My review of the Hum Pristine Reference custom in-ear monitors (CIEM, $1299 and includes their $299 CX1 cable) has been a long time coming. It is no secret I tend to be a bit pickier then the usual fanboy and cheerleader. That's the job of a reviewer versus someone with, perhaps, less experience or seeking to love everyone and everything. If you want "everything is awesome" then the Lego movie has a song for you. Of course readers quickly realize who are the fanboys and know to take their opinions with a big grain of salt. It brings me no joy to punt back a product to a manufacturer, which recently happened with a portable media player. It simply was not ready for prime-time and the sound quality was well below others within its price category. There are so many newcomers and wanna-be portable audio manufacturers wanting to take their slice of this juicy pie that it is getting hard to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
This review of the Hum Pristine Reference CIEMs started in October 2015 when the company finally delivered them to your truly. Sadly, they did not quite fit right. These things can happen when you're talking custom fit and so they went back for a refitting. Having used the same audiologist for other CIEMs, and they fit perfectly, the HUM CIEMs were sent back with yet another (new) fitting from my fave audiologist. Sadly, after months away the Hum Pristine Reference came back and still had the same too small a fit. Wiggling the CIEMs within my ears after the typical 100 hours of break in showed they were very special sounding, yet I did not want to bounce back the CIEMs for a third time. Thus Comply's Premium Foam IEM Wraps were put to good use.
Being a mini review I'll make this short and sweet. HUM chooses to use only two drivers and the very best parts they can source. According to HUM, "the cavity in our ears is not large enough to accommodate a phase favorable crossover even if it is a two units design. Simply adding more drivers would just overlap the sound." Basically, HUM tried virtually all available parts and capacitors for the crossover and chose what they felt was the very best sounding within their design. The special Litz wire was also carefully chosen. Furthermore, they are so driven to achieve the best sound quality that they make the MMCX connectors! Long story short is that HUM tried many designs to come up with what they felt was the best of the best.
So why go on with reviewing the Hum Pristine Reference custom in-ear monitors that might not fit perfectly when I've punted other products? Because they sound so friggen' impressive! Ok, so this two-driver design lacks the deepest of bass and uppermost highs of my fave Noble Kaiser 10 CIEMs, yet from about 50Hz to 14kHz they are incredibly accurate and extremely dynamic. Efficiency, and sound quality in the majority of the audio range, is a bit better than the Noble K-10's if you are an accuracy aficionado versus one who wants something more musical sounding. In fact the HUM Pristine Reference reminds me very much of Wilson Audio speakers in that you get what sounds like extreme accuracy over the ability to bask in the glory of musical ecstasy. If you're a mastering engineer this extreme accuracy is highly desirable. So how good as these jewels you ask. HUM's Pristine Reference is replacing my longtime fave Ultimate Ears UE18Pro for mastering when I want to hear deeply, and precisely, into an audio mix.
Mating the Questyle QP-1R with the HUM Pristine Reference is an exercise in such extreme detail that it could be a road to heaven, or hell, depending on your goal. When mated with the Sony NW-ZX2 it brings the beautiful musicality of the Sony into a bit more of the middle-ground between musicality and accuracy. When HUM's Pristine Reference CIEMs are mated with the Astell&Kern AK240 this combination might be a very good middle-ground for accuracy-nuts without going into the deep end of bleeding-edge accuracy above anything else. Naturally the chose is yours in just how much accuracy you want over musicality. It is called a preference and all of us have them. Furthermore, perhaps you want to enjoy music and so use one setup, and then need extreme accuracy and so use another setup. That is what happens here on a weekly basis.
For you picky types, yes the phase and timing sounds spot on. You get an immensely wide soundstage. Could have sworn I was using a balanced cable when, in fact, it was a standard stereo cable. So yes, the soundscape is wide and immersive! Harmonics, tone, timber, etc were spot on. Layer after layer of musical presentation, when present within the recording, is laid bare. Dynamics, both large and small, are rendered at the highest of level. No other CIEMs within my arsenal, and there are many, are more precise than the HUM Pristine Reference.
Overall, the HUM Reference CIEMs are extremely dynamic and have the best transparency of any CIEMs here. They may not produce the uppermost and lowermost frequency extremes, yet odds are you might not miss them all that much. A bit of EQ'ing can help to some extent of course. HUM's Pristine Reference CIEMs may be perfect for sound engineers who are seeking to hear as much as possible within their mix. Personally, I'm now using these CIEMs when mastering, augmented with my fave Noble K-10 CIEMs when I want to enjoy a more musical presentation. Considering the relatively reasonable pricing of $1299 for a pair of very high quality CIEMs, they fall within a comfortable cost zone. If you love accuracy and excellent dynamics plus super-wide soundscape, you owe it to yourself to investigate getting a set of HUM Pristine Reference custom in-ear monitors.