Summary – Pneuma is one of those IEMs that sounds right as soon as you put them in your ears. Even though Emil says that he particularly tried to avoid tuning around the Harman target, I still hear a lot of that character in Pneuma. It doesn’t follow the Harman Target curve perfectly but it does have a very nice natural tonality, resolution and the kind of character that sounds like a fun, slightly fuller and musical take on reference-ish sound. It has a very well-balanced signature with a nice controlled bass boost, slightly fuller lower-midrange body in the 250-400Hz than Harman-neutral, well defined & forward upper-midrange like the Harman Target, with just the right amount of neutral treble extension which is neither too smooth nor too sparkly but is exciting and enables good clarity and detail retrieval. It is a versatile IEM, kind of like a jack of all trades, as it doesn’t try to be the most technical or the most unique, playing every genre with equal finesse and enthusiasm. Pneuma in isolation by itself has good technicalities but focuses even more on being musical and delivering that big sound that is highly musical, enjoyable and fun. Be it audiophiles or musicians, Pneuma will work very well for people who prefer a musical monitor with good technicalities rather than an outright technical one with lesser musicality. What I personally like a lot in Pneuma is its realistic impact and note weight of instruments.
Ear tips Selection | Quick tip – Though Pneuma isn’t very tip sensitive, it still benefits nicely from the right tip selection. Sadly, Spin Fits ear tips don’t fit my ear canals that well. I can somehow manage a decent fit with one of the sizes but since they don’t isolate as nicely as other ear tips, I keep fiddling with them. Stock Symbio W, Comply ear tips as well as Spiral Dots fit very well but I like Azla Sedna Light, Fearless green bore ear tips and INAIRS foam ear tips most for the fit and sound signature. Probably Azla Sedna Light and INAIRS foam ear tips the best for sound as well as fit.
I want to quickly get into specifics, so let’s dig in deeper. Also, I’m writing the review with Switch in OFF position mostly and will add the effects of turning it ON where needed.
Bass – Holy smokes sub-bass! If you’re coming from Lime Ears’ own Aether R or IEMs with a slight sub-bass roll off or more linear/DF-neutral IEMs, Pneuma probably has the sub-bass you’ve been missing and wanting. Pneuma is tuned slightly more towards the fun side and as a result, you have a nice tasteful bass boost here. It isn’t a bass-y IEM per se but the bass is boosted a couple of dBs above neutral and is well present in songs but never in your face. Where Harman Target style IEMs have a bass shelf of around 6dBs starting around 200Hz, Pneuma has the same starting around 350-400Hz or so. As a result, you hear sub-bass as well as a bit of mid-bass above neutral, with a fuller bass character than Harman-neutral IEMs like Moondrop S8. What really intrigued me in case of sub-bass is its positioning in the soundstage, which is placed deeper, occupying the background and isn’t in your face upfront.
Since generally Dynamic Drivers (DD) are more popular for their rumble & slam and Balanced Armatures (BA) for their speed, resolution and details, Lime Ears interestingly decided to use the Titanium DD just for sub-bass duties and a complimenting dual-BA to cover the rest of the bass spectrum. The sub-bass is tuned in a way that it hits hard, is well present, goes really deep, where you not only hear the rumble very clearly but can even start feeling it in your body at louder volumes. Mid-bass isn’t tuned to play second fiddle to the sub-bass either. It too has a nice tiny boost and hits hard with very good resolution and details. Overall bass sounds fuller than Harman-neutral and highlights nice bass playing with good extension, layering and dynamics overall. Sub-bass provides a nice smooth rumble whereas mid-bass has crunchy quick attack. What Pneuma does really well is reproduces the bass mixed in the songs very dynamically and musically with a very realistic note weight and slam. Kicks too have good dynamic and fuller impactful hits.
Even though Pneuma is versatile, its bass shines particularly nicely with good pop and EDM records like Walk the Moon’s ‘Talking is Hard’, Chainsmokers’ ‘Sick Boy’ and ‘World War Joy’, ZEDD’s ‘Clarity’ as well as Linkin Park’s ‘One More Light’. Bass in all these records have a tasteful, good quality boost which is fun and exciting rather than bass head levels of in your face quantity. As for Rock music, bass has a larger than life character in Karnivool’s ‘Simple Boy’ and ‘Goliath. It sounds big like it does in 64 Audio’s U12t but with a bit more fullness in comparison. When the bass starts playing in One Republic’s ‘Rescue Me’ at 0:48, it not only has very good mid-bass definition but also heart moving rumble. Bass in Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now’ has very good attack and definition with a very fun character that you kinda want to start disco dancing like Jimmy Fallon. Haha.
Switch – When the Switch is flipped ON, I perceive a 4-5dB low-shelf boost at around 150-200Hz which lifts not just the sub-bass but also a bit of the mid-bass. What I hear the boost doing most is increasing the physicality of bass, filling the background with sub-bass rumble, kicks getting fatter with even more punch and overall bass body getting a tad fatter and impactful too. With EDM tracks, it definitely enters bass head territory for me personally but I quite liked it with The Chainsmokers’ tracks ‘Side Effects’ and ‘Somebody’, which have really good bass tones and the switch just pushes and amplifies those tones really nicely. Preferring it ON or OFF will depend on one’s preferences as well as the song’s mix. I personally keep flipping it on and off to check but mostly use Pneuma with the Switch OFF with most Rock and Metal songs. It however worked wonderfully in songs like Dave Matthews’ ‘Shake Me Like a Monkey’ and ‘She’ which have a rather crispy mix. So, with the Switch ON and the lower end filling up, kick drum and bass became fatter and more impactful, making the song sound punchier while keeping the overall crispy upper-end clarity intact. It works even better if you’re a bass lover and want to enjoy EDM tracks by bringing the bass more upfront.
Mids – Pneuma’s lower mids have very good body for snares to have good punch and smack. Lower mids in the 250-400Hz are slightly fuller than Harman-neutral and that makes vocals and snares have the nice kind of fuller body and warmth. Upper-midrange has a very well defined forward presentation with the upper-midrange peak peaking in the 2.75k-3kHz region but pinna gain a smidgen (1-2dBs) easier than Harman/DF style of IEMs like Moondrop S8 and CustomArt Fibae7. Overall, midrange is very well layered, has very good clarity, separation as well as microdetails. Vocals are well defined and sound very natural. Instruments too have accurate and very natural tonality, timbre and dynamics.
Treble – Pneuma has the right amount of exciting lower treble energy to balance out the bass and midrange to always keep things sounding interesting and exciting. It enables songs to have very good clarity and details without sounding intrusive or peaky. The 5kHz peak enables instruments to have quick lively attack which adds onto Pneuma’s strong instrument definition. Now some IEMs in this price range like 64 Audio’s U12t have sparkly upper-treble to infuse more zing and excitement into songs but Pneuma’s upper treble post 12kHz is neutrally airy with good neutral top end extension. It is quite open and airy by itself but if you like, want or have gotten used to that boosted wowing extra airy upper treble that IEMs like U12t in this segment have, Pneuma might not fit those preferences perfectly. But frankly, not all IEMs can or should be tuned similarly and I personally dig both kinds and can appreciate different sound signatures for what they do well, especially when they are well executed. I personally dig Pneuma for the way the upper-treble is tuned closer to neutral, is comfortable, doesn’t need extra adaptation period and how wonderfully it not only keeps all instruments sounding tonally natural but also interesting, fun and exciting. Pneuma is also quite fatigue-free for long sessions relatively. Yet, I keep wondering if a tiny boost in upper treble could’ve been the icing on the cake since Pneuma is already tuned to be fun and exciting but well, it’s all preferences at the end of the day but the stock tuning is very cool by itself. Pneuma’s treble shows its strength by enabling good resolution, clarity, exciting energy without it coming off as too bright in the top end. Pneuma also doesn’t add any sibilance or harshness from its side since its 6.5k-9kHz range is tuned to be easy but it doesn’t smoothen out song mixes either.
Soundstage and Imaging.
Pneuma has a very good natural soundstage expansion with good width as well as depth. It is slightly fuller sounding than Harman Target IEMs and that along with very good pinpoint precise imaging owing to its forward instruments definition, provides a nice holographic experience. It is not the widest or deepest sounding monitor in its range but it sounds like you’re listening to records with wide near-field monitors with a nice sub-woofer or a band performing in a studio space rather a live arena.
Lime Ears Aether R (Switch ON) – Aether R was Lime Ears’ previous flagship and Pneuma is priced €600 above its asking price of €1200, which might seem like a substantial jump but Pneuma comes with a much much better PW Audio No. 10 cable which itself sells for €200 and €200 worth of Lime Ears Signature shell design as stock, which Aether R doesn’t. So, if you consider these upgrades, Pneuma is kinda priced only €200 more than Aether R. Moving onto sound, Pneuma has a much better sub-bass presentation because Aether R’s sub-bass kinda rolls off around 35Hz. Pneuma has more sub-bass as well as mid-bass presence, even more with its Switch ON. Lower-midrange in both sounds clean but Aether R is slightly leaner sounding in comparison. Both have forward upper-midrange presentation but Pneuma sounds more even in the 2-5kHz region, more in line with the Harman Target upper-midrange presentation. Aether R is a tiny bit peakier in lower treble compared to Pneuma whereas Pneuma has better and more natural upper treble presentation and extension. Because of all this and Pneuma being more even in its presentation, it has slightly more natural tonality and timbre of instruments. Both have good wide soundstages but Aether R’s soundstage sounds slightly leaner and deeper whereas Pneuma’s soundstage sounds even wider, more natural and fuller.
64 Audio U12t – Now U12t has a vast die hard following and is widely considered a TOTL favourite and the IEM to beat for its price. Since Pneuma is priced similarly, I reckon this is one comparison everyone would be looking forward to, so let’s get straight to it. Pneuma and U12t have similar sub-bass quantity but Pneuma has a tiny bit more rumble and very slightly fuller bass character. U12t’s bass on the other hand sounds slightly crisper. Pneuma has a bit more body in 250-400Hz lower-midrange region than U12t. Besides that they’re quite similar in rest of the lower-midrange. Now I’ve seen people call U12t slightly thin sounding in lower midrange and with that perspective Pneuma might seem more natural to that category of people. On the other hand, people who dig U12t’s lower-midrange character might find Pneuma a ‘smidgen’ fuller sounding in that region. At the end of the day, it’s all perspective as per one’s preference. Both IEMs have a similar forward upper-midrange presentation keeping instruments sounding tonally accurate. Instruments and vocals are well defined on both but Pneuma has a smidgen more instrument attack. Both have a very nice, lively, exciting but always comfortable lower treble tuning though Pneuma has a bit more sparkle in lower treble. U12t has significantly boosted upper treble whereas Pneuma is more neutral in that region. Now U12t’s Tia upper treble peak adds extra crisp airiness which also helps infuse some openness in the otherwise warm signature but Pneuma is no slouch as it too has good air and clarity but just isn’t as airy or sizzly sounding as the U12t. This isn’t a bad thing per se because what one might prefer over the other depends on preferences but neither of them are slouches by any means. U12t is slightly more resolving owing to its upper treble tuning and 12 drivers. Pneuma has pretty good technicalities too but is more musical in my opinion. Both are highly enjoyable IEMs and do tonality pretty well but I think I prefer U12t for its slight upper hand in technical capability and Pneuma for its slight upper hand in musicality. Both have very good holographic soundstages but U12t with its slightly leaner lower midrange body and airy upper treble peak sounds a smidgen wider whereas instruments in Pneuma’s soundstage have a bit more body and punch.
BGVP EST12 – EST12 has a wonderful tonality and a very reference style of presentation with a tiny bass lift compared to absolute neutrality. Back to back, Pneuma’s bass is punchier, has more rumble, impact and also sounds fuller in comparison. EST12 has a very well done neutral lower-midrange to upper mid-range presentation where upper-midrange is presented forwardly but with around 2-2.5dBs lesser pinna gain compared to Harman Target. Pneuma is slightly fuller sounding in the 250-400Hz region but is then quite similar to EST12 in upper-midrange presentation. Both have very clear and well done lower treble but Pneuma has peaks at 5kHz and 10kHz whereas EST12 has peaks around 6kHz and 8kHz. Both have a neutral upper-treble presentation. Both have very good clarity and resolution. Pneuma has a slightly bigger soundstage which is slightly wider and deeper.
Custom Art Fibae7 – Even though Fibae7 is significantly cheaper, it is Custom Art’s flagship model and it was kinda interesting for me to see how two flagship Polish brothers from different mothers faired against each other. Fibae7 takes some inspiration from Diffuse Field and Harman Target curves too. Right off the bat, Pneuma has a bigger sound presentation along with punchier and fuller bass. Fibae7 presents bass cleanly but with a bit more neutrality. Both have a natural and clean lower midrange presentation but Pneuma has slightly fuller instrument body in comparison. Both have similar forward upper-midrange presentations but Pneuma has a bit less pinna gain and as a result, Fibae7 comes off a bit shouty in comparison. Pneuma has a bit better and more natural tonality and timbre of instruments in comparison but most importantly, has a more realistic note weight and impact in my opinion. Relatively, both have comfortable and natural sounding lower treble though Fibae7 is slightly darker in lower treble but slightly zingy-er in upper treble with its 18kHz peak. Both have nice wide soundstages where Fibae7 sounds slightly leaner and cleaner and Pneuma slightly fuller and punchier.
Lime Ears isn’t one to belt out IEMs every year and the thought and R&D that has gone into developing and tuning Pneuma can be seen by how nice Pneuma sounds and performs. It is built with great attention to detail, has great fit & finish and comes stock with a very cool and unique €200 worth of Lime Ears Signature shell design which is inspired by Sacred Geometry and Seed of Life patterns. Sound wise, it is a very versatile well balanced IEM and one can hear hints of Harman Target inspiration, which might not have been intentional but works very well in the overall picture. It not only has a very good fun bass character, punch and rumble, accurate midrange tonality, good clarity and details but is also a highly musical monitor that plays most genres of music with equal poise and finesse. It isn’t the most technical IEM in its range but in isolation by itself, has very good technicalities but focuses even more on delivering that big sound that is highly enjoyable and fun. Musicians and audiophiles looking for a nice musical monitor with good technicalities than an outright technical one with less musicality should definitely consider the Pneuma. Asking price of €1800 is definitely not cheap but considering flagship IEMs from other western brands and some even Asian brands are crossing the $3000 mark, my gauge of value for money is definitely broken. But well, with a premium PW Audio No.10 cable, Pelican 1010 case, a very nice comfortable and well isolating fit, a very cool artistic shell design and a very well done musical and highly enjoyable signature that is definitely worthy of Lime Ears’ flagship status as well as Lime Ears’ entry into the holy grail TOTL range of universal and CIEM monitors, I don’t think one can go wrong with this one and definitely recommend everyone to check it out!
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs – iBasso DX160 | Hiby R6 Pro
- Laptop – Apple Macbook Pro 15″
- Audio Interfaces – Universal Audio Apollo | Focusrite Clarett 8PreX
- Phone – OnePlus 7 Pro
Reference Songs list.
- Foo Fighters – The Pretender, Best of you, Everlong & Sonic Highway album
- Coldplay – Paradise, Up in flames & Everglow + Everyday Life Album
- Biffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings & Ellipsis albums
- Ed Sheeran – Thinking out loud, Bloodstream & Galway Girl
- Dave Matthews Band – Come Tomorrow album
- Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia album
- Chainsmokers – Somebody, Sickboy, This Feeling & Closer
- John Mayer – Slow dancing in a burning room, Stop this Train, Say & A Face to Call Home
- 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
- Zedd – Clarity album