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.
- 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:
An update of the “Technical Ability” article, explaining the concepts of ‘tonality’ and ‘technicalities’ which are the cornerstones of the IEF ranking system.
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.
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.
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: