Reviewed Feb 2011
Details: Two-way, triple-driver custom from Oregon-based 1964EARS
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: est. $500)
Specs: Driver: Triple BA | Imp: 37Ω | Sens: 113 dB | Freq: 30-17k Hz | Cable: 4.6’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: N/A | Preferred tips: N/A
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (5/5) – Shirt clip, ¼” adapter, cleaning tool, ear mold lubricant, carrying pouch, and protective storage case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – At the heart of the 1964-T are twin Sonion 2015 armatures, used for the lows and mids, and a smaller treble driver I can’t identify molded in a dual-bore configuration. Molding quality is adequate – there are bubbles here and there and the finish around the cable socket and nozzle bores isn’t quite up there with what I’ve seen of Unique Melody molds. On the upside, the 1964-T utilizes a Westone Elite Series cable with a standard Westone socket (multiple lengths and colors are available). A recessed socket is available at an additional cost, as is custom artwork, custom colors, and carbon-fiber faceplates
Isolation (4/5) – The isolation provided by the fitted acrylic shells is excellent, though it may not seem so at first. The passive attenuation is slightly below what the higher-end Etymotic earphones are capable of but higher than the universal stage monitors from the likes of Westone and EarSonics
Microphonics (5/5) – Pretty much nonexistent, as is the case with all monitors fitted with Westone cables. The included shirt clip and cable cinch should still be used if the 1964-T was to be exercised in but for day-to-day use I don’t see myself bothering with either
Comfort (5/5) – The most obvious contrast to universal earphones is the lack of ‘suction’ created by the soft tips of most universals. Putting the customs in requires a bit of getting used to but the twisting motion eventually becomes second nature. The acrylic shells are hard but not in the least uncomfortable – sometimes I am aware of them and other times I forget they’re in my ears at all. Obviously fit will always depend on the quality of the initial molds and maybe a bit of luck but I can’t imagine a properly-fitting custom being uncomfortable. Naturally, 1964 offers a 30-day fit guarantee, which should be taken advantage of if the customs remain even a tiny bit uncomfortable after an initial break-in period.
Sound (9.2/10) – I ordered the 1964-T blindly, knowing nothing of its signature other than that it had less bass than the 1964-Q; that and the fact that two-way crossovers have always seemed sufficient to me in terms of covering the entire frequency spectrum – earphones such as the Fischer Audio DBA-02 are a testament to that. Those who have been following my IEM review thread or individual reviews have probably figured out that my preference leans towards leaner and brighter sound signatures – within reason, of course. The 1964-T, however, is neither lean nor thick, bright nor dark. It possesses one of the more neutral signatures I’ve heard out of an IEM which, I suppose, is the idea behind a stage monitor.
The bass is tight and controlled. Sub-bass roll-off strongly reminds of the Fischer-Audio DBA-02 and the mid-bass lift is only mild. In terms of impact and bass weight the 1964-T falls below earphones such as the EarSonics SM3 and Westone 3 but slightly above the Westone 2 and DBA-02 – around the level of a TripleFi 10 and more than adequate for my tastes. Next to bassier dynamic-driver earphones, the 1964-T suffers from no lack of texture or detail but the grunt isn’t really there. Those looking for a custom to match the bottom end of dynamic-driver sets such as the Sennheiser IE8 wand Monster MD will want to look elsewhere – perhaps at the 1964-Q. Despite barely keeping up with the UE TF10 in bass quantity, the 1964-T offers a more satisfying overall experience – its bass is simply more fleshed-out, more tactile. Texturing is better, individual notes are more resolved, and attack and decay times are more natural. The bass of the 1964-T is pretty much what one would expect from a very good armature-based earphone, much like that of the EarSonics SM3 but with slightly more clarity and bit less ‘viscosity’ and softness.
From the bass we move on to the midrange – a clean and crisp affair overflowing with texture. The 1964-T is the first earphone I’ve heard that nearly matches the CK10 and DBA-02 on both counts without sounding lean. It’s always been my opinion that high levels of texture are antithetical to what we commonly perceive as ‘smoothness’, and the 1964-T really isn’t a smooth earphone on that count. Thickness and articulation of note are both very impressive, falling closer to the healthy median of the Klipsch Custom 3 and Westone 2 than the thick-and-smooth SM3/UM3X or the leaner W3/CK10/DBA-02 crop. The 1964-T sounds tactile and well-weighted but not overly ‘creamy’. There is just a hint of warmth carried over from the bass but none of the ‘veil’ commonly attributed to such tonal characteristics. Although the mids are not particularly forward, I have no need to strain to pick out fine detail or tonal intricacies – my Triple.Fi 10 sounds both thinner and more smoothed-over in comparison. Indeed, the entire signature of the 1964-T is somewhat laid-back, with a low end that is a half-step more forward than the midrange and treble. Those looking for a forward, overly lush, liquid, or falsely sweet midrange will probably be best off looking somewhere else – what you get here is an earphone that’s slightly dry in sonic character but quite forthcoming with every little bit of information.
Not unlike the midrange, the treble is accurate and slightly laid-back. Crispness, clarity, and detail are all up there with the better universal earphones. Those looking for brightness or sparkle will be sorely disappointed – the 1964-T is offers neither – but when it comes to technical proficiency the single treble driver performs quite well. Neither sibilance nor harshness is an issue, unless of course sibilance is already present in the source material. Like the midrange, the treble is smooth and even on the whole but not ‘smoothed-over’ when examined more closely. In contrast to the 3-way EarSonics SM3, the treble of the 1964 triples never really sounds lacking in emphasis except at the very top and always remains relatively hard-edged when it comes to presenting detail. Those looking for a softened treble presentation would probably be better off with the Ortofon earphones or one of the high-end dynamics (RE262 or Monster MD). My personal tastes lean in the opposite direction and I find the 1964-T just aggressive enough to keep my attention most of the time.
Lastly we come to the presentation – perhaps the one aspect of the 1964-T’s sound least in-line with my expectations. For some reason I expected it to either be either thick, creamy, and mid-forward, like the UM3X, or spacious and airy, like the CK10, but the truth lies somewhere in-between. The soundstage of the 1964-T is above average in size but has neither the intimacy of the UM3X nor the wide-open feel of the CK10. A few months ago I would have been disappointed, but as I recently outlined in my EarSonics SM3 review, a stage of this size makes sense for an armature-based earphone. As I said in the SM3 write-up, a massive stage works (more or less) for something like the SennheiserIE8, with its huge bass and immense dynamic presence, but an armature-based earphone would sound thinner trying to fill all of that space. In addition, the soundstage of the IE8 has an ‘inner limit’, meaning that it seems to start some distance away from the listener, but the ability to accurately portray intimacy is one of the necessary hallmarks of a good stage monitor. The 1964-T can indeed sound quite intimate, though not in the eerie centered-yet-enveloping way the SM3 can, but tends to spread things out more evenly across its stage. The stage is wider than it is tall or deep and the space is elliptical in nature, as is the case with most in-ears. The good, though not Monster MD-good, dynamics allow the 1964-T to portray distance as well as direction accurately and imaging is almost on par with what the thinner-sounding CK10 is capable of. Instrumental separation and layering are both good but stop short of what the Westone UM3X can achieve. On the whole, I don’t feel that the presentation of the 1964-T is necessarily better than that of most high-end universals but it does provide its – competitive – flavor.
Value (8/10) – The 1964-T currently runs $400 plus the cost of shipping, customization, and impressions. For most, the base model will end up running just over $450 – a price lower than that of some top-tier universals. For that you get the fit and isolation of a custom earphone, not to mention the build quality and customization options that come with venturing into customs territory. I won’t say that the 1964-T is better than every universal I’ve ever heard in every aspect of its signature, but as a total package it is very proficient. Is it the earphone for everyone? Not exactly. The 1964-T has a sound signature – as do all universals and, I imagine, all customs – and that signature may not be to everyone’s liking. Moreover, the sound signature of a custom cannot be modified with alternate tips or a different insertion angle as it can with universal earphones. A set of customs is also not as easy to walk away from – to return or re-sell – and not quite as simple to live with day-to-day. Once the 1964-T is in my ears, however, all of these considerations simply melt away. Even when driven by a low-cost portable player, its sound is still on par with my favourite universal IEMs and, in my opinion, well worth the price of admission.
Pros: Balanced, detailed, and accurate sound on-par with the best universals in most aspects; excellent long-term comfort
Cons: Correct insertion takes some getting used to; less isolating than silicone-shelled customs