case with 3 (of the 4 VE Stage models) universal demos of their VE Stage series of CIEMs allowing me to make an evaluation of their products without having them making 3 CIEMs to my ear and obviously allowing others to hear them as well, something that is very handy. So they do not include the VE Stage 1.2 (their cheapest model, which is a dual driver) and instead include the dual driver VE Stage 2 (769 Euros), triple driver VE Stage 3 (999 Euros) and finally their flagship quad driver, the VE Stage 4 (1239 Euros).
Now the Demo Unit only gives you a certain insight to the quality of products from Vision Ears, sound quality understandably will not be a 100% of what a full custom fit model can achieve, but sound signature will be very similar, you obviously do not get too have the custom design you would have originally chosen but they have but a few different faceplates on the demos so you can see what they are capable of. They come in the same case, as you would get if you were to purchase one and the case can also have a custom design on it if you would like and I can say it is a really nice storage place for the monitors. It has great space inside; pouches at the top for accessories and it would include a dry cap to maintain a good humidity in the case to keep the balanced armature drivers healthy. All three of the monitors have a right red shell and a blue left one, which is nice but I would liked a few different colours to have been used so they could have showed me what their range of colours look like in person. Faceplate wise they show of their mirror faceplate of the Stage 2, it is a very bright, well mirror on the faceplate with the shell colour showing through where the VE logo sits. I think it is cool but the mirror does not like fingerprints and is really quite loud and I do not think I would personally choose it on a monitor of mine. The Stage 3 has their carbon fiber faceplate and this is much more subtle and right up my street. It looks good without being too much and I really like that they are offer this. Finally on the flagship we have a sample of two of the many wood offerings they have for faceplates. We have the Amboina Wood on the left side and this is a really creamy swirly wood, and also what I have on my Heir Audio 4.Ai and I think it has a great aesthetical effect and will surely gain some compliments. The right side has their King Wood and this is much more stern and less individual. It is finished well but a bit dark in presence.
Build quality seems to be top notch, not a single bubble in the shells and the faceplates are well assembled with the rest of the shells and their will not be the protective film covering the faceplate falling of like I have experienced with the Rhapsodio R^2. The bores are very smooth and well finished, too an impressive level, although you should not expect and different, I have had some very rough bores in the past. The cable they use is connected using the standard two pin styling and it is one I very much like and wish companies would still use instead of going over two MMCX, which I have had problems with. This seems to be the same old Westone Epic (original version) cable that you get with a lot of CIEMs but they have a shortened memory cable on them that makes them a lot easier to use. As I have said about this cable many times before, it is flexible, low in microphonics and generally very usable.
I seemingly seal well with these universals shells using the supplied dual flanges and get good isolation and bass response. How near I am getting to the full custom sound I am not sure so remember to take the following sound quality description with this in mind. I know the comfort of these if you got a full custom will be amazing but I did wear these for 4 hours one day and my ears were rather sore the next day, likely because the shells are quite large on these.
So lets start with talking about how the Stage 2 sounds. This seems to be close to a junior Stage 4 in terms of sound signature and that is warm, slightly bass driven signature with a very smooth and laid back treble response. The bass is actually really quite powerful and extends impressively deep and if you’re someone who does not like a shy bass then these will make you feel at home. It is boosted above the rest, especially in the mid-bass but it is still tight and punchy, just hits with a BIG impact. There is a good amount of decay and notes flow easily and quickly from one to the next. Deep bass is touching on feeling really good and being visceral but I think it could do with just a tad more extension so that it would really rumble. The midrange is pretty balanced and accurate sounding but could do with a bit more energy and slightly more forward presentation. Also detail retrieval does not feel top notch hear. Timbre is very accurate, something that is apparent with all these monitors. Moving onto the treble this is the biggest disappointment to me with these monitors. It clearly lacks extension for a start, no airy sound here and you can hear that these just get far into the upper treble at all. They are also very laid back with very small presence making these a rather dark earphone. Finally I’m not even that impressed by the quality of what we do have it sound just a bit rough and not that clear. The soundstage of these and the imaging is impressive for sure but while saying this I had to say it as the smallest soundstage of the whole line up. That being said if you hadn’t heard the others I am sure the soundstage would impress you. The coherence of these is perhaps just not quite perfect and the same goes for the phase response and the just do not display the speed I have come to know from some higher quality earphones and even the other two from Vision show these to sound a little congested on fast passages. These earphones both do not have a sound signature that is up my street or impress me that much on a technical playing field, they have strong bass but that seems to be all that I can say I am honestly impressed about. I guess they do also offer a musical listen but I think just a bit more treble could really help balanced these out and up the enjoyment factor.
The Stage 3 is the most balanced of the VE Stage series and also in my opinion a very easy to listen to earphone that is of high quality. I do not think there was ever a moment when I would even consider rather wearing the Stage 2 over this and that’s just not due to the sound signature, this just seems to be a clear technical step up. As I have said we have a much more balanced sound signature but we still have far from a shabby bass response. We lost a bit of weight and slam from the Stage 2 but we gain a bit more speed and also better texturing in the sub-bass as well as a better balance with the sub-bass. The sub-bass gets even deeper and really has that visceral feeling. Now the mid-bass still has a strong impact but is very clean and punchy and the speed is very impressive. It also loses a lot of warmth and sits very neatly next to the midrange. The midrange is very realistic, it is both full sounding and detailed and they have struck up a good balanced from the bass to midrange transition all the way through to the midrange to treble transition, nothing sticks out as wrong and vocals have good height and honesty. Timbre is even more impressive than the vocals and instruments; especially strings, just sound right and they are also positioned very well, which really helps out. Moving onto the treble, we thankfully have a better extension now, it still could do with some improvement and a nice dynamic driver can certainly outdo it but it is not a glaring fault any more. It is much crisper now and well detailed making cymbals sound true and pianos and has a smooth and pacey sound to them. These along with the other Vision stuff still have a smooth treble that is peak free and will never cause fatigue, which is just great. The soundstage of these is just epic, it is wide and deep and the imaging feels the space available to great effect. You also have a full center image to keep it real. Now, in terms of overall speed and transparency they do not seem to be on the same level of the Tralucent 1plus2 and Jh Audio JH13FP and I just think this is how these sound, smooth, easy going and thick. These are a very impressive earphone overall and while the price tag is slight dampener, I still think all in all, the great build quality and the fact for us in the UK that they are in the EU so no custom fees, I think these are both a very competitive and enjoyable earphone. I had some great listening experiences with these and some moment were even magical, I am very much impressed.
The Stage 4, the flagship and we instantly get sound signature de ja vu to the Stage 2. However what this does is fix a lot of shortcomings and generally improve all the minor technicalities. It is now a very detailed earphone and comes across as a coherent and full sounding earphone. The bass is the weightiest of the three, and the extension into the deep frequencies is never stopping, you get a true visceral experience here and one that you can really feel pounding. The mid-bass does have some boost behind and does pack some power. It has a warm decay but again has no problems in terms of speed and getting from one note to the next. The midrange is the most natural and true sounding of them all; it is the most distinguished and clear as well although the Stage 3 is close. It is a bit pushed back in the spectrum compared to the Stage 3 but not in the slightest veiled although I do sometimes find myself thinking a bit lushness or dynamics would be appreciated. Timbre is the same old story and listening to Eric Clapton, B.B King or Jack Johnson guitar riffs make my hair stand on end and when listening to jazz trumpets and saxophones have such a terrific tone. The reason that I think the midrange sounds so good is that it has character, it is not stupidly thin and while I do find that to mean that these do not seem a very detailed orientated earphone and also lack any real sense of that clarity spike in the presence range, you find you self not really minding. The treble is again a bit rolled off, but like the Stage 3 these manage a lot better than the Stage 2. It is more laid back in comparison to the Stage 3 and is smooth and relaxed. It does not show off a lot of sparkle and is not crystal clear but it does make for an easy listen, especially over long periods of time. The soundstage on this is really expansive, great width and depth, truly three dimensional and the imaging is really effective but not quite at the level of the 1plus2. This is a really good sounding earphone but funnily enough my preferences to tilt slightly towards the sound of the Stage 3 over this for a more lush soundstage, a bit more treble and less powerful bass that is sometimes a bit easier on the ears.
Now the price tag of three models is the biggest problem because these are without doubt very good earphones, they do amazing things in the bass and have a very likable house sound. However even with the inflated prices of the American JH Audio and Ultimate Ears models in the UK, the flagships of them companies still sit in line with these and that leaves a very tough decision because I know in all honesty, I would take a JH13 FreqPhase over any of these in a heartbeat. Now I know that will certainly not be the case for everyone and I know this really hit the spot for a lot of people, one of my friends who is into the darker sound signature with a well textured deep bass said the Stage 4 really was it for them and I really can see how because it really is a beast to listen too. As for my current collection of both IEMs and CIEMs, the Stage 3 is my favourite, over the likes of the Lear LCM-5, ACS T2, M-Fidelity SA-43 and various other universal flagships and that is not a feat to go unnoticed. It should also be well noted that these are of course all just universal demos and I could not be getting quite the sound a full custom IEM would give so working out value again based on that is another hard task. While I personally find the Stage 2 an easy miss, I think the other two, especially the Stage 3 should be looked at very seriously and considered if looking at making a true high end IEM purchase.