(Last Updated On: October 1, 2019)

A modern classic, Vision Ears’ VE8 has it all. German craftsmanship, a complete accessory set, an instantly likable sound signature, along with impressive technical ability to match. This is a no expense spared, flagship-grade earphone with few equals, if any.

Germany. I haven’t been there, but mention the country and the first few things I think of are engineering pedigree, Oktoberfest, and dudes named Jürgen. Willfully domesticated and stuck in an office job, I only have stereotypes to go by. My narrow worldview is hopefully enhanced by trying out in-ear monitors (IEMs) from around the world, capturing the essence of a regional tuning, and hearing what makes them tick.

Swatting aside the other obvious German brand, today I bring you a boutique company from Cologne specializing in handcrafted, custom IEMs. Founded in 2013, Vision Ears is headed by Marcel Schoenen and Amin Karimpour, combining years of musicianship and technical nous to a small, focused company. Their vision (heh) is to produce world-class IEMs with the perfect style and sound.

The Elitist

Among the freewheeling, high-spending elite of portable audio, the IEM I’m reviewing today needs no introduction. I’m talking about the VE8, the former flagship that carries the reputation of being a top-of-the-line (TOTL) that can do it all. Eschewing the belief that TOTL IEMs should be as neutral and detailed as possible, VE8 instead goes for the aching, bleeding heart.

 
Leave it to VE8 to deliver a knockout sound signature.
Leave it to VE8 to deliver a knockout sound signature.

Vision Ears VE8

“I put the VE8 on a pedestal, figuratively. I’d get a real one for it if I could. At home, it’s never kept in a drawer long, because I experience withdrawal symptoms if I don’t listen to it after some time. No other IEM moves, enthralls and captivates me like it can, and I implore you to try your darndest to listen to them. The VE8 might just be the ticket to the greatest listening experience you’ve ever had.”

Pros:

  • »Personalized packaging
  • »Practical and complete accessory set
  • »Stellar build quality
  • »Top-tier isolation
  • »Probably the best tuning I’ve heard
  • »Excellent resolution and transparency
  • »Warm yet clean bass
  • »Endgame-level mids, tone and timbre
  • »Smooth, extended yet playful treble
  • »Large soundstage
  • »Natural imaging and separation
  • »It’s just emotion taking me over

Cons:

  • »Expensive
  • »Supplied cable could be better
  • »Tighter fit than other CIEM brands I’ve tried
  • »Sub-bass extension and bass speed
  • »Not the deepest soundstage

This is the behemoth that was created with phenomenal musicality, lifelike realism, and total immersion to the music in mind. A statement that music should be enjoyed and not analyzed. The VE8 consists of 8 (obviously) balanced armatures (BAs) in a 2-bass, 2-mids and 4-high configuration and a 3-way crossover system, but don’t mistake this for a treble-oriented IEM, for the VE8 is much more than that.

Price Tag to Match

The VE8 retails for the base price of €2350 (~$2600) and is available only in custom form via their official site. While definitely pricier than their peers in relation to driver count, Vision Ears are well-known for their exacting, exhausting standards when it comes to engineering, build quality, and of course the tuning. How very German, I guess?

I would like to thank Johannes from Vision Ears for the discount offered in exchange for this review, and the fluid back-and-forth communication.

The china reminds us of the fragility of life, so seize the moment and spend that cash.
The china reminds us of the fragility of life, so seize the moment and spend that cash.

Equipment Used:

DAP

  1. Sony NW-WM1A “K” Modded, FW 2.0

IEMs

  1. Vision Ears VE8
  2. 64 Audio tia Fourté
  3. Spiral Ear 5-Way Ultimate

Albums Listened

  1. Adele – 25
  2. Amber Rubarth – Sessions from the 17th Ward
  3. Bee Gees – The Very Best of the Bee Gees
  4. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  5. Denean – The Weaving
  6. Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
  7. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  8. George Michael – Ladies & Gentlemen
  9. Oasis – Definitely Maybe
  10. The xx – I See You
  11. Tool – Fear Inoculum

Technical Specifications

  • Drivers: Three-way-system with eight drivers
  • Configuration: 2x Bass, 2x Mids, 4x High
  • Sensitivity: 120dB SPL at 1mW
  • Impedance: 22 Ohms (at 1kHz)
Not since courtship have I received something so personalized.
Not since courtship have I received something so personalized.

Packaging and Accessories

Remember that burst of joy when you ordered takeout and received more food than you ordered? VE8’s “packed with love” packaging and accessory set dang near melted my heart, going above and beyond what other companies do. You get a personalized, handwritten greeting right on the wrapping itself, welcoming you to the VE family. Ahh… feelings.

The highlight of the accessory set is the black aluminum case, with your name emblazoned on top. It is large enough to carry your precious IEMs and a spare cable or two. It’s mighty sturdy too, conferring excellent protection should you drop it off a tall building (pretty please don’t). But that’s just the start! Completing the accessory set is a loaded list of stuff you never knew you needed.

  • Cloth pouch
  • Plastics One cable
  • Cable strap
  • Cleaning spray
  • Wax cleaning tool
  • Cleaning cloth (they really care about hygiene)
  • 6.3mm adapter
  • Drying capsules x2
  • Stickers x2

In an industry where top CIEMs are often just kitted with a case, cable and wax cleaning tool, Vision Ears shows what it can do to elevate the humdrum unboxing experience. Heck, it set a new untouchable standard.

Think of the best Christmas you ever had, and Vision Ears just bettered it lol.

Everything including the kitchen sink, even pepper spray.
Everything including the kitchen sink, even pepper spray.

Design and Build Quality

You’re on your own, sort of, in terms of design. One of Vision Ears’ goals is to provide an uncompromised, king-sized, customized experience for your very own IEMs, and that includes designing the VE8 from the ground up. The biggest weapon in your arsenal is the configurator tool, which allows you to choose shell colors, faceplates and logos while they are rendered in real-time.

If you have hidden artistic tendencies (or you bugged someone artsy to help), now is the time to flourish. The configurator is home to designs conventional to cutting-edge, juvenile to avant-garde. You could, of course, click at random until something sticks, who am I to judge? I think I spent more hours on the design than this review lol.

Protip: If you’re in need of some pointers, the transparent purple shells, purple-themed faceplates, and mirrored faceplates are extremely well-received among Vision Ears customers. Like Prince, they’ll make a purple-believer out of you.

Prince in IEM Form

I paid a lot of smackeroos for this, so my VE8 had to be grandiose and flamboyant. It has transparent purple shells on both sides (duh), champagne sparkle faceplate with gold logo on the right, and purple sparkle faceplate with silver logo on the left. If passersby had a look at my VE8 and thought “gosh they must be expensive,” I have done my job.

The build quality is splendid. The transparent shells permit a careful look at their meticulously assembled driver units (some with VE8 engraving), gold and blue internal wiring, crossover units and dampened tubing. Moreover, the integration of the faceplate onto the shell is smooth, and there are no bubbles seen internally. Obviously, a lot of attention to detail was given to making these tiny jewels.

He takes the driver's seat and won't settle for anything less.
He takes the driver’s seat and won’t settle for anything less.

Fit, Comfort and Isolation

Every good custom IEM company should have a robust refit policy, where if your CIEMs do not fit ideally the first time, they should do the necessary adjustments for free, until you, the always-right customer, are satisfied. A better, smarter company would give you the perfect fit in its first attempt, circumventing all potential logistical nightmares.

Vision Ears, to me, are one of the latter, smarter companies. My VE8 fit perfectly the first try, gliding effortlessly into my eager and thirsty ear canals which were begging for a good old-fashioned plugging. If I may, compared to other companies I’ve tried like Empire Ears and Custom Art, the VE8 provides a tighter, more secure fit, thanks to its slightly thicker canal and deeper nozzle.

Antisocial Delight

This skintight, watertight fit means that absolute comfort, although eventual, takes time to attain. After a week of wearing them, my ears finally registered the fit as snug and cozy. The biggest benefit the optimum seal provides is in the top-tier isolation. Putting them on, I could barely hear anything above the music and my heartbeat. It’s almost like the outside world ceased to exist, great news for people-haters like me.

In case metaphors are too much, here's a literal cup of hot cocoa to describe VE8's sound.
In case metaphors are too much, here’s a literal cup of hot cocoa to describe VE8’s sound.

Sound Quality

Aesthetics and packaging are but smoke and mirrors obfuscating the most vital aspect of the VE8, that is the sound quality. Hopefully, when I’m done, the price tag will be justified… or not. €2350 (~$2600) is a lot of money, after all, and can even get you a used car. But! Can a used car properly convey the rich emotions and subtleties like the VE8 can? We shall see.

Overall Sound Signature

Imagine hot cocoa right after coming back from blistering cold weather, or how you felt when Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman finally reunited at the end of the Shawshank Redemption. You feel all kinds of gooey, tingly warmth inside, the very best kind, that assures you the world is a beautiful place worth fighting for.

Vision Ears’ VE8 hopes to embody that spirit in IEM form. To capture hope, elation, and promise within the confines of 8 drivers in an acrylic shell. It carries an accomplished neutral-warm signature, perhaps the very best I’ve heard. There is a slight emphasis in the midbass and lower mids regions that lends warmth and body throughout the signature.

Emotion Taking Me Over

But that’s not the only trick in the bag. The warmth is balanced out by a cheerful and sparkly treble, injecting some excitement and buoyancy into the brew. But through it all, the MVP of the signature is simply the mids, a euphoric, timbre-accurate middle section that shines a lingering spotlight onto instruments and voices. The very foundation of the signature.

Many IEMs have a neutral-warm signature, so how different could VE8 be? The masterstroke lies in its technical ability and utterly marvelous coherency. The former renders details with startling finesse, so you hear everything going on; while the latter grants stunning realism to every performance and plants you in the center of the stage, with nothing between you and the music.

You not only listen to music, but feel it come alive with a soul of its own.

Listening conditions

Critical listening was done after 100 hours of burn-in with music in normal volume. The vibrations generated by the BA drivers also marginally softened the acrylic, making the earpieces easier to fit post-burn-in. I hope you can tell when I’m kidding. The main review rig was Sony’s NW-WM1A Walkman modded by Project K with the stock Plastics One cable.

Partying like it's 1999 yet?
Partying like it’s 1999 yet?

Bass

The bass is an expert in the art of deception. Powered only by 2BAs, you’d expect tight, frank hits, a quick decay, and an usher to pull your attention towards the wonderful mids instead. But no. VE8’s bass is like picking a dance partner with a skillset way above yours, who swings and sashays with graceful authority. It surprises you, but instead of fighting it, you let her take the lead.

VE8’s bass marries the best of what a dynamic driver (DD) and a BA bass can do. Full-on, natural and rounded attacks paired with quick, tidy decays. The notes bloom beautifully with velvety texture but dissipate just before crowding the soundscape, with an effortlessness that belies its top-tier resolution. Even with all this going on, you don’t miss a beat with the stellar bass layering.

The Dance

Sub-bass extension is quite good, with a rumble that goes for the esophagus at times. A bass you can taste. The midbass though, is undeniably the focus here. It sounds dynamic and powerful, but cleverly shows a bit of restraint to attain a lovely timbre, rather than pounding away with head-numbing hits. It’s still as fun as hip-hopping with a hippopotamus, just not as messy.

Make no mistake, like the irresistible curtain-closer in old-timey musicals, this is a bass that pulls you in and invites you to get jiggy with it. While not the speediest nor tightest, it has equal amounts of detail, authority, and fun. You can simply have your cake, eat it and order another. Just make sure to offer some to your dance partner.

Create a lasting memory, declare your love from the rooftop today.
Create a lasting memory, declare your love from the rooftop today.

Mids

I’m showing my age, but the VE8 mids reminded me of a pivotal scene from long-ago Best Picture winner American Beauty (starring Kevin Spacey when he was a wanted actor rather than just, well, wanted). A young man films a plastic bag floating in the air for 15 full minutes, and declares it the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it”.

The VE8 acts like a lens that unwaveringly peers and zooms into the beauty of your music. It uncovers the minute details and delicate nuances of every sound uttered or played, and glorifies it, like watching a flower blooming in slow motion from a shiny new television. Like the plastic bag, even the depressingly mundane and ordinary sounds majestic and important through the VE8.

Lord Almighty

VE8 captures your heart with the most breathtaking, true-to-life mids rendition, where instrument timbre and vocal expression are second to none. Lower mids are pleasantly elevated to lend gravitas to male vocals, while a tilt at the upper mids lends air to soaring, sensuous female voices. And in the middle? On lord, just soul. Starry, misty-eyed soul found in every key struck, bow drawn, and string strummed.

Notes are lush and rounded, but intricately detailed and layered. Emotions are laid bare, coaxing some captivating, awe-inspiring performances. Best of all, VE8 weaves its mids magic effortlessly and nonchalantly. Rather than bring attention to itself, it immerses you completely into wave after wave of lovingly-crafted notes, melodies, songs, concertos. The music that matters to you most, cry out to be heard with the VE8 treatment.

If I could use a word to describe VE8’s mids, it’d be perfect. Was that a tear in my eye? Probably.

Gold makes this earpiece more narcissistic than the other.
Gold makes this earpiece more narcissistic than the other.

Treble

The bass and mids already serve up a delightful appetizer and full-course dinner, so what could possibly top that? Why, dinner and a show of course! I remember nights of merry-making in Shanghai, where we indulged in spicy hotpot before being whisked away to a waiting bus to make it in time for the acrobatic show.

Most IEMs would tune the bass and mids nicely and call it a day, but not VE8. The show’s not over yet when you’re onboard the VE8 train, and the treble has some serious chops to display. The key to VE8’s signature is in the treble extension. While not the most extended I’ve heard, the VE8 showcases a rise in the lower treble, and more vitally in the middle treble, to impart precious air and spaciousness to the signature.

Easy Breezy

It’s a rarity to have a warm, lush signature balanced out by resolution, deft separation and ample treble air, but like a seasoned acrobat, VE8 has done it. Notes weave in and out comfortably with sufficient space in between while possessing a subtle crispness and bite, not obvious but very welcome, like detecting coriander in your noodle soup (unless you really hate coriander).

The treble tuning is sublime, balancing between reaching lofty heights with a playful sparkle while remaining smooth and congruent with the rest of the signature. Cymbals, high hats and percussion play with admirable timbral accuracy, and a sweet, innocuous tint. Like the rest of the signature, it doesn’t show off, but once you realize how little it does wrong, you’re left gobsmacked.

Who's afraid of spiders?
Who’s afraid of spiders?

Soundstage and Imaging

What do you need when you have 16 million colors at your disposal? A large canvas to paint on. Likewise, with all the luscious, full-bodied notes from top to bottom, you need a pretty big soundstage to contain them so everything doesn’t dissolve into a fine mess. And thankfully, VE8 delivers in spades here.

The bountiful bass and luxuriant mids are kept distinct, thanks to a sufficiently wide and tall soundstage. It’s not very deep, but you want those fantastic vocals near you when you’re um, fantasizing know what I mean? Voices and instruments are closer to you, like you’re seated with the conductor at the front of the stage, just not waving a stick around.

Vivid and Vivacious

More magic happens in the imaging, because the soundstage unfolds naturally and beautifully around you. Imaging cues are precise, while sound elements are well-separated by dollops of black space. Every instrument has their own playing area, but you can imagine them complementing each other onstage rather than being artificially kept apart.

The air bestowed by the mid and upper treble is in full glory here, while the enhanced stage height and width does wonders with layering. It’s not just large for large’s sake. Closing your eyes, you can picture yourself enveloped by the band or orchestra, not just listening from a distance. This is immersion level 9000, my friends.

Didn't we do a hot cocoa shot just now? Well one good cup deserves another.
Didn’t we do a hot cocoa shot just now? Well, one good cup deserves another.

Comparisons

64 Audio tia Fourté

Let’s go slay a giant. One of the few IEMs whose reputation precedes them, 64 Audio’s tia Fourté lets its price tag do most of the talking. But thankfully, it’s no slouch in the sound department either, boasting an incredibly detailed and technically accomplished signature coupled with jaw-dropping soundstage capabilities. This is in no way a walk in the park for VE8.

The Juggernaut

If picked apart and scrutinized, the contest would be over soon. Fourté would gain quick victories in bottom-end extension, sub-bass presence, treble extension and transparency, overall detail levels, soundstage size, and imaging accuracy. But VE8 is a different beast, and worth more than the sum of its parts. Like frickin’ Devastator, baby.

Rather than a mess of robot parts, VE8’s sound spectrum combines into a single-minded, musical juggernaut, winning two key battles to tip the scales in its favor. The Fourté cannot compete with VE8’s mids and coherency, however confident and ostentatious. VE8’s beautiful and faithful mids tone is as good as the real thing, making Fourté sound artificial and strident.

Cracks in the Armor

What’s more, VE8’s treble, mids, and bass ebb and flow together like brothers in arms, resulting in a coherency that’s seemingly lifelike. Fourté’s excesses in the bass and treble department tend to contrast and contest each other, sounding warm and bright at the same time, and never really engaging the listener. Its uneven mids will turn off quite a few too.

Ultimately, Fourté is like a flashy sports car, impressing almost immediately before you realize the many compromises it makes in comfort, space, fuel economy, what have you. The VE8 might just be a luxury sedan, understated but significantly better in the long run. VE8’s tuning will be remembered through the ages while Fourté seems like a flash in the pan.

Somewhere down the line I'm out of ideas and started to use bedsheets.
Somewhere down the line I’m out of ideas and started to use bedsheets.

Spiral Ear 5-Way Ultimate

Legend vs legend. I’ve always wanted to say that. VE8 is such a consummate performer it unlocked a secret boss battle with one of the most decorated IEMs in recent memory, Spiral Ear’s former flagship SE5U that has ranked first in at least three TOTL shootouts. Both VE8 and SE5U are at the summit in their respective signatures (neutral-warm vs neutral), but let’s see how they compare.

Fightin’ of the Titans

VE8 is the early aggressor, pushing more midbass and treble, turning excitement levels up a notch. Notes are crisper and airier because of the mid-treble boost, aiding a clean black background and creating some impressive dynamics. VE8 is ideal for modern genres, with an electrifying, fist-pumping signature that sends pulses racing.

Unfazed by VE8’s aggression, SE5U huffs out a relaxed, smoother and more organic tone. Its mature tuning is a delicate interplay from bass to treble, forming its own brand of magical cohesion. It sounds more mellow and neutral than VE8 owing to its leaner midbass and treble, but its raised sub-bass imbues some warm air and a sense of grandness. Classical music is SE5U’s forte, giving a concert hall-like, epic presentation.

Duel of the Daring

Technically, they are pretty much equal. SE5U delves deeper and heartier down below, but the treble rolls off early. VE8 is airier and more extended up top but tails off in the sub-bass regions. VE8 has a wider stage with cleaner imaging, while SE5U is deeper with better layering. Both have a knack for marrying a breathtaking tone with outstanding technical ability.

But where VE8 ultimately triumphs, and why I prefer it over the mighty SE5U, is in the mids. VE8’s astutely well-tuned mids have the power to rouse and soothe, please and provoke, charm and enrage. Its meaty, musical and engaging mids make SE5U’s pleasantness sound seemingly uninvolved, like the stiff upper lip unwilling to get their hands dirty.

The VE8 dives into the raw, emotional core of the music, and emerges the better for it.

Never hit a brick wall again, be a hit with your friends by owning the VE8!
Never hit a brick wall again, be a hit with your friends by owning the VE8!

Final Words

In school, my teacher used to say, “learn your idioms well, or look like an idiot.” VE8 emphatically warms the cockles of my heart with its tuning, even before I knew my heart had cockles that needed warming. Every nuance however subtle, and emotion however faint, is captured stunningly by it and given a soulful rendition to thaw even the vilest and coldest of cockles. Wahey.

We live in an era where top-tier IEMs are instructed to mine and extract detail like a pricey commodity. We exist in a time when sound signatures are peer-reviewed to come to a consensus on what pleases people most. VE8 willfully and gleefully ignores both, and does the Robert Frost thing, coming up with a unique tuning that excites, evokes, and essentially elevates your listening experience.

Culmination of Captivation

This is the real deal, ladies and gentlemen. VE8’s sound signature should be plotted, dissected, studied and emulated for eons to come. Like I told my pal the other day, they should teach this sh*t in tuning school, not the Harman curve. Whatever special sauce they put in the tuning should be reverse-engineered and mass-produced so people can understand what a big deal I think the VE8 truly is.

I put the VE8 on a pedestal, figuratively. I’d get a real one for it if I could. At home, it’s never kept in a drawer long, because I experience withdrawal symptoms if I don’t listen to it after some time. No other IEM moves, enthralls and captivates me like it can, and I implore you to try your darndest to listen to them. The VE8 might just be the ticket to the greatest listening experience you’ve ever had.