Subtonic Storm Review

One of the cool things I've been able to witness in this audio hobby is the growth of an idea within the community and seeing it blossom into a real thing. I've seen many community members take their ideas and make one-off projects, and some make commercial products that have become successful. I think of brands like ZMF for the latter, and my audio friend Phil for the former, the Aurorus Australis and Borealis, or the now discontinued Prisma Audio Azul IEM. 

Today, I am sharing another community experience - one that is even closer to my heart, as Subtonic, the brand behind the Storm, were once members of the Audio Discourse family, and co-hosted a years worth of podcast and YouTube content with me.

The evolution of these community members, Leneo (Ken), Toranku (Cornelius), Valoncia (Kevin), and Chang: from their audio forums and Discord channel discussions, to inventors and to full-blown commercialized company owners has been quick and awesome to see, and now I finally get a chance to hear their first product -- the Storm.

Launch Edition

I purchased the Launch Edition directly from Subtonic, and this is not a review unit. In fact, they did not send out any review units, loaners, or anything, and pretty much have been selling based on word-of-mouth and limited forum exposure. The Launch Edition sold out at 50 units, and they plan on releasing a "normal" version in the near future. The pricing is currently unannounced, but the Launch Edition was sold at $5200 USD.

Subtonic partnered with Symphonium for their manufacturing expertise. I've also had the opportunity to demo and review many of their products in the past -- IEMs such as the Helios, Triton, and Meteor have all been really solid at their price points with my only negative being the fit. And that was one of the things I was slightly concerned about with the Storm. It was oversized to fit all of the 9 drivers they crammed into it, along with cross-over network components and other gizmos they threw in there. So, as someone with small ear canals and generally having harder time to fit IEMs than some other reviewers, I was very hesitant on buying this.

Luckily for me, I was able to test my ears with a set of Storm 3D-Printed mock-up shells. To my surprise, it was an insanely good fit. In fact, the whole thing looked very reminiscent of my Hidition Viento Custom IEM, which blew me away.

I was quite worried that with a larger shell, and the not-so-good fit of the prior Symphonium Helios, would steer me away of something I had a good feeling about, but I was saved by this new shell the team designed. It fits me PERFECTLY. As close to perfect as it a universal can be -- this is the most comfortable shell design I've worn yet, and it is also the biggest one -- making the Empire Ears Odin look small.


The Launch Edition comes with titanium shells and hand-painted gold and black enameled face plates that has a cloudy storm motif. It's absolutely stunning and an eye catcher. I wore this around work and my cubicle mates were quickly impressed with how well-designed it is (both visually and its construction), which is saying a lot coming from a team of materials, manufacturing, mechanical design, and structural engineers.

The cable included with this Launch Edition is the Nightjar Acoustics (also owned by Subtonic member, Chang) Mira 2-wire cable. It's fully-shielded, but still very lightweight. It's probably a tad stiffer than I like, but still very maneuverable, unlike the recently reviewed UM Mest MK3 cable from PW Audio. The cable is an intricate weave of copper and silver-plated copper and has metal copper colored Y-splitter and a NightJar branded chin strap. 

The version of the cable I chose with this Storm also has OE's Multi-Plug source connector, which lets you swap on 3.5mm, 4.4mm and 2.5mm jacks for various sources. There is also an optional USB-C and Lightning add-on jack you can get directly from OE.

This version of the Storm also include an extremely well made green leather zippered case from another Singaporean boutique called Todah. This case is on the larger side, but it is luxurious in both feel and looks, and can fit a lot of accessories and even a dongle with the Storm.

Sound Impressions

How does the Storm sound?

The Storm is good. It's actually great. No, it's actually the best IEM I have heard, and it's actually not even close. I am not saying that as a friend of the team, I am saying that as unbias as I can be, and even my scientific squiggly side of the brain can even show that with the FR closely matching my preference target(s).

In fact, I would dare to say, I prefer this over my Hifiman Susvara headphones, which is at nicely settled at the very top of my list of all personal audio gear. The Susvara, as some may know, requires a lot of current and power to get it going, and funny enough, the little tiny Subtonic Storm also has outrageous power requirements. Its sensitivity rating is just a smidge higher than the Susvara, and is significantly "quieter" than most headphones and IEMs out there. 

What does this mean? It means you need to turn up the volume to get this as audibly loud as any other typical headphone or earphone you probably own already. Is it crazy levels? I don't know if I'd go as far as to say that. I definitely think the Susvara and HE-6 require a lot more amping power to get loud, but the Storm's power constraints may cause some problems for folks.

For example, due to its low sensitivity and low resistance, it does draw more current than normal, and this can put a drain on batteries of your phone and portable audio players. In my case, I couldn't use it with the power hungry iBasso DX240 audio player, which itself drains battery relatively fast with its Android operating system, Roon Arc running, and its flagship desktop DAC and discrete amp topography. It's a small player with a small battery and now you throw in a super power hungry headphone into it, and it's draining 1% per minute! Yikes! 

But don't fret too much. With the tiny Hiby R3 II, which runs its own custom OS (not Android), the battery drain is much more normal and it'll last quite a long time. 

For most of my review, I listened to the Storm with a series of players including the DX240 and Hiby R3 II as mentioned already, along with the gigantic iBasso DX320 MAX digital audio player, the Holo Audio Spring 3 KTE and Bliss KTE desktop DAC+Amp units, and the SMSL DO300EX DAC/Amp combo unit.

The Storm hits a perfect balance of weight and delicateness, while also providing great rumbling sub-bass and a good sense of treble air and extension, all while also giving a good medium-sized soundstage. The Storm was tuned to my specifications, even if I was not part of the design process. 

I somewhat knew what I was getting myself into with a total blind-buy of this luxury item. I had spoken with Cornelius and Ken about audio and tuning preferences for a couple years prior to this product's launch on a daily basis. Toranku (Corn)'s preferences align very closely with mine, and our iterations of "preference target curves" have always been tightly matched with some subtle differences over the years.

This made it no surprise that I would enjoy and instantly fall in love with the Storm from the moment I put it into my ears, turned on Slowdive's latest record, "everything is alive," and let the music melt into my ears and into my brain with euphoric bliss.

While it's quite obvious I absolutely adore the tonality of the Subtonic Storm as it's frequency response matches up with my target curve quite well, the technical aspects and the little intricacies of the audio presentation from this all-BA+EST setup is really shocking.

Percussions sound awesome with the Storm. Drum kicks have great thump and punch, but is precisely controlled. Bass guitars have a lot of power and depth. I listen to a lot of jazz-trio music and drums and stand-up bass guitars provide 2/3rds of the music and control the flow of everything. The Storm is fantastic for this genre, as it can exhibit the power of the bass guitar, the precision of the drummer, and the melodic ease of the piano player and without any exorbitated forwardness and "shoutiness" that many IEMs face when the piano-led music I listen is fully up-front.

The Storm works well across many genres. I listen to it on my eclectic mix of music - everything from the aforementioned shoegaze music of Slowdive, to the jazz trios of Tingvall Trio and GoGo Penguin, to the country rock of Jason Isbell to strings-led orchestra pieces and bluegrass jams to the alternative classics of the grunge-era late 80s and 90s that someone growing up in Seattle during that period must love. 

And I've enjoyed blasting The Roots collection of hip hop masterpieces on the Storm. The punchiness of the presentation really make ?uestlove's beats stand out. 

Back to the shoegaze-genre a bit: Slowdive's "Kisses", a track with a steady drum beat, powerful bass section, and the signature ambient and dreamy guitar riffs that made the band legendary in the genre, sound majestic on the Storm. The presentation is allowed to breathe with an open soundstage that lets each instrument lay down its own thing and it all comes together in a very well-layered and deep soundscape that flows cleanly and without any distraction. It just sounds right.


I have tried the Storm with a lot of different sources. I'll do a quick, very quick, run down of how I felt the Storm performed on each of these devices.

iBasso DX240 with AMP8MK2 SE

This is a really good combination. The DX240 features the ESS9038PRO DAC and the AMP8MK2SE is my favorite of their discrete amp modules. It has a nice balance of technical performance and warm pleasing tuning. This one is a tad softer than other sources with the Storm, but it provides wonderful euphonic characteristics and great layering and depth.

The DX240 with this amp does drain battery pretty fast, and even faster with the Storm. I was probably going on empty in a couple hours with Roon Arc streaming.

iBasso DX300 MAX and iBasso DX320 MAX

These two giant DAPs provide the Storm with ample power and battery life. The DX300 MAX is not one of my favorite tunings. It works but is a tad too neutral and maybe a smidge bright. While that works with the Storm, it's neutral avec neutral and while it doesn't color the IEM in any way, once you hear the DX320 MAX, it's a different ball game.

The DX320 MAX features 4 ROHM DACs which add a whole new flavor. It's rich, warm, yet very, very well defined and its bass texture is above all others and it shows with the Storm. This combination really lets the Storm shine through.

Apple USB-C Adapter / Apple iPhone 5SE Gen 1

The Apple Dongle paired with an Android phone is not nearly enough power. It barely gets it loud since for whatever reason the Apple Dongle is gimped pretty hard with Android devices. The iPhone SE features a pretty much similar sound to the dongle, and I think it works well with the Storm in theory, but the lack of power makes it not the best combination for a power hungry IEM like the Storm.

FiiO M15S

The M15S is one of my favorite FiiO devices. It also features the ESS9038PRO DAC that the DX240 does and the same kind of warm euphonic characteristic to it that you can customize even further. I felt this is a nice balance to the Storm's incisive attack, and while it does tame down the general dynamics of the IEM, the added coloration makes the Storm sound great to my musical playlists. 

When I turn on Desktop Mode and Ultra High Gain, bumping up the power, and then turning on All-to-DSD -- all while not draining any battery -- this really makes the M15S sound like a great and wonderful pairing with the Storm.

iFi Diablo 2

I only just received the Diablo 2 and I have a lot of personal gripes with this product and iFi in general, but it actually matches alright with the Storm. The Diablo 2 is a tad bright, and because its gain levels are super high, even the Storm requires all but a small twist of the knob to get very, very loud, even on lowest gain setting. Flipping the IEMatch feature on seems to kill some of the dynamics and punch of the Storm, and so I have to leave it in normal mode, and use a 4.4mm to 1/4 inch adapter to make the Diablo 2 useful. And when I do, I do like what I hear. Its clean and clear, and has decent dynamics.

iFi Go Pods

I tried several true wireless adapters with the Storm and none of them could get this thing singing nor even get them loud enough at full volume. The Go Pods definitely can, and they are the best sounding true wireless adapters I have found. The do work well with Storm if this is what you want. I didn't like the long-term comfort of using them, and the buttons are tad too sensitive, but they work.

Hiby R3 Gen 2

This is my current ultra-portable solution. This tiny little R3-II by Hiby can surprisingly power the Storm without too many compromises, and retain very, very good battery life. In fact, it probably has the best battery life of all the devices I tested here.

The Hiby R3-II has a warm signature and that is something, as you have probably already read from above, I like with the Storm. It has decent dynamics, and generally isn't missing too much information. It could use a tad more air to show off Storm's treble extension better, but overall, this is a nice portable DAP that I was happy to find works with the Subtonic Storm.

Hiby M300

This is the latest Hiby ultra-portable: this time with Android OS 13. It has good battery life and maintains it fairly well with the Storm and streaming. It does help that this device does not use a balanced architecture and therefore uses less energy. The M300 is very neutral, but not sterile. And this Storm pairing gives it a very dynamic and punchy sound, while leaning a tad brighter than the rest of the ones mentioned above. 

Cayin RU-6 and RU-7

These two unique Cayin dongles feature R-2R and 1Bit DACs that are much different than the competitors. The RU-6 is a very smooth DAC and perhaps smooths over the Storm's intricacies too much, but it also gives a very lush sound. It's almost the anti-typical Storm sound, but it melds it into something kind of pleasing. I can see some hating it though. I actually like it a lot.

The RU-7 is probably what people were hoping the RU-6 would be like. It matches better with the Storm, giving it the higher resolution and punchy sound that the RU-6 strips of it, while maintaining and laid back sound.

Holo Spring 3 KTE and Holo Bliss KTE

This pair of copper Holo Audio units makes up my desktop unit I normally use with the Hifiman Susvara -- a headphone that requires ample current to get going. The Storm is like the Susvara for IEMs in this regard, and while it doesn't require the same amount of headroom, it does need more than the average IEM. This desktop system has way more juice than is needed to get the Storm going and I really like the balance of its warm and resolving sound with the Storm's technical prowess and tuning.

Final Thoughts

I can probably go on and on with the Storm's greatness, but that could take a long time to write up and I'd just end up blabbering on without no end...

Instead, what do I not like about the Storm?

It cost a pretty penny. It's expensive. Very expensive. And yet, there are lesser IEMs out there that cost more, and sometimes magnitudes more! I don't know what to say here, besides, it is not a cheap product, and the cost to performance ratio is probably realistically low. But that said, I love it and I am very glad I spent the money on this luxury item because I use it all-the-freakin' time, and it's made me less and less envious of the next new thing. In fact, I have practically zero interest in new IEMs at this point in-time, besides what is on my review queue. 

The Storm has made me a new and better man, one that could quit audio (defined as the ever-lasting urge to listen to more "things"), if he wanted to. I can now just enjoy the music for what it is, and being fitter, happier, and more productive at the same time. The End.

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