Where do the best audio products come from? Where do the best CIEMs come from? I think they are stupid questions but I will say that Korea have been putting out a lot of good stuff and quite a few of my latest reviews have featured products that originated there, the Astell & Kern AK240 and Aurender Flow to name a couple. We are not done with our virtual journey through Korea though as for the last couple months I have been listening to a Korean made custom in-ear monitor or as I will refer to them from now on, a CIEM. The brand is Hidition and the model, the Viento-R. They have been around since 2002 and have always specialised in one thing, CIEMs. Through the years they have had different models, some have been allowed to stay, some were discontinued but right now they have 6 models on offer, as well as a reshell service. Their current offerings start at a relatively cheap (in CIEM terms) $230 for the Hear First model with just a single balanced armature speaker all the way to the company’s flagship models, which max out at $1500 for the Viento-R I will be looking a little more closely at.
Well I mentioned flagship models and that’s because there are sort of 3. If you were to quickly browse their website you could probably quickly come to the conclusion that the Viento-R is the flagship, why wouldn’t it be, it costs $250 more than the next model down. Well before the Viento-R there was two Flagships, for two different types of people, you had the:
New Tears 6, which is $1200, has 6 balanced armature drivers and a 4 way crossover.
New Tears 6-PRO, which is $1250, has 6 balanced armature drivers and a 5 way crossover.
Now one of the two was never meant to be better, they just offered two different signatures at a similar performance level, from what I have been told by both owners and Hidition anyhow, I don’t own them and I cant comment. So late last year Hidition put out a new product, 2 years on from the aforementioned two’s release.
Viento-R, which was $1100, has 4 balanced armature drivers and a 4 way crossover as well as 2 tuning switched, more on that later.
“Sonny, check your facts, in the introduction you said it is $1500 and now your saying $1100, what is going on?”
I hear you and you’re right, well when I received my Viento-Rs and they were released that was indeed the price. You see Hidition really wanted to give you the best price they could on these earphones and with them using less armature drivers (not cheap compared to your standard dynamic drivers) I can only imagine they felt like it had to be cheaper. When they started getting orders and had to ramp up production, implementing the tuning switches, which are new for this model, it just turned out to be more costly than they planned so with the new year, they said the price would increase to the current $1500. They went about it the right way as well, giving potential buyers just over a months warning and honouring all purchases at the end of 2014 with the old price.
Why am I saying this? Well I have actually already been asked by some of you guys what this is all about and I would be thinking the same thing. “Why is a once cheaper model now more expensive? Surely I might as well just go for an NT-6, they use more drivers and were originally more expensive”. Well the stress is not needed, again while I have not tried the NT-6s models, I can tell you this early on, that the Viento-R performs like a true flagship with some interesting ideas that Hidition’s other CIEMs just can’t offer. So in their own ways, they share title as Hiditions flagship CIEMs and yes I know, it will make choosing even tougher.
Turn Me On:
The Viento-R may use a rather standard configuration of 4 balanced armatures (looking inside my monitor reveals 1 twin BA unit and two single BA units) in a 4 way passive crossover with 3 bores but there is more to it that just a well tuned 4 driver. This is actually to some extent, 4 earphones in one. Each channel has two switches one for bass, the other for midrange, that can be turned on and off. Sense of De Ja Vu? That’s because the M-Fidelity SA-43 I reviewed a year or so back had identical features, and was also a 4 driver. It did however work a little differently in a number of ways. While Hidition have implemented switches that just change the way the drivers are tuned via crossovers, the SA-43 was actually M-Fidelity’s 3 driver SA-33, with an additional bass driver that can be turned on and off.
Now using the included frequency response graphs that come with the CIEM, I can conclude that the bass switch gives a boost starting just above 100Hz and gradually picks up too 20Hz. At 100Hz the difference is roughly 2dB, by 20Hz it is increased to 6.6dB. While the bass increase is a gradual one, the midrange boost is more like a table, a quicker boost, a plateau and then a quick drop off. It starts its increase at about 1.5kHz and is at its max by 1kHz. It holds steady too about 60Hz where it relaxes back to the norm by 20Hz. The amount of increase that the midrange switch plateaus at is around 2.5dB. So yes the midrange boost does come with a slight bass boost, which is of course eradicated if you use the bass boost at the same time.
So you can either go for the standard tuning with both switches off, go for just the bass switch, just the midrange switch or turn both on for a boosted bass and midrange, leaving you with 4 total tunings, pretty cool I must say and if the objective data I have given doesn’t confirm it, well my ears do show an obvious difference in sound, while maintaining the overall technical level nicely. Very well implemented switches and an obvious selling point.
The Hiditions come in what could be described as a gift bag, like a shrunk down Hollister bag. Inside you have a Hidition crested chest and then also a white cardboard box. The white cardboard boxes contents were my favourite although I am not sure it is a standard gift. Inside was a metal thermal mug with Hidition branding, very peculiar I agree but I love these sorts of gifts, such as my Vision Ears T-Shirt I have. Even stranger was that in the mug was a spare cable, don’t ask.
In the more professional looking box was the storage case filled with the CIEMs and also a black envelope. Inside the envelope were the warranty, instructions and the frequency response measurements of my pair. I think the graphs are a real nice touch; they are personal as the measurements are taken from YOUR pair and also give show off just how well they measure.
I find the case a little small, its cool because it features my name and is personalised but with an aftermarket cable it take ages to get it to shut.
Pretty As Pearl:
As with most CIEMs you play around with customisation options and pretty much go crazy with the options. You have a range of colours, both clear, glitter and solid and the same goes for faceplates, metal, carbon fibre, pearl or your own artwork. The faceplate options all come at a premium cost so its up to you if you want to put the extra money into it. The website shows examples of all the options and you can also look at a gallery of all the latest builds. I went for the clear light black shells and the Loyal (MP6) mother of pearl faceplates. The faceplate option is an extra $100. I know it’s my own fault but I am not a fan of how they look. In the sample pictures the pearl was really pink and bright, in reality it is quite dull and doesn’t really stand out from the smokey shells. The pearl also has small holes where if you look closely you can see into the earphone. The shell quality isn’t bad but compared to the Vision Ears VE6 that has a similar colour shell, the quality is just different level, with this having some noticeable bubbles. I have seen some pictures of their artwork though and that looks top quality, especially there metal artwork, which seems very unique and special.
Top to Bottom – Lear LCM-5, Viento-R, JH Audio Roxanne
The Viento-R does have a few unique things on the shell. The first is some venting directly above the canal on the faceplate. I guess this allows the bass drivers to breath although I could be wrong. I have only ever seen this on customs that use dynamic drivers. This does leave these being my least isolating customs, so that’s worth noting, if you want them for stage use or are a keen flyer then I could think of some better options instantly. Lastly the removable cable connectors are slightly bumped up and this makes it easier to removable and insert cables.
Obviously we also have the switches and I like how they are done. With the SA-43 they are on the faceplate and a little flick with your fingers and change them. That did allow quick sound tuning on the go but then you have switches hanging out that just seemed like something bad waiting to happen. They are seated in dips on the bump that goes in your cymba. They are very well protected and to change them you need something long and tin like the included earwax removal tool to change them. I like it but I don’t change the tuning all that often, if you wanted to quickly switch song to song then this would become frustrating, having to remove them, get the tool and then change so some of the functionality is lost with this more camouflaged and protective method.
One thing that I found with these that is a bit unfortunate was the included cable. When I got these through and plugged them I was like, ok, these don’t sound all that and then I quickly realised why, there was a horrendous channel imbalanced. Well as I was mentally preparing to having to send them straight back after no positive changes after a night with some silica pads I got an email through from Hidition. They had got a dodgy batch of cables through and that was causing the issues. So this review has been carried out with a range of my upgrade cables such as the Effect Audio Thor 8 Braid OCC Copper, the PWAudio Silver Plated Copper OCC Cable and the Lear C2 for balanced use.
R For Reference:
So as a baseline let’s just talk about these earphones on the basic settings and if I am honest, this is how I have mainly used them and also prefer them signature wise. They are supposedly reference but I would not say that is the case in terms of the Lear LCM-5 w/ Reference adapter neutral. That being said they are pretty balanced regardless, they are very much full sounding. The bass accentuates from a mild mid-bass to a slightly boosted sub-bass. The midrange is very well balanced with a lower mid bump (that probably adds to the great coherence through the midrange) and an extended treble with a sparkle spike at 7kHz. You get an intimate presentation with perhaps the best imaging I have found in a device that gets stuffed in your ears.
With the Aurender Flow
The bass is all about realism, the texture; feel and impact are all so visceral and meaningful. The snappy and neutral mid-bass is complimented spot on by the slightly more enhanced sub-bass. The steadiness of the increase from mids to the deepest bass keeps everything very coherent and not exaggerated. I have been surprised at how well these armatures move air, the bass is very dynamic in that sense, maybe it is the venting but I get a legit rumble. Overall though the bass delivers, with stuff like Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” in DSD we are getting a groovy, groany base line, feeling full and textured but not over emphasised in any way. Timbre is on point and it just feels like bass should, yes there is a bass guitar in this track and yes it has some great rifts through out the track but never once does it feel like it is taking over, the same goes for with Red Hot Chilli Pepper tracks where Flea’s bass is obviously of great influence but just a part of the music. Switch up to something that is a bit more bass focussed, say Pendulum for example and it is a bit different. With “Slam” or “Tarantula” for example the Viento-Rs hold their composure very well. However maybe just too well. I find them to sound very strong for the deep notes, moving air but the mid-bass is just a bit lean and is obviously very fast. Maybe a bit more presence and decay is needed?
Well thankfully the Viento-Rs have just the thing. Yes you have to take them out your ear, get the cleaning tool and flick the switches BUT it is worth it. The bass seems to wash over you and surround you much more; you also get a bit more warmth. That being said there is still a sub-bass focus and the mid-bass still holds its speed, you don’t get too much more decay, which I think would have been nice. Even with the switch flicked, these don’t become a bass heads dream (not near), they are not even truly bassy and the mid-bass could still leave you yearning, my JH Audio Roxanne for example are a bit thicker and more bloated and do stuff like Pendulum much more suiting.
This all being said I find the bass spot on, yes it is on the lean side, it is very quick but the timbre of the bass is one of things that makes me wish this CIEM was universal so everyone could experience it, I get a need to try and fit this in everyone ears so they can hear it, I find the bass addictive, the way it forces air even with its tiny drivers and although maybe it doesn’t do dirty bloated bass for some music like pendulum, it is only few artists like them that I like my bass with a bit more meat, for rock and pop, this sort of bass is spot on, the same goes for hip hop for the likes of Dr.Dre (this is especially intense, it sounds bigger than normal and impact is powerful) Eminem and Macklemore and even Jazz, with it recreating one mean double bass. So for the majority, in fact 95% of the music I listen to, it is just right on and for that reason I use it on the neutral bass setting and find myself with these in my ears so much more than I do the JH Roxanne.
Even though this is pretty reference in tuning, it never feels clinical, too revealing or brutal. Something like the Sennheiser HD800 can be. This is smooth and natural and while its not warm or something that graces over flaws in music, it is a good compromise. It has nowhere near as thick note presentation as the Roxanne but doesn’t sound as thin as the LEAR LCM-5, again a great compromise. There is a great understanding between the entire midrange, male and female vocals have perfect harmony and nothing seems to have dominance in the slightest. The presence region where clarity is harvested is neither dropped like the Heir 4.Ai which makes for a nasally sound or boosted like with the Apollo Audio Labs Viper 8 which leaves detail sounding real and not forced or overbearing. The midrange is very fresh, clean and open sound and can make even great monitors like my Roxanne or Vision Ears VE6 X1 sound slow and perhaps even muddy.
The treble comes flat off the upper midrange and we are treated too a little peak at 7kHz which gives them good presence but not an obvious brightness, just continues that perfectly natural tuning. The treble is similar to the midrange, detailed but not clinical, very well executed. It has natural decay, piano notes are strong and cymbals shimmer and the don’t have any compression, they really breathe. There is never a hint of sibilance either. The extension also allows air to gust into the earphone. The treble doesn’t draw attention to itself but at the same time is full and there, with more presence than the Roxanne and probably as much as my brighter CIEMs like my Lear LCM-5, just with more body and less screech.
The overall soundstage isn’t shabby although I find others like the Roxanne and M-Fidelity SA-43 to be a bit bigger sounding, especially the Roxanne, which is untouched in that category. However where the Viento-R pulls away is its ability to image, everything is just spot on, this not only renders timbre with great honesty but also places the instruments with obvious realism. It is tough call for this crown against the VE6 X2 but I find this to be a bit more on the personal side and it really does nail the placement.
This CIEM really is summarised by that word natural I keep saying, it is not quite neutral although it is and sounds tremendously balanced. It has no obvious frequencies sounding more forward than anything else, unless you throw the switches effects into the mix. It is the most detailed IEM, the bassiest, the most clinical, or revealing, but its realism in timbre and imaging just makes it sound awesome. The same goes for how well all the sounds integrate. I wouldn’t call the sound completely reference, it isn’t the Lear LCM-5 with Reference Adapter in that regard, but then I don’t find this boring at all. It probably just moves over that border from clinical/reference to enjoyable but still with a lot of the reference qualities.
With my portable reference set up of PWAK120-B and Vorzuge Pure
Where Do We Go From Here?
For a start with CIEMs nothing is perfect for everyone, this included. Now I am going to have this as a start of a series of flagship CIEM reviews and at the end of the series Josh and me are going to compile a large round up. At the end of that we are going to pick one as our new entry to the Pride of Place. So for now this is a Pride of Place Nominee and it could well go all the way but first we are going to have an individual look at roughly 6 more models so stay tuned. I think that’s only fair to do so before rushing into picking a single model.
Right now though I am stupidly impressed by what Hidition have pulled off. It doesn’t have the overall looks and build of some like Vision Ears but when it comes down to sound this is voiced beautifully and even with the price increase I still think this defines great sound and as I said previously, a flagship performance. Maybe from what I put this sounds like what your after, maybe it didn’t, I mean the Roxanne is clearly a great earphone but is not similar to this at all with its thicker, darker, bigger and more laid back sound. I prefer this for sure but that’s just me. That doesn’t apply for everyone. So this is the Viento-R and stay tuned for more.