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Rant: Ultrasone’s Irritating IQ

For some time, I’d been bound by morbid curiosity to try the Ultrasone IQ. It has been panned almost universally even before it came out, and today, I shall add further insult to injury. About a month ago, in a show of insanity, I assailed aural cacophony on my senses.

You guessed it. It is bassy and sibilant.

Amusingly, I knew that going into the audition since everybody and their mothers told me so, but I thought it was going to be bassy and sibilant in a good way; you know, like fun thumping bass, with airy highs… No.

It was none of these things.

The bass was bloated and slow, and the highs featured the most annoying display of sibilance I’d ever come across in an IEM. It wasn’t that the sibilance hurt my ears — I can handle that. I own or have owned several IEMs prone to sibilance, including, but not limited to, the FI-BA-SS, CK100PRO, DBA-02, Tzar 350. I can handle my sibilance. But the iQ was a different beast altogether; it was just… irritating.

Every single time I encountered anything with a hint of sibilance on a track, I was met with extremely distracting sibilance that was akin to a blown tweeter rattling about in a cheap car stereo.

This thing is nearly $900! Ugh.

In its defense, the L-plug on the cable is pretty attractive.

If you must have an Ultrasone IEM, I can’t stress this enough: Tio >>>> IQ. Everything about it was more pleasant; it wasn’t sibilant at all, had an equally spacious presentation, had balanced, un-bloated bass, and engaging, solid mids. The housings were also very comfortable, in stark contrast the the weird box-like shape of the IQ (which was surprisingly not uncomfortable, though not exactly the zenith of ergonomic design, either). Unfortunately, the TiO is a case of “I’ve heard this before!”, and the UE600 can deliver 98% of what the TiO brings for a quarter of the price.

 Again, pretty L-plug.

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Pictures have been taken from Ultrasone’s downloadable press kit.

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5 thoughts on “Rant: Ultrasone’s Irritating IQ

  1. Well, this batboy (me) wants to get one. In Japan they are regarded rather highly but your advices are always reference material to me. If I pick up a pair (have a lens or two to sell) I’ll tell you and do a report on them.

    If they are as bad as you say, then I’ll sit on my thumb and never ever again question the cymbac admin.

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    1. Mr. T was in a particularly poor mood that day, which probably didn’t help things. The soundstage is probably its best attribute, quite deep and sonorous, aspects undoubtedly provided by the low end’s dynamic driver. However, the balanced armature highs were surprisingly shrill. The pre-revision Rooth Elpis sounded similar in this respect, and the two models, despite being from very different brands and backgrounds, actually share a similar sound.

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  2. This is one particular iem that’s well designed from the ground up, and that’s extremely well tuned and well made from the inside to the outside, ONLY TO BE COMPLETELY RUINED BY THE TIPS AND MAYBE ONE OR TWO FATAL DESIGN FLAWS (that I can’t pinpoint technically). I bought myself a pair at the time of its release without trying, but sold it after a couple of months. Bassy and sibilant, can’t be more correct. I always thought there MUST be something that I missed, or I did wrong, as I don’t think any earphone manufacturers, not to say Ultrasone which I respect quite a lot, would release something with such, um, STRANGE tuning that won’t please anyone. Fastfoward to 2014, some 2 years after its release, when I am looking for something with a remote. I remember the unpleasant iq experience, but out of curiosity AND after reading joker’s review I tried it again, first with the stock comply tips (the silicon ones simply WON’T work, then with good old Ety 3flange. Of course, with the stock complys, the familiar bassy and sibilant sound hits me again. BUT with the Etys, they sound like a completely different beast. Not 30% or 50% different, it’s 200% different. I did some more tip rolling, which I actually had done 2 years ago but without involving the Etys which are rather uncomfortable. Most tips I came across gave me that head-stabbing sibilant sound, EXCEPT the Etys AND the new long Westone foam tip. Some logic deduction returned with the following conclusion: due to resonance or something more technical, if the sound is allowed the space and air to ring in your ear (i.e. using shorter tips, or tips with a funnel shape to its exit like the complys, or in any event with a more casual seal) the mid-highs and highs are peaky, sibilant and metallic sounding. The iq can ONLY be paired with something that can create not just a good seal but a DEEP seal, such as using the ear-digging tri-flanges or the Westone foam which practically fills up every bit of space in your ear canal for its full length, and it’s then that the iq not only sound RIGHT, it sounds GORGEOUS and is capable to compete with the very best, not just the very best 2 years ago but the very best NOW, including the 1P2, 334 etc. I have absolutely no idea why Ultrasone let a top product rot because of tip selection and, perhaps, the selection of a relatively short sound tube. From the above observations, I guess (I can only guess………no sound engineering degree here) a longer sound tube would allow less ringing in the ear and less amplification of the peaks due to resonance.

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  3. Yeah, I’ve had them now for two years and LOVE them. The stock tips are throwaway. ETY tips are wonderful. These are balanced, wide and contrasty earphones. I’ve tried to get into other earphones, but I keep coming back to IQ. There’s no where to go after this.

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