Breaking the Mold: A Survey of Entry Level Custom In-Ear Monitors Page 2

March, 2015—More Budget CIEMs
A short time after posting my budget CIEM article I was contacted by another manufacturer, Alclair, and asked if I was interested in trying their Reference CIEM which they thought would be a good fit for an addition to the article. As it just so happened, I had a spare set of ear impressions so I sent them on their way and a little while later received a brand new pair of CIEMs in return.

According to the company website the Reference model is a three driver, two-way design and is tuned for precise, accurate sound. The basic units without custom graphics sell for $399 and there is a pretty standard array of no-cost colors to choose from as well as an impressive list of optional, moderately price metallic and wood-grain finishes for those interested.


Those of you that read my original Budget CIEM article will know that I was seriously impressed with just how much performance JHA was able to pack into the similarly priced JH5. Well, to my ears, Alclair just reset the bang-for-the-buck benchmark. This is a seriously good CIEM for $399 and it was no accident that these found their way into Innerfidelity's Holiday Buyer's Guide. From the overall craftsmanship associated with the shells to (most importantly) the sonic characteristics it's clear that Alclair went to great lengths to make sure that their product lived up the Reference name. They are more neutral than the 1964 Ears V3s in the lower registers and lose out only slightly on ultimate resolution up top. But don't take that the wrong way, there's nothing really missing or off in the Reference's presentation.

Bottom line—if the Alclair Reference had been included in the original article it would have finished no worse than second and would have kicked both of the models that finished tied for that spot down to third. Yes, they're that good.

Editor's Note: This page is being posted to the front page so people will see it, but it will also be attached as a second page to the original article.

8790 Jefferson Hwy
Osseo, MN 55369

Wildcatsare1's picture

Thanks for the addition of the Alclair Reference to your survey.

I am currently loving my Alclair RSM Quads, they are another new plateau in comparison to the References. They play very well with my iPhone, but add the Apex Glacier or iFi iDSD and it is pure magic. Clapton's "Unplugged" never sounded so good!

flatmap's picture

I've heard that many multi driver CIEMs require amplification; do these need an amp?

And I like the idea of the neutrality down low -- but is the bass sufficient to stand up in noisy buses and trains for the morning commute?

ELPCU's picture

I have multi driver CIEM, but I do think you need extra Amp for multi driver CIEM. Someone can argue 'you may want it' for better sound quality but you do not NEED one.

Most of case, volume is more than enough for all IEM; the only issue will be likely sound quality. Some may argue replace built-in Amp in your mp3 player or smartphone or whatever.

But if your built-in Amp is not super crappy, the difference is not huge. It is not something 'your expensive CIEM makes worst sounds ever without Amp!' Difference is there. so you can argue it is worth of buying it, but it is not 'must have' item.

In fact, multi driver CIEM has no difference except housing compared to multi driver universal IEM. Large portion of its cost is due to its custom housing. Why do you need Amp for multi-driver CIEM when you do not need one for UIEM?

It is more about 'If you are buying 1000+ bucks IEM, then you need to invest at least 100 bucks for portable Amp to make your 1000+ bucks worth it!' thing. Not the case for budget IEM.
Amp for buying 400 bucks IEM? that's very subjective matter.

By the way, there is no true 'reference' headphone that stands against noisy buses or trains. 'Reference' grade already includes that sounds 'neutral' or well balanced sounds.

But outside noise is mostly bass. You needs more bass to compensate heavy noise from buses or trains. You might still be able to hear bass, especially if you increase volume, but at the same time bass will be not enough compared to mid and high.

If you want something that stands up against noisy environment, you need noise cancelling headphone or bass enhanced IEM(Not neutral), which are NOT reference headphone by any mean.

flatmap's picture

Thanks for your lengthy and thoughtful reply. Especially helpful to read your take on the issues of outside noise. Sounds right.

Anthony Kraft's picture

This review popped up at the right time. I was curious what made you choose the V3 over the reference. I am stuck between the RSM and the V3 actually, but I have read the RSM is a better reference so I am trying to narrow it down. I get my impressions on saturday and I feel like I am running out of time :). My concerns are the bass on the v3 being a little too much. I can't really tell from the main reviews if they like the bass or think it is a little too powerful. I like the idea of the warm midrange. Are they good for acoustic music? how about Unplugged Nirvana / Alice in Chains? For the reference I think I understand the bass is strong but neutral. Does the reference have any body in the midrange? Did you find it thin at all? Thanks for any info.

n_maher's picture
I don't think most, including myself would find the bass on the V3 to be too much. It's a pretty mild tweak on frequency response really and by no means overblown or intrusive. They just have a bit more kick or slam compared with something like the Reference from Alclair. Neither model is something that I would consider remotely thin and have a very pleasing midrange. And again, I think the highs are rendered a tiny bit more clearly on the V3 but the References are definitely not deficient in that regard. Just not quite as good.
DML9's picture

Curious, why didn't the Alclair Reference make it to the Wall of Fame?

Also, if we went dollar for dollar, how would the Alclair Reference compare to the 1964 Ears V2 (at $399)?
Thanks. I get so much useful information from your writings and this website.