Soft Ears RSV ($729): The RSV is a staple around this price point for its highly balanced tuning and technically accomplished 5-BA driver setup. Immediately, the RSV comes across as the more balanced offering as though it has some deep bass emphasis too, its low-end is more reserved across the board. The Advar extends better and has a more powerful attack. The mid-bass is fuller and warmer on the Advar but it also has more texture. The RSV a noticeably faster decaying earphone with a pacier presentation. Combined with its more balanced tuning, it has a good leg up on separation on complex passages. The midrange is also more present on the RSV albeit neither I find fatiguing.
The RSV has bigger vocals while the Advar has a more laid-back midrange with a more coloured voicing. This means greater warmth and body combined with a more articulate treble. The RSV has a smoother articulation but a more transparent tone and greater raw accuracy. Though the core voicing is similar, the RSV does sound more linear and resolving. The treble is slightly more prominent on the Advar and it has a crisper voicing with the RSV being a bit more linear and accurate. The RSV has a more defined leading edge while the Advar has a higher-energy lower-treble. Above, the RSV extends a bit better, delivering greater micro-detail retrieval. In return, the Advar has a substantially larger and more immersive soundstage.
Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 ($899): The Vega seems like a more obvious model for comparison. However, given the now discounted pricing and more similar tuning, the Dorado made more sense for comparison to me. The Dorado is a considerably thicker sounding earphone with a fuller, chestier expression. It has a thicker bass with greater sub-bass and mid-bass giving it bigger, fuller notes. The Advar sounds cleaner by comparison and both are equally well-controlled. Due to its cleaner tuning, the Advar has a good separation advantage and sounds a bit more textured while the Dorado has greater dynamics and general thump. The midrange is slightly more laid-back on the Dorado but not by a huge extent. The Advar definitely has more clarity in the form of a more prominent midrange and more articulate treble.
The Dorado maintains its thick, chesty voicing here with a more even vocal range bump with less upper-mid bias. In turn, it isn’t as clear and tonally transparent but more obviously warm and full. It has big vocals but they aren’t as nicely defined as on the Advar. The treble, by comparison, is crisp and clean on both, but more so on the Dorado despite being somewhat less present. The Advar sounds more balanced once again, with a clearer treble cutting through the mix. However, the Dorado does sound more detailed and extended with noticeably improved fine detail retrieval. When it comes to soundstage, I was surprised to find myself consistently preferring the more spacious and multi-dimensional Advar.
Beyerdynamic Xelento ($999): I was looking through my single-DD collection and found the minute Xelento tucked away underneath another IEM. I realised this is an earphone I don’t talk about enough these days. The Xelento is basically a slightly higher contrast version of the same tuning. Both have a deep-bass emphasis, a 3kHz bump and a crisp 6k peak, however, the Advar has a more linear and fuller character with the Xelento being more vibrant. The Xelento has a bit more perceived bass presence but a similar bass voicing. It sounds a bit cleaner through the upper-bass with less warmth. Both earphones offer sensational texture and control, the Advar being a little better in the mid-bass texture department, the Xelento offering a slightly higher note definition and a tigher sub-bass slam.
While both have a slightly laid-back and warm-leaning midrange, the key difference lies in the voicing. The Advar has a slightly warmer and fuller midrange while the Xelento with its bigger lower-mid dip sounds a bit more neutrally sized and revealing. The Xelento has a slightly smoother articulation to avoid fatigue while the Advar has a slightly glossier and more articulate treble colouring its mids. The Advar, in turn, has the more energetic and prominent treble with the Xelento being a bit more balanced in this aspect. I do perceive the Xelento as having a slightly more accurate and defined treble with a touch more resolving power but the Advar isn’t far behind. The Advar has a deeper stage while the Xelento benefits from greater width and separation.
Meze Rai Penta ($1099): The Rai Penta remains the big daddy in Meze’s arsenal and though it has aged, it retains plenty of loveable qualities. By comparison to modern flagships and the Advar, it comes across as quite sedate, a creature of smoothness and coherence. The Advar is immediately more engaging. The Rai Penta has a slightly mid-focused sound signature, the inverse of the Advar. Its bass has minimal pressure but a very tight and well-controlled presentation with a light warmth but, otherwise, excellent cleanliness. The Advar is more dynamic and has a richer texture. It slams harder with its thicker, more powerful notes. The Rai Penta is more authentic and controlled but lacks the same vigour for those wanting such. The midrange is full and forward on the Rai Penta.
It has a very complete note structure due to a bump in vocal size, increased warmth but also a very smooth articulation. By comparison, the Advar has a clearer voicing with less roominess and better separation. It is more articulate but despite this, the Rai Penta does resolve slightly better. This is most apparent with layering where the Rai Penta performs noticeably better. The Advar has a more prominent, energetic and crisper treble. The Rai Penta is also on the thinner side due to a big dip in the lower-treble and prominence more around the mid-treble area. This makes it airer and it does extend a bit better, retrieving more micro-detail. However, the Advar has noticeably more focus in the foreground that many will enjoy and performs to a similar standard in this area. The soundstage is wider on the Advar which helps with a more multi-dimensional feel. While the Rai Penta matches it on depth and has superior layering, its roomier mids can make this hard to appreciate.
I very much enjoyed the Rai Penta on release as it was different but honest and that made it special. Yet, as time marches on, I would argue that most of Meze’s IEM collection is showing age as not only has huge progress been made in this market in the years since, but so too have the tastes of the general listeners undergone a change. This has left the Rai Penta feeling a bit sedate by comparison to modern competitors. The Advar is their response and boy is it a good one. Meze’s new single-DD IEM is energetic and filled with life, yet tuned with delicate restraint that will make it very likeable for the vast majority. Though U-shaped and not quite as resolving as many hybrid or BA-based models around this price range, it is hard to argue with its superbly textured bass and spacious, multi-dimensional stage that really set it apart. This was all the more true during comparisons where I found myself thinking of the Advar as a more expensive model. It isn’t quite a true TOTL single-DD, but certainly trades blow with heavy hitters in the kilobuck price range. Backed by Meze’s venerable aesthetic and ergonomic design, the Advar is an excellent choice for those wanting an engaging U-shaped sound built atop a strong technical foundation. Furthermore, at a few hundred cheaper than many direct competitors, there is little not to like about Meze’s latest IEM.
The Advar is available from Meze Audio (International) for $699 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Meze Audio and receive no earnings from purchases made through these links.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – dont smile at me
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Courtney Barnett – Rae Street
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Jasen – BYE
John Mayer – Continuum
Kanye West – Ye
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride