Pros: Amazing balance between analytical and musical.
Cons: If you want piercing treble and Grado-style aggresion, these are not for you.
All listening done from my Ibasso DX100 using only lossless files.
Heir Audio is a relative newcomer in the field of custom in-ear monitors, but the man behind the company, Dr. John Moulton, is by no means a rookie. Having already made a name for himself here on Head-Fi by posting his beautiful creations he earned the nickname “The Wizard”. After a series of unfortunate events in dealing with another CIEM company I ordered Heir’s top of the line model, the $1099 Heir 8.A. As the name implies, there are no less than 8 BA drivers in each monitor. Two (very large) for bass, two for midrange, two for treble and two for “Super-high treble”. According to Heir Audio the 8.A strives for “the “perfect” blend of accuracy and bass response. No compromises were taken with this particular product, it is designed to satisfy those that desire accuracy and for those that desire bass.” If you are looking for a more analytical approach and a more “correct” sound, the $899 6.A is tuned for a leaner, more accurate sound. Judging by reviews, the $350 3.A should have a fun and engaging sound but I knew myself well enough to just order the top model first, in stead of going insane wondering what could have been and how much better my music might have sounded if I had gotten the 8.A. Buy the best and only cry once.
Ordering the 8.A is much like ordering most other customs: Decide on colors and artwork, place your order, ship impressions to the lab and wait. What makes Heir stand out is their phenomenal customer service and great communication. They even answered all my silly questions promptly and politely. If, like me, you have the patience of a 3-year old there is even an option for “Rush order” ($120 for traditional acryllic, $180 for Timbre Line (wooden faceplates)) to have you customs finished in just 3-5 days (5-8 days for Timbre Line) instead of 5-8 weeks. For the sake of my surroundings, I ticked the “Rush order” box. $120 well spent, 3 days after my impressions had reached the lab in China I got an email telling me that my 8.A’s were ready to ship.
My customs arrived in a very nice transport case. Not made by Peli, but Otterbox - Waterproof, crushproof, bulletproof (Well, almost) and incredibly sturdy. My name is engraved on the lid of the box, very practical if I find myself at a head-fi meet with several Heir CIEMs present or if I should forget my name. Both could happen. I personally prefer Peli cases to Otterboxes and one of the advantages that Peli holds over Otterbox is the pressure valve. After the flight from China to Denmark in the cargo hold of a UPS plane, I had to pry the Otterbox open because of the vacuum inside it. A very minor niggle that you will probably only experience this one time. Once I got the Otterbox pried open I understood how The Wizard got his name. I have tried taking a few pictures of my 8.As but they don’t do them justice. For the 8.A, carbon or wood face plates are available at no extra cost, but when I found out that The Wizard could do laser cuts through brushed aluminum I knew I had to have that. It looks absolutely stunning IRL.
Reading the list of available options actually make mine look a bit dull. How about flourescent shells that glow in the dark? Or mirror faceplates? PCBs? Maybe woven grass is more your thing? Or a wood/carbon hybrid? Suffice to say, anybody should be able to get a unique design for their CIEM.
The fit was absolutely flawless for me - they just slid right into place. Using the 8.A with the Heir Magnus 1 ($120) cable is insanely comfortable. The CIEMs almost “disappear” and I don’t feel them at all in my ear, even though they effectively seal out outside noises. The Magnus cable is made from an ultra-thin silver plated copper foil with interwoven Kevlar. With 4 braided black wires it looks very much like the Westone Epic but is actually MORE flexible than the Westone, my previously favorite cable. The Magnus feels very robust and should reportedly hold 40lbs. I haven’t tested that. I have done a bit of A/B testing with the Fortis V2 cable from AmpCity, a pure silver, single-core offering. The Fortis brings the mids ever so slightly more forward but sonically the two cables are very close. Once you factor in ergonomics (The Fortis is a bit stiff) the Magnus cable wins a solid victory here. I thought I would be using the Fortis most or at least be switching between them depending on which kind of presentation I wanted for different kinds of music but the Fortis will be up for sale soon or maybe I’ll reterminate it for use with my HD650s.
But how do they sound?
I like bass. Just look at my avatar. But bass on the 8.A is an all-new world to me. On some tracks I wondered why the bass was so lean and on others it went at least as deep as, if not deeper than, my FS Atrio MG7 and my memory of the UM Merlin. Puzzled by this “inconsistent” bottom end I set out to investigate what exactly was happening with those two huge BA’s in the 8.A (Seriously, the bass drivers are literally twice as big as the other “normal” BAs). After a while it dawned on me: Instead of just pumping out gobs of bass in all tracks, the 8.A only give me whatever bass is on a given track. Or at least a MUCH more faithful representation than what I have been used to before. It took me a days worth of listening to adapt and now I don’t think I can ever go back. On the 8.A bass has so much more than just rythm and slam - there is depth, layers, spatial clues and just gobs of detail. On System Of A Down - Chop Suey, where the drums set in I can now tell exactly where in the drum kit the individual drums are placed. On one of my favorite tracks, Trentemøller - Chameleon I get the deep, pulsating bass but it never bleeds into the midrange or muddies up the many intricate layers present on that track. The duo of extra-large BA drivers comes very. very close to matching the impact and weight from the dynamic drivers that I used to crave. In fact, they have no problems keeping up with my FS Atrio but due to reasons beyond my control I don’t have the Merlins on hand to do a direct comparison with them. When it comes to control and detail, the BAs just leave the dynamic drivers in the dust. All of you that say BA’s can’t do proper bass (like I used to say at any given chance) need to try the 8.A. I had toyed with the idea of getting a set of FS Mg6Pro to supplement the 8.A but that is definitely off the table now. When I put on Daft Punk - Da Funk my face is just a huge grin from bass-loving ear to bass-loving ear. Depth, slam and weight, all present and accounted for. The sense of space and all the details going on at the start of that particular track is flat out impressive on the 8.A. It doesn’t sound like a recording of a busy street, it sounds like I’m standing on the sidewalk of that busy street, very immersive. Then the beat kicks in...
By having such a well-mannered bass, the midrange is able to really shine on the 8.A. They have been described as having forward mids and while I tend to agree, it’s not done in an overly in-your-face fashion such as many Grado models do. The 8.A are on the slightly warm side of neutrality while maintaining an impressive level of detail but without becoming too analytical. For me, they really hit the perfect balance between musical and analytical. Sitting down with one of my favorite tracks for testing, Louise Rogers - Comes Love (24/192) I had to restart the track a few times as I found myself getting carried away by the music when I was supposed to be listening for details and analysing the presentation. When I finally managed to stay focused, I suddenly noticed that the bass player is not the only one breathing heavily, Louise Rogers’ breath is quite audible as well and they really should stay still in that studio instead of moving around like one of them does at 2:11. Jumping to a much more macho track - from the soundtrack to Bridget Jones’ Diary 2 - a duet with Rufus Wainwright and Dido. “I Eat Dinner (When The Hunger’s Gone)” starts with Rufus singing in his special whiny way over a minimalist layer of music with a hint of backing vocals. At 2:27 Dido takes a deep breath before her always soothing voice and slightly more controlled breathing takes over. All the small details are there and it sounds like both of them had their microphones right up in their respective faces. This ensures that you can really hear every single little bit of emotion in their singing - which is not always a good thing. As far as Rufus goes, you can hear how he is a tormented soul who poured all of his sorrow and emotion into the saddest verses he had ever written and is now singing them with tears down his cheeks. Dido, on the other hand, sounds almost sedated, like she was flown in and still jetlagged when she was handed a lyrics sheet and told to make it sound sad. The enormous difference in emotion almost ruined the track for me. Still much better than Sting Vs. Sugababes on “Shape Of My Heart” though.
One of my all-time favorite songs is No Need To Argue by The Cranberries. The haunting vocals of Dolores O’Riordan are absolutely beautiful and you can almost see how she is standing in front of the huge church organ. Her voice effortlessly flows with so much emotion and the acoustic guitar stays very discretely in the background, cautiously showing itself first at 0:43 and then again a few times throughout the song. The 8.A conveys all of this superbly over the looming backdrop from the organ and somehow managing to make all the little details stand out without ruining the musical presentation of the song as a whole. The very good isolation of the 8.A allows me to really enjoy the music from my DX100 when the missus needs the car and I have to take the bus to work. Yesterday I did just that and decided to put on the album “Conditions of My Parole” by Puscifer, a side-project from Tool and A Perfect Circle front man Maynard James Keenan. I’ve listened to that album hundreds of times but the fact that female vocalist Carina Round is present on all tracks was new to me. Her delicate vocals are clearly heard in the background (often off to the left) with the 8.A.
Treble on the 8.A is done by no less than 4 BA drivers, two for treble and 2 for “super-high” treble. This might seem like an odd choice for a CIEM supposedly sounding “warm” and with a slight bass emphasis, but what do I know - it works. High notes just seem to effortlessly go higher and higher but without ever getting shrill or sibilant. The treble is in no way rolled off or muted like on the FS Atrio and my HD650s, it’s just very polite. Like the rest of the spectrum, there are tons and tons of details and layers in the treble but unlike some Grados and Etymotics, they’re not thrown at your eardrums like daggers. Bright sounding female vocals are an entirely new pleasure for me with the 8.A and I find myself listening to music I had previously dismissed. As enjoying the higher end of the sound spectrum is almost a new thing to me I must apologize for my lack of skill in describing it. Die-hard treble heads might not like the 8.A but I think most others are in for a pleasant surprise...
Sonically, the 8.A is nothing short of perfect for me.
I thought the same about the UM Merlin when I had those, but the 8.A is just so much more refined in every way - and much more comfortable for longer listening sessions. The perfectly balanced presentation that always remains very detailed yet never aggresive, coupled with a perfect fit makes the 8.A the best thing that has ever happened to my ears, nothing less. If you want to have your eardrums pierced or blown in or want the singer to sound like he/she is sitting on your lap, you might find them slightly disappointing, but if you listen for 6-8 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, like me, you will appreciate the way the 8.A presents your music. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very involving and lively, not mellow like the HD650 but if you’re looking for a Grado-like aggresive sound you’ll probably be better served elsewhere. It’s very nice of Heir to offer $70 reshells for the second and third owner, but these babies aren’t going anywhere.