BUS RIDE IMPRESSION: Multi-Driver IEM Shootout

With the personal audio market continually progressing every single day, it is no longer surprising that what used to be very rare and expensive innovations are now replaced with more affordable stuff that proliferate the industry. Before there only used to be drivers in our IEMs or earbuds, which later developed to micro-drivers. Nowadays, multiple drivers are being crammed in the shells of our toys to offer better sound details if done properly and correctly against the objective of manufacturers.

I personally find doing a shoot-out quite a daunting feat. For one, I will have to be critical with the comparable differences of the toys I review. I have to find the common grounds for each of these toys and what’s even more taxing is to try and slowly chisel off every single layer of the toys I play with just so I can also expose the strengths and the weaknesses of each, at least to establish what makes one better than the other.

In the case of today’s Bus Ride Review, this may yet have to be my most difficult review. For one, as much as the FLC Technologies FLC8S and Trinity Audio Master 6 has their own plethora of strengths, what is even more challenging is the fact that both sports what is common with them: tuning options. Even more difficult is that both has a lot of them, with FLC8S having 36 tuning options while Master 6 has a dozen pair of tuning filters. Truly, I will have to go about dissecting each just so I can expose the characteristics of each.

With that, I am setting the expectation to you, my dear readers, that this might be quite a long read. I will promise objectivity of course, but please expect that to get a general picture when picking which one is for you, you will have to go through quite a lengthy article.

So, without further ado, allow me to get started with this rather long trek in finding the right multi-driver, highly tunable IEMs.

Distinctions

I will have to say, one of the biggest difference of each is the build. Yes, both sport 2-pin termination which allows most hardcore enthusiasts to go through their favorite cables and terminations. However, one must point the obvious out: while the FLC8S is slim and sleek, the Master 6 seems to be the steroid injected one between these two. While this may be the case, I still don’t think that the size equates to comfort entirely. As much as the Master 6 seems to be heavy and hefty, it quite sat at my ear comfortably as if it was molded in my ear lobes. FLC8S, on the other hand, seems to be quite very light, which should pretty much appeal to a lot of user. What I find a little disconcerting though is the fact that you will have to cram it in your ears. Failure to get the right force into the ears should make the earpieces move a lot, which may be a little bit uncomfortable to the user in the fear that it might fall off. Personally, I had better fit with the Master 6 compared to FLC8S, but then this should be pretty subjective to whoever is wearing it.

multi-driver_iem_shootout_feat

As for the material used, I will have to say that Master 6 wins this part easily. While FLC8S sports a painted acrylic shell, Master 6 used aluminum with its shell, giving it a more robust feel. I don’t think the material used bore the weight of the earpieces; yes the Master 6 is heavier, but it seems to be more of because of the drivers contained in its shell. While it is not bothersome, the drivers still did the shells some weight, which may be one consideration for those picking between the two. I myself often would have debate with my inner self whether I will focus on comfort or SQ. Practically natural of course, one can’t really enjoy a great sounding IEM if it bothers you in terms of comfort. Inversely though, you also can’t compromise the SQ just because of weight. At this point, it will be a bit complicated to choose, as the Master 6 isn’t exactly too heavy but the FLC8S definitely doesn’t sound anywhere bad.

Another issue I noticed was the termination used with the FLC8S. While it seemingly carries the common 2-pin termination, I noticed that it was really the regular ones at all when I used a customer 2-pin terminated single crystal cable copper. I looked closely and realized that the pins were much slimmer than the regular ones, so slim that it may not be a good decision to try and shove the regular ones lest you end up with a loosened termination. Master 6, on the other hand, has no problem with the regular 2-pin terminators. The horizontal orientation kind of ticks me off, especially if your cable is the one that has memory wire on it. You will have to battle a bout of trying to keep it hooked onto your ears. Thankfully, mine has no problem though, so I should be lucky.

cable_comparison1

Cable also is a win for Master 6, as it does contain 3 cables compared to FLC8S one. While I kind of liked how the FLC8S cables look and feel, it would have been better if it included spare ones especially with the fact that it uses a thinner pin in it’s terminators. Should the cable wear out, you have no other resort but to buy replacement ones specifically designed for FLC8S; this means very slim to no option for custom cables as you will be hard pressed to find such terminators in the market.

Packaging wise, FLC8S seems to be fancier, what with a more “portable” tuning bore/plug tube that allows you to bring the filters around in a smaller container in comparison to the tuning filter plates for the Master 6. The caveat on the tuning bores and plugs would have to be the size especially those of the plugs. Extra care should be exercised when keeping it, as it may be hard finding replacements for such. On the other hand, the tuning filters of the Master 6 are not as small, but should be taken care of as the dampers may tend to be lost in the box from time to time. I would suggest for both, once you find the right tuning for each you might want to keep the tuning filters/bores/plugs stashed away to avoid losing it if you are mobile. This is where the FLC8S won as it includes a really nifty storage whereas Trinity Audio decided to shy away from including one. Was a shame that for the price, they could have squeezed in even just a case especially that it comes with a plethora of tuning filters. As for the FLC8S, the makers already went ahead to design a really nice storage tin for the plugs and bores, but they could have extended a bit more by making something that can house all of it, especially if you are avoiding to lose any of it given its sizes.

Tuning

The great thing on the FLC8S though is that with its tuning bores and plugs, you can mix and match them to get to that fine tuning you always want to have unlike the ones in the Master 6 wherein you will just have a choice of pair of tuning filters to wear on the earpieces. Either may pose as a pro or a con depending on the one using it, but for me, I kind of fancy how one can switch around the pairing of bores and plugs. On the other hand, it may be less complicated to just slap a pair of tuning filters on instead of going around the bores and plugs so YMMV.

It will be kind of tough especially for the FLC8S to go around tweaking the sound signature by mixing the bores and plugs. I kind of played around it and as it turns out that it may really take a bit of a while to really get to the tuning that is ideal for the user. Sure, it is quite a novel idea, and it does have a lot of possibilities, but even with a guide, I will definitely recommend that you go through the plugs and bores to find the right tuning. It is not for those who simply want to slap the earpieces on their ears; diligence is a necessity but is fruitful once you got the right one for you.

For the Master 6 though, this will suit best those who are into tuning options but doesn’t want to go through the rigor of finding the right one in such a debacle of mixing and matching. Tuning options are pretty straightforward: check the guide and see which signature fits you best and slap the corresponding filters on and you are done. No fuss, no mess, but you might not be able to tweak how lows, mids and highs would best suit you the way that FLC8S.

Again, in this juncture, it will be entirely up to the user which one suits you best.

Sound

With the sound comparison, I think it will just be prudent to go through some choice tracks using both FLC8S and Master 6 so I can throw in my thoughts better in terms of comparison. This should also help me see some quirks for each and help me decide how each fares against each other. Also, I tried to set the tuning for each closest to how I prefer my sound to be like; forward mids, slight bump on the bass and tipping the highs up a bit.

For the test, I will be using my Onkyo DP-X1 paired with Xduoo XD-05 for good measures. Master 6 seems to demand a bit more power even if it can be used with a phone (just a boost on volume needed though) thus the addition of the DAC.

Spaceman (4 Non Blondes, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!)

I particularly enjoy listening to this track because of the supposed crunchy guitars and nice, subtle but crystalline cymbals in the track, that is on top of Linda Perry’s enigmatic voice. With the Master 6, I liked how nimble the bass is in comparison to the FLC8S. Fact is, I am surprised as to how quick the Master 6 resolves with the low ends. It is tight, clean and really fast to enjoy speedy tracks. As with the FLC8S, it felt to have less of imaging compared to the Master 6, perhaps due to how both were tuned in terms of driver cross overs. Also, I tried to use the gold bore for that ample treble that I was hoping for, yet Perry’s voice was a bit sibilant for me. Tolerable, yes, fact is I would normally be okay with such level of brightness but I can feel some sharpness off the vocals which may not suit everyone especially those who have low tolerance with such.

However, one thing I noticed off the bat when I tested for sound was the seal. The FLC8S, as mentioned earlier, tend to be a bit loose if not shoved properly, which results to leakages. I had to keep steady to avoid breaking the seal, though not that much, but would have been better if the seal is locked at least even if I move.

Semper (Dorena, Nuet)

The speed of bass resolution of Master 6 worked quite well with this track, and I fancy the clicks as the bass pounds. The chimes sounded crystalline, with the bass guitar humming cleanly. The soft vocal hums also blended well with the instruments, which goes to show how well tuned the Master 6 is given the common cohesion issues of hybrid IEMs.

With the FLC8S, it presented the highs in a very distinct manner. It isn’t really sibilant with the track, but pretty much is the sparkle that I would normally enjoy especially if I want to be sparked up while working. Sub bass wasn’t as prominent and neither as fast as the Master 6, but you will definitely appreciate the brightness of the FLC8S with this setting as long as you won’t chance upon any sibilant tracks.

Hip To Be Square (Huey Lewis & The News, Greatest Hits)

As confirmed, Master 6 is indeed really good with fast tracks. This track kicked quite well from the start of the track up until the end. The lightly over driven guitars jived well with the drums, as the pacing of the track was properly justified by Master 6’s resolution. Details are done well, you can definitely hear some micro details that you won’t normally hear. Imaging is also aces as each frequencies were layered quite well. Best part for is perhaps the trumpets that kept the track really lively.

FLC8S on the other hand had a bit of struggle as the cymbals sounded a bit too sharp, similar to how it was with Spaceman. While I would have to say that I did enjoy it (as you might know me and my preference by now), it will definitely not suit those that prefer tamed highs. Details are excellent though, it is very musical and probably is something that you would use casually, however you may have to use the Blue bore to bring the highs down. I tried it but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea so it will just be dependent to the user as I find the blue ones to have a bit of clipped highs.

Wrap-Up

Having tried both, I realized that it may not be fair pit these two up against each other. Yes they may be close in terms of price, but how each were designed (tuning, components, materials) seems to favor the Master 6 a lot more. However, tuning options for FLC8S may be a bit of a lopside as it may be better at least for those who have such diligence to tweak. However, besides that fact, most if the pointers really inclines to Master 6 in my opinion.

But then again, who knows? As the hobby is heavily inclined to preferences, it will just be entirely up to the user as to which will be preferred, although in my case, all biases aside, I will still go for Master 6 as it fits most of my considerations. But then again, best that these two be auditioned to see which one will work better for you.

Special thanks to Gwen for the FLC8S loaner. I enjoyed it immensely, I promise.

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