The Renaissance Monitor Pt. 1 - DaVincis Pencil (Head-Fi review by @Asspirin)

Quoted from head-fi.org: https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/clear-tune-da-vinci-ix.22889/reviews#review-21669



"The Renaissance Monitor Pt. 1 - DaVinci's Pencil
Written by Asspirin
Pros - Versatile sound signature
-Great detail reproduction
-Great staging and imaging
-Fantastic build quality
Cons - The carrying case
-Picky with sources (very sensitive)
-expensive
Read first!

Clear Tune Monitors two top-end monitors, the DaVinci IX and X are identical in shell design and box contents, but offer very different sound signatures. So if you've already read my other DaVinci review, you may directly skip to "Sound" :)

I've got to listen to these IEMs as part of a review tour, so this review is my own and completely unbiased opinion, based on my experiences with audio equipment and my personal taste. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments or via PM.

Build & Design

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The first thing you'll notice when taking the DaVincis into your hands is their excellent build quality. The shells are completely made of metal with a nice satin black finish and screwed-on faceplates depicting the model number in roman numerals. Little spoiler alert here: The faceplates already give away the model's sound signature. The "IX" is kept in the shell's low-profile matte black, while the "X" is inlaid with a shiny chrome finish. The screw-thing seems to be inspired by Campfire's Andromeda, but the rest of the shells if fortunately way more ergonomic, its curves fitting perfectly into the ear. This semi-custom fit gained a lot of popularity lately and I'm happy to see that CTM have adopted it, too.

Accessories

The bundled accessories are exactly what you'd expect from IEMs in this price class, including a variety of silicone and foam tips, adapters, cleaning tool, carrying case, filters and two different cables. I'll go further into detail with the most important goodies of the DaVinci package:

The Carrying Case

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Several things have to be said about the carrying case. First of all, the good thing: Once the IEMs are fitted into the case, you could basically play soccer with it. The DaVincis are held incredibly secure, with some extra foam padding holding the earpieces in place, no matter what you're doing. That's especially great news for professionals who are having these babies on tour with them, because tour equipment can be in for a rough treatment at times. There's also a "hidden" compartment which holds a small selection of eartips, a cleaning tool and an adapter, nice! Now the bad news: If you're a regular dude using your IEMs for the commute, you're going to buy another case. Balancing that thing on your lap while fiddling in the IEMs in the correct manner and then coiling up the cable correctly is one task nobody wants to attempt in a crowded subway at 7:00am.

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Cables

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CTM are supplying you with two cables. One standard cable with an angled 3,5mm connector and one balanced premium cable with a straight 2,5mm plug. Both cables are sturdy and sufficiently long, with securely fitting 2-pin connectors (MMCX haters will be pleased) and a protective transparent tubing for the part that comes in touch with your ears, thankfully without memory wire. The premium cable is a piece of art on its own, braided of pure copper and silver plated(?) wire and beefy plugs to underline the word "premium". It's not exactly designed for great portability, but the difference between a balanced and standard connection, let alone different cable types (if there is any) certainly cannot be heard in public transport or loud venues. So use the standard one for the go and the premium cable for your armchair or showing off at your local Head-Fi meet.

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Filters

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Besides the standard silver one, CTM are adding two different kinds of filters to the box, red and blue. And at this point I have to give the guys at CTM some more criticism. Nowhere on the box or in the instruction manual it's mentioned what the filters are supposed to do. Sure, by trying them out or simply searching the official Head-Fi thread you may find out. But undertaking in-depth research in forums or extensive A/B listening comparisons are not exactly the kind of experiences I'm associating with buying a premium product. Now back to topic: As CTM explained in the aforementioned thread, the blue filters are for taming the treble, the red filters are for enhancing the bass frequencies a little more. And they actually work like that; but the difference is, to be honest, very subtle. Changing filters takes a few moments, which makes direct comparisons difficult and you may end up not noticing any difference at all. But if you're treble sensitive or longing for these 3 decibels of extra-bass, the filters may be a nice addition. Offering these kinds of tuning options costs money and effort, so I'm giving CTM huge props for that anyway.

Ergonomics

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You would not expect a very pleasant experience from plugging massive metal objects into your ears. But due to their ergonomically curved shape and short nozzle length, the DaVinci series feel very comfortable and secure in my ears. In fact, they're among the most comfortable IEMs I've ever tested and going back to my JH Angies made me realize that I should consider an upgrade soon. CTM's cables just add to the overall very pleasant experience; so wearing these IEMs for several hours is not a concern at all. The DaVincis are a true winner in the comfort category.

Sound

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With silicone tips

When I chatted with a fellow Head-Fi member about our impressions of the DaVinci Series, he called the IX boring. And that is, in a very positive way, true.

The DaVinci IX are sporting a classic monitor sound signature, which means a mostly neutral (or "reference") frequency response. The DaVinci IX add a little lift to the sub-bass, a pinch of warmth to the mids and an extra portion of mid-treble (between 8-10khz) for extra detail. As a result, the IX perform very well for monitoring and casual listening to a wide variety of music. On bass heavy tracks like Banks' "F*** with myself" and Lorde's "Royals", the IX pump out a decent amount of low end with a great balance between wobble and definition. Busy midranges like in Trivium's "Until the world goes cold" are handled with ease and the dual armatures are showing off their impressive layering capabilities. The enhanced Treble nicely articulates details, gives cymbals a little bit of extra sizzle and snare drums are hitting with a satisfying snap. Fortunately, the treble peak stops short of being sibilant, so CTM did a very nice job of balancing detail retrieval and smoothness. Imaging and spaciousness are just what you would expect from top-tier monitors. They don't sound exceptionally wide or holographic, but can certainly compete with the best: The MTV Unplugged versions of Alice in Chain's "No Excuses" or Eric Clapton's "Layla" are being reproduced in a very realistic way, with very clean instrument separation, positioning and natural sounding voices. There's a lot of room to breathe between the instruments and have I already mentioned how well the IX handles percussion? Couldn't ask for more!

With foam tips

Some IEMs aren't really influenced by tip selection at all, some are changing their properties completely. The DaVinci IX is falling in between those categories quite nicely. Foam tips, especially from Comply, usually thicken up the bass/lower mids a little and take the edge off the treble, also reducing resolution and attack in the process. For the DaVinci IX, this leads to a slightly thicker sound and an evened-out treble, reminding me a little bit of my beloved JH Angie. For most users, including me, this sound may be a little bit too dark and muddy. I personally prefer silicone tips for the IX.

TL;DR

The DaVinci IX offer a non-fatiguing, warm-neutral listening experience with some added treble/detail and very good imaging capabilities.

Verdict

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At first, the DaVinci IX don't sound very spectacular or exceptional. But after a few days of re-exploring my music collection, I started appreciating it's laid-back sound and realised that the IX are the best in ear monitors I've ever tried. The sound signature is just spot on: Deep reaching bass with satisfying quantity and punch; excellent voice and instrument timbre; drum reproduction to die for; excellent detail retrieval and imaging. If I was to stick with exactly one IEM model, the DaVinci IX would be my top choice, currently. Due to its smooth and versatile sound, the IX are also a pretty safe blind buy recommendation (if you're into crazy stuff like spending 2000 bucks blindly).

Which should you buy? The DaVinci IX or the DaVinci X?

The price suggests differently, but the decision between the two CTM DaVincis is not one of better or worse. Both have mostly identical bass response, but each have their very own take on midrange and treble. So the choice will be solely dependent on intended purpose and personal taste. Want the classic non-fatiguing monitor signature? Choose the IX. Want a bright, analytical sounding monitor for that extra precision? Choose the X."


View original review on Head-Fi: https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/clear-tune-da-vinci-ix.22889/reviews#review-21669
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