When Compact Monitors split into two companies (one of them being Vision Ears), they continued to produce the same monitors as before, with a promise that they would continue to innovate and develop. I never doubted that, and Vision Ears dropped their first product of their own with the VE6 XC, and it was a big one. They went straight ahead releasing a flagship, or maybe you could call it two flagships. This is because they developed not one but two 6 balanced armature driver models (both with the 4 way crossovers), the VE6 X1 and the VE6 X2. These are both priced at €1499 (£1200 approx) but if you pay a bit more (€1899/£1500) you can get the VE6 XControl (prices are inclusive of German VAT), which allows you to change between the two different tunings at the flick of a switch. I think it is also worth mentioning that if you own any of their previous models you can send them back in for an upgrade to this! I have had the universal demo version of the VE6 XControl on a short loan as well as the full custom version of these beauties but unfortunately not at the same time so I cannot make direct comments on the differences between the two.
Vision Ears offer tonnes of customisable options and all that fun with their monitors but that’s not what I am here to tell you about, you can find out more about the huge range of options by simply flicking through the gallery on their site or Instagram. Lets start instead talking about build quality and the actual switch that is used on the Xcontrol model. It is a tiny plastic switch that sits flush at the bottom of the monitor, it isn’t quite long enough to snap which is handy and it makes a nice click that when you use it that lets you know its sitting in place. It also rather handily is capable of being used at least 50,000 times which is a silly amount, that’s nearly 14 hours of non-stop clicking and that would only be to do that many clicks on one of the two monitors so they are built to last. The company from whom Vision Ears source the switches from also claim that they have put the switches through a variety of other tests so they are able to cope with damp, sweat and quick temperature changes.
Seriously though guys, while on the subject of build quality we need to take a second to tell you that these customs are made impeccably well. I have never owned a CIEM with a better finish and execution than this one. It is absolutely flawless. Bubbles in the shell? No. Colour inconsistency? No.
But it’s not just these things; the attention to detail is fantastic, everything about them just screams quality. You really have to see and feel them to realise how good they actually are. JH Audio’s Roxanne for example is not even close to these babies.
The arrival of the parcel was an exciting time too. The recognisable purple of VE is the chosen colour for the tissue paper the main event is wrapped in. Once I had torn this off, before me lay a beautiful aluminium case with the words, Customised for Inearspace written before me. It’s an event, you feel privileged, and it’s pretty cool actually. The standard adapter, cleaning tool, fluid and dehumidifier patch inside are accompanied by a selection of stickers and a rather nice suede pouch for the earphones themselves to sit in.
So the first thing to check when a new pair of customs arrives is the fit, it has to be right it must isolate well and ultimately be comfortable to wear. Now these are an extremely comfortable custom. I have worn them on a 4 and a half hour train journey several times with absolutely no issues at all. From an isolation standpoint though, these are not the deepest fitting customs, in fact they are pretty short. They isolate enough for a train or aeroplane and better than 99% of any universals, but it’s most definitely not a stage worthy level of isolation, and even on the tubes it’s not as isolating as it could be.
One of the most easily noticeable things with this is how sensitive it is, lots of the desktop components I have tested them with hiss to uncomfortable levels with it, even the ones that “claim” they are able to be used with IEMs. Apart from the BMC PureDAC, there hasn’t been a desktop amp that has worked really nicely with them. On a portable level, the Centrance M8 was nice but the only times I have got it to have a dead black background is with the Vorzuge VorzAmp Pure and the AK240. Even then with the Vorzuge I didn’t have very precise volume control with it getting loud with even the most miniscule of turns. Checking the specifications confirmed that my unit doesn’t have a problem and that these are just very sensitive earphones with a rating of 122 dB SPL at 1 mW (paired with 20 ohms impedance), making it the most sensitive earphone I have ever owned. It is also notoriously picky with amp pairings, one of the first pairings I made was with the Alo RX MK3-b, an amp I do enjoy and one that generally sounds good but the pairing was off from the start, so much so I nearly contacted Vision Ears to see if these were ok but after making the switch to the Centrance HiFi-M8 and then again to the Vorzuge Pure, I realised these just need time and care when selecting and amp to go with them.
For the sound I strangely want to start with the X2 setting and not the X1. This is the more balanced setting and it is truly spectacular. It is actually quite a departure from the Vision Ear house sound that I got to know with their previous models (although this is of course there first true Vision Ears monitor) having much more pace, finesse and not as much bass. I would describe the sound as neutral in a way that I mean I perceive it as neutral and not that it would necessarily measure ruler flat, not that anyone would want that. Honestly the sound is hard to fault, I am very impressed and this is certainly one of the best earphones I have ever heard. What I will say though is that it doesn’t have the biggest wow factor immediately when you put them in your ears, everything is just right, in fact everything is great but at the same time you would be forgiven for initially thinking it lacks something that makes your jaw drop, in my case anyway. I’m going to have a crack at explaining this a bit later on, but it’s an effect that demos of earphones such as the Noble K10 and JH Audio 13 FreqPhase had on me, which by the way, I am by no means are saying better, they are very different phones.
The bass is polite, snappy and extended, it couldn’t be categorised as boosted and in bassier music it stays in its calm and collected position, but it’s extremely dynamic, the whole sound is actually. It is neither recessed nor anaemic nor do I ever feel like its missing in any way, it is true bass, you have sub-bass and you get a natural decay with it; warm, lovely, luscious, well executed real bass. And this is rare.
Moving into the midrange it is truly glorious and so is the easy transition from the bass, so detailed and crystal clear, with a nice amount of air to it and a strong, addictive timbre. The upper midrange is ever so slightly behind the lower midrange, in a way that makes them complement each other very well and makes all vocals so natural, so smooth.
The treble is quite phenomenal because it is present and so detailed but at the same time it never oversteps the mark, it has nice sparkle and splash and it is so etched out while keeping perfectly to its self and in its own space. It has a great sense of air and extension as well, it really is spot on. Not once has it been harsh or muddled, when correctly driven it’s a special thing.
The sound is also so cohesive; it’s a really perfect blend through the frequency spectrum, this means no part is out of place. It seems a bi-product of this is an earphone with a great stage that just imaged so right, on a black background with instruments all in their right space. It’s not the biggest soundstage mind you, just one of the most precise that I have ever come across and I mean that, although your going to meet the absolute king of imager real soon with the Hidition Viento-R. Going back to when I say it doesn’t wow me instantly I don’t mean that I don’t like it or don’t enjoy it, I just mean in those first few seconds it doesn’t blow your mind, what it does do is consistently let you enjoy your music, with great dynamics and an ability to handle all music in a spacious and controlled manner, it may not have that initial wow but it doesn’t begin to bore, oh no! It just keeps delivering, song after song, every time you listen.
The X2 really is my preferred sound and I have listened to it a lot. I want to try and explain to you what it is like to own an X2. It’s all very well me telling you about the bass the treble and the stage etc. but there is something special about this custom. Going back to the absence of the initial wow factor, yea I mean that but owning it, you get to know it, you realise that it can handle anything you throw its way. But its modest, it doesn’t show off it just takes everything in its stride. You are forced to enjoy the music because it gives you detail it gives you emotion, realism, honesty and atmosphere. You need to get to know this earphone before jumping to conclusions. It’s really quite special.
So now we go back to X1, switching the little plastic knobs downwards while they are in your ear. Considering the way something like this works they are obviously going to share elements of sound, but the differences are clear and you are getting two different monitors. The sound is bigger and bolder with the X1 (the gave it the downwards switch because it had more guts, can’t argue with that), we have stronger dynamics and a much more powerful bass. The sound is now more similar to what I am used to with Vision Ears monitors; this is like an evolved VE4.
While the bass has got bigger and deeper and has much more feeling to it, the midrange seems to have shrunk, it doesn’t have as much body and detail doesn’t seem to be what it was with the X2 setting. The bass is also slower, it’s like they expanded what they had with the X2, so to get the additional body they had to slow things down, and it’s warmer now with more note decay.
The sound is noticeably thicker as well and it isn’t as transparent or cohesive, things just don’t mesh in the same way for me. I find things to be, well, not more jumbled, but just not as precise as the X2 and even though the soundstage is certainly bigger in all manners, width, height and depth, it is not as technically impressive with the imaging. Treble remains in that glorious light from before, fortunately, I don’t sense much change there.
You have probably already concluded that I prefer the X2 and you’re right, I do, it’s my go to setting 99.99% of the time, natural, cohesive, emotive, dynamic and fundamentally one of the most all round capable earphones I have been lucky enough to get my hands on, it is a wonderful thing. The X1 is just a different earphone; it’s for different preferences. For me I would save £300 approx and get the X2, for others, the X1 will be everything they could want from an earphone; it too is a great sounding product. And for some the possibility of both of them in one housing is just such an opportunity that they can’t be without either of them. I understand this too.
I guess you want some comparisons but hey, it’s only natural. The JH Roxanne is a generally BIGGER sounding earphone. It is more in line with the X1 signature, but faster and more able at the same time. That being said it lacks the finesse and articulation at times if compared to my more favourable X2 setting on the VE’s. In a dogfight of similarities, the X1 vs Roxanne I find myself easily be drawn to the Roxanne, it not only manages a bigger soundstage but a much more precise and clear one. It doesn’t quite have the treble detail, which is something that both VE settings have over the Roxanne. Comparing the X2 too the Roxanne leaves you with two different earphones, on the same level in technicalities, about completely down to preferences. In terms of the fact they both having the ability to change sound, the Xcontrol really does make a dramatic difference and pretty much gives you two earphones in one. The Roxanne’s bass tuning is great and effective but you still clearly have the same earphone, even if the bass is variable by 15db.
The thing is, with all 3 versions of the VE6, they are very expensive. Without doubt the Xcontrol is one of the most pricey CIEMs on the market today and while I do find it to sound marvellous, some of the other options that have always really impressed me seem almost like budget options, I mean a JH13 and even Roxanne is like 2/3s of the price of the Xcontrol and that’s quite a bit. Hell my Hidition Viento-R is half the price and in pure sound terms, it is on a similar technical level, although with a completely different signature. That being said with no other CIEM I have ever owned, be it one that sounds great for the price, or is just down right awful, that offers this level of a premium experience. It is very German from the superbly executed shells, the great presentation and the sound is up with the best of the best. Yes you do pay for it but what do you expect, you get nothing for free.
I do like that you can save some money and just get one of the tunings and personally, this does leave me with the opinion that while the Xcontrol is a great idea, the price increase may just not warrant it. But then if you like both tunings your really do get two earphones for the price, that’s much better value!