LEAR LHF-AE1d Review by mark2410
Thanks to LEAR for the sample.
First Impressions: I opened these with some trepidation as I thought it was a new phone and not more earphones. Nice box though, woahhhhhh, there’s a subtle case if ever I saw one!!! Damn that beast is huge, so much bling, its dazzling. Thank the heavens in not in gold is all I can say. Opening it up, ooh bright green. This is the most nuts case I’ve seen, ever I think. Gosh its weighty too, it feels more like something that should be used to store unset diamonds rather than earphones. The earphones, well they are almost as big and almost as shiny. They are a slightly more darkened metallic silver. The cable, it’s a bright translucent, braided over a silvered cable. Ohh its pretty, rather attention seeking but I’m a sucker for silver and bare metal. Still it’s no wonder you get a cleaning / polishing clot in the box. It’s only been 10 min and already I want to polish the case back to gleaming perfection.
In the ears and hmmm. Ahh lets level up those dials, btw it has bass adjusting dials, to max we go and work my way down. Eek! Yep let’s maybe try that from the other way. Well its can certainly go from stupid bass to hardly any bass. Hmm, though I note that with the venting going on these are not isolating much at all. The instantly noticeable trade-off is that the sound stage is F-ing huge. We’re talking at fist guess IE8 destroying huge. I see some epically scaled orchestral works in their future. To the burn in machine with you.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5, Lumia 735 and a Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: Well, the lows on these are variable. Not as in dubious but in that you get a little bass dial and you can dial it up if you want. They run from very neutral, maybe even less than neutral, very bass light to oh my god stupid amounts. So I’m really going to try and separate what is quantity and the other acoustic aspects. So, the quality, is quite excellent. I’m looking at the specs and are these really only one dynamic driver in them? They maybe have been borrowing some Titan tech as these too are rather vented. It really goes to show what making and IEM open can do acoustically. The bass is really very cleanly rendered. Like a fine quality speaker there is a slightly effortless quality to it. It’s not trying, not trying at all to spit out lots off bass it’s just casually there. There is a little bit of a dip in the mid bass region and a bit of an elevation to the lower / middling bass ranges. These however are dependent on what you do with that dial. You can turn it and really crank out a lot of bass. Damn I’m mixing quality and quantity. Sigh. It can be hard to not talk about the other as the balance especially and linearity is rather influenced by the quantity of output.
The tonality however is quite distinct and it’s rather lovely. Not particularly flavoured in itself, if anything a very tiny slight slant to dryer bass. Going for a more clean presentation and that helps to keep it from flabbing all over when you dial up lots. It’s nice. Not too hard, not too soft, actually when dialled down a little more hardness wouldn’t hurt and likewise when dialled up a little more softness would be welcome.
Mids: Very nice. Tonally they are very much in the middle, a real lack of their own flavouring which means while they are technically really rather excellent, they lack a bit of soul. Not that they are sterile or anything like that, they just, well middling. The price you pay for being very versatile and capable of playing back anything with a high degree of competence means you don’t really shine in either extreme. If you’re having only one good IEM then arguably this is exactly the sort of thing you want. I, though find I’m enjoying them. They are really capable and they do a slightly raspy vocal especially well I’m more inclined to creamy, buttery vocals. These do seem to have a particular liking for Martha Wainwright and her interesting vocal style. Yes these are good. Hmm perhaps they are slightly better on that dry raspy sort of vocal, Nina Simone sounds great on them too. Note they do a have a slight flare towards the upper mid-range.
Quantity wise they are rather balanced for the most part, you can play silly buggers with the bass if you want or make them rather naturally balanced. The mids and the treble are both of a similar level. On paper I cannot fault them. There just is a something they have and a something they don’t I can’t quite put my finger on. They have a breadth to them and a something, a certain texture, timbre that just nails it but there is something in the back of my head saying something is off. Hmmm, it’s irritating me but either way they sound great on the whole. Just maybe not so great at buttery vocal styles.
Highs: Really very good. Dynamics do the treble I like best stylistically and these sound fantastic. Just exactly the way I like it to be. They have a hint of a fraction of that metallic twangy bight on the initial impact that rapidly becomes a gently shimmering wash. Their detail extraction level is great too, really very, very good and I can happily listen out for it without any sort of abrasiveness. They are clean but no brutality at all, sqeeee! This, this sort of treble is exactly why I like great quality dynamics treble as a rule over armatures. They are not entirely dislike the venerable IE8 but whereas the 8 is more dramatically V shaped and with a more focused treble peak these are more broad across the treble range. Arguably the 8 is the better of the two I recognise but I very much like the presentation style here. It’s goodly detailed and the more relaxed and generally pleasing a presentation.
The highs here are of pretty great quality. Sure the 8 bests them but I’ve long said its one of the best trebles out there and these do a nicely capable rendition. There is still gobs detail to be had, these are just more relaxed at throwing at you. That bit more casual, laid back, sure it’s great but you know, you can take or leave it attitude. Very easy on the ear despite not being of a reduced quantity.
Soundstage: Excellent. You stick a big dynamic in a big enclosure and you make it slightly open then you will get a spacious sound. These sound big, great big hall sized, I’m half convinced I can hear a touch of echo they are se scaled. Big, spaciously and grandly welcoming a presentation. That said you slap on something rather intimate and you get that big hall but you’re sitting up close to the artist. They can still do an excellently intimate vocal when called upon. Superb stuff all-round. Integration is excellent too, maybe a bit too so as you do start to lose a bit of instrument separation. The bass though tends to be a bit more separated than the mids and treble. Due in part to that mid/bass dip.
Fit: Well they are huge, no escaping that fact but I had no trouble. I did however essentially need foam tips. They by their nature sit rather shallow and silicone’s just never felt secure to me. These also despite their openness could give me a little hints of air pressure and suction on the ear if I touched them.
Comfort: Great. On they went and I was happy to wear for several hours. However on the left ear they did press against my ear a little bit that got wearing after a few hours. Also don’t think you’re going to be able to lay down with these in, they are huge.
Cable: Well first of its user changeable so if you don’t like, change it. However I don’t see why you would want to. It’s great. It looks great, seriously looks bloody nice, silvered with a transparent plastic outer and braided / weave something. Oooh pretty. It’s also very flexible and gave almost no cable microphonic. Really very, very much like it.
Microphonics: Well none really. You can’t wear these down and wearing up you don’t tend to get lots anyway. There is a bit more foot fall occlusion due to their being shallow fitting creating a larger chamber to resonate. They are just closed enough to amplify it a bit so try not to slam your heals down. Doing that is bad for your back anyway.
Aesthetics: Ooooooh, the Precious, wants it, needs it. Okay so it’s a little bitty blingy but they look crazy fabulous. Not exactly the most subtle look but despite being painted plastic, which when done usually looks so naff, the quality of the paint used here is exemplary. It’s no wonder that these come with a little cloth to polish them and keep them clean.
Build Quality: Fingers and eyes concur, there are damn nice. The seam between the outer facia and the rest of the buds is a bit overly visible but otherwise these look great. They are good looking, and the cable feels excellent in the hand.
Isolation: So so. They are reasonably good for dynamic but they are still that bit open as is generally a geed idea for acoustic reasons in a dynamic. These are okay for out and about, on a bus sort of stuff but that’s it. Not Tube nor flight worthy. Still enough to get yourself run over if you aren’t looking where you’re going near traffic though. So do use your eyes.
Accessories: You get a nice little bundle. You get a bunch of tips, though id still grab some foamy tips if I was you. Plus an itty bitty screw driver for the bass port. A cleaning cloth for the earphones and the case. Oh yes, and that case. Wow. Now that case may not be the most practical I have ever seen, I mean it’s rather too big for a pocket but……. visually…… wow!!! I mean just wow. That silver polished outer, the heft to the feel of it, is weight and solidity. The tactile sensation of unscrewing it, opening it. That dramatic and vibrant green inner. Not just visually but that the green inner is all rubber, the acoustic dampening of it and the seal that it creates when closed….. wow. Easily the most impressive case for an IEM I think I’ve ever seen. It’s truly exquisite.
Amped/Unamped: Yeah so usually I can go hummm, haaaawwww, well……. Yeah but nope. If you have these you want to amp them. They improve quite noticeably when you throw power at them. Seriously, I mean it’s not like they sucked out of a phone but there was a rather noticeable and significant improvement when they went into the Solo Ultra. Details, soundstage, instrument separation, detail levels all got a big dose of improvement. So while you can run there happily out of your phone and they will sound good, they will in no way be at their best. Throw power at them and probably a natural to neutral to brighter amp as well. Warmth just softens them slightly and while its often done to give a slight bloom and expansion to the bass, these with the dial don’t need it. You want more bass just crank it up. A cool source with power makes for a great pairing.
Value: So these are unusual in that they are priced solely in HK$. The HK$ isn’t what it used to be back in the day pre unification but it is still a major world currency. Still it’s not one I see day to day and I’d wager neither will most of you. So these, this version come in at HK$1,488. Which is a weird number but with 8 being a “lucky” number maybe that’s why? So at almost $1500 you may think, wow that’s expensive as most of us will think US$, CAN$, AUS$ which are all on a similar level. The HK$ however is not, HK$1 is about 10p. Thus it comes to £146 or US$191. That makes a dramatic alteration mentally as to their perceived value. These then become most excellent value. They can be a little fit fussy, the tips I think you need foamies and they don’t isolate great but sound quality for your money these are really good. I’d quite comfortably place these almost on a par quality wise with the IE8 when they are amped. Arguably they have the more competent acoustic balance too not throwing their mids into a valley the way the 8 does.
Conclusion: These are a bit of a queer duck as they say. They in some ways make a great generalist given they can be highly balanced and having a middling tonality they can be rather adept at everything. Yet they do their best when amped hard and with a cooler, set up. They gain a noticeable clarity boost and their definition certainly improves too. The bass, well that can be adjusted to how you like so again there is a versatility. Though they are a bit open and they haven’t the greatest treble extension. Their treble side by side with the excellent IE8 does slightly pale in the comparison. Still this the more overall capable sound signature. They are clearly except all-rounders.
Being a great all-rounder though isn’t always enough when you’re beginning to come close to the upper end of what universals can do. These are superb, really truly they are and acoustically these could be happily your only IEM. But…… ahh that isolation. I know everyone doesn’t need max isolation but like with the IE8’s this level just adds a dash of disappointment as nothing ruins the acoustic wonderment of some random abrasive noise like a car horn or whatever. It’s a little flaw and you do get a fantastic acoustic payoff for its presence but….. little in life is ever truly perfect and that is the price you pay here.
So should you / would I buy a pair. Probably and yes. For you it’s all about whether that isolation is enough as this money will buy a nice BA set that will sound good and isolate. Granted it won’t sound this good, have anything like the bass proclivity that this can give you nor sound anything like as grandly scaled. Life is all about dealing with imperfections and as such these are not quite perfect. However…… their audio quality is excellent, real top notch stuff. Like an IE8 that’s got mids and a more tame flattened treble. These are really a most excellent offering that sound every bit, if not more, as good as they look.