Heir Audio Tzar 350 Review
Heir Audio is a division of Micro DSP Technology. They created waves on Head-Fi in 2012 with their custom in ear monitoring line. Today, they are one of the premier CIEM brands for enthusiasts heralded as neutral masters. In late 2012, the Wizard sought out to make a new Universal line of in ear monitors. So that anybody can have the sound of his custom lines. The more basic and not very customizable nature of the UIEM’s allows for a much cheaper cost. There are currently four released UIEM’s out and a fifth one coming out soon. Some general portions of my review will also be the same in the other Heir Audio reviews I will be pushing out. Many pictures will also be reused as the units more or less look the same on the outside. The shield and bore's are what really differentiate them. This is because they are the same in that regard, small changes will be noted however if there are any. I wish to thank the Wizard and Sinocelt for arranging this review sample tour and for including me.
(The Tzar's came in a smaller Pelican case than pictured)
These UIEM’s are all hand made by the Wizard and possibly others. They do not pop out of a machine all the same. This leaves some rough ridges on the units. Some spots are a little rough and other places have a weird ridge sometimes. The overall design and shape of the units are highly similar however. They have been tested of course. The plastics of the units are exactly as you would expect from any other unit of its likes. High quality and hard and not made of some cheap material. They look great and feel great as well and the tips fit onto the universal nozzle well. The connectors up top are also like any good IEM’s. They are tigth fitting and exact to their properties. Besides the rough spots on the unit which aren’t a problem, this is just what one would expect from an unit that emulates the customs.
With the Magnus 1 cable, microphonics is present in some amounts. The braided nature of the cable is nice, but when it meets the interlocking zip’s of a jacket or sweatshirt it creates a lot of noise. The magnus cable will sometimes ‘transfer’ noise up the cable, but with music playing, it isn’t a big deal.
With the stock cable it is very similar. However unlike the Magnus which may catch onto the zips of the jacket, the stock cable will just slide past it. This creates a faster sounding ‘zip’ sound on a jacket than the Magnus. for normal cloth/smooth material clothing, it is not an issue. This is because the cables are well made and most importantly, the unit is an over ear cable design like most IEM’s.
Isolation and Leak:
This highly depends on your own fit with the unit, tips used, and if you are playing music or not. The units themselves are large in a sense but should fit most people that aren’t kids or have a small ear space. The units also come with a good amount of tips for you to try, from different single tips to double flanges. I get the best fit with the double flanges and so I use that for all the units reviews. Isolation of outside materials is quite good, but not perfect of course. At a medium -90-94dB volume and even higher, sound doesn’t really leak out. Obviously, pulling out the units with music playing will let most people hear what is playing as the seal is broken. We don’t want everyone to know that Justin Bieber is a favorite artist now do we?
Besides the fact that these are expensive and most will baby them, they hold up well in terms of using them and on the go usability. The largest problem really is their price. You become aware of everything around you, and the earphones feel a bit fragile as you use them portably. It is all a mind thing of course as they didn’t really get looser or feel like they were going to just drop off the face of the earth. The braided cable can get caught in some things though so that was another worry. But besides that, as long as you have a good fit, they work very well. The L shaped jack of the stock and Magnus 1 cable(especially the Magnus) may block some input output ports on the portable device or amp though.
Magnus 1 Cable option:
The Magnus 1 Cable is an option provided by Heir Audio. The cable was an option as the Wizard wanted a better fitting cable for his units. They had to more or less be perfect. Not too light, not too heavy, not too flexible but not too hard either. Heir Audio makes no claims about its sonic performance. The cable is strictly a high quality cable for usability and perfection purposes. It is terminated by the Neutrik NTP3RC-B in case anyone is wondering. The below pic shows stock cable to the left and Magnus 1 to the right. The stock cable is an unused extra Heir threw in. Otherwise the connectors would also be curved like the Magnus 1 to the right.
Now we get specific into the Heir Audio 350 itself. The Tzar's were a line introduced after the original CIEM lineup and after the 4.Ai and 3.Ai as another project. They are basically just another project in the price range that the Wizard wanted to work on. The Tzar 350 features one driver for high frequency and one driver for low frequency production outputting through a single bore. For my review, I used a Magnus 1 cable with it.
The Tzar 350 is rated at 350 Ohms(nominal at 1KHz). It is much less sensitive than the Ai UIEM's but at the same time can still be driven well by an iPod. No noise was detected with an iPod.
The Heir Audio Tzar 350 run for $399. Then we have shipping(and possibly customs) and possible accessories if you want them. For my review with the Tzar 350, the Tzar 350 will be used with the Magnus 1 Cable ($110-$150). This is because it was the cable that was provided with the 350. Only two stock cables were provided and constant insertion of them into the units is not a good thing. I am not doing a cable test and Heir makes no sonic claims for their cables. The review will thus be the 350 and Magnus 1. For reference, I will use my custom Project-H. It uses a Burr Brown equipped Objective 2 amplifier and a Cirrus Logic flagship DAC, the CS4398 DAC. The 350 was also used with an Audio gd NFB 12.1 (Discrete Amp and Dual Flagship Wolfson WM8741), FiiO E07K ANDES, and FiiO E12.
Audiophile word use:
I try to use this word and neutral 2-3 times every review. Not more, but because I have used it more than that as a necessity, it needs its own section. The term audiophile/neutral has been dirtied in the last few years as many elitists and what not have used it for their own purpose. My use of audiophile sound and what not is going back to the pure usage of the word where the sound is something that an audio lover looking for neutral perfection, and near life like presentation would want. And not an elitist comment on me sipping Champagne with a monocle in my eye while listening to these. It is mealy used to differentiate what an audiophile sound lover would like as opposed to a mainstream one.
The high frequency is toned down a bit in terms of brightness and piercing-ness. This seems to be a quality that Heir Audio seems to prefer. Some will prefer some very hot high's but the 350's bring it down a notch. The high frequency range is also contained in its own space. This means that it doesn't tend to leak into nearby ranges. However, the smoothness of the highs are a bit off. Upper mids get a very big sparkle on the 350's and this combonation with the high frequency range will often give some highs that lose its smoothness. When this happens, the containment of the highs breaks a bit along with the smoothness. Although the highs are pulled down a bit, some 'hot' bright moments will still appear.
The Tzar 350 does not have a dedicated driver for the mid frequency range and so I was interested in how it would sound. Well the vocals are contained in a way that references the 4.Ai in that while it isn't pulled back, it is surrounded by louder mid instruments. In the 350's case, the surrounding instruments surround the vocals much more and are much louder. This thus doesn't really mean the vocals are pulled back. The 350 gives an initial impression that it may have a slight V shaped signature with slight recessed vocals and an upper sparkle but that is not fully the case. It is entirely a bit different in that the vocals are still present but not as forward as say the mid instruments. The vocals are a bit sparkly which does put a damper on its overal smoothness. The lower parts of it are clear, but the upper vocals have a sparkle. This loses a bit of clarity and seperation with the mid instruments. Snares and 'shaking' instruments will often combat the vocals and take away from the smoothness of it. The vocals are still enjoyable, but be noted that the upper vocals do take a hit in clarity. This of course is not a problem if the mid instruments and drums are not present. And yes, sibilance is below average on these due to the upper mid sparkle.
The mid instruments of the 350 have good separation. They surround the vocals and will generally over take them (depends on song) if the opportunity is there. The upper mid instrument clarity is also given a hit by the issue I keep noting.
Some people actually prefer the little sparkle in the upper mid range. I am not critiquing it in that sense. I am mearly pointing it out as part of my review that it is present. How you decide on it as something you enjoy or not is up to you. The sparkle may be the result of the high frequency and low freq driver handling the mid range with the crossover deciding what to do with each.
The lows of the 350 are very close to non existent. Even the Wizard was surprised at how much they could even produce. The 350's are indeed bass shy, but they did perform admirably in how much they theoretically could produce in terms of bass. The impact was not much, but the quality of it was there. This will generally not be played or heard however, as I am playing a good high quality bass test. Most songs will give you less than designed bass when heard with the 350's. The extension isn't very deep nor is the sub bass really even heard. The mid bass is what really lasts the 350 in redeeming itself on select tracks.
4ai vs 350:
The 4ai have more imaging and soundstage and the mid and vocal instrument seperation is much better than the 350's. Instruments are more sharp on the 350 however due to a upper mid spike. The 350's are more instrumental based while the 4.Ai are more balanced in vocal and mid instruments. The highs are also more contained and smooth on the 4.Ai. The lows are much better and pronounced on the 4.Ai, they go slightly lower, but the quantity of it on the 4.Ai is what really puts it out there past the 350. The 350 is more suited for less bassy and more instrumental genre's while the 4ai is more balanced.
Tzar 90 with Tzar 350:
The Tzar 90 has much more bass than the Tzar 350. It has a much more pronounced mid bass than the 350. The 350's have a much more neutral sound. Their vocals are more clear while the 90's are more congested. The highs of the 90 are louder and more present than the 350's. The 90's are overall more fun than the 350's. They work for about the same genres as well.
3.Ai with Tzar 350:
These two IEM's are very similar in their mid range. Both have an upper mid spike that when played with more congested instrument full music, will create less clarity in the vocals. But when the vocals are left alone, both perform clearly and well. The 350 have a more clear and less 'colored' vocal range. Some prefer one over the other. The 350's also have a vocal that is more on 'flat' ground than the 3.Ai's which have a slight upward curve. The lows are of course very distinct, 350's more or less have none while the 3.Ai's have an admirable amount.
The Tzar 350 is mainly an IEM for less bassy music like oldies and classical. They work very well for those 'cleaner'(not always) genres and will give some really delightful music. The 350 has a neutral type of stance to it's mid and high range production, but some sparkle and smoothness issues(or not) hamper its enjoy-ability for me.
All the Heir Audio Reviews:
Edited by bowei006 - 2/27/13 at 1:40pm