Buying(or upgrading) my "first" IEMs

Newbie here, trying to dip my toes into hifi and better music enjoyment. I’ve lurked around for a bit on here before making an account and this definitely seems like a good place to get some recommendations.

So in regards to my admittedly confusing topic, bit of background. Currently I’m sporting 2 I guess you could call them IEMs both are Audio Technica the ATH-CKR50 which is my current daily driver which I am using pretty much everyday on the laptop and watching videos/movies. And the ATH-CKS550XiS “solid bass” and “For phones” and has that well known “Hi-res” label on the box, which is meant to be my back up in case the CKR gives up the ghost. They’re both in-ear earbuds but I’m not sure if they would be considered IEMs hence the title. I’ve looked high and low for reviews and other things on both of these but as it seems they are both from the AT japan market, granted the boxes they came in were both in Japanese so makes sense. From what I could find they are both in the 50-60USD range just don’t remember how much they were when I got them.

I usually wear the CKR at the computer 6+hrs every day and even fall asleep with them, but it’s not the most detailed when it comes to music, it’s fairly decent and it’s an okay all rounder for what I do with it. As for the CKS it’s just way too bassy for me, it has much more clarity overall than the CKR (possibly the filter is gunked up since I use it so much) but the bass just drowns out a lot of that clarity and pushes way too forward even with the slight modding I did with the bit of micropore between the eartip and spout to reduce the bass.

So back to the meat of the matter, I’m looking for an upgrade to these to get my “first” actual IEM. From a lot of browsing and reading and watching reviews It seems that the Moondrop Aria is a big recommendation from most (I can get them for about 60USD where I’m at) but I’d like to hear from the rest as to what else you guys would suggest.

Budget: Probably around 100USD but a bit flexible

Music Library: I mainly listen to rock and metal, so some disturbed, powerwolf, sabaton, and other various genres too, but those are my main playlist

Source: Mainly phone(Samsung A50), Laptop (Macbook pro 2012),
Considering to getting a dongle dac, the Jcally JM20 specifically to go with the new IEM

Preferred sound signature: Definitely want something more balanced with nice clear mids and vocals and good detail, clarity, and separation but still has a good punch to the bass, since like I mentioned earlier if anyone actually read the entirety of my ramblings the CKS’s “solid bass” is a bit much for me. Probably something balanced-warm or neutral-warm(?), or slightly mid-forward

Soundstage: I know that IEMs aren’t particularly huge when it comes to soundstage, but if it has good soundstage then even better

So hopefully you veterans in the hobby could help me out here, just getting into listening and getting more immersed in my music listening instead of just having them as a background when playing pool (my new Fiil T1 lites have that bit covered)

I had a similar question a few days ago, and the answer I’ve got were: Moondrop Aria, Moondrop Starfield, LZ A7, Tanchjim Oxygen etc

I’m definitely not a veteran, but a big chunk of my library is rock/metal and I recently got a set of Thieaudio Legacy 2’s and think (to my ears) they are really good for the price point. So you might want to add them to your short list. I also have Fiio’s FH3 on the way that I pulled the trigger on based on reviews and feedback in the thread on here. I can’t comment on the Jcally dongle but I’d maybe check out a DD Hifi dongle connector too - I have one of their usb-c dongles as well as two 2.5mm balanced to 3.5mm SE connectors (and a 2.5 to 4.4 on the way). Solid build/sound quality.

Yeah, the moondrop Aria and Starfields seem to be the most default answer for the sub 100 range, while the LZ A7 and the Tanchjim Oxygen are praised a lot on here as well. What did you decide on pulling the trigger on in the end?

I did consider the Thieaudio L2 but from what I’ve read the tuning and sound signature don’t really appeal to me all that much, compared to what others have said about the Aria. Heavier bass and less detail.

Also gave a look at the dongle you suggested and that might be a future investment since it’s around 90 bucks where I’m at. Considering I can get the Aria at 60USD.

Been actually looking at the Mangird Tea and I can get it locally at around the same price as the US market about 300USD which is great considering price markups that can happen here sometimes. Actually found a store that is supposed to get a batch of those in soon and might have a demo unit for me to try out, but they haven’t arrived, not to mention lockdown happening again over here.

I would love to try out the Mangird Tea and get an actual trial of how it sounds before pulling the trigger on it for 3-times my planned budget. But it’ll have to wait until lockdown is over and their stock arrives.

Though if I had the money and knew it was still available I saw someone had made a post a couple weeks back with a MEST MKII for sale for like $1100 which is a steal

Fair enough. I went for the L2 to check out what the beryllium DD would sound like. I got the DD hifi kit from Ali express as much cheaper but means a bit of a wait for them to arrive.
As it happens I also have the Mangird Teas - bought largely on BGGAR’s rec as his library overlaps with mine, wouldn’t hesitate to go for any of his recs as he talks language I can understand and relates direct to tracks I know. If you want to stretch your budget to them I wouldn’t hesitate, they punch way above their cost. The Aria from the sounds of it would be a great choice though (don’t have them but the Starfields were my first IEM).

How would you compare the Mangird Tea to the Starfields, clarity and detail retrieval specifically? I may listen to a lot of metal and rock, but as they say the devil is in the details.

From what I’ve seen most everywhere the Starfields and Aria are pretty similar with some minor tuning differences, if the Aria being a slight improvement, they’re pretty much considered sister models

The Teas are next level tbh. I’m not the greatest at describing how gear sounds, but the Teas sound so much more expansive and I can pick out instruments and detail way clearer. Everything seems to come across as incredibly well balanced with no sounds being over shadowed by anything else. Bear in mind they do have a deeper fit in the ear, and I dropped from med to small spinfits (CP145s) to get a comfortable fit. In the Teas thread you’ll get better impressions views from more experienced folk than me though. It’s a decent chunk of money but worth it IMHO, but it’s worth checking as many reviews and impressions threads so you can reach your own decision.

1 Like

That’s pretty much exactly what I’m looking for actually. My CKR is much better balanced compared to the CKS with clearer and more upfront mids. Even though the CKS is technically a Hi-Res model the vocals and mids just get pushed back too far for my tastes behind the bass. The CKR is decent and it’s why I picked it as my daily driver for about a year now.

But like I said I’m looking to definitely upgrade my set for listening to music and possibly depending on comfort the Tea might be my daily driver instead. I used to be fairly skittish on getting expensive earphones because the weak link is the cable, but I can more easily rest my worries about that with proper IEMs with changeable cables that can easily be replaced.

And yeah, I already jumped into the Tea thread and reading through it a bit more after asking a question and it has been getting plenty of praise aside from the fitting issues with the eartips

1 Like

Teas are worth every penny and more.

Regarding fit, i had zero problems. I’ll recommend CP100, radius deep mount or azlas.

Test your cable too. Most people didnt like stock cable. I upgraded it immediately.

Teas with the perfect tips for you and an aftermaket cable, are a 500$ IEM.

Inside the price range my top recommendation would be the Moondrop Aria. They have more bass than the Starfield, and are my current go to. I typically, use them in a BTR5 for a bit of power but mostly for Bluetooth goodness ( I can have them hooked up to my work PC and walk away ), but they work fine with a cheap Apple dongle.

I am a classic and progressive rock fan with some metal thrown in, and they are perfect for my library. I think the thing about the Aria is that the seem to work well with almost everything, and still have enough bass to be fun. The stock tips are good, and I can’t tell them from the Final Audio Series E, but I have been using the CP100 most of the last week and really like them. I am probably going to try the Spiral Dots soon ( they have the biggest holes ).

For rock and metal the Mangird Tea always seems to come up, but not only are they a $300 IEM, but to hear the difference you likely need an amp and cables, and you might be looking at $500 by the time you are geared up. I think if you are in that price range, these are worth a serious look, but that is a big jump from $100.

I have always been spooked by the frequency spike at 8k on the Tea, my ears tend to pick that up on some sets, so I hope it is a measurement artifact. Most of the cheap KZ sets have that same spike, and it hurts me. I don’t hear much above 14k, old, but doing well for my age, so I don’t pick up the higher stuff.

Here are charts the mentions IEMs

I put the charts in, but always trust your ears over the data. Ears are weird and personal, and music is art and very taste driven. So it is more about how it strikes you than if it is neutral enough or what ever. The target line I picked on that was Bad Guy who is a You Tuber who is a classic rock guy, he was the closest to metal of the names I knew. Bad Guy is also a big Mangird Tea fan ( I think it is still in his top 10 ).

1 Like

I don’t really think an amp or aftermarket cable would really be necessary, of course a good source and dac are a big part of quality playback, but I just double checked on the Tea’s impedance and it’s only 18ohms, while the Aria has an impedance of 32ohms, both of which can work relatively well off both a phone and laptop. I have seen a few IEM’s in the $500+ range that do have impedances comparable to some higher end headphones.

But it’s also is why I’m looking to get the Jcally JM20 dongle to get a better source than just straight off my phone.

Hopefully when lockdown here is over and the stocks at the shop I talked to arrive I could give both a demo, even though now I’m definitely leaning more to the Tea at this exact moment

1 Like

I think if I decide to crack the $300 price point, the Mangird Tea are likely the pick for me too.

I have to admit that having that BTR5 was one of the better purchases I have ever made, it solves for the DAC, Amp, and Bluetooth all at the same time, for $120. Wireless SHP9500 are an amazing experience.

I don’t even know where I would go to demo a pair of IEMs, but I tend to think of them as an online product ( Aliexpress, Amazon, Linsoul, etc. ). I lived in Omaha too long, and I have to adjust to being in LA where I can probably find a place to try a pair, or will be able to at some place post pandemic.

1 Like

I did give the BTR5 a look and definitely considered it, I have the jabra street bt3030, though it’s not exactly hifi gear it served its purpose for being a bluetooth device so I could listen to the music stored on my tablet while playing pool, but it’s now retired for a set of Fiil T1 lites, which for the money($35) and audio quality(comparable to my CKR). Honestly looking for a good pair of TWS is what got me into this rabbit hole in the first place.

Give a few brick and mortar places a look on google if they’re still open. Specifically audio specialty shops, some might have pages on facebook and such so you can see their offerings. Audio specialty stores would usually have some demo units on hand, especially the legit audio places that know what they’re selling

1 Like

That seems very accurate for many of us.