Rank #3: 64 Audio A18

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64 Audio stunned the industry by simultaneously releasing two new flagships, equipped with new technology – as well as an according price tag. 18 drivers in a single earphone was received with some skepticism, but the A18 has proven quite a thrill. Its TIA driver pushes its extension to new heights, and its performance along with it. But that doesn’t mean anything without a stimulating signature to match.

64 Audio A18 Tzar
-Drivers:                    18 BA drivers
-Design:                     4-way passive crossover
-Impedance:             9 Ohm
-Sensitivity:               116
-Fit:                             Custom

-MRSP:                       $2999


Cable

The A18 comes stock with a twisted 4-wire silver-plated copper cable. Normally not my favorite type of wire as SPC tends to provide a more clinical sound, with an artificial focus on clarity. But this isn’t the case with 64 Audio’s custom-made cable, as it provides a somewhat uncharacteristically warmer than neutral tone. When paired with other iems there seems to be a slight veil over its midrange, but the pairing works excellently to tame the A18’s treble energy – maybe because of it. As such, the cable pairs well with the A18’s lifted upper treble, finding the exact right balance between a stimulating sound, while keeping it smooth. In addition, the cable seems to play a role in maintaining the A18’s wide stage. I wouldn’t necessarily say it adds width; however, switching to other, more expensive cables often attenuates its width, although they might add more depth. Taken together, the SPC forms an excellent pairing with the A18, and I rate it among the best in the lineup; together with that of the Samba and Maestro V2.

Sound impressions

Presentation
The A18 is the reference iem, that isn’t. It might have been given the label by its makers, but it has too much energy to be confined to a strictly reference role. For in its heart, it’s youthful and playful. In a rebellious act, it seems to have broken free from the serious role it was intended to have. The A18 sounds vigorous, the A18 sounds alive. Due to its lower treble tuning, it’s stimulating, and sparkly. And it’s hyper-detailed, without sounding bright. Well, there is a slight brightness in its treble; but it’s a well-dosed brightness. It manages to reveal the finest detail in an exciting way, while simultaneously, remaining smooth.

Its treble extension is impressive, bringing the A18’s resolution among the elite, and even above. Its tonality is fairly neutral, and leans somewhat towards a reference-oriented signature. But the origins of the A18’s beauty lies in its upper midrange and treble tuning: the lifted treble not only provides an abundance of sparkle, but gives the upper midrange an exciting tone – the A18 is the one to go to for melodies, or screeching electric guitars. And it certainly isn’t bass light – especially with the M20 module. This is a bass that reaches deep enough, while its mid-bass provides more impact than any neutral role would require – the energy from down low.


The A18’s presentation is engaging; due to a forward stage positioning, it brings the front row close to the listener. And in line with its lifted upper treble, the A18 creates an especially airy stage. But the aspect that jumps out most is its width: this stage is wide. This is easily one of the widest stages on the market, even though it isn’t particularly tall, or deep. Accordingly, the A18 creates a somewhat flat, but stretched out image – one that seemingly reaches to the horizon. And placing instruments along the extremities creates an abundance of space. But the layering encompassing its vocals can get a bit tight, as the stage isn’t overly deep. The vocal is positioned towards the rear of the stage, and the A18 tends to place instruments before, rather than behind it. Accordingly, the organization of the central space could be a bit neater, when placed under the highest scrutiny. But considering its air and especially width, its separation is well above average.

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About Author

Nic is currently in pursuit of a PhD degree in social neuropsychology, while trying not to get too distracted by this hobby. In pursuit of theoretical knowledge by day, and audiophile excellence at night. Luckily for him, both activities are not mutually exclusive which helps to lighten the workload. Always on the go, Nic's enthusiasm for hi-fi is focused on all chains of the portable system: iems, cables and daps.

7 Comments

  1. MFHRaptor on

    Your review methodology is the best I’ve come across in all my hours of research in audio, and for such great work, I can’t thank you enough.

    I lost count of how many times I’ve read some of you list’s reviews. In my persuit for my first (and hopefully only) high-end IEM, I’ve only considered those with the most spacious soundstage as I am trying to get the closest experience to a full-sized headphone in a closed IEM form. Headphone audio is where I come from, and considering my work and commute hours, there’s hardly any time for me to enjoy music at home.. that’s why I’m here looking for such an unconventional dream!

    I’ve auditioned the Audeze iSines, and if there’s anything coming close to it’s impressive soundscape and spaciousness – albeit in a closed format – then that would be my dream come true. Just from research alone I’ve narrowed down my choices to the W900, Mason V3, and the most expensive tia Fourté. I think the last one might be the one for me, but unless I read a direct comparison – from the same reviewer – between it and the A18 Tzar (which I figured is too analytical in its portrayal of music), I can’t be sure.

    Not to put on you any pressure, I’m just saying that I’m counting on you sir!

    • flinkenick on

      Thanks buddy that’s extremely kind of you 🙂

      I understand what you mean, I rarely listen to music at home so I’ve always stuck with portable audio. The iems you mention indeed all have a spacious soundstage. Another few worth mentioning are Zeus and VE8 for instance. Maybe it might help to know what kind of sound you’re looking for?

      When it comes to Fourte and A18, there never seems to be consensus to which one is brighter, as I’ve read countless posts saying either. I can add my 2c, but I’ve only demoed Fourte a while ago so take my impressions with a grain of salt. Personally, I found Fourte the brighter, more analytical of the two. However, due to its dynamic driver it has a more analogue sounding bass, with an emphasis on sub- over mid-bass. So it’s a relatively, tight, punchy bass, with a slower more natural decay than A18. The A18 has more bass quantity overall, but it’s emphasis lies on the mid-bass. However, despite its quantity it has a quicker decay. The A18 has more body to its sound, which made its midrange more engaging, while its treble is a bit smoother. Fourte on the other hand has more upper treble presence, which makes it brighter and hyper-detailed, contrasting the analogue bass with quick treble. Where the Fourte particularly excelled was the three-dimensionality of its stage, where its spacious stage with precise imaging results in a holographic feel. The A18 mostly has a wide stage, with average depth and ok imaging.

  2. Ray Marrero on

    An excellent review and the reason frankly I just purchased the A18. Outstanding review extremely in depth.

    • flinkenick on

      Thanks Ray, appreciate the kind words! Hope you enjoy them, let me know.

  3. IEM.Coll. on

    isine 20 sound better to my taste ..
    bigger and more natural.

  4. Lord Sinister on

    FLINKENICK,

    Outstanding as usual! I will make my first CIEM or high-end IEM purchase over $1K based on your reviews and something I’ve been contemplating since the days of me hounding |joker| and average_joe years ago so thank you very much. Can’t wait to see #2 & #1 reviews.

    Lord Sinister

    • flinkenick on

      Thanks for the kind words Lord Sinister!

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