Pros: Impressive bass range&control, detailed mids, tall soundstage, vocals, fast attack, seperation & layering.
Cons: Stock cable tangles, still need a top dap toget best from these. signature not for the neutral seekers out there.
HEIR 3Ai IEM REVIEW
Impressions/ review of Heir 3Ai
(tested using stock cable & Whiplash TWag2 cable)
Heir 3Ai’s tested with:
Sony X series Walkman (with wav files)
Sony Z Walkman (FLAC files)
TTVJ Slim Amp used in conjunction with Z Walkman (using Whiplash TWag2 LOD)
Oppo BDP-105 (headphone out with built in sabre 32 dacs)
To start with before I start talking about the 3Ai’s my current pair of in ear’s are the JH16 pros which I have been my only pair of in ears for the last couple of years and before that I had approx. 2 years with my then beloved Shure SE530’s and previously littered with various iems before that.
I have been contemplating another pair of iem’s as a backup pair or for applications where the JH16’s are not necessary. I had been longing to go back to a pair of Shure’s in the newer carnation SE535’s but recently had the chance to borrow the 3Ai’s from a friend for a week.
So here is my brief impression’s spent with the above equipment for a week…..
Build & Design
When I first opened the otter box and picked these up after owning the JH16’s could not believe how light these weighed knowing there was still three drivers in there still. This I think help contributes to a nice easy fit also. I have small ears so went for the red sleeves Small size which fitted perfectly first time, no fiddling, once pressed in with a slight twist each way they stay there and isolate very well which is essential for these iem’s otherwise you lose the tight control and depth of bass and treble washes out and sounds totally uneven.
The build quality of the shell impressive in a word- “perfect”, no imperfections and having the casing essentially like a custom shell just with a ability to house the silicone sleeves on the end is one I can imagine other iem companies will follow suite in the future. The famous Heir wood finish face plate is also better in the flesh than the photos.
The stock cable is free mostly from micro-phonics which is a good sign but did find they tangled up a little too easy for my liking and the memory hooks as they are fairly long did not help this matter.
First impressions with the 3Ai’s was the sound that hit me was a warm punchy dynamic presentation with good level of bass that sounds slightly boosted but not overdone with a very present treble range that does not ever fade away into the background with any material I heard but yet the slightly tweaked bass range & top end did not overshadow the midrange detail when listening plus instruments stayed separated fairly well with good layering and positioning with the soundstage made it easy to pick out things in a song.
The Bass goes down nice and low with good impact and found it was quite a centralized bass at times that stayed quite centre of the head as if you was directly in front of the drummer. The bass never over done itself to the point of muddying the rest of the spectrum range. I could always focus on the vocal’s/ midrange when the bass with even sub bass territory which was capable of having a nice little rumble when the source material goes low enough, not bad for a single BA bass driver to produce this.
Example test track for me was to see how it handled the James Blake track “Limit to your love” which has a electronica type of seismic very low sub bass and was controlled, never rolled off and was very focalized towards the centre of the stage whilst I could hear the upper mid bass more dispersed sounding wider outside the ear listening position of the earphones whilst the drum sticks hitting the rim of the drum casing (or sounds like it!) was sharp and snappy so had plenty of layering a clarity while been under control even at higher volumes.
The treble was interesting, my worry it was going to be edgy or to piercing for my liking but it was far from the contrary and found the presentation of the treble to the fore, not shy but quite refined, sweet sounding although a couple off songs sounded too have a little roll off top end but did not hear this with the majority of songs I listened to.
The mid- range was engaging despite the 3Ai having a fun signature on the bass and treble is not recessed and vocals where handled like I remembered my old Shure SE530’s with a good sound staging putting the singer at the front (close up front) and the vocals where open with clarity, no veiling in the voice and what I liked was the imaging and positioning of where the backing singers were to the lead singer gave the soundstage good sense of depth as well.
For me guitars sounded plucky fast with good reverb on the strings and Joe Bonamassa was really quick, sharp and slick and the 3Ai’s kept up pace with no problems. Violins sounded smooth with that sudden sharp sound when the violinist cut’s across the strings suddenly with enough conviction to make your spine shudder.
Pianos sound okay with resonance of each key stoke sounded fairly natural in timbre. Could still hear the foot pedal slightly been pressed/ depressed on one song which I thought I would not hear on these iem’s been so faint.
With Live music the sound stage is more open and expansive on the 3Ai’s and the headroom comes into its own with live music on the 3Ai’s and sounded so tall it was like been a big hall or indoor stadium and could hear the bass notes felt like it was gradually rolling towards you in waves one after the other due to the natural echo the enclosed concert hall effect gives – was quite addictive listening to live music with these.
I found Hard rock was good with these with a fast pace and good attack but strangely enough I found that some other genres sounded even better with these that blues, female vocals shined with these as well as acoustic sessions, and dance music sounds sharp and punchy and the bass on these is maybe the electronic reproduced bass is more impressive than natural kick drums listening on the 3Ai’s which is nothing derogatory to the 3Ai’s reproduction of natural drums in the slightest.
The soundstage is not the widest on a iem I have heard but is far from been narrow and the imaging left to right is transient and fast given a smooth cohesive feel whilst it feels still wide enough it is the height of the soundstage that makes these feel bigger so that you feel outside the physical boundary of the iem’s at times.
The more I listen to them I can happily sit there for a few hours at a time as the punchy warm but yet detailed enough SQ with a nice tridental style but yet smooth pleasing on the ears treble made these fun iems but yet retaining enough information retrieval and rendering of instruments to make them sound monitor like for home studio use. They feel like they punch a bit above their weight for a 3 way driver compared to equivalent of other models in the same tier.
Notes on equipment used with 3Ai’s…..
I decided to start with the X Walkman (un-amped ) and then went to the Z Walkman by itself and then further added the TTVJ Slim amp and lastly swapped out the stock cable for the TWag2 cable to see how the 3Ai’s improved with each stage.
Starting with the X Walkman which is naturally warm (almost vinyl like sound) with the 3Ai’s was maybe a little too warm, a little muddy at times as a paring and felt just a tad congested at times with instrument separation especially in the mid- range area with bass a little bit bottomed out at times.
With the Z Walkman each stage the 3Ai’s became more controlled, clearer clarity of instrument detail and although the sub bass on the X goes lower the Z has a more tighter defined natural bass and just all round is a better pairing and have to say the Z amp is a more refined improved neutral sounding amp over the X and brings the 3Ai’s to live giving them a more open and punchy sound and instruments just sound fuller with more detail to be heard as a result of this. This is where I first started to realize the potential they had been it their base model wandered what benefits the Slim amp would bring if any at all.
The TTVJ hooked up to the Z Walkman again did further improve things which is a compliment to the Slim as the Z does have an impressive in built amp for a mid-fi dap that is apparently below the Hi-fi Man’s & DX100’s of this world. The 3Ai’s with the slim opened the width of the soundstage further to add to the already tall soundstage this eims muster and just accentuated more control and body to the upper mid -range and bass whilst just refining the micro detail of the top end so high hat’s & symbols just sounded cleaner whilst still maintaining that smooth sweet signature it has.
Lastly I swapped out the stock cable for the TWag2 cable (after three days using the stock cable) , here I will note I would not spend this much on a custom cable for an iem costing $300 but already had these for my JH16’s so was rude not to try them as they share the same connectors!
Straight away treble was really sparked with them sounding the most realistic I have heard them through the 3Ai’s all week and the cohesion between the bass to mid-range to highs was improved and decay of vocals and instruments was improved with the tinkle of ivory’s on the piano sounding more real in the timbre of each key.
I had started to take the custom cable for granted until I went back to the stock cable for first time in a long time and is apparent good as this stock cable is it is a bottle neck restricting what the 3Ai is capable of by a fairly large margin.
I only used this with the Oppo BDP-105 Blur-ray player which has a headphone out & dac briefly as main priority was to demo them with portable gear first but spent the last night with them on the Oppo for a few hours and they sounded even more balanced tonally and was slightly less warmer and had more control and tightness with bass notes than even with the Slim amp hooked up to the Z Walkman.
I am still not sure how good the headphone out is on the Oppo player compared to dedicated desk top amps but they did improve a fraction more over all to just with portable sources so is quite an achievement to see these stretch from listening to them firstly with the X Walkman sounding okay to starting to really perform with the Z Walkman with the addition of the TTVJ Slim amp just accentuating what the Z was doing well already by a further yard and adding the TWag cable from the stock was just a big a jump as it was going from the X to Z Walkman.
SUMMARY (a long one….!)
Once I had gone with the Z player (even when un-amped) with these they really did rock and excel and have a good rounded full on fun sound where the mid-range is just as present and not recessed despite the Bass and treble been prominent with its signature and I love the vocals been to the fore with excellent cohesion with any backing harmonies and even when driven at loud moments when getting a bit carried away with some songs the control was there maintaining separation of instruments still.
This are never going to be the bass monsters some crave for ie, Beat users etc but does go far enough south than a neutral flat response iem to please most people and is just enough to not upset the types that like studio monitors flat response type sound out there that you can still enjoy the rest of the music around the sub bass moments when they happen.
One thing I have done is try and not compare these to the JH16’s which have been my love affair for the last two years which just would not be fair as it will never match the resolution, micro detail, accuracy, balance and tonal matching not to mention the headroom on the bass of the 16’s manages to do with grace in detail and finesse whilst still rumbling your brain at the same time with just tiny BA drivers.
It showed to me after wandering about it for quite a long time - would be able to have a normal iem as a secondary pair to my 16’s and still enjoy them for what they are with the music and not sit there thinking my 16’s can do this & that better etc.
Only drawback if it is one is even though the Z Walkman is an improvement over my X Walkman the X is still a fairly capable dap but still showed the 3Ai’s even with them been the efficient 3 way base model still need a very god source to get the best out of them just like a ciem does, but it may of just been the nature of the 3Ai’s natural warm nature with the X been the same warmth to it over cooking it a bit as this made it sound a bit muddy compared to hooked up with the Z and Oppo player as my 16’s still manage to rock with the X clearly and concise enough and it has more drivers to push in them also. Plus I could never go back to the stock cable logistically or musically after having a good quality custom cable.
For me it has been a taster to the Heir sound as I was contemplating picking up the familiar Shure SE5xx sound I was used to a few years ago and been honest at the same time a little sceptical with such a new fledgling company that Heir are has only been going a year or so but made me re-evaluate after seeing the build quality and the quality sound they produce for their price point. Now with the addition of UK support brings me closer to taking the plunge as I was not comfortable dealing direct to China with addition of extra tax hits etc.
After been (surprised a bit) and drawn in by the 3Ai sound I am now set on going for the best in an iem I can get before I would have to shell out double for the ciem equivalent. So my next step will be to demo my friends 4Ai’s (& possibly the new 5,0’s later on) and see how they step up from the more than capable 3Ai’s…..
FF75 ; )