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LiveWires Custom Fit In-Ear Earphones review: LiveWires Custom Fit In-Ear Earphones

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8.0

LiveWires Custom Fit In-Ear Earphones

The Good

LiveWires deliver professional, custom-molded, dual-driver earphones at an unbeatable price.

The Bad

LiveWires are still too expensive for the average person. Making ear impressions can be inconvenient. The detailed yet flat sound of LiveWires will require some EQ for bass fanatics.

The Bottom Line

If you've been disappointed by one-size-fits-all earphones, going custom-fit is a great solution that just got much more affordable.

Open a box of any off-the-shelf earphones and you'll find a handful of replaceable ear fittings, in all manner of shapes, sizes, and materials. It seems ridiculous that the human ear can be so puzzling, but ears truly are as unique and varied as fingerprints. For those with hard-to-fit ears, getting custom-molded earphones would seem like a reasonable answer to this dilemma, but even a modest pair from Westone or UltimateEars will set you back about $400. Like a beacon of sanity, a California-based upstart called EarPeace Technologies is making high-end custom earphones an affordable proposition, pricing its LiveWires custom-fit earphones at a relatively astonishing $249.

Design
LiveWires, like the majority of custom-molded earphones, are designed for the needs of touring musicians and live-sound engineers. For the rest of us, the appeal of "customs" lies with the earpieces' consistently comfortable fit and the improved sound quality obtained from an airtight seal. Beyond the price tag, LiveWires further distinguishes itself from the competition by using detachable (and replaceable) 4-foot braided cables. The cable attaches to the earpiece through a mini-BNC coaxial connection that's common with Wi-Fi equipment, but unique for audio. The result is a cable hinge that is both sturdy and capable of rotating 360 degrees. The far end of the cable terminates in a right-angled, stereo mini-jack plug.

LiveWires' earpieces are encased in a translucent, colored plastic. Our set arrived with the right and left earpieces colored red and blue, respectively. While the colors allow an easy way to distinguish between the two sides, we were worried colored earpieces would look ridiculous. However, once the LiveWires are placed in the ear, only the black, flat edge of the earpieces are visible.

LiveWires have a very similar construction to the Sensaphonics ProPhonic 2X-S ($750). It's a balanced armature, dual-driver design that channels each driver's output directly to the ear using two discreet tubes built into the earpiece. By keeping the output of the woofer and tweeter drivers separate from one another, the potential for phase cancellation between the two audio signals is minimized.

Performance
After using the LiveWires for a few days, we were happy with sound quality but not blown away. We compared them on our fifth-generation iPod (with the EQ set flat) against a pair of Shure SE310 earphones and a pair of Future Sonic Atrio M8 earphones.

While the LiveWires are downright spectacular at reproducing detailed, lively high-end frequencies, they seemed quite flat around the lower-to-middle frequencies as compared to the competition. It's hard to nail down their sonic bias to a certain genre of music. We figured hip-hop would be the big loser on the LiveWires, and while Jay-Z's "30 Something" was lacking in the kick-drum range, Kanye West's "Addiction" sounded full and fantastic.

Results were equally mixed with rock. Steve Miller Band's "Serenade" was rich and transcendent, but when we listened to the Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #1" it seemed like the bass player had left the room. The stand-out winner was music with acoustic instruments. Listening to Nick Drake's "Things Behind the Sun," we could hear incredible details, such as fingers sliding along the guitar's fretboard and breaths taken between verses. The LiveWires also did an outstanding job at handling stereo separation. While listening to the Gipsy Kings' rendition of "Hotel California," we could really get a feel of the room in which the song was recorded and could easily discern where each guitar was panned in the mix.

For discriminating audiophiles, flat, high-resolution sound quality is not a bad thing. The bass-hungry among us can always juice things up with a little EQ. If there's a drawback to the LiveWires that trumps taste, it's the fact that they're extremely sensitive. We had to set our iPod's maximum output to less than half of what it's capable, to ensure that we wouldn't accidentally damage our ears. Even at low volumes, noise from the iPod's amplifier was slightly audible. We found the cheap amp on our computer's audio card to be particularly noisy. While this extreme sensitivity is an advantage to musicians and stage technicians who are plugging into high-end personal headphone amplifiers, the average consumer plugging into their iPod will have to put up with a whisper of noise in the background. We didn't feel it was a deal breaker, considering the audio quality the LiveWires provided, but it's worth noting. Overall, we believe LiveWires earphones are a tremendous value and a great solution for people with hard-to-fit ears.

earpeace-livewires-headphones-in-ear.jpg
8.0

LiveWires Custom Fit In-Ear Earphones

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7