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Custom IEM Review: Heir Audio 8.A – Long live the king

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Custom IEM Review: Heir Audio 8.A – Long live the king

 

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Heir Audio was started by Dr. John Moulton, who has been involved in the hearing industry since childhood.  Before starting Heir Audio, Dr. Moulton would post images of custom IEMs he created, all with amazing artwork and became known on head-fi as the Wizard.  But what really caught my attention was that he made a custom IEM with 20 drivers per ear after an April Fool’s joke claiming to use 20 drivers per ear.  His was more of a proof that it could be done, and naturally I asked him to make one for me.  He didn’t and I lost touch with him, but little did I know that behind the scenes he was starting Heir Audio.

 

With a goal of providing the most lavish, best custom IEMs fit for a king, Heir Audio was born.  From an artwork standpoint, he was a pioneer with wood as can be seen in his timbre line, which shows some amazing examples of what the Wizard can do.  You may also want to take a look at the Heir Audio Facebook page to see some additional artwork, as well as his traditional line.  I don’t want to downplay the excellent artwork of some other manufacturers, but when the Wizard creates something, you know it is going to look amazing.

 

After he announced Heir Audio, I started communication with Dr. Moulton again and he agreed to do a reshell for me so I could see the amazing art and finish.  Turns out the broken SM3 I bought wasn’t up to his reshell standards, so instead he offered me an 8.A.  Of course, that was an extremely generous consolation gift.  With so many amazing looking designs, I was having a hard time deciding, but just left it up to the Wizard as the pictures I have seen gave me complete faith in his artistry.  Heir Audio CIEMs really are eye candy!  But, not to get too caught up in the amazing looks, I will of course review them based on their sound quality.

 

Review Content

- How to order, warranty, options

- Design

- Accessories

- Build quality & Usability

- Isolation

- Sound

    - Bass, midrange, treble, presentation

    - Comparisons with other custom IEMs

    - Volume performance

    - Sound summary

- Source Matching

- Overall summary

 

How to Order, Warranty, Options

Visit the Heir Audio website, check the options for the model you would like.  And please feel free to ask questions as Dr. Moulton is very responsive and knowledgeable.  Heir Audio currently has some great discounts to get the CIEMs in people’s hands, so take advantage of them while they last.  The 8.A is on sale for $1,099 with a normal price of $1,299.

 

Options: Too many to list, please visit the Heir Audio order page.

 

Warranty: The warranty is 2 year with a 30 day refit.  Drivers are not covered in the warranty, but something no other custom IEM manufacturer offers as far as I know is an ownership transfer service, which allows the CIEM to be reshelled for only $70 for two future owners.  The warranty, however, is non-transferrable, but that is typical, and you get the CIEM remade by the original manufacturer, which gives a vote of confidence. 

 

Design

The 8.A has 8 balanced armature drivers in a 4-way configuration with 3 sound tubes in an acrylic shell with detachable cables.  All balanced armatures are dual element, meaning each is a pair, pre-soldered together. 

 

Here is the manufacturer’s description of the 8.A sound:

The Heir 8.A has been described by professional drummers and sound engineers, as 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. What ever your acoustical preferences are, from Hip Hop, Jazz, Classic to Blue Grass, it will perform for you. The Heir Audio 8.A design premise was on “balance” between accuracy and bass delivery that will make your head instinctively rock to the beat of your favorite music. The 8.A proves that you can have it all, and you can take it with you.

 

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Accessories

The 8.A comes with a padded, crush proof Otter Box 2000 series (or equivalent) with custom engraving of your name, a cleaning tool, and an owner card.

 

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Cable

When I first saw my 8.A, after I wiped my drool off the table from the artwork, I was surprised by the cable, which is the new Magnus 1 upgrade cable.  Comparing side by side with the Ultimate Ears cable there are a few visual differences including the Y-Split area which uses different color heat shrink, different shell connectors, and the cables are different lengths, with the Magnus 1 being about 6 inches longer.  The 3.5mm plug of the Magnus 1 is a Neutric right angle plug while the UE cable uses a molded right angle plug.  The actual wire used is different between the two as the Magnus uses a higher grade silver plated copper wire of the same gauge and Kevlar reinforcement and the Magnus cable has a slightly more subtle feel than the UE cable.  The Magnus cable cost $110 for Heir Audio customers and $149 for non-Heir customers.

 

Build Quality & Usability

The shell durability is standard for non-recessed acrylic shelled custom IEM, but the upgraded Magnus 1 cable has the feel of an extremely durable cable.  Build quality is exceptional and one of the best I have seen.  Artwork is top notch and looks amazing with zero imperfections. 

 

Heir Audio custom IEMs used to offer either a standard fit or a musicians fit, which has a canal that extends past the 2nd bend of the ear providing additional noise isolation.  The musicians fit option is no longer available as too many people decided it was too long and wanted a rebuild.  I chose the musicians fit, giving the 8.A the longest canals of any acrylic shelled CIEM I own.  The result is better isolation but the insertion is a bit more difficult/time consuming as I need to twist then push them in as opposed to just twisting in.  It really only take another second or two, but it isn’t quite as automatic as my other acrylic shelled custom IEMs with shorter canals.

 

Isolation

My 8.A has the musician’s fit, which extends the canal past the 2nd bend of the ear canal and has the longest canal for an acrylic shelled custom IEM I own.  As such, the 8.A isolates better than the standard acrylic shelled custom IEM rating - 7.5/10 in isolation.

 

 

Sound

Disclaimer: My review is a comparative review, and since I have many similarly priced custom IEMs, my perspective is based on equal competition.  My goal is not to tell you how great the item being reviewed is, but to explain the sound signature and characteristics as well as bring you a balanced account of the strengths and weaknesses to help you decide if this particular custom IEM is for you.  When I listen to custom IEMs without any comparison after some time away, I am continually impressed with the sound and it is the contrast that enables my perspective.  So take the review as a critical look at the custom IEM and realize there will be positive and negative aspects of every product I review.  Product selection should be based on what sound signature you want or the purpose of your purchase instead of looking for technical top performance.  Quick reference: My review technique, Thoughts on reading a review, Custom IEM information

 

The 8.A received 100+ hours of burn in as is customary before I do my serious listening.  The following custom IEMs were used for comparison: Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor, Jerry Harvey Audio JH16, ACS T1 Live!, Spiral Ear SE 5-way Reference, Rooth LS8, Earsonics EM4, Starkey SA-43, Hidition NT-6, and Hidition NT-6 pro.  My review summaries and links to my full reviews can be found here.  Also, if you haven’t yet, please read the manufacturer’s description of the sound in the Design section.

 

Out of the box the 8.A sounded thick, warm, and dark, which caught me a bit off guard.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but to be honest I was expecting something different.  That was probably in part since I was listening to the Hidition NT-6 pro, which has treble emphasis and a thinner note.  But, as with all my custom IEMs, I just let it burn in for at least 100 hours before I came back to it.  It did seem to have a lot of bass as described on the Heir Audio website!

 

Bass: Per Heir Audio, the 8.A was designed to be a perfect blend of bass and accuracy, and while the bass can’t be said to be the dominant trait, as the 8.A does have a rich and present midrange, the bass conveys power and emotion.  And it is enhanced.  In fact, it has one of the fullest and most enhanced bass regions for custom IEMs I have heard in this price range.  While the bass is thick, it is well controlled with the ability to really punch when considering the note thickness.  There isn’t a sense of speed as with many of the CIEMs with thinner notes, but the note speed works well within the overall sound signature and doesn’t sound slow. 

 

With plenty of mid-bass, the 8.A is anything but thin, giving a rich and warm presentation that isn’t overly done at my usual listening volumes.  Depth is good with a gentle roll off at around 32 Hz with sensation still occurring at 16 Hz.  It is enhanced similarly to the EM4, but the EM4 note is thinner and does give a bit more punch.  The JH16 is also enhanced, but in quite a different way as the much quicker note of the JH16 and relatively low mid-bass levels give the bass a much different feel.  Overall, the 8.A is a bass heavy CIEM that really doesn’t seem as bass heavy as it is, providing a great blend of bass and accuracy!

 

Midrange: While layered is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the midrange, forward is also high on that list as the 8.A is the most mid-forward CIEM I have in the price range.  The midrange is thick due to the note attack/decay, but there is also very nice clarity considering the thickness due to the exceptional layering within the 3D space.  Instruments are well separated and defined, and vocals are upfront and personal, however the clarity is not up to the levels of many bright CIEMs with quicker note attack/decay.  Vocals are natural and smooth and even though the overall presentation isn’t bright, vocals aren’t throaty. 

 

The midrange of the 8.A is most similar in frequency response to the EM4, but with a thicker note and better layering.  Even though the EM4 has slightly better depth, the 8.A’s better layering gives a more realistic feel.  Another similar presentation in many ways is the SE 5-way midrange, but the wider range of attack and decay with the 5-way, and the ability to change presentation positions separates the two.   Overall the exceptional layering and great depth of the soundstage make the 8.A midrange very easy to listen to and hear nuances even with the rich sound.

 

Treble: The first thing that jumped out at me about the treble is that it didn’t jump out at me at all due to the laid back nature, with instruments further back than I typically am used to.  While the treble is laid back, it is not lacking, but not a focus.  The quality is good with a smooth yet still detailed presentation that has nice note decay giving a natural shimmy to treble instruments.  Detail retrieval is quite opposite of some of the brighter CIEMs such as the JH16, LS8, and NT-6, but most of the detail is there for the taking if you want to listen for it.  While the 8.A is similar to the EM4 in the bass and midrange, the treble is divergent as the 8.A treble is laid back and is closer to the treble of the SA-43 and EM3 Pro treble presentations.

 

Presentation: Smooth yet refined, thick yet clear, and forward yet spacious describe the 8.A, which combines some traits not usually put together.  Mids are forward, bass is enhanced, and treble is laid back.  Soundstage presentation of the 8.A is excellent due mainly to the layering within the presentation that creates clarity and resolution. Width and depth of the space are in the upper 1/3rd of the competition I have, and the proportions are better than most resulting in an enveloping presentation that is easy to get lost in, especially with the rest of the presentation.  While notes are thicker than average, the technical proficiency of the 8.A overcomes the negatives associated with a thicker note, although the 8.A will never be called fast and lean regardless of the track.  The overall presentation is reminiscent of a dynamic driver in many ways due to the bass capability, note decay, and texturing, but balanced armature sound characteristics still come thorough showing it’s true nature.  The notes retain the same thickness from top to bottom and the drivers are well integrated providing extremely good coherence.

 

The 8.A does produce great bass while not compromising across the rest of the spectrum, but the bass is integrated within the entire sound signature as warmth, richness, and power instead of just a bass boost.  The entire presentation of the 8.A envelops you in bass, but still retains very good levels of clarity considering the bass and note thickness.  While clarity isn’t the best out there, it is surprisingly good considering the warmth and thickness.  Transparency is as expected for this level of performance.  Detail levels are about average in the comparison group as are dynamics.  One of the significant accomplishments of the 8.A is how the sound characteristics are tailored to the sound signature, with everything in place and working together to achieve an experience, not unlike the artwork the Wizard creates.

 

 

Comparisons:

In-Ear Reference Monitor: The 8.A and IERM have very contrasting sound signatures with the IERM having a bright, lean sound in direct comparison with the rich, thick, and bassy 8.A.  The 8.A has a large soundstage, but the IERM has more depth with similar width and an overall more laid back sound.  Imaging is about on par but the 8.A has better focus within the soundstage resulting in better instrument separation and definition of black space.  The 8.A is more transparent with slightly better dynamics while the clarity and detail levels are very similar.  Speed and note attack/decay are a bit faster in general, although the IERM has a slightly wider range of note capability.  The 8.A is much more forgiving of poor tracks.

 

The 8.A conveys a sense of power and warmth that the IERM just doesn’t have (not that the IERM is bass light), and the 8.A bass extends deeper.  The thicker yet more focused and forward midrange results in similar levels of clarity even though the 8.A has a richer/thicker note.  As the frequency increases, so does the emphasis with the IERM as opposed to the 8.A, which has a gentle treble de-emphasis.  The IERM treble can be harsh and/or sibilant with poorly mastered tracks or refined yet detailed with well mastered tracks while the 8.A is always smoother yet still as detailed.

 

Designed to be a reference monitor, the IERM succeeds with a thinner and more analytical sound that is track dependent sound while the 8.A is rich, thick, and powerful with similar clarity while being very listenable no matter the track quality.  This allows for listening to a wide range of tracks without harshness or fatigue. Both offer very contrasting sound signatures with some impressive strengths. 

 

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JH16: With a brighter presentation and more bass emphasis, but less warmth the JH16 is primarily different than the 8.A.  The midrange of the 8.A is more forward but the upper mids/treble become more prominent with the JH16 giving the 8.A a more natural and coherent sound.  While the JH16 soundstage is a bit wider, it isn’t vastly different, however the 8.A has better presentation depth, imaging, and focus resulting in a more enveloping 3D space.  While there is a significant difference in brightness, the clarity of the two is close, but the JH16 does have the advantage.  Detail levels are similar, but the 8.A has a slight bit more resolution of the overall space while the JH16 presents more detail of each instrument.  The JH16 has a much faster note in both attack and decay that, depending on the instrument, can make it sound more or less accurate in contrast.  The 8.A has better coherence across the spectrum and is more transparent while the JH16 presentation is more dynamic.  With a smoother presentation compared to the analytical nature of the JH16, the 8.A is much more forgiving of poor tracks.

 

Deep bass is quite different between the two as the JH16 has more emphasis in the lower registers while the 8.A has a more general emphasis that is in part due to a thicker note.  These characteristics give the JH16 the advantage in texturing and instrument detail as well as overall punch of some bass tones while the 8.A has more of an overall enhancement better integrated into the overall sound resulting in a more natural and coherent presentation.  The difference in warmth and thickness are quite different from the upper bass up through the midrange, with the 8.A sounding noticeably thicker, although clarity isn’t lacking in comparison even with the thicker presentation.  The midrange of the JH16 becomes more liquid, approaching the liquidity of the 8.A, but the notes are still thinner and more analytical with the JH16.  The upper midrange and treble are quite different as the JH16 presents with a good deal more emphasis and compared with the silky smooth treble of the 8.A, the JH16 can sound a bit rough and the S’s can get sharp.

 

While the 8.A and JH16 are both 8 driver, bass enhanced custom IEMs, the presentations are quite different with the JH16 having both a bass and treble boost with an overall analytical sound in contrast to the 8.A which has a mid-forward and treble relaxed wound that is rich and smooth with an overall thick presentation. Details are etched out with the JH16 while they just flow with the 8.A and technically they aren’t too far apart.  Selecting between these two will come down to your choice between bright and punchy with a wide soundstage and excellent instrument detail or warm and smooth with a well integrated sound, more presentation depth and resolution within the soundstage.

 

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T1 Live!: Even though the T1 has Live! in the name, the 8.A has a livelier sound that is warmer and fuller with more bass emphasis.  Overall, the 8.A has a mid-forward presentation and in comparison, the midrange focus of the T1 is more on the upper midrange region with an overall brighter presentation.  The 8.A has slight victories over the T1 in detail and dynamics while the T1 slightly edges out the 8.A in transparency and note attack capability with quite similar speed and coherence.  While the soundstage space is similar, the more laid back T1 is more open and airy, but the 8.A has better imaging and a more concise focus within the soundstage giving it the clarity advantage. The 8.A is more forgiving due to a more laid back upper end and overall smoother note.

 

Starting on the low end, the 8.A has a fuller sound with plenty more bass capability to go along with more emphasis.  The fuller sound continues to the mid-bass and through the midrange, with a thicker note that is also clearer with a better focus to the music.  The lower midrange is more forward with the 8.A, but the upper midrange of the T1 pulls ahead of the 8.A and stays ahead through the treble, however the 8.A extends higher.

 

The sound of these two is different in that the 8.A presents with power and conviction while retaining clarity through the rich and smooth presentation in contrast to the T1’s brighter and more airy and open presentation.  Both have an organic feel to the sound and non-offensive treble regions, but the 8.A is more capable overall.  If you want a more concise soundstage space, more mid-forward presentation, and more bass, the 8.A is for you, but if you are looking for a brighter yet still organic and smooth sound with a more neutral bass region, the T1 will fit the bill.

 

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SE 5-way Reference: These two are more similar than different, having like presentations in many ways.  The 8.A is more mid-forward and bass heavy in comparison with the 5-way while both have a natural clarity from the soundstage space, layering, and depth of the presentation.  Overall the 5-way has a bit wider and deeper presentation and both have very good focus but the internal area of the 5-way is cleaner with better focus, especially with busy tracks.  Note attack and decay of the 5-way has more range than the 8.A, which is nominally thicker than the 5-way and as a result gives the 5-way a more natural decay for a wider range of notes resulting in an advantage in detail, dynamics, clarity, and transparency.  Coherence across the frequency spectrum is also better with the 5-way which is surprisingly slightly more forgiving even though the 8.A is ultra smooth, which is due to the attack/decay capability.

 

The bass emphasis of the 8.A is well integrated in the sound signature, so it doesn’t seem bass heavy even though it is, and can often be more bass heavy than the 5-way.   However, with bass heavy tracks the 5-way can convey similar bass quantity or even more in some instances and it just depends on the track.  The 8.A is always a bit thicker and warmer and the thickness carries up into the midrange and beyond.  Other than the midrange of the 8.A being more forward than the 5-way, the presentations are quite similar.  The upper midrange diverges quite a bit with the 5-way changing from bright to darker depending on the track while the 8.A maintaining a consistency which makes it difficult to compare.  In the treble region the 5-way has more energy and extension compared to the laid back treble of the 8.A  Overall, the 5-way has a more natural balance across the frequency spectrum while the 8.A gives you a more up-close and personal presentation.

 

With characteristics that are relatively close although different in many ways, they can both please depending on your preferences.  The 8.A is more mid-forward, but overall the differences are a bit difficult to quantize due to the ability of the 5-way to change sound with each track.  Both are very technically competent, but the 5-way does perform at a higher level.  Ease of purchase and artwork are in Heir Audio’s favor as the 8.A is ships worldwide and has many artwork options, including one for the Wizard to craft your artwork himself, while the 5-way only ships within the European Union and comes with 2 color options.  The 8.A is also easier to drive than the 5-way, but both can be oh so rewarding.

 

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LS8: Both these 8 driver CIEMs are warm, smooth, and liquid, but those words might as well have different meanings when comparing these two.  The 8.A is thicker throughout with a bass focus while not lacking in treble compared with the brighter, quicker, and thinner noted LS8.  The LS8 is more laid back but the 8.A presentation space is slightly wider and has a good deal better depth.  Clarity, speed, and dynamics of the LS8 are superior while the 8.A has better coherence and imaging, with similar transparency.  Due to the liquid presentation of the LS8, both are forgiving, but the laid back treble and thicker note of the 8.A results in smoother treble overall.

 

The 8.A has more power in the lower registers and a thicker, more reverberant note with more enhancement than the LS8.  Both integrate the bass well into the sound signature, but the 8.A is a warmer and more bass heavy CIEM.  The midrange of the LS8 is cleaner and clearer, but the 8.A shows off the limited soundstage depth of the LS8 and is amazingly clear considering the thickness.  The treble region of the LS8 has more emphasis and clarity and while the LS8 treble has nice decay, the 8.A decay has a more organic sound to it.

 

The 8.A and LS8 both offer smooth and liquid presentations, but the 8.A is thicker and more bass oriented in comparison with the quicker and brighter LS8.  Both have sound signatures that integrate their respective emphasis’s well, and the determining factors include note thickness, the amount of emphasis, and how forward you want your music.

 

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EM4: These two are quite close in both presentation and frequency response, at least until the upper midrange region and higher.  The 8.A is slightly warmer, a bit more mid-forward, more laid back treble region, and has a thicker average note which gives the 8.A an advantage in presenting with richness while the EM4 has a better sense of speed and dynamics.  Depth and width of the presentation are very similar, but the EM4 is has slightly more depth, superior imaging and a slightly cleaner presentation, but the 8.A has better layering and internal resolution of the presentation giving a more real feel to music. Instrument detail levels, clarity, and transparency are all similar, but the 8.A pulls ahead in coherence as the bass enhancement and treble presentation are integrated better within the overall presentation.  The 8.A is more forgiving of poor masters. 

 

Deep bass quantity is close, but the EM4 is a bit more enhanced with more deep bass rumble at the expense of control, which is superior with the 8.A.  In the bass region up through the mid-bass the 8.A has a bit more emphasis, but not too much.  While the midranges are similar, the 8.A midrange is slightly more forward and thicker yet has equal clarity due to the superior layering.  The upper midrange is a bit more emphasized by the 8.A, but the treble performance is quite different as the EM4 becomes brighter in comparison to the laid back 8.A. The quality of the 8.A treble is less offensive, especially with less than perfect tracks.

 

These two are quite similar in many ways and the decision will come down to the little things such as more deep bass or cleaner bass; a faster overall note or richer presentation, and a brighter sound or more laid back treble.  However, one of the largest differences between the two is that the 8.A has a better integration of the bass enhancement into the sound signature resulting in less of a feel of added bass, but more coherent of a presentation.  On the other hand, the EM4 has a more spacious and airy feel to it.  Looking at other factors such as customer service, build quality, etc. make these a close call, however Heir Audio does have more artwork options.  They are quite close in technical performance and essentially both are very good and capable CIEMs with similar strengths and sound.

 

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SA-43: The mid-forward presentation of the 8.A is a good deal different than the laid back SA-43, even with the presence switch of the SA-43 turned.  The SA-43 presents with an overall spaciousness and feeds you the sound from a distance with more air and better placement while the 8.A puts you more in the mix and gives you higher levels of instrument detail.  Even though the SA-43 has more speed in the presentation, the 8.A presents with more clarity due to the added upper midrange emphasis.  Note attack/decay and transparency are superior with the SA-43 while overall resolution of within the soundstage is about equal, but the 8.A is more dynamic.

 

With more bass emphasis and capability, the 8.A bass serves up more in every way including depth, but the SA-43 bass is slightly faster with a bit better texturing.  While the SA-43 is on the warmer side of the spectrum, the warmth of the 8.A overshadows that of the SA-43 and carries the warmth on up through the midrange.  With quite opposite presentations of the midrange, these two offer very different styles yet both have fantastic midranges.  In the upper midrange, the SA-43 is laid back which is what helps create that laid back sound and spaciousness while the 8.A emphasizes that area improving immediate clarity and giving the sense of a brighter presentation.  The treble of the SA-43 is laid back close to that of the 8.A, but slightly more laid back, which it should be given the overall presentation.  Treble quality is similar but the 8.A has the edge.

 

The SA-43 and 8.A present music from different perspectives, having different strengths yet performing similarly in overall technical capability.  Neither are bright and both lean toward the natural side of the spectrum, but the SA-43 is laid back with an amazing spatial presentation and a cleaner, faster note that sounds lighter and airier.  The 8.A is more forward in general and has a thicker presentation but still offers slightly better clarity and significantly more deep bass capability.  Complementing each other well, the SA-43 and 8.A offer great but different sound.

 

 

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NT-6: The NT-6 is noticeably thinner, brighter, clearer, and more analytical than the 8.A, emphasizing the rich, thick, and powerful sound of the 8.A.  Balance between mid-forward and laid back, the NT-6 has a slight treble emphasis in comparison with the mid-forward 8.A that emphasizes the lower part of the spectrum.  With more depth to the soundstage, the 8.A can project music further to the front and back but the NT-6 has more overall width.  Imaging of both is quite good, although the resolution within the NT-6 soundstage is higher.  The NT-6, while having a more analytical note, is more transparent due to better clarity, imaging, and slightly better coherence across the frequency spectrum of the NT-6.  Being a reference monitor, the NT-6 is less forgiving and will bring out the details, good or bad, in the tracks compared with the more forgiving 8.A.

 

The bass of the 8.A is enhanced which leads quite a difference in presentation compared to the neutral bass of the NT-6.  While the 8.A will always output more bass, the NT-6 is still very capable and has better dynamics and texturing of the bass.  With a lean sound, the NT-6 mid-bass is neutral which is a stark contrast to the warm and thick 8.A.  This leads to a much richer overall presentation for the 8.A, giving more body and weight to piano, vocals, and everything else.  The better midrange focus, clarity, and articulation of the NT-6 allow you to hear more detail in the dryer presentation, but the layering and mid-forward presentation of the 8.A make vocals sound more personal and enjoyable.  The upper midrange of the 8.A is a bit laid back in comparison with the NT-6, and the treble continues the laid back trend resulting in a very different treble feel as the NT-6 has a sense of more air and detail.  Treble quality is similar, but with different note thicknesses and presentations as the NT-6 serves up details while the 8.A has them there, but you have to go looking to find them.

 

With different reasons for existence, the 8.A and NT-6 are very different in the sense that one is thick and rich while the other is analytical with ultra-clarity.  Complementary, yes, competition, no giving you the choice between a reference sound or an involving and emotional sound.

 

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LCD-2 v1: Listening to the LCD-2 v1 and the 8.A side by side make me think the LCD-2 sound signature is what the Wizard was aiming for when designing the 8.A.  The presentation is quite similar, but the LCD-2 has an ever so slight bit more emphasis in the upper midrange and more treble energy while the 8.A has more bass enhancement.  The LCD-2 is more spacious, but that is to be expected due to the LCD-2 being an open headphone vs. a closed, very small custom IEM.  With poor quality treble tracks, the 8.A is noticeably smoother and less offensive.  While the overall spacious presentation of the LCD-2 sounds more realistic due to the more open sound, instruments and everything within the overall presentation sounds more natural and realistic with the 8.A regardless of the source I tried, and the 8.A is more detailed.  If you love the sound of the LCD-2 v1, the 8.A is a very capable and suitable CIEM for on the go, and it might even steal some home listening time!

 

Volume performance: The 8.A conveys power and richness, however this power does require a moderate volume level to achieve the full effect.  While this volume isn’t overly loud, it is louder than the volume I listen to late at night.  At loud volumes, the thicker notes of the 8.A become even thicker and cut down on the clarity in bass heavy/warm songs, but this isn’t a problem for more neutral tracks.

 

Sound Summary: The 8.A is a warm, thick, yet clear custom IEM with a mid-forward presentation and excellent layering giving an organic, natural sound that is easy to listen to.  The bass is enhanced and the treble is laid back portraying music with a sense of power and the ability to envelop you in an intimate and rich presentation.  Overall all parts of the presentation are well integrated in a way that doesn’t make the 8.A sound too bass heavy, and the clarity and detail levels are quite good considering the note thickness.  With an effortless presentation, the 8.A is built for listening pleasure. 

 

 

Source matching

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Portable Sources, DAPs

Clip+: The Clip+, which usually sounds good considering the cost of the Clip+, and it still does sound good, but it really doesn’t show what the 8.A is truly capable of.  The sound is a bit on the boring side as the dynamics are lacking in comparison with other sources including the iPhone 4S and everything else higher end.  Not bad, but not great. 3/10

iPhone 4S: The iPhone 4S is well matched with the 8.A as it outperforms the Clip+ and offers nice space, more detail than the Clip+ (which is a first), and better dynamics.  The overall sound is brighter than the Clip+ but more balanced than the RoCoo BA, which offers a more mid-forward and slightly more detailed, clear presentation. 4.5/10

RoCoo BA: The RoCoo BA is a hit or miss player with the 8.A as some well mastered tracks with good depth sound amazing, far better than the iPhone or Clip+, but with other tracks that aren’t as clean the sound quality is as good as the others at best.  The sound is more mid-forward and less bass heavy with a bit smaller space than the iPhone 4S, but adding much more depth if the song has it.  Load it up with quality tracks and it will be worth the investment and pairing, but if your tracks are marginal, stick with something else. 5.5/10

801 (with GAME card): Where the 801 really shines with the 8.A is primarily in the depth of the soundstage compared with the other sources.  The one that can keep up in this area is the modded iPod with some of the better amps, but the resolution of the 801 is greater.  The 8.A does become more enjoyable with the 801, but there is also added warmth but at the same time a certain sort of musical magic. The DX100 is cleaner within the soundstage and more airy, but the 801 is smoother and sounds less digital as well as having a brighter overall sound.  8.5/10

DX100: Impressive space that builds on one of the strengths of the 8.A, which is the soundstage depth, and surpasses the performance of the 801, the notes don’t sound quite as natural with the DX100 as they do with the 801.  Bass control is excellent and overall the combination is very pleasant.  8.5/10

 

Portable Sources, DAPs with Amps

iPhone 4S ->

Arrow 12HE 4G: The 4G improves the HPO of the iPhone 4S with a more airy, spacious presentation that is cleaner and clearer while retaining the soundstage depth.  The difference isn’t huge, but noticeable. 5.5/10

Pico Slim: While this combination has more resolution of the soundstage and a bit more presentation depth, it is also brighter and brings out issues with the songs/DAC that the internal iPhone 4S HPO signal path doesn’t highlight.  This results in a give and take with the 8.A as the smooth treble can be harsh but the overall presentation is cleaner.  Personally, I wouldn’t carry the amp for this pairing, but the issues do seem to be from the DAC and not the amp. 4.5/10

 

Modded iPod ->  Overall, the better DAC and DAC path give the modded iPod the edge over the iPhone and allow the amps to push the 8.A further.

EPH-O2: The O2 gives the 8.A a nice open sound with a and a bit of air from an additional brightness.  There is no hiss from the O2. 5.5/10

Shonyun-306: Compared with the O2, the 306 isn’t quite as wide and spacious sounding, and the bass isn’t quite as impactful, but the depth of the presentation is a good deal deeper with better clarity and precision within the soundstage resulting in a more involving presentation.  The overall sound is a bit darker than the O2 and V2.  Layering of the 8.A with the 306 is ahead of the O2 and slightly so vs. the V2, and the There is a bit of hiss with the 306 lowering the score 0.5 points. 6/10

Neco V2: The V2 sounds good, but nothing special with the 8.A paired with the iPod.  Bass keeps up with the O2 and is fuller than the 306, and the overall presentation is more spacious than the O2, but the 306 is more musical with the 8.A.  The V2 is the worst as far as refinement within the soundstage of the 8.A, and performance is about on par overall with the O2, but with different tradeoffs.  5.5/10

Arrow 12HE 4G: Moving from the V2 to the 4G, the first thing that jumps out at me is the additional space with added refinement.  Bass is quite visceral with the 4G (with the bass boost off) in comparison with the Pico Slim and the treble switch allows more treble if you want it.  Essentially, this is a good match and there really isn’t anything wrong with the pairing.  The presentation is a bit more laid back, airy, and spacious compared with the PS, but the PS is slightly more transparent.  Due to the treble boost capability allowing selection of the brightness, the score has been increased 0.5. 8/10

Pico Slim: With a slightly more personal presentation than the 4G, the PS matches sounds good with the 8.A and performs at a good level with slightly more resolution than the 4G.  The depth of presentation is good, and is slightly better than that of the 4G, but isn’t up to the level of the Stepdance.  The refinement within the soundstage is quite good.  7.5/10

Stepdance: The Stepdance has good punch, control, and tonal balance with the 8.A as well as nice presentation depth and space.  Transparency is very good and overall the sound is very musical.  8/10

uHA-120: Similar in presentation to the Stepdance, but a bit wider with a little less presentation depth, the 120 performs well.  The bass isn’t quite up to the level of control and the transparency, while very good, still lags a bit behind, but overall good. 7.5/10

Cruise: The Cruise is a step up from the Stepdance in just about every way, more spacious, better layering, more resolution, more dynamic, and overall more musical in upbeat songs.  But, given all that is great with the Cruise, in more laid back songs the punch of the Cruise can be too much giving other amps a bit of an advantage in relaxation enjoyment.  Plus, the Cruise does have hiss that can be heard between tracks, which reduces the score 0.5.  8/10

627: The 627 has a more mature sound with the 8.A than the other amps, bringing out better texturing and to the bass, more space, better layering, and effortless dynamics that leave the other amps behind, including the cruise.  9/10

 

801 -> portable amps: Even with the GAME card, the 801 benefits from amping and the amps perform similarly to the way they do from the modded iPod, but marginally improving in resolution and soundstage space.  Most portable amps aren't as bright as the 801 with the 8.A.  The differences are more pronounced in soundstage space, for example with the 627 pulling further ahead and getting a 10/10 while the Pico Slim doesn’t improve too much, staying around 8/10.

 

Desktop Sources

Cruise: As when used with the modded iPod, the Cruise is punchy and dynamic with the 8.A, performing at a high level. The performance of the Cruise internal DAC is quite similar to that of the modded iPod when matched with the 8.A, so the same information and score apply.  8/10

D1: The D1 is more spacious and natural sounding than the 801 or DX100 with the 8.A.  The D1 sounds more refined on the surface, but within the soundstage both the 801 and DX100 offer more clarity.  Combining any of the DACs with the 627 amp cleans this, improving the sound and gets the most I have heard from the 8.A.  9.5/10

 

Source Summary: The 8.A isn’t difficult to drive and should please most people regardless of the source that is used.  As you go up the source and amp scale, there are improvements.  Better sources bring out more presentation depth and better amps allow for more control, texturing, and most importantly, better clarity within the soundstage.  Regardless of the source you have, the 8.A will be an upgrade and can be enjoyed, and upgrades will bring small but noticeable improvements whenever you wish to make them.

 

Summary

The Wizard at Heir Audio set out to make a custom IEM that recreates exceptional bass without compromising accuracy and succeeded.  The 8.A conveys emotion through power without compromising clarity and detail resulting in a smooth and enjoyable sound with excellent soundstage layering - an amazing feat.  Although I don’t consider the 8.A dark, the treble is more laid back than most of my similarly priced CIEMs and most likely won’t satisfy those that want a bright and airy sound the way.  The entire spectrum is put together synergistically, the sound is a work of art as well. The bass is enhanced, but in a way that is integrated into the overall sound signature, just flowing with the rest of the sound; if the bass enhancement wasn’t there it would sound strange!  The forward midrange is fantastic with great imaging and very good clarity, however it can get a bit congested with louder volumes or very complex tracks/lower end sources.  Sonically the 8.A competes with the best of them, but offers something different

 

Combine the rich sound with the rich artwork the Wizard is capable of, and you have a custom IEM that is amazing in both looks and sound.  The artwork options of the 8.A as well as fit and finish are exceptional and include top notch customer service at a reasonable price, the 8.A is an excellent value.  The price is right for the 8.A, and taking the discount into account, you will come out ahead if the sound signature fits! 

 

P1020939.JPG

 

Pros

-       Excellent soundstage layering that results in great clarity considering the rich presentation

-       Sound characteristics that are very well integrated into the sound signature

-       Amazing artwork options

 

Cons

-       Soundstage can lose some of its focus at louder volumes, with complex tracks, and lower end sources resulting in a bit of congestion

 

 

Similar to: LCD-2 v1, EM4, SM3


Edited by average_joe - 8/1/12 at 7:50am
post #2 of 28

Awesome review as always joe and another top teir iem to add to your ever expanding list. 

 

Keep up the good work!

post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Poetik View Post

Awesome review as always joe and another top teir iem to add to your ever expanding list. 

 

Keep up the good work!

 

Thank you!  I have added some additional pictures.

post #4 of 28
What finish did you get on those? I can't tell if it's just a dark transparent red or something else.
post #5 of 28

Great read! It seems my thoughts on the whole "JH16 vs. 8.A" were very similar to what you're experiencing.

post #6 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by UNCbassbone View Post

What finish did you get on those? I can't tell if it's just a dark transparent red or something else.

 

I let the Wizard do his thing, so I am not too sure, but I am sure he would be able to give you all the specifics.  I have sent him an email with your question.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Staal View Post

Great read! It seems my thoughts on the whole "JH16 vs. 8.A" were very similar to what you're experiencing.

 

Thank you!  Glad to hear we hear them similarly!

post #7 of 28

nice review joe, especially the section on the Portable Sources, DAPs with Amps.  i find it extremely useful as I often travel light.  And the thought of having a portable amp and how much more it adds to the overall experience with my 8.A are always a question mark to me (and I believe to alot of others too..)

post #8 of 28

Excellent review thanks for the detail explanation Joe, the way you express is really good, it really allow me to think how complex Heir Audio 8.A as compared to NT-6. Anyway for those from Singapore your in luck, there's demo at Jaben, but you must get an audition ticket entry so call up Jaben before going...

post #9 of 28

Another awesome review Joe, the colour on my monitor gives it a more "cogniac" look.... Hick......

post #10 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jasonho View Post

nice review joe, especially the section on the Portable Sources, DAPs with Amps.  i find it extremely useful as I often travel light.  And the thought of having a portable amp and how much more it adds to the overall experience with my 8.A are always a question mark to me (and I believe to alot of others too..)

 

Thank you. I started including that section because I used to get a very high number of source matching questions; I am glad you find it useful.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by miragez View Post

Excellent review thanks for the detail explanation Joe, the way you express is really good, it really allow me to think how complex Heir Audio 8.A as compared to NT-6. Anyway for those from Singapore your in luck, there's demo at Jaben, but you must get an audition ticket entry so call up Jaben before going...

 

Yes, auditioning a CIEM before hand is a good indicator of the sound you will get, but it can change.  However, if the Wizard made the demos as well as the real thing, I am sure they sound good and are quite representative.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by maguire View Post

Another awesome review Joe, the colour on my monitor gives it a more "cogniac" look.... Hick......

 

Thank you!  That "cogniac" look is always a good one!  And the color on mine is cherry red from the color menu.


Edited by average_joe - 7/10/12 at 7:07am
post #11 of 28

Interesting review.

post #12 of 28
Thread Starter 

I added a comparison with the LCD-2 v1 as the last comparison in the section.  My conclusion: "If you love the sound of the LCD-2 v1, the 8.A is a very capable and suitable CIEM for on the go, and it might even steal some home listening time!"

post #13 of 28

...Just got my 8A from heir audio. It sounds soooo different from what you described in the review. Joe. It sounds really sparkle...very sparkle treble. The mids is not forward at all. It's much less forward than 5 way. And the whole presentation sounds somewhat dry because of the very extended and increasing highs. The bass is very powerful that's for sure.  The resolution is about the same as JH16. So for a moment, I thought I was listening to a warmer version of JH16. 

 

The sound signature isn't what I expected at all (warm and lush). But it's not bad though. I might just need time to get used to it.


Edited by tupac0306 - 7/26/12 at 3:18pm
post #14 of 28

That sounds really odd..

 

The 8.A was very warm and lush to my ears as well and overall very different from the JH16.

post #15 of 28

It's nice when you added the mathcing with different sources and amps. I think it should always be added when somebody reviews an iem or full-size cans. It just gives more feel of a complete review.

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