There’s something unique about the way the i4 presents its music. It’s not necessarily due to the macro elements of its sound: the natural quality of the bass, the body of its midrange, or even its stage dimensions, that inevitably seem to stretch just a bit further than its peers, bound by their contemporary multi-BA design. It’s woven in the finer building blocks of its sound – fleeting upon initial listen, but impressive on further acquaintance: the ethereal decay of its treble, the quick transient response with which it follows fast guitar riffs, and the sense of realism following its high definition and precise imaging; all subtle variations throughout its presentation, revealing there’s something special driving the sound.
But even more striking, though equally subtle in its execution, is the soft articulation with which the i4 presents the music; as if handing each note with a velvet glove. While traits as smoothness and articulation generally result from the treble tuning, the i4’s articulation results from an inherently different type of sound waves, contrasting the more aggressive attack of balanced armatures and dynamic drivers – a faint note that seals the unique presentation of the i4.
But the i4’s greatest feat perhaps is the way it manages to balance the naturalness of its timbre, with the clarity of its treble. A treble that’s not only rapidly quick, but detailed and clear, with an almost pristine quality. Yet despite a rather melodious-sounding lower treble, it refrains from being over-accentuated and bright. Rather, the clarity resides in the way the overtones light up the stage; there’s a true sense of openness and light in its presentation, and purity in its sound.
The midrange equally, is a region where the i4 shines. Or more precisely, can shine. Admittedly, the i4 initially greets you with a somewhat laid-back midrange, resulting in distant vocals, which affect their transparency – subtle tells, hinting at a significant dip throughout its midrange. Its tone in turn is clear, and thoroughly neutral. A versatile sound, that readily lends itself to adapt to different genres. Yet simultaneously, something feels amiss – a touch of warmth in its midrange, for the accuracy of its timbre.
While inevitably present, achieving the i4’s complete potential tends to require some additional steps. Not unlike a seductive vixen playing hard to get, the i4 makes you work for perfection – for those that persist, the reward is there. Practically, this entails just a bit of effort to tweak its sound. The easiest route is via Audeze’s included Cipher cable, with built-in DSP correction. The most rewarding however, is by using Audeze’s DSP presets on a desktop system or USB DAC, or alternatively, by manually adjusting EQ on a DAP.
The DSP adjustments aren’t designed to transform the i4’s sound to something different altogether; in fact, some might argue they aren’t a necessity at all. The settings consist of a set of modifications to fine-tune the sound, primarily targeting the midrange specifically. When implemented, the i4’s vocal position is no longer distant, but centered within its three-dimensional stage. The i4 doesn’t necessarily put vocals in the spotlight, but creates a sufficiently dense vocal for them to sound engaging; a solidified, and pleasantly bodied vocal.
By doing so, the i4 constructs an egalitarian approach between its vocals and instruments, emphasizing neither over the other in terms of forwardness or body. But more importantly perhaps is the provisional touch of warmth in its midrange, essential for the naturalness of the sound. While the i4 retains the crystalline quality of its treble, detailed, with a friendly touch of sparkle, the midrange now sounds slightly warm, with a beautiful timbre.
For many, the entrée of renowned planar bass in iem form might be one of its true highlights. Indeed, the i4’s bass is bliss for aficionados that appreciate finer nuances that constitute quality bass. It combines the extension and sub-bass impact of a dynamic driver, with the speed and airiness of a balanced armature – topped off with a unique texture of its own. By maintaining a linear response throughout its lower frequencies, the i4 finds a delicate balance between naturalness in delivery, and capable technical reproduction. Accordingly, it provides a deep impact when required, while remaining eerily natural in tone. A lightly warm bass, with a softer touch – a refined bass presentation, more than anything; and one that always stays perfectly coherent within the rest of the presentation.
And more importantly, a perfectly controlled bass, ensuring the airiness of the stage: the i4’s final feat. In overall dimensions, the i4 constructs a spacious, three-dimensional image, with even proportions between width and depth. It’s an especially airy stage, resulting in an open feel that allows detail to emerge in effortless manner. But where it departs from its more contemporary competitors is not primarily in its overall dimensions, but its use of space. The i4 not only positions instruments in layers towards the rear, but varies in its placement in height – effectively making more avail of the total space. Combined with a keen sense of imaging, the i4 conveys a more tangible feel of three-dimensionality.