A Real Reference

One of the reasons we were part of the beta testing for PP8 was because we had called out quite a few products that liked to pretend they were reference grade products. Because they wanted to truly create a great reference level IEM, they wanted to do some field testing and I am happy to confirm they did succeed with what they set out to achieve. This is an earphone that I would describe as listenable flat, not measurable flat. It sounds so natural, so honest and therefore could see effective use as an engineers tool as well as an audiophiles go to product of musical enjoyment, as it is quickly becoming for me. That is all before you even factor in the added benefits and versatility the switches provide!

Immediately driving home the point I mentioned on being easily perceived as flat would be how the bass handle itself in it standard form. To most who come in contact with it they would not be drawn to saying this has a boosted bass. To someone who knows what a flat bass sounds like, think Etymotic, it really is sucked out and empty. Therefore to sound natural and truly balanced, this does seem to have some well placed elevation. Only by a few decibels heading from 200Hz to 60Hz mind you, but enough to give substance and body to the region. It doesn’t have the ongoing sub bass presence of one of the Earsonics or even Campfire’s Andromeda but does do a better job extending than the likes of UERM and even the UERR.

The mannerisms of the bass such as great agility and impressive intricacy do seem to go for the earphone as a whole. They are also the reason that when listening to some electronic music such as Depeche Mode the Andromeda feel more at home with their slightly thicker and deeper reaching bass response. But that’s when PP8s little trick comes into play and you throw 3dB more bass into the mix. It is an obvious enough addition as well. Adding texture, decay and slam to the fray. The area of change does seem to be centred more around mid bass. While it still has great performance through the rest of the frequencies it does certainly move towards a slightly more bass emphasised sound. Something you would never expect it capable of after getting to know its original personality. For me I would seldom use it, it does all I ask for in bass without the extra kick but that’s not to say the option isn’t nice, nor is it to say it won’t be the reason this becomes someone’s favourite earphone.

Midrange balance is one of those things that is so hard to get right and comparing to one another really becomes tricky business. I mean going from Andromeda to UERR left the latter sounding too focussed on upper midrange but then after some adjustment and going to the PP8, I found female vocals to not quite have the same energy or clarity. Comparing can be a dangerous game and I would not get caught up on that last statement regarding female vocals because the entire midrange here is spectacular. It does have better balance than the slightly tilted UERR and probably shares more in common with Andromeda’s balance, just without the hefty or decay of that, instead, we have impeccable speed and detailing. At its best, we have a tight punching bass line followed by the clearest midrange you can imagine. No matter what I compare to I am yet to find anything out of balance with the midrange. Timbre is clean and natural and vocals of any manner sound breathy and lifelike. While the UERR does excel in clarity, it can become a bit much at times, the PP8, on the other hand, has enough to captivate but doesn’t poke its head too far at all.

The mids have this silky eerie-ness to the due to being just so untainted. There is not the slightest colouration from any angle. It is funny because the midrange is not projected in a manner that is super radical or forward, but it is so good that it holds everything together, it revels in the bass’s level headed hits and harmonises elegantly with the treble.

The treble is one area that I would say is not the most traditionally reference. It doesn’t have either of Ultimate Ears Reference models analytical flare. It still has this obvious and pristine treble, it just never grates or goes beyond the mark, one of the biggest complaints for some with the original UERM. Of course, you can’t forget that we, of course, have access to a couple decibels more treble should we want it. The boost comes above 7kHz, and steers clear of the midrange enough to affect what was already great. It certainly takes the sparkle up a notch, bringing us towards a more analytical tone such as with the UERR. It is quite a helpful dosing mind you, not pushing things overboard but certainly shifting the focus of the earphone in that direction a little.

While the switches have been fun, for me I just love the earphone so much as is, I haven’t felt a huge need for them. That isn’t to say they won’t have their uses. The extra bass may be a real clincher for some people and in the unlikely case, you desired more in the treble that is also an option. I think the extra trebles most usable purpose would be in conjunction with the bass switch to sway these into a V shaped earphone. Just like their very successful SD4. It isn’t as deep a V as that but we do start to push back the midrange a bit in favour of a forward treble and more impactful bass. While still not for me it is impressive how far you can take these earphones.

Taking everything back to their more traditional format and I am not as madly in love with the soundstage as some of my friends who have also been lucky enough to listen to a pair. I say that because it doesn’t stand out as being as crazy big as InEar’s own SD4, nor does possess the level of depth that Andromeda does. With that out the way, it is still crazy wide and everything is separated into the most insane levels. I think the presentation takes you just a small step back, not putting you smack in the middle of the art and this really lets it show off its width.

I know people love comparisons so I quickly wanted to throw this up against everyone’s other universal favourite the Andromeda. That may seem like a good comparison but at this level, they are still quite different beasts. The warmer, denser more weighty sounding Campfire doesn’t have the lack of colouration or crazy clarity of the InEar while focusing on more of this lush decay and holographic display. The PP8 is the perfectionists pick here and it still can fool you into a similar sound signature by flipping the bass switch, not that you will match its sub-bass.

A more worthy comparison would be the aptly named Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered. It took their original Reference Monitor and added to the sub bass and smoothed out the treble. It sounds actually a little wonky compared to the PP8, it doesn’t have the same coherency mastering nor size and it is colder due to additional treble and upper mids. The scary part is that it doesn’t quite have the same amount of bass or lower mids, so you can see where the imbalance comes from. It does however still have more clarity and once your ears adjust is very impressively transparent. Again PP8 can play pseudo UERR with the treble switch but even in its stock form is the more natural reference monitor!

Honestly Expensive

While there is no doubt this is big money for a universal IEM, once you have got past the packaging, there is everything to love about this and very little to hate. Maybe it could have a fancier cable like Andromeda and Maestro V2, beyond that what more do you want that comfort and great sound. While the neutral sound is not everyone’s cup of tea, it does cater to more than the usual “flat” earphone due to its switches. Marco Ramisch and his team have really created something astonishing with this earphone and InEar really deserve to be a staple name in the earphone world after this. It has got me more excited for a IEM than I have for anything in a really long time, I had already confessed my love for it before I knew it was an 8 driver or had tried the switches. Oh yes, it has 8 balanced armature drivers, I think that is the first I have mentioned that, why? Because it doesn’t matter, only the sound quality and comfort do and these have both them qualities in spades!

I think this may have to take our prestigious Pride of Place Award for Best Price No Object Universal IEM!

Sonny Trigg