Pros: Bass that competes with good dynamic drivers, silky mids, tiny shell size, excellent Rhapsodio cable, excellent overall build quality, good selection of tips, custom same price as universal, very competitive value proposition
Cons: Rhapsodio cable currently only available single-ended, source dependent sonic precision, some sources will be too warm for some, trades some detail for warmth (positive for some folks), no portable case
List Price: $1699 (£1499, custom or universal)
Rating Disclaimer: ratings are subjective. Audio quality and value do not mean the same thing across all prices. A headphone with a 5 rating on audio at $5 does not have equivalent sound quality as a 5 rating at $500. Likewise, value at $5 is not the same as value at $5000 dollars.
I didn’t know anything about Lark Studio until I was asked if I wanted to be put in contact with them by a friend in the review world over at Simply Audiophile. He tried to put me in contact with Lark Studios via Head-Fi and my email, but I never got any messages. Then the European distributor for Lark Studios contacted me to ask if I wanted to run a tour, and I noticed that I had an old friend request from someone with Lark Studios in their Facebook ID. With that we were off to the races. I’m the first up on the tour, in a change of pace from my usual closer position. Hopefully none of my review tour mates will read this too much, as I’m going full throttle here. Lots of comparisons, lots of variations in set-up, lots of work. After me, there are 6 more people signed up to the tour, so you’ll be getting a variety of opinions.
The Head-Fi thread for Lark Studio can be found here, and the showcase item here. Each reviewer will have about 24 days to produce their review, with a loan time of 10 days. This should be a lot of fun.
A little bit about Lark Studio and the LSX
Lark Studio was formed by a couple audio-fanatics from other IEM labs. They’ve got a good deal of experience in the industry but the LSX is their very first product. The goal of the product was to get people’s attention, and it has. There’s a sprinkling of impressed reviewers all over the interwebs and it has basically wide-spread acclaim. The distributor told me that he thought it was a Noble Encore killer and better than the Unique Melody Mason V3 and Mentor V3—luckily I can test against all three right now as I’m still producing my Mentor V3 and Mason V3 reviews (stay tuned!).
Lark Studio will have additional IEMs coming out in the upcoming year designed to appeal to different audiences than the fun-tastic LSX. A four driver with more of a reference tuning and a new 12-driver flagship focused on superior technical performance.
Usability: Form & Function
The LSX comes in a large-ish black box encased in a matt black card sleeve, the box inside the sleeve is emblazoned with Lark Studio in red on the outside. Th box has a magnetic clasp closure. It is of average quality. On the inside, the earpieces are shipped connected to the cable, which is a single ended copper cable from Rhapsodio. The cutout for the earpieces is twice as deep as it needs to be, which is why the earpieces in my picture are in little baggies. The depth of the cutout should be reduced. A large selection of tips are included with the LSX and sent in a display box. While there is a large variety, people with very small ear canals aren’t catered for, as there are only three tip sizes. Accessories include the ubiquitous airline adaptors and a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor, both of which are displayed prominently. It always humours me when components that cost under $1 on the open market are displayed like prizes.
All the other accessories are inside a hard jewelry style cardboard box. These accessories include: a faux leather pouch that is conspicuously long (looks like it is for children’s sunglasses), two amp stacking bands (I doubt people would use the LSX with a dedicated amp), a polishing cloth, and a cleaning tool.
I get what Lark Studio was going for here. They wanted a premium unboxing experience. They didn’t quite get it. This is what I would do instead:
- Ditch the amp stacking bands, faux leather bag, and the jewelry box.
- Include a small hard travel case
- Make the box more compact. This may save the company on shipping.
- Put accessories inside the small travel case
Aesthetics & Build
The 2-pin connector on the IEMs (female side) is completely external and leaves a tiny bit of the pins exposed. Having a slight indent into the body would allow for a more secure fit and would reduce breakage risk via stress on the pins. Even 1mm into the body would likely make a difference in the security of the connection while not changing the profile of the IEM at all.
The sound bores appear on the nozzle appear to be directly drilled into the IEM body with white acrylic seen right behind the glossy black shine of the IEM, I anticipate that sound tubes in the internal structure lead to the very front of the IEM, with the rest of the distance traversed by the body.
The included cable is a very nice what appears to be 24 AWG type 2 Litz copper cable manufactured by Rhapsodio. This cable was based on a retired Rhapsodio design and customised for Lark Studio. The cable is good quality with a nice lustre, but was not available in balanced terminations at the time of review. The company founders are looking into whether Rhapsodio will do this. The cable itself is very well built with a nice tight braiding all the way along the cable that gives it excellent flexibility. The terminations appear to be good quality and the 2-pin connectors have some grip to them instead of being metal slide-fests. Many cable manufacturers make the mistake of using polished chrome-effect 2-pin connector housings which are hard to grip when you need to. The cable is a really good cable. However, I think there is some risk in having a cable that is based on a retired design. I would suggest that given that they already partner with PWAudio for the Saladin cable (SPC and copper, available in balanced, $200 extra on IEM price), they should consider striking up a full partnership with PWAudio, and maybe get their No. 5 cable in bulk. Just looking at pictures, the PWAudio No. 5 is not to the same build quality as the retired Rhapsodio, but predictable supply may trump the value of the Rhapsodio cable’s better build quality. The No. 5 cable is not likely to disappear in any significant way and may allow an even better partnership to form. Manufacturers like Empire Ears and Jomo Audio already partner with Effect Audio, so clearly there is some benefit to be had from these partnerships for both sides.
For the most part the Lark Studio LSX presents a pretty comfortable ergonomic fit. The size of the IEM is incredibly small for having an outlay of 10 balanced armature drivers inside of it. It is smaller and lighter than the Noble Encore (10 drivers) and the Unique Melody Mentor V3 (12 drivers) universal versions. The Noble Encore has a compact size, but the weight makes choice of tips very important as the tips have to have excellent stability and grip. I’ve found that the Final Type E tips are the best for the Encore and haven’t had slippage problems since switching to the large versions of these.
The included Spinfit CP155 & CP230 (bi-flange) and the Comply T-500 tips might be the only tips that really fit the nozzle of the Lark Studio LSX, so your tip choices may be limited to what is in the box. Given that I’m not into a hugely warm sound, I knew immediately from my CP155 listening that the tendency of the Comply foams to attenuate treble and ramp up mid-bass would not be to my liking. My final tip choice was the CP155. These are long flange tips that can isolate really well if you give a little tug on the top of the ear and wiggle the IEM.
The ergonomics of the included cable are excellent. In my experience the best type of earguide is a light preformed ear-guide that has a tiny bit of spring to it. These types of earguides fit to the ears without causing pressure. They don’t have the extra bulk and pressure points of memory wire, and they don’t have the sheer mass of solutions like what HiFiMAN do with the RE2000 Silver (and Gold) wherein they have an external massive plastic rubber cradle for the cable that basically nobody would ever find comfortable on their ear, especially with glasses. In other words, the earguide on the Lark Studio LSX is just about perfect.
The LSX has a fun signature with a healthy helping of bass and warm sound. It has smooth treble while still having good detail in the mids. The mids are silky smooth and inviting. Bass is present, but has a focus on the mid-bass, with less prominent extension than some other in-ears. The bass gives some dynamic driver like impact and has a long decay. The soundstage is average to a little below average for the price point and has a notably forward signature that causes some reduction in depth.
When I did initial listening test with the Questyle QP2R I did so straight out of the single ended jack. When I went to do my comparison work with the Noble Encore, it wasn’t possible to do the Noble Encore with it’s stock cable from the single-ended jack as this would result in excessive warmth in the midbass and likely some hissing—I’d previously observed these when working with the Noble Encore. So to tame the mid-bass bump I went and grabbed the Ultimate Ears Buffer Jack with the thought that this would work just like the iFi iEMatch 2.5mm worked to make it so I could use the Encore with the QP2R. It worked. This also made me think that the QP2R may have been causing extra bloom with the LSX, so I tested. It was.
When listening to Wilco – Handshake Drugs (16-44) I noted that the bass in the intro was better controlled with the buffer jack and that the mids were a hair clearer. I think that there is improvement in the treble/upper mids that leads to enhancement of the bass and mids. The differences weren’t huge but were noticeable. With Daft Punk – Instant Crush (24-88), the bass drum remains palpable with the UE Buffer Jack and the bass guitar is a touch tighter. Mids are also slightly more forward giving better sonic balance with the placement of the bass. On Pink Floyd – The Thin Ice (16-44) I note a little more stage width with the buffer jack and that same improvement in bass control. Without the buffer jack the bass on Macy Gray – Slowly (24-192, binaural) overshadows Macy Gray’s voice a bit. The buffer jack brings better balance and also gives cymbals better presence. QP2R with buffer jack was my preferred sound, but there will be plenty who crave the additional warmth that I was looking to tame, so your mileage may vary. I didn’t observe hiss with the Lark Studio LSX on the QP2R at all, with or without the UE Buffer Jack.
The sound from the SOUNDAWARE M2Pro without buffer jack sounded indistinguishable from the QP2R plus buffer jack, which was good for me, and confirmed my belief that the current mode amplification was affecting the sound on the QP2R without the buffer jack. The M2Pro is a fantastic sounding player, but the QP2R is much easier to review on and sounds virtually identical, so the QP2R is the primary reviewing rig for this review, with accessories.
I found the LG V30 to drive the LSX just fine, but also found that it had a little bit extra warmth compared to what I get from the SOUNDAWARE M2Pro or the Questyle QP2R plus UE Buffer Jack. I tried using the buffer jack with the LG V30 and it did mostly fine but sometimes clipped in the treble region. This led me to listen mostly without the buffer jack when using the LG V30.
The cable that comes with the basic Lark Studio LSX is a Rhapsodio cable and isn’t available in balanced implementation. Lark Studio does offer a balanced Cable made by PWAudio called the Saladin for $200 more, which is an increment that is less than if you bought the cable on it’s own. Unfortunately, Lark Studio did not send the review unit with a PWAudio Saladin, so testing alternative cables will fall completely outside of those offered by Lark Studio.
In order to compare with the stock Rhapsodio cable I ran each balanced aftermarket cable through a 2.5mm to 3.5mm convertor and then used the UE Buffer Jack hooked up to the single-ended output on the QP2R. I’ve previously identified that there are no significant impedance mismatches between the cables through volume matching, which means when I do cable tests I don’t have to volume match, I just need to be super quick on my switches so that the miniscule differences are noticeable. Cable switching runs huge risks of confirmation bias and I can’t guarantee I’m immune. The ideal situation would be to have two identical IEMs with different cables playing out of a neutral splitter. There would be next to no lag time. As is, my lag time is generally around 30 seconds, which is pretty fast when having to pull out 2-pin cables re-insert new cables and then get the IEMs in ear and play.
I really like the pairing of the PlusSound X-Series Gold-plated copper (GPC) cable with the LSX, the primary effect of the PlusSound X-Series GPC that I’ve noticed is a strengthening of the middle of notes which gives them a little added focus and smooth transients. It pairs very nicely with the LSX, just as it does with the Noble Encore.
The most expensive accessory I have in my review cave is the Double Helix Cables Symbiote Elite SP (8-braid). I don’t recommend most people spend their money on an $800 cable if they can spend that money on a better DAP or headphone, but it absolutely makes a difference in terms of maximising performance of a high performing IEM. Bass is a touch smaller but tonally the same with the Symbiote Elite SP when listening through the extended intro of Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (DSD64). Sound stage has a bit more width and depth. The stock cable is a touch warmer, but most of the warmth is coming from the tuning. Switching to Saturday Looks Good To Me – Sunglasses (16-44), bass is a touch tighter with the Symbiote Elite SP with little difference in bass presence (less), but the bigger difference is the openness of the stage. The elements in the stage have better definition and there is more overall space in every dimension (height, width and depth). This is my favourite pairing. Switching up to balanced amplification with volume matching (vol. 98, 78.4 dB) on the Questyle QP2R with the iFi iEMatch 2.5 gives a small incremental boost in the characteristics the cable is already revealing. The wire isn’t adding anything, it’s getting out of the way.
All comparisons were done using stock cables with some use of the UE Buffer Jack where necessary. Volume matching was done using white noise and an SPL metre. I provide this information so that if people want to do the exact same comparison, they can repeat my observations without an SPL metre. Repeatability is the heart of scientific enquiry.
|Questyle QP2R (High Bias)||Lark Studios LSX||Stock||SE||Low||82||78.3|
|Questyle QP2R (High Bias)||Lark Studios LSX||Stock with UE Buffer Jack||SE||Low||108||78.3|
|Questyle QP2R (High Bias)||UERR||Stock||SE||Low||101||78.3|
|Questyle QP2R (High Bias)||HiFiMAN RE2000 Silver||Stock||SE||Medium||85||78.3|
|Questyle QP2R (High Bias)||Unique Melody Mentor v3||Stock Silver 3.5mm||SE||Low||77||78.4|
|Questyle QP2R (High Bias)||Noble Kaiser Encore||Stock with UE Buffer Jack||SE||Low||107||78.3|
|SOUNDAWARE M2Pro||Unique Melody Mason v3||Stock Silver 3.5mm||SE||Medium||70||78.2|
|SOUNDAWARE M2Pro||Lark Studios LSX||Stock||SE||Low||91||78.2|
Ultimate Ears Pro Reference Remastered (UERR) ($999) vs. Lark Studio LSX ($1699)
The UERR has a bit of extra thickness in the lower parts of Damien Rice’s voice in Elephant (16-44). The Lark Studio LSX presents Damien’s voice with more delicacy and air while packing a touch more emotional payload. The LSX carries Damien’s breath a little better and makes the track that much more intimate. That said, the UERR has greater stage height. With the LSX I get some absolutely beautiful fine level bow on strings detail on the cello when it’s in isolation. Bass presence is lower on the UERR. Both accurately convey the somewhat distorted mastering of the flurry of activity near the 4:30 mark in the track. The UERR captures a tiny bit more treble detail from the strings than the LSX.
The LSX is giving me big beautiful groovy bass out of Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (DSD64). The bass is forward of neutral, but without disappearing the mids further back in the stage, which gives the song a very engaging sound. It also ensures that the cowbell and guero aren’t lost in the stage. The stage depth is somewhat compressed to accomplish the engaging sound, but for many this will be a worthy exchange. The UERR has a bit more depth, with more separation of instruments. This make the UERR a fine tool for monitoring a mix. I don’t think I’d use the Lark Studio LSX for that kind of spatial accuracy intensive activity. The LSX gets the timbre of instruments right, but placement isn’t as honest as a reference monitor like the UERR. That isn’t what the LSX is designed to do. Personally, I get great enjoyment out of precision over power. This is reflected in my day job as a health economist, also. I’ve spent several days looking at Hierarchical Related Regression, and the potential for more precise measurements of effect using all available information from a variety of trial designs has had me practically giddy. The UERR fits my precision desire on this track with its fantastic instrument separation. The Lark Studio LSX has a warmer more emotive feel with towering bass.
Saturday Looks Good To Me – Sunglasses (16-44) begins with a big satisfying rumbling artificial bass that the LSX delivers up in full glory followed by a chunky electric bass guitar line and and two widely panned guitars. The track is busy as heck and the LSX’s 10 drivers are keeping up well. This poppy fun track perfectly matches what the LSX does well. The UERR doesn’t get the bass volume or the bass feel. It’s a tight controlled bass with excellent depth, but without the presence or body of the LSX bass. The rest of the sound is more open and precise sounding, especially the rocket fire clap sounds. On the UERR every element of the track can be picked out with precision, which is where the fun comes from. Everything is presented honestly on the UERR and it elevates my favourite album of 2016 (Saturday Looks Good To Me “One Kiss Ends It All”). The LSX has intoxicating bass, but the UERR has intoxicating scientific precision.
The variable depth of instrumentation in Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (DSD64) is an impressive recording feat. The UERR is all over the depth with the intro sound effects dancing all over the stage. Swells of strings come in at markedly different depth than the bass guitar and the backing vocals. The tapestry is full of little details. The LSX sounds darker, warmer, and less detailed with less stage depth. Isaac Hayes’s vocals come in like smooth brown butter with the LSX. Violins are silky. There’s romance to the LSX sound. Sometimes a little romance makes up for a short deck in terms of depth. The UERR has more of every dimension of stage size (height, depth and width) but the technical precision won’t necessarily set the mood in the same way that the LSX will. The LSX, for a warm sound, doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of mids clarity, which is unusual. It has a pretty good balance of tone and technical performance. The tone is really good.
I like both a lot. Given my particular listening preferences, I’d probably pick a UERR style signature on more days, but if I want to listen to pop or hip-hop, or any bass-driven music, my choice may very well be the LSX.
HiFiMAN RE2000 Silver ($1500) vs. Lark Studio LSX ($1699)
OutKast – Ms. Jackson has a lot going on, for real. The RE2000 Silver has some great menace going with the bass guitar, with tight funky plucks. The multi-tracked layered stage is well presented with individual elements easily discernible. However, each element is not entirely distinctive, which will be a function of the treble levels on the RE2000 Silver. With the Lark Studio LSX the underlying bass in the background is pushed forward. Compared to the drum power on the RE2000 Silver, the bass drum kicks you in the face on the LSX. The LSX, in spite of the bass emphasis, still provides extraordinarily well textured bass. The bass on the LSX is a lot like dynamic driver bass. It actually is bass that you feel, which is rare in fully balanced armature IEMs. The lower mids and upper midbass have a warmer sound on the Lark Studio LSX. Soundstage on the LSX sounds a little wider than the RE2000 Silver on this track. Individual elements in the stage also feel a bit more distinct with better instrument separation. The sound of the LSX is actually a bit reminiscent of the RE2000 Gold but with better build quality and a bit more separation in the mids. Piano in the intro is less forward as the mids of the RE2000 Silver are a bit back of neutral. This placement of the mids tends to make the sound stage sound a bit deeper. The LSX sounds forward in general due to the elevated bass and the pretty normal emphasis mids. Both IEMs are fun sounding with natural timbre. The RE2000 Silver has a more neutral sound than the LSX, which is a bombastic but lovely sounding number.
On the RE2000 Silver the recessed mids make Michael Jackson sound like he is way deep in the stage rather than in the middle of it on Michael Jackson – Billie Jean. The LSX has a more front row sound, while the RE2000 Silver sounds like it is further back in the crowd. The RE2000 Silver crowd is a more civil affair, whilst the LSX is a party. The RE2000 Silver is Coldplay (civilised and moving), and the LSX is Bruno Mars + Beyonce (absolutely ridiculously fun). The Lark Studio LSX has Michael where he should be, right in the middle of the sound stage, rather than pushed back. It also pushes bass forward of the mids, which is off of neutral. The bass is big on the LSX. Both do an excellent job of resolving instruments in space, but the LSX’s better formulation of the mids gives more flexibility for instruments that occupy the mids to move deeper in the stage.
The RE2000 Silver presents Kuniko – Pleiades: I. Melanges (Mixtures) with a nice even keel. Nothing sounds over-emphasised or out of place, whether it be xylophone, tympani, or chimes. The increasing aggression of the sound at about 2 minutes in builds beautifully. The LSX gives a similar performance, but the whole sound is more front row than 3 rows back of the stage. The LSX easily goes toe-to-toe on timbre, and might be a bit more sonically precise. Soundstage size is a push, but soundstage positioning is definitely different.
The bass is most definitely forward when I throw Wilco – Handshake Drugs on with the Lark Studio LSX. It’s a bit too much actually, as the bass is competing too much with Jeff Tweedy’s vocal in the intro. It slinks back a little bit later while still having some presence, like the bass guitarist moved back towards the drum kit or like Jeff Tweedy moved forward in the stage. The bass is tighter and more controlled on the RE2000 Silver, but also has more perceivable extension. The perceived increase in extension is because the Lark Studio LSX has some added mid-bass that throws the deeper lows out of balance when deeper bass instrumentation and mid-bass and upper mid-bass are present. The RE2000 Silver sounds better on this track, though I do still find myself wishing the little bit of recession in the mids wasn’t there.
The breathiness of the RE2000 Silver really suits Tori Amos’s vocals on Hey Jupiter, in my opinion, as it gives even more fragility to the presentation. Some will find the sound sibilant as the breathiness also imbues more weight to her ‘sss’ sounds. In contrast, the LSX presents Tori a bit more solid and rounded with less emphasis on her breathy ‘sss’ sounds. The piano is also more accurately placed right next to her singing.
Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2099) vs Lark Studio LSX ($1699)
The Mentor V3 provides a clear and well delineated presentation of the Rolling Stones – Salt of the Earth (DSD64). Each instrument has great spacing around it. Bass has great tone, but not huge presence. Turning the dB-Go switch to closed enhances bass impact slightly. The female vocal chorus has individual vocals that are separated without much difficulty on the Mentor V3. Right off in the track, guitar and vocals are more forward with a nice organic sound on the LSX. The overall sound is more forward on the LSX. Bass has a lot more presence and sustain. The decay on the mid-bass is a touch long, the Mentor V3 is faster. The LSX trades some precision for increased presence. The overall stage depth is reduced on the LSX with the presentation more like two closely arranged planes rather than several layers as with the Mentor V3.
Billy Cobham – Quadrant 4 (DSD64) is the Speedy Gonzales of music tracks. The Lark Studio LSX keeps up well for the most part but smooths over a bit of detail on bass and treble. The Mentor V3 is faster and more open sounding with individual drum beats resolved more completely with less blending. The presentation is a bit more distant on the Mentor V3, whereas the LSX puts you right in the thick of it. Bass is tighter on the Mentor V3, but less present. The Mentor V3 is the technically superior performer while still being fun. If a more forward signature is what you are looking for, the LSX will likely suit better. The Mentor V3 also has the ability to switch cables without buying a new cable. Switching to the copper cable gives a more forward sound that is like a more controlled version of the LSX with less bass slam.
With DB-GO open on the Mentor V3, the vocals on Daft Punk – Fragments of Time (DSD64) are airy with good clarity. Bass is back in the stage with good definition. Treble is forward on the Mentor V3, but not as forward as the vocals on this particular track. Decay on the variety of cymbals is good on this track. When switching to the LSX, the bass is huge with good texture on the lower notes and dynamic driver like depth, but with a hint of bloom. The ambiance is great on the LSX with a bit more decay in both the bass and the treble. The extra decay is primarily in the midbass for the bass section of frequency response. Vocals sound great on both, just more forward on the LSX. Switching from silver to copper on the Mentor V3 brings the bass forward a little, but it still has the same tight controlled presentation. The LSX has a little extra ambiance. I think people will enjoy both sounds. One has to recognize that they aren’t trying to do the same thing. The Mentor V3 is a fun-reference tuning, while the LSX is a fun-fun tuning with big bass and smooth emotive mids. The Mentor V3 is less fun in all its set-ups vs. the LSX, but is a better technical performer all-around. I think most folks listening to Fragments in Time would pick the LSX as the signature fits pop music really well.
Norah Jones – Feeling the Same Way (24-192) has a beautifully delicate presentation with the Mentor V3. The wide-panned guitars are very well defined, the central stand-up bass and the piano and drums at the back of the stage are just delightfully distinctly presented. Mmmm delicious in silver with dB-Go open. The LSX is warmer and softer, with a less wide stage. On this track I prefer the Mentor V3. The LSX slightly compresses the stage depth and slows down the activity in the track some.
Unique Melody Mason V3 ($2699) vs. Lark Studio LSX ($1699)
The comparisons here were done on the SOUNDAWARE M2Pro as the Mason V3 doesn’t sound quite right out of the single-ended output of the Questyle QP2R.
The Mason V3 really lays out the stage beautifully on Macy Gray – Annabelle (24-192, binaural). The distance between the band members feels like a real stage with Macy sitting a bit back of the bassist and the lead guitarist, while the drummer sits well into the back slightly left of centre. On the LSX, bass and Macy Gray’s vocals are slightly more forward, but Macy’s vocal sounds a bit stuffy. The Mason V3 sounds cleaner and clearer on Macy’s vocal, and overall on this track. The cymbals sound like there is a bit of a haze between them and the listener on the LSX. The LSX out does the Mason V3 on bass weight with dB-Go open and closed, but the gap is less when the dB-Go module is closed as this gives a bit more weight.
Metallica – Master of Puppets (24-96, Vinyl Rip) has great speed on the Mason V3, but a slightly more forward sound usually benefits metal, and the Mason V3 isn’t a front row kind of IEM. I find myself wanting it louder on this track. When I jack up the volume a bit that sounds more like it. It can certainly make it sound like I want it to. Bass extension is good on this track, but there isn’t any emphasis, so these could be interpreted as bass light with the dB-Go open. Closing the dB-Go gets a bit more bass ambience and makes the sound a bit heavier in general. The desire for additional loudness is repeated on the LSX (this is just a quietly recorded track). Vocals feel a tiny bit more distant due to some emphasis in the lower mids. Doing a similar volume boost works on the LSX also. The cymbal taps on this track have longer decay on the LSX, in contrast, the Mason V3 sounds a touch fast on the cymbals on this track. Guitar solos sound smoother on the LSX, but more refined on the Mason V3.
Why? – Strawberries (16-44) with the LSX has some big nicely textured bass. It gets some serious slam in the intro. Yoni Wolf’s vocals sound nice and silky with the LSX. Instruments have good layering. These work really well for this highly active alt-rap track. Nice sparkle in the percussion too with the LSX. The Mason V3 does just as nicely with Yoni Wolf’s vocal. Bass comes in with really nice definition, but the slam is less palpable on the Mason V3. Percussive elements like the maracas or the clapping are more in balance on the Mason V3. The sound isn’t as fun on the Mason V3, but it is probably more honest to the recording. Fans of hip-hop will probably prefer the bigger bass of the LSX.
There is some voice echo in Tori Amos – Silent All These Years (24-96, Vinyl Rip) in the verse vocal sections that is very subtle and soft. The Mason V3 does an excellent job picking this minute detail up. The vocals on the Lark Studio LSX are more forward, but it doesn’t pick up the echo vocal with quite as much definition. It’s still there, but I can’t pick up the full resolution of the vocalisations. It’s like it’s half there. The LSX is louder in the mids and has a silky texture to Tori’s vocals. Piano has a slightly softened timbre on the LSX. Low notes on the piano have slightly exaggerated body on the LSX. Cello has similarly lengthened decay. On the Mason V3, stage depth is deeper, but mids are also presented deeper. Cello and flute are more precise and correct sounding on the Mason V3. The violins have a beautiful soar to them. Tori’s voice isn’t as silky on the Mason V3. Low piano notes and cello are more controlled on the Mason V3.
With the Mason V3 the silver cable gives a leaner presentation, as does having dB-Go open. When dB-Go is closed and the copper cable is engaged, the Mason V3 retains a resolution advantage on the LSX, but has a closer tonal presentation to the LSX. The LSX still wins on bass impact, and still tends to have silkier sounding vocals (vocals depend on the singer). The Mason V3 is more flexible, and more technically proficient with the accompanying sonic precision, but is not as emotive as the LSX.
Noble Kaiser Encore ($1850) vs. Lark Studio LSX ($1699)
It’s worth noting that most times that the Encore appears in my reviews, I’m using the PlusSound X-Series gold-plated copper. For this comparison, I was using the stock cable. That cable could use an upgrade to its pretty basic standard. It had been a long time since I’d listened to the stock cable.
On Pixies – Where is My Mind? (DSD64) I’m not quite getting the soar in the female backing vocal that I’m used to with the LSX. The sound of the soaring vocal is somewhat distant and slightly concealed. On the Kaiser Encore the soar is bigger. However, bass doesn’t extend as deep and drums strikes aren’t as tactile. Both the LSX and the Encore have some elevation in the midbass, but the feel is better on the LSX. The LSX and Encore have different points of emphasis on the upper mids. The Kaiser Encore emphasizes higher frequencies in the mids more while the LSX goes lower in the upper mids. This gives the Encore greater soar and air, while the LSX has more richness and body. Both are good sounding so signature preference will probably determine which is preferred rather than any measure of objective superiority.
The Noble Kaiser Encore is smooth on Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table (24-44) when it comes to the bass and his vocals. The backing strings have great weight and texture. Bass extension on the Encore is somewhat muted. The deeper frequencies are present, but the overall tactile sound isn’t. This is pretty normal for fully balanced armature setups. They don’t normally push enough air to make you feel the bass. In contrast, the LSX accomplishes something really rare in balanced armature setups, you feel the bass. It also extends lower. Leonard’s voice has more body on the LSX and more texture. Strings are a touch less precise on the LSX than on the Encore but have a nice fullness. Full is a good way to describe the LSX sound. For this track I think the LSX has a more pleasing presentation. The tactile feel of the bass is a big accomplishment for a $1699 fully balanced armature IEM. The $4k Vision Ears Erlkönig gets bass feel like this, but this is remarkably rare for balanced armature setups. It’s very impressive.
The presentation of the cymbals is a strong point on the LSX. Many balanced armature setups have sharp cymbals with tight attack and decay that sounds just a touch unnatural. The LSX extends that decay a little. On Natalie Merchant – Carnival (24-96) mids sound thick through Natalie’s vocals on the LSX. Bass drum impact in the intro is impressive on the LSX. On the Noble Encore, the bass isn’t big but it has a tightness that lets a bit more funk develop. The space in the stage and instrument separation are better on the Encore. Natalie’s voice isn’t as rich as the LSX but it has greater texture and depth. The organ in the upper mids has better dimensionality with sound extending well from back to front of the stage. Layers in the stage are easier to pick out on the Noble Encore. The organ presence is greater in general on the Encore—it’s that difference in expression of the upper mids again. Stage is a touch narrower on the LSX.
The LSX presents the sonic landscape of King Crimson – Lizard (16-44, Steven Wilson Remaster) brilliantly. It has a very natural and organic sound. Jon Anderson (of Yes) sounds more delicate on the Noble Encore, and a touch more forward. The percussion is a bit more fulsome on the Encore due to its frequency placement in the upper mids/lower treble. Upper midbass is also slightly more forward on the Encore. The overall sound is fuller on the LSX. Both IEMs have good sustain on the tubular bells. As expected, bass body is bigger with longer decay on the LSX.
Both the Noble Encore and the LSX are fun signatures. The Encore is a bit more balanced, while the LSX has more emphasis on the lower end and more warmth. Treble has more emphasis on the Encore. The Encore has better technical performance in the treble and upper mids, while the LSX has better technical performance in the bass. Both are excellent IEMs, that I’d be happy to reach for frequently. Your sonic preference will determine which one you like more. The LSX is slightly better value for money.
|Price||$1699 (custom or universal)|
|Driver type||10 balanced armatures (3 bass, 4 mids, 2 treble, 1 super treble)|
|Frequency response||20Hz to 20KHz|
|Construction||Acrylic body, 2 pin connector (non-recessed)|
|Accessories||Spinfit CP230 Bi-flange (S), Spinfit CP155 (S/M/L), Comply T-500 (M/L), protein leather display case, protein leather travel bag (oddly shaped), 2 armbands/amp stacking bands, airline adaptor, 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor, cleaning cloth, cleaning tool.|
The Lark Studio LSX was provided to me on loan from Audio Concierge and Lark Studio as part of a review tour. The LSX will be returned to Audio Concierge after completion of the review tour. I have received no compensation for this review. All thoughts in this review are my personal opinion.
The LSX provides a rich, lush listen with a focus on the bass and the mids. Treble performance is smooth without losing much in the way of mids detail. This full BA setup has accomplished a rare feat of presenting with bass that is very close in impact and feel to a dynamic driver set-up. The sound is warm overall with a healthy serving of midbass.
For $1699 for either custom or universal the LSX has a very good value proposition. If you are into a warm sound with big bass and lush mids, this one’s for you.