A little while ago, Polish earphone company, CustomArt, approached me about reviewing their Ei.3 model and I was impressed with their low price, high performance recipe. When the opportunity came (via the Head-Fi community) to try a number of other CustomArt IEMs, I jumped at the chance. What follows are a series of short impressions based on the universal, demo versions of the IEMs provided. I’m not discussing build quality and the like here though because these were demo samples only and not necessarily indicative of retail products.
I’m starting the impressions by using my much loved CustomArt Ei.3 as a baseline for comparisons given that they’re from the same ‘house’. All listening was done using JRiver Mediacenter 21 feeding a Cozoy Aegis DAC running to an E12DIY with a BUF634 and OPA627 combo of buffers and op-amps. I’ve used the same hybrid tips on each IEM to maintain a sense of continuity (don’t worry, it was a good fit each time).
Despite being a “budget” offering in acrylic, the Ei.3 shouldn’t be discounted. I’ve written full reviews so I’ll keep the comments confined purely to sound here. The Ei.3 has great balance in its tuning. The bass is solid and full without being bloated or over-emphasised. It’s still not the deepest or punchiest bass around, but it has nice weight and a bit of kick when it’s needed. To me, it’s a really nice, comfortable bass tuning. The mids are equally well managed with a good balance compared to other frequencies and a nice sense of weight. The treble has some slight character at the lower end and rolls off fairly quickly, but avoids sounding dull or too smooth thanks to the lower treble texture. It’s only when directly compared with other earphones that you might realise there is any roll-off from the Ei.3 – it’s very tastefully managed. The result from all this is a really well balanced sound that is slightly smooth and warm, but not at the expense of clarity and engagement.
Imaging and staging is exceptional for a “budget” CIEM with nice width and fairly good height. The Ei.3s are very adept at creating a sharp central image with a nice hint of forward projection rather than sticking the image directly between the ears – with the Ei.3 the image is a bit forward of the eyebrows.
So to summarise and provide a consistent approach for comparison I’ll use the following categories for subjective comments:
- Treble: great quality, slightly smooth and slightly rolled off
- Mids: well balanced with good weight
- Bass: nice body and decent kick, extension isn’t amazing but it’s good
- Imaging: excellent clarity and definition in a stage that’s a nice size, but not expansive
Instantly, after listening to the Ei.3, the Pro330v2 sounds tinny and treble-emphasised with a distinct lack of bass and even lower mids. To my ears there is very little that’s appealing about the Pro330v2. In fact, it sounds like there’s something wrong with it. Listening to a Van Morrison track I kept noticing (and being distracted by) guitars lingering in the background that weren’t properly rendered and resulted in a hollow experience that drew my attention more to what was missing than what was there.
- Treble: slightly harsh, emphasised in comparison to other frequencies
- Mids: a bit hollow, especially in the lower registers and therefore a little unnatural
- Bass: very limited and frankly disappointing
- Imaging: very focussed in the upper frequencies, but lacking due to the hollow-ness of the overall sound
For around $750 AUD the Pro330v2 make no sense to me – there are too many better options for less cash and that includes better bright / analytical options so this isn’t just a question of personal preference.
CustomArt Music One
I auditioned these in random order and the Music One came next. It was a welcome return to musicality and reality after the artificial and hollow-sounding Pro330v2.
For around $290 AUD the Music One is a really nice option, but perhaps still not quite as good as the Ei.3. Where the two differ is mostly in signature with the Music One being a little brighter with slightly more treble extension and quantity and slightly less bass extension and quantity. The Music One would be a great IEM for those who like a fairly flat response with a very slight treble emphasis.
- Treble: clean and smooth, but slightly brighter than neutral – good for treble-heads
- Mids: clean and defined, not a lot of weight, but enjoyable nonetheless
- Bass: well balanced with the mids, not prominent, but present and of good quality
- Imaging: good – on par with the Ei.3 for the most part, but occasionally disrupted by treble spikes masking lower frequency cues
CustomArt Music Two
For just under $500 AUD, the Music Two are still an affordable customer, but have some tough competition. Their sound is quite balanced, but with a gentle tilt towards the treble and upper mids. The result is a slightly hollow sound that is interesting and enjoyable in its own way, but not on par with some of the competition in my opinion.
Where the Music Two performs well is it’s sense of clarity and detail in vocals and upper frequencies. In this respect it reminds me of the excellent FIDUE A83, but where it falls behind is in its lack of bass. It’s not as hollow as the Pro330v2, but it seems to be a step behind the Music One and a couple of steps behind the Ei.3. That doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but it’s not one for the bass heads. On the other hand, the treble on the Music Two is the best of the bunch with lots of extension, but a beautifully smooth sound. Personally, I think there are better options for $500 like the AF120-180 range of IEMs from AudioFly.
- Treble: clean, well extended and with excellent quality overall
- Mids: slightly lifted in the upper registers, well detailed with excellent clarity
- Bass: just a touch behind the other frequencies resulting in a slightly cool sound with limited weight
- Imaging: very good, but the lack of weight prevents ultimate realism – it’s an accurate and sharp image, but not completely realistic
CustomArt Harmony 8 Pro
I honestly happened to select these in this order and ended with the $1400 AUD flagship last, but that’s probably a good thing so we can end on a high note. The H8P instantly proves itself capable within the first few notes. Individual sounds are cleanly rendered and defined and there’s a sense of space in the stage that the others can’t match.
Signature-wise, the Harmony 8 Pro is warmer than the others in this tour and is more akin to the Ei.3. In fact, the Ei.3 is a lot like the H8P with its added warmth and bass reproduction, but the Ei.3 is more mid-focussed and creates a more intimate (but still very good image). Bass is solid and well defined, mids have weight and body without getting too thick and the treble is smooth and detailed, but not enhanced.
Compared to the Ei.3 the H8P is more refined and with less mid-emphasis, resulting in a greater sense of balance overall and better sense of space and size in the soundstage.
- Treble: smooth, but detailed with good extension and a very slight lift relative to other frequencies
- Mids: slightly light on weight, but very clean and very detailed – great for female vocals
- Bass: detailed and well controlled, but might lack quantity for some listeners
- Imaging: outstanding clarity in the image and a larger sense of space than the Ei.3 – an extremely nice stage and image overall
Overall I think the CustomArt IEMs are a mixed bag. The lower priced models like the Music One and the Ei.3 offer amazing value and the Music Two is almost in that catergory and for some people will clearly be in that category (based on personal taste). At the higher prices of the Pro330v2 and Harmony 8 Pro the equation gets a little trickier. Although the H8P is a really nice sounding IEM, I think there are better options out there for less money and the Pro330v2 just doesn’t compute and I can’t imagine it being preferable to a number of similar priced or cheaper options out there.
At the end of this exercise I still adore my Ei.3s and highly recommend them as one of the picks of the CustomArt range if you prefer a slightly warmer sound that the other CustomArt offerings.