I have used Gáe Bolg with a number of different sources and I honestly think they pair well with everything, although I personally like them especially with a more analogue sounding source such as the Shanling M8.
Dethonray Honey H1
The Honey H1 is a USB DAC/amp and a darn good one at that. I don’t think it quite gets to the level of the higher end sources I use, but it is a great performer for its price. The Honey H1 worked wonderful for streaming using my MacBook Pro.
With the Honey H1 the Gáe Bolg get a lovely smooth presentation that is easy-going and has a fluidity to the notes that makes them especially pleasing to listen to for longer periods of time.
Lotoo PAW Gold Touch
A recent addition to my DAP stable and the highest performer of the DAPs. With the LPGT the Gáe Bolg get a crisper and clearer presentation with more bass impact and overall a more dynamic feel. The stage is larger and more airy, and the background gets Lotoo’s trademark deep darkness.
My primary streaming DAP for reviews. The M8 gives the Gáe Bolg a more analogue sounding low end with a bit more growl. The Gáe Bolg get a highly dynamic presentation with a smoothness similar to the Honey H1, but with a bigger and more airy stage.
The Violectric V380 is a neutral high-end desktop DAC/amp and I used it primarily for comparisons, as it has two 6.3mm SE headphone outs, making it particularly useful for A/B-ing. The V380 scales the Gáe Bolg very nicely, imbuing them with more dynamics, a bigger stage and more air.
The Gáe Bolg are wonderfully balanced IEMs that I feel show something I would describe as an exercise in moderation. Now don’t think that what I mean is anything boring or subdued, the Gáe Bolg are anything but, it is rather in the balance that MMR have struck with them. The Gáe Bolg have a rich sound that is thoroughly enjoyable and doesn’t push anything too far. The stage is large and airy, which is complimented with full sounding notes so that that stage is really nicely populated. With few instruments going on there is focus and detail, yet when the music builds up in complexity, the stage starts to fill up and creates a highly dynamic and enveloping musical experience. There is intimacy to it, while never feeling congested or harming separation and detail.
The bass is well controlled, but quite full sounding at the same time. It has weight to it and is perhaps not the fastest most articulate bass, but I think that is the point. It is tuned without going too far, so that it starts to build up a rich and relaxing signature that is still highly versatile. Mids have a hint of warmth and again that richness with clear vocals that are very nice. Not the best vocals, but good clarity and density nonetheless. Treble is smooth and a little bit laid back without harming sparkle or reducing the airiness too much. I won’t say it is entirely linear, but what it is, is balanced. By not pushing anything too much, the Gáe Bolg are tremendously versatile and enjoyable. I have listened to a lot of different music and they do it all very well. Mind you, I don’t think that these are the most accurate in terms of timbre and so with classical music you do start to notice it a little. Yet at the same time it never bothered me because it was so enjoyable.
The Gáe Bolg are like a high-quality chocolate mousse that does not have the pretentiousness that comes with a Michelin Star. This is no plate left mostly empty with a tiny scoop in the middle and silly garnishing. This is proper pudding that avoids artificial flavoring because it is naturally rich. That makes the music so enjoyable. It is rich, but doesn’t sound “off”. In fact, it sounds just right. Let’s take a closer look at that…
As I have explained, I got new music from everywhere to try out and here is a selection of some of those albums that I think illustrate the sound of the Gáe Bolg very nicely.
Yeahman – Ostriconi
Just to illustrate how arbitrary my selection criteria were for albums, I picked Yeahman’s Ostriconi out of the new album releases of the Qobuz front page simply because the album art looked peaceful. Indeed the album is very relaxed and seems to have some world music influences that the DJ mixes with electronic. The album also shows how wonderful it is to just explore because I absolutely love this album. It is cheerful, feels positive and bright. Tell me you don’t cheer up when hearing Baixi Baixi.
The Gáe Bolg adapt to this incredibly well with their clarity and balance, where the bass is delicious and acoustic instruments sound fresh. The track Soupe Fue has a wonderful sparkle to it with a thick and lush bass line that always gets me moving in my seat. Imaging is once again great and it surprised me how far away some details of the track are (towards the end of the track on the left). Strings have a really nice crispness with just a hint of bite, but again in moderation, as you can hear in the track Sakoneta.
Minco Eggersman – Unifony
This one I happened to come across while looking at Dune Blue’s (a distributor I sometimes collaborate with) Facebook page. They were promoting the Final D8000 headphones together with Minco Eggersman’s second Unifony album and I happened to have Dune Blue’s demo unit of the D8000 over, so good enough excuse to have a listen.
This album has a very relaxed, sort of minimalist flow to it, not unlike Ludovico Einaudi. It is super relaxed and the Gáe Bolg render it really well. Imaging is excellent with great positional information and so the layers build up really well, as you can hear in the build up of the track Hunt. Because of the Gáe Bolg’s richness the pace feels slow, relaxed and enjoyable, which is complimented with a little bit of crisp clarity to for instance horns, strings and piano notes. The track Whisper shows off this contrast between the slower, heavier bass line and the crispness of the piano notes.
Porcupine Tree – In Absentia
Less arbitrary was the tip I got from my Twister6 colleague Anirudh (Animagus), who is a professional musician, producer and all-round music expert. He recommended I give the progressive rock band Porcupine Tree’s album In Absentia a go, as it is highly regarded for its production as well as the music itself. I am completely new to prog rock (as far as I am aware anyway), but this is another album that has quickly shot to the top of my favorites.
The track Trains shows off the Gáe Bolg’s very nice vocals as well as some excellent acoustic guitars sections that I think Gáe Bolg render really well. The solo sections get me air-guitaring along as if I have any idea on how to play the guitar. Under that layer of vocals and acoustic you get that meaty bass with pretty good impact from the kick drum. Talking about air-guitaring like an idiot, one of my favourite tracks is Wedding Nails, which the GáeBolg give a ton of energy, nice crunch on the electric guitars and a great image that feels hollow, like sound resonating in an abandoned building that is quite eery. Interestingly, I think Joseph Mou seems to have a talent for tuning for guitars. Those always sound great. I had that with the Jomo Trinity, the Thummim and now the Gáe Bolg. The opening of Blackest Eyes shows off the imaging and richness of the Gáe Bolg really well. Starting with a sound that feels like it is flying around your head with great panning action before it bursts into gear and you get this sense of the music enveloping you.
My friends on Head-fi know I have a soft spot for female vocals and one of my friends recommended Goldfrapp. He suggested that I start with Felt Mountain, but I ended up listening to Black Cherry more. On Felt Mountain, which is a more conventional album, tracks like Paper Bag shows how wonderfully intimate and hauntingly beautiful the Gáe Bolg can render Allison Goldfrapp’s voice.
In the end I loved Black Cherry more because of its energetic vibe and great use of synths. There is lots going on in tracks like Crystalline Green, where the imaging of the Gáe Bolg works great in balancing intimacy with somehow still a great sense of spaciousness. My favourite track has to be Tiptoe, which I was listening to the first time while cooking dinner and it had me dancing through the kitchen. Here the Gáe Bolg have that balance with richness and crisp sounds layered, but always with easy-going, fun and punchy musicality.
Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here
Snarky Puppy is forever being plugged by my friend and reviewer for the Headphone List, Deezel. So after having heard him talk about it for so long, I had to give it a go. It is a type of instrumental jazz fusion and can get very layered, with lots going on.
In the opening track Shofukan, you get a sense of how the Gáe Bolg don’t push things too far. Horns in it sound great, but don’t have the bite you often get. I quite like that bite, but this smoother presentation is what makes the Gáe Bolg so wonderful for long listening. It still sounds exciting and yet never gets fatiguing. In Jambone things get feel quite hectic and it has lots going on, yet the Gáe Bolg allow you to hear every element without pushing separation. Again, it is that moderation I feel the Gáe Bolg have that makes them so wonderfully easy going. It has a great guitar solo as well.
Max Richter – The Four Seasons (recomposed)
What about classical music? I think regular readers of my reviews know how much I love classical music. Here I find the Gáe Bolg less in their element, as critical clarity, separation and transparency are not quite there. The Gáe Bolg have nice clarity and such, but there is a soft edge around instruments that is not as suited to classical music if you are being critical. However, it is also exactly that softer edge that gives Gáe Bolg their charm and classical music is still very enjoyable to listen to. Because of this characteristic I actually found that Max Richter’s type of classical music works very well.
I know Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons very well, having included it in my series Masters of Classical Music for the Vision Ears VE5. Max Richter’s recomposition of it adds a modern twist that benefits from the richness of the Gáe Bolg, while violins still sound rather fruity on top of that richness. (I’m starting to get hungry from all the food analogies.)
To be honest, I actually don’t like this recomposition at all. And why the heck is there a fifth “Shadow” season? The Four Seasons, Max, just four. But irrespective of that, I do think the Gáe Bolg have the richness that works for this twist on classical music.