Vibro Labs Aria: An Elaborate Song for Solo Voice

Pros: Super-solid bass, warm sound, wood covers add quality, top class build, quite a pleasing overall signature

Cons: Large nozzle, fit on the larger side, Pelican case now cost extra

Aria: “an elaborate song for solo voice”

 

My parents used to live in Maine. My Dad worked for the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad. He was a Civil Engineer for the company working on the maintenance and upkeep of the railroad, in all weathers and all conditions. He loved it. Two of my sisters were born in Bangor, where Vibro Labs is located. Once I found out that I was on the tour, I sent Luke an email stating the above. I told him a story. A story of my father and his love for the Northwoods of Maine. His love for the wilds of Northern Maine. He absolutely was at peace and solitude of thought in the woods of Maine…a much, much wilder Maine, back then. One where he would regularly see Black Bear, Moose, Mountain Lion and other wild critters to his delight.

 

Mt. Katahdin, Fall

 

Part of what he did in this job was to travel the far reaches of the railroad, to the hinterlands, to the wilds of Maine. You might say it helped Transcend him to a wilder time in our history. A time he would use to devote his love to the railroad, knowing full well it was the lifeblood of this country at the time, a desperate vein of existence which the country needed for it’s survival. A way to make the country grow and become what it was at the time…the engine that drove the World. The key to a world’s prosperity.  A love, which saw him foretell the demise of the industry he loved and dedicated his life and career for, still the most efficient way to transport goods and services across this vast country. An industry, which has lost out to the “me first, I need it NOW” generation. His love for his job easily carried over to a love for the wild. A love for all things natural and beautiful. A love he effortlessly carried over to us. He was most at home working on the railroad and living in the wild or making beautiful items from the wood that surrounded him. Much the way Luke and company do at Vibro Labs.

 

My all-time favorite model railroad car

 

He quite often used his weekends to tend a camp deep in the woods or care take on Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in Maine at 5,267’. Part of what he and his partners did was keep and maintain a 13’ high pile of stone on top, so that the mountain was exactly 5,280’, one mile. Deep travel up and down the wild Penobscot River led to the cabin and he tells of when they floated a potbelly stove down the river, in full Spring flood on a homemade raft of large logs, so that they would have heat in the cabin. He once told me that was probably the silliest thing he ever did, but he felt his party was never in danger. A true outdoorsman, he passed those skills on to my three sisters and myself. A gift we cherish to this day.

 

It is this determined love for the Wild North, which I believe drive Luke and his crew at Vibro Labs. A determination to deliver an excellent product at an understated blue-collar price, if you will. A gift he is sharing with us, and one in which I believe he has succeeded with the Aria. A product, which while not a cutting edge innovative piece, other IEM’s have multiple Balance Armature drivers, a product which successfully channels his love for the Northwoods and an ear for a no-compromising sound. One, which he clearly states is his taste, his “opinion” of what an excellent In-Ear should sound like, while harkening easily to a vision of those woods which he and his crew clearly love, as did my father. One that through the Aria I can now say I share with the both of them. A gift to me, of which I am ever grateful. A listening treasure which I will cherish as fond a memory of as the story my father told me of the Maine woods.

 

I am grateful to @Luke Pighetti and Vibro Labs for inclusion on the Aria tour. One, which has had a few bumps, but one, which continues and I am glad. All the Vibro crew asks is an honest review and I would have it no other way. This is a good piece of kit.

 

 

Intro:

 

I read the Aria Tour thread thoroughly, awaiting the product. I stopped when I hit the reviews. I did not want someone’s opinion to temper my judgment (it didn’t) before I received the Aria. As the day drew closer, I peeked. I read a couple of the reviews. I read a couple more. And finally I had read them all. I decided that I DID want some formulation of others so I might gain a sense of what to expect. I categorized what I read, and shoved it to the back of my gray matter. Opinions, which I drew out with my time together. I agree with much of what has been said, disagreeing with others (well, of course!), but a commonality arose from my view and the others; one that this was an excellent IEM, which would probably not offend many in its tuning. A tuning, which had good reach in the bass, a slightly warm sound signature and a non-offending treble and mid. Early reviews likened a slight V-shape to the sound, with the mids playing behind the bass and treble.

 

My first listen and I disagreed with this assessment. I immediately thought the mids were quite far forward. Coming from my Campfire Audio Nova, the Aria seemed much more forward in presentation. More forward in the mid tones, with better bass. As my week unfolded through over 45 hours of listening (Christmas break helped), I developed a sense that the mids were not as far forward as thought originally. The bass and treble pushed those mids slightly ahead, but a solid if not mild V-shape was heard. This may seem like a dichotomy…how can the mids be pushed forward by the bass and treble, but the signature be a V?! Well, that is part of the tuning, which is presented by Luke and the gang. A sound I will delve into below.

 

A mid-tour return to Luke for a tune-up and replacement of the wood covers (to match what he was currently selling) brought mixed reviews. A drop in price from the original $599 to $499 for the Universal Aria did not hurt, either! Some stated that the tune was changed, and invalidates what some had heard. I am not sure since I did not hear prior to the return. But I will say that I agree mightily with the current tune. It is warm, inviting and deep. Lindsey Stirling’s Transcendence sounds simply invigorating, mesmerizing, and entrancing; not to mention the joy on the faces of the Paraguayan kids who made their own instruments. A young Philanthropist, Lindsey shows a diversity in which she includes in her music videos as well as a love for what she does using the wonderful cultures of our planet. I must thank @Army-Firedawg for turning me onto Lindsey; she is fabulous, diversified, and a wonderful mark with which to judge tonality and reach of any headphone.

 

Case fits easily into a pocket

 

@twister6 stated in an excellent TOTL IEM shootout, that we must review headphones (and gear) not based upon our likes, but how we actually rate the product. We must put aside our “sound preferences” and rate the item on its own merits. This makes perfect sense to me. But, when something elevates our own tastes (as the Aria has mine); then we should probably incorporate and modify our definition of musical “tastes” to include the redefining…

 

My first listen and…before I knew it, it was 0230 the following morning. I had already put 5 hours into them…oh Schiit! The Aria BEG you to turn the volume up. Saying, rather loudly, LET’S GO! I’M IN CONTROL, NOT YOU! Oh, and HANG ON! That was my first impression, and one I held unto the end. The Aria did not demand your attention, rather they were like my father and the Penobscot River…come on let’s go, we have miles to go, and you do not have a choice…you are coming along. I will not wait forever. I’m glad I jumped on.

 

Quite the nice looking unit.

 

 

Current Specs (Universal):

  • Circassian Walnut
  • Smoke SLA shells
  • 20Hz – 20kHz
  • 15Ω impedance
  • 110 dB/mw sensitivity
  • $499 Retail with the standard $29 cable and Comply T600 Isolate and Comfort tips
  • Build of the shell is 3D printing with a cascading effect much like those water walls you see in fancy buildings (picture) kind of cool, it is.

 

From @Jackpot77 I read that the Aria is a 4 BA configuration, with two drivers allocated to bass and two to treble. Midrange is derived from the “outer ranges” of both, without their own dedicated driver. I agree with @Jackpot77 in that I don’t hear the “scooped out mids” either, as some on Head-Fi have mentioned. If anything, the mids sound SLIGHTLY forward to me…belying the slight V-shape.

 

Devices of choice:

 

In various iterations I used the following, with no rhyme or reason (mostly):

  • iPhone 6+
  • Fiio x3ii alone and with Fiio A3
  • MacBook Pro with Schiit Audio Modi 2 Uber/Magni 2
  • Nobsound NS-08E

 

 

Build:

 

Upon opening the box, I was pleasantly surprised with the walnut backing. It reminded me of my high school shop production…a walnut dining table for my mother (toned down to a coffee table, it was high school and I was not the most motivated). Although my Mother’s project was toned down, I marveled that no matter how much I sanded the walnut, and with the finest grit we had at the time (400g), there were always those minute pockets where saw dust accumulated. I kind of liked it, but you know how it is…my shop teacher was fabulous, but wanted all the sawdust removed. So I did. Looking at the dust marks on the Aria brought that memory back immediately. I did not mind. These are on the larger size, and do stick out of my smaller ear a bit. Take that as you will, I could still get good seal with the Comply TS600 Isolate tips, with no pain even after long listening sessions.

 

Seamless would be an understatement as to how the walnut connects to the 3-D printed shell. I was sure that I would feel the seam. Shame on me for not trusting the artist. Overall, the build is quite exquisite. Not exotic, but exquisite. I really liked the “ramp” on the downslope of the shell towards the quite large nozzle. It looked like a tilled hillside in the South American Andes. I really liked that shape. Overall this is a very well built unit, with your choice of cables. The standard one was provided (I was a bit taken aback, but that quickly changed), which retails for $29 on the Vibro site. The Linum ($79, separately) can also be had, as well as a much more premium balanced one. In a conversation with Luke he stated how he liked the regular cable, but his girlfriend liked the Linum. I would be happy with either, but knowing how the Aria sounded with the normal, I would “settle” for that quite happily. Tactilely soft, the cable felt good and would seem to wear well, knowing that most of us treat such a purchase with much respect.

 

Very, very good quality build

 

 

 

Listening sessions:

 

 

My main point of comparison for this review is the excellent Campfire Audio Nova. While I did throw the MEE Audio Pinnacle P1 into the fray, this was mainly to see how the P1 compared to the Aria. And it handled the challenge quite well, confirming yet again to me what a fine piece it is.

 

One of my first detailed listens, after that late night was the movie Fury. I really like that movie, and it has some really good music. During the prep scene at the crossroads, where all in the tank fully understand that they will probably not survive the night; a choice of impassioned music played hard-hitting bass, with a full sound that enveloped my head. I am at the crossroads with the Aria! Stay and fight with me the Aria says! For those who have not seen the movie, I will not spoil it. Suffice to say, that the Aria drew me into the movie, up close and personal. To me, the sound stage is slightly smaller, more intimate than the CA Nova, but the sound is of better detail. Playing both through the Fury scene, the Aria handled the build up and complications without trouble. But, for the first time, I heard in my Nova a congestion of sound. While slight, and it took the Aria to make me realize this, it is there in more complicated pieces, verified by the more vibrant of Stirling’s songs. Woe, I shant unhear it, but this will in no way make me appreciate the Nova any less.

 

That said if a product can make a fellow $500 IEM sound congested, even slightly then to me it clearly (pun intended) indicates a higher level of detail separation in the instrumentation. One I was not expecting. Not to mention making a fine acquisition of mine sound somewhat hollow in comparison (an opinion from a co-worker, which I echoed).

 

I actually like seeing the inner parts, a first

 

 

Continuing with the audition, I watched the Rangers v Celtic Scottish Premier League (SPL) game on New Years Eve using the Aria, which worked well as a monitor. What a game it was! This was the first time in 4.5yrs the game was held at the Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow; the Rangers home turf. After a ban, which saw the Rangers drop all the way to the third division in Scotland for insolvency and failure to maintain appropriate finances, they were back in the top tier (SPL), challenging Celtic.  One of the fiercest rivalries in the whole of the soccer world called “The Old Firm,” it is based in large part on the Protestant vs Catholic faith; this was to be a true test if Rangers were indeed back on top. Celtic has not lost in the SPL this year having soundly beaten Ranger 5-1 in the match at Celtic Park. This was a good match, with Rangers drawing first blood. Celtic eventually settled into the game, winning 2-1, when former English Premier League player Scott Sinclair finally finished one of his many chances late for the win. I am a Rangers fan. I do not like Scott Sinclair…

 

Rangers v Celtic make Real Madrid v Barcelona look like a toddler match…

 

The Aria was a competent monitor for the game, but not really what it was meant to do.

 

Moving into more musical tastes, Lindsey Stirling’s Zi-Zi’s Journey was quite stunning. Diverse of instrumentation, including mostly electric tones, the Aria shined in the “metal-like” sound. It has been said that the Aria works quite well for EDM and based upon this listen, I do not doubt that statement. An excellent punch from the bass and treble, which is not overpowering, but clearly there the Aria shined. I found myself turning the volume up again to match the energy provided by the IEM presentation.

 

Electric Daisy Violin was even better with a deeper “grabbier” bass-line. Very present, the bass laid down a line, which was clearly followed by her passionate violin work. Support instrumentation was in the proper place, as support. This song to me laid probably the widest sound stage of any of her songs; a welcome change from the narrower set of other music.

 

Wonderful walnut finish

 

 

The Phoenix by contrast sounded weak and thin, with over-present upper mids and treble. While not bad, I do believe the intention of the sound Engineer was to provide a “vibrant forward” sound. Let’s just say that they succeeded, and the Aria accommodated that sound. While listenable, it was not pleasant. A flaw of the music, I do believe.

 

The Arena was a tale of two listens. On my iPhone 6+, the Amazon Music “house sound” was thin and lacked energy. Substituting bass for actual sound quality the Aria faithfully reproduced the unpleasantries. Again, not the fault of the Aria. But, when playing through the MacBook Pro/Schiit stack, the YouTube video was transformed into an absolutely vibrant representation of passion, ability and quality. Yes, I know that even the official videos do not produce the best audio quality, but this was quite good. I listened, and watched the cinematography over and over marveling at the diverse movements, costumes and MadMax-like setting. A trend was forming in the Aria…

 

The “terraced” effect of the 3-D printing, quite nice

 

 

Moon Trance highlighted a really good bass line (electric-bassy) with the reverb or rumble, which gives good extension to that bass. Tight, full, detailed, and “fit” is how I would define the Aria bass in this song. Instrument separation is good, as is vocal placement. Another good example of how Aria can handle EDM-like Hip Hop music.

 

Hold My Heart featuring ZZ Ward just epitomizes what the Aria brings to the table. A song with a sultry, sensuous bass line combines like satin sheets on your bed with Ward’s vocals. Throw in Lindsey’s violin work, what with the finger work; and you have an incredibly sumptuous song. One, which makes you just sit there, taking all the music in, completely enveloping your senses; both visual and auditory. The Aria provides that wonderful bass line and vocal-mids to make you truly appreciate the musical complexity of Ms. Stirling…Just wow. I was falling for either her, or the Aria…I could not decide.

 

 

Johnny Cash’s Long Black Veil was intimate and wonderful running through the Schiit stack and MacBook Pro-quite and iTunes. When you hear the intonation of his voice, and the breaths he takes during the song, the IEM has won me over. Compared to CA Nova the Aria is a fuller, deeper sound yet again. Hitting harder down low, Cash was quite pleasing. This is making me think of selling the Nova to fund the Aria Universal or Custom…

 

In another light, simply spectacular!

 

The longer I listen, the more I like it and the less I want to take the Aria out of my ears…I was finding a very satisfying “punch” from the bass. Almost like you would find coming from a fine floor standing speaker. The enclosure (the IEM here) punching the floor (my ear) with authority to let you know it is powerful. Not an overwhelming authority, but a respected punch, which lets you know the IEM is there for a purpose.  Dragonfly from Ziggy Marley is an excellent example of this. Excellent definition, intimate sound stage yet wonderful separation of instruments, vocals exactly center stage with support instruments where they need to be and that bass enclosure punch. Coming in at the right time, crystal clear and coherent, the sound is just…well…right.

 

Wild Women by Francine Reed & Lyle Lovett—just wow! Her voice oozed through the Aria. This was the only instance where the Aria took a back seat. There is no way Francine would let ANYONE be in charge, except her. Her voice is powerful, full, deep and rich. A voice, which could bring a headphone to its knees, without mercy. Thankfully, the Aria was up to the task, allowing Ms. Reed center stage for a change. It was worth it. You had a front row seat to an iconic voice, with superb results. The two were just a fabulous combination, period.

 

The Allman Bros is one of my all time favorite groups, and second only to Stevie Ray Vaughn in the number of times I have seen them live. They are an excellent test for good ole’ rock-n-roll music with that southern flair. Man I just love their music…The piano solo of Chuck Lovell’s in Jessica is an all time great. One of the best ever, and even better in person when he tours with them…I swear the solo went on for 15 minutes…and you could actually FEEL him abusing the ivory to get what he wants out of the keys. The Aria was right there with him on stage, I swear. When you throw in Dicky Bett’s guitar solo, you have a song, which can test almost any headphone. The Aria was in the front row, jamming along with the Allman Brother’s (and Francine), guiding them down the road of music. Not content to be along for the ride, but helping the group fulfill their musical promise.

 

 

 

 

 

Source comparisons:

 

Since many of us use more than one type of transport, I felt “obligated,” oh darn…to test the Aria (I really like saying that…Aria…) using what I had from my Fiio x3ii to my iPhone 6+ to my MacBook Pro.

 

Fiio x3ii:

 

The overall “cleanest” sound went to my Fiio x3ii, even when hooked up with my Fiio A3 amp. Almost “antiseptic” in sound this allowed the Aria (there it is again!) to bring its wonderful warmness to the excellent DAP. One, which to me makes the Fiio all the more valuable. By allowing (to me) the IEM to show it’s “color,” the Fiio let the Vibro (fooled you…) color my palette of sound. The match was not lost on me, and I quite enjoyed everything from Steely Dan’s excellent Gaucho album to Dave Holland and Pepe Habechuela’s wonderful Spanish Guitar album Hands. What with the dichotomy of bass, bass guitar and Flamenco, one would think that a preference would come to the fore. Honestly, non-did. Dave Holland’s bass line is like we are the calluses on his hand. Strumming each string WITH him. Conversely, Donald Fagen’s voice seemed like we were his Uvula watching the sound exit his mouth. And much on the Head-Fi thread was made of how the Aria (back to that of course) handled and loved EDM. I would not disagree, but it really handled the differences of genre quite well with the Fiio. Again, the IEM was allowed to shine.

 

iPhone 6+:

 

Many of us simply do not have the time, means or modus operandi to run a DAP day-to day. What with working in a school setting, I am bound by the district’s policy (as it should be) of streaming music. As such, we use our Smartphones through Amazon Music, native music, Spotify, or Tidal. I tend towards Amazon Music, because I am cheap, and I like the variety. Even though I am post-50, I still enjoy newer music ranging from Lindsey Stirling (as if you could not tell from above…) to twentyonepilots, to Coldplay, to Dave Matthews. Pretty much anything I threw at the Aria sounded good. While not up to the MacBook/Schiit stack combo or the Fiio/Fiio; as a music-playing device, I would be quite happy using the combo. The fact that the smaller clamshell case now comes standard makes for an even better fit into my pocket. Deep lush sounds emanated from Dave Matthews already deep voice on his version of Long Black Veil, an incredibly sad and forlorn song about true love. The Aria was extremely respectful of the historical aspect of the song, while showing the way to the true feeling of the song. I have not heard the song sound that good except for the MacBook/Schiit stack combo. It was truly an introspective moment in time. One, which would easily justify this portable unit as a real unit.

 

 

MacBook Pro/Schiit stack:

 

 

This was a pretty clear favorite of mine, even though the Fiio provided the cleanest of sounds, the Mac/Schiit provided me with my favorite sound. Full, deep, bassy (but not overwhelming), and far-reaching; the sound also provided me (in most cases) with the widest sound stage. The Aria really highlighted its strengths in this set. A bass that could shake the housings as mentioned above (but not rattily), warmness on a cold winter night and a welcoming mid section, which allowed the vocals to take the center, the combination thoroughly brought out the highlights of any YouTube video shown or iTunes song. Excellent separation of instruments, placed exactly where the musicians want, imaging exactly as it should be; the Aria just provided a naked-truth sound, which hit all of my buttons. Quite impressive; this showcased how the Aria takes charge of the music, and you had better hang on, and get your feet under you. Lest you be dragged through the mud whilst the Aria laughs mightily in front of you.

 

 

I am reminded of some of my favorite mountain bike races…the muddy, cold ones. I always seemed to excel in those events. I just loved that we were not fighting with Mother Nature, but trying to coexist with Mother Nature on a level SHE wanted. This is how the Aria treated the music out of the Mac/Schiit. And this defines what I stated at the beginning where the Aria was in charge. And you had better wear a helmet. A musical race where you do not mind crashing, because the Aria will pick you up, and will sound better as a result.

 

As @jinxy245 pointed out in his excellent review, these are not “Mid-head” IEM’s, the mids tend to be relaxed and pleasant. I agree mostly, but found the mids to be a bit forward. Mind you, I did not dismiss this, and quite liked it. An addition to the overall, I found the mids to be the left and right arms, which connected your best friends as you happily walked along, the bass and treble on the left and right. A connection with which I valued the tuning from the artist. Luke hit the mids right for me, tying the overall presentation together. Combine this set up, and I would happily sit at my computer all day.

 

 

 

 

 

Closing thoughts:

 

I would like to thank Luke for this tremendous honor, and thank him for the genuine listening pleasure, which he crafts in the woods of Maine. A place near and dear to my family (alas I have never been…), the artisan’s wares shine through in the Aria. The true measure of the hobby we love. Just a well-rounded piece the Aria is. No big deficiencies and strong in all suits, not weak in any. What a Utility Player brings to a baseball team, or better yet a Special Teams player brings to a football team (American, sorry). The one who hits the hardest on the team, and accepts their role knowing it is vital to the success of the team. The Aria while boisterous of character, ultimately knows its place…one, which does the dirty work for you, so you can enjoy what you were meant to…the music.

 

Some of us write from quite an emotional point about the gear we test (as I did for my beloved Nova). While we must “procure” the needed analytics of the instrument of our test we MUST also include that emotional aspect into our thoughts and scribble. Without emotive response, our music is dead. One only need watch Lindsey Stirling’s stirring We Found Love, sung and played with true heart from Kenya to understand what music means to most cultures. If the instrument we harbor and hold dear can evoke that kind of emotive response then we have justly reached what we desire musically. I am lucky enough to be auditioning another excellent piece of gear whilst I write this, and it evokes that same kind of emotive response, but through a different avenue. It is an open-ear headphone, so in a completely different sense, it completes that same emotion as the Aria, but for different purposes. I mention this, because I am darn lucky to be able to do this. When a piece such as the Aria can emote that same response as something which costs twice what it does, then I am enamored. I am taken to that musical place with which we all desire. That majestic place which mimics whatever imaginative version of Avatar our heart desires. That special oneness place in which we all desire to get. Whether it is with that over-ear or the Aria, I can say that I have met and found that place, and I’m OK with that.

 

It seems that each time I audition something; I state that I have raised the bar of my awareness. I have “found my listening bliss.” Well, this is the first time, I can honestly state that if I were to only have the two headphones with which I am discussing, then so be it. I have indeed found it. My Avatar. My place of musical harmony. And it is the Aria, which has drug me here; rather noisily I might add to reach this peak. One, which upon arrival, the Aria states quietly (as a change), we have arrived. An elaborate song, indeed. And I am happy.

 

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