Reviewer: Dawid Grzyb
Sources: COS Engineering D1, LampizatOr Level7 (Psvane WE101D, resistor-relay volume control, DSD 64x engine) 
Preamplifier: Trilogy 908
USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra-X+
Power & integrated amplifiers: Hegel H160, Trilogy 992
Loudspeakers: KEF LS50, Boenicke Audio W5, Trenner&Friedl Art
Cables: Forza Audioworks Noir family, KingRex U-Craft (Y) USB, Harmonix X-DC2F power cords
Power delivery: Gigawatt PF-2, Gigawatt PF-1
DAP: Lotoo Paw Gold
Equipment rack: Lavardin K-Rak
Sundry accessories: Goldenote Drum (60Hz and 80Hz)
Room 1: Regularly shaped 4.5 x 6.2m basement, quite low ceiling     
Review component retail: €1'399

Vision Ears are a three-year old company with their HQ in Cologne, Germany. From what I've been told, their crew has been into the CIEM game for many years. That this would still be a fairly small operation comes as no surprise. Most competitors aren't into big sales figure either. A tight little staff can handle all the orders. Just so, these are highly skilled craftsmen who must know exactly what they are doing. The manufacturing process itself is quite long, with lead times of several weeks, even months. My first contact with a Vision Ears representative was on the 24th of March. The courier picked up my completed order on the 30th of July. That's a bit more than four months. Perfectly understandable, my review unit wasn't treated as a priority. Paying customers must come first so it's safe to assume that typical order turn-around will be faster. Assembly usually is said to be six to eight weeks. It is counted from the moment when the order form and proper ear moulds arrive at Vision Ears HQ. I was assured that each buyer is notified along the way if any delays occur. Vision Ears focus squarely on custom inner-ear monitors. Some competitors like Noble, Westone or JH Audio  also offer universal fit models and often are married to other companies with certain rebranded models. Not our German supplier. Their portfolio is rather tidy. The VE 1.2 is the basic two-driver model, with the VE2 quite similar but tuned differently. The VE3 is another 2-way but with three drivers. The VE4 becomes a 3-way design with four drivers, the VE5 ups the ante to a 4-way with five drivers. Prices are  €619, €769, €999, €1’239 and €1’399 respectively. There's one more design, the current VE6 flagship. That’s a 4-way model with six drivers per channel available in three different versions. The X1 is more bassy, the X2 more balanced. The  Xcontrol adds knobs to each earpiece to switch between X1 and X2 tunings on the fly. The fixed tunings are €1’499, the convertible is €1’899.

After your local audiologist has sent your mould to the supplier, the second most important thing for CIEM fitting is contact with the manufacturer. This is no joke when customers pay €1000+ sums and wait patiently for their orders to enter the queue. The worst situation is when weeks pass and nothing happens. This is why all CIEM manufacturers must excel at communications, something Vision Ears handled perfectly. Having had the dubious pleasure of working with manufacturers where two or three emails went unanswered whilst weeks turned into months, I appreciated the difference. First-timers dealing with such operators might well think they’ve been scammed to rattle the forum cages with bad word of mouth – radioactive fallout that could so easily have been prevented with a brief assurance of "we’re working on it". Of course proper communication skills are vital for all vendors. In one of our email exchanges, Srajan commented about how lack of communication is his #1 beef. "We’re all human, shit happens. When it does, let us know so expectations are managed and schedules reset.2 I couldn't agree more. During my four-month wait for the VE5, many things got discussed. The Vision Ears crew and I talked about parts, engravings, which type of material would work or not. Those were standard and strictly order-related concerns, not casual chit chat. 18 messages total exchanged, including the introduction courtesy and a final one with the tracking number. Again, Vision Ears handled my case in flawless fashion. I never waited more than two days for a reply. More often than not, a response arrived within minutes, always prompt and courteous, not one question unanswered. It’s safe to say that Vision Ears have excellent customer communications.

History lesson. Custom in-ear monitors, CIEM for short, are the most personalized hifi kit one may pursue. No other consumer-targeted device requires a visit to an audiologist to get made. CIEM rely on proper in-ear impressions or moulds. The final seal and sound quality depend on it. Bad moulds equal poor results. Having sat in an audiologist’s chair more than a dozen times, I have learnt when the entire procedure must be done again. It all relies on proper jaw opening with no subsequent movement as the silicone-based mould setting material must get past the second ear canal bend. The full concha is to be included and most makers require a perfectly bubble-free mould. The better your audiologist, the more perfectly the CIEM will fit your biology. Because of this early and unusually intimate stage, a buyer quickly gets the notion that something truly special is being cooked up. It's more rock star than patient treatment. Which is fitting since the first CIEM were made for rock stars. It all started because of Alex Van Halen.