Note – First things first, you need the right ear tips for universal Aether R’s sound signature to shine its best as it benefits greatly from a perfect seal and snug fit, which is quite easy to achieve as it pairs well with a lot of ear tips. I’ve written my own 2 cents about that below. Of course you can get Aether R as a CIEM (Lime Ears make mean CIEMs) but universal shells always benefit with good tip rolling, especially this one.
Aether R moves from warm to neutral bright with the choice of ear tips. Good foam ear tips and Final-E tips are the best pairing in my opinion. I like the stock Comply T400 foam tips but I like AliExpress T400 and NewBee foam ear tips even better. The stock Spinfits pair well, which is what Emil likes most personally. Symbio W are fine but accentuate a bit of treble for me. Your experience of course might vary. A lot of 3rd party medium silicone ear tips paired well for me too.
My sound analysis was majorly written with NewBee, T400 and stock Comply foam ear tips as well as Final-E tips. I always had Aether R’s bass switch in ON position because I like the balance more with it on.
Summary – Now I’m not one to easily accept what a brand says to market its product and I don’t want to say this loosely but with the right ear tips (foams in my case), Aether R’s sound signature really does have some character of nice studio monitors in a well-treated room. I was slightly taken aback when I first tried the Aether R right after using my flat frequency compensated near-field monitors in my studio and then hearing the same song on the Aether R back to back. It’s not a theoretical specimen of ‘studio monitors in an acoustically treated room’ but it certainly has that mojo. Aether R sounds neutral but vibrantly musical, so much that I’ve been enjoying it a lot (if not most) over the last 2 months or so since I got it. It has a very real presentation of instruments, very good clarity and a clean, open and spacious sound signature which is what actually gives you the illusion of ‘studio monitors in a room’. It has very precise imaging, separation and layering of instruments with good instrument definition, bite and crispness.
Aether R has excellent clarity at lower volumes which helps keep my music listening levels on the average to low side as I don’t need to boost volume to compensate for any lack in clarity. I anyway highly suggest everyone to keep music listening levels under control. Hearing loss and tinnitus are not good things to have. Haha.
Also, Aether R benefits greatly with a good cable pairing. I tested it with Ego Audio Whiskey & Tequila, Effect Audio Ares II, Electro Acousti 7N Single Crystal Copper & 7N UP-OCC, Null Audio Arete, etc, to very good results. Some of the immediate things you notice by pairing it with a good cable are – slightly better overall balance, better bass definition & presence, fuller lower mids, slight increase in resolution and a more open and airy soundstage.
Let’s dig in deeper….
Bass – Again, my impressions are with bass switch flipped up in ON position. Aether R presents bass quantity in a very neutral way and presents it how it is mixed in the song. Bass transients, clarity, micro details and bass placement in the image is very well done. It has extremely precise 3D imaging and so if the bass is mixed to sit below the vocals vertically and behind the kick depth wise, that is exactly how you will hear it in Aether R. Mid-bass has slightly more emphasis than sub-bass. As seen in some graphs, there is a slight sub-bass roll-off around 35Hz with a very minor slope, similar to how studio monitors have it. In my tests, I tried boosting bass with a low-shelf of 1-3dBs at around 35Hz as well as 60Hz but I much prefer and like Aether R’s stock bass tuning and accuracy. Aether R’s bass always sounds clean and detailed without the bass ever overpowering the centre space and I quite like it that way.
Bass in Dua Lipa’s ‘Pretty Please’ has quality, presence, punch and depth without interfering with the voice or any of the other instruments. In the song, it is upfront but with presence how it is in the song and is not boosted by the Aether R itself to make it more present. In Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard’s ‘Why so serious, the sub-bass around the 3:27 mark is presented very cleanly and has good neutral rumble but certainly not what you would expect from a bass boosted/heavy IEM or even a Harman Target IEM like Moondrop S8. The overall atmosphere of the song feels very realistic and the sub-bass plays more as part of the band rather than an isolated star of the show.
Mids – Lower mids are neither full nor lean. They sound very clean and clear and as a result, deeper baritone vocals, snare’s slam and body as well as strings and organs played in the lower registers come out shining without ever sounding too full, muddy or boxy. Upper mids are presented forwardly but aren’t peaky or shouty. Aether R has very good instrument definition, imaging and precision owning to its upper mids tuning. Vocals are crystal clear in the centre and sound beautiful with foam and Final-E ear tips. Big rock guitars hard panned left and right have good authority and punch. A lot of the warmer sets make Audioslave’s guitars in the song ‘Revelations’ and ‘Cochise’ a little too soft but Aether R brings them out shining and hitting hard. Aether R does have a dip in the 4-5kHz region which makes cymbals hits easier and non-intrusive but I don’t hear it taking away much information from anything else.
Treble – Treble extends very well, is open and airy and supports the upper mids very well. The treble character changes a bit with different ear tips. Some ear tips accentuate the treble a bit, so be vary of that and roll your ear tips. Foam ear tips make sure the treble is smooth and comfortable. Spinfit ear tips pair well too and so do a lot of 3rd party silicone ear tips from my collection. Even though Aether R has an 8kHz peak, it mostly promotes good resolution and clarity but never sibilance. My test track for sibilance is Gavin James’ ‘Always’ and it sounds fine, free from any sibilance. Aether R’s treble is fatigue free if you have a good seal and snug fit with the right ear tips. Acoustics in Porcupine Tree’s ‘Trains’ and ‘Sound of Muzak’ have remarkable string definition and clarity. There is no artificial sparkle to them, just very good life-like clarity and definition. Shakers, Tamborines and everyone’s favourite Cowbells have very realistic presence too owing to the treble tuning, especially the cowbell that plays in the chorus of Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now’. It sounds as if someone is playing it right in front of me.
Soundstage, Imaging, Separation & Resolution.
Aether R’s soundstage is beautiful and big… height, width and depth wise. It has a very 3D presentation and has the capability of placing instruments in all XYZ axes. The soundstage is very open & airy and as a result gives you a very life-like insight into the performance of the song. Imagining and separation is exceptional for its asking price. Instruments panned left and right have very precise presence and imaging. If an instrument is panned, let’s say at 1:30 o’clock (45° from centre), with 3 o’clock being the widest, it sounds exactly at 1:30 and doesn’t take up any more space in 1-2 o’clock area. I don’t want to seem too enthusiastic, but Aether R really does perform very well in this segment.
BGVP EST12 – EST12 is my reference IEM in the $1000-2000 segment. Let’s dig in deeper with Aether R… EST12 has slightly better extension down low with a neutral sub-bass to mid-bass relationship. Aether R relies more on its mid-bass tuning compared to its sub-bass. Both have very good bass definition, clarity and details. Both EST12 and Aether R have a clean lower midrange where EST12 has a more neutral character whereas Aether R has a slight dip in the 500-1kHz region. Both have very defined upper midrange leading to good instrument definition but Aether R focuses more in the 2-3.5kHz region with a dip in the 3.5-5kHz region whereas EST12 has peak definition in the 2-4kHz region with a gradual upper mids peak fall-off to 5kHz. As a result, Aether R sounds slightly forward musically without being harsh in the upper midrange and EST12 sounds a bit more natural in the same region, but both of them have very good detail retrieval and resolution. Both have good treble tuning that helps them have an open and spacious sound signature. Both have wide and deep soundstages with nice black backgrounds.
Custom Art Fibae 7 – Custom Art are Lime Ears’ Polish brothers. They too make some great looking CIEM designs and offer their whole line up in universal shells. Onto the comparison… Fibae 7 has a much smaller universal shell compared to Aether R’s shell. Aether R has a smokey nickel metal nozzle glued onto the shell and Fibae 7 has a resin nozzle as a part of its shell. Fibae7’s universal shell is a bit more ergonomic for my ears but Aether R fits very snugly with Final-E and foam ear tips too. Sound wise, Fibae7 and Aether R share some similarities but are quite different sounding when you hear them back to back. Fibae7 has slightly better extension down low in the sub-bass region (1-2dBs) but Aether R has much better extension up top in the treble region. The biggest difference is that Fibae 7 has a natural roll-off in treble post 5kHz and as a result sounds warmer in comparison whereas Aether R sounds more vibrant, open and airy. Fibae 7 has more sub-bass rumble and impact whereas Aether R does better with its mid-bass. Both have very clean and clear lower midrange and a forward upper midrange, though Fibae 7 is more forward sounding in comparison. Aether R sounds more natural to my ears. Both have nice wide soundstages but Aether R’s sounds more open, airy and slightly deeper. Fibae 7 just has a warmer soundstage owing to its treble tuning. Both have nice black backgrounds.
ItsFit Fusion – Fusion shares some similarities with Aether R as both of them sound lively and vibrant. Fusion has better sub-bass extension, rumble and presence but Aether R has better mid-bass presence and better overall bass clarity and details. Fusion’s lower midrange has slightly thinner body and is pushed back in the image in comparison, whereas Lime Ears’ is quite neutral there. Aether R’s upper midrange has good pinna gain and as a result has strong instrument definition, bite and crispness in comparison. Fusion is no slouch but has a warmer midrange presentation in comparison. Both Aether R and Fusion have nice treble extension and are vibrant and lively in their own sense, but Aether R’s treble sounds more defined, natural, open and spacious. Both have nice wide soundstages but Aether R’s is more defined and refined in comparison.
Lime Ears have certainly created a special IEM in the Aether R. It has a very attractive open, airy and spacious sound signature with very good instrument definition, imaging and separation. It is extremely musical, vibrant and lively, and immediately grabs you and throws you in the atmosphere of the song. The tiny details you hear in the song are very life-like, be it string dynamics of an acoustic guitar, a solo violin in the background or just a cowbell repeating in a section of a song. The only thing I can nitpick is the slight sub-bass roll-off around 35Hz. I personally don’t mind it much and enjoy the stock tuning as it is. For me, the musicality and the aura the Aether R creates as well as the instrument presentation and details take the cake and all my attention. Aether R surely deserves the TOTL tag for Lime Ears’ and a place as one of the nicest IEMs that exists in its price segment and further. So, definitely check it out if you get the chance and give it a shot if you’re looking to buy an IEM in this price segment. Highly recommended!
Lime Ears informed us that they are running a DROP action for Model X this week. Have a look and see if you’d like to try one of their most popular models and take advantage of the special DROP pricing – Lime Ears – Model X DROP Exclusive
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs – iBasso DX160 and Hiby R6 Pro
- Laptop – Apple Macbook Pro 15″
- Phone – OnePlus 7 Pro
Reference Songs list.
- Normandie – White Flag album
- Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia album
- Dave Matthews – Shake Me Like a Monkey
- Foo Fighters – The Pretender, Best of you & Everlong
- Coldplay – Paradise, Up in flames & Everglow + Everyday Life Album
- Ed Sheeran – Thinking out loud, Bloodstream & Galway Girl
- Chainsmokers – Somebody, Sickboy, This Feeling & Closer
- John Mayer – Slow dancing in a burning room, Stop this Train & Say
- Gavin James – Always & Hearts on fire
- Switchfoot – Meant to live & Dare you to move
- Porcupine Tree – Sound of Muzak, Blackest Eyes & .3
- Our Lady Peace – Do You Like It & Innocent
- Linkin Park – Papercut, Somewhere I belong & Talking to myself
- Maroon 5 – She will be loved, Payphone & Lost stars
- Lifehouse – All in all & Come back down
- Breaking Benjamin – Diary of Jane
- Karnivool – Simple boy & Goliath
- Dead Letter Circus – Real you
- I Am Giant – Purple heart, City limits & Transmission
- Muse – Panic station
- James Bay – Hold back the river