Pros - Natural
Full textural bass
The Greatest timbre
Naturalness of sound
Cons - Price
I have been given a wonderful opportunity to demo the Fourte and tzar18 per tour through @barra. It has been an eye opening experience to say the least to be able to try equipment that is truly exceptional in audio quality and playback.
Some background on me before we start to give you an idea of what I look for in signature and in headphones particularly.
I am very much of the mind price does not always reflect performance. Some of my favorite headphones include the Sony Mhc-1, MEE P1, and more recently the Nt6pro of which I was also able to demo for around a week. I mostly prefer DD over typical BA implemented systems, though, recently I've seen and have had a great appreciation for what BA systems can do when implemented right. Some BA iems I felt could have been better done include the Lime aether and custom art 8.2 harmony. The first I found somewhat of a gimmick with the switch for the bass and the sound somewhat exciting for my tastes with overall cohesion lacking where even my MEE P1 excel. The 8.2 for the most part was a pleasant experience though I was not a fan of the tuning and honestly came off unimpressed and the experience wholly forgettable. For sources I have a LG V10 and Venturecraft sundroid valoq limited edition 627sm as my main rig with a Nakamura headphone conditioner.
When looking at the box I'm instantly struck with the a classy notion of prestige. 64 audio have in the last 5 years really established themselves in the iem market and truly have revolutionized and innovated where others are still satisfied with today's offerings on a technological perspective opting for filters or different tunings to separate themselves. Introducing the Fourte. While they have released two top tier iems, one marketed as reference (Tzar18) and the Fourte as more less a warmer,fun sounding alternative.
As evident from my picture you can see the Tia drivers themselves are not the only thing elevating the Fourte to a TOTL status, but also the way the whole iem has been approached from the ground up. Truly impressive and for the asking price it makes sense. The housing is sturdy and sure, alluring with the choice of copper patina and splashy faceplate. The cable is solid and I particularly approve of the heavy duty right angle 3.5mm plug. The accessories for this asking price is a bit of a let down. A much more thorough tip selection could have been the least. Additionally, I feel that 64 audio perhaps could have engaged the consumer a bit more by including a small sd card with 64(see what I did there?) songs or audio samples, that the team as a whole would feel really show off the capabilities of their own product or perhaps a temp tattoo and classy yoyo, who knows just saying... Alas the hard plastic carrying box is definitely a fine idea given the cost of these headphones.
Subjective Sound Impressions
Before the Fourte was tested I spent considerable time with the u18. This was done for a few reasons, that was based off of reviews and feedback from the forums. I was convinced that while the Fourte would be no slouch, the u18 would have all I want and perhaps enjoy the most. When I did decide to use the Fourte it was initially with my LG V10 as the u18 and LG V10 was really just bad synergy. The Fourte softened things a bit with its relative warmth and initially allowed me to enjoy the LG V10 all over again. That feeling wouldn't last long though as I moved on to my main rig. Just as before with the u18 the phone showed its faults and eventually wasn't used outside of the couple of days dedicated to understanding what I was listening to. While I sang praises for the u18 synergy with the Venturecraft sundroid valoq, I would come to ultimately realize the Fourte is really a cut above the u18 as per my tastes. Initially, when testing the included cables I found the u18 to pull away a bit and be ahead of the Fourte sonically, offering a very balanced and transparent signature that is added by its deep bass slam and precision like spatial cues. A signature that until I added the inclusion of the prion4 cable, was what I felt wouldn't be topped by the Fourte. With the included cables Fourte is not able to come off the leash so to speak. It's restrained, unable to show itself for what it truly is. A sonic renaissance. With the original cable you still get great detail and a cohesiveness that is thoroughly impressive. Match that with its DD bass slam and Tia mids there isn't much else to want. However, for those lucky owners with extra cables at their beck and call, know that the Fourte can ultimately go further than the u18 Tzar. With the prion4 we go further still. Sound is more pinpoint accurate, micro details are pushed forward a touch, though still being edged out only slightly by the u18. Layering, timbre, and texture go to the Fourte with the soundstage on both being fairly similar though again, is just barely taken by the u18 width, with the Fourte having more depth.
Autumn's Grey Solace is a band I quite like and with this particular song I find is great for seeing about sibilance, timbre of bass and naturalness of vocal delivery. The Fourte captures this angels delivery in a way that leaves me stupefied. For all intents and purposes the u18 should be able to get close, chalk it to those Tia drivers in the mids but the naturalness of her voice just can't be done by the u18 like the Fourte. With the prion4 the stage is a touch wider and slightly deeper with the bass timbre surpassing that of the u18.
Again we have the song Rush off the Cowboy Bebop OST. This is a wonderful song for many reasons. Layering, timbre of bass, trumpets and sax and spatial cues can all be revealed depending on set up to varying degrees. With the Fourte I'm speechless. While the u18 does have better precision the Fourte keeps up with its level of spatial cues and cohesiveness that, when taken together with the prion4 cable deliver those uncanny micro details and a effortless more natural performance with better depth than the u18. I feel that in regards to reproducing real instruments the Fourte excels in a more realistic way of delivery
edIT's Crying Over Pros For No Reason is truly exceptional as a whole album and in my opinion one of the best electronic based glitch music out there for its raw emotion its able to convey without much words at all. The Fourte while quite capable does fall to the u18, do to precision and that bass back end at its disposal. However, the Fourte keeps up but adds in that panache that's thickens the sound ever so slightly adding that little bit of molasses to the bass texture and details, which is not at all to be taken as a slight. The u18 on the other hand just gives it has is and in this case comes out on top because of its reference tuning and bass slam and better precision.
While initially I was to believe the u18 at its asking price was everything I could want. The Fourte had a way of changing my mind when used with the prion4. Without that cable I would pick the u18 based on bass slam and overall precision, with the added flexibility of its modules. However, with the prion4 cable I now see the Fourte as my new reference to base all others against for natural sound done exceptionally well. Micro details, bass decay and texture and those sweet sweet mids means that I could be a happy camper for a very long, long time. I would like to thank 64 audio for taking the game to a new level of cohesive implementation and Tia drivers reproducing a lifelike intoxicating sound quality. I would also like to thank @barra for setting up this tour to give all involved a chance to not only test out a luxury piece of equipment.
I’ve been really honoured to be given the opportunity to review the new 64 Audio TIA Fourte. Now I won’t be providing pictures just yet because the unit I have right now is a pre-production sample. It is a 3D printed plastic design. That said, the sound has pretty much been finalised, and what I hear now is pretty much what you would get. This review will cover purely the sonic aspects of this earphone. I will, however, update it with more information about things like the packaging, the fit, design and build of the earphone when I receive the final production sample.
I’ve always liked 64’s products, and the way the company has grown over the years. I remember back when 64 audio was still 1964 ears, with the original V series, the V6 was my favourite product of the range. It had a highly competitive pricing and sounded great. Two years ago however, 64 Audio stepped up their game and came up with A series and the U series. There was quite a noticeable rise in the price of the line up, but along with this increase in prices, came a very noticeable step up in sound quality. 64 Audio was no longer competing at the lower tier of the custom IEM market, it was now considered a strong contender in the premium custom IEM market. The A10 and the A12 continue 2 years later, to be excellent earphones which continue to play at the very top of the game.
I had a few sessions on the phone with a few of the guys at 64, and most particularly Vitaliy. We had a really great conversation where he shared the inspiration and the concepts behind TIA. For those of you who haven’t you owe it to yourself to watch the rendered breakdown of the TIA Fourte on the 64 Audio website. Basically, it’s a whole radically new approach to earphone design that has not yet been tried before.
Personally, I find that many balanced armature earphones, especially with custom multi balanced armature earphones, have really strong colourations in their sound. The typical custom IEM with multiple balanced armatures has the sound passed down a sound tube to the ear. Try talking into a pipe, and you’ll realise that everything comes out honky and awfully coloured. There is a reason for this. The pipe, depending on its length, would exert its own character on the sound. It has multiple resonant frequencies, and this causes huge resonant peaks as a sound wave passes down the pipe. This is precisely what happens with most balanced armature earphones. In order to deal with these resonances, acoustic filters are often used, and this often impedes the transparency of the sound signal.
Now, I’m not saying that sound cannot be done right with this traditional approach, because many companies have made wonderful earphones this way, 64 audio included. But what if we could eliminate these colourations? That is precisely what the TIA aims to do. In most balanced armature drivers, the armature moves in a planar like fashion. This is good for producing sound. However, the problem comes when the sound has to squeeze out through a little aperture at the side. This creates a lot of distortions. With the TIA however, the largest surface parallel to the armature is opened up. This allows for direct firing of the sound waves without having to squeeze through a tiny aperture and allows for a really planar soundwave to be produced. This, coupled with the lack of sound tubes but instead, acoustic chambers to specifically tune the sound with their size and shape, allows for a far more extended response with much more detail and less in the way of resonant peaks.
Well that all sounds really good on paper, but how do they really sound?
The TIA Fourte is quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard in an IEM. It resolves with amazing detail and transparency, and separates like no other earphone I’ve heard. Tonally, it is a pretty uncoloured sound, though with an elevated bass response. I wouldn’t say that it is a basshead’s earphone, but make no mistake, the bass is incredibly powerful. The soundstage is very wide and tall, and has a reasonably good amount of depth. The resolution is top notch, among the small handful of the very best IEMs that I have heard. The TIA drivers really do their magic with the way that the IEM resolves space and air. The instruments and the sounds are so well separated with so much air and space between them. Imaging is sharp and precise, and each instrument and sound in the image has a great sense of body and solidity to it. It sounds so realistic.
The highs on the Fourte are very well extended and smooth, uncharacteristically so for something so sparkly and extended. They are airy and precise, and everything has a clear, clean edge to it. I’m not certain if it can be fully attributed to the implementation of the TIA high driver, but I would hazard a guess that it is. I find that most multi BA iems face a certain problem in the highs. Some of them have overly smooth and gentle highs, while others, in an attempt to extend higher up, usually result in splashiness or peakiness in the upper frequencies. The Fourte however, has none of this. It is never sibilant (unless the recording quality is poor), and as mentioned above, has a remarkable amount of air and space up top.
The midrange of the Fourte is very accurate, yet rich and musical. The midrange TIA driver really lends a sense of transparency to the sound and the midrange comes across extremely clean and realistic. The midrange tends to take a slightly forward approach with the Fourte. This creates a very contrasted and layered presentation. Very often, earphones with large soundstages tend to push things a little back. The Fourte on the other hand, manages to keep a certain sense of intimacy with the midrange, while throwing the stage out far. I won’t say that this is necessarily the best way of presenting music, that’s very subjective. But to my ears, it really contributes to bringing the vocals alive, giving it that presence and transparency.
Now the bass is something really special. The problem with most balanced armature designs, is the bass. The bass rarely hits hard. Even if it does, it usually fails to come anywhere close to the impact and the power of good dynamic drivers. This is not to say that dynamic drivers are always better. Balanced armatures, while not as hard hitting, usually have a better sense of control and detailing in the bass. With the Fourte, the bass dynamic driver really brings the sound to life. It extends infinitely deep, and hits so hard and with such control that it really serves as a good foundation to the sound. The bass of the Fourte is definitely emphasized. It’s big enough that you will notice it, yet it’s controlled enough that it doesn’t get in the way of the actual listening. The bass boost appears to start slightly lower down the spectrum, so it never bleeds into the midrange. It is, to my ears, like subwoofers done right.
Another area in which the Fourte shines, is in its speed and the dynamics. The Fourte has a really clean and snappy attack, and sounds incredibly energetic and lively across the spectrum, not just in the bass. It is a very responsive earphone, having the ability to not only hit hard and fast when called for, but also to play delicately and gently when required.
One thing I really like about the way the Fourte stages, is how it manages to give a certain sense of physicality and viscerality to the sound. My experience has shown me that while many earphones are able to image clearly and precisely, few earphones manage to create a sense of physicality in the image, and Fourte is definitely one of them.
The Fourte is a very revealing earphone, not only resolving details within a track remarkably well, but also demonstrating the differences in different upstream components very well. As a result, the Fourte scales very well with an improvement of the source gear. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds wonderful off my iphone, it just never stops scaling when you plug it into bigger, better sources.
In short, the Fourte is like hearing live music. It is open, spacious and airy, with an incredible sense of space, and, as live music always does, has a dynamic, impactful bass presence.
As wonderful as the Fourte might sound, as with everything, it is not for everyone. The Fourte has a somewhat more forward, engaging, and possibly even slightly aggressive nature to the sound. Those of you who prefer a lusher, more laid back, smoother kind of presentation (I know a lot of people do, there’s a reason the Final Audio earphones and the Fitear TG334 have such a strong following) would probably find the Fourte to be a little too lively and forward sounding. The Fourte also has a noticeably elevated bass response, and again, that’s not for everyone.
To be honest, I find it hard to pinpoint technical weaknesses of the Fourte. For my tastes, it just seems to work wonderfully, and does everything better than I could have hoped for. Of course, I’m certain that one day, someone, whether its 64 Audio or a competitor, would come up with something better, but until then, I have no complaints sonically. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the Fourte is the best earphone on the market just yet, because everyone hears things a little differently and everyone has different preferences, However, it’s definitely at the top of the mountain at this point.
Some thoughts on TIA
I started off believing very firmly in the dynamic camp. My reasons were rather simple. I always found Balanced armature IEMs, in their current form and implementation, to be extremely coloured with horrible midrange and upper frequency resonances resulting in a honky, pipe like sound.
This changed over the years, and I have found Balanced armature earphones to have progressed drastically, with massive improvements in the sound quality. In some ways (detailing, speed and soundstaging), balanced armatures tend to perform remarkably well, but in other areas (bass, dynamics, and realism), I have typically found them to lag behind their dynamic counterparts.
I believe that the TIA has really achieved what it has set out to achieve. It is, in my opinion, one of the best I’ve heard, possibly the best in BA technology. It is, after all, not a typical BA. It’s something new that has never been done before. Sure it’s extremely expensive, But I think that it has also achieved new heights that traditional balanced armature designs have till now been unable to achieve. I have never heard a BA extend so far and high with this much air and sparkle without resonant peaks. It is truly impressive.
The Fourte is, to my ears, an amazing earphone. It is, however, very, very costly, likely to be beyond the means of most audiophiles hear on head-fi. I cannot really put a value on the sound that the Fourte produces, and I try not to, because everyone values things differently.
The Fourte isn’t a product that I would routinely recommend to people when they come to be for advice on earphones as it is, undoubtedly, a very costly earphone. Then again, I would not routinely recommend a Lamborghini to everyone looking for a car.
What I would say, however, is this. If you’re looking for the best of the best, and you’re willing to pay top dollar for it, and price is not an issue, then the Fourte must be in your consideration list, and you owe it to yourself to give it a proper listen.