Pros: UIEM done well, great tip selection, balanced sound, great service
Cons: Fit may not be for everyone, Sound may not fit some genres
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.
Now we get specific into the Heir Audio 4ai itself. The 4ai is the universal model of the Heir Audio 4a which sent shockwaves around Head-Fi in 2012. It packs four precision tuned balanced armature drivers. With two of them just for low frequency. One for mid and one for highs. Their nozzle bore(number of holes) is a dual bore design and it comes with a detachable cable design. There is a model out called the 4ai+ which is a premium combo deal with custom signature, Magnus 1, and more warranty. This is not that, but I am using the Magnus 1 cable with the 4ai so it in a sense it should sound the same as it.
The 4.Ai is specified at ~17 Ohms for impedance. 4A is about 25 Ohms. The 4.ai is very easy to drive. Maybe even a bit too easy to drive. There may be some noise or ‘incompatibility’ with some sources. There was no noise or problems with an iPod Touch 2G. The iPod drives it well allowing it to be quiet and also loud at the same time. So while the 4ai is sensitive, the users that may have problem may be the desktop users with their larger devices.
The Heir Audio 4ai run for $399. Then we have shipping(and possibly customs) and possible accessories if you want them. For my review with the 4ai, the 4ai will be used with the Magnus 1 Cable ($110-$150). This is because it was the cable that was provided with the 4ai. Only two stock cables were provided and constant insertion of them into the units is not a good thing. I am not doing a cable test and Heir makes no sonic claims for their cables. The review will thus be the 4ai and Magnus 1. 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.
Sound impressions overview:
The high frequency of the 4ai is very well controlled. It is just enough without going over in quantity. It isn’t very piercing or bright and this seemed to be intended. It wants to be neutral and neutral it is in its showcasing of the highs. It doesn’t try to exemplify them by giving a huge high explosion. Rather, the highs are pulled down in terms of volume but are well controlled with it. There are some times when I wished for those sweet bright highs to finally edge the song out, but they were not there. This can be a pro or a con for different people. Some just want nothing to be accentuated and neutral while others want to have an opinionated high with more quantity. Whatever the end user would want, the controled highs allow for longer listing time as it doesn’t get overly bright. It is kind of a middle road neutral solution. The highs are sharp and controlled but are knocked down in terms of volume a bit when compared to other units that will really just give you some piercing ones.
The vocals of the 4ai are very smooth in their execution. No other frequency will leak into the vocals clarity, and it doesn’t spill into the others as well. Just like the highs, the vocals are in their own contained field. The 4ai seems to prefer to not accentuate many things and just give you the music as it is. the vocals are the same, it is forward in the sense that it is, but the individual elements of the vocals are not too colored or given to you with too much of a subjective spin on it. But of course, there will always be a subjective or small thing about everything that will reveal its difference from actually neutral. And so to review the vocals I would say that while it is not pulled back, the instrumental mids surround it. This will give users a sense of the vocals possibly being pulled back as the instruments may surround the vocals and possibly be louder. But the end result is that the vocals are indeed forward, and that it is just the instruments separation and clarity that may give the feeling that it isn’t.
As for the mids and instruments themselves, like I said previously, they have very good clarity and seperation. It is clearly separated from the vocals and very smooth. IThe instruments are generally to the ‘left’ of the vocals, not exactly in the same space as the vocals itself.
With two dedicated drivers for the low frequency, some may think these are bass cannons. Well they arne’t. I prefer bass. A headphone can’t truly be neutral in a sense if it lacks a bass response or good bass quantity. The 4ai’s encompasses this idea very well. But it also fails in some senses. Most fail by the way, and I will explain soon. Well for one, the bass of the 4ai’s go well with the songs. I have heard an amazing amount of bass come from the 4ai’s and also at the same time, a small amount comming out. Very song dependent of course. Different amps and units have also given me different results. But overall, the bass of the 4ai’s is the kicker for most songs. It brings the songs together. However what it fails in of course is the idea of how bass neutrality should work. If an IEM has bass that has the ability to impact and go deep, thus it should encompass every genre? Well it should, but most fail this idea. Where even if the IEM can peform to those levels with some songs and their bass needs. The levels needed may not be correct with mainstream music. So while the bass of the 4ai is very wordly in how it can perform, it will fail those roles often when doing mainstream music or EDM. It has the ability to do those songs well with an EQ, without distorting, but naturally not being able to work well with them is the problem. This is a problem with many headphones and IEM’s. So it isn’t too big of a thing but I felt it should be noted considering these are over $400.
The impact of the 4ai’s is not very large, but it is just enough. It goes well with a song as a backing thump. The mid bass also has the ability for some very nice hits, it is just very tight in its execution. Texture isn’t exactly a huge part of the 4ai in the low region. And lastly the extension, it has decent extension but it doesn’t pull too deep. Sub bass and extension is present, but it doesn’t sink into many lower parts. For mainstream bassy music, the 4ai’s falls a bit flat, but for good recorded oldie music and new ones, the 4ai’s are a treat with the lows.
4ai vs 350:
The 4ai have more imaging and soundstage and the mid and vocal instrument seperation is much better than the 350's. Instruments are more sharp on the 350 however due to a upper mid spike. The 350's are more instrumental based while the 4.Ai are more balanced in vocal and mid instruments. The highs are also more contained and smooth on the 4.Ai. The lows are much better and pronounced on the 4.Ai, they go slightly lower, but the quantity of it on the 4.Ai is what really puts it out there past the 350. The 350 is more suited for less bassy and more instrumental genre's while the 4ai is more balanced.
4.Ai vs 3.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.
Tzar 90 with 4.ai
The Tzar 90 I think holds no candle to the 4.ai. Everything it does, the 4.Ai's do better. This is of course purely opinion as the 90 has qualities some will like. The 4.ai's have a very leveled out bass. Very smooth bass, without the hump the 90's have. Both don't have much sub bass or extension however. The mids of the 4.Ai are also superior. The vocals are much more neutral and smooth. Very clear. The 4.Ai's vocals are surrounded by the mid instruments while the 90's instruments are surrounded by the vocals. However, the 90's vocals are more dull as compared to the 4.Ai's. The highs on the 4.Ai are also not as loud or present as 90. However they are very close. The 4.Ai's highs have its own section however is more pulled away from the mids.
The Heir Audio 4ai are a great sounding set of UIEM’s. They work well with a lot of genres, but some general problems with musical reproduction do plague the 4ai’s. They are not very fatiguing after one is used to it. For listeners that like accurate music, the 4ai would be a very good UIEM to have.
All the Heir Audio Reviews:
Heir Audio 3.Ai
Heir Audio 4.Ai
Heir Audio Tzar 350
Heir Audio Tzar 90