The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on head-fi.
It's common to see companies release their new flagship IEMs either once a year or every other year because it takes a lot of research and development time for manufacturers to come up with something new and original to make their product stand out from the crowd. Likewise, it usually takes audiophiles longer to research and to compare available flagships before narrowing it down to their next TOTL purchase. On rare occasions, this process can get even more complicated if a manufacturer offers more than one flagship, exactly what happened when 64 Audio revealed new TIA driver tech and introduced two new models: U18 Tzar and TIA Fourte.
One might think, choosing between 18xBA drivers and 4-way hybrid is an easy task, but you will be surprised. After reviewing U18, which still impresses me every day I use it, now it’s time to look at its sibling that shares the same DNA. Though Fourte has a different driver config, it still features TIA drivers, built-in apex module, tubeless design, and acoustic chambers. Since I already shared my thoughts about 64 Audio flagship iem pricing in U18 review, I’m not going to rehash that topic. Instead, I will focus on how Fourte compares to U18 and other flagships, and how it pairs up with different sources (along with unboxing and accessories sections which are partially recycled from U18 review). So, let’s take a closer look!
Like U18, Fourte arrived in a larger box, bigger than a compact packaging I got used to with other 64 Audio IEMs I have reviewed. Their previous packaging box was about the size of their new custom travel case used with different A/U models. Here, 64 Audio decided to do something different, giving the box more room to showcase a glossy, nearly 3D hi-res image of TIA Fourte shells popping out of the sleeve cover wrapped around the main box. When you flip it over, you get a lot of detailed info about Fourte with a CAD drawing of the inner guts, the philosophy behind the design and the sound, and the spec in thumb images with a corresponding description. Furthermore, there is info about 64 Audio’s TIA technology, covering open balanced armature driver design, and a detailed description of the inner shell, driver placement, and tubeless design. You will also find the info about their new cable and the description of apex tech.
I always say, this is a type of packaging you would expect to see on the shelves of traditional brick-and-mortar shops, reminiscent of the days when people used to go to the actual store to browse the isles, to read what's on the cover, to learn about the product before making a purchase decision. Obviously, you can't go to your local Best Buy to pick up a pair of 64 Audio IEMs, but I do appreciate the effort put into the packaging design and can see owners proudly showcasing it on their desk at home.
With a packaging sleeve off, you are looking at a black cardboard box with a magnetic latch front cover which has a glossy 64 Audio logo, also in black. After you flip the cover open, you can read a personal message from Vitaliy Belonozhko, founder and CTO of 64 Audio, with a Thank You note at the end of the message. Inside of the box you have a foam cutout securely housing Fourte shells with an attached cable, 64 Audio custom travel case inside of another secure cutout opening, and a small cardboard tray with 6 pairs of eartips.
Overall, it was a satisfying unboxing experience, and I was able to read about the product without going on manufacturer webpage.
TIA Fourte arrived with a handful of different eartips. Here you will find two sets with 3 pairs (S/M/L) of foam eartips, and 3 pairs (S/M/L) of generic silicone eartips. Choosing the right eartip is a matter of a personal preference which going to affect not only the fit and the comfort, but also the sound. For me personally, I have dozens of other spare eartips and usually take my time to tip roll, to find the right one with the best seal, making sure I get the full doze of the bass! I didn't find any of the included ones to work well with my ears, so I end up using a pair from my private stash. I do wish 64 Audio would include a better selection of eartips, maybe another set with hybrid silicone tips that have a firmer cap and a longer stem.
Other included accessories were a custom storage case which I'm going to talk about next, 64 Audio round sticker, and a product manual with some useful info about the fit, care & maintenance, handling detachable cable and apex modules, and volume advisory. Inside the storage case you will find a small dehumidifier, cleaning tool, and a shirt clip.
The storage case.
In my previous 64 Audio reviews, I referred to their new case as a “VIP case”. Everything from an easy to handle wide latch to an air valve eliminating build-up of inner case pressure when you close it, individual earpiece storage sections with removable rubber lining to a custom built-in cable winder, a spot to plug right angled headphone connector and to place the included round dehumidifier container, as well as a built-in organizer to hold securely a shirt clip (included), and a cleaning tool (included) – all this was custom tailored and well thought of. There is even enough room if you decide to use a thicker replacement cable. Since this is universal case to accommodate other 64 Audio IEMs, there was also a placeholder for 2 sets of apex modules (M15/M20), but none were included since Fourte's apex technology is built-in and not replaceable.
When you are placing the order, you can also specify if you want your name to be etched on the top of the storage box to personalize it. While many companies use off the shelf Pelican or Otterbox storage cases with a pre-cut foam inserts, 64 Audio went one step further with their own custom designed case which protects your investment and keeps everything organized inside.
Many IEM manufacturers are starting to pay more attention to included cables, and lately I noticed quite a few releases with other than cheap OFC stock cables. Not everybody has a collection of aftermarket cables, and some people don’t realize that a metal conductor can have an influence on the sound of IEM. Just like we go through eartip rolling (with universal IEMs) to finetune the sound, you can do the same with cables. Here 64 Audio did their own homework, testing various wires to settle on a new SPC (silver plated copper) cable they include standard with A/U18 and TIA Fourte. TIA drivers can give you super revealing details which can be masked by OFC cable or turn grainy with silver or other exotic wires. Also, considering all SPC cables are not the same, I found this new 64 Audio cable to have sound characteristic closer to pure copper cable. I will talk more about its sound property in the follow-up aftermarket cable shootout.
As far as the cable goes, it feels very durable and still flexible enough without springy memory effect. It has 4 separate conductors, all inner-twisted, with a tight rubbery black shielding, and no microphonics effect. The headphones plug is a premium gold plated 3.5mm TRS right-angled by Neutrik which has a built-in rubber-boot strain relief. This is a single ended TRS plug, but since you have 4 separate conductors, if you’re up to a challenge you can try to re-terminate it to a balanced connector. The y-splitter is a common heat-shrink tube, nothing fancy, and the chin-slider is a clear oval piece with enough friction to keep it from sliding freely. Toward the earpiece connectors, you have a memory wire which you pre-shape for comfort. I’m not a big fan of memory wires, but this one works fine and felt secure. The 2pin connector is universal which can be used in both surface and recessed 2pin shell sockets, and it’s conveniently color-coded with a Red dot for the Right side and a Blue dot for the Left side.
I'm a cable believer because I hear the difference, either a subtle or a more pronounced, and I have mentioned in many of my other reviews that intent of my testing with different cables is not to stir up a controversy, but rather to share my experience of what I hear. Feel free to skip this section if the talk about cables offends you. In this test, I analyzed Fourte and compared various cables to 64 Audio stock SPC cable. I did volume match by ear because many of these multi-conductor thicker cables have lower impedance which usually result in a louder sound that could be misleading when analyzing and comparing to a stock cable. Last, but not least, I hear the changes but nothing is night'n'day. Cable doesn't function like an EQ to drastically change the sound, but I hear a noticeable refinement of the sound, described below.
SPC to 1960 2wire - soundstage is a little wider, close to U18 now, bass is similar, just with a little better definition, and mids are pulled back a little bit, making the sound more balanced, also treble is a little smoother. This is by far my favorite pair up with Fourte since it takes just a little edge off the upper frequencies and balances out the sound.
SPC to 1960 4wire - soundstage is wider, sub-bass has a little less rumble, mids are still a little forward, revealing, micro-detailed, but a touch smoother, and treble is still crisp and airy. Overall sound is a little more coherent, but still on a brighter side.
SPC to Thor II+ - soundstage is a little wider, sub-bass is similar, while mid-bass has a little more impact now, mids are still a little more forward, revealing, but a touch smoother. Treble is the same. Sound sig is a little more balanced now.
SPC to Lionheart Psquare - soundstage is wider, maybe even a touch wider than U18, bass is very similar, and while mids are still a little more forward and as revealing and analytical, they are a touch smoother. Treble is the same.
SPC to TWau - soundstage is a little wider, bass is a little bit tighter, mids are still a little forward, but now also a treble pushed a little forward as well.
SPC to Ref8 - soundstage is a little wider, bass is very similar though has a touch more sub-bass rumble, mids are still a little forward, and treble a little crisper now.
There are a lot of similarities between Fourte and U18 when it comes to their exterior shell design. Both have a similar shape, machined out of a solid piece of aluminum, slick and durable anodized aluminum shell with rounded corners, a smooth finish, and a copper faceplate with a patina inlay. While U18 shell has a slightly "aged" red shell finish and a faceplate inlay with reddish details, Fourte shell is black with a faceplate inlay that has darker colors with green touches. Though I'm not too picky about IEM colors and faceplate artwork, I know others like to customize their IEM shells. A design with all BA drivers is easier to implement in CIEM, thus U18 is available in A18 custom shell. But I have a feeling that TIA Fourte, with its hybrid design that includes a dynamic driver and internal apex module vented to outside, is more challenging to implement in a custom shell. In my opinion, if 64 Audio could stuff 18 drivers in such a compact shell, I hope that down the road they will figure out how to turn Fourte into CIEM too.
Each shell weighs about 6g, even less than U18 (8g), though in reality that will make a very little difference when you wear it. Don't expect to be able to put your head with ear down on the pillow, but at the same time - Fourte doesn't stick out too much. Plus, the nozzle length and the shell depth (nearly identical to U18) enables a comfortable and a secure fit. Unlike U18 where you have a replaceable apex module, a compromise was reached to offer apex module internally to the shell. As a result, it's not removable and according to Fourte spec with -20dB of isolation - it's implied to be an equivalent of internal M20 module. Upon closer examination, you can see a larger hole drilled on the bottom of the shell facing forward so it's not blocked by your ear - this is dynamic low driver back vent, and I can reassure you I never experienced driver-flex with Fourte. There is another smaller pinhole vent, on the back, which is part of internal M20 module. I'm not going into all the details about apex modules since I already covered it in my U18 review, and similar to U6/U12 with Adel modules and U12/U18 with apex modules, TIA Fourte with its built in apex module had a similar fatigue-free listening experience with an open-back like performance and no ear pressure build up.
Inside, we are dealing with a hybrid 4-way design with a single dynamic driver for lows, one TIA BA mid, one BA high/mid, and one TIA high. Balanced Armatures are typically self-enclosed with a single opening port, and usually they are grouped and tubed (in multi-BA IEMs) to be routed to a specific bore in the nozzle. Open BA driver has one of the enclosure walls removed, to enable direct-radiating of the inner diaphragm which no longer has a 4-wall confinement. Inside of the shell, 64 Audio partitioned the space with custom pockets, creating acoustic chambers which allow drivers to be placed without sound tube and allowing to fine tune the driver sound performance. From the diagram on the back of Fourte packaging, I can see a separate acoustic chamber for one of TIA drivers (probably mids), and then dynamic driver pumping the sound into the main part of the inner shell which narrows down to a large single bore acoustic chamber with high/mid BA driver and high TIA driver going into the nozzle which acts as another acoustic chamber where everything gets mixed before going to a mesh covered single bore opening. This last TIA high driver is closer to your earcanal/eardrum and shouldn't be affected by any artifacts of resonance associated with tubed sound routing.
It looks to me that one of the main challenges with U18 was to position 18 drivers, including TIA, inside of a very compact shell design. Fourte is 4-way hybrid where you have less drivers, but now have other challenges such as dealing with a larger dynamic driver, built in apex, custom acoustic chamber partitioning, etc. 64 Audio met these challenges and were able to use the shell with nearly the same dimensions as U18.
Prior to starting my critical listening, I did put TIA Fourte through 100hrs of standalone burn in, just to be sure that its dynamic driver, cable, all the solder joints, internal wiring, and crossover components have reached their prime condition. Either if you believe or don't in a burn-in, many manufacturers do recommend it, especially when it comes to dynamic drivers. Also, it’s hard to talk about Fourte without direct comparison to U18, thus you are going to read many references to both as I describe Fourte sound using a stock cable.
Soundstage: a very similar 3D spacing, with U18 being a touch wider, while Fourte having a touch more depth. Not sure if it’s a placebo effect, considering U18 has removable apex modules while Fourte has one built in, but I felt like U18 sound was a little more expanded with an "open back" perception, while Fourte gave me a sense of just a little more intimacy. Both have an excellent imaging with a convincing placement of instruments and vocals, though I found Fourte to excel a little more here due to an improved layering and separation between the sounds, with more air between the layers. Both U18 and Fourte exhibit a good level of transparency and the sound dynamics, the sound never feels congested, but layering and separation goes to a brighter tuned Fourte. With Fourte, spatial positioning details are more precise and some of the sound nuances popped out of nowhere from a few tracks I'm intimately familiar with. I felt like a noob, surprising myself with a discovery of percussions in one of the songs, positioned far left which I never knew even existed in that track.
While U18 has a more balanced coherent signature with a smoother natural tonality, I hear Fourte as having a more fun sound with slightly mid-forward signature with a brighter, more revealing tonality supercharged by two TIA drivers. The multi-BA tuning of U18 has coherent driver tuning where despite the low-end impact, you still hear all the drives working together in unison. Fourte's hybrid design is tuned with a solid foundation of distinct layer of smooth velvety analog bass under layers of revealing, brighter mids and treble. It reminded me of a few ultra-wide bandwidth single dynamic driver IEMs, though Fourte is not v-shaped like those other drivers, and has a more balanced mid-forward sound perception.
Bass: here, I hear Fourte going deeper, even with a little more sub-bass rumble, while U18 has an edge with higher quantity and faster mid-bass impact. I never considered U18 bass to sound like a typical fast BA performance, it has a speed of BA drivers, but the bass is more rounded with a slower decay. Coincidentally, Fourte dynamic driver is also a bit of a mixed breed where I do hear a medium speed attack with a more rounded textured tonality, perhaps a little faster than a typical dynamic driver, but the decay is slower than U18 bass, yet still has plenty of control while creating this layered separation between the bass and the lower mids. While neither U18 nor Fourte have bass performance typical of their corresponding type of drivers, upon closer listening you can still hear U18 bass being a little faster, more layered, and with cleaner edges, while Fourte bass is more visceral, smoother, and with a more analog flavor.
Mids: Lower mids are closer to neutral, keeping the body of the sound lean, and then going to upper mids is where you have a slightly forward push, especially around 1k mark. The mids in Fourte are more revealing, more micro-detailed, more layered, and at the same time a little colder and dryer in comparison to U18. If you are a fan of smooth, organic, laid back mids and a more natural vocals tonality, you might find Fourte to be a bit too revealing. But if you are a fan of micro-detailed level of analytical performance and want to hear all the nuances in sound, you will be pleased with Fourte tuning.
Treble: Both U18 and Fourte have a great treble extension, with treble being crisp and well defined, but Fourte takes it to another level with more airiness and a little boost around 10k to add more definition to upper frequencies. Even with all this enhancement, I never detected any sibilance, but at the same time Fourte tuning makes it less forgiving when playing poorly recorded audio or when paired up with brighter or even some neutral audio sources. In comparison, U18 is smoother and more forgiving, and not as picky when it comes to pair ups with different sources.
All this comparison was done between U18 w/M20 and Fourte, making a difference in tonality a little more obvious. But when you switch U18 to M15 module, you get performance a little closer to Fourte where the mid-bass of U18 goes down a bit in quantity to be more aligned with Fourte, and U18 mids become a little more forward and brighter, not on the same level as Fourte, but somewhere in between of U18 w/M20 and Fourte. Even with M15, U18 is still smoother and not as micro-detailed as Fourte. But at the same time, this is one of the advantages of U18 by having a flexibility to switch between M20 and M15 to fine-tune the tonality.
But everything is up to a personal preference. For example, I noticed when switching between Fourte and U18 w/M20 modules, going to Fourte felt a bit bright to my ears until I let my brain adjust to the sound, and going back from Fourte to U18 w/M20 felt like sound was a bit congested until I adjust to it as well. With M15 module in, the brain adjustment was a lot faster.
In my pair up test with different sources, I decided to be consistent and use TIA Fourte with an included 3.5mm SE stock cable. While Fourte has 114dB sensitivity, I wasn't sure what to expect due to its 10 ohm impedance and how it will affect the hissing with different sources, a similar concern I had with U18.
Plenue 2 - the sound is very expanded, great bass texture; bass is lifted but not exaggerated; mids are more forward with nearly analytical retrieval of micro-details, a little on a colder side, very nice layering and separation; treble is crisp, bright, airy, well extended. No hissing.
LPG - wide soundstage, nice expansion; bass has more rumble and stronger mid-bass punch, mids are smoother more balanced, treble is bright and crisp. Overall, the tonality is a little more balanced because of a slightly more elevated bass and smoother mids. A mild hissing.
Opus#2 - wide soundstage with some improvement in depth too; bass has a similar rumble as P2, but mid-bass is a little stronger; mids are a little forward, very detailed and revealing, but now have a touch more smoothness, treble is crisp, bright, airy, well extended. A very mild hissing.
DX200 - wide soundstage with some improvement in depth; bass has a nice textured rumble with a smooth mid-bass punch, quantity of bass is not overexaggerated which makes mids perception more forward, still very detailed and layered, but with a touch more naturalness in tonality; treble is bright, crisp, airy, with a good extension. No hissing.
AK120ii - here soundstage is wide, but a bit less then with other daps, and instead I hear a lot more depth in staging; bass has a great sub-bass texture and nice mid-bass punch, but it's a little bit more behind mids which are leading the way, being more forward in this pair up; mids are still revealing and detailed, but a little smoother and with a touch more body; treble is crisp, well defined, airy, but a little less bright. No hissing.
i5 - wide soundstage; nicely textured sub-bass rumble, stronger mid-bass punch, bass is a little more elevated, mids are a little more balanced, very detailed, layered, revealing, not as forward, and more organic in tonality; treble is crisp, well defined, extended, but not as bright as I hear it with other daps. No hissing.
X7ii - wide soundstage, even with some depth improvement; very nice sub-bass rumble and a well-controlled mid-bass punch, bass is very articulate and well controlled. Mids have a forward perception, with excellent retrieval of details, maybe a little less analytical and a little smoother; treble is crisp and airy, very snappy and extended. No hissing.
Note 4 - soundstage is still wide, but not as much; the sound also changes its signature, becoming more balanced with bass coming up and upper mids and treble becoming smoother, warmer, more organic and a little less forward. That micro-detailed revealing tonality is no longer there, but I hear the sound to be more toned down, smoother, more laidback. I did miss the resolution and transparency, but it wasn't too bad, there were still plenty of details, just not as vivid.
Using Plenue 2 as my source, I kept TIA Fourte with a stock SPC cable, and volume matched every pair by ear.
Fourte vs Vega - Fourte has a wider soundstage while Vega has more depth; both have a similar quality of sub-bass rumble, while the quantity is more elevated in Vega, and the same with mid-bass which is a little faster in Vega - it has more impact with a stronger punch. Lower mids in Vega have a little more body, while upper mids are pushed a little back in comparison to a brighter, more revealing, more transparent, and more forward mids of Fourte. Fourte treble is crisper and has more airiness. These have a noticeably different signature with Fourte being a little more mid-forward while in relative comparison Vega is more L-shaped.
Fourte vs SEM9 - Fourte has a wider soundstage while SEM9 has a little more depth; both have a rather similar sub-bass rumble, but Fourte is more textured. With mid-bass, both seem to have a similar quantity, but Fourte is tighter and with more body while SEM9 is more hollow and more relaxed. Lower mids a little more neutral in SEM9, but upper mids have a similar quantity, though Fourte has a better retrieval of micro-details and more analytical sound. Fourte treble is better defined, crisper, and has more airiness.
Fourte vs RE2000 - RE has a wider soundstage with more depth; both have a very impressive low-end performance with a deep textured sub-bass rumble and analog quality mid-bass with a strong punch, though RE bass is a touch faster. Lower mids have a similar amount of body, but upper mids is where I hear the most difference with Fourte being a little smoother and more natural, while RE is brighter, thinner, and more splashy in comparison. Both have a very revealing micro-detailed upper mids, but Fourte sounds just more natural in comparison. Also, RE treble is brighter, crisper, with a little more airiness. Overall, these two are not too far apart, just that for my own personal taste Fourte is a little smoother and has more natural mids.
Fourte vs W900 - Fourte has a wider soundstage while the depth is the same; W900 sub-bass goes deep but it's not as textured as Fourte which has a little more rumble as well, but W900 mid-bass punches through a lot stronger and has a higher quantity in comparison. Lower mids are similar, but upper mids in W900 are warmer, smoother, not as layered or revealing, while Fourte is more layered, more micro-detailed, and more revealing. While W900 treble extends far, it's nowhere near having the same amount of sparkle, or airiness, and in general it's smoother.
Fourte vs K10UA - Fourte has a wider soundstage while the depth is the same; K10 sub-bass goes deeper, with a little more rumble, and mid-bass punch is faster and more articulate. Fourte has a little more bass quantity, but the bigger difference here is in quality where Fourte has a more dynamic analog bass while K10 has a faster BA bass with a short decay. Lower mids are similar, while upper mids in Fourte are more analytical, more micro-detailed, a little brighter. Treble has a lot of similarities, being bright and crisp, but I just hear Fourte having a little more control and airiness.
If you take a closer look at "Fourte" name, you will see a combination of "four" and "forte" which defines this flagship as a four-driver hybrid which suppose to excel in the sound tuning and the design. Just like U18, Fourte is not for everyone, these high-end flagships are intended for serious audiophiles whose focus and priority is more on the performance and the unique technology rather than price/performance ratio. And even if we talk about the price, like I mentioned in U18 review, some of the other $2k-$2.5k flagships with premium cables can reach the price bracket of U18/Fourte. I'm not making excuses for 64 Audio price, it’s high. But if you are willing to look into TOTL flagships and to pay the premium price, you need to consider every available option, especially when you have a specific sound sig target in your mind.
But as a reviewer who was given a unique opportunity to test and to compare these IEMs, considering how much I enjoyed U18, I thought it will be an easy decision to choose which one I like better. But the more time I spent with these IEMs, the more I got addicted to both because they are not competing but rather complimenting each other. I like the strong authoritative impact of U18 bass, but I also like the deeper analog texture of Fourte bass. I'm a fan of U18 smoother, resolving, natural upper mids and lower treble, but I also enjoyed Fourte with its more transparent, revealing, detailed mids/treble that wasn’t too fatiguing. Both have an open sound. Another thought, they both have an all-metal shell where for the first time I was able to handle expensive IEMs with more peace of mind due to their durability. And while U18 offers a flexibility of using either M15 or M20 modules, I think Fourte would sound the best with its built-in M20 (vs M15) without compromising the bass quantity.
Based on talking to my readers, as well as seeing the comments on Head-fi in 64 Audio threads, it seems that many U18/Fourte customers are those who tried these flagships either at CanJam events or store demos (e.g. at Music Sanctuary) or recent participants in Head-fi tour. Either of these flagships is a serious investment which you need to spend your time with to listen, to compare, and to appreciate, but if you don’t have access to it – I hope my review can provide some helpful guidance. Also, keep in mind, 64 Audio offers occasional B-stock deals and holiday sales, and once they even offered a trade-in program for those who have their previous flagships.
The last few years have seen a proliferation of new in ear monitor (IEM) products as personal/portable audio continues its incredible growth trend within the global audio industry. Increasingly, headphone enthusiasts and mobile technology consumers are looking at IEM’s as their primary headphone of choice. Thankfully, the performance level of IEM’s has improved across the board with great products at all price ranges.
The 64 Audio Tia Fourte is a flagship category example of this new trend of high performance IEM’s, and features cutting edge technology, called Tia. I received a production review sample of the Tia Fourte in early July and have had a chance to spend a lot of time with the product both in both home and travel situations, as well as extensive use on airplanes. The Tia Fourte is 64 Audio’s most expensive offering at $3599, and is available as a Universal Fit model only.
64 Audio and Tia Technology
64 Audio is based in Portland, OR and was started by Vitaliy Bolonozhko, a sound engineer with many years of experience working with musicians and production companies in the Northwest. The company’s name is derived from the year 1964, a “pinnacle year for rock music”. 64 Audio offers a wide range of custom and universal fit in ear monitors and the Tia Fourte represents its latest innovation, the Tia system.
Tia stands for Tubeless In-ear Audio and the Tia driver is an open balanced armature speaker design that according to 64 Audio, “brings new meaning to resolution and transparency”. The idea behind this is similar to common speaker designs, where opening the balanced armature produces the sound with the direct-radiating and fully unobstructed diaphragm. This method eliminates the need for conventional sound tubes and dampers and coupled with the design of the acoustic chambers, results in a more open and smooth sound with less unwanted resonances.
Let’s open the package and take a peek.
Packaging and Build Quality
The packaging of the Tia Fourte is workmanlike with a small selection of foam and silicone ear tips, instruction manual, and a nice 64 Audio sticker. The standout of the provided accessories is the carrying case which is a nice balance of hard protection, size, and ease of use. I like that the each earphone piece has it’s own separate chamber with a larger section to wrap the cable into. The supplied cable is a very well built and solid braided cable with a standard two prong connector and a heavy duty right angle 3.5mm connector.
The Tia Fourte earpieces are machined out of a solid block of aluminum and feature a copper patina finish inlaid on the faceplates. While looks are completely subjective, I do like the look, feel, and overall comfort level of these earpieces. They are a lot smaller in person than most flagship IEM’s on the market and are the first IEM’s that I have been able to wear for longer periods of time (over one hour) without any discomfort or pressure in my ears. They are, in fact, the first IEM/CIEM I have used that seem to fully “disappear” during extended use.
I’ve primarily used 2 types of ear tips with the Tia Fourte: Comply’s and Ultimate Ears Silicone tips and have come to overall prefer the UE ear tips as they provide me with a balanced sound signature and the best comfort level. Ear tips can change things up and I would definitely encourage IEM users to experiment with different types whenever possible to achieve the best possible fit (and sound). Pictured here with Comply's.
I first heard the Tia Fourte at CanJam Singapore 2017 and it was one of the clear highlights of the show for me. Plugging into my AK380, I sat at the booth for around 30 minutes and did not really want to get up. This experience was similar to the one I got when first listening the the Focal Utopia last year. There just seemed to be so much more musical information passing into my ears than what I was previously used to and the music was being delivered in such an effortless and coherent manner. The other thing that really struck me was the visceral impact and bass slam, which delivered in spades but not at the expense of other frequencies. It was all there and it was really impressive.
Since receiving the Tia Fourte review sample, I’ve primarily used it directly with the AK380 as this is the most common application that I would use an in ear monitor for. It does scale higher when adding the Chord Hugo 2 to the chain and higher still when plugging directly into the Chord Hugo TT or into the DNA Stratus 2A3 tube amp, both of which were dead silent with the Fourte.
I would describe the Fourte’s sound signature as in the reference (neutral) category but with a slightly elevated bass response which gives it a distinctly musical and engaging type of sound signature. This is a very “big” sounding earphone, with a wide and deep soundstage and is among the closest approximations to my full sized reference over ear headphones that I have yet heard from an IEM. The resolution of the Fourte is top notch and it seems effortless with very open and airy sound. Despite its musical nature, the Fourte is extremely transparent, with excellent layering of instruments and vocals in a very deep sound stage.
Most other IEM’s that I have heard usually have clear strengths in certain areas with some weaknesses in others; the Fourte is remarkably well balanced and for my sound preferences, seems to check all the boxes.
Sounds Impression Comparisons with other IEM/CIEM’s
Here is where I can describe some of the sonic differences between the Fourte and some other IEM/CIEM’s that I have on hand. All of these comparisons are with stock cables and using the Chord Hugo 2 and AK380 as source.
Ultimate Ears UERM (Customs)
The UERM has been a reference monitor for several years now and still holds its own with many newer offerings. The biggest difference between these two earphones is the bass presentation which is noticeably lacking in the UERM when directly comparing with the Fourte. While the UERM strengths are its strong resolution and excellent mid and high registers, it does have a smaller and narrower soundstage in comparison with the Tia Fourte.
Noble Audio K10 Prestige (Customs)
The Noble K10 Prestige is a good all around earphone with a balanced sound. In comparison with the Tia Fourte, the Fourte reveals itself as clearly more resolving across all frequencies and an overall more coherent and full sound.
Jerry Harvey Audio Layla (Customs)
The Jerry Harvey Layla is a fun sounding earphone with a very strong and tunable bass response. Since my sonic preferences lean more towards neutral, the Tia Fourte is a better sonic fit as it has higher level of resolution and transparency in the mid and upper ranges. It also sounds more balanced to me.
Campfire Audio Andromeda (Universals)
The Campfire Audio Andromeda is the closest to the Tia Fourte in terms of sound signature with the Fourte pulling ahead in terms of soundstage depth and resolution. The Fourte has more air, is smoother, and sounds more refined than the Andromeda. However, the Andromeda is very close to the Fourte in terms of it having a coherent and balanced top to bottom sound signature. It’s comfort and ergonomics are also a close second to the Fourte compared to the rest of the group.
Hifiman RE2000 (Universals)
The Hifiman RE2000 is the new flagship earphone from Hifiman. It has a very big and diffuse soundstage with powerful bass, even more so than the Fourte. The Tia Fourte does sound more three dimensional and is more present. The RE2000 is a little more laid back, yet still very detailed, musical, and balanced sounding with a touch less transparency and sparkle than the Fourte.
Shure KSE1500 (Universals)
At CanJam London 2017, I was able to briefly compare the Tia Fourte with the Shure KSE1500 system along with a few other Head-Fier's in a quiet listening environment; in the end we were evenly split on which was the preferred IEM, and not surprisingly, this came down to personal preference and which musical genre was being played. Those that preferred classical music as their primary genre leaned towards the KSE1500, while those that preferred rock and other modern genres, leaning towards the Tia Fourte.
The Tia Fourte is a remarkable earphone and a truly innovative flagship. It is extremely engaging and musical, and to my ears has achieved a near perfect balance of detail, clarity, and transparency together with musicality, bass response and an overall smoothness to the sound which is quite intoxicating. Additionally, the ergonomics and comfort level of the Fourte are second to none due to the small size of the ear pieces as well as the Tia system, which helps alleviate the usual pressure build up in the ear canals during use.
Anyone looking for a flagship class earphone in this price category should have the Tia Fourte on their short list to audition. And hopefully, we will see the Tia system technology trickle down to future products in more mainstream price categories. Very highly recommended.
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 test out a luxury piece of equipment.