When I heard the JH13 universal demo pair a while back ago, I was really thoroughly impressed. There it was, a $1099 product that seriously kicks the butt off a lot of full size headphones. Though I was very, very impressed with the JH13, I didn’t really want to pay $1099 for it, and so my experience was limited to the universal demo unit.
I may not be able to do a direct comparison to the JH13, but what I can say is that the Mage impresses me the same way I was impressed with the JH13. Here is another custom IEM that seriously challenge a lot of full size headphones, and definitely on a different level than the current $300 universal IEMs.
Let’s talk about the soundstage first, since I think that’s the most kickass part of this IEM. Upon first listen, I was already impressed. No universal IEMs are going to match the Mage in terms of soundstage, not even the IE8, not even the Baby Stax. Then, as I’m writing the draft for this review, I became curious, and I tried to do a comparison between the Mage and the AKG K701, something you’re all familiar with.
So what was the result? The Mage has a soundstage on par as the soundstage on the AKG K701. Yes, I’m A-B ing between a full size AKG K701 and an IEM, and I find their soundstage to be on the same level. The full size K701 presents soundstage in a different way than the Mage, but somehow I find the soundstage on the Mage more realistic. Maybe it’s because of the depth. The soundstage width may be a little smaller in the Mage, but the Mage has a much deeper depth in the soundstage, making the K701 sounding very two-dimensional in comparison. Not only that, but the Mage has a much much better instrument separation than the K701. If the vocals and the different instruments are well separated in the AKG K701, the Mage goes the extra mile to put some real space between those instruments, resulting in a better image on the overall position of the band. This was through a direct comparison utilizing the two headphone outs in the Grace M902 amplifier.
If the Mage trounces the K701 in terms of soundstage, then it will probably trounce 90% of the other full size headphones in terms of soundstage as well. Good thing we still have good cans like the HD800 to defend full size headphones from these scary good custom IEMs. Nevertheless, the days where IEMs are inferior to full size headphones are over. I’d really hate to see this happen, but I see a future filled with custom IEMs, and full size headphones becoming as obscure as film in photography.