Wrath of the Kilobuck in-ear war!
Without debate, all 4 iem’s in this case have excellent tonal accuracy and appeals to almost all without offending anyone in the slightest (for the most part). All iem’s are perceived neutral to warm with varying degrees of recess in the mids to be called a mild V signature, with questionable treble representations (for comparison sake). Timbre accuracy sways more towards the Beyerdynamic Xelento, followed closely by the Sennheiser IE800 and then the Andromeda’s more BA-ish timbre which although very tonally accurate comes off as ‘different’. Must note is that the Andromeda 2020 has the more natural sounding tonality and timbre as compared to its older twin. It's funny comparing the Xelento and the IE800 here, because, the Sennheiser has more Beyerdynamic traits here than Beyer themselves thanks to the big bass and shimmery treble on the IE800 which may win or turn off a lot of people based on their preferences!
Xelento – 9/10
IE800 – 8.5/10
Andromeda 2020 – 8/10
Andromeda 2019 (V3) – 7.5/10
All 4 iem’s, stage very well in their own yet different ways. Xelento is the most intimate of the 4 here with a perceived stage mildly beyond your ears and much deeper than it is wide giving vocal representations a good sense of depth. The IE800 has perhaps has the widest sounding stage here, although the depth is shallower than the competitors in this comparo making the IE800 feel very Ellipsoid in terms of its staging ability. The Xelento seems to have a bigger overall stage between the two, however, the IE800 has the superior instrument separation and clarity with far superior dynamic range and texture. The Andromeda 2019 has the most balanced ‘out-of-the-head’ experience in terms of both width and perceived depth making them very Spherical in their staging ability. With the right eartips, staging can be enhanced even further without the presentation sounding hollow and overly stretched out. The Andromeda 2020 strangely has the more intimate representation in terms of perceived width, partially because of the slightly mid forward presentation, perhaps due to the replacing of the mid-BA driver in exchange from the one on the Solaris. Depth is equivalent to / on-par with its older twin which is amongst the very best in the Kilobuck realm of things. To be fair, none of these iem’s will stage like full size open back headphones like the HD800s, but for the money, and for its form factor, all 4 iems here stage better than your average off-the-shelf earphones, and more so than most Chi-fi iem’s in question which generally resolve very well, but fall flat when it comes to an out of the head experience which one needs to hear to believe the difference.
Andromeda 2019 (V3) – 8.5/10
Andromeda 2020 – 8/10
IE800 – 7.5/10
Xelento – 7.5/10
Imaging on all 4 iem’s vary from being above average to being very good, considering the form factor and the fact that they are all closed back earphones plugged into your ear canal. That said, the imaging on the Xelento and IE800 are far from being the most accurate or distinct partially due to the tuning and bass heavy signatures and the staging not being the widest here in term of both width or depth. In term of accurately pin pointing to a sound source while listening to binaural tracks or gaming, the sounds have a tendency to sound diffused / spread out at times. The Andromeda’s image much better than the Xelento and IE800 in term of being more accurate and easier to pin point to and does a better job overall thanks to the signature not being bloated or as bottom end heavy as the other two Dynamic driver based iem’s here. Both the 2019 and 2020 Andromeda, image equally well and excellent for a pair of in ears.
Andromeda 2020 – 9/10
Andromeda 2019 (V3) – 9/10
IE800 – 8/10
Xelento – 8/10
1. Beyerdynamic Xelento – Mild V shape signature with a big mid bass emphasis and decent sub bass extension which lends it a nice warm and smooth signature. Bass is deep, fast and tactile for a DD implementation which has good mid bass to lower mid transition without the mids getting eaten up in the process. Midrange is fairly accurate in terms of placement and doesn’t sound overly recessed with good heft and smoothness overall with a much relaxed upper mids to treble performance. Treble is not overly rolled off, but it doesn’t catch attention to itself by standing out either. There is an underlying feeling that the Xelento is capable of good technical ability overall but is held back by its tuning, which guns for smoothness and gullibility over resolution and outright detailing and texture which makes them sound more mid-fi than TOTL in term of technical ability. Fun however, is a 10/10 compared to almost any kilobuck iem. This one redefines what fun should really sound like and the CA Polaris V2 can take a few lessens from Beyer on how not to tune an iem! For those meat eaters out there, the Xelento is done medium rare whereas the Polaris is just ‘raw’.
2. Sennheiser IE800 – Massive V signature which surprises with its technical ability from the get-go be it bass technicalities, outright detailing or treble extension. Of the bunch in comparison here, the IE800 has the most elevated and extended treble extension, which is equally if not more controversial than the treble on the Andromeda itself. The treble on the IE800 is shimmery and unique unlike anything on the market, which gives it a distinct presentation and tonality in general. The downside to this is that, if one has a poor seal / fit (highly likely on the IE800 sadly) in combination to a poor source and poor-quality sound tracks is that there is sibilance introduced and the overall presentation can sound thin. How thin? Very reminiscent of the Fearless Audio S8F, but not nearly as thin overall. The midrange on the IE800 is recessed and perhaps the only place where it struggles in general compared to the competition here. Midrange sounds fairly neutral with warmth but is recessed in terms of placement and sounds shallow in general. However, with the right chain and quality sound tracks, the IE800 improved and scales its midrange drastically, but still falls flat in comparison to the Xelento and the Andromeda. The bass on the IE800 is simply amazing. Considering these are single 7mm micro dynamic driver’s per side, the amount of bass, the quality of bass and the tactility and extension is astonishing even in 2020. Detail and texturing is amazing and this is amongst the benchmarks for how decay and tight bass should be on TOTL iem’s. Only sour grape, well, the Fit. Get it wrong and it can be punishing and underwhelming too. Get it right, and you will be amazed on how headphone like and huge these begin to sound. Its still a wonder what black magic Sennheiser did to get this sound off something that’s barely bigger than the size of a pea. And for those meat eaters again, the IE800 sounds like there’s lot of meat on the bone……just that its lean meat!
3. Andromeda 2019 (V3) – One of the most coherent and efficient iem’s out there that has hit the homerun far too many times for comfort that is was getting a bit boring. Yes Chi-fi contenders did create hype in bullocks, but it dies down soon and for good reason. This one is the true essense of what people look forward to in a TOTL iem, be it coherency, resolution, staging, imaging, the lot. Yes, the finicky DD bass and timbre lovers (like myself) will cry foul on the all BA tonality of the Andromeda, but this one was truly hard to fault, reason why CA has created its little universe with the stars in different colors with same shape and varying names (no pun intended). The treble tuning can be classified as controversial (to many) just like the IE800 and a lot of people find the TAEC tuning of the highs to be fatiguing or borderline bright, but it’s this tuning that gives the Andromeda its airy and spatial ability. The midrange although not as lush or emotional as vocal lovers might want it to be, still creams the IE800 and Xelento, only falling short of the new 2020 Andromeda! The Andromeda 2019 had that wow factor and RAW essence to it which made it the standout TOTL iem in the kilobuck range for so many years, even overshadowing CA’s more expensive offerings in general and for good reasons. For the meat lovers like myself, the Andromeda V3 is like the Classic American Steak with Mash. Burpp….
4. Andromeda 2020 – Generally the best is kept under wraps until the end, however, this not be that case! Having a follow up to your bestseller is not only hard, but the expectations are so high that you are forced to faulter & that’s exactly what seems to be the case with the 2020 Andromeda. Talking of the high points on the 2020 Andro’s, the mids are amazing, coherency is as good as ever and the low end feels meatier. The entire presentation feels more liquid and smooth be it the mids or the highs. However, this is where the 2020 Andromeda starts to feel as CA simply stuck to the Andromeda moniker because they have a hype going for it. In the process of refining the original Andromeda tuning, the resultant sound in the 2020 iteration makes the new version feel like a different tuning altogether. The treble is relaxed, the mids are forward and thicker, and the bass seems to pack a bigger punch although not by much. The change in the treble tuning has its effect on the overall tonality and perceived staging as well where the Andromeda 2020 doesn’t feel as holographic and huge as before, the more textured rawness up top (yeah peaks whatever) of the original seems to be ironed out with a road roller for a more buttery presentation which on its own sounds amazing, but it’s a contrast from the original tuning altogether and that leads to a bigger issue, ie., The change in tonal characteristics and presentation makes the 2020 Andromeda a different sounding product and not necessarily a better sounding product, which is like raising twin children. They look the same YES, they aren’t the same underneath? Yeah. This one seems like Idli Vada Sambar served in a 5-Star Hotel, whereas your local regular go-to stall had the same Idli Vada Sambar (and perhaps tastier too), but then your girl friend would eat there, would she? Damn. Sad day for them meat eaters here. Credits: Pics sourced & collaged from the internet. Some are my own as well!