Does it Sound like the Future?
While it is exciting that we have this new technology largely at display with this earphone, the only factor that really matters is if it brings a new experience from an in ear monitor, is it something I can see being brought into the high end market of CIEMs, will it let Lear lead the way in this market and of course most importantly, does it sound good?
Starting with keeping things simple I tried these out with the NSC-01 cable. Disappointingly with the NS off, these did not impress me as an earphone. Not only did they take quite a bit of grunt to drive but the driver did not seem the most capable, there was a horrible spike in the midrange that created a tinny effect and the bass was poor, growing into the sub bass but weak until then lacking oomph, real impact or decay. Knowing what Lear can achieve with a single dynamic driver such as with the LHF-AE1d (Josh will review soon) I was holding out for that sort of technical level or at least close as a baseline here, but sadly we just don’t have that.
Switching Natrosound on does yield an obvious impact, we get a bigger sense of ambience, depth of sound, soundstage width and bass decay/presence making for a warmer sound. The peak in the mid seems to calm just a little but is still around and there is more meat to the sound. The sad part is that when you go back turn it off, the sound is thin and weak and when you turn it on it is muddy and confused, neither seem to impress, even after letting my ears adjust. Lower mids seem drawn out, treble timbre could be better and even with NS engaged, soundstage is not blowing my mind like I had hoped, with other (granted more expensive) IEMs still doing a much better job such as InEar’s SD-4 which is truly holographic. The bottom line for me was that I am not hearing something revolutionary, yes it is more a bit unique sounding and also more 3D than when it is switched off but not an experience unlike I have previously had with an in ear. It also sounds considerable more congested, so it is not a spatial experience with great imaging, just a bigger but not clearer sound but at the very least a full one.
Ok but what about the other cable? The NSC-03, maybe the fine tuning it allows will help get the sound where I want it?! Something I have to give to the NSC-03 is just how mad it is in terms of allowing you to modify the sound. You can change the sound so much it isn’t simply like one earphone. While it is mainly the bass that changes, there was an impact throughout the earphone, with one setting even giving a hideous drop out at 1kHz. In terms of bass you can go from an earphone that has nothing down low and is so anaemic it is unlistenable, all the way to something that has a slow, syrupy bass that is boosted, giving warmth and veiling to the overall sound. Playing around with the settings enough and I did start to achieve a slightly more balanced sound that I could get into a bit more.
I will be honest, if you want any sort of detail or speed, your best off with the NS off, no matter what cable is in use. It is clearer, more capable but still with the faults that are the upper mid peaking. Because you can turn the bass up with the NSC-03 cable the earphones do sound better with NS off, providing more balance than what I was getting with the NSC-01 switched off. But using these earphones I do prefer to go all in with natrosound, no it’s not typically better but is at least a little unique in its presentation, enough to give me just a different flavour to the rest of my collection, while with it off I just have other earphones that do it better, even in the same or cheaper price ranges. While I never get the sense I am listening to speakers, the sense of depth is quite impressive and there is a solid width to the sound as well. It is a shame that there are side effects like influencing the bass to become really quite sluggish, it is a bit of fun to listen to, and may even go down well with the odd movie, a reason to crank that bass right up.
More Companies Need to Try!
While I have no doubt the above reads negative because I am not really impressed with these earphones, from build to design to sound, I will never knock a company for trying, in fact I have a lot of respect to Lear for doing so because almost every other company is just abusing strong marketing and making designs that aren’t really special, bar a select few. While personally I am not sold on what this is exactly bringing to the table, as someone who reviews and loves both traditional 2 channel stereos and IEMs, I don’t feel it is bridging the gap in anyway. What I can see is that Tatco and his team have put a LOT into this and are very passionate about making better products so for that reason I really do want to support them. While I can’t see why I would want to recommend these (maybe they can impress you if you are after that bassier signature), please get excited for Josh’s upcoming review of the LHF-AE1d because they are easily one of the best universals at their price range and upwards from that and while it is a spoiler alert, that review will be a lot more positive, so Lear we stand by you, even though I have to give natrosound a miss!
Turn the Page for Some Measurements
Go Back for the Intro