“That’s an IEM?” I ask incredulously, gazing at the huge box in front of me, which my colleague has just introduced as an IEM that had been sent to us for review. “It’s packaged really well,” replies my colleague. And it is: the box is filled with packing peanuts and another, smaller box that contains an authoritative-looking metal cylinder that contains a bag that itself contains the Lime Ears Aether R.
I often get suspicious when I see packaging like this. Often, it points to a more consumer-oriented product that sacrifices sound quality for looks or functionality or whatever. Upon listening to the Aether R, these suspicions mostly vanished. These really do sound good.
The Aether R is a €1,200 IEM that employs 6 balanced-armature (BA) drivers, and it’s available in both custom and universal-fit models.
In the Box
In my reviews of high-end ($1000+) headphones, I’ve often found myself excluding this section. It tends more to apply to portable consumer products that demand certain accessories for proper functionality (cases, cables, etc.). But with the Aether R, Lime Ears provides a truly luxurious unboxing experience. People who love unboxing will love these earphones.
I’ve already spent a bit of review real estate talking about the construction of the box, but let’s talk about that cylinder. It’s heavy, thick, and it makes a satisfying clink when you remove or replace the lid. I’m not sure exactly where you’re expected to keep it, but I don’t care. It’s nice and I like it, okay?
The smaller box inside the larger box also contains a large collection of tips – SpinFit and Comply – which is always a welcome addition. It also contains a cleaning brush, a little baggy for transportation, a card containing the serial number and manufacturing date (December 6th for my review unit), and another little baggy full of pretty tasty Polish cream fudge candies (!) that the members of my office happily tucked into.
There’s no doubt that Lime Ears intends to spare no expense in the unboxing experience. For me, that’s usually a pretty dull part of any review, and the Aether R has clearly elevated itself above the competition in that regard.
- carrying bag
- complete set of SpinFit and Comply foam tips
- nice metal cylindrical box
- user manual and signed certificate of authenticity
- 5x Polish fudge candies
- a lot of packing peanuts
Build and Comfort
I can’t say that I’ve seen a correlation between price tag and visual appeal with any of the earphones I’ve tried. The Aether R Universal combines a fairly standard black shell with a gold-colored metal logo on each faceplate – understated and attractive, but not standout. Not that I have much of a problem with that – most of my headphones are far uglier than these.
Of course, if you’re not getting the universal model, there are plenty of customization options on Lime Ears’s website for color, faceplate design, cable color, and many more, so you can easily make these as attractive as you want (or as unattractive – a skin-tone shell with gold-glitter faceplate, gold leaf, and rhinestones is a possible combination, for only €240.00 extra).
Comfort-wise, I found the Aether R Universal slightly lacking for my small, asymmetrical ears – they just didn’t quite fit in properly. Well, I do tend to have comfort issues with quite a few IEMs. Fortunately, this is available as a custom model, and I’d probably recommend going that route anyway if you’re planning on spending this much on your earphones.
The Lime Ears Aether R isn’t quite neutral, but it provides a non-fatiguing sound that’ll be a real winner among pleasure listeners. There are some areas where it falls a bit flat, most notably on resolution, but overall I like the way the Aether R sounds. On to the specifics!
(For more details on how my descriptions work, check out my article “How Headphones Sound (to me).”)
One of the selling points of the Aether R is the presence of a little switch on the shell that activates or deactivates a slight bass boost. While Lime Ears claims up to 8dB of gain in the bass with the bass boost on, I don’t think it’s quite that much – perhaps more in the realm of 4-5dB. The bass certainly comes forward in the mix, and perhaps the boost adds a bit of extra thump, but it’s not so bass-boosted as to drown out the mids. Overall, it’s a tasteful boost.
The character of the bass is slightly softened, as one might expect from an IEM that uses only BA drivers. It can hit, but it’s more with a slightly rounded “thud” than a rumble. Not a problem for me, as I enjoy this kind of bass texture as well. Bass extension is pretty good, but the Aether R clearly presents more of a midbass-oriented sound signature, which partially explains its sort of thumpy character. That means the subbass is somewhat downplayed, though still present.
The Lime Ears Aether R presents listeners with an unabashedly colored midrange. For listeners who are really used to a totally neutral midrange, the Aether R may come off as slightly strange-sounding. But I think it does something really nice with its tonality.
The midbass boost extends pretty far into the midrange, so the lower mids are primarily characterized by warmth. This is followed by a dip at around 500-600Hz, and a build in volume up to 3kHz. Interestingly, the frequency response more or less falls off a cliff from 3-4kHz.
The result is a non-fatiguing, warm sound with pretty laid-back but still present upper mids. In a more neutral tuning, we’d hear the upper midrange boost moved up to around 4kHz. As a result, the Aether R doesn’t sound 100% natural, but it doesn’t really sound artificial either. I still enjoy classical music on it, though (quite a bit, actually!) which indicates that the tonality isn’t that far off. But its warm, laid-back sound can sound straight-up intoxicating on certain genres – for example, I really enjoyed the Aether R for older J-pop and electronica.
The treble is where the Aether R runs into its biggest flaw, in my opinion. The Aether R doesn’t have any issues with recessed treble or lack of treble presence, despite its warm tonality. However, its treble is slightly peaky, leading to some sibilance issues on brightly-mastered or recorded tracks.
Specifically, I’m hearing a pretty strong boost at about 5kHz, and again at 8kHz. The fact that the treble’s frequency response isn’t that smooth does contribute to some loss of detail, but it’s not too bad – you still get a pretty good sense of detail with the Aether R, especially in the midrange.
The Lime Ears Aether R has a good sense of separation and a pretty expansive sound. The soundstage isn’t absurdly wide or deep, but I think it’s certainly above average – you get a realistic, uncluttered presentation of instruments. The high midrange resolution means that you get a pretty good sense of space through ambient noise, as well.
No, it’s not quite as vast as the very best available at this price (probably the Campfire Andromeda). But overall I think the Aether R provides a very good soundstage – certainly above average.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Good soundstage; laid-back, fatigue-free tonality; bass switch allows suitability for multiple genres; good midrange resolution; you get delicious Polish candies
Cons: Treble a little peaky and/or grainy; go custom for best comfort
I think most listeners will be impressed with the Lime Ears Aether R. It offers a unique, well-balanced sound signature with relatively good technicalities, especially in the midrange. The bass switch is a welcome addition, allowing greater suitability for multiple genres. While the treble resolution may lag slightly behind the rest of the Aether R’s sound, it’s nothing offensive, and I don’t usually find myself bothered by it.
At €1,200 (or about $1,350 USD), the Aether R is no drop in the bucket, but it carries itself like a luxury product, with great, fun packaging. And it sounds great, too! Check it out at Lime Ears’s website.
As a disclaimer, MajorHifi may receive commissions from retail offers.