Many members of HeadFi are probably too young to remember a time when iPods were not ubiquitous, or when compact disc technology was new and exciting. Once we grow accustomed to certain things it becomes hard to imagine living without them. I remember a time when the Ultimate Ears UE5 stood alone in the marketplace. It was a dual driver custom IEM and sold for $750. As the years passed, Westone started competing with UE, and then other companies joined the party. These days we are fortunate enough to have excellent options from UE, JH Audio, Westone, Unique Melody, and several others. Several companies now offer dual driver models that cost roughly half of what the original UE5 did, and they likely sound quite a bit better as well. It truly is a great time to buy a custom IEM.
Another option that I recently discovered is a company called 1964 Ears, found at www.1964Ears.com. They are a Portland, Oregon based firm that has their own lab, and currently offer a variety of products including full custom IEMs of their own design as well as the remolding of universal IEMs. Their stated intent is to offer a high quality product and great service all at a reasonable price. So far my interactions with them have shown them to be succeeding at that goal.
1964 Ears offers four models of custom IEMs ranging from single driver to quad driver. I chose the triple driver 1964-T model for two reasons: 1) 1964 Ears advised me that it was their most balanced and natural sounding IEM, and 2) At the time the quad driver 1964-Q was not quite ready to be released. The 1964-Q is a 3-way model with dual low end drivers, a single mid and a single high. It sounded like lots of fun but I decided to go with the triple driver model instead. When I first saw the website I believe the triples were selling for $500. They then got changed down to $450 which was the price they were selling at when I ordered. Currently they seem to have a sale extending to all models, which drops the triples down to $350. I think I paid around $10 for shipping, but the 1964 Ears website shows that they currently have a free shipping special. For an extra $50 they offer custom artwork, carbon fiber faceplates, or glitter. I chose the carbon for my triples. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this product, but my interactions with the company were pleasant and the price was good enough that I was willing to give it a chance.
The triple driver 1964-T is a 2-way design, with dual balanced armature drivers for the lows and a single BA driver for the highs. Obviously there is lots of room for variation in IEM design as far as which frequencies are handled by which drivers, so I’m not certain where exactly the crossover point is. I suspect the dual low end drivers handle a good section of mids as well but I could be wrong. For that reason, I’ll be referring to them as “large” drivers rather than “low” from this point forward. The large drivers in this design are the Sonion 2015, and the single small driver is most likely the ED-29689 from Knowles Acoustics. I’ve heard that 1964 Ears supposedly uses equivalent drivers from Knowles and Sonion interchangeably. If true, that means the small driver might actually be from Sonion instead. I can’t tell because the angle on my particular customs doesn’t allow me to see the side of the transducer that would have the model number on it. I find the whole idea of interchangeable drivers odd, but it comes from a reliable source who heard it directly from 1964 so I have no reason to doubt it. Perhaps it makes less of a difference than I had thought, and through custom tuning of each final product they are able to end up with a consistent sound regardless of which drivers they used.
The Knowles low frequency driver that is supposedly the equivalent of the Sonion 2015 is the CI-22955. That same CI for lows/ED for highs combo is familiar as it is the basis of several other products. The original LiveWires dual driver model has one of each, and the Unique Melody Aero has dual CI lows and a single ED highs, making it theoretically the equivalent of the 1964-T. I’ve heard all three products and I’ll explain later how they compare to each other.
Moving past the topic of driver selection, the 1964-T doesn’t deviate from the usual features of a custom IEM in any way. It is made from the usual hard acrylic shell. It has the usual dual bores with inline acoustic damping filters. It uses a standard 2-pin flush socket cable connection which can accommodate cables designed for Westone, Ultimate Ears, and JH Audio brand customs. (Note that 1964 can do a recessed cable socket if requested, which might somewhat change your cable options for aftermarket designs) I don’t mean any of these “usual” comments in a negative way; indeed I’m pointing it out because at this lower price point users are often stuck with non-detachable cables or some other deviation from the norm that is necessary to achieve the low price. That is not the case here.
My 1964-T has what I would call slightly above average build quality. I have to qualify this by explaining exactly what that means. As someone who owns multiple sets of custom IEMs, I’ve noticed a big improvement in build quality over the last few years. I’m not sure what happened to cause this; possibly some new process or materials have emerged that make it easier to get a get high quality results even at low costs. Whatever the cause, I notice for example that my older customs like the UE10 and UE Hybrid have significantly worse build quality compared to newer models like the UE4, despite being more expensive. With that in mind, my 1964-T customs look as good as I hoped they would. They also fit perfectly on the first try which is always a good thing when dealing with customs.
As I mentioned before, I chose to get the carbon fiber faceplates. To match with that look I chose a translucent black shell. As my pictures show, translucent black is probably not the best name for the color, as it is more of a smoky grey. Whatever we call it, I think it looks excellent with the carbon faceplate. There are a few small air bubbles that I can find in various areas of the shell, but it is mostly clear, and there are no other issues to be found. The seam between face and shell is nice and smooth and you wouldn’t be able to tell where it was if the face was not a different color. The carbon looks stunning; pictures fail to capture just how nice it looks, and it is always changing based on how the light is reflecting off the pattern. I think I have seen a carbon faceplate on a custom IEM before but I got the impression it was a special order design type of thing. 1964 is the first company that I’ve noticed offering it as a standard feature, and I think it is well worth the price if you like the style.
As a standard option, my customs came engraved on the shell with my initials, my model, and my serial number, with the right side done in red and the left side done in blue. Although engraving sounds like it might cause discomfort due to the slight roughness (as opposed to printed text under a clear coating like other companies sometimes do) I can say that for me it was not an issue at all. I didn’t know they were going to do this but I rather like the end result. It looks very professional.
The cable appears to be Westone as it is nearly identical to the cable that I have with my ES3X. The sole difference is that my 1964 cable does not say the word “Westone” on the Y-splitter. Other than is an exact match. This means that it is a good quality cable, and of course plenty of cable options are available if you are into that sort of thing. The memory wire section is shorter than that of some other brands, which some people seem to like (especially people who wear glasses). I personally prefer a longer memory wire if given the choice but this works fine as well.
Overall I’m pleased with the build quality in general. It is not perfect like Unique Melody always manages to be, but it is still very nice. Judging my some of the pictures on the 1964 Ears Facebook page they appear to make some customs even better than mine, or perhaps it is just too hard to spot these tiny imperfections unless you have the thing in your hand.
My triples arrived in a small cardboard box for shipping purposes. There was no inner box or other packaging, which is really not different from many other customs. I only mention this because if someone had only ever owned universal IEMs they might be expecting a box with logos and such. Customs will never be found on a store shelf so that type of packaging is not needed.
Inside the box we find a user manual and a storage case. The case is a Pelican brand and appears to be the model 1010 if I’m not mistaken. Mine came in solid black which I assume is the standard as there was no option to choose something different. You might have noticed from the pictures that there is some custom engraving on the case; it has a 1964 Ears logo and then also lists the owners name and serial number. This is a standard option which does not cost any extra. It’s nothing fancy but I sort of like the understated look.
Opening the Pelican case, we find that the customization has continued inside. The inside top of the case has foam lining etched with the 1964 Ears logo. The main section of the case also has foam padding with 3 sections cut out for storage. One section contains the IEMs, another part has the cable, and the small center is perfect for keeping the cleaning tool and a 1/8” to 1/4” adapter. As seen in the pictures I am able to fit my customs, cleaning tool, cable, and a Sansa Clip+ just perfectly inside the case. I can’t say for sure what other small DAPs might fit but anything bigger than a Clip+ might be trouble.
I’m pleased with the amount of accessories included and especially with the customization of the case. Sure, it probably didn’t cost them a ton to offer it, but I’m sure it would give them a bit more profit on each order to offer a bare minimum case with no customization at all. Little touches like that go a long way towards the customer experience in my opinion, and really help draw attention away from the fact that you are dealing with a lower priced product. Anyone with experience ordering from some of the other budget custom IEM companies knows what I’m talking about.
This is the associated equipment I used for evaluating the 1964-T:
SOURCE: QLS QA-350, Rotel RDV-1092, Dell Mini with a Squeezebox Touch
DAC: Hot Audio DAC Wow, Matrix Cube, Yulong U100, Yulong D100, Anedio D1
AMPLIFICATION: Matrix M-Stage, Maverick Tubemagic A1, Yulong A100, Luxman P-1u
PORTABLE: Sansa Clip+, Sansa Fuze, QLS QA-350, TCG T-BOX, Vivid Technologies V1
I burned in the 1964-T for roughly 100 hours as is my usual practice, both to ensure everything is working properly and to guard against complaints due to lack of burn in. I tried all sorts of music at all sorts of resolutions from standard 16-bit/44.1kHz to 24-bit/192kHz.
These are just the impressions of one guy. I do these reviews for fun, not profit, and I don't claim to be any special authority. Many people have agreed with my assessments of other gear but some have also disagreed, and I totally respect that. We all hear differently on a physical level and we all have different preferences as well, so I think it is almost impossible for one person’s impressions to apply to every other person. As with all my reviews, I hope you enjoy reading them and I hope they help our hobby to some extent, but I don't pretend that they are anything more than my opinion.
My initial experience with the 1964 Ears product could not have come under worse conditions. First off, I happened to order exactly when the 1964 Ears team was moving their lab to a new location. So the usual 5-10 day turnaround was extended to 15 days. That’s not a huge deal but Vitaliy from 1964 Ears made it a point to apologize several times for the delay, so I get the impression that they take turnaround times very seriously. To make matters worse, I had been listening exclusively to the much more expensive Unique Melody Miracle customs for several weeks, and had concluded that those were the best customs, and possibly the best headphones in general, that I had ever heard. So the 1964-T was bound to be a step down. Lastly but by far most important, just a few days after receiving the 1964-T I got sick. It started as a regular cold but quickly escalated to an ear infection followed by a ruptured eardrum in my right ear. I didn’t even know that was possible, but now that I’ve been through it I can say that it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. It resulted in near total deafness in that ear for roughly a week, followed by several more weeks of diminished hearing capacity. Things have slowly improved to the point where I am finally back to normal, but it was not a fun experience. As I said, things could not have gone more poorly.
Once I regained my proper hearing, I discovered that the humble 1964-T actually sounded quite pleasing. My initial impression was that it sounded roughly comparable to my Kenwood KH-K1000, which is a relatively unknown full size headphone imported from Japan. Now that I’ve spent more time with the 1964-T I find that the comparison still stands and I wish more people had heard the Kenwood so the reference would make more sense.
The Kenwood, and thus the 1964-T, is characterized by its smoothness, with a slight emphasis of bass. Opinions will always differ, but for me they have just about the perfect amount of low end response, allowing them to work well with pretty much every type of music. Listening to lighter music like John Fahey (instrumental guitar) or The Persuasions (a cappella), I never felt the lows were so boosted that it threw things out of whack. But when the music calls for more hard hitting bass, such as Pendulum, Crystal Castles, Mistabishi, Chase & Status, and various other electronic music, the 1964-T never left me wanting. It had great extension and clarity, with just enough extra punchiness to draw me in without sounding overwhelming. It seemed to blend in perfectly with the lower mid range so there was no bloat or muddiness added. All this adds up to a bass quality that is excellent. In terms of bass quantity, it sits somewhere between the Westone UM3X and the Westone 3, being perhaps a bit closer to the 3. A rough similarity (again strictly speaking of quantity) is the UE TF10, although the TF10 seems to give the illusion of having more bass than it really does due to the somewhat recessed mids. In relation to full size headphones, the Kenwood is the perfect counterpart. There is less bass quantity than the big Denons, and less than the Beyerdynamic DT-990, but a bit more than the Sennheiser HD600 and lots more than the AKG K702. The Sennheiser HD650 is a somewhat approximate comparison although I think the 1964-T gives more perceived sub bass impact. This might have to do with the fact that the HD650 has a more significant mid bass boost. Keep in mind that I’m still strictly dealing with bass at this point.
I have to preface this by saying that I often feel that frequency response charts have very little correlation with what I hear from a headphone. This is not one of those cases. I posted my initial impressions in the 1964 Ears thread prior to the company posting the FR charts, and I was pleased to see that everything I described was reflected in the chart. You can find the chart on the 1964 Ears website: http://1964ears.com/spec_sheets.pdf. It indicates that the 1964-T has a bass boost starting just above 30Hz. It forms a sort of plateau from roughly 60Hz to about 250Hz, where it is up by 2-3dB. From there it gradually declines until it is flat at around 1 kHz. This 3dB boost seems to be just the right amount, and the curve seems perfectly designed to avoid overlap. In my opinion the transition between higher mid bass and lower midrange happens somewhere between 400Hz and 500Hz. As you can see on the chart, the 1964-T is only up by about 1dB at that point, and remains very smooth throughout the entire midrange section. I’ll compare the 1964-T to other customs directly later on, but for now I’ll say that it reminds me of the way the JH13 handles bass. Neither will likely satisfy a dedicated bass head but should be plenty for most listeners.
Mids on the 1964-T are very smooth and pleasing. They again bring to mind the Kenwood K1000 in that they sound musical and realistic with no major spikes. Both are very good at avoiding listener fatigue. If forced to use cheesy audiophile language I would call the mids somewhat lush but not in an extreme sense where it adds something to the music that was never really there. This smooth/lush sound brings to mind the positive attributes of tube amps and vinyl, and seems to be more forgiving than some of my other customs, especially when used with lower quality sources and amplification. The flip side of that is that in absolute terms these are not detail monsters where you will be picking apart every note of every separate instrument in an orchestra. They certainly do have plenty of detail, on par with the best universal IEMs out there, but that isn’t really the main focus as it seems to be with something like the ES3X. Instrument separation is still quite good though, and there is a nice natural timbre that is very convincing. These mids are perfect for someone who likes to feel the music rather than analyze it to death but still doesn’t want to miss out on anything.
Looking at the FR chart, it would seem that there are major similarities between the 1964-T and the HD600 with respect to the upper mids and lower highs. This is somewhat true but not completely. The 1964-T has about a 4dB boost peaking at maybe 2.5 kHz. I was worried that this might translate to a slight “honky” sound but so far I haven’t heard that happen. Both products have the same slightly laid back general character, with the 1964-T sounding just a tad more crisp and detailed in the highs. Based on the FR charts this doesn’t seem like it would be the case, and I’m thinking it might have to due with the inherent differences between in ear monitors and full sized headphones. I also need to mention that I really like the HD600, and find that it gets the highs just about right, so the 1964-T being similar is actually a very good thing. One possible benefit of the slightly laid back highs is that sibilance is practically non-existent. If you have a terrible recording where sibilance is completely unavoidable, of course the 1964-T will reproduce that faithfully. But with borderline cases they have a tendency to smooth over the problem more than some of my other customs. This might be objectionable for some as it is not quite as technically accurate as something like a JH13pro. For most it is not a problem or might even be a good thing. The last thing to mention is that the highest highs above 10 kHz are fairly rolled off. This is likely a limitation of the single high frequency driver, and means the overall sound lacks a bit of air and presence compared to the best available headphones. This is no different from most of the universal IEMs I’ve heard and you really have to move to the top tier of customs to get much improvement. For reference, the high driver in the 1964-T is the same as that used in the classic Etymotic ER4S, which was praised for its excellent detail and neutrality. The 1964-T subtly improves on the high end response of the Ety, likely because the driver is supported by the dual large drivers and thus doesn’t have to cover the lower frequencies. Because of that it is freed up to have more breathing room up top. The difference is not huge but noticeable to my ears. I mention this because it sounded like I was describing the 1964-T as dull on top which is not the case at all. The Ety has more perceived brightness due to the lack of bass, and it does seem to have a bit more sibilance for some reason, but the extension is better overall with the triple driver product. Another similarity is with the Monster Turbine Pro Copper Edition. When I use those with the triple flange tips, I get excellent performance with very smooth highs. The 1964-T matches that performance when using a basic Sansa Fuze or Clip+ and scales much better than the Coppers when using higher end gear.
The 1964-T has mid sized soundstage. It is fairly wide, with reasonable depth and space between the instruments. It matches or exceeds all of my universal IEMs and falls somewhere mid pack in my collection of customs. During my evaluation I think I spotted a trend; 3-way designs seem to have a slight edge when it comes to producing a large and accurate soundstage. Of my universal IEMs the Westone 3 and UM3X do the best job of this. Of the customs I’ve experienced, the Unique Melody Miracle is the best followed by the JH13. This could possibly imply that the 3-way quad driver 1964-Q would have superior soundstage reproduction but I can’t say for sure. There are of course exceptions to this rule such as the Monster Coppers and the Sennheiser IE8 which are full range dynamic designs but almost exceed the 3-way Westone products. Maybe this rule just happens to work with the particular models I own. In any case, while not setting any records here, the solid performance of the 1964-T is not disappointing in this area, especially for the price.
Dynamics is an area where the 1964-T really shines. The ability to capture the true scale of a performance at very high volumes is somewhat elusive, especially when using IEMs. I’ve owned many IEMs that I thought had fairly good dynamics until I tried a difficult piece likeRachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor Op.3 No.2 or the ending of Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. These and many other tracks can be tough to reproduce faithfully at near reference levels. The 1964-T does a great job of staying composed in these situations. This is another area where you really benefit from good amplification though; I sometimes maxed out my Clip+ while listening to the 1964-T which is something I rarely do with other customs, and even still the performance was not close to what I get from using a dedicated amp. This is not the fault of the IEM though.
Speaking of scalability, I really like how well these respond to upgrades in the signal chain. I listen to them daily with a Fuze or Clip+ and they do a fine job. They seem less demanding in that regard than the ES3X and LiveWires Trips. But they also have the ability to grow rather than easily topping out like the Monster Coppers and others. They are detailed enough to hear the differences between an average source and a high quality source. At the same time they are fairly forgiving. I tried my Sigtone Shek D1 NOS DAC with my Maverick A1 tube amp, which is about the darkest most rolled off combo I own, and the 1964-T still had pretty decent detail. I'm sure there are even darker amps and DACs out there, and I wouldn't want it much darker than this, but it does indicate the willingness of the 1964-T to work with a broad range of gear.
The UE4pro is a great entry level custom. The price is low and the performance is relatively high. I like to use it is a reference point against which other low priced customs can be compared. The 1964-T is easily superior. It has better bass that is both slightly punchier and more deeply extended. It has a bit more sparkle on the top end. It can play louder without breaking up. It keeps its cool more during really complex passages. Overall it is just a better product. One could argue that the proper UE product to compare to would be the well known UE10pro since it is also a 2-way triple driver product, thus eliminating the extra driver advantage of the 1964-T. There are a few problems with that though: First, the UE10pro doesn’t seem to be available any longer, since it doesn’t appear on the UE website. Also, when it was available it sold for $900. That’s almost three times the price of the 1964-T. The UE4pro is just $50 more than the 1964-T so it is basically a direct competitor. I see the UE7pro which is also a 2-way triple driver model but I know nothing about it so I can’t compare. I did own a UE10pro for a long time though and I feel comfortable calling the 1964-T a better product.
Unique Melody Aero
This is a more interesting comparison as the Aero is also a 2-way triple driver design. I really enjoyed the Aero and thought it was somewhat unique among customs for its more delicate tuning. Despite having a pair of comparable low frequency drivers, the Aero is much more focused on mids and highs than the 1964-T. And despite using the same exact driver for highs, the Aero sounds more sharp and immediate. They both do the same trick when it comes to having clear highs yet subtle roll off for an overall smoothness on the top end. Without having the Aero here with me to do back to back listening, I’d say both products are of equal quality but with a different focus. The 1964-T is more for those who enjoy a sound signature that is fairly neutral but slightly on the warm side, with an extra helping of low frequency response and a smooth laidback top end. Sennheiser HD600 and HD650 are in the same ballpark but the Kenwood KH-K1000 is the perfect full sized counterpart. The Aero is for a totally different crowd who prefers their bass light and tight, and likes speed, clarity, and focus in their mids/highs. Many similarities exist with different AKG models including the K240 variants, the K701, and the K1000. The initial price on the 1964-T of $500 made it almost an exact match for the Aero, but now at $350 it is significantly cheaper.
ES3X and LiveWires Trips
Once again I’ll say that the ES3X and the Trips both sound identical to me. They are a bit mid focused, have excellent extension in the highs, and nice fast bass that can really pound when called to do so. Going into this I had assumed that the 1964-T would consistently have a higher quantity of bass but upon direct comparison that was oddly not always the case. Part of the problem is that the ES3X is so sensitive. Switching back and forth required constant volume adjustment to even things out, or else the discrepancy would make it seem like the ES3X was more impactful and full bodied. Once I figured this out and took more care in level matching it did get better, I still couldn’t quite explain what I was hearing. Some tracks seemed to have more punchy bass with the ES3X, and other times the 1964-T was more robust. What I did find consistent was that the ES3X gives a slight enhancement to the mid range, while the 1964-T is more neutral. The ES3X also has sharper highs, which sometimes sounds like more detail and other times sounds a little harsh. They make you feel closer to the performance, while at the same time giving a more expanded three dimensional soundstage. In contrast the 1964-T feels more distant, which to the optimist could be called relaxing and to the pessimist could be called less engaging. I was split down the middle as far as which one I liked more often on my high end gear, but on basic gear I almost always preferred the 1964-T as it helped hide the flaws that the ES3X would shine a spotlight on. I’m still a bit frustrated that I can’t better describe the bass issue though. I guess it is more of an issue with the ES3X than the 1964-T, since the former seemed to do the fluctuating and the latter was always consistent. In any case, bass performance was universally pleasing on both models despite this odd fluctuation.
Those of us who have been around long enough will remember the rise and fall of several small custom IEM companies. FreQ Audio offered low prices and a decent sound, but for whatever reason they were not able to maintain the business. They closed for a period with the intention of revamping and reopening but they never managed to do so. LiveWires had some internal issues which caused them to break into two separate companies, LiveWires and Fidelity. Both are still around but neither has managed to generate the positive buzz that LiveWires did when they first came to market. I’ve really enjoyed my LiveWires Trips and I respect the company for their design, but I have issues with their customer service abilities, and I can no longer recommend them. That leaves 1964 Ears as my first suggestion when someone inquires about low priced high performance custom IEMs. The fact that they own their own lab rather than having to contract out to someone else makes me hopeful that they can avoid some of the pitfalls that have ensnared others.
The big question on the minds of potential customers is regarding the choice between this triple driver model and the quad driver 1964-Q. Unfortunately I can’t tell you which one is right for you. User Ericp10 has given many impressions of the quad driver model, and is due to post a full review soon. I will link to that when I can. In general I speculate that the 1964-T is to the 1964-Q what the JH13pro is to the JH16pro. If you are looking for a fairly neutral IEM that is not boring, the triple driver is probably best. If you want a more substantial bass experience, the quad should work better. The difficulty lies in determining just how much bass is enough for each person. I find that what some people think is adequate bass, others find lacking, and still others find extreme.
I can’t speak directly about the quad, but I will say that the triple driver model is simply an excellent performer. Although it doesn’t really master any one trait, it seems to do a very good job in each of them. To use another cliché it is a jack of all trades, master of none. This is truly a custom IEM that is accessible to everyone. For the price I have experienced no competing product that can deliver as well as these. Of course there will be those who gravitate more towards a different sound signature, and for them I recommend the Unique Melody Aero, which is excellent at what it does. But in general I think the 1964-T will please the most people at the lowest price. In addition, the smooth non-fatiguing sound and slightly forgiving nature will match up perfectly with the entry level gear that is likely to be used by a first time custom IEM buyer. More experienced audiophiles will be rewarded with the extra performance extracted by superior upstream components. And everyone will be impressed by the excellent service and fast turn around time offered by the company. As for me, even though I have multiple higher end customs, and indeed plan on purchasing one of the flagship Unique Melody models soon, I will continue to use the 1964-T almost daily as my portable IEM. It just sounds that good.
Edited by project86 - 3/5/11 at 9:35am