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What Shadow Lies Beneath the Bright Gleam – A Review of the 64Audio U12

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I first published this review on Head-Fi.org a number of months ago. These remain my favorite IEMs. Hell, scratch that. My favorite things to listen to, period. I won’t say they are technically superior to my Audeze LCD-2 or studio monitors, but the U12 possesses a signature which sooths the great beast writhing within. They take me to that happy place quicker and more completely than anything else.

So I feel it’s not unseemly to share this review with the readers of THL. The U12 gets mentioned often in my articles, and you ought to know the full context.

Of course, as is the nature of this hobby, much has changed in the months since I originally wrote this, and I’ve had to make edits and updates and general rewrites. Rest assured, the gooey spirit I imprisoned in the first text resides here still. You will taste it, and know the secrets of the universe.

Enjoy.
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The 64Audio U12 sells for $1,599
www.64Audio.com

::The Review::
This was a shameful, stupid, wrong-headed impulse buy… and I’m awfully glad I made it.

Having only recently published my review of the Rhapsodio Solar—a CIEM that still feels new and exciting every time I put it in—I had zero intention of buying another top of the line earphone anytime soon. I suppose the origins of this adventure lay somewhere in the dreadful knowing the Solars needed to go back to Hong Kong for another refit: a process that took two months the first time and a month and a half the second.

Which meant, for the foreseeable future, the JHAudio Angie would regain her place as my principle IEM, and thus my main headphone.

Why did this not thrill me? I love Angie’s sound. The notion of returning to her smooth, warm, lush notes held great allure, yet I couldn’t shake this feeling of anxiety. I didn’t want to be stuck with her for a month or two. She’s too big and awkward. For a year I used her as my daily driver, and I loathed suffering like that again.

It’s why I ordered Solar in the first place. I sought to replace Angie. As it turned out, Solar has little in common with the young Siren, and I couldn’t get rid of her. She possessed a sound I lusted for. Perhaps more so than Solar, with its brighter, brilliant, more detailed treble.

I knew something was up when one day I noticed I’d been wandering into certain threads with bizarre regularity. Rereading reviews and impressions. Oh sweet Jesus! The warning signs are unmistakable. I had shifted into “research mode”. Experience told me the next stage was deal-hunting, followed swiftly by a purchase. It was inevitable. Pinky is doomed.

Of all the fanciful curiosities out there, the 64Audio ADEL called to me the loudest. Of course I’ve been interested in Asius’ Ear Lens for a long time now. No doubt that’s true for all of us. Also, the A12 came in 3rd place in the Fit for a Bat round-up, a fact that’s stayed with me since I first read the article. Actually, based on how it was described, the A12 always fascinated me more than the earphones which took 1st and 2nd place. Now that I have an even finer understanding of the sort of sound I desire, the 64 U12 looked ever the more my kind of bag.

As coincidence would have it, the entire ADEL line was on Massdrop during this period, with only a few days to go until the Drop ended. We’re talking outrageous prices! Phenomenal deals! Clearly providence was on my side, as the good lord of Abraham watched over me. So I hit BUY and… the U12 had already sold out.

Alone, I am, in the universe.

A part of me, one that was not actively fashioning a noose round the ceiling fan, took this as an opportunity to save money. I dove back into the forums, searching instead for everything I could find on the U8. After all, Angie is eight drivers. Perhaps this would prove the perfect solution.

The more I read, however, the more obsessed I became with hearing the U12. The reviews I found throughout Head-Fi, and across the net, convinced me this was the IEM to finally replace Angie. If anything could.

But $1599 is outside Pinky’s budget right now. If need be, I could wait until Black Friday for 64Audio’s über sale.

Yes, I could wait, but that is never my first choice.

Head-Fi is a remarkable place. Within a few hours of posting a WANTED ad, I had two Privet Messages. One of which led to the final transaction. For $1050 I acquired a used U12 with the Head-Fi-preferred B1 ADEL Module.

I’m not one for going into the whole unboxing thing. The only time I write about the packaging and each and every accessory is when it’s stipulated as part of my admittance on a tour for a new product or a review sample. As long as there’s one YouTube video of some kid unboxing the thing, you don’t need me talking about it. Suffice to say the package is nice, simple, and bordering on elegant. I don’t use the protective case it came with, as I have a superior system which better serves my needs.

Upon first holding the 64Audio U12, I am struck by how small and light it is. It’s closer in size and weight to the ATH-IM03 than it is to either Angie or Solar. I had to peer at the fine embossed writing on the shell and read “U12” before I would believe this was indeed the flagship model. Depending on the tips I use, they can fit flush with my ear. How they got twelve drivers in here, I’ll never know. Must be Time Lord technology. No other way to explain it.

Comfort is top notch. Between the size, weight, and shape, when worn the U12 vanishes from your thoughts. Angie, being so big and heavy, constantly reminded you that her fat bottom hung from your ears. These are far less obtrusive than I dared hope for.

The cable is very thin, light, and flexible. The sort of thing you forget you’re wearing. Naturally, I refuse to use it. You’ll see photos of these IEM’s paired with the Rhapsodio Pandora, the ALO Reference8, or the cable I built, a 26AWG SPC OCC Litz. All terminated for 2.5mm TRRS Balanced.

Pinky-Made 7N SPC OCC Litz Balanced

There were no suitable options among the stock tips, not for my ears at least. The Comply foam probably would have worked, but I prefer the immortality of silicon, so I didn’t even try those. During my audiophile journey thus far, I’ve amassed an impressive collection of tips, so I did not worry about finding something that fit. As it turns out, no matter how many new tips I buy, none work better for my ears than the JVC Spiral Dots, which I found early on in this hobby. To keep the U12’s long nozzle from peaking out the top of the JVCs, I had to create spacers from the stems of other tips. In this configuration, using size-M tips, the U12 sits very nearly flush with my ears. Between the feather-light U12, and the perfect comfort of Spiral Dots, it’s a winning setup. JVC is still King.

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

2 Comments

  1. Lord Sinister on

    Hello Pinky,

    Outstanding review, as always. Out of curiosity, have you heard the LZ A4 and if so, how does the bass regions compare to that of the U12? Have you tried the U18 as well?

    Thanks.

    • Pinky Powers on

      I have not heard the A4, sorry.

      There are two hybrids I’m currently reviewing: The Unique Melody Merlin, and Campfire Audio Dorado.

      Dorado is, thus far, the only IEM I’ve heard that beats the U12 for lows. U12 beats it in everything else, but damn, I really like that Dorado bass.

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