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

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Oh my god I adore the Rhapsodio Solar! Wait… what review is this again? That’s right. I just needed to get that off my chest. It’s been a few weeks now since last I listened to Solar, and as I do so now, I am reminded of how galactically awesome they are. It is bone-quaking impressive how diametrically capable the Solar is of rendering warmth, brightness, super bass, glistening highs, and full, complete mids. All at the same time. Angie can’t do that. U12 can’t, either. The U12 does warm and satiny, it never does bright. Solar does it all, and does so with exceptional grace. Did I say grace? I meant venom. The Solar is aggressive, where the U12 is relaxed. Its details shoot out at you, while the U12 articulates them in the background, not bothered whether you notice the buggers. Though be not mistaken, they are all present.

Solar is less forgiving, because of those highs. Poor, compressed recordings sound worse than with 64Audio. Solar’s treble is more sparkly and up-front, which can be nice at times, but also vaguely unnatural in quality. This is brought further into relief when compared directly to the super easy and organic highs on the U12, which places them behind the other instruments.

The mid-range and vocals on both Solar and U12 are tremendous, in spite of their significant differences. Solar puts them back a step on the stage, whereas the U12 almost seems to emphasize them, even though I know they don’t. It just sounds that way. The mids are nice and thick on either IEM, with great detail and tonality. The U12, however, adds a warm, smooth, spaciousness to them. It also manages an extraordinary sonorous effect which outshines anything my other in-ears realize. Solar’s rendering, on the other hand, comes off clearer and more detailed.

Solar’s bass is one of its biggest selling-points. It produces genuine sub-bass, which I hadn’t heard in a Balanced Armature before. The overall tone and volume of the low-end is rapturous. I honestly didn’t think the U12 could do better.

I was wrong.

First, the U12’s bass is flat out bigger than Solar’s. It’s also more agile. There are layers and textures here Solar just can’t reproduce. What really puts the nail in Solar’s coffin is how U12 goes deeper. Or at least its sub-sub-sub-bass is elevated higher, so it seems to go deeper. Either way, it’s a meaningful difference that gives 64Audio an undeniable edge.

Apart from a few things U12 clearly wins at, it’s more an apples-to-oranges scenario. Depending on your preference or mood, you could go either way. Most of the time I think I prefer the warm, lush, velvety U12. But there are moments when I get an itch for Solar’s sparkle.

Making a comparison to Angie is more straightforward. Angie does not have Solar’s treble. She remains warm and smooth, and only grows more so when you up the bass dials. At 2:30 on the pots, her low-end is about equal to the U12 in terms of quantity. Which makes that the perfect place to test her against 64Audio’s flagship.

Everything I love about Angie, the U12 does better. Angie is warm and thick, from the lows to the mids to the highs. The U12 is just as warm, and just as thick, yet breathes so much air into the mix that Angie seems stuffy in comparison. Angie is very smooth. U12 comes off infinitely smoother. I shit you not, it’s scary how smooth. Angie’s soundstage is quite good. U12’s is on another level. Angie has superb mid-bass, but almost no sub-bass. U12 has all the sub-bass, and slaughters with the layering and agility of the entire low-end. Vocals are Angie’s strong suit. They are spot-on perfect. Yet when you add the air and soundstage and the lushness of the U12, I find I must redefine perfection. The treble Angie produces has a rich, sweet quality, like honey. That honey is possibly the only thing Angie holds over the U12. Yet the U12 extends higher, and again, gives the treble that fantastic air and effortlessness.

Forgiving all that and I still have to face the fact Angie sounds like an IEM. A great IEM, but still just an IEM: Small, narrow, squeezed, and claustrophobic. Whereas 64Audio’s U12 has a sound which shares more similarities to full-size circumaural cans. The impression of reality this creates for you is a king-hell crushing win.

::Update::
I recently got my hands on the Noble Audio Kaiser Encore (Review Here… thanks John and Brannan!). It is a VASTLY different phone, but I’m sure there are plenty curious about a comparison here.

Starting with the treble, I don’t have anything quite as bright and glistening up top. There’s a lot of energy in those highs. Quite a bit more than Solar, and infinitely more than U12. Some find them a little harsh. I find them clean, honest, and crystalline. They fill the whole presentation with an airy, spacious quality. The U12’s treble is smoother, and less detailed. It lacks any sense of brightness. Whereas Encore may shock you with how bright it can be. I quite enjoy it, even being the warmth-lover I am. Because Encore is still on the warm side of things, if only barely.

The lows are fast and controlled. They are very clearly Balanced Armatures. The fuck you say! Well, the U12 and Solar can trick you sometimes into thinking they use Dynamic Drivers for the bass. They sound so organic! Encore does not. It is far too tight and buttoned down for that. Polite, really. There’s enough there to imbue the music with a fundamentally warm tone, but it knows how to get the fuck out when the track doesn’t need it. That’s different than my other IEMs, which ALWAYS have a sub presence… always. Although Encore’s bass is rich and textured, I do prefer the otherworldly beauty the U12 delivers. Solar, too, handles the bass in a manner more pleasing to my tastes. Still, the Kaiser does some nice things here, and it’s tough not to enjoy it on its own.

With the vocals you get über transparency. Encore renders a clear, detailed mid-range. It’s vivid and frightfully articulate. Yet it sounds quite natural. There’s a lifelike realism to Encore’s mids that defeats my other IEMs, hands down. Now get this! Encore does all those things I said, but does it with a syrupy smoothness. HOW?! That’s usually the antithesis of clear and detailed! Isn’t that the Law set down by the audio gods in days of old? Well, Encore defies them. Sadly, U12 abides by those laws. It loses some definition and detail in favor of its lushness. Encore has its cake, and gets to eat the wretched dessert as well.

The soundstage between U12 and Encore are nearly identical. They are both so vast for IEMs I can’t say which is larger. Instrument separation is won by Encore. It is the king of resolution and imaging, which contributes to separation. There is perfection in the way everything is rendered on the stage and you are more easily tricked into forgetting you’re listening to headphones. The only thing in my stables better at this would have to be the LCD-2.2F. Encore is THAT good.

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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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