In the world of high-end portable music, there is no doubt that custom in-ear monitors take the crown. For years, there has been tons of variations from different companies from dual, triple, quadruple, and six balanced armature drivers. These drivers taking control of certain frequencies on their own, having more usually equates to better overall quality and tonality. Of course it still depends on the tuning and implementation. For years, certain number of drivers gave certain tonalities. Usually six having a balanced tonality and dominating the custom in-ear realm as there are 2 drivers each for the treble, mids, and bass. A certain hole in the range of custom in-ear monitors have been left voided for some time, the 5 driver range, has now been in development and being released by some companies. Most companies are tuning the 5 driver in-ears and custom in-ears as thick sounding in the mid frequency range. Thickness on the vocals and mid range. This began with the Westone and follow suit by some other custom in-ear monitor companies to be able to focus on vocals while retaining good treble. The usual 4 driver set-up gave good body on the mids but lacked a lot in details and treble sparkle. This is why the 5 driver has been sought by audio enthusiasts and also by custom in-ear monitor manufacturers. To be able to retain that beautiful vocals and instruments while keeping the treble well extended and not clogging everything down. One company that I admire the most and I find amazing not only in how the tune their custom in-ear monitors, but also to how they craft the design of your custom in-ear monitors as well as that premium packaging, is Vision-Ears. To me, they are the best in physical quality in custom in-ear monitors, and for me their flagship Vision-Ears VE6 Xcontrol is still king of all custom in-ear monitors. With their recent announcement of the Vision-Ears VE5, I just had to have a listen to what beautiful creation they can come up with.
Vision-Ears created the VE5 in how they envisioned audio enthusiast to be able to enjoy vocals. They built the Vision-Ears VE5 in this pattern: 1 x Highs, 1 x high-mids, 2 x mids, 1 x lows + 4 way crossover. If you look at it closely, it focuses a lot on the mids, and yet, Vision-Ears has envision the VE5 to not just be mids/vocal centric, but also to have crystal clear highs and to be a bit bright than being dark. In all honesty, they achieved this goal extremely well. I will explain later on when I begin to talk about my opinions on the sound quality. For now, let’s get started on my review proper of this beautiful piece of work once again from Vision-Ears.
Packaging/Build: As I have mentioned before on my review of the Vision-Ears VE6 Xcontrol, Vision-Ears is stellar in truly giving premium treatment to audio enthusiasts and to their works of art. You get the same customized metal casing for the Vision-Ears VE5, along with the cleaning spray, dehumidifying caps and a carrying pouch. All these packed and covered in art paper with the Vision-Ears color which is purple. Really exciting to open the whole package even though this is already my 2nd Vision-Ears CIEM (custom in-ear monitor) as everything is presented so premium. Moving to the build of the VE5, I got a carbon fiber faceplate this time around and the finish of the faceplate, along with the entire shell is fantastic! No bubbles, no imperfections, nothing at all. The finish is flawless ang glows just like my VE6XC. The bores are same, a huge bore with the actual bores down deeper with filters. Up until now, I still haven’t seen any other CIEM maker having a very unique bore style, and also having great shades of colors with the shells cut and shaped very smooth. I’ve had a handful of CIEMs from different brands and Vision-Ears retains the top quality in shells.
Sound Quality: As I mentioned earlier, Vision-Ears envisioned the VE5 to focus on the mids while keeping highs crystal clear. They also say that the VE5 is bright, and even though the lows are not the focus, the lows do not slouch at all. All of this are true, but how they say it is so simple and so humble. I, of course, would like to go deeper to how the VE5 truly performs. Yes, the VE5 focuses well on the mids, vocals are nothing but stellar. Body has great weight and detail with incredible naturalism. Listening to Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” sends shivers down my spine as he switches his belting voice into falsetto tones. The VE5 produces so clearly and detailed the short breaths of Sam Smith as he whispers the intro of the song. Vocals are very well separated from instruments and other artifacts in vocal songs. It’s as if the vocals are isolated to show immense detail and emotion while the instruments are placed layered at the back and sides, like the vocals having a black background and wall of its own. The strong suit of the mids of the VE5 isn’t the body or thickness, it’s the great detail and naturalism that it portrays. It creates such a powerful connection between the listener and the singer. It becomes so easy to imagine the vocalist singing to you live and telling you the story of the song. I have never heard Sara Bareilles sound so real before in any IEM or CIEM to be honest. Actually, I have never heard most of the singers and vocalist in a handful of my albums sound so lifelike and natural. I can’t think of any CIEM or IEM that touches this territory. Usually, IEMs and CIEMs focusing on mids emphasize on the weight of the mids, the way Vision-Ears focused on the mids brought about great detail and naturalism while giving good weight, showing such rawness of vocals and instruments that sometimes I perceive them in the same room as me, no microphones or devices between us, just true raw live. Amazing, Amazing.
Treble as mentioned is crystal clear. Treble has great sparkle extension that doesn’t become harsh at all. Yes, a bit bright, but I find the ALO RxMk3 to be much brighter than this. I find this rather much more on the neutral side than calling it bright at all. It never gave me any headache or any harshness even after taking 2 cups of black coffee. Treble is well detailed and has good extension and air. This adds good space to the overall tonality. Moving to the low end, I notice the bass impact well, you’ll be wrong to neglect the bass and think or say that this is bass light as it is not. Bass is very ample and boasts powerful impact when demanded. The low-end may only 1 driver commanding it, but do remember that this is a mid focused CIEM, mid-bass impact is well evident when needed and powerful too. Enough to satisfy audiophile level bassheads. I find the mid-bass to have more punch than the VE6, although the VE6 definitely trumps in low-end detail, control, and extension of course. To be honest, I don’t want to compare the VE5 to the VE6. Yeah, the VE6 is overall better, but the VE5 stands really really great on its own with its great focus on mids. VE6 owners like me would love to get a VE5 still, and we will always find moments to use the VE5 really well. Matching is great as it pairs well with the Shanling M3, iBasso DX90, Astell & Kern AK120II, Astell & Kern AK240. It retains the core tonality through different daps, except the AK240 brings a different level of resolve to the mids more than the AK120II can. The AK120II somehow makes the VE5 a tad bit brighter, but not fatiguing harsh. Matching the VE5 with the Celsus Companion One gives better detail to the bass and gives a darker background to the entire spectrum. A great set-up also going mobile or wireless with the VE5 using the Celsus Companion One.
Overall: The VE5 theoretically may not be the flagship of Vision-Ears, but it stands a good ground on its own. Yes, the VE6 may have better details, better soundstage, better low-end control, and better extension on both ends, but the VE5’s mids is just too stellar to ignore. Those who wish to save a bit more cash would never go wrong in getting the VE5 over the VE6 as you are paying a lower price for a level of sound that is on VE6 territory! The Vision-Ears VE5 is priced around Php 66,000.00 (1399.00 EUR) and is available on the Vision-Ears website below.