In-Ear Fidelity

[Cliffnotes] ARC Custom Lineup: Budget Customs

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Near the end of December, I took a short trip to Thailand. Not for business, purely pleasure, but since I was in town I figured I’d have a look at the local scene. Maybe catch up on some IEMs I missed, or perhaps uncover some hidden gems that only locals would know about.

ARC Custom is a company that isn’t quite a locally-kept secret since they had a brief stint in Music Sanctuary’s catalogue, but I didn’t really keep up with their releases ever since they were dropped from Singaporean shores. So I decided to drop by (on appointment, of course) and see if they have any new goodies in store for me.

The business model of ARC is pretty standard for any new up-and-coming custom IEM manufacturers: providing a decent sound for as cheap as possible, in a market where the barriers of entry are notoriously high. So, while (spoiler alert) I don’t award any star value ratings to any of the ARC models, it is to be noted that typical “budget customs” have a price floor of about $200-$300 right out the gate. The hidden costs of custom-moulding every individual order rear their ugly head the lower price of a custom gets, so one shouldn’t really expect a $300 budget custom to perform at the same level as a $300 universal IEM.

With that in mind, let’s get into the lineup of Thailand’s most famous custom IEM brand.

ARC Pollux

Product page:

MSRP: 8,990 THB (~$285)

Driver configuration: single BA

I hold a certain special place in my heart for the Pollux. It’s a tuning that’s kind of like a weird mish-mash of the Etymotic house sound and the ProPhile 8’s interpretation of neutral (which is also my interpretation of neutral), resulting in a signature that’s not as intense as your usual Etymotics but also markedly reminiscent of that sterile, “studio”-type sound.

It’s not without its weaknesses of course; the usual caveats of a single BA setup still exist, especially one that is as flatly-tuned as the Pollux. The bass is limp and unsatisfying, the extension is near-nonexistent and the upper midrange could use just a tad more power. But at the end of the day, it’s a cheap (in the context of customs) IEM that’s decently tuned and owns its niche as a reference monitor.

Grade: B-

Readjusted from B in accordance to the standards set out in The Big October Mixup

ARC Mira

Product page:

MSRP: 12,990 THB (~$410)

Driver configuration: 2BA

The Mira moves away from the neutral, reference-style signature of the Pollux into something that’s more suited for everyday listening.

Overall, the Mira is an improvement on the Pollux in almost every regard: the bass is more impactful and natural, the midrange has proper bite, and the treble isn’t totally nonexistent. It’s a good refinement on a technical level without any odd tonal quirks or missteps that would raise any of my internal alarm bells.

I’d say that while the Pollux would be ARC’s value king due to the over-$100 discount compared to the Mira, the Mira would be my favourite of the three. The signature is nothing revolutionary and it’s not even that special on a technical level, but when you’ve heard as many mediocre to garbage IEMs as I do, sometimes “not screwing up” can be quite the breath of fresh air.

Grade: B

ARC Oculus

Product page:

MSRP: 17,990 THB (~$570)

Driver configuration: 3BA

The Oculus is where I think things are taken a little too far.

It’s easily the warmest of the ARC lineup, though again I have to remind you: warmth does not automatically mean that an IEM is canned as bad. But in this case, I struggle to find anything that the Oculus does better than the Mira on a technical level, and that’s pretty damning considering the $160 price premium.

Again, as with many IEMs out there, I don’t think the Oculus is bad. It’s entirely serviceable and I would probably still use it if I had nothing else on me. But in the presence of both the Pollux and the Mira, the Oculus is a bit of a black sheep in the ARC family. The concept is nice, to have a warmth-focused IEM to round out the lineup, but the execution could use a little more work.

Grade: B-

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2 thoughts on “[Cliffnotes] ARC Custom Lineup: Budget Customs”

  1. It’s easy to find out that the FR of the Oculus is so similar as VE8, but the GRADE varies a lot . However, I’ve heard VE8 myself and I think they don’t deserve their recognition, too much warmth, maybe same problem as the Oculus.

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