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64 Audio N8 hybrid signature CIEM in collaboration with Nathan East

64 Audio N8

Rating:
5/5,
  • Introducing the “Nate”, an industry-first signature IEM by 64 Audio and Nathan East. The N8 stands apart from other custom-fit earphones due to its unique textures and rich, soulful sound. Produced in collaboration with Nathan East, the N8 represents Nathan’s superb musical taste as a bassist, singer, and producer. To achieve the necessary sound flavor, we opted for a hybrid design utilizing a 9mm dynamic driver for the lows and 8 balanced armature drivers for the mid range and highs. The result is an incredibly intimate and smooth sound with punchy lows, luscious mids, and a silky treble with an analog sensation.

    Featured in the N8 is apex™, a pneumatically-interactive vent that relieves fatigue-causing sound pressure inherent in other earphone designs. Also featured is LID technology, ensuring the N8 maintains its sound signature regardless of the source - perfect for musicians and music lovers plugging into a variety of equipment.

    INCLUDED ACCESSORIES
    • 64 Audio Personalized Protective Case
      Dehumidifier
      Cleaning Tool
      Shirt Clip
      48" or 64" Detachable Professional Cable
      m15 or m20 apex Modules
      Round Sticker
    WARRANTY

    64audio_N8_thmb.jpg

Recent Reviews

  1. twister6
    Smooth operator!
    Written by twister6
    Published Sep 27, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - smooth natural tonality, powerful bass impact, apex module, LID tech, custom storage case.
    Cons - custom fit only, benefits from a cable upgrade to make sound more revealing.


    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 my readers on head-fi.

    Manufacturer website: 64audio. Available for sale directly on 64audio website, as well as other places like Audio46 and Music-Sanctuary.


    Intro.

    You can say I was living under a rock, because when I heard about the introduction of 64 Audio first signature series model N8, I wasn't too familiar with a name of Nathan East. It's embarrassing to admit, but I thought to myself that I will Google his name to find out who he worked with so I can discover a new music to hear where the inspiration for N8 tuning came from. Imagine my surprise when I found that Nathan is a renowned session bassist who contributed to some of the biggest names in the music industry over the last 40 years, from Michael Jackson, to Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Elton John, Donna Summer, Lionel Richie, Cher, Kenny G, Celine Dion, Usher, Savage Garden, BB King, Beyonce, Seal, Michael Buble, Diana Krall, etc., and of course his contribution and performance on Random Access Memories album by Daft Punk.

    I guess I wasn't the only one, because even Nathan's website mentions "You have been listening to Nathan East your entire life, but you just never knew it." So true. Plus, knowing a background of the musician's work can give you a good idea what to expect from the tuning of this CIEM. Another clue was the association with a model "8" which was known in the previous 64 Audio line up as the most basshead-friendly monitor. 64 Audio typically associates a model name with a number of drivers, while here it was a combination of various things. Since Nathan wanted more low end impact and less high-fi sound, association with previous "8" made sense, though this is a hybrid design with a single DD and 8 BAs, total of 9 drivers. And due to one tia driver, originally it was N8t, but got renamed to N8 which sounds more like "Nate", thus a reason why it's not A8 or A8t.

    I spent almost a month testing this pair of IEMs, with many hours in the last few weeks when I went through a catalog of Nathan's releases, including his recent track "Daft Funk" where he collaborated to create a funky tune in the spirit of Daft Punk "Get lucky." Finally, I'm able to share with you my impressions about this latest 64 Audio release.

    Unboxing and Accessories.

    Unlike previously reviewed U12t/U18t/Trio/Fourte, N8 arrived in a small compact storage box with a picture of Nathan East on the cover, acknowledging these are signature series earphones with “Nate” behind the sound tuning. This is a similar compact box I remember from U12 and U6 reviews, where once a sleeve is off and the cover is lifted, under the cover you will find a Quick Start Guide with various volume advisory guidelines and a guide how to properly fit CIEMs in your ears.

    The sleeve itself features Nathan’s signature on the side, and the cover also features a quote from him with a signature underneath. I thought it was ironic how you can see his signature on outside of the box and can hear his “sound” signature inside of it.

    64audio_n8-01.jpg 64audio_n8-02.jpg 64audio_n8-03.jpg 64audio_n8-04.jpg 64audio_n8-05.jpg

    In addition to round 64 Audio sticker, the other included accessory is a custom storage case with a small removable dehumidifier, cleaning tool, and a shirt clip. As I mentioned in my previous reviews, it would have been a cool idea to have a shirt clip function as tweezers to grab apex module since they are not as easy to remove from CIEM shell of N8. My personal trick is to use one of those chip-extractor tweezers which you can find on eBay for a few dollars.

    In this storage case, everything from a wide easy to handle latch to an air valve eliminating build-up of inner case pressure when you close it, to individual earpiece storage sections with removable rubber lining and 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), a cleaning tool (included), and pockets to hold 2 sets of apex modules – all this was custom tailored and well thought of. There is even enough room if you decide to use a thicker replacement cable.

    When you place the order, you can also specify if you want your name to be etched on the top of the case to personalize it. While many companies use off the shelf Pelican or Otterbox storage cases with a pre-cut foam inserts, 64audio went one step further with their own custom designed case which protects your investment and keeps everything organized inside.

    64audio_n8-06.jpg 64audio_n8-07.jpg 64audio_n8-08.jpg 64audio_n8-09.jpg

    Cables.

    N8 arrived with 64 Audio own premium ultra-low resistance, silver-plated copper (SPC) cable which is available in either black or pearl white matte finish and could be selected during the order as either 48” or 64” (additional fee). If you need a different termination and want to use the same SPC wires, 64 Audio also offers Premium Cable where you can choose 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced plug and recessed vs non-recessed 2pin connectors.

    The stock cable, which is called “professional cable”, is offered with 3.5mm headphone plug which has a right-angled plastic mold connector with a nice grip. The cable itself feels durable and very flexible, and comes with 4 separate inner-twisted conductors with a tight rubbery shielding, and no microphonics effect. The y-splitter is a heat-shrink tube, nothing fancy, and the chin-slider is a clear tube with enough friction to keep it from sliding freely. Toward the earpiece connectors, you have a memory wire which you pre-shape for comfort. The 2pin connector is universal and works well with a 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. Also, 2pin connector plastic mold is slightly angled, making the bend of the memory wire more natural and comfortable over your ear. Personally, I'm not a big fan of memory wire, but I'm sure performing musicians who have to move around on stage will appreciate it.

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    Aftermarket cables.

    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 used N8 w/M15 module 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 results in a louder sound that could be misleading when analyzing and comparing to a stock cable. Many of these cables are from Music Sanctuary where you can also order 64 Audio C/IEMs.

    Last, but not least, I usually mention that despite the sound changes during cable rolling, nothing is night'n'day. In theory, cable shouldn’t function like an EQ to drastically change the sound, it’s there for refinement of it. Plus, N8 is equipment with LID tech to minimize sound variation due to output impedance of sources. But the changes here were quite noticeable. Perhaps it’s a combination of 6ohm N8 impedance along with these low impedance cables. Just keep in mind, the original N8 sound was tuned in collaboration with Nathan East who wanted a specific tonality which has been achieved using a stock cable. But it doesn’t mean you must stop there. Here is how I hear the sound changes relative to bass and mids as I was swapping cables while testing N8. These observations are relative to a stock SPC cable, while I was using SPK-SS as my source.

    - Stock SPC cable - powerful bass impact, clear smooth mids.
    - EA Ares II - a little more bass impact (hitting it even harder), and more clarity in mids.
    - PWA No 5 - more balanced bass (slight reduction in bass impact relative to stock cable), and more clarity in mids.
    - EA Lionheart - a little more bass impact, and warmer mids.
    - HSA Aurora - more balanced bass (slight reduction in quantity), and more clarity in mids.
    - PlusSound Tri-Copper - more balanced bass (slight reduction in quantity), more forward mids with more clarity.
    - PWA 1960 2W - more balanced bass (reduction in quantity and more articulate quality), better layered revealing mids with a wider soundstage.
    - PWA 1960 4W - more balanced bass (reduction in quantity and more articulate quality), better layered, more revealing, and higher resolving mids, with a wider soundstage. Scales up 2W performance.

    What I found here, if you want to scale up the performance of N8, more toward audiophile hi-fi quality where you have a more balanced bass with a reduced quantity (relative to a stock cable) and a more revealing crisper mids/treble - pure copper cable seems to do the job. And you don’t have to spend a fortune since something like No 5 ($150) pairs up great, though to my surprise Ares II lifted the bass (I wasn’t too crazy about that pair up). You can scale up this change with Tri-Cu or 1960 4W, but expect to pay a lot more for a cable.

    64audio_n8-17.jpg

    Design.

    Even so I’m not a big fan of CIEMs due to issues with a fit and my ear canal anatomy, in some cases there is no other choice and as of now N8 available in CIEM shell only. But I’m pleased to say that fit of N8 was perfect, they got it right from the first try. Once 64 Audio has your impressions and stores it digitally (though scanning), they can recall and edit it using a proprietary software, and 3D print it whenever you are getting a new pair of CIEMs.

    But everything starts with 64 Audio Designer where you have a plethora of choices, starting with half a dozen of 3D printed shell colors, and a huge selection of faceplates (22 standard, 8 glitters, 4 glows, 8 wooden, 4 wooden burls, and 11 exotic material). You can also customize the logo with either 64 Audio or Nathan's “NE” signature initials in either gold or silver, or upload your own custom artwork. I’m sure, if someone has a custom color in mind, you can contact their customer service. Don’t forget, you can also customize the storage case with a user name and initials. Also, once the order is placed, you get a login to track every step of CIEM development and manufacturing, something I haven't seen with any other company. There is no instant gratification with CIEMs like you would have with a faster availability when ordering universals, but at least you are not in the dark when waiting for your monitors.

    The shells I received were all black with a glossy piano finish of hypoallergenic hard acrylic material. Faceplate was black as well with a gold logo of 64 Audio (left) and NE signature initials (right). I found Nathan East "NE" initials to make a really cool custom artwork. Another addition to the faceplate is a replaceable apex module (providing a fatigue-free listening experience with no ear pressure build up), finally a hybrid design from 64 Audio where the module can be replaced, unlike Fourte and Trio.

    2-pin socket is recessed, making cable connection more secure, especially for performing musicians on stage. Furthermore, I also find a tighter seal of a recessed socket to provide more protection in keeping moisture and dirt away from cable pins. On a side of the shell, close to the socket, you will also find a large vent for a dynamic driver. Last, but not least, inner side of the shell has a model number, serial number, and owner's initials, in red (on the right side) and in blue (on the left side).

    Inside the shell you have a hybrid design with a 4-way crossover partitioning 9mm low Dynamic Driver (DD), 6 mid BAs, 1 high-mid BA, and 1 tia high BA. The total number of drivers is 9 while this hybrid CIEM has "8" model number. Balanced Armatures (BA) are typically self-enclosed with a single opening port, while you can think of tia as an open BA driver where one of the enclosure walls is removed, to enable direct-radiating of the inner diaphragm which no longer has a 4-wall confinement. Tia driver is usually positioned in the nozzle, next to the grill since it has to be closer to your earcanal. As a result, N8 doesn't have sound tube bores going to the nozzle, and instead has a mesh covering it up.

    Another tech included with N8 is their Linear Impedance Design (LID) of crossover where despite a low impedance (6ohm), N8 should be compatible and sound the same when paired up with different sources, regardless of their output impedance.

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    The fit.

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    Sound Analysis.

    I analyzed N8 sound performance across different sources while playing a variety of test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Robin Schultz “Oh child”, David Elias “Vision of her”, Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”, and Nathan’s own “Daft Funk” as well as Daft Punk “Get lucky” where the man himself played the bass. Also, considering hybrid design of N8, I let it burn in for 100hrs to make sure its dynamic driver is fully conditioned, though I didn’t hear too many changes, except for the bass settling down just a bit.

    N8 has a very smooth natural musical tonality with a signature on a borderline of balanced and a tilt toward L-shaped due to enhanced bass emphasis. The sound is organic, smooth, full bodied, and still manages to be resolving with a great retrieval of natural tonality details. N8 doesn’t have a high level of audiophile clarity one would expect due to high res tia driver, certainly not an analytical level of detail retrieval due to a musical natural tonality. But the sound never gets muddy or congested unlike some other similarly tuned IEMs

    Soundstage is very wide and open, approaching holographic level. As a result, the imaging of the sound is pretty good with a convincing positioning of instruments and vocals where you can easily pin point everything.

    The sound has a natural transparency, and while being smooth and leaning toward the warmer tonality, I don't hear as much coloring. The sound is clear and without veil or muddiness. I hear a good separation of instruments, but not necessary the best layering.

    In more details, bass hits with a noticeable authority, and has a deep visceral sub-bass extension with a powerful analog rumble, and a strong rounded mid-bass punch with surprisingly decent decay control. Lower mids are not too thick, more toward a neutral leaner side, while upper mids sound natural, detailed, a little laid back and still resolving. Treble is well defined and well controlled, not too bright, natural and with a moderate level of airiness.

    64audio_n8-20.jpg

    At the time of wring this review, N8 was listed on-line with M15 module only, but 64 Audio mentioned on Head-fi that soon an option for M20 will be available as well. My review unit arrived with both M15 and M20, thus I figured to compare them. For those who are not familiar, M15 gunmetal color module has 15dB isolation and 2 venting holes under the cap, while M20 silver color module has 20dB isolation and a single-vent pinhole.

    While in other 64 Audio IEMs, M15 vs M20 can make a more drastic sound difference, here the difference was rather small. What I'm hearing is a very subtle change where with M20 the mid-bass hits just a little harder, while with M15 soundstage is a little wider. I personally preferred M15 due to a slight reduction in bass slam and more open and airy soundstage. In terms of isolation, I found N8 CIEM to offer a similar level with either of the modules.

    64audio_n8-16.jpg

    Comparison.

    In these comparisons I used C/IEMs with their stock cables, driven from SPK-SS, volume matched for consistency.

    N8 vs EE Legend X - both have a great soundstage expansion (width/depth), but N8 is more holographic, spreading a little wider. With bass, LX is more aggressive and slams harder, while N8 with its own elevated bass slam has less quantity and sounds more balanced relative to mids and treble. Also, N8 bass has a little more control, due to slightly shorter decay of bass notes. Both have lean lower mids, but due to an enhanced bass impact LX lower mids sound thicker in comparison to N8 which has more controlled bass. Another similarity is both have mids with a natural tonality, though LX is more neutral while N8 is a little warmer and more forward in comparison. While tonality of mids is similar, the presentation and forwardness really do affect the signature, making N8 more balanced and LX more L-shaped. When it comes to treble, here I hear more sparkle with more revealing details in N8, while LX remains more neutral and smoother. Plenty of treble clarity and details in both, but N8 has more sparkle.

    N8 vs UE Live - Live soundstage has a little more intimate feeling, having a little less depth and width, doesn't mean Live is lacking in soundstage expansion, just that N8 pushes it deeper and wider. Both have a very powerful deep analog bass, but N8 hits a little harder and its bass is faster and tighter, while Live bass has a little less impact, more rounded, and has a bit longer decay. Both have a natural organic mids, but Live mids have a little thicker body and more intimate closer presentation, while N8 mids are a little more revealing and presented more out of your head, related to their soundstage difference. With treble, the extension is similar in both, more controlled and with less airiness, but Live is crisper in tonality, giving upper frequencies a little more sparkle, which makes N8 sound a little more natural. One more obvious difference is around the 8k peak. This peak is on a borderline between higher definition and sibilance, and depending on the quality of the recording, can swing either way. When I took FR measurements (with Veritas coupler) of both N8 and Live, their FR had a striking similarity, yet they handle this 8k peak differently. You can throw in a poorly recorded track at N8, and it will handle it with more forgiveness in comparison to Live that brings up harshness of a poor recording.

    N8 vs Westone W80 – Here I found W80 to have a little more soundstage depth, while N8 has more width. When it comes to bass, N8 certainly has an upper hand in both deeper rumble of sub-bass and more slam in mid-bass. W80 bass is elevated but not to the same level is N8, and it (W80) has a shorter decay and more control. That results in a leaner lower mids of W80, while in comparison N8 lower mids have more body. But it reverses in upper mids where N8 has a better retrieval of details while W80 is smoother, a little more distant, and more laid back in comparison to N8 which is more focused and has a more detailed upper mids. Also, N8 treble is a little crisper in comparison to a smoother and more organic treble of W80.

    N8 vs 64 Audio U12t - Both have a similar soundstage depth, and while U12t has a nice staging width, N8 is still wider. As expected, the bass difference will be very noticeable with N8 having a lot more sub-bass and mid-bass impact while U12t being more neutral in comparison. Just keep in mind, I'm not saying U12t bass is neutral, only in comparison to N8 it's noticeably attenuated. Lower mids of U12t are also leaner in comparison to a fuller body and a more neutral lower mids of N8. Upper mids are different as well, with U12t being brighter, more revealing, and more transparent in comparison to a more natural organic tonality of N8 mids. And the difference continuous into upper mids where U12t is brighter, crisper, and airier, while N8 is smoother, more natural, and with a tighter control of tia driver. The sound tonality between these too is quite different where N8 has a fuller more organic natural tonality with a bigger bass impact while U12t is leaner, more revealing, and more balanced.

    N8 vs 64 Audio Trio - Both have a similar soundstage depth, while N8 is just a little wider in staging width (closer to N8, but still can't match its width). With bass, Trio has a nice sub-bass rumble which approaches N8 in depth, but still doesn't hit as hard as N8, and overall bass is a little faster in Trio. In a way, Trio’s bass comes close in quality and balance but scales down in quantity when compared to N8. Lower mids are a little bit leaner in Trio, while N8 has a little thicker body in comparison. Upper mids have a very similar tonality and sound presentation, perhaps with N8 being a little bit smoother and more organic, while Trio is a little brighter and a touch more revealing. Treble in N8 is more controlled, well defined, yet a little smoother in comparison to Trio crisper and airier treble. When listening and switching between these, it felt like N8 is a scaled up bassier version of Trio, sort of like a Trio on steroids.

    N8 vs Campfire Audio VEGA - Both have a similar soundstage depth, while N8 staging is a little bit wider. With bass, the extension and the impact are nearly identical. The only difference here is N8 bass having a little more control with a shorter decay, giving lower mids a leaner body, while Vega's bass decay is longer, making bass not as tight as N8. Mids have a lot of similarities as well, being natural, smooth, detailed. Perhaps, presentation of the mids in N8 is a little more intimate while Vega is more out of your head. The big difference here is in lower treble where N8 is more natural, smoother, more organic, while Vega is brighter, splashier, a little harsher in comparison (especially with poorly recorded tracks). This is another example where N8 is more forgiving when it comes to poorly recorded tracks.

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    Pair up.

    In each source pair up, I was using 3.5mm HO port and a stock cable. With many DAPs, going balanced sometimes widens the soundstage, but switching to a different cable with a balanced termination can also contribute to changes in tonality, so I kept everything stock for consistency. N8 is easy to drive considering its 105dB sensitivity which might need only a few extra volume clicks, and also due to its LID tech where the low 6ohm impedance didn’t seem to cause any issues with different output impedance sources.

    A&K SP1000-SS - a very wide and open soundstage, smooth organic tonality with natural musical details. Excellent bass extension with a velvety sub-bass rumble and elevated mid-bass punch, but the bass is not too aggressive. Mids maintain good body, a little laid back, while treble is well controlled, very natural and slightly relaxed in tonality.

    Sony WM1Z - relative to SPK-SS, here soundstage width is a little narrower, bass hits a little harder with a longer decay which adds a little more body to the sound and makes lower mids thicker. Also, I hear more sparkle in treble in this pair up.

    FiiO X7ii w/AM3A - relative to SPK-SS, sound signature is more L-shaped (bass hits harder), and the tonality is smoother, including both mids and treble. Soundstage is expanded with a very impressive width.

    Lotoo Paw Gold - relative to SPK-SS, LPG has more sub-bass rumble, goes deeper and hits harder, and treble has more sparkle and airiness. Soundstage was similar.

    Luxury & Precision L6 - the sound it somewhere between SPK-SS and LPG, where bass hits a little harder and treble has more sparkle and airiness, but not quite on the level of LPG changes.

    Cowon Plenue 2 mk2 - relative to SPK-SS, P2mk2 has a very similar bass impact, and natural mids tonality, though also being a little more revealing and transparent. Also, the treble is a little more crisp and airy in comparison.

    Hiby R6 - relative to SPK-SS, R6 has a little stronger bass impact (both sub-bass and mid-bass), very natural organic mids with more transparency and some improvements in detail retrieval, and crisper and airier treble with a better extension. Also, soundstage is as holographic.

    DX150 w/AMP7 - relative to SPK-SS, the soundstage is wide but not as wide as SPK, the bass impact is very similar, tonality is very similar, being smooth and organic, with great retrieval of details. While SPK has a superior technical performance, tonality had a lot of similarities.

    Shanling M0 - relative to SPK-SS, M0 delivers a little stronger bass impact, and bass itself is very tight and well controlled. Mids have more transparency, a little brighter, and even with some improvement in detail retrieval, all at the expense of tonality being less organic now. Treble is crisper with M0.

    Galaxy S9 smartphone - a little stronger bass impact, natural smooth detailed mids, and crisper treble. Like M0, the sound here is not as layered or separated on the same level as other flagship DAPs.

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    Conclusion.

    When I started to listen to N8, it took me a little while to adjust my ears to its unique tuning since I'm used to a more revealing sound, such as U18t with Horus cable. But as I shifted the selection of music from synthesized EDM tracks to songs with real acoustic and electric instruments, more natural percussions, soulful vocals, and other non-synthesized natural tonalities, I quickly realized the added value of N8 smooth natural sound signature. I wouldn't call it a basshead tuned CIEM because the focus here is not necessary on making the bass bigger and harder, but rather making it deeper and more analog with a rich full body natural tonality across entire frequency range.

    The signature of N8 is an interpretation of Nathan East sound preference, where 64 Audio incorporated his tuning suggestions into their 9-driver hybrid. It will definitely appeal to many stage and studio musicians and performers. It will also be welcomed by bassheads who are not only after the quantity of the bass, but appreciate the analog quality of it. And by switching to pure copper cable, as noted early in my review, you can scale up (relatively speaking) the performance of N8 to a more revealing audiophile quality while still keeping the natural tonality of the sound.

    Last, but not least, the sound sig of N8 doesn't exactly overlap with other IEMs I have access to, and instead complements many of them. As a result, N8 is easy to recommend to audiophiles who want to try something new and different, something more natural and less analytical, something to tickle their inner-basshead senses, instead of another incremental upgrade of their existing revealing IEMs. And if you get a chance, make sure to listen to 64 Audio IEMs at CanJam shows, local distributors (for example, Music-Sanctuary in SGP or Audio46 in NYC), or if you are in US - take advantage of their Loaner program.
    1. ToLegitToQuitNow
      Great Review!
      ToLegitToQuitNow, Oct 11, 2018

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