Important here to note is that I have used the double flange tips supplied by Custom Art. From my experience with the Ei.3, which I had as customs and had reshelled to universals, I feel those tips achieve the closest sound to that of the customs. They are always tricky to fit right, but I found it easier to do with the Black due to the updated shell design.
The Black offer a slightly warmish and smooth sound that is thoroughly engaging. Indeed, I think engagement is one of, if not the main strength of the Black. It is instant and as far as I have tried works with every type of music. Perhaps it is because the Black compliment my preferences really well, but they always pull me into the music where I am compelled to tap my feet, wiggle my bum or pretend that I know how to conduct a symphony orchestra by flailing my arms around wildly. One of the aspects I feel contributes to this is the stage and the way in which it wraps around my head. The stage straddles a fine line between spacious and intimate, not because of the width, but because the stereo imaging is quite strong, and sounds can at times feel like coming from behind my ears. This gives two different impressions of the stage. If there is a panning sound from left to right, the distance the sound travels along the curved stage is quite large, giving the feeling of a very spacious stage that is further emphasized by the clean and airy character of the Black. When I listen to band music the stage becomes more intimate because instruments are at fixed positions at quite close proximity to my head. This wrapped stage also gives a good sense of depth that is further strengthened by excellent layering and positioning. The image is stable and background blackness is excellent. Notes are full, and I feel their transient response is not the quickest, there is a mellow smoothness to the Black that gives them a very forgiving and fatigue free character. For instance, they sound great with my soundtrack album of the Australian detective series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which is full of older jazz recordings that feel like the producers lacked the budget for any form of remastering. I can listen to those all day and not have a hint of fatigue.
Another strength of the Black is their coherency and sense of intimacy. It is not always perfect, as I sometimes think that vocals come too far forward and separate a little from the instruments. Most of the time though it works very well, and the forward vocals add a genuine sense of intimacy. Like Agnes Obel? The Black will have her sweet voice whisper the words in your ears. Most of all I feel the Black provide a sound where I won’t easily feel like I am missing out. Sure, critical listening might expose the slower transient response, perhaps not the greatest transparency or detail retrieval, but even back-to-back with my TOTL IEMs I thoroughly enjoy the music. Everything about the Black is balanced really well to be musical above all else, and there the Black score full marks even against the most expensive IEMs I have. While working on this review I had a genuine hard time focusing on the technical aspects, as I kept drifting away in the music and forgetting I was supposed to write this review.
The Black have a warm character with a slightly lifted bass that is quite natural and exciting. The bass does not reach very deep and sub-bass rumble is moderate, while the mid-bass kick is much more clearly present after which the upper-bass is somewhat tempered to add warmth, but not too much.
The bass has a familiar characteristic I know of the Ei.3, as a pacesetter within the signature, adding excitement and a sense of speed. Despite what I feel is a slightly more mellow character overall, the bass is quick and agile. Great examples of this are the speed of the drums in Device’s rendition of Wish and Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running) by the Foo Fighters, where the tracks gain a lot of their excitement from fast and tight drums that come through very well with the Black.
Despite the noticeable mid-bass kick, the Black do a good job in avoiding becoming too warm and full sounding. There is a very nice balance in the amount of warm air that is added to the signature, enough to feel smooth and easy going, but not so much that it starts to feel stuffy. I love listening to the Rolling Stones with the Black, as it’s so musical and has a hint of smoke-filled bar to it without it feeling like I am sitting among a crowd of chain smokers. With classical music too, I feel that there is a lovely weight to instruments such as the cello, but it is not the really thick and resonant sound that I have heard with some IEMs. The Black do not sit in bass head territory, but still have an impactful and exciting bass that in my opinion fulfills a key role in the musical character of the Black.
The mids of the Black are warm-natural with a very nice thickness to the notes. It is on the thicker side of neutral, which I like because I feel it is more natural, and yet the Black avoid becoming too lush. If you are used to more neutral/reference type IEMs, then the Black’s mids will sound quite thick at first, but in that case, I would advise to give it a bit more time, so you can adjust. It is a really nice, easy-going balance that again sits firmly on the musical side of things where notes flow, rather than sit isolated.
As I indicated before vocals are really quite forward and, in some cases, it is a little too forward in my opinion. Where I mostly love listening to Agnes Obel, the track Pass Them By on her album Aventine is a good example of where it becomes too much. Agnes’ vocals sit quite far to the left and it is as if she has pulled up a chair just, so she can sing directly into my ear. I like you Agnes, really, I do, but I am a married man. Still, overall vocals are a joy and I find the balance between male and female vocals really well done. There is a slight sweetness to female vocals, but in complex and layered choral pieces such as Bach’s Cantata #140 or Magnificat I find that vocals are balanced really well and not a single one overpowers another, which results in a wonderfully natural merging of the choir as more and more voices come in.
Because notes are a little thicker, I find instruments have a lovely fullness to them and I love how, for instance, the piano sounds. It might be a hint warmer than strictly neutral, but that fits with the mellow character of the Black. So, when Agnes has shifted her chair a little bit further back and she starts singing Brother Sparrow, everything comes together much better with the accompanying piano and guitar. Now it becomes a more romantic setting where there is no longer an imminent danger of my wife accidentally hitting Agnes over the head with the champagne bottle. The Black do these types of intimate settings really well and I love that.
The treble of the Black is quite well extended and a little bit attenuated. It helps to create a natural, easy-going signature where there is still a healthy amount of air between instruments.
I feel it is very well balanced with the bass, although certainly not the most sparkly or lively treble you will come across. It is as inoffensive as you will find it in any IEMs, but there is still enough sparkle to ensure things don’t get too boring. Cymbals sound quite good and realistic, although they are sitting a bit further back, being polite for the benefit of the more treble sensitive audiophiles among us. There is still a little bit of a bite to them that I feel benefits the texture of strings as well, something that is quite noticeable in the texture of guitar strings and why I feel the Black do very well for acoustic music, Blues and Jazz. There is a realistic feeling to strings such as in the Rolling Stones’ I Can’t Quite You Baby, which sounds great.
The treble extension creates a reasonably clean and quite airy stage, more than I would expect with a signature that is warm and smooth, and I think it is a quite unique aspect of the Black’s tuning.