The Lear LCM-Skyline is a new custom monitor featuring an 8mm PEEK diaphragm single dynamic driver and a balanced in-ear pressure relief system. This retails for HK$1,688.00 or approximately $215 making it one of the best value custom IEMs in the market today.
Disclaimer: The Lear LCM-Skyline sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Lear Audio for giving us this opportunity. To read more about Lear products we reviewed previously on Headfonics, click here.
We first featured the LCM-Skyline in our First Contact last July 2019 and for those that are coming fresh to this review read on but for those who already read our First Contact there is a degree of overlap so click onto page 2 for our in-depth sound impressions and comparisons.
$215 for a well-made custom monitor is pretty much bang for buck territory by default. I have yet to review a cheaper custom. Granted, you can grab their older dual dynamic driver Turbo in custom format for slightly less but there is a qualitative or superior difference in sound quality with the LCM-Skyline which you can read more about on page 2.
However, to think the main selling point is the extremely affordable price point would be an oversight. There are a number of other interesting features packed into the LCM-Skyline that make this custom worth considering.
The LCM-Skyline keeps it simple with a single 8mm dynamic driver with no crossovers or multi-BA hybrid builds. This is just the second single dynamic driver custom we have tested, with the first being the far more expensive $1499 Campfire Audio Equinox.
This mid-sized custom-tuned dynamic driver is finished with a PEEK diaphragm which is similar to the one inside the Echobox Finder X1 we reviewed a few years back.
German-made PEEK diaphragms are used for their purported superior dynamics and detail to regular diaphragms. PEEK (polyetheretherketone) is a semi-crystalline, high-temperature (up to 500° F) engineering thermoplastic. It is designed to be tough, strong, and rigid and has superior creep resistance against any kind of distortion when under a load over an extended period of time (no burn-in required?).
Balance In-Ear Pressure
In summary, this is a small mechanism inside the LCM-Skyline which helps balance in-ear pressure and reduces potential long-term damage to your hearing. Something I am hugely in favor of.
If you are like me and have a set of monitors in your ears most days then you either get a pressure relief system like this or turn the volume way down. This will allow you to play at a decent level without too much pneumatic air pressure hitting your eardrums which is often where the damage starts.
This kind of system I normally see in $700 plus systems from the likes of 64 Audio and Unique Melody so to see one in a CIEM at this price point is a welcome bonus.
This seems to be something that is still being refined but it is applied to the LCM-Skyline. The board concept is a zone where excessive dB emphasis in the frequency response of any monitor will cause potential long-term damage to your hearing.
The LCM-Skyline has a specific curve but no point in the curve goes beyond what is considered excessive. Normally this centered either on the mid-bass, upper-mids or upper treble around 7-10k. IN these areas, the LCM-Skyline has some bumps, but nothing beyond I believe a +6dB rating.
Custom Design Process
This is a tricky one because out of all the custom design solutions online we have dealt with, the Lear store is possibly the least developed in terms of online design tools.
It is not that they are short of some stunning design options, they have plenty actually. Rather, it is the disparate nature of where to find them and how to piece them together as a single custom unit that may inadvertently put off people from going with a custom design.
It could also stop designs from realizing their full potential if you have to go through various pages. I found myself looking more at their gallery of finished design than anything else to get a solid grasp of what is possible and indeed our chosen design was ordered by going through just such a route.
General Design Options
The main product page does give you an overview of the main parts of the LCM-Skyline you can custom design and they include the main body, faceplate, and the canal. Now if you are not going for an LCM-Skyline you can choose from a massive range of faceplates including opaque, translucent, wood, fiber and sparkling. You can even order silver and gold nugget finishing which looks stunning.
Once you see the color you want you to jot down its coded number on the picture, checkout with the custom monitor of your choice and then at the checkout you enter the codes of the designs you picked out earlier.
It is fairly old school, so you need a pretty good eye for color combinations. How much easier would it be if there was an online design picker to mix and match to get a solid feel for how your final design might look?
With the LCM-Skyline, the process is a bit simpler but you also have fewer design choices. The choices that are available, however, are attractive and well made.
Impressions & 3D Printing
Lear does have some easy to understand ear impression guidelines that you can print off and take with you to your audiologist. There is dual Chinese and English also to keep things fairly simple and you can find it in picture format towards the lower half of any product page in their online store.
Lear asks for an open-mouth full ear impression beyond the second bend in an open jaw position. I would advise a bite block of some kind of a max of two fingers in width to keep your jaw open and steady during the process.
Once completed you simply pop them in a hard container with some light padding such as tissue but not too much as to create any physical pressure that could deform the impressions during shipping.
Now one nice bonus is that Lear do 3D scanning of all received physical impressions. That means you only have to send them in once and your scans will remain on file for life. That will save you a ton of money on redoing new impressions should you wish to buy different custom designs from them at a later stage.
Meet the LCM-Skyline
To keep that juicy $215 price tag you do have to strictly follow the checkout options for your final design so the choices are more limited for the LCM-Skyline than other Lear designs. Partly due to the 3D-printing process Lear has started using and partly due to keeping costs tight.
For the basic price, you get an option of transparent, opaque and glitter black shells as well as faceplates that can be any standard transparent or opaque color on offer. Anything else and you go up in HK$498 increments per side which is about $63 per side. Once you go down that road the value proposition starts to fade. As you can see in our chosen design of a simple opaque red and blue there is no need to shell out anymore to get an attractive design.
Still, it could be worth it because that is what custom designing is all about and the finish on these looks really nice with that blue and red color seeping down into the black opaque shell and giving them a gentle individualist hue.
Compared to other custom multi-BA driver or hybrid designs the LCM-Skyline is a fairly deep design so these will stick out of your ear a little but not overly so. Not a flush to the outer ear design though.
The actual finish is as smooth as you like with no bubbles or quirks in the 3D printing or faceplates. It could easily pass for a much higher-priced custom design. Each monitor can be adorned with Lear and ‘Skyline’ on the left and right but there is no serial coding on the inside.
The nozzle does not use a horn principle and instead is finished with a single bore exit denoting a single tube internal build. Given its a single driver that should come as no surprise. I would suggest you keep the cleaning pick handy to ensure that the nozzle stays free of wax and dirt. If you happen to have $99 to spare and a few customs then Fir Audio’s Wax Vac is the perfect solution to keeping dirt out of the tubes.
Cable & Connectors
The LCM-Skyline is terminated with MMCX connectors as standard and designed to be worn over the ear. There is a choice of 2-pin but you have to request this specifically via email. I know Lear is a big supporter of MMCX as their main connector and they do look to have a high level of machining.
Like Campfire Audio, Lear uses a beryllium copper MMCX socket material so these things are good for detaching and attaching for a much longer period than standard brass connectors. The connectors are also the newer round-type which I have started to see on a few new builds such as the Polaris II and IO from Campfire. They look a lot tidier than the older odd-shaped sockets.
I ordered the LCM-Skyline just before Lear launched this new custom system and I would love to have tried out these new connectors because the features look very interesting.
At a core conceptual level, Combo-Con has 3 parts to its MMCX connection system. Part A and C are static or fixed as a port male pin on the LCM-Skyline and a female connector on the cable side. Part B is the replaceable part and simply threads into part A and is fully consumable. If the system breaks you can change out part B for a small fee and get a new one without having to send in the entire unit for repair.
Given that MMCX connectors do have a fixed life span for disconnecting and connecting this pretty much ensures your system will last you forever. An excellent idea!
The LCM-Skyline 1.2m stock C2MKIII cable is a little thicker than a standard 4-core Plastics One cable but as far as I know, it is a high-quality SPC wire with a fairly tightly braided black jacket and some generous transparent memory-wire.
The connectors are slightly right-angled to allow the cable to flow better around the ear when worn. All connectors and barrels are made of solid rubber with decent strain-relief and the jack is a right-angle gold-plated 3.5mm TRS 2-pole.
Physically I have no complaints with the quality of the cable build. It is fairly light with no microphonics that I can really detect below the splitter. It has a nice pliant quality to it so it will not tangle or kink during prolonged storage.
Comfort & Fit
Ultimately a custom fit depends on the quality of ear impression and the final design. No two designs will be the same. I tend to cut the corners by sending in existing STL digital files. This saves on the cost of new impressions and the postage to Lear. I do suggest you refresh those files once every year or two to account for any physical changes in your ear canal.
For the LCM-Skyline, I do find this a fairly large custom but the fit is excellent with just a slight emphasis on a thicker nozzle tip that created some additional pressure in the canal but actually, that’s a good thing. You want that seal to be as good as you can get due to the balanced pressure design that creates a venting system as well as to allow the dynamic driver to breathe.
Isolation overall is good though not quite to the level of a non-vented BA design. The smaller 8mm driver plus the pressure balancing system does not require a huge vent I suspect but you can pick up some low Hz hum such as air cons more easily than something like the FIBAE 1 which has no vent at all.
Accessories & Packaging
Do not expect a deluxe unpacking experience for customs at $215. Something has to give and with the LCM-Skyline, you do not get a huge outlay of accessories or a super fancy box. That being said, its actually on par with the likes of the Kaleido and Turbo’s professional flip-top black retail box with the Lear branding to the front and center.
Inside, you get the accessories envelope stuck under the lids and a plastic shiny round pill-case inset into a protective foam layer. Everything else including the LCM-Skyline and detachable cable is inside the carry case itself. This includes a cleaning pick and a soft velvet cloth.
These AC-1 carry cases also used to be lined with a green rubber shock-absorbing material but this now comes with an orange version that nicely matches our branding colors. Of course, being a custom there is no need for additional tips since these should fit your ear perfectly.
Page 2: Sound Impressions & Comparisons