Next on the list is one of the largest in-ear manufacturers anywhere in the world today: 64Audio. Fresh off the successes of their U/A18Tzar and Tia Fourte IEMs, they’ve refreshed a large majority of their line-up to include the widely-acclaimed Tia – or tubeless, open-backed – drivers; instilling outstanding clarity and top-end extension into every one of their models from the bottom up (bar the U/A2e). At CanJam, 64Audio showcased the U2e, the U3t, the U6t, the N8t, the U12t, the Tia Trio and the aforementioned flagships. I managed to audition three of the six new releases and – although I was generally impressed by all three – I did have a clear favourite.
64Audio U6t: I initially auditioned the U6t expecting a full and natural-sounding monitor. The original U6 was one of my favourites off their old line-up because of its organicity and sub-bass performance. The only gripe I had was its lacklustre treble extension, which made me all the more excited when I found out it was going to be refreshed with a Tia driver inside. But, the U6t – to my surprise – distances itself quite aggressively from its Tia-less predecessor. In place of a richer signature is now a bright, crisp and clarity-focused IEM. What was once a wet and thick low-end is now more textured and neutrally-placed. With a greater emphasis on the upper-bass as well as the Tia-fuelled upper-treble lift, the U6t is more melodious and airy down low – rather than subtly guttural as its predecessor was.
This tightness in the bass particularly affects the vocal region. Although presence is palpable due to an upper-midrange bump, the U6t loves vocal clarity – minimising harmonic richness and body. Without an accentuated mid-bass to support its articulation, the U6t renders female vocals with excellent cleanliness, but leaves chestier instruments – such as male vocals – sounding raspier. The Tia driver is in full effect here, endowing the U6t with the now-signature upper-treble lift to fully expand its stage. It greatly benefits micro-detail retrieval and spaciousness, but it – to me – leaves the overall signature in need of more weight. There is some degree of warmth in the lower-midrange, but the U6t definitely leans toward brighter territories. Though, despite this tuning decision, the U6t is still a technical achiever. Like I said, its clarity, speed and vocal presence are all incredibly strong. A U6 successor it is not, but a clean-sounding piece, it sure is.
64Audio N8t: But, the N8t is where I truly fell in love. The idea of a Tia-equipped U8 had been brewing in my head for months then, and witnessing it announced as an 8-plus-1 hybrid IEM developed in collaboration with Nathan East only fuelled that fantasy further. Once I finally got the chance to hear it, it absolutely did not disappoint. Although it faces some stiff competition now in the form of Empire Ears’ new hybrids, the N8t is definitely up there with some of the best I’ve ever heard. Unlike the former’s rumbly-er and more centrally-focused bass response, the N8t presents its low-end with a grander ambience and a richer touch; a more analog feel. But, that’s not to say that it isn’t technically capable either. Despite the bass’s inherent wetness, articulation is one of its strongest qualities. Bass notes become dead-easy to discern and it decays beautifully as well. A bloom accompanies transient response without veil, mating technical performance with musicality in an incredibly charming manner.
The N8t’s dynamic driver also emanates gorgeous warmth into the midrange. Vocals and instruments alike gain a palpable sense of body, as well as a warmer and more organic tone. Again, the Tia driver aerates the entire stage whilst tremendously boosting detail retrieval and clarity, but the N8t is equipped with a more controlled variant. Compared to the rest of the line-up, the Tia driver in the N8t exhibits the most restraint; accomplishing its technical tasks without tampering with tone. Because of this, instruments cut through the richness of the stage with aplomb, tempered against the black background of the stage. And yet, the IEM retains its tube-like signature at all times; evoking a vintage and timeless panache with modern technicality. The N8t is a true winner in my eyes, and an IEM I’d love to see modelled after as an example of Tia drivers tuned just right. Balancing a voluminous bass, an organic midrange and an effortlessly detailed treble is no easy task, but the N8t pulls it off in stunning fashion. This is an IEM I’d definitely love to take a closer look at in the future, and my clear winner at the 64Audio table.
64Audio U12t: The U12t is a deserved successor to the U12. Although the Tia-driver gives it an airiness and a crispness that its predecessor did not have, the U12t is still a sub-bass-driven IEM that shines through rumble. Textured, layered and guttural all describe its low-end; choosing to focus more on definition and growl, rather than richness or bloom. And yet, that sub-bass becomes a source of body for the midrange as well. Vocal presence – unlike the U12t – is placed just above the low-end, making it a tad more versatile than its predecessor. Although it’s more of an all-round IEM, bass enthusiasts will still find plenty to love in its well-textured and kinetic lows.
The U12t has the cleaner midrange; emphasising articulation, clarity and crispness. It does sacrifice some of the original U12’s warmth and body, but it’s a presentation that fans of the U18t – for example – will enjoy. Upper treble is – as expected – elevated via the Tia driver, but it’s a decently reserved lift; not as calmed as the N8t, but less bright compared to the U6t. The U12t preserves its predecessor’s width, while the boost in vocal presence slightly compromises depth. It’s less theatre-like, but you get more engagement in return. The U12t is an admirable all-round IEM. Although it loses some of its predecessor’s warmth, its near-w-shape is refreshing in the high-end IEM market. Fans of the U12 who desire a brighter and more engaging signature should definitely take a look at its Tia-equipped counterpart.
Music Sanctuary’s Project K
With eight full tables at their disposal, Singaporean powerhouse Music Sanctuary’s endless array of custom IEMs and cables was the clear highlight of the entire show floor. And yet, no other booth attracted as much attention as the one ominously labelled: Project K. Officially unveiled at CanJam Singapore 2018, Project K is a collaborative affair between Music Sanctuary and a potential myriad of manufacturers across the globe. The initiative aims to push the boundaries of both technical and musical performance, by way of enhancements made throughout the entire signal chain. From DAP modifications, to custom cabling concoctions, to revamped custom IEMs, Project K is the personification of Music Sanctuary’s age-old motto: For audiophiles, by audiophiles.
There, the retailer revealed Project K’s debut flagship product – Soundwriter. Developed in collaboration with 64Audio and PWAudio, the Soundwriter is essentially a heavily-modified A18Tzar: Sans-APEX, equipped internally with PWAudio’s OCC Litz wiring, platinum-based K solder and Oyaide’s Japanese shielding, then paired externally with a K-modified variant of PWAudio’s critically-lauded flagship cable – the 1960s. Now, all of these enhancements will add up to a cost that’ll exceed the A18Tzar’s already-luxurious price tag; estimated to land in the ballpark of 5000-to-6000-plus Singaporean dollars. So at the end of the day, the question remains: Can the Soundwriter perform as its price demands?
Well, if you can afford it, the short answer is: Yes. The Soundwriter, in its final custom permutation, offers a deviation from the A18Tzar’s original signature, both of which I find unique, yet equally impressive. While the original 64Audio in-ear offered a clear, bright and blazingly fast signature, the Soundwriter is a heftier, weightier and more intimate-sounding product. It brings a sense of wholesomeness and warmth that departs from 64Audio’s current house sound (bar the N8t), mating the A18Tzar’s fantastic clarity with a fun and engaging verve. Although it’s ultimately an alternative variation of neutral – just like the original A18Tzar is to some degree – the Soundwriter takes a step closer towards organicity. Despite its mostly neutral tone, the density and roundedness with which the IEM presents its notes largely detours from the cleaner and airier soundscape that the A18Tzar usually presents. Bass extension makes itself more apparent; refocusing energy onto sub-bass rumble, rather than mid-bass punch. As a result, the Soundwriter does lose a touch of speed, but compensates wonderfully in texture, layering and depth – a recurring theme that will continue into the midrange and the treble. Vocal performance shifts from the removal of the APEX module, garnering an emphasis on texture and heft, while its original mainly emphasised transparency. Instruments, though, still carry a more neutral tone, due to a larger focus on the articulative regions of the upper-midrange and treble. Vocal notes also sound larger than ever; trading off the A18Tzar’s openness and width for greater density and focus.
Although the Soundwriter’s myriad of tweaks don’t necessarily elevate its predecessor’s A-minus stage organisation into S-level standards, the boosts it does receive in texture and resolution alter the A18Tzar’s interpretation of realism; rendering instruments that sound consistently wholesome and admirably complete throughout its stable stage. Because of this, it now more closely resembles vocal maestros – like the Empire Ears Zeus-XIV, for example – than the A18Tzar does. Plus, the clarity and transparency it maintains from its stock counterpart means its performance transcends genre; consistently dynamic and engaging even with its neutral tone. Despite all this, the Soundwriter will undoubtedly be recognised for its treble. Again, the sans-APEX configuration comes majorly into play, toning down the A18Tzar’s generous upper-treble lift for a warmer tone and a weightier presentation. Decay is quicker, and the Soundwriter’s background becomes blacker as a result. Whereas the original 64Audio IEM is fast and clean, the Soundwriter is buttery and warm in comparison. I’d love to have a tad less prominence in sparkle to achieve absolute realism – in my personal opinion – but cymbals and hi-hats still come through with effortless clarity, audible to the last overtone. Gorgeously extended, decently linear and on the cusp of realism, the Soundwriter’s top-end – like the rest of its signature – is as musical as it is technically sound. Just a touch more warmth would’ve made it on-the-dot perfect, but enthusiasts with more variative playlists (and much deeper wallets) will find lots to love in this Music Sanctuary collaboration.