So this came in the mail for me a week ago.
I'm no King but I'll roll with it ;)
Inside it was an Otterbox.
And inside that sat my beautiful brand new 3.A customs.
In this carrying case there was a silica gel packet with a warranty card and a cleaning tool on the left. The top and bottom is covered with a dense foam that protects the customs from all manner of abuse.
This is a Triple Driver, 3-way Passive Crossover Custom Inner Ear Monitor (CIEM). The faceplate is made from REAL Amboyna Burl wood with REAL Siamese Rosewood inlay. It's a truly stunning piece of art! The wood actually has a nice sheen to it and different shades can be seen by angling the faceplate in different light, much like you would with a holographic sticker.
These are the specs as taken from http://www.heiraudio.com
· 3 Precision Tuned Balanced Armature Drivers
· Three Way Passive Cross Over Design
· One Balanced Armature Drivers for Low Frequency Production
· One Balanced Armature Driver for Medium Frequency Production
· One Balanced Armature Driver for High Frequency Production
· OxiCap Capacitors
· Vishay Resistor
· Hypoallergenic , Hard Acrylic Shells
· Noise Isolation -26dB
· Impedance 25
Before I start the review proper, I'd like to state how I came about receiving a pair of these, so there's full disclosure and a clear idea on the neutrality of the review. I have no affiliation with Heir Audio.
I've always been an admirer of the Wizard's work and this all started back in the DIY threads, we became friends through pm exchanges. One day he finds out my birthday falls on the 11/11/11, he felt it was important to commemorate the date so he asked if I'd like a pair of his new entry level product as a present from him. Needless to say I accepted! He said I wasn't beholden to write a review on these since they aren't close to his flagship product the 8.A.
I've decided to write one anyways, since I believe very few people in the world actually have a Heir Audio product, and this would certainly be of interest to the community on the whole, and the budget custom consumer in particular. So I'm sure the Wizard will be very surprised to be reading this.
I have heard a wide variety of IEMs and CIEMs, my last pair of customs was a alienears C3pro which lasted a while before remolding and retuning them with unique melody.
I have a preference for slightly warm sound signatures and friends have often said I'm a Bass-head. I am particular about tonal accuracy, sound imaging and high quality bass. What do I mean by 'high quality bass'? It has to be thick and full with significant slam and a moderate quantity of sub bass, it has to be tight and controlled, not bleeding into other frequencies.
I'm allergic to exceptionally bright sound which most refer to as sibilance, and I dislike music presented to me in a clinical fashion.
Music has to sound musical.
I'll be mainly reviewing these with an iPod Classic, paired with a iBasso PB-1 balanced amplifier, with a 5N stranded silver cable terminated with a hirose balanced connector which I made.
As such, the CIEMs would be running balanced or as some call it pseudo balanced. I adore my portable set up very much, and its brought my woodied Grados to a whole new level.
All music used is of ALAC quality.
Here's the part I call on your patience. This is going to be a 3 part review.
Part 1 - Build Quality and Sound Quality (Balanced silver cable only)
Part 2 - Sound Quality with Different Cables (including the stock cable)
Part 3 - Comparison with other CIEMs and Top Tier Universals
Do not worry, this first post would be updated as I add the other parts. Just subscribe and you won't miss a thing.
1.1 Build Quality
These are truly exceptional.
Straight out of the box, they fit! There wasn't a need to send these back for a re-fit to my relief.
The second thing I noticed was how clear the acrylic was. Remember how we marveled at unique melody's build quality? Heir Audio is right up there! There were NO blemishes and NO bubbles at all. And the drivers and passive components were neatly tucked away inside, with dampeners clearly visible. My photos simply don't do it any justice, however, it was the best I could do given I'm not a photographer. Having remolded before with unique melody, I can attest to the transparency and quality these customs have. Heir Audio has possibly surpassed the bench mark set so high by unique melody.
Now I feel like I should give everyone interested in wooden faceplates a heads up. The Wizard found my ears a little bit small for wooden faceplates initially, and it took some ingenuity on his part to work out a wooden design for me. It seems if you just want a plain wooden faceplate that is not a problem at all, BUT if you wish to include inlays it might prove quite tricky. My advice is to send in your order, send in your impressions, then after he's looked at your impressions you can consult with him on what can or can't be done.
Now that I've stated I'm a Bass-head, and you've probably scrutinized the specs, you're probably wondering what I think of the Bass on these seeing it uses a single driver for the low frequencies. In a word, SIGNIFICANT.
The Bass on these is very tight and well controlled. It's quite thick and has a significant amount of slam. This really surprised me, just as how the ES5 surprised me with it's Bass quantity a few months back. The Bass on the 3.A is just right to make Rock and Jazz music just incredibly enjoyable. I can hear every beat the drummer plays in "Anberlin - There is no mathematics to love and loss", his kick drums are pretty realistic, not at all overpowering.
What I'd really like to talk about are the Vocals. I am very excited to say that with Vocals, the 3.A does a phenomenal job! It feels like I'm right there in a live performance, where there aren't any annoying fans, just me. The Vocals are just forward and clear, it really does a bang up job with Rock, Acoustic, Pop, heck even Musical soundtracks like "The Wicked OST".
I need to comment about how guitars sound on these for a bit. I can visualize every string plucked when I have the 3.A on. Its tonally accurate and very realistic. I just have to smile when Lifehouse plays and I'm drifting away in a harmony of strings.
Now with Highs, these aren't particularly exceptional. There isn't that "sparkle" you'd get in top tier models, but bear in mind, this is the Entry-level product for Heir Audio. The Highs have no brightness or sibilance at all which for me is a huge plus. (coming from Grados I know what I'm talking about ;) )
Soundstage on these are not particularly big. If I closed my eyes and pictured it, it sounds like a studio. Which gives that forward feel to it, like you're in the garage chilling with the band.
The music presented from the 3.A is pretty clear, but instrument separation isn't quite as clear. By that I mean the noise level is quite low, but picturing where the instruments are can sometimes be less clear, this only becomes apparent when there's a number of instruments in a complicated riff. It is heaps better than the alienears I had grown accustom to in every regard, and significantly better than a bunch of top tier universals I've heard so far.
The sound signature as much as I gather, isn't as laid back as westones, nor clinical like the unique melody, nor aggressive like the jerry harveys. I would say its closer to the ultimate ears in terms of aggressiveness and speed. Listening to tracks by The Prodigy, Benny Benassi and Ocean Lab, was very enjoyable.
A few people have asked me whether the wooden faceplate gives it some timber. I cannot affirm that the wood does give the sound some timber as I'd need a non "woodied" version to do side by side comparisons. However, I would logically deduce that a proper wooden shell would make a significant difference since it surrounds the drivers and sound tubes, with that I would think its unlikely the wooden faceplate affects the sound. This is completely my opinion, either ways it looks stunning and sometimes that's all that matters.
With that I end Part 1. Remember, these are $399 customs from http://www.heiraudio.com . It's value is extremely hard to beat at this price point. Certainly nothing I've heard in this price range or even a 100 dollars more, could beat this sound and build quality. A truly remarkable product.
Hey everyone, I'm sure all of you are waiting to hear more about the 3.A. I've been busy making 2 cables for this review. Both cables are using the DHC nucleotide 24AWG UP-OCC copper.
"Black Beauty" - terminated with Hirose balanced plug with Silver hardware.
"Fair Maiden" - terminated with Oyaide Gold-plated 3.5mm plug with Silver hardware as well.
Here's how they fit:
Ok this is the DOUBT FREE section. I don't want to justify to you skeptics out there about what I'm hearing. In fact, its pretty much a night and day difference between the cables I'm about to compare.
ROUND 1: Single Ended Fair Maiden VS Stock
The build quality on the stock cable is actually really nice. It's got a beautiful grey silver sheathing in what I believe to be a 30AWG copper wire. The Y-Split has been over moulded as have the pins. Its very neat and very flexible.
Now how does it sound?
The Script - Exit Wounds
- In my notes, I found the stock cable straight out of the iPod Classic sounds decent on all aspects, but really does sound like it's holding the 3.A back.
- Fair Maiden seemed to raise the music floor significantly, allowing for a more engaging experience. The highs weren't as dark as the stock cable, and the bass was more articulate and thick.
Mumford & Sons - The Cave
- Stock cable sounded a little muted with the vocals. Soundstage was small. Sound signature seemed almost clinical compared to Fair Maiden.
- Fair Maiden made the guitars sound amazing, with every string note played reverberating in your ear. Soundstage was much larger, and overall just better in every aspect of the sound spectrum.
*Note: When testing singled ended with PB1 for both cables, the differences I highlighted became STARK. The stock cable sounds uninspired by comparison. Further highlighting the claim that the better your gear, the more little things like cables and file quality make a bigger difference.
Round 2: Balanced Black Beauty VS 5N Silver Cable (29AWG)
This was most intriguing. Both cables have the exact same balanced plug, and the exact same pins. The only differences are the Cable material, one being UP-OCC Copper the other being 5N pure silver, and one being 24AWG the other 29AWG.
The Script - Exit Wounds
- Black Beauty sounded spacious and the bass had a nice resounding impact.
- Silver had significant clarity, but highs were harsh by comparison and noticeably less bass impact.
Mumford & Sons - The Cave
- Black Beauty had lots of sub bass and really good impact. It was very natural sounding and the guitars were definitely tonally accurate. Felt like a live performance in fact.
- Silver had astounding clarity once again, but the bass response was lacking, so much so it was a lot less engaging.
Example - Anything
- Black Beauty had nice thick bass on this track that sounds very natural. Although the instrument separation wasn't as clear, it certainly sounded live to me.
- Silver had that clarity that made the instrument separation easy. The bass however, sounded thin.
Looking at these comparisons, I'd say they both have their great points and it really depends on what you prefer to have, more bass or more clarity. There definitely are different sound characteristics attributed to each cable material, hearing is believing.
With that, I'm going to continue on to the much anticipated Part 3 with Black Beauty. I think it really brings the 3.A to a whole new level. UP-OCC copper has good synergy with this sound signature, and the large guage expands the sound stage.
I visited 2 places in 2 days to get a good beat on how these match up to other customs in balanced mode with Black Beauty. There are customs I would be leaving out because I didn't get a good seal, have a non distinctive memory of, or didn't get a chance to ABX them properly. So you can be rest assured that the customs I tried had as good a seal as a proper custom and were properly ABXed.
We were almost chased out of one of the places doing this today. I didn't manage to get hold of a JH10x3 to do a comparison and that disappointed me most. Anyways, I hope this proves useful to people subscribed to this thread.
Unique Melody Aero - 3 Driver 2 way Crossover MSRP $529
First thing I noticed was that the Bass on these were recessed. It had the tiniest amount of Bass, but for what it had, it was certainly tight. The Highs were notably forward and quite bright. This made listening to them quite unbearable as the highs were pretty harsh. To give you an idea on how harsh these were, I couldn't even finish "Foo Fighters - Rope" on them, while on the 3.A I'm fully engaged mouthing the lyrics and air guitaring. Guitars weren't well presented as well, it just wasn't a convincing protrayal. Vocals are clear but lack the rawness from the 3.A. Overall though, there was plenty of clarity. The soundstage was slightly smaller than the 3.A.
Unique Melody Mage - 4 Driver 3 way Crossover MSRP $639
These have more Bass than the 3.A, the difference is noticeable but not substantial. To be precise, it has similar sub Bass, but slightly more slam. The soundstage is slightly wider but not deeper than the 3.A. And there ends the good parts. Unfortunately, the Mage suffers from harsh Highs just like the Aero and dull vocals that despite being controlled, do not have any rawness. To understand rawness, it is the difference between an overly doctored vocal track and a live performance. When I listen to the 3.A its like I'm there with the band in the studio, whereas with the Mage its hard to describe. Like listening to the band through a plaster wall. That's as best as I can describe them.
Jerry Harvey 5 Pro - 2 Driver 2 way Crossover MSRP $399
While listening to the UMs a local head-fi-er next to me with a pair of T1s expressed how much he liked the JH5pro when he heard it. Well, we know how that ended since he owns a pair of T1s. Nonetheless, I looked forward to hearing the JH5pro and what it had to offer since it was on my list to draw comparisons. The Bass was very low in quantity, and this I did not expect. It's silver lining are it's Highs, they're very pleasant and almost 'sparkles'. Good extension on the Trebles. Despite this, the Mids are further back and unremarkable. This results in a less engaging experience.
I couldn't get a hold of the JH10x3, but I could try the JH11. However, as luck would have it, it was defective on the right side. So I picked up the JH16 to refresh my memory and see how far my portable rig could take it. It was very nice and it isn't a fair comparison at all. I must mention this though, the Vocals presented by the JH16 are the closest I've heard to the 3.A. Its almost the same natural raw presentation!
I walked away today with a big spring in my step knowing I have a pair of extremely decent sounding earphones tucked away inside my ear canal pounding out tunes with authority.
These are pretty much a mid-centric all rounder. If you listen to acoustic, rock, house, trance, pop, even musicals, these would not disappoint. If you like universals like westones UM2, UE TF10pro, Shure SE535, Sennheiser IE8 (minus the bloated bass), then look no further. The higher end models I believe would do things like instrument separation and imaging a lot better, I am thoroughly enjoying these but my curiousity urges me to pick up the 8.A just to know how they match up. I'll be saving my pennies up for them, till then I'll be entertaining any questions any of you may have about these and I'll do my best to answer them.
Thank you for reading this to the end! I applaud your patience and appreciate the views and comments thus far!
Once again you can pick yours up at http://www.heiraudio.com for $399. Wood costs extra
Edited by Saintkeat - 12/23/11 at 11:36am