Pros: Big sound. Rock solid bass response, not at the expense of mids/highs. Expansive soundstage. No details left behind. Universal build flawless.
Cons: Included tips were unusable. May be too much bass for the weak. Likes to be amped.
DISCLAIMER: FIRST REVIEW - Be Kind...
INTRO: Do you know what I love about multiple BA headphones? There is an effortless nature to their reproduction of music – with good ones, each little BA has its job to do and when the right combination of music, amplifier and headphone comes together, it doesn’t get any better. Certainly single dynamics can do a great job – and hybrids can be brilliant – but a multiple BA phone take all the elements of a piece of music and assembles them in a way I can almost hear every single one of them plugging away. While one pair is following a solid bass and rhythm line, another slips in a high hat or snare - just as another BA lets a voice slice through and take command. I love the little bastards. I love music – and when I listen to music, life is good – when my toe is tapping and my head rocks up and down, there isn’t a better experience to be had on this little blue-green ball hurtling through space.
Quality of sound has always been important to me – when I was a kid, my dad got the nicest Marantz receiver he could afford and hooked it up to a pair of JBL floor speakers with 15” woofers and horn tweeters. When the parents were at work, the house got loud. As a teenager, a friend worked at a stereo shop in Huntington Beach and as I was handy with a screwdriver, I started installing stereos in the sun on Beach Boulevard. Fast forward a few years and I was repping for some of the largest Electronics manufacturers around and was a CES regular. I sold some magnificent equipment – and some real dogs. Woof!
During that time, the thread that ran through everything was music. I was in and out of bands and in and out of radio production rooms – I switched careers – I made music my focus. But for personal enjoyment, quality reproduction got more challenging. The cars got more complicated (You don’t just jam a new head unit and a 1000W amplifier into a Lexus and run wires anymore – without maybe frying a $2K computer. And cutting the dash? Nope.) The technology got more homogenized, and I found myself using little white earbuds most of the time, not knowing what I was missing and hating the sound so much, I found myself listening to sports radio more than music.
Then a buddy from my old electronics days showed me his headphone. He looked like Frankenstein when he wore them. Little blue and black bolts coming out of his head – you know what I mean. The outcome of all this was I got reacquainted with my music collection, and I haven’t been happier.
Which brings me to my latest toy. I have a number of custom headphones in my collection, but I wanted a multi-BA that I could share, just like my buddy shared with me. Maybe I could set someone else on the path to a smaller wallet, but a happier head. I looked around for a TOTL Universal just when 1964 Ears announced their new flagship – the V8. I knew they offered universal versions of their headphones, but it wasn’t on the “menu,” so to speak. Kinda like In-N-Out Burger, a regional hamburger joint that has a “hidden” menu more extensive than their regular one.
An eight-driver universal for $774? One that I can customize? They had me at “V”. I have always been fond of the eight-driver configuration. There are enough BA’s to cover the spectrum and then some – distortion is tamped down, and headroom is plentiful. My first 8 was the Heir Audio 8A – a warm, smooth, detailed can that played well with all of my analogue recordings. I also have a JH Audio JH16FP that I thoroughly enjoy – so this was a SIGN – I got my foil hat on and messed around with the IEM designer at 1964 Ears. I also didn’t want to wait and since the Rush Order option was only $100, (I didn’t know that price was only good for another 3 days – whew!); I paid for the quick build.
I have had them since the first week of April and I figure it is about time someone reviewed them – they certainly deserve it.
THE COMPANY: I don’t think I need to write a bunch about 1964 Ears – they are well known in these parts. I will say they are known for their quality and value – as well as having some of the finest sounding custom IEMs available. I think the V8 doesn’t get its due on Head-Fi because of its low price – most of the other eight-driver headphones on the market are $1000 or over. $799 (or MSRP $899) seems too low – so some wonder if there is a reason – I am here to tell you there is NO reason other than they want to grow their business. The quality of the work – the components used, the sound reproduced – are of an equal quality to the other guys’ eight-driver cans.
THE REVIEW: At this level, it is all about signature – and the V8 is a bass lover’s headphone. But that doesn’t mean it’s all about bass – the other frequencies don’t get short shrift. I will be using my DX90 as a source – My iMac is so-so for audio reproduction – and the USB/DAC driver isn’t available for the Mac yet. All music is either AIFF or Apple Lossless – no MP3.
So let’s dive in.
THE BOX: The V8’s arrived in a regular box and looked to have the usual trappings of a high-end custom. Included was a black otter box complete with ¼” adapter, cleaning tool, shirt clip and some foam tips. The tips were kind of glossy black foam, but they weren’t very big and as such were useless to me. I couldn’t get a seal. I found that I had some T-500 that fit, so we’re good there – I also used some UE silicone that was nice – but I settled on the Comply – with a twist.
THE BUILD: I chose solid red caps with translucent red shells – I thought that would look classy and I was right. I originally ordered the V8 logo on the left cap and the “Modern” 1964 logo on the right cap. When they arrived, they both had the V8 logo in gold. I contacted 1964 ears and they confirmed that the system had the two logos but the technician goofed. They offered to pay shipping back and forth to rework, but since I paid for rush shipping - 6 days, I thought sending them back was defeating the purpose of a rush. I asked what it might be worth in their time and shipping, and if they could quantify it, to offer me that amount and I would decide whether I wanted to send them back for a simple logo. $50 was the number and I kept my IEMs – very nice company to do business with! Otherwise, the build is flawless – clear red with no bubbles. The gold logos seem to float in the acrylic. The three bore canals are straight and long. And the things are smaller & lighter than I expected. They look like little blobs of crystal. They fit great and are comfortable with the foams installed. Isolation is good - better than I expected. The V8 is an eight driver, three-way, triple bore IEM. 4 BA’s for bass with 2 for mids, and 2 for highs. The bass drivers appear to be vented – 1964 Ears calls them “Center Drive” – they are able to reproduce better and stronger bass due to a center position of the armature in the BA enclosure. Okay, I’ll buy that.
THE MUSIC: I used some of my favorite recordings to make this review…
- Talking Heads – Little Creatures
- Steely Dan - A Decade Of Steely Dan
- David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
- Peter Gabriel – Secret World (Live)
- Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense (Live)
- Audioslave – Audioslave
- Midnight Oil - Earth & Sun & Moon
- Dave Matthews Band – Crash
- Sublime – Sublime
- Etta James – The Best Of Etta James
- John Lee Hooker – Urban Blues
- Yes – Fragile
- Yes – The Yes Album
THE SOUND: All frequencies are well represented by the V8. There is a bass emphasis, but it doesn’t wash out all the other frequencies.
THE TREBLE: …on the V8 is clear, revealing and crisp. I am relatively sensitive to sibilance, but the V8 stays clean and natural. Cymbals sound right. When I look at the IEM itself, the high frequency driver is pretty well set back in the housing. This positioning is very similar to the JH Audio FreqPhase CIEMs – where the tweeter is set back in order for the frequencies to hit the eardrum at the same time. The treble is NOT recessed, just very clean with zero sibilance unless it is there in the recording. It is sharper than my 8A, but not as sharp and transparent as my JH16 – but it is more JH16 than 8A.
THE MIDRANGE: …is very present in the V8 – vocals are where they are supposed to be. Female voices don’t retreat. The texture is amazing – a joy to hear. I know a veil when I hear it having come from the IE8/80 & TF10 among others – that isn’t to say the mids are boosted, they’re not. The texture is of a high quality – lyrics don’t disappear – close your eyes and you hear every word. You are plugged into the music as if you are one. I would have to say that the mids are not as smooth as the 8A, but they are more present than with the JH16FP. But we are talking semantics here. All of these headphones are top performers – the V8 has nothing to be ashamed of – they are muscling in with the big boys – and don’t break a sweat.
THE BASS: I thought there would be more bass…. I’m kidding. When I used to work on cars, designing custom enclosures and multiple amp systems with electronic crossovers (ooh, passive x-overs? Yuck) and MOSFET amps, I had a certain type of bass I was looking for. I liked sealed enclosures and woofers that were smaller than the other guys’ systems. When they went 15 & 12, I liked multiple 8’s and 10’s. When they ported boxes, I carefully measured space in my boxes and sealed them up tight. My bass hit you like a Central Park mugger – it didn’t ooze all over you like the big pile of jelly in Steve McQueen’s breakout film: The Blob. The V8 bass hits hard – has great volume and a nice natural decay. There is great texture and detail in this headphone’s bass and for all its Boom and Pow, it is never sloppy. In comparison to the JH16FP, I would have to say that the V8 rivals its contemporary in volume, but is more nimble – the decay is a bit quicker. Versus the 8A, the V8’s decay is definitely quicker – it is a great combination of big bass sound and ability to turn on a dime. Just very musical and enjoyable.
SOUNDSTAGE: When I first started listening to IEMs, I don’t think I could describe a soundstage – probably because it wasn’t there – but the V8 has a nice expansive one – height is always something I have a bit of trouble getting a handle on – but width and depth? I can tell those pretty well. I like to listen to live tracks to really get a feel for soundstage. The V8 has notes and cues coming from all sides – With some recordings, it sounds like things are coming from behind me. Maybe that is what members mean when they talk about either being “on the stage” or “in the audience.” The V8 places you in the front rows – it isn’t “in your face” intimate – and for that I’m pleased – I like a nice sense of space, because can pick out where the instruments are placed. In a room listening to speakers, you get that sense of space – and I guess the V8’s do that as well – you have a feeling the music surrounds you – it is definitely an outside of the head experience.
EVERYTHING ELSE: Like I mentioned in the beginning, I like multi-BA headphones because they let me hear all the little things while at the same time hear the big picture (or sound). Instrument separation is crystal clear – although some of that may be due to the DX90 and the Sabre DAC – the V8 reproduces what is fed to it without a ton of boost or coloration. No boost? Well, there is a bit of boost in the lower end – more J-Lo than Kim Kardashian, though – low end-wise.
CONCLUSION: I have mentioned in the 1964 thread that if this was my only headphone, it would have been a custom – and that is probably true. But I am supremely happy with the Universal version of the 1964 Ears V8. The stems/canals are angled and have sufficient length that I can get a proper seal every time. I have looked at some of the other custom/universal products and wondered if they would be easy to get a seal – as I have a pretty large canal opening and have to use the largest tips out there. If there was ever a headphone that could “sort of” convey to my non-headphone-addict friends, why I would spend this kind of money on a little plastic doo-hickey, this is the pair. I know I have probably missed some things I should have included – and I have probably written way more than I needed to – but this is my first review and I beg your indulgence.