64 Audio 12t

Rating:
5/5,
  1. Barra
    Hitting the TOTL CIEM Sweet Spot with the A12t
    Written by Barra
    Published Sep 11, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - SQ, Build, Signature, 64 Audio Support, ..... did I mention SQ
    Cons - Expensive but worth it.
    A Little Background
    As an audiophile or audio enthusiast, it was the love of music that began my journey. First, it was my loud bedroom teenage home stereo boombox or stack system with buddies, then a high fidelity car system as I got older, then an immersive high-end home speaker system that evolved into some real money. Then I had kids and could no longer play my speakers when I wanted nor at the volume level I did before, nor the selections that I previously listened. My dual high-end subwoofers went silent. That took me to headphones and ultimately Head-Fi.

    64 Audio A12t is all about the Music
    Headphones are different, they are not shared with everyone else in the room at the same time – they are an individual journey. Tied to a setup by a wire or cut off from the rest of the world in CIEM bliss, this is a whole new way of listening. Headphones even allow you to hear your music differently allowing you to rediscover your music library hearing things you had never heard before. After a while, I stopped listening to the music, rather parts of songs that I indexed in my audio test collections to compare the performance of various headphones or other components in the chain. It became active listening setting up A/B listening sessions looking for the ultimate setup. The point of this rant is that I lost the point of the whole music experience. However……. with the A12t, it is all about the music – it’s good to be back.

    Taking CIEMs to the Next Level
    Hosting numerous TOTL CIEM tours on Head-Fi, I have heard a large number of fantastic CIEMs and have a large number of them in my collection and enjoy them all. There is a point that you get to that you feel these fantastic TOTL CIEMs stop being better, but just different. This is not the case with the 64 Audio TIA technology. The Fourte’, A18t, Trio, and A12t in the TIA family all feel more like a full-sized headphone in performance taking CIEMs to the next level. In the right system, my A18t easily goes head to head scaling with the exotic headphones like my HD800 or HEX, or even the Utopia or LCD4 – game on!

    Splitting Hairs in the Next Level
    Owning both the A18t and the A12t, it is easy to say that the 12 is the 18’s warmer little brother. The 18 is still more talented than the 12, but not by much. While the 18 still scales higher than the 12 and is a little more balanced for the true audiophile, the secret of the 12 is that it scales down better making everything sound TOTL…………even my iPhone 6 playing low res streaming Apple Music. Armed with the new LID technology – which my 18 does not have – the 12 retains its intended frequency response no matter what source it is plugged into and it really seems to work well. The 12 is also warmer with a little more bass presence that takes the fun factor up a notch adding more toe-tapping to every song. The 18 is no slouch when it comes to bass, so this is saying a lot. However, the 12 is an elevated bass done right with no slop – just deep and tight - and no stepping on the mids. Both the 12 and 18 share a bell-like clarity/transparency due to the TIA drivers that is very unique and very impressive.

    As mentioned above, I have spent a lot of time playing with the 64 Audio family having hosted both the 18/Fourte’ and the 12t/Trio US tours. Owning both the 12 and 18 as customs have given me a unique opportunity to test the universal vs. the custom versions as well.

    Listening thoughts within the Tia Family:
    • Custom vs. Universal: Overall, I have found that both the custom and universal version of the 18 and 12 have the same technical performance…. the end. No…. it is not that easy as we have not talked about the importance of fit which means YMMV. If I sit perfectly still and don’t breath, perhaps holding my ears in such a way to get a perfect seal, then yes – there is an identical performance with the universal. However, if I turn my head or sneeze, then I lose the seal and there goes the performance. Furthermore, the sub-bass is very susceptible to a perfect seal so it is the first to go. There is also an extended treble in critical listening that requires the perfect seal, but not as obvious as losing your sub bass. Moving to the custom versions, I can workout or job or actively move around the house without ever losing the perfect seal always retaining my frequency extension both directions. While resale value is a considerable issue, I would always personally chose a custom version to get the ultimate in performance, but that is an individual decision. One last factor to consider is the tuning ability by tip choice. While some may feel this is a value, the APEX modules allow better tuning options – so again, a personal decision.
    • Fourte’/Trio vs. 12t/18: This is a very personal decision as well given the Tia driver performance is equivalent in each. Where they vary is in their bass presentation. My feeling is that you should own both as they are that different. The dynamic capabilities are much more alive and dynamic while the BA capabilities are more emotional and technically proficient. Yes, I said it, the 18 is more technically proficient than the Fourte’ IMO while the Fourte’ is more fun. Same with the 12 vs. the Trio, but less so. The 12 feels like it has the most fun/proficient bass performance in the family that balances out the Trio/12 equation. The 12 feel cleaner and crisper while the Trio feels more euphonic. So the question comes to performance vs. price where 18/Fourte’ offer a higher performance in direct comparison, but the 12/Trio are not very far behind and may be good enough. It also comes down to technical vs. musical edge preference with the Fourte’/Trio being on the musical side and the 12/18 being on the technical side. In the end, I cannot see anyone upset with any of the four or all of the four as they are stand out performers. Just chose what is right for you in the price/performance and tech/musical preferences and you will have a winner for years. To fine-tune your choice, check out the graphic below.
    • 18 vs. 12t: The best way to describe the difference here is that the 18 scales up better and the 12 scales down better. I listen to my 12 more as I can hear it on the road with my iPhone 6 and be extremely happy with the performance. Even my Calyx M and Sony WM1A don’t drive my 18 right after hearing what it can do. My 18 is my go to when I drag out my Hugo 2 which is an extremely winning combination. It sounds even better on my desktop, but my full sized HD800 or HEX is often more convenient in this scenario allowing me to get up and move around better than my mostly shorter CIEM cables. The 18 doesn’t feel satisfying on my iPhone 6 where the enhanced bass on the 12t fills in the iPhone limitations. The mentioned LID technology probably helps the 12t a lot here as well. So are you into the ultimate in performance or the ultimate in convenience?
    • Fourte’ vs. Trio: These two are very close and in many ways, I prefer the Trio to the Fourte’. This may come down to the universal fit. Both are fantastic performers and very euphonic, but I always had the feeling that the Fourte’ needed a little more bass. This is why I think it may be more to do with the universal fit not sealing correctly. When playing with the fit, I do get a big sub bass boost every once in a while that makes me think that a custom version may answer my needs very nicely. With the seal issue, the enhanced Trio bass helps me get the bass performance that I am looking for. Therefore, for me I would go Trio over Fourte’ is we do not get a custom option.
    • Apex Modules: The Apex modules are awesome allowing us to have two CIEMs in one. While I usually settle on one configuration and leave it there most of the time, being able to convert to a new signature helps renew interest in equipment that you become too accustomed to and lose appreciation for. They are easy to change and easy to recognize the differences. However, in both cases, the true purpose is to alleviate pressure issues in your ears which allows you to save your hearing. Even better, while saving your hearing, you can elevate the volume to get to the proper sizing which IMO adds a lot to the performance of any headphone or CIEM. Overall, Apex modules raise the performance of the CIEMs by adding a lot of soundstage size and boosting the size of the players on the stage to sound more natural. Now that is a win-win – better SQ and save your hearing.
    • Conclusion: I cannot wait until 64 Audio comes out with a custom version of the Fourte’/Trio so that I can figure out a way to own all four.

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    The Sweet Spot
    While I have a very nice collection of headphones and CIEMs and some nice DAPs, cables, DACs, AMPs, speakers, and other audio equipment – what really matters is …. what do I actually listen to? Having sunk a small fortune into this type of gear that question starts to matter. My best setup is at my desktop, but it is located in my office and not overly comfortable and ties me to a cable so that really limits my listening time. Most of my listening actually happens when I am working out, or at night in bed going to sleep, or during travel. This is why CIEMs have become so important to me as they work best in each of those environments. Even more important to me is that with the TIA family, I now can have full sized HP fidelity on the go so no sacrifices here. The point that I am trying to make here is that the A12t by far gets the most ear time of any of my equipment.

    TOTL CIEMs have really gotten expensive lately with bargain TOTLs in the low $1000s and mid-tier pricing at about $2K with the high-side pricing going past the moon at 5 digit pricing. However, CIEM performance is now meeting or exceeding full sized headphone performance while offering superior convenience. The 12t priced at $1999 is not cheap, but it is only mid-tier pricing while providing top-tier performance providing what I would call the best price to performance in the market. Sounds funny to call a $2K item high price to performance, but it does have a significant jump in performance to the other more bargain-priced TOTL CIEMs that I own as well as the higher priced CIEMs outside of 64 Audio that I have auditioned. While the $2999 A18t is definitely better than the A12t in performance, the 12 is not far behind with at a significant discount in price. As you can see in the descriptions below, the 12 and 18 are configured identically – less the LID tech – with the 18 having 2 additional mid and 4 low drivers. I guess the 4 low drivers provided in the 12t must be extra-large to provide that bass lift, but the two extra mid drivers do add more emotion to the mix for the 18. In the end, any way you look at it, you get what you pay for. But IMO, at $2K for the 12t you can jump up a level in performance from the higher priced competition or at $3K for the 18 you can sit at the very top. The bottom line for me is that the 12t is what I see as the best price to performance in the market and the one I use most.

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    The Buying Experience
    Having hosted both the Fourte’/18 and the Trio/12 tours for 64 Audio, I definitely had a communication advantage when ordering these CIEMs, but based on the rave reviews I am hearing about customer service with 64 Audio, I don’t think it was that much of an advantage. I used the traditional ordering system when ordering mine which is a huge step up from other manufacturers where they are still in the dark ages in their ordering process. 64 Audio has a design application that allows you to see your design unfold as you build it so there is no confusion. You can go back and forth between your choices until you get it right. The best part is that you can go there now to check out what your custom CIEM can look like with no obligation before making the buying decision. https://www.64audio.com/designer/#model

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    Placing your order is straightforward with no cryptic payment methods nor communication issues and can be done over the phone if something really special is needed. The final step after completing your design and setting up your account is to buy your new CIEM which is as easy to as using Amazon.com. After your purchase, you can follow the build process in your account so you always know that state of your order from the beginning to the end with 14 steps highlighted. This is displayed on demand within your account in their site and they provide email notification when the option is selected. Now this is what I consider notch customer service with fantastic transparency. Below is a screenshot of my a18 order process where I was able to watch the checkmarks advance as the steps were completed.

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    The 64 Audio team is easy to contact by email or over the phone during normal US PST working hours which is a huge bonus for US customers that are used to only overseas purchases. As a US citizen buying from a US company, I didn’t have to worry about shipping, customs, tariffs or any other additional fees or holdups. I opted for FedEx overnight shipping and it was at my door the next morning after shipping.

    My Results
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    The box is much smaller than the universal version, but the contents are much more pleasing.

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    Inside, you find the case with my name on it and some stats on the 12t.

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    Inside the case, you find everything you need from the CIEMs to the Apex modules as well as a cleaning brush and a clip that doubles as an Apex module grabber. Notice that the cable raps nicely in the case.

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    I wanted to try a number of options in my design to make them look good, but mainly, I like to be able to tell the left from the right when putting them on. My normal color scheme is white for the right so that I can see it in a darker environment. This time I added rhinestones to provide an obvious texture to tell them apart in pitch black. Under the rhinestones was the pearl option. For the left, I went carbon fiber with a graphic on top. I also decided to go with flush pins on this CIEM as I had trouble with some cables on the a18.

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    While the premium cable is good enough on the 12t, I opted for a higher quality custom cable that was much prettier and offer better performance. Notice the case.... this is the backside and I added a Ying Yang symbol to be able to tell my 64 Audio CIEMs apart. It came out really nice.

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    Overall, the quality of the build is outstanding. There is a C&C precision to the 64 Audio CIEMs that make many of the others look more...... homemade for lack of a better term. The build is flawless with the 3d fit technology and 3d printing. https://www.64audio.com/3dfit

    The Sound

    The 64 Audio 12t is like my Hifiman HEX, it is very transparent with a bell-like clarity, highly textured, very detailed soundstage which is bigger than normal, and with a slightly elevated low end. The important thing to read here is that the 12t sounds like a full-sized headphone with an out of your head experience. Another character that they share is that they sound great on everything. While I say that they have an elevated low end, this is still a very balanced signature with the right sizing of all singers and instruments and fantastic placement on a moderately sized soundstage. They both are also forward signatures as if in the front row or on stage. The common breakdown that everyone looks for is:
    • Bass: Slightly elevated to sound fuller like adding high-end subwoofers to a 2 channel speaker system. Yes, they have significant sub bass to make it go boom and the power to feel it in your chest. Like all good bass, it is only there when it is called for in the music so I would not consider this a warm signature even with the elevation – this is why it is still audiophile in quality. Being a BA, it has a tight bass response with a moderate decay. Therefore, while elevated, it is not exaggerated nor sloppy – very detailed instead.
    • Mids: The mids are very clear and transparent and slightly forward to bring out voice. This is a CIEM that allows you to make out all the words in the song. Guitar plucks are backed by the bass to give them more texture.
    • Treble: The Tia drivers are what raise the 12t to another level in the detailed while smooth treble that is incorporated into the rest of the signature rather than standing on its own. The treble is extended with delicate highs that you typically cannot hear on other lessor CIEMs, but it is integrated into the whole etching out gobs of detail in the rest of the frequency range.
    • Sound Stage: The APEX system offers a much larger than normal CIEM soundstage and is probably responsible for that full-sized headphone out of your head feeling. The APEX system also reduces sound pressure allowing you to turn the volume up to full-sized levels without causing damage or getting sibilant. Together, the soundstage is much larger than normally experienced in a CIEM.
    Scaling Down
    The 12t has LID technology that allows it to use any source with varying impedances and sound the same. It also has elevated bass that helps fill in the greatest weaknesses in lower end sources. Together, the performance that the 12t provides is consistent even dropping down to a cellular phone or other poor sources. This makes it very portable to be used anywhere without the need to carry your other expensive gear to make it sound nice. This means, that using my iPhone 6 in the gym to drive my 12t, I am getting full audiophile quality sound on the go. Because of this, it is my most used headphones in my entire collection. All my other gear requires some sort of compromise.

    Scaling Up
    While the 12t’s greatest value is its ability to scale down, it does a nice job of scaling up too. There are certain pairings that bring out the best in the 12t such as source material, better well-matched gear, and cables. Because the 12t sounds so great out of a poor source, the scaling up is more subtle amounting to the last mile – meaning that it is not day and night, but an addition 5% maybe.

    Optimizing DAPs
    I had almost given up on my Sony WM1a until I heard it with my 12t using a high-end cable. All of a sudden, the Sony WM1a that I remembered came out to play. On the other hand, my Calyx M which is my favorite DAP for SQ is not so great with the 12t… not sure why. My iPhone 6, on the other hand, seems to be a great match. Oh ya, the Hugo 2 sounds stellar with the 12t, but the pairing with the 18 is so much better than if I go to the trouble of bringing that bad boy out, I step up to the 18s anyway. This goes back to the scaling down value as I always have my iPhone 6 available and it sounds wonderful together. I don’t have to worry about any other expensive gear to make it sound good and I can listen to them anywhere.

    Optimizing Cables
    Cables do have more of an influence on the 12t for me. However, even though I have been inundated lately with awesome and very expensive cables from my tours, the key ingredient that improves the 12t from the standard provided premium cable is the core count. It is hit or miss on the 4 core but sounds great with all 8 core. Even cheap ones that I have from outside my tours. That said, there is something special about the Han Sound Venom, Aurora, and Redcore cables if you have the budget that takes it a couple steps further. The Venom is only 4-wire and the Aurora is 6-wire, so I may be the girth of material as well. The difference shows up in a broader soundstage with blacker background and noticeably improved details. The Venom and Aurora both have a euphonic quality that they add as well.

    Concluding Thoughts
    I think I pretty much summarized early, but I will say it again. If I could only have one, the 12t would probably be it as the utilization factor is off the charts with SQ very close to the top. The ability to scale down is much more important that I imagined having experienced it in practice. My 18 are better, but to get them to a place that I can experience that requires a greater effort which defaults me back to the 12t again. It says a lot when they are by far my most used CIEM in my large collection. Besides, it would be hard to go wrong with any of the Tia family from 64 Audio.

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