For comparisons I switched back to the stock cable for the Gáe Bolg and used the Violectric V380 desktop DAC/amp with my MacBook Pro as a source for streaming the different albums from Qobuz. The V380 comes with two single ended 6.3mm headphone outputs and thus makes it ideal for direct comparisons, with only minor adjustments in volume needed between IEMs.
Campfire Audio Ara
The Campfire Audio Ara are price right in the middle of the Lite and Complete versions of Gáe Bolg at US$1,299. In terms of build quality, the two are very similar, although the designs are completely different. The Gáe Bolg come with a much more elaborate design in aluminum and a striking color, where the Ara look more industrial by comparison with a bare titanium shell. I personally prefer the look of the Ara, as it has been one of my favourite designs ever since I first saw it with Campfire Audio’s similarly designed Andromeda. I can however see others preferring the more intricate design of the Gáe Bolg.
In terms of sound, I find the Ara to have a more intimate presentation with a smaller stage, less air and more forward vocals by comparison. The Ara are also a bit brighter in the treble and have relatively more mid-bass presence. The Gáe Bolg have the larger, more airy stage and I feel perform beyond the Ara in terms of imaging and clarity. The bass is tighter, faster and more impactful, and while the treble is not as sparkly as that of the Ara, I find that Gáe Bolg still manage a more dynamic overall feel with nice energy in strings.
I think the Ara have perhaps the edge in build quality with the titanium instead of aluminum shells and a better stock cable, but the Gáe Bolg are in my opinion the better performers in terms of sound.
Vision Ears VE5
The Vision Ears VE5 are once again similar in price starting at €1,250 for the Signature Edition universal. In terms of build quality, you get very different propositions with the VE5 being made out of resin and the Gáe Bolg out of metal. Obviously, this makes the VE5 much lighter and Vision Ears offer them in CIEM and custom universal, so that the fit can be perfect and the design entirely the way you want it.
In terms of sound there is a big difference in presentation. The VE5 have a uniquely focused presentation that is more intimate, yet presents instruments with greater clarity, against a blacker background and with more air around them. They also have some of the very best vocals available. By comparison the Gáe Bolg feel bigger, more dynamic in their presentation, not quite as clean or focused, but more fun, even though I find them very nice for classical music as well. The Gáe Bolg are in my opinion the more versatile, whereas the VE5 are the more accurate sounding IEMs.
This comparison is more apples vs oranges and I think both have a lot going for them. For versatility the Gáe Bolg have it, where the VE5 offer less versatility in exchange for one of the most unique and beautiful presentations I know. If anything, these two are complementary.
FiR Audio VxV
The VxV came in just as I was finishing up this review and make for the most interesting comparison. The VxV are explicitly marketed as “EDC” and sit at a very attractive price of US$999 just under the Gáe Bolg. The VxV feel purposely designed as ‘carry everywhere’ IEMs with an excellent build quality that is similar to the Gáe Bolg, but more understated in their design. The VxV are smaller and lighter, and in terms of comfort I think both do really well. The VxV however have the advantage of the Atom pressure release module that is very effective combating fatigue. The stock cable of the VxV is also very nice, incredibly supple and of a higher quality than the stock cable of the Gáe Bolg.
In terms of sound this has been a really difficult comparison because these are very close and yet have a slightly different presentation. The Gáe Bolg feel more linear and balanced with a more spacious stage and perhaps more airiness. However, while the VxV have a more forward feel to them that gives a sense of intimacy, the Atom module still generates a spacious presentation and separation of instruments is outstanding, as well as imaging. The VxV feel a little warmer and even more dynamic than the GáeBolg and with better vocals, but don’t have the richness that makes the Gáe Bolg so nice. The bass is really tricky because both have a nice bass. The Gáe Bolg feel like there is more weight behind it, whereas the bass of the VxV has more texture and impact.
These two are incredibly close and it is hard to pick one over the other. I personally prefer the VxV, but listening to the Gáe Bolg never makes me feel like I want to switch. The choice here is really down to personal preferences and budget, but both are excellent performers.
Eletech Prudence 8
I had initially planned to try out a number of different cables, but this review was already getting very long and so I decided to skip cable rolling, except for one. The Eletech Prudence 8-wire version because how could I not try out what the effect would be of doubling up on the fun supplied by the standard Prudence.
Doubling wires can have unpredictable effects and in this case, I was a little surprised by the result, although pleasantly so. Prudence 8 pushes back the presentation a little to make it feel less intimate and not quite as rich due to a smaller note size and a little less warmth. In return Prudence 8 adds air and clarity with a tighter and more impactful bass and a bit more sparkle. To me it does not harm the musicality at all and it is a very enjoyable pairing. However, I don’t know if I might prefer the standard Prudence, I quite like the intimacy and the enveloping rich feel that Gáe Bolg provide with it.
If it was not clear yet, I love what MMR have done with the Gáe Bolg. From the build quality to the comfort and from the optional cable upgrade to the highly versatile and enjoyable sound, the Gáe Bolg offer a very complete package. The rich, yet balanced sound is never fatiguing and will work with every type of music. That is also why this review took me way too long to get written. Too much time spent enjoying the music [smug grin]. I can highly recommend a demo!