Details: 6-driver flagship custom in-ear from Portland, OR-based 1964EARS
Starting Price: $699 from 1964ears.com
Specs: Driver: 6-BA / 3-way crossover | Imp: 22Ω | Sens: 115 dB | Freq: 10-20k Hz | Cable: 4’ L-plug / other lengths available
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (5/5) – Shirt clip, ¼” adapter, cleaning tool, and custom crushproof Pelican storage case
Build Quality (5/5) – Aside from its triple-bore configuration, the V6-Stage is similar in construction to my 1964-V3. Molding quality is excellent with no bubbles, very clear faceplates, and good finish around the cable sockets and nozzles. It uses a cable with a standard Westone socket and short memory wire section. Options include recessed cable sockets, ambient vents, custom colors, custom artwork, and various exotic faceplates
Isolation (4/5) – Very good isolation from the fitted acrylic shells
Microphonics (5/5) – Nonexistent as with most of my custom monitors
Comfort (5/5) – As with all acrylic customs, the shells are hard but very comfortable. If the earphones are uncomfortable after an initial break-in period, a refit is probably a good idea. 1964EARS does refits at no cost within the first 30 days
Sound (9.7/10) – The 1964EARS V6-Stage is the company’s latest flagship, designed for “stage, studio and everyday music listening”. It utilizes a 3-way, 6-armature configuration – a setup similar to those of the Unique Melody Miracle and JH Audio JH13 Pro. The sound signature of the V6-Stage combines near-neutral bass, a rich and clear midrange, and crisp treble.
The bass of the V6-Stage is slightly above neutral in quantity – a touch less impactful than with the JH13 Pro but more so compared to other reference earphones such as the Custom Art Music One, HiFiMan RE-600, and Etymotic Research ER-4S. Bass depth is very good and the low end is tight and controlled. In a way, the V6-Stage is the best of both worlds – it makes bassier earphones such as the FitEar TG334 sound boomy in comparison without giving a bass quality advantage to flatter sets from HiFiMan, Etymotic Research, and the like.
The midrange of the V6-Stage has a neutral tone with a smooth and rich character that prevents it from sounding “analytical”. Note thickness is good and the mids appear very natural overall. The V6-Stage is not as lean as the Etymotic ER-4S and its upper midrange is a little less prominent. Clarity is excellent –aided by its prominent treble, the 1964EARS unit has an advantage here over sets such as the FitEar TG334 and Heir Audio 8.A, and makes the more treble-shy RE-600 sound downright dull in comparison.
However, the treble is prominent enough to where recording quality becomes important. The earphone is significantly brighter than sets such as the Custom Art Music One and Heir 8.A, and its treble character has a tendency accentuate sibilance. This is somewhat source-dependent and more prone to occurring at higher volumes, but the fact remains that the V6-Stage is less forgiving than even the Etymotic ER-4S. Other than that, the treble is excellent – crisp and well-extended, carrying enough energy to balance out the overall sound, bass emphasis and all.
The impressive end-to-end extension of the V6-Stage also reflects in its presentation, which is broad and spacious. The soundstage is larger compared to most universals as well as many customs, such as the Music One. It is a touch more constrained than that of the JH13 Pro but on the whole the presentation of the V6-Stage is as well-rounded as anything I’ve heard in its price bracket.
The SM64 is a triple-armature universal-fit earphone that impresses, among other things, with its bass response. Compared to the V6-Stage, its bass reaches deeper and hits harder but still maintains excellent control. In the midrange, the 1964EARS perform better – while the SM64 is biased towards the lower midrange, the V6-Stage is quite level throughout, offering flatter upper mids and a more balanced and neutral sound. It sounds clearer, less congested, and more refined than the SM64 except for a bit of peakiness in the treble, which makes the V6-Stage sound a little hotter and more “tizzy” next to the darker EarSonics.
Alclair’s Reference monitor pursues a sound signature very similar to that of the V6-Stage, falling a bit short of the V6 in overall performance. Bass quantity is similar between the earphones but the Reference is slightly mid-recessed and sounds more “dry” whereas the V6-Stage has a fuller, smoother sound with a more prominent midrange. Treble performance is also similar between the two – both units have a tendency to exaggerate sibilance and sound a little “hot” on certain tracks, with the V6-Stage performing a bit better in this regard. In terms of presentation, too, the V6-Stage comes across as more versatile and convincing, with a little more imaging prowess and better balance of width and depth.
While the similarly-priced Alclair Reference bears a strong resemblance to the V6-Stage, 1964EARS’ own triple-driver sounds quite different. The 1964-V3 is bassier and more “boomy” than the V6-Stage, with the powerful mid-bass response providing much greater impact. This results in a warmer and at times more bloated sound. The V6-Stage, with its tighter, less powerful bass, also has better clarity, especially in the midrange, and sounds more refined and detailed. It is more balanced and neutral whereas the V3 is more colored. In terms of presentation, the boomier bass of the V3 makes it a touch more congested but both units provide a good sense of space.
Westone ES5 ($950)
Westone’s flagship custom is a warm and smooth affair that emphasizes it lows and mids. The ES5 has more bass than the 1964EARS V6-Stage, but the V6 is a little more textured and controlled. Its mids are leaner and clearer while the ES5 sounds fuller and more forward in the midrange. The treble of the Westones is smoother but the overall sound is darker and a bit more muffled. The 1964EARS, on the other hand, have treble that is brighter and peakier, and tend to be more sibilant. I find the V6-Stage to sound more natural overall, though the peaks in the treble region sometimes cause it to sound a little “tizzy” in comparison. In terms of presentation, the ES5 tends to be more intimate, especially in the midrange, whereas the V6-Stage is wider and more laid-back, a-la the UM Miracle.
The UM Miracle has always impressed me most with its ability to sound neutral and balanced, yet remain smooth and not at all analytical. Compared to the Miracle, the V6-Stage produces a little more bass, especially mid-bass, lending it a slightly fuller and warmer sound. The 1964EARS sound a bit more colored as a result of the bass emphasis whereas the Miracle is more neutral and balanced. The Miracle also remains flatter through the upper midrange, boasting more presence there a-la the Etymotic ER-4S. At the top, the V6-Stage is more sibilant despite having similar overall treble energy, while the Miracle is smoother and has a bit more air. The Miracle is slightly more open-sounding with a marginally more spacious soundstage.
Value (9/10) – The mid-level 1964EARS customs I’ve tried have offered solid value for money, and the new 1964EARS V6-Stage is doing the same for the flagship segment of the still-developing custom in-ear market. The earphones are very well-made and the sound hits the sweet spot, falling just warm of neutral with a bit of added bass, mids that are clear but not thin, and crisp, if slightly hot, treble. It is an extremely competent earphone that competes with pricier models such as the Westone ES5 and Heir Audio 8.A. Like the less expensive 1964-V3, the V6-Stage is an easy recommendation in its price range and, in contrast to the V3, should work for professional applications as well as consumer audio.
Pros: Great molding quality; isolation and comfort of a custom in-ear; impressive overall performance
Cons: Can accentuate sibilance