Written by ngoshawk
Published 7 minutes ago
Pros – Best box I have ever seen.
Sound, which is intoxicating.
Sparkle, detail, spaciousness.
Sound stage is very, VERY good.
No weaknesses of which to speak.
Cons – Ummm…still thinking about that.
Maybe the Torx screws, which could nick the finish?
Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X-retail $2400usd
Intro: When one finds out they are on a tour there are several layers of response. There is the initial coolness of being included into the club (sometimes pretty exclusive) while getting to listen to something pretty sweet. There is the next layer, which defines how long you have to wait; usually for me about ½ way through (the end is ideal, because you get the critter for a couple of extra days…). There would then be the layer of reading the other reviews of that product (if it has been out for a bit). Or NOT reading those reviews, since you want the anticipation/reaction to be raw. Next would be the laying up of the review specifics so you can focus upon the listening and review itself upon arrival. For something completely new, you must take especial care for you could well be the first. And NEXT to last is the arrival of said critter. You open the box, give a quick listen, fire off emails stating “unit in hand” or some such nonsense and then proceed directly to daughter-units Futbol practice (sigh no listen…). And then the last layer (the icing to me, and the best) …the listening while you write. Oh my, that is a darn good layer, too.
That is a fairly typical response to the way I see reviewing tour units. Due to the short-term nature of time involved, you really want to listen as much as possible. That’s kind of the point. As an added “layer,” you might have to investigate the company itself and products. I did somewhat here, but had heard good things regarding CTM, so I called that part good. Another layer would be that BOTH the IX and X were included, which is a definite benefit. I rather enjoy comparing, so this makes a natural comparison with what I have on hand (see list below).
As luck would have it, I just finished a couple of online grad classes, and could afford time again to the reviewing process (and more listening!!!). So, upon arrival (earlier than I thought, but that’s a good thing here, so…), I hooked the X up to my QP2R and listened. Man, an excellent pairing using the attached 3.5 se cable was wrought from Bandito. Tyler’s voice was fully in my head, and articulate. Succinctity of sound permeated my cranial matter with excellent detail. A very good start.
117.2dB @ 1kHz
20 Hz to 20 kHz
Single Armature Balanced
43.8 ohm @ 1 kHz
150Ω and 300Ω
What you get when we ship your In-Ear:
- Your Da Vinci X Universal Fit In-Ear Monitor
- Standard 50″ Cable
- Premium 4-Wire Hybrid Cable
- Interchangeable Sound Filters
- Hard Case
- 1/4″ to 1/8″ Adapter
- Airplane Adapter
- Cleaning Tool
- S,M,L Silicon and Foam Tips
- Double Flange Silicon Tips
UM Mentor V3
CTM Da Vinci IX
Campfire Audio Atlas (3.5 cable)
64Audio U8 (2.5 bal cable)
Thebit Opus #2
Macbook Pro/iFi iTubes2/iDAC2/micro iDSD Black Label
Shanling M5/iBasso PB3
Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:
Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots-Trench
I have espoused in the past about having either a plain box, which then focuses on the critter inside, or a box laden with information surrounding the company and IEM of choice. The CTM approach with the Da Vinci would be of the second variety, and I must admit I am fascinated by the box. Who would want the company with an IEM named for one of the greatest Scientific-designing minds of all-time to have an ordinary box? Certainly not me. Chock full of valuable information, you get a sense of efficiency of packaging (yes even though the box is on the larger side) as well as packed with that information. Presentations gets an A+ here.
As mentioned in the IX review, the two main halves are held together by Torx screws. Nary a scratch is had on the screws and fit of the upper half is perfect to the lower. Fit of the nozzles is very good, with only a slight difference in angle noticeable on the right IEM. Mentioned already in another review, we will leave it at that.
Made of black brushed alloy, you can still “promote” fingerprints on the IEM, and the chrome “X,” which crosses the back can gather prints as well. Not much can be done here. Finish is tight and good, no imperfections noted or differing layers of finish to be noted.
In-ear fit is again very good as mentioned. Better than my Mentor V3, which frankly is a PITA. Plug in, insert in ear, run cable over ear, push play and go. That’s it. Nicely done CTM.
Plugging in to the Shanling M5/iBasso PB3 combo, the gorgeous 2.5bal cable provided an almost fruity sound on Keb Mo’s Tell Everybody I Know. I do believe Keb Mo is still an unsung hero of recent Blues genre. His songs are sweet, supported by wonderful musicians, and this particular song is not different. Starting with the Southern sound of the Dobro, he brings in a light and airy keyboard/marimba-type of instrument. We delve even further south towards the Caribbean as a result. Fruity, fun, airy and an extremely pleasant sound from the X and that cable.
Before said song, my initial songs were listed above, and I found the X to be on the somewhat brighter side of life, with lively bass, even if it didn’t delve too deeply. My Mentor is somewhat bass-shy, and I love the sound signature. They are in the same price bracket, so good to know that two can catch my eye. Running Roger Daltrey’s The Love You Save, besides his voice taking front stage (oh darn), the bass line comes on first letting you know what this is all about. Rich of sound, quality and density; the X comes across as commanding here. Taking an active role in providing the sound here, you marvel at the presentation and layering knowing that Roger is 74 years young and can still bring it. An excellent album presented properly.
Follow that with the homemade 12-string of Junior Brown and you have essentially come full circle. His songs are always on the sharp, brighter side of life and this is no exception. A song I know well, The Better Half promotes a solid bass guitar line, melded perfectly with the singular snare giving that western-railroad sound. Throw in his guitar and rich, deep, melodic voice and this is a darn fine setup. His albums are not to be missed. Nor his small-venue concerts.
I guess it is a rock kind of intro to be had, because Joe Satriani’s fabulous Invisible comes on and you simply must turn the volume up. His guitar ability is right up there with my all-time favorite, Stevie Ray Vaughan, but in a different sense. Technique-wise Satriani has few peers. Simply superb. Combine that with his quick changes of pace and volume levels, and you have a sound, which could bring lesser IEM’s into trouble. You know the ones of which I talk…the ones that cannot handle technically-complicated songs. No problem for the X.
Backing off to something a bit mellower in Bonnie Raitt’s Love Letter, you appreciate the X’s response to female vocals. Sensuous, strong and full of vitality Bonnie’s voice plays extremely well through the X. No muddying or shadiness of sound. Presentation is as it should be. Solid and honest.
Finishing off with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s I’m Cryin’ you really have experienced all you need to formulate an “educated” opinion. Running towards his guitar licks, you scramble for the front row, knowing full well there isn’t a bad seat in the house, so why bother. Well, because it is the rush of the music, which draws you in. His sumptuous voice and guitar, which has not equal in my mind solidify whether the pleasure of your listen is worthy of inclusion intro “your club” or not. Many times, this is how I approach a review. Would this be something I would add to my stable of audio gear or not? When one shells out north of twenty-four Ben’s you have a right to know if the pleasure is placebo or long term. I have made that mistake on some, but luckily not at this level of price.
So, if you want to quit reading after this next bit, you will still understand about 90% of where I come from on the X (and the IX). When I had the Mason/Mentor V3’s in possession, I quickly realized that I liked the Mentor more. It’s presentation of bass and overall characteristics lent themselves more closely to my ideal. This was not the first time that I picked the lesser of the two on an “ultra-tour” as you might name it. I liked the u18T more than the Fourte and liked the u12T more as well. I would spend my hard-earned on either and almost pulled the trigger on a B-stock u18t…almost. I already had the Mentor on the way, so I thought my pocketbook would close up on itself…The CTM Da Vinci IX/X IS something I would spend my hard-earned on. I would add either of them to my arsenal, and it would be good. Both have excellent characteristics, which will be defined below and as part of the comparison section. So, there you go, you can quit reading and look at the cool pictures if you like.
Delving deeper, no really!
Hotel California from Hell Freezes Over is an incredible song to start with, and a fitting end to that greatest song of all-time debate. This song screams of Spanish dancers sashaying across the stage in long flowing dress and impeccable knee-high formal boots on the male. Just a superb representation of the song. I am thoroughly in love with the song. This is how I know that some are not worthy of use on this song. Either too bright and sibilant or confusing the sound because they cannot handle the complication of song; there is no hiding poor representation here. None.
The X comes through at the top. The meme above fits here as well. Come at me Bro! The way the song is represented, with the deep visceral bass and Don Henley’s voice coercing another level is followed by that Spanish Guitar of Joe Walsh & Glenn Frey. Simply incredible song presented as it should be. Fantastic.
Moving on to the iFi stack, Tidal Premium and my MBP, the X came along without problem. On It’s Just My Heat Talk’n from Los Lonely Boys, the presentation is again light, but not faint. The song itself is a remarkable juxtaposition of South-Texas blues and Central American staccato beat. Each strum of guitar is felt and positions well. No misgivings with the instruments. Done well, the song is. Added in was XBass+, but even without, the presentation gives that bit of thump down low, even if the song is a lighter arrangement. That tube sound from the iTubes2 gives the X some genuine soul on more than just this song.
Again, the X shows it can compete with the best when it comes to a diverse genre of music. I am again impressed.
I do get a sense of a more laid-back vocal presentation. Instead of being out front leading the charge, the vocals provide the necessary support to all. Throw on Porn Star, and the bass guitar line is the main course here. A great song, with varied beats and instruments, this is another song, which could be trouble for some due to the diversity of sound. But, the X plays with aplomb. You almost get the sense of the X grooving in your ears. Not bad.
Trees from twenty one pilots is a cacophony of sound exuberance. Almost hiding before the bold beat comes in, the song develops slowly, but man when it comes on, there is no hiding an IEM, which cannot keep up with the speed. Yet again, the X playfully comes. This is a rollicking good time. This song pretty much defines that the X can be EQ’d to your personal preferences. Driving the bass deeper with the addition, the songs crescendo is met with little resistance and finishes a fine tune from a fine IEM. Man…this is getting good…
CTM Da Vinci X ($2400usd) v UM Mentor V3 ($2100usd, sale):
The first thing that struck me switching to the V3 from the X was that the V3 sounded absolutely muddy. Mids sounded congested, and lacked the crispness of the X. The V3 definitely has a “meaty” sound to it. Better depth on the bass, the V3 is ahead down low. With an almost rolled off top end, the V3 lacks sparkle as well. The X has an air about it that is superb. When the V3 came on to the market, it was priced at about $2400usd, but has since been put on sale. At this price, a comparison to the IX might be better warranted. But you will get that, too.
The V3 (with the copper side on for the cable) definitely hits the warm side of the equation. Switching to the silver cable (by switching sides) the field evens out a bit, and that mid-drop all but goes away. Fit of the V3 falls behind as well. With a much longer nozzle, the fit can be a bit tricky. Throw in the stiff cable and you get an almost cumbersome affair.
Through all of that, I love the V3. I love how it sounds. I love that almost “dirty” sound. That down low and “it means business” sound. To me, the V3 is that poster your parents didn’t want you to put up in your room as a kid. The one with the killer legs. The one that would kick your sorry arse, then tend you back to health. Man, it’s baaaaaaddd. It joined my stable over the Mason V3 simply because to me it presented a better bass presence. I liked them both, but the Mentor V3 is the one that came home with me. If I had heard the Da Vinci X at the time, and had my choice, I would really have to think about that, and might have come home with the X. It is that good.
Switching to the M5/PB3 combination, the V3 brings things back in to line, presenting a better mid line than before. The iTubes2 most definitely had more of an effect on the V3 than the X. Using Jumpsuit from Trench, the presentation is again full and without reservation. THIS is the sound, which drew me to the V3. Solid bass, excellent vocals and a warm signature, which matches my taste. On Bandito you anticipate the end where the song cuts loose. Some IEM’s would falter here due to the complexity of detail. Neither does here. You turn it up and enjoy. Switching back to the X, the air between notes is something at which to marvel. Detail is paramount and if that detail were not of the caliber it is, the song would falter. The X provides that almost delicate balance of detail and a warm touch. I’m not even sure what reference sounds like (no training), but I imagine the X is the one to shoot for. That is not to say it is dry and analytical. Far from it. I mentioned fruity earlier. Fruity and airy would be apt descriptors.
CTM Da Vinci X ($2400usd) v CA Atlas ($1300usd):
Flipping to the Atlas, we get the clear bass winner here. Hands down. The flagship model from Campfire Audio (before the Solaris), the Atlas brings much to the table as it tries to muscle in to this territory. With a wide and tall sound stage, there is an expansiveness to the bass, which makes you think of an orchestra filling the concert hall with rich vibrant sound. Again, with a lower treble threshold than the X, the Atlas presents a rounded sound, emphasizing a slight mid-forward sound along with that bass line, which is to die for by the way. If it was only bass, this would not even be a contest. But when you look at the overall picture (albeit unfairly due to the price difference), the X shows itself well again.
With a more detailed presentation than the Atlas, there is no getting lost in the plot line as a result. You can clearly see the path and it is a sunlit mountain air type of day. The Atlas on the other hand, grabs you by the hand and tells you soft but deeply, “TRUST me.” And you then get on with the journey a bit scared and taken aback. Not bad mind you for the journey is good, just in a different manner than the X. The Atlas is still one of my favorites, because it has that fairly unique sound, presenting exactly how far a single DD can go. And it does an extraordinary job at it. But it simply cannot compete with 10 BA drivers, and twice the price.
The Finale, sadly (not really!!):
Throughout this, I have waxed on about a certain level of detail and a “fruitiness” to the sound. I do not mean this in a bad way, no. To me, the X would be that first batch of freshly-made Sangria for that fine Spring evening when you have friends over to celebrate the end of Winter. Even if there is still snow on the ground.
There is an openness to the sound, which can become quite intoxicating. You dare not listen too long, for you will become embroiled in the X’s spell, not able to rise due to the excellent Sangria. Well, I could think of worse things to do with my time…Speaking of time, I do appreciate the time I had with the IX & X. Albeit short, the time was spent utilizing many hours listening to tunes galore, DAP’s galore, combinations galore. Some late nights were had, and at the end…I did not mind because the X’s sound kept things lively, open, airy and fruity. In fact, so good were they, that I may most likely replace my TOTL IEM with the X.
I like fruit.
I am beyond smitten with the sound and cannot shake that feeling. Clarksdale Getaway from Charlie Musselwhite gives that end all sound. A driving down home blues tune, with his raw seedy harmonica filled in with the jam of a Fender, held together by bass and drums really ties the sound together. This is good stuff, and I do not want it to end.
I profusely thank the CTM crowd for sending their flagship IEM’s on tour. The tremendous trust put into each of us is an honor we must cherish and hold true. Plus, we may just end up purchasing one of these fine critters in the end…
*Edit: they did win me over, I purchased the X…I like fruit.