1964 Ears V3
It seems like only yesterday that 1964 Ears came on the scene as one of several new startup companies in the field of custom IEMs. Sure, there were some established players on the market such as Ultimate Ears and Westone, but 1964 Ears (along with Unique Melody) was part of a new wave of players that really started driving down prices and making the use of custom ear-monitors more widespread. Many other new companies have arrived in the several years that 1964 has been on the market, and we hadn't seen anything new from 1964 beyond the original lineup of 2, 3, and 4 driver models. Not to say 1964 didn't have their share of fans though - their somewhat unique laid back presentation remained well respected, but it was time for something new. Enter the V-series.
The V3 is the first of what will likely become a complete overhaul of the entire line. Rather than slotting along side the existing triple driver 1964-T, it actually replaces it. And 1964 has just announced a new V6 model with - as the name implies - 6 drivers total. That model will be the new flagship for the company, while the quad driver 1964-Q will remain for the moment (perhaps eventually replaced by a V4 model? I'm just guessing).
The V3 sells for $425 which is roughly the same price as the 1964-T which it supersedes. I say "roughly" because that model changed in price several times during its life span from the $350 intro price to the $450 regular price, with a stop at $400 along the way. So the V3 is just about the same price assuming this is not a temporary discount (1964 Ears has said nothing about this being a limited time price so I assume it is finalized).
The V3 is a triple driver IEM with a 3-way crossover design. That means there is a dedicated driver for lows, another for mids, and another for highs. This is distinct from the 1964-T which used a 2-way crossover - dual larger drivers for lows and a single smaller driver for highs, with a crossover point somewhere in the middle. The canal remains the same with dual bores exiting into the ear.
I ordered my V3 in a solid black. They look great, but obviously don't allow me to see the drivers inside. So I can't say what drivers are being used or how they differ from the 1964-T.
In my experience, the main advantage to a 3-way driver design is in soundstage performance. I'm not exactly sure what causes this - and maybe I'm just imagining it. But of all the customs I own, the 3-way models always have a more spacious presentation than the 2-way models, regardless of what the rest of their sound signature is like. With the frequency response divided into 3 sections, the designer has more freedom in tuning an even response with less peaks and valleys. Not only does this usually lead to a more coherent sound with better extension on both ends, but it also makes the soundstage more open. I'll discuss this more in the listening section.
The V3 specs are as follows:
Impedance: 16 ohms at 1kHz
Sensitivity: 119 dB spl/mW at 1kHz
Frequency Response: 12Hz to 17kHz
The isolation figure is a stock number used by many custom IEM makers. In reality, isolation depends on fit, and most acrylic customs should isolate equally well given the same fit. The frequency response figure is also largely useless because it doesn't tell us what the numbers mean. Are those the -3dB points? -10dB points? I don't know. To be fair, most companies do the same thing with their quoted figures so 1964 isn't out of the ordinary here. The sensitivity on the V3 is on the higher side for IEMs in general but not by a significant factor. It is within a few dB of the other models in the 1964 lineup. Finally, the impedance is somewhat low but again we don't know what the curve is so that number isn't extremely useful. It could be 50 ohms through all other frequencies but dip down to 16 ohms at 1kHz. Or it could be 8 ohms everywhere else and rise to 16 ohms at 1kHz. Those would be very different loads for an amp to drive, yet they could both be called "16 ohms at 1kHz".
As mentioned, I got my V3 in solid black with brushed aluminum faceplates and black 1964 Ears logos in the small "modern" font. The fancy faceplate is a $75 option and the logo is an optional freebie (there are several styles to choose from). I think they look spectacular but check out my pictures and judge for yourself. Solid shells don't allow for a view of the "guts" so I can't comment on the existence of bubbles or internal flaws. But from the outside they look mighty nice.
I do notice that the cable is slightly different from any custom IEM cable I've come across. Nothing to get excited about, and it is still very similar to the traditional Westone/JH/1964/UM/Heir/etc stock cable. But as you can see in the pics, this one has a different look to the plug - it's more rounded compared to the typical blocky style connector. Because of this it has a slightly lower profile to it. Does this matter? Not for me, but maybe someone else would care. Some portable amps are really cramped for space at the input/output ports, so perhaps this would come in handy.
Aside from the V3s themselves, and the cable, the package also includes the engraved hard-shell Pelican storage case, a soft pouch, a cleaning tool, a shirt clip, and an adapter to connect to larger 1/4" headphone jacks. It's a competent bundle - about par for the segment, though the custom engraving on the case is a nice touch that most don't offer, and the 1/4" adapter is always welcome - one can never have too many of those laying around.
Pardon the lighting - it's hard to capture these faceplates properly!
For home use, I've primarily been using the following equipment:
Source - Auraliti PK90 music server with Nuforce LPS-1 power supply, Cambridge Audio 840C, JF Digital HDM-03S music server
DAC - Anedio D2, Violectric V800, Yulong D18, Yulong D100 mkII, KAO Audio UD2C-HP, Matrix Quattro DAC
Amp - Violectric V200, Yulong A100, Shonyun 301 Pro, Matrix Quattro amp
Power comes from a CablePro Revelation power conditioner and CablePro Reverie AC cables. Interconnects are a mix of Signal Cable Analog Two and Nuforce Focused Field. Digital cables also from Signal and Nuforce. I used the stock 1964 Ears cable as well as the Heir Audio Magnus 1 and Beat Audio Cronus IEM cables.
For portable listening, I used the following:
Players: iHiFi812, QLS QA350, Sansa Clip+, Meizu MX 4-core, iPod Touch 3G
Portable amps: Leckerton UHA-6S mkII, Shonyun 306, TCG Tbox
RoCoo D Power Edition
Meizu MX 4-core (an exception match with the V3)
iHiFi 812 V2
iHiFi plus Leckerton UHA-6S mkII
Cambridge 840C upsampling to 24-bit/384kHz
Auraliti PK90 music server
The V3 is a great sounding IEM. I always enjoyed the 1964-T so I figured I knew what to expect - more or less. But I was surprised to hear the V3 when if finally arrived - the sound signature is rather different than the 1964-T. It still retains the 1964 Ears house sound to some degree, yet also redefines it. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense so I will attempt to explain.
The first major deviation I noticed was in the low frequencies. The V3 can really pound when called upon to do so. It has excellent extension into the sub-bass region, which I always appreciate. It makes for great impact and satisfying realism without having to overdo it on the volume. In terms of quantity, the V3 is moderately north of neutral. I don't think they will replace the quad driver 1964-Q in terms of sheer output but they lean somewhat more in that direction compared to the 1964-T. The T was boosted by what felt like roughly 2-3 dB, and that boost was centered around 60Hz. It started rolling off somewhat in the low 30Hz range and had usable output to 20Hz, but it wasn't really all that loud down there. The V3 seems to dig deeper and remain more composed in the lowest lows. I can't really put an exact number on the boost - maybe another 2dB or so? Or maybe it's not really much of an increase at all, but just feels that way due to the extended sub bass impact. All I know is that playing Angelique Kidjo's version of Voodoo Chile, I feel the deep, rhythmic bassline in a remarkably tangible way, more so than with the 1964-T.
Throughout the whole spectrum of 20Hz to about 200Hz, the V3 sounds clean and very much at ease. The fact that it has but a single driver handling lows makes one think it might not be as good as the dual driver setup in the previous model. But keep in mind that the 1964-T had dual drivers handling a more broad spectrum of bass and mids; the 3-way crossover of the V3 helps free up that bass driver to focus on a more well defined area, and thus lets 1964 Ears tune that driver to its maximum potential. As a result, kick drums have a convincingly deep thump to them. In fact, all of the instruments that can actually plumb those depths sound wonderful on the V3 - pipe organ is the usual suspect here but also tuba, contrabassoon, double bass, and even the occasional low note on a harp - all have very nice extension on the low end.
The thing about the revised tuning - it seems a bit more bass heavy in general, but it isn't always bass heavy to the point of annoyance. Some tracks call for thundering bass but others call for more finesse, and the V3 is a capable performer in that area as well. It's not just brute force at work here. I enjoyed my usual torture test albums for bass - the newish soundtrack from Tron by Daft Punk, Khmer by Nils Petter Molvaer, Super Double Bass by Gary Karr on the XRCD format, Stravinsky: Firebird Suite from the Reference Recordings HRx hi-res album, Dancing With Drums XRCD24 release, and on and on. All of these feature powerful, dynamic low frequency material, and all were well reproduced by the V3. I was also happy with less bass-oriented material such as Be My Thrill by the Weepies, Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, or Asante by McCoy Tyner. This really isn't the type of IEM that pigeon holes itself into only working with a specific genre.
Moving on to the mids - 1964 Ears calls them "more engaging" and I have to say I agree. The mids were probably the biggest strength of V3's predecessor and 1964 hasn't fundamentally changed them. They are somewhat on the forward yet smooth side, but not overly so, keeping in mind 1964's original focus on stage monitors. Compared to the 1964-T I find the V3 to have higher levels of detail retrieval. Vocals sound that much more lifelike - not that they sounded lacking on the old model. But those little details like a singer pursing their lips will come through more audibly with the V3. Still, this is not an analytical sounding IEM overall - those who listen to a live outdoor concert and expect to hear a leaf drop from the treeline 40 yards away will be disappointed. Overall this is more of a rich, creamy, Audeze LCD-2 type of sound than a Sennheiser HD800 type detail monster.
Highs once again draw a parallel with the Audeze LCD-2 - they are smooth and controlled, with good extension but overall somewhat of a darker tonal palette. The first impression would be to write them off as "dark" and call it a day. But that's not exactly accurate. Like the LCD-2, the V3 is certainly shelved down in the top octaves, and compared to some headphones it comes off as undeniably less sparkly. But "dark" implies a veiled sound, where details are either hidden or missing altogether due to rolled-off highs. I don't get the impression that I'm really missing any information with the V3, but rather that it is being presented in a softer light. Of course, some people prefer a more spotlit sound on the highs, and to them the V3 will sound a little dull. There's nothing wrong with that - horses for courses. In any case I do think that the V3 has better treble extension than the 1964-T did. The V3 seems to have more airiness to it; like going from a Sennheiser HD650 with the original drivers to the more recent revision. Again, this is not a detail monster type of IEM but at the same time it does provide an excellent level of micro-detail. It just doesn't shove them in your face.
Another strength of the V3 is in terms of dynamics - these things can really play LOUD when called upon to do so, without losing any composure. The smooth top end means you can play most recordings louder than you otherwise would, and not worry about treble peaks grating on your brain. I consider myself just average when it comes to listening volume, and realistically I played the V3 at medium volumes more often than not. But there were times where I couldn't help but goose the volume a bit to really feel the music. That doesn't always happen with every IEM.
Probably the biggest improvement of all over the former model comes in terms of soundstage. The 1964-T was only moderately sized, and as ljokerl pointed out in his review, that presentation fit well with the overall sound signature. Imaging was accurate and the whole thing just worked - it wasn't the largest, nor the smallest, and it was convincing for what it did. With this new design, the soundstage is significantly more expansive. I especially notice an increase in depth which is something that the old model only did to a minimum degree. Yet due to the increased bass impact and depth, and the higher degree of detail retrieval, I don't think the stage comes across as overdone in any way. It's a really enjoyable presentation, one that I find superior to many of my other custom IEMs with the exception of a few much more expensive models.
Ultimately, as much as I enjoyed the 1964-T, I now realize that it was somewhat average with respect to technical ability (within its price class of course). Yet it was able to transcend that and become one of my favorite IEMs by virtue of its pleasingly tuned sound signature. This is the opposite of some IEMs or headphones which are full of technical ability, yet not very fun to listen to. The V3 seems to retain the crowd-pleasing tonality of the 1964-T, while further refining and tweaking it, but also adding a higher level of technical prowess. Well done!
The V3 pairs well with most sources and amps due to its forgiving nature. This is a great IEM to just plug in to your Sansa Clip+ or iPhone and enjoy. It also responds rather well to source and amp upgrades. It will put up with a bright headphone amp without blinking, yet isn't so smooth where it becomes a poor match with darker amps. It is clear and spacious enough to show the differences between sources. So I can start out with something on the budget end of things such as an Audinst HUD-mini ($129), and then hear a difference when moving up to the Matrix Cube ($270), then another step up to the Yulong D100 mkII ($480), on and on through the Anedio D2 ($1500) and the Violectric V800/V200 combo ($2300).
The improvement seems to reach a climax around the Yulong D100 mkII level, to where I'd say the extra $1000 jump to the Anedio probably isn't worth it if this was your only IEM. More revealing customs definitely show the improvement more clearly and perhaps the recently unveiled V6 model from 1964 Ears would do the trick for that.
I appreciate that the V3 doesn't have an ultra-demanding load. It doesn't hiss with any of my players save for the HiSound RoCoo D Power Edition (which hisses with most of my IEMs). And it seems to to behave well even when using an amp with slightly high output impedance. I tried a few with 5 ohm output impedance, which should lead to impedance interactions with the V3, but didn't notice anything too objectionable. Perhaps a slightly recessed midrange, but nowhere near as obvious of a change compared to many of my other low impedance IEMs. So the impedance curve must be relatively even, or else the forgiving nature of the sound signature is at play here helping to mask the differences.
Anedio D2 - overkill...
Violectric V800 and V200 - major overkill!
To be fair, comparisons have to be made with similarly priced competition. In my lineup that translates to the Westone AC2, Lear LCM-2b, and Heir Audio 4.A (sort of, I'll explain later).
The Westone AC2 has a similar bass presentation to the V3 but perhaps a little more "in your face". The V3 digs deeper into the sub bass region though. V3 is also more engaging in the mids and far smoother in the highs. This is a good thing. At this point we go beyond mere style preferences - the V3 seems clearly the better IEM on a technical level. To be fair, the AC2 is a dual driver model, and so it makes sense that it wouldn't be able to keep up.
The Lear LCM-2b is also a dual driver model but sells for the same low $400 range so comparisons still seem appropriate. The Lear has a really satisfying U-shaped signature, with more crispness and snap in the highs compared to the V3. The flip side of that is that it can be edgy at times depending on the music. But overall the V3 has superior bass reproduction and more emotive midrange, so again it wins against the dual driver competition. I still enjoy the LCM-2b quite a bit, but I admit that the V3 makes it sound kind of poor in comparison.
The Heir Audio 4.A is a quad driver design which at one time was priced within $25 of the V3. That introductory pricing has expired and they are back to the normal price of $699. So in reality this is a skewed comparison, but I realize that a lot of people may be curious about it. These are two very different sounding IEMs. The 4.A is neutral to a fault and can be brutally revealing. The V3 is forgiving and makes almost everything sound good. After much listening, I've concluded that the V3 is tuned in a more pleasing way but the 4.A is the more honest and technically superior IEM. If I was planning on listening to some mediocre recordings on a Sansa Clip+ or iPad, I would reach for the V3 every time. If I wanted to play some high quality recordings and was using moderately good equipment, the 4.A would usually be my first choice. This is an important distinction because no matter how good your IEM is, it can be wrong for you if it doesn't cater to the type of music you most often listen to. The same thing goes for full size headphones and speakers; the difference being that those can more be easily sold or traded.
Heir and 1964 are two of my favorite companies and both have their own unique presentation - I see them as complimentary rather than strictly competitive. That said, if someone desired the spacious, warm, smooth presentation of the flagship 8.A but couldn't front the $1299, the V3 goes a long way towards achieving that for a low price. It doesn't have near the same technicalities, and frankly the 8.A is just magical in a way that no other IEM I've heard can quite match. But the V3 offers a really compelling impersonation for $425.
Owners of the 1964-T face a tough decision: the T is still a fantastic sounding monitor, yet the V3 is superior by a not-insignificant margin. Is it worth shelling out another $400+ to upgrade? I'd say yes and no... if you find yourself wishing for a more spacious presentation, better micro-detail, and just a higher technical ability in general, the V3 should satisfy those needs. But if you expect a completely different sound, you should look elsewhere, as the V3 is more evolutionary than revolutionary. But it is a rather large evolution. As I said, tough call.
1964 Ears has been very successful in the past few years. Their quad driver 1964-Q was a big hit, and the triple driver 1964-T also seemed well received. And don't forget reshells - 1964 has carved a name for themselves by offering quality USA-based reshelling services at reasonable prices. And yet, despite all this, the industry is ever evolving, and updates are always welcome. A good design doesn't last forever, and 1964 seems to be making the right move by refreshing their line with the V-series.
As for the V3 in particular - It is a fantastic custom monitor with a very pleasing sound signature. It surpasses the prior triple driver model in nearly every significant metric, while maintaining the same 1964 Ears "house sound" that folks have come to know and love. If you are in the market for a relatively affordable custom IEM and prefer a smooth, warm, engaging sound, the V3 should be high on your list.