In-Ear Fidelity

The Big Reset (2023 IEM Ranking List Update)

Table of Contents

Almost two years in the making.

This update now brings the IEM Ranking List to 1,069 IEMs now officially ranked under the IEF system. All the to-the-point details are down below but for those who prefer me ranting to a camera about these entries, this week’s video will be me doing exactly that.

(Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you haven’t already.)

The Usual Disclaimer

Before I begin, I shall copy and paste the disclaimer that has been on the Ranking List since its very inception.

Yes I know it’s wholly unnecessary for most of you dear readers, but it’s no secret that some of you have some literacy problems and require the section to be crammed down your slimy throats before you acknowledge its existence.

So… ahem.

  • The IEMs are ranked purely by sonic performance. Fit, isolation, durability, build quality etc. are ignored unless they interfere with the sound itself.
    • The letter ranks are NOT according to price-to-performance value. They are ranked according to what I think is “the best” based on my experience and, ultimately, personal opinions. 
  • Many IEMs in this list are tested using (universal) demo units from shops.
    • Custom-fit units that were tested will be specified as “custom”. A “Third party custom” is someone else’s customs that I forcefit into my ears. Any other use of the term “unit” will be universal.
  • The positions are not set in stone. I’m only human; I may miss out on certain details or traits that may only be apparent with repeated listening. Expect changes.
  • Ranks will be determined based on the best unit tried. Because of this, I am not accounting for unit variation. I cannot guarantee that what I’m hearing is what you will be hearing.
    • This will revert to the most recent unit tried if there is a significant time gap between the last and most recent times I tried a particular model.
  • Unreleased products will not be included in the ranking list until they are officially out of preorder stages or have production units sent to distributors.
  • Prices are at MSRP in USD. Prices not directly available in USD are based off the exchange rate during the time of writing.
  • A (non-complete) list of IEMs that I’ve tried can be found on my measurements database.
    • Some of the IEMs on the database (that I’ve tried) are not in this list. This is could be due to lack of interest, lack of enough ear time to make a proper decision on tier placement, or simply a lack of time in general.
  • Yes, this is the opinion of one person on the internet. Please do not get too offended if your favourite IEM isn’t graded as highly as you’d like. (vice versa applies)
  • This list is meant to be used as a reference point. I highly recommend against blind-buying and suggest to have a listen to the IEMs yourself. By all means, use this to shortlist what you should try in the future… but don’t take it as gospel.

Also, here I reference my “Tonal-Technical” post which highlights the process in which said IEMs are ranked:

So if anyone has any complaints of certain rankings of certain IEMs, do acknowledge that it is based on this weighted split between “Tone Grade” and “Technical Grade”. Just because an IEM may be “technically excellent” does not necessarily mean that it may be tonally so, and vice versa. And since I rank by a weighted system… well, the criteria for good rankings get even stricter.

The Changes

Before I continue, do note that the pre-update IEM Ranking List will still be available for perusal here.

This is the biggest Ranking List update that I’ve ever done by a fair margin, with nearly all existing entries being changed in one way or another (mostly a demotion of some form). Given the fact that the entire Ranking List has been more or less completely overhauled, there really isn’t a point in trying to populate a fully detailed changelog in this case.

That said, there are some major changes to the list as well as the ranking methodology which I shall explain here:

  • Tone Grades and Technical Grades now both follow a bell curve.
    • Previously, models were graded on an entry-by-entry basis, with Tone Grades and Technical Grades decided together at the same time on each individual entry. While overall ranks may have still been normally distributed in previous iterations, the Tone and Technical Grades were not.
    • For this update all entries are first ranked by tone in their entirety, followed by technicals in their entirety, resulting in both components now being graded according to a bell curve.
  • The “Note Weight” column has been removed. Finally.
  • The requirement to be eligible for a first value star (★) has been increased. Models now require a minimum of a “B-” rank to be considered for their first value star, up from the previous requirement of “C+”.
    • Only the top 10% of entries in price-to-performance value will be be awarded at least a value star. This is partially determined using my own algorithm, and then further refined under my own discretion.
  • References to Harman and Diffuse Field under the “Signature” column have been removed. 
    • There had always been debate on how compliant a frequency response should be to a specified target curve to be considered as being tuned to said target. Due to my own personal inconsistencies in their determination as well as differing opinions on the matter, the signature column will no longer reference any target curve.
    • Users are encouraged to use the Graph Comparison Tool to form their own opinions on target compliancy.
  • KZ.

Data Analysis

Ranking distribution by subgrade
Tone Grade distribution
Technical Grade distribution
Subgrade population data
Price-to-rank scatter plot

As it has been since the very beginning, the ranking list has sort of targeted a “normal-ish distribution”. There’s still some selection bias of course (I do not actively seek out the real bottom-of-the-barrel supermarket/convenience store stuff after all, hence the lack of D/E/F-tiered entries) but nothing I’m too concerned about at the end of the day.

Some notable stats:

  • Getting at least a C+ rank puts you in the top 50-ish percentile (47% to be exact). C+ is, quite literally, “above average”.
  • The highest rank, S-, has only been achieved by 3 models now and represents only 0.28% of the population.
  • Getting at least a “B+” rank puts an IEM around the top 10% (11.59% to be exact).
  • To be considered in the top 20%, an IEM must achieve at least a “B” rank.
  • The C-ranks (C+/C/C-) make up almost exactly half of the ranking list (52.06%).
  • Only 106 IEMs are awarded with at least 1 value star, representing about 10% of the population
    • There are only fifteen 3-star (★★★) IEMs, representing only 1.40% of the population and making it the most prestigious award an IEM can get.
    • There are thirty 2-star (★★) IEMs, making up only 2.80% of the population.
    • The 1-star (★) award is a lot more attainable in comparison. 61 awardees, or 5.70% of the population.

Remember kids: if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t exist.

Support me on Patreon to get access to tentative ranks, the exclusive “Clubhouse” Discord server and/or access to the Premium Graph Comparison Tool! My usual thanks to all my current supporters and shoutouts to my big money boys:

Denis Dmitriev
Jonathan Young
Stuart Charlton
Timmy Vangtan
GY Audio
Andrew Wilson
Johannes Kanavin
Vignesh R
Kyle Whiteman
Huy Do

44 thoughts on “The Big Reset (2023 IEM Ranking List Update)”

  1. Thanks for your hard work! But how about the Letshuoer S12? I remember you previously ranked it in your planar video.

  2. amazing! but alot of new iems missing, like the new thie, moondrop, simgot, dunu models etc… . hope they get added soon.

  3. Where is Aroma Audio Jewel, Subtonic Storm, UM Multiverse Mentor, Vision Ears Phonix, Noble Audio Viking Ragnar, Fir Audio Xenon 6 ?

    1. Now this is something I can agree with, I’d be curious to read his thoughts on the above and a few other Noble Audio higher end offerings (only got tidbits of info here and there on Discord).

  4. I’d still want to see the older chart, for archival and comparison purposes. Could you just leave it online and tag it outdated ?

    1. Good job with this. However, it’s unfortunate that there are those who feel “betrayed” because their beloved IEMs are not on the list. They certainly won’t appreciate the effort but I do. 👍🏽

    1. The bell curve in this case is valid.Power law is only valid in the athletic/business etc. worlds because there are objective measures to measure power/quantity. With crin’s ranking list there is nothing to measure objective performance.

    2. What are you trying to say? That relates to work performance and how it is not a fair form of comparing employees, this is about directly ranking audio devices’ frequency response and technical performance.

      That article relates in almost no way to the topic at hand? I mean, it’s not like the IEMs are “being rewarded for being in the middle” since people come here to get the best, or at least the furthest above average their money can get. Also I doubt the IEMs fit into the “no one likes being rated on a 5 point scale” lol. Did you even read the article? It’s almost 100% work-related, barely mentioning the school grading system.

    1. second this, been wanting to know which IEMs in the 20 dollar range I was gonna grab and the new Chu II kinda screwed with my brain since I WAS going to grab the first Chu for “vocal focus” and a Hola for a bass boosted more neutral sound if that makes sense (am a rookie in the audiophile world and just want to try some signatures without breaking bank)

  5. just want to pointed out, you said Oracle as “Functionally similar to the Clairvoyance with slight cutbacks in overall clarity and resolution.”
    But Clairvoyance in the new ranking list technical aspect is B+ while Oracle is still A-..
    So now Oracle has a better technical than Clairvoyance.

    1. As someone who owns both, yes, Oracle is more technical than Clair because Clair’s midbass is heavily bloated with an admittedly crap DD. Tonally, I like the warmer Clair more, but Oracle is more technical no doubt.

  6. Can’t agree that Unique Melody MEST MKII technical grade dropped from S- to A- and 7hz Timeless is still has an solid A.

    I have both and MEST MKII is superior. Everybody know MEST MKII surpasses Timeless, Variations, Viento, S8, etc in the technical performance. 🙂

    Come on, Blessing 2 is a very good IEM, but it is not winning against MEST MKII in technical performance haha

      1. I find that it’s very fit dependent (obviously) but especially in the case of the UM MEST MKII UIEMs – even the MEST MKI/OG sound better to my ears and I’ve tried virtually every single ear tip combination that exists from general anecdotes and customer feedback as per Andrew of Musicteck.

        I would say that if you can’t nail down the ideal fit/seal with the MEST MKII then I might very well place the 7hz Timeless OG and AE above, but YMMV. I don’t think think heard anything that rivals the Timeless OG @$160USD – especially paired with a cheap Qudelix-5k BT DAC/amp combo making it the ultimate affordable/budget solution for me to recommend to friends.

        You get an all-in-one solution for ~$250 USD – which greatly reduces the barrier to entry and increases accessibility into the hobby which is great IMO.

  7. If you’ve heard the 2023 version of the Annihilator I’d be interested on your thoughts compared to the 2021 version. I think they’re the complete package. The tonality/timble vs the technicalities is such a grand experience. Along with how engaging they are. The air surrrounding each sound is so intoxicating.

    And if you ever hear the storm and other top iem’s of today i’d love to head comparisons!

    Much love brother man. It’s been a blessing reading/listening to you over the years.

    1. You’re asking why a neutral IEM is ranked high by a guy who likes neutral, but I agree Mmk2 has bad dynamics. Subbass impact is fine with lean midbass. That’s a preference thing if someone sees that as good, like, you know… Crin.

    1. I don’t understand either, how come Andromeda dropped this much… it was S- or A tier that I remember . The old list should be kept pinned as well. The spacious sound in the andromeda is one of the best for IEMs.

  8. Hello, I have question regarding DUNU SA6 Tone Grade. What has changed in its tone? In previous version of ranking and in your review you have rated it S-, in new version it is B. As I analysed other sets, there were no significant changes in grading, but Dunu SA6 went drastically down. Could you explain it? Thanks.

  9. I’m obviously having a senior moment – but I don’t see the new list on the post? Am I losing it? Help

  10. Hello can you please review moondrop arias 2? Got myself one for $84.99! Think they’re amazing, very vibrant bass.

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