Pros: Good trance features, fit and tips work well for me
Cons: The V dip doesn't work as well with its prefered genres as it would like. Balance and tuning thus a bit off
Heir Audio is a division of Micro DSP Technology. They created waves on Head-Fi in 2012 with their custom in ear monitoring line. Today, they are one of the premier CIEM brands for enthusiasts heralded as neutral masters. In late 2012, the Wizard sought out to make a new Universal line of in ear monitors. So that anybody can have the sound of his custom lines. The more basic and not very customizable nature of the UIEM’s allows for a much cheaper cost. There are currently four released UIEM’s out and a fifth one coming out soon. Some general portions of my review will also be the same in the other Heir Audio reviews I will be pushing out. This is because they are the same in that regard, small changes will be noted however if there are any. I wish to thank the Wizard and Sinocelt for arranging this review sample tour and for including me.
These UIEM’s are all hand made by the Wizard and possibly others. They do not pop out of a machine all the same. This leaves some rough ridges on the units. Some spots are a little rough and other places have a weird ridge sometimes. The overall design and shape of the units are highly similar however. They have been tested of course. The plastics of the units are exactly as you would expect from any other unit of its likes. High quality and hard and not made of some cheap material. They look great and feel great as well and the tips fit onto the universal nozzle well. The connectors up top are also like any good IEM’s. They are tigth fitting and exact to their properties. Besides the rough spots on the unit which aren’t a problem, this is just what one would expect from an unit that emulates the customs.
With the Magnus 1 cable, microphonics is present in some amounts. The braided nature of the cable is nice, but when it meets the interlocking zip’s of a jacket or sweatshirt it creates a lot of noise. The magnus cable will sometimes ‘transfer’ noise up the cable, but with music playing, it isn’t a big deal.
With the stock cable it is very similar. However unlike the Magnus which may catch onto the zips of the jacket, the stock cable will just slide past it. This creates a faster sounding ‘zip’ sound on a jacket than the Magnus. for normal cloth/smooth material clothing, it is not an issue. This is because the cables are well made and most importantly, the unit is an over ear cable design like most IEM’s.
Isolation and Leak:
This highly depends on your own fit with the unit, tips used, and if you are playing music or not. The units themselves are large in a sense but should fit most people that aren’t kids or have a small ear space. The units also come with a good amount of tips for you to try, from different single tips to double flanges. I get the best fit with the double flanges and so I use that for all the units reviews. Isolation of outside materials is quite good, but not perfect of course. At a medium -90-94dB volume and even higher, sound doesn’t really leak out. Obviously, pulling out the units with music playing will let most people hear what is playing as the seal is broken. We don’t want everyone to know that Justin Bieber is a favorite artist now do we?
Besides the fact that these are expensive and most will baby them, they hold up well in terms of using them and on the go usability. The largest problem really is their price. You become aware of everything around you, and the earphones feel a bit fragile as you use them portably. It is all a mind thing of course as they didn’t really get looser or feel like they were going to just drop off the face of the earth. The braided cable can get caught in some things though so that was another worry. But besides that, as long as you have a good fit, they work very well. The L shaped jack of the stock and Magnus 1 cable(especially the Magnus) may block some input output ports on the portable device or amp though.
Magnus 1 Cable option:
The Magnus 1 Cable is an option provided by Heir Audio. The cable was an option as the Wizard wanted a better fitting cable for his units. They had to more or less be perfect. Not too light, not too heavy, not too flexible but not too hard either. Heir Audio makes no claims about its sonic performance. The cable is strictly a high quality cable for usability and perfection purposes. It is terminated by the Neutrik NTP3RC-B in case anyone is wondering. The below pic shows stock cable to the left and Magnus 1 to the right. The stock cable is an unused extra Heir threw in. Otherwise the connectors would also be curved like the Magnus 1 to the right.
So we now go directly into the 3.Ai itself. The 3.Ai is the universal variant of the 3A which is a CIEM variant. The 3.Ai like the rest of Heirs UIEM lines come with a small pelican case, tips, and cleaning tool by default. Only the customs get the large pelicans. The 3.Ai feature three balanced armature drivers. One for low high frequency, one for mid frequency, and one for low frequency. They use a dual bore output design. The 3.Ai's like the universals also come in one shell color and faceplate. This was to heavily reduce costs as customizability and individuality is what accounts for a good portion of CIEM extra costs. This review was done with the stock cable and not the Magnus 1 Cable.
The 3.Ai is approx 17 Ohms. This is a bit lower from the 3.A which is at 25 Ohms. However they are still easily driven with an iPod. The iPod could go from quiet to very loud and no noise was detected. The 3.Ai however is of course sensitive with big units so low gain and small knob turns are recommended.
The Heir Audio 3.Ai run for $299. This does not include shipping(and possible customs) and some possible extra accessories you may want. For reference, I will use my custom Project-H. It uses a Burr Brown equipped Objective 2 amplifier and a Cirrus Logic flagship DAC, the CS4398 DAC. The 4ai was also used with an Audio gd NFB 12.1 (Discrete Amp and Dual Flagship Wolfson WM8741), FiiO E07K ANDES, and FiiO E12.
Audiophile word use:
I try to use this word and neutral 2-3 times every review. Not more, but because I have used it more than that as a necessity, it needs its own section. The term audiophile/neutral has been dirtied in the last few years as many elitists and what not have used it for their own purpose. My use of audiophile sound and what not is going back to the pure usage of the word where the sound is something that an audio lover looking for neutral perfection, and near life like presentation would want. And not an elitist comment on me sipping Champagne with a monocle in my eye while listening to these. It is mealy used to differentiate what an audiophile sound lover would like as opposed to a mainstream one.
The highs of the 3.Ai are very subdued. They are there and are of good quality, but their actual presence is very light. Their amount of quantity is kicked down quite a bit from the rest of the sound that the 3.Ai will produce. Heir has done this with their other uiem's but the 3.Ai has the most subdued highs. But just because they are a bit gone in presence doesn't mean that they aren't good. The highs are clear but don't get their own specific space. It is closer to the rest mids as opposed to being its own seperated being. It can be thought that the reduction of them and the dulling of the piercing is done to help prevent damage to the listners ears and for a more fun sound which the 3.Ai's are striving for.
The mids for the most part are clear except for the upper mids. A sparkle in the upper mids leads to sharp cymbal snaps and mid instruments will often intrude into the upper vocals which do reduce their clarity. It would be more beneficial with less crowded sounds. The 3.Ai's vocals also have good weight to the bottom of the vocals. This is a kind of V shaped quality. It is not fully V shaped as the lower mids are not actually dropped that much. If there wasn't that much talk about 3.Ai an V shaped, I wouldn't even include that term, but there is so I'm including it to clarify. Good weight in the lower vocals and a sharp spike in the upper mids. It has a dark presentation and carries more weight than other Heir's.
The mid instruments for the Heir are very close to the vocals. They are well separated, but lack the superior imaging of the 4.Ai's and the intrusion into the vocals is also a quality of them. This is more heard on congested tracks. But none the less, the mid instruments do have nice presentation, they are also a bit dulled off in terms of being sharp and forward in attack.
The 3.Ai's have decent impact in the lows, but like the other heir's they are not compltely bassy. Their bass is capable of impact, and has a good mid bass, but that is on songs that artificially try to force it out. Naturally on EDM, the bass is not enough to satisfy the EDM lovers. The lows on these are more for trance and other less bassy genres of EDM. The bass does add and compliment to many songs with the 3.Ai though which is nice to note. It is very enjoyable on most oldie recordings. New generation music has the bass fall flat on its back with the 3.Ai's. Sub bass and extension is there, but it doesn't go very deep nor is sub bass going to be really present generally.
(please see bottom for respective review links)
3.Ai with 4.Ai
Lows are very similar but the 3.Ai edges the 4.Ai out in overal possible impact and thump by a bit. The 4.Ai's have a clearer mid range but don't have the sharp upper mid that makes the sharp cymbals and instrument 'hits'. The vocals are similar but the 3.Ai's have a slightly darker lower vocal. When mid instruments start to come in for the 'congestion', the 4.Ai's pull ahead of the 3.Ai's in keeping the vocals clear while the 3.Ai's couldn't do it as well. The highs are more defined with the 4.Ai, they are more bright but in the end, both are toned down a bit.
3.Ai with Tzar 350:
These two IEM's are very similar in their mid range. Both have an upper mid spike that when played with more congested instrument full music, will create less clarity in the vocals. But when the vocals are left alone, both perform clearly and well. The 350 have a more clear and less 'colored' vocal range. Some prefer one over the other. The 350's also have a vocal that is more on 'flat' ground than the 3.Ai's which have a slight upward curve. The lows are of course very distinct, 350's more or less have none while the 3.Ai's have an admirable amount.
Tzar 90 with 3.ai
These are similar but also different. The bass on the 3.ai is more leveled out without as much of a mid bass hump compared to the 90. The mids on the 3.ai take a slight curve upwards for some sparkling upper mids while the 90's take a deep curve throwing the vocals off. The seperation and soundstage on 90 is more but the 350's have clearer instruments. The upper mid sparkle however does lead to some fatigue. The highs of the 90 are much louder and present than the 3.ai. They work with about the same genres, but I believe that 3.ai performs with more and sounds better.
I kept on hearing about how the 3.Ai was going to have V shaped sound signature and very fun sound, and I can definately see that. But I can't see it in the general sayings of the word. I implied that to mean it would go well with modern music and full on EDM which is not the case with the 3.Ai's. Instead, the 3.Ai's are excellent in being fun with the rest of the higher quality music's of yester-decade. The bass compliments the music well and the highs do not pierce into anybody's head(some don't like it). The sharp upper mids are liked by many for sharper cymbals and the likes. At $299, however I would personally say that the 4.Ai's are a better deal in that they work well with the same genres and perform better. If the 3.Ai worked well with a different genre/type of music than the 4.Ai then it would be a different story.
All the Heir Audio Reviews:
Heir Audio 3.Ai
Heir Audio 4.Ai
Heir Audio Tzar 350
Heir Audio Tzar 90