Pros: Detail behemoth. Incredible performance with classical music.
Cons: Severely restricted to a handful of genres.
The first time I tried the Tzar 350 was at the London meet in April. My initial impression of these IEMs can be found in the link just below.
As you peruse the link above, you will find that the Wizard himself acknowledged that I had “nailed this product in both sonic descriptions and in the description of the mission/product goal of the Tzar 350”.
In spite of my first encounter with the Tzar 350 being fleeting to say the least, I was sufficiently impressed to purchase a pair, and so decided to write up a more comprehensive review.
With regards to aesthetics, I don’t think Heir Audio requires any further commendation. Their products have arguably the best aesthetics in the IEM/CIEM business. Both my 4.Ai and 8A are punctiliously crafted with sophisticated elegance.
With reference to sound quality, I have never yet come across an IEM that is so capricious or neurotic in nature as the Tzar 350. As a given, any low quality recordings will sound egregious on the Tzar 350, or disagreeable to put it mildly. In addition, lossless recordings that are mastered poorly will also sound rather peculiar with the Tzar 350. An example of the latter would be contemporary pop music, where individual parts are recorded separately and then mixed in together at the end.
However, well recorded lossless tracks sound remarkably vibrant. Female vocal tracks (Ella Fitzgerald for example) are beautifully rendered. The degree of detail is nothing short of astounding. Every instrument’s location can be pinpointed and the individual parts are delivered with utmost incisiveness. You can hear pages turning, Ella wetting her lips, the Violinist’s chair creaking, the Trumpeter’s valve clicking, and the list goes on.
Many people shared the same experience that I did with female Jazz vocals. On the other hand, I found that others scarcely mentioned how well the Tzar 350 performs with Classical Music. As an aspiring Concert Pianist, I like to think of myself as a connoisseur when it comes to Classical Music. As one may surmise, most of the music that I listen to involves the Piano in one way or another. Solo instrumental recordings are preeminently presented by the Tzar 350 and this covers not just the Piano but many other instruments ranging from the Violin, Guitar, Cello, Organ and so on.
Nevertheless, I found the Tzar 350 to be outstanding with Concertos. I am often very let down listening to Piano Concertos as the pianistic details are often lost within the orchestral accompaniment. Such loss in the finer details become increasingly exacerbated the more complex the music is. However, the Tzar 350 manages to bring out all the finer pianistic details without compromising any orchestral coherence, timbre or soundstage. Every instrument is presented with frightening clarity and immediacy which makes the listening experience all the more engaging. To encapsulate the extent of my astonishment, I have felt this kind of hair raising experience only twice in my life due to Audio paraphernalia. The first was when my father purchased the Focal Grande Utopia EM:
The second was with the Tzar 350, listening to Yefim Bronfman perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. (Moreover, I listened to my own performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. It was a rather disheartening experience as the Tzar 350 kindly inundated me of the technical errors in my playing which I had never apprehended.)
I have several recurring issues that I want to discuss further. In some reviews of the Tzar 350, I have frequently come across reviewers complaining that the Tzar 350 is either bass-less and overly harsh/sibilant. I regard as true the latter. With most vocal recordings, even some of very high quality, sibilance seems to be pervasive. However, with the highest quality sources, problems such as sibilance are toned down to tolerable levels (EQ is also another option). With respect to weak bass response, I have found that again, the Tzar 350 will need optimal sources to provide excellent bass response. By an excellent bass response, I am not insinuating that the Tzar 350 has an emphasized bass response, but that its bass is realistic i.e. at a level where fidelity to the recording is preserved.
I initially paired the Tzar 350 with the specifications/measurements-wise excellent Sansa Clip+. It is a fantastic DAP, considered audibly transparent. With other IEMS and CIEMs, I have never questioned the Clip+’s audible transparency until the Tzar 350. The bass response seemed to be inept, the treble far too harsh/sibilant and the noise floor rather high. As a consequence I paired the Tzar 350 with my DAC1 PRE from Benchmark Media. This partnership very much allowed the Tzar 350 to unleash its full potential.
On a final note, I want to reiterate that the Tzar 350 is not an IEM for everyone. Firstly, it requires the finest of sources. Secondly, it is strictly restricted to a very few select genres. Thirdly, it is an IEM that epitomizes inflexibility, hence it cannot fulfill the role of a general purpose IEM. However, despite these shortcomings, the Tzar 350 provides a truly magical experience when partnered with high-end sources and excellently mastered high quality recordings from the appropriate genres. If you are a Classical Music lover, I cannot begin to contemplate as to any other IEMs or CIEMs for that matter, that would surpass the Tzar 350 in speed, soundstage or detail retrieval.
Last but not least, prior to listening to the Tzar 350, I never imagined myself enjoying an IEM that possesses a treble accentuated signature. On the contrary, I have been utterly and unreservedly proselytized.